Creation-Evolution Headlines
August 2003
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...genius provides only darkness if it works from a false premise.... The remarkable thing about Darwin’s theory was that a pair of principles as dull and unthinking as random mutation and natural selection might actually be supposed to account for our mental life, our language capacity, and all of the other manifestations of intelligence.
– Dr. John W. Oller, linguist, The Seventh Day, (Master Books, 2002) pp. 48, 53.
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How the Eye Lens Stays Clear   08/28/2003
To act as a true lens that can focus light, the lens of the eye must remain transparent for a lifetime.  Yet the eye lens is not a piece of glass, but a growing, living tissue made up of cells.  How can such a tissue stay clear, when the cells must be nourished, and when they contain organelles and chromosomes that would tend to obscure light?
    Actually, that is exactly the problem with cataracts, one of the leading causes of blindness, in which the lens becomes clouded.  Scientists at
Bassnet Labs at Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri) have been studying how the eye maintains transparency, and found an enzyme that, when it fails, leads to cataracts in mice.  The job of this enzyme is to chop up and dispose of DNA in lens cells.  In a normal eye, “Light can pass through the lens because the cells break down their internal structures during development,” reports Science Now.  Nagata et al. at the lab found large amounts of an enzyme named DLAD in mouse lens cells that chops up DNA for disposal.  Mice lacking this enzyme developed cataracts.  Failures in this enzyme, or the gene that codes for it, are also probably implicated in cataract development in humans.
    Their work, published in Nature Aug. 28, explains how lens cells develop: “The eye lens is composed of fibre cells, which develop from the epithelial cells on the anterior surface of the lens.  Differentiation into a lens fibre cell is accompanied by changes in cell shape, the expression of crystallins and the degradation of cellular organelles.”  Until now it was not known how the cell dismantled its organelles and DNA.  The fibre cells have their nuclei removed during maturation, but the DNA remains.  It is the job of DLAD to act like a chipper and degrade the long DNA molecules into fragments that can be expelled.  Even if the other aspects of fibre-cell cleanup succeed, this study shows that DNA stragglers are enough to cause cataracts.
    So normal eye operation depends on the successful cleanup and removal of construction equipment and blueprints: organelles and DNA.  Science Now tells a little more about these remarkable lens cells:  “Even so, these cells aren’t simply empty; they house a highly organized network of proteins called crystallins* that transmit and focus the light passing through.  Any disruption in this sophisticated scaffolding can cloud the lens, causing cataracts.” (Emphasis added.)
    Here is an electron micrograph from Birkbeck College, UK showing how the fibre cells in the lens are stacked in neat rows like lumber with hexagonal edges for close packing. 
What an amazing thing a living, transparent lens is.  Did you ever think about this process, that a sophisticated molecular machine had to be produced from the DNA library that could chop up DNA into fragments, so that they could be removed and not obstruct the light path?  Undoubtedly this is not the only enzyme involved in the cleanup job.  Each fibre cell needs organelles and DNA during development, but they must be cleared away at the right time, and in the right order before the lens is deployed into operation, or else the user is denied the wonder of sight.  This is just one tiny aspect of dozens of complex systems that all must work for vision to work.
    Think of an eagle, detecting from high in the air a fish below the water, and using its visual sensors to accurately gauge its approach velocity, pitch, yaw and roll in order for it to capture food for the young in the nest, whose eyes are just opening to the world.  Muscles, nerves, specialized tissues, detectors, software, image processing, cleanup, maintenance, lubrication and systems integration are just a few subsystems that must be accurately designed and coordinated in this, just one of many such complex sensory organs in the body.
    Evolution is a fake fur that gives warm fuzzies to people who think in glittering generalities.  Those who put on lab coats and examine the details and try to fit them into an evolutionary history get cold shudders.
*A National Library of Medicine paper describes one of these crystallin proteins: “alpha-Crystallin is a major lens protein, comprising up to 40% of total lens proteins, where its structural function is to assist in maintaining the proper refractive index in the lens.  In addition to its structural role, it has been shown to function in a chaperone-like manner.  The chaperone-like function of alpha-crystallin will help prevent the formation of large light-scattering aggregates and possibly cataract. ... Reconstructed images of alpha B-crystallin obtained with cryo-electron microscopy support the concept that alpha B-crystallin is an extremely dynamic molecule and demonstrated that it has a hollow interior.  Interestingly, we present evidence that native alpha-crystallin is significantly more thermally stable than either alpha A- or alpha B-crystallin alone.  In fact, our experiments suggest that a 3:1 ratio of alpha A to alpha B subunit composition in an alpha-crystallin molecule is optimal in terms of thermal stability.  This fascinating result explains the stoichiometric ratios of alpha A- and alpha B-crystallin subunits in the mammalian lens.” (Emphasis added.)
Next headline on: Human Body. • Next amazing story.
Fetal Cells Fail to Help Parkinson’s Patients   08/28/2003
Brain cells transplanted from aborted fetuses did not help patients with Parkinson’s disease, reports
Science Now.  In fact, for over half the test patients, it had serious side effects.  The test at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, involving 34 patients, was the second using this method.  Patients were followed for two years, another year longer than the first test.  It “failed to help patients overall and left some with frightening uncontrollable movements,” the article states.  Researchers are hoping embryonic stem cells might work better.
People suffering from Parkinson’s disease deserve all the efforts that science and medicine can provide, but it crosses the ethical line to take the life of one to help another.  A pro-abortion advocate might argue that it’s better to use fetal tissue than let it go into the garbage; after all, people are going to have abortions anyway.  But we have seen that this creates a black market for fetal body parts, and gives abortionists a veneer of charitable advertising to their clients; they can claim to a worried mother that her baby’s tissues are going to help someone with a debilitating disease.
    Whether experimentation with embryonic stem cells or fetal cells, there has to be a better way to help Parkinson’s patients than cannibalism: i.e., devouring the flesh of one to nourish another.  It is a tragic commentary on our times that we are even asking the question.  Maybe that will be the next taboo our society will openly debate: the rights of cannibals to practice their lifestyle, as long as they do it in private, or for a good cause, or with mutual consent.  (Don’t laugh; with the kinds of nuts we see today, nothing is shocking any more.  It’s becoming hard to find any subject outrageous enough to be understood as satire.)
    You could almost predict the voices that would rise up in support of cannibalism:
2010: The Future of Cannibal Rights
First it will be something kinky on Jerry Springer that college students find amusing, then the practitioners will be seen as victims, who cannot help the way they were born.  Some scientific journal will report a potential health benefit, and a psychology journal will conclude that it is harmless, and actually has positive social effects in some populations.  Someone will find a gene for cannibalistic propensities.
    The ACLU will support a test case of cannibalism for medicinal use; defense attorneys will argue that it is no different in principle from using fetal tissues or embryonic stem cells for medical treatment.  Cannibal Rights groups will arise, with marches on Washington; these will be reported compassionately by the media, making people sympathetic for this new class of the oppressed; the “religious right, ” by contrast, will be the bad guys.  A ranting protestor, who will be labeled a fundamentalist Christian, will be shown delivering hate speech to a mild, nicely-dressed cannibal.  Commentators will complain that the members of the religious right always want to shove their values down other people’s throats (but some will try to respond that they want to prevent other material from going down their throats).
    The Discovery Channel will sanitize the history of cannibal societies, portraying them as healthier and better adjusted than stressed-out, obese Americans; after all, it was Christian missionaries, whose exaggerated and biased reports gave cannibals an undeserved negative reputation.  Celebrities, gradually at first, will become more open about their private cannibalism, from I don’t see anything particularly wrong with it, to I tried it once when I was young, to Only a bigot would try to stop someone from doing what he or she feels is best for their own health.  Actors will out each other.  Cable companies will offer the Cannibal News Network, late nights at first, then prime time.  This will be followed by Cannibal History, Cannibal Gourmet and Cannibal Planet.
    Slogans like “Eat the one you love” and “You are what you eat” will be seen on backpacks and locker doors of public school children, who will have attended required presentations by visiting cannibals brought in to describe their lifestyle under the banner of diversity and sensitivity.  Nose bones will become chic on campus.  Pretending to gnaw on another’s arm will be funny at first, then a sign of affection.  Laws will by then have incrementally reduced penalties for cannibalism except in the most violent cases.  Readers of best-sellers will be shocked at first, then amused, at great historical figures that were alleged to have had cannibalistic tendencies.
      Cannibals will take on a new label, “Sweet,” to overcome any lingering prejudice about cannibalism.  Sweet Rock will become the hottest trend in music.  Some over-zealous right-winger who can’t take it any more will bomb a Sweet Barbecue, and this will become a cause celebre for the Sweet Rights movement.  There will be no end of replays on TV of the shocking incident (the cameras will avoid, however, scenes of looters picking up on all the newly-distributed body parts).  In response to this deplorable act, harsh new laws will be enacted against those who protest or obstruct Sweet events.  Conservative politicians will get nowhere unless they express moderation on the Sweet Rights controversy and support cannibal privacy laws.  It will be considered marginally tolerable for a conservative to say, “Well, though I disapprove of the practice myself, I’m not one to judge what someone does in the privacy of their own home.”  Liberal politicians and celebrities, on the other hand, will be grand marshals at the Sweet Pride Parades.
    The U.N., with a strong contingent of representatives from cannibal countries, will have been harshly criticizing America for years on this issue.  Europeans will wag their heads at how intolerant the Americans are, and some will refuse to do business with the U.S. until it grants full civil rights to the Sweet People.  Finally, the Supreme Court will find a right to cannibalism in the Constitution, and it will become a hate crime to speak out against it.
    Supermarkets of the future will be amply stocked with “Sweet” products, attractively packaged, USDA-approved, and microwave-ready.  Public service announcements will encourage partakers not to use black market products, which might contain disease, but only to purchase through legitimate approved sources, including flesh farms where genetically-modified (GM) brainless bodies are grown under sanitary conditions, and clinics where volunteers can submit their bodies for consumption.  The benefits of clean cannibalism will be advertised: recycling, less need for valuable cemetery land, and healthy spare organs for those on waiting lists.  Consumers will feel a little better if they see labels certifying that the contents contain no leftovers from Christian executions in totalitarian countries.  Though everyone thinks bigoted reactionaries are deplorable and deserve condemnation, capital punishment is still taboo among civilized societies.
Beware of sweet-talking advocates who insist that cannibals should have the right to do whatever they want with your own body.
Next headline on: Health. • Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.
OK, we have to lighten up this grim discussion with a cannibal joke.  In a New Guinea cannibal deli, a tourist was intrigued by the menu.  It read, “Special today: fresh brains!  Janitor brain, $1/lb, taxi driver brain, $2/lb, lawyer brain, $3/lb, criminal brain, $5/lb, grad student brain, $7/lb, PhD brain, $10/lb, evolutionist brain, $50/lb.”  Puzzled, the tourist asked, “Why are you charging $10/lb for a PhD brain, but five times as much for an evolutionist brain?”  The cook responded, “Do you realize how many of those rascals we have to round up to get a pound of brain?”
    We trust our dear evolutionist readers can take a joke; you can insert your favorite target into the punch line and tell it your way.  Just be sure to read today’s other headline
Quantum Gravity Theory Fails Observational Test   08/28/2003
Studies of gamma rays from distant galaxies and from the Crab Nebula have “put the kibosh” on theories of quantum gravity, reports
Science Now.
    These theories predicted that “space and time aren’t smooth at the smallest scale, but fuzzy and foaming.  Those hopes have been dashed by two independent measurements of cosmic gamma rays, which show that Einstein was right after all--and that current plans to detect the ‘quantum foam’ of spacetime should fizzle.” 
    The tests involved looking for violations of Lorentz invariance in gamma rays from these sources.  What is the upshot of these observational tests?  “The results sink several quantum gravity theories, including some that predict the universe has extra, as yet undiscovered dimensions.”
    The article includes the well-known picture of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, as if saying, “Nyah, nyah!” to his critics.  “Einstein’s special relativity holds, so quantum gravity remains undetectable.”
Stephen Hawking has made much of quantum gravity theories, and some cosmologists have suggested that the “quantum foam” nature of spacetime led to a fluctuation that gave birth to our universe.  Hugh Ross has made a big deal out of extra cosmic dimensions.  We’ll have to see whether these findings produce cosmic deflation of these ideas.
Next headline on: Cosmology. • Next headline on: Physics.
Mars and Neanderthals   08/27/2003
With Mars closer to Earth than any time in the last 60,000 years, assuming extrapolations into prehistory are justified,
Hubble Space Telescope has snapped pictures likely to grace textbooks for some time (as if it could do better than JPL’s orbiting spacecraft at the red planet).  JPL and BBC News have taken the liberty to portray what it might have looked like to Neanderthal men, women and children.
The BBC is just using this rare planetary position to push its fake-reality series on human evolution.  Neanderthals neither wrote nor dated any records of their observations.  They were probably too smart, with their larger average brains, to require such primitive written records.
Next headline on: Mars.
Attack of the Clones   08/27/2003
Three pig clones dropped dead of heart attacks suddenly, before they reached six months old, reports
Nature Science Update.  These incidents point out that “most scientists rule out reproductive cloning of humans as inherently dangerous,” the article says, but still views therapeutic cloning to grow tissues and organs as safe.
We are told that therapeutic cloning is a safe, effective operation on embryos: “Here they extract cells from early human embryos, which can be selected or treated to ensure they are healthy.”  Yet researchers found it “totally shocking” that their pig clones died suddenly.  The article states, “Researchers have already genetically engineered partly humanized pig cells and then cloned them to make whole pigs, whose organs might avoid rejection by human recipients.  ‘It may raise concerns,’ says [Jerry] Yang,” who watched his pigs collapse and expire.
    Some scientists attempt dangerous and unethical experiments just because they can, and often just because they want to be first.  Undoubtedly many are motivated by a sincere desire to alleviate human suffering.  But is it justifiable to kill a pre-birth human so that an post-birth human can live longer?  Most scientists are repulsed by human cloning at this time, but that could change.  Does anyone trust their ability to police themselves?  Science, as well as democracy, may need separation of powers and consent of the governed.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Helping Chemical Evolution Re-Evolve   08/26/2003
The
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (MIT) has an upbeat article about chemical evolution, opening with a theme park flavor, complete with cartoon of a roller coaster.  Then it makes a surprising claim that David Bartel, researcher at the Institute, is building a theme park in a test tube.  The theme of his theme park is explained: “a microscopic theme park whose motif, the origins of life, is of equal interest to both scientists and philosophers.”  His test tubes, filled with RNA “micro exhibits,” revolve around an important theme, because “This is one of the most significant and fundamental questions in science, right up there with `how does the mind work?' or `how did the universe begin?'”
    To try to answer the question, Bartel is doing evolution’s job of selecting the fittest out of trillions, even quadrillions, of RNA molecules.  He is “re-evolving evolution,” the article claims, by finding the best at forming bonds with other RNAs, and giving them better odds: “Really, we end up selecting for the survival of the best molecules, and then propagating those survivors,” – this is Darwinian natural selection, according to the David Cameron, author of the article.  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    Bartel’s group is proceeding on the “RNA World” assumption: the idea that life got its start when RNAs found a way to replicate themselves, store genetic information, and perform simple enzymatic processes.  So far, however, Bartel has only gotten his molecules to replicate about 14 bases, much short of the “200-nucleotide goal.”  Some critics doubt the RNA World scenario.  David Deamer (UC Santa Cruz), for instance, thinks “it’s inconceivable that RNA could have catalyzed and evolved outside the barrier of a cell membrane without just drifting off.
    Because of this and other problems, researchers consider three alternative scenarios:
  1. Information First:  This is another term for the RNA World view, because RNA could have the ability to store genetic information as well as catalyze chemical reactions.
  2. Metabolism First:  “This idea, in contrast to the RNA world‘s “information first” thesis, posits that a chaotic soup of small, random molecules led to chance metabolic reactions that evolved into modern cellular life”
  3. Membrane First:  This is Freeman Dyson’s “garbage bag” hypothesis.  Cameron describes it, “Dyson, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., believes that primordial soup was filled with membranes (garbage bags) that contained random chemicals not nearly as complex as RNA or DNA.  These chemicals began catalyzing reactions in each other, some of which eventually caused the cell-like garbage bags to divide and thus evolve.
Each of these theories stresses one prerequisite for incipient life over the other two: information, metabolism, and compartmentalization.  Bartel agrees that finding a suitable means to package his precocious RNAs is necessary for the RNA World scenario to work.  Stuart Kaufmann (Santa Fe Institute) argues that the RNA World story is too narrow; maybe other, unknown molecules were able to copy themselves without the template base-pairing technique RNA uses.  But Jack Szostak, another RNA World pioneer, “can’t imagine a system as complex as cell formation and division not being preceded by some sort of informational transmission, such as RNA creating RNA.”  Maybe there was a simpler precursor to RNA, like TNA (threose nucleic acid), which has been manufactured, but unfortunately does not exist in nature.
    The disputes between researchers leave Bartel undaunted.  “Meanwhile, Bartel and his team continue working toward their goal of developing an RNA enzyme that can fully replicate other RNAs,” Cameron concludes.  ‘We’re designing these RNAs as well as we can,’ Bartel says, ’and what we can’t design, we evolve.’  The more successful this re-evolving, [the article ends,] the closer he gets to his theme park’s grand opening.”
The time has come for Eugenie Scott and her NCSE friends to rise up and picket this amusement park in protest.  If religion has no place in science, then fairy tales must also be banned.  The time has also come for the ACLU lawyers to sue the park for misrepresentation.  As any lawyer worth his salt knows, terms must be defined carefully to avoid equivocation and obfuscation.  The readers are being taken for a ride in fantasyland.
    Where does one begin with such an article?  First, remove all the silly theme-park metaphors, because theme parks do not evolve, they are the products of intelligent design.  Nature has no desire nor power to design theme parks, test tube size or not.
    Then remove all the references to test-tube evolution, because it is not evolution, it is intelligent design again.  Artificial selection is not evolution.  It is the application of the breeder’s intention, design, purpose, planning, supervision and guiding intelligence to achieve a desired result.  How on earth can this be “re-evolving evolution,” when he is removing products that would otherwise degenerate or be destroyed by harmful cross-reactions, and giving them an unnatural new lease on life?  It’s the same fundamental fallacy the computer evolutionists make with their imaginary digital organisms in silico.  Foul!  No guidance, no purpose, no goal, no direction, no supervision, no sympathy, no cheerleading is permissible in Darwinland.  That’s why Bartel’s statement “What we don’t design, we evolve,” should make the judges hit the gong.  (Try your hand at parsing this one: “‘Really, we end up selecting for the survival of the best molecules, and then propagating those survivors’ - Darwinian natural selection.”)
    The three competing scenarios each falsify the other two, and point out why chemical evolution is such a farce.  Without a membrane, the lucky molecules are going to just drift away, as Deamer pointed out.  Without metabolism, there is no energy with which to convey or replicate genetic instructions.  But without genetic instructions (information), there will be no replication, and no natural selection.  Three strikes is supposed to put them out, but paying no attention to the umpire, who seems to be out to lunch, they gleefully run a victory lap around the bases in their scientific lab coats.
    The laboratory work is all a smokescreen.  It obscures the fact this is not science, but only materialistic philosophers playing games with chemicals.  Science is supposed to be about observation, about proving things.  Since the origin of life is a one-time occurrence not subject to observation, evolutionists could not prove it even if certain interesting reactions occur.  Even if they created life in a test tube (the impossible dream), that would not prove it happened in that manner in the past.
    At today’s NASA briefing about the shuttle disaster, investigator Scott Hubbard of Ames Research Center pointed out part of the problem that led to the failure of Columbia.  Based on past successes, the mood among the shuttle operations team had shifted to prove to me it won’t work instead of prove to me it will work.  Because they had become overconfident, they slacked off, and expected engineers to raise alarms if they could not prove everything was go, rather than making sure it was.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  Similarly, evolutionists have become lazy scientists.  They expect us to just accept their tales if we cannot prove that it won’t work, rather than their having to prove it will work.
    This is the old debate fallacy of shifting the burden of proof.  In his new book Darwin’s Proof (Brazos, 2003), Cornelius Hunter stresses the point.  It is not the job of a critic to disprove evolution; it is the job of an evolutionist to prove it.  When naturalistic philosophy became wedded to science, evolutionists got lazy.  They worked on the premise that any remotely-plausible just-so story is permissible, as long as it is naturalistic.  They expected non-evolutionists to disprove them, but it’s an impossible task; it amounts to having to prove a universal negative.  How can you disprove a fairy tale?  After all, it just might be true, in dreamland, that lucky molecules would just come together start evolving.  How could anyone prove them wrong?  But it should not be a critic’s job to prove them wrong.  It should be an evolutionist’s job to prove it right.
    It is not enough to prove just one tiny piece of the story right, either.  The whole story must work, and in the right sequence, and be demonstrated without investigator interference.  For instance, suppose I make up a story about the origin of music:
The Meatball Scenario for the Origin of Music
On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.  It rolled off the table and onto the floor; the last time I saw it, it rolled out the door.  Then it rolled down the street, up over a mountain, down to the ocean and off the dock, and was swallowed by a fish.  After crossing the Atlantic, the fish was caught in Portugal, and was fed to a cat, who then jumped onto a piano and spontaneously played a John Cage “chance music” composition.  From these humble beginnings, music was on its way to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
This story is not so implausible; why, think of all the millions of people sneezing every second.  Think of all the millions of meatballs being made in homes around the country, and all the fish in the sea and all the people that have cats.  The ingredients of the scenario are all natural and all readily available; given enough time, it could happen.
    Suppose no one saw the entire sequence of events, but individuals have seen small parts of it: a cat on a piano, a man sneezing at dinner, and a species of fish capable of crossing the Atlantic.  I make a big deal of this.  You respond by pointing out difficulties in the story, but I waltz around them by invoking ad hoc conditions: the meatball made it over the mountain, because a strong wind came at just the right moment.  I publish a scientific paper examining a gravy spot on the floor that I have found.  Someone else publishes a photograph of a fisherman on a dock in Portugal.  Have we established the meatball theory for the origin of music?
    Suppose also I insisted that you prove my story wrong.  You would be justified in insisting I prove the story right.  No less should we insist that chemical evolutionists prove their tale, rather than bluff us into agreeing that this or that portion of the tale might be plausible, therefore it is up to a critic to prove it could not happen.  The origin-of-music tall tale is much more plausible than believing that information organized itself, encased itself in a membrane, and directed energy precisely where needed to produce life, and that’s where we came from.
    The article lists only three alternative hypotheses for the origin of life, all naturalistic.  The fourth one that is never listed is intelligent design.  Yet that is the only explanation that fits our common experience.  Whenever we find an information-rich system, whether a symphony, or a book, or computer software, we know that an intelligence caused it.  We may not know the designer, or anything else about him or her, but we can justifiably infer based on the specified complexity of the parts that it was not the result of chance and natural law.  The reasoning is exactly the same when observing the information-rich systems in a living cell.  Since intelligent design passes the test of uniform experience, it is an inference to the best explanation – and therefore deserves to be the default explanation.
    If you ever find a theme park created by chance, don’t ride the roller coaster, because it’s only an illusion created by stacks of garbage bags.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next headline on: Origin of Life. • Next dumb story.
Nobel Laureates Opine on DNA, Politics, and the Christian Right   08/24/2003
James Watson (co-discoverer of the DNA code) stopped by California Institute of Technology on May 5, and had an informal chat onstage with David Baltimore (Nobel laureate in DNA research, current Caltech president).  The discussion, held before a packed auditorium, was just reported in Caltech’s latest issue of its magazine
Engineering and Science (LXVI:2, pp. 19-25).  Jane Dietrich’s report is entitled, “A Conversation with Jim Watson.”  In their unrehearsed remarks, they touched on many subjects: the history of Watson and Crick’s discovery, computational biology, the minimum genome for life, the ethics of genetic screening, pseudogenes, cloning, aging, the brain, ethics, politics, science policy, religion, and what it means to be human.  For example:
Watson went on to describe research that had determined that the bacterium B. subtilis has only about 250 genes essential to life.  He said that in 1965 he had thought of a bacterial cell as a little machine and tried to figure out how many essential parts there were.  He had guessed there would be about a thousand parts, or genes.  The astounding fact that a bacterium can have as few as 250 necessary genes made sense, he thought, because “life had to get started.  To put together a thousand, you needed God, but with no God, you can say at some time it had to be simple.
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)  A theme Watson repeated several times is that the religious right was holding back the progress of science.  For instance, Baltimore asked Watson, “What is the biggest ethical challenge that comes out of the kind of knowledge we’re developing today?” 
    “I think it’s that we’re not using this knowledge,” said Watson.  He pointed out that the gene for fragile X, which causes the most common form of inherited mental retardation (one in 265 women carries the gene), is known, but no one is being screened for it.  “To me, the ethical thing is we’re being held back.”
    Baltimore: “Who’s holding that back?  Why is it being held back?  Is it because of commercial interest?”
    “I think people are afraid to attack the Right to Life lobby, that’s all,” Watson responded.  “Screening is bad.  Screening is Hitler.”
    But, countered Baltimore, genetic screening “is an opportunity for each individual to decide on for himself or herself.”
    Watson’s response was that he finds it troubling that our society is indifferent to continued genetic disease.  “There is a conflict between truth by revelation and truth by observation and experiment.  I think the big fight eventually in our country is not going to be between Republicans and Democrats, but between those who think secularly and those who think in a fundamentalist way.”
    The audience applauded.  “You know which side Caltech is on,” said Baltimore.
Watson continued by contrasting people who “believe in religion but don’t want to restrict other people” with “fundamentalists” who “want all people to follow their beliefs.”  The latter are those, he thinks, who are hindering the screening for genetic diseases: “I feel very strongly that we’re failing ethically by not using the knowledge we have.”
    Baltimore asked Watson about the 75% of non-coding DNA in the human genome that is repetitive, when other species have much less repetitive DNA:
“.... Do you think,” he asked, “that’s a proof that all of that excess DNA really is junk, sort of a parasitic DNA that only cares about itself?”
    “It’s more like 95 percent,” answered Watson.  “As in the other species, it looks like there’s about 5 percent that’s conserved—1 percent are amino-acid-specifying, and the other 4 percent are useful in regulating when, where, and to what extent individual genes function.”  All human genetic variation resides in that 5 percent, he said.... “While many human attributes won’t have genetic causes, we shall probably be surprised by the extent that they do.”
The reporter noted that Watson profoundly believes that “modern biology is beginning to profoundly affect how we as human beings live and think about ourselves.”  She noted that often he prefaced his candid answers with disclaimers like “I probably shouldn’t say this” or “this will sound bad but it’s probably true.”  For instance, when discussing stem cells, cloning, genetic engineering and the public, he again pointed to the usual suspects who are hindering scientific progress:
“You and I and all of our fellow scientists have to spend much more time with the public and do it over and over.  We’re finding out what human beings are, and most people don’t think like us.”  He would like to see scientists run for Congress and become part of the government.  “You’ve got to get in there.  The Christian Right—they’re in there.  And we’re not.”
Other subjects Watson touched on that fit the category “this will sound bad but it’s probably true” included: whether there is genetic basis for criminal behavior, and whether we are all created equal, as assumed in our Declaration of Independence:
“That’s why biology really is becoming so relevant.  We have laws based on the fact that we’re equal.  And we’re probably not going to be.”
    “So it is a big issue, having law that reflects the standards of genetics,” commented Baltimore.
    Watson: “And no easy solution.”
In discussing his rivalries with Linus Pauling, Rosalind Franklin and others involved in 1950s genetic research, Watson said he was struck by the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s belief that humans are fueled by their passions, not by reason.
    In answer to whether science has gotten too big, Watson answered, “Understanding human beings at the molecular level—understanding the immune response, which is a lot more complicated than was thought 30 years ago, and the brain— will take an awful lot of people.”
They are an awful lot, are they not.
    This conversation is very enlightening, and a good example of why the public should fear scientists who think they know what is good for us.  It demonstrates that highly intelligent people, which Watson and Baltimore certainly are, are unfit to be our rulers, because they are just as filled with illogic, prejudice, and shortsighted planning as the rest of us.  These two are undoubtedly polite and respectable gentlemen in person, and certainly entitled to their opinions, but look at their opinions: filled with the us-vs.-them mentality, the either-or fallacy, loaded words, oversimplification, the straw man tactic, and suggestions that, if not clarified, could be dangerous—as bad as Hitler, or worse—despite Watson’s brush-off of the fears people have.  Let’s think about some of the things they said, first the scientific claims, then the ethical ones.
  • Minimal Life:  Watson’s comment about 250 genes not needing a God was emphasized in a sidebar in the magazine.  Good grief.  So 1000 genes would need a Creator, but 250 would not?  What kind of silly conclusion is that?  There is so much information in even 250 genes, it would never come together by chance in trillions of universes.
        Watson cannot point to any self-sufficient living organism simpler than this bacterium needing 250 genes as a minimum.  As we pointed out in the Aug. 13 headline, even evolutionists believe that these minimal cells are stripped down versions of complex organisms, not evolutionary missing links.  His comment goes to show that scientists can be very skilled and intelligent in their specialties but utterly illogical in other respects.
        Watson admitted that the human brain and immune system are much more complicated than previously thought.  The one who helped discover coded language at the core of life should be aware of the tremendous complexity of even a minimal living cell.  He misrepresents reality to imply there is a sequence from simple life to complex life, so that no God is required.  A scientist should build his opinion on observed facts.
  • Junk DNA:  Both Watson and Baltimore equate unknown function to no function.  We reported May 23 that so-called “junk DNA” is turning out to be a treasure mine of functional information.  The term “junk DNA” was coined by an evolutionist whose biased nomenclature stymied scientific progress by implying the repetitive sequences were useless.  Baltimore commits the personification fallacy by calling this genetic information “parasitic DNA that only cares about itself.”  Both men also appear bound to the now-questionable Central Dogma, that DNA is the master control of genetics.  Many investigators now suspect that epigenetic factors may be just as important, if not more so, in determining inheritance.
  • Right to Life lobby:  Here Watson indulges in the either-or, us-vs-them tactic of making bogeymen out of those who have legitimate concerns about screening for genetic diseases.  Both Watson and Baltimore portray themselves as benefactors, wanting to cure cancer and help the suffering by using scientific knowledge from genetics, while the Right-to-Life obscurantists scream “Hitler!” and stand in the way of progress, as though more interested in foisting their fundamentalist beliefs on people than helping mankind.  But who is Watson to lecture us on ethics?
        Watson vastly oversimplifies the controversy.  Christians, the religious right, the Right-to-Life lobby, the fundamentalists, or whatever label you want to put on them, do not constitute the only people deeply concerned about genetic screening.  There are very serious questions to ask before granting scientists the ethical reins of society.  Of course, any compassionate person would not want to deny a person with a debilitating genetic disease the hope of a cure, but we must define our terms.  Is depression a disease?  Is criminal behavior a disease?  Is an IQ under 100 a disease?  Should an individual be allowed physician-assisted suicide if he or she has a genetic disease?  Should a couple be permitted to abort an unborn baby diagnosed with a genetic disease?  Should the state sterilize disease-tainted individuals to prevent their corrupting the human gene pool (eugenics)?  How do we define quality of life?  Who decides if a person is fit to live, or is a “defective”?  Are mentally retarded people fit to live?  The elderly?  Criminals?  Should we take human evolution into our own hands?  Should we breed a fitter race, such as stronger swimmers and weight lifters for the Olympics?  Should the government breed worker bees, warriors, intellectuals and rulers for preselected roles in a utopian society, and if so, would a warrior have any rights to change his role and become an intellectual?  Should we breed chimeras, just because we can?  Should couples be given the right to select the sex of their children?  Is it right to do wrong to have a chance to do good?  Should an individual be put to death so that another can live?  Should we grow brainless adults to harvest their organs for those needing them?  What is the difference between that and growing clones or stem cells for the same purpose?  When does genetic research cease to be compassionate medicine, crossing the line into playing God?
        These are just a few of the serious questions that must be faced, and scientists are definitely not the only ones to answer them.  In fact, as ethics author and lecturer Dennis Prager has emphasized, experts should be the last ones to make the decisions, because they are too close to their special interests.  Scientists can provide valuable information to the policy makers, yes, but woe to the society that lets them make the ethical decisions.  Scientists often fail to see the big picture, to understand history, and to foresee the implications of their views.  Watson implies that we should screen people for a gene that causes mental retardation, but then what?  Should these people be allowed to marry, or should they be forcibly sterilized against their will or knowledge, as actually happened to 20,000 victims in the United States during the eugenics fad?  Where would Watson draw the line on Hitler’s experiments, some of which were well-intentioned on sincerely held scientific beliefs?  We cannot forget history to see how ugly an unrestrained science can become.
  • Truth by revelation vs. truth by observation: This makes sense, when you don’t think about it.  Watson’s comment presupposes that both religion and science claim to provide exhaustive knowledge.  If God had told us all about DNA and retrotransposons, I suppose it would make sense to believe the Expert, but the Bible is a condensed book.  There is a lot it does not talk about, and God gave man the freedom and intellect to search out many things.  Conversely, science is incapable of investigating some very large and important domains: history, aesthetics, ethics, values, morals and ultimate destiny among them.  Neither source of information is exclusive nor exhaustive.  Watson commits the either-or fallacy by implying that no person who believes in divine revelation could ever be a scientist (see our online book for a refutation), and that science is a path to ultimate truth.  He wrongly presupposes that scientists can be objective and neutral regarding everything.
  • Fundamentalists and proselytizing:  Watson tolerates religious people who don’t want all people to follow their beliefs.  Presumably, such believers don’t take their beliefs too seriously.  Watson, however, is quite fundamentalist about his scientism.  He thinks scientists need to run for Congress and impose their beliefs on the rest of us: such as, how to think secularly, and the belief that we are not created equal, in fact, we were not created at all.
        Watson badly misinterprets the Declaration of Independence clause that we are all “created equal,” hinting that biology says we probably are not.  The Founding Fathers had eyes.  They knew people differed radically in size, shape, physical and even intellectual capacities.  The point was that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; i.e., all people have equal worth, and each individual must be treated by the government without partiality.  To claim otherwise is an invitation to tyranny, and science can make no such claim.  A tyranny of scientists could be the worst of all.
