Still, some critics claim that science by definition cant accept design, while others argue that science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there. But we cant settle questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore.
Stars: Born of Violence, or Doing Violence to Theories? 05/31/2005
Another surprise was announced by Australian astronomers working at the Keck Observatory: the stellar disk of Andromeda spiral galaxy M31 is apparently three times larger than earlier assumed. ABC News Australia has the story. One astronomer said of previous theories of galaxy accretion, This giant disk discovery will be very hard to reconcile with computer simulations of forming galaxies.
1Robert Irion, Turbulent Orion Nebula Shows a Flare for the Dramatic, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5726, 1249-1250, 27 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5726.1249].
The pictures are beautiful. The stories are entertaining. No human lifetime could watch the whole sequence, so the interpretations are very much model-driven and riddled with difficulties. Certain ones claim this or that feature supports their pet theory (see Finagles Second Law). Others claim it turns the pet against its owner.SETI Researcher Joins NG Imagination Fest 05/31/2005
Space.Com writer Tariq Malik reviewed the National Geographic TV series Extraterrestrial that envisions flying whales, giraffe-like predators and flesh-eating tadpoles on a mythical world undergoing its own evolution. Using computer models and armed with basic evolutionary theory, the scientists imagined not only what conditions might exist on their theoretical planets, writes Malik, but also how life may interact with the environment to form a thriving ecosystem. (emphasis added). SETI researcher Seth Shostak told Space.com he joined the project because Here was a plan to make aliens that make sense.
What the Darwinists lack in data, they make up for in imagination. That makes sense, all right financially. It explains why the Darwinists argue that teaching evolution is good for the economy (see 04/29/2005 entry). It provides jobs for animators and other imagineers. Malik wins the Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: Eyes, for example, have evolved several times on Earth and are likely to pop up on other light-filled worlds, researchers said. Apparently, this crowd believes in Popeye as well as Tinkerbell (see 03/11/2005 commentary).Health Beliefs Re-examined 05/30/2005
Scientists continue to find new things that undermine commonly-held beliefs about health and the environment. For example,
1Bingenheimer et al., Firearm Violence Exposure and Serious Violent Behavior, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5726, 1323-1326, 27 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1110096].
The point is not that any of these reports are the last word on those subjects, but if scientists cannot get things right about everyday issues regarding our daily habits, how can they presume to tell us about things millions of years ago?Darwinists Excuse Prejudice as a Hard-wired, Common-Sense Evolutionary Adaptation 05/27/2005
This weeks Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week comes from an Arizona State evo-psych press release echoed on News-Medical.net and EurekAlert: Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.
The authors of the study hasten to add that their hypothesis does not mean we cant change our prejudices:Can the Courts Define Science? 05/27/2005People sometimes assume that because we say prejudice has evolved roots we are saying that specific prejudices cant be changed. Thats simply not the case, [Steven] Neuberg [ASU professor of social psychology] says. What we think and feel and how we behave is typically the result of complex interactions between biological tendencies and learning experiences. Evolution may have prepared our minds to be prejudiced, but our environment influences the specific targets of those prejudices and how we act on them. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Neuberg cant get off the hook so easily. If prejudice is an evolved adaptive strategy, then it has no moral implications whatsoever. Nobody can say that this or that target of our hardwired prejudice is wrong. Prejudice, if it evolved, is as good as eyesight or hearing. If anything is wrong to a consistent Darwinist, it is standing in the path of evolution. But ironically, their very claim shoots itself in the foot. If what they were saying was true, then we would have to dismiss their claims as evolutionary adaptive strategies for their own self-protection, and therefore inapplicable to our own interests.
Last December, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the Dover Area School District that was considering adding intelligent design material to the curriculum. The lawsuit attempts to define intelligent design as inherently religious and therefore unacceptable in science classrooms. The move appears aimed at censoring books from the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) which publishes student materials on intelligent design and critiques of evolution. If these tangible assets at the center of the controversy over the teaching of evolution are ruled inherently religious even though they teach no religious doctrines but only scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory and design detection methods then science students would only have pro-naturalistic textbooks available to them.
The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a motion to intervene on behalf of FTE. ADF-allied attorney Jeff Mateer remarked, The ACLU and their allies are using the courts to further the preposterous notion that no other theories [than evolution] on the origins of life are scientific.
To the liberal left, free speech is the highest ideal, and censorship is arguably the worst crime in the world. So who are the censors here? Who are the book-burners here? Who are the ones for indoctrination, against the open marketplace of ideas, and for stifling debate here? The very groups that want to defend homosexual advocacy and Islamic religion in public schools, believing that even grade schoolers and kindergartners should be exposed to it, exhibit rank hypocrisy when it comes to anything not on their leftist agenda.All You Wanted to Know About Spider Webs, Except Their Evolution 05/25/2005
Each issue of Current Biology contains a Primer on some interesting subject. The May 24 issue had one about spider webs.1 Fritz Vollrath shared some amazing details about this unique product of the lowly spider, but gave a strange explanation for how the capability to spin strong-as-steel nets evolved. First, the factoids:
Spider web structures and silks began their co-evolution about 400 million years ago, at first probably as a protein cover to protect the animals eggs and young. Webs then evolved different functions, including acting as a kind of wall-paper for the animals burrow and modifying the hole into a simple trap by radiating lines that inform the lurking spider about things beetling around outside. Even such simple lines expand the animals anatomical phenotype many fold by incorporating the body into an extensive silken net. The aerial webs of the modern spiders began to evolve perhaps 200 million years ago and are superb examples of extended anatomy. These webs also nicely illustrate the close interaction of material and behaviour which clearly are two separately encoded yet functionally inter-linked character traits.This seems to say that they evolved because they evolved.
1Fritz Vollrath, Spiders webs, Current Biology, Vol 15, R364-R365, 24 May 2005.
This is a prime example of the leaps of faith rampant among Darwinians, who can discuss with apparent wonder the technologies of the animal kingdom capabilities that dwarf human efforts based on intelligent engineering then say they just evolved, with utter, implicit, and complete faith in the inspired Word of Charlie, who alone does wonders. Then they have the audacity to accuse non-Darwinians of relying on faith instead of science.Battlefield Dispatches 05/24/2005
Reports from the evolution wars continue to come in. Here are more recent stories about the conflicts over the teaching of evolution and intelligent design:
1Jeffrey Mervis, Bruce Alberts Interview: Attention, Class: A Departing NAS President Speaks His Mind, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5725, 1108, 20 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5725.1108].
Alberts should be ashamed of himself for insinuating that anti-evolution efforts will make America look like a Middle Eastern country. He put three types of baloney in that sausage. First, intelligent design is not a biblical interpretation of scientific facts. ID does not rely on any theological position but rather on design detection using established scientific reasoning. Second, the only Middle Eastern country with a Biblical view is Israel, which has a strong pro-science record and a modernized civilization with political freedom for all. Why didnt Alberts point his attack where it belongs, at those unsavory, tyrannical countries with a Koranical interpretation of scientific facts? Third, evolution has absolutely nothing to do with making a country a scientific world leader. Darwin, whose only degree was in theology, was an imposter (see 05/02/2003 commentary) who snuck naturalistic philosophy into a scientific tradition that was built on belief in design (see online book). Of all people, Bruce Alberts, co-editor of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, and one who stated that the biology of the future is the study of molecular machines (see 01/27/2003 and 01/09/2002 entries), should realize that naturalism is hopelessly inadequate to explain the complexities of life.Stem Cell Headlines 05/23/2005
Research on embryonic stem cells is proceeding apace without an ethical anchor, and no clue where it will lead. News coverage of the debate accelerated with an announcement from South Korea.
1Quesenberry et al., Ignoratio Elenchi: Red Herrings in Stem Cell Research, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5725, 1121-1122, 20 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1104432].
2Gretchen Vogel, Korean Team Speeds Up Creation Of Cloned Human Stem Cells, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5725, 1096-1097, 20 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5725.1096].
3Magnus and Cho, Issues in Oocyte Donation for Stem Cell Research, Science, published online 19 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1114454].
4Erika Check, Korea's accelerating stem-cell work prompts calls for global ethical rules, Nature 435, 393 (26 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/435393a.
