Creation-Evolution Headlines
December 2004
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So there’s a beginning; there’s a point in time from which it all started, and that’s a remarkable thing, because it has a very strong theological flavor to it.  And that intrigued me, because I am an agnostic.  And if there was a beginning – a moment of creation of the universe – then there was a Creator.  And a Creator is not compatible with agnosticism.
—Robert Jastrow, from the Q&A portion of the film The Privileged Planet.
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Human Evolution Falsified    12/30/2004
The title of this entry comes from the data, not from the claims being made about it.  The cover story in Cell1 this week has set off a flurry of startling headlines: EurekAlert pronounces, “
Evidence that human brain evolution was a special event” and “University of Chicago researchers discovered that humans are a ‘privileged’ evolutionary lineage.”
    The gist of the research by Dorus et al. from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of Chicago is that there is a huge genetic gap between human brains and those of our nearest alleged ancestors.  EurekAlert explains:
One of the study’s major surprises is the relatively large number of genes that have contributed to human brain evolution.  “For a long time, people have debated about the genetic underpinning of human brain evolution,” said [Bruce] Lahn [HHMI}.  “Is it a few mutations in a few genes, a lot of mutations in a few genes, or a lot of mutations in a lot of genes?  The answer appears to be a lot of mutations in a lot of genes.  We’ve done a rough calculation that the evolution of the human brain probably involves hundreds if not thousands of mutations in perhaps hundreds or thousands of genes — and even that is a conservative estimate.”
    It is nothing short of spectacular that so many mutations in so many genes were acquired during the mere 20-25 million years of time in the evolutionary lineage leading to humans, according to Lahn.  This means that selection has worked “extra-hard” during human evolution to create the powerful brain that exists in humans.

1Dorus et al., “Accelerated Evolution of Nervous System Genes in the Origin of Homo sapiens,” Cell Volume 119, Issue 7, 29 December 2004, Pages 1027-1040, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.11.040.
We are glad to be able to announce the downfall of Saddam Darwin to end this eventful year, 2004.  Now there are just a few Darwin Party insurgents to mop up, and the public will be free of this deadly totalitarian regime.  (Would that it were so easy; it would be like Bush’s premature victory speech.)
    The science outlets are spinning this story without letting go of Darwinism.  They are throwing around phrases like strong selection, intensified selection and other nonsense as if random mutations conspired to sculpt the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.  They know better.  Orthogenesis (straight-line evolution) is out.  Teleology is out.  Personifying natural selection is out, so all they have to work with are thousands of random, undirected changes over thousands of different genes that have no ability to conspire with one another.  (In fact, they counteract one another; see 11/29/2004 and 10/19/2004 headlines).  But if even one beneficial mutation is hard to find (see 03/19/2002 headline), how is any rational person to believe that thousands – “and that is a conservative estimate” – accomplished such a feat?  The gig is up, Darwin Party: surrender.  It’s over.  Throw down your arms.
    The award for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week goes to Bruce Lahn for his one-liner that “selection has worked ‘extra-hard’ during human evolution to create the powerful brain that exists in humans.”  This can serve as USO entertainment for the liberation troops as they begin their clean-up operations.
Next headline on:  Early ManDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Cells Find Signal in the Noise    12/20/2004
Parents at an amusement park know the challenge of picking out their child’s voice, or even hearing their own hollering, in the noise of the crowd.  Yelling won’t help much if the rest of the crowd is yelling also.  Acoustic engineers know that raising the volume while playing back a noisy tape amplifies the noise as well as the signal.  Cells have a novel way of meeting this challenge, as two Japanese mathematical biologists discuss in PNAS.1  Cells are continuously sending and receiving chemical messages, a process called signal transduction.  Treating the cell signal transduction network like a physical system of receivers and amplifiers, the researchers noted that a cell, like an amusement park, is an intrinsically noisy place, yet some of the reactions are very sensitive.  “How cells respond properly to noisy signals by using noisy molecular networks is an important problem in elucidating the underlying ‘design principle’ of cellular systems,” they say in the introduction.  How do the sensitive reactions get their messages through all that noise? 
Because intracellular processes are inherently noisy, stochastic reactions process noisy signals in cellular signal transduction.  One essential feature of biological signal transduction systems is the amplification of small changes in input signals.  However, small random changes in the input signals could also be amplified, and the transduction reaction can also generate noise.  Here, we show theoretically how the abrupt response of ultrasensitive signal-transduction reactions results in the generation of large inherent noise and the high amplification of input noise.  The inherently generated noise propagates with amplification through intracellular molecular network.  We discuss how the contribution of such transmitted noise can be shown experimentally.  Our results imply that the switch-like behavior of signal transduction could be limited by noise; however, high amplification reaction could be advantageous to generate large noise, which would be essential to maintain behavioral variability.
They categorized the noise as intrinsic, coming from the reaction itself, to extrinsic, coming from other reactions.  This is somewhat like hearing your own voice vs. the yelling of those around you.  The intrinsic noise has higher frequency than the extrinsic noise.  As one source of noise becomes dominant, it reaches a crossover point where the other source is less dominant.  This provides a kind of signal, or switch, which the cell can use to advantage:
From our result, it can be further suggested that if the extrinsic noise dominates, the upstream reactions affect the fluctuation of the most downstream reaction, which determines the cellular behavior.  As a result, the behavioral fluctuations are made up of the contributions of the fluctuations of several upstream reactions.  On the other hand, if the intrinsic noise dominates, only the intrinsic noise of the most downstream reaction determines the behavioral fluctuations.  As a result, the behavior could be simpler than the case in which extrinsic noise is dominant....
    ....Consequently, the low-frequency modulations in the downstream reactions can be affected by the behaviors of upstream reactions, whereas the high-frequency modulations are expected to be independent of upstream reactions.
As a result, a bacterium can respond to chemicals in the environment, the hemoglobin in your blood can respond to changing conditions in the capillaries, genes can respond correctly to requests for expression, and complex cascades of cellular reactions can respond to the signal from any reaction in the series, in the midst of all the noise.  “Therefore,” they conclude, “the result implies that the extrinsic noise is essential to maintain the behavioral variability in wild-type bacteria.”  Their experiments related to three relatively simple reactions, and their analysis considered primarily linear response.  Many cellular reactions involve nonlinear behavior.  “In these cases,” they admit, “the relation between the response and the fluctuations can be more complicated than the relations we studied.”  The authors made no attempt to explain how these capabilities evolved.
1Tatsuo Shibata and Koichi Fujimoto, “Noisy signal amplification in ultrasensitive signal transduction,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403350102, published online before print December 29, 2004.
Evolutionists accuse the intelligent design movement of never publishing anything, and then cry foul when they do (see 09/08/2004 and 12/28/2004 headlines).  Actually, there are thousands of ID papers, and they are published regularly, not in obscure outlets, but in the major, high-impact journals.  They may not mention the buzzword “intelligent design” explicitly, but they do everything the ID movement advocates: explore the design of a phenomenon as if it has a purpose, follow the evidence where it leads, and leave the philosophical or religious implications to the reader.  We regularly highlight such articles right here (see 11/10/2004, 10/27/2004, 10/27/2004, and 09/22/2004 headlines for a few recent examples).  Notice how these authors used the phrase “design principle” but had no use for the evolutionary hypothesis.  Very few papers try to explain in any detail how a complex feature evolved.  Most, if they mention evolution at all, merely assume it in passing, as if fulfilling the obligatory pinch of incense to Father Charlie (see 11/18/2004 and 11/04/2004 and 10/01/2004 recent examples).  If the criteria were rearranged with these considerations in mind, the ID movement could claim the vast majority of scientific papers as their own, and the Darwin Party would be left with a handful of just-so stories.  Demand a recount.
Next headline on:   PhysicsCell BiologyIntelligent Design
Did Darwin Explain Human Behavior?    12/29/2004
“I continue to be surprised by the number of educated people (many of them biologists) who think that offering explanations for human behaviour in terms of culture somehow disproves the suggestion that human behaviour can be explained in darwinian evolutionary terms.”  Thus begins a book review in Nature1 by
Robin Dunbar (U of Liverpool).  “Fortunately,” he continues, “we now have a book to which they may be directed for enlightenment.”  The book to which he refers is Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd (Chicago U Press, 2004).  Does it deliver Dunbar’s promised enlightenment?
    This is an updated book of their 1985 treatise, but without the equations, to make it more accessible to non-mathematicians: “there is not a single equation to disturb the tranquility of your reading, not even a graph,” Dunbar notes. 
Richerson and Boyd’s position, in a nutshell, is that culture is as good a candidate for darwinian treatment as behaviour and morphology.  Genetic processes and individual learning provide mechanisms whereby successful phenotypes can be passed on from one generation to the next.  In humans, and possibly in other species, including apes and cetaceans [whales], culture provides another such mechanism for behavioural phenotypes.  It is true that, in humans, cultural inheritance has been raised to an art form.  But all this means is that the evolutionary dynamics that arise from both its intrinsically different modes of inheritance (sideways as well as vertically) and its complex interactions with more conventional genetic mechanisms make human behaviour a more challenging – and therefore more interesting – field for evolutionary biologists to explore.
Yet the authors compare their subject with one of the biggest challenges in all of evolutionary theory: “The existence of culture,” comment Richerson and Boyd, “is a deep evolutionary mystery on a par with the origin of life itself.”   Where does one begin on such a challenging subject?  Non-evolutionists may not get it, Dunbar warns:
Their position is founded on an evolved psychology that predisposes humans to use imitation as a quick and inelegant way of cutting through the costs of obtaining information about the world first-hand.  This is useful whenever environments change slowly but the information available about the change is poor or costly to obtain.  Culture may be maladaptive on occasion, but that is not an evolutionary issue – something that non-evolutionists invariably fail to understand.  Evolutionary explanations are statistical by their nature, and depend on the balance of the costs and benefits.
By this, Dunbar apparently means that evolution can make progress like dialectical materialism: i.e., three steps forward, two steps back.  “All this is a build-up to the big story of the book” he tantalizes, “which is how to explain hierarchical group structures in traditional human societies, and the forms of indiscriminate altruism that often accompany them.”  This, he believes, the authors do admirably with their theory of culture.  Culture is the thing that enforces commitment to the group strong enough to “prevent the age-old tension between self- and group-level interests tearing the fabric of groups apart.”
    What is most startling about Dunbar’s book review is his disdain for the late Stephen Jay Gould.  This is surprising, considering Gould was the darling of the media, often portrayed as the consummate Darwinist.  Yet in castigating the just-so storytelling of the disciples of Gould, has Dunbar something better to offer?
In many ways, this book is really addressed to social scientists, who, as Richerson and Boyd remark, learned their evolutionary biology from the mischievous writings of Steven Jay Gould, but failed to realize that his seductive polemics have little empirical support.  Functional explanations for natural phenomena are, they remind us, often difficult to see without a great deal of hard empirical work.  Gouldian arguments of ‘spandrels as non-adaptation’ are, they remind us, usually at least as much ‘just so stories’ as adaptationist explanations – if not more so, as they are rarely backed by anything resembling empirical evidence.  And it is evidence, they insist, that is the core to good evolutionary biologyNo amount of armchair theorizing can substitute for hard-earned natural-history knowledge, as the seminal examples of Aristotle (whose biology, incidentally, was outstanding, however bad his physics might have been) and Darwin remind us.
    In many ways, this book is a plea to the social sciences to take seriously what evolutionary biology has to offer – to see it not as a threat intent on cannibalizing the social-science niche, but rather as a source of useful techniques and conceptual devices that can be applied within a conventional social-sciences framework, asking conventional social-science questions.

