Biology is based on chemistry, but chemistry cannot make biology.
2001: JAN • FEB • MAR • APR • MAY • JUN • JUL • AUG • SEP • OCT • NOV • DEC 2000: SEP-OCT • NOV-DEC
Our Creation Scientist of the Month is a mystery character. Read and guess who it is!
See the update on our Oct. 3 headline for a link to Hubbles dazzling new photos of an exploding star!
Molecular Motors: Plants Have Sewing Machines 03/31/2003
So plants have the Singer Model Toc159. What model do you have? Stay tuned; cell biologists are continuing to find more molecular machines at work. They are like a Star Trek crew with flashlights, exploring the factory of an advanced technological civilization, describing what they see in familiar terms. Theyve already found monorail cars, propellers, motors, fuel cells, electric generators, rheostats, badge readers, shipping and receiving systems, translators, folding equipment, smart bombs, computers, backup tapes, email, and much more. What will be next, a coffee maker? With thousands more to examine, you can be sure more molecular machines are at work inside you right now, just waiting to be discovered.Cosmologists Worried by Sharp Images 03/31/2003
Why are cosmologists worried by new measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope? Some quotes from an entry today in Nature Science Update:
Those who like to watch TV programs that glibly show the Big Bang, in elegant simplicity, setting everything neatly asail on the calm, cosmic sea ready to evolve into planets and people, need to see the real astronomers biting their fingernails off. As NSU quips, theyre Walking the Planck.Deep Inside You, Machines Climb Monkey Bars 03/28/2003
Within every neuron is a vast protein trail system traversed by a small protein engine called Myosin V, begins a press release from University of Pennsylvania Health System. But these trails, made of actin, are more like monorails than country paths. For a long time, biophysicists have wondered how myosin V moves along the monorail. How does this little motorcar ride the rail without losing its grip? They know it has two heads that grip the rail, and a tail that holds the cargo. Do the heads (actually more like feet) slide along like an inchworm, or move hand-over-hand? Now at long last, Yale E. Goldmans team thinks they have solved it. The tiny molecular motors move hand over hand, much like kids in a playground (Click here for a picture). Goldman explains: It turns out that myosin tilts as it steps along the actin track one head attaches to the track and then the molecule rotates allowing the other head to attach much like a child on a playground crosses the monkey-bars hand-over-hand. How did they see it? Using single-molecule fluorescence polarization, we could detect the three-dimensional orientation of myosin V tilting back and forth between two well-defined angles as it teetered along.
Congratulations to this team, and to all the hard-working scientists, who are bringing such marvels into our view to enjoy and contemplate. No kid on monkey bars could outrun the myriads of speedy myosin motors climbing hand-over-hand inside him. This story should be a reminder that living processes are not chaotic collisions of atoms. Living things do not submit, like limp rag dolls, to the relentless laws of thermodynamics, as do the molecules in a star or ocean or landslide. Entropy ultimately wins when the organism dies, but in living cells, genetic instructions build machines that do real work against the flow of entropy, at the cost of enormous expenditures of energy energy that is captured, channeled, and directed toward function. Whether a salmon swimming upstream, a gibbon leaping from tree to tree, a whale breaching the surface or a mother cuddling a baby, living things do what they do only because they have an astonishing number of interacting, programmed parts, of which myosin is just one particularly athletic example.Early Man Bones: Geological Deformation, Natural Variation Can Mimic Diversity 03/28/2003
Tim White takes his fellow paleoanthropologists to task in the March 28 issue of Science. He tries to rein in the tendency of fossil-hunters to classify every new find as a new species. He reminds them to remember two important factors that can create a false impression of diversity (emphasis added):
There are two questions to be asked in considering whether the fossil constitutes evidence of early hominid species diversity. First, are the described morphological differences from the A. anamensis to A. afarensis lineage real, or are they merely artifacts of postmortem fossilization processes? Second, does the putatively new morphology lie outside the expected range of phenotypic variation of this lineage? Fortunately, the history of vertebrate paleontology provides a largely unappreciated but critically important perspective on the first question. Modern primate skeletal collections help to address the second.To illustrate the first factor, he offers a sequence of pictures of pig skulls that any amateur would clearly consider to be separate types. Yet experts know the skulls are all the same species, but their skulls were distorted by geological processes after burial: they were crushed, extruded, and otherwise modified, sometimes in nonlinear and asymmetric ways. To illustrate the second factor, he shows two very different looking skulls of modern female chimpanzees. One is narrow, the other broad; one profile has a pronounced slant, and the other is compressed. The teeth, brow ridges, skull cap and eye sockets are remarkably different yet they are both the same species and the same sex. White points out that This variation is normal in a single sex of an extant species; even more variation is present in other extant ape species. Yet an amateur would almost surely classify these skulls separately.
Tim White does not make any claim that paleoanthropology has provided a linear evolutionary path from apelike precursor to man. In this editorial, he just wants to bring some order to the tendency of fossil hunters to emphasize the diversity of every skull. He attributes to Wilford the observation that the embrace of ethnic diversity among contemporary academics may be creating a peculiar form of politically correct paleoanthropology.
Nature Science Update has issued a news item on the family feud.
White does not provide a credible family tree for man, or hint that there even is one. He just debunks the overblown claims of several recent discoveries, like Kenyanthropus and Toumai. But his photographs are very revealing. If there can be this much variation between individuals of a single species, how can any claims be made about any putative human ancestor? The brow ridges, teeth, skull shape or overall proportions could be the work of geological deformation after burial, or natural variation within the kind. Why not use the same data and conclude that each individual was either completely ape or completely human?Comets Fizzle Fast 03/27/2003
The May 2003 issue of Sky & Telescope has a short news item on short-period comets (comets with orbits taking 20 years or less; 150 are known). Referring to work by David Hughes published in the Oct. 21, 2002 Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, half of them would evaporate to nothing in 2,600 years, and the other half in an additional 2,300 years. Hughes reassessed the mass-loss rate by re-plotting the absolute magnitudes of known short-period comets against their last perihelion distance to come up with the numbers. According to Sky & Telescope, New ones must be captured at a high rate (mostly by Jupiters gravitational influence) to replenish the loss ... especially considering that some will be ejected again to the far outer solar system by further interactions with Jupiter. Hughes estimates that would require a new one every 60 years, if the rates of influx and destruction are in equilibrium.
Add this to the finding in January 2001 that the assumed Oort Cloud comet population must be only 10% of previous estimates because of collisions. As we reported June 2002, comets are still a major puzzle. Those who believe the solar system is 4.6 billion years old have a burning problem on their hands explaining why comets are still with us. Like sparklers, they only dazzle for awhile.Fossil Salamanders Show No Evolution 03/27/2003
If the Chinese team that found 200 fossil salamanders in Mongolia have their dates right, there has been little or no evolution for over 160 million years. Writing in the March 27 issue of Nature, they say (emphasis added):
Despite its Bathonian [161 million year] age, the new cryptobranchid shows extraordinary morphological similarity to its living relatives. This similarity underscores the stasis within salamander anatomical evolution. Indeed, extant cryptobranchid salamanders can be regarded as living fossils whose structures have remained little changed for over 160 million years. Furthermore, the new material from China reveals that the early diversification of salamanders was well underway by the Middle Jurassic; several extant taxa including hynobiids and cryptobranchids had already appeared by that time. Notably, this ancient pattern of taxonomic diversification does not correlate to any great disparity in anatomical structure.This discovery predates the earlier record for this type by 100 million years. The specimens about 7 inches long and are so well preserved even soft tissue impressions are clear and distinct. BBC News has a report and picture.
These kinds of reports are becoming so common that predictions of abrupt appearance and stasis should be the norm, not the exception. The authors provide no evidence of an ancestral form; both types do not show any great disparity in anatomical structure, and were clearly fully operational as salamanders when they were buried. All they can say is that if evolution had split the two groups apart, it had to have happened before the Middle Jurassic. Thats like saying if Santa Claus really came, he must have done it before 8:00 p.m., because the presents were already under the tree, completely wrapped. Amazingly, National Geographic titles their article, China Ash Yields Salamander Evolution Secrets. Read their whole write-up with bewilderment that anyone could spin this story into evidence for evolution.Paleobotanists Try to Unravel Plant Genes 03/27/2003
Researchers at the Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory of the University of Georgia think the flowering plant genome went through three episodes of duplication. Their paper, Unravelling angiosperm genome evolution by phylogenetic analysis of chromosomal duplication events, is published in the March 27 issue of Nature. Describing their work in the same issue, Elizabeth Kellogg sees their approach as hopefully shedding light on this complex story. The team employed a comparative method to try to establish relative timing of events instead of absolute dates for when lineages diverged.
