Sunday, November 7, 2010

AiG News to Note, November 6, 2010

Answers in Genesis' weekly roundup of science news seems a bit drab this week: creation is proved by the fact that fossils have not been found on Mars, that studies in fruit fly genetics study genetics rather than whatever AiG thinks of as information theory, that behaviorally modern humans were behaviorally modern, that a boa constrictor gives virgin birth to female offspring, and (coming round full circle) that there are plenty of planets in the universe that don't seem very hospitable to life.

The section on Martian life (or the lack thereof) is rather puzzling.  It notes a story on the National Geographic website about some scientists' best idea of where future Mars landers ought to look for signs of life or for fossils.  Alexis Palermo Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona mentions various fractured basins on the planet where stable bodies of waters might have lasted for millions of centuries, and where their sediments are still likely to be accessible.  The article mentions a region in Mars' northern hemisphere named Gemini Scopuli, though it notes that a spot on NASA's list of possible future landing sites, Mawrth Vallis, also looks good.  Another scientist, Victor Baker of the University of Arizona, is quoted and comes across as cautious: he warns not to expect anything as complex as typical Cambrian fossils on Mars, though he thinks unicellular organisms are possible.

"Microorganism fossils on Mars is not too big a stretch of the imagination" is, of course, from AiG's standpoint, the credulity of "evolution-believing astrobiologists" who are convinced without evidence that life must exist on other planets (though nowhere in Baker's or Rodriguez's statements is any indication that life must exist on Mars).  AiG shows proper creationist caution: although they are convinced on theological grounds that intelligent life does not exist elsewhere in the universe, they concede that God might have created non-intelligent life on other planets.  But it is, of course, overconfident to expect to find evidence of such life.

The next section of "News to Note" covers research on fruit flies by scientists at the University of California, Irvine.  The researchers bred two populations of fruit flies, one artificially selected for long life (and slow growth and reproduction as side effects), the other bred to life fast, die young, and leave a lot of orphaned maggots.  They were trying to see which genes determined the difference between the populations, and discovered that rather than a few easily identified genes that accounted for most of the difference, found that scores or hundreds of different genes played a part even in these relatively simple differences.  From the UCI researchers' standpoint, they were settling (or at least providing some clues towards solving) a quarrel over population genetics that went back to Ronald Fisher and Sewell Wright (who favored the "lots of small changes" model) and J.B.S. Haldane (who favored the "few big changes" model).  From AiG's standpoint, they were failing to explain how "new information" (undefined, as usual) entered the genome through mutation, and illustration how evolution is impossible because genetics is really complex (that several generations of evolutionists had suspected that genetics was really complex and didn't see this as an impediment to large-scale common descent with modification does not trouble them, of course).

The next section explains how the evolutionary timeline has been confounded again, showing that evolution is wrong, that radiometric dating is worthless, and that cave men were descendants of Noah.  The confounding research was done by archaeologists at the University of Tolouse-Le Mirail in France, on artifacts dug up from 75,000-year-old deposits in a cave in South Africa.  They determined that these artifacts were made by pressure flaking, a technique for making stone tools not previously known to have been used before 20,000 years ago.

Now, it's worth noting that these were not "primitive" men.  Homo sapiens dates back to almost 200,000 years ago.  It's unlikely that the oldest H. sapiens fossils represent the earliest members of our species, since anatomically modern humans -- relatively gracile H. sapiens with chins -- are almost as old.  The makers of these stone tools were physically modern.  How behaviorally modern they were is an open question; the oldest cave paintings are perhaps 40,000 years old, and some paleoanthropologists think that language use is not much older, but again, fossils and artifacts can only show that something (e.g. art, or particular techniques for working stone) were known by such and such a date at latest, not that they could not have been known before then.  I'm unaware of any aspect of evolutionary theory that says that humans could not have invented language, art, abstract thought, and pressure flaking shortly after H. sapiens sapiens first appeared.  Answers in Genesis writers are either uninformed about the actual "evolutionary timeline" or else assume that their readers don't understand it and that the details don't matter as long as faith in Genesis is supported.

