Creation-Evolution Headlines
July 2004
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God has created man in his own intellectual image, and graciously permitted him to study His modes of operation, and rewards his industry in this line by giving him powers and instruments which affect in the highest degree his material welfare.
—Joseph Henry, first President of the Smithsonian; Remarks at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the American Museum of Natural History (New York), June 2, 1874, in Arthur P. Molella, et al., eds., A Scientist in American Life: Essays and Lectures of Joseph Henry (Washington, D.C., 1980), p. 115, found on the Smithsonian website.
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Gymnastic Enzyme Acts Like Logic Gate   07/31/2004
An enzyme named vinculin undergoes “drastic” conformational changes, reports William A. Weis in the July 29 issue of Nature.1  Vinculin, with over a thousand amino acid links, is important at membrane junctions for transporting materials in and out of the cell.  It helps cellular “glue” exit the membrane so that neighboring cells can adhere to one another, such as in epithelial tissues.
    Weis reports on recent studies that show vinculin undergoes radical conformational changes during its action.  It will only build the adhesive junction when the necessary components are in place.  Nothing happens unless the participants are ready; “the binding energy of several partners is needed to overcome the thermodynamic and perhaps kinetic barriers to activation,” he says.  “Viewed in this way, vinculin functions as a logical AND gate, in which binding of two partners is required to generate an output, in this case a stable multi-protein complex”.  What’s more, this automatic regulation is essential for its function; it prevents inappropriate assembly if the amount of product is unstable.
1William A. Weis, “Cell biology: How to build a cell junction,”
Nature 430, 513 - 515 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430513a.
Logic, logic gates, regulation: this is the language of intelligent design.  Each of the contacts formed during the “radical” conformational changes of this complicated enzyme is finely tuned to its substrates, and finely tuned to the concentration of ingredients in the cell.  And these finely tuned contacts are determined by the specificity of the sequence of amino acids in this protein, each coded in another language—the language of DNA.  At every step, this system only makes sense in the context of intelligent design.
    There is no suggestion in this paper how vinculin’s specificity in adhesive junctions might have evolved.  But in the latest ICR Impact article #374 (August 2004), organic chemist Dr. Charles McCombs provides very good reasons why unguided chemistry will never produce such functional complexity and specificity.  Unguided chemicals will always follow the laws of (1) chemical stability; i.e., whether the components will react at all, (2) chemical reactivity, or how fast reactants will react, and (3) chemical selectivity, or where the components react.  Working through these principles, he shows that amino acids will not join together without help, and even if they did, far more random, useless, nonfunctional polymers with damaging cross-reactions would result.  The resulting chain would always form blindly according to the relative binding energies of the amino acids.
    It takes an organic chemist careful guidance at each step to produce a functional enzyme.  “Evolutionists say that nature is blind, has no goal, and no purpose, and yet precise selection at each step is necessary,” McCombs says.  Chemicals cannot think, plan or organize themselves, he reminds us, yet Darwinians invoke a false logic that unguided processes yielded logical living systems, like this example with vinculin.  The chemist remarks, “Evolutionists just hope you don’t know chemistry!”
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design.
Darwinists Still Writing the Origin of Species    07/30/2004
A new book on the origin of species has come out.  In the July 30 issue of Science,1 Benjamin K. Blackman and Loren H. Rieseberg review Jerry Coyne and H. Allen Orr’s new book, Speciation (Sinauer, 2004, 557 pp.).  The reviewers first describe the subject matter: “The last two decades in particular have brought major advances in molecular genetics, comparative analysis, mathematical theory, and molecular phylogenetics; speciation has consequently matured from a field fraught with untestable ideas to one reaching clear, well-supported conclusions.”  Presumably some of those untestable ideas hark back to Darwin.  So in what ways does this book surpass the one penned by the master’s 1859 opus?  The reviewers outdo themselves praising the substance and style of this new book:
Jerry Coyne and Allen Orr’s Speciation provides a much-needed review of these developments.  The exceedingly well-written and persuasive text eschews speculation.  The authors instead resolutely develop testable criteria for distinguishing alternative hypotheses about evolutionary processes that may result in similar biological patterns, critically evaluate how theoretical and empirical results meet the burden of proof, and actively confront important caveats and unresolved questions with practical suggestions.  It is a testament both to the authors and to the state of the field that the book provides such a robust picture of the origin of species.
Well, this has to be good, then.  The leading definition of species is the biological species concept (BSC), that distinguishes species by the ability to interbreed.  This is not much help for systematists and paleontologists, the reviewers admit, but the book tackles what they view as the basic question of the “species problem,” which is, “why do sexually reproducing organisms fall into discrete clusters?”  Here, the debate revolves around allopatric vs. sympatric speciation (see
01/15/2003 headline).
    Coyne and Orr take the majority view that speciation is essentially synonymous with reproductive isolation: for example, two populations of squirrels might get isolated by a canyon between them, and evolve into species that can no longer interbreed.  This is called allopatric speciation.  It does not require a geographic barrier, necessarily, but differs sharply from the view of sympatric speciation, which proposes that species might diverge right within a single interbreeding population.  The book gives ear to the sympatric concept but considers most cases to be allopatric.
    So the question becomes, how do reproductive barriers arise?  And how can biologists find evidence of positive selection for traits after isolation?  This becomes the core of the book, according to the reviewers.  Related issues involve teasing out the effects of natural and sexual selection:
Speciation convincingly presents evidence for several once-unpopular theories that have returned to dominate current thinking.  Most important among these is the primacy of natural and sexual selection over drift in driving speciation.  Signatures of positive selection on genes involved in postzygotic isolation and reproductive proteins as well as experimental evidence from both the lab and field connect adaptation and sexual selection to reproductive isolation.  Another major finding is the congruence of the Dobzhansky-Muller model for the evolution of postzygotic isolation with the genetics of hybrid incompatibilities in many natural systems. In contrast, classical models of chromosomal speciation remain unpopular.  Instead, chromosomal rearrangements are now cast as facilitators, rather than causal agents, of reproductive isolation because reduced recombination within these regions restricts gene flow, thereby enabling the accumulation of selected differences and hybrid incompatibilities.
The book treats “controversial questions” reinforcement, sympatric speciation, and diploid hybrid (recombinational) speciation, although claiming evidence only occurs for the latter.  It also treats polyploidy in plants as a mechanism for speciation.  “Treatments of other plant-related topics like mating system isolation or hybridization are insightful as well, but may raise eyebrows,” but the book downplays other theories like cryptic introgression or hybrid speciation.
    Overall, the reviewers give high marks to the authors; “The book is a rich and thorough review, critique, and synthesis of recent literature that is sure to become a classic read for anyone interested in speciation.”
1Benjamin K. Blackman and Loren H. Rieseberg, “Evolution: How Species Arise,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5684, 612-613, 30 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101064].
So is this the book to supersede Charlie’s, and to answer the question of how bacteria turn into humans over time?  Not likely.  Every mechanism mentioned, controversial or not, appears aimed at explaining slight variations, sometimes misleadingly called “microevolution.”  Horizontal variation is not controversial even among staunch creationists.  If evolutionists expect people to believe we evolved from slime, they need to do better than extrapolate low-level trends, and they need to show that is indeed what happened by providing the intermediates and fossils.  Talk about the origin of species if you please, but what about the origin of phyla?  (See 07/28/2004 headline).
    Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor and expert in baloney detecting, put Darwin on Trial in 1991.  His book of that title put the real issue on the table:
Whether selection has ever accomplished speciation (i.e., the production of a new species) is not the point.  A biological species is simply a group capable of interbreeding.  Success at dividing a fruitfly population into two or more separate populations that cannot interbreed would not constitute evidence that a similar process could in time produce a fruitfly from a bacterium.  If breeders one day did succeed in producing a group of dogs that can reproduce with each other but not with other dogs, they would still have made only the tiniest step towards proving Darwinism’s important claims. (pp. 19-20)
As Johnson stresses in the book, it is not sufficient to base the major claims of evolution on extrapolating small changes or drawing analogies to artificial breeding.  Nor is it adequate to infer that macroevolution must have occurred because one’s philosophical preference requires it.  If the origin of species (speciation) is to be logically connected to the emergence of all living things, with all their complex organs and functions, then evolutionists must make the case that their mechanism is creative enough to add massive amounts of functional information to genes, and that the fossil record actually shows that this occurred.  Neo-Darwinism (mutation plus natural selection) fails miserably on both requirements.
    The hype in this book review is no more to be trusted than the word of the party faithful evaluating the nominee’s speech at a political convention.  Instead, the book needs an investigative reporter who understands the real controversies and can ask the hard questions.  Noticeably absent in all this backslapping was any mention of the severe weaknesses in conventional Darwinian theory that drove Stephen Jay Gould and others to propose punctuated equilibria, or the recently-deceased Francis Crick to propose directed panspermia, another group to propose niche construction (see 06/09/2004 headline), and others as recently as last week to propose other non-Darwinian mechanisms (see 07/20/2004 headline and others like 09/29/2003).  Nor was there an admission that the very fruitflies that Coyne and Orr make their life work fail to exhibit neo-Darwinian evolution (see 05/18/2004 headline).  Nor was their any mention of Coyne’s embarrassing flip flop on the peppered moth story that he long assumed was one of the best examples of speciation ever documented (see 06/25/2004), or the weakness of other examples put up in its place (see 04/18/2003 and 04/01/2004 headlines).  The only way some Darwinists can stay sane with all this controversy is to go postmodern (see 08/19/2003 headline).
    Some evolutionists have admitted evidence is lacking that numerous, successive, slight modifications can add up to big ones (see 01/15/2004, 10/14/2003 and 08/20/2003 headlines).  Coyne and Orr may dazzle some readers with case after case of reproductive isolation and microevolution, with the assumption that this bolsters the case for slime evolving into ostriches, maple trees, squid, platypus and biologists over time.  This is as unjustified as observing a cell bobbing around with Brownian motion and deciding the mechanism is capable of propelling it through the Olympic marathon.  But that’s putting it too mildly; to make the comparison more realistic (considering all the champions in the living world), better add the decathlon, weight lifting, gymnastics, archery, rowing, steeplechase, high dive, synchronized swimming, soccer, basketball, cycling....
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Your Brain Learned Physics and Calculus Before You Did   07/29/2004
Tilt your head to the right while moving to the left.  The neurons in your brain just solved Newton’s equations of motion, and performed complex vector calculus equations almost instantaneously.  That’s what four neurologists Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) essentially claimed in Nature July 29,1 describing how your brain interprets the information coming from multiple sensory inputs.
    The title of their article says it: “Neurons compute internal models of the physical laws of motion.”  The article is filled with equations that the neurons have to solve correctly to help you determine whether the motion you feel means you are moving left or right, tilting, or a combination of the two.  The signals come from the otoliths in your inner ear (see
10/10/2003 headline) and from the fluid in the semicircular canals.  What if these inputs give contradictory information?  The net vectors of the inputs could cancel each other out, or sum up to give a wrong impression.  The scientists mapped out the equations that would have to be solved to distinguish between the components of translational and gravitational motion, regardless of phase, and then experimented on monkeys while watching the activity of the brain.  They found that the way neurons fire in response to the stimuli match predictions of how the information would have to be parsed to fit the terms of the equation.  In conclusion, they state:
These results illustrate a direct correlation between cell firing rates and the equations of motion, as applied to movement in a gravitational environment and the physics of the external world.  A neural basis for an internal model representation of the relationship between the physical environment and either the sensory detectors or the motor apparatus has only recently begun to be explored.  Here we have shown evidence that, in support of theoretical predictions, subcortical neural populations might provide a distributed solution to the inertial motion detection problem.

