Creation-Evolution Headlines
September 2004
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Just as I can’t believe that there was a Creator, I can’t believe that this all happened by chance, which implies there was a Creator.  So you see I’m in a completely hopeless bind, and I’ve stayed there.
—Robert Jastrow, lifelong scientist and author of God and the Astronomers, in an interview for the Q&A portion of the new film The Privileged Planet.
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Cosmologist Squirms at Thought of Fine-Tuning   09/30/2004
Lawrence Krauss (Case Western Reserve U, Ohio) meant to talk about prospects for distinguishing between sources of so-called dark energy, the mysterious force that appears to be accelerating the expansion of the universe.  But in the process, he opened his soul and revealed feelings, dreams, and nightmares.  First, he states the problem:
Dark energy is perplexing.  Physical theory currently has no explanation of why the energy of empty space should be precisely zero (quantum-mechanical effects combined with relativity in fact predict quite the opposite).  But it also gives no explanation of why that energy should not instead be so huge that it would dwarf all of the energy in anything else (making galaxy formation impossible).   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The measured value for the cosmological constant hovers around exactly -1.  That is far from huge, but not zero.  Sounds like we a fine-tuning problem here.  Krauss would rather find a theory that predicts why the universe has to be the way it is.  If dark energy, whatever it is, appears to be due to a finely tuned value for the cosmological constant, we are stuck with explaining how we became so lucky to have another precisely fixed cosmic parameter that, if changed, would rule out life, because it would rule out galaxy formation.  He takes some comfort in the work of Kunz et al. who are looking for other sources for the dark energy.  If he fails, the thought of this “ big problem in cosmology lurking on the horizon” gives Krauss nightmares:
Thus, some of us wake up in the middle of the night worrying that the discovery of dark energy may put cosmology on the same footing as particle physics, with all of the data that have come in over the years pointing consistently to exactly the same set of cosmic parameters, but without revealing any smoking-guns that could direct us to a fundamental theoretical rationale for why the data take these values.  I have even made a bet with physicists Stephen Hawking and Frank Wilczek that this will happen (then, even if my worst nightmare turns out to be true, I will at least get a few bottles of wine out of the bargain).  On the other hand, perhaps the cross-comparison of present and future cosmological observations, along the lines proposed by Kunz et al., will yield some new handle on this slippery problem.  In that case, I might lose my bet, but the ‘golden age’ of cosmology would persist.

