Creation-Evolution Headlines
September 2006
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“Darwin’s idea was a good idea while it lasted.  But with advances in technology as well as the information and life sciences (especially molecular biology), the Darwinian magic gig is now up.  It’s time to lay aside the tricks—the smokescreens and the hand-waving, the just-so stories and the stonewalling, the bluster and the bluffing—and to explain scientifically what people have known all along, namely why you can’t get design without a designer.”  —Dr. William Dembski, The Design Revolution (IVP, 2004), p. 263.
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Europa: The Link Between OOL and SETI   09/30/2006    
Why would searchers for extraterrestrial intelligence be interested in Europa?  After all, despite the movie 2010 command to “attempt no landings there,” no astrobiologist believes it could host anything more than primitive life – certainly no one who could send messages to us.
    Cynthia Phillips, a principal investigator for the SETI Institute, explained the connection between origin of life studies and SETI in an article on
Starting work on a Europa mission now, as suggested by the Solar System Exploration Roadmap, is the right thing to do.  Europa’s interior ocean may be the best environment for life in the solar system beyond planet Earth.  There is a substantial scientific basis to believe that Europa has the fundamental ingredients necessary for life: water, organic molecules, a chemical energy source, and a stable environment.  Understanding Europa’s potential for life brings us closer to addressing one of the most fundamental scientific questions that humans can ask: Are we alone in the cosmos?  It is only by committing the time and resources to a capable Europa mission that we will be able to begin to answer this essential question.
The Lunar and Planetary Institute recently issued its Solar System Exploration Roadmap, suggesting missions that NASA should consider for the next 30 years.  It focuses on the theme of habitability, indicating the importance that the search for life has in the minds of planetary scientists.  Not surprisingly, a Europa orbiter is one of the flagship missions in the plan.
Notice the assumptions implicit in her answer.  Cynthia Phillips, like most astrobiologists, believes that environment produces life.  Provide water, heat, stability and organic molecules, and these are not only necessary conditions for life, but sufficient ones as well.  A second assumption is that life not only emerges from suitable environments, but evolves into complex life, and then to sentient beings who can communicate with us.  These are assumptions, not scientific demonstrations; in fact, they are contrary to good lab science.  The only thing about these assumptions demonstrated in the lab is their falsification.
    SETI and OOL people should never assume that finding life on another world will disprove religion.  Many theologians for millennia have anticipated finding life beyond the Earth.  Indeed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was uncommon not to believe in it.  The same debates over whether natural forces alone are sufficient to produce specified complexity will go on if life is found.  Only the location will change.  Most likely, Europa, Titan, and Mars will all prove a disappointment.  The debate is too important to delay for 30 years to look at Europa.  Evolutionists need to engage this debate on Earth and not displace it to a distant world.
Next headline on:  SETIOrigin of Life
Paper View:  Evolutionists Augur Genes for Tales of Eyes, Hearts, Brains    09/29/2006  
The Sept. 29 issue of Science includes a special section on evolutionary genetics, beginning with an overview by Barbara R. Jasny, Elizabeth Pennisi and John Travis entitled “Genomic Tales.”1 
Our organs tell stories.  A pathologist, for example, can look at a lung and recognize a lifetime of toiling in a mine.  Our genes tell stories, too.  By comparing the genomic sequences of an ever-increasing number of organisms, we are now uncovering how our bodies came to be the way they are.  Evolution, it seems, is a tale of détente: The need to adapt to changing environments is in a tug of war with the demand for precisely functioning biological machinery.  The stories presented in the special section (and the graphic, p. 1912) emphasize different facets of this complex saga.  They are not just historical lessons; they have implications for understanding disease mechanisms as well as basic physiology.
It’s not quite clear who is telling the tales, though – the genes or the evolutionists – when they make comments like the next sentence: “When it comes to the story of the human brain, we are still stuck on the preface.”  It becomes apparent when looking at the other five articles in the series that the bulk of the story is not in the genes, but in the imaginations of scientists committed to evolutionary explanations....
Click here to continue this entry.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGenetics

Why Are Kids Hyper?  Blame Evolution    09/28/2006  
Jon Hamilton on National Public Radio was curious why his 7-year-old kid always had more energy than he did and didn’t need coffee to get him going.  So he asked an evolutionary biologist at UC Irvine and got the following explanation:

“It’s fairly clear that human evolution has been strongly shaped by very powerful selection pressures over the last two million years to build a bigger brain,” Rose told me.
    That bigger brain doesn’t have much in it when we’re born, Rose says.  So children need all that energy to explore the world and devour information.
    “Play and activity and doing all kinds of things – including things your parents and teachers don’t like – is a big part of developing a functional human brain,” Rose says.
    Brain development pays off in the long run.  Kids eventually get smart enough to survive on their own.
    But while they’re going full speed through childhood, they put themselves at risk.  So evolution has equipped children with parents – who are slower but perhaps wiser.
Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  Hamilton got a bonus from another evolutionary biologist, Steven Lima (Indiana State) who explained that without parents, kids would not survive a world of big cars and big cats:
“They spend a lot of time rough-housing, running around screaming and all this sort of thing,” he says.  “This is one of the most ridiculous things you can do.  It’s a giant ‘Eat at Joe’s’ sign, you know.  ‘Just come kill me.  I’m running around and not paying attention and making a lot of noise.’”
    Parents are much more alert to danger, even if we’re not very perky.  So we keep an eye out for things like tigers and traffic.
    And eventually, Lima says, children grow up and start acting more like parents.
    “Playing around like that becomes ridiculous,” he says.  “You don’t get anything out of it anymore.  It just becomes dangerous.”
    What slips away, of course, is youthful energy.
This evolution, it’s so wonderful, it even explains grandparents.  A consequence of not taking as many risks is living long enough to influence the next generation:
“Fifty- and 60-year-old humans can be very relevant to the future of their offspring and grand-offspring,” Rose says.  “And for that reason, natural selection may indeed still have some force in keeping us alive in middle age.
“Provided,” Hamilton quips, “we don’t fall asleep on the job.”
And with that line, we award Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week to Rose, Hamilton and Lima, for their flexibility to explain everything, even your morning coffee and grandparents, by evolutionary theory.  Funny that this didn’t seem to work the same way with deer children, who will sit quietly in the thicket while their energetic parents are up and about.  Isn’t it amazing that evolution produces organisms that scream for predators to come and eat them, and others that silently blend in with the background.  Evolution is so powerful, it even produces reason, and wisdom! (but not the ability to stay energetic when you have the wisdom to use it).
    Does anyone doubt that if the observations were reversed (parents more energetic than children), these evolutionists would have another obvious, intuitive and confident evolutionary explanation ready to serve up?  It would never occur to these people that other explanations might exist, like design.  It doesn’t matter to them that opposite observations can be accommodated with their Silly Putty law of natural selection, the dream gadget that does everything.*
    What an elegant, beautiful system emerged in 1859, all from the fertile brain of a man whose brain emerged by nature to pronounce truths about nature.  You gotta admire Charlie – the new Aristotle.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
*...but nothing very well.
Tarantula Spins Silk from Feet    09/27/2006  
Surprise: a Costa Rican tarantula can spin silk from the tips of its feet.  A team of German and American scientists writing in Nature1 coaxed one of these heavy, hairy spiders to walk vertically up glass, and was astonished to find it ejecting silky threads that arrested its slipping and enabled it to cling.  They thought that these spiders only used the dry-attachment method that takes advantage of intermolecular van der Waals forces, or the use of hooks on the feet.  This discovery of a third method of attachment was “unsuspected,” they wrote:
We induced A. seemanni to walk on vertical glass surfaces in order to observe the contact mechanics of this challenging locomotion.  When walking up vertical planes, the spider attached only the distal parts of its tarsi to the substrate.  As it started to slip down the glass, silk produced by the tarsal spigots on all four pairs of legs arrested the spider’s descent and allowed it to remain attached to the vertical surface.  The spider’s feet were positioned such that the silk-producing spigots were in contact with the glass, while the dense setae in adjacent regions were held off the surface.
The silk material appears similar to that produced by the spinnerets on the abdomen.  The finding made them wonder how this came about: “Our discovery of secreted tarsal silk forces a reconsideration of the evolution of spider silks,” they speculated.  Did the foot organs come first, followed by the abdominal spinnerets, or vice versa?  “Both evolutionary hypotheses are consistent with the homology of legs and spinnerets as arthropod appendages,” they said. 
Regardless of whether tarsal silk production is ancestral or secondarily derived, the silk-producing apparatus of spiders seems to be controlled by developmental modules that can be expressed in a variety of body parts.
    Investigation of the genes involved in tarsal silk production should resolve whether the original function of spider silk was to increase traction or whether it was later co-opted for that purpose.  Spinneret silk proteins are encoded by a gene family that has evolved through a series of gene duplications and subsequent modifications for particular tasks.  If tarsal silks belong to the same gene family, then comparison of tarsal and spinneret silks should help our understanding of the ancestral function and composition of spider silk.
The writeup on National Geographic took up on this speculation that silk first evolved as an attachment mechanism for the feet, and later evolved for web spinning.  This, however, requires explaining how only tarantulas retained the original function.  The article ended with an Oxford scientist noting that protein (of which silk is made) is not cheap for the spider.  “Even if you use very little, it still costs energy, and energy is the animals’ money,” he said.  “So why put it in the feet unless you really need it?”
    See also the Live Science writeup on this story, where a scientist was “completely surprised” to find spiders can do this, commenting, “This research is a great example of how much there is still to discover in the world around us.”  The article contains a brief description about how abdominal silk is produced, and a table of interesting facts about tarantulas.
1Gorb et al., “Biomaterials: Silk-like secretion from tarantula feet,” Nature 443, 407(28 September 2006); doi:10.1038/443407a.
Do we really need to spin an evolutionary tale about this?  The authors do not know how the intricate machinery for spinning one of the world’s ideal materials evolved at all, let alone whether it evolved first on the legs or abdomen.  Here’s another example of forcing observations into a reigning paradigm.  The facts merely show that these spiders are exquisitely endowed for coping with a variety of situations they might encounter.  Remember that a gland is an organ, and an organ is a collection of tissues with a function, and that tissues are made of specialized cells.  It is naive to envision a whole collection of specialized parts coming into existence simultaneously by some blind process of evolution.  Realize, too, that it not only takes the equipment, but the know-how and reactions to use it.  The spider brain also must have software to quickly turn on the silk production in the feet and simultaneously retract the setae.  How many millions of years did that take to get all this right?
    Instead of getting distracted by some evolutionary tall tale, focus at the design in these amazing spiders.  Look at the handsome markings, the complex eyes, the coordinated walking movements, and all the other structures and functions that come together in a single complex animal that can carry on life in its niche – and reproduce all the parts for the next generation.  Did you know a female tarantula can live 20 years?  These critters have defensive mechanisms that rightly cause us a little trepidation (often exaggerated), but are really quite attractive creations in their own right.  Imagine designing a robot this capable.  Science should discover, describe and seek to understand the workings of nature.  Fitting the observations into speculations about origins is a job for philosophy and theology, not Nature.
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyEvolutionary TheoryAmazing Facts
Atheist Dilemma: Fight or Smooth-Talk Religion?   09/25/2006    
The unpopularity of evolutionism and the persistence of religious faith has scientific materialists confounded and dumbfounded over how to respond.  Some want to fight, some want to shrug it off, and some want to dialog with religious believers, in hopes of convincing some of them that evolution is not the bogeyman they think.  Richard Dawkins is known for the intensity of his rhetoric against all religion.  His strategy is to take no prisoners, but condemn religion as the opiate of the masses, an evil that must be opposed with militant energy.
    The NCSE, on the other hand, plays the line that you can be religious and still believe in evolution.  Eugenie Scott, an atheist, has even produced Sunday School material to soften the opposition (01/14/2002).  According to Kenneth Silber, writing for Tech Central, the AAAS has also entered this arena with a new book entitled The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding:
The book, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is an unusual offering for a scientific society in its focus on religious issues.  Targeted especially at Christian adult-education classes, The Evolution Dialogues contributes a thoughtful discussion to the highly charged debate about evolution and its implications.  Written by Catherine Baker and edited by James B. Miller, the work was developed with input from scientists and theologians.
These approaches attempt to woo the faithful into acquiescent acceptance of evolution (with acceptance of evolution as the unalterable goal).  Such tactics usually work only with liberal churches.  Last February’s Darwin Day (02/11/2006) found willing ranks of liberal pastors ready to preach from the Origin of Species.  Perhaps the oddest attempt in this vein recently came from admitted apostate Michael Shermer, leader of the L.A. Skeptics Society, writing for Scientific American.  He argued that Christians should embrace evolution because it is good theology, while creationism is bad theology.  Not only that, Shermer argued that evolution fits in with the political and moral values of the religious right.  It is not likely Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will be convinced.  They might even turn the argument back on Shermer and ask why he is a liberal, if conservatism is more adaptive.
    There are also some, like Ronald Numbers, who may not agree with believers but believe their views should be taken seriously and treated with respect.
    More commonly, Darwinist materialists seem content to explain away religion as an evolutionary artifact.  An example is Daniel Dennett’s; new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking, 2006), reviewed by Kim Sterelny on American Scientist, by Jack Miles in the Washington Post, and mentioned in a Newsweek article by Jerry Adler about modern atheists.  Encompassing religion in a Darwinian worldview is the strategy likely to be endorsed by the mainline science journals.  Though, according to reviewer Sterelny, “Dennett devotes much of his energy to trying to convince his nonsecular readers that it is legitimate to inquire scientifically into the roots of religious belief and to assess its moral consequences, good and bad,” in the end, Sterelny thinks “His intended audience will rightly regard any evolutionary model, indeed any secular model, of religion as essentially corrosive.”  That’s because Dennett believes that religion evolved; it is not a response to anything real in the divine realm, but is only an artifact of material causes acting by natural selection.  Atheism, by this measure, is not in the dock.
    Typically, the “evolution of religion” theorists use cognitive neuroscience and game theory to describe religion, altruism and other behaviors as adaptive strategies among populations of organisms (in this case, people) needing to preserve their genomes.  The more sensitive of the bunch, like Dennett tries to be, attempt to explain the persistence of religion (for their atheist colleagues) on one hand, but try to assuage the fears of believers, on the other hand, that Darwinism does not necessarily lead to a dog-eat-dog moral chaos.  They try to attract believers to the beauty of evolutionary theory, and its advertised ability to explain peacock behavior as well as our own.  Some, like Dennett, even try to calm the battlefield by persuading fellow atheists to learn more about religion.  Miles finds this somewhat hypocritical, though: “though Dennett pays lip service to the need for Darwinian theorists of religion to acquaint themselves with actual religion as patiently as Darwin acquainted himself with actual animal breeding, in practice he rarely does so.”
    Though Dennett tries to be more nuanced, cautious and soft-spoken than Dawkins, Sterelny argues, he is really a close ally to Dawkins, who along with Richard Harris, Adler remarks, uses “bone-rattling attacks on what they regard as a pernicious and outdated superstition.”
    Apparently religion-by-evolution is becoming a popular vacation topic.  Dennett will be the featured speaker at a conference in Hawaii next January on the subject, The Evolution of Religion.  There must be an adaptive benefit for this new trend among atheists.
Sad.  If Dennett, Dawkins and Harris really believed and understood what they are arguing, they would realize that they are shooting themselves in the feet.  If belief in God evolved as an adaptive strategy, and therefore has no validity in its claims, the same can be said for belief in evolution – indeed, for belief in anything.  It would make just as much sense for other Darwinists to explain Dennett’s behavior in evolutionary terms, and for him to fight back and explain theirs in evolutionary terms, till everyone sings, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
    Speaking of cognitive neuroscience, Dennett has a bad case of what we will term the Yoda Complex.  He makes himself out to be some kind of exalted master, the Enlightened One, like some disembodied green god with pointy ears (and a pointy head), able to talk down to the rest of humanity.  In reality, he wears flesh and bones and puts on pants like the rest of men.  Most of us wouldn’t promote a guy like him to Exalted Master if we could.  But Dennett rambles on like some Yoda, sipping a soda in his pagoda, as if we owed assent (or a cent) to his ode.  (A girl named Rhoda showed a more rational response to the evidence than some believers: Acts 12).  While Dawkins recklessly swings his light saber like the dark lord of the Mith, Dennett talks smooth and deliberately in hushed tones, unaware that the universal acid that flowed away from his own Darwinian principles was strong enough to corrode a Darwinist container, too.
    In case any Ewoks out there are entranced by Yoda Dennett, as if he showed a thing or two from some enlightened abode, a perceptive mind will know what’s up.  That’s because Yoda wrote a coda to his ode, a line in the review to his book on where he spilled the beans (or his guts, if there’s a difference): “I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here,” he said.  “They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do.”  So, students, now that he has shown his true colors, what side of The Farce is he on? (answer: 06/20/2003).
    One doesn’t have to be “dead right.”  Being alive and right is much preferable.  Keep reading Creation-Evolution Headlines, where you learn how to explode a load of phony openness before you’re snowed.  A pretentious Yoda in his own mind, Daniel Dennett showed a code of bluster, not a display of wisdom bestowed upon him from on high.  A man he is, pretender he is; deceitful times, these.  You asked for it, you got it: Toy Yoda.
Next headline on:  DarwinismTheologyDumb Ideas
Deep Field Survey Shows Oldest Galaxies Yet    09/24/2006  
Astronomers continue to find mature galaxies at higher and higher redshifts.  The latest record, reported in Nature,1 is z=6.96, interpreted to mean the galaxy was present 700 million years after the big bang (usually dated at 13.7 billion years ago).  A survey of distant galaxies from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), also reported in Nature,2 found 500 galaxies at z=6 (assumed 900 million years after the big bang) but only one candidate at z=7 to z=8 (700 million years).  They interpreted this to mean, “The simplest explanation is that the Universe is just too young to have built up many luminous galaxies at z approximately ~7-8 by the hierarchical merging of small galaxies.”  Are we, therefore, peering into the “dark ages” before the dawn of galaxies?  Richard McMahon, commenting on these studies in the same issue of Nature,3 noted that the HUDF study was restricted to an extremely narrow portion of the sky, so better instruments and more observations will be required; “Only then will the presence, or absence, of further galaxies be able to tell us whether we really are homing in on the era of reionization.”
    This story was noted by, National Geographic; a press release is available on the Hubble Space Telescope site.  The European Space Agency press release includes pictures of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field survey, including a dramatic animation zooming in from a wide star field to the very narrow spot where one of the distant galaxies was discovered.  “The findings also show that these dwarf galaxies were producing stars at a furious rate,” it says, “about ten times faster than is happening now in nearby galaxies.”  The Hubble press release states, “Astronomers had not seen even one galaxy that existed when the Universe was a billion years old, so finding 500 in a Hubble survey is a significant leap forward for cosmologists.”  See also the 10/14/2005 and 04/06/2005 entries.
1Iye, Ota et al., “A galaxy at a redshift z = 6.96,” Nature 443, 186-188(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05104.
2Bouwens and Illingworth, “Rapid evolution of the most luminous galaxies during the first 900 million years,” Nature 443, 189-192(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05156.
3Richard McMahon, “Astronomy: Dawn after the dark age,” Nature 443, 151-152(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/443151a.
It must be remembered that things like starbirth rates and galaxy formation timelines are inferred from theory.  The observations show only colors, luminosities and chemical compositions of objects, along with other properties of spectra.  The shift of certain absorption lines from their normal wavelength positions is interpreted as universal expansion, except by the maverick astronomers (12/06/2004).  Even assuming the standard big bang scenario, though, it is a huge lumpiness problem for cosmologists to find galaxies already formed and producing stars at prodigious rates so near the beginning.  The sample sizes have been very limited so far.  Already, though, it is very surprising to think that whole galaxies could appear so soon out of a sea of particles by natural causes (05/11/2006).  Watch for new records to be set in future surveys.
Next headline on:  CosmologyAstronomy
Mars Radiation Would Fry Astronaut Brains   09/23/2006    
Imagine the first Martian astronauts coming home confused, impaired and demented.  This is the risk from solar radiation on Mars, say a group of NASA medical researchers (see RxPG News). 
Among the gravest risks of a manned flight to Mars ranks the possibility that massive amounts of solar and cosmic radiation will decimate the brains of astronauts, leaving them in a vegetative state, if they survive at all.
    Dubbed “Risk 29” by NASA's Mars scientists, the cosmic radiation risk remains a show-stopper because shielding a spacecraft from all radiation could make it too heavy to reach Mars, which, at its closest, is 38 million miles from earth.
The kinds of radiation astronauts could be exposed could be like that from a nuclear disaster, one of the researchers said, because, “The sun is basically a big nuclear reactor.”  Though we are much closer to the sun, we are “shielded on Earth by the atmosphere and the Van Allen Radiation Belts” which Mars lacks.
    Incidentally, James Van Allen, who discovered these life-saving belts around Earth, passed away last month at the age of 91 (see JPL press release).  He was the last from a famous 1958 photo showing three space pioneers holding a replica of the first US satellite, Explorer 1, high overhead in victory at a press conference.  Alongside him were William Pickering and Wernher von Braun.
Movie scriptwriters never bring up these problems on Star Trek and all the other space thrillers.  Fact is, it’s a shooting gallery out there.  High-energy particles would rip into our flesh constantly were it not for our protective bubble here on God’s green earth
Next headline on:  Human BodyPhysicsSolar System
Was Archaeopteryx a Biplane?   09/22/2006    
A U of Calgary PhD student thinks Archaeopteryx flew on all fours.  Nick Longrich thinks the early bird had feathers on its legs that gave it additional lift.  The discovery of some Chinese fossil birds with feathers on the legs lends support to his interpretation, he says.
“The idea of a multi-winged Archaeopteryx has been around for more than a century, but it hasn’t received much attention,” Longrich said.  “I believe one reason for this is that people tend to see what they want or expect to see.  Everybody knows that birds don’t have four wings, so we overlooked them even when they were right under our noses.
  He thinks this argues for the tree-down (arboreal) theory of the origin of flight, instead of the ground-up (cursorial) theory.
Maybe Longrich should dial Ken Dial down in Montana for his opinion.  Dial has staked his reputation on wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) for the origin of flight (see 05/01/2006, 11/16/2005, 12/22/2003, 01/16/2003), so this is likely to spoil his spoilers.  But we’re all for peace.  “Working toward consensus” is a buzzphrase these days.  Maybe by working together they can come up with an even better story.  The wingless female was diving off the tree, you see, and the wingless male, arms outstretched, came running to catch her.
    If Archaeopteryx had four functional flight surfaces instead of two, that’s not evolution.  For structures to persist, they have to help an animal survive.  Incipient structures do not help survival; they only get in the way.  If some extinct birds had more aerodynamic equipment than birds today, it indicates something has been lost, not gained.
Next headline on:  BirdsEvolution
Bacteria Generate Hydrocarbon Reservoirs    09/21/2006  
Ethane and propane have been detected in ocean depths near the Galapagos, reported EurekAlert.  These heavy energy-rich hydrocarbons may be widespread in ocean sediments.  The authors of a paper in PNAS1 believe it is formed by bacteria metabolizing acetate from organic material in the sediment, and that this “upsets the general belief that hydrocarbons larger than methane derive only from thermal degradation of fossil organic material.”  Though the paper discusses only the C2 and C3 hydrocarbons ethane and propane specifically, this surprise announcement includes the possibility that heavier hydrocarbons could be formed by processes not yet understood.  The end of the paper says cryptically, “Specifically, they signal the presence of an additional process, probably significant in many environments, for extending the terminal degradation of organic material.”