1Robin Dunbar, “Beyond the culture shock,” Nature 432, 951 - 952 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432951a.
Dunbar just preached to us about the need for empirical evidence instead of storytelling.  Now read his summary of the darwinian explanation for heroic altruism:
Conventional evolutionary explanations, such as kin selection and reciprocal altruism, work well [see 06/30/2003 and 03/17/2003 headlines] for small-scale societies, like those found among monkeys and apes.  But they do not work quite as well on the larger scale of human tribal societies, where kinship and interaction frequencies are too dilute to sustain indiscriminate altruism.  When individuals’ ecological and reproductive success depend on the success with which they can cooperatively solve the problems of survival, something is needed to prevent the age-old tension between self- and group-level interests tearing the fabric of groups apart.  Something is needed to enforce commitment to the group, and that something, Richerson and Boyd argue, is culture, creating a sufficiently strong sense of group identity and conformity to enable groups to do their job for the individual.
We want the equations back.  How could they ever quantify this, empirically measure it, and raise it above the status of a just-so story?  Culture is such a vague concept, it could include anything, including contradictory subcultures.  This is just another silly-putty theory of evolution (see 12/14/2004 headline) guaranteed to provide job security for fat, lazy, Darwin Party storytellers (see 12/22/2003 headline).  The conclusions do not come from the data.  They come from the a priori necessity of cramming all of reality into their chosen philosophy: materialism.  But a house divided against itself cannot stand.  The Dunbar tribe of the Darwinites is going to make the Gould tribe angry at these war cries, while Dunbar is afraid his ultra-adaptationist position is going to scare away the Darwinite-social-science tribe, who fear the adaptationists are a bunch of niche-hunting cannibals.  They don’t realize they are all cooking in the same stew of naturalistic philosophy.
    To any naturalistic Darwinist, all cultures are equally valid and equally meaningless, because they are only evolutionary relics, devoid of actual, objective truth or moral value: they only exist to propagate phenotypes that will succeed in the struggle for existence.  There is no such thing as honesty, integrity, dependability, responsibility, or unselfishness.  When you think of the great acts of self-sacrifice throughout human history, it is sheer ugliness to ascribe them to undirected, amoral mechanisms of darwinian evolution.  Dunbar and his accomplices would reduce to all that is noble and inspiring in human history to evolved ape antics.  This would include the Marine throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades, a missionary risking disease and death to bring good news to natives enslaved by the lies of witch doctors,* the esprit de corps of an elite disciplined military force fighting terrorism, volunteers at a rescue mission providing hot food to the homeless, the work of Red Cross and World Vision volunteers helping victims they don’t even know on the other side of the globe in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and even the teachings and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
    If Dunbar continues to be surprised by the number of educated people who deny that human behavior can be reduced to the just-so storytelling methods of darwinian theory, and if he thinks non-evolutionists just fail to understand all this, and that we are the ones needing enlightenment, then he is beyond hope, and should be put out to pasture at the funny farm.  Better yet, let’s commit him and the mischievous disciples of Gould into a pro-wrestling iron cage where they can experiment on culture without hurting the rest of us normal human beings.  There, they can body-slam each other with seductive polemics and cannibalize each other’s niches while the rest of us watch the entertainment, knowing the false bravado is all an act.
Next headline on:   Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
*In the documentary film Ee-taow!, missionaries found that the men of the Mouk tribe in New Guinea held the women in a state of virtual slavery.  They threatened them with death if they ever saw a secret mask used only for a ritual dance that was supposed to represent the appearance of a spirit.  The men forced the women to travel far and wide collecting food for the spirit, which the men consumed in their own quarters, throwing the leftovers on a heap outside, while the women were not allowed to eat any of it.  When the truth came out, after the tribespeople were rescued from this heart of darkness into the joy of receiving Christ, they confessed these things and admitted their conscience had bothered them.  The men said they had felt guilty about lying to the women and mistreating them.  The women said they knew all along that the mask dancer was not a spirit but just one of the men, but kept silence for fear of being killed.  The good news that Christ had come to save them from their sins by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice, and that they could be forgiven and freed from their bondage to sin by trusting in Him, caused spontaneous rejoicing in the whole village.  They wanted to take this good news to the other tribes, putting their own lives at risk.  Explain that, Darwin Party.
Nature Prints Anti-ID Letters    12/28/2004
One can never know how many letters a magazine receives on a given topic, but Nature printed two letters last week decidedly against intelligent design.  Specifically, they responded to the comments Nature made about an ID paper published by Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (see
09/08/2004 and 09/24/2004 headlines).
    Day B. Ligon and Matthew B. Lovern1 (Oklahoma State) said that the publication of Meyer’s paper was “worse than bad science” because, he fears, ID supporters will use it as ammunition for influencing school boards to include ID in the curriculum.  This trend, “alarmingly,” is bearing fruit even though the paper, published in a “relatively obscure journal,” was “unlikely to influence scientists.  However,“ they allege, “this does little to diminish its usefulness to ID proponents, who wish to influence public rather than scientific opinion.”
    Kristofer M. Helgen2 (U of Adelaide) had a different complaint.  He agreed Meyer’s paper was “clearly out of place” and represented a “lapse of the journal’s usual editorial policies” that was “swiftly repudiated.”  But he took issue with Nature’s put-down of the Smithsonian journal:
Svetlov describes the Proceedings as a journal that “enjoyed much-deserved obscurity”.  This characterization is not accurate.  A cursory review of authorship in the Proceedings throughout its 122-year history reveals a list of everyone who’s anyone among systematic biologists, including scores of notable past and current scientists from the Smithsonian Institution.
Helgen says that the relevance of papers published in low-impact journals often exceeds that of publications in the well-known journals like Science, Nature and Cell.  And the quality of the peer review process can be just as high.  So, “although the publication of Meyer’s paper is lamentable, it need not be used to trivialize the Proceedings’ long, respectable and ongoing tradition of cataloguing global biodiversity.”
1Day B. Ligon and Matthew B. Lovern, “Meyer publication worse than just bad science,” Nature 432, 949 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432949c.
2Kristofer M. Helgen, “Meyer paper: don’t hang the Soc. Wash. out to dry,” Nature 432, 949 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432949b.
It’s fun to see the Darwin Party lament a little.  They have been so arrogant about their political power over the journals, it’s time for them to shed some tears.  It’s hard, after so many years, having to learn manners, like how to share the table with scientists who believe we should follow the evidence where it leads (Meyer does, after all, have a Ph.D. from Cambridge, and his paper was reviewed by three scientists and approved by Rick Sternberg, a scientist with two doctorates).  Do the crybabies actually try to address any of the points made by Meyer?  No.  They just whine about having to share the sandbox with political rivals who believe in playing fair.  And the little elitists whine about the less-enlightened school board members and public who might be influenced by Meyer’s paper – you know, all those people out there who have no brains and cannot think, like “scientists” can.  Yes, go ahead and lament.  It’s about time.
Next headline on:   Intelligent Design
Flagellar Oars Beat Like Galley Slaves In Synchronization   12/26/2004
The Dec. 14 issue of Current Biology1 investigated another mystery in the operation of eukaryotic flagella:
Flagella are microtubule-based structures that propel cells through the surrounding fluid.  The internal structure of a flagellum consists of nine parallel doublet microtubules arranged around a central pair of singlet microtubules (Figure 1).  Force for propulsion is provided by thousands of dynein motors anchored in rows along one side of each doublet, which can walk along the microtubule of the adjacent doublet.  In order to produce coordinated bending of the flagellum, these dynein motors — organized into multi-headed complexes called the inner and outer dynein arms — must produce their power strokes in synchrony, like the oarsmen on an ancient Mediterranean war-galley.  But whereas oar-strokes were coordinated by a continuous drum-beat, it is much less clear how flagellar dynein motors are synchronized.
The authors of the paper consider growing evidence that the central microtubule pair provides the drumbeat, with the aid of “a protein complex called the dynein regulatory complex, located between the spokes and the dynein arms.”  However, “The molecular mechanism by which the central pair regulates dynein is not known.” 
1Kimberly A. Wemmer and Wallace F. Marshall, “Flagellar Motility: All Pull Together,”
Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 23, 14 December 2004, Pages R992-R993, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.019.
Thus another deeper level of complexity becomes apparent.  A collection of parts is not enough; they must coordinate their actions.  No wonder Antony Flew considered Darwin’s Black Box an “amazing book” and has become a theist (see 12/09/2004 entry).
Next headline on:   Cell Biology
Huygens Heads for Titan    12/24/2004
At about 7:25 p.m. JPL time Christmas Eve, anxious scientists and engineers watching their monitors received bits from 800 million miles away, indicating that the Cassini spacecraft had successfully released the Huygens Probe over an hour earlier, with no faults or problems, right on schedule.  In mission control, engineers with Santa hats could be seen cheering, clapping, shaking hands and congratulating one another.  Some sample news reports:
BBC News, MSNBC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Twelve hours after release, the Cassini orbiter snapped this photo of the distant probe flying away.
  This begins the Probe’s 22-day solo flight to smog-shrouded Titan, where its three parachutes will deploy in sequence on January 14 to settle the 700-pound craft on the surface of the largest piece of unexplored real estate in the solar system.  For some good accounts of the Huygens mission, see, BBC News, National Geographic News, and the official press releases at European Space Agency and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Take a look also at Astronomy Picture of the Day artwork of Huygens Arrival and Probe Landing.  (Unlike in the artwork, however, Saturn would not be visible, because it will be behind the moon from the landing spot, and the Cassini orbiter, of course, would be way too far away to see.)  The Planetary Society has also been posting numerous articles about Titan.  For the technically minded, there is a 68-page press kit, and for all ages, JPL has a photo essay.  The ESA Site has some cool animations showing the orbital path of the probe.
    Before signing off for Christmas, let’s review some of the other recent findings from Cassini.  Some exciting news was announced at last week’s conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco:
  • Titan’s atmosphere was shown to be composed of multiple layers.
  • Saturn’s atmosphere was shown to have multiple cyclonic storms similar to those on Jupiter, one resembling the Great Red Spot.
  • Titan’s clouds have been observed to change, indicating there is active weather in the atmosphere.  News@Nature also reported this item.
  • The highest resolution pictures ever of icy moon Dione solved a 23-year old mystery.  Voyager had photographed wispy streaks that were thought to be frost.  It was just an optical illusion.  The photographs show, instead, a series of grooves and trenches with steep, bright walls that reflect sunlight in a way that had produced the illusion of surface frost.  Some of the surprise reaction can be found on The Planetary Society website and News@Nature, where the lead imaging scientist called it the “one of the most surprising results so far... It just wasn’t what we expected.”  Dione’s black-and-white dullness stands out sharply against Saturn’s color in another Cassini image.
  • More information was shared about erosion in Saturn’s E Ring (see 07/02/2004 headline), indicating the ring is being destroyed rapidly and cannot be as old as the solar system.
  • Saturn has lightning a million times stronger than the bolts on earth; see story on; the principal investigator at U of Iowa said the find is “astonishing”.
  • The varying rotation rate since Voyager is also difficult to explain, said the RPWS team from U of Iowa.  It may mean that Saturn’s magnetic field does not rotate as a rigid body.
Watch for exciting news from Titan on January 14-15.  There are not many “first time ever” adventures left in the solar system, and this should be one of the best in our lifetime.  Congratulations to the many team members, some of whom have been working for 20 years for this moment.  What will Huygens see as it samples, measures and photographs the atmosphere and surface of this bizarre, frozen world that is bigger than Mercury and Pluto?  The world may soon know.
Next headline on:   Solar System
Archaeologists Discover Biblical Pool of Siloam    12/24/2004
MSNBC News reports that a team of archaeologists working in an Arab portion of Jerusalem believe they have located the pool of Siloam, where according to the Gospel of John, ch. 9, Jesus healed a blind man.
    In other archaeology news, MSNBC also reported that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is calling an alabaster pomegranate alleged to be a relic of Solomon’s temple a forgery, as well as the acclaimed James ossuary that mentions the name of Jesus.  Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, however, is standing by its claim for the authenticity of the ossuary, accusing the IAA of unscientific analysis and bias.
Debates will continue about the ossuary, the Jehoash inscription and some other artifacts, but many objects and sites mentioned in the Bible are corroborated by the archaeologist’s spade.  Unlike holy books of man-made religions, the Bible speaks of real places, events, and people.  As such, it is open to historical investigation: in fact, it encourages the honest seeking for the truth.
Next headline on:   The Bible
Galaxy Evolution Explorer Finds Living Fossils    12/21/2004
Some galaxies are 10 times brighter in ultraviolet than others, and are thought to be “young” galaxies undergoing violent star formation with frequent supernova explosions.  In theory, they populated the early universe but should have quieted down by now.  The
Galaxy Evolution Explorer, an ultraviolet wide-field orbiting telescope, launched April 2003, has just made a surprise announcement: young, ultraviolet-bright galaxies are right in our backyard.  The press release says that three dozen of them lie within 4 billion light-years of earth.  “The recent discovery suggests our aging universe is still alive with youth.”  Team leader Dr. Tim Heckman (Johns Hopkins U) added, “It’s like finding a living fossil in your own backyard.  We thought this type of galaxy had gone extinct, but in fact newborn galaxies are alive and well in the universe.”  (See also similar announcement last week, 12/15/2004.)
Wait a minute; they said before that most of the star birth occurred in the first epoch of the universe (see 01/08/2002 headline), and that galaxies got mature fast (see 03/03/2003 and 12/16/2002 headlines).  They also told us they found “young” stars in an “old” galaxy (see 07/08/2002 headline).  If they don’t even have a handle on the age of globular clusters (see 10/05/2003 headline), which are part of our own Milky Way, how can we believe them when they tell us what is old and young?  This many anomalies should cause a serious reconsideration of basic assumptions, but these days in science, the model is the constant, and the data are the variables.  Biologists pull the same shenanigans when telling us about earth-bound living fossils (see 10/13/2004 headline).
Next headline on:   CosmologyStars and AstronomyDating Methods
Paleoanthropologists Fight Tooth and Nail    12/21/2004
Ann Gibbons, reporter for Science, seems to enjoy watching the fights about human ancestry.  At
Science Now, she began a news item about an alleged fossil human ancestor with a joke:
How many paleoanthropologists does it take to locate a molar on the correct side of a fossil jawbone?  The short answer to this joke, which was has been winging around the Internet this month, is 28.  That’s the number of paleoanthropologists who, in the current issue of the South African Journal of Science, declare that a fossilized wisdom tooth belonged in the right rather than the left lower jaw of a famous fossil of a putative human ancestor from Chad.
Her description of the row includes allegations of withholding publication of findings, using questionable methods, conflict of interest, intimidation tactics, and squelching scientific debate.  Gibbons metaphorically describes the controversy as “fighting tooth and nail” and “kicking their teeth in.”
This is boring stuff; what would really be news would be if the human-evolution crowd actually behaved like civilized people and agreed on something.  How many paleoanthropologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?  The answer is irrelevant, because they never get that far; since they can never agree on the socket type, the wattage, the voltage, the location, or how long the old bulb has been there, they just keep arguing in the dark.
Next headline on:   Early ManDumb Ideas
Future of Computers Lies in Harnessing DNA Circuitry    12/20/2004
According to
EurekAlert, researchers at University of Minnesota are making progress using DNA molecules for information storage and processing.  A DNA scaffolding that is being studied has the potential to hold information “1,000 times as densely as the best information processing circuitry and 100 times the best data storage circuitry now in the pipeline.”
This would be a good time to review the information storage capacity of DNA, as described here 08/16/2002.
Next headline on:   Genes and DNAAmazing Facts
Why Workouts Work for Humans, Not Pickups    12/20/2004
Space Daily began an article on space medicine with a thought-provoking comparison:
Most machines don’t improve with use.  Old pickup trucks don’t gradually become Ferraris just by driving them fast, and a pocket calculator won’t change into a supercomputer by crunching lots of numbers.  The human body is different.  As weightlifters know, the more that people use their muscles, the stronger they become.  And unused muscles do not remain preserved; neglect causes them to waste away, or atrophy.
    It’s a remarkable response, one that scientists don’t fully understand.  Somehow, muscle cells “sense” how they’re being used and then remodel themselves to better fit the task. How does this happen?  And what exactly is it about exercise that triggers the changes?
The rest of the article, written by Patrick L. Barry, delves into how space physiologists are working to improve the exercise programs used by astronauts.  They are striving to understand muscle response at the genetic and molecular level.
Muscles respond to stress by growing stronger because of programming.  Our genes have billions of lines of code, and each cell is equipped with exquisite environmental sensors and molecular machines that carry out the instructions for repair and growth (read about just one example, among thousands, on EurekAlert).
    In addition, the genetic code is programmed to regulate itself and produce more (or less) machinery and construction material depending on the signals received from the environment: the food and oxygen coming in, the temperature, the stress and much more.  Pumping that bicep with a dumbbell sets off a cascade of signals and cellular activity that each respond to internal instructions, resulting in a better-prepared muscle for next time.  The fact that this doesn’t happen with pickup trucks, pocket calculators and rocks should remind us all of the power of intelligent design to overcome the otherwise degenerative nature of the second law of thermodynamics, at least locally and temporarily.  Why not illustrate this comparison by driving to the gym or a hiking trail today?  Have a good workout, and remember, “no pain, no gain” applies to your body, not your car.
Next headline on:   Human BodyHealthIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Wet-Marsers Win, But Life Unlikely    12/20/2004
The discovery of evidence for past water on Mars made Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year.1  Most recently, the Spirit rover found goethite, an iron oxide that forms most readily in water, announced a
JPL press release Dec. 13.  Although Richard A. Kerr at Science feels this second discovery on the opposite side of Mars from the Opportunity Rover provides a “second chance for life,” he admits it’s a long shot: “Mars was taking a different environmental path [from Earth], one too stressful for any life that might have managed to take hold.  Even at Meridiani [where Opportunity is roving], the most habitable site found so far, the water was acidic, briny, and, at least at the surface, intermittent—not a promising place for life to originate.”
Update 09/21/2007: Data from the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter indicates that Mars probably never had much water: see 09/21/2007.
1Richard A. Kerr, “On Mars, a Second Chance for Life,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5704, 2010-2012, 17 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5704.2010].
Life does not just “originate” any more than a castle will “originate” on an outcrop of marble.  So Mars may have had intermittent, briny, acidic pools of water that stunk.  Sounds like a graveyard for organic chemicals, not a Garden of Eden.
Next headline on:   MarsOrigin of Life
Da Vinci Code Not Gospel Truth, Says National Geographic   12/17/2004
National Geographic News took a break from its usual nature articles to discuss the popular novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and examine its historical claims.  “No Gospel” in the story, it decides; while giving Brown’s theory a hearing, it concludes there is no evidence Mary Magdalene married Jesus, that they had a child, that a secret society of his descendants was formed, or that Leonardo da Vinci believed the legend and painted Mary as the wife of Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
    The article also discounts the validity of the apocryphal Gospel of Mary that Brown uses as a principal source.  Another assertion roundly disputed in the article written by Stefan Lovgren states, “Brown’s assertion that the divinity of Jesus Christ was an invention by the Roman emperor Constantine in A.D. 325 is widely dismissed by scholars—Christ’s divinity had already been described in the New Testament.”  (See Hebrews 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-4 and many other similar references.)     Brown’s controversial best-seller is the subject of a two-hour documentary to air on the National Geographic Channel this Sunday.  It presents the view of scholars who argue that “Brown is relying on discredited sources and flimsy connections to make his bloodline theory.”
National Geographic is hardly a pro-Biblical source, so if they say the novel is based essentially on historical hogwash, why should anyone else trust it?
Update 12/19/2004: The TV show, unfortunately, gave a lot of time to Brown’s theory and other supporters of it, and ended on an ambiguous note, suggesting that at least some of it might be true.  This is grossly unscholarly.  Suppose a few years from now, someone started legends about a former President, say Franklin Roosevelt, and made up all kinds of conspiracy theories using obscure sources and vague inferences, and made it into a best-selling novel.  Should it be regarded with more credence than first-hand accounts and credible sources?  Then why not give the most credibility to the clear words of Peter and Paul and other eyewitnesses to the facts, who knew Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the whole group of disciples, and make no such claims, but by contrast, emphasis the deity, sinless character and purity of Jesus Christ?  Their focus is not on double-entendres trying to find lurid angles, and searching for obscure relics, but on the words of truth.  Their words were written within the generation of eyewitness, unlike the gnostic gospels that date from a century or two later and are filled with clearly mythical elements, like dime novels.  Read the New Testament without the “help” of deconstructionist postmodernists who try to find something to feed their politically-correct feminist biases.
    It’s a shame to see so many people at airports and shopping malls with a copy of Dan Brown’s book in hand.  One can only hope many of them have learned to separate fiction from fact and baloney from reality.  They should read the testimony of eyewitnesses like John, who said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1.
    Such eyewitness testimony is vastly superior to the secret suggestions and imaginary inferences from “discredited sources and flimsy connections” made by Dan Brown, a novelist without claim to authority or reliable testimony, who must be laughing his way to the bank.  Look also at the words of Peter who, like the other apostles, made no financial gain from his preaching, but – on the contrary – suffered persecution and death for proclaiming what he knew to be true.  He said forthrightly: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” II Peter 1).
    Like a juror under instructions from the court, be a good judge of evidence and apply standard rules of evaluating eyewitness testimony (see book by Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ).  Whose word would you trust, Dan Brown’s or the traveling companions of Jesus, all but one of whom died a martyr’s death without flinching on their testimony that He was the Son of God?  (The exception was John, who apparently died of old age, but was persecuted and exiled without flinching on his testimony, either).  The church was born and flourished in Jerusalem, the worst place of all to propagate a myth (if it were not true that Jesus had risen from the dead to demonstrate his deity) because of all the people who had seen Jesus and could have stopped the movement cold by producing the body.  Peter, in his first sermon to the crowd at the Jewish temple, appealed to the fact that they were all eyewitnesses of Christ’s miracles (Acts 2).  Paul, another unwavering martyr, spoke of 500 witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, many who were still living when he wrote (see I Corinthians 15).  So are we to believe that now, suddenly, after 2000 years, a novelist is going to tell us what really happened?  Come on.
    Only a fool who cannot judge evidence would swallow Brown’s myth.  It’s the same kind of conspiracy theorizing, suggestive reasoning that titillates late-night talk show audiences with claims NASA never went to the moon or that aliens built a face on Mars.  The Da Vinci Code will sparkle like a meteor for awhile then fizzle and vanish into the darkness.  Challenges like this can actually reinforce trust in the historical accuracy of the Bible, for anyone willing to examine the evidence squarely, as did former atheist Lee Strobel.  The Biblical records of the life of Christ have endured many waves of unbelief and spin doctoring, but always come through unscathed.  This Christmas season, take a fresh look at the account of the Baby in the manger, not as a religious story, but as fact of history.  Who is this Jesus?  What must we do with Him?  The message is not just for scholars to dispute.  Remember, the angels in the gospel account appeared to humble shepherds, proclaiming “good tidings of great joy for all people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2).  But honest scholars are not excluded.  The adult Jesus explained to a scholarly man, Nicodemus, a knowledgeable and mature judge of evidence, what His appearing was all about: read John chapter 3.
    From us at Creation-Evolution Headlines, have a level-headed, thoughtful, meaningful, merry Christmas.*
Next headline on:   The Bible
*And pray that Antony Flew (see 12/09/2004 headline) will continue to follow the evidence where it leads.
Did Early Islam Promote Science?    12/16/2004
Nature published a news feature this week crediting a religion, Islam, with advancing science, but saying nothing about the Christian roots of science.1  It begins,
Western science owes much to Islam’s golden age – a debt that is often forgotten.  To help redress the balance, Fuat Sezgin has reconstructed a host of scientific treasures using ancient Arabic texts.  Alison Abbott reports.
Sezgin (professor emeritus on the history of science at the University of Frankfurt) is given very positive press.  His mission is to help Westerners realize that “the Arab world was the guardian of the ancient Greeks’ scientific knowledge during the Middle Ages, before the European Renaissance rediscovered and extended it.”  He has opened a museum in Germany with 800 machines built from descriptions in medieval Arab texts.
1Alison Abbott, “Islamic science: Rebuilding the past,”
Nature 432, 794 - 795 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432794a.
For contrasting view, see our online book in progress, The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists. 432, 794 - 795 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432794a.
The history of science is a complex subject involving centuries of political and ideological trends, thousands of players, and multitudes of documents, but two things are clear: true modern science was born in countries that had a Christian world view, and the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution came from a Christian background.  Without slighting the contributions of the Greeks and Arabs, to portray otherwise is to distort history.
    Half truths are deadly because they contain some truth.  It is true that medieval European scholars were in debt to the Arabs for Greek texts, machinery, medicine, mathematics and more.  It is true that Arab scholars made significant advances in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics before the European Reformation and Renaissance.  But it is also true that Islam conquered countries mercilessly with the sword (as it does now) and would have overrun Europe had not the Europeans resisted.  Would their complete domination of Europe ushered in a golden age?  Would the rise of science have been as meteoric under the caliphs as it was under the Reformers?  Why is Nature so quick to praise the religion of Islam, and so silent about the Christian faith of most of the founders of modern science?
    Any scholar, including Sezgin, who brings historical facts to light is deserving of credit.  If he is helping correct some imbalances in the history of science, that is good.  Displaying devices that Arab inventors made, including complex astrolabes, surgical devices, water clocks and anesthetics, is as worthwhile as displaying those made by the Chinese, the Egyptians or the Mayans.  But to suggest that Europe stole science from the Muslims is a distortion.  Despite centuries of opportunity, a true self-sustaining scientific enterprise did not arise in Islamic countries, and Islamic countries today are some of the most scientifically backward of all (see 11/21/2004 headline).
    Science involves not just making inventions but striving to understand the working of the world.  Most cultures, in spite of their religions, have shown skill at architecture and invention, often due to necessity (war, sanitation, healing sickness or injury, providing water supply and food), or for artistic purposes.  All societies, additionally, have innately intelligent or skilled people who can achieve greatness and satisfaction in their works.  But that is not the same thing as science.  Only in Christian Europe did a true scientific revolution take place, largely because Christian philosophers saw nature as a handwork of God that operated under His law.  Abbott mentions many inventions in her article, but not any Arab search after scientific principles; yet she uses the phrase “Islamic science” repeatedly when Islamic technology would be more appropriate.  It is odd that Nature would have so much good to say about the Greeks whose works the Arabs translated, but whose scientific ideas were so often wrong, based not on the scientific method but usually on the reasonings of their fallible minds.  Yet much of Islamic “science” included a slavish devotion to the wisdom of the Greeks, especially Aristotle.  It took a long time for the Europeans to wean themselves off Aristotle and learn by experiment, like the work of Robert Boyle and Johannes Kepler (both devout Bible-believing Christians) that nature operates primarily through God-ordained natural laws.  These scientists, like many other Christians, explored nature not for gain or fame or pragmatism, but sheerly for the joy of discovering the workings of God.
    Abbott grossly whitewashes the Islamic sword of terror.  Notice this sentence: “As the reach of the Islamic world spread, stretching from northern India to Spain, they absorbed as much knowledge as they could from each conquest.”  Listen, people: the Islamic world did not “spread” like soft margarine on a butter knife, with the bread of humanity eager to soak it up.  The knife was a butcher knife, sharp and red with blood.  The caliphs Abbott speaks so well of promoted learning as much for personal fame and national fortune than for understanding.  Here is another whitewash:
In the fifteenth century, the Islamic world shrank under military pressure from western Europe – the last Muslim forces were forced out of Spain in 1492, the year Christopher Columbus reached America.  By this time, the European Renaissance was under way and Islamic knowledge was sucked up by powers on the rise, such as Spain and France.
Oh, those nasty Europeans, with their military and political ambitions trying to suppress the wisdom of the peace-loving Muslims, but taking their knowledge as booty.  Abbott should thank God that the Europeans finally had the guts to oust a religious empire that wanted to take over the world by the sword.
    This is the same religion terrorizing our world today.  Cry about separation of church and state in America?  There is none in Islamic countries.  This is the same religion holding its populace hostage to a seventh-century culture, impoverishing its citizens, denying its women of basic human rights and teaching a distorted history of the world (i.e., Jews were the Nazis, and there is no Israel).  Tell the truth, Nature – the whole truth.  Anthony Flew, the former atheist philosopher (see 12/09/2004 headline), said, “Islam has neither suffered nor enjoyed either a Reformation or an Enlightenment.”  He added, “As for Islam, it is, I think, best described in a Marxian way as the uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism” —
I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam.  It was because the whole of Palestine was part of the land of Islam that Muslim Arab armies moved in to try to destroy Israel at birth, and why the struggle for the return of the still surviving refugees and their numerous descendants continue to this day.
He also described reading the Quran as “a penance more than a pleasure,” and compared Jesus and Muhammed thus: “for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure, which the Prophet of Islam most emphatically is not.”  Muhammed was no scientist.  He was a superstitious, impetuous, conceited, philandering, bloodthirsty tyrant.
    Yet Nature seems to be on a new campaign to whitewash the very religion that is responsible for the most terror, the most tyranny, the most genocide and the most unenlightenment in the world today.  Imagine schools of the future slighting or ignoring Newton or Galileo, but paying homage to Avicenna and Muhammed as the fathers of science.  Imagine Christianity and Judaism being ignored or condemned as anti-intellectual.  Visualize the educational laws of the future forbidding the teaching of both atheistic Darwinism and Christian (European/American) science in the science class, but extolling the work of Arab scholars.  Imagine them recounting for students selective horrors committed by Europe and Israel in their conflicts with Muslims, but sweeping under the rug centuries of atrocities committed with the sword of Allah.  Would this be an improvement on the current tyranny of naturalistic science in the schools?  Is this the kind of new politically-correct philosophy of science that Nature will promote after the fall of the current idol, Charles Darwin?  Will Sagan, the popularizer of atheistic science, be eclipsed by Sezgin, the popularizer of Islamic science?  Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you find the devil is clever.
Next headline on:   Politics, Ethics and History
Cretaceous Temperature Estimates Point Out Flaws in Climate Models   12/15/2004
Nature1 this week described evidence for high temperatures in the Arctic during the Cretaceous that it termed “astounding.”  Based on work by Jenkins et al. that Arctic waters were 15°C, as warm as modern coastal waters off France and Maryland.
For a region blanketed in darkness for half of the year, the Arctic Ocean was astoundingly warm.  It may have been even warmer earlier in the Cretaceous: proxy evidence indicates that the climate had been slowly cooling for nearly 20 million years.  Although astounding, the new estimate of Arctic seawater temperature is not without precedentFossil evidence of the tropical breadfruit tree Artocarpus dicksoni and of champsosaurs, extinct crocodile-like reptiles, has been found in sediments from the high Canadian Arctic dating to the middle Cretaceous (90-100 million years ago).
Did volcanic eruptions increase the global concentrations of carbon dioxide?  Models show levels 3 to 6 times as high as today’s, but even those do not raise Arctic temperatures that high.  But raising levels higher also produces higher temperatures at mid-latitudes, “temperatures that exceed the estimated values using proxy methods and approach the tolerance level of organisms.”  Christopher Poulson (U of Michigan), author of the news item, uses these findings to point out inadequacies in climate models:
Why do simulations of the Cretaceous climate predict polar temperatures that are too cold and Equator-to-pole temperature gradients that are too large?  The solution to the problem may lurk in the climate models themselves.  Attempts have been made to solve it by incorporating the effects of ocean heat transport, stratospheric clouds, ocean passageways, and vegetation.  The result, however, has been only incremental improvements.  Climate models still do an inadequate job of simulating the extreme warmth of a past greenhouse world – a troubling proposition for predictions of a future greenhouse world.

