Merry SETI Holidays 12/31/2008
You cant get moral sauce from a Jill Tarter unless there is a soul inside. This article reveals that SETI research is not being undertaken by neutral, objective, rational, mechanistic evolved animals, but by human beings made in the image of God. Though turned aside toward false gods, and pursuing their own vain imaginations, the SETI seekers cannot help but reveal their created nature.Handy Motor Found in Virus 12/30/2008
Dec 30, 2008 Your job today is to stuff a delicate chain into a barrel without breaking it and make it wrap neatly inside. A tiny virus does this with helping hands, reported Purdue University. A research team uncovered the mechanism of a powerful molecular motor that crams the viral DNA tightly into the capsid with the help of five moving parts.
These are not real hands, of course; the captioned artist rendering whimsically shows five gp17 protein structures drawn to look like hands. These structures are protein subdomains embedded in the ring-shaped motor mechanism. The capsid, or viral container, acts like a hard plastic shell, protecting the DNA inside (see 05/07/2004). Two rings on the opening hold the motor in place. The gp17 subdomains take turns grasping the DNA and shoving it in. Another analogy is that they work like pistons operating in sequence. Using ATP energy pellets, they take advantage of electrostatic forces to gently but firmly transfer the DNA strand into the interior, where it coils in an orderly fashion. The mechanism generates 20 times the force used by myosin, the motor in muscle. The article claims that proportional to its size, the motor is twice as powerful as an automotive engine.
The virus they studied is a bacteriophage a virus that infects and destroys bacteria. The cutaway diagram of the capsid shows the DNA wound neatly into a fabric-like pattern. The researchers hope some day not only to understand viruses better, but to use their tricks for nanotechnology. Someday man-made motors like these could deliver medicines to patients or power nano-sized machines. First, though, they need to do basic research on how the viral motor works. This particular motor is very fast and powerful, they said. See also the 03/20/2007 and 10/18/2001 entries for earlier research on capsid motors.
Even viruses, which are not even alive by the definition of being able to reproduce independently, show incredible design. They are too well designed to be accidents. Why do so many viruses cause disease and death? Actually, only a small fraction are harmful; most cause no harm and some are beneficial.Worlds Largest Dino Graveyard Found 12/30/2008
Dec 30, 2008 China boasts the worlds largest known dinosaur graveyard, a report from China View claims. Over 7,600 fossils have been found so far. These include hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, ankylosaurs, and tyrannosaurids. Though known since at least 1980, the area has yielded new fossil sections during mining operations. A 2m skull of a large ceratopsian was found here, the news article said, the first such discovery outside of North America.
How did the area preserve so many fossils? The geologists said there might have been a volcanic eruption that was fatal to the dinosaurs and later a flood that brought the fossils to their resting place.
PhysOrg must have lost something in the translation from Chinese. It claimed the remains of an enormous platypus were found there. Undoubtedly this was a reference to a duck-billed dinosaur, the article explained, but then it went on to say it had a wingspan of 16 feet! If you ever find a flying platypus that big, run for cover.
Add up enough local floods at the same time and you can get a global one.Can evolutionists and creationists agree on anything? Try this entry from 12/26/2005. But then that entry from Christmas the day before, and the week leading up to and after it was a short truce.
Plants Heal Humans and Vice Versa 12/29/2008
Heres a science project you can do at home. Use an electric razor or brush over one potted plant; leave another as a control. If the plant dies, it might not falsify the theory; it just might mean you use too many chemicals on your hair. Your precocious kid could do a science project testing different hair colors or animal furs.Language Evolved from Whistling 12/29/2008
Dec 29, 2008 Meet Bonnie, the whistling orangutan. According to National Geographic News, she is giving evolutionary anthropologists something to talk about: the evolution of human language. NG reported on a new theory:
Lead author Serge Wich of the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, said orangutans in Indonesia have been seen pretending to wash clothes. We know they are capable of imitating these motor skills, but we never had any good indication of sounds for vocalization, said Wich, who presented his research on December 18 during a symposium at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.Charles Snowden of the University of Wisconsin, however, noted that Bonnies whistles are not as complex as those of some birds and dolphins. Until now there has been little evidence of direct imitation of vocalizations by a primate, Snowden said. The really interesting question is why it is so difficult to find [more] good evidence of vocal imitation.
Everybody knows that birds evolved language from humans. Thats why they parrot us. Orangutans evolved whistling and clothes-washing from humans, too. Thats why they ape us.History Debunks Scientism 12/28/2008
Dec 28, 2008 Science is not an honest quest for truth, said a scientist. In a letter to the editor of Nature,1 William Burns of the University of Queensland dished out some dirt he shoveled up in new online archives of scientific journals. It wasnt pretty.
Burns found 100 abstracts of articles written by Trofim Lysenko, the discredited Russian geneticist responsible for millions of deaths by starvation when his ill-advised Lamarckian theories made crops fail. In a 1947 article Burns found Lysenko saying, the opposition of bourgeois geneticists to this theory is attributed to their desire to justify capitalist exploitation, which is essentially a struggle within the human species. He found hundreds of articles by Chinese scientists praising Mao Zhedong. He found 70 articles by Claus Schilling, a Nazi war criminal who conducted medical experiments on Dachau prisoners. Then Burns made these comments:
These examples stand in contrast with the high-minded official version of science history that we read in textbooks. As Thomas Kuhn remarked in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Univ. Chicago Press, 1962), science is like Big Brothers society in George Orwells 1984 constantly rewriting history to show itself in the best light.History may have the last word, though, he said:
But will this censorship be possible when every politically motivated, unethical and demonstrably incorrect scientific article breaks out from dusty library storerooms to appear online? How will anyone be able to believe that science is an honest quest for truth, when its inglorious past is a mouse click away?
1. William Burns, Correspondence, Online archives are revealing uncensored history of science, Nature 456, 870 (18 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/456870b.
The answer, my dear Burns, is that online versions can be tampered with without anyone knowing. Text can be altered, and digital images can be photoshopped. The result could be even more dangerous: readers tricked into thinking they are reading unaltered documents.Four years ago: Human evolution was falsified (12/30/2004) but a University of Liverpool Darwinist didnt get it (12/29/2004). Meanwhile, the true Biblical Pool of Siloam was discovered (12/24/2004) and turned out to be much larger than thought (08/20/2006, 02/09/2007).
Cilium Likened to GPS 12/27/2008
Great! Another wonderful design-based discovery to beat down the Darwinists for their science-stopping assumptions. Lets pile these up for Darwin Day. What a show it will be: Charlie will get boos, hisses and rotten tomatoes, while crowds gather at the ID show to see who gets gets Nobel Prizes and Breakthroughs of the Year (12/19/2008).Comparing Geological and Biological Patterns 12/26/2008
Dec 26, 2008 Beehives have hexagons. So do lava flows. Is there any difference in how they form? Science Daily shows a picture of polygon-shaped tops of basalt columns at the Giants Causeway in Ireland. Similar formations are found in the Grand Canyon, at Devils Postpile in California, and in many places around the world.
Researchers at the University of Toronto were able to study the formation rate of columns using corn starch, water, and a heat lamp. They found that the size of the columns is a function of the rate of cooling. This article did not explain, however, why the fractures form polygons. A link in the article points to another Science Daily article from 2001 that said, The configuration that minimizes the energy required to penetrate the interior turns out to be quasi-hexagonal---a regular pattern of hexagons, pentagons, and heptagons, as in the Giants Causeway. A researcher from Argentina does not think this explains everything about them, however, and denies that the only questions left in physics are at the subatomic level. Many fundamental open questions and mysteries still remain at the scale of our everyday experience, Alberto G. Rojo remarked seven years ago. Patterns, both in inanimate and in living natural objects represent just one of those questions.
