Category Archives: Nature & Space

New Speciation Model Challenges Evolution, Supports Creation

Which model, naturalistic evolution or supernatural creation, best explains the pattern of life’s history on Earth? If a test produces “strikingly divergent results” for the expectations of a model, what does that tell us? A new study on speciation and extinction rates provides persuasive evidence.

Model Tenets

A fundamental tenet of all naturalistic models for the history of Earth’s life is that natural changes in the genomes of life will be responsible for the observed changes in the physical body structures (morphology) of life. Consequently, evolutionary trees (phylogenies, see figure 1) developed from the observed patterns in present-day genomes and the presumed natural rates of change of those genomes (molecular clocks). Assuming that strictly natural processes are responsible for the changes occurring throughout the history of life, the phylogenetic trees should match the morphological changes and the timing of those changes observed in the fossil record (or paleontological trees—see figure 2).

The same kind of match between the paleontology and phylogenetics can be realized if God intervened throughout life’s history. However, apparently only supernatural interventions can explain significant mismatches between phylogenetic and paleontological trees.

 

blog__inline--new-speciation-model-challenges-evolution-1

Figure 1: Phylogenetic Tree of Life Derived from Completely Sequenced Genomes. The center represents the presumed first life-form on Earth. The genomes denoted on the outer circle are based on actual genetic data. The branching patterns in the inner circle presume that all species are entirely related to one another through strictly natural processes. Image credit: Ivica Letunic

blog__inline--new-speciation-model-challenges-evolution-2

Figure 2: Spindle Diagram of the Presumed Evolution of Vertebrates. Width of the spindles indicates the number of extant families or the number of families represented in the fossil record. The curved (presumed) connecting lines are not supported by any physical remains. Image credit: Peter Bockman

In an open-access paper published in Nature Communications1, four computational biologists and biochemists led equally by Daniele Silvestro and Rachel Warnock concede:

“The fossil record and molecular phylogenies of living species can provide independent estimates of speciation and extinction rates, but often produce strikingly divergent results.”2

Silvestro, Warnock, and their two colleagues do not concede, however, that supernatural interventions explain the “strikingly divergent results.” They attempt to offer a possible naturalistic explanation.

Divergence Is Real and Striking

Biologists use over a dozen different definitions of a species. In their paper, the Silvestro-Warnock team defines a species as “an identifiable taxonomic unit (a lineage) that can persist through time, give rise to other species, and become extinct.”3

The team first recognizes that since “extant and fossil species are samples of the same underlying diversification process,”if the diversification process is by strictly natural means, researchers expect that in all cases the phylogenetic (presumed evolutionary) trees will match the paleontological (fossil record) trees. To put it another way, a match is expected since “methods used to estimate rates [of change] from fossils and phylogenies are based on the same underlying mathematical birth-death theory.”The team then documents that evolutionary biologists can no longer deny the frequent and striking divergences between phylogenetic and paleontological trees.

The Silvestro-Warnock team cited a recent study of extant terrestrial Carnivora.There, the estimated mean species longevity based on fossil evidence was 2.0 million years, contrasted with 9.8 million years derived from phylogenetics. They also cited a study demonstrating incongruence between phylogenies and fossils for primates.They noted that, at least for mammals, the occurrences of congruence are few.8

Speciation rates derived from phylogenetics consistently supersede those derived from the fossil record, while derived extinction rates are consistently lower than speciation rates. Perhaps the best studied example (see featured image) is for cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). The Silvestro-Warnock team cited research showing:

“Phylogenetic estimates of diversification rates among cetaceans suggest speciation has exceeded extinction over the past 12 Myrimplying diversity has increased towards the recent. In contrast, analyses of the cetacean fossil record indicate extinction has exceeded speciation over this same interval, and that the diversity of cetaceans was in fact much higher than it is today.”10

In other words, the naturalistic biological evolution model based on phylogenetics predicts that introduction of new species has exceeded extinctions, but the fossil record shows that the reverse is true. The research team did not address the fact that the discrepancies between phylogenetics and the fossil record appear to increase with the complexity and the adult body size of the genus. By contrast, such a correlation is predicted from a biblical creation model perspective for life.11

Silvestro, Warnock and collaborators do point out that several other researchers have attempted to explain the discrepancies by underestimates of the statistical and systematic errors in the two methods. However, the discrepancies in fact are much too large to be attributed to these errors.12

Attempted Reconciliation

The Silvestro-Warnock team suggests that many of the discrepancies between phylogenetics and the fossil record are due to sensitivities to different speciation modes. They identify three distinct modes of speciation that can leave behind fossil evidence without impacting the calculated phylogenetic trees:

  1. Cladogenesis via budding: a speciation event that gives rise to one new species. The ancestral species persists and no extinction occurs.
  2. Cladogenesis via bifurcation: a speciation event that gives rise to two new species, replacing the ancestral species, which becomes extinct.
  3. Anagenetic speciation: evolutionary changes along a lineage that result in the origination of one new species and the extinction of the ancestral species.

