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The Wizard of Sussex and his Piltdown pals: Whodunit?
The BBC has called Piltdown man “Britain’s Greatest Hoax.”1 Hailed in 1912 as “the first Englishman,” Piltdown man’s large cranial capacity coupled with its primitive jaw was thought by the scientific community to assure Britain’s place in the hall of human evolutionary ancestry. After all, Piltdown man supposedly proved an apelike ancestor made the leap to human-ness in England. After having produced Darwin, the UK was falling a little behind in those pre-Great War years, what with the first Neanderthal being from Germany and the first Cro-Magnon being from France. But alas, as archaeologist Miles Russell puts it, “The earliest Englishman was nothing more than a cheap fraud.” Though a crude fraud, it took 40 years to find out. And the identity of the perpetrators remains a mystery
The Piltdown skull, supposedly discovered by Charles Dawson in a gravel pit, was eventually followed by related discoveries including an elephant bone carved to look like a cricket bat. Now the precocious Piltdown man was proven to use tools! Charles Dawson—known as the wizard of Sussex because of his remarkably good luck finding great fossils—died in 1916, and no more Piltdown pieces were found despite the ongoing search. Nevertheless, Dawson’s fame was assured, and he appears in a famous painting with a picture of Darwin behind him. “The way the painting is structured suggests Darwin is passing on his mantle to Dawson,” says Russell
The Piltdown fraud was finally uncovered by geologist Kenneth Oakley, anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, and anthropologist Joseph Weiner in 1953. They found the impressive cranium belonged to a modern human and the jawbone belonged to an orangutan or a chimpanzee. All were stained to look old and to match. The teeth had been filed down. What no one had remarked for forty years was now plain for everyone to see, and Piltdown moved from the evolutionary hall of fame to the hall of shame.
Now a team of British researchers is determined to get to the bottom of the hoax and figure out who pulled the Piltdown wool over Britain’s eyes. They plan to use all available technology to solve this forensic mystery. “The trouble is that after 100 years we still do not know the identities or motives of those responsible,” says Southampton University geochemist Justin Dix. Dix will be assaying the chemical composition of the forgeries and related items, such as dyes from a bag of stained mammal bones belonging to one of the suspects.
Charles Dawson was almost certainly involved. Russell says he was a forger and produced at least 38 other “dodgy finds” before Piltdown, making Piltdown “the culmination of a life’s work.” But at least 30 other names have been suggested as possible co-conspirators. Dawson reported his find to Arthur Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum, and Smith Woodward brought the skull before the Geological Society. The Geological Society accepted the skull as genuine with one dissenting voice. No tests were performed at the time, and Piltdown man became enshrined as Britain’s paleontological claim to fame until two world wars had passed. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been suggested as a possible perpetrator because he played golf in the area and had recently completed his novel The Lost World. In the book, a character comments, “If you are clever and know your business you can fake a bone as easily as you can a photograph.” Some suspect the elephant bone-bat was intended as either a joke or a subtle warning that Piltdown was a prank, but it was treated as legitimate.
It will certainly be interesting to see what modern forensics turns up. There’s nothing quite like a good mystery. Yet we would all do well to take a couple of lessons from Piltdown.
First of all, Piltdown man represented what the scientific community wanted to see, and they saw it. And except for the pranksters, the scientists who accepted Piltdown’s authenticity did so in good faith. They were not being evil or deceptive or underhanded. They were just being human. All scientists are human and subject to the same frailties and faults as the rest of the human population. They interpreted the facts before them in accordance with their evolutionary expectations and their worldview. Likewise, all scientific findings are interpreted through the worldview of the scientist.
Secondly, even now, as many scientists look back at Piltdown, they see even the fraud through an evolutionary worldview. The Natural History Museum’s Professor Chris Stringer, who will lead the forensic team, says that other human ancestors found in the early twentieth century “had small skulls but relatively humanlike teeth – the opposite of Piltdown. But many British scientists did not take them seriously because of Piltdown. They dismissed these discoveries which we now know are genuine and important. It really damaged British science.” Thus, evolutionary scientists continue to interpret the facts through their worldview.
