Creation-Evolution Headlines
April 2003
photo strip
I may say with truth that whenever I consider in my thoughts the beautiful order, how one thing issues out of and is derived from another, then it is as though I had read a divine text, written into the world itself, not with letters but rather with essential objects, saying: Man, stretch thy reason hither, so that thou mayest comprehend these things.
Johannes Kepler, in his calendar for the year 1604
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City of Gilgamesh Found in Iraq   04/30/2003
A German-led expedition has found Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh, reports the
BBC News.  The Gilgamesh Epic has long been noted for its flood story with many parallels to the Genesis account.  Gilgamesh was said in the clay-tablet legends to have been buried under the Euphrates River, and where the river once flowed, they found a building that might have been the king’s burial site.  Uruk appears to have been a Venice-like city with canals. 

Now that Iraq has been liberated, we hope many discoveries will follow in this region of the cradle of civilization.
    This BBC article does not discuss the Gilgamesh flood story, but many skeptics have claimed that since it is earlier, the Genesis account must be derived from it.  But to say that the Bible is an adaptation of the “older” Gilgamesh epic ignores the possibility they had a common source in true history, the Bible being an accurate record, and the Gilgamesh epic being a corruption from oral tradition.  This interpretation is borne out by the major difference in style and credibility of the two accounts, the Bible emphasizing the Creator’s righteousness and grief over the moral evil of man’s sin, as would be expected of a divine source, and the Babylonian account exalting its human king and the vagaries of its pagan gods, as would be expected of a degenerate human source.
Next headline on: The Bible.
ET Could Not Evolve   04/30/2003
If Steven Spielberg’s extraterrestrial from the movie ET really had six-letter genetic code, it could not have evolved, says the
BBC News reporting on a study by scientists from New Zealand and Sweden who tried “evolution by supercomputer.”  The four-letter base, like our own DNA, is the optimum “magic number.”  The conclusion is based on a scenario of an “RNA World” evolving into DNA.  Four-base RNA showed both the best ability to copy without errors and to evolve into DNA, the researchers claim.
Interesting, but the RNA World story is irrelevant because it would not work.  RNA neither forms spontaneously in nature, nor is durable enough to survive in a primordial soup, where it would rapidly hydrolyze and degrade.  Moreover, it cannot copy itself.  We have the optimum base for our genetic code because it was designed to do what it does, and it does it very well.  See also another recent evidence of good coding design in our genetic code: the bases used in DNA are even parity.
Next headline on: SETI. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Laziness, Not Diet, Is Bigger Factor in Obesity   04/30/2003
A study of youth obesity reported in
Science News 163:17 indicates that people get fat primarily from exercising less, not eating more.  During the past two decades, teen calorie consumption rose only 1 percent, but prevalence of overweight teens has tripled to 15 percent.  This parallels a 13 percent drop in physical activity over the same period.  Lisa Sunderland of University of North Carolina, who conducted the study, said that by 2000, only 29% reported they exercise regularly.
Our bodies were made for vigorous physical activity, but today’s ease of sitting in front of TV screens or computer monitors for long hours requires will power to make time for exercise.  Diet is important, too, but no pill or food can compensate for lethargy.  The Proverbs of Solomon satirize the sluggard, and honor the diligent.  Exercise does a body good – and a mind, too.  Along with physical fitness comes improved attitude, happier outlook on life, endurance, reserves of energy, and ability to accomplish more.  Exercise rewards a person with terrific-feeling endorphins and a sense of satisfaction.  Your body is a marvel of design that feels and looks great when working at optimum performance.  Use it or lose it.  Start at your own level and make some gains.  Recommendation: Instead of using a boring treadmill at a gym, go take a hike surrounded by the wonders of creation.  There’s no better time than right now.  Go fill those lungs with the delicious fresh air of spring.  Then come in for a good cup of tea for your immune system and some creatine with whey protein for your fatigued muscles.
Next headline on: Health.
Sea Bird Sets World Record   04/30/2003
A Manx shearwater captured on an island off the coast of Wales had a band on its foot put there in 1957.  Since the bird was already 4-6 years old when banded, that makes it the oldest wild bird ever captured: about 52 years old.  Experts at the British Trust for Ornithology calculated how many miles it must have flown in its lifetime.  The result?  About five million miles, enough to circumnavigate the globe 200 times.  The story is reported in
New Scientist.  For a description of the Manx shearwater, see the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website.
Man-made aircraft could only survive that much airtime with constant maintenance.  Birds have all that upkeep technology built in.  The Manx shearwater is also a champion navigator.  Birds transported to New England and released have found their way unerringly to their exact nesting sites on tiny islands off the coast of Wales.  One wonders what stories this Olympic bird could tell from its long and busy life.
Next headline on: Birds. • Next amazing story.
How the Cell Avoids Typos   04/29/2003
Some of the most intriguing molecules involved in protein manufacture are the set of 20 molecular machines that fasten amino acids onto transfer RNAs.  They are called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) and it is their job to be certain that the correct amino acid is mated to the correct transfer RNA (tRNA).  They are like language interpreters, in that they understand both the DNA language of nucleotides and the protein language of amino acids.  Just like an interpreter must carefully match an English word to its Chinese equivalent, the aaRS interpreters are key players for ensuring the resulting protein chain is spelled correctly.  Human interpreter errors can be funny (a Chinese interpreter once translated the American idiom “out of sight, out of mind” as “invisible idiot”).  But in the cell, mistakes can be disastrous, leading to cell death.  One difficulty of their job is that some amino acids are very similar to others.  Linus Pauling once predicted an error rate of 1 out of 5 (80% accuracy) between isoleucine and valine, since they are differ only in weak van der Waals forces; but experimental evidence shows that the aaRS interpreter scores correctly 2999 times out of 3000 (99.67% accuracy).  How do these sightless molecular machines discriminate between nearly identical twins, and almost always pick the right one?
    An international team of biochemists publishing in the April 25 issue of
Molecular Cell has followed the activity of a couple of these interpreters in unprecedented detail.  Before attaching the amino acid, the aaRS machine validates it with a “double-sieve” mechanism, which is like forcing the entrant to open two locks with two independent keys, or making him supply two passwords to two different security guards.  It performs both pre- and post-transfer editing.  In other words, it validates the incoming amino acid before attachment, and double-checks it after attachment.  To begin with, the attachment will not proceed unless the tRNA is charged and the amino acid is activated.  The active site for the leucine aaRS machine includes a “discrimination pocket” for the side chain of the amino acid leucine.  Simultaneously, it authenticates the adenine of the RNA.  If the parts don’t match, or a hacker tries to sneak past, the aaRS machine holds the amino acid in position to be hit by the water-balloon firing squad; an incoming water molecule hydrolyzes both substrates, so that no further harm will come from the mismatched tRNA.  The properly-edited tRNA then moves to another machine complex, the ribosome, that joins the amino acids together on an assembly line; here, additional proofreading mechanisms check for accuracy.  Then the assembled protein chain moves onto the chaperone for correct folding, then to the intracellular railroad for delivery (12/06/2001).
    The team found a critical aspartic acid in the active site of the leucine aaRS interpreter that is “universally conserved” in very different organisms.  Mutating it to something else, like alanine, destroys the editing function.  So far, scientists have learned about four proteins that can deacylate charged tRNAs, and they have “completely different structural frameworks.”  Small changes in these machines also cause a “dramatic effect upon editing.”  The accuracy of the aaRS system is just one of many levels of quality control ensuring cell survival.  The authors state, “Our results demonstrate the economy by which a single active site accommodates two distinct substrates in a proofreading process critical to the fidelity of protein synthesis.”
This system hardly needs comment.  It speaks so loudly about intelligent design that only willful unbelief could claim such a system evolved by random, undirected natural forces.  Language translation, quality control, triple-checking failure analysis, pre- and post-translation authentication, error disposition, precision parts, irreducible complexity ... what more needs to be said?
    This paper makes no mention of evolution, except in one sentence: “Subsequent biochemical analysis determined that a number of other aaRSs also have highly evolved proofreading mechanisms.”  Gag me with a spoon.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
How Does a Stem Decide to Become a Leaf or Flower?   04/29/2003
It’s the simple questions that sometimes yield the most interesting answers.  What junior high kid in a science class hasn’t experimented with bean seedlings, watching them germinate and grow toward the light?  Many people have seen time-lapse movie clips of germinating plants emerging out of their seeds.  The initial shoot splits into branching stems, and leaves start appearing.  At a certain stage in the growth cycle, flowers appear, followed by fruits.  Have you ever wondered how a plain-looking stem, called an apical meristem, decides to grow a leaf or a flower?  Scientists are continuing to learn more of the details at the genetic level, and the emerging picture is quite amazing.
    In the April 29 issue of
Current Biology, Peter Doerner has provided an overview entitled, “Plant Meristems: A Merry-Go-Round of Signals Review.”  He introduces the subject:
Growth and organ formation in plants occur post-embryonically, mediated by meristems located on the tips of growth axes in shoots and roots.  Meristems are unique structures made up of pluripotent stem cells, a transitory population of indeterminate cells and determinate organ primordia formed at the periphery.  Secondary growth, which increases the girth of stems, is mediated by cambial cells, which continue to add vascular cells to the circumference of the central, vascular cylinder of the plant.
While shoot meristems produce geometric patterns of leaves and flowers, the root meristems produce stochastic or indeterminate branching arrangements.  The meristem center has three layers of slowly-dividing cells.  Doerner says that “Low rates of cell division reduce the likelihood of mutations affecting the large sectors of the aerial plant body produced by individual stem cells.”  On the flanks, however, are cells that divide more rapidly, and when an organ needs to start forming, “proliferation increases markedly.”  Something has to signal the meristem to begin producing an organ like a leaf or flower.  This has certain requirements (emphasis added):
Meristems mediate plant growth and hence are dynamic structures in which cells transit through zones with distinct developmental potential.  The coordination of growth with development in such dynamic structure requires extensive short and long distance intercellular signalling.  A conceptual framework for meristem function must include at least the following elements.  First, meristems must have a capacity to specify an indeterminate cellular ground state.  Second, a subset of these indeterminate cells must acquire stem cell identity, ultimately replenishing cells lost to organs and maintaining genetic integrity..  Cells in this stem cell niche must self-regulate their activity to not disappear or overproliferate.  Third, indeterminate cells must have the ability to acquire determinate fates associated with organogenesis.
An analogy from recent military news might help explain what these cells accomplish.  Imagine an army sent into a battlefield, where each soldier is “pluripotent” or able to do any job required.  They are sent out, not yet knowing what specific job they are going to have to do.  This is the “indeterminate” state.  At some point, signals come into their walkie-talkies giving orders: “Bob, you are to be a tank missile launcher,” or “Jessica, take over medic responsibility in the infirmary.”  These soldiers then “acquire determinate fates” and do their jobs with skill and precision, including the ability to act autonomously and coordinate with other soldiers in their vicinity.  In the plant, there are feedback loops maintaining dynamic equilibrium (homeostasis) that is very effective.  Doerner comments, “Stem cell homeostasis is maintained astonishingly well within tight bounds, as the longevity of the shoot apical meristem of trees demonstrates.”
    In an army, all this cooperation would not work without the generals giving the proper signals from headquarters.  A plant, however, does not have a centralized headquarters, like a brain.  How does it do it?  Each cell has a copy of the DNA master plan, but “One of the major unresolved questions of meristem function is the nature of the mechanisms by which signalling occurs to establish specific patterns of gene expression.”  Biologists have long known about chemicals called auxins and gibberelins that enhance or suppress growth at the meristem, but recent work has led to a “startling observation.”  Small bits of RNA, called micro-RNAS (miRNA), a “recently discovered, novel class of non-coding regulatory RNAs found in animals and plants” may be responsible for patterning.  Another class of RNAs called “short interfering RNAs” (siRNA), distinct from miRNAs, are involved in “epigenetic regulation mediated by DNA and histone regulation.”  Doerner explains, “Therefore it is likely that several small RNA-mediated processes participate in precipitating, enforcing or maintaining patterning decisions.”  But what controls the RNAs?  Do they mastermind the expression, or just enforce developmental decisions?  “No single ‘master regulator’ has been identified sufficient to specify shoot or root meristems originating from any single cell,” Doerner observes, “and from the emerging paradigm for meristem function it is unlikely that such a gene exists.”
    So while we know that meristem homeostasis thrives on “antagonism: negative feedback loops and juxtaposition of cells with divergent developmental fates,” and while we think “small RNA-dependent processes are good candidate mechanisms to effect changes in expression levels or patterns in the short term or for longer periods by epigenetic mechanisms,” Doerner leaves the central question unresolved: “No clear candidates for morphogens have yet emerged,” meaning that while the soldiers are well-trained and exquisitely coordinated, we do not see a clear central command that makes the decision and sends the orders, “Grow a flower right here.”
One of the first “amazing” stories we reported back in July 2001 was that plants have their own internet, and plant cells talk to themselves in email.  This updated report shows that the interplant internet is even more mysterious and wonderful than we imagined.  Without a brain, without a general, without a headquarters, a beehive of activity functions with goals and coordination and timing.  Flowers appear on schedule.  Leaves unfurl with mathematical precision.  Roots dive into the dark soil, fruits ripen, seeds disperse, water and minerals flow through the vessels, and dozens of other functions work not haphazardly but with “astonishing” levels of dynamic equilibrium and effectiveness.  Two wonders are evident in this paper: (1) Epigenetic mechanisms are at work.  This means that DNA is not a master control; something is controlling the DNA itself.  (2) Elaborate signalling takes place.  The micro-RNAs are like email messages delivering the orders to local indeterminate cells, causing them to became flowers, leaves and fruit.
    Analogies break down when we try to picture what happens.  The military analogy presumes a central command, which the plant lacks.  Are cells like groups of settlers moving out west, that decide when they get there who will do what job?  If there are too many Indians or other settlers nearby (negative feedback loop), do they move into the next valley to settle?  Do they use their homesteader’s guide (DNA) to figure out how to dig a well and build a blacksmith shop?  Do they keep in touch with other settlers (signalling) with telegraph lines and code (miRNA)?  This analogy also has drawbacks.  Somehow a plant pulls it all together: a system of semi-autonomous, fully-equipped cells cooperates in a distributed network that gives the appearance of being coordinated by some central command.  We hope you never look at a tree, or even a weed, quite the same again.
Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next amazing story.
PBS Offers Intelligent Design Documentary   04/28/2003
According to
Illustra Media, the Public Broadcasting System uploaded the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life to its satellite this past Sunday.  For the next three years, it will be available for member stations to download and broadcast.  In addition, PBS is offering the film on their Shop PBS website under Science/Biology videos (page 4).
    The film, released a little over a year ago, has been called a definitive presentation of the Intelligent Design movement.  With interviews and evidences from eight PhD scientists, it presents strictly scientific (not religious) arguments that challenge Darwinian evolution, and show instead that intelligent design is a superior explanation for the complexity of life, particularly of DNA and molecular machines.  The film has been well received not only across America but in Russia and other countries.  Many public school teachers are using the material in science classrooms without fear of controversies over creationism or religion in the science classroom, because the material is scientific, not religious, in all its arguments and evidences, and presents reputable scientists who are well qualified in their fields: Dean Kenyon, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Steven Meyer, William Dembski, Scott Minnich, Jed Macosko, and Paul Nelson, with a couple of brief appearances by Phillip E. Johnson, the “founder” of the Intelligent Design movement.
Check with your local PBS Station to find out when they plan to air it.  If it is not on their schedule, call or write and encourage them to show the film.  Why should television partly supported by public tax funds present only a one-sided view on this subject, so foundational to all people believe and think?  We applaud PBS’s move, but it is only partial penance for the Evolution series and decades of biased reporting on evolution.
    This is a wonderful film, beautifully edited and shot on many locations, including the Galápagos Islands, and scored to original music by Mark Lewis.  People are not only buying it for themselves, but buying extra copies to show to friends and co-workers.  Unlocking the Mystery of Life available here on our Products page in VHS and DVD formats.  The film is about an hour long and includes vivid computer graphics of DNA in action.  The DVD version includes an extra half-hour of bonus features, including answers to 14 frequently-asked questions about intelligent design, answered by the scientists who appear in the film.
    This is a must-see video.  Get it, and get it around.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design. • Next headline on: Movies.
How a Materialist Writes “A User’s Guide to Life”   04/25/2003
Is the soul a collection of neurons on the brain?  A materialist must think so.  Some would put more emphasis on nurture, beyond just nature (i.e., culture and environment, other than just the wiring).  Either way, how does a materialist explain our sense of self and our deepest longings, and how does one explain evil?
    In the
Apr. 25 issue of Science, Nathan J. Emery reviews a new book by two who enthusiastically embrace the “reductionist manifesto”, Steven R. Quartz and Terrence J. Sejnowski, entitled, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are.  Emery sets the stage (emphasis added):
Can an understanding of brain science ever uncover the answers to the “big” questions of life: Who are we?  How did we become who we are?  And what does it mean to have an individual self different from other selves?  Many scientists think so.  Francis Crick, for example, has suggested that “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”.  He even went as far as to state that the seat of the soul was located in the anterior cingulate cortex.  And there is a constant stream of new research that attempts to answer these fundamental questions using sophisticated neuroimaging techniques.  A recent trawl through the cognitive neuroscience literature reveals studies of the neural bases of cooperation, self-recognition, gender stereotyping, romantic love, humor appreciation, facial attractiveness and aesthetics, and the attribution of others’ mental states.  But at a fundamental level, one wonders whether the attempts of such research to demystify the mysteries of life are futile.  If we found the location of “self” in the brain, would that discovery tell us any more than we already know from our individual experiences?
The book takes a reductionist approach similar to that of Crick, but they “argue that these biological systems can only create a psychologically whole person through interactions with the cultural environment—interactions that affect the structure and function of neural circuits.”  They call this “cultural biology,” according to Emery, who describes the main idea behind their “highly cognitive” sense of the self: “The crux of Quartz and Sejnowski’s thesis is the suggestion that the neural basis of our individual nature is located within the prefrontal cortex, which they call the ‘user’s guide to life” (emphasis added).  But he wonders why this is news.  Every scientist he knows already accepts the assumption of an interplay between heredity and environment, not the strictly reductionist idea that brain chemistry alone determines our sense of self.  The value of the book, Emery believes, is in providing a wake-up call to neuroscientists: “Sometimes students of the brain forget that brains are party to evolutionary processes, do not work in isolation, are not fixed from birth, and can change depending on the environment.  A failure to take this information into account would be detrimental to all subsequent studies of mind and brain,” he says (emphasis added). 
    Having thus justified the book, Emery is left with a strange aftertaste (emphasis added):
At the end of the book, I was left wondering what the authors had actually said about “how we become who we are” and about how we can use the knowledge of personality development that we already have.  I expected to find such uses addressed in the afterword on the terrorist attacks of 11 September, but there I found nothing except a politically charged statement.  As I write this, another suicide bomber has killed 20 in Israel, and the United States and the United Kingdom are preparing to go to war with Iraq.  I ask myself what could be done about such problems if we had the kind of information this book purports to present.  Terrorists do not tend to have a defined psychopathology, and therefore they are unlikely to have a biological deficit in their psychological makeup.  Does this mean that many of the flaws in human (and individual) nature are due to culture alone?
Emery gives the authors some credit for at least raising consciousness on these questions: “Despite its many shortcomings, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes does provide a reasonably good place to start asking these sorts of questions empirically.”
Did you catch the lesson of this reductionist dialogue?  If so, you found the Achilles’ heel of materialism.  It is the crux of the debate about who we are, and how we became who we are: it is the inescapable reality of conscience.  These materialists have an innate sense of good and evil, that evil is bad and should be stopped, but they do not know what to do with it.  Their own materialism ties their brains in knots.  On one side, everything evolved, so the brain evolved and evil evolved.  No moral standard exists; everything can be reduced to nature and nurture.  Whatever is, is right.  On the other side, both Emery and the authors cannot live with this philosophy.  Evil happens, and it should be stopped!
    Notice how all of Emery’s bluff about “brains are parties to evolutionary processes” unravels in his last paragraph.  He sees an afterword about September 11, and looks forward in anticipation that Quartz and Sejnowski are going to provide a reasoned explanation for evil.  But then he sees them producing “nothing but a politically charged statement.”  Whatever position they took is irrelevant, because if the brain is only nature + nurture, on what basis can they claim any position is right or wrong?  (To be consistent, they would have to believe that their environment, upbringing or the groupthink of their culture made them feel the way they do, but their feeling is not morally superior to anyone else’s views; but then how could they advocate their own?)  Then Emery glances over at the newspaper and reads about another suicide bombing in Israel that killed 20 people, its perpetrator most likely deluded into thinking this was a ticket to paradise.  Emery’s soul is stirred within him, a soul that refuses to be reduced to neurons, chemistry, or environment.  The fact that he even asks these questions and thinks these thoughts, employing the conscience-directed functions of reason and logic, is the key to understanding that there is more than evolution or “cultural biology” at work here.  There is a conscience that refuses to stay imprisoned in a materialistic box.
    Emery looks down on Crick as overly reductionist.  He thinks adding nurture to nature is one step better than trying to locate the soul in the anterior cingulate cortex.  But this is a fool’s paradise.  If every human is a material assemblage of atoms undergoing chemical reactions, then an assemblage of material assemblages of atoms is no less reductionist.  You can put a hundred computers on a network, but they are not going to create chat rooms and emails by themselves unless souls use them.  The soul is not nature (materialism), and it is not nature + nurture (materialism + materialism).  It has a conscience.  Our brains are strongly influenced by their material and cultural parts, and our consciences can be deceived and deadened, but the conscience refuses to be classified in the periodic table.  Without real, true souls inhabiting our bodies and brains, there is no valid concept of self, of evil, or of moral imperative.  Emery’s twinge of conscience in the last paragraph is the dead giveaway.
    This little book review, hidden away in a weekly science journal, is not likely to attract a great deal of attention.  It reveals, however, the utter moral bankruptcy of a system that on the one hand tries to say we are matter in motion, but on the other hand makes moral statements that the U.S. should either get out of Iraq or should stop terrorism, or anything in between.  Don’t let an evolutionist use should in a sentence.  That word is not in the Darwin Dictionary.
    See also Daniel Dennett’s attempt to explain free will by evolutionary principles (Apr. 2 headline).
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Titan’s Ice Reflects Young Surface   04/25/2003
A team of scientists found evidence of water ice on Titan, the haze-shrouded largest moon of Saturn.  This represents a problem.  The international team of planetary scientists and astronomers, publishing in the
Apr. 25 issue of Science explains that we shouldn’t be able to see the icy bedrock of Titan, because dark compounds ought to have buried it long ago (emphasis added):