They also point out that extinction without replacement is a frequent occurrence, where a species becomes extinct without leaving any descendants. More simply put, the fossil record includes extinct and extant (living) species; whereas phylogenetic data typically include extant species only.

Silvestro, Warnock, and their colleagues developed a model in which they unify budding, bifurcation, anagenesis, and extinction in a single “birth−death chronospecies” (BDC) process. Their BDC model shows that phylogenetic and paleontological speciation and extinction rate estimates will only be equal if all speciation has occurred through budding. Furthermore, they demonstrate that “even in an ideal scenario with fully sampled and errorless data sets, speciation and extinction rates can only be equal across phylogenetic and stratigraphic inferences if all speciation events have occurred through budding and no speciation has occurred through bifurcation or anagenesis”13 (emphasis added). Their BDC model also reveals that phylogenetic analysis indicating extinction equal to zero does not imply that no extinction occurred.

Actual Reconciliation

The team’s BDC model establishes that relative to the fossil record, phylogenetics always underestimates extinction rates. The fossil record, which is largely incomplete, underestimates the true extinction rates. Much higher extinction rates pose a serious challenge to all strictly naturalistic models for Earth’s life because higher extinction rates require higher speciation rates to explain the increasing diversity of life observed in the fossil record throughout life’s history.

This requirement of higher speciation rates is all the more problematic for Earth’s most advanced species. For mammals, birds, and advanced plants, the observed extinction rates far exceed the observed speciation rates during the era of human existence (God’s seventh day when, according to Genesis 2, God ceased from his creation work and allowed natural processes operate).

The Silvestro-Warnock BDC model also exposes a fundamental limitation in naturalistic explanations for the history of Earth’s life. Since all naturalistic models require more than one speciation mode, and since the only way to reconcile phylogenetics and paleontology is to posit just one speciation mode, something other than strictly natural processes must operate.

Some evolutionary biologists will insist on the caveat that perhaps some unknown natural process might salvage a reconciliation between phylogenetics and paleontology. However, it is difficult to conceive how a natural process of sufficient magnitude to reconcile phylogenetics and paleontology could remain undiscovered. It appears to me that a creation model positing that the supernatural Creator intervened at several times throughout life’s history to replace life-forms driven to extinction fully reconciles this “discrepancy.” I am reminded of a verse (Psalm 104:24) from the longest of the creation psalms:

How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Original article: New Speciation Model Challenges Evolution, Supports Creation

Jupiter: No Ordinary Planet

Jupiter

Each planet in our solar system possesses unique and fascinating features. Earth hosts an abundant, dazzling array of life. Mars houses the largest volcanoes and a canyon so vast it would span North America from ocean to ocean. Saturn would float—if you could find a bathtub big enough. But Jupiter stands out, with a 400-year-old storm encompassing a region large enough to contain two Earths, and enough gravitational pull to cause volcanic activity on one of its larger moons. Additionally, Jupiter serves as a shield, minimizing the number of asteroids that hit Earth and cause mass extinctions of life. As scientists find planetary systems around other stars, they naturally want to know whether these systems host similar Jupiter-like planets. After nearly three decades of planet hunting, it looks like Jupiters may be rare.

Many Jupiter-Sized Planets

Although astronomers know of 4000+ exoplanets, they have only determined masses and orbits for roughly a quarter of them (968 as of this publication; filter the catalog with “mass:mjup < 100.0 AND axis:au < 100000.0”). Of those exoplanets with known orbits and masses, 671 have a mass larger than Saturn, or more than 30% of Jupiter’s mass, MJup. Clearly, Jupiter-sized planets make up a majority of the exoplanets found by astronomers. Interestingly, almost 500 of these Jupiter-sized exoplanets orbit closer to their star than the distance from the Sun to Mars. In our solar system, Jupiter orbits at 5.2 AU. (One AU or astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the Sun.) Astronomers want to know how commonly Sun-like stars host Jupiter-like planets.