David Hume was not always right, but aptly observed that at least some humans, even some scientists, are fueled by their passions, not by reason.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.
Nature Believes in Biblical Flood?   08/22/2003
Nature Science Update posted a story about a hypothetical geological model that may have explained the “Biblical flood,” and even quotes Genesis 7:11 on a sidebar: “All the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”  But before presuming the British science journal has got religion, it should be noticed that the article is focused more on a particular geologist’s explanation for the Permian extinction that supposedly wiped out most living things 250 million years ago.
    Considering this new idea “wacky, but not so wild that it shouldn’t be taken seriously,” the article presents Gregory Ryskin’s hypothesis that huge volumes of methane, trapped in frozen methane clathrates in the sea, were released into solution over aeons, then suddenly “belched” by a catastrophic event, like an asteroid impact.  This might have released 10,000 times the energy of the world’s nuclear arsenals, leading to “mortality on a massive scale.”
    If it happened once, it could have happened periodically on a smaller scale, such as in the Black Sea 7,000 years ago – thus the “Biblical flood.”
Nature, of course, is more interested in the evolutionary story of the wipeout of most of life millions of years ago.  Any similarities to a religious “myth” dating back just a few thousand years are incidental in their sophisticated, “scientific” opinion.  It makes a nice sideline for the occasional religious reader, perhaps.
    There are two kinds of people who get interested in natural explanations for Biblical miracles: (1) those who deny the Bible, and believe that naturalistic events became entwined in ethnic legends, as here; (2) those who believe the Bible, and think that a natural explanation will make the story more palatable to the public.  Though well intentioned, these interpretations tend to diminish the sovereignty of God, and often play loose with the Biblical record.  Undoubtedly, God could steer natural events to accomplish His purposes, and a miracle would involve natural phenomena.  But in this case, the flood was not restricted to the Black Sea area, and it was not due to a belch of swamp gas.  According to Genesis, God brought it about supernaturally by His definitive act, as judgment on a world that was “filled with violence,” in which “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6).  Sound familiar?  Get ready.
Next headline on: Geology. • Next headline on: The Bible.
Science Gives One-Sided Brush-off to ID   08/21/2003
In
Science Aug 21, Robert Pennock reviews Michael Ruse’s latest book Darwin and Design (see June 12 headline).  He compares it with the 19th-century Bridgewater Treatises, a set of 19th-century monographs by Christians explaining evidence for God in the sciences.  Now, the Templeton Foundation has funded a set of seven books on science and religion, of which Ruse’s book is the first.  Pennock likes it a lot and think it has set a high standard that will be tough to match.  It covers everything from the history of natural theology and design arguments to the modern Darwinian synthesis, which leaves no more place for a Designer: 
He also has a helpful way of organizing the conceptual analysis of the design argument, separating the argument to adaptive complexity from the move to a designing mind.  Ruse clearly explains how Darwinian evolution blocked that second move, by providing the answer to the question of biological purpose: “Natural selection produces artifact-like features, not by chance but because if they were not artifact-like they would not work and serve their possessors’ needs.”  The language of intentional design now serves only as a handy metaphor.
Both Pennock and Ruse think it is possible to be awestruck at the appearance of design in nature without being religious:
We have learned much in the two centuries since Bridgewater, and Ruse shows that natural theology is no longer viable.  However, he does not disparage the impulse that led to it.  There is indeed awe to be found in biological adaptations, which might be expressed in a new “theology of nature” that “appreciates the complex, adaptive glory of the living world, rejoices in it, and trembles before it.”  He quotes Mayr, who once told him, “People forget that it is possible to be intensely religious in the entire absence of theological belief.”
But both Pennock and Ruse only have time for a dismissive sweep of the modern Intelligent Design movement:
Ruse quickly dismisses the recent attempt to resurrect Paley’s argument by Intelligent Design creationists such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski; they warrant only a brief discussion in the final chapter.  Ruse reviews and extends some of the many arguments that have been given against Behe’s “irreducible complexity,” Dembski’s explanatory filter, and appeals to the purported problems of “complex specified information” and the no-free-lunch theorem.  Behe’s view, he concludes, is “pure and simple fantasy”; Dembski is “just plain wrong”; and their Intelligent Design movement is already regarded, even by theologians, as an “embarrassment.”
Pennock calls his review “A Bridgewater Treatise for the 21st Century.”  The book is: Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? by Michael Ruse (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003).
The comebacks are never heard in Science, because the microphones point in only one direction.  Johnson, Dembski, and Behe have a lot to say in rebuttal (read their books), but the Darwin Party’s tactic, as here, is to brush them off quickly, as if to say, “Don’t read their works; you don’t need to, because our Goliath already did it for you.”  It’s the argument from authority in a journal that is supposed to be about open-minded investigation of the facts.
    Pennock should have been highly suspect at Ruse for stooping to ridicule like calling Behe’s work “pure and simple fantasy” or sidestepping issues and using glittering generalities such as summing up Dembski’s long and detailed arguments as “just plain wrong,” or appealing to people’s herd instinct by saying that their work is “already regarded, even by theologians [My, O my] as an embarrassment.“  Is such blather to be respected as the honorable and recondite analysis by Darwinism’s greatest living philosopher?  Suppose Dembski did that, and instead of writing two detailed, mathematical tomes, sent Science a short postcard saying, “Y'know, Ruse is just plain wrong.  His ideas are pure and simple fantasy.  Everybody thinks they are an embarrassment.”  And suppose Science printed it?  That’s about how fair these Darwin Party journals are when it comes to seriously analyzing the important issues in philosophy of science today.  Ruse and Pennock don’t want readers of Science to think.  They just want them to swallow the opinions of The Authorities.  Ruse said ID is fantasy.  End of story.
    You have to know their opinions are weak when a schoolboy could see right through them.  Take a look at the monumental conclusion about the argument from design that Pennock feels Ruse has deftly dealt a death blow: “Natural selection produces artifact-like features, not by chance but because if they were not artifact-like they would not work and serve their possessors’ needs.”  Are you impressed?  So this is the best Ruse can come up with (assuming Pennock, an admirer, accurately encapsulates the argument).  This is no answer at all.  It’s the same cop-out the Anthropic Principle argument uses to fail to explain design: “Well, silly, if it weren’t that way, we wouldn’t be here worrying about the question.”  Good grief.  Ruse and his disciples have not explained the design of an eye, an ear, a wing, or anything else.  They just say if it were not well adapted, it wouldn’t be there.  Newton and Maxwell would be embarrassed by such shallow reasoning.
    Whenever evolutionists really attempt to explain design in detail, they give up in utter frustration (see yesterday’s headline).  Natural selection is impotent to explain the origin of any complex structure except without copious additions of imagination and faith, and yesterday’s story essentially said so.  Science is supposed to rest on evidence.  OK, evolutionists, put up or shut up.  And if you have your own mind, read Behe’s and Johnson’s and Dembski’s books, instead of leaning on the one-sided opinions of the Darwin Party.  Another challenge: name one instance of complex specified information, anywhere, that is the product of unintelligent, unguided, undirected natural law or chance, or combination of the two, including natural selection (The Rule: it must be supported by observational evidence, not just-so storytelling).
    Another example of the shallowness of their thinking is this idea you can be in awe of nature’s designs without being religious.  To be consistent, they would have to believe that awe evolved like everything else.  What survival value does awe have?  Why are we moved by the good, the true, and the beautiful?  Natural selection cannot provide answers to these questions: they point to a conscience, and an innate knowledge of purpose and morality and order that no naturalistic philosophy can expunge.  That’s why Pennock and Rose propose an alternative “theology of nature” so that their God-shaped vacuum has something to bow down to, and tremble before.  When a man’s awe becomes detached from the Creator, it attaches instead to the creation, fulfilling the Apostle Paul’s prediction, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.... they worshipped and served the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:20-25).
Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next headline on: Darwinism.
No Martian Oceans   08/21/2003
In a news bulletin sure to be disappointing to those envisioning an ancient Mars with oceans brim full of life, the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced today that Mars shows no evidence that large bodies of water existed in the past.
    For six years since its arrival at Mars, the Mars Global Surveyor thermal emission spectrometer has been looking for signatures of carbonates (like limestone), on the surface.  Oceans would have left outcrops high in carbonates, but none have been found – only a general, low-level measurement that probably is due to atmospheric water interacting with the ubiquitous dust.
    According to Phil Christensen, infrared specialist, “This really points to a cold, frozen, icy Mars that has always been that way, as opposed to a warm, humid, ocean-bearing Mars sometime in the past.”  The news report has the pessimistic title, “New Findings Could Dash Hopes for Past Oceans on Mars.”  The original paper is published in Science Aug. 21.
When Mars Exploration Rover Spirit arrives in Gusev Crater in January, it will also look for evidence that surface water once was abundant at that location.  There are still apparent river channels and stream beds to explain, and possible evidence of shorelines.  The lack of carbonates is disappointing to a wet Mars scenario, but not conclusive.  Wet or dry, though, Mars is a terra incognita just becoming known to us, as was the far west in the days of Lewis and Clark.  These are great days of discovery.
    NASA’s recipe for life, however (dirt + water), doesn’t work.  We tried it, and all we got was mud.
Next headline on: Mars.
Understanding Cells: Think Information, Logic Circuits   08/21/2003
The Concepts article in
Nature 08/21/2003 is about “Systems biology: Understanding Cells” by Paul Nurse.  A striking feature of his article is the repeated use of the word information:
Many of the properties that characterize living organisms are also exhibited by individual cells.  These include communication, homeostasis, spatial and temporal organization, reproduction, and adaptation to external stimuli.  Biological explanations of these complex phenomena are often based on the logical and informational processes that underpin the mechanisms involved....
    Most experimental investigations of cells, however, do not readily yield such explanations, because they usually put greater emphasis on molecular and biochemical descriptions of phenomena.  To explain logical and informational processes on a cellular level, therefore, we need to devise new ways to obtain and analyse data, particularly those generated by genomic and post-genomic studies.
    An important part of the search for such explanations is the identification, characterization and classification of the logical and informational modules that operate in cells.  For example, the types of modules that may be involved in the dynamics of intracellular communication include feedback loops, switches, timers, oscillators and amplifiers.  Many of these could be similar in formal structure to those already studied in the development of machine theory, computing and electronic circuitry.
Nurse identifies three types of information seen in cells: sequence data, interaction data, and functional data.  He feels that this logical, informational approach to the study of cells will be more productive than just studying the individual molecules in detail:
A useful analogy of what is being proposed is the analysis of an electronic circuit.  Once the detailed operations of different types of electronic components have been identified, it is possible to gain insight into what an electronic circuit can do simply by knowing what components are present and how they are connected, even if their precise dynamic behaviour has not been determined.  The various logical and informational modules implicated in a biological phenomenon of interest have to be integrated in order to generate a better understanding of how cells work.
Paul Nurse feels that this information-theoretic approach to the cell could generate a great deal of experimental work.  “The identification and characterization of these modules will require extensive experimental investigation, followed by realistic modelling of the processes involved,”  he predicts.  “Such analyses would allow a catalogue of the module types that operate in cells to be assembled.”  But this approach will work only if there is a finite set of such modules:
The success of this general approach depends on there being a limited set of biochemical activities and molecular interactions that together can solve the myriad logical and informational problems found in biological systems.  If there is only a restricted set of processes that are efficient and stable in operation and which have been exploited by evolution [sic], then there should be only a limited set of possible solutions to real biological problems.  Of course, if nature shows no such restraint [sic], then we must go back to the drawing-board if we are ever to understand its complexity.
Paul Nurse is at the Cell Cycle Laboratory, Cancer Research UK, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.
Two things stand out from this article: (1) The cell only makes sense when approached in terms of information and logic, and (2) An information-theoretic approach generates productive research.
    The intelligent design (ID) community has been stressing these points for some time, but here the same thing is being stated in Nature, the most prestigious science journal in the world.  We have no inside clue on the beliefs of Paul Nurse, his feelings about ID and the origin of life, but this could have been written by Paul Nelson, a leader in the ID movement – except for that one fly-in-the-ointment personification fallacy line about the efficient processes that have been “exploited by evolution.”  That line is so out of character with the rest of the article, one wonders whether Nurse had to insert it to get it past the censors.  It adds nothing.  It looks like an obligatory pinch of incense to Emperor Darwin.
    The thrust of the article is that information is the key to understanding and the key to research.  Opponents of ID falsely criticize that a design-theoretic approach brings science to a screeching halt.  “God did it, and that settles it!”  Nature has just printed this refutation, showing that the opposite is true.  Everybody knows that “feedback loops, switches, timers, oscillators and amplifiers” are the products of intelligent design.  When we see similar functions in biological systems to those we understand in electronic circuits, doesn’t it make sense to study them from a design perspective?  Wouldn’t that provide the scientists with a fruitful enterprise?  Yes – unless cells turn out to be even more complex, too information-rich for our analogies with man-made circuits.  Then, the only sensible approach would be to look for deeper design, not chance!
    ID is going to save biology from implosion.  Poor Charles Atlas Darwin just can’t hold up the world any more.  If you are a scientist worried about ID, fear not.  ID will liberate science from a suffocating 19th-century ideology that didn’t know about information and logic modules at the fundamental unit of life.  You can publish your scientific papers in a secular style without needing to say the G word.  Everything will remain the same, except for some blessed subtractions: the removal of useless, foolish references to chance and Mother Nature, the tinkerer.  Instead of having to tow the line of the Darwin Party, you can look at life in a new way, and it will make sense.  As Paul Nelson stated in Unlocking the Mystery of Life, science becomes this enormous puzzle-solving expedition, in which you can expect to find rationality and beauty right at the heart of things.  It will be the beginning of another golden age of scientific discovery.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Darwinists Fumble on the Evolution of Complex Structures   08/20/2003
If Ronald Reagan had said, “communism isn’t working,” it would not be news.  But when Gorbachev said, “communism isn’t working,” it was history book material.  Similarly, when Darwinists writing in a Darwinist-friendly scientific journal say that evolutionary theory isn’t working to explain one of the most important problems that had stumped Darwin, it is an occasion that should arouse the world news media for a press conference, replete with anxious reporters asking hard-hitting questions.  Yet you probably will not hear about it except right here; the admission is hidden away in a Dispatch in the Aug. 19 issue of
Current Biology (emphasis added in all quotes):
A central goal of evolutionary biology is to explain the origin of complex organs – the ribosomal machinery that translates the genetic code, the immune system that accurately distinguishes self from non-self, eyes that can resolve precise images, and so on.  Although we understand [sic] in broad outline how such extraordinary systems can evolve by natural selection, we know very little about the actual steps involved, and can hardly begin to answer general questions about the evolution of complexity.  For example, how much time is required for some particular structure to evolve?
In their article, Nick Barton and Willem Zuidema (Univ. of Edinburgh, where Darwin attended for awhile), admit that traditional biological approaches (like population genetics) for explaining the evolution of complex structures have not worked:
Complex systems – systems whose function requires many interdependent parts are vanishingly unlikely to arise purely by chance.  Darwin’s explanation of their origin is that natural selection establishes a series of variants, each of which increases fitness.  This is an efficient way of sifting through an enormous number of possibilities, provided there is a sequence of ever-increasing fitness that leads to the desired feature.  To use Sewall Wright’s metaphor, there must be a path uphill on the ‘adaptive landscape.’
    The crucial issue, then, is to know [sic] what variants are available – what can be reached from where – and what is the fitness of these variants.  Is there a route by which fitness can keep increasing?  Population genetics is not much help here.  Given the geometry defined by mutation and recombination, and given the fitnesses, we can work out how a population will change, simply by following the proportion of different types through time.  But understanding [sic] how complex features evolve requires plausible models for the geometry of the adaptive landscape, which population genetics by itself does not provide.
The authors point to artificial life models like those of Lenski and Adami to provide some hope for a solution to the evolution of complex structures.  They describe some of the apparently complex functions that “digital organisms” arrived at, when set free to evolve in simulations according to simple rules designed into the program.  Though encouraged by these, Barton and Zuidema are not entirely impressed:
Artificial Life models such as Lenski et al.’s are perhaps interesting in themselves, but as biologists we are concerned here with the question of what Artificial Life can tell us about real organisms.  The difficulty in answering this is that much work in this field is rather isolated from traditional evolutionary biology.
While hopeful that synergy between biologists and computer programmers might provide mutual insights, they have doubts that the computer organisms have any connection to the real world.
In population genetics and evolutionary game theory, we design models to study the success and failure of a predefined set of traits or strategies in the struggle for life.  But what are the possible traits?  And how well do they succeed in particular environments with particular competitors?  These questions are ignored in traditional models – they come in as parameters to be provided by developmental biology and ecology.  For understanding the evolution of complex traits this is not satisfactory, because these parameters are themselves shaped by evolution [sic].  Evolutionary processes constantly shift the targets of evolutionary optimization [sic], create spatial patterns, turn competitors into mutualists and create new levels of selection.  Artificial Life models of such phenomena ... promise to be useful for developing the concepts and techniques to deal with that challenge, but only if they are combined with the insights from almost a century of population genetics.
The Dispatch is entitled, “Evolution: the erratic path towards complexity,” by Nick Barton and Willem Zuidema.
If you have sifted these statements for any evidence for evolution, or realistic explanations for the evolution of any single complex system, you have undoubtedly found all chaff and no grain.  It’s all emptiness and futility, wishful thinking, models that are too complex to relate to the real world, leaning on broken reeds, trusting in others’ work that never gets delivered, and vaporware on back order.  Yet this is the theory that is so obviously a fact that anything else is pseudoscience that must be shielded from students?  This is the greatest idea anyone ever had, so intuitively obvious that it has taken over the world as the encapsulation of all that is certain about nature?  This is the theory that should no longer be called a theory, but a fact like gravity?
    We hasten to make clear that Barton and Zuidema are evolutionists, and did not write this article to in any way claim that they doubt Darwinian evolution.  But that is what makes their admissions so damaging.  If Henry Morris had said this, no one would pay attention, because he (presumably) has an axe to grind and an ulterior motive.  But these guys just gave away the store.  They admitted that after all these years, the Darwinists are no nearer to explaining the origin of an eye, or dolphin sonar, or butterfly wings, or immune systems, than Charlie himself was in 1859.
    Notice how they look yearningly, hopefully to the computer programmers to provide some relief to the befuddled population geneticists (with their crude models built partly on the personification fallacy of game theory), but then turn right around and criticize the programmers for not being realistic, and ignoring the “insights from almost a century of population genetics.”  It’s like a cartoon character in quicksand calling another guy in the same quicksand for help.  Does anyone see anything solid that any evolutionist is standing on, that should give Eugenie Scott of the NCSE confidence in the righteousness of her crusade to keep evolution the sole contender in the public schools?  The arrogance of the Darwin Party, given admissions like this one, is astounding.
    Barton and Zuidema claim that biologists understand evolution in broad terms, just not in the details.  But they cannot even begin to point to any plausible series of steps on the fitness landscape that would allow a mindless organism to climb uphill to an adaptive peak – to evolve an eye, or a brain, an immune system, or any other complex feature, when every step in the imaginary sequence (for which there is no fossil evidence) would have had to provide enough survival value to make it triumph over all competitors, such that every organism without the lucky trait would have died out (this is called the “cost of selection”).  They admit these complex systems are extraordinary.  They admit they are irreducibly complex (in their words, “systems whose function requires many interdependent parts”).  They admit that the probability of getting any complex system by chance is vanishingly small.  They admit Darwin’s explanation, to be efficient at sifting through the enormous possibilities, is provisional on the requirement for a sequence of plausible intermediates, each one needing to increase the fitness of the organism (but how efficient can that be when there is slippage on the treadmill due to indirect genetic effects?).
    They are utterly clueless how long it would be expected to take for the “slight, successive modifications” to add up to a complex system.  And yet complex systems are the rule in biology, not the exception!  (See today’s headline on sponges for an interesting example.)  They claim they understand the broad outline of how such “extraordinary systems could evolve by natural selection,” then two phrases later, they admit “we can hardly begin to answer general questions about the evolution of complexity.”  About face!  (Speaking about faces, they are pretty complex systems, too.)
    We joke about car engines held together with bubble gum, rubber bands and popsicle sticks.  Darwinism is like a shiny sports car advertised to the world as the hottest thing since religion went out of style.  Just don’t lift up the hood.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Time to Revise Geology Textbooks Again   08/20/2003
A textbook case of tectonic plate movement is wrong, admits
University of Rochester News.  The Hawaiian Island chain is not the result of plates moving over a stationary hotspot, apparently (see also April 1 headline).  It now looks like hotspots can move around:
“Mobile magma plumes force us to reassess some of our most basic assumptions about the way the mantle operates,” says John Tarduno, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University.  “We’ve relied on them for a long time as unwavering markers, but now we’ll have to redefine our understanding of global geography.”
(Emphasis added.)  The original paper is published in Science Aug. 21.
Pretty strong words.  Wonder what other basic assumptions involving global understanding that they have relied on for a long time are due for reassessment.  If anything comes up that calls evolution into question, it will most likely be shot down and declared unconstitutional.
Next headline on: Geology.
Superior Fiber Optics – From a Sponge   08/20/2003
A deep-sea sponge has been found to have flexible glass fibers that conduct light better than artificial fiber optic cables manufactured for telecommunications.  The story in
Yahoo News says that the sponges incorporate sodium into their structures, which humans are unable to do because of high temperatures that are required during manufacture.  As a dopant, the sodium gives the sponge’s fibers such flexibility, they can be tied in a knot without breaking.
    The brittleness of man-made fibers reduces their usefulness in some applications, so engineers will probably be very interested in finding out how the sponge accomplished the feat at ambient temperatures.  The sponge’s spicules are about the same size, and made of the same basic glassy material, as artificial fiber optic cable, yet the sponge builds it by means of proteins directed by DNA.
    The authors of the paper in Nature Aug 20 consider the function of these structures for the sponge, which is known by the nickname “Venus flower basket”: “Our results suggest the intriguing possibility that the spicules of Euplectella, beyond structural anchorage support, could also provide a highly effective fibre-optical network, which may be useful in distributing light in its deep-sea environment” (emphasis added).
    Biomimetics, meaning life-imitation, is an active new field of research, in which scientists and engineers go prospecting for living things that have solved complex manufacturing problems.  This sponge is a good example.  One scientist commented, “It’s such a wonderful example of how exquisite nature is as a designer and builder of complex systems.  We can draw it on paper and think about engineering it but we’re in the stone age compared to nature.” 
No mention of evolution in the article: thank God.  For other articles on biomimetics, see the brittlestar with superior glass lenses (studied by the same scientist at Bell Labs who led this research on the sponge), spider silk, the ideal material, gecko tape and other stories under the category “Amazing”.  Then read the next headline – for a big letdown.
Next headline on: Ocean Dwellers. • Next amazing story.
Darwinians Plot Counter-Reformation Against I.D. Movement   08/19/2003
The August issue of
BioScience contains two articles specifically directed at combatting creationism and the ID (intelligent design) movement.  In a “Washington Watch” column, Robert E. Gropp reports on a recent “activists summit” attended by “50 science education advocates, clergy, educators, scientists, and representatives of national organizations” which was co-sponsored by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the California Museum of Paleontology.  In his report, “Evolution Activists Organize to Combat Pseudoscience in Public Schools,” Gropp says the occasion gave advocates a chance “to share information and develop strategies” to ensure evolution teaching is unscathed.
    Another article by Randy Moore, Murray Jensen, and Jay Hatch is entitled, “Twenty Questions: What Have the Courts Said about the Teaching of Evolution and Creationism in Public Schools?”  It is designed as a FAQ (frequently asked questions) resource to provide talking points for teachers and other advocates needing to answer the questions students bring to the science class.
We have a suggestion.  Evolutionists should run their articles by English teachers, logic professors and ethicists before printing them.  Unfortunately, after all the instances of propaganda, illogic and hypocrisy were red-lined, very little of substance would remain.
    Most look back at Martin Luther as a brave, lonely man who did the right thing when he refused to recant the beliefs of his conscience, saying, “Here I stand; I can do no other.  God help me.”  What followed was a Reformation that many historians, even some Catholics, admit was justified more or less, because the church, that lowly, persecuted band of disciples of Jesus who had started as humble seekers after righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, had grown into a corrupt institution, wedded to tradition and political power.  It had drifted so far from its roots that it was deeply involved in evil practices diametrically opposite the teachings of Jesus, things like extortion (through the sale of indulgences and confiscation of property), invention of unbiblical doctrines, and even sexual promiscuity among priests.  But the Reformation was not won in a day, not by a long shot.  A Catholic counter-reformation followed and both sides engaged in everything from intellectual debate to warfare.  Unquestionably, there were excesses and atrocities on both sides.  But the motivation to reform what had become corrupt is generally seen as a good thing.  Luther’s 95 theses are a classic of logical and ethical argument against illogic and corruption.  Of course Martin Luther did not act alone.  He is representative of many reformers (Grosseteste, Jan Hus, Wycliffe, and many more) who saw a problem and tried to fix it.  Some paid with their lives.  Because Luther got the right help at the right time, he just became the most successful at effecting lasting change.
    Neither side won a complete victory.  There are still Catholics and Protestants today, often engaging in combat both civil and militant.  Though some strong voices seek harmony at the expense of doctrine, it would be impossible to maintain the integrity of the Reformation through compromise.  Maybe that is what is happening in the sciences.  The parallels are striking.  Science, once the common man’s quest for truth, has become Big Science, supported by politicians, with millions of dollars of funding at stake.  Evolution has become the state religion.  Thomas Huxley took the sign of the Darwin Fish and envisioned, In this sign conquer, and wedded evolutionary philosophy to “political” science.  This unholy alliance produced the corruption we see today, where any convoluted just-so story gets published and praised, as long as it has the Darwin imprimatur.  There have been calls for reformation within and without the church of Darwin for a long time, and every time, the Darwinist apologists resort to the same tactics to crush it, as seen in these papers.  (Theistic evolution is not a satisfying compromise, because it usually sacrifices theism on the altar of Darwinism, and fails to explain why God would have any more involvement than the Deistic god, if evolution is so effective.  As a result, theistic evolutionists usually get hammered by both sides.)  Maybe what is going to result, instead of one side winning, is a huge schism: the science of the Darwin Party and the science of the Design Party, the latter being the Reformers who want to take science back to its original empirical roots, and the former mounting a protracted Counter-Reformation and a Thirty Years War.
    One could hope against hope that somewhere, somehow, cool heads would prevail and look honestly at the data to see which side fits the facts better.  That would be as idealistic as a Protestant wishing a Catholic would calmly sit with him and see what the Bible really teaches.  The Catholic would only rarely be won over by that approach, because to a Catholic, the Bible is no longer the authority: the Church and tradition have equal authority.  So both sides will argue past each other unless they can first agree on where the authority lies.  Similarly, the Darwinists will never be content to simply look at the raw data and see whether it shows evidence of design, because they have re-written the definition of science such that facts no longer matter of themselves.  The facts must be interpreted through the filter of naturalistic tradition and submit to the authority of Big Science.  The modern-day casuists win by default, because science is naturalism by definition.  Anyone who disagrees simply does not understand the nature of “science”.  He is an outsider, who cannot show the official imprimatur, and therefore is rejected out of hand as a dangerous heretic.
    Because “The Church” was the only authority that could take seemingly contradictory Biblical passages and interpret them properly, it was necessary to keep the Bible out of the hands of commoners, and forbid the distribution of bootleg copies of the Scriptures in the common tongue (one effective method in Spain was to burn bootleggers at the stake as public entertainment).  Similarly, only members of the Darwin Party can rightly interpret the transition from fish to tetrapod and other puzzles, even when the data are missing or uncooperative, and only party members are authorized to teach “the nature of science” to initiates.  Bootleggers are denounced as dangerous heretics, committed to the flames of public diatribes.  Design scientists are excommunicated from the officially sanctioned journals; unable to publish, they perish.
    It’s instructive to read Gropp’s article with these parallels in mind.  The missing ingredient in his counter-reformation manifesto is the very thing most people assume is the essence of science: observed evidence.  His whole argument hinges on politics, strategy, and who has the authority to dictate what arguments students get to hear.  Since he picks on Phillip Johnson, maybe that is the parallel to Luther, although like Luther, Johnson had many predecessors, some more qualified and outspoken.  And since Luther had some political allies who gave him aid and comfort, the counter-reformation must have a political arm to combat him.  Gropp singles out Rick Santorum as giving aid and comfort to the enemy; he says, “Many evolution activists believe that Sen. Santorum’s advocacy of ID and various state and local ID initiatives across the country are proof that citizens [read, political action committees] and scientists must work together to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools.”  Thus, Grobb praises efforts of the NCSE to form a coalition with political clout.
    Here is where it is important to be familiar with Phillip Johnson’s theme, discussed at length in The Right Questions, that the one who formulates the questions often wins the debate.  Evolutionary casuists are very good at stating the controversy in terms where they cannot lose.  They portray this as a contest between science and pseudoscience (notice how the Party in Power gets to define what “pseudoscience” is.)  It’s all about defending the teaching of evolution (appealing to people’s Alamo emotions), which are under “attack” by these religiously-motivated radicals who don’t understand “science.”  All kinds of emotional appeals are used to rally the activists to the crusade: the enemy is “well funded and well organized” (you can cut the hypocrisy with a knife), and we need a “strategy” to counter this dangerous “threat” to “science.”  Buzzwords abound: creation must always be appended with ism, so that it sounds like a cult, while evolution is equated with science; big lies abound, like the one that ID wants to remove evolution from the science classroom when, in fact, they want to teach more about it (including the contrary evidence); red herrings abound, such that the claim this issue is about “separation of church and state” (with the presupposition that I.D. theory is inherently religious, but Darwinism is not); non-sequiturs abound, such as associating the amount of evolution taught with the quality of science teaching.  In this smoke-filled battleground, activists on both sides often jump into the fray, oblivious to the issue of whether anyone is asking the right questions.
    Is there a Diogenes here?  Few are the evolutionists who show any desire to critically examine whether Darwinian theory can stand up to the observed facts of nature.  Do living things show evidence of design, or do they not?  Is time and chance sufficient to produce a human being, or is it not?  Can our universe be explained in naturalistic terms only, or is information required?  Such questions are foreign to their mindset.  Instead, the approach is, there must be a way to stuff this uncooperative data into naturalism, which I already know in my heart is true.  Similarly, the anticreationist literature is silent about these questions.  They either pass it off as a done deal; Big Science already looked at Luther’s writings and condemned them as heretical – end of story.  When asked if a particular thing appears designed, they look at generalities, including evil and suffering in the world, and scoff, “Well, a Designer wouldn’t have done it that way.”  But that is a religious argument, not a scientific one, as Cornelius Hunter deftly demonstrated in his book Darwin’s God, and expounds further in his new sequel Darwin’s Proof (Brazos Press, 2003 – highly recommended).
    Just as the Catholic church portrayed itself as the one and only universal apostolic vicar of Christ, the Darwin Church portrays itself as the one and only universal vicar of science.  It is a religious war.  It’s about holding onto power.  If it were not, they would welcome debate on the new ideas of intelligent design, and the challenges that new discoveries about life are posing to the Darwinian explanation.  Gropp’s article would be an invitation to debate the evidence, not “Activists Organize to Combat” heresy.
    That a counter-reformation has begun may be a good sign that the Church of Darwin can no longer merely assume its domination over science.  True, Darwinist Tetzels (science writers in the news media) are still gleefully strolling about, selling indulgences (just-so stories) with reckless abandon, but the priests in back rooms of the Vatican (NCSE) are anxiously plotting their next moves, alarmed at the number of common-tongue ID books and videos being distributed to the student peasants, despite the best efforts of the Inquisition.  (As surely as Gutenberg’s press lubricated the rapid dissemination of information damaging to the Church, the Web does today.)
    Fearing an uprising, the Darwin Party seems bent on a strategy that will fail as surely as the efforts to stop the Reformation.  Only the Church is authorized to interpret the Scriptures backfired when enough literate peasants could read the source documents, and could see the contradictions for themselves.  Only the Darwin Party is authorized to interpret the observed facts of nature will fail, when enough literate citizens are liberated from the Darwin-only rule in the science classroom, and can see the evidence for themselves – all the evidence, not just the preselected props for Darwinism (finch beaks, peppered moths), but the Cambrian explosion, the complexity of the earliest life, the laws of thermodynamics, information theory, design detection, the honorable history of design science, and much more.
    Creation-Evolution Headlines is your source for the data in the common tongue (and some reports smuggled out of the Jesuits’ strategy sessions).  Read it and pass it on.
Note: This commentary is no more a criticism of science than the Reformation was a criticism of the teachings of Jesus.  It is rather a criticism of the naturalistic philosophers who have arrogated unto themselves the right to be the sole interpreters of natural phenomena, the definers of terms, and the censors of the curriculum.  It should be obvious from three years of reporting here that we love science and true scientists.
    Similarly, this commentary is not a criticism of individual Catholics, many of whom are sincere and good people who accept what they are taught, including many involved in Catholic charities who sacrificially care for the poor and needy.  The comparison is about ideas put forth by the leadership.  Not all union members are as liberal as their union bosses, for instance, nor do all seniors agree with political positions of the AARP.  The official stated positions of Protestant Reformers and Catholics are the basis for comparing Big Science with those who would reform it.  There are many individual scientists who do not tow the Darwin Party line.

