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Remember the hard time scientists and politicians gave President Bush over his policy on embryonic stem cells? The 07/31/2006 entry should be remembered now that researchers are treating numerous diseases with induced pluripotent stem cells from adult tissue that have all the pluripotency of embryonic cells (05/03/2009) Meanwhile, embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce one hope of a cure after three years since that article; its only achievement has been the biggest scandal in modern science history (02/05/2006).
Does Evolution Need a Helping Hand? 07/31/2009
Folks, were not laughing loud enough yet. They still say these things in public. Enough laughter should make it dawn on them that these silly statements are self-refuting nonsense. It is not a loving thing to leave them clueless. So show them some tough love: laugh loud and long.Dark Matter: Where Is It? 07/30/2009
July 30, 2009 If physicists and astronomers are going to continue to tell us that 95% of the mass in the universe is hidden in some unobservable dark matter, they had better find it soon. Two articles on PhysOrg (#1, #2) reported on continuing efforts to find the elusive stuff if it exists at all. The first article begin quizzically,
95%. That is the percentage of the known Universe that is missing. As in it is not there. Or at least if it is there, we can't see it. We call this unseen stuff "dark matter". That has been well known for sometime. What is trickier in answering is why? Why is it that 95% of the universe is made up of this so-named "dark matter?" An even trickier question is where? As in where is this dark matter? It is those two questions that have plagued physicists for decades. Dark matter, by its own definition cannot be seen, hence its name. So how do we "see" it, how do we know "where" to look?The article announced that for the first time, a team of physicists has gathered evidence. What qualifies as evidence, though, may be in the eye of the beholder. What some physicists found was high-energy positrons from space. Any connection to dark matter (in this case, weakly-interacting massive particles, or WIMPs) is highly theory-dependent.
The second article did not claim evidence just the desire to find it. A Columbia physicist put it this way: Sometimes I think of dark matter as a mysterious woman with her face covered by one of those beautiful Venetian masks. All of us experimentalists are driven by one desire: to uncover that face.
Researchers are spending millions of dollars looking for something that may not exist. There are only indirect reasons for suspecting its existence: theories that require it, and galaxy clusters that would have disrupted from their own internal motions if they are as old as claimed.
How is this different, functionally, from invoking miracles or occult substances to keep ones pet belief intact? Keep track of this dark matter story. Well have to see if it becomes a 21st century analogue of alchemy.Oil Can Come from Rock 07/29/2009
July 29, 2009 Methane and other hydrocarbons can be produced in the mantle, reported Science Daily. This disputes earlier beliefs that oil and gas are products of organisms that lived and died. Carnegie Institute scientists have produced ethane, propane, butane, molecular hydrogen, and graphite in high-pressure equipment simulating conditions 40 to 95 miles deep in the crust and mantle. The transformations suggest heavier hydrocarbons could exist deep down, the article said. Geologists need to study conditions in which hydrocarbons formed in the mantle could migrate into reservoirs in the crust an idea promoted by Russian and Ukrainian scientists years ago. The synthesis and stability of the compounds studied here as well as heavier hydrocarbons over the full range of conditions within the Earths mantle now need to be explored, one of the lead authors of the study said. In addition, the extent to which this reduced carbon survives migration into the crust needs to be established (e.g., without being oxidized to CO2). These and related questions demonstrate the need for a new experimental and theoretical program to study the fate of carbon in the deep Earth.
This story touches on a number of subjects; the amount of biomass in the crust, the age of hydrocarbon reservoirs, geopolitics and predictions of a coming oil shortage, climate change, and the number of things scientists still dont know. Well leave this one to our astute readers to sort out or pursue further. If it turns out that oil is predominantly geological in origin, will Sinclair Oil have to change their dinosaur logo?What is really known about the genetic basis for evolution? Not much more than poultry excuses; see the 07/25/2005 entry.
Sexual Selection Discounted in Toucan Bill 07/28/2009
1. Tattersall, Andrade and Abe, Heat Exchange from the Toucan Bill Reveals a Controllable Vascular Thermal Radiator, Science, 24 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 468-470, DOI: 10.1126/science.1175553.
Poor Charlie cant seem to get anything right these days. His simplistic speculations are turning out to be, well, simplistic speculations (a euphemism for just-so stories).
New Baloney Detector cartoon by Brett Miller!
Subject this time: SUBVERSION. Click funnies and enjoy.
Then visit Evident Creation for his Cartoon of the Week!
Epigenetics Rising in Consciousness of Geneticists, Embryologists 07/27/2009
Here we show that the retained nucleosomes are significantly enriched at loci of developmental importance, including imprinted gene clusters, microRNA clusters, HOX gene clusters, and the promoters of stand-alone developmental transcription and signalling factors. Notably, histone modifications localize to particular developmental loci. Dimethylated lysine 4 on histone H3 (H3K4me2) is enriched at certain developmental promoters, whereas large blocks of H3K4me3 localize to a subset of developmental promoters, regions in HOX clusters, certain noncoding RNAs, and generally to paternally expressed imprinted loci, but not paternally repressed loci. Notably, trimethylated H3K27 (H3K27me3) is significantly enriched at developmental promoters that are repressed in early embryos, including many bivalent (H3K4me3/H3K27me3) promoters in embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, developmental promoters are generally DNA hypomethylated in sperm, but acquire methylation during differentiation. Taken together, epigenetic marking in sperm is extensive, and correlated with developmental regulators.So its not just the gift of DNA; its the packaging. We provide several lines of evidence that the parental genome is packaged and covalently modified in a manner consistent with influencing embryo development. The factors in both egg and sperm affect developmental decisions and imprinting patterns.
In a related topic, Science Daily said that the rise in awareness of epigenetics among researchers is blurring the line in the old nature-nurture debate. For instance, doctors used to think that having a certain mutation guaranteed a patient will have a genetic disease. Other factors, though, such as a mothers diet, can affect the outcome: epigenetic factors play a surprisingly large role in the disease risk that gets passed down through the generations, the article said. While permanent genetic mutations are the largest factor, what is not often explained is that less permanent changes to our DNA also significantly influence our risk for disease, said Mark Johnston, editor of Genetics. We tend to view disease risk as a tug of war between nature and nurture, but this study shows that nature and nurture are more closely related than we had imagined.
1. Hammoud et al, Distinctive chromatin in human sperm packages genes for embryo development, Nature 460, 473-478 (23 July 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08162.
It should be noted that nature vs nurture is an example of the either-or fallacy. Some evolutionary psychologists agree (see PhysOrg): they called for tossing out the nature-nurture debate, which they say has prevailed for centuries in part out of convenience and intellectual laziness. Can you think of other factors that should be added to the equation? How about intelligence and choice? Without those, it renders human beings as mere determined products of physical and environmental factors. Your genetics and environment are not forcing you to read these words right now. Think about that. There you made another choice.Weekend Roundup 07/26/2009
July 26, 2009 Heres a quick collection of recent news articles bearing on questions of origins, morals, fossils, outer space, science, health and Darwin.
Secular science news is a strange mix of good, bad, and ugly. The price of intellectual liberty is eternal baloney detecting.Find out what 10,000 miles of spaghetti in a basketball means in the amazing 07/28/2004 entry.
July 25, 2009 The book that arguably launched the Intelligent Design movement,
Phillip Johnsons Darwin on Trial (1991), is still a great read after 18 years.
All of Johnsons books since are delightful. If you havent read any
of them, start here. Johnsons gentle frankness, his scholarship and wit, and his gift for
getting to the heart of an issue, illustrate why he has become so admired by millions.
The Darwinists are powerless before his reasoning. They are disarmed by his kindness.
So what do they do? Well, they either try to ignore him, or they use the ad
hominem strategy to say hes not a scientist, hes a legal scholar. But who better
than a legal scholar, trained in the rules of evidence, to evaluate the claims of Darwinism?
Selfish Gene Mutates, Dies a Metaphorical Death 07/24/2009
For reasons to do with how science is communicated, a human love of simple narratives, and Dawkinss energetic advocacy of these metaphors, the public has been left with a view of evolution and Darwinism which does not truly reflect thinking among evolutionary biologists. This view also perpetuates the existence of opposing camps when there is no need. Worse, it skews popular notions of Darwinism. This is why these metaphors are so important: metaphors stretch to the heart of what science is for and to the kind of answers it can provide.In particular, Elsdon-Baker thinks Dawkins view of heredity has been challenged by the increasingly apparent role of epigenetics and lateral gene transfer. LGT may not completely bring down the neatly branching tree of life as Darwin envisaged it, but at the very least it raises questions about what is happening at the roots (see 07/23/2009). While not overthrowing Dawkins selfish gene metaphor, it makes it only a small part of a much bigger picture.
Scientific metaphor should be about the best interpretation of evidence and about opening up new research vistas. The selfish gene metaphor claims that only genes or replicators are inherited and are essentially immortal, and it offers an interpretation of evolutionary biology in that light.Elsdon-Baker went on to criticize Dawkins as an advocate of a narrow-focus view of evolution.
