After the knowledge of, and obedience to, the will of God, the next aim must be to know something of His attributes of wisdom, power and goodness as evidenced by His handiwork.... It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.
2001: JAN • FEB • MAR • APR • MAY • JUN • JUL • AUG • SEP • OCT • NOV • DEC 2000: SEP-OCT • NOV-DEC
Intelligent Design Documentary Scores High in PBS Ratings 05/30/2003
The statistics about viewer responses should be tempered with the understanding that unhappy customers are more likely to call in than those who are pleased. If your local PBS station has not put Unlocking on the schedule, call them and let them know you are interested. For southern California (KCET), the number is (323) 666-6500.Ginkgo Trees: No Evolution in 200 Million Years 05/30/2003
Ginkgo trees, because they have a long fossil record, are a prime candidate for studying past climates. Since there are living trees to compare, a group of scientists measured the relationship between climate and leaf stomates (the pores plants use to breathe) both in living and fossil Ginkgo leaves. There was not that much difference. What they found was that the physiology of leaf carbon uptake and regulation of water loss in Ginkgo has remained highly conserved despite the potential for evolutionary change over millions of years (from the abstract) and the values imply that (i) the diffusional limitation on leaf gas exchange in Ginkgo has apparently varied rather little over the past 200 million years or so, and (ii) their physiology, similar to their leaf morphology, has been highly been [sic] conserved (from the conclusion; emphasis added in quotes).
Their paper was published in the May 30 online preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Variation in Ginkgo biloba L. leaf characters across a climatic gradient in China, by Sun, Dilcher, Beerling, Zhang, Yan and Kowalski.
Update 06/19/2003: Nature Science Update declares boldly, Ginkgo is a living fossil. New finds of alleged 121 million year old fossil specimens show that there has been little change compared to present day trees. There is now little doubt that todays Gingko is a direct descendent of forebears that provided food for the dinosaurs, the article concludes.
Anybody see any evolution here? Anybody see 200 million years here? Charlie, where are you?Beagle 2 Calling Beagle 1 05/30/2003
A search is on to recover H.M.S. Beagle, the ship Charles Darwin made famous by his voyage around the world as a young naturalist, reports BBC News. They hope to find some remains of the hull in an Essex marsh, though its location has been lost for almost a century. The timing is linked to the European Space Agencys upcoming launch of Mars Express, containing Britains lander Beagle 2, a robotic spacecraft hoping to find evidence of water (and therefore, presumably, life) on Mars this December.
Of the original ship, Dr. Robert Prescott said, Darwins experiences during that expedition critically influenced the development of his ideas about evolution, ultimately revolutionising the way science regards the story of life. The Beagle surely qualifies as one of the most significant ships in scientific history.
The Beagle has become the antithetical icon to Noahs Ark. It was a centerpiece of the opening episode of the PBS Evolution series in 2001. Much of the story, however, has become mythical under revisionist writers. Darwin was still a creationist on the Beagle and attended shipboard prayer meetings regularly and willingly. Captain Fitzroy, his Christian friend, was an honorable and godly man. Darwin did not think much of the Galápagos finches at the time he collected them and was not having doubts about the Bible till later.Strangest Star Ever Seen 05/29/2003
The exploding star V838 Monocerotis we reported in our Oct. 3 headline, which gained the public attention with a series of dramatic Hubble photos in March, is still puzzling astronomers, reports Space.Com, which calls it the talk of astronomy. It appears to undergoing a violent outburst yet is cool enough to have water, carbon monoxide and silicates, unlike any nova or supernova. One astronomer commented, It represents some of the first observations of a new kind of star, or perhaps an unusually rapid and violent stage in the stars evolution. Another called it the strangest star we have ever observed.
Where does this one fit on the neat stellar evolution charts? Stay tuned; too early to tell, but not very well yet. Good thing there are still surprises out there.Fish Diversify Fast in African Lake 05/29/2003
Lake Victoria in east Africa has several hundred species of cichlid fish, but scientists are not sure whether they evolved there within the last 15,000 or 100,000 years, or were seeded from other populations in the meantime. Zoologist Thomas D. Kocher of University of New Hampshire doesnt think it matters too much either way, because the common ancestor of all the fish in the east African lakes already had the capacity for rapid and extensive radiation. His analysis of the speciation of fish in Lake Victoria can be found in the May 29 issue of Nature. (See also the Jan. 31 headline on a related claim regarding Lake Baikal.)
What are the data? Just a surprising diversity of fish in a lake. Evolutionists do not know how they diverged, when they diverged, what they diverged from, or why they diverge any more than any other group. Kocher admits that it is hard to relate divergent genes to existing populations (emphasis added):Early Man DNA Claims Doubtful 05/29/2003The very recent origin of the Lake Victoria flock poses two challenges for those wishing to reconstruct the historical relationships among species. First, there has been little time for mutation to alter the DNA sequence of each species. This means that there are precious few sequence characters on which to apply phylogenetic analysis. Second, there has not been enough time for new variant genes to become fixed between instances of speciation, a problem known as 'incomplete lineage sorting'. This means that although phylogenetic trees derived from DNA sequences accurately represent the history of genes, they do not necessarily reflect the history of the populations in which the variants are found.The bottom line is, these fish are still fish, they are still bony fish, and they are still cichlid bony fish. A certain level of variation is accepted by creationists and evolutionists, so these observations provide no support for the belief that fish evolved from something else. It just shows that you can get fairly rapid variation within a certain kind of organism (remember dogs?).
It was widely reported last week that modern humans evolved from a different line than Neanderthals, based on DNA comparisons (see National Geographic for instance). But in todays May 29 issue of Nature, Alison Abbott reports that it is nearly impossible to rule out contamination of the samples, so the reports are meaningless. Alan Cooper, for instance, ran tests by deliberately contaminating samples of bone and could not eradicate the contamination even with extreme decontamination methods. such as application of acid or bleach. Giorgio Bertorelles paper that claimed Neanderthals and Cro Magnons evolved along independent lines made the cover of the May 27 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was widely reported in newspapers. Bertorelle claims his team used all the standard precautions to rule out contamination, but Abbott says such controls cannot definitively rule it out. Since contamination is almost impossible to avoid, Cooper and other experts see no way to resolve the issue and are now increasingly questioning the value of studies such as Bertorelles, says Abbott. In summary, experts say the techniques involved, which are also used by other groups, are dogged by problems so fundamental that they can never be used to draw conclusions about the evolution of modern humans.
Its not just these bones that could have been contaminated. Whole genome databases on which evolutionary speculations are built might also be full of errors, if you recall the February 19 headline. Combine this with Tim Whites cautions in March about interpreting variability in bones, and you have way too many variables in the plot. It is only evolutionary faith that motivates certain anthropologists to find ancestral trees that dont exist. Notice that the techniques involved are also used by other groups. What other evolutionary conclusions are being based on flawed samples?Nothing New Under the Sun? Radiation Fosters First Life 05/28/2003
Under the sun, ultraviolet (UV) light is a destroyer and killer, unless blocked by Earths ozone layer. The little that gets through is a leading cause of skin cancer. Most origin of life researchers have assumed it is essential to protect incipient prebiotic chemicals from the UV radiation bath, but now three evolutionists see it as a shower of blessing. Writing in the May 28 issue of BioMed Central Evolutionary Biology, they build their optimism on the fact that some nitrogenous bases are able to quench UV quanta and protect the backbones of DNA and RNA from cleavage. They readily admit that the condensation of sugar phosphates and nitrogenous bases [building blocks of DNA and RNA] is thermodynamically unfavorable, and therefore that these compounds, if ever formed, should have undergone rapid hydrolysis. Thus, formation of oligonucleotide-like structures could have happened only if and when these structures had some selective advantage over simpler compounds. That selective advantage might have been the UV protection afforded by the nitrogenous bases especially if Partial funneling of the UV energy into the condensation reactions could provide a further boost for the oligomerization [i.e., the assembly of chains of the building blocks]. (Emphasis added in quotes.)
