Creation-Evolution Headlines
October 2008
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“The miracle of Darwinism is that, despite the fact that the author of Origin of Species assumed origin of life in the first place and presented absolutely no data or examples (except an admitted indulgence of the imagination) for the origin of any species by natural selection (a practice followed by his disciples to this day), Darwin’s theory swiftly became sacrosanct among institutions of science.  Now thrust to the vaulted and singular status in science of incontrovertible fact, Darwinism, like a big stick, is used both to prod the reluctant materialist and to beat the unwilling theist into devoted public homage to the new author of life and life more abundantly, Lord Darwin, King of the Zoos.” 

—Roddy Bullock, “Atheism and the Long Lever of Darwinism: Moving the World,” Access Research Network 09/28/2008.
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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Paley’s Watch Found in Bacteria   10/31/2008    
Oct 31, 2008 — A clock with cogs, gears and ratchets that keeps accurate time – what more could William Paley wish for?  The 18th century natural theologian used the illustration of stumbling upon a watch in a heath as an example of reasoning from design to a Designer – as from watch to watchmaker.  Skeptics like David Hume challenged such reasoning of the natural theologians as a mere argument from analogy: living things are very different from mechanical machines, he argued.  One can only wonder how their debate would unfold with the discovery of a ticking watch inside one of the simplest forms of life.
    Scientists have long wondered how living things keep time.  We are all aware of our own natural cycles throughout the day.  Organisms without eyes and ears, though, like bacteria, also keep time with diurnal cycles.  How do they do it?  The secret has only been coming to light in the last few years (see 05/17/2005)  Johnson, Egli and Stewart wrote a review article in Science this week that describes what is currently known about the circadian clock present in cyanobacteria.1  They could not help but use mechanical terms for this biological machinery.  It began right in their opening paragraph:

An endogenous circadian system in cyanobacteria exerts pervasive control over cellular processes, including global gene expression.  Indeed, the entire chromosome undergoes daily cycles of topological changes and compaction.  The biochemical machinery underlying a circadian oscillator can be reconstituted in vitro with just three cyanobacterial proteins, KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC.  These proteins interact to promote conformational changes and phosphorylation events that determine the phase of the in vitro oscillation.  The high-resolution structures of these proteins suggest a ratcheting mechanism by which the KaiABC oscillator ticks unidirectionally.  This posttranslational oscillator may interact with transcriptional and translational feedback loops to generate the emergent circadian behavior in vivo.  The conjunction of structural, biophysical, and biochemical approaches to this system reveals molecular mechanisms of biological timekeeping.
“Conformational change” is jargon for bending, springing, unfolding and other kinds of motion that take place as the proteins operate.  Proteins are therefore the “moving parts” of the clock.
    Later, they spoke of “cogs and gears” in the “clockwork mechanism” evident in the Kai-ABC proteins.  Each protein, in turn, is made up of multiple parts, composed of hundreds of amino acids.  KaiC, for instance, is a barrel mechanism with two donut-shaped rings, each made of six toothed parts that make it look like a gear wheel.  The clock runs on ATP energy pellets.  It accumulates hydrogen bonds through phosphorylation events that force it to “tick” like a ratchet in one direction.  It keeps an accurate 24-hour cycle, releasing its energy for the next round in conjunction with feedback loops from the nucleus and cytoplasm.  These, in turn, affect what genes are expressed by the transcribers in the nucleus and translators in the ribosomes.
   In his description of the clock posted last April on Reasons to Believe, Dr. Fazale Rana described how the KaiA and KaiB parts interact with KaiC like a rotor and wing nut.  He made the same connection to Paley.  Describing this as a “biochemical watch on a heath,” he showed how it refutes David Hume’s criticism of natural theology.  The discovery of molecular machines like the circadian clock have revitalized the watchmaker argument for the existence of God, he said.
    The Science article pointed out that several questions remain.  How is the clock robust against temperature fluctuations?  Does the eukaryotic clock, which employs very different molecular systems, operate on similar design principles?  They referred to evolution twice, but only in a very indistinct, indirect way:
The benefit of a clockwork that is imperturbable even when buffeted by the massive intracellular changes of cell division could have provided an evolutionary driving force for convergent circadian clock mechanisms among diverse organisms.
    We now recognize KaiABC as a dynamically oscillating nanomachine that has evolved to precess unidirectionally and robustly. 
These sentences, however, merely assume that evolution produced the machines in the first place.  Since the clocks are present in some of the simplest forms of life, it would seem a grand challenge to believe that a blind, directionless process stumbled upon all this interacting, mechanical system by chance.  Incidentally, they pointed out that each cell has 10,000 KaiC proteins.  If it is difficult to imagine getting one clock by chance, imagine getting 10,000 that tick together. “The challenges ahead,” they ended, “are to delve deeper into the molecular nature of its temperature compensation ... and to discover if the clocks in our own cells have attributes that are similar to those of bacteria.”
1.  Johnson, Egli and Stewart, “Structural Insights into a Circadian Oscillator,” Science, 31 October 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5902, pp. 697-701, DOI: 10.1126/science.1150451.
Oh, for the sight of David Hume and Charles Darwin being confronted with a ticking clock inside a “simple” cell.  We can get an idea of their reaction, though, by looking at the fact that the three authors of this review, after having described an intricate mechanism of oscillators, ratchets and feedback loops, attributed it all to evolution.  The many biochemists aware of these and other exquisite molecular machines follow suit.  In spite of overpowering evidence for design, their minds are made up: they will follow Charlie to the bitter end and die with him rather than acknowledge design.
    The Apostle Paul said in Romans 1 that the evidence for God and His attributes is clearly seen in creation, so that men are without excuse.  Each generation has evidence of sufficient clarity for its knowledge base.  For the Romans and Egyptians, the diurnal cycles of the sun, moon and stars have been more than sufficient to remove their excuses for unbelief and mistaken belief.  For today’s scientists, the diurnal cycles of nanoscopic protein clocks throughout life is more than sufficient.  The true challenge ahead is not just to delve deeper into the molecular nature of the design we already see, but to hold it up for display and preach the implications, so that it takes effect in the human mind – as Paul said, “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (II Corinthians 10:5; cf. 01/17/2007).
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
  A swarm of bee stories abuzz with design, from 10/27/2006.

FrankenTitan Comes to Life   10/30/2008    
Oct 30, 2008 — There’s electricity at Titan, the large moon of Saturn.  That can only mean one thing: life!  “Electricity Found on Saturn Moon--Could It Spark Life?” asked a headline on National Geographic News by Rebecca Carroll.  Visions of spark discharge tubes in a mad scientist’s lab arise in the imagination.  “Recently identified electrical activity on Saturn’s largest moon bolsters arguments that Titan is the kind of place that could harbor life.”
    Carroll quickly pointed out that at -350° F, any Titanian life would not resemble “life as we know it.”  Initial indications of electrical activity in the thick atmosphere of this unusual moon have been confirmed in data from the Huygens Probe that landed in 2005 (see 01/15/2005, 01/21/2005).  With that spark of imagination, the L-word leaped up from the reporter’s table:

But a new study reports faint signs of a natural electric field in Titan’s thick cloud cover that are similar to the energy radiated by lightning on Earth.
    Lightning is thought to have sparked the chemical reactions that led to the origin of life on our planet....
    Jeffrey Bada, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, believes the process that allowed lightning to spark life on Earth is universal and could happen in many environments—including on Titan.
    Confirmation earlier this year of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes makes the Saturnian moon the first place other than Earth where open bodies of liquid have been found.
    Hydrocarbons are organic molecules, and the fact that they exist in large quantities on Titan suggests that life could take root there under the right conditions.
Alas, the water required for life is locked up in rock-hard ice.  The “precursor molecules” formed by lightning acting on hydrocarbons could go no further without water, Bada said.  But then – perhaps the ice could melt under certain circumstances.  Maybe a meteor impact would melt the ice long enough for interesting things to happen.
Titan’s water is currently frozen into chunks as hard as granite.  If those ice “rocks” were to melt, however, the environment could become more hospitable to the building blocks of life.
    With liquid water, the planet could host the formation of amino acids and then full proteins, which drive all biochemistry and set the stage for more complex molecules.
    “I look at Titan as a big, frozen, prebiotic casserole,” Bada said, referring to the state before the emergence of life.
    “The idea that life could be widespread in the universe, I think, is very credible.”
Juan Antonio Morente of the University of Granada in Spain, the lead author of the study, seemed less enthusiastic about the possibility of life on Titan.  He said that Titan is exposed to deadly cosmic rays because it lacks a stable magnetic field.  “Without stable protection from radiation, Morente said, ‘the existence of life is very unlikely.’”
    In all, Carroll used the L-word life 11 times in her short 585-word article.  It seems strange Carroll would focus on life now when discussing Morente’s paper.  For one thing, it’s not news; the paper was published in June.1  And the team never used the L-word in the paper.  Apparently Jeffrey Bada,2 a well-known origin-of-life researcher at Scripps, “who was not involved with Morente’s study,” made the statements about electricity, hydrocarbons and life recently – or maybe Carroll was looking for a story with a tie-in to Frankenstein right before Halloween.
1.  Morente, Porti, Salinas and Navarro, “Evidence of electrical activity on Titan drawn from the Schumann resonances sent by Huygens probe,” Icarus, Volume 195, Issue 2, June 2008, pages 802-811, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2008.02.004.  The only statement in the paper that comes close to the idea of life on Titan is in the first paragraph: “Lightning activity would considerably increase the probability of organic and pre-biotic molecules being formed.”
2.  Jeffrey Bada was part of another Halloween prank last week: see the 10/20/2008 entry.
Creepy.  To learn about the real Frankenstein, listen to this podcast.  Truth is stranger than fiction.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemOrigin of LifeDumb Ideas
Scientific Terms Can Obfuscate, Not Enlighten   10/29/2008    
Oct 29, 2008 — When scientists classify things and use scientific terms, are they really shedding light on nature and natural history?  It’s possible they may just be glossing over their own ignorance, suggested three articles in Nature last week.  They underscore cases where subjective human conventions are falsely assumed to correlate with external realities.  They lead us to ask, what do we mean by meaning?
  1. Words demean things:  Apparently the editors of Nature have had it with certain clichés.  One editorial, published also on Nature News, pointed out the ambiguity of popular words and phrases used in scientific papers and by science reporters.  The editorial began,
    To a great extent, science is about arriving at definitions.  What is a man?  What is a number?  Questions such as these require substantial inquiry.  But where science is supposed to be precise and measured, definitions can be frustratingly vague and variable.
    As examples, the editorial reviewed the terms paradigm shift, tipping point, race, epigenetic, complexity, stem cell, consciousness and significant.  Those terms may seem intuitively obvious but in fact have multiple definitions. For the word consciousness to have meaning, for instance, there must be a physical basis for it – but none has been found.  And significant is in the eye of the beholder, despite mathematical crutches like p-values that lend a false air of confidence in scientific results.  Scientists often use a 5% confidence level as a measure of significance.  That number, though, is an arbitrary convention – and often a useless one:
    Even if a result is a genuinely statistically significant one, it can be virtually meaningless in the real world.  A new cancer treatment may ‘significantly’ extend life by a month, but many terminally ill patients would not consider that outcome significant.  A scientific finding may be ‘significant’ without having any major impact on a field; conversely, the significance of a discovery might not become apparent until years after it is made.  “One has to reserve for history the judgement of whether something is significant with a capital S,” says Steven Block, a biophysicist at Stanford University in California.
  2. Class warfare:  What do we mean by a class of objects?  Take terms like species and planet: which objects belong in the class, and which are excluded?  It’s not always easy to decide, said Jeffrey Parson and Yair Wand in an essay in last week’s Nature.1  The authors illustrate problems with these two examples.  Look at the conflict over Pluto: is it a planet, a minor planet, or a plutoid?  Depending on which properties of objects in space are considered useful to humans, it could be any one of these things – yet Pluto itself hasn’t changed.  “Plutoid” is a recently made-up word about a class of objects of which Pluto is the best-known example.  Just because the International Astronomical Union declares that from henceforth and forevermore Pluto is a plutoid, that does little more than provide a consensus for human beings and their nomenclature.  Similarly, the term species contains considerable uncertainty, as even Ernst Mayr realized when he tried to define a species as a class of organisms that can produce fertile offspring (the “biological species concept”).  Too bad that doesn’t work for the vast majority of organisms – asexual microbes and fossils.
        Some classifications can lead to false and even fatal results.  Consider the word disease, which originally just meant discomfort – or “not at ease.”  The classification of diseases has usually been centered on etiology, or causes of disease.  These fall into 3 subclasses: genetic, environmental or pathogenic.  For nearly 40 years, the authors said, doctors misdiagnosed ulcers because they could not bring themselves to believe that a bacterium, H. pylori was capable of living in the acidic environment of the stomach.  “When considering the reasons why the bacterial hypothesis was missed for such a long time (and then not readily accepted), the main problem was the misattribution of the property ‘cannot grow in the acidity of the stomach’ to the class of bacteria,” they explained.  “Re-evaluating this fundamental property involved a major mind-shift that was difficult to accept.”
        Classification is a human enterprise.  The authors gave an evolutionary spin on this skill: “Classification ... is recognized as an evolved mechanism that supports survival.”  Supposedly it helps humans get food and shelter.  They did not ask whether lions and lizards needed to evolve the mechanism to sort out their food and shelter, too.  They tried to distinguish between “categories” and “classes” by defining the former as a group of objects with shared properties, and the latter as a category that allows humans to “infer further information” consistently “over a reasonable time period.”  A little reflection, however, shows that they have simply substituted the word class for a meta-category with the same difficulties.  The information that can be inferred from a class is simply a collection of objects with shared properties – things that humans find useful.  Their final paragraph, though, revealed that they are aware of the main pitfall of classification: it happens in the mind, not in the external world.
    Taking a classification perspective on scientific discourse suggests a sequence of questions to ask when studying a domain of phenomena.  What are the properties of interest of these phenomena?  Are there stable sets of properties common to these phenomena?  Are there stable relationships in some of these sets?  And finally, and most importantly, what is the evidence or rationale that these relationships reflect the true nature of the phenomena?  This perspective has two important implications.  First, scientists should make every effort to ensure that the assumed relationships among properties are indeed correct.  Second, rather than arguing over which of several classification schemes is preferable, researchers should recognize that several correct and useful schemes can coexist.  And overall, scientists should recognize that classification happens in the mind and, as a result, it can be influenced by beliefs and emotions.  This is where science can go astray.
  3. The human element:  The lead editorial in Nature last week brought these lessons home to the human species.  What does it mean to be human? the editors asked.2  The Delphic oracle may have advised Know thyself, but that is often hard to follow, they said.  Watch the editors balance their confidence in Darwin’s ability to help us know ourselves with doubts about the evidence:
    Modern science can help, but using it to uncover truths about ourselves can also be fraught with difficulty.  Consider, for example, that an important first step towards understanding contemporary human behaviour – establishing the evolutionary context in which it emerged – means piecing together odd scraps of evidence left by our hunter-gatherer ancestors tens of thousands of years ago.  The paucity of data makes it all too easy to come up with untested, and even untestable, Darwinian versions of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.
    After acknowledging that science’s just-so chickens have come home to roost, the editors resurrected an old conflict that illustrates the impossibility of speaking objectively about ourselves without wandering into politics:
    Another major challenge for researchers is being objective about a topic as philosophically, politically and ethically charged as human nature.  Take the sociobiology wars of the 1970s and 1980s.  Left-wing scholars rejected biological explanations for phenomena such as gender roles, religion, homosexuality and xenophobia, largely because they feared such explanations would be used to justify a continuation of existing inequalities on genetic grounds.  The resulting debates became hugely political.
        The combustibility of the interface between science and society is one major reason for the extraordinary fragmentation of research that tackles human behaviour.  In part because of the sociobiology battle, most social scientists still steer clear of using evolutionary hypotheses.  And even researchers who do work under the unifying framework of evolution tend to fall into distinct camps such as gene-culture co-evolution or human behavioural ecology – their practitioners divided by differences of opinion on, say, the relative importance of culture versus genes.
    The editors clearly think that evolutionary theory deserves to be a unifying theme, but have just cast doubt on the evidence behind it and the pragmatics of using it.  They attribute the problems to the complexity of our species and the lack of interdisciplinary communication.  In a belief that their magazine can help, they said they are starting a series of essays which, though they might make for “uncomfortable reading,” will try to draw lines between human evolutionary prehistory and the complex societies we live in.  The first was by Pascal Boyer about the evolution of religion.  Did it accomplish its purpose?  See our review in the 10/26/2008 entry.

1.  Jeffrey Parson and Yair Wand, “A question of class,” Nature 455, 1040-1041 (23 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/4551040a.
2.  Editorial, “A look within,” Nature 455, 1007-1008 (23 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/4551007b.
It was good for Nature to point out these problems with scientific terminology.  Unfortunately, their brains are so completely sold out to Darwin they are incapable of looking in the mirror.  That’s why one moment they can be admitting the evidence is so scanty it gives ease to untested, untestable Just-So Stories about human evolution, then the next moment they give their editorial blessing to a stupid Just-So Story about the evolution of religion (10/26/2008).
    Philosophy of science is a vital topic for anyone interested in science or apologetics or both.  In philosophy of science you learn to ask questions that scientists themselves rarely ask.  Consider the important topic of classification, brought up in bullet 2 above.  Scientists too flippantly invoke class terms that are totally subjective when scrutinized.  For instance, what is a predator?  We think we understand the term, but in the class of predators you can find snails, tigers, and even the Venus Flytrap.  The differences between these objects in the class predator seem more significant than the property they share: that they eat animals.  In addition, each object belongs to multiple other classes that either distinguish it or include it: organism, vertebrate or invertebrate, plant or animal.  The class you focus on is the one that is useful at the moment.  If you are playing “Twenty Questions,” for instance, the categories initially useful to you are animal, vegetable or mineral, where animal could be anything from a flatworm to a giraffe, vegetable could be anything from algae to a redwood tree, and mineral could include diamonds and space stations.  A corollary of this idea is that classes are merely human constructs – not necessarily ways of dividing up the world as it really is, or as Plato is said to have worded it, “carving nature at its joints.”
    In his excellent lecture series on philosophy of science for The Teaching Company, Jeffrey L. Kasser used a humorous illustration.  He invented a word broccosaxodile, which he defined as “anything that is broccoli, a saxophone, or a crocodile.”  While one might question the usefulness of such a composite classification, he asked if it is any less meaningful than predator which, as we said, includes things just as diverse.  “Predator” is just a shorthand word for a composite category that we could just as well call a “snail-tiger-VenusFlytrap.”  Let’s add another example: what is a fossil?  If you immediately picture bones in rock, you are ignoring the fact that fossils can include whole insects in amber complete with their soft tissue, footprints, petrified wood, and mere impressions of jellyfish or leaves, like shadows, without any bones at all.  Fossils are not permanent, either: the dinosaur trackways in the entry below (10/28/2008) are eroding and will eventually disappear.  In that sense, a corpse in a morgue is a fossil, or the ashes of a cremated person sitting in a bottle in the heartbroken spouse’s bedroom.  (Not to be morbid, but it is almost Halloween.)
    A classification is meaningless without a context in which the term is useful to some human being for a subjective purpose.  There is nothing objective about a class if you want to think of it as referring to something that is “out there” in the world which scientists “discover” without bias.  This should be a lesson to evolutionists who think they are talking objectively when they use class terms like missing link, transitional form, ancestors, phylogenetic tree, homologous traits or innovation.  Such terms are employed for their utility – in this case, the utility of making evolutionary theory appear scientific.

Application.  Let’s apply what we’ve learned to a Biblical example some find embarrassing.  Many skeptics have ridiculed the Bible for classifying bats with birds in Leviticus 11:13-19 (see  OK, their point is?  This classification was amply useful to Moses, who was helping the Israelites distinguish what they were allowed to eat.  The property apropos to their circumstances was clean and unclean edible animals.  Moses, or God for that matter, was under no obligation to use modern scientific taxonomy for the purpose.  In fact, it would seem much more helpful to Israelites wandering in the wilderness to point out which of those things flying around in the dark was safe to eat.  Those of you who have camped in the desert know that swifts and bats can look very similar in the way they dart about.  Formally, we can say that the property at issue in the class being defined was “flying things” – call them “volant vertebrates” if it makes you feel better – not whether the things had fur or feathers or laid eggs.  Moreover, it would be an unfair disparagement of the mental capabilities of people who grew up in the advanced Egyptian civilization and their well-educated leader to assume they didn’t know the difference between birds and bats.  We mustn’t be chauvinistic.  They probably possessed more savvy about nature than the typical modern couch potato.

