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Sexual Selection for the Masses 06/30/2003
The July 2003 National
Geographic has arrived in homes across the world. It contains an article by
Virginia Morell on Darwins theory of sexual selection: The Animal Mating
Game: Its his show, but its her choice. The pictorial entry,
replete with flea penises, bellowing elk and strutting cocks, recalls how Darwins
theory that sexual dimorphism evolved by a means other than natural selection
had a rough time gaining acceptance, presumably from British white guys unwilling to
grant such power of choice to females. She quotes Therese Markow (University
of Arizona) saying (p. 48), Theres no question Darwin was right about the power of
female choice. It can shape males and it can make new species.
This is why the Teach the Controversy approach
would be good for science. Popular magazines like NG have free rein to distort
the evidence to fit their beliefs. Why dont they report what you have read
here, that the origin of sex is the
queen of evolutionary problems, and
that results are equivocal? Sexual selection
is a collection of just-so stories that can be spun
to explain any observation, and prominent evolutionists are announcing that it has
no effect on speciation, or that
sexual selection is plain wrong. Even
the classic example of the peacock tail, the thought of which made Charlie sick,
is a tormented just-so story according to NG's own
news division, with many unanswered questions that have not been answered satisfactorily
to this day. So why does NG sanitize this controversy for the eyes of impressionable
students in their flagship magazine? Its their show, but its your choice.
The Mystery of the Ultra-Pure Sandstones 06/27/2003
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
R. H. Dott, Jr (Univ. of Wisconsin) has a problem. Hes been trying
to explain a geological puzzle for 50 years, and it is still unresolved.
All around the world, sandstones are found that are remarkably pure
that seem nonactualistic (jargon for They cant really
be there). These pure quartz arenites, as they are called, were
considered a major puzzle half a century ago, when Dr. Dott was a student.
Some of them extend laterally over vast areas encompassing one or several states,
and they cover vast areas of Africa and Arabia, the Great Lakes region, South America,
Australia, and more.
These sheet sands (as they are nicknamed) are part of a notorious
gang: Together with the origin of dolomite, red beds, black shale,
and banded iron formation, they made up a group of seemingly intractable
geological problems (emphasis added in all quotes).
Dott tells autobiographically, Having lived literally upon quartz-rich
sandstones for almost 50 years, I have come to regard supermature quartz
arenites as natures finest distillatealmost as remarkable
as a pure single malt Scotch whiskey.
In the July
2003 Journal of Geology, he has written a lengthy paper addressing
the mystery of the quartz arenites, and the status of current hypotheses.
It amounts to a veritable State of the Century address to sandstone geologists.
He explains the puzzle in the Introduction:
What is the quartz arenite problem?
Foremost is the extreme compositional maturity of sandstones composed
of more than 95% quartz. Furthermore, the quartz consists almost
exclusively of grains of unstrained, single-crystal units. Very
rare lithic [rock] fragments consist only of durable polycrystalline
quartz types such as chert or vein quartz. In addition, the extremely
rare accessory mineral suite (generally <0.05% by weight) is dominated
by durable zircon, tourmaline, ilmenite, and leucoxene. Where
present, associated conglomerates also consist only of durable clasts
of vein quartz, quartzite, or chert. How can we explain the
complete disposal of at least 75% of any ultimate parent igneous or
metamorphic rock to yield a residue that is at least 95% quartz sand?
Dr. Dott mentions additional puzzles about these formations:
Extreme textural maturity is also characteristic of many, but not all,
examples. A high degree of sorting has always been
emphasized, with high rounding being common but not universal.
Both properties imply much abrasion by one or more of natures
most physically vigorous processes, such as surf and strong eolian [wind]
or aqueous currents.
According to Dott, wind erosion is the most efficient, but not the only, agent for
rounding of the sand grains. Some geologists have resorted to
theories of multicycling to explain the
weathering and maturation of the grains, but theories of single cycles
under intense tropical weathering also go back decades, and
he cannot rule them out.
(Though there are small examples forming in isolated river deltas today, their
grains are not nearly as rounded.) The chemical maturation suggests
that impurities were dissolved away, a process called diagenesis, but
that is not possible in the presence of wind.
- Thin, tabular geometry: layers tens or hundreds of meters thick, very flat over vast regions,
yet Paleozoic in age i.e., prior to the emergence of land plants.
- A paucity of associated shale, in contrast to other sandstones.
- Interstratified with shallow marine carbonate strata.
- A lack of volumetrically significant analogues forming today (i.e.,
nothing on that scale can be seen forming now). This implies
weathering processes orders of magnitude greater in the past.
- Very rare body fossils, and some burrows.
- Frosting of the grains, making them rough on microscopic scales.
- Underlying mature shale high in kaolinite (clay) or illite.
- Even more pure quartz arenites, up to thousands of meters thick, in Precambrian strata.
- Many of them underlain by paleosols (ancient soils) that show a
high degree of chemical maturation.
The paradox of the compositional maturation of the
sand seems to require some additional factor to reconcile
geomorphic conditions that could have enhanced the transport
and abrasion of enormous volumes of pure quartz sand, on the
one hand, but could have allowed exceptional chemical maturation
of soils on the other hand, as indicated by profiles beneath,
and the composition of pelitic [mud, clay] strata interstratified
within, many quartz arenites.
Dott introduces his theory at this point. To solve
the paradox, he postulates thin microbial crusts or mats of cyanobacteria
formed over the soils, similar to
the stromatolites and cryptogamic soils seen forming in some regions today.
have protected the underlying paleosols while allowing wind transport of
sand above. The lack of trees and shrubs might have allowed much
more energetic winds. This assumes that the first land invaders
were cyanobacteria, although the fossil record has seemed mute
on this point. In a sense, these crusts formed a cap that protected
the lower strata while the high winds deposited the sand (although he does
not propose sources for the sand).
He ends with one other paradox; without land plants,
unless the landscape were perfectly flat, how could it be stable enough
to allow the chemical weathering of both the sand and underlying paleosols?
The abundance of medium-grained to coarse-grained sand and associated
pebbles required streams with sufficient gradients to transport such
materials, which in turn points to at least moderate topographic relief,
which exacerbates the stabilization problem, he says.
His best guess, in conclusion, is the microbial mat theory; this formed a
crust enough to stabilize the landscapes for up to two billion years
while these puzzling structures formed.
This was an interesting paper about an interesting puzzle that some readers
may wish to investigate further.
Does his explanation satisfy you?
Notice how these formations are huge, and exist on every continent.
Notice how thick and flat they are. Notice how they are interspersed
with clays and soils, yet are exceptionally pure, natures finest
distillate. Notice how they give evidence of being deposited
via natures most
vigorous and energetic forces. Doesnt this sound like global
cataclysm? Since catastrophism
is back in vogue, should we not follow the evidence where it leads?
Cell to Phagocyte: Im Dying Eat Me 06/27/2003
Next headline on: Geology.
Cells go the way of all the earth, but their society cleans up
after them. This occurs through an elaborate signalling procedure
that biochemists are beginning to uncover, as explained in a Minireview
June 27 by Kodi S Ravichandran (Univ. of Virginia). A cell
undergoing death throes by caspase activation (in itself an elaborate
shutdown process) sends out eat me signals that are
recognized by the roving clean-up squad, the phagocytes.
Normally, a cell wears a Dont eat me tag, but this
is removed and a phosphatidylserine (PS) tag pops up on the outer
membrane. Simultaneously, LPC and/or other signals are secreted
in search of a nearby phagocyte, with a silent invitation to
dinner. The dying cell wears the Eat-Me
signals on its outer membrane. An approaching phagocyte turns
on anti-inflammation signals, as if to say to others nearby,
Nothing to get inflamed about; I can handle this one.
After engulfing the dying cell, it re-arms the inflammation alarm.
Through this system, needless inflammation is avoided,
and the streets and alleys are kept clear of cellular corpses.
The author summarize, An evolutionarily conserved machinery
exists for engulfment of apoptotic cells from worm to mammals.
Lets clear the air in that sentence:
if machinery is evolutionarily conserved,
it is not evolutionary at all. Conservation is not evolution.
Such doubletalk that injects evolution into the phraseology contradicts
these observations. Nothing has evolved. The cleanup crew
has been around since it first appeared, fully functional, in the
lowly roundworm. (Undoubtedly, similar mechanisms go back even further;
scientists just happened to study this mechanism in a favorite lab worm,
C. elegans.) There are at least seven
genes involved in corpse clearance, he says.
Hunting for the Common Ancestor of Chordates 06/27/2003
So the Creator thought of everything. Nothing
is wasted; when the cell has hit its threescore and ten, the parts are
recycled, and the tissues are kept clear of debris.
The authors diagrams
show cells with happy faces wearing the Dont eat me
tag and sad faces advertising Eat me. This is not
just a cute trick that animals do; he says, Accumulating
evidence suggests that failure to clear apoptotic [dying] cells
promptly has serious consequences for inflammation and
In the same issue of Cell, 25 scientists published
a paper entitled,
Panoramic View of Yeast Noncoding RNA Processing in which they
describe the huge number of noncoding RNA that is functionally
conserved over evolution [there they go again] and
plays a role in
basic cellular processes. But this RNA is not going to
help their RNA World hypothesis for
the evolution of life, because these RNAs depend on proteins to
manufacture them: Predictive analysis using publicly available
yeast functional genomics and proteomics data suggests that
many more proteins may be involved in biogenesis of ribonucleoproteins
than are currently known (emphasis added). It just keeps
getting harder to hang on to the Darwinian story line. Let go and
Next headline on: The Cell.
Chordates have a chord, a nerve chord, part of their central nervous
system. They include all vertebrates, including people.
Did whales, kangaroos, camels and mice evolve from a common ancestor?
Thats the conventional wisdom, and in the
27 issue of Cell, Diethard Tautz is optimistic that
evolutionists are starting to make progress figuring out the chordate
family tree, but he makes some rather
damaging admissions along the way (emphasis added):
Tautz refers to a paper in the same issue by nine cell biologists (Rowe
Patterning in Hemichordates and the Origins of the Chordate Nervous
System that hypothesizes that acorn worms might be the
missing link. Along the way, these authors also make embarrassing
admissions about the usual story:
- The study of comparative anatomy is one of the great traditions
of biology. The intellectual challenge of inferring hidden
relationships and devising consistent schemes for placing
seemingly disparate morphological types into a logical [sic] order
has always attracted biologists, but also other great thinkers. ...
Probably the most fascinating aspect of comparative anatomy is that
it has remained impossible to propose a grand scheme that places
the phyla into an undisputed evolutionary context.
- It is usually assumed that the evolutionary advance
[sic] of centralizing the nervous system has occurred only once,
implying a direct relationship between the central nervous system of
arthropods and chordates. However, the nerve chord is dorsal in
chordates and ventral in arthropods. Thus, if there was only a
single origin of the central nervous system, one has to propose an
axis inversion during evolution ....
- The alternative, namely at least two independent events
leading to the evolution of a central nervous system from an ancestor with a
diffuse system, has seldom been discussed, mainly because the
traditionally assumed phylogenetic relationships among phyla
would have made this unlikely.
In short, they find some conserved developmental genes, not clear
morphological (bodily) evidence of a relationship.
- Despite considerable paleontological work and molecular
analysis, mystery still surrounds the origin of our own phylum,
- Early deuterostomes [chordates + hemichordates + echinoderms] were
clearly established by the Lower Cambrian, as documented in
- Identifying morphological homologies among these phyla has
been fraught with difficulties, as their adult body plans appear
- However, the homologies [chordates with hemichordates] are easily
controverted and hemichordates were reclassified into their own
phylum by the 1940s.
- Three hypotheses currently account for the origin of the
chordate nervous system, all consistent with recent molecular
phylogenies, yet all mutually incompatible.
- A more classical perspective of nervous system evolution
that has not enjoyed much support from recent molecular analyses
is the proposal that the bilaterian ancestor had a diffuse nervous system
that was centralized independently in different bilaterian lineages. ...
Since there has been no molecular evidence for an extant group of
animals with such a well-patterned but diffuse nervous system, it was
not clear such an organism could exist.
- The nervous systems of hemichordates and chordates are so
different morphologically that it has been difficult to make
valid comparisons. This study provides a rational basis for
investigating the possibility of structural homologies between
the two groups by restricting direct morphological comparisons
to regions that develop from the same expression domains of
the two maps, as shown in Figure 7.
- At this stage in our
analysis, we do not suggest any structural homologies of
the respective nervous systems of the two groups but do call attention
to corresponding parts that evolved [sic] from the same domains
of the deuterostome ancestor.
- Although we raise the possibility of a diffuse nerve net in
the deuterostome ancestor, evidence is still equivocal.
- The deuterostome ancestor we propose, with its complex
anteroposterior organization but diffuse nervous system, may already
have had some other differentiated characteristics of the chordate
lineage, ... In general though, the conserved domain map appears
very weakly linked to the particular morphologies of
different evolutionary lines.
- Although the ancestor of bilateral animals probably had
complex anteroposterior organization based on many of these domains,
this organization set few limits on morphology and
cytodifferentiation in subsequent evolution. The existence of
a modern hemichordate with a highly patterned but diffuse nerve net
suggests that the nervous system may be very plastic in its
evolutionary possibilities and that its exact neuroanatomy
may tell us little about the early branching of metazoan phyla.
Back to Tautz. He finds the data and analysis by
Lowe et al a
refreshing new view on an age-old discussion of evolution,
but concludes, Alas, even these excellent data are open to more
than one interpretation, ensuring that the discussion will go
One participant not invited in this
discussion is the one who says there is no evolutionary relationship,
that this is all force-fitting data into a belief system, and that
highly conserved and complex mechanisms that are well adapted to each
organisms needs imply intelligent design.
Upward Lightning Shocks Atmospheric Physicists 06/26/2003
So after all this time as the official soothsayers of
biology, all that evolutionists can describe are widely divergent groups with
no clear common ancestor; conserved (unevolved) genes and
development patterns (see previous headline commentary); and complex,
highly adapted systems that were already fully formed in the lower
Cambrian, i.e., the first fossil layers. All they can propose are
suggestions (i.e., stories; heres another,
different one) that are open to more than one interpretation and
fraught with difficulties. To adapt a
favorite political slogan, are you better off than you were 144 years
ago when the Darwin Party came to power?
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Caught on film was a totally unexpected find: gigantic electrical
discharges reaching upwards from thunderclouds to the edge of earths
atmosphere. A Taiwanese team photographed the bolts that last
only milliseconds but are 55 miles long and are unrelated to normal
lightning. Evidence for transient luminous events
have been anecdotal by pilots for decades, and smaller events like sprites had
been discovered in 1989, but these are whoppers: over 25 miles wide at the top
and occupying 7200 cubic miles each.
It is believed these gigantic jets as they have been called
play an important role in the global electric circuit
that surrounds the Earth, helping reduce the huge differences in
charges that build up between the surface and the ionosphere,
Geographic News. They could also help life on earth by
fixing nitrogen and producing ozone for our UV-shielding ozone layer.
Physics Web also
talks about this find.
The original paper by Su et al is published in
June 26. In a
News and Views
summary in the same issue, Victor Pasko
says the study of what impact these 300,000-volt discharges have
on environmental chemistry is in its infancy.
Here another phenomenon has been
discovered that contributes to the life and health of earths
inhabitants. That something this large could go unnoticed for so long
hints that there is more design in our environment than we know.
Welcome to Earth: the electric planet.
Trees, Water Pumps Extraordinaire 06/26/2003
Next headline on: Physics.
Next amazing story.
The worlds tallest tree stands over 367.5 feet tall, which means
every needle up there has to get water pumped up to it from the ground.
Did you know scientists have been puzzled for centuries how this is done?
The leading theory taught in schools, the Cohesion-Tension Theory (C-T), has
been controversial for a long time.
Even Francis Darwin said when it was proposed,
To believe that columns of water should hang in the tracheals like solid bodies,
and should, like them, transmit downwards the pull exerted on them at their upper
ends by the transpiring leaves, is to some of us equivalent to believing in ropes of sand.
Even today, Michael Tyree of the USDA Forest Service, writing in
June 26, explains other, more serious problems with the idea that transpiration at
the leaves somehow 'pulls' the water up the vessels:
I can think of no other botanical theory that has engendered more
incredulity among physical scientists and animal physiologists than the C–T theory,
because it requires us to suppose that water is transported in a metastable state.
If an air-bubble or vapourvoid of sufficient diameter were to arise in a xylem conduit
under negative pressure, the water column would cavitate and the void would expand to
displace the water, making the conduit dysfunctional.
Despite these criticisms, no one has had a better idea.
Recent measurements, however, seem to indicate that the C-T mechanism actually
does work in spite of cavitation,
because there are billions to trillions of conduits in a tree and because
adjacent conduits are isolated from each other by primary cell walls in pits.
So the huge number of conduits guarantees that some
cavitation in individual tubes will not reduce the overall success of the water pump.
tall trees and ground-hugging plants have to balance trade-offs between vessel diameter
and gas exchange rate through the leaves. Fast-growing species have
large, efficient conduits that are highly vulnerable to embolism; such plants
perform poorly in drought. Slow-growing species have small, inefficient
conduits that are very resistant to cavitation, Tyree explains.
Some puzzles remain, but An understanding of this legacy of natural selection
should allow us to breed or engineer improved drought-resistant or fast-growing trees,
he says (emphasis added in all quotes).
This story would be so much more enjoyable without
the useless Darwinspeak. Tyrees article starts out,
Sea Shells: Shed Sell Em If She Could Manufacture Them 06/26/2003
Like their animal counterparts, large multicellular plants need to supply all their
cells with fuel and water. For animals, the solution was the evolution [sic]
of a vascular system, with a pump to circulate an isotonic blood plasma that
prevented cell rupture through the osmotic inflow of water. Plants took a
different route to solve the problem [sic] of osmoregulation, encasing each
cell in a rigid exoskeleton, the cell wall. But this rigidity brought with it
a lack of mobility — for whole organisms and also for tissues and cells. Plant
tissues were too rigid to evolve a pump mechanism for long-distance transport.
So plants found another solution and invented high-efficiency pumps
that could transport water hundreds of feet into the air without cavitation loss, etc. and so on.
Is this kind of personification
of plants and animals enlightening? How did a plant, without a brain, figure out
this trick: Plants seem to retain and transport water in conduits while under
pressures as negative as -1 to -10 megapascals (MPa) — that is, pressures 10 to
100 times more negative relative to atmospheric pressure than a perfect vacuum.
Evolutionary gibberish about plants inventing pumps that solve the cavitation problem
and animals that invent vascular systems is devoid of logic.
Nature should abhor a vacuum.
Next headline on: Plants.
Next amazing story.
The common seashell: extraordinary. Michael Rubner in the
26 issue of Nature is rhapsodic over the lowly items picked
up daily by children on the beaches of the world:
For a materials scientist, cross-sectional images of the complex
microstructures of naturally occurring hard materials such as
bones and sea shells are awe-inspiring. Over many
millions of years [sic], nature has devised schemes [sic]
to combine seemingly incompatible building-blocks — soft
organic proteins and hard inorganic particles of calcium
carbonate — in a manner that produces composite materials with
the unusual combination of high strength, hardness and toughness.