1Angelaki, Shaikh, Green and Dickman, “Neurons compute internal models of the physical laws of motion,” Nature 430, 560 - 564 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02754.
As expected, this paper makes no attempt to explain how such a system could have evolved.  The more detail provided in a research paper about the workings of a biological system, the less apt are the authors to attribute it to time and chance.
    One of the defining marks of life is awareness of the surroundings and ability to respond to the environment.  Think about all the components required to make this work: you need sensors, they need to be able to communicate to the central processor, and the central processor has to be able to interpret all the multiple inputs that provide sometimes contradictory information.  So not only are the cells themselves irreducibly complex, the organs and processors are also irreducibly complex, or else no equations of motion can be solved.  In fact, look at each irreducibly complex component of this system, and you will find additional irreducibly complex parts within them, every one vital to the success of the whole project.  Who taught your neurons the equations of physical motion and the techniques of vector calculus?  Playing a game of tennis requires rapidly solving a continuous stream of computational problems (see 01/05/2001 headline).  Don’t get cocky about this skill; owls excel at math, too (see 04/13/2001 headline), and even your dog knows calculus (see 05/20/2003 headline).
Next headline on:  Human BodyPhysicsAmazing Facts
Solar Systems Defy Theories   07/29/2004
Stuart Ross Taylor (Australian National University, Canberra) feels left behind.  The astronomers have their nice, neat H-R diagrams to explain stars, but no such diagram exists for planetary scientists.  Our hodgepodge collection of planets, moons and small bodies defies classification, to say nothing of the extrasolar planets that have been discovered so far, mostly in wild elliptical orbits or close-in to the parent stars.  Writing in the July 29 issue of Nature,1 he compares stellar and planetary astronomy:
By contrast, planets are individuals that show few systematic relationships and have resisted attempts at classification or even definition, as witnessed in the furore over the status of Pluto, which is an eccentric dwarf when placed among the planets, but is better suited to be the king of the many icy bodies in the Kuiper belt.  So far, there is no planetary equivalent of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.  Even if we arrive at a satisfactory explanation for the formation and evolution of our planetary system, there is no guarantee that this will apply elsewhere.  Perhaps this is the reason, as Stephen Brush has commented, that the origin of the Solar System represents one of the oldest unsolved problems in science.
Taylor says this in spite of mentioning in the first paragraph that Laplace in 1796 had explained the planets as condensing from a solar nebula.  As an example of the difficulties in explaining the origin of planets, he points to the long history of trying to explain Earth, from Hutton (1788) to plate tectonics.  But even today’s theory of plate tectonics may be too specialized to apply anywhere else:
But this process is unique to the Earth among the planets of the Solar System and was only made possible by the late stochastic addition of a water content of a few hundred parts per million.  Many of the difficulties in trying to understand the evolution of the Moon arose from the uncritical attempts to apply our hard-won experience with wetter terrestrial rocks to those from our bone-dry satellite.
Another example of the difficulty is comparing Venus and Earth.  They should be twins, but “the Earth resembles Venus much as Dr Jekyll resembled Mr Hyde.”  What causes the difference between these twins?  “The short answer is water,” he gives as if a rote answer out of the textbook, but “As we search for terrestrial-like planets elsewhere, we need to find out the reasons for these differences and the conditions that allow these diverse bodies to form at all.”  That can only come from a new interdisciplinary approach, a distinct new mindset “somewhere between the approaches of astronomers – who want to treat planets mathematically like stars – and geologists, who want to generalize from their detective-like experience with the Earth.”
1Stuart Ross Taylor, “Why can’t planets be like stars?”
Nature 430, 509 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430509a.
The fact that Taylor raises these questions means that the typical rote answers given simplistically in textbooks are wrong.  He sounds like astronomers are at square one explaining the planets, despite 208 years since Laplace famously remarked, when asked where God fit into his model, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”  Well, put up or shut up.  We’re still waiting.  We know a lot of things now that Laplace did not, and the trend of recent discoveries has been contrary to the expectations of nebular and planetesimal theorists, so much so that Hal Levison called his own theory a fairy tale, and others crazy (see 05/30/2002 headline).  His subsequent suggestion was the only wise thing he said: “We have to start thinking of alternatives.  Probably there’s a method for their formation that no one has even thought of yet.”  Well, some have, but their views are categorically disallowed by the reigning naturalistic paradigm.
    We hate to break it to Taylor, but the stellar astronomers don’t have everything so neatly tied up as he supposes, either (see 07/08/2004 headline).  In fact, does any naturalist have anything neatly tied up? (See next two headlines.)
Next headline on:  AstronomySolar System
Cambrian Explosion Explained, or Explained Away?   07/29/2004
James Valentine, an authority on early fossils, has just published a new 600-page book on the Cambrian explosion with the Darwinesque title, On the Origin of Phyla (U. of Chicago Press, 2004).  Stefan Bengtson (Swedish Museum of Natural History) reviewed it in the July 29 issue of Nature.1  He points out that “Darwin wisely called his best-known work On The Origin of Species; the origin of phyla is an even stickier problem, and Valentine deserves credit for tackling it at such breadth.”.  He is not sure, however, that Valentine succeeded in explaining “one of the most significant revolutions in the history of life, the Cambrian explosion.”
    One complaint is that in all those pages Valentine said little about the ecology or physical environment in which the “explosion of body plans” took place.  Also, Bengtson is not convinced that the usual explanation is meaningful that a phylum is simply a clade (category) of all animals that diverged from a common ancestor when two body plans diverged in the remote past; “This avoids the question of how body plans arise and whether there may be others not represented by living forms,” he chides.  Worse, Valentine fell into a logical trap, he feels:
Defining a body plan isn’t easy, however.  Valentine’s definition, for example, is dangerously circular: “an assemblage of morphological features shared among members of a phylum-level group”.  What does that mean, except that when we define a phylum we also define its body plan, or vice versa?  Valentine proposes to define the origin of a phylum by the acquisition of a key apomorphy – a unique derived trait.  This may be more subjective and less convenient than letting the total (stem and crown) group or the crown group define the phylum, but it gives due priority to biological significance over methodological convenience.  After all, we want to know how different kinds of organism evolve by natural selection, and how they interact with each other and with the environment.  They do that with their phenotypes, not their pedigrees.
Bengtson also considers the suggestion that body plans represented “more or less the total number of possible solutions to the problem of being an animal, or whether there were numerous other possibilities that came into being but became extinct because of bad luck or bad design.”  (The evidence shows a decrease in body plans after the explosion due to extinction, not a gradual rise in diversity.)  But is this just explaining away the evidence?
The pattern of diminishing evolutionary novelty subsequent to this event, he says, may have been due less to developmental constraints than to a saturation effect (candidates for new adaptive radiations were already available among existing body plans).  He also believes that the Cambrian explosion produced a lot more homoplasies (similar characters with independent origins) than most phylogenetic analyses suggest – in my view an extremely important point that calls for much more careful character evaluation than is commonly done.  He is clearly not impressed, then, by some recent attempts to use fossils to bridge gaps between phyla.
If the reader is left wondering how the body plans arose in the first place, the final paragraph of this book review may not be all that satisfying.  How could environmental changes generate the information necessary to produce fins, eyes, jointed limbs, propulsion mechanisms, and so much more that is evidenced in the Cambrian fossils?
Valentine seems most happy with intrinsic biological mechanisms for the rapid appearance of phyla.  Large parts of the book deal with developmental prerequisites (such as cell-type numbers and gene regulation) for the event.  Ecological interactions, such as predation, are given more cursory treatment.  As for the physical environment, he merely concludes, somewhat apologetically, that although physical environmental factors were “supremely important”, he does not see any evidence that extraordinary environmental events were causally connected with the Cambrian explosion.  Given that extraordinary environmental events did indeed occur shortly before the explosion, I would give the jury just a little more time to ponder the question.  But first I would make sure they had read this magnificent book.
So how did the body plans arise in a geological blink of an eye?  This question was apparently not on the agenda.
    Next day in Science,2 R. Andrew Cameron also reviewed Valentine’s book.  This review praised and criticized different things.  Cameron first dismisses the analogy “explosion,” primarily because he claims that molecular studies put the origin of the phyla farther back into the precambrian; consequently, he claims, it was “neither an explosion nor did it happen in the Cambrian,” although he does agree that the Chengjian fossils display “representatives of almost all major groups of animals” (see 07/20/2004 headline).  He mentions the possibility that ancestors were soft-bodied and small, resulting in a poor fossil record; “Perhaps the conditions of the Cambrian environment allowed the rapid appearance of hard skeletal parts, greatly favored fossilization, or both.”  But then he mentions the discovery of “fossil pre-Cambrian embryos from the Doushantuo Formation of southwest China, estimated to be 40 to 55 million years older than the base of the Cambrian,” so being soft and small did not hinder these specimens from becoming fossilized.
    Cameron understands the problem of the Cambrian explosion, and claims it is more of a problem now than in Darwin’s day:
The question of when and how higher taxonomic groups like phyla evolved differs markedly from the one Darwin addressed 145 years ago in The Origin of Species.  It is not simply different in scale but also in quality.  Although it is somewhat easier to see how changes in single genes can lead to differences among species that render some more capable of surviving in particular environments, it is more difficult to account for the many changes that lead to entirely different bodyplans as a simple accumulation of single-gene effects.  For example, marine stickleback fishes possess bony plates and spines that presumably prevent predation, while their freshwater relatives show a loss of this armor through changes that can be attributed to a single gene [see 06/18/2004 headline].  However, entire organ systems or embryonic germ layers, features that distinguish higher taxa, can be explained in terms of the gene regulatory networks whose architecture is hardwired into the genome.
So the question for the origin of phyla is how did these hardwired gene regulatory networks arise?  Cameron claims that Valentine “does not incorporate a molecular model in his final synthesis,” so he offers one himself: major changes might arise through changes in regulatory genes like transcription factors.  Can he give us an example?  “For instance, a morphogenetic program may evolve with relatively minimal changes to establish a new spatial domain of expression for a cell-differentiation program, and the resultant animal has a new body part.”  He does not elaborate.
    Cameron praises the first two sections of the book that discuss the origins of the phyla, descriptions of the phyla, and the fossil record.  The third section grapples with the evolution of the phyla.  This section is lacking, the reviewer thinks: “The pictures he delineates here reveal correlations uniting different levels of biological organization, but absent are firm statements about causal mechanisms from which predictions could be made.
    Cameron leaves us with one more concern.  “In view of the volatility of the ideas and the controversy that still exist in this particular area of evolutionary biology, one might argue that it is too early to explain the causes of the origin of phyla.  But as Valentine aptly points out, the time will never be exactly right: there are always more information to incorporate and more ideas to organize.”
    Incidentally, Nature also reported discovery of an arthropod fossil that pushes its group, the Euthycarcinoids, back 50 million years into the Cambrian.  “Despite its antiquity and marine occurrence,” they admit with surprise, “the Cambrian species demonstrates that morphological details were conserved in the transition to fresh water.”
1Stefan Bengtson, “The body-plan explosion,” Nature 430, 506 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430506a.
2R. Andrew Cameron, “Evolution: Hunting for Origins,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5684, 613-614, 30 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100684].
3Vaccari et al., “Cambrian origins and affinities of an enigmatic fossil group of arthropods,” Nature 430, 554 - 557 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02705.
Satisfied?  Apparently in 600 pages, Valentine did not answer the most basic and fundamental question, how did all this biological complexity emerge in a short time?  Pounding the earth with meteors and tidal waves and volcanoes won’t do it.  Invoking a new predator won’t create an elaborate escape mechanism in the prey; it might just mean the predator will eat everything and then starve.  Cameron’s folklore is simplistic: a regulatory gene mutates and presto!  A new body part!  Can duplicating some protuberance generate an eye?  Come on.
    Let’s parse Cameron’s carefully-worded closing lines.  He said, “In view of the volatility of the ideas and the controversy that still exist in this particular area of evolutionary biology, one might argue that it is too early to explain the causes of the origin of phyla.”  Cameron, like Valentine is well aware of the pounding the Darwin Party is getting from the Intelligent Design Movement with the Cambrian Explosion hammer (see The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien (12/01/2003) available online at the Discovery Institute).  The Cambrian Explosion is only controversial because the Darwinians have no answer, and the creationists and ID proponents know it.  So he’s worried that Valentine’s new book is going to provide even more ammo to the enemy.  His coded message to the Darwin Party can be translated, “What do you think you are doing, Jim, letting the creationists know we’re up a creek?  Better to say nothing than to advertise our weaknesses!”
    Does anyone see in either of these reviews any real, logical explanation for the explosive appearance of trilobites, worms, jellyfish, corals, and vertebrates, with any evidence to back it up?  Each of these organisms is composed of irreducibly complex cells, and organs made up of irreducibly complex parts.  When they first appear in the fossil record, they are already fully formed and operating.  If the world’s expert can’t explain this after 30 years of thinking about it, then maybe there isn’t an explanation – from a Darwinian viewpoint.  This requires some fresh blood from thinkers not wedded to a dying, outmoded, falsified model that is on the verge of extinction.  Any takers?
Next headline on:  FossilsTerrestrial ZoologyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Spaghetti in a Basketball: How the Cell Packs DNA for Controlled Access   07/28/2004
The beginning sentence of an article in Current Biology1 can’t help but grab your attention:
Imagine trying to stuff about 10,000 miles of spaghetti inside a basketball.  Then, if that was not difficult enough, attempt to find a unique one inch segment of pasta from the middle of this mess, or try to duplicate, untangle and separate individual strings to opposite ends.  This simple analogy illustrates some of the daunting tasks associated with the transcription, repair and replication of the nearly 2 meters of DNA that is packaged into the confines of a tiny eukaryotic nucleus.  The solution to each of these problems lies in the assembly of the eukaryotic genome into chromatin, a structural polymer that not only solves the basic packaging problem, but also provides a dynamic platform that controls all DNA-mediated processes within the nucleus.
The article by Craig L. Peterson and Marc-André Laniel is otherwise boringly titled “Histones and histone modifications,” but after this appetizing start, goes into detail about how the tangled mess of alphabetized pasta is exquisitely controlled, folded, unfolded and copied continuously inside the cell, with the help of numerous protein and RNA parts.
    Of special importance are the histone proteins that comprise chromatin.  Scientists have been discovering for several years now that these histones have “tails” of amino acids that can be altered through numerous ways.  These alterations, called “post-translational modifications,” seem to influence the DNA wrapped around them in many important ways.  They signal genes to activate for transcription, places needing DNA repair, places to start or repress DNA elongation or replication, where to silence telomeres, places to deposit more chromatin, and more.  A table in the article lists 95 histone modifications and their functions that are known so far.  Some are involved in mitosis (cell division), spermatogenesis, X-chromosome inactivation (silencing one of the two X-chromosomes in the female), apoptosis (programmed cell death), DNA “memory” and other important cell processes.  Some have said these modifications constitute a “histone code” (see “Cell memory borders on the miraculous,”
11/04/2002 headline).  These authors term it differently, but no less amazing: “rather than a histone code there are instead clear patterns of histone marks that can be differentially interpreted by cellular factors, depending on the gene being studied and the cellular context.”  Activities like DNA repair or replication are often accompanied by histone modifications, for instance, as if one enzyme leaves its mark on a histone to signal a follow-up function.  Complexes of small RNAs and enzymes depend on these markers to know where to go and what to do; the histone tails serve as attachment points for specific enzymes.  And if that is were not amazing enough, the interplay of neighboring histone markers, or cross-talk, can have “a profound effect on enzyme activity.”   The authors explain, “Thus, in many ways histone tails can be viewed as complex protein-protein interaction surfaces that are regulated by numerous post-translational modifications.  Furthermore, it is clear that the overall constellation of proteins bound to each tail plays a primary role in dictating the biological functions of that chromatin domain.”  Finally, since some of these histone states can survive cell division, they augment what’s inherited beyond DNA alone.  The authors provide no suggestions on how this system might have evolved.
    On a related subject, three geneticists from Scotland describe, in the same issue of Current Biology,2 how DNA packs itself so tightly and efficiently.  There are specialized proteins called condensins that perform this job.  They are members of a set of hairpin-shaped enzymes called “structural maintenance of chromosomes” enzymes (SMCs, see 08/07/2002 headline).  The authors remind us that “These extraordinary molecules are conserved [i.e., unevolved] from bacteria to humans.”  Scientists are beginning to be able to watch condensin do its amazing work in real time (see “DNA folds with molecular velcro,” 06/07/2004 headline).  Condensin produces “supercoils” of DNA, one of many steps in packing the delicate DNA strands into a hierarchy of coils that results in a densely-packed chromosome.  “It is not entirely clear how the DNA is held in this supercoiled state,” they say, “but several studies suggest that the V-shaped arms of the condensin complex may loop and clamp the DNA in place.”  This clamping is “rapid and reversible.”  Scientists watching the process in both bacteria and humans are “showing that both vertebrate and bacterial condensins drive DNA compaction in an ATP-dependent fashion with a surprising level of co-operativity that was not fully appreciated.”  The condensin molecules work as a team; if not enough condensin is around, nothing happens.
    These authors point out also that condensin is just one of many enzymes involved in chromosome formation.  Think about how remarkable it is that during each cell division, the chromosomes are structured so reliably that they can be labeled and numbered under the microscope.  “Our own proteomic analysis,” they claim, “has identified over 350 chromosome-associated proteins, so there is clearly more work to be done.”  There is no mention of evolution in this article, either.
1Peterson and Laniel, “Histones and Histone Modifications,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Pages R546-R551, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.007.
2Porter, Khoudoli and Swedlow, “Chromosome Condensation: DNA Compaction in Real Time,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Pages R554-R556, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.009.
The views we are getting of a cell since the invention of the microscope can be likened to those from a UFO descending from earth orbit to ground level.  From orbit, a city like Boston seems to have a lot of structure and organization.  As we descend into this alien world, more and more organization becomes apparent, till from airline height, we see complex transportation arteries and machinery apparently all coordinated and purposeful.  From helicopter height, individual workers begin to come into focus.  We are now approaching ground level, and able to watch factory workers and figure out what it is they are doing.  Just imagine what Leeuwenhoek would think, considering he only got the orbital view.
    It’s not getting any easier for the Darwin Party.  If the mental picture of 10,000 miles of spaghetti in a basketball didn’t grab you, considering it is efficiently packaged with each inch of pasta accessible and reproducible, then maybe you just hate Italian food or sports and need a more suitable analogy.  Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my Creator’s hand?  Yes, sadly, there is; read next headline.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyNext headline on: Genes and DNAAmazing Facts
In the Last Days There Shall Be Scoffers   07/28/2004
Current Biology this week contains two entries either attacking creationism or exalting Charles Darwin.1,2  Nigel Williams reports on the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr (see
07/02/2004 headline), and his “tireless campaign against creationism”:
Ernst Mayr, the renowned evolutionary biologist and champion of Darwin, celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month by leading a scathing attack on creationism.  The evolutionary biologist, acclaimed as one of the most prolific researchers, has no intention of retiring and is shortly to publish new research that dismantles the fashionable creationist doctrine of ‘intelligent design’.
Apparently Mayr’s approach is nothing new to anyone in the I.D. community who has read On the Origin of Species; Williams says that “‘intelligent design’ – the latest way in which creationists have sought to present a divine origin of the world – was thoroughly rebutted by Charles Darwin a century and a half ago.”  What’s motivating Mayr’s campaign?  “a sense of exasperation at the re-emergence of creationism in the US,” Williams says.  Evolution was no problem in Mayr’s childhood schools in Germany, so why are so many school boards trying to water it down or omit it in America?  Williams recounts the case in Georgia when the superintendent of schools tried to have the “controversial buzzword” evolution “banned” from the curriculum.  “Fierce protest, including criticism from Jimmy Carter, the former president, reversed this,” Williams states with apparent satisfaction.
    In its ongoing series of interviews with practicing scientists, Current Biology interviewed mathematics professor (U. of Vienna) Karl Sigmund (also a popularizer of evolutionary game theory: see 02/10/2004 headline).  Here is his answer to the question, “What turned you on to biology in the first place?”
I hit upon a German version of Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ at the tender age of twelve.  I cannot possibly have understood much of it, but was immediately fascinated, first by a photo of old Darwin, whose piercing eyes haunted me, and then by the idea of having apes among my forebears: it explained why I felt so happy in the tree-tops.  Besides, I liked the fact that not a few of my elder family members – catholics all – were distressed to see the book in my hands.  Much later, I noticed that a thoughtful editor had removed the parts on sexual selection.  What would my relatives have said to that!
After Sigmund was turned off by biology in school and became fascinated with mathematics, there was another turning point:
I forgot all about biology and became a professor of mathematics before I came across ‘The Selfish Gene’.  That was a turning point for me.  [Richard] Dawkins’ very first sentence thrilled me: “This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction.”  There were not just facts in biology; there was a place for the ‘what if’ a basic question for any mathematician.
Sigmund is asked about remaining challenges to evolutionary game theory, and admits it needs to be tied in with the biology and neurology of the brain, “how modules in the brain interact, and cooperate, in guiding an individuals’ feelings and wishes.”  He points to tentative experiments that look for relationships between brain imaging and human reactions to perceived fair and unfair situations.  “Such a form of neuro-economics – or, better, physio-economics, because hormone levels play a great role too – may eventually tell us more about human nature than anything since Darwin studied expressions of emotions in man and animals.  And if I feel foolish when I re-read this sentence ten years from now, I will tell myself that it was pretty good science fiction.
1Nigel Williams, “One long argument,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R540, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.002.
2“Q&A: Karl Sigmund,”
Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R541, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.003.
One way for Karl Sigmund to feel foolish real fast is to read Creation-Evolution Headlines regularly and other publications outside the Darwin Party propaganda machine (here’s a list for starters).  An easier way is to flip a few pages in the same issue of Current Biology to the articles on histones and condensins (see headline above).  That’s if Sigmund is even interested in truth over “science fiction”.  He said it himself: he was drawn to evolution not by a studied analysis of the facts, but by (1) the haunting eyes of Charlie, the materialist’s buddha, (2) a fallacious, childish non-sequitur that apes in the family tree made him feel at home climbing trees, and (3) childish rebellion.  Parents, beware.  If your kid can’t think straight or exercise self-control by the age of 12, it may be too late.  The kid will be a sucker for the Darwin Party storytelling circus.
    Ernst Mayr is on his last crusade before becoming a creationist.  (For those at the Darwin National Convention, that means meeting your Maker.)  Solomon said, in a paradoxical quatrain, to “answer not a fool according to his folly,” but rather, to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4-5*).  This is not a contradiction.  Answer not a fool according to his folly, “lest you be like him,”; i.e., don’t imitate his style of argument and get into a vituperative shouting match with irrelevant and useless trivia.  Rather, answer a fool according to his folly “lest he be wise in his own eyes”; i.e., don’t let him get away with baloney, or let others who hear him be swayed by it.  For instance, in biology class, your fellow students should not hear the evolutionary mythmaking of the teacher go uncontested.  Suggested response: keep holding up the facts and asking logical questions.  Teach Mayr and Sigmund about histones and condensins and diatoms and plant seeds and motorized sunscreens and migrating sparrows and cellular roller coasters and spider superpowers and underground pioneers and whale aeronautics and antennas built with motorized trucks and 300 million neurons required to see a picture and a million other things.  Ask them, “How could such things evolve without plan or purpose?  No, I mean really—not just a story, but really now.  And if it happened, where is the evidence?” (see 07/22/2004 headline)  Keep up the pressure, gently and persistently.  These things take time.  After sufficient exposure to the observations, if they continue to sputter nonsense, there is nothing more you can do except to try to prevent folly from becoming established as the official, uncontested curriculum for young, impressionable minds not yet able to discern their right hand from their left. 
Next headline on:  EducationIntelligent DesignDarwinism