Exercise.  Teachers and home-school parents: here is an opportunity to introduce your precocious young thinkers to some philosophy of science.  Have them invent categories similar to broccosaxodile (above) and make lists of objects that fit.  Is the category useful in some way?  Does it allow inferring additional information?  Which members belong to other categories?
Silly categories: Make up your own silly category and defend its usefulness: vege-toy-mobiles, dirt-bike-chocolate, sister-TV-cotton (anything that is either a sister, a television, or made of cotton), etc. 
Trivial categories: Round things, small potatoes, friends, food, containers, pets, creeping things, rhyming words, oxymorons, shapes, etc.  Think of more.  In what circumstances are these useful categories?  What are examples of extremely different things that can fit in the same category?  Can you dream up a story to explain how the category evolved?
Scientific categories:  omnivore, migratory species, gene, hybrid, moon, cloud, field, particle, wave, force, reagent, network, factor, family, biome, ecosystem, riparian dweller, marine invertebrate, intelligent life, sentient being.  List some extremely different objects that fit into the same category.  Pick an object in the category and list what other categories it belongs to.  How well does the category reflect distinctions in the external world?  What kinds of observations are required to make the distinction?  Who does the observing?  When is the category useful and not useful?  Are the evolutionary stories told about these classes the only possible ways to understand them?  What does “understanding” mean without the preconditions of immaterial concepts, reason, truth, and mind?
Next headline on:  Early ManPhilosophy or TheologyEvolutionary Theory

Darwin Myths Debunked – By Darwinist   10/28/2008    
Oct 28, 2008 — An aura of legend has enveloped the memory of Charles Darwin.  To many, the white-bearded father of evolutionary theory was like a saint on a white horse, rescuing science from an age of superstition.  The true history is much more interesting.
    Darwin Day is coming next February 12.  It marks Darwin’s 200th birthday and also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species.  The Darwin Exhibition, a multi-million-dollar display produced by the American Museum of Natural History (09/22/2005), is making the rounds of major museums, culminating in the 2009 Darwin Bicentennial year.
    Hiram Caton (Griffith University, Australia) felt compelled to pen “Getting Our History Right” when he saw the “Exhibition’s devotion to the legend at the expense of fact.” Here are six mythbusting theses Caton defended in his article:
  1. Publication of the Origin was not a sudden (“revolutionary”) interruption of Victorian society’s confident belief in the traditional theological world-view.
  2. The Origin did not “revolutionize” the biological sciences by removing the creationist premise or introducing new principles.
  3. The Origin did not revolutionize Victorian public opinion.  The public considered Darwin and Spencer to be teaching the same lesson, known today as “Social Darwinism”, which, though fashionable, never achieved dominance.
  4. Many biologists expressed significant disagreements with Darwin’s principles.
  5. Darwin made little or no contribution to the renovation of theology.  His public statements on Providence were inconsistent and the liberal reform of theology was well advanced by 1850.
  6. The so-called “Darwinian revolution” was, at the public opinion level, the fashion of laissez-faire economic beliefs backed by Darwin and Spencer’s inclusion of the living world in the economic paradigm.
Where did Hiram Caton print this Darwin-deflating piece?  Not in a creationist magazine, but in Evolutionary Psychology.1  (See 06/06/2008.)  He is no creationist; he just worries that distorting publicity can backfire.  “As a cadre who bear a public trust to get the facts right,” he ended, “we are obliged to correct misrepresentations directed to schools at a time when evolution is under challenge.  Besides, science history that includes the quirks, baseless claims, cheating, and battles is more engaging than the sanitized history meant to instill unquestioning acceptance.”
1.  Hiram Caton, “Getting Our History Right: Six Errors about Darwin and His Influence,” Evolutionary Psychology, – 2007. 5(1): 52-69.
What, exactly, are we supposed to be celebrating next year?  Ineptitude?  The gullibility of the public?  The power of fashionable ideas to distort history?  The inability of reasonable scientists with their significant disagreements to stop bad ideas at their onset?  Darwin Day can still be a worthy holiday if we make these the lessons.  We agree with Caton; first, we have to get the facts right.
Next headline on:  Darwin and Evolutionary TheoryEducation
  Darwinists refute ID claim about irreducible complexity!  See the 10/31/2005 entry.

Monster Mash   10/28/2008    
Oct 28, 2008 — Just before Halloween, it’s time for tricks and treats about monsters in the fossil record.  Here’s a list of recent stories about scary beasts:

  1. Dino Dance:  Are these potholes tracks or weathering marks?  PhysOrg and Science Daily were among news outlets reporting a new interpretation of formations by a grad student at the University of Utah in Navajo Sandstone near a popular photographer’s locale called The Wave.  Winston Seiler claims the round holes represent tracks of three different kinds of dinosaurs, complete with tail drag marks.  Other dinosaur tracks are known in the area; this one is unusual for the number and density of tracks, what Seiler calls a “trample surface.”  National Geographic also joined the dance party.
    Update 11/10/2008: The party dispersed when some science cops showed up.  PhysOrg reported that “A group of paleontologists visited the northern Arizona wilderness site nicknamed a ‘dinosaur dance floor’ and concluded there were no dinosaur tracks there, only a dense collection of unusual potholes eroded in the sandstone.”  One of the co-authors of the dance floor thesis agreed to work with the skeptics: “Science is an evolving process where we seek the truth,” she said.  So she turned around and changed the dance to The Shake: “This is how science works, and we’ll have to see how it shakes out in the end.”
  2. Hornblower:  The unusual head crests on duckbill dinosaurs were used for shouting, claim scientists in a report on Live Science and PhysOrg.  The nasal passages on lambeosaurs and corythosaurs connected with passages in the head crest to produce resonant, bellowing calls (see diagrams on Science Daily).  The pitch of the calls probably deepened as the dinosaurs aged.  Perhaps they had a tonal language for communication, with special calls for Run for your lives!  A T. rex is coming!  Veteran dinosaur hunter Jack Horner (Montana State) noted that, “It’s difficult to infer the function of structures in an extinct dinosaur when there is so little resemblance to any living animal.”
  3. Taking the plunge:  How do you interpret dinosaur tracks that gradually fade away?  The track-maker must have gone for a swim, reported Science Daily.  Debra Mickelson of University of Colorado even thinks she knows what they were doing – going out to sea to feed, 165 million years ago.
  4. Migrants:  Dinosaurs weren’t the champion migrators of the ancient world, contrary to the usual view, said Phil Bell (U of Alberta) in a report on Science Daily.  How could he and colleague Eric Snively figure that out?  They calculated the energy requirements for a herd of herbivores like Edmontosaurs, and believe it would have limited their travel to 3000 km round trip – half the previous estimate.
  5. Microsaur:  We tend to think of dinosaurs as mighty tyrants of the early earth, making the ground shake with every step.  Science Daily reported the finding of the smallest dinosaur ever seen.  The juvenile Heterodontosaurus (mixed teeth) had a skull less than two inches long and would have weighed less than two sticks of butter.  “It’s likely that all dinosaurs evolved from carnivorous ancestors,” said co-author Laura Porro (U of Chicago); “Since heterodontosaurs are among the earliest dinosaurs adapted to eating plants, they may represent a transition phase between meat-eating ancestors and more sophisticated, fully-herbivorous descendents.”
  6. Megasaur:  A dinosaur graveyard has been found in Utah, reported Live Science.  Remains of a large number of herbivores were found, including one well-preserved skeleton and a 5-foot humerus from a brachiosaur, one of the largest dinosaurs known.  Tracks have also been found.  Another surprise was a Deltapodus stegosaur – previously known only from Europe.  How did brachiosaurs get so huge?  Another story on Live Science claims they ate high-energy foods whole, without chewing.
  7. Sniffer rex:  Halloween wouldn’t be quite the same without mention of everyone’s favorite dinosaur nightmare: the Tyrannosaurus rex.  A report on Live Science claims the monsters had a good sense of smell – vital for hunting down prey.  They believe this based on the size of the opening in the skull where the olfactory bulb – an organ of smell – was located.  The article speculated on evolution of birds from dinosaurs: “Most of today’s birds have keen eyesight but lack a good nose, suggesting smell became less important at some point in birds’ ancestral history, the researchers said.”
It’s clear that dinosaur hunting is still a popular sport for paleontologists, especially ones with vivid imaginations.
Dinosaurs are for kids – including the grown-up kind.  Who doesn’t enjoy learning about this large and varied class of extinct animals that roamed the whole earth?  Imagining things is fun, too.  Just don’t confuse it with science.  There are limits to how much can be known about dinosaurs from their tracks and bones.  We don’t know, for instance, their favorite dance steps, to say nothing of how they decided to give up meat, reduce their noses and fly like Tweety rex.  The beasts are scary enough without the evolutionary monster tales around the campfire.
Next headline on:  DinosaursFossilsEvolution
Bible Was Right: Edom Thrived in Solomon’s Time   10/27/2008    
Oct 27, 2008 — High-precision radiocarbon dates have confirmed that Biblical Edom was active with industrial-scale metal production in the 10th and 9th centuries.  Archaeologists publishing in PNAS said,1 “The methodologies applied to the historical IA archaeology of the Levant have implications for other parts of the world where sacred and historical texts interface with the material record.”  In other words, sacred and historical texts should sometimes be taken seriously – not dismissed out of hand.
    The authors viewed their results as a challenge to recent “minimalist” re-interpretations of the Bible that try to relegate the stories of David and Solomon to myths and legends by saying that Israel was too tiny to support the wealth and power described in the Bible.  They also challenge the ridicule that has been heaped on those who took the Bible as a reliable guide for archaeologists.  Here’s how they started their paper:
In 1940, the American archaeologist Nelson Glueck summarized his extensive 1930s archaeological surveys in Transjordan in his book The Other Side of the Jordan, asserting that he had discovered King Solomon’s mines in the Faynan district (the northern part of biblical Edom), ~50 km south of the Dead Sea in what is now southern Jordan.  The period between the First and Second World Wars has been called the “Golden Age” of biblical archaeology when this subfield was characterized by an almost literal interpretation of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible, HB) as historical fact.  Archaeologists such as Glueck metaphorically carried the trowel in 1 hand and the Bible in the other, searching the archaeological landscape of the southern Levant for confirmation of the biblical narrative from the Patriarchs to the United Monarchy under David and Solomon to other personages, places, and events mentioned in the sacred text.  Beginning in the 1980s, this paradigm came under severe attack, primarily by so-called biblical minimalist scholars who argued that as the HB was edited in its final form during the 5th century (c.)BC, any reference in the text to events earlier than ca.  500 BC were false.  Accordingly, the events ascribed to the early Israelite and Judean kings from the 10th-9th c. BCE were viewed as concocted by elite 5th c. BCE editors of the HB who resided in postexilic times in Babylon and later in Jerusalem.  Some of the casualities [sic] of the scholarly debate between the traditional biblical scholarship and biblical minimalists has been the historicity of David and Solomon—the latter of which is traditionally cross-dated by biblical text (1 Kings 11:40; 14:25; and 2 Chronicles 12:2–9) and the military topographic list of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq I (Shishak in the HB) found at the Temple of Amun in Thebes and dated to the early 10th c. BCE (5).
    ....The 14C dates associated with smelting debris layers from Faynan reported here demonstrate intensive 10th–9th c. BCE industrial metallurgical activities conducted by complex societies.
    The analytical approach advocated here argues for an historical biblical archaeology rooted in the application of science-based methods that enables subcentury dating and the control of the spatial context of data through digital recording tools.
The researchers carefully dated carbon-bearing materials from the site discovered in 2005 (see 02/18/2005) as a candidate for the massive copper-mining operation of Edom described in the Bible.  The paper describes in detail the methods they used: carbon dating charcoal pieces from the site with high precision equipment.  Some of the dates stretch well before 1000 BCE – before David’s kingdom.  The paper contains pictures and sketches of the complex smelting operation with its copper slag mounts found at the likely site of Biblical Edom across the Arabah from southern Israel.
    The researchers concluded that the revisionist, minimalist dates of 7th century BCE are no longer tenable.  What are the implications?  “These new data indicate the need to revisit the relationship between the early IA history of the southern Levant [eastern Mediterranean]” among other things.  Perhaps other minimalist dates will be falsified under the new scientific techniques used by this team – thus lending credibility once again to the practice of digging with a Bible in one hand, a trowel in the other, and a radiocarbon dating machine back in the lab.  In their words, “the question of whether King Solomon’s copper mines have been discovered in Faynan returns to scholarly discourse.”
    The day after our entry on the Levy et al paper appeared, Science Daily posted its report and other news sites followed.  National Geographic News reported that some of the funding for the project came from the National Geographic Society.  Todd Bolen’s Bible Places Blog contains pictures of the site and links for more information.
Update 10/29/2008: Bible Places Blog posted another report from an archaeological dig relating to the time of David and Solomon: Biblical Gath, home of Goliath.  The team excavating Tell es-Safi used joint on-site analytical methods “unparalled at ANY excavation in Israel, and in fact, in the world,” Todd Bolen, a professor in Israel for 11 years, said.  After reviewing the team’s report, he added, “For many reasons, this excavation looks like it will be extremely beneficial for archaeological and biblical studies.”
1.  Levy et al, “High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print October 27, 2008, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0804950105.
Bible scholars will surely find this paper interesting.  There’s something satisfying about debunking the debunkers.  Congratulations to National Geographic News, usually a Darwinist propaganda bullhorn, for giving a fair report on the story without disparaging the Bible in the process.  Time to minimize minimalism in Biblical archaeology.  Minimalists?  Don’t need ’em in Edom.
Next headline on:  BibleDating Methods
Habitable Zones Are Not Forever   10/27/2008    
Oct 27, 2008 — A new realization has broken on the astrobiological community: planetary habitable zones have no fences.  Michael Sherber wrote for Astrobiology Magazine (see that planets around low-mass stars tend to be pulled out of the habitable zone toward the star.  They have just a billion years before migration can pull them in and cook them.  “Planets around small mass stars may only have a billion-year window during which life can form.”  He did not indicate whether that life would be very happy, though, knowing a fiery hell awaited it.  “Habitability is not a permanent property of a planet,” the article said.
    Rory Barnes (U of Arizona) who thought about this, wondered if it could be a test of the Gaia Hypothesis – something he termed “a grand picture of evolution.”  Maybe the lifeforms could adapt as the planet migrates inward by altering the planet’s climate and geochemistry.  Maybe we could even learn “how life mitigates disasters and adapts to climate change,” he said.
    Meanwhile, Clara Moskowitz at had more optimistic news.  Some planets once thought inhospitable might actually be able to support life.  “The [habitable] zone may not be so fixed, it turns out,” she said.  “Some extrasolar planets that one might assume are too cold to host life could in fact be made habitable by a squishing effect from their stars, a new study found.”  If the planet has an oblong orbit, the tidal heating would heat it up.  Maybe this could melt the ice of a planet outside the zone and give it hope for life.  Maybe it could start volcanoes and plate tectonics.  That’s a lot of maybes.  One thing we know: it all comes together just right where we live: “Plate tectonics is a definite boon for life,” she said, “because stirring up the surface layers helps to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, since rock absorbs CO2 from the air.”  That “perfect balance” helps a planet maintain that “just right” temperature range.
Quiz question: what is an evolutionist’s favorite word?  Oh, you want a free hint?  Maybe, baby.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemStars
  How do plants wax their leaves?  It’s an elaborate task.  It’s much easier for an evolutionary biologist to make up a fable about it and win Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week – see 10/27/2004.

Snails Walk on Water   10/27/2008    
Oct 27, 2008 — Why is that scientist staring at a snail?  He’s watching a miracle: walking on water.  This is not our exaggeration: Matt Kaplan on National Geographic News entitled his article, “How Snails Walk on Water Is a Small Miracle.”  If we can figure out the trick, we might be able to make little robots do it – even if we don’t know why we would want to yet, other than it would be cool.
    Snails are small enough to be naturally buoyant, but needless to say, getting traction on water is a challenge.  The snail apparently does this by making small ripples.  The ripples are just the right size to give the snail traction without breaking the surface.  It’s a unique method of propulsion unknown till Eric Lauga, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, San Diego, decided to investigate.
    For a human to do this would require shoes as big as a football field, the article said.

