Creation-Evolution Headlines
April 2006
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“Darwinists sometimes claim that their theory helps us to understand which animals are most closely related... on the basis of their genetic and biochemical similarities.  But this is just comparative biology at the level of genes and proteins.  Linnaeus did comparative biology, yet he was a creationist who lived a century before Darwin; Owen and Agassiz did comparative biology, yet they rejected Darwin’s theory.”
—Jonathan Wells, in an upcoming book (see Evolution News).
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Insects Lead the Way   04/28/2006    
Why engineer things from scratch, when we can imitate nature?  Two recent examples come from the world of insects.  A press release from UC Berkeley begins, “Using the eyes of insects such as dragonflies and houseflies as models, a team of bioengineers at University of California, Berkeley, has created a series of artificial compound eyes.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)  Insect eyes use thousands of facets to get a wide field of view without distortion.  How can humans use this technology?  “Potential applications include surveillance; high-speed motion detection; environmental sensing; medical procedures, such as endoscopies and image-guided surgeries, that require cameras; and a number of clinical treatments that can be controlled by implanted light delivery devices.”  Anyone who has missed swatting a fly knows that the insects have these first three applications down pat.  The authors published their work in Science this week.1
    Human committees have a hard time arriving at a consensus about what is the best solution to a problem.  Maybe they should learn from bees.  Ten thousand of them swarming chaotically somehow converge quickly on a solution to the problem of the best location for a new hive.  A press release from Cornell University says that “they have a unique method of deciding which site is right: With great efficiency they narrow down the options and minimize bad decisions.”  How?  By coalition building till a quorum develops, the article explains.  The scientists found that bees use their famous “waggle dance” not only when shopping for food, but when scouting for real estate.  The researchers watched 4,000 scouts report back to the hive from various directions.  The superior site usually was not the first one chosen.  In a 16-hour process, the swarm came to agreement and found the best solution.  “This is a striking example of decision making by an animal group that is complicated enough to rival the dealings of any department committee,”  said Thomas Seeley, Cornell biologist.  What can managers take home from this nature lesson?  Include an open forum of ideas, and employ frank discussions and friendly competition.  This quorum-setting method of aggregating independent opinions might help “achieve collective intelligence and thus avoid collective folly.”
1Jeong et al., “Biologically Inspired Artificial Compound Eyes,” Science, 28 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5773, pp. 557 - 561, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123053.
Funny, honey; none of these articles mentioned evolution, but they seemed to have no problem using the word design.
Next headline on: Intelligent DesignTerrestrial ZoologyBiomimeticsAmazing Stories
Non-Coding DNA Has “Far More Complexity Than Was Imagined”    04/27/2006  
The concept of “junk DNA” appears to be fading away.  “A mathematical analysis of the human genome suggests that so-called ‘junk DNA’ might not be so useless after all,” reported Paul Rincon for the BBC News.  The photo caption reads, “The genome may possess far more complexity than was imagined.”
    A team from IBM found motifs involved in regulation of the genes.  These showed a relationship between functional areas of the genes and those not previously considered functional.  Certain structures, called pyknons, are apparently involved as RNA silencers that turn genes off or on in complex ways, even after a gene has been translated.  More detail and an illustration is provided at the IBM Research press release.
    “These regions may indeed contain structure that we haven’t seen before,” said Dr. Isodore Rigoutsos.“  “If indeed one of them corresponds to an active element that is involved in some kind of process, then the extent of cell process regulation that actually takes place is way beyond anything we have seen in the last decade.”  The paper by Rigoutsos et al. was published in PNAS.1
1Rigoutsos et al., “Short blocks from the noncoding parts of the human genome have instances within nearly all known genes and relate to biological processes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print April 24, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0601688103.
Geneticists would have been way ahead of the curve if they had listened to IBM instead of Dawkins.  “The average lab does not have the resources to prove or disprove this, so it will need a lot of effort by lots of people,” said Dr. Rigoutsos.  Not only are Information Technology (IT) people better suited to understanding codes, they might even benefit from imitating nature’s programming tricks.  Life’s code works, doesn’t it?  Look at a bird, or a butterfly, or a human baby.  Most of the time the right parts come out in the right places, generation after generation, for thousands of years.
    Dr. Stephen Meyer used this point to good effect in a debate with evolutionist Peter Ward in Seattle yesterday.  “Meyer countered that neo-Darwinian evolution had been heuristically unfruitful in leading science to think that non-encoding DNA was simply ‘junk’,” an eyewitness said.  “Meyer insisted that design assumptions more readily led one to conclude there was purpose in such ‘junk DNA.’”  Read all about this debate on Evolution News.
Next headline on:  GeneticsIntelligent Design
Hominid Claim Is More Philosophy Than Fossils   04/27/2006    
Two weeks ago, the media had a feeding frenzy over Tim White’s claim that his team found bones in Ethiopia from three hominid species lined up in a vertical row, showing a clear progression toward humans.  Now, the fine print has come out.  A review in Nature1 begins, “Deciding whether our ancestors evolved as a single lineage may depend more on philosophy than fossils” (emphasis added in all quotes).
    Rex Dalton wrote some juicy lines in his article that creationists will love, and evolutionists will insist are taken out of context (because evolution is a fact).  You be the judge:
  • The team suggests three species evolved as a single lineage between at least 4.4 million years ago and 2.9 million years ago – an era when humankind refined its ability to walk upright while developing new ways to live (see timeline below).
        The idea is one of the most contentious in palaeoanthropology.  The fossil trove, reported earlier this month (T. D. White et al. Nature 440, 883-889; 2006) has confirmed [sic] some important aspects of the trail towards the genus Homo, which appeared around 2.3 million years ago [sic].  But experts are still bickering over the relationship between the species that have been found.
  • Experts have squabbled over the relationship between Ar. ramidus, Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis ever since they were discovered.
  • This month’s Nature paper makes a bold argument, and shows the Awash team seeking to put its mark on the record.  Others in the field are impressed.  “When you find 30 new hominid fossils, you are allowed a certain amount of conjecture,” says Bernard Wood, a palaeoanthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC.  “As always, they have done a fantastic job.”
        But he and others are unconvinced by the Awash team’s conclusion: “This is only the first half of the rugby match,” says Wood.
  • Meave Leakey, lead author on the Au. anamensis discoveries in Kenya, is more blunt.  “I don’t believe this,” she says.  “We do not have the specimens to fill the gaps.
  • The existence of other species would cloud or eliminate the argument for a direct lineage.  “My prejudice is there are more lineages rather than fewer – more diversity,“ says Wood.  “I have to concede these new data are dramatic.  But we should beware coming out with a complete explanation when we don’t have all the evidence.
  • This argument frustrates White.  “There were Martians there back then too,” he says.  “And spacecraft all over the Pliocene – we just haven’t found them yet.”
  • Similar arguments run for various phases of hominid evolution, for example whether Homo ergaster evolved into H. erectus, or whether they were two coexisting lineages – White advocates the former.  But ultimately, the argument comes down to the point that more fossils could always be found, so it is unclear that the two sides will ever agree.
One of Dalton’s subtitles is, “Theory of Relativity.”  The context is the lineage of these fossils, but the subtext is the differing interpretations about their relevance to the human story.  Everyone in this rugby match, however, can agree on one thing.  The Ethiopian National Museum, which has the new fossils, is a nice place for the stadium.  Dalton ends, “This strengthens the museum as an ideal centre to study human evolution.”