Just more futureware and hope hype. So the approach holds the promise of dissecting the dynamic processes by which genes and genomes evolve. Here again there is no answer, just another approach they think might be promising. As Michael Behe remarked recently That leaves us with biological features that look designed, but only promissory notes for how they can be explained by unintelligent processes. Send your local evolutionist a round TUIT so we dont have to keep waiting by the mailbox.Neanderthals Had Manual Dexterity 03/27/2003
Neanderthals had hands and wrists with a full range of motion, claim the authors of a new digital analysis published in Nature March 27:
As there is no significant difference between Neanderthals and modern humans in the locations of their muscle and ligamentous attachments, there remains no anatomical argument that precludes modern-human-like movement of the thumb and index finger in Neanderthals.Digital analysis: Manual dexterity in Neanderthals, was written by a team from Cal State San Bernardino and North Dakota State University, who begin their article saying, These primitive people may have been as handy with their tools as modern humans are.
Nature Science Update reports on this finding, and surmises that their demise was due more to social factors than physiological limitations. Scientific American has illustrations of the hand and wrist bones, admitting that this study blurs the distinction between Neanderthals and moderns and making their demise harder to explain. Also, the BBC News, agreeing that Neanderthals were not butterfingered, ham-fisted klutzes, and admitting the popular image of Neanderthals as clumsy, backward creatures has been dealt another blow, is not letting the news steal the show on premiere night. Walking With Cavemen is advertised on the same page, along with illustrations of brutish-looking Neanderthals, ostensibly from the series.
Imagine the anthropologists in Huxleys day finding out that all the arguments for brutishness of Neanderthals have collapsed. These individuals were just as smart and handy as we are. Maybe they lived in hard times, or never developed sophisticated technology due to pagan superstition. But they were fully human, just as are living stone-age tribal peoples. There is just as much physiological difference between existing groups of Homo sapiens sapiens as between Neanderthal and non-Neanderthal human bones. It is only evolutionary bias that has classified these our brothers into a different race. Neanderthals are no longer of any value in evolutionary arguments. Its time to drop the label, stop considering them as icons of evolving primates, and start calling them Bob, Sue, Bertha, and Albert the neighbors.Dialogue 03/26/2003: David Berlinski, an independent thinker but critic of Darwinism, wrote an essay that sparked a lot of reaction. Responses to Has Darwin Met His Match? Berlinskis essay that critiqued the Darwinian establishment but also pointed out shortcomings of Intelligent Design are printed in their entirety at Commentary.org. Advocates and opponents of I.D. have their say, and Berlinski responds to each of them.
Interesting reading. Berlinski is his own man and writes clearly and cogently with wry humor. The I.D. movement may have its own work to do, although some of the complaints seem as ethereal as arguing that motion is impossible. Philosophy, it has been said, consists of incomprehensible answers to insoluble problems. But ask yourself if Darwinians really have anything to crow about these days, or any rightful claim to exclusivity. As Berlinski says, I do not believe that Darwinism is a fixed philosophical system. Like some primordial jelly, the thing is both squishy and constantly in motion. Terms, claims, and stories multiply unceasingly. You will find plenty of examples right here.Biggest Cosmic Mysteries Listed 03/25/2003
Space.Com has listed the biggest mysteries, myths and hoaxes in astronomy. Well leave the last two categories for the readers inquiry, but take a look at the first. What cosmic mysteries does senior science writer Robert Roy Britt list that pertain to the debate on origins?
Remember this list when that teacher or educational TV program gives some glib answer about the evolution of life, sex, or the universe. Every once in awhile, its worthwhile to remind our readers that it is not just creationists who are calling naturalistic scientists clueless*. When investigating the unobservable past, clue requires a Cluegiver.Pasteur to Fly to Mars 03/25/2003
The European Space Agency is planning an Aurora mission named ExoMars to fly to Mars in 2009, with a payload called Pasteur to search for life. The ESA is calling for ideas from the scientific community to design experiments to test the biological environment of Mars.
Wonder what Louis Pasteur, the arch-opponent of spontaneous generation, would have thought of his name being used in this way.How Plant Wood Evolve if It Could 03/25/2003
Lignin is the molecule that gives sturdiness to cell walls, and is a major component of wood. Its presence differentiates land plants from the slimy algae of the waters. Is lignin an invention of early plants evolving onto the land? An entry on EurekAlert announced today, Scientists find evidence for crucial root in the history of plant evolution. Apparently, new findings were announced at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society about Asteroxylon, an extinct plant found fossilized in chert, that is thought to be one of the earliest plants to invade the land. George Cody and his team at the Carnegie Institute of Washington used an advanced analytical technique to preserve the fragile biopolymers in the rock and apparently found that this species already had lignin. George Cody sets up the question and then explains the findings (emphasis added):
A critical question is whether Asteroxylon in fact had the capacity to biosynthesize lignin. If it did, it starts to beg an interesting question: If one of the earliest plants had this capacity, then is it that capacity that allowed plants to colonize the continents? And that, of course, could have enormous significance, because that was probably one of the many truly defining events in Earth history.The rest of the article talks about the technique they used but says nothing else about the evolution of lignin, other than the opening paragraph, which states: If ancient plants had not migrated from the shallow seas of early Earth to the barren land of the continents, life as we know it might never have emerged. And now it appears this massive floral colonization may have been spurred by a single genetic mutation that allowed primitive plants to make lignin, a chemical process that leads to the formation of a cell wall (emphasis added).
We got all excited about this story because it sounded like a big breakthrough, finally, to explain the evolution of plants. But then we looked and looked and couldnt find anything about evolution, anywhere, except a bunch of bluffing about what a big step this would be if plants could evolve lignin. After setting up the big question, they examine this primitive plant and find lignin already there! So the very earliest land plant already had it; where, O where, is the evolution? We feel cheated. The rest of the article just brags about what a wonderful new technique they have now for getting the biological molecules out of the rock. Thats fine, but we entered this store to buy some evolution and all they offered us was some lab hardware. We thought bait and switch was against the law. If you advertise evidence for evolution, youd better have the goods in stock.Gratefulness in the Test Tube 03/24/2003
Some psychologists discovered what most people already knew: being grateful makes you happier. Science Now reports on work by some UC Davis psychologists who tested three groups of subjects: those who made weekly lists of things they were grateful for, those who made lists of hassles, and those who made no list. To probably no ones surprise except the psychologists, those who counted their blessings reported considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole.
Human subjects are just too complex to analyze with the scientific method. We are not lab rabbits. Nevertheless, it is kind of funny to see psychologists confirm what we all know from common sense and experience. Focusing on hassles makes you grumpy. Focusing on blessings makes you happy. Well, duh. We didnt need a psychologist to tell us that. We just needed to pick up our hymnal and recall Johnson Oatmans lyrics set to Edwin Excells cheerful melody:How to Tell Aliens About Morality 03/21/2003
Artists and scientists discuss how to tell ET about morality, begins a report in Nature Science Update, with a picture of a young couple enjoying a warm hug. Twenty scientists, artists and philosophers will gather in Paris on Sunday and Monday to discuss how best to tell extraterrestrials about altruism, it says. The SETI Institute doesnt plan to actually send a message, but uses this workshop as a way to get participants to envision ways to communicate our humanity, not necessarily our nobility, to aliens. Perhaps we could send postcards or interactive games. Psychologist Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute thinks any message should take into account studies of animal and human behaviour showing that apparent self-sacrifice often serves selfish ends. Good deeds are often done in aid of relatives, in expectation of a future favour, or to gain the benefits of a good reputation.