  Many capabilities of animals and plants seem miraculous to us, but we sometimes use the word too carelessly.  Jesus walked on water barefoot or on sandals.  That’s a real miracle.
Next headline on:  BiomimeticsTerrestrial ZoologyPhysicsAmazing Facts
Evolutionizing Religion: Who’s Assuming What?   10/26/2008    
Oct 26, 2008 — “Findings from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, cultural anthropology and archaeology promise to change our view of religion,” said Pascal Boyer in Nature.1  His essay summarized studies that offer an evolutionary explanation for mankind’s propensity to embrace religion.  “We can probe the shared assumptions that religions are built on, however disparate, and examine the connection between religion and ethnic conflict,” he said.  “Lastly, we can hazard a guess at what the realistic prospects are for atheism.”
    Boyer weaved together evolutionary explanations for several features seemingly common to all religions: belief in things for which there is no evidence, ritual, morality, metaphysics, and social identity.  There is no one place in the brain, a “religious center,” he said.  Rather, “religious thoughts seem to be an emergent property of our standard cognitive capacities.”  Just as the brain was not made specifically for music, politics, ethnic groups and family relations, religion is just an emergent response to “super stimuli,” he said.  “Religious concepts and activities hijack our cognitive resources, as do music, visual art, cuisine, politics, economic institutions and fashion.”  In evolutionary terms, the brain evolved for skills to aid survival, but religion simply takes advantage of those cognitive faculties and meshes them in an unexpected way.  “The mind has myriad distinct belief networks that contribute to making religious claims quite natural to many people,” he said.
    Central to Boyer’s case are that religious people make tacit assumptions they never notice.  They may be able to describe their core beliefs, “But cognitive psychology shows that explicitly accessible beliefs of this sort are always accompanied by a host of tacit assumptions that are generally not available to conscious inspection.”  The details of religious beliefs may differ, he said, but the tacit beliefs underlying all religious are remarkably similar.  To him, this can only mean that we have similarly evolved brains that exercise the tacit assumptions in diverse ways.
    He began his essay with a listing of various reactions to the scientific study of religion:
Is religion a product of our evolution?  The very question makes many people, religious or otherwise, cringe, although for different reasons.  Some people of faith fear that an understanding of the processes underlying belief could undermine it.  Others worry that what is shown to be part of our evolutionary heritage will be interpreted as good, true, necessary or inevitable.  Still others, many scientists included, simply dismiss the whole issue, seeing religion as childish, dangerous nonsense.
    Such responses make it difficult to establish why and how religious thought is so pervasive in human societies – an understanding that is especially relevant in the current climate of religious fundamentalism.  In asking whether religion is one of the many consequences of having the type of brains we come equipped with, we can shed light on what kinds of religion ‘come naturally’ to human minds’
Those human minds, we can safely assume he believes, are also products of evolution.  Throughout the article, Boyer promotes the idea that gods and beliefs are not real, but rather manufactured by the cognitive and social psychology of humans and their evolved brains.  Imagining supernatural beings may be a “natural way,” he said, for human products of evolution to process information:
The findings emerging from this cognitive-evolutionary approach challenge two central tenets of most established religions.  First, the notion that their particular creed differs from all other (supposedly misguided) faiths; second, that it is only because of extraordinary events or the actual presence of supernatural agents that religious ideas have taken shape.  On the contrary, we now know that all versions of religion are based on very similar tacit assumptions, and that all it takes to imagine supernatural agents are normal human minds processing information in the most natural way.
Implicit in this idea is the position that atheism is a more scientific world view.  His last paragraph, though, gives little hope for his fellow atheists to gain a foothold in the culture: the evolutionary deck is stacked against them. 
Some form of religious thinking seems to be the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems.  By contrast, disbelief is generally the result of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions – hardly the easiest ideology to propagate.
For previous entries on the evolution of religion, see 03/16/2005, 02/02/2006, 09/25/2006 and 05/27/2008.
1.  Pascal Boyer, “Being human: Religion: Bound to believe?,” Nature 455, 1038-1039 (23 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/4551038a.
How otherwise intelligent people can continue to be so blind to their own biases after decades, nay centuries, of philosophers and theologians and logicians pointing them out, is stunning.  Nature has just published another in a long series of self-refuting essays.  A freshman CEH reader can probably refute this article in a sentence or two.  If not, you need to apply yourself to stopping by here more often.
    What is it about their brains that predisposes evolutionists to think this way?  You notice that we put the shoe on the other foot.  That’s fair, because to him, we are all equally evolved.  By what standard of measure can he insist that his tacit assumptions are better than anyone else’s?  By the standards of science?  Ha!  Only if he is a logical positivist – another self-refuting belief system.  If this is not obvious, go back and read Wolpert’s ideas from the 10/16/2008 entry and the commentary on logical positivism from 05/10/2007 before continuing.  If Boyer assumes that “testable predictions” render evolutionary psychology scientific, he has not learned about the dubious logic of predictive success in science.  It’s the main reason Karl Popper rejected predictive success as a criterion of science, and promoted falsification instead.  (Falsification, alas, was also later rejected as a foolproof criterion.)
    Boyer came close to recognizing the self-refuting nature of his beliefs by mentioning people who “worry that what is shown to be part of our evolutionary heritage will be interpreted as good, true, necessary or inevitable.”  (For elaboration on that point, see the 05/09/2006 commentary, bullet 5.)  He should be worried.  To what universal standard could he appeal to decide that religion is an emergent property of the brain, but science is not?  And why would he lament that atheism is hardly the easiest ideology to propagate?  At least he admitted it is an ideology.  But to what universal moral standard would he appeal to say that propagating his atheistic world view would be a good thing?  He said that science may one day find that religion contributed to fitness in ancestral times.  On what grounds, then, can he say it hijacked man’s cognitive abilities?  If it produced fitness, it is just as much an intrinsic benefit to human evolution as the brain itself.
    Boyer’s essay is plagued with other fallacies.  For one, he generalizes all religions, no matter how opposite, in a highly simplistic manner: he puts the witch doctor and the Oxford Scholar into the same “fundamentalist” bucket, also a form of ridicule.  By excepting his own reasoning from those of religious nuts, of course, he has also divided the world into us-vs-them, the either-or fallacy: i.e., you either belong to the People of Science or to the “People of Faith” (whatever that broad-brush category means).  Students want extra credit can hunt for begging the question fallacies, non-sequiturs, the post-hoc fallacy, misuse of circumstantial evidence, reductionism, subjectivity and other fallacies.
    The card-stacking fallacy is notable in this article.  He only offered three responses to the idea that religion evolved: (1) Worry by religionists that it will undermine their beliefs.  (2) Worry by evolutionists that religion, if part of our evolutionary heritage, will be seen as “good, true, necessary or inevitable.” (3) Disgust by scientists that religion is “childish, dangerous nonsense.”  Why did he not consider the possibility that theologians and knowledgeable scholars will consider his evolutionary theory or religion to be regarded as childish, dangerous nonsense?  Is that not what we have just illustrated?
    Another example of his card stacking was to list only things like ritual, metaphysical beliefs, social identity and moral codes as the characteristics of religion.  Why didn’t he mention evidence – and apologetics?  Those things may be lacking in the cultic or ritualistic religions, but the Bible is filled with historical references that can be cross-checked, and appeals to remember what the people knew to be true from evidence, reason and eyewitness testimony.  Paul and Peter claimed to be eyewitnesses of the risen and glorified Christ and emphatically denied that they were following cleverly devised fables.  They also warned people against falling for fables.  If Boyer likes prediction so much, he should consider the prediction Paul made in II Timothy 4:4 that in the last days people will “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths,” of which evolution is a prime example, because the evidence for God is clear from creation (Romans 1:18-20).  Peter, similarly, predicted the coming of belief in uniformitarianism.  He predicted that mockers would deny the evidence for creation and the flood (II Peter 3:3-9).  Do those predictions count?  Must be consistent.
    Boyer and his fellow atheistic evolutionists arrogate to themselves the chair of science, but have no floor to put it on: not a scientific floor, or a philosophical floor, or an evidence floor.  He needs the Judeo-Christian floor to be able to reason about truth, morals, and evidence at all.  Like Yoda, he speaks ex cathedra from some exalted plane above the rest of humanity, telling us about our tacit assumptions while ignoring his own (08/13/2007).  He tells others what makes them tick without understanding that what makes him tick is rebellion against his Creator.  He couldn’t slap his Father’s face without first sitting in His lap.  Pascal Boyer should sit quietly like a good boy and read Pascal.
Next headline on:  Evolutionary TheoryHuman BodyTheology
The Life and Death of Oxygen   10/24/2008    
Oct 24, 2008 — The oxygen in our atmosphere has the energy equivalent of 20 thousand billion billion hydrogen bombs.  To maintain the oxygen level in our atmosphere, that amount of energy would have to be spent in manufacturing molecular oxygen every 4 million years (a thousandth the assumed age of the earth).
    Now that we have your attention, let’s think about the role of oxygen and life.  The statistics above were estimated by Paul G. Falkowski and Yukio Isozaki in Science this week.1  Unlike nitrogen, which is inert, oxygen is lively – it oxidizes, or burns things – not only in fire, but in cells, where the element must be handled gingerly by molecular machines to avoid damage.  That’s also why you take antioxidants in your food.  Keeping oxygen away from the primordial soup at the origin of life is understandably a serious problem (10/20/2008).
    Evolutionary biologists do not believe earth’s oxygen is primordial (i.e., that it formed when the earth formed).  They believe it was generated by living organisms when they evolved to use oxygen for electron capture in metabolism.  This conveniently keeps oxygen out of the picture at the origin of life (though some atmospheric oxygen forms spontaneously by the dissociation of water).  Oxygen could also be sequestered from the air in continental rocks: silicates, carbonates and sulfates.
    Oxygen reached levels of 10 to 30% only in the last 550 million years, evolutionists say.  Its 4-million-year lifetime is 0.4% the estimated 1 billion year lifetime of the atmosphere’s most abundant gas, nitrogen.  How did oxygen, with its relatively short lifetime, become the second most abundant gas in the atmosphere?  “The story is not as simple as it might first appear,” said Falkowski and Isozaki.  One has to calculate when and how it was first generated, and how it persists in its high concentration.
    Some oxygen is continuously formed by the breakup of water molecules by ultraviolet light in the atmosphere (at least till ozone forms and shields the upper atmosphere from excess UV).  If biology is the source, how does life produce it from water and minerals? 
The overwhelming source of O2 on Earth is photobiological oxidation of water; neither the evolution nor the mechanism of this process are completely understood.  Apparently it arose once in a single clade of bacteria and was then appropriated via a single event, in which one cell engulfed another (endosymbiosis) to form a new symbiotic organism.  The latter became the progenitor of all photosynthetic eukaryotes, including algae and higher plants.
    The core of the oxidation machinery is photosystem II, a large protein complex containing four manganese atoms that are photocatalytically oxidized to create electron holes upstream.
They stressed that this “arose” once most likely because of the improbability that a “large protein complex” of “oxidation machinery” could arise by chance.  Nevertheless, assuming plants and bacteria produce it, the equation is balanced by the animals that consume it:
On time scales of years to millennia, these reactions are closely coupled to the reverse process of respiration, such that net production of O2 is virtually nil.  That is, without burial of organic matter in rocks, there would be very little free O2 in the atmosphere.  Hence, the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis was a necessary but not a sufficient condition to oxidize Earth’s atmosphere.
So the second problem is getting molecular oxygen up to the level of 10-30% that has been maintained for 500 million years.  If a small amount is subducted into the mantle by plate tectonics, or captured in stable continental rocks, an atmospheric excess could be built up to a stable concentration without runaway production.  “The balance between burial of organic matter and its oxidation,” they said, “appears to have been tightly controlled over the past 500 million years.”  This balance requires an ongoing process of long-term storage within the earth.  The picture becomes complicated by the fact that volcanoes can re-release oxygen back into the atmosphere.  “The presence of O2 in the atmosphere requires an imbalance between oxygenic photosynthesis and aerobic respiration on time scales of millions of years,” they said; “hence, to generate an oxidized atmosphere, more organic matter must be buried than respired.”
    How well do scientists know how oxygen concentration has varied over geologic time?  “Perhaps surprisingly, not very well.”  Comparison of isotopes in carbonates and sulfates provide clues.  They believe the initial oxygen concentration produced by the first photosynthetic bacteria was quite low.  It rose when eukaryotes appeared, and then, according to the evolutionary timeline, became much more abundant in the Neoproterozoic – corresponding to the period just before the Cambrian Explosion.  The eukaryotic oxygen increase would have had to coincide with enhanced subduction in the lithosphere.
    Was the Cambrian Explosion a cause or effect of the rise of oxygen?  They suggested the latter: “The burial of large amounts of organic carbon over the past 750 million years is mirrored in a substantial rise in atmospheric O2, which may have triggered the Cambrian explosion of animal life.”
    Another balance of geology and biology would have had to occur in the Carboniferous.  The doubling of oxygen production by trees and ferns had to be balanced by “further increases in burial efficiency” they said.  How the continental plates coordinated their behavior with the evolution of plants, they did not say.  Throughout the remainder of earth history, this balance was maintained within comparatively narrow limits – 10 to 23%.  “The relatively narrow range of variability suggests tight controls on the rate of burial and oxidation of organic matter on Earth’s surface.”  They did not say who or what is controlling these rates, other than to say that “the burial of organic carbon is roughly balanced by oxidation and weathering.”
    How valid is this story?  They think the broad picture is understood, but “the details remain sketchy” – particularly, how photosynthesis splits water, how oxygen concentration is controlled in the atmosphere.
    Could Woodward W. Fischer in Nature help the story?2  How good is the evidence to support the rise of the first photosynthetic bacteria?  “Go back to Archaean time, the interval of Earth’s history between about 4 billion and 2.5 billion years ago,” he began, “and we’re in largely unknown biological territory.
    While Fischer was concerned primarily with debunking claims of eukaryotes too early for comfort (i.e., before the rise of atmospheric oxygen), his report contained reason to doubt the validity of the timeline.  The new evidence may remove an embarrassing puzzle of how photosynthesis could arise 300 million years before the rise of atmospheric oxygen, but “does it close the gap between the morphological and molecular-fossil records of the evolution of eukaryotes?” he asked himself.  He answered himself, “Not yet.”  Other scientists are not conceding the debunking of 2.7-billion-year-old photosynthesis.  A news item about this on Nature News agrees the debate is far from over.
    For problems with oxygen at the birth of the solar system, see bullet one of the 09/24/2008 entry.
1.  Paul G. Falkowski and Yukio Isozaki, “The Story of O2,” Science, 24 October 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5901, pp. 540-542, DOI: 10.1126/science.1162641.
2.  Woodward W. Fischer, “Biogeochemistry: Life before the rise of oxygen,” Nature 455, 1051-1052 (23 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/4551051a.
OK; how convinced are you that the evolutionary storytellers are compelled by the evidence to embrace their billions of years saga of a history they cannot observe?  It’s a magical history, in which complex oxidation machines “arise” by some unspecified natural magic.  (Note that if something “arose once,” it is not following a natural law).
    Lacking evidence, they can build models that include the natural magic built-in.  By tweaking parameters here and there, and trying to debunk contrary evidence, they can get it to work – sort of.  It continues to amaze them how finely balanced it is.
    So much for this space fantasy.  The atmosphere on Darwin’s imaginary world is too rarefied to breathe.  Let’s head back to the real world.
Next headline on:  GeologyPhysics and ChemistryOrigin of LifeDating Methods
  Read about the fast-forward scanner on a translating machine in the 10/23/2003 entry.  Where is it?  In your body, working as you read this.

Minding the Brain, or Braining the Mind?   10/23/2008    
Oct 23, 2008 — There’s a battle brewing over who controls your brain: nature or your mind.  Materialist scientists are recognizing that creationists are getting a foothold on this hill and “declaring war over the brain,” according to an article in New Scientist.  Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz fired this salvo: “Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”
    Amanda Gefter, author of the article, also took note of the book The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul by O’Leary and Beauregard.  Schwartz and Beauregard were among the speakers at an international symposium in Manhattan called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness.  Gefter listed several fronts in the war to reclaim the mind: “Schwartz and Beauregard are part of a growing ‘non-material neuroscience’ movement,” she explained.  “They are attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism – the idea that brain and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of things, material and immaterial – in the hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul.”
    After giving adequate white space for proponents of the non-materialist view (including Angus Menuge, J. P. Moreland and the Discovery Institute), Gefter clearly wanted to throw her vote to the reigning materialist paradigm on this matter of mind.  She commented on an experiment Schwartz used to support the independent existence of mind, saying, “these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology – the material brain is changing the material brain.
    In the middle of her article, Gefter got really serious:

Clearly, while there is a genuine attempt to appropriate neuroscience, it will not influence US laws or education in the way that anti-evolution campaigns can because neuroscience is not taught as part of the core curriculum in state-funded schools.  But as Andy Clark, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, UK, emphasises: “This is real and dangerous and coming our way.
    He and others worry because scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons.  “Progress in science is slow on many fronts,” says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley.  “We don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean cancer has spiritual causes.”
    And for Patricia Churchland, a philosopher of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, “it is an argument from ignorance.  The fact something isn’t currently explained doesn’t mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics.
To Gefter, the debate is just a quibble over words:
The attack on materialism proposes to do just that, but it all turns on definitions.  “At one time it looked like all physical causation was push/pull Newtonianism,” says Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy and neurobiology at Duke University, North Carolina.  “Now we have a new understanding of physics.  What counts as material has changed.  Some respectable philosophers think that we might have to posit sentience as a fundamental force of nature or use quantum gravity to understand consciousness.  These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call ‘material’, and we haven’t discovered everything about nature yet.  But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural.
Andy Clark continued his tone of alarm over this battle, calling the intelligent-design position “an especially nasty mind-virus” because it “piggybacks on some otherwise reasonable thoughts and worries.”  He argued that it is a non-sequitur to leap from the empirical evidence that we can change our brains with our minds to the conclusion that the mind is non-material.  “That doesn’t follow at all,” he said, applying his material brain to the process of logic.  “There’s nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that’s just brains changing brains.
    Gefter became enough alarmed over this new front in the creation-evolution battle to suggest some strategy.  “If people can be swayed by ID, despite the vast amount of solid evidence for evolution,” she worried, “how hard will it be when the science appears fuzzier?”  She reminded scientists of criticisms that they have already been too lax in teaching the public about evolution.  It’s time to get on offense.  “Maybe now they need a big pre-emptive push to engage people with the science of the brain – and help the public appreciate that the brain is no place to invoke the ‘God of the gaps’.”
Apparently the irony of this article was completely lost on Amanda Gefter and her materialist experts.  They were all using their minds to argue and debate about immaterial concepts.  If nothing more was happening than molecules bouncing around in their skulls, how could they even know what they were saying?
    Remember when Mom, Dad, or some other childhood mentor showed you that when you point an accusatory finger at someone else, three other fingers are pointing back at you?  Clark just lectured us on logic.  Flanagan just lectured us on definitions.  Gefter just lectured us on God-of-the-gaps arguments.  All three have just shot their little finger-guns right back into their own skulls.  Example: Gefter dismissed Schwartz’s empirical evidence that the mind can change the brain by saying, “the material brain is changing the material brain.”  OK, class, what’s the next question?  Think about it (yes, think), [Jeopardy tune plays], and the bell rings – Aha!  Who is making the material brain change the material brain?  And who is observing the change?
    Now, if you think that is just a logical trick, you have to realize that without a person doing the changing, no one would ever know a change had occurred.  This is a mind-body problem that cannot be so easily swept away.  If you could shrink yourself to the size of a cell and wander through the brain, you would no more see thought than if you wandered through Big Ben could you see time.  Time and thought live in the conceptual realm, not the material realm.  Suppose you walked through a computer chip like a pedestrian on the streets of London.  Would you see Boolean logic?  Oh, you might see certain switches light up, and perhaps you could perceive electrons in a diode or transistor junction flowing one way instead of the other.  But it is not the chip that would be sensing that logic is occurring: it would be you, the Observer.  The operation of a physical system is not the same as concept behind the system.  A system cannot tell itself the purpose of the system in a way that brings understanding.  That takes a Person.  Consider: if Amanda’s mind is not directing her argument, how could she have any free will to believe that her argument is true, and that ID is so false it should be pre-empted?  And to what is the pre-emptive strike referring, if not some well-intentioned but misguided appeal to immaterial truth and morals?
    Gefter and Flanagan dismissed this all as quibbling over definitions.  But look at the fingers pointing right back at them: they suggested that any possible concept might be enveloped within the words material or natural – even things like sentience, a quantum-gravity theory of consciousness, or any future discovery of science.  “These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call ‘material’, and we haven’t discovered everything about nature yet.  But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural.”  This is a rescuing device to end all rescuing devices.  No matter what the evidence, they can envelop it, like The Blob, into their materialistic worldview.
    OK, let’s push that envelope.  Suppose they find irrefutable evidence for angels.  Will they call them material?  Will they be a part of the “natural” universe?  Even God has a divine “nature.”  The word nature or natural is so slippery it can mean a dozen different things – including immaterial things like natural laws (Note: material things may obey natural laws, but laws are not material).  Materialists constantly invoke non-material things in their reasoning: mathematics, abstract logic, scientific methods to name just a few.  They also frequently make reference to unobservable entities – information, feedback, signal transduction, classification, reason, honesty and much, much more.  They help themselves to immaterial concepts and stuff them into their materialist bag, oblivious to who is doing the classifying.
God-of-the-Gaps:  J. P. Moreland, who was mentioned in Gefter’s article, has three comeback arguments to the perennial charge that Christians fill gaps in scientific knowledge with appeals to God.  Paraphrasing, he says, (1) Christians would not expect there to be many gaps.  The Biblical worldview indicates that the world runs according to predictable patterns (natural laws) most of the time.  In fact, it is only the Biblical worldview that makes sense of the concept of natural laws.  (2) Some gaps are getting wider.  Scientific discoveries about the cell and the origin of life and the fine-tuning of the universe are resisting all attempts at materialist explanations.  We should follow the evidence where it leads.  If that evidence is pointing to design, so be it.  (3) Materialists are just as guilty of the charge.  Whenever some incredibly-complex mechanism is discovered in a cell, for instance, they assume that natural selection produced it, or assume that some day in the future, a material cause will be discovered.  This is nothing more than naturalism-of-the-gaps.
The material/spiritual and natural/supernatural distinctions are false dichotomies.  They cannot stand up to a half-hour of scrutiny by a skilled philosopher.  What it boils down to is this: naturalism is anything and everything that allows a scientist (or a party animal on drugs) to avoid responsibility to their Maker.  That’s the real argument from ignorance.  They can believe in space aliens or unobservable multiverses – anything, no matter how crazy, as long as they never have to bow the knee and confess, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things, and by Thy will they exist, and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
    You can put a brain into a jar of formaldehyde, and you can throw a used computer onto a junk pile, but the concepts of mind and design, like Halloween ghosts, will always find the materialist’s haunted house and come back to join the party.
Next headline on:  Human BodyIntelligent DesignTheology, Philosophy or Religion
Another Strange Chinese Fossil Found: Dinosaur or Bird?   10/22/2008    
Oct 22, 2008 — Feathers and wings are among the most distinguishing characteristics of birds.  “Integumenary features” have been found on some dinosaur fossils, and true feathers have been found on some strange-looking extinct birds.  The news media often try to marry the two into a committed relationship using exaggerated artwork.  They have been found imagining feathers on fossils where the data are dubious or even missing (09/29/2008, 06/13/2007).  What makes a structure a true feather?  When does it support linking an unknown species into an evolutionary relationship to birds?
    The latest case involves a strange fossil from China reported in Nature.1  Dated Middle to Late Jurassic in age, it is one of the earliest species to sport integumentary structures (see 10/06/2004, 10/12/2005), but it was nearly contemporary with early birds having true feathers.  The media reports typically announce a “feathered dinosaur” has been found (e.g., BBC News “New feathered dinosaur discovered” and National Geographic “First Dinosaur Feathers for Show, Not for Flight?”) though some titles leave other interpretations open (e.g., Live Science, “Bird-Like Dinosaur Sported Bizarre Tail Feathers”).
    Instead of allowing for the possibility that unrelated species had similarities, the articles often state matter-of-factly that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  The BBC article was the most blatant in this regard, referring to the “critical transition from dinosaurs to birds” and quoting a paleontologist at London’s Natural History Museum stating, “It provides fascinating evidence of evolutionary experiments with feathers that were going on before small dinosaurs finally took to the air and became birds.
    The original paper did use the word feathers for the structures in the fossil of the new pigeon-sized creature from the Middle or Late Jurassic they named Epidexipteryx, but a closer look shows some findings that may not help the evolutionary scenario.
  1. None of the structures were pennate feathers, that is, with barbs and barbules from a central vane.  The integumentary structures fell into two categories:
    1. “Shafted feathers” – Connected to the last ten tail vertebra were found two “membranous structures” consisting of parallel shafts that each branch once.  Each shaft has a thin unbranched vane of material, like a coating, along a central rachis.  The result appears as four long nearly-parallel rods that join at the base.  Collectively they are nearly as long as the skeleton of the creature.  Mark Norell (American Museum of Natural History) commented, “These seem to lack that main shaft down the middle and are just a really long collection of very long, filamentous-like structures.”
    2. “Non-shafted feathers” – These are rows of integument found outside the outline of skeleton, presumably from the skin.  They all end in parallel rows of barbs, nothing like the cross-cutting structure of bird feathers; the BBC article calls it a “fluffy, down-like covering.”  The authors stated, “the free distal barbs of Epidexipteryx arise from the edge of a membranous structure (Fig. 2b, c, d, d'), an arrangement that has never previously been reported.
  2. Some of the structures bear similarities to those on Jeholornis, a creature interpreted as being capable of powered flight (see 07/24/2002).
  3. The authors allowed for the possibility that this creature was “secondarily flightless” – i.e., that it once had feathers like a bird, but lost them; if so, it was not evolving from a dinosaur into a bird.
  4. The authors suggested that the feathers on Epidexipteryx were used for display, not for flight, but the LiveScience article hypothesized they “likely helped the creature balance on tree branches.”
  5. The animal had a curious mosaic of traits.  National Geographic remarked, “Epidexipteryx’s anatomy seems to be a hodgepodge of features taken from a variety of animals.”  It seems to have been the “platypus” of the Jurassic – an improbable mixture of traits from different groups.
  6. Since the creature had a “surprising combination of physical features” (BBC News), it should not be envisioned as a transitional form from one lineage to another.  The BBC News article complicated the evolutionary story by stating, “The discovery adds yet more complexity to the early history of the era when small meat-eating bipedal dinosaurs evolved into birds.”  The evidence, therefore, makes the explanation more complex, not simpler, in contradiction to Occam’s Razor.
  7. The evolutionary date is too late to represent a pre-bird.  The BBC article said, “whereas other feathered dinosaurs [sic] date from after the appearance of the first known bird, this fossil appears to be much closer in age, so it opens a new window on the evolutionary events at the critical transition from dinosaurs to birds.”  Live Science says that the dates are uncertain; at best it was “slightly older” than Archaeopteryx.  If it was nearly contemporaneous with a fully-feathered bird that was most likely capable of powered flight, it could not be a pre-bird, bird ancestor or missing link.
  8. The evolutionary link to birds is only inferential.  Live Science quoted one of the authors saying, “Although this dinosaur cannot be the direct ancestor for birds, it is one of the dinosaurs that have the closest phylogenetic relationship to birds.”
  9. Mark Norell hinted that this fossil has more to say about diversity, not evolution.  “Things more primitive than this have fully formed feathers” he said.  “This is just some weirdo kind of thing this animal has.”
The Live Science article elaborated on Mark Norell’s comments about diversity within groups:
As scientists and others discover more and more dinosaur fossils with bird-like features, the picture of such creatures is becoming more complex, said Norell, who was not involved in the current study.
    “Just like the bird diversity we have living today goes all the way from hummingbirds to ostriches to toucans, it’s incredibly diverse,” Norell said during a telephone interview.  “Now we’re starting to see that sort of diversity extends not only in birds but also in the close bird relatives [which] were just as physically diverse as modern birds are.”
To infer evolutionary relationships, scientists conduct two kinds of studies.  One is the cladistic study, that measures the number of specific characteristics in a fossil or creature, like the angle of its pelvic bone or ratio of skull length to skull width, and scores it in relation to other similar creatures.  The other, when possible, is the genetic study of DNA similarities and differences.  Assuming that common descent is true, they produce phylogenetic diagrams of ancestral relationships based on degree of similarity.  Norell’s comments suggest that among a highly diverse set of organisms, the possibility of subjective inferences to ancestry is high – meaning that other inferences are legitimate, depending on which similarities are measured, and the relative weights assigned them by human minds.
1.  Zhang et al, “A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers,” Nature 455, 1105-1108 (23 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07447.
The artists’ renditions go far beyond the evidence: they’ve put vibrant colors on the alleged feathers and given the creature a whole life and personality.  The structures cannot be called feathers except by stretching the definition of the term.  The tail structures look like long rods.  The “down-like coating” could be flayed skin, given that the creature was exceptionally well preserved.  It may represent a mutant dodo-line of ancient birds that went extinct, or a member of a subclass of dinosaurs that shared the most similarities with birds without being related to them.
    Scientists should be very careful about making inferences about any complex set of data.  The bones do not jump up and announce that they were evolving into birds.  The supplementary data in the paper show nearly 300 traits that had to be compared to make a cladistic analysis.  The significance of any one of them requires a human judgment.  Which traits are you going to focus on?  Humans share traits with this fossil, too: vertebrae, teeth, radius and ulna, and many organs not visible from the bones.  It is conceivable that the scientists in another civilization might consider size, habitat, lifestyle or some other characteristic to be the overriding concern in their way of classifying things.  What kind of inferences would they draw?  Complexity, diversity and “mosaics” of traits throw simplistic schemes into disarray.  How would you rearrange your Evolutionary Tree of Tools if somebody handed you a Leatherman tool with a knife, screwdriver, pliers and scissors in a leather pouch?
    Even granting, for the sake of argument, the most generous leeway to the evolutionists and calling the structures on this thing feathers does not help their story.  Other feathered birds were nearly contemporaries.  If this was an “evolutionary dead end,” where is the highway?  A collection of dead ends may keep you busy, but is not going to get you anywhere.
Next headline on:  DinosaursBirdsFossils
How Not to Teach Evolution   10/21/2008    
Oct 21, 2008 — Current Biology usually interviews a scientist for each issue.  In the October 14 issue,1 the subject was Dyche Mullins, a molecular biologist at UC San Francisco.  His story of how evolution was taught in high school should make teachers and parents take notice.
    After the usual anecdotal fluff about what kind of cookies he likes and what bicycles he prefers, Mullins was asked what turned him on to biology after so many years (he did not become interested till graduate school).
Good question. In part, it was the way I was taught biology in high school.  My teachers refused to teach anything about evolution.  In fact, the only time I remember hearing the ‘E’ word in high school was when we dissected frogs.  After explaining to a room full of queasy kids how understanding the anatomy of a frog could help us understand the basics of human anatomy, the teacher paused thoughtfully and said, “Now I’m not talking about evolution here, so don’t go home and tell your parents that I’m teaching evolution”.  And that was it.  The rest of high school biology was just a collection of evidence supporting Dobzhansky’s claim that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”.  We collected insects and looked at pine cones, and we had a hamster that we taught to go to the bathroom through a hole in the side of its cage.  That was pretty much it.  Biology seemed more like an eccentric hobby than a coherent body of knowledge.  Mercifully, we were spared any discussion of ‘Intelligent Design’....
    I started reading more deeply in biology and realized just how flawed my early education had been.  I read Darwin and I discovered T.H. Morgan and Max Delbrück and the Phage Group.  The only advantage of coming to biology so late was that I found almost everything that I learned new and exciting.  Reading about solving the genetic code, thirty years after the fact, made me as excited as if it was happening at that moment, in a lab down the hall.  I was astounded by the calcium ATPase: a single molecule that can discriminate, with remarkable specificity, between similar divalent cations and use chemical energy to pump calcium against a 10,000-fold concentration gradient.
In the ellipsis, Mullins had described his educational diversion into physics and mathematics.  Apparently his teachers on those subjects did a better job, because he dove into them headlong with gusto.  What made him turn back to biology was seeing living systems for the first time as computer-controlled machinery:
To my engineer’s mind, a living cell was now just a complex, feedback-controlled system.  I could imagine writing equations to describe biochemical pathways, cellular functions, and, eventually, entire living cells.  Nowadays this kind of thinking would be called ‘systems biology’.  And while it is not exactly the way I approach biological problems in my lab now, it was the kind of thinking that made biology intelligible to me.
When outside the lab, Dyche takes off the white coat.  You can watch him ham it up with comedy country blues boys on YouTube, singing, “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
1.  Q&A, “Dyche Mullins,” Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 19, 14 October 2008, pages R895-R896, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.056.
Biology teachers should have constant sorrow, too after reading this story.  This is how to turn a bright young inquiring mind into a self-contradicting smart aleck.  Can’t this blues boy realize that complex, feedback-controlled systems don’t just happen?  This man of constant sorrow can stare at intelligent design right in front of his face, like that biological machine that “can discriminate, with remarkable specificity, between similar divalent cations and use chemical energy to pump calcium against a 10,000-fold concentration gradient,” and turn right around and praise Darwin and Dobzhansky.  Step back a second and realize how insane this is.  This same dude would never step into a computer room and insult the designers, but can stare at even more complex systems and call them cobbled jumbles of time and chance.  It’s enough to make you want to yank his beard and knock on his skull and ask, “Anybody home?” (Caution: Do NOT do that to anybody except yourself, women and obsessive shavers excepted.)  The interviewer, as usual for Current Bilge, just slurps it all up like fine whine.
    Teachers: pay attention.  You cannot solve the creation-evolution controversy by ignoring it.  This does more harm than good.  Students want answers.  They are curious about evolution.  Those from religious homes may be worried about it, while those from secular humanist homes may have moms and dads ready to sue.  You cannot push this subject off.  One cannot understand modern history or science without understanding Darwin.  The next Dyche Mullins in your classroom will remember how you sloughed off the subject as if it were taboo, then a Darwin dogmatist in college will sweep him off his feet with visions of the alluring explanatory power of evolution.
    In private or home schools, the solution is simple: teach all about Darwinism – all its strengths and weaknesses, the stuff the textbooks leave out.  In public schools, the courts and the school boards have often become so paranoid they will try to persecute or dismiss any teacher who teaches scientific facts about Darwin, like they did to Roger DeHart.  Sometimes the thought police go after not what you say, but what they think your motivation is.  You have to know your principal, your state, and your school board.  Thankfully some states are passing academic freedom laws.  Many teachers have found the right way to present Darwinism honestly without dogmatism.  Who could fault that?  Science is supposed to be the opposite of dogmatism!  Don’t expect all parents and school boards to be rational, though, on this hot topic; the Discovery Institute can provide valuable help for negotiating the fine legal lines involved.  Whether public or private or home school teacher, your goal is to help students become familiar with the evolutionary theory in its historical, political and scientific contexts; to understand the arguments Darwin and his critics have made, and while at the same time to develop critical thinking skills to be able to separate dogmatic claims from scientific evidence.
    Let’s use this entry also to cogitate on the nature of science.  We tend to pigeonhole subjects into watertight categories: a scientist is someone who does science, and science is what scientists do.  Is that necessarily the case?  When Mullins is clowning around with the country band, is he doing science then, just because he is a scientist by profession?  Obviously not.  All right, then; is he doing science from the moment he steps into the Science Building on campus till the moment he goes home?  Maybe some of the time.  Not on coffee breaks.  But then, maybe some flash of scientific insight will come to him when he gazes at the swirls of cream in his cup.  Is it when he is writing a proposal or scientific paper?  Is it when he is tediously jotting down readings in his lab book while his mind is on the American League championships?  Is it anything he does because he belongs to a professional scientific society, while the bird watcher outside does not?  These questions help to dissolve prejudices about The Scientist.
    For Dyche’s view on what makes a person a good scientist, let’s look at his answer to the last question about what advice he would give a student seeking a career in biology.  Get ready for a surprise.
Advice is a tricky thing.  When I started my lab I picked out a set of mentors: three successful scientists to whom I ran with all my vexing questions.  I soon found that, no matter what the question, I always got three different (and often contradictory) pieces of advice.  One of those pieces of advice, however, usually resonated more than the others and that’s the one I would follow.  So my advice would be to get as much advice as you can from as many different sources as possible.  And remember that much of it will be bad advice, or at least bad advice for you, even if the source is an eminent and successful scientist.  You need to trust your instincts.
    As Andrew Murray once told me, “Think about all the scientists you know.  No two of them approach a problem in the same way.  No two of them run their labs the same way.  And no two successful scientists are successful for the same reason.
Notice something interesting: this is all about intuition.  You thought that science is following the scientific method.  Here, Mullins is saying that science is all about instinct!  Then you and me are scientists whenever we listen to a lot of advice, discard the advice that doesn’t “resonate,” and trust our instincts.  You can imagine a lawyer or hunter or coach giving the same advice to his students.  What scientific method is Mullins following when he gathers as much advice as he can, then trusts his instincts?  Certainly a politician can do that.  Notice he said that no two of them [scientists] approach a problem in the same way, run their labs the same way, or are successful for the same reason.  There is no one way to do science!  A corollary is that anybody who gets good advice and trusts his instincts has just as much right to call himself a scientist as Mullins does, because there is no method, or process, or secret formula that makes what Mullins does more scientific than what any other careful investigator does.
    Oh, but you may be thinking, Mullins has a degree in science.  He passed all the educational requirements.  He joined a scientific society.  He is smart, well trained and experienced: this grants him membership in The Science Guild.  That may be all well and good, but we repeat the question: when is he doing science, and when is he not doing science?  We remind our readers that some of the greatest scientists in history never went through those qualifications.  They learned at home or from personal experience.  They were mavericks and outsiders.  Some were scorned by the Science Guild in their day – and not vindicated till after they died.  Should they be classed as non-scientists because they were outside the Guild?  Of course not.  Science only became highly professionalized and institutionalized in relatively recent times.  The word “scientist” did not even exist till William Whewell coined the term in 1832.
    Science is one of those vague words that means too little by attempting to stand for too much.  Are we to grant the same prestige to political science and economic science as we do to physics?  How about the far-out theoretical physics that still has no observational evidence?  Is psychology science?  Science of mind?  Scientology?  Clearly some distinctions are in order!
    In the original sense of the word, science means knowledge.  The word requires no set method, schooling or membership.  Knowledge welcomes all seekers and rejects some SINOs (scientists in name only).  While we should respect the degree of rigorous education that professional scientists have mastered, and the experience they have gained, and any useful or enduring findings they have made, we should keep these distinctions in mind.  When Dyche Mullins dismissively disparages intelligent design while staring it in the face in a cell, he is not doing science: he is doing ridicule.  When he falls in love with Darwin but never studies the problems and contrary arguments, he is taking things on authority.  He deserves no more respect for uninformed opinions than a cultist or gambler.  Don’t respect a scientist when he acts unscientifically, and don’t ignore a person lacking a PhD in Science when he seeks knowledge in an honest, systematic, informed way.
    A lay person with common sense on the right track may achieve more science (knowledge) than a professional pursuing a wrong track.  Being a professional scientist does not grant legitimacy to whatever that person does or says that is not observable, testable, and repeatable.  And knowledge is certainly a goal that any honest observer in search of the truth can hope to attain.
Next headline on:  EducationIntelligent DesignEvolution
  Cell beats computer at backups 10/23/2002 and folding 10/15/2002.

Miller-Frankenstein Ghost Rises from the Dead   10/20/2008    
Oct 20, 2008 — Stanley Miller died last year, but his friendly ghost lives on.  Famous for his Halloweenish spark-discharge apparatus that brought naturalism to life, Miller subsequently began to doubt the simplistic “primordial soup” vision that took on a life of its own, making apparitions in many a textbook.  He realized that improbably atmospheric conditions—a reducing atmosphere of methane and hydrogen without oxygen—were required.  Nevertheless, the sparks in the flask made an indelible mark on the public consciousness even if Miller himself and his colleagues struggled with the harsh realities of organic chemistry.
    Miller’s ghost appeared this month in Science.1  Jeffrey Bada (Scripps Institute) and team are awarding him posthumous honors for finding more amino acids than previously thought.  In addition, they say, volcanoes may have provided the reducing conditions for amino acid formation:

Geoscientists today doubt that the primitive atmosphere had the highly reducing composition Miller used.  However, the volcanic apparatus experiment suggests that, even if the overall atmosphere was not reducing, localized prebiotic synthesis could have been effective.  Reduced gases and lightning associated with volcanic eruptions in hot spots or island arc-type systems could have been prevalent on the early Earth before extensive continents formed.  In these volcanic plumes, HCN, aldehydes, and ketones may have been produced, which, after washing out of the atmosphere, could have become involved in the synthesis of organic molecules.  Amino acids formed in volcanic island systems could have accumulated in tidal areas, where they could be polymerized by carbonyl sulfide, a simple volcanic gas that has been shown to form peptides under mild conditions.
“Could” or “may” appears five times in series in this hypothetical scenario, meaning each “could” depends on the previous “could.”  Nevertheless, Clara Moskowitz got so excited over this news, she titled her report on Live Science, “Volcanoes May Be Original Womb of Life.”  This, of course, begs the question of how the volcano got its life as a mother, but that’s beside the point: around a volcano, the team sees all the ingredients: hydrogen, methane, and lightning.  It seems only a matter of time before Nature would cry, “It’s ali-i-i-i-ve!”
1.  Johnson, Cleaves, Dworkin, Glavin, Lascano and Bada, “The Miller Volcanic Spark Discharge Experiment,” Science, 17 October 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5900, p. 404, DOI: 10.1126/science.1161527.
The tenacity with which naturalists cling to their icons would put a Buddhist monk to shame.  There are SO many problems with the Miller scenario, we weary ourselves to keep repeating them (search "Stanley Miller" in the search bar).  We”ll give them a whole earth made up of amino acids, combining and recombining at fantastically rapid rates (see online book): no life is going to happen.  Amino acids are nothing.  They are common little molecules, many of which are thermodynamically probable under certain natural conditions.  Some are found in meteorites.  It’s not the building blocks that characterize life.  It’s the way they are organized.  It’s the way they perform functions.  Organic chemists have to go to great lengths to get some of the building blocks under carefully controlled conditions.  Surely Bada et al are not suggesting that amino acids formed on land, perhaps on lava flows far from the oceans Miller required.  They can always dream up a scenario that keeps the molecules hopeful, but by the time they try to get the building blocks to join up in one-handed configuration and actually do something without a genetic code to direct them, they have to tweak the scenario to the point of absurdity.  Matter is fecund only in the imaginations of naturalists who will not permit information and direction into their world view.
    Their fascination with that phrase “building blocks of life” becomes more absurd with each announcement.  We have been told that water is a building block of life, and tailpipe soot is a building block of life.  Why stop there?  Why not call protons building blocks of life?  or quarks?  or superstrings?  The laws of chemistry militate against the formation of a functional biological apparatus.  In the lab, most of the organic ingredients for life have to be carefully shielded from oxygen.  Miller’s amino acids, even around Mother Volcano, would be subject to hydrolyzing radiation, oxidation, thermal destruction and dilution.  Astrobiologists have to imagine protected enclaves that could somehow concentrate and protect the exceedingly low yields.  Since amino acids do not polymerize in water, they have to imagine alternate waves of wetting and drying that somehow avoid washing the precious gems into the vast diluting sea (11/19/2004, 04/08/2008).  Then there need to be the right clay minerals to act as templates (but this won’t work; see 02/13/2006).  What if the next lava flow covers it up?  Sorry.  What if harmful cross-reactions dominate, as they would?  Sorry.  What if one wrong-handed amino acid joins the chain, as is immensely more probable (online book)?  Sorry.  It’s a sorry tale at every turn: improbabilities piled on improbabilities far beyond the limits of credibility.
    Don’t mistake commotion for progress.  You can listen to Robert Hazen’s cheerful Teaching Company series “Origins of Life” in which he describes in detail all the commotion in origin-of-life studies, with nothing at the end to show for it than naturalistic bluffing, hope and hype.  The characters doing OOL research look like the bad guys in Home Alone trying to burglarize life’s secrets, only to come back with bumps and bruises and burned hands.  There’s even an international organization of the burglars, ISSOL (newly renamed the International Astrobiology Society), that gathers every 3 years to pool their ignorance and share tales of woe about their latest bruises in the lab.  Its members comprise a Who’s Who (or Who Cares) of all the big names in the field.  Go ahead.  Browse the dozens of abstracts from their Summer 2008 gathering at Florence, that began with the obligatory sacrifice to Stanley Miller, and you will find everything from confident claims to frustration and dead ends, each hopeful sign falsified a few pages later.  Is this science?  What if any other group of zealots suffered this many losing confrontations with nature?
    Miller was usually more honest about the difficulties of finding how life originated than many of his disciples.  His greatest success was not in solving any of the problems, but in producing a visual propaganda tool that facilitated the dissemination of a useful lie (05/02/2003).  That’s not a legacy any self-respecting scientist should wish to have.
Next headline on:  Origin of LifeGeology
Journalist Advises Scientists to Tell Stories   10/18/2008    
Oct 18, 2008 — Caltech may be the egghead capital of America.  The prestigious university where Einstein and Feynman hung out may be weak in sports and arts, but is unsurpassed in science and engineering.  Caltech graduates are so adept with mathematics and advanced physics, many of them would probably have a hard time at parties telling their relatives and friends what they do for a living.  To avoid making others think they live on an alien planet, ABC/NPR journalist Robert Krulwich has an idea: tell stories.
    Krulwich gave the commencement address this past June.  His remarks were just printed in the fall issue of Caltech’s quarterly magazine Engineering and Science (E&S).  The opening caption reads, “Stories matter, and in a nation where belief in alien abductions is on the rise while belief in evolution is on the decline, the best way to defend science is to tell your friends a good story.”  Newton, he explained, was private and secretive to a fault, whereas Galileo knew how to serve up an engaging tale.  Stories are a must when communicating science to party-goers and reporters (though those two groups are not mutually exclusive).
    More importantly, he said, the Caltech graduates are not going to be able to win against pseudoscience unless they can outdo it in storytelling.  What pseudoscientists did Krulwich have in mind? 
Scientists need to tell stories to nonscientists, because science stories—and you know this—have to compete with other stories about how the universe works, and how it came to be.  And some of those other stories—Bible stories, movie stories, myths—can be very beautiful and very compelling.  But to protect science and scientists—and this is not a gentle competition—you’ve got to get in there and tell your version of how things are, and why things came to be.
    We all know about creation-science movements in America.  But what you may not know is that such movements are spreading all over the world.
From there he launched into details of Adnan Oktar’s lavishly-illustrated Atlas of Creation that has been sent free to schools across Turkey and Europe.  “It’s written in clear and simple language, using fabulous pictures, and the pictures are designed to ‘prove’ that fossils show no evidence of evolution.”  This is definitely bad, Krulwich argued, using Oktar, a Muslim, as his prototypical creationist.
    Krulwich appealed to Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning the Two World Systems as an example of effective storytelling.  Then he used some dialogue between nitwits on Friends to illustrate the scientific illiteracy of the general public.  Metaphor to the rescue: “Stories with gripping visuals and good punch lines, stories that make intuitive sense, that make sensual sense—to your eyes, to your ears, to your touch—can convince,” he preached.  “They have power.
    For recent examples befitting modern science’s penchant for abstruse disconnection from reality, he pointed to the well-known Schrödinger’s Cat illustration, and to how a visitor to the Grand Canyon might bring its vastness down to earth with a line from Loren Eiseley, “the magnificent violence hidden in a raindrop.” 
    Krulwich saved his best example for last.  He referred to Mary Schweitzer’s research on medullary bone in dinosaurs, and how it compared with ostrich bone (see 06/03/2005).  It could be dull scientific stuff until it is dressed in the storyteller’s art:
So Mary and her two assistants collected the dead ostrich, which was in the farmer’s backhoe bucket, and drove it back to Raleigh, and what do you know?  The former ostrich had been a pregnant former ostrich, and the bones looked pretty similar.  The next year, Mary published a paper in Science with the dinosaur bone right next to an emu bone, which looks even more like Bob’s. And since then, another T. rex, this one in Argentina, was found to have the same calcium structure—more evidence that when you look deep inside dinosaurs and deep inside birds, what you see is very, very similar.  Which gives us yet another reason to think that the robin in your front yard is an itty, bitty dinosaur.
    If your nonscience friend listens to that story, and leans in a little, and hears how scientists work with bones and dead birds in buckets, patiently looking for patterns, you have just placed a sword in her hand.  The next time somebody tells her that scientists are know-it-alls who toss off opinions, that science is an elitist plot, she would think, “welllll, but I did hear this story . . .” and the scientific method gets a little more defense, a little protection.
    But better than that, the next time your friend sees a robin, she’ll see, I hope, more than a robin.  She’ll glance at a little bird pecking for worms on the lawn, and she’ll travel 70 million years back to a time and a place that creationists say did not exist, but now, because of your story, your friend has a pregnant tyrannosaurus in her head with the unfortunate name of Bob.  Which makes robins and sparrows and chickadees and crows and all birds just a little more amazing, and a little more delightful to look at.  Which means, you win.  The creationists can’t beat delight.  You have smote them with your story.
A published address cannot reveal the audience reactions, but the fact Krulwich was invited, and Caltech published the address in its magazine, would seem to indicate the administration at least approved of his case for storytelling.
Robert Krulwich does have a point.  There is a place for metaphor and narrative in science.  We use it often in our commentaries (for a recent example, see the last paragraph of the 10/17/2008 entry, below).  Good teachers, preachers and public speakers know the power of metaphor in rhetoric.  Rhetoric was one of the classical and medieval skills taught to all students.  An academic field known as rhetoric of science emerged after Thomas Kuhn’s 1961 thesis, to explore the ways in which rhetoric aids persuasion within paradigms and by challengers; the book Doubts About Darwin was built on Dr. Thomas Woodward’s PhD thesis that explored the interplay of rhetoric around the emerging Intelligent Design Movement.  Rhetoric of science departments even have their own vocabulary, and plenty of examples in the history of science to draw from.  There are cases to be made that some important scientific paradigms were won or lost by the power of rhetoric.
    This is all very interesting and fine.  Scientists ignore rhetoric at their peril.  It’s not persuasion that’s the problem; it’s propaganda.  Here is where Krulwich erred.  We often accuse the Darwinists of engaging not just in storytelling per se, but in “just-so storytelling,” which is made-up stuff.  Scientific explanations, even when aimed at Joe Six-Pack or Joe the Plumber, are supposed to be based in evidence and logic.  Often, Darwinists trade in fables concocted to save their paradigm, even when faced with incriminating evidence.
    Krulwich committed several propaganda errors in his address.  First, he divided all humanity into two classes (the either-or fallacy): scientists (e.g., those with honesty, brains and integrity, like Caltech graduates) and the rest of humanity, including scientific dunces like Phoebe on Friends, those who believe in alien abductions, Adnan Oktar, creationists and Bible believers.  He followed this with some fear-mongering about how powerful the bogeymen are: “this is not a gentle competition,” he said, giving the students a sword to conquer them.  After having consigned all non-Caltech-scientists to absurdity, it conveniently allowed him to set up a straw man to push over with very few ergs of energy.  He should read the material of the great creation scientists and best of the ID philosophers.  That’s what we do here: we take on the leading Darwinists in their leading publications.  We challenge their Goliaths.  Why does Krulwich associate creationism with the dimwits on a TV sitcom?  Let him sit down with the PhDs (some from Caltech and MIT and Cambridge) who deny Darwin, and learn a little about his own vulnerability.  Then he gave a vastly oversimplified view of science (the old truth-seeker in the white lab coat using “the scientific method,” whatever that is).  Doesn’t he realize that view went out in the 1950s?
    Finally, his sample story about robins being itty-bitty dinosaurs, besides being downright silly, sidestepped the major point of Mary Schweitzer’s work: that finding soft tissue and medullary bone in a dinosaur essentially falsifies the belief they are 65 million years old.  He swallowed the Darwine to the dregs without tasting it first or submitting it to qualitative analysis—the very thing a good scientist is supposed to do.  Consider the flaw, also, in his logic that similarities prove ancestry (see circular reasoning).  If you look deep enough into a man’s DNA and a banana’s DNA, you can find all kinds of similarities.  Darwinists pick and choose the kind of similarities they like, which they call “homologous traits” – or make up terms like “convergent evolution” and “analogous traits” to explain the others – whatever it takes to maintain their belief in Darwin’s metaphorical Tree of Life.  It’s rigged to protect their belief system from falsification.
    Overall, Krulwich gets the gong for giving advice built on half-truths.  So while we do not challenge him on the usefulness of being able to communicate scientific ideas effectively using narrative, we hope the graduating seniors of Caltech were discerning enough to smell the baloney in the hot dog.
    As for Krulwich’s line, “The creationists can’t beat delight,” this has to be one of the biggest lies of the year.  Creationists, like Louis Louis Pasteur stand amazed at the work of the Creator.  You could not find a happier group – just look at the number of praise songs they have about creation.  Compare this with the vitriol of the Darwinist People of Froth (e.g., 09/26/2005, 06/22/2007) and there is no contest.  Then, Krulwich said, “You have smote them with your story.”  In a way, he’s right.  We’re dumbfounded at the thought of a journalist telling scientists to fib, and with bad grammar at that.
    For more on the power of metaphors to mislead as well as inform, see “Metaphors Bewitch You” in the 07/04/2003 entry.
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Thought Experiment:  Watch a standing-ovation performance of Arthur Benjamin, the Mathemagician, in action on  Ask yourself: did natural selection produce this mental power for (1) sex, (2) food, (3) defense, or (4) none of the above?  Extra credit: derive this ability from hydrogen.