1Rex Dalton, “Feel it in your bones,” Nature 440, 1100-1101 (27 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/4401100a.
Didn’t we foretell this?  Go back to April 12 when all the news media were slain in the spirit over White’s holey relics.  We warned that “the field of evolutionary paleoanthropology is filled with rivalry, contradiction, deception, exaggeration and outright fraud.”  Notice that Dalton’s depiction of rivalry applies not just to this case, but to “various phases of hominid evolution” – indeed, all of them.
    We also said, “Too bad the news media are all dupes; they think this is science instead of mud wrestling.”  Our only mistake was getting the sport wrong.  We should have known that rugby is more bloody.
Next headline on: Early Man
Unconstant Constant Could Challenge Basic Physics   04/27/2006    
“Shifting constant could shake laws of nature,” said Mark Peplow in Nature.1  “From the speed of light to the charge on an electron, the fundamental constants of physics had been assumed to be immutable,” he continued.  “But that comfortable assumption is being challenged.”  The latest challenge is ratio of the mass of a proton to the mass of an electron (1,836); some Netherlands scientists who compared light from distant quasars with ultra-precise lab data claim it is decreasing.  The estimated decrease is small – just 20 parts per million over 12 billion years – but if accepted, could produce new ideas on how the universe is put together.  “Such an effect is not explained by anything in physicists’ standard model of particle physics,” Peplow said.  This story also made news of the week in Science magazine.2
1Mark Peplow, “Shifting constant could shake laws of nature,” Nature 440, 1094-1095 (27 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/4401094a.
2Adrian Cho, “Skewed Starlight Suggests Particle Masses Changed Over Eons,” Science, 21 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5772, p. 348, DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5772.348
CEH leaves this controversy for others to debate, but mentions it for those interested in “shaking the pillars to make sure they’re rigid” (or not) as Andy Fabian (U of Cambridge) is quoted as saying in the article.  Sometimes the most confident things in science become less confident as more knowledge is gained.  If we are not sure about constants of physics, how much less so for shaky, slippery things like evolutionary theory?
Next headline on: CosmologyPhysics
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Astrobiology Takes on I.D.    04/26/2006  
The Center for Astrobiology at the University of Boulder is hosting a symposium today entitled, “Fossils and Genes: Exploring the Evolution of Life.”  Douglas Futuyma (State University of New York) calls Evolution the “most important theory in biology.”  By his own admission, though, it is a theory filled with paradoxes:
Evolution is both a fact and a theory: the most comprehensive explanation of the features and diversity of living things.  It is the most important theory in biology, yet is surrounded by paradoxes.  Despite the simplicity of its central concepts, evolution has a long history of misunderstandings.  Despite its lack of moral or prescriptive content, evolution has been used to justify social policies that range from the admirable to the appalling.  Despite the increasingly important role evolutionary principles and knowledge play in human biology, evolution is rejected by more than half the American public.  Of all the biological disciplines, evolutionary biology has the most far-reaching philosophical implications and the most diverse applications to society.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
He is joined by Warren Allmon (Cornell), speaking on “Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Uneven Search for a Consistent World View.” 
Darwin succeeded where others before him had failed in part because he offered the first truly scientific (i.e., purely materialistic and therefore testable) theory to explain the history of life.  He permanently changed the terms on which theories in biology would be acceptable as science.  Yet few of Darwin’s contemporaries or those who followed truly internalized Darwinism into a coherent and consistent world viewMaterialistic science is vastly more important to modern society than it was in Darwin’s time, yet scientists and non-scientists alike still struggle to fully reconcile materialistic science with their personal and social search for meaning in life.  On the one hand, proponents of intelligent design have declared their intention to overthrow “materialism and its cultural legacies”, which presumably would include not just Darwinism but also everything from agriculture to modern medicine [sic].  On the other, many mainstream scientists – both those who claim to be religious and those who do not – have attempted to reconcile their scientific pursuits with their non-scientific personal philosophies.  Can one simultaneously hold two mutually exclusive philosophies of reality – one materialistic and the other not?  If so, how?  And does doing so make one intellectually dishonest?  Is it possible to construct a logically consistent world view that fully accommodates meaningful religious belief with materialistic science?
Sounds like Allmon has quite a challenge before him – and so does Futuyma.
Notice several flaws, contradictions, and admissions in these abstracts.
  • Charlie Worship:  It is always Big D that is the figurehead of everything wonderful in science. 
  • Charlie Science:  Notice that Darwin was responsible for redefining science as materialism.  Before Darwin, creationism and design thinking was common and produced no conflict, but Darwin “permanently changed the terms on which theories in biology would be acceptable as science.”  Changing the terms of acceptability is not a matter of science, but a matter of philosophy about science.
  • Charlie Morals:  Darwinism knows no morals (as Futuyma admits), so it is illogical for him to find anything “admirable or appalling,” or for Allmon to talk about intellectual honesty and meaning.
  • Charlie Truth:  Futuyma and Allmon just shot themselves in the foot (see self-refuting fallacy).  As materialists, they pulled the rug out from under any validity to concepts of truth, while referring to “philosophies of reality.”
  • Charlie Logic:  Allmon asserted that attacks on evolution are attacks on agriculture and modern medicine (see non-sequitur).  Those disciplines were doing just fine before Charlie came along.
  • Charlie Control:  This Astrobiology symposium was only open to evolutionists.  This shows you not only which bed Astrobiology sleeps in, but how evolutionists rig the game to ridicule their opponents while keeping them out of hearing range.
  • Charlie Leadership:  If less than half the population accepts Darwinism, Futuyma should seriously consider the proposition that it would be good for him to get religion, because that apparently confers better fitness.  This would be a win-win situation.  Religion would lose an enemy, and he would necessarily undermine the fitness principle of Darwinism itself – thus burning the bridge behind him.  As a bonus, he might even win Pascal’s Wager.
The only question left is which of the two quotes is winner of the SEQOTW prize, or whether it’s a draw.
Next headline on:  Intelligent DesignDarwinismDumb Ideas
UNESCO To Rebuild Mystery Babylon   04/26/2006    
The United Nations has plans to make ancient Babylon a tourist attraction.  This International Herald Tribune article will be of interest to Biblical historians.
...and maybe to prophecy buffs.
Next headline on: Bible and Theology
Sea Monster Found Under Davy Yone’s Locker   04/25/2006    
The deepest dinosaur bone ever found, a part of a Plateosaurus, has been found by Norwegians 1.4 miles under the North Sea floor.  This sets a new depth record for a dinosaur fossil.  According to LiveScience, “Researchers said it’s quite possible there are many more fossils down there.”  More on National Geographic News, News@Nature and the BBC.
A four-ton land rover buried in sediment a mile and a half under the seabed – think about it.  Does this sound like the setting described in the article: “dry plains with rivers running through them”?  If the dinosaur lived in that environment, what happened?  Meanwhile, they should look for more down there.  What if the dinosaur fossils we find on the surface represent a tiny fraction of bones buried deep under the sea, all over the world?
Next headline on: DinosaursFossilsMarine Life
Walking Snake Bites the Dust   04/24/2006    
It must be missing link season.  MSNBC News announced a snake with rudimentary legs.  While exciting for evolutionary theory, it raises questions, too.  Snakes were supposed to have evolved in the water, not on land.
Check out what Ken Ham said on Answers in Genesis about this latest salvo.  If the snake had legs, does the evolutionary claim have any?
Next headline on: FossilsTerrestrial ZoologyEvolution
Paper View:  Cambrian Explosion Damage Control   04/23/2006    
Like some federal official holding a press conference after a disaster, a Harvard paleontologist has tackled the unenviable job of explaining what Darwin called the most severe challenge that could be levied against his theory: the fossil record.  The challenge starts with a bang.  Right near the beginning, virtually all animal phyla appear abruptly without ancestors: the so-called Cambrian explosion.  An evolutionist, devoted to a theory expecting to find slow and gradual change, has no small challenge explaining this event.  It’s made all the more difficult by critics of evolutionary theory, like angry reporters asking tough questions, pointing out what the Darwin administration said vs. what the cameras show.  This is no job for a junior spin doctor.
    Dr. Charles R. Marshall has the credentials to be a good press secretary: Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Department of Invertebrate Paleontology, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.  Writing in the May issue of the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences,1 he gives what amounts to a State of the Cambrian Explosion address.  Will he be the man of the hour, the master of disaster?
    Many in the audience have not been happy with the Darwin administration.  As evidence of the need for regime change, they point to the failure to explain the sudden appearance of virtually all animal body plans in the Cambrian, the lowest layers of fossil-bearing strata.  Duane Gish and Henry Morris pounded evolutionists on this point in their decades of debates.  It was the subject of Stephen Meyer’s notorious exposè (09/24/2004) that made the Darwin administration look like censors.  It was one of the Icons of Evolution defaced by Jonathan Wells.  From the earliest criticisms of Darwin’s book to the cover of Time magazine in recent years, “Biology’s Big Bang” has been one of evolutionary theory’s biggest embarrassments.
    Enquiring minds want to know; can Darwinian scientists deal with this?  Aware of the opposition (as he must be), will Marshall describe the problem honestly and accurately?  Will his presentation confirm the viability of the ruling party’s program?  Will the applause be hearty or tepid?  Stepping up to the journal podium, he begins his paper:
The Cambrian “explosion,” or radiation, is perhaps the most significant evolutionary transition seen in the fossil record.  Essentially all of the readily fossilizable animal body plans first appear in the fossil record during this interval (Valentine 2002).  We move from the depths of the Precambrian world, where the sedimentary record is essentially devoid of animal fossils, to the Phanerozoic, where animal life leaves pervasive evidence of its existence, both as body fossils and as disturbers of the sediment.
    Numerous explanations for the Cambrian “explosion” have been posited (note here that I am not considering here in any detail explanations for the precursor to the Cambrian “explosion,” the Ediacaran radiation).  Classification of this rich panoply of explanations is somewhat arbitrary but typically explanations center on one of the following factors: (a) changes in the abiotic environment, (b) changes in the genetic or developmental capacity of the taxa involved, or (c) changes in the biotic environment, i.e., in ecology.  All of these factors must have played a role, but how important was each?  To what extent did the Cambrian “explosion” flow from an interaction between them?  How might we develop a conceptual framework for understanding that interaction?  Developing a coherent explanation for the Cambrian “explosion” faces several challenges....
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
And thus he dives right in.  One notices right off the bat his habit of putting “explosion” in quotes.  This is “because, while the Cambrian radiation occurred quickly compared with the time between the Cambrian and the present, it still extended over some 20 million years of the earliest Cambrian, or longer if you add in the last 30 million years of the Ediacaran and the entire 55 million year duration of the Cambrian.”  This attempt to downplay the seriousness of the damage would surely elicit some boos from the gallery.  One of Marshall’s authorities, Dr. James Valentine, whom Marshall admits did a “masterly treatment of the origin of phyla” (see 07/29/2004) said it was 10 million years, or maybe even 5 million, when interviewed for the film Icons of Evolution.2  But even given the widest latitude of time, Marshall’s own diagram in the paper shows new phyla appearing abruptly without ancestors at various points within the timeline.  Trilobites, for instance, show up at about 525 million years, and no pre-trilobites have ever been found.
    Marshall provides some background and a timeline of the Cambrian radiation (as it is also called).  He delves into the Precambrian looking for ancestors.  He discusses the strange Ediacaran creatures (see 08/19/2004); no one is sure, however, if these are even animals, and even if they were, they seem to have gone extinct before the explosion, without having any relationship to the complex animals that followed.  Marshall portrays a sequence (but not necessarily a phylogeny) of the explosion in slo-mo.  Traces in the rock, first 2-dimensional then 3-dimensional, appear right before the Cambrian boundary.  Next, some small shelly things appear which might be either new animals or broken bits of molluscs and brachiopods.  Then, boom: “large, morphologically diverse taxa.”  These include the trilobites and echinoderms, and all the wondrously diverse organisms found in the Chengjiang biota of China.  By the time of the Burgess Shale formation (Canada), less than 10 million years later, the “Cambrian explosion is all but spent.”  (He forgot to add the quotes that time).  We’ll abbreviate it CE from here on.
    Can we trust the fossil record, though?  Could the CE just be a selection effect, an artifact of what animals happened to get fossilized?  He seems to agree with Valentine and colleagues (1991) who, in “the only quantitative treatment of the suddenness of the Cambrian ‘explosion,’ conclude that the suddenness of the adaptive radiation is real, even when the incompleteness of the fossil and rock records is taken into account.”  But he speculates that “it is likely that evolutionary lineages have their origins in rocks older than their first observed occurrences in the fossil record.”  The only evidence he offers is that “attempts to use molecular clocks to estimate the time of origin of the animal phyla” (what he calls a “subtle and difficult art” because different clades may “evolve at different rates”) have led to “much larger estimates of the incompleteness of the fossil record” (see 04/20/2004).  Strangely, he brings these two conflicting data sets into accord – without evidence: first, by asserting “the fact that the divergence times of lineages (which molecular clocks estimate) may significantly predate the time of emergence of diagnosable morphologies (which the fossil record estimates),” and second, by stating flatly that “all agree that the phyla have at least some Precambrian history.”  Both these assertions assume evolution.
    To set up the problem of the Cambrian “explosion” (quote marks or not), Marshall outlines the aspects that need explaining:
There are five major components of the Cambrian “explosion” that need to be explained: (a) the spectacular increase in animal disparity, (b) the rise in animal diversity,3 (c) why the time of onset of the explosion was some 543–542 mya, (d) why the duration of the explosion was some tens of million years long, and (e) why the event appears unique.
    There are also two problems that emerge once we begin to examine the fossil record in some detail: (f) Where are the (largely) missing fossils of the bilaterian stem-groups, and (g) What are the phylogenetic affinities of the Ediacaran biota?
Marshall mentions that the CE is not the only spectacular radiation in the record.  He mentions the large increases in diversity in the Ordovician, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic; “there are many other major events in the history of animal life other than the Cambrian ‘explosion,” he reminds the reader.  The unique thing about the CE is that all the later radiations are variations on body plans already established in the Cambrian.  (It is also puzzling why he would point to more explosions to help explain this one.)
    The remainder of Marshall’s paper can be divided roughly into two parts.  The first examines all the proposed explanations for the CE, including their relative strengths in explaining all seven aspects listed above.  These he shows to be inadequate.  The second part gives his own personal explanation.  We now summarize part one: here is why, in his opinion, the other explanations fail in one way or another (although, he suggests, each might contribute partial explanations):
  1. Environmental Explanations:  These look for geological or atmospheric changes that created environments suitable for change.  He says, “There has been a resurgence in this class of explanation, partly owing to increased interest in the Cambrian ‘explosion’ within the wider geoscience community.”  (Who, in particular is interested, and why, is not detailed.)
    1. Increased oxygen?  Were oxygen levels too low for large animals?  Probably not.  Some Ediacarans were large.  Hard to test: we don’t know the minimum oxygen requirements of the first animals, and we don’t know how much oxygen there was.
    2. Snowball Earth?  Did biology’s big bang after the Earth emerged from a deep freeze?  Unlikely; too early.  More importantly, “It is also hard to see how a major environmental catastrophe could have lead [sic] to fundamentally new levels of developmental and morphological organization.
    3. Carbon shock?  Maybe the Earth underwent some catastrophe at the time, as suggested by carbon isotope anomalies found at the beginning of the Cambrian.  Some compare this with the presumed extinction of the dinosaurs, followed by the rapid radiation of mammals.  Marshall does not feel this comparison is appropriate.  Both dinosaurs and mammals were vertebrates.  The CE, by contrast, saw “a dramatic increase in both disparity and diversity.”  Worse, even though “We have much to understand” about such things, this suffers from the same objection: “it is hard to see how a simple (even if large) environmental disturbance can lead to an increase in disparity.”
    4. Continental shakeup?  Maybe polar wanderings of continents caused “methane burps” that altered Earth’s temperature.  Same flaw: “No explanation is offered as to why an increase in diversity, per se, should have led to new levels of disparity.”  He tries not to be too hard on these suggestions.  “This remains an intriguing hypothesis,” he grants.
    In summary, each of these sets the table but doesn’t invite the guests.  “While it is clear that the environment needs to have been conducive to the evolution of large animals for the Cambrian ‘explosion’ to proceed,” he explains, “none of the environmental explanations address why an environment permissive of complex animal life should necessarily lead to the evolution of complex animal life, and especially why we should see a shift from diploblastic-grade organisms to complex triploblasts.”4
  2. Developmental Explanations:  These look for developmental or genetic reasons for the sudden onset of evolutionary innovation.  Marshall mentions a key point: “Animals cannot evolve if the genes for making them are not yet in place.”
    1. Bilateral Development?  While the discovery of Hox genes began a “revolution in our understanding of the genetic basis of morphological form,” Marshall admits we still “understand little of how and when the system originated,” but perhaps gene duplication was involved.  But here he uses his first exclamation point.  Noting that all animal groups share the same developmental program, we can make inferences about their common origins: “While we only have detailed genetic data from a very few species (the so-called model systems), the last common ancestor of these species also happens to be the last common ancestor of all the bilaterian phyla!” he announces triumphantly.  This allows us “to make quite powerful inferences about the genetic capacities of animals that lived at the Precambrian/Cambrian transition.”  Disparate animals may look as different as apples and oranges on the outside, but are “genetically comparable” on the inside.  Maybe these developmental programs originated even farther back in time.  Time for a reality check:
      However, the significance of the presence of these shared genes is still an open question (Erwin & Davidson 2002).  Does the presence of the tinman/NK2.5 gene in the last common ancestor of the bilaterians indicate the presence of a heart and circulatory system in that ancestor, or does the gene simply mark a special type of muscle that was later and independently co-opted to initiate the development of fully developed circulatory systems in different lineages (Erwin & Davidson 2002)?  If the latter view is correct then there must have been considerable developmental sophistication on route from the last common ancestor of the bilaterians to the living phyla.
    2. Code Shuffling?  Since genes are combinatorial, like Lego blocks, maybe complexity can arise as an “emergent property” (i.e., an unforeseen level of complexity independent of the building blocks).  He refers to Stephen Wolfram, who wrote about this controversial idea in A New Kind of Science (08/18/2003).  More on this later.
    3. Entrenchment?  This is the “appealing idea” that the first members of a clade are the most plastic, but later on, they become entrenched (canalized) and resistant to change (11/02/2005, 06/25/2002)    Marshall does not think this idea is a winner, either; he thinks it more plausible that “ecological/functional constraints, not entrenchment” led to the fossil patterns seen.
    Like the environmental explanations, this class also comes up short of the dynamite needed for the CE:
    The developmental class of explanation, per se, does not address the question of why the origin of such a system should, ipso facto, lead to increased diversity or disparity.  In fact, if at least one Ediacaran is a bilaterian (Kimberella, Spriggina, Dickinsonia, or Arkarua, for example), then the bilaterian developmental system existed at least a few tens of millions of years prior to the Cambrian “explosion,” suggesting something more than just developmental innovation might be needed to account for the “explosion.”
  3. Ecological Explanations:  Suppose some Precambrian animal develops an eye or a mouth (trilobites, after all, already had complex eyes)  Suddenly, the lucky winner is like a burglar with a gun in a supermarket.  To cope, all the other animals all must develop defenses, like shells and armor.  The world is divided into predators and prey.  An evolutionary arms race is on.  Marshall quotes Valentine and others who invented “niche space” models (i.e., the pace of evolution is rapid till all available niches fill up), but doesn’t feel that these ecological explanations explain why the CE was unique, or why it lasted as long (or short) as it did.  What does he think of those who suggest that macroscopic eyes and color perception triggered the CE?  Not much; there are other ways to find food, “so there almost certainly would have been some sort of radiation even if large compound eyes had not evolved in the Cambrian.” 
  4. Theoretical Explanations:  Marshall considers Stewart Kauffman’s idea about “fitness landscapes” and the emergence of evolutionary innovation: “the rate of evolution dramatically slows as the landscape is explored.”  So we should expect to see an explosion, followed by a rapid decline in evolutionary innovations, “simply as a consequence of the time it takes to find progressively more optimal solutions.”  Nice math, but we must get real, Marshall reminds us:
    The challenge for this class of explanation is understanding how the theoretical constructs related the real world.  In the case of Kauffman’s NK models, the roughness of the landscape is controlled by K, the number of interactions between the N genes.  However, it is difficult to meaningfully assign a value of K to a set of genes, and it is even more difficult to interpret these landscapes in morphological terms; i.e., the NK model does not explicitly incorporate the phenotype into the calculation of the fitnesses.
In short, though each might contribute factors, none of these classes of explanation have a total answer for the Cambrian explosion and its seven puzzles.  What they have done, however, is contribute to our understanding of the necessary preconditions for a valid explanation:
It is clear that the environment must be permissive of animals before they could have evolved.  It is also clear that the genetic machinery for making animals must have been in place, at least in a rudimentary way, before they could have evolved.  And finally, organisms must be able to leave viable offspring to survive and evolve, so ecology had to be important too.
Now to the climax.  Marshall embarks on a five-page description of his own explanation.  Surprisingly, however, he says very little about actual fossils – only one paragraph about where the Ediacaran biota might fit in.  His “framework for integrating environmental, ecological and developmental data” is almost completely theoretical.  He launches off from Sewell Wright’s concept of the fitness landscape, on which peaks represent higher evolutionary fitness, and valleys lower fitness.  Here’s a new word for you: “Fitness Landscapes (of the Morphogenetic Kind).”  Knowing that morpho- refers to body or structure, and -genetic refers to origin or begetting, is Marshall suggesting that a fitness landscape can invent a body?  Apparently so.  Watch carefully:
Following the rich tradition begun by Sewell Wright (1931, 1932), fitness landscapes provide a fruitful way of thinking about the interaction between developmental potential and evolutionary success, the ability to pass one’s genes on to the next generation.  The coordinate system in most fitness landscapes is based on genes and their alleles.  However, the Cambrian “explosion” finds its expression in the fossil record morphologically, so it is more appropriate to use a morphogenetic rather than a genic coordinate system.  Hence, theoretical morphospaces (McGhee 1999), where each axis of the landscape represents a distinct morphogenetic rule and where the position along each axis corresponds to a particular variant of the rule, is appropriate here.  Every point in the space corresponds to a unique morphology that arises from the morphogenetic rules.
Marshall seems to be saying that a morphogenetic rule – some kind of body-building principle in nature – will automatically give rise to new animals (given a rudimentary genetic toolkit), just from the existence of needs.  In his words, “if we assign a fitness value” to a morphology (roughly, a body plan), “evolution” will “explore” the fitness landscape to deliver the body.  Not only that, the fitness landscape itself evolves!  Clearly, to Marshall, this is a situation pregnant with possibilities.
    He is quick to explain that the fitness landscape metaphor has limitations.  “First, movement [in the fitness space] is measured in terms of change in the morphogenetic rules, several steps removed from the genetic changes that are responsible for those rules,”  he explains.  That is, there needs to be a connection between the outside environment and the inside coded instructions.  However, “we are still profoundly ignorant of how changes in the genome translate into changes in morphology, despite the spectacular advances we have made in understanding the genetic basis of morphogenesis.”  Somehow, it must happen; the information required to live on the outside must get coded on the inside.  That’s somebody else’s problem.
    For the remainder of the discussion, Marshall lets computer models work the miracles.  Borrowing on computer models by Karl Niklas, he postulates that, if the fitness landscape can become “roughened” (i.e., with more and smaller fitness peaks closer together), interesting things can happen: “increases in diversity and disparity may also be achieved... without the need for new genes and morphogenetic potentials.”
    While that thought sinks in, let us ask, what factors can roughen the landscape?  Here’s the short answer: “the number of needs the organism must satisfy.”  Plants, for instance, might need “to perform realistic ecological tasks, including the ability to produce and disperse seeds, harvest light, avoid mechanical breakage of its branches, and minimize the risk of desiccation through minimizing its surface area.”  Necessity is the mother of invention.
    If you feel frustrated by this line of argument, Marshall turns that, too, to his advantage.  He introduces the “Principle of Frustration” – a thought so profound, he says, “I have elevated its importance by labeling it a principle.”  What, you ask, is the principle of frustration?  It “captures the notion that different needs will often have (partially) conflicting solutions, so that the overall optimal design for an organism will rarely be optimal for any of the specific tasks it needs to perform (i.e., there are trade-offs).”  In other words, it’s the old engineering principle of constrained optimality.  Consider a laptop computer, for instance.5  A big screen is good, but conflicts with the need for compactness and light weight.  Heavy-duty peripherals are good, but conflict with the need for long battery life.  So in Marshall’s context, a plant or animal is going to have conflicting needs in order to survive, so “evolution” will explore the fitness landscape, and produce the morphology that provides the best trade-offs in order to ensure survival.6
    The main point Marshall wants to get across is that the rougher the landscape, the better.  Rough landscapes are evolutionary playgrounds.  In his words,
The key point is that when all tasks need to be performed, the trade-offs combine to produce a wide range of local optima, given the rules for making the plants.  Thus, it is frustration that leads to an increase in the roughness of a fitness landscape as the number of needs increase (Figure 3).  While the number of local optima in a fitness landscape will clearly depend on the specific morphogenetic system (e.g., whether we are dealing with plants or animals, etc.) and on the range of environments that system finds itself in (e.g., terrestrial, aquatic, polar, tropical, etc.), the roughness of the landscape will also usually depend on the number of needs that must be met, or tasks that need to be performed.
More small peaks, therefore, yield more diverse and disparate inhabitants sitting on them.  Yet how can a peak, large or small, produce an optimally-engineered creature sitting on top?  The sherpa, the engineer, the innovator, the outfitter, the creator is: EVOLUTION.  That is the hero of the story: evolution actualizes the body plans that the real world constrains.  Is that not echoed in the end of the “Devonian, the period of greatest gross morphological innovation in the terrestrial invasion by plants”?  It must be.  The Niklas computer model showed it could be so.
The startling possibility is that evolution has found essentially all the locally optimal ways of being a terrestrial plant (ignoring the fine morphology associated with leaves, reproductive organs, roots, etc., as well as major modifications in the way living plants grow and reproduce compared with these early plants), and that it explored the morphogenetic space in just about one geological period.  The Niklas study opens up the possibility that evolution is able to find essentially all the locally optimal morphologies consistent with a given underlying developmental system on geological timescales.  That is, all the processes associated with variation (point mutation, recombination, hybridization, gene conversion, insertion and deletion, post-transcriptional changes in mRNA processing, etc.) are able to effectively explore fitness landscapes on geological timescales; evolution is able solve [sic] the np-hard problem of exploring the rich combinatorial potential embedded in the genome in the order of 10-20 million years.
What an amazing scout, this evolution.  Engineers must be envious.
    Marshall has turned the tables.  At the end of a difficult speech, begun facing angry reporters asking tough questions, he is in control.  “Viewing the Cambrian ‘explosion’ in the context of the evolution of fitness landscapes,” he grins, “opens up the possibility that uniqueness of the Cambrian ‘explosion’ may simply represent the exhaustion of ecologically viable alternatives that can be generated by the bilaterian developmental system...”  Simple, isn’t it.  That’s all there is to it.  What’s the problem?  The reporters are writing as fast as they can to get this down.  Once upon a time, the landscape was filled with fitness peaks, and as they got rougher, evolution obliged by filling them.  Good enough for a sound bite.
    But what about information in the genes for these new body plans? asks one mythical reporter.  Where did it come from?  No problem, is the confident response; the information was already there: “As discussed above,” Marshall continues, “the phylogenetic distribution of key developmental genes in living species suggests that the basic developmental toolkit, a combinatorial toolkit, for bilaterian animals was already in place prior to the radiation (Carroll et al. 2001), certainly before the end of the Ediacaran.”  Take the Lego blocks, sprinkle them onto a roughened landscape, and the rest is history.  (Where the toolkit came from is thus pushed farther back into the past, as someone else’s problem.)
    This calls for a new creation myth.  Here is the new Genesis – or, shall we say, the Book of MorphoGenesis.  Marshall starts a new paragraph entitled, “The Arms Race Roughens the Garden of Ediacara.”  In the beginning, there were peace-loving Ediacaran organisms in paradise; innocent and blind, without knowledge of good and evil.  But a time of testing came.  Instead of a Biblical serpent, some generic predator appeared on the scene, and frustration entered the world:
With the advent of ecological interactions between macroscopic adults (especially interactions associated with predation)... the number of needs each organism had to meet must have increased markedly: Now there were myriad predators to contend with, and a myriad number of ways to avoid them, which in turn led to more specialized ways of predation as different species developed different avoidance strategies, etc.  Even with no changes in the bilaterian developmental system as it existed by the end of the Ediacaran, the diversity and disparity of animals should have risen sharply, as the fitness landscape roughened in response to dramatic increase in the level of frustration (Figure 3).  The combinatoric richness already present in the Ediacaran genome was extracted through the richness of biotic interaction as the Cambrian “explosion” unfolded (Marshall 2003). I offer this as a null hypothesis explanation for the Cambrian explosion.7
In fact, Marshall continues, his model can even offer a prediction, as any good scientist should.  Look east, my young disciple:
It suggests that if we replayed the tape of life, with the same developmental programs, we would see similar morphologies each time: In the debate that sprung up across the Atlantic between the importance of contingency (Gould 1989) and inevitability (Conway Morris 1998, 2003) in the history of life (to oversimplify the issue somewhat!), perhaps the truth of the matter lies more to the East than most would be willing to grant.
Exactly how one might test the prediction (replaying the tape of life) is not explained.  Presumably, if there are no planets available for millions of years, one could play SimEarth.
    Alas, “There are many issues that remain,” he ends.  How did a rough landscape actually generate new morphologies?  If the principle of frustration worked so well at the Cambrian, why not at the Ordovician?  What controlled the duration of the event?  “Is it simply the time it takes evolution to explore the landscape... or does the roughening occur piecemeal...? he asks.  “That is, is there a steady dance as the fitness landscapes of each of the major clades coevolve?”  And “Why does phylum-level innovation die away as the Cambrian unfolds?”  Why didn’t the explosion occur 100 million years earlier – or later?
    To a skilled press secretary, these questions are not difficulties; they are opportunities.  “In summation,” his last sentence announces, “explaining the Cambrian ‘explosion’ of bilaterian animals will remain a rich field of enquiry for quite some time to come!
1Charles R. Marshall, “Explaining the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ of Animals,”
Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Vol. 34 (Volume publication date May 2006) (doi:10.1146/annurev.earth.33.031504.103001).
2It must be noted that the dating methods of evolutionary paleontologists all assume evolution and long ages.  Creation scientists will argue that the dates are fallacious and falsified by their own research (e.g., see 11/05/2005).  Nevertheless, this writeup will assume the long ages, to give the evolutionists their best possible conditions for explaining the Cambrian explosion.  Even so, Jonathan Wells once remarked that, in geological terms, the event was so sudden and so brief, it would be like walking a football field and having all the animal phyla appear when stepping across the 60-yard line.
3Diversity means the number of species, whereas disparity is degree of difference between them.  There may be a great diversity of trilobite species, for instance, but the disparity between a trilobite and a starfish – or a dinosaur – is much greater.
4Diploblasts have two organized cell layers, like corals and jellyfish.  Triploblasts have three, with an outer ectoderm, middle mesoderm, and inner entoderm (which includes the gut).  All the complex animals, (also called Bilateria, or animals with bilateral symmetry), including those appearing in the Cambrian explosion, are triploblasts.
5Jay W. Richards used this analogy in the Q&A extras on the film, The Privileged Planet, in discussing how the Earth is optimized for scientific discovery.
6This presumes the neo-Darwinian notion that “passing on one’s genes” (survival) is a measure of fitness.  When defined this way, fitness is a tautology: not only do the fit survive, whatever survives, by definition, is fit.
7A null hypothesis is a baseline or default explanation, against which other hypotheses can be measured.  A null hypothesis for a new medication, for instance, might be, “this medication has no effect.”  It’s up to an experimenter to prove that it does, contrary to the null hypothesis.
There is a little word, presto, with two meanings appropriate here.  In music, it is a very rapid tempo.  In entertainment, it is a magic word that produces rabbits out of hats and beautiful women out of gunny sacks stuffed into tiny boxes.  Marshall has explained the presto tempo of the Cambrian explosion with a presto magic act.  Discerning readers know it is just a trick.
    Theists believe God created the world and life, with good reason: the world looks designed.  We must not be misled by the term Cambrian “explosion.”  We think of explosions as accidents and terror attacks, wreaking havoc and leaving a scene strewn with debris and damage.  The CE was the opposite of this.  It was a sudden, explosive appearance of order and complexity, with tissues, organs, systems and a whole ecology appearing out of nowhere – just as would be expected if it had been created.
    Duane Gish, the veteran creationist debater, never appealed to religious or Biblical arguments when standing toe-to-toe with the greatest evolutionists in debates at prestigious universities across America and Europe.  He didn’t need to, because the science was on his side.  Though he believed in the God of Genesis, he hammered on two scientific nails that shut the coffin on evolution.  He would say, (1) the law of entropy shows evolution could not happen, and (2) the fossil record shows it did not happen.
    Go to the fossil beds and look.  Strata do not come with dates on them, labeled “545 million years old.”  You can go to Mongolia or southern California and you will find rock layers with fully-formed, complex trilobites, and nothing underneath.  Gish might have believed that the strata are young, but he could grant his opponents the geological column and give them the widest possible time latitude in which to work; the conclusion is the same: the fossil record looks like creation, not like evolution.  Each new animal appears abruptly.  There is not enough time in the best of cases for that much complexity to “arise” without design.  None of the precursors on Marshall’s chart, whether the Ediacaran biota, the trace burrows, or the small shelly animals, are precursors in ancestry.  No matter how much the timeline is stretched, each new body plan appears suddenly, without ancestors.  Face it, evolutionists!  This is not what your theory predicts, and no amount of handwaving is going to make this huge problem go away.  To an unbiased observer, it falsifies evolution.  Only dogmatic adherence to a philosophy pushes evolutionists to imagine their theoretical and highly implausible yarns to explain away the evidence of their senses.
    Marshall’s elaborate fairy tale shows that the materialists cannot extricate themselves from miracles.  Creationists readily admit that God works miracles, and that the creation was miraculous.  Evolutionists despise miracles, but find them very handy.  They shield their miracles in “presto!” words, saying such-and-such a complex animal or organ (even eyes!) just emerged, arose or developed.  If you watched carefully, you saw that was exactly what Marshall did.  Though earlier he criticized other explanations for failing to provide an account for the origin of the genetic information required, he just pushed it offstage, and when needed, had a stage hand ready to sneak it in the hat, so that he could claim the rabbit was there all along.  His “Abracadabra!” was the term morphogenetic rule, some kind of unspecified, miracle-working process that builds complex bodies out of nothing.  With that sleight of mind, he distracted the audience’s attention from the fact he had cheated when we weren’t looking.  Rules imply a Rulemaker, and necessity is the mother of invention only when there are intelligent designers around.
    His math is bad, too.  Marshall thinks that a simpler “combinatorial” genetic system in the invisible ancestors is sufficient to produce eyes and circulatory systems and all the rest when the landscape “roughens”.  Any kid can try this with a Lego set.  Scatter them at random all over a trampoline, start bouncing, and see what happens.  The number of useless combinations vastly exceeds anything ordered and functional.  5 million years – 10 million – 20 million – 65 million is pitifully insufficient to hope for anything interesting, and the parts themselves are not sentient beings to care whether they live or die.  No amount of time is going to produce robots and tanks and monsters out of bouncing Lego pieces; but turn a kid loose applying his intelligent design, and you will get all these things prestissimo, along with a complete ecology in which they interact that he will be glad to explain to you.
    Marshall even had a magic fairy in the act: the evolutionists’ favorite goddess, Tinker Bell.  Did you catch her brief appearance?  Marshall referred to co-option, a synonym for “tinkering” with tools and materials that are already there, as a suggestion on how hearts and circulatory systems “developed.”  He repeatedly spoke of evolution in
personal terms, as if Evolution were some frontier pioneer, capable of exploring the landscape, deciding where to build a town, then with his “toolkit” setting up the bank, general store, blacksmith shop and saloon by calling whatever materials available to order with the word, “Presto!”  With this tale, Marshall gets diverse trilobites with compound eyes; brachiopods, worms, starfish – even chordates and vertebrates.  No matter that each of these animals had many complex tissues and organs and systems with interrelated parts that had to have existed simultaneously to work.  No observational data are needed in this pagan nature religion.  The Spirit of Evolution, guided by Tinker Bell, does the miracles.
    If anyone was not convinced before now that Darwin pulled off a massive con job on science, this should clinch it.  He knew about the Cambrian explosion but delegated the solution to the future.  Well, the future is here, and the problem is worse.  In place of the holding to the standard of rigorous proof in science, Darwin introduced the power of imagination, one “long argument” (aka story) to support his own personal myth.  To back it up, he claimed he was invoking purely natural causes that were rational and did not depend on a God of the gaps.  Well, here you have the result: all he did was replace the omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise God of creation with Tinker Bell of the gaps, a blind, deaf, dumb, careless fictional deity that his disciples are free to invoke whenever a miracle is needed to patch up the Big Just-So Story.  Out of this mythology, a hierarchy emerged with a set of traditions that stifles criticism, keeps the peasants ignorant, and persecutes any perceptive lover of truth able to read the book of nature without the “official” interpretation.  It’s time for a protestant reformation.
Next headline on: FossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGeology
No Pain, No Gain Explained: Lactic Acid Supercharges Your Engines   04/21/2006    
The old paradigm: lactic acid buildup during exercise is like poison to your muscles, producing stiffness and agony.  The new paradigm: lactic acid is your friend, a fuel additive that helps keep your mitochondrial motors in top-notch condition.  Read all about it in a press release from UC Berkeley.
What are you waiting for?  It’s spring, it’s beautiful outside, life is good – go feel the burn and bulk up those amazing electrical motors (02/13/2004) in your mitochondrial power plants.  The stronger they get, the better you will feel the next time you challenge your body and explore creation.
Next headline on: HealthHuman Body
The Politics of Darwinism: Dictate, Slander, Block   04/21/2006    
In a state of panic over the rise of intelligent design and creationism, most scientific societies supporting Darwinism are doing what their opponents feel is doomed to fail: avoiding, at all costs, a fair and intellectual debate about the evidence.  Instead, many pro-Darwin forces issue prepared statements, misrepresent their opponents, and use legal maneuvering to try to head them off at the pass.
    What they cannot ignore, however, is that large majorities in the public sector oppose the Darwin-only policy in education.  That means the public also has become a target of abuse.  This was obvious 17 months ago with the notorious National Geographic Nov. 2004 cover story, “Was Darwin Wrong?” answered inside with a paternal foot-stomp in bold 250-point type, NO (see 10/24/2004, 02/15/2005).  Here are some recent examples in that same tactical style that treats the majority public as hopelessly backward peasants who, in this state of siege, need stern military discipline:
  • Royal Edict:  The Royal Society announced in a press release an official “statement on evolution, creationism and intelligent design.”  The upshot: evolution is well-established and an essential part of science education; criticism of evolution is criticism of science; you can believe in a creator as long as you don’t call it science; bacterial resistance demonstrates evolution; creationism is religion and intelligent design is disguised creationism; debate is good in science but undermining students’ confidence in science by distorting evidence is not (and that is what creationists do, by implication); and evolution is an essential part of the rise of a scientific understanding of the world, whereas anything else is based on faith.  (No new weapons, in other words; just more of the same from the NCSE armory.)
  • Hear Ye, Hear Ye:  In addition, the Royal Society published a podcast from Professor Steve Jones.  Its title left no room for doubt about the contents: “Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right.”  Prime arguments: (1) science is about disbelief, but religion is about faith; (2) while it is true that a majority in the public distrusts evolution, why do no biologists agree? and, oddly, (3) “creationism does more harm to religion than it does to science.”
        Randy Boswell reported on these two Royal Society statements on Canada.com, titling his article, “Academic Worry Grows Over ‘Intelligent Design.’”
  • Sound the Alarm:  In another of a series of anti-ID attack pieces with not an inch granted the opposition, PLoS Biology warned about “Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology.”  Liza Gross associated intelligent design with doubts about stem cell research, doubts about global warming, and doubts about science in general.  Her equation is simple: intelligent design = scientific illiteracy.  Reporting the thoughts and advise of John D. Miller, she quoted his advice: “Scientists need to become involved in partisan politics and to oppose candidates who reject evolution or attack scientific research” – implying that the two go hand in hand.  No intelligent design supporter was given two words, but NCSE Director Eugenie Scott got a big sidebar, complete with big, smiling picture of her.  The end of Liza Gross’ article included the obligatory disclaimer, “The author has declared that no competing interests exist.”
  • Hold Your Fire: A Parley!  A conservative group at Cornell, Sounding the Trumpet, announced rather joyfully that Cornell is going to offer a class on intelligent design this summer.  World Net Daily seemed to share this optimistic news, and so did the campus IDEA club.  William Dembski, however, interviewed by Agape Press, sees a Trojan Horse.  The teacher, Allen MacNeill, once called Dembski a “bald-faced liar,” and Cornell president Hunter Rawlings sternly denounced ID last year (see ARN reprint of IDEA Club response).  Dembski is certain the class will have a strong pro-Darwinist bias.  His take on Cornell’s strategy: “the academic mainstream ... is hunkering down, stonewalling, [and] wanting to say there’s nothing of merit here, we’ve got to shut this down – and if we’re going to teach a course on it, it’s purely to debunk it.”
  • And, In This Corner... ?Evolution News is waiting for Science magazine to let Michael Behe respond, since last week’s claim that “irreducible complexity” had a Darwinian explanation (04/06/2006) effectively admitted that the concept was scientific.  They seem to know that it will be a long wait.  For the expected silence, Discovery Institute provided a stack of reading material on the irreducible complexity argument.
  • Pre-Emptive Strike:  Remember Frazier Mountain High School?  the little rural school with its little elective “Philosophy of Design” class that earned international attention when sued and forced to recant? (see 01/25/2006 story).  Well, now that a local church is planning to rent the town hall this Sunday and show the film Icons of Evolution, the Mountain Enterprise local newspaper published a three-page, multifaceted attack on intelligent design, discounting the credibility of the teacher highlighted in the film and the Darwinism-discrediting facts presented by Dr. Jonathan Wells.  In a semblance of balanced reporting, they have also kept a list of their running news stories on the episode, mostly overtly or covertly biased against intelligent design (such as posting teacher Sharon Lemburg’s initial outline for her elective course, which was never approved or even voted on, and had no bearing on the class).  Whether this pre-emptive strike will accomplish the desired result in this largely religious and conservative community remains to be seen.
  • Wind Talkers:  Alan Leshner is so keen on the war correspondence, he must be hearing things.  According to Evolution News, he heard “code language” when Oklahoma proposed criticisms of Darwinism in a new Academic Freedom Act.  To the president of the AAAS, “exposing students to all sides of the scientific debate about evolution” is really “code language” for promoting a “narrow religious agenda.”  A blog by Lawrence Selden responds in plain English.
  • Quarantine the ID Flu:  A press release from the Hunter Valley, NZ Scoop warned that 2,800 Australian students are at risk of being infected with the ID that is “infiltrating” science classes.  An education spokesperson “called on federal and state education ministers to withhold public funding until these schools agreed to quarantine science teaching from religious dogma.”  Unless students are “isolated” from this “myth,” there will be appalling consequences: “They are at risk of becoming unemployable in many important areas of the economy where scientific method is essential.”
  • Battle Tactics Unveiled:  Writing in American Enterprise, Joe Manzari and Seth Cooper discussed the tactics of the ACLU to intimidate school boards with lawsuits.
For the most part, critics of Darwinism and proponents of intelligent design have had to use the non-mainstream media to get their message out.  Some recent salvos:
  • Jews for ID:  David Klinghoffer wrote an ID-friendly article for Jews in the Jerusalem Post.
  • Getting the Darwinists’ Goat:  Ted Byfield gave his thoughts on “Rebutting Darwinists” in two editorials on World Net Daily.
  • Truth or TalkTrue.origin tries to keep a running set of scientific responses to Talk.Origins, one of the pro-Darwinist blogs often cited as authoritative by evolutionists.
  • Lone Rangers:  Individuals can always write letters to the editor (if they will print them).  Here’s one by Jonathan Bartlett printed by Tulsa Today answering Alan Leshner’s attacks against the Oklahoma bill.
  • Some Isolated Fair FightsID the Future keeps tabs on the isolated instances of open debates between evolutionists and ID proponents.
  • Bias and Anti-Bias:  When the mainstream media won’t retract their misrepresentations, Evolution News does it for them.
How will this all turn out?  Nobody knows, but the lines are clearly drawn.  The tactics of both parties sometimes reveal more than the statements themselves.
One of the most intriguing, dynamic and fateful cultural debates in recent history is taking place before our eyes.  No one can afford to be uninformed.
    The Darwinists are attempting to corral all non-materialists into a funny farm labeled “faith” and deny them any voice in matters of science, truth, reality or history, while their opposition are calling their bluff and demanding accountability for 150 years of misdirection and deceit.  Who’s right?  Well, look at the Darwin Party’s behavior.  If their case were so strong, they could state it before a crowd of educated, reasonable people, and easily trounce their opponents.  Since they cannot, and have failed to do so for over a century, all they can do is shore up their castle walls with the same recycled fluff, surround it with a moat of fear tactics, catapult out media bombs of misrepresentations, drug the populace with hallucinations, and desperately cry for reinforcements from the ACLU secret police.  Inside the castle, where the undecided can’t see the enemy, they decorate King Charles’s coffin, as he lies in state, telling the peasants that here lies the Great Leader Who Saved Science.  Now, what does this tell you?
    If you need responses to Steve Jones and the other Royalist propaganda, well, keep reading, and reading, and reading.  We’ve got over five years of antidotes, and unlike the Darwinist Press, you get to hear the very best on both sides make their case.  The next article is a good place to start.
Next headline on: EducationDarwinismIntelligent Design
How Evolutionary Science Is Done: From Deduction to Story   04/20/2006    
“Evolution is a fact!” Carl Sagan stated emphatically on TV in his 1980 Cosmos series (now in reruns on The Science Channel).  Following this lead, many evolutionists repeat this four-word phrase, often augmenting it like, Evolution is a fact, like gravity (see association).  This motto has some interesting properties in its effects on scientific research.  Anything that is a fact no longer needs to be proved.  It no longer needs evidence.  It can be taken as a given, a first principle from which other principles can be deduced, and a framework into which all empirical data can be fitted.  Has Charles Darwin become the new Aristotle?
    Here are some recent examples of evolutionary reasoning in scientific journals and science news articles.  Look for instances of deducing conclusions from the premise “evolution is a fact.”  Also look for reasoning that, since evolution is a “fact,” it must be capable of accomplishing any kind of design work found among the world’s amazing living creatures.
  • Octopus elbows:  Noticing that octopuses have an uncanny ability to bend their boneless tentacles into shapes resembling vertebrate elbows, EurekAlert says this about how the ability evolved: “The presence of similar structural features and control strategies in articulated limbs (for example, jointed vertebrate arms) and flexible octopus arms suggests that these qualities have evolved convergently in octopuses and in vertebrates, and it also suggests that an articulated limb--controlled at the level of joints--is the optimal solution to the challenge of achieving precise point-to-point movements by a limb.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
        The authors of the original paper in Current Biology1 went further.  “Despite the evolutionary gap and morphological differences, humans and octopuses evolved similar strategies when fetching food to the mouth,” Sumbre, Hochner et al. said.  They even postulated that this ability arose at the dawn of animals, hundreds of millions of years ago:
    Because the hypothetical common ancestor of cephalopods and vertebrates dates back to the beginning of Cambrian era (about 540 million years ago), fetching appears to be a genuine and rare case of evolutionary functional convergence, where two independent attributes (morphology and neural control) coevolved to achieve a common goal.  We therefore suggest that the combination of a kinematically constrained articulated limb and a movement control strategy with simpler, more stereotypical movements in intrinsic coordinates offers an optimal solution for achieving precise point-to-point movements.
    Commenting on this study in the same issue of Current Biology,2 Scott L. Hooper explored the idea that function can give rise to form, by evolution.  Noting that “muscles predate the evolution of hard body parts,” Hooper personified evolution into a creative programmer: “flexibly creating different ‘skeletons’ of stiffened muscles against which other muscles can act may be the mother of all motor control strategies.
        Live Science picked up on this line, also, stating that “The similarity of structural features and control strategies between jointed vertebrate arms and flexible octopus limbs suggests that these configurations evolved separately in octopuses and vertebrates, a result scientists call an example of convergent evolution.”  In none of these papers or news articles did any of the authors attempt to connect function to form by a series of plausible evolutionary steps.  Apparently, they didn’t have to – since evolution is already a fact.