The hypothesis is summarized on EurekAlert, where the authors elaborate:
It seems quite unlikely that the extremely effective UV-quenching by all major nitrogenous bases is just incidental. We can assume that these bases were selected to perform the UV-protecting function before they became involved in the maintenance and transfer of genetic information. In this (primordial) world the nitrogenous bases served just as protecting units. Accordingly these units were replaceable and variable. Exactly this variability could have paved the way to the variability of the future genomes.In short, they turn a liability into an asset: The suggested mechanism turns the high UV levels on primordial Earth from a perceived obstacle to the origin of life into the selective factor that, in fact, might have driven the whole process (emphasis added).
Whatever doesnt kill you makes you stronger, say the Navy Seals and bumper stickers, and that is correct, if you have will power and determination. But what will power and determination do chemicals have? It is a fallacy to attribute any such character attributes to chemicals. Erase from your thinking any such notions, and start with a mind free of Darwinian assumptions, and this whole hypothesis falls apart just like a polypeptide hit by a UV photon.Re-Evolution of Wings: Can Evolution Explain the Impossible? 05/28/2003
In the May 27 issue of Current Biology, Graham Stone and Vernon French take on the puzzle of the apparent re-evolution of wings in stick insects (see Jan. 16 headline). Their dispatch, entitled Evolution: Have Wings Come, Gone, and Come Again? examines two possibilities: (1) the phylogenetic tree is wrong, or (2) insects really re-evolved wings multiple times. Arriving at a consensus is important, because it has ramifications for how Darwinism would explain other complex features (emphasis added):
The evolution of wings is widely regarded as a major contributing factor in the evolutionary success of the insects [sic], providing abundant new possibilities for dispersal, prey capture and predator avoidance. Insect wings (like eyes) are an example of the complex structures whose evolution so troubled Darwin, and which remain important foci for work on the evolution of development. A major question for these structural adaptations -- and for other complex traits, such as sexual reproduction -- is whether lineages that lose them can ever regain them. The prevailing view is that such re-evolution is unlikely because, after their loss, the genes required for their development should be free to accumulate mutations and so become non-functional.First, they examine the possibility that the phylogenetic tree is wrong. Whitings group used a common assumption of parsimony in constructing their tree of the stick insects (Phasmatodea): that is, evolution acts so as to minimize the number of transitions between alternative states. If that assumption is relaxed, perhaps the tree could be explained by many more episodes of wing loss than the four episodes of wing re-evolution that Whiting et al concluded.
On the other hand, perhaps, impossible as it seems, evolution can re-invent the wing. If the developmental pathways for legs and wings use the same genetic toolkits, Stone and French hypothesize, maybe the genetic information to build a wing could be reconstructed under the right selective pressure. Understanding how this could work is not easy, however (emphasis added):
Even with a shared toolkit, a problem remains, however, in explaining how the wing can be re-evolved after being lost. Genes, including those encoding developmental tools, have independent enhancers driving their expression in different contexts, under different transcription factor control. Shared genes will indeed remain exposed to selection in relation to their other functions, but surely their wing-specific enhancers would decay, preventing a direct return to former roles in wing development.They suggest it would be informative to run a similar phylogenetic tree on another insect order. In the end, they cannot decide between the possibilities (altering the phylogeny vs. re-evolution), and leave the idea of re-evolution as an intriguing thought: We know that wing loss is common, but we cannot estimate, beyond this phylogenetic reconstruction, how easy it is to get them back again! And if wings can be regained, what of other complex traits? For example, is there any chance that the bdelloid rotifers may once again discover the joys of sex?
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the phenomenon of credulity among intelligent people. If you thought that only simpletons were credulous, you have just witnessed PhDs in biology believing in miracles despite their abhorrence of the miraculous. You have just seen them trap themselves between a rock and a hard place of their own making, steadfastly refusing to consider the only alternative that makes sense in light of the evidence, that wings were designed, and that wing loss is evidence of the general trend toward decay and loss, not a trend toward increasing complexity.Eye-Brain Coordination: How You Know When to Pay Attention 05/27/2003
Imagine you are staring at a non-moving background. Something appears to move in your peripheral vision. How does your brain decide it is important enough to turn your head and look at it? A dispatch entitled Cognitive Physiology: Moving the Minds Eye Before the Heads Eye in the May 27 issue of Current Biology examines this question. Authors Tefan Treue and Julio C. Martinez-Trujillo begin by stating that, Under natural conditions, shifts of spatial attention are often followed by matching eye movement. I.e., there needs to be a connection between the part of the brain that detect a movement and the part that decides to pay attention. At this point, they wax rhapsodic in praise of the creative power of evolution (emphasis added):
When studying the visual system of primates, one cannot avoid being awed by the beauty, complexity and shear [sic] power of this product of evolution [sic]. At the same time, the primate visual system as we know it today is a compromise between several conflicting interests and selection pressures. At first sight the task for evolution [sic] seems to be simply to design a visual system that provides an organism with the most accurate and complete picture of its environment. While some performance parameters of human vision -- such as its peak spatial resolution, low luminance threshold or enormous dynamic range -- demonstrate how far evolution seems to have come [sic], a second look reveals that evolution has achieved [sic] these impressive abilities only in a very selective way. Most notably, the high spatial resolution is confined to a small fraction of the retina, the fovea. This makes sense, as implementing the foveal resolution abilities across the whole retina would not only have been very difficult, but the resulting flood of information reaching the brain would have been impossible to accommodate in a reasonably sized skull.The authors discuss recent work by Moore and Armstrong that elegantly linked an area known to be a central player in the planning of eye movements to salient stimuli in the visual field to attentional modulations at sites most likely to be upcoming eye movement targets. It appears that, in an optimized approach, the FEF [frontal eye field] first sends out scouts automatic increases in attentional gain to the most interesting (salient) peripheral sites before committing the oculomotor system to a course of action.
See also the May 22 headline about image processing done by the eye.
It would be hard to surpass their first sentence for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week, so we will take a risk and award it to Treue and Martinez-Trujillo in advance. But then again, one cannot avoid being awed by the credulity, simplicity and sheer creativity of the evolutionists to attribute optimal engineering design to chance.Internal Clock Assists Monarch Butterflys GPS 05/23/2003
People who need to consult maps, radio traffic reports, or the Global Positioning System to navigate from one city to another should stand in awe of monarch butterflies, writes Elizabeth Pennisi in the May 23 issue of Science. They migrate thousands of kilometers to a small winter retreat in Mexico. Describing the research by Reppert et al in the same issue of Science, she reports that the team found evidence of a biological clock, an accurate internal timepiece, that is calibrated by the sun. Since the sun is constantly moving through the sky, this allows the fragile butterflies to maintain their position during their epic flights. But this may just be part of the story, and more mysteries remain. For instance, how would a species-wide standard clock work with populations scattered across North America, who must take different routes? And since the great grandchildren of the starters are the ones who arrive in Mexico, how does the migration system persist across generations? How does junior know where he is in the flight plan?
Yes, stand in awe of monarch butterflies, not because they could have engineered navigation systems superior to GPS that baffle our scientists, but because these awesome capabilities were put there by an awesome God.Treasure Found in DNA Junkyard 05/23/2003
Not Junk After All, says Wojciech Makalowski of so-called junk DNA (a term coined by the late Sozumu Ohno to describe apparently useless, repetitive sequences in the genome that do not code for genes). Writing in the May 23 issue of Science, he says the junkyard was really a treasure mine (emphasis added in all quotes):
Although catchy, the term junk DNA for many years repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding DNA. Who, except a small number of genomic clochards, would like to dig through genomic garbage? However, in science as in normal life, there are some clochards who, at the risk of being ridiculed, explore unpopular territories. Because of them, the view of junk DNA, especially repetitive elements, began to change in the early 1990s. Now, more and more biologists regard repetitive elements as a genomic treasure.How do the mislabeled pieces of junk shine like gems? They apparently regulate the expression of gene-coding regions through alternative splicing. Describing an example published by an Israeli team in the same issue of Science, Makalowski explains that the alternative splicing involves an interplay with the giant molecular machine called the spliceosome, and is finely tuned:
It is even more tricky to maintain the delicate balance of signals that cause an exon to be spliced alternatively--you make one mistake (a point mutation) and either a splicing signal becomes too strong and an exon is spliced constitutively, or the signal becomes too weak and an exon is skipped.Makalowski thinks the additional copies of genes allow one to be preserved and the other to be a source of evolutionary novelty.