Our 02/08/2005 commentary still stands, and now we are in the thick of the ethical morass we knew was coming. Bioethical voices seem powerless over the lure of money and prestige. Erika Check quoted Caplan describing ethicists as standing on the sidelines and pouting, you cant do this. But would international controls help? The U.N. with its Oil-for-Food scandal showed that international agencies are no guarantors of ethics: they can become the problem, not the solution. Nor has the U.N. been willing or able to stop human rights violations in rogue nations like North Korea or Sudan. It is doubtful an international science community would have any power over rogue nations and individuals now that stem cell research is hot. We have seen that there are researchers within the civilized world with no qualms about trying anything that is possible, even putting human cells into rat brains (see 03/10/2005 entry). In todays amoral, selfish research culture, it seems as if the tables have turned: rat cells have invaded the human brain.Large Individual Differences Seen in Human Genome 05/20/2005
What makes each individual unique? Nature1 reported a surprising thing about the human genome that is becoming apparent as more individuals genes are examined. The first part is not surprising; the last part is:
When the finished sequence of the human genome was unveiled last year, biologists said that it told a story of harmony for the human family. Every one of us, it turns out, shares 99% of our DNA with all the other people on Earth. But its our differences that really fascinate us. And at last weeks annual genome meeting in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, scientists revealed a wealth of data indicating a surprising conclusion about human diversity much of it might be explained by large structural differences between individual genomes, not by tiny differences in individual genes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Some of us have more copies of a gene than others do. Thats just the beginning, Erika Check reports from the meeting: we also have varying numbers of deletions, insertions and other major rearrangements in our genomes.
Check claims that some of these differences are being acted on by natural selection. Europeans, for instance, have an inversion not seen in Africans or Asians that is correlated with having more children, a classic sign that the inversion confers an evolutionary advantage. Others at the meeting were also confident that structural differences are important in human evolution, and that among sections where there were differing numbers of copies of stretches of DNA, natural selection is actively working on these genes.
Whats more, he [Duc-Quang Nguyen, U of Oxford] found that many of these genes belong to groups that seem to help us interact with our environment. For instance, many work in the immune system, and affect how we fight off disease. These are exactly the sort of genes that could explain our diversity why some of us get asthma when exposed to air pollution, or why some of us can eat plenty of cheeseburgers without gaining weight.
1Erika Check, Large genomic differences explain our little quirks, Nature 435, 252-253 (19 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/435252b.
DNA keeps surprising us. The old picture of a relatively static library occasionally mutating to provide grist for natural selection is out. Now, we see that even among our own species all of us being interfertile there are remarkable differences not in just a DNA letter here or there, but in whole stretches of DNA sometimes 100 base pairs long or more. What this all means is not clear. It may be that most of our genomes cannot tolerate much divergence (see 11/26/2004 entry), but a certain fraction can vary quickly to provide robustness against changing environments and diets as people groups migrate into new areas. If so, thank God for this variability. Consider the differences in habitat between the frozen tundra, rain forest, the Sahara, grasslands, Asian steppes, forests and coastlands. The food available, air pressure, climate, insolation and biota can vary considerably. But even that explanation is simplistic; Americans go on vacation to Iceland, China and the Serengeti, dont they? And international marriages usually produce offspring possessing fitness, whatever that is (see 10/29/2002 entry, Fitness for Dummies: Is it Running in Circles?).Neanderthals and Modern Humans May Have Interbred 05/19/2005
They lived together, they morphed into one another, so were members of Homo neanderthalensis really a separate species from Homo sapiens? Findings announced in Nature1 show a mixture of Neanderthal-like characteristics in modern human skeletons from Romania that led Science Now to state, Oldest Europeans were swingers. Because new radiocarbon dates of these skeletons put them in the transition period when modern humans were displacing Neanderthals, it is possible that modern humans have a Neandertal ancestry or that humans and Neandertals may have interbred.
The carbon dating is critical to the story. In the Nature paper, the scientists pretreated several samples with acid and yet worried about contamination. Results varied from 26,330 years before the present (bp) to 31,500 years bp in six tests. One tooth yielded ages of 27,370 and 31,500 years, even though it was found in an excellent state of preservation in general and was therefore selected for dating as well. They assumed the younger date was due to contamination. The team admitted that all the ages determined from the samples lie within a time period for which a generally agreed calibration curve for the transformation of uncalibrated 14C ages [greater than] 20 kyr bp into calendar time ranges is not yet available. According to the existing, albeit divergent, 14C records for this period determined in different archives, a shift of the true ages by several thousand years towards higher ages might be possible.
1Wild et al., Direct dating of Early Upper Palaeolithic human remains from Mladec, Nature 435, 332-335 (19 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03585.
These bones reveal population variability among true humans. If they were capable of interbreeding, they fit the biological species concept of a single species. Neanderthals have long been used for evolutionary propaganda. The propaganda continues today, in spite of findings like this. For instance, a TV program on The Science Channel showed brutish Neanderthals happening upon the camp of more modern humans, unable to figure out who the strangers were and what made them so smart. The story is made up in the imagination of evolutionists committed to a form of evolutionary racism, calling modern humans us and Neanderthals them. It is no more legitimate than lumping Watusis and Eskimos into different species.Christian Woman to Rebuild Iraqi Science 05/19/2005
According to the Christian apologetics ministry Answers in Action, a woman a Christian woman will help rebuild Iraqi science from the ruins of Saddam Husseins evil empire:
Ibrahim Jaafari, the prime minister of Iraq, has appointed Bassima Yousef Boutros, a 44 year old biochemist at Salah Eldin University in Erbil, Iraq as the countrys new science & technology minister. Boutros is a member of the Chaldo Assyrians, a sect of Christians living in Iraq who suffered severe persecution under the previous Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.The story in SciDev.net says, Boutros has been at the centre of the freedom movement of the ChaldoAssyrians, a sect of Christians living in Iraq who were often persecuted under the countrys previous Baathist regime. She stood in the Iraqi election as a representative of the ChaldoAssyrian people.
This news item was noted by the May 20 Science Magazine feature Random Samples Boutros told a Christian Web site, Answers in Action, that she would do her best to use science and technology as the basis to build a civilized Iraq.
Having women in science is century-old news (they outnumber men in some circles), but a Christian woman, communicating with a Christian website that supports intelligent design? How can this be? We all know from the media that ID people dont understand science and are the enemies of science. Maybe the Darwin Party should lobby for a return to the good old days in Iraq. What could be worse for Darwinism than a Christian in science leadership who believes in creation and who (gulp) knows biochemistry?Nature Prints Anti-ID Letters 05/19/2005
The May 19 issue of Nature1 printed seven letters responding to its editorial about the intelligent design movement (see 04/27/2005 entry). They were all critical of ID. Not one even tolerated Natures suggestion that scientists try to help students integrate their faith with science. Apparently, last months editorial was not sufficiently vicious against ID, says Rob Crowther on Evolution News. Crowther knows that at least one letter favorable to ID was not printed: the one by Stephen Meyer, interviewed in the April 27 article, who wrote in to correct some misconceptions (see it at Discovery Institute).
1Correspondence, Nature 435, 275 (19 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/435275a.
OK, since some readers are intimidated when Big Science raises its collective voice against anything, lets examine this correspondence. First, we dont know how many readers wrote responses, and of those, how many were pro vs. con. Since Nature was born as a pro-Darwin mouthpiece (see 03/04/2004 commentary), it is not surprising the editors would continue the propaganda campaign of associating Charlie with science and anything else with foolishness. Second, scientists are fallible. The majority has been wrong before, often strenuously, sometimes for long periods of time. Third, scientists can be woefully ignorant of issues outside their specialties; in fact, one of the writers (Roy, below) admits it. This means that a molecular biologist or geneticist may know a lot about a particular molecule or gene but very little about intelligent design theory and the history and philosophy of science except what his liberal Democrat ivory-tower colleagues in academia tell him or her (see 12/02/2004 entry). They may be oblivious to the fact that their work rests on the shoulders of centuries of creationists and believers in design (see online book).Time for Titan to Shine 05/18/2005
Fans of Titan, the large moon of Saturn, are swimming gleefully in scientific reports from Cassini, and its only just the beginning: there are at least 39 more orbits planned of this strangest moon in the solar system. There are too many recent reports to condense into one entry take your pick:
Titan is not the only big recent science story at Saturn. Cassini scientists published 3 papers in Nature May 12 (1, 2, 3) about Phoebe, the outer moon observed at close range on July 11, 2004. They concluded it was a captured object from the outer solar system with a composition like Pluto.