  • Bat digital computing:  With their sonar-guided aerial acrobatics, bats are true wonders of the class Mammalia.  The only mammals to fly under their own power, bats make up one fifth of all mammalian species, said Michael Balter in Science Now.  But how did they get the ability to fly?  Surprisingly, a paper in PNAS3 found a tale in the absence of evidence:
    The earliest fossil bats resemble their modern counterparts in possessing greatly elongated digits to support the wing membrane, which is an anatomical hallmark of powered flight.  To quantitatively confirm these similarities, we performed a morphometric analysis of wing bones from fossil and modern bats.  We found that the lengths of the third, fourth, and fifth digits (the primary supportive elements of the wing) have remained constant relative to body size over the last 50 million years.  This absence of transitional forms in the fossil record led us to look elsewhere to understand bat wing evolution
    Since (of course) evolution is already a fact, no fossil evidence is necessary.  What they looked at were genes for finger development in bats and their presumed cousins, mice.  They found that a common gene for bone growth is activated differently in bats, causing the digits to grow much more rapidly, but only in the forelimbs.  “Together, our results suggest that an up-regulation of the Bmp pathway is one of the major factors in the developmental elongation of bat forelimb digits, and it is potentially a key mechanism in their evolutionary elongation as well.”
        In this “suggestion,” no attempt was made to integrate this into a comprehensive picture of how the membranes developed, how flight muscles developed, where the avionics software came from, and all the other parts that would have had to have emerged simultaneously for long fingers to become tools rather than impediments.  Since evolution is a fact, this is not a problem; each attribute becomes a piece of the grand evolutionary picture, something that “suggests” or “sheds light” on a detail of what is already known to be true.
        Michael Balter shamelessly gave his write-up on this paper a Kipling-esque just-so-story title in Science Now: “How Bats Got Off the Ground.”  Calling bats great examples of “Darwinian success,” Balter quoted other scientists who called this a “an excellent paper” that “helps us to understand how evolutionary transformations are achieved by tinkering with the development of individual structures--in this case, the digits.”

  • The purpose-driven bird:  Darwinists have often claimed that humans have evolved to the point where they can now take charge of their own evolution.  But can birds do this?  That’s a new line promoted by Katherine Unger on Science Now, a news service of the AAAS.  “Species need not sit around waiting for natural selection to shape them,”  she said.  “According to a new study, a creature’s personality can also be an important evolutionary driving force--one that may give the species some control over its own destiny.”  The study, described in PNAS, showed how some bluebirds can alter their habitats and foraging behaviors based on how aggressive some members get (see also EurekAlert summary).  The odd thing is that no evolution occurred before or after the study; the bluebirds were still bluebirds.  The key finding was merely a suggestion: “By selecting the environment in which they live, animals can actively affect the natural selection they experience.”  Evolution by natural selection is, of course, the fact that (by implication) produced the bluebirds in the first place.
Apparently, suggestions are good enough for science these days.  It all follows naturally by deduction from first principles: evolution is a fact.
    Cornelius Hunter, writing for ID the Future, has found this reaction to be common in his experience debating evolutionists.  “Evolution is a fact” is their knee-jerk reply, with the inevitable comparison to gravity (an association Hunter calls absurd).  “As the old saying goes, it is not what a man doesn’t know that worries me,” he quipped, “but what he knows for sure.”  He continued,
“The ‘evolution is a fact’ claim is awkward for evolutionists.  It makes the man behind the curtain all the more obvious and is empirically unsupportable.  How should evolutionists respond when a savvy buyer starts kicking the tires and asks “Why is this a fact again?”....
The dual mandates that (i) science must adhere to methodological naturalism and (ii) evolution is a fact, serve to diminish the importance of the empirical data.  Monumental evidential problems become mere curiosities when the theory is beyond question.
Hunter calls this an “unfortunate trend in science.  Let’s reverse it and seriously engage the issues at hand.”

1Sumbre, Hochner et al., “Octopuses Use a Human-like Strategy to Control Precise Point-to-Point Arm Movements,” Current Biology, Vol 16, 767-772, 18 April 2006.
2Scott L. Hooper, “Dispatch: Motor Control: The Importance of Stiffness,” Current Biology, Vol 16, R283-R285, 18 April 2006.
3Sears et al., “Development of bat flight: Morphologic and molecular evolution of bat wing digits,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0509716103, published online before print April 17, 2006.
We’re going to keep holding up this garbage to public view as we have for over five years now, to expose Darwinian research for what it is: institutionalized question begging, assuming what needs to be proved, making up tall tales in the absence of evidence, ascribing exquisite design to dumb processes of randomness, and murdering Baconian scientific rigor.  Once the Darwin Party came to power, they dumbed down the high standards of research, substituted bravado for caution, and brought in the dark ages of speculative biology where facts and data don’t matter any more.  The highest value now is keeping the story line begun by Pope Charlie going ad infinitum.  The usurping Darwin Party elitists not only lounge around, engaging one another in “tantalizing speculations” (12/22/2003) in the institutions once devoted to induction and proof, but then have the gall to condemn anyone who calls them on the carpet for their shenanigans.
    Let this awareness promote a new day in science, where conclusions are rare, where “suggestions” are criticized, where evidence is king, and no principle based on human authority becomes a premise for deduction – i.e., like it used to be when men and women who loved nature and loved the truth (predominantly Christians and creationists – see online book) explored nature as seeking out the wisdom of God.  Disallowing deduction and reinstating rigor might not cure the hard-core Darwinian materialists, but it would go a long way in clearing the fog away from the debate.
Next headline on: Evolutionary TheoryMarine LifeMammalsBirds
Ethiopian Missing Link: Location, Location, Location    04/19/2006    (Guest article)  
The Associated Press reported that a new fossil discovery proves the link between two ancestral species of man, and shows the change happening right before our eyes:
Fossils have long provided snapshots of the human family tree, but a new find in Africa gives scientists a kind of mini home movie showing man’s primal development.
    Because the 4.2-million-year-old fossil is from the same human ancestral hot spot in Ethiopia as remains from seven other human-like species, scientists can now fill in the gaps for the most complete evolutionary chain so far.
    “We just found the chain of evolution, the continuity through time,” said Ethiopian anthropologist Berhane Asfaw, co-author of the study being reported Thursday in the journal Nature.  “One form evolved to another.  This is evidence of evolution in one place through time.” 
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)
So what did they actually find?  Not a missing link or an intermediate form, but just another Australopithecus anamensis fossil, but in a location intermediate in the rock layers between Australopithecus and its supposed ancestor Ardipithecus:
The species, Australopithecus anamensis is not new, but its location is what helps explain the giant leap from one early phase of human-like development to the next, scientists say. All eight species were found in a region called the Middle Awash.
    “It’s like 12 frames of a home movie, but a home movie covering 6 million years,” said study lead author Tim White, co-director of Human Evolution Research Center at University of California at Berkeley.  Fossils in the region cover three major phases of human development.
    “The key here is the sequences,” White said.  “It’s about a mile thickness of rocks in the Middle Awash and in it we can see all three phases of human evolution.“
    Modern man belongs to the genus Homo, which is a subgroup in the family of hominids.  What evolved into Homo was likely the genus Australopithecus (once called “man-ape”), which includes the famed 3.2 million-year-old “Lucy” fossil found three decades ago.
    A key candidate for the genus that evolved into Australopithecus is called Ardipithecus.  And Thursday’s finding is important in bridging – but not completely – the gap between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus.
    In 1994, a 4.4 million-year-old partial skeleton of the species Ardipithecus ramidus – the most recent Ardipithecus species – was found about six miles from the latest discovery.
    “This appears to be the link between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus as two different species,” White said.  The major noticeable difference between the phases of man can be seen in Australopithecus’ bigger chewing teeth to eat harder food, he said.
Finally we get to the fine print and disclaimers.  It turns out they aren’t so sure as the headline would like you to believe:
While it’s looking more likely, it is not a sure thing that Ardipithecus evolved into Australopithecus, he said.  The finding does not completely rule out Ardipithecus dying off as a genus and Australopithecus developing independently.
    The connections between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus have been theorized since an anamensis fossil was first found in Kenya 11 years ago.  This draws the lines better, said Alan Walker of Penn State University, who found the first anamensis and is not part of White’s team.
    Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, agreed: “For those people who are tied up in doing the whole human family tree, being able to connect the branches is a very important thing to do.”
This story was widely circulated in newspapers.
In yet another example of circular reasoning, White and team have assumed evolution, fit the data to the evolutionary just so story, and paraded the result as “proof” that evolution happened.  Evolutionists are so desperate to deal with the lack of intermediate fossils that now the location of a fossil qualifies it as somehow being intermediate.  Arranging fossils in some increasing order of complexity to prove evolution has been around for a long time, for example, the horse evolution series, but it doesn’t prove that evolution happened any more than arranging old cars in a junkyard in order of complexity proves they evolved.
    For an analysis of the human fossil data from a different worldview, read Marvin Lubenow’s classic book, Bones of Contention,  available from AIG.  Also, AIG has an excellent video critically analyzing the Lucy fossil, “Lucy, She’s No Lady,” by Dr. David Menton.
Next headline on:  Early Man
Step Aside, T. Rex: Bigger Dino Found   04/19/2006    
A cache of dinosaur bones, meat-eaters bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex, has been uncovered in South America.  National Geographic News says the new species, Mapusaurus, exceeded the former heavyweight carnivore in size and agility.  All the bones in a river deposit were 100% from this one species, so “the chances they had been deposited randomly are extremely low, said Rudolfo Coria, the discoverer.  “The skeletons showed no signs of disease, Coria says, so the animals were apparently victims of some sudden catastrophic event.”  The article says that even larger creatures may remain to be discovered.  See also MSNBC News, which has comparative diagrams.
What would bury a group of heavy, agile, strong, mobile, intelligent monsters suddenly?  Think about it.
Next headline on: DinosaursFossils
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Scientists, Learn Darwinism on TV    04/18/2006  
In Current Biology, Kenneth E. Sawin of Wellcome Trust Center for Cell Biology at Edinburgh University was interviewed about his career.  One of the questions was, “What are the big ideas for you now?”  Here is part of his answer:
Another thing that I think about, which may be more ethereal, is that cell biologists interested in molecular mechanisms should always be reminding themselves that evolution proceeds without any predestined direction, and this is as true for cellular regulatory mechanisms as it is for organismal evolution [sic].  Even if we don’t think too much about evolution in our day-to-day work, it is the backdrop against which everything takes place, and one needs to keep a very open mind [sic], and not be too dogmatic, about how biological systems may be “designed”, because there is no designer [sic].  The best stimulus for this is to watch a few nature programs on TV.   (Emphasis added.)