It paints an inflexible picture not only of the evolutionary sciences, but also of how science works. This in turn closes off dialogue in both public and academic spheres. It can, at worst, constrain future research. Nowhere is this more evident than in theories about environmentally driven acquired characters, which have long had a reputation as Darwinian heresy.Whats the solution? Evolutionary science needs to be communicated without the rhetoric and sweeping advocacy inherent in the metaphors Dawkins employed. There needs to be a more more nuanced exploration of the complexity involved.
H. L. Mencken said, Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers (see Thumbs Second Postulate). If you havent felt the propaganda impact of metaphor, you havent met a force like it. Metaphors bewitch you (07/04/2003). We must scrutinize them, not be mesmerized by them.Nanotech Blurs Line With Biophysics 07/24/2009
July 24, 2009 Machines on the molecular scale in the literature these days, one needs to dig to find whether a news article is talking about man-made machinery or the living cell. Both employ laws of physics to do work. Notice how seamless the connection is in the following examples.
1. Toprak, Yildiz, Hoffman, Rosenfeld and Selvin, Why kinesin is so processive, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print July 15, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0808396106.
2. Roman Stocker and William M. Durham, Microbiology: Tumbling for Stealth?, Science, 24 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 400-402, DOI: 10.1126/science.1177269.
3. Sharma, Crne, Park and Srinivasarao, Structural Origin of Circularly Polarized Iridescence in Jeweled Beetles, Science, 24 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 449-451, DOI: 10.1126/science.1172051.
4. Pete Vukusic, Evolutionary Photonics with a Twist, Science, 24 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 398-399, DOI: 10.1126/science.1177729.
The discovery that biological systems use the same laws of physics on the molecular scale as do artificial systems has at least two important consequences for philosophy. One is a continuation of the demise of a form of vitalism that asserted that biological stuff is fundamentally different from non-biological stuff. A long trend away from that began when Wohler synthesized urea in the lab in 1828, proving that an organic substance could be manufactured with known laws of chemistry. This consequence might seem antithetical to theism, but the other trumps it: the discovery that life uses coded instructions and manufacturing processes to employ those laws and arrange those materials in purposeful ways. If we humans employ design principles in our nanotechnology, then detect those same principles at work in biological systems, the inference to the best explanation is that design principles were involved in their origin as well. That theme is explicated thoroughly in Steven Meyers new book Signature in the Cell (see Resource of the Week for July 4). The conclusion is amplified when our best scientists cannot figure out how Mother Nature did it. Maybe theyve got the wrong Engineer in mind.Frank and Honest: Does intolerance pervade the scientific community? A letter from a group of concerned scientists in Nature today (July 23) requests that an objective scientific process be established, devoid of political or financial agendas, to help prevent subversion of the scientific process and the intolerance towards scientific disagreement that pervades the climate issue.
Questions: Is it conceivable for a majority of intelligent scientists to be wrong? Could this happen in other issues, like evolution? What is the probability of the consensus being wrong as the complexity of the data increases? Now read this New York Times article.
Biological Big Bang: Another Explosion at the Dawn of Life 07/23/2009
The message from this analysis is twofold. On the one hand, we detected high levels of inconsistency among the trees comprising the forest of life, most probably due to extensive HGT, a conclusion that is supported by more direct observations of numerous probable transfers of genes between archaea and bacteria. On the other hand, we detected a distinct signal of a consensus topology that was particularly strong in the NUTs. Although the NUTs showed a substantial amount of apparent HGT, the transfer events seemed to be distributed randomly and did not obscure the vertical signal. Moreover, the topology of the NUTs was quite similar to those of numerous other trees in the forest, so although the NUTs certainly cannot represent the forest completely, this set of largely consistent, nearly universal trees is a reasonable candidate for representing a central trend. However, the opposite side of the coin is that the consistency between the trees in the forest is high at shallow depths of the trees and abruptly drops, almost down to the level of random trees, at greater phylogenetic depths that correspond to the radiation of archaeal and bacterial phyla. This observation casts doubt on the existence of a central trend in the forest of life and suggests the possibility that the early phases of evolution might have been non-tree-like (a Biological Big Bang). To address this problem directly, we simulated evolution under the CC model and under the BBB model, and found that the CC scenario better approximates the observed dependence between tree inconsistency and phylogenetic depth. Thus, a consistent phylogenetic signal seems to be discernible throughout the evolution of archaea and bacteria but, under the CC model, the prospect of unequivocally resolving the relationships between the major archaeal and bacterial clades is bleak.Keeping some hope alive in the bleakness, therefore, they thought they could discern a weak central phylogenetic (evolutionary) trend in their data. But it was, at best, only a composite of nearly universal trees that was obscured by a thicket of cross branches. The same data seem to fit just as well with the big bang or compressed cladogenesis models (see footnote 2 for explanation). The short message is, A central trend that most probably represents vertical inheritance is discernible throughout the evolution of archaea and bacteria, although compressed cladogenesis complicates unambiguous resolution of the relationships between the major archaeal and bacterial clades.
This paper is the latest in a series of bleak findings by Koonin about the missing tree of life (see Mystery of Intron Evolution, 09/03/2003; Introns Stump Evolutionary Theorists, 03/09/2006, What Are Human Genes Doing in a Sea Anemone?, 07/08/2007; Will Darwinism End in a Big Bang?, 10/08/2007).
1. Puigbo, Wolf and Koonin, Search for a Tree of Life in the thicket of the phylogenetic forest, Journal of Biology, 2009, 8:59doi:10.1186/jbiol159.
2. More specifically, we considered two models of early evolution at the level of archaeal and bacterial phyla: a compressed cladogenesis (CC) model, whereby there is a tree structure even at the deepest levels but the internal branches are extremely short; and a Biological Big Bang (BBB) model under which the early phase of evolution involved horizontal gene exchange so intensive that there is no signal of vertical inheritance in principle. But even with CC, a tree without branches is not really an evolutionary tree; it is a lineage.
The Darwinists are in the throes of withdrawal. The thought of not having a tree to comfort them is too much to endure. Their tree at the Cambrian exploded, and now they are hearing a big bang at the origin of the most primitive forms of life. Darwin hates those explosions. They ruin his whole day.How fossils can mislead interpretations of past flora and fauna, from 07/21/2003.
More Going On in the Brain Than We Realize 07/22/2009
Between birth and death, that 3-pound jelly-like mass in your skull is your physical key to rationality, decision-making, and emotion in ways we do not fully understand. It may half as large as others thats not the important thing. Take what you have and use it wisely. And be careful how you treat the brains of others.Systems Biology Oddly Silent About Darwin 07/21/2009
July 21, 2009 Two papers on the rise of systems biology appeared in Nature last week. Both are astounded by the complexity of the cell, but neither had anything to say about evolution, Darwin, or phylogeny mildly surprising when the proponents of evolution keep saying that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Systems biology tries to take a holistic view of the cell as a system. It considers the networks of interactions between genes and proteins. Nathan Blow, in his article about emerging technologies for the study of cell interactions,1 showed diagrams that are stunning in their complexity. The known protein interactions look something like a galaxy. Even the pathway maps that simplify the interactions look like detailed flowcharts for a city. The caption says, Pathway maps illustrate the complexity of cellular interactions. One technology company, Plectix, has come up with a computer model called Cellucidate that carries the analogy further:
The system is represented at a very granular level where the participants are allowed to do in silico what they would do in real life, says Paul Edwards, chief executive at Plectix. Imagine the city-building computer game SimCity reworked for complex cellular networks, but here the agents of the cell proteins and other molecules are the automata instead of colourful animated people. In that way the model mirrors the behaviour of the living system it represents: the biology that emerges from our models is the combinatorial expression of all these automata doing their own little thing just the way it is in the cell, says Gordon Webster, vice-president of biology at Plectix.Even that model, however, is not the whole story. What are the dynamics behind those interactions? Why are the little people going where they go, and interacting the way they do? Blow writes, To understand the dynamics of the information flow in cells, researchers not only need more knowledge of protein–protein interaction networks, but they also need to understand protein–DNA interactions, the effects of microRNAs and epigenetic changes on gene expression, and how other macromolecules such as metabolites affect the output of signalling networks. The system as a whole determines the output. It sounds like systems biology has a long way to go.
A notable phrase in the articles is information flow. Protein interaction (proteomics) involves complex feedback loops and regulatory processes. It becomes quite a trick to follow the information. Blow writes, its clear that scientists might be on the cusp of changing the way they look at signalling and information flow in cells. The genetic information in DNA is just a static blueprint, whereas proteomics is much closer to what is going on in the cell, a molecular manifestation of a phenotype, Mike Snyder [Yale] said. How much information is there to keep track of? At the moment, GeneGo employs 50 scientists to manually mine and curate published literature for studies on protein interaction, gene expression, metabolism and drugs to expand and update its internal database, which now contains more than 120,000 multi-step interaction pathways, each averaging 11 steps, with information on direction, mechanism and feedback along the pathways, along with direct links to literature evidence.