What we see here is a marvelous opportunity not to gloat—for all of us are fallible and fool-able—but to point out to others that the interpretation placed on scientific findings always depends on the “lens” through which those facts are viewed. Because evolutionary scientists were so convinced “Piltdown man” proved what they wanted to see, they did not subject it to reasonable scrutiny for four decades. Even then, it was only the fossil’s failure to fit with newer evolutionary dogma—that teeth and tools supposedly evolved improvements before brains—that prompted a closer look. Furthermore, Piltdown’s defrocking does not substantiate those newer views of human evolution, which represent another set of fallacious interpretations superimposed on silent fossils. Piltdown man is not the first supposed human ancestor to fall, but like all the others—like “Nutcracker man” and “Lucy”—was replaced by new candidates. We view the facts of science not through a set of evolutionary presuppositions but through the eyewitness account contained in the Word of God. The authentic account of our origins provided by the Creator Himself provides the only accurate way to interpret facts related to our origin.
Evolution Weekend slated to tell about “the sin of Creationism.”
Darwin Day is here again and with it the seventh annual Evolution Weekend sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project. Darwin Day originated in the mind of atheist Robert Stephens in 1993 to commemorate Darwin’s contributions to science on his birthday, February 12. Over 500 churches of various denominations2 plan to participate in Evolution Weekend, the brainchild of evolutionary biologist (and atheist) Michael Zimmerman.
Over 13,000 clergy have signed the clergy letter.3 Zimmerman writes, “Evolution Weekend [like the Clergy Letter] makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”2 While the theme of this year’s Clergy Letter Project is “an interfaith discussion of religion and science”3—which would include those of non-Christian faiths too—many participating clergy are from Christian denominations. For example, Episcopal minister Betsy Monet in Sacramento states, “It's important for people to know that the loudest Christians do not represent all Christians.”4
Many participating clergy emphasize the compatibility of science and Christianity, which is interesting, since creationists—such as ourselves—teach the same thing! The observable principles and facts of science do not contradict biblical Christianity. But unverifiable evolutionary interpretations do. Despite assurance from Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe that we should trust science because “science operates from complete objectivity in its pure pursuit of knowledge,” observable scientific facts must be gathered and interpreted by fallible humans who are all biased and all limited in knowledge. Scientists—being human—are also limited by time and are therefore unable to make repeatable scientific observations of the origin of life or the universe. Origins science requires the acceptance of reliable eyewitness testimony (if available, which we indeed have in the Bible) and the comparison of that eyewitness testimony with scientific findings observable in the present.
DeYoe also says, “If it is through literal devotion to stories such as these that we believe we are going to find true knowledge of our Creator, we are going to be sadly disappointed. This is the sin of Creationism (aka Intelligent Design) in Church and Society today: The belief that through the limited storytelling of an ancient people we think we have in our possession everything God wants us to know.”
Of course, no creationist believes that in the Bible we possess everything God wants us to know. The Bible in fact teaches us to study the creation to learn things (e.g., Psalm 19:1, 97:6; Job 12:7–10; Romans 1:18–20). We maintain, however, that God’s Word is true from the very first verse and that Genesis 1–11 is history, not fictitious “storytelling” by ignorant, primitive people. If we are to trust Jesus Christ—to whom the entire Bible points—shouldn’t we believe what He tells us? He repeatedly demonstrated that He took the early chapters of Genesis as literal history. For example, He clearly taught that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning (Mark 10:6). (See Learning from “The Great Debate” for more about this passage.) In fact, Jesus pointed to the writings of Moses—which include Genesis—and said, ”For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46–47). Since He—according to John 1:1–3 and Colossians 1:16 and Revelation 4:11—is our Creator and our Savior, shouldn’t we expect “to find true knowledge of our Creator” in His own words? How can it be a sin to trust the words of Jesus Christ?
The promoters of Evolution Weekend indicate, “Many Christians feel unequipped to debate the scientific feasibility of such events” as “stories like Jonah and the whale, Noah's ark and even Adam and Eve.” Some pastors use Evolution Weekend to “lessen the burden on Christians who feel inadequate debating these stories.”