1Christopher Poulson, “Paleoclimate: A balmy Arctic,”
Nature 432, 814 - 815 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432814a.
Yet National Geographic in the September 2004 issue made the case that global warming was absolutely, certainly happening without a doubt, and only the ignorant or politically motivated would deny it.  Is this additional evidence that NG cannot be trusted in its science reporting? (see 10/24/2004 headline).  We all know that aliens cause global warming, anyway (see 12/27/2003 editorial).
    This article points out that models, age estimates and the evolutionary stories that go with them are spotty, inexact and uncertain, to use Poulson’s descriptions of past Cretaceous climate evidence.  How, therefore, can anything they say about the past or future be swallowed so uncritically by science news reporters?  They weren’t there, and they don’t know.
    Finding breadfruit tree fossils and other temperate and tropical plants (08/16/2004) and animals, including dinosaurs (03/29/2004) near both poles tells us something: the world was very different sometime in the past.  How could the poles get warm without the equator being too scalding for life?  It would seem there was a mechanism to moderate the global temperature like a mild greenhouse.  Maybe this will cause a rethink of theories of a pre-Flood global canopy; such models should get a hearing in the light of the failures of evolutionary modeling.  Let’s reconsider all those millions of years while we’re at it.
Next headline on:   DinosaursPlantsFossilsGeology
Late Bloomer Galaxy Just Now Getting Into Star Formation?    12/15/2004
According to a story in
New Scientist, a “young” galaxy is just now starting its process of star formation. 
Most galaxies formed more than 10 billion years ago.  Those born later tend to be fashioned from recycled gas rich in metals that were forged by previous generations of stars.  But astronomers Trinh Thuan of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and Yuri Izotov of the Main Astronomical Observatory in Kiev, Ukraine found the gas in the youngster, named I Zwicky 18, contains very little metal and is more like the pristine gas left over from the big bang.1
The astronomers are claiming this galaxy gives them “an excellent opportunity to study the early stages of the evolution of galaxies.”  This galaxy made Astronomy Picture of the Day December 3.
1Yuri Izotov and Trinh Thuan, “Deep Hubble Space Telescope ACS Observations of I Zw 18: a Young Galaxy in Formation,” The Astrophysical Journal, 616:768-782, 2004 December 1.
Does something sound really fishy about this story?  Like, maybe, trying to keep the story going in spite of the evidence, or trying to force-fit objects into preconceived categories of old and young?  All they found was a galaxy with a lot of gas and few stars, and low metallicity in the gas.  So?  Look for the evidence of a prior assumptions in the abstract:
The question of whether there are young galaxies in the local universe forming stars for the first time is of considerable interest for galaxy formation and cosmological studies.  There are several reasons for this.  First, cold dark matter models predict that low-mass dwarf galaxies could still be forming at the present epoch because they originate from density fluctuations considerably smaller than those giving rise to giant galaxies. Thus, the existence of young dwarf galaxies in the local universe would put strong constraints on the primordial density fluctuation spectrum.  Second, while much progress has been made in finding large populations of galaxies at high (z =+ 3) redshifts (e.g., Steidel et al. 1996), truly young galaxies in the process of forming remain elusive in the distant universe.  The spectra of those faraway galaxies generally indicate the presence of a substantial amount of heavy elements, implying previous star formation and metal enrichment.  Thus, it is important to have examples of bona fide young galaxies in the local universe because they can be used as laboratories to study star formation and chemical enrichment processes in environments that are sometimes much more pristine than those in known high-redshift galaxies.  Moreover, their proximity allows studies of their structure, metal content, and stellar populations with a sensitivity, precision, and spatial resolution that faint distant high-redshift galaxies do not allow.  Finally, in the hierarchical model of galaxy formation large galaxies result from the merging of smaller structures.  These building-block galaxies are too faint and small to be studied at high redshifts, while we stand a much better chance of understanding them if we can find local examples.
So they went into their observations with preconceived notions of what they were looking for and what it meant.  That’s a recipe for delusion.  Meanwhile, the “young” galaxies that should be at high redshifts, and presumably therefore more pristine, are nowhere to be found; they already have heavy elements.  Where is the evolution?
Next headline on:   StarsDating Methods
Did Martians Win the War of the Worlds?    12/14/2004
In the H.G. Wells version, the Martian invaders with their tripod machines and death rays, wreaking havoc on Earth, were defeated by Earth bacteria.  The new scientific plot envisioned by scientists, reported on, is that the Martians had the bacteria, and invaded Earth with it to either conquer Earth life or spread it onto our lifeless world.  Or was it the other way around?
“We know very little about the origin of life on the Earth... how it happened, what kind of environment it might have happened in, and how long it look to go from the origin to the last common ancestor of life as we know it – a very complex organism very much like modern life,” [Carrine] Blank [Washington U in St. Louis] said.
    Casting her eye back on Mars, Blank also said an unknown is whether conditions on early Mars were similar to what they were like on the early Earth when the origin of life likely happened.
    “If they were similar, then perhaps a ‘second genesis’ could have been possible on Mars.  Even if conditions were different on Mars, there could still have been a second genesis only with a very different result than what happened on the Earth,” Blank stated.  “If these different life forms were spread throughout the solar system, then they might have co-existed if they could learn to depend upon each other.  If, on the other hand, they were in direct competition for resources, then you might expect that one would ‘win’ and survive, and the other go extinct,” she advised.
So maybe the Martians won the war of the worlds.  Jack Farmer, an astrobiologist at Arizona State at Tempe, thinks the “War of the Worlds” scenario is a “serious possibility.”  Reporter Leonard David relayed some questions that raises in Farmer’s mind: “Who would win?  Is there the possibility for a competitive co-existence between life forms that originated on a different basis?”
    Much of this discussion was prompted by the evidence for water found by the Mars Exploration Rovers (see 12/03/2004 headline).  Now, Spirit has found evidence for past water from a layered rock in the Columbia Hills, reports JPL.  For more on the complexity of the hypothetical last universal common ancestor (LUCA), see 02/29/2004 headline.
Does water equal life?  Does mud equal a mud-brick pyramid?  Is science the art of building maybes on top of mights?  Does “might” make right?  Can they say the word “genesis” in school?  Does life just “happen”?  Can we say it “happened” when we know very little about the origin of life?  Can students have a chance to hear the controversy about evolution (see next headline), instead of the diet of empty speculation dished out by astrobiologists spending too much time watching old movies and not thinking straight?  Can they hear Jonathan Wells instead of H. G. Wells, and learn some science facts instead of science fiction?
Next headline on:   MarsOrigin of LifeMoviesDumb Ideas
Debate:  Should Schools Teach the Controversy Over Darwinism?    12/14/2004
The San Francisco Chronicle published a written debate between Stanford evolutionist Robert Sapolsky and Discovery Institute fellows Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell.  The subject is whether schools should “teach the controversy” over evolution.  Both articles can be read on the
Discovery Institute website.
    Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing another school district, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania; all the news media, like this example on Fox News, are talking about it in the usual terms.  (It’s kind of funny how the automatic pop-up ads home in on keywords; this article says, “Free Evolution: Get Free $250 Gift Card for Evolution.”)  Surprisingly, in the Dover case, the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute thinks the policy is misguided and asks for its withdrawal.  John G. West explains that the institute recommends allowing the teaching of intelligent design, but not mandating it. 
You, and only you, can help prevent the Atheist Charlie Lawyers Union from succeeding with scare tactics.  Just one victory over these bullies will energize sensible parents all over this country.  You might save $250 on your next purchase of Evolution, but who wants it for Christmas except the Grinch?
    The intro article to the debate says, “Sapolsky dodged the real scientific controversies and instead spewed stereotypes and politically motivated ad hominem attacks at intelligent design supporters.  Contrast that with the serious issues raised by Meyer and Campbell, who delve into the real issue of micro vs. macro evolution.  Read them both and judge for yourself.”  Good advice, provided you have your baloney detector powered on.  (Why is it that the creationists and ID supporters always want you to hear both sides, and the Darwinists only want you to hear theirs?)
Next headline on:   Darwinism and EvolutionIntelligent DesignSchools
For Better Workouts, Head for the Hills    12/14/2004
Science News1 reported on a study by the American Heart Association that shows hiking in the mountains is good for you.  Experiments on people hiking in the Austrian Alps showed that going uphill, the body improves the processing of fats called triglycerides, and walking downhill improves the processing of glucose sugar.  45 volunteers who were “healthy but generally inactive” took part in the study by hiking up a 30-degree slope in Austria 3 to 5 hours per week and riding the cable car down.  After two months, they switched and rode up and walked down.  Each hike was preceded by intake of fats and glucose, and after each hike their blood level concentrations of the substances were measured.
1Ben Harder, “Up and down make different workouts,” Science News, Week of Dec. 11, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 24, p. 380.
Running on level treadmills is for mice.  Get out and breathe the fresh air and tackle a mountain.  Here’s a picture to inspire you, and here’s an encore.  For more benefits, join the club.
Next headline on:   Health
Introducing the Stretch & Squish Theory of Evolution    12/14/2004
Evolution is too slow if theorists rely on single point mutations, say two biologists from U. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who published their ideas in PNAS1 (see summary on
EurekAlert).  Instead, evolution proceeds by rapidly distorting, stretching and squishing what is already there, they claim.
    They claim that even Darwin knew that evolution was fast: “In an observation that has evolved into the modern theory of punctuated equilibrium, Darwin inferred from the fossil record that evolution frequently occurs in rapid bursts.”  In an effort to find a molecular basis for speeding up evolution to make rapid changes possible, they examined genetic sequences called tandem repeats from the blood of different breeds of dogs. 
Most scientists agree that over very long periods of time, mutations in the genetic code are responsible for driving evolutionary changes in species.  One widely accepted hypothesis is that random, so-called single-point mutations – a change from one letter to another among the billions of letters contained in the code – minutely but inexorably change an organism’s appearance.
    UT Southwestern scientists, however, believe the single-point mutation process is much too slow and happens much too infrequently to account for the rapid rise of new species found in the fossil record, or for the rapid evolutionary changes occurring in species such as the domestic dog, whose various breeds have evolved relatively quickly from a not-too-distant common ancestor.
Mutations in tandem repeat sequences apparently occur 100,000 times as often as point mutations, and produce noticeable changes in appearance quickly, they claim.  Dr. John Fondon explains:
“I was struck by the prevalence of very highly mutable tandem repeats in the coding regions of genes responsible for development,” he said.  “That’s when it occurred to me that this may be an important mechanism whereby our genomes are able to create lots of useful variations in genes that are important for our development, our shape and structure, and our overall appearance.  “Many of the shape difference that we see in evolution are not suddenly adding a wing or a leg.  They are distortions, the stretching or squishing of a body part.  Mutations in these repeat sequences are responsible for such incremental, quantitative changes.”
In the case of humans, mutations in neurons might have distorted, stretched and squished our brains: “Humans rapidly evolved big brains, which helped them survive as well,” suggested the other researcher, Dr. Harold Garner.
Update 12/22/2004: Elizabeth Pennisi in Science2 calls this the ”Ruff” Theory of Evolution.  She notes that not all agree with the hypothesis that tandem repeats drive the evolution dogsled:
Sean Carroll from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, worries that Fondon and Garner overestimate the importance of tandem repeats in typical evolution, noting that dog owners have bypassed natural selection by breeding for physical characteristics without thought to how the resulting changes would impact a dog’s survival in the wild.  Intensive breeding may have prompted the rampant changes in tandem repeats, more so than would occur under natural conditions.  But David King, an evolutionary biologist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, argues that it doesn“t matter whether natural selection or artificial breeding is at work–the role of tandem repeats is now clearly important: “[Fondon and Garner] have shown that tandem repeats are effective for fine-tuning evolution.”

