Creation-Evolution Headlines
February 2004
photo strip
“The success of Darwinism was accompanied by a decline in scientific integrity. ... To establish the continuity required by the theory, historical arguments are invoked even though historical evidence is lacking.  Thus are engendered those fragile towers of hypotheses based on hypotheses, where fact and fiction intermingle in an inextricable confusion ... where deficiencies of the data were patched up with hypotheses, and the reader is left with the feeling that if the data do not support the theory they really ought to.”
– Dr. W. R. Thompson, Canadian entomologist, in the introduction to the 1956 reprint of Darwin’s Origin of Species.
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Evolution 101: Pro-Evolution Educational Website Opens   02/29/2004
Berkeley has a new website for educators and students named
Understanding Evolution.  For students, it presents topics on (1) Nature of Science, (2) Evolution 101, (3) Evidence, (4) Relevance of Evolution, (5) Misconceptions, and (6) History of Evolutionary Thought.  For teachers, there is additional material on (6) Teaching Evolution, (7) Overcoming Roadblocks, (8) Potential Pitfalls, (9) Readings and Resources.
This website is nicely designed and easy to use.  It was probably written in response to what Darwin Party defenders like Eugenie Scott lamented about the anti-evolution websites that some teachers are using (see 02/27/2004 entry).  The typical arguments and just-so stories are all here, simplified and easily digested without much thought, along with preventive medicine to anesthetize uncooperative students.  Some of the answers are really lame (see origin of life, for instance; it sidesteps the issue, tells big lies with glittering generalities and illustrates it with cartoon humor).  This website won’t teach students much about evolution, but it could provide a good practice pad for baloney detecting.
    The Darwin Party does not want students to know the best arguments for intelligent design or best evidences for creation.  They want to construct a straw man to quell the opposition, and via selective evidence, present a sanitized, non-threatening version of evolution.  The opposition wants students to thoroughly understand both sides.  Like Phillip Johnson often remarks, he wants students to learn more evolution than the schools are teaching them.  That includes the many deep and serious problems and controversies involved in all aspects of the belief system.
    The best proposal would be to allow students to compare and contrast this site with some of the best anti-evolution websites (see 02/13/2004 entry, for instance, and take your pick from creationism connection).  It may be too late, however.  A leading creationist professor (with a PhD from Harvard who studied under Stephen Jay Gould) recently remarked that, in his experience, today’s students are so clueless about history and science that teaching either view would be unlikely to produce any effect other than a glazed stare.  Young people have no knowledge of the issues involved in the Scopes Trial or any number of other subjects related to creation vs. evolution.  He said the only topic they can speak on with any interest is the latest movie.  Perhaps the dumbing down of America has made the “Understanding Evolution” website an exercise in futility for the masses.  We hope any students reading Creation-Evolution Headlines are glorious exceptions.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryEducation
We Don’t Know How We Know that Genes Make Minds   02/29/2004
“If the mind can be explained from the workings of the brain, and the brain develops by direction from our genes,” Anthony Monaco (Oxford) writes, “then presumably the mind can be explained from our genetic make-up.  But how can only 30,000 genes make a brain with billions of neurons and encode the particular aspects of cognition that make us human?”
    This question opens his book review of The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought by Gary Marcus (Basic Books, 2004) in the Feb. 19 issue of Nature.1  Monaco describes the book’s proposed answers to two paradoxes: (1) how a small number of genes codes for millions of neurons, and (2) how the brain can code for flexibility: “How does the brain of a newborn, with its complex structures and connections, have the plasticity to enable it to respond to environmental influences as it develops further?”
    He seems to agree with the view of author Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist, that “the brain is built by genes in a self-organized way before being reorganized and shaped by experience and the environment.  It is not a battle where one side wins, but a vital interaction.”  But how do we get from genes to mind, to cognition, thought and reason?
Having clarified these two paradoxes using our current knowledge of genetics and neuroscience, can we explain how genes make minds?  The story is only beginning.  This book shows that genes build brains and that brains are designed to be flexible and to learn, but the jump from genes to the mind is an indirect one.  The question cannot yet be answered, and it is not entirely clear where the answer will come from.
Cognitive psychologists and neurologists have some clues, aided by real-time imaging techniques, but Monaco warns that “The path ahead to integrate these disciplines to gain a fuller understanding is optimistically vague....”  He warns readers about the “sheer complexity of the science”.
1Anthony P. Monaco, “A recipe for the mind,”
Nature 427, 681 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427681b.
A naturalistic explanation for the mind, soul and spirit does not seem to be forthcoming, does it?  (By “explanation” we do not mean a just-so story; those are always in plentiful supply.)
Next headline on:  Human BodyGenetics and DNA
Was There a Single Common Ancestor for All Life?   02/29/2004
Lucy (the alleged human ancestor) had a distant ancestor named LUCA.  That’s the assumption of many evolutionary biologists.  LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, is the mother of us all: the bird and the worm, the bee and the flower, the man and his dog.  In the Darwinian creation story, sex had not yet evolved, so there was no Adam or Eve or Tree of Life in a garden, but instead, a single, unicellular, primitive ancestor at the root of the Darwinian tree of life (see
08/11/2003, 06/13/2003, and 11/06/2002 entries).  If LUCA is long gone in an unmarked grave, how do we know she (or it) existed?  That is the subject of a News Feature by John Whitfield in the Feb. 19 issue of Nature.1  As expected, Charles Darwin sets the stage:
“Probably all of the organic beings which have ever lived on this Earth have descended from some one primordial form,” Darwin wrote in his Origin of Species, published in 1859.  Darwin had no way to peer that far back in time.  But genome sequencing has given researchers hope that they can finally learn something about the ancestor of all life.  In 1999, they even gave it a name, LUCA, for the last universal common ancestor.
Finding LUCA is easier said than done.  Whitfield laments:
Yet despite the wealth of genomic data, LUCA has proven elusive.  In theory, remnants of the organism from which all life evolved should be scattered around modern genomes.  But so far, efforts to reconstruct LUCA's genes by building family trees from modern sequences have ended in frustration.  Basic questions about LUCA’s nature remain unanswered.  Did it live in a hot-water environment, such as a hydrothermal vent at the bottom of the ocean, or in cooler conditions at the ocean surface?  Was LUCA simple, like a bacterium, or more complex?
Whitfield is not about to let frustration lead to depression.  He thinks there are clues that an answer may be forthcoming.  One suggested answer, however, reflects a major change in thinking about what kind of critter LUCA was:
From all this work, one of the more surprising theories to emerge may also help to explain why LUCA has been so hard to find.  Perhaps it wasn’t a single organism at all.  Instead, most researchers now believe we should think of LUCA as a pool of genes shared among a host of primitive organisms.
    “The naive picture that a group of organisms got all their genes from a simple last common ancestor is breaking down,” says microbiologist Gary Olsen of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  In its place, the image of a sophisticated, global community is emerging, he says.  “In the past two years, it feels like it’s fallen together into a coherent picture.”  Rather than a last common ancestor, LUCA may have been a last common community.
Phylogenetic analysis (building trees from diverse genomes) presents serious statistical difficulties (see 07/25/2002 entry).  Also, not all evolutionists agree on whether LUCA was a hyperthermophile (a hot water lover) or lived near the cool ocean surface.  Furthermore, only 60 “universal” genes have been found between the major kingdoms – too few by a factor of ten or more to code for a free-living organism.  For these reasons, a single LUCA at the base of the tree of life is becoming increasingly difficult to accept:
According to some evolutionary biologists, the implications for LUCA are strange indeed.  If a single LUCA laid the foundations for the modern diversity in membranes, metabolism and so on, it must have had several different versions of many important genes, in addition to the universal 60.  Later lineages would each have pruned all but one from this set, giving rise to the current diversity in basic biochemical pathways.  The idea that organisms become more complex rather than less as you get closer to the root of the tree of life is impossible to swallow, says [David] Saul [U. of Auckland, NZ].  A single LUCA “would have to have had the most bizarre biochemistry imaginable”.
One top of that is the growing realization that horizontal gene transfer ran rampant among early unicellular organisms.  To Carl Woese (U. of Illinois), that prospect is as deadly to evolutionary biology as “a fox in a hen house.”  It would have scrambled the genetic record, rendering LUCA “unknowable.”  That is why Woese proposed the “community” hypothesis, a world in which genes acted like modules, able to function on their own.  Whitfield elaborates:
Ultimately, around 3.5 billion years ago, the modern domains of life would have emerged from the gene-swapping mêlée with many of the genes from the last common community riding on their coat-tails.  Inheritance and mutation would then have replaced gene transfer as the most important source of biological novelty as cells became more complex and their functions became less interchangeable.  This point, says Woese, was the true origin of species, and so he has christened it the darwinian threshold.
Interesting in theory, but would it work?  Others are not so sure it wouldn’t create bigger difficulties.  One resulting problem that would have irked Darwin:
...Patrick Forterre of the Paris-Sud University in Orsay and the Pasteur Institute in Paris, ... says the communal LUCA notion doesn’t fit with the way evolution works.  “To think of LUCA in terms of a community is to remove the idea of darwinism from early evolution,” he says.  Although LUCA undoubtedly swapped genes with its neighbours, Forterre argues that it would also have competed with them and ultimately triumphed through some key innovation.
There’s another difficulty with Woese’s idea.  Mathematicians from the University of Alberta found that a gene-swapping community in a world of competing resources would have been unstable.  “In other words, they say, the commune would have fallen apart.”
    Woese shrugs off those problems, confident a different mathematical model might be found to work.  Whitfield and Woese both remind us, though, that all these difficulties and disagreements ride on top of another, more serious difficulty, even farther back in the hidden past:
Of course, finding LUCA would not solve the puzzle of how life began.  The idea of a last common community, with a communally sophisticated biochemistry, raises another question: how did all this evolve?  This is for someone else to answer, says Woese.  “We don’t understand how to create novelty from scratch – that’s a question for biologists of the future.”

1John Whitfield, “Origins of life: Born in a watery commune,” Nature 427, 674 - 676 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427674a.
Welcome to the biology of the future.  It is called Intelligent Design.  It uses well-understood principles of design detection and information theory.  It can be summarized, “the essence of life is information (see 12/30/2003, 08/21/2003, 06/12/2003, and 12/30/2002 entries).  If the essence of life is information, the essence of information is intelligent design.”
    We quoted extensively from Whitfield’s article to let you watch the Civil War going on in the Darwin Party.  Both sides know they have problems, but their hypotheses each falsify one another, and neither fits the data.
    If LUCA is unknowable, it is not science, it is religion (see 12/27/2003 entry).  Belief in a LUCD (Living Universal Common Designer) has far fewer intellectual difficulties and fits the data like a hand in a glove.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
No Man Is an Island – We Are the World   02/28/2004
Myriads of organisms live in and on our bodies, reminds an article in the Feb. 27 issue of
Science,1 and they’re not just freeloaders on a hayride.  We need them, and they need us.  “We are not alone,” claim the three microbiologist authors, but “we get by with a little help from our (little) friends.”  Is this an uneasy truce between enemies, or a loving relationship between friends, promoting health and happiness?  Microbiologists have tended to investigate the nasty germs, but does that focus give a distorted picture?  “Remarkably,” the authors note, “we know far less about the thousands of species that make up our intrinsic microbiota than we know about the few dozen microbes that cause disease.”  We need to start thinking of ourselves as communities, they say:
Genomic and evolutionary analyses show us that we are not the single “individuals” that we think we are.  Instead, we and other complex organisms are composed of an interconnected ecosystem of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells whose interactions can best be understood in the context of community ecology.
The authors feel the community is a result of coevolution, but seem somewhat befuddled at the growing realization that many of our beneficial bacteria share mechanisms with the harmful ones.  Friend or foe, they ask:
The historical emphasis on pathogenic bacteria and their diseases has led to an assumption that genes encoding virulence factors are specific to those relationships.  However, several of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie interactions between an animal and its beneficial microbiota are remarkably similar to those first found in pathogens.  Svanborg described how molecules that enhance persistence at a site where a given microbe is a member of the normal microbiota can be the very factors that promote disease when these bacteria emigrate to other sites of the body.... Thus, the presence of these genes may indicate the potential for host interactions, which may be pathogenic or benign according to how these genes are regulated or the sensitivity of the tissue in which they are expressed.
The Type III secretion systems, for instance, “first described as a mechanism by which animal pathogens hijack their host‘s cell biology, have been implicated in mutualistic associations between nonpathogenic bacteria and their hosts.”  The study of these heretofore misunderstood relationships, they say, forms a “wide-open frontier” with big paradigm shifts ahead:
As the depth of host-microbe interactions and the mechanisms underlying them continue to be unraveled, fundamental paradigms of pathogenic microbiology, developmental biology, and immunology will need to be reevaluated.  For this reason, a specific recommendation arising from the workshop is that biology be taught in a new way, incorporating our growing knowledge about the importance of beneficial microbial interactions and their evolutionary, ecological, and biochemical impact on both animals and plants.

1Edward Ruby, Brian Henderson, Margaret McFall-Ngai, “Microbiology: We Get By with a Little Help from Our (Little) Friends,” Science.
One of the most frequent and hard-to-answer criticisms of creation science has been the presence of pathogens.  Bacteria and viruses, if designed, would seem to be the nefarious products of a malevolent genius rather than of a compassionate Creator.  This was one of the main reasons for Darwin’s slide to agnosticism, from youthful admiration of Paley to middle-aged rejection of Christianity, revelation and purpose in nature.  While most people can appreciate the abundant evidences of design in nature, creationists have been hard pressed to explain disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
    But what if they were beneficial living machines running wild, out of bounds and out of control?  The Type III secretion system looks like a weapon, designed to inject poison into a hapless victim.  But could it have originally been like a compassionate doctor’s hypodermic needle, intended for good?  Instead of weapons, were pathogens originally regulatory devices, meant to act as governors on our engines?  Do our metaphors mislead us?  After all, too much of a good thing can be bad.  We need accelerators, but we need brakes, too.
    These authors seem open to the possibility that harmful pathogens may be the exception rather than the rule.  They point out that beneficial interactions probably vastly outnumber harmful ones, and at least some of the harmful ones may be beneficial interactions out of kilter.  Their chosen belief is that these interactions “coevolved” on the long Darwinian road from bacteria to man, but this fails to explain the intricate design of even the one-celled organisms.  There is an alternative explanation that should not be arbitrarily dismissed, because it explains good design gone bad: the curse because of sin.
    See also 03/14/2003 and 02/21/2002 entries on this subject, and also the next headline, below.
Next headline on:  Human Body
A Weed Is a Nice Plant at the Wrong Party   02/28/2004
How do weeds go wild?  That is a question investigated by
Science Now on Feb. 20.1  A complex relationship between a plant and its microbial partners may keep it in check.  Transplant that species to an unfamiliar territory, and it may go out of control because it no longer has its restraining pathogens, or “natural enemies” (if that metaphor is useful: see 07/03/2003 entry).  Experiments on knapweed have shown two processes at work:
Enemies clearly matter, and that’s especially true in the old country.  When the researchers grew knapweed in French soil, it fared better in soil that had been previously planted with bunchgrass than with knapweed--presumably because the bunchgrass soil had not accumulated knapweed-specific pathogens.  But it appears that enemies aren’t the whole story.  Montana soil showed the opposite pattern: Knapweed planted in soil that had grown knapweed did better there than in once-grassy soil, the team reports in the 19 February issue of Nature.  They think that invasive knapweed has not only escaped its natural pathogens in Montana but is modifying the soil to its own advantage, perhaps by cultivating helpful mycorrhizal fungi.
“This suggests that the contribution of soil organisms in invasiveness is two-fold: [Invasives] escape from the bad guys and [get] help from the good guys,” notes Wim Van der Putten of the Centre for Terrestrial Ecology in Heteren, The Netherlands.

