Mars Life Stewpots Found? 07/28/2003
Thermal data from
Mars 2001 Odyssey
indicate possible warm spots in the Hellas Basin.
Thats all Nick Hoffman at Melbourne University in Australia
needed to suggest that these may be ice towers, like those in parts
of Antarctica, reports
Scientist. And if so, why not life?
Warmth, water, what more do you
need? At least the pictures of Antarctic ice towers are
DNA End Capping More Complex Than Thought 07/25/2003
Next headline on: Mars. Next headline on: Origin of Life.
An idea has been floating around for years to explain why cells
grow old and die. Biochemists have known that DNA strands have
end caps, called telomeres. These caps keep them from unwinding or sticking
to other DNA strands, which, when it occurs, creates a crisis in the cell, and
usually triggers cell death or apoptosis.
Each time a cell divides, the story goes,
it loses a telomere, because the duplication machinery could not get
a grip on the last cap. This seemed to act like a countdown
timer. When the telomeres hit zero, pop goes the apoptosis.
An enzyme has been known, however, that repairs telomeres.
Named telomerase, it was thought to work only in certain kinds of
cells, and has been implicated in cancer. The idea was that
out-of-control telomerase made cancer cells immortal when they
should have died.
Well, once again, the picture is more complicated than
that. An international team has just reported in the
journal Cell 07/25/2003
that Telomerase Maintains Telomere Structure in Normal
Human Cells. They found that all cells express this
repair enzyme, and that there is a complicated interplay between
regulatory factors to keep a normal cell functioning through multiple
cell divisions, with just the right number of telomeres for its
needs and environment. Their observations support the view
that telomerase and telomere structure are dynamically regulated
in normal human cells, and that telomere length alone is
not a sign of old age and impending death.
Only when things
go wrong with these regulatory mechanisms do cells either lose
their last telomeres and die, or go wild into immortal replication
cycles as in cancer. Telomerase is a key ingredient both in
the regulation of cell proliferation and replicative lifespan, they
found. Targeting telomerase in cancer treatment as a bad molecule
may not be wise, therefore. Its apparently a vital part
of a normal cells operation. One thing is clear:
among telomere length, telomere expression, and replicative
lifespan are more complex than previously believed.
The complexity of life and the
credibility of Darwinian evolution are inversely proportional.
The complexity of life is increasing.
Textbooks Fail the Test 07/25/2003
Next headline on: The Cell.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
The Texas textbook controversy is heating up.
To inform upcoming debates about the teaching of evolution
in the Lone Star state, the science fellows of the
Institute have provided A Preliminary Analysis of the
Treatment of Evolution in Biology Textbooks currently being considered
for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education.
They evaluated 11 textbooks for factual accuracy on the teaching
of four commonly-used evidences for evolution: (1) The Miller-Urey
experiment, (2) Darwins tree of life and the Cambrian explosion,
(3) Vertebrate embryos, including Haeckels fraudulent drawings,
and (4) Peppered moths. The highest overall grade was a C-.
Six textbooks received a D or D-, and four received F.
The 41-page document includes the criteria used for evaluation.
For instance, did the textbook include drawings known to be
Did it assume the truth of universal common ancestry without
question? Did it fail to mention any controversies or serious
questions among scientists? Did it reproduce staged photos
that do not reflect the true natural situation? In general, the
Discovery Institutes grading standards simply
reflect the Texas Education Codes own science guidelines, namely,
(1) that each topic should be presented in a manner free from
factual errors, and (2) that enables students to “analyze,
review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories,
as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”
That science textbooks would include false,
fraudulent, and misleading information is scandalous, yet this survey shows
that the largest textbook market in the country is being given only
two choices: evil, and the lesser of evils. Not one of
these textbooks is telling the truth on any of these four topics.
The highest grade in any area was a C. The best of the worst
was Biology by Campbell and Reece; it only scored an overall grade
of C because it didnt mention peppered moths or Haeckels
embryos, but it got a D on the Miller-Urey experiment, and a C on the
Tree of Life because it at least mentioned the Cambrian explosion
as a mystery although it didnt explain why this was
a challenge to Darwins theory. Only one other got a C on
this item, and only one other got a C on vertebrate embryos because
it showed more modern, actual photographs of embryos instead of Haeckels
fudged 1870s drawings but even then it lied that the early stages
of embryos are remarkably alike, which they are not.
Quick Takes 07/24/2003
Critics will argue that the Discovery Institute is a
special interest group that has an axe to grind. Baloney.
The Discovery fellows are PhD biologists and philosophers and historians
of science who are well qualified to gauge these presentations of the
evidence (or lack of it). They come from different religious persuasions,
and are united only in the conviction that Darwinian evolution is not the
whole story on origins. Moreover, we have shown right
here in Creation-Evolution Headlines that the professional
science journals themselves do not accept these and many other alleged
evidences for evolution. Some evolutionary scientists have been
appalled that these phony evidences are still being shown to students,
such as peppered moths and
Haeckels fakes. As we showed
May 2, even believers in
chemical evolution recognize that the Miller-Urey experiment was
irrelevant, but merely a useful lie to raise consciousness
about the origin of life. Most evolutionists believe implicitly in
Darwins Tree of Life, as reported here
June13, but only in spite of
the Cambrian explosion, molecular mismatches, and other contrary evidence.
Should not students know this? Does this sound
like a conspiracy of right-wing religious zealots trying to keep
scientific facts away from the students? The shoe is on the
other foot entirely. Science students are being sold a bill of
goods, indoctrinated into false beliefs that once entrenched are hard
to dislodge, even after they earn their PhDs and find out the real truth
(if they ever do) about Haeckel, Kettlewell, Miller and Darwin.
Yet the ACLU and NCSE go ballistic when parents wish to insert
warning labels in the textbooks.
Heres how evolutionary indoctrination works.
Hook the student with plausible-sounding
glittering generalities about
evolution. (This tends to coincide with his/her tendency to want
to think independently or rebel against the parents
religion, if any). Reinforce it with fraudulent evidence, and create a
mood of dogma that this is science as opposed to religion.
As the student gradually becomes able to accept uncomfortable
facts without losing new-found faith in Darwin,
feed him or her a few problems and mysteries, using the positive spin
that science is working to solve them. Only late in
the process, when the student is thoroughly brainwashed and ardently
opposed to that bogeyman creationism, dare to
mention the real damaging problems the Cambrian explosion,
thermodynamics, chemical evolution, embryology, etc.
with the promise that we, the scientists, are getting warmer
and it is our noble duty to protect science from those
evil creationists. Wake up, parents!
Anybody reading the Discovery Institutes
document should become righteously angry.
Next headline on: Schools.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Sometimes stories come in too fast for our overworked editor to assimilate them. Some others dont
warrant a detailed treatment. Here are some items
you might like to follow up on yourself:
Many of these subjects have been covered recently in other headlines. Follow the
chain links at the top of the page for related material.
- Edible Food Packaging: EurekAlert
says you may soon be able to about wrap your kids sandwiches in edible packaging.
Now thats cool applied science, and good environmentalism, too.
- Dinosaur Demise: New
Zealand paleontologists claim the dinosaurs were doomed long before any meteor wiped them out.
- History of Science: A book review in Science
07/25/03 claims the Greeks didnt invent science, and Chinese science revolved
around emperor worship and consensus, not free inquiry into the nature of nature.
- Molecular Phylogeny: Mark Pagel et al in
studied 56 published phylogenies and believe they support punctuated equilibria.
- Evolution Conference: Elizabeth Pennisi covered last months Evolution 2003
conference in Chico, California. She brought back stories about weird life, like
male bugs that piggyback
on the female and slurp nutrients from her back, how a
cultivated flower turns into
a weed, and how
bacteria might have driven evolution of certain species whose females have
normal diploid genes while the males have haploid (half the female number).
- Dark Energy: A Pennsylvania astronomer featured in
Nature Science Update
claims he found direct evidence for dark energy by analyzing WMAP data. But his
appears to only indirect inference, based on predicted gravitational effects on
photons. The proof also requires the assumption of a flat universe.
- Deep Sea Vents: A team that studied the Lost City
Vent Field claims it is 30,000 years old, reports
also reported on the Lost City, claiming it is just the sort of place
that might have spawned life on Earth or even other planets.
- Solar System Formation Theories: Jonathan Lunine and Alan Boss
have a friendly debate
about the disk instability theory for the origin of the solar system
in the 07/25 issue
Lunine claims it wont work and doesnt fit the data, while Boss argues
that the disk cant last long enough for core accretion (the only competing
model) to work.
Evolutionists like to speculate and argue endlessly, because it keeps them gainfully
employed, but where is the really solid evidence? Much of it is like a
dime in a dryer. It bounces around and makes a lot of racket in the hot air,
but it doesnt amount to much. Real science lets you buy a sandwich
where you can eat the wrapper.
Evolution of Aging: Grandparents Matter 07/23/2003
Poor grandparents; they have not gotten much respect from evolutionary
theorists. The classic evolutionary theory of aging explains
why mortality rises with age: as individuals grow older, less lifetime
fertility remains, so continued survival contributes less to reproductive
fitness, explains Ronald D. Lee (UC Berkeley) writing in the
of the National Academy of Sciences. In other words, after
childbearing age, natural selection has no use for an individual, so
he or she just withers away. Lee has a new approach that rescues the
self-esteem of grandparents in his paper, Rethinking the
evolutionary theory of aging: Transfers, not births, shape senescence in
By transfers, Lee means all the nurture and care that
postreproductive relatives contribute to the care of the young, so that
they grow up to be fertile adults. That could include foraging, guarding,
teaching the young, teaching the parents, or helping cuddle the baby.
In the paper,
Lee calculates the selective value of these transfers and concludes they
are actually the most important factors: in fact, he says, For
species at the optimally quantity-investment tradeoff for offspring,
only the transfer effect shapes mortality, explaining postreproductive
survival and why juvenile mortality declines with age.
He feels the dominant paradigm formulated by Medawar, Williams,
Hamilton and others, with its focus on fertility alone ...
Not only grandparents, but older siblings and other relatives all
make a contribution toward the fertility of childbearers. The more
post-natal care is expended by relatives on a hatchling or baby,
whether among dolphin populations, birds, honeybees or primates,
the more transfer effects become important, and
the more they decrease the mortality
of the postreproductive generations. Lee is surprised no one
thought of this before: Strangely, transfers have not been
incorporated in formal theories of aging, although their importance
is widely appreciated, he remarks.
Lee feels his enhanced theory of aging has important
implications on evolutionary theory in general. None of the
previous aging theories formally incorporated the flow of resources transferred
to offspring. Reproduction is typically treated as a
purely demographic matter: individuals at birth turn into sexually
mature adults over the passage of time, Lee comments.
His approach, by contrast, has implications for other areas
of evolutionary theory and life-history analysis, because it implies
a reformulation of the concept of reproductive value, among
other things, including deep links to kin selection and
inclusive fitness. Sex is cheap, but care is costly:
From one point of view, fertility is most fundamental to
evolution because it alone transmits genes to the next generation.
From another point of view, however, the production of vast numbers
of replicates of genetic material is cheap, whereas intergenerational
transfers of food and care are costly and are often the binding
constraint on sexual reproduction.
This sounds similar to what
Jason B. Wolf told us in March
about indirect genetic effects.
Here an evolutionary myth has been promulgated for decades (Medawar
proposed his aging theory in 1952), and it went virtually unquestioned
for half a century. All of a sudden, somebody says, Uh,
arent we overlooking something? The point is not
that Ronald Lee has finally hit on the ultimate theory that explains
all. Undoubtedly his will be toppled in time as well.
The point is that, despite the integral calculus equations in an
evolutionary paper, the assumptions make or break the story.
An astrologer could assign variables to signs of the zodiac and manipulate
them with fancy derivations, but if the assumption that
the stars influence human behavior is incorrect, who cares what follows?
Medawar manipulated fertility according to Darwinian assumptions, and
Lee manipulates fertility + transfer effects according to Darwinian
assumptions. If the Darwinian assumptions are wrong, the
conclusions are going to be wrong, too.
Home Schoolers Find Intact Edmontosaurus Skeleton 07/23/2003
Prior theorists on aging assumed that fertility was the only factor.
Lee and Wolf have emphasized that indirect effects can be just as
important, if not more so. Wolf, you recall, told us that
indirect effects act like a governor on the engine of evolution,
or like slippage on the treadmill basically, that they undid
the effects of classical natural selection! It would seem that,
similarly, Lees transfer effects would lead to conservative
families rather than to profligate, promiscuous bedlams.
The fact that Lees evolutionary theory of aging accounts for
everything from nurturing humans to egg-laying salmon, who leave the
young behind, means it explains nothing it all. The
missing ingredient is design. Without design, Lee is forced to
explain every aspect of physical and psychological change by natural
selection, but then Wolfs paper shows natural selection is
countermanded by indirect genetic effects. It just wont
work. You cant get grandma by evolution.
So you aging grandparents, uncles, aunts and older siblings,
take heart. You are not evolutionary leftovers. You have
a powerful role. You influence the fitness of future generations.
The transfer effects you possess include teaching the young.
Lets do a scientific experiment and see if it improves human
evolution. Teach the young abstinence before marriage.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Next headline on: Health.
The Christian home-school group
that found the worlds fourth
known Allosaurus skull
in 2002 has now found an Edmontosaurus in South Dakota,
reports a press release from
The dig, under the direction of Pete DeRosa and Pete DeRosa, Jr.,
both experienced dinosaur hunters, with their organization
Creation Expeditions, found the fully-articulated skeleton
with so much detail that even the skin impressions contained
pigment. The skin, which is scaly like a crocodiles,
does not support the speculation that the duck-billed, 30 foot hadrosaur
was a partially feathered dinosaur evolving into a bird. The
deposit also contained fossils of marine creatures, which
by evolutionary standards, should not be there, including
garfish and turtles.
The group also found tyrannosaur teeth and a triceratops frill,
but their prize catch, with its four-foot long, finely-preserved skull,
they nicknamed Ezekiel. (The press release,
containing photos from the expedition, is
available to those subscribing to the Vision Forum newsletter.)
So long as they follow sound
excavation and preservation techniques, and document and report
the findings with high standards, more power to them.
Dinosaur bones do not belong to evolutionists. The evidence
belongs to everyone willing to seek it out and gather it with integrity.