1“Q&A: Kenneth E. Sawin,” Current Biology, Vol 16, R268-R269, 18 April 2006.
If anyone can figure out how being dogmatic about evolution is an example of open-mindedness, or how directionlessness produced cellular regulatory mechanisms, or how maintaining faith in purposelessness as a backdrop aids thinking, or how telling oneself there is no designer demonstrates things are not designed, let us know.  Notice two other things he said: (1) scientists don’t think too much about evolution in their day-to-day work, indicating that evolutionary theory is useless, and (2) TV is this evolutionist’s source of inspiration (see visualization in the Baloney Detector).  So producers get their stimulus from the dogmatic claims of the evolutionary biologists, and biologists in turn get their inspiration from watching the resulting TV shows: a vicious cycle, with emphasis on vicious.
    Example: last night The Science Channel replayed The Rise of Man, one of the dumbest examples of evolutionary storytelling ever made for the tube.  In this ridiculous portrayal of made-up history, presented in all seriousness, naked ape-faced actors invent religion when lightning strikes, invent language when stealing ostrich eggs, invent the family when she-ape needs help in childbirth, and invent art when one ape-man sticks a shiny stone on his female’s mud-plastered forehead.  The group all giggles in the mud together at this new sign of beauty.  If this is Sawin’s inspiration, God help him.
    Cave Man was much better.  At least Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach and John Matuszak all knew it was only a spoof.  Let’s offer Sawin and his ilk free unending reruns of all the evolution shows they want; maybe this will keep them in a permanent state of euphoria – and out of the classroom.
Next headline on:  DarwinismMediaDumb Ideas
Astrobiology Ten Years Later: Can It Justify Its Funding?    04/17/2006  
Astrobiology just turned ten years old, but is experiencing growing pains, partly due to a starvation diet.  This “science without a subject” (as George Gaylord Simpson quipped about its predecessor, exobiology) is struggling to justify itself at the Congressional feeding trough.  Proponents tout it as the most important subject in the universe.  Why, then, is Congress cutting back its rations?
    Astrobiology was born virtually in a day.  When a NASA press conference in 1996 announced the possibility of fossil organisms in a Martian meteorite, the media fervor launched speculation into action.  President Clinton appointed Vice President Al Gore to hold a space conference to discuss its implications.  A preliminary astrobiology study group was formed at NASA-Ames Research Center, which became formalized as the NASA Astrobiology Institute in 1998 (see NAI Timeline).  Grants were awarded to 11 research centers for research into “the scientific study of life in the universe – its origin, evolution, distribution, and future” (see NAI).  As funding for this new science continued, astrobiology websites, magazines, TV programs, conferences and projects have kept this new field in the public awareness.  In a sense, this was a pragmatic move to ride a wave of public interest and centralize existing but disparate programs.  Nature1 said, “the field was cooked up, in part, out of political necessity, as a means of bundling together research programmes on exobiology, other life sciences and planetary science” (emphasis added in all quotes).
    Following a late 20th century trend for scientists to collaborate in cross-disciplinary endeavors, astrobiology became an umbrella term for chemists, biologists, astronomers and physicists interested in exploring possibilities of life beyond earth.  The fact that no life has been found yet is only incidental to the story.  To astrobiologists, the field encompasses stellar evolution, planet formation, the search for water on other worlds, chemical evolution, hydrothermal vents, extremophiles, life detection methods, detection of extrasolar planets, and much more – even the birth and eventual fate of the universe, subjects once the domain of philosophy and religion.  Though SETI was specifically excluded from government funding (it continues through private sources), any research program tied into astrobiology goals, even in a peripheral way, could apply for the grant money.
    This year, NASA threatened to cut the $65 million astrobiology budget in half.  In a nation overspent on hurricane relief and the war on terror, NASA director Michael Griffin faced hard choices.  Squeezed by the cost of the International Space Station, recovery of the Shuttle program after the Columbia disaster and the pressure for a new human launch vehicle (the CEV), he distributed much of the pain to the NASA science budget, with astrobiology low on the priority list.  The response was swift and strident.  Scientific institutions, academics, and even private space advocacy groups like the Planetary Society and the SETI Institute joined in condemning the reductions.  Tempers eased slightly when NASA restored half the projected cuts, but new astrobiology projects are likely to be unfunded.  Scientists are still irate and demanding their money back.
    Meanwhile, some of the findings discussed at the NASA Astrobiology Conference March 26-30 in Washington, DC were not all that encouraging.  The media had made a big deal about possible water on Enceladus last year.  The L word (life) was usually not far behind.  As reported by Richard A. Kerr in Science,2 however, the just-add-hot-water recipe may be unrealistic.  “George Cody warned that deep-sea hot springs couldn’t have produced all of the necessary components,” Kerr reported.  “Instead, the final assembly [sic; implies design] of molecules leading to life [sic; implies progress] must have happened somewhere between deep-sea vents, warm little ponds [an allusion to Darwin], and any number of other chemical stew pots.”  Cody found that, while some ingredients might be catalyzed by hydrothermal vents, the rest of the cooking had to happen elsewhere: “Worst of all, important sugars and nucleobases fall apart under hydrothermal conditions.”  Astrobiologists are trying a new approach: think globally, act locally –
Submarine hot springs no doubt could have played a role in brewing the primordial soup that gave rise to life [sic], Cody said, but other environments must have contributed too.  “If I said it all happened in hydrothermal vents, that won’t move this field ahead,” he says.  “Thinking more globally could open up something.”  Perhaps the real action came along continental margins, he said.  There, prebiotic compounds from deep-sea vents rose to meet drainage from the land’s warm little ponds and fallout from atmospheric reactions triggered by lightning and sunlight.  “This is a very good [sic] approach, quite novel,” says organic chemist Vera Kolb of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside.  “People get bogged down with the particular conditions they’re studying, but he wasn’t pushing his own work.”
    Such a “global origin” scenario, however, would make it less likely that life arose elsewhere in the solar system, Cody says.  The subsurface oceans on the icy moons Europa and Enceladus might not have offered the required diversity of environments.  And Mars may not have had even a short-lived ocean.
Since Europa and Enceladus were both recently advertised as targets for life detection, it may not be politically opportune at this time to mention such things to Congress.
1Editorial, “Astrobiology at Ten,” Nature 440, 582 (30 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/440582a.
2Richard A. Kerr, “ASTROBIOLOGY SCIENCE CONFERENCE 2006: Diversity Before Life,” Science, 14 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5771, p. 179; DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5771.179b.
There is nothing wrong with asking big questions.  What is life?  What are the requirements for life?  How can we detect life?  When asking big questions, it makes good sense to get input from a variety of disciplines.  Astrobiology, however, has big problems passing itself off as science that deserves public funding.
    For one, it assumes evolution before allowing the evidence to speak.  If there is water, there must be life.  If there are organic compounds, they must evolve into more complex ones.  While it may be true that a substantial number of stars have planets, and that some of those will fall within the temperature range where water can exist as a liquid, thinking that life will necessarily emerge has no scientific support.  (Claiming it evolved here is circular reasoning since the alternative is that it was designed.)  Asking big questions and taking a position without scientific support is tantamount to religion, and imposes a state-funded religious view on a public, the majority of which does not accept evolution.
    Another problem is that astro- has nothing to do with -biology.  Astrobiology is a made-up term, a chimera, a bizarre juxtaposition of concepts like decadent fudge or sexy V6 that is more marketing than substance.  Invent a racy term like “astrobiology,” and you instantly convey images about things of which we have no knowledge, and that may not exist.  Yet it gives artists fodder for portraying DNA molecules unwinding out of Hubble astrophotos.  One might retort that we have astrochemistry and astrophysics – but these are natural subjects for lifeless stars.  We have biochemistry and biophysics, but these are natural to Earth, the one place we know has life.  So far as we know, biology and astronomy have no necessary or demonstrable connection.  There are organic molecules in space, and there are planets, and there is probably water, but none of these conditions are sufficient for life.  Put a planet together with water and carbon, and you may get only dark mud.
    But, someone will object, how can we find out, unless we search?  OK, get in line.  Make a presentation, show your criteria, provide a budget and time limit, and make your case to Congress through elected representatives.  Perhaps you can sell the public on funding it for a little while, subject to other funding priorities.  But astrobiology has become an open-ended program that could never be exhausted, no matter how many targets are investigated.  If we don’t find it on Mars, let’s look on Europa, then Titan, then Enceladus, then other stars, and on and on forever.  Worse, astrobiology was launched on news of possible life in a Martian meteorite that, in retrospect, looks deeply flawed.  Some get the impression the announcement had ulterior motives.  Now that the search is on, though, what are the criteria for failure?  Would committed astrobiologists ever admit defeat?  If not, then it is religion, not science.
    The scientific elite want complete independence from political influence on their spending habits, and become irate when the president or Congress dictate scientific priorities.  They think they alone know what is good for science.  But just like all citizens, scientists need accountability.  As Steven L. Goldman (Lehigh U) said in a lecture series on 20th century science for The Teaching Company,
Science has definitively lost its innocence.  The claim that “we are generating value-neutral, objective knowledge” is hollow.  Scientists may continue to believe it, but from a social perspective, the pursuit of knowledge – even of abstract scientific knowledge – is firmly embedded in social institutions and social expectations.  Science has been delighted to take this public support (and especially the public funding) and the organization of public institutions to allow scientists to do research – take that money and support, because the public perceives that science is a source of technological blessing.  But the flip side is that when there are curses, science is going to have to suffer that as well.
(Lecture 36, excerpt)
Another problem with astrobiology is the implied expectation that the public should fund it.  Why?  What national interest is served?  The public has a right to expect that either national security, health, prosperity or international prestige will be enhanced by the expenditure of its tax dollars.  Unquestionably, astrobiology is driving some interesting technology, such as miniaturization of biological detectors.  Astrobiologists can tout any number of spin-off technologies from its projects, but these beg the question whether those same technologies would not have emerged from other programs, such as medical or military research, or even from private enterprise.  Not every interesting question has the expectation of public funding.  For better or worse, Congress in 1994 decided that a superconducting supercollider was not worth $10 billion just because some particle physicists were interested to find out if the Higgs boson exists (as required by current big bang models).  The existence of life is arguably a more entrancing question, but it does not follow that the public should pay to answer it.
    A rejoinder might be that such projects cost too much for anything but the government largesse.  (This forgets that government is of, by, and for the people.)  Why so?  The Mt. Wilson and Palomar telescopes were privately funded, and so is SETI (once Proxmire laughed it out of Congress; in fact, SETI has rather flourished under private sponsorship).  There are billionaires like Paul Allen, who just funded the Allen Telescope Array for the SETI Institute, and there are corporations, foundations and university alumni that can pitch in if scientists can sell them on the need for their particular astrobiology projects.  If this is not satisfactory, let them think creatively; sell Congress on a Mars or Europa mission for other priorities, and let private sources fund the astrobiology investigations as ride-alongs.  Or, build better life detectors for use on the battlefield, and adapt them for use in space.
    Did you know that federal funding for US science is a relatively recent phenomenon?  In the 19th century, the government steadfastly refused to pay a dime for the AAAS, the NSF, the Smithsonian and other science organizations – they had to solicit funds from donors.  In Britain, also, members of the Royal Society and Royal Institution both had to pay their own way via sponsorships and special public events.  France had its crown-funded Academy of Sciences, but the elite scientists were subject to the king’s bidding.  Only after World War II, largely through the efforts of Vannevar Bush convincing the federal government that it needed technology for national defense, did federal funding of basic research become the norm.  Still, each expenditure needs to be justified to the people who pay the bills.  How will astrobiology aid the poor family on the farm in Arkansas, or victims of the latest natural disaster?  How will it protect our freedoms?  Furthermore, as we have seen with the National Endowment for the Arts, FEMA, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public funding does not always produce excellence.  Maybe private funding would stimulate higher standards for astrobiology.  These considerations undercut the alarms raised by scientists that funding cuts to astrobiology will necessarily reduce US scientific leadership in the world.
    Of course, it is demoralizing and counterproductive for government to cut back on already-approved programs.  Congress should keep its word.  Once a program starts, it involves careers and livelihoods and plans for potentially many people.  Finishing a job usually provides more knowledge than cancelling one program for something better.  That alone, however, does not justify an endless funding stream.  Each program needs to earn its wings every day.  The public has a right to know what they are getting for their dollars, even when, like with NASA science, the outlays are a small fraction of the federal budget.
    Justifications for research programs do not need to be merely pragmatic.  The Apollo program, for instance, was immensely rewarding for national prestige during the cold war, and contributed to world peace when Americans and Russians collaborated on Skylab.  Space exploration continues to uphold America’s image of scientific leadership in the world (e.g., Mars rovers, Cassini).  What, though, is astrobiology’s marketing line?  Finding the answer to big questions like the presence of life in space would be no doubt interesting for philosophy, but how does one justify public funds in addressing the question?  Think of great conceptual leaps that were made without government funding: relativity, the expansion of the universe, MRI – the list would be long.  Why should not astrobiology, like SETI, pay its own way?  Why does it have to cost tens of millions of dollars?  We have material from space sitting at our feet waiting to be examined – meteorites from Mars even – and plenty of environments on Earth where scientists could get assistance from universities, corporations and foundations.  Existing telescopes are well equipped for much of the needed research.  Scientists throughout history have been inventive and productive without “banging their crutches on the trough of public funding” (09/09/2005).
    Until and unless astronomy and biology get married, the folks at home don’t have to keep funding the wedding plans year after year – especially when they are not convinced the two were made for each other.
Next headline on:  SETIOrigin of LifeAstronomySolar System
How Much Can a Cell Do Without?    04/14/2006  
In an old high school game, the leader would call some unsuspecting boy to the front, put a sheet over him, and say, “Take off what you don’t need.”  Perhaps a shoe would emerge from under the sheet.  “Take off something else you don’t need,” the leader would continue, and the volume of giggling in the room would rise as socks, a shirt, and whatever would emerge from under the covers.  If the young person was smart, he would realize the only thing he didn’t need was the sheet itself.
    Scientists play this game in a more sophisticated manner with cells, in a process called gene knockout.  The idea is to disable a gene or protein and see what happens.  They can also overexpress the gene, or mutate it, for additional data.  If the cell gets by just fine, it must have been a nonessential part.  Usually, however, something terrible happens, even when the gene or protein was previously unknown.  Here are just a couple of examples from today’s PNAS:
  • Power Plant Sabotage:  Scientists from Michigan State1 studied FZO, “dynamin-related membrane-remodeling protein that mediates fusion between mitochondrial outer membranes in animals and fungi.”  In the model plant Arabidopsis, they knocked out the plant-specific member of the dynamin superfamily, FZL.  This protein targets to the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplasts, the light-harvesting power plants of plants. Here’s what happened:
    fzl knockout mutants have abnormalities in chloroplast and thylakoid morphology, including disorganized grana stacks and alterations in the relative proportions of grana and stroma thylakoids.  Overexpression of FZL-GFP also conferred defects in thylakoid organization.  Mutation of a conserved residue in the predicted FZL GTPase domain abolished both the punctate localization pattern and ability of FZL-GFP to complement the fzl mutant phenotype.  FZL defines a new protein class within the dynamin superfamily of membrane-remodeling GTPases that regulates organization of the thylakoid network in plants.  Notably, FZL levels do not affect mitochondrial morphology or ultrastructure, suggesting that mitochondrial morphology in plants is regulated by an FZO-independent mechanism.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    This means that this specific protein was essential for just the thylakoid membrane inner structure, and there must be another essential mechanism affecting the overlying structure.  (Note: the capitalized acronym, FZL, refers to the protein, while the italicized lower-case acronym fzl refers to the gene that codes for it.)  They found that mutating or deleting the gene causes disaster – but so does overexpressing it.  This means that not only is FZL a key player, but the activity of its gene fzl must be regulated by something else.

