Creation-Evolution Headlines
March 2008
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“Ideas without precedent are generally looked upon with disfavor and men are shocked if their conceptions of an orderly world are challenged.”
—J Harlen Bretz, 1924, quoted on a plaque at the Dry Falls Visitor Center in Washington.  His theory that a catastrophic flood formed the Channeled Scablands was ridiculed by the scientific establishment for 50 years.  The plaque (dated 1994) says, “Dedicated to J Harlen Bretz, who patiently taught us that catastrophic floods may sometimes play a role in nature’s unfolding drama.”  Bretz was 94 years old when he finally received recognition.
AstronomyBiomimeticsBirdsBotanyCell BiologyCosmologyDating MethodsDinosaursEarly ManEducationEvolutionFossilsGenetics and DNAGeologyHealthHuman BodyIntelligent DesignMammalsMarine LifeMediaOrigin of LifePhysicsPolitics and EthicsSETISolar SystemTheologyZoology     Awards:  AmazingDumb       Note: bold emphasis added in all quotations unless otherwise indicated.
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  Watch for the Recycle logo to find gems from the back issues!

  Geologist radically reinterprets the geological layers.  In Geology, he argues they are not a Lyellian time sequence, but rather a fractal hierarchy.  See the 03/05/2004 entry.

Seeing Vision in a New Light   03/31/2008    
March 31, 2008 — The eye is like a camera, right?  That picture is way too simplistic.  The eye-brain visual system does image processing and gleans information from photons in diverse and remarkable ways.  Here are some recent findings by scientists:

  1. Upward mobility:  A team of Harvard scientists found some retinal ganglion cells that sense upward motion.  Writing in Nature,1 they began,
    The retina contains complex circuits of neurons that extract salient information from visual inputs.  Signals from photoreceptors are processed by retinal interneurons, integrated by retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and sent to the brain by RGC axons.  Distinct types of RGC respond to different visual features, such as increases or decreases in light intensity (ON and OFF cells, respectively), colour or moving objects.  Thus, RGCs comprise a set of parallel pathways from the eye to the brain....
        ....Here we show, by means of a transgenic marking method, that junctional adhesion molecule B (JAM-B) marks a previously unrecognized class of OFF RGCs....  These cells have asymmetric dendritic arbors aligned in a dorsal-to-ventral direction across the retina.  Their receptive fields are also asymmetric and respond selectively to stimuli moving in a soma-to-dendrite direction; because the lens reverses the image of the world on the retina, these cells detect upward motion in the visual field.  Thus, JAM-B identifies a unique population of RGCs in which structure corresponds remarkably to function.
  2. Got your number:  The retina can also respond to a quality called “numerosity” – a nonverbal, visual sense of number.  David Burr and John Ross, writing in Current Biology,2 summarized this unusual ability of the eye:
    Evidence exists for a nonverbal capacity for the apprehension of number, in humans (including infants) and in other primates.  Here, we show that perceived numerosity is susceptible to adaptation, like primary visual properties of a scene, such as color, contrast, size, and speed.  Apparent numerosity was decreased by adaptation to large numbers of dots and increased by adaptation to small numbers, the effect depending entirely on the numerosity of the adaptor, not on contrast, size, orientation, or pixel density, and occurring with very low adaptor contrasts.  We suggest that the visual system has the capacity to estimate numerosity and that it is an independent primary visual property, not reducible to others like spatial frequency or density of texture.
  3. Go with the flow:  Many photographs and videos are taken with the camera fixed on a tripod.  What happens to the visual scene in a movie when the camera is mounted on a galloping horse, train engine or race car?  It certainly becomes more dynamic and much more difficult to process the information.
        We saw that dragonflies are masters of optic flow, and that scientists are keen to imitate their special visual organ that processes the information from rapid forward direction (08/13/2004).  Frank Bremmer summarized some new findings in Current Biology that says human eyes also have some of this ability.3  This gives us processing powers beyond the simple interpretation of an image coming through a lens.
    Optic flow is a key signal for heading perception.  A new study has shown that the human brain can dissociate between consistent (natural) and inconsistent flow, revealing what is likely a new hierarchy in visual motion processing.
    He reported on recent “surprising findings” that showed certain areas of the visual cortex, labeled MST, VIP and CSv, appear to be processing stations for optic flow information.
    Taken together, these new results suggest that area MST may be a preprocessing stage acting like a tuned filter for visual self-motion signals.  Areas VIP and CSv, on the other hand, could be seen as downstream processing stages judging the ecological validity of the self-motion signals.  This interpretation would indicate a previously unknown hierarchy within the human visual cortical motion system.
  4. Color me blue:  Brian Wandell, Stanford psychologist, wrote in Current Biology about another stimulating fact: the colors activated by the cones that react to red, green or blue when those colors come through the lens (or are transmitted from video pixels) also “see” the corresponding colors when the neurons themselves are stimulated.4  Commenting on a study of a patient that had electrodes implanted into the visual cortex, he said:
    Directly stimulating certain cortical neurons can produce a color sensation; a case is reported in which the color perceived by stimulation is the same as the color that most effectively excites the cortical circuitry....

    These results teach us that even the simplest stimulation is capable of stirring up a perceptually meaningful response from the cortical circuitry.  One possibility is that the complex molecular and neural circuitry that serves this portion of the brain is tolerant of a wide range of potential inputs, and that nearly any stimulation of this circuitry evokes a characteristic (resonant) response.  The resonant response of these specific circuits is the experience of color.

To avoid human chauvinism, let’s look into the eyes of some animals living underwater that can, in certain ways, outperform our own visual tricks.  The winner in both cases is among the humblest creatures you would ever suspect to find such abilities: the mantis shrimp.
  1. Polar opposites:  For the first time, scientists found an animal with the ability to discern circularly polarized light: the mantis shrimp.  An international team of scientists reported this in Current Biology5 with some obvious pride at being #1 to discover this feat:
    We describe the addition of a fourth visual modality in the animal kingdom, the perception of circular polarized light.  Animals are sensitive to various characteristics of light, such as intensity, color, and linear polarization.  This latter capability can be used for object identification, contrast enhancement, navigation, and communication through polarizing reflections.  Circularly polarized reflections from a few animal species have also been known for some time.  Although optically interesting, their signal function or use (if any) was obscure because no visual system was known to detect circularly polarized light.  Here, in stomatopod crustaceans, we describe for the first time a visual system capable of detecting and analyzing circularly polarized light.  Four lines of evidence—behavior, electrophysiology, optical anatomy, and details of signal design—are presented to describe this new visual function.  We suggest that this remarkable ability mediates sexual signaling and mate choice, although other potential functions of circular polarization vision, such as enhanced contrast in turbid environments, are also possible.  The ability to differentiate the handedness of circularly polarized light, a visual feat never expected in the animal kingdom, is demonstrated behaviorally here for the first time.
  2. Super sight:  In the latest issue of Creation magazine (March-May, 2008),6 Jonathan Sarfati described one amazing feature of the mantis shrimp, its Guinness-level power punch: it can flick its snapper at 51 mph, generating an acceleration of 10,600 g.  But that’s not all.  In a sidebar, he talked about another Guinness-level ability: the shrimp’s “super sight.”  Would you believe this little crustacean has one of the world’s most complex color vision systems?
    While humans have three different types of colour receptor (red, green and blue), the shrimp has 12.  Four of these can see in the ultraviolet, which we can’t.  Furthermore, they can tune their vision with special transparent colour filters to compensate for the way water absorbs different colours differently.
None of the above articles mentioned evolution once.
1.  Kim, Zhang, Yagamata, Meister and Sanes, “Molecular identification of a retinal cell type that responds to upward motion,” Nature 452, 478-482 (27 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06739.
2.  David Burr and John Ross, “A Visual Sense of Number,” Current Biology, Vol 18, 425-428, 25 March 2008,
3.  Frank Benner, “Visual Neuroscience: The Brain’s Interest in Natural Flow,” Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 6, 25 March 2008, Pages R263-R265,
4.  Brian Wandell, “Colour Vision: Cortical Circuitry for Appearance,” Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 6, 25 March 2008, Pages R250-R251, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.01.045.
5.  Chou, Kleinlogel, Cronin, Caldwell, Loeffler, Siddiqi, Goldizen and Marshall, “Circular Polarization Vision in a Stomatopod Crustacean,” Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 6, 25 March 2008, Pages 429-434, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.02.066.
6.  Jonathan Sarfati, “Shrimpy superboxer,” Creation magazine, Volume 30, Issue 2, Published March 2008, pp. 12-13.
Isn’t this terrific?  What amazing things are found in nature.  The eye gave Darwin cold shudders, but now we know that it is far more complex than he knew.  And some of the most remarkable capabilities reside in the humblest of creatures.  Shrimp are crustaceans – a subphylum of arthropods, whose members extend all the way back to the Cambrian.  This means that the lowest fossil layers containing multicellular animals already display these technologies (10/04/2007).
    This circuitry and the complex processing software did not emerge by chance.  Each of these capabilities are systems involving hardware and software.  They require programmed analysis and response to sensory inputs.  Eyes are able to extract all kinds of interesting information from light, much more than you would think from the simple diagram in most textbooks of an inverted camera-like image on a retina.
    The research done to find these abilities was done in intelligently-designed labs by intelligent scientists using reverse-engineering principles.  Intelligent design is present de facto from beginning to end.  Evolution is blind, they say; well, evolutionary theory is also blind.  Take off the blinders and see the creation through created eyes.
Next headline on:  Human BodyPhysicsMarine BiologyIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Squid Beak: “A Truly Fascinating Design”   03/30/2008    
March 30, 2008 — A new class of flexible yet tough materials may be in our future, thanks to a study of squid beaks.  Scientists at University of Santa Barbara, reported National Geographic News and Science Daily, were curious how the squid anchors its tough, hard beak in soft tissue.  Try anchoring a knife in Jell-o and you get a picture of the problem.
    The squid’s secret is a progressive stiffening from the soft tissue where it is anchored to the beak itself.  This allows the force from the beak to be gradually attenuated down the structure.  “The tip is extremely stiff, yet the base is 100 times more compliant, allowing it to blend with surrounding tissue,” the article states.
    If engineers could imitate this graduated stiffness technique, “This could really revolutionize the way engineers think about attaching materials together.”  Ali Miserez, the lead author, noted another benefit.  “Biological materials are ‘made’ by animals at the temperature of oceans and using naturally occurring chemicals,” he said.  “If we can fully understand the chemistry and copy it, then that could lead to a generation of synthetic materials that are less harsh to the environment and made at a lower energetic cost.
    Frank Zok, a materials scientist at UCSB and co-author of the study, was fascinated with the squid solution to an engineering problem.  “You can imagine the problems you’d encounter if you attached a knife blade to a block of Jell-o and tried to use that blade for cutting.  The blade would cut through the Jell-o at least as much as the targeted object,” he said.  “In the case of the squid beak, nature takes care of the problem by changing the beak composition progressively, rather than abruptly, so that its tip can pierce prey without harming the squid in the process.  It’s a truly fascinating design!
    The original paper in Science also used the word “design.”1  The abstract stated: “These findings may serve as a foundation for identifying design principles for attaching mechanically mismatched materials in engineering and biological applications.”  Further down, another sentence said, “We found that the squid’s task is facilitated by a beak design that incorporates large gradients in mechanical properties, intricately linked with local macromolecular composition, from the hard, stiff tip to the soft, compliant base.”  In a commentary on the paper in the same issue,2 Phillip Messersmith, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern U, compared human engineering to animal design:
Current synthetic biomimetic materials remain primitive in comparison to their natural counterparts.  Our ability to incorporate elements of biological inspiration into the design of synthetic materials will be further enhanced through studies such as that by Miserez et al. that advance our understanding of the composition, structure, and processing of complex biological tissues.

1.  Miserez, Schneberk, Sun, Zok and Waite, “The Transition from Stiff to Compliant Materials in Squid Beaks,” Science, 28 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5871, pp. 1816-1819, DOI: 10.1126/science.1154117.
2.  Phillip B. Messersmith, “Materials Science: Multitasking in Tissues and Materials,” Science, 28 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5871, pp. 1767-1768, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155122.
Thank you, reporters and scientists, for sparing us any evolution talk in these reports.  Fability (01/16/2007 commentary) is not a requirement for understanding – or for science-advancing inspiration.
Next headline on:  Marine BiologyBiomimeticsIntelligent Design
Expelled Surges in the Blogosphere   03/29/2008    
March 29, 2008 — There are probably few people who haven’t heard about Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  The film documents persecution of intelligent-design advocates by Darwinists.  Unusual for a non-fiction documentary, it seems to be the talk of the blogs.  On March 24 it was #1 on BlogPulse, a Nielsen meter of the hottest topics in internet blogs (see report on Evolution News).
    The producers made the unusual move of announcing the film early – last August.  It was first scheduled for release on Darwin’s birthday, February 12, but got delayed till April 18.  Whether interest has peaked prematurely remains to be seen.  One factor skyrocketing the blog talk was the unsuccessful attempt by anti-creationist blogger P.Z. Myers to storm a private screening on March 20 in Minneapolis – though prominent atheist Richard Dawkins got in (see Evolution News).  Aside from the attempted gate-crashing by the two atheists who appear in the film making strident anti-religious statements, interest in the film seems high all over.
    A wide spectrum of Darwin critics, from Biblical creationists (AIG, CMI) to big-tent ID advocates (Discovery Institute; see Access Research Network for links to reviews), to conservative radio talk show hosts (Rush Limbaugh), Catholics, Jews (Michael Medved, Daniel Lapin), Protestants (R.C. Sproul, Lee Strobel) and many bloggers just interested in the debate have been praising the film.  Darwinists, on the other hand, are either laying low or expressing outrage.  Some merely repeat Darwinist talking points about science and religion, but some of them are expressing their views in color commentary of the red kind.  Spots on TV and radio news programs will probably increase throughout April.
    Time will tell if Expelled proves to be a box office flop or a blockbuster.  It appears some Darwinians are scheming to subvert Ben Stein’s revolution before the premiere; others are ignoring it, hoping it will blow over.  Supporters of Darwinism have been thrown a curve ball since Ben Stein is a pretty likeable celebrity to most people, and is certainly not a Christian fundamentalist.  They seem to be trying to undermine the film by calling Stein a comedian or focusing on the fact that he is not a scientist.  In response, Stein argues this is not a scientific question, but an issue of academic freedom and honest debate (read his essay on Discovery Institute).
    The official Expelled website contains news, the blog, resources, stories, paraphernalia, resource kits and even a playground containing merciless satires on Darwin and his defenders.  Don’t do a Google search on Expelled and Ben Stein unless you want to read 192,000 hits.
Lest advocates on either side think that tossing scientific evidences at the other side will be sufficient to win the debate, it would be worthwhile to review something about the philosophy of science.  Most people (and most science reporters, and many scientists) are oblivious to the upheavals in philosophy of science that have occurred over the last two centuries.  They assume the simplistic, positivistic notion that dresses up evolutionary theory in the same robes as the science of Newton, Galileo and Maxwell.  “Science” is imagined as a uniform tradition of smart people who follow a tried-and-true “method” that is guaranteed to produce “knowledge” of “reality” – if not right away, then eventually, because the scientific method drives inquiry down the road to Truth.  Is that picture defensible?
    One of the most outspoken gadflies against the simplistic picture of science in recent memory was Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994).  While not endorsing all his ideas – some of them radical – we would like to review some of his criticisms of science as worth thinking about.  Here is the way philosophy of science professor Jeffrey Kasser (North Carolina State U) summarized some of his views in the Teaching Company lecture series, “Philosophy of Science”
Now, with his mischievous manner and his emphasis on unbridled creativity, Feyerabend is often taken to be anti-science.  And this, I think, is quite unfair.  Feyerabend’s great heroes are scientists like Galileo, and he thinks that back in Galileo’s day, science opposed dogmatism, and stood with creativity and humaneness.
    But Feyerabend believes that this is actually no longer the case.  He thinks that science these days resembles the Catholic church of Galileo’s day, not Galileo.  He thinks that it stifles the spirit and the imagination of those who are involved in it, especially Kuhnian “normal science,” and it bullies those who don’t understand it.
    We have a scientific monopoly on legitimate intellectual authority in our culture, he thinks, and he calls science a threat to democracy – because you and I don’t have a clear understanding of what research our society performs or encourages, and we shouldn’t trust the sort of Orwellian guardians of normal science who want funding for whatever they tell us is important.  We don’t understand their claims, and we’re being pushed around by these people.  So “normal science,” he thinks, supports its own continuation, not human well-being.
Does the shoe fit the Darwiniacs?  Is not Ben Stein making the same accusations?  The point here, again, is not to hold up Feyerabend as The Sage of Science, but to reveal that other notable philosophers like him have criticized the very same things portrayed in Expelled: the dogmatism and close-mindedness of a certain sector of scientists who behave like an intolerant priesthood.
    Not all sciences are created equal.  Economics and psychology should not share the prestige of physics, but even the hard sciences have serious struggles justifying their claims.  Something is unique about Darwinism.  When it comes to the “science” of evolution, all the major scientific institutions tend to go far, far beyond its evidential support (03/06/2008).  Darwinists make outrageous claims (05/09/2006), and then bully anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the consensus (recent example on World Magazine).  Feyerabend was one of the most vocal about this tendency, but there were certainly others who have said similar things.  Thomas Kuhn, ironically, called it “normal science” – to work within a paradigm without questioning it.  Other philosophers have noted the social and historical character of science.  Even the most respected 20th-century philosophers who have defended the epistemic authority of science have struggled to argue that it relates to reality, even when it appears to work.
    Science should be, if anything, a search for the truth about the world.  It should follow the evidence where it leads.  An honest solo scientist who is right is worth a thousand who follow a consensus.  Science, further, is restricted in its domain.  It can only hope to establish certain things with a degree of confidence that are observable, testable and repeatable.  Even those things are hard to establish, to say nothing of grand theories of everything.
    One should not think for a moment, therefore, that what Ben Stein and the advocates of intelligent design are complaining about is some new, fringe problem that can be ignored.  It really is a major conflict that has been building a head of steam for a long time.  It is a matter of justice.  It really is time for a scientific revolution.
    A film can only do so much.  For years we have been advocating opening the doors and windows and letting fresh air into the halls of science (02/07/2007).  Indeed, we have said, it is time to storm the Darwin Party castle and kick the rascals out (01/11/2005, 04/29/2005, 02/01/2007).  It will be up to you and me to harness the momentum of this film and keep it going, to build on it, and make the revolution happen.  Students, teachers, preachers, citizens, parents – are you content with the status quo?  Do you want to let the persecutors and dogmatists remain in power, shutting down debate, ridiculing critics, preventing honest teaching of evolution, ruining careers, and taking over all aspects of life, including the law, politics, economics, the arts, all the sciences, and even morals and religion? (see 11/05/2006 and 11/29/2006).  Then here is a golden opportunity to do something.
    This film needs to succeed at the box office.  Documentaries rarely get huge turnouts, so this one needs grass-roots support.  Buy a ticket.  Take your friends.  Take your classmates, your church, your coworkers.  Contact your local theater and make sure they show it (example:  Don’t just wait for the DVD; let’s set a record at the box office.  It will send a powerful statement to the Darwin Party that their days of dogmatic control are over.
    But realize, too, that this film will fade from memory in a few months, as even the best films do.  Follow it up with discussions, letters to the editor, involvement at school board meetings, and action.  Talk about it.  Write about it.  Don’t go off half-cocked, speaking with braggadocio about more than you know.  Become informed about evidence and skilled in tactics.  Let Creation-Evolution Headlines be a key resource for news and information – specifics that can provide a wealth of support for your arguments.
Next headline on:  DarwinismIntelligent DesignMedia
  A leading evolutionary theorist, J. D. Hamilton, left a “disturbing legacy” of thoughts about eugenics, genocide, racism and other “ugly” ideas, says a reviewer of his last opus, from 03/07/2002.

Explaining Two Billion Years Without Evolution   03/28/2008    
March 28, 2008 — How does an evolutionist explain the perception that (within their timeline), no multicellular animals emerged for two billion years after the origin of life?  Jonathan Wells has compared this to walking down a football field and encountering nothing but single cells till the 60 yard line, then boom! – all the animal phyla with their complex body plans suddenly appear in one step.  A new plot was “discovered” by researchers at UC Riverside: the microbes were waiting for shipments of oxygen and molybdenum to arrive.
    Science Daily reported how Tim Lyons and his research buddies measured oxygen and molybdenum traces in black shales thought to correspond to the time before the Cambrian explosion.  The idea is that “Molybdenum is a key micronutrient for life and serves as a proxy for oceanic and atmospheric oxygen amounts.”
    Measuring elements in rocks is one thing, but the authors assumed that the mere presence of these two elements in greater amounts was sufficient to supercharge evolution.  Here are some examples from the press release, titled “Reason For Almost Two Billion Year Delay In Animal Evolution On Earth Discovered.”