(Emphasis added in quotations.) So
how does nature do it?
To be strong, hard and tough, a material must be able to absorb a large
amount of energy during mechanical deformation and also maintain
high stiffness. In bone or shell, this desirable combination
of properties is made possible by one key attribute — a
bricks-and-mortar-like structure, made up of strongly interacting,
nanometre-size building-blocks. The 'hard' bricks and 'soft'
mortar are complementary in their response to stress and strain.
Shellfish use calcium carbonate particles for bricks, and
specially-designed proteins for mortar.
Human attempts to mimic this ability have failed to produce a substance
with similarly impressive mechanical properties.
Most artificial efforts have had problems with adsorption of water, that
reduces the strength, and controlling the assembly of nanometer-size objects.
But once again, Nature has no such difficulty with nanoengineering.
Rubner describes some recent successes, but as man inches along toward
mimicking the manufacture of similar materials, he must stand in awe
of clams and scallops and conches that do it every day without a thought.
If you took the childish Mother Nature
talk out of science journals, evolutionary theory would gasp for hot
air. So Nature devised this over millions of years?
Nature has nanoengineers better than our PhDs? Such nonsense
isnt worth two clams.
Hubble Outdoes Itself 06/25/2003
On the beach this summer, go shell collecting with your
kids. Make it a teachable moment about the wisdom of God.
Next headline on: Ocean Life, Fish etc.
Next amazing story.
Many will remember the Hubble Space Telescopes memorable 1995
Deep Field image of 1600 galaxies within a tiny point of sky.
Now, it has really delivered the GOODS (Great Observatories Origins
Deep Survey): twin photographs equalling 60 Deep Fields. For
photo and description, see the
Press Release or the
NASA Press Release.
The images, one from the southern hemisphere and one from the northern,
contain a combined total of about 50,000 galaxies. The fields will
also be scrutinized by the Chandra X-Ray observatory and
SIRTF, the giant infrared telescope launching this August.
What can anyone say in response
to such awesomeness? Write your own commentary on this one.
Medical Schools Dont Teach Enough Evolution 06/25/2003
Next headline on: Stars.
Next amazing story.
A questionnaire was sent to the deans of all the medical schools
in America asking them how much evolution was part of their
curriculum. Of those responding, only 48% considered evolution
an important part of the curriculum, only 32% actually taught at
least 8 of 16 core topics in evolutionary biology, and
only 16% actually had a faculty member with a PhD in evolutionary
biology. The most common reasons evolution was not given more
coverage was lack of time and lack of faculty expertise.
Specifically, they said the factors that made it difficult to
incorporate teaching evolutionary biology were:
87% Lack of curriculum time
53% Lack of faculty expertise
34% Lack of funding
33% Lack of agreement about relevance
24% Difficult finding/hiring qualified faculty
11% Political controversy
05% Lack of confidence in scientific status of evolutionary biology
Source: Evolutionary Biology in the Medical
School Curriculum, by Randolph M. Nesse (professor of psychiatry,
Univ. of Michigan) and Joshua D. Schiffman (Dept. of Pediatrics,
Stanford), published in
BioScience, June 2003.
They say, We conclude that the role of evolutionary biology
as a basic medical science should be carefully considered by a
distinguished group of biologists and medical educators.
In the meanwhile, undergraduate educators need to recognize that,
for now at least, most future physicians must learn evolutionary
biology as undergraduates if they are to learn it at all.
January 13 commentary on this subject.
The statistics above are quite revealing. A third of deans of
medical schools dont believe evolution is relevant to their
curriculum, and 5% do not have confidence that evolution is science.
11% are afraid it will embroil them in political controversy.
One wonders whether the other reasons were just polite cloaks for their
lack of confidence in Darwinians. There does not seem to be a
lot of interest in teaching evolution. If it were that important
and that relevant, would they not make time for it in the curriculum,
rather than 87% of them saying they couldnt give it the time of day?
How can it be that after a century of indoctrination, less than half of
medical school faculty feel qualified to teach it?
The lack of funding reason almost implies a sarcastic smirk:
You want us to teach more evolution? Send me a check.
The Mountains of the Sun 06/24/2003
How essential is it for doctors to
know evolutionary theory? It depends on what you mean by evolution.
Change happens: everybody accepts that. These authors undoubtedly
mean the whole worldview of Darwinian evolution, that human patients in
hospitals have evolved from slime over time.
Each of the 16 core concepts that medical
schools are presumably lax about teaching are either irrelevant
to medicine, or irrelevant to Darwinian evolution. Table 1 of the
paper lists these concepts and the degree of coverage in medical schools
according to the deans that responded. Here they are:
The authors apparently feel that listing these assumed core
concepts will cause Marcus Welby to think, Hmmm, I never
learned about that; maybe I should go back to Darwin school to improve
my career. But look at each one, and they are either not the
sole property of the Darwin Party, or have nothing to do with macroevolution,
or have nothing to do with medicine. We repeat: medical schools do
not waste valuable time teaching evolution, because it is useless.
- Antibiotic resistance: 94%. Yes, it is important for doctors
to understand that certain populations of pathogens are resistant to
antibiotics, but this is microevolution at best. Since the pathogens
are most likely losing information, this is irrelevant to Darwinian
evolution: i.e., the de novo emergence of new
- Virulence evolution: 83%. Since virulence genes appear to move
about by horizontal gene transfer, it is equivocal whether evolution
had anything to do with it. A doctor needs to know how to treat
a pathogen, not its assumed family history.
- Population genetics: 79%. A knowledge of how traits shift within
populations may be interesting, but probably not helpful to a medic.
This subject can be treated without reference to common ancestry.
- Selection for disease genes: 72%. Understanding how artificially
imposed environments might exacerbate the prevalence of pathogens is
important for doctors and hospitals to know, but again, what does common
ancestry really have to do with it?
- Mutation selection balance: 55%. The relevance of this
triple-noun jargon is questionable. Mutations: yes, they occur.
These result in devolution. Selection: natural selection operates as
a conservative force. Balance: we all need balance. Who made up
this phrase and appraised it one of evolutions core concepts?
- Levels of selection: 51%. Not all selection pressures have the
same effect. Big deal. Your doctor probably does not know
or care about this one.
- Host-pathogen arms races: 43%. This is one of evolutionists
many personification fallacies.
Germs dont care if they win or lose a war. If existing strains
already have resistance, they will proliferate, and hosts having resistance
to those will also proliferate. Proving a trail of tit-for-tat
evolution becomes questionable after a generation.
- Novel environment causing disease: 30%. A med student should
be expected to know that there are risks going into a strange environment,
but claiming this causes disease
is a non-sequitur.
It might just awaken what was already present.
- Tradeoffs: 26%. Another personification fallacy.
Intelligent designers often make tradeoffs between competing requirements
to achieve optimum design, so what does evolution have to do with it?
See the May 2002 example about the eye.
- Comparative anatomy: 21%. This subject was alive and well long
before Darwin, but when usurped by the evolutionists, it became the
argument from homology. Jonathan Wells in Icons of Evolution
has demonstrated this to be a
circular argument when used to argue evolution.
- Defense regulation: 20%. Humans and animals have highly functional
defense mechanisms that are regulated. Does anybody have a clue why
this is a core concept of evolution, rather than evidence for
intelligent design? This is like saying, Tax relief is a
core concept of the Democratic Party.
- Life history evolution: 19%. Dr. Average Dean was probably
scratching his head on this one.
- Design flaws from path dependence: 17%. Ah, now they want to
impugn God. Evolutionists think that presumed suboptimal design shows
that our ancestors took opportunistic paths to obtain functional traits.
Favorite examples include the pandas thumb and presumed inverted
wiring of the mammalian retina. Both work as excellent adaptations for
their users; calling them flaws is subjective, and path
dependence is just-so storytelling. Doctors need observations,
- Primate phylogeny: 9%. Totally useless, and 91% of medical
schools agree. Nobody, not even young-earth creationists, disputes
that humans and apes have physical similarities. Perhaps it would
be useful to doctors to be able to tell one from the other when their
patients walk into the office. A circus vet might need to know
how to treat the chimpanzee differently than its trainer. But does
any doctor care about the ape-to-man story line?
- Kin selection: 9%. Aha! These authors are
selectionists. Michael Ruse, get on their case.
Does a doctor need to know what evolutionists are arguing about?
Hes got better things to do.
- Proximate/ultimate distinction: 5%. Another head scratcher.
What does this have to do with evolution, medicine, or the price of
tea in China?
Next time you go to the hospital, you had better hope your
doctor knows more about intelligent design than evolution, or he might
yank something out and say, You dont need this; its
just a useless vestige of a tree shrew in your ancestry. Or s/he
might let you die, believing that (1) the pathogen has just as much a
right to a living as you do, or (2) natural selection needs to let
the fittest survive, and the germs are clearly the fittest in the
evolutionary arms race going on in your body. Wait till these
evolutionists wind up on a hospital bed themselves. Chances are
they wont care much about the evolutionary qualifications of the
surgeon. Rather, they will be praying earnestly for the likes of a
Louis Pasteur instead of a Dr. Mengele.
Next headline on: Schools.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
The suns surface has been imaged in 3-D for the first time
by the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope and is featured on
Picture of the Day. The surface is seen as a constantly
churning plasma of granules with steep edges, some reaching 200 miles
above the average surface height. Thats higher than 34
Mt Everests stacked on top of each other.
For more descriptive details and images,
including time-lapse movies, see the
Solar and Astrophysics Lab press release.
Other stars are known to be violent
and sometimes explosive. How our own can be so gentle and benign
despite a violently churning, pulsating, complex interior and
surface (photosphere) is due to a large number of lucky
accidents, including our protective storm
windows here at earth. These detailed images will provide
insight for solar astronomers seeking to explain many mysterious
features of the sun.
Sea Monsters Brought Up from the Deep 06/24/2003
Next headline on: Solar System.
Next headline on: Stars.
Next amazing story.
Not exactly dragons, but fish and other creatures that look like
the stuff of nightmares have been brought up from 1.3 miles deep
off the coast of New Zealand, reports and
One species of fish has fangs bigger than its head. To avoid
piercing its own brain when it shuts its mouth, the article
explains, its teeth fit into opposing sockets. In addition
to fish, new species of armored shrimp, squid, and a spider with long
legs and a tiny body were found. 500 species of fish and 1300
invertebrates were discovered, living in complete darkness and pressures
hundreds of times greater than at the surface. They also found
a fossil shark tooth they claim had been lying undisturbed on the
sea floor for millions of years.
The sea floor was not supposed to be
undisturbed for so long. The tooth is evidence that the creature
did not die millions of years ago.
Evolution Drives Mars Quest 06/23/2003
Unheard-of wonders remain to be
discovered on this living planet. Ugly as they are to our
sensibilities, these creatures are all remarkably adapted to their
extreme environment. Many of them have features not seen in
other members of their orders and families. And they represent
arthropods, bony fish, cartilaginous fish, crustaceans, cephalopods,
echinoderms and more totally different groups of animals,
all with adaptations to high pressure and darkness.
104 didnt know a thousandth of the amazing details in
the sea when he exclaimed, O LORD, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your
possessions-- this great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming
things, living things both small and great. There the ships sail
about; there is that Leviathan which You have made to play there.
Next headline on: Fish.
Next headline on: Bugs and Creeping Things.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Next amazing story.
Its the phylogeny, stupid: What draws humans to the Red Planet
after so many failures? asks James B. Garvin in
The reply is obvious: Its simple -- life.
But not just life per se: he means life that evolved from nonlife.
A new awareness of the biological evolution of our
is motivating us to reach out and find it in space.
If we find life on Mars, he thinks, then the prospects for life
elsewhere in the solar system and beyond would be magnified
enormously. He likens us to new explorers launching
out into Terra Incognita:
Two hundred years ago, our fledgling nation chose to send Lewis and
Clark and their Corps of Discovery on one of the greatest overland
expeditions in history, and within a generation the discoveries they
made reaped benefits for the entire country. Today, we send
robotic explorers to the planet Mars as a bold step forward in our
quest for understanding the prospects for life elsewhere
in our solar system and to lay the groundwork for future human voyages
to the Red Planet.
In conclusion he writes,
Mars is indeed a terra incognita that may tell us ultimately
we are not alone, or, better still, that our origins are
traceable to other worlds whose histories can tell us about parts of
our long-lost past here on Earth, he writes. But he hedges
his bets whether life will be found:
We arent sure what we will ultimately learn and discover,
but the quest will teach us how to better understand [sic - split
infinitive] ourselves and
our place in the universe. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Significant difference: Lewis and
Clark were not trying to discover primordial soup. This was
56 years before Darwins book, when most scientists still believed
life had been created. Part of their mission was to examine new
varieties of life they already knew existed on the Blue Planet.
Kin Selection Studies Produce Mixed Results 06/23/2003
This essay, so typical of Darwinian daydreaming, makes it
seem the Darwinists are lonely. Since they have cast out belief
in a God and an afterlife, maybe they want to share their despair
with some other despairing beings in this interlude between a bang
and a heat death. Misery craves company.
Ever notice how evidence for evolution
is always in the future tense? If we find life on
Mars, then we can really bash those creationists.
If not, well just move the battlefield farther out,
ad infinitum. But why should finding life elsewhere prove
evolution? Isnt God omnipresent and omnipotent?
Next headline on: Mars.
Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Two different investigations of kin selection, an
offshoot of Darwinian natural selection proposed by W. D. Hamilton 40 years ago
to explain altruism and group behavior, have produced mixed results.
Swedish and Spanish researchers studying
carrion crows concluded that their work, published in the
issue of Science, supports the theory.
But American and French scientists publishing
paper in the same issue about blue side-blotched lizards got results
that contradict it. They conclude,
Our experiment rules out kin philopatry or kin attraction as
settlement mechanisms; rather, settlement must arise from the mutual
attraction of genetically similar types.
In their summary of these papers,
Seeking Similarity, Dickinson
and Koenig say these two studies shed new light on this
problem, but admit that in the lizard study Kin
selection is apparently
not driving these behaviors, at least under the experimental conditions
enforced by Sinervo and Clobert. Where to go from here?
Progress in understanding social evolution, they conclude,
will involve teasing apart the importance of kinship
from other forms of selection based on genetic similarity as
distinct and potentially important pathways to social behavior
Too bad they didnt read the
PNAS paper May 2002 by Oxford
It would have saved them a lot of needless energy.
Searching for the Dork Side of the Farce 06/20/2003
Those who think Darwinian evolution is a coherent theory,
embraced by all scientists unquestioningly, fail to recognize the deep
divisions within the Darwin Party.
This is one of them: the individual selectionists
vs. the group selectionists. The blind are only fighting the blind,
however, because neither of them seem able to explain the strange,
altruistic behavior of Presbyterians.
Next headline on: Birds.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Dark Matter is the subject of a special section in the
20 issue of Science. Seven feature articles discuss
the unknown quantity that supposedly makes up 96% of the universe
(emphasis added in all quotes):
In the end, dark matter and dark energy are still invisible and unknown.
Their presence is only inferred from the most popular models that match
certain observations (and many assumptions) about the nature of the universe.
For a simplified review of these articles, see
to the Dark Side: Delighted to See You by
Linda Rowen and Robert Coontz introduces the dark subject:
Dark stars, the dark age, dark matter,
and dark energy are the major components of the dark side of the
universe: 96% of the universe consists of mass and energy we
cant see and dont really understand.
Warped Side of Dark Matter by Robert Irion examines whether
dark matter can be detected through weak gravitational lensing.
Astronomers are lining up to survey the sky looking for the effect,
but have not detected it yet.
- Dark Energy Tiptoes Toward the Spotlight by Charles Seife
introduces the new and radical concept of dark energy.
Astronomers studying Type 1a supernovae first postulated in 1997
an antigravity force causing the universal expansion to accelerate.
On the face of it, this was an absurd conclusion, he
admits, but formerly timid astronomers are now boldly charging into
this dark region:
These are baby steps into a new realm of physics that was
entirely obscure until a few years ago--and scientists are
just beginning to figure out its properties. Id
love to be able to take a lump of dark energy and see what happens when
you knock it about, squish it, drop it on the floor, says
Campbell [sic; Caldwell? the article mentions Robert Caldwell of
Dartmouth]. But short of that, observations of
supernovae and eventually the evolution of distant galaxy clusters
and galaxies will begin to pull back the veil over dark energy.
Until then, dark energy will likely be the darkest mystery in a
very dark universe.
for Black Holes by Mitchell C. Begelman explores the overwhelming
circumstantial evidence for black holes, though the measurements
discussed so far do not establish that the dark masses and compact objects we
detect are the black holes whose properties are predicted so precisely by
general relativity. Begelman does not make it clear what the
connection is between black holes and dark matter or dark energy.
Light on Dark Matter by Jeremiah Ostriker and Paul Steinhardt
discusses what the mystery material might be. WIMPs (weakly interacting
massive particles) are a leading contender, CCDM (cold collisionless dark
matter) is a runner-up, but there are seven alternatives invented to explain
problems with the front runners. Where did the Dark Matter and
Dark Energy concepts come from? They explain:
After the introduction of inflationary theory, many cosmologists
became convinced that the universe must be flat and that the total
energy density must equal the value (termed the critical value) that
distinguishes a positively curved, closed universe from a negatively
curved, open universe. Cosmologists became attracted to the
beguiling simplicity of a universe in which virtually all of the
energy density consists of some form of matter, about 4% being ordinary
matter and 96% dark matter. In fact, observational studies were
never really compliant with this vision. Although there was a
wide dispersion in total mass density estimates, there never developed any
convincing evidence that there was sufficient matter to reach the
critical value. The discrepancy between observation and the
favored theoretical model became increasingly sharp.
Dark energy came to the rescue when it was realized
that there was not sufficient matter to explain the structure and nature
of the universe. The only thing dark energy has in common with
dark matter is that both components neither emit nor absorb light.
Light on Dark Energy by Robert Kirshner attempts
...to learn whether the dark energy is a modern version of Einsteins
cosmological constant or another form of dark energy that changes with
time. Either conclusion is an enigma that points to gaps in our
fundamental understanding of gravity.
Is it justified, though, to posit invisible entities?
In the self-proclaimed age of precision cosmology, we
know the amount of each component to a few percent, but in the spirit
of honest cosmology we also have to admit we do not know
precisely what either of them is. But we are not helpless.
We can observe light emitted by supernova explosions to trace the
history of cosmic expansion to learn more about the invisible forces
that shape the universe.
Kirshner reviews the evidences for cosmic expansion and acceleration,
but more and better observations are needed. Nevertheless, he
ends on an optimistic note:
Theorists may be wary of the coincidence between the present and
the onset of cosmic acceleration. Observers are delighted by this
coincidence and by the coincidence between our own brief lives and the
instant when technology has made these measurements possible.
We are incredibly lucky to be working just at the moment when the
pieces of the cosmic jigsaw puzzle are falling into place, locking
together, and revealing the outline of the pieces yet to come.
Dark energy is the biggest missing piece and a place where
astronomical observations point to a gaping hole in present knowledge
of fundamental physics.
Attractive models are not reality, and hopes are not done deals.