Correcting a Bias

Most of the 4000+ known exoplanets were discovered using either the radial velocity or transit methods. However, these two techniques have the greatest sensitivity to exoplanets close to their host star—much closer than Jupiter’s orbit. Thus, any conclusions drawn from exoplanet data derived solely from these two techniques will give biased information about the frequency of Jupiter-like planets. In contrast, the direct detection method has much more sensitivity to large exoplanets with orbits equal to or larger than Jupiter’s. Using data from all three techniques allows astronomers to gain a more accurate picture.

Suns with Jupiter-Like Planets are Rare

A team of astronomers used the direct detection technique with the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES). GPIES surveyed more than 300 stars in an attempt to find exoplanets and found nine objects orbiting between 10 and 100 AU. Six were Jupiter-sized planets with masses between 3 and 15 times MJup. The other three were brown dwarf stars with masses more than 25 times MJup.These results, combined with the distribution of Jupiter-sized planets from transit and radial velocity surveys, show that Jupiter-sized planet orbits peak in frequency between 1–10 AU (just like Jupiter and Saturn in our solar system).On its own, this finding seems to indicate that our solar system is ordinary. However, the paper also found a “strong correlation between planet occurrence rate and host star mass, with stars
M* > 1.5MSun more likely to host planets with masses between 2 and 13MJup” for this range of orbits. In other words, Jupiter-like planets (with mass AND orbit similar to the one in our solar system) form less frequently around stars as small as the Sun.

Today, many assume that our solar system represents most planetary systems that form around stars. But as these studies note, the actual data paints a different picture. In the words of Bruce Macintosh, the principle investigator for GPI:

Given what we and other surveys have seen so far, our solar system doesn’t look like other solar systems . . . We don’t have as many planets packed in as close to the sun as they do to their stars and we now have tentative evidence that another way in which we might be rare is having these kind of Jupiter-and-up planets.

It seems that our planets—and Jupiter in particular—make our solar system stand out from the rest. Yet another reason to marvel at our place in the cosmos.

Original article: Jupiter – No Ordinary Planet

Gamma Ray Flares Constrain Beginning-of-Universe Speculations

Skeptics of big bang creation cite a loophole in their attempts to avert a beginning for our universe and, hence, the implication of a causal agent. A new discovery on gamma-ray emissions from a supergiant galaxy stands to address the loophole from early in the universe’s history in an “era” (an extremely brief moment after the beginning) called quantum gravity.

Big Bang Wiggle Room?

As I describe in my book The Creator and the Cosmosthe last-ditch loophole to escape a cosmic beginning that implies the existence of a Causal Agent beyond space and time (the God of the Bible) is speculation about the quantum gravity era.“Era” is a misnomer. It refers to a time back in the history of the expanding universe when the universe was smaller than the diameter of a fundamental particle. In the context of the big bang creation model, it refers to when the universe was younger than 10-43 seconds old!

The quantum gravity era is that imperceptibly brief moment when:

  • all four fundamental forces of physics (electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, and gravity) were unified into a single force,
  • the effects of quantum mechanics in governing the dynamics of the universe and how those effects integrate with gravitational effects can no longer be ignored, and
  • the energy density of the universe is so extreme that no conceivable instrument or experiment is capable of duplicating that energy density to determine what happens under those conditions.

The experimental limitation combined with the lack of a testable quantum gravity theory has motivated some theoretical physicists to speculate that perhaps the universe had no beginning and, hence, no need for a cosmic Beginner. In other words, these physicists take advantage of our ignorance about the quantum gravity era to speculate that perhaps some strange physics operated in the quantum gravity era that would permit a possible escape from a cosmic beginning. I will summarize some of the latest experimental results in the next several sections. Not every reader will need the technical details. If that’s you, feel free to jump ahead to “Creation Implications.”

Constraining the Unknown

There will always be something unknown about the universe. Thus, skeptics can speculate about strange physics that somehow undoes everything scientists understand about the known universe. Nevertheless, we can affirm what we do know and constrain speculations about what we do not know by pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. An analogy I offered in The Creator and the Cosmos would be for me to speculate that my wife of 41 years may not actually exist.2 Instead, I have been fooled all these years by some kind of very sophisticated three-dimensional hologram embedded with artificial intelligence. One way I can push farther back into the realm of incredulity would be for me to conduct more and a greater variety of experiments and observations on my wife.

In a recent issue of the Astrophysical Journal, a team of 228 astronomers reported on how observations they performed on gamma rays emitted from the blazar Mrk 501 (see figure 1) constrain those quantum gravity models that speculate Lorentz symmetry is broken during the quantum gravity era.3 Lorentz invariance or Lorentz symmetry is the proposition that the laws of physics are the same for different observers—for example, no matter what the observer’s position, velocity, or rotation. It is a foundational principle of special relativity.

