Question: Should biology teachers be allowed to teach the controversy about evolution?
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Stanley Miller Adds Poison Gas to Origin-of-Life Simulation 10/31/2002
Stanley Miller, whose decades-old spark-discharge apparatus is pictured in almost every biology textbook, is back. As a graduate student under Harold Urey in 1953, he became famous for obtaining a few amino acids under what was assumed at the time to be prebiotic conditions: a mixture of methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water vapor, subjected to a spark simulating lightning in a primitive atmosphere. Since then, scientists have considered it unlikely that these gases were present in significant concentrations, believing instead that carbon dioxide from volcanos was the predominant gas in the early atmosphere. Trouble is, a CO2 atmosphere does not produce the biologically-interesting molecules needed for origin of life theories. In the Oct. 30 preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Miller and colleagues from the Yokohama National University mixed in some carbon monoxide (CO), the gas that kills people in their garages when they leave the car engine on or try to barbecue indoors. With a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water irradiated by protons, they obtained seven biologically interesting molecules, including the nucleotides adenine, guanine and uracil. This brings to fifteen the target molecules obtained by bombarding this mixture with different kinds of energy sources. The team states, A CO-dominant atmosphere can give bioorganic compounds with yields comparable to those obtained from a strongly reducing atmosphere. They caution, however, conditions on earth would have had to be near freezing to keep uracil stable and generate more complex biomolecules. Where did the carbon monoxide come from? CO-dominant atmospheres could have existed if the production rate of CO from impacts of extraterrestrial materials were high or if the upper mantle had been more reduced than today. The paper ends by discussing alternate scenarios for the origin of prebiotic molecules hydrothermal vents, meteorites, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere and finds serious problems with each.
Miller has spent his life trying to imagine the impossible, the origin of life without design. Actually, he is surprisingly open-minded and frank about the problems. His 1950-era spark-discharge apparatus is essentially irrelevant to the origin of life since it posited an unrealistic atmosphere, yielded only trace amounts of just a few molecules that had to be protected from destruction, and failed to segregate left- and right-handed products. Sadly, the diagram of his apparatus has taken on a life of its own in our culture, becoming an icon of evolution that is almost ubiquitous in textbooks and TV documentaries. Astrobiologists today do not consider the 1950s experiment as plausible, but just a step in the right direction. Will carbon monoxide poison save the icon? All the same problems are still there. The results are mixtures of left and right, they could not have been present in significant concentrations, they are much simpler than other required molecules, the monomers would not naturally join into polymers, and even if they did join, there is the problem of the origin of information. Millers team had to assume unique initial conditions (freezing temperature, reducing mantle and meteorites) to save the model from being ruled out of court. Its out of court anyway, because salts in the oceans would have dismantled the molecules quickly, if ultraviolet radiation did not beat them to the punch. The products from Millers new-and-improved apparatus are so simple compared to a living cell, they are comparable to childs alphabet blocks compared to an encyclopedia, yet almost every mention of these types of experiment uses the misleading phrase they obtained the building blocks of life. So what if they get trace amounts of uracil? Its just going to sit there or degrade. It couldnt care whether it might be the start of something big. Belief in the origin of life without a Designer is a false hope, a case of the blind are leading the blind from one ditch to another. What is most fun about this paper is the way Miller debunks the other scenarios. Whether stork meteorites bearing the baby molecules, or hydrothermal vents cooking primordial soup in the black smoker kitchen, they dont work. Nothing works. Miller Time is over; its time to get back to work with eyes open to intelligent design.NSF Begins Massive Project to Map Darwins Tree of Life 10/30/2002
A long-term project to determine phylogenetic trees is being funded by the National Science Foundation to be done by the Chicago Field Museum and seven other institutions around the world, according to EurekAlert. The project may take 15-20 years. Three subdivisions the Field Museum will be working on are: Early Bird, Spider, and Archosaur. The first years funding for the Assembling the Tree of Life (AToL) project amounts to $12 million.
If their phylogenies are anything like those reported here, they have job security. There are almost infinite conflicting trees you can draw from the data. There is no single tree, but rather an orchard or lawn, as Jonathan Wells explains about this one of his ten Icons of Evolution. They always claim its for a good cause: Phylogenetic information has proven useful in many ways, such as helping scientists focus biological research; track the origin and spread of diseases; develop new medicines and agrochemical products; conserve species; control invasive species biologically; and restore ecosystems. But each one of these areas has been doing fine without help from Darwin. Judging from the track record of phylogenetic studies so far, and the unapproachable task ahead, their theme song must be The Impossible Dream. We can think of better ways to spend your tax dollars, like fighting cancer and Alzheimers Disease.Evolution of Bird Feathers Explained at Last? 10/30/2002
You would think the details of feather evolution have been worked out according to a report on EurekAlert; that is, unless you read further down. USC Scientists Uncover Secrets of Feather Formation announces the title about a paper published in the Oct 30 Nature Advance Online Publications. What they did was alter the expression of three genes in a chicken to see what happened. With one gene suppressed, barbs became small and detached; with another gene suppressed, they joined and became larger. With a third gene suppressed, the barbs had webby membranes between the barbs. Cheng-Ming Chuong believes this can shed light on the evolution of feathers, but only slightly:
These results suggest that the barbs form first and later fuse to form a rachis, much like downy feathers are formed before flight feathers when a chicken grows up. Under the general rule of ontogeny repeating phylogeny, downy feather made only of barbs probably appeared before the evolution of feathers with rachides and capable of flight. However, pinning down the exact moment at which dinosaur scales become chicken feathers is non-realistic. Just like Rome, feathers are not made in one process. It took 50 million years for Nature to refine the process, to transform a scale into a flight machine. There were many, many intermediate stages. While Darwins theory has explained the why of evolution, much of the how remains to be learned. Evo-Devo research promises a new level of understanding.Evo-devo (evolutionary development) is a blending of evolutionary theory with embryology, a recent trend to relate natural selection to the expression of genes and developmental signalling. Chuongs disclaimer makes it clear that his experiment, while interesting, is only a small step in explaining how reptile scales could evolve into the highly-specialized, interconnected branching structures that help give birds their aerobatic skills.
There are so many mistakes in this story, its hard to know where to begin.Fitness for Dummies: Is It Running in Circles? 10/29/2002
The Oct. 29 issue of Current Biology has a primer on Fitness by John Brookfield, in question-and-answer form. First, since fitness is such a key word in Darwinian evolution theory, he defines the term:
Fitness in evolution - what is it? Not fitness in the sense of health, but rather an ability to survive and reproduce, as when the Darwinian theory of evolution was characterized as survival of the fittest.He hastens to explain that while straightforward, there are subtle shades of meaning that differ between geneticists and ecologists. Brookfield hastens to answer the tautology criticism:
What about the old chestnut if fitness is defined by survival, and then we say the fittest survive, isnt this all circular? Not really. Suppose we have a population where half the offspring survive to adulthood. An individual with a new advantageous mutation might have a 51% chance of surviving to adulthood. Its genotypes relative fitness is 2% higher than that of the other individuals. But the individual with this new unique genotype will either survive or it will not: an individual cannot have a survivorship of 51%. Fitness is an average, or an expected, outcome.He adds the point that fitness can decrease in a population by chance, if, for example, a bad mutation spreads through a population through a series of lucky chance events. One thing for sure, he explains: if a populations fitness can go down, it cannot be a circular argument to say it will usually go up.
Brookfield then addresses the relation of adaptation to fitness:
Is an organisms fitness the same as its adaptation to its environment? Evolutionary biologists look for adaptations in the phenotypes (morphologies and behaviors) of organisms. In population genetic studies of fitness, relative fitnesses of organisms genotypes can be compared empirically.He dodges getting embroiled in the controversy over whether memes (ideas that evolve) can have fitness, or whether that is a circular argument.