1Lawrence M. Krauss, “Cosmology: What is dark energy?”,
Nature 431, 519 - 520 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431519b.
Atheists would rather get drunk than face the prospect that they live in a finely-tuned universe, created on purpose by an all-wise, caring, intelligent Creator.  Fear not, Dr. Krauss; the sober life brings more ultimate satisfaction.
Next headline on:  Cosmology
PBS Airs Another Evolution Series: Origins    09/29/2004
PBS NOVA aired its latest installment on evolution, a 4-hour miniseries entitled
Origins, on September 28 and 29.  The website hype describes it as follows:
Has the universe always existed?  How did it become a place that could harbor life?  What was the birth of our planet like?  Are we alone, or are there alien worlds waiting to be discovered?  NOVA presents some startling new answers in “Origins,” a groundbreaking four-part NOVA miniseries hosted by dynamic astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.  Tyson leads viewers on a cosmic journey to the beginning of time and into the distant reaches of the universe, searching for life’s first stirrings and its traces on other worlds.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The series has four parts.  Our reaction is added in green after each synopsis.
  1. Earth Is Born.  This episode describes the assumed first billion years of our planet.  “Bombarded by meteors and comets, rocked by massive volcanic eruptions, and scoured by hot acid rain, the early Earth seems a highly improbable place for life to have taken root.  Despite such violent beginnings, scientists have found new clues that life-giving water and oxygen appeared on our planet much earlier than previously thought.”
    What this series lacks in evidence it makes up for in animation.  The visuals of the first two episodes consisted primarily of computer animations and interviews with Darwinian storytelling scientists, interspersed with irrelevant shots of them appearing to do some real lab work.  Episode One is just a higher-tech version of Disney’s old Fantasia myth (not the dancing hippos, but the early earth).  Notable in “Earth Is Born” was a repeating theme that new discoveries have recently overturned long-held ideas, especially uniformitarianism.  That’s a good lesson, if they would just apply it to the current tale-telling and plan ahead.
  2. How Life Began.  This episode describes organisms living currently in extreme environments, and claims “The survival of these tough microorganisms suggests they may be related to the planet’s first primitive life forms.”
    As expected, this episode was an illustrated liturgy of the usual astrobiological mystery religion, carefully shielded from critical scrutiny.  The novitiates are instructed in the tenets of the faith: comets brought our oceans and the building blocks of life, the first life “emerged” in extreme environments, bacteria invented photosynthesis, the “great liberator,” which gave us our oxygen atmosphere and made complex life possible, leading to “immense colonies of green slime which would take over the world.”  They even gave prominent press to the old Miller experiment, the “useful lie” that gave naturalistic abiogenesis a shot in the arm (see 05/02/2003 headline).  This is so retro.  The dramatic footage of sparks and bubbling chemicals was no match for the quick disclaimer that scientists debate the “recipe” for life and when it occurred.  Big Lie of the Episode: “When you get the recipe right, it goes, and it goes quickly.”  (How quickly?  Read our book).  Over and over, the Darwinists repeated their surprise at how quickly life “emerged” and evolved on the early earth despite all the meteor bombs, and the “hellish” conditions under which it arrived and thrived.
        The pretentious air of this series borders on goofy, with its 1960-era sci-fi sound effects, hushed undertones and gimmicky cartoons.  Tyson’s phony dramatic delivery gets tedious real fast, especially with lines like “the building blocks of life arrived special delivery – from outer space!” and “photosynthesis: a clever invention; once it started, it was a runaway success.”  One can only hope this childishness will backfire on today’s precocious youngsters (especially home schoolers).  Maybe this series will be useful some day, to demonstrate what certain mad scientists believed in the early 21st century.  Young minds who don’t know better (especially some public schoolers) should be inoculated against raw propaganda and non-sequiturs like since life is found today in extreme environments, it must have evolved there.  Best give them a chance to learn basic logic first.
        Any scientific evidence presented in this series was irrelevant to the story line; every bit of it has been contested by other evolutionary scientists, as reported right here in these pages for four years now (follow the “origin of life” chain links to get a higher education than you will get by watching Origins).  Evolutionary theory, from earth science to abiogenesis to human evolution, is a string of just-so mythoids glued together with irrelevant factoids.  Once in awhile you catch them admitting it: yes, the deuterium to hydrogen ratio in comets differs from that in the oceans, so maybe Earth’s water was not delivered by comets (sure makes a good animation, though).  Yes, the origin of life is an “astonishing mystery that we don’t understand,” and the “leap from non-living chemicals to a living cell is staggeringly complex” (but that Miller experiment looks so cool, so Frankenstein).
        The myth, concocted in Fantasyland, thrives in Tomorrowland.  It’s not finding the answer, it’s wishing upon a star that matters.  Evolutionists, like Coronado on his quest for the seven gold cities, want to keep the dream alive, always out there around the next bend.  They rationalize their government-funded research as an adventurous quest to answer the great questions, to discover the secrets to our origins: which, being interpreted, means, they haven’t got a clue.  No matter; it’s not a product, it’s a process.  The goal, explaining everything without a Creator, must remain forever out of reach.  So Origins gives us process, becoming, futureware, unfulfilled promises, bluffing and dreams.  At every turn are the faith words: maybe, may have, perhaps, likely, controversial, debated, appears to, think, believe, seems like, could be, coulda, woulda, mighta.... Science?  No; mystery religion.  Its worship services are arrayed in glittering generalities, icons, reveries, and beatific visions of personified molecules lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps and wishing their way to manhood.
        If you watch reputable design-centric presentations like the Illustra Media films, you will see a fair and balanced presentation of both sides.  Creationists have debated the world’s leading evolutionists toe to toe on college campuses, and even against the home field advantage have usually won because they know more about the opposing view than its advocates do themselves.  But to its gross dishonor, nowhere does Origins even hint at a suggestion that any serious scientist or philosopher ever doubted naturalism or seriously considered that the orderliness of creation pointed to a all-wise Creator.  Tyson whimsically dismisses the straw man of Van Helmont’s 17th-century “recipe for life” (spontaneous generation of mice from wheat), totally ignoring millennia of the world’s greatest thinkers and scientists who have defended the view, with detailed logic, scientific evidence and refutation of counter-arguments, that life was designed.  This omission is so glaring, it is utterly inexcusable in a supposed educational “science” program.  Van Helmont’s spontaneous generation is more akin to today’s origin-of-life theories than to any credible design position.  It was Darwin and his disciples, not the creationists, were disappointed when Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation.
        Moreover, the first two episodes seemed to go out of their way to portray a world opposite the view of Bible-believing Christians and Jews, showing animation after animation of hellish lava and meteor impacts, stating emphatically, “early Earth was not a garden of Eden.”  Ignoring and dismissing any hint of a good or purposeful creation, it presented irrational beliefs dogmatically as fact: “life did arise from nonliving chemicals,” and “for over a hundred years, scientists have known that life is the result of chemistry.”  Nowhere was there any doubt about the alleged millions and billions of years, each date quoted as if they had a stopwatch running the whole time.  The whole series in fact, is built on the metaphor of a clock, on which all of earth history has been compressed into 24 hours.  Humankind, of course, appears late in the last few seconds of the day, uncaused, uncared for, a mere happenstance of a long and brutal cosmic arcade.  Science is supposed to be about observation.  Where’s the instant replay of this hypothesis so we can validate it?
        This one episode was so shoddy, so baloney-ridden, so unbalanced, so quirky, it should anger knowledgeable viewers enough to write PBS, NOVA, and the sponsors to complain that such mythology-as-fact was presented as if the only “scientific” approach to origins.  Let’s have a debate.  Let’s have the counter-evidence get a fair hearing.  Let’s watch The Privileged Planet and Icons of Evolution.  Let’s get some leading Design PhDs in the ring with Tyson and see who’s left standing when fair, unbiased judges call foul at cheap shots and enforce the rules of evidence.
        The credits show this program was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation – your tax dollars at work.  It can only be hoped that this series, like Evolution before it, will flop as another wimpy hurrah of a dying religion on the verge of being tossed onto the dust-bin of discredited ideas.  Evolutionary theory, like a black-light poster, only glows in a dark room shielded from all but carefully selected, artificially-generated wavelengths.  It looks very different when the windows are opened and natural sunlight shines in.
  3. Where Are the Aliens?  This episode imagines what life on other worlds might be like.
    Typical SETI sales pitch, with the usual suspects (Drake equation by Drake himself), and the usual mythoids spouted as fact: life is as simple as just add water, lots of planets means lots of life, asteroid destroyed the dinosaurs but gave mammals a chance, etc. – Tyson says without the asteroid extinction, a dinosaur might be hosting the show, and the animation cartoonists help our poor imaginations.  More “it’s true because I say so” posturing: “we know we got to this [scene of crowd in shopping mall with cell phones by their ears] from this [bacteria] by evolution.”
        You might learn tidbits about extrasolar planets and cephalopod camouflage here and there, and hearing Peter Ward of Rare Earth fame explain why he thinks advanced life is uncommon is a partial treat.  Other than that, the entire premise of this episode is a stack of evolutionary assumptions, held together with hope, stacked on the foundational assumption of naturalism, presented dogmatically and without rebuttal, with artwork substituting for evidence.  Can’t the Darwin Party change their tactics, now that we’ve blown their cover?  The sight of a naked emperor strutting around as if nobody notices his little secret is not pretty.
        More personification fallacy: “if carbon makes life happen....” [stop right there].  “If those other planets have caught the spark of life also....” [stop, I said].  The illogic gets so tiring: “Scientists haven’t figured out how that spark of life happened, but since it happened early on, maybe it’s not so hard.”  No hint that the most essential ingredient in life is information.  Watch this episode alongside The Privileged Planet and Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  No contest.  The silliness of the Origins series has one benefit: it makes a perfect foil for these two films, making their relevance and superior logic shine even more brightly.
  4. Back to the Beginning.  This episode examines current thinking about the Big Bang theory.
    Yes, tell us all about the 97% of invisible stuff, the force that binds the universe together.  If it only has a dark side, how do evolutionists explain the origin of good?  Will Tyson be able to solve the Great Equation of Evolution, E = Nt x Nb?  (Nothing times nobody equals everything.)
        No luck.  Tyson spends most of the hour describing the historical search for the cosmic background radiation and slight irregularities within it.  As expected, the interpretations of the final data set from WMAP are hyped beyond all recognition (see 09/20/2004 headline).  A chef gives Tyson an intelligently designed stew, at which Tyson remarks that it is entirely analogous to what the stars cook up.  As Sagan 2004, Tyson really knows how to put the b in big, bang, and billion
        The episode provides some interesting historical and personal stories of scientists at work, but does little to answer the big questions the episode promised to address.  Instead, we are forced to listen to worn-out, personified cliches like “the baby picture of the universe” and “the birth pangs of the cosmos” and “we are all stardust.”  The animation team did a lot of work on this Fantasia, but we’d rather hear it put to music.  John Cage would be apropos.  How about 4'33", repeated endlessly?
Notably absent from the promotional ads was any mention of the “E” word, evolution.  Nevertheless, the concept saturated the series like sauce to pasta.
Maybe PBS learned its lesson from October 2001 that the E word is a lightning rod.  Concepts are not mitigated by avoidance of loaded words and euphemisms.  Maybe Origins is gentler word, but this was nothing less than “PBS Evolution 2004” (See 09/28/2001 headline), and evolution was the last word Tyson uttered, with feeling.
    The series so far exhibits the perpetual sins of the Darwin Party: (1) just-so storytelling, (2) glittering generalities, (3) selective evidence, (4) bluffing (e.g., “How life began” when they haven’t a clue), and (5) empty promises (futureware).  The hype keeps Charlie’s disciples hoping for success in the snipe hunt for a naturalistic explanation for a universe that appears designed for a purpose.
    One aspect about Origins was predictable: the series only vaguely, when at all, hinted that the majority of the earth’s population believes, and always has believed, that the universe was designed for a purpose by an intelligent Creator.  Instead, it presented as fact the naturalistic philosophy believed by only 10-15% of the population that everything came from nothing.  Moreover, glossed over many serious flaws in the naturalistic scenario, and failed to give a fair hearing to competent scientists who could present valid alternatives.  We commented on this series in some depth, but it is really no different from the standard Darwinian propaganda pouring forth from PBS, the Science Channel and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, week after week, year after year.  The rules are: assume evolution, ignore alternatives, prohibit rebuttals, ridicule believers in God, tell stories, worship scientism, and fill in the evidential gaps (canyons) with artwork.  Sagan taught them well.
    The final lines in the final episode are the key to interpreting this series and the other Darwinian commercials.  It’s not about scientific evidence, because the closing lines are a classic case of stretching an inch of data into a light-year of interpretation.  No, it’s about religion: evolutionists are out to replace belief in intelligent design with naturalism, particularly the Biblical account of creation.  A lady astronomer makes it clear: we now have “a new version of Genesis, a new version of the great cosmic myth, only this time it is scientifically based.”  Other astronomers agree, stating that finally, within our enlightened grasp, a universe that was once seen as the domain of the gods is now explainable by an unbroken sequence of natural law acting on undirected particles, producing a great chain of being (welcome to the 18th century).  Tyson, staring into the camera, morphs into Carl Sagan claiming that this vast and wonderful universe, with all its life, is the result of “14 billion years of cosmic evolution.”  At least we’re getting younger; Sagan claimed it was 15 billion.
    If this kind of religious advocacy in the guise of science bothers you, why not do something about it?  Write letters and call your local PBS station.  Tell them you want to see a fair and balanced presentation of the evidence.  Be constructive; ask them to air The Privileged Planet and Unlocking the Mystery of Life alongside the Darwin Party’s propaganda.  We don’t want to muzzle the opposition like the Darwinists do, we want people to hear both sides, like Charlie advised, and think about the evidence.  Ask PBS to stage a debate; suggest that Tyson’s team face a matching team of qualified spokespersons for the intelligent design position.  Let them ask the right questions and put all the evidence on the table fairly, without stacking the deck.  Tell them the magic words that make any station manager light up: it will help ratings.
Next headline on:  CosmologyOrigin of LifeMovies & Media
Date of Biblical Artifact Corroborated    09/29/2004
In 1979, a silver scroll was discovered near Jerusalem that contained the text of the priestly benediction known from the Pentateuch (Numbers 6:24-26).  The scroll was dated at the 7th century BC at the time, but doubts remained, some thinking that instead it was from post-exilic times centuries later.  Now, according to a New York Times report by John Noble Wilford echoed in the
Oakland Tribune, “researchers at the University of Southern California have now re-examined the inscriptions using space-age photographic and computer imaging techniques,” and concluded that the artifacts indeed date from the pre-exilic period.  The international team used some advanced digital imaging techniques at Jet Propulsion Laboratory to bring out hitherto undetectable fine details in the artifact.
This is a small but important piece in a large puzzle of archaeological evidence that supports the historicity of the Pentateuch (the books of Moses).  Liberal scholars and skeptics have claimed that Moses could not have written such books; they assumed the books were compiled much later, after the Babylonian exile.  Artifacts like this show that quotations from the Pentateuch were in common knowledge and circulation centuries earlier.
Next headline on:  BibleDating Methods
Human Common Ancestor Lived 3500 Years Ago    09/29/2004
Nature Science Update reported on a surprising find by Joseph Change (Yale) and Douglas Rohde (MIT).  They claim, based on computer modeling of human breeding and migration, that we are all related to the same common ancestor, not millions, but just thousands of years ago, possibly just 1500 BC in Asia, and that perhaps a couple of thousand years before that, everyone alive at that time was an ancestor of all of us living today.  The results are published in Nature Sept. 30.1
    The finding is not entirely new; it is more a refinement of simpler models taking better account of migration and geographical isolation.  It does not mean people didn’t exist before that, but only that the current population is genealogically related.  Jotun Hein (Oxford) cautions in the same issue2 that genealogical questions are “distinct from questions about the history of our genetic material,” which are estimated by different methods: “Universal common ancestry (in the pedigree sense) and genetic common ancestry thus occur on different timescales,” he says.
    If you think about it, it’s not all that surprising that in relatively few generations, a population’s family trees will overlap.  Think of inverted pyramids that overlap slightly; as they grow (going back in time), they will all eventually converge, unless the populations are completely isolated, which does not seem to be the case for any people group.  Simple models that assumed random mating converged in just 33 generations, or 800 years ago, which is clearly unrealistic.  By taking geography and history into account, Hein says, Rohde has tried to arrive at a more credible date for the MRCA (most recent common ancestor).  Even more surprising, Hein says, the models predict that before the MRCA, anyone alive would have been an ancestor of everyone alive today.  Rohde, Olsen and Chang explain:
Given the remaining uncertainties about migration rates and real-world mating patterns, the date of the MRCA [most recent common ancestor] for everyone living today cannot be identified with great precision.  Nevertheless, our results suggest that the most recent common ancestor for the world’s current population lived in the relatively recent past–perhaps within the last few thousand years.  And a few thousand years before that, although we have received genetic material in markedly different proportions from the people alive at the time, the ancestors of everyone on the Earth today were exactly the same.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The implication is that the entire human race today, no matter the continent, culture, skin color, language or lifestyle, is a member of one big family:
Further work is needed to determine the effect of this common ancestry on patterns of genetic variation in structured populations.  But to the extent that ancestry is considered in genealogical rather than genetic terms, our findings suggest a remarkable proposition: no matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
For another summary, see the report on EurekAlert, “Most recent common ancestor of all humans surprisingly recent.”  Few other popular science news sources are reporting the story – not New Scientist, Scientific American, National Geographic, the BBC News or MSNBC – as eagerly as they typically do with discoveries of hominid fossils alleged to be human evolutionary ancestors.
1Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang, “Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans,” Nature 431, 562 - 566 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02842.
2Jotun Hein, “Human evolution: Pedigrees for all humanity,” Nature 431, 518 - 519 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431518a.
Notice the model converges on a few thousand years ago, not millions.  Such a date is closer to Noah than Lucy.  Care should be exercised interpreting what this means, because it is somewhat of a counterintuitive artifact of a mathematical model that makes certain assumptions.  Another counterintuitive result, Hein claims, is that “not many generations ago (about six), members of our pedigree existed that did not contribute to us genetically.”  The authors are not claiming that humankind popped into existence a few thousand years ago, but only that everyone alive today had the same ancestors.  Can the same models be applied to guppies, tigers and oak trees?  Hein points to additional interesting questions that will require further refinement of models and the combining of pedigree and genetic ancestry information.  One question he asks is, “In the idealized models, how far back would one have to go to find a single couple who are the lone ancestors of everybody?” to which we might add, “and did their names start with A and E?”
    We can’t judge how valid is Professor Rohdes’ computer model, but it is interesting that this was not published by Answers in Genesis, but by Nature and by researchers from MIT and Yale – not institutions particularly interested in validating Biblical chronology.  It calls into question evolutionary assumptions about human pedigrees stretching back tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of years.  It also means that all those “racial” differences between people are superficial and must be of recent origin.  Like AIG has emphasized in its Biblical creationist answer to racism, we truly are of “one blood,” just as Paul told the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17).
Next headline on:  Early ManDating MethodsBible
Solar Wind Erodes Mars’ Atmosphere   09/28/2004
Physics Web has a summary of a report that appeared in Science Sept. 24.1  First results from an experiment on ESA’s Mars Express called Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA-3) are in.  They show that the solar wind penetrates deep into Mars’ atmosphere, as far as 270 km above the Martian surface.  Since Mars has no global magnetic field, the energy of the solar wind strips away hydrogen and oxygen ions.  This means Mars appears to be slowly dehydrating.  Nature Science Update summarized a paper that indicates Mars once had “acid rain and briny seas.”  Surprisingly it calls this “climate ideally suited to life,” presumably because liquid water narrows the temperature.  “A warm planet is good news for the prospect that life once existed there,” it says.
    Meanwhile, back on the surface, the Mars Exploration Rovers have been given another six months of work, reports New Scientist.  Spirit and Opportunity are warming up again now that the peak of Martian winter has past.  Mars Global Surveyor took a remarkable image from orbit, showing Spirit and its tracks on the surface.
1Lundin et al., “Solar Wind-Induced Atmospheric Erosion at Mars: First Results from ASPERA-3 on Mars Express,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1933-1936, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101860].
Astrobiologists are filled with vibrant faith that life emerged from the bowels of hellish conditions, on Earth and on Mars both.  It was a constant theme on the PBS Origins program (see 09/13/2004 headline).  No evidence is required for this religion, just lots of maybes.  That’s why we need these spacecraft and rovers to keep patiently, silently gathering data.  Data have a way of putting dampers on wild speculations.
    The lesson from ASPERA-3 is that the solar wind is a destructive process.  It’s hard to say how long it would have taken to erode Mars’ atmosphere, because nobody was there to see how thick it was at the beginning, and when or if it had a global magnetic field.  Suffice it to say Earth would be similarly in danger if it were not for our global magnetic field protecting us.  That’s one of many factors that should make us consider the meaning of our existence on a very privileged planet.
Next headline on:  MarsPhysics
Clean-Air Laws and Tree-Planting Cause Increased Air Pollution?    09/24/2004
A major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), precursors of ozone pollution, is tree leaves, says a report in
EurekAlert.  Surprisingly, the increase in trees due to abandoned farms has worsened the pollution.  Industry-caused nitrogen-oxygen (NOx) compounds also lead to ozone, and it is not clear how these sources interact.  Nevertheless, it appears that reductions in man-made pollutants in the area from Alabama to Virginia, thanks to cleaner fuels and clean-air laws, may have been outweighed by VOC emissions from increasing density of forests reclaiming abandoned farms.  It seems ironic that plantation foresting, a bio-friendly industry, could be contributing to air pollution.  Researchers from Princeton investigating these cause-effect relationships could not help recalling President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 remark about hydrocarbons from trees accounting for about 80% of our air pollution, but they reasoned that the evidence does not prove that responsibility for pollution can be or should be shifted from humans to trees.  The authors state that the distinction between what is natural and what is human-caused is disappearing.  (See also 03/17/2003 headline.)
This story goes to show that even observable, measurable, present-day processes can be complex and can give rise to counterintuitive interpretations.  How, then, can Darwinists write so glibly about prehistoric events and processes?  Conventional wisdom would say the more trees the better.  Maybe not; maybe it depends on the tree.  The article states that certain species, like sweet gum and fast-growing pines, give off more VOCs than others, and suggest that old-growth forests are not as polluting.  Many other factors could be involved: temperature, parasites, ground cover, sunlight, geography, fire history, or even the presence or absence of animals and fungi or other ecological relationships.  Los Angeles was described as hazy long before the automobile arrived.  No one can say for sure at this point how much humans are to blame for influencing the complex factors that contribute to VOCs, Nox, ozone production and air pollution.  Beware the either-or fallacy: i.e., trees are all good, humans are all bad.  Recall the proverb that complex problems can have easy-to-understand, common-sense, simple, wrong answers.  We still have much to learn.  Maybe VOCs are not all that bad for health.  There must be a reason why the sweet smell of a forest makes us want to breathe in slow and deep, close our eyes, and say “Aahhhhh.”
Next headline on:  PlantsPolitics and Ethics
Big Science Portrays Embryonic Stem Cell Issue as Political Litmus Test    09/27/2004
The number of articles in scientific journals on embryonic stem cell research (also called “therapeutic cloning”) has been on the rise, particularly those referring to Britain’s or John Kerry’s support of it (see
08/11/2004 editorial), and Germany’s or Bush’s opposition to it.  Though science journals are expected to be above politics, on this issue their desire for political leaders with liberal policies on embryonic stem cell research is palpable.  How do they justify it morally?  (For the alternative, see 09/03/2004 headline.)
  • A Nature editorial1 urged Germany to get over its hangups about its Nazi past and move forward.  Referring to a recent position paper by the National Ethics Council, the editorial states, “Its cautious tone illustrates how slow has been the evolution of attitudes towards the sanctity of life, which have been so deeply influenced by the Nazi abuse of genetics.  In no other Western country is the spectrum of attitudes towards cloning so narrow, and so skewed towards conservatism.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
  • Michael Gross, editorializing in Current Biology,2 similarly urged Germany to follow the UK’s lead in liberalizing stem-cell research policy, even though two-thirds of the public oppose doing so.  He regrets that “those who believe that Christian morality rules out any research with human embryos insist that the current restrictive legislation should not be touched or even debated at all,” because “The trouble is that any further delay will contribute to the brain drain and help to slow down German biotech.”
  • Gretchen Vogel in Science has reported twice recently on the controversy.  In the Sept. 10 issue,3 she analyzed California’s Proposition 71, which seeks $3 billion in state bonds to fund embryonic stem cell research.  The qualms about cost and morals are set against economic benefits and predicted treatments for disease.  She quotes promoters who “argue that tax revenues and royalties from companies spun off from new discoveries will help offset the $6 billion it will cost to pay off the bonds over 30 years.  ‘You could think of it as an intellectual stimulus package,’ [Fred] Gage [Salk Institute] says.”  In the Sept. 24 issue,4 Vogel discussed the arguments in Europe over who gets to patent stem cell discoveries.
  • Giuseppe Testa and John Harris discuss ethical questions of using embryonic stem cells (ES) for reproductive therapies in the Sep. 17 issue of Science.5  Pragmatics include benefits for same-sex couples and infertile couples being able to have genetically-derived children: “We suggest that from an ethical and legal perspective, this procedure is most appropriately framed as a therapeutic intervention to treat infertility.  It replaces in vitro the physiologic function normally responsible for reprogramming the germline genome, analogously to the well-established medical technologies that replace other deficient bodily functions,” (not that social parenthood should lose preeminence, they are quick to add).  This is not human “cloning” – it’s more like modified in-vitro fertilization.  The social implications are important, however: “The possibility of an all-male or all-female couple’s being able to have a child sharing the genetic make-up of both parents in virtually the same way as for heterosexual couples is thought-provoking and can be used as a lens through which to discern our attitudes toward parenting and family, as well as our notions of what is ‘natural.’”  As long as safety is preserved, such techniques are no less natural than medical practice itself, they argue. 
  • David Baltimore (Caltech president), in an editorial in Science Sept. 24,6 targeted the Bush administration for what he feels have been politically-motivated, anti-science policies.  These included positions on HIV/AIDS (not enough support for condoms; see 07/15/2004 headline) and global warming (not enough support for the international policy), as well as ES stem cell research (Bush’s “arbitrary decision” to restrict research to existing cell lines).  He suggests two motivations that, in his opinion, have been preventing the administration from letting “policies track the science” – i.e.,“either religious conservatism or economically based political caution.”
  • The team that cloned Dolly the sheep is now seeking to clone a human embryo, reports the BBC News.  Does this represent crossing the ethical line of no return?  A representative of the Church of Scotland lauded the intent to find a cure for motor neuron disease, but said that cloning a human embryo to the blastocyst stage and then destroying it “raises big ethical issues.”
Meanwhile, adult stem cells continue to demonstrate promise, without raising ethical questions.  For instance, EurekAlert reported research from University of South Florida where scientists used umbilical cord stem cells to reduce stroke damage.  Recently also, Nature Science Update reported on stem cells from adult bone marrow being used to prevent a form of blindness, and the 08/27/2004 headline discussed adult stem cells being used to treat hearing loss.  See 05/24/2004 headline on the media bias toward ES cells over adult stem cells.
1Editorial: “Time to look to the future,” Nature 431, 385 (23 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431385b.
2Michael Gross, “UK cloning moves prompt questions abroad,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 18, 21 September 2004, Pages R732-R733, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.002.
3Gretchen Vogel, “California Debates Whether to Become Stem Cell Heavyweight,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5690, 1544-1545, 10 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5690.1544].
4Gretchen Vogel, “Stem Cell Claims Face Legal Hurdles,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1887, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1887a].
5Giuseppe Testa and John Harris, “Ethical Aspects of ES Cell-Derived Gametes,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1719, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103083].
6David Baltimore, “Science and the Bush Administration,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1873, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1873].
The advice of the politically-savvy voter holds true here: follow the money trail.  The advocates of ES research are straining to find moral rationalizations for creating human beings for the purpose of destroying them, while the underlying drumbeat is always money, priority and prestige.  Big Science is concerned about who will be first, not who will be right.  Individual scientists who promote it have Nobel Prize dollars in their sights.
    Adult stem cells already have many successes, with no ethical problems, while ES stem cells have none, and many practical and ethical problems.  On empty promises of wonder cures, Californians are being asked to dole out $6 billion of tax money in an already-overtaxed state, climbing out of a severe deficit, to feed the Big Science appetite for glory.  If this is such a good investment, why not ask Bill Gates for a few tens of billions?  Why should taxpayers be forced to fund what might many of them find morally reprehensible?
    Baltimore’s anti-Bush article (see also 08/24/2003 headline) and all the others are liberal down the line, reinforcing our assertion that Big Darwinian Science is indistinguishable from political liberalism (see 08/05/2004 commentary).  He merely assumes that the liberal positions on AIDS, global warming and stem cells are the “scientific” ones, and that opponents are motivated only by “religious conservatism.”  Proposition: Big Darwinian Science is motivated by political liberalism.  Why let them get away with the opposite statement?
    Notice also the openly liberal gay agenda advanced by Testa and Harris, and their willingness to redefine what is natural by letting two gay men clone their genes to have a kid (a female womb is just a commodity they have to borrow for the procedure).  This is a “therapeutic intervention to treat infertility”?  What kind of doubletalk is this?  Two men can’t have babies; that is the law of nature; that is not “infertility.”  In this brave new world, where words mean anything you want, why not redefine cannibalism as natural while we’re at it?  After all, you are what you eat, and with a little help from medical science, the procedure could be made both safe and wholesome (see 08/28/2003 commentary).
    To liberals, “Christian morality” is the evil.  It’s the meddling obstacle in the way of scientific progress.  As the ghost of Mengele vanishes in the fog of political rhetoric (see 04/22/2004 headline), maybe the world would be better off if we followed the progressive lead of North Korea.  After all, their little god Kim Jong Il has no such Christian morals standing in his way of experimenting on humans, embryonic or adult (see this BBC News story).  The “evolution” of his “attitudes towards the sanctity of life” has been rapid, and the brain drain very effective.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Darwinian Just-So Story Criticized    09/27/2004
When Young and Brodie & son published their article “How the Horned Lizard Got its Horns,” (see
04/01/2004 headline), they apparently meant it as a bit of April-fool joke, not a real Kipling-style just-so story.  Several respondents in the Sept 24 issue of Science,1 however, either didn’t think it was funny or concluded the story was just-so after all:
  • William R. Fouts (Nevada State) was not amused by the Kipling reference, because he viewed their paper as “an important example of natural selection in the wild” and thought the title was a poor choice of words.  He thought they should have examined the possibility of preadaptation: i.e., maybe the horns grew out of a nub that once upon a time appeared on the back of the lizard’s neck.
  • John H. Christy (Smithsonian) thinks the authors did not prove that the longer horns function in defense against shrike predation.  In his opinion, therefore, the authors’ explanation for the adaptive function of the horns is still a just-so story.
  • R. Yosef described how shrikes actually kill their prey, and then whimsically remarked, “I suggest that the parietal horns developed as a defense against shrike attacks to the nape region and not against their being impaled after they are dead,”  because clearly, “it does not make evolutionary sense for a trait to be incorporated into a prey species, as a result of a predator’s behavior, that results in all cases in its death (i.e., the impaling stage).”
The authors thanked the respondents for their insights on issues they claim were not discussed in the original paper due to space limitations.  But then he chided them for not getting the joke: “The title of our paper was meant as an allusion to the Just So Stories of Kipling, which are often used as a shorthand criticism for unsubstantiated adaptive arguments.  It is a bold statement, and we thought it so clearly over the top that it would not be taken as a literal explanatory title.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
1Letters to the editor, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1909-1910, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1909b].
Here was a rare, valiant attempt at providing just one clear, unambiguous association between a trait and a survival advantage, and even their fellow evolutionists were not convinced.  So what are the rest of us supposed to think about the validity of adaptive stories in the Darwinian tradition?
    The critics’ points were pointless as far as helping Darwin.  A nub turns into a horn, right.  Silly.  For support of the “preadaption” or “exaptation” hypothesis, Fouts refers to the panda’s thumb and tetrapod limbs (see 04/05/2004 headline).  How does said nub get into the genome and developmental pathways, and become established in the population before it functions in defense?  Darwinism allows no foresight, yet Fouts argues:
Perhaps the role of preadaptation in evolution is of great importance and is deserving of more widespread appreciation.  Given the possibility of a preadaptation scenario in the evolution of crown horns in horned lizards, I find it ironic that Young et al. commented on the weakness of “just-so stories” and also chose a title that reads remarkably like the titles of Kipling’s stories.  Until presented with evidence suggesting that the horns were mere nubs until the onset of shrike predation, I will remain convinced that “How the horned lizard got its horns” is a poor choice for what is presumably meant to be an informative title.
Sheesh, think the authors; can’t a guy take a joke?  Their response undermines the hope of proving a trait arose by evolution:
The question of whether any horns on the head of horned lizards existed before shrike predation drove them to elongated states (i.e., were “preadapted”) is an interesting one, but one that is only answerable through comparative analyses with full phylogenetic information and ancestral environmental conditions.  Although we have not performed such an analysis and could probably never reconstruct the ancestral predation conditions, it is worth noting that of the 13 species of horned lizards currently extant, P. mcalli has the longest relative horn lengths and belong to the most derived species group, while some other species in the genus (e.g., P. douglassi) have virtually no parietal or squamosal horns (i.e., the nubs mentioned by Fouts).
So how did the nub-challenged lizards get along?  If nubs are cool, every lizard would want some, especially when the shrikes are dive-bombing down on their necks.  Yikes!  Shrikes!  Man your nub stations!  (Or do they say, “lizard your nub stations”?)  It’s survival of the nubbiest.  May the best nubs win!
    The authors agreed with Christy’s comments, but in so doing, again undermined any hope of providing a Darwinian explanation for anything:
Christy correctly points out the two primary shortcomings of any covariance analysis of selection: It is impossible to rule out every unknown unmeasured character that could drive the observed selection, and covariance analyses usually cannot assign a mechanism of selection because they are not manipulative studies.
Yosef didn’t get it, either.  Of course they didn’t mean that selection acted after the lizard was impaled on the tree; they merely assumed that longer horns prevented attacks in the first place.  Obviously, they couldn’t ask the shrikes how they feel about the effectiveness of the horns, so they relied on personal experience.  Visualize the scientist at work: “When attacked or grasped, flat-tailed horned lizards stab their spines into the offending object.  In the case of human fingers, this behavior often results in bleeding and immediate release of the lizard.”  Ha!  This obviously means they evolved to ward off junior-age kids.
    So yes, as entertainment, the original article and the criticisms are “clearly over the top.”  Why do you think the Darwin Party is so sensitive to the charge of storytelling?  Guilty conscience?  We feel honored to be included among those who, in the spirit of promoting good science, often use the phrase “just-so stories” as a “shorthand criticism for unsubstantiated adaptive arguments.”  Grab your baloney detector and join the fun.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryTerrestrial Zoology
Big Pieces Missing in Darwin’s Theory, Says USC Scientist    09/27/2004
A USC professor of gerontology has “explored a new way to look at aging that directly opposes principles set forth by Darwin in his theory of natural selection,” reports
EurekAlert   (Emphasis added in all quotes).  Valter Longo’s theory of aging employs group selection instead of individual selection (see 05/31/2004 headline).  He thinks that in a population, individuals are programmed to die altruistically to conserve resources for the good of the group:
In research published in the Sept. 27 edition of the Journal of Cell Biology, Longo proposes that aging is programmed so that the majority of a population dies prematurely to provide nutrients for the sake of a few individuals who have acquired the genetic mutations that increase their chances of reproduction.
In his view, aging is programmed and altruistic, not due to chance.  Though his experiments were done with yeast, he thinks the principles could be applicable to humans, although “we don’t know whether it’s true yet or not,” he admits.
Longo said he realizes that this theory goes against the fundamental theories of evolution, which is why he took 10 years to publish, combing through scientific papers dating back to the 1870s to learn about the genesis of the theory of natural selection and speaking with prominent evolutionary biologists about his ideas.
    “I wanted them to tell me, ‘No, you’re wrong and here’s why.’  I never got that,” he said....
    “We’re not saying Darwin was wrong.  We’re just saying that there appear to be some big missing pieces in his theory,” Longo said.
Life is programmed, he says, but he does not yet know if death is programmed, too.
Sargent Williams, discipline Private Longo; he has stepped out of line (see 05/31/2004.  No disrespect for General Charlie is permitted.
    Longo’s story is the plot calling the prattle black, because his own hypothesis lacks genetic or developmental basis for tying an outward benefit to inheritance.  Like individual selection, it fails to explain how new information is added to the genome, and worse, it leaves hanging how a aging population would inform its young that wish to sacrifice themselves for the good of the species.  Haven’t they heard that grandparents provide an evolutionary benefit? (see 07/23/2004 headline).  So how can the grandparents transfer their wisdom if they commit hara kiri?
    This tall tale would be funny if its implications weren’t so dreadful: i.e., that evolution has programmed the elderly to drop dead so the young can have food enough to reproduce.  Anyway, it’s refreshing to see someone doubting Charlie, even if it took him a decade to work up the nerve.  In the end, however, it signifies little else than two storytellers accusing each other of not telling the whole story.  Little do they know how right they are on that point.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Does Psychology Find Anything New Under the Skull?   09/25/2004
Two recent psychological reports seem to either state the obvious or underscore teachings of old-time religion. 
  1. CopingEurekAlert tells about a University of Washington study that concluded, “Americans had strong need for spiritual support following 9/11 attacks.”  Strangely, Christians and Jews, who believed in forgiveness, seemed to do better than Muslims who believed in retaliation.  Bosnian refugees prayed, but asked that their enemies “pay for what they’ve done.”  The report concludes, “Those who relied on positive religious coping prayer had higher levels of optimism while those who used negative religious coping had reduced levels of hope.”
  2. Happiness:  Another story on EurekAlert was entitled, “Wealth does not create individual happiness and it doesn’t build a strong country, either.”  The study by the American Psychological Society found that Maasai tribespeople in Africa, living in mud huts, seemed happier than many affluent Americans.  The article quotes the authors: “While wealth has trebled over the past 50 years... well-being has been flat, mental illness has increased at an even more rapid rate, and data, not just nostalgic reminiscences, indicate that the social fabric is more frayed than it was in leaner times.”  It continues, “Prosperity is neither the answer nor the cause of satisfaction.”
The only value in the “science” of psychology seems to be the gathering of statistics, but even those can be biased.  These researchers could have saved a lot of time by just reading the Bible.  The good book teaches us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, and warns against vindictiveness.  It stresses the need for forgiveness and looking to the Lord for hope.  Jesus said that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions.  None of these things requires a scientific research program, but it is unlikely they would have received grant money for looking up Scripture passages.  Anyone who thinks a psychologist will provide better therapy than time spent with the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace should get his head examined.
Next headline on:  Theology
Update: Intelligent Design Paper   09/24/2004
The controversy over Stephen Meyer’s intelligent design paper (see
09/16/2004 headline) continues.  Science printed a brief but dismissive news item claiming its publication was a mistake, but journal editor Rick Sternberg has answered the charges on his personal website.  Meyer has responded to criticisms leveled by Richard Monastersky in the Chronicle of Education.  The Discovery Institute has provided materials to reporters due to the unprecedented attention this publication has raised.
This is a good chance to study both sides of an issue and do some baloney detecting.
Next headline on:  Intelligent Design
Name-Calling at the Human Evolution Meeting    09/23/2004
As predicted earlier this month (see
09/03/2004 commentary), Lucy’s lovers were not going to take her demotion lying down.  Proponents of Orrorin claim their 6 million year old rival walked upright millions of years before the 2-4 million year old australopithecines, and even had a gait more human-like than Lucy.  To Ann Gibbons, reporting in Science1 on a meeting at the French Academy of Sciences last week, this is a serious charge: “If so, australopithecines would be bumped off the direct line to humans—a dramatic revision of our prehistory.”
    “Tempers flared” at the meeting of paleoanthropologists in Paris.  The sweltering heat outside was matched inside “as scientists hotly debated the attributes of anthropology’s most famous thighbone,” she reports.
More than 100 scholars packed the academy’s opulent, wood-paneled Grande Salle to witness the first face-to-face gathering of the discoverers of the three oldest putative hominids.  In talks and a panel discussion, the researchers discussed whether Orrorin and other contenders for the title of earliest human ancestor walked upright and in what manner.  Bipedalism is a traditional hallmark of membership in the human family rather than being an ancestor of chimpanzees, gorillas, or quadrupedal apes.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Critics denied the measurements of the thighbone ball-and-socket neck that Orrorin supporters used to support the claim it walked upright.  The measurements were made incorrectly, they said, or were incapable of accurate measurement.  Tim White, whose “mysterious” specimen Ardipethicus, is a 4.4-million year old contender, “grilled” Bri-Gitte Senut over Orrorin.  The heated arguments came to a climax with White calling Senut’s claim a French expletive that provoked an angry reaction:
White accepts that Orrorin walked upright and so is one of the first members of the hominid family.  But he says Senut has offered little evidence as to Orrorin’s gait.  “Was it human, an Australopithecus pattern, or something different?” he asked.  Even standard x-rays would help answer that question.  As the discussion grew more heated, White called Senut’s displacement of australopithecines “une position créationniste,” because it suggests that Orrorin’s femur was quite modern 6 million years ago, rather than evolving in stages.
    Senut declared indignantly that she is not a creationist—and then asked White to provide his own evidence about the mysterious Ardipithecus ramidus.
White responded by showing photos of broken-up fragments of a bashed-in skull that looked like “roadkill.”
1Ann Gibbons, “Paleoanthropology: Oldest Human Femur Wades Into Controversy,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1885 , 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1885a]
Thank you, Ann, for this amusing account of the turf wars in Paris and the demise of evolutionary paleoanthropology.  Do you realize how funny this is?  It is hilarious partly because they take themselves so seriously.  They are fighting over whose fragments of vanity win the prize for best tall tale, and to have it climax in one of them calling the other the C word, well, that’s too much.  For more whoppers, just follow the chain links on Early Man for the last four years.
    Remember, it was Ann Gibbons who told us 02/15/2002 about yo-yo evolution, the burning branching bush and that the definition of a hominid going into the trash.  They’re apparently still digging through trash for evidence to prop up Chairman Charlie’s story.  Instead, they find evidence that suggests to them the dreaded C word.    Q.E.D.
Next headline on:  Early ManDumb Ideas
Cell Exhibits Robust Engineering Design   09/22/2004
An international team of biotechnologists writing in the journal Cell1 thinks biologists need to focus more on the concept of robust engineering design.  The abstract sounds like something out of an Intelligent Design Movement paper:
Robustness, the ability to maintain performance in the face of perturbations and uncertainty, is a long-recognized key property of living systems.  Owing to intimate links to cellular complexity, however, its molecular and cellular basis has only recently begun to be understood.  Theoretical approaches to complex engineered systems can provide guidelines for investigating cellular robustness because biology and engineering employ a common set of basic mechanisms in different combinations.  Robustness may be a key to understanding cellular complexity, elucidating design principles, and fostering closer interactions between experimentation and theory.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
In another sentence, they say: “cellular complexity appears to arise mainly from robustness as a design goal.”  Any Darwinian worried about this story would quickly be assuaged, however, by the ubiquity of the “E” word: “It has long been recognized that this robustness is an inherent property of all biological systems and is strongly favored by evolution,” they claim.  How this robustness actually came about, though, they have no idea:
Despite this central role in biology, there is still a limited understanding of what robustness precisely is and how it is accomplished at the cellular or molecular level (Hartman et al., 2001).  A major reason is that robustness and the apparent complexity of cellular systems are intimately linked and, therefore, both are difficult to understand.
The authors investigate mathematical models of robustness, and ways that biologists might get a grip on how robustness evolved in living systems.  Surprisingly, they speak of “engineering design” and “evolved design” frequently in the same sentence:
In both biology and advanced technology, the primary function of a system is usually robust to a wide range of perturbations, yet these systems can show extreme fragility toward other (even seemingly much smaller) perturbations and/or other functions.  This coexistence of extremes in robustness and fragility (“robust yet fragile”) perhaps constitutes the most salient feature of highly evolved or designed complexity.  Human-designed technology has well-understood mechanisms, which are deliberately hidden from the user.  In contrast, we have little systems level understanding of biological complexity.  Here, we argue that by combining the fragmented yet complementary knowledge in both domains, robustness and its associated tradeoffs offer a powerful perspective on biological complexity.
Another example: “Hence, in design or evolution, robustness, which is adapted to the intended function of a system and the associated uncertainties, must be carefully distributed.”  They seem in awe at the levels of robustness in biology at times: “Perhaps the most astounding property of microbial metabolism is its evolved robustness to sustain survival and proliferation upon extensive environmental or genetic perturbations.”  Living things employ several strategies to improve robustness: highly optimized tolerance, redundancy, feedback control circuitry, modularity, hierarchy and protocols, and other concepts from engineering.  They think robustness as a research tool holds promise for evolutionary biology:
What is the tangible outcome of studying this issue for life sciences?  Such an overarching concept as robustness will certainly play several roles in biological research.  It can be viewed as an overall evolutionary design principle or a scientific approach.  More optimistically, it may be the panacea to the ailments affecting large-scale dynamic modeling of biological systems.  At the least, in the hands of pragmatic researchers it can function as a tool producing testable biological hypotheses....
    ....The notion of cells being composed of robust subunits of limited autonomy simplifies modeling and abstraction of general properties.  We can proceed from the detailed investigation of individual modules to their interplay and its consequence for overall systems performance.  Robustness of cellular systems, hence, provides us with testable hypotheses derived from top-down studies and with opportunities for a more detailed bottom-up approach.  Both approaches should finally converge.