A spectacular example of a pattern in living natural objects are the hexagonal hives of honeybees (picture). A comparison of the pictures shows that beehive hexagons are more regular than those of the basalt columns. Moreover, they are not produced by cooling of cracks following the path of least resistance, as if they were the output of a natural physical law; else all species of bees would build hives; some do not. Instead, beehives are built up by certain living organisms containing the genetic instructions for hive-making. Instead of dissipating energy by cooling, bees put energy into the system. The result is a purposeful, structurally-sound system of cells they can use as incubators for their eggs. The resemblance to basalt columns is only superficial.
Another striking difference is that individual honeybees do not build the hexagons. Only when a group of bees come together does the hive-making activity begin. Andy Fletcher of TOK Seminars uses this as an example of complexity the emergence of complex behavior among individual parts which do not exhibit the behavior alone, but only in groups. Complexity, he says, is becoming the science of the 21st century.
One primary difference between organismic and inanimate patterns is in their information content. Geological formations follow blind natural laws; biology encodes genetic instructions. Learning to compare designed vs. non-designed structures is a worthwhile and important skill (see sample list in the 09/21/2006 commentary).This Day in History: Genesis from the Moon 12/24/2008
Dec 24, 2008 Forty years ago this day, Christmas Eve, a riotous and troubled world stopped in its tracks and held its breath. The crew of Apollo 8, which had blasted off 3 days earlier in the new behemoth rocket Saturn V, masterminded by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, had reached orbit around the moon, and was about to speak to the world.
Because of delays with the lunar lander, the mission planners decided to try a lunar mission earlier than first scheduled. It would help them gain confidence with orbital maneuvers and keep ahead of the Russians. It was a risky move that would involve several firsts: first manned use of the Saturn V (one of the most complex machines ever built by man), first manned lunar orbit, and farthest from Earth man had ever traveled. Lunar orbit insertion was particularly risky. The slightest mistake in calculation would have doomed the crew: either crashing them into the moon, or sending them off into space with no chance to get home. Ground controllers were in blackout when the burn completed behind the moon. A confirming voice from the spacecraft, slightly later than expected, sent a huge sigh of relief through mission control. Apollo 8 was in orbit.
For the next 20 hours the crew circled the moon 10 times. They were the first humans to witness Earthrise, a sight of our blue marble, brimming with life, rising above the limb of a desolate, airless world (for a more recent image in HD, see the 11/15/2007 entry and Astronomy Picture of the Day). The pictures Apollo 8 took were historic. Those images were to alter mans perception of his place in the universe, showing how precious our delicate jewel appeared against the blackness of space (see Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
The world needed some good news. 1968 had been a disastrous year. The Vietnam War escalated during the Tet Offensive, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, millions of hippies were taking drugs and protesting the establishment, and anti-war activists were rioting in the streets. What happened next on that Christmas Eve brought a precious moment of peace on earth, good will to men. Calling long distance from the moon to planet earth, William Anders began a Christmas greeting like no other (follow along on YouTube). As people around the world hushed and watched their TV sets, he said:
We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.An estimated one billion people listened to that greeting the largest TV audience to date. Somehow, everything took on a new perspective. The war and the national boundaries faded into insignificance as the ancient words of Genesis, pronouncing goodness on the newly-created world, took center stage. That moment captured the imagination of poets, journalists and authors for years. An anonymous telegram to the astronauts after the mission said, Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968."In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."Jim Lovell:"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."Frank Borman:"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."Borman then added, And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you all of you on the good Earth.
A commemorative stamp was issued showing Earthrise with the words, In the beginning God... The story has been retold by John S. Gardner on National Review. Background of that holy night can also be found at a NASA-Goddard web page. A very lifelike and faithful re-enactment of the event can be seen in Tom Hanks HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, Part 4.
The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve anniversary was mentioned today by the BBC News and Space.com and Astronomy Picture of the Day, but all three avoided mention of the Genesis reading. It was mentioned, however, on Maryland Weather, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and many other news outlets. There will undoubtedly be many Apollo celebrations leading up to the 40th anniversary of the moon landing in July, but there was never a Christmas Eve quite like that one a modern wish for a silent night, holy night, calm, brightness, and sleep in heavenly peace.
Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delight, says Psalm 119 of Gods healing Word. The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; Give me understanding, and I shall live.A built-in accelerator in your eyes, explained in the 12/30/2003 entry. (The next two stories are pretty fascinating, too.)
Bat Evolution: The Plays the Thing 12/23/2008
Despite many new discoveries about the rise of bats, mysteries remain. Bat ancestors must have existed prior to the Eocene, but we have no fossil record of them. Likewise, the identity of the closest relatives of bats is still unknown. Investigators are also eager to learn when the bat lineage first became distinct from that of the other laurasiatheres and how much of early bat evolution and diversification took place in the northern continents versus the southern continents. We therefore need fossils that lie even closer to the beginning of bats than Onychonycteris does. With luck, paleontologists will find such specimens, and they will help solve these and other riddles about the origins of these fascinating animals.Obviously this points back to Onychonycteris and the other many new discoveries that will have to support the evolutionary story across the remaining gaps. What did the article say about these? Simmons started off by discussing the wonder of bats as we see them today. She admitted that their ascension was hardly a foregone conclusion: no other mammal has conquered the air with powered flight, though several mammals can glide on outstretched flaps of skin. Powered flight puts severe requirements on many organs, though, and the echolocation found in 85% of these superb fliers puts additional anatomical constraints on the skull, mouth, ears and throat. She spent some time describing all the factors involved after saying, Indeed, exactly how these rulers of the night sky arose from terrestrial ancestors is a question that has captivated biologists for decades.
Then she went into her discovery this year of Onychonycteris finneyi in Wyoming, the most primitive bat ever discovered (see 02/16/2008 discovery report). This bat, though possessing shorter forelimbs and longer hindlimbs than extant bats, was still fully capable of flight. In fact, living mouse-tailed bats have a similar wing aspect ratio, she said.
The main evolutionary question addressed by her find, then, was not how powered flight evolved, but whether it evolved first, or sonar first, or whether both flight and sonar evolved simultaneously. Earlier fossils did not help in filling the gap, she argued, but Onychonycteris did not appear to have sonar. The flight-first theoreticians win, she claimed.
Still, we lack fossils that establish how bats are related to other mammals, she said in a section about the diversity of living bats. Genetic studies do not show them related to other gliding mammals. The nearest ancestors, an ancient lineage known as Laurasiatheria consists of such diverse beasts as carnivores, hoofed mammals, whales, scaly anteaters, shrews, hedgehogs and moles, none of which are fliers (although there were flying whales in Disneys Fantasia 2000). This leaves a lot of evolutionary space unfilled:
Primitive laurasiatheres, however, were probably mouse- or squirrel-size creatures that walked on all fours and ate insects. Laurasiatheres are thought to have evolved on the ancient supercontinent of Laurasia, which comprised what is now North America, Europe and Asia, probably in the late Cretaceous period, some 65 million to 70 million years ago. The exact position of bats within this group is uncertain, but clearly a considerable amount of evolutionary change separates Onychonycteris and other bats from their terrestrial forebears.Good question. Her answer? Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). The genes for these limb-growing proteins are expressed differently in mice and bats. If we can imagine gradual changes in gene expression of BMPs, then, we can imagine transitional forms, even if none are found in the fossil record:
It is therefore possible that a small change in the genes regulating BMPs underlies both the developmental and evolutionary elongation of bat wing digits. If so, that might explain the absence in the fossil record of creatures intermediate between short-fingered, nonflying mammals and long-fingered bats such as Onychonycteris and Icaronycteris: the evolutionary shift may have been very rapid, and few or no transitional forms may have existed.She apparently did not ask why differences in BMP expression didnt lead to flying hedgehogs and cows jumping over the moon. On the other hand, maybe they did; they just didnt leave any fossils. That the gap was filled in with imagination is underscored with her final paragraph, quoted above: Despite many new discoveries about the rise of bats, mysteries remain....