The radio science team recently made perfect high-resolution occultation measurements of Saturn and the rings. Cassini now enters prime ringside observations. Orbits 6-14 over the next few months make Saturns rings the prime targets for all the instruments. What are they made of? How small are the particles? How hard or fluffy are they? Do individual ring particles rotate? Will ring spokes be seen again? It should be bonanza time for ring scientists. For a preview of coming attractions, the imaging team released a stunning movie of a newly discovered moonlet in the Keeler gap that sets up waves in the rings like a giant rock skipping the surface of a pond. As for pretty pictures of the Saturn system well, what can words add to stunners like this?
These are great days for the Cassini team. Everything has worked so well it is almost scary. Why are the media giving these discoveries so little press? This is one of the greatest achievements in history for solar system exploration, but few are hearing about it. We make these links available for those who have better things to do than listen to daily decadence from the Michael Jackson trial. Come, sail to the new world.Mt. St. Helens: Comeback Kid 05/18/2005
Scientists are amazed at the speed of recovery of Mt. St. Helens, says National Geographic News and MSNBC News. Twenty-five years ago this month, the explosion and pyroclastic flow left a scene of gray devastation. Now, a young forest is already in place. Spirit Lake, made poisonous by the hot flow, surprised researchers by recovering in six years instead of decades. Simple models of ecological succession were overturned; the recovery was diverse and complex. Within months of the blast, some lupines were flowering among the volcanic ash. The fact that anything could do that was just phenomenal, one researcher said.
Even small, lowly animals turned out to be quite the homesteaders. NG says, Not long after the blast, frog, toad, salamander, and newt species traveled several miles of inhospitable ground and moved into the affected habitats. The Washington volcano has proved a valuable research laboratory for ecologists. One said, Ive seen it come back to life. Its just amazing what Mother Nature can do.
Mother Nature had nothing to do with it, but thats beside the point. Every engineer knows that designing robustness into a system subject to perturbations is a mark of intelligence (see 03/14/2005 entry).Intelligent Design and the Nature of Science 05/18/2005
John Hannas Associated Press article, Kansas debate focuses on defining science, has fingered a basic issue: what is science? The Darwinists argue that ID by its very nature cannot be scientific. Rob Crowther on Evolution News counters that Kansas is the only state that does not have a traditional definition of science, such as Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Instead, it embeds philosophical naturalism into the definition, by defining science as first and foremost the practice of seeking natural explanations for phenomena.
Darwinists, are you interested in maintaining your philosophy, or in finding the truth? Re-read the quote of the month at the top right of this page.Exercise May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk 05/18/2005
Risk of incidence and recurrence of colon cancer appears to be reduced with exercise, according to a report by the American Society of Clinical Oncology reported in EurekAlert. Data now supports what was once just a good idea.
Make exercise a part of your routine. Your body needs it in more ways than one. This is the best time of year for outdoor strolls, where you can improve both mental and physical health.Astrobiology Design Paper 05/18/2005: Guillermo Gonzalez (co-author of The Privileged Planet), has a paper in an upcoming issue of Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, entitled, Habitable Zones in the Universe. The paper is available online.
Next headline on: Cosmology Origin of Life
Design Language Gushes Out of Article Describing Cell Quality Control
1Gong et al., Dynamic Error Correction and Regulation of Downstream Bubble Opening by Human RNA Polymerase II, Molecular Cell, Volume 18, Issue 4, 13 May 2005, Pages 461-470, doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2005.04.011
This is how science should be done. No useless Darwinspeak, just careful analysis of design when design is evident. Neither the formal paper nor the press release contained any mention of evolution. Instead, the language of design was shown to be both useful and appropriate in a purely scientific discussion.Mars Radiation Dosage Makes Life Improbable, Even with Global Flooding 05/18/2005
An upcoming (June) paper in Icarus1 states, The biologically damaging solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (quantified by the DNA-weighted dose) reaches the martian surface in extremely high levels. Earth has an ozone layer and global magnetic field to shield out the damaging rays, but Mars has no known atmospheric filter. Therefore, the existence of life on Mars, at least at the surface, cannot be considered as probable.
The European authors compare the situation with Earth:
All known life forms on Earth share a common feature: their genetic information is coded in a DNA or RNA chain of nucleotides. When exposed to sufficiently high levels of UV radiation these chains are damaged. Therefore, organisms must either have UV protection mechanisms or efficient repair processes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)(For a recent study on these repair processes, see this 05/18/2005 story.) The researchers argue that the only likely place to look for putative Martian life forms would be a meter under the polar ice. Even there, however, the radiation is only reduced to terrestrial levels, not eliminated. Error correction would therefore be a prerequisite for Martian life.
Another paper in the same issue of Icarus2 describes what effect large meteor impacts could have had on underground aquifers. Based on the liquefaction limit proposed for Mars (Fig. 2A), we suggest that impacts producing craters with diameters of 100 km or greater may have caused global occurrence of liquefaction and streamflow, they say. They estimate there may have been around 1500 such impacts. Each one could have produced violent eruption of groundwater producing catastrophic floods and erosion of outflow channels, assuming a saturated aquifer of global extent may have been present beneath a few km of frozen ground. Impacts could have produced these effects at great distances from the impact site. If a mile-thick aquifer existed under the surface, they estimate that tens of thousands of cubic miles of water could be released from a single large impact.
1Cordoba-Jabonero et al., Radiative habitable zones in martian polar environments, Icarus, Volume 175, Issue 2, June 2005, Pages 360-371, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.12.009.
2Wang et al., Floods on Mars released from groundwater by impact, Icarus, Volume 175, Issue 2, June 2005, Pages 551-555, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.12.003.
Short-lived water flowing on Mars is not going to help get life going. In the first place, the mineralogy shows that Mars water was poisonous (see 01/05/2005 entry). In the second place, if the probability of getting one useful protein by chance is astronomically small (see online book), the chance of getting error-correction mechanisms to emerge in time for life to survive the radiation bath is absurdly, ridiculously out of the question. We saw that amino acids have a half-life of eight hours in a Martian environment (see 01/28/2005 story). Do the logic: if error-correcting life is ever found on Mars, it did not arise by chance.Stegosaur Plates Were for Decoration 05/18/2005
Berkeley scientists are disputing the notion that the rows of plates on the backs of stegosaurs served as heat exchangers. Instead, they were for show. EurekAlert and Science Daily explain that this was probably true of other dinosaur decorations: The teams analysis of stegosaur plates lends support to a growing consensus among paleontologists that the weird adornments of many dinosaurs the horns of triceratops, the helmet-like domes of the pachycephalosaurs, and the crests of the duck-billed hadrosaurs likely served no function other than to differentiate species, akin to birds colorful feather ornamentation. If they evolved as decorations, maybe heat exchange was an exaptation i.e., an incidental benefit. (Some stegosaur-like species have little or no plates.)
Sexual selection is not a likely explanation, though. Kevin Padian said, we dont see a clear distinction between male and female stegosaurs. Without sexual dimorphism [physical distinctions between male and female], you have no evidence for sexual selection, so you cant invoke sexual display as an explanation. Neither does defense make sense. The structures were too flimsy to provide protection; the munch from an allosaur would be like biting through a sandwich. Padian argued for the only explanation left: that the structures were for elaborate displays for social group recognition, like bird calls, underscoring the importance of behavior to evolution.
The structures would have to be pretty large and elaborate to function for social group recognition. How many lucky mutations did that take? A mole or nub on one stegosaurs back would probably not be enough to get the ball rolling, to make all the others think that it was so attractive, he or she would be the only one getting a mate. Maybe some things in nature are just for looks and contribute little or nothing to survival of the fittest. Structures might be amplified by microevolution into extreme forms, but Darwinian theory would have a hard time explaining how they got there in the first place.Rotary Clock Discovered in Bacteria 05/17/2005
What could be more mechanical than a mechanical clock? A biochemist has discovered one in the simplest of organisms, one-celled cyanobacteria. Examining the three complex protein components of its circadian clock, he thinks he has hit on a model that explains its structure and function: it rotates to keep time. Though it keeps good time, this clock is only about 10 billionths of a meter tall.
Scientists have known the parts of the cyanobacterial clock. They are named KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC. Jimin Wang of the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, publishing in Structure,1 has found an elegant solution to how the parts interact. He was inspired by the similarity of these parts to those in ATP synthase (see 04/30/2005 entry), a universal enzyme known as a rotary motor. Though structurally different, the Kai proteins appear to operate as another rotary motor this time, a clock.