1Erik Skogstad, “How Weeds Go Wild,” Science Now Feb 20, 2004.
The article starts with the language of warfare, but is it misleading?
It may not make great action footage for nature documentaries, but plants are in constant battle with each other--for space, light, water--and with soil pathogens that threaten to kill or stunt them.  Now it’s becoming clear just how important this subterranean struggle can be.  Plants that escape their natural soil-borne enemies, and strike up alliances with friendly microbes, can become aggressive invaders.
This Malthusian, dog-eat-dog imagery may be opposite the truth (see 07/04/2003 entry.)  If the plants and their soil organisms are in a balance of growth and regulation, that can be a picture a peaceful homeostasis just as much as the regulation that goes on inside a single cell: agonist and antagonist, on-switch and off-switch, accelerator and brake.
    Imagine instead a post-Fall and post-Flood world.  After a worldwide flood and ice age, the ecology was radically changed with continents having drifted apart and land bridges vanished under rising seas.  New groups of organisms, now isolated from one another, settled into new levels of mutual regulation suitable for their climate.  The more isolated the environments became, the more “damage” an invasive species could cause.  Increasing human migrations accelerated the upsets to ecologies that had become established over thousands of years (e.g., the importation of tumbleweeds to the western United States by Russian immigrants, Dutch elm disease, etc.).  An original worldwide balance in nature was replaced by islands, each balanced internally, but out of balance with each other.
    All human investigators have the same data available for study.  Darwinian struggle, Biblical paradise lost – your metaphor will affect how you look at the data, and what questions you will find interesting.
Next headline on:  Plants
Superstar Challenges Theory   02/28/2004
A new record holder has been found for biggest star: LBV 1806-20 in Sagittarius.  According to the NewsNotes entry on p. 20 of the April 2004 issue of Sky and Telescope, the star is up to 3 times hotter than the surface of our sun, and has a diameter 200 times as big.
    Most interesting is the star’s mass, estimated to be “150 solar masses — perhaps more.  That ought to make stellar theorists sit up and take notice.  No star can survive with more than about 100 or 120 solar masses, according to well-established theory.”
Theories, like Olympic records, are made to be broken.  Let facts be true, and every theory a liar.
    The news item on the next page, “Getting to Know Our Stellar Neighbors,” reports results of a survey of all the stars within 10 parsecs (about 32.6 light-years) of our sun.  Surprisingly, small red dwarfs rule, nearly 12 times more numerous than stars like our sun.  This provides more evidence against the belief that Earth orbits an ordinary star.  Also, the habitable zone around a red dwarf is much narrower, lowering the probability life could exist around such a star.  The astronomer doing the survey, Todd Henry, believes the constraint is balanced by the sheer numbers of red dwarfs, but what is the chance an earthlike planet would be found in a circular orbit within such a narrow ring, when even around our sun the habitable zone represents a small fraction of the radius of our solar system?  One might almost suspect our location, at just the right distance around the right kind of star, was intelligently designed (see next headline).
Next headline on: 
Anthropic Principle Won’t Go Away   02/28/2004
The so-called “Anthropic Principle” is the observation that the universe, whether by accident or design, appears to have been fine-tuned for our existence.  Dating back decades, if not centuries, the idea has been alternately criticized and seriously pondered by the world’s greatest cosmologists.  During the 1990s the idea was ridiculed to the point that, if you mentioned the “a” word at an astronomy conference, you risked being pelted with eggs.  Now, according to Dan Falk in the March 2004 issue of Sky and Telescope (pp. 42-47), it is undergoing a “surprising resurgence.”  Several astronomers used the “a” word at a UC Davis conference in March 2003 and left with clean clothes and thoughtful hearers.
    Falk lists some of the “cosmic coincidences” that seem designed for our benefit: (1) the strength of gravity, (2) the smoothness of the Big Bang, (3) The masses of subatomic particles, (4) the strength of the strong nuclear force, and (5) the magnitude of the cosmological constant.  There are many other parameters, from atomic to planetary to cosmic, that have been cited in the debate.  Some of the parameters Falk lists are recent additions, especially #5.  He cites Linde claiming that the cosmological constant is just slightly above zero, yet 120 orders of magnitude smaller than expected.  If it were much higher, stars and galaxies could not exist.  Are the life-favoring values of these physical constants due to luck, or are they evidence for a benevolent Creator?
    Falk quotes Paul Davies, Andrei Linde, and other advocates and naysayers.  Some, like Stephen Weinberg, think it argues for a “multiverse” (the idea that our universe is the lucky one out of many, perhaps an infinite number of universes).  Surprisingly, Falk gives this bizarre interpretation the best press, calling it “more or less established – as a viable scientific idea if not an immediately testable hypothesis.” Others, however, like David Spergel (Princeton) think the A.P. commits intellectual surrender.
    Perhaps the most telling criticism of the A.P. is by David Gross, a string theorist (UCSB).  Falk says that Gross considers it a “dangerous” explanation, because “it plays into the hands of ‘Intelligent Design’ supporters, who feel that the universe was custom-made for human beings by a benevolent God” (Falk’s paraphrase).  In Gross’s words, “It smells of religion, and like religion, it can’t be disproved.”  Spergel is similarly disdainful: “Some people invoke miracles to explain the underlying processes in evolution, and some people invoke the anthropic principle to explain the underlying processes of cosmology.”  To him, this is intellectual surrender, claiming that things we don’t understand are things we will never understand.
Here we see the Elephant in the Living Room phenomenon.  Design in nature is the elephant, and the cosmologists are the investigators explaining why the elephant is not really there.  The elephant, however, continues to make its presence known, denials notwithstanding.
    Find the contradiction in the statements above.  Gross criticizes religion because it cannot be disproved, but can multiple universes be disproved?  There is no way to observe or test the existence of multiple universes; the whole notion was invented to get around the obvious evidence for design in our universe.  It is our universe that is subject to observation and testing, not some hypothetical multiverse.  That makes the multiverse explanation essentially a religious notion.
    And cannot a religion be disproved?  Some can, if they make statements about the world or the universe that can be tested.  If a religion teaches that the earth
sits on top of a turtle or is held up by Atlas, you can check from a spacecraft.  If Mormonism teaches that American Indians are descendants of Israelites, you can compare their DNA (see DNA vs. the Book of Mormon).  Why doesn’t Gross get on Andre Linde’s case?  He is a Hindu.  Doesn’t an infinite series of multiple universes play into the hands of his religious beliefs?
    Gross might reply that no amount of evidence will convince a believer.  OK, let’s apply that standard to the Darwinians.  No hypocrisy here; the Darwin Party always goes where the evidence leads (see 02/27/2004 entry, for example).  If evidence for design is staring them in the face, they will go to the lengths of proposing hypothetical infinite universes, which can never be observed, to maintain their faith in Pope Darwin (see 02/13/2004 entry).  Spergel seems to be thinking of theistic evolutionists when he says, “Some people invoke miracles to explain the underlying processes in evolution.”  Yet that is exactly what fundamentalist Darwinians do, when they incessantly trust in the mythical powers of “emergence” (see 02/25/2003 commentary).  This is intellectual surrender as much as any easy-believism in religion.  On the contrary, the Design perspective has a track record as a driving force for discovery in the history of science (see online book).
    The Gross fear that the anthropic principle plays into the hands of Intelligent Design supporters betrays naked atheistic bias.  He will not allow non-skeptics into the room to declare, “There is an elephant in here!”  No, that is intellectual surrender.  We must find a different explanation for this pain on my foot.  Those are the rules.  No elephants allowed.  That is how science must be done.  Keep looking.
Next headline on:  CosmologyPhysicsIntelligent Design
How Science Reports the School Controversies Over Darwinism   02/27/2004
In the Feb. 28 issue of
Science,1 Constance Holden reports on the battles over Darwinism vs. creationism in schools across the United States.  The tone is one of military alarm.  Here is the score as Science sees it (emphasis, underlining and brackets ours):
  • Georgia school officials took a big step back from opening the door to creationism last week.  They provisionally restored evolution and some other key scientific concepts to the state’s proposed curriculum standards, after dropping them from earlier drafts.  But although science educators see it as a victory, the Georgia dispute is just one of several ongoing battles over the teaching of evolution in the nation’s schools. ...
        On 19 February, the Georgia Board of Education approved proposed curriculum standards consistent with support of evolution after initially proposing standards that not only left out the word “evolution” but omitted major concepts in both physical and biological sciences.  The ensuing uproar (Science, 6 February, p. 759) drove State Superintendent Kathy Cox to restore the “e” word.  Scientists continued to press for restoration of key features such as plate tectonics and the age of Earth, however, and last week the board approved a version that contains most of the omitted material.  A final vote is set for June.
    [see 01/30/2004 entry.]
  • In Ohio, where ID promoters were beaten back 2 years ago, the state Board of Education this month voted 13-4 to approve a chapter called “Critical Analysis of Evolution” in the model teaching guide for 10th grade biology.  Critics have complained that the chapter relies heavily on a popular ID text, Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution, and refers students to Web sites that promote the concept.  A final vote is scheduled for next month.
  • The issue has also raised its head in neighboring Michigan, where Grand Blanc school officials are weighing proposals that would add both creationism and Bible study to the curriculum.  A petition asking for equal time for creationism and evolution was presented to the school board by a high school student who is also the daughter of a board member.
  • In Darby, Montana, a nasty dispute has broken out over a proposal by a local minister, Curtiss Brickley, to encourage teachers to look at evidence for and against various scientific theories, evolutionary theory in particular.  “We’ve been told that fights have actually broken out on the school grounds,” says Skip Evans of NCSE, which monitors the issue.
  • Missouri Representative Wayne Cooper has introduced a bill, HB911, that would require “equal treatment” for ID and evolution, starting in 2006, and would sack teachers who refuse.
  • An Alabama bill, SB336, would protect teachers from getting into trouble for teaching creationism.  “I think there is a tremendous ill balance in the classroom,” says the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Wendell Mitchell.
  • In Minnesota ... the latest state science teaching standards may be weakened if the legislature chooses to include a minority report authored by ID supporters.  The current commissioner of education, Cheri Yecke, believes the decision on whether to teach creationism should be left up to local school districts.
    [see 01/22/2004 entry.]
  • And in Texas, a citizens’ group this week alleged that antievolution members of the state board of education have been ordering textbook publishers to correct “errors”, quotes in original] identified by creationist groups.  [See Constance Holden’s account of the Texas controversy, 11/15/2003 entry; also see 11/05/2003 entry.)
The article expresses the mood of alarm felt by evolution-only advocates:
  • The flurry of fights at both local and state levels reflects the pervasiveness of resistance to evolutionary theory, says biologist Randy Moore of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  “It’s relentless.  It comes up just about everywhere.  And it’s not going away,” he says.
  • Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in El Cerrito, California, believes that the timing is not a coincidence.  “It’s an election year,” she says, meaning that there is a heightened awareness of hot-button issues among both politicians and the public. ...
    There’s a lot of support out there for this view, says Scott: “The ‘Teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution’ language appeals to the spirit of ‘fairness’ in American culture.”
  • Scientists should not underestimate the threat to science from such grassroots efforts, says Moore: “In every survey that I’ve seen data for, 15% to 20% of high school biology teachers teach creationism.  University faculty have no idea what is happening in high school classrooms across the country.”
The article includes a map that shows that “Proposals to encourage teaching creationism and ‘intelligent design’ have been advanced in 37 states since 2001.”
1Constance Holden, “CREATIONISM: Georgia Backs Off a Bit, But in Other States Battles Heat Up,” Science Volume 303, Number 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, p. 1268.
It’s always interesting to watch the spin the Darwin Party Defenders put on this issue.  This article is not as bad as some, but the imagery is still not subtle.  Here are the tricks of their trade:
  • Portray creationists as religious zealots.  (Name Calling.)
  • Portray them as sneaky.  (Fear Mongering.)  All ID and creation material is readily available and out in the open in the marketplace of ideas.
  • Portray them as radical fringe groups with an agenda.  (Darwin Party members, of course, are always “mainstream” and have no agenda.)
  • Always put “ism” on “creation-ism” but use “evolution” without the suffix.  (Loaded Words.)
  • Conflate “evolution” with “science”; lump in age of the earth for good measure.  (Association.)
  • Use quotes to indicate doubt: intelligent design, fairness, equal treatment, errors.  ID proponents don’t want to present scientific criticisms; they want to present “scientific” criticisms.  (Suggestion.)
  • If all else fails, lie.  (See Big Lie and Half Truth).  Example: “The current battle lines are the result of a 1987 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that creationism is religion and can’t be taught in science class.”  False.  The decision banned equal-time laws; it explicitly stated that teachers had the freedom to present any scientific approach to origins, including creation.  (See Discovery Institute’s response to Darwinist claims in Ohio that teaching ID is illegal.)  “Since then, the antievolution movement has gathered adherents under the rubric of “intelligent design” (ID) [quotes in original].  Instead of going to court, ID supporters are trying to build grassroots support.”  Is that so bad?  Is persuasion based on evidence and logic no longer worthy activity?  Are courts supposed to be the referees in the marketplace of ideas about origins?  The perception is that this is a devious group of zealots trying to lay siege to the peace-loving inhabitants of scientific utopia.  “And their success, says Moore, is premised on the perception that, ‘on its face, ID is not linked with religion.’”  (Notice the hidden assumptions that religion and science are mutually exclusive, and that evolutionism is not religious.  These assumptions would make for lively debate.)
You cannot understand these kinds of reports without being alert to the gimmicks of misdirection and obfuscation used.  To Science and other Darwin Party organs, evolutionists are the citizens fighting off the intellectual barbarians.  They should read the account of how Darwin and his Four Musketeers (see 01/06/2004 entry) waged a subversive coup of the scientific institutions between 1859 and 1870 (see 01/15/2004 entry), letting in the Starving Storytellers (see 12/22/2003 entry).  With that history, a revolutionary war is overdue.  It’s time to kick the rascals out of their cushy ivory towers and put science back on a search for the Truth.
Next headline on:  Intelligent DesignEducation
Evolution of Language Debated   02/27/2004
The Feb. 27 issue of
Science features the topic of the evolution of language.1  The thousands of words in 10 articles might be summarized by the title of a book review by Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy: “Many Perspectives, No Consensus.”2
Since there are many perspectives and no consensus, language evolution is one of the subjects Darwinists love.  They can brag about how much they don’t know and weave tall tales with reckless abandon, like the one in Nature yesterday (see 02/25/2004 entry).
    These articles are a treasure chest of embarrassing quotes.  Some examples:
  • “Whatever the traits that separate humans from our ape ancestors, complex language is clearly among them.”  Thank you, Culotta and Hanson,1 for pointing this out.  The gist of their article is that Darwinists don’t understand the evolution of language, and all the old theories are obsolete.
  • Elizabeth Pennisi explores the new Just-So Story that language evolved from click-speech, like that performed by some modern African hunters: “Although the idea is far from proven, ‘it seems plausible that the population that was ancestral to all living humans lived in the savanna and used clicks,’ says vertebrate systematist Alec Knight of Stanford University.”
        Tsk, tsk.  Here is the plausibility criterion at work (see 12/23/2003 entry), trumping empirical proof.
  • Pennisi also explores the research of Joseph Greenberg (Stanford, d. 2003) who tried to build a Darwinian tree of languages.  “But all these analyses continue to draw fire from researchers who say the data simply can’t support peering so far back in time.  ‘Languages have been evolving for so long that too much has been lost,’ says [Donald] Ringe [U. of Pennsylvania].  Many of the similarities Greenberg noted, such as similar first letters, are so subtle that they may be circumstantial, says Ringe.”
        Circumstantial evidence can be misleading, especially when too much of the sought-for data have been lost, so far back in time.
  • Michael Balter goes on a “Search for the Indo-Europeans” and describes researchers who try to apply Darwin tree-building methods to language evolution: “Although the contribution of genetics to the debate has so far been disappointing, that has not stopped evolutionary biologists from jumping into the fray.”  Later, “However, many linguists remain unconvinced by such analyses, questioning the relevance of evolutionary biology techniques to linguistic problems (Science, 28 November 2003, p. 1490).  ‘There is no reason whatsoever to assume that vocabulary would behave the same way that organisms do,’ says Alexander Lehrman, a linguist at the University of Delaware in Newark.”
        How can language, a faculty of intelligence, evolve by Darwinian naturalism?
  • Carstairs-McCarthy2 states the confusion of tongues in an interesting way: “The evolutionary origins of language should intrigue anyone interested in the relationship of humans to other species.  For them, Language Evolution will provide a useful starting point.  But the volume is not a summary of mainstream views, because no such mainstream exists.”
        He lists 20 questions researchers into the evolution of language are asking, but the answers are all futureware: “Contradictory answers to all of these questions can be found in the volume.  But do not let that put you off.  This may well be, as the editors put it, ‘the hardest problem in science.’  Nonetheless, with so many diverse specialists now talking to one another, a good start has been made.”  It’s not really all that hard when you believe the documentation.
It’s interesting that two of the authors employ Biblical metaphors.  The metaphors, however, turn around and bite their Darwinian assumptions:
  • Pennisi entitles one of her articles “Speaking in Tongues”.  The metaphor points back to a miraculous event (see Acts 2) that teaches intelligent design.  God supernaturally endowed the minds of the early church to speak languages they had not known.  Can Pennisi prove that early humans evolved the ability to speak in tongues?  Bdbdbdbdbdb (rub finger rapidly up and down over lips).
  • Scott Montgomery refers back to the Tower of Babel in his article, “Of Towers, Walls, and Fields: Perspectives on Language in Science.”  He thinks science has nearly realized Nimrod’s dream, but waves two hands:
    Science, it appears, has come to a historical crossroads.  On the one hand, it would seem to have completed the Tower of Babel, its knowledge now reaching far beyond the heavens and, through the global spread of English, recovering the ancient dream of a single language for the wisdom of the nations.  Yet, from another vantage, the very opposite is suggested: this great tower of unanimity broken and rebuilt into a thousand walls by the power of jargon, dividing the disciplines by the arcanity of specialist speech.
    Is scientific language diverging or converging, creating unity or a new diaspora?  Yes, he says: “many [barriers] have become increasingly porous, allowing flow in both directions. Such will undoubtedly continue—science is today the most active area of language creation.”  Well, that is certainly creation by intelligent design, not evolution.
From earliest times, human beings have communicated with language.  It is much more than the animal communication of birdsong or the howling of monkeys: human language has syntax, grammar and semantics.  It requires specialized organs for transmission and reception.  It implies the ability to understand abstract concepts.  The earliest evidences of written language in the Fertile Crescent describe commercial transactions and legal matters, presupposing an already-developed culture involving complex verbal skills and capacity for abstract reasoning.
    According to the creation account in Genesis 1-2, God endowed the first man and woman, but not the animals, with the gift of language from the very beginning, because only humans were created in His image.  After the Flood, according to the Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11, God supernaturally created language groups on one day by intelligent design.
    Languages have diversified significantly (and become amalgamated and corrupted) since then, but did not evolve from grunts (in fact, some so-called primitive languages have more complex grammar and more expressiveness than Greek).  The ongoing “evolution” of language is not by mutation and natural selection, but by the applied effort of human intelligence (i.e., creating new terms to express scientific concepts).  In the early church, God provided the ability to speak languages not previously learned.  All these Biblical accounts present an approach to understanding language by intelligent design instead of evolution.  Which approach better fits the facts of science and history?  Which has more documentation?  Speak now, or forever hold your tongue.
    Recommended reading:  C.S. Lewis applied the Tower of Babel imagery to modernism in his novel, That Hideous Strength (see review by Phillip E. Johnson).

1Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson, “First Words,” Science Volume 303, Number 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, p. 1315.
2Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, “Language: Many Perspectives, No Consensus” (a review of Language Evolution, ed. Christiansen and Kirby, ed., Oxford, 2003), Science.