Weve reported some pretty dumb evolution stories before, but this one takes the cake. Nobody knows if anyone is out there, but were going to teach them morality. But look at the morality: were going to tell them that based on evolutionary theory, everyone is really selfish and love is an illusion. It may take 100,000 years to receive their response to whatever interactive game we want them to play (Prisoners Dilemma is the evolutionists favorite in which the temptation to cheat threatens the benefits of cooperating), but the same could be done with Monopoly, if they dont mind long waits between moves.DNA Repairmen Can Back Each Other Up 03/21/2003
The DNA Damage Response team has many specialized technicians, but now scientists have found some of them can fill in for a fallen comrade. Amundsen and Smith of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, writing in the March 21 issue of Cell first set the stage for the story:
Faithful repair of broken or damaged DNA occurs by homologous recombination. This process requires a series of enzymes, collectively forming a recombination machine, that act on broken DNA. At least three broad classes of activitieshelicases, nucleases, and synapsis proteinsconstitute parts of this machine and can be provided either by one complex protein or by several separate proteins.They describe two team members, RecBCD and RecF, that act independently under normal conditions. But recent analysis of an E. coli mutant that lacks RecBCD nuclease activity, they announce, normally required for that pathway of recombination, provides a striking example of how functional parts from these two recombination machines can be interchanged.
Their minireview entitled, Interchangeable Parts of the Escherichia coli Recombination Machinery, also describes how the machines work. They feel this is probably not an isolated example of interchangeable roles: Perhaps in wild-type cells also, there are situations of altered DNA metabolism not yet recognized in which activities from the two recombination machines interchange to maintain chromosomal integrity.
See also our 07/26/2002 and 01/04/2002 headlines on DNA Damage Response.
Why would natural selection maintain interchangeable parts, or keep a specialist trained on a job it normally doesnt have to do? These little molecules are incredible. Theyre like paramedics trained on each others tasks, so that the CPR operator can do the gauze if the bandage doctor is out of commission at the moment, so that the cell doesnt bleed to death for lack of technical skill. Imagine little robots able to find and repair DNA; its uncanny. They know just what to do, and theyre on call 24 x 7. Amazing.Insects Evolved Six Legs Multiple Times 03/20/2003
Scientists have always believed the insects evolved from a single common ancestor, but now Francisco Nardi and an Italian team have thrown a naked fowl (plucked chicken) into the works, says Richard Thomas in the March 21 issue of Science. Nardi claims that hexapods (six-legged critters) are not monophyletic (one common ancestor) but paraphyletic (two or more common ancestors). He bases his teams conclusion on mitochondrial DNA sequences from Collembola, a group of wingless arthropods including springtails, assumed to be ancestral to the insects. This in turn suggests, comments Thomas, that todays terrestrial hexapods are products of at least two independent invasions of land and that some of the features shared by all hexapods have arisen convergently. He warns that many arthropod experts will not be convinced by these data. Systematics is a very contentious field, so we can count on criticisms about the small number of species, the single data type, and the method of analysis, he says.
For a laymans level report on this story, see Nature Science Update.
Differences between molecular trees and morphological trees seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Molecular comparisons have thrown a monkey wrench into the assumed family trees of most groups (see the recent example with mammals). This all seems like such a waste of time. Evolutionists are just playing connect-the-dots games, based on evolutionary assumptions, with way too many dots and way too many assumptions. But this is what evolutionists like: a good wrestling match, where they can argue with each other endlessly without ever having to know the truth. Prehistory is unknowable by definition, because it is hidden in the unobservable past: unless, of course, a credible Eyewitness told us what really happened.Ready-Mix Patch Kit Stands Ready To Repair Your Bodys Brick Walls 03/19/2003
Youve probably used those packets with two compartments that do something when the dividing membrane is broken, allowing the components to mix: instant heat, instant cold, instant glue, or instant light. Your body has something like that to repair its tissues. Tissues are the webs of specialized cells that distinguish us multicellular organisms from the rest, and the bulk of tissues are composed of epithelium. Epithelial cells line up in tightly-knit ranks forming the lining of most organs, the lungs and windpipe, the digestive tract, and the skin. Because they are subject to injury, these membranes must have a means of repairing themselves quickly. So they have a kind of ready-mix patch that works only when two components combine. But the system must work flawlessly, or a disaster can result.
Keith Mostov and Mirjam Zegers talk about this in the Mar. 20 issue of Nature, Cell Biology: Just Mix and Patch, reporting on work by Paola Vermeer and company in the same issue. Epithelial cells have two linings. Consider the respiratory tract as an example. One lining, the apical side, faces the airway. The other, the basolateral side, lines the other end and the neighboring cells. These two linings are segregated by a kind of O-ring seal that makes a tight fit between neighboring cells. Scientists recently found that the basolateral membrane has one component of the patch, called erbB2, and the apical side has a matching component called heregulin. Normally kept apart, they can be brought in contact when a breach occurs in the epithelial tissue. Together, they activate a complex series of steps leading to cell division and presto! the gap is filled in with another snug-fitting cell, and life goes on. It is essential these active ingredients dont mix at the wrong time. Too much cell division and you know what happens cancer. Science Now has a news write-up on this story, and its discovery that is so beautifully simple.
A few more Cool Cell Tricks were reported recently:
It is so much more fun to see these things as engineering marvels instead of lucky rolls of the die. You dont have to worry so much about how Lady Luck could win against impossible odds. Instead, you can just enjoy the talent show.Tank-Like Reptile Goes Extinct Twice 03/19/2003
If paleontologists at an Australian museum have a specimen classified correctly and their dating is right, they have an extraordinary tale of resurrection to explain, says Nature Science Update. An animal went extinct, then showed up alive and well 115 million years later, then went extinct again. The animal is a dicynodont (see article for artist reconstruction), a mammal-like reptile that looks like a monster out of Star Wars with the body of a hippo, the beak of a turtle, and the tusks of a walrus. The curators re-analyzed fragments of a skull in the Brisbane collection of the Queensland Museum. How the dating was arrived at was not explained. Update 04/01/2003: The April issue of Geology asks, Has the utility of Dicynodon for Late Permian terrestrial biostratigraphy been overstated? Authors Angielczyk and Kurkin lament the uncritical use of these bones to correlate geographically separated beds (emphasis added):
Our analysis includes two species referred to Dicynodon that occur only in Russia and the type species that occurs in southern Africa. Our results suggest that these three species do not form a clade to the exclusion of all other dicynodonts; the alternative hypothesis of a monophyletic Dicynodon is more weakly supported. Although preliminary, our analysis challenges the use of Dicynodon for biostratigraphic correlations between Russia and South Africa, and we urge caution in using this taxon to correlate other widely separated basins. This study also emphasizes that without phylogenetic information, there is no guarantee that named taxa represent biologically real entities, and the uncritical use of named taxa can easily lead to spurious biostratigraphic correlations.In other words, assuming that similar looking bones belong to the same genus, or that they evolved from a common ancestor, and then using them to tie together a story of global extinction, is not necessarily supported by the evidence.
Geologists and paleontologists come up with stories of world-wide extinctions due to meteorite impacts that make for good TV animations, but are they based on uncritical use of evidence? When the uncritical use of evidence leads to contradictions and absurdities, who is heeding the call to be cautious, so as not go build a story on spurious biostratigraphic correlations?Walking With Cavemen Announced 03/19/2003
The BBC News has announced its latest entry into the Walking With series. After the success of Walking With Dinosaurs and Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, the new Walking With Cavemen begins its four-part debut on March 27. The series is long on computer graphics, audio-animatronic figures and actors, but short on bones: But much of it remains pure guesswork. The fossil evidence is fragmentary; some of the interpretation is very speculative. Researchers have their pet theories and the arguments among scientists can be very fierce.
A review on The Scotsman calls Walking With Cavemen further evidence of the increasing infantilisation of popular entertainment In other words, It is still a field of study rife with contention and uncertainty. Such problematic issues, though, are not going to be the concern of WWC. Confusion and scanty evidence are not conducive to the linear plotline of mass-market television. WWC glides over the ambiguities and instead goes for hyperreal reproduction. Inevitably, the quasi-science on screen is going to be guesswork, but the factual documentary is now the stuff of entertainment rather than enlightenment.