1Hinrichs et al., “Biological formation of ethane and propane in the deep marine subsurface,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print September 21, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0606535103.
Maybe lowly bacteria, not decaying dinosaurs, will keep our automobiles (or barbecues) running for the foreseeable future.  This announcement could have ripple effects on astrobiology as well as geopolitics.  It also illustrates how little we still know about some of the most basic processes on our own planet occurring today.  Remain doubtful, therefore, about what some scientists claim was going on billions of years ago.
Next headline on:  GeologyPhysics
Farewell to the “Face on Mars” – A Teachable Moment    09/21/2006  
ESA’s Mars Express orbiter has just sent back pictures of the Cydonia region on Mars.  Objects seen in early Viking images of this region resembled a face, a skull and pyramids that gave rise to a cult following on late-night talk shows.  NASA always discounted these resemblances as coincidental, and when JPL released higher-resolution photos from the Mars Global Surveyor (05/24/2001) it seemed to settle the matter.  The latest high-resolution color photos, showing the view from oblique angles, should put to final rest any speculations that intelligent aliens made the features as monuments.
Late night talk show hosts and their so-called experts will probably not be convinced even now.  They will either continue to see intelligent design that isn’t there, or accuse the European Space Agency of conspiracy to fudge the data.  This is the power of belief in spite of evidence.  To show our good will, though, we will offer them a new Mars Odyssey picture loaded with putative faces to dream about, and we’ll even donate some extra pyramids.  The rest of us need not worry about the Martians, though.  They’re our friends.  They even sent us a Happy Face and a Valentine.
    Teachers, however, can use this episode as an example of design detection principles.  We all tend to see faces in natural phenomena, but most of the time, we can usually tell when something was designed or not.  Compare Vermont’s erstwhile Old Man of the Mountain with Mount Rushmore.  This can be a fun project.    Finding images on the internet is easy with search engines.  Assemble as many lookalike images as you can and give children a test to see if they can tell which were designed, and which were due to natural causes or chance.  For each picture ask, “Designed or not designed?”  Explain, “That covers all the possibilities, doesn’t it?”  Either something was put together on purpose [by a mind] to say something or to do something, or else natural causes were sufficient to explain it.  Throw in some tricky ones to trip them up and make them think.  Here are some possibilities:
  • Natural bush shapes vs bushes trimmed into animal shapes (topiary)
  • Concretions vs cannonballs
  • Cave pearls (or natural pearls) vs ball bearings
  • Arrowhead Springs geological feature vs a carved arrowhead
  • Natural snowflakes vs jewelry shaped like a snowflake
  • Burrow tracks in rock vs hieroglyphics
  • Beetle tracks in wood vs graffiti carved on a tree
  • Representational art vs abstract art (shows that design detection can produce false negatives, but usually not false positives if the specification is high)
  • Mars “blueberries” vs rover scratch marks (e.g., MER).
  • An archery target vs a uranium radiohalo
  • A spirograph drawing vs the Spirograph Nebula
  • The “face on Mars” vs desert intaglios or Nazca lines
  • The “Martian canals” vs Valles Marineris
  • Cave formations vs cave paintings
  • Cave flowstone resembling organ pipes, vs real organ pipes (throw in this complication)
  • Geological columnar basalt vs a stack of steel girders
  • A cave opening vs a rock-hewn tomb
  • A natural rock pile vs an archaeological rock wall
  • Random binary digits vs the Arecibo Message
  • Rocks in random arrangements vs rocks piled up as a trail marker
  • Alphabet soup at random vs the letters arranged to spell “chance”
  • Lenticular cloud formations vs skywriting
  • Crepuscular rays vs converging railroad tracks
  • Mushroom fairy ring vs Indian medicine wheel
  • Saturn’s rings vs an Aerobee
  • A blinking pulsar vs Morse Code
  • A cyclone, a spiral galaxy and a computer-generated spiral
  • A geological ridge vs the Great Wall of China
  • Pyramid-shaped mountains vs the Egyptian pyramids
  • Sand ripples vs sand castles
  • Stratified rock vs stair steps or a block wall
  • A scrambled Rubik’s cube vs a solved one (one chance out of 43 quadrillion)
  • Random Scrabble letters vs a pattern forming crosswords
  • A face-like rock formation vs Mt Rushmore
  • An outboard motor and a flagellum
  • A solar eclipse [no correct answer; discuss reason for thinking design/coincidence]
Juniors at a recent teaching session found this a lot of fun, and it conveys several important lessons about thinking without jumping to conclusions.  Then show them a bush carved into the shape of an animal, and the real animal.  Why should we infer intelligent design in the former, but not the latter?  This exercise can lead to further discussions about information and functional design (what it says or what it does), and whether Darwin’s mechanism can account for the origin of information.  Pictures like this can be worth thousands of words.
Teaching tip: Kids might pay better attention if you make it a game.  Call up volunteers, for instance, to take turns answering “designed or not designed?” for various pictures.  Let the class vote on whether they answered correctly or not, and have them explain why.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemIntelligent DesignEducation
Press Goes Ape Over Baby Lucy    09/20/2006  
The news media, especially National Geographic, BBC News, and Associated Press (see Fox News) have new fodder for human-evolution stories and artwork, now that a partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis has been reported in Nature.1  The teeth, cranium, shoulder blades, fingers, inner ear, hyoid bone and other well-preserved parts match “typical African ape morphology.”  This is not a new discovery.  The research team has been gently extracting the pieces of bone from cemented sandstone for five years.  They submitted their initial paper in for publication in April, but estimate it will take several more years to extract remaining fragments from the matrix.
    Based on tooth morphology, they estimate this specimen to have been a 3-year old female.  Because of the species affinity with “Lucy” (though found some 10 km from Johanson’s famous fossil), some are nicknaming this skeleton “Lucy’s baby” (but the discoverers have nicknamed her Salem, “peace”).  The skeleton from the waist up is very ape-like, indicating a life in the trees, they claim.  Though more complete than previous A. afarensis fossils, it lacks the pelvis; only a foot, pieces of leg bones, kneecaps “as small as a dried pea” provide anatomists with evidence to claim she walked upright – one of the most contentious parts of the debate over the older Lucy fossil.
    The authors indicated that several parts of the skeleton have been distorted in the burial process: “The cranium is intact except for parts of the frontal squama and significant parts of both parietals, which have broken away to reveal the complete natural brain endocast (Fig. 1d),” the paper states.  “The back of the calvaria is slightly distorted, pushing the nuchal region forward (Fig. 1f).”  Later, “The articulated postcranial elements in the primary sandstone block include both scapulae and clavicles, the cervical, thoracic and the first two lumbar vertebrae, and many ribs.  They are displaced from their original anatomical positions, and are compressed superiorly under the cranial base and the palate, making preparation difficult (Fig. 1b, c).”  The scientific papers, furthermore, tend to be less dogmatic than the press releases.  The authors only say that this skeleton resembles Lucy, and are tentative about the age, which the popular press state confidently as 3 years old.  Furthermore, the authors understand that interpretations of life habits based on bones is not an exact science:
Now that the scapula of this species can be examined in full for the first time, it is unexpected to find the strongest similarities with Gorilla, an animal in which weight-bearing and terrestrial knuckle-walking predominately characterize locomotor use of the forelimbs.  Problematic in the interpretation of these findings is that the diversity of scapula architecture among hominoid species is poorly understood from a functional perspective.
Most surprising, this specimen was apparently buried suddenly in a watery flood along with many other animals:
This depositional setting, combined with the remarkable preservation of many articulated faunal remains lacking evidence of preburial weathering, most likely indicates that the juvenile hominin was buried as an intact corpse shortly after death during a major flood event.
This is echoed by Wynn et al. who, in the same issue of Nature,2 described the geological setting of the fossil:
This depositional setting, combined with the remarkable preservation of many articulated faunal remains lacking evidence of preburial weathering, most probably indicates rapid deposition during major flood events, burying many fossils as intact corpses (including the juvenile hominin).
In the vicinity of the skeleton were found bones of catfish, mouse, rat, monkey, baboon, mongoose, elephant, extinct horse, rhino, hippo, pig, bushbuck, giraffe, antelope, impala, gazelle, crocodile, coral snake, tortoise, and other animals.
    In the same issue of Nature,3 Bernard Wood called Lucy’s baby “a precious little bundle.”  He agrees, “The corpse of the infant was buried more or less intact, and the sediment in flood waters must have swiftly covered it.”  As to this species’ ability to walk upright, Wood is equivocal:
There remains a great deal of controversy regarding the posture and locomotion of A. afarensis.  Most researchers accept that it could stand upright and walk on two feet, but whether it could climb up and move through trees is still disputed.  Some suggest that its adaptations to walking on two feet preclude any significant arboreal locomotion, and interpret any limb features that support such locomotion as evolutionary baggage without any useful function.  Others suggest that a primitive limb morphology would not have persisted unless it served a purpose.
Wood leaves any complete understanding to the future.  After exploring several questions this fossil opens, he ended, “Whatever the answers to such questions, the Dikika infant has the potential to provide a wealth of information about the growth and development, function and taxonomy of A. afarensis.”  He told Associated Press that this find won’t settle the debate among scientists, which he said “makes the Middle East look like a picnic.”  National Geographic, though, was all ready with artwork, videos and special features about Lucy on the day of the announcement, and Scientific American went all-out with a special feature, including a clickable diagram of each bone fragment.  On the other hand, Carl Wieland, a creationist with Creation Ministries International, considers this good news.  The more complete skeleton confirms what critics have alleged for years, that Lucy was a tree-climbing, knuckle-walking ape that did not walk upright.
1Alemseged et al., “A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia,” Nature 443, 296-301(21 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05047; Received 22 April 2006; Accepted 6 July 2006.
2Wynn et al., “Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia,” Nature 443, 332-336(21 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05048; Received 24 April 2006; Accepted 6 July 2006.
3Bernard Wood, “Palaeoanthropology: A precious little bundle,” Nature 278-281(21 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/443278a; Published online 20 September 2006.
When you scrape away the hype and artistic license, most of the details of the actual bones seem to back up criticisms by creationists that this is nothing more than an extinct ape.  The only portions of the skeleton that evolutionists use to claim this creature had something to do with human evolution are the least preserved: the leg and foot bones.  They interpret these to mean it walked upright, as if walking upright is the main human distinctive.  The best-preserved parts of the skeleton, by contrast, are clearly ape-like and argue against this extinct ape being a walker.  Read the articles skeptically, without assuming what the evolutionists assume, and the evidence is profoundly unconvincing for the claims made about it.  Everything from the backbone up is well within the charts for an ape, not a human wannabee.  The paleontologists admitted, also, that the skeleton has been deformed; how does that affect the interpretation, when assessing function from structure is “poorly understood” under the best of conditions?
    This fossil also creates other problems for the evolutionists.  Consider, for instance, how the evidence for arboreal (tree-climbing) behavior, based on the fingers and shoulder blades, scrambles the Lucy story: “The foot and other evidence from the lower limb provide clear evidence for bipedal locomotion [sic], but the gorilla-like scapula and long and curved manual phalanges raise new questions about the importance of arboreal behaviour in the A. afarensis locomotor repertoire.”  This means that evolutionists must now either consider the tree-climbing equipment as “evolutionary baggage” or believe that this creature climbed trees half the time and walked upright the other half.  (Only human boys exhibit this behavior today, but they quickly grow out of it.)  If Darwin’s mechanism could produce instant phyla at the Cambrian, why couldn’t it get rid of its baggage just as quickly?  On the other hand, if Baby Lucy was happy in the treetops, why was there evolutionary pressure to make her strut on the ground, when other primates found buried with her did not feel the same pressure?  And how can minorities endure the racism implicit in the artwork (see Yahoo) that always shows these alleged primitives with dark skin?
    The Darwin Party baby shower for Salem is, therefore, highly overblown, as is usual for human-evolution celebrations.  They don’t seem to be focusing quite as much on the remarkable collection of animals buried with the little she-ape.  If a sudden flood of this magnitude occurred today, burying this many animals in the same graveyard all at once, wouldn’t it be international news?  This was not a volcanic landslide; it was a watery catastrophe.  Notice how much the media are going out of their way to characterize this ape as a child and a baby when they won’t even afford that dignity to a human embryo.  It is time to get rid of the evolutionary baggage and discover the real Peace Child.
Next headline on:  Early ManFossils
Farewell, Cannibal Dino    09/20/2006  
Whoops, We Were Wrong Dept.:  Fossils of Coelophysis found in 1947 included members of the same species in the stomach, so they were cannibals, right?  Not so fast, corrects an article in BBC News.  The food now looks more like filet of crocodile.  After re-examining the evidence, researchers from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History are more cautious: “It’s not completely outrageous to say these guys were cannibals, it’s just the evidence to say that they were, is no longer there now.”  Sterling Nesbitt reminded, “Ideas need testing.”  The bite marks on the bones, also interpreted as cannibalism, could have been from scavenging.
    Meanwhile, an animatronic version of Coelophysis complete with dinosaur in mouth continues to impress children in London’s Natural History Museum.  “Mr. Nesbitt believes his team’s findings put a big question mark against the popular image of Coelophysis,” the article comments.  “— all the books, TV programmes and museum displays may have to change their content.”  A caption in the article notes that Coelophysis is not the first dinosaur to undergo reassessment.  Some paleontologists believe T. rex may have been a scavenger, not the fearsome predator depicted in the movies.
    Incidental to the article is a tidbit some may find astonishing: hundreds of specimens were found buried together in north-central New Mexico back in 1947.  “A whole group of animals had died en masse in some catastrophe.” 
Yes, ideas need testing.  Sad to say, nobody appears to have tested this initial interpretation for 60 years.  That’s two generations of dino-loving children being told a story without evidence to support it.  That’s also two generations of scientists focusing more on the diet of Coelophysis than on the amazing fact that whole populations of these creatures died together in “some catastrophe.”  Some catastrophe, indeed.
Next headline on:  DinosaursFossilsMedia
No More Excuses: You Have Time to Work Out    09/20/2006  
If you use the excuse that you don’t have the time to exercise, consider a study from McMaster University in Canada that found a short, 20-minute intense workout can be just as effective as two hours of moderate exercise.  You can manage 20 minutes, can’t you?  Another Canadian study mentioned on EurekAlert claims that walking, while better than no exercise, may not be enough for significant health benefits.
    The write-up on Live Science includes links to earlier articles that show hiking heals depression, harder exercise produces quicker recovery, and lifting weights slims down the waistline.  Chronic couch potatoes might like the article from UCI instead.  It shows that too little fat can have negative consequences.  If you do go out for a vigorous walk, now you can put on a non-toxic, plant-based tanning oil that prevents skin damage, reported News@Nature.
It’s a common excuse to be too busy for exercise.  Try this article’s advice: make better use of less time.  No more long, slow walks on the treadmill; crank up the incline and the speed, and work up a good, short sweat.  Do your own scientific experiment to see if it helps; better than nothing at all.  Of course, follow common sense and doctor’s advice for your age and condition.  If you can, work up to getting that heart pumping and the breathing heavy.  Find a way to work it into your schedule somewhere, even if just 20 minutes of intense activity and a quick shower.  It’s a small investment that will pay dividends by making the rest of your day more effective.  Think how much better the day will go with a sharper mind, more energy and a better outlook on life.
Next headline on:  Health
Cassini Photographs Earth from Saturn, Discovers New Ring    09/19/2006  
A new ring, geysers from a distance, and our home planet from 930 million miles away – these and more wonders are visible in new photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.  Now at opposition (facing the sun), the orbiter’s cameras can pick out fainter details in backlighting.  Highlights of the three published photos include:
  1. New ringPIA08322 shows a new faint ring between the G and F rings, never before seen.  It is aligned with the orbits of the moons Janus and Epimetheus.  Scientists found it surprising to see such a well-defined structure here.  The G ring also is shown to have a sharp inner edge, while the E ring is broad and diffuse.
  2. Enceladus in action:  The geysers of Enceladus can be seen erupting from 1.3 million miles away in image PIA08321.  The ejected material, extending a remarkable distance from the small moon, is seen to perturb the E ring.
  3. Our blue dot of home:  In what is sure to be a historic centerpiece of the growing Cassini catalog, image PIA08324 shows our Earth, 930 million miles away, as a faint dot between the G and E rings of Saturn.  A magnified image (inset) shows the pale moon behind the left limb of the Earth.  A closer look at the left side of the image also shows Enceladus, spouting away, inside the E ring.
These images were taken Sept. 17 and released the afternoon of Sept. 19; see also the imaging team website at Ciclops.
These are the kind of pictures that can leave you speechless, and even bring tears to your eyes..  Cherish these special moments of discovery; we can talk more about the Enceladus geysers later and what they indicate.  Look at that “pale blue dot” again, and think of all that is going on down there.  Time to watch The Privileged Planet again tonight.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemAmazing Stories
Genetic Toolkit Manages Dangerous Tools with Safety Switch and Lockbox    09/19/2006  
Laymen appreciate scientists who can express complex concepts in everyday terms.  Here’s a good example from the Wistar Institute:
Around the home, regularly used tools are generally kept close at hand: a can opener in a kitchen drawer, a broom in the hall closet.  Less frequently used tools are more likely to be stored in less accessible locations, out of immediate reach, perhaps in the basement or garage.  And hazardous tools might even be kept under lock and key.
    Similarly, the human genome has developed a set of sophisticated mechanisms for keeping selected genes readily available for use while other genes are kept securely stored away for long periods of time, sometimes forever.  Candidate genes for such long-term storage include those required only for early development and proliferation, potentially dangerous genes that could well trigger cancers and other disorders should they be reactivated later in life.
The article discusses how researchers at Wistar Institute found a two-molecule complex that governs how the chromatin that packages DNA will become either loosely organized or tightly condensed.  Some unknown switching mechanism determines how ASF1 will bind to one of two similar molecules, HIRA and CAF1, that determine the degree of tight packing:
An unanticipated observation from the study centers on the region of association between the two molecules in the complex.  The researchers knew that one of the two molecules in the complex, called ASF1, associated with a particular molecular partner, HIRA, when directing assembly of the more condensed form of chromatin.  But it could also associate with a different partner, called CAF1, to shepherd assembly of the less condensed form of chromatin.
    On closer study, the scientists discovered that HIRA and CAF1 have nearly identical structural motifs in the regions of interaction with ASF1.  This means that ASF1 can bind to one or the other molecular partner, but not to both.  In other words, the interaction is mutually exclusive: A kind of decision is made by ASF1 as to whether to guide the assembly process towards the more or less condensed forms of chromatin.  What determines the choice?  The relevant factors are unknown for now.
However it works, it’s important: one researcher explained, “Appropriate packaging of the DNA in the cell nucleus is crucial for proper functioning of the cell and suppression of disease states, such as cancer.”  The research has been published online in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.1
1Tang et al., “Structure of a human ASF1a-HIRA complex and insights into specificity of histone chaperone complex assembly,” Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, Oct. 2006, published online: 17 September 2006; doi:10.1038/nsmb1147.
Good work, by scientists operating on design principles (whether they realize it or not).  There was no mention of evolution in the press release.  It would would seem, also, that evolutionary theory would be useless in tracking down the factors that determine which binding takes place.
    You might not have realized that your genetic toolkit has power tools that are dangerous.  Just like you would lock up hunting rifles in a secure cabinet, so that they won’t be used for the wrong purpose, your genetic system has controlled procedures for locking up its dangerous equipment.  Most of the trillions of cells in your body get it right for decades, and even when there’s an accident, the body has other procedures for containing the damage.  It is mind-boggling that all this goes on without our conscious knowledge, so that we can be conscious, and gain knowledge.
Next headline on:  GeneticsAmazing Facts
Marine Mimics Found Off Thailand    09/18/2006  
Live Science reported findings from a rich seascape off the coast of Thailand: “Scientists combing through undersea fauna off Indonesia’s Papua province said Monday they had discovered dozens of new species, including a shark that walks on its fins and a shrimp that looks like a praying mantis.”
    National Geographic posted even more information about this find, including pictures and video.  Apparently the shark can swim with its fins, but has a habit of “walking” along the reef surface.  “Biologists studying these sharks suggest they could serve as models for the first animals that moved from marine environments onto land,” the article says.
Think of the wonderful new possibilities this opens up for evolutionary storytelling.  The shark is obviously practicing for its eventual debut on land.  And shiver me timbers, shrimp must have retained developmental genes shared by praying mantises, leading to a most remarkable case of convergent evolution.
    The focus of the article was on the sad state of conservation of this area, and how local fisherman are using methods that threaten these unique species.  This time the liberals can’t blame the Christian right.
Next headline on:  Marine Biology
The Trouble with Neanderthals    09/18/2006  
If nothing else, the scientific investigation of Neanderthal Man is valuable for illustrating how fluid scientific opinion can be.  Since we found out Sept. 1 that Neanderthal genes may be lurking among us, two more unexpected claims have been made about these wrestler-build members of genus Homo.
  1. Hideouts and Holdouts:  Some Neanderthals may have lived thousands of years longer than earlier believed, said Live Science, Science Now and National Geographic.  This controversial claim emerged from radiocarbon-dates of charcoal from a Gibraltar cave as recent as 24,000 years–some 6,000 years earlier than the standard 30,000-year mark when modern humans were said to become dominant.  BBC News has a picture of the cave and the locale.  A possible multi-thousand-year overlap resurrects the question of whether Neanderthals and modern humans interbred.  Skeptics dispute the dates, claiming the samples must have been contaminated.
  2. I’m OK, You’re Strange:  Erik Trinkaus of Washington State got publicity with this assertion: Neanderthals were normal; it’s we modern humans that are strange (see Live Science).  He compared other members of genus Homo and “discovered” that modern humans have twice as many “uniquely distinct traits” as Neanderthals.  Whether that qualifies as making us weird might be debated, but Trinkaus argued, “In the broader sweep of human evolution, the more unusual group is not Neanderthals, whom we tend to look at as strange, weird and unusual, but it’s us, modern humans.”
Some may think the only scientific law being confirmed here is Dykstra’s Law: Everybody is somebody else’s weirdo.  Another pointed out that finding cave men does not prove evolution.  We still have cave men today– Osama bin Ladin.
Did we hear a scientist doubting the accuracy of radiocarbon dates?  Is it possible somebody is picking and choosing the dates they want?  Evolutionists want us to believe that Neanderthals did little more than hunt game and paint on cave walls for 70,000 years, even though their average skull capacities were larger than ours.  Does that make any sense?
    Though Neanderthals (whatever we call them) are classified according to a set of distinctive anatomical traits, there is more variability among living people than between average Neanderthals and average modern humans.  Could Neanderthalism be nothing more than an artifact of human classification bias?  Is this a form of racism projected onto dead humans unable to hire a lawyer to defend themselves?a  You decide; in the meantime, you’ll want to make a good impression among the Neanderthal glitterati at the next cave cookout, so order your prosthetic brow ridges today.b
Next headline on:  Early ManDating Methods
aThe BBC article included an artist’s conception that accentuates the “primitive” look.  This harks back to Haeckel’s ranking of humans to make certain races look less evolved.
bNote: prominent brow ridges are not marks of brutishness or stupidity.  They are actually a benefit; they allow larger muscle attachments for chewing.  It could be argued that we modern humans are at a disadvantage without them.  Any trait can be accentuated in a limited gene pool; look at dachshunds vs. huskies.  You could organize dogs into groups based on traits, and set arbitrary boundaries between the groups, yet this would imply nothing about their intelligence, survivability, or (especially) their emergence from hypothetical pre-canine ancestors.
What’s Inside a Spore?  Nanotechnology   09/17/2006    
The spores that are emitted from fungi and ferns are so tiny, the appear like dust in the wind.  Who would have ever thought such specks could exhibit nano-technological wonders like scientists have found recently:
  1. Evapo-Motors:  Scientists at U of Michigan were intrigued by how ferns turn the power of evaporation into launching pads.  The sporangia (spore ejectors) use a “microactuator” to eject the spores into the environment as they dry out.  The team was so impressed, they said “Oh, we have to build that,” and imitated the mechanism to build microchips that open and close when wetted or dried.  They think they might be able to generate electricity without batteries with this technique.
  2. Info Compactor:  Despite their minute size, spores must carry the entire genome of the species.  A Wistar Institute press release talked about that.  It’s incredible: a histone tag on the chromatin somehow signals a compaction process that reduces the already-tight fit to 5% of the original volume.  All this must be done very delicately, because spores are haploid (one strand of DNA) and much more subject to disastrous breaks.
In the second article, the researchers found that a similar compaction method works in the sperm cells of animals as diverse as fruit flies and mice.  To them, this observation is “suggesting that the mechanisms governing genome compaction are evolutionarily ancient, highly conserved in species whose lineages diverged long ago.”
Can we just ignore that stupid little evolutionary piddle for a moment, and enjoy the fascination of these observational facts?  The ejection method of spores in ferns is just one of many highly clever and diverse seed-spreading techniques in the plant kingdom, some of which also use desiccation to advantage, like the Scotchbroom, whose pods explode to send seeds as far as 50 feet.  A beautiful film Journey of Life illustrates some of these tricks of the plant trade and is well worth watching.
    In the second story, think of how delicate and accurate this process has to be.  In the quintillions of sperm and spore cells that are produced throughout the world, most of the time the process works flawlessly.  The article did not even mention that a reverse process must also take place.  Packing is one thing, but what if you can’t unpack the information just as delicately and accurately?  Undoubtedly pollen grains have this nanotechnology, too.  A human cell can contain six feet of DNA, contained in the microscopic dot of a cell.  Many plants have even larger genomes.  A seed, sperm or spore must contain not only the entire genetic code, but the nutrients and machinery to unpack it, deliver it and protect it so that the next generation of the species can continue.  Could Darwin have known such things, one wonders how different the history of science (and politics) might have been.  Now, there’s no excuse.
Next headline on:  PlantsCell BiologyAmazing Facts
Voles Throw Evolutionary Genetics Into Disarray   09/16/2006    
What is it with voles?  These little gopher-like furballs with beady eyes, short tails and tiny ears are giving evolutionary geneticists fits.  A press release from Purdue University states, “Purdue University research has shown that the vole, a mouselike rodent, is not only the fastest evolving mammal, but also harbors a number of puzzling genetic traits that challenge current scientific understanding” and are “an evolutionary enigma” with “many bizarre traits,” videlicet:
  • Chromosome numbers range from 17 to 64 between species.
  • X chromosomes in some species carry 20% of the genome.
  • Some females carry significant parts of the male Y chromosome.
  • In some species, the males and females have different chromosome numbers.
  • Despite widely variant genotypes, all voles come out looking basically the same (phenotype).  Some species look so identical it takes a DNA analysis to tell the difference.
Why is this an evolutionary puzzle?  “The study focuses on 60 species within the vole genus Microtus, which has evolved in the last 500,000 to 2 million years,” the article says.  “This means voles are evolving 60-100 times faster than the average vertebrate in terms of creating different species.”
It doesn’t mean any such thing.  It means, rather, that evolutionists are more incorrigible than ever when faced with conflicting data, to the point they will believe in miracles.
    These findings also mean that geneticists don’t understand nearly as much as they thought.  How can you have vastly different genomes that yield identical-looking animals?  What do genetic differences really imply about the fitness of individuals and populations?  Why would a little furball evolve 100 times faster than an elephant, monkey, or whale, or rat or mouse?
    Evolutionary theory was so much easier before we had facts.
Next headline on:  GeneticsEvolutionMammals
Record Dino Trove in Mongolia   09/15/2006    
67 dinosaurs in a week: that’s what diggers from Montana State University found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.  The team effort was led by veteran dinosaurologist Jack Horner.  Most skeletons were Psittacosaurs, thought to be predecessors of the horned ceratopsids, like Triceratops.  Seeking to understand the developmental biology of dinosaurs, the team was less interested in new species than lots of specimens of one species: “Horner wants a large number of fossils so he can compare variations between skeletons and changes during growth.”
    The press release mentioned nothing specific about evolution, nor about how these skeletons became buried in such large numbers.  The one picture shows the hunters working in an arid, desert environment that must be very different from the world in which these dinosaurs perished.  Lecture notes from Columbia University and from a 2001 expedition to the area claim the creatures were buried in shallow lake bed sediments.
Imagine a peaceful herd of dinosaurs grazing by the lake bed, then deciding to die en masse and cover themselves with sediments.  If that does not happen today, it probably didn’t back then, either.
    Evolutionary stories and timelines are not essential to the scientific process of discovering, describing, identifying, cataloging and gaining insight into the growth and development of dinosaurs.  Did psittocosaurs gradually evolve into ceratopsids over millions of years?  The bones cannot confirm such notions.  What they can do, though, is constrain the imaginations of scientists who weren’t there and don’t know everything.  Go get ’em, hunters.
Next headline on:  DinosaursFossils
Ethane Cloud at Titan: Too Little, Too Late?    09/14/2006  
Those following the Titan exploration by Cassini-Huygens have wondered where the ethane went.  Oceans of ethane hundreds of meters deep, if not kilometers deep, were predicted but not found, as reported previously (see 04/25/2003 and 10/16/2003 pre-Huygens reports, 01/15/2005 and 01/21/2005 Huygens early results, and 12/05/2005 review; see also New Scientist analysis of the “total revolution” in thinking about Titan going on because of the lack of oceans).  Now, finally, Cassini found something at least: a cloud of ethane at the north pole (see Cassini press release)  Is it enough to blanket the embarrassment of finding Titan to be a dry, young surface with only trace amounts of ethane?
    The findings made by Cassini’s Virtual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) were published in Science this week,1 and described in a Perspectives article by Cassini atmospheric scientist Mike Flasar in the same issue of Science.2  Indeed, a “vast tropospheric cloud” of ethane was observed over the north pole in a series of observations between Dec. 2004 and Sept. 2006 (this cloud contrasts with the south-polar cloud believed composed of methane).3  The abstract leads one to believe this solves the problem of the missing ethane:
The derived characteristics indicate that this cloud is composed of ethane and forms as a result of stratospheric subsidence and the particularly cool conditions near the moon’s north pole.  Preferential condensation of ethane, perhaps as ice, at Titan’s poles during the winters may partially explain the lack of liquid ethane oceans on Titan’s surface at middle and lower latitudes.
That word “partially” is key, though, as shown in subsequent discussions in the paper.  First, they restate the problem in stark terms, to show the seriousness of the prediction that failed:
Methane (the second most abundant atmospheric constituent after nitrogen) is dissociated irreversibly by solar ultraviolet light, producing primarily ethane and, at one-sixth and one-10th of the ethane production rate, respectively, acetylene and haze, as well as other less abundant organic molecules.  These photochemical by-products precipitate to Titan’s surface.  Titan’s atmospheric composition and photochemical models indicate that ethane accumulates as a liquid (at the equatorial surface temperature of 93.5 K) at a rate of ~300 m (if global) over Titan’s lifetime of 4.5 billion years, whereas solid sediments, including acetylene and haze particles, accumulate at roughly one-third of this rate.  Thus, unless methane is a recent addition to Titan’s atmosphere or ethane incorporates itself into surface solids, it has been reasoned that a considerable fraction of the surface should be covered with liquid ethane.  Titan’s surface reveals dunes of solid sediments, probably including haze particles and acetylene ice.  In addition, the surface is riddled with alluvial features, suggesting the occurrence of methane rain in the past.  Craters are rare, indicating geological relaxation as well as their burial by photochemical sediments.  Yet Titan appears depleted of its most abundant photochemical by-product.  Except for the ethane-damp surface measured by Huygens, no condensed form of ethane has been detected, despite its rapid production in Titan’s stratosphere and the expectation of finding ethane-rich oceans before the Cassini encounter.
The same is admitted by University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in a press release (see EurekAlert): “Ethane is by far the most plentiful byproduct when methane breaks down,” it states.  “If methane has been a constituent of the atmosphere throughout Titan’s 4.5-billion-year lifetime -- and there was no reason to suspect it had not -- the large moon would be awash with seas of ethane, scientists theorized.”  That’s why most artist conceptions were amply illustrated with liquid before Cassini found a dry desert (05/04/2006) with a few possible lakes at high latitudes (07/24/2006).
    The science team tried to get a fix on the composition of the cloud and the mass of ethane within it from the four oblique views obtained by VIMS.  Best guess by inferring spectral properties, particle sizes and altitude is that the cloud is indeed ethane, that condenses at 30-50 km above the pole and precipitates down, falling at 3 km per month.  “If conditions remain cool enough throughout the year,” they infer, “Titan may accumulate ethane ice each winter at the poles and develop year-round polar caps.”  Direct evidence of an ethane ice cap will have to await future flybys by Cassini (perhaps the high-latitude pass on October 9).  What about the south pole, though, which has been imaged?  No simple answers, unfortunately, and we’ll have to wait to find out, but what we know is not that convincing yet:
Presently, there is no direct evidence of polar caps composed of ethane.  The northern pole has not been imaged.  Cassini images of the southern pole do not indicate the morphology of 2 km of ethane ice, assuming current rates of ethane production over the past 4.5 billion years, accumulated within 35° of the poles.  Yet south polar images suggest flow features, possibly associated with a smaller quantity of ethane ice accumulated on the young surface.  The detection of surficial ethane ice is hindered by the correlation of ethane features and methane signatures, which obscure the visibility of Titan’s surface.  In addition, the polar surface is probably distinct and varied.  Similarly, other hydrocarbons would precipitate preferentially at the poles and pollute the ethane ice, and any lowland methane lakes would dissolve and melt ethane, because the mixture’s eutectic temperature is 72.5 K.  Such lakes might condense out of Titan’s humid lower troposphere during winter.  The surface distribution of liquid or solid ethane, whether corralled into the polar regions by circulation or transported by surface flows to lower latitudes, will be determined with radar and near-infrared images of the geomorphology, radio determinations of the polar temperatures, and infrared measurements of the polar composition, which are scheduled for future Cassini encounters with Titan.
What does Dr. Flasar think of all this?  His commentary focuses primarily on the atmospheric circulation on Titan.  At the end, his reference to this problem is delicately understated:
Until now, clouds of the most abundant product of methane dissociation, ethane, have eluded detection.  The Griffith et al.  identification of polar ethane clouds is reassuring, in that it validates the basic ideas we have about Titan’s meteorology and chemistry: first, that condensation does occur, as expected, in the lower stratosphere, and second, that the inferred altitudes of the ethane cloud (30 to 50 km) are consistent with subsidence in the winter polar region.  This and other clues that we will obtain will help us to sort out the things we still puzzle over.
The biggest puzzle on his mind is, undoubtedly, where is all the ethane?  It’s not enough to answer that it just stacks up at the poles.  The U of A press release spoke with lead author Caitlin Griffith, and reported, “If ethane was produced at today’s rate over Titan’s entire lifetime, a total of two kilometers of ethane would have precipitated over the poles.  But that seems unlikely, Griffith said.”  Why?  The south pole, which should roughly match the north pole, shows no such ethane ice cap.
1Griffith et al., “Evidence for a Polar Ethane Cloud on Titan,” Science, 15 September 2006: Vol.  313. no. 5793, pp. 1620-1622, DOI: 10.1126/science.1128245.
2F. M. Flasar, “Planetary Science: Titan’s Polar Weather,” Science, 15 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5793, pp. 1582-1583, DOI: 10.1126/science.1130698.
3Methane, CH4 is exposed to the solar wind in the upper atmosphere of Titan, a continuous process that strips off hydrogen atoms.  The ionized methyl groups CH3- rapidly recombine into ethane C2H6, which has nowhere to go but down.  At surface temperatures on Titan, it should condense as a liquid, or as ethane snow at higher latitudes where it is colder.  Extrapolating the current ethane production rate for the assumed age of the solar system (4.5 billion years) should have yielded deep oceans of ethane at least 300 meters deep, but probably much deeper if methane were more abundant in the past, as is commonly believed.
The problem vanishes when you liberate your mind from the requirement of billions of years.  This is really uncanny.  Everything about Titan screams young, but nowhere do you find anyone questioning the linchpin assumption that Titan is 4.5 billion years old.  It’s almost like they want to downplay this “puzzle” and sweep it under the rug.  Don’t let them.  Most creationists could live with a young or old Titan, though some would prefer the former.  The only people who would be completely scandalized by a young Titan are the evolutionists who absolutely depend on billions of years in which to hide their skeletons.
    The ethane cloud is too little, too late.  After all, vast quantities of ethane must be there.  Dr. Flasar admitted it: he was reassured that the ethane “condensation does occur” and that the basic ideas about Titan’s chemistry have been validated.  It follows logically that this process, going on interrupted for billions of years, would leave the evidence in abundance.  OK, so where is it?  They can’t hide the answer in the future much longer.  Imagine the entire globe covered with an ethane ocean half a mile deep or more.  What happened to it?  Did the interior suck it up like a sponge?  Did aliens take it?  Did creationists steal in a vast conspiracy to support their young-earth views?  Come on; let the facts speak to the unbiased mind.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating MethodsPhysics
Another Rotary Machine Found in Bacteria   09/13/2006    
A molecular “garbage disposer” in the cell membrane bearing some resemblance to the rotating motor ATP synthase has been described in Nature.1  This machine, called AcrB, expels toxins from the cytoplasm through the cell membrane to the outside.  Like ATP synthase, it has three active sites at one end where the binding occurs, and it operates on proton motive force; but unlike the former, it performs “functional rotation” instead of mechanical rotation.
    Murukami et al., a team of five in Japan, described the machine in the 14 Sept issue of Nature.1  Here is a simplified picture of how it works.  Picture a pie with three slices and follow a toxin from the inside of the cell, through the AcrB disposer, to the outside.  One of the slices has a port open and ready for use; we follow the molecule inside as it gets dragged in because of the proton flow.  A trap door lets us into the first chamber then snaps shut.  Inside, we are squeezed into another chamber, then into a tunnel, then handed off to a membrane protein that ejects us out to the exterior environment.  The squeezing occurred because the neighboring pie slice opened its port when ours closed.  When the third slice opened in turn, we were ejected into the tunnel.  In this “functional rotation” model of the action, each of the three segments cycles through three states, and affects the state of the neighboring segment.  The result is a continuous garbage-disposer like operation that sucks in the toxins, binds them, and ejects them out.  Apparently each segment can handle a wide variety of substrates, and adjacent segments might be working on different molecules simultaneously.
    There’s one bad side effect of this technology for us humans.  For doctors trying to administer chemotherapeutic drugs or antibacterial agents, the bacteria put up a challenge; they can be ejecting the drugs as fast as the doctor administers them.  This is one way bacteria gain immunity to drugs.  Finding ways to disable these “ubiquitous membrane proteins” may be easier now that we know how they work.  This particular machine operates in the lab bacterium E. coli, but there are other types of these “multi-drug transporters” (MDTs) in other organisms that work in other ways.  In the same issue of Nature,2 two Swiss researchers described a different MDT in S. aureus called Sav1866.  Instead of proton motive force, this member of the ABC family of MDTs uses ATP to twist the toxin out of the membrane.
    In the case of the rotary machine AcrB, both the research team and commentator Shimon Schuldiner (Hebrew U) couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to ATP synthase.  AcrB lacks the mechanical rotation of the gamma subunit, and seems to lack the rotating carousel driven by protons, but it does have three active sites that appear to operate in turn like a rotary engine.  Schuldiner did not explain any details of a relationship, but speculated that AcrB might be a missing link of sorts: “It is possible that this is a remnant of the evolutionary process that led to the development of true rotary molecular machines.”  Other than that, and an offhand remark earlier in the commentary that “MDTs have evolved into many different forms to act on a wide range of xenobiotics” [i.e., alien molecules], the only other reference to evolution in any of these three papers was a speculation about Sav1866 by Dawson and Locher.  Noting the functional similarity but distinctly different architecture between Sav1866 and another member of the ABC family of MDTs, “the bacterial lipid flippase MsbA” in Salmonella, they cannot see an evolutionary relationship between them: “The observed architectures of MsbA and Sav1866 remain incompatible, even when considering that the proteins may have been trapped in distinct states,” they note.  So what is the answer?  How did these structurally different yet functionally similar machines originate?  They leave it at, “the differences—if real—would indicate a convergent evolution of the two proteins.”