The only transitional bats in Darwins belfry are imaginary ones. Darwin removed the requirement for hard evidence and replaced it with imagination. Thats why nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution; if you can simply imagine the transitional forms that should be there but arent, you can make your theory come true without data. Suddenly everything makes sense. Data are such contrary things, anyway. It helps, too, when you also rule that alternative views cannot be heard. This was Hamlets undoing; Charlie conquered Claudius, took the throne, exiled Hamlet along with his righteous anger, canceled the play, and produced one of his own, featuring all kinds of fanciful chimeras like imaginary transitional bats taking wing. It was a hit. It had to be. The subjects dared not fail to applaud, cheer and beg for encores. His own plays the thing to assuage the conscience of the king. Now you know the rest of the play within the play.Look see: Your eyes fiber-optic waveguides illustrated by the UK Science Museum (see the 5/2/2007 entry).
Science Intrudes Into Morality 12/23/2008
What business of it is New Scientist to lecture the Pope on morals? You would think that is the province of a religious leader. Who is he to talk about outdated metaphysics? You would think that is the province of philosophy and theology. The Pope was speaking to his own Curia, for crying out loud. Do you understand what is going on? You thought science dealt with ammeters and microscopes and polymerase chain reactions. Wrong; New Scientist is not like Old Scientist. It asserts its tyranny over all realms of thought.Dream On, Astrobiology 12/22/2008
Dec 22, 2008 An astrobiologist at Open University (UK) has classified habitable worlds into four types, even though only one of them is known to have life. Astrobiology Magazine reported the list by Jan Hendrik Bredehöft: earth-like, Mars-like, Venus-like and water-worlds.
After considering all the facts, Bredehöft says our best bet to find extraterrestrial ecosystems is to hunt for Earth-like planets, after all. However, he doesnt think Earth-like worlds will necessarily have advanced life.The article was echoed on Space.com. While the search for exoplanets gets refined, people like Bredehöft just theorise. Whats his considered opinion on the kinds of organisms we will most likely find? Probably something slimy.
Grade this phrase: logical outcome of evolution. Evolution is supposed to be this mindless, directionless, unguided, chance process. The only logical outcome of chance is more chance. Corollary: the only logical outcome of evolution is illogic (as illustrated above). Corollary 2: the pinnacle of evolution is a fluke.Water, Water Everywhere 12/21/2008
Dec 21, 2008 A press release from the Max Planck Institute says that water has been detected at a distant quasar 11.1 billion light-years away the farthest detection of water yet. The water vapour is thought to exist in clouds of dust and gas that feed the supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant quasar, the press release said. Because of gravitational lensing by a foreground mass, the team was able to make this remarkable discovery. A co-author of the paper explained what this means: This suggests that the water molecule may have been much more abundant in the early Universe than first thought, and can be used for further research into supermassive black holes and galaxy evolution at high redshift.
This gives new meaning to the preamble in Psalm 148:1-5, Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! ... Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created.Honesty is the best policy in science, too; but how did that evolve? 12/18/2002.
Which Evolution Should Be Taught? 12/19/2008
1. Steve Jones, A wonderful life by leaps and bounds, Nature 456, 873-874 (18 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/456873a; Published online 17 December 2008.
2. John M. Archibald, The Eocyte Hypothesis and the Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, PNAS December 23, 2008, vol. 105 no. 51, pp. 20049-20050; doi: 10.1073/pnas.0811118106.
3. Breakthrough of the Year: The Runners-Up, Science, 19 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5909, p. 1768, DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1768.
4. Breakthrough of the Year: Reprogramming Cells, Science, 19 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5909, pp. 1766-1767, DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1766.
Its time to revise the Dobzhansky mantra in light of the facts of science.Cassini Celebrates Season of Change 12/18/2008
Dec 18, 2008 Its approaching equinox on Saturn. Cassini is now well into its first extended mission, aptly dubbed the Equinox Mission, till Sept. 2010. The Cassini Team just exhibited its snazzy new website. Its not all bells and whistles. The science is ringing the phones off the hook. Even without the pictures the following announcements could stop the presses.
Once again, though, Saturn the Giant had to wait in the wings while a couple of moons stole the show. Before yielding them the stage, Saturn wanted to announce that its ring spokes are back. Exeunt. Flourish.
Fly in even closer with the image called Tiger Stripes Magnified. This is a mosaic of the highest-resolution images from the recent south-pole flybys, overlain on a lower-resolution image of the southern hemisphere. A labeled version shows locations of known eruption plumes (circles) and the footprints of skeet shoot images taken August 10 (green) and October 31 (brown). The footprints show that the surface of this little moon is cracked and folded down to the smallest scales. It is also littered with boulders of ice the size of houses. If these boulders were ejected by the geysers, they speak of remarkable force down deep. Studying this mosaic at high res is an emotional experience. It is the nearest we will probably get in this lifetime to staring down the throat of active geysers on an ice-blanketed world 800 million miles away.
The Cassini Imaging Team website has additional images, maps, and diagrams for further study. Theres even a rotating globe showing the angles of the geysers, and Paul Helfensteins movie of the spreading centers, showing his interpretation of how separated features appear to fit together when you move pieces around. An updated polar mosaic of the entire southern hemisphere pulls all the data into a flat map with all the resolution one could want; even at quarter size, the view overflows the screen. Finally, for those who like graphs and scientific detail with their pictures, the Nov. 25 CHARM presentation (Cassini-Huygens Analysis and Results from the Mission has a lot of interesting data (and pictures) in a Powerpoint/PDF presentation about Enceladus with the latest from the recent flybys.
Before Cassini got to Saturn, planetary scientists had an inkling that Enceladus would be a star of the show. They were certainly not disappointed. In fact, none of the targets icy moons, Saturn, rings magnetic field, and Titan have been anything less than astonishing.Who Wants Embryonic Stem Cells? 12/17/2008
Dec 17, 2008 Amazing treatments continue to spring forth from adult stem cells the stem cells with no ethical qualms attached. With adult stem cells easy to obtain doing so much good, why would anyone want embryonic stem cells (the stem cells with ethical qualms attached), when no usable treatments have yet been found?
Here are some recent success stories with adult stem cells:
Nature News also reported that the Vatican has reiterated its opposition to the use of human embryos for research, whether from aborted fetuses or human cloning; use of adult stem cells, though, is morally acceptable, the Vatican said.
Science magazine,1 however, expressed the common position of many scientists who want embryonic stem cell freedom, ethics or not. Constance Holden wrote,
U.S. researchers are eagerly anticipating the moment that President-elect Barack Obama takes office and sweeps away the Bush Administrations restrictions on federal funding for research with human embryonic stem (ES) cells. Scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) are making no secret of their glee. I think everybody here is incredibly excited about the new Administration, says Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force.Researchers used to finding ways to circumvent the Bush restrictions will now have unfettered freedom to breed human stem cells (short of cloning humans for research), once Obama fulfills his promise to remove the restrictions by executive order as one of his first acts as President. Scientists seem to maintain their lust for ES cells even though the momentum is with adult stem cell research, where nearly-miraculous results are becoming the norm. According to Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C., the field [of embryonic stem cell research] has an awfully long way to go.
1. Leong, Wang, Johnson and Gao, Generation of a prostate from a single adult stem cell, Nature 456, 804-808 (11 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07427.
2. Raaijmakers and Scadden, Divided within: Heterogeneity within Adult Stem Cell Pools, Cell, Volume 135, Issue 6, 12 December 2008, Pages 1006-1008.
3. Constance Holden, Obama Transition: A Fresh Start for Embryonic Stem Cells, Science 12 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5908, p. 1619, DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5908.1619.
Solomon said, For whoever finds me [wisdom] finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:35-36). In context, he had just been speaking of Gods wisdom and delight in creation.Browse the short entries from eight years ago on the Dec 2000 page.