1Stelling et al., “Robustness of Cellular Functions,”
Cell, Volume 118, Issue 6, 17 September 2004, Pages 675-685, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.09.008.
Stand back: it won’t be a pretty sight when their heads explode.  Their whole tale hangs on the belief that natural selection can perform miracles of engineering design on demand, whenever and wherever needed.  Wait till they find out it is blind, deaf, dumb, and has no track record (see 08/03/2004 editorial, and the 07/23/2004, 06/09/2004 and 04/15/2004 headlines, for instance).  Stand back and turn around.  The Engineer is in the opposite direction.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent DesignDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Can Naturalism Design Anything?   09/22/2004
Philip Ball in the Sept. 23 issue of Nature1 gave a title to a news feature that might catch a reader off guard and think he is allowing the Intelligent Design Movement to have a voice in a scientific debate: “Enzymes: By chance, or by design?”  Upon further reading, however, it is clear the debate is between materialists and materialists.  He has no Intelligent Designer in mind but natural selection. 
Most biologists would scoff at the idea that their subject is simply applied quantum mechanics.  But for some enzymes – the catalysts of biology – quantum effects may be an important part of the way they work [see 09/16/2004 headline].  This revelation has left chemists and biologists arguing about whether enzymes have evolved to do this, or whether the effect would happen regardless of the enzymes’ activity.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
So a personal Designer or God is the last thing on Ball’s mind, despite the title.  His debate is whether enzymes take advantage of quantum mechanical efficiencies by chance, or whether natural selection designed them to do so.  “The debate shows little sign of being resolved quickly.  And until it is, we must remain uncertain about the limits of nature’s ingenuity,” he concludes.
1Philip Ball, “Enzymes: By chance, or by design?”, Nature 431, 396 - 397 (23 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431396a.
It’s a sign someone is so drunk on his worldview that he has lost touch with reality when he incorporates the lingo of his opponents and fails to see the contradiction.  Ball cannot use the word design, nor the word ingenuity.  He is a naturalist, a materialist, and the realm of ideas cannot be circumscribed by material substances and remain ideas.
    Like Ball, the astronomer Robert Jastrow is also a materialist.  Jastrow defined materialism in the Q&A section of the new film The Privileged Planet (see 09/01/2004 headline) as follows: “I believe the world consists entirely of material substances, and when you specify those substances, the atoms and molecules, and the laws by which they interact, you’ve done it all; there isn’t anything more to be said or to enter into your model of the universe.”
    A materialist is forced to explain the illusion of ideas in terms of atoms and forces, like trying to explain love in terms of the photons that reach a man’s retina when he sees a woman, and the neural responses and biochemical reactions that result.  But this approach commits the self-referential fallacy.  C. S. Lewis pointed out that if love can be explained via brain biochemistry, so can explanations.  Therefore, one has no way to judge whether his explanation is true, because the idea of truth is merely a complex interaction of molecules (see 06/16/2004 and 06/03/2004 headlines).
    Evolutionists commit this fallacy all the time.  They shift seamlessly between strict materialism and pantheism.  Pantheism is merely a cloak for materialism; it allows a materialist to personify nature and equivocate with terms like design and ingenuity, when such terms fall within the realm of ideas.  Evolutionists cannot see that they are assigning the attributes of deity to material substances: intelligent design, wisdom, and autonomous self-existence.  To be consistent, they could never assume that natural selection designs anything with uncanny ingenuity.  When they do, they illogically make nature into a god.
    Jastrow saw this.  He began with the quote shown on the top right of this page, then said “I’m what’s called in philosophy a materialist” and defined it as quoted above.  Then he continued: “That’s what my science tells me, and I’ve been a scientist all my life, but I find it unsatisfactory; in fact, it makes me uneasy.  I feel that I’m missing something.”  Jastrow, author of God and the Astronomers, a book that illustrated the discomfort other materialist astronomers felt when confronted with evidence for a beginning to the universe, is now an elderly man.  Sadly, having rejected the only answer that fits the evidence – supernaturalism – he ended his comments, “but I will not find out what I’m missing within my lifetime.”  Would that he had followed C. S. Lewis’s logic, that a longing for meaning that cannot be satisfied by anything in this world must have an object beyond it.  At least Jastrow feels the hangover.  Ball is apparently too drunk on materialism to feel anything.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
New Treatment for Hyperactivity: Nature Walks   09/21/2004
Hiking in the woods seems to alleviate ADHD, say two researchers from University of Illinois, in two studies mentioned briefly in Science News.1  The article begins, “Does spending more playtime amid greenery improve behavior in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder?” (emphasis added).  Apparently, yes.  The setting, not just the activity, is part of the equation, the studies indicate.  One test took hyperactive children on walks, some in the city and some in the country.  “After the walk, children who took the nature trail performed better on a test of attention than did their counterparts who strolled in an urban setting.”
1Ben Harder, “Nature reduces kids’ signs of attention disorder,”
Science News, Week of Sept. 18, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 12 , p. 190.
Children are too complex for experiments like this to be completely trustworthy, with so many variables to consider, but any parent should instinctively know this makes sense.  Stop depriving kids by confining them to zoos of smog, concrete, electronic gadgets and traffic noise, and then punishing them with drugs if they get rowdy.  For their health, give them space in the environment they were made for: in touch with the wonders of nature, with time to see beautiful things and reflect on their Creator’s wisdom.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Here’s another thousand for a bonus, and some teacher/parent tips for places to go and things to do.  What a healthy idea: Creation Safaris for kids.
Next headline on:  Health
Introducing: The Spinach Cell Phone    09/21/2004
The next spinach sandwich you hear about may not be an item at the health food bar but an electronic device powered by the sun.  According to an
MIT press release, chloroplasts from spinach leaves have been successfully sandwiched into a solid-state electronic photocell that could be used before long to power cell phones and laptops.  100,000 of the protein-based light collectors could fit on the head of a pin.  Deborah Halber of the MIT News Office remarked, “Plants’ ability to generate energy has been optimized by evolution,  so a spinach plant is extremely efficient, churning out a lot of energy relative to its size and weight.”
And for that groaner, Deborah is a nominee for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.  Evolution does not optimize anything.  It only can eliminate things that are not already optimized.  For an example of how optimized chloroplasts are for photosynthesis, read about how they make use of quantum mechanics to squeeze every bit of energy out of light in the 09/16/2004 entry.  No wonder human engineers would like to borrow such intelligent design rather than try to produce it from scratch.
    The industrial revolution proceeded by trying to do things from scratch.  Men took iron and copper and oil out of the ground, learned the laws of steam and thermodynamics and electricity, and built heavy, clunky inefficient machines that got the job done only with a huge expenditure of entropy.  An incandescent light bulb, for instance, is horrendously wasteful compared to the cold light produced by bioluminescent bacteria.  How humbling to see that the optimal solutions to light, flight, lubrication, energy, materials, propulsion, signalling and many other technologies have surrounded us all this time.  If intelligent designers are now trying to imitate the designs in nature, how can anyone claim that nature arrived at such fully optimized designs without purpose, guidance or intelligence?  The 21st century may see such illogical beliefs tossed onto the intellectual junkyard, as The Design Revolution gathers momentum.
Next headline on:  PlantsIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Scientists Try to Read Neandertal Minds   09/21/2004
If dead men tell no tales, living ones certainly do.  Most of us have trouble reading one another’s minds when staring face to face, but some paleoanthropologists, with nothing but skeletons and a few stone tools and burial sites to look at, have no hesitation in reading the Neandertal mind.  Bruce Bower writes in Science News1 about a new controversial tale by Thomas Wynn and Frederick Coolidge from the University of Colorado.  Their only critics are other paleoanthropologists, because the Neandertals are no longer present to say what really happened.
    To begin with, they lay to rest any claims the Neandertals were dumb brutes.  “Forget the stereotype of these extinct human predecessors, Wynn and Coolidge assert; for tens of thousands of years, Neandertals were as smart as the ancient humans that lived alongside them.”
The “expert Neandertal mind” fostered impressive toolmaking and social skills that made survival possible for at least 100,000 years in some of the harshest environments ever inhabited by members of the human evolutionary family, Wynn and Coolidge concluded in the April Journal of Human Evolution.
    Beginning approximately 140,000 years ago, Neandertal groups mastered the art of living in relatively small regions of Europe and western Asia, each no more than perhaps 30 to 40 miles wide, the researchers say.  In such familiar habitats, Neandertals operated at least as well as, and often better than, Homo sapiens that had migrated from Africa into the same territory.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The new twist on the story is that the true Homo sapiens got a lucky mutation that rearranged their gray matter and gave rise to the List of Things To Do Today:
Around 50,000 years ago, however, the evolutionary tide turned in a subtle, but ultimately crucial, direction.  Members of H. sapiens experienced a slight boost in the amount of information that they could hold in mind at any one time, probably because of a genetic mutation that triggered a modest brain reorganization, Wynn and Coolidge propose.  The capacity to remember and mentally manipulate a few more bits of related knowledge led to a series of breakthroughs: innovations in toolmaking, long-range planning for seasonal hunting expeditions, storytelling, and symbolic expression through artwork and personal ornaments.
This even gave them the ability to tell jokes and express racism, according to the new theory.  The poor Neandertals, stuck with real-life expert knowledge in survival, just couldn’t keep up.  Bowers does present some alternative views.  One view says it was not genetics, but a change in social skills and information sharing that gave modern humans the edge.  Others are less tolerant of Wynn and Coolidge’s hypothesis:
Researchers who regard Neandertals as having been no more different from Stone Age H. sapiens than today’s Eskimos are from African herders take a skeptical view of Wynn and Coolidge’s paper.
    “We’re a long way from knowing whether there were significant interactions between Neandertals and Homo sapiens,” remarks Fred H. Smith of Loyola University in Chicago.  “Attempts to reconstruct the cognitive abilities of those groups are speculative.”  No one can say for sure which group was most responsible for cultural advances in Stone Age Europe, Smith says.
For support, Smith points to the recent reinterpretation of finds at Vogelherd Cave (see
07/08/2004 headline).  A German anthropologist agrees that “The identity of ancestral groups that achieved late-Stone Age cultural advances throughout Europe is currently up for grabs.”  Another researcher says that cultural advances throughout Europe were gradual among all the groups, “rather than bursting onto the scene solely among late-Stone Age humans, as presumed by Wynn and Coolidge.”  Bowers gives them the last response: “The two Colorado researchers remain unfazed by such skepticism.  Amid the din of scientific debate, they continue to ponder ways to peer further into the minds of our ancestors.”
1Bruce Bower, “In the Neandertal Mind,” Science News Week of Sept. 18, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 12, p. 183.
This is all going to sound so silly some day, if not evil, much the way we view the phrenological and racist views of Haeckel and the social Darwinists.  Why does Bruce Bower give these guys two pages of good press in Science News?  Thank goodness for a few halfway clear heads like Smith.  Are we supposed to be impressed that Wynn and Coolidge “remain unfazed” by their critics?  These mythmakers need a change of faze.  Their “speculative” silly tale would make a reasonable person blush.
    Notice again that everything you were taught about Neandertals is wrong.  No longer is there any clear identity between them and their supposed superior out-of-Africa brethren, any more than there is between Eskimo hunters and lazy professors wasting government grant money.  Since the story is “up for grabs,” Bowers should publish our alternative view: Darwinites evolved from ancient Homo sapiens when a mutation turned them into storytellers.  This is at least as sensible as any other fable going around in the halls of anthropological academia.  We think it makes much better sense, too: instead of doing real work like respectable Neandertals, the pre-Darwinites just sat around the campfire telling racist jokes and inventing tales about how superior they were to their skilled, smart, fit, hard-working brethren who had no time for such nonsense.
Next headline on:  Early ManDumb Ideas
Termites: If You Can’t Lick ’Em, Mimic ’Em    09/21/2004
Termites, despite their bad rap, have something to teach human homebuilders.  Their mounds are self-sufficient, air-conditioned, environmentally friendly and cheap to run, according to a story in
EurekAlert.  “The mounds incorporate a complicated network of tunnels and air conduits designed to channel air flow for the control of internal air quality, temperature and moisture levels.”
    A multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers in the UK is studying termite “smart” mounds in 3D for ideas on how human habitats could “meet all energy, waste management and other needs on site.” 
Maybe the termites in your walls are trying to tell you something: “This is no way to build a house!  Watch us.”  We humans tend to build rectangular things.  The free-form design of termite mounds strikes us as sloppy or makeshift, when really there is a deeper design that provides more efficiency, if we would only shake off our miter-box chauvinism.
    Some “cave men” have lived in structures that look remarkably like termite mounds and possess some of the same benefits.  In Cappadocia in the land of Turkey, people have lived in natural cone-shaped caves for thousands of years (click here for pictures and history).  The dwellings are “naturally air-conditioned; cool in hot summers and warm and easy to heat in harsh winters,” according to the Hidden Turkey travel site.  (For wonderful photos of these dwellings, order the Turkey CD-Rom from Bible Places.)  If the trend in biomimetics (engineering that imitates nature) continues, wouldn’t it be an interesting skyline to see New York as a cluster of buildings resembling termite mounds.
    This otherwise interesting story is marred by Darwinite hot air that adds nothing but halitosis:
  • “Mounds built by highly-evolved African termites could inspire new types of building that are self-sufficient, environmentally friendly and cheap to run.”
  • “Furthermore, the termites have evolved in such a way that they out source some biological functions, for example, digestive functions to a fungus that they farm inside the mound.”
  • “In fact, in physiological terms, the termites have evolved to outsource many of their homeostatic functions, such as thermo-regulation, respiration, moisture regulation, and even digestion, into the mound structure itself.”
As usual, the Darwinites fail to tell us how these termites came up with their efficient and intelligent designs by chance, but just assume they did so, somehow out there on the hot plains of Africa.  Apparently necessity is the mother of emergence (see 02/25/2003 commentary).
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Radioactive Dating: Science or Alchemy?    09/20/2004
Richard Kerr had some surprising things to say about uranium-lead dating in the Sept. 17 issue of Science1 – surprising, because as a believer in the method and an evolutionist, he admitted there is a fair amount of unscientific methodology and controversy involved.  “For years, different laboratories using uranium-lead radiometric dating—the gold standard of geochronology—have been getting entirely different ages for the P-T extinction,” he says.  His comments stemmed from a paper in the same issue by Mundil et al.2 that touted a new method for getting the bugs out of U-Pb zircon samples.  But the way Kerr worded his subtitle, he sounds at best tentative about its benefits: “A new, apparently improved, way to date the greatest mass extinction points to a volcanic cause but fails to resolve geochronologists’ long-running differences.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    Mundil’s team, from the Berkeley Geochronology Center, admits right off that “The age and timing of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction have been difficult to determine because zircon populations from the type sections are typically affected by pervasive lead loss and contamination by indistinguishable older xenocrysts.”  In order to date samples from China, they “adopted a technique recently developed by James Mattinson of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Kerr says.  “ They baked the southern China zircons at 850ºC for 36 hours and then leached them with hydrofluoric acid under pressure at 220ºC for 16 hours, with the intention of removing the parts most weakened by radiation damage.”
    This harsh treatment of the samples was intended to eliminate some of the “picking and choosing” that commonly goes on by researchers, who discard samples that don’t give them the results they expect.  Samuel Bowring (MIT), for instance, got a date for the P-T extinction that, while it seemed to match some dates for massive Siberian lava flows, disagreed with the age Mundil prefers:
Mundil, however, doesn’t believe that either the eruption or the extinction happened that recently.  He thinks Bowring engaged in “arbitrary data culling” by throwing out more than half his zircon ages before averaging the rest of them together.  But Bowring says his choices were judicious, although “necessarily somewhat subjective.”  In some of his zircons, the two different uranium-lead ratios gave different ages, suggesting that lead had leaked out of those zircons during the past quarter-billion years.  And other zircon ages looked distinctly old, as if those zircons had crystallized earlier than the rest and had later gotten mixed in with them.  By taking into account how volcanic ash beds are stacked around the rock layer that shows the extinction, Bowring believes he can confidently select the reliable zircon ages and discard the rest.
    Mundil set out to take this “picking and choosing” out of uranium-lead dating.
Thus the heat, pressure and acid treatments.  With this method, Mundil claims he only had to throw out three out of 79 of his zircon samples which were “obviously too old.”  He arrived at a date for the extinction a million years older.  It was also coincident with an argon-argon date for the Siberian lava flows made by others, “after making a 2-million-year correction to it”  The goal of this tweaking is to fix the timing: “The professional timekeepers—the geochronologists—are trying to place a volcanic catastrophe at the moment of the extinction, thus linking cause and effect to explain an event that wiped out 95% of animal species on Earth,” Kerr explains.  The challenge is that “P-T daters must draw their conclusions from vanishingly small isotopic remains of radioactive decay.”  Though the antagonists try to keep a positive spin on the controversy, Kerr indicates that geochronology may not be the exact science we have been led to believe:
The new preprocessing technique “is very promising,” says Drew Coleman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  “It appears to be very fruitful.”  Bowring agrees.  “This is a step in the right direction,” he says.  “Mattinson’s annealing is the big breakthrough, though I have no idea why it works.  But Bowring points to the later date that his group estimated for the P-T extinction in China and Kamo’s group independently got for zircon and other minerals from the lavas of the Siberian Traps.  Mundil hasn’t explained how subjective interpretation could have produced such a coincidence, he says.
All can agree on one thing.  Better cooperation might help.  Speaking of the geochronologists, Randall Parrish of the British Geological Survey paints them like a secret society: “They’ve been competitive and secretive for decades,” he said.  With a meeting of geochronologists in Boston coming up next month, Kerr hopes for a “frank and open discussion of all those little details that don’t make it into the literature.”
1Richard Kerr, “Geochemistry: In Mass Extinction, Timing Is All,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1705, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5691.1705].
2Mundil et al., “Age and Timing of the Permian Mass Extinctions: U/Pb Dating of Closed-System Zircons,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1760-1763, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101012].
Now I’m worried.  What are all those little details that don’t make it into the literature?  You can count on it: the “picking and choosing” that Kerr admitted is only the tip of the iceberg.  To be fair, the U-Pb differences between the teams only amount to a small percent.  But to arrive at the millions-of-years dates at all, dates that justify the modern consensus for the geologic column (see 05/21/2004 headline), they have to toss out many other dating methods that produce far younger dates by orders of magnitude.  Those dates are not interesting because they do not support the Darwinian evolutionary timescale; therefore they are “obviously wrong.”  Obviously.  That’s why they must pick and choose.
    Radioactive dating was supposed to be as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, a highly constrained, well understood physical mechanism for dating old things.  That’s what we learned in high school and on the Discovery Channel.  Now they tell us they have been picking and choosing the samples they want and tossing out over half the rest?  Even if Mundil threw out only 3 of his 79 samples, we want to know if those three had a story to tell: on what basis did he assume they were “obviously too old”?  How can we know the 79 he used were not also obviously too old, at least to someone without Darwin glasses on?  Sometimes the most interesting science is in the data the conventional wisdom tosses out.  The stone that the builders rejected sometimes becomes the cornerstone of a new paradigm.  Instead, the subjective practices of researchers, secretly trying to turn lead into the “gold standard of geochronology,” appear more like a modern form of alchemy than modern science.
    When they don’t get what they want, they turn up the heat.  What did two days of red-hot heating, pressure and treatment with hydrofluoric acid do to the samples?  How can we be convinced this was “the big breakthrough” if an admirer admits he has no idea how it works? (which, being translated, means “I have no idea if it works”).  Remember, they are talking about “vanishingly small” bits of radioactive material to begin with, and then heating and acid-washing some of it away.  What can samples tell you under this kind of torture?  Here’s what we suggest they are saying: “Stop!  (Gasp!  Ouch!)  I give up!  I’ll give you any date you want!”
Next headline on:  Dating MethodsPhysicsGeology
National Geographic Calls Noah’s Ark Search a Stunt    09/20/2004
National Geographic News has taken the announcement that McGivern’s team failed to get a permit to search Mt. Ararat (see 04/26/2004 headline) as an opportunity to question all searches and the historicity of Noah’s flood.  They questioned the character and motives of the search team and its guide, and quoted a historian who called the search for Noah’s Ark “fringe archaeology.”  The article recalled previous claims that turned out to be hoaxes, doubted the ability to detect an artificial structure from space, and discounted the story of a world-wide flood in the Bible (unless the Black Sea Flood fit the bill; see 08/22/2003 and 04/21/2001 headlines).  “Most geologists seem to agree that it would probably be impossible for a ship to make landfall at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,570 meters),” said Stefan Lovgren, author of the article.
This illustrates the damage that can be done by pre-announcing a discovery before any facts are gathered.  The satellite photo McGivern had was much too vague.  Whether his guide is a man of integrity or not could have been moot if he indeed was able to lead them to a ship on the mountain.  Lacking proof, one has no science, just hypothesis and suggestive leads.  When the promised evidence doesn’t arrive after the media fanfare, the opponents can have a field day.  This fiasco could hurt future attempts to explore the mountain.
    It’s not McGivern’s fault that the Turkish government refused his request for a permit, but every would-be explorer can learn a lesson from this episode.  In a rare show of wisdom, wicked old King Ahab warned his enemy, “Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11).  Next time, keep away from the press until you’ve got the goods in hand.  That goes for you, too, National Geographic (see 03/18/2003 headline).
    For a wealth of material, photos and news on the search for Noah’s Ark, see NoahsArkSearch.com.
Next headline on:  Bible
How Precise Is “Precision Cosmology”?    09/20/2004
When data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) came in, cosmologists heralded it as the era of “precision cosmology” and immediately began to make claims that resulting data map confirmed some cosmological theories and falsified others (see
02/14/2003 headline).  Two papers in the Astrophysical Journal, however, are discounting the precision of the data and questioning its usefulness for confirming cosmological models.
    Erickson et al.1 studied the method used by the WMAP science team to analyze the data and make cosmological conclusions.  They concluded that it had the potential to inform models, but cautioned that “great care must be taken both in implementation and in a detailed understanding of limitations caused by residual foregrounds, which can still affect cosmological results.”  They concluded that the sky map used by the science team was “not clean enough to allow for cosmological conclusions.  Alternative methods must be developed to study these issues further.”
    David L. Larson and Benjamin D. Wandelt also studied the WMAP data and concluded that the “hot spots” were too cool and the “cold spots” too warm to confirm an assumption made by the science team that the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is an isotropic, Gaussian random field.  “A question of fundamental importance to our understanding of the origins of these primordial seed perturbations is whether the CMB radiation is really an isotropic and Gaussian random field, as generic inflationary theories predict,” they note.  Yet they compared the actual field to a Monte Carlo simulation of a Gaussian field and were able to rule out Gaussianity in the WMAP data to the 95% confidence level at both the north and south hemispheres.  This casts doubt on the theoretical statements based on the data, they say:
We find the WMAP data to have maxima that are significantly colder and minima that are significantly warmer than predicted by Monte Carlo simulation.  For almost all simulations, we have 95% confidence that the mean of the WMAP hot spots or cold spots is in a 5% tail of the Monte Carlo distribution.  In one case, we are 99% confident that the maxima statistic is in a 1% tail.  Since we find the same lack of extreme temperature when we use the directly measured WMAP power spectrum, we are not simply restating that the WMAP power spectrum has a lack of power at large angular scales.  The effect is independent of the galactic mask or power spectrum used....
    Our results may not be a detection of primordial non-Gaussianity.  They could still be an effect of the WMAP instrument or data pipeline not modeled in our simulations or an as yet undiscovered foreground.  Our result is still highly significant.  We have detected something, whether it is primordial non-Gaussianity or some other effect in the data.  Having anomalous mean temperature values for the maxima and minima in both the north and the south ecliptic hemispheres is unlikely to occur if the WMAP data were consistent with theoretical expectations.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