Look carefully at these answers, and read our Baloney Detector entries on equivocation and circular reasoning. We are assuming that Brookfields answers are current and valid representations of what Darwinians believe, being published in Current Biology. We assume they would receive nods of agreement from Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller. (If you are an evolutionist reading this, and disagree with Brookfields assessment, feel free to write us and clarify what fitness really means.) Now consider whether he has successfully dispensed with the old chestnut that fitness is a circular argument. Notice how right off the bat, he defines fitness in terms of survival. How do you know this moose is fit? Because it survived. Why did it survive? Because it is fit. We seem to be off on the wrong hoof. Now read and re-read his explanation of why this is not circular, and see if it is clearer than mud. The percentages are all a smokescreen if fitness has already been defined in terms of survival. How does the biologist know that a mutation is advantageous unless it causes the bull moose to have a 51% chance (2% higher than his moosemates) of surviving? But then he says mutations can lower the fitness, and this proves the argument is not circular. But lower fitness relative to what? To survival! Yet if all the individuals in the population have the same survival, they have equal fitness. Confused? This is a good sign; it means you are not being swayed by this shell game.A Pretty Gene is Like a Melody 10/29/2002
Dave Deamer of UC Santa Cruz thinks DNA is like music, says Astrobiology Magazine. With DNAs four bases A, C, T, and G, we would have four musical notes that fit nicely into the key of C.... Could there really be a musical message in our genes? he says. His London colleague Ross King thinks the same for proteins: proteins are beautiful and similar to music in structure--neither completely repetitive nor completely random. Musical analysis is helping astrobiologists find patterns in the otherwise overwhelming complexity in DNA. The article explains, But a larger statistical analysis--akin to musical analysis--is only now beginning to reveal remarkable similarities, which in turn suggest that a kind of concerted evolution, or even common ancestral molecules, might have a role to play in how DNA evolved.
This made our dumb category instead of amazing, because while its interesting that DNA has similarities to good music, the comparison is superficial and totally inconsistent with evolutionary presuppositions. Good music does not happen by chance (unless you like to hear John Cage playing 12 radios at random and calling that music). How on earth these astrobiologists can find musical structure in DNA and then think that will help them imagine how it evolved without a Composer is beyond comprehension.Conference: At Biola University in Los Angeles this past weekend, leaders of the intelligent design movement met for a RAPID conference (Research and Progress in Intelligent Design). You can read William Dembskis keynote address on the ISCID website, and also at Access Research Network.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
WWII Plane Flies Again After Entombment in Glacier 10/28/2002
Evolutionary geologists claim that glacial ice layers represent annual depositions, and that their ice cores contain records covering many tens of thousands of years. How can they explain these planes sinking 70 meters in solid ice in just 55 years? The Answers in Genesis story contains an Addendum, answering the question of whether metal aircraft would naturally sink into the ice, and explains how they would not; all that ice must have accumulated above the aircraft in just 55 years (see footnote 11 especially). The story of Glacier Girl seems to provide clear evidence that uniformitarian presuppositions can be very wrong.Cambrian Explosion Ignited by Hunters in the Mud 10/25/2002
David Bottjer of USC has a new theory on why all the major animal phyla appear abruptly at the beginning of the Cambrian strata (the Cambrian Explosion). Once upon a time, the microbial mats were all peaceful and content, when all of a sudden predatory trilobites and worms came along and started eating everything. To escape, the prey had to evolve hard shells and defense mechanisms. The story is explained on EurekAlert. Bottjer is going to present his story to the Geological Society of America on Monday the 28th.
When did scientists get into the art of tall tale telling? This one belongs around a campfire in the Rockies. Worms and trilobites are already very complex creatures, much more complex than microbial mats. Trilobites have complex, elaborate, functioning eyes. Did some microbes just sit around one day saying, You know, life would be so much more fun if we had eyes and mouths and ate our brothers? Wagh! Bridger, thats a good-un!Fossil Record Is Complete: How Good Is the Good News? 10/25/2002
The fossil record is essentially complete. Whether thats good news or not may depend on what bones you were hoping would be found to fill in the gaps. Paleontology data better than expected, announces a story in EurekAlert:
The quality and completeness of the fossil record and its credibility as a source of information about the history of life have been debated since before Charles Darwins time. Now, as part of the Paleobiology Database project, a systematic examination is being conducted with some good news so far.Why? Because even though tough-shelled animals should fossilize more easily, and you would expect to find more of them, a preliminary look at the database shows that fragile fossils appear just as frequently as durable fossils.
Thats good news. It means that this intuitively obvious bias is not as severe as we expected, and the fossil record may be a more reliable source of information than we believed [Michael] Kowalewski [of Virginia Tech] says. In this project, we are not trying to reconstruct the evolutionary history of biodiversity or assess the magnitude of mass extinctions, but to evaluate whether the fossil record can indeed provide reliable data for such studies, he emphasizes.The Paleontology Database project is the largest project to pull together fossil data into a centrally-accessible repository. About 100 faculty members and students are working on it.
Now theres a great attitude. Lets get the facts straight before we try to tell evolutionary stories about it. The good news, however, must be bad news for the Darwinists. Charles Darwin was aware of the major and systematic gaps in the fossil record, but hoped they would be filled in by subsequent discoveries. Since then, other evolutionists have hoped that the gaps were due to the apparent inability of soft-bodied animals to fossilize as easily as those with tough bones and shells; presumably, this would create a systematic bias in the record toward hard bodies (but look at this example of fossilized jellyfish). It looks like the fossil record is pretty much complete: gaps, Cambrian explosion and all. Get used to it.Fix the Textbooks: Cyanobacteria Werent the First 10/25/2002
Get ready to rewrite those biology textbooks - again, begins the article on EurekAlert based on a story from the Geological Society of America, entitled Evolution upset: Oxygen-making microbes came last, not first. A researcher named Carrine Blank from Washington University found that cyanobacteria are too highly evolved to have been the first critters. But If Blank is correct, her revised evolutionary history of the bacteria raises a difficult question: If cyanobacteria came later, where did the Earths earliest oxidants come from which produced banded iron formations?
Its nice on those rare occasions when reporters do our work for us. Trouble is, nothing will convince these evolutionists that the whole story is gasping for fresh air.Plants Borrowed Membrane Channels 10/25/2002
All living cells have specialized membrane channels that allow certain molecules in and keep others out; for water, they are called aquaporins (AQPs); for glycerol, they are called aquaglyceroporins (GLPs). There are also ion channels for chloride or potassium. The set of channel families are called membrane intrinsic proteins (MIPs). An international team of researchers has compared the channel proteins from plants, bacteria, and animals, and deduced that plants got their glycerol channels by horizontal gene transfer, with subsequent modification by functional recruitment:
The molecular phylogeny of MIPs supports that glycerol transporting in plants was acquired by horizontal gene transfer and functional recruitment of bacterial AQPs. It is likely that these events were triggered by the absence of a GLP homolog in the common ancestor of plants. We find that plant NIPs and GLPs share convergent or parallel amino replacements needed to transport glycerol and therefore represent a remarkable example of adaptive evolution at the molecular level.Their paper is published in the Oct. 23 preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The paper is pretty confident about it, but the story is mostly bluff. The relationship does not jump out of the data; it has to be teased out from preconceived notions. And, they had to invoke the hand-waving acts of horizontal gene transfer, convergent and parallel evolution to get the story to work. Their phylogenetic tree-building, as usual, was replete with tweak artistry: As expected, positional identity was difficult to establish for most sites, and a total of 284 positions were excluded from the analyses because of ambiguity... etc. etc. You can pick any story you want out of these exercises. Clearly, however, the common ancestor of glycerol channels was not evident in plants, so they had to sneak it in sideways with horizontal gene transfer. Their results are inferred from circumstantial, statistical, fuzzy, disparate pieces of data. It only holds together with the glue of faith in Darwin. Consider this example (emphasis added):Human-Ape Differences Grow Wider 10/25/2002However, from an evolutionary perspective and according to the phylogenetic tree, NIPs are members of the AQP clade. Because the horizontal gene transfer involved an AQP, plant NIPs must have acquired the capacity for glycerol transport at a later time by recruitment or exaptation (acquiring a function different from the one for which the protein was selected originally; ref. 33). The recruitment of an AQP as glycerol transporter requires convergent or parallel replacements at specific amino acid positions.Re-read that as a disbeliever in evolutionary common ancestry, and does it make any scientific sense? Does it sound like a striking example of adaptive evolution at the molecular level? If a story only holds together if you already believe in evolution, it cannot be used as evidence for evolution, because it is guilty of circular reasoning.