Undoubtedly viewers will be less interested in the misinformation than in seeing how little clothing the actors can get away with. The facts dont provide much cover either, considering that The study of early humans is one of the most hotly contested subjects in science today, as the BBC admits. Anyone who has followed the human evolution story for long (follow the chain links on Early Man in these pages) knows that a chimpanzee brawl in the jungle has more rationality and logic to it. Everything that was taught in schools and textbooks is now wrong, new finds invalidate the old, warring camps question each others motives, and nobody even knows how to define a hominid any more. But none of that matters. Evolution is less concerned with facts than a good story, especially one that lets naked actors go ape and get physical. That will help ratings and sell beer. Well worry about the facts later. The show must go on.Dogma With Disclaimers: National Geographic Urges Calm 03/18/2003
The April 2003 issue of National Geographic just arrived at households around the world, with a lovely picture of a mother and baby next to the subtitle, The Rise of Mammals Mothers of Us All. As could be expected, Darwinian evolution forms the drum beat of the nature stories on African chimpanzees, fossils, and the cover story on mammalian evolution. Yet NGs typical unqualified endorsement of the standard Darwinian story line does hedge its claims here and there (emphasis added):
Nighty-night, children. Sleep tight. Dont let tonights bedtime story scare you. Dont dream about Mommy as a hairy ape. Dont have any nightmares about the lack of transitional forms, the disparity between the fossil record and the genes, the debates over what caused extinctions, how placental mammals got to Australia, how complex and fully-formed traits appeared earlier than expected, and how you can have a laboratory without lab workers and a lab book. Dont fret about how sophisticated, multi-component, coordinated innovations appeared without an inventor. Not to worry about any complete upheavals disturbing your dreams. Daddy is right here. He isnt nuts. He doesnt think too highly of himself. Everything is under control. Lets stay calm here....The Factor Darwin (and Malthus) Didnt Consider 03/17/2003
Evolution is onward and upward, right? Competition between individuals leads to the fittest surviving, right? Not so fast, says Jason B. Wolf of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Theres an influence that puts the brakes on this traditional paradigm, and that is the influence of indirect genetic effects (IGEs). Most evolutionary biologists focus on the direct genetic effects (DGEs): i.e., how an organisms body (phenotype) is the direct result of its genes (genotype). But that cannot be the whole picture, because social interactions and even the environment can cause phenotypic effects that are heritable. Thus, they can influence evolution.
Wolf studied the pupa size of fruit flies as a measure of fitness. His results supported a model that took IGEs into account, and found that IGEs fight against the effects of DGEs; that is, competition enforces the negative covariance between IGEs and DGEs. He explains:
For example, if we were to select the largest individuals in a generation, they would on average also be the most competitive individuals. These individuals would have a set of genotypes that, under the current social conditions, make individuals large, and selection would therefore produce a genetic change in the population. However, the progeny of these individuals would find themselves in a more competitive environment, because they all inherited genes from the most competitive individuals in the previous generation. Thus, this new generation would not be as large as we would have expected based on the size of their parents, because they are experiencing a different social environment.From his experiments watching pupa size evolve with and without indirect genetic effects, he found that IGEs cancel out about half the fitness gains of the direct genetic effects. This is in addition to the constraint due to antagonistic pleiotropy, where genes on the same chromosome must evolve together or else no net evolution occurs. But IGEs are expected to put more brakes on selection the more competition increases. The effect is more severe when the individuals are related. The diminished response to selection caused by the antagonistic counterevolution of IGEs, he summarizes, and the further diminution expected when interactions are among relatives can be viewed as a constraint on phenotypic evolution. How widespread is this braking effect? He notes in conclusion (emphasis added):
Because interactions between individuals are ubiquitous, the opportunity for phenotypic effects of these interactions, and thus IGEs, is considerable. ... Thus, the data presented here from Drosophila are expected to have significant implications for genetic analysis of a variety of traits in a diversity of taxa. These data suggest that the traditional paradigm, focused exclusively on direct effects of genes, is inadequate. To develop an accurate picture of genetic architecture that describes how genetic variation leads to phenotypic variation in a population, information on both direct and indirect effects of genes will be required whenever individuals interact.In the early 1800s, Thomas Malthus proposed the principle that fecundity outpaces food supply, so that there is always competition for resources. Charles Darwin was deeply influenced by this idea. It contributed to his theory of natural selection: competition leads to the survival of the fittest. A great deal of intellectual, political and philosophical baggage soon became attached to this assumed law of nature: competition drives the fittest to bigger and better things. Wolf now seems to be saying that competition actually inhibits increases in fitness from becoming established in a population. His paper is entitled Genetic architecture and evolutionary constraint when the environment contains genes.
Update 04/07/2003: In a PNAS Commentary on April 7, James M. Cheverud of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis agrees that quantitative genetic kin selection models such as Wolfs are superior to the traditional kin selection model of group selection developed by W. D. Hamilton in 1964. (Hamilton was the one who sparked an interest in social evolution, claiming that Darwinian natural selection could explain puzzling traits like altruism.) Cheverud does not claim sociobiologists have arrived at a comprehensive model, but agrees Wolfs is probably the best so far.
We hate to be the bearers of bad tidings to evolutionists so often. Its getting downright depressing. Here they had pinned their eternal hopes on the picture of competition driving evolution, and now they find out instead that it puts the brakes on it. Its like finding out your ally was a double agent all along. Now what? It was tough enough getting evolution to work with enough speed to get a Cambrian explosion, and to get birds from dinosaurs, but now the very selection pressures that are supposed to drive these transformations are seen to be like governors on the engine or brakes applied by the instructor in the passenger seat. Theyll never get anywhere at this rate.Trees Pollute the Air 03/17/2003
The Saint Patricks Day greenery may not cleanse the air, but pollute it, says a report in this weeks Science News (Vol. 163, No. 11): Fallen Trees? Scotch pines emit nitrogen oxides into the air, by Kendall Morgan. Forest ecologist Pertti Hari of the University of Helsinki measured nitrogen oxides coming from pines in quantities that may rival those produced worldwide by industry and traffic. Nitrogen oxides can react with hydrocarbons to yield nitric acid, a primary ingredient in acid rain. Pertti feels that these emissions are evidently an important component of the nitrogen cycle. Earlier studies missed the emissions because they tested in unnatural conditions that shielded UV light. The article says he believes not only pines but all evergreens, and perhaps all plants, might also release the compounds under many natural conditions.
Aggie Daily at Texas A&M University adds that lightning also contributes nitrogen oxides to the atmosphere, up to 90% of summer levels, in amounts greater than those created by human activities.
This does not mean that we should not be concerned about acid rain and air pollution. The article mentions the possibility that trees might absorb or emit the compounds depending on the ambient local concentration from other sources, or on the amount of ultraviolet radiation. What it might mean is that we need to redefine what pollutants are, because according to environmentalist axioms, trees dont pollute; people do. Nevertheless, this story is an ironic gotcha against those who mercilessly skewered Ronald Reagan for that remark during his presidency that trees cause air pollution. It would be fun to hear the gipper comment on this news item in his inimitable style. Too bad he is too incapacitated to savor the repartee. Happy St. Patricks Day, Mr. President, and to all our readers oh, and dont fret about sniffing that fresh pine-scented air this beautiful March afternoon on the threshold of spring.Engineers Study Bacteria for Fuel of the Future 03/14/2003
Humans can mass produce hydrogen, at a high price. To meet President Bushs challenge to build non-polluting fuel-cell cars, engineers need to find a better way to produce hydrogen than via platinum catalysis, which requires more energy than it makes as hydrogen, and produces 3 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of hydrogen, according to Joe Alper in the Mar. 14 issue of Science. You might as well stick to burning petrol in a car as make hydrogen this way, adds chemist Chris Pickett. There is a better way, and tiny bacteria have known about it all along. Alper says that For inspiration, [Pickett] and others are turning to the most efficient producers of hydrogen on Earth: bacteria, including the Escherichia coli that live in the human gut.
How do they do it? The catalysts bacteria use, called hydrogenases, are large, complex proteins. Cheap hydrogen in abundance from water would be ours, if engineers could learn their secrets. That has been easier said than done, Alper cautions, as few of natures catalysts have turned out to be as surprising and confounding to chemists as hydrogenases. Scientists have been studying them for over 70 years and only recently are beginning to understand how they work. Their method is totally different from mans messy, inefficient way.