Since we are not impressed by such things here, we always sweep it away
look for any kernels of hard evidence behind the fluff of words
and abstruse math. Consider several things from the above quotes:
Scientists Watch Motors Unwind DNA 06/19/2003
It appears that cold dark matter was invented as a cosmic fudge factor to make the
models work, but when the most popular model got too convoluted to
expect CDM to do it all, they needed a bigger, better fudge factor;
thus was invented dark energy. So now there are two ghosts, the big
ghost and the little ghost. When the little ghost cant
take the heat, the big brother ghost comes to bat.
- The holes in our knowledge involve fundamental things, not
details. There are, as stated, gaping holes.
- Dark matter made its debut because of the attractiveness
of the inflationary big bang cosmology.
- Dark energy made its debut to rescue dark matter from observations
that conflicted with inflationary theory.
- Nobody knows what either of these entities are. The proportions
between them are due not to observational evidence, but what is needed
to sustain the most popular inflationary models.
- Evidence is always in the future tense.
- Observational studies were never compliant with the vision.
- The conclusions are absurd.
- We need more funding.
- More funding and honest cosmology do not necessarily go hand in hand.
If this dark stuff comprises 96% of reality, then it
should be right here: right on earth, all around us, even passing through
our bodies without interacting with ordinary matter. Yes, Mr. Peabody,
you are surrounded by WIMPs you cannot see, but they control the origin
and destiny of the universe. Is this dorky, or what?
Its as weird as Star Wars, with some invisible spiritual entity
permeating space and explaining everything. Trust your
feelings, Luke! I can feel the hate [against creationism] rising
within you. Let go, give in, yield to the dark side!
You will become more powerful, and a part of ... The Empire.
Science is supposed to be about observable, repeatable,
measurable phenomena, not invoking dark, dark, dark entities to explain things that
dont fit ones favorite model. Science says, if the model doesnt
work, chuck it. If the assumptions are unjustified, scuttle
them. If the philosophy behind the assumptions is unsupportable,
change it; but that takes courage and can incur the wrath of The Empire.
If a metaphysical cosmology is wrong, dont become seduced by the
dark side of the farce, no matter how big the Empire that supports it.
Dont trust your feelings, Luke. Do the right thing.
Join the rebellion:
to the light.
Next headline on: Cosmology.
Andrew Taylor and Gerald Smith from Fred Hutchinson Cancer
Research Center (Seattle, WA) announced in
Nature June 19
that RecBCD enzyme is a DNA helicase with fast and slow
motors of opposite polarity. In the same issue,
Mark S. Dillingham, Maria Spies and Stephen C. Kowalczykowski of
U.C. Davis came to a similar conclusion. Working independently,
these teams watched an important molecular motor in action and determined
that it is two motors in one, with a slow motor and fast motor working
side by side on the same track. How can that be, and why?
RecBCD helicase is the molecular
machine that travels along a DNA double helix, unwinds it, and
separates the strands so that the translation machinery can
get to it. This combination enzyme
(RecB + RecC + RecD) is a member of a superfamily of helicases, or
enzymes able to unwind and separate DNA. Simpler helicases separate
the two DNA strands into a Y-like tail, but RecBCD has the unusual property
of creating a loose tail on the RecD side and a loop and a short tail
on the RecB side (RecC, not a motor, appears to help RecB in its action).
Combined, RecBCD is among the fastest of helicases: it can
cover 370 base pairs per second, according to Taylor and Smith,
or up to 1000 base pairs per second, according to Kowalczykowski et
Both the RecB and RecD motors
can travel along DNA separately, but are polar opposites: one moves
along one strand, one along the other. Of the two, RecD is the
speed demon; RecBC only moves 20% as fast. The motors are not
nearly as fast or stable acting alone. Separately, they fall off the
track after 50 base pairs, but together, can cover 400-600 times as much
ground: 20,000 (Taylor and Smith) or 30,000 (Kowalczykowski) at full
So why two engines in this race car? Taylor and
Smith suggest that it adds stability; a motor is less likely to fall off
the DNA track when combined with another, but why the speed difference?
This will take more study. All they can conclude is, This
asymmetric feature might impart RecBCD enzymes asymmetry in
other aspects of its promotion of genetic recombination.
Were going to stick our neck out
and offer a hypothesis. First of all, it is apparent from the
speed and processivity (ability to process lots of letters without
failure) that RecBCD is very well designed. It doesnt seem
to slow RecD down to have the slower RecBC motor on the other track,
but why dont they both run at the same speed?
There must be a reason, and maybe the loop that RecBC forms is the clue.
In a fast winding device, like a tape drive, engineers
often design a slack-uptake mechanism to prevent breakage if there
is a sudden stop. In older computer tape drives, for instance,
a vacuum column maintained a loop of tape that could act as a buffer
when the motors stopped or reversed direction. Because RecBCD
is so fast, maybe it was designed with a similar slack-adjusting loop
on one side.
Constantine Converted by Asteroid? 06/19/2003
Well have to wait and see whether this hunch
has any merit. Suffice it to say that we have again watched
scientists uncover a superbly-efficient, highly-accurate biological
machine, made up of multi-component parts, that does just what the
cell needs doing. For security reasons, DNA is tightly
wrapped and hard to get to. Once the helicase machinery is
authenticated and allowed in, it needs to do its job fast, and
that it does, exceptionally well. 1,000 base pairs a second:
imagine! It has to melt the chemical bonds between
DNA letters at that high rate without causing collateral damage for
its 20 to 30 second roller-coaster ride down the DNA tracks.
A good typist works about 70 words per minute; with an average word length
of 5, thats 350 letters per minute, or just under 6 letters per
second. A speed reader can go faster, but can anyone claim to
read 200 words per second? Behold RecBCD, the champ.
Its busy at work inside your every cell, right now. And
oh, by the way, these scientists did their studies on those simple,
primitive, lower forms of life: bacteria. As you might expect,
neither paper dares mention how these little machines could have evolved.
Next headline on: The Cell.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next amazing story.
Swedish geologists are claiming an asteroid hit the Apennine Mountains
outside Rome, and the resulting mushroom cloud was the basis of
Constantines vision of the Sign of the Cross that converted him
to Christianity on his way to conquering Rome, reports
The BBC News
has a picture of the crater and says this blast saved Christianity.
How can anyone possibly know that?
You cant go back and ask Constantine what he saw, and you cant
date an asteroid impact precisely to the very day his army was crossing
the Tiber. Why didnt the enemy see the same sign and convert?
Constantine may well have had ulterior motives other than visions for what
he did. There are limitations to what science can tell us.
Stories like this are idle speculations, essentially worthless.
Recent Archaeological Finds: Fakes? 06/19/2003
Next dumb story.
reports that the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced
June 18 that the James ossuary is fake,
and also that the Joash inscription
is a forgery. Both items were owned by the same collector,
who is alleged to be a dealer of questionable reputation.
Archaeological Society, which announced the ossuary last fall,
is withholding judgment on it until a forthcoming scientific
report from the IAA is completed, but is pretty convinced the
inscription was too good to be true; that inscription
leaves little doubt that we are dealing with a forgery,
and that, unfortunately, it is a rather poor forgery,
according to Harvard professor emeritus Frank Moore Cross.
Regarding the ossuarys authenticity, the controversy revolves
around the inscription. The box appears to date from the
right period, but some are claiming at least part of the text
(especially the part that says brother of Jesus) was
added in modern times. See also a report on
A good lesson in not jumping to
conclusions. We advised cautious optimism with both these finds,
and the caution appears to have trumped the optimism in at least one case,
Perhaps the ossuary may still prove genuine, but we should assume it is
not till proven otherwise.
Is Modern Cosmology on the Right Road? 06/18/2003
We also reminded readers that the
authenticity of the Bible does not depend on relics.
National Geographic makes this absurd statement:
If the 2,000-year-old ossuary were genuine, it would be the
first archaeological proof that Jesus existed. Up until now,
all references to the three men [i.e., Jesus, James, Joash]
have been found only in manuscripts. Why are not manuscripts
considered evidence potentially as solid as etchings in rock?
Is the only evidence for American presidents the engravings
of four of them on Mt. Rushmore? Dont presidential libraries
and manuscripts provide even better evidence? Come on.
Manuscripts, when adjudged to be genuine, were written by contemporaries
just as surely as a stonemason with a chisel and they can provide
a much greater wealth of detail.
Evaluate the Biblical manuscripts with good historical-grammatical
technique, and you do not need to find the name Jesus etched in a
bone box to provide proof he existed.
Meanwhile, there is much more to dig and discover
out there, but it is not always easy to find. Consider that only
one wall remains of Herods huge temple, but no one doubts the rest of
it existed. There is plenty of hard archaeological evidence
already to confirm the genuineness and historical accuracy of the
Biblical manuscripts. Dont expect to find a stone inscription
of Jesus under every tree in Israel. The more valuable a relic,
the more eagerly sought by thieves or destroyed by enemies.
If we have seen as much destruction and looting as took place in Iraq
in one month, how much has been lost in thousands of years of major wars
and occupations? Read
Next headline on: The Bible.
Many science news sources have been giving the impression that
inflationary cosmology is all wrapped up now, and we can all go home except
for mopping up a few details. Steven Gratton and Paul Steinhardt,
writing in the
19 issue of Nature, seem to share that assessment, yet
raise some caveats that do not seem trivial in their News and Views
article, Cosmology: Beyond the inflationary border.
Some excerpts (emphasis added in all quotes):
Their last paragraph sounds like an accountant with bad news interrupting
the company sales celebration:
- The standard model is less a solid edifice than a scaffolding
with many gaps, resting on uncertain foundations.
- The story has become familiar, but consider its foundations.
Is there really a beginning to the Universe? What events led to
the onset of inflation? And does the Universe even contain the
ingredients necessary for inflation (in particular, the inflaton
field that purportedly drives inflation and then decays into
hot matter and radiation)? Without answers to these questions,
the model is incomplete. Most cosmologists have set
these questions aside, assuming that advances in fundamental physics
(such as string theory) will address them.
They give some details why eternal universe or eternal oscillation
models do not work; so the question of what happened before
inflation seems hard to avoid.
- The Hartle-Hawking 'no boundary proposal' [proffered
in Stephen Hawkings best seller A Brief History of Time]
deals with the transition from quantum to classical cosmology,
and many have hoped that this would naturally lead directly
to a description of inflation on the classical side.
Unfortunately, instead it leads typically to an almost empty
universe in which little or no inflation occurred.
The work of Borde* et al.
combined with these other attempts, forces us to realize
that the inflationary story is still incomplete.
And this is not the only unresolved issue. The model
predicts the total energy density in the Universe correctly, but
the nature of 96% of that energy is unknown.
Furthermore, despite two decades of studies, the fields responsible
for driving inflation have not been identified, and there is
no accepted explanation for the finely tuned interactions
that the fields must possess for inflation to end smoothly.
So, there are good reasons to cheer [sic] the recent breakthroughs, but there
are also many fundamental issues that remain to be explored.
And there is perhaps even room for radical alternatives.
*They refer to a recent paper in Physical Review Letters 90:151301
(2003) by Borde, Guth and Vilenkin.
Were lost! the wife
laments as a couple roams down a country road in the rain at night.
Surprise: Y Chromosome Protects Itself with Palindromes 06/18/2003
Dont worry, honey. I know right where we are,
the husband replies cheerfully.
Why are you so stubborn? Why dont you ever
want to stop and ask for directions? she whines.
Real men dont need directions. Everything is under
control. Well be there in no time at all, you just wait.
But weve never been there before! We have been driving
on this road for hours now, we cant see a thing ahead, it
doesnt look anything like we thought it would, and the directions
we were given were vague and dont match what we are seeing, which is
precious little at the moment. And you claim we arent lost.
Can we please ask someone from around here who knows the way?
Trust me, honey, well get there eventually. Look
on the bright side. At least were ahead of schedule!
Ponder the seriousness of the issues Gratton and Steinhardt
raise, and ask yourself whether this joke fits the current situation
in cosmology. Perhaps there is even room for radical
alternatives, they say, but which cosmology is radical
is in the eye of the beholder. Some consider it radical to
ask for directions.
Next headline on: Cosmology.
Cheer up, men: your Y chromosome is not going extinct.
Since the Y has no backup copy, geneticists thought it might mutate
itself into useless junk in just 10 million years. Well, the
Y chromosome map has just been completed, reports
Science Update, and of all the clever things, the Y has built-in
self-defense in the form of palindromes. Just like the phrase
Madam, Im Adam can be read the same backwards and
forwards, there are large gene-coding regions on the Y that can be
decoded in either direction. The article explains:
These palindromes house many genes - which means that there is a copy
at each end of the palindromic sequence. These provide back-ups
should harmful mutations arise. The mirror-image structure also
allows the arms to swap position when DNA divides. Genes are
shuffled and bad copies are purged.
David Page at MIT remarked, The Y chromosome is a hall of
mirrors. More surprises are expected now that the full
map of the chromosome has been published (its the cover
story of Nature June 19).
Now that the male chromosome reveals that we have underestimated
its powers of self-preservation, maybe men will finally start
getting some respect.
Male chromosome full of surprises, is
the way Science Now
entitled their summary of the findings. The Y is not a graveyard
of genes, nor a shriveled up remnant of the larger X chromosome.
Its new-found capabilities, dynamically shuffling its genes to weed
out defects, has given scientists a new appreciation for it.
As one researcher put it, this has brought a lot of honor to males.
For this system to work, the decoding
and translation mechanisms, and the epigenetic controls, also have
to know the trick. This is a remarkable and unexpected finding.
The article states, The male-defining chromosome was previously
thought of as a wasteland where genes go to die.
To that idea we say, hasta la vista, baby.
Short Takes 06/17/2003
You will see design or chance in this story
depending on your philosophy. Huntington Willard commented,
No one had contemplated that there would be this level of gene
conversion in our own genome. It gives us a glimpse of how
the Y has protected itself. [How can a string of DNA
protect itself if a Programmer did not design the function?]
On the other hand, the article states,
Other researchers see swapping as an
evolutionary accident, not a safeguard.
Only an evolutionist
could see a self-defense mechanism and call it an accident.
One of the palindromes is nearly 3 million letters long.
Experiment: try writing your own original palindrome with just one
thousandth of that: 300 letters. Follow up experiment: now
try getting a palindrome of similar length by shuffling random
Scrabble letters on a table.
Next headline on: Human Body.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Next amazing story.
Next headline on: Fish.
Next headline on: Bugs.
Next headline on: Mammals.
Next headline on: Human Body.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Planck scientists have discovered the elusive channel that
converts mechanical energy into electrical signals in sensory
hair cells, such as those in the cochlea of the human inner ear.
They found this in zebrafish, but worms and fruit flies have similar
mechanisms. This means,
they claim, It is very likely that this particular
sensory system evolved in an ancestor common to both arthropods
- Intelligent Design:
William Dembski has a forthcoming book The Design Revolution:
Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design.
For the outline and preface, see
- Insect Flight:
Flies fly on automatic pilot. An article from the New York
Times 6/10/03 is reproduced on
- Genetics: A comparison of human and mouse genomes
shows that differences do not appear at random breakpoints around the
chromosomes, but only at certain fragile sites
in only 5% of the genome.
This overturns a thirty year old hypothesis.
Story on SciNews;
original paper on
of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Disease: The complete genome of a liver carcinogen
Helicobacter hepaticus shows that the disease-producing agent
inhabits a pathogenicity island that is missing in non-virulent
strains of the bacterium. The authors of the paper in the
of the National Academy of Sciences feel this 71-kb island may have
entered the genome by horizontal gene transfer from another organism.
Glia cells in the brain are more than just the side-kick of the
celebrities, the neurons. Neuroscientists are now catching
up and discovering that glia not only support a number of essential
neuronal functions, but also actively communicate with neurons and with
one another. By doing so, glia influence nervous system functions
that have long been thought to be strictly under neuronal control,
writes Beth Stevens in the June 17 issue of
Biology. Neuroscientists should have known better,
she quips, because over a century ago, Roman y Cajal had predicted that
they would be important due to their sheer numbers (they outnumber
neurons by a factor of 10). But his work
was largely ignored, and glia
were considered to be space-filling junk,
or mere scaffolding for the glitzier neurons.
- Dolphin Sonar: Dolphins perform automatic gain control
on their sonar pulses, but unlike bats, they do it on the transmitter,
not the receiver. See News and Views by Amanda Tromans in the
19 Nature, reporting on the research paper
by Whitlow Au and Kelly Benoit-Bird in the
issue. See also
Now, Why Dolphins Aren Deaf (because without
gain control, return pulses from their clicking sounds would be deafening).
Bacteria More Orderly Than Previously Known 06/17/2003
Bacteria are not simple bags of protoplasm. Since they lack the
organelles and nuclei that eukaryotic cells possess, scientists
used to think their contents were fairly unstructured and homogeneous.
That view is changing,
say Zemer Gitai and Lucy Shapiro in the June 16 online preprints of
of the National Academy of Sciences. Historically,
they agree, perhaps because of their general lack of
compartmentalized organelles, bacteria were viewed as relatively
uniform at the subcellular level. New microscopic techniques
are unveiling highly ordered structures, like protein spirals and rings
that oscillate between the poles and allow the cell to locate the
midpoint for cell division. Perhaps the most important
lesson to be learned from the work by Shih et al,
(who imaged the spiral proteins) is that the more closely
we look, the more order we see within bacterial cells.
The fact that the phrase bacteria are not just small bags
of enzymes has become cliché is a sign that bacterial cell
biology is coming of age.
For a related story, see our Jan
16 headline about spiral action of the bacterial cytoskeleton that
repairs the inner cell wall.
Hmmm, wonder why there is no mention
of the word evolution in this paper. Maybe we need to
return to the view of Antony van
Leeuwenhoek, the first man to see bacteria. Even in 1702
From all these observations, we discern most plainly the
incomprehensible perfection, the exact order, and the inscrutable
providential care with which the most wise Creator and Lord of the
Universe had formed the bodies of these animalcules, which are so
minute as to escape our sight, to the end that different species of
them may be preserved in existence. His exemplary
observational scientific work led him to wholeheartedly reject
and refute the doctrine of spontaneous generation.
Update on RNA Quality Control: See
February 20 headline.
By the way, do bacteria really lack organelles?
This scientist at
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported today that he found one, and that it
is challenging commonly-accepted evolutionary ideas. Dr. Roberto Docampo
said, It appears that this organelle has been conserved in evolution from
prokaryotes to eukaryotes, since it is present in both. This argues
against the belief that all eukaryotic organelles were formed when early
eukaryotes swallowed prokaryotes. This also means that prokaryotes are
not more primitive, and that the complexity of organelles goes way back into the
smallest, allegedly simplest, forms of life.
Next headline on: The Cell.
Picture of Protein Evolution Emerging? 06/16/2003
Most proteins have been formed by gene duplication, recombination, and
divergence, declare scientists from Cambridge and Stanford in the
June 13 issue
of Science. Proteins of known structure can be matched to
about 50% of genome sequences, and these data provide a quantitative description
and can suggest hypotheses about the origins of these processes.