*Solomon did not define fool as an unintelligent person, but as a rebel: someone lacking respect, reverence, good sense, and self-control.
Solar System Update   07/27/2004
What’s happening at Mars and Saturn?  In this golden age of planetary science, the extraordinary has become commonplace.  Let’s check in and see what the spacecraft have found lately.
Mars.  The
Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still going strong, well past their nominal mission.  Despite a few minor problems (and decreasing sunlight as winter sets in), they both are in exciting locations that are giving the scientists new thrills.  The latest major announcement (see New Scientist) is that water not only appears to have existed in the past, but persisted for some time.  Spirit is now climbing the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater, while Opportunity a hemisphere away is tantalizing scientists with geological layers in the crater named Endurance.  The MER website now posts interesting slide shows of each week’s activities so that earthlings can follow the adventures.
    Fascination with rovers should not make us forget the three Mars orbiters that continue to send back more fascinating imagery than a human mind can process.  The venerable Mars Global Surveyor posts its latest images here, and the stalwart 2001 Mars Odyssey, well past its 10,000th orbit, posts its latest infrared images here.  Not to be outdone, the European Mars Express continues to churn out high-resolution, color stereo images from orbit, including this latest shot of a fractured crater near Vallis Marineris.
Saturn.  Since its arrival at Saturn July 1, Cassini is healthy on its first long, elliptical orbit.  Though the next close encounter isn’t till October 26, when it flies past Titan at only 750 miles, the spacecraft is not idle.  New images of the moons Mimas, Enceladus, Iapetus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea have trickled in, though not as yet better than Voyager’s 1981 images because of the distance.  Much, much better ones are in the mission plan.  The nicest color image recently was this color composite of the rings.  At full resolution it would make nice wallpaper.  The Huygens Probe operations team had a successful risk review and probe checkout in preparation for their nail-biting January 14 parachuted descent to the surface of Titan.  Meanwhile, the instrument teams (magnetometer, plasma wave, cosmic dust, ultraviolet and infrared, radio science and, of course, visible light imaging) are all busily taking data about Saturn’s winds and magnetic field, rings, moons and space environment.  Some of it is surprising and should be announced soon.  Note: NASA headquarters maintains its own Cassini website.
Mercury.  A new mission to Mercury named MESSENGER – the first since Mariner 10 in 1975 – is due to launch next month, August 2.  The mission designed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory will take a long time to get results, though; the complex gravity-assist trajectory requires seven years before orbit insertion in 2011.  Only about half of the planet was seen by Mariner 10 so there is a great deal more to learn about the innermost planet.
Earth.  Other planets are interesting, but we have to (better, get to) live on this one.  The AURA mission just launched successfully on July 15 to study the upper atmosphere, especially the dynamics of the ozone layer that protects us from dangerous ultraviolet radiation.
Interpreting this wealth of data from these exotic places will take years, but the new observations are certain to help answer old questions while stimulating new ones.  Meanwhile, we need to keep the Darwin Party in line.  Help your local Darwinist break his or her bad habit of equating water with life, a non-sequitur if there ever was one (e.g., from New Scientist, “The actual time span has not been estimated, but it reveals enough time to strengthen the possibilities that life could have evolved on Mars.”)  A worse habit is thinking the discovery of life in space means the death of God.  Apparently, they do not understand just how big God is; some creationists think life might be found on Mars or beyond.  And who knows?  Maybe the first incoming SETI message will be John 3:16 in Vulcan.  For now, don’t let the Darwinese hype bother you.  Raw data belongs to everyone.  Just because a fat spectator is belching hot air and making himself a nuisance doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the game.
Next headline on:  MarsSolar System
Modern Cosmology Goes Schizophrenic    07/27/2004
According to Charles Seife writing in Science,1 more cosmologists are taking parallel universes seriously.  This is a consequence of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, one possible mathematical solution to the effects of quantum “weirdness.”  If you think our headline is too harsh, read Seife’s opening in a Rod Serling voice while playing the Twilight Zone theme in the background:
As is your habit, you are reading Science at breakfast (today’s treat: an omelet made with dodo eggs). But as soon as you finish this paragraph, a carnivorous wombat crashes through the door into your apartment and chomps angrily on your prehensile tail.  Right ... now.
    Ridiculous?  Certainly—here.  But it’s true somewhere in the universe, according to many scientists.  An increasing number of mainstream physicists have espoused an almost unspeakably bizarre picture of the cosmos, one filled with mirror worlds and parallel universes, with doppelgängers and alternate histories.  In many of these parallel universes—countless ones—an exact duplicate of you is doing exactly what you’re doing: reading this article in Science magazine.  In others, you exist with subtle (and not-so- subtle) changes from your present-day life—you sport horns or speak in Latin or make a living by juggling hedgehogs at cocktail parties.
No further questions, your honor.
1Charles Seife, “Physics Enters the Twilight Zone,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 464-466, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5683.464].
Seife’s paragraph subtitles are twists on explicit religious phrases: Reasons to believe, You’ll never walk alone, Worlds without end.  (Question: why do you think he used the name of Hugh Ross’s organization here?)  Seife gives air to critics of the Many Worlds hypothesis, but he does not attack the idea as stupid.  Instead, he gives pretty good press to its advocates.  Undoubtedly if Richard Dawkins were reading this issue sitting on his prehensile tail, he would nod approvingly, while calling creationism ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.
    If even in your wildest dreams you granted a nanometer of credibility to such claims, you would still have to ask what caused a universe of universes to have the properties such that the laws of quantum mechanics would give rise to a world like ours.  Anything that begins to exist must have a cause.  The universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause.  Q.E.D.
    Fantasyland was fun, but time to escape to reality and enjoy Adventureland.  There’s no boredom in the real world, and the equations have a way of working out in practical ways.
Next headline on:  CosmologyPhysicsDumb Ideas
How Cells Build Hard Parts    07/26/2004
You have rocks in your head, and it’s a good thing, or you would die of starvation and imbalance.  Living things have need of inorganic structures for various functions.  Can you name the mineral structures in your body?  The answer is: bone, dentin, enamel and otoliths.  The last three are specific to your head.  Dentin and enamel help us chew our food, and otoliths help us know which way is up (see
10/10/2003 headline).  Vertebrates have bones and teeth, birds lay eggshells of calcium carbonate, and many marine and terrestrial animals build mineral shells.  Scientists and engineers are drawn to the skill organisms exhibit in the construction of hard parts (called biomineralization), and they want to imitate it.  We’ve drawn attention to the amazing capabilities of the conch shell (see 06/26/2003 headline) and diatoms (see 07/21/2004 headline).  Two recent articles in science journals discuss the human fascination with biomineralization.
    A book review in Science last week1 opens with praise for the lowly diatom:
The abilities to design and construct inorganic materials with specified atomic structure, size, shape, orientation, and number of defects and to integrate these architectures into functioning devices form the foundation for advances in technologies that rely on the devices’ electrical, optical, magnetic, and chemical outputs.  However, assembly methods that allow simultaneous control of these features at lengths from the nanometer scale to the macroscale continue to elude scientists and engineers....
    What if there were constructors that could sequester inorganic ions from water, accumulate and concentrate them to produce architectures controlled over length scales from nanometers to tens of centimeters, and do all of this in a matter of hours at ambient temperatures?  Such constructors are not inventions of science fiction novels but rather single-cell plants called diatoms.... Biomineralization processes can form structures that are the envy of all of us who strive to understand molecular mechanisms of the assembly of inorganic materials.
The book Mark E. Davis is reviewing is Biomineralization by the Mineralogical Society of America and Geochemical Society, 2003.  He was especially impressed by the complexity of the molecular mechanisms organisms use to build their hard parts, mechanisms that show mastery of molecular biology, protein chemistry, nucleation thermodynamics, and crystal growth.  Some organisms build minerals inside cells, outside cells, or between cells.  Davis found one example particularly attractive to the materials scientist:
Nacre, the mother-of-pearl layer found on the inner surface of shells, has a fracture toughness approximately 3000 times that of the synthetic analogue aragonite (calcium carbonate).  Nacre is composed of thin (circa 30 nm) layers of a protein-polysaccharide intercalated between 0.5 micrometer-thick layers of aragonite tablets.  The weak interface between the organic and inorganic layers is thought to dissipate the energy of crack propagation and thus strengthen the composite structure. This sophisticated architecture provides clues as to how man-made structures could be improved.
How could such capabilities evolve?  “The evolution of mineralized tissues has been enigmatic for more than a century,” says a team of three Penn State scientists writing in PNAS2 on the subject.  Feeling that comparative genetics could help solve the enigma, they undertook a search for homologous genes and proteins between disparate groups.  “Mineralized tissue is a critical innovation in vertebrate evolution,” they begin, “offering the basis for various adaptive phenotypes: body armor for protection, teeth for predation, and endoskeleton for locomotion.”  Certain “primitive” fish have dentin-like body armor covered with an enameloid substance that the team believes evolved into fish scales.  Their previous work suggested that mammalian teeth and agnathan body armor are homologous.  This time, they examined the genome of a teleost fish and failed to find any homologous proteins for mammalian tooth enamel.  Though dentin in teeth seems homologous with body armor that formed on skin collagen of fish, their analyses “suggest that mammalian enamel is distinct from fish enameloid.”  Instead, they believe “Their similar nature as a hard structural overlay on exoskeleton and teeth is because of convergent evolution.”
1Mark E. Davis, “How Life Makes Hard Stuff,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 480, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099773].
2Kawasaki, Suzuki and Weiss, “Genetic basis for the evolution of vertebrate mineralized tissue,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0404279101, published online July 22, 2004.
These two articles illustrate the disparity between hard science and soft, mushy, slippery Darwinian scientism.  It goes like this: (1) The organism excels at an engineering feat.  (2) It must have evolved, but we don’t know how.  To the extent the organism elicits admiration, the Darwinian explanation elicits disgust. 
  The PNAS article is a useless hodgepodge of storytelling, attempting to force uncooperative facts into a predetermined plot.  In one place, they “calibrate” their Darwinian tree based on Darwinian assumptions.  When that produces anomalous results in another part of the tree, they simply adjust the rate of evolution on that branch.  When another branch has trouble, they rearrange the branches and invoke the magic trick of “convergent evolution” to explain similarities that did not appear to have a common ancestor.  All through, there are wiggle words like must have, might have, quite possible, suggests, possible, co-opted, although there is no direct fossil evidence to date... may not have, probably, assumed to etc.  The data are only secondary props in this tweakfest to keep Charlie as the national idol.  Do they ever explain how multiple genes produced multiple proteins by accident that work biomineralization wonders?  No; it is all an exercise in reassuring the reader that the Darwin Party is not really lost.  For baloney detectors who are not intimidated by the bluffing of technical jargon or prestigious journals, it makes no sense.  Try this howler for fun:
Together these facts make it likely that the developmental mechanism of mammalian tissue mineralization was elaborated during bony fish evolution in actinopterygians or sarcopterygians.  Although the genetic tools of tissue mineralization are totally unknown for chondrichthyans, it is quite possible that they have developed their own tools through independent gene duplications and functional selection histories.
What a total whitewash; do you see what they did?  They just swept a huge problem under the rug.  When the data were missing or contrary, they ascribed it to evolution anyway.  They personified fish, turning them into materials engineers and tool inventors.  And that ending phrase, “independent ... functional selection histories,” should be framed as a classic euphemism for Darwinian dogma. 
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyMarine BiologyMammalsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Evolutionists Consider Non-Darwinian Mechanisms    07/23/2004
According to classical Darwinian evolutionary theory, variations in the germ lines produce phenotypic changes that, on rare occasions, prove beneficial to an individual, and cause an organism to outcompete its peers in the struggle for existence.  The hypothesis of Natural selection claims that the individual with a slightly beneficial variation, being more “fit,” leaves more offspring.  Darwinian changes are gradual, random and independent.  No sudden leaps (saltations) are allowed, and changes do not “conspire” toward a goal (i.e., no “orthogenesis” or straight-line evolution).  Natural selection acts on genes in the individual (individual selection).  Speciation occurs when a population becomes geographically isolated from another population (allopatric speciation) and the accumulated changes no longer permit interbreeding.  Darwinians believe this gradualistic process is sufficient to account for all the innovations in all living things since the first cell emerged on Earth: all the organs, functions and behaviors of birds, insects, fish, plants and man.  Darwin did propose an additional mechanism, sexual selection, in The Descent of Man.  Ever since On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection was printed, however, competitors have proposed other mechanisms for evolution: group selection, kin selection, sympatric speciation, various Lamarckian mechanisms (inheritance of acquired characteristics), niche construction, Gaia, and more.  The debates still go on today.  Two recent papers offer “new” non-Darwinian mechanisms that might supplement the process of natural selection.
    According to
EurekAlert, scientists at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona have discovered a “New genetic mechanism for evolution.”  In their view, transposable elements (transposons) in the genes can generate antisense messenger RNA (mRNA) in neighboring genes that can silence or otherwise alter the expression of the genes.  “For a long time they [i.e., transposons] have been considered as a useless part of genetic material, DNA left overs,” the press release states.  “However, it is more and more clear that transposons can cause favourable changes for the adaptation and survival of the organism.”  The press release does not provide any evidence of an innovative change due to this mechanism, but they point to an observation in fruit flies that some with an antisense mRNA caused by a transposon grew larger and lived longer, presumably due to the switching off of a gene.
    The way it’s taught in school, Darwin rendered Lamarckism obsolete (even though Darwin himself shifted toward a more Lamarckian view later in life.)  But surprisingly, in Science this week,1 four biologists make the case for a Lamarckian mechanism of evolution.  Although physically acquired characteristics may not be heritable, culturally acquired characteristics can be.  You may not inherit your grandfather’s wooden leg, for instance, but you might pass on his stories to your children.  The authors claim that many animals can learn by watching, and pass on what they learn: a bird might learn a new mate attraction technique by watching another bird, or a mouse might learn that crossing the road is dangerous by watching a friend get run over.  Such cultural lessons are “public information” (PI) that is heritable, they claim, and so cultural evolution (that acts on memes; i.e., ideas, behaviors or styles that spread socially) might influence biological evolution (that acts on genes).  At least, they think, the suggestion deserves more thought:
PI is a widespread phenomenon that is emerging as a potential unifying concept in fields that involve decision-making processes in which individuals can extract information from others to assess resource quality.  The use of PI can enrich evolutionary models and can have marked effects on evolutionary predictions.  Future research should explore the extent to which evolutionary scenarios are affected by the use of PI.
They continue, “the ability of individuals to use PI unites a range of topics as diverse as foraging, predation, mate choice, habitat selection, and colony formation.”  PI may be, in fact, the major driving force in social evolution, and may imply that cultural evolution is more widespread than previously thought.  “Moreover,” they propose in conclusion, “although much work has been devoted to exploring how biological evolution affects culture, we suggest that evolutionary biologists should also consider how cultural evolution influences biological evolution.”
1Étienne Danchin, Luc-Alain Giraldeau, Thomas J. Valone, and Richard H. Wagner, “Public Information: From Nosy Neighbors to Cultural Evolution,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 487-491, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098254].
Even though it is amusing to watch the Darwin Party argue over which mechanism they like best, it is all beside the point.  As Phillip Johnson pointed out over a decade ago in Darwin on Trial, none of these mechanisms establish the very thing that Darwin set out to explain in the first place: that unguided natural processes unaided by any intelligent design had creative power to generate eyes, ears, wings, intelligence or any other complex feature; nor did Darwin or his followers find any historical evidence that a long chain of intermediates actually ever existed.
    Physical similarity is not enough as evidence for evolution.  Even creationists like Linnaeus were intimately acquainted with similarities between organisms.  The ability to classify organisms according to similarities is insufficient to establish the claim that humans had bacteria ancestors; it might establish just as well that all organisms had a common Designer.  The two proposals above fail again on both counts.  Neither demonstrates any creative power, and neither points to any plausible chain of intermediates.  To expect transposons are somehow creative and can generate complexity is to endow them with angelic powers.  To expect that public information in a herd of theropods could help them sprout wings seems ridiculous.  Where is the evidence any creative innovation was produced by these or any other proposed mechanisms?  It is not only missing; the evidence we do have points in the opposite direction: (1) the Cambrian explosion shows a sudden appearance of complexity without precursors, and (2) the law of entropy demands that information (public or not) degenerates through transmission rather than improves.
    Evolutionary theory is like a smorgasbord of rotten food.  The cooks keep thinking if they add one more dish, customers will find something they like.  Instead, it has turned into a food fight.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Zoo Monkey Walks Upright    07/22/2004
For what it’s worth, there’s a story going around about a macaque in an Israeli zoo started walking on its hind legs after a near-death experience (see
MSNBC News and picture).  One news source is calling it a missing link, another claiming the strange behavior is due to brain damage.
This calls for a monkey riddle.
Q: If humans evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
A: Some of them had a choice.
    Paleoanthropologists make a big deal out of finding alleged ancestors that walked upright.  Big deal; chimps can walk upright sometimes.  Some people can walk on all fours.  It only takes a chiropractic trick to make an ape-man walk upright; didn’t they see Ringo Starr, John Matuczak and Shelley Long in “Cave Man”?  Maybe Natasha will stimulate a new theory that walking upright is a result of brain damage.  Find a monkey that can type Shakespeare and we’ll pay attention (see 05/12/2003 headline).
Next headline on:  Early ManMammalsDumb Ideas
Think Before You Speak    07/25/2004
Children are capable of thoughts before they have the words to vocalize them, according to a study published in Nature July 221 (see also summary by Paul Bloom in the same issue2 and report on
Science Now).  This contradicts the postmodernist view that thought is conditioned by language, and instead suggests that humans are innately capable of conceptualizing things, and that words are merely the tools for expressing thought.  Psychologists experimented with 5-month old infants and concluded that “Language learning therefore seems to develop by linking linguistic forms to universal, pre-existing representations of sound and meaning.”  Babies have a plasticity to concepts regardless of language, but “as they grow up, children place less importance on concepts that aren’t emphasized in their language.”  Bloom thinks this reinforces the old view of St. Augustine on learning to speak: “By constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I collected gradually for what they stood, and having broken in my mouth to these signs, I thereby gave utterance to my will.” 
1Hespos and Spelke, “Conceptual precursors to language,” Nature 430, 453 - 456 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02634.
Ever have a thought in your mind but couldn’t express it in words?  Maybe that’s the frustration a baby feels.  She is thinking, “Action-oriented orchestration of innovative inputs generated by the escalation of meaningful indigenous decision-making dialogue can maximize the vital thrust toward a non-alienated viable urban infrastructure contingent upon third-generation time-phase conceptualization,” but all that comes out is “goo goo gah.”  Mothers seem to understand all this on their internal Babynet wavelength, but dads should learn to pay better attention.
Next headline on:  Human Body
Old Rivers Cut Fast, Fast, Fast Through Solid Rock    07/22/2004
A press release from
University of Vermont says, “Geologists Discover Water Cuts Through Rock at Surprising Speed.”  A five-year study concluded that the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers cut through 10 to 20 meters of solid rock in 35,000 years, “a rate far more rapid than previously thought,”  especially since most of the cutting occurred during a “short-lived pulse of unusually rapid down-cutting” in their estimation.  They claim that regional climate change was a bigger factor than glacial meltwater.  Their work is published in the July 23 issue of Science.1  The synopsis says, “One of the most basic geological process is the incision of bedrock by rivers, yet little is known about the rates or timing of this process along passive continental margins like the eastern seaboard of the United States.”
1Reusser et al., “Rapid Late Pleistocene Incision of Atlantic Passive-Margin River Gorges,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 499-502, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097780].
The authors don’t mention previous estimates for the age of these gorges.  MSNBC News claims it is twice the previous estimate, but with more water the erosion could have been even more rapid.  Science News, on the other hand, says “These erosion rates are tens to hundreds of times faster than scientists had suspected.”
    One can imagine Charlie and Charlie (Lyell and Darwin, respectively) standing on the banks and thinking, “My, my, my; that must have taken millions of years.”  Not necessarily.  Even if the current estimate (37,000 years) is still off by an order of magnitude, compare that with the problem the uniformitarians face: things are happening too fast.  How can animals evolve when the ground is disappearing under their feet?  At least geologists are making regress on their inflated dating methods.  The climate is changing; floods of evidence are rapidly eroding Charlie L.’s fluffy bedrock on which Charlie D. built his house of cards.
Next headline on:  GeologyDating Methods
Plant “Evolutionary Leftover” Now Deemed Vital    07/22/2004
Photorespiration, “a biological process in plants, thought to be useless and even wasteful” and “just an evolutionary leftover” from an age when carbon dioxide was more prevalent, has been found to be “necessary for healthy plant growth and if impaired could inhibit plant growth,” according to a UC Davis study published in PNAS.1 (see also summary on
EurekAlert).  It functions as a way to inhibit nitrate assimilation.  Some agricultural scientists assumed it was an unnecessary process to be genetically engineered out of plants because it was wasteful, “But the new UC Davis study suggests that there is more to photorespiration than meets the eye and any attempts to minimize its activity in crop plants would be ill advised.”
Evolutionary presuppositions have once again stood in the way of scientific progress.  A design model would have looked at the phenomenon as there for a reason, and sought to determine what it was.  These scientists had to ignore Darwinism to get at the truth.  And we’re supposed to believe that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution?  The new version should be, “nothing in Darwinism makes sense in the light of biology.”
Next headline on:  PlantsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
New Book Reveals China’s Cambrian Explosion   07/22/2004
Nature July 221 has a book review about the first volume in English of the Chengjiang biota of China, where tens of thousands of soft-bodied organisms are preserved in early Cambrian strata.  The book, The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life by Xian-Guang Hou et al., is praised by reviewer Zhe-Xi Luo, who puts a positive spin on the problem of the Cambrian explosion:
These beautiful and unique fossils have inspired new scientific insights and led to the clashing of ideas.  There is a great debate on the likely positions of Chengjiang animals such as the yunnanozoans in the deuterostome family tree.  Such debates will surely redefine the phylogenetic framework for establishing the earliest evolution of key features of chordates....
....it also provides an update on the fast-paced attempts to decipher the full evolutionary significance of this palaeontological treasure.....
....The early animal fossil record, however incomplete, can tell us about the early diversification of major animal lineages, a hot topic for molecular evolutionary studies, especially with regard to the timing of early animal evolution.  The Chengjiang fossils are the best source of evidence about the emergence of animal body plans, and have attracted interest from students of evolutionary development....
....the Early Cambrian sea of Chengjiang really is a cradle of early chordate evolution.
In the film
Icons of Evolution, paleontologists onsite at the Chengjiang beds demonstrate that while soft-bodied fossils appear in the early Cambrian beds, including items as delicate as sponge embryos, no fossils appear in the preCambrian beds just below them, even though conditions were suitable for preservation.  The paleontologists also explain that all the phyla appear abruptly in the Cambrian beds.  Biodiversity actually decreases in the higher layers, contrary to the predictions of Darwin’s tree of life diagram.
    In the same issue, Andrew B. Smith2 comments on a fossil found in the same Chengjiang beds by D. -G. Shu and Simon Conway Morris et al.3 that they claim is a primitive echinoderm.  The phylogeny of echinoderms, which includes starfish and sea urchins, has long been a puzzle.  “If correct” about this fossil claimed to be 520 million years old, he asserts, “this links the echinoderms to an enigmatic group, the vetulicolians, remains of which are found in the same deposits of early Cambrian age.”  Making the connection with this enigmatic group poses a major difficulty, he says, “because of the difficulty of interpreting even their basic anatomical organization.”  Although echinoderms are placed within the deuterostomes (a “very diverse group” of animals with a mouth and anus which includes all the vertebrates), “in terms of morphology echinoderms have always stood apart because of their aberrant symmetry and lack of structures known as gill slits” unique to deuterostomes.  Starfish, with their five-fold symmetry radiating from a center, don’t fit the pattern of other deuterostomes.  Smith seems to remain unconvinced of the connection at this point:
There is now direct fossil evidence that all of the major deuterostome groups were established by about 520 million years ago.  Fossil vertebrates (yunnanozoans), tunicates (Shankouclava) and both asymmetric and radiate echinoderms (homalozoans, helicoplacoids) have all now been discovered in early Cambrian deposits.  Phlogites, a tentacle-bearing early Cambrian fossil of uncertain affinity, might even be a hemichordate or part of the common ancestral lineage of echinoderms and hemichordates.  So, if deuterostome divergence occurred around 575 million years ago, as recent molecular-clock studies suggest, there is a 50-million-year gap in the fossil record between the origin of deuterostomes and their appearance in the fossil record.  In the jigsaw of deuterostome evolution, vetulocystids represent another piece to be fitted into a puzzle where many of the pieces are still missing.