It will take a lot of brain and computer processing power to capture the information flow going on inside a single cell. Maybe thats why Nathan Blow ended with these comments:
But when it comes to figuring out the best way to explore information flow in cells, [Mike] Tyers [U of Edinburgh] jokes that it is like comparing different degrees of infinity. The interesting point coming out of all these studies is how complex these systems are the different feedback loops and how they cross-regulate each other and adapt to perturbations are only just becoming apparent, he says. The simple pathway models are a gross oversimplification of what is actually happening.In the second article,2 Nathan Blow described one attempt to elucidate (using Cellucidate) just one protein pathway:
When researchers at Plectix BioSystems in Somerville, Massachusetts, began to use their new Cellucidate software to model the epidermal growth factor receptor pathway, they calculated that there were 1033 potential states including all protein complexes and phosphorylation states for the system. This is the kind of complexity that scientists have to grapple with when it comes to cell-signalling networks, says Gordon Webster, vice-president of biology at Plectix.Those are the potential interactions, of course, not all the ones actually encountered in life. The challenge is to figure out the interactions that cells use, and what rules they follow. Researchers in systems biology are looking for the gold standard measure of protein interactions. These efforts are providing a gold mine for people to dig into.
1. Nathan Blow, Systems biology: Untangling the protein web, Nature 460, 415-418 (16 July 2009) | doi:10.1038/460415a.
2. Nathan Blow, Systems biology: Playing by the rules, Nature 460, 417 (16 July 2009) | doi:10.1038/460417a.
There are people in the gold mine already, and they dont take kindly to claim jumpers. Theyre the intelligent design people. No Darwinist freeloaders allowed.Only Atheists Need Apply 07/20/2009
July 20, 2009 Hes a Christian, yes, but he is also a leading American scientist and a harsh critic of intelligent design. He supports research on embryonic stem cells and upholds Darwins theory of evolution completely. Thats not enough to get Francis Collins off the hook with the scientific establishment. Both Nature and Science expressed serious misgivings with his nomination as head of the National Institutes of Health, even though as the able administrator of the Human Genome Project his scientific credentials have been exceptional.
Collins is open about his evangelical Christian faith, but his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, describes ... how he reconciles this with the science of evolution.4 He used Templeton Prize funds to start the BioLogos institute that discusses issues of faith and science. His theistic-evolutionary views have drawn criticism from leaders in the intelligent design movement for embracing Darwinism from start to finish and scrambling Biblical theology.1 Collinss view of theistic evolution leaves little room for God as an intelligent designer. He remains at odds with intelligent design leaders. In addition, he will be stepping down from BioLogos for his NIH term. Leading Darwinists remain hostile in spite of all of these things. Here are criticisms from Nature last week.2
1. See, for instance David Klinghoffers blog entries for June 22 and July 8. His views have also been criticized on Evolution News & Views here for refusing to dialogue with the ID movement, and here because he handles Darwinisms universal acid like baby formula.
2. NIH nominee draws scrutiny, Nature News, Published online 15 July 2009, Nature 460, 310-311 (2009), doi:10.1038/460310a.
3. Jocelyn Kaiser, White House Taps Former Genome Chief Francis Collins as NIH Director, Science, 17 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5938, pp. 250-251, DOI: 10.1126/science.325_250a.
4. Jocelyn Kaiser, Questions About the Language of God, Science, 17 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5938, p. 250, DOI: 10.1126/science.325_250b.
It doesnt matter that Collinss theology is incoherent, incompatible with the Bible, and that he would prefer the companionship of Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott over that of Phillip Johnson or William Dembski. Theistic evolutionists like Collins are unclean. They are not secular enough. They dont understand science. Any remnant of Christian faith is a profession of profoundly anti-science beliefs. People like this leave room for God (even eensy weensy teeny tiny corners in their world view for God to get involved). Thats not atheistic enough. The critics that Nature and Science quoted sound like a Whos Who of God-haters: Dawkins the campaigning atheist, and Myers the foul-mouthed blasphemer among them. Eugenie Scott and the NCSE will probably treat Collins like a useful idiot. He can help their propaganda campaign with his charade about 100% pure Darwinism being compatible with religion (for those who need a crutch).Was the Grand Canyon carved quickly, not so long ago? Its not just creationists claiming that; see the 07/22/2002 entry about a news headline announcing, Grand Canyon Geologic Infant.
Genomic Junk Is Cells Air-Traffic Control 07/20/2009
I like to think of them as genetic air traffic controllers, explains co-senior author John Rinn, PhD, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Pathology at BIDMC and Associate Member of the Broad Institute. It has long been a mystery as to how widely expressed proteins shape the fate of cells. How does the same protein know to regulate one genomic location in a brain cell and regulate a different genomic region in a liver cell? Our study suggests that in the same way that air traffic controllers organize planes in the air, lincRNAs may be organizing key chromatin complexes in the cell.It has been known for some time that small RNA transcripts are involved in gene regulation, but link-RNAs are often thousands of base pairs long. The article said, they seemed more like genomic oddities than key players till now. With these latest findings, which also uncovered an additional 1,500 lincRNAs, its clear these RNA molecules are no mere messengers they have demonstrated that they can and do play a leading role.
Speaking of differences in brain cells and liver cells, another article on
Neither of these articles needed evolutionary theory. When the trend in scientific discovery is to uncover more and more complexity, regulation, and function such that air traffic control is the analogy that comes to mind, intelligent design leaps up as the most likely explanation, as Jonathan Wells put it. Pilot Charlie, preferring unguided processes, appears headed for a nose dive.A Completely Different Slant on Solar System Formation 07/20/2009
July 20, 2009 Did great balls of fire form the planets? New Scientist asks. A new theory challenges the notion that the solar system started out as a placid sea of dust motes which simply clumped together to form planets. If accepted, it puts a completely different slant on what happened in the early solar system in the first 2 million years.
Ian Sanders (Trinity College, Dublin) proposed that a nearby dying star with six times the mass of the sun sent asteroid-sized blobs of magma hurtling through the solar system. Radioactivity kept the magma blogs molten. This led to the formation of the enigmatic chondrules, which contain remnants of short-lived radioactive nuclides. The colliding material also formed the building blocks of the planets.
Others find the idea intriguing but problematic. The blobs should have differentiated into chemically distinct layers not apparent in chondrules. It also would impact beliefs about the origin and uniqueness of life. PhysOrg quoted Dr. Maria Lugaro (Monash University), a member of the international team of astrophysicists who proposed the new theory. We need to know if the presence of radioactive nuclei in young planetary systems is a common or a special event in our galaxy because their presence affected the evolution of the first large rocks (the parent bodies of asteroids and meteorites) in the solar system, she said. These are believed to be the source of much of earths water, which is essential for life.
This completely different slant is pretty oblique, all right. So now Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin should just accept the notion that, 40 years ago, they were starstuff walking on starstuff, just globs of protoplasm walking on old solidified globs of lava. Assuming the hallmark of humanness is rationality, that sounds like one giant leap backwards for mankind.July 18, 2009 The anti-Biblical legacy of Darwinism started before Darwin wrote a word on evolution. In The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2004), Dr. Terry Mortenson exposed the churchs catastrophic mistake on geology before Darwin. Yes, it was geology where a turn away from Biblical authority began. But was this turn forced by the evidence? Dont be fooled. From rare historical sources, Mortenson shows two surprising things students never hear today in earth studies classes: (1) the geologists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries chose to refuse to listen the Biblical record of the flood in spite of the evidence for it, and (2) a dozen or so Scriptural geologists with strong credentials in scholarship and field work wrote powerful treatises against the slide into uniformitarian geology.
Mortenson provides biographies of seven of the Scriptural geologists. Their arguments should be heeded by modern Biblical scholars who are tempted to compromise Scriptural authority in science and earth history. The clincher in Mortensons case is letters from Lyell he found that unveil a deliberate conspiracy to undermine the participation of theologians in the science of geology. This was done by pure subterfuge not by the evidence in the rocks. Lyell and the uniformitarians made philosophical choices that would determine how the evidence was to be interpreted. As a consequence, we have had almost 170 years of storytellers, posing as geologists, making up models that force their own naturalistic presuppositions onto the world before the evidence even has a chance to speak (see 06/24/2009 and 04/30/2009 for recent examples).
The tragedy is that the church of the 19th century, by and large, just rolled over and went to sleep while this key debate was going on. They deferred to the scientists like Lyell, and compromised the historical account in the Bible the history of the world that was affirmed by Jesus and the apostles. The Scriptural geologists understood what was going on. They gave strong arguments philosophical, textual and evidential to try to wake them up, but Christian leaders refused to pay attention. Similar debates and compromises are going on today. Mortenson has provided a valuable scholarly treatise to document the kind of turning point in intellectual history that can have drastic consequences. Its getting almost too late to wake up and learn the lesson.