1Erickson, Gorski and Lilje, “On Foreground Removal from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Data by an Internal Linear Combination Method: Limitations and Implications,” The Astrophysical Journal, 612:633-646, 2004 September 10.
2Larson and Wandelt, “The Hot and Cold Spots in the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Data Are Not Hot and Cold Enough,” The Astrophysical Journal Letters 613:L85-L88, 2004 October 1.
Always read the fine print after the bluffing whirlwind of hot air has subsided.  Evolutionary theories, both biological and cosmological, are like dust devils.  They attract attention for awhile, but perceptive readers examine what material was weighty enough afterwards to remain on solid ground.
Next headline on:  Cosmology
Mars Methane May Be Geological, Not Biological    09/20/2004
Just when the
ESA Mars Express spacecraft was collecting data on methane emissions on Mars, leading some to speculate it might be a biomarker, Science Now reported new findings that indicate methane can form naturally in Earth’s mantle by heating water, iron oxide and calcite under pressure (see also Physics Web).
    This demonstrates that “hydrocarbons could be produced without the byproducts of life,” and that “The methane recently detected on Mars ... may not indicate life, because it could have been produced from simple elements.”  It also indicates there could be vast yet currently inaccessible reservoirs of natural gas in Earth’s mantle.
This means also that future missions such as the Space Interferometry Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder may not be able to assume that the detection of methane is an indicator of the presence of life on a distant planet.  Nor could Cassini scientists assume that methane at Titan was a precursor to biology.
Next headline on:  MarsGeologyPhysics
Arrow Worms Miss the Mark in Darwin’s Tree    09/17/2004
Nature this week1 claims that “The origins of the arrow worms have long been obscure, but molecular studies are finally bringing the true evolutionary position of these beautiful marine predators into sharper focus.” (Emphasis added in all quotes.)  Arrow worms, or Chaetognatha, are “strikingly beautiful marine animals.” writes Maximilian J. Telford.  “Their transparent, slender bodies appear under the microscope like darting shards of glass.”  Despite their visual transparency, their place in the evolutionary “tree of life” has been cloudy: “In the 160 years since Darwin described them as remarkable for ‘the obscurity of their affinities’, arrow worms have been placed by different authors in a myriad of positions in the animal kingdom.”
    The confusion has centered on whether they are protostomes (first mouth) or the more advanced deuterostomes (second mouth), because while arrow worms seem to exhibit deuterostomy in their developmental stages, the genetics don’t allow them to be fitted in with deuterostomes.  New phylogenetic studies of mitochondrial DNA have led some molecular evolutionists to place them into an unexpected position in the tree: members of an ancestral group that preceded the protostome-deuterostome split.  Could it be that protostomes descended from a deuterostome-like creature?  Evolutionarily, that seems backwards:
Ignoring the possibility of convergent evolution, arrow worms and deuterostomes must have inherited their deuterostomy and other embryological similarities from a common ancestor (Fig. 2).  The new positioning of the arrow worms means that this common ancestor also gave rise to the protostomes.  This gives us an important insight into the early evolution of the protostomes, because it implies that they must have evolved from a creature that had deuterostome-like aspects of embryogenesis.  This result also leaves us with a problem of nomenclature, given that some of the protostomes are, embryologically speaking, deuterostomes....
So why are the arrow worms turning out to be so hard to place within the animal kingdom?  The short answer seems to be that the arrow-worm genes studied so far have been subject to more rapid evolutionary change than those of other species.  The result is that, on an evolutionary tree, arrow worms form a long branch, and such long-branch species are notoriously problematic.  Unfortunately, the simplest solution to the long-branch problem – finding a species of arrow worm with a more normal rate of evolution – seems impossible, because all of the 100 or so living species appear to suffer from the same problem.  The unavoidable conclusion is that yet more genetic data need to be gathered in the expectation that the picture will continue to become clearer.
 

1Maximilian J. Telford, “Evolution: Affinity for arrow worms,”
Nature 431, 254 - 256 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431254b.
This article illustrates many of the persistent sins of the Darwin Party when faced with uncooperative data.
  • Stretch the rates of evolution to fit the data to the preconceived belief.
  • Change the nomenclature as needed.
  • Invent terms like convergent evolution to whitewash weaknesses in the story.
  • Assume complexity arose even farther back in time, and say it just emerged somehow.
  • Conjure up imaginative ancestors for which there is no fossil record.
  • Speak of evolution in matter-of-fact, eyewitness news terms.
  • Spin each new damaging piece of evidence positively: say it provides new insight into evolution.
  • Use the phrase must have as glue to hold the story together.
  • Claim that future evidence will make the picture clearer (apparently 160 years was not enough).
  • Assume evolution no matter what the evidence says.  Allow no negotiation about the “fact” of evolution.
Reread the article above with this list in mind, and decide with your own eyes, guilty or not guilty?
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNADarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Secrets of the Spliceosome Revealed    09/17/2004
A husband and wife team from Hebrew University has revealed the structure of the spliceosome, one of the most complex molecular machines in the cell (see
09/12/2002 headline), in more detail than ever before, says EurekAlert.  The spliceosome is responsible for cutting out the introns in messenger RNA after it has transcribed DNA, and also for “alternative splicing” that rearranges the exons to produce a variety of proteins from the same DNA template: “Alternative splicing, which underlies the huge diversity of proteins in the body by allowing segments of the genetic code to be strung together in different ways, takes place in the spliceosome as well.”
    The Sperlings found a tunnel between the two major subunits of the machine where they believe the cutting and splicing operations take place, and also a cavity that might provide a safe haven for the messenger RNA strand, like a waiting room, before its surgery.  Also, they found that four spliceosomes are bound together into a “supraspliceosome” which is able to do “simultaneous multiple interactions, rather than by a stepwise assembly” as inferred from other experiments in vitro.  Their investigation in vivo (within a functioning, living cell) revealed even more complexity in the composite machine than had been seen in the individual machines:
Such a large number of interactions that the cell has to deal with can be regulated within the supraspliceosome.  Having the native spliceosomes as the building blocks of this large macromolecular assembly, this large number of interactions can be compartmentalized into each intron that is being processed.  At the same time, the whole supraspliceosome enables the communication between the native spliceosomes, which is needed for regulated splicing.  The organization of the supraspliceosome, like other macromolecular assemblies that exist as preformed entities, avoids the necessity to recruit the multitude of splicing components each time the spliceosome turns over.  In that sense, the overall coordination of the cellular interactions is reduced from the hard work of repeatedly placing each piece in the correct position of the puzzle to the relatively simpler work of coordinating the preformed puzzle.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
In short, “The supraspliceosome represents a stand-alone complete macromolecular machine capable of performing splicing of every pre-mRNA independent of its length or number of introns.”  They found that the individual spliceosomes are joined with a flexible joint like a hinge to provide flexible interactions and communication.  Their work was published in Molecular Cell Sept. 10.1
1Sperling et al., “Three-Dimensional Structure of the Native Spliceosome by Cryo-Electron Microscopy,” Molecular Cell, Volume 15, Issue 5, 10 September 2004, Pages 833-839; doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2004.07.022.
Can’t get enough of these molecular machines.  And can’t repeat often enough that the more detail a scientific paper reveals about the complex workings inside the cell, the less they have to say about evolution.  Quiz: how many times was evolution mentioned in this paper?  Answer: zilch, zero, nada.  They didn’t even say, “watch this space.” (see 09/08/2004 commentary).
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
Plants Use Quantum Mechanics to Harvest Light    09/16/2004
In a News and Views item in Nature Sept. 16,1 Graham R. Fleming (UC Berkeley) and Gregory R. Scholes (U Toronto) explain how the light-harvesting centers of plant photosynthetic organs take advantage of quantum mechanics to focus energy on their reaction centers.  Their illustration shows a chromophore diagram from a photosynthetic bacterium.  Understanding energy transfer at the quantum level in plants has solved some “long-standing mysteries” of photosynthesis, they say:
Paradoxically, for instance, it has emerged that the same interactions that produce perfectly efficient energy transport also allow photosynthetic organisms to construct molecular safety valves that dissipate excess excitation energy that would otherwise cause irreversible damage.  Furthermore, this work has shown how photosynthetic systems exploit energetic disorder to improve spectral coverage, and reduce energy mismatches to make the system exceedingly robust against thermal and structural variations.   (Emphasis added.)

1Fleming and Scholes, “Physical chemistry: Quantum mechanics for plants,”
Nature 431, 256 - 257 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431256a.
I struggled with basic QM at the university.  Don’t tell me a bacterium figured out graduate-level quantum mechanical engineering on its own.
Next headline on:  PlantsAmazing Facts
Discovery of Transfer RNA Recounted    09/16/2004
In the Sept. 16 issue of Nature,1 Mahlon Hoagland recounts how he did the key experiment in 1957 that proved DNA used “soluble RNA” intermediates, later named transfer RNA (tRNA), on the way to protein synthesis in the ribosome, only to find that Francis Crick had predicted the existence of such intermediates.
By this time [1953], scientists generally believed that RNA copies of single strands of DNA, acting as templates prescribing the sequences of amino acids in proteins, existed on ribosomes.  Frances Crick turned his attention to how amino acids might be ordered on such presumed templates.  As there is no chemical similarity or complementarity between amino acids and nucleotides, and thus no means by which they could directly interact, Crick suggested that amino acids might be first attached to short single strands of RNA nucleotides, thereby making the amino acids ‘recognizable’ to complementary sequences of nucleotides on the templates.  In its simplest form, 20 specific enzymes would catalyse the attachment of 20 different kinds of amino acids to 20 different RNA ‘adaptor’ molecules.  These would then be ordered by complementary nucleotide pairing on single-stranded RNA templates on ribosomes.  Francis circulated this ‘adaptor hypothesis’ among 20 fellow molecular biologists of the RNA Tie Club in 1955, but it was not formally published until 1958.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Prior to this, biochemists had considered the soluble RNA just “junk” in the mix of ribosomal RNA molecules.  As the picture of transfer RNA emerged (including the discovery of the 20 additional enzymes, named aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, that arm the tRNAs with their cognate amino acids), it looked like a wondrous design.  Hoagland describes his delight at the time, miffed somewhat at having been scooped by Crick:
An image arose before me: we explorers, slashing and sweating our way through a dense jungle, rewarded at last by a vision of a beautiful temple – looking up to see Francis, on gossamer wings of theory, gleefully pointing it out to us!
    And so it was that tRNAs and their companion activating enzymes (which came to be known as aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases), framed by the adaptor hypothesis, brought the classical biochemists and the molecular biologists together, snug in the same discipline, all speaking the same language.

1Mahlon Hoagland, “Turning Points: Enter transfer RNA,”
Nature 431, 249 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431249a.
This story forms a good example of how the intelligent design approach is good for science.  Notice, first of all, how the wrong approach was to consider the soluble RNA as “junk.”  An ID scientist would think instead that these molecules are there for a purpose and have some role to play.  It took a pursuit based on belief in design to find the truth.  For Hoagland, the pursuit was empirical: observing what actually happened.  For Crick, it was theoretical: investigating how things should happen inside the black box, given the DNA template in the nucleus and the protein chain in the ribosome.  The adaptor hypothesis was a “brilliant imaginative leap,” Hoagland calls it, because it reasoned that an underlying design was required to produce an ordered result.
    The personal beliefs of the scientists about evolution or creation did not enter into the picture as long as they used the logic of intelligent design in their approach: effects must have a cause, and design is empirically detectable apart from one’s religious beliefs.  The key to Crick’s insight was the realization that nucleotides and amino acids, having no chemical affinities, must become recognizable to one another during the process of translation.  Notice how that word recognizable implies design, in the same sense a programmer designs a printer driver to enable the computer to recognize it.  Without the driver interface, the computer and the printer would have no natural affinity.  Transfer RNA and its synthetases form a complex suite of adaptors or translators that, like interpreters, understand two languages, the language of nucleotides and the language of proteins (see 06/09/2003 and 04/29/2003 headlines).  Although it is unknown Crick reasoned this way at the time, the logical inference based on uniform experience is that anything that can translate one code into another must have had an intelligent cause.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons Crick later became a proponent of the panspermia hypothesis.  Since life appears too complex to have formed by chance, it must have been put here by intelligent designers.  One would only wish Crick, who died in July, had reasoned further that they, too, must have been designed, and continued his reasoning back to an uncaused First Cause.
    The discovery of transfer RNA gives us two lessons in the value of intelligent design in science.  First (despite his personal evolutionary philosophy), Crick’s “adaptor hypothesis” presupposed an inherent design in the process of DNA translation, and Hoagland’s experiments presupposed a function for what others were calling junk.  Second, the tRNA and the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase families provide prima facie evidence of intelligent design by their ability to translate one coded information storage system into another, resulting in information-rich functional machinery.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Watch tRNA at work in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  The animation of DNA translation and protein synthesis provides a five-minute, permanent cure for hallucinations caused by tripping out on Charlie’s Angle Dust (see 09/12/2004 commentary).
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNAIntelligent Design
Article    09/16/2004
Those who saw the film
Unlocking the Mystery of Life might remember the discussion about whether or not the bacterial flagellum might have been co-opted with parts from another molecular machine, a needle-nosed pump called the Type-III Secretory System (TTSS).  A paper on this subject was written by Stephen Meyer and Scott Minnich, who both appeared in the film.  The paper, written for the Second International Conference on Design & Nature (Rhodes, Greece, 2004) is available from the Discovery Institute.  Meyer and Minnich explain the differences between the machines and suggest that if anything was co-opted, it went from the more complex flagellum to the TTSS, not the other way around.  More likely, both machines, though they use a few overlapping parts, are expressed under mutually exclusive conditions and have different functions essential to the organism.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design

Peering Into Paley’s Black Box: The Gears of the Biological Clock    09/15/2004
William Paley’s famous
“watchmaker argument” for the existence of a Designer, though intuitively logical to many, has been criticized by naturalists on the grounds that one cannot compare mechanical devices to biological ones.  Biological “contrivances” might operate on totally different principles than mechanical ones made by humans we know.
    Michael Behe’s 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box was built on the theme that, until recently, the living cell was a “black box” to biologists: i.e., a system whose inner workings lay hidden from us.  But now with the rapid advances in molecular biology, we are finding the cell to be a complex factory of molecular machines.
    These themes of Paley and Behe seemingly converge in a commentary by Susan S. Golden (Texas A&M) in PNAS about biological clocks.1  Golden works at the Center for Research on Biological Clocks in the Texas A&M Biology Department, and was struck by recent findings in two other papers in PNAS on the circadian rhythms of “primitive” blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).  To her, they suggested we are opening the black box of biological clocks, and finding treasures that look remarkably familiar to the clocks we know:

A physiological black box is to a biologist what an ornately decorated package is to a small child: a mysterious treasure that promises delightful toys within. With fitting elan, a small community of scientists has ripped open the packaging of the cyanobacterial circadian clock, compiled the parts list, examined the gears, and begun to piece together the mechanism.  Over the past 2 years, the 3D molecular structures have been solved for the core components of the cyanobacterial circadian clock: KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC.  In a surprisingly literal analogy to mechanical timepieces, the protein that seems to be at the heart of the clock mechanism, KaiC, forms a hexameric ring that even looks like a cog: the escape wheel, perhaps.  Previous work has shown that KaiC has an autophosphorylation activity, and that the presence of KaiA and KaiB modulates the extent to which KaiC is phosphorylated. In this issue of PNAS, Nishiwaki et al. biochemically identify two amino acid residues on KaiC to which phosphoryl groups covalently attach, and show the necessity in vivo of a phosphorylation-competent residue at these positions.  By searching the crystal structure for evidence of phosphorylated sites, Xu et al. pinpoint a third residue that may “borrow” the phosphoryl group dynamically.  Together, their work contributes richly to our understanding of what makes the gears mesh and turn to crank out a 24-h timing circuit....
    Because each of these components (at minimum) is a dimer [composite of two molecular chains], KaiC is known to be a hexamer [composite of six chains], and other proteins may be present as well, the cyanobacterial clock can be thought of as an organelle unto itself: a “periodosome” that assembles and disassembles during the course of a day, defining the circadian period.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The term “periodosome” means “time-keeping body” – i.e., clock.  Her diagram shows KaiC as a six-sided carousel to which phosphate groups and other subunits attach and detach during the diurnal cycle.  The feedback between the units provides the periodicity of the clock, similar to the back-and-forth pendulum in a grandfather clock or the escape wheel in a wristwatch.  How is the clock tuned to the day-night cycle?  Where do the parts come together, and how do the clock gears mesh with other cellular machines?  We don’t know yet; the box has just been opened.
    The clocks examined in these papers are the “simple” clocks of blue-green algae, compared to the much more complex biological clocks in eukaryotes.  Even about these relatively simple systems in cyanobacteria much remains to be understood, but our initial glimpses into the inner workings of a biological clock at the molecular level remind her of the delight of opening a chest of toys for the first time:
Identification of other potential components of the periodosome, intracellular localization of the clock parts, and elucidation of other potential modifications all may yield gears that are required to smoothly tick away the time and ensure that daughter cells do not run fast or slow.
    The cyanobacterial clock box, no longer black, is a chest filled with bioluminescence and attractive toys.  Putting together the pieces to design a clock is a tedious task, but S. elongatus is a gracious host, and the guests at the party are hard at work.