Next headline on:  Early ManHuman BodyDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryBible and Theology
Evolution Is Like the Matrix Revolutions   02/27/2004
Matthew L. Albert enjoyed the Matrix movies.  In his review in the Feb. 20 issue of
Science,1 he thought the movies were parallels of evolutionary biology.  The machines keeping the rebels alive are like retroviruses, he thinks: “These retroviruses are responsible in part for our evolution, while other retroviruses are attacking us.  So, who is in control?  The films illustrate the absurdity of this question.  We can no more get along without our retroviruses than the rebels can survive without their machines.”
    He did have a complaint, though: “Critics may have difficulty looking past the trilogy’s not-so-subtle biblical references....”  Nevertheless, Albert is at work at the movies: “I will continue combing pop culture for insights into the natural world.”
1Matthew L. Albert, “Immunology: Danger in Wonderland,” Science Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, p. 1141.
Get a real job, Matt.
Next headline on:  MediaDumb Ideas
Seniors, Pay Attention: Stay Active   02/27/2004
Cardiovascular activity is good for everyone.  Seniors can benefit from taking walks, too.  A new study shows it can help the elderly keep their attentiveness and improve mental performance. 
Science News1 reporter Bruce Bower writes:
Seniors interested in pumping up their brains and maintaining an attentive edge might consider taking this inexpensive prescription: Go for a walk every 2 or 3 days.  Don’t sweat it, but make an effort.  Limit each walk to between 10 and 45 minutes.
    That’s the conclusion, at any rate, of two new studies that demonstrate for the first time in people that physical fitness, whether achieved on one’s own or through a brief aerobic-training course, induces brain changes associated with improved performance on an attention-taxing task.
One study showed that fitness was correlated with performance on an activity requiring attentiveness.  Another study demonstrated improvement in performance after six months of aerobic training.  The results from cardiovascular exercise were noticeably better compared to stretching and toning exercise.
    Benefits include a sharper mind, better outlook on life, and improved neural functioning that can enhance independent living.  It’s an all-around good investment.  Make walking a regular part of your week, if you can.
1Bruce Bower, “Neural Aging Walks Tall: Aerobic activity fuels elderly brains, minds,” Science News, Week of Feb. 21, 2004; Vol. 165, No. 8.
Those legs were made for walking.  “Use it or lose it” makes sense for limbs as well as talents.  Not mentioned in the article is the spiritual benefit you will find from taking walks: thankfulness for the beauty of creation.  Get out where the trees are; look at the sky, listen to a bird, and breathe in the fresh air.  Go with a friend and get the added benefit of quality time with someone you love.  Here’s a picture to inspire you.  (More in our Photo Gallery.)
Next headline on:  Human BodyHealth
Beagle 2 Still Lost, But Beagle 1 Found   02/27/2004
Explorers have found partial remains of Darwin’s lost ship, the HMS Beagle, in a swamp near Kent, reports
BBC News (see also Science Now).  The ill-fated Beagle 2 on Mars, however, may take another 168 years to find.  And it has no water to float in; results from the twin Mars Exploration Rovers are inconclusive about the presence of water on the red planet.
Let’s hope the Charlie’s boat doesn’t become a religious shrine (see 02/13/2004 entry).
Next headline on:  Darwin and Evolutionary TheoryMars
Antarctic Dinosaurs Found   02/27/2004
Penguinosaurus?  Not exactly, but two previously unknown species of dinosaurs were found in different parts of Antarctica recently, according to
EurekAlert.  Bones of a theropod and a sauropod were found by separate teams.  Judd Case, one of the discoverers of the theropod (of which T. Rex and velociraptor are examples), was perplexed by the find: “One of the surprising things is that animals with these more primitive characteristics generally haven’t survived as long elsewhere as they have in Antarctica.  But, for whatever reason, they were still hanging out on the Antarctic continent.”
Dinosaur finds are always exciting news, but we don’t need the storytelling that usually goes with it.
Next headline on:  Dinosaurs
Learn to Speak: Toss a Spear    02/25/2004
Human language evolved after our ancestors learned to throw a spear, according to William H. Calvin, in his new book A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond (Oxford, 2003).  Robin Dunbar is not too sure about this, in a book review in the Feb. 26 issue of
Nature.1  Although he respects Calvin, he is not convinced of his thesis for the origin of human language:
I found the themes of the book, broadly speaking, congenial, and the account well informed and authoritative, as one might expect from a neuroscientist and science popularist of Calvin’s stature.  However, there are aspects of this particular book that I found less satisfying.  Calvin’s insistence on the importance of a gesturally based phase to language evolution does not, I think, make sense.  Language is a parsing skill, and, even though parsing is a hierarchical process, it seems to me to be a very different kind of skill from that used in coordinated throwing.  Manipulating concepts is not the same kind of activity as manipulating muscle masses.  Nor does the timing really work.  The evidence, as Calvin himself notes, points to a period about 500,000 years ago as the likely timing for the origin of speech, if not full-blown language.  But the archaeological record is very clear that real projectile-based hunting did not become widespread until the Upper Palaeolithic revolution, which kicked in around 50,000 years ago (perhaps a little earlier in Africa).  The evolution of speech, then, pre-dates the fine muscle control of aimed throwing by a very wide margin.
He also found Calvin’s look into the future “unconvincing.”  Nevertheless, Dunbar is glad that “After a century of neglect, the mind has suddenly become an issue of evolutionary interest once again.”
1Robin Dunbar, “Could throwing spears have laid the foundations for language acquisition?”, Nature 427, 783 (26 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427783a.
Dunbar is way too polite with his criticism.  Why?  Darwin Party members are loathe to call each other stupid.  It might provide fodder for those darned creationists.
    In support of evolution, all Calvin provides is a just-so story that spear throwing evolved our brains into speech machines.  How can that be?  It violates the principle learned by every child: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  One would think that words, the later weapon, would be more effective in the struggle for survival.
    What Calvin lacks in evidence for evolution he makes up for in evidence against it.  Dunbar states:
Notwithstanding the enthusiasm in the 1970s and 1980s for the similarities between humans and our primate cousins, both in popular culture and among academics, the fact is that humans are very different from even our ape sister species.  William Calvin’s latest book looks at how different we really are.
    The essence of Calvin’s argument is that the difference between humans and other animals comes down to what he calls “structured stuff” (that is, coordinated, structured task processing).  One of the most obvious examples is the way we deconstruct sentences to expose their meaning.
Apes, of course, have no such abilities, nor are there any transitional forms between us (see 01/20/2004 entry).  From this clear statement declaring the gulf between apes and man, he launches into the JSS (just-so story):
We can do this, he argues, because we evolved the capacity to coordinate fine-tuned movements in the context of throwing.  The great revolution in human evolutionary history stems from the shift from the older forms of heavy-duty hunting, mostly by dint of thrusting spears, to projectile hunting (throwing spears or using bows), which required careful aiming and much finer coordination.
    Practice at these activities fine-tuned the neural machinery that allowed the delicate motor control required for speech and language.  Much is made, in this respect, of the growing evidence for the brain’s ability to coopt neural circuits.  For example, the neural substrates for reading have different location in the brain in different individuals, as one might expect of a skill that does not have a long evolutionary history.  This ’softwiring’, as Calvin calls it, is clearly of major importance in human cognition.
Convinced?  This is so lame.  So Lamarckian.  Even if practice stretched a hunter’s brain, it would not help his kids any more than a giraffe stretching its neck would promote the inheritance of that acquired characteristic.  The trait has to get into the gametes.
    No problem, we’ll just modify the JSS a little.  Presumably, a chance mutation gave a hunter a more complex brain, granting him better aim at spear-throwing.  He brought more meat back to the cave, which made him more attractive to the females.  So he had more kids bearing the same mutation, who survived to reproductive age while all the others starved.  Isn’t evolutionary storytelling fun?  You never have to prove your JSS.  As long as it keeps the Darwin Party in power, it is such a dreamy, endless pastime.
Next headline on:  Early ManDumb Ideas
How Darwinians Approach the Golden Rule   02/22/2004
Is nothing sacred?  Gretchen Vogel has written a piece on “The Evolution of the Golden Rule” in the Feb. 20 issue of
    Jesus Christ and most religious teachers have taught the Golden Rule as a moral principle and a sacred duty, but to Darwinians, it must have evolved like everything else.  Yet this poses a conundrum, as Vogel states in the subtitle: “Humans and other primates have a keen sense of fairness and a tendency to cooperate, even when it does them no discernible good.”  In a world of competition, fitness and survival, why would animals cooperate, or why would one “lay down his life for his friends”?
    Vogel describes competing theories, such as strong reciprocity, game theory, and reciprocal altruism.  Studies on monkey fairness, neurological signals, and mathematical modeling have each participated in answering the question, but each of the explanations offered have one thing in common.  They assume the Golden Rule is an artifact of an evolutionary process, not a moral absolute.  (The article also touches on the evolution of suicide bombings.)
1Gretchen Vogel, “Behavioral Evolution: The Evolution of the Golden Rule,” Science, Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, pp. 1128-1131.
If this article doesn’t make you mad, it should.  It means nothing less than the demise of personal responsibility and the downfall of civilization.  If suicide bombing is merely an evolutionary behavior, then it is not morally wrong, just unfortunate for the victims.  Pastors and believers everywhere had better wake up and get angry that the ultimate altruism, depicted in The Passion, is being presented by mad scientists as the result of evolution from monkey antics.  This is not only disingenuous (see 12/18/2002 entry) and blasphemous to a large segment of the population, but a self-defeating claim.  A Golden Rule that evolves is neither golden, nor a rule.  It’s fool’s gold.  These charlatans use humans as lab rats (see 06/25/2002 entry), but exclude their own intellects as relics of rat behavior.  Let’s turn the game on them and ask about the The Evolution of Evolutionary Nonsense.  Short circuit!
    Darwinists have a sick habit of talking about “the evolution of” this and that and whatever, even the teachings of Jesus.  Darwinists treat their little catch-phrase the same way some superstitious people talk about “the demon of” this or that, like the demon of alcohol or the demon of bad breath.  “The evolution of” is a mere mantra, an intellectual plaything or hook on which to build any plot (see “The Evolution of Presbyterians,” 09/03/2002, “The Evolution of Rape” 07/18/2003, “The Evolution of Monogamy” 07/03/2003, “The Evolution of Fairness” 09/17/2003, and “The Evolution of War” 09/16/2003).  It is their hammer that sees everything as a nail.  It doesn’t bother them that they can never figure it out (see “Human Kindness,” 10/23/2003, and 06/23/2003).  It’s OK.  They don’t have to figure it out.  They just get kicks out of arguing about it.  They have the audacity to become our preachers (see “User’s Guide to Life” 04/25/2003), and they think creationists are the doctrinaires, beholden to their dogmas (doctrinaire, n., “one who attempts to put into effect an abstract doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties”).
    Such nonsense and amorality deserves the severest reproach any respectable human being can muster.  Tough love, after all, is a corollary of the Golden Rule.  If you were spouting a foolish or dangerous teaching, wouldn’t you want someone to correct you?  Then take some advice from the Apostle Paul: “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers ... whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11).  Each generation has its deceivers.  It is an abdication of social responsibility to let their lies go unchallenged.
    Watch where you deposit your intellectual and moral treasures.  The Darwin Party Credit Union is going bankrupt.  Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this it the Law and the Prophets” (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:12).  Now there’s genuine Gold you can bank on, with real interest, compounded daily.
Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryBible and Theology
SETI Sans ETI So Far   02/20/2004
There’s “no din of alien chatter in our neighborhood,” writes Richard Kerr in the Feb. 20 issue of
Science.1  “Early-generation searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are coming up empty-handed, but the SETI community is carrying on,” he writes.  Search pioneer Frank Drake admits “We found nothing” in the latest Project Phoenix, a survey of 700 nearby sunlike stars.  James Trefil adds, “this idea there’s a galactic club that we would join as soon as we started ... doesn’t look like it’s panning out.”  Paul Horowitz is not near ready to quit, though, urged on by the conviction that “There's got to be life in the galaxy.”  Statistically, even with optimistic assumptions, it would not be probable to have found one by now – just hopeful.
    Upcoming searches promise to be quicker and more powerful.  But if there are only 10,000 alien civilizations surfing the galactic radio internet, it could take decades to find one.  The importance of a positive signal keeps the search going.  Until one is found, however, SETI has been termed by Seth Shostak as “looking for an uncertain manifestation of a hypothetical presence.”
1Richard Kerr, “No Din of Alien Chatter in Our Neighborhood,” Science Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, p. 1133.
Without the belief in Darwinian evolution, one wonders how much motivation SETI would have.  Would believers in God expect to find life all over the universe trying to contact us?  If so, would they work this hard looking?  The Darwin Party seems to think a discovery of alien life would disprove the Bible, but is that necessarily true?  Why would it not just as clearly indicate creation?  What if the aliens tell us they evolved, but are lying?  What if they turn out to be storytellers as incorrigible as members of the Darwin Party here on earth?
    It’s fun, but maybe not useful, to speculate about things we cannot know.  Take your pick on this one.  Not even all secularists, though, agree SETI is worthwhile.  Michael Crichton used it as an example of policy-driven pseudoscience, essentially a religion (see 12/27/2003).  The only data point we have so far is that the local neighborhood is not teeming with alien broadcasters on the channels we are checking.  Maybe that means something.
    If nothing else, the SETI researchers are making a great case for intelligent design (see 07/29/2002).  Their core assumption is that a nonrandom, coded message would be convincing evidence of intelligence, even if they knew nothing about the sender.
Next headline on:  SETI
Darwin Propagandist Reveals Too Much   02/20/2004
You can’t always tell a chocolate by its coating.  Similarly, a positivistic, pro-evolution article might have surprises inside.
    “Billions of years of evolution have produced organisms of stunning diversity,” begins Eörs Szathmáry in the Feb. 17 issue of
Current Biology,1 with vintage Darwinian confidence.  A theoretician at heart, Szathmáry explores the evolutionary transitions not by looking at bones or genes, but by “making models of intermediate stages of organisation and the evolutionary transitions between them.”  Theoretical biology had its Golden Age, he claims, when Fisher, Haldane and Wright founded population genetics in the first half of the twentieth century.  As he justifies his conceptual-over-empirical approach, he reveals some large gaps in evolutionary theory.  He evidently feels Darwinism provides enough conceptual material in each case to fill in the gaps, but it will be up to the reader to judge his success:

  • Non-intuitive explanations:  How can apparently unDarwinian aspects of biology be explained?
    Take evolutionary biology, for example.  A few decades after the Golden Age, evolutionary biologists started to tackle (ultimately with considerable success) questions where the Darwinian answer is far from obvious.  Why do we age?  Why are there sterile insect castes?  At first it does not seem to make much sense to argue that your death or sterility increases your fitness.  But evolutionary theory can provide satisfactory resolutions of these conundrums.  In some cases even the question itself cannot be formulated well enough without some modelling: the problem of the evolutionary maintenance of sex is a case in point.  Whole sub-disciplines, like evolutionary game theory, have been set up to meet such challenges.
    (For more on evolutionary game theory, see 02/10/2004 entry.)
  • Cosmic evolution:  What can we predict about what evolution would do on another planet?
    The problems become a lot harder when we come to the large-scale dynamics of evolution.  Imagine, say, a thousand Earth-like planets with exactly the same initial conditions of planetary development.  After one, two, three billion years (and so on), how many of them would still have living creatures?  And would they be like the eukaryotes?  We have simply no knowledge about the time evolution of this distribution, and ‘educated’ guesses differ widely.
  • Origin of Life:  “Undoubtedly, the origin of life remains a major challenge for at least two disciplines: chemistry and biology,” he says.  (One might wonder what other scientific disciplines would have greater import on this question.)  He reviews the famous experiment of Miller and Urey, but dismisses its actual relevance:
    Still, when contemplating life’s origins, the gap between Miller’s world and the DNA world is discouragingly enormous.  How do you get from the primordial soup to the genetic code?  The snag is that, in contemporary biological systems, there is a division of labour between nucleic acids and proteins: the former store genetic information and the latter exert function.  Genetic information is expressed with the help of proteins, which are encoded by nucleic acids.  We seemed to be at an impasse: no genes without proteins and no proteins without genes – the classic ‘chicken and egg’ problem.
    Szathmáry is not the first, of course, to point out this conundrum, but he quickly suggests that “it now seems that the primordial soup may not have been that important, and that we may not need a genetic code for early life.”  As support, he refers to the “RNA World” hypothesis, that one molecule (RNA) might have performed both information-storage and enzymatic functions.  How this would obviate the need for a soup of chemicals or a genetic code is not explained.

  • Models vs. reality:  How far can you take a model?  He praises the “chemoton” model by Hungarian theorist Tibor Gánti, but cautions about the applicability of any model:
    The chemoton is an abstract model of a minimal biological system comprising three sub-systems: a metabolic cycle producing the materials for all three sub-systems at the expense of nutrients; a replicating template; and a boundary membrane.  All three systems are autocatalytic, and the system as a whole can also divide in space within a certain parameter range.

    Important advances often come from appropriate abstraction and idealisation, neglecting unnecessary detail.  This neglect cannot, unfortunately, be automated: science remains the art of the soluble.

    Nevertheless, he thinks Gánti’s modeling is as valid as were Galileo’s experiments with smooth balls rolling down smooth slopes.  Comprehending this analogy is left as an exercise.  (For more on requirements for minimal life, see the 02/15/2004 entry.)

  • Has evolutionary biology succeeded in explaining the first life?  No, but we may be on the verge of beginning to find a way, he thinks.  In promoting conceptual approaches over experimental, however, he pretty much shuts down production of the primordial soup line:
    The simplest autonomous living systems today are prokaryotes, the results of billions of years of evolution.  There is just no way that a prokaryote with its genetic code could have self-assembled in the primordial soup.  There must have been a long phase of evolution by natural selection from the first living entities to bacteria, as Gánti recognized in 1971.  But how can one think of these earliest systems?  Chemoton theory offers such a conceptual breakthrough.
    From here he jumps to trends in synthetic biology, seeming to promise “the check’s in the mail” on the origin of life.
    1Eörs Szathmáry, “Magazine: From biological analysis to synthetic biology,” Current Biology, Vol 14, R145-R146, 17 February 2004.
    When your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, there is really no need to return fire, but rather to sit back and enjoy the entertainment.
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryOrigin of LifeDumb Ideas
    How to Get a Genetic Code by Chance   02/19/2004
    The Feb. 17 issue of
    Current Biology1 has a Q&A magazine feature on the genetic code.  After dismissing some myths about it being universal, consisting of only 20 amino acids and obligated to only three codons (there are some minor exceptions to these mostly-true principles: see 04/30/2003), the authors tackle the big question: where did it come from?
    I heard about a ‘frozen accident’…
    One of the first proposals, in 1968, for the origin of the code, was Francis Crick’s ‘frozen accident’ model.  But the discovery of alternative codes showed that the code is not frozen.  And similar codons are assigned to similar amino acids, indicating that the code is not an accident.

    So, how did the code evolve?
    There are several theories that try to explain the origin of the code.  Most can be classified in one of three major groups.

    Chemical: posits that direct chemical interactions between amino acids and their cognate codons/anticodons influenced codon assignment.  Studies of binding of RNA aptamers to amino acids showed that, for at least some amino acids – arginine, tyrosine and isoleucine – such chemical interactions do exist.  These theories fail to explain the assignment of codons that do not show direct interactions to their cognate amino acids.

    Historical: proposes that an initially smaller code grew by incorporation of new amino acids. For example, new amino acids may have captured codons from their metabolic precursors, contributing to the assignment of similar amino acids to similar codons.

    Selection: suggests that the code was selected to minimize the phenotypic effects of point mutations.  The code’s organization supports this: nonsynonymous substitutions often lead to replacement of an amino acid by one chemically similar, causing little disruption in the protein.

    Accumulating evidence for these models suggests that they are not mutually exclusive.  Rather, the code probably evolved by an interplay among some or all of them.  Direct interactions of short RNA molecules and amino acids may have fixed the assignment of certain codons, while subsequent assignments may have been driven by history and selection.