How Cells Thread a Needle   10/17/2008    
Oct 17, 2008 — Your challenge today is to invent a machine that can push a wet noodle through a straw.  It can’t pull it.  First it has to grab the end, then push it through without breaking it.  Oh, and there’s a catch; the straw has a plug at the far end and a constriction inside.  Give up?  Maybe you should watch how cells do it.  The mechanism was described by Anastassios Economou in Nature this week.1
    Cells have to do this kind of thing all the time, so they have specialized machinery for the task.  The wet noodles are protein chains in their unfolded state.  The straws are narrow channels through membranes that are normally in a plugged configuration.  Just outside the straw entrance are several precisely-fitted proteins that first attract the chain and cradle it gently between two halves that swivel shut.  As one half tilts, it causes the constriction in the tunnel to open up.  The two parts then fit together like hands, and use a powered motor to gently send the noodle through.
    Economou included a schematic diagram of the five-part mechanism that pushes the proteins through.  (He included a couple of stylized hands to show how the delicate grasping and pushing is done.)  Here’s the caption:

This simplified representation is based on both earlier studies and the new findings.  In this cut-away view of the membrane, the SecA motor lies flat against the cytoplasmic side of the SecY channel (yellow), and consists of a two-domain ATP-powered engine (light and dark blue) and two ‘business-end’ domains (green and magenta; depicted as hands).  a, Initially, the channel pore is sealed by both a constriction halfway through it and a mobile plug domain (not shown) near its exit.  The pre-protein-binding domain of the motor (magenta) is in the open state, exposing an elongated corridor that connects to the entrance of the channel.  This open state is seen in structures of the isolated motor.  b, Swivelling this domain around its stem would allow it to embrace a secretory protein chain.  At this stage, a finger (green) from the second hand of SecA might be in close contact with the chain.  c, When ATP (not shown) is present, the engine conformation changes and the finger could move upwards, pushing or dragging the protein chain into the pore.  This motion, or other conformational changes, leads to the opening of the pore.
Details of this mechanism have only recently come to light.  It appears that the machinery puts a gentle stretch on the chain a few links at a time.  Think how earthworms stretch and compress to move through their underground tunnels.  The scientists believe that the SecA-SecY machinery uses a similar technique to propel the protein chains through the channel.  For really long chains, the machinery can repeat the cycle over and over.
    Economou described how difficult it is to observe these nanoscopic machines at work.  “Solving structures of membrane proteins is not a trivial pursuit,” he said.  There are many questions and projects remaining.  The ultimate one, mentioned in his final sentence, is “determining the dynamics of this astonishing cellular nanomachine.
1.  Anastassios Economou, “Structural biology: Clamour for a kiss,” Nature 455, 879-880 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455879a.
Evolution was not mentioned in this paper.  The scientists studied this process in those highly-evolved, large, complex animals known as... bacteria.
    OK, Charlie’s got a problem here.  There are half a dozen protein machines involved in this process.  They rotate, swivel and fit together in precise contact.  They are driven by ATP fuel pellets.  The machines must apply the energy precisely for function: in the right direction, in the right amount, at the right time.  Could chance produce such a complex machine?  (Bacteria, in the evolutionary fable, are among the earliest and simplest life-forms to “appear” on the early earth.)
    Do the math.  SecA contains 802 amino acid residues; SecY contains 436.  Our online book calculated that getting a 400-unit protein chain by chance would be one in 10240, even under unnaturally favorable circumstances.  That number is already way, way, way beyond the universal probability bound (i.e., it would never happen anywhere in the universe), and we don’t even have one protein of this multi-protein complex.  If by some wildly, radically, absurd stretch of imagination chance arrived at the right sequence for SecY (the shorter of the two proteins), it would be incredibly more unlikely to get the larger one, SecA, which is not only twice as long, but has to fit like lock and key with the first one.  Each of these protein parts is like that.  They all have to work together.  Calling this irreducibly complex is an understatement.  The machine parts don’t just happen to show up at the cell membrane by a random walk and work together for the first time.  They were designed to do what they do, and they do it exquisitely.
    Evolutionists would have us believe that natural selection tinkers with whatever parts are available, and complexity just happens.  Sooner or later, though, if you carry that logic too far, you wind up tinkering with nothing.  You could tinker with an existing radio, for instance, to make it pick up new wavelengths, but how far back can you push the tinkering metaphor back until you have nothing but a few random pieces of plastic and wire lying around?  The metaphor also suffers from implicit personification, as if the parts would even want to do such things.  Humans impose their sense of design on molecules that have no ability to plan ahead and work together, and no reason to do so.  Left to themselves, they would randomize.
    Economou has given us occasion to discuss economics.  The bankruptcy of evolutionary theory becomes more evident with each new investigation.  Trying to bail it out with public credulity is not going to make it recover.  The Darwin Party oligarchy needs to stop tinkering and tampering, remove its protectionist barricades, and let free inquiry have its way.  Intelligent design has the intellectual capital to inject into the logic markets.  Liquidity will result, knowledge banks will open up, and public confidence will stabilize the scientific institutions.  Freedom to invest in the best explanations, wherever the evidence leads, will once again usher in a prosperous era of bullish science.
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  Does life use the element boron?  Indeed it does; read about an amazing molecule that makes plants stand tall, from 10/26/2001.

Nonsense and Nonscience   10/17/2008    
Oct 17, 2008 — For an enterprise that prizes itself on objectivity and careful thought, science occasionally makes some outlandish claims.  Here are some things that slipped past the scientific method into the popular news media.

  1. As good as it gets:  Steve Jones says men have stopped evolving.  Better enjoy what you have, because it’s not going to get any better, reported PhysOrg.  Jones said mutations may come to the rescue.  The short article contained only a small hint of doubt about all this: “That’s good news for those who like the human race just as it is, though perhaps bad news if humans need to evolve to meet some unexpected challenge down the road, the science – as yet not backed up by other research – suggests.”
  2. Monster sex:  Some paleontologists seem to think they can deduce sex appeal from bones.  A particularly monstrous looking horny-headed dinosaur reported by National Geographic is a case in point.  Speaking for the male of the species, the reporter said, “Despite their less-than-cuddly appearance, researchers believe other Pachyrhinosaurs would have found the sharp adornments appealing.”
  3. Close your eyes and listen to nothingScience Daily told about physicists who are trying to listen to dark matter.  No one has seen it, but they think maybe if they listen to the acoustic patterns of WIMPs they can hear it.  “Much of our understanding until now has been hypothetical,” the article stated in a quizzical oxymoron.
  4. Buddha for peace:  What is Buddhism doing in the American Medical Association?  PhysOrg advised us on how to ease the stress of bailouts, recession, and depression: “Enter the meditative practice of mindfulness.  Born of Buddhist roots, it’s increasingly recognized as a measure to calm the mind’s chatter and elevate the brain’s thinking and organizational processes.”  Apparently the psychologists didn’t think to give Christians equal time, such as performing a controlled experiment on Philippians 4:4-8.
  5. Arrrrrrgh, capitalism:  Not sure how this story got into Science Daily, but economist Peter Hayes at the University of Sunderland is trying to argue that the corporate business economy – indeed modern democracy – is a legacy of Long John Silver and Blackbeard.  No kidding: “the roots of modern democracy were not in Britain or the USA, but were the ‘corporations’ which were created on pirate ships during the golden age of buccaneering.”  Free-market economists must be shivering in their timbers.
  6. God in the dock:  Apparently Live Science had no qualms about straying into theological and legal matters.  The ostensibly scientific news outlet reported that a judge in Nebraska threw out a man’s lawsuit against God.  On what grounds?  “the Almighty wasn’t properly served due to his unlisted home address.”  The plaintiff, by the way, is a state senator who “skips morning prayers during the legislative session and often criticizes Christians.”  He has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling.  In a case like this, though, to whom does one appeal?
For proof that humans are not the only animals who can ramble on endlessly about things they don’t know, watch this funny clip called “Creature Comforts – What It’s All About” on YouTube by Aardman Animations.
Talk is cheap.  That’s because the supply is greater than the demand.
    These stories illustrate that modern science has become a cult.  Any wild idea gets a free ride, as long as it is un-creationism and anti-Christian.  Show your Darwin Party badge at the door, recite the Standard Hate against creationism, and you can get free access to the press, who will lap up whatever you say like groupies, ask you no questions, and then pass it along unfiltered to the public.  Atheists and socialists get on the fast track to the microphones.
    Except for the last animated goodie, the stories above were all from leading science news outlets.  Remember this when we show you their latest “findings” on evolution.
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Science Cannot Validate Itself   10/16/2008    
Oct 16, 2008 — Science is an unbiased, objective, disciplined, cooperative method for progressively uncovering truth about the natural world.  That’s the way most of us were taught to think about it in school.  Further reflection, however, produces a host of questions rarely discussed in science class.  How does science differ from other unbiased, objective, disciplined, cooperative methods of inquiry?  What is special about scientific logic?  To what does science refer?  How much impact does our humanness and our relationships have on scientific theories?  What is the scientific method?  How is science to be distinguished from pseudoscience? Are all branches of science worthy of the same respect?  What constitutes a scientific explanation?  If our best theories are only tentative, how can we ever know when we have a grasp on reality that is unlikely to be overturned or subsumed under a greater theory?  These and many other questions can keep philosophers of science in the Humanities departments busy for years (but with less grant money).  Working scientists don’t often pay them much attention.  Maybe they should.
    Nature1 printed a rare excursion into philosophy of science2 that cast severe doubt on the ability of science to ever grasp reality with sufficient confidence to say we have “arrived” at understanding of the cosmos.  P.-M Binder, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, explored the reasonings of David Wolpert, known for his work on the “No Free Lunch” theorems.3   He sought to explore the nature and limits of scientific reasoning.  Wolpert demonstrated in a recent paper4 that “the entire physical Universe cannot be fully understood by any single inference system that exists within it” (Binder’s words).  If that sounds like something Turing or Gödel would say, it is.
    Wolpert is not the first to demonstrate fundamental limits on human knowledge.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is a famous example.  Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem is another: it placed fundamental limits on the ability of mathematical theories to validate themselves.  Wolpert follows in this tradition with “impossibility results.”  He proved with mathematics and logic that in the Universe of sequences of events that follow natural laws, no two strong inference machines can be strongly inferred from each other.  His conclusions are independent of any particular natural laws employed in the inference.
    This means that science can never know everything: just almost everything in the best case.  When you “know” one inference well, there will always be at least one other category of inference that will be unclear or ambiguous.  Example: the equations of chaos theory can perform pretty well in predicting outcomes of seemingly disorganized systems that have a “strong attractor,” at least up to an acceptable level of accuracy.  The catch is: the method cannot validate the equations themselves.  What Wolpert has done, in his own words, is demonstrate “impossibility results” in scientific logic that “can be viewed as a non-quantum-mechanical ‘uncertainty principle.’”
    In short, science cannot validate itself.  Science will never produce a theory of everything.  Gone are the optimistic 18th-century traditions of Laplace that, given knowledge of each particle’s position and momentum, future outcomes could be predicted with any desired degree of certainty.  The Uncertainty Principle, generalized into scientific logic by Wolpert, has shown that the more precise an observer measures one quantity (or inference), the more uncertain becomes the other.  Gone also are claims that given a long enough lever and a place to stand, one could move the world.  That standing place will always be wobbly.
1.  P.-M Binder, “Philosophy of science: Theories of almost everything,” Nature 455, 884-885 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455884a.
2.  Two articles in The Scientist this month affirm that philosophy of science is neglected in science education these days: one by James Williams on “What Makes Science ‘Science’?” and a follow-up by Richard Gallagher on “Why the Philosophy of Science Matters.”  Both articles, unfortunately, appear to espouse a narrow view that resembles logical positivism.  This view would be considered indefensible by many philosophers today after the Kuhnian Revolution of the 1960s and the Science Wars of the 1990s.  Both also arrogated objectivity to establishment scientists while denigrating creationists and others as ideologues.  One respondent caught Summers in name calling.  Summers backpedaled somewhat, acknowledging his own dogmatism and the fallibility of science.
3.  For background on the No Free Lunch theorems, see William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch, Rowman and Littlefield, 2002, esp. section 4.6.
4.  David H. Wolpert, “Physical limits of inference,” Physica D 237, 1257–1281 (2008), doi:10.1016/j.physd.2008.03.040.
“Science is truth,” chants Finagle’s Creed; “Do not be misled by facts!”  The limitations of scientific inference explored by Wolpert must hit thinking scientists like a rude awakening.  It’s like dreaming of climbing a mountain only to find oneself going up a down escalator.  The Truth about the Universe will forever remain beyond the reach of science.
    Binder ended on a confident note that science might still be converging on a close approximation of reality.  Oddly, he ended by showing that two subjects in fundamental physics are beset with shortcomings: the standard model of particle physics, and the so-far intractable problem of uniting quantum mechanics with gravity.  But then he said optimistically, in conclusion, “It is possible, though, that these various theories, along with all that we have learned in physics and other scientific disciplines, will yet merge into the best science can do: a theory of almost everything.
    Almost is not good enough.  There will always be something else you cannot know.  Like Ken Ham quips: if you can’t know what you don’t know, you can’t know what you do know; and if you can’t know what you do know, you might know very little.  To which we add: how could you ever know whether the most important puzzle piece lies outside your world view, in the inference machine that cannot be inferred from within your system?  Maybe, for instance, the most important piece lies in theology.
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Selling Stem Cells to Voters   10/15/2008    
Oct 15, 2008 — If you thought embryonic stem cell research became moot after researchers found they could induce skin cells to become pluripotent, these news stories show the push is still on to open up more funds for embryonic stem cells.  A ballot measure in Michigan is a bellwether for how scientists still feel about these tantalizing objects in a Petri dish, so near yet so far due to ethical concerns.