Next headline on: Darwinism. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next headline on: Schools. • Next headline on: Politics.
Speciation Theory Goes Postmodern   08/19/2003
From external appearances, the paper on fruit flies by an international team in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online preprints, 8/19/03) looks like the usual bland, boring, incomprehensible scientific paper.  It has lots of jargon, charts, and graphs, and a sleepy title, “Allopatric genetic origins for sympatric host-plant shifts and race formation in Rhagoletis.”  It’s just the last sentence that wakes you up.
    The paper starts off by pointing out the “rift in speciation theory” (see January 15 headline) between the orthodox allopatric speciationists and the heretical sympatric speciationists.  This team uses data from apple maggots to propose a compromise: “Here, we provide evidence for a partial reconciliation of the sympatric and allopatric views by showing that inversion polymorphism forming latitudinal clines within R. pomonella and contributing to sympatric host race formation may have had much earlier geographic roots.”  (Don’t fall asleep yet.)
    After presenting abstruse and convoluted arguments about which genes might have diverged when, and supporting it with alternative phylogenetic trees fit to various genes found in three strains of American and Mexican apple maggots, they come up with a proposal that should make everybody happy, even though “Questions remain concerning why mtDNA haplotypes did not introgress with nuclear alleles (perhaps gene flow is male-mediated) and the current taxonomic status of Mexican flies.”  (Don’t fall asleep yet.)  Then their last sentence says (you can wake up now),
Nevertheless, our results evoke a surprising “PostModern” synthesis of processes and personalities, adding to a growing literature implying that the origins of animal species can be as dynamic and rich (reticulate) as those for plants.
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)
That’s dynamic and rich, all right.  Scientists hate postmodernists, because postmodernists deny that anybody (including scientists) is right.  Everybody has their own truth, that is true for them, whether it be scientism, Hinduisim, animism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Raelianism.  All are equally valid and equally pointless.  To a postmodernist, everyone is a victim of some oppressed minority, and we must be tolerant of everyone’s point of view, including evolutionists and creationists.  Because such thinking undermines the privileged place scientists like to feel they have, and puts evolutionism into fantasyland along with everyone else, most scientists hate postmodernism.
    So evolutionists should choke at this paper’s last line, even if it was meant as an overture for peace.  The warring parties (allopatric vs. sympatric speciationists) are not going to like the terms of the peace treaty, which might be stated: Don’t feel bad, nobody is wrong, and nobody is right.  Each of you is right in his own way.  It doesn’t really matter who is right, as long as we all get along and be tolerant.  Look, we can piece together lines from both stories to produce an even better story.  So like the players in Alice in Wonderland, everybody wins, and everyone gets a prize.
    Even more telling is their admission that the story of animal origins is no less “dynamic and rich (reticulate)” – (read: fluctuating and high in fat) – as the evolutionary origin story of plants. 
Reticulate, n.: 1. resembling a net; esp.: having veins, fibers, or lines crossing; 2. of, relating to, or constituting evolutionary change dependent on genetic recombination involving diverse interbreeding populations.
So both animals and plants no longer have an evolutionary tree, but a network of crossing lines.  What else is left?  We have already seen how bacteria and archaea are already complex and networked with HGT (see Aug. 11 headline).  So for every group of organisms on earth, it appears tree is in the eye of the beholder:
I think that I shall never see
The data fit a Darwin tree;
Trees are made by God, not we,
But only fools see phylogeny.
(Sincere apologies to Joyce Kilmer; we like his poem much better.)  So good news; you don’t have to read the rest of the boring paper.  They just took it all away in the last sentence.  Just be tolerant and say, Hey, whatever grooves you, man, like, it’s cool.
Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next dumb story.
Update  08/18/03: Iraqi Wetlands DisasterEurekAlert reports status of the environmental disaster wreaked by Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s vast wetlands (see May 1 headline), and efforts to restore parts of it.  The US is trying to help Arabs recover from the devastation.  The area “looks like you let a child loose in a sand box with hand grenades,” as the report by a Duke University ecologist describes it; Saddam’s brutal regime “churned that country upside down,” and turned extensive marshes filled with rich habitats of biodiversity into dust bowls.
Next headline on: Politics.