We learned last time (see 09/15/2004 entry) that the parts interact in some way in sync with the diurnal cycle, but the mechanism was still a black box. Wang found that the KaiC part, a six-sided hexagonal cylinder, has a central cavity where the KaiA part can fit when it undergoes an activation that changes its shape, somewhat like unfolding scissors. Like a key, it fits into the central shaft and turns. The KaiB part, like a wing nut, fastens on KaiB at the bottom of the KaiC carousel. For every 120° turn of the spindle, phosphate groups attach to the outside of the carousel, till KaiC is fully saturated, or phosphorylated. This apparently happens to multiple Kai complexes during the night.
How does this keep time? When unphosphorylated, KaiC affects the expression of genes. During the night, when complexed with the other two parts, it is repressed from acting, effectively shutting down the cell for the night. Apparently many of these complexes form and dissociate each cycle. As the complexes break up in the morning, expression resumes, and the cell wakes up. When KaiC separates from the other parts, it is destroyed, stopping its repression of genes and stimulating the creation of more KaiC. In summary, he says, the Kai complexes are a rotary clock for phosphorylation, which sets the destruction pace of the night-dominant Kai complexes and timely releases KaiA. The system sets up a day-night oscillation feedback loop that allows the bacterium keep in sync with the time of day.
Wang shares the surprise that a bacterium could have a clock that persists longer than the cell-division cycle. This means that the act of cell division does not break the clock:
The discovery of a bacterial clock unexpectedly breaks the paradigm of biological clocks, because rapid cell division and chromosome duplication in bacteria occur within one circadian period (Kondo et al., 1994 and Kondo et al., 1997). In fact, these cyanobacterial oscillators in individual cells have a strong temporal stability with a correlation time of several months. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Wangs article has elegant diagrams of the parts and how they precisely fit together. In his model, the KaiC carousel resembles the hexagonal F1 motor of ATP synthase, and the KaiA key that fits into the central shaft resembles the camshaft. KaiB, in turn, acts like the inhibitor in ATP synthase. The close relationship between the two systems may well extend beyond their structural similarity, he suggests in conclusion, because the rhythmic photosynthesis-dependent ATP generation is an important process under the Kai circadian regulation.
1Jimin Wang, Recent Cyanobacterial Kai Protein Structures Suggest a Rotary Clock, Structure, Volume 13, Issue 5, May 2005, Pages 735-741, doi:10.1016/j.str.2005.02.011.
Need we tell readers what we are about to say? There is no mention of evolution in this paper. The inverse law of Darwinese stands: the more detailed the discussion of cellular complexity, the less the tendency to mention evolution.New Rodent Discovered in Southeast Asia 05/16/2005
To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary, says Dr. Robert Timmons of a stubby-legged, hairy rodent discovered in Thailand. For all we know, this could be the last remaining mammal family left to be discovered. Its not exactly like a squirrel, rat, chinchilla or guinea pig: it belongs in a whole new family. See story on EurekAlert and Science Daily.
The BBC News is celebrating another famous mammal specimen that bamboozled the experts 200 years ago when it was first brought to England: the platypus. Some thought it was a joke when they first saw a mammal with a ducks bill and webbed feet.
Update 05/19/2005: a new species of monkey was discovered in Tanzania, reports National Geographic News. It was all the more surprising to find this 3-foot tall mammal, considering that Tanzania is one of the biologically well-known countries in Africa. The new primate is called the highland mangabey and lives in the mountains at elevations up to 8,000 ft.
See also the unexpected discovery of a lungless salamander in Korea (see 05/10/2005 entry). Who knows what other strange animals remain to be discovered in remote parts of the world. Keep your eyes open for that duck-billed mastodon that might be lurking in an alley in San Francisco. Maybe Tom Wellers menagerie of skunkosaurs, wooly turtles and saber-tooth ducks will some day be seen as prophetic, and the Darwinists will marvel at more cases of convergent evolution.Can Gene Duplication Promote Evolution? 05/15/2005
Imagine you had no mouth but needed to eat. A hamburger comes flying at you. When it hits your body, your skin folds around it and pinches off, sealing it inside. Dozens of 3-armed parts form a geodesic dome around it and carry it to the stomach. Once delivered, all the parts are recycled for the incoming freedom fries.
If this sounds bizarre, its kind of what really happens in your cells. Except for specialized channels that accept particular molecules, like water (12/20/2001 and salt (01/17/2002), a cell has no mouth; it is surrounded by a continuous membrane. When large nutrients need to get in, the membrane has acceptors on the outside that signal a cascade of events. The membrane dents inward and envelops the particle. On the inside, proteins called clathrins form a geodesic structure around the incoming vesicle as the membrane pinches off and seals the contents inside. Other proteins and enzymes stand at the ready to deliver the nutrient where needed. This process goes on continually and is called endocytosis. A press release from the University of Queensland says the cell eats its entire skin every 30 minutes.
Progress continues to be made understanding clathrin-mediated endocytosis since our 10/07/2003 entry, but the evolutionary origin of this elegant system seems illusory. UC and Stanford biochemists writing in PNAS1 noted that two forms of clathrin are so different, being coded by different genes, they must have had separate evolutionary histories. They propose this happened during gene duplication events up to 600 million years ago.
Andreas Wagner, however, publishing in Molecular Biology and Evolution,2 casts doubt on that method of evolutionary change:
I here estimate the energy cost of changes in gene expression for several thousand genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. A doubling of gene expression, as it occurs in a gene duplication event, is significantly selected against for all genes for which expression data is available. It carries a median selective disadvantage of s > 10–5, several times greater than the selection coefficient s = 1.47 x 10–7 below which genetic drift dominates a mutants fate. When considered separately, increases in messenger RNA expression or protein expression by more than a factor 2 also have significant energy costs for most genes. This means that the evolution of transcription and translation rates is not an evolutionarily neutral process. They are under active selection opposing them. My estimates are based on genome-scale information of gene expression in the yeast S. cerevisiae as well as information on the energy cost of biosynthesizing amino acids and nucleotides. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Whatever the origin of clathrin, its reputation as a versatile molecule is growing. In the April 28 issue of Nature,3 three Cambridge biologists wondered what it does when endocytosis is halted during cell division. They discovered that clathrin has another essential job:
Clathrin has an established function in the generation of vesicles that transfer membrane and proteins around the cell. The formation of clathrin-coated vesicles occurs continuously in non-dividing cells, but is shut down during mitosis, when clathrin concentrates at the spindle apparatus. Here, we show that clathrin stabilizes fibres of the mitotic spindle to aid congression of chromosomes. Clathrin bound to the spindle directly by the amino-terminal domain of clathrin heavy chain. Depletion of clathrin heavy chain using RNA interference prolonged mitosis; kinetochore fibres were destabilized, leading to defective congression of chromosomes to the metaphase plate and persistent activation of the spindle checkpoint. Normal mitosis was rescued by clathrin triskelia [complete 3-part clathrin proteins] but not the N-terminal domain of clathrin heavy chain, indicating that stabilization of kinetochore fibres was dependent on the unique structure of clathrin.This is not just an incidental task for clathrin to do till cell division is over. The importance of clathrin for normal mitosis, they say, may be relevant to understanding human cancers that involve gene fusions of clathrin heavy chain.
1Wakeham et al., Clathrin heavy and light chain isoforms originated by independent mechanisms of gene duplication during chordate evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0502058102, published online before print May 9, 2005.
2Andreas Wagner, Energy Constraints on the Evolution of Gene Expression, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2005 22(6):1365-1374; doi:10.1093/molbev/msi126.
3Royle et al., Clathrin is required for the function of the mitotic spindle, Nature 434, 1152-1157 (28 April 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03502.
Gene duplication is one of the mechanisms Darwinists invoke when Natural Selection seems inadequate for a job, and they want to make it seem like there are other tricks in the toolkit of Charlie the Magician. The abstract of Wagners paper seems to make it clear that duplication is not going to help. If two tools are fighting each other, like front and rear tires spinning in opposite directions, the vehicle is not going anywhere. Now go back and reread the 10/07/2003 entry about endocytosis and see if you think the Darwin Party has a prayer for explaining it. Be sure to watch Allison Bruces cool video of clathrin making geodesic domes. How many of you would vote for chance and natural selection producing this geometrical marvel? Someone other than a Darwinist, who not only has a prayer but a Recipient, should get a hearing.Heat and Light Emitted in Collisions of Darwin vs ID 05/13/2005
Rhetoric over evolution is increasing in the media largely because of the school board debates in Kansas (see 04/29/2005 entry and previous Education links). The largely pro-Darwin press seems to be giving a little more coverage to the ID side; the anti-Darwin alternative media are getting more bold about asserting their views.