Methane, the second most abundant atmospheric constituent (0.05 bar) detected after N2 (1.4 bar), is continually and irreversibly destroyed by solar ultraviolet photolysis, a process rapid enough to require a recent supply of methane.  Two end-member scenarios are possible.  Ongoing geologic activity supplies atmospheric methane (and leads to an atmosphere that varies in size with supply), or ocean reservoirs of methane exist as a result of past geologic activity.  The products of methane photolysis, a variety of simple and complex organic compounds, precipitate to Titan’s surface, leaving a history of Titan’s atmospheric composition.  If Titan’s atmosphere has existed in its present form since its formation, ~800 m of organic liquids and solids blanket Titan’s surface.
That’s roughly 2,600 feet thick of methane products.  Yet presumably Titan’s solid surface is composed largely of water ice, as on Ganymede or Enceladus.  How can the ice show through such a thick blanket?  The authors do not offer a suggestion.  Most of their report focuses on how they detected the water ice through narrow windows in the smog at 8 wavelengths.  “We derived a spectrum of Titan’s surface within these ‘windows’ and detected features characteristic of water ice,” they state without theorizing.  “Therefore, despite the hundreds of meters of organic liquids and solids hypothesized to exist on Titan’s surface, its icy bedrock lies extensively exposed” (emphasis added).
    More detailed and extensive data are expected to be received when the Cassini Spacecraft makes its first flyby of Titan on July 1, 2004, and especially when its detachable Huygens Probe parachutes down to Titan for the first-ever in situ measurements and photographs of the atmosphere and surface.
    The BBC News and Space.Com both report on this story, quoting some who suggest that maybe somehow the blanket of material moves around or goes through cycles to expose the icy surface.  Space.Com also has a weather diagram explaining the differences between Titan and Earth weather.  Unlike on earth, where the sun is the driving force, “energy released during condensation drives much of the weather” on Titan.  But that condensation energy would need to be compensated by an energy source to drive evaporation to keep the cycle going.
This is one of many phenomena in the solar system that argue against the commonly-accepted age of 4.6 billion years.  (1) In the first place, all the methane should have eroded by now into products blanketing the surface.  (2) In the second place, if organic compounds have been raining down to the surface for that long, there should be a blanket over half a mile thick covering any water-ice surface, yet today, water ice is detectable.
    To keep the long age, scientists have to propose a continual source of new methane to replenish the atmosphere that we see, from the interior or some unknown external source, or have to find a way for the methane products to disassemble back into methane in some kind perpetual cycle.  But this is storytelling without evidence.
    Methane is eroding in the Titan atmosphere, which should blanket the moon with dark organic residues, yet water ice is visible from the surface.  These are the data, folks.  Make up stories of billions of years at your own risk.
Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
How Hummingbird Beaks Coevolve With Flower Shape   04/25/2003
Island ecosystems, isolated and self-contained, have been studied since Darwin’s day as laboratories of evolution.  In an Enhanced Perspective piece in the
April 25 issue of Science, two evolutionists highlight the relationship between the hummingbirds and their nectar sources on the islands of the Lesser Antilles.  The curvature of the beak correlates to the shape of the flower.  Female beaks in some species are longer and more curved than those of males, but males have larger and heavier bodies.  The sexes tend to feed on flowers that match their characteristics.  While the sexual dimorphism seems a response to foraging, “it casts doubt on assumptions that sexual dimorphism is a measure of sexual selection.”  The authors consider this a fine-tuned “coevolutionary dance” (where evolution of the flower affects the evolution of the bird, and vice versa), yet they admit puzzles remain: “On the other side of the equation, how do differences in animal feeding behavior and efficiencies affect plant fitness?  Gene flow is clearly available to plants with traplining pollinators [i.e., birds in which the sexes feed on different flowers], but how do plants with territorial pollinators accomplish genetic outcrossing?  Also, does the consumption of insects by hummingbirds directly influence hummingbird morphology and indirectly influence flower morphology?  Once again, islands may provide the ideal setting for answering these questions.”
The Darwinists are never done with their stories.  It’s always going to take more studies (and more funding, and more Caribbean cruises).  Here you have a study that undercuts one of Darwin’s pet theories, sexual selection, but demonstrates no clear cause-effect relationship between variation and fitness, or between morphology and the species responsible for the variation: the flower, insects, or the other sex of the hummingbird.  There are enough loopholes in the tale to drive a tank through.  Even if the birds and flowers are coevolving, the birds are still birds and the flowers are still flowers.  So what does this story have to do with Darwinian evolution, the origin of hummingbirds and flowers from bacteria?  Nothing.  Even creationists unabashedly affirm this amount of variation, and are the first to exhibit, in their lectures, colorful montages of dogs, horses and people in all their varied glory.  One cannot extrapolate recklessly a function that is not known to be linear.  Some functions rise gradually and then fall sharply to zero.  All observable, repeatable studies show that variation has limits.  If it stays within limits, it is variation, but not evolution in the sense most people understand the word.  Writing a paper as if small-scale microevolution has anything to do with Darwin’s theory of common ancestry is equivocal and misleading.
    Philosopher of science Karl Popper once took heat for stating that evolution is like a metaphysical research programme.  It gives evolutionists something to do to look busy and publish or perish.  They never want to finish their stories, because then they would have to go out and get a real job.*
Next headline on: Birds. • Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
*The real job could be being a real biologist, in the tradition of John Ray or Carl Linnaeus.  Here’s a suggestion for any biologist readers: try the “Darwin-free” diet.  Study those hummingbirds and flowers, and their relationships and diversity, and publish papers as before.  Just leave out the phylogeny fables, which are worthless.  You don’t have to publish intelligent design or creationism; you don’t have to change or add anything – just subtract the parts that are untestable, unobservable, and unrepeatable.  That would be good science, would it not?  We’re all for good science.  We love hummingbirds here at Creation-Evolution Headlines, and we love scientists willing to travel, explore, and bring us the facts about creatures we might never see or hear about.  So try it.  Leaner scientific papers without the evolutionary flab will increase your scientific fitness.
Cave Date Puts Hominids Too Early   04/25/2003
Results are in from the dating game, says
Science Magazine 04/25/03, but the contestants are not happy.  Darryl Granger used a new dating method to estimate the age of remains in Sterkfontein Cave, South Africa, and concluded the hominid skeleton there is 4 million years old, nearly a million years older than the oldest previous estimate.  Others don’t buy it.  That puts australopithecines in south Africa far earlier than expected, and makes Little Foot (one of the skeletons) the contemporary of Lucy’s ancestor.  Yet the skeleton “does not resemble” that ancestor in crucial aspects, complains one investigator.  To add confusion, dates from recent discoveries in nearby Jahovec Cave may represent two types of australopithecines, “suggesting a diversity of 4-million-year-old hominids.”  Critics feel use of the cosmic radionuclide dating method is on “shaky ground” because of the complexities of the cave environment.
A news report on the story can be found at Purdue News.
So the hominid wars carry on.  As usual, shaky method + shaky assumptions = shaky story.  If contemporaneous australopithecines showed significant diversity, on what basis can scientists arrange them into an evolutionary relationship?  See also Tim White’s damaging assessment of assumptions used in interpreting hominid bones in our March 28 headline.
Next headline on: Early Man. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Are Metal-Poor Stars Closer to the First Generation?   04/24/2003
Astronomers have a strange convention of calling anything heavier than hydrogen and helium “metals” even it is oxygen, iron or carbon.  Most stars have a good portion of the periodic table of elements represented in their spectra, but last year a star with only 1/200,000 the sun’s metallicity was discovered.  This excited astronomers, because they believe the big bang created only H and He, so every other element would have had to be formed within stellar interiors by fusion.  (Most elements heavier than iron would require a supernova explosion.)  That means the first generation of stars would have to be composed of only hydrogen and maybe some helium, but no pure stars without metals have ever been detected.  The lower the metal content, however, the closer to the beginning, they assume, because it would have formed out of a cloud not yet enriched in metals.
    The picture is not quite so straightforward.  In the
April 24 issue of Nature, three conflicting papers try to explain the puzzling spectrum of HE0107-5240.  Though its overall metallicity is low, it has an anomalously high C/Fe ratio, 10,000 times that in our sun, and a nitrogen abundance enhanced over the sun’s ratio by a factor of 200.  In the News and Views summary of these papers, Timothy C. Beers of Michigan State sorts through the “frustrating variety of possibilities” the data permit.  Astronomers can’t tell if this star formed out of a metal-poor cloud, if it started out metal-rich but became depleted, or if it was salted with its metals by nearby supernovas.  Though optimistic, Beers believes “numerous additional stars with extremely low Fe abundances will need to be discovered to fully ‘tell the tale’ of early star formation and the creation of the first metals in the Universe.”
I.e., those stars have not been discovered yet.  We think people should know that the simplistic story of nucleosynthesis, leading to Carl Sagan’s oft-quoted line “we are all made of starstuff” is not so simple when you look at the actual data.  If the big bang started with only hydrogen, why do virtually all stars already have heavy elements?  Notice that even HE0107-5240 contains nine elements: H, C, N, Na, Mg, Ca, Ti, Fe, and Ni, which Beers admits “present a dizzying array of possible explanations for their origin.”  It’s not that scientists are unable to concoct a story around the data, it’s the data require a story to fit a belief.
  Got metals?  Click here to see the latest Hubble Space Telescope image of the Omega Nebula.  Look at the colors “metals” add to an otherwise boring hydrogen cloud.
Next headline on: Stars. • Next headline on: Cosmology.
Navajo Sandstone Theory Proposed   04/24/2003
The
Navajo Sandstone of Utah-Arizona is one of the most remarkable landforms of the American southwest.  It reaches over 2000 feet in thickness at Zion National Park.  Some of its outcroppings are bizarrely beautiful, as in the striking crossbedded strata at Coyote Buttes.  Its canyons are meccas for hikers (as in Paria Canyon) and photographers, such as the dramatic slot canyons like Antelope Canyon.  How did this varied and colorful landscape, which extends from mid-Arizona up into Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho, form?
    In the current (March 2003) issue of the Journal of Geology, David Loope and Clinton Rowe of the University of Nebraska investigate the Navajo Sandstone, “one of the largest sand seas known in Earth history,” which they describe as “an ecological/depositional system without an obvious modern analog.”  After identifying various features within the Coyote Buttes, including fossils such as burrows, dinosaur tracks and insect nests, they describe the region as a large area of dry sand dunes interrupted by pluvial (wet) periods of heavy monsoons.  Although the study area including Buckskin Gulch could be interpreted as originating from a single pluvial episode, they argue that two long-lived, monsoon-dominated wet periods were required to explain some overlapping bioturbated features described in the paper.
Geology is a fascinating science.  Researchers have to get out into some wild country, some of it remote and harsh, and describe phenomena ranging from microscopic grains to vast regions covering several states or sometimes continents.  Needless to say, geology theorizing is also an art.  A geologist can often find similarities to current processes, but many times there are formations “without an obvious modern analog,” as here.  What then?  The geologist proposes a theory that tries to explain as many details as possible, but it can never be thoroughly tested, because the true story is hidden in the unobservable past.  It can only achieve a certain measure of plausibility.
    The vast extent of the Navajo Sandstone is remarkable.  It lies far above the strata of the Grand Canyon, and varies in color from white to rich reddish-brown, sometimes intermingled.  It erodes rapidly into the narrow slot canyons popular with photographers and adventurers.  These geologists claim its deposition could have required anywhere from 4000 years to 5 million years.  If so old, would it have remained sand, without some having turned to sandstone?  Would not the monsoons have riddled the region with thousands of deep gorges, filled in with subsequent deposits?  If a slot canyon can form within one heavy flash flood or within a few hundred years, and if most of the entire Grand Canyon could have been carved in one or several brief floods, where are the gorges in the Navajo Sandstone, if the sand sea were being inundated with long ages of heavy rain?  Why the vast extent of crossbedding, and strata that are traceable at the same level over hundreds of square miles?
    No one can replay the video of what really happened; neither can we.  But at least consider the plausibility of visualizing this vast region being deposited rapidly and catastrophically, instead of slowly and gradually over aeons.  The main reason geologists seem to reject rapid deposition of deposits like the Navajo Sandstone is their predilection to view earth history as ancient, requiring millions and millions of years of slow, gradual evolution.  Interesting that Venus does not fit that pattern.  In The New Solar System (4th ed.), R. Stephen Saunders says the doctrine of uniformitarianism does not apply to Venus, because the first 90% of the planet’s history appears obliterated by more recent events (p. 110).  Similar claims are made for Io, Europa, Miranda, Enceladus, Titan, and large portions of Mars – why not Earth?  Maybe it’s time to ditch Lyell like they ditched Freud.  The credibility of his famous line, “the present is the key to the past,” has eroded.
Photos courtesy David Coppedge, Creation Safaris.
Next headline on: Geology.
Atheist Reviews Atheist Book   04/23/2003
In the
Apr. 24 issue of Nature, Jerry Coyne, an evolutionist at the University of Chicago, reviews a new book by the foremost advocate of Darwinian evolution today, Richard Dawkins.  Strangely, the book has a religious title: The Devil’s Chaplain.  (The title is taken from an atheistic evangelist, Robert Taylor, who stormed Cambridge in Darwin’s student days.)  Dawkins takes Taylor’s chair in this polemic against all religion, preaching atheistic science with a passion that Coyne finds almost startling.  Coyne counts six of the 32 essays in the book dealing directly or indirectly with religion, “a surprising statistic for a science writer whose chair at Oxford University is dedicated to the public understanding of science.”  Attacking organized religion as well as pseudoscience, Coyne remarks, “Clearly, Dawkins sees his brief as not only popularizing science, but demolishing its competitors.”
    Another surprise is that Dawkins’ other “bugbear” in this book is another atheistic evolutionist, his erstwhile nemesis Stephen Jay Gould.  Most evolutionists are aware of their heated disagreement regarding speciation, Gould promoting punctuated equilibria and Dawkins fiercely defending traditional Darwinian gradualism.  But Dawkins also had little patience with Gould’s accommodating spirit toward religion (as long as it keeps its hands out of science).  Dawkins feels no rapprochement is possible; religion, in his opinion, is the vehicle of evil, xenophobia, and delusion.
    Coyne notes that “Dawkins is a fierce advocate of scientism, the philosophy that genuine truths as opposed to spiritual or personal ‘truths’ that are not universally held can be found only through the scientific method.”  He groans at Dawkins’ endorsement of meme theory, which he calls “the collection’s only low point, given my view that ‘mimetics’ is an extended tautology that has yielded no real understanding of human culture.”  Notwithstanding these critiques, Coyne makes it clear he sides with Dawkins in the attacks on religion.  He says, “Dawkins aficionados outside Britain have had little exposure to his withering assaults on religion, pseudoscience and accommodationism.  It’s a rare treat to see him sail into battle, prose and logic perfectly attuned to the destructive business at hand.”  In his concluding sentence, Coyne states, “Dawkins makes a strong case that most religions are insidious and dangerous illusions.  It’s time for those who agree to stand up beside him.”
    In the same issue of Nature, David Hull reviews Gould’s last book (published posthumously).  He says, “Gould spends a lot of time debunking the myth of objectivity as a psychological characteristic of scientists.”
Self-delusion is tragic, but it is doubly so when one thinks it’s the other guy who is deluded.  If Coyne has accurately summarized Dawkins’ views in this book, the two of them espouse self-defeating claims.  Coyne admits plainly that Dawkins is a fierce advocate of scientism (similar to logical positivism), an outdated 19th-century philosophy that shoots itself in the foot with the self-referential fallacy.  I.e., scientism was not discovered by the scientific method, so it is not scientific.  If we are only to accept what has been found through the scientific method, then we must reject scientism with the same ferocity we reject other “further impassible routes to knowledge (such as homoeopathy, crystal worship and postmodernism).”  As one of our readers pointed out, their position is also self-defeating in that it judges things as good or bad, when evolution provides no moral standard.  Hey, if religion evolved, then it must be good.  Why knock it?
    Furthermore, we must reject passion itself, which is neither rational nor objective.  Scientism also errs in thinking that everything is subject to the scientific method.  There are many things in life that we assume, believe, and have confidence in, that we have not investigated scientifically ourselves, nor are amenable to measurement or testing: history, art appreciation, ethics, and even logic.  Scientism makes a patently unscientific assumption that a method limited to certain observable, repeatable natural phenomena is a path to absolute truth, and is always superior, in all cases, to other ways of knowing.  On what scientific basis does Dawkins pound his pulpit, calling religious wars “ludicrously tragic,” while being strangely silent about the Gulag and other horrors perpetrated by atheistic regimes?  To Dawkins, whose book has displayed as much emotional, non-scientific passion as that of any crusader, we challenge, “Scientist, heal thyself.”
    Coyne mentions three pillars on which Dawkins builds his case against religion.  Let’s look at them in turn.
  1. “First, because different faiths make very different claims about the world, they cannot all be true; and none of the claims (such as the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven) can be scientifically verified.”  This is a hypocritical half-truth that attempts to divert attention from the atheist’s own exposure.  As we show here almost daily, from their own words, Darwinists cannot scientifically verify evolution, nor the origin of universe or life.  So in principle, scientism is not in a separate category; it is just as much a religion as any other.  Dawkins and Coyne need to put themselves into the same courtroom and decide which witnesses are more credible.  It would quickly become apparent that the pool of clamoring witnesses would quickly diminish into just a handful worth further questioning.
    For instance, put creation stories to the test: e.g., (a) Two gods had a fight and one cut of the other’s head, which became the earth, and the body became the sky.  (b) Nothing times nobody equals everything.  (c) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
        Similarly, who would judge the following destiny beliefs as morally equivalent?  (a) Kill as many women and children as you can at a shopping mall, and you will get 70 virgins for eternity.  (b) Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.  (c) Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not. 
        The true part of Dawkins’ first point is that different faiths make very different and contradictory claims and cannot all be true.  But it is a non-sequitur to conclude, “all are equally false or irrational.”  Dawkins would do well to live up to his own creed, and investigate the evidence scientifically.  To the extent possible, he should apply logic and historical investigation to the major religions.  There are those that consider such investigation taboo, and there are ones that welcome critical scrutiny.  That’s a good starting filter.  It does not appear Dawkins has done his homework with those in the latter category.  Simultaneously, he fails to look in the mirror at all the inflammatory disputes between denominations in the Darwinist religion.
  2. “Second, the choice among faiths is not based on rational consideration: the vast majority of people simply practice the religion of their parents.”  This is a glittering generality with counter-claims and exceptions for both sides of the aisle.  Some critics have claimed that many universities today are assembly lines producing ducks that quack the same way about politics (political correctness, you know), philosophy and evolution without rational consideration of the opposing evidence.  Michael Behe’s testimony is a case in point: he became angry when confronted with sensible arguments against evolution, feeling that all through the university, his doctoral program and faculty assignment, he had been led down a primrose path about evolution, never having heard of these arguments.  Cases abound for those who rejected religion for irrational reasons (wanting sexual freedom, for instance) or who embraced it precisely because of rational consideration.
  3. “Finally, Dawkins considers religions to be vehicles of evil because they facilitate the labelling of people as either ‘us’ or ‘them’, fostering xenophobia and its attendant horrors Northern Ireland and the Middle East come to mind.”  What rank hypocrisy is this?  That is precisely what Dawkins has just done: put himself and his fellow logical positivists as “us”, against anybody including a fellow evolutionist like Stephen Jay Gould as “them,” with enough emotional rhetoric to make his disciples take up arms.
    Case study: an atheist utopia.  Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union of the 1980’s an Evil Empire not because it was religious.  It provides a recent example of a society built on a foundation of atheism.  As such, its atrocities outnumbered all religious wars combined, including Northern Ireland and the Middle East and any others you want to name.  Does 100 million casualties make the point?
        Georgi Vins, the late Russian Baptist leader, a gentle and compassionate man who merely tried to distribute Bibles in Russia in the 1970s, was sentenced to decades in prison, incarcerated with murderers, and kept in solitary confinement in the Siberian cold with one paltry meal a day.  His captors told him he would never get out until he was 76 (he was in his 40s at the time).  Speaking later in America after he was rescued in a prisoner exchange deal, Vins rightly attributed the evil of this regime to its atheism, which was the central and core doctrine underlying communism.  He spoke, from personal experience, about the systematic destruction of religion in that Evil Empire, the closing of churches, the imprisonment and torture of pastors, the constant propaganda and indoctrination of students into atheism.  Similar stories abound from Cuba, China, and one of the worst today – North Korea.  This is not to deny that evil has been done in the name of “religion,” but if a raw statistic like body count means anything, atheism has the worst record on human rights of all of time, all perpetrated within the last 100 years of Darwin’s Century.
Let’s mop up a few of Dawkins’ other criticisms of religion.
  • “No rapprochement is possible between those whose beliefs derive from evidence and those whose beliefs either do not depend on evidence or are unshaken by contrary evidence.  This is why science and religion are incompatible ways of viewing the world.”  If this either-or fallacy were true, then scientists would be quick to discard Darwinian evolution, because the supporting evidence is flimsy, and the contrary evidence is damning.  (If any doubts about this, take a trip through the Darwin chain links on this page.)  If this were true, why also is the Darwin Party so adamant about prohibiting teachers from presenting scientific evidence that contradicts evolutionary theory?
        Disregarding the multitudes for whom pleasure is more a priority than love of the truth, there are many who have rejected evolution or embraced their faith (or both) precisely because they were convinced by the evidence (C.S. Lewis, Richard Lumsden, the numerous scholars interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Faith, etc.)  Conversely, there are dogmatic evolutionists who refuse to listen to contrary evidence – the history of creation-evolution debates provides many examples.
  • “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in,” Dawkins quips.  “Some of us just go one god further.”  Cute, but irrelevant.  This is the extrapolation fallacy.  Some doctors are quacks, therefore I will not see any doctors.  On the contrary, if there is only one true God, one must necessarily reject all false gods to know the truth, but to reject the true God because others are false is as illogical as disbelieving in the existence of a right answer to an equation because there are so many wrong answers.
  • That religion is useless and only produces groups that hate each other.  (As if Darwinian evolutionary theory is useful.)  What is perhaps most egregious in Dawkins’ and Coyne’s tirade is their broad-brush categorization of everything religious, the good, bad, and ugly, into one category “ugly” – “Modern theists” mixed in with “Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra” and presumably Christ and Satan.  Apparently Dawkins would have no hesitation putting Heather Mercer in the same category with an Islamic terrorist, Jim Elliott bringing food and medicine to a jungle tribe with the Auca animist who would thrust a poison-tipped spear into his heart, or Jesus Christ (“Love your enemies, and do good to them who persecute you”) with the pagan Roman nailing his hands to the cross.  Things are so simple to these atheists: all religion is bad, science is good.  Just don’t define your terms or get into the details.
Thus Dawkins leads his passionate xenophobic charge against xenophobia, and his moral crusade for moral equivalence.  Throughout this pathetic book review, the hypocrisy of atheism leaves both Coyne and Dawkins pitifully deluded.  Both advocate an intellectual standard they are incapable of reaching (that all truths must be subject to the scientific method), and a moral standard they are incapable of obeying (that it is a sin to believe you are right).  Both angrily point their index finger at religion, blind to the fact that three fingers are pointing right back at them.