Blame Hiccups on Your Inner Fish 12/16/2008
Our deep history was, at different times, spent in ancient oceans, small streams and savanna plainsand not office buildings, ski slopes or football fields. This extraordinary disconnect between our past and present means that our body falls apart in certain predictable ways. The major bones in human knees, backs and wrists arose in aquatic creatures hundreds of millions of years ago. Is it any surprise, then, that we tear cartilage in our knees and suffer back pain as we walk on two legs or develop carpal tunnel syndrome as we type, knit or write? Our fish and amphibian ancestors did not do these things.Shubin did not inventory fish maladies, or inquire whether Methuselah ever got a hernia after living 200 times longer than a fish. His hypothesis seems to suggest that evolution is regressive. Following his reasoning, the best-designed animals were the earliest ones. Bad design has led to more maladies the higher one evolves up Darwins tree of life. Maybe natural selection should have left well enough alone and not invented a Shawn Johnson or Michael Phelps. It terms of design, its been all downhill since those happy days under the sea.
We cant help but award multiple SEQOTW prizes this week, with all the contestants vying for attention in Scientific Americans Darwin Extravaganza. We may have to go to SEQOTD. Please notice; we dont laugh at the Darwinists out of some perverse sense of satisfaction at irritating them. We know they hate being laughed it. We just cant help it. We laugh because they really are funny. Lets all sing like the fishies sing:Expel the Creationists 12/16/2008Adaptation always seems better in landlubbers four-limbed physique You dream of evolving up yonder, but that is a faulty mystique. Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor; Such wonderful things surround you; what more is you lookin for?They take themselves so seriously thats what makes this so much fun. Thank you, Neil, and all the Scientific American staff, for giving us one of the best comedy acts [hic] in a long time. OK, well get serious. See? Were serious. (chortle) (sniff) (snicker) Honest! (guffaw) Sorry. (pause, deep breath) (snort) (giggle) (choke) We in luck here down in the muck here, under the sea... Yeeeee, HAW!Under the sea, Under the sea, Darwin, its better down where its wetter, take it from me. Up on the shore they walk on all fours, out in the sun they sweat in they chores, While we is a-breedin in de Garden of Eden under the sea.Down here all the fish is happy, as off through the waves they squirts; The man in the office got hiccups, he sad cause his hernia hurts. But man in the jungle ain lucky, he in for a worser fate; One day when tiger get hungry, guess whos gon be on de plate.Under the sea, Under the sea, Thats why its hotter under the water Ya we in luck here down in the muck here Under the sea.
Dec 16, 2008 Apparently Eugenie Scott of the NCSE is feeling no remorse from her appearance in Ben Steins documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, where she defended the actions of those who ruined careers, denied tenure, and deprived students and teachers of their academic freedom because they dared to question Darwin. Her latest piece in Scientific American is as adamant as ever: the creationists, ever morphing their tactics by a kind of sinister evolution, need to be eradicated.
With co-author Glenn Branch, Eugenie Scott summarized the history of creationism and the court cases that have stymied them. Using the projection theme of a crook donning a fake mustache to hide his identity, Scott portrayed a shape-shifting bogeyman that can be shown no mercy but must be expelled. The subtitle reads, Creationists who want religious ideas taught as scientific fact in public schools continue to adapt to courtroom defeats by hiding their true aims under ever changing guises. After thoroughly discrediting the motives of creationists in Louisiana and Georgia who merely requested that students use critical thinking when exploring evolution, she explained why these apparently innocent requests deserved to be defeated: one doesnt grant academic freedom to liars:
In the meantime, it is clear why the Louisiana Science Education Act is pernicious: it tacitly encourages teachers and local school districts to miseducate students about evolution, whether by teaching creationism as a scientifically credible alternative or merely by misrepresenting evolution as scientifically controversial. Vast areas of evolutionary science are for all intents and purposes scientifically settled; textbooks and curricula used in the public schools present precisely such basic, uncomplicated, uncontroversial material. Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis isto be blunta lie.Creationists will continue their pattern of steady misrepresentation, she said, by finding new ways to chip away at Darwins theory of evolution. What are honest citizens to do? But because the passage of such antievolution bills ultimately results from politics rather than science, it will not be the progress of science that ensures their failure to endure, she said. Rather it will take the efforts of citizens who are willing to take a stand and defend the uncompromised teaching of evolution.
Eugenie, Eugenie, please. This piece is so loaded with fallacies, lies and misrepresentations you should be ashamed of yourself. Readers, look at this. This lady knows better than to make such allegations. She has heard numerous scholars and scientists who are not fundamentalist Christians make the same arguments against dogmatic Darwinism, among them David Berlinski, Steve Fuller and Ben Stein. She has met face to face with Phillip Johnson and the leading lights of the intelligent design movement and various creationist organizations. She knows these people are not crooks with fake mustaches. In fact, she knows that most of them are nicer people than her fellow persecutors. She knows many of them have more degrees in science than she does. And she knows that no philosopher of science would defend the image of science vs superstition she is portraying.Sci Am Jumpstarts Darwin Day 12/15/2008
Dec 15, 2008 Its not even Christmas or 2009 yet, but the cover stories on Darwin have started to hit newsstands. Latest to feature a whole issue to Darwin is Scientific American. Predictable themes are all there: Darwin was a genius, he was the greatest scientist in history, evolution is the keystone of all biology, and creationists are still trying to sneak their religion into biology classes. But also included are some weird topics like whether robots can be programmed to be evil.
The editors gushed over Darwin in one short article entitled, Why Everyone Should Learn the Theory of Evolution as if they hadnt already since kindergarten.
Charles Darwin did not think of himself as a genius. I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit which is so remarkable in some clever men ... he remarked in one passage of his autobiography. Fortunately for the rest of us, he was profoundly wrong in his assessment. So on February 12 the world will mark the bicentennial birthday of a scientist who holds a rightful place alongside Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein.Having uttered the Dobzhansky mantra, they proceeded to lament that Darwins iconic visage has not yet eclipsed that of Einstein in the public consciousness. Whos to blame for this insult? The creationists, naturally:
Yet it is also worth noting during this anniversary year that Darwin deserves a lot better than he gets. When the popular press needs an iconic image of a brilliant scientist, it invariably recycles the famous photograph of Albert Einstein having a bad hair day.... Darwins failure to achieve icon status is the legacy of creationists and neocreationists and of the distortion of his ideas by the eugenics movement a century ago.The juxtaposition of blame makes it sound like creationists were behind eugenics; actually, eugenics was founded by Darwins cousin Francis Galton (CMI), and was supported by most leading evolutionists into the 20th century (CMI), which creationists found appalling. Eugenical ideas persist under the radar to the present day among prominent evolutionists like Richard Dawkins (CMI).
What more could Darwin inherit but the rest of the university? The editors proceeded to laud David Sloan Wilsons EvoS curriculum (12/21/2005) which extends the evolutionary way of looking at the world to subjects as diverse as cancer, pregnancy, mate choice, literature and religion.
Darwins Feb. 12 anniversary is an opportunity to push more evolution in education, they ended: Natural selection and the complementary idea of how genes, individuals and species change over time should be as much a part of developing critical thinking skills as deductive reasoning and the study of ethics. Its surprising they didnt say that nothing in deductive reasoning and ethics makes sense except in the light of evolution.
The gushy, obsequious fawning over Caesar Darwin has just begun. Brace yourself. Its going to be a long funeral.Get a train set for Christmas. Actually, your body is already filled with them. See the 12/02/2007 entry.
