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Origins News Round-up for January 17, 2014

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January 17, 2014 Tags: Genetics, History of Life, Human Origins, Science & Worldviews
Origins News Round-up for January 17, 2014

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Contributing to the continual development of the theory of evolution, an Oxford study challenges Darwin’s view on the role of competition in the evolution of species. According to one researcher, while Darwin’s model is not wrong, other mechanisms likely come into play during speciation. Along that line, it’s worth reading the report on a Princeton study from last summer on evolution at the genetic level. Researchers in the study concluded that evolutionary advantages are conferred not by a single genetic mutation but by small groups of five to seven mutations working together.

An ancient ancestor of modern carnivores was recently discovered in Belgium. NBC News reports that the two-pound, tree-dwelling animal, known as Dormaalocyon latouri, appears in the fossil record about 56 million years ago. From our own family tree, researchers at Oxford have concluded that tiger nuts, a certain type of grass bulb, likely formed the basis of our ancestors’ diet in East Africa about 2 million years ago. That helps tie together observations about hominins’ flat teeth and strong jaws.

The massive rain in England has been causing the cliffs in Hastings to erode.  Some dramatic videos catch the spectacular events.  Such erosion in this area played a big part in our understanding of the geologic column and in early systematic study of fossils.  This website describes what you can see in Hastings along those lines.

Last time we pointed you to Pew Research Center’s study on the acceptance of evolution among Americans; among the follow-up news stories was this article in USA Today, which provides a helpful framework for the discussion of the relationship of science and faith. The author, Tom Krattenmaker, points out that acceptance of evolution, as a scientific process, is not incompatible with devotion to God. The work of reconciling Christianity and academia, especially science, is continued in this blog post on Jesus Creed, which highlights contributions from the English scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne on the importance of recognizing “the presence of the Spirit in the truth-seeking communities of the church.” In the midst of these ongoing discussions, philosopher William Lane Craig asserts that the future of Christianity in America is bright. In a recent article by TheBlaze, Craig cites the rise of Christian philosophy, and its potential to positively impact culture, as reasons for his hope.

On a lighter note, a Pinterest collection of “Women using scientific instruments” has garnered a considerable amount of web traffic. Details on the board from its creator, Rebekah Higgett, can be found in this article on The Guardian. Sports and science aficionados will appreciate NBC’s series of videos on the science behind the upcoming Winter Olympics. And space.com reports on Hubble’s recently discovered remnant of a supernova that has been dubbed the “Hand of God.”


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Jesse Herb - #84229

January 17th 2014

Just want to thank you for the Origin News Round Up. I benefit greatly from the way you weed out information and post what is most relevant. Science is a huge field to try to digest mentally.

James Stump - #84230

January 17th 2014

Thanks Jesse.  Glad you find it helpful.

Ankur Patel - #84232

January 17th 2014

The Oxford study is interesting. As a layman reading this, I’m somewhat confused. Are they saying that different species living together have differences because somewhere along the line, they merged together after being separated by geological events? I do know that a geological event that splits a population will cause via natural selection, differences to develop between the two populations because they are in different enviornments.

Lou Jost - #84238

January 18th 2014

Ankur, regarding your last sentence, it is good to remember that genetic drift will act to cause differences to arise in geographically isolated populations even if their environments are identical.

Lou Jost - #84239

January 18th 2014

One other interesting “origins” paper appeared recently. It is discussed here:


Lou Jost - #84244

January 19th 2014

I’d like to explain why that paper is relevant.

The most common physicists’ explanation of fine-tuning has two parts: (a) the universe is not quite as fine-tuned as some say, and (b) if there are multiverses, then the presence of intelligent life in this universe means that the constants and laws of physics in this universe have to be those that permit the evolution of intelligent life, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of fine-tuning we see.

Some people complain that the multiverse idea has no content: there could never be evidence for or against it. I don’t think this is true. The theory does make weak statistical predictions. The most important one is this: Our universe should look like a random draw from the set of all physically-possible possible universes that could support intelligent life.This implies that our universe (and our earth) should not be optimal for life, since there would be many more suboptimal life-supporting universes than optimal ones.

Thus, a prediction of the multiverse theory is suboptimality. Life in a randomly-chosen universe should be a marginal phenomena. Furthermore our planet, like our universe, should not be optimized for life’s evolution. The prediction of suboptimality shows that there could be some weak positive evidence for the idea of multiverses.

There could also be evidence against it. If earth were the only planet to support life, such an unusual state of affairs would seem to be an unlikely random draw from the set of all possible life-supporting universes.

The new paper I linked to suggests that the earth is not the “best of all possible worlds” for life; the authors suggest  that slightly different kinds of planets (“super-habitable” planets), larger than earth, and orbiting longer-lived stars than our sun, would be more likely to evolve life than earth-like planets. If they are right, then this weakly supports the multiverse theory because it lowers the chance that we are alone (a situation that would be very surprising under the multiverse theory). It also casts doubt on some theological ideas about the purpose of “creation.”

Of course theists can change their theology to match whatever we find, and are extremely reluctant to make any kind of predictions about what the world should look like if their god were real. These are often the same people who complain that the multiverse theory does not make specific-enough predictions….




Roger A. Sawtelle - #84278

January 23rd 2014


Thank you for your comments.

If I understand what you are saying, you are pointing out the problem of how a perfect God could create a universe and a world which is less than perfect.

This has been part of the conflict between philosophy with Plato’s perfect forms and the reality of our changing, struggling universe.  When theologians acting out of our philosophical heritage claim that God is perfect and in perfect control of the universe we have serious problem that Darwin pointed out.

However the Hebrew heritage of the Bible down plays the perfection of God’s creativity.  The OT & NT point to the smallness and weakness of God’s Chosen People, not their perfection.  God uses the ordinary to create, not the perfect.

The problem of a determined world for both science and religion is that everything must go just right or we have chaos.  That is dualism, perfection or chaos.  However in the Biblical view God does not expect perfection, so God is a problem solver, just as God expects us to be problem solvers to work around mistakes and to work around sin.

It is relatively simple and easy to understand how things happened in hindsight and that is where we stand.  God does not have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight when God planned the universe and yet it works.

Does God perform maintainence through divine providence on the worlds God has created?  Why not?  That is part of creation. How does God do it?  Through God’s moral and natural laws most probably, but we do not know most of what God does.

This is the best evidence for design and purpose.  It works.  No one can say how God was able to plan it but we see the evidence that Someone did and by definition that Someone is God.

What kind of universe would YHWH create?  The one we have because that is the one YHWH created.

It is a triune Universe so it has God’s finger prints all over it and it bears God Image not of rigid perfection, but dynamic love.    


Lou Jost - #84284

January 24th 2014

“If I understand what you are saying, you are pointing out the problem of how a perfect God could create a universe and a world which is less than perfect.”

No Roger, I am pointing out that {the multiverse hypothesis + our presence} leads to (admittedly weak) empirical statistical predictions about how the universe should look, and I am also pointing out that universe does sort of look that way. 

I also pointed out that Christian theists seem to be terrified of making any predictions about what the world should look like if their hypothesis were true, even though they think they have hundreds of pages of supposed insights about creation from their god. This makes their position unfalsifiable and unverifiable.  One would think Christian theists could get some insight about creation, however weak, based on their belief that we are the reason the cosmos was created (!)

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