Focus: creation news and views 40(4)

With more of us, grammar’s going downhill fast

If you think the general standard of English grammar is slipping, you’re right. And it’s not just English—the ‘structural complexity’ of all languages tends to simplify over time. On the other hand, the vocabulary of a language tends to increase, as new words enter the lexicon, because of advances in technology, for example.

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The phenomenon is dramatically influenced by the number of speakers of a language. The widely-spoken languages of Mandarin and English are classic examples of the historical tendency towards structural simplification as a language gains an ever-larger community of speakers. In marked contrast is the “spectacular structural complexity” of certain small communities and remote tribespeople.

A research team of linguists developed some computer simulations to explore this phenomenon. As grammar is harder to learn than vocabulary, they say a language’s structural complexity can really only be learnt by repeated exposure to those individuals who know it, as can happen in a small, close-knit community. Words, however, can be acquired from just a few exposures. Thus: “In large groups, only linguistic conventions that are easy to learn, such as words, tend to proliferate, whereas small groups where everyone talks to everyone else allow for more complex conventions, like grammatical regularities, to be maintained.”

The downhill slide in grammatical complexity raises the question: how did it become complex in the first place? The evidence points to a sudden appearance of language, which indicates a supernatural explanation—see creation.com/language-complexity-loss.

  • Reali, F. et al., Simpler grammar, larger vocabulary: How population size affects language, Proc. R. Soc. B 285(1871):20172586, 31 January. 2018 | doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.2586.

Diamonds from space

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In October 2008, an asteroid exploded in the sky over the Nubian Desert in Sudan, Africa. Scientists who studied its fragments, which contained tiny diamonds, suggest that the asteroid likely came from the break-up of a planet that existed billions of years ago in our solar system. In their thinking only a large planet could produce the pressures necessary to form the diamonds.

The scientists’ interpretation of a planetary destruction is plausible, but there is nothing in the facts to indicate that this event, if it occurred, happened billions of years ago. This is the only point at which the scientists’ hypothesis contradicts the Bible’s history in Genesis. Diamonds can form quickly in the laboratory.

Also, a catastrophic planetary event in our solar system should not surprise us, as the Bible explains that the whole of the creation is currently in bondage to decay—and such an event may help explain the moon’s rapid bombardment with asteroids (see: creation.com/lunar-maria).

  • Meteorite diamonds came from ‘lost planet’, bbc.com, 18 April 2018.

Another twist in DNA structure

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Most people know of the double helix (twisted ladder) structure of DNA, discovered in 1953. Scientists in the 1990s found another structure in the test-tube, called an ‘i-motif’. Now scientists have shown that this structure exists inside human cells. “The i-motif is a four-stranded ‘knot’ of DNA”, explained Marcel Dinger, one of the scientists involved.

These structures appear more frequently when cells are very active, such as during cell division. The structures also seem to relate to the control of genes, occurring in the regions of the DNA that determine if a gene is to be ‘read’ by the cell. In other words, they almost certainly have an important function.

All this adds yet another ‘twist’ to the complexity of DNA and underlines the ever-growing difficulty of explaining the origins of cells just by physics and chemistry (i.e. evolution; no intelligence allowed!).

  • Dockrill, P., BREAKING: Scientists have confirmed a new DNA structure inside human cells: It’s not just the double helix! 23 April 2018; sciencealert.com (based on Zeraati et al., I-motif DNA structures are formed in the nuclei of human cells, Nature 10:631–637, 23 April 2018) | doi:10.1038/s41557-018-0046-3.

Aliens are “rearranging stars to fight dark energy”?

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According to a sensational new research article, intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations would likely need to ‘lasso’ stars in nearby galaxies to prevent them from creeping away from their own galaxy due to the big-bang expansion of the universe! ‘Dark energy’, a completely hypothetical entity, is the reason for the alleged acceleration of the supposed expansion. Big bang cosmology does not work using normal physics alone (see creation.com/dark-matter-crisis).

These ETs would want to harvest the stars for their energy since they would have exhausted the resources in their home galaxies. The paper reasons from the unquestioned assumption that the universe is billions of years old, and life must have evolved elsewhere in the universe many times over (despite never having observed ET life, and not for lack of trying). These much more ancient civilizations would ‘obviously’ be much more advanced than our own.

