Creation-Evolution Headlines
July 2003
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I can’t help feeling at the same time that this space effort of ours is bigger even than a rivalry between the United States and Russia.  The heavens beyond us are enormous beyond comprehension, and the further we penetrate them, the greater will be our human understanding of the great universal purpose, the Divine Will itself.
– Wernher von Braun, This Week magazine, 01/01/1961.
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Mars Life Stewpots Found?   07/28/2003
Thermal data from
Mars 2001 Odyssey indicate possible warm spots in the Hellas Basin.  That’s all Nick Hoffman at Melbourne University in Australia needed to suggest that these may be ice towers, like those in parts of Antarctica, reports New Scientist.  And if so, why not life?
Warmth, water, what more do you need?  At least the pictures of Antarctic ice towers are interesting.
Next headline on: Mars. •Next headline on: Origin of Life.
DNA End Capping More Complex Than Thought   07/25/2003
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.  It’s apparently a vital part of a normal cell’s operation.  One thing is clear: “the relationships 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.
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA.
Textbooks Fail the Test   07/25/2003
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
Discovery 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) Darwin’s tree of life and the Cambrian explosion, (3) Vertebrate embryos, including Haeckel’s 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 fraudulent?  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 Institute’s grading standards simply reflect the Texas Education Code’s 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 didn’t mention peppered moths or Haeckel’s 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 didn’t explain why this was a challenge to Darwin’s 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 Haeckel’s fudged 1870s drawings – but even then it lied that the early stages of embryos are remarkably alike, which they are not.
    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 Haeckel’s 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 Darwin’s 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.
    Here’s 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 Institute’s document should become righteously angry.
Next headline on: Schools. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Quick Takes    07/24/2003
Sometimes stories come in too fast for our overworked editor to assimilate them.  Some others don’t warrant a detailed treatment.  Here are some items you might like to follow up on yourself:
  • Edible Food Packaging:  EurekAlert says you may soon be able to about wrap your kids’ sandwiches in edible packaging.  Now that’s 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 didn’t 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 Science 07/25/03 studied 56 published phylogenies and believe they support punctuated equilibria.
  • Evolution Conference:  Elizabeth Pennisi covered last month’s 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 evidence 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 Science 07/25/2003Space.Com 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 of Science.  Lunine claims it won’t work and doesn’t fit the data, while Boss argues that the disk can’t last long enough for core accretion (the only competing model) to work.
Many of these subjects have been covered recently in other headlines.  Follow the chain links at the top of the page for related material.
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 doesn’t 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
Proceedings 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 social species.”
    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 ... is limited.”  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, aren’t 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.
    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, Lee’s transfer effects would lead to conservative families rather than to profligate, promiscuous bedlams.  The fact that Lee’s 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 Wolf’s paper shows natural selection is countermanded by indirect genetic effects.  It just won’t work.  You can’t 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.  Let’s 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.
Home Schoolers Find Intact Edmontosaurus Skeleton   07/23/2003
The
Christian home-school group that found the world’s fourth known Allosaurus skull in 2002 has now found an Edmontosaurus in South Dakota, reports a press release from Vision Forum.  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 crocodile’s, 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.
    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.
We All Evolved from Choanoflagellates   07/22/2003
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 life’s 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.”
    This toolkit 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, don’t 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 it belongs.
Next headline on: Origin of Life. • Next headline on: Darwinism. • Next dumb story
Solar Systems Like Ours Rarer Than Predicted   07/21/2003
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. ...
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.
Although the data are still preliminary, current surveys show only about 7% of extrasolar planets have circular orbits.  Future missions like NASA’s 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 ESA’s Darwin will try to glimpse biomarkers in small watery worlds around other stars.
    On a related subject, the BBC News 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 UC Berkeley News.
Lissauer’s 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.
Next headline on: Solar System. • Next headline on: Stars.
Do Fossils Accurately Indicate Past Biodiversity?   07/21/2003
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
Science News, 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 don’t 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.
    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 nautiloids 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 Lyell’s mythoid, the present is not the key to the past.  The past requires a key science cannot provide.
Next headline on: Fossils.
Lucy’s Husband Only Had Eyes for Her   07/21/2003
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 News: “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 Johannson’s 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.
Next headline on: Early Man. • Next dumb story.
Earth Atmosphere Protects from Rock Battlefield   07/21/2003
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
Science News:
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 Earth’s 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 atmosphere.
One less thing for you to worry about.  Have a nice day.
Next headline on: Solar System.
Cell Translation Uses Rotating Locks and Keys   07/21/2003
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
Journal 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 ship’s computer, rotate it precisely, and get the information out?  That’s 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 won’t 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?
Next headline on: The Cell. • Next amazing story.
Is It Scientifically Justifiable to Analyze the Evolution of Rape?   07/18/2003
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
July 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 Palmer’s 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 general.
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 feminist contributions.
    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. Chan’s 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.
    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.  It’s interesting that Thornhill and Palmer’s 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 Bowlby’s ‘environment of adaptedness,’ a description of the dynamic process of interaction that establishes the relationship between mother and infant.”)  We’re all for female choice, he says, and for “nice” mates.  Don’t 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 evil.
    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 neighbor’s wife, or anything that is thy neighbor’s, 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 the people.
*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 Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen, and transsexuals, who say it does not portray them accurately as “women trapped in men’s bodies.”  Does anybody deny that the world has gone mad?
Next headline on: Politics and Ethics. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Another Darwinian Assumption Found Untenable   07/17/2003
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
July 17 issue of Nature tries to explain (emphasis added in all quotes):
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.