With growing numbers of genomes decoded, they feel we
are well on the way to answering fundamental questions about how the huge
assortment of proteins arose (emphasis added in quotes):
During the course of evolution, forms of life with increasing complexity have
arisen. What are the mechanisms that have produced the increases in
protein repertoires that underlie the evolution of more complex forms
of life? How are proteins organized to form pathways?
Answers to such questions at the molecular level began to appear 40 years ago,
but it is only with the advent of complete genome sequences that we have begun
to get a comprehensive view.
At present, they admit, only close
to 50% of the sequences in the currently known genomes are homologous to proteins
of known structure, yet this half of the protein repertoire have given
us a detailed picture of its evolution.
They discuss how proteins fall into domains, and these are organized into families
that seem to obey a power-law
distribution; i.e, A few families have many members and many families
have a few members. Even proteins with different sequences can often be matched
with others possessing similar structure. Many of these are paired with other
domains. Of all the million-plus possible pairs of known families, only a few thousand
are used. This, they feel, is evidence of selection for function.
Also, the fact that combinations of particular pairs of domains are found in only
one sequential order ... suggests that conservation of sequential order in
domain combinations is usually found because the combinations descend from a
The authors feel confident that
we understand the basics of how new complexity arises from the protein pool:
It is now clear that the dominant mechanisms that produce increases in protein
repertoires are (i) duplication of sequences that code for one or more domains;
(ii) divergence of the duplicated sequences by mutations, deletions, and insertions
to produce modified structures that may have useful new properties and be selected;
and, in some cases, (iii) recombination of genes that results in novel arrangements
But how would metabolic pathways arise? They introduce the problem:
Proteins do not function by themselves but as part of an intricate network
of physical complexes and pathways. How does the duplication, divergence,
and recombination process fit into the formation or extension of pathways?
They propose that mutated proteins might either be recruited to new substrates within
existing pathways, or jump to different pathways. They observe,
An examination of the functions of the members of different families of
domains shows that, nearly always, it is the catalytic mechanism or cofactor-binding
properties that are conserved or slightly modified and the substrate specificity
that is changed. This suggests that it is much easier to evolve
new binding sites than new catalytic mechanisms. This tends to scramble the
evolutionary picture, though: This has led to a mosaic pattern of protein
families with little or no coherence in the evolutionary relationships in different parts
of the network. Can the evolutionary history be seen by comparing unrelated
The comparison of enzymes in the same pathway in different organisms also shows
that proteins responsible for the particular functions can belong to unrelated
protein families. This phenomenon is called nonorthologous
displacement. Variations come not just from changes in specific enzymes.
In some organisms, sections of the standard pathway are not found and the gaps are
bypassed through the use of alternative pathways. Together, these variations
produce widespread plasticity in the pathways that are found in different organisms....
One final question remains: how did the first proteins originate?
And are new ones originating now?
The earliest evolution of the protein repertoire must have involved the
ab initio [Lat., from the beginning] invention of new proteins.
At a very low level, this may still take place. But it is clear
that the dominant mechanisms for expansion of the protein repertoire, in biology
as we now know it, are gene duplication, divergence, and recombination.
Why have these mechanisms replaced ab initio invention? Two
plausible causes, which complement each other, can be put forward. First,
once a set of domains whose functions are varied enough to support
a basic form of life had been created, it was much faster to produce
new proteins with different functions by duplication, divergence, and
recombination. Second, once the error-correction procedures now present
in DNA replication and protein synthesis were developed, they made the
ab initio invention of proteins a process that is too difficult to be useful.
In conclusion, they remind the reader that genome size is not the measure of
complexity (rice has more genes than people); instead, complexity does
seem to be related to expansions in particular families that underlie the more
complex forms of life. So the key to understanding the evolution of
the protein repertoire will be to compare how families of proteins in diverse
organisms have been duplicated and recombined.
We quote extensively from this article to let them dig their own trap.
Read again and look specifically for the origin of information
tied to function that has actually been observed to occur, anywhere. Is it not
all inference and deduction based on a prior acceptance of evolution?
Similarities are used to prove common ancestry, and common ancestry is used to
prove similarities. Round and round we go.
Darwin or The Angel of the Lord: Who Guards the Tree of Life? 06/13/2003
domains may behave in a certain sense like Lego parts, although this is a grossly
unfair oversimplification. The evolutionists are looking only for the Lego
blocks that look similar, and assuming the similarities (homologies) derive from
What about the differences? They choose to focus on
similarities for philosophical reasons, but perhaps the differences raise the more
fundamental questions. Furthermore, they steadfastly refuse to consider that
the similarities might be due to an intelligent cause.
After all, we all inhabit the same
planet, whether bacteria, birds or people. It would only be expected that design would
produce similar metabolic pathways, requiring similar proteins (with some differences due to
differing needs, or from mutation or recombination, which are not sources of new
genetic information). For a discussion on whether duplication
and recombination can produce function, see the
07/09/02 headline on this subject.
The fact is, functional proteins appear fully formed
from the simplest organism on, and many are highly conserved a phenomenon
that led some Harvard scientists last year to announce the
protein big bang theory.
article, notice how these believers in protein evolution use a semantic trick to
sidestep around the problem of the origin of
functional information. That trick is to use passive
voice verbs, infinitives and subjunctives that contain no subject, so that it
remains nebulous who did the action. For example, from the last
paragraph quoted above,
Suggestion for tough-minded thinkers: do not let them get away with this dodgeball game.
Stop them in mid-sentence and ask them to name the Subject. Who did the
creating? Who did the developing? Who was involved? It will
push them against the wall of chance, from which there is no escape.
If you are a consistent, doctrinaire evolutionist, there is no Who.
The ab initio invention of proteins has no Inventor.
To get even to a minimalist basic form of life you will need at
least 239 proteins to emerge or
the Ruse is over. Good luck.
Youll need it..
- The earliest invention must have involved the ab initio invention of new
proteins. [Who, or what, was involved?]
- Once a set of domains whose functions are varied enough to support a basic form of
life had been created... [by whom? God? If that is what they meant,
the creationists would shout Amen!, but clearly they mean the naturalistic
magic trick of emergence, in which the miracle-worker
is an unnamed combination of impersonal natural laws and chance, using unspecified
- Once the error-correction procedures now present in DNA replication and
protein synthesis were developed... [Who did the developing?]
Next headline on: The Cell.
Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
The phrase tree of life appears in the first, last, and middle
books of the
Bible; it is the centerpiece of the garden of Eden, the
multi-fruited tree lining the river of heaven in Revelation,
and a metaphor for wisdom and joy in Proverbs. Solomon spoke
of wisdom, righteousness, a wholesome tongue, and hope fulfilled
all as being a tree of life.
These days, the phrase means
something quite different. Charles Darwins only illustration in
The Origin of Species was a diagram of organisms branching
into a tree-shaped array, all descended from a common ancestor.
This concept expanded during the Darwinian revolution to represent
a view that all life had arisen from a warm little pond, without
design, without God, without a creation, and without a heaven.
Rather than being
a source of righteousness, hope and wisdom, Darwins tree of
life stood for a world of uncaused, purposeless natural processes
that presumably had led, quite by chance, to the great diversity of
living creatures from bacteria to porpoises to orchids to people
through an unguided process of mutation and natural selection.
The June 13
issue of Science has a special section on the
Tree of Life, namely, Darwins. The series of articles
presents a collage of confusion mixed with confidence; confusion,
in that much debate surrounds the placement of species, genera, families
and orders in the branching timeline; confidence, in that evolutionists
are certain they are on the right track, and that with new data from
genomics and tree-building algorithms, a complete picture of the
tree is only a matter of time. Here is a brief outline of the series
(emphasis added in all quotes):
- In the lead story Charting the Tree of Life, the editors begin,
We are part of a tree of life that germinated at the dawn of
evolutionary history [sic] and encompasses a vast diversity that we are
only beginning to understand [sic]. Its a daunting task
to reconstruct the tree, especially for eukaryotes, but finishing the
job will have practical applications, they claim, such as helping formulate
conservation policies by providing insight into the history of extinctions.
- Elizabeth Pennisi begins with three articles. In
the Tree of Life, she discusses new techniques taxonomists are
using to create phylogenetic trees.
- In Drafting a
Tree, Pennisi portrays the tree-builders world as
confidence mixed with frustration: Systematists often say the
tree of life is in good shape. But ask them to illustrate this
notion with a single diagram, and most throw up their hands in
frustration. She unveils Science magazines
latest consensus tree, based on input from a dozen systematists,
which (though she admits specialists may take issue with parts
of the tree), gives a sketchy picture of a work in
progress. A larger version of the tree is provided as a
About half the lines are shaded with a color indicating controversy.
- In Plants
Find Their Places in the Tree of Life, Elizabeth Pennisi
claims the botanists are way ahead of the zoologists in building their
phylogenetic trees: Researchers trying to piece together the tree of
animal life are hacking through dense foliage, barely able to see the
top branches, never mind the distant twigs (see main text). But
their colleagues studying plants have many of their phylogenetic trees
neatly pruned and manicured, she says.
- In Dating
the Tree of Life, Michael Benton and Francisco Ayala admit
that morphologists and molecular phylogenists have differed in placement
of groups by a factor of two, but claim the discrepant groups are
converging toward consensus.
- In The
Deep Roots of Eukaryotes, S.L. Baldauf examines the recent
revolutionary view that eukaryotes branched off much earlier than thought.
The article talks about radically revising this picture
again and fundamental rethinking of the position
of the root. Together these data suggest major gaps in our
understanding simply of what eukaryotes are or, when it comes to the
tree, even which end is up. Sections are entitled:
Eukaryotic Diversity: To (Nearly) Every Rule There Is an
Exception and What We Thought We Knew But Didnt.
Here is an excerpt from the section The Root of All Roots,
about the radical new idea of placing the root of the eukaryote tree
between opisthokonts (animals, fungi, and their allies, including people)
and nearly all the other major eukaryote taxa (emphasis added in all quotes):
Essentially, it turns the tree on its head, rooting it within the
former crown radiation. This is a radical
reinterpretation and would mean that opisthokonts branched off
very early from the main line of eukaryote descent. The
LCA [last common ancestor] of all extant eukaryotes would then
have been a far more complex organism than previously envisioned,
and any any similarities between, e.g., animals and plants
would simply be universal eukaryote traits. It also
suggests that opisthokonts may be older than previously thought,
consistent with the diversity of single-celled protists now thought
to be closely allied to animals and/or fungi.
Before this, they said The most important point in a phylogenetic
tree is its root. The root is the oldest point in the tree and
corresponds to the theoretical last common ancestor (LCA) of
everything in the tree.
- In Phylogenomics:
Intersection of Evolution and Genomics, Jonathan Eisen
and Claire Fraser of Rockville, Marylands Institute of
Genomics claim that evolution is helping us understand genomics:
Although it is generally accepted that genome sequences are
excellent tools for studying evolution, it is perhaps less well accepted
that evolutionary analysis is a powerful tool in studies of genome
sequences. In particular, evolutionary analysis helps to
place comparative genomic studies in perspective.
- In Preserving
the Tree of Life, Macy, Gittleman and Purvis discuss how the
emerging tree of life is informing policy on conservation.
- In View from a Twig
Jennifer Graves summarizes the grand sweep of Darwins picture:
More than 100 years ago, Charles Darwin systematically charted
relationships of organisms in space and time. What emerged was
the concept of the Tree of Life, a cornerstone in evolutionary theory
that, as well as classifying organisms, has the potential to make
sense of all biology.
She thinks this big picture, despite
the confusion in the details, needs to be inculcated in the schools
The concept of the unity of life--the most simple and general
rules of molecular structure, chemistry, and genetics that apply to
all organisms--should be introduced in grade school. These rules
can be linked firmly to an understanding [sic] of the way in which the
genome has gradually changed over the more than 3 billion years
that life has been unfolding [sic]. The fascinating descriptive
biology of diverse organisms that my generation grew up on can come
later, once there is a framework to hang it on. That way,
future generations will be able to appreciate the beauty of the
Tree of Life without its form being obscured by the tangle of
twigs and leaves.
There is so much verbiage in these
articles, and so many revealing quotes, that it would be impossible to
deal with it fairly in a Headlines service trying to encapsulate it.
The bottom line impression these authors present is, We know the
Big Picture is right, but the details are confusing and
contradictory. This is a recipe for self-deception.
When the deceived hold the power, and want to force their belief
on the children, it is a recipe for self-perpetuating deception.
Since we are not impressed by bluffing
and glittering generalities here,
we took a look at three sample papers from the most recent issue of
Phylogenetics and Evolution (28:1, July 2003). In
each case, the authors were having difficulty resolving the roots
of their trees, found groups they could not resolve, and found
contradictions between morphology and genes.
This has been
the pattern, not the exception, in every molecular phylogeny story
we have reported over the last two years.
Research Leads 06/13/2003
One would think,
if the Big Picture were so clear, one could see it in the details,
but the opposite is true. Never do they ever consider alternative
explanations for similarities found. And throughout, complex
features abruptly appear, fully formed, without ancestors, earlier
than thought possible. Recall that last
July, scientists portrayed tree-building as an impossible task,
and we deduced that it was only possible by assuming what needed to
be proved (Darwinian evolution), a clear case of
In short, molecular phylogeny appears to be
a deductive approach, based on the prior belief that Darwinian
evolution is true, therefore these confusing details must fit
together somehow. If so, it is not science; it is faith.
In the Biblical story, an angel guarded the way back to the Tree of
Life after Adam and Eve sinned. A new way beyond death to the
was made available by Christ through his death on the cross.
Now, the evolutionary establishment is guarding the way out of
the fallen world with the sword of political and educational power.
They are saying to the children, The tree of life is not
over there; that was just a myth. The tree of life is
behind you. You dont want to pass through the Brandenburg
Gate to freedom. You already live in the freest land of all, right
here. Stay with us. Our tree of life will give you
wisdom, wholeness, and hope. We are evolving. Someday,
we will be like gods, knowing good and evil.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next headline on: The Bible.
The current issue of Annual
Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences (Vol. 31, 2003) covers
interesting topics some readers may wish to pursue:
Next headline on: Geology.
Next headline on: Solar System.
- Fossilization (Taphonomy): What conditions are required to
make a fossil? Derek
E.G. Briggs of Yale reviews minerals, microbial activity, types
of organisms and other factors required to preserve soft tissues.
He focuses on the remarkable extent of detail preserved in fossils of
certain soft-bodied animals. In the paper, The Role of Decay and
Mineralization in the Preservation of Soft-Bodied Fossils,
the stem rapid appears 11 times.
- Ancient Oxygen: In Phanerozoic Atmosphere Oxygen,
geologists examine whether atmospheric oxygen has fluctuated in the
past, possibly reaching levels as
high as 35% in Carboniferous times. The subject of
oxygen level variation has been essentially ignored or assumed
to be held to an almost constant level till now.
They believe higher oxygen levels might explain the giant
insects found fossilized in Permo-Carboniferous strata. But they
wonder whether it would also have led to catastrophic wildfires.
- Io Volcanoes:
Geissler of Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson
surveys the main Voyager and Galileo findings into a state of the moon
address, examining evidence for high-temperature ultramafic lavas,
mass loss to the Io torus surrounding Jupiter, rapid resurfacing rates,
uniform global heat output and the characteristics of specific volcanic
features. Many basic questions and puzzles remain.
- Black Sea Flood:
William Ryan and colleagues
attempt to defend the Black Sea Flood hypothesis against criticisms.
- Meteorites: In the June 12 issue of Nature,
Conel Alexander puzzles over A Question of Timing, how to
get the contents of meteorites in sync. The chondules have
CAIs (calcium-aluminum inclusions) containing short-lived radionuclides
and show evidence of melting at temperatures up to 2000K.
Honing the Concept of Biological Information 06/12/2003
Well established is how Jack W. Szostak (Howard Hughes
Medical Institute) describes the concept of biological information
June 12 issue of Nature.
We are all familiar with the idea that it is the sequence of
the nucleotides or amino acids that make up DNA, RNA or protein
molecules that determine their structure and function, he
says, and this constitutes a type of molecularly coded information.
But how do we define information in proteins, when we find
numerous examples of different sequences that perform the same
biological function? And how do we measure the amount of
information in a biological molecule? A new concept of information
is needed to deal with the special case of biological complexity.
He examines the old approaches before suggesting an alternative:
How would functional information be measured? He describes
it mathematically, but then gives an analogy:
Imagine a pile of DNA, RNA or protein molecules of all possible
sequences, sorted by activity with the most active at the top.
A horizontal plane through the pile indicates a given level of activity;
as this rises, fewer sequences remain above it. [An illustration
shows a cone with the vertex at top, intersected by a plane.]
The functional information required to specify that activity is
-log2 of the fraction of sequences above the plane.
In other words, the more activity the molecule can perform, the fewer
sequences would be likely able to perform it.
The probability decreases as you proceed up the cone.
- Information content is usually thought of in terms
of the amount of information required to specify a unique sequence
or structure. This viewpoint derives from classical information
theory, which does not consider the meaning of a message, defining the
information content of a string of symbols as simply that required to
specify, store or transmit the string. Thus, the unannotated human
genome sequence can be encoded in a 750-megabyte file, but this could be
greatly reduced in size by the application of standard data-compression techniques to account for internal repetitions.
- Algorithmic complexity approaches further define the amount
of information needed to specify sequences with internal order or
structure, but these also fail to account for redundancy due to
related sequences that are structurally and functionally equivalent.
- Physical complexity addresses this objection. It is
a rigorously defined measure of the information content of such
degenerate sequences, which is based on functional criteria and is
measured by comparing alignable sequences that encode functionally
equivalent structures. But different molecular
structures may be functionally equivalent, he says, pointing out
another shortcoming of the above approaches.
Szostak suggests this alternative:
- A new measure of information - functional information -
is required to account for all possible sequences that could potentially
carry out an equivalent biochemical function, independent of the
structure or mechanism used.
Because there can be more than one way to achieve a function,
the probability of achieving that function from a random sequence will
be higher than if a specific sequence were required. Nevertheless,
measuring the amount of functional information is difficult,
because precisely how much more functional information
is required to specify a given increase in activity is unknown.
What is the probability a random sequence will perform a function?
One experimental example indicates this probability is
very low: the extreme rarity of functional sequences in
populations of random sequences (typically 10-10 to
10-15 for aptamers and ribozymes isolated from random
RNA pools. Typical lab searches can bias the results:
Unfortunately, the original
distribution of functional molecules can be obscured by biases in
replication and selection efficiency that accumulate over cycles
of enrichment. So he suggests,
A radically different approach would be to apply the
new single-molecule fluorescence methods to the direct analysis of
large sets of random sequences.
As the concept of functional information advances,
he thinks it will be interesting to see if the
relationship between functional information and activity will be
similar in many different systems, suggesting that common principles
are at work, or whether each case will be unique.
A central claim of intelligent design theory is that complex specified
information is a reliable indicator of an intelligent cause.
Its good that Szostak has brought the concept of biological information
to the attention of Nature readers, and has offered some insight into
what it is and how it is measured, even if he had little to say about
where it came from (his views on this are not apparent in the article).