  • Centrosome Attack:  Mitosis, or cell division, has been studied for many decades, but now another essential player has been identified.  Scientists from Japan and Pennsylvania2 describe what happened when they played “take off what you don’t need” with a centrosome protein named Su48:
    The centrosome functions as the major microtubule-organizing center and plays a vital role in guiding chromosome segregation during mitosis.  Centrosome abnormalities are frequently seen in a variety of cancers, suggesting that dysfunction of this organelle may contribute to malignant transformation.  In our efforts to identify the protein components of the centrosome and to understand the structure features involved in the assembly and functions of this organelle, we cloned and characterized a centrosome-associated protein called Su48.  We found that a coiled coil-containing subdomain of Su48 was both sufficient and required for its centrosome localization.  In addition, this structure also modulates Su48 dimerization.  Moreover, ectopic expression of Su48 causes abnormal mitosis, and a mutant form of Su48 disrupts the localization of gamma-tubulin to the centrosome.  Finally, by microinjection of an anti-Su48 antibody, we found that disruption of normal Su48 functions leads to mitotic failure, possibly due to centrosome defects or incomplete cytokinesis.  Thus, Su48 represents a previously unrecognized centrosome protein that is essential for cell division.  We speculate that Su48 abnormalities may cause aberrant chromosome segregation and may contribute to aneuploidy and malignant transformation.
These papers are just two out of a growing body of knockout experiments that find out, by examining the wreckage, that there’s not much a cell doesn’t need.
1Gao et al., “FZL, an FZO-like protein in plants, is a determinant of thylakoid and chloroplast morphology,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0507287103, published online before print April 14, 2006.
2Wang et al., “Characterization of Su48, a centrosome protein essential for cell division,”
Consider the problem this poses for neo-Darwinism.  Natural Selection depends on unfailing cell division – and not just any splitting of a cell into parts somewhere and somehow, but on the formation of highly accurate daughter copies of germline cells.  This is because (according to theory) only the daughter cells can preserve any beneficial variations produced by accident in the parent cell.  Otherwise, evolution comes to a sudden stop (see online book).
    As revealed in the last century, cell division is a highly complex process with numerous players, all of which have vital functions.  Scientists apparently did not even know about Su48, but without it, cell division doesn’t work.  So here is another extra in the play, like a nameless stage hand, without whom it’s curtains for the Darwin show.
    In the first article, plants (and animals, with their mitochondrial power plants), cannot harvest light without FZL.  The sweeping dioramas of evolutionary history that festoon museums and TV shows show photosynthesis and mitochondira just popping into existence (the Popeye theory of evolution, 05/31/2005; see also 03/31/2006 example), without any consideration of where to find all these essential players.  We’ve only provided two or three examples here; there are thousands.  And when you consider that the blind invention of even one protein is astronomically improbable (see online book), cell biologists had better throw off the Charlie sheet before their embarrassment reaches the ultimate.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyGeneticsEvolutionary Theory
Paleoanthropologists Announce the Middle Man   04/12/2006    
In unison, the news media joined the most recent chorus over alleged fossil human ancestors: “Fossil find improves knowledge of human origins” (Live Science): “Fossils fill gap in human lineage,” (BBC News); “Ancient fossils fill gap in early human evolution” (Yahoo News); “Fossil discovery fills gap in human evolution” (MSNBC News, which adds, ‘We just found the chain of evolution, the continuity through time’); “Fossils clinch identity of Lucy’s Ancestor” (Science magazine); and the press release from UC Berkeley where Tim White, one of the discoverers, hails from, which calls the Middle Awash in Ethiopia “the world’s best window on human evolution.”
    The claim is that the Ethiopian fragments of Australopithecus amarensis lie between its alleged predecessor Ardipithecus and the successor Australopithecus afarensis (a.k.a. Lucy).  That makes this fossil somewhat of a Middle Awash man.
Veteran readers of these pages know the song and dance well enough not to give this more than a yawn.  Do these few fragmentary bones and teeth fill in any gaps?  John Hawks, a pro-evolution paleoanthropologist at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison doesn’t think so; he said, “The finding of Au. anamensis within the already-known time range of Au. anamensis means that the new fossils haven’t really added much to the question of phylogenetic diversity in early hominids.”  In other words, it’s like claiming, “we found a fossil trilobite within the range of fossil trilobites!  This sheds new light on trilobite evolution and closes a gap in our knowledge!”
    Ann Gibbons in the Science article quotes Tim White as claiming that “testing these hypotheses will require additional fossils from other sites” and Meave Leakey saying, “I don’t think that the published evidence shows [the link between A. ramidus and A. anamensis] very convincingly,”  Gibbons advises, “stay tuned.”  As with Tiktaalik (04/06/2006), the most important missing links lie buried in the future.
    All three alleged hominoid species are members of extinct ape families, anyway, and have nothing to do with human ancestry.  Only wishful thinking and allegiance to Charlie ties these fragments to his icon of the descent of man (illustration).  As Jerry Bergman documented in a recent article for the CRS, the field of evolutionary paleoanthropology is filled with rivalry, contradiction, deception, exaggeration and outright fraud.  Too bad the news media are all dupes; they think this is science instead of mud wrestling.
Next headline on: Early ManFossils
Few Mutational Pathways Lead to Darwinian Evolution   04/12/2006    
Mutations may not be as helpful for neo-Darwinian evolution as expected, say researchers from Harvard.  Let’s say five mutations need to occur for a bacterium to gain resistance to an antibiotic, and there are 120 ways to get these mutations.  They found that only about 10 of the pathways could be selected by natural selection.  Since natural selection would have to confer better fitness at each step, most of the pathways are dead ends.
    Although the team studied only one particular kind of resistance, “this finding likely applies to most protein evolution,” they said.  “Although many mutational paths lead to favored variants, only a very small fraction are likely to result in continuously improved fitness and therefore be relevant to the process of natural selection.”
    See also Science Daily, EurekAlert.  The original paper was published in Science.1  The abstract states:
Five point mutations in a particular beta-lactamase allele jointly increase bacterial resistance to a clinically important antibiotic by a factor of 100,000.  In principle, evolution to this high-resistance beta-lactamase might follow any of the 120 mutational trajectories linking these alleles.  However, we demonstrate that 102 trajectories are inaccessible to Darwinian selection and that many of the remaining trajectories have negligible probabilities of realization, because four of these five mutations fail to increase drug resistance in some combinations.  Pervasive biophysical pleiotropy [i.e., one modification causing a cascade of effects] within the beta-lactamase seems to be responsible, and because such pleiotropy appears to be a general property of missense mutations, we conclude that much protein evolution will be similarly constrained.  This implies that the protein tape of life [sic] may be largely reproducible and even predictable.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The last sentence about what this implies is purely a speculation.  They elaborate slightly in the last sentence of the paper: “It now appears that intramolecular interactions render many mutational trajectories selectively inaccessible, which implies that replaying the protein tape of life might be surprisingly repetitive.  It remains to be seen whether intermolecular interactions similarly constrain Darwinian evolution at larger scales of biological organization.”  If those larger scales are random and require multiple steps, it would seem the same principle applies.
1Weinreich et al., “Darwinian Evolution Can Follow Only Very Few Mutational Paths to Fitter Proteins,” Science, 7 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5770, pp. 111-114, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123539.
It wasn’t going to work anyway, so this just makes it harder.  They are’t talking about adding new genetic information or function, but rather losing function (susceptibility to the antiobiotic) in such a manner that each stage doesn’t kill all of the organisms in one fell swoop.  If this principle applies, as they suggested, to larger scales of biological organization, then the neo-Darwinian gig is, for all practical purposes, over.  Try getting a whale from a cow against these kinds of constraints.  This makes “the protein tape of life” predictable?  In whose Tinker Bell tale?
Next headline on: GeneticsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Isolated DNA Bases Are Destroyed Quickly   04/11/2006    
Without water, DNA bases fall apart quickly.  Any origin-of-life models expecting the building blocks of DNA (nucleotides) to stick around for long are going to suffer, say researchers from Oregon State University.  The molecules can enter a “dark state” in which they are highly vulnerable to UV radiation.  This idea was once considered “scientific heresy” – so much so that the researchers “had a lot of sleepless nights” defending the idea from critics:
The core of the debate, [Wei] Kong [professor of chemistry] said, relates to the behavior of the nucleic acid bases – adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine – which as A-T and G-C base pairs form DNA and ultimately become the blueprint for all living things.  One of the most basic premises of biochemistry is that these nucleic acid bases are very stable, as they would have to be to prevent rampant mutations and make an organized genetic structure possible.
    But studies at OSU, which were done with highly sophisticated electron spectroscopy, showed that the alleged stability of the nucleic acid bases in DNA is largely a myth.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Isolated DNA bases, in other words, do not have the stability scientists thought they did.  They are extremely vulnerable to UV damage for short periods:
The lifetime of the dark state is not long – a nanosecond is one billionth of a second.  But it’s more than enough time for DNA mutations to happen, Kong said.  And the existence of this dark state raised questions about how life ever could have begun, given that the genetic carriers were so easily mutated or destroyed during this very brief but very vulnerable time.
    “When the bases of DNA were first being formed billions of years ago [sic], the atmosphere was actually quite hostile,” Kong said.  “It was a period prior to any protective ozone layer on Earth and the ultraviolet radiation was very strong.  So if primordial DNA bases were forced into this vulnerable dark state, they should have incurred large amounts of photochemical damage that would have made the very survival of these bases difficult, let alone further evolution of life.”
At this point, the press release takes a dramatically optimistic turn: the dark state disappears in the presence of water.  “So if water were present, the earliest DNA bases would have been able to survive and eventually help form the basis for ever-more-complex life forms,” they claim. 
The findings suggest, Kong said, how water could have been an absolutely essential compound to allow early DNA bases to remain stable, resist mutation, and ultimately allow for the evolution of life....
“What this is really telling us is that life is a unified process,” Kong said.  “It’s not just a group of DNA bases, but it’s also the physical environment in which they exist.  Later on, as life became more evolved [sic], there were other ways to achieve genetic stability.  But at first, it simply may not have been possible without water.”
So while the news seems bad, they were able to spin it positively by adding water: “the presence of water was the key to the evolution of life on Earth, making it possible for life to emerge [sic] from what was once a hostile and unforgiving primordial soup of chemicals and radiation” [sic].  In other words, don’t try freeze-dried primordial soup.
The only good news here is that these researchers have not completely obliterated all hope.  This is not good news for the OOL (origin-of-life) school.  They have constrained further a hopeless situation (see online book).  This “radical heresy” removes any possibility of key building blocks forming away from water.  Remember when Steve Benner postulated ribose forming in a desert with boron, because it was too unstable in water? (11/05/2004)  Now, the poor guy has to make the ribose in the desert (hoping that UV radiation won’t destroy it there), then get it into the water where the A, C, T, G or uracil are, hoping somehow that they will join up with phosphates on some clay mineral, and then link into polynucleotide chains that can both code for information and perform enzymatic functions (RNA World), but also find a safe haven in some membrane that is not so tight it becomes a death trap.
    Sounds like a hard story to sell to Congress.  Things are not going too well for astrobiology these days.
Next headline on: GeneticsOrigin of Life
Imaginary Feathers Found on “Turkey” Dino    04/10/2006  
Last month, we reported on announcements of a dinosaur fossil with imaginary feathers (02/08/2006); at least, all the news stories mentioned feathers and some had pictures of them, but the original paper said nothing about feathers.  Now, National Geographic has done it again: “Giant Turkey-Like Dinosaur Found in Utah,” the title reads, with a picture of a blue-feathered dinosaur complete with fantail.  Were feathers found?  “Only fragments of the animal were discovered—a fearsomely clawed hand and foot,” the article states, but then quickly adds, “But the dinosaur probably stood seven feet (two meters) tall and ran as fast as an ostrich” (emphasis added in all quotes).  Presumably, if it could keep up with an ostrich, it must have worn the same racing plumage.
    They quote a researcher saying, “We don’t know if Hagryphus would have had a feather fan on the back of its tail [characteristic of turkeys], but its close cousins did, so it’s possible.”  The close cousins are oviraptors, which the article states, “had simple feathers, winglike arms, powerful legs, long claws, and powerful, toothless beaks for shearing through food.”  Yet these “simple feathers,” we have seen, were integumentary structures surrounding some bones that others have concluded were flayed skin, and contained no vanes and barbs characteristic of bird feathers.  The choice of words, images and comparisons to ostriches and turkeys blurs the distinction between dinosaurs and birds, but without actual fossil feathers to confirm the connection.
What do you expect?  The National Geographic Society of Judas-Lovers (see next entry) has mastered the power of the big lie, half-truth and visualization.  Remember its “Was Darwin Wrong?  No!” propaganda? (02/15/2005).  We hoped Chris Johns would tone down the rhetoric after Bill Allen left, but his biggest lies have been “Always be honest and tell the truth.... Be humble, there is no room for arrogance.”  National Geographic is a lost cause.  It’s been that way for a long time; good for lurid pictures of ethnics in their native dress, but not much else.  If you want facts, get your news from sources that care about the truth.
Next headline on:  BirdsDinosaursFossils
Gospel of Judas TV Documentary Sells Gnosticism to the Public   04/09/2006    
National Geographic aired its long-awaited documentary Sunday night about the discovery, restoration, and translation of a Gnostic manuscript found in 1970, the Gospel of Judas (see next entry).  The trailers had titillated audiences that this was an explosive document that would call our deepest beliefs into question.  The content of the documentary clearly gave better press to Gnostic beliefs over those of traditional Christian theology.
What a travesty.  Sweep away the acting, religious rituals, special effects, haunting music, breathy narrator, cloak-and-dagger detective story about how the manuscript was found and restored, the suspenseful build-up to the reading of the text, and all the other irrelevant Hollywood tricks, and what is left?  Only the opinions of a few apostate professors.  There was virtually no serious investigation of whether the Gospel of Judas is authentic or trustworthy.  Yet that is the most important point, the only point that matters.  They call it “an authentic ancient text” (a classic half truth, since, in terms of the papyrus it is written on, dating from the 3rd or 4th century, it is), but fail to establish that the content has anything whatsoever to do with the real Judas, or with real historical events.
    If the Gospel of Judas is a work of a second-century Gnostic sect falsely attributed to Judas, then that is all that needs to be said about it.  It would be of interest to historians, but not enough to cause any stir Sunday morning at church.  But no– they have to repeatedly imply that the Gospel of Judas is on par with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Rather than consider the possibility that it might be completely fictional and unreliable, they imply that this “lost gospel” written by “early Christians” that can “shed new light” and provide another viewpoint on the events of the passion of Christ that is equally plausible.  They put heretical sects on the same level as the faith preached by Peter and Paul.  They make the illogical claim that it is possible to believe the four canonical gospels and the Gospel of Judas simultaneously, even when there are gross contradictions.  At best, they imply that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about this document; at worst, they promote, in effect, starting a new First Church of Judas-Adoring Gnostics.
    The only redeeming feature of the hour-long farce are reenactments of the martyrs.  Christians should stiffen with both revulsion for the brutality of the Romans, and pride for the steadfast confidence and hope in Christ of those who were beaten, burned and crucified for the faith.  But to suggest that one man, Irenaeus, under a desire to make Christianity more palatable to the Romans, was responsible for arbitrarily deciding which of the “gospels” were in or out, is both illogical and historically inaccurate.  Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and a host of other apostolic fathers in the theological line of descent from Peter and Paul and John held essentially the same positions.  Note what Dr. Clinton E. Arnold of Biola University says:
Neither Irenaeus nor any church leader arbitrarily selected which books would become part of the New Testament.  From the moment that the gospels were first written, they were circulated throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond and used in the churches for teaching, worship, and devotion.  Lists of New Testament writings were later drawn up by some church fathers and early church councils to recognize and formalize what Christians were using in churches throughout the world.  The formal recognition became essential because some groups were wanting to add to the New Testament and other people (like Marcion) were wanting to subtract from what was widely used and recognized as authoritative.
National Geographic’s mockumentary also completely ignores the statements of the first Christians recorded by Luke (a careful historian) in the book of Acts about Judas, and the well-authenticated 1st-century epistles of the Apostle Paul, that so clearly define Christology and soteriology, that any Gnostic position or any “other gospel” (i.e., inconsistent with that doctrine) is to be utterly and completely repudiated (see Galatians 1, for example).
    The whole NG production is geared to make the historic position look vulnerable, and the radical position brave and enticing.  Conservative scholars are quoted for just a few seconds only to dismiss them, so that the spotlight can be given to liberals like Elaine Pagels eager to substitute imagination for fact (the whole show is basically a decorated pulpit for Pagels and her anti-traditional views).  Imagination – speculation – the power of suggestion – iconoclasm – these are the highest values of this perverted documentary.  Did they take lessons from Art Bell and the face-on-Mars cults?
    It gets worse.  Not only is balanced scholarship utterly lacking, the program turns into a glorification of Gnosticism – “the people who know,” the people of insight, intuition and “the spark of the divine inside.” Such beliefs, of course, are pole-opposite from both Judaism and Christianity.  Repudiating the history revealed in the oldest and best sources—the New Testament canon—the message of this anti-Christian polemic relies on a translation of a text from an unknown date by an unknown author from a weird cult, and on selective, agenda-driven, between-the-lines readings of New Testament passages that conservative scholars would find bizarre.  It makes Judas into a saint.  It suggests that Jesus Christ was a manipulator.  It suggests his followers, many of whom endured torture and died martyrs’ deaths, were power-hungry book-burners holding sway over the minds of the common people.  It questions the authenticity of the real gospels, without providing conservative scholars any chance to refute the claims of the liberals with archaeological, historical and textual evidence.  The discoverer of the lost document is allowed to say, without scorn, she believes Judas is speaking to her, inspiring her to rehabilitate his image.  It even went so far as to suggest that the New Testament is inherently anti-Semitic and contributed to the Nazi holocaust!  What a slap in the face to millions of Christians, and on Palm Sunday even!  How can such folly be tolerated?  What has become of National Geographic?
    It must be from too much hanging around the Darwin Party storytelling lounges (12/22/2003).
    These are times of both danger and opportunity for Christians.  Danger, because the Darwin Party, liberal theologians, the media and political liberals are all attacking conservative Christianity with an intensity unparalleled in American history.  If it were scholarly debate about facts and history, it would be worthwhile; but they are attacking with big lies, half-truths, suggestion, selective authority, and other irrational methods of propaganda.  In another month, the phony history of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code will send the next salvo.  It is a time of opportunity for Christians, because more and more people will have questions about these things.  Better engagement than apathy.  Christians who know their history and theology can rise to the occasion and become stronger in the process.  The fields are white unto harvest, and Christ will be glorified – if the church is not caught asleep.  The martyrs did not sacrifice for our lethargy.
Next headline on:  The Bible and TheologyMedia
Can You Trust the Bible Skeptics?    04/07/2006  
Ever since National Geographic announced the completion of a translation of the Gospel of Judas (a 2nd-century apocryphal gospel attributed to, but not authored by, Judas), the news media have been abuzz with speculations that it provides a clearer view of Jesus from Judas’ point of view, and that the early church leaders suppressed it.  The Gospel of Judas was known to exist around 180 A.D. but there were no surviving copies till now.
    Some media reports smack of sensationalism.   Example spin-off news articles: LiveScience, MSNBC News.  Few seem to be asking about the authenticity of the document or the credibility of its claims; the burden of proof is being put on Bible-believers.  An underlying assumption is that any contrarian view must be more reliable than the accepted view.
    Once the story hit the press, articles supporting the traditional canon of the New Testament (NT) have started appearing.  Collin Thomas wrote one for Christianity Today, and Al Mohler wrote one for Baptist Press.  Union University profs also responded in another article on Baptist Press, calling the Gospel of Judas both “heresy and unreliable history.”  Responding to the argument by Princeton professor Elaine Pagels that Gnostics did not consider their views heretical, Greg Thornbury said, “When do heretics admit that what they believe is, in fact, heresy?  Whether one is talking about the fourth century or the 21st century, there has been no shortage of people trying to discredit the Christian faith.”  Ted Olsen on Christianity Today listed two dozen links to news articles discussing the Gospel of Judas, pro and con.  A couple of days later, Biola University posted a response in Q&A format by Clinton E. Arnold, professor and chairman of the Department of New Testament.  So rather than running for cover, many Bible scholars are engaging the issue.  Donald Senior said in an AP story on Fox News, “Let a vigorous debate on the significance of this fascinating ancient text begin.”
Update 04/22/2005:  Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times (copied in the International Herald-Tribune) wrote, “Jesus-Judas manuscript is genuine, but is its story true?”  Baptist Press printed an article, “Orthodox scholars: gospel of Judas not a Christian document.”  Rev. Mark Creech responded also on Agape Press.  The May issue of National Geographic, however, contained an expanded article similar in content to the press release.
What has become of National Geographic?  Right before Easter, they published two reports trying to put Christians on the defensive: the silly claim by Doron Nof that Jesus walked on ice instead of water (04/04/2006), and now passing off this phony gospel with a conspiracy-theory flavor that the church “doesn’t want you to know” the truth about Judas.  Why are they doing this?  Is this objective scholarship, or activism?
    Think for a moment what would happen if they did this to the Koran.  Imagine the consequences that might ensue, considering the some hundred people that died over cartoons of Mohammed.  Or consider if NG made a crusade of debunking native American beliefs.  Only with Christianity is there a continual onslaught to undermine a religion’s historical foundations with impunity, and for added insult, right before their holiest time of the year.  Why the asymmetry in so-called political correctness?
    Since Christians are a forgiving lot, let’s set aside such feelings for now, and talk about the new document.  The Gospel of Judas is merely one of many apocryphal, spurious writings of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  This is not news; though we didn’t have a copy of this one till now, others are well known from antiquity or from the Nag Hammadi cache of Gnostic texts found in Egypt in 1945.  Scholars have read them, analyzed them and put them in context.  As with any long-lost manuscript, the Gospel of Judas is historically interesting and worthy of analysis.  The scientists who dated and translated this document did exemplary work.  Ancient texts, reliable or not, can shed light on the period in which they were written and on the beliefs of certain sects at the time.  Whether its contents have historical validity is a completely separate question.  Compare, for instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls.  They are of immense value for historians and for textual criticism of the Old Testament manuscripts, but whether the teachings of the Qumran community accurately reflected Judaism is a separate question.  Scholars debate whether they were the Essenes of which Josephus wrote, and what was their relationship to the priestly class of Jewish believers in Jerusalem or to the Diaspora or to other Jewish sects.  The contrast between true Christianity and Gnosticism is more stark.  Sure, there were spin-off churches and various sects, but Christians and Jews have a standard: the Scriptures.  The NT canon (from a word meaning measuring rod) is to true Christianity what the OT canon was to Judaism: a rule, a guide, a trustworthy body of inspired writings that distinguishes the true faith from the false.  Gnosticism is not Christianity, and Christianity is not Gnosticism; their doctrines are poles apart.  We don’t need spurious writings to tell us what Christianity is.  We have the evidence right in front of us; the earlier, more reliable, more credible writings of the real apostles and their companions, and the words and acts of Jesus Himself as recorded by eyewitnesses.  Even unbelievers should acknowledge that you should get your information from the best sources available, not from later writings of doubtful authenticity used by heretical sects.  (Whether these sects considered themselves heretical is completely irrelevant; if you feel six feet tall but the yardstick measures you at three feet, sorry—enjoy your delusion.)
    The canonical NT writings all date from the 1st century, and some from just a few decades, or less than a decade, from the events described.  This is widely acknowledged by reputable historians, both secular and Christian.  There is an embarrassment of riches of manuscripts of these texts: thousands of them, not to mention translations and citations by early church fathers.  Long before the present NT canon become “official” in the days of Constantine, and long before there was a centralized church authority, early Christians shared a broad consensus on which texts were authentic and inspired.  The ones that were written by the original apostles or their close associates (such as Mark and Luke), including Paul’s epistles, were accepted by Christians all over the Roman empire.  There were a few without complete acceptance: documents such as II Peter and Revelation were accepted by some and not others; this may have been due to availability.  On the other hand, some documents like the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas enjoyed wide popularity for awhile but either were not considered inspired like the apostolic writings, or eventually declined in acceptance – not by official decree, but, again, by consensus.  Before there was a Catholic church with a centralized authority, church councils later codified what was already the accepted canon of the NT.  In the councils, there was some debate about the few books enjoying wide but not universal acceptance; the debates concluded with a strong affirmation of the present 27 books (a list nearly identical to those of some apostolic fathers much earlier).  How the NT canon came to be is a fascinating subject that will not be explored in detail here.  The main point is that the NT canon was not some arbitrary decree of a hierarchy trying to suppress minority views within a church, but an affirmation and formalization of the beliefs of Christians from around the Empire about what constituted Scripture – the word of God.
    Into this milieu appeared a number later documents that were either (1) known to be from Gnostic and other heretical sects, or (2) were falsely attributed to apostles or other first-century characters.  These are called pseudepigrapha, or falsely-ascribed epigraphs – i.e., spurious writings.  The Gospel of Judas is both.  As Collin Hansen wrote in Christianity Today (good article), the Gospel of Judas is not a gospel, and it was not written by Judas.  It would “sure change things, if it were true.”  But it isn’t.  It’s a phony document, written by a heretical cult.  So why the media attention?
    That there would be competing documents with the New Testament should come as no surprise.  Look at the copycats that follow any successful movie or book today.  As Christianity spread, so would motivations rise for competing with it or corrupting it with other religious traditions.  This had already begun in the book of Acts (e.g., see Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20).  There were Judaizers trying to pull it toward legalism, and Roman mystery religions trying to pull it toward secret wisdom, and philosophers trying to meld it with Greek philosophy.  Jesus, Paul, Peter and Jude all warned of false teachers that would quickly arise and mislead many.  Already in Paul’s time there were hints of the Gnostic sects that the early church had to confront (cf. the warnings in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, and I John).  There have been off-shoot and off-beat sects all through history.  True believers have always heeded the stern Biblical commands to guard against false teachers and deceivers who pollute the word of God with falsehoods out of the imaginations of their own heart.