1Susan S. Golden, “Meshing the gears of the cyanobacterial circadian clock,“ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0405623101.
Green makes no mention of evolution in this commentary, and has no need of that hypothesis.  Even granting her some poetic license in her use of the clock metaphors of gears, cogs and escape wheels ticking away, who could deny that Paley, after so many years of ridicule, has been vindicated?  Yes, Dick Dawkins, a watch indeed demands a Watchmaker, and if anyone is blind, it is the one ascribing blindness to the Artificer.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Bless Your Heart: Exercise for Senior Vitality    09/14/2004
A study from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas confirms what we all should know but need to be reminded of frequently: that prolonged, sustained exercise can build up the heart at any age, and provide insurance against heart failure.  The summary on
EurekAlert warns, “a sedentary lifestyle, in addition to aging, puts older people at risk for heart failure, the leading cause of hospitalizations for patients over 65 and a condition that affects eight out of every 1,000 people older than 70.”  Dr. Benjamin Levine’s team found that the hearts of senior athletes (average age 68) were indistinguishable from those of healthy younger participants.  But it’s never too late to start: sedentary seniors who began cardiovascular training showed “dramatic” improvement in heart strength and flexibility after just a year.
It’s instructive that the promised land into which God led the Israelites, a country He called a good land, the holy land, is a land of hills and valleys.  To get anywhere in Israel in Bible times you had to go up and down a lot.  We can assume the Manufacturer knew that vigorous, aerobic activity is a necessary ingredient for health and happiness.  It’s still true today.  The difference is that now, with all our cushy travel conveniences, we have to make an effort to get out and walk.  Vigorous outdoor walking will do wonders not only for your heart, but for your spirit, attitude and sense of well-being.  Let our photo gallery inspire you to start today.  Click on the “meditations” set for a sample: put yourself in the picture and think of how it would bless your heart in more ways than one.
Next headline on:  Health
Take Out the Garbage?  No– Feed the Worms    09/14/2004
Every kitchen needs one, says
National Geographic News: a popular new device that turns garbage into fertilizer.  What is it?  A new high-tech electronic machine?  No, something more ancient: a worm bin.  Modern homes are finding old benefits in vermiculture, the art of composting garbage into plant food via worms and bacteria.  A small bin with red worms can process five pounds of garbage a week.  “Here were have some of the planet’s most lowly creatures taking some of our most repulsive waste and turning it into fertilizer,” said Mary Appelhoff, author of Worms Eat My Garbage.  “I realized that the more worms I raised or encouraged others to raise, the world would be a better place.”
This would make a fun home project or science project for the kids.  The young are not so easily grossed out, and they would learn an important lesson as they fertilize the garden with the processed watermelon rinds they tossed into the bin, that everything in creation has a purpose in nature’s ongoing recycling program.  Another lesson is that we can all contribute to that recycling program in partnership with our other creatures, no matter how humble.  (We all will someday, anyway, but that’s another story.)
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyAmazing Facts
Salamander Genes Give Darwinists a Wake-Up Call    09/13/2004
A press release from
UC Berkeley says that the evolutionary family tree of salamanders, once thought secure, has been turned topsy-turvy by a study of the genes.  The opening paragraph is reminiscent of an irritating alarm clock going off in a comfy bedroom:
Biologists take for granted that the limbs and branches of the tree of life – painstakingly constructed since Linnaeus started classifying organisms 270 years ago – are basically correct.  New genetic studies, the thinking goes, will only prune the twigs, perhaps shuffling around a few species here and there.
    Hence the surprise when a new University of California, Berkeley, study of the largest family of salamanders produced a genetic family tree totally inconsistent with the accepted classification, which is based primarily on physical features.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
To be sure, the study did not put salamanders in with birds or sharks or something that radical.  But the results were radical enough to make evolutionists seriously consider a radical interpretation: that some lineages lost a function and then re-evolved it:
Salamanders formerly classified together because of similar characteristics, such as a tail that breaks at only one spot as opposed to anywhere when stressed, now appear not to be close relatives at all.  And salamanders that go through an aquatic larval stage are scattered about on different branches instead of grouped on one limb of the tree: Apparently some salamander lineages lost the larval stage and then reacquired it again.
“The results were stunningly different than what we anticipated,” said David Wake, an expert on salamanders at the university.  The study conducted by one of his graduate students found major upsets in the phylogenetic tree determined from mitochondrial DNA analysis.  The student, Rachel Mueller, learned a lesson: “this does tell us that, when reconstructing evolutionary relationships, you have to be careful which morphological features you assume are conservative and haven’t evolved much, and which you think are likely to have changed over time.”
The new family tree shows, however, that some terrestrial salamanders regained their larval stage after moving back to the water.  This may have happened in three separate lineages of Plethodontids [the largest family of salamanders], which is surprising for a seemingly complex feature biologists have assumed arose just once, very early in the history of salamanders.
Wake also has found that the three very different types of salamander tongues, some which are short and stubby and some that can be flung out nearly the length of the salamander’s body, “have evolved several times in different lineages.”  The new genetic data, published in PNAS,1 tend to confirm that, he said.
    Meanwhile, in Science Sept. 10,2 Elizabeth Pennisi says James Hanken of Harvard has proposed, based on genetic studies, that a certain line of miniature salamanders from Mexico acquired upper teeth independently four times.  He defended this view against critics at the 7th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology in Boca Raton, Florida last month:
Some of Hanken’s colleagues question his interpretation, noting that the common wisdom holds that once a trait disappears from a group of organisms, it rarely resurfaces.  Hanken’s conclusion is “something that’s hard to defend,” says Ann Huysseune of Ghent University in Belgium.  But Hanken argues that these small vertebrates must have had a lot of evolutionary tricks up their sleeves in order to survive tough times.  He points to the success that small animals in general have had after mass extinctions and attributes that to their ability to rapidly change and adapt.
    Thorius species, he thinks, may have retained the capability of making upper teeth, even if their tooth-building program became short-circuited.  The reappearance of upper teeth in the four salamander species, says Hanken, “offers an example of latent developmental potentialities that reside within living species but which may not be manifest or expressed until far into the future.”

1Mueller, Wake et al., “Morphological homoplasy, life history evolution, and historical biogeography of plethodontid salamanders inferred from complete mitochondrial genomes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0405785101, published online Sept. 13, 2004.
2Elizabeth Pennisi, “Tiny Salamanders Show Their Teeth,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1396-1397, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1396b].
How long must we hold onto an outmoded hypothesis when it continually forces its adherents to believe absurd things?  To get a larval stage or a ballistic tongue once is astronomically improbable.  How can anyone believe it happened multiple times?  And to believe that something as complex as the suite of developmental genes for a set of teeth can just wait inert in a genome for the right time far into the future, without being eliminated by natural selection, violates Darwin’s own principles.  Salamanders don’t have sleeves.  How can they hide tricks up them?  If any problem in evolution can be explained away by magic tricks, it is not science.  The genetic data are not proving Darwin right, so Chuck his theory.  Wake up; it was only a bad trip (see 09/12/2004 commentary).
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGenetics and DNA
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week    09/12/2004
This entry is by Richard Dawkins, in an extract from his new book The Ancestor’s Tale, as reproduced on
The Guardian.  After turning back the clock of evolution in his mind’s eye and discussing all the feats of physics and engineering that living things invented on their own, he reflects on his own astonishment about the power of evolution:
If, as returning host, I reflect on this whole pilgrimage, my overwhelming reaction is one of amazement.  Amazement at the extravaganza of detail that we have seen; amazement, too, at the very fact that there are any such details to be had at all, on any planet.  The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple – just physics and chemistry, the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space.  The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.  Even that is not the end of the matter.  Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of comprehending the process, and even of comprehending the process by which they comprehend it.
    This pilgrimage has been a trip, not just in the literal sense but in the counter-cultural sense I met when a young man in California in the 1960s.  The most potent hallucinogen on sale in Haight or Ashbury or Telegraph Avenue would be tame by comparison.  If it’s amazement you want, the real world has it all.  Not only is life on this planet amazing, and deeply satisfying, to all whose senses have not become dulled by familiarity.  The very fact that we have evolved the brain power to understand our evolutionary genesis redoubles the amazement and compounds the satisfaction.
The Ancestor’s Tale: A pilgrimage to the dawn of life by Richard Dawkins is published this month by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Wasn’t that a good, juicy entry?  This should make SEQ of the month, or year.  We share one sentiment with Dawkins: we are amazed, and enjoy great satisfaction, at contemplating the complexity and wonder of life.  We also agree that we should never let our senses be dulled by familiarity with the amazing world we live in and its living things.  Wonder is a gift of God, intended to lead us toward Him, not toward foolish speculations (Romans 1:16-23).
    This quote reveals that Dawkins has more in common with a spaced-out hippie on drugs than a scientist.  Maybe that is what Darwinism is all about: it’s a trip, a hallucination, for those who don’t like homework.  Deducing the complete cause and effect chain from “literally nothing” to a human brain that can comprehend the process by which it comprehends the original nothingness from which it and these wonders of nature sprung is too hard.  Do your own thing.  Tune in; turn on; drop out.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Recounting the Risks of Critiquing Darwinism    09/12/2004
Lynn Vincent has an article in
World Magazine This Week recounting the tribulations suffered by Roger DeHart when he tried to include material critical of Darwinism in his high school biology classroom in Burlington, Washington.  (His story is featured in the film Icons of Evolution.)  It tells how the NCSE pressured two schools to forbid DeHart presenting any material critical of Darwinism, even from secular sources and clear of any religious beliefs or advocacy.  The second school changed its position after it had hired DeHart with full knowledge of his teaching and the controversy it had aroused in Burlington, and after promising him freedom to present it.
    DeHart now teaches at a private Christian school in Southern California.  In May this year, a scheduled appearance by DeHart on an NPR radio debate about origins was canceled just hours before the program was aired (see 06/04/2004 headline).  Vincent quotes DeHart, “Certainly, this idea that science and education is this tolerant search for truth doesn’t hold true from my experience.  You’d better toe the party line.  If you speak out against the orthodoxy, [the party] is going to deal with you.”
    Another attempt to debunk Darwinism was met with a violent reaction last week in Serbia.  Straits Times (Asia) reports, “Serbia’s Education Minister was ridiculed in cartoons and pelted with resignation demands on Thursday for ejecting Darwin from school classrooms in favour of Old Testament ‘creationism.’”  Ms. Ljiljana Colic had decided on removing evolution from 8th grade curriculum, and announcing that in other grades the teaching of evolution had to be balanced with the alternative view that God created.  For more, see the analysis by Michael Matthews on Answers in Genesis.  “Based on the reaction,” he says of this area (known as the powder keg of Europe), “you’d think another world war had started.”
Orthodoxy, party line– was this the liberalism that the original Darwinian X-club had in mind when they rallied against what they viewed as the Anglican orthodoxy of the 19th century?  Would they be gratified to see their views turned into a dogma that cannot be questioned?  Did not Father Charlie himself say, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question”?  Is it not ironic to see the Darwinists as the inquisitors, and the intelligent design scientists and teachers the ones wanting to take Darwin at his word to allow students to hear a balanced and full statement of the arguments on both sides of this important question?
Next headline on:  Education
Is the Evolution of Bacterial Resistance a Just-So Story?   09/12/2004
Evolutionists frequently point to the emergence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics as an example of Darwinian evolution occurring right under our noses.  Bruce R. Levin of Emory University, writing in the Sept. 10 issue of Science,1 is not so sure about that.  He points out that cells might just have a built-in mechanism to shut down growth and reproduction in times of stress (the SOS response), to minimize the damage from toxins in the environment.  He points to two studies in the same issue that indicate how noninherited resistance to antibiotics can be generated without reference to Darwinian natural selection.
    What’s more interesting in his report is his rebuke against fellow Darwinists who leap to unsubstantiated tales of evolution to explain how these mechanisms come about.  His final paragraph states:
It is easy to concoct just-so stories to explain the evolution of a mechanism that, like the SOS response, produces quiescent cells that are refractory to lethal agents.  Yet it seems unlikely that ampicillin was the original selective force responsible for the evolution of the induction mechanism observed by Miller and colleagues.  A bigger challenge to those in the evolution business is to account for the generation of lower fitness cell types when they do not provide an advantage to the collective, like the persisters of Balaban et al. in the absence of antibiotics.  Then again, just like people, bacteria do some seemingly perverse things that are not easy to account for by simple stories of adaptive evolution.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