1Murukami et al., “Crystal structures of a multidrug transporter reveal a functionally rotating mechanism,” Nature 443, 173-179(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05076.
2Dawson and Locher, “Structure of a bacterial multidrug ABC transporter,” Nature 443, 180-185(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05155.
3Shimon Schuldiner, “Structural biology: The ins and outs of drug transport,” Nature
It’s important for us to keep reporting what biophysicists and biochemists are finding, so that the Darwinists know what they are up against.  The cheap calls of “convergent evolution” and “remnants of the evolutionary process” and other such calls to accept evolution as an assumption are ringing hollow, and need to be ejected with the rest of today’s intellectual garbage and toxins.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
Plant Protection: A Modern Medieval Castle Story    09/13/2006  
Vigilant guards stand at the gates.  In times of peace, they let down the drawbridge, and the townspeople carry on their trade.  Farmers bring in their crops for the marketplace, and local craftsmen and pedlars keep the local economy bustling.  Yet the sentries maintain a watchful eye, aware that numerous interlopers are about.  Aliens constantly seek entry into these most vulnerable points in the castle walls.  The guards, however, are well trained.  They know the behavior patterns of most would-be intruders.  Any attempted invasion is usually rebuffed by a rapid “drawbridge up!” response till the danger has passed.  Day and night, through all seasons and all kinds of weather, these diligent sentries stand ready at their posts, maintaining security for the townspeople inside.
    One day, after the gates had been closed after a day of feasting and celebration, a clever interloper showed up.  He looked a little strange, but dressed as a local merchant, he insisted he had important business in town that couldn’t wait till morning.  The guards, a bit wary at first but in high spirits from the long party, checked his I.D.  He had the necessary documents, and knew the password.  Yet this interloper, armed and dangerous, carried a secret weapon: a chemical spray able to intoxicate the guards and make them susceptible to the power of suggestion.  “Let me in,” the interloper whispered softly after surprising the guards with his potent perfume.  “It’s all right.  Everything will be just fine.  No one will ever know.”  He imitated the motions of turning the cranks that would relax the heavy chains.  Overcome by the hypnotic vapors, the guards followed his motions, and soon the drawbridge came winding down.
    Once inside, the interloper went quickly to work.  A local constable was quickly put out of commission by turning his gun against him.  The intruder entered a house, subdued the occupants, and set up a base of operations.  He signaled his cohorts, and before long, before the townspeople even knew what happened, the defenses in which they had trusted had been compromised: an enemy force was inside the gates.
    A medieval tale?  No; look at your house plant.  It could be happening right there.  Yellow or sickly leaves could have suffered a similar fate.  Scientists have just discovered that bacteria can trick a leaf’s guard cells into letting down their defenses.
    Botanists have known about guard cells for a long time.  Leaf surfaces are pockmarked by openings (sing. stoma, plural stomata), each surrounded by a pair of guard cells that regulate the opening and closing of the stomata.  The openings are important for exchange of gases and for transpiration, the release of water vapor from cellular respiration to the atmosphere.  Like water balloons under pressure, the sausage-shaped cells become rigid as water is pumped in, creating turgor pressure.  Unable to increase their girth, the guard cells curve outward, opening a pore between them.  Relaxation of the turgor closes the stoma.  There can be a thousand stomata per square millimeter on a leaf surface (see CSBSJU lecture notes), each with their own pair of guard cells.
    The opening and closing of stomata is not merely a function of water availability.  A host of specialized proteins and molecules regulate the guard cells’ actions.  The complexity of these regulators was described this month by a trio of researchers at Penn State.  Reporting in PLoS Biology,1 they identified more than 40 components of the guard cell regulatory network, and that the network is robust against a wide variety of perturbations.  From conifers to cacti, from African violets to garden weeds, stomata with their guard cells keep trillions of leaves operating as effective harvesters of sunlight, with benefits for all life.  “To our knowledge,” the researchers said without mentioning evolution, “this is one of the most complex biological networks ever modeled in a dynamical fashion.”
    But back to our castle story.  Other scientists just made a surprising discovery.  Stomata are not only avenues for gas and water exchange: they really have “guard” cells with a security role.  Melotto et al. at Michigan State, writing in Cell,2 found that guard cells respond to the presence of bacteria.  They can sense the flagellin molecules in Pseudomonas syringae, a common leaf pathogen, and close the stomata to defend against invasion.  This clever bacterium, though, like our castle intruder, carries a molecule that mimics the “open sesame” command of regulators inside, and can trick the guard cells into letting down the leaf defenses.  Once inside, the bacteria have a much easier time going about their work of using leaf resources for their own needs.  Some infected cells will try to stop the invasion by committing suicide, but the inner defense system is not nearly as effective as the stomata.  We can no longer think of stomata as simple, passive ports of entry for bacteria.  “Surprisingly,” they wrote, “we found that stomatal closure is part of a plant innate immune response to restrict bacterial invasion.”  In the same issue of Cell,3 Schultz-Lefert and Robatzek commented on this discovery, adding that “pathogenic bacteria have evolved strategies to suppress the closure of stomata.”