Complexity from Simplicity: A New Kind of Science?   08/18/2003
In this week’s issue,
Science News takes a critical look at Stephen Wolfram, the alleged genius who wrote A New Kind of Science.  That book has generated quite a stir among scientists, and has amassed a loyal fan club.  Wolfram, author of the popular software Mathematica, got a PhD from Caltech at age 20.  Though critics cannot dismiss him as a crackpot, many dislike his self-promotional style, and others deny the validity of his claims that “I have discovered vastly more than I ever thought possible, and in fact what I have now done touches almost every existing area of science, and quite a bit besides.”
    His theory of self-organization, similar to fractal theory, revolves around the properties of cellular automata, which are simple programs that generate complex output.  A small rule in an algorithm can have unexpected effects far exceeding what could have been predicted.  “Wolfram has spun off a lot of exhilarating ideas about where this new approach can lead,” reports Science News.  “For example, rather than needing Darwinian evolution to explain the complexity of living creatures.”

Passing fad, or “the closest thing to Newton in 350 years”?  We agree with Ray Kurzweil that “Wolfram seriously overstated the complexity that simple programs produce.  On the topic of living organisms, for instance, Kurzweil asserts that unless factors beyond simple rules are invoked, one can’t explain ‘insects or humans or Chopin preludes.’”
Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Fossil Beetle Leaves Color Imprint   08/18/2003
National Geographic reports on fossilized beetles in Germany that still have the iridescent colors of their shells plainly visible after 50 million years.  “This beetle and others from the same site, are very rare examples of fossils that retain any original color, and are the oldest colored fossils ever found,” the article states.  The color is not the result of pigment, but closely-spaced layers that intensify certain wavelengths like a film of oil on water.
The incredible part of this story is not the beetle, but the scientists, who have no stomach churning over the dating of these fossils.  That such delicate, ephemeral characteristics could survive without any modification for so long should cause one to question the obvious.  50 million years is a long time; so long, in fact, that the earth supposedly went through multiple upheavals, mountains were built, canyons eroded, whales evolved from land animals, and most species underwent major changes, according to the evolutionary story (even though these beetles look thoroughly modern.)  Humans were allegedly 45 million years or more in the future when these beetles were supposedly buried.
    We only know of about 7000 years of recorded history, history that was observed by humans who kept records.  If 7000 years were a foot, 50 million years would be 1.3 miles.  How can anyone be so dogmatic about unobserved history?  Why not question the dates?  The answer, of course, is that the theory of evolution depends on them.  Evolutionary geology and biology are locked in a deadly embrace that could well drown them both together.
Next headline on: Bugs. • Next headline on: Fossils.
Notable Nuggets   08/15/2003
Short topics from the news warranting further reading:
  • Newton Not a Newtonian:  If by Newtonian we mean someone who pictured the universe in mechanistic clockwork, then “He (Newton) of all people was no Newtonian.”  This from a review by Patricia Fara of a new book Isaac Newton by James Glieck (Pantheon, 2003), published in Science Aug 15.
    Like most people, Newton was a complex person.  His Principia reads like impeccable logic; why, then, the “apparently arcane obsessions” with “alchemy, Solomon’s temple, early Christian heresies” and other diversions?  Gleick feels they fed directly into his cosmological theories.  He probably does not have the last word on Newton.  From Newton’s own pen, however, it is clear he saw the universe as the grand masterwork of the Biblical God.
    Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
  • Sweeping On to the Grand Fallacy:  It takes chutzpah to describe 3 billion years of prehistory lacking human observers.  Guy M. Narbonne respects Andrew H. Knoll’s charge into the unknown in his review of the latter’s book Life on a Young Planet (Princeton, 2003), in the Aug. 15 issue of Science.  Knoll’s confidence of modern evolutionary biology having superseded Genesis is seen in his whimsical “naturalist’s Generations of Abraham: bacteria begat protozoans, protozoans begat invertebrates, invertebrates begat fishes, and the like.”
        To subscribe to this genealogy, one must face Darwin’s Dilemma, the Cambrian explosion.  Knoll, “not afraid to wade into the major controversies, nor ... afraid to use words like ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps’ where the evidence is not yet conclusive,” dives right in.  His view: “the survival of diverse eukaryotic lineages imply that ‘snowball Earth’ had a discontinuous ice cover with numerous marine refugia,” such that this and other “intervals of rapid environmental change caused temporary breakdowns of the established ecosystems with their harsh competition for resources and thereby permitted the new experiments of life [sic] that ultimately led to our modern world.”
    Since when are scientists congratulated for their imaginative use of creative bluffing?  There is no evidence for any of the story, and no way to observe it, either.  You can’t dismiss Darwin’s Dilemma by waving your arms and saying catastrophes happened so fast, they didn’t leave any fossil evidence.  What kind of weird-science philosophy makes environmental stress the Good Witch of the Gaps?  Good grief.
    Next headline on: Darwinism (and next item, below). • Next dumb story (and next item, below).
  • Squeezing Data Points Into the Theory:  Some Washington University biologists writing in Science Aug. 15, studied iguanas and found a surprise: four taxa “exhibit substantially different patterns of evolution.”  To normalize the discrepancies, they postulate an “inverse relationship between timing of diversification and morphological disparity within subclades,” which “may be a general feature that transcends the historically contingent properties of different evolutionary radiations.”  Translated, this means that all the change happens rapidly when species split into different groups, then they remain relatively unchanged for long periods.
    Ad hoc speculation is rife within evolutionary theory.  No data can possibly falsify it.  Welcome to the tolerant, diverse, inclusive Darwin Party where all data are welcome, as long as they agree to fit in.
  • Fatty Acids, Fatty Theories:  To get fatty acid synthesis to fit into the evolutionary tree of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Irish biologists invoke lateral gene transfer, adaptive evolution, and gene duplication.  Their paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy indicates they were surprised that “of the eight gene families examined, five of the phylogenies reconstructed suggest that the actinobacteria have a closer relationship with the alpha-proteobacteria than expected.  This is either due to an ancient transfer of genes or deep paralogy and subsequent retention of the genes in unrelated lineages” i.e., unrelated bacteria came up with the same genes in parallel.
        In conclusion, they say, “Fatty acid biosynthesis is likely a very ancient pathway.... It might seem likely that in a similar way to translation or replication, a mechanism of carrying out this function would have been invented [sic] early in evolution and the contemporary operation of this pathway would have remained largely unchanged.”  But they find significant changes, anomalies, and bottlenecks; of one key enzyme, they say “it is most unusual to think that it was invented [sic] late in evolution,” so maybe there has been significant turnover and replacement of genes with similar functions.  Of another gene, they visualize duplication followed by positive selection, concluding, “This is likely to be a kind of ‘tweaking’ of the mechanism of fatty acid synthesis, perhaps for improved functioning after major alterations of the pathway.”
    We just want readers to see that hand-waving and pantheism is alive and well in scientific journals.  Registered members of the Darwin Party get free passes to fantasyland.
    Next headline on: Origin of Life (also next story).
  • Life Building Blocks in Space: An international team found evidence in spectral lines for glycine, the simplest amino acid, in the cores of hot molecular clouds, strengthening, they feel, “the thesis that interstellar organic molecules could have played a pivotal role in the prebiotic chemistry of the early Earth” (paper in the Astrophysical Journal, Aug. 20.)
        In the Aug. 20 Astrophysical Journal Letters, another team experimented on the surviveability of nucleic acid bases (purines and pyrimidines) in the conditions of interstellar space.  They conclude that only adenine could survive for millions of years, if protected from UV in interstellar dust.  Gas-phase uracil and adenine are destroyed by UV light within hours.  (No evidence for interstellar bases have been found to date, with the exception of trace amounts in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.)
    Chemistry happens, and interesting molecules form in space; so what?  It’s not going to help the believers in naturalistic origin of life.  So they found glycine, the simplest and only non-chiral amino acid.  The biologists told the astronomers to look for life’s building blocks in space, because they were having such a hard time producing them on Earth.  They would need megatons of amino acids and nucleic acid bases to rain down on the Earth for any hope of getting successful concentrations, but then the precious cargo would be subject to rapid degradation by water, oxygen, UV light, and harmful cross-reactions.  Even then, they would be mixtures of left and right handed forms, with no desire nor power to organize themselves into astronomers who could invent weird science like this.
    Next headline on: Stars.
  • Honor Thy Gut Pardners:  Jian Xiu and Jeffrey Gordon have an interesting paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy preprints (Aug 15): “Honor thy symbionts.”  They talk about the trillions of bacteria we carry around, especially in the colon, that are mostly beneficial and help us digest our food.  “Our intestine is the site of an extraordinarily complex and dynamic environmentally transmitted consortial symbiosis,” they write, that is only beginning to be understood. 
  • Natural Cancer Fighter:  A paper in the Aug 14 issue of Nature explores the finding that one of the histone proteins, “best known for their structural role in packaging DNA into a compact form,” is also a cancer suppressor.  H2AX, it is named, apparently prevents runaway duplication when there is a double-stranded break in the DNA.  Mice with defective H2AX are more subject to cancerous tumors.  Histones are amazing for their involvement in packing nearly 2 meters of DNA into the tiny volume inside a cell nucleus, and also for their role in regulating DNA expression – the “histone code” (see Nov. 4 headline).
Next headline on: Human Body. • Next headline on: Health.