1Zhe-Xi Luo, “A window on early animal evolution,” Nature 430, 405 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430405a.
2Andrew B. Smith, “Paleontology: Echinoderm roots,” Nature 430, 411 - 412 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430411a.
3Shu, D. -G., Conway Morris, S., Han, J., Zhang, Z. -F. & Liu, J. -N. Nature 430, 422–428 (2004).
The spinmeisters of the Darwin Party, like this book reviewer, sound for all the world like a Stalinist explaining the benefits of the new Five-Year Plan.  Smith seems to be saying “not so fast” as he owns up to the mystery of the Cambrian explosion: all the major groups of animals, including vertebrates, appear suddenly in the early Cambrian without ancestors.  Think of all the changes that must take place to turn an organism with bilateral symmetry into one with pentaradiate symmetry like a starfish.  The first uncontested fossil echinoderm is already a full-fledged echinoderm.  Why is this so puzzling?  It’s only a puzzle if you’re trying to draw a mythical tree between the dots that is only a figment of philosophical imagination.
For an excellent overview of the Cambrian explosion and the challenge it poses to Darwinian evolution, see The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien (12/01/2003) available online at the Discovery Institute.
Next headline on:  FossilsMarine Biology
SETI Researcher Predicts Success Within 20 Years   07/21/2004
According to
New Scientist story reported on EurekAlert, Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute predicts we will know within 20 years if there is intelligent life out there in the Milky Way.  He plugged his numbers into the Drake Equation and estimated between 10,000 and a million radio transmitters spreading messages across the galaxy.  He bases his two-decade prediction on that number and the rapid improvement of computer search technology.  A member of the SETI League criticizes the estimate because “the ‘other end’ of the communications link is completely out of our hands.  It would be nice to think we know something about the existence, distribution, technology and motivation of our potential communications partners in space, but in fact, we don’t.”  Shostak defended his prediction in spite of the “myriad uncertainties” surrounding it, because “I have made this prediction using the assumptions adopted by the SETI research community itself.”
No inbreeding of thought there, huh?  How about using the assumptions of the ID community?  Speculation is fun but impractical.  He knows few will check back in 2024 to see if he was right, so it serves to get notoriety in the news and maybe additional public support (or funding).
    Seth Shostak appears briefly in the new film about to be released, The Privileged Planet.  He should watch it.
Next headline on:  Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
Engineers Envy Diatoms’ Glass-Sculpturing Prowess   07/21/2004
What is it?  An ornate crown?  A crystal serving dish cover?  A work of art?  The photo on the cover of the July 17
Science News, labeled “silicon jewels,” is a microphotograph of a diatom, a one-celled organism that lives in the sea and builds itself a glass house too small to see with the naked eye.  There are thousands of species of diatoms, each with a unique shell design.  The article has more diatom photos: one that looks something like a bent sombrero made out of a collander with two goblets sticking out, another that looks for all the world like an Indian tom-tom, complete with stitching, and another that looks like a sunflower head complete with Fibonacci spirals (see 11/20/2003 headline).  Others look like sieves, gears, triangles, stars, and many other shapes both common and extraordinary.
    Scientists dreaming of nanotechnology can’t get over the skill of diatoms in glass manufacturing (see 03/19/2002 headline).  Diatoms are inspiring world-wide efforts to probe their secrets, so that engineers can mass-produce useful molecular devices like photonic crystals and lenses (see 01/29/2003 headline), gas sensors, miniature reaction tubes and other microscopic structures of high tensile strength (see 02/19/2003 headline).  Though focused on scientists imitating nature, author Alexandra Goho shares some amazing facts in passing about diatoms:
  • Ecology:  Scientists have long prized diatoms... because they remove large amounts of a greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—from the atmosphere.
  • Glass:  The cell wall of this unicellular organism is made entirely of glass.  More precisely, diatom shells consist of silica, or silicon dioxide, the primary constituent of glass.
  • Art:  Many shells are ornately patterned with features just tens of nanometers in size.
  • Efficiency:  Joanna Aizenberg of Lucent Technologies’ Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., says, “We can think of diatoms as living silicon chips.”  Semiconductor-chip manufacturers carve micro- and nanoscale features out of blocks of electronic and optical materials—a costly and time-consuming endeavor.  Diatoms build structures out of silicon much more efficiently.
  • Throughput:  Once researchers figure out how to engineer useful devices out of diatom shells, they could enlist the reproductive capabilities of diatoms to generate trillions of silica structures in a matter of weeks.  Some species of diatoms can replicate up to eight times a day.  Sandhage says, “For a fairly small number of reproductions, you could get incredibly large numbers of the exact-same three-dimensional structure.”
  • Flexibility:  Diatoms can make just about any structure you can imagine.
  • Technique:  It begins when the algal cell divides, forcing it to split its shell into two halves.  The new cells, each now bearing only half a shell, begin to reconstruct their missing halves by taking up silicic acid—a simple compound of silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen—from the surrounding water.  Each new organism deposits the silicic acid in a compartment called the silica-deposition vesicle.  There, the chemical is converted into silica particles, each measuring about 50 nm in diameter.  These then aggregate to form larger blocks of material.  Researchers speculate that a set of special proteins guides the formation of the silica particles and their subsequent assembly into larger structures.  Hildebrand says that other cellular proteins outside of the vesicle stretch and mold the compartment to shape the silica inside.  Once the half shell is complete, the vesicle merges into the cell’s membrane, exposing the newly created structure.
  • Genome:  Scientists are searching for the protein-coding genes among the diatom’s approximately 11,000 genes....
  • Programming:  Diatoms of the same species consistently form shells with exactly the same pattern, suggesting that the designs are genetically programmed.
  • Catalysis:  Nils Kröger, a diatom biologist at the University of Regensberg in Germany, was the first to identify the silica-forming proteins in diatoms.  The molecules of this class, which he calls silaffins, are unusual among proteins in that many of them have long side chains of organic molecules known as polyamines.  The proteins are also decked out with an assortment of other molecules, including sugars and phosphates.
        When Kröger and his colleagues added silaffins to a test tube containing silicic acid, tiny silica spheres formed in a matter of minutes.  In contrast, a solution of silicic acid without any proteins “can take hours or even days to form hard silica,” says Kröger.... “we don’t completely understand how it works.”
  • Individuality:  Each protein does something different: One produces spheres, one makes porous shapes, and the third forms platelike structures.
        Moving beyond these simple shapes will require a greater understanding of the diatom’s molecular machinery.  What’s more, dozens or even hundreds of proteins may govern the shell-formation process.  Mapping the myriad interactions among all the components could be a daunting task.
  • Green and Clean:  Fabrication of silicon chips and other electronic devices currently requires harsh chemicals and generates much waste.  Diatoms and sponges [see 08/20/2003 headline] know how to produce materials under ambient conditions without these harsh chemicals,” says Aizenberg.  “And yet the end result is the same.”
Goho’s article is seasoned with high praise for the abilities of these miniature factories.  “We’re just scratching the surface” to understand them, says one, and another wants to “harness the power of biological materials.”  But they stand humbled at the creative power of these little organisms:
“It will be impossible to reproduce this process in a test tube because it’s such a complicated cellular process,” says [Mark] Hildebrand [of Scripps Institute].
    [Joanna] Aizenberg [of Bell Labs] adds, “The question is, ‘Will we be able to bridge the gap between what goes on in nature and what we can do in the lab?’”
So how did these tiny one-celled organisms achieve “manufacturing prowess” that makes our best engineers stand in awe? “Nature has been building things on the nanoscale for a long time,” says materials scientist Ken Sandhage of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.  Alexandra Goho ends, “Materials scientists are only beginning to uncover the secrets of this aquatic community of glass-sculpture artists produced over millions of years of evolution.
1Alexandra Goho, “Diatom Menagerie,” Science News, Week of July 17, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 3 , p. 42
Gag!  Choke!  This is like watching a spectacular stage show then being expected to bow to a fat Charlie image at the end.  We were all set to applaud and praise this well-written glimpse into another wonder of nature, a wonder that shouts intelligent design, and then Goho has the gall to say evolution over millions of years produced “glass-sculpture artists” with 11,000 genes, hundreds of which work together in coordinated fashion to build unique, exquisite, precision structures out of glass without pollution or waste of energy.  Unbelievable.  Did any of the scientists present any evidence that evolution could do such a thing?*  No; in line with the stinking habit of the Darwin Party, they merely assumed evolution did it, because they have committed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacrilegious honor to the philosophical belief that there is no God, no Creator, no intelligent Designer.  Their faith forces them to believe the absurd, in spite of the evidence.  This one example should be enough to make any clear-thinking scientist toss Charlie’s figurehead overboard, but thumb through a few more “Amazing” Chain Links below and ask yourself how many other wonders of nature we are asked to believe happened by mindless, chance processes.  Phooey; a wonderful science story was ruined by the last sentence.  So instead of praising this article unequivocally to the tune of This Is My Father’s World, it saddens us to have to sound the Bronx cheer as we hand out another Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week award.
    Enough of that.  Just marvel for a minute at the manufacturing skill of these tiny robotic factories.  God could have made the earth so boring.  He could have provided just enough design to permit survival.  There could be brown sky, brown scum, brown water, and we could all subsist on mud.  He could have fashioned little amorphous sponges to soak up the carbon dioxide and keep Earth from overheating.  Instead, He gave us a superabundance of “useless beauty,” exquisite crystal jewelry filling the seas, a wonder to silently lay undiscovered till the invention of the microscope.  Considering the thickness of diatomaceous earth beds (see 02/02/2004 headline), trying to count the number of intricate glass sculptures that have reproduced themselves by the elaborate preprogrammed process described above would be like trying to count the snowflakes or the stars.  As the Moody Science Classic film Hidden Treasures teaches, diatoms are miniature marvels that should remind us God cares for each one of us.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyGenes and DNAMediaAmazing Facts
*For an example of how Darwinists gloss over the difficulties in explaining how glass-crystal factories could evolve, look at the article by Falkowski et al. in the July 16 issue of Science.  Even though their paper is entitled, “The Evolution of Modern Eukaryotic Plankton,” and discusses diatoms explicitly, they provide not even a hint of a suggestion about how the critters “evolved” the ability to make reproducible glass artwork.  Instead, the article is filled with glittering generalities about alleged diatom phylogeny.  They moan that “the origin of diatoms is more obscure” than the obscure evolution of other phytoplankton.  They groan that “the fossil record is inevitably incomplete.”  In spite of the lack of evidence, they merely assume that diatoms figured out their abilities by themselves: e.g., “diatoms have evolved a nutrient storage vacuole.”  How did they do that?  As usual, they don’t say (see 05/18/2004 headline).  The only weird-science suggestion they can come up with is that the rise of diatoms (in their evolutionary timeline) seems to have coincided with the invasion of land by grasses, and that grasses are more effective at leaching silica from the soil so that it erodes into the sea, where the diatoms need it.  Satisfied?
Plants Are World Travelers    07/20/2004
We think of plants as stationary life forms anchored to the soil, but
National Geographic News reminds us that they have remarkable ways of getting around via seed dispersal mechanisms.  Some fly through the air with parachutes or helicopters, some float in the water, and some rely on animals.  It appears that some exotic species may be vanishing because animals they relied on for dispersal have gone extinct.
A wonderful film that reveals the hidden world of seed dispersal is the award-winning Moody science classic Journey of Life.  This is a must-see nature film.  Follow delicate packages of life as they travel through the air, across oceans and continents, down rivers, through fires, ride on birds and monkeys and cows, roll through the West, explode across the field and even crawl across the soil and drill themselves in the ground.  The time-lapse and slow-motion photography is stunning.  This “sermons from science” film ends with an analogy to another seed spoken of by the Lord Jesus in one of his parables: the word of God.  The film would make a great introduction or conclusion to a local nature hike.
Next headline on:  PlantsMoviesAmazing Facts
Dark Energy Is Embarrassing    07/20/2004
Robert Scherrer is trying to come up with a theory that combines dark matter and dark energy, reports
Space.Com.  “It is somewhat embarrassing to have two different unknown sources for the dominant forms of matter and energy in the universe.  On the other hand, that may just be the way things are.  We don’t get to pick the universe we live in.”
    Yet if he is right, it makes other cosmologists uneasy.  Writer Robert Roy Britt explains, “There is one glaring problem with the idea, which Scherrer admits to.  It implies that we live at a very special moment in time when the energy densities of dark matter and dark energy are roughly equal.  Scientists hate coincidences.”
Cosmologists have been chewing on their two fudge factors, dark matter and dark energy, for years now.  Too much fudge causes truth decay.  The only wise crack in this article is that we don’t get to pick the universe we live in.  If it appears coincidental that our universe is special, deal with it.
Next headline on:  Cosmology
Dinos Found in Spain, Croatia    07/20/2004
Dinosaur fossils continue to be discovered around the world.  The
BBC news hints that surprises may be forthcoming from a new cache in Spain that has yielded stegosaurs, crocodilians and carnivorous dinosaurs, and a pelvic bone possibly from Diplodocus.  On a resort island of Croatia, trackways of titanosaurs have been discovered, reports EurekAlert.  The BBC is celebrating the bicentenary of the British scientist who gave us the word dinosaur, Sir Richard Owen; see Taipei Times story.
Richard Owen was a strident opponent of Charles Darwin, and had more credibility than Darwin in 1859.  Same could be said of Adam Sedgwick, the man who taught Darwin geology.  Darwin was deeply hurt that these two eminent scientists rejected his theory, but his four musketeers (see 01/06/2004 headline) saw to it that their bearded buddha got elevated to the pantheon anyway (see 02/13/2004 commentary).
Next headline on:  Dinosaurs
You Have Motorized Sunscreens in Your Eyeballs    07/19/2004
The pain of walking suddenly into a bright light sets up an amazing reaction, according to
EurekAlert.  An alarm is sent to the fire station in the retinal cell.  There, protein firefighters hop onto a motorized shuttle on the molecular railway, and once firmly attached, are ferried swiftly to the scene of danger.  There, they shut off the energy flow which, if left untreated, could cause temporary blindness.  Here’s how the Johns Hopkins press release words it:
Building on their previous work showing that specific proteins in eye cells are redistributed in response to bright light, the Johns Hopkins team now reports how a key protein called arrestin is shuttled from a “holding area” where it binds and calms a light-detecting protein.  Writing in the July 7 issue of Neuron, the team says arrestin is moved around by a tiny molecular motor, called myosin, which travels along the “train tracks” of the cell’s internal skeleton.
This chemical reaction is separate from the muscular constriction of the iris that also automatically responds to the brightness of incoming light.
Wonder how many lucky accidents it took to put this system together.  Biology is beautiful when you take the Darwin dark glasses off.
Next headline on:  Human BodyAmazing Facts
Blame Evolution    07/19/2004
Men can’t help themselves.  Evolution made them that way.  That’s the gist of a science story on
ABC news.  Accompanied with a picture of rebel without a cause James Dean, it begins, “Research shows that simply being male means you’re more likely to die as a young adult.  Why?  Blame evolution...and pursuit of the opposite sex.”  Writer Amanda Onion cites evolutionary sources to say that evolution has programmed men to compete for access to females and that causes them to live on the edge and die young.
    Another ABC News story explores whether violence in society is increased when there is a surplus of unmated males.
Do you see society becoming more selfish and irresponsible?  Do you see people giving themselves over to lust and passion with utter disregard for the consequences?  Do you see more mindless drivel in the arts and entertainment, less nobility of character and more immediate gratification?  Do you see the downfall of a once noble cultural heritage?  Blame evolution.
    Isn’t this just like the Darwin Party to blame everything but their own theory on our animal past.  Terrorism is caused by a surplus of males, right.  Give me a break.  There were male surpluses in the gold rush and Alaska without it forcing men to fly planes into buildings.  Darwinians never focus on the lies and bad teachings that cause men to do evil things; they want to reduce male behavior to hormonal pressures controlled by instincts inherited from ape ancestry.  This self-refuting approach would undermine their own theorizing if they really applied it consistently.
    Darwinian evolution, called by Michael Denton the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century, is another excuse men use to act like louts and brutes.  You would think feminists would rise up and fight this myth, but they reinforce it by swallowing the Darwin Party line themselves (see 03/31/2004 headline).  The news media, gutless and senseless, chirp it out like cuckoo clocks.  Darwinism isn’t science; it is just another subterfuge men use to shirk responsibility.  Instead of the devil made me do it, or the stars made me do it, it’s Charlie made me do it: blame evolution.  Wives, fight back.  Tell him he didn’t evolve, he was created to be holy and faithful.
    Just as it is a non-sequitur to watch animals and claim we evolved from them, it is a non-sequitur to observe animal sexual behaviors and claim we should imitate them.  You can find any pattern you want in the animal kingdom, from profligate promiscuity to monogamous faithfulness, from sexes that are indistinguishable to extreme sexual dimorphism, from nurturing male seahorses and emperor penguins to rams that bang their heads together to impress the ewes.  So what?  We are humans.
    The Creator made animals and plants as He pleased, with extremes of variety and color in both physiology and behavior.  But He made man in His own image* to bear a special relationship to Him and to reflect His holiness.  He endowed men and women with physical bodies sharing most animal characteristics, including glands, hormones, and reproductive organs for the purpose and blessing of bearing children and experiencing intimate love and pleasure.  Viewed in this way, it should not be surprising that men and women have different attributes, roles, strengths, and weaknesses.  What use is testosterone without a body to respond to it?  Pour it on a rock and nothing happens.  It cannot be understood in isolation; it’s part of a system; it signals the male physiology to be ready for a man to be all God created him to be.  It’s not the problem; it is a gift, to be channeled and used for good.
    If you accept the Darwin Party line, then abandon hope of putting any restraints on male sexuality, even criminal activity, because the perpetrator can turn around and say “Blame evolution.”  The consequences of unbridled lust sanctioned by Darwinism, including the victimization of women and children, has only to be imagined to be abhorred.**  But human sexuality, viewed as designed by a loving and wise God, becomes a beautiful thing.  It gives nobility and purpose to masculinity and femininity.  In a sin-cursed world, coordinating these roles gets sometimes challenging, sometimes entertaining, but human sexuality in the creation worldview is fundamentally respectable and honorable, imbued simultaneously with pleasure and responsibility.  Blame evolution?  No; praise God.
    Evolution rationalizes the basest of instincts; Christianity stimulates the noblest of endeavors.  Men, get out there and use that God-given testosterone to work out, build bridges, fight evil, rescue the perishing, lead the family, teach, work, think, create, and love.  If you fall into the trap of selfish lust, you have no one to blame but yourself.
*Before godly masculinity or femininity can be exercised, the image of God must be regenerated.  Read Titus 3:3-8.
**Abhorrence of evil is a signal of conscience – a trademark of the image of God – and a feature inexplicable by evolution.
Next headline on:  Human BodyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
1400 Genes Essential to Grow a Fish   07/16/2004
A team from MIT scanned the genome of the zebrafish and concluded there are about 1400 genes essential for embryonic and early larval development.  They did hands-on mutation experiments with 315 of these and found that mutations usually produced visible defects within 5 days that were invariably lethal.  Estimating that they had experimented on about 25% of all essential genes, they say, “Our data suggest that there are roughly 1,400 embryonic-essential genes in the fish.”  Comparing these genes with yeast, algae, mouse, human and worm genomes, they found many homologs that indicate these genes are all highly conserved, even though some of them build different structures.  They feel, therefore, that the results help narrow down the class of essential genes required for embryological development of all organisms.  Moreover, they feel these genes constitute an evolutionarily-conserved class in all living things, from yeast to humans:
The fact that there is such a small number of embryonic-essential genes and that they include genes that comprise coherent genetic pathways of development suggests that the genetically essential genes have a unique status in biological processes.  Consistent with this possibility, we found that the yeast or worm orthologues of genes that are essential in fish have a high probability of also being essential in these species.  Thus genes that can be detected in genetic screens, and in particular those that are essential for early viability, seem to have retained this special status through evolution.  The implications of this observation are not known, but we suggest that these genes may be all or most of the genes that are absolutely required for many biological processes whereas most other genes may serve to assist these critical genes in making biological processes more robustEvolution may have required that the number of genetically essential genes be small and that they remain the same genes.

