Reasons to Believe

Connections 2006, Vol. 8, No. 2



Is There a Controversy about Evolution?
Fazale Rana, Ph.D.

"Teaching the controversy" is controversial. Sides have been drawn.

On one side, most intelligent design (ID) proponents want students to become familiar with the evidence cited in support of evolution and with evidence against it. In short, they recommend that educators "teach the controversy" about evolution1

On the other side, most evolutionary biologists reject this proposal. They insist that there is no controversy about evolution. According to Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, while debate takes place about "the patterns and processes of evolution…it is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible to teach that scientists seriously debate the validity of evolution."2

Is there no controversy among scientists? Are the debates merely about the patterns and processes of evolution, or does the scientific evidence raise sufficient doubts about the validity of biological evolution? Recent work on bird origins helps address these questions.

Evolution's critics often cite the virtual absence of transitional intermediates in the fossil record as a significant problem for the theory. If evolutionary processes explain life's history, then it's reasonable to expect an abundance of fossil intermediates documenting the emergence of new life-forms.

Evolutionary biologists respond to this challenge by claiming that there are transitional forms in the fossil record. To buttress this assertion they frequently point to the "feathered" dinosaur fossils, interpreted as transitional intermediates between birds and theropod dinosaurs (like the raptors in the movie Jurassic Park).3

The bird-dinosaur theory for the origin of birds has become "orthodoxy" among evolutionary biologists. Based on morphological (anatomical, physical) similarities between birds and theropods, a majority of evolutionary biologists conclude that birds evolved from these bipedal dinosaurs. In this scenario transitional forms between theropods and birds should be uncovered in the fossil record. A few years ago, the discovery of certain theropods (dated at about 125 million years in age) in the Yixian Formation of China's Liaoning province seemed to satisfy this key prediction. These fossils possess structures that have been interpreted as feathers by some paleontologists, making them candidates for transitional intermediates between dinosaurs and birds.

However, new work by an international team of paleontologists challenges this standard evolutionary assertion.4 Detailed analysis of a new fossil specimen of Psittacosaurus, a dinosaur thought to have no place in bird ancestry, indicates that the features interpreted as theropod feathers are actually frayed integument (skin). Researchers also amassed additional evidence that severs the evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs. For example, they demonstrated that the foot-and-toe structures of birds and theropods are fundamentally different even though superficially they appear to be similar. The team also showed that all the "feathered" dinosaur transitional forms occur in the fossil record 30 million years after the appearance of the first true birds. Plus, some of the "feathered" dinosaurs, such as Caudipteryx, are not dinosaurs at all-rather, they're flightless birds.

According to Alan Feduccia, the paleontologist who led the research team that investigated Psittacosaurus, constant promotion of the bird-dinosaur theory in National Geographic, Nature, and Science creates a false sense of confidence about how birds originated.5 In the midst of this publicity, the study conducted by Feduccia's team raises serious questions about the validity of the most widely held evolutionary explanation for bird origins. Feduccia says that "[t]he theory that birds are the equivalent of living dinosaurs and that dinosaurs were feathered is so full of holes that creationists have jumped all over it, using the evolutionary nonsense of 'dinosaurian science' as evidence against the theory of evolution."6

Feduccia's assessment, and the work of his team, are meaningful in light of the "teach the controversy" hullabaloo. Could it be that there are mainstream ideas in evolutionary thought-like the bird-dinosaur theory-that are considered absurd, even by evolutionary biologists? If so, then aren't evolution's critics justified in identifying significant problems that confront evolution?

Apart from the bird-dinosaur theory, evolutionary biologists offer no real explanation for bird origins. Consequently one of the best examples for evolutionary transitional intermediates disappears from the fossil record. Shouldn't students be taught about such controversies? It seems pedagogically responsible to do so. Students can decide whether or not biological evolution is valid based on an objective presentation of the evidence. "Teaching the controversy" shouldn't be controversial at all.

References:
1. Both Reasons To Believe and the Discovery Institute oppose teaching ID (as currently formulated) in the science classroom and support 'teaching the controversy' about evolution. See Fuz Rana and Hugh Ross, "Should Intelligent Design be Taught in Public Schools," Staying Connected (September 2005).
2. Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, "Evolution: What's Wrong with 'Teaching the Controversy'," TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution 18 (2003): 499-502.
3. Ann Gibbons, "Dinosaur Fossils, in Fine Feather, Show Link to Birds," Science 280 (1998): 2051.
4. Alan Feduccia, Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, and J. Richard Hinchliffe, "Do Feathered Dinosaurs Exist? Testing the Hypothesis on Neontological and Paleontological Evidence," Journal of Morphology 266 (2005): 125-66.
5. "Scientists Say No Evidence Exists that Therapod Dinosaurs Evolved into Birds," Sciencedaily.com, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051010085411.htm, accessed October 10, 2005.
6. "Scientists Say No Evidence Exists that Therapod Dinosaurs Evolved into Birds."