Next resource of the week: 07/11/2009. All resources: Catalog.
Evolutions Guiding Hand Is Far From Obvious 07/17/2009
OK, lets all play this game. Do whatever comes naturally. Its what your genes are telling you to do. There are no morals, no plans. Benevolence is an illusion. Mom telling you to take turns is not really Mom; its one of the robots. She cant help herself. You dont have to listen to her. Language has no meaning. If you feel like taking turns, do it. If you dont, dont. Whatever you do, dont let any moralizing preacher tell you what you should do. If he does, tell him you decided to be a rude pig because Darwin told you so. You saw his invisible hand.Biblical name found on clay tablet in Babylon: 07/11/2007.
Aliens Are Not Bodybuilders 07/16/2009
Seth Shostak lives in a fantasy world of aliens and intelligent signals he has never seen. He is a prophet of a kind of waiting-for-Godot type of religion, where his savior is bound to show up any minute. To make this religion look scientific, he employs scientists and engineers to build scientific-looking divination tools that make the disciples think they are getting closer to the promised salvation. Maybe he should just replace his spongy brain with a Mac and move evolution forward.Dragonflies Are Marathon Champs 07/15/2009
July 15, 2009 Step aside, monarch butterflies: some of your fellow insects beat your distance flying wings down. The BBC News reported on findings by a biologist in the Maldives about dragonflies that migrate 14,000 to 18,000 km from southern India to East Africa and back including 800 km over open sea. How these insects can navigate over open water is a mystery, but if confirmed, this feat by the dragonfly leaves the impressive Monarch migration in the dust. The biologist counted 5 species involved in the marathon. He figures it takes four generations of the insects to complete one circuit.
Even after centuries of scientific exploration, there are more wonders around us than we can fathom. Let kids know they dont have to be a Dawkins atheist to be involved in science. This story was a discovery of interest to all nature lovers, and it owed nothing to evolutionary theory. If we studied the technology built into these flimsy little flyers, we might learn a few things from them (e.g., 08/13/2004).
Battle of Wits: In this corner, sponsored by the Boston Globe, Dr. Stephen Meyer argues that Thomas Jefferson would have supported intelligent design. In the other corner, sponsored by New Scientist, Ewen Calloway argues he wouldnt have. Pull out your Baloney Detector, read both sides and decide who made the stronger case (and fought like a gentleman). Evaluate substance, not vituperative skill.
Exercise: On what future discovery does Calloways argument rely?
Next day, Evolution News and Views posted a rebuttal, if youd like to read it.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design
Stretching Out the Cambrian Explosion 07/14/2009
Of course, we have since discovered innumerable fossils from far earlier periods. Rocks as old as 3.8 billion years contain signs of life, and the first recognisable bacteria appear in rocks 3.5 billion years old. Multicellular plants in the form of red and green algae appear around a billion years ago, followed by the first multicellular animals about 575 million years ago, during the Ediacaran....None of this addresses the primary issue of the dilemma, however the sudden appearance of virtually all the animal body plans at the base of the Cambrian. They realize this, so they quickly shifted gears: Even so, many perplexing questions remain, they said. Why did animals evolve so late in the day? And why did the ancestors of modern animals apparently evolve in a geological blink of an eye during the early Cambrian between about 542 and 520 million years ago? This brief hand-wringing exercise switched quickly back again to an all-clear sign: A series of recent discoveries could help explain these long-standing mysteries.
Heres their synopsis in a nutshell. Sponge embryos found in China push back the appearance of multicellular animals (albeit simple ones) as far back as 580 million years maybe even 632 million, at the beginning of the Ediacaran era, suggesting that the animal embryos themselves go back this far. (We will assume their dates for the time being.) So far, they have only shifted the date of the problem, not the problem itself. An embryo is a complex structure that presupposes many complex multicellular processes already in action.
But Other, more tentative findings push the dawn of animals back even further, they announced. Dont wait for nice, clean fossils, though. The findings amount to little more than quantities of 24-isopropylcholestane found in Arabian oil, interpreted by two MIT professors as evidence of a large quantity of sponge material going back as far as 713 million years ago. Still just stretching dates, they next cited some stromatolites in Canada with patterns as a characteristic of a collagen mesh something only animals build. The date: 850 million years ago. Note that this is not actual collagen. Its just a pattern in some rocks the resembles a collagen mesh. Its discoverer said that it looks very primitive.
From there, Fox and Le Page turned to Andy Knoll of Harvard for help. He looked at his molecular clock evidence and also found animal life at least 800 million years ago; This goes a long way toward reconciling the geologic record with molecular clock estimates, he said. Surprisingly, even though he thinks animals probably did evolve early on, Knoll was not convinced by the oil evidence or stromatolite evidence Fox and Le Page had just cited. The case for early animals is not yet rock solid, they said.
In lieu of evidence, they decided to speculate on the question of why the evidence is missing. By speculating that the Chinese embryos could represent cysts formed under hard environmental conditions, they wove a war story about bacteria battling the emergent complex life. Bacteria kept the oceans anoxic (free of oxygen), stole nutrients, and produced toxins like hydrogen sulfide that kept the embryos in their shells. Knoll said, Eukaryotes would have been uninvited guests.
Eukaryotes got their chance when the planet entered a Snowball Earth stage. Ice ages cleared the playing field and, for once, allowed animals to get an upper hand. The reporters quoted a biogeochemist who said, You have changes in ocean chemistry like an increased availability of molybdenum and zinc, all of which play into making the world more hospitable for eukaryotes and ultimately, metazoans (multicellular organisms). The evolutionists seem to be thinking, If you build it, they will come. Sure enough, Sponges or something like them would have been the first animals on the scene, Fox and Le Page speculated, not specifying where they came from. They lack a nervous system and have no need for circulatory systems. Animals like jellyfish might also have evolved early. Somehow, central nervous systems showed up at the table, too.
But animal life was tough at first. Thats why the missing evidence. They didnt have hard shells, for one thing. And they were tiny. Until they ate the bacteria and got larger, they couldnt betray their presence. Slowly, they devoured the rulers of the oceans: the bacteria. By doing so, they would have introduced selective pressure for organisms to get larger, to avoid being eaten. Eaten? By what? They didnt say; perhaps by cannibals. Whatever; this process, driven by selective pressure, introduced oxygen into the ocean depths and changed the world forever. The table was set; the dawn was appearing; the fuse for the explosion was lit: As the oceans changed, the stage was finally set for the evolution of more sophisticated body forms.
How did setting a stage produce the actors and the play? Instead of answering that question, they digressed briefly into a discussion of whether the changes in ocean oxygenation were a cause or effect of the evolution of complex animals. Once the playwright and director agreed it was the latter, they role-played the script without any actors to call on:
For a while the climate bounced between wild extremes: during warm periods complex life thrived and lots of carbon was locked away, leading to deep ice ages. During the ice ages, carbon burial ceased, and the planet warmed again. These swings ended only when burrowing creatures with a gut evolved towards the end of the Ediacaran, [Martin] Brasier [U of Oxford] thinks. By recycling the organic matter falling to the sea floor, they reduced carbon burial and stabilised the climate. There are no Snowball Earth glaciations after big animals evolve, he says.The evidence will show up any day now, in other words, because the actors must have been there somehow or other. The playwright and director still have a nagging question about this plot. But if the evolution of animals really did trigger the ice ages and the oxygenation of the oceans, rather than the other way round, why didnt animals appear much sooner? they say. After all, single-celled eukaryotes were around from 1.5 billion years ago, and possibly much earlier. Somewhere Darwins dilemma got inverted. The audience thought they were going to hear a play about how animals evolved not a statement that they did evolve.
That question aside, what did they conclude about the late appearance of animals?  They called on expert Nick Butterfield [U of Cambridge] to explain. Butterfield thinks the main reason animals evolved relatively late in Earths history was the sheer difficulty of evolving the cell adhesion and signalling machinery necessary for cells to work together. Once these basics were in place, though, the pace of evolution began to quicken. It just took a long time, you see, for Evolution to figure out the technology. The authors leave that problem to Evolution. Evolution guarantees the basics will be in place on cue.
Fox and Le Page, apparently satisfied with all this role-playing, ended with a synopsis of the play: the war between the bacteria and the newly-evolved complex life, the battle over carbon and oxygen, the sudden ice age, and the new environment: The surviving animals seized the opportunity to wrest control of the oceans from the bacteria, producing clear waters rich in oxygen in which larger, more complex animals could evolve, they said, in an air of triumph. The rest is easy: Thus the stage was set for the Cambrian explosion.
As the curtains close, an announcer steps out for one final word to the audience. Of course, fossil hunters are going to have to do a lot more digging to confirm these startling new hypotheses. Brasier sticks his head out of the curtain to add a last word I suspect things will turn up, but if they dont we have to listen to the evidence.
