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Investigating Origins

Archaeological, scientific and historical articles dealing directly with the issue of origins, evolution, the early chapters of Genesis and the Genesis Flood. (Genesis 1-9).

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The most widely used tool to measure the age of the Earth is radioactive decay. The great scientist Ernest Rutherford was the first to define the concept of 'half-life,' that is, the time it takes for one half of the atoms in a given quantity of a radioactive element (such as plutonium) to decay into another element (such as uranium), or for one isotope of an element (such as carbon-14) to decay into another isotope of that same element (such as carbon-12)...

Contrary to media reports, intelligent design is not a religious-based idea, but instead an evidence-based scientific theory about life's origins

As we read the narrative of Genesis 1, we repeatedly encounter the word 'expanse' or 'firmament.' These words are used to translate the Hebrew term raqia, but carry baggage that tends to predispose how we English readers interpret these verses, hindering our ability to derive their meaning on purely contextual grounds...

One of the most heated topics in the search for origins is the debate over whether the enormous complexity of living beings is the result of accident or design. Recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology may shed further light on the subject. Chemists and engineers have figured out how to make sophisticated versions of children's pop-up books on a microscopic scale, and they have discovered that these structures, according to the journal Science News, start off as two-dimensional and then 'fold themselves into final, functional three-dimensional shapes' (Cunningham 2006: 344).

According to George M. Whitesides, a chemist and materials scientist at Harvard, self-folding falls under the broader category of self-assembly, in which scientists design structures that build themselves out of specific components. This self-assembly, in Whitesides' words, 'is a strategy for making complex, multicomponent, three-dimensional things' (Ibid.). He further pointed out that nature itself is the ultimate example of self-assembly, stating that 'you and I are self-assembled objects.' From the proteins that make up our cells, to the cells that make up our bodies, he says, 'it all comes together by itself' (Ibid.).

Whitesides' entry into the realm of self-folding began with his knowledge of protein self-assembly. Proteins, which are the building blocks of our bodies, start out as chains of amino acids, which then fold themselves into three-dimensional forms. The sequence of the amino acids, and the interactions among them, dictate the final shapes of the proteins (Ibid.).

In an effort to duplicate this process, Whitesides, along with Derek A. Bruzewicz and their colleagues at Harvard, started with a strip of transparent plastic tape only 12 micrometers thick, 3 millimeters wide, and 50 millimeters long. They then placed 100-nanometer-thick diamond shapes made of copper along one surface of the tape. According to Bruzewicz, each copper diamond can be thought of as an amino acid on a protein chain (Ibid.).

The team then crimped the tape between metal combs with zigzagging teeth as a suggestion for how the structure would ultimately self-fold into its final shape. After dipping the tape into solder and then hot water, 'the tape had completely folded into its predetermined shape.' The team then moved on to a more complex shape that folded into a helix-the very shape of our DNA, the 'blueprint' that makes us what we are (Ibid.).

A team at Johns Hopkins University, led by engineer David H. Gracias, has gone a step further by getting two-dimensional patterns to fold into cubes and pyramids. These 'containers,' according to Gracias' team, might play host to chemical reactions or even transplantable cells (Ibid. 346).

The central point is that these created structures are parallel to the building blocks of all living beings, including ourselves, and they did not come about by accident or random chance, but by the outside force of highly intelligent scientists. In fact, according to Science News,

Whitesides says that[,] as researchers learn more, it might become possible to create new kinds of electronics and displays as well as to begin to uncover nature's assembly techniques. Although the strategy is ubiquitous in nature, for scientists, he says, 'self-assembly is just at the beginning' (Ibid.)

In other words, the more advances scientists make, the closer they come to replicating the process of intelligent design that created all the life forms that exist or have ever existed.

Reference:

Cunningham, A. 2006. 'Chemical Pop-up Books.' Science News 170, no. 22.