Hydrogenases contain metal atoms (iron and/or nickel) in the core of their active sites. Electrons and hydrogen atoms are carefully shuttled in and out of the heart of the water-splitting factory via tunnels into which sulfur atoms project. Scientists were astonished to find that the metal atoms are surrounded by two deadly poisons, carbon monoxide and cyanide. Yet these two substances are essential to the catalytic activity. The enzymes are able to twist their metallic bonds in a way that transfers two electrons to a proton, making a metal hydride, which then combines with another proton to make molecular hydrogen. At least one of the carbon monoxides flip-flops between the two iron atoms during the reaction. The nickel-iron models of these machines are still poorly understood. As soon as scientists can mimic the action of these molecular machines and mass-produce synthetic catalysts, we might swear off our dependence on foreign oil forever, and rid our environment of petrochemical pollutants.
Alper explains how bacteria use their micro-electronic tools: Present throughout the microbial world, as well as in some green algae, the hydrogenases play a variety of roles in energy metabolism and fermentation, largely in environments where oxygen is scarce, such as the mammalian digestive system and subsurface soil.
It is so amazing to see some of the biggest evidences of intelligent design in the smallest and most primitive organisms. But it is almost as amazing to see intelligent scientists attribute this to idols like Mother Nature, who is supposedly blind, deaf and dumb: Over a billion years ago, ancient bacteria evolved [sic] the ability to use iron and nickel to make hydrogen from water and then oxidize it as fuel, incorporating these metals into the enzymes now known as hydrogenases, Alpers imagines nonchalantly. Thomas Rauchfuss tops that: over the few billion years that nature has been refining the hydrogenases, shes come up with a few clever tricks that weve only recently figured out. Cough! Choke! But it gets even worse. Consistent evolutionists must imagine that hydrogenase machines ultimately evolved from hydrogen itself, and the hydrogen evolved out of nothing. Is this useful? Evolutionary storytelling is like the exhaust fumes coming out of the tailpipe after the real engine of science does the work.Tree of Life is in National Science Foundation, Not Garden of Eden 03/14/2003
The government is providing evolutionary scientists $150 million to produce the Tree of Life, reports the Mercury News. But this is not a living tree in a divine garden, but a conceptual picture of evolutionary ancestry, assigning every creature, living or extinct, to its proper branch, twig and leaf. The plan is to trace the family ties between everything from bacteria to whales, from dinosaurs to humans, using the latest tools of biology, genetics and computer science. The method? To construct the tree of life, scientists use the latest information from DNA sequences, as well as older methods of comparing creatures shapes, organs and behavior to determine their relationships. Like a living fossil, DNA preserves a record of an organisms ancestry. Why and what for?
Scientists say this huge genealogical chart will have practical benefits for medicine, agriculture and the environment, as well as providing a basic understanding of life on our planet. They say it will be as valuable as the chemists familiar periodic table of the elements, only much larger and more complex.Examples of practical spinoffs cited include tracing the history of the hanta virus and invasive species of plants, finding another source for Taxol, and performing forensic analysis in criminal cases. The reporter, Robert S. Boyd, gives no hint of controversy about the grand tale on which this huge project is based:
Anthropologists say humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor 5 million to 7 million years ago. We primates humans, apes and monkeys grew up in the family of mammals, which sprouted from the class of vertebrates, a subdivision of the kingdom of animals. Animals, in turn, are a twig on the great branch of creatures that shelter their DNA inside the nucleus of each of their cells.Already $17 has been issued to resolve the phylogenetic history of birds from their alleged ancestors, the dinosaurs. Dozens of research institutions and hundreds of scientists will take part in this 10-year project.
Well, this is surely a boondoggle, because theyre throwing money down the drain after an impossible task. Two evolutionists involved in this kind of work said that the number of putative trees that can be constructed from the raw data is almost infinite (for only 55 taxa, the number is 3 x 1084 possible trees, more than the number of atoms in the known universe). They remarked, One is forced to admit that no future civilization will ever build a computer capable of solving the problem while guaranteeing that the optimal solution has been found. So the field is wide open for scientists to converge on a consensus view and claim success, even when no success is justified or justifiable. Is this taxpayer-funded job security for evolutionists?Tooth Form Follows Tooth Function 03/13/2003
Very different groups of mammals have teeth of similar shapes, begins Anne Weil, anatomist at Duke University, in a News and Views piece in the March 13 issue of Nature. One obvious explanation for this is that the greatest efficiency in chewing similar foods is strongly favoured by natural selection. But other reasons could include the constraints imposed in the process of development, or the historical limitations imposed within mammal lineages, and each of these factors might act against or in concert with the demands of optimizing function.
She comments on the work of Alistair R. Evans and Gordon D. Sanson, engineers who published a study recently in the Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society. They modeled the optimal tools for cutting food into small bits for chewing, from an engineering point of view:
They have carried out a computer-modelling exercise, designing tools to cut tough substances, and find that found that the most efficient tools closely resemble the molars of carnivorous and insectivorous mammals. They conclude that in many cases developmental and evolutionary factors have not strongly influenced molar shape, and that function is indeed the primary determinant.Evans and Sanson optimized their model teeth based on six criteria engineers in tool design. Not surprisingly, they found that some shapes work better than others, comments Weil. The field of optimal shapes narrowed further when true-to-life criteria were applied: a serial arrangement for the blades, like that of teeth in the jaw, and a degree of lateral as well as vertical movement, as commonly occurs in chewing. Their ideal tools closely resembled two-edged and three-edged mammalian teeth: This notched triangle is a familiar shape to any student of mammalian evolution, because it evolved early and possibly more than once in mammalian history and is present in many living groups, such as opossums and bats.
Weils article is entitled Evolutionary biology: Teeth as tools.
We will enjoy this story much more after we sweep away the evolutionary cobwebs. What did Evans and Sanson find? Animals have optimally designed teeth. Function, not developmental or evolutionary factors, determined tooth shape. Wonderful; evolutionary theory has again been demonstrated to be irrelevant. Cant we just leave it there? Why must we be told that, in spite of these empirical findings, evolution did indeed produce these optimal designs and not just once, but multiple times? Does Weil tell us how evolution did this, or provide any evidence? No; she ends in a bald, dogmatic statement that teeth just evolved. On top of that, nature evolved it better than the engineers designed it (emphasis added):Universe Still Has Mysteries 03/12/2003Evans and Sansons study did not address the significant role of crushing in chewing. Their modelling therefore did not produce a tribosphenic tooth shape, characterized on the lower molars by a low basin behind the high trigonid (Fig. 1d, e) into which the largest cusp of the upper tooth fits. Tribo-sphenic molars perform both slicing and crushing functions, and were present in the ancestors of all living mammals. Although Evans and Sanson focused on cutting alone, the superior efficiency of their protoconoid models, and the evident supremacy of function in determining tooth form, may support the arguments of those who believe that tribospheny evolved [sic] two or even three times within early mammals.Here is the miracle of emergence again.
Two articles in Astrophysical Journal Letters indicate that there are objects out there that dont fit neatly into established theories.
The Japanese teams large structure at a great distance adds more to the lumpiness problem of cosmology. But if redshifts dont necessarily prove distance or expansion, as Burbidge et al continue to argue, then all bets are off whether current theories explain the universe; we could be back at square one. Meanwhile, Nature March 13 continues to push the new buzzphrase precision cosmology in its News Feature Cosmology gets real, even though author Geoff Brumfiel admits the recent WMAP results leave many questions unanswered. Its ironic that he ends with a quip from University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner, who says, Weve flushed out the basic features of the Universe. What we need now is a good story.Does Islam Nourish Science? 03/13/2003
The conventional wisdom says Islam was the seedbed of science for six centuries while Europe was in the Dark Ages, but if so, why is science so weak in Muslim countries today? An Editorial and News Story in the March 13 issue of Nature explore this question. Last week in Italy, top science officials from Islamic and Western countries met to tackle the question, Is Muslim culture helping the advancement of our society or not? Possible reasons for the below-average science grade included lack of democracy and freedom of expression in totalitarian regimes, the rise of Islamic religious schools, poverty, unemployment, and radical Islam with its cycle of violence and hatred of the West. The Editorial concludes, Science and education, the freedom to think critically, and contact with Western scientists can help to educate both sides, leading to a reform of Islam that brings to the fore the tolerance and scholarship that was for centuries the mark of the religions practice.