Speciation Theory: Too Little, Too Late? 06/12/2003
Notice that he considers the idea of biological information
There is no question that biomolecules are carriers of information,
and that this information is not just meaningless (Shannon
information, named after pioneer information theorist Claude Shannon),
but tied to function. Szostaks cone diagram can be expanded to
a landscape with hills and valleys, with hills representing energy
barriers and high levels of functional information. The steepness
of the hill can represent the amount of specificity, and the height
the level of functional activity. The probability that a
random walk may reach a hilltop may be higher somewhat if there are
several routes to get there (a concept called degeneracy), but the
steeper the peak, the fewer the options and the more improbable a
random walk will arrive at the summit, or at a specified level where the plane
intersects the cone: i.e., where a desired level of function is achieved.
With this in mind, consider real biomolecules.
There are protein machines featured in previous headlines that perform
very precise, multiple functions with low tolerance for error
(see last weeks headline on tRNA synthetase),
or exhibit irreducible complexity in that they are composed of multiple parts
working together, each necessary for function (for example, see
ATP synthase). This challenges
the belief that functional information could arrive by chance.
To exacerbate the challenge, consider that most enzymes are involved
in protein complexes that perform coordinated
functions. So we observe highly specified assemblages of highly
specified components. For example, the whole process of DNA
translation and protein synthesis is a veritable
factory assembly line of protein machines,
with built in error correction and feedback regulation.
It strains credibility beyond the breaking point
to think such high, narrow probability peaks
could ever be scaled by chance. Richard Dawkins agrees that chance
is out of the question to create the highly-adaptive structures in
living things, but he believes Mount Improbable can
be scaled incrementally by natural selection.
Unfortunately for his belief,
natural selection is disallowed before a complex
self-replicating system is available. If intelligent design is excluded
from consideration, all that remain as sources for functional information
are chance and natural law.
In our online book,
Evolution: Possible or Impossible?,
author Dr. James F. Coppedge calculated the chances to get just one protein,
let alone a self-replicating factory of hundreds of proteins.
He allowed for multiple substitutions,
and gave 14 generous concessions to make
it easier for chance to succeed in constructing a typical-length,
functional protein. Even with extreme allowances for degeneracy
and ridiculously favorable conditions, such as assuming all amino acids
are already left-handed, and assuming a million billion random chains
were tried per second, chance failed miserably.
That example was an elaborate thought experiment using
mathematical laws of probability. Szostak recommends a radically
different, empirical approach. Using advanced techniques, look
for function in collections of random sequences. Youre on.
Better be willing to wait, though; in Coppedges
in the time required to expect one usable protein by chance,
an ameba crawling across the universe one inch per year, carrying one
atom per round trip, could haul the entire universe across
not just once, but 1064 times.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
12 issue of Nature, Mohamed A. F. Noor of Louisiana
State seems exhilarated. In his News and Views commentary on work by
Presgraves et al.
in the same issue, he thinks science is on the verge of understanding, finally,
how speciation works. The paper seems to have found a gene that
causes the death of hybrid male offspring. Along with other recent
clues, it leads him to think, This is an exciting time for
Sanity check. First of all, realize that all the evidence Noor
cites offers nothing to explain
Darwinian evolution in the macroevolutionary sense, but only horizontal
variations among Drosophila fruit flies that might diverge
enough to prevent interbreeding.
Notice also that Noor presents no proofs, but only tentative hunches,
that scientists might be on the track of understanding this topic.
How Evolution Explains Design 06/12/2003
That being understood, recall that we have all been told all our
lives that Darwin discovered how species originate (wasnt
that the title of his book?). We have been told Darwin had the
best idea anyone ever had, and have been led to believe that evolution
is all about the origin of new species through mutation and natural
selection. Natural selection is the insight that made Darwin famous
and gave us our modern world of genomics, eugenics, cutthroat capitalism,
Marxism and Pol Pot.
A lot of political and economic and moral baggage has been riding on
the assumption that scientists proved natural selection is the law,
and wed better just get used to it, churches, politicians and all.
Now, read these quotes from Noors pro-evolutionary,
optimistic article (emphasis added) and get ready for a shock.
Have we been sold a bill of goods?
Gasp! Now they tell us! All this time
they were bluffing?
100 million people have been slaughtered on the premise that Darwinian
survival of the fittest was an ironclad law of nature, and evolutionary
just now hoping they might have begun to get the initial glimpse of
the possibility of the belief that they may be on the verge of
starting to get ready to understand how it works, or if it works at all?
- For some 70 years, researchers have been crossing different
fruitfly species in an attempt to answer one of the most
fundamental questions in evolutionary biology: what are the
genetic changes that cause one species to split into two?
- But the identity of such genes, their normal functions and
the forces that shaped their evolution are largely unknown.
- [He lists two difficulties in tracking down these genes.]
So, even in species for which complete genome sequences are
available, identifying the genes that cause speciation
has proved difficult.
- On page 715 of this issue, however, Presgraves and colleagues
describe how they mapped, identified and analysed one such gene.
- [Of the two other possible speciation genes reported recently],
no functional tests have been reported that support its role
in hybrid sterility...
- So [because they satisfied a functional test criterion] ...
Presgraves and colleagues demonstration of the effect of the
Nup96 gene on hybrid fitness is more compelling.
- One reason why evolutionary biologists seek specific genes
associated with speciation is that, since Darwins time,
considerable debate has surrounded the exact role that natural
selection plays in species formation.
- In todays era of genomics, many researchers have identified
rapidly evolving genes that appear to be targets of
natural selection, and have suggested that these may
be important in species formation. Until recently, however,
there has been little evidence that genes involved in speciation
are necessarily direct targets of natural selection, or are evolving
rapidly. Presgraves et al. also address this issue....
- These findings accord with other data suggesting that the
characteristics that define species are often the products of natural
- A decade ago, the joke was that spell-checkers
regularly attempted to substitute the word 'speciation' with
'speculation'. Now, the availability of numerous
whole-genome sequences, the ability to survey patterns of expression
for all genes in a genome simultaneously, and tremendous
improvements in computational efficiency are bringing some of the
most concrete advances in our understanding of the genetic changes
that cause speciation. Speculation in this area
will soon be a thing of the past.
Smirkers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose
but your chains.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Designer Darwinism seems like an oxymoronic title for a book review,
but thats what Mark Ridley (zoologist, Oxford University) chose for the title
of his review, published in
June 12, of Michael Ruses new book Darwin and Design (Harvard
Press, 2003). Ridley begins by explaining the oxymoron (emphasis added in
Design — what biologists call 'adaptation' — is an obvious feature of life.
People have probably been thinking about it for as long as they have been thinking
about anything. Classically, it provided the basis of the 'argument from
design', one of five arguments put forward for the existence of God.
Darwin undermined that argument, but it has enjoyed something of a revival in
the latest version of creationism, known as 'intelligent design creationism'.
Ruse, a philosopher of biology and harsh critic of intelligent
design, spends some time tracing the history of design arguments from
Plato on through Aquinas, Kant, Paley, Cuvier and Richard Owen.
Ridley seems to pretty much agree with his final assessment:
There is no central argument to unify the book, but Ruse holds a consistently
darwinian position against all its critics. Adaptation exists, he says;
it matters; it is not explained by God; it is explained, and with
exemplary scientific propriety, by natural selection; and it is a
legitimate topic for scientific research. The various people who have
argued otherwise are making various kinds of mistake.
Yet Ridley thinks Ruse is too much an adaptationist. An adaptationist
is someone who feels evolution works to shape organisms to their environment,
such as to shape an eye for optimum ability to form images. An
alternative, neutral evolution (advanced by Motoo Kimura,
which Ridley feels led to something of a paradigm shift in the late
1980s) claims change just happens, adaptive or not. Agreeing
with Ruse that the problem of design or adaptation has been solved by
modern evolutionary biology, he nevertheless criticizes the book gently
for giving Kimuras neutral evolution theory a dismissive short shrift.
Michael Ruse is a paradoxical character worth watching. Based on
this and previous headlines (Mar 7: Is
evolution a secular religion?, Feb 18:
debate against William Dembski, Sept 3:
Can selection explain the Presbyterians?),
you would almost get the impression he is outwardly bombastic and
inwardly conflicted. Outwardly, hes acting like
Saddams press correspondent screaming The Americans are defeated!
We are victorious! just as the tanks are entering Baghdad, but then he
spends a lot of thought examining the argument from design and asking if
evolution is a secular religion. Of course it isnt!
he reassures himself as he straps on his armor for another bout against
the enemy with renewed self-generated vigor, but what is his
heart telling him after so much
exposure to thoughtful philosophers and great scientists
through the ages who believed and
taught the design argument with wisdom and composure?
Earliest Human Fossil Found in
On the one hand, his bluffing anti-I.D. sparring is almost comical, but
on the other hand he frequently reprimands his fellow evolutionists
who stray from Pharisaic Darwinism. To his credit, he debates
I.D. scientists, and rounds up the strays among his own who get out of line;
one of his books* chastised, and even exposed with McCarthyesque vigilance,
any evolutionist brethren who showed the slightest hint
of teleology or progressive evolution,
as if he wanted to avoid
any charges of hypocrisy from creationists.
But one looks for
substance in his arguments for how it is possible to dichotomize evolutionary
science from its philosophical implications, or why zeal for the strictest sect of Darwinism
should bring wisdom, peace and brotherhood, and gets this empty feeling.
Having heard so many of Stephens speeches and seen so many creationists get
unfairly stoned, maybe he is a candidate for a
experience. Dembski, Meyer et al
can smooth the way by letting him know they love their enemies, and always
extend a warm hand to the penitent. Brother Ruse, receive thy sight.
*See review by David L. Hull (philosophy, Northwestern Univ)
in Nature 6 Feb 1997 of Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress
in Evolutionary Biology by Michael Ruse (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997).
Hull says of Ruse (emphasis added): By the time we get to the present, Ruse has made a strong
case for the role of beliefs about progress in evolutionary biology. He
detracts from his very strong general thesis by pushing too hard to make too many
present-day evolutionary biologists progressivists. Certainly some do believe
in evolutionary progress, but many do not. As I read excerpts from his
interviews with present-day biologists, my pity for his subjects grew apace.
He kept after them relentlessly to confess: Were you or have you ever been
a progressivist? Finally, Niles Eldredge exploded, I dont
care! I really dont care!
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
The news media are swarming over the latest human evolution story.
The team of Tim White (UC Berkeley) reported skulls of
two adults and one child discovered in Herto, Ethiopia in 1997.
He claims these are the earliest anatomically modern Homo sapiens
yet found, which he assigns to
a new subspecies he calls Homo sapiens idaltu.
He believes their date and location support the out-of-Africa theory.
Sample reports can be found in:
story of Nature by Chris Stringer, and
Tim Whites original paper
in the same June 12 issue.
Tim White was the same guy that
cautioned his fellow paleoanthropologists in
March not to overinterpret
diversity in fossils. Since these fossils were found before then,
and he must have been working on his Nature paper at the time,
was he trying to protect his upcoming day in the media limelight?
Of All the Nerve: Plants Share Genes for Animal Nervous System 06/11/2003
This kind of story is so predictable,
it is downright pathetic to see the news media jump all over it.
When are they going to learn the game? The bones change, but
the story line is the same:
We get the joke, because we have heard it so many times before.
When are the BBC and National Geographic and the major news
networks going to catch on? Theyre being used.
The soothsayers of paleoanthropology use the media to
beat their chests before their
rivals and stay in the ring.
National Geographic hasnt
wised up still, after all the decades theyve been reporting
the now-obsolete claims of
their favorite cover-story experts, Louis and Mary Leakey.
- This spectacular new find is
important in history.
- This find sets a new age record,
rendering previous finds obsolete.
- This new find undermines the work of my
- This new find supports my
- Not everybody agrees. A rival
team likes its pet theory better.
- This find shakes the family tree.
- This new find raises more questions
than it answers.
- The data are confusing,
contradictory and unexpected.
- This new find has nothing to do
with human evolution.
- We need more funding.
Its legitimate to take a bone to a lab, measure it,
weight it, report its location, compare it to others, and run the usual
observable, repeatable scientific techniques. But inferring
relationships is highly dependent on ones assumptions.
There are enough fully human bones
and enough extinct ape bones lying around to tell any story they want.
Within human species and within ape species there is enough diversity
to massage the data into any pet theory.
This is about team rivalry and job security, not science.
White found two adults and a kid that left some bones.
They were fully human. They lived in Africa.
Thats the extent of it. Big deal.
The dating depends on evolutionary assumptions,
and the storytelling is artistic
license imposed on the data, not derived from them.
In evolutionary news reporting, there is a sucker
born every minute wherever the baloney detectors
have been switched off.
Now that you know the context, heres how the story came across
as the lead MSNBC news bite sent to a Motorola pager (emphasis added):
OLDEST HUMAN FOSSILS DISCOVERED: Homo
sapiens fossils found in Ethiopia are the oldest known found [sic],
making them a key link between pre-humans and modern
Next headline on: Early Man.
Next dumb story.
If a new phylogenetic study is right, flowering plants and yeast have genes
animals use in their central nervous system, including some known to be
implicated in long-term memory. Six Japanese scientists
were trying to study the evolutionary history of the central nervous
system. They narrowed down a list of 3,101 nonredundant genes
to 116 known to be related to the central nervous system (CNS),
then looked for them in flatworms, roundworms, fruit flies, humans,
and outgroups such as herbs and yeast. 110 of the genes displayed
extreme conservation among bilateral animals (those with
side-to-side symmetry, all of which have a CNS). In fact, all
of the 116 genes were shared between humans and planaria (flatworms).
Interestingly, they noted, we found that ~30% of
planarian nervous system-related genes had homologous sequences
in Arabidopsis [an herb] and yeast, which do not possess
a nervous system. This implies that the origin of the nervous
system-related genes greatly predated the emergence of the nervous
system, and that these genes might have been recruited toward the
nervous system. They surmise the origin of these genes
predates the Cambrian explosion, and may go all the way back to
unicellular organisms, before the plant and animal kingdoms diverged.
The paper, Origin and evolutionary process of the CNS
elucidated by comparative genomics analysis of planarian ESTs,
is in the June 11 online preprints of the
of the National Academy of Sciences.
Whenever we see a paper in PNAS on
the topic Evolution, we get all excited because we think
that now, finally, we are going to get some real evidence for this
monumental philosophy that has taken over the world since 1859.
Now that we can look into the genes, the trail of evolution should be
But what have we here? All they found were complex genes that
go clear back to single-celled organisms, and have been extremely
conserved all the way up to humans. And 30% of them are
found in plants! Is this what evolution teaches, that for over
nearly two billion years there has been little or no change?
Why Humans Lost Their Hair 06/10/2003
timeline shows possible origin of NS-related genes at
1700 MYA (million years ago), and basic genes for common
ancestral CNS at 540 million years ago at the time of some
imaginary common ancestor of chordates (including us), arthropods,
roundworms and flatworms, with little change since then except for
gene loss (devolution), gene recruitment, gene duplication,
horizontal gene transfer or mutation, none of which are mechanisms
for increasing the complexity of something as marvelously coordinated
as a nervous system. But there cant have been much of
any of that if humans share all 116 CNS genes with flatworms for
hundreds of millions of years. This would be falsifying
evidence against evolution if these scientists were not
already convinced they had to fit their data into an evolutionary
story no matter what.
Lets think out of the box for a moment. Look
at the same data from a top-down (creation) approach, instead of a
bottom-up (evolution) mindset. Complex organisms are fully
designed to do what they do. As you work down the scale of
complexity, simpler organisms still need many of the same genes and
proteins and developmental pathways, cell signalling, etc.
But there is more they can do without. So you expect
to find many of the same genes, or simplified homologues,
all the way back to single-celled organisms.
But there will be differences, too; some from mutations or
duplications that have accumulated since the creation (especially
if there were genetic bottlenecks along the way). Other differences
could be due to factors controlling gene expression for different needs and
environments. If the designer is the Judeo-Christian God,
the Genesis account says He introduced living things in a progression
over six days, starting with plants, then fish and small animals to
large land animals. Again, one would expect to see baseline genes
conserved all the way up. None of these similarities would
imply common ancestry, but they would imply common design.
There is nothing in the data set from this paper that would
contradict such an interpretation, but there is plenty that argues
against the evolutionary interpretation. These authors give no
hint of an explanation for the
emergence (evolutionists favorite hand-waving
synonym for miracle) of complex genes for a nervous system
in single-celled organisms long before the alleged Cambrian
explosion, or how they become recruited
(a subtle personification fallacy)
for use by higher animals that needed a central nervous system.
On the contrary, they just assume all this, because
they are obsessed with viewing the world through Darwinian glasses.
Notice how they admit in passing that, Although
there are some contradictions between the molecular and morphological
data, (a common theme in these kinds of genome comparisons), this is
never allowed to shake their faith in Darwin: there is no doubt that
planarians are among the descendants of early bilateral animals.
But watch how along the way, they are surprised, flummoxed, puzzled and
astounded at the data.
A hint that something is dreadfully wrong with the story can be seen
in their use of the word interestingly three
times over unexpected results, (1) interestingly, plants have nervous
(2) interestingly, humans and flatworms share all the 116 nervous system
genes they examined;
and (3) interestingly, flatworms contain a gene important for
CNS development in chordates.
What must go through an evolutionist CNS when its user
looks at such results, scratches its chin and mumbles, Intedesting...
Next headline on: Plants.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Todays just-so story is about why humans evolved nakedness.
There were too many parasites, so humans lost their body hair so that
they could invent removable clothes that could be washed. This
theory seems to work better than the earlier one, that claimed it was an
adaptation to the African heat, but it still has problems explaining
why certain parts still have hair, and why apes didnt follow
suit if it was such a good idea.
In the explanation reported in
Scientist, an anthropologist from Londons
Natural History Museum chuckles, The question we always have
in explaining unique human traits is: why didnt other animals
evolve them as well if they are so advantageous? He
thinks the answer lies in the unique human culture that was evolving
at the same time; shelter, clothing, and making campfires.
Sexual selection may have also been an influence.
The BBC News
also reports on the new hypothesis by Mark Pagel and Sir Walter Bodmer
that was published in the
Society Biology Letters.
Geographic was quick to add a nude photo to the tale.
Evolutionists have a story for everything,
but they were not there to know what happened. Maybe it was this,
and maybe it was that, they say, but the
story of the creation of man and woman naked and not
ashamed before sin cannot be considered, because that is
religious and not scientific.
Since when is telling just-so stories scientific? There is
a strong reason for favoring the Genesis account over this buggy
new story: it fits the design we observe.
If you ever get to see the illustrated lecture Beauty is Skin Deep
by Dr. David Menton,
you would see wonders on a microscopic scale that could never have evolved.
Evolution in Action: Three-Legged Chicken Found 06/10/2003
Human skin is a fantastic invention.
It regulates heat, keeps body fluids
in but allows selective absorption, protects against infection,
is self-healing and self-regenerating, and is lined with thousands
of advanced sensors for touch, heat, pain, and cold. It is
our largest single organ, providing us a wetsuit with feeling.
It is a key component of the God-given pleasure of sex.