Tyson is a Darwin demagogue who cannot be trusted. Look at the propaganda piece he pulled in the TV series Origins (see 09/29/2004 review), a Saganesque phantasmagoria of evolutionary imagery two-thirds animation and one-third irrelevant data. There, as here in this interchange, he shows himself a bluffing ignoramus about history and biology, more interested in snappy sound bites than truth. He repeats debunked ideas about Copernicus and Galileo, even when confronted about it. Remarkably, he preaches Lamarckian ideas, even when confronted about that, too: he said, Frequent use of organs or appendages, where that use contributes to ones survival until reproductive years, will reinforce the existence and utility of that feature, as continuous variations of that feature get further tuned for survival. Can you trust someone that ignorant about evolutionary theory making TV specials about it? Frequent use or disuse has nothing to do with natural selection; thats basic high school Darwinese. Unless a random mutation brings about some selective advantage, you can use your parts to the ultimate and none of the increased fitness will make it into the progeny. Tyson also is a naive positivist, reiterating the canard that, despite a century and a half of evolutionary frauds, science has built-in error correction that eventually leads to progress. OK, what will he think when science corrects the errors of Darwinism? He also lies about Darwins theory of inheritance: You are mistaken if you believe that Darwins ideas of inheritance were wrong, he chides Bump. What? Pangenesis was out of style as soon as Darwin published it.Stanford Student Debate: Is Intelligent Design Science? 05/13/2005
Michael Behe, author of Darwins Black Box, spoke recently at Stanford. This led two students to publish reviews, one pro and the other con, about intelligent design in the Stanford Review. Tristan Abbey asked, Are Darwinists Chickens? for their reluctance to allow critical scrutiny of their theory. Paul Laddis tried to debunk irreducible complexity in his rebuttal, The Dogmatists New Clothes.
Its good to see students engage the controversy when so many Darwinists dont even want to debate this issue (see 04/29/2005 and 04/27/2005 entries). Paul Laddis, despite his valiant attempt at overcoming irreducible complexity with the co-option argument, fails to mention that there is irreducible complexity everywhere, not just with the bacterial flagellum. Like Scott Minnich emphasizes in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, Darwinists need to address not only the parts that are similar between different structures, but the assembly instructions, which are even more complex. You cannot invoke co-option endlessly; Minnich says, You can only carry that argument so far until you wind up borrowing parts from nothing. Laddis starts with a complex protein: stop right there! Tell us how the complex protein arose, when getting a precise sequence of left-handed amino acids to perform a function is astronomically improbable (see online book). Dont grant a Darwinist any unwarranted boundary conditions (see Get your own dirt on the Humor page).Weird Jellyfish Eyes: Are They Missing Links? 05/13/2005
Missing Link? asks the cover of Nature May 12, next to what looks like an alien head with a giant eye staring out. The article by Nilsson et al.1 suggests that the box jellyfish has optical sensors that could represent primitive eyes that evolved before the more advanced eyes of vertebrates. Most of us dont think of jellyfish with eyes; In the light of the current interest in early eye evolution, they say, the uniquely evolved eyes of box jellyfish have been neglected. But just how primitive are these strange eyes?
Cubozoans, or box jellyfish, differ from all other cnidarians by an active fish-like behaviour and an elaborate sensory apparatus. Each of the four sides of the animal carries a conspicuous sensory club (the rhopalium), which has evolved into a bizarre cluster of different eyes. Two of the eyes on each rhopalium have long been known to resemble eyes of higher animals, but the function and performance of these eyes have remained unknown. Here we show that box-jellyfish lenses contain a finely tuned refractive index gradient producing nearly aberration-free imaging. This demonstrates that even simple animals have been able to evolve the sophisticated visual optics previously known only from a few advanced bilaterian phyla. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Yet these sophisticated eyes do not focus sharply on a retina, they say:
However, the position of the retina does not coincide with the sharp image, leading to very wide and complex receptive fields in individual photoreceptors. We argue that this may be useful in eyes serving a single visual task. The findings indicate that tailoring of complex receptive fields might have been one of the original driving forces in the evolution of animal lenses.The paper claims that these jellyfish figured this out on their own: From the unique crystallin proteins we know that at least the lenses have evolved independently in box jellyfish, they say, noting that Making good lenses seems to be a demanding task, because only few animal phyla have accomplished it. Also, they contain a number of eye-like parts: All major components of a typical camera-type eye are present: a cornea, a lens, a retina, a pigment layer and an iris. The tiny lenses, about a tenth of a millimeter across, are spherically symmetric; yet by means of a variable index of refraction, they are able to form good images. The packing density of the specialized crystallin proteins provides the refractive index gradient. The researchers measured some pretty remarkable optical qualities, but also some aberration:
Tracing rays through the refractive-index gradient of the upper eye reveal nearly perfect focusing for all ray positions (Fig. 2). For such a minute eye it is surprising to find well-corrected, aberration-free imaging, otherwise known only from the much larger eyes of vertebrates and cephalopods. The gradient in the upper-eye lenses comes very close to the ideal solution. The lenses of the lower eye have a less ideal gradient and consequently display some spherical aberration (Fig. 2e, f). It is the homogeneous lens core and steep peripheral gradient that results in positive spherical aberration in the lower eye.Surprisingly, both kinds of eyes are severely under-focused. Is this due to clumsy eye geometry, or could there be a reason for under-focused eyes for a jellyfish?
Another, more likely, interpretation is that the eyes are purposely under-focused to remove high spatial frequencies (fine image details) from the retinal image, much as occurs in insect dorsal ocelli. If the arrangement is indeed a spatial low-pass filter, it would help the animals to detect the large and stationary structures of their visual environment, but would leave unseen the plankton and small particles floating with the current. Assuming that the lens eyes have evolved to allow the jellyfish to remain in nearshore habitats and to avoid swimming into obstacles, a low-pass filtering of image structure would make sense.It is not known how the visual information is processed. The authors suggest that the data is filtered early in the jellyfish eye, not requiring a complex brain:
In box jellyfish we find these large complex receptive fields at the level of photoreceptors, indicating that the eyes might be specialized for a specific task only and that this allows complex filtering of information much earlier than in more general visual systems. The fact that box jellyfish have four different types of eye gives support to the idea that each eye type is highly specialized.So how do box jellyfish fit into the story of eye evolution?
The early evolution of animal visual systems is likely to have started out with eyes that were involved only in single visual tasks. In this perspective it is interesting to note that high visual acuity is not necessarily desirable. The lens eyes of box jellyfish indicate that there might be visual tasks best served by a blurred image. Evolution of sophisticated eyes might therefore be a process with discrete stages representing the sequential addition of visual tasks. Our results also indicate that advanced lenses with graded-index optics might have evolved for tailoring complex receptive fields and not just for improving sensitivity or acuity.Not many science reporters seem to have given this story a glance. Michael Hopkin in News@Nature avoided speculating that these were missing links, titling his review Box jellyfish show a keen eye. Yet New Scientist made evolution its centerpiece: Multi-eyed jellyfish helps with Darwins puzzle, the title states, claiming it represents a possible path from simple to complicated eyes. Given the blurry imaging system of the box jellyfish, the article concludes, From here it would be an easy step to evolve an image-forming eye. Susan Milius, on the other hand, writing for Science News,2 warned against such speculation. Biologists need to be careful in working out the evolutionary implications of the new study, she says, quoting Alan Collins of NOAA. The eyes of box jellyfish, cephalopods such as the octopus, and vertebrates seem to have arisen independently. So, unraveling the evolution of box-jellyfish eyes may not reveal the particular path of eye evolution for other lineages. Her article contains a stunning color picture of the box jellyfish, eyes and all.
1Nilsson et al., Advanced optics in a jellyfish eye, Nature 435, 201-205 (12 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03484.
2Susan Milius, Built for Blurs: Jellyfish have great eyes that cant focus, Science News, Week of May 14, 2005; Vol. 167, No. 20, p. 307.