Elisabeth Pennisi writes in the Oct. 25 issue of Science about two California teams that independently showed that humans and chimpanzees are genetically further apart than previously believed:
For almost 30 years, researchers have asserted that the DNA of humans and chimps is at least 98.5% identical. Now research reported here last week at the American Society for Human Genetics meeting suggests that the two primate genomes might not be quite as similar after all. A closer look has uncovered nips and tucks in homologous sections of DNA that werent noticed in previous studies.See also our Sept. 23 headline on this subject. Pennisi says that neither team would commit to a new value for the difference, but both agree that the previously accepted 98.5% mark is too high.
It will be interesting to see what facts come to light when the chimpanzee genome is sequenced and laid side by side with the human genome. There are two lessons learned here. One is Thumbs Second Postulate, that an easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a highly complex, incomprehensible truth. Useful to whom? A propagandist. We have heard evolutionists for years using this 98.5% figure as proof that humans are almost identical to apes, the implication being we are closely evolved cousins. How do we undo 30 years of useful damage? The second is that evolutionists will spin any fact to their advantage. Are humans 98.% similar to chimpanzees? Well, this proves we are evolved from apes. Are humans 5%, 10%, or 20% different than chimpanzees? (exact figure to be determined). Wonderful; now we can really find out so much more about evolution.Are Humans the Target of Evolution? 10/24/2002
Christian de Duve thinks so. He tries to make the case that conscious beings like humans are the inevitable result of evolution in his book Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind and Meaning, which is reviewed by Eors Szathmary in the Oct. 24 issue of Nature. Szathmary gives him enough attention to get his point, but finds it unconvincing. He thinks de Duve does not prove his case against contingency (i.e., that evolution is a random process that did not have humans in mind).
This is all so unnecessary. De Duve and other compromisers are operating on the false assumption that Darwinian evolution (common ancestry from molecules to man) is a demonstrated fact. He needs to read Creation-Evolution Headlines and see how every point of the story is filled with anomalies, storytelling and logical fallacies. Raised Catholic, de Duve is doing his best to rescue some tiny vestige of Christian values from the wreckage left by the Darwinian juggernaut, but the juggers are naught impressed. Whimpering appeasers trying to wear two uniforms anger both sides. The Darwinists may heap more hostility on a Duane Gish or Phillip Johnson, but they respect them more for standing up for what they believe in and drawing the battle lines clearly, rather than pretending that the Darwinian conquerors have any tidbits to share with johnny-come-lately converts. (See also next book review below.)Ernst Mayr Seeks the Last Word on Darwin 10/24/2002
Ernst Mayr, Harvard zoologist and todays leading authority on evolutionary theory, has high praise for Janet Brownes newly released volume 2 of Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, which he reviews in the Oct. 24 issue of Nature (see also our headline on Edward Larsons review last month). Mayrs opening paragraph underscores his own evaluation of Darwins pre-eminent role in modern philosophy:
Apart from the Bible, no book has had a greater impact on the thinking of Western Man than Darwins Origin of Species. This claim is based not merely on Darwin having demonstrated evolution and founded secular science, but also on the fundamental new concepts that he introduced. Darwins refutation of Aristotles fourth cause, teleology, was, according to the philosopher Willard Quine, Darwins greatest contribution to philosophy. Darwin firmly introduced history (the time factor) into science. In biology, he replaced typological by population thinking and gave chance scientific legitimacy, to mention some of his other contributions. Most major planks in the Weltanschauung of a modern thinker can be traced back to Darwin. His role is finally understood, after more than a century of misconceptions and misinterpretations.So is Brownes biography the last word? Mayr praises her level of detail and historical accuracy (she studied 14,000 letters and 2,254 contemporary reviews of his work), but thinks a definitive treatment of Darwins evolutionary paradigm is still needed:
When evaluating this book we must remember that Browne is a historian and biographer, not an evolutionist. This is why she does not feel that it is her job to analyse Darwins evolutionary paradigm (his five major theories) or to explain the principle of divergence and how it misled Darwin, or why he ultimately failed to solve the problem of the multiplication of species, which had been his major objective when starting to work on his species book, or to try to explain numerous other evolutionary problems that he encountered but left without explanation. For answers to these questions one will have to turn to other books.Mayr points out that of Darwins close friends and promoters, one was a Christian: In the United States, [Asa] Gray was tireless in spreading the gospel of evolution and, although he remained a Christian, he accepted Darwins paradigm more completely than either Lyell or Huxley, who never accepted natural selection or gradual evolution.
Here we have a remarkable thing. We have a revolutionary world view introduced that changes everything in Western civilization, but based on what? Where is the actual evidence to support such a massive shift in philosophy and our view of ourselves and the world? Mayr claims that Darwin demonstrated evolution but all he demonstrated was artificial selection, and then extrapolated that into nature. The rest was all conjecture, not demonstration. His contribution was the invention of the just-so story, like how an eye might have evolved gradually from a light-sensitive spot. He had a few Neanderthal skulls, but those turned out to be fully human. He had some fossils, but was well aware of the major gaps in the fossil record, including the Cambrian explosion, which has only gotten worse with time. He had finch beaks, but that is just minor variation between interfertile species. Nowhere is there a clear-cut case of natural selection having produced a new species, and Mayr makes that clear: why he ultimately failed to solve the problem of the multiplication of species, which had been his major objective.... Mayr also admits that he fell into the trap of Lamarckism and promoted a view of heredity that subsequently was discredited. Darwin did some worthwhile experimentation on plants, but in terms of evidence to support the new Weltanschauung (world view), Darwin was a failure. And what he didnt know is more profound than what he did know; Darwin knew nothing of the true basis of heredity or development, DNA, molecular machines, and the mind-boggling complexity of the cell.Dogs Dig Bach, Seals Never Forget 10/23/2002
Two mammal stories just for fun today: dogs seem to like classical music (more Bach, less bark), whereas heavy metal makes them go berserk, says New Scientist. And a seal named Rio remembered a trick she hadnt performed for ten years.
Job said, Ask now the beasts, and they will teach you. We may have to change the proverb from an elephant never forgets and give seals the honor. Parents might be able to use the dog story as clout in discussions about their teenagers listening habits, or suggest it as a science project (plants can be substituted for dogs with similar results).Ancient Cell Wiser than Most Computer Users 10/23/2002
The agony of delete strikes many computer users who neglect to back up their data, but an ancient one-celled organism apparently has the wisdom to keep backup copies of its genome. Thats the implication of a story in the BBC News about Tetrahymena, a primitive protozoan that has a macronucleus with the working genome and a micronucleus with a master backup copy. Martin Gorovsky of the University of Rochester has studied this ancient lifeforms strategy to protect its DNA:
Gorovskys team believes that in evolutionarily ancient times, cells had to fight against a variety of assaults just as they must today: viruses attacked cells, injecting their DNA to disrupt normal cell functions; and transposons, bits of nomadic genetic material that insert themselves into the cells DNA causing havoc.The team found that Tetrahymena inspects its DNA against the master copy before passing it on, to ensure the progeny get an uncorrupted copy. Gorovsky suspects a similar defense mechanism is at work in higher organisms.