Unfortunately, most mutations will lead to abnormal proteins and are likely to result in disease. Yet a small number may create an evolutionary novelty, and natures alternative splicing approach guarantees that such a novelty may be tested while the original protein stays intact.He realizes he is sounding anthropomorphic, but sheepishly continues his analogy in the concluding sentences (emphasis added):
These two papers demonstrate that repetitive elements are not useless junk DNA but rather are important, integral components of eukaryotic genomes. Risking personification of biological processes, we can say that evolution is too wise [sic] to waste this valuable information. Therefore, repetitive DNA should be called not junk DNA but a genomic scrap yard, because it is a reservoir of ready-to-use segments for natures evolutionary experiments.The other paper he refers to was a study by Iwashita et al a few years ago that suggested transposable elements permit a kind of modular programming. A cow was found to have two copies of a gene, but one copy had an inserted endonuclease module. He concluded that this arrangement allowed it to evolve a new function while the other copy without the module maintained the cows original fitness.
Makalowski took the risk and lost. He personified nature. Foul. That is not permitted in naturalistic philosophy. If Nature is doing experiments, tinkering with a finely-tuned apparatus, and wise enough not to waste valuable information, she is a person, no longer just natural law and chance. Without an intelligence to guide it, tinkering with something as complex as a genome factory will just muck up the works and bring the machinery to a grinding halt. A materialist cannot personify the organisms, either. Animals do not want to evolve, nor do they care who wins the competition.Darwinian Gradualism Was Just a Fad; Catastrophism Rules 05/22/2003
Darwin and Lyell dont seem to get much respect in a book review in the May 22 issue of Nature. In a review of Michael Bentons new book about the Permian extinction, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time, Peter J. Bowler of Queens University in Belfast argues that catastrophism only suffered a temporary, localized hiatus. Although Benton wants to show us how the catastrophist perspective has re-emerged in modern geology and palaeontology, Bowler wants us to realize it never died, at least on the continent. Though he likes the book overall, he says (emphasis added):
My one criticism of his [Bentons] account is that he accepts too readily the assumption that Lyell and Darwin marginalized all support for discontinuity in the Earths history. There were few outright catastrophists left by around 1900, but many still believed that the history of life had been punctuated by environmental transitions far more rapid than anything observed in the recent past.Bowler seems vindicated that catastrophism was victorious over that far less robust idea, Darwinian-Lyellian gradualism.
Dont tell this to Richard Dawkins. Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Darwins popularity, that Nature would print this? Is Lyells adage the present is the key to the past now a passé cliché? To be cool, do you have to wear a catastrophist T-shirt? You would get that impression.Photo 05/22/2003: The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has taken a dramatic image of Earth and Jupiter as seen from Mars, the first planetary conjunction imaged from another planet. From that distance, both the gas giant and the pale blue dot appear as tiny specks. The press release shows them magnified so that you can see the bands of Jupiter and three of its satellites, and the American continents on Earth, along with our moon.
Next headline on: Mars. Next headline on: Solar System.
Eye Does Image Processing 05/22/2003
When the first light-sensitive amoeba drifted down a stream, it encountered one of the fundamental problems of vision, which is that the world doesnt sit still. Trees move in the breeze, grass rustles, the sun and stars drift across the sky. The most basic use of an organisms light-sensitivity is to orient itself to (or from) a light source. But how, with so much moving clutter, could the amoeba have charted its position?The Harvard team studied just one of the dozen bipolar cells and 29 amacrine cells that stand between the photoreceptors and the ganglion cells that send the messages down the optic nerve to the brain. This one type of amacrine cell is able to time the nerve impulses and determine whether the image is uniformly moving, or if an object is moving across a stationary background. If the former, it aborts the impulse; if the latter, it sends it to the brain. The team experimented with the eyes of rabbits and salamanders, but the findings apply to all vertebrates, including primates.
Masland comments, One of the surprises of the past few years has been the unsuspected complexity of the retinas microcircuitry (emphasis added). The other bipolar cells and amacrine cells are apparently also involved in computational image processing work that is performed on the image before the brain sees it, filtering out useless information that otherwise would overwhelm us. Thus, these cells shape and compress the raw information detected by the photoreceptors for efficient transmission to the brain.
Excited by this latest finding, Masland summarizes what is already known about image processing in the retina, and predicts what wonders may soon be discovered (emphasis added):
Where does this take us? Among other things, it encourages a search for even more sophistication in the retinas computations. Other amacrine cells provide feedback signals for retinal gain control - a crucial function that adjusts the retinas sensitivity to match the ambient illumination and contrast. A single amacrine cell, the starburst cell, appears to compute the fundamental asymmetry that enables some ganglion cells to report the direction of a moving stimulus. Another mechanism compensates for the ballistic eye movements that hurl the eyes from object to object. There are now hints that not just movement but also the spatial pattern of the moving target affect the retinas responses. The great turn-of-the-century anatomists recognized the retina as one of evolutions masterpieces [sic]. Our understanding of its signalling repertoire is finally beginning to catch up.The Harvard team does not explain how the image processing system evolved, other than to note that the geometric peculiarities of a particular optical illusion called the Ouchi illusion, which causes the amacrine cell to signal that the object is moving against the background when it really isnt, are rare the natural environment, where retinal function evolved [sic].
The proper bodily response to hearing the oxymoron evolutions masterpieces is (a) gag, (b) choke, (c) guffaw, (d) spin right index finger around right ear, (e) all of the above sequentially, (f) all of the above simultaneously. Instead of the customary [sic = thus in the original] designation, maybe we should use: [sick].Noahs Ark Goes Digital 05/20/2003
Endangered species are being given a place to live in cyberspace, reports the BBC News. Pictures and information about 6,000 animals and 33,000 plants considered in danger of extinction will be housed on ARKive, a huge website that floats on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, this may save the memories, but not the gene pools, of these plants and animals from the flood of human greed and exploitation. And who are the exploiters? Not the free world primarily, but the dictatorships (remember what Hussein did?). The June issue of National Geographic reports that Somalia is turning its pristine forests into deserts because of the demand for charcoal. Historically, the famed cedars of Lebanon (and the biodiversity they contained) were decimated by warring monarchies who used the timber for siege machines or crosses on which to execute prisoners. By contrast, its free societies like America that are developing non-polluting hydrogen fuel cells and finding ways to turn toxic waste and garbage into oil. The environmental records of democracies vs dictatorships would make for an interesting research project.Dog Does Calculus 05/20/2003Note: Before characterizing the rate of species extinction, we need to remember that the definition of species often differs from one taxonomist to another. There are lumpers and splitters taxonomists who want to classify multiple varieties under one species name, and those who want to give every variety its own. Its not always clear which varieties or species are interfertile. These facts need to be taken into consideration when sounding the alarm that thousands of species are going extinct. The creation view is that the created kind is generally a larger category than species; but in any taxonomic scheme there will be exceptions and special cases.Ending totalitarianism might be a much more productive way to save biodiversity, than relying on the UN (the United Nebuchadnezzars). How about this for a new Earth Day slogan: Give me liberty, or give the environment death. But freedom itself is no guarantee, if free peoples have no conscience and are driven only by selfish interest. Some aborigines burned down vast forests to make it easier to hunt, and some native American tribes stampeded herds of buffalo off cliffs. Even some evolutionists suspect that early humans drove mammoths and much of the rich Pleistocene fauna extinct.
Throw a ball into a lake, and a dog will find the optimal path to fetch it. Tim Pennings at Hope College, Michigan took his dog Elvis and was amazed at how the dog figured out the optimal route to the ball a common problem students in calculus classes have to solve. The story is on SciNews.
Pennings is not saying Elvis understands calculus, but that this was an example of the uncanny way in which nature often finds optimal solutions. Nature does not find optimal solutions. Nature is not a person. If the intelligence were not put in from the outside by Someone, nature would follow the laws of thermodynamics, and the dog would decay into dust on the shore of the lake. That Elvis does not, and happily jumps into the water, swimming straight to the ball in spite of the current, is a tribute to the Designer who made cells, DNA, brains, muscles, nerves, and complex interconnected systems that make such tricks possible in a world that, of itself, gravitates toward equilibrium.Chimps Are People, Too 05/20/2003
Some Wayne State scientists claim chimpanzees are only 0.6% different than humans in certain key genes, so they should be classified in the genus Homo along with people. In addition, the great apes, including gorillas and orang-utans, should be classified in the human family Hominidae, reports the BBC News.