Skin is a living, breathing, dynamic, regenerating, and beautiful
design, and points out one of the most intriguing differences between
humans and apes. We are not really hairless; even the slickest parts of
our skin, including the palms of our hands, are covered with tiny
transparent hairs that are essential to the sense of touch.
The way hair shafts grow to a certain prescribed length from the base
while safely anchored inside their follicles is another amazing
facet of the wonder of human skin.
Adaptation is evidence of design, not evolution.
Every creature is suited to its environment.
The unique attributes of human posture, skin, speech, brains, aesthetics
and our innate sense of morality are suited to our created role as
beings made in the image of God, placed here on an ideal planet
to enjoy and obey our all-wise Designer. Things havent been
as beautiful, unfortunately, since the
Have you been
Next headline on: Darwinian Evolution.
Next headline on: Early Man.
Next headline on: Human Body.
An Ontario farmer bought a chick with a stubby extra leg,
reports the Kingston Whig-Standard.
Ian Chin-Sang, a molecular geneticist at Queens University,
remarked: Its progress. Its the driving force
of evolution. You have to have mutation. He
acknowledged that this particular mutation would probably not
help the unlucky chick survive, however.
OK, we have to tell the obligatory
three-legged chicken joke. A city slicker driving through
Arkansas noticed a Three-Legged Chicken Ranch. Out of curiosity,
he stopped in and asked the rancher about it. Do you
really raise three-legged chickens? Yep,
said the ranch owner. I got into the bidness cause
Ah lahk drumsticks, muh wahf lahks drumsticks, and cousin Joe over
dar, hey lahks drumsticks, too. Theh was never nuf to go
round. So how do they taste? the tourist
asked. Dunno, he replied. Haint
been able to ketch one yet.
Dumb, now dumber: this is progress. This
is the driving force of evolution. Heeeeeee HAW!
Next headline on: Birds.
Next headline on: Darwinian Evolution.
Next dumb story.
In his daily Breakpoint
Commentary for June 9, Chuck Colson congratulates PBS for making
Unlocking the Mystery
of Life available to member stations. He thinks they are
evolving better science coverage, not by gradualism, but by breakthroughs
like this. Another favorable review by Gary D. Barber from
Library Journal Reviews, June 2003, has been posted on
Next headline on: Movies and Media.
How to Tweak a Translator 06/09/2003
As discussed here several times before (April
29, Nov. 1), DNA translation
depends on a family of 20 specialized proteins that act as language
interpreters. They are called the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS),
and their unique property of being able to precisely
match an amino acid to the transfer RNA that codes for it means
they understand two codes: the nucleotide code of DNA, and the
amino-acid code of proteins. How could such an interpreter
In the June 9 online preprints of the
of the National Academy of Sciences, three French biochemists
claim to have fused parts together to create an artificial
tRNA synthetase. Each aaRS molecule has four functional parts:
a domain that binds AMP to the amino acid, a domain that acylates
the amino acid, a domain that edits the tRNA attachment, and a domain
that joins the two together. The ability of each of these functions
to work depends on the precise order of the amino acids in the synthetase
(for alanines synthetase, 876 of them).
These scientists took out the
normal part of amino acids #368-461, the part involved in aminoacylation,
and fused in some of their own polypeptides they had selected for their
ability to acylate the amino acid alanine. Out of seven mutants,
some did better than others, and none showed any significant energy
penalty in the other ends ability to bind RNA.
They also tried substituting other amino acids in the
active site of their artificial synthetase. Each
substitution reduced the ability to acylate alanine, some 2-fold,
some 5-fold and with three changes, 10-fold. Each mutant also
lost ability to act specifically on alanine. There did not
seem to be much tolerance, therefore, for changes in a 10-peptide
sequence located in the heart of the active site.
What do they make of this? In the discussion,
they feel they have demonstrated that fusing a replacement string
into part of the synthetase did not destroy its ability to do its
other functions. Importantly, they say,
the two components, adenylate synthesis and specific RNA
binding, were generated independently. ... Thus, the results are
consistent with the idea that early tRNA synthetases
small, idiosyncratic RNA-binding elements being fused to domains
for adenylate synthesis. These RNA-binding elements might have
developed originally to bind and protect ribozymes (to give early
ribonucleopeptides or ribonucleoproteins; refs 44-47).
The fusions of RNA-binding peptides to domains for adenylate
synthesis may have been the first step in
developing protein-based synthetases that overcame
the ribozyme-based system of aminoacylation.
(Emphasis added.) Since the cost to the RNA-binding portion was inconsequential,
they feel the two main functions of the synthetase could have
arisen independently, and serendipitously come together to take
over the job ribozymes were doing [i.e., in the hypothetical
RNA World scenario].
Pardon the jargon above, but there
is a reason. Here at Creation-Evolution Headlines,
we dont give you watered-down, warmed-over, spin-doctored
versions of evolutionary research. We charge right into the
dark rooms where the wizards are speaking in their cryptic mumbo-jumbo,
thinking their secret language insulates them from the public,
and shields them from charges of propagating baloney.
Sorry, the gig is up; it is exposè time. There are so many problems with this
paper, if it is expected to prop up belief in a naturalistic
origin of life, that you deserve to know what their mumbo-jumbo means
when translated into plain English.
Mars Drier and More Active Than Expected 06/06/2003
The aaRS family of enzymes poses a severe challenge to
evolution, because it is a prime example of information transfer that
could only have come from an intelligent cause. There is no
known case where an information-bearing message can be
translated into another coding system apart from intelligence.
In the aaRS family, we find prima facie evidence for intelligence, and
these scientists do nothing to change that. If anything, they only
underscore how hopeless the attempts are to explain it by natural causes.
If you can wade through a little jargon,
the force of the argument against chemical evolution is in the details.
The scenario these scientists think they are advancing, a chance origin
of life, is based on improbabilities chained together with impossibilities.
They cheated from the start by using only
left-handed amino acids. Nature would never
bring such a highly improbable set together. When they built their
polypeptides to insert into their so-called
artificial synthetase, they used repeated rounds
of artificial selection (caused by their intelligent design) to find
ones most likely to work.
Their argument hinges on the independence of the two functions of the
enzyme: its ability to specify one amino acid and mate it to a
specific tRNA. So what? That explains nothing of how the
two specific parts became related.
Suppose a two-person team is needed
to translate Chinese into French. A woman in China is found who knows Chinese
fluently. A woman in France speaks fluent French. Does that
accomplish the job of translation? Of course not, not unless they
can come together and learn to communicate the meaning of their words
with each other. If one part of a primordial
synthetase can bind to a specific RNA, without interfering with the other
parts ability to bind to a specific amino acid by chance, that tells
you nothing about the functional connection between the two.
If the French woman says, deux, it will be
gibberish to the Chinese woman unless the meaning of the word is
conveyed. DNA translation is all about meaning. DNA has four
synonyms for alanine: GCA, GCC, GCG, and GCU. None of these codons,
or their tRNA counterparts, looks or smells like alanine. But they
tell the translation system, We need an alanine here!
The correct molecular machine (synthetase) for alanine is summoned.
It authenticates the
tRNA, and simultaneously activates the alanine and acylates it.
Then it snaps the acylated alanine to the tRNA (which would never join by themselves),
and finally, remarkably, proofreads the result, achieving 99.97%
accuracy (most of the remaining 0.03% error is fixed down the line in the
ribosome). This is absolutely astonishing to have this precision of
function at this level of size and your life depends on it.
Without accurate translation, the genome, and function, would quickly fall apart.
These scientists also cheated by invoking natural selection
where it is not appropriate. Without accurate
replication, there is no natural selection. Chance and natural
law are the only hopes left, if you can call trusting in vanishing
improbabilities hope. (This is why they use the word serendipitous,
i.e., lucky chances that just happened to work.) If these scientists
were right, highly unlikely left-handed amino acids would have to
accidentally mate with the right tRNA so often, they could lead to a
self-replicating system with high accuracy. This had to happen for
20 different aaRS enzymes, so 20 already-hopeless improbabilities would have
to multiplied together. Every part of the story is so improbable, it is a
a veritable fairy tale.
What if the lucky RNA-binding domain forms by chance in the Indian Ocean,
and the lucky alanine-binding domain forms by chance in the Pacific?
Too bad. They would not have time to swim to each other before a
UV photon blasts one and the other hydrolyzes. Even if they formed
together, its the end of the story unless and until they could pass on their
legacy to lots of offspring that could somehow be naturally selected; but that
requires the whole DNA-protein system to be working. But DNA and ribosomes
are required to manufacture the synthetases! It is a
losing story no matter where you turn.
What else is wrong here? They build their story on the
RNA World hypothesis which is fraught with other impossibilities (see the
detailed July 11, 2002 headline listing
some of the serious problems there). And they personify these molecules as if they
want to evolve; the ribozyme just hands over its function to the more capable
synthetase system, etc. Picture yourself standing on a San Diego beach
needing to walk to Hawaii. Standing out of the shark-infested waters
every 500 miles or so are 6x6" stepping stones. Would you be a realist
to say, If I can make it to the first stepping stone, then the second,
I am making great progress, even if you have no credible plan on how you expect
to jump to each one? Evolutionary researchers testing their
origin of life scenarios are manufacturing artificial stepping stones in the
middle of the story, ignoring the difficulties of getting off the beach.
Now picture instead of your intelligent self trying to get to Hawaii, there are a thousand
blind, deaf, drunkards who dont want to go there, they just want
to lie down and die. They only jump in random directions when someone bumps into them or
a lightning bolt zaps them. Would you bet your life that one of them will
one day successfully hop all the stepping stones and arrive at Hawaii,
not caring or knowing how they got there? This is why papers like this
contribute nothing to the theory of evolution. A stepping stone in mid-ocean
is not a stepping stone at all if no blind drunkard cares to go that way, has
nothing to gain by standing on a 6" square surrounded by shark-infested
waters, and could not get to the stone even if he wanted to. The term
first step implies direction, purpose, and planning teleology
which are inacceptable concepts for evolutionists to apply to chemicals.
Much of the public evolution debate consists of generalized
rhetoric replete with emotion and imagination. Presumably, in a laboratory
somewhere, the story is being checked out by actual experiments.
Thats why we like to bypass the hot air of the salesmen and get down
into the engine room where intelligent researchers with PhDs are testing
the assumed evidences for evolution with rigorous,
experiments and reporting it in peer-reviewed journals where its
harder to bluff your way around.
In Fantasyland, you can wish upon a star, and all your dreams come true.
But in Chemistryland, there is no gently-smiling, benevolent
fairy godmother with a magic wand.
Real scientists have to work with real chemicals subject to valences and
laws of thermodynamics, that dont cooperate with the scientist unless
he forces them to. In every case, molecules do not self-organize into
message-bearing, information-rich systems without cheating, without the
chemist playing fairy godmother and applying external information like pixie
How important is this headline? In reality, the whole of
evolutionary theory is built on it. Without a plausible premise,
nothing else in a story is sound. How many show-stoppers does it take
to stop a show? Just one. How many impossibilities in an alibi
makes the judge throw the book at you? Just one. If the implausibility of a naturalistic
origin of life is a show-stopper, then molecules-to-man Darwinian
evolution, the Greatest Show on Earth, stops before the curtain even rises.
Suppose a scientific
paper began, Assuming butterflies build cities out of giant Sequoias,...
and then had an elaborate theory with differential equations and charts and
erudite logic. Would the impressive end of the paper validate the
weird beginning? Evolutionists just know that evolution is
true, so they think telling a fairy tale about chemicals developing language
translation is justified, because here we are. But that is superstition,
not science. Evolutionists shield the public from the inner workings of
chemical evolution theory, because if the public knew how incredibly implausible
it was, they would demand accountability. Chemical evolutionists would lose
their scientific credentials and have to become priests in the Church of
Materialist Metaphysics. The tax deduction for non-profit status would
be a pittance compared to the NSF funding that supports chemical evolution
research, so the truth must be hidden in secret mumbo-jumbo.
They must hate it when a reporter knows how to translate it into the common
tongue and leaks it to the world wide web. Youre right,
Dr. Kenneth Miller: this is an argument from personal incredulity.
It is inconceivable how anybody could be as credulous as a
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
This is a big year for Mars, with five spacecraft targeting the
red planet and a close conjunction coming this August.
But already, two orbiters are there and they continue to provide
has an article about puzzling results from the
Mars 2001 Odyssey orbiter:
Scientists are still in the process of sorting out the flood of
new images and trying to make sense of them. But one thing has become
clear: Mars is a dynamic place. Christensen puts it,
what weve found is that in many places on Mars it
hasnt just been the same old thing happening for year after
year for billions of years. For a similar report,
see this press release at the
State University website.
- Large areas of bedrock are exposed that scientists
did not expect to find. Principal investigator
THEMIS infrared camera, Phil
Christensen, said, If those
rocks had been made a billion years ago, theyd be covered with
- Elsewhere, loose rocks were found to be common on hillsides,
suggesting recent weathering, the article states.
- Olivine, a mineral that degrades rapidly in water, has been found
coating the floors of large canyons like Ganges Chasma.
This gives us an interesting perspective of water on Mars,
Christensen said. There cant have been much water
ever in this place. Despite the frequent hypotheses
of liquid water on Mars, Odyssey is pointing to a large areas in utter
drought. On the other hand, ice, and even snow, has been
found to be common and may be what contributes to the gullies on
the slopes of craters.
Unexpected youth, active surfaces,
processes that defy equilibrium over billions of years this
is the norm, not
the exception, in planetary science. Need proof? Get a
copy of The New Solar System (4th ed.), the definitive textbook
on the solar system written by the worlds leading planetary
scientists. You find an oft-repeated theme in chapter
after chapter: We expected to find such and such, but we found
the opposite. Young-looking phenomena are everywhere, from
comets, moons and asteroids to rings to whole planet surfaces.
Mysteries and unexplained phenomena abound.
(Actually, the book is already out of date since its last revision in
1999. Even more youthful phenomena have been discovered since
then, such as Titans icy bedrock,
and the rapid depletion rate of comets,
and the anomalous heat output from Io.)
The only things that look old are young phenomena interpreted as
ancient by passing through philosophically-tainted glasses that
are pre-filtered to see billions of years, because old man Darwin needs
the time. But if Darwinian
gradualism is old hat these days and catastrophism is in vogue,
who really needs the billions of years any more? Things can
happen pretty fast when catastrophes are allowed back in the dating game.
How Old Is the Earth? 06/05/2003
Meanwhile, feast your eyes on the
coming back from Odyssey. Oh, how earlier generations would
have yearned to be able explore Mars like we can with just a few
clicks of a button. No novel or comic book could ever match
the excitement of really seeing Mars as it is.
Watch for news of the upcoming
Mars Exploration Launch
scheduled for Sunday (weather permitting). If these rovers
succeed, we are going to have a lot of exciting news come January,
if the Europeans
dont steal all the thunder in December. Thats
not likely. Mars is a big place.
Next headline on: Mars.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Next headline on: Dating Methods.
In the June
6 issue of Science, Stein B. Jacobsen of Harvard reviews
current thinking about when the earth formed and how long it took.
For the absolute age, he refers to a 4.567 billion year figure from
a 2002 Science paper by
et al, which analyzed meteorites for various lead isotopes and
short-lived radionuclides (including 7Be with a half-life of
52 days). For relative figures, he compares tungsten and hafnium
isotopic data to produce his timeline with the following caption:
The first new solid grains formed from the gas and dust cloud called
the Solar Nebula some 4567 million years ago. Within
100,000 years, the first embryos of the terrestrial planets had
formed. Some grew more rapidly than others, and within 10
million years, ~64% of Earth had formed; by that time, proto-Earth
must have been the dominant planet at 1 astronomical unit
(the distance between Earth and the Sun). Accretion was effectively
complete at 30 million years, when a Mars-sized impactor led to the
formation of the Moon.
The 100,000 year figure reflects
article in the same issue, reporting on the
recent annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, in
which author Robert Irion relays that growing numbers of astronomers
are thinking the planets formed quickly by processes other than the
traditional planetesimal accretion hypothesis.
So despite Jacobsens air of confidence with his timeline,
he concludes (emphasis added):
Precise measurements of W [tungsten] isotopes are among the
most difficult measurements ever attempted by geo- and
cosmochemists. As shown above, these studies are extremely
worthwhile, even if some results turn out to be incorrect.
It is important that several groups continue to perform such measurements
and challenge each others results. A few precise and
well-substantiated measurements are more informative than a large body
of data with lower precision and accuracy.
Not many would disagree with these sentiments. And yet earlier
in his article, Jacobsen acknowledged that the dating game is still
filled with surprises. Here are some excerpts (emphasis added):
Thus, it appears that Jacobsens timeline should only be viewed
as tentative at best.
- Recent reports on the tungsten (W) isotope composition of
meteorites have led to a completely revised time scale for
the formation of the terrestrial planets.
- These new results have fundamentally changed the way
in which the Hf-W chronometer can be used, because they
demonstrate that 182Hf was live when Earth formed.
- However, the groups drew different conclusions from their data.
- Wasserburg et al. have shown that such a high initial
abundance will only occur if several different types of supernovas
contributed to the materials from which the solar system was made.
So much rides on this date of
4.6 billion years. The entire biological evolution story and
most of modern geology
depend on it. It is quoted in the literature without question
as if it came from a religious revelation.
So we looked at the Amelin et al
paper for data etched in stone, and found a house of cards.
Though the data tables look impressive, over and over the authors build
one assumption on another, judge some isotopic ratios to be more
valid than others, and assume the very thing they are trying to prove
that the planets evolved out of a dust disk, which took a lot of time.
How can they arrive at a number with four significant figures when
nobody was there watching, and the methods depend on processes no one
could ever know? If multiple supernovas were needed to seed the
solar nebula, what effect did that have? What about Shus
X-wind model, and proposed X-ray solar flares 100,000 times more powerful
than those observed today,
and multiple hypothesized episodes of melting and refreezing?
They admit the meteorites were open systems, but how can they rule
out processes unknown to us that could mess up the ratios?
There is enough tweak space to concoct any story.
Germs For Your Health 06/04/2003
Jacobsens paper represents a common formula in
evolutionary literature. A just-so story is told with all the authority
of an eyewitness news reporter, and then the conclusion says,
more studies are needed. This can be construed as,
We already know we are right, but we need more funding to find
data that fit our preconceived notions. This is a good
time to recall Maiers Law.
Nothing else in the solar system leads one to conclude
such a huge date of 4.6 billion years. Here is a short list of
phenomena, reported in previous headlines from papers in the secular
scientific journals, that set upper limits much younger than that:
This is just a partial list (details for most can be found by following
the chain links on Solar System and Dating Methods).
Each of these, if examined impartially without the prior belief that the
solar system is billions of years old, would lead one to estimate
much lower ages. To fit the 4.6 billion year timeline,
all these observed phenomena have to be str-r-r-r-r-etched
by many orders of magnitude. Why must that one figure of 4.6 billion
years, arrived at
by multiple levels of assumptions and tweaks, be the sacred cow
to which all must bow?
- Mercury should be stone dead but has a global magnetic field.
- If Venus surface had a 4.6 billion year history, the first
90% has been obliterated.
- Earths magnetic field is decreasing at an alarming rate.
- The Grand Canyon could have been carved in just the last few thousand years.