  • Suspecting that deficiencies in oxygen and molybdenum might explain this evolutionary lag...
  • “These molybdenum depletions may have retarded the development of complex life such as animals for almost two billion years of Earth history,” Lyons said.  “The amount of molybdenum in the ocean probably played a major role in the development of early life.  As in the case of iron today, molybdenum can be thought of as a life-affirming micronutrient that regulates the biological cycling of nitrogen in the ocean.”
  • “These steps in oxygenation are what gave rise ultimately to the first animals almost 600 million years ago -- just the last tenth or so of Earth history.
  • For animal life to commence, survive and eventually expand on Earth, a threshold amount of oxygen -- estimated to be on the order of 1 to 10 percent of present atmospheric levels of oxygen -- was needed.
  • “By tracking molybdenum in shales rich in organic matter, we found the deep ocean remained oxygen- and molybdenum-deficient after the first step.  This condition may have had a negative impact on the evolution of early eukaryotes, our single-celled ancestors. [Clinton Scott, grad student]
  • “So one question is: Did this global glaciation [Snowball Earth] play a role in the increasing abundance of oxygen which, in turn, enabled the evolution of animals?” [Scott]
  • One gets the distinct impression that they believe evolution was poised like a chained racehorse, held back by a deficiency of two elements; otherwise, it surely would have exploded into complex forms much earlier.  Is this what the original paper in Nature claimed?1  Yes, but with a lot less fanfare and confidence:
  • The oxidation state of the Proterozoic ocean between these two steps and the timing of deep-ocean oxygenation have important implications for the evolutionary course of life on Earth but remain poorly known.
  • Subsequent expansion of sulphidic conditions after about 1,800 Myr ago maintained a mid-Proterozoic molybdenum reservoir below 20 per cent of the modern inventory, which in turn may have acted as a nutrient feedback limiting the spatiotemporal distribution of euxinic (sulphidic) bottom waters and perhaps the evolutionary and ecological expansion of eukaryotic organisms.
  • These results and our estimates for the size of the oceanic reservoir are consistent with the hypothesis that the drawdown of Mo into sulphidic environments may have worked to restrict the occurrence and the evolutionary path of eukaryotes through the bioinorganic bridge linking Mo to N bioavailability.
  • Our interpretation of Mo cycling in the Late Neoproterozoic suggests that modern redox and nutrient cycles were well established by 551 Myr, shortly after the initial oxidation of the deep ocean, and that the appearance of the first large animals followed not only the oxidation of the deep ocean but also the establishment of modern biogeochemical cycles.

  • 1.  Scott, Lyons et al, “Tracing the stepwise oxygenation of the Proterozoic ocean,” Nature 452, 456-459 (27 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06811.
    Well, what do you know? (always a good question for a scientist).  They just found another building block of lie (03/19/2008).  Better check and see if Enceladus received its molybdenum shipment yet (03/26/2008 commentary).
        You will understand science reporting about evolution these days when you memorize the Darwin Party M.O. (and that’s not the chemical symbol for molybdenum here, but modus operandi).  A review.
    • Step 1: Assume evolution.
    • Step 2: Observe a fact.
    • Step 3: Make up a story to show how the fact might fit in with the assumption of evolution.

    Tomorrow’s entry will describe another part of the process:
    • Step 4: Attack, ridicule, hate, persecute and destroy anyone who questions the Darwin Party orthodoxy.
    Next headline on:  Darwin and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas

    Scientist Harnesses ATP Synthase   03/27/2008    
    March 27, 2008 — How would you like shorter waits at airports?  fast screening for disease?  the ability to detect biological warfare agents quickly?  That may be possible soon – thanks to an amazing man-and-nature cooperative technology reported by Science Daily.  A team led by Wayne Frasch at Arizona State is on the verge of an invention that can do these things, because he was fascinated by the world’s tiniest molecular motor, ATP synthase, and found a way to harness it’s rotational energy.
        You can read all about it in the article.  What’s most interesting, though, is what the press release said about ATP synthase (also called F0-F1 ATPase, with two functional domains, F0 and F1), – and what it did not say about evolution:
    Even more incredible than the device itself, is that it is based on the world’s tiniest rotary motor: a biological engine measured on the order of molecules.
        Frasch works with the enzyme F1-adenosine triphosphatase, better known as F1-ATPase.  This enzyme, only 10 to 12 nanometers in diameter, has an axle that spins and produces torque.  This tiny wonder is part of a complex of proteins key to creating energy in all living things, including photosynthesis in plants.  F1-ATPase breaks down adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine diphospahte [sic] (ADP), releasing energy.  Previous studies of its structure and characteristics have been the source of two Nobel Prizes awarded in 1979 and 1997.
        It was through his own detailed study of the rotational mechanism of the F1-ATPase, which operates like a three-cylinder Mazda rotary motor, that Frasch conceived of a way to take this tiny biological powerhouse and couple it with science applications outside of the human body.
    The device is sure to find additional applications.  This article said nothing about how the “three-cylinder Mazda rotary motor” analogue, essential for energy control in all living things, might have evolved.
        ATP synthase has become a favorite molecular machine for the Intelligent Design movement as evidence of irreducibly complex structures.  For earlier articles here, see the first entry on the April 2002 page and follow the links, or enter "ATP Synthase" in the search bar.  See also the 04/20/2005 and 02/23/2005 entries.
    The line between natural technology and human technology is seamless.  Where does blind nature end and intelligent design begin?  How would an independent observer happening upon the nanostructure know where the natural ended and the artificial began?  If he were rightly to infer design for the nanoprobe and its blinking light, on what basis would he infer chance and mindless natural forces had built the Mazda-like rotary engine?  The design inference is appropriate in both cases.
        Was evolutionary theory helpful at all for this wondrous invention that may revolutionize biomedical testing and enhance national security?  The scientist was intrigued by a natural nanotech motor and found a way to use it for human good.  Would it have added anything to spin an imaginary story set in some mythical prehistory about how ATP synthase evolved?
        Come now.  Early scientists were motivated by the design and orderliness of nature that they viewed as the handiwork of an all-wise, omnipotent Creator.  Today’s story is a classic case of intelligent-design-guided science and technology, just like the old days.  Darwinism is a parasite on the process of discovering and advancing the knowledge that really matters to us.
    Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent DesignBiomimeticsAmazing Facts
    Enceladus: Hotter Chemical Plume Found   03/26/2008    
    March 26, 2008 — Initial results of Cassini’s March 12 flyby of Enceladus have been published.  You can watch a replay of today’s press briefing, read the blog, and read illustrated bulletins about the organic material, chemical signatures, hot spot locations, the stellar occultation (see also the Quicktime animation).  Another article shows the plume locations.  An astrobiologist (Chris McKay) added his speculations about life.  The encounter preview page contains links to more information, including the flyby details (PDF), and the video page contains an eye-grabbing animation of the flyby sequence as it was programmed with each instrument’s activities.  Here is the rundown on the major findings:
    1. The hot spots align predominantly right along the “tiger stripe” fractures at the south pole.
    2. The highest temperatures lie at certain points along the tiger stripes where plumes have been seen.
    3. Temperatures are hotter than earlier measurements: -135° F. (compared to a background temperature of less than -300° F.).  This indicates a great deal of energy is being transferred from the interior.
    4. Some transverse warm areas were detected, oriented perpendicular to the stripes.
    5. The material jets out at over 1000 mph and was strong enough to produce a measurable torque on Cassini, 120 miles away.
    6. Though most of the jets consist of ice grains 1/10,000 of an inch in diameter, simple organics were detected (methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde) and some complex organics (propane, propyne, acetylene).
    7. No ammonia was found.  Scientists had hoped that ammonia might depress the melting point of water and make the plumes easier to explain.
    8. The plumes appear to emerge from localized regions about half a tennis court in area, but extended along narrow strips within the tiger stripes.
    Though this brief press flurry did not mention it, Cassini also took a gorgeous mosaic of the north pole of Enceladus – including areas not previously imaged at high resolution.  The mosaic can be seen at the Imaging Team catalog page for March 13.
        Leader of the INMS (Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer) instrument Hunter Waite (Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio) was most surprised that the chemical brew emerging from the plumes resembles that of a comet.  Enceladus is obviously not a comet.  He described the cocktail as being “like carbonated water with an essence of natural gas.”
        At this time, no one speculated about the origin of the plumes or how they could be maintained for billions of years.  John Spencer of the CIRS team (Composite Infrared Spectrometer) did say that the temperatures could be hotter further down enough to allow for liquid water.
        Water – that was the magic word.  The astrobiologists kicked into gear.  “Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” said Dennis Matson, project scientist (cf. 03/19/2008).  “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”  These thoughts were also echoed on the NASA TV press briefing as if scripted.  Matson and astrobiologist Chris McKay in a related feature talked about the feasibility of exotic life and contrasted the “primordial soup theory” with the “deep sea vent theory.”  Either theory would work on Enceladus, they claimed.  The confidence that life is nearly inevitable contrasted starkly against an admitted background of ignorance and controversy: “We don’t know how long it takes for life to start when the ingredients are there and the environment is suitable, but it appears to have happened quickly on Earth,” the article said.  Then, with a bow to a Darwin metaphor, it continued, “So maybe it was possible that on Enceladus, life started in a ‘warm little pond’ below the icy surface occurring over the last few tens of millions of years.”  More observations will be needed, of course.
        And indeed, more observations are on the way.  A series of close encounters with Enceladus has been planned during Cassini’s extended mission, which begins (pending final approval) on July 1.  The next is in August.  The cameras, which were not the prime instruments for the recent flyby, will have a chance to take extreme high-resolution photos of the tiger stripes, and the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA), which failed to operate, will get one more optimal chance to collect geyser particles.  Seven more close flybys are planned through 2009.    The March 12 encounter dipped 30 miles from the surface at closest approach; some of the daring flybys to come will be even closer – fast, low, and maybe even more thrilling.  The little 300-mile-wide moon Enceladus seems to be a strong contender for Best Actor of the Saturn awards.
    Good grief, Enceladus has nothing to do with life.  This is the distracting emotional appeal like the scantily-clad woman beside the truck at the used car lot.  NASA throws in the distraction at every mention of the word water in a vain belief that it will garner public support for the space program.  As could be expected, right on cue, National Geographic News picked up on this theme as the major aspect of the story.  Dave Mosher at even said “seeds of life found near Saturn.”  Incredible.  All they found was poison gas like methane and acetylene, folks!  Go experiment with your barbecue.  Write us if anything crawls out except the spider that took up residence there over the winter.
        The scientists totally avoided the age issue today.  John Spencer has frankly admitted being completely baffled and embarrassed that the science community has no answer for where this little moon got its energy, or for how it could maintain it over billions of years.  Their plight has only gotten worse since the discovery of the plumes in 2005.  Recall that yesterday (03/25/2008, footnote to main entry) we highlighted a new paper in next month’s Icarus that struck down both tidal heating and radioactivity – the leading theoretical possibilities – as plausible sources of the heat.  That makes the scientists’ focus on exotic life even more distracting, as if the emperor, once exposed, quickly points to the sky and waxes eloquent about how the cloud shapes appear so very lifelike.  Let’s watch instead how his minions are going to robe their little embarrassment now that King Billions-of-Years has mooned the crowd.
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating MethodsPhysicsOrigin of Life
      Rather than help science make progress toward truth, scientific papers can actually perpetuate false ideas.  So said researchers from Columbia and Yale; see 03/17/2006.

    Peacocks Don’t Dress for Success   03/26/2008    
    March 26, 2008 — The male peacock’s fancy feather show: an icon of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, right?  Then why did Japanese scientists tell Discovery News that the females pay them little attention?
        The article claims that the male’s appearance fails to interest, much less excite, the females, who seem to pay more attention to his singing.  “The determination throws a wrench in the long-held belief that male peacock feathers evolved in response to female mate choice,” the article says.  “It could also indicate that certain other elaborate features in galliformes, a group that includes turkeys, chickens, grouse, quails and pheasants, as well as peacocks, are not necessarily linked to fitness and mating success.”
        What’s more, the scientists, who observed peacock mating displays for six years, could not find a correlation between the attractive males and their fitness.  Females were seen to run around males they preferred and get them to shiver their feathers.  These were not the ones with the most elaborate displays.  They speculated that maybe the fancy feathers are obsolete mating signals, and that vocalizations are now more important.
        They realize this is controversial and more testing will need to be done.  A UK scientist added that the feathering display, which is a function of hormone levels, is a poor indicator of fitness, both at the gene level and in the mature bird.
        How, then, can a scientist say female dinosaur’s were attracted to a male’s frill?  MSNBC News quoted Terry Gates at the University of Utah Museum saying this: “That whole section of the head was for sexual display, it was all ornamentation.  The females liked it.”  The article proclaimed the line: “Ladies lured by dinosaur’s giant horns.”  But if we cannot be sure living birds are attracted to one of the most elaborate and beautiful examples of sexual dimorphism, how could anyone understand what an extinct dinosaur found attractive?

    It’s impossible to get into the mind of a peahen or dinosaur and see what is affecting her choice of mate.  Still, this is a big blow to a major speculation that made Darwin famous.  Charlie has had orders of magnitude more fame than the usual fifteen minutes, and most of his ideas have been defrocked like a plucked turkey.  Can we move on?
    Next headline on:  BirdsEvolutionary TheoryDinosaurs
    Crater Dater Deflator: Impactors Can Be Recycled   03/25/2008    
    March 25, 2008 — They came from outer space – that was the old paradigm about impactors that made craters on planetary bodies.  Then, we learned how secondary craters can confuse a surface’s history (06/08/2006, 09/25/2007).  Now, two papers in Icarus show that moons can do a lateral pass.
        Alvarellos et al,1 showed that Jupiter’s moon Io can send high-speed impactors to Europa and beyond.  Material erupted or blasted off Io by a comet can drift in orbit for a median time of 56 years (quickest 179 days, average 146 years).  Then, it can either return to Io again, find a new target on Europa, or (to a lesser extent) hit the further-out moons.  Most of this occurs within just tens or hundreds of years.  Each impact, in turn, can generate secondary craters, reported Zahnle et al.2  Presumably, some sufficiently accelerated material could escape Jupiter or Saturn altogether and hit the inner planets.
        Apparently few scientists had seriously considered this source of crater creators.  Some wrote about it but considered the amount of mass transfer to be trivial.  “However,” said Alvarellos et al., “our work has shown that far from being uninteresting, a non-negligible amount of matter can be transferred between these moons in the form of impact ejecta,”  The Zahnle et al paper agreed: “the model predicts that a significant fraction of the 200-500 m diameter craters on Europa are not traditional secondary craters but are instead sesquinary craters3 caused by impact ejecta from Io that had gone into orbit about Jupiter.”  The amount of mass delivered appears to exceed the micrometeoroid flux.
    1.  Alvarellos et al, “Transfer of mass from Io to Europa and beyond due to cometary impacts,” Icarus, Volume 194, Issue 2, April 2008, pages 636-646, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.09.025.
    2.  Zahnle et al, “Secondary and sesquinary craters on Europa,” Icarus, Volume 194, Issue 2, April 2008, pages 660-674, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.10.024.
    3.  They defined the term, quote: “Sesquinary” stems from the Latin root “sesqui-” meaning one-and-a-half; its most familiar use in English is in “sesquicentennial.”  We use sesquinary to describe craters by impact ejecta that went into orbit about the central planet.... Sesquinary craters have a character intermediate between primary craters and conventional secondary craters. [end quote]
    Since this new special-delivery mechanism can, in principle, apply to Uranus, Mars and other bodies, the crater-count dating conundrum just got worse.  How many of the thousands of craters on pockmarked moons resulted from “planetocentric” material within the system?  If ejected material can be recycled, what is the potential crater count from one sufficiently large impact?  How long would it take for an average moon to become saturated with craters?  They may look old, but crater-covered moons might have gotten their scarred faces in far less time than previously imagined.
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating MethodsPhysics
    March Moon Madness   03/25/2008    
    March 25, 2008 — Moons of our planetary system are supposed to behave themselves.  They were expected to just quietly orbit their host planets like nice, cold, frozen, inactive chunks of rock and ice.  It seems like whenever we get a close look at them, they are madly at work destroying theories – just like their planets have been wont to do.
    1. Io, Io, It’s Off to Work I Go:  “The results are surprising because no theory predicted upstream spots.”  Belgian researcher Bertrand Bonford was commenting on a press release from American Geophysical Union (AGU) about the volcanic moon Io, and how its eruptions create auroral spots on Jupiter.  “The finding of the leading spot puts all the previous models of the Io footprint into question,” the article said.
    2. Tethys Ocean:  The “surprisingly ordinary” moon Tethys at Saturn may have, or may have had, an underground ocean, according to National Geographic News.  The energy required to create the monstrous rift called Ithaca Chasma must have melted the ice below.  Where did the heat come from?  Since Tethys is largely ice, there would not have been radioactive elements sufficient to produce internal heat.  This leaves tidal flexing to create the rift – but only if there was liquid underneath.
          The thought of water quickly led to thoughts of life.  A Cassini scientist told NGN, “This makes the exploration of icy satellites and their interiors even more important to understanding possible habitats for life in our solar system” and for how common life is in the universe.
    3. Do you want your Mars with salt?  Sodium chloride – good old table salt – may be common on Mars, said the BBC News and EurekAlert.  Because the salt may have become deposited in channels and lakes, some scientists immediately visualized the salt as a preservative for life.  Salt is a double-edged sword, however: “Water is the first sign that an environment might have been habitable, but waters that precipitate table salt on Mars would have been much saltier than any waters known to support microbial populations on Earth,” said Andrew Knoll of Harvard.  Salt is also a poison to organic soup (09/17/2002).
    4. Titan clash:  Titan isn’t rotating like scientists expected.  When they went to focus on a spot identified from a previous orbit, it was 19 miles off.  The only way they can explain it is by modeling an ocean under the ice, according to a paper in Science.1  If the crust is decoupled from the interior by floating on an ocean, it also means that Titan’s zonal winds can alter the rotation of the whole moon.  See explanation by The Planetary Society and press release from JPL.
          The ocean-and-wind hypothesis is only a partial answer.  Christophe Sotin and Gabriel Tobie, writing in the same issue of Science,2 said, “However, the observations and model predictions do not correlate very well.”  Some are proposing a periodic wobble in the spin, or a large impact that might have sped up the rotation.  No impact basin large enough to record such an event has been found.  “There’s a fundamental difficulty with Titan global circulation models right now -- all of them,” said lead author Ralph Lorenz, “--which is that they predict that the predominant winds at low latitudes near the surface would be easterly, from east to west.  Yet all the sand dunes point in exactly the opposite direction.  There’s something we do not understand about Titan’s circulation.”
    Back on earth, scientists are also scrambling to explain the origin of the home planet.  Science Daily, PhysOrg and National Geographic News all reported that a “new study is challenging the long-standing notion that the whole solar system formed from the same raw materials.”  Isotopes in meteorites don’t match those on earth.  To get around this problem, scientists are having to imagine that materials in the solar disk that supposedly gave birth to the planets got sorted somehow.
        In addition, a news item in Nature News about the Genesis solar-wind collection experiment “raises more questions.”  The finding that “the Sun is relatively richer than Earth in oxygen-16, the most common oxygen isotope, contradicts the conventional wisdom that Earth has the same oxygen isotope composition as the Sun” the article said. “Everybody would have bet that the Sun had the same composition as Earth and the meteorites,” a French cosmochemist remarked.  “In fact, Earth is not like the Sun.”  Scientists are scrambling to model what process might have “sucked out oxygen-16 while the gas of the proto-Solar System condensed into solid grains that coalesced into the planets.”  If so, the article said, it would have had to happen early on.
    Footnote:  We’re still waiting for word about the Enceladus flyby results from March 12.  Expect more surprises.  Whatever is found will have to comport with findings of Roberts and Nimmo in the April Icarus.3  Their calculations show that neither radioactive decay or tidal forcing are adequate to maintain a liquid ocean under the crust for more than 30 million years (6% of the assumed age).  Heat is removed from the surface faster than it can be generated in the core, and tidal heating is far too low at the present orbit.  The only way they could rescue a long-lived ocean was to propose an ad-hoc scenario: perhaps the obliquity of Enceladus is pumped up from time to time.  “A transient ocean could exist beneath the ice shell today as a remnant of an earlier epoch of higher heating,” they said.  Such a phenomenon is beyond observation.
    1.  Lorenz et al, “Titan’s Rotation Reveals an Internal Ocean and Changing Zonal Winds,” Science, 21 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5870, pp. 1649-1651, DOI: 10.1126/science.1151639.
    2.  Sotin and Tobie, “Titan's Hidden Ocean,” Science, 21 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5870, pp. 1629-1630, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155964.
    3.  James H. Roberts and Francis Nimmo, “Tidal heating and the long-term stability of a subsurface ocean on Enceladus,” Icarus, Volume 194, Issue 2, April 2008, Pages 675-689, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.11.010.
    Science marches on – sometimes in disciplined ranks, sometimes in scatter formation.  The latter occurs when observation bombs drop in on theory playgrounds.
        Remember, the consensus theories that have been blown away by new discoveries were textbook orthodoxy a few years ago.  Only a devout logical positivist would think this could not happen to today’s accepted ideas.  Just wait.
        Evidence does not exist in isolation.  To make sense, it must be incorporated into one’s web of belief by a number of auxiliary hypotheses and assumptions.  Planetary scientists interpret what Ithaca Chasma, Titan’s rotation and Earth’s oxygen-16 ratios mean through the filter of assumptions and auxiliary hypotheses that are rarely considered or questioned independently.
        One of their most sacred assumptions is the A.S.S. (age of the solar system).  The accepted value of 4.5 billion years is written in their genes.  All evidence is viewed within this major structural component of their web of belief.  The web itself stretches and distorts as new evidence bombards it, but it would take a mighty big impact to break it.
        Too much is at stake for secular planetologists, bent on finding life and evolution at every water hole, to allow that to happen.  Like predatory spiders, they snag the evidence, wrap it in theories spun out of their own selves, and suck the juice out of it to feed themselves and their young.  The dried up hulk that once contained structure, organs and connective tissue is discarded to blow away in the wind.
        If you love and respect science, make like a bee instead.  Get busy and gather nature’s nectar far and wide.  Digest it carefully.  Transform it into something sweet to benefit others – something that will nourish the heart and bring delight to the eyes.  (Thanks to Francis Bacon for the metaphor.)
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating MethodsGeology
      Charity begins at Homo sapiens?  Our 03/16/2005 entry exposes Darwinists evolutionizing charity and religion, and the previous day (03/15/2005), evolutionizing the law.  Notice J. Gresham Machen’s sober warning in the commentary about the deadly fallout of bad ideas.