1Li, Assman and Albert, “Predicting Essential Components of Signal Transduction Networks: A Dynamic Model of Guard Cell Abscisic Acid Signaling,” Public Library of Science: Biology, Volume 4, Issue 10, September 2006.
2Melotto et al., “Plant Stomata Function in Innate Immunity against Bacterial Invasion,” Cell, Volume 126, Issue 5, 8 September 2006, Pages 969-980.
3Schultz-Lefert and Robatzek, “Plant Pathogens Trick Guard Cells into Opening the Gates,” Cell, Volume 126, Issue 5, 8 September 2006, Pages 831-834.
We tricked you by posing this as a contest between good and evil, between peace-loving leaf cells and dastardly bacteria up to no good.  Metaphors bewitch you, remember? (see 07/04/2003).  Plants and bacteria are not sentient beings.  We should liberate our minds from the tendency to view these ecological interactions in anthropomorphic terms.  The converse is not true; human beings are sentient moral agents; no one should take this commentary as support for viewing terrorism as a natural regulatory response to civilization, for instance.  But it is possible that bacteria act as a counterbalance in the overall ecology.  Nature is filled with counterbalances, with accelerator pedals and brakes, with promoters and terminators.  Bacteria invading a leaf may look to us like selfish invaders, but what if they have a role to play, preventing a plant community from growing beyond its resources?  Many bacterial invasions occur after periods of high humidity or drenching rainstorms.  It’s possible to look at the ecological community as a well-regulated system of checks and balances, responding to perturbations in a way that ensures the long-term survival of the whole.  Most of the time, it works.  Plant communities endure despite major geological and climatic changes.  Clearly, things get out of balance sometimes, but maybe that was not the original intent of these well-regulated systems in the original creation.  We don’t need to resort to the evolutionary selfishness metaphors.  We should not personify bacteria, speculating that they “have evolved strategies” to get their own way.  Maybe they’re just doing the best job they can in a messed-up world.
    The important point of these articles is not in some moral anthropomorphism, but in the realization that here is another example of an interrelated, regulated system that could never have evolved by some unguided processes.  Stomata may have looked like simple pores to earlier scientists; now we know that there is a whole network of regulators and detectors, composed of at least 40 parts, that work together to ensure the proper functioning and security of the photosynthetic factories on which all multicellular life depends.  This has been the pattern of scientific discovery ever since the discovery of DNA.  No matter where you look, life is much more sophisticated than one could have imagined.
    An evolutionary astrobiologist was heard today commenting on the arrangement of cells in leaves.  He pointed out that not only are individual leaf cells optimized to filter in the solar wavelengths most useful for photosynthesis, but that they are stacked in formations that act as waveguides, funneling in the vital green wavelengths while reflecting and passing through the infrared wavelengths that would otherwise overheat the power generators.  In other words, here are two separate and independent designs that contribute to the optimization of photosynthesis.  In a declaration of folly astonishing in its dimensions, he exclaimed, without even batting an eye, isn’t it amazing that plants figured this out by themselves!.
Next headline on:  PlantsCell BiologyAmazing Facts
Do Mammals Depend on Virus Help?   09/12/2006    
Researchers found that sheep depend on a retrovirus to become pregnant.  Retroviruses (those that can insert themselves into a genome of a host cell) include the dreaded HIV and generally have a bad reputation.  Remnant retroviruses are prevalent in many animal species and have been considered a class of “junk DNA,” having mutated away their ability to cause infection.
    Science Daily, however, reported on research that shows that “naturally occurring endogenous retroviruses are required for pregnancy in sheep.”  A certain class of retrovirus, enJSRV, is critical for formation of the placenta – without it, embryos cannot implant and are miscarried.  Other retroviruses, rather than causing disease, may be essential for protection from infection, the article said.
    How could such cooperation between virus and host evolve?  An evolutionary explanation was included in the article:
Further, Palmarini said, “The enJSRVs arose from ancient infections of small ruminants during their evolution,” said Dr. Massimo Palmarini, a virologist at The University of Glasgow Veterinary School.  “This infection was beneficial to the host and was then positively selected for during evolution.  In other words, animals with enJSRVs were better equipped than those without.  Therefore, enJSRVs became a permanent part of the sheep genome and, in these days, sheep can’t do without them.”
Yet this seems merely a post-hoc speculation rather than a testable hypothesis.  Perhaps there is more cooperation going on between mammals and their tag-alongs than previously realized.
Palmarini ought to read what Jerry Coyne wrote about evolutionary theory (08/30/2006).  Evolution neither predicted nor expected this surprising discovery.  The explanation resembles the habit of Kruschev-era communists to spin every political and economic observation, no matter how contradictory, into terms of class conflict and dialectical materialism.
    If you think back to the commercials of the Leave-it-to-Beaver era, all germs were considered evil.  Wondrous kitchen products like Lysol helped the modern homemaker destroy the wretched bugs and keep the kitchen shining spic-and-span and germ-free.  It is becoming apparent now, by contrast, that most bacteria are beneficial to humans (see 08/02/2006 entry), and that the world is teeming with more viruses than previously conceived, most of which are harmless.  This does not mean we should give up cleanliness and hygiene, but it means that we need to rethink our view of natural evil.  A new view seems to be emerging that life not only tolerates, but may ultimately depend on, bacteria and viruses.
    The relatively small number that cause disease and harm, like brats in the playground, steal most of our attention.  What if the bratty germs are really beneficial players gone awry?  That would fit a Biblical creation model.  A design-based research program could investigate the beneficial interactions of animals with their micropartners and retroviruses, instead of giving up and spraying the “junk” with evolutionary LiesAll.
Next headline on:  GeneticsEvolutionary TheoryMammals
Remembering 9/11:  Creation-Evolution Headlines was only a year old when Islamic terrorists hit America.  Readers might like to review our reports from 09/13/2001, 09/14/2001 and 09/19/2001 as the aftermath of the events unfolded.  On the day of the attack itself, there was not much that could be said here, other than to reprint words of great patriotic hymns (following 09/12/2001 entry).  Today, 09/11/2006, the 5th anniversary of the attacks, President George W. Bush ended his address to the nation with a reference to the Creator:
The attacks were meant to bring us to our knees, and they did, but not in the way the terrorists intended.  Americans united in prayer, came to the aid of neighbors in need, and resolved that our enemies would not have the last word.  The spirit of our people is the source of America’s strength. And we go forward with trust in that spirit, confidence in our purpose, and faith in a loving God who made us to be free.
Patients in Vegetative State May Be Aware    09/11/2006  
Remember the arguments put forth for why Terry Schiavo should be allowed to die?  They revolved around the awareness of those said to be in a persistent vegetative state.  Now, researchers reported in Science1 that a patient diagnosed in a vegetative state was aware of what was going on:
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate preserved conscious awareness in a patient fulfilling the criteria for a diagnosis of vegetative state.  When asked to imagine playing tennis or moving around her home, the patient activated predicted cortical areas in a manner indistinguishable from that of healthy volunteers.
The researchers called the condition of vegetative state “one of the least understood and most ethically troublesome conditions in modern medicine.”  The ran tests with functional MRI on a 23-year-old woman who had suffered severe injury in a car accident.  Unresponsive but with preserved sleep-wake cycles, she was diagnosed as in a vegetative state by international criteria. 
These results confirm that, despite fulfilling the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of vegetative state, this patient retained the ability to understand spoken commands and to respond to them through her brain activity, rather than through speech or movement.  Moreover, her decision to cooperate with the authors by imagining particular tasks when asked to do so represents a clear act of intention, which confirmed beyond any doubt that she was consciously aware of herself and her surroundings..  Of course, negative findings in such patients cannot be used as evidence for lack of awareness, because false negative findings in functional neuroimaging studies are common, even in healthy volunteers.  However, in the case described here, the presence of reproducible and robust task-dependent responses to command without the need for any practice or training suggests a method by which some noncommunicative patients, including those diagnosed as vegetative, minimally conscious, or locked in, may be able to use their residual cognitive capabilities to communicate their thoughts to those around them by modulating their own neural activity.
Another case was reported by the BBC News.  A victim of an acute viral infection was diagnosed in a vegetative state.  She could not move her facial muscles to indicate reactions, but was aware of what was being said around her, and felt scared.  “I felt trapped inside my body,” she later reported.  The only clue to her hopeful parents came from a brain scan that showed she was processing information presented to her.
Update 09/13/2006: Nature (443, 14 September 2006) published a news item (pp 132-133) and editorial (pp 121-122) on this finding, but claimed the patient in this case “seems to have been much less severely injured than the permanently vegetative Terri Schiavo, whose case inflamed the moral debate over whether those who show no signs of recovery should be allowed to die.”  Surprisingly, even though the news item admits that there is a continuum of states, that some on the continuum may be progressing toward eventual recovery, and that the binary diagnosis of “vegetative state” can no longer be taken for granted, the editorial claims, “This case has little bearing on ethical questions over whether or not the most severe cases should be denied treatment and allowed to die,” because in the most severe cases the chances of finding any sign of awareness is negligible.  Yet the parents and friends of Terry Schiavo constantly argued that she was aware enough to follow objects and display emotions.  Since she was killed in March 2005, we will never know if she could have passed a similar fMRI scan test.
1Owen et al., “Detecting Awareness in the Vegetative State,” Science, 8 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5792, p. 1402, DOI: 10.1126/science.1130197.
Recall the anger and outrage against the people who protested the death of Terry Schiavo.  Remember the claims that they were the ones being unreasonable and insensitive, and that the compassionate thing to do was to let Terry die, because she was not really living.  Now picture the possibility of her hearing all these things said about her but trapped inside, unable to communicate.  Imagine the fear and helplessness and pain of knowing you were being intentionally allowed to starve and dehydrate to death.  How many other times has a similar decision been made to a patient assumed to be “vegetative” and unaware?  Remember, these scientists said that negative responses in the brain scans are not definitive in diagnosing the awareness of a person.
    What kind of nonsense applies a word like vegetative to a human being, anyway?  What are they insinuating, that this patient is nothing more than a carrot or rutabaga?  Notice how these researchers called the diagnosis of “vegetative state” as one of the “least understood and ethically troublesome conditions in modern medicine.”  Haven’t we learned that dehumanizing an individual is often the first step toward rationalizing the unthinkable?
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Historian Reveals Isaac Newton as Biblical Economist    09/11/2006  
The image of Isaac Newton as pure mathematician and physicist ignores a big part of his persona, said Georgia Tech Professor Kenneth Knoespel in a press release reported by EurekAlert.  Living in an era when alchemy was still considered a serious subject for natural philosophers, Newton viewed alchemical research as part of his Biblical vision of an economic system under God: “he was going to contribute to the ongoing transformation of England into God’s kingdom on Earth,” Knoespel said.
    Knoespel has studied unpublished manuscripts of Newton, many not available till in the 1970s.  Few may realize that after the publication of Principia Mathematica, Newton became important to England’s economy when he was appointed head of the mint.  He took his position very seriously, drawing on his knowledge of metallurgy, alchemy, mathematics, and the Bible.
Newton had his own unorthodox views of prophecy, the trinity and eschatology, but no one can claim that his intense interest in the Bible disqualified him as a great scientist.  See our short bio of Newton from our online book in progress.
Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsBible and Theology
Nature Backpedals Over Stem-Cell Hype    09/10/2006  
After Nature printed an upbeat press release last month that stem cells could be extracted without killing an embryo (see 08/25/2006), critics found that the experiment did indeed kill the embryos.  Also, it turns out none of the stem cell lines survived, and that more than one cell had been extracted from the embryos, contrary to claims made in the press.
    Associated Press reported (see Fox News) that Advanced Cell Technology was accused before a Senate hearing of misrepresenting its research and of hyping a technique before it was shown to work.  Nature Science Update wrote a response apologizing for the misrepresentation.  They said that even though the article contained the facts about the destruction of the embryos in its supplementary material, it should have clarified that the research only showed that the technique might work in principle.
Only the scrutiny of the public is going to prevent abuse in the stem-cell gold rush.  Nature was originally praised for coming up with an “ethical” way to harvest embryonic stem cells, but look how ethical it turned out to be.  There is big money and ambition shoving ES research on this country, in spite of the fact that it has no track record (while adult stem cell research is already saving lives).  Don’t expect the researchers or science journals to act in morally responsible ways when eyes are glazed over with dreams of fame and prize money.
    There is a detailed analysis of stem cell hype and politics in Ann Coulter’s recent best-selling book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Is the Fruit from Darwin’s Tree Edible?    09/08/2006  
Darwin’s “Tree of Life” fruit stand found an upbeat salesman in John Roach at National Geographic this week.  In his update on the “Assembling the Tree of Life” (AToL) project, he reported cheerfully that “New cures, supercrops, and secrets of evolution may emerge from the fast-growing branches of the ‘Tree of Life,’ scientists say.”
    As more animal genomes get sequenced, the task of organizing them into ancestral trees becomes more complex.  There is more hope than accomplishment at this stage: “In trying to figure out how species are related to one another, it immediately becomes clear this is a very large problem that doesn’t have an end in sight any time very soon,” said one researcher.  The enormous task of determining who is related to whom is not a trivial undertaking, nowhere near to completion.
    This means the fruit is not yet ripe for the picking, either.  Researchers hope that predictions can be made once the structure of the tree takes root in scientific consensus.  “
For example, [James] Collins [NSF] says, if scientists want to find an organism that has properties useful in the cleanup of oil spills, they would first turn to microbes that have known beneficial properties and then examine the microbes’ nearest relatives for good matches.
    To help engineer new crops, agricultural researchers might study genetic traits that make crops drought resistant.
    [Michael] Donoghue, the Yale biologist, says scientists can use the tree to understand where emerging infectious diseases originate and to search for organisms that have evolved resistance to the diseases in question.  Such clues can lead to the development of new drugs, he says.
    “Applications are everywhere,” he said.
Yet these promises beg the question whether they depend on the Tree of Life project for fulfillment.  Scientists were making headway on these questions long before the AToL program started.
  The article also begs another question: whether Darwin’s tree is the only paradigm fitting the data and providing the benefits.  Artificial selection has a long history preceding Darwin himself, let alone his tree analogy or this new AToL project.  Also, since creationists acknowledge a nested hierarchy picture of classification without the necessity for common ancestry, why wouldn’t that structure provide the same heuristic for scientific research, and the same benefits, without the Darwinian baggage?  Don’t count your fruit before it ripens.  Darwin’s tree has already dropped so many bad apples (08/23/2006),* some of us would rather look in a different orchard.
Next headline on:  EvolutionGenetics
*The History Channel showed a special on Stalin Sept. 8 that should be required viewing, just so people can begin to fathom the lengths of evil that can result from one man sold out to the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest.  Did you know Stalin killed more Jews than Hitler?  That his oppressive regime was by far more deadly, and lasted far longer, than Nazi Germany?  Some of the details of his dictatorship have only recently come to light.  The evil done by this one man is withering in its scope, and horrifying beyond expression, yet Stalinism was not alone in the poison fruit of Darwin’s Century.  In fact, it was surpassed by another Darwinist: Mao.
Nothing in Evolution Makes Sense Except in the Light of Speculation    09/07/2006  
Welcome to an imaginary world of Red Queens, Green Beards and warring armies: the world of evolutionary theory.  Though its adherents work in prestigious universities and laboratories in the real world, they seem preoccupied with speculative visions of imaginative fitness landscapes – even when defending evolutionary theory as the best explanation for natural phenomena, and essential for our understanding and progress in science.  This can be seen in two recent papers, one pro-evolution and one critical of it, that center on the question: is evolutionary theory essential to biology?
    Ajit Varki defended evolution all the way down in a paper in Cell1 with the self-explanatory title, “Nothing in Glycobiology Makes Sense, except in the Light of Evolution.”  Adapting the title from a famous quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky, used more often as a club than a flashlight at school board hearings, Varki attempted to show the utility of evolutionary theory to one specialty: glycobiology, the study of biological sugars.  This is a complex field of unity and diversity, complexity and simplicity, conservation and diversification.  Cells use sugars inside and outside for a variety of functions, but pathogens also attach to them.  Glycobiology seems a confusing picture, from highly-conserved enzymes that have changed little from mouse to human, to variations within species and even within the lifetime of organisms.
    In his defense of evolution to make sense of it all, he invokes the Red Queen effect (running in place to get nowhere: see 05/16/2004, 03/31/2006), co-evolution and evolutionary arms races.  It’s not clear, however, whether his presentation would convince a critic.  For one thing, most of his examples deal with microevolution, which is not controversial, even among the most ardent creationists.  The only exception is his treatment of possible means of speciation, one species splitting into two – which also fits within most creationist frameworks.  Nowhere in his article, however, does he explain how glycobiology needs evolution to explain the major changes most often implied by the term evolution.
    A critic might also point out that Varki’s ideas are amply sweetened with speculation, by his own admission: “Whatever the reader might think of the speculations in this Essay,” he states in conclusion, “it is safe to suggest that approaches to understanding glycan biology must fully take into account the role of multiple and often simultaneous evolutionary processes, an aspect that has received limited attention.”  That seems an admission that many biologists have up till now not given it much attention – a contradiction to Dobzhansky’s claim.  It’s noteworthy how many times Varki’s scenarios are salted with qualifiers and peppered with hopes:
  • Overall, one can speculate that some episodes of speciation might be mediated by pathogens that bind to specific forms of cell-surface glycans.
  • A lethal pathogen that binds to glycans of a certain species to initiate infection might markedly reduce the primary population, leaving geographically isolated subpopulations that have the opportunity to evolve into new species.
  • Some of the survivors are likely to have been selected because of random glycan variations that allowed them to escape from infection with the pathogen.
  • Such survivors may have secondary alterations in glycan biology that are permissive for pleiotropic changes in embryogenesis and/or morphogenesis.
  • Glycan changes also might alter fertilization barriers, causing either reproductive isolation or anomalous fertilization by closely related species.
  • Any or all of these mechanisms could support the formation of new species.  Many of these speculative ideas are testable by observational studies and possibly by long-term experiments.  [No examples cited.]
  • Thus, glycans may be trapped in neverending cycles of evolutionary “Red Queen” effects in which long-lived hosts must evade the more rapidly evolving pathogens that infect them by changing their glycan expression patterns, without compromising their own survival (Van Valen, 1974 and Hamilton et al., 1990).  The colorful term, “Red Queen” effect, recalls the comment to Alice by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass that “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”  This may explain the remarkable structural variations of glycans in nature, which contribute to biological diversity and perhaps even to speciation.
  • Thus, the glycans of complex multicellular organisms with long life cycles may be subject to evolutionary “Red Queen” effects....
  • For example, cell-type-specific expression of certain glycans can mediate specific biological roles within an organism (Lowe and Marth, 2003), which thus may be under positive selection.
  • Additional Red Queen effects may arise from the fact that many pathogens use a successful form of molecular mimicry,...
  • Such diversification and redundancy may be driven by sexual selection and sexual conflict....
  • The question that needs to be asked is not whether evolutionary theory may explain the phenomenon in question, but whether it is essential for any sensible explanation: whether or not “nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  A Biblical creationist, for instance, might be perfectly content with certain aspects of these mechanisms at the microevolutionary level – evolutionary arms races and Red Queen effects – in a world cursed by sin and infected with pathogens.  He might claim that the Creator provided enough versatility for organisms to be able to adapt to changing environments, so that an animal would not be wiped out by the first encounter.  Yet the same creationist would still vehemently deny molecules-to-man evolution, the kind envisioned by Darwin and Dobzhansky.
        Another assertion left unproved is whether biology really needs the kind of speculation Varki illustrated in its day-to-day business.  This question was taken up by a well-known critic of evolution, Jerry Bergman, who investigated whether practicing biologists actually illustrate Dobzhansky’s claim in their work.  In a recent article on TrueOrigin, Bergman concluded that Dobzhansky’s claim is a myth.  He interviewed scientists and researched textbooks, and found that evolutionary theory was rarely mentioned or used, and when it was, it was more an afterthought than a substantive part of the discussion:
    If, as Dobzhansky stated, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”..., why is it rarely, if ever, mentioned in most natural science books?  We usually use the leading college texts in each area (for example, the A&P text we use is the 10th edition of Hole, a standard text).  And why is it a minor topic even in most introductory biology books that cover the subject in more depth than most all other courses except formal classes on evolution?
    He concluded, “This statement is ideologically not factual.  Biology makes perfect sense without ever mentioning Darwinism.”  (See also the related entry from 08/30/2006).
    1Ajit Varki, “Nothing in Glycobiology Makes Sense, except in the Light of Evolution,” Cell, Volume 126, Issue 5, 8 September 2006, Pages 841-845, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2006.08.022.
    Varki inserted so many doubt-words into his text, it makes you wonder which side of the looking-glass he is on.  Despite his valiant effort, he only showed that evolution doesn’t buy you anything in theory.  Last week, Jerry Coyne showed (08/30/2006) that evolution doesn’t buy you anything in practice.  Conclusion: evolution is a bad investment.
        While scientific freeloaders amuse themselves with “tantalizing speculations” in the Darwin Party lizard lounges (12/22/2003 commentary), the real work in science is being done by design (e.g., 07/21/2006, 06/29/2006, 06/22/2006).
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    Whistling in the Dark Matter Debate    09/07/2006  
    Who’s right?  Douglas Clowe’s team at U of Arizona claimed two weeks ago that they found dark matter in the Bullet Cluster – they even had a picture of it.  The Chandra X-Ray Center called it “direct proof” of dark matter.  Two days later, EurekAlert posted a story about a new proposal to bring back ether theory in modified form; the title of the article was, “Ether returns to oust dark matter” (see also the National Geographic story).  Now, EurekAlert posted a rebuttal to the U of A announcement: “Dark matter ‘proof’ called into doubt.” 
    This is another controversy that must be shielded from students.  We must teach the consensus view.  Even if its truth is in dispute, dark matter is a fact – like the big bang (see 09/05/2006).
    Next headline on:  AstronomyCosmology
    Flagellar Swimmers Attain Mechanical Nirvana   09/06/2006    
    Those little germs that scientists love, E. coli – you know, the ones with the flagella that intelligent-design folk get all excited about – well, they move through the water pretty efficiently with those high-tech outboard motors of theirs.  Some Pennsylvania physicists reporting in PNAS1 measured the “swimming efficiency of bacterium Escherichia coli” and concluded, “The propulsive efficiency, defined as the ratio of the propulsive power output to the rotary power input provided by the motors, is found to be ~ 2%, which is consistent with the efficiency predicted theoretically for a rigid helical coil.”  An engineer can’t get much more efficient than that, in other words, even in theory.  Later in the paper, they summarized, “The measured [epsilon: i.e., propulsive efficiency] is close to the maximum efficiency for the given size of the cell body and the shape of the flagellar bundle.”
        That efficiency rating is the overall measurement for the package.  Many bacteria have multiple flagella, however, and ascertaining the individual contributions of each component, and the subtle hydrodynamic interactions between them, is a difficult task.  They did, however, assess the length of the flagellum as a factor in the optimal performance, and concluded that “flagella are as long as required to maximize its propulsive efficiency.”2
        They measured the swimming efficiency by capturing single bacteria in “optical tweezers” and putting them into a measured rate of flow.  The work was edited by Howard Berg of Harvard, a pioneer of flagellum research (see his 1999 article on Physics Today).