We should not insult the apes this way.Paleontologist Questions Claims of Four-Winged DinoBird 05/19/2003
Kevin Padian, curator of the UC Berkeley museum of paleontology, is not sure what to think about the fossil of an alleged theropod with feathers on all four limbs, named Microraptor gui, announced in Nature last January. Writing in the May issue of Bioscience, he thinks it is potentially as important as Archaeopteryx if the claims pan out (which he feels are not yet convincing), but he has a number of questions about the authors interpretation that the creature was a four-winged flyer or glider. Since few scientists have been able to study the fossils except to look at the pictures, it is not clear if the creature had anything to do with the lineage of birds, or was an oddball that was an evolutionary dead end.
For one thing, Padian is not convinced that the feathers were attached to the rear legs at all, or even if they were, that they were involved in flying or gliding. A corollary to this point, he says, is that there is no reason to assume that a gliding animal will necessarily evolve powered flight, because no bird today, not even Archaeopteryx in the past, used hind limbs in a flight stroke (birds tuck up their feet like airplanes do with their wheels). So the leg feathering in Microraptor has nothing demonstrably to do with the evolution of the kind of flight that more derived birds use, he notes.
Other problems include the claim the hind legs were splayed out to the side, which would have dislocated the hip joint, and that the tibias were bowed, which would be extraordinary for any bird or theropod. Such an arrangement would be useless, he thinks, and hints at distortion of the fossil, because bowed tibiae would move it farther from anything to do with the origin of birds.
Padian has some pointed comments about the discoverers claim that Microraptor supports the view that flight evolved from the trees down:
Finally, the issue of whether birds evolved flight in trees or on the ground is effectively dead, because it isn't testable. We re not likely to find a fossilized bird in its fossilized tree, about to jump off a fossilized limb. The central problem of the evolution of flight is how the flight stroke evolved, because without it, flapping is not effective. (Also needed are an effective airfoil, a sophisticated neuromuscular apparatus, and an active metabolism for sustained flight.)(italics in original). Padian supports the alternative view that flight evolved from the ground up, and used their forelimbs originally to trap prey.
Its kind of fun to watch storytellers argue with each others plots. Padian thinks it is incredible that feathered hind limbs would provide any flight benefit to an animal if it were jumping out of trees to learn how to fly, but is it any more credible to claim, without any fossil evidence, that forelimbs used to trap prey would evolve into eagles wings? There is much more involved than just limb shape, as he reminds us. There are muscles, nerves, brain software, hollow bones, a different respiratory system, and much more. In fact, just about every biological system would need redesign for a reptile to evolve powered flight. This would require hundreds of Darwins successive, slight modifications, each of which would have had to provide a functional advantage enough to make the lucky mutant survive and all the others die. Great story, if you have enough faith.Springtime at Neptune Begins 05/16/2003
The Hubble Space Telescope has taken pictures over six years that show brightening clouds in the southern hemisphere of Neptune. This indicates that seasonal changes are occurring, which is something of a surprise, since the suns energy is one 900th of what the earth receives.
Because of its 160-year orbit, Neptunes southern hemisphere won't begin summer till 2043.
Voyager 2 discovered also that Neptune had the strongest winds of any planet, stronger even than those at larger Jupiter and Saturn that receive more solar energy and give off more internal heat. As we reported a year ago, Uranus and Neptune do not fall neatly into theories of the origin of the solar system, nor do they appear to be as old as claimed.How to Keep a Planet from Crashing Into Its Star 05/16/2003
Astrophysicists have their hands full keeping newly-formed planets in balance. The problem is that a dust disk exchanges angular momentum with an accreting planet, making it lose energy and fall inward toward the star (Type I migration). In addition, the interaction sets up spiral waves that draw the planet inward in short order. How quickly? In just a thousand years, a Jupiter could move 1 AU (93 million miles) on this conveyor belt headed for the furnace. Unless the planet clears out a gap in the dust quickly, which slows down the inward pull considerably (Type II migration), the star will gobble it up (the aptly-named Shiva scenario). But then again, the growing planet needs the dust disk to grow; once the gap is cleared, no more accretion occurs.
In the online preprint edition of the upcoming May 20 issue of Astrophysical Journal, European scientists Andrew Nelson and Willy Benz attempt to balance the competing forces. They find, unfortunately, that planets less than 30% the mass of Jupiter cannot clear the disk in time to prevent being swallowed. In the same issue, Winters, Balbus and Hawley from the University of Virginia struggle with how quickly a gap can form and what it means to the growing planet. It used to be so simple, they say (emphasis added):
Understanding the process of planet formation in nascent solar systems is a long-standing goal of astrophysical theory. The traditional picture is an orderly one in which planets slowly build up their mass, first by accreting rocky planetesimals and then (if sufficiently massive) gas from the surrounding protostellar disk. The recent multiple detections of extrasolar planets close to the central star, a configuration once thought to be highly improbable, pose a stern challenge to this relatively simple picture of planet formation. In the wake of these discoveries, contemporary theories emphasize the importance of the dynamical interaction between a developing planet and the ambient gaseous disk.These new models have stern challenges of their own, as described in the preceding paragraph. Now that models show that a a gas giant can form in hundreds of years instead of millions, its a race against time. The planet has to form to sufficient size, clear a gap, and avoid the pull of the remaining dust disk or else it will be sucked into stellar oblivion like a speck spiraling down a drain.
In their simulations, the second group had trouble getting the gap cleared of material, and there are other complications, like magnetic fields, spiral density waves, tidal interactions between planet and star, the planets own gravitational influence on the surrounding disk, and turbulence. They found that small planets were unable to form a gap at all: in fact, the density of material around them increased. Its beginning to seem quite a puzzle not only how Jupiter-size planets have been found at vastly different radii around other stars, but how our own rocky planets, including the one were standing on, survived the maelstrom.
We didnt even mention yet the problem that most dust disks are being rapidly blown away by nearby supergiant stars. Even if a planet survives the chaos in these new naturalistic models, they show it does not require long periods of time. These new papers are speaking of process that operate in thousands of years, not millions or billions. That raises additional questions. After such a quick formation, do we need billions of years? What about all the other phenomena throughout the solar system that appear young?Cosmic Fudge Factor Revives Anthropic Principle 05/15/2003
A few years ago, astronomers and cosmologists were surprised that some observations pointed to an accelerating universe. This revived Einsteins old fudge factor, the cosmological constant, a parameter in his field equations that gave the universe an outward push so that it would not collapse. More and more astronomers are acquiescing to the belief that this parameter, long thought to be zero, has what appears to be a non-arbitrary value.
In Cosmology: A just-so story Lawrence M. Krauss in the May 15 issue of Nature writes that the cosmological constant is reviving questions about the anthropic principle. This principle looks at all the apparently arbitrary values of physical constants, and reasons that if they were not all finely tuned, life could not exist. Another way of stating it is that the constants seem to have the values they do only because we exist to measure them. Krauss admits (emphasis added),
The reason that physicists have been so reluctant to consider the anthropic principle seriously is that it goes against the grain. Most physicists have hoped that an ultimate physical explanation of reality would explain why the Universe must look precisely the way it does, rather than why it more often than not would not.So are the constants of physics, as diverse as the charge on the electron, the resonances within the triple-alpha process of nuclear fusion, and the gravitational constant restricted to the values they have now based on fundamental theory, or are they just lucky accidents from an infinite range of possibilities? Are they determined, or contingent? Krauss makes it clear that most astronomers would prefer the former, yet acceptance of the accelerating universe due to a non-zero cosmological constant has given them another fine-tuning parameter to wonder about.
Krauss points to a recent paper by James Bjorken that makes a stab at relating the value of the cosmological constant to the de Sitter horizon. This is the distance at which the speed of the expanding universe matches the speed of light. Beyond this horizon, no information can come to us, and we are forever cut off from knowing anything beyond it. Bjorken, a particle physicist, suggests that not only the cosmological constant, but all physical dimensional quantities are determined by the de Sitter horizon of the universe in which they reside.