Darwins New Terror: Islamic Creationism 12/13/2008
Just as there is no monolithic Islam, there is no official opinion on evolution. There are indeed verses in the Koran that talk about the creation of the universe and of the living beings on Earth, but specific details are often not laid out. For example, the Koranic narrative of creation includes a 6-day account of creation. The length of each day, however, is not clearly specified. One day has been defined as a thousand years of what you count (32:5) or as a day the measure of which is fifty thousand years (70:4). The resulting ambiguity leaves open the possibility of a very old Earth. Indeed, young-Earth creationism is wholly absent in the Muslim world, and a universe billions of years old is commonly accepted. On biological evolution, Islamic scholars and popular writers hold a wide range of opinions that represent a broad spectrum of culture and politics, from secular Turkey to the conservative monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim diasporas in Europe and in the United States.Muslims have a history of accepting the idea of common descent dating back to medieval times, he said. Today, though, fewer Muslims in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia accept Darwins theory than Americans even though their textbooks often present evolution as a fact, and their religious instruction does not often dispute it. Depending on what the respondents understood by the word evolution, Hameed felt These results paint a depressing picture.
Hameed further worried that better education, the internet and news about U.S. controversies over evolution are provoking Muslims to ask questions about Islams position on evolution. Citing Yahya as the loudest voice in the debate in the Islamic world, Hameed argued that scientists cannot leave the initiative with the Muslim Creationists. Now is the time that these ideas are going to be solidified, he warned. We can shape it. There are positive ways to shape these ideas in which we can avert a mass rejection of evolution. For instance, efforts that link evolution with atheism will cut short the dialogue, and a vast majority of Muslims will reject evolution. He suggested fomenting respect for science in general.
1. Salmon Hameed, Bracing for Islamic Creationism, Science, 12 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5908, pp. 1637-1638, DOI: 10.1126/science.1163672.
Hameed claimed that Yahya got most of his material from ICR and the Intelligent Design movement. Notice the one-way traffic. This seems to indicate that few Islamic scholars have taken interest in studying the issue.Evolutionary Mutualism Flutters 12/12/2008
Dec 12, 2008 A story on Science Daily is decorated with a butterfly collection. Amazonian butterflies studied by an international team were chosen to test Darwins theory of mutualism a kind of symbiosis in which two species benefit one another. The test yielded a surprise.
The idea going in was that sister species would evolve apart so as to minimize competition for scarce resources. The work showed a surprise, however: The work shows that some species of butterfly that live alongside one another have evolved in ways that, surprisingly, benefit both species. One would think they would separate or else compete.
However, this is not always the case. The researchers show that butterfly species that have evolved similar wing patterns which act as a warning to predators that they are poisonous are often not evolutionarily close to each other. Thus the similarity is not due to shared ancestry but is an evolutionary adaptation. The similar pattern benefits both species, as predators will only need to learn once to avoid the signal learn, in this context, being a euphemism for eating a poisonous butterfly.Some of the unrelated species share the same habitat and fly at the same height, for example. Instead of competing, they share the benefits of similar looks, the article said. The new paper shows that issues other than pure competition, such as protection from predators, can play an important role in evolution. The scientists expected that the mimicry would pay benefits to the tasty species, but did not expect that both species would live alongside each other.
One can look at this story as a success for Darwin or a defeat for Darwin. It provided an evolutionary explanation for an observation, but then again, it surprised the scientists. That is why Darwins theory is so successful. His idea allows for any data, even data opposite what was expected, to score points for the theory.Fish and Reptiles Converge on Magnetic Navigation 12/11/2008
Dec 11, 2008 Two very different kinds of animal both have outstanding ability to navigate by earths magnetic field: salmon and sea turtles. A new hypothesis by scientists at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published in PNAS,1 suggests that the young are imprinted with their local magnetic field signature at birth.
From a navigational perspective, some of the most remarkable migrations are accomplished by marine animals that begin life in particular geographic areas, migrate across vast expanses of sea, and then return as adults to their natal areas to reproduce. How such animals navigate back to natal areas across seemingly featureless ocean, and after absences ranging in duration from a few years to a decade or more, has remained enigmatic. In this article we propose a new, unifying hypothesis to explain natal homing in two iconic long-distance migrants, salmon and sea turtles. Specifically, we propose that these animals imprint on the magnetic field that exists at their natal area and use this information to return to their natal region years later, close enough for local cues (olfactory in salmon, unknown in sea turtles) to guide them more precisely to their spawning or nesting sites. This magnetic imprinting hypothesis, which focuses on the movement ecology linkage between an environmental factor (the Earths magnetic field) and navigational capacity, also suggests the surprising possibility that rapid, naturally occurring changes in the Earths field occasionally exert a strong influence on ecological processes by altering animal movements.The article was summarized by Science Daily. In the original paper, the authors puzzled over how and why this amazing ability evolved:
Regardless of how it is accomplished, navigating hundreds or thousands of kilometers to reproduce in a particular geographic area does not appear to be advantageous when other suitable sites for reproduction often exist along the way. The costs of such migrations appear considerable in terms of energy expenditure, stress, and risk. For such a pattern to evolve, the benefits must be correspondingly high. In evolutionary terms, natal homing presumably arose because individuals that returned to their natal areas to reproduce had greater success than those that tried to reproduce elsewhere.This says little more than that the survivors survived. All they could think of were special conditions in the environment that led to evolutionary success. Turtles need to lay eggs on land. The authors suggested that only a tiny fraction of beaches are suitable in terms of incline, temperature, accessibility and other factors. For salmon, the need to lay eggs in fresh water causes them to seek out streams without unsurpassable obstacles. It seems a stretch to imagine that so few habitats would work, but they tried:
To human observers, an irrational feature of natal homing is that animals often forego reproducing in suitable nearby areas to migrate long distances to their natal sites. For example, some sea turtles feed in areas adjacent to nesting beaches used by their own species, but nevertheless migrate long distances to nest elsewhere; similarly, salmon on their way to their own natal rivers often swim past other rivers where large populations of conspecifics spawn. From the perspective of the animal, however, assessing the suitability of an unfamiliar area for reproduction may be very difficult. A turtle crawling out of the sea to nest probably cannot tell that a large population of raccoons is nearby and will consume her eggs after she departs, and salmon passing by the mouth of an unfamiliar river may be unable to determine whether there are suitable spawning grounds a hundred kilometers upstream, or instead an impassible waterfall.They did not ask if a salmon or turtle is capable of having a perspective or assessing anything, and they did not ask how the precision navigational ability evolved in the first place. If some conspecifics managed to breed nearby, natural selection must have favored both long distance migration and staying near the feeding grounds. Their hypothesis allows that changes in Earths magnetic field forces changes in breeding grounds. If so, why did some species change and others stick with the old grounds? And how did two very different kinds of animals converge on the same navigational skill? With such puzzles to observe, they had to admit that even human animals find it difficult to assess such things.
1. Lohmann, Putnam and Lohmann, Geomagnetic imprinting: A unifying hypothesis of long-distance natal homing in salmon and sea turtles, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, December 9, 2008, vol. 105, no. 49, pp. 19096-19101, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0801859105.
The hypothesis does not even begin to explain the amazing feats of these animals. Stating that they have a navigational capacity says nothing about how that capacity arose; its like Molieres doctor explaining why some drugs induce sleep is due to their possessing a dormitive virtue. Saying that the very existence of an adult animal confirms that natural selection produced this ability is absurd. I think, therefore I am; I am, therefore natural selection produced me, I think.Need a fantasy break? Tinker Bell appeared with her magic wand in the 12/11/2006 and 12/10/2006 entries.
Applying the Scientific Method to Prehistory 12/10/2008
1. Lewis et al, Quasi-Periodic Bedding in the Sedimentary Rock Record of Mars, Science, 5 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5907, pp. 1532-1535, DOI: 10.1126/science.1161870.
2. Prokaryotes have Group I introns that are self-splicing; eukaryotes have Group II introns that are spliced by the spliceosome.
3. Francesco Catania and Michael Lynch, Where Do Introns Come From?, Public Library of Science: Biology, Vol. 6, No. 11, e283 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060283.