1Bruce R. Levin, “Microbiology: Noninherited Resistance to Antibiotics,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5690, 1578-1579, 10 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103077].
Thank you, Dr. Levin, for your well-aimed rebuke to the Darwin Party.  So you see, it is not only creationists who accuse the Darwinists of laziness in concocting just-so stories whenever a phenomenon presents itself.  One might almost think Levin is a secret reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines.  We agree; if you want just-so stories, read Kipling, not Science.
    It might be noted that perversity is in the eye of the beholder.  Levin says that “bacteria do some seemingly perverse things that are not easy to account for by simple stories of adaptive evolution.”  To the bacteria, it might be that the Darwinians are the perverse ones.  They might be complaining, “these lazy storytellers dishonor us by claiming to be our descendants.”
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Solar Particles Survive Genesis Crash    09/10/2004
Scientists are relieved that they have been able to recover enough pieces from the crashed
Genesis spacecraft to pursue the science objectives.  JPL Director Charles Elachi said they have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and are bouncing back from a hard landing.  The highest-priority science goals may still be attainable, at least partially, despite Wednesday’s 192-mph crash in Utah when the craft’s parachute did not deploy.
    The mission had been touted as a search for our origins: where we come from, where stars and planets come from, and how the earth got here.
Why the name Genesis?  Mission designers must surely have been keenly aware of the Biblical connotation when they selected the name.  Either to stave off speculations or to answer concerns, the mission FAQ page addressed the concern as follows:
Since this mission is named Genesis and will tell us about the beginning of the solar system, will it try to prove or disprove the Bible?
The Genesis mission will collect samples of the solar wind, material flowing outward from the Sun, and return these samples to Earth.  Scientists will be able to compare the compositions of these samples with known compositions of the planets and help in the effort to understand how our solar system and its planets formed.  It is not NASA’s role to address theological questions or interpretations, and Genesis’ investigation will be studied as a scientific question, not a theological one.
Yet to suggest that the formation of earth can be approached strictly through natural science without reference to a Creator is not a theologically neutral position.  It is clearly an alternative philosophy to the famous declaration of Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God.”  To NASA, the religious text is, “in the beginning were the particles.”
    Please understand that we are all in favor of collecting data.  We love data.  We love solar wind particles and eagerly await what they might tell us about what the sun is doing now.  But to suggest that a mission like this can speak to origins is to embrace a theological or philosophical position.  The “origins” spin on this and other missions assumes an either-or dichotomy, the belief that there are strictly theological positions as opposed to scientific ones, as if these are non-overlapping, watertight classes of explanation, with the clear implication that scientific explanations are better: they are more objective, neutral, unbiased and true.  But it is naive to assume that science has no philosophical baggage, or that a “theological” explanation like Genesis 1 could never have any observable effects accessible to natural science.
    Some scientists treat words like Genesis flippantly because, to them, the Biblical texts are ancient myths no different than those of Greek accounts of warring gods and goddesses.  They ignore or don’t care that millions of Jews and Christians still believe the Bible and the Creator of which it speaks.  Dodging this concern with statements that the Genesis investigation “will be studied as a scientific question, not a theological one,” does nothing to assuage the insensitivity of usurping the Biblical name: first, because (as just stated) treating the Biblical account as a myth is a slap in the face to the sincerely-held beliefs of many people (including many scientists), and secondly, they suggest that “science” can offer a strictly naturalistic, unguided, purposeless explanation in the place of the teleological, purposeful, personal explanation in the Biblical account.
    Imagine the furor if NASA absconded with a name from some other religious persuasion – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, native American – with the implication that their goal was to investigate a scientific alternative to those beliefs.  Such an act would be denounced for its insensitivity.  The ACLU and other groups would demand an apology, and the NASA director would be called before a Congressional hearing to explain.  Would those groups be appeased by a response like “we’re only looking for scientific explanations, not theological ones”?  This is another example of how the sensitivity and tolerance of “political correctness” (an oxymoron) is asymmetrically applied when it comes to Jews and Christians.
    Despite all that, we offer best wishes to the mission and science teams.  Exploration and discovery are important values of the Judeo-Christian worldview.  We hope many solar wind particles survived intact.  They might shed light on many current solar and interplanetary processes, and that is very worthwhile.  Incidentally, many Jews, Christians and creationists work on missions such as Genesis, some of them in high places.  Most of them do their work quietly with excellence, professionalism and teamwork.  The hype in the press releases is written by a politically-correct few who don’t have to actually build and fly these amazing spacecraft.
Next headline on:  Solar System
Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins    09/10/2004
An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates:
Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap out of the water onto an iceberg.  You’ll never see a submarine do that, Hover points out.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Carrie Lock, author of the article entitled “Marvels of Engineering,” also marvels at the graceful flippers of dolphins, sea lions and whales compared to the crude propellers of man-made underwater craft.  The shape, maneuverability, and flexibility of animal flippers overcomes turbulence and allows quick turns and near-instant stops:
Scientists have long sought to unlock the secrets of nature’s underwater-locomotion schemes, but they’ve usually met with frustration.  Since the mid-1930s, when England’s Sir James Gray declared that dolphins move through water so efficiently that engineering principles were inadequate to explain the mechanism, people have sought to understand marine-animal locomotion.  Now, researchers in the field of biomimetics–the science of mimicking living things–have unlocked some of those secrets and are applying their knowledge to prototype watercraft.
The movement of a swimming penguin is “deceptively simple,” because:
To accomplish its feats, the penguin must generate forces that are huge in proportion to its small body.  Although scientists can’t fully explain how the animal does it, it’s clear that for its size, a penguin’s stroke creates forces relatively larger than those of a propeller and does it more efficiently....
    Penguins are more maneuverable than vessels because their flippers can make different kinds of motions than propellers can.  Penguins’ flippers are attached to their bodies at a single rotation point that’s equivalent to the human shoulder.  The flippers flap up and down, move forward and back, and twist around in the joint.  Propellers, on the other hand, just rotate.  Although they can turn at different speeds, the orientation of their motion is fixed.
Lock discusses several teams working on imitating the flippers of penguins, dolphins, and the scalloped-edge flippers of humpback whales, which reduce turbulent wakes (see
05/11/2004 headline)– this is being investigated by a Pennsylvania biologist named Frank E. Fish.  The Navy is looking at all these engineering projects with great interest.
1Carrie Lock, “Ocean Envy: Scientists look toward marine creatures to improve watercraft designs,” Science News, Week of Sept. 4, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 10, p. 154.
Penguins look funny waddling on the land in their tuxedos, but underwater they are more graceful than ballerinas.  Next time a nature program shows underwater footage of Antarctic penguins, watch it for awhile in wonder.  Then laugh as the camera shifts to land position and films them launching their fat but sleek bodies into the air, only to bellyflop on the ice.  Penguins are cool.  This article barely touches on just one of many wonders of these aquatic birds and their lifestyles in some of the harshest environments on earth.
    An important part of the penguin’s flipper design is a pulley-like tendon that threads the needle of a shoulder bone.  How could that evolve?  Every detail in the anatomy of a penguin flipper is superbly adapted to their habitat, but a flipper alone would be useless without the brain software, sensory organs, digestive, respiratory, circulatory and other systems that work together to make all this exquisite ballet possible.  The systems, in turn, depend for their function on tens of thousands of molecular machines in each cell, coded by gigabytes of programmed information.
    Congratulations to Carrie Lock for sparing us unnecessary Darwinspeak in this interesting story (except in the references, where a paper has a convoluted title, “Convergent evolution in mechanical design of lamnid sharks and tunas”).  Yes, ask the beasts, and thou mightest learn something.  (To Darwinists, another reference is apropos: go to the ant, thou sluggard.)
Next headline on:  BirdsMammalsMarine LifeAmazing Facts
Darwin’s Tree of Life Uprooted; Ring of Life Planted in its Place    09/09/2004
Perhaps no
icon of evolution has been more pervasive than Darwin’s “tree of life” (see 06/13/2003 headline).  A drawing of a branching tree was the only illustration in Darwin’s Origin of Species.  145 years later, scientists are saying the metaphor of a tree is wrong; it should be a ring, at least in the family tree of eukaryotes.  This surprising turnaround was published in Nature1 Sept. 9 by James A. Lake and Maria C. Rivera of UCLA’s Astrobiology Institute.  Lake said in a UCLA press release, “It’s not a tree; it’s actually a ring of life.  A ring explains the data far better.”  EurekAlert reported, “UCLA molecular biologists uproot the tree of life.”
    What’s this all about?  Are they denying evolution?  Certainly not: Lake said, “If we go back a hundred billion generations, our ancestor was not a human, and wasn’t even a primate.  But we are distantly related to archaeal eocyte- and proteobacterial-ancestors, just as we are related to our parents and grandparents.”  So far that sounds like typical tree-of-life Darwinism.  The ring metaphor comes from their proposal that eukaryotes (see 09/08/2004 headline) arose not by branching off of early prokaryotes or archaebacteria, but rather by the fusion of the genomes from those two groups: one that could do photosynthesis, and another that could survive extreme environments.  The press release expresses Lake’s confidence in his new proposal:
“At least 2 billion years ago, ancestors of these two diverse prokaryotic groups fused their genomes to form the first eukaryote, and in the processes two different branches of the tree of life were fused to form the ring of life,” Lake said.  “A major unsolved question in biology has been where eukaryotes came from, where we came from.  The answer is that we have two parents, and we now know who those parents were.”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Their conclusion was based on an analysis of 30 genomes of prokaryotes and eukaryotes.  Martin and Embley, commenting on the paper in the same issue of Nature,2 said “they call for a radical departure from conventional thinking.” 
Unknown to Darwin, microbes use two mechanisms of natural variation that disobey the rules of tree-like evolution: lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis.  Lateral gene transfer involves the passage of genes among distantly related groups, causing branches in the tree of life to exchange bits of their fabric.  Endosymbiosis – one cell living within another – gave rise to the double-membrane-bounded organelles of eukaryotic cells: mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) and chloroplasts (of no further importance here).  At the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria, a free-living proteobacterium came to reside within an archaebacterially related host....  This event involved the genetic union of two highly divergent cell lineages, causing two deep branches in the tree of life to merge outright.  To this day, biologists cannot agree on how often lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis have occurred in life’s history; how significant either is for genome evolution; or how to deal with them mathematically in the process of reconstructing evolutionary trees.  The report by Rivera and Lake bears on all three issues.  And instead of a tree linking life’s three deepest branches (eubacteria, archaebacteria and eukaryotes), they uncover a ring.
Martin and Embley say the proposal is “at odds with the view of eukaryote origins by simple Darwinian divergence,” but consistent with the endosymbiont theory, the idea that organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts were once free-living cells that became incorporated into another organism in a cooperative merger.  Since this event must have occurred over 1.4 billion years ago, “such time-spans push current tree-building methods to, and perhaps well beyond, their limits.”  Because of the problems inferring ancient episodes from present data, and the confusing mix of functions between the three groups, Rivera and Lake admit their ring metaphor, based on a merger of two groups into eukaryotes, is only a working hypothesis.  “The ring of life does not explain why this happened, but it does provide a broad phylogenetic framework for testing theories for the origin and evolution of the eukaryotic genome,” they conclude.
    So a ring may replace a tree as the metaphor of evolution.  Lake and Rivera must be Tolkien fans; they almost titled their paper, “One ring to rule them all,” but that might have associated their endeavors with those of the Dark Lord.
1Maria C. Rivera and James A. Lake, “The ring of life provides evidence for a genome fusion origin of eukaryotes,” Nature 431, 152 - 155 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02848.
2William Martin and Martin Embley, “Evolutionary biology: Early evolution comes full circle,” Nature 431, 134 - 137 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431134a.
Well, this ought to be testable.  Put some photosynthetic prokaryotes together with archaebacteria in a hot spring, and see if they merge.  Are we supposed to believe that this happened only in the unobservable past but is impossible today?  It should be going on all the time, and should be common knowledge to microbiologists.  It should not be a mystic story imagined by Darwinists alone.
    Did Lake or Rivera observe anything like this happen?  No.  Did they explain how genome fusion could have overcome the barriers and defenses cells use today to protect their information?  No.  Did they do any real scientific, empirical, lab work?  No.  Did they just play with their favorite phylogenetic computer games?  Yes.  Did they find major problems with the standard evolutionary trees?  Yes.  Did they get tired of the old worn-out metaphor?  Maybe.  In the end, they do not have a scientific theory, only a metaphor, and metaphors bewitch you, Saruman.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Inferring Dinosaur Family Life from Bones   09/08/2004
Observation: a jumble of dinosaur bones in China.  Conclusion: some dinosaurs showed tender loving care to their young.  This is the gist of a paper in Nature this week (Sept. 9),1 reported also on
Nature Science Update.
    Discerning behavior from bones is an art, but these bones of 34 psittacosaurs from Liaoning, China provided a few hints.  The specimens were all buried suddenly; there was no dislocation of the bones or exposure to air for long after death.  Many were in upright position.  One adult was present with hatchlings of various ages, all within half a square meter.  These clues seem to indicate they were living together as a harmonious family unit.  The rest of the story, lacking instant replay, must be left to the imagination.
    What is perhaps more interesting is the death scenario.  What buried this family so suddenly?  One can almost imagine them caught completely off guard, looking up with one last look of surprise, to be forever preserved like a snapshot in stone.  Volcanic ash burial (as at Pompeii) does not seem likely due to the absence of glass.  Perhaps they were under a ledge or in an underground burrow that collapsed, or maybe a wave of flood sediments overwhelmed them.  “The uniformity of the entombing sediments, perhaps a result of soil development, prevents identification of any definite event,” say Meng et al. in Nature.
    Allowing that the find indeed indicates parental care for the young, Darwinists are drawing another conclusion: “The unique discovery... suggests that the parental instincts of present-day birds and reptiles such as crocodiles may have a common evolutionary precursor.”  The authors admit, on the other hand: “But, given the disparity in ecology and physiology between crocodilians and birds, homology of their parental care is debatable.”  More finds like this might strengthen the case for homology, they say.
1Meng et al., “Palaeontology: Parental care in an ornithischian dinosaur,” Nature 431, 145 - 146 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431145a.
These dinosaurs might have shown parental care for their hatchlings.  This and other possible nesting sites at other locales tend to support the idea.  It seems a reasonable one, given observation of nurturing behavior among many living species.  But how did this family get buried so suddenly?  A find as rare as this really is astonishing, unless many individuals over a wide area were trapped by the same event, and it was a big one.  Whether it was a regional or global catastrophe, one can decide from the preponderance of evidence.  One thing seems clear; it was not uniformitarianism.  The hatchlings probably did not hold their poses while sediments built up slowly around them over many years.
    Here we go again with the homology storytelling; so now we are to believe that parental loving care was an evolutionary adaptation going all the way back to the presumed common ancestor of crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds, Nelsons and Cleavers.  This really does get so tiring.  Maybe if they were grounded for a week every time they said such nonsense, the little Darwin Club members would learn some manners.
Next headline on:  DinosaursFossils
Classifying Eukaryotes Easier than Evolving Them   09/08/2004
If you like stories with surprise endings, check out an otherwise boring paper by two Canadian evolutionary biologists, Alistair G. B. Simpson and Andrew A. Roger, in the Sept. 7 issue of Current Biology.1  Their subject is the real “kingdoms” of eukaryotes (that’s all creatures with nuclei, including plants, animals, and a host of single-celled organisms).  Unhappy with previous artificial classifications, including the “grab-bag” grouping called Protista (common in most textbooks), they propose more biologically realistic groupings based on phylogeny and the findings of molecular genetics.  The assumption is that a natural group should include an ancestor and all its descendants.
    The paper lumbers along through their new proposed groupings: Opisthokonta (animals, true fungi, and all You Karyotes out there), Amoebozoa, Plantae (you guessed it), Chromalveolata (try that on Jeopardy), Rhizaria, and Excavata (not backhoe drivers, but a group of heterotrophic flagellates).  Each of these are “well-known” groupings that could be called kingdoms; there might be a few others that cannot be fitted into these six.  So far so good.  This is a paper about ancestors and descendants, right?  So where is the ancestor of all these eukaryotes?  Surprise:
Identifying six natural groups of eukaryotes raises the question: what are the relationships amongst them?  Molecular phylogenetics could provide the answer in principle, but there are tremendous practical difficulties.  As we look further back in time, most historical signal is lost from present day molecular sequences, so that non-historical (artefactual) signals in the same data can easily obscure the true relationships.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Keep reading.  Although they suggest that Amoebozoa and us might be related (sorry to hurt your self-esteem), the deep level structure and timing of the divergence of these groups “remains contentious.”  There is “huge disparity” in timing of the split, from 1.2 to 2.8 billion years.  Without new and better fossils, “the precise age of eukaryotes and the tempo of their divergence are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.”  In fact, eukaryotes are so different, the authors leave it unsolved whether there is any reason to think there was a common ancestor at all:
Eukaryotic cells are drastically different from their presumably prokaryotic ancestors.  With the limited fossil record, researchers have tried to understand the evolution of the eukaryotic cell by identifying living eukaryotes that are ‘primitive’ in some aspects.  The primitive status of a group is untenable, however, if phylogenetic studies indicate that it is closely related to ‘complete’ eukaryotic cells.  In fact, all the groups of eukaryotes seriously suggested to be primitive eukaryotes now seem to be related to ‘complete’ forms (most fall within Excavata).  The last common ancestor of living eukaryotes now appears to have been a ‘complete’ eukaryotic cell.  It had a nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, and underwent mitosis and meiosis.  It had mitochondria capable of oxidative phosphorylation, amongst other functions, and was presumably aerotolerant.  It had a complex eukaryotic cytoskeleton including eukaryotic flagella (most likely a pair of them), and was heterotrophic, consuming food particles by phagocytosis.  The only major eukaryotic features that seem to be of later origin are plastids.  We are now left with an intriguing and difficult question: did living eukaryotes diverge [shortly after the rapid and drastic evolution of the eukaryotic cell, or was this cell assembled gradually, but with modern eukaryotes then replacing all intermediate forms?
To be or not to be an ancestor, that is the question, and that is where this “evolutionary” paper ends.
1Simpson and Roger, “The real ‘kingdoms’ of eukaryotes,”
Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages R693-R696, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.038.
If you thought the missing link was somewhere between Java Man and us, behold The Missing Chain.  Either way, the Darwin Party is stuck in Story Book Land.  Either evolution was so rapid it happened without a trace, or it was slow and gradual, but the later organisms replaced the earlier ones, who disappeared without a trace.  This is reminiscent of another paper last month that left us readers staring at nothing with the advice, “watch this space” (see 08/19/2004 commentary).  Sometimes no comment is the best comment.  Let the Darwinists admit to themselves they have no evidence for their belief system.  We suggest that the phrase “watch this space” would be the perfect theme for the Darwin Party Curriculum.  It could be the title of their next textbook on evidence for evolution.  Every page could contain the caption, “This page unintentionally left blank.”
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNAFossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Cooing Doves Set Muscle Speed Record    09/08/2004
The dove: a symbol of peace, innocence, love, and gentleness, right?  Its cooing call is a soothing song to nature lovers.  Yet hidden in the throat of the dove is one of the fastest-acting muscles in the animal kingdom, report Elemans et al. in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.1  The cooing song contains a trill that vibrates at 30 Hz, achieved by specialized throat muscles that move the vibrating membrane in and out rapidly:
A dove’s trill cannot be achieved using typical vertebrate muscles, because they do not switch on and off fast enough to control the trill’s brief sound elements (9 ms).  The syringeal muscles must also contract aerobically to power cooing sessions that can last for many minutes.  These extreme requirements can be met only by aerobic superfast muscles.  This muscle type is the fastest known in vertebrates: its twitch half-time is less than 10 ms, which is one to two orders of magnitude faster than that of typical locomotory muscles.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Imagine running a sprint with muscles like that.  And now, the rest of the story: other songbirds probably outperform the dove:
Birds modulate their songs extremely rapidly, with frequencies exceeding 100 Hz (ref. 2).  Although the intrinsic nonlinear properties of the syrinx add complexity to the level of motor control, only muscle control can explain the fast but gradual modulations that underlie the extraordinary intraspecific variability and flexibility of phonation.  The stereotyped coos of doves are considered to be simple vocalizations among birds, but even doves use superfast muscles to control their song.  Given their added vocal complexity, songbirds have probably evolved muscles that outperform the syringeal muscles of doves.  Superfast muscle can no longer be considered a rare adaptation, found for example in the highly derived acoustic organs of the toadfish and rattlesnake.  We suspect that superfast vocal muscles are widespread among birds.
A meadowlark will never sound the same again.  Incidentally, another recent paper in Current Biology2 found that parrots have tongues able to modulate sounds much like humans do.  That’s one reason they can talk.  See also “Parrots speak in tongues” on
Nature Science Update.  The lead researcher commented, “parrot communication may be more complex than we thought.”
1Elemans et al., “Bird song: Superfast muscles control dove’s trill,” Nature 431, 146 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431146a.
2Beckers et al., “Vocal-Tract Filtering by Lingual Articulation in a Parrot,” Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1592-1597, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.057.
The variety of sounds birds can make is remarkable..  Some calls, like the dove’s, are soothing and sweet; others, like those of the crow or scrub jay, are raucous and irritating.  How their skill is passed from parent to chick over hundreds of generations is also amazing.  Isn’t it sweet to know that the birds are out there evolving better and faster muscles, figuring out all the developmental pathways and modulations, understanding nonlinear dynamics, devising and meeting extreme requirements and gearing all the molecular machines, genetic programs and control mechanisms to transform seeds and worms into music?  Evolution is such an amazing goddess.
Next headline on:  BirdsAmazing Facts
Nature Says ID Paper Scored a Publishing Success    09/08/2004
A news story in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature1 says, “A new front has opened up in the battle between scientists and advocates of intelligent design, a theory that rejects evolution and is regarded by its critics as another term for creationism.”  Reporter Jim Giles says the paper by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute was published in a “low-impact” journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.2  “In the article, senior fellow Stephen Meyer uses information theory and other techniques to argue that the complexity of living organisms cannot be explained by darwinian evolution.”  Giles says the arguments are nothing new, but portrays this publication as primarily an attempt by creationists to get their views published in scientific journals, “to back up claims that the theory is scientifically valid.”  Ken Miller, who has debated Meyer, “says that, despite criticism of the journal, versions of the theory will find their way into the scientific literature at some point.”
    The dispute deepened when the journal, bowing to pressure from Darwinists, declared it would no longer publish papers with an intelligent design perspective, reports
Discovery Institute, even if an article passes peer review.  The NCSE (National Center for Science Education, led by Eugenie Scott) has argued that Meyer’s paper should not have been printed.  This led the Discovery Institute to accuse the NCSE of a flip-flop: they try to prevent intelligent design papers from getting published, then say that intelligent design isn’t scientific because its advocates never publish.  John West of the Institute claims this proves the NCSE is not interested in peer review, but censorship.
    Richard Sternberg, editor of the Proceedings, admitted in an interview with The Scientist that Meyer’s paper went through the standard peer review process for the journal.  The three reviewers “all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major US public university, and another at a major overseas research institute,” he said.
1Jim Giles, “Peer-reviewed paper defends theory of intelligent design,” Nature 431, 114 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431114a.
2S. C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117, 213–239; 2004.  Reprint available online at Discovery Institute.
    Giles uses several tricks to downplay the paper.  (1) It was published in a “low-impact” journal [but it is published at the Smithsonian].  (2) The editor of the journal has ties to a creationist organization.  (3) It has been thoroughly refuted already on an evolutionist website.  (4) Peer review isn’t a guarantee of accuracy.  Sounds like he doesn’t want you to read it.  Then he uses the scare tactic to portray evil creationists plotting to use this success to push their views in US school curricula.
    Giles sounds downright worried.  No worries, mate.  Design publishing has a long history, way back to the beginning of scientific observation (see online book).
Next headline on:  Intelligent Design
North Pole Enjoyed Balmy Climate    09/08/2004
In ages past, the North Pole region enjoyed a Mediterranean climate, according to
Nature Science Update and the BBC NewsEurekAlert reminds us that ice cores demonstrate that Greenland, too, had one or more periods of warm weather suitable for lush plant growth (see 08/16/2004 headline).  Climate swings were abrupt enough to occur within a human lifetime.
Food for thought (salad, at least).  Do ice cores show a history going back over a hundred thousand years?  Learn about the slippery assumptions used for identifying “annual” layers in an article by Michael Oard.
Next headline on:  Geology
Archer Fish Learns the Laws of Optics   09/07/2004
Imagine you’re a kid in a swimming pool, underwater with a squirt gun.  Lurking under the surface, you detect the wavy, distorted image of your big brother standing on the deck.  You sneak up, fire from below– and miss, because you didn’t know how to correct for refraction and distance through the air-water interface.  There’s a fish that would put you to shame; it squirts jets of water precisely at its prey, bugs crawling above water on leaves and stems.  Scientists have been intrigued for many years at the accuracy of the aptly named “archer fish”  (see
09/30/2002 headline, an article by Taylor Reeves on Apologetics Press and footage of the fish in action in the film Wonders of God’s Creation).
    A new paper about the aquatic sharpshooters has been published in the Sept. 7 issue of Current Biology.1  The title says it all:  “Archer fish learn to compensate for complex optical distortions to determine the absolute size of their aerial prey.”  Researchers gave the fish target practice with colored disks.  A summary in EurekAlert explains the result: “Although naïve fish often selected disks that would be too large to be swallowed, all could eventually learn to judge absolute size with great precision; in doing so, they perfectly accounted for the complex optical situation posed by their underwater viewpoint” (emphasis added in all quotes).  What’s even more amazing, EurekAlert continues, is that this was not just a conditioned response.  The fish learned physics:
In a series of experiments, the researchers showed that the fish do not learn this by remembering which combinations of spatial configurations and the corresponding images were rewarding in the past.  Rather, the fish extracted the underlying law that connects spatial configuration and apparent size.  This remarkable cognitive ability allows the fish to readily judge a target’s objective size from underwater views they have never encountered before.
—and all this “in a world of distortion” caused by refraction and a moving surface.  The researchers, Schuster et al. in Germany, seemed pretty amazed, because “the deviations between real and apparent horizontal size are substantial” due to distortion.  But the fish took this all in stride:
Moreover, the strong viewpoint dependency can even cause changes in the size relations among the disks.  For instance, if the fish makes its selection while close to a large disk, the apparent size of a more-distant small disk can be larger than that of the close large disk.  In principle, the fish could overcome these problems by scanning the targets and taking a view of each target from the same horizontal distance.  However, this is clearly not what the fish did; as soon as the objects were shown, the fish swam straight to their shooting position and fired.
The original paper describes some of the clever experiments the researchers devised to test whether the fish were actually learning optical principles.  They wanted to know if the fish could learn to adjust for optical distortion, so they trained four fish to shoot at 6mm disks at various horizontal and vertical distances.  Successful target shooting within 10 seconds was rewarded with a fly.  After 4-8 weeks of training, the winners in the school of fish archery all passed: “All four fish mastered the task and selected the correct size at any height.”  This was a hard task for any fish, but the archer fish achieved “impressive precision,” able to hit a 1mm bull’s-eye from 800mm.
    Additional experiments led the researchers to conclude that the fish did not just memorize the shots that worked.  They actually had to learn how to correct for distortion.  Think about all that is involved in this skill:
In learning the objective size of their targets, the archer fish thus had not simply learned combinations that were rewarded in the past but went beyond to acquire a concept of objective size that they later could readily apply to the novel views.  This ability is remarkable in several respects.  First, the optical effects require rather precise knowledge of spatial configuration....  The question of how the fish’s visual system is able to provide this information is presently wide open.  When fish aim their shots, for which precise distance information is also required, monocular cues suffice and binocular distance cues are not required.  Whether stereo vision is also unnecessary for size constant vision cannot, however, be said at present.  Second, the fish apparently is able to combine such spatial knowledge in a yet-unknown way with apparent size (or apparent locomotion-induced image transformations) to deduce a concept of objective size.  Whatever sensory representation it uses, the fish evidently is able to form a concept of size that is tailored to the complex optics at the water-air interface.  Because this situation poses particularly rigorous requirements on the relation the animal must make between target localization and the apparent image, the fish is an attractive model to explore how animals learn to form concepts to bring order into their sensory experiences.
Kind of makes you hope the little champs don’t get targeted by the optical targeting apparatus of a diving cormorant (see 05/24/2004 headline).
1Schuster et al., “Archer Fish Learn to Compensate for Complex Optical Distortions to Determine the Absolute Size of Their Aerial Prey,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1565-1568, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.050.
Stories like this are such wonderful relief from the incessant storytelling of Darwinists.  There was no mention of evolution in this article, and if there had been, it wouldn’t be worth a spit.  Here evolutionists cannot even find a clear beneficial mutation (see next headline), and they want us to believe this and thousands of other wonders of creation are the result of accidents?  Shoot.
Next headline on:  Fish and Marine LifeAmazing Facts
Natural Selection Demonstrated in European Heart-Disease Gene?   09/07/2004
Stephen Wooding (U. of Utah) is elated.  He sees an “exciting trend” in genetic research that might, finally, demonstrate positive natural selection acting on a gene with a clear phenotypic effect (measurable outward benefit).  Writing in the Sept. 7 Current Biology,1 he mentions a few recent papers suggesting this connection, but focuses particularly on one study by Rockman et al. in the same issue.2  This UK/American team claims to have identified a gene that has been positively selected to shape heart disease risk among Europeans.  The story was summarized by
EurekAlert.
    The gene under investigation is named MMP3, a regulator of a substance that builds coronary artery walls.  The amount of up- or down-regulation of this gene affects their elasticity and thickness.  The researchers compared this gene and its surrounding DNA between nine kinds of monkeys and apes, and between six human populations.  They claim to have found a trend among Europeans to possess a certain mutation that up-regulates the products of MMP3 (because it inhibits repressive factors).  This leads to less hardening of the arteries but more risk of blood clot induced heart attack or stroke (myocardial infarction).  The mutation changes one T to a C at a certain position on the gene.  Using molecular phylogenetic techniques, they estimated the mutation might have occurred in the European line anywhere from 36,600 to 2,200 years ago.  Maybe it came about in the Ice Age, they surmise, and natural selection acting on this mutation may have given Europeans dining on animal fat some protection from atherosclerosis.  Whatever, the selection probably did not act alone on that one gene, which only regulates other genes, but on a suite of genes due to pleiotropic effects (i.e., when one gene evolves, other unrelated phenotypic effects can result).
    The authors seemed happy to be able to provide an example of natural selection acting positively on a gene for a beneficial physiological effect: “The evolutionary forces of mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift shape the pattern of phenotypic variation in nature, but the roles of these forces in defining the distributions of particular traits have been hard to disentangle.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.) 
Natural selection is an important factor influencing variation in the human genome, but most genetic studies of natural selection have focused on variants with unknown phenotypic associations.  This trend is changing.  New studies are rapidly revealing the effects of natural selection on genetic variants of known or likely functional importance....
These [studies on] variants [on genes with known phenotypic effects] are particularly interesting from an evolutionary standpoint because they are where the phenotypic rubber meets the road of natural selection – variants upon which natural selection could be having particularly direct effects.
Those assuming this was old news since Darwin’s day might be surprised at this admission that studies have rarely connected a mutation to an actual physical benefit.  Analyses at the molecular level of the gene, to be fair, have only recently become possible.  Stephen Wooding is greatly encouraged by this study.  He thinks it represents not only an exciting trend, but a new means of paving “an unusually direct path between ancient human history and modern human health.”  Rockman’s team claims that British men would have 43% more heart attacks had this mutation not occurred among their distant ancestors.  But then, since hardening of the arteries seems to be a recent malady among humans, he admitted that maybe the natural selection at the time was for something else “and the heart disease effect was incidental.”
    One other benefit Rockman claims for this study is that it shows natural selection can act not only on the genes the make proteins, but on the genes that regulate other genes– a factor he claims “traditional evolutionary biology has all but ignored.”  Considering the evolution of regulatory factors extends natural selection theory to the level of the “wiring diagram,” he says.  No longer should we just consider good genes and bad genes.  “Rather, there is a complex set of interactions” such that certain combinations might be best in one environment, others better in another.  “So we’re advocating a more nuanced view of how we view the genetic bases of disease,” he said in the press release from Duke University.
1Stephen Wooding, “Natural Selection: Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages R700-R701, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.041.
2Rockman et al., “Positive Selection on MMP3 Regulation Has Shaped Heart Disease Risk,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1531-1539, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.051.
Remember the old moron jokes?  “How do you keep a moron busy for an hour?  Put him in a round room and tell him there’s a penny in the corner.”  It doesn’t take much to amuse Darwinists.  Tell them there’s a hint of natural selection in the human genome, and it is incredible the amount of work they will do to find it.  You can bet any claims will be ambiguous, hazy, uncertain, questionable and open to different interpretations, but if they can be offered in homage to buddha Charlie, it’s worth it to them to run in logical circles and keep up the candles of hope burning.  (For another example, look at this story on EurekAlert, about Penn State scientists “hunting illusive signs of natural selection” between Europeans and Africans, and finding only ambiguous signs of differing susceptibility to disease or milk intolerance.)
    What did these guys find, really?  One single-nucleotide polymorphism in just one gene out of hundreds that regulate heart health.  Sure, tweaking the regulation of this gene might put a person at risk for hardening of the arteries, but is Darwinian evolution the only explanation?  The Europeans could have descended from a clan whose grandpappy had the mutation at the Tower of Babel, for that matter; how could they prove otherwise?  The monkeys they studied had very different polymorphisms of these genes, and you don’t see them all keeling over from heart attacks.  If natural selection acted on this gene, why didn’t it act on Siberians or Eskimos or Australians or others at similar latitudes?  Did this mutation lead to a new organ or function or add to the genetic information?  No, it only tweaked the existing information.  And some evolution!  Pick your poison: increased risk of atherosclerosis, or increased risk of myocardial infarction.  Is this one of the finest examples they can find of the miracle-working mechanism of natural selection, the discovery that made Chairman Charlie famous, so powerful that during the same period of time it turned monkeys swinging from trees into humans writing books?
    The line about Ice Age men benefiting from the mutation because of their mammal-fat diet is comical.  How could that help the population genetics, if the individuals most likely got their heart attacks after having children?  The error bars on their dates are huge, even if one were to swallow the highly questionable phylogenetic techniques they used, and the evolution-based assumptions about mutation rates.  A chain of reasoning is only as strong as its weakest link: e.g., “if there was water on Mars, there might have been life, therefore there might have been intelligent life, therefore there might have been lawyers.”  Evolutionists get away with stacked assumptions only because they have ruled out anything other than naturalistic explanations.  Since the only contender is something akin to Darwinism, it’s the best they can offer (see Best-in-Field Fallacy).
    Why are we the only ones questioning the Darwinist spin on this paper, and asking the hard questions while the other science outlets mindlessly inherit the wind and parrot the spin with lines like “Heart gene yields insights into evolution”?  Why not consider the obvious, that a functioning circulatory system is a tremendous example of interrelated, functional design?  The diagnosis is simple.  It is that ancient human malady, hardness of heart.
Next headline on:  Human BodyGenetics and DNADarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Step Aside, Lucy; Your Distant Ancestor Walked Upright, Researchers Claim   09/03/2004
Penn State researchers are trying to scoop the coveted title of “discoverers of the first upright-walking hominid” with a CT scan of their champion, Orrorin (see
02/23/2001 headline).  They have the ball and socket joint of the specimen (thought to be like a chimpanzee) and a bit of the bony neck that connects the ball to the upper thighbone, and part of the upper thigh.  They claim that CT scans show a slight thickening in the neck that is intermediate between those of apes and humans.  This is enough to convince them that their specimen walked upright, according to the report in EurekAlert.  If so, they win the prize, because they date their specimen at 6 million years old, whereas Donald Johanson had dated his iconic specimen Lucy at only 3 million.
    Skeptics are not sure the CT scans were accurate enough to make such a determination, and whether Orrorin, if it walked upright at all, did it habitually (even pygmy chimps and some monkeys walk upright sometimes; see 07/22/2004 headlines).  But already the imaginations are getting into gear: “Bipedalism probably does represent a fundamental first step in human evolution,” claims Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, according to the report in National Geographic News.  “As Darwin recognized, walking on two legs frees up the arms and hands for tasks like carrying, tool making, and tool use.  And much of what happened in human evolution later on stemmed from it.”
What magnificent returns in storytelling emerge from such a trifling investment of fact.  A tiny ratio difference in thickness on one bone from one specimen, based on CT scans of questionable accuracy, assuming no modifications by the fossilization process (see 03/28/2003 headline), dated with evolutionary assumptions, and they can convert a chimpanzee fossil into an upright walking human ancestor.  Six million years later, its descendants are designing spacecraft and deciphering the human genome.  How ever did the noble enterprise of science stoop to such pitiful grandstanding?  Don’t think Johanson’s group, or any of the other rival teams, is going to take this upset without a challenge.
Next headline on:  Early Man
Darwin’s Finches: Researchers Tweak the Beak   09/03/2004
Every once in awhile, a new angle on Darwin’s finches (an
icon of evolution) appears in print.  Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have devoted their life to studying everything possible about these related species of birds that inhabit the Galápagos Islands – only to find that evolutionary changes are reversible (see 04/26/2002 headline) – have a new molecular story to tell.  In an effort to tie the evolution of beak shape to embryonic development, they and three Harvard geneticists searched for the actual proteins that build beaks in the egg, and found one named Bmp4 (bone morphogenetic protein #4) that appears to singlehandedly influence beak width and stubbiness.  Their results are printed in the Sept. 3 issue of Science.1
    In the same issue,2 USC scientists Ping Wu et al. studied the same protein in chickens and ducks.  They studied Bmp4 expression in the growth zones of developing beaks, and found that “By ‘tinkering’ with BMP4 in beak prominences, the shapes of the chicken beak can be modulated.”  It was not clear, however, whether BMP4, a signalling molecule, is solely responsible or affects other upstream factors in the developmental process.
    Each article assumes these studies are important to evolutionary theory.  The Grants say, “Darwin’s finches are a classic example of species diversification by natural selection.”  Ping Wu et al. generalize, “Beak shape is a classic example of evolutionary diversification.”  Elizabeth Pennisi, Science writer who usually makes evolutionary stories grist for her mill, writes in the same issue,3 “Darwin’s finches are to evolutionary biology what Newton’s apple is to physics.”  (Did she mean the obvious comparison, considering that the story of an apple hitting Newton led to his theory of gravitation is a myth?)  “Today,” she continues, “these songbirds are often cited as a perfect example of how new species arise by exploiting ecological niches.” (Emphasis added).  Yet the classification of these birds into separate species is controversial, since apparently most of them (at least) are interfertile.
    Though the scientists Pennisi quotes are impressed with the studies, and find the evidence convincing that BMP4 shapes beaks, one cautions that “Other genes and molecules will also be involved.”  Indeed, Pennisi admits, “neither group knows what makes the BMP4 gene more active in birds with bigger bills.”  And neither study explains “why some birds, such as the finches, rapidly form new species—with the different lifestyles that are possible because of changes in their shapes—while others living in the same place, for example, warblers, do not.”  Nevertheless, Pennisi is confident, “Darwin would be pleased.”
1Abzhanov, Protas, Tabin, Peter and Rosemary Grant, “Bmp4 and Morphological Variation of Beaks in Darwin’s Finches,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1462-1465, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098095].
2Ping Wu et al., “Molecular Shaping of the Beak,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1465-1466, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098109].
3Elizabeth Pennisi, “Bonemaking Protein Shapes Beaks of Darwin’s Finches,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1383, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1383].
The findings are really no help to evolutionary theory.  Neither of these studies account for the origin of BMP4 and the many other complex proteins that interact with it; they just show you can get freaks by tweaking the beaks.  We already knew that with humans.  Failures in the complex developmental pathways of any embryo can produce grotesque or useless deformities.  These studies only tinkered with expression of existing genes, not with the origin of new genes or their “improvement.”  The studies were not tied to adaptation, which is what Darwinism purports to explain.
    Picture the highly specialized beaks of hummingbirds, spoonbills, pelicans, owls, hornbills, woodpeckers, eagles, ducks, and the other thousands of species of birds.  To explain these, an evolutionist is going to need a lot more than just differences in the local expression of BMP4.  He or she is going to need millions of transitional forms, and proof of heritable adaptive changes in all the developmental pathways that affect beak morphology.  Even if the Grants can tie finch beak changes to this molecule, and show that beak changes are adaptive for various ecological niches on the islands, they have not explained the origin of BMP4, the beak, or the finch itself.
    Creationists and evolutionists both are comfortable with slight morphological changes in existing species.  It is very probable that a tougher beak will aid a finch in a drought, so that it can crack the nuts and get to the seeds better than a cousin with a thinner beak.  But when the rains return, and seeds are plentiful, the change is no longer adaptive and the populations can revert back.  Over time, no one has shown that these slight changes to Darwin’s finches have led to any long-term morphological change.  Certainly they have not shown that they came from, or are leading to, anything other than finches.
    If the Grants want to spend their lives measuring beaks to fractions of a millimeter, and weighing the little birds to fractions of a gram, and studying the ways their eggs grow and what genes and proteins are expressed, that’s fine and wonderful and praiseworthy.  But if anyone claims their work has defended Chairman Charlie’s wild speculation that humans had bacteria ancestors, beak airful.
Next headline on:  BirdsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Pop Goes the Fatbubble Theory for the Origin of Life   09/03/2004
Jack Szostak and colleagues at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have a new entry for stories about how the first life got rolling: the bubble theory.  Bubbles of fat molecules enclosing genetic material might have given rise to a primitive form of natural selection, they say; the more effective at replication the RNA inside a lucky bubble, the more osmotic pressure it would create, causing the bubble to grow.  Bubbles battled for supremacy in this primordial soup till Darwinian selection took over, and that’s where we came from.  The scenario was published in Science1 Sept. 3 and summarized on
EurekAlert.
    They actually did test the idea in the lab.  “We tested whether fatty acid vesicles ... osmotically stressed by encapsulated contents would increase in membrane area at the expense of unstressed vesicles,” they say.  They had to set boundary conditions so that the bubbles did not rupture (i.e., pop).  In scientific lingo, that translates into: “We therefore determined the maximum sustainable membrane tension of oleate (C18:1) vesicles under osmotic stress.”  They experimented with sugar inside the bubbles, then RNA with nucleotides.  Sure enough, the winning bubbles grew by stealing membrane material from those with lesser contents.  Given any charged genetic polymer inside a fatbubble, they believe bigger would win the competition.  The paper has the customary tables, graphs and incomprehensible jargon, then ends with a summary of their own materialistic, naturalistic origin of life scenario that requires nothing but “simple physical principles” properly applied.  Once upon a time,
We suggest that the phenomenon of osmotically driven, competitive vesicle growth could have played an important role in the emergence of Darwinian evolution during the origin of cellular life (supporting online text).  The present results suggest that simple physical principles may allow a direct connection between genome and membrane.  RNA replicating within vesicles could confer a substantial growth advantage to the membrane by creating internal osmotic pressure.  The faster replication of a superior replicase would therefore lead to faster vesicle growth, at the expense of cells lacking RNA or containing less efficient replicases.  A faster replicase genotype would thus produce the higher-level phenotype of faster cellular growth, a prerequisite of cellular replication (supporting online text).  Darwinian evolution at the organismal level might therefore have emerged earlier than previously thought—at the level of a one-gene cell.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
EurekAlert, in its summary titled “Battle between bubbles might have started evolution,” says they proposed this scenario as an alternative to the reigning popular “RNA World” theory.  They like it because it is not as complicated.
1Chen, Roberts and Szostak, “The Emergence of Competition Between Model Protocells,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1474-1476, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100757].
One of the problems with peer review is that if a few reviewers let nonsense pass, it can get published in a prestigious journal, and snuggle into the corpus of scientific literature, without opportunity for immediate refutation.  Then science reporters, like eager guppies at the base of a waterfall waiting for crud to wash over, swallow it whole and regurgitate for the peasants who respect science but don’t know any better.  This is soooooo stupid, it makes you wonder how Big Science can print such silliness without making the Darwin Party blush.  The answer is: they have to.  Their materialism pushes them to silly storytelling because they have already rejected the alternative, intelligent design.  Choosing beforehand to ignore the obvious, silly storytelling is all they have available, so they dress it up in enough scientific glitter to distract attention from the pitiful plot.  Computer programmers know this game.  A bug is a bug, but if you dress it in a handsome suit, it is transformed into a “feature.”
    One hole is sufficient to make a bubble pop, but this story has more than a wiffle ball.  Wise readers, get out your baloney detectors.
  • Personification: It’s bad enough when evolutionists personify birds and flowers, but now they expect us to believe that bubbles compete in the evolutionary fitness game?  Bubbles couldn’t care if they win or pop.
  • Begging the question: They assume what they need to prove, by having us believe that RNA replicating enzymes (extremely sophisticated molecular machines, called replicases) already existed.  Their experiments seeded the bubbles with man-made functional RNA machinery.  This is like Olympic judges ignoring a sprinter competing on a motorcycle.
  • Word games: The Darwin Party’s favorite euphemism for miracle, “emergence” is all over the place.
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma:  A fatbubble with RNA inside is a prison, not a factory.  Once the RNA inside uses up all its food (nucleotides), it cannot evolve any further.  Cells have elaborate ways to control entry and exit of materials from the external environment, but fatbubbles do not.  As such, they are death traps (see 01/17/2002 commentary). 
  • More Begging the Question:  They consider a more primitive genetic material (PNA), then just assume that the more complex and difficult RNA and DNA molecules will “emerge” by Darwinian evolution, the very thing they need to prove.  They say, “In contrast, a neutral polymer such as PNA (peptide nucleic acid), having no associated counterions, would be a much less effective osmolyte, a difference that may have influenced the natural selection of the genetic material itself.”  Did you catch that?  That’s like saying, “A Piper Cub is difficult to evolve, so maybe the difference between a Piper Cub and a 757 influenced the evolution of the jumbo jet itself.”  Come again?
  • Card Stacking:  To sneak Darwinian natural selection into the plot, they play the replication card but leave out the accuracy card.  Faster or more efficient replication is useless unless it is accurate.  Without accurate copying, any gains will be quickly lost due to the phenomenon of “error catastrophe” – an accumulation of errors that makes the house of cards fall flat.
  • Non-sequitur:  They assume that bigger is better.  A bigger dead bubble is still dead.  It’s not evolving into a living cell.  They think that since fast growth is a prerequisite for life, getting some bubbles to grow faster is a step in the right direction.  It does not follow.
  • Yet more begging the question:  They presume that one gene, a replicase, is all that is necessary.  They expect sensible adults to believe that a machine that can replicate an RNA molecule (how that “emerged,” they conveniently omit) was sufficient to produce translators, transporters, energy conversion systems, and factories of molecular machines working together in harmony.  If that is not a myth, what is?
  • Glittering Generalities:  Do they really expect us to believe that bubbles that grow to a certain size in a laboratory flask can tell us anything about the origin of life?  Only if the audience enjoys bedtime stories like Gullible’s Drivels.
  • Suggestion:  By associating these irrelevant fatbubbles to the Grand Myth of Evolution, they create a mystique about them that lead us to envision marvelous bubbles evolving into fantastic living things.  Disney would love to animate this, right next to the ballerina hippos.
OK, that’s enough.  Time would fail us to discuss the extrapolation fallacy, the post-hoc fallacy, the misuse of circumstantial evidence, the difficulty that lipid membranes fall apart in the presence of salt (see 09/17/2002 headline), etc.  One hole is sufficient.  The only worthwhile observation about this story is that the authors realize that the popular “RNA World” scenario (see 07/11/2002 headline) is too complex to be credible, so they offer this putative transitional plot that is simpler, in hopes of extending the magic wand of natural selection further back into the story, as if that would help.  Did it help?
    It’s high time we stop letting “scientists” dazzle us with bugs in suits and bubbles that come to life.  This is juvenile imagination, not science.  Only intelligent design could make a fatbubble do other than what comes naturally.  For those who like crossword puzzles, what’s a three-letter word for “a phenomenon incurred by exceeding the maximum sustainable membrane tension of vesicles under osmotic stress”?
Accounting for a viable cell
Gets Darwinists in trouble;
Without design the growth to compel,
Pop goes the bubble.
Next headline on:  Origin of LifeDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Letter: The Case Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research    09/03/2004
Sometimes the letters to the editor are the most interesting parts of a magazine.  Read what John T. Durkin says about embryonic stem cell research in response to an April letter by another scientist:
In his Letter “Human being redux” (16 April, p. 388),2 M. S. Gazzaniga constructs his defense of human embryonic stem cell research around his difficulty in thinking of a “miniscule ball of cells in a petri dish, so small that it could rest on the head of a pin” as a human being.  This rhetoric may mislead the lay public, but scientists should recognize that the size or the developmental stage does not separate the embryo from the human being.  The embryo and the adult are different stages in the development of the human being.
    The embryo possesses more than just “the genetic material for a future human being.”  In ways that we do not yet fully understand, the embryo is organized so that it is capable of executing a developmental program and growing into what Gazzaniga will admit is a human being.  This capability distinguishes the embryo from a differentiated cell in culture.  Gazzaniga suggests that, because an embryo that is not implanted in the uterus of a woman will not be able to execute this program, the embryo has no moral status.  I think he has it backwards.  The scientist who destroys an embryo to harvest stem cells commits a wrong, for the scientist has denied that embryo the opportunity to grow into an adult.
    My moral objections to human embryonic stem cell research are not assuaged by severing its connection to reproductive cloning.  In my judgment, the developmental events leading from fertilized ovum, to blastula, to embryo, to fetus, to fully formed adult constitute a continuum.  It is artificial, and even self-serving, to declare the embryo “not yet human” before some point, and to declare that we may do with that embryo as we will.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