Unless the DNA library can be transmitted with high fidelity, the genome of any organism would break down in just a few generations. Creationists see in this a marvelous example of design, but evolutionists are guilty of violating their own principles when speaking in personal terms as seen above. Its a technical foul for an evolutionist to say a cell had to fight, or viruses attacked, or injected their DNA to disrupt, or cells evolved a correction system. Each of these phrases puts personal intent into brainless one-celled organisms, portraying them as more savvy than human beings. In all fairness, we recognize the colorful language of journalism. But try translating the story into the dry, impersonal language of materialism and the theory of evolution breaks down. Tetrahymena couldnt care less whether its genome gets passed on accurately or not. When you remove all sense of value judgments (e.g., its good to survive), and all sense of purposeful intent (e.g., the organism evolved this defense mechanism to protect its DNA), why should anything survive or evolve? Who cares? Certainly not the cell or the virus! Notice also the xenophobia: the virus is the bad guy, and the cell is the good guy. On what basis do they make this value judgment? Whatever is, is right. If the virus wreaks havoc (whatever that means the word implies values again) then havoc just is. Creationists do not have this problem, because they believe the Creator purposely intended for organisms to survive, and built these mechanisms into them for that purpose. Biblical creationists even propose that viruses might originally have had a beneficial role that went wrong at the Fall. Evolutionists, by contrast, commit their own mortal sin of invoking teleology when speaking in personal terms as in this story. We must challenge this and call it what it is: inconsistency. Make them stage their drama without actors but only props, and you will have a really boring performance, where nothing happens onstage but decay, and the props dont care whether you boo or applaud.Fruit Flies and Butterflies: Ho-Hum, More Microevolution 10/22/2002
Two papers in the online preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences October 22 talk a lot about evolution, but the variations studied occur only within species, so only constitute cases of microevolution or horizontal variation. In both, the technique employed was artificial selection, the implication being that natural selection acts similarly.
These papers are filled with the word evolution, but are just talking about conditioned response and artificial selection. The fruit flies are still fruit flies, and the butterflies are still butterflies. Much of evolutionary literature is like this: taking small changes within species, turning observed horizontal variation on end into vertical trends, and extrapolating the data recklessly from hydrogen to Homo sapiens sapiens. This is how the impression is given that all scientists believe evolution, and that evolution has been demonstrated in the laboratory. Give em an inch and they take a mile. How do they know the limit is not two inches before it breaks? Artificial selection can only take a species so far. Pumpkins can grow big enough to fill a wheelbarrow, but not the Rose Bowl. Just as there are natural limits to artificial selection, there are natural limits to natural selection.Bone Crypt of James, Brother of Jesus, Found? 10/21/2002
A brief article in National Geographic News makes the startling claim that a box once bearing the bones of James, brother of Jesus, has been found. A 2000-year old ossuary bears the inscription, James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. The article states that this is the first archaeological evidence pointing to Jesus as a real person: Until now, all references to the three men have been found only in manuscripts, An expert dates the ossuary at around 63 A.D.
Very intriguing, but whether it proves genuine may never be known. Is this really the first mention of Jesus in artifacts? Dont manuscripts also count as archaeological evidence? We have thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament. While this discovery is important, our confidence in the genuineness of the life of Christ comes not from relics, but from words words from credible eyewitnesses who walked and talked with Jesus and touched him, and recorded through inspiration of the Holy Spirit the very Word of God. That should be more than sufficient evidence.Molecules and Antelope Play Games to Survive? 10/17/2002
In a News and Views section of the Oct 17 Nature, Michor and Nowak examine the current views on game theory as an evolutionary explanation for altruism. From von Neumann to Szabo and Hauert, from prisoners dilemma to the Red Queen, they discuss various proposals to overcome Darwins caveat that natural selection cannot directly promote altruistic acts where individuals reduce their own competitive ability but increase that of others. So why would an antelope, or a molecule, or a human lay down his life for his friends? Answering that in Darwinian terms is still a work in progress. In particular, this article examines the latest extension of game theory to the problem of loners, those who dont play the game; i.e., they get their own pay-off without paying into the company pool :
Those who choose to participate in the public-goods game must forgo the loners pay-off. Equivalently, one could regard the pay-off as the avoidance of a fixed cost for participating in the public-goods game.To what kinds of living systems does this theory apply?
At the dawn of life on Earth (or elsewhere), replicating molecules had to cooperate to take the first step towards increasing complexity and stability of molecular and later cellular ecosystems. Multicellularity requires cooperation among cells. Cooperation is common in animal societies, but it is often confined to interactions among related individuals. Large-scale cooperation among unrelated individuals seems to be a particularly human trait. Of course, cooperation is always threatened by defection; oscillations between war and peace have been a recurring theme in the cooperation literature. The new work shows that it is optional, rather than compulsory, interactions that promote cooperation.The authors describe various computer simulations where models of these games can be played.
If any reader can explain why this is not a blatant case of the personification fallacy, please write us. If the evolutionists do not really mean that antelope and molecules and cells are consciously choosing to play along or not in various games, why do they speak in these terms without explaining what they really mean? Otherwise, they should stop playing games and go do some real empirical scientific work.Ohio School Board Votes Unanimously to Teach the Controversy 10/17/2002
Yesterday by a vote of 17-0, the Ohio State Board of Education voted in favor of an intent to adopt new science standards which include the following two changes: (1) changing the wording of the definition of science from Recognize that scientific knowledge is limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena based on evidence from our senses or technological extensions to Recognize that science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, based on observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, and theory building, which leads to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. (2) Adding this statement to 10th grade life science: Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. The group that has been advocating the teach the controversy approach, Science Excellence for All Ohioans, is pleased with these modest changes, but feels that the language in the evolutionary theory sections is still problematic in numerous places. The vote just indicated intent to adopt the standards; after additional hearings, the final vote is slated for December.
More news sources: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press. See also Answers in Genesis on the spin doctoring going on in the media. Mark Hartwigs Weekly Wedge Update for Oct. 23 discusses the decision and has links to additional resources. Dr. Paul Nelson commented that Darwinists dont seem to know quite how to spin this story. On the one hand, they were calling it disastrous to science, but after the decision they were saying its not a big deal.
Spin doctoring is for politicians, not scientists. Its hard to see how anybody could oppose these changes. They are in line with Congressional guidelines and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. They only state what teachers are already allowed to do. They do not bring religion into the science classroom. They do not decrease the teaching of evolution, nor mandate any teaching of creation. Why the fuss, then? They open the door for controversial aspects of evolution to be presented honestly, for students to hear that there are alternatives, and they remove the naturalistic philosophy built into the definition of science. This puts the ACLU, the NCSE, and the NAS on the warpath. Science Now, for instance, continues to lie about and distort the story, invoking the science vs. creationism stereotype. (Notice how their report contains artwork of one of Jonathan Wells icons of evolution: the monkey-to-man sequence.)Announcing: The Protein Big Bang Theory 10/16/2002
A paper in the Oct 16 online preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has an intriguing title: Expanding protein universe and its origin from the biological Big Bang. Three biochemists from Harvard, University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Boston University attempted to demonstrate a possible origin of all proteins from a single or a few precursor folds a scenario akin to that of the origin of the universe from the Big Bang. A striking characteristic of biological proteins is that many have similar folds even with unlike sequences of amino acids; these are called orphans because they are nonhomologous: i.e., they appear to have no common ancestors. To explain this, previous investigators imagined that there might be some kind of designability principle that made evolving proteins converge on these special folds. This team set out to show that biological proteins could have diverged instead from simple random precursors; in other words, divergent evolution rather than convergent evolution produced the protein domain. To do this, they graphed all known protein folds on what they call a protein domain universe graph (PDUG), tweaked in such a way as to make it scale-free. (An example of a scale-free network is the world-wide web.) After differentiating it from random networks, they deduced that it could have grown by divergent evolution, as proteins evolved through recombination, duplication and mutation, such that folds were preserved even as the sequences were shuffled:
It is quite suggestive that the origin of the observed scale-free character of the PDUG lies in the evolutionary dynamics of protein fold genesis as a result of divergent evolution from one or a few precursor domains. To this end, we develop a minimalistic model that aims to explain the scale-free PDUG. Specifically, we assume, as do several other models, that new proteins evolve as a result of an increase in the gene population primarily by means of duplication with subsequent divergence of sequences by mutations, as well as more dramatic changes such as deletions of certain parts sequences and even possible reshuffling of some structural elements (foldons).Their analysis yielded a striking number of orphans, as expected, giving them confidence in their analysis. They caution, however, that the picture is oversimplified:
The divergent evolution model presented here is a schematic one, as it does not consider many structural and functional details, and its assumptions about the geometry of protein domain space in which structural diffusion of proteins occurs may be simplistic. However, its success in explaining qualitative and quantitative features of PDUG supports the view that all proteins might have evolved from a few precursors.They conclude by also cautioning that their graphical analysis was just an algorithm selected to spy on nature, not that nature used any algorithm to create the protein domain. They chose the algorithm and set the threshold values to attempt to discern natural processes from random ones.