Oh, how the Darwinists would love to find a sequence of complexity in eyes, to ease Chairman Charlies stomach pains when contemplating the wonderful designs in nature. But this story cant help. The jellyfish eyes appear over-designed for their task (see 06/19/2002 entry). These remarkable optically-near-perfect structures are well adapted to the needs of the organism. Perfect focus would be a drawback for the jellyfish. It would create an image crowded with irrelevant details. Instead, it has a low-pass filter to help it see what it needs to see: large, stationary objects so that it can avoid obstacles and find prey in its habitat. If an animal has a structure that meets its needs and is well designed, is it not a non-sequitur to say it is evolving? Did the Darwinists find a gradual sequence of intermediates leading from primitive eyes to complex eyes? No. Brittlestars (see 08/23/2001), trilobites (09/18/2003) and even sponges (08/20/2003) exhibit optical perfection, yet none of these are on a phylogenetic line evolutionists claim all these things evolved independently (and suddenly, too, considering they burst onto the seen during the Cambrian, without ancestors). So instead of helping Charlie sleep better, this story gives him more indigestion: his tale now needs multiplied miracles of chance and natural selection to keep from falling apart.How Privileged Is Our Planet? 05/13/2005
Several recent news stories touch on the uniqueness of Earth.
1Brooks Hanson, First of Many Returns, (introduction to seven research papers on Titan), Science, Vol 308, Issue 5724, 968 , 13 May 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5724.968].
Nothing in any of the observations suggest life is common on other planets around other stars, but rather the opposite. In the Q&A of the film The Privileged Planet, Guillermo Gonzalez asked how his hypothesis could be tested. If the observations continue to support the connection between habitability and discoverability, he said, it would gain strength, and if not, it would lose credibility. So far its looking pretty good.Honeybee Dance Wins Ovation 05/13/2005
In the 1960s, Karl von Frisch announced the surprising discovery that scout honeybees announce detailed information to their hivemates about food sources with a waggle dance. This information, conveyed via the dances vigor and angle, tells recruit bees what angle to fly relative to the sun, how far to go, and how good the food is. By labeling the bees in the hive that watched the dance and monitoring which recruits showed up at test feeding stations, he made a convincing case for the dance being the mechanism of information transfer. Some, however, were not convinced that the dance conveyed information; they argued that the recruit bees could have just picked up the scent or followed it back. They disputed the dance-information theory because the observers seemed to take longer getting to the food source than expected. Although this Nobel Prize-winning discovery revealed the most sophisticated example of non-primate communication that we know of and won von Frisch a Nobel prize, the waggle-dance theory has been a little controversial all these years because of the lack of a quantitative description of how effectively recruits translate the code in the dance into flight to their destinations.
Now, European researchers publishing in Nature say,1 Using harmonic radar to record the actual flight paths of recruited bees, we now provide that description that confirms von Frischs theory. They attached miniature radar transponders to the recruit bees and were able to monitor their flights with harmonic radar. Sure enough, the recruits made a bee-line to the food source. Delays were caused near the food source as the bees made a series of search flights near the destination; i.e., once in the vicinity, they switched to reliance on visual cues and scent to pinpoint the target. Another experiment released recruits 250m away from the hive where they had watched the dance. Scientists observed the bees fly, not to the food source, but exactly in the direction predicted by the waggle dance. This result adds weight to von Frischs original theory, concludes a press release from the UKs Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and allows alternative hypotheses about bee behaviour to be firmly discounted.
See also the 02/15/2005 entry, Honeybees fly with mental maps and the 05/31/2001 entry, Honeybees measure the scenery, not the mileage. The BBC News also reported on this story.
1Riley et al., The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance, Nature 435, 205-207 (12 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03526.
This confirmation will add satisfaction to your viewing of the Moody Science film that demonstrates von Frischs experiments, a classic named City of the Bees. The segment is also included in the anthology Wonders of Gods Creation. The language of the bees via the dance is a great story, all the more wonderful because it is true: 2-good 2-bee 4-gotten.Your Eyes Do Layered Image Processing 05/12/2005
Computer users familiar with Photoshop and other image processing programs know that an image can be divided into layers for making color corrections, evening out contrast and enhancing details. Your eyes do that, too, says Alan Gilchrist in Current Biology.1 He shows a stunning optical illusion to make the point: transparent chess pieces against differing cloudy backgrounds appear darker in one than the other, even though they are identical (see image and source paper by Anderson and Winawer in Nature.2) Clearly, the brain is interpreting the pieces in relation to their context.
The rods and cones in your eye are not just light collectors that pass on signals direct to the brain. Image processing is done before the brain gets the data (see 05/22/2003 entry). Scientists are narrowing down theories for how this works. Apparently, the rods and cones are not just sharing data with neighboring receptors, nor are they arranged into frameworks like states on a map. The leading theory is that the eye decomposes the image into layers, and uses complex mathematical algorithms to decompose the combined image into its parts, including contrast, brightness, hue, illumination and saturation:
For example, a red book on the dashboard of your car casts a red reflection in the windshield. Through the reflection you perceive distant objects, including green grass, in their normal colors. Light from the green grass and the red reflection physically mix to produce yellow. The yellow is observed when seen through a small hole punched in a piece of cardboard held up so it blocks out the surrounding context. Without the cardboard, however, no yellow is seen, only the red and green layers. The brain is thought to split the yellow light into the red and green layers using rules that invert the usual rules of color mixing. This is called scission.Does the fact that optical illusions can fool us (and fool everybody, systematically) mean that the visual software employed by the brain has bugs? Not necessarily; In principle, the errors could be accounted for by partial failures in the scission process, Gilchrist says; But such efforts to model the errors have not proven very effective. Instead, the brain may combine the layer algorithm with a framework algorithm that is even more complicated. Proponents of both theories are still trying to figure all this out. Both sides are open to an integration of the two approaches, he says. Stay tuned.
1Alan L. Gilchrist, Lightness Perception: Seeing One Color through Another, Current Biology, Vol 15, R330-R332, 10 May 2005.
2Anderson and Winawer, Image segmentation and lightness perception, Nature 34, 79-83 (3 March 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03271.
Stay tuned: that implies we have limited ability to fathom such design. Speaking of staying tuned, our ears do a similar kind of processing. Students of advanced mathematics know that through Fourier Analysis and other techniques, one can separate out the individual contributors to a complex waveform. For instance, your ear hears a hugely complex single waveform when listening to a symphony orchestra, but you are able to discern the individual sounds of the oboe, violin, trumpet, horn, timpani and all the rest.David Attenborough Finds Living Fossil Tree Romantic, Not Devastating 05/12/2005
Englands famous Kew Royal Botanical Gardens is getting a Wollemi Pine, and David Attenborough, naturalist and evolution popularist, is proud of it. This living fossil was thought extinct for 200 million years, but was found alive and well a few years ago in Australia (see 12/15/2000 entry).
Grinning like a kid at Christmas, Attenborough said, How marvellous and exciting that we should have discovered this rare survivor from such an ancient past. It is romantic, I think, that something has survived 200 million years unchanged. See the story at the BBC News. Some day soon you may be able to buy your own Wollemi Pine at the local nursery.
Here is a tree that showed no evolution whatsoever for supposedly 200 million years, while continents broke apart and most of the mammals evolved from small rodents to elephants, whales, giraffes and people, and Attenborough isnt worried that this does some damage to his world view? Bizarre. Logically, he should be questioning whether 200 million years was just a figment of Lyellian imagination. The BBC should be announcing: Wollemi lives; evolution extinct.Self-Replicating Robot: Is It Alive? 05/11/2005
The news media are all excited about a cube-shaped robot that, when stacked in threes, can make a copy of itself. The device, invented by Hod Lipson of Cornell, was illustrated in Nature.1 For a video demonstration, see MSNBC News. The BBC News quotes Lipson claiming that this achievement shows the ability to reproduce is not unique to biology. The machine doesnt perform any other function than reproducing stacks of cubes, provided additional parts are provided in specific feeding locations.
National Geographic News says this impinges on the capabilities of living organisms:
The prevailing view holds that self-replication is an ability that organisms or objects either have in full or lack entirely. But Lipsons team theorizes that self-replication isnt a yes-or-no proposition, but exists at varying degrees.