    (Emphasis in original.)
    1Andre R.O. Cavalcanti and Laura F. Landweber, “Magazine: Genetic Code,” Current Biology Vol 14, R147, 17 February 2004.
    They just violated Occam’s razor.  They also violated the rule that three wrongs don’t make a right. 
  • The “Chemical” theory is the old biological predestination idea that Dean Kenyon abandoned.  If RNA happens to bind to three amino acids better than the 17 others, that does not explain how they subsequently linked via peptide bonds to form a polypeptide with any catalytic activity.  Amino acids do not have the ability to link up by themselves.  Getting just one element of the complex protein machinery that can translate DNA and construct a protein is astronomically improbable, to put it mildly (see our online book).
  • The “Historical” theory is hysterical, because it personifies amino acids.  One cannot ascribe purposeful processes to chemicals.  No cheating with natural selection, either; it cannot even begin to a player unless an accurate system of self-replication is already working.
  • The “Selection” Theory also personifies the chemicals: the code was selected to minimize ... point mutations”  Enough of this passive-voice nonsense.  Who selected it, and why would he/she/it want to, if not to optimize the system?  The sentence makes perfect sense in intelligent design theory, but is bizarre otherwise.  No cheating with natural selection here, either.
        The authors committed one more foul: card stacking.  All their theories assume naturalistic evolution.  They left out the only theory that explains the observations without violating Occam’s razor: intelligent design.
    Next headline on:  Origin of LifeGenetics and DNAIntelligent Design
  • Early Man Studies: Start Over   02/19/2004
    Anthropologist Leslea J. Hlusko (U. of Illinois) had some stern advice for her paleoanthropologist colleagues in PNAS1 recently.  Noting that “Competing interpretations of human origins and evolution have recently proliferated despite the accelerated pace of fossil discovery,” she thinks an approach is needed that integrates genetics and development with the search for bones.  She takes issue with three presumptions that can confuse and mislead the interpretation of fossils:
    1. Presumption 1: Anatomical Traits are Independent.
      Genetic studies, on the contrary, have shown that multiple traits can be linked because of pleiotropic effects.  Also, the number of labeled traits may not correspond to the number of genes affecting those traits.
    2. Presumption 2: Most Anatomical Traits Are Adaptively Informative.
      Pleiotropic effects may also blur the interpretation of single traits.  In Lucy, for instance, the genes that shorten fingers may simultaneously shorten toes.  The shortened fingers, therefore, may not be a clue that the animal was spending less time in trees.
    3. Presumption 3: Small-Scale Morphological Change Is Almost Always Parsimonious.
      This is not always the case.  Measurements of trends in enamel thickness on teeth, for instance, appear to have no correlation to sex or tooth size.  Rapid changes can occur with dietary change, not evolution.  “All of this clearly makes the paleontologist’s task of identifying the most phylogenetically informative traits difficult and complex.”
    She warns bone hunters to recognize that they need to take genetics and development into account.  “The standard response to controversy in paleontology is that more fossils will resolve the issue.”  Not necessarily; “even for species with adequate fossil records, new and different approaches like those suggested here will be necessary.”
    1Leslea J. Hlusko, “Integrating the genotype and phenotype in hominid paleontology,”
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, March 2, 2004, vol. 101, no. 9, pp. 2653–2657. Published online before print.
    This is a revealing article that basically says, “everything you know is wrong, and we hope we can figure out the truth some day by starting over.”  Like so often reported here, it is more admission of ignorance and promises of futureware.  Quote-hunters might find a bonanza in this article.
        Not only that, Hlusko points out the tremendous complexity of genetic and developmental mechanisms.  She mentions that more than 250 genes are known to be involved in the development of dentition.  Are we being asked to believe that those genes all evolved by chance, and that they must mutate together to keep an animal having a proper bite?  What if a tooth on the upper jaw mutates, but the one on the lower jaw doesn’t?  Teeth need to match.
        Remember how much propaganda the Darwinists got out of one tooth in the case of Nebraska man?  (It turned out to be a pig’s tooth.)  Even today, a debater for evolution claimed that a good anatomist can tell a lot about a creature from a tooth.  But if all you have is a tooth, even if it is the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth, would it convince a jury?  Not if they read this article first.
        Things are not looking good for the pseudoscience of human evolution.  Digging up bones in Africa may be a sport, but interpreting what they mean is often a function of the storytelling ability of the discoverer.  Does hominid dentition tell us anything about human ancestry?  Don’t bite on it.
    Next headline on:  Early ManGenetics and DNA
    Respect the Conch Shell   02/19/2004
    Engineers and materials scientists seem to never run out of examples in nature that should fill us with awe.  In the Feb. 19 issue of
    Nature,1 Rosamund Daw brings our attention to the construction ability of the conch shell:
    Giant conches are seldom treated with the respect they deserve.  Their impressive shells are prized as holiday souvenirs, but size and aesthetics are only half the story.  At the microscopic scale, they are one of nature’s greatest engineering masterpieces: a stunningly intricate hierarchical architecture of inorganic crystals, interwoven with organic molecules.
    Recent experiments have shed light on the ways these marine organisms build and repair their shells.  An organic layer is deposited, providing a base on which fine crystals of aragonite form perpendicular to the organic layer.  Then a three-layered, cross-lamellar structure grows a few millimeters thick, forming the body of the shell.  The result is a strong, exceedingly fine structure, often decorated with streaks or spots of intricate colors, with bumps and horns and geometric spiral shapes.
        Broken shell?  No problem.  When experimenters drilled a hole into the shells of living conches, a new organic layer was formed within 24 hours, upon which new aragonite crystals grew to begin the repair process.
        There’s still much to learn about the “complex process of shell formation,” Daw says.  “It remains to be discovered how the interplay of organic and inorganic components is controlled at the molecular level, in conch shells as well as in other mineralized structures.”
    1Rosamund Daw, “Materials Science: Give a shell a break,” Nature 427, 691 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427691a.
    This could be a teachable moment on your family’s next trip to the beach.  Tell the kids that this construction project the conch performs is the envy of materials scientists.  Teach them that complex processes that build things do not just happen.  DNA, genes, enzymes, signalling, feedback and quality control all contribute to the work of art that is a seashell.
    Next headline on:  Marine BiologyAmazing Facts
    Irreducible Complexity: Can It Be Explained Away?   02/18/2004
    When Sharon Begley, writing in the Wall Street Journal Feb. 13, criticized the intelligent design movement (see reprint on
    Access Research Network), Michael Behe answered with a pointed reply five days later.  Begley particularly singled out the concept of “irreducible complexity.”  Behe’s reply, defending the validity of irreducible complexity (a term he coined in his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box as evidence for intelligent design), can be read on the Discovery Institute website.
        Another article on intelligent design was printed on  In it, Ronald Numbers, a historian of the controversy over Darwinism, thinks that inroads of intelligent design into the classroom might be a good thing, but doubts the scientific societies will ever accept it, because it would involve a major change in the way science is done: “The intelligent design people are saying that if the goal of science is to discover the truth, why should scientists, a priori, reject the theory of intelligent design?”
    Charlie Darwin said a fair evaluation of any question can only be made when both sides are heard.  Strange that many of his disciples don’t want you to hear the opposition.  They think their sound bites tell you all you need to know about any controversy surrounding their idol.  Numbers is an apostate Christian who accepts many of the Darwinian myths, but thankfully he seems to not be as viciously dogmatic as the rest of the Darwin Party against intelligent design.  It is notable that printed this partially open-minded article.  Too bad they didn’t allow a qualified ID spokesman to make the case.
    Next headline on:  Intelligent Design
    Birds Are Memory Champs   02/17/2004
    We humans lose our keys and often can’t remember the location of half a dozen identical items.  “Maybe it takes a bird brain to find the car keys,” teases Susan Milius in the cover story of the Feb. 14 issue of
    Science News.1  Ornithologists have been intrigued with how birds remember where they stash their food.  One champ is Clark’s nutcracker, a noisy denizen of western national parks observed and named by the Lewis and Clark expedition.  In a year, each bird buries 22,000 to 33,000 seeds and manages to find two thirds of them 13 months later.  Chickadees and scrub jays are pretty good at this game, too.  Experiments have demonstrated that bird memories are flexible and can even do time travel into the future.
        How could such good memories evolve?  The only going theory seems to be that tough times select for better memories.  As evidence, researchers found that Alaskan chickadees outperformed Coloradoans in a seed storage and retrieval contest.  Not all ornithologists are convinced of this theory, however, since the two species differ in many other respects.  “To resolve the question of whether tough times have contributed to the evolution of catching wizardry is ‘currently difficult,’ says [Nicola] Clayton [Cambridge].”  More experiments will be required, but Milius concludes, “What started out as a fidgety search for the operating rules of feathered robots has turned into studies of how thinking works.”
    1Susan Milius, “Where’d I Put That?” Science News, Vol. 165, No. 7, Feb. 14, 2004, p. 103.
    The claim that tough times create design is like the Phoenix myth, that a living bird arises from the flames of catastrophe.  No. Fire burns, and stress kills.  Making stress a creative genius is no explanation at all, yet it remains a favorite plot in Darwin stories.  Didn’t an asteroid blast give rise to the zoo of complex and diverse mammals, according to the going myth?  We can enjoy the marvels of birds without the insipid, useless, wasteful, distracting, unsupportable, pseudoscientific bad habit of trying to find evolutionary origins for everything.  Remember that.
        Next time in Yellowstone, Yosemite or other western national parks, don’t be annoyed by the squawking of the nutcrackers and jays.  Pay them a little respect.  They’ve got a better memory than you in that little brain of theirs.  Milius began her article by reprimanding, “Should humanity get a little too full of itself and its intellectual prowess, there’s always Clark’s nutcracker to think about.”
    Next headline on:  BirdsAmazing Facts
    DNA Is a Code Operated by Another Code   02/17/2004
    The discovery in the 1950s that DNA stored a coded language was amazing, but recently a new level of complexity has come to the awareness of biochemists.  Apparently, another code determines which DNA genes will be opened for expression and which should be suppressed.
        The Feb. 14 issue of
    Science News1 describes the history of the discovery of the so-called “histone code.”  These are patterns of “tails” attached to the histones around which DNA is tightly wrapped.  Within the last eight years, scientists have been discovering that the histones do not merely spool the DNA, they regulate which genes get expressed.
        The pattern of acetylation and methylation on the histone tails appears to form a code that is heritable through cell divisions.  Compared to the well-known DNA genetic code, “A histone code may be much more complex,” writes John Travis.  Shelley Berger (Wistar Institute) exclaimed, “There are all kinds of sites [on histone tails] that can be modified.  The possibilities for a code are quite enormous.  It’s not going to be a simple code.”  After summarizing the literature, Travis concluded, “With such designer histones, it seems that researchers are on their way to having in their hands all the words of the histone code.  But, it may still be a stiff challenge to figure out what those words mean.”
    For a previous story on the histone code, see 11/04/2002, “Cell Memory Borders on the Miraculous.”
    1John Travis, “Code Breakers: Scientists tease out the secrets of proteins that DNA wraps around,” Science News, Vol. 165, No. 7, Feb. 14, 2004, p. 106.
    Evolutionary biologists had their hands full explaining the origin of the DNA-protein language, and now this.  As usual, there is no description in the article about how this code might have “emerged” through an evolutionary process.  There is only the following quip, that not only fails to explain the code’s origin, it adds another problem: apparently the code has not evolved at all: “From species to species, he [C. David Allis, U. of Virginia] notes, these tails are nearly identical, implying that they are important to the cell.  ‘Nature has held these things constant for a reason,’ says Allis.”  Certainly.  Give me a working histone code in the beginning, or give me death.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
    Scientists Probe Differences Between Living and Nonliving Chemicals   02/15/2004
    “All life forms are composed of molecules that are not themselves alive.  But in what ways do living and nonliving matter differ?  How could a primitive life form arise from a collection of nonliving molecules?”  Any article beginning with questions like that is bound to be interesting.  That’s how Rasmussen et al. tantalized readers of
    Science1 on Feb. 13 as they described two recent international workshops discussing the origin of life and artificial life.
        The workshops, one at Los Alamos and one in Germany, focused on two overlapping questions: (1) How did life originate? and (2) Will scientists ever be able to create life?  Regarding the latter, some are taking the “top-down” approach, taking the smallest known living organism and trying to tweak it, and others are taking a “bottom-up approach,” trying to build a self-replicating cell from scratch.  The bottom-up approach is “general and more challenging,” but holds more promise, they think, for understanding ways in which life might have originated on its own.
        Recognizing that “the definition of life is notoriously controversial,” the authors sought middle ground in their definition: “there is general agreement that a localized molecular assemblage should be considered alive if it continually regenerates itself, replicates itself, and is capable of evolving.”  (For another view, see 12/30/2002.)
        Those seeking to produce a cell matching those criteria have generally recognized three requirements that would have had to be met: genetic information, metabolism, and containment:
    Regeneration and replication involve transforming molecules and energy from the environment into cellular aggregations, and evolution requires heritable variation in cellular processes.  The current consensus is that the simplest way to achieve these characteristics is to house informational polymers (such as DNA and RNA) and a metabolic system that chemically regulates and regenerates cellular components within a physical container (such as a lipid vesicle).
    The scientists have developed models of how these three requirements might be met, and have partially achieved some of them separately  One proposal would make use of a simpler polymer than DNA/RNA, called PNA.  According to the model, light energy might synthesize lipids (for the container) and PNA, with the PNA...
    ...acting as both an information molecule and as an electron-relay chain.  This is the first explicit proposal that integrates genetics, metabolism, and containment in one chemical system.  Metabolism in this system has been shown to produce lipids, but experimental realization of the rest of the integrated system has not yet been achieved.
    Harold Morowitz (George Mason Univ.), long interested in the requirements for a minimal living system (see online reference at this site), helped clarify the divide between living and nonliving matter.  Morowitz and three colleagues gave presentations at the workshops:
    They described how nonliving chemical reactions, driven by thermodynamics, explore the state of space in an ergodical fashion, and thus tend to conduct a random exhaustive search of all possibilities; in contrast, living systems explore a combinatorially large space of possibilities through an evolutionary process.  This echoed a central workshop theme: how and when information becomes a dominant factor in the evolution of life, that is, how and when selection plays a greater role than thermodynamics in the observed distribution of phenotypes.
    This opened up a number of proposals by Morowitz and others:
    • “Peter Stadler (Univ. Leipzig) reviewed selection using replicator network dynamics, a theoretical framework describing population growth produced by different kinetic conditions.”
    • “Smith and Morowitz further described how the citric acid cycle of living cells might be a thermodynamic attractor for all possible metabolic networks, thus explaining its appearance at the core of all living systems.
    • “Universal scaling in biological systems was discussed by Geoff West (SFI) and Woody Woodruff (LANL), who explained why regular patterns can be found, for example, between an organism’s weight and metabolic rate, regardless of whether the organism is a bacterium or an elephant.”
    • “Shelly Copley (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) explained how catalysts operate in living systems today and how these were likely to have evolved from less efficient precursors.”
    • “Andrew Shreve (LANL) presented a rich variety of self-assembled nanomaterials that display specific emergent properties of a mechanical, photonic, or fluidic nature.”
    • “Yi Jiang (LANL) reviewed the state of the art for molecular multiscale simulations in which the challenge is to connect realistic but slow molecular dynamic simulations with less accurate but fast higher level simulations.”
    • “Andy Pohorille (NASA Ames Research Center, California) used simulations to argue that nongenomic early organisms could undergo evolution before the origin of organisms with genes.”
    • “Takashi Ikegami (Univ. of Tokyo) presented simulations of a simple and abstract model of metabolic chemistry that demonstrates the spontaneous formation and reproduction of cell-like structures.
    Not everyone agreed with every proposal, but all agreed on the road map ahead.  Four main questions need to be answered.  Their answers will shed light, hopefully, on the biggest questions of all:
    (i) What is the boundary between physical and biological phenomena?  (ii) What are key hurdles to integrating genes and energetics within a container?  (iii) How can theory and simulation better inform artificial cell experiment?  (iv) What are the most likely early technological applications of artificial cell research?
        In time, research on these forms of artificial life will illuminate the perennial questions “What is life?” and “Where do we come from?”
    In addition, work on artificially-created nanobots, including some that could repair and replicate themselves, require “cautious courage,” because creating such entities “would literally form the basis of a living technology possessing powerful capabilities and raising important social and ethical implications.”  The authors noted that everyone at the workshops was confident that “useful artificial cells will eventually be created, but there was no consensus about when.”
    1Rasmussen, Chen, Deamer, Krakauer, Packard, Stadler, and Bedau, “EVOLUTION: Transitions from Nonliving to Living Matter,” Science Volume 303, Number 5660, Issue of 13 Feb 2004, pp. 963-965, 10.1126/science.1093669.
    We almost titled this entry “Mad Scientists Threaten World With Destruction!” but didn’t want to scare the adults.  Here you have it, folks: Frankenscience alive and well in the labs that gave us atomic bombs.  Our next fear may be artificial cells too small to see that will wreak havoc on us, brought about by some out-of-control prize seeker with courage but not enough caution.
        Actually, that is not the intriguing thing about this story.  It is that evolutionary biologists have no sense of smell.  We quoted extensively from this article to give readers the chance to sharpen their noses and do some serious baloney detecting, because this article stinks of rotten baloney left and right, up and down, through and through.  If you need practice in thinking straight, this article is a good one to practice on.
        It’s not that the questions are bad: they are vital: What is life?  Where do we come from?  People have asked these questions since antiquity, and are not human if they don’t wonder about them.  The baloney begins with the assumption that evolution permeates all of reality, even defines life, and emerges as a victor over thermodynamics – all by itself.  That is the pervasive myth in this story.  They don’t phrase their questions the way most people do: Is there a God? a Designer? an all-wise, all-knowing Creator? (i.e., a source of information).  No!  Every scientist at these conferences assumed from the get-go that elephants and bacteria and human beings “emerged” out of some unknown, fortuitous concourse of atoms that crossed that divide between nonlife and life without help.  That is the only approach permitted under their Darwinian “rules of science.”  It leaves them in a hopeless muddle that becomes almost comic, like a group of blindfolded cave explorers, stumbling around because their rules forbid flashlights and require the wearing of blindfolds.
        Let’s start by unraveling the distinction made by Morowitz between living and nonliving chemistry.  He characterized nonliving chemical reactions as being “driven by thermodynamics.”  This means that nonliving chemicals follow the laws of nature obediently.  The first law of TD says that no new matter and energy will emerge out of nothing.  The second law of TD, more important for our analysis, dictates that chemicals will seek equilibrium and gravitate toward a state of maximum disorder (notice that information is the polar opposite of disorder).  Scientists like to use big words, not just to show off, but in an attempt to be precise.  But here, Morowitz confused the issue by subtly personifying nonliving chemicals, claiming that they “explore the state of space in an ergodical fashion.”  (Ergodic means each member is representative of the whole; for instance, the way one sodium chloride molecule reacts can be considered the way all do; the word also is used in statistics regarding the probability a state will recur.)  Thus, as he describes them, nonliving chemicals “tend to conduct a random, exhaustive search of all possibilities.”  Can a nonliving entity search?  Obviously not.
        Surely what he intended to say is that nonliving chemicals, merely bouncing around at random, will eventually hit on any possible interactions.  Depending on the energy states between them, some interactions will be endothermic, using energy; others will be exothermic, releasing energy.  But whatever is possible, nonliving chemicals will randomly “explore” that space and then do what comes naturally.  Water trickling down a rocky slope appears to be searching for a way down, but is really just responding to the laws of thermodynamics.  Sometimes water will jet up into the air, as in a seaside blowhole or Yellowstone geyser, but only with the input of energy, and even then, not because of a code or special combination of molecules.  Any and all water molecules will react the same under the circumstances, because each is a representative of the set of all water molecules.
        What about life?  “In contrast,” he points out, “living systems explore a combinatorially large space of possibilities through an evolutionary process.”  The key word here is combinatorially.  DNA combines bases into a genetic code, and proteins combine amino acids into functional machines.  The combinations, when meaningful and useful, open up seemingly limitless possibilities that (when energized by metabolism in a container), can allow an organism to beat thermodynamics in the short term.  Locally and temporarily, it can achieve a state of low entropy.  A seed can grow into a gravity-defying plant, and an egg can grow into a bird, flying through the air, with feathers, bones, lungs and a host of richly functional parts.  Eventually, of course, TD wins; the plant withers, and the bird weakens and dies.  Both decay into particles with high entropy.
        This distinction cannot be overemphasized.  Nonliving chemicals do not “explore” combination space because they lack a genetic code to do so: i.e., they lack information.  You will notice that this article tosses around the word information as if it will just magically appear if an appropriate “informational polymer” can be found, whether DNA, RNA or PNA.  Stop right there.  That is equivalent to claiming that the availability of ink, paper and type will form books without an author.  Foul; out; game over.  It is not even worth considering this argument further, but we shall, just for the fun of it.
        Morowitz sneaks in a Darwinian assumption into the second half of his description of living chemicals: he claims that living systems explore a combinatorially large space of possibilities through an evolutionary process.  If we can ever get a Darwinian to prove this instead of assuming it, the intellectual debate over origins will come out of a dense fog.  Yes, organisms can vary through mutation, and yes, traits from pre-existing information can sort into distinct populations, but can a Darwinist name one instance of new information for a new function coming out of an evolutionary process?  Richard Dawkins, the king of Darwin dogmatists, was stumped on this question, and in 3.5 years of reporting from the premiere Darwinist journals, we have yet to run across a clear example.  We can, however, provide many cases of Darwinians moaning about the lack of examples (see 11/01/2002, for instance).
        Evolutionists are sneaky at embedding their philosophy into their terms.  They define life as something that evolves, and they define science as materialism.  It’s impossible to carry on a rational discussion with someone who controls the dictionary.
        In past commentaries, we characterized the gap between life and nonlife as a canyon, and described the ways evolutionists try to imagine nonliving chemicals spontaneously bridging the canyon.  This would be good time to review the 05/22/2002 entry about the ways evolutionists try to help life bridge the gap from both sides.  The important thing to remember is that the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach both cheat by using information from the evolutionist’s brain.  If you keep the cheater out of the process, the chemicals are simply not going to do what the evolutionist wants without his help.
        All the talk about “artificial life,” furthermore, is intelligent design, not evolution, so it is irrelevant to the question of the origin of life.  With these principles in mind, it is easy to detect the baloney in the various proposals in the article:
    • So-called self-organizing nanostructures require intelligent design of the components and the environment.  Mass-produced, magnetized Lego blocks might be coaxed to link up, for example, but only in an ergodic fashion and only if they are put into a conducive container.  Even so, the structures contain no real information in the sense of coding; they consist of repetitive patterns.
    • The word selection is often misused as a personification; who is doing the selecting?  Remember, chemicals don’t care.  Example: “how and when selection plays a greater role than thermodynamics in the observed distribution of phenotypes.”  Subtle, isn’t it?  Only actors play roles.  He embeds Darwinian assumptions into the sentence.  It suggests a goddess called Evolution that is like a stage director, gradually promoting the actor “selection” over the actor “thermodynamics.”  Sorry.  Thermodynamics always gets “lead role” unless information is directing metabolism within a container to locally and temporarily counteract it.  This requires preprogrammed instructions.  Those are the rules in the theater of physics.
    • Theoretical frameworks are intelligently designed, so they have no relevance to a materialistic origin of life.  No theory or model can trump a realistic lab experiment.  So PNA might hold information, huh?  And lipids might form a container, huh?  And the PNA might double as a metabolic engine, huh?  OK: put the raw ingredients into a realistic environment, keep your informational hands off, don’t prevent the harmful cross-reactions, wait a few million years, and watch what happens.  Entropy.
    • What life already does is irrelevant to what nonliving chemicals might do.  If metabolism scales with body size between bacteria and elephants, that’s nice.  What does that have to do with the origin of life?
    • A container without active transport is a death trap (see 01/17/2002), or would leak out the vital ingredients just as readily as the toxins.  Now analyze the article’s bluffing, overconfident caption to a picture of one of these death traps: “Short RNA oligonucleotides (red) are adsorbed to a particle of montmorillonite (clay) and encapsulated within a fatty acid vesicle (green).  The assembly of RNA within the vesicle is coordinated by the clay particle.”  Come on, now.  You can’t get information out of clay.  You can’t concentrate metabolic ingredients into the vesicle or expel wastes out of it except by diffusion, in which the action will be opposite what is needed.  You can’t have natural selection without replication (see online book).  Thus, the picture and the caption and the big words are utterly irrelevant to the origin of life.
          A thing that looks like a cell is no more a cell than a bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt is the living man.  This should be obvious.  The normally good-natured organic chemist, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, used to get pretty heated up about similar claims by Sidney Fox years ago.  Fox gained fame by showcasing his contrived “cell-like proteinoid microspheres.”  Wilder-Smith called the claim “rubbish.”  Nothing has changed in 2004; the rubbish has just been reshuffled.
    • The current consensus smokescreen fails on two points.  If it’s consensus, it isn’t science (see 12/23/2003).  And how could it be a consensus anyway, when the opposition has been denied a hearing?  Claiming a consensus with only Darwin Party members participating is like claiming the opinion of a majority of Senate Democrats represents American opinion.  (This is not just to pick on Democrats.  Charlie Darwin described his political persuasion as “liberal or radical” [Browne, p. 399], as did most of his ardent disciples.)
    • State of the art and simulation: here are two more terms that imply intelligent design, not evolution.
    • Debug this code: “the challenge is to connect realistic but slow molecular dynamic simulations with less accurate but fast higher level simulations.”  Pick your disappointment: slow realism or fast fantasy?  (See 02/10/2004 entry on misuse of mathematics in biology.)
    • Saying something doesn’t make it so: Copley “explained how catalysts operate in living systems today and how these were likely to have evolved from less efficient precursors.”  Instead of the cute just-so story, can you please perform a stage demonstration of less-efficient precursors evolving into a highly-efficient enzyme?  If not, don’t call it science (see 01/12/2004).
    • Debug another line of code: “the citric acid cycle of living cells might be a thermodynamic attractor for all possible metabolic networks, thus explaining its appearance at the core of all living systems.”  Ever heard of the post-hoc fallacy
    Charles Darwin was privately interested in the origin of life, but publicly reticent to make statements about it.  Out of a desire not to appear impious, he had inserted into the ending of The Origin of Species a suggestion that a Creator might have breathed life into a few forms, or into one, which since had evolved.  His real agenda, however, was all-encompassing: he wanted a materialistic universe with God out of the picture.  But he was cautious.  Charlie was keenly aware of the trap Pouchet had fallen into with Pasteur over spontaneous generation.  He watched cautiously from a distance as Huxley and Haeckel made fools of themselves claiming to have found primordial protoplasm in the seabed.  He dreamed about a “warm little pond” in a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker, but “he remained silent” publicly, writes Janet Browne in Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002).  His caution was admirable, but inwardly, he desired this philosopher’s stone, because it would make his denial of God complete:
    His own theory of evolution would stand to gain if spontaneous generation was shown to be possible—it would acquire its necessary starting point.  Yet it was easy to make rash mistakes....
        To onlookers, the interconnections between these ideas and the people who proposed them appeared close—evolutionary theory and the physical basis of life seemed part and parcel of the same sprawling intellectual enigma of scepticism, agnosticism, and materialism. looked as if naturalists were asserting the sole sufficiency of science [i.e., materialism] as a means of comprehending the entire universe....
        .... Wallace suggested that these rapid transformations of simple matter could quicken evolution to the point where Thomson’s warnings about the shortened age of the earth could safely be ignored.  Darwin saw the value in this.  He would like to see spontaneous generation proved true, he told Wallace, “for it would be a discovery of transcendent importance.”  For the rest of his life he watched and pondered.