    Tuatara Genes Are Running in Place   03/24/2008    
    March 24, 2008 — One would expect a living fossil to show extreme stasis at the genetic level.  Not so for the tuatara, a New Zealand reptile, reported EurekAlert: researchers found that “although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving – at a DNA level – faster than any other animal yet examined.”
        The tuatara is said to be the lone survivor of a class of beak-headed reptiles that co-existed with the dinosaurs 200 million years ago (see Live Science for picture).  The rate of molecular evolution of this lizard-like animal, the researchers said, is much faster than that of cave bears, lions, oxen and horses, which supposedly evolved from primitive mammals in far less time.
        Based on this study, the authors are claiming that molecular evolution and morphological evolution have nothing to do with each other: “Many scientists have thought that molecular evolution would be fastest in animals whose physical form, or morphology, also evolved swiftly,” the article says.  “The tuatara finding suggests otherwise, that there is no relationship between the two rates.”  But if evolution does not cause fitness changes at the genetic level that translate into body changes, where did elephants and giraffes come from?
        See also the discussion of this paper by David Tyler on Access Research Network, and the 03/31/2002 entry about tuatara resilience to climate change.

    Molecular changes is not evolution in the sense of creating new organs and functions.  That is clear from the fact that the tuatara is unchanged from its fossil counterparts.  The tuatara was already a complete embarrassment for the Darwinists – as are all living fossils.  This counter-intuitive result should make them consider the possibility that something is completely wrong with their assumptions.  The first one that should go on the chopping block is the assumption of millions of years.
    Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyGeneticsEvolutionary Theory
    Psychology Without Darwin   03/21/2008    
    March 21, 2008 — Can psychology kick the Darwin habit?  For years it has been conventional to express all human actions in Darwinian terms.  We struggle with city life, for instance, because we evolved to hunt prey in the savannah – not the Georgia kind, but the African plains where we first climbed down from the trees to walk upright.  War, altruism, music, language, culture, and many other human behavioral traits both good and bad (including murder and rape) have been explained as adaptations due to group selection, individual selection, or both.  Two papers this week, however, break this trend.  One struggles to find an evolutionary explanation and fails.  The other has no need of the Darwin hypothesis.
    1. Punishing Darwin with faint praise:  “Winners don’t punish” is the title of an unusual paper in Nature.1  An interdisciplinary team from Harvard and Stockholm School of Economics, composed of specialists in evolutionary dynamics, economics, mathematics and systems biology studied the phenomenon of “costly punishment,” looking for its evolutionary origin.  Costly punishment means “paying a costly punishment to incur a cost” – e.g., revenge.  How is this human behavior to be explained?
          The team could not find adequate explanations in group selection or individual selection.  It seems maladaptive in all cases.  Kin selection, direct and indirect reciprocity, and all the other Darwinian buzz-phrases seemed inadequate.  They ran game experiments giving subjects opportunities to cooperate, defect, or impose punishment on others (something like Survivor?).  The control group was denied the option of costly punishment.  What happened?
      Here we show that the option of costly punishment increases the amount of cooperation but not the average payoff of the group.  Furthermore, there is a strong negative correlation between total payoff and use of costly punishment.  Those people who gain the highest total payoff tend not to use costly punishment: winners don’t punish.  This suggests that costly punishment behaviour is maladaptive in cooperation games and might have evolved for other reasons.
      That last line shows they left the door open for some unknown evolutionary explanation, but they could only suggest options.  Maybe it gives a way for an individual to enforce submission or rise to dominance.  Even so, their conclusion sounded distinctly un-Darwinian:
      People engage in conflicts and know that conflicts can carry costs.  Costly punishment serves to escalate conflicts, not to moderate them.  Costly punishment might force people to submit, but not to cooperate.  It could be that costly punishment is beneficial in these other games, but the use of costly punishment in games of cooperation seems to be maladaptive.  We have shown that in the framework of direct reciprocity, winners do not use costly punishment, whereas losers punish and perish.
      In the same issue of Nature,2 two German reviewers almost seemed forlorn that no evolutionary explanation was found.  Milinski and Rockenbach said, “The tendency of humans to punish perceived free-loaders, even at a cost to themselves, is an evolutionary puzzle: punishers perish, and those who benefit the most are those who have never punished at all.”  Costly punishment can enforce cooperation, they said, but “it can’t have evolved for inducing cooperation.”  The reason?  Punishment is “fundamentally counterproductive, because it pays off neither for the punisher nor for the group.”  It is intuitively obvious that natural selection would not retain a counterproductive or maladaptive trait.
          Ethical questions aside about their methodology and conclusions, the significant aspect of this paper is that they could not find a Darwinian explanation for the trait.  The team and the reviewers – six evolutionary specialists – had to leave this conundrum unanswered: “costly punishment remains one of the most thorny puzzles in human social dilemmas.  Dreber and colleagues’ results make it plain that we are still a long way from understanding the dark side of human sociality.”

    2. Give, and you shall receive:  The next day, a paper in Science did not even attempt to find Darwin in the data.3  Three researchers from University of British Columbia and Harvard reported, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness.”  (We need scientific papers to explain the obvious sometimes.)  They did experiments cross-sectionally and longitudinally on subjects.  They even checked anonymous giving: “participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.”
          They didn’t exactly quote Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but they did rhetorically pose Mom and Dad’s truism, “Money can’t buy happiness” as a question expecting a negative answer:
      Can money buy happiness?  A large body of cross-sectional survey research has demonstrated that income has a reliable, but surprisingly weak, effect on happiness within nations, particularly once basic needs are met.  Indeed, although real incomes have surged dramatically in recent decades, happiness levels have remained largely flat within developed countries across time.  One of the most intriguing explanations for this counterintuitive finding is that people often pour their increased wealth into pursuits that provide little in the way of lasting happiness, such as purchasing costly consumer goods.  An emerging challenge, then, is to identify whether and how disposable income might be used to increase happiness.
          Ironically, the potential for money to increase happiness may be subverted by the kinds of choices that thinking about money promotes; the mere thought of having money makes people less likely to help acquaintances, to donate to charity, or to choose to spend time with others, precisely the kinds of behaviors that are strongly associated with happiness.  At the same time, although thinking about money may drive people away from prosocial behavior, money can also provide a powerful vehicle for accomplishing such prosocial goals.  We suggest that using money in this fashion—investing income in others rather than oneself—may have measurable benefits for one’s own happiness.
      Again, it’s not that they quoted the Bible, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” but that this paper lacked any reference to evolutionary theory.
          Incidentally, how does a scientist devise a happy-meter?  They didn’t.  They asked the survey respondents to rate their happiness under various situations, such as after receiving a windfall profit-sharing bonus, and they categorized and did mathematical analysis on the results.
          They found it alarming that so few invest money in prosocial spending when happiness seems clearly to be an outcome.  By the end of the paper, their advice sounded almost moral:
      Given that people appear to overlook the benefits of prosocial spending, policy interventions that promote prosocial spending—encouraging people to invest income in others rather than in themselves—may be worthwhile in the service of translating increased national wealth into increased national happiness.
      The paper was summarized in a Science Now article.  Elsa Youngstedt remarked about the counter-intuitive result that shows giving the lottery might be more fun than getting it.  “Overturning classic economic wisdom,” she said, “new research shows that it’s not how much you have that matters, it’s how you spend it.  People who donate their dollars to charities or splurge on gifts for others are more content than those who squander all the dough on themselves.”  Her write-up also said nothing about evolution, nor did the report by Brendan Borrell on Nature News.

    1.  Dreber, Rand, Fudenberg, and Nowak, “Winners don’t punish,” Nature 452, 348-351 (20 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06723.
    2.  Manfred Milinski and Bettina Rockenbach, “Human behaviour: Punisher pays,” Nature 452, 297-298 (20 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/452297a.
    3.  Dunn, Aknin and Norton, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,” Science, 21 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5870, pp. 1687-1688, DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952.
    Evolutionary theory is without form and void, but lacking an intelligent spirit to hover over its dark waters, it will never emerge into a garden of scientific understanding.  When they try to find Darwin’s tree in their mindless void, they fail; when they don’t, they do just as well and, like the proverbial broken clock, are occasionally right.  Being right by chance is no reason to follow their advice.
        We don’t need Science to tell us how to behave.  We don’t need their mythical edens in the savannah to explain our dark side.  Their explanations leave puzzles, conundrums, and emptiness.  While policies that promote prosocial spending (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations) make sense, who believes for a minute that a government or oligarchy of scientists will change people’s hearts?
        Science encroaches here on foreign territory.  There is an institution with a much better track record on helping people avoid costly punishment and enjoy the happiness of giving: a church that teaches the operating manual of the Manufacturer without adding or taking away from it.  Why does the USA have the best success rate in the pursuit of happiness?  Because its founders believed that humans were not just evolved animals.  They held them as truths that people are endowed by their Creator with life and liberty and self-determination.  In light of the two papers above, it seems obvious now.  You might almost say it is self-evident.
    Next headline on:  Human BodyPolitics and EthicsEvolutionary TheoryBible and Theology
    Evolution Rules   03/20/2008    
    March 20, 2008 — It would be convenient if all a scientist had to do to prove his theory was declare it to be a law of nature.  Is that what scientists from UC Berkeley and Imperial College have done with evolution?  “First ‘rule’ of evolution suggests that life is destined to become more complex,” announced a press release on EurekAlert and PhysOrg.  What’s going on?
        The statement is based on a paper in PNAS about the fossil record of crustaceans.1  Notice the first sentence of the abstract:
    The prospect of finding macroevolutionary trends and rules in the history of life is tremendously appealing, but very few pervasive trends have been found.  Here, we demonstrate a parallel increase in the morphological complexity of most of the deep lineages within a major clade.  We focus on the Crustacea, measuring the morphological differentiation of limbs.  First, we show a clear trend of increasing complexity among 66 free-living, ordinal-level taxa from the Phanerozoic fossil record.  We next demonstrate that this trend is pervasive, occurring in 10 or 11 of 12 matched-pair comparisons (across five morphological diversity indices) between extinct Paleozoic and related Recent taxa.  This clearly differentiates the pattern from the effects of lineage sorting.  Furthermore, newly appearing taxa tend to have had more types of limbs and a higher degree of limb differentiation than the contemporaneous average, whereas those going extinct showed higher-than-average limb redundancy.  Patterns of contemporary species diversity partially reflect the paleontological trend.  These results provide a rare demonstration of a large-scale and probably driven trend occurring across multiple independent lineages and influencing both the form and number of species through deep time and in the present day.
    This sounds much more restrained than the press release title.  For one thing, they admitted that few macroevolutionary trends have been found.  Then they studied a very limited aspect of one group: limb differentiation in crustaceans, and among crustaceans, only 66 fossil representatives.  Furthermore, their definition of complexity is limited to limb number and diversification, as measured by half a dozen parameters.  Once segmented limbs have appeared on earth, it is arguably less an evolutionary problem to multiply and specialize them than to originate them from scratch.
        The paper opened, surprisingly, with the authors questioning the status of evolution as a scientific theory:
    Most of the natural sciences operate by documenting patterns and trends and thereby formulating general rules.  Evolution, however, is an essentially contingent process, meaning that evolutionary trajectories can rarely be predicted.  Proposed evolutionary trends, such as Cope’s rule for evolutionary size increase within lineages, have generally turned out to be only weakly predictive, either resulting from passive diffusion away from some barrier or applying only at local temporal and taxonomic scales.  Here, we demonstrate a remarkable and pervasive trend for increasing morphological complexity in multiple parallel lineages of the Crustacea [the major arthropod group with the longest and most disparate fossil record throughout the Phanerozoic.]
    Their new rule of evolution, therefore, stands alone on a heap of discarded attempts to find an evolutionary law of nature, after a century of trying.  Hopefully this paper will give more than it just took away.
        They attempted to discern trends in limb complexity over time.  Since the dating of the geological column is inextricably tied to evolutionary theory, however, this could be criticized as a circular approach.  Also, the data points on their graphs were widely scattered.  A critic might argue that the straight lines they weaved through the dots are underdetermined by the data, or else influenced by the criteria of diversity they chose to focus on.  Extrapolating a trend from one clade into a rule for all of life seems optimistic, to say the least.
        Even granting all their assumptions (age, criteria of diversity, trend line analysis) it appears the claim of finding a new “rule” for evolution goes far beyond the data – especially in light of the predictive failure of past attempts like Cope’s Rule.  Additionally, neither Cope’s Rule nor their “First Rule of Evolution” describe a mechanism for change.  Both are mere passive descriptions of what evolution does – not why or how it does it.
        Reality, however, did not inhibit the media from spinning this as a great victory for evolution.  This was exacerbated by the fact that the researchers lowered their inhibitions when talking to the press.  For instance, Matthew Wills asserted, “If you start with the simplest possible animal body, then there’s only one direction to evolve in – you have to become more complex.”  He said after a point, animals could evolve back to simplicity, but they usually don’t.  “This is the nearest thing to a pervasive evolutionary rule that’s been found.”
        Reporters took that to mean, “researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.”  Doesn’t this portray “evolution” as some kind of mystical force that pushes animals upward to higher levels of complexity?  Wills explained, “it seems that competition may be the driving force behind the trend.”  Competition alone, however, often leaves one winner by himself and everyone else eliminated from the ring.  From whence does the complexity arise?  They didn’t say.
        It was hard to find a place where the assumption of evolution stopped and the demonstration of evolution began.  “Our study uses information about the inter-relatedness of different animal groups – the ‘Tree of Life’ – to demonstrate that complexity has evolved numerous times independently.”  Isn’t that what evolutionary theory is supposed to prove instead of assume?  Again, “All organisms have a common ancestor, so that every living species is part of a giant family tree of life.”  This was stated not as a discovery from their research, but a starting assumption.  They did not claim to discover an evolutionary trend; they claimed that the evolutionary trend that must exist (because of the assumption of common ancestry) was parallel, not haphazard.  The press was even treated to an analogy: “What’s new about our results is that they show us how this increase in complexity has occurred,” Mills said; “Strikingly, it looks far more like a disciplined march than a milling crowd.”
        Marching bands are purposeful, intelligently-designed organizations, so the analogy breaks down.  Band members practice and follow printed scores for the music.  They follow predetermined diagrams while performing their formations.  They have a driving force: intelligence, emotions, and will power.  The wish to be applauded by the crowd and to generate enthusiasm for their team drives them to watch and think and discipline their actions to form parallel rows and columns.  In scrutinizing the original paper, no such driving force can be found.  If there was any analogous driving force that could have pushed non-rational creatures like barnacles and shrimp to invent new complex structures, the authors did not mention one.  (Note: natural selection is not a force, nor is random mutation.)
        The press release ended with Wills unraveling all the optimistic claims he had just made:
    Our results apply to a group of animals with bodies made of repeated units.  We must not forget that bacteria – very simple organisms – are among the most successful living things.  Therefore, the trend towards complexity is compelling but does not describe the history of all life.
    Yet if the most numerous, successful, widespread and longest-surviving inhabitants of the biosphere did not obey the “first rule of evolution,” is there a rule at all?  Can there be a rule without a ruler – or subjects?
    1.  Adamowicz, Purvis, and Wills, “Increasing morphological complexity in multiple parallel lineages of the Crustacea,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online on March 17, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0709378105
    Do you understand how evolutionary dogma perpetuates itself?  Here is the formula: assume evolution, assume the evolutionary timeline, juggle a few data points to look like a scientist, then announce that evolution is a law of nature.  This whole charade is humbug.
        Look at this cheap magic trick buried in the paper: “Unfortunately, the fossil record is rarely complete enough to identify ancestors with any confidence.  However, our phylogenetically independent comparisons of early fossils with their closest extant relatives are useful proxies.”  Hold your horses!  Useful to whom?  Are you telling us you can only get to the evolutionary conclusions you want by assuming evolution (phylogenetic comparisons) in the absence of fossil evidence?  Try that trick in a courtroom.  “Your honor, we don’t have any blood or fingerprints or weapons, but since we know the defendant is guilty, we have put together a timeline based on that knowledge showing how he committed the crime.”  Where is the defense attorney screaming “Objection!”  Why is the judge silent?  You know why – he is in on the scam.
        Here’s another glaring flaw the scientists (we shudder to use the term) waltzed right by, hoping nobody would notice: they started after the Cambrian.  Do you remember that a modern-looking crustacean was found fully-formed in Cambrian strata last fall? (10/04/2007; see also 07/20/2001)  Suppose we took a pair of living dogs from different breeds, bred several generations, and cataloged a variety of dog descendants possessing different patterns, hair styles, leg lengths, and dispositions.  Then suppose we triumphantly announced we had discovered a new law of nature – The First Rule of Dog Evolution – “Dogs evolve from simple to complex.”  The little boy in the audience with the quizzical look is the hero again: “Where did the first dogs come from?”
        How convenient for all the jointed appendages, complex eyes and organs, segments, Hox genes and molecular machinery to be already present before they began their analysis.  If they got a slap for every time they assumed evolution instead of proving it, it would be a “useful proxy” for the blushing they should have been doing.  Maybe it would generate some tears, too, for sins like this: “Perhaps greater intraindividual limb diversity could contribute to the further ‘evolvability’ or ‘versatility’ of a lineage, allowing new and different functions to arise more readily and promoting niche diversification.”  What?  This is circularity wrapped in circumlocution.  They just said, in plain English, “Maybe evolution evolves into more evolvability.”  Good grief.  After a few more paragraphs of hand-waving, these three “scientists” vanished in a smokescreen of maybes, vaporware and futureware.  Halt in the name of the law!  This is supposed to be a science paper, not a magic show.
        The charlatans pulled a complete snow job on the reporters.  In their original paper (which nobody reads) they included all the disclaimers, caveats, limitations, and obligatory scientific restraint, hidden in incomprehensible and irrelevant jargon and decorated with a few distracting equations and conjured-up visuals, tables and graphs that (for whatever they are worth) do nothing to establish their main claim.  Afterwards, they ran to the gullible press with its gutless reporters (all of them incapable of asking a logical question) and spouted their vainglorious glittering generalities, extrapolating their highly restricted data domain to the whole history of biological life – except when they deflated the whole circus tent at the end.  They got away with it.  Bold print, up front (which everybody reads): “First ‘rule’ of evolution suggests that life is destined to become more complex.  Scientists have revealed what may well be the first pervasive ‘rule’ of evolution.  In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.
        They don’t have to get away with it.  We just exposed them – right here.
        Today is the first day of spring.  The time is long overdue to melt the snow jobs in this land where it is always winter and never Christmas.  Do your part to bring in a rebirth and flowering of responsible science.
    Next headline on:  Evolutionary TheoryMarine BiologyTerrestrial ZoologyFossilsDumb Ideas
      Animals are “overengineered” for navigation, from 03/23/3004.