 


Watching the Universe Grow Up
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D., Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Among the vast expanses of the cosmos, humanity resides on an amazing planet with remarkable conditions for observing the birth and expansion of the universe. It seems as though a purposeful Designer has allowed human civilization and technology to develop so that the Designer's work can be studied in exquisite detail.

Thanks to new instruments that provide breakthroughs in understanding, scientists can test the validity of various origin-of-the-universe models. RTB's cosmic creation model, a big bang model, states that the universe began in a hot, uniform state. It then cooled down, eventually forming the stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies observed today. The latest images (left) from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) affirm this picture of an immature universe that "grows up" over time. Images of galaxy clusters as they appear a couple billion light years ago show signs of their great age-a high degree of symmetry, many old stars, few galaxy interactions, and lots of clustering.

Images (right) from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), showing galaxies from 7-13 billion years ago, look remarkably different. Galaxies are noticeably more ragged, more dispersed, and more uniformly distributed; they are dominated by younger stars and show frequent interactions-all signs of immaturity and of a much smaller, more densely packed cosmos.

Two more snapshots of the universe come from the cosmic microwave background (CMB, lower left)1 and a particular class of galaxies (red luminous galaxies or RLGs, lower right)2 These two images show how dramatically the universe changed between 380,000 thousands years and 10 billion years after the creation of the universe. Comparing the clumpiness of the universe at these two epochs provides compelling evidence that dark matter and dark energy-features predicted by RTB's model-dominate the dynamics of the universe. The spatial distribution of the RLGs also establishes that the fluctuations of the CMB grew through straightforward gravitational interactions to form the galaxies and clusters of galaxies observed today. All this evidence strengthens RTB's creation model and testifies of a supernatural Creator who has left unmistakable cosmic fingerprints for humans to discover.
References

    C. L. Bennett et al., "First-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Preliminary Maps and Basic Results," Astrophysical Journal Supplement 148 (2003): 1-27.
    Daniel J. Eisenstein et al., "Detection of the Baryon Acoustic Peak in the Large-Scale Correlation Function of SDSS Luminous Red Galaxies," Astrophysical Journal 633 (2005): 560-74.

Portraits of Maturity. The Hubble Space Telescope captures signs of age in the Abell 1689 Galaxy Cluster, located about 2 billion light years away from Earth. The image records how the cluster looked 2 billion years ago-or, more than 11 billion years after the big bang.

Six representative galaxies from Abell 1689 show maturity in several ways: a high degree of symmetry, preponderance of older, red stars, and few galaxy interactions.

Youthful Impressions. This section of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) image contains over 2,500 galaxies (only one star is visible). Observers can now see galaxies (over 13 billion light years away) as they appeared less than 1 billion years after the big bang creation event.

Irregular shapes and a wide range of star colors characterize the images from the HUDF. These galaxies contrast remarkably with those from Abell 1689, revealing an era when structure and order were just beginning to emerge in the universe.

Baby Pictures. The cosmic microwave background (CMB) as measured by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite presents a picture of the universe when it was only 380,000 years old-the oldest possible picture that can be obtained using electromagnetic radiation.

Detailed analysis of the clumpiness (shown here as a multipole spectrum) seen in the CMB allows scientists to measure numerous cosmological parameters such as the curvature of space, the baryon density (density of protons and neutrons) and the exotic matter density. The large peak confirms that space is very nearly flat. The ratio of the second peak to the large peak measures the baryon density of the universe. The third peak shows the amount of exotic matter. All measured parameters confirm the hot big bang picture and, consequently, RTB's biblical creation model.

Confirming Snapshots. A small section (1/5000th) of the first image taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) heralds more confirming evidence. When complete this survey will image more than one million galaxies and over 100,000 quasars in one quarter of the sky. Scientists have constructed a three-dimensional sky map using these images and the measured distances to these objects. Using a particular subset of red luminous galaxies (RLGs), the SDSS team measured the baryon peak, corresponding to the second peak from the WMAP data, as it appeared 10 billion years after the big bang.

Quantifying the spatial correlations of the RLGs provides a spectrum (shown above) similar to that produced by the WMAP project. The peak in the spectrum gives "smoking gun" evidence that the clumpiness seen in the WMAP data grows into the galaxies and galaxy clusters imaged by SDSS by straightforward gravitational processes, as predicted by big bang models. Further, the height and sharpness of the peak provides independent confirmation of the amount of exotic matter in the universe as well as of the existence of space energy density (or dark energy).