Technique does not correlate directly with interpretation.
Proper technique strives to accurately record and preserve what is
there. Any group that abides by high technical standards,
therefore, should have a shot at the evidence. What they are
doing is certainly better than what some Chinese opportunists do,
carelessly digging up fossils to sell, and even manufacturing fakes.
We All Evolved from Choanoflagellates 07/22/2003
What this group found, highly preserved details and skin impressions,
with marine fossils in conjunction, speaks of a rapid, catastrophic
burial, not slow fossilization over millions of years.
The deposition of the animal, the fossilization and
preservation of the skin, the full articulation of the animal,
and the fact that it appears to be part of a fossil graveyard,
all point to the relatively recent death of Ezekiel, DeRosa
says. We believe he
died thousands, not millions, of years ago.
They have presented this evidence for all to see. How ironic to have
a dinosaur announced at a Christian Booksellers convention, when
the public is so used to having dinosaurs associated with evolution.
This could be the start of a new era: the creationist dinosaur hunters.
Home schoolers are
usually much better educated and motivated than their public school
counterparts, especially those in the latter group who have only learned
how to use a condom with high self-esteem. Since there are
property owners out West who are sick and tired of the evolutionary
paleontologists coming onto their land and spinning the data into
tall tales, this will probably not be the last major discovery from
the DeRosas and their bright, young assistants.
Next headline on: Dinosaurs.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Next headline on: Dating Methods.
Next headline on: Education.
The BBC News
today has a picture of a one-celled microbe with a whip-like appendage
and the caption, We all evolved from something like this.
With unabashed, matter-of-fact prose, David Whitehouse, the BBC
News Online science editor discusses how these organisms, the
choanoflagellates, appear to be near the common ancestor of all animals.
Though the details are shrouded in mystery, this
far-reaching conclusion is one which sheds light
on one of the most dramatic evolutionary leaps in lifes history
the origin of animals.
What is this conclusion based on? These organisms
have a kind of molecular sensor common to all animals, and
now it has been discovered that they have more fundamental
molecular processes in common with animals in fact,
the same molecular pathways used by all animals were in place
600 million years ago, and have their origins in an ancient
soup of microscopic single-celled microbes.
Sean Carroll is surprised:
We have found that the cell biology toolkit was pretty
sophisticated before the dawn of animals.
is employed by higher animals in many basic cellular processes and
sensory functions like hearing, but what function the tools have within
choanoflagellates is a mystery at this time. Nicole King, a colleague
of Sean Carroll, has an explanation: This is consistent with
the idea of evolution as a tinkerer, cobbling together tools that
are already available, rather than inventing a new widget for
each job. These scientists are confident that they
have selected the right organism to understand what happened on
the eve of animal evolution.
This is so dumb, and so devoid of
scientific logic, that it is time to take up pens and write the
BBC to complain. Evolution is not
a person that can tinker. Hidden in this mass of fluffy-headed
nonsense, like a pebble in a dust devil, there is a little
bit of scientific evidence. And what is it?
Complex systems already exist,
down in the simplest of organisms. Sophisticated tools
and signaling systems are functioning in a thriving, complex organism
that is well adapted to its environment. Is that evolution?
Only the most gullible dogmatist could take that kind of evidence
and spin it into the opposite of its clear implications.
If you love good science, dont let the storytellers get away with
this column of spinning hot air. Force them to prove their belief,
not assume it, and the pebble will fall back onto solid ground where
Solar Systems Like Ours Rarer Than Predicted 07/21/2003
Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Next headline on: Darwinism.
Next dumb story
The planet-finding duo of Paul Butler and Geoff Marcy, with colleagues
Brad Carter et al., announced an extrasolar system with some
similarities to ours. More interesting, however, are their statements about
how unusual our solar system looks compared to the majority of extrasolar ones.
Our system has a gas giant (Jupiter) at 4 astronomical units (AU), but most
extrasolar giant planets found so far are larger, closer in, and in
non-circular orbits. This would make for a very perilous environment
for any interior small rocky planets (like Earth); most likely, they could
not survive for long and would be ejected or swallowed.
The following statements come from a Rapid Release (7/16/03) paper of the
Astrophysical Journal (emphasis added):
Perhaps the most critical question facing the field of extrasolar
planetary science is whether solar system analogs (i.e., systems
with giants planets in circular orbits beyond 4 AU and small rocky
planets orbiting in the inner few AU) are ubiquitous or rare. ...
Although the data are still preliminary,
current surveys show only about 7% of extrasolar planets have
circular orbits. Future missions like NASAs
Space Interferometry Mission (SIM, 2009) should be able to detect
inner planets down to 3 earth masses. Farther out projects
like the NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and ESAs
Darwin will try to glimpse biomarkers in small watery worlds
around other stars.
We report here a new extrasolar planet in an approximately circular
orbit beyond 3 AU ....
Prior to the discovery of extrasolar planets, planetary systems
were predicted to be architecturally similar to the
solar system (Lissauer 1995; Boss 1995), with giant planets orbiting
beyond 4 AU in circular orbits and terrestrial mass planets inhabiting
the inner few AU. The landscape revealed by the first 80
extrasolar planets is quite different. Extrasolar planetary
systems have proved to be much more diverse than imagined,
as predicted by Lissauer (1995): The variety of planets and
planetary systems in our Galaxy must be immense and even more difficult
to imagine and predict than was the diversity of the outer planet
satellites prior to the Voyager mission.
The discovery here of a Jupiter mass planet in a
circular orbit highlights the existence, but also the rarity, of
giant planets that seem similar to the original theoretical predictions.
On a related subject, the
quotes planet-hunters Jeff Valenti and Debra Fischer (UC Berkeley) claiming,
based on their surveys, that
only late stars seem able to form planets. This is because only
late stars contain
enough heavy elements essential for planet formation.
If so, this may be the baby boom for planet
formation in the history of the universe, they say.
Only 5% of stars surveyed have planets, but among those stars with higher
content of heavy elements, the number climbs to 20%.
See also the press release on
Lissauers comment recalls the
astonishment planetary scientists had during the 1980s when the two Voyager
spacecraft revealed moon after moon in the outer solar system with features unlike
anything astronomers had imagined possible volcanoes, complex
surfaces, atmospheres, geysers and canyons.
Now more assumptions are being overturned by the data.
Believers in naturalistic philosophy
can always respond that, even if planetary systems like ours are rare,
there are so many stars out there that there still could be billions of
earthlike planets in the universe. That argument would be impossible
to disprove even with Warp 20 spaceships. Nevertheless, it is
a valuable lesson to see a prediction, made in the absence of data,
fall by the wayside once measurements became available.
We should always welcome measurements. They have a way of turning
idle speculations into idol speculations.
Do Fossils Accurately Indicate Past Biodiversity? 07/21/2003
Next headline on: Solar System.
Next headline on: Stars.
Piecing together a record of ancient biodiversity is a difficult task.
A number of factors can bias the record, leading to false conclusions.
For instance, fossils might be abundant only in certain outcrops;
some habitats may be more conducive to fossilization than others
(e.g., minerals in the groundwater); certain hard parts, such as marine
shells, may fossilize more readily than soft-bodied animals such as
jellyfish, and even hard parts within one organism may disintegrate
at different rates.
How much exposure was there to sunlight or predators?
Is the record biased by collectors focusing on convenient areas close
to home? These and other questions are explored in
July 19, 2003. Caution must be exercised in interpreting
the flora and fauna of the past.
The article highlights
teams in Africa and the Gulf of California that have surveyed landscapes, counting
bones of recently-deceased animals, to get an indication of what types
of bones are most likely to remain long enough to become fossil candidates.
Scientists are also working to compile all known fossils in
international databases. This may help paleontologists understand what
biases may exist, where the gaps are, and what the evidence means.
Not every organism that dies
becomes a fossil, Sid Perkins, author of the article, reminds
us. In fact, fossilization is the exception, not
the rule. Only certain combinations of biological materials,
environmental conditions, and fate will preserve a recently dead
organism and give it a chance at fame in a museum display.
Perkins agrees that rapid burial is usually a prerequisite for
fossilization. Bones that dont end up in the gullet of
scavengers often fall prey to environmental degradations, he explains.
For example, exposure to harsh sunlight tends to quickly break
down bones, which in living animals are made of up to 30 percent
protein by weight.
In the July 18 issue of Science, Andrew B. Smith
has a related article, Making the Best of a Patchy Fossil Record.
These are important concerns that
warrant attention, but paleontologists have been collecting fossils
for hundreds of years. Only rarely does a location yield anything
remarkably new; mostly it is just more of the same.
Last Oct. 25 we headlined
a report that the fossil record is better than expected, and essentially
complete. Evolutionists cannot hold out much hope that missing
links in their tale will ever be found. In fact, it is the chain
that is missing, not the links.
Lucys Husband Only Had Eyes for Her 07/21/2003
Another question that would make
a good science project is: even assuming the rarity of fossilization,
how many fossils would be expected in 500 million years? Is the
number actually found comparable to calculations that could be made,
based on current fossilization rates and erosion rates, of the percent
expected to be found as fossils from trillions upon trillions of plants
and animals that lived over such vast periods of time?
The trade secret of
paleontology is that animals appeared abruptly, survived with little
change (stasis), then went extinct. This is what gave rise to the
semi-heretical evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibria.
The late Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard paleontologist, evolutionary spokesperson
and vehement anti-creationist, at least faced up more honestly than most
evolutionists to the uncomfortable fact that the fossil record
does not fit the standard Darwinian story
of gradual transformation from one kind of creature into another.
On top of that, when you see spectacularly observed fossils of action snapshots,
like a fish swallowing another fish, or an ichthyosaur
in the process of giving birth; or when you find billions of
buried in a single layer of sediment covering hundreds of square miles,
billions of herring in diatomite (along with whales), vast regions of
articulated clams (which usually open after death), and other spectacular
fossil graveyards around the world,
it is apparent that very unusual conditions prevailed at the time they
were buried. By contrast,
relatively few bones are being fossilized today. Despite Charlie
Lyells mythoid, the present is not the key to the past.
The past requires a key science cannot provide.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Males of Australopithecus afarensis, of which Lucy
is the well-known prototype, were apparently only 15% larger than
the females, compared to the 50% size difference among modern orangutans
and gorillas. This is leading some paleoanthropologists to
consider the social impact this might have had on the population,
according to Science
Such a moderate sex difference in Australopithecus afarensis
suggests that males in the ancient species formed coalitions with each
other and often established monogamous relationships with females just
as do modern human males and those of other species with nearly
equal-size sexes, say Philip L. Reno of Kent (Ohio) State University
and his coworkers.
This is so stupid. Is it any
wonder the Early Man and Dumb categories so often go together?
Even evolutionists have doubts about how relevant Donald Johannsons
self-promoted find is to the alleged human lineage
(see April 25 headline.)
Paleoanthropologists are stretching what little data they have into
imagination space, desperately seeking to find naturalistic causes
for human psychology in our assumed apelike past.
This is fodder for a new comedy series, in which I Love Lucy
is conveyed in grunts instead of words.
Earth Atmosphere Protects from Rock Battlefield 07/21/2003
Next headline on: Early Man.
Next dumb story.
Kids have rock fights despite their parents warnings.
If you remember being a guilty party to these war games, imagine how cool
it would have been to tell the enemy you were invulnerable, because
you were surrounded by an invisible force-field. Well, Earth
can boast such a thing to the moon, reports
Although Earth and the moon inhabit the same cosmic neighborhood, our
planet has far fewer scars from extraterrestrial impacts because
incoming objects burn up in its atmosphere. A new computer model
suggests that Earths thin layer of air is an even better shield
than previously thought.
The article says that scientists at Imperial College modeled the
effect of the atmosphere on incoming stony and iron meteorites, and
found it 50 times more effective than earlier models suggested.
As a result, most dangerous rocks get pummeled to dust before they
can cause harm. The number of large impact craters found on
earth, about 200, is much less than the number on the moon, Mercury
and Mars and most other bodies in the solar system lacking such an
One less thing for you to worry
about. Have a nice day.
Cell Translation Uses Rotating Locks and Keys 07/21/2003
Next headline on: Solar System.
A French team has studied one of the molecules involved in the
translation of DNA to protein, and found that it does some nifty
shape changes when its accessory proteins are in place.
The molecule is threonyl-tRNA synthetase, one of the family of
20 specialized molecules that attach the appropriate amino acid to
its matching transfer-RNA (tRNA) carrier. The operation involves
four parts: the synthetase, the tRNA, the amino acid threonine, and ATP.
The abstract describes some of the activity observed:
The tRNA, by inserting its acceptor arm between the N-terminal domain
and the catalytic domain, causes a large rotation of the former.
Within the catalytic domain, four regions surrounding the active site
display significant conformational changes upon binding of the different
substrates. The binding of threonine induces the movement of as
much as 50 consecutive amino acid residues. The binding of
ATP triggers a displacement, as large as 8 angstroms at some C positions,
of a strand-loop-strand region of the core beta-sheet. Two other
regions move in a cooperative way upon binding of threonine or ATP:
the motif 2 loop, which plays an essential role in the first step of
the aminoacylation reaction, and the ordering loop, which closes on
the active site cavity when the substrates are in place. The
tRNA interacts with all four mobile regions, several residues initially
bound to threonine or ATP switching to a position in which they can
contact the tRNA. Three such conformational switches could be
identified, each of them in a different mobile region. The
structural analysis suggests that, while the small substrates can bind
in any order, they must be in place before productive tRNA binding can occur.
The paper by Moras et al. is published in the upcoming
of Molecular Biology, August 2003. (For a previous headline
on the tRNA synthetase family, see June 9.)
If you can wade through the jargon,
this is really quite amazing. Remember in Star Wars how
R2D2 could insert a sophisticated attachment into the ships
computer, rotate it precisely, and get the information out?
Thats reminiscent of what is happening here in a nanometer scale.
There are three accessories that must mate precisely to the synthetase,
and when they do, there are large rotations and movements that take
place. As a result, the tRNA gets bound to its appropriate
amino acid so that it can fasten to a growing protein chain in the
ribosome. The specificity of these multiple parts leaves little
opportunity for error, and also speeds up the reactions by orders
of magnitude. The parts slide, rock and rotate right on cue, but
they wont work without proper authentication; i.e., without all the
necessary parts in place. In addition, proofreading
occurs at multiple checkpoints to weed out errors even among very similar
components. This all happens at a high speed: 40 amino acids
can be assembled per second in the ribosome, including all
the steps described and many more, with high fidelity.