Bridging the Canyon: Conceptual Scaffolds for Origin of Life   08/15/2003
The gulf between a soup of chemicals and a living organism is perhaps the evolutionist’s biggest obstacle in the obstacle course from Big Bang to man.  Two recent papers try to lay some hypothetical scaffolding across the gulf.
    I.  A paper this week in the online preprints of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Christopher Francklyn (Univ. of Vermont), attempts to find ancestors to the aminoacyl tRNA synthetases (see July 21 and June 9 headlines).  In “tRNA synthetase paralogs: Evolutionary links in the transition from tRNA-dependent amino acid biosynthesis to de novo biosynthesis,” Francklyn first marvels at the “fidelity of translation” achieved in cells by virtue of three independent error-checking procedures; “Collectively,” he notes, “these processes ensure that the error frequency does not exceed, on average, ~0.03%, and that the overall rate of protein synthesis is not unduly compromised.”  How could such a tightly-coupled system evolve?
    “Although the components of the translational apparatus are highly conserved,” he grants, “the biosynthetic machinery responsible for producing the amino acid precursors to proteins is tremendously diverse, and the capability to produce all 20 canonical standard amino acids is not universal.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)  It is this diversity that provides the anchor for his conceptual scaffold: “This apparent contradiction presents a significant challenge to untangling the connection between amino acid and protein synthesis, but clarity is gradually beginning to emerge,” he believes.  He builds his case on several observations: (1) There are look-alikes to some aaRS members that lack the codon recognition domain, yet serve other functions; (2) some archaeal organisms build amino acids by indirect methods instead of with aaRS; (3) Contemporary organisms have three pathways, that appear functionally equivalent, for synthesizing some amino acids, such as asparagine.
    With these observations, Francklyn speculates that indirect pathways evolved first, and that the pathways have evolved at different rates.  He finds some support in genes that he thinks show the transition from indirect to direct pathways.  In closing, he confesses, “Ultimately, any model that seeks to address the origin of the aminoacylation system must confront the inherent paradox that protein-based machinery is required to synthesize proteins.”  At this point, he leans for support on the RNA world scenario, which he feels is “not far fetched,” because scientists have been able to select RNAs that can aminoacylate themselves and tRNAs, and the role of small RNAs in cellular controls has been a growing realization among biochemists.  “Arguably,” he concludes, “such molecules could be the contemporary descendents of early RNAs that transformed amino acids on their tRNAs scaffolds, in a process that anticipated [sic] the rich diversity of extant metabolism.”

Science is not supposed to be guesswork.  There is nothing in this tall tale that warrants it being included in a scientific journal; it is only truth-stretching motivated by the desire to support naturalistic cosmology.  The fact is, each of the observed molecules is functional and processive: the rest of the story is inference and hand-waving.  Francklyn speculates out of thin air about different rates of evolution for different genes in different kingdoms, based on a prior assumption of evolution.  He puts indirect and direct pathways into a purely hypothetical ancestry.  He invokes the RNA World scenario, which is riddled with serious problems, to whitewash the cracks in the supporting beams of his story.  He says scientists have been able to select RNAs for function, confusing artificial selection (intelligent design) with mindless natural selection (inoperative prior to reproduction, anyway.)  He admits the existing aaRS system requires proteins to build proteins.  He admits the system in the simplest living cells of all three kingdoms of life is extremely accurate and highly conserved.
    If you mentally erase the evolutionary-based conceptual scaffold and look at the remaining hard facts, they do not of themselves generate a bridge across the canyon; quite the opposite.  The observations reveal a highly-accurate, exquisitely designed system of multiple interacting parts that is a serious challenge to explain without intelligence.  A series of loosely-strung maybes does not cut it in science.  Wherever Francklyn needs something to happen according to the script, he uses the favorite evolutionary euphemism for miracle: it “emerged.”  Remove the a priori commitment to naturalistic philosophy, and stories like this are revealed for the materialistic fairy tales they are.
II.  In cells, amino acids join into polypeptides like proteins and enzymes (a building up process, or anabolism), and polypeptides break down into amino acids (a tearing down process, or catabolism).  This is all controlled by sophisticated machines – ribosomes and proteasomes, under the control of DNA.  Getting amino acids to join via peptide bonds requires energy.  Biochemists have to go through multiple detailed steps to build polypeptides, and even then, achieve only very low yields.  The longer the chain, the lower the yield.  But ribosomes build them quickly, accurately, efficiently, and productively.  How could such a peptide synthesis and degradation system evolve?
    A German team has approached the problem in the journal Science Aug. 15, with a paper entitled, “A Possible Primordial Peptide Cycle.”  Building on previous work (Huber and Wachtershauser, Science, 1998) in which they demonstrated that peptide bonds can form under “hot aqueous conditions in the presence of freshly coprecipitated colloidal (Fe,Ni)S,”  they now have completed the cycle by degrading hydantoin and urea derivatives to their amino acid building blocks in the same environment.  The experiment required carbon monoxide (CO), which had to have its pH stabilized with Mg(OH)2, and various intermediate compounds.
    Since both the anabolic and catabolic processes can thus occur concomitantly in the same environment, they feel “The results support the theory of a chemoautotrophic origin of life with a CO-driven, (Fe,Ni)S-dependent primordial metabolism,”  presumably “in the presence of CO-laden volcanic exhalations.”  They needed to demonstrate the catabolic side of the cycle “for preventing the cellular metabolism from being choked by peptides.”  Therefore, “We suggest that the primordial peptide cycle may have continued to function until the onset of cellularization.
    Given a primordial peptide cycle, they wax somewhat prosaic about the possibilities:
Because the constituents of the primordial peptide cycle [sic] are continuously formed and degraded, they form a dynamic chemical library that scans the space of structural possibilities.  This library [sic] may well have been self-selecting, because the constituents may be differentially stabilized by bonding as ligands to transition-metal centers, and early evolution may be seen [sic] as proceeding by positive ligand feedback into the catalytic transitionmetal centers of the metabolism.
Not only that, some nucleic acid precursors might be thrown in for free as a package deal:
The hydantoin derivative resulting from a glycylpeptide is related to the imidazol ring of uric acid.  This opens a surprise connection between the origin of peptides and a possible origin of purines, which by extension would support the notion of a coevolution of peptides (proteins) and nucleic acids.  The demonstrated hydrolysis of the hydantoin derivative with (Fe,Ni)S may be seen as the evolutionary precursor of the reaction of hydantoinase, a metal-dependent enzyme.  The demonstrated hydrolysis of the urea derivative with (Fe,Ni)S may be seen as the evolutionary precursor of the reaction of the Ni-enzyme urease.  If this notion is correct, these enzymes and their metal dependence may well be extant echoes from the distant past of life.
The products of their experiments, however, were racemized; they reverted to mixtures of left- and right-handed amino acids.  (Proteins in cells only uses the left-handed form, and the sugars in nucleic acids use only the right-handed form.)  They offer no hypothesis for how the first life selected a 100% one-handed form; the earlier paper only speculates that homochirality (one-handedness) is only important for longer chains.  In the 1998 paper, they only achieved two- and three-link chains, and these tended to hydrolyze much more rapidly than they formed.
This paper is 90% bluff and 10% science.  It is a tornado of hot air sweeping up a few pebbles of fact.  The actual experimental results are so minuscule, compared to the assumptions and ad-hoc parameters they require, as to make the story laughable.  What did they achieve?  Just a few mixed-handed dipeptides or tripeptides, totally irrelevant to life, that broke down rapidly.  Even this pitiful result required all kinds of assumptions and volcanic heat and jerry-rigging to get it to work.  Did they explain the origin of homochirality?  No.  Did they actually get purines?  No.  Did they get proteins?  No.  Did they get “libraries” of material?  No.  (As if a library of random letters is a library at all.)  Did they get metals to join the party and invent enzymes?  No.  Did they demonstrate that out of the astronomically vast “space of structural possibilities” anything useful would be selected?  No.  This paper is a total joke, yet Science glibly printed it.  Anything this silly by a non-evolutionist would have been sent to the circular file faster than a paper airplane can fly.  It is only because it subscribes to the reigning materialistic paradigm that such balderdash gets a hearing.
    Though it helps, one does not need an education in biochemistry to see through the bluff and fluff in papers like this.  All you need to do is count the maybes.  Count up the words may, might, possibly, maybe, perhaps, putative, suggests, notion, and all the other storytelling words, and compare them with the hard facts where they actually observed or measured something.  Next, take your red pen and cross out all the propaganda words that embed their evolutionary assumptions into the terms: words like primordial, primitive, precursor, emergence, and ancestor.  Also, redline the passives and subjunctives that try to gently tiptoe around the “who” behind the miracles (did you catch this one: “We suggest [BUZZ} that the primordial [BUZZ] peptide cycle may [BUZZ] have continued to function [BUZZ] until after the onset of cellularization [SIREN].)
    Finally, become thoroughly familiar with two fundamental logical principles that rest on rock-solid observation: (1) Inanimate objects do not think (see the fallacy of personification), and (2) Complex specified information only comes from intelligence.  Once you graduate from this school of baloney detecting, you can expose the evolutionary quacks as religious fanatics, pushing their materialistic philosophy on the world with sleight-of-hand magic tricks that look scientific to the uninformed.  Instead of being bedazzled by the show, you will boo and demand your money back.  The rest of the audience will look surprised at your reaction; they might even ask you how the trick was done.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Origin of Life. • Next dumb story.
Cosmologists Consider Another Fundamental Cosmic Entity: Information   08/14/2003
Scientific American is not usually one to grant anything higher than
disdain to ideas of creation or intelligent design, but a feature article in the August issue may have handed a skeleton key to the anti-materialists, at least.  Jacob D. Bekenstein, author of “Information in the Holographic Universe,” explores the question whether physicists have been overlooking something before now.  His opening paragraph sounds like something that might have been written by Stephen Meyer or A. E. Wilder-Smith:
Ask anybody what the physical world is made of, and you are likely to be told “matter and energy.”

Yet if we have learned anything from engineering, biology and physics, information is just as crucial an ingredient.  The robot at the automobile factory is supplied with metal and plastic but can make nothing useful without copious instructions telling it which part to weld to what and so on.  A ribosome in a cell in your body is supplied with amino acid building blocks and is powered by energy released by the conversion of ATP to ADP, but it can synthesize no proteins without the information brought to it from the DNA in the cell’s nucleus.  Likewise, a century of developments in physics has taught us that information is a crucial player in physical systems and processes.  Indeed, a current trend, initiated by John A. Wheeler of Princeton University, is to regard the physical world as made of information, with energy and matter as incidentals.

The six-page article delves into the meanings of information and entropy, and how they might be measured for the universe as a whole.  “Theoretical results about black holes suggest that the universe could be like a gigantic hologram,”  the subtitle states.
    Gregory J. Rummo, a Christian who studied classical thermodynamics at the graduate level in the usual materialistic way, is stunned at this revelation.  Writing for Opinion Editorials.com, he thinks the cosmologists have stumbled onto a millennia-old Biblical truth, that of John 1:1, that states, in the beginning was the Word.  Bekenstein would probably not take his cues from a Biblical text, yet there seems to be a convergence of sorts in his concluding line, “the vision of information as the stuff the world is made of will have found a worthy embodiment.”
Wheeler and Bekenstein and the others quoted in the story are surely not intending to support Christian or Biblical cosmology; many of the ideas expressed are highly theoretical and almost bizarre.  Yet to admit that information might be a necessary parameter to describe the universe is a highly significant development.  The trick is to define information, and to explicate its sources.  Recall how Jack Szostak recently tried to get a grip on the information content of proteins, with his definition of functional information (see June 12 headline, and Benton Clark defined life in terms of embedded instructions (see Dec 30 headline).  Philosophers and mathematicians in the Intelligent Design movement, like Stephen Meyer and William Dembski, have attempted to define information in a rigorous way.  Will our common sense notion (which Dembski mathematically supports) that complex specified information always has an intelligent cause become a necessary logical premise for thinkers like Wheeler?  If so, the materialists who rule evolutionary biology are going to be caught between a rock (I.D.) and a hard place (physics).
    Though no Christian theist by any means, John Wheeler, to his credit, does ponder the wonder of things.  In a foreword to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by Barrow and Tipler (Oxford, 1986), he said,
In the mind of every thinking person there is set aside a special room, a museum of wonders.  Every time we enter that museum we find our attention gripped by marvel number one, this strange universe, in which we live and move and have our being.
Here he alluded to a Biblical phrase from Acts 17, in which Paul was attempting to reason with the Greeks about their “unknown god,” whom he reasoned from the evidence of creation and the resurrection of Christ was “the God who made all things.”
    The late Dr.-Dr.-Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith often spoke of evolutionary cosmology as being deficient, in that its equation was incomplete: matter + energy + time could not give rise to our living world without adding another parameter, information.  More recently, information theorist Dr. Werner Gitt has written a book on this, In the Beginning Was Information.  If secular cosmology gets hold of this principle, that information is one of the fundamental parameters of the universe, it is going to be a very interesting 21st century on Mars Hill.
    Follow-up questions: does information have a source, or is it eternally self-existent?  Can information exist without intelligence?  If so, how could it arise from nothing?  Can intelligence be impersonal?  If so, how could personality arise from the impersonal?  If a personal intelligence exists, did it create life?  If it created life, did that Person attempt to communicate with us?  If there is a revelation, how would one distinguish between the true and the false?  These are important questions, which the Apostle Paul would have eagerly explored while addressing the primed audience of intellectuals, “The One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.”
Next headline on: Cosmology. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Beautiful: The Maximum Output from Minimal Cells   08/13/2003
Dry science journals do not often talk about beauty, but Donald A. Bryant (Penn State) entitled his Commentary in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online preprints, 08/13/03), “The beauty in small things revealed.”  There is a tiny, minimalist cyanobacterium in the oceans that is so plentiful in numbers, it and one other species might account for as much as two-thirds the total CO2 fixation in the oceans, and one-third the primary biomass production on earth.  This makes it a key player in the global carbon cycle.  “The contribution of marine photosynthesis to the global carbon cycle was grossly underestimated until recently,” Bryant comments.  “...As every microbiologist inherently knows, little things can be the cause of much greater things that are often of utmost importance, and this is especially true of phytoplankton.”  Yet this key player was only discovered 15 years ago.
    Bryant refers to another paper in the same issue of PNAS by Dufresne et al., who sequenced the genome of this organism named Prochlorococcus marinus.  They found it to be very near the theoretical lower limit in size for an autotrophic (self-feeding) photosynthetic organism, one ten-millionth of a cubic meter.  “Because of its remarkable compactness,” they write, “the genome of P. marinus SS120 might approximate the minimal gene complement of a photosynthetic organism.”  Some of its systems – DNA repair, chaperones, transport systems, motility, and nitrogen metabolism among them – are scaled down from other, larger bacterial cells.  It also lacks duplicate genes for photosystem II components (although it has the complete set).  But it has enough genetic information and synthetic machinery to make all its own nutrients with sunlight.  This is a non-trivial toolkit: “it must have the ability to synthesize all cellular constituents, including amino acids, nucleotides, coenzymes, etc. from CO2 and mineral salts.”  The small size of Prochlorococcus also has the advantage of a greater surface-to-volume ratio, less self-shading, and more efficient light capture.  “Being minimalistic,” Bryant says, “does not necessarily mean that Prochlorococcus sp. is less competitive.”  The little cells can diversify and adapt well.  “Yes,” he concludes, “small things can be simple and yet highly successful on a global scale.”  There is a lay summary of the article on Nature Science Update by John Whitfield.
Simple needs to be qualified.  This little cell, near the lower limit of size for a self-replicating, free-living organism, has 1,884 open reading frames (ORFs) in its genome, of which at least “67% have assigned functions or are conserved hypothetical proteins (21%)”  (i.e., functions we know about).  Because the organism is photosynthetic, “it must encode all the proteins required for oxygenic photosynthesis, including the biosynthesis of chlorophyll, carotenoids, quinones, heme, the photosynthetic electron transport chain and light-harvesting proteins, and the Calvin cycle,” Bryant lists.  Besides what is known, there are 231 ORFs that don’t match any in the biochemistry databases of known proteins.  These ORFans, as they are called, presumably are unique to this species.  This is part of a big problem for Darwinists to explain (see Jan. 2 headline).  The authors make no effort to explain how these species evolved from simpler organisms; on the contrary, they speculate that they must have devolved from larger photosynthetic bacteria on their way to the minimalist packaging contest.
    But is not minimalization a further evidence of design?  When Dick Rutan flew around the world without refueling in 1986, he exhibited superb engineering.  He had to get his aircraft down to the bare minimum.  That took considerable skill in evaluating mass-to-function ratios, knowledge of materials and fuels, and judgment in evaluating essentials such that a minimalist craft could endure the rigors of long-distance flight.  Intel tries to pack more computing power into less space.  In many cases, minimalization is more a mark of design than bulk.  Remember Pascal’s quip, “This letter is longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.”
    The authors of these papers leave unanswered, again, the question of how genetic instructions arose in the simplest living organisms.  Each one of the functions this little cell performs is marvelously exquisite and astonishingly complex.  No comparable complexity tied to function is exhibited in the minerals and foam surrounding Prochlorococcus.  Up to a third of the oxygen you breathe came from your little allies in the ocean.  Draw some logical conclusions.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next amazing story.
Titan’s Ice Baths of Life   08/12/2003
Titan, the large haze-shrouded icy moon of Saturn, has undoubtedly gotten some big wallops during its history.  Although we cannot discern much detail on the surface until the
Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrives next year, scientists have tried to characterize what might exist on the surface, given the chemistry known from spectral analysis of the atmosphere.  Planetary scientists have supposed that a chemical rain of organic compounds should blanket the moon, although recently they were surprised to discern through the clouds large expanses of water-ice bedrock (see April 25 headline).  Though the surface is icy (nearly -300° F.), an impactor could bring in a lot of kinetic energy that would be dissipated as heat.  This could melt the ice, but for how long?  Could an impact form a temporary “warm little pond” on this moon, enriched with organic compounds, that might endure long enough to be an incubator for life?
    Natalia Artemieva and Jonathan Lunine think just perhaps.  They calculated the energy of impactors at different angles and deduced what might remain.  Though forward of an oblique impact would be devastating, they figure: “While much of the organic surface layer is heavily shocked and ejected from the immediate region of the crater, a significant fraction located behind the oblique impact trajectory is only lightly shocked and is deposited in the liquid water at the crater base.  Simple calculations suggest that the resulting aqueous organic phase may remain liquid for hundreds of years or longer, enough time for the synthesis of simple precursor molecules to the origin of life” (emphasis added).  They figure a non-negligible portion of the surface of Titan might have experienced these transient vernal pools, protected under skins of ice, in which interesting chemistry might occur: the formation of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), and perhaps purines and pyrimidines (the building blocks of DNA and RNA).  Their results are published in this month’s planetary journal Icarus.  A related article was posted 8/14 on Space.Com.
Notice they did not say life, but only simple precursor molecules (otherwise we would have had to classify this headline under the category Dumb).  But even this is very misleading.  Is iron ore a precursor to a space shuttle?  Are Scrabble letters scattered at random a precursor to a play?  Are wind chimes a precursor to a symphony?  Jonathan Lunine should know better.  He is a top planetary scientist with an intimate knowledge of the biochemistry of life.  He has said that evolutionists face extremely daunting challenges understanding the origin of life on earth, and has had to reckon with some of those challenges getting from the “precursors” to a real curser like Yosemite Sam, or even to a hypothetical replicating cell.
    Some of those extremely daunting challenges are getting single-handed molecules out of random mixes, keeping harmful molecules (like oxidants) away, getting the necessary molecules in contact, and especially, originating the genetic code.  These are each so extremely daunting as to be falsifying to chemical evolution.  (Read our online book for logical proof.)  Hundreds of years?  Ha!  Googols of times the assumed age of the universe would not be enough to get even one functional protein.  Chemical evolutionists assume “building blocks” can build themselves up into computers without help, from precursors to cursors, from prebiotic to biotic, in one continuous chain.  They speak of genetic information but always just assume that information will “emerge” out of physical law and randomness.  This is not science; there is no observation to support such a belief; it is a fairy tale for grownups.  It emerges out of a pantheistic world view pretending to be naturalistic.
    To call any resulting carbon-based molecules “prebiotic” embeds evolutionary assumptions into the words, and influences the reader to think incorrectly that such an experiment is relevant to the origin of life.  Scientifically, all one could say is that some complex carbon compounds might be produced, and name which ones.  The experiment they didn’t perform can be done in your kitchen (but we don’t suggest you try it):  Pour motor oil on ice cubes in the freezer and shoot it with bullets.  Time the reactions with a stopwatch and see how long it takes for something to crawl out and say, “Just what in tarnation do ya think yore doin, you !@&Z#X*%@ wascally wabbit!”
Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Comet/Asteroid Views Evolve   08/12/2003
We have been told for decades that comets are the most pristine objects in the solar system, kept in deep freeze since its origin.  That view has “evolved,” says
Southwest Research Institute, because astronomers have become aware of processes that can modify them over time.  Also, methods of classifying comets and asteroids need modification, claims the Royal Astronomical Society.  Categorizing them as Centaurs, Kuiper-Belt Objects, long- and short-period comets, etc. is misleading, because there are hybrid objects and no clear divisions in some cases.
The point is that science is always changing.  How many planetarium shows or science TV programs have you heard that made the claim that comets are pristine objects, unmodified for 4.6 billion years?  That they give us glimpses into the earliest state of the solar nebula before the planets formed?  We’ve seen some radical rewriting of solar system formation theories recently.  What commonly-accepted truths are being spouted today that are in for radical revision tomorrow?  Darwinian evolution, maybe?
Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Web or Tree: The Phylogeny Wars   08/11/2003
The evolutionary tree was hit with a plague of webs when Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) was discovered.  How widespread is the practice of sharing genes between organisms?  If ubiquitous, that makes it very difficult to reconstruct hypothetical ancestral trees, because the trees look more and more like giant webs instead.  Two recent papers take sides on the debate.
    In the Aug. 5 issue of
Current Biology, R. Thane Papke and W. Ford Doolittle examine “Phage evolution: New worlds of genomic diversity.”  They review recent evidence that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) comprise the most numerous and diverse genomes on earth, and conclude that HGT (also called lateral gene transfer) may be the most significant factor driving evolution.  For those studying phages and their prokaryotic hosts, they draw three important lessons (emphasis added in all quotes):
First, that phages provide a vast community of exchangeable genes which overlaps that of their hosts, and may drive its evolution.  Second, collections of phage genomes, such as the one described here, may provide invaluable data sets for building theoretical models which see evolution’s pattern as a web, not a tree, and seek to measure the relative importance of lateral versus vertical inheritance.  Third, these phages may also be telling us something important about the process of genome evolution through exchange.
Whoa there, say C. G. Kurland, B. Canback, and Otto G. Berg in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  In a commentary entitled, “Horizontal gene transfer: A critical view,” they call such claims exaggerated.  They assert that HGT only functions significantly among primitive organisms and does not impact standard evolutionary tree-building.  Ribosomal RNA phylogeny, in particular, seems safe from HGT, and there are “selective barriers” that constrain both the ranges and frequencies of HGT, especially among higher organisms.  They conclude, “All in all, the available data suggest that rRNA-based phylogeny is robust and that Darwinian lineages are the essence of phylogeny.”
    Yet a paper in Nature last month (see July 10 headline) claims the HGT discovered in higher organisms so far may just be the tip of a large iceberg.
If the first paper is right, and if the history of life is a web, not a tree, then Darwin’s one and only illustration in The Origin, that of a branching tree of life, passes off into the history books as a myth.  It is essential, therefore, that evolutionists protect their tree of life with flaming swords.
    Add to this controversy another back room brawl that shows no sign of abating, despite heroic peacekeeping efforts: the war between molecular phylogenists and morphologists.  The din is kept behind closed doors so the public doesn’t hear it.  The same warriors show up at school board meetings, all dusted off and showered and combed, sitting beside ACLU lawyers, and testify, “Why yes, evolution is an obvious fact, and it is lunacy to say otherwise; we would have to overthrow everything we know about science to doubt evolution, the central unifying principle of biology, and anyone who disagrees is stupid or insane or wicked, and obviously trying to push a religious agenda.  Can I go now?  Those dadburn rascals on the other side of the feud just shot down my paper and I’m going to get even.”
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
On Hang-Gliding Cannibals   08/11/2003
“While we may be adept at hang-gliding, the genes that make us so were unquestionably not shaped by selection against individuals who hang-glided unsuccessfully in our evolutionary past.”  This truism is brought to you by John F. Y. Brookfield (University of Nottingham), in the Aug. 5 issue of
Current Biology.  But he is no anti-Darwinist; he is just a realist about the difficulty of inferring unseen causes to explain present effects.  But he feels another, different method can infer the past from the genes, and he uses it to uncover possible evidence of widespread cannibalism among our apelike ancestors.
    Brookfield admits it is very difficult to infer what role natural selection played in human evolution:
One of the most challenging questions about humans is to know [sic] the extent to which natural selection operating in our prehistoric ancestry has shaped our present phenotypes and behaviours.  Evolutionary psychology tries to explain human behaviour in terms of the selective advantage conferred by individual behavioural traits.  This approach falls into the biological tradition of trying to explain aspects of an organism’s phenotype through the fitness advantage that the phenotype generates.  With humans, however, the explanation of behaviour in adaptive terms is more difficult than in other species, as the societies in which we live today are immeasurably different from those in which our gene pool evolved. [sic]  While we may be adept at hang-gliding, the genes that make us so were unquestionably not shaped by selection against individuals who hang-glided unsuccessfully in our evolutionary past.

