Focus: news of interest about creation and evolution
Man ‘apes’ sea cucumber
The sea cucumber, popular in Asian cooking, has the peculiar ability to vary its stiffness at will. It can make itself floppy or stiff, as the occasion demands. Under stress they can become so floppy that they break up when handled.
Research has shown that the sea cucumber is made like fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP)—commonly known as ‘fibreglass’—except that the ‘plastic’ is the protein collagen, and the fibres are of course not glass and are only 0.2 millionths of a metre (eight millionths of an inch) long. The sea cucumber changes its stiffness by rapidly changing the chemical property of the collagen in such a way that its shear strength is altered.
Engineers are now working on resins for carbon fibre-reinforced structures which can mimic the sea cucumber’s ability. Such a material may be very useful in designing an aircraft wing that could be caused to change its shape rather than having to rely on ailerons and flaps for control.
Professional Engineering, 23 July 1997, p. 36.
Once again, brilliantly engineered living things are being copied by human engineers.
No message from space
Nearly 30 years ago, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, recognised the impossibility of life arising on earth by natural processes. So he proposed the idea of ‘directed panspermia’.1 He proposed that life in the form of bacterial spores was sent here by intelligent beings from somewhere else in the universe. He surmised that the spores would have had to have been like those of Bacillus subtilis or similar bacteria because of their extreme resistance to damage from radiation and desiccation (drying).
Someone else suggested that if an extra-terrestrial civilisation was responsible, then they would surely have encoded a message on the DNA of such an organism. If only we could decode the sequence of this DNA, we could learn the secrets of the universe.
Well, the DNA of Bacillus subtilis has now been decoded. The 151 collaborators who did the work did not see any messages. They did find a lot of complex coded genetic information—over four million ‘letters’ of the genetic code, equivalent to over 1,000 pages of typing.2
And we now know that even the simplest living cell could not have made itself, even ‘out there, elsewhere’. Life was undoubtedly created.
1. Nature 390(6657):237–238, 20 November 1997.
2. Reference 1, pp. 249–256.
Blood is hard to beat
The Bible teaches ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Leviticus 17:11). Loss of blood can quickly prove fatal, but fortunately we can tranfuse other people’s blood to save lives. But donated blood doesn’t last long, even in a fridge. So medical scientists are trying to find substitutes.
One key function of blood is carrying oxygen. This is the job of hemoglobin, which makes blood red. This absorbs oxygen very well, but also gives it up at the right time to the body parts that need it. So some researchers are looking at hemoglobin as a blood substitute. But this is normally stored in red blood cells—280 million molecules per cell. This is important—free hemoglobin is quickly broken down and clogs up the kidneys, and the red blood cells also contain chemicals to make it release oxygen at the right time. Genetically engineered hemoglobin overcomes some of these problems, but half of it still decays every 12 hours.
Other proposed substitutes are chemicals called perfluorocarbons, related to Teflon. But they are not nearly as good at oxygen transport as hemoglobin.
New Scientist 156(2110):46–49, 29 November 1997.
We should admire this excellent, potentially life-saving research, but even more should we admire the Creator of hemoglobin and red blood cells. Conversely, evolutionists have no explanation as to how the complicated hemoglobin molecules and red blood cells arose by time and chance.
Another blow to Mars ‘life’ claim
Evolutionary ‘true believers’ who crowed in triumph about alleged microscopic fossils in a rock from Mars have had to endure many setbacks since. The most recent is a Nature report of a team led by Dr John Bradley, of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
They looked again at the alleged ‘nanofossils’ under transmission electron microscopy (TEM), tilting them at different angles, and found that they were nothing but inanimate magnetite whiskers plus artefacts of TEM. The NASA team attempted to rebut the report, but not very convincingly.
Undaunted, their David McKay has announced that they have found, in the original rock, something which looks like a thin film of slime similar to that laid down by modern bacteria. Others are unimpressed.
Nature 390(6659):ix, 454–456, 4 December 1997.
Science 278(5344):1706–7, 5 December 1997.
At this point, most of the appropriate experts no longer support the original claims of ‘life’ evidence in the Mars rock.
Professor: ‘Our brains are shrinking’
University of Adelaide anatomist Maciej Henneberg, convener of a conference on Human Evolution in South Australia, thinks humans are still evolving.
As proof, he claims a 10% reduction in brain size over the last 10,000 years. He thinks this is because, thanks to technology, we no longer need as much muscle to survive. Brain size, he says, is not related to intelligence but to muscle mass.
The Australian, 2 December 1997 p. 3.
Odd. When it suits evolutionary theorizing, brain size supposedly relates to intelligence, as everyone taught about ‘apemen’ will confirm.
Scientists say ‘Eve’ data might show recent origin
There has been much debate on the evidence from mitochondrial DNA pointing to a ‘mother of all’. Evolutionists have hastened to point out that they do not mean that she was the only woman alive, just that these hypothetical other women made no contribution to our mitochondrial DNA.