This is astonishing.
How could something this precise and ordered be the result of chance?
Would you bet your life on it?
Is It Scientifically Justifiable to Analyze the Evolution of Rape? 07/18/2003
Next headline on: The Cell.
Next amazing story.
Many people were upset in 2000 when Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer
published a book entitled The Natural History of Rape,
because it seemed to rationalize violent behavior as an evolutionary
adaptation of the human male psyche, rather than a moral evil.
P.C. Chan, a biological anthropologist at Cambridge,
expresses his views on that episode in the
18 issue of Science.
Chan agrees that Thornhill and Palmer
deserved to be criticized, but more on the basis that their work was
bad science, not so much that it is improper to analyze human behaviors
in terms of evolution. In his book review of a new book edited
by Cheryl Brown
Travis, Evolution, Gender and Rape (MIT Press, 2003),
which takes a decidedly dim view of Thornhill and Palmers book,
Chan feels the opposition goes overboard and throws out the baby with
the bathwater (emphasis added in all quotes):
The failure of Evolution, Gender, and Rape does not lie in its
wholly justified critiques of A Natural History of Rape, many of
which are thoughtful, excellent, and well written. Rather, having
found a legitimate sociobiological target for attack, too many
contributors suggest that all efforts to understand any potential
for evolved propensities or tendencies in human behavior can now be
dismissed--tarred with the you support rapists brush.
Politics are applied to damn all behavioral biology, even when
issues such as power and mate choice can potentially be usefully
explored in a biological context. But then, as many of the
contributors claim, the biological context does not exist--at least not
for humans, though fruit flies are (barely) given the benefit of the
doubt. Evolutionary biology sensu Thornhill and Palmer (and
probably that of some of the rest of us who work with the evolution of
behavior) can be cast off as merely the rewriting of the political and
gendered context within which we theorize. This may indeed be
valid when it comes to arguments about the natural history
of rape, but to dismiss all such attempts as belonging to the same
class of thinking does a disservice to evolutionary biology in
Before this conclusion, Chan made it clear he thinks Thornhill and
Palmer were bad guys, guilty of bad theory, bad analysis, bad
history, and bad writing. And he emphatically answers no
to the questions, is rape a universal male behavior?
Does it need to be examined from an evolutionary perspective?
Similarly, his answer is clearly no to the question,
If a behavior exists, does it by default require a just-so story
in order to be understood? He points out that rape is a
behavior of a small minority of males who are usually ostracized, and
that contrary to the image of the predatory Pleistocene male,
forcibly mating with unchoosy females,
female choice is a strong force in most populations:
Females do choose. They choose nice mates;
parental mates; healthy, vigorous, mentally alert mates--be they
fruit flies, blackbirds, zebra finches, elephants, or humans.
That female choice would exacerbate the violent, unpredictable,
political, and thuggish tendencies of the human rapist seems
unlikely at best. Female choice is thus central to many of
the arguments, both biological and sociological, here.
It is a pity that the book does not explore this concept for its
Against this background, Chan feels much of the new
book fulminates against any attempt to explore human behavior
using evolutionary theory. He agrees that criticisms
of some of the major excesses of evolutionary psychology
are justified. Yet he is concerned that an overreaction will
diminish the useful work that some sociobiologists are doing, that
can help shed light on human behavior. Describing something is
not the same as endorsing it. Books like Evolution, Gender,
and Rape undermine legitimate sociobiological work, and
Darwin becomes the class, gender, and societal enemy of
the female people.
P.C. Chans book review is entitled,
EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY: Reason, Rape, and
Angst in Behavioral Studies.
Female choice? What female choice?
A female does not choose to be raped.
Another Darwinian Assumption Found Untenable 07/17/2003
Chan is doing quick and vigorous spot-remover
work. He wants evolutionary sociobiology to look spotless,
free from any stains of sexism, racism, just-so storytelling,
and political incorrectness.
Its interesting that Thornhill and Palmers book appears to
have caused a reaction not just among evangelical Christians and
feminists, but scientists who seem to be thinking, This has
gone too far! A strong current of evolutionists question
whether evolutionary sociobiology is valid at all.
Thus Politically Correct Chan, an evolutionary biological
anthropologist, needs to work damage control, pronto. Human
evolutionary sociobiology is not this dreadful, male-chauvinist, evil
thing: why look, we study motherhood and apple pie. (One of his
positive-spin examples is John Bowlbys environment of
adaptedness, a description of the dynamic process of interaction
that establishes the relationship between mother and infant.)
Were all for female choice, he says, and for nice
mates. Dont tar-and-feather all of us just because a few
bad apples do bad work and write a bad book.
Yet the faults of evolutionary sociobiology are not spots
to be removed, but the core beliefs comprising its essential fabric.
If human behavior is no different in essence than that of fruit flies,
blackbirds and elephants, and if we have all evolved from the same slime,
two consequences ensue: (1) There is no ground for
moral judgments that any behavior is wrong or evil; it is
only adaptive or non-adaptive. Theoretically, therefore, rape
could be an adaptive behavior for humans in some contexts.
(2) There is no basis for knowing anything, because human intellectual
analysis is no different in principle from chimpanzee or honeybee
sensory stimulus and response. So neither Thornhill, Palmer or
Chan can say that their theories about sociobiology are true.
A corollary of this is that evolutionary descriptions of behavior
are mere just-so storytelling.**
Notably, Chan does not dismiss rape as evil, but only
as inconsequential in most populations because of the power of female
choice and societal pressure. Then why be sensitive about charges
of being tarred with the you support rapists brush?
The reaction bespeaks an inner voice that says, we all know rape is
The Natural History of Rape should have been a
wake-up call to everybody that Darwinian thinking,
at least as applied to humans, is dangerous.
Thornhill and Palmer may have been culpable for
poor scientific analysis and technique, but their core assumptions
are no different than those of Chan, E. O. Wilson, and the contributors
to Evolution, Gender, and Rape. Without a God on the
throne saying Thou shalt not commit adultery and Thou
shalt not covet thy neighbors wife, or anything that is thy
neighbors, anything goes.
By granting pseudo-scientific
rationalization for breaking the Ten Commandments, Darwin* becomes the class,
gender, and societal enemy of not just the female people, but all
*Darwin, in the sense of what his evolutionary theory has become,
not the man himself.
**There they go again: Science Now
just reported that a book on male transsexuals has created a firestorm
between evolutionary psychologists, who praise J. Michael Baileys
The Man Who Would Be Queen, and transsexuals, who say it does
not portray them accurately as
women trapped in mens bodies.
Does anybody deny that the world has gone mad?
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Evolution can be fast, and it can be slow. It can drive populations
toward chaos, and away from it. It can make predator-prey relationships
stable, or oscillatory, in phase or out of phase. Confused?
Peter Turchin (U. of Connecticut), writing in the
17 issue of Nature tries to explain (emphasis added in
In their study of predator-prey cycles, investigators have assumed
that they do not need to worry about evolution. The discovery of
population cycles driven by evolutionary factors will change that view.
The work to which he refers is a lab study on rotifers, microscopic
aquatic animals, and the green algae on which they feed. The
oscillations between predator and prey populations were found to be
unexpectedly out of phase. Usually predator and prey populations
track each other: e.g., more wolves, less elk; less wolves, more elk.
But the only way Yoshida could make sense of their rotifer and algae
measurements was that the populations were evolving rapidly toward
and away from chaos in an erratic way. The lab environment
insured that external environmental factors were not involved.
Turchin feels this overthrows previous assumptions that evolution
occurs on much longer timescales than oscillations.
Instead, the new results show:
Ecologists studying population dynamics prefer not to bother
with the possibility of evolutionary change affecting their
study organisms. This is sensible, because understanding the
results of interactions between, for example, populations of predators
and prey is already a complicated task. Making the
assumption that evolutionary processes are too slow on
ecological scales greatly eases the task of modelling the
commonly observed population oscillations. But an elegant study
by Yoshida et al. (page 303 of this issue) decisively
demonstrates that this simplification might no longer be tenable.
that evolution can be an
intrinsic part of oscillations, raising an exciting possibility
that some populations might rapidly evolve both towards and away from
chaos. Perhaps this is the explanation of the puzzling
observation that some Finnish vole populations shift from a stable
regime to oscillations, whereas others do precisely the reverse.
Turchins News and Views article is entitled, Ecology:
Evolution in population dynamics. The rotifer study by
Yoshida is entitled, Rapid evolution drives ecological dynamics
in a predator-prey system.
This is rank speculation, however, and will have to remain
so because we cannot test it experimentally in natural
systems. But in the laboratory much more is possible, as
the study by Yoshida et al. shows. We can hope
that in the near future we will see an experimental
investigation of the possibility of rapid evolution to and
away from chaos.
Let us understand that the lab rotifers are
still rotifers, and the algae are still algae. What has evolved?
Only the storytelling ability of the evolutionist. Calling
rotifers predators and algae prey is a stretch (is your salad
considered the prey of the mighty hunter?). Notice that the
work was done in the laboratory, not in the field. What environmental
effects might nullify the hypothesis?
Evolutionists Puzzle Over Ontogeny vs Phylogeny 07/16/2003
These investigators have
explained opposites with equal ease. That is why we keep
reminding readers that a theory that explains opposite results is
not scientific. No matter what happens, evolution is never
questioned. All this exercise in futility does is make them
tweak their Darwinian models more, and produce more
rank speculation about what happens out there in the
wild, which we cannot test ... experimentally.
So like the speculations with computer life,
these scientists subjected poor rotifers and algae (which have
built-in compensatory mechanisms, though they remain rotifers and
algae) to artificial stresses and speculated about how fast evolution
occurs with their artificial models.
Turchin feels Yoshidas work an almost
textbook example of how science is supposed to be done, but
then has a twinge of conscience that the rank speculation
that resulted needs to have an empirical base:
We can hope that in the near future we will see an experimental
investigation of the possibility of rapid evolution to
and away from chaos. One thing is clearly evolving
toward chaos, and that is evolutionary theory itself.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Just when I make ends meet, it comes apart in the middle.
This common household complaint could also be the lament of the evolutionary
biologists who try to get ontogeny (embryonic development) connected to
morphology (body plan of the organism) and simultaneously in sync with
phylogeny (evolutionary ancestry). In a book review in the
16 issue of Nature, Axel Meyer praises Alessandro Minellis
efforts along this line in his
new book The Development of Animal Form: Ontogeny, Morphology, and
Evolution (Cambridge, 2003) but openly discusses puzzles that
do not seem trivial.
No matter how large or small or finely adapted the adult organism,
from dinosaur to orchid to bald eagle, all started as a one-celled, fertilized
egg. To what extent does evolution act on that zygote, and the developmental
pathways that follow, and to what extent does it act on the mature organism,
or on the population?
Meyer talks about how philosophers and biologists have been
puzzling over the connection between development and evolution for 180
years. They keep oscillating between the big picture and the
details (There and back again he quips, to borrow The
Hobbits subtitle). Each return to the big picture opens
new questions. Getting into the heart of the argument with a
truism, Selection can only act on
things that are developmentally possible, Meyer makes it sound like
the big picture is not much clearer now than in Darwins day, and maybe
even less so (emphasis added in all quotes):
Selection can only act on things that are
developmentally possible. In other words, developmental mechanisms
constrain evolutionary possibilities, and they are often very conservative,
carrying the load of previous evolutionary lineages, as Alessandro Minelli
puts it. Sometimes, however, as in the case of the direct and indirect
development (without and with free-swimming larvae, respectively) of
closely related species of sea urchin, development can also be
surprisingly variable. But how do developmental mechanisms
themselves change during evolution, and how does evolution in turn
These are indeed big questions, and Meyer thinks Stephen Jay Gould and
others have made progress in previous writings.
Evolutionary development theory, so-called
evo-devo, is the latest attempt to pull these things together.
Any news in the last 15 years? In a nutshell, the
comparative application of molecular developmental methods that are
interpreted in a rigorous (often molecular) phylogenetic framework.
But that sounds like assuming what needs to be proved.
Are there any hard data supporting evolutionary development?
Recent comparative developmental and genomic studies have yielded
the apparently paradoxical insight that many genes (particularly
Hox genes: cf.
07/18/03) and their interactions in
genetic networks are astonishingly
conserved in evolution. These results were unexpected and
raised the question of how the diversity of body architecture in different
phyla has arisen, given that genetically so much has remained the same
during the past several hundred million years. The historically
static view of homology proposed in the nineteenth century by Richard Owen,
and still widely taught today, [i.e., that similar structures which
perform different functions imply underlying relationships]
has also been revolutionized by these
comparative developmental studies and, in my opinion, has been largely abolished.
Subsequent phylogeny-based theories of homology are increasingly being
questioned because it is unclear whether developmental processes
and mechanisms should be part of the definition of homology.
After elucidating these big questions, Meyer leaves them unanswered.
He switches to praising Minelli as an important contributor to the discussion, and
calls his book a must read for any practitioner in the fields of
developmental and evolutionary biology — fields that, at long last,
are beginning to be unified.
On a related subject in the
issue of Nature, Thurston Lacalli in Evolutionary biology:
Body plans and simple brains, discusses current thinking about the origins of
these things. Some of the questions include:
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Like Meyer, Lacalli leaves these questions unanswered. He only offers suggestions
about what might have happened. Nevertheless, he is optimistic, because work in
progress on acorn worms should remove this ambiguity, and help pave
the way for a resolution of the overall issue of the origin of
body plans, nervous systems and vertebrate brains, including our own.
(See also the June 27 headline
on this subject.)
- Why are the genes governing front-to-back body patterning (Hox genes)
highly conserved in evolution, with similar expression patterns in
animals as anatomically different as insects and vertebrates?
- Was the common ancestor of vertebrates and insects like a hemichordate (e.g., an acorn worm) or
- How did the surface nerve-net architecture of hemichordates evolve
into a centralized, interior nervous system?