We dont know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable. G.K. Chesterton.Nature Plagiarizes Behes Mousetrap 12/09/2008
Dec 9, 2008 The prevention of genomic instability and cancer can be attributed to a complex mousetrap mechanism, said Robert M. Brosh, Jr (Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology, NIH) in Nature.1 This not-so-subtle reference to Michael Behes irreducibly complex system described in Darwins Black Box even has a mousetrap illustration with the following caption:
The BLM protein complex consists of several components, much like a mousetrap. With all the parts properly assembled, the mousetrap will operate efficiently and catch the mouse. In this case, a DNA structure called a double Holliday junction is caught in the BLM complex. Xu et al. and Singh et al. report the discovery of a component of this complex, RMI2, which stabilizes and orchestrates the action of the BLM complex, ensuring resolution of the double Holliday junction, and so promoting chromosomal stability.Later in the text, he continues the analogy:
As for the significance of RMI2 to the BLM complex, for analogy lets imagine a mousetrap. It contains several components, including a spring, a platform, a hammer, a hold-down bar and a catch. Omit certain components of the trap, and the device may still operate, albeit less efficiently. With all of the components in place including those with primarily structural roles such as the hold-down bar and the platform the trap is most likely to catch the mouse. Returning to the BLM complex: through its interaction with RMI1, RMI2 allows the BLM–Topo-3alpha device to assume optimal stability and configuration so that it can efficiently catalyse the splitting of the double Holliday junction, and so prevent the escape of deleterious DNA structures that would lead to crossovers (Fig. 1). RMI2 therefore seems to have an integral structural role in the BLM–Topo-3alpha device by orchestrating its action.An easily missed reference after the phrase and a catch leads to a website by John H. McDonald that appears to refute Behes concept of irreducible complexity, showing that a reducibly complex mousetrap can still function. No mention was made of Behes counter-refutation on Access Research Network, which graciously ends:
Darwinian scenarios, either for building mousetraps or biochemical systems, are very easy to believe if we arent willing or able to scrutinize the smallest details, or to ask for experimental evidence. They invite us to admire the intelligence of natural selection. But the intelligence we are admiring is our own.
1. Robert M. Brosh, Jr., Molecular biology: The Blooms complex mousetrap, Nature
For Brosh to employ this well-known analogy for his own purposes, without giving credit to Behe, and then to slap Behes face with a link to a flawed refutation of Behes concept without giving him a chance to respond, is disgustingly irresponsible. You would think the worlds leading science journal would demand proper citation. What happened to academic ethics?Fly Swiftly 12/08/2008
Dec 8, 2008 The common swift is being eyed by aircraft engineers who want to go fast, high, and green. Science Daily says these engineers are inspired by nature.
Calling Apus apus a common swift is like calling an orange an orange. They are swift! These incredible birds dart about effortlessly and spend their lives almost always on the wing. They eat, sleep and even mate in the air, the females only clinging to their cliff-side nests to lay and nurture their eggs.
Shaker Meguid (U of Toronto) is particularly impressed by the rapid wing-morphing ability of the swift, which allows it to adapt the wing shape for the need of the moment: soaring, turning, diving, or hovering. Could airplane wings do this? Currently, aircraft are limited to clumsy ailerons and flaps. Meguids team is using shape-memory materials with actuators on a tetrahedral-truss plan with spherical freely-rotating joints.
If the morphing wings work, they could provide seamless wing shape modification in flight. Benefits include better performance, maneuverability, lower cost, reduced pollution and quieter take-offs.
Sleeping and eating in the air is already common for humans on cross-country flights, but better leave mating in the air for the birds. (Youd have to be swift.)Scientists know what science is, dont they? Certainly that should be true for the former president of the National Academy of Sciences. Read the 12/11/2005 entry and score his reasoning.
Are Religious People Weird? 12/07/2008
1. Elena Cattaneo, Science, dogmas and the state, Nature 456, 444-445 (27 November 2008) | doi:10.1038/456444a.
One group of human beings putting their fellow human beings into a pigeonhole and applying a label: does that sound scientific? Religious is so broad a term, it is essentially meaningless. Are atheists religious when they exercise faith in their disbelief in God? Even if the scientists study the beaks of those in the religion pigeonhole with a magnifying glass, that does not mean they will necessarily arrive at rational conclusions. The pigeons need to come out of their holes and reverse roles. Lets have some trained theologians put the scientists under the magnifying glass and analyze what makes them say strange things (e.g., 11/25/2008). Dykstras Law, you remember, is commutative: Everybody is somebody elses weirdo.Thanks to Clam Design, Stronger Materials Are Coming 12/06/2008
Dec 6, 2008 Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have produced a lightweight composite material 300 times stronger than its constituents. How? By taking inspiration from clams.
The team, writing in Science,1 described nacre, the shiny mother-of-pearl found inside clam shells. Because of the way it sandwiches crystalline aragonite with layers of protein (07/26/2004), nacre resists cracks more and more as strain is applied. Heres how the scientists marveled at this amazing material:
A prime example is nacre, which consists of 95 vol. % of layered aragonite (CaCO3) platelets bonded by a thin layer of organic material, yet exhibits a toughness (in energy terms) some three orders of magnitude higher than that of calcium carbonate. The hard aragonite provides strength, but without a means to dissipate strain, nacre would be brittle; however, large inelastic deformation generated by interlayer shearing through the organic phase allows for such strain redistribution, so that toughness is achieved through viscoplastic energy dissipation in the organic layer associated with the controlled, yet limited, sliding of the aragonite layers over each other. Although there is controversy over the mechanisms that restrain slidingresistance from the lamellae nanoroughness, plastic deformation of the aragonite at the nanolevel, the organic layer acting as a viscoelastic glue, or from the presence of mineral bridgesthe resulting toughness is remarkable.Previous attempts to mimic this structure have only yielded strength increases about two orders of magnitude (07/05/2007). The Berkeley team applied this natural concept of hierarchical design to ceramics with new techniques that employ controlled freezing of seawater ice crystals in the layering process. The Lawrence Berkeley press release explained the process and has a picture of the roughened surface of the hybrid ceramic used in the manufacture. They not only mimicked nacres natural lubricant between layers, but its brick-and-mortar structure, as shown in a second picture. Of nacre, the press release said, No human-synthesized composite outperforms its constituent materials by such a wide margin.
Everything they did was an an attempt to replicate the microstructural design of nacre, they said. Nacre is the often cited gold standard in biomimetic design. Using ceramic alumina, they actually exceeded the toughness of nacre. We believe that this result illustrates the importance of hierarchical design in promoting toughening mechanisms at multiple length scales as a way to create materials with unique combinations of strength and fracture resistance. Nevertheless, they still respect the natural standard: We believe that of the various hybrid materials that we have fabricated, this structure best mimics nacre. They succeeded in sandwiching tough ceramics between microscopic deformable layers with limited shear. The result is synthetic materials that, like nacre and bone, are far tougher than what could be expected from the simple mixture of their constituents. Even so, natural nacre still has some unsurpassed qualities: At present, our materials contain too much of the soft phase, and our ceramic layer thicknesses are still somewhat coarse in comparison to nacre, they said; indeed, a reduction in the polymer content and refinement of the ceramic layers should improve strength and provide additional nanoscale toughening mechanisms similar to those acting in natural materials.
How did they feel about biomimetics in general? These results highlight the tremendous potential of the biomimetic approach and suggest promising strategies for structural optimization. Materials science will continue to improve thanks to the lowly clam.
See also the 07/08/2005 entry. On a related subject, scientists found, to their surprise, that bone growth is regulated by a neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the small intestine. The story is told by Science Daily.