For this reason, selective explanations of human behaviour cannot be judged on the basis of the consequences of the behaviour for modern humans, but only in terms of whether the genes responsible would have been favoured by selection during the prehistoric eras when our genome evolved [sic].  For this reason, many have speculated about the ‘environment of evolutionary adaptedness’, the hypothetical Pleistocene environment to which our genes were adapted by selection.  While some insights into our lifestyle during the time of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness can be gleaned from studies of hunter-gatherers living today, and from the archaeological record, this can never be known with certainty.  This is obviously a problem for the adaptive interpretation of human behaviour, as it is very easy to hypothesize selection having operated on any arbitrary behaviour by making appropriate guesses about the nature of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness.

    (Emphasis added in all quotes.)  So how can he turn around and suggest there were cannibals in our past?  Aha, glad you asked:
There is, however, a completely different, and complementary, approach to discovering the lifestyle of our ancestors – one which starts with the identification of selection, and moves from this to inference about lifestyle.  The idea is to identify genetic variability with known fitness consequences in present-day populations, and to use the patterns of variability to infer something about selection in the past.  Then inferences can be drawn about the lifestyle that would have been necessary for such selection to have operated.
From this heuristic approach, he looks at an example, a “remarkable new study” of Britons suffering from Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, which is caused by a prion protein.  Subjects homozygous for the mutation are vulnerable, but those with apparent “heterozygote advantage” appear resistant.  Switch scenes to Papua New Guinea, where a tribe that engages in “systematic consumption of diseased relatives at mortuary feasts” also appears to have heterozygotic resistance to kuru, another prion disease.  He puts two and two together to infer that Britons had cannibal ancestors in their distant evolutionary past.  But, he cautions, “Clearly, the situation is not entirely clear-cut,” because one would expect less frequency of the common homozygous vulnerability if selection had been acting for hundreds of thousands of years.  There are other caveats:
In studies like this, the identification of selection comes from a comparison of frequencies of variant alleles with predictions of the standard neutral model — which makes many assumptions, a critical one being that there is no population subdivision.  With population subdivision, predictions should be modified, but it is hard to know how to do this without independent evidence of the migrations and gene flow in our ancestry.

Furthermore, with population substructure, sampling strategy becomes very important.  Imagine a population that consists of twenty fairly reproductively isolated subpopulations created simultaneously at a time more than N generations ago, where N is the effective population size.  Now, suppose that we sampled 20 alleles of our favourite gene from this population.  Our inferences about selection will almost certainly depend on our sampling strategy.  If our sample is of one allele from each of the twenty populations, almost all variants will be seen only once in the sample, and we will conclude that we are seeing the ‘signature’ of a selective sweep created by an adaptive substitution.  If, however, we choose to sample ten alleles from each of two populations, most variants will be at intermediate frequencies, and we will identify a history of balancing selection.

Brookfield leaves it at that, as if we are left hang gliding without a landing strip.  His Dispatch is entitled, “Human evolution: a legacy of cannibalism in our genes?” (question mark in the original).
Anybody who assumes evolution is a fact and all other points of view are faith-based should listen to evolutionists talking to each other in the back rooms of science journals.  What Brookfield has done is shoot down one storytelling method and replace it with another.  Look at how he admitted that the storytelling method of evolutionary psychologists is hopelessly dependent on assumptions, is speculative, and can never be known for sure.  But is his “completely different, and complementary approach” any better?  No, and he admits that, too.  It is “not entirely clear-cut,” it yields “surprising” results, and “makes many assumptions,” including the one that there was no population subdivision.  And depending on the sampling method, it can yield opposite results.  Worse, it is circular: it “starts with the identification of selection...,” i.e., you have to already believe evolutionary theory before you start tweaking the data to make it fit evolution.
    Evolutionary theory is only rock solid in the high school biology textbooks where mush-headed students raised on MTV don’t have the critical thinking skills and skeptical minds to know the difference between baloney and fact.  For the few who read the journals, and are not distracted by the wee bits of data tossed about like red herrings, they see what a playpen for storytellers it really is, where every participant wears the uniform: Guess Genes.
Next headline on: Early Man. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Evolution of the Darwin Fish   08/09/2003
For many years, Ichthyostega was the missing link between fish and four-footed land dwellers (tetrapods).  When Jennifer Clack discovered Acanthostega in 1991, it “changed this conception entirely,” says Neil H. Shubin in a review of Clack’s new book Gaining Ground, in
Science Aug 8, 2003:
How do major shifts in evolution happen?  What is the way in which new designs and functions emerge [sic] over time?  Big transitions, like the origin of flight or the invasion of land, involve the evolution of new structures, functions, and ecological interactions.  Our understanding [sic] of the significant jumps in evolution has depended on a few relatively well-known intervals in the history of life.  The origin of tetrapods has been one of those exemplars, and in Gaining Ground Jennifer Clack provides a fresh look at this key evolutionary event.
(Emphasis added in all quotes).  Acanthostega had both gills and five-digit appendages.  According to Rubin, this set off a chain of discoveries around the world of putative missing links between sea-dwellers and land-dwellers.  Problems remain, however:
  • Shubin speaks of the “new material that revealed that the current view of tetrapod origins was wrong in several important ways.”  For instance, “the origin of tetrapods was not necessarily linked to the invasion of land.”
  • Of Acanthostega, he says, “Surprisingly, this primitive [sic] tetrapod retains a remarkable suite of aquatic adaptations, such as gills and flipper-like limbs.  These adaptations imply that fingers and toes first appeared [sic] in the paddle of an aquatic organism rather than in the hand or foot of a more terrestrial one.”  Yet digits appear in the flippers of aquatic mammals, and they are not presumed to be intermediates on the way to becoming land creatures, but quite the opposite.
  • “Another big surprise came when Acanthostega and Ichthyostega were studied phylogenetically.”  It suggested more diversity than a simple monophyletic lineage between water and land.  Since then, a number of fossils have been found all over the world adapted to “different degrees of terrestriality.”  This “fossil bonanza has created a more complex view of what was formerly seen as a simple transformation.”
  • Placing these fossils in relation to a phylogenetic tree is challenging, because “Descriptions of the osteological changes along the fish-to-tetrapod transition are relatively complicated because living taxa often lack comparable structures.”
We’ll let Shubin, an enthusiastic evolutionist, summarize the State of the Sea-Land Evolutionary Transition:
Where does Gaining Ground leave us?  New fossils, new phylogenetic hypotheses, and new discoveries from developmental genetics have exposed the complexity involved with the origin of novel taxa.  This complexity tells us much about how evolution works [sic].  As Clack demonstrates in the book, the tetrapod limb provides a major example of such evolutionary transformations.  The simple view would hold that the origin of tetrapods is associated with the invasion of land by vertebrates, the transformation of fins into limbs, and the origin of the first fingers and toes.  Clack shows that the relation among these three aspects is loose at best: primitive tetrapods are aquatic, primitive limbs can be very flipper-like, and digit-like structures appear in parallel in at least one other lineage of Devonian fish.  Indeed, transitional taxa are often mélanges of structures, genes, and functions seen in a variety of different primitive groups.  These mélanges are the result [sic] of parallel evolution and the disparate patterns of ecological and anatomical change.  The features that characterize important new groups often arise in several different primitive species independently.  In addition, major anatomical shifts can precede ecological ones.  In the case of tetrapods, key features evolved in fish living in aquatic ecosystems, and only later were they used to exploit terrestrial environments.  There are general lessons to be gleaned from this new view of tetrapod origins: the complex relation among parallel evolution, ecological change, and evolutionary diversification is likely to pertain to other evolutionary transitions as well.
Details on the book: Gaining Ground: The Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods by Jennifer A. Clack, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 2002.
What view do high school science students get?  The simple view.  The outdated view.  The wrong view.  Students are still being told about many simple, outdated, wrong views about the fossil record, the origin of life, natural selection and Darwin’s imaginary tree of life, as reported last month by Discovery Institute.  Here is another perfect example.  How many of you remember your high school biology textbook with a cartoon of a fish walking up onto the land?  That’s all it was – a cartoon.  It was Frank & Ernest material, unfit for the science lab.  (Now the cartoon has evolved into that occasional rear-bumper icon, the Darwin Fish.  Next time you see one, give the driver the URL to this story.)
    Jennifer Clack was one of the heroines in the PBS TV series Evolution.  In episode two, “Great Transformations” (in which Shubin also appeared), she showed off her prize fossil, while the series gave the impression here was a clear example of an evolutionary transitional form.  Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric.  Shubin is our hostile witness.
    We give an extended, uncut quote to avoid the common canard that critics of evolution quote out of context.  Shubin is clearly a staunch believer in evolution.  That makes his points all the more damaging to his beliefs.  It’s as if an Olympic coach admitted his team took illegal drugs, but it was OK, because everyone else did.  Rather than thinking this disqualifies the whole Olympics, he thinks his comeback makes the games better than ever.
    Notice how Shubin has just undermined the credibility of Darwinian evolution in this key event, this major shift in evolution as he labels it.  He starts out by asking how these transitions occur.  Asking the question implies that evolutionists don’t really know, a conclusion borne out by the rest of the review.  The tale hinges on relatively few well-known intervals, he says, of which the transition to land is one of the biggest and most well known.  Then he admits the old view is wrong!  New structures “emerge” (there’s that miracle word again) without regard to function.
    Why would a sea creature, living happily in the water, develop five-digit limbs if not to crawl out on the land?  Why not ask it if it wants to?  It apparently was happy where it was.  Have we learned nothing from Coelacanth?  That famous fossil was supposedly evolving bony fins to support its weight on land, but is still doing just fine deep in the sea (a living fossil, once thought extinct since the dinosaurs).  It is found today swimming in upright positions feeding on the bottom, ostensibly with no desire to evolve into a salamander.  The same could be said for these extinct Devonian critters.  Only evolutionary belief puts them into a transition to tetrapods.
    Furthermore, consider these revelations by Shubin:
  • The characteristics appear abruptly.
  • They appear in parallel.  Darwin’s tree is not supposed to have parallel lines.  This multiplies the already near-miraculous improbabilities to have separate groups develop the same structures and functions simultaneously.
  • The structures and functions have no clear relationship to one another, nor to the ecology.
  • Many of the structures are not found in living counterparts, so their functions are inferred.
  • Acanthostega has “a remarkable suite of aquatic adaptations.”  Evolutionary theory is supposed to explain adaptation, not assume it to be the product of evolution (circular reasoning).
  • Transitional forms (a term that embeds Darwinian assumptions into the very words) are described as mélanges of structures, genes, and functions, i.e., mosaics of characteristics that do not sort easily into evolutionary lineages.  (Mélange, n.: “a mixture of incongruous elements.”)
  • The “simple view” of the “few relatively well-known” intervals involving major transformations is wrong.  This view has been taught for decades, since at least 1928 with the discovery of Ichthyostega, long showcased as a classic example of a major evolutionary transformation.  Where is the retraction in the high school biology textbooks?
  • “Major anatomical shifts can precede ecological ones,“ he says.  In other words, fish evolved the complexities of digitized limbs before they realized they could use them as feet on land.  So much for classical Darwinian theory.  This means that Acanthostega either had to simultaneously evolve digitized paddles and the muscles, brain cells, nerves, developmental pathways and know-how to use them, or else all of the above were freaks, as useless as tumors, that stayed around (leaving no fossil record) and were not eliminated by natural selection until their separate uselessnesses combined into a useful, functional, coordinated limb system that, without design, was later exploited by descendents as feet.
    “Well I’ll, be darned, Grandpa Acan, did you know I could use these things to walk on the land?  Gasp!  I can’t breathe!”
  • It’s not only this transition that has the above problems.  He ends, “ the complex relation among parallel evolution, ecological change, and evolutionary diversification is likely to pertain to other evolutionary transitions as well.”  The whole shebang is a muddle.
What an implausible story.  (“Complex” is Shubin’s euphemism for “convoluted”.)  Only a believer could believe it.  There is no tree of evolution here, just a hodgepodge collection of fully-adapted, extinct animals.  The Darwinists thought they had a simple game of laying numbered coins in a row, but have been handed three-dimensional tic-tac-toe, checkers, chess pieces, Scrabble letters and dice by a jokester who challenges them to arrange them into an ancestral tree.  Just when they try to get a handle on that, the jokester dumps random pieces from dozens of different puzzles into the mix.  Nothing fazes them, though; they think they are making progress (just keep the funding flowing).
    So where does Gaining Ground leave us, really?  For one thing, throw out your high school evolutionary biology textbook.  It’s useless.  For another, stop waiting for the Darwinists to finish their game, or you’ll be Losing Ground.  Third, it’s hot outside.  Go take a swim with your digitized limbs.  If you have a tumor, maybe you can exploit it as scuba gear.
Next headline on: Fossils. • Next headline on: Underwater Life. • Next headline on: Darwinism. • Next dumb story.
Churches, the Unsung Heroes of Rehabilitation   08/09/2003
Faith-based groups “do more than they think they do and more than outsiders think they do” to rehabilitate ex-convicts and substance abusers, concludes a study by University of Iowa researchers reported by
EurekAlert.  For the 500,000 criminals released from prison each year, faith-based support groups provide an introduction back into civil society, new friendships, a new social network, and opportunities to rebuild their lives.  Stephan Arndt, psychiatrist in the study of the “the largely undocumented role these local groups play,” said, “People tend to think that all public services have to stem from governmental agencies.  In truth, communities have provided for those in need for a long time.  The lack of recognition may be because faith-based and community-based organizations often do not advertise the massive amounts of service they do.”
    Government services and faith-based ministries tend to be isolated, because the ministries are wary of accepting government money, and government workers tend to just open the phone book when a released offender asks to go to a church.  The study suggests that “the correctional probation/parole officers and substance abuse counselors ... attend church events such as barbecues, where they can learn more about how the organizations help offenders and understand how referrals to faith-based groups can be made while still respecting separation of church and state.”  Faith-based groups, on the other hand, were found to be “open to building communication and understanding rather than getting more money.”
Secularists want to keep religion in a box isolated from society, as Russell Board described in a recent excellent commentary in World Magazine.  They do this to the harm of all society.  Jesus Christ described his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hid.  That light was not to be put under a bushel-basket, but on a lampstand where it gives light to all in the house (society).  His followers were to let their light shine before men, that they would see their good works, and glorify the Father in heaven.  Good works are seldom more beautiful than when they help the fallen, encourage the homeless and weak, restore the sinner, and help the widow and orphan whose relative has been taken from them, either in sickness and death, or in prison.  Government programs are typically far more expensive and less productive than the these quiet ministries with their unsung heroes whose lights have been shining for thousands of years.  Faith-based groups don’t need a government handout, but neither do they need the bushel baskets of oppressive regulations, taxes and interference.  Let their light shine.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.
Nanocells are Naah, No Cells   08/09/2003
Earlier claims that
nanobacteria exist, tiny cells an order of magnitude smaller than the smallest known cells, are apparently unfounded.  Nature Science Update reports on a paper in Geology Aug. 2003 that the alleged fossils of nanobacteria appear to be by-products of enzyme-driven tissue decay; i.e., just clumps of leftover digested material from larger living things.
This underscores the reality that there are lower limits to the size of a free-living entity.  A living cell needs a certain minimum subset of molecules to be able to live, grow and reproduce.  This is discussed in chapter 6 of our online book, Evolution: Possible or Impossible?.  The more observational science demonstrates that there is a lower threshold for autonomous life, the less plausible abiogenesis becomes.  One cannot expect a single RNA molecule to evolve into a cell.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Mars is Rad   08/07/2003
Exclusive  The
Mars 2001 Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since Oct. 2001.  One of its 3 prime instruments is MARIE, the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment.  This device is trying to characterize the amount of dangerous radiation around Mars, for consideration in future manned missions.  Principal investigator for the MARIE instrument, Dr. Cary Zeitler, gave a science briefing at JPL about its results to date.  Though there are many uncertainties regarding the effects of cosmic radiation on biological tissues, and though MARIE cannot measure surface radiation directly, it is apparent Mars is a hazardous environment for humans.  The instrument has measured about 2.5 times as much radiation in the Martian orbital environment as that experienced by astronauts on a typical stay aboard the International Space Station, which is about 80 times the amount we get at the surface of Earth.
    Sources of radiation are galactic cosmic rays (the most dangerous) and solar particles (though usually weaker, can be very deadly during coronal mass ejections).  It is difficult to shield against cosmic rays.  Surprisingly, a little shielding is worse than none: heavy atomic nuclei that are slowed down can cause more damage, or produce secondary particles that can hit more genes.  Cells have elaborate mechanisms to repair DNA, but they can be swamped by too many hits too close together.  It would take 151 cm of aluminum to shield against the 1000 MeV protons that might impinge on a spacecraft from a solar storm.  Liquid hydrogen is the best shield, but is difficult to incorporate into a spacecraft hull.
    Presumably, for a human on the surface, some of the solar particles would be attenuated or extinguished by Mars’ weak atmosphere, and half the cosmic rays would be blocked by the planet itself.  Still, future astronauts will receive about a third the suggested career dosage on a three-year mission to the planet.  Earth does not have the problem, primarily because of our global magnetic field and our much thicker atmosphere.  This shielding shatters the energetic cosmic rays into numerous, harmless muons that pass through our bodies about 1000 per minute.  Mars, by contrast, has only a weak, patchy magnetic field – not a global one.
This reporter asked Dr. Zeitlin what this means for futurists who dream of humans colonizing and terraforming Mars.  He said the enthusiasts, like Robert Zubrin, have not been discouraged, despite the high radiation levels.  Zubrin feels the risk is no larger than that a smoker takes.  Sending reformed smokers will give them about the same risk level they had on earth, he claims.  It is hard to imagine, however, how to get plants to stop smoking.
    We are blessed on Earth with an environment that extinguishes most harmful radiation, and a DNA Damage Response system that can repair most types of genetic harm.  A cell that is killed by radiation is not a threat, but then again, we cannot lose too many cells.  Cells that are damaged and stay with us give rise to cataracts, cancer, central nervous system damage, and a host of other health problems.
    With the obligatory pinch of incense to the emperor, Dr. Zeitlin stated the half-truth that life on Earth evolved with sparsely-ionizing radiation.  That Earth gets sparsely-ionizing radiation is true, but how this could generate whales and dinosaurs and redwoods is a dark secret within the mystery religion of Emperor Darwin. 
    On Mars, humans, animals, and plants would be subject to overwhelming radiation.  Such a bullet shower could not help anything evolve into something fitter.  It would tear their poor cells to death and disarray.  Despite the optimism of the futurists, it appears that Earth is our only long-term safety bubble, our privileged planet that we must preserve and cherish.
Next headline on: Mars.
How to Walk on Water   08/07/2003
If you are as big as a human, you would need supernatural power to walk barefoot or sandal-clad on water, but there are much smaller living things that do it all the time: water striders.  Scientists have known for a long time that these bugs stand on the “skin” of water formed by surface tension, but how do they move?  It would seem to be like trying to run with wet skates on a waxed floor.  Now, scientists writing in
Nature 08/07/2003 have found that they generate waves not on the surface, but underneath.  The fast motion of the middle legs generates vortices underneath the surface that propel the bug forward without violating Newton’s Second Law (force equals mass times acceleration).
    Water striders also have water-repellant skin and hairs that keep them from getting glued to the surface like other bugs.  But since surface tension can only hold up so much weight, they never get bigger than about 0.4 inch.  The scientists built a small robot that mimics the water strider’s rowing motion and found that it works, but not as fast as the real living thing.  With their finely-adapted gear, some water striders can propel themselves 100 body lengths in 1 second.  That is comparable to a human swimming 400 miles an hour, faster than most jet aircraft, says National Geographic News, which also comments, “they are the world’s most advanced surface-dwelling water bugs.  One of the few insects to conquer the oceans, some intrepid species venture hundreds of miles across becalmed tropical seas.”
Never take a little critter for granted.  Insects and spiders have some of the most advanced technology known.  Here we see a common bug, noticed with momentary curiosity by countless kids, that outperforms human high-tech robotics, whose movements baffled biologists till now.  How did water striders gain this ability to walk on water?  How many generations of water strider ancestors drowned before they figured out how to evolve the water repellant skin and hairs, the muscles, the nerves, and the brains and developmental pathways to accomplish this fleet feat of the feet?  Good thing they didn’t have to.
Next headline on: Bugs, Arthropods, Crawlers etc.Next amazing story.
Dolphin Sees With its Ears   08/07/2003
Toby the dolphin is a perspicacious personality in The Living Seas aquarium at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.  Nothing gets by his all-seeing ears.  Dolphin trainers and scientists used Toby to test various theories about how the mammals use their senses to identify objects.  Do they match cues to memory maps in their brains?  Do they have algorithms that figure out features of an object by the sensory signals?  Or do they discern object characteristics directly from the signals returning from the object?  Apparently the latter.
    Through a series of clever experiments, the scientists worked Toby through 54 unfamiliar objects in sets of three.  Objects included a food chopper, a Mickey Mouse balloon, an apple and other “junk” hardware of various materials and sizes.  They hid the objects behind screens transparent to sonar, they held them up in the air (where sonar is ineffective), and they mixed them up, being careful to avoid trainer cues, rewards, and associations with other objects.  In the tests, they would show Toby an object and ask him to pick the identical one from behind the screen, and reward or not, he always got it right.  They also tried the reverse; letting him echodetect an object behind the screen and pick the identical object visually out of three.  All indications demonstrated that Toby was reading the shape and characteristics of the objects directly from the reflected sonar pulses, and associating that information with what he had seen, and vice versa.  “Organisms can perceive object characteristics directly,” the scientists concluded.  Their results are published in
Nature 08/07/2003.  (See also the June headline about dolphin sonar automatic gain control.)
For Toby to have succeeded, his sonar must have been extremely precise.  He had to have been able to differentiate between round and sharp edges, rough and smooth surfaces, size, and density.  That an animal could do that with sound is truly remarkable, especially considering the sonic profile changes as he swims toward the object.  Dolphin and bat sonar exceeds the specifications of man-made sonar by a long shot.  Could such a capability be the result of a long series of unguided random processes?  Toby or not to be, that is the question.
Next headline on: Mammals. • Next amazing story.
Quick Takes   08/06/2003
Some interesting news items our readers might want to pursue in more detail:
  • About Time:  What is the end of time, and the beginning of eternity?  The letter “e” of course, but all jesting aside, a scientific nobody is shaking the halls of science by coming up with a radically new concept of time.  EurekAlert reports that Peter Lynd of New Zealand questioned some basic assumptions and allegedly solved Zeno’s paradox and other puzzles that have occupied philosophers for 2500 years.  Others are skeptical, however.
    Is he the new Einstein, or a crackpot?  Not taking sides here, but it is true that many ground-breaking discoveries in science have been made by outsiders.
    Next headline on: Physics.
  • Gates of the Membrane:  A couple of papers in last week’s issue of Science reveal details of just two of nearly 360 specialized proteins in cell membranes that ferry necessary molecules across “the otherwise impermeable barrier imposed by the phospholipid bilayer.”  They look like clever rockers forming a funnel on one side of the membrane.  When the right molecule falls in, the funnel inverts and ejects the molecule onto the other side.  These act as “molecular pumps, translocating their substrates across membranes against a concentration gradient; this thermodynamically unfavorable process is powered by coupling to a second, energetically favorable process such as ATP hydrolysis or the movement of a second solute down a transmembrane concentration gradient.”  The two studied here, LacY and GlpT, use the latter method.
    Next headline on: The Cell.