1Amsterdam et al., “Identification of 315 genes essential for early zebrafish development,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403929101, online preprint July 15, 2004.
How on earth can these researchers consider 1400 essential genes a small number?  How can they still believe evolution produced these genes, when mutations in any one of them cause death?  A dead fish larva cannot evolve, because it cannot reproduce.  1400 genes!  Think of it.  Just getting one of them by chance is astronomically improbable, to say nothing of getting the second or third to match the first (see online book, p. 110).  Forget it; it will never happen in this or any other universe.
    By attributing the “special status” of these genes to Evolution, and by claiming that the personified tinkering goddess named Evolution “may have required that the number of genetically essential genes be small,” they are easy winners of Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.
Next headline on:  Genes and DNAMarine BiologyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Haemoglobin More Complex than Thought: Regulates Blood Flow    07/16/2004
Physiologists have long known that haemoglobin, the molecule that adds the redness to red blood cells and carries oxygen to the tissues, releases its oxygen as the blood vessels constrict.  Now, increasing evidence shows that haemoglobin (composed of four complex proteins that surround a central iron atom) is not just a passive oxygen carrier.  It actually works with other substances, including nitric oxide (NO), to regulate the flow of blood by adjusting the dilation of blood vessels, and NO in response can adjust how efficiently haemoglobin can carry oxygen.  This process, still not fully understood, is presented in a Concepts piece by David J. Singel and Jonathan S. Stamler in the July 15 issue of Nature,1 who speak of the “emergent complexity of haemoglobin.”
    Nitric oxide produces dilation of blood vessels.  Apparently it will hitch onto the alpha or beta subunits of haemoglobin depending on the concentrations of oxygen or carbon dioxide present in the blood, acting as a regulator of NO’s activity in dilating the vessels according to need.  For the chemists in the audience,
The disposition and reactivity of NO bound to haemoglobin is thus a function of multiple variables, including the other allosteric effectors of haemoglobin (pH; partial pressure of carbon dioxide, pCO2; partial pressure of O2, pO2) and the ratio of their concentrations to haem.  Changes in conditions can give rise to stark, rather than subtle, linear changes in the distribution of NO reaction products.  This complexity emerges both from the cooperative, nonlinear behaviour of the haemoglobin tetramer and from the branched network of coupled kinetic equations underlying this rich chemistry.
So when you are walking casually in the woods, oxygen outnumbers NO, which binds to the beta subunits, generating production of NO-downstream products, and your blood vessels relax.  When you see the bear and take off running, the binding of NO changes and “contributes to the matching of blood flow to demand under physiological conditions.”  What happens when the bear has you pinned to the ground and is licking your face?
In contrast, when micromolar concentrations of NO arise, as in septic shock, the potential problem of excess S-nitroso-haemoglobin and consequent excessive vasodilation is avoided by sequestering NO on the alpha-haems, which additionally lowers the overall oxygen affinity of the protein.  This chemistry restricts NO bioavailability while enhancing oxygen delivery.
NO works with haemoglobin, therefore, in response to physiological conditions to adjust its ability to carry oxygen, without going berserk under stress.  The authors encourage an “appreciation of the complexity” of this process, because “Emerging evidence [shows] that vasodilation by red blood cells is altered in disease, including heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and diabetes....”  Knowledge of this self-regulating activity “should open a new field of investigation and could potentially change the practice of medicine.”
    A related paper in PNAS2 explores additional biologic activities of NO and its reaction products in blood plasma, and suggests that “high-affinity, metal-based reactions in plasma with the haptoglobin-hemoglobin complex modulate plasmatic NO reaction products and limit S-nitrosation at low NO flux.”  These products coordinate with hormones, endocrine vasomotor function, and NO transport in the blood vessels.
1David J. Stingel and Jonathan S. Stamler, “Blood traffic control,”
Nature 430, 297 (15 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430297a.
2Wang et al., “Biological activity of nitric oxide in the plasmatic compartment,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0402201101, online preprint July 16, 2004.
This wonderful story speaks for itself.  We need to be reminded of how many things have to work exactly right for us to do something as simple as taking a walk in the woods.  Things are not getting any easier for those who believe a long series of mistakes produced the human body, to say nothing of bears and forests.
Next headline on:  Human Body
AIDS Policy: Morality a Casualty at the Intersection of Politics and Big Science    07/15/2004
A news item in the July 15 issue of Nature1 seems to take sides against President Bush’s AIDS policy.  The United States, the largest donor for AIDS prevention and treatment, “is promoting a mantra known as ABC: abstinence, be faithful and use condoms.”  Although it would seem these simple preventative steps would quickly diminish the spread of AIDS (read Colson’s report on the success in
Uganda), Nature instead draws attention to criticisms of the Bush administration’s policy:
This approach was widely castigated in Bangkok, where 17,000 scientists, activists and officials have gathered for the AIDS meeting.  Activists and some researchers are particularly critical of a congressional stipulation that requires one-third of the money allocated to prevention programmes under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to be used for projects in abstinence and monogamy.
    “You’re not doing what countries want or what people with AIDS want,” Gregg Gonsalves of the US activists’ group Gay Men’s Health Crisis told a US official at a panel on 12 July.  “You’re trying to please George Bush’s conservative base.”
A spokesman for the administration tried to deflect some of the criticism by reminding the group that President Bush is not opposed to the use of condoms.  “Condoms are an important part of our overall strategy,” he said.
    Most of the news article focuses on how to get more funding for research on AIDS drugs, not on preventative measures.  An administrator of a nursing school in Botswana claims that public discussion about sex education and condom use is almost impossible in her country, which has the second-highest rate of HIV infection in the world, because “we end up talking to our people in a strange language that they don’t understand.”
1Erika Check, “Aid agencies predict victory for HIV unless cash crisis is solved,” Nature 430, 279 (15 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430279a.
What part about d-e-a-t-h don’t you understand?  Listen to what the gay activist said: “You’re not doing what ... people with AIDS want.”  What they want is: unlimited sin without consequences.  They want to engage in promiscuous relationships, knowing ahead of time the wages of sin is death, but make healthy people pay to find a cure that will allow them to do whatever they want sexually, whenever they want to.  An old cartoon stated it well: a character walks right past the danger sign and falls off a cliff.  On the way down, he is shouting, “free unlimited health care!”
    The liberal nurse is making a racist statement.  She thinks people in Botswana are too backward to understand the meaning of: “If you engage in this behavior, you risk getting this disease; if you get this disease, you will die.”  We think anyone can understand that certain actions can have deadly consequences.  Liberals deny that humans have a moral sense and the ability to make choices.  They think that people, like animals, are just going to engage in whatever sex they want, and there is no way to stop it, so containment and avoidance is futile. 
    With any other incurable, communicable disease, the medical community would certainly put the highest priority on containment and avoidance (consider SARS, mad cow disease, West Nile virus).  But since AIDS overlaps the sexual preferences of some who value their selfish pleasure over safety, and have enough decibels to drown out those with common sense, administrations are threatened to be booted out of office if they don’t throw more money at the problem when containment and avoidance would provide immediate relief.  Let’s apply this reasoning to other risky behaviors:
  • I like to hold skunks and squeeze them, but I don’t like the smell.  Why doesn’t the World Health Organization recognize the pain of my suffering and provide funds for research on treating my nose and clothes?
  • I’m going to drink and drive.  The government should spend money to keep victims out of my way.
  • I demand the right to eat poison mushrooms.  I will march on Washington for more federal spending on antidotes.
  • I like to play in snake pits.  I demand free government health insurance to cover snakebite and cosmetic surgery.
  • I demand the freedom to jump off cliffs.  It’s the government’s responsibility to provide fluffy feather pillows for my landing.
  • I want to drink lots of brown bubbly sugar water.  I demand that Health Insurance agencies support my poor nutritional preferences.*
  • I want to eat processed fats and oils.  I want Doctors to find a cure for damaged arteries, premature aging and neurological problems.*
  • I have smallpox, and demand the right to cough in public, and I will sue anyone who warns the shopping mall that I’m coming.  Instead, the government needs to provide more hospital beds and pain relievers for them.
    *Sent in by a reader.
If you have other examples, write here.  Consider this: in California real estate law, realtors are required to divulge to buyers whether a death occurred in the house, or any other incident took place that might render the house “haunted” (believe it or not).  There is one exception to this rule.  Realtors are forbidden to mention whether a death occurred in the house due to AIDS, unless the buyer asks that specific question point blank.
    Many AIDS victims are truly victims, and HIV is a global health problem that deserves high priority medical research on the treatment side as well.  The plight of millions of orphans left behind demands swift and immediate relief.  But surely, much of the global epidemic could be drastically reduced by a strategy of containment and avoidance.  This should be obvious whether or not one acknowledges that this strategy just happens to coincide with a Judeo-Christian ethic.
    This news story is one of many evidences that Big Science and political liberalism are bosom buddies.  Any news item or editorial in Nature or Science that has occasion to refer to Bush or other conservatives will predictably cast them in a negative light, and will espouse political or ethical positions that are synonymous with those of liberal politicians; see 09/22/2003 commentary.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
London Church School Rejects Creationism as “Rubbish”    07/15/2004
According to a news item on the
Ekklesia website, a new Christian academy in London “which unlike many church schools will operate a truly inclusive admission’s policy” will not be teaching the Genesis account of a six-day creation, “because such a view is ‘rubbish’” according to an administrator.  The Oasis Trust runs educational projects for the government.  Rev. Steve Chalke, founding director of the Oasis Trust, was interviewed for Ekklesia.
Asked whether the academy would advocate the teaching of creationism, which has been taught alongside scientific explanations of how the world came into being at other academies sponsored by Christian organisations, he said: “No.  We will develop an open and honest curriculum and we will not impose our views on anyone.
    “My personal belief is that... those who wish to read into Genesis chapter one that God made the world in six days... are not being honest and scholarly.  It won’t be taught in the school because I think it’s rubbish.  It’s a bizarre thing to claim the Bible suggests that.  Genesis is saying that behind creation is a good God.”
The trust’s charter also prohibits the school from proselytizing or “imposing their view of the world on anyone they work with.”  This article was found on a link from World Net Daily.
Here is where some separation of church and state would do some good.  Wonder what the “reverend” Mr. Chalke does with the tablets of stone written with the finger of God that stated, For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:11).  Anyone who calls that rubbish had better be prepared to take up the issue with the Author.
    This story illustrates that often the most vehement enemies of the Biblical account of creation are not the atheists and Darwinists, but liberal church leaders.  Loving the praise of men, and craving acceptance by the elitist academics, they would sooner call the Word of God “rubbish” than criticize just-so stories of the Darwin Party.  Keep your distance.  He did not send them, but they ran; He has not spoken to them, but they prophesied.  Read Jeremiah’s warning about what the Lord thinks of those who mock His word yet pretend to speak in His name.
    Anyone surprised that this state-church academy values being “inclusive” over being faithful, and disparages evangelism?  The hypocrisy of their not “imposing their view of the world on anyone” is glaring.  You had better believe they are going to impose these views on their students: (1) Tolerate everyone except creationists, (2) Never ridicule anyone except those who believe the Bible at its word; those you can call “bizarre”, (3) Keep people from hearing the good news of the gospel, (4) Treat the word of God as rubbish, (5) Never impose your values on anyone, especially the belief that anything is right or wrong, true or false.  These values will be crammed down their impressionable little throats.
    Ken Ham reports in his July newsletter (watch here for reprint) that while British churches are lamenting apathy and low attendance, creation ministries in the UK are on a roll, attracting enthusiastic crowds of people with lots of questions.
Next headline on:  The Bible
Earliest Bilaterian Fossil Claimed    07/14/2004
Microscopic etchings in rock alleged to be primitive bilaterian fossils have been reported by J.Y. Chen et al. in China.  (Bilateria are organisms displaying symmetry along one axis.)  The report, printed in the July 9 issue of Science,1 dates the fossils at 40-55 million years before the Cambrian.  Erik Stokstad in the same issue2 calls the claim controversial, because not all are convinced they are fossils.  They might be banded mineral crusts.  Chen’s team claims to see evidence of internal structure, including “what appear to be a mouth, pharynx, and gut; layers of mesodermal, endodermal, and ectodermal tissue; body cavities, called coeloms, on either side of the gut; and pits in the soft outer surface that might have contained sensory organs.”  If so, it means “that the genetic tool kit used to assemble more sophisticated body plans was present long before the Cambrian.”  Evolutionists, on the other hand, “had pictured a larger, more complicated beast,” says Stokstad, not oval blobs a fifth of a millimeter long.  Jerry Lipps (UC Berkeley) says that if these are bilaterian fossils, they help tone down the suddenness of the Cambrian explosion.
1Jun-Yuan Chen, David J. Bottjer et al., “Small Bilaterian Fossils from 40 to 55 Million Years Before the Cambrian,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 218-222, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099213].
2Erik Stokstad, “Controversial Fossil Could Shed Light on Early Animals’ Blueprint,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5676, 1425, 4 June 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5676.1425a].
In the new book The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel said that if you represented the entire evolutionary history of life by 24 hours, the Cambrian explosion would last one second.  We are asked to believe that during that one second, most if not all of the major body plans appeared suddenly, without ancestors.  So if these alleged fossils are 55 million years earlier, it adds 11 seconds at most; how much does that help?  Bilateral symmetry is not a simple thing; it requires complex developmental processes from the zygote to the adult.  If all the alleged internal organs were present in this organism, it pushes the origin of a tremendous amount of complexity even farther back in their own time scale.  It does little more than resolve the Cambrian explosion into two explosions separated by only 11 seconds out of 24 hours.  Jonathan Wells has compared the assumed geologic history of earth to a football field, and says the Cambrian explosion represents one step on the 60-yard line.
    It is not clear these incrustations are fossils.  But even if they are, where are all the intermediates linking them to trilobites, sponges, worms and all the other complex animals that appear abruptly in the fossil record?  J.Y. Chen appeared in the film documentary Icons of Evolution.  He said that the history of life represented an “inverted cone” shape, not a branching tree, as Darwin’s theory predicted.  It means that biodiversity was wide at the base and narrow at the top, the very opposite of the expected tree of life.  That is the second major problem with the Cambrian explosion.  To muffle the explosion, Darwinians need to find thousands of transitional forms, not one questionable entry.  They need hours, not 11 seconds.  To score a touchdown from the one yard line, they need a full-field run, not one footstep. 
Next headline on:  FossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Parasitic Worms Regulate Immune System    07/13/2004
Most people will not be ready to stomach a suggestion from the July 9 issue of Science1: parasitic worms can be good for you.  Yikes: what’s next– worm therapy?
    According to Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, evidence is increasing that worms help regulate the immune system, and show promising results for taming inflammatory bowel syndrome and a host of autoimmune diseases.  Ingrid Wickelgren writes,
The idea may sound crazy, but it is buttressed by studies showing that treating mice with eggs, larvae, or extracts of helminths—parasitic worms such as flukes, flatworms, tapeworms, and pinworms—can dampen, and perhaps prevent, allergic reactions, reduce the severity of a multiple sclerosis (MS)-like disease, and block the development of type I diabetes....  Recent data indicate that helminths may protect against disease by invigorating so-called regulatory T cells, which function as the immune system’s police officers and keep it from running amok.  Deficits in or problems with these cells could contribute to many types of immune disorders.
Don’t sign up for Dr. Weinstock’s classes.  Here’s how he experiments: “In a stunt reminiscent of the TV reality show Fear Factor, dozens of unpaid volunteers have recently been gulping Gatorade laced with 2500 live eggs from parasitic worms.”
1Ingrid Wickelgren, “Can Worms Tame the Immune System?”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 170-171, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5681.170].
This is not what Luther had in mind when he went to the Diet of Worms.  As gross at it sounds, this story leads to some food for thought.  Are parasites inherently evil?  Worms can surely lead to some very severe and deadly conditions, with morbid consequences.  This story should never minimize the suffering of those afflicted.  But maybe the problem is not the original concept, but things out of control and run amok.  Maybe in a perfect world some of these things had a function.  It’s when things get out of balance they can get ugly.  For more on this possibility, see the 10/24/2003 headline on maggot therapy, the 06/04/2003 story on bacteria, and the 02/12/2003 headline on toxins in small amounts.
Next headline on:  Health
Is Earth’s Magnetic Field Reversing?    07/13/2004
The
New York Times and World Net Daily have stories about Earth’s magnetic field.  The strength of the field has declined 10-15% over the past 150 years.  If undergoing a reversal, which some physicists say is overdue, it could have profound effects on migratory animals like birds and turtles, and allow more dangerous radiation to hit the Earth’s surface.  New satellites are trying to get better measurements of the collapse of the field.  During a reversal, the field strength drops to zero, then rebounds in the other direction, such that compass needles would point south.
The important thing in these stories is not the long-age claims, which are not subject to calibration without long-age assumptions, but the fact that an objectively measured physical parameter shows a steep and steady decline over 150 years.  This challenges the belief that it has been around for billions of years (see 03/04/2003 headline).
    Scientists do not understand how planets generate magnetic fields.  Why is Earth the only rocky planet with a strong field?  Why are those of Uranus and Neptune so erratic?  Saturn explodes the most popular dynamo models by possessing a strong field without an angle between the rotation axis and the magnetic field axis (the divergence is only 0.2%).  The new measurements of Saturn’s magnetosphere by the Cassini spacecraft should prove interesting.
    Another important thing to know is that life depends on the protective bubble provided by Earth’s magnetic field (see 05/10/2002 headline).  Better hope the collapse doesn’t occur during your beach vacation.
Next headline on:  Physics
Sparrows Do the Long Haul Without Sleep    07/13/2004
During their 2600-mile migrations from Southern California to Alaska, white-crowned sparrows fly day and night without sleep for days on end.  Apparently they don’t have to fly on automatic pilot. 
Science Now tells about a University of Wisconsin psychiatrist who watched captive sparrows during their migratory period.  The birds seemed alert and in no way impaired by the lack of sleep.  See also the summary on EurekAlert.
Some of us, like truck drivers and students, might get more done if we had bird brains.
Next headline on:  BirdsAmazing Facts
Cell Cargo Speeds On Bidirectional Highways    07/12/2004
As reported here numerous times (e.g.,
06/14/2004, 12/04/2003, 04/14/2003, 03/28/2003, 02/25/2003, 12/17/2002, 09/26/2002, 03/26/2002, 02/01/2002, 12/06/2001, 08/17/2001, 06/19/2001, 02/21/2001), cells have an elaborate interstate highway system with molecular trucks hauling cargo back and forth.  Scientists have known that the cellular highways have polarities labeled plus and minus, and that molecular motors typically go one way.  Some motors, like kinesin, drive only in the plus direction, while others, like dynein, go in the minus direction.  Now, it is becoming apparent that most pieces of cargo have at least one of each kind of motor, with a stickshift that allows it to drive in forward or reverse.  The state of our knowledge about bidirectional transport is explored by Michael Welte in the July 13 issue of Current Biology.1
    Welte examines the evidence that many, maybe all, moving cargoes have bidirectional ability.  In the microscope, certain organelles like mitochondria and melanosomes are seen to move back and forth rapidly, eventually making it to their target.  Why is this, and how is it done?  Does the organelle grab motors out of the cytoplasm?  Are both motors working in a tug-o’war?  Welte cites evidence against these possibilities, and suggests (although hard evidence needs to be found), that the cargo carries both motors, and a “complex coordination machinery ... ensures that when one motor is actively engaged with the microtubule, the other motor is turned off.”  Moreover, this coordination machinery, whatever it is, may be under the influence of regulatory enzymes.  “If the coordination machinery can attach to cargo independent of the motors,” he surmises, “distinct variants of the coordination machinery could be targeted to different cargoes, thus allowing cargo-specific coordination and regulation.”
    It seems odd, though, that cargoes would undergo a back-and-forth random walk instead of making a beeline to the target.  Welte figures there must be biological justification for this behavior, so he examines some possibilities:
  1. Economy:  “If cargoes always carry motors for both directions, net transport can easily be adjusted or even reversed by simply tweaking the relative activity of the two motors.  This is likely to be much quicker than assembling a new set of motors on a cargo, and also allows transport to be abruptly altered depending on cellular needs.  It even makes it possible to tune the overall speed of transport by altering the relative contribution of trips in the non-dominant direction.”
  2. Setting Up Polarized Distributions:  “Sometimes it is necessary to set up a distribution rather than to confine the organelles to a single point .... Even if cargoes accumulate at a certain point (e.g. near plus-ends when motion is biased in the plus-end direction), trips in the non-dominant direction will tend to spread the cargoes out along the tracks, away from the point of accumulation.  Modeling shows that by altering the relative contributions of plus- and minus-end trips, a wide range of steep to flat steady-state distributions can be achieved.”
  3. Avoiding Obstacles and Exploring Space:  “As cytoplasmic dynein often steps sidewise to adjacent proto-filaments, a bidirectional cargo could find itself on the opposite side of the microtubule even after a short minus-end excursion.  If it now switches back to kinesin I, it can pass the obstacle.  Bidirectionally moving cargoes should, therefore, be less likely to contribute to disastrous traffic jams .... The random walk of bidirectional cargoes allows a single cargo to explore a large region of cellular space, especially if tracks are disordered.”
  4. Error Correction:  “During unidirectional transport, the critical event that determines directionality of motion is the attachment to either a plus- or minus-end motor.  A wrong attachment will cause misdelivery of the cargo.  During bidirectional transport, the net direction of transport is determined by the balance of plus- and minus-end trips and can, therefore, be continually evaluated and even altered if physiological conditions change.  Thus, bidirectional transport may facilitate error correction.
It must be remembered that these motors are operating in the dark without eyes, like automated railroad cars.  They don’t have sentient drivers on radios, but rather respond to chemical signals in the environment.  Apparently these behaviors achieve the best solution to many complex problems.  “Bidirectional transport by opposite-polarity microtubule motors is just one example of multiple motors working together to achieve carefully choreographed transport,” Welte says, as he concludes with a list of open problems needing further elucidation.
1Michael A. Welte, “Bidirectional Transport along Microtubules,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 13, 13 July 2004, Pages R525-R537, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2004.06.045.
Think of a 12-year-old kid on motorized rollerblades, one foot going forward, the other reverse.  Imagine the tricks he could accomplish (with a little practice) switching from one foot to the other (or the bloody knees as he experiments the first time).  Now make the wheels run on monorails.  Imagine a complex tangle of rails, some blue, some red, going off in all directions, more dizzying than an amusement park roller coaster.  The kid is supposed to put the left foot on the red rails and the right foot on the blue rails (one foot at a time, of course).  Now hand him a package to deliver, and put a thousand other kids on the system going in all directions with packages of their own.  The rails are also in constant motion, some growing and some shrinking.  If the mental picture is becoming too complicated to dwell on further, just realize that something like this is happening in every cell of your body right now.  This intracellular transport system is only a small part of a miniaturized city with many other vital tasks being performed flawlessly.  The transportation system alone has a large infrastructure of support services.  There are linemen for the monorails, pit crewmen for motor repair, traffic cops, construction crews, shippers, receivers and much more, without even considering what the cargoes are and what they do when they arrive.
    The interior of a cell is a whirlwind of constant activity, all necessary just to sustain life.  Rocks do not do this.  Evolutionists may jawbone about these systems emerging from chance and natural selection over millions of years of purposeless motion, but the more we can exhibit the details of cellular perfection, the less plausible their story is going to seem to any rational observer.  This system is crying out for visualization.  The wonder of intracellular transport would come alive if magnified a million times.2
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
2One such animation is available on DVD from Access Research Network.  Its depiction of intracellular transport is incomplete and in some cases inaccurate, but some of the other amazing activities of the cell, including endocytosis, gene duplication and cell division, are good and visually dazzling.
Plate Tectonics Gets Squishy    07/09/2004
Two reports on plate tectonics this week make it seem less like “hard” science.  Over 30 years ago, plate tectonics theory surprised many by going mainstream.  In recent years, however, observations have complicated matters.
    In the July 8 issue of Nature,1 Norman H. Sleep evaluates a paper in the same issue2 that tackles the problem of hotspots.  Regarding “inadequacies in understanding the relative motions between plates,” he comments, “In case you think this has been sorted out to decimal places in the past 30 years, it hasn’t.”  (For background, see
04/02/2004 and 11/04/2003 headlines.)  Sleep praises the efforts of Steinbeck et al. to understand hotspots and fluid motions in the mantle, particularly how the Hawaiian chain could make a sudden turn.  But he ends, “I expect that debate will continue on the relative fixity of hotspots, the rigidity of tectonic plates and mantle dynamics.”
    The Himalayas have been a poster child of plate tectonics theory.  Richard A. Kerr in the July 9 issue of Science3 discusses new satellite measurements around the Tibetan plateau that cast a common assumption into question.  It has long been taught that Mt. Everest and its range were thrust upward to their lofty heights by India crashing into the Asian continent.  New synthetic aperture radar measurements of the Tibetan plateau from the InSAR satellite, however, show much slower movement along faults than expected – like 0 to 7mm per year instead of 30, in one instance, and a factor of 10 lower in another.  Interference diagrams, on the other hand, show the entire region deforming.  Instead of a rigid mass moving between faults “like a watermelon seed between two fingers,” the Tibetan plateau seems to act like a fluid, as if “India were colliding with a water bed.”  Kerr remarks, “For almost 40 years, scientists have recognized that Earth’s ocean floors jostle and slide past one another like enormous rigid plates.  But how well continents fit into this plate-tectonic scheme has been less clear.  Now, satellite measurements of the Tibetan Plateau suggest that when continents go head-to-head in mountain building, they can behave more like unbaked pizzas.”  Another scientist concluded from the new data, “Continental tectonics is not plate tectonics.”  This part of the continent, Kerr says, rather than standing up and fighting, is trying to escape.
1Norman H. Sleep, “Earth science: Kinks and circuits,” Nature 430, 151 - 153 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430151a.
2Steinberger, Sutherland and O’Connell, “Prediction of Emperor-Hawaii seamount locations from a revised model of global plate motion and mantle flow,” Nature 430, 167 - 173 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02660.
3Richard A. Kerr, “Hammered by India, Puttylike Tibet Shows Limits of Plate Tectonics,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 161, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5681.161a].
4Wright, Parsons, England, and Fielding, “InSAR Observations of Low Slip Rates on the Major Faults of Western Tibet,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 236-239, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096388]. 1
Now I’m getting hungry for pizza and watermelon.  Geological fads are like panaceas that cure all the symptoms until the MRI arrives.  Data have a way of spoiling the fun of storytelling.  Some unscrupulous theorists like Charles Lyell fudged data to make it fit their mental pictures of how the world should work.
    When plate tectonics theory became popular in the 1960s, some holdouts complained it was being foisted on them like a new religion.  For example, even as late as 1983, in a popular geology book sold in western National Parks, Donald L. Baars had asked whether the theory was “Geophysics or Metaphysics?”—
The concept of the New Global Tectonics may be liked to a new religion; since hard facts are lacking, if one is not a “believer” one is considered an “atheist” with regard to the many theories and interpretations of the “clergy”—the oceanographers and geophysicists.  Many of the concepts are plausible and exciting, and sometimes they fit the hard geologic facts.  Many times, however, they are contradictory and totally incongruent with known geologic facts, at which time the facts are ignored.  With enough “faith,” every known earth event is compatible with the religion, especially with respect to oceanography.  On land, however, where outcrops and fossils abound, it is often extremely difficult to be a “follower.”  The entire doctrine may in time be proven true, it may be completely disproven by geologists, or a compromise may be reached.  I prefer to think the last possibility is likely. ... [He describes some examples of contradictions.]
    It would require another book to argue fully the pros and cons of plate tectonics theory.  It is obvious at this point that I have not been totally converted to the religion.  That is a matter for individual preference.  You are free to believe as you wish, but please, don’t send missionaries