1John W. Fondon and Harold R. Garner, “Molecular origins of rapid and continuous morphological evolution,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0408118101, published online 12/13/2004.
2Elizabeth Pennisi, “A Ruff Theory of Evolution: Gene Stutters Drive Dog Shape,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5705, 2172, 24 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5705.2172].
This evolutionary food for thought is fit for a King.  (Here, King; here, boy.)  How do you squish an arm into a wing, or stretch a fin into a leg?  This sounds like the silly putty theory of evolution.  An intelligent kid can purposefully make things out of silly putty, but the putty by itself is silly and has no goal in mind.  Put the silly putty into a random machine of moving parts and chaos results.
    Other problems quickly evolve from this theory.  What if the top of the dog’s snout gets stretched by a tandem repeat mutation, but the bottom jaw does not?  The dog can’t eat.  What if the mutated dog can eat, but cannot find a mate with the same mutation?  And don’t these guys know that dog breeding is not evolution, but intelligent design?  How can David King, an evolutionary biologist, appear so ignorant of the difference between natural and artificial selection?  And how can he use evolution and fine-tuning in the same phrase?
    For these and other reasons, this Silly Putty theory of evolution gets Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.  Fondon and Garner’s final sentence in the paper makes tandem repeats responsible for all the beauty and variety of living things:
How broadly this mode of evolutionary change is exploited in nature remains to be seen, but if the prevalence of repetitive elements within genes is any indicator, then mammals, insects, plants, and other genomes throughout the natural world may use this mechanism to achieve evolutionary agility.
“Evolutionary agility” – now there is an equivocation for the record books.  How did a lizard learn to fly?  By evolutionary agility.  How did an ape learn to build spacecraft?  By evolutionary agility.  How did a dog learn to become a whale and dive deep into the ocean, navigating by sonar?  By evolutionary agility.  What an agile concept.
    Papers like this diminish the prestige of the National Academy of Sciences.  Peer review is supposed to prevent dumb ideas from getting published.  If it were not for the desperation of the Darwin Party to keep sending new ideas up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes, they would have been forced to admit defeat long ago.  This entry’s only value is in pointing out that the old neo-Darwinian theory of natural selection, acting on point mutations, is inadequate to account for the rapid change found in the fossil record.  That is an admission that supports creation, not evolution.
Next headline on:   MammalsFossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Cassini Passes Titan a Third Time    12/13/2004
Raw images from Cassini’s
Titan-b flyover from 750 miles (see animation) have been uploaded to the website: Cassini Raw Images (proceed from this link).  Improved, processed images are now being posted at, such as this high resolution of dark terrain.  Look also at JPL the and Cassini Imaging Team websites.  In addition, teams monitoring the infrared, ultraviolet, radio, plasma and magnetic field data will have their results soon.
    Scientists are still not sure what they are looking at on Titan.  Better interpretation of surface features will require overlap of radar altimetry with visible and infrared images over the next few months.  The dark and light areas are remarkable for their sharp boundaries and paucity of impact craters, indicating a young surface (see the global composite from October).  Something resurfaced this moon recently, and active geology is probably still going on.  When the infrared images from this encounter are published, they should show remarkable surface details in color (see infrared composite from October).  Scientists are also eagerly searching for evidence of changes since October 26, the previous close flyby at this range (see 10/28/2004 headline).
    On Dec. 14, Cassini flies by Dione at 50,000 miles to image the strange frosty streaks that puzzled Voyager scientists.  Also, Cassini recently obtained the best pictures to date of Iapetus, showing tantalizing detail visible on both the dark and light hemispheres.  Closer snapshots of Iapetus are coming January 1.  With a string of spectacular successes since June (see 07/01/2004 and 06/14/2004 headlines) and bigger adventures just ahead, the Cassini team is feeling their excitement rise to a crescendo.
Keep your eye on Titan; it’s the moon to watch over the next few weeks as the Huygens Probe mission climaxes on January 14 (see European Space Agency story).  Titan looked like a bland orange fuzzball when Voyager flew by 23 years ago, but now we can finally glimpse the surface under all that dense haze, and see that it is a planet-sized world beckoning a new generation of explorers.  This second-largest moon in the solar system, almost as big as Mercury and the only moon with a substantial atmosphere, is going to have amazing stories to tell – stories that are bound to rewrite theories of the origin of the moons and planets.
    If you were a kid during the Apollo moon missions, do you remember what you were doing when those famous Earthrise pictures came down on Christmas eve 36 years ago, as the opening words of Genesis 1 were read by the Apollo 8 astronauts?*  You probably remember the moon landings more than anything else that happened in 1968-69.  Maybe you have kids of your own now.  Don’t let them be bored with life, or waste their time on stupid computer games and Christmas toys that will soon break and be forgotten.  Use this true-life adventure as an opportunity to give them a gift that can last a lifetime: the wonder of new worlds, and the thrill of discovery.
Next headline on:   Solar System
*A dramatic reenactment of Apollo 8, including the Christmas eve message, can be found on the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.  Not all the episodes are equally good, but this one was well done.
Monkeys Have No Ear for Music    12/13/2004
Consonance and dissonance have no meaning to monkeys, studies have shown. 
Nature Science Update reported on experiments on cotton-top tamarins showing that, unlike humans, they do not find consonant tones more pleasing than dissonant ones.
“If you want to look at the evolution of music it’s important to do these types of studies,” says Laurel Trainor, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. She adds that this research supports the idea that humans have a special preference for consonance, one of the most basic structural elements of music.  This could account for the fact that as far as we know, only humans produce songs simply for enjoyment, she says.
How this accounts for the dissonance in pop music among humans was not explained, but the report suggests that “musicality may be restricted to humans alone.”
   Cotton-top tamarins may resemble some youth of today, but without literature, semantic language, music or art, it looks like their monkey culture is pretty undeveloped.  They might relate to rap, which is more on their level, but even the Monkees seems too highfalutin for their taste.
    Listen to a symphony orchestra, or watch any group of talented musicians play finely-crafted instruments or sing, and ask yourself where is any evidence that music evolved from our primate ancestors.  Trainor should have said, “If you want to disprove the evolution of music, it’s important to do these types of studies.”  Only humans make true concordant music and only humans appreciate it.  Music is one of those things that humans don’t need for survival, but just enjoy.  It is a gift of God.  Let every heart prepare Him room, and heav'n and nature sing.
Next headline on:   MammalsHuman Body
Gene Deserts Not All Dead   12/10/2004
Researchers continue to find evidence for function in the so-called “gene deserts” (stretches of DNA that do not code for genes) but are not yet ready to give up the concept of “junk DNA” entirely.  According to
EurekAlert, scientists at Lawrence Livermore found that the highly-conserved sections tend to contain regulatory agents, but they assume the variable regions contain accumulated junk.  Recent experiments on mice showed that large portions of non-coding DNA were not essential for life and health; when removed, the mice apparently got along fine.
They need to keep looking.  Even if these stretches do not code for genes or for regulatory agents, there could be other reasons they are there.  Maybe they provide structural integrity, scaffolding, bulk, or contain encrypted backup copies of genes, or provide something else no one has even considered yet.  If you looked at files on a computer, some would be easily readable but others would look like nonsense, and could be deleted without apparent harm.  That does not mean they were junk; maybe the function was just not discovered yet.  Maybe it was a device driver for a device you had not yet tried to use.  The apparently healthy mice with large portions of DNA removed might have been deprived of something they needed in a different environment, or might have aged quicker, or might have lost immunity to something.  The intelligent design approach is to assume there is a reason for it, and work hard to find it, not give up prematurely and call it junk.  This approach was successful in overturning the evolutionary myth of vestigial organs.  It will likely prove fruitful in this case as well.
Next headline on:   Genes and DNA
Intelligent Design Evidence Convinces Atheist of Designer   12/09/2004
According to an AP report on
ABC News, a famous British atheist now believes in God based on scientific evidence.  “At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe.  A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.”  He wrote recently, “It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.”
    For nearly five decades one of Britain’s most outspoken atheists, Antony Flew said that he was always taught to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and the case for a designer was too strong.  The investigation of DNA “has shown,” he has concluded, “by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.”
He’s just a deist now, pausing at the halfway house on the way to real faith.  Halfway, unfortunately, is just as lost as square one.  At least he admits the scientific evidence could not support the atheistic story that Nature assumes (see 12/08/2004 headline).
    Flew’s turnaround from atheism is a powerful justification of the intelligent design movement’s claim that the evidence itself, without reference to religion, is sufficient to convince a thoughtful person of design.  Flew admitted his views have similarities with those of intelligent design theorists.  But design detection is not enough to give anyone the joy of Christmas.  His designer is a distant watchmaker, not a babe in the manger who loves us and came to die for us.  Antony Flew, now an elderly man, has not yet any hope of heaven, and his hourglass is almost spent.  He should read this and keep making progress toward the light; following the evidence is good, but continuing in the direction the evidence points is necessary.
Update 12/10/2004: A lengthy interview by Antony Flew with Christian apologist Gary Habermas has been published online at the Biola University website.  It provides a very candid look at Flew’s view from the halfway house.  He is a man in transition, still balking at commitment to the claims of the Bible, but at least surprisingly sympathetic to many aspects of it.  To Dr. Flew, Christianity and its Scriptures are leagues above any other religion, especially Islam.  With naturalism inadequate to handle the origin of life, will deism be able to fill the vacuum for Dr. Flew?  Time will tell if the 19-year influence of Dr. Habermas, a man of intelligence, experience, integrity and compassion, will finally bear fruit in the life of this prodigal son who strayed from his Methodist father’s teaching 66 years ago.
See also the articles on this story that appeared in the Seattle Times and Dallas Morning News, reproduced on the Discovery Institute website, and an article on World Magazine.
Next headline on:   Intelligent DesignOrigin of LifeThe Bible
Now We Know How Birds Fly   12/09/2004
Elementary physical science students know how airplane wings generate lift, but bird flight poses special challenges.  The aptly-named swifts, for instance, can practically turn on a dime, dive steeply, and halt in mid-air to catch insects in ways that make a stunt pilot stall.  It’s not just flapping, and it’s not just leading-edge feather shape, say some Netherlands scientists publishing in Science1 this week; birds generate leading-edge vortices [LEVs] that provide additional lift and drag for their skillful aerobatics.  Instead of using wind tunnels, the researchers figured this out with experiments in water tunnels.
The current understanding of how birds fly must be revised, because birds use their hand-wings  in an unconventional way to generate lift and drag.  Physical models of a common swift wing in gliding posture with a 60° sweep of the sharp hand-wing leading edge were tested in a water tunnel.  Interactions with the flow were measured quantitatively with digital particle image velocimetry at Reynolds numbers realistic for the gliding flight of a swift between 3750 and 37,500.  The results show that gliding swifts can generate stable leading-edge vortices at small (5° to 10°) angles of attack.  We suggest that the flow around the arm-wings of most birds can remain conventionally attached, whereas the swept-back hand-wings generate lift with leading-edge vortices.
The arm-wings of birds (i.e., the parts near the body) have the conventional airplane-wing shape, but the swept-back hand-wings of swifts and some other birds create the delta-wing jet-fighter look.  The leading-edge feathers on these hand-wings are sharp and generate little conical tornados sweeping back from the wing tips that add lift and drag:
LEVs are robust, lift-producing aerodynamic flow systems allowing high angles of attack.  At high angles of attack, the drag component of the aerodynamic force is large.  We assume that swifts take advantage of the high lift as well as the high drag component of the LEVs to increase their agility in flight.  They can, for example, use the high angle-of-attack LEVs to brake in midair without losing height immediately, as they do while catching insects in flight.
The authors do not discuss how this wing system evolved, but in the same issue of Science,2 Müller and Lentink mention that insects have usually been considered the “masters of unconventional lift.”  Since birds now are also seen to have “caught onto the same trick,” they suggest that birds, insects and fighter-jet designers have something in common with Darwin: “evolution and aeronautic engineering converged on the same solution—variable wing sweep.”
1Videler, Stamhuis and Povel, “Leading-Edge Vortex Lifts Swifts,”
Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1960-1962, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1104682].
2Ulrike K. Müller and Lentink, “Enhanced: Turning on a Dime,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1899-1900, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1107070].
Don’t let that last sentence ruin your day.  Watch the Blue Angels, and watch the swifts at dusk sweeping in formation through the air.  Enjoy the fruits of intelligent aeronautical engineering design.  Maybe the designers of F16 tactical fighter aircraft someday will converge on the solution of building nests under the eaves of a barn, and reproducing exact copies that can grow, sing and catch fast-darting objects in mid-flight.
Next headline on:   BirdsAmazing Facts
Chicken, Silkworm Genomes Published   12/09/2004
Now that the chicken genome has made the cover of Nature1 and the silkworm genome has been published in Science2 this week, evolutionists are busily mining the data for clues to evolutionary ancestry of very disparate groups of animals, says
EurekAlert (also here and here).  For example, in the paper on the silkworm genome, the authors say, “Lepidoptera are unusual because they have holocentric chromosomes with diffuse kinetochores.  This characteristic is a potential driver of evolution because of the ability to retain chromosome fragments through many cell divisions.”  Yet in this case evolution is assumed; what was observed was an example of something that provides functional integrity. 
1Jeremy Schmutz and Jane Grimwood, “Genomes: A fowl sequence,” Nature 432, 679 - 680 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432679a.
2Biology Analysis Group, “A Draft Sequence for the Genome of the Domesticated Silkworm (Bombyx mori), Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1937-1940, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102210].
Most of the evolutionary claims merely assume evolution, or make empty promises about how the new genomes will help shed light on evolution.  Example: “As life on Earth evolved over time, genes have been created, kept, discarded or deactivated, and reorganized.  At the particular point in evolutionary time over which a species first develops, these processes may have changed a gene in ways that allow scientists to use it to get a better fix on the human version of the gene.”
    OK, design scientists, get busy.  Don’t just sit around telling jokes about why the chicken crossed the road.  The Darwin Party is already busily invoking their favorite word games like convergence and homoplasy, and tweaking the rate of evolution for this or that chrome to make things fit their preconceived beliefs.  There’s a wealth of complexity and order to mine in these new genetic data.  Don’t let evolutionary storytelling win by default. 
Next headline on:   Genes and DNA
Crows and Apes Related by Convergent Evolution   12/09/2004
Scientists have noticed that crows have some of the same tool-making skills as apes, and in fact, are even better tool makers.  How could such vastly different animals show such similar mental skills?  Science1 explains this as another example of convergent evolution:
Discussions of the evolution of intelligence have focused on monkeys and apes because of their close evolutionary relationship to humans.  Other large-brained social animals, such as corvids [crows and ravens], also understand their physical and social worlds.  Here we review recent studies of tool manufacture, mental time travel, and social cognition in corvids, and suggest that complex cognition depends on a “tool kit” consisting of causal reasoning, flexibility, imagination, and prospection.  Because corvids and apes share these cognitive tools, we argue that complex cognitive abilities evolved multiple times in distantly related species with vastly different brain structures in order to solve similar socioecological problems.
Yet that poses a conundrum; how could a crow or an ape evolve a cognitive toolkit without having the reasoning ability to decide they needed the toolkit to solve socioecological problems?  The evolutionary jargon is sufficient explanation for these evolutionists: “cognition in corvids and apes must have evolved through a process of divergent brain evolution with convergent mental evolution.
    See also the report on
National Geographic News, which says crows rival many nonhuman primates in intelligence.  James Owen concludes, “If we’re as smart as we think we are, perhaps we need to keep an even closer eye on those clever old crows.”  A picture of crows perched happily on the arms of a scarecrow comes to mind....
1Nathan J. Emery and Nicola S. Clayton, “The Mentality of Crows: Convergent Evolution of Intelligence in Corvids and Apes,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1903-1907, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098410].
How this kind of nonsense makes it past peer review is a study in the devolution of intelligence.  They just make up phrases out of Darwin Silly Putty and call it an answer; “divergent evolution” and “convergent evolution.”  That explains everything.  How many million mutations had to converge for this trick?  The authors show good flexibility, imagination and prospection, but need to evolve some better causal reasoning.
Next headline on:   BirdsMammalsDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Nature Takes Note of Religious Influence   12/09/2004
The surprisingly strong show of support for moral issues in the recent U.S. election has been the talk of the news for weeks now, and Big Science can’t ignore it.  “The voices of religion are more prominent and influential than they have been for many decades,” begins a prominent editorial in Nature1 Dec. 9, entitled ”Where theology matters.”  But taking note of it is about all it can recommend: “Researchers, religious and otherwise, need to come to terms with this, while noting that some dogma is not backed by all theologians.”
    The “dogma” of mention is primarily doctrine that leads to positions against abortion and stem cell research – namely that of Catholics and evangelical Christians, as portrayed by Tony Reichhardt and two assistants in a news feature exploring varying religious views on embryonic stem-cell research.2  In the section on evangelicals, Reichhardt quotes Bible verses they use to support their view that life begins at conception: in particular,
Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5.  These are the religions that give scientists the most grief over bioethics.  Presumably the diversity of views listed implies that scientists do not need to take the arguments of evangelicals and Catholics all that seriously, because so many other religious groups disagree.  But in the same issue, Nature3 published a surprisingly friendly news feature about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhists, admiring their spirituality and support for “science.”
    The editors realize this is an old fight, but claim problems arise when religion and science encroach on each other’s turf.  Why not just accept the views of Aquinas or Einstein or the Pope, and let each field live and let live?
The reason is that the two traditions regularly stray onto each other’s territories and stir up trouble.  Consider the political battles over the teaching of ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ in schools – an attempt by some religious people to foist their beliefs, masquerading as science on others.  Science bases its conclusions on empirical data, not on the authority of the Talmud, Bible or Koran.  And even though some may find it distressing that science recognizes no god, forcing it to do so will only produce bad science
But lest the reader think all fault is on the religious side, the editorial quickly adds, “Meanwhile science, allied with business, is encroaching on religion’s turf by unleashing technologies that raise profound questions about human nature.”  Nature’s advice?  “Religious thinkers and secular ethicists are right to raise concerns, and scientists shouldn’t just charge ahead without listening to them.”  In testimony on the President’s Council on Bioethics, for instance, the editors were “struck by the high-mindedness and sincerity of the discussion.”  They recommend each side avoid caricaturing the other, like “godless Frankensteins” versus “ignorant Bible-thumpers.”
    The last line sounds like advice from one atheist to another: “Secular scientists (probably the majority) should avoid underestimating the influence and rights of those who believe that only a god can give meaning to the world, human suffering and mortality.”
1Editorial, “Where theology matters,” Nature 432, 657 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432657a.
2Tony Reichhardt, “Religion and science: Studies of faith,” Nature 432, 666 - 669 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432666a.
3Jonathan Knight, “Religion and science: Buddhism on the brain,” Nature 432, 670 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432670a.
They just don’t get it, do they?  This article gives only faint praise to non-atheists.  It basically says, “instead of charging ahead to redefine humanness and secularize all ethics, stop and listen for five seconds to the concerns of a few numbskulls who need the crutch of a god to give them meaning, then proceed to charge ahead and redefine humanness and secularize all ethics.  Just don’t give a microsecond of ear to those rascally creationists and ID folk who are trying to foist their beliefs on us unenlightened materialists.  Stop a moment to appease the religious folk by dropping a flower at the feet of the Dalai Lama and chanting a mantra, then get on with the business of our godless world view.”
    Incredible.  They actually think that scientists base all their conclusions on empirical data.  They actually think intelligent design is religious.  They still believe that science and religion have non-overlapping magisteria, and that science is about fact and religion is about faith.  They actually still think their turf is values-free.  They really think all religions are equally valid and equally stupid in terms of dogma, but some are better when they don’t get in the way of unlimited mad science.  Can you believe it?  Nature, get real; this is 2004, not 1925 – where have you been?  You are like Sennacherib*, still boasting before the news arrived from Jerusalem.  You can intimidate the common folk on the wall, but don’t underestimate the angel of the Lord.  And don’t expect Charlie Nisroch to repay your adoration when you need him the most.
*Isaiah 36-37.
Next headline on:   Politics and EthicsThe BibleIntelligent Design
The Evolution of Irresponsibility   12/07/2004
Evolutionists at the University of Minnesota have developed a theory for the evolution of impulsive behavior, reports
EurekAlert.  They say that because our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, they had to grab what they could without thought of future reward or punishment:
When psychologists study kids who are good at waiting for a reward, they find those kids generally do better in life.  It looks as though this is a key to success in the modern world, so why is it so hard for us to accept delays?  The answer may be because we evolved as foragers who encountered no penalties for taking resources impulsively.
Surprisingly, experiments with blue jays show that the birds cannot learn to bypass a small immediate reward for a bigger deferred prize, “even after a thousand repetitions.”  Evolutionists had thought that the birds could figure out that a seed in the hand was worth two in the bush.  One researcher, puzzling over this, said, “I think we were asking them the wrong question.”  Further experiments seemed to show that the impulsively-acting birds ended up with just as much reward as they would have had they learned to wait.
    The paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society claims this might help explain addiction and other compulsive, impulsive human behavior.
That’s all Dad needs, another excuse for Johnny to explain why he can’t help being an irresponsible jerk.  Here is another example of evolutionary theory rationalizing the worst in human behavior: humans can’t help themselves, because they evolved that way.  If so, whatever is, is right, so why let modern society get in the way of our own evolution?
    The scientists are asking the wrong question, not of the blue jays, but of themselves.  Why do humans understand the value of delayed rewards?  Why do they feel guilty after acting impulsively?  Why do the scientists agree that delaying reward is essential for success in the modern world?  Why would the modern world care?  Why do only humans have a conscience?  Why would anyone show no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends?
Next headline on:   Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryEarly ManDumb Ideas
Haeckel Vindicated?  Parathyroid Glands from Gills?   12/07/2004
“Human gland evolved from gills” trumpeted a
BBC News science article without apology.*  It gives uncontested press to a team from King’s College that is claiming the human parathyroid glands evolved from gills.  This is claimed on the basis that they have similar functions (calcium regulation) and are located in the neck region.  Fish have no parathyroids; their gills help them extract calcium from seawater.  The parathyroids in mammals are attached to the thyroids in the neck and are vital for regulating the amount of calcium in the blood.
    Calcium is the most tightly regulated of all elements in the body; it performs essential functions in cell signaling, nerves, muscle and bone.  The parathyroids (unrelated to the thyroid glands) regulate calcium by manufacturing and secreting a specialized hormone, 84 amino acids in length, into the blood.  When calcium levels fall below normal, parathyroid hormone stimulates at least three processes to conserve it: resorb it from bone, absorb more from food, and prevent loss in urine.  (For anatomy and physiology of the parathyroids, see these sites: Colorado State, Dr. Howard Glickman, and
    Professor Anthony Graham, part of the team making the connection between fish and humans, told the BBC Ernst Haeckel has been vindicated:
The researchers also found a gene for parathyroid hormone in fish, and they discovered that this gene is expressed in the gills.
    Professor Graham said: “The parathyroid gland and the gills of fish are related structures and likely share a common evolutionary history.
    “Our work will have great resonance to all those people who have seen Haeckel’s pictures, which show that we all go through a fish stage in our development.
    “This new research suggests that in fact, our gills are still sitting in our throatsdisguised as our parathyroid glands.”
The researchers also based their claim on the fact that the gills in fish and the parathyroids in mammals stem from the same location in the developing embryo (but then, so do many other organs and structures, including the tongue, epiglottis, pharynx, Eustachian tube, and more; see Temple University site for details).
Does anyone really need help to see how dumb this is?  Three strikes and they are out:
  1. Ernst Haeckel, Dr. Sickman Fraud, the toady disciple of Charlie Frown (see 04/22/2004 headline) deserves nothing but scorn (see 07/10/2001 headline), but look at what these absent-minded professors do: they point to his classic fraudulent drawings for support of their theory!  That makes them accessories to a crime.  Strike one.