- Why are patterns of gene expression
nearly identical in hemichordates and vertebrates (and very similar to
those in insects), even though vertebrates and insects have nervous systems
that are vastly more complex anatomically than those of hemichordates?
(This implies that Thus, the genetic map for axial patterning is complex
and apparently unchanged as far back as the earliest bilateral animals,
irrespective of morphology. )
- Does this mean the internal nervous
system evolved separately twice, in vertebrates and insects, or that the
hemichordates evolved their diffuse, surface nerve net subsequent to an
earlier common ancestor?
- How did insect nerve chords become inverted from that of vertebrates?
There is now convincing evidence that this goes beyond anatomy to the
molecular level. Lacalli notes. When and how the inversion
occurred in evolution, with the concomitant rearrangement required of other
structures such as the mouth, remains very much a puzzle.
That evolutionists are never alarmed at
damaging admissions like this is a measure of their intellectual lethargy.
Since they already know in their heart of hearts that Darwinian evolution
is gospel truth and that no alternative is even worth considering, it doesnt
matter to them that Meyer and Lacalli have just pulled the data rug out
from under them;
they keep snoring away. To our alert readers we ask,
notice the significance of what he has just admitted.
Simplest Protein a Paradigm of Complexity 07/15/2003
Once again, both Meyer and Lacalli demonstrate that Darwinian evolutionary theory is
vaporware and futureware.
You thought it was a fact, beyond any need of further checking,
but the facts show conservation, the opposite
of evolution! For all this time, society, pressured by confident-sounding,
high pressure Darwinian salespeople, have had their orders submitted
for data demonstrating evolution, but it has been on back order for
180 years. We have been going
there and back again to the post office so many times.
When are thinking people
going to get realistic and demand their money back?
It seems like the Darwinists tactic of keeping us
Waiting for NoGodot is a slick version of the Nigeria scam.
Keep sending in the funding, and we promise, your millions of
data points will come, eventually, no matter how unexpected, astonishing,
and disappointing things seem now.
genes are astonishingly conserved (i.e., unevolved) for hundreds of millions of
years [sic] that is a time span that encompasses (in their system) everything
from worms to people. He admits that this recent
finding was unexpected; i.e., this was not a prediction the Darwinists would have
- The definition of homology is under siege. Homology
is one of those icons of evolution
that seems intuitively obvious in the high school biology textbooks,
but Meyer reminds us that, since selection can only act on what is developmentally
possible, if there has been little or no evolution in the developmental genes
of vastly divergent organisms, talking about evolution of the end result (the
morphology, such whale fins, bat wings and human arms) is meaningless.
Furthermore, the evidence doesnt fit it! Many vastly divergent organisms
share similar developmental pathways, and some closely related species show
surprisingly variable modes of development.
- After all these years of evolutionary indoctrination, the
Scopes Trial, Inherit
the Wind and Supreme Court cases, evolutionists are
still at square one trying to connect ontogeny, morphology and phylogeny. The most
Meyer can timidly say is that these fields at long last, are beginning to
be unified, and Lacalli just hopes the roadway to a solution will soon
be paved. But do either of them provide any evidence that the check is
finally in the mail? None. Meyer passes the buck to Gould and Minelli.
(But Gould believed large evolutionary jumps occur by unknown processes contrary
to the reigning paradigm of gradualism, and Minelli, a specialist in arthropods,
seems to provide, in this brand new book, more questions than answers.)
All Lacalli sees is ambiguity. He whistles cheerfully in the dark
that maybe a solution will be forthcoming.
Next headline on: Mammals.
Next headline on: Bugs, Arthropods, etc.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Myoglobin (Mb), the substance that gives muscles their red color, was one of the
first proteins studied. Thirty years ago, state
Frauenfelder, McMahon and Fenimore in a Commentary in the July 14
of the National Academy of Sciences, the textbook function
of Mb, storage of dioxygen at the heme iron, was considered to be
simple, fully understood, and consequently boring. Since then,
the situation has changed: Mb is no longer fully understood.
Scientists are finding out that this single-chain (monomeric) protein,
folded into an apparently shapeless blob, has multiple functions and
these derive from its ability to dynamically change shape:
A protein does not exist in a unique conformation but can assume
a very large number of somewhat different conformations or conformational
substates. ... If a protein had just a single conformation, it
could not function and would be dead like a stone.
Proteins react to their environment, the pressure and temperature, and
also to the atoms in their vicinity. In the case of myoglobin,
oxygen and carbon monoxide molecules are able to cause it to open up,
as if the drawbridges ... were controlled from the outside of
the castle! they state with evident surprise. They conclude
that this best-studied protein still sports some fundamental problems
for biochemists and biophysicists to solve. What we are learning about
its conformational motions during function makes it no longer boring!
It symbolizes the beginning of discoveries that will undoubtedly be valid for
all proteins. The authors call myoglobin the hydrogen
atom of biology, analogous to the detailed model Bohr made of the
simplest of atoms when he attempted to begin to understand the basic laws
governing all atoms. As such, The large number of
substates and their organization and importance for function make
Mb a paradigm of complexity.
Proteins are not just submicroscopic rocks
floating around in the cell. They are like living, moving, breathing entities.
They act like flexible robots on factory assembly lines, grabbing and
splitting and stuffing and poking and doing all sorts of complex
acrobatics. Here one of the simplest proteins is now found to have multiple
functions, and the ability to adjust its shape to the function at
Grand Canyon Sanitized of un-PC Religion? 07/14/2003
Evolutionists might feel a little cocky if they were
rapidly converging on solutions for how cells work, but it seems that
the closer they look, the more complex and astonishing the parts become.
If this amount of complexity is true for the simplest, best-studied
protein, what about the tens of thousands of other larger, more dynamic,
more complex ones still to be understood? As usual, no explanation
is given for how myoglobin could have evolved its repertoire only
the assumption that it did somehow (emphasis added): The identification of Mb in
numerous bacteria and the human brain, together with the recent
appreciation of the importance of small-molecule chemistry, such as
NO and CO, in biology, suggest that Mb evolved [sic] in conjunction with
lifes ability to control the most basic oxygen chemistry.
Believe it, or not.
Next headline on: The Cell and Biochemistry.
Psalms praising the goodness and wisdom of the Creator are no longer
acceptable at Grand Canyon, reports
Central; (see also WorldNetDaily).
The National Park Service has bowed to objections
by the ACLU and will be removing from three South Rim viewpoints
some 30-year-old plaques containing quotations from Psalms.
The quotes are:
A wide variety of native American art, religious symbols and music is
still on display throughout the canyon facilities, however.
- All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing
praises to Thy name. (Psalm 66:4, at Desert View)
- Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song to Him who
rides upon the clouds. His name is the Lord; exult before Him.
(Psalm 68:4, at Hermit's Rest)
- O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them
all. The earth is full of Thy riches. (Psalm 104:24,
at Lookout Studio)
Update 07/23/2003: A reader found a link to a
news story at AZ
Central today that says the Don Murphy, deputy director of Grand Canyon National Park,
ordered the plaques reinstalled, pending further legal review and analysis by
the agencys attorneys. It doesnt mention what prompted his
decision, or how long the analysis would take. The plaques were installed 33
years ago by a Phoenix-based group, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary.
correctness has become bizarrely wacko beyond belief. Just how many of
the millions of visitors have ever been offended by these positive, cheerful,
exalting, upbeat, artistic, joyful expressions of awe?
Get over it, liberals!
These verses do not preach who this awesome Creator is.
They do not stop anyone from believing what
they want about Him, or It, or nothing at all. They are just
elegant statements of joy, over 3000 years old, that could stand on their own
as great poetry regardless of any religious persuasion. Who but
the ACLU could possibly care?
Bacterial Flagellum Rotation Speed Depends on Proton Flow 07/11/2003
The comeback is to make them be consistent.
No fair picking on one religion, or playing favorites. Surely
the ACLU doesnt want to appear anti-Semitic, right?
So, all native American idolatrous pantheistic symbolism must also go.
(Wouldnt that make for an interesting backlash; the
the pulpit now in the national parks.) This includes, by the way,
all the National Monuments that have Indian kivas in them, which were
used for pagan worship. Then for good
measure, all evolutionary humanism must also go,
because it, too, is a religion.
This gets both the Darwinists and the Indians on the warpath.
Keep it up until no one can even claim the canyon is really there,
because it might offend Hindu visitors who deny reality.
But the Hindus will be offended anyway at the renaming of many features
in the canyon named after their gods (Shiva Temple, Brahma Temple, etc.).
The Satanists and Mormons will fight over the renaming of Dirty Devil
River and Bright Angel Creek. But dont
let the ACLU make any of this the law, so that the anarchists and relativists
and nihilists wont be
offended. Eventually, everybody is so offended, and so offended that
others are offended with them, that some exasperated leader cannot take
it any more and shouts, This is silly! This is far worse than
the good old days! Lets act mature about this!
The fighting stops, and everyone, coming to their senses, makes amends
and votes not to be so hypersensitive. Then, we
test their sincerity by putting the plaques back up.
Maybe thats the only way some people would read these
plaques for the first time and appreciate them. Maybe only then would
they long for the joy and serenity and peace that accompanies worship
in a spirit of thankfulness. Offended by worship?
The ACLU might just as well be offended by the clouds,
or the colors, or the storm, or the rainbow. Pity them
these petulant ingrates who have nothing better to do than foment strife.
But dont let their
stuffiness quench your enjoyment of nature's wonders. Something
better than a bronze plaque read by a thankless pagan is praise
written on a heart of flesh, expressed by a living, breathing soul
overwhelmed by the majesty of
Grand Canyon. Even if the
modern grinches succeed for awhile in their vindictive campaign
to expunge any symbols of worship of a Creator from our land,
they cannot expunge creation. The stones will continue to cry out.
Next headline on: The Bible.
A bacterial motor responds to the fuel available.
Howard Berg of Harvard, one of the worlds authorities on
the bacterial flagellum, has established that there is a linear
relation between proton motive force (pmf) and rotation speed.
In a paper in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences (July 11 online preprints),
he says this was known for high speeds, but his present work establishes
it for low speeds also.
To measure these things, Berg took an E. coli
bacterium with two flagella, and attached one to a small latex bead, and
the other to a rigid surface. The first one could turn easily,
but the other had a heavier load the whole body of the bacterium.
Plotting all the numbers, he found a linear relationship between
pmf and rotation rate, from stalling speed up to 380 Hz at zero load.
The present work shows that a linear relation is true more
generally, he said, providing an additional constraint
on possible motor mechanisms. He admitted in the discussion
section that, It is not yet known how the motor generates torque.
Its easy to see why the Intelligent
Design Movement has adopted the bacterial flagellum as a de facto mascot.
Even secular biochemistry textbooks show it as a complex rotating motor
with all the usual motor parts: rotor, stator, propeller, etc.
Usually, the textbook is dead silent about how such a complex machine
could have evolved. Its what caused Dr. Michael Behe at
Lehigh University to ponder, as he saw the diagram in a textbook,
Thats an outboard motor! Thats designed;
thats no chance assemblage of parts. These extremely
efficient, rapidly rotating, true motors found in a simple germ call
for a plausible cause. If this were all evolutionists had to
explain with their theory, it would be hard enough, but the flagellum
is just the tip of a huge iceberg of molecular motors and machines,
some even more complex, that work together in living cells.
A Planet Out of Place, Out of Time 07/10/2003
For a wonderful computer animation and description of
the bacterial flagellum, be sure to watch the film
Unlocking the Mystery of
Life, now showing on PBS stations around the country.
Next headline on: The Cell.
Next headline on: Intelligent Design.
A team using the Hubble
Space Telescope has indirectly inferred the existence of a planet
with a mass 2.5 times that of Jupiter orbiting a white dwarf in an
old globular cluster. This is unexpected, because the
environment is rough, and it formed long before the ingredients were
Now says, The discovery of a giant planet amid a cluster
of primitive stars is challenging one of astronomers fundamental
notions about how planets are made. The work suggests that some
planetary systems were born billions of years before most astronomers
thought the universe had spawned the raw materials needed
to make them (emphasis added).
They date this planet at just 1 billion years after the big bang, an
epoch in which presumably heavy elements had not yet had time to form
in large quantities. The parent star, M4, is so depleted
in heavy elements, theorists may have to swallow hard and
accept the idea that gas giant planets do not need rocky cores.
When you get enough observations out of
sync with theory (see Maiers Law),
its time to question the assumptions.
Horizontal Gene Transfer More Widespread than Thought 07/10/2003
Next headline on: Stars.
Next headline on: Solar System.
A study of plant mitochondrial genomes published in the
July 10 issue of Nature found
five cases of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between distantly related
plants. This was unexpected, since HGT was thought to be only
significant among bacteria and virtually absent from eukaryotes.
They feel these discoveries are only the tip of a large iceberg
that may cause major rethinking of the role of HGT not only in plants
and mitochondrial DNA, but also in animals and in nuclear DNA.
Our findings raise many other questions, say the authors,
Bergthorsson, Adams, Thomason and Palmer, in Widespread horizontal
transfer of mitochondrial genes in flowering plants.
This has the potential to scramble
phylogenetic trees and imply false relationships among unrelated
Evolution of Jealousy: Biological or Cultural? (Or Neither?) 07/07/2003
Next headline on: Plants.
Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
The BBC News
asks what role evolution had in the phenomenon of jealousy:
Psychologists argue about the source of jealousy.
Does it have deep-rooted origins in human evolution, or has it been
modified by more recent social changes?
Anybody ever heard of sin?
The question is the either-or fallacy in
action. Its like asking a school terrorist,
Did you murder your teacher because of low self-esteem or because
you ate Twinkies for breakfast? The only two choices they
can think of are biological evolution or cultural evolution.
Nobel Laureate Prigogine Dies; Brought Physics to Biology 07/05/2003
By implying that human behavior stems from ape in our
ancestry, evolutionists deny that people have any personal responsibility
for their actions. That is the greater sin.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary
Theory. Next dumb story.
He proved you can get order out of chaos. He demonstrated that intelligence
is not necessary to produce self-organization. He put to rest the arguments
of creationists that the second law of thermodynamics precludes the spontaneous
origin of life. True?
4 issue of Science reports on the recent passing of Ilya Prigogine, the
father of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Unlike the 19th century
thermodynamicists who formulated their laws based on equilibrium conditions,
Prigogine investigated what happens in open systems far from equilibrium.
