Creation-Evolution Headlines
June 2003
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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.
– Robert Boyle, father of chemistry, in Tome 1 of treatise, Of the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy, 1663.
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Not only is our biography of Robert Boyle complete, we just added a page of his writings so you can read Boyle in his own words.  Check it out!


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 Darwin’s theory of sexual selection: “The Animal Mating Game: It’s his show, but it’s her choice.”  The pictorial entry, replete with flea penises, bellowing elk and strutting cocks, recalls how Darwin’s 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), “There’s 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 don’t 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?  It’s their show, but it’s your choice.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
The Mystery of the Ultra-Pure Sandstones   06/27/2003
R. H. Dott, Jr (Univ. of Wisconsin) has a problem.  He’s 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 can’t 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 nature’s finest distillate—almost 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?

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 nature’s most physically vigorous processes, such as surf and strong eolian [wind] or aqueous currents.

Dr. Dott mentions additional puzzles about these formations:
  1. 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.
  2. A paucity of associated shale, in contrast to other sandstones.
  3. Interstratified with shallow marine carbonate strata.
  4. 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.
  5. Very rare body fossils, and some burrows.
  6. Frosting of the grains, making them rough on microscopic scales.
  7. Underlying mature shale high in kaolinite (clay) or illite.
  8. Even more pure quartz arenites, up to thousands of meters thick, in Precambrian strata.
  9. Many of them underlain by paleosols (ancient soils) that show a high degree of chemical maturation.
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.
    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.  These might 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, “nature’s finest distillate.”  Notice how they give evidence of being deposited via nature’s most vigorous and energetic forces.  Doesn’t this sound like global cataclysm?  Since catastrophism is back in vogue, should we not follow the evidence where it leads?
Next headline on: Geology.
Cell to Phagocyte: I’m Dying – Eat Me   06/27/2003
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 in
Cell, 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 “Don’t 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.”
Let’s 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.
    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 author’s diagrams show cells with happy faces wearing the “Don’t 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 autoimmunity.”
    In the same issue of Cell, 25 scientists published a paper entitled, “A 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 let God.
Next headline on: The Cell.
Hunting for the Common Ancestor of Chordates   06/27/2003
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?  That’s the conventional wisdom, and in the
June 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):
  • 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.
Tautz refers to a paper in the same issue by nine cell biologists (Rowe et al.), ““Anterior 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:
  • Despite considerable paleontological work and molecular analysis, mystery still surrounds the origin of our own phylum, the Chordata.
  • Early deuterostomes [chordates + hemichordates + echinoderms] were clearly established by the Lower Cambrian, as documented in recent excavations.
  • Identifying morphological homologies among these phyla has been fraught with difficulties, as their adult body plans appear so divergent.
  • 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.
In short, they find some conserved developmental genes, not clear morphological (bodily) evidence of a relationship.
    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 on.”
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 organism’s needs imply intelligent design.
    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; here’s 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.
Upward Lightning Shocks Atmospheric Physicists   06/26/2003
Caught on film was a totally unexpected find: gigantic electrical discharges reaching upwards from thunderclouds to the edge of earth’s 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,” says
National 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 Nature 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 earth’s 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.
Next headline on: Physics. • Next amazing story.
Trees, Water Pumps Extraordinaire   06/26/2003
The world’s 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
Nature 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 CT 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.
    In addition, 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.  Tyree’s article starts out,
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.
Sea Shells: She’d Sell ’Em If She Could Manufacture Them   06/26/2003
The common seashell: extraordinary.  Michael Rubner in the
June 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 isn’t worth two clams.
    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.
Hubble Outdoes Itself   06/25/2003
Many will remember the Hubble Space Telescope’s 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
Hubble 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.
Next headline on: Stars. • Next amazing story.
Medical Schools Don’t Teach Enough Evolution   06/25/2003
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.”
See our January 13 commentary on this subject.  The statistics above are quite revealing.  A third of deans of medical schools don’t 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 couldn’t 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.”
    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:
  1. 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 functional information.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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 evolution’s “core concepts”?
  6. 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.
  7. Host-pathogen arms races: 43%.  This is one of evolutionists’ many personification fallacies.  Germs don’t 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.”
  12. Life history evolution: 19%.  Dr. Average Dean was probably scratching his head on this one.
  13. 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 panda’s 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, not stories.
  14. 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?
  15. Kin selection: 9%.  Aha!  These authors are “group selectionists.”  Michael Ruse, get on their case.  Does a doctor need to know what evolutionists are arguing about?  He’s got better things to do.
  16. Proximate/ultimate distinction: 5%.  Another head scratcher.  What does this have to do with evolution, medicine, or the price of tea in China?
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.
    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 don’t need this; it’s 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 won’t 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 Mountains of the Sun   06/24/2003
The sun’s surface has been imaged in 3-D for the first time by the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope and is featured on
Astronomy 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.  That’s higher than 34 Mt Everests stacked on top of each other.  For more descriptive details and images, including time-lapse movies, see the Lockheed Martin 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.
Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Stars. • Next amazing story.
Sea Monsters Brought Up from the Deep   06/24/2003
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
BBC News.  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.
    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.
    The writer of Psalm 104 didn’t 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.
Evolution Drives Mars Quest   06/23/2003
It’s the phylogeny, stupid: “What draws humans to the Red Planet after so many failures?” asks James B. Garvin in
The Orlando Sentinel.  The reply is obvious: “It’s simple -- life.”  But not just life per se: he means life that evolved from nonlife.  A “new awareness of the biological evolution of our own planet” 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 aren’t 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 Darwin’s 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.
    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, we’ll just move the battlefield farther out, ad infinitum.  But why should finding life elsewhere prove evolution?  Isn’t God omnipresent and omnipotent?
Next headline on: Mars. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Kin Selection Studies Produce Mixed Results   06/23/2003
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
June 20 issue of Science, supports the theory.  But American and French scientists publishing another 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, “Desperately 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” (emphasis added).
Too bad they didn’t read the PNAS paper May 2002 by Oxford scientists.  It would have saved them a lot of needless energy.
    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.
Searching for the Dork Side of the Farce   06/20/2003
Dark Matter is the subject of a special section in the
June 20 issue of Science.  Seven feature articles discuss the unknown quantity that supposedly makes up 96% of the universe (emphasis added in all quotes):
  • “Welcome 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 can’t see and don’t really understand.
  • “The 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.  “I’d 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.
  • “Evidence 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.