  2. Do they have any idea how complicated the parathyroid system is?  It may be located in the neck, but its influence is felt throughout the body, in every cell.  It is so essential, it is 4-times redundant, and the manufacture of its special hormone, its packaging in the Golgi apparatus in a dormant state, and its delivery to the blood stream, and then what it accomplishes in terms of regulation – all these interconnected systems are staggeringly complex (for a good overview, see the explanation by Dr. Howard Glickman).  Darwinists have no explanation for how any hormone, any cell, any complex regulatory system, just “emerged” by an unregulated process of natural selection (see 07/16/2003 headline); that is the issue, not just homology, whatever that is (see 04/22/2004 headline).  Strike two.
  3. It’s not just location that matters; it is function.  The parathyroids are located right where they need to be to work.  An evolutionist cannot tell simply by location of an organ that animals are related by common ancestry.  Evolutionary theory is so flexible, in terms of location and rate, that any observation, even contradictory observations, can be made to fit it (see 10/29/2004, 10/13/2004, 09/17/2004 and 09/13/2004 headlines out of many examples).  If the parathyroids were located somewhere else, the evolutionists would have an alternative explanation to keep Charlie’s idol from collapsing.  Strike three.
The laziness of evolutionists is parasitic on society.  Did this tall tale by Darwin Party mythmakers bless your heart?  Did it do anybody any good?  Did it advance civilization or help those in need?  Mutations could not have built the parathyroid nor any of the systems with which it interacts; on the contrary, mutations have broken the system, causing diseases of the parathyroid and calcium irregularities.  Challenge your professor when he wastes your time with unproveable assertions and glittering generalities that assume evolution before the evidence even has had a chance to speak.  Tell the prof you’d rather the time be spent understanding the function of the parathyroids so that science could help those with parathyroid disease and osteoporosis.
Update 12/08/2004: One of our readers wrote to the BBC and said he didn’t appreciate the way they had titled the piece about gill evolution as fact.  To their credit, the BBC wrote back and made a change:
Many thanks for your message.  I would stress that the piece reports the King’s College research as a theory, and not a fact.  The piece says that the researchers believe that the gland evolved from gills, not that they have proved it.  I have modified the headline to read, “Gill theory of human glands”.
Never underestimate the power of a letter to the editor.  Most editors like to hear from readers, and unless readers respond to bad information, editors can get away with unwarranted claims, whether intentionally or not.  Now, at least readers of this article will not get a wrong impression that the evolutionary link was proven.  At Creation-Evolution Headlines, we also make corrections when typos or errors of fact are pointed out to us; feel free to write to us here.  (Editors also appreciate knowing if the articles were helpful.)
Next headline on:   Marine BiologyHuman BodyDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Are Local Microwaves Cooking the Cosmic Background?    12/06/2004
Science Now has a surprising announcement that may alter astronomers’ confidence in the structure of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation.  Since the WMAP probe data was analyzed (see 09/20/2004 headline), cosmologists have boasted that the high resolution detections of fluctuations in the temperature supported their models of big bang inflation and dark matter / dark energy proportions.  Now, a paper by Schwartz et al. in Physical Review Letters1 has found evidence that some of the fluctuations may be caused by our own solar system, which may be producing or absorbing some of the microwaves.  They found a disproportionate number of fluctuation vectors are aligned with the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system.  Adrian Cho writes, “That would mean the strength of the undulations in the truly cosmic radiation wouldn’t jibe with the predictions of inflation.”  One of the team members commented that this would “point to some serious problem with our understanding of the universe at the largest scales.”  The WMAP team, however, is calling the preferential alignment of vectors a fluke of chance.
1Schwartz, Starkman et al., Physical Review Letters, 93, 221301 (2004), 26 Nov 2004.
The WMAP cosmologists were trying to squeeze too much tall tale out of millionths of a degree anyway.  It was already evident from claiming that 95% of the universe is mystery stuff that they had a “serious problem with [their] understanding of the universe at the largest scales.”
Next headline on:   Cosmology
Cosmology Mavericks Turn On the Red Light    12/06/2004
According to the majority of astronomers, redshifts are “cosmological”: that is, they represent the effect on spectral light of the expansion of the universe.  A minority group of astronomers, however, claims otherwise, that at least a component of redshift represents intrinsic motion effects of rapidly moving objects irrespective of cosmic expansion.  For evidence, they point to active galaxies that appear to have quasars with very different redshifts apparently associated with them; their theory is that quasars have been ejected from the galactic nuclei.  These maverick astronomers include Halton Arp, Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, J.V. Narlikar, M. B. Bell and the late Fred Hoyle.  Some of these have also been vocal critics of the Big Bang theory.
    Bell has published a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal1 (Dec. 1) providing more evidence for the ejection theory.  He studied the redshifts that appear to cluster at preferred (“quantized”) distances and examined the “wings” or distributions around the peaks.  If the redshifts were cosmological, one would expect the wings to be symmetrical.  If quasars (also called quasi-stellar objects, or QSOs) were ejected from active galactic nuclei, the average velocity vectors for a sample due to ejection would be spherically symmetric with respect to the host galaxies.  But from our vantage point, the radial components receding from us by the ejection would be additive to the cosmological component along our line of sight.  This should produce a larger wing on the red side of the spectral peak, and that is what Bell claims he has found in two samples, one at large redshift and one at lower redshift.  “These results offer further evidence,” he argues, “in favor of the model proposing that QSOs are ejected from active galaxies.”
    Bell does not claim that this overthrows the standard Big Bang model, but says, “inflation may be in trouble if it suggests that all the density structure in the universe (e.g., galaxies and clusters) was preset during the inflationary period.”  He believes, instead, that quasars are smaller objects that were ejected early in the evolution of active galaxies, and represent the seeds of new galaxies in the early universe.  Still, his findings cast doubt on the usual interpretation of redshift, and means that quasars are not the superluminous bodies at vast distances usually assumed, because such beliefs come “entirely from the assumption that their redshifts are cosmological,” he says.
    There are still many mysteries out there.  The
Hubble Space Telescope just took a picture of a nearby “baby” galaxy (see Astronomy Picture of the Day) that astronomers claim is just now forming stars out of a gas cloud that formed after the big bang, according to New Scientist.  Why this galaxy should wait so long after others have matured is a puzzle.  (The evidence is merely low metallicity in this particular small galaxy; the story is concocted to fit it into the standard model.)  The Hubble press release puzzles over this galaxy assumed to be 500 million years old, nearly yesterday in cosmological terms: “Our Milky Way galaxy by contrast is over 20 times older, or about 12 billion years old, the typical age of galaxies across the universe.”
1M.B. Bell, “Distances of Quasars and Quasar-like Galaxies: Further Evidence That Quasi-stellar Objects May Be Ejected from Active Galaxies,” The Astrophysical Journal, 616:738-744, 2004 December 1.
The ongoing debate about redshifts has attracted the attention of creationists and other skeptics of Big-Bang-to-man philosophy.  This paper does not call into question any age estimates for the universe, since Bell believes it fits into the age estimates for the standard model, but it reinforces doubts about the interpretation of redshifts.  It also provides some support for the idea that redshifts are quantized, i.e. that they cluster around preferred distances like waves in a pond.  Does this provide support for the idea Earth is located somewhere near the center of the universe?  Will the maverick astronomers succeed in overcoming the dogma of the majority of cosmologists?  Since Bob Berman of Astronomy thinks the majority party is clueless anyway (see 11/06/2004 headline), it seems open season to offer alternatives.  No claims are made here about the validity of this paper other than to give it a hearing for interested researchers.  But please, please, don’t think that willingness to be a maverick justifies emulating the Los Alamos caveman.
Next headline on:   Cosmology
SETI Researcher Thinks Big: Send Internet Smut to the Aliens   12/05/2004
Seth Shostak (SETI Institute), in an article on
Space.Com, answers the question, “What do you say to an extraterrestrial?”  He said we no longer need to limit ourselves to short messages like “What hath God wrought?”,* the phrase Samuel F. B. Morse sent with the first telegraph.  The bandwidth we have available now is huge, so why not beam the Google servers to space?  “Sure, the Web contains a lot of redundant information,” he says, “(and a lot of unsavory material, too, but after all, that’s part of the human condition).”
    His idea is that even if the aliens don’t know our language, the wealth of data would allow them to figure it out.  “The difference between Samuel Morse’s first, terse telegraph message and the bit stream spewed by a modern telecommunications satellite is enormous.... if we’re really thinking about interstellar messages, we should think big.”
We’ve come a long way.  What message do we want to send?  From a Bible verse to smut enough to make the angels blush.  Since the majority of internet traffic is pornography, the aliens would learn a lot about the human condition, all right: “Those earthlings are really sick.  Let’s beam them a copy of the Word of God, the message He has wrought for our salvation.”
Next headline on:   SETIDumb Ideas
*To see what God has wrought (worked, accomplished), read this.
Did Life Begin as “Failed Mineralogy” on the Seafloor?   12/03/2004
Exclusive  Another origin-of-life expert made a presentation to a filled auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Dec. 2 (cf.
11/05/2004 headline).  His scenario differed radically from last month’s.  Instead of trying to get ribose (for RNA) to form in a desert, he put his speculative natural laboratory 4 to 10 km underwater at the bottom of the sea.  Why?  Because the surface of the Earth would have been a deadly place: under attack by UV radiation (“disastrous” on the early earth, he said; for contrasting opinion, see 05/28/2003 headline), volcanoes, and meteorite impacts of world-wipeout class.  For his model, he needed a safe haven “out of harm’s way,” and found one, he believes, near deep sea vents.1
    Dr. Michael Russell (geologist, U. of Glasgow) believes life began in an alkaline hydrothermal reactor.  Russell has a simple view of life: “Life emerges because of a chemical disequilibrium,” he said, as a kind of natural feedback mechanism “to solve the problem” of the need for a catalyst between carbon dioxide (oxidizing) and hydrogen (reducing).  “Don’t be vivocentric,” he cautioned the audience; a mineral-based catalytic cycle does the same thing as life, acting as a natural regulator between extreme conditions.  He also emphasized that living systems rely on convection, and generate byproducts.  “What does life do?  It makes waste,” he began.  (The waste in his model that might provide astrobiologists with clues on other planets is acetate or acetic acid, i.e., vinegar.)  At another point, he dismissed life as simply “failed mineralogy.”
    Building on his belief that life emerges in environments far from equilibrium, his scenario proposes an environment with strong gradients.  His illustrations portrayed a battle between high temperature water, laden with alkaline substances and metals, rising up through cracks in the crust to face the cold, acidic ocean water, loaded with dissolved carbon dioxide.  He explained that this sets up a temperature gradient, a redox (oxidation-reduction) gradient, and a kinetic barrier that produces a 500 millivolt energy source at just the right temperature, about 40° C (hot, but not too hot, “like California”), where life could start cooking.  At the junction of all this turmoil, a “membranous froth” forms, providing a nest where organic chemicals like amino acids could form and evolve.  He thought that 35,000 years or so (the presumed lifetime of the Lost City thermal vents—see 07/25/2003 Quick Takes), was plenty of time to get life started.  Amino acids would link up, with help from mineral platforms, into chains up to six units long.  These, in turn, through hydrogen bonding with nucleotides, could spontaneously induce a prototypical “coding” that would not have depended on one-handed (homochiral) peptide chains.  Heterochiral polymers would have actually been preferable at first, he said, and might have been selected for homochirality later, the left-handed ones winning the luck of the draw over the right-handed.
    Another thing life requires is compartmentalization – a membrane.  With apologies to the biochemists, who assume today’s lipid membranes would have been a requirement for life, he proposed that iron sulfide (FeS) might have been just the thing at that early stage.  It might have formed sandwich layers where the polymers of life grew, spalled off, with more forming in their place, producing a steady supply of prebiotic ingredients on which natural selection could act.  He did not discuss harmful cross-reactions or interfering products, but made the setup appear like a “self organizing proto-enzymatic system,” a forerunner of the complex acetyl-coenzyme A pathway employed by today’s living cells, which is assisted by proteins called ferrodoxins that act as electron-transfer agents.  The “extremely steep gradients” at the seafloor, he felt, could allow FeS to handle the electron transfer work.
    In short, he proposed a “peptide world” first instead of an RNA world, the popular choice among those in the origin-of-life research community (see 08/26/2003 for other options).  In fact, he felt it a big mistake for most researchers to promote the RNA World hypothesis (see 07/11/2002 headline), because to him it is highly unrealistic, given the assumed geological conditions on the early earth.  “You’re not going to get RNA in the early earth; it is too unstable in water,” he emphasized (yet failed to mention how it appeared in the primitive “coding” with peptides he described earlier.)  Moreover, he flatly admitted the Urey-Miller experiment was completely unrealistic (see 05/02/2003 and 10/31/2002 headlines), because everyone since Darwin knows that carbon dioxide (not hydrogen or methane) must have been the predominant atmospheric gas.
    By contrast, he sold his model as meeting all the realistic early-earth geological requirements, and getting free fringe benefits as a bonus.  For instance, he touted his model as providing a mechanism for proton motive force (pmf), in addition to electron transfer.  Pmf is observed in all organisms to build ATP.  Understanding how pmf arose in prebiotic conditions is, for most researchers, a difficult problem, but he claimed his model produced it as a “free lunch.”  This represented the tone of his talk: getting life is quick and simple.  In a somewhat overconfident manner, he described life as a natural consequence of disequilibrium conditions readily available deep under the sea, here on Earth or on any world undergoing convection and chemical disequilibrium.  The audience gave him a hearty round of applause.
    Noting that the audience may have missed the fact that his scenario falsified the previous speaker’s (and vice versa), this reporter asked during the Q&A period about it.  “Benner said that ribose was essential to life, yet is unstable in water, so he theorized it had to form in a desert with borate to stabilize it,” I said.  “You are proposing that it formed in a deep sea environment.  How do you reconcile your view with his?”  “I don’t,” he responded without hesitation.  “I’m a geologist – he’s a biochemist.  To me, you must start with a realistic geological scenario for the early earth.  There were no deserts!  There was no borate, a rare mineral in cosmic terms.  I consider that a highly unlikely scenario.”2  He had stated emphatically earlier in the lecture that organic molecules did not come from space, as some astrobiologists suppose.  Regardless of what the cosmologists say, “There were no organic molecules on the early earth,” he said forcefully, “even from space.”  He didn’t need special delivery anyway; all the ingredients cook up just fine in his frothy alkaline reactors.  No primordial soup here; in fact, his first life has to invade the oceanic crust to survive, because the open ocean is the last place to put fragile early life forms.  Like a desert, it would have provided nothing to eat.
    When a listener asked him his opinion about when life originated, he speculated confidently it was about 4.4 billion years ago – in geological terms, almost immediately after the earth cooled enough for the oceans to form.  He made it seem an almost automatic result of the circumstances.  To someone not vivocentric, it appeared to be no big deal.
1Russell agreed with Stanley Miller and Jeffrey Bada (see 06/14/2002 headline) that black smokers are not suitable locales; too acidic and too hot (400° C).  He suggested pH of 10-11 (strongly alkaline) was more appropriate.  Contrast this with the highly acidic conditions found on Mars (see next headline).
2Quotes are paraphrased but quite close to the actual statements.
This reporter could not suffer bluffing to go uncontested, so he went up afterwards to talk to the speaker in person.  A series of questions nailed the bluffing to the wall:
  • Chirality:  Like Benner, Russell admitted that 100% pure one-handedness is vital (see online book).  He admitted during the talk that amino acids racemize immediately (i.e., they revert to mixed-handedness).  His lecture had bluffed about heterochirality being acceptable at first, but he provided no means other than chance to achieve 100% homochirality later.  He seemed to assume getting a six-unit peptide of one hand was plausible, and that was sufficient (see next point).
  • Information:  He confused chemical specificity with information when I charged him with pulling information out of a magic hat.  “The small peptides you propose are no more informative than a child’s alphabet blocks bouncing around at random,” I said.  When he tried to declare that a six-link peptide chain “has a lot of information, because it will only join with certain side chains and reject others,” I reminded him that such an arrangement provides no functional information (it doesn’t “do” anything useful—see 06/12/2003 headline).  Information is not the same as natural law.  I reminded him that sodium chloride (table salt) links up naturally, too, but provides no real information.  How much information is necessary to provide function?  As a real world example, he admitted that the simplest ferrodoxins are more than 53 amino acid units in length.  But that is an exceedingly high degree of information for just one protein molecule, especially when each unit has to be one-handed.  Getting something that size by chance is astronomically improbable.
  • Genetic Takeovers:  I reminded him that Benner had warned against proposing too many genetic takeovers, because each one requires a radical overhaul of the conditions.  Compounding ad hoc conditions raises charges of telling a just-so story.  Yet his model invoked three takeovers: minerals, then peptides, then RNA.  He responded that the first two were “co-evolving.”  Reader, please ponder: does that really solve the problem?  Is it not a personification fallacy?
  • Gaps:  He admitted that there is a huge gap between his proposal and the operation of the simplest living thing, especially considering the highly complex translation process between DNA and proteins involving transfer-RNA (see online book).  Yet he did not mention this gap during the talk when the audience was present.
If a layman can nail a PhD chemist, it doesn’t mean the layman is bright; it means the chemist’s story is weak and shatters easily.  After I hammered away with these pointed questions, he asked me in mild exasperation, “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.  What is your model?”  “You wouldn’t like it.... ” I replied, then thanked him for his time and bid him adieu.  There wasn’t an opportunity to elaborate, and my model was not the issue.  Before you can get a horse to drink, you have to salt the oats; you have to create thirst, and get him to admit a need.  The horse will come to the water when licking the salt lick over and over doesn’t satisfy.
    Think about his last point.  To an evolutionist, proposing a just-so story is better than admitting ignorance.  It doesn’t matter whether it is highly implausible, or whether it contradicts (and essentially falsifies) other popular models, or whether it contains gaping canyons between the model and the real world (see 05/22/2002 commentary).  “What is your model?” – the question illustrates the assumption that something is better than nothing.  Is that always true?  Some people feel uncomfortable with silence and fill the air with verbiage.  But talk is cheap and sometimes less than worthless.  Telling a hungry hobo in a boxcar, “If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs,” is less helpful than shutting up.  Saying it with feeling is worse.  Jeffrey Kargel (see next headline) suggested that the decreasing evidence for life beyond earth should generate “an increased respect for life on our own planet.”  Calling life “failed mineralogy” and quipping “What does life do?  It makes waste” is profoundly disrespectful.  Evolutionists need more respect for life.  They need to silently ponder the complexity of DNA, RNA, proteins and molecular machines.  Only then we can reason intelligently about alternatives like intelligent design.
    So the first two lectures in a JPL series called “Life Detection Seminar,” have already falsified each other.*  In effect, they canceled each other out, leaving the audience behind square one, heading backwards.  Both models required highly implausible conditions.  Improbabilities do not add up to probabilities.  They multiply into impossibilities.
*Here is the abstract of Russell’s presentation from the advertisement, with comments inserted and emphasis added to highlight the speculative elements and logical fallacies.  Compare this model with Benner’s scenario last month (see 11/05/2004 headline).  Notice the personification fallacy as he assumes these chemicals were striving upward to bigger and better organization:
It is suggested [by whom? – identify yourself] that life got started when hydrothermal hydrogen reacted with carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean waters in a hydrothermal mound (pH ~10, T =100° C) partly composed of metal sulfide [life is more than chemistry; it requires specified complexity arranged for function].  This mound was the hatchery of life [misleading analogy] and the vent fluids bore life’s waste products back to the ocean.  Bacterial life is characterized by its wastes [reductionism], e.g., acetate, methane, oxygen and hydrogen sulfide.  The first waste product of life was probably [let’s see the calculation] acetate.  So we may think [who’s we?] of the hydrothermal mound as a natural hydrothermal flow reactor in which iron and nickel sulfides catalyzed the formation of minor concentrations of amino acids [you’re gonna need a lot of 'em, baby] and their polymerization to short peptides [Whoa! peptides do not form in water easily] – peptides that got caught in pore spaces while most of the acetate was eluted to the ocean [ad hoc; how convenient the good stuff lingers, while the bad stuff escapes].  These peptides wrapped themselves around inorganic metal sulfide and phosphate molecules [ad hoc], and also coated the inside of the pores [story’s over; now it’s a death trap].  The efficiency of the acetate generator was optimized by the emergence of the first organic living cells [Whoa! He just jumped the canyon in a single bound!] through the intervention of nucleic acids [Whoa!  Another canyon!  Where did they “emerge” from? – the same conditions are hostile to nucleotides] in the metabolizing system [systems are built by intelligent design].
    The hydrothermal mound continued to support a community of cells through to the community’s evolution and differentiation to bacteria and archaea [evolution always assumed; does he have any idea how complex these critters are?].  The archaea added waste methane to the effluent.  From the mound the only safe escape route was down [only intelligent agents care about safety], down into the ocean floor where nutrients and energy were still available.  Any cells discharged to the ocean would have starved [only intelligent entities suffer hunger].  Thus the ocean floor sediments and crust were colonized and the deep biosphere was born. [Presto!  Now clap for the magic show.]
Next headline on:   Origin of Life
Mars Opportunity for Life Must Tolerate Salty Acid   12/03/2004
The first slew of scientific papers from the
Mars Exploration Rover mission appeared in Science Dec. 3,1 with the focus of interest on Opportunity’s evidence for past water at Meridiani, because Spirit found only “volcanic rock rubble and inorganic soils” in the presumed lakebed at Gusev Crater.  Jeffrey Kargel (U.S. Geological Survey) sums up the 11 reports this way:2
The analyzed rocks mainly consist of iron oxides and hydrated magnesium, calcium, and iron sulfates; they were deposited in or altered by salty, acidic water, perhaps a sea.  Together with orbital observations, the reports for the first time document the geology and geochemistry of a martian hydrological event.  The results indicate aqueous sedimentation or aqueous alteration and are consistent with models of a warmer, wetter martian past.
Some of the features, like polygonal cracks, could have a non-aqueous explanation, such as repetitive freezing and thawing of ice, he admits, and the laminae could be explained by “ultracold concentrated acid solutions.”  The consensus view, however, involves cycles of wetting and drying, with minerals spending a good deal of time soaking in water.  But water, water everywhere was surely none to drink: “The mineral jarosite detected at Meridiani Planum requires highly acidic conditions,” he says, and the other minerals are consistent with an acid brine environment: “The mineral assemblage and chemistry is typical of acid mine drainage systems affected by sulfide oxidation .... Does martian geochemistry resemble a global acid mine pollution site of ochre and sulfate mineralization?” he asks.
    Now that scientists believe there was some water for some time, how does this bode for hopes life existed in the past, and perhaps survives to this day on the red planet?  The ESA’s Mars Express found methane, he reminds us, which could be a biomarker (see 11/14/2004 headline).  Kargel can’t rule it out, but it seems a stretch:
Could martian methane be formed by life?  Might Meridiani Planum’s salts be linked through life and water to regional concentrations of methane?  Life exists on Earth at acidities and salinities comparable to those inferred for Meridiani Planum.  A cold acid-sulfate geochemical model of Meridiani Planum overlaps with some models of the ocean on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons where life could exist.  Such “extreme environments” are rare on Earth, but may be common elsewhere.  Few terrestrial species tolerate conditions that are simultaneously supercold, salty, and acidic; none of those that can survive such extremes also generate methane, but maybe on Mars they do, or maybe martian methanogens live in more alkaline and reducing regions.
Opportunity’s ORV racetrack resembles no other place on earth, but it resembles somewhat the Rio Tinto acid mine drainage in Spain, which has specialized microbes.  Nevertheless, “Mars may never have been very earth-like,” he sighs, and “Although Meridiani Planum provides a record of aqueous processes, it might be a poor astrobiological site.
    The paper by Squyres et al.3 on the evidence for water, hopeful as it begins, explains why.  It says that, although “High acidity and salinity do not pose insurmountable challenges to microbial life on Earth,” the organisms that survive it are specially built: “Such organisms, however, belong to specialized populations that have evolved to survive in highly acidic or saline environments.  It is less clear,” therefore, “that such conditions are suitable for the kinds of prebiotic chemical reactions commonly invoked to explain the origin of life” (see 09/17/2002 headline on problems with salt).  Not only that, but there’s another challenge any incipient life would have faced.  Rover Opportunity found wind-driven sand among the assumed water-deposited minerals.  This suggests that “ water on Meridiani Planum may have been regionally extensive but temporally discontinuous, increasing the difficulty of biological persistence over long time intervals.”
    What does the debate about Martian water and life mean to us at home, who live on a privileged planet, where life is found in every environment from acid mine drainages to the lush thickness of tropical rain forests?  The remote plausibility of any life on Mars contrasts sharply with what we observe on Earth, where living things thrive in the sea, in the desert, in caves, in the mountains, in the air, and on bustling freeways filled with humans driving to work, including scientists heading to NASA centers and universities, eager to read the latest radio signals from their distant robotic emissaries.  How will we interpret the answer to the question: is there, or was there ever, life on Mars?  Kargel concludes his summary with the alternatives:
The possible future discovery of life (or fossil life) beyond Earth, anticipated for millennia, would complete the Galilean revolution that removed Earth and its life from the center of the universeAlternatively, if we search martian aqueous deposits and find them barren, then Earth might be seen as the only land of the living for light-years around.  Methane and salts may then provide humans with raw materials for building a new civilization on Mars and with an increased respect for life on our own planet.