  1. Talking points:  To educate voters about a proposal on the Michigan ballot that would remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell sources, the University of Michigan issued a press release called, “Five things you should know about stem cell research.”  The goal of the article is to encourage citizens to vote yes on Proposal 2 for more access to embryonic (ES) stem cells, regardless whether “some aspects of embryonic stem cell research may pose an ethical or moral dilemma for some people.”  Summarized, here are their five selling points:
    1. Scientists agree it’s crucial to move ahead on all types of stem cell research: ES, iPS, and adult.
    2. The embryos represent the earliest stages of development.  They consist of undifferentiated blobs of cells that never grow into a fetus.
    3. Adult stem cells are only supporting actors in the quest for treatments.
    4. Induced pluripotent stem cells, though exciting, are not ready for prime time, because cancer-causing viruses are required to reprogram the cells into stem cells.
    5. Michigan scientists want access to their own embryonic stem cell lines instead of having to get them from out of state.
    In support of the second point, Sean Morrison of the university said, “The embryos that are used for research are microscopically small clumps of cells, smaller than the period at the end of a sentence on a piece of paper.  They have no specialized tissues of any type; there’s no nervous system, there’s no heart, there are no limbs.  These are clumps of cells that oftentimes in a fertility clinic don’t develop in a healthy manner and that doctors would not be willing to implant in patients.”
        The fourth point about the use of viruses for iPS cells was contradicted by an August story in Science Daily that said viral insertion is no longer necessary; a drug-like molecule can do the job.
  2. Blame to go aroundNature News showed that it’s not just ES researchers that can get embroiled in scandals.  A paper about adult mesenchymal stem cells faces retraction after other researchers could not replicate the work.  The authors are charged with manipulating images.  The one being investigated said he made “honest unintentional errors.”
  3. Premises of promisesScience Daily article last month involved studying the causes of Down Syndrome with the use of embryonic stem cells.  Researchers in London observed what happened to embryonic stem cells from genetically-engineered mice with an extra chromosome 21.  The study did not use human embryonic stem cells.  Nothing was said, furthermore, about how the study could lead to a treatment, other than hoping it might lead to clues some day.
Research on adult stem cells continues apace.  Science Daily reported that skin stem cells show more versatility than thought.  They can divide actively and transport themselves through skin tissue.  One member of the research team at Karolinska Institute in Sweden said, “The stem cells don’t behave at all in the way we’d previously thought, and are found in unexpected places.  We’re now investigating the part played by the stem cells in the wound-healing process and the development of basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.”  It’s only when the signaling system goes awry – perhaps due to mutations – that cancer results, the article suggested.
Update 10/18/2008: Science Daily reported that a major hurdle for producing iPS cells has been overcome.  Scientists at the Salk Institute succeeded in boosting the efficiency of the reprogramming process by 100 times, while cutting the time in half.  They were able to get results from keratinocytes from a single hair from a human scalp.  This “not only provides a practical and simple alternative for the generation of patient- and disease-specific stem cells, which had been hampered by the low efficiency of the reprogramming process, but also spares patients invasive procedures to collect suitable starting material, since the process only requires a single human hair.”
Look hard for any justification of the use of human embryos in these articles.  What is it about human embryos that continues to drive scientists’ passion to own them?  If iPS cells and adult stem cells can provide essentially everything they wanted to accomplish for human treatments, and if mouse embryos can be studied for theory, why this insatiable lust for human embryos?  Were you impressed by any of their rationalizations?
    Consider some background issues.  First of all, there is still only hype to hope for cures from ES cells.  All the actual treatments are coming from adult stem cells.  Second, fraud is a general concern in scientific ethics and does not bear specifically on stem cell research.  Any case of fraud, even in celestial physics, deserves to be investigated.  The researchers in the adult stem cell case claim they made innocent mistakes.  Even if proven blameworthy, they did nothing on the scale of the Hwang scandal (02/05/2006).  In that case, the gold rush to be first drove the Korean scientists to stretch the truth.  Adult stem cell research, however, has been showing success for years.  The “me first” motivation was lacking.
    To the heart of the matter: look at the U of Michigan’s five selling points for Proposal 2 on the November 4 state ballot.  What can you find there other than greed and selfishness?  The scientists cannot point to anything that ES cells will do to help humans, other than make their unethical work easier and pad their resumes.  To show this, let’s rephrase their points to sell Nazi-style human experimentation on imbeciles.  Imagine yourself in the 1930s listening to eugenicists advocate Proposal 2X that would loosen up restrictions on human research that “some people” might find morally objectionable:
    Five Things You Should Know About Imbecile Research
  1. Scientists agree it is crucial to move ahead on imbecile research.
  2. The imbeciles are not fully developed.  They have no skills as philosophers or artists, nor will they ever be implanted in a university classroom.
  3. Volunteers with average IQs are only supporting actors in the quest for treatments.
  4. Volunteers with average IQs are not ready for prime time, because it is difficult to get them to sign the release documents without coercion.
  5. Michigan scientists want access to imbeciles without having to go to Germany.
Notice how the press release downplayed the moral issues.  It emphasized the word some: “But some aspects of embryonic stem cell research may pose an ethical or moral dilemma for some people.”  Who are the some people, if not the dimwitted citizens of Michigan who don’t understand that some university professor stands to make a lot of money or win a Nobel Prize?
    Embryos are just “microscopically small clumps of cells,” Morrison tells us (the reductionist fallacy).  If size is the issue, then all of us are mere specks of dust compared to the planet we live on.  Embryos have no specialized tissues or organs, he said, ignoring the fact that they have the complete genetic code to build those organs.  Children do not have their secondary sexual characteristics, either, if complete development is the criterion for humanness.  The ES cells are going to be thrown away by fertility clinics anyway, he argued.  God help us when utility becomes the standard for human worth.  The comatose, mentally retarded, elderly and disabled will have reasons to fear The Science Lab with that kind of ethic.
    Only Judeo-Christian morality, that deems human life sacred because we were created in the image of God, can save science from the Law of Unintended Consequences if all restrictions are eventually lifted from embryonic stem cell research.  Arguing that fertility clinics should send their discarded embryos to science labs begs the question whether they should have been created in the first place, and removes the Judeo-Christian barricade to the slippery slope.  Suppose, for comparison, we applied the pragmatic utility argument to aborted fetuses.  “Women are going to get abortions anyway,” advocates could argue; “wouldn’t it be better to get some scientific benefit from the discarded babies?”  A macabre market for fetal body parts would be created.  More women would get abortions, because Planned Parenthood could lure its victims with the line that they would be helping Science.  Abortions would skyrocket, and human life would be cheapened.
    ES research advocates lure citizens to bite the bill by dangling the loaded word “science” in front of it.  Those little cells in the Petri dish seem abstract, tiny, and impersonal.  But though they have no limbs or hearts or brains yet, they are completely human.  They contain all the genetic instructions for a full-grown human being.  That embryo has the potential to be a concert violinist, a charity worker, a businessman creating hundreds of jobs, a mother, a president, or a scientist some day.  You were once an embryo.  Would you have wanted your zygote to be discarded or cut up?  Whatever the Creator has allowed or disallowed in His own sovereign plan for the biological fate of humans is His business; it is not man’s to usurp.  Oh, but you don’t believe in God?  Then to whom are you going to grant the power to decide who gets the right to life?  Dread giving that power to any man: his next victim could be you.
    Civilization has, for the time being, reacted against the dark days of eugenics that classed some humans as imbeciles to justify treating them as subhuman.  Dehumanization has always been a halfway house to eradication.  We must regard any attempt to dehumanize human beings as opening a Pandora’s Box of terrors.  The Judeo-Christian padlock keeps it closed.  If scientists desire complete freedom to work on their fellow human beings as objects instead of persons with inherent dignity, we have the perfect place for them to set up their ES lab: North Korea.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyPolitics and Ethics
Tooth Evolution Theory Lacks Bite   10/14/2008    
Oct 14, 2008 — The hardest substance in your body is your teeth.  The varieties of teeth among vertebrates is astounding, from the tiny incisors in a mole to the bone-crushing scimitars on a T. rex.  Many fossils are known only from their teeth.  One would think teeth are the best-studied objects in evolutionary theory, but a recent paper uncovers a near absence of explanation about how they arose.
    Soukup et al started the confession with a paper in Nature that essentially falsified the two leading theories for the origin of teeth.1  Georgy Koentges (U of Warwick) followed up in the News and Views section of Nature by almost throwing his hands up.2  First, he said that the development of teeth in the embryo is a “contentious question” about which “we know too little”.  It might be surprising to layman that something observable in the lab – the development of teeth in the embryo – remains obscure.  The subjects of tooth embryology and tooth evolution are related, because evolutionists look where teeth develop for clues about tissues that natural selection might have co-opted for the first teeth.  But if tooth development is obscure, theories of tooth evolution stand on shaky gums.
In evolutionary terms, tooth-like structures – such as the denticles that appear as a ubiquitous feature on the body armour of early vertebrates – might have preceded the advent of jaws proper.  The staggering histological diversity of such structures has led to byzantine systems of classification of vertebrate hard tissues, and in turn to serious differences of opinion.  The acrimony of these debates has scaled linearly with the lack of experimental embryological evidence about the underlying process.
Debate has squared off over two opposite opinions that were either coming or going:
The presence of denticles on the body of early jawed vertebrates led to speculation that, early in vertebrate evolution, embryonic ectoderm moved into the mouth and initiated organized tooth rows there.  In contrast to this ‘outside-in’ view of events is the ‘inside-out’ theory.  This theory holds that the evolutionary origins of teeth started in the mouth or pharynx and are linked to the presence of embryonic endoderm.  An outward migration of cells, or a co-option of a pharyngeal tooth-forming program in a part of the outer body surface, would have to occur to explain the presence of denticles on the outer covering of sharks and other more basal vertebrates.
    Both theories hinge on the idea that there is an inherent difference in the inductive power of ectoderm and endoderm, and that migration of one or the other is the crucial factor in tooth formation.  Implicit in this is the notion that tooth and denticle anatomy reflects embryonic origins – that is, that actual tooth or denticle histology can reveal which embryonic tissue was the key source.
Well, that “notion” has been shot down, Koentges continues: “Soukup et al. now provide experimental grounds to debunk such ideas by testing the spatial distribution of ectoderm and endoderm in relation to erupting teeth.”  They found in certain amphibians that it doesn’t matter whether the teeth emerge from mesoderm or ectoderm: somehow the resulting teeth end up just the same.  Notice the evolutionary implications of this “dramatic finding” –
....the authors show that there is no relationship between ectodermal and endodermal origin and the shape or nature of the resulting teeth – at least at the point when such teeth become visible.  The enamel of teeth can be of ectodermal, endodermal or mixed origin.  This is a dramatic finding.  It means that one cannot infer relative distributions of ectoderm and endoderm from tooth or denticle anatomy even in a living species, let alone in a fossil.
Did he have any good news to come to the rescue?  If so, it’s in future tense.  All he left were a pile of more questions:
Nonetheless, Soukup and colleagues’ study removes the basis for theories depending on ‘co-option’ processes that would require migration of epithelial cells, and redirects future research.  We need to study the molecular co-option of tooth or denticle genetic programs, a process that might have occurred several times independently in the history of jawed vertebrates.  Which gene-regulatory regions are involved in switching on key regulators of tooth or denticle initiation in both epithelial and mesenchymal tissue?  How, where and when did these genomic regions evolve?  Are the same regions driving expression in ectoderm and endoderm?  Are the regions involved in patterning denticle fields also used for organizing feathers and hair?  And where are the ‘atoms of information’ that initiate, position and shape a tooth or denticle, and make its internal structure different from that of a dermal bone?
There won’t be any simple answers, he continued: only combinations of factors.  That concept of information cropped up again: finding the answer will require “new experimental and bioinformatics approaches.”
    Koentges ended by distracting attention from his embarrassment with a few mixed metaphors: “Cracking such hard technical nuts will require strong intellectual teeth as well as robust body armour, given the vigour of opinion on this subject.
1.  Soukup et al, “Dual epithelial origin of vertebrate oral teeth,” Nature 455, 795-798 (9 October 2008)| doi:10.1038/nature07304.
2.  Georgy Koentges, “Developmental biology: Teeth in double trouble,” Nature 455, 747-748 (9 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455747a.
Ha!  This is rich.  Look carefully: did you find any explanatory power for evolution in this story?  No; it was all hand-waving and misdirection.  He waffled: it might be outside-in, it might be inside-out, but whoa!  The paper found both are wrong, so maybe it’s downside-up, upside-down, or over the rainbow.  For all this time, we listened to those grandiose tales of How the T. rex Got Its Teeth and other fables, and they never told us there was nothing empirical to back them up.  They can’t even look down in the mouth and find out what’s going on in a developing salamander right now.  How many years has it been since Charlie proposed natural selection as the explanation of all explanations?  All we see are questions and empty speculations.
    Making up words is not explanation.  Look at what Georgy did.  He’s got miracle-words everywhere.  He spoke of the “advent” of jaws.  That sounds downright churchy.  Jaws became flesh, and dwelt among fish.  It’s surprising the Darwin Party doesn’t celebrate Bite-mas in their Byzantine classification temple.  It must be hard to celebrate when “the acrimony of these debates scales linearly with the lack of experimental embryological evidence about the underlying process” of evolution.  Since the acrimony requires robust armor, you can bet the lack of evidence must be huge.  This is an inverse relationship: less evidence, more acrimony.  Do the new math.  In the set of scientific explanations, this means evolution is the empty set.
    There’s plenty more miracles in their story.  While divining the pudding (10/09/2008), they see the ectoderm moving into the mouth, where “it initiated tooth rows there.”  Well, great.  Who did the initiating?  Did it initiate the program on purpose?  Was it following a master plan?  No; they would say.  It was just another miracle of chance that worked.  Isn’t scientific explanation wonderful; the Stuff Happens Law is always there when you need it.
    Next, we are told that the “evolutionary origins of teeth started in the mouth... and are linked to the presence of embryonic ectoderm”.  It evolved because it evolved.  Then, as part of the hand-waving calisthenics, “An outward migration of cells, or a co-option of a pharyngeal tooth-forming program” would have to occur because, according to the puddingoscopy readout, evolution needs to explain both shark skin and shark teeth.  Tooth-forming program?  Who was the programmer?  Whence come the “atoms of information” that flow into teeth or into denticles?  Does information have any meaning without an observer?
    The workout turns intense with extreme jawboning exercises: “We need to study the molecular co-option of tooth or denticle genetic programs, a process that might have occurred several times independently in the jawed vertebrates.”  Wow; that’s real miracles fer ye, o ye of little faith.  What is co-option, if not a sleight-of-mind personification of intelligent design?  It’s the old the Tinker Bell defense.  The evolution fairy decided that jaw ectoderm needed a little bite, so zap! a tooth was born.  Do you have any idea how complex a mouth full of teeth is?  Each tooth has roots, blood vessels, dentin, enamel, a precise shape for its function, and a matching tooth on the other jaw, to say nothing of genetic programs to assemble them at the right time and replace baby teeth with permanent teeth.  To assume that they will just “occur” (note the miracle word) not once but several times independently is absurd.  Since Georgy needed every trick in the evolutionary explanation cookbook, he even threw in a little Haeckel recapitulation theory for taste: “Implicit in this is the notion that tooth and denticle anatomy reflects embryonic origins – that is, that actual tooth or denticle histology can reveal which embryonic tissue was the key source.”  That’s ontology recapitulates phylogeny, in case you missed it.  But Mr. Scientist, Sir, we’re kind of tired of “notions.”  When are we going to get your scientific explanation?  (Notions are found in fabric stores near the sewing machines.  If you use notions without strong empirical fabric, whatsoever you sew you shall also rip.)
    The real howler of miracle-words was mentioned so surreptitiously you might have missed it.  He spoke of the “inductive power of ectoderm and endoderm”.  Clearly, Georgy was not talking about logical induction here.  He was talking about some mystical power in tissue cells that could induce them to evolve into teeth.  If there is a more blatant case of pulling a rabbit out of a hat (in this case, a hard tooth out of squishy cells), then clap wildly for the magic show.  This is circumlocution pretending to be scientific explanation.  It’s as comical as Moliere’s satire on Aristotelian explanations when the doctor in one of his plays explains why opium induces sleep – because it has a “dormitive virtue.”  In the same way, this Doctor Koentges put his readers to sleep by hypnotizing them to envision tooth evolution occurring as a result of the “inductive power” of ectoderm or endoderm cells.  To put it simply, he is saying, “evolution occurs because of the evolution-inducing power of material substances.”  Pray tell how this improves on animism.
    The Darwinists are so clever.  They hide their miracles in highfalutin words.  They shield their faith with cryptic jargon.  These are the same people who turn around and accuse religious people (especially the dastardly creationists) of using God-of-the-gaps logic whenever they can’t explain something.  Creationists and ID advocates, we are told, bring science to a halt by just appealing to faith and saying, “God did it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Come now.  Let’s play “find the hypocrite.”
    Reality check time.  Turn off the reruns of the Darwin Charade Parade, stop looking at the cheerleaders (09/29/2008 commentary), and examine what’s left.  Speculation.  Dramatic findings that long-held theories are falling by the wayside.  New unanswered questions.  Byzantine systems of classification (is this the Dark Ages?).  A rare honest admission that “one cannot infer relative distributions of ectoderm and endoderm from tooth or denticle anatomy even in a living species, let alone in a fossil,” meaning that any hope of reconstructing the evolution of teeth is doomed from the start.  More vaporware.  More futureware.  This, folks, is the magic of evolutionary explanations: it’s all bombastic oratory about change we can believe in, without a plan or a policy that will work in the hard, cruel world of reality.  That’s why you have to believe in it.  Wishful thinking, if strong enough, eases the pain when you hit bottom.
    When in doubt, look tough.  “Cracking such hard technical nuts will require strong intellectual teeth as well as robust body armour,” Koentges said, “given the vigour of opinion on this subject.”  He hasn’t seen anything yet.  Just when he thought this was only intramural warfare, the Visigoths showed up over the horizon (05/09/2006)  Unlike the obese and lazy Darwin Party animals, they don’t use plastic teeth and cardboard armor.  They look disciplined, determined, and armed to the teeth.  For combat over the truth of the tooth, they’re prepared for a bite to the finish.  General Dawkins rallies his troops out of their drunken stupor, bluffing that the Visigoths are a pushover because they trust in “faith” instead of “science.”  Better have some bite behind the bark; and remember, let not the one who puts his armor on boast like the one who takes it off.
Next headline on:  MammalsMarine BiologyTerrestrial ZoologyEvolutionary Theory
  Imitating whiskers for science, from 10/04/2006.

Plants Have Thermostats   10/13/2008    
Oct 13, 2008 — Plants, being stuck in the ground, have few options when it gets hot.  They may not be able to move into the shade like animals, but they know how to cope.  They have a built-in thermostat that acts like a fire prevention department.  Science Daily tells the story.
    Researchers at Michigan State identified a protein named bZIP28 that lives in the cell around the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a bundle of tubes and tunnels that acts like a protein assembly, storage and distribution center.  This little protein acts something like a firehouse dog on a leash, tied to the walls of the ER.  When the temperature reaches a certain point, the leash is cut, and the dog runs off into the nucleus, where he barks, so to speak, and sets off a chain reaction.  “The bZIP28 protein is anchored in the endoplasmic reticulum, away from its place of action,” an MSU biochemist said.  “But when the plant is stressed by heat, one end of bZIP28 is cut off and moves into the nucleus of the cell where it can turn on other genes to control the heat response.”
    Researchers found that cells without the firehouse dog died when the temperature rose above a certain level.  Another researcher on the team remarked, “We’re finding that heat tolerance is a more complex process than was first thought.”