    Comparison of Gnostic teachings with the core of the New Testament doctrine easily shows the differences.  The New Testament is remarkably consistent in doctrine, though written by men with a variety of backgrounds (fisherman, Jewish scholars, a doctor, a tax collector, and more), whereas the Gospel of Judas is clearly a Gnostic polemic dressed up as a historical narrative.  It is one of many false “gospels” that arose in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  Naturally, a fake would get more attention if it could be passed off as written by Mary, Judas, Peter, Thomas, Barnabas or other (by now) famous characters.  (This particular fake was authored by the Cainites, a Gnostic sect devoted to praising the villains of the Bible.)  None of these spurious writings had the wide acceptance of the New Testament texts, and many were overtly denounced as heretical by local elders and Christian writers.  It’s easy to see why; they contained crazy ideas, or doctrines clearly contradictory to Scripture.  The Gospel of Judas falls into this category.  Perhaps some copies were destroyed, but more likely, it was not copied because it was known to be phony.  The copy we have now dates from about 300 AD.  Irenaeus knew about it in 180 and condemned it in Against Heresies (notice this is long before any centralized church or official councils), though its original date is unknown.  No serious scholar believes it has any real connection to Judas.  While any new archaeological find is interesting and worth study, a book like the Gospel of Judas, a translation of an earlier work, of doubtful antiquity and likely forgery, should not be put on the same shelf as the more trustworthy and verifiable manuscripts of the New Testament.
    For these reasons, is it not strange that the media are leaping to conspiracy theories that the early church tried to cover up these texts?  Read the New Testament, especially the sources accepted as earliest and most genuine by all reputable historians, and the differences are clear.  What does straw have in common with gold?  Yet NG and other news sources seem beside themselves to find ways to call the teachings of Jesus into question.  This is not scholarship; this is agenda-driven advocacy.
    Let a modern hypothetical case illustrate the point.  Suppose Michael Moore writes a secret biography of George Washington and attributes it to Benedict Arnold.  (Moore is able to maintain his anonymity somehow.)  A few copies get into circulation but are widely dismissed by scholars as forgeries and not worthy of any serious consideration.  The book is a flop; few copies ever get circulated, but it gets notoriety from high-profile book reviews, mostly negative.  A thousand years pass, and some archaeologist finds a German translation of Moore’s book.  For a long time in between, historians had possessed a wealth of primary sources and reputable biographies of Washington.  They had heard about Moore’s book only from reviewers who denounced it.  Now, the German version appears and is translated.  Radiocarbon dating places it somewhere about 200 years after Washington lived.  Scholars read the words of now-forgotten Michael Moore impersonating Benedict Arnold, Washington’s confidant turned traitor, telling new secrets about the father of our country.  Among other shocking revelations, “Arnold” claims that he only defected to the English because Washington asked him to.
    Would it make any sense to give such a book equal or superior standing against the reputable biographies that actually date back to the time of Washington himself?  Of course not; that would make the National Enquirer blush.  Then why all the hubbub over the Gospel of Judas and other apocryphal writings that were known and discounted by the heirs of the true apostles, who knew about and refuted the heretical sects that were putting out these teachings?  What if new writings of David Koresh or Jim Jones were to surface?  Some historians would probably be interested in them, and would benefit by learning details about the beliefs that led them to do what they did.  Most Christians would lose nothing by remaining ignorant of such things and focusing, instead, on the real Scriptures.  Light is more satisfying than darkness.
    If NG, the New York Times and the popular press have an axe to grind against Christians, and if they hold a political and social agenda overtly contrary to the principles of the New Testament, let them say so; it is their right in a free country (as long as they are not getting government funding).  But if they want any credibility, they owe it to themselves to get their facts straight and follow best practices of scholarship.  Then, and only then, can an intelligent discussion take place.
Next headline on:  The Bible and TheologyMedia
The Evolution of Irreducible Complexity    04/06/2006  
It must be open season on Intelligent Design (ID).  Yesterday, Nature tried defense with a new missing link claim (04/06) and today, Science is printing a story to tackle ID’s offensive line, irreducible complexity (see U of Oregon press release and EurekAlert).  The Discovery Institute immediately jumped to the match, with Mr. Irreducible Complexity himself, Michael Behe, leading the charge (see ID the Future).  Behe stood his ground without a flinch, calling this the “lamest excuse yet to answer the challenge irreducible complexity poses for Darwinian evolution.”  Additional responses have been appearing on Evolution News and ID the Future.
Read both sides.  Impressed with the Charlie charge?  Kind of like Pickett’s, isn’t it?  On both counts the Darwinists are fighting tanks with feather pillows.  In both cases also, they only give the press their side of the story, and the other side is forbidden access to respond.
    It’s time for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.  For their bluff, bluster, fluff and froth, and for the silly idea that molecules planned ahead to be pre-adapted for later function, the reporters at University of Oregon are the winners:
Thornton’s group then showed that the ancestral receptor also responded to a far more ancient hormone with a similar structure; this made it “preadapted” to be recruited into a new functional partnership when aldosterone later evolved.  “The stepwise process we were able to reconstruct is entirely consistent with Darwinian evolution,” Thornton said.  “So-called irreducible complexity was just a reflection of a limited ability to see how evolution works.”
O ye of little faith, they cry, can ye not see how the unguided hand of Charlie hath wrought these wonders?  The incorrigibility of Darwinian fundamentalists knows no bounds.  But what will they say when they have to fight real intellectual armies in public view instead of straw soldiers?  Pull down the the Bamboozle Curtain and public perceptions will change really fast.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent DesignDumb Ideas
Fish-o-pod ‘Missing Link’ Discovered: Media Goes Nuts   04/06/2006    
Evolutionists could hardly feel more relieved.  Just when anti-evolutionary sentiment is on the rise, a new fossil has been announced that gives pro-evolutionists a missing link to run up the fishpole, and boy, did the media salute.  Neil Shubin (U of Chicago) and two partners found a “tetrapod-like fish” fossil on a Canadian island.  It helps fill one of the most puzzling transitions in the fossil record, they said: the evolution from a fish to a land animal.
    To hear the media celebration over this underwater Archaeopteryx, it would sound like the war is over and evolution wins.  Creationists have been complaining about gaps in the fossil record, and here is a perfect case of a transitional form.  One scientist smirked, “It’s good of the Intelligent Designer to continue to provide missing links, don’t you think?”  Here are just a few of the claims being made in the press about Tiktaalik roseae, the newest icon of evolution (emphasis added in all quotes):
  • EurekAlert: a “key marker in the evolutionary transition of fish to limbed animals.”
  • News@Nature: this is “the fish that crawled out of water” – a true ‘missing link’ that “it helps to fill in a gap in our understanding of how fish developed legs for land mobility, before eventually evolving into modern animals including mankind.”
  • BBC News:  “Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals... giving researchers a fascinating insight into this key stage in the evolution of life on Earth.”.... Could “could prove to be as much of an ‘evolutionary icon’ as Archaeopteryx – an animal believed to mark the transition from reptiles to birds.”
  • Scientific American:  “Newfound Fossil Is Transitional between Fish and Landlubbers.”
  • New Scientist:  “IT WAS one of the most important events of the last 400 million years: the moment our fishy ancestors began hauling themselves onto dry land.  Now a fossil from the very beginning of that crucial transition has been found in the remote Arctic.”  Neil Shubin calls it a “a ‘fishopod’: part fish, part tetrapod.”
  • AP, via MSNBC:  “Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light on one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals.  Researchers have long known that fish evolved into the first creatures on land with four legs and backbones more than 365 million years ago, but they’ve had precious little fossil evidence to document how it happened.... ‘It sort of blurs the distinction between fish and land-living animals,’ said one of its discoverers, paleontologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago.”
  • National Geographic:  “It’s our closest fish cousin, scientists say.  Millions of years ago it apparently hoisted its croc-like head out of the water—and the rest is history.
  • New York Times:  “Other scientists said that in addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils were a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who have long argued that the absence of such transitional creatures are a serious weakness in Darwin’s theory.”
  • LiveScience:  “Fishy Land Beast Bridges Evolutionary Gap.”
  • L.A. Times:  “One Small Step for Fish... ” (fill in the next line; at least the LA Times wins cleverest title).  “These exciting discoveries are providing fossil Rosetta Stones for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone – fish to land-roving tetrapods,” said H. Richard Lane (NSF).
One gets the distinct impression they think this is an important fossil.  Now that the parade has passed by, perhaps it would be a good time to delve into the original scientific papers and see what exactly was said.  It made the cover story of Nature.  There were two papers inside by Shubin’s team, and a review article by Jennifer Clack, a leading researcher on tetrapod origins.  In journal articles, where scientists talk to themselves, they are expected to be more formal, reserved and cautious about interpretations.  Let’s see.
    The research was first submitted to Nature in October, but released today.  The fact that the mainstream media were all prepared with instant artwork, interviews and sound bites makes it likely they were clued in with plenty of time to make a splash.  Though it is clear the authors all believe this is an evolutionary transitional form, the most interesting statements from scientific papers are usually the caveats and disclaimers.  Most of all, the observational data must always take precedence over interpretations.
    In the first paper by Daeschler, Shubin and Jenkins,1 they begin, “The relationship of limbed vertebrates (tetrapods) to lobe-finned fish (sarcopterygians) is well established, but the origin of major tetrapod features has remained obscure for lack of fossils that document the sequence of evolutionary changes.”  That is a strange statement for a scientific paper.  It sounds something like, We know it’s true; we just lack evidence.
Here we report the discovery of a well-preserved species of fossil sarcopterygian fish from the Late Devonian of Arctic Canada that represents an intermediate between fish with fins and tetrapods with limbs, and provides unique insights into how and in what order important tetrapod characters arose.  Although the body scales, fin rays, lower jaw and palate are comparable to those in more primitive sarcopterygians, the new species also has a shortened skull roof, a modified ear region, a mobile neck, a functional wrist joint, and other features that presage tetrapod conditions.  The morphological features and geological setting of this new animal are suggestive of life in shallow-water, marginal and subaerial habitats.
Sounds like the popular press so far; now, into the details.  They admit that “The evolution of tetrapods from sarcopterygian fish is one of the major transformations in the history of life and involved numerous structural and functional innovations, including new modes of locomotion, respiration and hearing.”  In other words, many substantial changes had to come together in one animal to go from breathing through gills to breathing with lungs, developing feet that could support the weight, developing digits and ankles and toes and learning how to use them, and much more:
During the origin of tetrapods in the Late Devonian (385-359 million years ago), the proportions of the skull were remodelled [sic; implies intelligent design], the series of bones connecting the head and shoulder was lost, and the region that was to become the middle ear [sic; implies progress] was modified.  At the same time, robust limbs with digits evolved, the shoulder girdle and pelvis were altered, the ribs expanded, and bony connections between vertebrae developed.
Few of these innovations are seen in the closest relatives of tetrapods, they say.  They talk about Panderichthys, Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, which have been discussed earlier in these pages (see 04/05/2004 and 08/09/2003, “Evolution of the Darwin Fish.”).  Surprisingly, however, they dismiss them as fragmentary and of doubtful utility.  This includes the earlier leading candidate for missing link:
Panderichthys possesses relatively few tetrapod synapomorphies [convergent features], and provides only partial insight into the origin of major features of the skull, limbs and axial skeleton of early tetrapods.  In view of the morphological gap between elpistostegalian fish and tetrapods, the phylogenetic framework for the immediate sister group of tetrapods has been incomplete and our understanding of major anatomical transformations at the fish–tetrapod transition has remained limited.
The discrediting of previous specimens was the build-up to the new fossil, which, they boasted, “significantly enhances our knowledge of the fish–tetrapod transition.”  (This boast should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that similar claims were made about Panderichthys.)  Proceeding on, they place Tiktaalik somewhere between Panderichthys and the first hypothetical tetrapods.
    The paper next provides the obligatory data for a new species: location found, taxonomy, nomenclature, description of the fossil, photos, drawings, etc.  The head was remarkably well preserved, and three specimens were found.  Naming and classifying an extinct species, however, provides the discoverers some leeway in placing it into the presumed evolutionary framework.
    A technical description of parts ensues.  Compared to the earlier known fossils, Tiktaalik has a larger this and a smaller that, etc.  For all its impressive jargon, the technical description does not in itself establish the case that the creature was evolving into a tetrapod.  Data provide the hard evidence, but interpretations are subjective.  Side-by-side skull comparisons do not look that informative, especially when there are no soft parts and no videos of how the creature actually lived.  It must be remembered, for instance, that Coelacanth was long considered a transitional form because of its bony fins, but when discovered alive, the fish did not use them for walking or raising itself up in any way.
    Without soft parts such as gills and organs, and without living examples, interpretation of anatomy from bony parts alone is at best an exercise in educated guesswork; consider, as a hypothetical example, the surprise of a paleontologist finding a live skunk after only knowing the animal from its skeleton.  Subjectivity becomes much more an issue when constructing evolutionary trees, because evolutionary paleontologists presuppose that the fish-to-tetrapod transition occurred; also, and it cannot be discounted that a specialist in the field, who has taken great pains to find a specimen, and whose career is riding on the outcome, would like to become known as the discoverer of “the” missing link.  When these authors turn to the phylogenetic position of Tiktaalik, what features led them to conclude these specimens are transitional?
A phylogenetic analysis of sarcopterygian fishes and early tetrapods (Fig. 7) supports the hypothesis that Tiktaalik is the sister group of tetrapods or shares this position with ElpistostegeTiktaalik retains primitive tetrapodomorph features such as dorsal scale cover, paired fins with lepidotrichia, a generalized [sic] lower jaw, and separated entopterygoids in the palate, but also possesses a number of derived [sic] features of the skull, pectoral girdle and fin, and ribs that are shared with stem tetrapods such as Acanthostega and IchthyostegaTiktaalik is similar to these forms in the possession of a wide spiracular tract and the loss of the opercular, subopercular and extrascapulars.  The pectoral girdle is derived [sic] in the degree to which the scapulocoracoid is expanded dorsally and ventrally, and the extent to which the glenoid fossa is oriented laterally.  The pectoral fin is apomorphic [i.e., derived, more developed] in the elaboration of the distal endoskeleton, the mobility of segmented regions of the fin, and the reduction of lepidotrichia distally.
In summary, they think that Panderichthys, Elpistostege and Tiktaalik represent a “paraphyletic [partially evolved] assemblage of elpistostegalian fish along the tetrapod stem that lack the anterior dorsal fins and possess broad, dorsoventrally compressed skulls with dorsally placed eyes, paired frontal bones, marginal nares, and a subterminal mouth.”  However, “Some tetrapod-like features evolved independently in other sarcopterygian groups,” while two other fossils seem to have features shared with basal tetrapods by convergent evolution (homoplasy).  It seems like the fossil record shows a smorgasboard of mixed features among ancient fish rather than a clear line leading up to land.  (Consider this in the context that the vast majority of species on earth are extinct; one could make up any number of possible lineages; see quote by Henry Gee in article on ID the Future.)
    That’s basically all that was claimed in the primary announcement.  Their second paper2 discussed the pectoral fin of Tiktaalik, which they claim is “morphologically and functionally transitional between a fin and a limb.”  They think the front fins allowed the creature to hoist itself up and possibly drag its tail behind.  The “wrist,” however, lacks five digits (fingers), and represents a “mosaic” of features found in more “basal” taxa.  Though additional “wrist” bones extended distally are new features of this fossil, they inferred the presence of the missing digits on their diagram by dotted lines.  Lacking living representatives, they also are unable to tell for certain what the fin bones actually were used for.
    While acknowledging that the transition from water to land would require “major shifts in developmental genetics, skeletal structure, and biomechanics,” they argued that the most telling aspect of the fin is the angle of the putative “wrist” bones.  However, there is no evidence any true digits for locomotion later evolved from the fin bones of this particular animal.  Since they might have, though, reporters were probably more tuned to the confident conclusion:
The pectoral skeleton of Tiktaalik is transitional between fish fin and tetrapod limb.  Comparison of the fin with those of related fish reveals that the manus [hand] is not a de novo novelty of tetrapods; rather, it was assembled in fishes over evolutionary time to meet the diverse challenges of life in the margins of Devonian aquatic ecosystems.
OK, now what do other experts think?  In the same issue,3 Erik Ahlberg and Jennifer Clack gave their analysis.  It is unknown whether Clack, who has been in the forefront of research into tetrapod evolution, was scooped by this discovery, or whether any personal feelings or rivalries were involved.  She did, however, with Ahlberg, put a few brakes on the interpretations, though acknowledging the significance of the find.  First, a little sermonette on missing links:
The concept of “missing links” has a powerful grasp on the imagination: the rare transitional fossils that apparently capture the origins of major groups of organisms are uniquely evocative.  But the concept has become freighted with unfounded notions of evolutionary ‘progress’ and with a mistaken emphasis on the single intermediate fossil as the key to understanding evolutionary transitions.  Much of the importance of transitional fossils actually lies in how they resemble and differ from their nearest neighbours in the phylogenetic tree, and in the picture of change that emerges from this pattern.
    We raise these points because on pages 757 and 764 of this issue are reports of just such an intermediate: Tiktaalik roseae, a link between fishes and land vertebrates that might in time become as much of an evolutionary icon as the proto-bird [sic] Archaeopteryx.
Though this fossil goes “a long way” to filling in the gap, it does not go quite all the way, they say.  Its closest match is Elpistostege, a fragmentary fossil thought to be closer to tetrapods than Panderichthys.  They admit, “the authors demonstrate convincingly that Elpistostege and Tiktaalik fall between Panderichthys and the earliest tetrapods on the phylogenetic tree.  End of story?  Not quite.  Though impressed, they raise some issues.  Of the fin bones, they squelched most of the enthusiasm, emphasizing instead the long road ahead:
Although these small distal bones bear some resemblance to tetrapod digits in terms of their function and range of movement, they are still very much components of a fin.  There remains a large morphological gap between them and digits as seen in, for example, Acanthostega: if the digits evolved from these distal bones, the process must have involved considerable developmental repatterning.  The implication is that function changed in advance of morphology.
Though each fossil seems to represent a mosaic of characteristics rather than a straight line of evolution, Clack and Ahlberg were ready to agree that the creature was a piece of the mosaic.  It was “evidently an actual step on the way from water to land,” and that “it seems, our remote ancestors [sic] were large, flattish, predatory fishes, with crocodile-like heads and strong limb-like pectoral fins that enabled them to haul themselves out of the water.”  Nevertheless, this is just one specimen, and many more will be needed to confirm the transition.  Any one creature must be seen in that context.  Their concluding paragraph effectively deflates most of the optimism about this fossil.  They claim that the most important transitional forms are found, where? – in the future:
Of course, there are still major gaps in the fossil record.  In particular we have almost no information about the step between Tiktaalik and the earliest tetrapods, when the anatomy underwent the most drastic changes, or about what happened in the following Early Carboniferous period, after the end of the Devonian, when tetrapods became fully terrestrial.  But there are still large areas of unexplored Late Devonian and Early Carboniferous deposits in the world – the discovery of Tiktaalik gives hope of equally ground-breaking finds to come.
Update 04/22/2006:  Joseph Farah reads Between the Lines on the missing-link claim about Tiktaalik (see 04/06/2006) on World Net Daily.  Columnist Ted Byfield also mentioned the fish-o-pod in his WND editorial, “Rebutting Darwinists.”  Frank Sherwin has a response on ICR.
1Daeschler et al., “A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan,” Nature 440, 757-763 (6 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04639; Received 11 October 2005; ; Accepted 8 February 2006.
2Shubin et al., “The pectoral fin of Tiktaalik roseae and the origin of the tetrapod limb,” Nature 440, 764-771 (6 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04637; Received 11 October 2005; ; Accepted 8 February 2006.
3Per Erik Ahlberg and Jennifer A. Clack, “Palaeontology: A firm step from water to land,” Nature 440, 747-749 (6 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/440747a.
OK, Shubin, you caught a fish and got your picture in the paper.  Now that you are feeling your oats, take on the Cambrian explosion.
    You didn’t get this much detail from the major news media.  You didn’t hear the discoverers hedge their bets and admit that this fossil is just a tiny piece of a huge puzzle that is mostly not understood.  You didn’t hear the AP (Associated Preach) tell the truth that the fossil record is characterized by large and systematic gaps between groups, with only rare, isolated and questionable transitional forms.  No, you got hype and bluster and far-fetched exaggeration, where the actual bones were incidental to the true goal of making Charlie not look as dead as he is.  Meanwhile, an explanation of the origin of all the genetic information required for such a transition was completely glossed over; and, of course, not a single credible non-Darwinian paleontologist got a word in edgewise over the din of the mainstream media’s Charlie pride parade.  If you got mad last time (04/05/2004) it’s time to get mad again – for the same reasons. 
A reader writes:  “Dear Staff... The April 6, 2006 article on the ‘Fish-O-Pod’ found in Canada is great news... Now we know where all the Walking Catfish in the lakes in Orlando, Florida came from... They actually walk up on the interstate and get eliminated by cars!  FISH-O-POD is nothing new, we have been squashing them for years!”  Another commented on the AP coverage, “I got seasick from all the handwaving.”  To this we add, scientists are not assuming that mudskippers are transitional forms to salamanders, are they?  Or grunion to snakes, or rikshas to sedans?  Let’s play their game and daydream about beavers evolving into seals, and flying squirrels evolving into bats.  Connecting dots is child’s play.
    See also a preliminary response from the Discovery Institute, followed by another by Casey Luskin on Evolution News; also, a preliminary analysis by Dr. David Menton on Answers in Genesis: “Gone fishin’ for a missing link?”  An article by Jonathan Witt on ID the Future has information on the comparison with Archaeopteryx, and contains an apropos quotation made years ago by Henry Gee, editor of Nature, on the feasibility of reconstructing phylogenetic trees from fossils.  The best part: “To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story — amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.”  And that’s from the senior editor of the same journal where this announcement appeared today.
Parting thought:  In a private conversation about evolution recently, a friend responded: “I don’t have any doubts about evolution; there have been too many people working on it for too long for it to not to be well established.”  (See Bandwagon, Authority and Glittering Generalities in the Baloney Detector.)  Do you appreciate the value of delving into the details?
Tip:  See this story in Spanish on: SEDIN.
Next headline on: FossilsMarine LifeTerrestrial ZoologyEvolution
Experimental Biologists Look to Animals for Inspiration    04/05/2006  
Whether insects, fish, birds or mammals, animals have a lot to teach scientists and engineers.  Here are some recent stories that begin to answer, “How do they do that?” with hopes that humans might be able to mimic their feats.
  • Hard sponges:  Aimee Cunningham in Science News (03/25/2006; 169:12, p. 184) described the astonishment Joanna Aizenberg (Bell Labs) felt about the Venus Flower Basket sponge   Not only is its silicate glass structure strong enough for a man to stand on, it is intricately woven with cross bridges and organic shock-absorbing glue – “the most perfect design I have ever seen.”  (See also 07/08/2005 and 03/01/2004 about its fiber optics.)
  • Tough beaks:  In the same Science News article, Cunningham told about Mark Meyers (UC San Diego) being impressed with the beaks of toucans in Brazil.  Toucans have the largest beak-to-body ratio of any bird; they use them to grip heavy fruit, which they skillfully toss into the air to gulp down.  “The beak must be rigid enough to resist bending and twisting forces, and yet this stiffness can’t come with great weight, or the bird couldn’t get off the ground,” Cunningham writes of Meyers’ findings.  “Indeed, despite its dominating size, the beak makes up only one-twentieth of the toucan’s body mass.”  Materials scientists are very interested in such substances found in sea sponges, seashells, oysters and bird beaks, because they are lightweight and resistant to fracture without sacrificing strength.
  • Weird toothScience News (3/25/2006, 169:12, p. 186) also had more details about narwhals, the arctic whales with the big spiral tusks that apparently serve as environmental antennae (see 12/13/2005).  Susan Milius wrote about the difficulty Martin Nweeia (dentist at Harvard Medical School) had in studying the elusive animals.  Little is known about the life habits of these medium-size whales that spend much of their lives under the Arctic ice, but scientists are beginning to follow them with sensors embedded in their skin, which have detected them making record dives to 1,800 meters.  Though some researchers insist the tusks are sexually-selected structures for male prowess, Nweeia felt the 10 million tubules connecting to the nerves don’t make sense if the tusks are mere fishing spears or lances for dueling.  He said, “When you have something so exquisite, you don’t bring that on the battlefield.”
  • Bee Landing Gear:  According to EurekAlert, the Society for Experimental Biology found out why orchid bees let their feet dangle under them while flying.  The feet provide extra lift and prevent roll at high speeds.  This principle might help with the design of miniature flying machines for search and rescue operations.
  • Rabbit tricks:  A greyhound pursuing a rabbit might give up and call it a bad hare day.  The rabbit has better muscles for jumping and quick turns, says a report on EurekAlert.
  • Follow the ant home:  An ant may know the route better than a man with a map and compass.  Ants can remember landmarks, but also have a backup system, says a story from the Society for Experimental Biology reported on EurekAlert.  They have a “path integrator” that “allows them to create straight shortcuts back to the nest even when the outbound part of the forage run was very winding,” by constantly reassessing position with an internal compass and measure of distance traveled.  “Knowledge about path integration and landmark learning gained from our experiments with ants has already been incorporated in autonomous robots,” the article says.
  • Follow the ant under the bar:  Ants can do limbo, says another story on EurekAlert.  They can visually judge the height of a horizontal barrier and crawl under it without slowing down.  The ants can sense a barrier with either eyes or antennae.
  • Crow puzzle:  Rooks, a kind of crow, passed an intelligence test.  They were able to manipulate a piece of food through a tunnel that contained a trap door.  EurekAlert summarized a series of experiments reported in Current Biology1 that supported the idea these birds use sophisticated physical cognition to understand puzzles and how to solve them, unlike preprogrammed robots that merely make associations.
  • Hummingbird memory:  Another report in Current Biology2 last month found that hummingbirds never forget.  Experiments with controlled nectar sources showed that they could remember the location of eight rewards and update the information throughout the day.  They could also remember the timing of visits, so as to avoid revisiting empty flowers until they refilled.  “Not only is this the first time that this degree of timing ability has been shown in wild animals,” report Henderson et al., “but these hummingbirds also exhibit two of the fundamental aspects of episodic-like memory, the kind of memory for specific events often thought to be exclusive to humans.”
  • Avionics is for the birds:  Bird watching will never be the same.  Scientists can now attach miniature sensors and miniature 50g cameras to the bodies and wings of birds to learn about how they fly, says EurekAlert.  One group is doing this with eagles to figure out the function of their control systems.
  • Fly feet:  A stunning electron micrograph of a fly’s foot can be found on a story on EurekAlert.  Researchers are studying the elegant foot pads to figure out how flies can dance on the ceiling.  To a group presenting their findings at the Society for Experimental Biology today, fly feet provide “inspiration for mimicking locomotion of wall and ceiling walking machines, which use micropatterned polymer feet for generating adhesion.”
  • Stargazing lobster:  The UK is building a telescope for the International Space Station based on the design of the lobster eye, reported BBC News.  The Lobster All-Sky X-ray Monitor will mimic what lobsters do: utilize a “huge array of tiny channels that focus light by reflection, rather than by bending it through lenses found in human eyes,” giving it an extremely wide field of vision.  It has taken nearly 30 years for humans to perfect the optics involved.
  • The Bug Love:  Hate insects?  Think again.  News @ Nature says, “Next time you dismiss insects as mere creepy-crawlies, ponder for a while on what life would be like without them.  Our six-legged friends might be more valuable than you think – research estimates that they’re worth at least a staggering $57 billion to the US economy every year.”  From agriculture to birdwatching, insects are there to help keep our economy buzzing.  Beetles devour harmful waste.  Flies provide bait for fishermen.  Bees pollinate our crops.  Many species encourage biodiversity and provide essential food for many animals.  (Where mosquitos fit in, the article did not say.)