The inexact nature of the methods currently used by scientists to date the earth has been discussed numerous times in this column. A recent example of this inexactitude was discovered by Elizabeth Catlos, associate professor of geology at Oklahoma State University. She and her colleagues undertook numerous scientific expeditions to the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. During these expeditions she collected rocks bearing garnets. According to the journal Smithsonian:

Forged tens of miles beneath the surface of the earth, garnets are more than semiprecious gems; they are also exquisite recorders of geologic data. Through variations in their chemical composition, garnets preserve information about the extreme pressures and temperatures at which they crystallized. They also contain tiny grains of monazite, a rare earth mineral that lends itself to radioactive dating (Nash 2007: 91).

Back when she was a graduate student at UCLA, Catlos sliced these garnets and dated the monazites inside them with an instrument known as an ion microprobe. As reported by Smithsonian: 'The data she recorded contradicted the prevailing picture of how the world's highest mountains were formed' (Ibid.).

Current theory had maintained that the Himalayas were formed when the tectonic plate on which India sits floated northward and slammed slowly into what was then Asia's south coast. The resultant upward crumpling of the land created the Himalayas. According to conventional dating assumptions, this occurred 20 million years ago. 'But Catlos' rock samples,' reported Smithsonian, 'told her they had been buried as recently as one million years ago….' (Ibid.).

The date of one million years of course does not fit in with young-earth creationism, but that's not the point. The point is that Prof. Catlos' discovery reduces by a whopping 19/20ths the assumed date of the creation of the Himalayas.

Another example of this can be found in supervolcanoes, whose descriptive name needs no explanation. One of the best-known remnants of these is the Bishop tuff, a volcanic layer hundreds of meters thick and known commonly as the Volcanic Tablelands in eastern California. According to Dr. Ilya Bindeman, a geochemist and assistant professor in the department of geological sciences at the University of Oregon,

For decades, many geologists assumed that a series of distinct eruptions OVER MILLIONS OF YEARS must have occurred to produce the extensive Bishop tuff. But careful studies of microscopic, magma-filled bubbles trapped inside tiny crystals of quartz tell a different story….Alfred Anderson of the University of Chicago and his colleagues studied the size of the bubbles under a microscope to estimate how long it took the magma [underground lava] to leak out. Based on these and other experiments and field observations from the 1990s, geologists now think that the Bishop tuff-and probably most other super-erupted debris-was expelled IN A SINGLE EVENT LASTING A MERE 10 TO 100 HOURS' (Bindeman 2006: 41 [emphasis added]).

Dr. Bindeman further added: 'Since that discovery, investigators have had to modify their reconstructions of supervolcano eruptions' (Ibid.). The discoveries by Professors Catlos and Anderson thus demonstrate that widely accepted dating assumptions are not to be taken as infallible, unarguable proof that the earth, or its geological formations, are of a certain ancient age.

References:

Nash, J.M. 2007. 'Rocks of Ages.' Smithsonian, Special Fall Issue.
Bindeman, I.N. 2006. 'The Secrets of Supervolcanoes.' Scientific American 294, no. 6.

 

A well-known icon of evolution is the blind fish that lives in numerous caves in Mexico. At some time in the past, sighted fish living in the sunlit waters of Mexico entered lightless caves and, over time, lost the ability to see. To evolutionary biologists, this is proof that the individual fishes that entered these caves adapted to their environment and evolved into an entirely new species.

However, as more and more evidence is discovered regarding the incredible variability of the genetic code of all living beings, it is becoming clearer that every species possesses the ability to adapt to its environment by turning on or off certain genes and changing its inherent nature, sometimes even radically. Moreover, if the species' environment changes back to what it had originally been, that same gene (or gene sequence) can be just as readily switched off, and the original form of the creature will reappear.