    1Chattopadhyay, Moldovan, Yeung and Wu, “Swimming efficiency of bacterium Escherichia coli,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0602043103, published online before print September 5, 2006.
    2For a dazzling animation showing how the flagellum tip is constructed, see the video link from our 11/02/2005 entry.  Fast-forward to 18:20.  How does it know when to stop growing?  There must be feedback from the growing tip to the control mechanism in the cell body.
    Man-made outboard motors are stubby-shaped, loud, polluting, inefficient monstrosities that generate huge wakes.  Since the bacteria have already mastered propulsive efficiency, maybe this will inspire some boat builder to do a little biomimetics.  We should see if flagellar construction scales up to human proportions and maintains the efficiency rating.  If so, lakefront property owners would love them for it.
        Too bad we can’t ask the little critters how they came up with this technology.  It wouldn’t help anyway, probably.  All they would say is, “Dunno; we’re just the customer.”
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyPhysicsIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
    Quote   09/06/2006    
    The authors of the paper in the previous entry (09/06/2006) found that bacteria swim with near perfect propulsive efficiency.  They only mentioned evolution one time, but it’s short and to the pointless.  It wins Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: “Such measurements can shed light on how this remarkable ability to swim evolves among different microorganisms.”
    Still waiting in the dark for payment on this promissory note (03/27/2003 commentary).
    Next headline on:  Dumb Ideas
    Yoke Up Those Bacteria   09/06/2006    
    My, how history repeats itself – often in unexpected ways.  In ancient times, our ancestors got the heavy work done by hitching oxen, horses or slaves (like Samson, see pictures 1 and 2) to a harness and making them turn a grinding wheel.  The same principle is now on the cutting edge of modern applied biological engineering – only now, the movement is measured in micrometers, and the beasts of burden are bacteria.  Scientists in Japan, publishing in PNAS,1 have successfully hitched their harnesses to multi-legged crawlers named Mycoplasma mobile and made them turn a gear 20 micrometers wide, many times their size.
        In the contraption rigged by Hiratsuka et al., the bacteria walk inside a circular track, pushing a six-petal rotor made of silicon dioxide above them.  The inventors (slavedrivers?) developed a surface that would ensure the majority of the cell “microtransporters” would move in one direction with the right amount of friction.  The cooperative workers achieved forces of 2 to 5 x 10-16 newton-meters, with rotation rates of 1.5 to 2.6 rpm.  “To the best of our knowledge,” they boasted with some merit, “a micromechanical device that integrates inorganic materials with living bacteria has not succeeded until this study.”  (They did, however, reference the PNAS research reported in our 08/19/2005 entry, “Saddle Up Your Algae.”)
        The inventors didn’t mention evolution once in their paper.  Instead, they spoke in glowing terms about their little microscopic oxen and marveled at their technology.  First, they scanned the arena of biological micro-machinery with the delight of a gadget freak:
    Nature provides numerous examples of nanometer-scale molecular machines.  In particular, motor proteins, which efficiently convert chemical energy into mechanical work, are fascinating examples of functional nanodevices derived from living systems.  The molecular mechanism underlying the function of these motors has long been a major focus of biophysical research, and the information emerging from those studies should greatly aid in the design and fabrication of novel synthetic micro/nanomotors....
        Turning an eye to higher-order biological structures reveals many examples of excellent mechanical devices, including bacterial and eukaryotic flagella and muscle sarcomeres.  These motile units are tens of nanometers to several micrometers in size and consist of multiprotein complexes built up with atomic accuracy through the self-assembly and self-organization of protein molecules within cells.  In general, these devices work far more efficiently and intelligently than the isolated proteins but, because the principles and mechanisms of self-assembly are only vaguely understood, we are currently unable to assemble higher order motile units from the isolated component proteins outside the cells.  Consequently, research aimed at developing hybrid devices using biological motile units is rare at present.
    How about the machines employed by their chosen beast of burden?  The praise service continues:
    Mycoplasma mobile, a species of gliding bacteria, is another example of a higher-order unit (cells in this case) with superb motilityM.  mobile has a pear-shaped cell body ~ 1 micrometer in length and moves continuously over solid surfaces at speeds up to 2-5 micrometers per second.  The mechanism by which it glides remains unknown, although a mechanical walking model that makes use of the rod-like structures protruding from the cell surface has been proposed.  Although three proteins have been identified as essential for gliding, we speculate that this motile system may need a dozen additional proteins, including various cytoskeletal proteins.
    So why reinvent the wheel?  Why go to all the trouble to invent walking nanorobots, when bacteria have it all figured out?  The inventors list other reasons for enlisting biological beasts of burden instead of trying to start from scratch:
    As a result, it is currently impractical, if not impossible, to reconstitute fully functional motile units from the isolated proteins of M. mobile in vitro.  For that reason, we have been attempting to construct micromechanical devices using intact M. mobile cells instead of the isolated proteins.  A key benefit of this approach is that hybrid devices into which living cells are integrated enable us to take advantage of preassembled excellent motor units that have the potential for self-repair or self-reproduction when damaged.
    So there you go: spare parts and repairs come included with the package.  Oxen must be fed, however, and they didn’t talk about that (cf. Solomon).  Someone else may have to invent the nanomanger.

    1Hiratsuka et al., “Applied Biological Sciences: A microrotary motor powered by bacteria,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0604122103, published online before print September 1, 2006.
    This is nothing less than intelligent-design research in action: intelligent humans seeking to understand and incorporate the built-in technology of intelligently-designed biological machines.  The overlap between artificial and biological design is almost seamless.  What dividing line could separate the two domains?  Who could claim that man’s part represents intelligent design, but the biological part is the result of a long series of mistakes?  The researchers even spoke of manipulating the bacteria through genetic engineering to conform the protein moving parts to their design goals.  That will blur the distinction even further.
        If Martians found our rovers and put them on a track to drive a grinding mill, could they claim with any sense of justice that the rovers must have emerged out of the dust and sand by some unguided process of self-organization?  The engineers at JPL would justly be offended.  The future belongs to those who think intelligently, and know design when they see it.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyPhysicsIntelligent DesignBiomimeticsAmazing Stories
    Big Bang Fails Prediction: Is the Theory in Trouble?   09/05/2006    
    Astronomers looking at WMAP data (03/20/2006, 05/02/2003) of the cosmic background radiation failed to find shadows predicted by the big bang, reported Science Daily.  So what?  Here’s what Dr. Richard Lieu (U of Alabama) said this means: “Either it (the microwave background) isn’t coming from behind the clusters, which means the Big Bang is blown away, or ... there is something else going on.”  The Science Daily report began, “The apparent absence of shadows where shadows were expected to be is raising new questions about the faint glow of microwave radiation once hailed as proof that the universe was created by a “Big Bang.’”
        The background radiation should be behind galaxy clusters and should cast shadows, but only one-fourth as much shadowing was detected, and that could be indistinguishable from natural variation in the already-faint signal.  Though astronomers are seeking an explanation, none is claiming that the research team didn’t do their homework.  Their results, which they offer as open to scrutiny, is published in the Sept. 1 Astrophysical Journal.1
    1Lieu, Mittaz and Zhang, “The Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Effect in a Sample of 31 Clusters: A Comparison between the X-Ray Predicted and WMAP Observed Cosmic Microwave Background Temperature Decrement,” The Astrophysical Journal, 648:176-199, 2006 September 1.
    Theories that are widely accepted are rarely overthrown by one measurement.  Even the great Laplace did not abandon caloric theory after Count Rumford demonstrated by cannon-boring experiments that it was absurd to think a finite piece of metal could store an infinite amount of the imponderable substance (see UCI lecture notes and Wikipedia).
        Most cosmologists will undoubtedly feel this paper is “interesting” rather than threatening.  They will respond that the big bang theory has so much going for it, one anomaly will not demand an overhaul.  Some will seek alternative explanations for the Lieu et al data.  What shouldn’t be allowed is for the cosmological community to ignore this paper.  Science does not advance by ignor-ance.
    Next headline on:  CosmologyPhysics
    Dinosaur Bone Hunting Looks Promising   09/04/2006    
    With probably less than a third of dinosaur types known, prospects are good for a new generation of young people to find one of their own, reports News@Nature.  New finds in Mongolia, South America and China over the last fifteen years indicate the vast majority of dinosaurs are still waiting to be discovered.  The authors of a study in PNAS1 found that 14.8 new genera have been found per year since 1990, more than double the rate in the prior 20 years; in conclusion, they estimate that 71% of dinosaur genera remain to be found.  They also claim that the dinosaurs were not in decline before their extinction.  See also the 04/25/2006 story.
        With soft tissue evident in some dinosaur bones (see 02/22/2006), does this raise the possibility of cloning a dinosaur and building Jurassic Park?  Svante Pääbo, an expert in sequencing ancient DNA, does not think so.  An interview in PNAS2 ended,
    One doesn’t really know what may come in the future, but cloning an organism from a genome fragmented into small pieces of DNA will probably always be impossible,” [Paabo] says, “and from what we know about the chemical stability of DNA, sequence retrieval will always be on this side of a million years ago, so dinosaur DNA is beyond our reach.”  The problem, he says, is that DNA is extremely hydrophilic, and exposure to water molecules as well as atmospheric oxygen and background radiation breaks it down.  Even under highly favorable preservation conditions, such as mummies in a dry and cold desert, DNA disappears from a specimen within a few hundred thousand years.  However, even given such limitations, many interesting discoveries still lie in ancient DNA.