This is a pre-print paper uploaded to the Cornell University electronic archive arXiv, a website that does not require peer review. The highly speculative and non-falsifiable nature of this ‘research’ has not prevented popular science outlets like Live Science from making much of this idea, however.

Papers such as this one demonstrate what we have been pointing out for years: that the belief in extraterrestrials is fundamentally rooted in the evolutionary worldview (see creation.com/et-needed-evolution). Following these wrong assumptions often leads scientists astray on pointless and costly rabbit trails—ultimately harming the progress of real science.

  • Specktor, B., Aliens may be rearranging stars to fight dark energy, awesome study suggests, livescience.com, June 2018.

Are paleontologists naming too many species?

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A new study of Ichthyosaurus, an extinct marine reptile, has provided valuable insight into the problems of identifying new species from the fossil record. It examined the hindfin of 99 specimens, and identified that “a single hindfin alone could not be used to distinguish among species of Ichthyosaurus, but that a particular variation was more common in certain species”. By looking at such a large specimen group the researchers were essentially able to fill in gaps between variations in the hindfins. Without such a large sample size, something that was just variation on a spectrum may have appeared to be a distinct feature that warranted naming a new species.

The examination of these wonderful creatures buried in Flood sediment serves as a caution. Many new fossil species are named every year, not uncommonly based on what one of the study’s authors called “fragmentary or limited remains”, in which cases “the decision to name a new species should be considered very carefully.”

Small sample sizes, and not recognizing variation within a kind, have led to many species being named in error, not just ichthyosaurs. The much broader biblical kinds (Genesis 1), more akin to a genus or family in modern classifications, would have contained the information for such variations. So when people question how Adam could have ‘named all those creatures’ (Genesis 2:19–20), or how all the animals fitted onto Noah’s Ark, the Bible is not referring to millions of species, but to the original, much broader and fewer biblical kinds (and only land vertebrates!).

  • University of Manchester, Are palaeontologists naming too many species? manchester.ac.uk, 14 March 2018.
  • Massare, J. and Lomax, D., Hindfins of Ichthyosaurus: Effects of large sample size on ‘distinct’ morphological characters, Geological Magazine, pp. 1–20 | doi:10.1017/S0016756818000146, March 2018

Scientists discover new human organ, the interstitium

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Scientists are still finding out about some of the wonderful design of the human body. They previously knew that after accounting for known bodily fluids like blood, lymph, and serum, about 20 percent of the fluid in the body was ‘missing’. It turns out this fluid is in the interstitium, a fluid-filled space (of about 10 litres) found throughout the human body. They believe it has an important shock-absorbing function, as the fluid-filled spaces can compress by ‘emptying’ and then refill with fluid to protect organs and other tissues.

Previously, scientists missed the interstitium because the process of making slides for analysis dehydrates the tissues, meaning that they couldn’t see the interstitium until they discovered it accidentally while analyzing living tissue.

Better understanding the interstitium could help with new cancer treatments—because the fluid goes all around the body, it might be a way for cancer cells to spread.

  • Scientists discover new human organ, a fluid-filled space called interstitium, ABC News, 28 March 2018, abc.net.au.

Arizona curriculum controversy

Several media sources claim the Arizona (US) Department of Education is removing evolution and introducing intelligent design (ID) in their curriculum. This is inaccurate. The draft of Arizona’s new Science Standards indicates evolution is still being taught from an early age. It explicitly mentions teaching evolutionary concepts—coevolution, vestigial structures, homology, cladograms—and no mention of ID or creation.

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So why the fuss? It seems atheists are irked by the precision in the definition of evolution. E.g., “Adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution”, was changed to the more precise “Traits within populations change over time.” Most of the other changes similarly try to avoid the common error of equivocating on the word evolution.

We have previously written how some educators point to variation in gene frequencies in a population, call it ‘evolution’, and then present it as demonstrating how bacteria became biologists (see creation.com/baitandswitch). The avoidance of this error is now being lambasted as a “watering down” or even removal of evolution in order to present religion in science classrooms.

Another point of contention is a statement requiring students to “construct an explanation based on evidence that the process of evolution may result from natural selection.” Again, this shows evolution is still being taught, but clarifies it by adding “may”. This is commendable since natural selection (NS) is also an important part of the biblical creation model, explaining rapid post-Flood diversification. Even some evolution theorists doubt that NS explains macroevolution.