A blazar is a supergiant galaxy where the supermassive black hole in its nucleus generates a powerful jet of radiation that is aimed toward Earth (see figure 2). These jets exhibit flares over the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The highest-energy gamma rays in these flares allow astronomers to investigate propagation effects that determine the degree to which Lorentz invariance holds.

Local Lorentz Invariance Affirmations

In the laboratory and within the solar system, Lorentz invariance has been affirmed to an exceptionally high degree. For example, a limit on the cyclotron frequency variation of the antiproton has been established at the level of 10-26.4 University of California, Davis physicist David Mattingly has written an excellent open-access review of laboratory experiments that yield high-degree affirmations of Lorentz invariance.5 In my December 18, 2017 blog I reported on how 48 years of data from lunar laser-ranging experiments had placed upper limits on possible violations of solar-system-scale Lorentz invariance that were 100–1,000 times superior to previous best measurements.6

Constraining Quantum Gravity Speculations

Several quantum gravity approaches require Lorentz symmetry to be broken at energy scales relevant to the quantum gravity era, otherwise known as the Planck scale or Planck energy, which = 1.22 x 1019 GeV (1.96 billion joules or 543 kilowatt hours).7 The Planck energy is equivalent to the chemical energy in 57.2 liters (15.1 gallons) of gasoline compressed into a single subatomic particle.

A major problem for observational and experimental constraints on quantum gravity speculations is that the highest-energy photons observed by astronomers top out at about 400 GeV8, and the highest particle accelerator energies at about 1,300 GeV.9 That is, direct observations and experiments fall a factor of ten quadrillion short of reaching the Planck energy. (To reach the Planck energy requires a particle accelerator 170 quadrillion miles, or 29,000 light-years, long!) However, violations of Lorentz invariance at the Planck energy level predict potentially observable consequences for the highest-energy particles and photons that traverse great distances of interstellar or intergalactic space. Such observations are known as time-of-flight measurements of high-energy neutrinos and photons from distant sources.

In the June 2019 issue of Journal of High Energy Astrophysics, a team of ten Chinese astronomers and physicists reported on their analysis of the 2018 detection of a high-energy (2.9 x 105 GeV) neutrino that was coincident with a flare from the blazar TXS 0506+056.9 This blazar is about 5.7 billion light-years from Earth. It is only the third astronomical object (the other two being the Sun and supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud 168,000 light-years away) from which physicists have detected neutrinos.

The team demonstrated that the association of the neutrino with the blazar flare placed limits on the energy scales of quantum gravity for both linear and quadratic violations of Lorentz invariance at greater than 3.2–37 x 1015 GeV and greater than 4.0–14 x 1010 GeV, respectively. While these limits fall 330 times short of the Planck scale, they represent a factor of a hundred thousand times improvement on previously established limits on linear Lorentz invariance violation energy scales in neutrino propagation.

In the September 2017 issue of Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, a team of 145 astronomers reported that they had found no variation in the arrival times with respect to energy levels for high-energy gamma rays emitted by the Crab Nebula pulsar. Consequently, they determined limits on the Lorentz invariance-violating energy scale greater than 5.5 x 1017GeV for a linear and greater than 5.9 x 1010 GeV for a quadratic scenario, respectively.10 Here, the established limit on the linear Lorentz invariance violation energy scale is only 22 times short of the Planck scale.

The team of 228 astronomers mentioned earlier has determined the best limit to date onLorentz invariance-violating energy scales. Their limit came from analyzing observations of 100+ GeV gamma rays with the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) phase II array of Cherenkov telescopes (see figure 3) during a bright flare of the Mrk 501 blazar on the night of June 23–24, 2014. For the linear scenario using a spectral approach on the observed gamma rays, the 228 astronomers established a limit of greater than 2.6 x 1019 GeV, and for the quadratic scenario, a limit of greater than 7.8 x 1011 GeV.11

Creation Implications

For the first time, scientists have established a measured limit (of more than a factor of two) beyond the Planck scale. The lack of a positive signal of Lorentz violation in these new observations now requires cosmologists and theoretical physicists to restrict the classes of quantum gravity theories/space-time models that they should consider.

Scientific advance has constrained some of the nontheistic speculations about the quantum gravity era. The loophole now appears to be partially closed. This advance demonstrates that the farther we push back the frontiers of our scientific knowledge of the universe, the more strained it becomes to speculate a nontheistic explanation for the universe and the stronger the evidence becomes for the biblical cosmic creation model.12