1Linda Rowan, “Opportunity Runneth Over,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1697, 3 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5702.1697].
2Jeffrey S. Kargel, “Proof for Water, Hints of Life?” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1689-1691, 3 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105533].
Someone send Kargel a copy of The Privileged Planet video; he’s got Galileo and Copernicus and their views mixed up.  They were creationists and put God at the supreme position in creation, not man; Earth was a “cosmic sump” where the dregs and filth descended, and Satan was at the center of the Earth.  Moving Earth to the status of a planet was a promotion, not a demotion, explains Dennis Danielson (editor of The Book of the Cosmos) in the film.
    So here we stand, after centuries of wishful speculation, and after years of eager anticipation and certainty by some scientists that the rovers were going to find a waterbed of life on Mars, and they find the equivalent of a salty acid mine drainage.  Yuck; sic the EPA on this place.  If we were microbes, we would look for better real estate.  Just because some microbes manage to get along under those conditions on Earth doesn’t mean they originated there.  That’s the point some astrobiologists tend to forget.  Earth’s acid- and salt-loving bacteria have elaborate molecular machinery to help them cope with the poison.  It’s the last place any knowledgeable astrochemist would choose to have life come into being.
    The Mars of 2004, now in much clearer focus, is dramatically different from that of Percival Lowell, H.G. Wells and Carl Sagan.  It’s a toxic, dry, freezing wasteland that only a wishful-thinking astrobiologist could hope would provide company for the cosmically lonely humans who seek fellowship with aliens rather than a Creator.  They don’t have to wait for proof Mars is lifeless; with what we know already, it is profoundly a time for “increased respect for life on our own planet.”  The next logical step should be increased reverence for the Creator of planets and life.
Next headline on:   MarsAstrobiology and Origin of Life
The Politics of Academic Scientists: Democrats Vastly Outnumber Republicans    12/02/2004
A news item in Science1 entitled “Academia as a ‘One Party’ System” will probably attract the attention of conservative talk show hosts:
Universities in the United States are very keen on fostering “diversity” as long as it’s not ideological diversity, according to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative group of academics.  Last year NAS surveyed members of scholarly societies in six fields in the social sciences, asking which political party they identified with.  About 30% of the 5486 people polled responded; of these, 80% were Democrats. Economist Daniel B. Klein of Santa Clara University in California and Charlotta Stern of the Institute for Social Research in Stockholm, Sweden, conclude that because the prevalence of Democrats was even higher among younger academics, it appears that “lopsidedness has become more extreme over the past decades, and ... unless we believe that current professors occasionally mature into Republicans, it will become even more extreme in the future.”
    “The ‘one-party campus’ is a problem irrespective of what one’s own views happen to be,” the authors warn.  (Klein says Stern is a liberal and he himself is a libertarian.)  They suggest that measures could be taken--such as “proportional voting on curriculum and hiring decisions”--to enable political minority voices to be heard.
The ratios of Democrats to Republicans varied from 3 to 1 in Economics to 30 to 1 in Anthropology, with Political Science, History, Philosophy and Sociology scaling in between.2  Surprising as it may seem (sarcasm intended), it appears that Republicans are an endangered species on college campuses.
    This announcement motivated us to check the National Association of Scholars website to see if there were similar statistics for science faculty, and sure enough, there were.  Klein and Andrew Western have a working paper from their survey of Stanford and Berkeley.3  The Democratic-Republican (D:R) ratios for the hard sciences track those for the social sciences: Biology 21:0 (Berkeley) and 29:2 (Stanford); Chemistry 32:4 (Berkeley) and 10:5 (Stanford); Mathematics 23:6 (Berkeley) and 12:3 (Stanford); Neurology/Neurobiology 55:4 (Berkeley) and 13:2 (Stanford); Physics 28:2 (Berkeley) and 14:3 (Stanford).
    Though not as pronounced, the trend held up in the Engineering departments: Civil Engineering 14:4 (Berkeley) and 10:3 (Stanford); Electrical Engineering 22:7 (Berkeley) and 18:6 (Stanford).
    There was not a single subject area where Republican faculty members had representation even close to parity with Democrats.  Several had zero or one Republican, like Anthropology (12:0 Berkeley and 6:0 Stanford), Psychology (28:1 Berkeley and 24:0 Stanford), Sociology (17:0 Berkeley and 10:0 Stanford), English (29:1 Berkeley and 22:1 Stanford), French/Italian (12:0 Berkeley and 1:0 Stanford), History (31:1 Berkeley and 22:0 Stanford), Linguistics (7:1 Berkeley and 6:0 Stanford), Music (13:1 Berkeley and 4:0 Stanford), Philosophy (9:1 Berkeley and 10:1 Stanford), Journalism (4:0 Berkeley).  Even Religious Studies was dominated by Democrats (2:1 Berkeley and 7:0 Stanford).
    The overall ratio of Democrats to Republicans for the Hard Sciences and Math categories at these two prestigious universities was 237:31, nearly eight to one.  For the Social Sciences categories, it was 177:13, almost 14 to one.  For the Humanities, it was 175:8, almost 22 to one.  The overall score in all 23 departments was 720 Democrats and 81 Republicans, nearly nine to one.  The authors make their conclusions clear and forceful:
A ratio of even 2 to 1 is deadly to the minority.  A ratio of 5 to 1 means marginalization.  Someone of a minority viewpoint is dependent frequently on the cooperation of her departmental colleagues for many small considerations.  Lopsidedness means that dissenters are avoided or expelled, and that any who survive are very unlikely to be vocal critics of the dominant viewpoints.
    These facts are inherently important.  Academia is a major part of the political culture; it profoundly influences how tens of millions of Americans will understand social affairs and, indeed, their own personal selfhood.  The next step, then, is full awareness.  All interested parties—students, parents, taxpayers, and the faculty themselves—should become aware of the facts.