    Adulterers: Evolution Made Us That Way   03/19/2008    
    March 19, 2008 — Two articles that appeared the same day on Live Science are a study in contrasts.  One was titled, “Surviving Infidelity: What Wives Do When Men Cheat.”  The other was titled, “Are Humans Meant to Be Monogamous?”  The thread that tied them together was evolution.
        The first article admitted the distress, shame, and sense of betrayal wives feel when their husbands cheat, and the sense of anger and dishonor husbands feel at a wife’s unfaithfulness.  “Many spouses never fully recover from their feelings of betrayal and anger, even if they stay together,” one marriage counselor said.  Women and men differ in their general reactions, but “Typical reactions from both sexes include becoming enraged, sad, humiliated, and depressed.”  The article could not offer any explanation or counsel more than stoic methods of coping, because it suggested that evolution made people this way. 

    These differences may have deep evolutionary roots.  “From a man’s perspective, sexual infidelity historically jeopardized his paternity certainty -- ‘mama’s baby, papa’s maybe,’”  Buss said [David Buss is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.]  “Male sexual jealousy is, among other things, an adaptation designed to solve the problem of genetic cuckoldry.
    He means designed by evolution, in the context of his statement.  Nowhere did the article suggest a non-evolutionary explanation for this problem of unfaithfulness – nor did it explain why if evolution caused it, why it did not select away the pain.
        The second article went further.  It openly proposed the idea that humans shouldn’t get hung up about marital fidelity (monogamy) because other animals are promiscuous, even happily so (see their sidelight, “Animal Sex: No Stinking Rules”).  The article claims that “Only 3 percent to 5 percent of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals (including humans) are known to form lifelong, monogamous bonds, with the loyal superstars including beavers, wolves and some bats.”  The implication is that faithful spouses should go with the flow, or at least get rid of their hangups about promiscuity.
        So what is the answer to their question?  Are humans “meant” to be monogamous?  Don’t look for any universal moral compass here.  Faithfulness, if it is worth anything, is also just an evolutionary strategy:
    Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that men are more likely to have extramarital sex, partially due to the male urge to “spread genes” by broadcasting sperm.  Both males and females, these scientists say, try to up their evolutionary progress by seeking out high-quality mates, albeit in different ways.
        The committed partnership between a man and a woman evolved, some say, for the well-being of children.
        “The human species has evolved to make commitments between males and females in regards to raising their offspring, so this is a bond,” said Jane Lancaster, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of New Mexico.  “However that bond can fit into all kinds of marriage patterns – polygyny, single parenthood, monogamy.”
    Whatever works.  The article ended by claiming that monogamy is an unnatural thing – it is a societal, not biological, norm: “I don’t think we are a monogamous animal,” said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.... She added, ”Monogamy is invented for order and investment – but not necessarily because it’s ‘natural.’”  This entry was part of an ongoing series on Live Science called, “Life’s Little Mysteries.”
        According to the view propounded by these two articles, human adults are locked into a living hell: controlled by primitive urges from some unseen animal past that are destined to cause heartbreak, anger, pain, sadness, grief, distrust, indignation, humiliation and even rage.
    You don’t counsel someone who has an evolutionary adaptation.  You counsel those whose sense of moral rectitude, integrity, faithfulness, honesty, and trust has been violated.  Live Science cannot have it both ways.
        We have already seen what happened when the Darwinists rationalized genocide (11/30/2005, 02/17/2008).  Just wait till you see what kind of world we inherit now that they have rationalized infidelity.  Can you imagine that some day they might even justify rape or murder?
        My, my, you poor fool.  Where have you been? (07/18/2003, 02/03/2008). 
    Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsEvolution
    Simple Molecules: The Building Blocks of Lie   03/19/2008    
    March 19, 2008 — At a physical level, everything in the universe is made of atoms and molecules.  Life, being a subset of everything in the universe, is composed of a subset of all molecules that exist.  It could be said that any atom or molecule present in a living thing is a building block of life, but how informative is that?  Carbon, for instance, is essential to life, but is also a building block of cyanide, tailpipe soot, graphite, diamond and a host of deadly poisons.
        It’s not just the presence of the simplest parts that conveys information about the whole – it’s the way that the building blocks are assembled into the complex structure.  A child’s alphabet building blocks, for instance, form gibberish when assembled by an infant who cannot read.  Life has been compared, by contrast, to an encyclopedia of highly specific information.  This information then directs a symphony of coordinated, dynamic processes using molecular machines.
        Evolutionists are fond of pointing to carbon, water and other atoms and simple molecules as “building blocks of life.”  Embedded in the phrase is a subtext of progress.  If the building blocks are present, the statement suggests that they will “build” or assemble into life, given the right circumstances.  No one would say, though, that since silicon is a building block of computers, finding silicon on extrasolar planets is a sure bet computers will eventually be found.  In a similar vein, life uses a subset of “organic compounds” (carbon-based chemicals), but sometimes the word organic is used in an equivocal way to suggest the presence of life, even though many organic compounds (cyanide, gasoline, and carbon tetrachloride, for example) are poisonous or useless to biology.
        At what point does the use of “prebiotic compounds” or “organic soup” or “building blocks of life” invoke the power of suggestion to support an evolutionary, naturalistic view of life’s origin?  Look at these recent examples to see if the inference to life is warranted by the observations.
    1. Oxygen:  The oxygen atom, though necessary for most living things, can also be a deadly poison – that’s why we take antioxidants.  In the cell, it is handled very delicately by complex enzymes that combine it with byproducts of respiration to form water and carbon dioxide, which can be safely removed.  Oxygen’s mere presence, however, suggested to EurekAlert that life was ready to explode in a plethora of wondrous complexity.  The title reads, “2 oxygenation events in ancient oceans sparked spread of complex life.”  Would the same thing be said of silicon sparking the spread of computers?
    2. Carbon:  Carbon is essential to most living molecules.  It is basic to fats, sugars, proteins and nucleic acids.  Raw carbon, or simple hydrocarbons, however, are useless to life unless incorporated by enzymes into structural molecules according to coded instructions.
          Why, then, are the news media all using the L-word Life in their reports about the discovery of methane around a nearby star?  Methane is the simplest “organic” (carbon-based) molecule: one carbon joined to four hydrogens.  Because of its fourfold valence, carbon easily joins with other atoms – especially the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen.  Methane is abundant on Titan, the gas giants, some comets and probably Mars, though not associated with life there.  Humans use methane for their cooking but not for their biology; it is emitted as a waste product by the bacteria in cow stomachs and by the decay of biomass, but is not a nutrient for life.
          Nevertheless, most reports from a paper in Nature1 emphasized the L-word when methane was detected around a star, even though the authors said nothing about life.  “Under certain circumstances, methane can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry – the chemical reactions considered necessary to form life,” said the BBC News.  Ditto for Science Daily.  A NASA scientist called this “a dress rehearsal for future searches for life on more hospitable planets,” according to Space.comNational Geographic was slightly more tentative, but ended with a focus on methane’s potential as a biomarker for life on other planets.
    3. Amino acids:  Proteins are composed of long chains of one-handed amino acids.  These carbon-based molecules have two simple parts, an amino group and a carboxyl group, and a side chain (R-group) that can be as simple as one hydrogen (glycine) or much more complex with cyclic domains and other things.  Of the almost endless varieties of possible amino acids, life as we know it is restricted primarily to 20 kinds.  It is not just the amino acids alone that make them “lively” but their specific combinations into long chains, held together by peptide bonds.
          Finding a few amino acids, however, got EurekAlert all excited with two pronouncements on the same day: Meteorites are rich in the building blocks of life and Meteorites a rich source for primordial soup.  Both articles insinuated that a steady rain of amino acids on the primitive earth would have been sufficient to kickstart life in the ocean – even though amino acids avoid joining into polypeptides in the presence of water.  Notice the confidence mixed with suggestion in a statement by a scientist from Imperial College, London: “We know that approximately 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago the Earth underwent heavy bombardment from meteorites which brought molecules to our planet, just before life emerged on Earth.”
    4. Water:  It goes without saying that water is another simple molecule often associated with the L-word.  A press release from Jet Propulsion Lab referred to life twice in the story about dust disks around stars (see the other 03/19/2008 entry today).  The article said that the discovery of water vapor molecules in the disk “may help shed light on the origins of our own solar system and the potential for life to develop in others.”  They also quoted Carr using the “building blocks” angle, “Now that we can identify these molecules and inventory them, we will have a better understanding of the origins and evolution of the basic building blocks of life--where they come from and how they evolve.” 
    Countless press releases rush to include the L-word whenever a discovery is made of “building blocks of life” in space.  Presumably, the claim could be made about hydrogen.  Humans have plenty of hydrogen atoms bound to carbon and oxygen.  By extension, then, the whole universe is a building block of life.
    1.  Swain, Vashist and Tinneti, “The presence of methane in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet,” Nature, 452, 329-331 (20 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06823.
    Your imagination is being taken for a ride when you fall for the “building blocks” line.  Assumptions, unwarranted inferences and misdirection: these are the building blocks of lie.
    Next headline on:  Origin of LifeSolar System
    Electronic Nose Can’t Outsniff Yours   03/19/2008    
    March 19, 2008 — Electronic nose makers are smelling your dust, said Science Daily.  “Despite 25 years of research, development of an ‘electronic nose’ even approaching the capabilities of the human sniffer remains a dream,” the article said.
        Biological noses are great at discriminating between volatile compounds.  We can immediately sense things that are fruity, grassy, and earthy, for instance.  Electronic noses are good for detecting particular compounds like carbon monoxide, but have a hard time doing what the human nose does easily: picking out the signatures of thousands of odors.
        The future doesn’t look any brighter for nose engineers: “Keeping its limitations in mind and adapted for a special purpose, this will be the future for the electronic nose for as long as the ability to smell odors rather than detect volatiles is still far away over the rainbow.
    Maybe they need a code in their nose (06/27/2005, 11/07/2001).  Think of it: your lowly schnotz, the mountain on your map, is a peak that geeks cannot conquer.  Take time to smell the flowers as spring approaches.  There’s one thing your iPhone can’t do.  How do I know?  iNose.  I just nose.
    Next headline on:  Human BodyBiomimetics
      National Geographic calms distressed Darwinists to sleep, from 03/18/2003.

    Planet Formation: Just Add Water?   03/19/2008    
    March 19, 2008 — The Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence of water in a dust disk around a star.  Does this mean we understand how the earth, with all its water, formed?
        Using the Spitzer infrared instrumentation, John Carr (Naval Research Laboratory) and Joan Najita (National Optical Astronomy Observatory) found spectra of organic molecules and water in the planet-forming region of star AA Tauri.  Reporting in Science,1 they said this extends the water-bearing region out to 3 AU (astronomical units), previously observed only one-tenth that range (0.3 AU).  Earth, by definition, is 1 AU from our sun.  The presence of water is important not only for oceans but for the oxidizing state of the gas and minerals that might make up a rocky planet.
        Commenting on this paper in the same issue of Science,2 Fred Ciesla of the Carnegie Institution of Washington was excited.  His excitement centered not so much on finding answers as much as sorting out possibilities.  Chondrites (meteoritic material) support a wide range of isotopic ratios.  This means they are not much help defining the conditions in planet-forming regions.  “Although agreements of this type between the models and the chondrites hint that we are beginning to understand how our solar system formed, they are far from definitive,” he said.  “Alternate models have been proposed and have equal success in explaining the properties of chondritic materials.”
        The debate remains unsettled, even though it is important: “Identifying which of these models is correct is critical to furthering our understanding of how planetary systems form because it has implications on other issues, ranging from the origin of cometary grains to the manner by which giant planets form.”
        So does the news about water at AA Tauri settle the question?  Not exactly.  Dust disks around other stars show a wide range of available water vapor, from wet to dry: “Interestingly, water appears to be depleted in SVS 13 relative to what is predicted in stagnant disk models,” he said.
        Does the degree of observed variation confuse models of planetary evolution or constrain them?  It depends on one’s optimism, imagination, and creativity:

    To date, these observations do not distinguish which of the models developed for our solar nebula is correct but rather lend support to recent models for the dynamic evolution of water and other volatiles in protoplanetary disks.  However, as the techniques used by Carr et al. are applied to other disks, correlations between their chemical compositions and their physical properties can be identified.  Models for water evolution predict that the enhancement of water in inner disks should be followed by periods of depletions, so systematic variations with age are expected.  Also, larger disks would provide more water ice to drift inward and thus would produce greater enhancements in the inner disk.  Searching for such correlations will thus allow us to test models developed for our own solar nebula and determine whether it evolved in a similar way as other disks in our galaxy or if, instead, our planetary system is the result of one or multiple unique circumstances.  Right now, these new results, combined with the discovery of high temperature grains in comets and in the outer regions of protoplanetary disks, suggest that the manner by which our solar system formed may have been the rule.
    The presence of high-temperature grains in comets, he didn’t mention, was a complete surprise (01/25/2008, bullet 1, and 12/27/2007).
    1.  John S. Carr and John R. Najita, “Organic Molecules and Water in the Planet Formation Region of Young Circumstellar Disks,” Science, 14 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5869, pp. 1504-1506, DOI: 10.1126/science.1153807.
    2.  Fred Ciesla, “Planetary Science: Observing Our Origins,” Science, 4 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5869, pp. 1488-1489, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155858.
    May, might, would, could, should – perhaps water content goes up and down; maybe planets form by core accretion and then again, maybe they don’t; maybe earth formed by one (or more) unique circumstances or maybe planet formation is common, maybe there is a rule here and maybe not – but we are getting warmer!  “Observing our origins,” Ciesla calls this.  Any number of models can be “developed” that fit the same observations or any new ones that come along.  There are enough holes in this line of reasoning to drive a starship freight transport fleet through.  Ciesla has a case of ingrown eyeballs.  The only thing he is observing is his imagination, projected on the back of his skull.
    Next headline on:  StarsPlanets
    Neanderthals: Random Drift, Not Natural Selection   03/18/2008    
    March 18, 2008 — The differences between Neanderthals and modern humans were not due to evolution for bigger brains or anything of the sort.  They were due to genetic drift, says an article on Live Science.
        “A team of anthropologists has compared measurements of Neanderthal skulls to modern human skulls, and argues that most variations among them are the result of random changes that occur over time, and not of adaptations driven by natural selection,” the article states up front.
        Don’t chalk up the differences in modern humans to bigger brains, better eyesight, better noses, or better ability to survive and reproduce.  That’s the assertion of Tim Weaver and a team from University of California, Davis.  The article says, “This finding may contradict a common belief that humans won out over Neanderthals because they acquired helpful physical changes in their skulls.”
        Erik Trinkaus, anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees. 
    When we look at the archaeology, there’s essentially no difference in their implied social sophistication,” he said.  “They use the same kinds of tools, they’re all burying their dead, they’re all using body decorations of some form or another.  They were equally effective at hunting animals.  In anything that we can measure, there’s very little difference between Neanderthal and modern humans 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
        Trinkaus said the reason modern humans flourished and Neanderthals didn’t may have just been luck.
    Trinkaus explained that it’s like football.  One team wins one year, another team the next.  “Why, in more recent time periods, do you have some groups of humans with certain cultural advances who displace others?  It’s happened many times.  There’s nothing biologically superior about one group versus the other.
        If modern humans and Neanderthals diverged from a common ancestor 370,000 years ago, as the article claims, this would have to mean that two independent lines of humans converged on the same intelligence, culture and physical capabilities without natural selection – only by random genetic changes.
        We need to keep repeating that the Neanderthal myth is dead.  Neanderthals were Homo sapiens, wise, intelligent, capable hunters who made art, buried their dead, survived and flourished.  Their traits overlap with those of other humans.  There is no reason to believe they were not fully human, capable of interbreeding with other Homo sapiens and talking and communicating with them.  They were members of the ONE human race.
        The article dubs this a “counterintuitive hypothesis.”  It’s not counterintuitive at all.  It makes perfect sense to those not drunk on Dar-wine.  Neanderthals and modern humans were brethren; they were both descendants of the original created human beings.
        The new evolutionary myth, that Neanderthals and “modern humans” (note the embedded evolutionary assumption) diverged from some mythical common ancestor 370,000 years ago, but never learned how to ride a horse in all that time, is no better than the old one.  Evolutionary myths are tales told about bones that have been sacrificed in homage to Charlie.  There’s no meat on them.
    Next headline on:  Early ManEvolution
    The Gecko in the Flight Simulator   03/17/2008    
    March 17, 2008 — It’s a lizard!  It’s a plane!  It’s Supergecko!  Researchers at UC Berkeley (where else) put a gecko into a wind tunnel to watch it fly.  News about gecko’s magic feet that allow it to run vertically up glass is almost old hat now (08/27/2002, 01/04/2005).  Even a gecko can lose its footing, though, and thereon hangs a tail.
        Publishing in PNAS,1 (the cover story of the March 18 issue), the team had some superlatives to share about these critters that skitter:
    In a single second of vertical running, geckos travel 15 body lengths and take 30 steps.  During rapid climbing, their toes attach in 5 ms [milliseconds, or thousandths of a second] and detach in only 15 ms.... During our initial explorations of climbing on realistic surfaces and upsidedown locomotion, we noticed that a gecko’s agility involved far more than just secure footholds.  Here, we pursue our observations by testing the hypothesis that the gecko’s tail enhances its scansorial and arboreal performance.
    The speed translates into 3 feet per second.  Taking advantage of atomic van der Waals forces (01/30/2008), they attach and detach their feet 30 times per second while running straight up.  Amazing as the feet are (12/06/2006), the tail is the key to this tale.
        The active tails of the gecko function as stabilizers and gliders.  When the gecko finds itself in a rapid free-fall, unlike Wiley E. Coyote, it can flip right over.  The tail twists and puts him right-side-up in mere milliseconds.  Then, the tail provides pitch control as the gecko assumes Superman position, allowing him to land on all fours almost every time.  Unlike cats, which can right themselves during a drop by twisting the spine, geckos keep their spine rigid.  They flip upright by doing the twist with their active tails.
        Why the flight simulator?  The wind tunnel experiments showed that the broad area of the tail helps slow and control the descent, like a glider.  During the glide, they control pitch and yaw and can actually steer themselves a bit toward safety.
        In addition, the tail acts as a stabilizer when climbing on a vertical surface.  The tail adds pressure and balance if the gecko finds itself leaning backward – even as much as 60 degrees.  If a foot falters on a slippery patch, the gecko shifts its tail to the side like a bicycle kickstand.  The tail, then, serves both as a fifth leg and a glider.  The authors did not say whether a gecko can grab a branch with its tail on the way down.
        Science Daily, Live Science, the BBC News and PhysOrg summarized the paper with a picture of a gecko in free-fall.  (The researchers, incidentally, abided by all the rules of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.)  After watching these tricks, the light bulb went on: “The discovery is already helping engineers design better climbing robots and may aid in the design of unmanned gliding vehicles or spacecraft,” the press release said.  “Perhaps, the researchers say, an ‘active’ tail could help astronauts maneuver in space.”

    1.  Jusufi, Goldman, Revzen and Full, “Active tails enhance arboreal acrobatics in geckos,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online on March 17, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0711944105.
    The article did not mention evolution.  The paper was listed under the category Evolution, but has design written all over it.
    Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyBiomimeticsAmazing Facts
      Fresh-looking fossil redwoods in the Arctic Circle?  Really?  See 03/22/2002.