 


Just Another Animal?
Kenneth Richard Samples

Blame it on TV. After all, beginning at a very young age, children watch countless videos and cartoons where animal characters speak and display other human characteristics. And adults can flip to an educational science program where biologists explore the wonders of animal behavior and conclude that humans and animals are remarkably similar.

Before tossing the television, however, it might be better to evaluate the ideas emanating from this medium, in particular the notion that man is "just another animal."

Philosophical reflection yields the following categorical distinctions between the species. (See Connections Q1, 2006 for several more.)

Moral Awareness

Human beings possess a conscience, identify a value system, and legislate moral laws for society. People deliberate about moral choices; they feel the pull of prescriptive moral obligation and attempt to conform their lives according to a system of ethical conduct. Human society by necessity enacts laws and punishes violators. As Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga states, "It is extremely difficult to be a normal human being and not think that some actions are wrong and some are right."1

Animals can perform good, even heroic acts. A dog might save its owners from a burning house or guide soldiers through dangerous obstacles during combat, but it does not make morally reflective judgments about such acts. An animal cannot debate the merits of risking one's life to save another.
Technological Ingenuity

Human beings are uniquely inventive and technological. Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland has noted that, in terms of technology, people living at the time of the American Civil War had more in common with the Old Testament patriarch Abraham (c. 2000 B.C.) than with people living today.2 Technological advancement in the twentieth century alone was breathtaking. A person transplanted from 1865 to 1995 would struggle to comprehend the leaps in military technology, transportation, and communications. Philosopher Harold H. Titus said of mankind, "They have learned to fly, to journey under the sea, to travel to interstellar space…and to project their images and voices around the world."3

Animals by comparison have a very limited capacity for utilizing objects in nature as tools. They lack the inventiveness or creativity of human beings. While often powerful and instinctive creatures, animals do not take dominion over nature (as man has).
Thirst for Knowledge

Human beings possess an intense curiosity to explore and understand the entire created realm. Their interest ranges from the core of the earth to that which lies beyond the most distant galaxy. Mankind's insatiable curiosity about the created realm is well summarized by Stephen Hawking in the best-selling science book of all time, A Brief History of Time. There Hawking explains that no human being is content until he or she has complete answers to the following questions: "What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it, and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?"4 As for Hawking himself, he will not be content until he "would know the mind of God."5

Animals, on the other hand, will explore things and creatures in their immediate habitat that pertain to furthering their survival or enhancing their fun, but not much more. Whereas birds may look to the star patterns in the sky to guide them in their migrations, humans seek to comprehend the source of starlight and what lies beyond the stars they see.
Appreciation for Beauty

Human beings possess aesthetic taste that exceeds merely practical purposes. People create and recognize beauty in art, music, film, literature, and the natural world itself. But unlike other animal species, man's creative impulse extends beyond practicality. People often create because they are moved by a deep and mysterious sense of the beautiful. Anthropological finds have shown that man's aesthetic expression dates virtually from the beginning of human existence.

Animals' aesthetic capacities are of a lower order and motivated by practical necessity. Birds make nests and beavers build dams but animals do not seem to create for the sheer pleasure of creating.
Humans as Image Bearers

Such distinctions place human beings in a different category-they are not "just another animal." These characteristics comport well with what Scripture reveals concerning the image of God. Humans alone were created in God's image (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus resemble their Creator in finite expression. Any competing worldview, such as naturalism, must account for these profound fundamental differences apart from the God of the Bible.
This article has been adapted from Kenneth Samples' upcoming book on worldviews, due to be published in 2007.

References:
1. Alvin Plantinga, "Right and Wrong," in Great Thinkers on Great Questions, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998), 102.
2. J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 11.
3. Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 29.
4. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 171.
5. Hawking, 175.



Big Collision, Beautiful Moon
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.

A demolition expert surveys the building designated for destruction. With one swing of the wrecking ball, he must bring down the building without scattering the debris off the property. Such a precise operation requires the right size wrecking ball hitting at just the right speed. Hitting too high only removes the roof; too low and the ground absorbs all the wrecking force. The possibilities for a failed demolition far exceed the ways to succeed. After exacting calculations, the wrecking ball scores a direct hit, transforming the building into an easily cleaned-up pile of debris.