1Random Samples, “Academia As a ‘One-Party’ System,”
Science, Volume 306, Number 5702, Issue of 03 December 2004.
2“Surveys on Political Diversity in American Higher Education,” National Association of Scholars.
3Daniel B. Klein and Andrew Western, “No. 54: How Many Democrats per Republican at UC-Berkeley and Stanford?  Voter Registration Data Across 23 Academic Departments,” Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics.  See also the Students for Academic Freedom website.
Here is our long-sought data to corroborate what we declared was intuitively obvious back on 09/22/2003: the Darwin Party is virtually synonymous with the Democratic Party.  In academia, many of them are liberals, secularists and socialists.  So connect the dots.  Who are the ones writing all those Darwinian just-so stories in the science journals?  Are they the neutral, objective, unbiased scientists in lab coats?  Do they represent a cross-section of American political spectrum, such that it could be claimed the evidence supports evolution to any unbiased observer?  Do these professors reflect a cross-section of American culture, values, and ideals?  No.  They are the same ones protesting the war against terrorism, voting for same-sex marriage, standing silent as courts trump the will of the people, and loathing the military.
    Since Republicans are more likely to hold conservative family values, attend church, believe in God and oppose abortion, this should make the light finally go on about the connection between Darwinism and secular liberalism, and make educated people question whether Darwinian evolution is strictly a scientific issue.  It’s alarming to note also the rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses.  Palestinian terrorists are routinely given a pass as “freedom fighters” while Israeli actions in their own defense are painted in the vilest terms.  Notice also how the liberal academics tend to see the U.N. as the solution to all problems, and castigate the Republican administration for not taking action on global warming (which, we all know, is caused by evolved aliens—see 12/27/2003 editorial).  Are these mere coincidences?  Does it appear that certain political and scientific views have a common ancestor?  Do you begin to suspect that, on some issues, political ideologues are co-opting the sacred cow of “science” to rationalize their political ideology and world view?  Is it not for good reason we label the evolution propagandists the Darwin Party?  We’d like to hear Ken and Eugenie explain away these statistics.
    Whatever the cause, and whatever it means, the political situation on American campuses is severely broken and needs “affirmative action” in the best sense of the term.  How ironic that the party that parades its values of inclusiveness, diversity and tolerance should have such a radically one-sided political slant in the very institution that is supposed to represent the open marketplace of ideas.  These statistics should alarm Democrats as well as Republicans.  They should alarm parents who consider sending their impressionable high school grads to learn under these professors.  Would they expect their sons and daughters to learn good political science at the Democratic National Convention?  Imagine Congress with ratios like these, and the laws one side could pass to perpetuate its dominance and suppress dissent.  No one should stand for this kind of inequity in academia.  We suspect that if parity is ever achieved, the Darwin Party will lose its hubris and be forced to get off the sofa (see 12/22/2003 commentary) and do real science.  If that happens, and Republican PhD biologists and anthropologists with “God bless America” bumper stickers get a hearing, Darwinists will be forced to defend their position in open debate about the evidence rather than taking evolution for granted and ignoring their critics.  When that happens, Darwinism is doomed.
Next headline on:   Politics and EthicsDarwinism
Archaeology Is Hindered by Evolutionary Assumptions   12/01/2004
Why was a complex village uncovered in Uruguay called “unexpected”?  Peter W. Stahl (anthropology, Binghamtom U.) asks the question in the Dec. 2 issue of Nature:1
Evidence of unexpected complexity in an ancient community in Uruguay is a further blow to the conventional view of prehistoric development in marginal areas of lowland South America.
    Archaeological research often reveals unexpected results.  This is common in South America, especially when archaeologists venture off the beaten track to explore unfamiliar areas.  However, our surprise is also a product of our preconceptions.  Recent work in the lowlands of tropical South America clearly bears this out, with discoveries of prehistoric complexity in unforeseen places and/or times.  On page 614 of this issue, Iriarte et al. present another example of precocious development in a hitherto little-explored and under-appreciated area.  The authors refer humbly to their results as unexpected; but given the profusion of surprises elsewhere, why would they be unexpected in the first place?
The answer is that for over 60 years, archaeologists have been taught to think certain ways about marginal areas and primitive peoples.  They have been taught an “now-outmoded belief in cultural evolution, culture areas and trait diffusion; environmental determinism; a sketchy archaeological record; and an underestimation of the effects of European conquest on native populations,” Stahl claims.  Authorities like Julian Steward inculcated notions of slow urban development gradually creeping to outlying areas, and ‘traditional Indians’ living out their simple lives, surviving “relatively unchanged since deep time.”  Stahl takes issue with this, noting the number of contradictions with the evidence.  “Although few would buy into these ideas today,” he says, “Steward’s culture history has had an enormous impact on archaeological interpretation, both academic and popular.
    It’s hard to dislodge old myths.  Stahl is not surprised by the complexity of outlying villages, like the one by Iriarte et al. that showed:
a large formal village plan, consisting of mound and plaza features, at a time (more than 4,000 years ago) and in a place where conventional wisdom would not have expected them to exist.  Moreover, subsequent occupation, intentional remodelling, settlement planning and village size indicate both a permanence and a density of population previously unthought of for this area.  Innovative analyses of plant microfossils and starch grains extracted from stone tools yield evidence for the early exploitation of maize, squash, beans and root crops in an area that was long considered non-agricultural, at least for prehistoric populations.
It appears these people were doing what humans have always done: applying their brains and intentions to organize their lives with intelligence and skill.  This example “not only rejects much of the interpretational baggage carried by generations of archaeologists, but also exposes the potential for prehistoric culture in grasslands and wetlands, which were historically viewed as marginal areas,” he says.  In conclusion, he preaches, “Marginality and atrophied development are part of a flawed historic perspective.  Our expectations for indigenous achievements should be greater.
1Peter W. Stahl, “Archaeology: Greater expectations,”
Nature 432, 561 - 562 (02 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432561a.
Who gave the scientific world an image of primitive man evolving in marginal areas, living hand to mouth with very slow cultural evolution?  Who portrayed the relatively recent cities as the places where the lights of humanity first went on, and progress slowly spread into the outlying areas?  Was it not the Darwinists in Victorian Britain, who tended to view themselves as the intellectually superior race?  The history of Darwinian racism and treatment of indigenous peoples is a shameful lesson that has no justification today, as Stahl points out.
    In contrast, Biblical creationists would see man as always fully man, endowed from the beginning with free will, language, culture and intelligence.  People groups spread rapidly over the globe after the flood, carrying a good deal of cultural memory with them.  Just because they didn’t always make pottery does not mean they weren’t good farmers or knew how to build complex villages.  Creationists would see a gradual degradation of ability because of sin, with occasional collective rises and falls of civilizations; there is also the counteracting tendency for technological knowledge to increase and accumulate over time.  Overall, creationists have greater expectations about indigenous achievements, and therefore are not surprised to find complexity in human cultures from the earliest times.  And that is exactly what archaeology shows: man is always fully man, capable of remarkable achievements, but needing salvation and escape from the “flawed historical perspective” of false teachers.
Next headline on:   Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory Early Man
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Blurs   12/01/2004
How was National Geographic able to publish an artist’s reconstruction of Homo floriensis (aka Hobbit Man) the same day Nature published the find? (See
10/27/2004 headline).  Martin Kemp (U. of Oxford, UK) explains in the Dec. 2 issue1 how Peter Schouten, an artist, got the gig:
Tim Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum .... suggested to Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts of the University of Wollongong that Schouten be asked to produce a picture of Flores Man.  The resulting painting was purchased jointly by the university and the National Geographic Society, and the society then acquired the image rights (their television channel will air a programme on the discovery early next year).  The image was released to the public as soon as the original scientific papers appeared in Nature....
Kemp seems a bit put off at all this.  He takes pride in the fact that Nature was “rigorously sober” and “impeccably” scientific in its portrayal of the scientific data, and avoided caricaturing the individual in artwork:
Scientists will readily recognize that Schouten, like any artist relying largely on bones, had to make some key assumptions, not least with respect to fleshy and surface features, including secondary sexual characteristics.  For a historian of images, a series of questions arise about the ‘character’ with which the envisaged figure is endowed.  We cannot portray any figure without giving it some kind of definite persona, however subjectively its characteristics may be read by different spectators.  The features that speak most powerfully to us – the eyes, nose and mouth – are among the most speculative.
Kemp notes that Schouten made the male individual look stoical and macho, spear in hand, holding its prey over its shoulder, hairy and transitional.  “Darwinian ‘ape-men,’” he observes, “are almost invariably portrayed as miserable and destitute, living in grinding discomfort, clearly waiting desperately for evolution to happen – even if not in their lifetimes.”  The guy does “not look like a bundle of fun,” he quips.
    Are these portrayals helpful in educating the public?  “Such images flourish in the popular domain but tend to be denigrated within science,” he adds, and ends with a note of cynicism about the power of the artist over the work of the scientist:
But the battered skull and bony fragments do not stick in our memory in the way that Schouten’s skilful painting does.  The process of discovery and publication has thrown up an instant icon that will be very hard to dislodge.  We can change our mind about recorded facts, but a potent image, for good or for ill, tends to become indelible.