1. Munch, Launey, Alsem, Saiz, Tomsia and Ritchie, Tough, Bio-Inspired Hybrid Materials, Science, 5 December 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5907, pp. 1516-1520, DOI: 10.1126/science.1164865
Time for the quiz. (1) How many times was biological evolution mentioned in these articles? (2) How many times was the word design used?*Cosmologists Taste the Forbidden Fruit 12/05/2008
Dec 4, 2008 Everyone agrees: our universe appears fine-tuned for human existence. You have two choices: it was designed by God, or there is a multiverse (other universes we cannot detect). Amanda Gefter is unhappy with that choice. In New Scientist, she asked, why cant we have more options?
Calling the God-vs-multiverse choice a false dichotomy, she said, Science never boils down to a choice between two alternative explanations. It is always plausible that both are wrong and a third or fourth or fifth will turn out to be correct.
Choosing the God option, she said, would be to abandon science itself. But she was also uncomfortable with the multiverse. Irritated at creationist blogs and websites that consider the multiverse a get-out-of-God-free card, Gefter also took umbrage at their linking of evolution with moral evil. She labeled any speculative hypothesis that avoided God as science. A related story on New Scientist said that the amount of dark matter in our universe is finely tuned. Its not just the nature of dark matter thats a mystery, the article began; even its abundance is inexplicable. This is a bit strange since it would be hard to know the abundance of something that is undetectable. What is the explanation for this tremendous coincidence? the article asked, appealing to the anthropic principle. But if our universe is just one of many possible universes, at least this conundrum can be explained.
Want to hear her speculation on what the third option might look like? Here it is we kid you not. We quote the article so you know we are not making this up.Another reason to support the Academic Freedom Petition: see the 12/02/2004 entry.What might a third option look like here? Physicist John Wheeler once offered a suggestion: maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation. Its an idea that Stephen Hawking has been thinking about, too. Hawking advocates what he calls top-down cosmology, in which observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.Lets get this straight: either imagining universes we can never know is science, or believing that we are god is science. But believing in a real God, who has the purpose and power to create a universe, and the omnipresence to be the Observer giving reality to phenomena (as philosopher George Berkeley argued), is not science. OK, everyone, lets sing:When you wish upon a star, nature makes you what you are, Anything your heart concocts is science true. If your heart is in your dream, no proposals too extreme When you hyper-speculate as scientists do. Fate is kind, she gives reality, The sweet fulfillment of our observing. Like a bolt out of the blue, observation creates you, When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.Believers in this PAP or Participatory Anthropic Principle (i.e., the idea that we create the universe by observing it), apparently are willing to take credit for having brought into existence distant galaxies, with all their stars and planets and whatever items they have never seen or will see just because the universe we see from earth is a requirement for their existence. Undoubtedly this is considered more scientific than the name it and claim it preaching on some religious TV programs.
Tiktaalik Not a Missing Link 12/04/2008
The pectoral fin skeletons of Panderichthys and Tiktaalik share certain unusual features such as a blade-like radius and a longitudinal ridge-and-groove on the flexor surface of the ulna. These can tentatively be interpreted as attributes of the elpistostegid segment of the tetrapod stem lineage and thus ancestral for the tetrapod forelimb. Given that recent phylogenies consistently place Panderichthys below Tiktaalik in the tetrapod stem group, it is surprising to discover that its pectoral fin skeleton is more limb-like than that of its supposedly more derived relative. In Tiktaalik4, like in osteolepiforms and rhizodonts (more primitive fish members of the stem group), the ulna and ulnare are of similar size. The axis of the fin comprises two more elements distal to the ulnare, and the distal radials are arranged pinnately around this axis. In contrast, in Panderichthys and tetrapods, the ulna is much longer than the ulnare, the ulnare is the last axial element, and the distal radials/digits are arranged in a transverse fan shape11 (Fig. 3). It is difficult to say whether this character distribution implies that Tiktaalik is autapomorphic,2 that Panderichthys and tetrapods are convergent, or that Panderichthys is closer to tetrapods than Tiktaalik. At any rate, it demonstrates that the fish-tetrapod transition was accompanied by significant character incongruence in functionally important structures.Being translated, that last sentence says that if these fossils represent an evolutionary line from fish to tetrapod, the features are all mixed up and out of sequence including the functionally important structures.
1. Boisvert, Mark-Kurik and Ahlberg, The pectoral fin of Panderichthys and the origin of digits, Nature 456, 636-638 (4 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07339.
2. Autapomorphic means a derived trait unique to any given taxon, i.e. shared by the ingroup taxa, but excluded from its outgroup taxa. Convergent refers to traits that appear similar but are not phylogenetically related.
If this tale were told by Paul Harvey, the rest of the story would undo the first of the story. It wouldnt bother the evolutionists, though, because thats what Darwinism is all about: telling a good story (12/22/2003 commentary).Bulletin: A new Creation Scientist of the Month has been added check it out, and get inspired!
New Film: God of Wonders 12/03/2008
Having seen only the trailer, we cannot rate the entire production, other than to say that Eternal Productions did a good job on its prequel, A Question of Origins. This film company is unashamed and uncompromising in its presentation of the scientific evidence as pointing to salvation in Jesus Christ. For that matter, so was the apostle Paul (Romans 1:16-22).Another Attempt to Explain Lifes Handedness 12/03/2008
Dec 3, 2008 Life uses only single-handed (homochiral) molecules for proteins and DNA. How that came about when mixtures of lifes building blocks contain equal amounts of both hands is a puzzle that confounds origin-of-life research. Science Daily reported on new studies at the Argonne National Laboratory that show that molecules in space on a magnetic substrate exposed to X-rays can lead to an excess of one hand over the other.
The article did not say how large the excess is, or whether it persists as the molecules land on earth. It did state several times that this has been a big puzzle:
Understanding how the molecules necessary for life originated is one of the most basic scientific questions in biochemistry, Argonne chemist Richard Rosenberg said. Chirality plays a fundamental role in biological processes and researchers have been trying to discover the mechanisms that led to this property for years.If pre-biological molecules on an iron meteorite were subjected to X-radiation, the spin polarization of secondary electrons on the substrate, interacting with molecules like amino acids adsorbed onto the substrate, might lead to an excess of one hand over the other, he explained.
Still, Science Daily admitted that The inception of chirality from the elementary building blocks of matter is one of the great mysteries of the origin of life. The best that origin-of-life researchers have been able to come up with is a slight excess of one hand over the other.
Biology uses 100% pure one-handed building blocks: right-handed sugars in DNA and RNA, and left-handed amino acids in proteins. (The hand convention is purely a human rule about 3-D orientation of side groups on these molecules in geometric space.) The two hands have equal probability of formation. That is why natural mixtures contain equal amounts of each hand, and why biology stands out as the amazing exception. There is no known natural mechanism to isolate one hand from the other without intelligent design. A slight excess, usually a few percent, is not going to help, because one wrong-handed molecule on a chain ruins the chain. In addition, there is no guarantee that the slight excess, if any, achieved under special conditions in space will be preserved and concentrated if the molecules survive entry through earths atmosphere. More likely, they will racemize (i.e., randomize again into a 50-50 mixture).Darwin the contortionist: listen to this story of mammal evolution from 12/03/2003 and see if it would convince a jury.
That Spring in Your Step Is Semi-Automatic 12/02/2008
We know quite a lot about how humans and animals run over completely level, uniform surfaces conditions that can be easily studied on a track or treadmill. Yet, the real world is much more complex, requiring frequent stride-to-stride adjustments to deal with bumps, holes and obstacles in the road. What strategies do runners use to keep moving forward when the going gets rough? Only recently has biomechanics research begun to turn to this challenging question. New research by Grimmer and colleagues reveals that the answer may be a lot simpler than you might think.She must have said simpler with tongue in cheek, because her next sentence said, Running involves a cascade of systems working together, including the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs, muscles and bone. Earlier she had noted, We often take our own impressive stability for granted, but if you watch a toddler learn to walk and run, you can see that it can be a challenging task.