Recommended reading for anyone who still thinks evolutionists are intellectually and morally superior to believers in God: in the current Creation Research Society Quarterly (39:4, March 2003), “The Galileo Myth and the Facts of History,” by Jerry Bergman.  He catalogs the intolerance of university professors and secular scientists from Galileo to the present day.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory

Quick Picks  04/23/2003: National Geographic News posted some interesting nature stories that illustrate the variety of organisms inhabiting our planet and their amazing capabilities:
  • The giant squid caught in Antarctic waters fuels debate about ancient sea monsters.
  • Crows are better than chimps at making tools.  Not only that, they seem to share their technology among one another and pass it on to the next generation.  (See our Aug. 9, 2002 headline.)
  • A Caltech scientist is trying to discover how fruit flies can make sudden 90-degree turns.
Next headline on: Birds. • Next headline on: Bugs. • Next headline on: Fish and Ocean Creatures.

Garbage (and Almost Anything Else) In, Oil Out   04/22/2003
The May issue of
Discover Magazine has a pretty remarkable article about a rising technology, the Thermal Depolymerization Process (TDP), that sounds almost too good to be true: it can change almost anything containing carbon into oil.  That includes turkey offal, tires, ground up computers, plastic, garbage and sewage.  Not only that, it cleans the air, prevents global warming, kills germs, and provides benefits to the coal and oil industries by cleaning up their waste.  Brad Lemley, reporter for Discover, interviews Brian Appel of Changing World Technologies in Philadelphia and tours the prototype plant that produces a variety of petroleum products from bones, feathers, and offal from nearby turkey farms.  TDP can even produce clean, usable products from tar, muck, used motor oil, municipal waste, sewage – anything but nuclear waste.  The output water is clean enough to discharge into a municipal sewage system.  By working at the molecular level, the process also destroys pathogens.  Entrepreneurs expect to be able to produce oil at $10 a barrel soon, and less than that in the future.  Lemley compares TDP with natural oil production:

Making oil and gas from hydrocarbon-based waste is a trick that Earth mastered long ago.  Most crude oil comes from one-celled plants and animals that die, settle to ocean floors, decompose, and are mashed by sliding tectonic plates, a process geologists call subduction.  Under pressure and heat, the dead creatures’ long chains of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon-bearing molecules, known as polymers, decompose into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons.  However, Earth takes its own sweet time doing this--generally thousands or millions of years--because subterranean heat and pressure changes are chaotic.  Thermal depolymerization machines turbocharge the process by precisely raising heat and pressure to levels that break the feedstock’s long molecular bonds.
Unlike previous attempts at getting oil from organic matter, TDP is energy-efficient, only using about 15BTU for every 100BTU produced.  Investors and the government are supporting TDP development and expect the first operational center to be running in 2005. “By then,” Lemley concludes, “it should be clear whether the technology is as miraculous as its backers claim.”
    On a related subject, National Geographic has a news item about the use of vegetable oil to replace fossil fuels.
This sounds like a superb example of applied science with benefits for all.  Anything that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and can make useful products out of waste is good stewardship of the environment.  Can it really be that this process is all good news and no bad news?  We’ll have to wait and see.
    Notice that oil is produced naturally by a similar process.  What Appel and the other entrepreneurs are trying to discover is how to speed up the process and make it efficient.  Their secret has been to super-hydrate the ingredients initially, unlike earlier failed attempts that drove the water out; this seems to make the difference.  If the entrepreneurs can get product in just 15 minutes, on what basis do they think the earth needs millions of years?  It’s just basic chemistry.  The rates are dependent on ingredients, temperatures, and pressures.  Long ages are not required in the earth, provided the right conditions are present.
    Anyway, this is a technology worth watching.  Maybe someday you’ll pour your garbage directly into the car’s fuel tank.  Next job: what to do with nuclear waste.  Perhaps the generation after that will run on spent nuclear fuel, something like the Mr. Fusion device Doc had attached to his DeLorean in Back to the Future II.  Ample energy for our needs is all around us if we just learn how to use it.  Clean-running hydrogen fuel cells are also an active area of research.  Science for the public well-being is one of the goals our Creation Scientist of the Month, physicist James Joule, promoted. 
    A final thought: what’s the difference between a turkey and a flask of oil?  Certainly not the ingredients.  The difference is the way those ingredients are arranged into information-rich structures, like feathers, lungs, a brain, eyes, and wings.  The way of nature is to grind things down into their simple components, not to drive them up into complex, coordinated systems.  Heat and pressure can make oil from complex hydrocarbons, but it cannot make a turkey, or a whale, or a platypus or human from atomic elements.  This is the irreversible arrow of time, the increase of entropy.  You cannot run the TDP machine in reverse by inputting a flash of oil and outputting a turkey.
    Next time someone claims you are just a few pounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, a little phosphorus and some trace minerals, remind them that they left out information.  That’s the key ingredient that can make Mars colonies out of Lego blocks and computers out of raw materials dredged from mine shafts.  This observational principle is consistent not with evolution, which attempts to breed information out of nothing, but rather with an information-rich origin of life: God, the Word, took simple dust from the earth, fashioned it into a body, then breathed into it the breath of life, and man became a living soul.
Next headline on: Geology. • Next amazing story.
Age of Chauvet Cave Art Disputed   04/22/2003
A debate is rising over the claim France’s cave art in Chauvet is 30,000 years old, says
New Scientist.  Some critics think the radiocarbon date is unreliable since it was done at one lab.  They also imagine it hard to believe that the best cave art was 15,000 years earlier than thought; the earliest art should have been more primitive and improved as early man evolved.  Chauvet cave was discovered in 1994.  When the paintings were dated by the Carbon-14 method, the results “shocked everyone.”
Let this be a lesson in the unreliability of dating methods and in the implausibility of evolutionary assumptions about the rise of man.  See also our July 2001 and Oct 2001 about Chauvet Cave.  What about the Italian cave art National Geographic reported November 2001 that was claimed to be 35,000 years old and just as good?
Next headline on: Dating Methods. • Next headline on: Early Man.
Stem Cell Update  04/22/2003: New Scientist reports on a promising source of stem cells, better than adult stem cells, that also avoids “the destruction of embryos, which pro-life groups oppose.”  The source?  Baby teeth.  Don’t tie your kid’s tooth to the doorknob just yet.
    EurekAlert reports that human stem cells might also be produced by parthenogenesis, another method that “would avoid the ethical concerns that have led to restrictions or bans on embryonic stem cell research in many countries.”  The stem cells from this method appear to be indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.
    On April 24, EurekAlert reported that scientists at University of Minnesota, working with lab mice, succeeded in getting stem cells from adult bone marrow to differentiate into all brain cell types.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.