—Donald L. Baars, The Colorado Plateau: A Geologic History (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1972, 1983, pp. 217-218, p. 219).
No one doubts that various fluids and solids are moving various whichaways down under our feet, at various speeds and in various directions.  But as with many things in science, the phenomena are too complex to reduce to simple models.  What explains one province may not explain another.  A neat global diagram of rigid plates floating on convecting mantle currents makes a nice flannelgraph in Monday School, but what was the Historical Geophysics?  We’ll have to wait and see what happens to this religion.  The lesson is: don’t take the national park diagrams on blind faith.
Next headline on:  Geology
Maybe Neanderthals Were Artists After All    07/08/2004
Revised dating of human bones near figurines has cast an assumption about early humans into doubt, reports
Nature Science Update.  Aurignacian artefacts, like horse figurines and other carved images, have long been thought to be telltale indicators of modern man.  Vogelherd cave near Ulm, Germany was considered the best example, because sandwiched between modern human bones was one of the richest deposits of Aurignacian artefacts ever found.  But now those same bones, earlier dated at 30,000 to 40,000 years old, yielded a more rigorous radiocarbon date of only 5,000 years.1
    The researchers now believe the modern bones represent recent intrusive burials, rather than in situ emplacements of skeletal remains corresponding to the same period as the artwork.  These figurines had been earlier radiocarbon dated at 30,000 to 36,000 years BP (before the present), a crucial era when (according to the most popular theory), modern humans were moving into Europe and displacing Neanderthals.  The new Holocene (recent) dates for the bones thus unravels the best example of a correlation between modern humans with Aurignacian artefacts.  Michael Hopkin laments,
For years archaeologists have clung to the idea that only truly modern humans were artists, and that our Neanderthal cousins spent their entire evolutionary lifetime as boorish philistines.  But fresh analysis of a prized set of human bones has dealt a body blow to this cherished theory.
Anthropologists had thought that the artwork represented the earliest modern human intrusion into Europe during a time the Neanderthals in were in decline.  Now the story is up in the air.  “The discovery leaves experts without a concrete link between art’s origins and modern man,” says Hopkin, and it cannot be ruled out that Neanderthals were the craftsmen.  Whatever the impact, the revised dates ruin the proof that modern humans made the figurines, and “now no one knows the real story.”  In the words of the scientists who published in Nature,
The Holocene age of the human skeletal remains from Vogelherd places the question of who made the earliest Aurignacian in Europe in doubt.  At present the hypothesis that the Neanderthals gave rise to the early Aurignacian, as has been argued by some colleagues including Richter, cannot be refuted.  Additionally, the Danube Corridor model for the early colonization of central Europe by modern humans, although still plausible, can no longer be demonstrated on the basis of associations between modern humans and the early Aurignacian at Vogelherd.  With the new dates from Vogelherd one of the most widely held assumptions of paleoanthropology—that the Aurignacian is uniquely associated with modern humans—seems more uncertain than ever.  These results also create the possibility that the figurative art found at Vogelherd was produced by Neanderthals.  New excavations providing unequivocal associations between human skeletal remains and the early Aurignacian will be necessary to address these issues.