1Zykov, Lipson et al., Robotics: self-reproducing machines, Nature 435, 163-164 (12 May 2005), doi: 10.1038/435163a.
The gizmo is cute, but is as far from life as a toy from a boy. Its value is a demonstration of intelligent design. Without the cube being built to specifications with an appropriate energy source provided, nothing would happen. Without the lab assistant carefully placing the next cubes in the exact position where the robot could make electrical contacts with them, no replication would take place. If useful nanotechnology comes from these efforts, thats good. If any speculator wants to imagine we are on the way to creating life, he or she has been watching too much Star Trek.Flower Sets Catapult Speed Record 05/11/2005
An American team of two biologists and a physicist found that a common mountain flowering plant holds the plant acceleration record. Reporting in Nature,1 they calculated that the bunchberry dogwood flower propels its pollen at speeds approaching 14 mph when the catapult-like petals explode open, accelerating at 24,000 meters per second squared within 0.3 second. The pollen is thus launched, against air resistance, to 10 times the height of the flower.
Medieval kings waging war could have learned something from these little flowers:
Bunchberry stamens are designed like miniature medieval trebuchets specialized catapults that maximize throwing distance by having the payload (pollen in the anther) attached to the throwing arm (filament) by a hinge or flexible strap (thin vascular strand connecting the anther to the filament tip). This floral trebuchet enables stamens to propel pollen upwards faster than would a simple catapult. After the petals open, the bent filaments unfold, releasing elastic energy. The tip of the filament follows an arc, but the rotation of the anther about the filament tip allows it to accelerate pollen upwards to its maximum vertical speed, and the pollen is released only as it starts to accelerate horizontally. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The bunchberry is incapable of self-pollination, so it needs insects that rapidly move from flower to flower. They figure that the mechanism favors heavy pollinators like bumblebees to release the catapult, and favors either large flying insects or wind pollinators instead of slow-moving insects like ants.
This speed record exceeds the snap of the Venus flytrap, the strike of the mantis shrimp, and even the leap of the froghopper (see 08/01/2003 story).
1Edwards et al., Botany: A record-breaking pollen catapult, Nature 435, 164 (12 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/435164a.
The authors make no mention of how this mechanism evolved, but do use the word design. Presumably, they believe the design preceded the medieval crusades. For organisms rooted to one spot, plants sure have some amazing ways of getting around.Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week 05/10/2005
Jeff Barbour wrote the following in Universe Today in an article entitled, Did Life Arrive Before the Solar System Even Formed?
The theory of panspermia proposes that life really gets around, jumping fron [sic] planet to planet or even from star to star. Life might be everywhere! Assuming this is true, how do single-celled bacteria make the journey through the vacuum of space? Easy, they use chunks of rock as space ships, in a process called lithopanspermia. And now, researchers from Princeton and the University of Michigan think that life carrying rocks might have been right there at the beginning of our solar system, keeping their tiny astronauts safe and sound, frozen in statis until the planets formed and the right conditions let them thaw out, stretch their proteins, and begin a process leading from microbe to mankind. (Emphasis added.)
No comment necessary. He made a fool of himself without our help (see April Fools Day entry).The Monarch Butterflies in the Flight Simulator, II 05/09/2005
How much software can fit in a butterfly brain? Scientists are again amazed at the navigating ability of Monarch butterflies. In the 07/09/2002 entry, we reported about how Canadian researchers used a clever flight simulator to test Monarch butterfly navigation with reference to sun angle. Now, using an enhanced version of the earlier butterfly flight simulator, with controls for wavelength and polarization of light, an international team reporting in Neuron1 found that the ultraviolet component of sunlight is critical for their navigation (see summary on EurekAlert). The small amount of UV light that makes it through Earths shielding atmosphere was also found to connect the butterflys circadian clock to its ability to orient itself. This provides the Monarch with a time-compensated sun compass. With this high-tech navigation gear, a Monarch butterfly can stay on course throughout the day, as the sun angle continuously changes. Another brain network detected by the team might regulate the insects hormonal system, to induce the longevity that enables the butterfly to extend its survival in its overwintering grounds in Mexico. Thats quite a bit of fancy software for a bug brain.
1Sauman et al., Connecting the Navigational Clock to Sun Compass Input in Monarch Butterfly Brain, Neuron, Vol 46, 457-467, 5 May 2005,
Most software has bugs, but who would have thought that bugs have software? The authors did a short phylogenetic analysis of light-sensing genes among butterflies, but otherwise never mentioned evolution. They made no attempt to explain how a time-compensated sun compass, circadian clock, hormonal system and flight navigation hardware and software arose by a Darwinian process. Intelligent human designers of guidance and control systems should stand meekly and humbly before the Monarch butterfly, and much more than they did as kids wonder.Darwinians May Be Their Own Worst Enemy, Says Darwinist 05/06/2005
Evolutionists have only themselves to blame for the rise of anti-Darwinian sentiment, says Michael Ruse in a new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Harvard, 2005). Peter Dizikes reviewed this premise in The Boston Globe. By portraying evolution in overtly atheist terms with religious fervor, certain individuals like Richard Dawkins are creating a backlash, says Ruse. This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record, he said. This is a fight about different worldviews. In his book, Ruse traces the anti-religious polemics of various Darwinists since 1859, who claimed evolution has replaced religion and now answers all the great questions.
Ruse said he expects a backlash from his fellow evolutionists over this book. Some will feel he is giving creationists a platform for claiming evolution is a religion. Eugenie Scott, whose full-time job is keeping creationism and intelligent design out of the public schools, feels things have to be worded very carefully these days. She said, Im a hell of a lot more careful than Michael. I personally prefer not to provide ammunition for the opposition. When creationists latch onto his statements, he responds, What am I supposed to do? Im an academic. I believe in freedom. I believe the most important thing you can do is criticize your own ideas.
If he believes in freedom, he is not a true Darwinist. Freedom does not derive from material substances; on the contrary, it is an endowment from our Creator: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.How Did Salamanders Migrate from North America to Korea? 05/06/2005
Salamanders are not particularly thought of as world travelers. A new species of lungless salamander of the family Plethodontidae has been found in Korea. Almost all previous members were found only in North America. To EurekAlert, reporting on a paper published in Nature,1 this is comparable to discovering pandas in California or kangaroos in Argentina. See also the San Francisco Chronicle article reproduced on the UC Berkeley website.
The new salamander poses a major mystery: How did the tiny lungless amphibians, less than 2 inches long from snout to tail tip, that live on land and breathe through their moist skin, show up in Asia, where all their distant relatives -- who are unknown on any other continent -- live in the water, mate in the water and breathe with their lungs? (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Researcher David B. Wake, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, called this the most exciting and unexpected discovery of my career. Since an enigmatic case had shown up in Sardinia, he suspects more will be found in between. The species was named after discoverer Stephen J. Karsen, who teaches at the Taejon Christian International School in Chungcheongnam. He found it about two years ago while walking with his class in the wooded uplands of South Korea with his students, inviting them to look under rocks.
Salamander expert David Wake said that herpetologists didnt bother looking for such creatures in the far east:
People have gone on expeditions looking for terrestrial salamanders, in places like Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics, said Wake. They didnt bother with northern China or Korea or Japan because we thought we knew everything that was there. And so here (in Korea) they show up, and in the most surprising way, when some guy whos a high school teacher from Illinois goes out with his class and says, Lets look for salamanders, lets see what we can find when we turn over rocks and logs.Wake calls this the most stunning discovery in his lifetime. Its so utterly unexpected, so completely unexpected. See also the story on Science Daily. A press release at Southern Illinois University tells a little about Stephen Karsen and how he wound up looking for Korean salamanders. The professor at Southern Illinois U that Karsen notified of the find is glad he is getting credit for the discovery, because humility is a virtue, so Im sure Steves shrugging off the fame.
1Min, Wake et al., Discovery of the first Asian plethodontid salamander, Nature 435, 87-90 (5 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03474.