This is the old fallacy of arranging the tools in your garage in hierarchical order and claiming this demonstrates they had a common ancestor. Despite the math and the graphs, their concepts are vague and superficial. They admit that the number of possible sequences of amino acids is huge compared to those that have function: the underlying assumption of equilibrium in sequence space [i.e., assumed by those who suspect a hypothetical designability principle, that proteins somehow converge on specially favorable folds] is difficult to justify if one considers the sheer size of sequence space. In other words, it is an observational fact that proteins are not random sequences, but are functional machines with specific shapes that work. In mathematical terms structure space << sequence space. These authors speak nothing of how structure evolved; they only speak in glittering generalities about scale-free networks and possible divergence from precursors. They pull information out of the magic hat by invoking duplication and reshuffling. Dumbest of all is their silly analogy with the Big Bang theory. Proteins have nothing to do with exploding hydrogen. If we wanted to have fun with their comparison, we could point out that, like cosmological Big Bang theory, the protein Big Bang also has a lumpiness problem, an entropy problem, an ignition problem, and an origin problem.Cell Beats Computer: 100 Trillion Times Faster at Folding a Simple Protein 10/15/2002
Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab modeled the folding of a simple protein of 18,000 atoms on their computers, reports EurekAlert. It took 6 months on 82 parallel processors, which amounts to 34 years of CPU time. The cell folds this particular protein in about 10 microseconds (millionths of a second), which is 100 trillion times as fast. Thats proportional to one second vs. 3.4 million years. The computer algorithm the scientists designed relies on exhaustive sampling of protein configurations and utilizes massively parallel computing combined with molecular dynamics and a random-sampling Monte Carlo simulation of the thermodynamics. It is expected that the processing time would grow exponentially with the increasing length of the protein chain, but cells routinely fold their proteins within milliseconds to microseconds. University of Florida reports a record holder: a short 20 amino acid protein that folds within 4 microseconds. Biophysicist Stephen Hagen asks, What is it thats special about these molecules that enables them to solve a very difficult computational problem spontaneously in such a short amount of time?
Update 10/21/2002: Nature Science Update reports that a scientific team predicted a protein fold successfully by using spare time on 200,000 home PCs in a distributed project called Folding@home. This amounted to about to 2,000 years of computer time. The article states, Trying to anticipate how the many atoms within a protein interact as it crumples up is a mind-bending problem involving near a billion steps. Like entering a maze, the molecular backbone can start looping up in a numerous different ways, yet most paths lead to dead ends. Somehow the real protein avoids the pitfalls and finds shortcuts through the maze, achieving its correct shape in five milliseconds.
There are a huge number of wrong folds a particular chain of amino acids can make, but only one or a few that will work. How the cell does this so accurately and so rapidly is one of the most intriguing branches of biology right now. Scientists know that misfolded proteins are implicated in many diseases; usually the cell destroys them. Only an elaborate system of quality control keeps these dynamic chains in their correct shapes. A typical cell has over 100,000 proteins at work at any one time, all correctly folded, that are continually being programmed in the nucleus via DNA, assembled in the ribosomes, folded by chaperones, and then dismantled and recycled in the proteasomes. The computer model in the story is an important step in mastering the protein-folding Olympic event, but it primarily underscores the excellence of the software the Creator built into the cell.Mummified Dinosaur Found in Montana 10/15/2002
According to National Geographic News, a mummified dinosaur carcass has been found in Montana, so complete that even its skin, muscles, and the last meal in its stomach have been preserved. Almost a complete specimen of brachylophosaurus, it is said to be the fourth dinosaur ever found in a mummified condition; the other three were found in the early 1900s. Local museum curator Nate Murphy told National Geographic, To find one with so much external detail available, its like going from a horse and buggy to a steam combustion engine. It will advance our science a quantum leap. Soft tissues are only found in 1/10 of 1% of dinosaur fossils. This fossil was first discovered in summer 2000, but announced just last weekend at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Oklahoma. It has been dubbed Leonardo because of nearby graffiti signed by a man named Leonard in 1917.
Update 10/21/2002: Science Now came out with a report on this extremely rare find that is wowing paleontologists. The article includes a picture of the duck-billed hadrosaur fossil in its skin.
How could these delicate features be preserved unharmed for 65 million years? Just one million years is a long, long, long, long time for continents to shift, mountains to rise and fall, and catastrophes to scar the earth. Should not this fossil be taken to challenge current theories about the age of dinosaurs? Carl Wieland reported in Creation magazine that many dinosaur fossils still contain the original bone material. Imagine the paradigm shift if evidence becomes overpowering that dinosaurs lived in the relatively recent past. Doesnt this fossil cry out for a re-evaluation of the assumptions? Now all we need is a good living dinosaur to be found. Dont laugh; recently pine trees from the age of dinosaurs
Next headline on: Dinosaurs. Next headline on: Fossils. Next headline on: Dating Methods. Next amazing story. SETI@Home Faces Funding Crisis 10/15/2002
According to Silicon.Com, SETI@home is running out of money. The project to search radio signals with the help of four million volunteer home PCs may have to call it quits unless a new sponsor comes to the aid. All development on SETI@home II, which was to add southern hemisphere data from an Australian radio telescope, has ceased. The SETI@home website does not appear to be trumpeting the bad news.
When you are investigating the unknown, you do not know what you will find, but money is always hard to find, especially for investigating the unknown.The Evolution of Folly, or Vice Versa? 10/14/2002
The entire Oct 10 issue of Neuron is devoted to Reward and Decision. In their analysis, Jonathan Cohen and Kenneth Blum discuss how the diverse areas of neurology, psychology, economics and evolutionary biology are all attempting to converge on models that explain the empirical facts regarding choice. But while neurology and psychology are swimming in data but lacking models, the other fields have models but are weak empirical data. Some models appear to predict behavior, but there is no consensus on why animals and people often make suboptimal choices (emphasis added):
This special issue of Neuron addresses two of the most basic and interesting questions about the neural bases of human behavior: how reward is processed in the brain, and how this influences our behavior. Indeed, perhaps the most general observations that can be made about our behavior (or that of just about any organism) are that (1) its primary and ultimate goal is to seek reward (and avoid punishment), and (2) we are not always so good at doing this. As elementary and self-evident as are these observations, a closer consideration of each raises profound questions about the nature of human behavior and how it is guided by reward. First, how do we evaluate and compare the diverse forms of reward-satisfying a biological need, pursuing a form of leisure, living longer, or helping another-that are available to us? From an evolutionary perspective, these might all be viewed as mere stepping stones to the ultimate reward: ensuring the future of our genetic lineage. However, from another perspective, that of the individual going about her daily life, the more proximal forms of reward are of paramount importance. They must be assessed and compared to one anotherin implicit calculations if not within the full view of consciousnessso that she can decide, in a timely manner, what to do next. How are these calculations carried out, across vastly different domains of information, in the face of a staggering array of behavioral possibilities, so frequently, and so quickly? The second observation is equally perplexing. Why are we so often bad at doing this? Despite millions of years of evolution and its culmination in the truly glorious (though at times equally nefarious) capabilities of the human brain, isnt it remarkable that the behavior of even reasonably intelligent individuals can be as idiosyncratic, seemingly irrational, and sometimes patently counterproductive as it often appears to be?They offer some possible explanations: One is that the job is tough and evolution is not perfect. Another is that evolution molded our behavior for an environment different than that which we live today. A third, it is also possible that evolution did the best with the cards it was dealt, but that the hand itself was not perfect.