    (Browne, pp. 394-395.)
    It could hardly be denied that the same “enigma of skepticism, agnosticism and materialism” permeated the thoughts of most participants at these two international workshops.  What would really have been interesting at the proceedings, more than the self-absorbed fluff about theoretical frameworks and models, would have been a lively debate about the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  If you haven’t seen it yet, by all means do.  And for additional humor, follow the chain links below on Origin of Life.  They might be termed the comic section of Creation-Evolution Headlines.  If you enjoy the just-so storytelling ability of the Darwinians, you might also enjoy the Meatball Theory for the Origin of Music (08/26/2003).
    Next headline on:  Origin of LifeDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
    Happy Darwin Day?    02/13/2004
    Humanists hope to have a new international holiday by 2009: Darwin Day.  (Feb. 12 was Darwin’s birthday as well as Abe Lincoln’s, so it’s already set aside as a holiday in America, but promoters want this to be an international event.)  According to Robert Evans’ story in
    Reuters, the British Humanist Association believes such a commemoration “would send out a signal that science matters in an era when pseudo-science and fear of science seem to be gaining ground.”  For their part, the humanists have their own fear: creationism.  “It is very, very scary,” said a leader of the Darwin Day movement in America.  “Creationism is spreading further and further.”
        As evidence for anti-Darwinist sentiments, they point to British Prime Minister’s recent tolerance for a creationist college, advances in creationist and intelligent design movements in the United States under Bush’s administration, and polls that show 45% of Americans believe a personal God created all life within 10,000 years.  They are also alarmed at the rise of Islamic and Hindu opposition to Darwinism.
        The invasion is getting too close for comfort.  Evans claims that “In a church a stone’s throw from the Darwin Research Station on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands -- where the biologist gathered much of his evidence for evolution -- fiery evangelical sermons on hellfire awaiting unbelievers are on the daily menu.”  In seeming counterattack, Peter Backus at Space.Com has honored the alternative deity (see 02/12/2004 commentary) with the ultimate honor, naming everything that is, ever was, and ever shall be, “Darwin’s Universe.”
    Darwin Day--what a great idea.  It would be a perfect occasion to teach people important concepts.  Let’s start now thinking up activities that could become favorite family traditions.  Darwinians could wear Selfish Jeans, light Cambrian explosions, have asteroid fights and go extinct.  Here is a proposed list of Top 10 Darwin Day Activities:
    1. Have battles with slime and play King of the Hill.
    2. Blindfold monkeys and watch them type Shakespeare.
    3. Have a Darwin beard contest with lady judges to test sexual selection.
    4. Decorate lizards with feathers and drop them from trees.
    5. Vote on community Darwin Awards.
    6. Sponsor a Just-So Storytelling Contest.
    7. Hold a Planet of the Apes and Survivor movie festival.
    8. Play “glue the peppered moth on the tree.”
    9. Sing Evolution Songs around a campfire fueled with creationist books.
    10. Test survival of the fittest: debate a creationist.
    Send in your suggestions: write here.  One reader has sent in this prize-winner: “a scavenger hunt.  Item #1: a true, transitional fossil.  WARNING!  Photos of the participants of this activity may end up on the back of a milk carton.”
    Next headline on:  Darwin and EvolutionDumb Ideas
    New Website Aids Slow Process of Dethroning Darwin   02/13/2004
    A new website,
    Darwin and, based on the book co-authored by Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell, has been announced by Discovery Institute.  Meanwhile, Ohio anticreationists are trying to caricature a proposed lesson plan on critical analysis of evolution by identifying it with intelligent design theory.  “Intelligent design isn’t even covered in this lesson,” said Bruce Chapman, President of Discovery Institute, according to the press release on Discovery Institute News Feb. 11.  “The curriculum only examines the evidence for evolution and the scientific challenges to Darwin’s theory that are under debate by scientists around the world.”
    The Darwin Party totalitarians are so protective of Charlie, their bearded buddha,* that they do not want anyone asking questions about his deity while they worship, let alone handing out tracts for another faith.  Perhaps the only way to get open debate back into science will be to get the government to stop funding the state religion.
    *Janet Browne, in Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002, ch. 10), describes the veneration of Darwin going on in 1871 British media with example after example of illustrators portraying him as a little god.  For instance, “Linley Sambourne ... portrayed a great spiral from ‘Chaos’ to God’s throne in heaven, on which Darwin casually sprawled” (p. 378).  The caricatures and cartoons of Darwin, ubiquitous in the media, had far more impact on the popularity of his theories than any claimed scientific evidence.  Browne writes (p. 381):
    Such powerful visual statements propelled the idea of evolution out of the arcane realms of learned societies and literary magazines into the ordinary world of humour, newspapers, and demotic literature.  Without Mr. Punch’s monkeys and gorillas, Figaro’s mirror of nature, and Holyoake’s cloud of protoplasm, the transformation in nineteenth-century thought would probably have remained predominantly an elite phenomenon.  The full implications of human descent would have taken much longer to sink in.  These caricatures were not just a transparent medium of illustration but an actual shaper of contemporary thought, as representative in their own way as any of the fine arts or literary texts of the period.  The themes of Darwin’s Descent of Man were graphically repackaged in a versatile cultural form enjoying wide distribution and popular appeal.  The cartoons might appear on the tables of any middle-class home in the country.
    (See Baloney Detector entry on visualization as a propaganda tactic and smokescreen.)
    No wonder Charlie retains such a devoted group of hardline loyalists.  He was not a mere founder of a scientific idea; he is the Holy Father of the materialists.  Visitors to his house acted as if they were making a religious pilgrimage.  “Mischievously, Huxley sent a sketch of someone paying his devotions at the shrine of ‘Pope Darwin’” (p. 384).  Some worshippers during their pilgrimages to Down House became breathless, so overcome with awe they could hardly speak in the exalted master’s presence.  “Grown men could crumble in the presence of the god,” Brown writes (p. 383).  Even his appearance was part of the act.  The long unkempt beard made him look like an Old Testament prophet or patriarch.
        Charlie shamelessly played along with this celebrity worship, and with the aid of family members and friends like Huxley and Hooker, used it to his advantage.  He developed “a shrewd management of personal publicity”; for example, he “unashamedly manipulated his reputation for poor health” to control the timing and length of visits (p. 383).  She describes how “Darwin’s entourage worked as if they were a family firm, protecting and supporting their figurehead.... Darwin’s household was an integrated corporate enterprise” (p. 384).  They played along with Charlie’s “selfish” escape mechanisms, like cutting visits short due to alleged illness, the need for a nap, or the need to get back to his pretended scientific work in the lab.
        All this manipulation just added to the mystique, and made visitors even more grateful for having had even a brief opportunity to kiss the feet of their pope.  Some of these young pilgrims, filled with the spirit, returning to their homes, labs, and schools with a “cherished memory” of “the great man” and their “near-religious experience” having had a moment to “sit at Darwin’s feet and venerate him,” understandably treated his books of just-so stories like inspired scriptures.  They “turned Darwin into a secular saint and Darwinism into a religion” (p. 383).  You may now throw up.
        Think times have changed?  The editor of Current Biology, Geoffrey North, lets us know where his adoration lies: “Charles Darwin is – quite rightly – a hero for many in biology.  He is undoubtedly the greatest biologist of all time; I think many may also envy the way he was able to work at home, with a lifestyle rather similar to that of a country parson, surrounded by his family.  What continues to astonish is the way that he has turned out to be right on so many fundamental issues” (Feb. 17 issue).  Follow the Chain Links on “Darwin” for some data points you need to make an informed vote.  Greatest biologist of all time?  Right on so many fundamental issues?  We vote for Louis Pasteur.
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent DesignEducation
    Your Internal Motors Can Run Nanotech   02/13/2004
    In each cell in your body, and in that of every living thing, there exists a tiny motor named ATP synthase that
    Science News1 calls “the ultimate molecular machine.”  It converts electrical to chemical energy, writes Alexandra Goho, “with amazing efficiency.”  Now, Japanese have harnessed some of these motors (only 12 millionths of a millimeter high) to power artificial machines.  They attached hundreds of the motors to a glass surface and attached little magnetic beads to the rotor part.  With an electromagnet, they induced them to spin, and were able to make them rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise.
    1Alexandra Goho, “Nature’s tiniest rotor runs like clockwork,” Science News, Week of Feb. 7, 2004; Vol. 165, No. 6, p. 94; see also article by Jessica Gorman, “Nanotech Switch: Strategy controls minuscule motor,” Science News, Week of Nov. 9, 2002; Vol. 162, No. 19.
    Biochemists and nanotechnologists are rightly fascinated by these nanoscopic machines, but strangely silent about where they came from.  They want to know what they can do with them, but where did they come from?  They hope they can borrow them for all kinds of nanodevices, but where did they come from?
        Suppose we were members of a Star Trek crew from a distant galaxy, and had just landed on Mars.  We find this little rover with solar panels and wheels and instruments, and all we can think about is how we can play with it.  Wouldn’t some sentient being on the crew be thinking, Where did it come from?
    Exercise: if aliens found Spirit or Opportunity on Mars, would they be justified in inferring intelligent design for its origin, even if they knew nothing about the designers?  Why or why not?  If scientists found an ATP synthase motor in the desert, but instead of being nanoscopic it was the size of a cement mixer, would they be justified in thinking it had evolved from the sand?  Support your answers.
        We’ve had many previous headlines on ATP Synthase.  You can start at the 09/18/2003 article and work back through the links for more information.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
    “Utmost Precision” Found in DNA Repair Enzyme   02/13/2004
    The cell has many helper enzymes that can repair DNA damage.  One such enzyme, named MutY, has been described in the Feb. 12 issue of Nature.1  Reviewer Tomas Lindahl sets the stage: “Damaged DNA must be removed with the utmost precision, as mistakes are costly.  The structure of a repair enzyme bound to its substrate provides a welcome clue to how this is achieved.”
        This particular enzyme is able to recognize its particular error target, an adenine incorrectly paired to an oxidized guanine, because of “extensive and precise contacts” it makes with that specific erroneous pair.  These contacts prevent it from mistakenly removing a correct pair.  In a paper in the same issue, Fromme et al.2 describe “an ingenious way by which this specificity is achieved” through these multiple, precise contacts.
        Lindahl describes how this enzyme works.  Details of the jargon are not essential for appreciating the precision of this molecular machine’s lifesaving activity:
    MutY belongs to a group of enzymes known as DNA glycosylases, which recognize altered bases in DNA and help to remove them.  Like other DNA glycosylases, it generates a sharp bend in the DNA at the site of the mismatch.  The new structural data provide a suitable explanation for why – as is desired – MutY doesn’t recognize and remove an adenine opposite its normal base partner, thymine (T): the extensive and precise contacts between MutY and an A•xoG pair are entirely absent in a normal AT pair.  Similarly, the enzyme’s active site does not accommodate a cytosine opposite an oxoG; for coding reasons, it is important that the oxidized base rather than the normal base is repaired in this partnership.
    Lindahl notes that mutations in this enzyme put humans at risk of colorectal cancer.  Other oxygen-altered bases, if not repaired, are implicated in tissue degeneration and ageing.
    1Tomas Lindahl, “Molecular Biology: Ensuring error-free DNA repair,”
    Nature 427, 598 (12 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427598a.
    2Fromme et al., Nature Feb 12, 2004, p. 652.
    How does a blind molecule do this?  Notice how specific the contacts are: some parts first allow the enzyme to contact the specific error-bound pair, and if and only if a match is found, other parts of this machine are designed to bend the DNA strand so that the bad base can be cut out.  (He didn’t go into this, but other machines are on hand to ferry in and insert the correct base.)  All these extensive and precise contacts exist because another section of DNA that codes for this enzyme contains bases that are also extensive and precise.  This underscores the principle that enzymes, to work, are not indiscriminately mutatable.  They have to be precise to work.
        It also underscores the evolutionary conundrum that DNA needs repair enzymes to prevent catastrophic errors, but the repair enzymes themselves are coded by DNA.  How could a DNA strand without the error-correction mechanisms survive beyond a few copies?  Evolutionists know that accurate copying is essential to prevent “error catastrophe” yet they expect us to believe that these marvelous high-precision error-correction systems (and there are many, many parts of the DNA Damage Repair team), somehow came into being via accidents.  Give me a break.  (On second thought, don’t--broken DNA is deadly.)  Not surprising that there is no mention at all of evolution in this article.
        For more on the wonder of enzymes and their precision, see our online book, Evolution: Possible or Impossible?  Though written years ago, the book’s thesis that chance is utterly incapable of producing such incredible precision of function is only amplified by discoveries like this.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyGenetics and DNAAmazing Facts
    Mercury’s Magnetic Field: Another Attempt to Save Theory from Data   02/13/2004
    Nature Feb. 121 restates a puzzle about Mercury known since the Mariner 10 encounters (1974-5):
    ...why, against expectations, does Mercury have a global magnetic field?
    The planet’s diminutive size means that it should have cooled quickly after it formed.  Any molten core would have become solid, or almost completely so.  A magnetic-field-generating dynamo in an outer core (as is the case for Earth) should have long since seized up.  But the news from Mariner 10 meant a rethink was needed, and since then attempts to account for the magnetic field have centred on how the core might have remained largely molten.
    Tim Lincoln mentions a new theory by Aharonson et al. published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2004) that maybe the original field was frozen into an uneven crust.  We may not be able to tell until the MESSENGER spacecraft, launching this May, sends back its first data in 2007.
    Planetary magnetic fields are astounding in their diversity.  Mercury has a small global field (but should not); Venus, our twin, has essentially none; the gas giants all have fields but those of Uranus and Neptune are extremely tilted and off center, while Saturn’s is almost perfectly aligned with its pole axis.  According to theory, this cannot be.  Earth, fortuitously, has a perfect field to shield its inhabitants from cosmic rays and solar flares, but its strength is dropping rapidly.
        In this “golden age of planetary discovery,” we should soon be gathering more data to explain these mysterious phenomena.  If trends continue, however, each solution will breed new problems.  At this point, it does seem quite incredible that tiny Mercury should retain any global field at all, if it were really 4.5 billion years old.  Note the surprise in Lincoln’s writing over this mystery: “against expectations...would have...should have...a rethink was needed.”
    Next headline on: 
    Solar SystemPhysics
    Oldest Fossil Insect Alleged    02/11/2004
    In a pattern that sounds familiar, an insect fossil has been found that (1) is the oldest ever discovered, and (2) shows that “winged flight may have emerged earlier than previously thought.”  Estimates put this fossil at about 400 million years old, among the first creatures to colonize the land.  Though wing impressions were not found, the specimens may have belonged, based on other detectable features, to an order of winged insects.
    BBC News, based on the finding by Engel and Grimaldi published in Nature.1  The authors say, “In fact, Rhyniognatha has derived characters shared with winged insects, suggesting that the origin of wings may have been earlier than previously believed.  Regardless, Rhyniognatha indicates that insects originated in the Silurian period and were members of some of the earliest terrestrial faunas.”
    1Michael S. Engel and David A. Grimaldi, “New light shed on the oldest insect,” Nature 427, 627 - 630 (12 February 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02291.
    Anybody see evolution here?  The first bugs are already bugs.  The authors make a valiant attempt to fit these into some kind of evolving lineage, but the discussion is all inference based on guesswork.  A set of disconnected links does not comprise a chain.
    Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyFossils
    Darwinians Excel at Games   02/10/2004
    Martin Nowak (Harvard) sure got good press for his evolutionary game theories last week.  In
    Nature,1 he retold the glorious story of how he and Karl Sigmund met in an Austrian mountain cottage and applied the “prisoner’s dilemma” game to a new theory for social evolution.  The same week, in Science,2 as part of a special section on mathematics in biology, the two of them published a detailed accounting of the many insights game theory has provided to Darwinists.
        Thousands of papers have been written on game theory since Nowak and Sigmund dreamed up this new approach for characterizing biological interactions (for example, see 10/17/2002).  Martin especially liked game theory because it didn’t require hard lab work: “At university, I found labs disappointing,” he says.  “ – experiments failed for no good reason.  But theory was beautiful.  You could do theory while walking through the forest or lying in the grass.  Theory was not grey, but a golden tree of life.”
        His Science piece claims some progress, but lists some substantial challenges ahead.  He does not specify how many hours of lying in the grass these puzzles will require:
    Many challenges lie ahead.  Evolutionary game theory is formulated in terms of phenotypes, thereby ignoring the complexity of the genotype-phenotype mapping.  More work is needed on the interaction of strategies encoded in genomic sequences.  Most evolutionary game dynamics have been studied in the context of infinitely large populations.  We expect that finite population size effects will lead to surprising outcomes and might question the importance of traditional evolutionary stability.  Cultural interpretations of replicator dynamics often assume that successful strategies spread by imitation or learning, but the learning of complicated strategies from behavioral observations is a nontrivial task that needs specific investigation.  Similarly, studying human language requires a connection between the mathematics of game theory, learning theory, and computational linguistics.
    Despite these challenges, Nowak is confident that game theory provides a conceptual framework that is just shy of a panacea.  It can be applied to everything in biology, he claims, from interactions between proteins in a cell to social interactions between people:
    The applications of evolutionary game theory pervade by now all areas of biology.  Interactions among genes, viruses, cells, and humans are often instances of evolutionary games that are amenable to empirical and theoretical investigation.  Game theory is the appropriate tool whenever the success of an individual depends on others.
    With all the popularity his approach has garnered, Nowak is like a kid in a candy store: “I am no longer embarrassed to work on games.  They are the generic description of evolutionary interactions among genes, cells and people.  Children love games.  Scientific creativity is to never stop playing.”
    Children love games.  Children also love fairy tales.  Children are suckers for logical fallacies.  Grow up, Martin.
        These guys should read the piece by Robert M. May in the same issue of Science3 on “Uses and Abuses of Mathematics in Biology.”  Though not targeting game theory or evolution specifically, May shows how mathematics can confuse, not clarify, issues, and lead to false conclusions if the assumptions or inputs are wrong or imprecise.  He does mention how Darwin might have avoided the now-discredited view of blending inheritance had he known a little math (Charlie said, “I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.”)  If Darwin had grasped the significance of Mendel’s results, Robert May claims, he might have made better progress against critics.  (Or perhaps more accurately, would have gasped and moaned.)
        May points out differences between mathematical uses in physics and biology.  Tycho collected planetary data, Kepler described patterns that made the observations coherent, and Newton provided fundamental laws to explain the patterns.  Mathematical biology is partly in each stage, but “every stage in this caricature is usually vastly more complex than in the early days of physics,” May warns.  He provides examples of abuses, and some good uses, such as in immunology.  But he ends on a word of caution that Darwinian game theorists should read and heed:
    Mathematics, however, does not have the long-standing relation to the life sciences that it does to the physical sciences and engineering.  It is therefore not surprising to find occasional abuses. ... Perhaps most common among abuses, and not always easy to recognize, are situations where mathematical models are constructed with an excruciating abundance of detail in some aspects, whilst other important facets of the problem are misty or a vital parameter is uncertain to within, at best, an order of magnitude.  It makes no sense to convey a beguiling sense of “reality” with irrelevant detail, when other equally important factors can only be guessed at.  Above all, remember Einstein’s dictum: “models should be as simple as possible, but not more so.”
    Exercise:  Re-read this quote, and then read Nowak’s quote above about the challenges facing game theory.  How likely are evolutionary game theorists to be duped by a beguiling sense of reality?  (A phrase which, being interpreted, means, fantasy.)
    Extra credit:  Apply the same analysis to Antonelli’s claim (see 01/12/2004) and to computerized models of evolution (see 08/20/2003 and 12/19/2002s).
    1Martin A. Nowak, “Prisoners of the dilemma,” Nature 427, 491 (05 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427491a.
    2Martin A. Nowak and Karl Sigmund, “Evolutionary Dynamics of Biological Games,” Science Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 793-799, 10.1126/science.1093411.
    3Robert M. May, “Uses and Abuses of Mathematics in Biology,” Science Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 790-793, 10.1126/science.1094442.