Science makes progress when researchers leave the shrine of Darwin and examine the details of plants and animals with design in mind.  Now that we are beginning to unravel the complexities of just one subsystem of plants, the heat response, we might be able to engineer it to allow desirable plants to grow in arid climates for the good of the people.  This is how science should be done.
    On a somewhat related note, Science News printed a feature story about growing farms in the city.  Why not?  Rooftops and special greenhouse skyscrapers could turn jungles of steel into generators of fresh air, flowers and food.  Hydroponics allows growing many plants in water without soil.  Imagine getting fresh tomatoes from the building next door instead of a thousand miles away.  Even barges and abandoned buildings could be put to use, while farmland can get a Sabbath rest or be returned to its native forest ecology.  Upward farming: once the engineering and cost challenges are worked out, this could become a sensible green trend to help humans and their plant friends co-exist.
Next headline on:  PlantsGeneticsAmazing Facts
SETI Could Find Design in Neutrinos   10/12/2008    
Oct 12, 2008 — Most of the scientists involved in SETI research are very antagonistic to Intelligent Design.  Nevertheless, they find the design inference perfectly “natural” when looking for ways to comb through natural phenomena for intelligently-designed signals.
    Two new methods for detecting alien messages were reported by Science News in the Oct. 11 issue.1  Both involve teasing intelligent causes out of patterns of neutrinos instead of tuning into the celestial radio dial.  One method involves Cepheid variable stars.  The regular pulsing of these stars could be altered by aliens if they could send beams of neutrinos into their cores.  If timed just right, the well-known period-luminosity relation would be altered.  The target star would stand out because its predicted pulsation rate and amplitude would appear artificially modulated.  Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute likes this idea of “star tickling” –
If it could work, then this is an answer to one way to build an omnidirectional beacon.  It would be an example of an ‘almost natural’ signal that would get captured in a survey of the universe by an emerging technology, that’s us, and finally recognized in a database by some curious grad student.
The method has a couple of drawbacks.  It would require an “incredibly advanced civilization to be able to do this.”  Another drawback is the low message content.  Only the barest hint of intelligent design would be detectable.  Still, the message would beam out in all directions and thereby reduce the luck factor of finding the needle in the cosmic haystack.
    Another method aliens could use would be to send a coded message of dots and dashes with neutrino beams.  Since neutrinos are broadband, the detector would not have to know the transmission frequency.  An alien civilization might reach us from 20 light years if they could generate the 100-trillion electron volts necessary.  Even then, our state-of-the-art neutrino detectors might only find 7 to 10 muons per year.  If we missed some dots and dashes we might not know it was a message, but at least we could tell where they were coming from.
    Both these methods rely on inferring design in natural phenomena.  The aliens would not be transmitting on a spiritual wavelength.  They would be modulating existing natural phenomena with the intent to convey a message.  SETI researchers feel comfortable with the idea that detecting design in these venues is a proper scientific endeavor.
    The article includes a picture of the woman astronomer who discovered the period-luminosity relation for Cepheid variables, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (see our bio).  This law opened up astronomy to measurement of distant objects.
1.  Ron Cowen, “With a twinkle, pulsating stars could deliver signals from ET,” Science News 174:8 (Oct 11, 2008), p. 5-6.
SETI researchers still do not get it.  They employ exactly the types of scientific reasoning used by the Intelligent Design community to justify the design inference as scientific.  ID claims that intelligent causes can be separated from natural causes by means of a design filter – design is the last-resort inference when chance and natural law have been ruled out.  Would not the SETI people do the same?
    In fact, they would probably work hard to rule out natural law first.  They would see whether an altered Cepheid belongs to a new class of naturally pulsating stars.  Natural law would probably be their default hypothesis.  The astrophysicists would go to work on theories to explain the Cepheids that don’t fit the current theory.  Only as a last resort would the improbable hypothesis of an intelligent cause be considered.  The same is true for the neutrino beams.
    Even so, this article makes it clear that SETI researchers would feel justified in inferring intelligence from natural phenomena.  So do forensic scientists, cryptographers, and archaeologists.  There is nothing new, really, in the ID approach.  People have employed ID reasoning ever since ancient Sumer and beyond.  ID just formalized the logic behind the way we separate intelligent causes from natural causes.  The identity of the designer is not the question.  A coroner may have no clue who the murderer was when deciding a crime victim did not die of natural causes.  A cryptanalyst may not be able to read the message or know its purpose when determining that a string of bits is too improbable to have originated by chance.  The reasoning is the same in any field where design principles are used: whether studying the contours of a possible stone tool, the marks on a cliff in an unknown language, or the information content in DNA.  The ID Movement is really a call for fairness.  What’s good for SETI should be good for biology.
    SETI has no recourse in counter-claiming that the aliens evolved by natural causes.  You can’t tell anything about the aliens from the content of their message.  Even if they were to tell us they evolved, how could we know they were telling the truth?  Jill Tarter would have no way to tell that demons were not out there lying to her for the fun of watching her trip over herself on the way to the phone to tell the world she had found another case of the evolution of intelligence.  Liars can be clever.  “We are here to serve man,” their cookbook says.  More likely, though, the whole world would just miss the message.
    This illustrates another important ID principle.  The Design Filter can leak false negatives, but never false positives.  A false negative means that something might be designed but we didn’t detect it.  Modern art doesn’t look designed sometimes, and a murderer might have committed such a perfect crime that the coroner thinks it was a natural death.  In the same way, could SETI know whether all Cepheid variables have been tweaked by aliens?  No way.  The aliens could be in cahoots.  They could have a standard of tweaking Cepheids that misleads us novices on earth into thinking that the stars are just obeying a natural law.  We would not see the design that is there: that’s a false negative.  The Design Filter is impervious to false positives, however.  If the stringent criteria for design are met, a scientist can be certain it was designed.  Once natural law and chance are ruled out, and a match to an independently specified pattern is found, it clinches the case: the phenomenon was designed.
    ID has set the criteria so high, it’s overkill.  ID’s standards are much higher than those stated in the Science News article.  If it is fair for SETI to theoretically infer design from a few neutrinos, and if an archaeologist is allowed to infer design from a sharp-edged rock, and a court of law can convict a felon based on evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, then all scientists should be willing to consider the overwhelming evidence for design in astronomy and biology.  They should not rule out the design inference due to prejudice.  Design detection is as neutral as an input in computer software passing a series of if-then statements.  The identity of the designer is downstream from that decision node. 
Next headline on:  SETIIntelligent DesignAstronomyPhysics
Birds Need Beaver   10/11/2008    
Oct 11, 2008 — Things go better with Beav around.  Science Daily has a delightful entry about the ecological benefits that beaver ponds provide for migratory birds.  It says that beaver are not just beneficial for our feathered friends; they are vital.  Because of the rich streamside habitat that grows around beaver ponds, the formula is simple: the more dams, the more birds.
    The Wildlife Conservation Society studied this subject in Wyoming and along the eastern Sierra Nevada of California, where mountain streams rush down steep rocky canyons.  The beaver ponds help slow down and soak up the water.  This helps maintain wetland habitats for a wide variety of animals and plants.
“Beaver are an essential ecosystem engineer,” said co-author Steve Zack of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  “Beavers help repair degraded stream habitats and their dams and associated ponds recharge local water tables and create wetlands.  With our changing climate likely to mean increasing droughts in the West, managing ways to allow watersheds to act more like sponges will be a challenge.  Beaver are a powerful tool to be considered for that, and the associated benefits to other wildlife add to their value.”
Early American pioneers valued beaver for their fur.  The “beaver wars” among competing trapping outfits in the 1800s nearly led to their extinction in the Rocky Mountains and Sierras.  Fortunately, beaver have made a strong comeback in many areas, but some still consider them a pest, the article said, when they gnaw down trees and flood property.  The study hoped to show that “beaver are very important to wildlife and to reviving the natural function of streams.”  Humans also benefit from their work (see 02/25/2008, 06/08/2006 and 07/16/2005).  Beaver also provide recreational value.  It’s fun to watch the little engineers at work in our national parks and forests.
The article includes a picture of a beaver dam in Lundy Canyon along the eastern Sierra.  For a little visual vacation, your trusty reporter has posted a picture he took in August a few miles south of there along McGee Creek.  Note the lush habitat all around the pond.  Can you spot the beaver house?
Quiz questions: (1) What is the plural of beaver?  (2) What are the young called?  (3) How big was the largest beaver in the fossil record?*
Next headline on:  BirdsMammals
*Answers: (1) Both beaver and beavers are acceptable.  (2) Kits.  (3) The North American Giant Beaver, one of the largest rodents that ever lived, grew as large as a grizzly bear and probably weighed 300 pounds or more.
  Read about stars as bizarre as a grown man in a crib, from 10/14/2005.

Deep Life Is Right at Home in Total Darkness   10/10/2008    
Oct 10, 2008 — It seems every year scientists find organisms thriving in environments thought too inhospitable for life.  A new word was coined for these organisms: extremophiles – lovers of the extreme.  Two recent discoveries push the envelope of extreme environments almost to the deep limit.

  1. Pressurized fish:  The bottoms of the deep ocean trenches of the Pacific have never been photographed – till now.  It took Oceanlab, a robotic submarine, five hours just to reach bottom – 7700 meters down, almost five miles below the surface.  It is completely dark down there.  The pressure is so high – 8000 tonnes per square meter – it would be like 1600 elephants piled on a car.  The temperature is freezing.  Imagine the astonishment of scientists finding schools of snailfish happily feeding in social groups.  The picture is there on Science Daily.
        The director of Oceanlab said, “It’s incredible.... We thought the deepest fishes would be motionless, solitary, fragile individuals eking out an existence in a food-sparse environment,” but they were agile, not fragile.  “The images show groups that are sociable and active – possibly even families – feeding on little shrimp, yet living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.”
  2. Gold strikeScience Daily also reported one-of-a-kind microorganisms living in a gold mine 1.74 miles below ground.  These organisms are not part of a food chain.  The subsist entirely on hydrogen and sulfate produced by radioactive decay of uranium.  They live in total darkness, with no oxygen.  The genome of this microbe shows that it shares many genes with Archaea, many species of which also live in extreme environments like hot springs.  This species appears to live in solitary confinement in the crust of the earth where no nutrients from the biosphere reach it.
        The microbe was named Desulforudis audaxviator.  Its genome was found to be a superset of the raw essentials.  It has 2,157 protein-coding genes, more than the 1500-some-odd genes of streamlined bacteria.  This surprised the scientists: “The genome was not as streamlined as might be expected of an organism living in what is presumably a very stable environment.”  It “contained everything needed for the organism to sustain an independent existence and reproduce, including the ability to incorporate the elements necessary for life from inorganic sources, move freely, and protect itself from viruses, harsh conditions, and nutrient-poor periods by becoming a spore.”  Apparently this is the only species living in the habitat of a deep gold mine in South Africa.
Scientists immediately latched onto possible astrobiological ramifications of the second story:
“One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the sun,”says [Dylan] Chivian [Berkeley Labs].  “The answer is yes, and here’s the proof.  It’s sort of philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome.”
Yet no one was suggesting these microbes originated there on their own.  They likely became adapted to the dark depths from progenitors on the surface having the full complement of genetic information required for life.  “During its long journey to the extreme depths, evolution has equipped the versatile spelunker with genes – many of them shared with archaea, members of a separate domain of life unrelated to bacteria – that allow it to cope with a range of different conditions, including the ability to fix nitrogen directly from elemental nitrogen in the environment.”
    Yet if the microbe was like a spelunker, it took the equipment with it from the surface and jettisoned some unnecessary cargo along the way.  That makes this a case of devolution, not evolution.  Natural selection could have intensified existing genes that work in the environment, and removed the useless ones.  If astrobiologists are to use this earthly example as a model for self-sustaining life on other planets, the lesson is that complex life with large genomes is required before streamlined editions adapted to extreme habitats could survive.  That must be the deduction unless they could prove D. audaxviator was the original life form from which all the biosphere evolved – a hypothesis they would probably not support, given the common evolutionary assumption that life originated in earth’s oceans.
“Evolution has equipped the versatile spelunker with genes....” Oh, please.  No fairy tales while we are trying to appreciate the wonders of creation.  It’s like stocking fool’s gold in a gold mine, or dousing a deep-battered fish dinner with ipecac.
Next headline on:  Marine BiologyCell BiologyGenetics and DNAOrigin of LifeAmazing Facts
A Turtle Missing Link: Are We Missing Something?   10/09/2008    
Oct 9, 2008 — Everyone knows the iconic drawing of the parade of human evolution (see 09/23/2008 commentary); now, its turtle counterpart is making the rounds.  An article on New Scientist shows the march of progress from lizard to turtle.  The title says, “Fossil reveals how the turtle got its shell.”  Something is missing from the article, though: a picture of the fossil.  There is also no clear placement of this fossil in a lineage preceding turtles.
    Finding a description of the fossil requires weeding through a number of claims about turtle evolution: e.g., “Over millions of years, rows of protective armour plates gradually fused together and to the reptile’s vertebrae, eventually creating a complete shell” and “Turtles ultimately originated from something that looked like an armadillo.”  (Note: armadillos are mammals.)  Nevertheless, the article owned up to the fact that the chain is missing, not just the link: “A newly identified fossil could explain one of evolution’s biggest mysteries – the origin of the turtle’s shell.”  And whatever the value this fossil provides in solving this mystery, the fragments only “suggest that the earliest turtles didn’t have much of a shell at all.”
    So what is the empirical evidence in the story?  Two paleontologists from natural history museums, Walter Joyce from Connecticut and Spencer Lucas of New Mexico, found pieces of a thin-shelled turtle in Triassic strata.  Not only is the shell very thin, the dorsal rib bones are not attached to it.  Another paleontologist, who called this a “crucial new discovery,” said, “This new guy is an animal that belong [sic] to the lineage of turtles.”  Guillermo Rougier (U of Louisville) continued, “it’s a proto-turtle in a way.
    The evolutionary story begins to weaken on close inspection.  This same paleontologist had found other Triassic turtles with complete shells.  Wikipedia, which is usually staunchly pro-evolution, had to fill in the origin of turtles with guesswork: “The earliest known fully-shelled turtle is the late-Triassic Proganochelys, though this species already had many advanced turtle traits, and thus probably had many millions of years of preceding ‘turtle’ evolution and species in its ancestry.”
    In the New Scientist article, no mention was made if the new fossil precedes the earliest one.  And surprisingly, it ends with an admission that turtles, like so many other animal lineages, appear abruptly in the fossil record and persist for millions of years.  There may be dramatic variations on the theme, but no transmutation into another body plan.
    The article also failed to account for the possibility that this fossil was a mutant or degenerate descendent of a fully-shelled ancestor.  Considering this specimen to be a turtle on the half shell (i.e., missing link), also seems poorly supported if there is no compelling hypothesis for why the turtle lineage embarked on the pathway to shelldom in the first place:
Exactly why turtles evolved their shell remains a mystery, Joyce says.  A full shell might offer added protection and stability.  And the proof could be in the pudding – their body plan is the world’s oldest, changing little over 200 million years.  “For some reason just being a turtle is an idea that came along and just really works,” he says.
Joyce apparently thinks that chance is a perfectly adequate scientific explanation.  The “idea” just came along; it worked, so it remained unchanged for 200 million years. 
Joyce’s comment is so worthy of the SEQOTW prize, he gets to share it with Gill Bejerano (see next entry).  Can you believe what the Darwinists get away with in science these days?  If we are to understand this article, chance came up with an idea (stop right there).  Does your pet rock ever come up with ideas?  How about the dust devil sweeping over the highway?  Furthermore, this idea came by pure chance.  Here we have the Darwinians resorting to the Stuff Happens Law again (see 09/15/2008 commentary).  Then they tell us that such ideas, emerging by chance, are so good, so wondrously engineered, that “for some reason” naturalism knows what, chance decides they “work” very well.  So here Lady Luck is not only an inventor but the judge of the invention.
    How do we know this is a great idea?  Well, they say, the proof is right there: in the pudding.  This opens up a whole new method of divination (07/26/2008 commentary) for the Darwinian soothslayers (Note: sooth means truth).  We’ll call it puddingoscopy.  Lady Luck looks into her pudding and finds proof, Joyce says.  The angle of the folds and bubbles, the color and texture, or some other attributes of unknown character, provide her with clues.  An “idea” flashes into her mind.  Her imagination tells her it will “work.”  She fleshes out the details, records it in genetic information, and there it remains: a best-seller for 200 million years.
    What we’re witnessing here is not the origin of turtles, but rather the origin of new chapters in Darwin’s Just-So Storybook (09/30/2008).  This one, “How the Turtle Got Its Shell,” is always printed in hardback: perhaps for protection and stability.  “For some reason, just being a turtle is an idea that came along and just really works.”  “Just”?  In science, plagiarizing intelligent design for Lady Luck should be considered very unjust.  CEH declares a citizen’s arrest (see 09/30/2007 commentary).
Next headline on:  FossilsTerrestrial ZoologyEvolutionDumb Ideas
It’s Fun Seeing Evolution Falsified   10/08/2008    
Oct 8, 2008 — “Mysterious Snippets Of DNA Withstand Eons Of Evolution” is the strange title of an article on Science Daily.  Gill Bejerano and Cory McLean from Stanford are wondering why large non-coding sections of DNA are very similar, or “ultraconserved,” from mice to man (see 08/18/2007).  Evolutionary theory would expect that non-functional genetic material would mutate more rapidly than genes.  Yet for unknown reasons, the ultraconserved segments stay the same throughout the mammal order.  Experiments have shown that mice with these sections deleted do just fine.  Why would natural selection purify these regions if they are not essential for survival?  No one knows.
    Bejerano had a comment about this finding that goes against the expectations of evolutionary genetics:
Evolution is a lot of fun,” said Bejerano, who plans to continue the investigation into what the ultraconserved segments might be doing.  “You answer one question, and five others pop up.  But one of the most rewarding things to me is the fact that we’re developing a growing appreciation for how much these regions actually matter.”
He said it was “very surprising” that the ultraconserved elements showed no effect on the mice when deleted.  “In some ways it just doesn’t make sense.”
Would you count on an evolutionist to know what makes sense?  Their pet theory can be falsified right before their eyes, and instead of weeping in remorse, they call it fun.
    Suppose van Helmont called it fun when Francesco Redi showed that mice do not spontaneously arise from straw.  “Spontaneous generation is a lot of fun.  You answer one question, and five others pop up.”  Nobody denies that Fantasyland is fun.  It’s just that we appreciate it for its escapism, not for how much it actually matters.
Next headline on:  Evolutionary TheoryGeneticsDumb Ideas
  Is radiometric dating a pure science?  Take a look at how it is actually done, from the 10/06/2004 entry.

Are We Getting Biased Science?   10/07/2008    
Oct 7, 2008 — Much more scientific research is being done than ever gets reported, say three researchers in a story reported by Science Daily.  High-impact journals tend to report selectively from a large field of medical and laboratory research.  As a result, “only a small proportion of all research results are eventually chosen for publication, and these results are unrepresentative of scientists’ repeated samplings of the real world.”  This gives a very distorted view of scientific research, they said.  They feel it is a “moral imperative” to fix the way scientific research is judged and disseminated.

There is a strong likelihood that the Darwin-loving mainstream journals give inordinate publicity to evolutionary papers.  If the journals printed a true sample of the actual laboratory research that goes on, the science-to-Darwin ratio (like the signal to noise ratio) would probably shoot way up.  Science would sound much sweeter and clearer without the constant noise of evolutionary static.
    This is the Darwin Party’s pump-and-dump scheme.  They artificially inflate the value of evolutionary research, then dump it on the unsuspecting public who think they are getting unbiased science.  This devalues science for everyone.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Walk the Ediacara Two-Step   10/06/2008    
Oct 6, 2008 — Controversy is swirling around claims that footprints have been found in rock 30 million years earlier than the Cambrian explosion.  The press release on Ohio State shows a picture of parallel rows of dots that a team from Ohio State claims look like footprints of a worm-like or millipede-like animal.  The rocks are said to be 570 million years old.  That puts them in the so-called Ediacaran strata of the Precambrian, where only frond-like organisms unrelated to any modern body plans have been found.  Even the discoverer, Loren Babcock, is only “reasonably certain” the patterns are biological.  He expects others will be skeptical.
The pictures don’t look convincing.  If they prove to be tracks, it doesn’t help the evolutionists, anyway.  Worms and millipedes are already highly-complex organisms.  Imagine how much genetic information is required for an animal to walk with multiple legs.
    Without the bodies of the track-makers visible, no claims can be made these represent transitional forms.  It appears the authors have not ruled out other more mundane explanations.  This claim needs much better evidence.
Next headline on:  FossilsDating Methods
Dark Energy May Be an Optical Illusion   10/05/2008    
Oct 5, 2008 — Cosmologists can get rid of the burden of their worst imponderable substance, dark energy, if they are willing to jettison the Copernican Principle.  Science Daily reported thinking by a team of Oxford physicists who make the apparent acceleration of the universe an artifact of our viewing position.  When distant galaxies are viewed without the assumption that earth occupies no privileged position, dark energy becomes unnecessary.
    How radical is this suggestion?  It replaces one outrageous belief with one even more so: “Although dark energy may seem a bit contrived to some, the Oxford theorists are proposing an even more outrageous alternative,” the article said.  “They point out that it’s possible that we simply live in a very special place in the universe – specifically, we’re in a huge void where the density of matter is particularly low.  The suggestion flies in the face of the Copernican Principle, which is one of the most useful and widely held tenets in physics.”  This suggestion may “shock many scientists.”  The Oxford team hopes to test the idea.  See also the 03/15/2008 story about another team that called the Copernican Principle into question.
It’s always error-prone to try to rescue a theory with ad hoc appeals to imponderable substances.  The Oxford team may be off the wall, but their off-the-wallness is only a matter of degree from the consensus theory of dark energy.  This article also points out that astronomers don’t know as much as they claim they do.  The uniform distribution of matter and the Copernican Principle are shown to be assumptions – not observations.
Next headline on:  Cosmology
  Rocks reclassified from one extreme of the geologic column to the other in the blink of an eye, from 10/01/2003.  Some of earth’s oldest rocks from the Archean (3.5 billion years) were reinterpreted by geologists to be on the youngest end of the timeline – yet had been used for years by geologists to deduce surface environments on the early earth.