Krauss considers Bjorkens proposal interesting but speculative. In the end, he concludes, as with so many anthropic arguments, it is hard to know what to make of this result, especially in the absence of any fundamental theory. Its intriguing, he says, and a possible resolution of what is otherwise the most puzzling fine-tuning problem in all of physics. But he makes it clear that the mystery remains (emphasis added): As Bjorken stresses, perhaps attempts to connect concurrent problems in particle physics and cosmology in this way even though these types of argument are very speculative might ultimately provide some guidance for researchers as we try to understand what otherwise seems at present to be a remarkably inexplicable Universe.
Thus Bjorken provides only a suggestion, a just-so story, around the problem. Not only is this stabbing in the dark, it really is not a solution at all. Even if the constants of physics scale to the de Sitter horizon, why is that true, so that complex life is possible? Why is there a universe at all? You cannot get a treasure map by chance. If you have a naturally-produced treasure map that leads you to X marks the spot, you have to ask the follow-up question: what treasure map further up the chain provided the information the first map used?Do Crater Counts Indicate the Ages of Planets and Moons? 05/14/2003
Estimating past cratering rates is not for the faint of heart or for those lacking imagination. There are so many variables and unknowns, any estimate is likely to be highly questionable. But even when a planetary scientist arrives at a number for cratering rate for a given region of the solar system, theres always at least one mischievous object that doesnt fit. For a flavor of the head-scratching and occasional frivolity in this line of work, here are a few excerpts from an updated attempt by four NASA and Southwest Research Institute scientists, published in this months issue of Icarus (emphasis added):
Only a tiny fraction of the population would ever read a technical paper like this, with all its uncertainties. TV producers and planetarium lecturers assume that the peasants want nice, tidy, dogmatic answers to things glittering generalities spoken by authoritative-sounding announcers, saying, Four and a half billion years ago, the Solar System evolved out of a swirling cloud of gas, with glitzy artwork providing a convenient substitute for uncooperative data. Here at Creation-Evolution Headlines, we know from feedback that our readers are smarter. They realize that the interesting revelations usually come from the puzzles.Bias in Science Journals 05/13/2003: Michael Behe wrote a short 350-word letter to Nature commenting on the recent finding of a pseudogene with a function, expressing his opinion that this is positive evidence for design instead of Darwinisms standard negative evidence expressing what a Designer would not have done. Nature declined to print it, citing lack of space, but did not hesitate to print a 468-word letter critical of the intelligent design movement in Germany (see April 3 headline for background). Michael Behe is author of Darwins Black Box, a widely-read critique of Darwinism that presents evidence for intelligent design in the cell. His rejected letter can be read at Discovery Institute. In the May 9 Nature, U. Kutcheras letter, that was printed, does not attack Behes evidence, or even propose any evidence supporting Darwinian evolution, but urges the journal to write more editorials attacking intelligent design.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Unborn Knows Mothers Voice 05/13/2003
Yet the law still treats these most vulnerable of human beings as dispensable objects of parental convenience. While we shudder at Husseins slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own people after the Gulf War, what are we to think of the ongoing slaughter within our borders? For years, getting a ban on just the most brutal method of murder, partial-birth abortion, in which the head is punctured and the brain sucked out, has been blocked, vetoed, or pushed to the back burner as a low priority issue.Self-Esteem Fad Is Fading 05/12/2003
Self-esteem, that panacea for all that ails the fragile psyches of school children, is no better than snake oil, reports Science Now. Constance Holden sets the stage:
The self-esteem wave may have crested. For the last couple of decades its been an article of faith among experts of many stripes that high self-esteem is the font from which all human goodness springs. The movement reached a fever pitch in the 1980s when California funded a state task force on self-esteem, claiming that many, if not most, of the major problems plaguing society have roots in ... low self-esteem.Experiments have not borne this out. Roy Baumeister at Florida State examined the literature and found that self-esteem is no predictor of performance, or any other measure with the possible exception of personal happiness. In the May issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Baumeister and Robert Bjork of UCLA put the cart behind the horse: Self-esteem is a result, not a cause, of doing well. Self-esteem programs may have a downside. The authors suggest that indiscriminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism. Although self-esteem forms a very compelling illusion, Baumeister suggests a different formula for success: Forget about self-esteem concentrate on self-control.
A power point here. Notice how self-esteem has been a pervasive truism, a concept that everyone just intuitively knows. But it was a compelling illusion, a fad. People were attracted to it because we relate; we already love ourselves, and the self-esteem doctrine reinforces our own selfish tendencies. How many expensive programs have been funded because of this flawed theory, and how many criminals were let off the hook because of tearful stories that their failures were due to low self-esteem?Monkey-Typewriter Experiment Yields Negative Results 05/12/2003
Thomas Huxley is said to have stumped Bishop Wilberforce in a famous debate by suggesting that a million monkeys on a million typewriters could produce the works of Shakespeare by chance, given enough time and materials. Real monkeys, however, were found to pound the keyboards with rocks and pee on them, discovered a group of researchers at Plymouth University in England, reports MSNBC News. Through the messy experiment, six monkeys eventually produced five pages of text, mostly consisting of the letter S. For more details on the experiment, see Vivaria.net.
Once again, experiment trumps speculation. Huxleys analogy is still invoked sometimes to evade the truth that a chance origin of life faces impossible odds.* But it is not just the odds; there are other problems. A monkey is not likely to continue typing on a keyboard it has just relieved itself on (please pardon the grossness of this illustration, because we need to make a point, and this is in fact what these monkeys did in the experiment). In a soup of chemicals acted on by chance, similarly, there are destructive cross-reactions that interfere with prebiotic synthesis, essentially guaranteeing nothing interesting will happen. But thats not all that is wrong with this foolish analogy.Geological Puzzles 05/09/2003
For your weekend amusement, you can pit your wits against the geologists to explain unusual features around the earth. EurekAlert lists newsworthy items each month from the journal Geology of the Geological Society of America. This months list has some strange theories and interesting observations. Emphasis is added in quotes, and our comments follow in green:
It should be clear that geology is often a storytelling art, tasked to work its way around evidence while preserving the geologic time scale, indispensable to Darwinism, at all cost.Mars Heat Signature Amazes Scientists 05/08/2003
Exclusive A packed auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory today heard about latest findings from the Mars 2001 Odyssey Spacecraft that began its science mission in February last year. One of Odysseys specialties is thermal mapping of the surface with THEMIS (thermal emission imaging system), a set of infrared instruments capable of detecting soil and rock minerals via their temperature changes during day-night cycles. THEMIS principal investigator Phil Christensen (Arizona State) showed images so detailed, it was like zooming in on a country from orbit to view the structure of a city. Craters, canyons, layered terrain, sand dunes, rocky and dusty areas are all coming into sharper focus and yielding exciting new data and many surprises, along with a wonderful array of surface properties we dont yet understand.
One of the surprises that flabbergasted Christensen was the bewildering amount of complexity in the night time temperature maps. He expected to find a bland surface with a few hot spots, but in many areas there is a complex mosaic of temperature differences, indicating mixed terrains with everything from large rocks (which retain heat better) to fine dust (which does not). Areas of exposed bedrock extending many square kilometers were found, another surprise. One outcrop, Nili Patera, had sand dunes composed of millimeter-sized grains marching into it from the edge. Ganges Chasma has outcrops of olivine which rapidly decays into clay, which argues against the presence of water. Some of the lava flows have large areas of hematite instead of basalt. Christensen interpreted some of the widely-publicized crater gullies as due to erosion by meltwater under dust-covered snow banks rather than by leakage from underground aquifers. The layered terrain, he thinks, is predominantly aeolian (wind-borne), as if from periodic volcanic ash deposits, although he grants some might have been laid down by water or some other rhythmic deposition process. The ejecta blankets of some craters are very fresh-looking, composed of fine dust that has not blown away; others show an annulus of coarse material.
