Evolution 101: Pro-Evolution Educational Website Opens 02/29/2004
Berkeley has a new website for educators and students named
For students, it presents topics on (1) Nature of Science, (2) Evolution
101, (3) Evidence, (4) Relevance of Evolution, (5) Misconceptions,
and (6) History of Evolutionary Thought. For teachers, there is
additional material on (6) Teaching Evolution,
(7) Overcoming Roadblocks, (8) Potential Pitfalls, (9) Readings and
This website is nicely designed and easy
to use. It was probably written in response to what Darwin Party
defenders like Eugenie Scott lamented about the anti-evolution websites
that some teachers are using (see 02/27/2004
entry). The typical arguments and just-so stories are all here,
simplified and easily digested without much thought,
along with preventive medicine to anesthetize uncooperative students.
Some of the answers are really lame (see
of life, for instance; it sidesteps
the issue, tells big lies with
glittering generalities and
illustrates it with cartoon humor).
This website wont teach students much about evolution, but it
could provide a good practice pad for baloney
We Dont Know How We Know that Genes Make Minds 02/29/2004
The Darwin Party does not want students to
know the best arguments for intelligent design or best evidences for
They want to construct a straw man to quell
the opposition, and via
present a sanitized, non-threatening version of evolution.
The opposition wants students to thoroughly understand both sides.
Like Phillip Johnson often remarks, he wants students to learn more
evolution than the schools are teaching them. That includes the
many deep and serious problems and controversies involved in all aspects of the
The best proposal would be to allow students to compare
and contrast this site with some of the best anti-evolution websites
entry, for instance, and take your pick from
It may be too late, however. A leading creationist professor (with
a PhD from Harvard who studied under Stephen Jay Gould)
recently remarked that, in his experience, todays students are
so clueless about history and science that teaching either view would
be unlikely to produce any effect other than a glazed stare.
Young people have no knowledge of the issues involved in the Scopes
Trial or any number of other subjects related to creation vs. evolution.
He said the only topic they can speak on with any interest is the latest
movie. Perhaps the dumbing down of America has made the
Understanding Evolution website an exercise in futility
for the masses. We hope any students reading Creation-Evolution
Headlines are glorious exceptions.
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
If the mind can be explained from the workings of the brain, and the
brain develops by direction from our genes, Anthony Monaco (Oxford) writes,
then presumably the mind can be explained from our genetic make-up.
But how can only 30,000 genes make a brain with billions of neurons and
encode the particular aspects of cognition that make us human?
This question opens his book review of
The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities
of Human Thought by Gary Marcus (Basic Books, 2004) in the Feb. 19 issue of
Nature.1 Monaco describes the books proposed
answers to two paradoxes: (1) how a small number of genes codes for millions
of neurons, and (2) how the brain can code for flexibility: How does the
brain of a newborn, with its complex structures and connections, have the
plasticity to enable it to respond to environmental influences as it
He seems to agree with the view of author Gary Marcus,
a cognitive psychologist,
that the brain is built by genes in a self-organized way before being
reorganized and shaped by experience and the environment. It is not a
battle where one side wins, but a vital interaction. But how
do we get from genes to mind, to cognition, thought and reason?
Having clarified these two paradoxes using our current knowledge of
genetics and neuroscience, can we explain how genes make minds?
The story is only beginning. This book shows that genes build
brains and that brains are designed to be flexible and to learn, but
the jump from genes to the mind is an indirect one. The question
cannot yet be answered, and it is not entirely clear where the answer
will come from.
Cognitive psychologists and neurologists have some clues, aided by
real-time imaging techniques, but Monaco warns that
The path ahead to integrate these disciplines to gain a fuller
understanding is optimistically vague.... He warns readers
about the sheer complexity of the science.
1Anthony P. Monaco, A recipe for the mind,
Nature 427, 681 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427681b.
A naturalistic explanation for the mind, soul and spirit does not seem
to be forthcoming, does it? (By explanation we do not
mean a just-so story; those are always in plentiful supply.)
Was There a Single Common Ancestor for All Life? 02/29/2004
Next headline on:
Genetics and DNA
Lucy (the alleged human ancestor) had a distant ancestor named LUCA.