1Conard et al., “Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd,” Nature 430, 198 - 201 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02690.
The finding does not claim that Neanderthals made the artwork, but it removes a prejudice that they could not have because they were too dumb.  Where did that prejudice come from?  It dates way back to Darwin and Huxley, who used Neanderthal man as a prop for the evolution of man.  This one measurement strikes down “one of the most widely held assumptions of paleoanthropology.”  That’s the problem with assumptions: they are assumed, not proved.  They are not scientific results, but rather hunches that stimulate a scientist to pursue a certain line of investigation.  Repeated mismatches of assumptions to measurements should lead an investigator to consider the possibility that he is on the wrong track.  The thing that keeps making paleoanthropologists stumble over each new discovery is the assumption of evolution.  The second stumblingblock is reliance on shaky dating methods.  The measure of persistence in spite of repeated stumblings is a function of the will to believe something regardless of the evidence.
Next headline on:  Early ManDating Methods
Infant Cosmos Was Already Elderly    07/08/2004
At first, they weren’t sure it was real or they were just seeing things.  Now, it’s inescapable.  As far back as cosmologists can see, there were already mature galaxies.  That’s the thrust of two papers in the July 8 issue of Nature1,2 and a commentary on them by Keck Observatory astronomer Greg Wirth3, who says in the subtitle, “The discovery of massive, evolved galaxies at much greater distances than expected – and hence at earlier times in the history of the Universe – is a challenge to our understanding of how galaxies form.”  But then in his opening paragraph it’s hard to disentangle the optimism from the pessimism:
Over the past two decades, astrophysicists have been spectacularly successful in explaining the early evolution of the UniverseExisting theories can account well for the time span from the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago until the Universe began to cool and form the first large structures less than a million years later.  But detailed explanations of how the original stew of elementary particles subsequently coalesced over time, to form the stars and galaxies seen in the present-day Universe, are still being refined.  As they report on pages 181 and 184 of this issue, Glazebrook et al.1 and Cimatti et al.2 have discovered the most distant ‘old’ galaxies yet.  But the existence of these objects at such an early epoch in the history of the Universe seems inconsistent with the favoured theory of how galaxies formed.
According to Wirth, these new studies provide the “first solid evidence” that “as far back as 10 billion years ago there were already many old massive galaxies,” and “it is clear that even the best models can’t fully explain the evolution of galaxies.”  Do galaxies grow much faster than predicted in the hierarchical models, that assume they coalesced from smaller objects?  Or did the stars in these galaxies form “in a substantially different way from our expectations”?  We may have to wait a decade for the next generation of larger telescopes, he concludes.
    Glazebrook et al. found that up to a third of massive galaxies formed within 3 billion years of the Big Bang.  Cimatti’s team found four mature, fully-assembled, massive spheroidal galaxies at redshift 1.6 to 1.9.  They remark, “The existence of such systems when the Universe was only about one-quarter of its present age shows that the build-up of massive early-type galaxies was much faster in the early Universe than has been expected from theoretical simulations.”
1Karl Glazebrook et al., “A high abundance of massive galaxies 3-6 billion years after the Big Bang,”
Nature 430, 181 - 184 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02667.
2A. Cimatti et al., “Old galaxies in the young universe,” Nature 430, 184 - 187 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02668.
3Gregory D. Wirth, “Old before their time,” Nature 430, 149 - 150 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430149a.
Back to the eyepiece; less interpretation, more observation.  If you can’t explain the origin of galaxies or the stars they contain, and if observations are in conflict with the best models, don’t expect anyone to believe the bluff that “astrophysicists have been spectacularly successful in explaining the early evolution of the universe.”  The student doesn’t get to grade his own paper.  (Remember Bob?  see 03/06/2003 headline.)
    See also:  Starbirth “shaky foundation” in the 03/31/2004 headline (“We don’t understand how a single star forms, yet we want to understand how 10 billion stars form”); “time for theorists to panic?” in the 01/23/2004 headline, and “instant galaxies” and 01/02/2004 headline.  Remember the rabbi’s description of “convoluted theories” and “frantic flailings” in the 09/30/2003 editorial?  It’s premature to declare success (see 06/18/2003 headline) when swallowing the theory du jour produces gastrophysics attacks (see 05/02/2003 headline).  Maybe the missing ingredient in current models is information (see 08/14/2003 headline). 
Next headline on:  CosmologyAstronomy
Archaea Have Their Own Proofreading Mechanism    07/07/2004
A team of Yale biochemists investigated a proofreading mechanism in one-celled organisms from the domain Archaea and found it different, but just as effective, as its counterpart in domains Bacteria and Eukarya (the latter including all plants and humans).  Their work was published online in PNAS July 6.1
    The particular instance involved the ability to discriminate between two similar amino acids, threonine and serine, on the molecule that connects the amino acid to the transfer RNA (aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase, or aaRS).  Members of Archaea have an enzyme that bears no sequence similarity, but is “functionally conserved” (i.e., does the same thing), to that of the other domains.  The archaeal gene is “unrelated to, and absent from,” bacterial and eukaryotic genomes.  The authors term this an instance of “functional convergence of unrelated domains” that “assures specificity” of the correct amino acid to the tRNA molecule.  This “appears to be the first aaRS found to use two evolutionarily unrelated editing domains,” they state.  “The functional convergence between the two ThrRS editing domains is highlighted by the observation that both depend on an absolutely conserved set of histidine residues for their function.”
1Korencic et al., “A freestanding proofreading domain is required for protein synthesis quality control in Archaea,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403926101.
For a cell to be able to proofread at all is a profound morsel of food for thought.  How proofreading could emerge by chance is challenge for Darwinian evolution to explain, but for it to have arisen twice by different means is vastly more improbable (see online book).
Next headline on:  Cell Biology
Titan Shows Its Surface to Cassini    07/06/2004
Time to Titan their theories; Cassini scientists are both fascinated and puzzled by surface features coming to light from the first encounter July 2 with Saturn’s large atmosphere-shrouded moon
Titan.  At a news conference July 3, some of the initial findings were unveiled: methane clouds hovering over the south pole, linear dark and light markings (signifying possible tectonic activity), and circular and concentric features that might be related to impacts.  A composite image produced by filters from the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) was released.  Some of the more puzzling features include:
  • No glint of large liquid regions was found (see 10/16/2003 headline).
  • The dark and light areas have opposite compositions than expected.  The light areas, thought to be ice, may be hydrocarbons, and the dark areas, thought to be hydrocarbons, may be the ices. 
  • A huge cloud of neutral hydrogen, bigger than Saturn and its rings, follows Titan around.  The magnetospheric imaging instrument (MIMI) imaged this cloud which consists of molecules stripped away from Titan’s upper atmosphere.
Data should get better and better.  Cassini has 45 targeted flybys of Titan planned.  This one was from 210,600 miles away, but on October 26, Cassini will zoom past Titan from only 750 miles.  Over the coming years, the radar instrument will map most of the surface like Magellan did Venus.  The most adventurous day of all will be the Jan. 14, 2005 landing of the Huygens Probe on the surface.
These findings are consistent with prior observations that are making it difficult to believe Titan has been in its current state for 4.5 billion years.  The atmosphere is eroding quickly and leaving traces of its erosion in the huge cloud that is leaking away.  No large lakes or deposits of hydrocarbons are yet visible.  These preliminary interpretations will await further elucidation from the high resolution data in the flight plan.  Stay tuned.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid    07/06/2004
Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone.  A press release from the
Royal Observatory calls it “Asteroid Alley – an Inhospitable Neighbor.”  Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times the quantity of asteroids and comets as around our sun.  Jane Greaves, the lead scientist, explained the implications of this finding: “We don’t yet know whether there are any planets orbiting Tau Ceti, but if there are, it is likely that they will experience constant bombardment from asteroids of the kind that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs.  It is likely that with so many large impacts life would not have the opportunity to evolve.”
    The press release says, “The discovery means that scientists are going to have to rethink where they look for civilisations outside our Solar System.”  Another astronomer suggests that our solar system may have been swept clean of impactors by a passing star.  Whatever the reason for the difference, Tau Ceti is “clearly a place you would not wish to be,” concludes Ian Holliday, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.
Evolution: always assumed, never demonstrated.  Dinosaur extinction via impact: a media mythoid that persists despite falsifying evidence (see 12/03/2003 and 06/02/2003 headlines).
    Tau Ceti was the darling of astrobiologists who assumed its dust disk was evidence of an evolving solar system similar to ours.  Now chalk up another tally for the Privileged Planet hypothesis (see 06/24/2004 headline).  Even so, these measurements are too indirect to know for sure what it’s like out there at the Whale, without Han Solo to drive us through Asteroid Alley.
Next headline on:  AstronomySolar SystemOrigin of Life
“Domesticated Computer Viruses” Demonstrate Adaptive Radiation   07/04/2004
Lenski and Adami are at it again (see
05/08/2003 headline), attempting to demonstrate Darwinian evolution in the computer with “digital organisms” which they describe as ”domesticated computer viruses”  Their digital organisms are small computer programs with logic functions that can reproduce and respond to mutations.  They reward the ones that evolve with more resources (CPU time and memory).  Last time, the rewards were constant.  “In this study,” by contrast, “we used a configuration in which the reward obtained by a particular organism for performing any logic function declines with consumption of the reward by other organisms.”  Presumably that stimulates what Darwinists term “adaptive radiation,” or rapid speciation when organisms invade a heterogeneous new environment.
    The motivation for this new study was to troubleshoot a Darwinian anomaly: “The explanation for differences in species richness among habitats has been called ’perhaps the greatest unsolved ecological riddle.’”  Assuming that productivity (defined as resource inflow to the system) has the greatest effect on species richness, they ran their simulations to reward productivity and found:
In experiments with evolving digital organisms and populations of fixed size, maximum species richness emerges at intermediate productivity, even in a spatially homogeneous environment, owing to frequency-dependent selection to exploit an influx of mixed resources.  A diverse pool of limiting resources is sufficient to cause adaptive radiation, which is manifest by the origin and maintenance of phenotypically and phylogenetically distinct groups of organisms.
What is a “species” in cyberspace, by the way?  “As our operational definition of species, we use clusters of organisms that all have small phylogenetic distances from one another.  The phylogenetic distance between two organisms is defined as the total number of intermediate organisms (having different genotypes from their parents) along the lines of descent leading to their most recent common ancestor.”
1Chow, Wilkie, Ofria, Richard E. Lenski and Christoph Adami, “Adaptive Radiation from Resource Competition in Digital Organisms,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 84-86, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096307].
Same fallacies (see 05/08/2003 and 05/24/2004 headlines), same irrelevancies, same verdict: dumb (repeat 5x to the tune of Dragnet).  This is not Darwinian evolution, it is (marginally) intelligent design.  Talk about dysteleology; a Panda’s thumb is more sensible than these arbitrary “adaptations”.  They need to read the Dec 4 issue of Nature (see 12/03/2003 headline) before assuming adaptive radiation is real, otherwise their project was nothing more than a rigged demonstration of a fantasy.
    As with most unsolved riddles, the answer is often obvious, but where you least expect it.  Any guesses?
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
— For a new, detailed critique of “digital Darwinism,” see this series by Royal Truman.
Another Hominid Find Rocks the Charts   07/03/2004
Another hominid skull dubbed OL 45500 has been reported in Science,1 a juvenile said to belong to Homo erectus.  Its classification is problematic because it exhibits a mosaic of features rather than fitting neatly into an evolutionary sequence.  The scientists state, “Although the cranium represents possibly the smallest adult or near-adult known between 1.7 and 0.5 Ma [million years ago], it retains features observed in larger Homo erectus individuals, yet shows a distinct suite of traits indicative of wide population variation in the hominins of this period.” 
    Commenting on this report, Jeffrey H. Schwartz in the same issue2 accepts their assessment, but satirizes the process of classifying ancient humans:
But this doesn’t clarify the question, “What is H. erectus?”  One is left primarily with the traditional approach to the genus Homo: H. erectus is not H. habilis, H. heidelbergensis, or H. sapiens, whatever they are.
Schwartz calls Homo erectus a “mythical” classification after reviewing the differences between the finds lumped into the name.  He ends, putting the name in quotes,
Does this exercise clarify the affinities of the new hominid fossil OL 45500?  Not yet.   But recognizing that “Homo erectus” may be more a historical accident than a biological reality might lead to a better understanding of the relationships not only of the Olorgesailie specimens, but also of those fossils whose morphology clearly exceeds the bounds of individual variation so well documented in the Trinil/Sangiran sample.  In the meantime, OL 45500 should remind us that hominid systematics must be an endeavor of testing long-entrenched hypotheses, especially when those who turn to these hypotheses acknowledge them as being problematic.
For more on the controversy over this fossil, see
New Scientist and BBC News.
1Potts et al., “Small Mid-Pleistocene Hominin Associated with East African Acheulean Technology”, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 75-78, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097661].
2Jeffrey H. Schwartz, “Getting to Know Homo erectus,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 53-54, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099989].
New alleged human ancestor overturns previous ideas, adds to the confusion, leads to controversy, spoils the Darwin Party’s story — there is nothing new under the sun.  (See 02/27/2003 and 10/20/2003 headlines for more on Homo erectus.)
Next headline on:  Early Man
Ernst Mayr Recounts 20th Century Evolution Battles   07/02/2004
A leading 20th century apostle of Darwinian evolution, Ernst Mayr, turned 100 recently.  His mind still sharp, he recounted in the July 2 issue of Science1 the battles that led to “Neo-Darwinism” in the 1940s.  Surprising though it may be to some, there was no consensus on speciation, natural selection and other key evolutionary concepts for eighty years since Darwin published his book.  Only in the 1940s did a compromise called the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis satisfy the majority of Darwinians.  Neo-Darwinism still reigns today, despite strong minority positions such as punctuated equilibria and Gaia, along with a number of sects that deny certain aspects of the Synthesis.
    Mayr lays the background of his youthful acceptance of evolution:
Curiously, I cannot pinpoint the age at which I became an evolutionist.  I received all of my education in Germany, where evolution was not really controversial.  In the gymnasium (equivalent to a U.S. high school), my biology teacher took evolution for granted.  So, I am quite certain, did my parents--who, to interest their three teenage sons, subscribed to a popular natural history journal that accepted evolution as a fact.  Indeed, in Germany at that time there was no Protestant fundamentalism.  And after I had entered university, no one raised any questions about evolution, either in my medical curriculum or in my preparations for the Ph.D.  Those who were unable to adopt creation as a plausible solution for biological diversity concluded that evolution was the only rational explanation for the living world.
Nevertheless, he continues, “Even though creationism was not a major issue, evolutionary biology was nonetheless badly split by controversies,” namely, “the causation of evolutionary change and the validity of various theories of evolution.”  These seem pretty all-encompassing.  He describes some of the early battles:
  • Philosophy of science“... the philosophy of science at that time was totally dominated by physics and by typology (essentialism).  This philosophy was appropriate for the physical sciences but entirely unsuitable as a foundation for theories dealing with biological populations....”
  • Sub-issues“...the paradigm of Darwinian evolution was not a single theory, as Darwin always insisted, but was actually composed of five quite independent theories.  Two of these were readily accepted by the Darwinians: the simple fact of evolution (the ‘non-constancy of species’ as Darwin called it) and the branching theory of common descent.  The other three--gradual evolution, the multiplication of species, and natural selection--were accepted by only a minority of Darwin’s followers.  Indeed, these three theories were not universally accepted until the so-called Evolutionary Synthesis of the 1940s.
  • International rivalry“Superimposed on these conceptual differences were others that arose because of the preferences of evolutionists in different countries.  The evolutionary theories considered valid in England or in France were rejected in Germany or the United States.  One powerful author in a particular country often could determine the thinking of all his fellow scientists.
  • Interdisciplinary rivalry“Finally, different evolutionary theories were often favored by scholars in different branches of biology--say, genetics, or developmental biology, or natural history.”
  • Gradual vs. jerky change“We naturalists thought that evolution was indeed a gradual process, as Darwin had always insisted.  Our material provided hundreds of illustrations of widespread species that gradually changed throughout their geographic range.  By contrast, most early Mendelians, impressed by the discontinuous nature of genetic changes (‘mutations’), thought that these mutations provided evidence for a saltational origin of new species.”
  • Biodiversity:  The founders of population genetics accepted natural selection, but “Several historians have mistakenly thought that this synthesis within genetics had solved all the problems of Darwinism.  That assumption, however, failed to take account of an important gap.  One of the two major branches of evolutionary biology, the study of the origin of biodiversity, had been left out of the major treatises of Fisher, Haldane, and Wright.”  Mayr claims that this problem had been solved by European taxonomists.
  • Paradox and schism“Thus, evolutionary biology around 1930 found itself in a curious position.  It faced two major seemingly unsolved problems: the adaptive changes of populations and the origin of biodiversity.”  For instance, “As a student in Germany in the 1920s, I belonged to a German school of evolutionary taxonomists that was unrepresented in the United States.  Our tradition placed great stress on geographic variation within species, and particularly on the importance of geographic isolation and its role in leading to the origin of new species.  It accepted a Lamarckian inheritance of newly acquired characters but simultaneously accepted natural selection as facilitating gradual evolution.  We decisively rejected any saltational origin of new species, as had been postulated by DeVries.
  • Object of selection“The two belief systems had only one inconsistency—the object of natural selection.  For the geneticists the object of selection had been the gene since the 1920s, but for most naturalists it was the individual.  Elliot Sober showed how one could resolve this conflict.  He pointed out that one must discriminate between selection of an object and selection for an object.
Mayr claims that the taxonomists and the population geneticists had solved parts of the problem; all that remained was to get the parties together.  That compromise was achieved by Theodosius Dobzhansky with Mayr’s assistance.  He claims the neo-Darwinian synthesis that resulted has been remarkably stable, even through the discovery of DNA and the revolution in molecular genetics, but part of that stability has been due to enforcement: “At a meeting in Princeton in 1947, the new paradigm was fully acknowledged and it was confirmed again and again in the next 60 years.  Whenever an author claimed to have found an error in the Synthesis, his claim was rapidly refuted.
    In his conclusion, Mayr notes that new battles have arisen over allopatric vs. sympatric speciation, the enormous amount of biodiversity, and non-allopatric genetic mechanisms such as “speciation by hybridization, by polyploidy and other chromosome rearrangements, by lateral gene transfer, and by symbiogenesis.”  He regrets he will not be able to continue exploring the new frontiers of evolutionary biology.
1Ernst Mayr, “80 Years of Watching the Evolutionary Scenery,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 46-47, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100561].
Did you know that believers in natural selection were in the minority in the 1920s, and that many evolutionists believed in rapid, saltational change instead of gradualism?  You heard one of the living legends of Darwinism, Ernst Mayr, say it himself.  Notice how nothing has changed.  Early 20th century evolutionists disagreed on the mechanism of evolution (natural selection, Lamarckism or other) on the pace of evolution (gradual vs. saltational), and on mechanism of speciation.  Those seem like pretty major issues.  How can Darwin’s hunch rise above the status of hypothesis without answers to these questions?  The only things they agreed on were: (1) evolution is a fact, and (2) things change.  The same controversies go on today.  Evolutionists fight over how species split into two, how fast things happen, and the role of natural selection, and other major issues, but they still dogmatically claim that (1) evolution is a fact, and (2) things change.  The first is belief, not science, and the second is too vague to be called science; even creationists acknowledge that things change.  It does not follow that humans had bacteria ancestors.
    Mayr’s account sounds less like a scientific law emerging from the evidence, and more like a victory of two major factions of storytellers over rivals, until they agreed to give a little and meet in the middle (thesis vs. antithesis -> Synthesis).  The antagonists came to a compromise, and hashed out new talking points for the students: “Father Charlie was right about gradualism and natural selection, but Mendel has helped forge an even better story: mutations provide the raw material for variation, then natural selection preserves the fittest.  We will call this neo-Darwinism.”  Students, attracted to anything that is Neo, thought this was cool.  The official sound bite for reporters became, “We may have some disagreements about the mechanism of evolution, but all scientists agree evolution is a fact.”  These short, glittering mythoids sufficed to keep most peasants compliant.
    Those interested in the relation of Mendel to Darwin will find this paragraph interesting:
When Mendel’s laws were rediscovered in 1900, there was widespread hope that they would lead to a unification of the conflicting theories on speciation.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the three geneticists most interested in evolution--Bateson, DeVries, and Johannsen--were typologists and opted for a mutational origin (by saltation) of new species.  Worse, they rejected gradual evolution through the natural selection of small variants.  For their part, the naturalists erroneously thought that the geneticists had achieved a consensus based on saltational speciation, and this led to a long-lasting controversy between the naturalists and the early Mendelians.
Long-lasting, all right; it was about 47 years after this “rediscovery” of a 33-year old paper (70 years total) before the Darwinians found a way to incorporate Mendel’s inconvenient laws of discrete inheritance into their story.
    Textbooks present Darwin as if his ideas were so intuitively obvious that late 19th century scientists instantly saw the light and embraced it, and lived happily ever after.  As we know from frequent reports on Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory in these pages, controversies still rage about the mechanisms of evolution, the pace of evolution, the mechanism of speciation and the origin of complex structures.  Nothing has advanced except the power of the Darwin Party to enforce their views.
    How tragic to hear that the Reformation was dead in Germany by the time Mayr went to school.  The country where Martin Luther had taken his brave stand on the Word of God had cast off its heritage for a radical revolutionary, Ernst Haeckel, who replaced it with the Word of Charlie.  The early Protestant reformers had the will to withstand the Catholic counter-reformation, but their heirs, asleep at the switch, let the Darwinian revolution take over with hardly a word of protest.  So now the revolution has become the mainstream, controlling the propaganda outlets, the universities, the schools and the official creation myths of the culture.  The rallying cry for the Darwinian revolution is “just-so storytelling by faith, not by lab work.”  Instead of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the official anthem is (to the tune of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow), “We all take Charlie for granted (3x), which nobody can deny.”  Try to deny it and face the wrath of the counter-reformation (see 08/19/2003 headline).
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Cassini Watches Explosion in Saturn’s E Ring   07/02/2004
Something strange happened in the E ring of Saturn last January.  The incident is forcing scientists to conclude the ring cannot be very old.
    The E ring is the broad, extended ring that extends from Mimas to Rhea (
click here for diagram), over three times as broad as the main ring system but much more diffuse.  It reaches its maximum density at the orbit of Enceladus.  This fact leads Cassini scientists to anticipate finding ice geysers on the moon when Cassini flies by it at close range next March.
    Dr. Don Shemansky reported at a news conference today that the Cassini UVIS instrument (ultraviolet imaging spectrograph) measured a surge in atomic oxygen coming from the E ring.  Measurements beginning in December showed a sudden rise in oxygen in late January that dissipated by April.  Apparently a collision in the ring ionized water molecules among the icy particles.  Electrons in the plasma sheet around Enceladus quickly recombine with these ions, forming neutral atoms which are swept into the vacuum, eating away the ring.  With evident surprise, he told the press that this one incident resulted in a mass loss equal to the total mass of micron-sized particles in the entire E ring.  Extrapolating backward, assuming this event was not atypical, he calculated an upper limit of 100 million years for the lifetime of the ring.
    Dr. Larry Esposito said later in private conversation that the incident may have been caused by two large bodies colliding within the ring.  He estimates such an event could occur once every 4 to 10 years; if so, it was a fortuitous circumstance for Cassini, at the start of its 4 year tour, to witness the event.  Whatever happened, it was abrupt, severe, and short-lived.
    In the press conference Q&A, Dr. Shemansky, noting the bland expressions in the audience, said he must have understated the “spectacular nature” of this discovery.  So he repeated it, with emphasis: the mass quantity lost in the event was equal to the total mass of all the micron-size particles in the entire E ring – in just four months.
    A press release and image can be found at the Cassini website.
Update 07/11/2006: the source of the oxygen is the moon Enceladus, which is erupting water out of its south pole.  See the 07/11/2006 and 11/28/2005 reports.
This discovery adds to others that have led most ring scientists to conclude that planetary rings must be young.  A hundred million years sounds like a long time, but is a mere blink of an eye compared to the assumed age of the solar system (about one fiftieth of 4.5 billion years).  Notice that they did not say the ring is 100 million years old, but that it could not be older than that.  To believe it is much younger is reasonable in light of the evidence; it would seem a stretch to imagine an E ring many orders of magnitude thicker millions of years ago.  Today the E ring is tenuous and mostly composed of fine particles.  A much more massive E ring would seem to correspond to an epoch with more impactors flying around, resulting in exponentially faster erosion.
    This age limit is not a problem for those who believe the solar system was created recently.  It is only a difficulty, an anomaly, a surprise, a puzzle for those locked into a mindset that the earth, and life, evolved slowly over vast periods of time.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
Cell Technology Celebrated   07/01/2004
Humans are just beginning to imitate the manufacturing techniques cells use all the time, right under our noses.  A book just came out about the subject, entitled Bionanotechnology: Lessons from Nature by
David S. Goodsell.  It’s hard to tell if Christof M. Niemeyer was more impressed with the book or with the living machines themselves, in his review in the July 1 issue of Nature.1  He writes,
Nanotechnology is perfectly realized in biological systems.  Cells are essentially biological assemblers that build thousands of custom-designed molecules and construct new assemblers.  In Bionanotechnology, structural biologist David Goodsell describes what biology can teach us about engineering and manufacturing at the nanometre scale.
Small wonder,” reads a caption whimsically; “antibodies ... are just one example of the way nature uses nanotechnology.”  Niemeyer mentions a few more examples of “the composition and structural principles of biomolecules harnessed in the cell”—
  • the machinery of DNA transcription and translation
  • biomolecular motors
  • the information-driven synthesis of biological molecules
  • the energetics and regulation of biological processes
  • the traffic across membranes and signal transduction along them
  • the interplay of myosin and actin filaments within the muscle sarcomere
Although the book focuses on how humans can tinker with this biological nanotechnology, reviewer Niemeyer enjoyed every page of this “fascinating journey.”
1Christof M. Niemeyer, “Living Machinery,” Nature 430, 20 (01 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430020a.
Here is a book that had no need for the E word, but plenty of occasion for the word design.  The only evolutionary reference was to directed evolution, a misnomer referring to intelligently-guided sorting and artificial selection of mutants (see 06/16/2004 headline.)
    Any Darwinite who would be called on to explain how nanotechnology was “perfectly realized” in a cell that can assemble “thousands of custom-designed molecules” including “new assemblers” would probably rather call in sick (see 06/14/2004 commentary.)
    The review accidentally mistyped the author“s name as “Godsell.”  God doesn’t sell His technology; he gives it to you for free.  That’s the lesson from nature.  Good sell.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design
Saturn Runs Rings Around Cassini    07/01/2004
“Shocked” was how Carolyn Porco, lead Cassini imaging scientist, described her initial reaction to new pictures of Saturn’s rings.  Precious images began to pour in early July 1 from science observations right after the previous night’s perfect orbit insertion maneuver (see
06/30/2004 headline).  Even though the imaging team had been confident in the capabilities of Cassini’s cameras, Porco said she was surprised to be so surprised at the clarity and beauty of the results.  The spacecraft was as stable as a tripod as the narrow-angle camera snapped 61 sharp photos of the rings at closer range than ever before.  Portions of all the major rings – C, B, and A, along with the F ring and the Encke, Keeler and Cassini divisions – were photographed.  The highest resolution images were taken on the backlit side of the rings.  After the second ring plane crossing, Cassini turned and imaged the sunlit side for a few frames from a greater distance.  Though unable to resolve individual particles, Cassini’s CCD cameras detected remarkable structural detail:
  • The C ring was the most featureless of the rings, as expected.  (Note: horizontal lines are artifacts of noise not yet removed from the raw images.)
  • The B ring was the most opaque, also as expected, but showed vivid bands and fine ringlets.
  • The Cassini Division is filled with material, not an empty gap as seen in amateur telescopes.  Infrared measurements showed this material to contain more dirt than the main rings, which are composed almost completely of water ice; a press release states that the dirt resembles material seen on Phoebe.
  • The A ring had many classic examples of waves.  Density waves are longitudinal waves caused by orbital resonances with moons; they showed damping away from Saturn.  Spiral bending waves are transverse waves generated by interactions with the inclined moon Mimas; these showed damping toward Saturn.  One image showed both wave types in the same frame.  Another image showed fine structure that Porco described as “straw” in appearance; as yet, she could offer no explanation for what must be fine-scale clumping.
  • The Encke gap revealed the previously-imaged scalloped edge in beautiful detail.  The scalloping is a wake induced by the embedded moonlet Pan.  The image was so surreal that Dr. Porco thought at first her team must have been tricking her with a simulation.  Ringmaster Jeff Cuzzi also was stunned and taken by the beauty and clarity of this image, and how it so perfectly demonstrated the wave processes theorists had predicted.
  • The F ring showed several strands, and streaks of material being pulled toward the shepherd moon Prometheus.  The sunlit side of the F ring showed several bright strands with diffuse material between them.
  • Contrary to expectations, no ring “spokes” were yet seen by Cassini like the Voyagers saw 23 years ago.  JPL scientists are speculating the spokes are a seasonal phenomenon that appear when the sunlight hits the rings at a steeper angle.  The cosmic dust analyzer instrument did detect dust particles coming from the rings, however, which might be related to the spoke phenomenon.
  • Ultraviolet measurements showed that the Cassini Division and Encke Gap both have dirtier material than the main rings (see Space.Com).  This unknown material resembles the spectral characteristics of Phoebe.  The UV images were color-coded in dazzling patterns of maroon and turquoise like black-light posters.
Infrared measurements revealed that the rings are almost 99% water ice, higher than the 98% previously thought.  This argues against the rings having formed from the breakup of a rocky body.  Dr. Roger Clark (USGS), in answer to a reporter’s query whether ring particles might have rocky cores, answered in the negative; repeated collisions would have uncovered any rock remnants that the Cassini VIMS instrument would have detected.  The ring particles are almost pure water ice.  Differences in colors of the main rings come from a small proportion of contaminants.  Each main ring also has a distinct particle size distribution, temperature, density and thickness.
    Additional findings from other instruments such as the ion and neutral mass spectrometer and plasma spectrometer should be announced soon.  At a lecture a few hours after the images came down, ringmaster Andre Brahic explained that a few of these features match predictions from known physical processes exactly, but there is more structural detail seen than scientists can explain.  There are gaps without known moons to create them, for instance, and some predicted gaps cannot be found.
    Disk features like Saturn’s rings also show up on larger scales, like dust disks around stars, and the star-studded disks of spiral galaxies.  Understanding the rings of Saturn, therefore, can shed light on the dynamics of stars and galaxies.  Brahic cautioned against simplistic extrapolation of ring physics to large-scale disks, however, since there are significant differences between them, such as mass, viscosity, magnetic field effects, charge, velocity, gravitational influences, external influences, and composition.
    Many more ring observations will be taken over the next four years, including occultations by the radar and ultraviolet instruments that will provide even finer detail on the density and structure of the rings.  It’s clear already, however, that one day’s worth of data will keep scientists busy for years getting their models to match these exciting new observations from the ringed planet.
Brahic also stated that most ring scientists accept the notion that the rings are far younger than the solar system (assuming the rarely-challenged date of 4.5 billion years).  He said he preferred not to believe that for personal, not scientific, reasons.  He finds it hard to believe that the rings just appeared in time for humans to observe them.  Most of his energetic, humorous and informative talk concerned how resonances, collisions and interactions could induce the structures seen – which is fine, because those are all ongoing effects of present-tense, observable processes.  But how can these delicate features remain stable for long ages?  A shepherd can keep the sheep in line only so long if wolves are routinely picking them off and no new sheep are being added.  Brahic did not dwell on how ring material could be replenished during billions of years of gas drag, light pressure, collisional spreading, micrometeorites and ionic sputtering, though he acknowledged these destructive processes are at work in the rings.  This is a clear case of wanting to believe something without evidence, even in spite of the evidence.  Enjoy the rings in the age of man, because they are going, going, gone.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemPhysicsDating Methods