Living Better Bioelectrically   10/04/2008    
Oct 4, 2008 — Electric eels are inspiring a new generation of fuel cells.  Science Daily reported that a remarkable fusion of engineering and biology may lead to tiny electronic devices that run on biology’s own energy currency, ATP.  “Engineers long have known that great ideas can be lifted from Mother Nature, but a new paper by researchers at Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) takes it to a cellular level.”
    The voltage-generating cells in an electric eel are called electrocytes.  They work by pumping sodium and potassium ions in and out of the cell membrane through specially designed channels or gates (see 01/17/2002).  The cells are then stacked in series, to build up voltage, and in parallel, to build up current.  The result?  An electric eel can generate 600 volts – enough to knock a horse off its feet (see National Geographic).  Electric eels and other forms of electric fish use their powers primarily at lower levels for navigation (05/05/2004), communication, and even courtship (see 06/20/2007, bullet 5).
    The Yale-NIST team is using a “systems biology” approach (08/21/2003), considering the overall context of function, to understand and build on biological technology.  Of seven types of channels in the cell membrane, the specifications of each are being examined: reaction time, density in the membrane, and more.  “Nerve cells, which move information rather than energy, can fire rapidly but with relatively little power,” the article said, whereas “Electrocytes have a slower cycle, but deliver more power for longer periods.”  Tweaking the specs in engineering models allow bio-engineers to optimize voltage production for human applications.
    The article not only ignored evolution completely, it seemed positively fixated on design.  “Applying modern engineering design tools to one of the basic units of life, they argue that artificial cells could be built that not only replicate the electrical behavior of electric eel cells but in fact improve on them,” the body of the story began.  David LaVan, NIST engineer, put it this way: “Do we understand how a cell produces electricity well enough to design one—and to optimize that design?”  This is reverse engineering – which implies intelligent design.  An engineer has to see and appreciate design to want to emulate it.
    In this case, engineers don’t have to copy the design with their own components made from scratch, as with gecko-foot tape (see 12/06/2006, 06/20/2007.)  They can take parts from existing off-the-shelf technology and adapt it for human-designed applications.  They can use engineered proteins to build membranes.  They can tailor bacteria or mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) to produce ATP for energizing the reactions.  They can modify electrocytes to produce continuous electrical current instead of pulses.
    An interesting question comes to mind.  If an extraterrestrial engineer were to land in the lab and study the eel and the biological electronics designed by humans, would it know where the evolution stops and the intelligent design begins?

Answer: yes, it would know that evolution stopped at the science door and intelligent design produced the whole show.  Evolution as a concept would be the trash can for explaining mistakes and degeneration.
    “Nerve cells ... move information rather than energy.”  Did you catch that?  Your body is wired for the intranet as well as for power.  Let CEH help empower you to get good information flowing.
Next headline on:  Marine BiologyBiomimeticsPhysicsIntelligent Design
Your Tax Dollars at Work for Darwin: “NASA has awarded five-year grants, averaging $7 million each, to 10 research teams from across the country to study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe,” reported  There is no life known beyond the Earth.  Is there any other tax-funded government program that gets $70 million for producing nothing in the way of evidence to justify its existence?  (Don’t ask.)

Bangin’ Around to Get Something New Under the Sun   10/03/2008    
Oct 3, 2008 — You’ve heard of the Big Bang, and the Cambrian Explosion.  Now, to get the solar system started, astronomers have added a Little Bang to move things along in the naturalistic path from nothing to everything.  Science Daily, and PhysOrg all reprinted a press release from the Carnegie Institution claiming that a nearby supernova led to our solar system.
    Alan Boss thinks he’s gotten the devil out of the details.  A nearby supernova, you see, was needed in the model for two reasons: to get our sun’s birth cloud to gravitationally collapse, and to seed it with isotopes like iron-60, whose short-lived daughter radionuclides are found in some meteorites.  These two requirements did not work well together.  “Until this study,” Boss explained, “scientists have not been able to work out a self-consistent scenario, where collapse is triggered at the same time that newly created isotopes from the supernova are injected into the collapsing cloud.”  By fine-tuning the explosion in his computer model, Alan Boss and team found a way to keep the right ingredients together.
    Students of solar system cosmogony may not have realized that the supernova-shock model was so plagued with difficulties.  A 10-year-old conundrum regarding the need to heat by compression at the same time the cloud cools by radiation “has left serious doubts in the community about whether a supernova shock started these events over four billion years ago or not,” one astronomer commented.  But now, Boss has hope again.  “This is the first time a detailed model for a supernova triggering the formation of our solar system has been shown to work,” he admitted.  “We started with a Little Bang 9 billion years after the Big Bang.”

Well, that just makes our planet even more privileged than ever to have had such a fine-tuned explosion nearby to gently deliver our baby sun.  Better not expect this to have happened so delicately around other stars.  Alan Boss, you may recall, rocked the astronomical community a few years ago by proposing his heretical disk-instability model for the origin of planets, as opposed to the conventional slow gravitational accretion model, which was struggling with the problem of planetary migration (see 03/21/2006).
    Why this evolutionary fascination with explosions?  It’s all they have, folks.  In the absence of a designing intelligence, they have to look at what remains: chaos, chance and violence.  From bangs and booms and flotsam and jetsam the most graceful and elegant examples of design known to man just magically “emerge” by chance.  And they call creationists stupid-stitious.
    At least creationists have more fun.  They are in church praising God, the supreme Architect of our fine-tuned universe, using their whole being – body, mind and emotions – in joyful celebrations with highly-skilled musicians employing finely-crafted instruments, singing out with all their might the glories of One who knows how to employ controlled energy toward purposeful ends:
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the Universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art!  How great Thou art!
Meanwhile, in dreary laboratories, morose naturalists, their minds lost in imaginary worlds, trying in vain to get their brains to emerge from a series of explosions, drone on:
Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old,
Sometimes I’d like to quit,
Nothin’ ever seems to fit;
Bangin’ around,
Nothing to do but frown;
Reinin’ in my models always gets me down.
Next headline on:  CosmologyAstronomySolar System
Tip Link:  Enjoy the adventures of Dr. Norbert Smith (PhD Zoology), the Doc Gator, at God of  Check out his “Evolutionary Nightmares” section.

Reducing Human Behavior to Natural Laws   10/02/2008    
Oct 2, 2008 — Can human behavior be reduced to natural laws that science can study in a morally neutral way?  Darwin sought to incorporate all aspects of the living world, including behavior, in natural laws that were amenable to scientific explanation.  Evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists continue in that tradition today.  Consider two recent examples in the literature that described how human behavior evolves.

  1. One nation, under DarwinPhysOrg published a short article 9/24/08 about how a strong leader can benefit society.  “In a study that looks at the evolutionary role of leaders in society, the researchers explored how having a leader in charge – with the power to punish – works better than spreading responsibility through the entire group.”  They said that a leader who punishes cheaters and freeloaders increases the cooperation and riches for everyone.
        The article talked about how strong leadership benefits the “greater good,” but failed to mention if the model applies equally well to tyrants.  The lead author, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Evolution, was probably not thinking about the exquisite methods of punishment of leaders like Stalin or Kim Il Sung.  Natural laws, however, are indifferent to morals.  It could be argued that their strong leadership did accomplish their national goals quite effectively.  In fact, political scientists often point out that dictatorships are the most efficient forms of government – much more so than democracies and republics with their inevitable delays from long debates, power struggles and drawn-out campaigns. 
  2. Evolutionary utopia:  Another study was aware of the possibility of mass murder.  “Cultural boundaries have often been the basis for discrimination, nationalism, religious wars, and genocide,” began a paper in Science last week.1  “Little is known, however, about how cultural groups form or the evolutionary forces behind group affiliation and ingroup favoritism.”  This shows right off the bat that they were looking for evolutionary forces, not moral or intelligent causes, behind such effects.  In fact, the paper remained fairly dispassionate about favoritism (which could entail genocide).  Note the word meaningless in their next sentence: “Hence, we examine these forces experimentally and show that arbitrary symbolic markers, though initially meaningless, evolve to play a key role in cultural group formation and ingroup favoritism because they enable a population of heterogeneous individuals to solve important coordination problems.”  So it’s also a paper on the evolutionary emergence of meaning.
        The paper approached human poopulations amorally.  A sample population might involve two races at war, communists vs capitalists, or identical people with red shirts and blue shirts – it doesn’t matter, as long as what happens as they interact is explainable in terms of “evolutionary forces.”  The authors were not looking for the thoughts and philosophies and morals of the individuals as having any explanatory power; it’s all about how a population evolves.  Presumably this could explain ant behavior as well as human behavior.
        The symbolic markers that were a key element in their model were extremely generic: “This process requires that individuals differ in some critical but unobservable way and that their markers be freely and flexibly chosen.”  Once the markers are identified, “markers become accurate predictors of behavior.”  A natural law is born:
    The resulting social environment includes strong incentives to bias interactions toward others with the same marker, and subjects accordingly show strong ingroup favoritism.  When markers do not acquire meaning as accurate predictors of behavior, players show a markedly reduced taste for ingroup favoritism.  Our results support the prominent evolutionary hypothesis that cultural processes can reshape the selective pressures facing individuals and so favor the evolution of behavioral traits not previously advantaged.
    What do they mean by “meaning”?  They asked this question later in the paper: “How does symbolic meaning emerge in the absence of fiat?  (Fiat, presumably, involves intelligent causation.)  Their evolutionary theory produces meaning out of meaninglessness: “Interestingly, mixing players with different expectations, which creates the original problem, also creates a potential solution,” they answered.  “It does so by producing small amounts of covariation that can feed back into the system and accumulate dynamically.”  This is meaning at its most rudimentary, biological, content-free level.  Any covariation that becomes self-reinforcing becomes a measure of meaningfulness.  If the players on the game board start cooperating around an arbitrary symbolic marker, no matter if they are computer soldiers in a war game, bacteria in a petri dish or human slaves, then meaning has “emerged” in this dispassionate world of evolutionary explanation.  One only has to follow the dynamical outcome.  In their experiments on human subjects playing contrived games, “These results indicate that players showed a general tendency to couple behaviors and markers,” they continued.  Notice how content-free and values-free the generalized laws were described: “This tendency, however, was strongest when a player hit upon a successful behavior-marker combination, and it was further reinforced and amplified in the marker-maintained treatment when the marker was not prevented from acquiring meaning.”  Meaning, here, is not meaning in the traditional sense of semantics.  It is self-reinforcing behavior linked to a symbolic marker that brings out the unobservable differences in a population.
        Ostensibly, all the researchers were trying to do is understand why humans tend to rally around symbols.  Why do people cheer for their flag when the flag initially was just a piece of colored cloth?  Moral principles, values, propositions, philosophies and theologies have nothing to do with it, from their perspective.  It’s just the way evolutionary forces produce outcomes.  Notice how generic the language is:
    These results show how the evolution of cultural groups can reconstitute the social environment and produce selection for an ingroup bias that was not initially advantageous.  If selective pressures of this sort were common in past human societies, a plausible outcome would arguably be a relatively inflexible bias leading individuals to prefer others similar in some symbolic dimension.  This idea is consistent with much research showing an astonishing willingness for subjects to exhibit ingroup favoritism when groups are based on trivial, short-lived distinctions. 
    They performed more experiments to see if the favoritism might have been biased beforehand.  They ran correlation coefficients, charted measurements on graphs, and did other scientific things.  Conclusion: evolutionary forces are sufficient to explain what happened.  Trivial groups evolve into cultural groups.  Any symbolic markers, however trivial and meaningless, provide rallying points for unobservable differences between individuals in populations to express themselves.
        In their final paragraph they put this all into perspective.  Think of how many complex human situations, how many battles, cross-town rivalries, special-interest clubs, fads and cultural revolutions are now explainable in terms of simple evolutionary laws:
    The research on intergroup processes indicates that people have a willingness to show ingroup favoritism, and in particular this holds even when groups are trivial and evanescent.  This research tradition has generally examined neither the evolutionary mechanisms behind group formation nor the impact of these mechanisms on ingroup favoritism.  We implemented an experiment in which the significance of groups had to arise, if at all, endogenously, thus providing an evolutionary foundation for ingroup favoritism.  In this setting, trivial groups remained trivial under certain circumstances, but under other circumstances they developed into cultural groups composed of individuals who shared both behavioral expectations and symbolic markers signaling group affiliation.  Ingroup favoritism was strongly associated with cultural groups but not with trivial groups.  Our experiments made exclusive use of coordination games, which serve as a kind of generic proxy for strategic settings with multiple equilibria.  Many strategic settings are characterized by multiple equilibria, and thus the dynamical processes examined here have potentially broad significance.  The mechanisms implicated in the evolution of human prosociality, for example, often produce multiple equilibria, and so cooperation is a behavioral domain with considerable scope for the path-dependent evolution of groups with different norms and expectations.  In this sense, cooperation can be analogous to coordination.  Even more generally, whenever people have a shared interest in distinguishing among themselves in terms of their unobservable information, whatever that means in a given situation, the logic behind the evolution of cultural groups holds.
Both studies involved experiments with human subjects who were paid to take part in games devised to study the behavior in question.
1.  Efferson, Lalive, and Fehr, “The Coevolution of Cultural Groups and Ingroup Favoritism,” Science, 26 September 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5897, pp. 1844-1849, DOI: 10.1126/science.1155805.
If any of you were swayed by the claims in these papers, you need a serious deprogramming session, kind of like soldiers being deloused after returning from a jungle.  If you don’t see yet how these articles are logically self-refuting and morally pernicious, please, get on your thinking cap.  You will need it because the evolutionists just removed it.  They said you don’t need it any more because you are just a victim of evolutionary forces.  Somehow they are immune to the evolutionary forces acting on them, because they belong to the Yoda Order of the Disinterested and Detached Scientifically Wise Wizards.  This is an ingroup favoritism they must maintain, as evolutionists on a higher plane than the rest of us, lest we on the playing field look at them and accuse them of writing their papers only because evolutionary forces made them do it.  That would be their undoing.  It is vital, therefore, that they maintain their illusion of objectivity.
    Undoubtedly they could point to plenty of examples of strongly-held group loyalties around meaningless markers: skin color, favorite food, team flags, arbitary national allegiances (for instance, whether the Sicilians should have allied with Rome or Carthage), and whether to join the Lions Club or the Loyal Order of Moose.  People have an innate ability to identify with fellowships, wear the uniform, and rally behind the standard of their favorite group identity, no matter how profound or silly.  Watch political conventions and observe the crazy ecstasy of crowds cheering on their standard-bearer.  Think about Lincoln demoting indecisive generals and choosing strong, ruthless generals willing to punish non-cooperators and get the job done.  A defender of the two studies above might argue, doesn’t it make sense to try to understand these human tendencies scientifically?  The authors might deny our charge of promoting themselves to the Yoda Order of the Wise.  They might say, “We are humans like the rest of you.  We acknowledge we have these tendencies ourselves.  We’re not making moral judgments.  We feel that by investigating scientifically, with controlled experiments, what makes us act the way we do, how group loyalties emerge, and why we look to strong leaders, we can avoid some of the pitfalls of ignorance about these matters and approach problems in ways more likely to avoid conflict and bring about peaceful solutions.  By understanding our social dynamics, we can try to make the world a better place.  Once we understand the evolutionary tendencies that influence our actions, we can learn to control them, and thus avoid some of the racism and genocide that has plagued human history.  Why are you criticizing this?  What’s the matter with you?  Aren’t you the pernicious ones who would interfere with the progress of science?”
    Such criticisms make some sense from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  They make absolutely no sense from an evolutionary perspective.  The claims and questions in the previous paragraph borrow heavily from Judeo-Christian presuppositions and values: honesty, fairness, truth, beauty, peace, understanding, morality.  Remember, the evolutionist believes everything consists of particles in motion obeying natural laws (which cannot be construed as laws in a designed or moral sense, but only as patterns in experience).  It’s as if these researchers burglarized the Judeo-Christian house, stole all the tools and utensils and furniture, raided the refrigerator, then took it to Darwin’s house and served up a feast for their friends they never could have cooked up out of their own resources.  That’s why their explanation is not just dumb, but pernicious.  They’re bloomin’ thieves.
    Now if they want to become Christians, we can talk.  We can reason.  We can discuss the pros and cons of their propositions, some of which may be partly accurate (though ignoring the intellectual aspect of human behavior is bound to produce error).  We can let them recast their theory, provided they strip out all the evolution talk and reference their sources.  Since Jews and Christians believe humans are made in the image of God, it is possible for people to use their eyes to study the eye, their hands to study the hand, and their minds to study the mind.  Animals and plants do not do such things.  Your cat may look in the mirror, but it does not come up with a theory of cat behavior and write it up in a scientific journal.  Cats do not have self-awareness, abstract reasoning ability, language, ontology, epistemology, moral philosophy and all the other prerequisites for explanation.  Animals don’t explain things; they just operate.  They may memorize patterns and learn behaviors that reward actions, but they do not deal in concepts.  They do not ponder meaning in life and ultimate reality. 
    As human beings with an imago Dei (image of God), we have the mental and spiritual resources to operate in the conceptual realm.  At the same time, we have physical natures we share with the animals (stomachs, kidneys, vertebrae, etc.).  But in what organ does self-awareness and abstract reasoning reside?  Our dual nature produces confusion to evolutionists, but the spiritual and intellectual (non-physical) nature is uniquely human.  We are persons.  This is what allows humans, and humans alone, to observe and explain their own behavior.  As created beings, we can observe (and sometimes laugh at) those behaviors that reflect our shared properties with animals: talking like a crow, following the herd, strutting like a peacock, loafing like a sloth, and pigging out at the dinner table.  It is the fallacy of reductionism to suppose that our physical nature entails our spiritual nature.  Honesty, truth, courage, explanation, morality – these and many other qualities that make a man a man instead of a mouse refer to eternal realities.  What is true or moral unless it refers to that which is unchanging, permanent, universal, necessary, and certain?  You can’t get that from randomly moving particles, patterns in experience, or any combination of the two.
    The fallacy in evolutionary explanations for human behavior is worse than reductionism.  It ignores the most important aspects of humanness.  We praise those people who subject their physical appetities and natural propensities to their spiritual values: the soldier who ignores his pain to rescue a comrade, the student who suppresses his desire to go to a party to finish a term paper, the leader who suppresses his fear to confront an evil, the young person who waits for marriage, the voter who studies the issues instead of following the party line, the man or woman who reasons instead of reacting to fleshly passions.  “Are you a man or a beast?” – the question emphasizes the point.  Our humanity consists in reasoning, planning, believing, choosing and acting based on concepts and values often contrary to what the flesh wants.  Only humans can exercise self-control.  You have to have a self to control it.  A dog or horse or dolphin will do amazing feats to be rewarded by its trainer, but that is not self-control; it is trainer control.  The animal gets an immediate reward.  Does your dog plan for retirement and write up a will?
    Ignoring the key distinguishing marks of humanity to explain human behavior by mystical “evolutionary forces” as if we are pinballs in a game is completely misdirected if not silly.  It is also self-refuting.  It’s like explaining books from the chemistry of paper and ink, and then writing a book about it with a stolen Judeo-Christian pen.  Add to those sins the evolutionists’ complete lack of moral judgment.  Their explanation draws no distinctions; to them, if cooperation is achieved, that’s good (notice that they cannot completely erase the concept of good).  The evolutionary forces and laws care nothing about the means by which cooperation is achieved.  Stalin is the moral equivalent of Reagan.  Let the prisoners in the Gulag weep in silence.  Let them abandon any appeal to their fellow man or to heaven for justice.  Justice!  That word is completely absent from the Darwin Dictionary.
    These researchers, because they retain a shadow of that image of God, continue to trade in concepts.  They cannot do that as consistent evolutionists.  If they want to be consistent, let them screech and scratch and watch each other’s behinds (see National Geographic for an edifying exploration of that).  The moment they want to appeal to explanation as if it might be true, they deserve to be sued for worldview plagiarism.  In court, the bailiff will make them swear on the Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God.
Next headline on:  Human BodyEvolutionDumb Ideas
Brain Candy as Tiger Milk   10/01/2008    
Oct 1, 2008 — Observation: the human brain appears able to use lactate as fuel instead of glucose during strenuous exercise (see Science Daily).  Deduction:
From an evolutionary perspective, the result of this study is a no-brainer.  Imagine what could have or did happen to all of the organisms that lost their wits along with their glucose when running from predators.  They were obviously a light snack for the animals able to use lactate.
This gem was from Gerald Weismann, editor of the FASEB journal in which the study was published.  Weissmann did not explain why humans didn’t evolve some means to circumvent this threat of becoming crunchy brain candy to tigers – a little hot sauce surprise in the cerebellum, perhaps.  But then, it would be tough for the victim possessing that innovation to pass on his genes.  Presumably one can only “imagine what could have or did happen” when one loses his wits.
This is the same Gerald Weismann that won SEQOTW two months ago for updating Darwin with On the Origin of Tumors by Natural Selection (08/13/2008).  This time, Weissmann was absolutely right.  From an evolutionary perspective, it was a no-brainer.
Next headline on:  Early ManEvolutionDumb Ideas
  Is it the evolution of folly, or vice versa?  Take a trip back in time to the 10/16/2002 entry and you decide.

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“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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Creation Scientist for October

Werner Arber
1929 -

This month we want to point to a biography written by Dr. Jerry Bergman about a Nobel Prize winning microbiologist who is a Darwin skeptic, Dr. Werner Arber.  Please go to ICR to read the fascinating story of a living eminent scientist who “affirmed that only the existence of a Creator God is a satisfactory solution to the problem of biological origins.”

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).

Disclaimer: Creation-Evolution Headlines includes links to many external sites, but takes no responsibility for the accuracy or legitimacy of their content.  Inclusion of an external link is strictly for the reader’s convenience, and does not necessarily constitute endorsement of the material or its authors, owners, or sponsors.