How Long Can Fossil DNA Survive?   04/21/2003
Nature Science Update has reported that a Danish team recovered 400,000 year old DNA in Siberian permafrost.  Science News also highlighted the story in this week’s issue, describing the work of Eske Willerslev who analyzed core samples 31 meters long that they believe covers a two million year period.  At the 30,000 year mark, they found DNA from eight living and extinct animals, like hares, reindeer and mammoths.  At the 400,000 year mark they found genetic signatures of 28 modern and ancient trees, shrubs and mosses.  The team also identified DNA of extinct birds and plants from a cave in New Zealand dated to 3,000 years old.
    Science News says the scientists do not know how the animal DNA ended up locked in permafrost, unless it came from their feces.  The article also cautions that “at some sites, the mixing of soil layers over time could complicate attempts to reconstruct ancient ecosystems.”  The work by Willerslev et al is to be published in an upcoming issue of Science.

Why do these scientists believe these samples are 400,000 years old?  One word: evolution.  They dated their samples on the presumption that animals have slowly evolved over millions of years from flatworms to mammoths, and with that assumption guiding everything, made their claim.  They used index fossils to date these samples, a method dependent on evolutionary assumptions – that is how they determined what a 30,000 year mark is, and so forth.  But there are good reasons to believe DNA could not survive that long.  The fact that the DNA of leafy plants and moderate-temperature animals like horses is locked in permafrost should make one think of alternatives.  The samples do not show evolution; they show extinction, and stasis of some plants and animals that were fortunate to survive whatever drove their fellow critters under.
    An organism constantly repairs its DNA, but outside the body, that repair stops.  The DNA should then degrade relatively quickly, especially within warm road apples.  The circumstances of burial in permafrost are consistent with rapid burial and preservation under extraordinary circumstances.
    Science writers routinely rattle off long ages as matter of fact, but none of these samples come stamped with dates on them certified by Father Time or any other eyewitness.  Science is supposed to be about observable, repeatable, testable phenomena, but how are you going to repeat 400,000 years?  If mixing of soils can occur, how can you know the exact circumstances of deposition?  It is more credible to set an upper limit on dates, such as a few thousand years, based on human observation, than to set a lower limit like hundreds of thousands of years, based on extrapolation or philosophical preference.  For this reason, the younger dates have a far better observation-to-assumption ratio.  There is no reason to think that these samples are as old as claimed except for the prior assumption of evolution.  It makes more sense to conclude that the samples are not that old, and that animals went extinct but did not evolve.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Archaeology Update  04/21/2003: National Geographic News led today with two stories about ongoing efforts to validate two recent archaeological discoveries of Biblical interest: the James ossuary and the Joash inscription.  The bottom line is that it is difficult to verify artifacts that come from dealers rather than being dug up in situ.  Techniques involve paleography, or research into the writing habits and styles of the period, and analysis of the materials, including the amount of weathering and the freshness of the inscriptions.  While authenticity seems likely, there are doubters, and more work remains to be done.
One must also keep in mind the strong religious and political feelings on both sides, such as the desire by Jews to validate claims to the temple mount and the Arabs’ desire to contradict it.  There are also opportunists seeking to take advantage of these desires, and to fake spectacular finds (this also is a danger in the Chinese fossil market).  A rush to judgment or lack of care in analysis can sometimes backfire by giving an impression of lack of objectivity.  Nothing has ruled out these two artifacts from being genuine, but keeping a cool head is hard to do in such a highly polarized emotional atmosphere.  Let the experts do their analysis and let all sides be heard.  As interesting as these artifacts are, their authenticity (or doubts about it) should not in any way diminish the serious study of the Scriptures.
    Previous headlines: Jan. 14 for the Joash inscription; Oct. 21 for the James ossuary.
Next headline on: The Bible.
Peppered Mice?   04/18/2003
In a mammalian version of the famous peppered moth study by Kettlewell, some Arizona biologists have studied dark- and light-colored mice.  Color variants of rock pocket mice, Chaetodipus intermedius, were collected from natural populations in Arizona and New Mexico.  Most of the dark-haired mice live on dark lava, and most of the light-haired ones live on light-colored rock.  These scientists wanted to go beyond the work of Kettlewell and determine the genetic basis for melanism (darkening of coloration) in these mice.  They begin (emphasis added),
A key problem in evolutionary biology is to connect genotype with phenotype for fitness-related traits.  Finding the genes underlying adaptation has been difficult for a number of reasons.  First, it requires that we identify traits that are ecologically important and that we have some understanding of how these traits affect fitness in different environments.  Second, phenotypic variation of ecological relevance has often been studied in species for which we have little genetic information, making the genetic basis of the traits difficult to analyze.  For example, one of the best known cases of adaptation involves color morphs of the peppered moth Biston betularia.  Yet, after more than a half-century of study, the genes responsible for the color differences remain unknown.  Finally, many fitness-related traits are quantitative and are unlikely to have a simple genetic basis.  Because of these difficulties, the molecular basis for adaptation is known in only a handful of cases.  Most involve either biochemical polymorphisms or response to human disturbance, such as heavy metal tolerance in plants, insecticide resistance, warfarin resistance in rats, or antibiotic resistance, and in many cases, the specific nucleotide changes have not been identified.
These scientists looked into the genes of their mice for clues.  In a gene known to be responsible for hair color, they did see some frequently occurring patterns in the gene Mc1r among the dark mice; four out of nine single-nucleotide polymorphisms were found only among the dark mice at one of the collection sites.  This, they feel, lends a genetic basis to the the melanism occurring there.  But to their surprise, the population collected in New Mexico did not have these patterns in this gene.  They say that this “indicates that a similar dark phenotype has evolved independently on these different lava flows and has done so through different genetic changes, although the gene(s) involved in the Armendaris population have not yet been identified.  The distinct molecular basis for the same phenotype in two different populations provides strong evidence for convergent phenotypic evolution on a relatively short timescale; both lava flows are less than one million years old.”
    So although their genetic linkage to phenotype was only a partial success, they feel this illustrates natural selection in the wild.  Owls are presumed to be the primary agent of selection, since they are assumed to detect the contrasting color more easily.  “The data reported here,” they conclude, “present a rare example of the molecular changes underlying adaptation in a simple and natural ecological setting.”
    The paper is entitled “The genetic basis of adaptive melanism in pocket mice,” by Michael W. Nachman, Hopi E. Hoekstra, and Susan L. D'Agostino of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, published in the April 18 online preprints of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  For a summary, see the May 15 article on SciNews.
You won’t get any fair analysis on the SciNews link, which is another example of the kind of fawning, gullible, gutless, mousy science reporting that cannot bring itself to ask any hard questions, but takes whatever a scientist says as if it were a Delphic oracle.  So we will rise to stand in the gap.  What does this story prove about evolution?  Zilch.
    The paper is a fine example of science at work – unless used as support for Darwinian evolution, because that it surely is not.  Some biologists went out on a field trip and collected mice.  Fine.  They noted which colors lived in which habitats.  Dandy.  They took them back to the lab and tried to associate genes with hair color.  Wonderful.  They have demonstrated Darwinian evolution in the wild.  Whoa!
    If anything, this paper points out serious problems with evolution.  In the first place, nothing evolved: they started and ended with not just mice, but pocket mice, and not just pocket mice, but rock pocket mice, and not just rock pocket mice, but one species: C. intermedius.  We assume this all means that these mice could interbreed.  No speciation has occurred.  We have dark-skinned and light-skinned people, too, that are all Homo sapiens sapiens, but it is very un-PC to claim that any particular color is more highly evolved than another.  The same is true for mice. 
    It is probably a fair inference that an owl will go for the contrasting-colored mouse more often than one that blends in with its background.  But they did not prove this by observation.  Assuming this is true, it only involves a weeding out of varieties within existing populations of mice.  There is no evolution in the Darwinian sense of getting something new to arise from a simpler precursor.
    What these scientists did not accomplish is what they set out to prove: a genetic basis for the observed color differences.  In one of the Arizona populations, they did find a correlation between patterns in the gene Mc1r and dark coloration.  But this correlation did not hold true for the New Mexico population.  For that, they had to invoke the hand-waving argument of convergent evolution; the New Mexico mice found a different means to the same end.  The scientists did recognize that without a genetic explanation for phenotypic changes (external appearance), there is no Darwinian natural selection, only the discredited Lamarckian concept of inheritance of acquired characteristics.  But even if they found a gene linked to fur color, it is oversimplifying not to assume that other factors, such as gene expression, the environment, and inter-species relationships are not involved in the observed distributions of pocket mice color.  And where do some evolutionists’ pet theories like kin selection and sexual selection fit in?  Did they ask Minnie Mouse if she preferred a light or dark Mickey?
    So those are the pros of this study.  Now for the cons.  Look at the damaging admissions this paper makes about Darwinian evolution:
  1. “Identifying the genes underlying adaptation is a major challenge to evolutionary biology,” they say, and repeat, “A key problem in evolutionary biology is to connect genotype with phenotype for fitness-related traits.” One would think, from the hype evolution receives about what a fact it is and how it can make philosophers out of goo, that such a basic problem would have been solved after 144 years of trying. 
  2. According to this paper, the old peppered moth tale is still “one of the best known cases of adaptation.”  But the peppered moth myth was exposed by evolutionists as an overly-hyped story, not justified by the data, and in some particulars even involving fraud.*  We will not accuse these biologists of gluing mice to the rock to take their pictures, but if there existed a better example than peppered moths, so widely debunked and discredited, these scientists surely would have mentioned it instead.  (None of the other examples, such as insecticide resistance, refer to increases in genetic information, either, and notice that they were responses to human disturbance.)  Even if the peppered moth story had a fragment of credibility left, they say that the genetic basis for the coloration change remains unknown to this day.  Are we to conclude that no better example of evolutionary adaptation has been found since 1859 than peppered moths and pocket mice?  Will these pictures of dark and light mice on light and dark rocks become the new icons of evolution in public school biology textbooks?  Will the news media rise up and applaud this wonderful new example of natural selection in action?  Probably.
    (*For documentation, see Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells and Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale by Judith Hooper). 
  3. The scientists call this a an example of “convergent phenotypic evolution on a relatively short timescale,” i.e., one million years.  Are they implying that in a million years, all evolution could do for these mice was change their hair color?  We thought they expected to get a whale from a wolf-sized land creature in just 50 million.  If change in a few nucleotides in a mouse gene for hair color is all we can expect to get out of one million years of waiting for natural selection to work its wonders, we’re waiting in the wrong line.
We wish to express our sincere appreciation to scientists like these for continuing to provide us fresh material for exhibiting to the public the strongest evidences for contemporary evolutionary theory.  Keep up the good work.
Next headline on: Mammals. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Cell Celebrated   04/17/2003
The
April 17 issue of Nature features a collection of reviews on cellular dynamics: cell division, the cytoskeleton, microtubules as molecular machines, molecular motors, and more.  In the overview article, Thomas D. Pollard of Yale sees this all as the triumph of the reductionist agenda: i.e., that all this complexity can be explained from simple evolutionary precursors.
No long comments this time, since this is more of the same intellectual schizophrenia we have discussed so many times before.  Interestingly, the other authors, who describe the fine details of molecular machines, have very little to say about evolution, but Pollard waxes eloquent about it.  His remarks are characterized by sweeping generalities of bluff so characteristic of evolutionary prose, authoritative pronouncements that the peasants are supposed to just accept with awe because he, a scientist, says so.  Examples: (1) “Genes for actin and tubulin arose in prokaryotes.”  How?  He doesn’t say.  They just “arose” (the miracle of emergence).  Does he have any idea how mathematically improbable that is, that a mindless one-celled organism could invent the complex three-dimensional parts of a railroad system?  Shh!  It’s not polite to interrupt a scientist during his oracle.  (2) “In a fascinating role reversal early in eukaryotic evolution, actin filaments took over cytokinesis and microtubules assumed the partitioning of the genome.”  Awesome!  Those little mindless molecules sure are smart!  (3) “Moreover, nematodes evolved completely different cytoskeletal polymers for their amoeboid sperm.”  Wow!  Worms are even smarter.
    You get the idea.  Suggestion: print these articles out, soak them in clear water, run them through the squeegee to remove the evolutionary acid, and you’ll learn some wonderful things about the mechanical workings of the cellular factory.
Next headline on: The Cell and Biochemistry. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
State of the Solar System Theories: A Mess   04/17/2003
The tally of recently discovered extrasolar planets exceeds 100, but “not everyone is celebrating,” says Dan Falk in the
April 17 issue of Nature.  Why the long faces?  “Extrasolar planets have peculiar properties, and our understanding of how planets form, which was incomplete even before the new data became available, now looks even shakier.  The newly discovered bodies have strange, highly elliptical orbits.  They are also far closer to their stars than equivalent planets in our Solar System.  Amid the thrill of discovery, planetary scientists are wondering how to make sense of the processes that shaped these strange new worlds.”
    Falk describes how the two competing models of planetary formation, the core-accretion model and the disk-instability model, both have problems, and neither can explain the highly elliptical orbits of many extrasolar planets, or why so many large ones are so close to the parent star.  He can only hope that new instruments in Chile (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) and Hawaii (Sub-Millimeter Array) that can peer into stellar dust disks might provide answers within a decade.  But for now, “these new-found worlds don’t look much like our planetary neighbours, and no one is quite sure why.”
We think students and the public should know that after over two centuries of the nebular hypothesis, planetary scientists are still at square one explaining our solar system by natural causes.  If they thought finding extrasolar planets would complete the picture, it has only compounded the problems.  Perhaps future observations will lend support to one hypothesis over another, but if history is any guide, the number of new puzzles will outpace simple answers.  They certainly are not confident at this stage, as this article makes clear.
    Our earth is blessed by a multitude of “anthropic” characteristics: the nearly circular orbits of our planets, the placement of our moon and Jupiter, our atmosphere, our magnetic field and many other factors that combine to make our solar system a haven for life.  Without even one of these, there would be no one here to wonder.  Maybe that is the most difficult thing of all for a naturalist to explain: the origin of wonder.
    Ironically, in the same issue of Nature, Stanford geophysicist Norman H. Sleep haughtily repudiates the one alternative that does explain all the data.  In a review of two books on catastrophes and extinction, including Ward and Brownlee’s pessimistic book The Life and Death of Planet Earth, he sneers, “Reaction to the rank odour of biblical catastrophism and creationism has prejudiced serious consideration of extraterrestrial affairs in geology and biology.”  In other words, there is evidence for catastrophism, but let me make it crystal clear I do NOT mean Biblical creationism – that stinks!
    Maybe that’s what drives some of these planetary scientists: not the observations, but an irrational hatred of the Bible.  Notice how Biblical creationism is the target, not the creation account in any other religious document.  Can you imagine anyone in these PC days getting away with a remark like that about the Quran or the sacred text of any other religion, or saying the creationism of native Americans, Eskimos, aborigines or Hindus exudes a rank odour?  Such a slur would mean instant vilification on the front pages of world newspapers, and angry demands for a retraction.  Stanford would undoubtedly ask him to resign.  But with the Bible – that’s another story: it’s always open season here; fire away!
    In a way, that’s kind of a back-handed endorsement.  There must be something there worth investigating if it makes certain people so mad.  Didn’t Jesus (who was a Biblical creationist) say that the world would hate his followers?  “Therefore let us go forth unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).  As the writer of Hebrews encouraged early Christians to leave the majority camp and endure the shame that would result, scientists who fear God and respect His word need to be ready when leaving the majority camp of naturalistic science.  The reaction behind you may not be rational, but the company in front of you is wonderful.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Reports from Iraq  04/16/2003:
Though somewhat off the topic of origins, a few stories coming out of Iraq are a study in contrasts, and a grim reminder that ideas have consequences.  Read these and weep.
How the prince lived.
How the people lived.
What the reporter who interviewed Saddam found.
What the Marines found.
What some people think about all this.
Weeping is a good sign, even anger.  Now, what are you going to do about it?  Have you ever considered what people in 1945 must have thought when the unspeakable cruelties of the Holocaust became known?  Did you ever prejudge the indifference some showed?  Now it’s our turn.  And remember, Iraq has been just one of many places around the world where people suffer unspeakable atrocities and are denied basic human rights.  Personal or armed intervention may not always be possible, but anyone can do these: get informed, support those who can intervene, speak out, and pray.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.