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.

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:
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.

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.

Turchin’s 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.”
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?
    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 Yoshida’s 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.
Evolutionists Puzzle Over Ontogeny vs Phylogeny   07/16/2003
“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
July 16 issue of Nature, Axel Meyer praises Alessandro Minelli’s 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 Hobbit’s 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 Darwin’s 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 affect development?
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. Science 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 same 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:
  • 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 something earlier? 
  • 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.
(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.)
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 doesn’t 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.
  1. Developmental 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 made.
  2. 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 doesn’t fit it!  Many vastly divergent organisms share similar developmental pathways, and some closely related species show “surprisingly variable” modes of development.
  3. 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.
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.
Next headline on: Mammals. • Next headline on: Bugs, Arthropods, etc.Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Simplest Protein a “Paradigm of Complexity”   07/15/2003
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
Proceedings 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 hand. 
    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 life’s ability to control the most basic oxygen chemistry.”  Believe it, or not.
Next headline on: The Cell and Biochemistry.
Grand Canyon Sanitized of un-PC Religion?   07/14/2003
Desert View plaque Psalms praising the goodness and wisdom of the Creator are no longer acceptable at Grand Canyon, reports
Arizona 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:
  • 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)
A wide variety of native American art, religious symbols and music is still on display throughout the canyon facilities, however.
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 agency’s attorneys.”  It doesn’t 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.
Political 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?
    The comeback is to make them be consistent.  No fair picking on one religion, or playing favorites.  Surely the ACLU doesn’t want to appear anti-Semitic, right?  So, all native American idolatrous pantheistic symbolism must also go.  (Wouldn’t that make for an interesting backlash; the Indians have 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 don’t let the ACLU make any of this the law, so that the anarchists and relativists and nihilists won’t 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!  Let’s 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 that’s 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 don’t 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.
Bacterial Flagellum Rotation Speed Depends on Proton Flow   07/11/2003
A bacterial motor responds to the fuel available.  Howard Berg of Harvard, one of the world’s 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.”
It’s 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.  It’s what caused Dr. Michael Behe at Lehigh University to ponder, as he saw the diagram in a textbook, “That’s an outboard motor!  That’s designed; that’s 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.
    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 Planet Out of Place, Out of Time   07/10/2003
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 available.  Science 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 Maier’s Law), it’s time to question the assumptions.
Next headline on: Stars. • Next headline on: Solar System.
Horizontal Gene Transfer More Widespread than Thought   07/10/2003
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 organisms.
Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Genes and DNA. • Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
Evolution of Jealousy: Biological or Cultural? (Or Neither?)   07/07/2003
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.  It’s 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.
    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.
Nobel Laureate Prigogine Dies; Brought Physics to Biology   07/05/2003
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?
    The
July 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).”
It’s 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 author’s counter-rebuttals, on TrueOrigin.org.  For the rest of us, don’t 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 Dembski’s 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 Life’s Origin by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen.  Answers in Genesis on June 27 posted an interchange between a reader who apparently misunderstands the implications of Prigogine’s work, and a response by Jonathan Sarfati.