Snow may be a bigger agent of change than previously realized, Christensen explained. It appears that ice sublimates from the polar caps and precipitates out as far as 30 degrees latitude, contributing to the geological changes. Being covered by fine dust, the snow was not always evident from visible images, but shows up better in the infrared. Christensen ended with an oblique rendering of Gusev Crater, a heavily-eroded, olivine-rich crater where one of the Mars Exploration Rovers is targeted to soft land in January 2005 and explore it on wheels.
In the current issue of the Caltech magazine Engineering and Science (LXVI:1, 2003, pp. 6-7), a news item points out that the previous assumption that Mars south polar cap is composed of dry ice is wrong. Carbon dioxide only forms a thin veneer on an ice cap composed mostly of water ice. The impact of this discovery, made largely from THEMIS data, is that carbon dioxide is much less prevalent than formerly assumed. This makes it harder to believe a greenhouse effect in past ages permitted the existence of liquid water on the surface. Also, scientists had assumed the inner planets were similar in their total carbon dioxide content, but the new estimated quantity on Mars amounts to just a tiny fraction of that on Earth and Venus.
The red planet is poised to make big news over the next eight months. In addition to the Mars Exploration Rovers just mentioned, the European Space Agency is launching Mars Express with its Beagle 2 lander in June for a December orbit, and the Japanese are launching their Mars orbiter Nozomi. For those who want to experience a more first-hand experience, the planet Mars this August will be closer to Earth than at any time in recorded history. Make plans to visit a star party or observatory for this unprecedented occasion.
So earth-like and yet so very different, Mars is sure to provide surprises for years to come. Most of the old conventional wisdom is already obsolete. Get ready for more textbook truths to be swept away under the flood of new data that is coming in faster than geologists can analyze it.Automatic Bandages in 10 Seconds 05/08/2003
The gym class may have a first aid kit with Ace bandages, gauze and adhesive pads, but at the cellular scale, the first aid is automatic. In the May 8 issue of Nature, Juliet A. Ellis from Kings College, London, describes how your body has a fast-acting, automatic bandaging system:
Cell membranes in tissues such as skin, gut and muscle are routinely exposed to mechanical damage, which can produce holes in them. When that damage is not repaired, the consequences can be severe - often resulting in cell death - and may contribute to the development of the muscle degenerative diseases termed muscular dystrophies. From a combination of observations on human muscular dystrophy patients and experiments with mice, Bansal et al. (page 168 of this issue) now report that a protein called dysferlin is a component of the mechanism for resealing the holes, and thus healing the muscle membrane.For this to work, the cell needs several coordinated mechanisms: a way to sense the damage, a way to signal the repair team, the materials available to make the patch, and procedures for applying the patch and closing out the alarm.
Since most of this process remains largely mysterious, you can be sure it is even more sophisticated than described. Ellis concludes, Evidently, there may be yet more pathways to be discovered that, when disrupted in some way, ultimately lead to sarcolemma fragility (i.e., muscle plasma membrane vulnerability). When you work out, your body is doing most of the body building.Superheroes By Mutation 05/08/2003
With X-Men 2 all the rage, people are thinking about mutations, including Adam Rutherford in the May 8 issue of Nature. The movie shows the actors gaining superhuman powers. Rutherford, the web editor for Nature, explains: The X-Men are a band of superheroes (Homo sapiens superior) who possess a mutated X gene, which has an extraordinarily variable phenotype, allowing some mutants to walk through walls, some to shoot ice from their fingers, and some to perform Moses-like acts of water telekinesis. (The X genes normal function is not revealed.) Rutherford does not criticize the movie on scientific grounds. In fact, he verily praises it: Science fact is the loose basis for the fantasy in the current spate of movies based on comic-book characters, he says, noting the similar theme of mutation-induced power in Spider-Man. He calls X-Men 2 a flowery but accurate description of evolution by punctuated equilibrium.
What? Can you believe this? No mutation has ever been shown to be truly beneficial, yet he thinks a movie that shows humans gaining supernatural, godlike powers instantly by mistake as flowery but accurate and loosely based on science fact! Incredible. Here was a golden opportunity for a scientist to correct misleading impressions and bring some scientific reality to the public, but look what he does!How a Mosquito Became Insecticide Resistant 05/08/2003
A French team publishing in the May 8 issue of Nature studied why disease-carrying mosquitoes became resistant to insecticides. It was due to a loss of sensitivity of the insects acetylcholinesterase enzyme to organophosphates and carbamates that are ingredients of the pesticides. In some cases a single point mutation conferred the resistance.
This is not evolution in the Darwinian sense, nor do the authors claim it is. What they have described is a loss of information. Lee Spetner explains this point in his book Not By Chance. Just like a man who has lost his arms becomes resistant to handcuffs, these enzymes lost a sensitivity they once had. The pesticide used to fit like a key in a lock in the enzyme; a small change in the tumblers, and now the key no longer fits. Has any new information been gained, or any new functionality that leads to higher levels of complexity? Not at all. Other studies on resistance show similar loss of information, and furthermore, show that the resistant strains are less able to survive when having to compete with the wild type. For examples, see the film and the book Icons of Evolution. Even the PBS Evolution series conceded that HIV strains resistant to medicines revert to wild type after the medical pressure is removed.Computer Speeds Up Evolution, Produces Complexity 05/08/2003
What takes biological evolution millions of years can take just minutes in a computer, thinks a team of four publishing in the May 8 issue of Nature. Richard Lenski, Charles Ofria, Robert T. Pennock and Chris Adami used a program called Avida and watched it generate logic and complexity among digital organisms. Their model followed the guidelines of Daniel Dennett: evolution will occur whenever and wherever three conditions are met: replication, variation (mutation), and differential fitness (competition).
MSNBC was quick to highlight this story, claiming Cyber-life obeys Darwinian theory. New Scientist was not far behind. Neither gave voice to any critics of the simulation, while Space.Com claimed the experiment proved Darwin was right.
Here they go again. This is so disconnected from the real world, why does Nature print it? It belongs in the Playstation Journal, not Nature. Of course they are going to get Darwinism to look good, because they programmed success into their code. They defined this nebulous quantity called fitness (equivalent to Skinners Constant) as success at reproducing. So whatever reproduces is fit, and whatever is fit, reproduces. They say some of the organisms generated logic functions, but they rewarded those that did. As such, they played the role of Mother Nature, the smiling goddess looking down and encouraging the little digital children that meet her expectations. This was an experiment in intelligent design, not Darwinian evolution. In Darwinian evolution, one cannot sneak information in the back door.Shock and Awe at Fruit Fly Ears 05/07/2003
Fruit flies have ears, too, and they possess some high-tech acoustical properties similar to those in humans. One amazing ability known to exist in the mammalian ear resides in the hair cells of the cochlea. These tiny cilia-projections have molecular motors that can amplify weak signals and suppress strong ones, providing a non-linear acoustic response. This means you can hear very faint sounds but not be rattled to deafness by loud ones. Lo and behold, fruit flies have similar non-linear response in their ears, too. In a recent Commentary, Richard G. Walker of Oregon Hearing Research Center talks about this, and concludes, (emphasis added):
The list of improbable similarities between vertebrate hair cells and Drosophila mechanoreceptors continues to expand. In addition to several developmental paradigms and physiological properties that hint at a conserved [i.e., unevolved] relationship, a nonlinear active process to amplify incoming sound as well as spontaneous acoustic emissions are now characteristics that appear to be intrinsic to the process of sensing a mechanical stimulus like sound. As scientists, we should not necessarily be shocked by the similarities in the hearing of such disparate creatures as dipterans and mammals, but we should certainly be awed.Walkers comments are in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online preprints for May 5.
Fruit flies are like specks in the air, yet they possess muscles, wings, circulatory systems, legs, mouths, digestive systems, and ears. How did a tiny fly learn how to evolve non-linear acoustic response? When you ask them for details, the silence of the evolutionists is deafening.Enzyme Speeds Up Slow Reaction by 1021 05/06/2003
The slowest known biological reaction would take a trillion years on its own, but an enzyme does it in 10 thousandths of a second. Richard Wolfenden of the University of North Carolina discovered this amazing fact by studying the reaction time of phosphate monoesters that are commonly used in cell signaling. The earlier record he had published in 1998 was 78 million years for an uncatalyzed biological transformation that is absolutely essential for creating the building blocks of DNA and RNA. This new record means that you could only expect the reaction to occur once in 100 times the assumed lifetime of the universe without the help of the enzyme. Paraphrasing Wolfenden, that information would allow biologists to appreciate what natural selection has accomplished over the millennia in the evolution of enzymes as prolific catalysts, says EurekAlert where this story can be found.