Gene for Speciation Found?   04/15/2003
What splits a species in two, such that reproductive isolation occurs?  A team of Cambridge geneticists, writing in the April 14 preprints of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, thinks they have uncovered a gene in fruit flies that drives different species apart, making hybrids incapable of producing fertile or viable offspring.
    In the 1940s, Dobzhansky and Muller theorized how genes might diverge between two populations and become lethal to each other:
Their theory envisions that during or after speciation different alleles will evolve in different species.  These alleles can reach fixation by either positive selection or neutral drift, but during this period, there is no selection against potentially deleterious interactions with derived alleles that are evolving in other species.  These deleterious interactions will be observed only in hybrids between the species.
John Roote et al claim to have discovered a hybridization gene Hmr in fruit flies that keeps Drosophila melanogaster (the widely-studied species) from being able to produce fertile hybrids with others.  The gene has diverged rapidly, they claim, between various species of Drosophila, at an “extraordinarily high rate” of amino acid substitutions, insertions, and deletions, such that crosses between species are either sterile or lethal.  This hints at a mechanism that produces reproductive isolation; “Population genetic analysis will be required to test the hypothesis,” they caution, “that the divergence of Hmr reflects positive selection, but our present results do strongly suggest that this divergence cannot be explained as nonfunctionalization of Hmr caused by a loss of selective constraint.”  Other clues suggest to them that the changes are not due solely to neutral drift (i.e., random substitutions due to mutations or copying errors), but are being acted on by natural selection in some way, and quickly: “Our first glimpses of speciation genes therefore suggest that they may have the special property of rapid sequence divergence.”  So have they found the answer to speciation?  Can one rapidly-evolving gene explain it?  They map out the action items, in conclusion (emphasis added):
These findings raise important questions about the mechanism of species incompatibilities.  If the rapid evolution of speciation genes is found to be typical, it might suggest that multiple substitutions with synergistic effects are required before a gene becomes functionally diverged enough between species to cause a hybrid phenotype.  Alternatively, a few substitutions, or even a single substitution, might be sufficient to create a hybrid incompatibility allele, with their high divergence rates reflecting the fact that many substitutions must occur before one has functional significance in hybrids.  These possibilities can be addressed by investigating the mechanism of hybrid lethality by using the powerful genetic resources of D. melanogaster.  Identifying the genes that interact with or are downstream of Hmr will also help to answer whether hybrid incompatibility genes are in general evolving rapidly.
The paper is entitled, “A rapidly evolving MYB-related protein causes species isolation in Drosophila.”
Judge: You may now question the witness.  Prosecutor: Thank you, your honor.  Mr. Roote, what led you to conclude this gene had evolved rapidly?  (We found homologues in other species with numerous substitutions, insertions, and deletions.)  And yet these genes were functional, correct?  (Yes.)  How did you know they were homologous?  (Presumably they derived from a common ancestor.)  How do you know they had a common ancestor?  (Because they have these homologous genes.)  I see.  How did you calibrate the speed at which this gene diverged?  (We used the molecular clock, the rate at which mutations accumulate.)  And how is the molecular clock calibrated?  (By invoking the time of the last common ancestor, and counting the changes since then.)  In this exhibit, I show two family trees of arthropods from two scientists that differ radically in their placement and timing of the last common ancestor.  Can you tell me which one I should use to calibrate the molecular clock?
Defense Attorney: Objection!  Teasing the witness!
Judge: Sustained.
Prosecutor: Did the rapidly-evolving gene you describe run on a different molecular clock than other genes on the same chromosome?  (Apparently, probably because it was being acted on by positive selection.)  Did you discover any evidence of positive selection, or that the gene led to any increase in information or improvement of function in the new species?  (No, but we assume it must have, because the nature of the changes appeared to be non-random.)  Yet all species of fruit flies are still fruit flies, correct?  (Yes.)  Did you start and end with fruit flies?  (Of course.)
    Are you aware of any species of Drosophila that has a new organ or function that is in some way superior, or more fit, than another species?  (Well, some are adapted to different habitats or food sources.)  But they all have the same basic structures and functions: wings, mouth parts, and so forth, is that correct?  (I suppose so.)  Nothing that might involve new genetic instructions that would require an increase in information or function?  (Adaptation does not always have to be upward...)  I understand, but what I’m asking is, do you have any evidence from your observations of fruit fly genes that one species has evolved a new organ or function that a previous species did not have?  (I suppose if you ask it that way, the answer is no.)  And yet your paper says that multiple substitutions would have had to occur in synergy to produce new function?  (Yes.)  Any evidence that has happened?  (No, except that the substitutions did not appear to be random.)  But you could not determine if these changes occurred together?  (No.)  Is synergy permissible in evolutionary theory?  (What do you mean?)  I mean, having several random changes occurring synergistically – wouldn’t that be teleological?
Defense Attorney: Objection!  Leading question.
Judge: Sustained; rephrase the question without the T word.
Prosecutor: Mr. Roote, you stated in your conclusion that multiple substitutions with synergistic effects would be required, or that many substitutions must occur before the gene has functional significance.  Do you have any evidence that this occurred?  (No, other than that the genes do show a marked degree of divergence now.)  Do you know of a way that unguided mutations could produce this synergy of effects?  (Only via natural selection.)  And yet each mutation would have to confer a functional advantage in some way to be selected, is that right?  (Yes, that is my understanding of how natural selection works.)  Did you and your colleagues map out any plausible sequence of changes in this gene, and calculate any fitness benefit or cost of each substitution?  (No, that would be highly speculative and nearly impossible to test.)  Is there any other functional part of a fruit fly for which this has been done?  (Pause... Not to my knowledge.)
    Do you feel your paper lends support to the theory of common descent?  (Absolutely; I mean, it’s not like there isn’t a lot more work to do, but we are slowly putting the pieces of a vast puzzle together to attack this major question of how species originate, which will take a great deal of time and the efforts of scientists around the world for a long time to come.)  So Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species 144 years ago, but even in our age of genomics, the puzzle remains to be solved?  (Well, I think we have made a lot of progress, but then again, different schools of thought have different ....)
Judge: Answer the question.
(What was the question again?)  Prosecutor: Has Darwinian evolution been able to explain the origin of species?  (Well, in general, I would say yes, but in the particulars, not yet.)  Did you ever consider how your data might fit into any alternative paradigm?  (Like what?)  Like design, for instance.
Defense Attorney: Objection!  Irrelevant.  Religion has no place in a scientific courtroom!
Judge: Overruled; counsel did not imply religion in his question.  Please restate the question.
Prosecutor: I assume you believe that all living things, including fruit flies, derive from a common ancestor, is that right?  (Yes, that is the only scientific approach.)  Did you ever take your raw data and consider whether it might fit with any alternative approach that does not use common descent as a starting assumption?  (Long pause and quizzical look ... We did not consider that possibility, no, but...)
Prosecutor: No further questions, your honor.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next headline on: Bugs.
Origin of Sex: “Queen of Evolutionary Problems”   04/14/2003
Despite the suggestions given on the PBS Evolution TV episode Why Sex?, the origin of sex is still hard to explain in evolutionary terms, because it involves a high cost without a clear benefit.  Now, according to a piece in the April 15
Current Biology, the conundrum got deeper.  Some evolutionists have hypothesized that sex provides an advantage by purging the genome of debilitating mutations.  Presumably, asexual organisms have a tougher time shedding mutations than sexual populations, who can dilute a mutation by half every time a couple mates.  A tiny crustacean named Darwinula stevensoni, however, appears to have maintained its genomic integrity across long ages and widely separated habitats.  This may be due to enhanced DNA repair mechanisms; so it not only avoids mutation load, but has the asexual benefit of passing 100% of its genome along.
    Reporter Nigel Williams remarks that there are now more than 20 hypotheses concerning the origin of sex.  He calls it the ‘queen of evolutionary problems’.  Williams leaves the problem unsolved, stating that if this crustacean has enhanced DNA repair, “then these small crustaceans may have beaten sex at its own ubiquitous and influential game.”
If this is the queen of evolutionary problems, then the king is how you get life at all without intelligent design, and the joker is the evolutionary storyteller.
    Good parents warn their children that if you tell one lie, you usually have to tell additional lies to back up the first lie, until you get caught in your own “tangled web” of deceit.  Here, evolutionists have told the whopper that you can get a universe and life without design, and now they’ve devised 20+ tales in response to the interrogation, “If what you told me is true, then why did sex evolve, when it costs far more than any supposed selective advantage it would give an organism?”  The only way out of this web is to go back to square one and start over with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Traffic Controls in the Cell Prevent Traffic Jams   04/14/2003
Cells have a variety of cargos that need shipping, including messenger RNA particles, mitochondria, endosomes, lipid droplets, and more.  These are continually on the move in the cell, going from one part of the cell to another, where needed.  They are carried along by molecular motors that move along tracks called microtubules that have a + (plus) end and a - (minus) end.  Each transporter moves toward its specific polarity: kinesin moves toward plus, and dynein moves toward minus.  Both motors can grab a piece of cargo simultaneously, but this creates a situation like a boxcar being pulled by engines facing opposite directions.  How does the cell coordinate the movements?  Is it a tug-o'war, or is there some switching action that coordinates the traffic?
    Apparently the latter.  In the April 15 issue of
Current Biology, Steven P. Gross of UC Irvine reviews today’s understanding on the subject.  Although much remains to be explained, a complex of proteins appears to act like springs to engage or disengage the transporter when necessary, as if putting the idle engine in neutral so the driving engine can have priority.  In addition, additional regulation is needed to govern which direction has priority.  The result is that even with one-way engines, interference is avoided, so that cargo can move both forward and backward on the track, and even reverse direction if the need arises.  By removing these controls, scientists have been able to create traffic jams and pile-ups in a system that otherwise works in smooth coordination.
All this, and no need for traffic reports every six minutes on the radio.  How many commuters have any conception of the fact that deep inside their bodies, a transportation network vastly exceeding the freeway system of a large city, functions smoothly, night and day, without accidents?
    Out of mercy, we will spare you a description of the complex procedures involved in getting a new protein into a mitochondrion, described in another article in the same issue of Current Biology.
Next headline on: The Cell and Biochemistry. • Next amazing story.
“Implications Are Enormous” – Radiocarbon Dates Support Solomon’s Glory   04/12/2003
Newly measured carbon-14 dates of remains at Tel Rehov in northern Israel support the traditional chronology of David and Solomon, claims Amahai Mazar of Hebrew University, who published his team’s results in the
April 11 issue of Science.  By extension, these dates (940 to 900 BC) corroborate many other contemporaneous sites that critics have alleged were built a century later.  The abstract states,
Stratified radiocarbon dates provide an independent chronological link between archaeological layers and historical data.  The invasion by Pharaoh Shoshenq I (Shishak) is a key historical synchronism, ~925 B.C.E., mentioned in both Egyptian inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible.  The list of places raided by Shoshenq, mentioned at Karnak (Egypt), includes Rehov (Israel).  The site yielded a consistent series of radiocarbon dates from the 12th to 9th century B.C.E.  Our results (i) suggest a revised Iron-Age chronology; (ii) date an archaeological stratum to Shoshenq’s campaign; (iii) indicate the similarity of “Solomonic” and “Omride” pottery; and (iv) provide correlation with Greece and Cyprus.
Harvard University archaeologist Lawrence Stager remarked that “The implications are enormous for recreating the history of ancient Israel.”
    In recent years, archaeologists like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University have alleged that magnificent buildings throughout Palestine could not have been built by David or Solomon because they postdated the two reputed nation-builders of Israel.  This has caused some to question whether David and Solomon were true historical figures or just mythical heroes, and as William Dever of the University of Arizona observes, has caused some Israelis to think that “the very foundations of Zionism’s claim to the land have been undermined” by Finkelstein’s chronology.
    If Mazar’s dates are correct, however, it not only “fits nicely” with the conquering tour of Egyptian pharaoh Shishak shortly after the time of Solomon, but it also corroborates other sites possessing so-called “Solomonic” architecture and pottery.  Finkelstein is not yet convinced, however, and intends to publish his own dates to support his views.  But Stager thinks Mazar’s dating “puts the nail in the coffin” of Finkelstein’s theory.  The story is reported on Science Now, “Radiocarbon dating supports Solomon’s Stature.”  A summary was posted Apr. 13 on EurekAlert.
The radiocarbon technique quickly loses its validity for prehistoric dating, but as a tool to double-check events within a few thousand years, it has some value.  This publication is interesting in that it comes from a secular science journal with an international reputation.  It fits in with a long pattern of skepticism against the authenticity of the Bible being overthrown by further investigation.
    David’s name has been found on a contemporary inscription, but why are there so few inscriptions from this period?  We must remember that in subsequent history, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and Crusaders repeatedly wreaked havoc throughout the land of Israel, destroying monuments, burning, looting and pillaging.  Archaeology is like trying to read a blackboard that has been repeatedly erased and written over.  In addition, the Jews did not carve inscriptions in stone as often as other nations such as Egypt, so there is not much blackboard to read.  The surprise is that so much is left.  The Jews did leave, however, an impressive body of writing that was meticulously copied with utmost care, as would be due what they considered to be the very word of God.  In the Old Testament (and the New Testament which takes its authenticity as a given), there is a superabundance of information from the period.
    In addition, the archaeologist’s spade has turned up evidence all over Palestine from before and after Solomon supporting the written Biblical accounts.  Examples include the Ras Shamra tablets, the site of Sodom’s destruction, evidences of Joshua’s campaigns at Jericho and Hazor, the Tel Dan inscription that mentions Israel and the house of David, the recent discovery of an inscription supporting Joash’s repair of the temple, Hezekiah’s tunnel, Sennacherib’s stele, the Moabite stone, the Lachish letters, and much more.  Biblical archaeology is a lively and active enterprise with many successes, considering only a small fraction of sites have been fully excavated.  Now, the case has been strengthened that many of the massive gates, palaces and stables that skeptics have claimed are 9th century are rightly attributed to Solomonic times.  This reinforces the traditional Biblical chronology.
    Although this paper is interesting and important, the Bible itself bears its own internal marks of authenticity.  Anyone who has read the accounts of David and Solomon would have a hard time believing them to be made-up accounts of mythical heroes.  For one thing, what myth-maker would include all the embarrassing details of the heroes’ mistakes and sins?  For another, the amount of descriptive detail in names, places, and events, the extensive genealogies, and the correspondence with other known events from secular history – these all put the burden of proof on the skeptic.  Both internal and external evidences on many fronts demonstrate that the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes, are historically accurate.  Why is it that skeptics will more readily accept the writings of other nations, like the Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans or Babylonians, than the Old Testament?  Those who come at the evidence without a skeptical ax to grind are often convinced by the sheer weight of evidence.  For a recent and very interesting example, read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, a former atheist skeptic himself, an investigative reporter who knows how to ask the hard questions.
    Skeptics are like useful idiots who end up strengthening the case for the historicity and authenticity of the Bible.  Without hammers repeatedly pounding and breaking on the Biblical anvil, we might not know how strong the anvil really is.
Next headline on: The Bible. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Artifacts Looted from Iraqi Museum   04/12/2003
Priceless artifacts from the cradle of civilization have been stolen from the Iraq National Museum by looters, reports
CBS News.  Baghdad citizens taking advantage of the power vacuum helped themselves to almost everything.  Gone to the black market, private collectors or meltdown are the Ram in the Thicket from Ur (2600 BC), a gold mask of an Akkadian king, and perhaps the Code of Hammurabi, along with thousands of other treasures.  The fact that vaults were found open leads observers to believe that museum employees may have been involved in the theft.