In any case, we think it’s counterproductive to compel teaching creation in school—see creation.com/teaching-creation. Far from creationists trying to remove evolution from the classroom to replace it with ‘religion’, evolutionists here want to censor students from anything that might encourage critical thinking about evolution.

  • Arizona Science Standards March 2018 Draft, accessed 31 May 2018 at cms.azed.gov.

Scientists hunt for ‘Nessie’

Scotland’s Loch Ness, with its peat-stained dark and deep waters, is well known for its fabled monster inhabitant. It has often been suggested that the stories may arise from an actual living population of otherwise-extinct reptiles, survivors from the ‘age of reptiles’.

Now an international team of researchers is planning to take around 300 water samples from three different depths of the Loch. The idea is to extract DNA fragments, to compare them with sequences from known animals.

The team hopes to at least find a number of new species of less-exotic animals, but in the process they would be able to see if there is any unexpected DNA type. If discovered, this would then also enable the testing of several different theories about the nature of the ‘monster’.

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For example, is the ‘strange’ DNA from a reptilian sequence, as would be the case it if were one of the plesiosaur-type marine reptiles? Or could the Nessie sightings (other than the known hoaxes) even be, as some have suggested, a giant fish? The researchers are also open to the possibility that such DNA might turn out to be from something hitherto completely unknown to science.

For the most part, though, they are doubtful of finding anything too mysterious. One of them, Neil Gemmell from New Zealand’s University of Otago, has discovered new species (of trout) in this way, and says, “If this were solely a monster hunt, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

An evolutionist would naturally be hugely surprised for a population of e.g. plesiosaurs to have survived for many ‘millions of years’. A creationist much less so, of course. In the biblical model, the death of the last of the extinct reptiles (including dinosaurs, the great marine reptiles and flying reptiles) would have been far more recent. This is supported by many descriptions from historical times which suggest that some were still alive at that time.

CMI has increasingly adopted the position that the as-yet-undetected survival of any of them till today is extremely improbable. So for practical purposes they should be regarded as indeed extinct; see creation.com/dinos-extinct. Unless, of course, there is real evidence to the contrary; the right sort of DNA sequences might be a good example.

However, we won’t be holding our breath, though of course we’d be delighted in the unlikely event this effort proves otherwise.

  • Salplakoglu, Y, Scientists to hunt for Loch Ness monster DNA, livescience.com, 23 May 2018.

Smallest spinosaurus fossil identified

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In 1999, a 21 mm-long toe bone that ends in a claw (i.e. a pedal ungual phalanx), was located in the Kem Kem beds of south eastern Morocco. It lay unidentified until the publication of the discovery of a Spinosaurus aegyptiacus in 2014. As this new specimen had an almost complete right foot, the unidentified fossil has recently been compared to it, showing that it belonged to a juvenile Spinosaurus. The paper’s authors stated,

“Assuming the juveniles looked like smaller versions of the adults, the 21 mm-long claw phalanx from this small specimen would pertain to an early juvenile individual, 1.78 m-long, only just a little bit longer than the estimated length of the sole head of the largest adult Spinosaurus known to date.” The Spinosaurus, with its huge sailed back, stands out as one of the longest and largest theropod dinosaurs.

While it is thought to have had a semi-aquatic lifestyle, it was an air-breathing animal, and representatives of its Spinosaurus kind would have been aboard Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6–8). This find reminds us that no matter how big some kinds of dinosaurs were as adults, they all started off small. When it came to the ones that grew to a huge size, juveniles capable of reproducing after the Flood would have been taken onto Noah’s Ark, rather than adults.

  • Anderson, A., Paleontologists find fossil of smallest Spinosaurus, sci-news.com, May 2018.
  • Maganuco, S., and Dal Sasso, C., The smallest biggest theropod dinosaur: a tiny pedal ungula of a juvenile Spinosaurus from the Cretaceous of Morocco, PeerJ 6:e4785, 30 May 2018 | doi:10.7717/peerj.4785.

Multi-dimensional universe in brain networks

The Blue Brain Project, a Swiss research initiative, ultimately aims to build a supercomputer-based digital reconstruction of the human brain. In reconstructing and simulating the circuits in a rat’s cortex, they have so far done this for approximately 8 million connections between about 31,000 neurons (nerve cells). This is far short of the roughly 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and only represents a tiny portion of the much smaller rat brain, which has about 13 million neurons.