- The moon and meteorites contain short-lived radionuclides.
- The moon should be stone dead, but shows evidence of activity today
(transient lunar phenomena).
- Comets are burning up too fast (all the ones we know would be
gone in 5000 years), and the hordes of spent bodies that should exist
after 4 billion years cannot be found. Furthermore, the
hypothetical Oort Cloud of comets could only contain 10% of earlier
- Meteorites are young, based on cosmic ray exposure.
- Some groups of asteroids have preferential spin orientations,
that should have been randomized by now.
- Many asteroids are binary, but gravitational forces would
tend to disrupt them in short order.
- Assumed cratering rates on Mars could be way off the mark,
casting into doubt a widely relied on method of estimating ages.
- Large areas of Martian bedrock are exposed, but should have
been buried deep in dust by now.
- Io has far more volcanic activity than can be explained by tidal heating.
- Io and Europa are losing a ton of their mass every second.
- Europa might have active geyser activity even today.
- Ganymede has a global magnetic field and evidence of recent resurfacing.
- Callisto shows signs of ongoing erosion, and has far fewer
small craters than expected.
- Every planetary scientist agrees planetary rings are young,
because they erode rapidly.
- Titans atmosphere is eroding quickly and cannot be billions
of years old.
- Titans surface should be blanketed with half a mile of hydrocarbons
by now, but large patches of bedrock ice are found.
- Enceladus, Tethys, Miranda, Ariel etc. are freezing cold, but show
evidence of recent surface activity of unknown origin.
- Triton has a complex surface and active geysers, but inhabits
a circular orbit (retrograde) without tidal stress.
- Triton and Pluto show evidence of a tenuous atmosphere.
- Neptune is the farthest large planet but has the strongest winds,
and shows evidence of seasonal activity.
- Neptunes rings have unexpected clumps of material.
- The orbit of Plutos large moon Charon is not tidally locked.
- Small moons are subject to short collisional lifetimes,
yet each gas giant has many of them.
- The Poynting-Robertson effect would tend to sweep the solar system
of dust quickly, but the solar system still has a lot of dust.
- Dust disks around other stars are seen to erode quickly.
So here we have a remarkable situation. At the
early end of this 4.6 billion year timeline, everything happens
rapidly; gas giants can form in just a few hundred or thousand years.
At the near end, we see evidence of youth everywhere.
There is a huge middle where astronomers need to keep short-lived
phenomena going, like trying to drive around the world on a gallon of gas.
Is there somebody out there, anybody, who will have the courage to
question this bizarre figure of 4.6 billion years? If you do,
be careful. It will be like tickling the bottom guy on a
five-level human pyramid, with Charlie D. juggling on the top.
Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Most peoples views of bacteria are of menacing, disease-producing entities.
Au contraire, says Jeffrey I Gordon of Washington University School of
Medicine (St. Louis), quoted in
163:22, p. 344. I think that most of our encounters with bacteria are mutually
beneficial, friendly, and part of our normal biology. .... Theyve insinuated themselves
into our biology and coevolved with us.
The article by John Travis lists several ways our intestinal flora help
us. They break down complex sugars, signal the gut lining to stimulate defenses
against pathogens, help the gut mature, and help it detoxify compounds. One kind
is mostly active during lactation to help an infant digest complex sugars in the
mothers milk in fact, the Nestle company farms this bacterium and incorporates into
some of its infant formula and yogurt to promote gastrointestinal health. Scientists
have found that rodents raised without a certain bacterium must consume about 30 percent
more calories to maintain their body weight; this means the bacterium helps a mammal
to digest its food. Other microbes stimulate our own cells to put up an electric
fence to keep out harmful germs, but are not affected themselves. In return,
the friendly bacteria get to feed off leftovers. There may be 1,000 different kinds
of bacteria living in our intestines. Scientists have barely begun to explore the
variety of these organisms, which according to estimates may together possess as
many unique genes as a person does, and perhaps far more. Your little
passengers outnumber all the cells in your body, perhaps by as much as a factor
Its not just animals that benefit from the diversity
of microbial workers. Like we reported Sept. 6, plants (and therefore animals, too)
depend on a little microbe that has a secret tool called
nitrogenase that can untie the Gordian knot of triple-bonded
nitrogen, making it available for proteins. There is growing evidence that bacteria
and viruses are, for the most part, cooperative team players with other living things
in the web of life.
How Rare Are Earthlike Planets? 06/03/2003
Gordon provides no evidence in this article that bacteria coevolved with us or
that they developed any of their amazing skills through time and chance.
Au contraire, what is observed is devolution. For instance, in yesterdays
online preprints of the
Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, a team analyzed the newly-decoded genome of bovine
tuberculosis, and did not find any new genes.
Like anthrax, the pathogenicity of this plague
appears to come from loss of information and changes in gene expression.
This supports the idea stated in the March 14
headline that pathogens are devolved mutants of originally-beneficial microbes.
Next headline on: Health.
Next amazing story.
Optimism is dissipating like a stellar dust disk, according to an article by Robert Roy Britt on
Planetary Puzzle: The Mystery of the Disappearing Disks.
It was popular in Carl Sagans day to boast about how many millions of advanced
civilizations must be out there, inhabiting worlds like our own. David Weintraub
of Vanderbilt University used to feel that way also. But after studying how quickly disks of
dust and gas dissipate around other stars, he has become more pessimistic.
Asked if solar systems like ours are common, he replied, I think 20 years ago
we all knew the answer, and it was yes. "But weve learned a lot
since then. Now I think the answer is a whole lot harder. Now Im
more of a skeptic. I think the answer is going to be no. (emphasis
Weintraub and colleague Jeff Bary and others presented their
findings at last weeks annual meeting of the
Society. Britt summarizes the problem: The researchers found that
the dust around the young stars dissipates more quickly than the present theory
deems necessary to build planets. Observations of other stars have
led astronomers to conclude all the dust and gas for building planets is gone in
3 to 5 million years. That sounds like a long time, but not for planet-building,
according to current planetesimal theories. It appears many star clusters
blow away their dust disks in just tens or hundreds of thousands of years.
Hope is being kept alive by postulating that planets form much more
quickly than thought.
Weintraub are actively looking for evidence that
the dust and gas is still present, just invisible; this lent a tone of optimism
to their December 9 news release. Furthermore, planets cannot
be that difficult to form, because Jupiter-size gas giants have been found around a number
of other stars. But since many of these are close-in to the star, it appears
they have a tendency to
migrate inward quickly.
If so, they would swallow or
eject any potential earth-like planets in their path. These growing
to have dampened the astronomers enthusiasm, leading to Weintraubs
skeptical prediction today on Space.Com that earthlike planets are not common.
June 6 reported on the meetings, making it sound like the planetesimal
hypothesis, involving the slow accretion of particles over millions of years,
is effectively dead; astronomers are undergoing a religious
conversion to the heretical disk-instability model
that suggests that gas giants collapse nearly instantly--
cosmically speaking--by means of unstable, runaway clumping of gas
in the rotating disk. Alan Boss is quoted as saying,
There are lots of giant planets out there, so whatever process
makes them has to be very efficient. Its a thought thats
now crystallizing: Nature makes them fast. Traditionalists,
however, think the disk-instability model assumes initial conditions
that are unrealistic compared to what is observed.
These articles are more cheerful than they should
be. A look at previous headlines on this subject shows that even under
ideal conditions, dust and gas do not collapse into planets. In our real
solar system, there are numerous phenomena that cause serious problems both for
origin models and for dating methods. Secular astronomers are not
pessimistic enough (e.g., realistic), about the ability of natural processes
alone to produce our privileged planet.
Factoid 06/02/2003: The Nuclear Pore Complex
Next headline on: Solar System.
Impress your friends today: tell them about Nuclear Pore Complexes.
These are elaborate, specialized pores in the nuclear membranes that surround
the nucleus of each cell in your body like a skin.
The pores look something like complex basketball hoops with rings
and studs that act like electronic gates.
Their job is to control traffic in and out of the nucleus.
Each nuclear pore complex works so fast, it can authenticate
somewhere between 520 and 1000 pieces of cargo per second.
A typical nucleus has about 2000 to 4000 or more of these gates,
which are made up of 30 or more very complex proteins.
They all have to be disassembled and reassembled every time a cell
divides. (Believe it or not, this is a vastly
oversimplified summary of a much more complicated picture.)
Source: Developmental Cell, June 2, 2003,
review article by Suntharalingam and Wente.
Next headline on: The Cell.
See also our March 4 headline,
Gatekeepers of the Cell Nucleus Revealed.
Next amazing story.
Step Aside, Webshooter: Make Way for Geckoman 06/02/2003
Theyve done it: physicists in England have succeeded in
making gecko tape, inspired by the sticky feet of the lizards
that walk upside down on rough and smooth surfaces.
Kids may one day be able to imitate spiderman by walking up walls and
scampering up ceilings, says
Geographic News. (Actually, the scientists only made a tiny
amount of the tape, and it cost a lot of money.)
More on this story can be found on
Science Update and the
See the August
27 headline on the phenomenal feet of geckos.
Geologists Fine-Tune the Chemistry of the Killer Asteroid 06/02/2003
Next headline on: Bugs and Crawling Critters.
Next amazing story.
If you want a meteor to kill just dinosaurs, you have a problem.
It creates acid rain that kills the fish, too. Two Austrian
scientists puzzled over that in the
issue of Geology.
The abstract states (emphasis added),
Acid rain from the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary impact event
should have caused significant damage to freshwater life, but only
minor extinctions of freshwater species are actually observed.
We proposed a mechanism to neutralize the acid using larnite
(beta-Ca2SiO4), produced as a result of the
specific lithology at the Chicxulub impact site. The vapor
plume must have been enriched in calcium from the carbonate-rich
target, leading to the crystallization of larnite. The
acid-neutralizing capacity of the larnite grains would have been
high enough to consume acid produced by the K-T event within
several hours, reducing it to a level at which freshwater life would
not have been affected, even if all the acid had precipitated
instantaneously after the K-T impact. This scenario can
explain some of the extinction selectivity at the
The paper by Teruyuki Maruoka and Christian Koeberl is entitled,
Acid-neutralizing scenario after the Cretaceous-Tertiary
impact event. The hypothesis is summarized on
The EPA had better round up delinquent
meteors for polluting the environment. Or maybe these geologists
should patent their process to seed clouds to with larnite crystals to
neutralize acid rain.
The reason for this ad-hoc, hand-waving theory is
that observations do not fit the
popular impact scenario that claims a big meteor wiped out over half the living
species 60 million years ago. Either the meteor was selective
about what it killed, which would imply intelligent malevolence,
or scientists have to fine-tune the impacts chemistry to keep
the story plausible. Fish and even plankton in the area were
apparently unaffected by this cannonball, but dinosaurs on the
other side of the world choked and croaked. Somehow cute little
furry mammals made it through all the dust and acid rain and became
opportunists in the cleared landscape, evolving into pandas and
aardvarks and bats and dolphins, sloths and mammoths and horses and
saber-tooth cats and australopithecines.
Isnt that what Walking With Dinosaurs proved to us,
in living color, right on the TV screen? Somehow the
ginkgo trees and horseshoe crabs
went right along as if nothing happened.
Next headline on: Geology.
Click on Apollos, the trusty|
Scientist of the Month
|Guide to Evolutionary Theory
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Featured Creation Scientist for June
1627 - 1691
In this roster of great scientists who were Christians and creationists,
occasionally one stands out as worthy of a gold medal. The
requirements are stringent. The person needs to have performed
exceptional scientific work, that produced some fundamental discovery,
or advanced the scientific enterprise in a highly significant way;
perhaps to be known as the father of a branch of science or the
discoverer of a fundamental law of nature. Simultaneously, the person
needs to have been a devout Christian whose personal life and
character was befitting the honor (this eliminates Newton).
Yet some who fulfilled both these qualifications did little to relate
their Christian faith to their scientific work; they were Sunday Christians
and weekday secular scientists.
The third qualification involves
advancing philosophical understanding of the relationship between science
and Biblical Christianity, or actively combatting unbelief and skepticism.
All these requirements were met with room to spare in the next honoree of this
series, Robert Boyle. He not only can be considered a pillar of
modern science and one of its most eminent practitioners but
he also left the world a profound legacy of rich literature explaining the
Christian foundation for science. The title of one of his many
books was The Christian Virtuoso (i.e., Bible-believing scientist),
and to historians, he was one of the best examples.
Like most in this series, Boyles life and adventures make for a
good story, but lets consider first some of the impacts he made
on the practice of science: (1) An emphasis on experiment instead of
reason. (2) Publication of experimental results. (3)
Popularization of scientific discoveries. (4) Collaboration of scientists
in professional societies. (5) Mathematical formulations of laws.
(6) Putting all claims about nature, no matter the reputation of the
authority, to the test of experiment.
Of course, no one works in a vacuum (no pun intended, as we will see);
Boyle was not the only one to advance these ideals. He was
influenced by Bacon, Galileo and Kepler before him, and there were
contemporaries who also practiced one or more of these principles.
But among his peers,
Boyle was an eminent leader in all of them. He took the
initiative where others stuck to old habits, and he led by example.
He is the considered the father of chemistry and a law was
named in his honor.
The worlds first and oldest professional scientific society with
the longest record of continuous publication is due
largely to Robert Boyle and the colleagues he attracted with his
energy, drive, and enthusiasm for science. That enthusiasm came
directly out of his Christian faith. To Boyle, love of God came
first, and everything else second. Science was a means to a higher
end: loving God with all ones heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Because Boyles philosophical thought will be our emphasis, we will
give an abbreviated version of his life story and refer the interested reader to
the biographies by John Hudson Tiner and others for details.
Despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the privileged son of a
rich and prestigious landowner and friend of the king, Robert Boyle would
know before long the meaning of hardship.
As the 14th of 15 children in the family of the great Earl of Cork
in Ireland, young Robyn had no lack of any material thing.
Yet his wise father knew the values of self-discipline, education and
hard work, and ensured his children were not idle
but given the best training for honorable life.
Robyn himself was sent for his first five years to be raised
by a peasant family rather than live in his fathers rich estate.
Sadly, many of the children grew up to be profligate and wild,
but not Robyn or his older sister Katherine.
In the schools of the time, Aristotle still
held sway over almost every field of natural knowledge. Education
consisted largely of memorizing what authorities had said.
Some schools actually prohibited original thinking. If Aristotle
said a vacuum cannot exist, then that was that; memorize it and regurgitate
it on the test. But early in his education, Robyn learned to
question the opinions of mere men. He was introduced by a teacher
to the new experimental method of learning. Young Boyle
also had a bright mind that asked questions, that was unsatisfied by
rote answers from experts. He wanted to know how the authorities
knew what they claimed, and why it was necessary to follow them.
After all, who had been their authorities?
At age 17 Boyles life took a dramatic turn. Though certainly
not a spoiled rich child, he was suddenly transferred to the school of hard knocks.
While on an extended, all-expense-paid educational tour of Europe with his
brother Frank and a tutor, war broke out in Ireland.
Oblivious to the crisis at home, Robert visited
leading scientists. He almost got to see Galileo, missing the
opportunity by a few months due to the great astronomers death.
Paris, Rome, the great centers of learning had been on their itinerary when
the word reached them from their desperate father that the war had hit
home. King Charles, occupied with other conflicts, had been
unable to aid the Irish landowners against the popular uprising, and the
Earl of Cork had to spend every resource to protect his estate.
In dire straits,
his father wrote to the sons that no more money could be forthcoming.
To the boys tutor, he wrote, For with inward grief of soul I
write this truth unto you that I am no longer able to supply them beyond
this last payment. But if they serve God and be careful and discreet
in their carriage [i.e., lifestyle], God will bless them and provide for
them as hitherto He has done for me.
Frank rushed back home to help,
but Robyn had been too ill to be of military assistance, and remained
back in Geneva with the tutor. It was no use. Lewis, a brother, died in
battle. Lord Barrymore, the Great Earls favorite son-in-law, died
in battle; and the grief-stricken father died the day the truce was signed
not only had the rebels destroyed his property and foundries, scattered his
family and stolen all his possessions, but as part of the peace treaty,
the king sacrificed all the Earls land to the rebels. Now
Robyn stayed two years in Geneva with the tutor, until he could no longer bear
burdening his host. Selling the last remaining valuables, he boarded
a ship for London. He was 17 years old.
Tiner describes the setting: Robyn
had begun his travels from this city. When he left hed
enjoyed every possible advantage. His future seemed secure.
He could look forward to wealth, an estate in the country, and perhaps
a family with Lady Ann Howard as his wife. Now, five years later,
Robyn walked the streets of London penniless and alone.
A famous gospel preacher once said, The test of a mans
character is what it takes to stop him. Young Robert Boyles
character now faced the acid test. Coming from such a large family,
he did have siblings. Robert moved in with his sister Katherine,
13 years older, who was a widow after surviving a very unhappy arranged
marriage to a churlish alcoholic named Viscount Ranelagh (fortunately for her,
he died young). Katherine and Robert were alike in that they both loved
learning and were not rebellious like many of the other Boyle children.
It would take years for Robert to regain control of his share of
his fathers assets, and he considered his situation unworthy of the
marriage that had been arranged for him.
Nevertheless, with Lady Ranelaghs
help and some remaining properties, he was not destitute. Another
productive influence she provided him were her social contacts.
Katherine had many friends who were scientists and intellectuals.
A group of Oxford scholars under John Wilkins had formed a loosely-knit
science club they dubbed
the Invisible College, because it had no formal organization
or meeting place. Though a mere teenager to these intellectuals, Robert
impressed them with his aptitude and knowledge. His mind continued
to flourish within this non-traditional university program.
Politically, it was a tense time; these were the days leading up to the Cromwell revolution,
when Parliament and King Charles were at odds and tensions ran high. Boyle took refuge in a
family manor in Dorset and kept a low profile. He devoted himself
to his three loves: reading, writing, and dabbling in science. During this period
some profound works came from his pen on theology and personal Christian
living, including Style of the Scriptures, Occasional Reflections,
Ethics, and Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God.
Katherine distributed copies of some of these to her friends. As a result,
Roberts reputation as a writer began to grow. Robert recalled how
at age 13 he had learned the fear of God. Awakened by a thunderstorm,
the reality of Gods judgment flowed into his mind. He realized
right then that he was not ready to face his Maker. He knew his
good works were not enough: he needed salvation, and cried out to God for
From that night forward, he kept his promise to live as a true Christian,
not just going to church and being good, but sincerely trusting
in the gift of God through Jesus Christ and following Him as his Lord and
Savior. Now at Stalbridge Manor, the young man was writing about how
to see Gods providence in all things.
During this period of his 20's, Boyle read voraciously and also tried
scientific experiments, inspired by Galileos writings and his contacts from the
Invisible College. Bad experiences with doctors medicines
(carelessly prescribed without standards or quality control in those days)
him to learn chemistry; Robert was frail in health much of his life and
took great interest in finding effective medicines as well as avoiding
bad ones. These years were somewhat unstructured and lonely for him.
After ten years at Stalbridge, at age 27 he was invited to come to
Oxford, the leading intellectual center in England in those times.