If a perceptive audience were watching this farce, they should be erupting in belly laughs in unison at that last line. Thats hilarious! I suspect things will turn up, but if they dont we will have to listen to the evidence. Well, my dear chap, after 150 years, its about time!Tremors under plate tectonics theory: see the 07/14/2006 entry.
The Early Man Gets the Big Brain 07/13/2009
He points out that the sparse cranium data doesn't tell you anything about the differences in populations for Homo erectus, or the differences in populations of Neanderthals. For example, the number of Homo erectus crania that have been found in Africa, Asia, Indonesia and parts of Europe is fewer than 25, and represent the population over hundreds of thousands of years, he said.By declaring that larger skulls would be considered successful, however, Holloway seems to be begging the question. The success of larger skulls (in evolutionary terms) is the question at issue. Question-begging seemed inherent in his own theory that in order for brains to enlarge, they needed to have more time for neuron growth, and longer gestation. But why should that be a driving force behind larger brains when the success of larger brains has not been established? Presumably, Homo habilis and Homo erectus (and all other animals, for that matter) carved out successful niches for a long time without the increased brain-to-body size ratio.
Rettner considered two other evolutionary hypotheses before concluding. A diet high in shellfish could have provided our ancestors with the proper nutrients they needed to grow a big brain, she mentioned quickly, overlooking why other animals with high-shellfish diets did not follow suit. And another idea is that a decreased rate of cell death may have allowed more brain neurons to be synthesized, leading to bigger noggins. By now she seems to be grasping at straws.
All that was prelude to a last-paragraph wallop that should cast strong doubt on whether any of this speculating about the evolution of big brains belongs in science:
Ultimately, no theory can be absolutely proven, and the scant fossil record makes it hard to test hypotheses. If you calculate a generation as, lets say, 20 years, and you know that any group has to have a minimal breeding size, then the number of fossils that we have that demonstrates hominid evolution is something like 0.000001 percent, Holloway said. So frankly, I mean, all hypotheses look good.A corollary would be (assuming a level playing field) that all hypotheses look bad.
Lately, Live Science has made baby steps toward scientific integrity (compared to New Scientists plunge into abject folly see next entry), so we must be grateful for their effort to walk upright (e.g., 06/25/2009). They still stumble often (06/30/2009). It takes time to learn a new motor skill.Lightning Cooks Up Weird Science 07/13/2009
July 13, 2009 Get a charge out of this headline from New Scientist. A couple of scientists from University of Arizona studied fulgurites, the structures formed in sand by lightning strikes. They found that they contain phosphites (oxidized phosphate molecules). They theorized that lightning strikes could have provided phosphites which the primordial soup used to build RNA and DNA. The way New Scientist put it
Lightning may have cooked dinner for early life.Today bacteria can get all the phosphites they want from steel corrosion, the article said.
New Scientist seems determined to win Stupid Evolution Quote of the Year at all costs. Theyll toss out any weird idea that comes along as long as it is something about evolution. So now, lightning may not have only zapped life into being, it could have fed its new creations (see Chef Charlie in the 08/22/2005 commentary). Our intelligently-designed dumbmeter was not made for this rate of farcical fatuous flapdoodle. Their latest concoction would need another full serving of wit to be called half-witted.July 11, 2009 Jonathan Sarfatis Refuting Evolution (1999) and Refuting Evolution II (2002) are handy books for finding quick answers to the overblown claims by evolutionists about their views. The first book (139 pages) discusses science and theology, facts and bias, natural selection, missing links, supposed evolution of birds and whales, human evolution, astronomy, and dating methods. The second book (226 pages) has sections on whether evolution is science, claims that evolution is well supported by evidence, and serious problems with evolution that Darwinists gloss over (probability, irreducible complexity, evolution of sex, and human evolution). Sarfati also includes a list of arguments creationists should not use. Each paperback has an index and monochrome illustrations. Dr. Sarfati has a PhD in physical chemistry and works with Creation Ministries International, where you can find these books in their online store.
Next resource of the week: 07/4/2009. All resources: Catalog.
Our Scientist of the Month, Galileo, was mentioned in the 07/15/2005 entry. Find out why, and what it has to do with getting stuck on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
A Rat Race to Build Whiskered Robots 07/11/2009
By trying to imitate this tactile sense that allows rats to gain useful information about their environment in the dark, the robot-makers are envisioning some exciting inventions as they improve on their bewhiskered robot. Future robots using this technology might be able to rescue people in the dark. Your vacuum cleaner may one day be able to adapt by touch for optimal cleaning. Whiskered robots could perform tactile investigation of surfaces. And the technology has the potential for a number of further applications from using robots underground, under the sea, or in extremely dusty conditions, where vision is often seriously compromised.
Even without inventions for humans, the exercise is helpful, the article said. By developing these biomimetic robots, we are not just designing novel touch-sensing devices, but also making a real contribution to understanding the biology of tactile sensing. If they can ever build one that can make copies of itself, they will really be onto something.
The poor rat. It has a name that just sounds disgusting. Remember, though, the rat didnt get to name itself. That was humans fault. We shouldnt feel disgusted about something we named. The movie Ratatouille helped its reputation a little. If the rat could choose its own name, maybe it would call itself the Miniature Investigative Genius Harnessing Tactile Yields, Migrating Optimally Utilizing Sensory Excellence or Mighty Mouse for short.
New Baloney Detector cartoon by Brett Miller!
Subject this time: EXTRAPOLATION. Click funnies and enjoy.
Then visit Evident Creation for his Cartoon of the Week!
How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell? 07/10/2009
Nagashima et al. observed that during early development of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle Pelodiscus sinensis (see the figure), translocation of the ribs to a position outside the shoulder blade involves folding of the lateral body wall along a line that defines the later formation of the carapacial ridge. This folding restricts rib growth to the horizontal plane of the carapacial disk and also maintains the shoulder blade in its superficial position relative to the folded body wall. This organization is thought to characterize ancestral turtles. Some muscles that develop from the muscle plate that is associated with the folding body wall even retain their ancestral connectivities in the adult.Since there are no ancestral turtle embryos to observe, how can they think about what characterized them? Heres where they tied in their story with Odontochelys. Rieppel continues:
Nagashima et al. hypothesize that in this ancestral turtle, the carapacial ridge was differentiated only along the side of the trunk, remaining incomplete anteriorly and posteriorly. Only later during the evolution of turtles would the carapacial ridge be completed, causing the anteriormost trunk rib to grow across the shoulder blade and localizing the latter inside the ribcage.So the researchers would not only have to take the emergentist view from the start, they would also have to assume that Odontochelys was a missing link instead of a specialized form. This stacks two assumptions on top of each other. It even sounds a bit like Haeckels discredited Biogenetic Law (also called the Recapitulation Theory) that asserted, Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The authors almost said that, in fact. Watch for that word recapitulate and see how they used it:
Odontochelys reconstructed by Li et al. resembles the embryonic modern turtles in some respects (Fig. 2, A and E, and Fig. 4), and this animal may represent an ancestral state. The Odontochelys-like, ancestral pattern is still retained in the first rib in modern turtles (Fig. 4, right). Although it remains to be seen whether latissimus dorsi of Odontochelys was shifted rostrally (Fig. 4, middle), its pectoralis would have established a new attachment to the dorsal aspect of the plastron (Fig. 4, middle). Thus, the developmental sequence of P. sinensis may not wholly recapitulate the suggested evolutionary sequence of turtles. Nevertheless, the above suggests that the dorsal arrest of ribs can now be assumed to have taken place by the common ancestor of Odontochelys and modern turtles, and in the latter, the completed CR would have allowed for emergence of the carapace (Fig. 4, bottom). The modern turtles have acquired their unique body plan by passing through an Odontochelys-like ancestral state during embryonic development. Our embryological study may help to explain the developmental changes involved in both the pre- and post-Odontochelys steps of turtle evolution, from an evolutionary developmental perspective.So although they couched their Biogenetic-Law explanation with the disclaimer that the developmental sequence (ontogeny) of modern turtle embryos may not wholly recapitulate the ancestral evolutionary sequence (phylogeny), they turned right around and depended on Recapitulation Theory to explain turtle evolution. They said, The modern turtles have acquired their unique body plan by passing through an Odontochelys-like ancestral state during embryonic development. This would only make sense, of course, from an evolutionary developmental perspective i.e., the emergentist view of evolution, which may itself be a recapitulation of Haeckels view.
1. Olivier Rieppel, Evolution: How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell?, Science, 10 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5937, pp. 154-155, DOI: 10.1126/science.1177446.
2. Nagashima, Sugahara, Takechi, Ericcson, Kawashima-Ohya, Narita and Kuratani, Evolution of the Turtle Body Plan by the Folding and Creation of New Muscle Connections, Science, 10 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5937, pp. 193-196, DOI: 10.1126/science.1173826.