    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
    Comets as Cosmic Storks   02/10/2004
    Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised the bar on tale-telling ability.  They believe that comets splatting on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and farther out, eventually escaping the sun’s pull.  Over time, they might spread life to other worlds.  They estimate that since the origin of the Milky Way galaxy, over 10 billion worlds could have been seeded with life by this process.  Story in
    Wickramasinghe, former colleague of the late Fred Hoyle (see 08/22/01), is a useful idiot-genius who has helped demolish arguments for a chance origin of life, but replaced it by a tall tale even more incredible.  Since storytelling has become part and parcel of science, anything goes if you have a PhD, the whoppier the better, and the science news outlets will publish it with nary a guffaw.  (Unless you are a creationist.)
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemOrigin of LifeDumb Ideas
    Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy the New Epicycles?    02/10/2004
    An article in
    The Economist suggests that dark matter and dark energy may not be necessary to understand the structure of the universe.  It refers to two recent papers that explain the cosmic background radiation and galaxy clusters with ordinary matter, without a need for either of the other two unknown quantities.  Are dark matter and dark energy like the fudge factors called epicycles that Ptolemy used to keep his outdated cosmology working?  The article allows that, at this point, either side of the controversy could be wrong, but “On the other hand, a universe that requires three completely different sorts of stuff to explain its essence does have a whiff of epicycles about it. ... one cannot help but wonder whether Ptolemy might soon have some company in the annals of convoluted, discarded theories.”
    Dark energy is the big fad these days.  Leading cosmologists are certain they have proved its existence in this era of “precision cosmology” (see 06/20/03).  A model that doesn’t rely on 96% unknown entities would seem to have a built-in advantage.  Let’s watch to see who eats crow a few years from now.
    Next headline on:  Cosmology
    Was the Nobel Denied to a Creationist?    02/09/2004
    Rick Weiss, writing in
    Smithsonian Magazine (Dec. 2003), analyzes Raymond Damadian’s “prize fight” over the 2003 Nobel for Physiology and Medicine (see 11/10/2003 and 10/10/2003 entries).  He suggests the possibility that one of the main reasons was Damadian’s views on creation.  A Nobel spokesman denies it, but Weiss wonders:
    But it is difficult not to at least consider another explanation: that scientists on the assembly or in other positions of influence could not abide Damadian’s staunch support for “creationist science.”  Damadian is a firm believer in a literal translation of the Bible: he has no doubt that the earth was created by God during a six-day stretch about 6,000 years ago.  Damadian has also served as a technical adviser to the Institute for Creation Research, which rejects the standard model of evolution. ...     .... It is tempting to speculate that some assembly members might have weighed the additional legitimacy a Nobel imprimatur would have conferred upon groups whose views are so diametrically opposed to so much of modern science.
    The views of creationists are not diametrically opposed to so much of modern science, for crying out loud.  They are diametrically opposed to the totalitarian elitism of the Darwin Party.  Like so many great creation scientists before him, Damadian performed exemplary scientific research that has had phenomenal, world-wide impact for good.  That is what a prize should go for, not for allegiance to any “standard” mythology.
        We cannot know exactly how much this factor weighed in on the Nobel committee’s secret deliberations, but it would not be surprising, given the Darwin Party’s history of smear tactics going back to Huxley.  Rather than have open debate about the evidence, they present themselves as the noble couriers of science and everyone who disagrees with them as crackpots.  The Smithsonian, whose museum houses Damadian’s first working MRI scanner, could have done a better job defending his case, but at least this article is one of the few that have dared to suggest the creation factor.  Notice how Weiss talked about the “Nobel imprimatur,” and portrays the committee as if it were a council of bishops declaring the official interpretation of their scripture, The Origin of Species.  What’s next, the secular inquisition?
    Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsBible and Theology
    Evolutionists Publish Racist Book   02/06/2004
    “Disturbing” is how Robert N. Proctor (Penn State) describes a new book by two prominent evolutionists in the
    Feb. 5 issue of Nature.1  The book is Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele (Westview, 2004), and Proctor has a lot of politically correct diatribe to heap on it, though reluctantly:
    This is a disturbing book, especially given the stature of its primary author, Vincent Sarich, as one of the founding pioneers of molecular anthropology.  In 1967, in a paper with Allan Wilson, Sarich, then a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, used a simple protein-molecular clock to show that humans share a common ancestor with the great apes from as recently as 5 million years ago – overturning previous estimates of more 20 million years.
    Miele is a senior editor of Skeptic magazine.  Both men are ardent anticreationists.  Sarich has debated Duane Gish four times, and each time characterized the debate as the “science game” being superior to the “faith game.”  So what is Sarich doing here promoting emphasis on racial differences, in a day when the world is trying to put the abuses of racism behind?  Proctor would like to know.  But in his attack, he thinks evolutionary anthropology can, in moderation, put racial studies to good use:
    The authors’ ‘case for race’ draws heavily on contentious claims by raciologists such as Arthur R. Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton, notorious for having postulated natural racial hierarchies in intelligence, criminality, athletic performance, sexual endowment and the capacity to accumulate wealth.  This is a shame, because there are good reasons to believe that certain aspects of race are very real, and that important questions of human origins, prehistoric migrations and medical therapeutics can be fruitfully addressed by properly re-examining human biovariation.
    Here, though, we have an exercise in bombast and overstatement....
    Flaws in this book are so numerous that it would be difficult to list them all.
    Proctor is especially upset that they made broad-brushed claims without proof or attribution.  After some examples, he continues that “Stronger claims are made that border on the incendiary,” particularly about affirmative action, intermarriage and eugenics.  He also finds it “remarkable” that the authors would simply accept, “with so little supporting evidence,” a claim of inherent low IQ for sub-Saharan Africans, “ignoring the many ways that such a sweeping and grotesque generalization could be flawed.”  Not all anthropologists were racists, he assures the readers, and proper study of anthropology might find racial studies useful:
    The authors scoff at the idea of race as a social construct, but the historical account they present is full of idealized white-and-black polarities.  The authors side with Ernst Haeckel over Rudolf Virchow, Madison Grant over Franz Boas, and Carleton Coon over Ashley Montagu.  There is little effort to explore which of the myriad historical ‘realities’ postulated for race might have alternative explanations.
        I suspect that the impact of this book could be the opposite of the authors’ intentions.  There is much to be said for studying human genetic variability to explore questions of prehistoric ancestry and migration, and to investigate how different human populations respond to medical interventions.  But the leap from these to immoderate speculations about the permanence of present-day inequalities is likely to give sceptics even more reason to question racial ‘realities’.
        Anthropology has a mixed history of dealings with human racial injustice (think of Carleton Coon’s view that Africans became human some 200,000 years after white Europeans).  The present book, so full of flim-flam and loose speculations, is more likely to re-arm than to deflate sceptics.

    1Robert N. Proctor, “When is it helpful to categorize people according to race?” Nature 427, 487 - 488 (05 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427487a.
    Mixed history, indeed.  Evolutionists cannot whitewash the atrocities and genocide committed in the name of Darwinian survival of the fittest.  Charlie himself, and many of his followers, were confirmed racists, although some were more ardent than others.  Darwin maintained, at least outwardly, a deep concern for social justice, but Huxley and Haeckel flaunted their European chauvinism.  Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin and admirer, was the father of eugenics.  (Virchow, by contrast, was a vigorous anti-Darwinist, so Proctor cannot place him in any evolutionary pantheon.)  For more on the racism of the Victorian-era Darwinians, see ch. 8-9 in Janet Browne’s Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002).  She describes Darwin’s racist beliefs as expressed in his second-most influential book, The Descent of Man (1871):
    He ventured onto thorny ground....  His naturalism explicitly cast the notion of race into evolutionary and biological terms, reinforcing contemporary ideas of a racial hierarchy that replicated the ranking of animals.  And he had no scruple in using the cultural inequalities between populations to substantiate his evolutionary hypotheses.  Darwin certainly believed that the moral and cultural principles of his own people, and of his own day, were by far the highest that had emerged in evolutionary history.  (p. 345).
    Darwinian apologists can, and do, point to misguided Christians who used Bible verses to support racism and slavery.  But judging from the quote above, which belief system – evolutionary naturalism or Christianity – leads directly from its core doctrines and founding statements to racism?  Darwin used evolution to explain and rationalize racial differences; the subtitle of his initial revolutionary book was The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  Yet the Bible teaches that we all descended from one human pair, Adam and Eve.  Paul reinforced this core doctrine of both Christians and Jews when he taught the Athenians that God had made all mankind of one blood (Acts 17:26).  The teachings of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere are the antithesis of racism.  Jesus continually exalted the outcast, the poor, the underprivileged, and the weak as better than the mighty (the fittest).  So does the rest of Scripture when each passage is understood in context.  Faith, not race, is always the criterion for fellowship in God’s family, whether Rahab, Ruth, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, or countless others of any nationality, ethnicity, sex, or social standing.  Between Darwinism and Christianity, the core doctrines and teachings of chief spokesmen lead in opposite directions regarding race.
        Creationists might have some agreement with Proctor, in that there is some room for analyzing slight variations between people that resulted from their histories (to be able to provide appropriate medical care, for instance), but these variations are not due to differences in human origins or to prehistoric migrations, because the historic migrations of mankind are documented in the Bible.  Biblical creationists explain the skin colors, eye slants, susceptibility to certain genetic diseases and other identifiable characteristics of ethnic groups as resulting from the separation of peoples after the Tower of Babel.  But they would claim these very minor and superficial changes all occurred within just a few thousand years, and in no way reflect on the truth that we are all created equal, and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Proctor’s belief, on the other extreme, would put these “racial” differences far back, millions of years, into our alleged evolutionary ascent from ape-like ancestors.  That could easily provide scientific justification to modern racism.  The Bible, by contrast, teaches that for all who come to the foot of the cross, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” ( Colossians 3:11).  A direct line can be drawn from orthodox Darwinism to racism, but not from the cross of Christ.  (Note also that theistic evolutionism has no advantage over naturalistic Darwinism in this regard.)
        Answers in Genesis has taken a lead role in revitalizing the concept that a Genesis understanding of human origins is the solution to racial tensions in the world today.  So Vincent Sarich, the anti-creationist, sowed his core beliefs, and now they have sprouted.  By their fruits you shall know them.
    Next headline on:  Early ManPolitics and EthicsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    Darwinian Phylogenists Do the Funky Chicken   02/05/2004
    Fredrik Ronquist is active in phylogenetic systematics, the art of drawing evolutionary trees from DNA comparisons.  And he admires Joseph Felsenstein, an “icon in the field.”  But when he reviewed Felsenstein’s new book, Inferring Phylogenies (Sinauer, 2004) in the
    Feb. 5 issue of Science,1 he had mixed feelings about the author’s biases and his choice of humor.
        Ronquist has much to praise about the iconic master’s work, concluding “I can think of no one who could provide a better and more comprehensive summary of the current methods for building evolutionary trees.”  Nevertheless, his criticisms are revealing about the state of this art:
    • What is it about, anyway?  The book seems to omit a rather important part of phylogenetic systematics:
      What I found most surprising about the book is that it is not at all about systematics.  Readers will find no coverage of many basic concepts in phylogenetic systematics--such as synapomorphy, symplesiomorphy, sistergroups, outgroups, and monophyly.
      While Felsenstein covers many subjects like “techniques for statistical testing of evolutionary trees,” uses of phylogenies, and “nearly every quantitative approach to tree-building that has been tried,” Ronquist is most surprised there is no coverage of these important terms and concepts in a 684-page definitive treatise by an expert in the field.

    • No help on classification.
      Another topic that many phylogenetic systematists consider important but the book glosses over is how one should convert phylogenetic trees into classifications of organisms.  According to Felsenstein, “The delimitation of higher taxa is no longer a major task of systematics, as the availability of estimates of the phylogeny removes the need to use these classifications.”  Even a cursory look at the literature would prove that many active systematists disagree; indeed, the discussion of classification and naming principles seems to be as vigorous as ever.  This neglect of the classification issue is all the more remarkable because Felsenstein devotes an entire chapter--one of the more original and important contributions in the book--to the drawing of trees (specifically, to algorithms for drawing diagrams of trees).  After all, drawing trees is just another way of communicating the results of a phylogenetic analysis.  Often a diagram is better, but sometimes a name is necessary.  I do not think we will ever see papers with titles like “The biology of <insert tree drawing here>.”
    • Controversy is bitter.
      In a field that has been plagued by outrageously bitter controversy, the book is remarkably balanced on the whole.  For example, consider Felsenstein’s summary of the debates on statistical inconsistency.  It reveals when parsimony is inconsistent and suffers from “long-branch attraction,” but it makes no secret of the fact that likelihood methods can also be misled by similar phenomena when the model used for inference is incorrect.  The attempt to provide balanced coverage probably will not stop ardent parsimony advocates from being disappointed.
      This is because Ronquist feels Fenselstein was unfair in his choice of algorithms to exalt, and ones to ignore.

    • The Bayesian Funky Chicken.  “The book’s coverage of Bayesian inference of phylogenies is surprisingly short and critical,” Ronquist complains.  Bayesian inference is a fancy mathematical form of educated guessing by applying values to likely causes, but it suffers from GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.  Ronquist disagrees with the author’s criticisms, and is not amused by the joking description Fenselstein gives to this technique as applied to evolutionary tree-building:
      I find the author’s complaints about prior distributions partly misdirected.  For instance, Mau and Newton’s prior on clocklike trees is described as “technically inadmissible” and “an impossible distribution” because it is an improper probability distribution.  But improper priors are often unproblematic in Bayesian inference, and there is an entire school of “objective Bayesians” who routinely use them.  The comment on the choice of proposal distributions is more funny than helpful: “At the moment the choice of a good proposal distribution involves the burning of incense, casting of chicken bones, use of magical incantations, and invoking the opinions of more prestigious colleagues.”
    After all this reluctant criticism, Ronquist manages to find something to compliment, in closing:
    Although it is easy to criticize a book that tries to cover so much, in this case doing so is like throwing stones in a glass house.  Every phylogeneticist can probably find some points they understand better than Felsenstein, but I can think of no one who could provide a better and more comprehensive summary of the current methods for building evolutionary trees.  It will be a long time before there will be a comparable book; perhaps the field is now growing too fast for there to ever be one.  The publication of Inferring Phylogenies is a milestone for evolutionary biology in general and phylogenetics in particular.

    1Fredrick Ronquist, “Phylogenetics: A Broad Look at Tree-Building,” Science Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 767-768.
    Sometimes you have to just stand back and let the Darwin Party members do it to each other.  Does anyone have confidence in evolutionary tree-building after this indecent exposure?  When an expert in the field omits significant parts of the story (why? because he feels they are invalid?), characterizes it as a battle over the most prestigious authorities, and describes one of the chief methodologies to be as mystical as casting chicken bones and using magical incantations, what are we supposed to conclude?  Don’t they realize it’s confusing to the peasants when the shamans are exorcising one another?