Examples of the genetic on/off switch have been witnessed in bacteria since the 1970s. When bacteria undergo high levels of stress from their environment, they automatically undertake what is called the SOS response. As the April 2006 issue of Scientific American reported:

When bacteria are under extreme stress, they try various means of fixing the damage as an initial step. They then SWITCH ON GENES whose protein products precipitate a spate of mutations that occur 10,000 times as fast as those arising during normal cell replication. In essence, the cells undergo a quick identity change (Stix 2006: 82 [emphasis added]).

For example, when the well-known bacterium E. coli is subjected to severe damage from the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (known as cipro), it sends out a genetic SOS. This instant mutation prevents cipro from binding to its target, a protein in E. coli known as gyrase; if E. coli did not engage this on/off switch, it would die (Ibid.).

Studies have shown that this response works in higher animals as well. The Mexican cave fish is a remarkable example. According to the journal Science News, 'Fish and other creatures lose their sight after generations living in caves. Yet working vision genes from one parent can partly make up for defunct versions from the other parent, at least in young fish, reports Richard Borowsky of New York University' (Milius 2008: 21).

Although there are many species of blind cave fish around the world, the Mexican tetra is the favorite of biologists, because different forms of it will breed in captivity, and it has a sighted version that lives in open waters. Borowsky mixed and matched wild, blind tetras from 29 different Mexican caves; he then tested vision in the pure strains as well as in hybridized cross-breeds. When the fry (baby fish) were just over a week old, he performed a vision study on them and found that 39% of them could see (Ibid.).

Interestingly, the cave hybrids usually went blind as they grew up, but when Borowsky crossed blind cave tetras with sighted tetras from sunlit waters, 'some of the offspring did retain vision into adulthood,' according to Science News (Ibid.).

More studies need to be performed, of course. Nevertheless, Prof. Borowsky's findings are extremely fascinating and just as telling. The blind cave fish did not evolve into a new, separate species, as has always been assumed. Rather, their genetic programming allowed them to change their physical characteristics to fit their surroundings, but these changes were not permanent. Blind or sighted, the tetra is still the tetra.

References:

Milius, S. 2008. 'Seeing Again.' Science News 173, no. 2.
Stix, G. 2006. 'An Antibiotic Resistance Fighter.' Scientific American 294, no. 4.

In the 1970's, an earth-shaking discovery of a fossil was made in Ethiopia. The fossil was of a young female who appeared to bear anatomical similarities to both modern humans and chimpanzees. Dated to 3.2 million years ago and popularly named 'Lucy,' she was at once decreed to be the missing link between modern humans (Homo sapiens) and our evolutionary ancestors.

Scientifically, she was assigned to the species Australopithecus afarensis, and, soon after, the remains of several other individuals of Lucy's species were found in the same area. It soon became scientific dogma that A. afarensis branched off into two evolutionary paths: once that led to humans, and one that led to Australopithecus robustus, which eventually died out (Bower 2007: 230). 'However,' reports the journal Science News,

'an analysis of A. afarensis jaw from a skull discovered in 2002 near Lucy's site in Ethiopia supports a long-standing minority viewpoint that Lucy's kind occupied only a side branch of human evolution. A. afarensis evolved into the relatively small-brained, large-jawed robust australopithecines but didn't contribute to the evolution of modern people, says anthropologist Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University' (Ibid.).

Rak and his colleagues studied the size and shape of the ramus, a horizontal bone that connects the lower jaw to the upper one, and found that the ramus found in Lucy, in A. robustus, and in modern gorillas 'looks much the same' (Ibid.). Rak's team asserts that all other primates-including chimpanzees and fossil hominids that some believe to be direct human ancestors-share a ramus configuration different from the one possessed by Lucy, A. robustus, and today's gorillas. According to Rak, these findings 'cast doubt on the role of A. afarensis [Lucy] as a modern human ancestor' (Ibid.).