Liberals including those in Big Science seem to be stepping all over themselves these days to extol the virtues of Islam and whitewash its ills. But the same journal Nature does not hesitate to print attacks on those who believe the Genesis creation account, even when they are outstanding scientists and compassionate citizens, the polar opposites of suicide bombers. For those unfamiliar with this kind of double standard, it is called tolerance. For a little balance, we suggest reading Marvin Olaskys analysis of media coverage of Islam in last weeks World Magazine (March 8); also read the other reports on the flattering coverage of Buddhism, Hinduism and other world religions given by the media in contrast to their misrepresentations and palpable disdain for conservative Christians. The whole issue, including the editorials, is revealing. Also, see the introduction to our online feature Worlds Greatest Creation Scientists, where the differences in world view pertinent to science between Islam and Christianity are discussed, as well the record of achievement by European scientists who were, for the most part, informed by Christian Biblical beliefs, and gave us our modern world.Early Human Tracks Found in Italy 03/12/2003
National Geographic claims that fossil trackways in southern Italy have been confirmed as human, dating from 325,000-385,000 years ago. That makes these 27 footprints and a few handprints, in a layer of volcanic ash, the oldest prints known of genus Homo. The famous Laetoli prints in Africa are alleged to from pre-human hominids dating back 3.5 million years.
The report in the March 13 issue of Nature calls the dating of the tracks provisional and describes them as having ball, arch, heel, and toes. They have enough similarities to human footprints to support the idea that they are indeed human and fully bipedal, the Italian geologists say.
Do dead men tell tales? Perhaps, but living ones can tell whoppers. NG has these people escaping a volcano and coming from Homo erectus, even though from all appearances, the prints look modern. Lets try our own story. Some kids were playing a dare game and seeing how close they could get to a volcano, darting in and back in a Z pattern, laughing all the way home, where Mom told them to wipe their feet and go do their homework. A burst of ash covered the prints and hardened them, but a year later they were exposed by erosion. A scientist happened along and found the tracks. These must be from ancient humans, he exclaimed. It appears they were shorter than modern humans, and had just learned to walk upright. Later, an artists reconstruction of naked ape-like ancestors escaping a volcano appeared in National Geographic. These kids teacher held up the magazine in their school to impress them with the evidence for evolution.Question Evolution and Get Fired 03/12/2003
Agape Press reports that a professor was asked to resign after giving a presentation to elite students about Critical Thinking on Evolution. At Mississippi University for Women, Dr. Nancy Bryson was dismissed by the Vice President of Academic Affairs on hearsay from a fellow professor who accused her of being unqualified and presenting religion masquerading as science when she encouraged students to consider flaws in evolutionary theory, and consider alternatives like intelligent design. The students, however, were enthusiastically supportive of her talk. Dr. Bryson is considering legal action against the school.
Update 03/18/2003: The school has flip-flopped and reinstated Bryson, reports the Mississippi newspaper Clarion-Ledger. University President Claudia Limbert claims Brysons removal had nothing to do with her lecture questioning evolution, but she declined to say why Vice President for Academic Affairs Vagn Hansen asked her to resign after the evolution lecture. Limbert reasserted her absolute commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech, expressing concern that the timing of the dismissal had created a perception that the reason was her criticism of evolution. A flood of emails had protested Brysons removal as division head.
Evolutionists, dont you realize that strong-arm tactics are going to backfire? It makes you look like the dictators bringing in the tanks at Tiannenmen Square. The only way to win in this debate is to present better scientific evidence. So lets hear some.*SETI to Revisit Best Candidates 03/12/2003
Nature Science Update reports that the worlds largest radio dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico is going to take a closer look at 150 of the strongest signals picked up by SETI@home volunteers. The projects chief scientist feels there is about a one in 10,000 chance of finding an alien civilization.
On what basis does he make this calculation? Merely on evolutionary assumptions. You cannot build a statistical case on one measurement. The article quotes Ian Morrison of Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK, as being more cautious: Theres a serious possibility that we could be the only advanced civilization in the Galaxy. There is also the serious possibility that we are the only life of any kind in the universe, unless God created it. If He did, He did not reveal anything about it, which is His prerogative.Movie Review 03/11/2003: In Christianity Today, Thomas E. Woodward, founder and director of the C. S. Lewis Society, gives thumbs-up reviews to the two definitive films about the Intelligent Design movement, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life.
Next headline on: Movies and Media. Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Reality TV Meets Noahs Ark 03/10/2003
For anyone who has any respect for the Bible and the holiness of God, this latest dally into pop culture must cause deep groans, even tears. Promoters think gimmicks like this will popularize theology and make it attractive to jaded, entertainment-intoxicated peasants, but all it is succeeding in doing is making Christians look like the Ship of Fools that Goddard calls his satirical Christian webzine, which has already latched onto the Simpsons and produced an Anglican teddy bear. Why do some Christians feel this urge to jump on every cultural bandwagon in Vanity Fair? (Usually theyre the last to get on, too.) When will we understand that people dont learn the fear of God through circuses, gimmicks, entertainers and trend-hopping, but by contemplation of the truth of Gods Word?Darwinist Admits Darwinism Can Be a Secular Religion 03/07/2003
Michael Ruse is no friend of creationism or the Intelligent Design movement; he is one of the most ardent critics. He can at times, however, to his credit, reprimand his evolutionary friends when he thinks they go out of bounds. In the March 7 issue of Science, he investigates a common creationist accusation: Is evolution a secular religion? His answer is yes and no. He feels some evolutionists do good lab work, and denies that the theory has anything to do with morals. But, if we wish to deny that evolution is more than just a scientific theory, he concedes, then creationists do have a point.
Ruse is especially critical of attempts by many evolutionists to make moral or political judgments, or to present evolution as progressive. As a bad example he points to his contemporary Edward O. Wilson, rightfully regarded as one of the most outstanding professional evolutionary biologists of our time, who preaches evolution as the triumphant conqueror of traditional religion. After providing an intriguing historical review of evolutions promoters, many of whom went out of bounds into moral or political advocacy, he concludes:
So, what does our history tell us? Three things. First, if the claim is that all contemporary evolutionism is merely an excuse to promote moral and societal norms, this is simply false. Todays professional evolutionism is no more a secular religion than is industrial chemistry. Second, there is indeed a thriving area of more popular evolutionism, where evolution is used to underpin claims about the nature of the universe, the meaning of it all for us humans, and the way we should behave. I am not saying that this area is all bad or that it should be stamped out. I am all in favor of saving the rainforests. I am saying that this popular evolutionismoften an alternative to religionexists. Third, we who cherish science should be careful to distinguish when we are doing science and when we are extrapolating from it, particularly when we are teaching our students. If it is science that is to be taught, then teach science and nothing more. Leave the other discussions for a more appropriate time.Michael Ruse is currently in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University, Tallahassee.
This is a significant concession from a believer who can pack more anti-creation propaganda into a sentence than anyone we have ever seen (see loaded words in our Baloney Detector, where his propaganda-to-word density approaches 0.99). Though he denies any link between evolutionary theory and morals, he owns up to an accusation Duane Gish and others have been making for years, that evolution is not presented by many of its leading advocates (such as Julian Huxley) as a science, but as a religion. Ruse even casts Thomas Huxley as Darwins apostle Paul, illustrates (with photos) natural history museums as secular cathedrals, and portrays Erasmus Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel and Spencer as secular crusaders. (In the process, he pictures poor old Charles Darwin as an also-ran.) Ruse fails to mention any leading evolutionist by name, living or dead, who could be considered a good model of a scientist who kept to the laboratory without using evolution as a springboard for moral messages about democracy, education, religion, or conservation.Thai Teeth Tell Tall Tales 03/06/2003
Did you know humans and chimps are now classed in the same group, called hominoids? Recently an international team found some hominoid teeth in a coal mine in Thailand, and believe they came from an ancestor of orang-utans. Publishing their results in the March 6 issue of Nature, they believe the creature was a new species intermediate between African and Asian apes, and feel it must have learned to swing from trees independently of the African hominoids. The BBC News develops the story even further, supposing the creature had some fruit for lunch, then while drinking out of a lake was eaten by a crocodile. The teeth then sank into the peat at the bottom of the lake and were embedded in coal.