Here we see the personification fallacy again, clear as day. This is a frequent sin in evolutionary literature. Here also we see high praise for the design in nature, the truly glorious capabilities of the human brain, with just the assumption that it evolved (see begging the question). There is also an impermissible word used (nefarious), a foul because evolutionists do not believe in moral evil. Worst of all is the blatant reductionism that sees all human activity, no matter how sublime, as nothing more than desire to gain reward and avoid punishment. How do you, gentle reader, feel about the ultimate reward described above not heaven, seeing your Creator face to face and hearing him say, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, and sharing joyful relationships with righteous beings forever but passing on your genes? Is that what makes you work so hard, and do all you do? So what if another generation of evolutionary pawns gets to proclaim the mantra, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Whoop de do.In the concluding review essay by Paul Glimcher of New York University, Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Choosing a Biological Science of Choice, the relationship between ultimate and proximal causes is explored. He examines economic models like game theory and tries to relate them to the actual nerve impulses measured by neurologists when a rat pushes a lever. He discusses how groups of individuals, like ducks, can form Nash equilibria even when individual behavior is stochastic. Considering the progress that the diverse fields of economics and evolutionary biology and neurology are making, he concludes that, Using the evolutionary and economic framework of behavioral ecology, it is beginning to appear that the ultimate causes of behavior can be examined and in much the same way that Horace Barlow used information theory to describe efficient sensory encoding (emphasis added. Barlow had described the brains filtering of constant sensory data as an optimization technique in terms of information theory.)
There is a lot of material in this issue, much more than can be quoted to adequately convey the thinking of the authors, but one aspect is notable: there is no doubt in their minds whatsoever that human behavior must be understood in solely evolutionary terms. Ethics, religion, revelation, love, responsibility all these are out. They have no need of these hypotheses. They might have a case if they were successful, but where is the success? They can point to nerve impulses on a sheet of graph paper here, and monkeys that know which button to press there, and some economic models that give rough predictions of group behavior over yonder. The rest is mostly questions and a maze of variables too vast to even approach. Evolutionary behaviorism is a perpetual research program with no ultimate answers.Edinburgh to Honor Dropout: Charles Darwin 10/14/2002
The BBC News reports that the city of Edinburgh is going to erect a plaque at the rear entrance to the Royal Museum, and hold a half-day event celebrating the famed originator of the modern theory of evolution. Darwin attended Edinburgh University for a short time at age 16, but dropped out. He later attended Cambridge, where he studied for the clergy of the Church of England, and received his only degree in theology. The article refers to him as one of the most important scientific thinkers of the 19th century, and concludes, There was strong resistance to Darwinian thinking but nowadays the theory of evolution is at the centre of mainstream science.
A more fitting memorial would be a plaque mentioning the unmarked graves of 100 million people who perished under totalitarian regimes built on the principle of survival of the fittest. Yes, Darwin did not personally advocate or foment these regimes, and would probably have opposed them. But it is a fact that Hitler, Stalin, Marx, Ingels, Lenin, and Chairman Mao all saw Darwinian evolution as the basis in natural science for their views. Marx said this explicitly. Stalin, while a seminary student for the Russian Orthodox Church, read the Origin of Species and became an atheist. Darwins work laid the foundation of a philosophy of atheism and materialism which persists to this day in the scientific bureaucracies that idolize him while jettisoning the scientific philosophies Kepler and Pasteur based on design. Darwin did nothing to stop those even in his day that took his ball and ran with it. He himself, as a recent biographer portrays, was knee-deep in Victorian sexism, racism, and classism that progressed through his later years. The originator of idea may not be totally responsible for those that abuse it, but ideas have consequences.Discouragement and Hope Confront Solar System Theorists 10/11/2002
Researchers were foundering in a sea of meteorite data, begins the article by Richard Kerr in the Oct. 11 issue of Science, but new findings offer a renewed prospect of understanding how the solar system came to be.
John Wood was discouraged. For more than 40 years he had been studying meteorites, in hopes that the first rocks formed in the solar system would reveal when and how they and other planetary bodies came to be. Now a leading figure in his field, Wood was beginning to suspect that the evidence might not be there. And in a plenary lecture at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, he stunned his colleagues by saying so.That was two years ago. Since then, however, in a recent flurry of papers, Wood and others are finding some cause for hope. The problem has been that meteorites contain calcium-aluminum inclusions (CAIs) that contain burned-out remnants of short-lived isotopes like beryllium-10 and beryllium-7, along with chondrules that (according to current models) must have formed millions of years later:
Theres a big puzzle how you can possibly store CAIs for millions of years waiting for chondrules to form, says [Frank] Shu [Taiwanese astrophysicist]. Marble-sized bits of rock orbiting in the gas of the solar nebula would have been dragged into the sun within tens of thousands of years, he notes, not millions.So what is the hope? First, as we reported August 29, a team of astrophysicists concluded that the earth formed much more rapidly as previously believed, in 30 million years, down from earlier estimates of 100 million. This new date revision, it is believed, can help constrain models of planetary accretion.
The new date has its drawbacks, [Alexander] Halliday [of Zurich, Switzerland] notes. For one thing, the work also reduces the date of the moons formation from 60 million years after the solar nebula formed to 30 million years. The later origin had neatly matched the age of the moons oldest rocks, which were presumed to have quickly frozen out of the ocean of magma covering the new moon. The revised age of the moon creates a 30-million-year gap, forcing scientists to explain either why moon rocks took so long to form or where the first ones went. Thats a bit of a surprise, says Halliday, one to be sorted out with more chemical and isotopic analyses.On other fronts, efforts are being made to explain chondrules. The discovery of beryllium-7 in CAIs (half-life 53.28 days), is fantastically exciting, says Donald Burnett of Caltech, but also upsets the apple cart. This discovery and other features of chondrules are almost requiring blasts of radiation from the sun that could have melted and molded the materials together. This has resurrected versions of Frank Shus 1996 X-wind model of nebular processing:
In his scenario, the young sun blasted the nearest nebular material with heat and radiation and then blew the resulting blobs of molten rock up and out over the nebular disk in the magnetically driven wind typical of newborn stars. Falling back onto the disk, the droplets became chondrules, which formed the building blocks of both chondrites and terrestrial planets.Yet chondrules appear to have required heating for up to 2100 K for several minutes and cooling for hours to create their characteristic minerals. The X-wind picture is incomplete, think most other theorists, so another mechanism has come into vogue recently. Two independent teams have proposed that shocked and heated gas in the solar nebula could have kept the chondrules hot for a few hours before they radiated away all the heat. Shock is now the leading proposed mechanism for chondrule formation. Now theorists are gearing up to explain where the shock waves came from, which is still an open question.