    1Steven C. Wang and Peter Dodson, “Estimating the diversity of dinosaurs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 10.1073/pnas.0606028103, published online before print September 5, 2006.
    2Nick Sagorski, “Profile of Svante Pääbo,” Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesUSA, 10.1073/pnas.0606596103, published online before print September 5, 2006.  In his last comment, he’s thinking of Neanderthal DNA, his current specialty.
    National Geographic reported on this paper after we did.  As usual, their write-up provides a good chance to practice separating data from interpretation.
        Now that we know soft tissue and possibly blood cells can be preserved in dinosaur bones, there should be plenty of material to look in.  The second article made a prediction: DNA is too fragile to be found at all after a few hundred thousand years.  What if some day dinosaur DNA is found that can be sequenced?  Here is a great contest for scientists with an open mind.  Children who like dinosaurs should be encouraged to grow up and join the hunt.  We should never think that all the exciting scientific discoveries are behind us.
    Next headline on:  DinosaursFossilsDating Methods
    Another Flagellum Excites Scientists    09/01/2006  
    “The bacterial flagellar motor excites considerable interest because of the ordered expression of its genes, its regulated self-assembly, the complex interactions of its many proteins, and its startling mechanical abilities,” begins a paper in Nature by three Caltech scientists.1  They performed electron cryotomography imaging on the flagella of Triponema primita, a different critter with a different model from the flagellum found in E. coli, the favorite toy of microbiologists (with an outboard motor that is an icon of the intelligent design movement).  Treponema is a little spirochete that lives in the hindgut of termites.  It has two flagella, one at each end, that apparently rotate on its inside and make the organism gyrate rather than swim through liquid.
        The Caltech team got good images of the stator for the first time.  Their exterior and cross-section illustrations show a multi-part circular structure with 16-fold symmetry and complex contours, with rings and other parts of unknown function.  This particular motor apparently operates in low gear.  It is larger than the E. coli or Salmonella flagella and apparently runs at much higher torque. 
    These differences have important implications for current models of the functional and architectural relationships of the components.  Whereas the Salmonella motor spins just the flagellum, because Treponema flagella are periplasmic, it is thought that they cause the whole cell to gyrate.  Thus, each rotation may be much slower and require greater torque.  The unusually large stud ring, C ring and rotor in Treponema may serve to increase torque by increasing the length of the effective lever arm through which each stator stud acts.  These larger rings may also accommodate more stator studs and FliG molecules around the ring, in effect ‘gearing down’ the Treponema motor so that the passage of each proton across the membrane produces a smaller angular rotation.
    The paper includes a link to an animation video that shows the motor in operation from different angles.  The authors talk a lot about machine specs, but don’t mention anything about evolution.
    1Murphy, Leadbetter and Jensen, “In situ structure of the complete Treponema primitia flagellar motor,” Nature 442, 1062-1064(31 August 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05015.
    Who would have ever thought that some tiny little bug living inside another bug would possess some of the most elaborate nanotechnology in the world.  Early microscopists like Leeuwenhoek were astonished at the motions of microscopic animalcules, but the true wonder at what makes them move is still just now coming to light.
        We hate to keep beating the Darwiniacs over the head with this high-tech motorized wet noodle, but it’s kind of fun in a perverse way.  Besides, incorrigibility deserves flagellation.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
    Express Your Inner Alley Oop    09/01/2006  
    There’s a little Neanderthal in a lot of us, claims The Telegraph.  This is bad news and good news:
    People who have large noses, a stocky build and a beetle brow may indeed be a little Neanderthal, according to a genetic study.  But the good news is that other research concludes that Neanderthals were much more like us than previously thought.
    The claim is based on comparisons of linkage disequilibrium statistics in the genomes of humans from different continents, which cannot be explained by human ancestry without interbreeding from an archaic population.  The authors of a study in PLoS Genetics1 inferred a Neanderthal origin for the archaic lineage since West African genes do not appear likely candidates.  Another prop in the Telegraph’s good-news-bad-news joke is the finding that Neanderthals may have been more human-like than previously assumed.  The authors of both studies failed to state whether the concentration of Neanderthal characteristics reached a peak in the genes of female Olympic athletes in East Germany.
        Lost somewhere in the excitement of having an explanation for our tendency to grunt, scratch, and club each other were the upsets implicit in these findings.  Having Neanderthal genes argues against the popular “out of Africa” origins.  They also dispute the assumed genetic isolation of Neanderthals and modern humans.
    1Plagnol and Wall, “Possible Ancestral Structure in Human Populations,” Public Library of Science Genetics, Volume 2 | Issue 7 | JULY 2006.
    Don’t let the news media grant Pearl Jam fans license to club women and drag them into a cave (08/31/2006).  The inferences made by the researchers are way too speculative to provide confidence in any interpretation.  There is far more that we don’t know than we do know about human ancestral genetics.  (More proof of that can be found on News@Nature about a “newly discovered mystery gene may have helped build the modern human brain” about which a high-ranking scientist commented, “People are going to argue about it and be fascinated by this, because it takes us in a couple of directions we haven’t really been in before.”)  What’s more instructive is to watch reporters swallow anything a scientist says and regurgitate the bubbly vomit as building material for the growing Temple to Evolution.
        The potential for variability within the modern human population is probably far greater than realized.  The Old Testament talks about races of giant humans (the Rephaim and others) in isolated populations.  Racial and physical differences could quickly arise between populations segregated by language and then by locale after Babel, for instance.  If the “hobbits” of Indonesia become accepted as kinfolk, there’s tremendous physical variety between them and Goliath.  Even today, the range in human traits is quite remarkable, yet we are all interfertile, intelligent, communicative, and fully aware of a sense of right and wrong.
        None of genetic variability past or present implies that people have ever been anything less than fully human, with language and moral responsibility.  What anthropologists call “Neanderthal” could well have been a group of capable, smart, strong human beings, accustomed to life in harsh climates.  Perhaps they shunned cities and tended to remain strongly tribal, but left some genetic overlap with the rest of us.  The brutishness in the human lineage is not due to ape in our ancestry, but rather to sin (see Jude 10), as has been evident in all tribes, kingdoms, nations and peoples around the globe, regardless of average height, skin color, face shape and cultural preferences.
    Next headline on:  Early ManGeneticsDumb Ideas
    Evolution Back on Federal Funding List    09/01/2006  
    Boy, that was a close call.  Evolution research almost got dropped from federal funding.  Turns out it was an accidental oversight.  Science Daily reported that the oversight “sparked heated protests from academics and evolution supporters” who “expressed fears that the omission might have been part of an attack on Darwinian evolution by religious groups.
        The U.S. Department of Education quickly acted to reinstate evolutionary biology to the list eligible for federal grants for undergraduate research.  Evolutionists welcomed the quick response: “If (the omission) was deliberate, it is certainly the case that when it came to light, wiser heads prevailed,” said Becky Timmons of the American Council on Education.  Laurence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University used the occasion to point out the danger: “There are well-funded efforts in this country that have been inappropriately attempting to attack the teaching of evolutionary biology on what appear to be religious grounds.”
    Need we point out to Dr. Krauss that the funding for these “attacks” (note the fear-mongering in the militaristic terminology) is from private sources?  And that these “attacks” are only concerned with allowing fair and honest investigation of the truth claims of Darwinism, which, under the DODO monopoly (i.e., Darwin-Only-Darwin-Only), are immune from scrutiny?  This is quite unlike the plunder of taxpayers’ pockets to support something they do not agree with.  And the private funding for “teaching the controversy” is not well.  It is a shoestring compared to the river of dollars flowing down the drain into Darwinian pork barrels (see quote on top right of this page).
        This paranoia by the Darwinists begs the question of whether evolutionary theory actually produces anything useful to the taxpayers who have to pay for it (see the important quote in the 08/30/2006 entry, and the 08/04/2006 revelation), or whether its fruits are beneficial to society (see yesterday’s entry).  This is a good occasion to remember David Berlinski’s comment a year ago (see Evolution News):
    For scientists forever banging their crutches against the trough of public funding, any form of criticism represents an alarming turn of events, the more so when it affects their traditional claims to speak with authority on matters of culture, faith and morals.  They are right to be alarmed.  A great many people have come to regard Darwinism as tedious, illiterate, uninformed and tendentious.  Darwin’s theories seem destined to disappear by negative selection, an interesting but rare example of a Darwinian process reaching a sound conclusion.
    If Darwinian pseudoscientific research is so essential, according to all those “wiser heads,” let it be self-supporting, the way all science had to operate before World War II.  Surely there are enough reliable supporters in the country to keep the Darwin Party in bright lights.  Look at all the glazed-eyed zombies at the slot machines in Las Vegas, for instance.
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and EvolutionEducation
    Paper View: Evolutionists Augur Genes for Tales of Eyes, Hearts, Brains, cont. (08/29/2006)
    - Beginning of article -
    1. Brain:  Elisabeth Pennisi tackled the biggest problem first: the evolution of the human brain, in “Mining the Molecules that Made Our Mind.”2  Surprisingly, she began by criticizing news reporters who got carried away with the announcement Aug. 17 (08/22/2006) that a particular gene named HAR1F, possibly related to the cerebral cortex, contained many more differences between apes and humans than most other genes.  Headlines like “A single gene led to humans” and “Revealed: the gene that gave us bigger brains” she considered way overblown.  HAR1F is only one of several candidate genes evolutionists have speculated might have been involved in brain evolution.  Pennisi pointed out the bandwagon effect of working on stories of human origins, and warned that caution is in order:
      Many scientists find the potential to understand ourselves irresistible.  A rush of comparative genomics results about human evolution are being presented at meetings, and publications are starting to stream out.  “Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” says Bruce Lahn, a human geneticist at the University of Chicago, Illinois.  Progress at identifying the DNA tweaks that distinguish people from other species should be swift.  “Within a year or two, we will have a comprehensive list of genome changes to start looking at,” says Christopher A. Walsh, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
          Emphasize “start.”  Despite what the headlines imply, genomic data so far offer provocative clues rather than direct answers to what caused humans to branch out from the primate tree to become walking, talking, creative beings.  Tying genomic events such as a gene duplication to human evolution is a challenge, because often researchers know little about what their candidate genes do.  To make a concrete connection between a genetic change and the evolution of the human brain “is a much slower process,” says Walsh.
      Pennisi next emphasized the differences between the human brain and the chimp brain.  She offered only hints of genes that might have undergone positive selection in the alleged pathway from a common ancestor, HAR1F being the latest headlined candidate.
          Also, geneticists are finding that the differences may not be so much in the genes and proteins themselves, but in their rates of expression.  That leads to a new plot line: “These extra copies are material with which evolution can play, perhaps dedicating the activity of one copy of a gene to a subset of cells, for example,” leading to evolutionary “innovation.”  Nowhere, however, was an explicit example of innovation by duplication provided.  Only the suggestion was proffered: e.g., a particular gene with more copies in humans than mice “may have evolved crucial new functions in the process.”  In another example of a gene where humans have a different number than apes, “No one knows exactly what the gene does,” so it is certainly premature to expect anyone could understand how it could help produce a human brain.  Even noting that the gene is active in the brain is not conclusive, she said.  “The work highlights the potential importance of duplications in the emergence of novel genes within the hominoid lineage” said one researcher – thus assuming evolution rather than demonstrating it.  The same flaw exists in plot lines that parts of an ape gene were replaced on the path to humans.  Wishful thinking and imagination become substitutes for scientific demonstration.  Notice:
      However, at some point in hominid evolution, part of SIGLEC-16 must have replaced the front part of the DNA of SIGLEC-11, creating a “brand-new, ‘human specific’ protein,” says [Ajit] Varki [UC San Diego].  The gene for this protein now turns on in the human brain, specifically in microglia, cells known to be important to the growth of nerve cells (Science, 9 September 2005, p. 1693).  The finding is “tantalizing, but of uncertain significance,” Varki points out.
      A question could be asked whether a “tantalizing” observation might just as well be applied to an alternative view, or whether “tantalizing” findings of “uncertain significance” deserve publication in a scientific journal.  At this point, shockingly, Pennisi seemed to pull several rugs out from under all such claims and “headline-grabbing genes” –
      • “there’s a tendency for people to think this [gene] is it”--the explanation for why people are unique....
      • For his part, Varki warns that the quest to understand human evolution is too brain-centric.  “We are also defined by differences in our reproductive, musculoskeletal, and immune systems, as well as by our skin,” he points out.
      • Moreover, almost every gene linked to human brain evolution comes with questions about the strategies used to establish the connection.  For example, some scientists are not convinced that the methods used to detect positive selection in a gene are reliable or that the results will hold up as more genome sequences are added to these analyses.  Genes that appear to change rapidly may still fall within the range of normal variation, for example.  Moreover, rapid change in a gene or extra copies “does not mean that these genes are [all] important during the evolution of the human brain,” says [Xun] Gu [Iowa State].
      • Some scientists also question the relevance of certain findings, such as a protein-coding gene’s mRNA being produced in a brain region.  After all, not all mRNAs are translated into proteins.
      • [Evan] Eichler [U of Seattle] illustrates the challenges the field faces when he complains about spending the past 5 years trying in vain to figure out the role of a promising family of genes that emerged from his survey of segmental duplications.
      For these and other reasons, Pennisi said the glorious headlines about brain evolution being found in the genes should be doused heavily with the salt of realism.  “Pääbo shares Eichler’s frustration at the field being unable to move more swiftly beyond highlighting candidate brain-evolution genes.  “It’s getting a little stale,” he admits, “to say, ‘I have another case of positive selection.’  The challenge is to link the evidence of positive selection to brain function.”
          All Pennisi could do at this point was highlight some of the latest studies trying to establish the link.  Each of them, however, suffers from the same weaknesses, as in the case of a nerve protein named prodynorphin:
      The prodynorphin example is one of the most advanced, but even this evolutionary story is unfinished, because no one knows exactly what effect the extra prodynorphin has in the human brain, says [Greg] Wray [Duke U].  And most other examples are in even earlier stages.  “In virtually all cases, the link of genes or genomic patterns with human brain evolution is only tentative and based on suggestive evidence,” says Lahn.  “The situation may not change anytime soon due to the complexity of the questions and because we can’t redo the experiment that evolution did in many millions of years.”
      And that’s it: that is where the story of human brain evolution stands.  Pennisi ended with a short sentence pregnant with implications for science and society: “Headline writers, pay heed.”
          That was just for starters in this series on genomics and evolution.  Is the situation any better in the story of eye evolution?  Next....
    2. Eyes:  Russell D. Fernald tried to cast “Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes.”3  His plot line is somewhat different, but certainly not a straight line from eyelessness to the best eyes.  The story invokes some common Darwinist words – such as exploitation, convergence, and co-option – that seem to assume Darwinism rather than demonstrate it. 
      Light has been exploited for information by organisms through the evolution of photoreceptors and, ultimately, eyes in animals.  Only a handful of eye types exist because the physics of light constrains photodetection.  In the past few years, genetic tools have revealed several parallel pathways through which light guides behavior and have provided insights into the convergent evolution of eyes.  The gene encoding opsin (the primary phototransduction protein) and some developmental genes had very early origins and were recruited repeatedly during eye evolution.  Eye lens proteins arose separately and make up a diverse group, many of which were co-opted from other functions.  A major challenge now is understanding how newly discovered pathways for processing light evolved and how they collaborate with eyes to harvest information from light.
      Challenges to understanding are certainly not lacking in this field, either:
      Understanding how eyes evolved into what Darwin called an “organ of extreme perfection” requires analysis of evolutionary constraints, key selective forces, and possible origins.  The evolution of photodetection, giving rise to eyes, offers a kaleidoscopic view of selection acting at both the organ and molecular levels.  The repeated exploitation of some regulatory gene sequences in eye development and lens formation raises questions about why certain transcription factors have been regularly recruited to build eyes.  The ease with which we can now analyze the evolution of structural gene sequences across species belies the difficulties in tracing the selective forces that shaped regulation of gene expression.
      His basic idea is that the physics of light “constrains” the evolution of eyes to what is possible.  This, however, begs the question of how an organism oblivious to the “information” in light could care whether it exists, and whether a Darwinian mechanism could ever converge on a constrained engineering solution to “exploit” that information – and that not once, but multiple times.  Fernald’s explanation seems to confuse cause and effect:
      In using vision to extract information about the environment, all animals exploit the same properties of light: intensity differences to produce contrast and wavelength differences to produce hue.  However, no unique solutions exist, and specializations that evolved to process intensity and wavelength differ among species; these differences reflect how similar problems are solved via diverse mechanisms through natural selection.  For example, mammals and bees use long wavelength photoreceptors for intensity and color vision, whereas flies and birds have evolved separate sets of photoreceptors for these two purposes.  The genetic substrates that supported such different evolutionary paths are unknown.  Even though blowfly and monkey photoreceptors evolved independently and use different molecular mechanisms, signal processing, and other physiological steps, the information about the world delivered to the nervous system is nearly identical.  These few examples reveal the different routes natural selection has taken during the evolution of eyes in response to the information available in light.
      As to actual studies linking genetic changes to evolution, it’s more of the same plot line as that of brain evolution (above), but with a more convergent-evolution twist: for example, “Functionally, the exquisite gradient of refractive index necessary to allow spherical lenses to focus light is a convergent solution that has evolved in water-dwelling vertebrates and invertebrates alike.”  I.e., it evolved because it evolved.  Fernald’s story is replete with the theme that if a source of information is available, evolution will find a way to exploit it, even if we have no idea how it happened.  He ended, “Light has been such an important source of information that evolution has exploited it in many ways that remain to be discovered and understood.”  Undoubtedly, a critic of evolution like Michael Behe, who wrote about the irreducible complexity of photoreception in his book Darwin’s Black Box, would remain unconvinced by such a statement.
    3. Heart:  Is the story any different with heart evolution?  Eric N. Olsen wrote about this in the same issue of Science.4  He started out with a flat assertion: “The heart, an ancient organ and the first to form and function during embryogenesis, evolved by the addition of new structures and functions to a primitive pump.”  Embryogenesis, though, is not evolution, and is not controversial.  Can the heart really be explained by natural selection?  The explanation sounds familiar:
      Heart development is controlled by an evolutionarily conserved network of transcription factors that connect signaling pathways with genes for muscle growth, patterning, and contractility.  During evolution, this ancestral gene network was expanded through gene duplication and co-option of additional networks.  Mutations in components of the cardiac gene network cause congenital heart disease, the most common human birth defect.  The consequences of such mutations reveal the logic of organogenesis and the evolutionary origins of morphological complexity.
      This line of explanation (duplication and co-option) is apparently a skeleton key to Olsen: “The modular addition of innovations to primitive structures, although speculative, has also been proposed as a mechanism for the genesis of other vertebrate organs and body structures.”  A proposal is not a proof.
          Since the article is basically just elaboration on this theme, the interested reader can refer to it for details.  Suffice it to say he referred to evolutionary “conserved” elements seven times, co-option five times, and duplication seven times (assuming gene duplication provided the raw material for modular innovation).  He used the word “primitive” eight times, six of which refer to assumed ancestral hearts: e.g., in vertebrate embryos, “Cardiac progenitors from the primary heart field converge at the ventral midline to form a linear heart tube that resembles, both structurally and functionally, the primitive heart thought to exist in ancestral chordates.”  This could be a reference to Haeckel’s controversial recapitulation theory, largely discredited by many of today’s leading Darwinists.
          As with the other articles, the complete evolutionary story will have to be told in the future, he said, (though research continues to help advance medicine, whether or not evolution is true).  Here’s his last word: “Further analysis of the genetic networks that govern heart development through the combined use of genomics, genetics, and model organisms promises to yield insights, not only into general principles of organogenesis, but also to facilitate therapies for congenital and acquired heart disease.”
    4. Developmental genesHox genes, implicated in body plan patterning during embryonic development, have been suggested as sources of evolutionary innovation.  Derek Lemons and William McGinnis discussed this aspect of evolutionary genomics in their article.5  This, also, is no simple story:
      Beginning with Lewis, there has been much speculation that changes in Hox gene number may have contributed to morphological evolution.  Such ideas are a variation on the old theory that duplicating genes, particularly developmental control genes, may be an initial step in a process that increases regulatory circuit complexity, leading to increased morphological complexity, whereas elimination of control genes may be an initial step leading to less morphological complexity.  In one case, gene-replacement experiments showed that two mammalian Hox paralogs have nearly identical functions in a variety of tissues, which may be an example of a Hox duplication and functional divergence at an initial stage.
          There is currently no rigorous evidence that connects the loss or gain of specific Hox genes or gene complexes with specific morphological changes in different lineages, but there are a number of intriguing correlations.
      So all they could offer were speculative examples of these possible correlations.  “On the other hand,” they wrote (hinting of trouble ahead), “adult sea urchins and urochordate tunicates, which exhibit innovative and complex body architectures, have one set of Hox genes, either scrambled or dispersed.”  Clearly it would be simplistic to reduce all evolution to Hox gene duplication and divergence.  “Perhaps the novelty of these adult morphologies is dependent on other, equally complex sets of regulatory genes that resemble the Hox genes in their power to diversify morphology but are as yet not well understood.”  This not only points to the complexity of the Hox gene regulatory networks, but complicates the problem for evolutionists: there may be additional networks, just as complex, that we don’t even know about.  The closing paragraph is notable for its speculative words and lack of certainty:
      Genomic analyses have revealed surprising diversity in Hox gene number, organization, and expression patterns in different animals.  There are still many animal groups about which little genomic sequence is known, and it remains to be seen how much more variation in Hox gene organization and function will emerge, including the numbers and functions of non-protein-coding RNAs.  The property of HOX proteins working as a loosely coordinated system, often with overlapping patterns of expression and function, has apparently fostered their abilities to contribute to morphological change during the evolution of animals.  Their colinear [sic] arrangement and coordinated regulation in many animals may assist in the maintenance of their overlapping expression patterns.  This may have allowed some members of the clusters to subtly and slowly alter their expression patterns and functions to drive groups of cells toward novel structures.  But Hox genes still can work as an axial patterning system even when partially dispersed in the genome, and dispersal may foster their rate of functional evolution.
    5. Tree of Life:  The final article in the special series is “Genomics and the Tree of Life” by Antonis Rokas.6  The lone photo in the article is Charles Darwin’s sketch of a branching tree, “a lovely tree” as Rokas calls it, depicting the path of evolutionary diversification through millions of years.  Has genomics confirmed Darwin’s picture?  “The dramatic increase in data set sizes has led, in many cases, to increased confidence in the inference of evolutionary relationships,” he said.  But then a few sentences later, the yardage on that first down was lost:
      But further increases in data set sizes present challenges as well.  Analyzing many thousands of nucleotides for hundreds or thousands of species requires substantial computational power to efficiently search among all possible trees.  More sophisticated statistical algorithms are also needed for discovering the trees best supported by the data.  Several clades of the Tree of Life, including the one of Metazoa, are proving difficult to resolve too.  Most parameters of sequence evolution vary across lineages.  Slight biases—amplified by the sheer volume of data—can potentially mislead phylogenetic algorithms and provide high support for the wrong trees.
      (Note: metazoa includes all multicelled organisms, from flatworms to humans; i.e., the entire tree of plants and animals is “proving difficult to resolve.”)  It seems apparent that such a situation could lend itself to creative storytelling.  Rokas spoke of “phylogenetic riddles” and “alternative markers” in the genes, one of which produced “the discovery of several new clades such as the Pegasoferae, which unexpectedly combines bats with horses, cats, dogs, and pangolins” (see 06/26/2006 entry).  But even the approach of looking at alternative markers is still in its infancy, he admitted.
          Then there is the problem of lateral gene transfer.  This writes off any hope of tracing a phylogenetic tree for non-eukaryote one-celled organisms: “the extensive occurrence of lateral gene transfer in prokaryotes has raised concerns as to the validity of any gene-based phylogenies for these organisms.”  These he called “evolutionary networks and not trees,” although it is not clear how any kind of evolutionary lineage could be inferred from this kind of scrambled egg.  The only approach he offered (identification of core orthologs) doesn’t really solve the problem: “However, given the prevalence of lateral gene transfer—mostly in prokaryotes, to a much lesser extent in eukaryotes—as well as the high frequency of gene gain and loss, questions as to whether these core gene sets are meaningful or how we can reliably identify orthology among genes remain wide open.”  Indeed, “The integration of genomics data into the phylogenetics mold is just beginning.”  Interesting choice of word: mold.  What is a phylogenetics mold, if not an evolutionary stricture into which the data must be fit?  That this is the case he made clear in the next paragraph:
      As the choice of genomes to be sequenced is increasingly guided by evolutionary considerations, and as emerging sequencing technologies promise to drop costs even lower, the reach and impact of genomics to non-model organisms is rapidly extending.... Given the breadth of organismal diversity, the gene-scale era of phylogenetics is still an invaluable asset to the pursuit of the Tree if Life.  Comparative genomics, with its ability and potential to vastly increase both the amount and type of molecular data available for a small but critical fraction of biodiversity, is bound to play an increasingly important role in efforts to assemble a robust picture of the Tree of Life.
      A bystander could well wonder which is the cart, and which is the horse.
    For teachers, students and laymen unwilling to wade through all the many paragraphs of technical text (especially text lacking certainty about what happened during evolution), this issue of Science provided neat, colorful diagrams called “The Evolution of Function & Form” for easy downloading and classroom use.  The charts provide the basic story lines, illustrated and simplified for easy digestion, without all those troubling details.  The caption explains cheerfully, “A special two-page feature – available as individually downloadable images (suitable for slides) or in PDF form – explores the insights on the evolution of organs such as the brain, eye, and heart, and on pattern formation in general, that are emerging from modern genetics and genomics.”
    1Barbara R. Jasny, Elizabeth Pennisi, John Travis, “Genomic Tales,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, p. 1907, DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5795.1907.
    2Elisabeth Pennisi, “Mining the Molecules that Made Our Mind,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, pp. 1908-1911, DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5795.1908.
    3Russell D. Fernald, “Casting Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, pp. 1914-1918, DOI: 10.1126/science.1127889.
    4Eric N. Olsen, “Gene Regulatory Networks in the Evolution and Development of the Heart,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, pp. 1922-1927, DOI: 10.1126/science.1132292.
    5Derek Lemons and William McGinnis, “Genomic Evolution of Hox Gene Clusters,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, pp. 1918-1922, DOI: 10.1126/science.1132040.
    6Antonis Rokas, “Genomics and the Tree of Life,” Science, 29 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5795, pp. 1897-1899, DOI: 10.1126/science.1134490.
    If you have never gotten angry about the snow job that professional evolutionists have pulled in science, you should be hopping mad now.  We provided plenty of quotations and links so that you can savor the baloney in all its rottenness.  A cursory glance at the cover, “Building the Body from Genes,” would give an unsuspecting reader the impression that scientists are well on their way explaining all the most complex features of our body – the heart, eye, and brain – by Darwin’s tall tale.  The caption boasts,
    Through comparative genomics, scientists are learning about the forces that have promoted diversity or imposed constraints on our biological machinery.  As described in a special section beginning on page 1907, comparative genomics not only gives us a view of our evolutionary history but also illuminates human physiology and suggests new approaches to attacking diseases.
    Don’t be fooled.  The references to physiology and medicine are tossed in as distractions to give an aura of undeserved legitimacy to the bankrupt yarns of the Darwin Party, like perfume to mask B.O. (baloney odor).  You just read the real situation for yourself.  Strip away the paragraphs of impertinent details about what scientists in a laboratory have observed about real genes, i.e., all the observational details irrelevant to evolution, and what is left?  Only a house of cards built out of hope, hype, assumption and wishful thinking.  Not a single observational fact supported their tale, and most of the facts were contrary to it.  But since the stretch and squish theory of evolution (12/14/2004) molds itself to the most uncooperative facts, like The Blob to a bicycle, honest investigation has come to a halt.  Evolutionary theory is like a castle in the air, burdened down by facts that would otherwise bring it crashing down to the ground, were it not for the continual stream of hot air blown by Darwin Party windbags.  Yet this is the only theory allowed in our public schools, museums, national parks, mainstream media, government-funded research institutions and (incredibly) many liberal churches.
        How many classrooms will use the simplified charts, and come away with a completely false picture, where all the facts fit neatly into a story with a happy ending?  If you are still reading this, you are one of the few to know the true situation.  You thought this was Science, but now it is clear that the Darwinists have been just making this stuff up as they go along and force-fitting it into a plot that was determined by faith in their materialistic worldview.  Facts be damned; they are just props to The Endless Story, a fictional tale where machinery emerges by itself and begins to think.
        If you are sick and tired of the shenanigans the Darwin Party has pulled these 147 years, making it seem like their story had triumphed over every other possible explanation, such that everybody had to acquiesce to Charlie worship whether they liked it or not, it’s time to call their bluff and demand accountability.  Darwin did not lead us to the Tree of Life, but to a Tree of Death – millions of years of death and destruction, out of which endless forms most beautiful emerged, they told us.  Well, we’ve gotten nothing for trusting these charlatans but endless promises of vaporware on back order.  Bedtime storytime is over; wispy dreams of convergent evolution have evaporated into the morning light; Creation-Evolution Headlines has sounded the alarm, and we’re all wide awake now.
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGenetics
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    “I was grateful for for help with baloney detecting.  I had read about the fish-o-pod and wanted to see what you thought.  Your comments were helpful and encouraged me that my own ‘baloney detecting’ skill are improving.  I also enjoyed reading your reaction to the article on evolution teachers doing battle with students.... I will ask my girls to read your comments on the proper way to question their teachers.”
    (a home-schooling mom)