  • “New 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.
  • “Throwing Light on Dark Energy” by Robert Kirshner attempts
    ...to learn whether the dark energy is a modern version of Einstein’s 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.
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 National Geographic News.
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:
  • 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.
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 can’t take the heat, the big brother ghost comes to bat.
    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?  It’s 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 don’t fit one’s favorite model.  Science says, if the model doesn’t 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, don’t become seduced by the dark side of the farce, no matter how big the Empire that supports it.  Don’t trust your feelings, Luke.  Do the right thing.  Join the rebellion: come to the light.
Next headline on: Cosmology.
Scientists Watch Motors Unwind DNA   06/19/2003
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 al.
  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 speed.
    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 enzyme’s asymmetry in other aspects of its promotion of genetic recombination.”
We’re 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 doesn’t seem to slow RecD down to have the slower RecBC motor on the other track, but why don’t 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.
    We’ll 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, that’s 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.  It’s 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.
Constantine Converted by Asteroid?   06/19/2003
Swedish geologists are claiming an asteroid hit the Apennine Mountains outside Rome, and the resulting mushroom cloud was the basis of Constantine’s vision of the Sign of the Cross that converted him to Christianity on his way to conquering Rome, reports
Ananova.  The BBC News has a picture of the crater and says this blast “saved Christianity.”
How can anyone possibly know that?  You can’t go back and ask Constantine what he saw, and you can’t date an asteroid impact precisely to the very day his army was crossing the Tiber.  Why didn’t 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.
Next dumb story.
Recent Archaeological Finds: Fakes?   06/19/2003
Israel Insider 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.”  The Biblical 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 Joash 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 ossuary’s 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 National Geographic News.
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, maybe both.  Perhaps the ossuary may still prove genuine, but we should assume it is not till proven otherwise.
    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?  Don’t 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 Herod’s 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.  Don’t 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 the manuscripts.
Next headline on: The Bible.
Is Modern Cosmology on the Right Road?   06/18/2003
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
June 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):
  • 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 Hawking’s 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.
Their last paragraph sounds like an accountant with bad news interrupting the company sales celebration:
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.
“We’re lost!” the wife laments as a couple roams down a country road in the rain at night.
“Don’t worry, honey.  I know right where we are,” the husband replies cheerfully.
“Why are you so stubborn?  Why don’t you ever want to stop and ask for directions?” she whines.
“Real men don’t need directions.  Everything is under control.  We’ll be there in no time at all, you just wait.”
“But we’ve never been there before!  We have been driving on this road for hours now, we can’t see a thing ahead, it doesn’t look anything like we thought it would, and the directions we were given were vague and don’t match what we are seeing, which is precious little at the moment.  And you claim we aren’t lost.  Can we please ask someone from around here who knows the way?
“Trust me, honey, we’ll get there eventually.  Look on the bright side.  At least we’re 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.
Surprise: Y Chromosome Protects Itself with Palindromes   06/18/2003
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
Nature 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, I’m 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 (it’s 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.
    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.
Short Takes  06/17/2003
  • Hearing:  Max 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 and chordates.”
  • Intelligent Design:  William Dembski has a forthcoming book The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design.  For the outline and preface, see Access Research Network.
  • Insect Flight:  Flies fly on automatic pilot.  An article from the New York Times 6/10/03 is reproduced on Access Research Network.
  • 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 Proceedings 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 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences feel this 71-kb island may have entered the genome by horizontal gene transfer from another organism.
  • Brain:  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 Current 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 June 19 Nature, reporting on the research paper by Whitlow Au and Kelly Benoit-Bird in the same issue.  See also Science Now, “Why Dolphins Aren’ Deaf” (because without gain control, return pulses from their clicking sounds would be deafening).
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.