Next headline on: Physics. • Next headline on: Origin of Life.
Metaphors Bewitch You   07/04/2003
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 Paley’s 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 biology’s metaphorical abstractions all too easily become concrete objects and substitute for specific, describable processes.  Maximal diversity becomes evolution’s 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 it out.
    The authors do not explain why natural selection is not a tautology, they just assert that it isn’t.  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 ReMine’s 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 Hussein’s 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.
The Darwinian Reason for Two-Parent Families   07/03/2003
According to Mark Pagel (University of Reading, UK), writing in the
July 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 offspring’s 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 don’t 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.
    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 materialist’s 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.
Did Earth’s Atmosphere Survive the Big Wallop?   07/03/2003
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
July 3 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 fractionation.
(Emphasis added in all quotes.)  It is a relief, therefore, if the scientists don’t 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 didn’t even get into the question of where the Earth got its water.
    It is said that to someone who has only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Impactors are the planetary evolutionists’s hammers that solve every problem.  An impact formed the moon, another brought the earth’s 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 doesn’t do too much or too little damage.  If one’s 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.
Dark Energy: Who Needs It?   07/02/2003
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 doesn’t 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 Nature 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, they’ve got them in a nutshell.  Maybe this is just the British Nature trying to steal the thunder of last week's American Science.
    Next headline on: Cosmology.
  • Century-Old Puzzle of Antarctic Forests Remains Unresolved   07/02/2003
    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
    BBC News, 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.
    See also the 03/02/2003 headline about fossil redwoods in the Arctic.
    Next headline on: Plants. • Next headline on: Fossils.
    Von Braun’s Brother Dies   07/01/2003
    Magnus von Braun, the younger brother of the more famous rocket scientist (our
    Scientist of the Month), died June 27, reports the Huntsville Times (Huntsville was the site of von Braun’s 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.
    Next headline on: Solar System and Space Exploration. • Next headline on: Politics, Ethics and History.
    The Mystery of the Ultra-Pure Sandstones   07/01/2003
    R. H. Dott, Jr (Univ. of Wisconsin) has a problem.  He’s 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 can’t really be there”).  These pure quartz arenites, as they are called, were considered a major puzzle half a century ago, when Dr. Dott was a student.  Some of them “extend laterally over vast areas encompassing one or several states,”  and they cover vast areas of Africa and Arabia, the Great Lakes region, South America, Australia, and more.  These “sheet sands” (as they are nicknamed) are part of a notorious gang: “Together with the origin of dolomite, red beds, black shale, and banded iron formation, they made up a group of seemingly intractable geological problems” (emphasis added in all quotes).
        Dott tells autobiographically, “Having lived literally upon quartz-rich sandstones for almost 50 years, I have come to regard supermature quartz arenites as nature’s finest distillate—almost as remarkable as a pure single malt Scotch whiskey.”  In the
    July 2003 Journal of Geology, he has written a lengthy paper addressing the mystery of the quartz arenites, and the status of current hypotheses.  It amounts to a veritable State of the Century address to sandstone geologists.  He explains the puzzle in the Introduction:
    What is the quartz arenite problem?  Foremost is the extreme compositional maturity of sandstones composed of more than 95% quartz.  Furthermore, the quartz consists almost exclusively of grains of unstrained, single-crystal units.  Very rare lithic [rock] fragments consist only of durable polycrystalline quartz types such as chert or vein quartz.  In addition, the extremely rare accessory mineral suite (generally <0.05% by weight) is dominated by durable zircon, tourmaline, ilmenite, and leucoxene.  Where present, associated conglomerates also consist only of durable clasts of vein quartz, quartzite, or chert.  How can we explain the complete disposal of at least 75% of any ultimate parent igneous or metamorphic rock to yield a residue that is at least 95% quartz sand?