    New Scientist reports that an international effort has been launched to recover the artifacts, but if the catalog has been destroyed, there may not be a way to know how much has been lost.
Update 04/17/2003: The FBI has announced it has sent agents to Iraq to assist the nation in recovering its antiquities stolen by looters.
Update 05/06/2003: Good news: WorldNetDaily reports that the losses may be far less than at first feared.  The looting was mostly of furniture and office equipment.  While much was taken, many of the antiquities feared lost are still intact.  The looting appears more and more to have been an inside job, not random looting by the public.  See also the MSNBC May 17 report.
Coalition forces had specific orders to protect antiquities.  They did not bomb museums, and now they are trying to help in the recovery effort.  Certain individuals are quick to blame the Americans for this “inexcusable and avoidable” loss, but it was not Americans who looted; it was Iraqi citizens, and some of it may have been the work of organized professional thieves.  It didn’t matter to the perpetrators that these are treasures that belong to all mankind, that these priceless artifacts for understanding history are Iraq’s pride.  The evil of the human heart just needs the restraints to be lifted for a short time to reveal its ugliness.
    Just a short distance south of Ararat, Iraq is the heartland of where Semite nations settled after the Flood, as listed in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.  The whole country is an archaeological treasure trove that for decades under Saddam Hussein has been too dangerous politically to explore.  We can only hope some museum employees with higher values rescued items for safekeeping, and that others will turn them in when the new government takes hold.
    Anti-Americans need to realize that Hussein was no benefactor to archaeologists and things could have been far worse without American intervention.  Hussein was about to dam the Tigris River and drown dozens of sites, including the ancient Assyrian capital of Ashur.  It remains to be seen whether the new government stops the dam project, takes better care of its treasures, and allows more freedom for archaeologists to bring the past to light.  Free governments have a far better record of preserving their heritage.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics. • Next headline on: The Bible.
Can Molecules Dance Without a Choreographer?   04/12/2003
Harvard chemist David Liu is following nature’s way of producing new organic compounds: evolution, claims Robert F. Service in the
April 11 issue of Science.  “By linking organic reactants to a series of DNA molecules preprogrammed to bind to one another, his team coaxed the organic molecules to react together in multiple steps to form desired compounds,” Service explains.  “By starting with an assortment of DNA molecules, the researchers can choreograph reactants to assemble themselves into a wide variety of products in the same beaker.”  Liu then selects the products he wants from a “library” of similar molecules.  Paraphrasing Liu’s comments, Service says, “in this case molecules found to be reactive can easily be identified, selected, and put to work, just by borrowing tools nature has used for billions of years.”  In his article entitled, “Synthetic Chemists Cast DNA as Molecular Dance Master,” Service builds on the choreography metaphor.
How many times do we have to point out the fallacy of this kind of argument?  This is not evolution; it is intelligent design!  Liu is preprogramming and strategizing and coaxing and filtering and selecting and choreographing a desired result.  These are attributes of mind and purpose, not chance.  Even if you outsource the production of building blocks to a quasi-random source then select what you want, you are not “evolving” products, you are designing them.  Nature has neither the desire nor the power to select optimum designs unless you personify her as a goddess.  This kind of directed evolution is anathema to the purist naturalist, and should have been scorned by Science magazine and condemned by Cardinal Ruse.  Without a choreographer, you won’t get a ballet.  The blind, undirected dancers will step on each other’s toes until a dogpile results.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next dumb story.
DNA Epic Saga a Bigger Production than First Realized   04/12/2003
“DNA’s Cast of Thousands” is the subject of Elisabeth Pennisi’s commentary in the
April 11 issue of Science special issue on “Building on the DNA Revolution.”  She recounts the history of the discovery of DNA, and where research is headed.  The story line is one of increasing complexity: nucleic acids (1860), a blurry idea of a helical molecule (1951), the genetic code deciphered (1953), then a mushrooming bonanza of discoveries about supporting cast: messenger RNA, transfer RNA, transcription factors, polymerases, repair teams, histones, chromatin, and more.  Typical quote: “Again, the process is proving to be even more complicated than researchers initially realized.”  Pennisi ends on the recent suggestion that a histone code exists that is “as complex and important as the DNA code.”  She ends, “Forty years ago, Brenner and others were convinced that the central questions in molecular biology would be answered well before the turn of the century.  Now they know better.  The nature of the histone code is just one of many problems whose complexities are left to be unraveled.”
Funny; no mention of evolution in the whole screenplay.  Wasn’t Darwin voted Best Director of this cast of thousands?
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
The Cannibal in Your Evolutionary Past   04/11/2003
National Geographic reports on a paper in the Apr. 11 issue of Science that cannibalism may have been common among our primitive ancestors.  This is based on genetic evidence that humans evolved a defense against prion diseases that can result from eating one’s own kind.  A critic disagrees, based on Darwinian theory: “You would think in terms of evolution that if people ate each other we wouldn’t be around.  It’s not a good survival strategy, not a way for a species to proceed.”
Did you want freedom fries with that?
Next headline on: Early Man. • Next dumb story.
Human Cloning May Not Be Possible   04/11/2003
The
BBC News says that human and primate cloning may face insuperable obstacles.  Hundreds of attempts on monkeys have failed.  The problem has something to do with the way DNA is parcelled out among developing cells; they either get too much or too little DNA, and cannot survive.
It would certainly be better to find this out now rather than having to face endless debates with naturalistic scientists, who have no absolute foundation for morals, on why cloning is immoral.  Unfortunately, this news will probably not stop certain ones from continuing to try.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Impact Theory for Dinosaur Extinction Debated   04/10/2003
“Listeners were shocked and stunned that two groups could disagree so much,” reports
Nature Science Update about heated debate in Nice, France between geophysicists.  They were evaluating evidence from the first drilling of the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan.  One researcher claims to have found fossils of plankton that survived 300,000 years after the alleged impact; it must have been smaller than assumed.  Others deny the fossil evidence or think a series of impacts might have led to the extinction.
We can’t let the impact theory go extinct.  Just think of all the great cartoons made over the last 25 years.
Next headline on: Dinosaurs. • Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Geology.
Fail-Safe Mechanism Protects Against Gene Re-replication   04/09/2003
As if you didn’t already have enough to worry about: some 8 million of your cells are dividing at any one time, and they had better get it right, each and every time, because mistakes can be disastrous.  During the cell division process (the cell cycle), all those DNA base pairs need to be duplicated so that each daughter cell has a copy.  How does the cell guarantee no strand is accidentally copied twice?  The cell has a system of checks and balances.  A stretch of DNA needs to first obtain a license to be copied.  Once the copy is done, the license is removed.  Writing in the April 4 issue of
Cell, Scottish biologist J. Julian Blow explains how this works:
The replication of eukaryotic chromosomal DNA requires the initiation of replication forks from thousands of replication origins.  These must be regulated so that none fires more than once in each cell cycle.  The cell achieves this by breaking the initiation process into two nonoverlapping phases.  In the first phase, occurring in late mitosis and early G1, replication origins are “licensed” for replication by assembly of a prereplicative complex (pre-RC) of initiation proteins.  When replication forks are initiated at licensed replication origins during the subsequent S phase, the pre-RC is disassembled, converting the origin to the unlicensed state incapable of supporting further initiation.  In order for this system to work properly, the licensing system that assembles new pre-RCs must shut down before S phase starts.
He reports on a new function of a multi-talented protein named Ran that is involved in this last step.  But it is probably far from the whole story.  Blow concludes, “it is unlikely that direct inhibition of licensing by Ran-GTP is the only control.  Previous work suggests that several redundant mechanisms might exist to minimize the risk of re-replication occurring, an event with potentially catastrophic consequences.”  The Preview article is entitled, “A New Role for Ran in Ensuring Precise Duplication of Chromosomal DNA.”
What amazing and wonderful mechanisms are being discovered at work in the basic unit of life, the cell.  Think of it: quality control, checks and balances, high-availability, redundant hardware and software, security procedures, ultra-high fidelity, homeland security – all at the nanometer scale.  Can the totalitarian dictatorship of Darwinism in the sciences handle this flood of new discoveries?  Scientists need the freedom to think outside the box of the current reigning philosophy of naturalism.  There is no mention of evolution in this paper.  Perhaps scientists are afraid to say anything if they cannot pay homage to Darwin.  It’s time for regime change, and there will be dancing in the labs.
    For a good visualization of DNA packaging, operation, and repair, including the histone code, see this cool illustration at New Scientist.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Is Polyploidy a Mechanism for Evolution?   04/09/2003
What happens to genes in duplicated genomes?  This is a question Elizabeth A. Kellogg (U. of Missouri) addresses in a Commentary in the April 7
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Occasionally, despite the cell’s quality controls (see previous headline), an entire copy of a genome makes its way into a daughter cell, resulting in what is called polyploidy.  Each metazoan cell is diploid at least, because it has copies from each parent.  Some plants are tetraploid, with four copies.  Plant breeders can induce polyploidy in the lab, and it can occur in nature.  Biochemists have uncovered what appear to be past duplication events in some organisms, including yeast and humans, “in which the chromosome complement doubled at some time in the past and then, through gene silencing, mutation, and loss, reverted to a diploid-like state.”  For viability, cells must carefully regulate which genes in which copies get expressed.
    Evolutionists have expected to find some things by studying these extra copies: (1) Copies would mutate faster, since they would be inactive, and not subject to natural selection.  In time, these would become pseudogenes, a form of “junk” DNA; i.e., functionless vestiges of the organism’s evolutionary past.  (2) It might be possible to trace family trees by deducing when the duplication events occurred.  (3) Polyploidy might be a source of variation on which mutation and natural selection could give rise to new species.
    Kellogg’s paper explores some possibilities there is more going on than mere cluttering of the genome with dead copies.  For instance, both copies might have taken on individual roles of an original multi-function gene (a hypothesis called subfunctionalization).  Although Ohno suggested a copy could mutate and gain a new function, Kellogg says “Hughes presents extensive data to argue against this possibility, at least in the form outlined by Ohno.”  She provides no example of a copy that improves fitness; “Positive selection,” she comments, “is presumed to be rare.”  Perhaps the copies remain viable, but any mutation and selection occurs upstream, via epigenetic factors that control gene expression.
    It appears from more recent studies that the organism does not end up with a live copy and a dead copy; gene expression occurs in both, without “biased gene expression” (i.e., all the expression going to one of the copies).  Nevertheless, certain genes are silenced on one copy and activated on the other in a complex way.  For instance, one organ might have the gene expressed from one copy, and another organ from the other copy.
    How long does it take for the copies to differ?  Adams et al found no differences between ancient diploids compared to modern polyploids, a surprising result “if biased gene expression requires millions of years of genomes coexisting in a common nucleus.... This then suggests that expression changed immediately on formation of polyploids.”
    Does a useless copy slowly mutate into oblivion?  Kellogg says, “There is no evidence that mutation rate suddenly jumps with polyploid formation.  Instead, it is more likely that initial expression changes are caused by epigenetic mechanisms.”  Epigenetic (above-gene) mechanisms contradict the “central dogma” of genetics that DNA is the master control of the cell.  Scientists now suspect that other heritable controls, such as methylation patterns of histones in chromatin (the histone code), can regulate gene expression and may be just as important as DNA itself.  If this is the case, polyploidy may only provide spare parts for an already-rich toolkit used by all organisms.  Kellogg explains the analogy (emphasis added):
Expression and function of many genes have apparently been conserved over evolutionary time.  This observation has led to suggestions that all organisms, at least those in the same kingdom, may work with the same basic genetic toolkit.  Although this is undoubtedly true in general, polyploidy provides a way to diversify the basic set of tools, and plants in particular have taken advantage of this opportunity.  By copying their genomes, they retain the tool kit and at the same time generate a garage full of spare parts.  Gene duplication can provide the raw material for expression changes to occur, and polyploidy itself can trigger epigenetic changes. 
“The next step,” Kellogg concludes, “is to connect differential gene expression to selectable changes that drive the origin of species.”
So the article ends with another promissory note for an evolutionary story.  You will read in vain to find some hard evidence that polyploidy is a major mechanism for the origin of species, like some evolutionists claim.  “The origin of species,” Darwin’s famous title, is Kellogg’s last phrase, but only in reference to unfinished business.  No connection between polyploidy and the origin of species is provided; it’s always “the next step” for evolutionary theory to explain.
    Furthermore, the changes in differential gene expression do not require millions of years; they occur immediately.  Kellogg gives no hope that studying polyploidy will help produce trees of common ancestry.  Though sequence similarities appear to be orthologous (related), “because the term ‘orthologous’ is defined solely with reference to a gene tree, orthology can only be demonstrated with a molecular phylogeny.”  That’s it.  You have to already know the tree to call something orthologous – a case of circular reasoning.
    If any evolutionary conclusions can be drawn from this paper, it is only that downhill or horizontal variation occurs, not the kind of variation that leads to new organs, functions, and complexity.  Copies either degenerate into pseudogenes, or (if subfunctionalization occurs), they divide the functions that already existed.  Nothing novel or better arises; the Hughes citation makes the point.  All said and done, Kellogg ends with a reference worthy of intelligent design theory: organisms have a toolkit, and they maintain spare parts.  Use of the toolkit depends on epigenetic mechanisms even more complex than DNA that we are just beginning to uncover.  Where is the evolutionary explanation for all this design?  As usual, “Oh—that’s the next step.”
    If you’re sick and tired of waiting for the UN (United Naturalists) to come to a resolution, study DNA from an intelligent design perspective.  It’s good for a dose of shock and awe.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Colorful Birds Go Extinct More – Or Do They?   04/08/2003
National Geographic reports on a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Paul F. Doherty et al that claims that bird populations with colorful males go extinct 23% more often than birds where males and females are both the same color.  Doherty feels this lends support to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection; bright plumage incurs a cost but yields the benefit of greater reproductive success.  But according to the study, based on 21 years of results from the North American Bird Breeding Survey, colorful species quickly recolonize the area, so there is no net loss of dichromatic (two-color) species.
This paper illustrates dogmatism that will spin any collection of data, no matter how contradictory or counter-intuitive, into support for its assumptions.  Evolutionary theory is so flexible it can explain anything.  In Texas, the species counts are stable, so Doherty’s findings don’t hold.  The conclusions are all based on inferences from statistical counts, not actually watching species go extinct because they weren’t the fittest.  There is no net evolution, because dichromatic species don’t decrease in numbers.  Doherty presents no evidence that any one species evolved into something else, or that colorful males got more and more extreme till they went extinct (we still have peacocks, don’t we?).  If sexual selection is a basic principle of nature, why does it produce dull-colored birds where the sexes look the same?  Why don’t the females get colorful half the time – is this a kind of chauvinism on the part of male evolutionary biologists?  There are so many conundrums with the theory of sexual selection, and so many exceptions to the “rule”, it should be tossed out as Charlie’s little pet theory that couldn’t stand up to scrutiny.
    A Commentary on this study published May 5 in PNAS by James P. Calvet reveals that, despite Calvet’s optimism, the data are open to various interpretations, and understanding the role of sexual selection is still futureware.
Next headline on: Birds. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Editorials  04/08/2003: Richard Halvorson, an editorial editor writing “Confessions of a Skeptic” in The Harvard Crimson, calls Darwinism the idol of our time.  (He is a skeptic of said idolatry.)
    Benjamin D. Wiker, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, wrote the cover story of Crisis: Politics, Culture & the Church April 7, 2003 entitled, “Does Science Point to God?  The Intelligent Design Revolution.”
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.