    How to Address an Alien   03/17/2008    
    March 17, 2008 — How would you like this job: your assignment is to be the speechwriter for planet earth.  You are to figure out what our first message is to the aliens – to give them a good first impression as we introduce the human species to the galactic community.  “No kidding? What does it pay?”
        Believe it or not, there is someone who has the title of “Director of Interstellar Message Composition.”  His name is Douglas Vakoch, and he is with the SETI Institute (his day job is Chair of the Faculty, California Institute of Integral Studies).  You can read what he thinks about making a good first impression in his article at, “How we present ourselves to aliens.”
        Vakoch seems convinced that if contact is ever made, we will find the aliens to be much more intelligent than ourselves.  That’s because they would have sent their signal long ago, and would have had time to evolve far beyond us.  That being the case, we would have to approach them with humility instead of hubris.  But even sharing tidbits of what little we know might be a good approach.  To support this, he used an analogy from the Bible:

    What might surprise ET is how well humans get by, even when we are a bit inaccurate.  Though we now know that the value of p[i] is 3.14159 ...  (and on it goes into infinity), earlier mathematicians used much cruder estimates of p [sic, pi].  For example, when wise King Solomon was planning a bathing area in the great temple he was constructing, its specifications indicated that the pool would have a radius of 5 units and a circumference of 30 units.  If you plug these numbers into the equation for calculating the circumference of a circle, you’ll see that the value of p[i] was estimated to be 3.  While this number underestimates p[i] by about 5%, by all accounts, the temple turned out to be quite spectacular.  Perhaps the most important message that ET could gain from this example is that in spite of our imperfections and miscalculations, we humans are capable of moving forward, sometimes with a fair amount of style.
    It was not a bathing area, like a swimming pool, as Vakoch intimated.  It was the bronze laver for the priests to use when offering sacrifices.  Bible scholars have answered this apparent inaccuracy of pi in several ways (see Creation on the Web and article by Russell Grigg).  Incidentally, speaking of the period of Solomon’s Temple, the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced discovery of seals and pottery from the First Temple Period in digs nearby the Temple Mount.  At least there is some hard evidence for it, unlike for SETI.
        Regardless of the mathematical acumen of Solomon’s engineers, the point Vakoch is making is that humans need to embrace their imperfections and not let our galactic adolescence deter us from trying to make a good impression.  “Who knows? They might be surprised, perhaps even pleasantly so, to discover a young civilization that would initiate a conversation in which each exchange could take hundreds or thousands of years,” he ended.  “Wise old extraterrestrials might even admire our audacity for believing that, in spite of our shortcomings, humans may continue to exist in the coming centuries – perhaps even long enough to receive a reply from ET.”
    If anyone needs proof that SETI believers are just as nutty as any cultist, look no further.  We haven’t seen a blip on our antennas for 40 years, and this guy is already wanting to grovel in front of the feet of the Wise Old Extraterrestrials.  W.O.E.
        Look; all you have to tell them is, “Kiss me; I’m Irish.”  That’s no blarney.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
    Next headline on:  SETIDumb IdeasBible and Theology
    Astrobiology Justifying Itself   03/16/2008    
    March 16, 2008 — Is astrobiology a legitimate science?  Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, tried to answer that question in the weekly SETI Thursday column on  He estimates there are “approximately a thousand scientists who would be proud to print ‘astrobiologist’ on their business cards.”  Astrobiology still gets a cool reception in some quarters.  Shostak likened this reaction to the initial response to other new programs, such as women’s studies and quantum mechanics.  He recalled how a paper by Grote Reber on radio emissions from space (see 02/06/2003) – an epochal paper that opened up the field of radio astronomy – was “uniformly rejected” by the reviewers at the Astrophysical Journal.  (Thankfully, the editor published it anyway.  See also the quote at top right of this page.)
        Astrobiology, though, gets respect and funding without too much trouble, so why the need to justify it?  “The field is young enough to still have vocal critics,” Shostak replied, “in particular, those who think that ‘astrobiology’ is nothing more than a hope that life will someday be discovered beyond Earth.”  To calm the critics, Shostak produced a short list of achievements to show that astrobiology is producing scientific fruit in the process of looking for life.  In short, they are: (1) finding extrasolar planets, (2) refining the conditions for life, (3) and generating research on the origin of life and intelligence.  Furthermore, astrobiology is the “most powerful incentive for our explorations of the solar system,” he added as an encore.  “Why do we pay so much more attention to Mars, Europa and Titan than we do to Venus, Io, or Rhea?  It’s because the former worlds have the conditions that might foster and nurture the most compelling activity in the universe: life.”
        Shostak did not address whether the achievements in his list might have occurred without astrobiology, other than to suggest that astrobiology gives impetus to those research fields:
    It’s true that incontrovertible proof of extraterrestrial life is still lacking.  But there are just two paths to the future: either we will eventually find biology elsewhere, or we won’t.  If you are among those who think that only Earth has spawned life, then astrobiology is, indeed, only useful in proving your hypothesis by enduring endless failure to reach its ultimate goal.  But if it seems plausible that, among the 10 thousand billion billion other star systems of the visible universe, there are some places where the remarkable chemical interplay we call life also occurs, than [sic] astrobiology research can only speed its discovery.
    Shostak assumed that life and intelligence would have evolved by unintelligent causes.  He did not consider what a creationist explanation for extraterrestrial life might include, nor whether non-evolutionary assumptions might also speed the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
    Shostak’s writings are usually stimulating and entertaining, but you won’t find much of substance here to prove his case that astrobiology is a valid science.  Consider the fundamental fact that it hasn’t found any life yet.  If you founded a branch of science to look for gnomes, and went for years without finding any, would it justify your funding to consider the spinoff discoveries along the way?
    Suppose you discovered that the undersides of certain rocks have the conditions for gnomes.  Then, you found, serendipitously, a new species of toadstools growing in habitats thought inhospitable for fungi.  Gnomes love toadstools, you say, so this certainly shows you are making progress.  To top it off, your efforts spawned a number of other research projects, such as clarifying the conditions for gnomes and speculating about the evolution of gnomic intelligence.  Would these selling points qualify for respect in the research community?
    Some of the marks on Shostak’s astrobiology scorecard are disqualified because they assume evolution to research on evolution – a circular and incestuous line of reasoning.  As for the remaining valid scores, is astrobiology the only contestant?
        A creationist worldview could just as easily have achieved the practical spinoffs Shostak claimed for astrobiology: discovering extrasolar planets, discovering extremophiles, exploring the limits of habitability, and promoting the space program.  Why?  Some creationists admit the possibility that God created life elsewhere than earth.  Wouldn’t that belief motivate efforts to find them and communicate with them?  Other creationists who feel life (especially intelligent life) is restricted to earth might still be fascinated to understand just what are the life-giving features of our planet by comparing it with others.  Finally, creationists are arguably more motivated to do pure research into all aspects of creation because they love and honor any handwork of the Creator.
        Unfortunately, we will never know how well creationists would have scored on these research programs, because they have been systematically expelled from the academic community and funding sources.  A hint at what might have been, however, can be seen by a look at their track record in history.
    Next headline on:  Origin of LifeAstronomySETI
    How to Avoid Dark Energy   03/15/2008    
    March 15, 2008 — Who needs dark energy?  Copernicus?  George Ellis (U. of Cape Town) said we could get rid of dark energy by throwing the Copernican Principle overboard.  Writing in Nature,1 he said that dark energy may simply be an artifact of the geometry of space-time.
        Copernicus did not invent the Copernican Principle.  He was just trying to simplify calendar-making and astronomical prediction with a new sun-centered geometry.  The revolution begun by On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543 (see Scientist of the Month) took natural philosophy captive and dragged it into realms far beyond the wildest dreams of Nicolas Copernicus himself.  Removing earth from the center of the scheme of the universe began a series of corollaries.  The solar system was not the center, neither – nor the galaxy, nor anything.
        The Copernican Principle slowly became a dogma.  For nearly a century, it has been nearly a catechism to recite that there is nothing special about the earth or any other point in space or time.  Now, in an astonishing statement of cosmic scope, Ellis gently proposed questioning the cherished assumption that has been a cornerstone of 20th-century cosmology.  He says it is untested and unnecessary.  The troublesome problem of dark energy might be solved, he said, by jettisoning the Copernican principle.
    The fundamental dynamics of the Universe are embodied in Albert Einstein’s general-relativistic field equations, which describe how gravity arises through the distortion of space-time by mass and energy.  The simplest class of solution to those equations, that on which the concordance model is based, assumes that matter is distributed both homogeneously (everything is similar in all regions of space) and isotropically (everything looks the same in all directions).  That assumption is consistent with observations, but it is not a direct consequence of them.  It is the favoured solution both because it is the simplest and because it rests on a cherished cosmological assumption.  This is the ‘copernican principle’: that the characteristics of the Universe in our neighbourhood are not special in any way, but are typical of the whole.
        A cherished assumption this might be, but it is also fundamentally untested.  It is consistent with the supernova observations, but only provided that some form of dark energy is present.  The central plank of the new research is the claim that, by jettisoning the copernican principle and our assumptions about the distribution of matter in the Universe, we can also abandon the troublesome chimaera of dark energy.
    Whoa; that’s radical.  What would a universe mean that is not homogeneous or isotropic?  He examined whether inhomogeneities might be local or global.  It’s clear that space-time is not homogeneous and isotropic in our neighborhood.  We live in a galaxy.  There’s a lot of empty space between our galaxy and the next one.  Nothing uniform about that.  Moreover, we live in a cluster of galaxies – another level of clumpiness.  Cosmologists presume, however, that they can average out the local clumpiness by looking at large enough scales.  Is that certain?  What if there are sizeable voids and clumps on higher scales that prevent averaging?  We’ve heard reports of gigantic walls of superclusters of galaxies that are a non-trivial part of the visible universe (10/24/2003).  In addition, there are vast regions with almost no galaxies at all.  Further, we know from gravitational lensing that dense areas can distort the light of quasars behind them (07/23/2006).
        These local inhomogeneities can already skew our supernova measurements (11/01/2006) and, with them, our interpretations of cosmic acceleration, of which dark energy is the troublesome chimera.  And then – what if there are clumps and voids at the Hubble scale?  All bets are off.2
        Ellis can’t be serious, can he?  He recognizes that much testing would have to back up any decision to alter the Copernican Principle.  “Spatial homogeneity is one of the foundations of standard cosmology,” he said, winding up his thoughts, “so any chance to check those foundations observationally should be welcomed with open arms.”  He applauded the work of Clarkson et al last year who “show that a simple observation of the copernican principle that is independent of any theory of gravity or model for dark energy is possible through redshift and area–distance observations of distant galaxies.”  This and other papers Ellis referenced were published on ArXiv, an open-access journal where non-traditional proposals are more likely to get a hearing.  That Nature would publish this is an indication Ellis is not crazy.
        Ellis ended by casting doubt on any dark-energy solution that implies the existence of negative kinetic energy terms, like “some adventurous workers propose” in violation of energy conditions.  Instead, “It may be that such observations are trying to tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong in our assumptions; and that the acceleration conundrum could have a geometric, rather than a dynamic, solution.”
    1.  George Ellis, “Cosmology: Patchy solutions,” Nature 452, 158-161 (13 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/452158a.
    2.  Ellis is not the first to propose geometric inhomogeneities as a solution to the dark-matter problem.  See, for instance, New Scientist a year ago (03/30/2007), and Simon D. M. White’s paper “Why Dark Energy is Bad for Astronomy” on ArXiv.  Another article on New Scientist (13 July 2007) suggested dark energy lurks in hidden spatial dimensions, and another New Scientist article a month later (31 August 2007) suggested that if the universe resembled swiss cheese on large scales (i.e., numerous large voids and dense regions), it could partially mimic the effects of dark energy.
    The dark energy problem has caused a lot of head-scratching among cosmologists.  While the popular science writers have confidently stated the consensus idea that 73% or so of the universe is made of dark energy, as if this is a matter of undisputed fact (e.g., 11/02/2002), this article reveals that many cosmologists are still uncomfortable with it.  It’s been embarrassing to not know anything about a substance that allegedly makes up the bulk of the universe (07/23/2007, 04/13/2007).
        Philosophers and historians of science should take note.  Here is a case where one of the most fundamental, indeed, one of the most cherished assumptions in cosmology is on the auction block.  This is not the first time.  Quantum physicists were just about ready to jettison the Law of Conservation of Energy once when observations didn’t square with theory.  There have been other times when radical overhauls of cherished assumptions were considered in order to “save the phenomena” (i.e., match theory to the observations).  So many things have gone wrong with modern cosmology, the crisis in confidence prevails (05/11/2006).  This suggests several paradigm changes are possible in the next few years.
        The Copernican Principle may survive this debate.  If it goes overboard, though, a lot of metaphysical baggage of the Carl Sagan type may just go overboard with it – maybe even the mantra of atheistic evolutionary naturalism, “We are nothing special.”
    Next headline on:  CosmologyPhysicsAstronomy
      Vintage 2002 molecular machines, from 03/28/2002, 03/12/2002 and 03/08/2002.

    Animal Feats Inspire Imitation   03/14/2008    
    March 14, 2008 — Imagine carrying 850 times your own weight.  Step aside, Hercules, and meet the Hercules beetle: the strongest creature in the world.  Science Daily said that researchers in Belgium are not just impressed with its show of strength.  They are finding inspiration for “intelligent materials.”
        The Hercules beetle has a shell that is able to change colors when the humidity changes.  The normally green shell turns black as water enters microscopic pores that interfere with light.  Scientists are not sure why the beetle has this feature, but they want to imitate it.  “The sort of structural behaviour displayed by the Hercules Beetle could be an important property for ‘intelligent materials’,” one researcher said.  These materials could work as passive humidity detectors without the need for electronics – useful, for instance, in food processing plants to monitor moisture conditions.
        Switch your attention from feats to feet.  In a story on Science Daily last month, MIT wizards have learned from mighty lizards.  They have produced a dissolving bandage, inspired by gecko feet.  “Drawing on some of the principles that make gecko paws unique, the surface of the bandage has the same kind of nanoscale hills and valleys that allow the lizards to cling to walls and ceilings” the article explains.  “Layered over this landscape is a thin coating of glue that helps the bandage stick in wet environments, such as to heart, bladder or lung tissue”
        Finding materials that can stick in a wet environment would be very useful for surgeons working on blood vessels, heart tissue, ulcers and intestines.  The MIT inventors took inspiration from tissues of other creatures besides the gecko.  They invented a kind of bio-rubber that is flexible, adhesive to wet surfaces, and biocompatible (non-inflammatory).  Because the bandage is also biodegradable, the doctor can put it on, and let it dissolve away when its work is done.

    The bandage’s work is done, of course, because of a highly sophisticated repair mechanism in the body that can re-grow damaged tissue if the rupture is sealed for a period of time.
        This is the way science should be done.  No metaphysical incursions, no ethical excursions – not even storytelling diversions or anticreationist aspersions.  Just look at nature to understand it, with the goal of helping mankind.
    Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyBiomimeticsIntelligent Design
    Falling Rocks Leave Holes in Science   03/13/2008    
    March 13, 2008 — Hard data in astronomy is hard to come by, except when it comes by special delivery – as with meteorites.  If there is any class of phenomena that should be well understood, it should be space debris and the craters they form, because the processes involved can be watched in real time.  Meteorites adorn many institutions and private collections.  In addition to thousands of craters that can be studied on the moon and other bodies, we have plenty of examples right here on the home planet.  The physics of crater formation is subject to modeling on computers.  For good measure, experiments on crater formation can be performed in the lab by shooting materials into rock and ice.  A few recent science reports illustrate, however, that a great deal remains puzzling and mysterious.
    1. What is it?  National Geographic News reported that “A pair of mysterious meteorites discovered in Antarctica is baffling scientists who are struggling to determine the origin of the space rocks.”  The rocks were “oddly rusted and salty and smelled like rotten eggs.”  It’s not that they worry these were left by the Space Chicken; they just don’t know what laid them on the Antarctic ice.  Unusual for meteorites, these two are partially melted and contain anomalous amounts of feldspar.  “Thus there are two mysteries,” one of the discoverers said.  “What is the parent planet for the rock, and what type of geologic activity on that planet produced the unusual mineral assemblage?”  That seems to cover the most important points to know, other than that they exist.
    2. Low and behold:  In Peru, eyewitnesses watched a crater form last September 15 when a large bolide hit the ground.  The panic it caused among locals is of interest to psychologists, but the impact crater itself, now filled with water, is also filled with puzzles.
, the BBC News and Science Daily told how this crater is impacting ideas about meteorite fall and crater formation.  Scientists were so baffled by it, some thought it was a fake: “It just didn’t make sense with what we understand of collisions with this type of fragile rock.” The object should have shattered and dispersed before hitting the ground.  Bad news to humans dodging space rocks: this one appears to have hit with full force at 15,000 miles per hour.
          The crater it formed (49 feet across) is leading some scientists to suspect other water-filled circular depressions around the earth might have formed the same way.  One planetary scientist remarked, “Perhaps they also will defy our understanding.”
    3. Mercury falling:  The MESSENGER team reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference in Boulder, Colorado that they can’t explain some mysterious craters. said that there are two new classes of craters in pictures from the January 14 flyby (see 01/17/2008) that “scientists are puzzling over how to explain.”  Two craters have dark rims and another has an unusual shiny bottom.  Of the latter, Clark Chapman remarked, “I haven’t heard any really convincing explanations from our science team.  We don’t yet know what the material is, why it is so bright, or why it is localized in this particular crater.”
    4. Crater upheaval:  Was it a salt dome?  a circular monocline?  a volcano, or something else?  Long suspected to be an impact crater, Upheaval Dome in Utah is looking more like, indeed, it was hit by a space rock.  Two Berliners reported in Geology this month that they have confirmed the impact hypothesis by detecting shocked quartz grains in the periphery of the central uplift.  Calling this feature the “sphinx of geology,” they said, “The very controversial debate about Upheaval Dome’s origin has lasted nearly a century, over the course of which extremely different hypotheses (gradualism versus catastrophism) have been proposed.”  Chalk one up for the catastrophists.
    Space enthusiasts will surely want to peruse the craters that became visible yesterday during Cassini’s close flyby of Enceladus.  Some of the craters in the north polar region (across the world from the geyser eruptions) appear semi-melted, while others are half-erased by subsequent geological activity.  Others, with irregular edges, have large mounds in their centers criss-crossed by fractures.  The lack of new impacts in the flows would suggest that these regions are very young.
        Adding these stories to the upsets about crater count dating (12/20/2005, 06/08/2006, 05/14/2003, 12/27/2002) should convince onlookers that planetary scientists, like mountain drivers, also need to watch for falling rocks.
    1.  Buchner and Kenkmann, “Upheaval Dome, Utah, USA: Impact origin confirmed,” Geology, Volume 36, Issue 3 (March 2008), pp. 227-230.
    The lesson of this entry is not that scientists are incapable of someday understanding this subject better.  It is that here is a subject right under our noses that is poorly understood.  If there are this many anomalies, upsets and mysteries about something easily amenable to scientific investigation, how reliable are their pronouncements about far distant and unobservable phenomena like dark matter, black holes and the birth of the universe?
        Puzzles are good for science.  Thank goodness there are plenty of mysteries for future scientists to solve.  Let the reader of science news reports beware, however.  Science reporters are among the most dogmatic in the world about accepted theories and consensus explanations.  A little experience with puzzles and anomalies in science is an effective antidote for dupidity.*
    * Dupidity, n. A tendency to become a dupe of the press.  (A new CEH word coined for this occasion.)
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemPhysicsDating Methods
    News from the Enceladus flyby (March 12):
    The raw images are in!  Click here to browse them.  Keep in mind that most of the attention was focused on the other instruments, not the cameras.  See the flyby animation to glimpse at all the instrument commands, rolls and turns the spacecraft had to execute for the complex flyby sequence.
        The Mission Description states, “The major question that has emerged is why geologic activity exists at all on this small world.  Other active satellites – Io (R=1810 km) and Triton (R=1350 km) – are far larger.  Even with a bulk density of 1.6 gm/cm2, heat produced in Enceladus’s core from radioactive decay would have long since peaked and dissipated.”
        We’ll report overall results when they are available – perhaps early next week.  Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Enceladus blog.  Another source of information is the planetary science forum at Unmanned Spaceflight.  The Imaging Team has released a detailed mosaic of the north polar region, including areas never seen in detail before.  Notice how some craters have been half-erased by some kind of geological activity, and some craters appear to have relaxed or “melted” into the surface.
        Unfortunately, the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) had a technical failure, so information on plume composition will have to be gained from the other instruments (they will get one more chance in a future flyby).  Everything else seems to have worked well.  The science teams are busy analyzing the treasure trove of data.

    Humans as Lab Rats, or, Can an Evolved Brain Reason?   03/12/2008    
    March 12, 2008 — Evolutionary biologists and neurologists use their fellow humans as guinea pigs, performing experiments and drawing conclusions about their evolutionary past.  One question rarely asked is how reliable are conclusions drawn from the biologist’s brain that is presumably just as evolved as that of its lab subject.
        Everyone does philosophy, but some do it better than others.  Philosophers both professional and amateur may wish to cogitate on the reasoning process used in a couple of recent studies, particularly as it relates to inductive reasoning, assumptions, and explanatory inference.

    1. The evolution of punishmentScience published results of economic game experiments by European researchers using human subjects.1  They wanted to explore the incidence of “antisocial punishment,” in which non-cooperators retaliate against cooperators.  They devised games that college students played and measured the behaviors of cooperators and non-cooperators.
          How does a researcher select human subjects to be able to draw conclusions about human society in general?  They realized their choice of question presented methodological challenges.  “To minimize sociodemographic variability,” they said, “we conducted all experiments with university undergraduates (n = 1120) who were similar in age, shared an (upper) middle class background, and usually did not know each other.”  Their goal, however, was to explain universal human behavior – even animal behavior.
          In support of their choice of guinea pigs, they said, “Because both indicators [metrics used in the experiment] reflect the views of the average citizen in a given society, it is likely that our participants, through various forms of cultural transmission, have been exposed to the prevalent social norms and have perceptions of the quality of the rule of law in their respective societies.”  From their results, they drew broad conclusions that could impact legal and economic policy: “The detrimental effects of antisocial punishment on cooperation (and efficiency) also provide a further rationale why modern societies shun revenge and centralize punishment in the hands of the state.”
          In the same issue of Science,2 Herbert Gintis did not question the validity of the experiments.  He also asserted that this and other studies shed light on the evolution of the human condition: “This reservoir of moral predispositions is based on an innate prosociality that is a product of our evolution as a species, as well as the uniquely human capacity to internalize norms of social behavior.  Both forces predispose individuals to behave morally even when this conflicts with their material interests.”  The explanatory inference was thus extended into the realm of moral philosophy.
          Gintis appeared satisfied with the use of games to shed light on human moral behavior.  He did not question the choice of experimental subjects, or if they could be trusted to act during a contrived game the same way they would in other social contexts.  He did not consider the roles of human language, abstract reasoning and moral judgments on the decisions made by people before considering whether they are applicable to animals.  And he did not ask if morality is really moral if it is an inherited predisposition toward certain behaviors from an animal past.