He demonstrated that unusual things can happen, including the spontaneous formation
of order he termed dissipative structures. An example would be
the formation of a vortex in a draining bathtub, or crystalline snowflakes as
the temperature drops in a turbulent cloud. This led some to claim that
since biological systems are far from equilibrium, the spontaneous generation of
order is not impossible, even though the second law of thermodynamics demands that
all systems (including open systems) eventually must increase in entropy; that
is, unavailable energy, decay, and loss of ability to do work.
In his eulogy, Radu Balescu (Belgium)
explains that the formation of dissipative structures requires an open system and
nonlinear equations governing the evolution of the system. Then he remarks,
without elaborating, that
These conditions arise, in particular, in living systems. Prigogine
had thus created an important link between physics, chemistry and biology
(even extending it to sociology and economics).
Its a dodge
that he did not elaborate,
because he would have laid himself open to being shot down.
Prigogine did important work that certainly merited
the Nobel Prize, but he did not invent the free lunch. The second law of
thermodynamics applies to living systems just as much as it ever did, and Prigogine
never claimed he had found a solution to the spontaneous assemblage of the high
degree of order that a living cell would require to emerge from chaos.
In fact, he said quite the opposite: Unfortunately this principle cannot
explain the formation of biological structures. The kind of order
in life is functional information, a
different category of order altogether than that in a crystal or vortex.
Just as a dissipative structure will never produce a written text or a symphony,
it cannot produce a living cell. The defense of this intuitive argument is
a technical subject, requiring sufficient background in physics.
Those interested are encouraged
to read a detailed explanation by Timothy Wallace, with evolutionary rebuttals and
the authors counter-rebuttals, on
For the rest of us, dont swallow the claim that Prigogine overcame the
thermodynamic argument against evolution; respond that an open system is a
necessary, but not sufficient condition for the creation of
functional information. Again we recommend Dembskis
thorough treatment of the necessity for intelligence in his recent book
No Free Lunch.
Another good but older book that dealt with this
in detail is
The Mystery of Lifes Origin
by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen.
Answers in Genesis on June 27 posted an interchange
between a reader who apparently misunderstands the implications of
Prigogines work, and a response by Jonathan Sarfati.
Metaphors Bewitch You 07/04/2003
Next headline on: Physics.
Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Natural enemies is that a reality, or just a metaphor? Matthew K. Chew
and Manfred D. Laubichler in the
July 4 issue of Science
discuss the usefulness and dangers of metaphors in the language of science.
(EurekAlert has a summary of this essay, for those without
access to the journal.) Using the
recent media frenzy over the invasion of northern snakehead fish in Maryland, they discuss
whether this is really a battle between good and evil, or just evolutionary ecology at
work. Metaphors, they assert, are ubiquitous in science.
They cite the example of William Paleys divine Watchmaker as a metaphor that survives
into the intelligent design movement, and the Darwinian phrase survival of the fittest
when worded as a tautology, which they feel is a deliberate misrepresentation of
evolutionary biology, but alerts us to some problems inherent to the use of
metaphors in science.
They can be useful or abusive, because
Metaphors introduce a fundamental trade off between the generation of novel insights
in science and the possibility of dangerous or even deadly misappropriation.
An example of the latter is eugenics, when people were labeled with the
labels of burden, a cancerous disease, or a foreign body that was a threat
to society. They explain the values and dangers of metaphors:
Metaphors allow us to build on our experience when we extend familiar relationships
to unfamiliar contexts, and help us to communicate new ideas to others who share
our experiences and are therefore able to interpret the metaphors. In science,
much that we consider knowable is inferred rather than directly observed. As a result,
access to adequate metaphors can make the difference between comprehension and confusion.
Familiar as they are from common contexts and experiences, most such metaphors can
readily be employed to communicate ecology to nonspecialists. But ready recognition
also carries a cost. The contexts from which terms are borrowed are not static;
the interpretation of specific terms will vary and evolve. Therefore, common
metaphors adopted to carry specialized meanings can lead us astray; they can
constrain understanding as easily as they facilitate it, and may do both simultaneously.
Their essay provides many examples; ecology speaks of predator and prey, but these
suggest one is good and the other evil. Metaphors for signalling and machinery are
used in cell biology, as well as DNA coding and development. In
conclusion, they warn:
What troubles us is that biologys metaphorical abstractions all too easily
become concrete objects and substitute for specific, describable processes.
Maximal diversity becomes evolutions telos instead of its tendency.
Biogeographical frontiers become prescriptive and enforceable, rather than
descriptive and conceptual. Seasonal "disturbances" such as floods interrupt
normal ecological processes, instead of exemplifying them. Biological
"productivity" and "diversity" become not only measurable, but virtuous.
Though metaphors may be unavoidable, scientists should be aware of their risks,
and be wary of using terms like natural enemies, they say,
especially in the current historical situation.
Whether they mean Iraq or the Intelligent Design Movement is not clear in that
last sentence, but either way, this article is thoughtful and well written,
despite some weaknesses. We have pointed out in our
Baloney Detector the potential fallacies of
analogies, explaining that these are can
be helpful or misleading, depending on how they are used. They should
help illustrate a point, but not prove an argument. Analogies and
metaphors can stimulate the mind, but also the emotions. It is fair
to use metaphors and analogies, provided the strength of the argument rests
on logic and facts, not loaded words.
When we find metaphors but not meat in evolutionary arguments, we point
The Darwinian Reason for Two-Parent Families 07/03/2003
The authors do not explain why natural selection is not
a tautology, they just assert that it isnt. This is a frequent
tactic of Darwinists. They bluff their way
around this problem,
trying to pretend that anyone who disagrees just is too dumb to understand.
They also shift the meaning of terms (equivocation),
in an attempt to throw the listener off balance.
For a thorough exposition of the sleight-of-mind tricks that Darwinists play
with these concepts, read Walter ReMines excellent but heavy book
The Biotic Message, especially chs. 4-7 and 13. This will
give you a graduate course in baloney detecting, and many examples of
misused metaphors that confuse rather than enlighten.
Chew and Laubichler also provide a service by trying to get
evolutionists to think consistently. In evolutionary biology, there
is no good or evil; everything just is. A flood is not
a tragedy, a parasite is not a degradation, and sexual perversion is not
morally wrong (see next headline for an example). Carry Darwinian
thinking far enough, and there is no basis to say either side of warfare
is in the right:
whether Husseins henchmen or the Americans fighting them, whether
the Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up children in shopping malls and
on busses or the Israeli army retaliating. How many people are
willing to let evolutionary-minded scientists and intellectuals provide
the moral foundation for society? Just wait till the next terrorist
or criminal hits close to home and you will ask very deep and serious
questions about whether good and evil are realities or just metaphors.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
According to Mark Pagel (University of Reading, UK), writing in the
3 issue of Nature, this is the reason for a man to stay married to his wife:
Far from being the expression of undying mutual commitment and affection heralded
by church and state, monogamy, if it even exists, is a sort of evolutionary last resort:
it arises only when both partners full efforts are required to raise offspring
successfully. Under these circumstances, both partners will be selected to evolve
whatever adaptations will improve the offsprings survival.
The context is an article about sexual selection, Evolutionary
Biology: Polygamy and
parenting. He refers to a recent study that found exceptions to the
rules about sexual selection in the case of seahorses and pipefish.
But the rules dont end there, he claims; they
extend all the way up to the us humans: Modern men who think that they can
attract women by being good with children may wish to read a study by Wilson and
colleagues that has just appeared in the journal Evolution. In
seahorses and pipefish at least, females compete for males only when they — the
females — have the time to, and not, it seems, according to the effort the males
put into looking after offspring.
We need a category in addition to dumb called
dumb and dangerous. Does anyone fail to see that Darwinian thinking has
gone totally wacko? All morality, all decency, all civility, all love must now
be cast in Darwinian terms, as strictly utilitarian responses of genes to
selection pressures. Men have no conscience. They are the pawns of
evolutionary pressures that herd their selfish instincts for polygamy into
monogamous relationships only because mystical, invisible forces of sexual selection
act on the offspring, not on the individual. But this illogical thinking is
based on contradictory evidence, as shown in these papers, that do not
fit the expectations of the theory. No matter what evidence is given these
materialists, they squeeze it into the Darwinian mindset.
Did Earths Atmosphere Survive the Big Wallop? 07/03/2003
This is dumb, but it
is dangerous, because it undermines any concept of anything being inherently
decent, good, noble and humane or true.
They deny this, of course, but on what basis could an evolutionist stop a college student
from thinking he should be allowed to take human evolution into his own hands, and
start a harem? If thoughts are not meaningful anymore, what selective pressures
acted on the materialists mind to make him write a paper that
makes truth claims? What is truth?
Mark Pagel, therefore, is only a pawn of the selfish genes of the population; his words have
no intrinsic meaning. Good! So we can ignore them. Just keep guys
like this out of politics and education, for the survival of the species.
Next headline on: Ocean Creatures.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics.
Next dumb story.
The currently most popular theory for the origin of the moon is that
a Mars-size object collided with earth at a glancing angle, which
threw off material that later coalesced. This event should have
melted the earth, and according to H. J. Melosh in the
issue of Nature, Amidst such hostility, it seems
hardly possible that the fragile envelope of atmospheric gases could
survive. Melosh is encouraged by recent studies that suggest
that, contrary to expectations, much of the atmosphere might have
remained. This is important, he says:
Although no one has yet found a convincing and general explanation for
how the terrestrial planets acquired their atmospheres, the present
abundances, particularly of Earth's heavy noble gases (neon, argon,
xenon and krypton), seem hard to reconcile with a nearly complete loss
of atmosphere after the Earth was assembled. The abundances of
these gases and their isotopes in the present atmospheres of Earth,
Mars and Venus (insofar as we know them) differ substantially from
their abundances either in the Sun's atmosphere or in meteorites.
These differences have led atmospheric scientists to postulate a
wide variety of mechanisms by which such gases may be acquired,
partially lost and isotopically fractionated. But the
mechanical ejection of gases that was previously imagined for the
giant impact is no help at all with this problem: in the impact
scenario, the gases are ejected wholesale, without separation or
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)
It is a relief, therefore, if the scientists dont have to figure out
how to acquire a new inventory of gases all over again, because
it is unclear where such a secondary answer would come from. ...
Total atmospheric loss thus adds a major wild card to the
already highly uncertain mix of constraints on atmospheric
evolution. In the new scenario, not only did earth keep some
of its air, but the impactor might have brought more with it.
Though encouraging news, Melosh admits, Much remains to be done before
we can understand how Earth's atmosphere evolved to its present state.
Undoubtedly you have seen the computer
animations of this impact hypothesis, but did you think about the air
problem? Did you worry about the whole earth melting and what
that did to the crust, the core, and the atmosphere? Did you
hear Apollo 17 astronaut-geologist Harrison
Schmitt arguing against the impact hypothesis last November?
Much remains to be done, as usual.
Planetary evolution hypotheses are always works in progress against
insurmountable obstacles. The little bit of enthusiasm expressed
by Melosh is insufficient to cover the seriousness of the problems.
He didnt even get into the question of
where the Earth got its water.
Dark Energy: Who Needs It? 07/02/2003
It is said that to someone who has only a hammer,
every problem looks like a nail. Impactors are the planetary
evolutionistss hammers that solve every problem. An impact
formed the moon, another brought the earths water (although that
is the least likely of the unlikely hypotheses), another cleared the
Permian world for speeding up evolution, and another cleared away the
dinosaurs so mammals could take over. Some even think impacts
brought in the alphabet of life. Of course, they have to
fine-tune each hammer blow so it doesnt do too much or too little
damage. If ones philosophy requires too many fine-tuned hammer
blows on the alphabet soup to come up with Shakespeare, it becomes a
sort of convoluted mindless intelligent design theory in spite of itself,
because at some point someone is swinging the hammer with a purpose.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Next headline on: Geology.
Just when we were told that the latest surveys of the cosmic background radiation proved
that most of the universe consists of dark energy, a group of American physicists say
their model doesnt need it, reports
Nature Science Update.
They explain the universe by tweaking gravity instead.
In addition, scientists at UC Irvine now claim that
dark matter may exist in the form of hypothetical super-WIMPs
that are impossible to discover directly and escape all indirect
detection experiments, reports
Science Update July 8.
Notice what they say about modern cosmology in the first article (emphasis added):
The fact that the Universe is speeding up might be the biggest mystery in all of science.
Really big problems require crazy new ideas - and ours is right up there with the craziest.
We've blasphemed by changing Einstein's equations.
This could eventually lead to a more general theory for the evolution
of the entire Universe.
...such theories [invoking dark energy] require "a preposterous amount of tinkering" to make
them fit the observations.
Does anyone have confidence in modern cosmological soothsayers with these
admissions of mental illness? With concepts like these running around in their brains,
theyve got them in a nutshell. Maybe this is just the British Nature trying to
steal the thunder of last week's American Science.
Century-Old Puzzle of Antarctic Forests Remains Unresolved 07/02/2003
Next headline on: Cosmology.
The ill-fated South Pole expedition of Sir Robert Scott, whose party all perished in the
early 1900s, was not a total loss. He produced a profound mystery for science.
Found among their belongings were fossils of
deciduous trees, indicating that a lush forest had once grown at that currently-frozen
location. Similar fossils have been found within the northern Arctic Circle.
How did they survive the dark, long winters? One theory was that deciduous trees
saved energy by not having to produce carbon when the sun was not shining (though
evergreens have also been found). A recent experiment reported in the
however, in which Dr. Colin Osbourne of Sheffield University tried growing the
species in Antarctic conditions, showed that the loss of carbon by leaf dropping
vastly outweighed the energy gained. So that has not changed the status of
current thinking about this phenomenon, i.e., Exactly how forests managed
to flourish at the South Pole has been contentious ever since.
Poor Dr. Scott had a tragic demise, but we are
glad he brought a mystery to light that has stood the test of time.
This again illustrates that one cannot look at the world today and expect
to understand it in the past by assuming uniformitarian processes.
Von Brauns Brother Dies 07/01/2003
See also the 03/02/2003 headline about fossil
redwoods in the Arctic.