    “I just want to express how dissapointed [sic] I am in your website.  Instead of being objective, the website is entirely one sided, favoring creationism over evolution, as if the two are contradictory.... Did man and simien [sic] evovlve [sic] at random from a common ancestor?  Or did God guide this evolution?  I don’t know.  But all things, including the laws of nature, originate from God.... To deny evolution is to deny God’s creation.  To embrace evolution is to not only embrace his creation, but to better appreciate it.”
    (a student in Saginaw, Michigan)

    “I immensely enjoy reading the Creation-Evolution Headlines.  The way you use words exposes the bankruptcy of the evolutionary worldview.”
    (a student at Northern Michigan U)

    “...standing O for”
    (a database programmer in California)

    “Just wanted to say that I am thrilled to have found your website!  Although I regularly visit numerous creation/evolution sites, I’ve found that many of them do not stay current with relative information.  I love the almost daily updates to your ‘headlines’ section.  I’ve since made it my browser home page, and have recommended it to several of my friends.  Absolutely great site!”
    (a network engineer in Florida)

    “After I heard about Creation-Evolution Headlines, it soon became my favorite Evolution resource site on the web.  I visit several times a day cause I can’t wait for the next update.  That’s pathetic, I know ... but not nearly as pathetic as Evolution, something you make completely obvious with your snappy, intelligent commentary on scientific current events.  It should be a textbook for science classrooms around the country.  You rock!”
    (an editor in Tennessee)

    “One of the highlights of my day is checking your latest CreationSafaris creation-evolution news listing!  Thanks so much for your great work -- and your wonderful humor.”
    (a pastor in Virginia)

    “Thanks!!!  Your material is absolutely awesome.  I’ll be using it in our Adult Sunday School class.”
    (a pastor in Wisconsin)

    “Love your site & read it daily.”
    (a family physician in Texas)

    “I set it [] up as my homepage.  That way I am less likely to miss some really interesting events.... I really appreciate what you are doing with Creation-Evolution Headlines.  I tell everybody I think might be interested, to check it out.”
    (a systems analyst in Tennessee)

    “I would like to thank you for your service from which I stand to benefit a lot.”
    (a Swiss astrophysicist)

    “I enjoy very much reading your materials.”
    (a law professor in Portugal)

    “Thanks for your time and thanks for all the work on the site.  It has been a valuable resource for me.”
    (a medical student in Kansas)

    “Creation-Evolution Headlines is a terrific resource.  The articles are always current and the commentary is right on the mark.”
    (a molecular biologist in Illinois)

    Creation-Evolution Headlines is my favorite ‘anti-evolution’ website.  With almost giddy anticipation, I check it several times a week for the latest postings.  May God bless you and empower you to keep up this FANTASTIC work!”
    (a financial analyst in New York)

    “I read your pages on a daily basis and I would like to let you know that your hard work has been a great help in increasing my knowledge and growing in my faith.  Besides the huge variety of scientific disciplines covered, I also enormously enjoy your great sense of humor and your creativity in wording your thoughts, which make reading your website even more enjoyable.”
    (a software developer in Illinois)

    “THANK YOU for all the work you do to make this wonderful resource!  After being regular readers for a long time, this year we’ve incorporated your site into our home education for our four teenagers.  The Baloney Detector is part of their Logic and Reasoning Skills course, and the Daily Headlines and Scientists of the Month features are a big part of our curriculum for an elective called ‘Science Discovery Past and Present’.  What a wonderful goldmine for equipping future leaders and researchers with the tools of clear thinking!
    (a home school teacher in California)

    “What can I say – I LOVE YOU! – I READ YOU ALMOST EVERY DAY I copy and send out to various folks.  I love your sense of humor, including your politics and of course your faith.  I appreciate and use your knowledge – What can I say – THANK YOU – THANK YOU – THANK YOU – SO MUCH.”
    (a biology major, former evolutionist, now father of college students)

    “I came across your site while browsing through creation & science links.  I love the work you do!”
    (an attorney in Florida)

    “Love your commentary and up to date reporting.  Best site for evolution/design info.”
    (a graphic designer in Oregon)

    “I am an ardent reader of your site.  I applaud your efforts and pass on your website to all I talk to.  I have recently given your web site info to all my grandchildren to have them present it to their science teachers.... Your Supporter and fan..God bless you all...”
    (a health services manager in Florida)

    “Why your readership keeps doubling: I came across your website at a time when I was just getting to know what creation science is all about.  A friend of mine was telling me about what he had been finding out. I was highly skeptical and sought to read as many pro/con articles as I could find and vowed to be open-minded toward his seemingly crazy claims. At first I had no idea of the magnitude of research and information that’s been going on. Now, I’m simply overwhelmed by the sophistication and availability of scientific research and information on what I now know to be the truth about creation.
        Your website was one of dozens that I found in my search.  Now, there are only a handful of sites I check every day.  Yours is at the top of my list... I find your news page to be the most insightful and well-written of the creation news blogs out there.  The quick wit, baloney detector, in-depth scientific knowledge you bring to the table and the superb writing style on your site has kept me interested in the day-to-day happenings of what is clearly a growing movement.  Your site ... has given me a place to point them toward to find out more and realize that they’ve been missing a huge volume of information when it comes to the creation-evolution issue.
        Another thing I really like about this site is the links to articles in science journals and news references.  That helps me get a better picture of what you're talking about.... Keep it up and I promise to send as many people as will listen to this website and others.”
    (an Air Force Academy graduate stationed in New Mexico)

    “I’m a small town newspaper editor in southwest Wyoming.  We’re pretty isolated, and finding your site was a great as finding a gold mine.  I read it daily, and if there’s nothing new, I re-read everything.  I follow links.  I read the Scientist of the Month.  It’s the best site I’ve run across.  Our local school board is all Darwinist and determined to remain that way.”
    (a newspaper editor in Wyoming)

    “Congratulations on your 5th anniversary.  I have been reading your page for about 2 years or so.... I read it every day.  I well educated, with a BA in Applied Physics from Harvard and an MBA in Finance from Wharton.”
    (a reader in Delaware)

    “ I came across your website by accident about 4 months ago and look at it every day.... About 8 months ago I was reading a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times that was written by a staunch ‘anti-Creationist’ and it sparked my interest enough to research the topic and within a week I was yelling, ‘my whole life’s education has been a lie!!!’  I’ve put more study into Biblical Creation in the last 8 months than any other topic in my life.  Past that, through resources like your website...I’ve been able to convince my father (professional mathematician and amateur geologist), my best friend (mechanical engineer and fellow USAF Academy Grad/Creation Science nutcase), my pastor (he was the hardest to crack), and many others to realize the Truth of Creation.... Resources like your website help the rest of us at the ‘grassroots level’ drum up interest in the subject.  And regardless of what the major media says: Creationism is spreading like wildfire, so please keep your website going to help fan the flames.”
    (an Air Force Academy graduate and officer)

    “I love your site!  I **really** enjoy reading it for several specific reasons: 1.It uses the latest (as in this month!) research as a launch pad for opinion; for years I have searched for this from a creation science viewpoint, and now, I’ve found it.  2. You have balanced fun with this topic.  This is hugely valuable!  Smug Christianity is ugly, and I don’t perceive that attitude in your comments.  3. I enjoy the expansive breadth of scientific news that you cover.  4. I am not a trained scientist but I know evolutionary bologna/(boloney) when I see it; you help me to see it.  I really appreciate this.
    (a computer technology salesman in Virginia)

    “I love your site.  That’s why I was more than happy to mention it in the local paper.... I mentioned your site as the place where..... ‘Every Darwin-cheering news article is reviewed on that site from an ID perspective.  Then the huge holes of the evolution theory are exposed, and the bad science is shredded to bits, using real science.’”
    (a project manager in New Jersey)

    “I’ve been reading your site almost daily for about three years.  I have never been more convinced of the truthfulness of Scripture and the faithfulness of God.”
    (a system administrator and homeschooling father in Colorado)

    “I use the internet a lot to catch up on news back home and also to read up on the creation-evolution controversy, one of my favourite topics.  Your site is always my first port of call for the latest news and views and I really appreciate the work you put into keeping it up to date and all the helpful links you provide.  You are a beacon of light for anyone who wants to hear frank, honest conclusions instead of the usual diluted garbage we are spoon-fed by the media.... Keep up the good work and know that you’re changing lives.
    (a teacher in Spain)

    “I am grateful to you for your site and look forward to reading new stories.... I particularly value it for being up to date with what is going on.”
    (from the Isle of Wight, UK)

    “[Creation-Evolution Headlines] is the place to go for late-breaking news [on origins]; it has the most information and the quickest turnaround.  It’s incredible – I don’t know how you do it.  I can’t believe all the articles you find.  God bless you!”
    (a radio producer in Riverside, CA)

    “Just thought I let you know how much I enjoy reading your ‘Headlines’ section.  I really appreciate how you are keeping your ear to the ground in so many different areas.  It seems that there is almost no scientific discipline that has been unaffected by Darwin’s Folly.”
    (a programmer in aerospace from Gardena, CA)

    “I enjoy reading the comments on news articles on your site very much.  It is incredible how much refuse is being published in several scientific fields regarding evolution.  It is good to notice that the efforts of true scientists have an increasing influence at schools, but also in the media.... May God bless your efforts and open the eyes of the blinded evolutionists and the general public that are being deceived by pseudo-scientists.... I enjoy the site very much and I highly respect the work you and the team are doing to spread the truth.”
    (an ebusiness manager in the Netherlands)

    “I discovered your site through a link at certain website... It has greatly helped me being updated with the latest development in science and with critical comments from you.  I also love your baloney detector and in fact have translated some part of the baloney detector into our language (Indonesian).  I plan to translate them all for my friends so as to empower them.”
    (a staff member of a bilateral agency in West Timor, Indonesia)

    “...absolutely brilliant and inspiring.”
    (a documentary film producer, remarking on the 07/10/2005 commentary)

    “I found your site several months ago and within weeks had gone through your entire archives....  I check in several times a day for further information and am always excited to read the new articles.  Your insight into the difference between what is actually known versus what is reported has given me the confidence to stand up for what I believe.  I always felt there was more to the story, and your articles have given me the tools to read through the hype....  You are an invaluable help and I commend your efforts.  Keep up the great work.”
    (a sound technician in Alberta)

    “I discovered your site (through a link from a blog) a few weeks ago and I can’t stop reading it....  I also enjoy your insightful and humorous commentary at the end of each story.  If the evolutionists’ blindness wasn’t so sad, I would laugh harder.
      I have a masters degree in mechanical engineering from a leading University.  When I read the descriptions, see the pictures, and watch the movies of the inner workings of the cell, I’m absolutely amazed....  Thanks for bringing these amazing stories daily.  Keep up the good work.
    (an engineer in Virginia)

    “I stumbled across your site several months ago and have been reading it practically daily.  I enjoy the inter-links to previous material as well as the links to the quoted research.  I've been in head-to-head debate with a materialist for over a year now.  Evolution is just one of those debates.  Your site is among others that have been a real help in expanding my understanding.”
    (a software engineer in Pennsylvania)

    “I was in the April 28, 2005 issue of Nature [see 04/27/2005 story] regarding the rise of intelligent design in the universities.  It was through your website that I began my journey out of the crisis of faith which was mentioned in that article.  It was an honor to see you all highlighting the article in Nature.  Thank you for all you have done!
    (Salvador Cordova, George Mason University)

    “I shudder to think of the many ways in which you mislead readers, encouraging them to build a faith based on misunderstanding and ignorance.  Why don’t you allow people to have a faith that is grounded in a fuller understanding of the world?... Your website is a sham.”
    (a co-author of the paper reviewed in the 12/03/2003 entry who did not appreciate the unflattering commentary.  This led to a cordial interchange, but he could not divorce his reasoning from the science vs. faith dichotomy, and resulted in an impasse over definitions – but, at least, a more mutually respectful dialogue.  He never did explain how his paper supported Darwinian macroevolution.  He just claimed evolution is a fact.)