    2. Bee logical:  “We are interested in how brains evolve in concert with social evolution,” said Sean O’Donnell at University of Washington, reported Science Daily.   That’s why he is studying wasps.
          “There is the intriguing possibility that there are similar patterns across wide spans of evolutionary time,” he said.  Apparently, to O’Donnell at least, if shrew Katherine is capable of waspish behavior, that implies a kind of convergent evolution across millions of years.
          O’Donnell’s thesis was stated succinctly in paragraph one: “brainpower required to be dominant drives brain capacity.”  Can this hypothesis, even if demonstrable for insects, be applicable to human beings?  He realizes that humans and wasps are “super-distant animals” in evolutionary terms.  Nevertheless, he feels, random evolutionary forces can be trusted to generate discernible patterns.  Here’s how he put it:
      Increased brainpower may be part of being social, no matter who you are,” What makes this exciting is we see some common patterns in how brains change as societies evolve.  As we see changes in social complexity, there are changes in brain structure.  If it is good for people it should be good for wolves, dolphins and paper wasps.” 
      Science Daily ended with this quote, apparently satisfied with its logic.  There was no mention of whether any attempt was made to demonstrate the pattern elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  No one seemed to question the explanatory inference involved, nor the consequences: for instance, could the idea lead to discrimination against small-brained people?  Another possibility not considered was whether the drive to dominance might be expressed in other ways: speed, agility, defense, coloration, body size, or any number of other phenotypic manifestations, brain size being held constant.  Also, might not quality of a brain be more important than size?  Crows are said to be smarter than chimpanzees (02/23/2007).
          Even though O’Donnell acknowledged unanswered questions and the need for more work, the article begged many questions about the approach and the explanation that a philosopher of science might interject.  It just assumed: if evolution gave wasps bigger brains because they somehow were on a path to dominance, the big brains of humans must have emerged by the same process.  What is meant by dominance?  Does a big brain necessarily correlate with dominance?  Exceptions could probably be multiplied: could mosquitoes be said to dominate the caribou they drive into the mountains?  Did not small-brained dinosaurs dominate larger-brained mammals for millions of years, according to widely-held evolutionary beliefs?  Evolution was used simultaneously as an assumption and an explanation, and that at a gross morphological level.  The title stated in stark either-or terms: “Which Came First, Social Dominance Or Big Brains?  Wasps May Tell.” 
    But if human reasoning be waspish, best beware its sting.  The first article undermined morality and called human behavior an innate, evolved predisposition toward certain kinds of behavior.  Does that not apply just as much to scientific reasoning?  The second article drew parallels between wasp brain power and human brain power.  But if brains are mere artifacts of social evolution, to what standard would the biologist appeal for drawing rational conclusions?
    1.  Hermann et al, “Antisocial Punishment Across Societies,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1362-1367, DOI: 10.1126/science.1153808.
    2.  Herbert Gintis, “Behavior: Punishment and Cooperation,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1345-1346, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155333.
    Does anyone think for a minute that college undergrads playing games are going to provide some universal principle that will apply to all human societies for all time?  Or that the behavior of wasps tells us anything about human rationality?  These ideas are checkmated by the fact that they undermine the scientist’s own reasoning – thus, they are self-refuting.
        Evolutionists do this all the time and get away with it.  Their reasoning stings itself dead.  They undermine their own arguments and end up spouting nonsense.  Where, O where, are the logic cops?  Philosophers are supposed to criticize bad reasoning and draw distinctions.  They are supposed to eliminate the weeds and pests in the garden of reasoning so that knowledge can flourish.  Why are they scared to death to cross the Darwin Party caretakers who have let the weeds strangle the fruit? 
    Next headline on:  Evolutionary TheoryHuman BodyDumb Ideas
      Wacko evolutionists invent theory of “beard chromodynamics” to describe how charity evolved from the “green beard effect”, from 03/31/2006.

    Were Hobbits Pygmies?   03/11/2008    
    March 11, 2008 — More miniature human skeletons have been discovered in Micronesia.  These ones, found at Palau and reported in PLoS One,1 are unquestionably modern human, but small in stature – less than four feet tall.  They are also recent.  Radiocarbon dates on the bones yielded dates between 1400 and 3000 years old.  The find was reported by Science Daily, National Geographic News, PhysOrg and the BBC News.
        The discovery is casting doubt on the primitive designation for the famous “hobbit” fossils (dubbed Homo floresiensis found on the island of Flores in 2004 that caused a big stir (10/27/2004, 10/25/2005, 06/06/2006 10/11/2006).  The Palau skeletons have human proportions and share features with the Flores skeletons, but have larger brains.  The discoverers, who call the specimens Homo sapiens, think the individuals were products of dwarfism – a population that becomes diminished in size, as occurs with some species on islands with restricted resources, and sometimes (as with pygmies in Africa) on mainland continents.
        Nature News was not ready to relate these specimens to the so-called Hobbits.  They could be skeletons of normal human children buried together, their report said.  The authors considered that hypothesis but gave anatomical reasons for rejecting it.  The work is still preliminary and will require additional samples.  “Under any circumstances,” they drew as a conclusion, “the Palauan sample supports at least the possibility that the Flores hominins are simply an island adapted population of H. sapiens, perhaps with some individuals expressing congenital abnormalities.”

    1.  Berger, Churchill, de Klerk and Quinn, “Small-Bodied Humans from Palau, Micronesia,” PLoS One, 3(3): e1780 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001780.
    The plot thickens in middle earth.  Were these children of Gondor?  More hobbitses evolving into Gollum-like creatures?  The bones are real but the stories about them often become imaginative.  Tolkien developed fiction out of real-world experiences in his life.  Some scientists do the same.
    Next headline on:  Early Man
    Saturn Moons Continue to Surprise Scientists   03/10/2008    
    March 10, 2008 — Just days before a long-awaited dive into the plume of Enceladus (see PhysOrg and JPL press release, flyby stats and news release), Cassini found another surprise in the Saturn system: a moon with rings.
        A Jet Propulsion Lab press release on March 6 reported that the large moon Rhea may have rings – the first ring system detected around a satellite of a planet.  The rings, composed of particles up to a meter in size, were not detected visually, but are inferred from electromagnetic effects detected by Cassini’s instruments.  Dips in electron density were seen on both sides of the moon, suggesting the presence of rings.  They apparently extend out eight moon diameters from Rhea.  See also the National Geographic story.  More detail is available at the Planetary Society blog, where Emily said the discovery was unexpected.
        The debris orbiting Rhea could have resulted from a comet impact in the moon’s past.  It appears to be organized into three ringlets and is composed of pebble to boulder-sized particles, based on inference of what material could cause the dips in electron density.  No small dust has yet been detected.  What is most mysterious is how the debris could remain there for millions or billions of years.  The original paper in Science1 said that boulders could remain in orbit for 70 million years, but that would only amount to 1/64 the assumed age of the solar system.  Richard Kerr commented on the discovery in the same issue of Science.2  He brought up some reasons why the rings shouldn’t exist:
    But ring specialists still have their reservations.  Such rings, they say, are possible but improbable.  First, just the right sort of impact would probably have been required to blast material off the icy moon and into orbit.  Then the ring particles would have had to survive millions if not billions of years being torn apart by the tidal pull of Saturn and worn down to dust by eroding small impacts.  Most constraining, perhaps, is the “incredibly low” limit on dust around Rhea set by Cassini’s camera, says Joseph Burns of Cornell University, who is on the imaging team.  Ring boulders must shed some dust, and even tiny amounts of dust show up when backlit by the sun.
    If the rings survive further observational scrutiny, Cassini scientists will have another age problem on their hands.  In addition to the geysers on Enceladus, the Rhea rings look like young phenomena that are supposed to be billions of years old, according to the scientific consensus.
        To prepare for the historic close encounter with Enceladus, watch the Enceladus Virtual Tour.  A map of the encounter is available, and a graph of the plume trajectory.  For more about the moon Enceladus, see the Enceladus main page and our reports from 02/17/2007, 07/11/2006 and 11/28/2005.  Geeks will drool over the Mission Description (PDF).  For latest news, see the new Enceladus blog begun on March 10 by the Cassini team.
    1.  Jones et al, “The Dust Halo of Saturn's Largest Icy Moon, Rhea,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1380-1384, DOI: 10.1126/science.1151524.
    2.  Richard A. Kerr, “Electron Shadow Hints at Invisible Rings Around a Moon,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, p. 1325, DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5868.1325.
    Let’s all sing together:
    My Rhea lies over at Saturn,
    My Rhea has rings that can’t be;
    Their real lies tell us it’s old stuff,
    O bring back some Rheality.

        You Rhealize what’s going on, don’t you?  All observations must be forced into the old-age assumption, whether they fit or not.  This is known as science.
        Enceladus is the moon to watch for a reality check.  Come back Wednesday and Thursday this week for late breaking news about the dramatic flyby as soon as it is made public.  If you downloaded CASSIE 3D tour imager, you can zoom in on the encounter to visualize the history about to be made.  Keep up on the Enceladus blog, too.
    Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
    Mr. Clean Is Sick   03/09/2008    
    March 09, 2008 — Do you get sick too easily?  Did you grow up with allergies?  One reason might be your home environment is too clean, says a story on PhysOrg.
        The “hygiene hypothesis” asserts that our immune system over-reacts to lack of stimulation by turning on itself – producing autoimmune diseases and allergies.  It “blames increased allergies on cleaner homes, increased air pollution and changes in diet.  Obesity and lack of exercise may also play a role.”
        One researcher at University of Iowa is treating patients with multiple sclerosis and colitis with parasitic worms.  He claims incidents of these autoimmune diseases increased when parasitic worms were eliminated from our environment.  He thinks they have a “profound symbiotic effect on developing and maintaining the immune system.”
    Not sure we are ready to go that far and add parasitic worms to the diet – that idea needs much more proof!  The principle in this article could, however, help us think differently about some organisms with bad reputations.  Remember the milk maidens in Robert Jenner’s day who developed immunity to smallpox by working around cows?  Humans apparently need exposure to certain organisms to develop and maintain the immune system.  Certain tribes in Africa seem to get along quite well living in harmony with their livestock outdoors in environments that would freak out an American city dweller.
        Maybe we should stop thinking of parasites as good vs evil, and view them instead as accelerators and brakes.  Everything in the living world is in motion.  There are constant pushes and pulls.  This is true in the genetic world, where promoters and repressors steer the expression of genes in a complex dance.  Our immune systems are not going to sit idly by when everything is sterile.  Needing stimulation and direction, they will practice on the body’s own cells, like bored firefighters setting the fire station on fire.  What’s needed in this view is balance, not isolation.
        Our bodies are already covered inside and out with bacteria and other organisms, so encounters with more of them is only a matter of degree.  The microorganisms, fungi and worms in a new environment may act as alarms to keep our bodies ready.  Perhaps they even inject information needed for the body to adapt to the new environment.  They only become problematic when they swamp the body’s ability to react – perhaps because the immune response was not adequately exercised during development.  Allergies, in this view, are an over-reaction to things that should have been encountered in childhood.
        These are mere suggestions that need more rigorous investigation.  The hygiene hypothesis cannot explain everything.  Plagues often ravage tribes close to nature as much as they do city dwellers.  Some parasites are nasty in any environment.  Maybe some of them had a useful function once but mutated into pathogens.  Whatever the balance point, cleanliness is still virtuous.  Didn’t we learn that from Joseph Lister?  (See last month’s Scientist of the Month).  All good suggestions need moderation.  Continue to shower and wash your hands.
        The idea humans need exposure to organisms in natural environments makes sense, though.  Would some hospital patients recover faster in gardens open to fresh air?  Would incidence of allergies drop with more exposure to nature in childhood?  Is working the earth in gardening and farming good for health?  These seem like proper subjects for controlled experimentation and long-term population studies.  Meanwhile, it’s a good bet to increase your outdoor exposure.  Jog outdoors when you can instead of going to the gym.  Take your kids camping; go on hikes and visit a variety of outdoor environments.  This is unquestionably a better strategy for long-term health than parking them in front of the TV or video games with a bag of junk food.  This is a one principle both creationists and evolutionists should be able to agree on.
    Next headline on:  Health
      Cellular linemen in action, from 03/31/2005.

    Revolt in the Darwin Camp    03/07/2008    
    March 7, 2008 — With minor skirmishes, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (natural selection acting on random genetic mutations) has held sway in evolutionary theory since the 1930s.  Now, discontent with the pre-eminence of natural selection is leading to a major skirmish between evolutionists to be fought at a conference this summer.  Susan Mazur calls this the “Woodstock of Evolution” in The Scoop Independent News.