Wood has reason to still be discouraged. The news can hardly seem that hopeful, because each solution is breeding new problems. If the earth accreted in short order, then it puts the formation of the moon (already an unlikely happenstance) into a much narrower window of time. Added to this are new ad hoc mechanisms (X-winds and shock waves) that require finding a cause. If you are a regular reader, you know that these are not the only difficulties with the nebular/planetesimal hypothesis for the origin of the solar system. See the recent headlines about Uranus and Neptune, Ios volcanoes, the nanodiamond deficit, and comets, along with many other such stories in our Solar System chain links. These are all in addition to the biggest puzzle: our finely-crafted planet earth itself, with its radiation shields, water oceans, and numerous other anthropic features that make it perfectly suited for life.New Biography of Alfred Russell Wallace Reviewed 10/10/2002
Professional skeptic Michael Shermer has released a new biography of Darwins rival and co-discoverer of natural selection, entitled In Darwins Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russell Wallace. James Mallett of University College London reviews it in the Oct 10 issue of Nature and finds it mostly good, but the kind of story one can spin various ways. Most disconcerting to Wallace historians was that this scientist could delve into spiritualism, and worse, disbelieve that natural selection could explain all the wonders of life, believing instead that an overriding intelligence was watching over human evolution. This apparently gave Darwin sneezing fits: You write like a metamorphosed (in retrograde direction) naturalist. And you, the author of the best paper that ever appeared in the Anthropological Review! Eheu! Eheu! Eheu! - Your miserable friend, C. Darwin.
Wallace was no Christian, certainly, and is a paradoxical figure for sure, but the Darwinian materialists cannot tolerate any suggestion that natural selection is anything less than the creator of all living wonders. That is why Darwin is the historical champion of evolutionary theory, not Wallace, who almost beat Charlie to the punch. Pseudoscience is their label for anything beyond material causes, including God, used to explain any biological phenomenon. From molecular motors to hummingbird wings, from exploding seed pods to human gymnasts, natural selection is the catch-all, do-all wonder worker. It is the biggest materialist panacea in history. And what is the evidence for this alleged mechanism and engine that drives molecules to evolve into men, and monkeys into Presbyterians? Finch beaks, peppered moths and other trivial variations. (Mallett exaggerates, Darwins viewpoints on these topics are completely vindicated: for example, the idea that peacock tails evolved by female choice is strongly supported by experiment he needs to read our Sept. 9 headline on this). Natural selection is a vacuous concept that cannot explain a hill of beans. (Beans require thousands of molecular motors and a huge coded DNA library of complex specified information, and they depend on tiny molecular machine in bacteria to get their nitrogen.) Too much ink is wasted on whether Darwin or Wallace should get more credit for this bloated idea. Too little credit is given to Edward Blyth, the creationist who thought it up earlier, 24 years before Darwins Origin. Blyth saw natural selection not as a creative force, but a conservative mechanism the all-wise Creator built into living things for their survival in changing environments. That can be supported by observations; evolving whales from amoebas is another (just-so) story.Toumaï Skull Fires Controversy 10/09/2002
Its just a gorilla skull. No! Its a human ancestor youre just jealous! So goes the tussle over Toumaï, the skull announced by Michel Brunet in July, says Nature Science Update. Critics argue that its just a female gorilla skull in bad shape, but defenders retort that their criticism is a thinly disguised attack on someone elses fossils and a thinly disguised advert for their own. Milford Wolpoffs critical analysis guised in technical jargon is in the Oct 10 issue of Nature, where also Brunet prints his rebuttal. Maybe the upcoming reconstruction will help, sighs the news report. National Geographic is not taking sides.
This is more fun than watching cavemen beat each other over the head with clubs.SETI Discovers Aliens! (In the Movies) 10/09/2002
Unsuccessful so far at finding life in space, SETI researchers have pointed their instruments at Hollywood, and hit pay dirt. Nature Science Update reports that they are calibrating their new Rio Scale, which is supposed to help weed out hoaxes from true signals from extra-terrestrial intelligences. The movies Contact and Independence Day scored 10 on a scale of 10.
False alarm. Call back when they get out of the theater and back to their consoles. You cant blame them for getting bored, though, just sitting there year after year.From Gills to Lungs, Wings and Looms 10/08/2002
What can you get from gills? In the latest issue of Current Biology, some German and Greek scientists think you can get lots of things: insect wings, lungs, and spider web spinning equipment. They investigated the expression of two genes between horseshoe crabs and spiders and concluded that Combined with morphological and palaeontological evidence, these observations suggest that fundamentally different new organs (wings, air-breathing organs, and spinnerets) evolved from the same ancestral structure (gills) in parallel instances of terrestrialization. Although they admit that Understanding morphological changes that occurred in the distant past poses a major challenge for evolutionary biology, and that similarities in expression patterns can sometimes be misleading for determining homologies, they feel their molecular comparison matches other lines of evidence: Looking for congruence among independent types of data (morphological, palaeontological, or molecular) and phylogeny is the only way to overcome this problem and trace the origin of morphological innovations such as wings, book lungs, and spinnerets after hundreds of million years of evolution. Our observations are congruent with data from comparative anatomy, palaeontology, and phylogeny, and this gives us confidence in arguing for the common origin of these structures. Science Now has a summary of the idea.
Did you catch the circular reasoning here? Nowhere do these authors supply any evidence for how a gill could turn into a complex spinning device that can generate one of the most ideal materials known to science, spider silk, or how any of these other complex structures wings and lungs could arise from a long progression of mistakes (mutations). All they do is look for similarities in what they think are independent lines of evidence, which in fact are related by a common assumption: evolution. Theres a joke about a man named Joe who got drunk Monday night on gin and soda, drunk again Tuesday on ale and soda, and drunk Wednesday on vodka and soda. The obvious conclusion is that soda caused Joes drunkenness. These evolutionists see soda in the fossil record, comparative anatomy (homologous organs) and molecular phylogeny, but missed the point: every one of their lines of evidence is contaminated with the alcohol of Darwinism. From the starting base, they have already assumed that these organisms (trilobites, horseshoe crabs, spiders and insects) all have a common ancestor, then they use that assumption of common ancestry to demonstrate common ancestry. Comparative anatomy is built on the assumption of evolution (homologous organs arose from a common ancestor, and then are used to demonstrate common ancestry). Molecular phylogeny is built on the assumption of evolution (conserved genes have a common ancestor, so if you find conserved genes they demonstrate common ancestry). The fossil record might be able to demonstrate actual descent from a common ancestor, if there were plentiful transitional forms, but all these authors point to are horseshoe crabs living fossils, unevolved for supposedly 500 million years! Thus every one of the so-called independent lines of evidence invoked by these authors already assume Darwinian common descent to be true, so they are reasoning in a circle. Theyre drunk on Darwinism while singing How dry I am.Natural Selection Just Got Tougher: Sex Doesnt Help 10/07/2002
Is sex a benefit for evolution? Scientists knew that selection could be limited by linkage between genes, and some thought that sex would remove this hindrance. Now, two Univ. of Rochester scientists publishing in the Oct. 7 preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a study of fruit flies, concluded that sex does not remove the obstacle of linked genes:
Population genetic theory shows that the efficacy of natural selection is limited by linkageselection at one site interferes with selection at linked sites. Such interference slows adaptation in asexual genomes and may explain the evolutionary advantage of sex. Here, we test for two signatures of constraint caused by linkage in a sexual genome, by using sequence data from 255 Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans loci. We find that (i) the rate of protein adaptation is reduced in regions of low recombination, and (ii) evolution at strongly selected amino acid sites interferes with optimal codon usage at weakly selected, tightly linked synonymous sites. Together these findings suggest that linkage limits the rate and degree of adaptation even in recombining genomes.The paper is entitled, Linkage limits the power of natural selection in Drosophila, by Andrea J. Betancourt and Daven C. Presgraves.