Bacterial Fossils Challenge “Snowball Earth” Hypothesis   04/08/2003
Three University of California earth scientists found alleged microfossils in Death Valley that left them puzzled.  Writing in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they present evidence of a rich community of prokaryotes and eukaryotes that appear to have been healthy and diverse both before and after the assumed deep-freeze that evolutionists say occurred around 750 million years ago.  “No significant changes are noted between older, presnowball biotas and the synglacial snowball biotas,” they conclude:

The fact that heterotrophic and autotrophic eukaryotes appear to have survived unscathed through this interval leads one to question the severity of glacial environments in the tropical marine realm during these glacial times, the amount of ice-covered oceans, and the inhospitable nature of the snowball aftermath.  While we must accept the credibility of low-latitude glaciation in Neoproterozoic time, and accept that these conditions represented a stressful environment on many parts of the globe, the extend of ice-covered oceans, and thus the ability to affect severely the course of evolution, is less clear.
So although they are not ready to overthrow the snowball earth hypothesis, they are puzzled that these organisms show no apparent stress during a long period of deep freeze.  “The California microfossils,” they say, “challenge the ideas that climatic perturbations catastrophically affected the marine biosphere and they suggest that a completely ice-covered ocean was unlikely, or that the resiliency of life has been underestimated.”  The paper is entitled, “A complex microbiota from snowball Earth times: Microfossils from the Neoproterozoic Kingston Peak Formation, Death Valley, USA.”
If earth were ever a snowball, it very likely could never have recovered.  Raw data again challenge an evolutionary story.  “The snowball Earth hypothesis predicts a ‘freeze-fry, double-whammy,’ to have affected the course of evolution in a bottleneck and flush style (a complete global freeze followed by an intensely hot and inhospitable aftermath),” they explain.  “The Kingston Peak Formation microbiotas contradict these hypothesized extremes.  Taxonomic and trophic complexity does not appear to have changed significantly during the glaciation.”
    These scientists opt for a soft, smushy snowball instead of a hard bunker-buster.  But the fossils indicate that complex eukaryotic bacteria, including photosynthetic types that rely on sunlight, were doing just fine the whole time, enjoying the balmy weather (it probably wasn’t like present-day Death Valley when they lived).  Where is the evidence for any snowball fight?  There were glaciers, there are fossils, but an ice-covered globe is just a story somebody made up.  How long will it take for this theory to be tossed into the dust bin, and the picturesque phrase “snowball earth” drop out of the vocabulary?
    The ability of a stressful environment “to affect severely the course of evolution, is less clear,” they say.  You don’t say.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Oldest Fossils Debated   04/07/2003
Space.com has an article presenting two sides of a debate about the world’s oldest alleged microfossils: are they from life, or chemistry?  The dispute is about Western Australian greenstones.  In 1993, J. William Schopf claimed that microscopic structures in the 3.465 billion year old dikes in the formations were bacterial in origin.  This would have placed the origin of life a billion years earlier than previously assumed, indicating that “life had already established a firm foothold on Earth” shortly after its origin.  Schopf and Donald Lowe are believers in the microfossils, but Martin Brasier believes the chert dikes in the greenstone were formed by hydrothermal vents, too hot for life.  Lowe, however, thinks that spherules in the chert have an extraterrestrial origin (from meteorites), indicating they must have come from above, not below.  Reporter David Tenenaum (Astrobiology Magazine) leaves the debate unsettled, admitting that interpreting ancient geology is like trying to read a book in a language we don’t understand.
It is a slight improvement to see two sides of a controversy presented, but there is a third side totally ignored: those who think the dating is unreliable and the assumption of abiogenesis is irrational.  All the scientists in the story believe life arose by chance from chemistry.  The only question is when, and whether or not these particular rocks support one believer’s incredible claim.  The article shamelessly prints a date of four significant figures without error bars, without any hint of the assumptions on which the the dates were calculated, as if they are rock solid and indisputable.
    For other examples of obfuscation on Space.com, see another article today on Space.Com that calls water “the elixir of life.”  (Try our experiment: take sterile dirt, just add water, and watch it, for a lo-o-o-o-o-ng time.)  The article displays photos of earth organisms with the suggestion similar life-forms may have evolved on Mars – no evidence whatsoever – just the assumption that if there is water, life must be inevitable.
    Fair and honest science reporting needs to expand its horizons beyond the Darwin Party line.  The astrobiologists at Space.com give a false appearance of impartiality by having only evolutionists debate the evidence.  This would be akin to the Chaldean Tribune of 604 BC reporting a debate between leading soothsayers on the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, while refusing to grant an interview to Daniel.
Next headline on: Fossils. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Blood Clotting Regulated by Sodium Switch   04/04/2003
An article in the April issue of the Cell journal
Structure says that another regulator of blood clotting, involving a sodium switch, has been discovered.  The article begins by describing some of the tight regulation of blood clotting and why it is important:
Blood is probably one of the most versatile tissues.  It transports nutrients, metabolites, signaling molecules, and immunoactive compounds throughout the body.  When shed, it quickly clots.  Clotting is induced by the thrombotic cascades, in which a fast, successive activation of enzymes ultimately transforms soluble fibrinogen into solid fibrin.  The intricate pathways of these cascades allow rigorous checks and bounds, resulting in tight regulation, not only to prevent the loss of blood, but also to prevent the formation of inappropriate clots.
The article describes how sodium ions can throw either a fast or slow switch in thrombin, a protein that activates fibrin to begin clotting.
Michael Behe used blood clotting to illustrate irreducible complexity in his book Darwin’s Black Box.  To show he was not exaggerating, we want to quote one paragraph from this secular paper to give readers a glimpse into all the tightly-regulated events involved in blood clotting.  Don’t expect to understand it; just marvel at the level of irreducible complexity involved in this common repair mechanism:
Thrombin is one of the most downstream actors of the clotting cascades, where it cleaves fibrinogen into fibrin to induce its coagulation.  Thus, thrombin also starts a positive feedback loop as the resulting clot further activates more upstream actors of the cascade.  Thrombin’s activity and concentration levels are tightly regulated.  In complex with thrombomodulin, thrombin switches its specificity and instead of cleaving fibrinogen, it activates protein C, which downregulates the thrombotic cascade.  Furthermore, thrombin is irreversibly inhibited by antithrombin, a serpin that also inhibits the upstream activator factor Xa.  Each of these regulatory mechanisms serves a specific purpose: (1) at the site where clotting is required, thrombin not only cleaves plasminogen, but also indirectly promotes the local activation of new thrombin molecules; (2) thrombin that has diffused away from the clotting area can bind to thrombomodulin, a membrane protein exposed by intact epithelial cells; (3) in complex with thrombomodulin, thrombin is prevented from cleaving plasminogen and instead activates protein C, thus indirectly preventing the local formation of new thrombin molecules; and (4) subsequently, escaped thrombin is rounded up by antithrombin, which for its activation requires a specific pentasaccharide motif within the heparan sulfates that line the surface of epithelial cells.
    In addition to these mechanisms, thrombin’s activity is also regulated allosterically through a conformational switch that is activated by sodium ions.  At low sodium concentrations, the “slow” form of thrombin dominates, which changes into the “fast” form at high concentrations.  Intriguingly, the sodium levels in blood are tightly maintained at concentrations that promote thrombin’s fast form.
Got that all down?  There will be a quiz Monday.  Fortunately, your cells have this procedure down pat, or you would die the next time you prick a finger.
Next headline on: Human Body. • Next amazing story.
Brighter Beaks Signal Healthier Mates   04/04/2003
Beak brightness is a health-o-meter, according to two papers in the April 4 issue of Science, one by
the French and another by the English.  They claim that male birds with more carotenoids have a better immune system, and this makes their beaks brighter orange, which attracts the females.  Elisabeth Pennisi in her summary of the papers says, “When bright-billed males claim they’re the best, females are therefore right to listen.”  The story is making the rounds in the news media, such as BBC News and National Geographic, which says,
“It’s been known for a long time that females of many species choose to mate with the flashiest males,” says Jonathan Blount at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.  “Quite what they stand to gain from mating with these show-offs has been puzzling ecologists since the time of Charles Darwin.”
The work seems to support Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, which has come under fire lately.  How the female benefits by begetting offspring that share the good genes responsible for their father’s health “remains to be tested.”
Well then, by now evolution should have produced supermales that have beaks that glow in the dark.  How come some birds have black or dull beaks?  How on earth do crows and ravens survive so well?  Is this the sequel to the just-so story about bright feathers correlating with immune systems?  Why doesn’t the bright beak attract the predators?  Doesn’t the male care about the immune system of the female?  Does a bird know what an immune system is?  How could a female bird care whether its offspring have its father’s genes?  Are they claiming that carotenoids are the only measure of fitness?  Was Rudolph the Reindeer sexy?  How come women aren’t attracted to men with red noses?  Should GQ start advertising carrot juice to single guys?  Why are we the only ones asking the logical follow-up questions to this tale, instead of swallowing the plastic worm and giving a cuckoo-bird grin like the other science news outlets?
    Stories like this make it plausible to imagine our descendants wondering how so many intelligent people could be so birdbrained.
Next headline on: Birds. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next dumb story.
South American Plant Diversity Began Much Earlier Than Thought   04/03/2003
EurekAlert says Penn State scientists found evidence that South America had a lush tropical environment 52 million years ago in the Eocene, much earlier than earlier estimates that put it into the Pleistocene or ice age (1.64 million to 10,000 years ago).  The diversity of species greatly surpasses that of North American fossil sites.  The article begins, “The extreme biological diversity found in today’s New World tropical forests began much earlier than previously thought and has researchers rethinking its origins, according to an international team of researchers studying fossil plants from Argentina.”
    The work by Wilf et al is published in the Apr. 4 issue of Science.  In a Perspective on the paper, Sandra Knapp and James Mallet begin (emphasis added),
According to Charles Darwin, the origin of species was “the mystery of mysteries”.  If so, then the Neotropical (Central and South American) forests, which harbor more plant species than the tropics of Asia and Africa combined, are the most mysterious of all.  On page 122 of this issue, Wilf et al. show that this massive diversification was active by the early Eocene, 52 million years ago.  High plant species diversity in the Neotropics is clearly ancient.
The find seems to contradict the theory of “allopatric speciation,” that it takes geographic isolation to drive the production of new species.  Knapp and Mallet ask, “Does all this matter?  If we are to formulate strategies to nurture future evolutionary potential as well as conserve extant species, understanding the origins of diversity is of the utmost urgency.”  To offer a ray of hope, they offer a quote by Darwin surmising that largeness of area might be more important than geographical isolation.  In this, they feel Darwin’s ideas “might just turn out to be nearer the mark.”
Rethinking its origins – does that mean design?  Never.  It means believing that mindless chance works faster and better than they thought.  Do the authors provide any evidence that any one of these species evolved from another?  No; they just assume it.  Do they prove that largeness of area is more important than geographical isolation?  No; they just hope it might.  There is no mention of evolution, phylogeny or ancestor in Wilf’s entire paper.  The evidence points to a wide assortment of species already there.  If anything, there were more species then compared to the present, and some that have gone extinct.  In addition, the fossils studied were buried in volcanic catastrophes and floods.  This paper is another blow against the long-assumed principle of allopatric speciation, and lends support to the heresy of sympatric speciation.  How can any of these data make Darwin’s ideas nearer the mark?  When everywhere they look, organisms burst onto the scene fully formed and already richly diverse, where does the evidence itself lead?
    Darwin’s idea is nearer the mark only like 175 degrees off is better than 180.  The essence of the evolutionary speculation in this story is a debate over which myth is the stupidest: allopatric or sympatric speciation.  Which one has more evidence, i.e., which has the least below zero?  (Forget their dates, which are based on unverifiable assumptions about the unobservable past.)  Darwin did not explain the origin of species despite making it the title of his book.  The origin of species is a “mystery of mysteries” only to those who refuse to take God’s word for it, that He filled the earth with diverse plants that reproduce after their kind, and instead feel obligated to invent a story where nature pulls itself up by its own bootstraps.  If a man can’t do it, why would nature do it, or even want to?
Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Fossils.
Max Planck Institute Website Censors Intelligent Design   04/03/2003
The
April 3 issue of Nature has a news item written by Alison Abbott, “Axeing of website article sparks row at Max Planck.”  A geneticist named Wolf-Ekkehard Loennig, who studies transposable elements and is an authority on Gregor Mendel, had posted an article about intelligent design at the website of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.  Peter Gruss, president of the Max Planck Society, got the directors to remove the site, pending a meeting April 28.  “Only scientific issues should be discussed on a Max Planck site,” he said.  Apparently an evolutionary biologist had campaigned against these pages that had been posted five years ago, branding it “pseudoscience” and not appropriate for “a scientific organization of international status.”  Loennig’s site had registered 35,000 hits.  The article mentions others who, though they may not agree with intelligent design, feel that independent opinions should be permitted.  The news story includes a cartoon of a laptop computer displaying an “intelligent design” story on the screen, and the finger of God pushing the button marked, “Retrieve from trash.”
No amount of name-calling, bandwagon and bluffing can save the Darwinian Big Science Enterprise from intellectual bankruptcy.  It needs an Information Fund bailout from the Intelligent Design movement.
    Nature seems in a quandary how to spin this story.  Which is the lesser of two evils for a liberal, intelligent design or censorship?
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Darwinist Philosopher Ponders the Evolution of Free Will   04/02/2003
In an atheistic, materialistic version of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, Daniel Dennett thinks he has an explanation of human free will based on Darwinian natural selection.  His conclusion seems to lean toward the Arminian side, that free will is real, in spite of a predestination coming not from the mind of God, but of Darwin.  Nigel Williams examines Dennett’s new book Freedom Evolves in a book review entitled, “A biologist’s thinking man” in the
April 1 issue of Current Biology.  Dennett first differentiates between determinism and inevitability, claiming that the former does not necessarily imply the latter.  He also denies that determinism leads to fatalism.  His theory is that the more degrees of freedom an organism has, the more apparent free will it has.  “The freedom of the bird to fly wherever it wants is definitely a kind of freedom, a distinct improvement on the freedom of jellyfish to float wherever it floats, but a poor cousin of human freedom,” he says.
    Williams explains why Dennett got into this subject.  “As he [Dennett] points out, educated people today are often trapped in a strange kind of double-think on the topic.  Officially, they believe physical science calls for determinism, which proves they have no control over their lives.  But in actual living, most of the time they do assume they have this control.  They ignore their supposedly scientific beliefs but these can still cause deep underlying anxiety, confusion, guilt and a sense of futility.”  So how does Dennett, whose “unstinting materialism, which he now calls naturalism, has roused many critics of his approach,” calm these anxieties?  Dennett explains, “It is because we can foresee the outcomes of various circumstances that we can take action to avoid them, and the reason we are so much more free than other organisms is because we can see farther into the future because we have more knowledge.”  So our actions can make a difference, even though there’s nobody home at the console known as the soul: “So the task for the naturalist like me is to show how there can still be persons without being Cartesian persons [i.e., souls distinct from the body], without there being a little immaterial soul that animates and controls the body like a puppeteer,” Dennett says.  “That is a hard thing to show, but I think I can.”
    Other evolutionists like Richard Rorty, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Mary Midgely are enthusiastic about Dennett’s daring charge into the domain of the mind.  Williams concludes, “Dennett’s attempt to draw ‘free will’ into the entirely materialist and scientific view of the world provides a boost and a challenge to those still seeking to understand the full evolutionary legacy of Darwin’s work.”
Update 05/01/2003: In the May 1 issue of Nature, anthropologist Melvin Konner reviews the book but doesn’t buy Dennett’s explanation.  He thinks the problem of free will remains unsolved.  An evolutionist, Konner thinks theologians have a problem explaining free will, but says “scientists have a parallel, more difficult problem” because they have to trace it back to a determinate beginning – the big bang.  He takes refuge in two thoughts: (1) The unknowability of the causal chain, and (2) Subjective experience that gives us a feeling of freedom, fear, joy, and love.  He considers this more important.  “My mind may be a survival machine with predetermined choices, but I live inside it,” he says.  “I can embrace the facts of neurobiology, while rejecting the notion of using it to convey my subjective experience.”  He feels that language allows us to share our common subjective experiences, and thus hold one another responsible for our choices.
Interesting that Konner takes refuge in subjectivity; i.e., I just “feel” like I have free will, even if I don’t understand it.  Hardly an answer you would expect from a rational scientist.  Let not the materialists think they have an advantage over theologians if their “parallel” problem is “more difficult.”  Surely Occam’s Razor would favor the simpler explanation that from the sovereign free will of a Creator comes some concept of limited free will for His creatures.  But from hydrogen?  Out of nothing, nothing comes, including subjective feelings.
    Daniel Dennett is the one who described Darwinian evolution as a “universal acid” that eats through all traditional beliefs, so here he is illustrating it by delving into a domain usually reserved for theologians.  He looks like a philosopher (or like Santa Claus, one of the two), but does his attempt at explaining free will deliver the goods?  Nigel Williams writes like a hopeful kid looking up the chimney.  Assuming he has accurately summarized Dennett’s thesis, there seems to be a fatal flaw in the tale destined to leave believers disillusioned.  Namely, having more degrees of freedom does not necessarily relate to having the ability to use them.  A rock, for instance, may have more degrees of freedom in the air than it does in the ocean, and on a library desk it has many more, but without genetic instructions, it’s just going to sit there, or fall, or otherwise be the puppet of natural forces.  Living organisms are characterized by information.  Their ability to use the degrees of freedom available requires genetic instructions and the functional machines that can respond to that information.  If organisms like jellyfish and birds and people are the products of blind, naturalistic forces, where did the genetic instructions come from?  Assuming that freedom generates free will is a non-sequitur.  As you cannot get blood out of a turnip, you cannot get information out of natural law, and you cannot get free will out of naturalism.  Sorry, kids, this Santa is a mere mortal.
    Although Dennett’s version of free will seems Arminian, it also has a Calvinistic aspect.  The reference is not to John Calvin, the reformer-theologian of Geneva, but to the fictional character of cartoon fame, Calvin and Hobbes.  Michael Behe explained the play on words in his book Darwin’s Black Box.  In a chapter entitled “Calvinism,” Behe reminds the reader of Calvin’s adventures with the transmogrifier, a cardboard box that becomes a time machine, a cloning lab, or anything else he wants to imagine.  Natural selection is the evolutionist’s transmogrifier.  It performs any miracle the evolutionist needs: transforming a bacterium into a orchid, a reptile into a bird, or a shrew into a philosopher.
    By using natural selection to create free will out of hydrogen, Dennett has shown himself to be a hyper-Calvinist.  His five points of TULIP could be denoted: (1) Total Depravity, (2) Unconditional Selection, (3) Limited Argument, (4) Irresistible Force, and (5) Perseverance of the Fittest.  Of these, Limited Argument is the key to defending hyper-Calvinism; keep those pesky intelligent design philosophers out of the debate.  Williams only quotes radical evolutionists who gush on Dennett’s saintly wisdom.  We’d sure like to hear Stephen Meyer review the book Freedom Evolves.  It might reveal whether Dennett is really the biologist’s thinking man, or just a guy with a Santa beard promising the impossible to his trusting, gullible disciples.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Hot Spots May Be Not Spots   04/01/2003
A “first-order paradigm shift” may be in the works among geologists.  For a long time, the plume and hotspot hypothesis has been used to explain the Hawaiian island chain, the Yellowstone caldera, and other volcanic features of planet earth.  According to the April issue of
GSA Today, “it is becoming increasingly clear that the hypothesis that attributes them to hot plumes upwelling from great depth fits many observations poorly, and that apparent paradoxes abound.”  Better data from assumed hotspots has led to a proliferation of “radically different, alternative models” of volcanism that rely on tectonic processes at shallow depth rather than plumes arising from deep within earth’s mantle.  The Geological Society of America has scheduled a conference in Iceland this August to discuss these new models.  The first item on the agenda is, “What is a plume?  What is a hotspot?  What do scientists today understand by the terms plume and hotspot?  Do our terminological limitations suppress the development of alternative concepts?”  Among other topics to debate is, “Is the concept of a hotspot reference frame useful, sensible, both, or neither?”
This indicates that major paradigm shifts are still possible.  The picture of magma ascending from deep within the earth and spilling out over the surface may be incorrect; perhaps the heat is shallow, in the crust.  Notice how little is understood from the questions they are asking: “How much do we know about the temperature of the mantle and of volcanic regions?  Are ‘hotspots’ hot?  If not, where does all the melt come from?”
    If such basic questions are being asked in 2003 about something long accepted as common knowledge, what other conventional ideas in geology might be fundamentally flawed?  What other alternatives are being suppressed by “terminological limitations” – mental straitjackets imposed by the very words that geologists use?  Just because a museum or national park has a story and a diagram doesn’t make it a fact.
Next headline on: Geology.
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Featured Creation Scientist for April