1Jackie Chappell, “Avian Cognition: Understanding Tool Use,” Current Biology, Volume 16, Issue 7, 4 April 2006, Pages R244-R245, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.03.019.
2Henderson et al., “Timing in Free-Living Rufous Hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus,” Current Biology, Volume 16, Issue 5, 7 March 2006, Pages 512-515, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.01.054.
Most of these stories did not mention evolution, and in those that did, it was more an aftermarket gloss than a contribution to the scientific understanding.  A revolution in animal studies is underway – a revolution based on design principles.  The investigations here presuppose that there are elegant designs in nature that humans can try to understand.  The design principles observed are transferable to human engineering.  Darwinism, a minor Victorian religious sect, has nothing to offer the Information Age.  Think design.
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyMarine LifeMammalsBirdsIntelligent DesignBiomimeticsAmazing Stories
The Class Struggle: Students Challenge Teachers Over Evolution   04/05/2006    
Teaching uncooperative teenagers has always been challenging, but some of today’s biology teachers may feel nostalgic for the days when rowdy students whacked the bulletin boards with real spitballs instead of verbal ones.  Now, dodging student challenges to evolution is getting downright exhausting.  Students used to just accept what the teacher said about the subject matter; questions were more the “Why do I have to learn this stuff?” kind than “How do I know it’s true?”  Some teachers may regret the days they used to complain about students merely memorizing and regurgitating facts rather than thinking.  At least, it was easier to glide through the evolution chapter back then.
    Stephanie Simon reported in the Los Angeles Times March 31 about this growing problem.  “Sometimes disruptive but often sophisticated questioning of evolution by students has educators increasingly on the defensive,” she began (emphasis added in all quotes).  Al Frisby’s biology class in Liberty, Missouri provides a typical scene. 
As his students rummage for their notebooks, Frisby introduces his central theme: Every creature on Earth has been shaped by random mutation and natural selection – in a word, by evolution.
    The challenges begin at once.
    “Isn’t it true that mutations only make an animal weaker?” sophomore Chris Willett demands.  “‘Cause I was watching one time on CNN and they mutated monkeys to see if they could get one to become human and they couldn’t.”
    Frisby tries to explain that evolution takes millions of years, but Willett isn’t listening.  I feel a tail growing!” he calls to his friends, drawing laughter.
    Unruffled, Frisby puts up a transparency tracing the evolution of the whale, from its ancient origins as a hoofed land animal [sic] through two lumbering transitional species [sic] and finally into the sea.  He’s about to start on the fossil evidence when sophomore Jeff Paul interrupts: “How are you 100% sure that those bones belong to those animals?  It could just be some deformed raccoon.”
    From the back of the room, sophomore Melissa Brooks chimes in: “Those are real bones that someone actually found?  You’re not just making this up?”
    “No, I am not just making it up,” Frisby says.
Simon states that at least half the students in the class don’t believe him; “they’re not about to let him off easy.”  She attributes the class struggle to two decades of political and legal maneuvering, and to church influence.  “Loyal to the accounts they’ve learned in church, students are taking it upon themselves to wedge creationism into the classroom [sic], sometimes with snide comments but also with sophisticated questions – and a fervent faith.”
    It’s enough to make some teachers dread the evolution module, or skip it altogether.  Simon referred to defensive armor being provided by the AAAS, like guidebooks and workshops.  “We’re not going to roll over and take this,” she quotes Alan Leshner of Science.  “These teachers are facing phenomenal pressure.  They need help.”
    Some of the students, empowered by organizations like Answers in Genesis, are making it their personal crusade to challenge evolution in the classroom.  Simon mentions other arsenals: “Other students gather ammunition from sermons at church, or from the dozens of websites that criticize evolution as a God-denying sham.”
    No specific mention was made of Creation-Evolution Headlines.  But John Morris of ICR was quoted as providing the types of questions students could ask:
“If a teacher is making a claim that land animals evolved into whales, students should ask: ‘What precisely is involved? How does the fur turn into blubber, how do the nostrils move, how does the tiny tail turn into a great big fluke?’” said John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego.  “Evolution is so unsupportable, if you insist on more information, the teacher will quickly run out of credibility,” he said.
Simon claims that one in five teachers are avoiding the E word in class.  Sometimes it’s not just because of the arguments.  Sometimes it’s because the students have done more research than the teachers.
    Stephanie Simon digressed briefly into the Kansas legal battle over evolution, and then came back to beleaguered Mr. Frisby.  She described him as religious by nature, and a childhood Bible believer, but converted to evolution by a near religious experience in college.
    Now, a lone ranger, he stands his ground.  He uses visual aids to try to illustrate the evolutionary timeline.  He makes claims about transitional fossils and how old they are. 
Frisby promised to show the class several fossils that document [sic] the halting and gradual evolution from apes to humans.  Then he reminded them not to expect equal numbers of human and dinosaur remains, because hominids emerged only recently [sic], while dinosaurs ruled the planet for nearly 200 million years [sic].
    At that, sophomore Derik Montgomery snapped to attention.  “I heard that dinosaurs are only thousands of years old, like 6,000.  Not millions,” he said.
    “That’s wrong,” Frisby responded briskly.  “What can I tell you?.  “You can’t believe everything you read.”
Earlier generations might have disobeyed their teachers sometimes, but did not often disbelieve them.  The article ends, “Sprawled out across his chair, Derik muttered: ‘You can’t believe everything you hear in here, either.’  Frisby put up his next transparency.”
No wonder Mr. Frisby is ineffective.  He’s still using transparencies.  Leshner, don’t waste your money on guidebooks and workshops; give the poor teacher a projector and PowerPoint.
    It takes some reading between the lines to appreciate the significance of what this article represents about the growing cultural revolution over evolution.  Like most reporters in the MSM (mainstream media), Simon is undoubtedly spinning this story to portray a brave, courageous teacher holding his ground against obstreperous mind-numbed students brainwashed by their churches.  There are probably some that fit the stereotype.  If you are one of them, please be advised that disrespectfulness and shallow, joking objections to evolution are shameful and harmful.  Let CEH go on record as strongly denouncing personal attacks, rudeness or disrespect against teachers.  Such behavior will only reinforce the Darwinist stereotype about students who doubt evolution being church-indoctrinated, faith-motivated, anti-intellectual lemmings of their religion.  Let CEH also promote the highest values of intellectual honesty and integrity.  These values are necessary to expose and effectively dismantle the faith-based, mind-numbing religion of Darwinism.
    What stands out in this story are the several references to students bringing “sophisticated questions” that are well-researched and credible.  This is what Dr. John Morris recommended.  Asking good questions is fair game and essential to a good education.  Mr. Frisby pointed to a poster on the wall, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.  Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” (probably insinuating that students do the latter when hearing his evolution spiel).  But courage to speak up is praiseworthy when bad science is being presented.
    Challenging dogma does not have to be rude or disruptive.  Look at what Mr. Frisby presented as evidence – nothing but Bluffing Assertions of Dogmatism – the old B.A.D. habit of the Darwinists.  He holds up a paper-tape timeline of 430 million of years of evolution, with humans appearing in the last few inches.  Why not challenge that?  He says dinosaurs died out millions of years before humans evolve.  Says who?  He claims the fossil record is full of transitional forms, and “promises” to bring the evidence.  Where is it?  He says science must be about natural causes only.  Why so?  Simon waxed melodramatic telling a story about the spiritual warm fuzzies Mr. Frisby gets thinking about evolution.  Who cares?  In none of these cases did the teacher demonstrate solid evidence for evolution that would survive honest, critical inquiry.  He only reiterated the official dogmas of the Church of Charlie.  Courage demands that dogma be challenged in the science classroom.
    Calling all students.  Learn Baloney Detecting.  Learn good science.  Know your history.  Respect brute facts, but distinguish between evidence and dogma.  Be well-dressed, well-groomed, sit up straight, listen with vibrant attention, and learn.  Be a model student when it comes to homework and assignments.  But when something B.A.D. comes out of the teacher’s mouth, raise your hand, smile, wait your turn, and then ask that intelligent, pointed question that will leave Mr. Frisby at a loss for words.  Let your classmates see him forced to either quote the Darwin Articles of Faith in retreat, or, better, admit “I don’t know,” or best, “That is a very good question.  Let me research that.”  Ask in such a way that he will not be angry with you, but will gradually learn to become angry with the foolishness with which he himself was deceived.  If necessary, meet privately with your teacher instead of risking embarrassing him or her in class.  Do a good deed.  Enlist your teacher as an ally in the movement against B.A.D. science.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryEducation
“Fertile Imagination” Envisions Life on Titan   04/04/2006    
The dramatic landing of the Huygens Probe on Titan over a year ago (01/14/2005, 01/21/2005, 12/05/2005) is finally getting some overdue notice from the media.  The PBS science series NOVA just aired a new program on Cassini-Huygens, “Voyage to the Mystery Moon” (see your local PBS station for rebroadcast times), and Astronomy Magazine’s May 2006 issue contained a pictorial summary by Bashar Rizk, “Saturn’s Titan Reveals Earthlike Surprises.”
    The NOVA piece recaptured some of the drama of the mission, and Astronomy put together some of the finest mosaics of the landing site.  Both, however, couldn’t resist accentuating the L word.  Cassini-Huygens detected no life, no liquid water, and no molecules even closely resembling biological components.  The surface images showed a sterile wasteland of icy pebbles and orange sky.  Nevertheless, the writers spent significant time speculating about life.  Rizk wrote, “Surprisingly, Titan may be a suitable environment for life,” and again, “Only two things are lacking: a source of energy and a source of oxygen.  That’s enough to suggest the possibility of life to a fertile imagination.”
    NOVA not only suggested that life could exist under the surface of Titan where presumably it might be warmer, but also suggested that the ice geysers on Enceladus (11/28/2005) make that moon another candidate for speculation about life.  The NOVA website includes an interview with Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco, entitled “Life on a tiny moon?”  It begins, “liquid water is the sine qua non of life as we know it.  Indeed, Enceladus may have become, essentially overnight, the go-to body in the solar system in the search for extraterrestrial life.”  Lower down in the article, Porco admits this is “extreme speculation.”  In his article Rizk also added a disclaimer.  He called his description of life driving Titan’s atmospheric cycles an “extravagant explanation” and admitted that “No one seriously advocates this view.... Life is unnecessary to explain the observations.”
    Couched in statement after statement celebrating life, however, such statements resemble the fine-print legal disclaimers required in sales brochures; or, they act something like quiet cops monitoring a parade, keeping the rowdy speculation from getting too far out of hand.
Some day, one can hope that this bad habit of evolutionary drunks can be cured.  The drunks get high on methanol, which causes brain damage.  Wallowing in their stupor and verbal vomit, thinking everything is happy happy happy, engaging their fertile imaginations in euphoric visions of nonexistent beings, it escapes their notice that they are overlooking the most fundamental and essential aspect of life.  This aspect is sadly missing on Titan, Enceladus, Europa, Mars, and every other empty stage explored so far.  It is information.  Let rigorous observation and information theory bring some sobriety back to science, and rescue the next generation from a pitiful addiction.
Next headline on: Solar SystemOrigin of Life
Scientist Tries to Explain Away Miracle of Jesus Walking on Water    04/04/2006  
Easter is approaching.  That must mean it’s the season for skeptics to try their hand at debunking the miracles of Jesus.  The first entry this year seems to be one by Doron Nof of Florida State University who claims Jesus walked on ice, not on water.  He came up with an explanation for how parts of the Sea of Galilee might, on rare occasions, create sheets of ice that would have given the disciples an appearance Jesus was standing on the water.  Conditions for ice formation on this body of water below sea level are effectively zero today, but he presumes it could have happened once in 30 to 160 years at the time of Jesus.
    With RSS syndication, (see CNet News), this story appeared on many syndicate news summaries, including JPL.
How come scientists expect believers to just sit back and take their weird-science theories without objection, but the moment someone challenges their own weird-science explanations of evolution, they get paranoid and threaten lawsuits?  This hypothesis is so stupid.  To avoid creating irreverent mental images, let’s imagine some Hollywood actors trying to reenact the scene.  The actor playing Jesus is trying not to slip and slide all over a tipsy piece of thin ice.  The actors in the boat playing the disciples are faking a sense of awe looking at their leader wavering and struggling to keep his balance.  Suddenly he plunges through a hole, and the sense of awe turns to laughter.  Cut; take two.
    Once the actor on the ice manages to keep his footing while the cameras are rolling, the actor playing Peter gets out of the boat but his slab of ice slips from under him and he falls in, to the laughter of the other actors.  He swims over to the actor on the slab and yells back at the other disciples that it’s just a trick.  The character on the ice reaches down to pull in the one in the water, and loses his footing, and both wind up flailing around in the drink.
    It won’t work.  Doron Nof tried this before with the Red Sea crossing.  He tries to come up with purely natural explanations for Biblical miracles.  They wind up taking more faith than just trusting the word of the credible eyewitnesses.  Next thing you know he will say the calming of the storm was all just special effects on a sound stage.
Next headline on:  BibleDumb Ideas
War Stories: Darwinism vs. ID    04/03/2006  
How are things going in the Darwin Wars?  The rhetoric is still flying, and there have been gains and losses on both sides.  Here are assorted war stories from battle stations and strategic summits:
  • Golden Rule at Hahvahd:  The Harvard Gazette held a panel discussion on “How Do We Teach Evolution.”  Richard Lewontin sees the first priority as convincing the doubters that animals do evolve.  Reporter Bob Brustman ended with a surprising quote from Michael Ruse: “Whether you’re a believer or not, the quest to understand this magnificent, frightening, exhilarating world that we live in is just as much a moral demand laid upon us as ‘love your neighbor.’  People who don’t want to know the way the world is are spiritually dead.”  This seems to beg the question of how spirituality could evolve from particles.  Casey Luskin at Evolution News responded to the article with clarifications and definitions.
  • Establishment Claws:  When is the government allowed to buck the Establishment Clause and endorse religious views?  Apparently, on the internet.  That’s what Casey Luskin complained on Evolution News after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit by Larry Caldwell accusing a federally-funded website, “Understanding Evolution,” of making overtly religious claims.
  • Called Well:  Attorney Larry Caldwell may have lost the suit against the NCSE/UC website, but scored in the Lancaster School District, California, getting them to adopt a policy allowing for criticisms of evolution, reported John West on Evolution News (see also the coverage in a local paper, Antelope Valley Press).  The reaction of Science in its “Random Samples” (March 31) was short and probably meant to be sarcastic.  All it did was quote Alex Branning, “president of a group called Integrity in Academics, after the board of the Lancaster School District, in suburban Los Angeles, voted last week to adopt a policy stating that evolution should not be taught as an ‘unalterable fact.’”  According to the snippet, Branning said, “This is an innovative effort by the Lancaster School District to propel science education out of the 19th century and into the 21st century.”  Science headlined the item with the title, “Undeterred by Dover.”
  • Sunday School:  That the previous item was not meant as favorable coverage of Branning was underscored by a larger entry on AAAS Affairs in the same (31 March) issue of Science.  It spoke glowingly of the workshop “Science on the Front Line” that AAAS sponsored at their annual meeting February 19 (see 03/14/2006 entry).
  • Sath Keelana:  The South Carolina teaching standards don’t require the teaching of Darwin’s theory, so reporter for The State Cindi Ross Scoppe wondered what the fuss is about.  Whether teachers actually do bring evolution into the classrooms is another question, but her article points out the tension between teachers and students over a theory perceived to be hostile to Christianity.  MSNBC News, however, reported on a 10-6 decision opposing efforts to “critically analyze” evolutionary theory in the Bible-Belt state.
  • The Redcoats Are Coming:  “Creationist theories about how the world was made are to be debated in GCSE science lessons in mainstream secondary schools in England,” reported the BBC News.  The subject is being included in a syllabus for biology by one of the three main exam boards.  Around the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams stated that creationism should not be taught in the schools, a story in MSNBC News reported.  British creationist Paul Taylor gave a response about this on Answers in Genesis, while Michael Francisco on Evolution News stressed that his remarks against creationism should not be misconstrued as an attack on intelligent design; the media often conflate the two, he said.
  • Play Ball – By Whose Rules?  Paul Nelson on ID The Future argued against the claim of Ron Numbers, often repeated by evolutionists, that the rules of science require methodological naturalism.
  • Darwin’s Goliath:  Nigel Williams in Current Biology March 21 gave warm press for Richard Dawkins on the 30th anniversary of his epochal book, The Selfish Gene.  Williams gave particularly favorable treatment for Dawkins’ anti-religious sentiments.  “The gloves are off,” he said.  “Dawkins, in his present role as a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford is fully engaged in challenging these views, but finds the situation increasingly frustrating.”
  • With Friends Like This:  Madeleine Bunting wrote in The Guardian about how evolution foes chuckle approvingly at the anti-religion rants of Richard Dawkins and other hard core Darwinists.  Michael Ruse tries to quiet him down, realizing that his rhetoric reinforces their claims that evolution is a secular, atheist religion.  Bunting writes that the “moral responsibility” to generate light, not heat, escapes Richard Dawkins.  “His book on religion, The God Delusion, is to be published this autumn,” she ends with a smirk; “Dembski and the intelligent-design lobby must already be on their knees, thanking God.”
  • Who Needs EnemiesNational Geographic interviewed E.O. Wilson favorably.  Called “Darwin’s Natural Heir,” the father of sociobiology thinks he can bridge the gap between religion and science by appealing to the shared love of nature and sense of responsibility for it.  It will be a hard sell, though; to many creationists, this former Southern Baptist turned secular humanist, who portrays Darwin’s theory as true and correct, is “one of the most prominent enemies they have.”
  • Ohio: Feint Praise:  Jonathan Witt on ID the Future gave sarcastic credit to the Darwinists who succeeded in getting Ohio to vote down its “teach the controversy” lessons on evolution.  They found a way to speak out of both sides of their mouth, he says.  In Dover, Pennsylvania, they argued that teaching criticisms of evolution is not an argument for intelligent design.  In Ohio, they argued that it was.  “If the Darwinists can pull that off, I say the sky’s the limit,” he suggested.  This tactic should be extended to expunging all the evolutionary claims in science journals that contain arguments on both sides.
  • Kansas: Clearing the Air:  Kansas Citizens for Science has printed a brochure in FAQ form trying to clear up misinformation about its science standards, reported Robert Crowther on Evolution News.  The story contains a link to the brochure.
  • Baylor Backlash:  After denying tenure to Francis Beckwith on March 24 (see Baptist Press News), Baylor University (a southern Baptist school) is feeling heat from critics.  Beckwith is a distinguished faculty member who happened to write a book favorable to intelligent design (Law, Darwinism, and Public Education).  The journal First Things wrote a defense of Beckwith, and Evolution News listed a dozen media articles and blogs criticizing the decision.  John West on Evolution News said a scandal is brewing, and Baptist Press thinks this is another evidence of the academic decline of the university which chased away Dembski”s intelligent design center years ago.
  • Pep Talk:  To William Dembski, who qualifies almost as a General in the anti-evolution wars, things are looking up.  He told Associated Press (see Kentucky paper Lexington Herald-Leader) that evolution theory is on its last legs, and will likely disintegrate within a decade.  Pro-evolutionists quoted in the article don’t share that outlook, of course; UK professor James Krupa denies that evolution is dying and calls it “the driving force, the foundation of all biology.”  But Dembski feels that just allowing freedom for critical analysis of evolution will be enough pressure.  Evolution is so problematic, he says, it does not need help from intelligent design to collapse.
  • Watchmaker’s Clock Ticks On:  Anthony Paul Mator wrote for World Magazine a summary of ID happenings since Dover, saying ID is “Still ticking” and has found new life after the Dover defeat.  Despite recent close calls in South Carolina, Ohio and Utah, the public is getting to hear more about both sides, and the Lancaster, California victory is a “bright spot” on the horizon.
As these examples show, the issue of intelligent design as an affront to the Darwinian status quo is likely to remain in the news for some time.
Anyone seeing the Darwinians trying to prove their case with actual scientific evidence?  No: it’s either strategizing to keep criticisms away, or trying to convince the skeptics that Charlie was actually a friend of religion and therefore not a threat to religious beliefs.  Go Dawkins; keep printing those books; thank God.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent DesignEducation
Scientists Cheer Theoretical Holocaust   04/02/2006    
Popular science reporter Forest Mims III heard a chilling round of applause at a meeting of scientists, reported World Net Daily.  When lizard expert Eric R. Pianka suggested it would be a good thing if airborne ebola killed off 90% of the human population, he got a standing ovation – and an award.  At a meeting of the Texas Academy of Science, the audience also liked his suggestion that bird flu could do the job, and chuckled when he suggested it was time to sterilize everyone on Earth.  “We’re no better than bacteria,” Pianka said in his polemic on overpopulation.
    Mims is editor of Citizen Scientist.  A former popular science writer for Scientific American, he lost his job there years ago when it was found out he entertained doubts about Darwinism.  The original article by Mims about the Pianka incident can be found at the Citizen Scientist website, with a response by Executive Director Shawn Carlson of the Society for Amateur Scientists, who called Pianka’s opinions “horrifically and dangerously wrong.”  Carlson, an evolutionist himself, called on amateurs to challenge an out-of-control establishment: “When the professional scientists have lost their sense of moral outrage of such ideologies, then it falls to America’s great community of citizen scientists to be the conscious of science,” he said.  “If we do nothing when others stand and applaud ideologies of pseudoscience and death, then history will hold us all to account for our failure to shake the very rafters in support of truth and human life.”
This is probably not that unrepresentative of the feelings of today’s leftist-leaning evolutionary biologists about you and me and their fellow human beings.  We don’t see them stepping up to the plate to set an example for the rest of us.  And Carlson, thanks for your moral outrage, but tell us how truth and morality could have evolved.
    As we approach Easter season, choose you this day whom you will trust: a bunch of wacko radicals who think you would be better off dead, and whose actions, if they had the power, would make Hitler’s look almost gentle by comparison – or the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who loved each individual so much as to lay down His life to rescue them from the judgment due their sins, even when they were in rebellion and not even looking for help (see Romans 5:5-8).
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics
Can Delicate Fossil Embryos Survive 570 Million Years?   04/01/2006    
Scientists and English and American universities are trying to understand how to preserve biological embryos such as those found in Cambrian rock claimed to be 570 million years old, reports a press release from Indiana University.  Normally, such soft tissues would disappear within a month.  “It’s like trying to fossilize soap bubbles” they said.  “Some investigators showed that these fossils are being preserved with calcium phosphate, but they haven’t explained how embryos could survive long enough for that to happen.”  They are working on the hypothesis that hydrogen sulfide might encase the embryos in a fool’s-gold envelope of pyrite.  This work relates to the Cambrian explosion, of which the press release stated, “Much mystery surrounds the sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record, between 500 and 600 million years ago.  Within a few million years, the fossil record goes from zero evidence of animals to great diversity in animal forms, including anomalocarids and trilobites.”
    Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
1Raff et al., “Experimental taphonomy shows the feasibility of fossil embryos,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print March 29, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0601536103.
If they can get the soap bubble to fossilize longer than a month, it doesn’t follow that it will stay that way for 570 million years.  It’s time for the evidence to throw some serious challenges to the dating scheme of the evolutionary biologists and geologists.
Next headline on: FossilsDating MethodsEvolution