The authors (Reimann et al.) of the study conjecture that when the brain processes a stimulus, the activity associated with it groups neurons connected by synapses into what they call “functional cliques” (groups of tightly connected neurons) and “cavities” (‘empty’ spaces between them) that then progress “in a stereotypical sequence toward peak complexity.” Lead researcher Henry Markram is quoted as saying: “There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions.”

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These are not space-time dimensions, but a mathematical dimensional concept. It can be thought of as geometric objects, where each neuron connects to all others in the clique, forming a geometric object. The more neurons in the clique, the higher the dimensions of the object.

If this brain model is reasonably accurate, this simulation of even a tiny brain portion indicates a bewildering level of functional complexity regarding how the brain processes information. Even more baffling would be to explain how this complexity could be engineered into our genome by natural selection sorting random mutations, i.e., by an evolutionary process.

  • Reimann, M.W., et al. Cliques of neurons bound into cavities provide a missing link between structure and function, Front. Comput. Neurosci. 11:48, 12 June 2017 | doi: 10.3389/fncom.2017.00048.
  • Dean, S., The human brain can create structures in up to 11 dimensions, sciencealert.com, 21 April 2018.
  • Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks, eurekalert.org, 12 June 2017.

Radiocarbon dating “inaccurate”

New research reveals that radiocarbon dating doesn’t give accurate results, due to fluctuations in the carbon cycle. The scientists who made the discovery claim that the inaccuracy is only a matter of a few years here or there for individual dates. However, they admit that cumulative dating errors may have serious implications for historical chronology. The discovery relates only to archaeology—it doesn’t affect ‘long-age’ dating techniques that allegedly ‘date’ rocks to millions and billions of years.

123rf.com/Jaroslav Moravcikradiocarbon

Carbon-14 dating remains a useful method for young earth creationists, provided that allowance is made for the very large change in the carbon balance of the biosphere following the great Flood (see chapter 4 of The Creation Answers Book).

Carbon-containing fossils (including coal) from the Flood generally contain measurable radiocarbon. However, if they were millions of years old they should not contain any 14C. Radiocarbon ‘dates’ calculated for these fossils give ‘only’ tens of thousands of years, which is much too young for their supposed multi-million-year age. On the other hand, the calculated ‘dates’ are much too old compared with the time they were actually buried (c. 4,500 years ago). This is because age calculations need to calibrate for the fact that vast quantities of carbon-containing plants and animals were buried during that cataclysmic, global Flood. This would have drastically upset the atmospheric 14C/12C balance. Also it would have upset the biosphere’s balance because lots of 12C would have been buried.

The new research reflects a growing realization that the interpretation of results from laboratory dating is dependent on complex factors, and that the ‘dates’ themselves are not hard facts.

  • Inaccuracies in radiocarbon dating, sciencedaily.com, June 2018.

Homo erectus sailed the seas

A new proposal has been put forward suggesting that Homo erectus not only used language to communicate, but were sophisticated sailors who created seagoing vessels.

H. erectus remains have been found on Crete and other islands. To get to some such places, they would have had to build seaworthy vessels, develop sophisticated seafaring techniques, and travel considerable distances across open ocean.

Reaching some of these islands would have required sailing against strong currents, a feat only possible with coordinated paddling involving twenty or more individuals. But such coordination requires language and communication.

Some evolutionists would have you think that if a creature communicates like humans, navigates using seafaring skills like humans, and builds boats like humans … it is not human! It comes as no surprise therefore that, after concluding that H. erectus is capable of doing all these things, the author nevertheless reverts to the evolutionary narrative that H. erectus were subhuman, less evolved than modern humans (Homo sapiens).

Not surprisingly, some evolutionists themselves find it hard to believe that H. erectus could have done all these things, since this would put the origin of language, together with seafaring, back in evolutionary time by more than a million years! As a result, some of these suggest, instead, that H. erectus may have arrived on these islands by means of vegetation rafts torn off by tsunamis.

This indication of sophisticated seafaring is part of the accumulating evidence that Homo erectus (which even some evolutionist experts have said should be renamed Homo sapiens) were just one more post-Flood people group, not our prehuman less-evolved ancestors.

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  • Davis, N., Homo erectus may have been a sailor—and able to speak, theguardian.com, 20 February 2018
  • Everett, D., How language began, Liveright, 2017.