1Martin Kemp, “Science in culture,” Nature 432, 555 (02 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432555a.
The history of Darwinist propaganda can be understood as a series of indelible icons of evolution that often have little or nothing to do with the facts, but become very hard to dislodge.  This is the propaganda value of visualization.  The Darwin fish, the horse series, hairy ape-men in a cave, Darwin’s finches, peppered moths on tree trunks, Darwin’s tree of life, Haeckel’s embryos – these all illustrate Thumb’s second postulate, “An easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a highly-complex, incomprehensible truth.”  (Useful to whom?)
Next headline on:   Early ManDarwinism

Scientist of the Month

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Featured Creation Scientist for December

Robert Grosseteste
1168 - 1253

Our Scientist of the Month is extremely important to the development of modern science, yet sure to be almost unknown to most readers.  This medieval pastor, however, exemplifies the theme of our series, that it was Christian beliefs that motivated science, and it was great Christians who started the scientific revolution.

When studying any historical biography, we have to understand the tenor of the times.  The conditions in medieval Europe, totally dominated by the Catholic church, often corrupted by its own power, were often far from Christlike.  We would hasten to distance ourselves from the abuses that were all too pervasive: bloody Crusades, immoral popes, dogma and human tradition exalted above Scripture.  As mentioned in the Introduction, however, many of the abuses were done by the rulers, not the monks, pastors, and common people, except to the extent they believed and obeyed false doctrines.  Those nearest to the teachings of Jesus were the monks and pastors who knew the ancient languages, copied the Scriptures and had dedicated their lives to the gospel as they understood it (this can be illustrated by the fact that Jon Hus, Martin Luther and other later reformers often came from the ranks of monks).  Corrupted as church doctrine had become with works and extra-biblical traditions, there still remained a Christian outlook on the world of nature, though compromised at times by Greek philosophy (particularly of Aristotle).  It was the Christian worldview, in contrast to the mythologies of pagan empires, that was to be the seedbed of the scientific revolution.  (See our section on worldviews in the Introduction).

Robert Grosseteste was a seminal figure in the history of science; some have even characterized him as an early practitioner of the scientific method.  Although a theologian and bishop by profession, he took great interest in the natural world.  What drove this interest?  That is the question we want to explore.  Certainly most of his attention was devoted to the pastorate and the training of pastors, of which the Grosseteste website says, “During his eighteen years as a bishop, Grosseteste became known as a brilliant, but highly demanding, church leader.  He insisted that all his clergy be literate and receive some training in theology.” His insistence on high moral and intellectual standards even led him, on several occasions, to rebuke the church leadership.  He did not hesitate to lecture the pope on practices he felt were intolerable and unscriptural, such as corruption and political favoritism.  The InfoPlease online encyclopedia says, “Some historians see in Grosseteste’s protests against Rome an influence upon Wyclif and a foreshadowing of the Reformation.”  In particular, out of outrage for the corruption with which papal appointees were collecting church revenues, he resisted Pope Innocent IV to his face.  The portrayal of Grosseteste as a proto-Protestant is probably a beyond what history warrants, but even the Catholic Encyclopedia, which argues he never doubted the authority of the pope, admits:

What he did maintain was that the power of the Holy See was “for edification and not for destruction”, that the commands of the pope could never transgress the limits laid down by the law of God, and that it was his duty, as bishop, to resist an order that was “for manifest destruction”.  In such a case “out of filial reverence and obedience I disobey, resist, and rebel.” [a quote from a letter to the pope’s secretary.]

This admission is telling.  Papist or not, it shows that Robert Grosseteste had a high regard for Scripture and was a man of integrity and moral courage.  In fact, he strongly and sternly argued into his old age about the abuses of the Curia which amounted to extortion and political favoritism.  Such righteous indignation was dangerous in those days, but Grosseteste was held in such high regard, even the Pope respected his reproofs: in his mid-seventies, Grosseteste “read out in the presence of the pope an impressive recital of the evils of the time and a protest against the abuses of the Curia, ‘the cause and origin of all this.’ ; Innocent listened without interruption....” (Catholic Encyclopedia). He even resisted a nepotistic appointment by the pope under threat of excommunication, but was later vindicated.

In addition, Grosseteste steadfastly fought political corruption in his diocese and attempts to weaken the mandates of the Magna Carta.  It is easy to see in Robert Grosseteste an example of courage and integrity that set an example for later reformers who, either within or eventually outside the church, could not bear to see the purity of Scriptural teaching corrupted by personal greed.  With this background of his virtuous character, let us now turn to the subject of what made him a pivotal individual in the history of science.

Grosseteste’s love of learning was the equal of his intolerance for evil.  Though born in a poor family, he became one of the most learned men of the Middle Ages, mastering Greek and Hebrew.  He contributed influential translations of the writings of church fathers and Greek philosophers to the corpus of medieval literature.  He became Bishop of Lincoln, which included Oxford, of which he was head for a time.  He was closely associated with the young university, from which he may have graduated as a youth.  A lifelong lover of knowledge, Grosseteste both absorbed and influenced the best scholarship of the early 13th century.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

It is not easy to define exactly Grosseteste’s position in the history of thirteenth century thought.  Though he was from many points of view a schoolman [i.e., scholastic philosopher], his interests lay rather in moral questions than in logical or metaphysical.  In his lectures he laid more stress on the study of the Scripture than on intellectual speculation.  His real originality lay in his effort to get at the original authorities, and in his insistence on experiment in science.  It was this which drew from Roger Bacon [one of his students] the many expressions of enthusiastic admiration which are to be found in his [Bacon’s] works.  In the “Opus Tertium” he says: “No one really knew the sciences, except the Lord Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, by reason of his length of life and experience, as well as of his studiousness and zeal.  He knew mathematics and perspective, and there was nothing which he was unable to know, and at the same time he was sufficiently acquainted with languages to be able to understand the saints and the philosophers and the wise men of antiquity.”

This brings us to the scientific side of this amazing individual.  The encyclopedia goes on to describe the tremendous breadth of his knowledge and interest, from liberal arts to music to husbandry to finance to classical literature: “Besides being learned in the liberal arts, Grosseteste had an unusual interest in mathematical and scientific questions.  He wrote a commentary on the ‘Physics’ of Aristotle; and his own scientific works included studies in meteorology, light, colour and optics.  Amongst his mathematical works was a criticism of the Julian calendar, in which he pointed out the necessity for the changes introduced in the Gregorian.  He attempted a classification of the various forms of knowledge; and few indeed, among his contemporaries, can have had a more encyclopedic range.”  Why would a bishop be interested in science?  The Grosseteste website explains,

During his lifetime, Grosseteste was an avid participant in European intellectual life.  His early education had given him a taste for natural philosophy.  He began producing texts on the liberal arts, and mainly on astronomy and cosmology.  His most famous scientific text, De luce (Concerning Light), argued that light was the basis of all matter, and his account of creation devotes a great deal of space to the biblical text of God’s command, ‘Let there be light.’  Light also played a significant role his [sic] epistemology, as he followed the teachings of St. Augustine that the human intellect comes to know truth through illumination by divine light.  Grosseteste’s interest in the natural world was further developed by his study of geometry, and he is one of the first western thinkers to argue that natural phenomenon [sic] can be described mathematically.

Notice how Genesis gave him the inspiration to pursue a mathematical analysis of light.  Robert Grosseteste is a prime example of how a Biblical worldview stimulated science.  In more than one case, an actual Bible verse was the stimulus.  This counters the criticism of naturalistic scientists that presume scientific research comes to a halt when the answer is “God did it.”  On the contrary, the question How did God do it? often spurred great thinkers to uncover the laws that they believed the great Lawgiver had designed.

Grosseteste is memorable not only for his own scientific pursuits, but also for the fact that he was mentor to Roger Bacon, who caught the spark and envisioned even greater possibilities for the experimental method.  Be sure to continue our study on the life of Roger Bacon.

While in hindsight we might not endorse everything Robert Grosseteste believed and taught (such as papal supremacy and other extra-biblical doctrines), he exemplified a Christian attitude toward the natural world that almost ignited a scientific revolution hundreds of years before Galileo and Newton.  On top of that, he had a tremendous love of the truth, high standards of integrity, an exceptional inquisitiveness into nature, and a huge measure of godliness and compassion that alone would make his life worth noting.  Dan Graves says of him, “Devoted pastor, dedicated church reformer, groundbreaking scientist, renowned educator, careful historian, and meticulous translator–in each field, Robert Grosseteste raised the standard for God-fearing academics to follow for generations” (Scientists of Faith, p. 23).

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.
1. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
2. There are always exceptions to established exceptions.
3. By the time one masters the exceptions, no one recalls the rules to which they apply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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