Next headline on: Plants.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Magnus von Braun, the younger brother of the more famous rocket
scientist (our Scientist of the Month), died
June 27, reports the
Times (Huntsville was the site of von Brauns
Redstone rocket team that launched America into the space age).
Magnus was a rocket scientist in his own right, helping Wernher both
at Peenemünde in Germany and also in the United States.
He helped shape history by riding his bicycle at the end of World War II
in a rush to meet the Americans and help the German rocket team surrender
rather than be captured by the Russians.
Be sure to read our continuing short
biography of Wernher von Braun, a remarkable man and scientist.
If any readers met either of the von Brauns, and would like to send in
anecdotes, please write here.
The Mystery of the Ultra-Pure Sandstones 07/01/2003
Next headline on: Solar System and Space Exploration.
Next headline on: Politics, Ethics and History.
R. H. Dott, Jr (Univ. of Wisconsin) has a problem. Hes been trying
to explain a geological puzzle for 50 years, and is still baffled.
All around the world, sandstones are found that are remarkably pure
that seem nonactualistic (jargon for They cant really
be there). These pure quartz arenites, as they are called, were
considered a major puzzle half a century ago, when Dr. Dott was a student.
Some of them extend laterally over vast areas encompassing one or several states,
and they cover vast areas of Africa and Arabia, the Great Lakes region, South America,
Australia, and more.
These sheet sands (as they are nicknamed) are part of a notorious
gang: Together with the origin of dolomite, red beds, black shale,
and banded iron formation, they made up a group of seemingly intractable
geological problems (emphasis added in all quotes).
Dott tells autobiographically, Having lived literally upon quartz-rich
sandstones for almost 50 years, I have come to regard supermature quartz
arenites as natures finest distillatealmost as remarkable
as a pure single malt Scotch whiskey.
In the July
2003 Journal of Geology, he has written a lengthy paper addressing
the mystery of the quartz arenites, and the status of current hypotheses.
It amounts to a veritable State of the Century address to sandstone geologists.
He explains the puzzle in the Introduction:
What is the quartz arenite problem?
Foremost is the extreme compositional maturity of sandstones composed
of more than 95% quartz. Furthermore, the quartz consists almost
exclusively of grains of unstrained, single-crystal units. Very
rare lithic [rock] fragments consist only of durable polycrystalline
quartz types such as chert or vein quartz. In addition, the extremely
rare accessory mineral suite (generally <0.05% by weight) is dominated
by durable zircon, tourmaline, ilmenite, and leucoxene. Where
present, associated conglomerates also consist only of durable clasts
of vein quartz, quartzite, or chert. How can we explain the
complete disposal of at least 75% of any ultimate parent igneous or
metamorphic rock to yield a residue that is at least 95% quartz sand?
Dr. Dott mentions additional puzzles about these formations:
Extreme textural maturity is also characteristic of many, but not all,
examples. A high degree of sorting has always been
emphasized, with high rounding being common but not universal.
Both properties imply much abrasion by one or more of natures
most physically vigorous processes, such as surf and strong eolian [wind]
or aqueous currents.
According to Dott, wind erosion is the most efficient, but not the only, agent for
rounding of the sand grains. Some geologists have resorted to
theories of multicycling to explain the
weathering and maturation of the grains, but theories of single cycles
under intense tropical weathering also go back decades, and
he cannot rule them out.
(Though there are small examples forming in isolated river deltas today, their
grains are not nearly as rounded.) The chemical maturation suggests
that impurities were dissolved away, a process called diagenesis, but
that is not possible in the presence of wind.
- Thin, tabular geometry: layers tens or hundreds of meters thick, very flat over vast regions,
yet Paleozoic in age i.e., prior to the emergence of land plants.
- A paucity of associated shale, in contrast to other sandstones.
- Interstratified with shallow marine carbonate strata.
- A lack of volumetrically significant analogues forming today (i.e.,
nothing on that scale can be seen forming now). This implies
weathering processes orders of magnitude greater in the past.
- Very rare body fossils, and some burrows.
- Frosting of the grains, making the rough on microscopic scales.
- Underlying mature shale high in kaolinite (clay) or illite.
- Even more pure quartz arenites, even thousands of meters thick, in Precambrian strata.
- Many of them underlain by paleosols (ancient soils) that show a
high degree of chemical maturation.
The paradox of the compositional maturation of the
sand seems to require some additional factor to reconcile
geomorphic conditions that could have enhanced the transport
and abrasion of enormous volumes of pure quartz sand, on the
one hand, but could have allowed exceptional chemical maturation
of soils on the other hand, as indicated by profiles beneath,
and the composition of pelitic [mud, clay] strata interstratified
within, many quartz arenites.
Dott introduces his theory at this point. To solve
the paradox, he postulates thin microbial crusts or mats of cyanobacteria
formed over the soils, similar to
the stromatolites and cryptogamic soils seen forming in some regions today.
have protected the underlying paleosols while allowing wind transport of
sand above. The lack of trees and shrubs might have allowed much
more energetic winds. This assumes that the first land invaders
were cyanobacteria, although the fossil record has seemed mute
on this point. In a sense, these crusts formed a cap that protected
the lower strata while the high winds deposited the sand (although he does
not propose sources for the sand).
He ends with one other paradox; without land plants,
unless the landscape were perfectly flat, how could it be stable enough
to allow the chemical weathering of both the sand and underlying paleosols?
The abundance of medium-grained to coarse-grained sand and associated
pebbles required streams with sufficient gradients to transport such
materials, which in turn points to at least moderate topographic relief,
which exacerbates the stabilization problem, he says.
His best guess, in conclusion, is the microbial mat theory; this formed a
crust enough to stabilize the landscapes for up to two billion years
while these puzzling structures formed.
This was an interesting paper about an interesting puzzle that some readers
may wish to investigate further.
Does his explanation satisfy you? He expects us to assume ad hoc conditions
that remained stable for vast ages when continents were presumably splitting
apart, volcanos were erupting, mountains were rising, and life was evolving,
and in spite of all the commotion, these sandstones have survived to the
present day nearly flat and unperturbed over vast regions for vast epochs.
Notice how these formations are huge, and exist on every continent.
Notice how thick and flat they are. Notice how they are interspersed
with clays and soils, yet are exceptionally pure, natures finest
distillate. Notice how they give evidence of being deposited
via natures most
vigorous and energetic forces. Doesnt this sound like global
cataclysm? Since catastrophism
is back in vogue, should we not follow the evidence where it leads?
Consider the tremendously thick sandstones in the
Canyon that cover hundreds of square miles (some of them much of North
comparable to this is happening anywhere in the modern world.
The present is certainly not the key to the past! It seems many of the
puzzles vanish if we can free our minds from the unnecessary
and obstructive assumptions of vast ages and evolution.
Next headline on: Geology.
Click on Apollos, the trusty|
Scientist of the Month
|Guide to Evolutionary Theory
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Featured Creation Scientist for July
Wernher von Braun
1912 - 1977
Note: This month, the 34th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, we
complete the biography of von Braun we began last September.
We pick up the story at this point
in von Brauns childhood.
Its not exactly rocket science, you know. The cliche implies that rocket science
is the epitome of something that is difficult, obscure, and abstruse; something comprehensible
only by the brainiest
of the smart. Names that qualify for the title father of rocket science include
Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, and von Braun. But Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was mostly a visionary and
chalkboard theorist, and Robert Goddard only targeted the upper atmosphere for his projects; he
was also secretive and suspicious of others to a fault. Of the three, and any others that could be
listed, Wernher von Braun has the prestige of actually taking mankind from the simple
beginnings of rocketry all the way to the moon and the planets.
He is an icon of the space age. His name is almost synonymous
with rocket science.
As we will see, he should be remembered
for much more than that.
Von Braun is important in this series because he was recent enough to be in the living memory of
many, and we have a great deal of documentation, photographs and motion pictures of him.
Even young people (that is, anyone under 40) who did not live through the glory days of Apollo
are all familiar with three of von Brauns last great projects he took from vision to reality: the
Space Shuttle, orbiting space stations and interplanetary travel. Unquestionably, he had a great
deal of help. One does not do rocket science alone! At the height of the Apollo program, some
600,000 employees were involved in tasks from machining parts to managing large flight
operations centers. Yet by wide consensus and by results achieved, Wernher von Braun was a
giant among giants: highly regarded by his peers, respected by all who worked with him, a
celebrity to the public, showered with honors, and unquestionably responsible for
much of the success of the space program. Few have ever personally taken a dream of epic
proportions to reality. The peaceful exploration of space! It was the stuff of dreams
Kepler, Jules Verne, science fiction novels and countless childhood imaginations, yet today it is
almost too commonplace. Von Braun dreamed, but made it happen. He was the right man with
the right stuff at the right time.
What kind of person was he? Many great scientists are quirkish or aloof in their personal lives,
but were going to reveal a lesser-known side of von Braun, a spiritual side that kept him
humble, grateful, unselfish, and strong. Well see a remarkably well-rounded individual, a
family man who loved swimming and travel and popularizing science for children; a man
who loved life, had charisma and energy and dignity and integrity, handled huge projects yet
kept a winning smile and a sense of humor even in the most stressful of project deadlines. Well
see a model of leadership that success-bound corporate heads would do well to emulate.
Maybe you didnt know (incidentally) that he was also a Christian and creationist. But first, a
review of his record.
Von Braun was the can do mover and shaker who rescued Americas prestige from the
embarrassment of Sputnik (1957) and drove the moon mission against a host of naysayers,
leading to that unforgettable moment when the whole world held its breath: Houston:
Tranquillity Base here the Eagle has landed! In hindsight, many feel that Russia beat the U.S.
to orbit and put the first man in space largely because the top brass had snubbed von Braun,
whose team was eager and ready, and gave the job to the Navy. Those first awful images of
exploding and stray rockets, broadcast to Americas horror on
international TV, are now folklore, illustrations of
Murphys Law set to circus calliope music.
But once President Kennedy put von Braun in the
drivers seat, his string of spectacular successes left the Russians in the dust. On January 31,
1958, von Brauns Redstone rocket successfully lifted Americas first satellite, Explorer 1, into
orbit. The historic photo of Pickering, Van Allen and von Braun holding a model of Explorer 1
overhead in a victory salute at a Washington D.C. press conference symbolized the turning of
the tide. Von Braun was already thinking ahead. He told Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson,
We have an excellent chance of beating the Soviets to the first landing of a crew on the moon.
Largely because of von Brauns confidence, President Kennedy in 1961 challenged the country
to make it to the moon before the decade was out. And it did, on time! A year later, with the
launch of Mariner 2 to Venus in 1962 and Mariner 4 to Mars in 1964, his childhood dream of
interplanetary exploration became reality. Von Braun saw the progress of flight from crossing
the Atlantic to crossing the ocean of space. In the year he died, Voyagers 1 and 2, launched on
rockets built by his technology, began their epic voyages to the outer solar system.
The prestige America gained through the space program, and its political advantage in a
dangerous world dominated by communism, to say nothing of all the spinoff benefits to science
and technology, are benefits we all gained largely to von Brauns vision of space flight. His
impact on science, the economy and politics are symbolized by the two final missions launched
on his Saturn rockets: Skylab (1973), the first orbiting space station, that took science and
technology to new heights and promising environments, and Apollo-Soyuz (1975), in which
American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts joined hands in earth orbit. His work even
transformed mankinds own view of itself. Who could ever forget the first image of our planet
from the moon, when Apollo 8, a risky mission launched on a brand new rocket called Saturn V
(the most complex machine ever built, yet launched flawlessly every time) enabled a world at
war to see home as just a pale blue gem in the blackness of space, devoid of political boundaries,
fragile and beautiful and alone?
Yes, there were many giants in the space program, but
Frederick C. Durant summarized von Brauns special place in history by saying, Future
historians may well note this century (or millennium) as significant in that mankind took its first
tentative steps into space. In accomplishing these steps to the moon and beyond, Wernher von
Braun was an eminent leader. He not only had a dream, but he made his dream come true for all
That dream began in childhood, when Wernher was given an astronomical telescope by his mother
at the festive occasion of his confirmation into the Lutheran church at age thirteen.
This lit a spark that exploded into his lifelong fascination with the moon, Mars and space
travel. Wernher was full of boundless energy as a child, so much so that his father
considered him unstoppable. He had a mind like a dry sponge, soaking up every bit
of knowledge as eagerly as he could, his father said. His mother stimulated the three boys
interest in science and the arts; Wernher even took piano lessons with the
great German composer Paul Hindemith, and carried this skill through life. (Many years
later in Salt Lake City on a visit, he was invited to try out the great organ in the Mormon
Tabernacle; he promptly sat down and played A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.)
Astronomy was the most unstoppable interest of the young teenager. By age sixteen he
was writing on the history of astronomy, speculating about life on Mars, and building
telescopes. By this time also, his almost magical ability to form and lead a
team, became evident, as Ordway describes it (p. 13); the end product of most
of his projects would be complete success. Even at age 14, he had
already organized an astronomy club that
made telescopes and built rockets. They gathered old car parts and tried to
create a rocket-propelled automobile. He became so engrossed in these experiments, that he flunked
mathematics and physics! His parents sent him to boarding school without the
Not disheartened, young Werner read Hermann Oberths visionary book The Rocket
into Interplanetary Space and studied Keplers laws
of planetary motion. The more he thought about the physical laws
governing orbits, the more they seemed like racetracks to the planets.
He resolved to master mathematics and become a space pioneer.
His life goal was
to turn the wheel of progress a pretty visionary goal for a 14-year
old. Those who enjoyed the movie October Sky can appreciate the adult von
Brauns interest in the young student rocket-makers, having played that role himself.
By age 15 he had written, in an essay about a journey to the moon, An age-old dream
of mankindto travel to the starsappears to approach fulfillment.
The young student wrote to Oberth showing him a paper on rockets he had written,
and received an encouraging letter, Keep going, young man! His teachers
were impressed, and told his mother he was a genius. Few young man had the energy
of dreams so strong, and knew so confidently what they wanted to accomplish in life,
as Wernher von Braun. Unfortunately for him, political currents in Germany would
lead to a crisis between the dream and the ugliness of war and dictatorship.
Von Braun studied mechanical engineering at the University of Berlin. Throughout
his college career, he required no prodding; once, he showed his professor a letter
he had received from Albert Einstein in answer to his questions,
and while a student, he received a grant to experiment on
liquid fueled rockets. In 1932, he graduated with a PhD in physics.