This move launched his scientific career. Now with greater
insight and maturity from his reading and experiments, Boyle was again in
touch with the Invisible College, made up of doctors, scientists and theologians
who for the most part were devout Christians. Like the
other participants, Robert was excited about the prospects of the new
learning and experimental philosophy inspired by
the works of Francis Bacon and Galileo. Committed to the
principle that science should be used not just for pride of knowing
but for the good of mankind, the
College promoted experimentation on a variety of subjects: chemistry,
physics, and medicine. During his six years of informal association
with the Invisible College at Oxford, Boyle was
largely self-taught. He did not earn a degree or professorship.
Soon, however, he would be the most eminent
scientist in Britain.
Robert Boyle was a self-starter. He did not need a graduate adviser
to point the way. Eager to discover the natural laws the Creator
had devised, and with financial resources sufficiently restored, Robert
built a laboratory, equipped it, and hired assistants. His most
capable assistant was a young man named Robert Hooke. What Hooke
lacked in social skills he made up for engineering acumen (the prototype
nerd); the master would tell him what he needed, and Hooke would invent it.
Boyle had heard about interesting preliminary experiments with vacuum pumps.
Otto von Guericke had demonstrated by 1650 the ability to pump the air out of
a wine barrel, and then a copper globe, but the devices were clumsy and
difficult to operate, requiring the efforts of two strong men.
Boyle was intrigued by the idea of creating a vacuum. Aristotle
had claimed Nature abhors a vacuum, Descartes, many Jesuits
and most others never thought to
question that dogma. To Boyle, this was a chance to show the
superiority of the experimental philosophy, so he asked Hooke to help him
make a better air pump. What followed was groundbreaking science,
methods that set standards for empirical work that survive to this day.
Hookes ingenuity provided Boyle with an easily-operated
air pump with a glass receiver, into which the duo inserted a variety
of items that could be easily observed as the air was pumped out.
They put a ticking clock in and noticed the sound drop to silence as
air was removed. They put a bird and a kitten in and watched them struggle,
then succumb, for lack of air. They observed that sound, but not light, was
affected by the vacuum. They watched a candle go out.
Each observation was meticulously recorded,
but beyond the mere collection of facts, Boyle had the insight to
interpret the results and formulate hypotheses that could be tested.
A suite of cleverly-contrived experiments provided Boyle and Hooke with
many exciting results, some that contradicted common sense, and many
that contradicted Aristotle.
Then, Boyle set two other important
precedents: he published his results in lively English, leading
to the tradition of popularizing science,
and he carefully described his apparatus so that others could try to reproduce the
experiments, leading to the principle of repeatability.
He was even brutally honest about failures and errors,
feeling these were necessary parts of the learning process.
All this was almost unheard of in the practice of science.
His first paper in 1660, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall Touching
the Spring of the Air, and its Effects, created no small stir.
Some critics thought it unwise to question the great master Aristotle.
Others thought science should be published only in Latin.
Most, however, read his work with great eagerness. Boyle,
in effect, showed that science belonged to every man, and that it had very
practical effects. It led to principles that could be tested and repeated
by anyone (though few could hope to exceed the precision and thoroughness
of his experiments). Marie Boas Hall, writing for Scientific
American (1967), judged one of Boyles
most novel creations the idea that one could prove a scientific
theory by experiment an idea we take for granted today, but nearly
the reverse of the Aristotelian/deductive approach to science of his time.
Boyle and Hookes lab teamwork led to many discoveries.
Air, he proved, acted much like a spring; it acted like a mechanical
substance (i.e., one subject to laws, not spirits or essences).
Air contained ingredients essential to life and combustion.
Advancing the earlier work of Torricelli, they showed air had weight and pressure.
They experimented with colors, optics, and chemical analysis, including
the first crude litmus test for acids and bases. By testing combinations
of substances, Boyle deduced that complex chemicals could be classified
into simpler elements (but not the Aristotelian view of elements such
as earth, air, fire and water, of which everything was supposed to contain
proportions). In his best-known experiment, he poured mercury into
a J-shaped tube and observed the size of the air column trapped as he added
more fluid. With fastidious measurements, he discovered that
doubling the pressure cut the volume in half: P = k/V, a relationship
later named Boyles Law in his honor. This was on the cutting edge
of the concept that there existed
laws of nature that were discoverable by experiment.
Well into his senior years, Boyle continued his experiments,
discoveries and publications. His work contributed
to the understanding of phosphorus, acids and bases, salts, precipitates
and chemical elements. His achievements in
chemistry, both practical and theoretical, began to steer it from the
mystical and secretive arts of the alchemists, leading many historians to
consider him the Father of Chemistry. Notice how Aristotles
statement Nature abhors a vacuum
implied a kind of animistic character to the world; Boyles approach began to
steer science away from a personified nature, and view it as a
machine created by God and operating according to laws. Though
Boyle was not alone in this approach, he showed originality and
creative insight. Marie Hall Boas explains:
The English scientists were much influenced by Descartes careful
formulation of his mechanical philosophy, toward which they were further
predisposed by their adherence to similar ideas of Bacons. ...
[She describes the influence also of Gassendi and Epicurus.]
By the middle 1650s Boyle had worked out his
own version of the mechanical philosophythe corpuscular
philosophy, as he called itin which he drew on both the
Cartesian and the atomic views but wholly accepted neither.
He believed those two grand and most Catholic [i.e., universal]
principles, matter and motion, sufficed to explain all the
properties of matter as we experience it.
As we experience it indicates that Boyle understood the
limitations of science. His other writings, additionally, make it clear
he believed in the immanence of God, that the Creator is active in his creation.
Boyle was not a mechanist in the sense of denying the possibility of
miracles. He believed only that in the normal workings of Nature,
Gods providence operated through uniform mechanical principles accessible
Hall describes Boyles disagreements with Descartes, Spinoza,
and Huygens who felt that the ultimate test of a theory was the
appeal to reason. On the contrary, Boyle believed it was
possible to prove a theory by experiment. This was a novel idea,
not universally accepted at the time, Hall claims, and she feels it is evidence
for the originality of Boyles approach to scientific
proofand to chemistry. Obviously, the scientific
world followed Boyles lead. This establishes his importance
not only as an experimenter, but as a pioneering philosopher of science.
The wealth of his experimental work demonstrates that he walked his talk.
Robert Boyle was one of the 12 charter members of a new organization founded in 1662,
The Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge. Its charter
was to promote the experimental philosophy for the common good.
In clear contradistinction to the Aristotelians, they made their motto
Nothing by mere authority; in other words,
submit all claims about nature to the test of experiment.
The founders and early members were predominantly Christians, especially
Puritans. Henry Oldenberg,
Boyles literary assistant, was secretary.
The charter issue of their publication,
the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, written in Oldenbergs
hand and readable on the Royal Society website,
reflects the Christian and humanitarian ideals of the organization.
Though Boyle refused the presidency of the Royal Society because of scruples
about taking an oath, he was its most influential and esteemed member, especially at the
time young Isaac Newton was just becoming a rising star. There had
been academies and scientific clubs before, like the Academy of the Lynx
to which Galileo belonged, but the Royal Society was the
first true formal institution dedicated to experimental science, and its
Philosophical Transactions is the longest-running scientific
journal in the world. As the number of fellows grew and meetings
shared the latest experimental demonstrations at Gresham College in London,
the fledgling organization became the cheerleader for the scientific revolution.
At this point it is instructive to note some early crooked swaths that soon
became entrenched, leading to unintended consequences. Why is the
Royal Society the quintessential naturalist-Darwinist-atheist
organization it is today? Surely Boyle, John Wilkins, Henry Oldenberg
and the other founders would be appalled to see their journals filled with
absurd evolutionary speculations on every subject, propounding atheism as
science and ridiculing belief in the Bible and creation, as do most other
scientific societies in our post-Darwinist world. What happened?
In a recent article in Christian History magazine
(issue 76 - November 2002, pp. 39-40), Chris Armstrong argues that the
charter members defended religion but laid the groundwork for irreligion
through compromise. The Royal Society was a curious blend of Puritan
and Anglican, those who put all authority in the Bible and those who
valued tradition. They thought they could ignore their religious
differences and unite around the new experimental philosophy, because all of them
agreed that natures admirable contrivance and accurate
order and symmetry glorified the Creator, His power and glory.
It does, of course, but this lowest-common-denominator approach
glosses over deeper issues: does the authority of the word of God extend
to science? Is fallen man capable of discerning truth apart from the
spirit of God? For both pragmatic and pious reasons,
Armstrong writes, some members of the Royal Society were influenced
by the rationalist approach to religion urged by the Cambridge Platonists.
In their public discourse they gravitated toward an essential Christianity
that affirmed only the existence of God, the souls immortality,
and each persons ethical obligation to others.
why their meetings were soon obsessed with microscopic images of fly eyes and
plant seeds and euphoria about all the possible benefits of science, but
lost its focus on the Creator till the temple was filled with
syncretistic idols, and like Ezekiel describes, the spirit of God, by
stages, departed. Why didnt the deeply
religious members see this coming? Sadly, their compromise put
them on the defensive. They faced charges of irreligion
themselves, Armstrong notes, and Hall adds, they were denounced
from the pulpit, and its Fellows came to be touchy about any accusation of
godlessness. They answered these charges, Armstrong
alleges, by insisting that the evidences of lawfulness and design in
the fabric of things pointed not away from by toward God.
Little did they realize, he argues, that the broadly-shared, lowest common
denominator principle of design would become, in the next century, a
substitute for the Christ-centered teachings of the historic church.
There was a God, all would agree, but like Lewis Carrolls Cheshire
Cat, He would slowly vanish till just the grin was left. The distant
clockmaker God of the deist would displace the God and Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, because there was no need of that hypothesis.
Is history repeating itself? Those in the intelligent design movement,
who think Muslims and Jews and Christians and even atheists can rally around
the banner of design would do well to study the history of the Royal Society.
Its not that design arguments are unsound or unconvincing; but unless
men are brought all the way to the gospel of Christ and their minds are
renewed by the Holy Spirit, the demon is not dislodged; he returns with
seven more, till the last situation is worse than the first.
This parenthesis was necessary before turning to the philosophical works
of Robert Boyle. There is no question of his commitment to historic
Christianity and the authority of the Bible. Mulfinger writes that
he was strictly orthodox in his Christian beliefs, and was intolerant
of preachers who spiritualized or allegorized important truths of the Bible
rather than accepting them at face value. Though he remained
within the Anglican church, he was a Puritan at heart, supportive of the
nonconformists who had left the state church; he even supported some financially
and had many Puritan friends. Boyle studied the Scriptures in the
original languages and accepted the Genesis accounts as literal, historical
truth. His faith was well reasoned and not traditional, refined in
the furnace of dealing with intellectual doubt, as was surely a trial any must
face in an intellectual climate. But he knew even as a young man that
doubt was a refining fire: He whose Faith never doubted, he
stated in 1647, may justly doubt his faith.
That his faith passed the refinement crucible to the point of reasoned
commitment was made clear when he said, I am not a Christian,
because it is the religion of my country, and my friends, when I chuse
to travel in the beaten road, it is not, because I find it is the road,
but because I judge it is the way.
Perhaps in hindsight the Puritan members could taken stronger steps to steer the
Royal Society away from compromise. they opposed the philosophy of
Thomas Hobbes, and most of its members were godly
men: John Wilkins, the first secretary, was similarly convinced of the
authority of Scripture, and over half the original Fellows were
Puritans. Nevertheless, its purpose was
to promote experimental science, not theology. The unintended
consequence of any institution that seeks to uncover truth apart from
a prior commitment to Christian revelation is that it will never be
content to stay within the bounds
of observable and repeatable phenomena. It will want to explain
everything, even First Causes, by natural means.
Eventually, it becomes a substitute religion, arrogating
to itself the right to explain all that is, was and ever will be.
The Royal Society charter, God-fearing as it is, makes the hidden
assumption that unregenerate men are perfectly capable of discerning truth,
without having a commitment to the One who is the
way, the Truth, and the Life.
It presumes an incomplete Fall, treating the mind as unaffected.
Given those assumptions, human pride
resulting from sin will generate a science that
refuses to accept its limitations and moral flaws. It gives
Satan a handle to turn an honorable thing into a tool of skepticism.
The end result is
seen in papers published in todays Philosophical Transactions
that seek to explain the evolution of morals and the origin of the
universe from nothing. It leads to arrogant addresses by its officers that
science is superior to Christian faith as a path to truth in all
areas of inquiry.
In those first decades, however, the Royal Society was blessed by the
virtuous Christian testimony and reasoned faith of Robert
Boyle. His integrity was impeccable.
Throughout his life, Boyle was humble, gracious, prayerful, and
peace-loving. He was conscientious to a fault, even stopping to
pause respectfully before mentioning the name of God.
He was adamantly intolerant of swearing.
Never physically robust, it is remarkable how productive
he was. His secret powerhouse was passionate
love of God and fascination with creation.
Boyles pastor described him in these words: His great
thoughts of God, and his contemplation of his works, were to him
sources of continual joy, which never could be exhausted.
Apparently this is part of the reason he never married, along with
his distaste for the abuse of marriage that was prevalent among men
of his day. Instead, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to his
work. Furthermore, he was strong supporter of foreign missions;
For years, he financially supported Christian missionaries and Bible translations
to the far east, to the Irish (those who had robbed his fathers lands),
and to the Indians across the sea in the thriving American colonies.
He lived frugally, but gave profligately toward the advancement of the gospel.
His zeal for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ was matched by his
zeal against atheism. To him, science never rated even a close
second to Christian faith in importance. He said,
For I, that had much rather have men not philosophers than not Christians,
should be better content to see you ignore the mysteries of nature, than
deny the author of it. (By atheism, Boyle did not mean just
philosophical denial of God, which was rare in his day, but the practical
atheism that makes even a believer live as if there was no God.)
In his will, he established a fund for
a series of eight lectures, to be given once a year, for the defense of
the historic Christian faith against atheism, and the demonstration of
the superior reasonableness of Biblical Christianity against any philosophy
or arguments of critics and skeptics. The Boyle Lectures,
as they came to be known, continued for many years.
In his writings, Robert Boyle advanced the study of the
relationship between the Christianity and science. His words
are well-reasoned, profound and enlightening.
He did not fall into the trap of relegating the Bible to matters of
morals and faith alone; without qualification, he applied II Tim. 3:16
(All Scripture is given by inspiration of God) to the
entire Bible, including Genesis. Furthermore, he believed in verbal
inspiration, meaning that Gods revelation was
contained in the very words, not just the meaning, of the text (the latter
view opening the door to unlimited human paraphrasing.)
This drove him to study the ancient languages to understand the
primitive sense of the original words, especially for
passages that, in English translation, presented difficulties.
In approaching difficulties, Boyle recognized that the Bibles
purpose was not to provide quantitative scientific descriptions
of the natural world like a textbook.
Using this interpretive framework, he dealt forthrightly with issues of when
to evaluate a passage as poetry or narrative, and when it should
be treated as descriptive vs. prescriptive.
He followed Calvins teaching on accommodation, that the Holy Spirit
used language appropriate to the common man, not specialists. The Bible
contains easily-understood phrases such as the rising and setting of the sun,
using the language of appearance instead of quantitative, technical description.
Thus, passages that seemed to teach geocentricity could be understood as
figures of speech without sacrificing verbal inspiration.
As such, Boyle is a good model for todays Christian virtuosi who
desire to advance science without sacrificing Biblical authority.
Michael Hunter, a Boyle historian and compiler of his voluminous output,
is impressed with the depth and breadth
of his thinking on these subjects:
preoccupation was the relationship between Gods power, the created
realm, and mans perception of it, a topic on which he wrote
extensively. ... Boyle laid stress on the extent to which Gods
omniscience transcended the limited bounds of human reason, taking a
position that contrasted with the rather complacent rationalism of
contemporary divines .... He also reflected
at length on the proper understanding of final causes, and in conjunction
with this provided one of the most sophisticated expositions of the
design argument in his period. Boyles significance for the
history of science depends almost as much on the profound views on
difficult issues put forward in these philosophical writings as it does
on his experimental treatises.
Hunter goes on to describe the intense hostility Boyle expressed
against any views of nature that he saw as detracting from a proper
appreciation of Gods power in his creation. These
included lengthy published arguments against Aristotelianism and
the materialism of Thomas Hobbes, despite his professed
disinclination to involve himself in philosophical disputes.
On the positive side, the
titles of some of Boyles books hint at their rich contents:
Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental
Natural Philosophy; Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receivd
Notion of Nature; The Excellency of Theology, Compard with
Natural Philosophy, Discourse of Things Above Reason, Disquisition
about the Final Causes of Natural Things, and especially,
The Christian Virtuoso. In these, Hunter
writes, Boyle made a profound contribution to an understanding
of what he saw as the proper relationship between God and the
natural world, and mans potential for comprehending this.
It is enriching to read Boyles own words on the
relation of science and Scripture. There is so much of it, only
excerpts have been provided on a separate page.
For those who
wish to dig deeper into the mind of this great creation scientist,
see the Boyle Project website.
There, Michael Hunter and a group of scholars are compiling and publishing the
works of Robert Boyle. They even publish a newsletter, On the Boyle about
latest efforts to collect and disseminate his works.
wealth of words we could quote in closing, perhaps the most succinct
is the best. It states clearly and simply the reason a Christian
should be a virtuoso, which in his time meant a lover of knowledge
(a synonym for natural philosopher or scientist). It echoes a
familiar theme running through this book, a motivation stated by
many science-loving Christians from the early middle ages on into the
21st century. Boyle encapsulates it in only ten words:
From a knowledge of His work, we shall know Him.
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|
You can observe a lot by just watching.
– Yogi Berra
First Law of Scientific Progress
The advance of science can be measured by the rate at which exceptions to previously held laws accumulate.
1. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
2. There are always exceptions to established exceptions.
3. By the time one masters the exceptions, no one recalls the rules to which they apply.
Nature will tell you a direct lie if she can.
So will Darwinists.
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.
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.
If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.
1. The bigger the theory, the better.
2. The experiments may be considered a success if no more than 50%
of the observed measurements must be discarded to obtain a correspondence
with the theory.
The number of different hypotheses erected to explain a given biological phenomenon
is inversely proportional to the available knowledge.
All great discoveries are made by mistake.
The greater the funding, the longer it takes to make the mistake.
The solution to a problem changes the nature of the problem.
Peter’s Law of Evolution
Competence always contains the seed of incompetence.
An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.
Repetition does not establish validity.
What really matters is the name you succeed in imposing on the facts – not the facts themselves.
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.
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.
The best theory is not ipso facto a good theory.
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
Through the creatures Thou hast made
Show the brightness of Thy glory.
Be eternal truth displayed
In their substance transitory.
Till green earth and ocean hoary,
Massy rock and tender blade,
Tell the same unending story:
We are truth in form arrayed.
Teach me thus Thy works to read,
That my faith,– new strength accruing–
May from world to world proceed,
Wisdom’s fruitful search pursuing
Till, thy truth my mind imbuing,
I proclaim the eternal Creed –
Oft the glorious theme renewing,
God our Lord is God indeed.
– James Clerk Maxwell
One of the greatest physicists
of all time (a creationist).
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