    “I absolutely love creation-evolution news.  As a Finnish university student very interested in science, I frequent your site to find out about all the new science stuff that’s been happening — you have such a knack for finding all this information!  I have been able to stump evolutionists with knowledge gleaned from your site many times.”
    (a student in Finland)

    “I love your site and read it almost every day.  I use it for my science class and 5th grade Sunday School class.  I also challenge Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers to get on the site to check out articles against the baloney they are taught in school.”
    (a teacher in Los Gatos, CA)

    “I have spent quite a few hours at Creation Evolution Headlines in the past week or so going over every article in the archives.  I thank you for such an informative and enjoyable site.  I will be visiting often and will share this link with others.”
    [Later] “ I am back to May 2004 in the archives.  I figured I should be farther back, but there is a ton of information to digest.”
    (a computer game designer in Colorado)

    “The IDEA Center also highly recommends visiting Creation-Evolution Headlines... the most expansive and clearly written origins news website on the internet!”
    (endorsement on Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center)

    “Hey Friends, Check out this site:  This is a fantastic resource for the whole family.... a fantastic reference library with summaries, commentaries and great links that are added to daily—archives go back five years.”
    (a reader who found us in Georgia)

    “I just wanted to drop you a note telling you that at, I’ve added a link to your excellent Creation-Evolution news site.”
    (a radio announcer)

    “I cannot understand why anyone would invest so much time and effort to a website of sophistry and casuistry.  Why twist Christian apology into an illogic pretzel to placate your intellect?  Isn’t it easier to admit that your faith has no basis -- hence, ‘faith’.  It would be extricate [sic] yourself from intellectual dishonesty -- and from bearing false witness.”
    Sincerely, Rev. [name withheld] (an ex-Catholic, “apostate Christian” Natural/Scientific pantheist)

    “Just wanted to let you folks know that we are consistent readers and truly appreciate the job you are doing.  God bless you all this coming New Year.”
    (from two prominent creation researchers/writers in Oregon)

    “Thanks so much for your site!  It is brain candy!”
    (a reader in North Carolina)

    “I Love your site – probably a little too much.  I enjoy the commentary and the links to the original articles.”
    (a civil engineer in New York)

    “I’ve had your Creation/Evolution Headlines site on my favourites list for 18 months now, and I can truthfully say that it’s one of the best on the Internet, and I check in several times a week.  The constant stream of new information on such a variety of science issues should impress anyone, but the rigorous and humourous way that every thought is taken captive is inspiring.  I’m pleased that some Christians, and indeed, some webmasters, are devoting themselves to producing real content that leaves the reader in a better state than when they found him.”
    (a community safety manager in England)

    “I really appreciate the effort that you are making to provide the public with information about the problems with the General Theory of Evolution.  It gives me ammunition when I discuss evolution in my classroom.  I am tired of the evolutionary dogma.  I wish that more people would stand up against such ridiculous beliefs.”
    (a science teacher in Alabama)

    “If you choose to hold an opinion that flies in the face of every piece of evidence collected so far, you cannot be suprised [sic] when people dismiss your views.”
    (a “former Christian” software distributor, location not disclosed)

    “...the Creation Headlines is the best.  Visiting your site... is a standard part of my startup procedures every morning.”
    (a retired Air Force Chaplain)

    “I LOVE your site and respect the time and work you put into it.  I read the latest just about EVERY night before bed and send selection[s] out to others and tell others about it.  I thank you very much and keep up the good work (and humor).”
    (a USF grad in biology)

    “Answering your invitation for thoughts on your site is not difficult because of the excellent commentary I find.  Because of the breadth and depth of erudition apparent in the commentaries, I hope I’m not being presumptuous in suspecting the existence of contributions from a ‘Truth Underground’ comprised of dissident college faculty, teachers, scientists, and engineers.  If that’s not the case, then it is surely a potential only waiting to be realized.  Regardless, I remain in awe of the care taken in decomposing the evolutionary cant that bombards us from the specialist as well as popular press.”
    (a mathematician/physicist in Arizona)

    “I’m from Quebec, Canada.  I have studied in ‘pure sciences’ and after in actuarial mathematics.  I’m visiting this site 3-4 times in a week.  I’m learning a lot and this site gives me the opportunity to realize that this is a good time to be a creationist!”
    (a French Canadian reader)

    “I LOVE your Creation Safari site, and the Baloney Detector material.  OUTSTANDING JOB!!!!”
    (a reader in the Air Force)

    “You have a unique position in the Origins community.  Congratulations on the best current affairs news source on the origins net.  You may be able to write fast but your logic is fun to work through.”
    (a pediatrician in California)

    “Visit your site almost daily and find it very informative, educational and inspiring.”
    (a reader in western Canada)

    “I wish to thank you for the information you extend every day on your site.  It is truly a blessing!”
    (a reader in North Carolina)

    “I really appreciate your efforts in posting to this website.  I find it an incredibly useful way to keep up with recent research (I also check science news daily) and also to research particular topics.”
    (an IT consultant from Brisbane, Australia)

    “I would just like to say very good job with the work done here, very comprehensive.  I check your site every day.  It’s great to see real science directly on the front lines, toe to toe with the pseudoscience that's mindlessly spewed from the ‘prestigious’ science journals.”
    (a biology student in Illinois)

    “I’ve been checking in for a long time but thought I’d leave you a note, this time.  Your writing on these complex topics is insightful, informative with just the right amount of humor.  I appreciate the hard work that goes into monitoring the research from so many sources and then writing intelligently about them.”
    (an investment banker in California)

    “Keep up the great work.  You are giving a whole army of Christians plenty of ammunition to come out of the closet (everyone else has).  Most of us are not scientists, but most of the people we talk to are not scientists either, just ordinary people who have been fed baloney for years and years.”
    (a reader in Arizona)

    “Keep up the outstanding work!  You guys really ARE making a difference!”
    (a reader in Texas)

    “I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say that ‘science’ is not hostile towards ‘religion’.  It is the dogmatically religious that are unwaveringly hostile towards any kind of science which threatens their dearly-held precepts.  ‘Science’ (real, open-minded science) is not interested in theological navel-gazing.”
    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.

    “I appreciate reading your site every day.  It is a great way to keep up on not just the new research being done, but to also keep abreast of the evolving debate about evolution (Pun intended).... I find it an incredibly useful way to keep up with recent research (I also check science news daily) and also to research particular topics.”
    (an IT consultant in Brisbane, Australia)

    “I love your website.”
    (a student at a state university who used CEH when writing for the campus newsletter)

    “....when you claim great uncertainty for issues that are fairly well resolved you damage your already questionable credibility.  I’m sure your audience loves your ranting, but if you know as much about biochemistry, geology, astronomy, and the other fields you skewer, as you do about ornithology, you are spreading heat, not light.”
    (a professor of ornithology at a state university, responding to the 09/10/2002 headline)

    “I wanted to let you know I appreciate your headline news style of exposing the follies of evolutionism.... Your style gives us constant, up-to-date reminders that over and over again, the Bible creation account is vindicated and the evolutionary fables are refuted.”
    (a reader, location unknown)

    “You have a knack of extracting the gist of a technical paper, and digesting it into understandable terms.”
    (a nuclear physicist from Lawrence Livermore Labs who worked on the Manhattan Project)

    “After spending MORE time than I really had available going thru your MANY references I want to let you know how much I appreciate the effort you have put forth.
    The information is properly documented, and coming from recognized scientific sources is doubly valuable.  Your explanatory comments and sidebar quotations also add GREATLY to your overall effectiveness as they 1) provide an immediate interpretive starting point and 2) maintaining the reader’s interest.”
    (a reader in Michigan)

    “I am a huge fan of the site, and check daily for updates.”
    (reader location and occupation unknown)

    “I just wanted to take a minute to personally thank-you and let you know that you guys are providing an invaluable service!  We check your Web site weekly (if not daily) to make sure we have the latest information in the creation/evolution controversy.  Please know that your diligence and perseverance to teach the Truth have not gone unnoticed.  Keep up the great work!”
    (a PhD scientist involved in origins research)

    “You've got a very useful and informative Web site going.  The many readers who visit your site regularly realize that it requires considerable effort to maintain the quality level and to keep the reviews current....  I hope you can continue your excellent Web pages.  I have recommended them highly to others.”
    (a reader, location and occupation unknown)

    “As an apprentice apologist, I can always find an article that will spark a ‘spirited’ debate.  Keep ’em coming!  The Truth will prevail.”
    (a reader, location and occupation unknown)

    “Thanks for your web page and work.  I try to drop by at least once a week and read what you have.  I’m a Christian that is interested in science (I’m a mechanical engineer) and I find you topics interesting and helpful.  I enjoy your lessons and insights on Baloney Detection.”
    (a year later):
    “I read your site 2 to 3 times a week; which I’ve probably done for a couple of years.  I enjoy it for the interesting content, the logical arguments, what I can learn about biology/science, and your pointed commentary.”
    (a production designer in Kentucky)

    “I look up CREV headlines every day.  It is a wonderful source of information and encouragement to me.... Your gift of discerning the fallacies in evolutionists interpretation of scientific evidence is very helpful and educational for me.  Please keep it up.  Your website is the best I know of.”
    (a Presbyterian minister in New South Wales, Australia)

    “I’ve written to you before, but just wanted to say again how much I appreciate your site and all the work you put into it.  I check it almost every day and often share the contents (and web address) with lists on which I participate.  I don’t know how you do all that you do, but I am grateful for your energy and knowledge.”
    (a prominent creationist author)

    “I am new to your site, but I love it!  Thanks for updating it with such cool information.”
    (a home schooler)

    “I love your site.... Visit every day hoping for another of your brilliant demolitions of the foolish just-so stories of those who think themselves wise.”
    (a reader from Southern California)

    “I visit your site daily for the latest news from science journals and other media, and enjoy your commentary immensely.  I consider your web site to be the most valuable, timely and relevant creation-oriented site on the internet.”
    (a reader from Ontario, Canada)

    “Keep up the good work!  I thoroughly enjoy your site.”
    (a reader in Texas)

    “Thanks for keeping this fantastic web site going.  It is very informative and up-to-date with current news including incisive insight.”
    (a reader in North Carolina)

    “Great site!  For all the Baloney Detector is impressive and a great tool in debunking wishful thinking theories.”
    (a reader in the Netherlands)

    “Just wanted to let you know, your work is having quite an impact.  For example, major postings on your site are being circulated among the Intelligent Design members....”
    (a PhD organic chemist)

    “It’s like ‘opening a can of worms’ ... I love to click all the related links and read your comments and the links to other websites, but this usually makes me late for something else.  But it’s ALWAYS well worth it!!”
    (a leader of a creation group)

    “I am a regular visitor to your website ... I am impressed by the range of scientific disciplines your articles address.  I appreciate your insightful dissection of the often unwarranted conclusions evolutionists infer from the data... Being a medical doctor, I particularly relish the technical detail you frequently include in the discussion living systems and processes.  Your website continually reinforces my conviction that if an unbiased observer seeks a reason for the existence of life then Intelligent Design will be the unavoidable conclusion.”
    (a medical doctor)

    “A church member asked me what I thought was the best creation web site.  I told him”
    (a PhD geologist)

    “I love your site... I check it every day for interesting information.  It was hard at first to believe in Genesis fully, but now I feel more confident about the mistakes of humankind and that all their reasoning amounts to nothing in light of a living God.”
    (a college grad)

    “Thank you so much for the interesting science links and comments on your creation evolution headlines page ... it is very informative.”
    (a reader from Scottsdale, AZ)

    “I still visit your site almost every day, and really enjoy it.  Great job!!!  (I also recommend it to many, many students.)
    (an educational consultant)

    “I like what I see–very much.  I really appreciate a decent, calm and scholarly approach to the whole issue... Thanks ... for this fabulous endeavor–it’s superb!”

    “It is refreshing to read your comments.  You have a knack to get to the heart of the matter.”
    (a reader in the Air Force).

    “Love your website.  It has well thought out structure and will help many through these complex issues.  I especially love the Baloney Detector.”
    (a scientist).

    “I believe this is one of the best sites on the Internet.  I really like your side-bar of ‘truisms.’  Yogi [Berra] is absolutely correct.  If I were a man of wealth, I would support you financially.”
    (a registered nurse in Alabama, who found us on

    “WOW.  Unbelievable.... My question is, do you sleep? ... I’m utterly impressed by your page which represents untold amounts of time and energy as well as your faith.”
    (a mountain man in Alaska).

    “Just wanted to say that I recently ran across your web site featuring science headlines and your commentary and find it to be A++++, superb, a 10, a homerun – I run out of superlatives to describe it! ... You can be sure I will visit your site often – daily when possible – to gain the latest information to use in my speaking engagements.  I’ll also do my part to help publicize your site among college students.  Keep up the good work.  Your material is appreciated and used.”
    (a college campus minister)

    Featured Creation Scientist for September
    Guess Who!

    This month’s great scientist is a character from ancient history, predating even the Greeks by a long shot.  Yet in many ways, he exceeded them all.  He was a veritable philosopher-king, a many-talented individual with a reputation that is legendary to this day.  He was a mineralogist, taxonomist, botanist, zoologist, ornithologist, ichthyologist, and entomologist.  His writings even convey an understanding of thermodynamics and the hydrologic cycle – principles that are not always intuitively obvious – long before they were rediscovered in the 19th century.  And though a religious man (at times), he was one of the earliest practitioners of what is known today as methodological naturalism (at least until he got older and wiser).

    Although records of his scientific work are scanty, they are intriguing.  They provide a glimpse into what must have been a profound analytical mind.  His photographic memory was phenomenal.  He seems to have taken special interest in gymnosperms and angiosperms; we know that he was an expert on Cedrus libani and Origanum syriacum, but probably hundreds more between these extremes; he cultivated many varieties of plants in his own experimental arboreta.  In fact, he was sufficiently wealthy to employ a small army of lab assistants, not only in his gardens, but his ranches and zoos.  He was particularly fond of Equus, collecting an extensive assortment of specimens.  Exotic mammals and birds imported from distant lands were a special hobby in which he delighted.

    We know that this scientist published a great deal; unfortunately, only tantalizing fragments and short biographical references remain.  But in his day, his reputation spread far and wide; fellow scientists and intellectuals travelled great distances to converse with and learn from him.  We can easily imagine that he had a large retinue of students and disciples.

    This scientist was one of the first to approach the study of natural phenomena mechanistically.  You might say he was a “naturalist naturalist,” using two diverse meanings of the word side by side: he loved nature, but approached his systematic study and classification of phenomena without reference to spiritual or miraculous elements.  In other words, though he was a theist, not a philosophical naturalist, he practiced methodological naturalism in his scientific approach.  Apparently this served him well, for a time.  It provided him a great deal of satisfaction and motivation to classify things, describe them, and learn about them.  He also sought to understand their underlying causes and build theories: he said, “I applied my heart to know, To search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things.”  He apparently felt no need for what we would call today creationism or intelligent design thinking, except in a general sense (he was not an atheist, after all).  Yet in his later years, his thinking underwent a dramatic reversal.

    Over time, this scientist began to despair of ever really achieving a unified theory or even believing that getting a substantial grasp on science was even possible.  He lost interest in the particulars and became more concerned with general principles; less stamp-collecting and more philosophy, in other words.

    One of his fundamental conclusions sounds remarkably like Godel’s Theorem, i.e., that it is impossible to establish the validity of system without reference to external axioms.  Contemplation of this principle, and his increasing dissatisfaction with collecting and publishing the minutiae, gradually opened his mind to his own inadequacy, and the absolute requirement to build on the foundation of divine revelation.  He became a creationist.

    Have you figured out who we are talking about?  His name is Solomon.  King Solomon, richest man of his day and wisest man who ever lived (with a wisdom given him by God), is often overlooked as a scientist.  But I Kings 4 says he “spoke of trees, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish.”  From the context, these are clearly the meagerest of samples.  Kings and dignitaries from around the world came to hear the wisdom and knowledge of Solomon.  In his book Ecclesiastes, the summation of his old-age philosophical musings, he recalls some of his earlier efforts in horticulture, ranching, engineering and architecture.  The Proverbs of Solomon are frequently peppered with animal and plant allusions that provide glimpses into his natural knowledge, which must have been encyclopedic.  He enjoyed the exotic gifts foreign dignitaries would bring, including apes and peacocks.  Living in peacetime with unlimited wealth, he was almost single-handedly responsible for the greatest scientific renaissance the world had ever seen.

    The theistic (Hebrew) world view that permitted Solomon to view the work as a great machine or puzzle to be solved also permitted Solomon to get wrapped up in his own efforts.  That is why he seemed to approach his science – and all his works – as “under the sun” – a grievous task given by God to mankind, devoid of meaning, purpose, and value when approached without reference to the Creator.  “Under the sun” is analogous to methodological naturalism: the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, forgetting the Creator, trying to figure it all out by human effort.  Solomon eventually realized it cannot be done.  Thus his famous phrase, “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.”

    Solomon never lost his love for nature, but realized that there is more to it than meets the eye.  There is a spiritual element to man that resists naturalistic explanation, and that there are purposes we can never know in and of ourselves.  He said, “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11).  For the logical positivist who thinks there is no limit to scientific inquiry, he speaks from experience: “When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun.  For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it” (Eccl. 8:16-17).  Today’s scientists would do well to avoid trying to hoe that row again, unless they think they can reach infinity.

    So after years of self-centered searching for knowledge, Solomon came to his senses and rearranged his priorities.  He decided that “much study is a weariness of the flesh, and of the making of many books there is no end.”  He called his final anthropic principle “the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12):  “Fear God, and keep His commandments.” In other words, realize that natural revelation without special revelation is pointless and ultimately dissatisfying.  For aspiring scientists young enough to avoid his mistake, he has sober advice: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.”

    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.

    A Concise Guide
    to Understanding
    Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Souder’s Law
    Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Advice from Paul

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

    I Timothy 6:20-21

    Song of the True Scientist

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

    from Psalm 104

    Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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