James Prescott Joule
1818 - 1889

If any principle in science deserves to be called a “law,” what would it be?  Undoubtedly, the law of conservation of matter and energy: neither of these fundamental entities can be created or destroyed.  Also known as the first law of thermodynamics, this law has no known exceptions anywhere in the universe.  Whoever discovered this law must have been a scientist of the highest rank, a PhD, director of a reputable university research department, respected the world over, and interred in Westminster Abbey, right?  Actually, he was none of the above.  For him, science was just a hobby.  He had trouble getting his ideas published.  Professional scientists looked down on him, and were it not for the help of a friend, his work might have been lost in obscurity.  Yet his experimental procedures and measurements were of the highest caliber, and the principles he deduced from them are of fundamental importance.  They helped shape our modern world, and every housekeeper is a beneficiary of the discoveries he made.  Units and laws of physics were named after this somewhat reserved, unassuming, serious-minded citizen scientist by the name of James Prescott Joule.

Second son of a wealthy brewer in England, James Joule was home-schooled till age 15.  He was not a spoiled rich kid, even though he could spend a workman’s annual income on a painting if he wanted it (and once did).  James loved playing outdoors with older brother Benjamin and younger brother John.  Together they engaged in the typical boyish amusements like playing guns, rowing on the lake, climbing hills and throwing snowballs.  Their play included observational skills like measuring the depth of a lake, estimating the distance to a lightning bolt by timing the thunder, and using electricity to see if a lame horse’s muscle would jump.  Once as a young man he stuffed a pistol with three times the normal charge trying to get a better echo across the water; J. G. Crowther describes the scene: “His brother was startled by a tremendous report and when he turned round he found that James’ pistol had jumped out of his hand into the lake.  At another time he shot off his own eyebrows.”  Boys will be boys, but at least theirs were not idle minds.  The brothers had a variety of interests; Benjamin was an enthusiastic musician, and James developed skill in painting and photography; he even collected art.  At 16, James had been sent to Cambridge and was tutored for a time by John Dalton, the elderly Quaker scientist considered to be the father of modern atomic theory.  Spurred by in an interest in science, and having the family wealth at his disposal, James took a keen interest in devising experiments to measure things: heat, energy, motion, electrical currents, magnetism and gas pressures.  Like Faraday, he expected to find simple laws that governed diverse natural phenomena, a motivation that derived from strong theological beliefs.

Throughout his twenties, working at his father’s brewery, young James Joule was actively demonstrating through a series of clever experiments that different forms of energy were related.  For instance, he measured the temperature of water being forced through narrow holes in a piston.  He measured electrical current and heat output from an electromagnet that spun as he turned a crank.  And he measured the temperature of water and sperm whale oil as paddles turned, powered by falling weights, proving that heat output was equivalent to the mechanical energy input.  The precision of his measurements was remarkable, sometimes measuring temperatures accurate to a 30th of a degree.  His numerous creative experiments convinced him that all forms of energy were equivalent, to the point where he said in 1843 at age 24, “I shall lose no time in repeating and extending these experiments, being satisfied that the grand agents of nature are by the Creator’s fiat, indestructible; and that wherever mechanical force is expended, an exact equivalent of heat is always obtained.”

Joule had discovered the mechanical equivalent of heat, but the scientific community was not ready to accept it.  Though the phlogiston theory of heat had been discredited by the late 1700s, heat was still considered a fluid property of a body, called caloric, not a form of energy released by work in converting one form of energy to another.  In 1843, he journeyed to Cork and read a paper describing his experiments to the Chemical Section of the British Association, but he says, “the paper did not excite much attention,” except for two who “were interested.”  Polite disdain, perhaps, but in retrospect, J. G. Crowther, author of British scientists of the 19th Century, thinks more highly of it:

Reynolds [biographer of Joule, Memoirs, 1892] considers the experiments described in this paper were technically the most difficult that had ever been accomplished by a physicist.  They are certainly unsurpassed in the history of science.
    The combination of superb experimental skill with clear thought and philosophical depth makes this paper the finest expression of Joule’s genius.  He was twenty-four years of age, and had been engaged in research for five years.  Though he was friendly with Dalton, Scoresby, Davies and others, he had worked in extraordinary intellectual independence.  His chief supports were his own genius and his father, who, to his memorable credit, liberally financed his extensive experiments.

Crowther finds it remarkable that young Joule was so meticulous in measuring things, because “young scientists are nearly always impatient of measurement.  Joule had the middle-aged passion of measurement from his earliest youth.”  His notes are equally meticulous, orderly and filled with profound insight into the implications of the measurements.  He wrote other papers during his twenties, one comparing the capabilities of electromagnets, steam and horses as sources of motive power.  At age 28, his genius matured with a lecture that contained a philosophical statement of the law of conservation of energy.

In a groundbreaking lecture, Joule stated that bodies carry with them a “living force” of inertia, and it cannot be destroyed “though that was the common opinion of philosophers.”  Friction does not destroy it, or the earth would have come to a standstill long ago, he said.  Rather than being destroyed, it was transformed into another thing when it disappears: that thing is heat.  He had proved experimentally that heat and work are equivalent and can be converted one to the other.  Joule demonstrated his grasp of this laboratory principle by extending it to the motion of the earth, the burning of meteors, the motion of the trade winds and the heat generated by motion of our limbs, as when a man ascends a mountain.  Joule showed how his dynamical theory of heat explains melting, latent heat, evaporation, and much more.  “We may conceive, then, that the communication of heat to a body consists, in fact, in the communication of impetus, or living force, to its particles.”

Crowther is unreserved about the import of this lecture: “He had discovered the law as the outcome of a long series of completely conclusive experiments.  He had conceived it clearly and powerfully, and applied it with much imagination.”  So where was this epochal lecture On Matter, Living Force, and Heat delivered?  At the Royal Society or the British Association?  No: at St. Anne’s Church in Manchester, and Joule had trouble getting it published.  The Manchester Guardian only wanted to print excerpts of their choosing.  James need his brother’s persuasion to convince the Manchester Courier to print it, which they did in two parts in May, 1947.  Since it was published in a newspaper instead of the scientific journals, it went virtually unnoticed for 37 years.

The month following the publication of this lecture, Joule had an opportunity to address the British Association about his experiments on the mechanical equivalent of heat.  “As Joule’s previous papers had raised little interest, the chairman of his section requested him to confine himself to a short verbal description of his experiments,” writes Crowther.  A contemporary described James Joule as “under the medium height; that he was somewhat stout and rounded in figure; that his dress, though neat, was commonplace in the extreme, and that his attitude and movements were possessed of no natural grace, while his manner was somewhat nervous, and he possessed no great facility in speech.”  So the short and stout and nervous Joule endeavored to make it quick, and commented that “the communication would have passed without comment if a young man had not risen in the section, and by his intelligent observations created a lively interest in the new theory.”  That man was William Thomson – the future Lord Kelvin.

Though Thomson was seven years his junior, he had the connections to bring James Joule into scientific circles.  Their collaboration developed into a lifelong friendship.  About a week after this meeting, Joule married Amelia Grimes, daughter of a city official.  Thomson was surprised another week later to run into Joule near Mont Blanc, and find him with a lady, not knowing he was getting married, and here he and his bride were on their honeymoon.  He was probably more surprised to see him with a long thermometer in his hand.  Joule explained that he wanted to measure the temperature elevation in waterfalls, so Thomson offered to join the fun and help him a few days later with this project, another demonstration of the mechanical equivalent of heat.  Unfortunately, they found their chosen cascade too broken up into spray to get good data.  Was Amelia put off by this intrusion into their romantic vacation?  Not at all; Crowther writes, “His young wife, as long as she lived, took complete interest in his scientific work.”

Amelia died in 1854 after just seven years of marriage, having given birth to a son and a daughter.  James took the children with him to live with his father, but soon experienced other losses; his father died in 1858, and in the same year, James was a victim of a train derailment when a stray cow got onto the tracks.  The carriage in which he had been reading a mathematics book overturned, and he had to crawl out for his life – only to find the engine men nonchalantly eating their dinner, apparently unconcerned that three people had died in the accident.  This made him somewhat phobic about riding trains from then on.  In 1864, his younger brother died.  In spite of these traumas, his collaboration with Thomson grew productive and soon yielded more discoveries of fundamental importance.

Joule respected Thomson’s mathematical abilities, and tended to play second fiddle to the Glasgow professor, acting as his chief laboratory assistant, even though he possessed enough of his own genius to be his peer.  Perhaps physical or psychological ill health from recent trials affected his self confidence.  Nevertheless, they made a great team.  Do you like having a refrigerator in the kitchen?  Here’s the story; it comes right out of this historic collaboration, and it took Joule seven years of difficult - and dangerous - experiments.  The new theory of thermodynamics was driving physics at the time; Joule and Thomson were at the crest of the wave.  Joule measured air as it compressed and expanded, and found that it departed just slightly from Boyle’s Law for an ideal gas.  From this, they deduced that air should cool slightly if allowed to expand through a small hole without performing any work.  Thomson suggested Joule prove this with experiments.

Small-scale tests showed promise, but Joule decided he needed a bigger apparatus powered by a 3-horsepower steam engine to get more reliable measurements.  The Royal Society provided the funds, and the machine was built.  For the first year, he was able to operate it at the family brewery.  But in 1854 the brewery was sold, so he had to move the contraption to his house, with some of it sticking out in the open air because his lab was not large enough to contain it all.  His older brother described the scene: for several months James “could not find time to take his meals properly–just ran in and out again.  The experiments were so delicate that many were carried out in the night, because a cab or cart passing along the road disturbed them, though the laboratory was at the back of the stables” (Crowther, p. 193).

Joule had to transport the contraption again in 1861 when he moved to a new house, but then a neighbor complained about the commotion so much he got the authorities to put a stop to it.  “James was deeply upset by this action,” Crowther says.  Nevertheless, after seven years working on the thermal properties of gases with Thomson, they published their crowning achievement, an explanation of the cooling as being due to the absorption of heat in the performance of work separating molecules that have a slight mutual attraction.  This is the Joule-Thomson effect, the basis of liquid air production and the refrigeration industry.  The rest is history; the refrigerator today is one of the most-used electrical appliances in the home, allowing families to cool and freeze food, preserving it for long periods without the chore of calling the ice man every few days to deliver big blocks of ice that had been stashed during the winter.  But that’s not all; we haven’t yet mentioned Joule’s Law, an important equation known by every electrician.  It relates electrical power to resistance and current, and is the basis of the space heater and toaster and electric range; current forced through a strong resistor like nichrome wire generates power proportional to the resistance and to the square of the current.  All that power is output as heat.  When you watch that wire turn red, you are watching Joule’s Law at work.

At age 57 Joule’s money had run out, and he became poor while working on a more detailed verification of the mechanical equivalent of heat.  Fortunately, the Royal Society funded the work, and the queen provided him a pension to live on.  He published this, his last paper, in 1878, then lived out his final 11 years in relative privacy till succumbing to a long illness at age 71.  Clerk Maxwell said of him, “There are only a very few men who have stood in a similar position and who have been urged by the love of some truth, which they were confident was to be found though its form was as yet undefined, to devote themselves to minute observations and patient manual and mental toil in order to bring their thoughts into exact accordance with things as they are.”

The Royal Society, who had years earlier paid little attention to this non-professional hobbyist, venerated Joule in his old age.  He was described as “kindly, noble, and extremely chivalrous, but hated quackery, especially from persons of standing.” As one who had been disparaged himself, “he encouraged the efforts of workers as yet unknown and resented disparagement of their work, ‘as though his own early experience had left him with a fellow-feeling with those who were struggling’ to secure recognition of their results” (Crowther, p. 144).  J. G. Crowther thinks Joule’s life resembles that of Leonardo da Vinci, in that they both pursued perfection, and “continued the refinement of technique, subtle thoughts following the solitary contemplation of the results of their accessions of manual skill.”  Joule needs no stone monument in a cemetery; your home is filled with them, and from now on, you will no doubt remember this unique character with the striking full beard when you use your refrigerator, space heater, hair dryer, toaster, iron, or any of the other modern appliances that soon sprang from his discoveries in fundamental physics.  Most important, Joule’s proof of the law of conservation of energy is one of the supreme achievements of modern science.  Of this most basic and universal of all scientific laws, Henry Morris writes, “It is surely appropriate that the privilege of making such a vital discovery was given by God to a man of sincere Christian faith.” (Scientists of Faith, p. 53.)

To understand fully the motivation that makes a man like James Joule work so long and hard, often alone, we need only hear his own thoughts.  Here are excerpts found on loose sheets of paper after his death of what Crowther believes was to be an address to the British Association in 1873.  Joule had been elected President, but due to ill health had to resign, so the address was never delivered.  It’s about time for the world to hear the wisdom of these words, because rarely has such a clear statement been given on why science should be the enthusiastic pursuit of the devout Christian.  In the notes, Joule talks about many things; the value of science education for the youth, his opposition to science being applied to warfare or politics, the value of mathematical rigor, and the need for precision and planning in experimentation.  He describes the ideal moral character of the scientist: one must be humble, diligent, energetic, prudent and zealous, pursuing science due to “a love of wisdom which unfolds, a love of truth for its own sake independently with regard to the advantages of whatever kind expected to derived from it.”  Science and knowledge elevate us above the beasts that perish, and enriches our lives with “varied and fresh enjoyments.”

Among these random but uplifting thoughts, we end with two quotes that so well express the theme of this book, that good science – the best science – is the fruit of devout love of God as Creator.  To Joule, the study of nature and her laws is “essentially a holy undertaking,” second only to worship as the rightful response to the Maker of all things.  Hear the words of James Prescott Joule:

After the knowledge of, and obedience to, the will of God, the next aim must be to know something of His attributes of wisdom, power and goodness as evidenced by His handiwork.

It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.

In science labs and hardware stores around the world today, the most fundamental property of the universe – energy – is measured in joules.


Aren’t you glad you read this story, that puts a human face on the major discoveries in science?  What a better use of time than watching a stupid TV sitcom or listening to endless talking heads on the news.  And what a positive role model for today’s youth!  If you enjoyed this episode, learn more about great Christians in science by reading our online book-in-progress:
The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
Copies are also available from our online store.

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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