    For more on phylogenetic tree-building, see 11/26/2002 and 06/13/2003 entries, and follow the Chain Links on “Genes and DNA.”
    Next headline on:  Genetics and DNADarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    Why Darwin Is Like Yoda, and Darwinism Like Marxism   02/04/2004
    Homage for the master is palpable in John Vandermeer’s review (Science, Jan. 23)1 of a thick new book entitled Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution by Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman (Princeton, 2004).  Vandermeer seems almost worshipful in his opening lines:
    The nascent germ of many novel ideas in biology can be traced directly or indirectly to Darwin.  Thus it would probably be unusual if a book with laudatory cover blurbs by such notables as Lord May and Comrade Lewontin did not somehow reach deep into the master’s seed bank.
    The force of Master Darwin’s insight was only recently brought to full power by subsequent disciples, like Lewontin and Levins.  What is the “neglected process in evolution” indicated by the subtitle?  It is called niche construction or constructivism, the idea that not only does the environment impact the organism, the organism impacts the environment.  This “dialectic” approach produces a sort of Hegelian synthesis-antithesis-synthesis in the operations of evolution:
    Organisms in one generation can modify their environment, which is then inherited by the next generation.  Just as a sequence of generations of organisms changes through the pattern of intergenerational inheritance, the environment to which they respond likewise changes through ecological inheritance.  The authors’ approach incorporates two constructs of inheritance, genetic and ecological, which are coupled through niche construction and natural selection.
    Vandermeer honors the work of his comrades, with only a few reservations (not enough to get dismissed from The Party).  One criticism, however, might be exploited by enemies of the revolution.  He suggests that realistic experiments might reveal that the dialectic interplay between natural selection and niche construction does not drive evolution, but instead, steps on the brakes:
    Consider, for example, an organism evolving increased resource use efficiency.  If the dynamics of the organism and its resource generate a stable equilibrium over ecological time, then evolutionary dynamics will tend to reduce the equilibrium biomass of the resource.  This arrangement is consistent with the niche construction framework.  (The resource biomass is the consumer’s niche; thus, niche construction occurs through resource use while evolutionary change drives increased efficiency in resource use.)  However, the gradual evolution of utilization efficiency requires, implicitly, a relatively predictable regime of resource density.  It is not difficult to construct a dynamic model that generates well-behaved equilibria at low levels of utilization efficiency but chaos at high levels.  Above some critical value of utilization efficiency, the resource is no longer available at predictable densities, which effectively negates the force of selection.  This arrangement would imply an internally generated stop on the general evolutionary process (with niche construction) that derives from the nonlinear dynamics of the ecological model, a conclusion that would be missed with simpler models.
    In other words, the thesis and antithesis might not lead to a synthesis, but to stasis – or extinction.
        He has another criticism of the book: the authors’ “curious position” on the “fundamental problem of gene-culture transition,” i.e., the influence of biology on sociology.  The authors claim, for instance, that “human cultural processes are only possible because of human genetic aptitudes.... For example, ...the capacity for language is the result of biological adaptations.”  Vandermeer gently illustrates the problems that leave him “somewhat perplexed” with their thesis, and expands it to a general word of caution:
    My son loves nature as much as I do.  Yet I doubt that even the most enthusiastic genetic determinist would claim that I transferred that love to him with my genes rather than my parental nurturing.  But I would be first to admit that if he could not understand what I said, I could never have “culturally transmitted” that attitude to him.  If this is all the authors mean, they make a rather trivial point.  The culture-genetic dichotomy in general is rife with confused thinking.  The fact that lactose tolerance is correlated with animal husbandry, arguably a product of gene-culture coevolution, is a far cry from speculations about “rape” genes or genetically determined biophilia.  Critics, past and present, have no problem with lactose and cattle herding, but find certain speculations about more sensitive issues scientifically flawed and politically motivated.
    Not to end on a note of contradiction, Vandermeer praises the comrades’ fine work, which might just lead to a new five year plan:
    Attempting to reorganize the field of evolutionary biology certainly requires a work as long as Niche Construction, and any volume so rich with ideas is bound to incur criticism on particular points.  I have offered some here in the spirit of constructive criticism of constructivism.  And although I have more, my complaints do not signify a disagreement with the ringing endorsements by May and Lewontin on the book’s back cover.  With this volume, we may indeed be looking at a major breakthrough.
    Vandermeer stands in rank with Comrade Lewontin in honoring the venerable gray-bearded Master: “In their now-classic The Dialectical Biologist, Levins and Lewontin noted that Darwin’s major treatise ‘was the culmination and not the origin of nineteenth-century evolutionism.’”  But we must acknowledge the Master’s prophetic powers.  Vandermeer reminds us, “Indeed, the ideas expressed in Niche Construction can be seen in outline form in The Origin....”
    1John Vandermeer, “The Importance of a Constructivist View,”
    Science Volume 303, Number 5657, Issue of 23 Jan 2004, pp. 472-474.
    Comrade – dialectic – materialism – homage to the Leader – the parallels are too striking to be coincidental.  Is that why Marx found Darwin’s views so supportive of his economic philosophy?  (Incidentally, though the story about Marx dedicating Das Kapital to Darwin may be apocryphal, Marx did send him a signed copy in 1873, writing “Mr. Charles Darwin on the part of his sincere admirer Karl Marx.”  Darwin, in reply, wrote, “ I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge & that this in the long run is sure to add to the happiness of mankind.”  100 years and 100 million dead bodies later...
        And then you have the prophetic, exalted master, and a mystical force with two sides in eternal competition, permeating the universe.  Darwin himself looked for humans with pointy ears.  He thought they might be ativisms, i.e., evolutionary throwbacks.  Interesting.  The word Vandermeer chooses to speak of Darwin sounds best when uttered in a deep, breathy voice, like Mossstuh.  Lewontin seems to be saying, “I was once the Learnuh, but now I am the Mosstuh.”
        If you thought dialectical materialism went out of style when the Berlin wall fell, you can find it alive and well in modern evolutionary biology.  The constructivists assume that evolution proceeds by the interplay of adaptation and feedback from the environment in a Hegelian way, but Vandermeer has unwittingly hit on a troubling fact.  What if the vectors of thesis and antithesis, or adaptation and environmental constraint, are collinear and opposite?  Nothing happens.  There is no evolution.  Vandermeer has pointed out an “internally generated stop on the general evolutionary process.”  His example is telling.  Natural selection adapts an animal toward utilizing a food source.  The animal gets so good at it that the food source runs out.  Now what?  (For a similar discussion of this often unnoticed “slippage on the evolutionary treadmill,” see the important 03/17/2003 entry.)
        For another headline related to Vandermeer’s criticism of the propriety of investigating the evolution of rape, see 07/18/2003.
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    Legality Argument   02/03/2004
    Discovery Institute has posted remarks by David DeWolf, a law professor, to the Darby, Montana School District.  He addresses concerns that have been raised about the legality and constitutionality of a proposed change to their science policy that would permit “teaching the controversy” about origins in the science classroom.
    Has it come to this, that common sense needs legal defense?
    Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsEducationDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
    Accretion: The Missing Link in Planetary Evolution    02/03/2004
    Every school child has seen artwork of planets evolving from a disk of dust and gas around a star like our sun, but there’s a missing link in the story.  How did the dust particles stick together?
        Once a clump of material is massive enough, it can attract more material by its own gravity.  The moon, for instance, pulls meteors in.  They stay there and don’t bounce off, except in the unusual case of a high-speed glancing blow.  From the well-understood law of gravity, a planetary body needs to be about 1-10 km in diameter to grow by accretion.  From there, this “planetesimal,” according to theory, would experience runaway growth as long as there is material around to feed it.  Getting the body to this size is the problem.  Smaller bodies do not have sufficient gravity to pull in neighboring material.  A disk around a star, however, starts out with dust and ice grains much smaller, even microscopic in size.  It is estimated that the original dust particles in the primordial solar nebula were a tenth of a micrometer in diameter, too small to see.  How could these grow into planetesimals a mile across?
        This problem is not new.  Planetary evolutionists have wrestled with it repeatedly.  In the
    February issue of Icarus,1 Sin-iti Sirono of Nagoya University, Japan, tries to identify the requirements for colliding particles to stick together rather than bounce or smash each other apart.  He certainly respects the problem; in his introduction, he asks with a Japanese accent, “There is a immense gap of 13 orders of magnitude between the grain size and the size of a planet.  How planets are formed across this gap?”  Behold the missing link of planetary evolution.
        Accretion is a complex problem with many variables.  Think of firing a bullet at a rock.  A small bullet might form a crater, catastrophically disrupt the rock, or merge with the rock, if the rock is porous and able to absorb the blow.  What physical laws govern the outcome?  Sirono, after a great deal of modeling and computation, arrives at three constraints:
    1. The target must have low compressive strength relative to shear strength and tensile strength.
    2. Impact velocity must be 0.4% the speed of sound of the medium.
    3. The bodies must be made of materials that allow the “restoration of damage” effect.  This is an automatic “repair” mechanism that occurs if a ruptured material can rebound such that interatomic forces can partially heal the breach, as if little magnets in the pieces pull them back together.
    It should be evident with a little thought that other variables can also be important.  To visualize this, imagine two astronauts, Chuck and Tom, having a snowball fight in the cargo bay of a space shuttle.  Let’s say they both have good timing and aim; they always make their snowballs collide in the space between them.  Since gravity is not a factor in the weightlessness of space, what factors would make the snowballs stick together (accrete) instead of bouncing off each other or fragmenting into smithereens?  Here are a few of the variables:
    1. Temperature.  Soft, wet snowballs are more likely to stick than hard, icy ones.
    2. Density.  Low-density snowballs are more likely to stick than packed ones.  The compressive strength of snowballs can vary by a factor of 1000, Sirono says: “As the density of an aggregate goes lower, the strength becomes lower and vice versa.  For example, the strength range due to density variations is more than three orders of magnitude for a bed of snow.”  So if our astronauts tightly pack their snowballs, they well be less likely to stick, but also more subject to disruption.
    3. Relative size.  A small snowball might stick more readily to a large one, than would two of equal size.  Sirono’s simulations suggest that the threshold ratio for optimum chance of sticking is 3/10 or lower.
    4. Glancing angle.  A small impactor is more likely to stick to a target in a direct bulls-eye hit rather than a glancing blow.
    5. Differentiation.  Let’s say Chuck and Tom throw rocks coated with snow.  They might accrete if the relative velocity is low and the snow coating absorbs some of the energy.
    6. Glue.  If our astronauts have access to some kind of adhesive with which to saturate their weapons, the snowballs might glue themselves together.  Sirono thinks interstellar organic molecules might just do the trick.  He cites earlier work that suggests organics might comprise a significant fraction of the material (silicate:ice:organic mass ratio of 1:1:1.6), and that the organics might form a viscoelastic fluid between the particles.  “It may be possible that the organic materials play a role of glue which connects grains and fragments,” he suggests.
    If our astronauts perfect the art of getting their snowballs to stick together, new problems arise as the wad of snowballs grows.  Earlier models often assumed that the properties of an accreting mass scaled uniformly upward, but Sirono reminds us that the aggregate of particles is subject to new forms of catastrophic rupture.  Sirono explains,
    There are voids and cracks inside a large aggregate that significantly lowers the strength of an aggregate.  Tensile stress concentrates in regions around the cracks, and fracturing starts from contacts between such grains.  An aggregate will be broken by much smaller stresses than those expected by direct extrapolation from interaction forces between grains.
    So until the aggregate is large enough for gravity to compress and homogenize the insides, it is even more subject to disruption than were the original starting grains.  Even if a lucky aggregate forms, all Tom needs to do is lob a high-speed ice ball at it and it could splinter into small fragments again.  Better luck next time.
        It seems, therefore, that many special conditions are required to keep the hopeful aggregate growing up to a size where gravitational accretion can take over.  Sirono does not estimate how likely this is to occur in a real stellar nebula.  He just points out that any accretion needs to obey the laws of physics.
    1Sin-iti Sirono, “Conditions for collisional growth of a grain aggregate,” Icarus Volume 167, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 431-452, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2003.09.018.
    Observation 1: planets around a star, with a little dust.  Observation 2: a lot of dust around a star, with no planets.  What are appropriate conclusions based on this data?
        There are two possibilities.  One is that the second star is a young star with a dust disk that is on the way to becoming a new solar system, and the first is an old star with mature planets.  But there’s another possibility.  Maybe the first star has widely spaced, mature planets with stable orbits and few collisions, and the second star started out with mature planets in erratic orbits, which since collided and ground each other to dust.  The conclusion you reach has a lot to say about your world view and your respect for observation.
        While no one can rule out all possibility of dust and ice grains sticking together, the probability seems rather low.  Sirono invokes several ad hoc conditions to increase the odds.  Maybe if they are as soft as silly putty and infused with some sort of organic glue, with the right angle of attack, slow enough collision speed and the right temperature, they just might stick instead of bouncing off each other.  But the organic glue cannot get too warm, because Sirono says, “It has been found that the shear modulus of the organics decreases by five orders of magnitude as temperature increases from 200 to 300 K.”  This means the glue loses its elasticity real fast as the temperature rises: “The consequence of decrease in elasticity by a factor of 10 is severe fragmentation,” he says.  For particles in the warmer parts of the nebula, this seems to be a problem, yet we observe Mercury in our solar system baking in the heat of the sun, and gas giants bigger than Jupiter in even closer orbits around other stars.  Also, even if the conditions are lucky enough for the particles to start sticking to each other, they become even more subject to disruption as the aggregate grows.
        Perhaps Sinoro’s constraints don’t seem too outlandish, and one can envision scenarios in which all the right conditions might be met.  It could be argued that out of uncounted myriads of particles, some might reach the threshold of runaway gravitational accretion.  All it takes is a few to get a planetary system, right?  (Actually, our solar system is filled with many thousands of gravitationally accreting bodies, like asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, comets, and small moons, in addition to the planets and larger moons.  Some of them appear to have been busted apart by collisions.)
        Regardless, the fact remains that no one has observed grains accrete into a planetesimal, but astronomers have abundantly observed the opposite: bodies fragmenting into smaller bodies and dust.  Small bodies show abundant evidence of cratering and erosion, even the recently-photographed comet Wild-2 (see 01/02/2004), a fact that surprised scientists because this was supposed to be a pristine object from the quiet deep freeze of the outer solar system.  We observe ongoing processes of fragmentation, catastrophic collision, erosion to dust and de-evolution, but accretion exists only in the minds of theorists.  Which principle is more in accord with the second law of thermodynamics?
        One would think that scientists would err on the side of conservatism, and not make claims beyond the evidence.  But the disruption view implies starting conditions that are philosophically repugnant to a naturalist: if the planets were already there, they must have been created.  So strong is the urge to have a universe that evolves upward from a bang to galaxies to planets to life, that philosophical naturalists will sneak glue and fudge and whatever else is needed to fill in the gaps.  You can believe that the dust around Vega is a young solar system in the making, but be sure your model particles obey the laws of physics.  After all, a naturalist should respect the laws of nature, by definition.  Better yet, perform realistic lab experiments.  We’ll wait till you get particles that stick before worrying you with all the other problems, such as the Kuiper capers (10/05/2003), small moon mysteries (09/29/2003), turbulent stress in planetesimals and in scientist minds (09/22/2003), the rarity of sunlike solar systems (07/21/2003), declining popularity of the planetesimal hypothesis (06/03/2003), migration woes (05/16/2003), the war of the worlds (04/17/2003), the tweak Olympics (11/22/2002), etc., and so forth, and so on.
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemPhysics
    E-I-E-I-O in Old McDarwin’s Animal Farm   02/03/2004
    One would think that if all animals are related according to Darwin’s theory of common descent, this should be clearly evident in the genes.  It would also seem that the more genomes we sequence, the clearer the evolutionary pattern should be.  At least that’s how Raible and Arendt lay their foundation in a paper in the Feb. 3 issue of
    Current Biology:1
    It is a truism that the plausibility of an evolutionary inference increases with the amount of data on which it is based, and the ever-quickening provision of full genome sequences is providing a huge amount of grist for the evolutionary biologist’s mill.
    Ah, but that would make for a predictable plot if no conflict were inserted.  The thrust of their paper is that comparative genomics has produced many evolutionary surprises.  Particularly, humans share some genes with the earliest metazoans that are not present in fruit flies, worms, and other branches of more advanced metazoans.  In one study, those groups have lost 10% of early metazoan genes while humans have only lost 1%.  They cite several studies with similar findings.  Somehow, humans have retained many genes that other groups have lost.  We seem to have more in common with flatworms than fruit flies in terms of retained genes.
        The authors take up another truism:  “Genes do not evolve on hold: whenever a gene appeared on the animal evolutionary tree, it was functional.  This ancestral function should be close to the consensus function present in today’s animals that have retained that gene.”  In other words, the genes we retain from earliest ancestors have had to function all that time, not wait for us to appear and decide to use them in recent times.
        In their analysis of several “striking” studies on the branch that led to us, the authors conclude that advanced functions appeared early, and remained intact for many millions of years, during which time other advanced organisms managed to get by without those functions.  “These findings imply that the Urbilateria [earliest ancestors] were genetically more complex than previously thought to be the case.”  Elsewhere they say, “Taken together, these new analyses of gene loss frequencies and of sequence divergences suggest that the human genome – and thus those of the entire vertebrate lineage – has diverged much less from the ancestral genome of our urbilaterian ancestors than have the Drosophila and C. elegans [roundworm] genomes.”  This can only mean, in their thinking, that the fly and worm lines learned how to evolve a lot faster than the vertebrate line.
        Even more striking is the similarity between Darwin and George Orwell:
    Vertebrates, lophotrochozoans and anthozoans are a good choice for such comparative evolutionary research, because they appear to share a surprisingly large part of the ancestral gene inventory that has been lost in other groups.  In a certain sense, therefore, these animals, like some of those on Orwell’s Animal Farm, are more equal than others, and thus should be most revealing about our complex past.