Major discoveries can still be made by laymen, even Christian laymen (perhaps better, especially Christian laymen, who believe God created everything, so everything under the sun is worth investigating). All that is needed is a willingness to challenge orthodoxy and look where the experts say things cannot be found. Ones worldview affects where one hunts for data. If you think, There are no lungless salamanders in Asia because they evolved in North America, you arent going to waste time looking under rocks in Korea. Congratulations to Stephen Karsen for illustrating this point. May he encourage all of us to be observant and to challenge the gospel of scientific experts.World Press Eyes Kansas Evolution Battle 05/05/2005
The Un-Scopes trial of the decade is underway in Kansas, and the world press is watching. Unlike the 1925 Scopes trial, this time evolution is the leader and intelligent design is the contender: actually, not even that the leaders of the ID movement are not asking for ID to be taught, but only for criticisms of Darwinism to be permitted in the classroom. With a majority on the board favoring changes to the science standards that would allow a teach the controversy approach, the Darwinians are on edge about a near-certain defeat. They are boycotting the hearings which resemble a court trial with lawyers for and against.
Here are some of the stories in the news so far. Stay tuned for the outcome of this debate that will probably influence the positions of other state school boards.
Things are shaping up for a battle of wits, facts and propaganda to engage the national attention. Best be well armed: get out that Baloney Detector and recharge the batteries. Notice what is not said as much as what is said. Try to look long and hard for the Darwinists to answer the claims about fossils and molecular machines not with bluffing and redefinition of science, but with real, hard evidence. It looks like theyre not up to it, so they are going to stick to their tactic of scaring citizens with the big lie that anything other than 100% pure Darwinism is bad for the economy (see 04/21/2005 and 04/29/2005 stories). Dont believe it. Families will probably flock to a state that doesnt cram Darwin down their childrens intelligently designed throats, and will bring their dollars with them. Industry wants young people with analytical thinking skills, they say? Good: teach them to analyze the controversy over Darwin. ID arguments are faith-based they say? No faith is as diehard as Charlie worship (see 04/30/2005 commentary).Toothy Dinosaur Goes Vegan 05/04/2005
The news media all pounced on a dinosaur fossil discovery reported in Nature this week.1 Dinosaur finds are ever popular, and reporters especially like it when an artists rendition is available. Some outlets reporting the discovery of Falcarius utahensis, a previously unknown species in the process of converting to vegetarianism from a rather more bloodthirsty diet, included BBC News, National Geographic, News@Nature, MSNBC, CNN, Science Now and Science Daily.
The news media echoed the theme that this fossil represented a dinosaur missing link that was evolving from carnivory to herbivory. What did the scientists actually report? First of all, the new species was found in a fossil graveyard in Utah. Second, it is the most complete of this class of dinosaurs, heretofore poorly represented with fragmentary characters, and is the first one found in North America (the best other representatives are from China). Third, according to their dating method and phylogenetic analysis, this species documents the earliest known stage in the poorly understood transition from carnivory to herbivory within Therizinosauroidea (emphasis added in all quotes.) The diet story is based on these findings announced by the discoverers:
Therizinosaurs are here proposed as shifting their dietary habit from predation to herbivory on the basis of the development of a number of features that seem convergent with clades of other herbivorous dinosaurs. The most significant of these features include small, leaf-shaped teeth, an edentulous beak, posterior displacement of the pubis and lateral expansion of the pelvis associated with greatly increased intestinal volume, and shortening of the tibia relative to the femur and an increased number of weight-supporting pedal digitsthe latter two being specific reversals of the cursorial condition. Falcarius demonstrates the mosaic nature of this evolutionary transition, indicating that the dentition and pelvis were among the first hard-tissue structures to undergo modification. These changes probably coincided with modifications in food acquisition and digestion during the early stages of therizinosauroid evolution. Moreover, similarities between the dentition of the basal therizinosaur Falcarius and the basal oviraptorosaur Incisivosaurus, in combination with their proposed sister relationship (Fig. 3), raises the possibility that the common ancestor of these clades had already undertaken the initial steps in this transition.The fossils of 10 individuals were found in a densely-packed bone bed about one meter thick and 8,000 meters in extent, with bone densities in some areas exceeding 100 elements per cubic metre. Judging from extent of the bed, perhaps hundreds of disarticulated individuals remain interred, they say, with 99% of them this one species and traces of an unknown ankylosaur.
The team used a computerized parsimony analysis to reconstruct the phylogeny of this species, but it left questions about the relationship with the Chinese sister group Eshanosaurs:
Falcarius casts further doubt on the affinities of Eshanosaurus by increasing its stratigraphic and phylogenetic inconsistency. Given the discovery of North American members of the therizinosauroid clade, together with the poor record of Middle Cretaceous dinosaurs, it seems that the generally accepted hypothesis of an Asian origin and radiation for Therizinosauroidea requires additional testing.
1Kirkland et al., A primitive therizinosauroid dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Utah, Nature 435, 84-87 (5 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03468.
Researchers like details and big words, but the news media like slang and humor. Researchers speak in tentative and reserved language, but news media like certainty. The scientists here proposed an interpretation that these species, despite the poor fit within a generally accepted hypothesis and uncertain dating, that Falcarius was undergoing a dietary change, even though (1) the number of simultaneous morphological adaptations needed would be considerable, difficult to account for by chance mutations and natural selection, and (2) they had to invoke the multiply-improbable concept of convergent evolution to link these changes to those going on in other species. These problems notwithstanding, perhaps the shape of teeth and pelvis suggested that these dinosaurs were in the midst of a transition from meat-eating to plant-eating. Thats all the news media needed: a picture and a sound bite: Fossil-hunters working in the dusty Utah desert have caught a dinosaur in the act of going vegetarian. *Sigh*. Who do they think we are children, who cant handle the solid meat of data, and who cannot discern interpretations from evidence? These dinosaurs were not sitting around experimenting on lettuce for dessert after their usual steak. Get real; the herd was living within their well-adapted niche, when a flood suddenly came and buried them all.Weeds Hold Promise for Miracle Drugs 05/03/2005
Wed like weeds if we knew them better, says John Roach for National Geographic News, especially if we realized they may contain wonder drugs. Its often said that plants hidden in the tangle of the Amazonian rain forest may harbor an undiscovered cancer cure, he writes; John Richard Stepp thinks the same can be said for the worlds weeds. Stepp, an ethnobiologist from U. of Florida, is combing the worlds small herbaceous plants for healthy ingredients. He also goes bio-prospecting among native peoples to see what plants they use for salves, ointments, and medicines. Usually far from doctors, many rely on natural remedies.
Weeds are full of bioactive compounds. These are chemicals that weeds have evolved over thousands of years to compete against other plants and to prevent predators, such as insects, from munching their leaves.There are about 8,000 plants worldwide classified as weeds small non-woody plants that thrive in disturbed areas. Stepp says it makes more economic sense to look for health-promoting chemicals at our feet than trying to make them from scratch.
This is an update on a story reported on 06/04/2004. We hope Stepp is making progress finding that cure for cancer in your lawn.Missing Link Fish Story 05/03/2005
Once upon a time, 450 million years ago, scavenger fish without teeth or bones roamed the shallow icy waters of Africa which was undergoing an Ice Age. Slowly, over millions of years, they gained teeth and other structures characteristic of more advanced fish. Then, a few thousand years ago, a lake in the (now continental Africa) dried up, and its cichlid-fish inhabitants underwent an explosive burst of speciation.
Thats the gist of two stories, one from BBC News and one from National Geographic. The fossil fish story in BBC News emphasizes the claim that this is a missing link three times. Professor Richard Aldridge (U. of Leicester) is quoted as saying:
The fossil record confirms that the evolution of fish was a step-wise event, explained Professor Aldridge.One problem is noted: These fossils are important because there is a theory that the origins of fish really took place in the northern continents, and then spread south, he said. This find [from Southern Africa] dispels that theory. How fish got to China 80 million years earlier he does not explain.
The cichlid fish inhabiting east African lakes today are another matter. In just a few thousand years, according to National Geographic, these freshwater fish have evolved an astonishing array of forms in Africa. The high rates of speciation among these fish is almost beyond belief, yielding up to 400 species. Evolution apparently has a variable speed control. The discovery should provide valuable new insights into the march of evolution, which, in the case of cichlids, seems to favor the fast-forward button.
If evolution had a fast-forward button, it would be an intelligently designed machine. These two articles illustrate the extreme flexibility of evolutionary logic, where any data point, no matter how anomalous, can be fit into the tall tale somehow. Contradictions, rather than being disturbing, make the plot thicker and more interesting. Somehow, in an early world with a plethora of unfilled ecological niches, fish took their time evolving over tens of millions of years. Then in a relatively small lake habitat on one continent, Tinkerbell hit the fast-forward button and generated hundreds of species of fish in a geological instant. Evolution marches on.