Have evolutionists forgotten the lesson of Nebraska Man? One cannot spin these kind of yarns from teeth. Teeth do not come with dates and video recordings of how they got where they are. It was wishful thinking and evolutionary dogmatism that caused Henry Fairfield Osborn and other evolutionists to construct an imaginary Nebraska ape-man family and ecology out of a pigs tooth. Here they are in 2003 again, telling us all about land bridges and migration routes and tree gymnastics, all from a few teeth in Thailand. The science reporter at the BBC should be embarrassed at his gullibility. Where is hard-hitting investigative reporting when it comes to what scientists claim? He should read the book review by John Galloway a few pages up in the same issue of Nature, which ends: The take-home message is that science is not some intellectual and moral sovereign state. It is a human activity replete with self-deception and promotion, lies, the abuse of power, political manipulation, you name it. On reflection, how could it really be otherwise?Microwave Map Supports Ungainly Cosmology 03/06/2003
Sean Carroll of the Enrico Fermi Institute is pretty jazzed about the new Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data. Writing for News and Views in the March 6 issue of Nature, he believes the map essentially fills in the final pieces of the modern cosmology puzzle. But Its a good bet that the fun is only beginning, he concludes, as cosmologists turn to figure out the nature of dark matter, dark energy, inflation, the smoothness of the beginning, and why matter predominates over antimatter.
Pause, dear reader, in stunned disbelief, at the following quote, published here in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world:How Clocks Evolved and Set Themselves 03/05/2003Perhaps the most significant aspect of the WMAP results is not the discovery of an unexpected feature of the Universe, but the confirmation of the generally accepted cosmological model that has been constructed over the past several years. In this model, the Universe is spatially flat and 14 billion years old, with an energy density consisting of 30% matter and 70% dark energy (a smoothly distributed component that varies slowly, if at all, as the Universe expands). The matter comes mostly in the form of dark matter, which is believed to be made of a type of particle that is as yet undetected; only 4% of the total energy density of the Universe is ordinary matter (such as stars, planets, gas and dust). Although this model is consistent with a wide variety of observations, it is clearly problematic from various points of view. As ordinary matter and dark matter presumably originate through very different mechanisms, why is their abundance so similar (within an order of magnitude)? Worse still, why is the total abundance of matter comparable to that of dark energy if they are changing rapidly with respect to each other as the Universe expands? Furthermore, the leading candidate for dark energy is vacuum energy, or the cosmological constant, for which theoretical estimates disagree with observations by 120 orders of magnitude.Theres a joke about a movie director who was filming the biggest World War II battle scene ever staged. His thousands of parachutists, infantrymen, fighter pilots and tank drivers were all poised as he called out, Action! Bombs and guns and charging soldiers were everywhere in the chaotic melee, with hundreds of paratroopers falling out of the sky, planes dive-bombing and tanks firing; the scene was dramatic. It was a multimillion dollar, one-of-a-kind shot. Cut! he yelled as the action ended. He called to his first cameraman. Did you get that? Sorry, was the forlorn reply, My camera jammed right before the action started. He inquired of his second cameraman. Sorry, chief, my batteries were dead. Each successive hard-luck answer increased the directors anxiety. His last hope was Bob, up on the tower. Bob! How did you do? Bobs cheerful reply came a few moments later over the intercom, Were ready when you are!
All animals and plants have built-in clocks that control their circadian (day-night) rhythms, but where are they located, and what makes them work? Recently, scientists have been moving away from the idea that the circadian clock is a negative feedback loop governed by external cues, and toward the model of a molecular network determined by expression of specialized genes. A number of clock genes have been identified, and they appear to comprise a network in association with certain localized neurons. In the March issue of Current Biology, Till Roenneberg and Martha Merrow of the University of Munichs Institute for Medical Psychology survey current knowledge of biological clocks. Thus, underlying circadian behaviour is a molecular machinery that is present in practically all body cells, they begin, and the daily temporal structure of behaviour appears to be the product of a hierarchical amalgam of brain and peripheral clocks. Parts of the clocks run without any external environmental cues, but light is the predominant cue that sets the clock.
Within their article The Network of Time: Understanding the Molecular Circadian System, the authors attempt to address how this complex system of many parts could have evolved. Here are the pertinent sentences (emphasis added):
Uh, excuse me, but Im still waiting. You said you were going to help me understand how biological clocks evolved. You said that complex networks of feedbacks must have already existed in the earliest cellular organisms. Where did those come from? How did an early bacterium prevent chaotic responses by making the input pathways sensitive to external and internal stimuli, and why would they want to? How did they figure out how to adjust the coupling strength between the components? You basically just say they did, but how? All youre telling me about the origin of the biological clocks is that they evolved because they evolved. Thats like saying a man is deaf because he cant hear, or astrology is true because it predicted I would meet somebody today. Can you please elaborate on your model?Take Cover! Earths Magnetic Shield Collapsing 03/04/2003
An unusual paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims the sky is falling, sort of. J. Marvin Herndon thinks the helium emerging from the crust is not primordial (produced at the time of earths formation) but generated by nuclear fission in a gigantic natural reactor in the earths core. He cites evidence from Iceland and Hawaii that this reaction may be grinding to a halt, and the implications for life are grim:
As the georeactor dies, the geomagnetic field that it presumably powers after a time will begin to collapse. But unlike previous geomagnetic collapses, that have restarted and re-energized the field, a time will come when the actinide fuel of the georeactor is too diminished to initiate self-sustaining neutron-induced chain reactions; the georeactor will die and sometime thereafter the geomagnetic field will die and will not restart. At some point in time after the georeactor dies, there will be no geomagnetic field and life on Earth will never be the same.Unfortunately, he cannot predict when this will occur: The challenge now is to determine precisely the time of georeactor demise. Within the present level of uncertainty, one cannot say whether that time will come in the next century, in the next millennium, in a million years, or in a billion years. But one thing is certain: georeactor demise will occur.
Well leave it to others to evaluate Herndons claims and warnings, but even if correct or partly correct, it does not explain the lack of helium in the earths atmosphere over long ages (see ICR for explanation). Meanwhile, just be glad our planet has a magnetic field (or shall we say shield) because it acts like a storm window to protect us from constant bombardment by high-energy particles above the atmosphere. The Northern Lights are a reminder of the barrage of atomic bullets up there that cant get to us because of our shield. Mars has no such protection.Gatekeepers of the Cell Nucleus Revealed 03/04/2003
Five thousand gates control access in and out of the cell nucleus: the Nuclear Pore Complexes (NPCs). In the March 4 issue of Current Biology, two Canadian biochemists survey what is known about them. On a molecular scale, they are huge assemblages with many parts, made up of 30 different types of proteins (see the illustration, which looks like a flying saucer with a cylinder inside a basket going through the interior). But these are not just holes in the nucleus; they are departments of homeland security. Squads of other proteins scan the visitors and badge them if authorized so that they can run the gauntlet. And thats not all. Now evidence is growing that the NPC, through its power to control what enters and exits the nucleus, is a regulator of gene expression. The authors say that eukaryotes (thats us and other multicellular organisms) have the Cadillac model NPC composed of 125 million atomic mass units; single-cell organisms like yeast, with 50 million, have the sportier version.