One cannot appreciate the accomplishments of the impersonal. This article illustrates again that evolutionists are pantheists. They personify Mother Nature as a good witch, waving her wand named Natural Selection to accomplish any miracle required to explain the phenomenon under investigation. If Mother Nature would have taken 78 million years just to have one chance to create the building blocks of RNA (which is one of the absolutely essential steps in the evolution of life, and without which there is no hope at all of using the Magic Wand of Natural Selection), how could she get by without cell signaling for another trillion years? There are thousands of enzymes, made by DNA, many of which are essential for DNA to make enzymes. The reaction rates for all these without enzymatic help are similarly slower and more at risk than a snail crossing a gravel freeway in rush hour. It is an impossible, foolish hope to expect Mother Nature to build even a fraction of a working cell in the time available with the tools available to her, even if she wanted to. We are in the strange position of categorizing this story as both Amazing and Dumb; amazing for what enzymes do, dumb for the evolutionary comment about natural selections accomplishments.Army Ants Havent Evolved for 100 Million Years 05/06/2003
Sean Brady at Cornell has studied army ants on two continents and concluded that they pay no attention to the conventional wisdom for evolutionary biologists, says a press release at Cornell News. The common scientific belief has been that army ants originated separately on several continents over millions of years. Now it is found there was no evolution, says the article (emphasis added). Using fossil data and the tools of a genetics detective, a Cornell University entomologist has discovered that these ants come from the same point of origin, because since the reign of the dinosaurs, about 100 million years ago, army ants in essence have not changed a bit. Brady found that genetically, both old-world and new-world army ants all have the same pattern of mutations. If they share those mutations, we can infer they evolved from the same source, he says.
Well just let the evolutionists assume the posture of Rodins Thinker and mull on this one for awhile.Protein Has Its Own Private Dressing Room 05/05/2003
Any star of stage and screen has her own private dressing room, and so does the star of cellular activity, the protein. But the proteins dressing room would make the actress envious; it has a powered double door.
In the May 2 issue of Cell, a team of Stanford scientists studied the ATP-powered lid on one of these dressing rooms, called chaperonins, or chaperones from their role as supervisors of protein folding. Chaperonins are large, complex proteins shaped somewhat like a barrel with a lid. When a newly-joined chain of amino acids comes off the ribosome assembly line, it is subject to damage from the beehive of activity going on in the cytoplasm. It needs a quiet place to fold. The chaperone lid opens, the polypeptide enters, the lid closes, and safe inside, the chain collapses into its precise shape it needs to function. Then the lid opens and the protein exits, ready to go on-stage.
Any action in the cell needs power. The lid on the chaperone is powered by ATP, the common energy currency in the cell. But ATP alone was not enough; As near as these scientists could tell, the camshaft (gamma subunit) on the ATP synthase motor is what triggers the lid to close. The Stanford team found that prokaryotic chaperones have lids that snap on from the outside, but eukaryotic chaperones have a built-in lid. In either case, the lid closing encapsulates the protein chain inside, and is essential for the chain to complete its folding operation; chaperones without lids could not produce folded proteins. Instead, like an actor getting the hook, a guard named protease takes the misfolded protein to the unemployment desk.
Some proteins, like actin, require the help of this secure room to fold; others fold spontaneously inside. The next turn of the cycle opens the door, and out pops the protein for the production, complete with hook resistance.
The authors use the word striking or strikingly three times, and interesting or interestingly four times. This really is interesting and striking information. Here you have a sophisticated, secure electronic shelter with power doors where a fragile, delicate polypeptide chain can safely fold into a molecular actor, ready to play its part in the cellular production. The power doors, if operated in tandem with ATP synthase, are cooler than any prop in a Star Trek movie.Variable Constants Update 05/05/2003: Two articles on whether constants vary over time have appeared recently:
According to Nature Science Update, If the fundamental constants of physics change, they do so too slowly for us to detect. This claim is based on work by Marion et al Marion et al and Bergquist et al published in the current Physical Review Letters. Using atomic clocks, they claim to have ruled out any change greater than 7x10-15 per year.
In the June issue of Astronomy (p. 94), Michael Turner (U. Chicago) reviews Faster Than the Speed of Light by Joao Magueijo (Imperial College, London), whose risky and bold theory that the speed of light was faster in the past is a paradigm-challenging idea yet, Turner feels, has not been sufficiently developed to make sharp predictions. Is Magueijo the heir apparent of Einstein, or a young iconoclast with a crazy new idea? Turner apparently leans toward the latter, but grants him some hearing; VSL [variable speed of light] is risky and bold; time will tell if it is correct.
Regarding the Physical Review Letters papers, someone needs to check whether there is circularity in the argument: i.e., would changing constants also change the tools they are using to measure the effects?Scientists Understand the Moon Not 05/04/2003
One would think our nearest planetary neighbor would be the best understood. But then one would read in the May 2 issue of Science,
Telescopes have been trained on it since Galileos day, and dozens of spacecraft have flown by it, orbited around it, and landed on it. And a dozen humans--including one geologist--have walked on the surface and brought back soil and rocks. So the moon must be the best understood of all places beyond Earth, right?Andrew Lawler and Govert Schilling make the comments as part of a discussion about upcoming moon missions.
We think readers should be aware from time to time of how little data supports the grand pronouncements of scientists who try to explain the origins of things.Miller and Frankenstein: A 50-Year Old Icon Revisited 05/02/2003
Prebiotic soup, spark-discharge flasks who has not seen these ubiquitous terms and images depicting the origin of life from simple chemicals? 50 years ago this month, on May 15, 1953, shortly after Watson and Crick published their famous paper on the structure of DNA, Stanley Miller (student of Harold Urey) published in Science his work on the formation of a few amino acids with his now familiar spark apparatus. It caught the public imagination. Almost every biology textbook has the obligate diagram of Millers experiment, and the concept of a chemical soup zapped by lightning continues to show up in popular culture, even in cartoons: drawings of Campbells Primordial Soup or a modern Frankenstein creating life with electricity.
In the May 2 issue of Science, Dr. Jeffrey Bada (an active origin-of-life researcher in the Miller tradition) looks back at the impact the Miller experiment has had for five decades (see also the press release at the Scripps Institute website). Even though scientists no longer believe the atmosphere contained the reducing chemicals Miller used, it was the Miller experiment, placed in the Darwinian perspective provided by Oparins ideas and deeply rooted in the 19th-century tradition of synthetic organic chemistry, that almost overnight transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry.
Bada feels that the reactions may have occurred in localized reducing environments on the primitive earth, especially near volcanic plumes, where electric discharges may have driven prebiotic synthesis, rather than in a lightning-zapped atmosphere as Miller and Urey supposed (and numerous artists have portrayed). An elaboration on this new proposal was a featured story in the recent Science News (163:17, April 26, 2003). Michael J. Russell and William Martin presented their new hypothesis in the January issue of the Royal Societys Philosophical Transactions B. It proposes that honeycomb-shape pockets in the rocky walls of hydrothermal vents served as temporary surrogates for cell membranes. These compartments presumably overcome the dilution problem, allowing favorable chemicals to incubate till true membranes could evolve out of lipid molecules. Furthermore, differences in ionic concentration across the walls might have created an electrical potential, supplying energy for chemical reactions that otherwise would go the wrong way. Do they feel they are onto something better than Millers scenario? All you need is rocks and water, and everything else happens by itself, boasts Martin. Theres no magic here.