Thats the assumption of many evolutionary biologists. LUCA,
the Last Universal Common Ancestor, is the mother of us all: the
bird and the worm, the bee and the flower, the man and his dog.
In the Darwinian creation story, sex had not yet evolved, so there was
no Adam or Eve or Tree of Life in a garden, but instead, a
single, unicellular, primitive ancestor at the root of the Darwinian
tree of life (see 08/11/2003,
and 11/06/2002 entries).
If LUCA is long gone in an unmarked grave, how do we know she (or it)
existed? That is the subject of a News Feature by John Whitfield
in the Feb. 19 issue of
Nature.1 As expected, Charles Darwin sets the stage:
Probably all of the organic beings which have ever lived on this Earth have descended from some one primordial form, Darwin wrote in his Origin of Species, published in 1859. Darwin had no way to peer that far back in time. But genome sequencing has given researchers hope that they can finally learn something about the ancestor of all life. In 1999, they even gave it a name, LUCA, for the last universal common ancestor.
Finding LUCA is easier said than done. Whitfield laments:
Yet despite the wealth of genomic data, LUCA has proven
elusive. In theory, remnants of the organism from which
all life evolved should be scattered around modern
genomes. But so far, efforts to reconstruct LUCA's genes by
building family trees from modern sequences have ended in frustration.
Basic questions about LUCAs nature remain unanswered.
Did it live in a hot-water environment, such as a hydrothermal vent at
the bottom of the ocean, or in cooler conditions at the ocean surface?
Was LUCA simple, like a bacterium, or more complex?
Whitfield is not about to let frustration lead to depression.
He thinks there are clues that an answer may be forthcoming.
One suggested answer, however, reflects a major change in thinking
about what kind of critter LUCA was:
From all this work, one of the more surprising theories to
emerge may also help to explain why LUCA has been so hard to find.
Perhaps it wasnt a single organism at all. Instead,
most researchers now believe we should think of LUCA as a pool of genes
shared among a host of primitive organisms.
Phylogenetic analysis (building trees from diverse genomes) presents
serious statistical difficulties (see
Also, not all evolutionists agree on whether LUCA was a hyperthermophile (a hot
water lover) or lived near the cool ocean surface. Furthermore,
only 60 universal genes have been found between the major
kingdoms too few by a factor of ten or more to code for a free-living
organism. For these reasons, a single LUCA at the base of the tree of
life is becoming increasingly difficult to accept:
The naive picture that a group of organisms
got all their genes from a simple last common ancestor is breaking
down, says microbiologist Gary Olsen of the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign. In its place, the image of a
sophisticated, global community is emerging, he says.
In the past two years, it feels like its fallen together into
a coherent picture. Rather than a last common ancestor,
LUCA may have been a last common community.
According to some evolutionary biologists, the implications for LUCA
are strange indeed. If a single LUCA laid the foundations for
the modern diversity in membranes, metabolism and so on, it must have
had several different versions of many important genes, in addition to the
universal 60. Later lineages would each have pruned all but one
from this set, giving rise to the current diversity in basic biochemical
pathways. The idea that organisms become more complex rather than
less as you get closer to the root of the tree of life is impossible
to swallow, says [David] Saul [U. of Auckland, NZ]. A single LUCA
would have to have had the most bizarre biochemistry imaginable.
One top of that is the growing realization that horizontal gene transfer
ran rampant among early unicellular organisms. To Carl Woese (U. of Illinois),
that prospect is as deadly to evolutionary biology as a fox in
a hen house. It would have scrambled the genetic record,
rendering LUCA unknowable. That is why Woese proposed
the community hypothesis, a world in which genes acted like
modules, able to function on their own. Whitfield elaborates:
Ultimately, around 3.5 billion years ago, the modern domains of life
would have emerged from the gene-swapping mêlée with many of the
genes from the last common community riding on their coat-tails.
Inheritance and mutation would then have replaced gene transfer as the
most important source of biological novelty as cells became more complex
and their functions became less interchangeable. This point, says Woese,
was the true origin of species, and so he has christened it the
Interesting in theory, but would it work? Others are
not so sure it wouldnt create bigger difficulties.