This entry should not be entitled, How did the turtle get its shell? but rather, How did the evolutionist get its tall tale about how the turtle got its shell? The BBC News called this a spectacular insight into turtle evolution. National Geographic contorted this story with the line, Turtles Have Shells Due to Embryo Origami, and said The findings shed light on turtle evolution. *Sigh.*Greening the Cambrian Explosion 07/09/2009
July 9, 2009 Some scientists came up with an idea that simple green plants may have invaded the land earlier than thought, and that this might have helped speed up the rise of animals in the Cambrian explosion. The plants were only tiny mosses and liverworts, but they would have had a profound effect on the planet, said New Scientist. They turned the hitherto barren Earth green, created the first soils and pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, laying the foundations for animals to evolve in the Cambrian explosion that started 542 million years ago. Science Daily piped in, saying that the scientists believe they have found the trigger for the Cambrian explosion.
The scientists are Paul Knauth (Arizona State) and Martin Kennedy (UC Riverside). In their paper in Nature,1 they did not even mention the Cambrian explosion or the evolution of animals at all. Here was the only cryptic reference to it:
The contrasting isotope data between 850 Myr ago and the Neoproterozoic suggest that the terrestrial expansion of photosynthesizing communities preceded the significant climate perturbations of the late Precambrian glaciations, and was followed by a rise of O2 (ref. 26) and a secular change in terrestrial sediment composition. The onset of significant biotically enhanced terrestrial weathering would have increased the flux of lithophile nutrient elements and clay minerals to continental margins. This would have increased production and burial preservation of organic C towards modern values and consequently facilitated the stepwise rise in atmospheric O2 necessary to support multicellularity. The terrestrial expansion of an extensive, simple land biota indicated by the isotope data may thus have been a critical step in the transition from the Precambrian to the Phanerozoic world.Their claim that plants colonized the land earlier than thought was based entirely on isotope data in limestones not on any fossils of plants. In the same issue of Nature,2 Eric Hand understood that this is a controversial claim. At first he gave them the benefit of the doubt: A thick, green carpet of photosynthetic life, on the scale of that seen today, exploded across Earth 850 million years ago much earlier than thought a new study suggests. So for one thing, he not only failed to offer a solution for the Cambrian explosion of animals, he added a second explosion of plants. That seems another hurdle for Darwinian theory.
He also attributed to Knauth and Kennedy the conclusion that The greening of ancient Earth could thus be indirectly responsible for the sudden evolution, beginning about 600 million years ago, of larger respirating animals with oxygen-hungry cells, but then he acknowledged that the evidence is only indirect.
Hand reminded his readers that other studies contradict the rise of land plants so early. The study contradicts other work that looks to the oceans, rather than land, to justify the same isotopic data. The claim also flies in the face of the popular Snowball Earth scenario that postulates glaciers in the tropics the same time Knauth and Kennedy say plants were invading the land. He lists other problems: (1) there isnt much evidence for widespread plant life until around 400 million years ago, and (2) to have the effect on the carbonate record that they see, the ancient photosynthetic life would have needed to be operating on the scale that it is today a worldwide carpeting of green. Where is the evidence for that? Such a carpet should have left its trace in the fossil record something for posterity, Hand put it. A paleobiologist said it would have been unavoidable for plants to leave their traces in the rocks.
Despite these problems, the popular press gave prominence to the impression that Knauth and Kennedy had solved the problem of the Cambrian explosion. Science Daily said that the greening of the land virtually set the table for the later explosion of life through the development of early soil that sequestered carbon, led to the build up of oxygen and allowed higher life forms to evolve. In this brave new world of free oxygen, Knauth explained that Early animals would have loved breathing it as they expanded throughout the ocean of this new world. New Scientist pointed to a couple of problems that put a fly in the ointment of their idea, but still gave it good press: They turned the hitherto barren Earth green, created the first soils and pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, laying the foundations for animals to evolve in the Cambrian explosion that started 542 million years ago.
Science Daily made a couple of comments that historians of science and philosophers of science might want to analyze: A key element to this scenario is not so much what the researchers saw in the data, but what was missing. (This refers to a gap in the plots of limestone isotope data that Knauth and Kennedy interpreted as meaningful to the timing of the arrival of land plants.) The article also quoted Knauth saying, Our work presents a simple, alternative view of the thousands of carbon isotope measurements that had been taken as evidence of geochemical catastrophes in the ocean. What must the scientists who took those measurements be thinking of this re-interpretation?
1. L. Paul Knauth and Martin J. Kennedy, The late Precambrian greening of the Earth, Nature advance online publication 8 July 2009 | doi:10.1038/nature08213; Received 20 June 2008; Accepted 18 June 2009; Published online 8 July 2009.
2. Eric Hand, When Earth greened over, Nature, 460, 161 (2009), doi:10.1038/460161a, July 8, 2009.
Knauth said, The isotopes are screaming that this happened in the Neoproterozoic. Thats not what they are screaming. They are screaming, Stop lying about us! Good grief, this virtually set the table for the later explosion of life, they said. What kind of goofball story is this? They have portrayed Lady Luck as a waitress, calling, Here, chance! Here, randomness! Eat some raw carbon and oxygen and turn into a trilobite!Shortly before he died, 100-year-old legend of evolutionary theory Ernst Mayr recounted some of the evolution battles he fought that is, against other evolutionists. See the 07/02/2004 entry where he portrayed the acceptance of the neo-Darwinian synthesis as a battlefield conquest.
Origin-of-Life Researchers Caught Playing With Toys 07/07/2009
Damer envisions two possible versions of Evogrid: a hands-off Origins version, and an experimental Intelligent Designer edition that would allow people to tinker with the simulation. Damer says the ID edition of Evogrid could include a miracle module that would allow users to play God in their attempts to create proto-life. The Origins edition would be the focus of the science, however, with strict controls to shield the experiment from any guiding human influence.That may be too late. He has visions of expanding EvoGrid into versions tuned for astrobiology and SETI. He did not explain how a programmer can do tuning without any guiding human influence. But he didnt stop there; he wants biologists of the future to translate his digital organisms into real creatures. Then he wants to create cyber-physical life forms that can colonize other planets.
Building real animals from toy models, though, may be a hard task for unguided processes. Damer seems to understand that to a point. Life is more than the sum of its parts, and you cant just throw the necessary chemicals together and expect a life form to emerge, he said. Mullen didnt want to leave it there. However, researchers are hard at work trying to recreate all the biochemical steps necessary to synthesize a kind of proto-life in the lab, so perhaps this possibility is not too far over the horizon. And why not? Mullen speculated that other intelligent civilizations in the universe probably harness the power of evolution to solve difficult problems.
1. The origin of life being envisioned is naturalistic a chance product of physics and chemistry.
Using intelligent design principles and calling it evolution should be a crime. Calling evolution a power that can be harnessed makes Mullen a repeat offender.Evolution of Foraminifera Questioned 07/06/2009
July 6, 2009 A long, long time ago, primitive sea creatures called foraminifera lived on the ocean bottom. One day, some of them invaded a new ecological niche: the ocean surface. There, they became part of the plankton zoo. When the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs occurred, most of the surface foraminifera died. But they recovered in later epochs, always living near the surface. That evolutionary story has been called into question by the discovery of a surface (pelagic) dweller that is the same species as an ocean-bottom (benthic) dweller.
Foraminifera, sometimes called forams for short, can be thought of as amoeba-like organisms inhabiting perforated shells. Most are very small about 1mm but some as long as 19mm in diameter are known. Their shells of calcium carbonate can be very elaborately decorated. Forams make up a large part of the oceans plankton.
Evolutionists have portrayed forams evolving first on the ocean floor. Some became buoyant and colonized the surface. That was the picture till now. Writing in PNAS,1 Darling et al said, Evolution of planktic organisms from benthic ancestors is commonly thought to represent unidirectional expansion into new ecological domains, possibly only once per clade. They also noted that The planktic foraminiferal evolutionary tree is under considerable debate.
Then they announced their bombshell discovery: We present surprising but conclusive genetic evidence that the Recent biserial planktic Streptochilus globigerus belongs to the same biological species as the benthic Bolivina variabilis, and geochemical evidence that this ecologically flexible species actively grows within the open-ocean surface waters, thus occupying both planktic and benthic domains. OK, so what? We argue that the existence of such forms must be considered in resolving foraminiferal phylogeny, or evolution. Time to rewrite the textbooks again.