If you have seen the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, you watched an animation of a messenger RNA molecule passing through the Nuclear Pore Complex. As with most animations, it is simplified for human perception. Our minds would boggle beyond remedy if we could see the parts operating in real time in all their complexity. A large number of pieces of cargo are authenticated and allowed to pass through every second, the article explains. And some of the parts are recruited for other tasks during cell division, during which all these complex parts have to be dismantled, duplicated, and reassembled. Our understanding of how the NPC influences nuclear physiology is just beginning to blossom, authors Wozniak and Lusk conclude. As usual, the more detail is provided, the less talk about evolution (zero, in this article).Did Morals Evolve From Biology? 03/04/2003
Morality evolved by natural selection, according to three members of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Writing in the Biological Proceedings of the Royal Society, Lieberman, Tooby and Cosmides studied human attitudes about incest and came up with a theory based on kin selection on how the moral attitudes of people could be derived from Darwinian survival of the fittest. In Does morality have a biological basis? An empirical test of the factors governing moral sentiments relating to incest, they conclude, These results cannot be easily reconciled with Freudian approaches, which implicate parent offspring dynamics, not sibling co-residence, as the key variable creating incestuous wishes, their repression and their projection into cultural forms. More significantly, the evolutionarily predicted inter-individual variations in moral attitude cannot be easily accounted for by cultural determinist theories that posit that moral attitudes in individuals are immaculately conceived from ambient cultural attitudes, through a general learning capacity. Social science theories claiming that morality is free of biological regulation require revision. If the mind is not a blank slate, then theories of culture will have to accommodate this fact.
This is Darwinism run amok and totally out of control. It is also self-defeating, because any moral feelings they might have about science and truth would also have a biological basis and no intrinsic validity. Somebody needs to reprimand evolutionary psychologists who take a biological theory that has trouble explaining finch beaks and extrapolate it recklessly into the origin of truth and morals. Dont let them out of the university; these guys are dangerous. It would be bad enough if they only shot their own feet; theyre taking aim at the very existence of right and wrong. Robert Boyle and the Christian founders of the Royal Society would be appalled.Scientist Slams the Politics of Peer Review 03/04/2003
Does peer review guarantee good science? Robert Insall of the University of Birmingham in the UK has serious concerns about what has become of the venerable practice. Interviewed in the March 3 issue of Current Biology, he is asked:
Do you have any strong views on journals and the peer review system?Insall, born into a family of architects, musicians and historians, became a scientist, specializing in cell movement and chemotaxis.
No comment; Insalls words speak for themselves.How Black Cats Evolved 03/04/2003
Its not Halloween, but some Maryland scientists studied why some cats are black and reported their genetic investigation in the March 3 cover story in Current Biology. Apparently melanism (black coloration) is recessive in domestic cats but dominant in jaguars; in some species it is frequent but never predominant. They identified two genes that cause melanism in some species but not others. They feel there must be at least at least four independent genetic origins for melanism in the cat family. The inferred multiple origins and independent historical elevation in population frequency of felid melanistic mutations suggest the occurrence of adaptive evolution of this visible phenotype in a group of related free-ranging species.
And your point is? This is supposed to be a paper about why black cats evolved. You read the paper and there are observations about which species have this or that gene, but no theory as to why black color is adaptive. They say, To date, little is known about the molecular or adaptive basis of coat color variation in free-ranging mammals, and so far no study has addressed this issue in multiple polymorphic species from the same family. So did they come to the rescue and find a reason for natural selection to select melanism? See if you can find one in their conclusion:Early Galaxies Give Cosmologists Lumps 03/03/2003The elevation of independent gene variants in parallel Felidae lineages raises the possibility of an adaptive advantage of melanistic mutants under certain ecological circumstances. An interesting example is the jaguarundi, whose wild-type dark coloration is here shown to be a derived condition, having replaced the ancestral reddish form throughout its continental range. The prospect of directly inspecting gene variants that specify phenotypic variation potentially subject to natural selection will allow the direct study of such traits in free-ranging populations. These and other applications of such integrated genetic approaches will hopefully enhance our understanding of species survival, diversification, and adaptive evolution over space and time.You can hunt through this jargon jungle without ever finding the promised nugget of evolutionary wisdom; its just empty promises and futureware. So some cats are black. Theyre still 100% cats, arent they? Whats Darwin got to do with it? Some sheep are black, too.
When the universe was only 2 billion years old there were already mature galaxies with old stars, reports the cover story of Science News (March 1, Vol 163, No. 9). It claims galaxies were undergoing a rapid burst of star formation just 800 million years after the big bang, less than 6% the currently accepted estimate for the age of the universe, 13.7 billion years. Even just 200 million years after the big bang, there were enough stars to ionize all the hydrogen in the universe. These recent findings about distant galaxies and quasars have led astronomers to the conclusion that galaxies and stars were already mature when the universe was very young, millions of years sooner than previously believed. These evidences mean that astronomers may have to revise the accepted view of galaxy formation.
In another cosmology story, the BBC News reports a surprise from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP); the newly-published, detailed map of the cosmic microwave background shows unexpected structure along the quadrupole and octupole components.
We are convinced that it is a real effect, Dr. [Max] Tegmark [University of Pennsylvania] said. It is telling us something about the shape of space on the largest scales. We did not expect this and we cannot yet explain it.These observations add to a growing conundrum called the lumpiness problem: how did structure arise from a nearly featureless beginning? It also indicates that the early universe was already mature. Science News says, A flurry of new reports suggests that a surprising number of galaxies grew up in a hurry, appearing old and massive even when the universe was very young.
Cosmological measurements are always on the bleeding edge of the possible, so caution is advised in interpretation. The WMAP scientists had to attempt to find and filter out other sources of microwave interference; did they get them all? Nevertheless, these two stories illustrate how cosmologists are always changing their stories, because nature contains too many surprises to fit into neat theories. Having so much structure only 800 million years after the big bang (assuming their assumptions for the sake of argument) should spell the demise of naturalistic cosmologies, just like the Cambrian explosion should spell the demise of naturalistic biology, if we let the evidence speak for itself.Iraq War Threatens Antiquities 03/03/2003
The BBC News is concerned that important archaeological artifacts may be at risk from the impending war in Iraq. Included among these are the curious Baghdad batteries sitting in a Baghdad museum. These strange pots containing copper cylinders and iron bars are presumed to have been batteries, because they do work based on experiments with replicas. Found in 1938, they are assumed to date either from Parthian era (250-225 BC) or Sassanian period (225-640 AD). Other antiquities could also be threatened by war. Iraq sits right in the Fertile Crescent that was the cradle of civilization. It was the setting for many ancient kings, cities, and events mentioned in the Bible.
That ancient peoples could make batteries indicates they had intelligence and technology that is not often appreciated by moderns. The discoverer, Wilhelm Konig, believed them to have been batteries, though this was hard to explain, and did not sit comfortably with the religious ideology of the time. Part of that ideology is the belief ancient people were backward and primitive. Other artifacts even older, from other parts of the world, show this attitude to be a type of modern chauvinism. They also argue that people were smart from the start, not evolving out of millions of years of brutish imbecility.Biography 03/01/2003 This months Rock Star in the geology journal GSA Today is James Dwight Dana (1813-1895), a devout Christian whose influence was pervasive and extends even to us today, according to biographer James H. Natland:
Dana held no strictly uniformitarian view of Earth history. A devout Christian, Dana had a New Englanders properly Protestant view of the direction of Earth history. At one scale, he saw this in the progressive volcanism, erosion, and subsidence of linear volcanic chains. At another, the continents themselves have grown, and life itself has changed form in many ways; always, in Danas view, becoming more complex, accordingly as the area of land increased and global climate became more rigorous. This was plan, not chance. The paleontologist in Dana saw this, from a very nineteenth century phrenological perspective, in the growth and shape of the skulls of vertebrates. Thus a benevolent creator, whom Dana termed the Power Above Nature, prepared Earth for the benefit of His children, who are at the present end point of history. Such sentiments pervade Danas writing, as one might expect from a man who led Bible studies, played the piano for his church choir, and prayed with his family over meals.Natland notes that To many of his contemporaries, James Dwight Dana was the foremost American geologist of the nineteenth century. Recognizing the breadth and depth of his observations, Natland remarks that Ones system of beliefs often contributes to scientific hypothesis.
Can we apply that principle to the present day? Is it possible that naturalistic philosophy is contributing to the current geological paradigms, determining what they choose to observe and how they view the history of the world? James Dwight Dana was an admirable character in many ways, but compromised his Biblical faith with the growing scientific mood of the day that earth was many millions of years old. His acceptance of the belief that species had transmuted over time, with man as the goal, not only is irreconcilable with Scripture, but contradicts the Darwinian doctrine of unguided, purposeless evolution. His legacy is thus viewed as a mixed bag by both creationists and evolutionists.