    It’s not Yasgur’s Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock.  What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let’s call them “the Altenberg 16” – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence.  It’s pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accomodate [sic] “other” new phenomena.  So the theory Charles Darwin gave us, which was dusted off and repackaged 70 years ago [the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis], seems about to be reborn as the “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis”.
    Mazur personally interviewed many of the combatants and posted their pictures in her article.  Some of them are determined to hang on to the old theory, convinced this is much ado about nothing.  Others, to varying degrees, have risked their careers to challenge the orthodoxy.  Few are willing to state their challenges publicly, and some fear excommunication.  Stanley Salthe, for instance, said he can’t get published in the mainstream media for his views, e.g.:
    Oh sure natural selection’s been demonstrated... the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution in the sense of long-term changes in populations.... Summing up we can see that the import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom.  What evolves is just what happened to happen.
    Jerry Fodor, another critic of natural selection (see 01/21/2008), argues “biologists increasingly see the central story of Darwin as wrong in a way that can’t be repaired.”  His article “Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings” in the London Review of Books, in which he laid out his criticisms of natural selection, caused such a stormy aftermath that he joked to Mazur that he has taken refuge in the Witness Protection Program.  He was apparently reluctant to talk to Mazur after being so besieged.  “You can’t put this stuff in the press because it’s an attack on the theory of natural selection,” he told Mazur, even though he is convinced “99.99% of the population have no idea what the theory of natural selection is.”  He’s not giving up on the grand evolutionary story – he is just convinced that whatever new mechanism emerges to explain evolution, it will not be selectionist.
        Statements like this make traditional Darwinian selectionists like Richard Lewontin and Kevin Padian furious.  Padian hung up on Mazur’s call, harrumphing that “On some things there is not a debate.”  Others, like Stuart Kauffman, see a need to expand and extend Darwin’s ideas.  He recognizes, for instance, that Darwinism begins with life already in place and does not explain the origin of life.
        What could possibly replace natural selection?  Stuart Pivar is toying with the idea that body form is an outgrowth of the egg cell membrane structure.  His critics deny that this is a complete or fruitful hypothesis; it is devoid of empirical evidence, they complain.  Pivar is another maverick having trouble getting his ideas published.
        Radicalism in the evolution camp is not new.  Mazur quoted Richard Milner describing the late Stephen Jay Gould, who along Niles Eldredge had criticized selectionism (or adaptationism) in the 1990s.  Milner described Gould as “a popular articulator of Darwinian evolution to a new generation, while privately, his creative and rebellious mind sought to move beyond it.”  Their hypothesis of “punctuated equilibria” never quite gained traction – the idea that most of evolutionary history involves stasis, with rapid evolutionary jumps in between.  Milner continued, “Gould took issue with those who used natural selection carelessly as a mantra, as in the evidence-free ‘just-so stories’ concocted out of thin air by mentally lazy adaptationists.”  Gould’s critics, on the other hand, viewed punctuated equilibria as deficient in mechanisms that could generate functional innovation.
        Traditionalists like Richard Lewontin think that no new extended synthesis is necessary, and that the mavericks are just trying to garner prestige for themselves.  To him, all that is necessary to prove natural selection is to ask yourself, “do you survive?”  Whether or not the mavericks will gain traction at Altenberg, it seems clear that there is war in the Darwin Camp.  About the only thing they agree on is that intelligent design and creationism are bad, bad, bad.  ID ideas are off the table.  Looking in from the outside at this skirmish, the pro-ID Discovery Institute blog Evolution News and Views had some fun.  This article gives the lie to the NCSE’s claim that there is “no controversy” about evolution, wrote Robert Crowther.  It also demonstrates the risk any critics of Darwinism have for getting Expelled.
        The papers for the July conference have already been submitted and will be published, ironically, for Darwin Day in 2009.  If Neo-Darwinism is in so much trouble, is an emerging new consensus in the offing?  It appears that all Mazur could find were a dirty-laundry list of problems, and a preliminary airing of ethereal suggestions.  Regardless of what transpires at the conference, Crowther observed, “a paradigm shift is on the way.”
    This is called giving your opponents enough rope to hang themselves.  We didn’t have to say any of the following:
    • The central story of Darwin [is] wrong in a way that can’t be repaired. (Mazur summarizing Fodor)
    • 99.99% of the population have no idea what the theory of natural selection is. (Fodor)
    • The import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. (Salthe)
    • [There is] reluctance to scientists being discouraged about taking a chance on ideas originating outside their peer group plus their dependence on government grants – which are tied-in to support for natural selection. (Pivar)
    • Self-organization mingles with natural selection in barely understood ways to yield the magnificence of our teeming biosphere. (Kauffman)
    • Astrobiology doesn’t exist.  What are the laws? (Fodor)
    • Natural selection [is used] carelessly as a mantra, as in the evidence-free “just-so stories” concocted out of thin air by mentally lazy adaptationists. (Gould)
    All we needed to do was hold up the microphone to them after announcing to the crowds, “Hear ye, hear ye!  Come on over and listen to the secrets of the universe!  Hear the world’s experts tell where you came from!  Find out why this theory must be taught in public schools to the exclusion of anything else!  Learn why Darwin Day should become an international holiday!”
    Now can we say, “Teach the controversy”?
    Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
    How to Translate Darwinese   03/06/2008    
    March 6, 2008 — A unique culture has sprung up around evolutionary biology.  Since evolutionary theory encompasses far more than just change in living species (touching on, for instance, ultimate origins, the nature of humanity and the destiny of the universe), its supporters sometimes get a little carried away in their language.  The tendency in science reporting to embellish tidbits of observation with wide-reaching conclusions and to incorporate questionable tidbits into support for macroevolution is a habit we will call Darwinese.
        Translating Darwinese into unbiased science requires skill and training.  The interpreter must brush past the embellishments and search out the kernel of observation that was the basis for the report.  It is also important to look at the observations separately from the millions-of-years claims, which are tied into the assumption of evolution.  Speculative stories and loaded words like “primitive” and “modern” must be bypassed in search of the brute facts.  Finally, the interpreter must look for signs that the observations were surprising.  The surprise effect is often a clue that the evolutionary biologist or reporter is about to do some spin doctoring to keep the evolutionary story intact.  Here are some recent examples.
    1. Batter upNational Geographic News reported that six species of fossil bats were discovered in Egypt.
      • Darwinese: “The paleontologists say the diversity of species discovered in El Faiyum is the strong evidence that bat species evolved in Africa.”  The bats were “pretty primitive members of modern groups,” the leader of the study said.  “In a sense, Africa is sort of a crucible for the evolution of the modern bats.”  The fossils were said to be 35 million years old.  The team leader “said he thinks a primitive bat species made its way to Africa some 50 million years ago, ‘then differentiated into these more modern forms.’”
      • Translation:  The fossils are essentially identical to modern bats.  “The experts were also surprised to find that the new species were similar to some modern-day microbats, a group of bats that uses sonar waves to navigate and hunt in a process called echolocation.”  According to the article, they were all members of living families.  One was even a giant, “which makes it perhaps the largest of the echolocating species yet found.”  This could support a theory that bats are devolving from what they once were.
            The fossilized bats apparently had all the advanced adaptations for flight and sonar, so labeling them “primitive” seems unsupportable except in the view that, being allegedly tens of millions of years old, they must have been less evolved than living bats.
    2. Rearranging the treeScience Daily reported that Brown University biologists have conducted “the most comprehensive animal phylogenomic research project to date, involving 40 million base pairs of new DNA data taken from 29 animal species.”
      • Darwinese:  “The study, which appears in Nature, settles some long-standing debates about the relationships between major groups of animals,” the article said.  One paragraph recounted how Charles Darwin invented the tree of life concept in The Origin of Species.  The article described how the new method improves on earlier ones, and “demanded the power of more than 120 processors housed in computer clusters located in laboratories around the globe.” – an irrelevant detail since computer analysis could be used in any number of interpretations.
            The study “unambiguously confirmed certain animal relationships” and “convincingly resolved conflicting evidence surrounding other relationships.”  The team lead announced cheerfully, “this new information changes our basic understanding about the natural world” because the tree of life is now “clearer” than before.  The new approach “will be able to resolve at least some problems that have been previously intractable.”
      • Translation:  The study produced an implausible solution with many surprises.  “The big shocker: Comb jellyfish -- common and extremely fragile jellies with well-developed tissues -- appear to have diverged from other animals even before the lowly sponge, which has no tissue to speak of.  This finding calls into question the very root of the animal tree of life, which traditionally placed sponges at the base.”
            Clearly a big shocker that puts more complex animals before simpler ones was not predicted.  What explanation was offered?  “This finding suggests either that comb jellies evolved their complexity independently from other animals, or that sponges have become greatly simplified through the course of evolution,” the team lead suggested.  “If corroborated by other types of evidence, this would significantly change the way we think about the earliest multicellular animals.”
            What this seems to say, after translation from Darwinese, is that comb jellies, which have complex chemical light arrays, feeding organs and behaviors (see 04/03/2007 and 12/19/2005) appeared abruptly without an evolutionary history.  Also, if something complex evolved into something simpler – that’s the opposite of what evolutionary biology usually tries to explain.
    3. Lemur murmursScience Daily reported about a study of lemurs in Madagascar by the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.
      • Darwinese:  “After swabbing the cheeks of more than 200 lemurs and related primates to collect their DNA, researchers... now have a much clearer picture of their evolutionary family tree.”  The researchers triumphantly announced that “we have absolutely confirmed, beyond any statistical doubt, that the spectacular array of lemurs all descended from a single ancestral species.”
            According to the report, the study also has important ramifications for human evolution, too.  The title announced, “Lemurs’ Evolutionary History May Shed Light On Our Own.
      • Translation:  All the lemurs were from the island of Madagascar.  Since even young-earth creationists allow for the diversification of species within created kinds (one of their common examples is the “spectacular array” of dogs), this study could not differentiate between the views of creationists and evolutionists.
            The researchers studied only lemurs but made unwarranted assertions about other primate groups, including humans.  The researchers admitted that “many of the relationships among other apes, monkeys and pre-monkeys called prosimians have remained somewhat murky” but then they contrasted the murkiness with “humans’ close evolutionary ties to chimpanzees” – even though geneticists have recently admitted the similarities have been exaggerated (06/29/2007).
    This last entry exhibits another characteristic of Darwinese: the frequent use of future tense.  No matter how surprising or confusing an observation appears at first glance, it always contains a promise – it “may shed light” on evolution.
    We’ve been looking for Darwin’s light for a long time.  All we have seen is dark matter, dark energy, dark morality and darkened understanding.  Follow Diogenes, the guy with the lantern looking for an honest man.
    Exercise:  Try your hand at translating Darwinese; it’s fun once you get the hang of it.
  • Science Daily on butterfly mimicry.
  • Science Daily on antibiotic resistance.
  • Live Science on the Burgess Shale.
  • BBC News on a fossil rabbit.
  • National Geographic on a fossil primate.
    Teachers:  Inspire your students to become interpreters of Darwinese.  There’s a world-wide shortage, judging from the hubris with which the science news media speak it.
    Next headline on:  Darwinian EvolutionMammalsGenetics
  • Grand Canyon: How Do You Get a River Over a Mountain?   03/05/2008    
    March 5, 2008 — One would think that the Grand Canyon, one of earth’s most prominent geological features, studied by geologists for 140 years, would be well understood.  Wrong.  “The Colorado River’s integration off the Colorado Plateau remains a classic mystery in geology, despite its pivotal role in the cutting of Grand Canyon and the region’s landscape evolution.”  That’s how Joel Pederson (Utah State) began the cover article in GSA Today this month,1 a bimonthly journal of the Geological Society of America.  The mystery he investigated is how the Colorado River ran over a mountain: the Kaibab uplift.
        The Kaibab uplift is the broad southern end of the Colorado Plateau through which the Grand Canyon has been carved.  Rivers do not normally flow uphill.  The upper Colorado River, roaring from Rocky Mountain snow melt, faces this obstacle; yet here the Grand Canyon cuts right into the plateau at a steep monocline that extends north-south through Utah, and manages to run westward through the high province till emerging from the Grand Wash Cliffs at the west edge of the plateau.  There, at modern Lake Mead, the river suddenly enters the Basin and Range province of Nevada.  It flows onward to the southwest, emerging at the Gulf of California (a nice tour to take in Google Earth).
        Of the many theories to explain this phenomenon since John Wesley Powell ran the river for the first time in the 1870s, three have survived.  (Powell’s own idea that the river cut downward as the plateau raised upward did not last long, because of dating discrepancies: the plateau was thought to rise much earlier than the river.)  If there had been an antecedent river, where is the huge delta that should have formed at its terminus?  His own study showed that the Muddy Creek Formation (Google Earth, 36°42'45" N, 114°19'40" W) looks more like drainage from the ancestral Virgin River, not the Colorado.  If the early river had exited through the Little Colorado, why is there no evidence at that location?  The least-likely explanation had been the “precocious gully” theory of Charlie Hunt.  Beginning in 1956, Hunt imagined a southwestern river cutting headward into the plateau and joining up with the ancestral Colorado river.  “Hunt’s hypothesis (b), that the river arrived in the central-western Grand Canyon area and simply infiltrated and terminated, never gained traction—and was not well loved even by Hunt himself,” Pederson said.
        Surprisingly, that is exactly the theory Pederson tries to resurrect in this paper.  It’s not so much that it is a good hypothesis; it is just the best of the worst.  His last sentence makes that clear: “For now, Hunt’s dissipation and infiltration hypothesis is the last one left standing against the geologic evidence in the region.”  Pederson knows the problems with Hunt’s theory: “How could the head of a single drainage along a desert escarpment have the necessary stream power or mass-movement activity to erode headward and shift its divide hundreds of kilometers, when none of its neighbors could lengthen measurably at all?”  He tried to dress it up by suggesting that karst topography in the plateau (underground rivers and springs) made it easier for the precocious gully to work its way uphill, but his conclusion did not make it sound like he felt confident about it.
        Much of Pederson’s predicament seems to come from two factors: (1) dates for formations based on the standard geological column, and (2) processes assumed to be slow and gradual.  He did not reference Karlstrom’s paper in the November issue that came to a surprising conclusion (11/30/2007): the Grand Canyon is much younger than previously thought.  He also completely ignored the work of creationist geologists who have proposed catastrophic formation models for the canyon.
    Update 03/07/2008: No sooner had this article gone to press when Science published a paper claiming the Grand Canyon is old again.2  Radiometric dates of cave formations in the Redwall limestone led a team to propose a new date of 16-20 million years, rather than 5-6 million as lately believed.  They also held to the precocious gully theory, “a fully integrated Colorado River that accelerated the headward erosion of the eastern Grand Canyon.”  They admitted, though, that “our interpretation assumes no structural or hydrologic complexities” – just a framework for dating the canyon.
        Tim Atkinson and Mike Leeder, in the same issue of Science,3 triumphantly announced that since Hutton’s first conception of “the immensity of geologic time” in 1788, “we now understand Earth’s sedimentary history in remarkable detail.”  They claim this new paper demonstrates the older age firmly for the first time.  It required, however, juggling incision rates with plateau erosion rates and tectonic uplift rates.  The authors noted a number of inconsistencies in their data.  They appealed to ad-hoc processes to explain them and hoped for answers in the future: e.g., “Structure, hydrology, or headward erosion history ... might resolve these differences when additional data are available.”  Their method only offered “potential for a reconstruction of the canyon’s history” with all its complexities.  It seems presumptuous, therefore, for Atkinson and Leeder to say older age has been firmly demonstrated.
        Whether incision rates can be extrapolated backward in time depends on one’s assumptions  At Mt. St. Helens, for instance, a remnant stream flows through the bottom of a canyon system resembling Grand Canyon on a 1/40 scale.  A casual observer in 2008 might think the stream carved the canyon.  We know in this case, however, that the stream neither cut the canyon nor deposited the sediments.  Observers in 1980-81 watched the layers deposited catastrophically during three explosive episodes.  Later, the entire canyon system was carved in one day through the layers when a mudflow spilled out of the crater.
    1.  Joel L. Pederson, “The mystery of the pre-Grand Canyon Colorado River—Results from the Muddy Creek Formation,” GSA Today Vol 18, Issue 3 (March 2008), pp. 4-10.
    2.  Polyak, Hill and Asmerom, “Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water Table-Type Speleothems,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1377-1380, DOI: 10.1126/science.1151248.
    3.  Tim Atkinson and Mike Leeder, “Canyon Cutting on a Grand Time Scale,” Science, 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1343-1344, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155286.
    The lesson of J Harlen Bretz has not been learned by the secular anti-creationist, uniformitarian geological community represented by the GSA.  Bretz was ridiculed and ignored for nearly 50 years when he proposed a catastrophic origin for the Channeled Scablands of east Washington (see quote, top right of this page).  Fortunately for him, he was eventually vindicated.
        The secular geologists are trapped in their old-age, uniformitarian box and cannot think outside it.  What if that is where the solutions are?  Creationist geologists and scientists like Walt Brown and Steve Austin have done extensive work, both hands-on field work and mathematical modeling, showing how the Grand Canyon can be explained by a catastrophic dam-breach event from impounded lakes northeast of the canyon that remained after the Flood.  These models explain why the river cut through the Colorado Plateau but left no delta in Nevada (most of the erosional load went all the way to California and the ocean).  They explain many details of the canyon’s structure, such as the vast sheet erosion of sediments above the canyon with its remnants at Cedar Mountain and Red Butte (for an excellent short article on this topic, see Bill Hoesch’s March entry in ICR’s ’s Acts and Facts newsletter).  Brown first suggested the dam breach theory and has traveled throughout Arizona and Utah, finding firsthand evidence for a vast upstream lake system that could have cut the entire canyon (just like the Scablands flood), in a matter of days.  Austin found a 1/40th scale model canyon system that formed at Mt. St. Helens when a mudflow breached a dam.  There is both a large-scale, real-time exemplar for the catastrophist model and a good deal of on-site fieldwork throughout the Colorado Plateau to support it.  (Incidentally, Austin, PhD in geology from Penn State, discusses the “precocious gully” theory and the other gradualist theories in his richly-informed book, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe.)
        The secular geologists completely ignore all this.  It’s not that Pederson and the GSA crowd are smarter or more knowledgeable about geology and science in general than the creationists.  They are a clique.  When the science of geology was young, the majority of influential persons, who were theologically liberal and philosophically progressivist in outlook, made a decision: they would not consider the Bible as a historical source.  They would go the route of Comte du Buffon and James Hutton and would trust their own opinions within a paradigm of vast ages of time.  This decision was cemented in the 1830s.  Prior to any examination of evidence, and in spite of evidence for youth and catastrophism, this was the paradigm into which all evidence would be molded.  The trend was strongly denounced by a vocal minority of “scriptural geologists” some of whom were highly learned and knowledgeable (documented in Terry Mortenson’s book, The Great Turning Point), but the progressivists won the day.  Their views fed perfectly into Charles Darwin’s gradualist, progressivist views.
        The secular geological crowd has clung to their paradigm with a vengeance ever since.  And we mean vengeance.  J Harlen Bretz got a taste of it, but he didn’t propose a young earth or suggest that the Bible might contain some trustworthy historical records that could inform geology.  Try that point of view and you will not believe the denunciations and ostracism you will get – even though the father of geology, Nicolas Steno, was a creationist.
        So we are left with a steep divide in geology – a grand canyon – between two paradigms.  The majority secularists, possessing most of the prestige and money, are scratching their heads over the most prominent geological feature on earth with only a best-of-the-worst explanation for it (see 09/16/2005, for instance).  On the other hand, the creationist geologists feel very confident they have a reasonable catastrophic model for the Grand Canyon that fits the evidence from all angles.  The secular crowd completely ignores them.  If Pederson had referenced Steve Austin’s Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe or Walt Brown’s In the Beginning, or even mentioned these with intent to refute them, it would have been a one-way ticket to GSA Purgatory.  Before the evidence and arguments would have even been considered on their merits, Pederson would have been condemned, ostracized, marginalized and disfellowshiped for life for even bringing heretics into the discussion.  One could imagine the same reaction occurring even if Pederson had “independently” proposed a Bretz-like dam-breach theory, without any theological baggage at all.  This would certainly be possible.  The dam-breach theory stands entirely on well-known physical processes.  It contains no necessary links to the Biblical Flood (other than that the Flood is the most reasonable explanation for the vast inland lakes and for the strata themselves).  No matter.  Sounding too much like a creationist is reason enough for condemnation.  The creation geologists, by contrast, freely examine and reference the GSA literature in addition to their own field work and have no hesitation going to GSA meetings (when they can) and discussing their views.
        If you think modern geology is done by an unbiased, neutral, open-minded community that will cheerfully follow the evidence wherever it leads, get over it.  If you think geological theories distil the best thinking from all quarters, get a life.  (Check out this list of examples of suppression of new ideas and innovation by scientists and self-proclaimed experts.)  Many individual geologists are honest people doing the best work they can within their paradigm.  By honest, we mean that they are not intentionally lying, but they are so brainwashed to think only in terms of the Standard Geological Column and all of its reified evolution-based dating schemes that alternative points of view never enter their thinking.  With few exceptions, they have been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to bark “religious fundamentalist alert!” when a creationist appears on the scene.  Some GSA types are brave enough to be mavericks, within limits; but this is like moving away from the crowd inside a corner of the box – never thinking outside of it.
        How about an outside-the-box look at the evidence with your own eyes?  Creation Safaris leads 3-day rafting trips down the Grand Canyon in conjunction with Canyon Ministries.  On these fun and educational adventures, you can witness huge features that make perfect sense in terms of a global flood and catastrophic formation of the canyon – features that present major problems for slow, gradualistic theories.  This year’s trip is sold out, unfortunately, but you can send a message to the Feedback line to tell us you are interested in a future opportunity.
    Next headline on:  GeologyDating Methods
      Much ado about nothing, from 03/12/2004.

    Darwin for the Birds   03/04/2008    
    March 4, 2008 — Here’s a flock of bird stories that have Charles Darwin on stage or in the wings, so to speak.

    1. Was Darwin wrong?  Yes!  Contra National Geographic (10/24/2004), the science news outlets are all saying today that Darwin was wrong – but only about the origin of chickens (see EurekAlert #1, EurekAlert #2 and Science Daily).  The point of contention is so trivial, creationists lured by the headline might be chagrined to find the science media making such a big flap about a misdemeanor by the father of evolutionary theory, but not making a peep about what they perceive as his much bigger flights of fancy.
    2. Why pigeons sleep:  Pigeons take power naps, reported EurekAlert.  In fact, their sleep patterns seem similar to those of humans.  This can only mean one thing: “the independent evolution of similar sleep states in birds and mammals might be related to the fact that each group also independently evolved large brains capable of performing complex cognitive processes.”  Darwin was not mentioned but we all know he was a pigeon fancier.  He most likely took power naps himself, presumably not when writing books.
    3. Dino-age cormorantsNational Geographic News reported a discovery of large amounts of seabird fossils in Cretaceous strata on an island off New Zealand.  The “spectacular deposit” also included “bones that are too large to belong to birds, including what could be the big toe from a two-legged carnivorous dinosaur known as a theropod.”  The identification of the big one as a dinosaur, however, is tentative.  The bird fossils “seem to resemble modern seabirds known as cormorants” (see 05/24/2004).
    4. Darwin’s finches redux:  Peter and Rosemary Grant, the Darwin-finch experts, have distilled their 30+ years of research into a new book, How and Why Species Multiply (Princeton, 2008).  From the title, the book generalizes far beyond a few species on the Galapagos Islands.  Hanna Kokko reviewed the book in Science.1  Kokko did not add much new beyond the obligatory retelling of the Galapagos voyage and the inspiration it gave the young naturalist.  She hurriedly listed a few of the conclusions from the Grants’ painstaking research: stories of hybridization, founder populations, genetic bottlenecks, heterozygous genes, competition for resources, and the effects of drought on beak size.  None of this led to definitive conclusions.  Rather, “That context is where we start to understand what all the details mean.”  She ended quoting the Grants’ takeoff on Dobzhansky: “Nothing in evolutionary biology makes sense except in the light of ecology.”
    Another quick bird factoid comes from PNAS:  a Hungarian team found that falcons and humans (using paragliders) employ the same soaring strategies.2  “We find that there are relevant common features in the ways birds and humans use thermals,” they said.  “In particular, falcons seem to reproduce the MacCready formula widely used by gliders to calculate the best slope to take before an upcoming thermal.”
    1.  Hanna Kokko, “Evolution: Happening Now, Outdoors,” Science, 29 February 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1187-1188, DOI: 10.1126/science.1154815.
    2.  Akos, Nagy and Vicsek, “Comparing bird and human soaring strategies,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online on March 3, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0707711105.
    Look carefully in each of these stories for clear, unambiguous evidence for Darwin’s primary contention that all living things – from bacteria to birds and humans – emerged from a single primordial cell through an unguided process of natural selection acting on random mutations.  You’ll see a lot of fluttering and clucking, but nothing of substance.  What has Darwin laid but a DODO egg? (i.e., a biology that chirps “Darwin only, Darwin only.”)
        Flight engineering technology in birds, imitated by humans, leads to the conclusion birds were designed.  Was Darwin wrong?  Don’t be a chicken; answer the question with logic and evidence.
    Next headline on:  BirdsFossilsDarwin and Evolutionary Theory
    The Root Route   03/04/2008    
    March 4, 2008 — Why don’t roots push a plant right out of the ground?  It’s a question only a scientist or an 8-year-old kid would ask.  The answer is more amazing than either would have realized.  Root hairs feel their way around obstacles and find the openings, in the dark, by means of a complex interplay of proteins and signaling molecules.  The story is told in Science Daily.
        Production of a protein called RHD2 at the tips of root hairs is controlled by a self-reinforcing cycle.  Obstacles break the cycle and allow growth in another direction.  “This remarkable system gives plants the flexibility to explore a complex environment and to colonise even the most unpromising soils,” said Professor Liam Dolan at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.  “It also explains how seedlings are able to grow so quickly once they have established.”
    From the humblest weed to the most magnificent tree, plants are improbable wonders.  Their roots can conquer soils hard as rock and their stems can crack granite.  Roots pump nutrients and water from deep underground to the top needles of a redwood nearly 350 feet in the sky.  How can such things be?  We are only beginning to understand.
        To view a plant at the macroscopic level is to miss most of its wondrous operations.  Adolescent students do science projects with bean seeds.  They watch the roots go down and the stems go up.  It seems perfectly natural.  Why should it look natural?  Rocks and pebbles and other lifeless things don’t typically push against gravity or grow downward through a junkyard of obstacles.  Life goes against the natural grain of the laws of physics (e.g., gravity) only by capturing energy and harnessing it with programmed controls that build and operate molecular machines and perfectly-adapted building materials.
        Students observe root hairs through their cheap microscopes.  They seem like nothing particularly special or interesting.  Adding the temporal dimension with time-lapse cameras creates a little more interest.  But without modern biology’s improved techniques for observing things at the microscopic and nanoscopic levels, who would have imagined what really goes on in those tiny root hairs?  There is more designed complexity in the weed growing through a sidewalk crack than in the textbook that catalogs it.  Try not to feel guilty when pulling, poisoning or hacking the weeds in your garden today.
    Next headline on:  PlantsCell BiologyAmazing Facts
    Wallace for Darwin Running Mate   03/03/2008    
    March 3, 2008 – Shouldn’t Darwin Day be named Darwin-Wallace Day?  After all, Alfred Russell Wallace is by most accounts the co-discoverer of natural selection.  Papers by Wallace and Darwin were read together at the Linnean Society meeting of 1858, over a year before Origin of Species was published.  Some groups are seeking to give Wallace his due in the limelight – or, in the language of presidential politics, at least let him be Darwin’s running mate.
        In a letter to Nature,1 George W. Beccaloni and Vincent S. Smith complained that celebrations for Darwin Day are downplaying Wallace’s role.  This was not to disparage the great Darwin, for they agreed with Kevin Padian (02/11/2008) that next year’s 200th birthday should be “celebrated enthusiastically.”  But 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the discovery of natural selection.
        There has been a long-standing attempt to marginalize the great Wallace, they argued.  It almost seems intentional:
    This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary is indicative of how Wallace’s achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin’s since Wallace’s death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin ‘industry’ of recent decades.  During his lifetime, Wallace received plenty of recognition from his contemporaries for his part in the discovery, as indicated by the many honours bestowed on him.  These include the Darwin-Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society); the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals (Royal Society); and the Order of Merit.  Isn’t it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?
    A website has been erected called The Alfred Russell Wallace Memorial Fund.  The sponsors seek to correct the darwinocentric view of the history of biology and give Wallace more recognition.
    1.  George W. Beccaloni and Vincent S. Smith, Correspondence, “Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace's role,” Nature 451, 1050 (28 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/4511050d.
    Yes, it is time for the darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised.  But adding one more misguided racist apostate storyteller is a process certainly not helped by the Darwin-Wallace industry of recent decades.
        Reasons why Wallace doesn’t get the press Darwin gets: (1) he was from a lower social class, (2) he delved into spiritualism and held some other weird beliefs, and (3) he did not believe that natural selection could explain man’s soul, rationality and morals.  For this Darwin could only barely tolerate him.  Since Wallace did not go all the way to complete naturalism, he could not share the glory of the Grand Tale that allowed Dawkins to become an intellectually fool-filled atheist.
        Darwin was devastated when Wallace had sent him that 1858 letter outlining the same theory of natural selection that he had been working on for years.  Didn’t Darwin do the right thing, though, to share the stage at the Linnean Society with Wallace by having both their papers read together?
        Janet Browne in her excellent biography Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002) told how it was a scheme to protect Darwin from criticism while guaranteeing him the limelight.  Darwin’s X-Men friends gave Wallace just enough press to keep him from complaining about priority, but afterwards did little to share the honor with him, and worked to ensconce Charlie as the “real” hero of the Law of Natural Selection.  It was “audacious skulduggery” – as Browne termed the plan Charlie & Charlie (Darwin and Lyell) cooked up.  “No pair of practised fixers could, if they wished, have cooked up a better scheme for promoting Darwin’s interests” (p. 35).  Read all about it in chapter 1.
        The Wallace Fund site contains a quote from old man Wallace in 1913: “Truth is born into this world only with pangs and tribulations, and every fresh truth is received unwillingly.  To expect the world to receive a new truth, or even an old truth, without challenging it, is to look for one of those miracles which do not occur.”  Great.  Let’s challenge Wallace and Darwin both.  Question number one: How does Truth evolve?
    Next headline on:  Darwin
      Ready-mix patch kit is ready to repair your cells, from 03/19/2003.