The authors thought that The ability to survive in both planktic and benthic habitats should be seen as an extraordinary ecological adaptation for long-term survival. Evolutionists seem not to have taken this ability into account. The same species can be tychopelagic, or able to live on the surface and on the bottom. Heres their conclusion:
The Cenozoic planktic foraminiferal phylogeny of microperforates, the group containing biserial and triserial forms, has generally presented taxonomists with problems. Many of these genera and species show discontinuous stratigraphic records, making ancestor–descendant patterns difficult to reconstruct. This could be the result of a lack of observation of the small forms, in a size fraction that commonly is not included in study. In our view, however, such ancestor–descendant relations simply do not exist. This is supported by recent evidence that the living triserial planktic foraminifer Gallitellia vivans had a Miocene benthic ancestor and thus did not evolve from the Cretaceous–Paleocene triserial Guembelitria cretacea. Appearances of biserial and triserial planktic forms in the geological record should therefore not be considered as necessarily discrete punctuated evolutionary events but as a series of excursions of expatriated tychopelagic microperforates into the planktic domain.
1. Darwing et al, Surviving mass extinction by bridging the benthic/planktic divide, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online July 2, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902827106.
Lets translate that last clause into plain English. Once upon a time, some foraminifera on the ocean bottom were being persecuted. The ruling oligarchy excommunicated them. Forlorn and forsaken, these expatriates took an excursion. They floated up to the surface to look for a new life in the Kingdom of Plankton, where the sun always shines and freedom to evolve is a constitutional right.How the Animals Learned to Count 07/06/2009
July 6, 2009 Any evolutionary article that begins with How... should be checked for Kipling-style just-so storytelling. Characteristics to watch for include (1) fanciful speculation without evidence: i.e., made-up tales that provide an answer to a childish question without appeal to rigorous proof, and (2) statements made with dogmatic authority, like a parent would explain to a child why something is just so because he or she says so. An article in New Scientist provides one opportunity: How Numeracy Evolved. The article is about basic numerical faculties present in lower animals that might provide clues for how humans gained their expertise at mathematics.
The article discusses experiments with monkeys, salamanders, mosquitofish, bees, chicks and horses. It appears that these animals have a rudimentary ability to do arithmetic: to add and subtract numbers, and even perceive ratios, up to a certain level. Heres how the concept of evolution was employed to account for the counting:
Those last two quotes clinch it, dont they? We were just fed a just-so story, with Darwin uttering the magic word, Evolution. Evolution produces counting minds out of chemicals. Like a force that pervades the universe, Evolution brings forth the seemingly impossible. Take any ability, any function, any wonder of nature observable today, and a backward glance will show the hand of Evolution was at work. And when ordinary Evolution seems insufficient to bring about the Emergence of whatever needs to be explained, the magic words must be uttered multiple times till it clicks into place: Convergent Evolution.Is evolution like the Nigeria scam? Read the 07/16/2003 entry and decide.
July 4, 2009 As the standard bearer of the intelligent design movement, the Center for Science
and Culture of the Discovery Institute provides a number
of interesting resources online. First, visit
Evolution News and Views, a daily blog featuring
stories about intelligent design, education, history, philosophy and the latest Darwinist
bombast. Youll see theyve added a new presence on
For audio podcasts, go to ID the Future
where you can hear and download radio-style interviews with leading thinkers and scientists. Lastly, see
IntelligentDesign.org for FAQ, articles
about science and education, products, and links to additional ID sites.
Paper View: Darwin, of All the Nerve 07/04/2009
The nervous systems of modern animals are amazingly diverse. A few hundred nerve cells are all a lowly nematode needs to find food and a mate. With about 100,000 neurons, a fruit fly can perform aerial acrobatics, dance to woo a mate, and throw kicks and punches to repel a rival. The sperm whales 8-kilogram brain, the largest on the planet, is the navigation system for cross-ocean travel and 1000-meter dives and enables these highly social creatures to communicate. The human brainone-sixth that sizeis the wellspring of art, literature, and scientific inquiry.Hes won some applause for those lines, but has not yet answered the question. Might as well dive right in: But how did they all get started? What did the first neurons and nervous systems look like, and what advantages did they confer on the animals that possessed them? Miller detours briefly into history to absolve Mr. Darwin. The old man was ill-equipped to answer that question, he said. Neuroscience did not really begin till after he died. It has taken decades to develop the tools to even begin to understand the subject matter that needs explaining by Darwinian theory. With the father of evolution thus exonerated, how are modern researchers doing?
Using such modern tools, scientists have recently begun to gain some tantalizing clues about the evolutionary origins of nervous systems. Theyve found that some of the key molecular building blocks of neurons predate even the first multicellular organisms. By looking down the tree of life, they are concluding that assembling these components into a cell a modern neuroscientist would recognize as a neuron probably happened very early in animal evolution, more than 600 million years ago. Most scientists agree that circuits of interconnected neurons probably arose soon thereafter, first as diffuse webs and later as a centralized brain and nerves.The audience, naturally, is only going to tolerate excuses for so long about how hard the question is. So far, they have only heard about tantalizing clues and story lines and low-resolution pictures compounding the problem followed by the suggestion that this complicated system arose several times independently. No answer is yet in sight.
Surprisingly, Miller tries to soften up the audience on the radical idea of multiple independent origins by quoting an evolutionary colleague who said, If you look at any other organ or structure, people easily assume it could evolve multiple times, so, by implication, why the heartburn about nervous systems? The audience looks this way and that as if asking, What people are you talking about?
Miller next sets up the problem: How to Build a Neuron. He discusses the varieties of neurons, how they all transmit electricity in one direction, and other empirical facts. Dendrites, neurotransmitters, all the objects of study in the neuroscience lab get a brief mention. Then he tells what theyre good for:
Arranged in circuits, neurons open up new behavioral possibilities for an animal. Electrical conduction via axons is faster and more precise than the diffusion of chemical signals, enabling quick detection and a coordinated response to threats and opportunities. With a few upgrades, a nervous system can remember past experiences and anticipate the future.The audience is sensing this is another distraction from the subject. Miller responds to their impatience as if to say Im getting there, but gives another excuse: Although the advantages of going neural are clear, how it first happened is anything but.
On come the stories, or plausible scenarios as he calls them. Maybe jellyfish were the first pioneers to explore the possibilities of nerves. Back in 1970, George Mackie of the University of Victoria in Canada envisioned something like the sheet of tissue that makes up the bell of a jellyfish as starting material. Those cells respond to touch and contract. Perhaps these multifunctional cells may have given rise to additional cell types, and the ions began to flow. With further specialization, the distance between the sensory and muscle cells grew and axons arose to bridge the gap, he said, embellishing this story without any appeal to observational evidence. Eventually, interneurons appeared, (how? from where?) forming synapses with sensory neurons at one end and with muscle cells at the other end. The audience is puzzled. He seems to have conjured up the evolutionary rabbit out of a hat of pure speculation.
So far this plausible scenario is tall on imagination and short on empirical support. Miller calls on another evolutionist who seems to have stronger faith in the power of convergent evolution: Neurons may have appeared in multiple lineages in a relatively short time. That doesnt calm the rustling in the audience much.
Realizing he needs some factual support quick, Miller appeals to Paramecium and other single-celled organisms that can respond with a cascade of signals when they touch an obstacle. Voltage-gated channels in the membrane allow ions to flow as part of the response mechanism. It strikes some in the audience strange that Miller appeals to one complex system to explain the origin of another complex system. He works up his nerve to say, Electrical excitability, it seems, evolved long before neurons made it their specialty. A critic in the audience jots down a note that he has not described any of this in terms of mutations and natural selection. So far, it sounds Lamarckian.
Miller wipes his storyboard with a sponge. His next plot line is that sponges may have been a transitional link. After all Many scientists think that sponges are the living creatures most similar to the common ancestor of all animals. The audience shuffles restlessly again: who is he talking about? And to many researchers, sponges look like animals on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. That pun gets a brief courtesy giggle followed by furrowed brows. He continues, Sponges dont have a nervous system, or even neurons, but they do have a surprising number of the building blocks that would be needed to put a nervous system together.
Miller shows they have these building blocks by referring to the genome of a marine sponge that can build some proteins used in synapses of neurons. These sponges, of course, lack synapses, but they appear to have some genes for neurotransmitter receptors. The audience perks up at this revelation. What does it mean? Miller is not sure: the function of these synaptic scaffolding proteins in a sponge is a mystery.... Some in the audience are toying with alternative explanations. Simultaneously, Miller seems to realize his vulnerability. He just failed to explain why Darwinian selection would build equipment for an animal that appears to lack any use for it.
Surprising revelations might just keep the audience off guard. Miller describes some sponge larvae that express a handful of genes that spur neural precursor cells to develop into full-fledged neurons in more complex animals. These genes, he continues enthusiastically, stimulate the formation of extra neurons when inserted into fruit flies. Isnt it therefore possible that these sponge larvae have protoneurons? The audience listens, but some are wondering what a protoneuron would be good for. Bernard Degnan speculates that they may somehow help the free-floating larvae sense their environment and find a suitable place to settle down and metamorphose into their adult form. The audience is listening intently now.