    1Florian Raible and Detlev Arendt, “Metazoan Evolution: Some Animals Are More Equal than Others,” Current Biology Vol 14, R106-R108, 3 February 2004.
    We beg to differ with their opening truism.  Based on our empirical research, reading hundreds of papers on evolution, the amount of actual data available for study is inversely proportional to the amount and credibility of Darwinian storytelling (see 11/16/2002 entry and the following story, for instance).  Their truism is a mythoid.
        These authors seem to feel that if the data don’t fit, they really ought to (see quote, top right box).  One thing we have learned about this Animal Farm.  The pigs are the members of the Darwin Party.  They rewrote the constitution of science (see 12/22/03 commentary) to keep themselves in power, because some beliefs about origins are more equal than others.
    Next headline on:  Genetics and DNADarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    How Snakes Lost Their Limbs   02/02/2004
    Penn State scientists have a story for how snakes, which presumably evolved from lizards, lost their legs.  They had to burrow through tight places.
        Part of their story involved disproving that snakes evolved from sea-going reptiles, like mosasaurs, explains the press release from Penn State’s
    Eberly College of Science.  They compared genes from 64 species of lizards and snakes.  Since no mosasaurs exist today, they took genes from Komodo dragons, their assumed closest living relatives.  They feel their comparisons show that snakes evolved from land-dwelling lizards.
        So why would a land lizard want to lose its feet? 
    The research suggests an answer to another long-debated question: why snakes lost their limbs.  Their land-based lifestyle, including burrowing underground at least some of the time, may be the reason.  “Having limbs is a real problem if you need to fit through small openings underground, as anybody who has tried exploring in caves knows,” Hedges says.  “Your body could fit through much smaller openings if you did not have the wide shoulders and pelvis that support your limbs.”  The researchers note that the burrowing lifestyle of many other species, including legless lizards, is correlated with the complete loss of limbs or the evolution of very small limbs.
    The research, to be published in the May 7, 2004 issue of the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, was funded in part by NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and by the National Science Foundation.
    Better not explore caves if you want your kids to have legs.  Why do some lizards still crawl into tight places tighter than a big snake could pass?  Why do gophers and weasels have legs?  Is limb loss really evolution?  The quote of the month (see top right box on this page) says it all.
    Next headline on:  DinosaursDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
    Hundreds of Whales Buried Suddenly in Diatoms    02/02/2004
    A remarkable fossil find has been found in Peru: 346 whales buried in diatomaceous earth.  The preservation of the whales is so pristine and complete, the authors of the paper in the
    Feb. 2004 issue of Geology1 conclude that the whales had to be buried rapidly, in days or weeks.  If so, it represents a rate of accumulation of diatoms many times higher than what occurs in modern oceans.
        The authors point out some amazing things about this fossil deposit:
    • Condition:  The whale skeletons are “preserved in pristine condition (bones articulated [i.e., still assembled] or at least closely associated), in some cases including preserved baleen.”
    • Fine details:  “The most complete whale (WCBa 20) was fully articulated; the microscopic detail of its baleen was preserved ... and there is black, heavy-mineral replacement of the spinal cord and some intervertebral disks.  There were no similar minerals in the surrounding sediment.  These nonbony tissues were still present when the whale was completely buried.”  Other instances of baleen, the delicate straining structure of the whale’s mouth, were also found.
    • Vertical extent:  “The 346 whales within ~1.5 km2 of surveyed surface were not buried as an event, but were distributed uninterrupted through an 80-m-thick sedimentary section.”  Since they were found uniformly distributed from bottom to top of the formation, the conditions in which they were buried must have also been uniform.
    • Unlaminated strata:  “The diatomaceous sediment lacks repeating primary laminations, but instead is mostly massive, with irregular laminations and speckles.”  In other words, it was not due to a cyclic process, like the annual climate change that produces tree rings.
    • Lack of bioturbation:  Small organisms have not altered the deposit.  “There is no evidence for bioturbation by invertebrates in the whale-bearing sediment.”  Apparently they didn’t have the chance, it happened so fast.
    • Intact diatoms:  “If most diatoms dissolve before preservation in the sediment, one would find frustules in all stages of dissolution.  Diatoms in the Pisco diatomaceous sediment are often broken, but SEM study indicated fine preservation, with no significant evidence of dissolution. ... In the shallow-water Pisco Formation, the diatoms were probably buried too quickly for much dissolution to occur.”  The authors point out that in contemporary diatom deposits, only 2-3% of the frustules (glass shells) usually remain undissolved, up to 24% in special cases in Antarctica.
    • Stormy waters:  Something violent was going on when these were buried.  “Indicators of storm deposits, such as hummocky cross-bedding, indicate that the sediments were deposited above storm wave base.” 
    • Single event:  There are no indicators that the burial occurred over years of time.  “There are no varves or other cyclical laminations, but randomly located individual white laminations and speckles consist primarily of diatoms (5%–10% clay), whereas the surrounding massive grayish diatomite ... has a higher clay content.”
    • Numbers:  “The whales occur in large numbers, 30–300 individuals per square kilometer of surface exposure ... and are fully articulated ... to disarticulated but with skeletal elements still closely associated.”  This hints there are probably many more than the 346 whales they found in their study area.
    • Other species:  “Vertebrate fossils in the Pisco Formation include sharks, fish, turtles, seals, porpoises, ground sloths, penguins, and whales,” but the study area primarily included whales and shark teeth.
    This is, of course, an amazing fossil discovery, but what does it mean?  For one thing, it means that scientists have vastly underestimated how rapidly diatoms can accumulate.  Common estimates have been 10 cm per 1000 years, maybe up to 260 cm/k.y. in certain cases.  But in this case, clearly, “Such burial requires diatom accumulation rates at least three to four orders of magnitude faster than is usual in the ocean today—centimeters per week or month, rather than centimeters per thousand years.”  The lack of bioturbation is another indicator the diatoms formed in extraordinary numbers and buried these whales quickly:
    In modern oceans, whale carcasses on the ocean floor are rapidly colonized by large numbers of invertebrate scavengers that remove the flesh and begin to degrade the bone. ... They also bioturbate the adjoining sediment in search of organic compounds leached from the whale.  This process strips a whale skeleton within a maximum of a few years.  Sediment accumulating at a few centimeters per thousand years would deposit at maximum a few millimeters of diatomite during the time available to preserve even a reasonably complete whale skeleton.  Preservation of nonmineralized tissue would not be a realistic possibility at this slow burial rate, and even bones are unlikely to be well preserved.
    For another thing, this discovery means that a large catastrophe occurred here.  To get this many whales buried suddenly at one time requires envisioning a perfect storm beyond anything observed today.  In addition, the rapid bloom in diatom number means they had to have nourishment.  The authors found evidence of volcanism in the area which might have provided nutrients to the microscopic algae: “Volcanic ash, common in the Pisco sedimentary deposits, and runoff from the continent could have contributed iron and other nutrients.”  This suggests that volcanic eruptions were occurring around the same time.  Since these species of diatoms typically form in deeper water, the authors believe that currents could have swept up vast numbers of diatom shells and concentrated them into shallow bays where the whales were trapped.
        The Pisco formation is labeled Miocene-Pliocene in the geologic column.  The authors rule out two alternate hypotheses for the detailed preservation of the whales: (1) anoxia (that they suffocated), and (2) a covering of diatom mats.  The only explanation left is rapid burial.
    1Brand, Esperante, Chadwick, Porras and Alomia, “Fossil whale preservation implies high diatom accumulation rate in the Miocene–Pliocene Pisco Formation of Peru,” Geology Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 165–168, doi: 10.1130/G20079.1.
    The Two-Charlie Party (Lyell+Darwin) does not own empirical geology.  This is fine work by creationists and catastrophists, including Arthur V. Chadwick and some from Loma Linda’s Geoscience Research Institute who are accustomed to exemplary field work and publishing, as here, in reputable journals.  We should not be surprised.  Even the publisher of this paper, the Geological Society of America, which launched a crusade last month against a creationist geology book being sold in the Grand Canyon bookstore (see 01/08/2004), honors a “rock star” in this month’s issue of GSA Today, Clarence King (1842-1901) – a catastrophist.  And this “pioneering geologist of the West” was not alone in his views:
    King was convinced that Lyellian uniformitarianism, a theory of gradualism and constancy of processes, could not explain the geologic evolution of the region surveyed, especially late Cenozoic effusive volcanism and the magnitude of glacial drainages.  These views led King to be classed as a catastrophist.  However, he was in good company with most late nineteenth century geologists in calling for greater variations of both rates and intensities of processes than Charles Lyell preached.  King also believed that evolution did not proceed at a steady pace.  Blending catastrophe and “adaptivity,” he proposed that the former was an integral part of the cause of change.  Destruction of biological equilibrium engendered by catastrophic change contributed to rapid morphological change among what he termed “plastic species” ... King in essence proposed a blending of Darwin’s ideas on natural selection with the variable rate of change of geological processes.  Employing data on rock fusion gathered at the USGS Physical Laboratory, King (1893) attempted to advance to new precision Kelvin’s estimate of Earth’s age deduced from terrestrial refrigeration, determining a maximum age of 24 Ma.  Given this young age, insufficient time remained to construct a Lyellian geologic record of the Fortieth Parallel area.
    King made his conclusions based on work in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  So even though Clarence King accepted some form of evolution, he was certainly no uniformitarian, and his young age determination must have only contributed to the fits that Lord Kelvin was giving to Charlie and his musketeers.  (Darwin called Kelvin’s limit on the age of the earth an “odious spectre” and one of his “sorest troubles” because it did not allow enough time for evolution.)  The point is, the authors of this paper are not the first to point out geological features that disprove uniformitarianism.  Why does anyone even hang on to that falsified idea?
        If the Peru whales were an isolated instance, it would be enough to give uniformitarians fits.  But other similar finds have been found.  A notable one is the world’s largest diatomite bed near Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara, California.  Dozens of whales, and billions of herring fish have been buried in DE there, too, with indications of rapid burial and volcanic ash.  Could these beds, on different continents, be related?  If so, what would that mean?  Connect the dots, but it doesn’t spell uniformitarianism, that’s for sure.
        Diatoms (see also 02/19/2003 and 03/19/2002 entries) are amazing studies of beauty, elegance, strength and design in themselves.  Trying to imagine the countless myriads of these little jewels involved in such fossil beds is an exercise in mind bogglemania.
    Next headline on:  Mammals. • FossilsGeology. • Dating Methods.
    Extinction Puzzle Explained as Selection Effect   02/01/2004
    It’s not evolution, it’s statistics.  That’s the conclusion of Robert Scotland and Michael Sanderson in the
    Jan. 30 issue of Science.  What’s the puzzle?
    When biodiversity is examined in the context of species richness, a consistent feature emerges: Most taxonomic groups are species-poor, relatively few are species-rich, and the frequency distribution has the shape of a so-called "hollow curve".
    The hollow curve is a graph that looks like a letter L with a curved instead of square corner.  Evolutionists have assumed that these graphs of biodiversity (numbers of species) vs. species richness (number of species per taxonomic group) tell us about evolution and extinction.  Nope, say the two scientists:
    We suggest that the explanation for the lack of fit between hollow curves from real data and the SBT model [their model of a "simultaneous broken tree" as opposed to the SBS, "simultaneous broken stick" model] is taxonomic, not evolutionary.  Although there are no objective criteria for recognizing higher taxa, taxonomists are averse to studying genera that are either too large or too small.  (Large genera are cumbersome and can be nonmonophyletic, whereas monotypic genera contain no information about relationships.)  Observed hollow curves reflect a shortening of the tails of the SBT distribution.  Our taxonomic explanation contrasts with evolutionary explanations, which depend on the premise that in real data sets there are too many monotypic taxa and species-rich groups that are too large.  Evidence does exist for differences in speciation and extinction rates but it does not come from hollow curves.

    Scotland and Sanderson, “The Significance of Few Versus Many in the Tree of Life,” Science 01/30/2004, 10.1126/science.1091483.
    This is like finding the oscillating signal in the radio receiver is not from ETI but from a communications satellite.  Presumably the claimed evidence for differences in speciation and extinction rates will be forthcoming in a futureware issue.
    Next headline on:  FossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory

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    Featured Creation Scientist for February

    William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
    1824 - 1907

    Expanded since last presented April 2001!

    William Thomson, Scottish physicist, mathematician and engineer, later awarded the barony Kelvin of Largs which gave him the more familiar title “Lord Kelvin,” was the most eminent scientist of his day in the British Isles.  He was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for over 50 years.  Lord Kelvin was largely responsible for the rise of engineering, taking the meteoric discoveries being made by 19th century scientists to practical uses for man.  He supervised the first successful transatlantic cable that brought instantaneous communication across the ocean for the first time.  This succeeded only with his invention of signal amplifiers and sensitive receivers.  With James Joule, he discovered the Joule-Thomson effect that ushered in the invention of refrigerators.  His name is also commemorated in the Kelvin temperature scale, that begins at absolute zero (a concept he originated), which is widely used in physics and astronomy.  Perhaps Lord Kelvin’s most significant achievement was defining the concept of energy and formalizing the laws of thermodynamics.  Applying the Second Law to the universe as a whole, he predicted the heat death of the universe in the future, which also ruled out an infinitely-old universe.

    Everyone has their moments of embarrassment.  Historians still get a chuckle out of Kelvin’s off-the-cuff remark that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.  Each of us has made remarks that, in hindsight, we would hastily and silently retract if it were possible (Kelvin lived to learn of the Wright brothers’s success at Kitty Hawk and the rapid advance of aeroplane technology.)  Some of Kelvin’s theories did not work out, and he never made a big, original breakthrough discovery quite as profound as those of Maxwell, his friend and correspondent.  But we quibble about champions.  Kelvin earned his place in the hall of fame, as much as an inventor, co-discoverer of fundamental laws, clarifier of prior discoveries and motivator of students and fellow scientists as an original thinker himself.

    As a Christian, Lord Kelvin was a gentle, wise and generous family man, faithful in his church, an ardent student of the Scripture and a promoter of Christian education.  He believed church members should study the maps in the back of the Bible and understand history.  He often expressed awe at the beauty, design and orderliness of creation and natural law.

    But he also recognized the rise of Darwinism both for its weak science and evil influence.  Accordingly, he got personally into the battle.  Many other prominent scientists of the period, like Richard Owen, Rudolph Virchow, St. George Mivart and Whitwell Elwin, protested against Darwin’s claims with scientific and philosophical rebuttals.  But it was Kelvin who launched a scientific attack that sent Darwin and his supporters reeling.  To his dying day, Darwin considered it the most serious and unsettling criticism of his theory, because it pulled the rug out from under his requirements, and it appeared to have strong scientific support.

    Thomson applied his expertise in physics and thermodynamics to argue that the earth could not be as old as Darwin required for evolution.  Darwin needed many millions of years to produce a man from a “warm little pond” of chemicals.  Janet Browne explains the seriousness of Thomson’s challenge, and describes how combatting anti-Biblical claims (and bad science) was not a new avocation for the physics professor:

    While working on this fifth edition [of The Origin of Species], Darwin also encountered major intellectual problems over the age of the earth.  William Thomson (the future Lord Kelvin) had asserted on the basis of experimental physics that the earth was not sufficiently old to have allowed evolution to have taken place.  To some extent, Thomson was tilting at Lyell—he had never liked Lyell’s endless geological epochs stretching back into eternity.  Earlier on, he had attacked Lyell’s gradualism and uniformitarianism, saying that geologists ignored the laws of physics at their peril and that the earth was much younger than usually thought....
    In 1866, thoroughly frustrated by what he regarded as pig-headed obtuseness from the Lyellian-Darwinian fraternity, and propelled by anti-evolutionary, Scottish Presbyterian inclinations, Thomson launched a vigorous polemic against the lot of them, stating that 100 million years was all that physics could allow for the earth’s entire history.  As Darwin noted, Thomson intimated that the earth had a beginning and would come to a sunless end.
      (Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002, p. 314; emphasis added).

    (It’s interesting to note the parallels with 20th-century cosmology, with evolutionary astronomers facing the “philosophically repugnant” conclusion that the universe had a beginning– see Robert Jastrow’s book God and the Astronomers for details.)

    This excerpt from Browne’s excellent biography of Darwin is just one of many that shows evolutionary doctrine came primarily out of a fraternity, a kind of socio-political party of liberals, who had an agenda to undercut the historicity of the Bible and usurp science with their pet philosophy of naturalism.  It also reveals that Thomson, though a Bible-believing Christian, was morally indignant not only over their denial of the Bible, but over their refusal to accept the clear laws of physics when they contradicted their beliefs.  It was not that Thomson himself believed the earth was as old as 100 million years.  But he was convinced that physics itself set an upper limit on the age of the earth that falsified Lyell’s and Darwin’s claims.

    Browne next describes the hubbub this caused in the Darwin fraternity.  Lyell tried to answer Thomson’s challenge in the tenth edition of his Principles of Geology.  Huxley, in what Browne calls one of his “froth and fury” speeches, tried to claim that it didn’t matter, because all Darwin would have to do was speed up the rate of variation.  “That,” she claims, “was just what Darwin could not do”—

    In the first edition of the Origin of Species he had calculated that the erosion of the Sussex Weald must have taken some 300 million years, a breathtaking length of time that, taken with the rest of the stratigraphic table, provided ample opportunity for gradual organic change.  But Darwin’s calculations were wrong.  The actual time was much shorter.  “Those confounded millions of years,” he had complained to Lyell and deleted the entire example.
        So no wonder that “Thomson’s views of the recent age of the world have been for some time one of my sorest troubles.”  The 100 million years that Thomson allowed was not nearly long enough for the exceeding slow rates of change Darwin envisaged in nature.  The fifth edition of the Origin bore witness to his discomfort.  Rattled, he tried various ways to speed up evolution.  He was aware that he was becoming more environmentalist, more Lamarckian, as it were, and producing a poor-spirited compromise.  He roped in George [his son], with his Cambridge mathematics, to make alternative calculations, telling him that the age of the earth was the single most intractable point levelled against his theory during his lifetime.
        Five years later Darwin was still protesting that Thomson’s shortened time-span was “an odious spectre.”
      (Ibid., pp. 314-315, emphasis added).

    Respected geologists, like Archibald Geike, James Croll and Clarence King, confirmed Thomson’s calculations.  The evolutionists were up a creek and running scared.  Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-claimant to the notion of natural selection, proposed a solution based on climate changes and tilting ecliptics that Darwin grasped at in hope, but it was “regarded as unworkable by physicists and naturalists alike” (Browne, ibid.).  Darwin’s son tried to get more time out of the estimates, and “Although George’s relationship with Thomson was close, he warned scholars not to accept all of Thomson’s results” (ibid.) It is clear the younger Darwin was biding for time, not having any empirical or mathematical support, but probably just trying to protect his famous father from embarrassment and the downfall of his theory.

    Thomson kept up the attack.  To make matters worse for the Darwinians, he calculated a maximum age for the sun, based on calculations of energy due to gravitational potential energy, resulting in a sun far too young for their requirements.  He demonstrated irrefutably that the laws of thermodynamics dictated that the universe and the sun and the earth had a beginning, requiring a Creator, and would come to an utter end – a heat death – barring a supernatural intervention.  Darwinians could not assume an infinitely old universe.

    Darwin was so squeezed by Thomson’s evidence, he was willing to consider radical proposals to keep his theory of natural selection alive.  Though cautious about claims of spontaneous generation, he grasped at a suggestion by Henry Bastian in 1872 that there was no real difference between organic and inorganic substances.  “Bastian intimated that Lamarck’s notion of a constantly replenished source of primitive organisms might be accurate.  Not convinced by the evidence, Darwin nevertheless grasped at the possibility as a way out of Thomson’s trap:

    Wallace suggested that these rapid transformations of simple matter could quicken evolution to the point where Thomson’s warnings about the shortened age of the earth could safely be ignored.  Darwin saw the value in this.  He would like to see spontaneous generation proved true, he told Wallace, “for it would be a discovery of transcendent importance.”  For the rest of his life he watched and pondered.  (Browne, pp. 393-394.)

    Darwin died in 1882, never finding a way out of this vexing corner Thomson had put him in.  Browne wraps up this episode, saying, “Decades of continuing debate over the age of the earth were resolved only with the discovery of radioactivity early in the twentieth century, that, broadly speaking, allowed the earth to be as old as evolutionists needed it to be” (Ibid., p. 315, emphasis added).  In addition, the age of the sun became extendable to billions of years when thermonuclear reactions were discovered.  Darwinians breathed a collected sigh of relief.  Some even felt this was the last stand for creationism, and they must now declare defeat (see views of Stephen Weinberg, 11/26/2003).  They need to understand that claims of its early demise are a bit premature.

    Thomson’s argument for a maximum age for the earth and sun were made before the discovery of radioactivity and thermonuclear reactions, and have been discounted unfairly on that basis.  In actuality, the age of the earth and sun are difficulties for evolution even today.  In addition, modern creationists have continued to exhibit additional prima facie scientific evidences for a young earth and solar system: phenomena like the lifetimes of comets and planetary rings, the amount of salt in the oceans, the amount of helium remaining in deep earth sediments, and the presence of carbon-14 in presumably million-year old fossils when it should be long gone.  Evolutionists were so desperate to find a way to stretch out the age of the earth, they leaped on radioactivity as if it were a panacea.  Thus inoculated against Kelvin’s “odious spectre”, they have since presumed that the earth can be “as old as evolutionists needed it to be.”  It’s time to turn up the heat again.

    Radioactivity and thermonuclear reactions have complicated the argument Lord Kelvin used, but not destroyed it.  Early geologists were not physicists, but now there are geophysicists who use their expertise to argue that the earth is billions of years old.  Much of their argumentation, however, assumes that Darwinism is true; it does not constitute independent evidence.  The bar was raised for creationists.  It takes more learning to confute their abstruse math and convoluted arguments.  Yet much of their belief is predicated on preserving Darwin’s required long ages.  Once that is understood, it is remarkable how clear the evidence for a young solar system appears to one not already biased to think in terms of long ages.  Modern creationists should continue Kelvin’s challenge, not standing for “pig-headed obtuseness from the Lyellian-Darwinian fraternity.”  It is still necessary to insist that “geologists ignore the laws of physics at their peril.”

    There are other lessons from Kelvin’s battle over the age of the earth.  Though a Christian, Kelvin understood the power of scientific arguments.  He knew the Darwinian scoffers would ridicule Biblical reasoning, but they had to respect science, because they were claiming to be the voice of science in their culture.  You want science? he seemed to be saying; Here, have some.  Lord Kelvin respected science, too, and he was well qualified as a scientist.  That should be a challenge to those wishing to do battle with evolutionary philosophy.  It’s important to know your field.  Darwin, Lyell, Wallace and the other frat members simply could not ignore the man or his arguments.

    Another lesson is that Kelvin fought like a gentleman.  Even his adversaries respected the fact that he never became personally vindictive.  Even “Darwin’s bulldog” Thomas Huxley, praised Kelvin as a gentleman, a scholar, and a formidable opponent: he called him “the most perfect knight who ever broke a lance.”
    But a gentleman can be a warrior, too.  Known for his self-confidence, Kelvin held the Darwinists’ feet to the fire of scientific rigor and didn’t let them get by with mere storytelling.  His students respected him for his skill at demonstrating underlying, unifying principles (rather than requiring memorization of facts), and motivating them to do their best.

    Physics students know of the Kelvin temperature scale, but should know about this man’s measure on the scale of greatness.  William Thomson, Lord Kelvin published over 600 research papers and served as president of the Royal Society.  Showered with 21 honorary doctorates from around the world (perhaps these could be referred to as “degrees Kelvin”), he had right to more letters after his name than any of his contemporaries.  He received numerous other awards and was knighted by the queen.  Not only did Lord Kelvin advance science in fundamental ways himself, he mentored Joule, Maxwell, Tait and other eminent scientists.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey after a long and successful career.

    It was Biblical faith that gave Lord Kelvin confidence in a glorious future despite what the cold laws of physics dictated.  Referring to both Scripture and science, he said, “We have the sober scientific certainty that the heavens and earth shall ‘wax old as doth a garment’1 ... Dark indeed would be the prospects for the human race if unilluminated by that light which reveals ‘new heavens and a new earth.’2

    1Psalm 102:26
    2Revelation 21

    If you are enjoying this series, 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.
    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.
    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.
    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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