1John T. Durkin, “The Case Against Stem Cell Research” (letter to the editor),
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1402 ,3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1402a].
2Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Stem Cell Redux,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5669, 388-389 , 16 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5669.388c].
Never underestimate the power of a well-written, cogently argued letter.  Have you tried it?  Be polite, but take a stand boldly and confidently.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Creationist-Hating Evolutionist Chides Darwin Bulldogs   09/02/2004
Steve Jones (Galton Laboratory, University College, London) wrote a book review in Nature this week1, that, while witty, leaves the reader wondering what he really thinks.  One thing is clear: he hates creationists with a vengeance–
In a recent magazine poll, Richard Dawkins, with his trademark hobbit smile, was voted Britain’s top intellectual (a welcome kick in the teeth for the new generation of Creationists in our privately funded schools).
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
He likens various historical Darwin defenders (bulldogs) to Tolkien characters, but it’s not clear which of the six Darwin bulldogs storied in Marek Kohn’s new book A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the British Imagination (Faber and Faber, 2004) are the good guys.  For one thing, Jones seems ambivalent about the personality cult surrounding Chairman Charles [Darwin]:
What’s this cult of personality in evolutionary biology all about?  There’s the Great Leader, Chairman Charles, of course, and various lesser but substantial figures who are also worthy of the occasional parade.  But why do we need so many?  Experts on chloroplasts or chlorine manage, as far as I know, with living facts, and are not forced to attach them to dead heroes.  But there’s something in evolution that calls for immortals to whom we plebs must defer.
The book review that follows is sprinkled with faint praise and often derogatory references to Alfred Russell Wallace, R.A. Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton, Richard Dawkins.  For example:
  • With a single exception [Wallace], the players are toffs [dandies] to a man, products of famous public schools followed by one of the older provincial universities.
  • Each is given a sympathetic hearing, although one senses that Kohn’s patience is tried by the miasma of self-congratulation that surrounded some of the actors in his drama.
  • Fisher claimed that his fundamental theory of natural selection occupied the supreme position among the biological sciences, although others dismissed it as a verbal trick.... His Genetical Theory of Natural Selection became evolution’s equivalent of The Lord of the Rings: full of gnomic and portentous truths with rather a nasty social agenda lurking beneath (Fisher felt it his biological duty to beget eight children).  As Kohn points out, Fisher’s followers, like those of Wagner – composer of a musical on the same theme – are obsessed with the fine detail of what the great begetter meant and are still far from sure.
  • Fisher’s colleague E. B. Ford, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a silly man in a silly place, did some desultory research and spent his later years bemoaning the presence of women in lectures and waiting for ecological genetics to supplant all that dull molecular stuff.
  • Wallace’s expeditions were followed by a lifetime of devotion to the Great Leader.... He turned, alas, to spiritualism and, as so often when scientists use their knowledge of nature to interpret the world of man, abandoned common sense.
  • Some of his [Wallace’s] successors were also happy to use Arts Faculty sciencesweeping generalizations without the need for facts – when discussing human affairs.
  • Set against the bearded bigot [Fisher], the Gandalf-like figure of Haldane is revealed in a rather better light.  A daring and often reckless experimenter, he was known in the trenches as the Rajah of Bomb and was pursued by the whiff of cordite [smokeless powder] throughout his career.  He stuck with the Communist party long after his colleagues had abandoned it, and Kohn provides a telling account of Haldane’s readiness to support Comrade Lysenko even in the face of powerful evidence against his theories.
  • Haldane’s representative on Earth was, for nearly forty years, John Maynard Smith (who had himself hung the hammer and sickle from his Eton window).
  • The most ambiguous character to emerge from these pages is Hamilton.  He found it hard to make friends and nursed long, Gollum-like resentments in his search for the ring of truth....  Hamilton, sad to say, was also a martyr to political vapourings and lobbied for a cracked eugenical Utopia with Margaret Thatcher as Life President and caesarian births banned.
Jones likes Dawkins best (“not best friends with the Bush regime”), claiming he keeps his politics and science apart (but see
04/23/2003 headline).  He sympathizes with Wallace a little (see 10/10/2002 headline), and respects Hamilton’s “outstanding” biological knowledge and experience (though is left puzzled by this “ambiguous” character– see 03/07/2002 headline).  None of the bulldogs comes out smelling spiffy clean.  Though anti-creationist, Jones knows how to praise God for certain things:
A Reason for Everything is a well-written and carefully researched account of some of the main British players in the world of evolutionEvery evolutionist should read it – as a warning against personality cults, if nothing else.  Kohn makes it clear that giants walked the Earth in those days.  Those days are gone, but after perusing his chapter on the Oxford school of evolutionary biology in the 1950s and 1960s – some geniuses, no doubt, but also a fair sprinkling of prima donnas and right-wing zealotsone can only mutter, through gently clenched teeth, “Thank God!”
So Mr. Jones, what do you really think?
1Steve Jones, “When giants walked the earth: a pedigree of Darwin’s well-bred English bulldogs,” Nature 431, 21 - 22 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431021a.
And, Mr. Jones, to which God are you giving thanks?  If we wanted to be really judgmental, we could rant about Jones’s hate speech and advocacy of violence.  Picture a man kicking another man in the teeth.  Now look how Jones spoke with delight, figuratively, at this being done to Creationists by Dawkins’ being honored.  Nothing in the American political conventions came this close to hate speech; words much milder have been excoriated as mean-spirited attacks.  And who is he to chide Hamilton’s eugenical Utopian dreams, when he himself chooses to work at Galton Laboratory, founded in 1901 as a eugenics institute by Chairman Charlie’s cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics?
    Where’s Huxley?  Maybe he was promoted to Doberman.  None of these bulldogs appears like a nice pet to have around.  Which of these bearded bigots, prima donnas, self-congratulators, dandies, verbal tricksters, promoters of nasty social agendas, silly men, disciples obsessed with details but far from sure what their begetters meant, desultory researchers, blind devotees of Great Leaders, gullible interpreters of the world of man but lacking common sense, sweeping generalizers, reckless experimenters, friendless martyrs with Gollum-like resentments, right-wing zealots or doctrinaire communists would you like to invite to tea?  Yes, we must stick to the facts of biology and avoid personality cults, especially with personalities like these.  When evolutionists shoot their own giants, it saves us a lot of work.  Thank God.
Next headline on:  Darwinism
SETI Needs to Read, Not Listen    09/01/2004
What technology would an extra-terrestrial intelligence use to communicate with us?  For fifty years, the search has presumed that an ET would use radio waves to announce “we’re here.”  Not a good idea, says a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Rutgers.  He thinks investors on distant planets would put their money not on radio commercials, but books.
    It’s not often that a topic as speculative as SETI gets coverage in elite science journals, but the ideas of Christopher Rose made the cover of Nature this week.1  Basically, he and Gregory Wright feel it is much more energy efficient to inscribe messages instead of broadcasting them.  This has led to a flurry of clever headlines in the news media: such as, “ET, don’t phone home; drop a line instead” on
EurekAlert, and “ET Phone Home?  Try Writing,” on MSNBC News.  The BBC News, however, suggests that the new ideas may have been stimulated by the silence (see 08/13/2004 headline); “A recent radio search of 800 stars showed no sign of a signal from ET,” it says.
    Woodruff T. Sullivan, summarizing the new view in the same issue of Nature2, explains the authors’ energy analysis of communication methods:
Unless the messages are short or the extraterrestrials are nearby, this ‘write’ strategy requires less energy per bit of transmitted information than the ‘radiate’ strategy does.  Cone-shaped beams of radiation necessarily grow in size as they travel outwards, meaning that the great majority of the energy is wasted, even if some of it hits the intended target.  A package, on the other hand, is not ‘diluted’ as it travels across space..., presuming that it’s correctly aimed at its desired destination.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Radiation only has an advantage for short messages; otherwise, inscriptions are superior, Rose and Wright argue.  EurekAlert elaborates:
In addition, Rose says, when waves pass a particular point, they’ve passed it for good.  Potential recipients at that point might be unable to snag a passing message for any one of many reasons.  They might not be listening.  They might be extinct.  So someone sending such a message would have to send it over and over to increase the chance of its being received.  The energy budget goes up accordingly.  A physical message, however, stays where it lands.
Sullivan has some reservations about their presentation.  How can we presume to think like ET?  How do we know economics would be a deciding factor in their deliberations?  Furthermore, “we do not know if such packages, even if efficiently sent, would ever in fact be recognized and opened.”  But then again, the same criticisms apply to radio messages.
    An implication of this new energy-per-bit study is that there might be messages from extraterrestrial intelligence right under our feet.
So how should these results influence today’s SETI strategy?  Short “we are here” messages would still seem to be most efficiently sent by electromagnetic waves, and we should continue looking for the same.  But perhaps some attention should be paid to the possibility of one day finding in our Solar System an information-drenched artefact, sent by an extremely advanced extraterrestrial civilization interested only in one-way communication.  This intruder might be orbiting the Sun or a planet, or resting somewhere on a planet, moon or asteroid.... If astroarchaeologists were to find such an object, it would hardly be the first time that science fiction had become science fact.
The news media have pointed out, with illustrations, that we humans have sent inscribed messages ourselves: most notably, the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager record.  EurekAlert suggests some of the forms an incoming message might take:
Rose speculates that “messages” might be anything from actual text in a real language to (more likely) organic material embedded in an asteroid – or in the crater made by such an asteroid upon striking Earth.  Messages – and Rose suggests there might be many of them, perhaps millions – might literally be at our feet.  They might be awaiting our discovery on the moon, or on one of Jupiter’s moons.  They might be dramatic or mundane.  A bottle floating in the ocean is just a bottle floating in the ocean – unless, upon closer inspection, it turns out to have a message in it.
Difficult as these ideas might be to accept, they stem from our concern about time, Rose explains.  The sender(s), however, may not be time dependent.  The choice of medium might be a function of how much the extraterrestrial intelligence had to say.  He says, “Since messages require protection from cosmic radiation, and small messages might be difficult to find amid the clutter near a recipient, ‘inscribed matter’ is most effective for long, archival messages, as opposed to potentially short ‘we exist’ announcements.”
    Incidentally, rumors of a possible alien signal announced in the media such as on New Scientist were quickly denounced as nothing unusual on BBC News
1Christopher Rose and Gregory Wright, “Inscribed matter as an energy-efficient means of communication with an extraterrestrial civilization,” Nature 431, 47 - 49 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02884.
2Woodruff T. Sullivan III, “Astrobiology: Message in a bottle,” Nature 431, 27 - 28 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431027a.
Hmmmm; information-drenched artifact.  A possible real message in an actual language.  A lot to say.  Millions of copies at our grasp.  Contents dramatic or mundane (or both).  A medium not limited to a fortunate few living in a particular century or country.  A sender outside of time, whose intelligence, identity, and intentions we cannot presume to fathom.   Receivers who might not be listening.  A package that might not be recognized or opened.  Sounds a lot like Hebrews 1:1-3, II Timothy 3:15-17, II Peter 1:16-21, John 5:38-47, and John 1:10-12.  Maybe a good place to search for an intelligent message is in the hotel room drawer.
Next headline on:  SETIBible and Theology
Are We Lost on a Speck of Cosmic Dust?   09/01/2004
A new Copernican revolution seems to be in the works, not another “demotion” of man from the center of the universe, but a promotion back to the ancient idea of plan or purpose for our existence.  The demotions reached their nadir with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and other books that declared we are nothing special, that we occupy no privileged position in the universe.  Signs that such notions went too far, far beyond what Copernicus himself ever dreamed, began with the Anthropic Principle– admissions by many cosmologists, including materialists, that we owe our existence to numerous lucky accidents of physics, astronomy, chemistry and geology.  Then books like Rare Earth proposed that advanced civilizations like ours might be few and far between, even among billions of possible planets.
    The latest revolutionary salvo comes from
Illustra Media, producer of the highly successful film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, that showed evidence for intelligent design in the living cell.  Now they have taken the concept of intelligent design to the ends of the cosmos in their latest film, The Privileged Planet, just released this month.  Based on the new book of the same title by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, the film explores a revolutionary thesis that would make Copernicus himself nod in agreement: the universe not only appears designed for our existence, but shows an uncanny number of “coincidences” that make scientific discovery possible.  If so, science has uncovered evidence of a purpose to the existence of mankind on this “privileged” planet.
    On a related subject, JPL and news organizations like The Toronto Star have been reporting the discovery of Neptune-sized planets around other stars.  These are much smaller than earlier exoplanets found so far, which all rivaled or exceeded Jupiter.  But none of these new planets would be suitable for advanced life; the reports only indicate that progress is being made toward finding earth-sized worlds.  As the film explains, however, there is a lot more to making a planet habitable than just size, to say nothing of making it a suitable platform for discovery.  It takes the right kind of star, the right kind of moon, the right kind of position in the galaxy, and about 20 other improbable things.  Luck, or design?  And if it was the result of a plan or purpose, is there any way we could know?
This is a film worth watching on a big-screen home theater with surround sound, and one that after watching, will prompt you to rush out and buy copies for your friends.  The DVD version contains a wealth of interesting and important bonus features, such as answers to 15 questions viewers might have from the main program.  The film’s excellent videography and top-notch editing is surpassed by the content.  Tastefully and non-dogmatically presented, the main thesis is supported with a wealth of uncontroversial facts.  Numerous scientists on various sides of the origins issue appear in the film.  The point is all the more convincing when made by scientists who have no religious bias, and admit to the superiority of the design argument in spite of themselves.  Get this superb film; watch it, think about it, and share it.
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Scientist of the Month