Rak and his team studied 146 jaws from 41 humans, 31 gorillas, 29 pygmy chimpanzees, 29 common chimpanzees, and 16 orangutans. They then used a computer program to calculate an average ramus contour for each species group, and found that people, chimpanzees, and orangutans all displayed a similar contour. They further saw that the ramus of a recently unearthed A. afarensis jaw, in addition to the ramus bones of partial jaws of the same species excavated earlier, 'closely resembles that of the gorilla, Rak says….Two A. robustus specimens that retain part of the ramus also show a gorilla-like pattern, the investigators hold' (Ibid.).

The team further discovered that fossilized jaws from hominids called Ardipithecus ramidus, which are believed to be mankind's evolutionary ancestors from 4.5 million years ago, as well as the jaws from ancient Homo species (also believed to lie in our evolutionary ancestry), 'display a ramus configuration like that of modern chimps' (Ibid.). Rak concludes that Lucy's species evolved a gorilla-like ramus independently, and passed this trait on to A. robustus, not the Homo sapiens (Ibid.).

Not all paleontologists and anthropologists agree with Rak, but that is the nature of the science of human origins. A discovery is made, it is sensationalized, and then it is touted as irrefutable evidence for one scientist's-or one group of scientists'-preferred theory of human origins. The find remains controversial for decades, before another discovery comes along and knocks it from its throne.

Reference:
Bower, B. 2007. 'Disinherited Ancestor.' Science News 171, no. 15.

When new species appear suddenly in the fossil record, scientists automatically ascribe the new appearance to evolution in the classical Darwinian style. However, it is now known that brand-new, viable, reproducing species can suddenly appear not necessarily through evolution and survival of the fittest, but through the hybridization of separate, already-existing species.

An example of this was observed by Jesús Mavárez of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He discovered that a black South American butterfly with bold stripes originated in the wild from the crossing of two other species of the same genus. The new species, known by its scientific name of Heliconius heurippa, is the product of two other butterfly species of the genus Heliconius, but prefers to mate with others displaying the same type of bold stripes, thus preserving the new species distinct from its two parent species (Milius 2006: 371).

Mavárez had suspected that H. heurippa was the product of the hybridization of Heliconius cydno and Heliconius melpomene, because H. heurippa's genetic code showed genetic markers similar to the two other species. Mavárez and his colleagues crossed H. cydno and H. melpomene in the laboratory and then back-crossed some of the offspring with H. cydno and then bred those offspring. The procedure re-created the distinctive stripe pattern of the wild specimens of H. heurippa (Ibid. 371-2).

The team then tried to determine why the newly created species, H. heurippa, didn't get absorbed back into the parent species by breeding in the wild with individual butterflies from the cydno and melpomene species. In a laboratory at the University of the Andes in Colombia, Mavárez and his team set up courtship tests in which they discovered that male heurippa were at least twice as likely to try to mate with females of their own species than with cydno and melpomene females (Ibid. 372).

Bruce McPheron of Pennsylvania State University, who has studied how some flies form new species via hybridization, commented: 'In animals, the dogma has been [that] hybridization is a dead end-it's not important for creating species.' Mavárez's discovery, however, shows that hybridization 'can be a much more important source of new species than people have recognized' (Ibid. 371).

Hybridization does not occur solely among fly species and butterfly species. For example, botanists have long known that new plant species arise from interbreeding, especially when the hybrids end up with more chromosomes than their parent species (Ibid.). Loren Rieseberg of Indiana University, Bloomington, an expert on the hybridization of sunflowers, referred to Mavárez's experiments as 'very thorough and elegant' (Ibid. 372).

We thus have empirical evidence that hybridization creates new species in the wild. This is not theory, as is the case when scientists see a new creature appearing in the fossil record and ascribe its sudden origin to classical Darwinian evolution. Hybridization is observable fact, both in the wild and in the laboratory.

Reference:

Milius, S. 2006. 'Mixed Butterflies.' Science News 169, no. 24.

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ABRT 24 | 4/13/2019