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 the
Proceedings 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 he realized, “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.
    By the way, do bacteria really lack organelles?  This scientist at University 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.
Update  on RNA Quality Control:  See February 20 headline.

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 common ancestor.
    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 of domains.
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 organisms, then?
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.
    Protein 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 common ancestry.  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.
    In today’s 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,
  1. The earliest invention must have involved the ab initio invention of new proteins.  [Who, or what, was involved?]
  2. 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 mechanisms.]
  3. Once the error-correction procedures now present in DNA replication and protein synthesis were developed... [Who did the developing?]
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.  You’ll need it..
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Origin of Life. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Darwin or The Angel of the Lord: Who Guards the Tree of Life?   06/13/2003
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 Darwin’s 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, Darwin’s 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, Darwin’s.  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].”  It’s 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 “Modernizing 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 magazine’s 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 web feature. 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 Didn’t.”  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, Maryland’s 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 Darwin’s 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 early on:
    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 Molecular 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.
    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 circular reasoning.  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 Tree of Life 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 don’t 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.
Research Leads   06/13/2003
The current issue of
Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences (Vol. 31, 2003) covers interesting topics some readers may wish to pursue:
  • 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,” five 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: Paul 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.
Next headline on: Geology. • Next headline on: Solar System.

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 in the
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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
  4. “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.”
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.
    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.  It’s 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).
    Notice that he considers the idea of biological information well established.  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.  Szostak’s 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 week’s 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.  You’re on.  Better be willing to wait, though; in Coppedge’s vivid analogy, 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.
Speciation Theory: Too Little, Too Late?   06/12/2003
In the
June 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 speciation researchers.”
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.
    That being understood, recall that we have all been told all our lives that Darwin discovered how species originate (wasn’t 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 we’d better just get used to it, churches, politicians and all.  Now, read these quotes from Noor’s pro-evolutionary, optimistic article (emphasis added) and get ready for a shock.  Have we been sold a bill of goods?
  • 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 Darwin’s time, considerable debate has surrounded the exact role that natural selection plays in species formation.
  • In today’s 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 selection.
  • 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. 
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 scientists are 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?
    Smirkers of the world, unite.  You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
How Evolution Explains Design   06/12/2003
“Designer Darwinism” seems like an oxymoronic title for a book review, but that’s what Mark Ridley (zoologist, Oxford University) chose for the title of his review, published in
Nature June 12, of Michael Ruse’s new book Darwin and Design (Harvard Press, 2003).  Ridley begins by explaining the oxymoron (emphasis added in all quotes):
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 Kimura’s 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, he’s acting like Saddam’s 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 isn’t!” 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?
    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 Stephen’s speeches and seen so many creationists get unfairly stoned, maybe he is a candidate for a Damascus 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 don’t care!  I really don’t care!’

Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
“Earliest” Human Fossil Found in Ethiopia   06/11/2003
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:
National Geographic News, EurekAlert, MSNBC News, BBC News, cover story of Nature by Chris Stringer, and Tim White’s 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?
    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:
  1. This spectacular new find is the most important in history
  2. This find sets a new age record, rendering previous finds obsolete
  3. This new find undermines the work of my competitors
  4. This new find supports my pet theory
  5. Not everybody agrees.  A rival team likes its pet theory better
  6. This find shakes the family tree.
  7. This new find raises more questions than it answers
  8. The data are confusing, contradictory and unexpected.
  9. This new find has nothing to do with human evolution.
  10. We need more funding
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?  They’re being used.  The soothsayers of paleoanthropology use the media to beat their chests before their rivals and stay in the ring.  National Geographic hasn’t wised up still, after all the decades they’ve been reporting the now-obsolete claims of their favorite cover-story experts, Louis and Mary Leakey.
    It’s 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 one’s 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.  That’s 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, here’s 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 humans.
*Sigh.*  Sad.
Next headline on: Early Man. • Next dumb story.
Of All the Nerve: Plants Share Genes for Animal Nervous System   06/11/2003
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
Proceedings 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 plainly evident.  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?
    Their 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 can’t 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.
    Let’s 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 system genes; (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... veddy intedesting....”
Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Why Humans Lost Their Hair   06/10/2003
Today’s 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 didn’t follow suit if it was such a good idea.
    In the explanation reported in
New Scientist, an anthropologist from London’s Natural History Museum chuckles, “The question we always have in explaining unique human traits is: why didn’t 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 Royal Society Biology Letters.
National 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 Biblical 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.
    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 haven’t been as beautiful, unfortunately, since the rebellion.  Have you been reconciled?
Next headline on: Darwinian Evolution. • Next headline on: Early Man. • Next headline on: Human Body.
Evolution in Action: Three-Legged Chicken Found   06/10/2003
An Ontario farmer bought a chick with a stubby extra leg, reports the
Kingston Whig-Standard.  Ian Chin-Sang, a molecular geneticist at Queen’s University, remarked: “It’s progress.  It’s 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.  “Hain’t 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.
Commentary  06/09/2003
In his daily
Breakpoint Commentary for June 9, Chuck Colson congratulates PBS for making the film 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 Access Research Network.
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 evolve?
    In the June 9 online preprints of the Proceedings 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 alanine’s 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 end’s 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 arose from 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 don’t 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.
    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 part’s 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, it’s 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 don’t 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.  That’s 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 it’s 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 don’t 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 dust.
    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.  You’re right, Dr. Kenneth Miller: this is an argument from personal incredulity.  It is inconceivable how anybody could be as credulous as a chemical evolutionist.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Origin of Life. • Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
Mars Drier and More Active Than Expected   06/06/2003
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 surprises. 
Space.Com has an article about puzzling results from the Mars 2001 Odyssey orbiter:
  • Large areas of bedrock are exposed that “scientists did not expect to find.”  Principal investigator for the THEMIS infrared camera, Phil Christensen, said, “If those rocks had been made a billion years ago, they’d be covered with dust.”
  • “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 can’t 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.
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 we’ve found is that in many places on Mars it hasn’t 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 Arizona State University website.
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 world’s 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 Titan’s 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.
    Meanwhile, feast your eyes on the daily images 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 don’t steal all the thunder in December.  That’s not likely.  Mars is a big place.
Next headline on: Mars. • Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Dating Methods.
How Old Is the Earth?   06/05/2003
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 Amelin 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 another 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 Jacobsen’s 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 other’s 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):
  • 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.
Thus, it appears that Jacobsen’s timeline should only be viewed as tentative at best.
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 Shu’s 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.
    Jacobsen’s 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 Maier’s 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:
  • 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.
  • Earth’s 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 estimates.
  • 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.
  • Titan’s atmosphere is eroding quickly and cannot be billions of years old.
  • Titan’s 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.
  • Neptune’s rings have unexpected clumps of material.
  • The orbit of Pluto’s 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.
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?
    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.
Germs For Your Health   06/04/2003
“Most people’s 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
Science News 163:22, p. 344.  “I think that most of our encounters with bacteria are mutually beneficial, friendly, and part of our normal biology. .... They’ve 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 mother’s 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 of 10.”
It’s 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.
    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 yesterday’s 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.
How Rare Are Earthlike Planets?   06/03/2003
Optimism is dissipating like a stellar dust disk, according to an article by Robert Roy Britt on
Space.Com, “Planetary Puzzle: The Mystery of the Disappearing Disks.”  It was popular in Carl Sagan’s 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 we’ve learned a lot since then.  Now I think the answer is a whole lot harder.  Now I’m more of a skeptic.  I think the answer is going to be no.” (emphasis in original.)
    Weintraub and colleague Jeff Bary and others presented their findings at last week’s annual meeting of the American Astronomical 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.  Bary and 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 realizations seem to have dampened the astronomers’ enthusiasm, leading to Weintraub’s skeptical prediction today on Space.Com that earthlike planets are not common.
Update 06/06/2003: Science 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.  It’s a thought that’s 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.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Factoid   06/02/2003: The Nuclear Pore Complex
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
They’ve 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
National 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 Nature Science Update and the BBC News.