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Featured Creation Scientist for September


James Clerk Maxwell
1831 - 1879

In our roll call of great scientists of Christian faith, it would be hard to find a better role model than James Clerk Maxwell.  Just take a look at his report card!  His scientific work alone puts him in a triumvirate with Newton and Einstein, but no matter what other way you examine his life – intellect, personality, creativity, wit, work ethic, Christian character, integrity, breadth and depth of knowledge and accomplishments – Maxwell comes out on top.  He pursued science with exuberance, and with grace and charm and unselfishness, giving glory to God.  In his too-brief life of 48 years, Maxwell changed the world.

Do you use a cell phone?  A pager?  A remote control for your TV?  A radio?  Television?  You owe these inventions in large part to Maxwell.  Radar, satellite, spacecraft and aircraft communications – any and every means of transferring information through thin air or the vacuum of space, comes out of his work.  The inventors of all these devices all built on Maxwell’s exceptional discoveries in electromagnetism, discoveries that required the best in experimental method with the best in mathematics and theory.  Maxwell discovered many things, as we shall see, but his crowning achievement was the summation of all electromagnetic phenomena in four differential equations, appropriately named Maxwell’s Equations in his honor.  These equations, that express natural laws, not only brought together all the work of Faraday, Ohm, Volta, Ampere, and everyone else who had studied the curious properties of electricity and magnetism, but made an absolutely astounding and important prediction: that light itself was an electromagnetic wave, and through manipulation of electromagnetic waves, it might be possible to transmit information through empty space.  Thus, our modern world.  The importance of these equations can hardly be overstated.  Dr. Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate and influential 20th-century modern physicist, paid his respects this way: “From a long view of the history of mankind–seen from, say, ten thousand years from now– there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics.”  Electricity and magnetism, mere curiosities when explored by Faraday and explained by Maxwell, turned out to generate more economic wealth than the entire British stock exchange.  Our modern world is inconceivable without the experimental and theoretical foundation laid by these two great Christians and scientists who harnessed mysterious laws of nature for human benefit.

And that was only one of Maxwell’s claims to fame.  One biographer described him, “a man of immense intellectual capacity and seemingly inexhaustible energy, he achieved success in many fields, ranging from colour vision and nature of Saturn’s rings to thermodynamics and kinetic theory.  In a short life he published a hundred scientific papers and four books.  His was perhaps the last generation of scientists to whom so wide a field of interest was possible: with the rapid increase in knowledge in the latter part of the 19th century specialization became unavoidable . . . . on any assessment Maxwell stands out conspicuously among a race of giants.  How much more might he not have achieved had his life run a normal span.”

We are fortunate to have a great deal of original source documents on Maxwell, thanks largely to his biographer and lifelong friend, the Rev. Lewis Campbell, who collected many personal letters, essays, anecdotes and tributes into his excellent 1882 biography, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, co-authored by William Garnett, one of his Cambridge colleagues.  In addition, Cambridge University (where Maxwell was a distinguished scholar) has recently (1990, 1995) published two thick annotated volumes of Maxwell’s collected scientific papers and letters–including even his postcards–and a third volume was just completed in late 2002.  Yet in spite of these resources, few have even heard of James Clerk (pronounced Clark) Maxwell and his work, because these books are rare and costly.  The biography, long out of print, can only be found on dusty shelves of large libraries, and the new volumes of his collected papers cost $300 apiece.  But now, a Maxwell devotee software engineer has put the whole Lewis Campbell biography online, so Maxwell’s personal life story, the kind you never get in the textbooks, is accessible again.  We will include some choice examples here, but if there is one of the great scientists in this series you would pick to study in more detail, try this one.  You’re in for a treat, because Maxwell’s personality is as captivating as his equations.  He was the kind of fellow you would want to chat with over dinner every chance you could.  No matter what the subject, he would keep you entertained and fascinated for hours. 

Most important, Maxwell’s Christian faith was the core of his being.  It guided his life’s work and personal habits, and motivated him to search out the laws of the great Lawgiver with diligence, as a mission from God.  Thoroughly versed in classic literature and philosophies ancient and modern, Maxwell was uniquely qualified to speak to science, theology, and philosophy–and he did.  He was a true Christian in heart as well as mind; he loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart, mind and soul.  And, he knew his Bible inside and out.  Clerk Maxwell opposed any philosophy (like the new Darwinian evolution) that exalted itself against the God of creation, yet he did it with wit and grace (sometimes even in clever poetry) that earned the attention and respect of all.

Maxwell’s letters sparkle with a joie de vivre that is infectious, but he also knew hardship and tragedy.  He knew what it was like to be taunted and bullied as a young boy at school (like when he was inadvertently sent to a new school a bit “overdressed” for his peers’ taste).  He knew what it was like to have to learn to defend himself and earn respect without losing his composure.  At age eight, he faced a devastating tragedy for a boy: he watched his mother suffer and die of stomach cancer.  Fortunately, his father, John Clerk Maxwell, filled the emptiness better than most single parents could.  He became his son’s dearest mentor and supporter, well into James’ college years.  His fatherly letters reveal his proud interest in everything his son was doing.  John’s expansive Scottish estate at Glenlair (which you can visit on the Web), provided young James with woods, streams, horses and books enough to fill his sponge-like mind, a repository that could not absorb enough fast enough.  Playful and jocular, young James would one moment be swinging from trees, “tubbing” in the creek, creating his own spinning tops, reading books, or surprising his friends with a frog leaping out of his mouth.  All his life James never tired of a good joke, though his humor became much more sophisticated at Cambridge  To his university colleagues he would sign his postcards dp/dt, which being translated in the language of mathematical physics, became “JCM”–his initials.  Sometimes he would write backwards, or pose puzzles or riddles for his friends.  His writing is peppered with Latin, Greek, French, and German quotes.  It would take a scholar in Greek mythology and Sophocles’ plays, for instance, to comprehend this whimsical line from a postcard to his friend Peter G. Tait: “The Hamiltonsche Princip., the while, soars along in a region unvexed by statistical considerations while the German Icari flap their waxen wings in nephelococcygia.”  His best wit, though, can be found in his poems.  Early on in grammar school, Maxwell also became quite the poet.  (Part III of Campbell’s biography contains examples both witty and profound).  He was often known to slip his latest verse to a friend, his wife, or to a philosophical rival.  Many of these make excellent reading and allow us to peer into his soul.

The Scottish schools of Maxwell’s youth were old-fashioned.  Instead of building self-esteem, they forced students to learn Latin, Greek, and classic literature.  Good thing, because Maxwell’s grasp of history, philosophy, and rhetoric served him well as a writer, professor, scholar, and defender of Christianity.  As a young student at Cambridge, Maxwell once wrote Lewis Campbell that he intended to plow up all the secret hiding places of philosophy and world religions, the sacred plots their owners want you to tiptoe around.  Not Maxwell; he was going to charge in and investigate whether their claims could stand up to scrutiny.  And he was unafraid to apply the same rule to the Bible.  He said, “Christianity–that is, the religion of the Bible–is the only scheme or form of belief which disavows any possessions on such a tenure.  Here alone all is free.  You may fly to the ends of the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation.  You may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in your explorations.”  Christianity, to Maxwell, was not stifling to the scientist or truth seeker; it was liberating.

At age 22, Maxwell graduated at the top of his class at Trinity College, the Second Wrangler (tied for the highest grade), and Smith’s prizeman.  In those arduous days of preparing for the Cambridge final exams, the toughest in the world, he composed a ten-verse poem, A Student’s Evening Hymn.  He must have taken a moment away from the intense pressure of studies to go outside a watch a sunset.  As the stars came out and reminded him of God’s great power in creation, he pondered the big picture of his life and priorities, and put his thoughts into verse.  This gem of poetic worship and supplication, long forgotten after 148 years, we have reproduced here and set it to a new original melody.  These eloquent lines can be seen as an encapsulation of Maxwell’s purpose in life.  He never deviated from these sentiments, even through his final, greatest trial.

Graduation opened the door to a 26-year career in science characterized by a series of exceptional discoveries, culminating in his famous equations.  Maxwell became a Cambridge scholar par excellence, always humble and devout, and loved and admired by his colleagues.  He was close friends with Peter Guthrie Tait, the father of vector calculus, Michael Faraday, and Lord Kelvin.  He served as professor at Kings College and Trinity, but always kept close ties to Glenlair, his home for life.  At age 27, he married Katherine Mary Dewar.  Though described by some as a “difficult woman” and frequently ill, Katherine was this model husband’s target of loyalty and love, though they bore no children.  Some of his love letters and poems have survived, including Bible studies they shared, in which Maxwell’s deep understanding of and reverence for the Scriptures is manifest.  Through their married life, they attended church faithfully where the Word of God was preached, supported their church, and walked their talk.  Clerk Maxwell even took time out of his busy schedule to teach poor working men science, to give them a chance at a better life than the dismal factories that enslaved them.  Always the lover of wisdom, his many letters, essays, lectures and articles are both deep and cheerful, and, however they traverse the theories of the day, always lead back to the wisdom of God.  Maxwell stood firmly against the creeping atheistic Darwinism that got its foothold in the scientific establishment, but was perhaps too much the gentleman.  We have good statements by him on the matter of evolution, but with hindsight of the atrocities committed in the name of Darwinism in the next century, we could only wish that Maxwell and Faraday both had spoken out even more firmly than they did.  Perhaps it would not have made a difference, but this is perhaps the only criticism that can be made against these great Christian heroes of science.

Maxwell’s scientific work was varied and colorful.  When a contest for the Adam’s Prize was announced, Maxwell took up the challenge and set to explain the nature of Saturn’s rings.  His 60-page analysis, filled with recondite mathematical logic, proved that the rings must be made of separately orbiting particles following their own Keplerian orbits.  Along with the paper he provided a mechanical model of how the ring particles orbit the planet.  He easily won the prize in 1857, but the real honor came 124 years later in 1981, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft visited Saturn and verified his theoretical proof with direct observations.  Maxwell also explained color vision and demonstrated a technique for color photography, taking the first color photograph by combining monochromatic images taken through filters with the three primary colors.  In addition to being the father of electrodynamics, Maxwell was the father of statistical thermodynamics and kinetic theory, which deals with the aggregate motion of large numbers of particles.  He thus gave thermodynamics a firm foundation in mechanics.  A puzzle he left for future theoreticians came to be known as “Maxwell’s demon.”  He surmised that it might be possible to violate the Second Law of thermodynamics and separate hot from cold molecules in a gas if you had a little man at a trap door able to sort them out as they flew by.  Later physicists proved that the entropy of the little man would more than compensate for the ordering of the molecules, thus the Second Law would not be violated.

Maxwell and Faraday gave us our modern world of motors, radio, and telecommunications; they complemented each other perfectly.  Where Faraday was weak in mathematics and theory, Maxwell excelled.  Maxwell took the results of Faraday’s years of experimentation with magnets and wires and organized them into his famous four equations.  This was a monumental step, requiring years of analysis, thought, experimentation, insight, and genius, culminating in the publication of his 1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.  Here is a case of one little item starting a revolution: in the fourth equation, Maxwell (through theory and experiment) added a term to Ampere’s Law (a law which relates the magnetic effect of a changing electric field or of a current) he called the “displacement current” i.  Such a little thing, the letter i; what does it mean?  It means, as he wrote, “light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.”  Thus, he unified light with electricity and magnetism, and formed the theoretical basis for radio, TV, radar, and all the spinoffs of these technologies such as remote controls, spacecraft telemetry and cell phones which poured like gold from Maxwell’s Equations in the years after his death.  Concerning these equations, Ludwig Boltzmann (quoting from Goethe) remarked, “Was it a god who wrote these lines . . . ”  J. R. Pierce, in a chapter titled “Maxwell’s Wonderful Equations,” wrote, “To anyone who is motivated by anything beyond the most narrowly practical, it is worth while to understand Maxwell’s Equations simply for the good of his soul.”  A college physics textbook states, “The scope of these equations is remarkable, including as it does the fundamental operating principles of all large-scale electromagnetic devices such as motors, synchrotrons, television, and microwave radar.”  Interestingly, Maxwell’s Equations needed no revision when Einstein published his theories of relativity 40 years later, but Newton’s laws did.  Maxwell’s Equations already had relativity “built in” – they are invariant in all frames of reference.  Truly remarkable.  Engineers frequently use these wonderful equations in the most advanced work today.  Another phenomenal result of these equations is that it became possible to derive the speed of light from theoretical considerations alone. 

In his forties, Maxwell devoted himself to building the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, named for the pioneering physicist who in 1798 first measured the gravitational constant G.  This laboratory was destined to become the hub of many major discoveries in atomic and nuclear physics in the coming century.  But by 1879, Maxwell became ill.  Hiding his discomfort so as not to worry his wife and his colleagues, he continued working until it was too late; he was diagnosed with the same stomach cancer that had taken his mother’s life forty years earlier.  Throughout his ordeal, Maxwell’s thoughts were only for others, especially for his wife Katherine.  As grieving friends and pastors visited him in his sick bed, Maxwell would quote Scripture and Christian poems from memory:

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

Also frequently quoting from a hymn,

Lord, it belongs not to my care,
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And that Thy grace must give.

His faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ was his great consolation that eternity lay before him as a joyous entrance to heaven.  Toward the end, after giving the glory to God for all his achievements, he said, “I have been thinking how very gently I have been always dealt with.  I have never had a violent shove in all my life.  The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep.”  That he did on November 5; his doctor observed, “His intellect also remained clear and apparently unimpaired to the last.  While his bodily strength was ebbing away to death, his mind never once wandered or wavered, but remained clear to the very end.  No man ever met death more consciously or more calmly.”

Tributes poured in after James Clerk Maxwell’s death.  Few grasped the significance of what he had discovered, and what it would bring to civilization, but all who knew him honored his intellect and reputation.  Not diminishing his scientific achievements, however, Dr. Butler at the funeral focused on his spiritual side:

. . . we may well give thanks to God that our friend was what he was, a firm Christian believer, and that his powerful mind, after ranging at will through the illimitable spaces of Creation, and almost handling what he called “the foundation stones of the material universe,” found its true rest and happiness in the love and the mercy of Him whom the humblest Christian calls his Father.  Of such a man it may be truly said that he had his citizenship in heaven, and that he looked for, as a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the unnumbered worlds were made, and in the likeness of whose image our new and spiritual body will be fashioned.

To get a true glimpse at the spirit of Maxwell, you need to read his own writings.  We will provide samples of his best wit and wisdom here soon, but could only whet your appetite.  In the meantime, see if you can find a copy of Lewis Campbell’s biography.  May the testimony of James Clerk Maxwell, and other great Christians in science like him, inspire a new generation to fulfill their calling with similar zeal, humility, joy, and dedication.  Maxwell expressed his work ethic in these profound words:

He that would enjoy life and act with freedom must have the work of the day continually before his eyes.  Not yesterday’s work, lest he fall into despair, nor to-morrow’s, lest he become a visionary,–not that which ends with the day, which is a worldly work, nor yet that only which remains to eternity, for by it he cannot shape his actions.
Happy is the man who can recognise in the work of To-day a connected portion of the work of life, and an embodiment of the work of Eternity.  The foundations of his confidence are unchangeable, for he has been made a partaker of Infinity.  He strenuously works out his daily enterprises, because the present is given him for a possession.
Thus ought Man to be an impersonation of the divine process of nature, and to show forth the union of the infinite with the finite, not slighting his temporal existence, remembering that in it only is individual action possible, nor yet shutting out from his view that which is eternal, knowing that Time is a mystery which man cannot endure to contemplate until eternal Truth enlighten it.

The largest, tallest mountain on Venus – over 10 miles higher than the average height – is named after Maxwell, the only feature named after a historical person.  A crater on the moon on the moon is also named in his honor.  On the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope is exploring the universe in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“His name stands magnificently over the portal of classical physics, and we can say this of him; by his birth James Clerk Maxwell belongs to Edinburgh, by his personality he belongs to Cambridge, by his work he belongs to the whole world.”  —Max Planck, physicist


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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