At Answers in Genesis we seek to lessen that burden by equipping Christians to have answers for themselves, their children, and their Christian and non-Christian friends. There is nothing scientifically unfeasible in the global Flood or the Genesis account of Adam and Eve as the first two humans and sole parents of the human race. This website is full of articles explaining, for instance, how the Flood model explains the geology of the world. To give up the historical Adam5 and Eve is to give up the very reason Jesus Christ came to earth to redeem sinful mankind. To deny the story of Jonah—about whom Jesus also spoke in Matthew 12:40—or, for that matter, the much greater miracle of Christ’s Resurrection, is to deny God’s power to act miraculously in this world He made. And according to 1 Corinthians 15:17–19, our hope for eternity depends on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Compromising clergy may not be able to see the utter incompatibility of biblical Christianity and evolutionary science, but the atheist who started Darwin Day certainly can. Dr. Stephens says, “An understanding of evolution destroys the myth of Adam and Eve, thereby also destroying the need for the myth of God having to send his only begotten son to redeem mankind from their sin.”6
Without the sin of the first Adam that brought the curse of death into this world, the sacrificial death of Christ—the “last Adam” of 1 Corinthians 15:45—and His victorious Resurrection would make no sense. The historical Adam and our redemption through Jesus Christ are explained in Romans 5:12–19; 1 Corinthians 15:20–23, and Acts 17. Stephens is an atheist who agrees and is pleased “to see how Darwin Day has evolved (pardon the pun) over the years into a major celebration for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers,”6 noting, “We humanists are all atheists.”6 Yet Stephens seems to understand this connection—the connection between our Creator’s account of His Creation and Christ’s crucifixion for our sin.
Stephens refuses to believe the gospel even though he understands it. Analogously, our refusal to believe evolution is not due to a lack of understanding. Rather, we understand the difference between historical and observational science and between fallible man and infallible God. We choose to trust the Word of the God who knows and always tells the truth, and who loved us enough “to send his only begotten son to redeem”6 us from sin. There is no contradiction between true science and the Word of the omniscient Creator.
God’s Word instructs Christians to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). So while compromised clergy are unburdening their congregations of the responsibility God has put on all of us, why not commit yourself to learn more about a topic with which you may be uncomfortable? This website’s “Get Answers” section (tab on top toolbar) is a quick way to find information to help you defend your faith in God’s Word. Why not take a little extra time this weekend while others celebrate Evolution Weekend to equip yourself to be able to explain to others how they can trust God’s Word from the beginning and trust His Son Jesus Christ!
Dramatic difference found between human and chimpanzee brains.
The human brain, compared age-for-age with chimpanzee and macaque brains, is wired very differently, according to a report in the February 2 online edition of Genome Research. To determine how species with some genetic similarity—such as humans and chimps—can be intellectually so different, researchers examined gene expression in two key areas of the brain. They hypothesized that it was switching genes on and off that produced dramatic differences in intellect.
Brain development is known to continue after birth for a period of time. Formation of new synapses requires expression of certain genes, and when genes are being expressed, messenger RNA (mRNA) is produced. To see if species-specific genetic expression makes ongoing postnatal development possible, researchers quantified mRNA in brain tissue from humans, chimpanzees, and macaques of various ages. They studied tissue from the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain essential to human social behavior and reasoning—as well as the cerebellum, which is important for balance.
“We might have discovered one of the differences that makes human brains work differently from chimpanzees and macaques,” says lead researcher Philipp Khaitovich. Of the 12,000 genes whose mRNA they assayed, the researchers found 702 genes in the prefrontal cortex of humans have unique age-related patterns of expression. The most drastic differences occurred in genes associated with synapse formation. The amount of mRNA was very high in newborns of all the species, but gene expression markers for prefrontal cortex synapses in humans remained high until age five. The mRNA for comparable genes in the chimps and macaques, however, dropped soon after birth.
The team also counted the number of synapses in electron micrographs of brain tissue. They found the number of synapses rose rapidly after birth in all three species, but the number of synapses continued to increase in humans, peaking at age four. Adjusting data for the difference in lifespan and noting humans have a longer childhood than chimps and macaques, Khaitovich comments, “Humans have much more time to form synaptic connections.” The differences were not significant in the cerebellar tissue.
UC-San Diego neurologist Eric Courchesne has found autistic children’s brains grow rapidly, possibly too rapidly to form synapses properly. He therefore comments, “This is an absolutely fascinating study that will have great importance for advancing understanding of human disorders of early brain development as well as illuminating the evolutionary changes in neural development.”
Evolutionary scientists claim genetic similarity proves common ancestry. Nevertheless, they have difficulty explaining how dramatic intellectual differences evolved in only a few million years. They believe this study offers insight into the mechanism of such intellectual evolution.