Always fascinated with flight of any kind,
he learned to fly gliders, and in 1933, received his pilot's license for
motorized aircraft. While the rise of Hitler was occurring during
the 1930s, it must be stressed that von Braun was focused on rockets, not politics. One must
remember that rocketry was weird science in those days, with no commercial
or strategic appeal. Von Braun knew that his small amateur team, severely short on
money and materials, could never advance his dream of space travel without the help of a
large organization. He made a sober, consequential decision to approach the
In the winter of 1931-32, Von Braun gained the interest of the German army,
which had a small rocket development program under Walter Dornberger. The
collaboration that ensued at the armys Peenemünde Rocket Center is legendary; it launched
Wernher von Braun into the forefront of the worlds foremost rocketry program.
(Although Robert Goddard was testing liquid-fueled rockets in America, he was so
secretive that von Braun had not even heard of him till after the war).
From the first, the Peenemünde engineers were developing rockets for peaceful
purposes. Though Hitler was in the news, von Braun at the time considered him
a pompous fool and none of the engineers imagined their work being used
as instruments of war in the hands of a Nazi regime. Stuhlinger explains the
army connection: The situation of the young rocketeers was similar to that
of the aviation pioneers when the airplane could only be developed because of
military support (Ordway, p. 24). Rocketry demanded facilities that
the former amateur team lacked. Until rather late in the war, von Brauns
rocket team was largely ignored by the growing Nazi regime, which did not see rockets
has having weapons potential, and considered rocket research
heretical compared to the Luftwaffe.
For most of the 1930s, therefore, rocket R&D was removed from the thought of war; it was
von Braun fulfilling his childhood dream. The team moved to Peenemünde in
1935, and as late as 3 October 1942, after a successful launch of their
baby the A-4 (53 miles elevation, 118 miles downrange), von Braun was still idealistic:
Do you realize what we accomplished today? Today the spaceship has been
born! and Dornberger chimed in innocently, This 3 October 1943 [sic] is the
first day of a new era of travel, the era of space travel! Up till now, growing
Nazi intrusions had been a nuisance and irritant to the decidedly non-political
team, but the successful launch suddenly switched Hitlers attention to it.
He organized a committee of overseers. Dornberger and von Braun were
able to elude some of the early
intrusions by claiming the work demanded absolute secrecy, but by the end of
1943, after the British had inflicted severe damage at the test center, Hitler
ordered mass production underground. This become the notorious Mittelwerk
production center, in which A-4 rockets (renamed V-2s by the Nazis for vengeance
weapon #2) were built by slave labor in a last-ditch
effort to save the Axis from defeat. In February 1944, Himmler, who had visited the Peenemünde
center the previous summer, tried to lure von Brauns support; when it was
rebuffed, the Gestapo arrested him in the middle of the night.
Von Braun was kept in jail two weeks without any explanation as to why he had been
arrested. Finally, he was brought before a mock trial, where the accusation
was, he did not intend the A-4 to be a weapon of war, that he had only space
travel in mind ... and that he regretted its military use (Ordway, 32). He was also
accused of spying and trying to escape. In the nick of time, Dornberger
entered the courtroom with a document. When the official read it, von Braun
was released. What happened? Dornberger had been working since the arrest to
effect his release, and after many unsuccessful attempts, persuaded the head of the
Gestapo that von Brauns expertise was absolutely essential to the success of the
A-4 program. Also, Albert Speer had persuaded Hitler, who grudgingly agreed,
that the secret weapon Germany had been boasting about publicly could
not succeed without its premiere rocket scientist. For six months, until the
assassination attempt on Hitler (when the von Braun affair was forgotten),
von Braun was in a very precarious position.
He had two choices: refuse to cooperate and be shot, or steer the circumstances he was
placed in for good, with what influence he had. Who could fault his decision?
He had no authority, and no power other than advice, which he used to mitigate the
evils around him. For instance, when he was made aware of the hellish
circumstances under which prisoners were forced to build rockets in underground tunnels
at Mittelwerk, he realized quickly that it was futile to attempt
humane arguments with the morally-bankrupt SS leaders.
Instead, he persuaded them with shrewd pragmatic arguments that the project
could not be completed on time unless the workers were fed and given rest.
Similar shrewdness is found with Hushais counsel to Absalom in the Bible (II Samuel
16). Because of this, some of the suffering was alleviated. Yet von Braun
had no authority over the project that the Nazis had wrested from his teams
hands; he was only asked his opinion on very specific problems, and was escorted
under guard at all times. On September 8, 1944, V-2s were launched against
Paris and London. Von Braun later described hearing the news as the darkest
day of his life. To his chagrin, the rockets worked perfectly; they just hit
the wrong planet.
From time to time, revisionists criticize von Braun for not defying the Nazi regime,
which would probably have meant his death. Rumors surface that he was a secret
Nazi collaborator, or a member of the Nazi party, etc. Those tempted to believe
this should read the detailed account of the period in the book by Frederick Ordway (American
long-time co-worker) and Ernst Stuhlinger (part of the Peenemünde team),
Wernher von Braun, Crusader for Space (Krieger Publishing, Florida, 1996).
These men both knew von Braun personally over many years and participated in the
events. Von Braun was no Nazi. Since 1940, Himmler had tried to woo him with gifts and
a rank in the SS, which von Braun confided with friends made him deeply upset. But
with their advice, he avoided making an issue to prevent Himmler from flying into
a rage. When sweet talk did not work, force was applied, and von Brauns
options were none: do as you are told, or die.
For the crusader for the peaceful exploration of space
from his youth, the years 1943-1944 turned his dream into a
nightmare. His plowshares were stolen and turned into swords.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Finding himself powerless to stop
Hitler and the war, what little influence he had, he used, and as soon as the war
was over, he quickly and willingly surrendered to the American liberators.
Consider these points in response to critics:
It is only fair for war victims, especially the Jews, to investigate the motives
and actions of anyone connected to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. We
hope this brief review helps to dispense with rumors that von Braun was ever personally
at fault. He was a victim as well. Read the book by Ordway and Stuhlinger,
probably the most authoritative biography by those close to von Braun, for further
information. It contains many details and quotations by contemporaries, and
gives a spellbinding account of events still within the memory of some
- Von Braun was arrested and jailed by the Gestapo.
- He was charged with resisting the military use of his rockets, and trying to escape.
- Himmlers awarding von Braun an honorary rank in the SS no more made him a Nazi
than awarding Martin Luther King an honorary membership in the KKK would make him a
- The evil uses of his rockets occupied only a few months at the end of the war.
- During his release from jail, when the military used von Braun for his advice,
he was escorted under military guard at all times and under strict
orders what he could say or do.
- He used his influence to argue for more time (delaying tactics) and better conditions
for the prisoners.
- When he tried to argue for better treatment of the prisoners, he was threatened that
it was none of his business, and that he had better shut up or he would be wearing the
same prison stripes.
- His lifelong dream was the peaceful exploration of space. He was devastated
when he heard the news that his rockets had been used against Allied cities.
- After the war, he sought out the Americans, and willingly surrendered not only
himself but his whole team. He knew this meant
abandoning his fatherland (and who, in spite of evil leaders, does not have some
heart for his own country?). He became a patriotic, energetic American citizen.
- As soon as he reached America, he was eager to help the American space program.
- He repeatedly gave a full accounting of all his activities during the war, when
interrogated by the government and by suspicious critics.
- Von Braun was awarded top security clearance, with no one questioning
his trustworthiness, and never any hint of a security violation.
- His record since the war speaks for itself. A leopard does not change its
spots. If von Braun were anything less than a man of integrity, bad signs would
have surfaced in the subsequent 32 years in America.
- Soon after the war, the British Interplanetary Society awarded him
an honorary membership in their organization.
Surely if anyone had doubts about his motives and allegiances, it would be
those who were victimized by V-2 rockets raining down on their city.
The story of the surrender is one of those remarkable turning points in
history. It is haunting to think about it in retrospect.
100 members of the Peenemünde Rocket Center
waited in hiding after the German surrender as Allies and Russians combed the land.
They had recently escaped the fear that the SS would destroy them and everything they
had done in one last desperate blow. Marshall Space Flight Centers biography
says, After stealing a train with forged papers, von Braun led 500 people through
war-torn Germany to surrender to the Americans. The SS were issued orders to kill
the German engineers, who hid their notes in a mine shaft and evaded their own army
while searching for the Americans. Von Braun had convinced some SS officers
they needed to retreat to a place safe from attack. Secured in an alpine village,
news reached them April 30, 1945, that Hitler had committed suicide. The guards
left. On May 2, Wernhers youngest brother, Magnus von Braun, rode his bicycle
with a white handkerchief down the hill to look for the Americans; upon finding
them, he told them that the German rocket scientists were waiting to surrender.
A Wisconsin-born private first class who spoke German, Frederick Schneikert, came to the compound and ordered,
Come forward with your hands up! as if they needed any convincing.
Von Braun and all the others were given free choice
whether they wanted to immigrate to America or not.
The historic photo shows von Braun accepting the terms,
his arm in a cast due to a fracture he had suffered during the
traumatic events. Along with the German rocket scientists, their priceless
research documents were recovered from the mine where they had been hidden.
This required hurriedly digging a new tunnel, because they had blasted the entrance
closed to secure it.
Also, parts for about 100 V-2 rockets were spirited to Allied safety
in Austria by May 22, with monumental effort, just days before the Russians gained
control of the territory according to the Yalta agreement. Had the Russians
captured the German rocket scientists and their work, history would likely had been
very different. Knowing the aftermath of the cold war and
the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles bearing nuclear weapons, one wonders
whether there would be an America today.
The German scientists were brought to America under top-secret Operation Paperclip.
When Americans became aware of their presence, there was understandable alarm, and it
took some convincing by the military and the government that
these former inhabitants of an enemy country were now willing American
allies in strategic work. Von Braun was raring to go forward with his research.
This attitude was shared by the entire team, and von Braun was restless at the seemingly
interminable delays and interrogations. Slow progress was made, as freedom was
granted by degrees, until full citizenship; the days of Truman and Eisenhower, the post-war
boom, the threat of communism, none of these deterred von Braun from his dream.
By the fifties, the Air Force, Navy and Army had their own rocket development programs,
often with strong rivalries between them, but von Braun
gained national stature as Americas leading rocket scientist. He became
an icon of space to millions of children at their black and white TV sets on March 9,
1955, with the first of several Walt Disney shows about manned space travel
at the time, still the subject of science fiction. But not for long.
Von Brauns strategic importance to the nation gained a huge and unexpected boost
on October 4, 1957, when historic bleeps were heard beaming down from space, heralding
both hopes and fears. The Russians Sputnik 1 was in orbit.
Reactions were swift and disorderly. Von Braun was not surprised; he had foreseen
this two years earlier, and had warned that the Russians might beat us into space.
His reaction was a politely but sternly worded I-told-you-so, but more than that, an
optimistic appeal about the promise of space flight. But his German team, which was
ready with its Redstone (Jupiter-C) rocket at Huntsville, Alabama (where he resided from
1950 to 1970), was snubbed by the top brass in favor of the Vanguard.
In the rush to catch up just two months after Sputnik 1, and a month after Sputnik 2
carrying the first animal (the dog Laika), the Vanguard launch button was pushed.
To the shocked eyes of already embarrassed Americans, it exploded in a cataclysm of
fire and smoke. The Army Redstone project was given the next shot. On January 31,
carrying a small scientific payload named Explorer 1 developed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Von Brauns Jupiter-C launched the satellite flawlessly into orbit.
The mood in the country was electric. Newspapers trumpeted the news, featuring
the victory picture showing William
Pickering (JPL Director), James Van Allen (whose instruments on this flight detected
the radiation belts bearing his name), and Wernher von Braun holding a replica of
Explorer 1 high overhead. JPL still displays this photograph prominently
in its museum. Of this picture, which symbolizes one of
Americas defining moments, Van Allen said, Wernher, as usual, carries
the brunt of the load.
The 1961 Kennedy speech committing America to put a man on the moon, the Mercury,
Gemini, and Apollo programs all these are oft-told adventure epics. The
subjects of countless documentaries, they need not be repeated in detail here,
though they bear retelling, especially among a rising generation with no first hand
knowledge of those heady days of the space race. Readers are encouraged to
relive the adventure with the well-done HBO documentary series From the Earth
to the Moon, and better yet, visit the National Air and Space
Museum in Washington, DC, with its many originals and replicas of
rockets and spacecraft. Best of all, visit the Kennedy Space Center
at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Take the all-day bus tour where you can walk where Von Braun walked,
see the hangar that served as his office, look at the launch buttons he pushed in
bunkhouses just yards from the early rockets, stand in awe of the Apollo launch pad 39A
(now used for the Space Shuttle), and stare upward at the indescribable hugeness
of the Vehicle Assembly Building where Saturn V rockets rolled out on huge crawlers
a mile to the launch pad. Then end your day at the superb Apollo Saturn V Theater,
where a series of presentations lets you relive the tension of countdown, as you
watch the original flight operations computers come to life with dramatic music
and sound effects and movies on a giant screen, to the dramatic touchdown on the
moon with a lifesize Lunar Module descending to a cratered surface.
In between is the most awesome sight of all: a full-scale Saturn V rocket,
in Smithsonian-mint condition,
horizontally mounted above you in a hangar a quarter mile long. This is a
sight that must be seen to be believed; it is a monument
that should be visited by every American. It will make you proud, and humble.
That something this large, heavy and
complicated, could ever have been built, on schedule, and launched with
100% success every time, is a tribute to thousands of talented and committed people,
and to their leader, their inspiration: Wernher von Braun.
Speaking of leadership, von Braun is a case study par excellence.
His remarkable ability to build, lead, and inspire a team is legendary.
The size and importance of the projects he led to success have few equals, but
even small business managers or scout leaders would do well to learn from his
leadership style. A large and imposing man,
von Braun brought a commanding presence merely by walking into the room.
Yet that was not the secret to his success as a leader.
He was an inspirer, not a dictator.
Ernst Stuhlinger said, ...he possessed ...
an irresistible charm, coupled with almost magic powers of persuasion, which
helped him conquer many hesitant or doubtful minds (Ordway, p. 330).