About 50 million years after the formation of the solar system, a similarly fine-tuned collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body occurred. However, instead of destroying Earth, the collision provided raw materials for the formation of Earth's moon. The collision ejected debris into orbit that eventually coalesced into the Moon. Recent high-resolution simulations of the impact event1 confirm the fine-tuning of the impact to insure the survival of Earth, formation of the Moon, and transformation of Earth's atmosphere.2

The simulations show that the debris ejected from Earth must have consisted primarily of solid or liquid material-not gas-or else the debris disk would have dissipated too quickly to coalesce into a Moon-sized satellite. A larger impactor would have generated more energy during the collision and, consequently, more vaporized, gaseous material in the debris disk. However, a smaller impactor would not enrich Earth with the necessary heavy elements to drive long-standing plate tectonics nor provide sufficient energy to completely eject Earth's life-suffocating primordial atmosphere into space. (This gas does not become part of the debris disk, but is completely removed from the Earth-Moon system.) Thus, if the impactor were larger or smaller, the capacity of Earth to support advanced complex life (like humans) or abundant, long-standing microbial life rapidly diminishes. Additionally, the authors note that if a planet is too large, it cannot have a moon formed by a giant impact event. The Moon-forming impact requires a just-right-sized impactor striking Earth at the just-right speed, at the just-right location, with the just-right angle, and at the just-right time.

Just as the demolition expert must carefully prepare his work in order to avoid failure, so the Moon-forming impact required a number of just-right factors in order to succeed. As scientific advances continue to reveal more fine-tuning factors, the idea that the impact happened purely by chance seems less and less feasible. On the other hand, such fine-tuning comports well with RTB's biblical creation model, in which a supernatural Creator intervenes to ensure Earth's long-standing habitability in preparation for humankind.

References:
1. Keiichi Wada, Eiichiro Kokubo, and Junichiro Makino, "High-Resolution Simulations of a Moon-Forming Impact and Postimpact Evolution," Astrophysical Journal 638 (2006): 1180-86.
2. Kevin Zahnle, "Being There," Nature 433 (2005): 814-15; Hidenori Genda and Yutaka Abe, "Enhanced Atmospheric Loss on Protoplanets at the Giant Impact Phase in the Presence of Oceans," Nature 433 (2005): 842-44.


A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
David H. Rogstad, Ph.D.

Sometimes scientific instruments themselves are quite remarkable. Take, for example, modern telescopes. Their amazing measuring capacities and the stunning images they provide buoy astronomers' hopes for solving mysteries about the nature of the cosmos. Such understanding also presents powerful new evidence for RTB's biblical creation model.

Making use of a 2.5 meter telescope on Apache Peak in New Mexico, the first phase of the new and ambitious Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is now complete. So far, the SDSS has covered 8000 square degrees of sky and detected over 200 million objects. Such extraordinary capabilities result from 50 years of technological advancement.

Until recent years the photographic plate supplied astronomers with snapshots of the universe. The plate permitted a large telescope to operate essentially as a powerful camera, not only providing a permanent record of an image of the heavens, but also allowing the scientist, by keeping the "shutter" open, to detect extremely faint objects at the edge of the universe. Comparing multiple photographs of the sky taken with filters of different colors, an astronomer could determine gross spectral characteristics of the various objects in the image. And by obtaining images at several different epochs, an astronomer could detect variability of an object's intensity, or color, over time. A survey of the sky done in the 1950s called the National Geographic Society-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (NGS-POSS) has served astronomers for several decades with wonderful images of a major part of the sky1.

Today, however, the photographic plate has been replaced by arrays of CCDs (charge coupled devices). These light sensors allow astronomers to take digital pictures similar to those from a personal digital camera, but the CCD arrays used in telescopes are larger and more sensitive. The Sloan telescope has a CCD array of 120 megapixels (instead of 5 or 10 megapixels in a personal camera) and makes an image of the sky about 1.5 square degrees in size, equivalent to eight times the area of the full Moon.

The SDSS, a field guide to the universe, "will systematically map one-quarter of the entire sky, producing a detailed image of it and determining the positions and absolute brightness of more than 100 million celestial objects. It will also measure the distance to a million of the nearest galaxies, giving us a three-dimensional picture of the universe through a volume one hundred times larger than that explored to date. The Sky Survey will also record the distances to 100,000 quasars, the most distant objects known, giving us an unprecedented hint at the distribution of matter to the edge of the visible universe."2

Results from the Sky Survey will provide astronomers with a high-quality, detailed map of the universe. Reasons To Believe scholars expect that such superior mapping of the universe will produce even more evidence for the biblical creator and for RTB's cosmic creation model. Advances in mapmaking will likely affirm that "[t]he heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1).

References:
1. See http://aps.umn.edu/ for a more compete description of the NGS-POSS.
2. See http://www.sdss.org/ for information about the SDSS.

The great Andromeda Galaxy, over 200,000 light years across and approximately two million light years away, is visible to the unaided eye as a faint, nebulous cloud in the constellation Andromeda. As the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy, this object is only one of millions of galaxies now accessible to astronomers through powerful instruments.