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Featured Creation Scientist for July


Joseph Henry
1797 - 1878

Question: Which of the following institutions is led by a born-again, Bible-believing Christian who prays for guidance and accepts the Biblical creation account as true?

  1. Smithsonian Institution
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science
  3. Princeton University science department
  4. National Academy of Sciences
If it’s the 19th century, it is “all of the above.”  These distinguished positions were held by one man: Joseph Henry.  Remarkably, these honors are less important than the scientific contributions made by one of America’s foremost early scientists.

1. Smithsonian.  Joseph Henry was the first Secretary and Director of the Smithsonian in 1846.  (James Smithson, a British scientist, had established in his will that his estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  By the time of the appointment, in his fifties, Henry was considered one of America’s leading scientists, and well deserving of the honor.  His work helped build the reputation of the Smithsonian as a world class institution of science, history and art (for background, see the Smithsonian website, particularly the part about Joseph Henry).
    During his tenure at the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln on the use of ironclad ships, served on numerous governmental advisory boards, began projects that led to the establishment of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and encouraged the building of Lick Observatory in California.  He built a telegraphic network for monitoring weather around the country.  He projected the sun’s disk onto a white screen and discovered that sunspots are cooler than their surroundings.  He did much to put the Smithsonian on a strong footing and to promote the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge.  Today, the Smithsonian is the largest complex of museums in the world.

2. AAAS.  In 1848, Joseph Henry was a founding member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Though known today for its pro-Darwin advocacy and anti-creationism, several of the founding fathers, including Henry, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Silliman and James Dwight Dana were Bible-believing Christians.

3. Princeton.  Joseph Henry was a distinguished professor at Princeton University from 1832 to 1846.

4. NAS.  Henry was an original member of the National Academy of Sciences and served as its second President from 1868 till his death in 1878.

Now that his credentials are beyond question, who was Joseph Henry, and what did he believe?  Henry has been called the “American Faraday,” because like Michael, he was raised in poverty yet became a great scientist.  Similarly scatterbrained as a boy, without a clue to the direction his life would take, Henry discovered the world of science by reading books.  Like Faraday, he had a mind that could tackle a problem methodically and reduce ideas to their basic simplicity.  Henry’s Smithsonian rivaled the prestige of Faraday’s Royal Institution.  Even more coincidental, his discoveries overlapped those of his British counterpart.  In fact, when Henry met Faraday in 1837, he taught him a thing or two about electricity.  He did a demonstration of self-induction to Faraday and Wheatstone that led Faraday to clap his hands in delight and exclaim, “Hurrah for the Yankee experiment!” (Wilson, p. 63).

Joseph Henry had a penchant for making important scientific discoveries for which others got the credit.  He actually discovered electromagnetic induction before Faraday, but because Faraday published it first, history rewards him for discovering this most important principle that, according to the IEEE, “practically created electrical engineering.”  Priority in discovery was a big thing to a scientist then, as it is now; finding out a European had beat him to the press was a deep disappointment to Henry, something he regretted the rest of his life.  But he was such a perfectionist, and had been so busy with his teaching responsibilities at Princeton he had not had time to publish the discovery till the following summer vacation—too late.  He almost gave up publishing his electromagnetic experiments at all.  If it hadn’t been for Benjamin Silliman’s encouragement, history might have lost the record of the American scientist’s discoveries.

Added to that, he anticipated Samuel F. B. Morse by at least five years by creating the electromagnetic relay and constructing a telegraph with it.  He even shared it with Morse and Wheatstone (inventor of the British telegraph), and they both used it, and got the credit for inventing the telegraph.  As if that were not enough, he essentially discovered the transmission of radio waves half a century before Hertz did, and had made a statement before Maxwell that the propagation of electricity through space was identical to that of light.  Because these discoveries were published late in obscure journals, he seemed doomed to be the overlooked winner watching others get the blue ribbons.  If for nothing else, he is credited with the discovery of self-induction (the magnetic effect of a current on itself), and the unit of induction – the henry (plural, henries) – was named after him.

In spite of his prestigious appointments later in life, recognition for Henry’s fundamental contributions to electromagnetism was a long time in coming.  Even today he is lesser known than his peers.  Mitchell Wilson wrote that much of the knowledge that bridged Benjamin Franklin’s experiments and James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory was gathered by one man—Joseph Henry, in the 15 years between 1829 to 1844.  Why was he not recognized?  To the Europeans, he was ignored because he was an American; to his fellow Americans, “his friends mistook his scientific idealism for lack of the American spirit.”  Wilson continues, “Not until after he was dead and the contemporaries of his youth were gone did younger men realize that he had been a giant and that the considerable fame he had achieved during the latter half of his life had been for the least of his works.”  The Smithsonian is trying to correct these oversights through its Joseph Henry Papers Project, where some of his writings are being published; they even cataloged items named after him, such as the Henry Mountains in Utah, the SS Henry Liberty ship and Cape Henry at the North Pole.

Joseph Henry was born into a Scots Presbyterian family of little means, and held strong religious beliefs, according to a book review printed in Nature 30 April 1998.  As to his beliefs and character, some quotes found on the Smithsonian’s Joseph Henry Papers Project provide glimpses:

— If we act conscientiously and faithfully, endeavouring before God to do our duty, the result in the long run cannot be otherwise than good.

— ...he has not lived in vain who leaves behind him as his successor a child better educated morally, intellectually, and physically than himself.

— I am a sensitive man, perhaps nervously so, and though I have not been insensible to the value of true fame, and have striven to connect my name with the history of the science of this country, I have shrunk from notoriety and have neither coveted nor sought popular applause.

— God has created man in his own intellectual image, and graciously permitted him to study His modes of operation, and rewards his industry in this line by giving him powers and instruments which affect in the highest degree his material welfare.

— How short the space between the two cardinal points of an earthly career, the point of birth and that of death; and yet what a universe of wonders are presented to us in our rapid flight through this space.

— Let the fact be constantly before our minds not to lessen our interest in the affairs of this life but to render us less anxious as to the events of this world whether they turn out for our advantage or not or how long we may be permitted to remain on Earth.  Let us put our trust more fully than ever in Him who will order all things for the best who put full reliance on Him.

— Let us labor like servants who are certainly and shortly to give an account of their stewardship diligently seeking to know our duty and faithfully and fearlessly strive to do it; constantly mindful of the fact that nothing but purity of heart is acceptable to God and that we are constantly in his presence and known to him are all our thoughts and intentions however they may be hid from our fellow men.

— The great object of the Bible is the revelation of moral, not physical truth, and that of Physical Science the discovery of physical law, not moral precepts.

— Again when we pass from the phenomena of life to those of mental and moral emotions, we enter a region of still more absolute mystery, in which our light becomes darkness and we are obliged to bow in profound humiliation, acknowledging that the highest flights of science can only reach the threshold of the temple of faith.

— Knowledge to be converted into wisdom must be made our own.

More than a thousand words could, this anecdote found by Henry Morris (Men of Science, Men of God, p. 49) speaks volumes about Joseph Henry, the man:
“He was also a devout Christian, making it a regular practice to stop, to worship God, and then to pray for divine guidance at every important juncture of the experiment.”


Mitchell Wilson, “Joseph Henry,” Scientific Genius and Creativity, Readings from Scientific American (W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, 1952, 1987), ch. 8.

Henry Morris, Jr., Men of Science, Men of God (Master Books, 1988), p. 49.


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

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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