The next section is on a BBC news article that caught everyone's attention: a female boa constrictor, confirmed by her keepers to be a good girl and not at all slutty, has managed to give birth to a brood of baby boas without male help.  Given that parthenogenesis has been demonstrated before in other reptiles (famously, a Komodo dragon last year), this was not by itself a shock.  What was a shock was that the babies were all female: boa constrictors, like birds and Komodo dragons, use a WZ sex chromosome system (some other reptiles use other systems) rather than the XY system used by most mammals (and some other groups -- both systems appear to have evolved multiple times).  Since normally, in a WZ system, the W chromosome (like the Y chromosome in XY systems) is reduced and dedicated mainly to sex determination, it was assumed that WW individuals were inviable (just as there aren't humans who are YY).  All the viable babies produced by parthenogenesis of a species with WZ sex determination should be male, like the Komodo dragon babies.  But the snakes are apparently healthy WW females, which is knocking biology for a bit of a loop and giving researchers something to study.

AiG, rather astoundingly, does not declare that evolutionists being caught by surprise this way discredits evolutionary theory.  Rather, they are concerned that stories about parthenogenesis in various species will lead people to suppose that the virgin birth of Jesus may not have been a miracle (that it may not have happened at all is apparently too shocking for even an evolutionist to suggest).  They therefore end the section with a reminder that "parthenogenesis results in a near-clone of the parent -- and hence all offspring are female."  This would actually presumably be true if parthenogenesis ever occurred in a mammal, as the virgin Mary presumably was.  The authors don't seem to have quite grasped that if the virgin Mary had been a monitor lizard -- or a boa constrictor -- then it would have been quite astonishing if her child had not been a male (note to creationists: I am not in fact suggesting that Mary was a reptile).

The penultimate section of this weeks "News to Note" covers a computer model of planetary system formation that suggests that as star systems form, rocky planets several times the size of Earth and very close to their primaries (close enough to have 24-hour years) could be surprisingly common.  These planets are not expected to be very long-lived (or very habitable), but given that gas-giant-sized worlds that are very close to their primaries have been discovered, they seem plausible.  Nothing in the article in Science suggests that such "super-Earths" would be the only planets formed in their planetary systems, but Answers in Genesis notes that the existence (even the modeled existence) of numerous planets unsuitable for life in the galaxy shows just how special Earth is, and hence supports creationism (which implies that while the Earth was made to be inhabited, the rest of the hundred-billion or so galaxies and all their worlds were created just to mark seasons -- even the stars that can't be seen without massive telescopes).

This weeks summary of the news ends with a snarky mention that the Large Hadron Collider is getting ready to try to recreate conditions (in miniature) that last existed in the early stages of the Big Bang.  AiG does not seem quite clear on the difference between trying to recreate a very dense, hot state of matter and trying to prove the Big Bang, or trying to create a new universe.  They also allude to a Science Daily article on attempts to use insect fossils to estimate oxygen levels in the past, as evidence that the "pre-Flood world" had an atmosphere different from the post-Flood world we live in (which would help explain why so many of the "kinds" that God had ordered Noah to bring aboard the Ark had promptly gone extinct once they disembarked, making the whole exercise of trying to save them rather one in futility).


  1. But given that parthenogenesis results in a near clone of the parent—and hence, all offspring are female—no one can suggest that a virgin conception of Christ could have been anything but miraculous.

    But Steven, you never explained to me how the virgin conception led to a baby with a human and divine nature and was not some horrible biological experiment!

  2. It's an ineffable mystery beyond human understanding, possible only through divine omnipotence. If merely human science could explain it, Hollywood actresses would be popping out little Messiahs every other year.

  3. Your relentless pursuit of truth and ability to communicate your data is astounding. A warm heartfelt thanks to you sir. As a unrelated side note: I'm a serious enthusiast of snakes and keep a 10' boa (among many other boids) and found the parthenogenisis article facinating.

  4. Steven J,

    I had just replied to your comment on my blog (A Sure Word) that you should host your own blog. I guess I'm a couple of months behind the times. Boy, am I embarrassed. It looks like I've got some reading to catch up on. :)

    God bless!!