His leadership ability combined tremendous drive, humor, grace under pressure, dignity, humility,
the power to encourage and inspire, and single-minded vision.
What is the most important thing a man needs, he was once asked, when he
wants to build a spaceship and travel to the moon? The will to
do it! was his instant reply. We have a job to do! was his
positive appeal, in a tone that conveyed excitement and teamwork, and the need to
put aside lesser things.
He could be ruthlessly direct, as when he chided JPL and Army teams for their petty
rivalries during the push to launch Explorer, Are you grown men, or
young schoolboys? Is your precious little ego more important to you than
a satellite in orbit? Now, you go back and work out your differences.
If you cant, I will replace you on this project! But even in
this they knew he was calling them up to a higher standard, not talking them down;
and he subtly complimented their maturity by implying they could solve their
problems without his micromanagement. He led by example, Stuhlinger says:
He had the rare and precious gift of instilling in his many co-workers his own
enthusiasm for hard work and high quality. But he was not only a tough
and demanding task master, he was a path finder and problem solver, and he
always overflowed with an exuberant joy of life that lighted up many dark
chasms on the road to the stars. (Ibid.)
Most of the time, even under stress, von Braun was upbeat and positive
with his team. Michael Collins (Apollo 11 astronaut) said, he
realized that rockets could only be as successful as the people who built them,
and he assembled an extraordinarily talented team, people who worked well with
each other, and who were totally devoted to Wernher (Ordway, p. 330).
He had a warm smile and firm handshake
that would make even a janitor feel important, part of something big.
And he rarely took credit for the successes. He was quick to honor his co-workers
above himself. But the record of his leadership speaks loud and clear:
Collins lists just some of the later accomplishments of those who worked under the leadership
of this warm and friendly man, interested in everyone around him:
Thirty-three Saturn flights, all successful, all without
loss of life, all without weapons ... Saturns sent twenty-seven Americans to
the Moon, twelve of them to walk on it. Saturns sent nine astronauts up
to Skylab, which itself was a converted Saturn upper stage. And, finally,
the last Saturn sent an American crew up to join a Russian spacecraft in
In response, his adopted country showered honors on him, such that he surpassed
Lord Kelvins record (21) for honorary doctorates: von Braun received 25,
along with numerous other medals, awards, and honors from around the world.
In the waning days of his illness, almost too weak to receive it, he accepted
the National Medal of Science from President Gerald Ford, responding to a friend
humbly, Isn't this a great country! Here I have come in from another
country and they give me this wonderful honor. Isnt this a wonderful
country! Today, von Brauns
bust is prominently on display at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville
where he made his greatest contributions. The Von Braun Center hosts the citys
fine arts, and the Von Braun Astronomical Society that he helped found continues
its telescope events. The Von Braun Memorial Lectures continue at the
National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Tour guides at the Kennedy Space Center hold him in high esteem.
Elderly NASA employees who can, brag about having met Dr. Wernher von Braun.
Though nominally Lutheran from his childhood, Wernher von Braun appears to have
gotten serious about his faith only later in life.
Ordway says, Throughout his younger years, von Braun did not show signs
of religious devotion, or even an interest in things related to the church or
to biblical teachings. In fact, he was known to his friends as a merry
heathen (p. 270). In the days of Apollo, however,
through the 1960s and 70s, a new element began to surface in his
conversations, and also in his speeches and his writings: a growing interest
in religious thought. He was not overt or
invasive about it, but it showed, and his scientific colleagues and the press
appear somewhat baffled by it, treating it like some kind of personal quirk,
something they did not expect from a leading rocket scientist pushing the limits
of human achievement.
After the Apollo 11 success, for instance, a reporter
asked him what he was thinking when he gave the final yes for
launch. The reporter must have been surprised at his unabashed answer:
I quietly said the Lords prayer. Ordway
comments that he could have been thinking of a dozen matters at that hectic
moment, but his thought was, Thy will be done.
Having known von Braun so well, Ordway elaborates the prayer for him:
It would have been true to his nature if he had added,
You gave me this love for exploration and adventure and spaceflight,
and also this gift to transform the dreams into reality. I have lived
and worked as one little part of Your boundless creation. If we
succeed with this journey to the Moon, it will be to Your glory.
If we dont, it is Your will. As far as I am concerned, I have
used all the talents You have put into me, and I have done my very
Whether these thoughts actually came to his mind at that moment, nobody
will ever know. (Ordway, pp. 269-270.)
Von Braun was not pushy about religion, but neither was he embarrassed or annoyed by people
asking if he believed in God: Yes, absolutely! would be his
cheerful answer, And then, he would begin to talk in his characteristic
von Braun style, with perfect grammar and syntax, letting his carefully
chosen words flow like a sparkling mountain stream, while he described
his religious convictions with an almost disarming simplicity
(Ordway, p. 270). Especially around 1975 when illness was advancing,
His desire to see the world of science and technology in full
harmony with the world of religion, particularly as it is manifested
in Christian faith, grew even stronger, Ordway says (p. 272).
Whether a direct quote or a paraphrase is not clear, but Ordway has von
Finite man cannot begin to comprehend an omnipresent, omniscient,
omnipotent, and infinite God ... I find it best to accept God through
faith, as an intelligent will, perfect in goodness and wisdom, revealing
Himself through His creation ...
It was surprising to some of von Brauns associates
that in spiritual matters, he would reach so deeply into the realm of
Here Ordway seems to misunderstand his good friend. Faith is not irrational;
it is the rational step beyond the limits of evidence. Von Braun
understood that science can never answer ultimate questions of origins
and destiny, not even why things are the way they are.
Of course von Brauns entire work for space was solidly based
on the exact laws of natural sciences (p. 273), Ordway knows, but
there are limits to science. When von Braun might say, It
is best not to think, but just to believe, his belief was
not irrational belief in something or anything; it had an object: the
revelation of God in the Bible. As a devoted Christian believer,
von Braun had confidence in the word of God. Once a person has the
settled conviction that the Bible is Gods revelation, yes
it is best just to believe it, especially since its message is not
applicable to scientific inquiry. A message like For God so
loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16) is
not an outworking of natural laws and mathematics. It is a
communication from infinite intelligence (and love) to finite
intelligence. Responding to that communication is surely the
most rational thing a scientist can do.
Von Braun often stressed that science and religion are not
antagonists. On the contrary, they are sisters
He had no problem with knowing and believing
living side by side; in fact, he thought it most irrational
to deny the obvious: It is as difficult for me to understand
a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior
rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to
comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science
(American Weekly, Jan. 10, 1960). Science can observe
rationality and order and design, but the details of the Who
behind the grandeur of the cosmos requires revelation.
That von Braun believed in the revelation of Scripture, including
Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins, is clear
from a remarkable essay we quote in its
entirety, found in an Introduction
he wrote for a book on creation.
In regards to creation vs. evolution, von Braun opposed the one-sided
teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public schools. In 1972,
he wrote a letter to the California School Board, which was considering
a controversial bill on the teaching of evolution. He used his
influence as a scientist and well-known public figure to argue that
students need to hear the case for creation:
To be forced to believe only one conclusionthat everything in
the universe happened by chance-would violate the very objectivity
of science itself. Certainly there are those who argue that the
universe evolved out of a random process, but what random process
could produce the brain of a man or the system of the human eye?
Some people say that science has been unable to prove the existence
of a Designer... They challenge science to prove the existence of
God. But, must we really light a candle to see the sun?
We have reproduced this entire letter
on a separate page, along with other
selected writings, since it is always
best to read an author in context, and Dr. Von Brauns own
eloquence could only be tarnished by our embellishment.
For largely political reasons, the mood of the NASA top brass was
changing after the euphoria of Apollo; by the time of Skylab, von
Brauns influence was waning in favor of younger minds and
untested ideas. Noting the sea change, von Braun felt it best
to graciously retire rather than to try to maintain his influence
at NASA headquarters in Washington (though superiors later
acknowledged the wisdom of his advice: he advocated a scaled-down
shuttle, rather than an expensive super model, and James Webb later
admitted this saved the shuttle program from the budget axe).
His Huntsville, Alabama coworkers were dismayed at the attitude in
Washington. They regretted, but understood, his decision;
an effusive outpouring of affection characterized his retirement
party in 1975 at Marshall Space Flight Center.
Von Braun went to work for a very dear friend, Dr. Henry Ulm,
at Fairchild Industries in Virginia.
Unfortunately, the career change was short.
That year, he was diagnosed with cancer, and in spite of a few promising
remissions, it became clear at age 64 his days were numbered.
He looked on the bright side. It gave him quality time with
his wife and two daughters and son, time he had long missed
because of his heavy work load.
Reflecting on his years of building the space
program, he asked colleagues whether he had done the right thing,
considering all the needs of the suffering around the world.
Friends reinforced his own belief that it was worth it.
As it did with Morses telegraph,
new technology brings in its coattails many benefits: jobs,
infrastructure, whole towns of supporting processes, including highways,
restaurants, churches, schools, and charities. Because of the space program,
thousands of people have access to better education and higher-paying
jobs, and the spin-off technologies have improved the lives of millions.
The cost of the space program, a tiny fraction of what the country spends
on entitlements and foreign aid, is more than compensated by the
many benefits that sprang from it, and continue to spring from it,
because the legacy of von Braun lives on in the continued exploration
of space. At this writing, over 100 space shuttle launches have
gathered valuable scientific data about our planet from above, and
additional spacecraft are exploring Mars
and Jupiter and Saturn in ways that would have made von Braun thrilled.
And what value could anyone put on inspiring a whole generation with the
dreams of exploring space? Or taking the world on a great
adventure, fulfilling a monumental goal on schedule,
in spite of enormous obstacles, during a wartime era when a world was in
crisis? For a magical moment, the world stopped its riots and
bombings and stared in fixed silence at the image of Neil Armstrong
stepping of the ladder onto the surface of the moon. Humanity
looked back on the blue gem of earth in its stark contrast to the
blackness of space. Yes, Dr. von Braun, it was worth it.
Wernher von Braun wrote two more things in his last year. One was a book
co-authored with Frederick Ordway called New Worlds, Discoveries
From the Solar System (published posthumously, 1979). It
being a secular science book, von Braun did not discuss religion or faith.
His attitudes about creation were coincident with todays
Intelligent Design Movement, but beyond that, it is not clear how he
felt about Genesis. The book assumes long ages, but interestingly,
there are points here and there where he casts a little doubt about what
the standard evolutionary theories claim. The other writing was a
short introduction to a little paperback book on creation, probably as
a favor to the author, Harold Hill, a friend he apparently
met at Fairchild. Though the body of the book
is eminently forgettable, von Brauns
introduction is not. It contains
some of his most poignant thoughts about science, creation, the Bible, and
the gospel of Jesus Christ. Written when he knew he was dying,
it is doubly powerful as a personal testimony and an expression of
his core beliefs.
Von Braun was visited by many dignitaries and friends as his health
declined, and his funeral was like that of a head of state, attended by
Presidents, astronauts, NASA administrators, personal friends and other
German rocket scientists. The accolades Ordway has reproduced in
his biography are impressive. The NASA Administrator said he
continued in the tradition of Newton and Einstein. President
Carter said all the people of the world had profited from his work.
Major General John Medaris said, His imagination strolled easily
among the stars, yet the farther out into the unknown and
unknowable vastness of Creation his thoughts went, the more he was
certain that the universe, and this small garden spot within it,
came from no cosmic accident, but from the thought and purpose of an
all-knowing God. Von Braun died as he had hoped, with a clear
mind able to experience the transition to the afterlife. According to
Ordway, his last credo was, Thy will be done.
... yes, in earth as it is in heaven.
If you enjoyed this episode,
learn more about great Christians in science by reading
our online book-in-progress:
The World’s Greatest
Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
Copies are also
available from our online store.
A Concise Guide|
You can observe a lot by just watching.
– Yogi Berra
First Law of Scientific Progress
The advance of science can be measured by the rate at which exceptions to previously held laws accumulate.
1. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
2. There are always exceptions to established exceptions.
3. By the time one masters the exceptions, no one recalls the rules to which they apply.
Nature will tell you a direct lie if she can.
So will Darwinists.
Science is true. Don’t be misled by facts.
Finagle’s 2nd Law
No matter what the anticipated result, there
will always be someone eager to (a) misinterpret it, (b) fake it, or (c)
believe it happened according to his own pet theory.
3. Draw your curves, then plot your data.
4. In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.
6. Do not believe in miracles – rely on them.
Murphy’s Law of Research
Enough research will tend to support your theory.
If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.
1. The bigger the theory, the better.
2. The experiments may be considered a success if no more than 50%
of the observed measurements must be discarded to obtain a correspondence
with the theory.
The number of different hypotheses erected to explain a given biological phenomenon
is inversely proportional to the available knowledge.
All great discoveries are made by mistake.
The greater the funding, the longer it takes to make the mistake.
The solution to a problem changes the nature of the problem.
Peter’s Law of Evolution
Competence always contains the seed of incompetence.
An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.
Repetition does not establish validity.
What really matters is the name you succeed in imposing on the facts – not the facts themselves.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
Thumb’s Second Postulate
An easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex, incomprehensible truth.
There is nothing so small that it can’t be blown out of proportion
Hawkins’ Theory of Progress
Progress does not consist in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists
in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.
The best theory is not ipso facto a good theory.
Error is often more earnest than truth.
Advice from Paul|
Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle
babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by
professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.
I Timothy 6:20-21
Song of the True Scientist
O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made
them all. The earth is full of Your possessions . . . . May the glory of the Lord endure forever. May the
Lord rejoice in His works . . . . I will sing to the Lord s long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my
being. May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord. May sinners be
consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!
from Psalm 104
Through the creatures Thou hast made
Show the brightness of Thy glory.
Be eternal truth displayed
In their substance transitory.
Till green earth and ocean hoary,
Massy rock and tender blade,
Tell the same unending story:
We are truth in form arrayed.
Teach me thus Thy works to read,
That my faith,– new strength accruing–
May from world to world proceed,
Wisdom’s fruitful search pursuing
Till, thy truth my mind imbuing,
I proclaim the eternal Creed –
Oft the glorious theme renewing,
God our Lord is God indeed.
– James Clerk Maxwell
One of the greatest physicists
of all time (a creationist).
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