    Polls Produce Politically-Incorrect Results   03/02/2008    
    March 2, 2008 — Polls are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.  In a survey conducted by the Channel One Network, a broadcast service for public schools, students were asked if they thought schools should teach only intelligent design, teach only evolution, or teach both.  A majority (52%) responded for teaching both ID and evolution; another 31% voted for teaching ID only.  Only 17% thought evolution alone should be taught, yet that is the position of all the major science institutions and science teacher organizations. has apparently taken the results page offline, but Answers in Genesis commented on it.  Though not conducted scientifically, the poll is in keeping with other national surveys on the subject.
        In another poll sure to provide grist for the talk radio mill, only 38% of Democrats described their mental health as excellent, compared to 58% of Republicans.  World Net Daily talked about this Gallup poll to Dr. Lyle H. Rossiter, a psychiatrist who thinks liberalism is a mental illness.  The author of a book The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness was not surprised by the results: “Like spoiled, angry children, they rebel against the normal responsibilities of adulthood and demand that a parental government meet their needs from cradle to grave,” he said.
        The overwhelming majority of pro-evolution college professors describe themselves as liberals or Democrats (08/05/2004, 12/02/2004).

    A reader noticed that the Channel One poll designers put Evolution only as the default answer.
        Polls are thermometers, not yardsticks.  Any conclusions from these polls should be balanced by readings from other instruments before making a diagnosis.  But if pro-evolution liberals are suffering depression from the Channel One poll on top of their mental illness from the Gallup poll, the most effective treatment for all concerned might be quarantine.
    Next headline on:  Intelligent DesignPolitics and EthicsEducation
    Cool Bat Tricks   03/01/2008    
    March 1, 2008 — Bats put on a dazzling air show.  Science Daily revealed that the acrobatic mammals have magnetic instruments.  Somehow, they are able to use the magnetite in their cells as navigational aids.  Scientists from Leeds University and Princeton conducted experiments on large brown bats.  They were able to steer the bats off course by issuing magnetic pulses.  They surmised that the magnetite gives the animals not only animal magnetism but an internal compass to help them navigate.  Interestingly, humans possess magnetite but still manage to get lost.
        Meanwhile, in Sweden, scientists put bats in a wind tunnel to figure out how they hover.  Live Science reported that “bats employ the same, swirling ‘bubbles’ of air called vortexes that many insects use to stay afloat in mid-air.”  This allows the heavier-than-air animals to nearly float as they negotiate in hard-to-get places, such as when sipping nectar from a flower.  The vortices seem glued to the underside of the wing, adapting the wing shape in complex ways.  Even so, bats flap their wings nearly 15 times per second in these situations.
    Neither article mentioned evolution.  Design science can take credit for these science projects – typical of most real research about observable things.  The author of the second paper is working on developing a bat model he can incorporate into robots.  Designers like to imitate sleek design, not fat chance.
    Next headline on:  MammalsAmazing Facts

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        Also, your background topics of logic and propaganda techniques have been useful as classroom aides, helping others to learn to use their baloney detectors.
        Through the years, I have directed many to your site.  For their sake and mine, I hope you will be able to continue providing this very important, very much needed, educational, humorous, thought provoking work.”
    (an engineer in Missouri)

    “I am so glad I found your site.  I love reading short blurbs about recent discoveries, etc, and your commentary often highlights that the discovery can be ‘interpreted’ in two differing ways, and usually with the pro-God/Design viewpoint making more sense.  It’s such a refreshing difference from the usual media spin.  Often you’ll have a story up along with comment before the masses even know about the story yet.”
    (a system administrator in Texas, who calls CEH the “UnSpin Zone”)

    “You are indeed the ‘Rush Limbaugh’ Truth Detector of science falsely so-called.  Keep up the excellent work.”
    (a safety director in Michigan)

    “I know of no better way to stay informed with current scientific research than to read your site everyday, which in turn has helped me understand many of the concepts not in my area (particle physics) and which I hear about in school or in the media.  Also, I just love the commentaries and the baloney detecting!!”
    (a grad student in particle physics)

    “I thank you for your ministry.  May God bless you!  You are doing great job effectively exposing pagan lie of evolution.  Among all known to me creation ministries [well-known organizations listed] Creationsafaris stands unique thanks to qualitative survey and analysis of scientific publications and news.  I became permanent reader ever since discovered your site half a year ago.  Moreover your ministry is effective tool for intensive and deep education for cristians.”
    (a webmaster in Ukraine, seeking permission to translate CEH articles into Russian to reach countries across the former Soviet Union)

    “The scholarship of the editors is unquestionable.  The objectivity of the editors is admirable in face of all the unfounded claims of evolutionists and Darwinists.  The amount of new data available each day on the site is phenomenal (I can’t wait to see the next new article each time I log on).  Most importantly, the TRUTH is always and forever the primary goal of the people who run this website.  Thank you so very much for 6 years of consistent dedication to the TRUTH.”
    (11 months earlier): “I just completed reading each entry from each month.  I found your site about 6 months ago and as soon as I understood the format, I just started at the very first entry and started reading.... Your work has blessed my education and determination to bold in showing the ‘unscientific’ nature of evolution in general and Darwinism in particular.”
    (a medical doctor in Oklahoma)

    “Thanks for the showing courage in marching against a popular unproven unscientific belief system.  I don’t think I missed 1 article in the past couple of years.”
    (a manufacturing engineer in Australia)

    “I do not know and cannot imagine how much time you must spend to read, research and compile your analysis of current findings in almost every area of science.  But I do know I thank you for it.”
    (a practice administrator in Maryland)

    “Since finding your insightful comments some 18 or more months ago, I’ve visited your site daily.... You so very adeptly and adroitly undress the emperor daily; so much so one wonders if he might not soon catch cold and fall ill off his throne! .... To you I wish much continued success and many more years of fun and frolicking undoing the damage taxpayers are forced to fund through unending story spinning by ideologically biased scientists.”
    (an investment advisor in Missouri)

    “I really like your articles.  You do a fabulous job of cutting through the double-talk and exposing the real issues.  Thank you for your hard work and diligence.”
    (an engineer in Texas)

    “I love your site.  Found it about maybe two years ago and I read it every day.  I love the closing comments in green.  You have a real knack for exposing the toothless claims of the evolutionists.  Your comments are very helpful for many us who don’t know enough to respond to their claims.  Thanks for your good work and keep it up.”
    (a missionary in Japan)

    “I just thought I’d write and tell you how much I appreciate your headline list and commentary.  It’s inspired a lot of thought and consideration.  I check your listings every day!”
    (a computer programmer in Tulsa)

    “Just wanted to thank you for your creation/evolution news ... an outstanding educational resource.“
    (director of a consulting company in Australia)

    “Your insights ... been some of the most helpful – not surprising considering the caliber of your most-excellent website!  I’m serious, ..., your website has to be the best creation website out there....”
    (a biologist and science writer in southern California)

    “I first learned of your web site on March 29.... Your site has far exceeded my expectations and is consulted daily for the latest.  I join with other readers in praising your time and energy spent to educate, illuminate, expose errors.... The links are a great help in understanding the news items.  The archival structure is marvelous....  Your site brings back dignity to Science conducted as it should be.  Best regards for your continuing work and influence.  Lives are being changed and sustained every day.”
    (a manufacturing quality engineer in Mississippi)

    “I wrote you over three years ago letting you know how much I enjoyed your Creation-Evolution headlines, as well as your Creation Safaris site.  I stated then that I read your headlines and commentary every day, and that is still true!  My interest in many sites has come and gone over the years, but your site is still at the top of my list!  I am so thankful that you take the time to read and analyze some of the scientific journals out there; which I don’t have the time to read myself.  Your commentary is very, very much appreciated.”
    (a hike leader and nature-lover in Ontario, Canada)

    “...just wanted to say how much I admire your site and your writing.  You’re very insightful and have quite a broad range of knowledge.  Anyway, just wanted to say that I am a big fan!”
    (a PhD biochemist at a major university)

    “I love your site and syndicate your content on my church website.... The stories you highlight show the irrelevancy of evolutionary theory and that evolutionists have perpetual ‘foot and mouth’ disease; doing a great job of discrediting themselves.  Keep up the good work.”
    (a database administrator and CEH “junkie” in California)

    “I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your article reviews on your website—it’s a HUGE asset!”
    (a lawyer in Washington)

    “Really, really, really a fantastic site.  Your wit makes a razor appear dull!... A million thanks for your site.”
    (a small business owner in Oregon “and father of children who love your site too.”)

    “Thank God for ... Creation Evolution Headlines.  This site is right at the cutting edge in the debate over bio-origins and is crucial in working to undermine the deceived mindset of naturalism.  The arguments presented are unassailable (all articles having first been thoroughly ‘baloney detected’) and the narrative always lands just on the right side of the layman’s comprehension limits... Very highly recommended to all, especially, of course, to those who have never thought to question the ‘fact’ of evolution.”
    (a business owner in Somerset, UK)

    “I continue to note the difference between the dismal derogations of the darwinite devotees, opposed to the openness and humor of rigorous, follow-the-evidence scientists on the Truth side.  Keep up the great work.”
    (a math/science teacher with M.A. in anthropology)

    “Your material is clearly among the best I have ever read on evolution problems!  I hope a book is in the works!”
    (a biology prof in Ohio)

    “I have enjoyed reading the sardonic apologetics on the Creation/Evolution Headlines section of your web site.  Keep up the good work!”
    (an IT business owner in California)

    “Your commentaries ... are always delightful.”
    (president of a Canadian creation group)

    “I’m pleased to see... your amazing work on the ‘Headlines’.”
    (secretary of a creation society in the UK)

    “We appreciate all you do at”
    (a publisher of creation and ID materials)

    “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)

    “ 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)

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    Featured Creation Scientist for March

    Nicolas Copernicus
    1473 - 1543

    Perhaps no revolution in science has been more far-reaching than the Copernican Revolution.  It led to the modern Copernican Principle, the idea that the earth occupies no preferred place in the cosmos (though the cosmos of Copernicus was very different from that revealed since the invention of the telescope).  Revisionist history has portrayed Copernicus as a secretive scientist hiding his views from the church for fear of being condemned as a heretic.  We are told also that Protestants of the Reformation scorned his views.  In recent years, however, that revisionism itself is being revised, thanks largely to the research of historian and astronomer Owen Gingerich of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
        What did Gingerich find about Copernicus the man, his views, his readers and the church’s reaction?  And what new discoveries are calling into question the central claim of the Copernican Principle, that Earth occupies no special status in the grand scheme of the cosmos?
        It’s time for myths about Copernicus to be corrected.  He did not set out to revolutionize all of astronomy and science.  He did not seek to cast doubt on the Scriptures, or attack the church.  He was not fearful of being persecuted as a heretic.  And his writings were not uniformly condemned by Catholics or Protestants; in fact, many embraced the new idea that the earth moved around the sun, and it was Lutherans especially who enabled the publication of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  Finally, Copernicus is not responsible for what has become known as The Copernican Principle.
        Copernicus was born into a wealthy family, and studied astronomy, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Krakow in Poland.  He was appointed a canon, but never took orders to become a priest, preferring instead to continue his studies in Italy, where he learned literature and medicine.  On return to Poland, he became personal physician to his uncle, a bishop, a comfortable job that left him time to pursue astronomy as a hobby.  Later, he worked for the church in an official capacity in matters regarding war and reform of the currency.
        Astronomy was never one of his official duties, but Copernicus became renowned as an astronomer.  One of the chief duties of an astronomer in those days was to devise and improve calendars.  As a calendar-maker and mathematician, Copernicus noted the complexity of the Ptolemaic (earth-centered) system and its numerous epicycles (circles on circles to “save the appearances” of the planetary motions).  In 1506 he began privately developing a heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system, primarily as a tool to make the calculations easier, although he still kept the epicycles and circular orbits.  It is probable he grew to believe that the earth really did move.  The view was not entirely original.  Aristarchus of Samos had suggested it in the third century B.C., and several medieval philosophers considered it, but no one had worked out the mathematics of such a system in detail.  Copernicus did not reveal his model in writing until 1530, and then only in outline form.  “It immediately attracted great attention,” says the biographical note to the Britannica Great Books edition.  “At Rome, Johann Albrecht Widmanstadt lectured upon the new doctrine; Pope Clement VII gave his approval; Cardinal Schonberg entreated the author to make public his full thought on the subject.”
        The Protestant Reformation began in 1517, but Copernicus never became directly involved.  In fact, Protestants became his greatest allies.  Georg Joachim Rheticus, a Protestant mathematician at Luther’s Wittenberg University, was so intrigued by the new model that he took a leave of absence and traveled to meet Copernicus.  He spent two years with the Polish astronomer, and published his own general account of the heliocentric model with Copernicus’ approval.  Another Lutheran, Andreas Osiander, joined Rheticus in urging publication of the complete book, and a Lutheran prince, Duke Albrecht, subsidized the printing in 1543.  Copernicus became ill and lived only long enough to see a copy of the first edition.  He never had occasion to suffer any persecution for his ideas; it was not till many years later during Galileo’s time (see bio) that the Catholic Church put it on the list of forbidden books, and that was largely over issues of politics, academics and personality.
        It is true that Copernicus hesitated to publish, but probably less from fear of heresy than from fear of ridicule by his peers.  Aristotle’s world view was so entrenched in the sixteenth century that to question it was asking for trouble.  It cannot be claimed that Copernicus feared censure by the church, since he dedicated his book to the pope.  Nor can it be claimed he sought to cast doubt on the Scriptures, since medieval theologians had already taught that statements in the Bible about natural phenomena, such as those about the earth moving, could be interpreted in the language of appearance to the observer.  It was only later, as conflicts between Catholics and Protestants raised tensions over interpretation of Scripture, that some church leaders insisted that passages about the sun moving and the earth standing still were taken to mean that the Copernican model must be heretical.  Certainly that was never the view of Galileo, the Catholic, nor Kepler, the Protestant, both who eagerly embraced the heliocentric system.
        Gingerich searched the world for every extant copy of Copernicus’ book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), and found that it was widely read.  There were supporters and naysayers on both sides of the Reformation divide.  It must be remembered that Copernicus had supplied no observational proof for his view, and at the time, it seemed counterintuitive; by all appearances, the Earth is terra firma, and it is the sun that rises and sets.  Before Kepler refined the model to correct for errors made by Copernicus (the orbits are ellipses, not circles), the heliocentric model was primarily a thought experiment lacking empirical evidence.  We cannot misjudge some contemporaries who considered it a speculative scientific hypothesis, whether or not they felt it agreed with Scripture; they had good reasons for doubting the earth’s motion.  It certainly did not comport with experience.  Furthermore, they predicted that the stars would shift back and forth during the year if the earth moved around the sun, and no shift was seen.  It was not till 1838 that stellar parallax was detected.  This not only provided the needed evidence for heliocentricity, it demonstrated that the stars were much farther away than the contemporaries of Copernicus had thought.
        In the Cosmos TV series in the 1980s, Carl Sagan took glee in pointing out that Luther apparently called Copernicus a fool.  That is an urban myth that was propagated by Andrew Dickson White, first president of Cornell University (where Sagan later was astronomy professor), in an 1896 book History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.  White’s motive was to describe Christianity as always antagonistic to science.  Once again, Owen Gingerich has examined the evidence to set the record straight.  In Issue 73 of Christian History magazine (November, 2002), Gingerich said that the statement attributed to Luther, “That fool would upset the whole art of astronomy” is generally believed by scholars to be apocryphal.  It was published as hearsay in 1566, twenty years after Luther had died.  It is hard to say what both Luther and Calvin thought of the Copernican model; we must be fair to history to remember that it was a radical idea to most people of the day, and took time to gain acceptance.  The record does show, however, that Protestants like Rheticus, Melanchthon and Kepler were the most eager to embrace it.  Alvin J. Schmidt, in his book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Zondervan, 2001, pp. 226-227), gives six reasons why the Luther quote is unhistorical.  Agreeing that the statement was late-recollection hearsay and ambiguous, he quotes Melanchthon as early as 1549 (six years after publication of Copernicus’ book), saying “We have begun to admire and love Copernicus more.”  And Luther himself had taught that certain passages of Scripture could be understood in the language of appearance.  It can hardly be claimed that Biblical Christianity is inimical to science when the greatest explosion in scientific knowledge occurred in Protestant countries after the Reformation.
        Historians also generally agree that Copernicus was a faithful son of the Catholic church and never felt his model was contrary to Scripture.  The new book and film The Privileged Planet makes two things clear about Copernicus.  First, the so-called Copernican Principle, the idea that earth occupies no privileged position in the cosmos, was the invention of later naturalistic scientists, not the view of Nicolas Copernicus himself.  The insinuation that Copernicus had somehow “demoted” mankind from the center of the universe is another myth that Dennis Danielson, editor of The Book of the Cosmos, explodes in the question-and-answer section of the film.  Sagan treats the Copernican Revolution as a series of “demotions” of man from being the center of the universe.  But in medieval cosmology, Danielson points out, the center of the cosmos was the sump, where the dregs and filth descended; the celestial sphere, the abode of God, was far exalted above the world of fallen man.  So for Copernicus to raise earth to the status of a planet orbiting the sun was a promotion, not a demotion.
        Second, Copernicus felt that his study of the heavens glorified God, and he viewed God as a supreme and wise Creator of the elegant system of the heavens.  Dava Sobel, in her book Galileo’s Daughter, quotes Copernicus from the introduction to his book referring to the system of the heavens as being derived from “the best and most systematic Artist of all.”  From the Great Books edition, Copernicus says:
    For who, after applying himself to things which he sees established in the best order and directed by divine ruling, would not through diligent contemplation of them and through a certain habituation be awakened to that which is best and would not wonder at the Artificer of all things, in Whom is all happiness and every good?  For the divine Psalmist surely did not say gratuitously that he took pleasure in the workings of God and rejoiced in the works of His hands, unless by means of these things as by some sort of vehicle we are transported to the contemplation of the highest Good.”
    So we see that Psalm 111:1-4 has reflected a common experience of believers of all ages, that the pursuit of understanding of God’s works is an act of worship in which we draw nearer to God.  Later in his introduction, after Copernicus has deduced from his model that the fixed stars are at “an immense height away,” his praise rises to a crescendo and erupts into a doxology: “How exceedingly fine is the godlike work of the Best and Greatest Artist!”

    A reader in Maryland wrote: “Thanks so much for the detailed overview of Copernicus and the many modern inaccuracies that are ‘common knowledge’ about him.
        I’m usually pretty well versed in the false religion vs. science dichotomy, but I’m pleased to tell you that more than 80% of your article about Copernicus was news to me--and as a result, destroyed much of my concepts of who this man was, what he stood for, and what he went through.
        Again, a great service -- and a great eye-opener.  Please never abandon this wonderful work!”

    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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