Weve all seen magicians do something natural and claim it is magic. Thats entertainment. But what do you call a scientist claiming to be able to do something natural, that if true, would require real magic? Thats entertainment, too. Despite their disclaimer, there is magic here: its getting information out of chemicals. Since we have dealt with this subject numerous times before, we refer the reader to the chain links on Origin of Life for detailed reasons why this cannot happen, rocky cubicles or not. Start here, or if short of time, read this headline and especially this definition of life. On to another lesson from todays articles.The New Science of Gastrophysics 05/02/2003
Never heard of gastrophysics? Its a new subset of cosmology defined by Max Tegmark (U. of Pennsylvania) as A stomach-churning realm in which tiny errors that were once too small to matter suddenly gain the power to make or break a theory. Charles Seife relays the joke in his Cosmology perspective in the May 2 issue of Science. The gastric pain is partly due to results from WMAP survey that pose trouble for hundreds of rival models of inflation theory, that bulwark of modern cosmology that posits that the tiny universe expanded extremely rapidly for a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang. If the analysis of WMAP results by Uros Seljak of Princeton is correct, almost all inflationary theories can be ruled out right away. Others, of course, are skeptical and want to use different assumptions to preserve their models. But the new observations are causing alarm; People are seriously worrying whether inflation theories are making sense or not, says Tegmark.
Other data generating ulcers include the rapid dissipation of the neutral hydrogen fog assumed to predate the first stars until it was absorbed by the cosmic microwave background (CMB). To their surprise, their calculations showed that the fog began to burn off when the universe was a mere 200 million years old and then lifted rapidly, says Seife. That implies that stars and galaxies must have been forming hundreds of millions of years earlier than most astronomers thought. If so, then star formation in the early universe must have been radically different from what it is today. Some propose the earliest stars were much more massive and hotter; others like Lam Hui of Fermilab propose two periods of re-ionization. Neither proposal has observational support.
While cosmologists wait for more data to resolve controversies, many are impatient to interpret the data available. Tegmark thinks cosmology is becoming more and more fun, but the fun may be inversely proportional to the gastric juice concentration as the cosmological stomach churns. Seife ends his story describing a session at Davis where Princeton cosmologist David Spergel was yanking the reins on his frenzied colleagues, warning them not to overinterpret his proposal. Dont obsess on this. Dont obsess on this. Dont obsess on this, he warned. Seife adds, It remains to be seen whether anyone was paying attention.
Remember this story the next time you watch so-called educational TV showing a big bang illustration, with all the fragments neatly falling into spiral galaxies and brilliant stars. Cosmologists have been proposing the ad hoc, counterintuitive, bizarre belief in inflation for two decades to get around the evidence of the flatness problem. Were you told there were hundreds of competing models? Thats like having hundreds of versions of Alice in Wonderland. Now the WMAP survey, hyped to the public as dramatic confirmation of big bang theory, is undermining this bulwark of modern cosmology by showing the universe is more scale invariant than inflation demands. Then there is the problem of early star formation (the lumpiness problem). Cosmologists are gulping cupfuls of metaphysical Pepto-Bismol to get relief for those lumps in their gastrophysical tracts.After Saddam, Eden Again? 05/01/2003
Saddam Husseins destructive environmental actions received little reporting during the war, but they rank with the burning of Amazon rain forests, says National Geographic News. In particular, he destroyed 93% of southern wetlands through a campaign of terror, burning villages, executing civilians, and diverting rivers, leaving a dry, salt-encrusted wasteland behind in a 7700 square mile region of prime wetland that historically has supported an abundance of birds, fish, mammals and human beings. The Ma'adan, or Marsh Arabs who call this land home, have been devastated. Many are refugees, and native species of plants and animals are near extinction.
Even before the war, environmentalists and scientists were alarmed at the horrific evidence of Saddams destructive sophistication, calling this a crime against humanity. Noting that the Tigris-Euphrates region is traditionally considered the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden, a group calling itself Eden Again is trying to start a restoration project. Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi exile trained in civil engineering at USC, and his wife are attempting to pull together relief agencies, governments, UN departments and the indigenous people to at least attempt to start reclamation of some of this vast region that exceeds the area of the Everglades.
Remember also that Saddam Hussein set fire to hundreds of oil wells in and around Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War, and at the time, that was considered one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In spite of this and all his other crimes against humanity, many opposed the recent Iraq war for liberation. Should such crimes have been allowed to go unpunished, and without remedy? Where was the outcry about this, from those who thought a few weapons inspectors were all that was needed? Totalitarian regimes have a horrendous environmental track record. Because of evil leaders and sinful nations, the earth mourns and languishes (Isaiah 33).Book 05/01/2003: The National Academies Press has released a new book from the Space Sciences Board and the Board on Life Sciences, entitled Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology (2003). The entire book is available online and includes a chapter comparing astrobiology with SETI.
Next headline on: SETI.
Not All Pseudogenes are Pseudo Genes 05/01/2003
This is one more step in debunking the junk DNA myth. Evolution gave us the concept of vestigial organs; now, most of them are known to be vital. Evolution gave us the notion that glia cells in the brain were just space-filling junk; now we know that they may be just as important as the neurons, or even more so. Evolution gave us the concept of pseudogenes. Is there a pattern here?Are Germs Good Bugs Gone Bad? The Case of Anthrax 05/01/2003
Now that the anthrax genome has been decoded, scientists are surprised that most of it looks like another milder bacterium, Bacillus cereus. Only about 3% of their genomes are significantly different. In addition, the pathogenic genes are not in the nucleus, but in plasmids (smaller, circular strands of DNA in the cytoplasm). They give the appearance of having been imported by horizontal gene transfer. One of the papers in Nature suggests that both bacteria acquired toxic elements from soil bacteria in this manner, and Other major differences between B. anthracis and B. cereus may have been effected through altered gene expression rather than loss or gain of genes. Some are wondering if anthrax acquired its toxicity recently. One team asks, Findings from this genome sequence analysis raise further questions about the biology of B. anthracis; for instance, what are the roles of putative virulence genes in close relatives of B. anthracis that do not cause anthrax, and do they actually contribute to virulence in B. anthracis?
EurekAlert summarizes two papers in the May 1 issue of Nature that report the decoding of the anthrax genome.
This raises some interesting questions about the origin of disease germs, and puzzles on both sides of the creation-evolution debate. It is not even clear if there is a gene for virulence, or if virulence is a result of good genes run amok in the way they are expressed. Perhaps in a soil environment the genes would be beneficial, but are harmful once inside a mammalian body. No one knows, but the data so far seem consistent with a Biblical view that there was an original good creation that has gone awry, either directly from God as judgment from the curse because of sin, or indirectly from mutations mucking up the regulation of otherwise beneficial functions. An evolutionist can claim anthrax got its virulence genes by horizontal transfer, but then where did those come from? Its too early to understand what these genomes are revealing, and there are some things science can never tell us.Your Body Has Transistors Superior to Intels 05/01/2003
Roderick MacKinnons team has done it again. The headline at Rockefeller University proclaims, Voltage-dependent channel structure reveals masterpiece responsible for all nerve, muscle activity. Building on the art metaphor, the news release begins, Scientists studying the tiny devices — called voltage-dependent ion channels — that are responsible for all nerve and muscle signals in living organisms for 50 years have been working like a bunch of blindfolded art critics. ... Rockefellers Roderick MacKinnon, M.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Youxing Jiang, Ph.D., and their colleagues have removed the blindfold to reveal a masterpiece of natures engineering (emphasis added).
The masterpiece is an exquisite voltage-regulated pore in the cell membrane that attracts and transmits potassium ions, maintaining an electrical potential with performance specs superior to man-made transistors. The team found that the channel operates with four charge-sensitive protein paddles around the periphery of the channel. They open to permit the correct ions through, and close to adjust the voltage. Proper voltage is maintained via a feedback loop that is sensitive to changing conditions in the environment. Their experimental results made the cover story of the May 1 issue of Nature.
Potassium channels are vital to muscle and nerve activity, and are highly conserved in all organisms, from the Archaea living around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, to the human gymnast on the high bar. The importance of these molecule-size gates is summed up in the news release: The entire sequence of events takes only a few milliseconds, and occurs tens of thousands of times every day in human beings and organisms of all varieties. Without this hair trigger electrical system, life would be more than calm. There would be scant possibility of thinking, breathing or movement.
Its nice when other reporters do the thinking for us. No evolution, just intelligent design that flabbergasts the investigators. But like the obligatory pinch of incense to the emperor, evolution is mentioned in passing. The article states that voltage-dependent potassium channels are extremely similar throughout every branch of the evolutionary tree. Uh, pardon me... what tree? I thought we were at an art show.