  • Iraq Museum Thefts:  Science 08/01/2003 offers a timeline of the crazy, mixed-up case of the Iraq Museum, whose fault it was for not protecting it during the looting, and what the situation is now.  The good news is that 8366 most precious artifacts had been stashed in a safe place by museum workers before the war.  The bad news is that 10,471 items (out of nearly half a million) are still missing.
    The Baghdad Museum is important for its artifacts and manuscripts that reveal details of many kings, civilizations and places mentioned in the Bible.  An interesting aspect of the report concerns the media circus that erupted April 12, when all the news outlets started parroting the falsehood that 170,000 objects had been looted or destroyed.  Not to minimize the losses, it’s good that less than 7% of that was closer to the truth.  The media were quick to blame Bush and Blair in this complex story that makes it unfair to point fingers.  Are not the Iraqi looters themselves the prime suspects?  The museum was not bombed; the articles were looted by Iraqis.  This story has the makings of a movie.  The heroes who rescued and stashed the artifacts swore on the Koran not to reveal the location until after the war.  Whatever works.
    Next headline on: The Bible.
  • Fossil Record:  A news feature in Nature 07/31/2003 asks whether the new Paleobiology Database can take the bias out of the fossil record and reveal the true levels of biodiversity in the past.  Some analyses show that, contrary to common wisdom, biodiversity has not been increasing over time.
    The article explains away the Cambrian explosion with the usual mythoid that animals didn’t fossilize till hard shells appeared.  Watch the film Icons of Evolution for evidence that the Cambrian explosion is real, not an artifact.  There are precambrian strata that would have been excellent for soft-body preservation, if the presumed evolutionary ancestors had existed.
    Next headline on: Fossils.
  • Intellectual AntiDarwinists:  William Dembski has the introduction to his new book online in PDF format, Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing.  It will feature essays by 14 scholars, some clearly not creationists or Protestants, who deny Darwinian evolution is the answer to everything.
    Next headline on: Darwinism.

  • Geology: Cyclic Metamorphism Flawed?  A paper in Geology 31:8, Aug 2003 by British and Chilean geologists debunks a common explanation for metamorphic layers in the Andes that are separated by unconformities.  The old story was that there were multiple episodes of metamorphism separated by 40 million years.  Each cycle involved basin formation, burial, metamorphism, and then exhumation.  The authors find no evidence of time gaps between the strata, and conclude, “Thus, metamorphic breaks within this Andean section cannot be confirmed.  Accordingly, models of Andean burial metamorphism linked to episodic tectonic cycles throughout the Mesozoic and Cenozoic appear unfounded.”
    This appears to collapse the timeline for this formation like an accordion.  Why could not all these layers have formed from one episode in a short time?  Here is another case where an alleged proof of long ages seems to have been based in flawed reasoning.
  • Origin of Old-Earth Geology: Terry Mortensen on the Answers in Genesis website has a synopsis of his PhD dissertation on the Scriptural geologists entitled, “The origin of old-earth geology and its ramifications for life in the 21st century.”  When did geologists start believing the earth was billions of years old?  What other geologists opposed them?  What was the true nature of 19th century debate about the age of the earth?  What does it mean for us today?
    Next headline on: Geology.
Ichthyosaur Extinction Not Due to Picky Diet   08/05/2003
An explanation for ichthyosaur extinction has fallen by the wayside with a new fossil find.  According to
National Geographic News (see also Nature Science Update), these dolphin-like prehistoric reptiles were not finicky eaters of belemnites (squid-like animals), who went extinct when their food became scarce.  This is evident because of “an astonishing new 110-million-year-old skeleton, with preserved hatchling turtle and ancient bird fragments in its gut, [that] is causing some experts to question that possible explanation for the group’s demise.”  If the ichthyosaur was omnivorous, scarcity of its favorite food could not be the cause of its disappearance.
    NG news announces that “ Ichthyosaurs were a successful group of reptiles.  Their first awkward-looking reptilian ancestors took to the seas 230-odd million years ago, and never looked back.”  Yet since the next paragraph speaks of their “obscure origins” it is not clear how John Pickrell, the author, could know they were awkward-looking.  What is clear is that the ichthyosaurs were as adroit in the water as their modern fish and mammal look-alikes.  Fossils of the ichthyosaurs indicate they had a streamlined tuna or dolphin shape, and “developed the most superbly adapted body form for life in water” (quoting a scientist involved in the study).  Most were about 20 feet long, but an enormous 80-footer has been found.
    As to the cause of their extinction, the new evidence from an ichthyosaur’s gut sends the paleontologists back to the drawing board.  Maybe competition by bony fishes or plesiosaurs was involved.  Quoting Chris McGowan of the Royal Ontario Museum, “The problem is we have so little data.  Most of our theories are pure guesswork.”
Let us summarize.  The origins of these superbly-designed creatures are obscure, but the common ancestor must have been awkward-looking.  Why?  Because Darwinism demands that nothing spring into existence fully formed, not because there is any fossil evidence for such an ancestral oaf.  How a reptile-brained awkward predecessor decided to “evolve” the most superbly decided body form for life in water is not explained.  How three very diverse groups of organisms – reptiles, fish, and mammals – all converged on this successful formula independently, is left unexplained.  The dates of their introduction, reign and demise are all based on evolutionary assumptions.  No cause is clear for their extinction.  The new evidence demolishes a favorite theory.  The data are so scarce, the evolutionary theories are pure guesswork.  Isn’t science wonderful.
    A reader dubs the evolutionary thinking process YAGTFCBOTSE — “Yet Another Gee The Facts Changed But Our Theory Still Explains It All.”  He gets it.  The scientists don’t.  Maybe it’s because they only have fossil guts.
Next headline on: Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Reptiles. • Next headline on: Fossils. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory (next story, also).
Cohabitation Risks Depression, Conflict, Unhappiness   08/06/2003
The statistics are shocking: from 10% to over 50% in just 30 years.  That’s how many couples live together outside of marriage.  Most rationalize it that it will make them happier, less constricted, able to test the relationship before committing to marriage.  But sociologists and psychologists at Penn State, according to
EurekAlert, say the opposite is true.  Couples who live together before marriage are more likely to have conflicts and get divorced after marriage.  Cohabitation also “makes people less religious and may encourage them to develop problematic relationship skills and to spend less time resolving problems or providing support to their partners.”  Starting a relationship with a weak commitment carries over into marriage, and increases the vulnerability to “the inevitable challenges that couples face over time.”
Funny, we were told that the only purpose of relationships was to pass on one’s genes and keep the evolution going.  We were told that conflict is good.  From a Darwinian view, who cares if a couple is happy, as long as the selfish genes proliferate?
    The article says that “living together in an unconventional relationship can make people less religious...”.  Maybe the reverse is true.  People who have abandoned fear of God are more likely to indulge their selfish passions.  But then it’s a downward spiral; the more they indulge, the more irreligious they become.  Hitting rock bottom is the only way some develop a fear of God.  How much better to humbly accept and obey His commandments.  Why kill yourself finding out He was right all along?
    A common theme in the Old Testament, where the laws of marriage and fidelity are stamped in stone, is that God’s laws are not meant to be balls and chains, restricting our happiness.  They are the Maker’s operating instructions for achieving maximum health, happiness, life and productivity.  Isn’t it odd that science, that paragon of truth detection in our culture, takes such a long time to confirm what the Bible said long ago?  Does that say something about the relative merits of God’s revelation vs. human reasoning in the things that matter most?
Next headline on: Health.
Peanuts Are Good for You   08/01/2003
Simple minds equate fat with bad.  Fat is a basic food, essential for health, if taken in the right proportions and the right kinds.  Some people avoid peanuts, thinking they have too much fat, but scientists at
Purdue University advise adding peanuts to that apple a day if you want to stay trim and keep your heart healthy.  They have good (monounsaturated) fat, the kind that reduces triglycerides, and also contain magnesium, folate, vitamin E, copper, arginine and fiber, “all of which have cardiovascular disease risk-reducing properties.”  In addition, they aid satiety (they make you feel full) so you are unlikely to pig out on really fattening junk food.  A test group that added 500 calories of peanuts a day showed no increase in body weight.  The bottom line: “People can feel comfortable including them in their diet to take advantage of peanuts’ reducing the risk of heart disease, without adding to body weight.”
George Washington Carver would have smiled with an “I told you so” look.  He said they were good food and replenished the soil, too.  If you’re bored with plain peanuts, try one of his dozens of peanut recipes.  He served a full dinner once with milk, bread, vegetables, coffee and dessert – all made out of peanuts.  Try them plain, or as peanut butter, peanut brittle, peanut cookies, peanut clusters, trail mix, etc.   (Of course, they are best when dipped in chocolate....)  Don’t try this yet if you are one of the few cursed with peanut allergy.  But keep your hopes up; scientists are finding a cure for that, so that we can all enjoy what Carver considered nature’s most perfect food.  How did he find that out?  He asked the Creator.  For the fascinating story, click the link above and read our short biography of the man who found over 300 uses for the peanut.
Next headline on: Health.
Bug High-Jump Champion Stumps Scientists   08/01/2003
A test pilot will pass out at 7 G's (7 times the force of normal earth-surface gravity), but a common garden bug survives 400 G's in its “phenomenal” leaps.  In a blink of an eye, the tiny froghopper or spittlebug hurls itself 70 centimeters.  This olympic feat requires an instantaneous take-off velocity of 4 meters per second, and an initial acceleration of 4,000 meters per second per second.  This is equivalent to superman being able to leap 70-story buildings in a single bound.  The tiny (6mm) bugs have comparatively huge leg muscles, which lock into position and release together suddenly like a catapult.
    This will rewrite the record books.  Fleas, the previous record holders, drop to a distant second place.  Humans can exert forces of 2-3 times their body weight; grasshoppers, 8; fleas, 135; and froghoppers, 400.  The scientists observing and measuring their “incredible” jumps had a hard time catching the critters.  To a predator, it must seem these bugs just vanish into thin air.
    Sources:
BBC News and New Scientist, which explains, “The outstanding athletic ability of Philaenus spumarius, also known as the froghopper, may have evolved to help the insects escape attack from birds and other insects.” (emphasis added).
How many predators came close to 4,000 m/sec2 to push the froghoppers to such dramatic heights?  How many generations of froghoppers blacked out on their way to 400 G's?  How did they evolve massive leg muscles simultaneously with nervous systems able to withstand such forces?  What specific mutations would have been required?  How did this feat become developmentally possible?  Where is the empirical evidence for a sequence of intermediates?
    Froghoppers didn’t evolve to escape from predators.  They appeared to escape from evolutionary theories.
Next headline on: Bugs. • Next headline on: Physics. • Next amazing story.
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Featured Creation Scientist for August

James B. Irwin
1930 - 1991

To follow up last month’s biography of Wernher von Braun, we’re going to hear about one of the few men who got to ride on top of one of his behemoth Saturn V rockets: Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin.