Creationists have countered that the evidence is nonetheless exactly consistent with a real, literal Eve, also that it at least confirms the essential genetic relatedness of all modern humans, as descended from one small original population.
However, evolutionists have said that the genetic evidence shows she lived some 70,000 to 800,000 years ago, thus excluding the biblical explanation. One of the assumptions used in arriving at such dates is the rate at which this mitochondrial DNA mutates.
However, recent research on living people indicates that these mutation rates may in fact be about 20 times higher. This means, according to a recent scientific paper, that Eve could have ‘lived about 6,500 years ago—a figure clearly incompatible with current [evolutionary] theories of human origins’.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 12(11):422–423, November 1997.
Recent assertions that Neandertals were a different species were also made on the basis of mitochondrial DNA; this discovery makes those claims seem shaky, too.
CIA’s Ararat photos to be released
Legal moves under the Freedom of Information Act, by a University of Richmond professor, have caused America’s Central Intelligence Agency to agree to release its Ararat Anomaly file soon.
The file was started in 1949 when photos by a U.S. spy plane, bound for the then Soviet Union, showed clearly ‘what appeared to be the outline of an ancient vessel’ on the edge of a glacier on Mt Ararat, at 5,000 metres.
Subsequent missions over the next 40 years seemed to confirm suspicions that these were likely the remains of Noah’s Ark, but the CIA says it ‘did not relish ... a religious and diplomatic furore’.
According to one report, a former official claimed that close-ups of 26 years ago showed ‘what looked like three large curved wooden beams protruding from the snow’.
One newspaper report has confused the issue by referring to ‘drogue stones’ etc., a feature of the Ron Wyatt/Jonathan Gray ‘find’. The CIA photos appear to relate to a glacier on the south-eastern section near the top of greater Mt Ararat, whereas the Wyatt site, which was conclusively debunked in Creation 14(4):26–38, 1992, is a considerable way from the mountain.
Sydney Daily Telegraph, 22 November 1997.
BSM release, 12 December 1997.
Though fascinating, more details should be awaited. Others in the CIA have claimed the dimensions do not match the Bible’s account, and it may be just a rock or shadows on ice. However, if confirmed, it should be possible to locate the object, which is only exposed during periods of glacial melt-back, for close-up inspection by ground-based researchers.
Jurassic Park—wrong about dino necks too?
A Cambridge University team led by Tim Pedley has concluded, from work on giraffes, that dinosaurs like Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus with necks up to 15 metres (50 feet) long could not have lifted their heads to browse from treetops, as in the film Jurassic Park.
He says that their hearts would have had to be nearly as big as their entire chest cavity. Analyses of fossil teeth have suggested that these large sauropods stripped leaves from trees.
However, Pedley believes that the long necks were used to browse weeds on river and lake bottoms.
New Scientist 155(2100):24, 20 September 1997.
Interestingly, the sauropod described in Job chapter 40 is said to eat grass and to lie among reeds in swampy areas.
Elephants losing tusks
In Uganda, around 15% of elephants are now born without tusks. This is the result of an inherited defect, a mutation which prevents tusks from developing. Normally less than 4% of African elephants are born with this defect. Selection is a logical explanation; elephants with tusks are more likely to be shot by ivory poachers, thus favouring the ‘tuskless’ defect. If continued, it could result in tusks being lost altogether.
Illogically, it has been called ‘clear evidence of Darwin’s theory’, even though no new genetic information is added.
International Express, 7 October 1997, p. 22.
Seeing the effects of selection acting so rapidly is good news for the creation model, which incorporates many examples of loss of information (or ‘devolution’) in the centuries since the Flood—eyeless fish in caves, for example.
Fossil in ‘wrong’ place
A tiny jawbone found in Australia is causing substantial debate among researchers. The jawbone appears to be that of a mammal, but of a placental mammal (as opposed to a marsupial, like kangaroos).
The problem is that it is in rock which is allegedly around 115 million years old. However, placental mammals were not supposed to be in Australia until around five million years ago, by evolutionary reasoning.
Science 278(5342):1438–1442, 21 November 1997.
Sydney Morning Herald website, 22 November 1997.
Another clue that current concepts do not fit the facts was the find at Murgon, Australia (reported in Creation 14(2):6, 1992), of a single placental mammal tooth, in rock allegedly 55 million years old.
An Australian biophysicist, Andrew Parker, found that the special cell structures which produce the iridescent sheen of some small crustaceans called ostracods are also present in fossils.
These organisms are known from fossils supposedly 350 million years old, which are little different from the living ones of today (yet another example of things reproducing after their kind!).
Parker also found black, red and silver pigment cells (chromatophores) in various fossils, including red pigment along the top of the body of a fossil placoderm claimed to be 370 million years old. This research raises the possibility of working out the colours of other organisms for which we only have fossil specimens—such as dinosaurs.
New Scientist 155(2097):11, 30 August 1997.
This raises the question also of the presumed age of the fossils. There is strong evidence that organic compounds will break down after only thousands of years.