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Note: Please supply your name and location when writing in.  Anonymous attacks only make one look foolish and cowardly, and will not normally be printed.  This one was shown to display a bad example.

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Featured Creation Scientist for April

Sir Francis Bacon
1561 - 1626

Is Christian philosophy good for science?  In this series we showcase many examples, but the case could hardly be made stronger than to point to Mr. Scientific Method himself, Sir Francis Bacon.

Although not a practicing scientist, Bacon is considered by many historians to be the “founder of modern science.”  His philosophy and writings were largely responsible for igniting the scientific revolution in the 17th century.  Numerous intellectuals like Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton seized on the “new philosophy” of Bacon that emphasized empiricism and induction.  Casting aside dependence on authorities like Aristotle, the new science exploded on the scene, yielding a wealth of discoveries and inventions that has continued unabated to this day.  But this “new philosophy” was really nothing new; it was a return to the principles of the Bible.  The “founder of modern science” was a Bible-believing Christian, and Christian doctrine was the foundation of his thinking.

A recent book makes the connection between Bacon and the Bible clear.  John Henry, a science history professor at Edinburgh University, has just written (2002) a biography of Bacon called Knowledge is Power: How Magic, the Government and an Apocalyptic Vision Inspired Francis Bacon to Create Modern Science.  Henry claims that Sir Francis Bacon, who according to traditional wisdom “invented modern science,” was motivated by “magic” (read: Christian faith), government (read: knowledge for practical good of mankind) and “apocalyptic vision” (meaning, a literal belief in the prophecy of Daniel 12:4, “Many will go to and fro, and knowledge will be increased”).  In a review of the book in the August 22, 2002 issue of Nature, Alan Stewart states:

Bacon firmly believed that he was living in the era in which the scriptures predicted that knowledge would increase beyond all recognition.  Had not the past decades seen crucial advances in learning, warfare and navigation, in the form (respectively) of the printing press, gunpowder and the magnetic compass, he asked?  Part of his Instauratio Magna was entitled Parasceve, the Greek word for preparation, but particularly the day of preparation for the Sabbath, the ultimate Sabbath of the Day of Judgement.  “What else can the prophet mean... in speaking about the last times?” Bacon asked rhetorically in his Refutation of Philosophies in 1608.  “Does he not imply that the passing to and fro or perambulation of the round earth and the increase or multiplication of science were destined to the same age and century?”

Stewart continues, “Perhaps the most compelling section of the book deals with Bacon's ‘magic’, by which Henry means religion.  Here he makes a more convincing case than many for the profoundly religious underpinning of Bacon’s philosophical project.”  Notice that neither Stewart nor Henry are Christian apologists, but both here recognize that the Bible had a direct impact on the scientific revolution.  Like a spark to a fuse, the Bible ignited in Bacon’s mind a dream of a new instrument, a Novum Organum, that could lead to an increase of knowledge, just as the Bible predicted for the last days.

The essence of Baconian philosophy is induction: instead of deducing the nature of Nature from authorities like Aristotle and Galen, scientists should build from the ground up.  Gather facts.  Measure things.  Collect and organize observational evidence, then build a hypothesis to explain them.  Test all hypotheses against the facts.  Bacon was convinced this method would provide a more certain path to truth than trust in fallible human reason, and would issue in a golden age of discovery.  The scientific method we learn in school is largely Baconian: gather observations, make a hypothesis to explain them, test the hypothesis, and reject all causes inconsistent with the observations.  Hypotheses that pass empirical tests can advance to theories and laws.

Philosophy of science has changed and matured quite a bit since Bacon, and philosophers continue to debate what constitutes science vs pseudoscience.  The Baconian ideal seems a little simplistic and impractical; we now recognize the need for scientific theories to make predictions, and the requirement for falsifiability in hypotheses.  No matter; the value of Bacon’s method was seen in its fruits: major new discoveries in chemistry, physics, biology and astronomy; the founding of new branches of science; the overturning of long-held false beliefs, and new institutions like the Royal Society.  One of the ironies of history was that the other Bacon in our series (Roger Bacon), had promoted the same value of experimental science three and a half centuries earlier.  It would make a good research project to look for any connections or influences of Roger on Sir Francis, other than that they were both Englishmen.

But doesn’t the rejection of authority shoot down Bacon’s own belief in the authority of the Bible?  Skeptics sometimes portray early Christian founders of science as closet doubters who made a show of Christian piety to keep out of trouble.  According to this view, Bacon sugar-coated his scientific philosophy with Biblical words to make it more palatable to the religious authorities.  If that were so, Bacon would not have written elegant poetry, apparently from the depths of his soul, praising God and the Bible.  John Henry makes no such intimation that Bacon was a hypocrite.  From his research, the Biblical world view was the foundation of Bacon’s scientific philosophy, not its pretext.  Interestingly, continental scholars like Descartes and some more skeptical of the Bible disagreed with Bacon’s advocacy of induction and empiricism, placing more value on human reason.

But again, what of Biblical authority?  To Francis Bacon, the Bible provided a view of God, the world, and man that made science a noble duty.  Nature was God’s finely crafted machine, and God had given man the aptitude and duty to discover its workings.  Human reason alone was insufficient; it needed to be guided by Bible doctrine on the nature of God and the world, and by observation of the Creator’s laws.  The very belief in natural laws was a legacy of the Scriptures.  Sir Francis believed that, in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, man would increase in knowledge in the last days by casting off unbiblical authorities like Aristotle and investigating God’s natural revelation (creation) with minds that had been created in His image.

Consider again the Biblical basis of the three foundations of Bacon’s philosophy described in the title of Henry’s biography: (1) “magic” (a poor choice of words), meaning religious belief, which Stewart calls a “profound underpinning” of Bacon’s philosophy; (2) “government,” underscoring the God-given responsibility of governments to work for the good of the people; (3) “apocalyptic vision,” the belief that Daniel’s prophecy should inspire us to advance knowledge for the good of mankind.  While the Bible does not propose a scientific method, it provides the fundamental view of God, man, and the world that makes scientific progress both possible and desirable.  “The works of the Lord are great,” writes the author of Psalm 111:2, “studied by all who delight in them.”

King Solomon, for example, was an early spare-time scientist.  He busied himself with gaining knowledge about all kinds of animals, plants, birds, insects and fish (I Kings 4:33- 34).  His Proverbs are filled with admonitions to gain knowledge and wisdom.  Though in his old age Solomon considered the search for knowledge as one of the “vanity of vanities,” (Eccl 1:13-18), unattainable (8:16-17) and an endless drudgery (12:12), it was only so if pursued without thought of creation and final judgment (Eccl. 11:9-12:1).  To one’s own heart, the reward of wisdom justified its pursuit (7:11, 12, 25).  When the Creator is foremost in mind, observation of the wonders of creation springs out of worship — Psalms 104 and 148 are good examples.  Solomon’s peacetime science was a natural outgrowth of the gift of wisdom and discernment God gave him (I Kings 3- 4).  Bacon’s thinking during the Elizabethan golden age makes an interesting parallel.

Francis Bacon was no closet skeptic; for him, the Bible was the key to liberating man from the fallible opinions of human authorities, and Genesis gave the impetus to take seriously our God-given role as stewards of creation.  That included doing science.  He viewed atheism as plebeian: “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism,” he quipped, “but depth of philosophy bringeth a man’s mind about to religion.” (To an Elizabethan, religion was synonymous with Christianity.)  Similarly, he said “Philosophy, when superficially studied, excites doubt; when thoroughly explored, it dispels it.”  In a statement congruent with the modern Intelligent Design Movement, he declared, “I had rather believe all the fables in the legends and the Talmud and the Alcoran [Koran], than that this universal frame is without a mind.”  For Francis Bacon, science was an act of worship as well as a shield against falsehood.  He said, “There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error: first, the volume of the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power.”

Sir Francis Bacon is more remembered for his ideas than his life.  He was born in London in 1561 after the recent accession of Elizabeth I, when English society was taking a dramatic upturn.  A contemporary of Galileo, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, Bacon worked not as a scientist, but as a lawyer and politician, becoming a barrister in 1582 and a member of the House of Commons in 1584.  He was knighted in 1603 under the newly-crowned King James I, and advanced to Solicitor General, Attorney General, and by 1618, Lord Chancellor.  Unfortunately, he sullied his reputation in 1621 by taking a litigant’s bribe.  Though he had been entangled in a struggle between the King and Parliament, he admitted to the corruption and had to resign in disgrace.  He entered the world without riches; his youth had been poor, penniless at 18 when his father died; his old age saw the loss of his fortune and reputation.  He died in 1626, apparently doing experiments to illustrate his devotion to empirical science; he caught a chill collecting snow, in hopes of determining the preservation powers of cold on meat.  In all, Bacon’s life and career were rather unremarkable; his personal character “was by no means admirable,” according to Frederic R. White.  He made no significant scientific discoveries nor uncovered any scientific laws.  But his ideas were profound, reflective of deep thought and genius.

Bacon was a philosopher of the first order, influencing Western civilization for centuries, even though in his day he was roundly criticized by other philosophers.  He referred to his critics as “Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their Dictator.”  Rather than rehashing old ideas with deductive reason, Bacon advocated “the fresh examination of particulars,” i.e., gathering evidence by experiment and then making interpretations, rather than deducing the nature of the particulars from universal forms and principles.  Encyclopedia Britannica explains that he was no raw Empiricist; he believed in formulating laws and generalizations; “His enduring place in the history of philosophy lies, however, in his single-minded advocacy of experience as the only source of valid knowledge and in his profound enthusiasm for the perfection of natural science.”  Most of Bacon’s philosophical writing was done late in life – his first work, The Advancement of Learning (1605) at age 44; his greatest work Novum Organum (part of a larger planned work) in 1620 (age 59), writing more till his death at age 65, with some additional works published posthumously.

Like Pascal, Bacon had a flair for the piquant proverb.  His eponyms are words fitly spoken, like “apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).  Here are some examples to get a taste of his thinking:

  • Knowledge is power.
  • Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.
  • Money is like muck, not good except that it be spread.
  • Discretion in speech is more than eloquence.
  • Choose the life that is most useful, and habit will make it the most agreeable.
  • To choose time is to save time.
  • Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
  • God has placed no limits to the exercise of the intellect that he has given us, on this side of the grave.
  • Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
  • The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits but not when it misses.
  • A prudent question is one-half wisdom.
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
  • To read without reflecting, is like eating without digesting.
More than entries for Reader’s Digest “Quotable Quotes,” however, Bacon’s words carried a vision of the New Atlantis, the new path to knowledge about the world.  Loren Eiseley, in The Man Who Saw Through Time, said that Bacon “...more fully than any man of his time, entertained the idea of the universe as a problem to be solved, examined, meditated upon, rather than as an eternally fixed stage, upon which man walked.”  (In a similar vein, current philosopher of science Paul Nelson has described science within an Intelligent Design framework as “an enormous puzzle- solving expedition, in which you expect to find order and rationality right at the root of things.”)  The title page of The Advancement of Learning portrays this new science taking mankind beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the presumed limits of man’s explorations.  The bottom contains the quote from Daniel 12:4, “many will pass through and knowledge will be increased.”  He was strongly opposed to a priori assumptions.  In that regard, a little neo-Baconian philosophy would be good in our day.  Darwinists typically assume that evolution is true, and mold the observations to fit that assumption.  A new book by Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s God, demonstrates how the alleged proofs of Darwinism are ultimately metaphysical.  Whether they talk about homology or fossils or microevolution, their observations are incidental; the force of the arguments used by Darwinists against creation revolve around what a Creator would or would not do.  When pressed to the wall for evidence to demonstrate evolution, what they supply cannot justify the claims made for major transformations.  Francis Bacon would be appalled.

We stated early on that inclusion of a person in this series does not imply 100% endorsement.  The theme is that Christian thought has been good for science.  In some regards, Christians should be cautious of Baconian philosophy.  Though he was not Catholic or scholastic, Bacon apparently accepted the premise of Thomas Aquinas that the Fall left man’s reason unscathed.  He also wrote, “Our humanity were a poor thing were it not for the divinity which stirs within us,” and we all know how that idea can be taken to the extreme.  To the extent he meant we bear the image of God, that is acceptable; it is unlikely Bacon doubted that humans are sinners in need of a Savior.  In addition, it might appear that Bacon’s advocacy of experience as the guide to truth would militate against trust in divine revelation.  Indeed, David Hume took that idea to the limit.  (The tides have turned against Hume in our time, as our “uniform experience” about information and codes is forcing scientists to confront the reality of intelligent design in DNA.)  Bacon, however, was not schizophrenic about induction and authority.  He saw no dichotomy in his religious faith and advocacy of the scientific method; like he said, depth of philosophy brings a man’s mind back to religion.  With allusions to Genesis 1, he said, “The first creation of God in the works of the days was the light of the sense, the last was the light of the reason; and his Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of the spirit.”  Illumination of the spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God (John 16:13).

Though best known as an advocate of fact, and a sometime critic of poetry, Sir Francis Bacon was an occasional poet himself (although it is highly unlikely he was the secret author of Shakespeare’s plays, as some have alleged).  More than with prose or philosophy, poetry allows us to look into an author’s soul.  Was Sir Francis Bacon a creationist?  Was he a believer in the Bible, and a devout man of faith?  Did he see man’s role as praising the Creator for His works?  Did he himself trust in his heavenly King and look forward to Christ’s eternal victory?  Here is his poem “Sing a New Song.” You read and decide:

SING A NEW SONG
by Sir Francis Bacon

O sing a new song, to our God above,
Avoid profane ones, ’tis for holy choir:
Let Israel sing song of holy love
To him that made them, with their hearts on fire:
Let Zion’s sons lift up their voice, and sing
Carols and anthems to their heavenly king.

Let not your voice alone his praise forth tell,
But move withal, and praise him in the dance;
Cymbals and harps, let them be tuned well,
’Tis he that doth the poor’s estate advance:
Do this not only on the solemn days,
But on your secret beds your spirits raise.

O let the saints bear in their mouth his praise,
And a two-edged sword drawn in their hand,
Therewith for to revenge the former days,
Upon all nations, that their zeal withstand;
To bind their kings in chains of iron strong,
And manacle their nobles for their wrong.

Expect the time, for ’tis decreed in heaven,
Such honor shall unto his saints be given.


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

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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