Chimps and humans are commonly thought to share 96-98% similarity in DNA sequences that align between them. (Some of the apparent similarity is an artifact of the biases and limitations of the technology involved in genome sequencing,7 and the similarity is probably closer to 86-89%.8) It is not surprising to find many of the same genes (coding for proteins) are used in similar organisms, but shared genes do not prove common ancestry. They are simply consistent with a common Designer. The mechanisms regulating gene expression are part of God’s distinctive created designs for humans and each kind of animal.
This study highlights one of the differences in God’s design for human beings. But describing differences does not reveal how those differences came to be. Nothing in the study shows that evolution happened or even how it could happen. God gives us His eyewitness account of our origins in the book of Genesis. He created man in His own image from dust, not from a pre-existing living creature (see Genesis 2:7), and we know that humans and chimps are vastly different physically, mentally, and spiritually. This study gives us some insight into the physical equipment that makes those differences possible.
Models suggest massive Mediterranean meadows are millenary mega-clones.
The record for “oldest living organism” may be passing to a Mediterranean seagrass, Posidonia oceanica. An international team led by the University of Western Australia’s Ocean’s Institute has sampled seagrass growing in 40 undersea meadows from Spain to Cyprus and found clonal relationships stretching over kilometers. Computer modeling was used to calculate the time required to achieve cloned spans up to 15 kilometers across. Results suggest between 12,500 and 200,000 years9 would be needed for the slow-growing seagrass to achieve this size. Classifying each massive collection of clones as an organism, the researchers consider them the oldest living organisms on earth.
Like all seagrasses, P. oceanica is able to reproduce both sexually and asexually, but clonal reproduction is the dominant method. UWA professor Carlos Duarte believes the great age and size are a result of its clonal propagation method. He says, “Clonal organisms have an extraordinary capacity to transmit only ‘highly competent’ genomes, through generations, with potentially no end.” He adds, “Understanding why those particular genomes have been so adaptable to a broad range of environmental conditions for so long is the key to some interesting future research.”
Several points in these age estimates seem puzzling. “Given the slow growth rate of P. oceanica, clones that extend over kilometres may be expected to have accumulated somatic mutations, although none were detected.”9 And seagrass adaptability evidently includes the ability to survive being beached. Since one pair of clone-matched meadows was found 7 kilometers apart on opposite sides of an island and another 15 kilometers apart around a cape, the drop in sea level during the Ice Age would have placed those sampling locations on land.9
The computer model used to calculate seagrass age is based, the researchers explain,9 on the assumption of a vanishingly low mutation rate and an unchanging slow growth rate. Since the samples did not contain detectable mutations, the researchers assume their model is accurate. This reasoning is circular. The researchers also do not know how the seagrass manages to mobilize itself over such great distances. Purely clonal growth seems unlikely, they note, given the aforementioned drop in sea level. Other possibilities involve fragmentation with dispersal of shoots and later reattachment.9 The mechanics of its propagation, however, affect the estimates.
Furthermore, changing conditions may have drastically altered the growth rate or the mechanics of propagation over the clonal history. For instance, given the warm water conditions and even the differing mineral content that would have prevailed during and after the tumultuous year of the global Flood, these seagrasses may have grown at a substantially different rate for some time after the Flood. Since the computer model is based on speculative uniformitarian assumptions about growth rate, conditions, propagation mechanics, and mutation rate, the enormous—and biblically impossible—ages are not reliable. The turmoil of the global Flood around 4,300 years ago would have certainly uprooted the original seagrass, so the massive clonal organisms sampled in the Mediterranean represent colonies that have replanted and grown since that time.
“Raiders of the lost lake”10 reach Vostok’s water.
Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) reports scientists drilling down to Lake Vostok have reached the subglacial lake’s surface. They were racing to reach it, having drilled through about 3750 meters of ice, before the close of the Antarctic summer season. “There is no other place on Earth that has been in isolation for more than 20 million years,” said AARI’s Lev Savatyugin. “It's a meeting with the unknown.” Scientists worldwide are eager to learn whether Vostok’s waters and sediments harbor any life forms.
Lake Vostok is the largest of over 300 subglacial lakes discovered by radar and satellite, and drilling efforts have been underway for about two decades. The water in these lakes is believed to be liquid thanks to geothermal heat and the pressure of overlying ice.