Another serious blow for Darwinism. The title says it limits selection in fruit flies, but fruit flies have been Exhibit A of evolution since the 1930s. Hardly any other species has been studied for evolutionary mechanisms in such detail. We have lots of weird mutants: flies with wrinkled wings, flies without wings, flies with duplicate wings, flies with red eyes or black eyes, flies with legs growing where the antennae are supposed to be. None has ever arisen with a clear evolutionary advantage. Now, the very power of natural selection has been called into question. Are school teachers going to be able to quote P.N.A.S. in science classes, or is that off limits now? (Darwinism must be presented as impregnable in school; biology teacher Roger DeHart was dismissed from teaching biology for quoting Stephen Jay Gould and scientific journals that were critical of the power of natural selection.)Does Science Lie? 10/07/2002
The Oct 4 issue of the journal Science contains a news item on the Cobb County, Georgia school board vote that reportedly opens the door to creationism (it does not; it simply allows teaching the controversy about evolution). Author Constance Holden claims, The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism has no place in science classes; yet that ruling only forbade state-mandated equal-time provisions. The Supreme Court decision specifically said, Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of human-kind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. According to Wendell Bird, who argued the case before the court on behalf of the state of Louisiana, The majority opinion leaves open at least two alternatives to indoctrination in evolution and censorship of scientific alternatives: (1) the right of teachers to teach a variety of scientific theories and to bring Scopes-type lawsuits if punished or prohibited, and (2) the right of schools, school districts, and perhaps legislatures to encourage or require teaching of all scientific theories . . . about origins. As long as aspects of creationism, intelligent design or problems with Darwinism are presented scientifically and not religiously, therefore, they do not violate either the spirit or the letter of the Supreme Court decision; it is only that states cannot pass laws mandating equal time for creation and evolution. If the Supreme Court had meant that creationism has no place in science instruction, the No child left behind Education Bill passed by the Congress last December would have been declared unconstitutional. For some balance on what happened in Georgia, read Mark Hartwigs commentary on the Cobb County decision.
Even the pro-evolution website National Center for Science Education states that the Supreme Court only struck down laws that mandated balanced treatment of creation and evolution, or prohibited evolution teaching it does not follow that creation has no place in the science classroom (see non-sequitur in the Baloney Detector). Holdens claim is no more logical than concluding, if the court had struck down a law mandating equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, that therefore Republicans are illegal. This highly-biased report in Science has no place in a journal that is supposed to be an open-ended search for truth. Science editors are welcome to their opinion of the Supreme Court decision, but they should not lie about what it said.Flower Signalling: Is it Come on In, or Get Lost? 10/04/2002
Flowers are speaking out of both sides of their mouth, says Kathryn Brown in a News Focus item in the Oct 4 issue of Science. Are they trying to sweet-talk bugs into their interiors for pollination, or keep thieves out? Traditional Darwinists have long assumed the former, but a new generation of biologists is considering the possibility that mixed motives may contribute to floral evolution:
Compromise, as Galen puts it, is fast becoming the new buzzword as researchers uncover the details of floral evolution. Many scientists have long explained flower fashions rather simply: From richly red bee balm to the cornflowers spiky crown, popular theory has gone, each flower has evolved the right color and shape to attract effective pollinators. The yucca plant, for instance, turns its flowers upward at dusk, to be pollinated exclusively by the yucca moth, which rolls up its heavy pollen like a snowball.But traditionalists arent prepared to surrender the pollinators primacy, says Browne. Nevertheless, the revisionists claim that we dont have enough data to support the pollinator paradigm, and more forces must be involved in the natural selection of floral displays.
Like design? Speaking of humble lilies of the field, Jesus claimed that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Matt. 6:29). Darwinism, however, finds no beauty in flowers. It seeks to reduce everything to selfish utilitarianism: the flower only wants to pass on its genes, so it will do any selfish trick in the book to lure in the good bugs and make the bad bugs miserable. So that, children, is how we got roses and petunias and orchids and snapdragons and azaleas. This is the reductionist legacy of naturalistic evolutionism: it robs nature of beauty. But function and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive; a bridge can be ornate, yet permit passage of traffic. A Christian alternative viewpoint would not deny that flowers are functional, that as reproductive organs they must attract pollinators and repel intruders. Instead, it would say that in the process of making an interconnected world of living things, the Creator expressed beauty out of His goodness. Flowers have, what Francis Schaeffer termed, useless beauty. But this is not a scientific approach, an evolutionist will complain. Well, given (1) that the fossil record makes the evolution of flowering plants an abominable mystery (in Darwins words, and still true today), and (2) that (as this article reveals) evolutionists have no convincing case that natural selection could produce roses and petunias and azaleas, we ask, is naturalism a scientific approach? Abrupt appearance, beauty these are the observations that Darwinism cannot explain.Mystery Star Challenges Stellar Evolution 10/03/2002
Astronomy Picture of the Day, a service of Goddard Space Flight Center, has a picture October 3 of an unusual star named V838 Monocerotis that flared up in January of this year. The caption states: the erupting star transformed itself over a period of months from a small under-luminous star a little hotter than the Sun, to a highly-luminous, cool supergiant star undergoing rapid and complex brightness changes. The transformation defies the conventional understanding of stellar life cycles.
Update 03/27/2003: The Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute released a dazzling set of four images of the light echo of this eruption progressing outward.
Any undergraduate astronomy student knows that the stellar life cycle mapped on the color-luminosity diagram is one of the best-understood processes in astrophysics, or at least it is often presented that way. Where does this star fit on the diagram? We are told that stars take millions of years to evolve from one stage to another, but here is one that went from a small sunlike star to a supergiant within months. This one is called a totally new addition to the astronomical zoo. But how different is it, really, from other main sequence stars? Maybe stars can evolve quicker than earlier believed. Stellar evolution is, of course, not evolution in the sense of increasing in complexity or information. It is the working out of physics and chemistry under gravity, better termed stellar aging. We are not seeing creative processes here, but destructive processes, as the stars matter and energy is being flung outward into space.Quasar Not Linked to Nearby Galaxy 10/03/2002
The Hubble Space Telescope has just released a new image of Markarian 205, considered Exhibit A in a long-standing debate about redshifts. For many years, Halton Arp and a minority of other astronomers have contended that the quasar and the galaxy are connected by a bridge of material, and this proves they must be physically associated, even though they have very different redshifts. Thus, the redshift value cannot be taken as a measure of distance. Markarian 205 was the showcase example, though Arp had many others in his collection of photographs. The new Hubble image appears to clearly show that there is no bridge at all, and the two objects are unrelated. The Hubble team claims it is just a chance alignment.
Update 10/10/2002: Govert Schilling in Science Now reports that the believers are not giving up. Arp is accusing the Space Telescope Science Institute of deliberately misleading the public, and one of his former students released an enhanced version of the image with the bridge still present.
Whether the Hubble image settles the debate remains to be seen, but there is no indication of a bridge in the photograph. Nevertheless, readers should be aware that a good deal of image processing goes into images that are released to the public. Anyone who has worked with digital images knows how easily they can be manipulated. It is now a matter of ethics and trust to believe images posted on the Internet. Images released by reliable sources should not be dismissed out of hand, of course; one should just be aware and read the fine print. Whats more important than this one disputed image is the statistical nature of the evidence. Are there too many alignments of discordant-redshift objects to be accounted for by chance? One weakness of the minority view was that it lacked a coherent physical mechanism that could produce redshifts apart from the expansion of the universe. Arps suggestion that quasars were ejected from galactic nuclei seems implausible to many. It will be interesting to see if he makes a better case, but for now, this new photograph appears to strengthen the case that redshifts are cosmological; i.e., that they are a function of universal expansion and therefore indicators of distance. Some creationists had used the older photographs to question the redshift evidence for the big bang theory. Redshifts, however, do not bear on the question of whether the universe was created or not. The naturalistic big bang theory still has its lumpiness problem and other severe headaches, cosmological redshifts notwithstanding.The Peppered Myth Lives On, But Not on Tree Trunks 10/03/02
See the 10/02 update to our July 5 headline about Judith Hoopers expose of the peppered moth myth and the furor it is causing. Hear Jonathan Wells explain why some students, misled by the fraud, want their tuition money back.
Your Immune System: How the Assassins Recognize the Terrorists 10/03/2002