This month’s entry was not a scientist in a professional sense; he was an astronaut, and not just an astronaut, but one of the 12 people in history who has walked on the moon.  But what is a scientist?  If we mean by the word a seeker for truth, someone who uses observation and experimentation to uncover explanations for natural phenomena, than anyone can be a scientist more or less.  James Irwin qualifies more than most.  He deployed scientific experiments on the surface of the moon, and helped earth-bound scientists uncover many important facts about our celestial neighbor.  To qualify for his rigorous Apollo training, he had to know more than most about celestial mechanics, astronomy, and geology.  Even after his historic mission, James Irwin used his scientific training on some rigorous expeditions of discovery most historians don’t tell you about.

When you lean far back and look up, you can see the earth like a beautiful, fragile Christmas tree ornament hanging against the blackness of space.  It’s as if you could reach out and hold it in your hand.  That’s a feeling, a perception, I had never anticipated.  And I don’t think it’s blasphemous for me to say I felt I was seeing the earth with the eyes of God.  I believe, looking back on it now, the good Lord did have His hand in it.  For me to travel such a roundabout way, and finally end up in the space program, and then go to the moon—it’s amazing it ever happened.

Thus begins Jim Irwin’s book To Rule the Night (Holman, Nashville, 1973, 1982), an autobiographical account of the events leading up to and following his historic Apollo 15 mission to the moon.  Written with the help of William A. Emerson, Jr., the book’s title is taken from Genesis 1:14, “And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.”  (That the moon shines by reflection makes it no less a “light” than a lamp; we speak still of a bright full moon.)  For millennia, people saw the lesser light from earth.  What a rare privilege to see the earth from the lesser light!  Surely God’s handiwork must seem all the more sublime to see our home, blue and brilliant, standing out against the stars.

Irwin’s comment that it was amazing it ever happened stems from the fact that up into his Air Force career, he did not seem to have either qualifications or interest in the space program to have ended up in such a privileged position.  He did not get particularly high grades, and seemed rather bored with military life.  He was expecting to fulfill his term and get a job as a commercial pilot when he had a chance to fly a P-51, the hottest new aircraft of the time.  Feeling all that power as he accelerated almost vertically, that was the turning point.  He was hooked.  He lived to fly.

Even after becoming passionate about flying, it was still amazing Irwin ever made it into the astronaut corps.  He had a serious accident as a test pilot at Edwards that left him hospitalized and grounded.  He had high blood pressure and heart problems.  And despite repeated attempts, he was turned down by NASA, until he was just about at the age limit (36).  With only one month to spare, and with his superiors going to bat for him, he finally got a call in spring 1966 from Deke Slayton, inviting him to come to Houston.  “I’m ready,” he said eagerly.  “When do you want me?”  He had trained hard, exercised hard and tested hard; by this time, he felt he had the best qualifications of all the Air Force candidates.

We’ll fast-forward past the astronaut training (those interested can read the book) and let Irwin describe another rare privilege he had: riding on top of one of Wernher von Braun’s mighty Saturn V rockets.  On the morning of July 21, 1971, strapped into his seat beside Col. David R. Scott (mission commander) and Major Alfred M. Worden (command module pilot), Col. James B. Irwin gripped the controls at the word, “Ignition.”

We sensed and then heard all that tremendous power being released underneath us on the pad.  Slowly, tremulously, the rocket began to stir....
    The muffled roar flows through you.  You just hang there.  Then you sense a little motion, a little vibration, and you start to move.  Once you realize you are moving, there is a complete release of tensions.  Slowly, slowly, then faster and faster; you feel all that power underneath you....
    As you build up to 4 G’s, you weigh four times as much as you do on the earth, and you are plastered against the couch....it is difficult to raise your arms to touch a switch or move a lever....
    Just then you come into staging and the engine shuts down—WHAM!  All of a sudden you are thrown forward against your straps.  It feels as if you are going to go right into the instrument panel; you unconsciously put your hands up to absorb the impact.  You are holding, just lying there.  The engine shuts down, the structure unloads, and the spent stage drops off.  That’s a hundred feet of rocket dropping off.  After an interval of a few seconds the next stage lights off –BAM!  You are pushed back on the couch again.... The guys who briefed us told us that when you go through staging it feels like a train wreck.

The ship accelerated up to 18,000 mph into earth orbit, but reached almost 25,000 mph during trans-lunar injection (TLI).  In the book, Irwin describes all the experiences of flight, the approach of the moon, and the feeling of walking on the surface in personal, human terms.  We get to share vicariously what it must have been like, because he realized he was a representative of America and of all people of the earth, fulfilling the dreams of millions.

Apollo 15 was a highly successful and interesting mission.  Irwin and Scott were the first to use the new Lunar Rover, an “$8 million dune buggy” as he called it.  Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean (for whom Irwin was alternate), reminisced, “Dave and Jim could travel faster, gather more samples, and make more scientific observations with their lunar wheels.  It was a great mission.” (Bean, p. 32).  They found a bright crystalline rock sitting on a pedestal, later dubbed the “Genesis Rock”, that was significant for planetary scientists studying the moon’s origin.*  Interestingly, their scoops only went in about 12 inches before hitting very resistant hardpan (p. 78).  They saw layering on the mountains that was difficult to explain geologically.  Irwin saw colors on the moon: not only the grays and whites, but light greens and browns.

The strenuous work Irwin put in on the moon may have caused strain that contributed to his later heart problems.  Nevertheless, the two astronauts fulfilled a huge amount of observation, rock collecting and experiments, and had a little time for fun, too.  Jim tried broad jumping and got three feet high and 10 feet across in that bulky suit and backpack that would have made him weigh 380 lbs on earth, but only 64 on the moon in 1/6 earth gravity.  The suits restricted movement a lot.  They had to walk by jumping from the ball of one foot to the other.  It felt, Irwin said, “like walking on a trampoline—the same lightness, the same bouncy feeling” (p. 64).  They had to be careful in their play, though; one tear in the suit, and the blood would boil, and an astronaut would have 10 to 20 seconds to live.  Most of the lunar surface was soft soil, however, so this was only a remote danger.  On live camera, Dave Scott dropped a hammer and feather together to demonstrate to schoolchildren all over the world that “Mr. Galileo was right” – objects of different masses really do fall at the same speed.  Jim stepped on the feather by mistake and lost it, much to Dave’s chagrin, who wanted to save it for posterity.  Irwin thought, “I’m wondering if hundreds of years from now somebody will find a falcon’s feather under a layer of dust on the surface of the moon and speculate on what strange creature blew in there” (p. 85).  It will probably be obvious.  Without erosion on the moon, the footprints and all the flight hardware left behind will still be intact, providing clear evidence of “intelligent design” having been responsible.  Scott’s historic photo of Irwin saluting against the backdrop of Mt. Hadley (higher than Mt. Everest), with the lunar module, rover and American flag all in place, became a poster print Irwin sent to all who requested one back on earth, signed, His love from the moon – Jim Irwin.

Jim felt God’s love and presence in a powerful way out there.  Though separated from home by 215,000 miles, he sensed a nearness and presence of God that he never anticipated.  Some other Apollo astronauts also had spiritual experiences during their missions, but Irwin knew the God of the Bible personally.  In the midst of their hectic schedule, he had time to briefly quote his favorite Bible verse, Psalm 121:1, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  It was particularly fitting against the massive hills of the Apennine Mountains and canyons of Hadley Rille, but we must hasten to verse 2, which gives the answer to the question: My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  Graciously deferring to the hard-working ground crew back on Earth, Jim appended, “but of course we get quite a bit from Houston, too.”  Several times when problems arose deploying experiments, he prayed for help.  Almost immediately, ideas would come to mind that worked.  He describes some of these moments:

It was almost like a revelation.  God was telling me what to do.  I never asked Houston because I knew there would be a delay.  I didn’t have time for Houston to get an answer to me; I needed an immediate answer.  I could see several logical ways to go about solving these mechanical problems, but I wanted to know the best way.  I prayed, and immediately I knew the answer.  I am not talking about some vague sense of direction.  There was this supernatural sensation of His presence.  If I needed Him I could call on Him, call on His power.
(To Rule the Night,p. 19):

He describes the sensation of looking up at home:

In the three days of exploration, there were a couple of times when I actually looked up to see the earth—and it was a difficult maneuver in that bulky suit; you had to grab onto something to hold yourself steady and then lean back as far as you could.  That beautiful, warm living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart.  Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.
(Ibid., p. 60.)

Alan Bean, mentioned earlier, has given the world a legacy unlike any of the other twelve Apollo astronauts.  He became an artist.  His large-format book of paintings, with text by Andrew Chaikin and introduction by John Glenn, Apollo, An Eyewitness Account by Astronaut / Explorer / Artist / Moonwalker Alan Bean (Greenwich Workshop, 1998), is a must for Apollo aficionados.  Bean’s impressionistic works capture the spirit and feeling of events from all the Apollo missions in ways that photographs never could.  Intimately acquainted with the mission vehicles and lunar activities, as well as the lighting and sensations of being on the moon as only one could who has been there, Bean’s art combines accurate detail with feeling.  He captures moments both momentous and whimsical that the cameras missed, and captions each painting with first-person accounts of the experiences that inspired each work.  Alan Bean had a special place in his heart for Jim Irwin.  More than any of the other Apollo team members, Alan considered Jim a brother.  Adjacent to a dignified painting of Irwin in the Apollo spacesuit, Mt. Hadley reflected in the visor, Bean wrote this tribute:

MY BROTHER, JIM IRWIN

Jim Irwin was assigned as my backup on Apollo 12.  He knew his job extremely well.  I knew that if anything happened to me at the last minute, Jim Irwin would do an excellent job on our mission and fit right in with Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon.
    It was easy to like Jim.  He had a personality that suggested you could have a lot of confidence in him.  He wasn’t an individual who tried to convince you that what he was doing was right or what you were doing was wrong, it was more like he wanted to work with you, and find the best way to do something together.
    He flew a wonderful flight on Apollo 15 in July, 1971.  He and Dave Scott were there 3 days and had what I felt was the greatest mission of Apollo up to that point.  Not only because theirs was the first extended lunar scientific expedition, but because of their skill.  While they were on the moon, Dave Scott and Jim Irwin worked extremely hard and displayed some heart irregularities.  It was only after they got back that they discovered the extent of NASA’s concern for them and worry that this situation may have caused permanent damage.
    After all the post-flight activities were complete, Jim left NASA and founded High Flight, an interdenominational evangelical organization devoted to spreading his word, his witnessing, his experience to other people.  Jim described being on the moon as a deeply spiritual experience.  Less than two years later, Jim experienced the first of several serious heart attacks.  He felt that his physical efforts on the moon, combined with the way the human body eliminates excessive potassium and other minerals in zero gravity, had damaged his heart.  He died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 61.
    We used to see each other at astronaut reunions or accidentally in airports from time to time, and when we parted company, he would put his arm around me and say, “Well, I hope to see you again soon, brother.”  It was a surprise the first time as that isn’t the way one astronaut talks to another and I didn’t know what to say.  After this happened a few times, I wanted to reply because I felt very close to him but I just couldn’t make myself say those words.  Since I left the space program and became an artist, I think differently about myself and my life.  I miss Jim a lot and I understand how I miss him and respect him as the brother I never had.
(Bean, p. 152.)

The crew of Apollo 15 had a very successful return flight, followed by the usual parades and visits with international dignitaries: President Nixon, King Hussein of Jordan, Golda Meir of Israel, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and to numerous countries in Europe and the far east, including Taiwan, and even Russia during the height of the Cold War.  One unfortunate episode got the crew in trouble, however.  With the crew’s knowledge and participation, Dave Scott had taken 400 envelopes with first-day stamps to the moon and sold them to a German dealer, who in turn sold them for a lot more money.  The rules about profiting from Apollo had been unclear, it seems, but NASA was very concerned about the appearance of impropriety when the matter became known, and reprimanded the crew members.  All accepted the reprimand honorably, and monies were returned, such that none of them profited from the matter.  NASA subsequently imposed severe restrictions on what astronauts could sell from their experiences.  Other than this learning experience, the reputations of the crew members were impeccable.  Jim’s wife Mary often traveled with him.  They had five children: Joy, Jill, James, Jan, and Joe, and called Colorado Springs their home.

It’s a hard act to follow, walking on the moon, yet Irwin’s career was, in a way, just starting to take off.  When speaking to a Baptist church one evening, telling about the closeness to God he felt on the moon, he realized he was in a unique position to share the gospel.  People were enthusiastically interested to hear what an astronaut had to say, especially one who was a Christian.  Jim started a non-profit organization named High Flight Foundation, based on the famous poem of that name.  It had two missions: to share the gospel from his experiences as an astronaut, and to stimulate archaeological research in support of the Bible.  In spite of heart problems, Jim took on some heavy-duty adventures: climbing Mt. Ararat in Turkey to investigate claims that remains of Noah’s Ark had been found, and searching for possible sites of the Red Sea crossing by Moses and the Israelites.  Irwin’s reputation unlocked doors with foreign governments.  As a result, he was able to get clearances to bring teams and equipment to sites that had been frustratingly difficult to get near for other researchers.

Mt. Ararat (nearly 16,945 ft., in eastern Turkey), with its loose rock, harsh winds, glaciers, deep gorges and landslides, is one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb.  Irwin led teams up the slopes five times.  On one of these he was knocked unconscious by a falling rock.  He lost several teeth and a lot of blood.  After spending the night alone in the cold above 14,000 ft, he was barely discovered in time by a team member.  Of the dangers of this mountain, Irwin wrote, “We faced risk of physical danger, for Ararat is a crumbling mountain.  Every few minutes we could hear rock slides and small avalanches.  We slept in numbing cold, fell on loose rock, dodged tumbling boulders, grew exhausted from high-altitude climbing, had feet sore with blisters, had painfully cracked lips from sunburn, received various cuts and nicks, all in pursuit of a hidden and uncertain treasure.”  He wrote a book after the third expedition, entitled More Than an Ark on Ararat: Spiritual lessons learned while searching for Noah’s Ark (Broadman, 1985).  In it, he tells this story and other adventures.  (He signed my copy, ”David – He shows His love on the mountains too!  Jim Irwin, Apollo 15.”)  Unlike some sensationalists, Irwin never claimed to have found the Ark, but was keenly interested in following up on leads and eyewitness reports.  John McIntosh, another Ark researcher involved in 14 research expeditions and 7 climbs on Ararat, met Irwin at base camp at the 11,000 foot level in 1982.  McIntosh was welcomed aboard Irwin’s team and worked with him for five years.  He says of Irwin, “I think he impressed everyone he met as a very gracious, loving, dedicated and generous Christian brother” (personal communication, 2003).  Irwin was still planning expeditions to Ararat when his final, fatal heart attack took him home to be with the Lord in 1991.

For the 20 years God gave him after his lunar expedition, Jim Irwin never hesitated to share the gospel.  He responded to Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, who asked if the moon mission had changed his life or strengthened his faith, and said, “Before the flight, I was not really a religious man.  I believed in God, but I really had nothing to share.  But when I came back from the moon, I felt so strongly that I had something that I wanted to share with others, that I established High Flight in order to tell all men everywhere that God is alive, not only on earth, but also on the moon.”  (Irwin, p. 243).  The details of that message, that he shared countless times to attentive audiences, is his own adaptation of the well-known Four Spiritual Laws from Campus Crusade for Christ:

  1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  The highest flight plan man can have on earth is to understand this love and this personal plan.  [Irwin quotes John 3:16]
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God, thus he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.  Man’s flight plan is marred because he is sinful and separated from God.  This is much like being separated from the Command Module in a space walk.  Man will die unless he is reconnected.  [He quotes Romans 3:23 and 6:23]
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin.  Through Him you can know and experience God’s plan for your life.  The connecting link, like the umbilical cord on a space walk, between God and man is Jesus Christ.  [Quotes John 14:6 and I John 5:11-12]
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord: Then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.  The connecting link must be made personally.  It isn’t something someone else can do for us.  It is intensely personal and private.  [Quotes Revelation 3:20].  Asking Him in is personally accepting Him.
    (Irwin, pp. 231-232.)
Only after viewing earth from the moon, and totally dedicating his life to Christ, did Col. James B. Irwin begin to sense how amazing a flight plan could be, when its designer was not only the voice from the Command Module, but the Manufacturer of all the flight hardware: yet near and loving enough to call him “Brother Jim”:
For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”
(Hebrews 2:11-12).

*Irwin describes this rock as being dated later at 4.15 billion years old (To Rule the Night, p. 77).  John McIntosh believes, however, that Irwin was a young-earth creationist, because “He certainly believed that Noah’s flood was a global event and occurred around 5,000 years ago.”  Perhaps Irwin came to this conviction later.


If you enjoyed this episode, learn more about great Christians in science by reading our online book-in-progress:
The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
Copies are also available from our online store.

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

You can observe a lot by just watching.
– Yogi Berra

First Law of Scientific Progress
The advance of science can be measured by the rate at which exceptions to previously held laws accumulate.
Corollaries:
1. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
2. There are always exceptions to established exceptions.
3. By the time one masters the exceptions, no one recalls the rules to which they apply.

Darwin’s Law
Nature will tell you a direct lie if she can.
Bloch’s Extension
So will Darwinists.

Finagle’s Creed
Science is true.  Don’t be misled by facts.

Finagle’s 2nd Law
No matter what the anticipated result, there will always be someone eager to (a) misinterpret it, (b) fake it, or (c) believe it happened according to his own pet theory.

Finagle’s Rules
3. Draw your curves, then plot your data.
4. In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.
6. Do not believe in miracles – rely on them.

Murphy’s Law of Research
Enough research will tend to support your theory.

Maier’s Law
If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.
Corollaries:
1. The bigger the theory, the better.
2. The experiments may be considered a success if no more than 50% of the observed measurements must be discarded to obtain a correspondence with the theory.

Eddington’s Theory
The number of different hypotheses erected to explain a given biological phenomenon is inversely proportional to the available knowledge.

Young’s Law
All great discoveries are made by mistake.
Corollary
The greater the funding, the longer it takes to make the mistake.

Peer’s Law
The solution to a problem changes the nature of the problem.

Peter’s Law of Evolution
Competence always contains the seed of incompetence.

Weinberg’s Corollary
An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

Cohen’s Law
What really matters is the name you succeed in imposing on the facts – not the facts themselves.

Harrison’s Postulate
For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

Thumb’s Second Postulate
An easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex, incomprehensible truth.

Ruckert’s Law
There is nothing so small that it can’t be blown out of proportion

Hawkins’ Theory of Progress
Progress does not consist in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right.  It consists in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.

Macbeth’s Law
The best theory is not ipso facto a good theory.

Disraeli’s Dictum
Error is often more earnest than truth.

Advice from Paul

Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

O Lord, how manifold are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all.  The earth is full of Your possessions . . . . May the glory of the Lord endure forever.  May the Lord rejoice in His works . . . . I will sing to the Lord s long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.  May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.  May sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more.  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  Praise the Lord!

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

Through the creatures Thou hast made
Show the brightness of Thy glory.
Be eternal truth displayed
In their substance transitory.
Till green earth and ocean hoary,
Massy rock and tender blade,
Tell the same unending story:
We are truth in form arrayed.

Teach me thus Thy works to read,
That my faith,– new strength accruing–
May from world to world proceed,
Wisdom’s fruitful search pursuing
Till, thy truth my mind imbuing,
I proclaim the eternal Creed –
Oft the glorious theme renewing,
God our Lord is God indeed.

James Clerk Maxwell
One of the greatest physicists
of all time (a creationist).

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