Miller continues with stories of how these sponges seem to have a kind of neural foreshadowing. The critic jots down another note: in Darwinian theory, evolution acts only for the present and cannot see possibilities down the line, so neural foreshadowing makes no sense One sponge, Miller continues, seems to have a reaction potential and a slow-but-effective reflex response. How this improves on Paramecium is not clear, but he says Leys and Mackie think its interesting.
All in all, says Leys, sponges provide a tantalizing picture of what an animal on the brink of evolving a nervous system might look like. Their cells have many of the right components, but some assembly is still required. And although they have a wider behavioral repertoire than most people realize, Leys says, their reflexes are far slower than those of animals with a nervous system.The thought of a sponge as a primitive link between single-celled organisms and animals with nervous systems is on the audiences minds. But before they get too enthusiastic about this possible evolutionary transition, Miller pauses to caution them that some researchers argue that sponges arent the most primitive living animals. The audience goes from elation to deflation.
Now what? It might be, Miller continues, that comb jellies lie at the base of the evolutionary tree. This is very bad news for the sponge believers. Like true jellies, ctenophores have bona fide neurons and a simple netlike nervous system, Miller reveals. Their position at the base of the animal family treeif it stands upwould shake up many researchers views on nervous system evolution. The audience gasps. This has other unpalatable implications, he moans: if ctenophores came before sponges, the assorted nervous system components that have turned up in sponges may not be foreshadowing after all but rather the remnants of a nervous system that was lost after the sponge lineage split off from that of ctenophores. The audience groans in disbelief. Sixteen paragraphs into the lecture and he is back at square one.
What will he do next? He takes a brief foray into discussing another contender for the earliest animals: cnidarians (which includes true jellyfish, sea anemones and corals). But that is not much help, because cnidarians have more complex neuronal components than sponges, just like ctenophores. Hemmed in by unpalatable implications, Miller abandons all pretence of empirical support, and projects an imaginary world on the screen:
Just as sponges, comb jellies, and sea anemones may hold clues to how the first nerves and nerve nets arose, other creatures may shed light on the evolution of more complex neural circuitry. I think everybody agrees that nervous systems were at first diffuse and then evolved to be centralized, with a concentration of neurons in the front end of the animalthat is, a brainand a nerve cord connecting it to the rest of the body, says Arendt. But theres no consensus yet on exactly when this happened. Arendt and others have argued that a centralized nervous system existed in the ancestor of all bilaterally symmetrical animals, or bilaterians.To make the point, he alleges that genes that control development of the existing nervous system in fruit flies, worms and vertebrates all play similar roles. What does that mean? That implies that these genes were already present in the last common ancestor of all these creaturesthe ancestor of all bilateriansand suggests to Arendt and others that this ancestor had a centralized nervous system.
The audience appears poised to riot. Did Miller really just say that the evolution of the central nervous system happened because the ancestor already had one? Well, then, how did it evolve before that? It appears Miller has only pushed the problem further back in time to some mythical ancestor that already had a central nervous system.
This is certainly an embarrassing moment on stage. Miller backtracks: But not everyone is so sure. He presents a range of possibilities (from a range of disagreeing scientists). The responsibility for explaining the evolution of the nervous system passes back and forth between them like a hot potato. Miller employs Trumans Rule: If you cant convince them, confuse them
Because most but not all modern bilaterians have a centralized nervous system, there will be awkward implications no matter what. If the bilaterian ancestor had a diffuse nervous system, centralized nervous systems must have originated multiple times in multiple bilaterian lineagesa far less parsimonious scenario than a single origin. On the other hand, if the ancestor had a centralized nervous system, several lineages, including that of Saccoglossus, must have later reverted to a diffuse nervous systeman apparent down-grade thats hard to explain.The audience is reeling. Its as if all the props on stage are falling apart and the stage hands are running in random directions not knowing what to do next. Miller reaches for a tried-and-true audience pleaser: prove that modern scientists are smarter than Aristotle.
The grand old Greek philosopher influenced people well into the 20th century, Miller says, by suggesting that animals could be arranged in a linear series, with man and the angels at the top. But of course, we now know thats just nonsense. So even though we have no clue how a nervous system evolved, at least we are smarter than Aristotle.
As the audience sits down from its threatened riot, Miller lets loose with the whole evolutionary bag of tricks and miracle stories to end like a 4th of July Grand Finale:
Most researchers now agree that equally complexbut anatomically differentbrains have evolved in birds, mammals, and other animal lineages, Northcutt says: At least four or five times independently, ... major radiations of vertebrates have evolved complex brain structure. But whether brains that are put together differently operate on similar principles is still an open question. And then there is the enduring question of what, if anything, is special about the human brain. Perhaps the emerging clues about the long evolutionary path weve taken will one day help us decide where we are.The audience leaves, shaking their heads. One jokes to another that if they werent enlightened, at least they were entertained.
1. Greg Miller, On the Origin of the Nervous System, Science, 3 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5936, pp. 24-26, DOI: 10.1126/science.325_24.
You have to laugh at the predicament of these Darwinists. We could dismiss this as a silly slapstick sideshow except for the fact that they have all power over the media, schools and scientific institutions with this malarkey and insist it is the only story fit to teach. What utter nonsense! Its all fiction, imagination, speculation, futureware and miracles, with complex systems just emerging, giving rise to and appearing left and right without links, causes or evidence. This was exactly like the performance Marshall gave about the Cambrian explosion back in 045/23/2006. What the audience had come for, a scholarly scientific lecture on a matter of serious debate, turned into a circus of silliness camouflaged in jargon: Marshalls explanation for the sudden emergence of all the major body plans in a geological instant was, in effect, they evolved because they evolved! Evolution gets served to the masses as its own circular justification.Divining Plant Evolution from Uncooperative Data 07/03/2009
July 3, 2009 A new book on plant evolution came out. How well does it do explaining the diversity of the worlds plants via Darwins theory of natural selection? The answer depends on how forgiving you can be with details that dont fit very well.
The book is Paleobotany The Biology and Evolution of Fossil Plants. 2nd ed by Taylor, Taylor and Krings. It was reviewed by Jonathan P. Wilson (Caltech) in todays issue of Science.1 Wilson liked the book a lot, but revealed that the plant-evolution story is not easily told:
1. Jonathan P. Wilson, Evolution: Green Life Through Time, Science, 3 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5936, pp. 36-37, DOI: 10.1126/science.1174659.
For those among us who are not Darwine alcoholics, this pathetic review reads like the blind leading the blind. This is not just the assume a can opener joke. Its assume a can opener will emerge in the future.Animals Are Not Malthusians 07/02/2009
July 2, 2009 According to Malthus and Darwin, the struggle to survive favors those who have the most fitness to take advantage of limited resources. A study by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna, reported by PhysOrg shows this is not the case:
Charles Darwin and his contemporaries postulated that food consumption in birds and mammals was limited by resource levels, that is, animals would eat as much as they could while food was plentiful and produce as many offspring as this would allow them to. However, recent research has shown that, even when food is abundant, energy intake reaches a limit, even in animals with high nutrient demands, such as lactating females. Scientists at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna suggest that this is due to active control of maternal investment in offspring in order to maintain long-term reproductive fitness.The research team proposed a different theory: using energy at close to the maximum rate has costs for animals which may compromise their ability to successfully reproduce in the future. The article did not attempt to state this goal-oriented behavior in Darwinian terms. If natural selection can favor animals that can plan ahead and conserve resources even when they are plentiful, contrary to what Darwin and Malthus assumed, then it is trying to explain opposite outcomes at the same time the Stuff Happens Law (09/15/2008 commentary).
Why should the simplistic statistics of Malthus have been accepted as a glittering generality for all of nature? (see 03/30/2009: Natural Selection Based on Bad Statistics). It seemed intuitively obvious to him that resources grow linearly but reproductive competition increases exponentially, but why should that be so? Malthus was neither a mathematician nor a field naturalist, yet his simplistic (and wrong) mathematical model influenced a generation. It profoundly influenced Darwin as he formulated his simplistic theory of natural selection (06/05/2007). Someone should have questioned the intuition and tested it. It could have saved the world a lot of trouble (like communism, cutthroat capitalism, World War I and World War II).Seven reasons why gene duplication cannot be the source of new genetic information, from 07/09/2002.
Dakota Dino Reveals Skin Cells 07/01/2009
Why are the scientists so sure that an oxygen-free environment would preserve amino acids and mummified skin from degradation for 66 million years? This should be a testable hypothesis. There are anoxic bacteria, after all. Could they not be capable of degrading organic matter? And Dakota was not found in an underwater oxygen-free tomb, but in rock. Someone should put two identical dead animals in two tanks, one with oxygen and one without, simulating plausible burial environments, and measure the differences in decay rates. Besides, whatever organic material was left after the environment changed to rock should have decayed completely. Unless, that is, the fossil is nowhere near as old as the consensus believes.
New Baloney Detector cartoon by Brett Miller!
Subject this time: RED HERRING. Click funnies and enjoy.
Then visit Evident Creation for his Cartoon of the Week!