Scientists try to model running with images of a bouncing ball, where tension on landing is released like a spring on the way up. Similarly, by using springs in their legs, animals can passively cycle energy through spring recoil, reducing the need for muscle work, she explained. Seems simple so far. But tendons, muscles and joints differ in their springiness. Did you know that humans have exceptional spring in their step, comparable to horses and kangaroos?
The situation gets harder to model when the cross-country runner gets off the treadmill and onto the trail. Rocks, ditches, bumps and other obstacles require constant monitoring and adjustment. The speed of signals in the nerves, though, is finite from toe to brain. How can the brain keep up with a flood of constantly changing data from the extremities in time to adjust?
Heres where Grimmers theory comes into play: the brain may be ordering a basic bouncing pattern with slight modifications. This way, decisions are not required for every motion just minor adjustments as needed. This allows the body to keep moving in its simple bouncing pattern without a stumble or fall.
If true, this means that most of the running motion occurs passively without active brain signaling. An analogy from business might help:
That is not to say that neural control is not required for running. To change speed, direction, or switch from a run to a walk, active control and path planning is certainly involved. However, tuning your leg to behave like a simple mass-spring system may allow the brain and spinal cord to worry only about this higher level control, leaving within stride adjustments to the mechanical system. Think of it as the difference between a micro-managing supervisor and one who delegates responsibility and checks in now and then. Overall, the latter strategy is considered more effective, because it frees the manager to pay attention to the big picture. However, for this approach to succeed, things must not fall apart when the supervisor is not looking.Notice that this strategy would not work without prior systems being in place. Legs, muscles, tendons, bones and all the other components have to be able to run the strategy with minimal supervision.
Daley asked a question midway through her article that tempted one to ask a big-picture question: So, is the spring-like behaviour of human and animal legs an accident of nature, or a strategy to simplify the job of the central nervous system? The remaining paragraphs, in which she described the benefits of the delegating-manager strategy, suggested the latter. She did not, however, use the word evolution anywhere in the article. If it is not an accident of nature, one can draw ones own conclusions about where strategies come from.
1. Monica A. Daley, Biomechanics: Running Over Uneven Terrain Is a No-Brainer, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 22, 25 November 2008, pp. R1064-R1066, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.09.050.
Have you ever done rock-hopping in a river? Its fun and challenging, but the slightest mistake and you could be in for a dunk or broken leg. Slippery rock, distracting currents, and uneven surfaces galore did you think about how much calculus your brain has to do on the sensory inputs to do this? Even a child can manage the task fairly well. Dr. Daley did not extend her simplified analysis to this and other complex tasks humans perform (think balance beam).Ganymede Age Threatened by Magnetism 12/02/2008
Dec 2, 2008 The biggest moon in the solar system is Ganymede, the third large moon out from Jupiter. Larger than Mercury, Ganymede has a heterogeneous surface of dark and light areas (picture), grooved terrain, abrupt changes of landforms, and bright splashes where impacts have scarred its icy surface (gallery). What goes on inside, though, is more surprising: it has an intrinsic magnetic field. Researchers could only make it last for the assumed age of the solar system by appealing to special conditions that are not necessarily compatible with theories of its formation.
Bland, Showman and Tobie, writing in Icarus Dec 2008,1 realized that an intrinsic magnetic field requires a liquid core in which convection can occur to drive a dynamo. A liquid core requires heat. If they could find ways to stop runaway cooling inside the moon, maybe it would stay hot enough to maintain the magnetic field for 4.5 billion years.
They tried all kinds of things to keep the core hot. They modeled Ganymedes orbit passing through a resonance that would increase tidal pumping. They varied the silicate rheology. They altered Jupiters tidal dissipation factor. They played with the size of the ice shell. They imagined partial melting in the silicate mantle. Nothing worked. We find that, contrary to expectations, there are no physically plausible scenarios in which tidal heating in the silicates is sufficient to cause the thermal runaway necessary to prevent core cooling.
The only other possibility was if the amount of sulfur in the core was very low (less than 3%) or very high (greater than 21%). Neither of those options was palatable, but they were stuck: we must appeal to the special conditions described above to explain the presence of the field. At the end of the paper they tossed out one other possibility: late differentiation. If the core didnt form until 1 billion years ago (about 1/5 the assumed age of the moon), then convection might last for a billion years. Either way requires invoking special conditions:
We have shown that production of Ganymedes magnetic field by secular cooling and chemical convection requires that a very specific set of conditions be met: the mass fraction of sulfur in the core must be low (or alternatively very high), the core must have formed hot, and the silicate mantle must be able to cool rapidly (i.e. it must have a viscosity consistent with wet olivine). If any of these criterion are not met magnetic field production fails. These results contrast with previous workers who find that compositional convection can drive a core dynamo under a broad range of conditions.2Speaking of Mercury, which is slightly smaller than Ganymede, Dr. D. Russell Humphreys celebrated a confirmed prediction in the current Journal of Creation:Mercurys magnetic field matches the measurements from the MESSENGER spacecraft (07/09/2008). He adds this to his list of predictive successes for the magnetic fields of the outer planets. Humphreys model assumes that magnetic fields are young thousands of years old, not billions.
1. Bland, Showman and Tobie, The production of Ganymedes magnetic field, Icarus 198 (Dec 2008), pp. 384–399, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2008.07.011.
2. reference cited by Bland et al: S.A. Hauck, J.M. Aurnou and A.J. Dombard, Sulfurs impact on core evolution and magnetic field generation on Ganymede, J. Geophys. Res. 111 (2006) 10.1029/2005JE002557 E09008.
And so another phenomenon doesnt fit the consensus view of the age of the solar system. Creationists who think they are escaping difficulties by accepting the consensus age are merely trading one set of problems for another. Every view has problems; face it. But dont think the long-age evolutionary naturalistic view is simple and straightforward. When they pile on miracles needed to get their physicalist scenarios to work, then the appeal to miracles becomes academic: do you want purposeful miracles, or miracles of chance? Like ketchup with fries, miracles go better with design.When God Goes, Anything Goes 12/01/2008
Dec 1, 2008 G. K. Chesterton once said, When people stop believing in God, they dont believe in nothing they believe in anything. That seems to be backed up by two recent stories.
Live Science reported on a poll by a British newspaper that found more people believe in aliens and ghosts than believe in God. Unscientific as that poll was, it was corroborated by another poll in 2006 that found more graduate students than freshman believed in paranormal subjects like astrology and communication with the dead. Presumably this includes students who took freshman biology at least once before entering grad school.
One Baylor researcher commented that belief in the paranormal seems constant even though the subject matter changes. But reporter Robert Roy Britt also quoted Rod Stark, another Baylor professor, who stated a somewhat counterintuitive finding: that belief in God and the paranormal are not linked. Paranormal beliefs are very strongly negatively related to religious belief, he said. Why? Britt noted that religious believers are often discouraged from buying into paranormal claims; indeed most devout practitioners of a religion have been shown to be the least likely to believe in Bigfoot, ghosts or aliens.
A tragic story was told by World Net Daily about a grieving father who believes his sons suicide was triggered by reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The 22-year-old student had been challenged in biology class by his teacher and fellow students for his Christian beliefs. They didnt like him as a Republican, as a Christian, and as a conservative who believed in intelligent design, the father said. The professor assigned him to read the atheist polemic by Dawkins. After Jesses death, Keith Kilgore learned of the book assignment from two of his sons friends and a relative, the short article explained. He searched Jesses room and found the book under the mattress with his sons bookmark on the last page.
You know, of course, that Dawkins is not only the principal atheist preacher today, but also a Darwin-worshiper unmatched in devotion to the bearded Buddha. We hope the importance of Creation-Evolution Headlines has become more abundantly clear by these episodes. Ideas have consequences. That not only means that bad ideas have bad consequences; it also means that the good consequences of good ideas can be diverted to folly or lost altogether if not defended.Is there a mouse in your genes? Read the 12/06/2002 entry.