Antarctic ice has kept the lake dark and somewhat isolated for many years. Many scientists believe the ice has covered the lake for 14 million years11 or more, based on extrapolation from ice core data. Because satellite imaging has detected connections between some of the subglacial lakes, and because water frozen at the surface likely gets carried away by motion of the ice pack, Lake Vostok may not have been completely shut off from contact with the world.12 Two kinds of heat-loving bacteria known to thrive at 50–52 degrees Celsius were isolated in accretion ice brought up from a depth of 3488 meters.13 These bacteria may have been flushed into the accretion ice by tectonic activity, the author of the 2011 report suggests, but they would not be expected in the cold (–2 degrees Celsius) water of the lake.
Russian scientists will return in December to begin sampling water from Lake Vostok. They also plan to send a robotic device into the lake to sample the sediment at the bottom. Many have expressed concern over Russian drilling methods, questioning whether the use of kerosene, lubricants, and Freon might contaminate Lake Vostok. AARI director Valery Lukin reports 1.5 cubic meters of the material gushed up from the boreshaft as a result of pressurized water pushing up from the lake. Since that water surely froze, the lake should, he believes, remain free of contamination. Concern for contamination includes the wish to avoid spoiling the lake and the desire to avoid introducing microbes from the surface and then misinterpreting them as indigenous.
The extreme environment of Lake Vostok is thought comparable to the extreme conditions on Jupiter's and Saturn's moons. Saturn's moon Enceladus is believed to spew water out of ice volcanoes, for instance, and Jupiter's moon Europa appears covered in ice that is fractured and floating on an ocean.12 Whatever life forms might be found in the high pressure, cold ecosystem under Antarctica's ice are, NASA scientists hope, predictive of life forms waiting to be found in those cold off-world habitats. NASA's Waleed Abdalati says, “In the simplest sense, it can transform the way we think about life.”
We all have to wait until next year to see what if any life forms survive in Lake Vostok. The presence of life forms there, however, will not increase the likelihood life evolved on the cold icy moons in space. Science has never demonstrated life emerging from non-living materials by random processes. If life forms should ever be found at extraterrestrial locations, we can be confident that God the Creator—who created all things—created it. (See Kepler’s Mission: To Boldly Seek Out Where Life Could Have Evolved and News to Note, December 19, 2009 for more about the possibility of alien life.)
As to the age of Antarctic ice over Lake Vostok, the long-age estimates result from uniformitarian assumptions about multiple ice ages and the layering found in ice cores. Compressed layers in ice cores are counted and calibrated in accordance with the assumption that the layers represent seasonal fluctuations in the accumulation of the ice pack that is believed to be many millions of years old. Yet the expected age and assumed accumulation rate determine the way data is interpreted.
Secular scientists are unable to explain the origin of the one Ice Age clearly evidenced in Earth’s geology, and therefore they assert Earth must have experienced a series of ice ages. They believe layers of sediment to be glacial till from ancient glaciation. However, those sediments also contain limestones, which are only laid down in warm conditions, and the “till” layers are instead consistent with sediments produced by submarine landslides. (See Michael Oard’s book Ancient Ice Ages or Gigantic Submarine Landslides? for a complete discussion. See also Frozen in Time chapter 6 and chapter 12.)
Searching for a cyclic cause for these ice ages, secular scientists generally invoke the astronomical ice age theory. Astronomical ice age theory is based on observable changes in earth’s tilt and orbit. The Earth wobbles on it axis, the shape of its orbit varies slightly, and the orbital path itself shifts over time. These variations are insignificant within the biblical age of the earth. But if those variations are extrapolated over billions of years, the earth’s orbit would vary between its elliptical shape and a circular orbit, presumably causing seasonal variations hot enough to evaporate ocean water and cold enough to produce ice ages. The popularly accepted duration of the ice age cycles of the Quaternary Period come from this extrapolated astronomical data. The theory was originally discarded because it ignored moderating effects on Earth’s temperatures but was revived when sediment thought to be glacial till was found in ocean sediments. Antarctica’s ice is dated by assuming these astronomically mediated cycles happened over millions of years.
From straightforward biblical chronology, we are confident Earth is only about 6,000 years old. Earth history has been interrupted by the global Flood, bringing catastrophic changes to its surface and triggering the subsequent Ice Age.14 It is doubtful the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could have ever accumulated under uniformitarian conditions, but the unique conditions of the post-Flood world would have made these huge masses of ice possible without invoking millions of years of slow accumulation. Whatever conditions exist beneath the Antarctic lid over Lake Vostok, we can be confident that they are no more than several thousand years old.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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