See the August 27 headline on the phenomenal feet of geckos.
Next headline on: Bugs and Crawling Critters. • Next amazing story.
Geologists Fine-Tune the Chemistry of the Killer Asteroid   06/02/2003
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
June 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 K-T boundary.
The paper by Teruyuki Maruoka and Christian Koeberl is entitled, “Acid-neutralizing scenario after the Cretaceous-Tertiary impact event.”  The hypothesis is summarized on Science Now.
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 impact’s 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.  Isn’t 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.
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Featured Creation Scientist for June

Robert Boyle
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, Boyle’s life and adventures make for a good story, but let’s 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 world’s 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 one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Because Boyle’s 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 father’s 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 Boyle’s 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 astronomer’s 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 Earl’s 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 Earl’s land to the rebels.  Now orphaned, 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 he’d 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 man’s character is what it takes to stop him.”  Young Robert Boyle’s 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 father’s assets, and he considered his situation unworthy of the marriage that had been arranged for him.  Nevertheless, with Lady Ranelagh’s 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, Robert’s 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 God’s 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 forgiveness.  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 God’s providence in all things.

During this period of his 20's, Boyle read voraciously and also tried scientific experiments, inspired by Galileo’s writings and his contacts from the Invisible College.  Bad experiences with doctor’s medicines (carelessly prescribed without standards or quality control in those days) also motivated 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.

Hooke’s 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 Boyle’s 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 Hooke’s 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 Boyle’s 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 Aristotle’s statement “Nature abhors a vacuum” implied a kind of animistic character to the world; Boyle’s 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 Bacon’s. ... [She describes the influence also of Gassendi and Epicurus.]   By the middle 1650’s Boyle had worked out his own version of the mechanical philosophy—the “corpuscular philosophy,” as he called it—in 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, God’s providence operated through uniform mechanical principles accessible to observation.  Hall describes Boyle’s 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 Boyle’s approach to scientific proof—and to chemistry.”  Obviously, the scientific world followed Boyle’s 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, Boyle’s literary assistant, was secretary.  The charter issue of their publication, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, written in Oldenberg’s 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 nature’s “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 soul’s immortality, and each person’s ethical obligation to others.”

That is 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 didn’t 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 Carroll’s 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.  It’s 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 today’s 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.  Boyle’s 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 father’s 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 God’s 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 Bible’s 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 Calvin’s 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 today’s 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:

Boyle’s major preoccupation was the relationship between God’s power, the created realm, and man’s perception of it, a topic on which he wrote extensively. ... Boyle laid stress on the extent to which God’s 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.  Boyle’s 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 God’s 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 Boyle’s books hint at their rich contents: Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy; Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receiv’d Notion of Nature; The Excellency of Theology, Compar’d 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 man’s potential for comprehending this.”

It is enriching to read Boyle’s 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.

Among the 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.
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A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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