    Extreme textural maturity is also characteristic of many, but not all, examples.  A high degree of sorting has always been emphasized, with high rounding being common but not universal.  Both properties imply much abrasion by one or more of nature’s most physically vigorous processes, such as surf and strong eolian [wind] or aqueous currents.

    Dr. Dott mentions additional puzzles about these formations:
    1. Thin, tabular geometry: layers tens or hundreds of meters thick, very flat over vast regions, yet Paleozoic in age – i.e., prior to the emergence of land plants.
    2. A paucity of associated shale, in contrast to other sandstones.
    3. Interstratified with shallow marine carbonate strata.
    4. A lack of volumetrically significant analogues forming today (i.e., nothing on that scale can be seen forming now).  This implies weathering processes orders of magnitude greater in the past.
    5. Very rare body fossils, and some burrows.
    6. Frosting of the grains, making the rough on microscopic scales.
    7. Underlying mature shale high in kaolinite (clay) or illite.
    8. Even more pure quartz arenites, even thousands of meters thick, in Precambrian strata.
    9. Many of them underlain by paleosols (ancient soils) that show a high degree of chemical maturation.
    According to Dott, wind erosion is the most efficient, but not the only, agent for rounding of the sand grains.  Some geologists have resorted to theories of multicycling to explain the weathering and maturation of the grains, but theories of single cycles “under intense tropical weathering” also go back decades, and he cannot rule them out.  (Though there are small examples forming in isolated river deltas today, their grains are not nearly as rounded.)  The chemical maturation suggests that impurities were dissolved away, a process called diagenesis, but that is not possible in the presence of wind.
        The paradox of the compositional maturation of the sand “seems to require some additional factor to reconcile geomorphic conditions that could have enhanced the transport and abrasion of enormous volumes of pure quartz sand, on the one hand, but could have allowed exceptional chemical maturation of soils on the other hand, as indicated by profiles beneath, and the composition of pelitic [mud, clay] strata interstratified within, many quartz arenites.”
        Dott introduces his theory at this point.  To solve the paradox, he postulates thin microbial crusts or mats of cyanobacteria formed over the soils, similar to the stromatolites and cryptogamic soils seen forming in some regions today.  These might have protected the underlying paleosols while allowing wind transport of sand above.  The lack of trees and shrubs might have allowed much more energetic winds.  This assumes that the first land invaders were cyanobacteria, although “the fossil record has seemed mute” on this point.  In a sense, these crusts formed a cap that protected the lower strata while the high winds deposited the sand (although he does not propose sources for the sand).
        He ends with one other paradox; without land plants, unless the landscape were perfectly flat, how could it be stable enough to allow the chemical weathering of both the sand and underlying paleosols?  “The abundance of medium-grained to coarse-grained sand and associated pebbles required streams with sufficient gradients to transport such materials, which in turn points to at least moderate topographic relief, which exacerbates the stabilization problem,” he says.  His best guess, in conclusion, is the microbial mat theory; this formed a crust enough to stabilize the landscapes for up to two billion years while these puzzling structures formed.
    This was an interesting paper about an interesting puzzle that some readers may wish to investigate further.  Does his explanation satisfy you?  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, “nature’s finest distillate.”  Notice how they give evidence of being deposited via nature’s most vigorous and energetic forces.  Doesn’t this sound like global cataclysm?  Since catastrophism is back in vogue, should we not follow the evidence where it leads?
        Consider the tremendously thick sandstones in the Grand Canyon that cover hundreds of square miles (some of them much of North America).  Nothing 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.
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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 Braun’s childhood.

    “It’s 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 Braun’s 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 — dreams by 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 we’re going to reveal a lesser-known side of von Braun, a spiritual side that kept him humble, grateful, unselfish, and strong.  We’ll 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.  We’ll see a model of leadership that success-bound corporate heads would do well to emulate.  Maybe you didn’t 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 America’s 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 America’s horror on international TV, are now folklore, illustrations of Murphy’s Law set to circus calliope music.  But once President Kennedy put von Braun in the driver’s seat, his string of spectacular successes left the Russians in the dust.  On January 31, 1958, von Braun’s Redstone rocket successfully lifted America’s 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 Braun’s 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 Braun’s 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 mankind’s 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 Braun’s 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 of us.” 

    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 rockets.

    Not disheartened, young Werner read Hermann Oberth’s visionary book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space and studied Kepler’s 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 Braun’s 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 mankind—to travel to the stars—appears 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 army.

    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 army’s Peenemünde Rocket Center is legendary; it launched Wernher von Braun into the forefront of the world’s 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 Braun’s 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 Hitler’s 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 Braun’s 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 Braun’s 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 Hushai’s 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 team’s 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 Braun’s 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:

    1. Von Braun was arrested and jailed by the Gestapo.
    2. He was charged with resisting the military use of his rockets, and trying to escape.
    3. Himmler’s 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 white supremacist.
    4. The evil uses of his rockets occupied only a few months at the end of the war.
    5. 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.
    6. He used his influence to argue for more time (delaying tactics) and better conditions for the prisoners.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. As soon as he reached America, he was eager to help the American space program.
    11. He repeatedly gave a full accounting of all his activities during the war, when interrogated by the government and by suspicious critics.
    12. Von Braun was awarded top security clearance, with no one questioning his trustworthiness, and never any hint of a security violation.
    13. 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. 
    14. 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.
    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 alive today.

    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 Center’s 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, Wernher’s 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 America’s 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 Braun’s 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 Braun’s 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 America’s 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 can’t, 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 earth orbit.

    In response, his adopted country showered honors on him, such that he surpassed Lord Kelvin’s 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.  Isn’t this a wonderful country!”  Today, von Braun’s bust is prominently on display at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville where he made his greatest contributions.  The Von Braun Center hosts the city’s 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 Lord’s 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 don’t, 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 best.”  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 Braun saying,

    “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 Braun’s associates that in spiritual matters, he would reach so deeply into the realm of the irrational.

    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 Braun’s “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 God’s 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”  (Hill, intro.).  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 conclusion—that 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 Braun’s 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 Braun’s 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 Morse’s 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 today’s 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 Braun’s 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.


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    The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
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    A Concise Guide
    to Understanding
    Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Souder’s Law
    Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Advice from Paul

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

    I Timothy 6:20-21

    Song of the True Scientist

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

    from Psalm 104

    Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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