One resulting problem that would have irked Darwin:
...Patrick Forterre of the Paris-Sud University in Orsay and the Pasteur
Institute in Paris, ... says the communal LUCA notion doesnt fit with
the way evolution works. To think of LUCA in terms of a
community is to remove the idea of darwinism from early evolution,
he says. Although LUCA undoubtedly swapped genes with its neighbours,
Forterre argues that it would also have competed with them and ultimately
triumphed through some key innovation.
Theres another difficulty with Woeses idea. Mathematicians
from the University of Alberta found that a gene-swapping community in a
world of competing resources would have been unstable. In other
words, they say, the commune would have fallen apart.
Woese shrugs off those problems, confident a different
mathematical model might be found to work. Whitfield and Woese both remind
us, though, that all these difficulties and disagreements ride on top of
another, more serious difficulty, even farther back in the hidden past:
Of course, finding LUCA would not solve the puzzle of how life began.
The idea of a last common community, with a communally sophisticated
biochemistry, raises another question: how did all this evolve?
This is for someone else to answer, says Woese. We
dont understand how to create novelty from scratch thats
a question for biologists of the future.
1John Whitfield, Origins of life: Born in a watery commune,
Nature 427, 674 - 676 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427674a.
Welcome to the biology of the future.
It is called Intelligent Design. It uses well-understood principles
of design detection and information theory. It can be summarized,
the essence of life is information (see 12/30/2003,
If the essence of life is information, the essence of information
is intelligent design.
No Man Is an Island We Are the World 02/28/2004
We quoted extensively from Whitfields article to
let you watch the Civil War going on in the Darwin Party.
Both sides know they have problems, but their hypotheses each falsify
one another, and neither fits the data.
If LUCA is unknowable, it is not science, it is
religion (see 12/27/2003 entry).
Belief in a LUCD (Living Universal Common Designer) has far fewer intellectual
difficulties and fits the data like a hand in a glove.
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Myriads of organisms live in and on our bodies, reminds
an article in the Feb. 27 issue of
and theyre not just freeloaders on a hayride.
We need them, and they need us.
We are not alone, claim the three microbiologist authors,
but we get by with a little help from our (little) friends.
Is this an uneasy truce between enemies, or a loving relationship
between friends, promoting health and happiness? Microbiologists have tended
to investigate the nasty germs, but does that focus give a distorted picture?
the authors note, we know far less about the thousands of species that make up
our intrinsic microbiota than we know about the few dozen microbes that
cause disease. We need to start thinking of ourselves as communities,
Genomic and evolutionary analyses show us that we are not the single
individuals that we think we are. Instead, we and other
complex organisms are composed of an interconnected ecosystem
of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells whose interactions can best be
understood in the context of community ecology.
The authors feel the community is a result of coevolution, but seem
somewhat befuddled at the growing realization that many of our beneficial
bacteria share mechanisms with the harmful ones. Friend or foe,
The historical emphasis on pathogenic bacteria and their diseases has
led to an assumption that genes encoding virulence factors are
specific to those relationships. However, several of the cellular and
molecular mechanisms that underlie interactions between an animal and its
beneficial microbiota are remarkably similar to those first found in
pathogens. Svanborg described how molecules that enhance
persistence at a site where a given microbe is a member of the normal
microbiota can be the very factors that promote disease when these
bacteria emigrate to other sites of the body.... Thus, the presence of
these genes may indicate the potential for host interactions, which may
be pathogenic or benign according to how these genes are regulated or
the sensitivity of the tissue in which they are expressed.
The Type III secretion systems, for instance, first described
as a mechanism by which animal pathogens hijack their hosts cell biology,
have been implicated in mutualistic associations between nonpathogenic
bacteria and their hosts. The study of these heretofore
misunderstood relationships, they say, forms a wide-open frontier
with big paradigm shifts ahead:
As the depth of host-microbe interactions and
underlying them continue to be unraveled, fundamental paradigms of
pathogenic microbiology, developmental biology, and immunology will need
to be reevaluated. For this reason, a specific recommendation
arising from the workshop is that biology be taught in a new way,
incorporating our growing knowledge about the importance of beneficial
microbial interactions and their evolutionary, ecological, and
biochemical impact on both animals and plants.
1Edward Ruby, Brian Henderson, Margaret McFall-Ngai,
Microbiology: We Get By with a Little Help from Our (Little) Friends,
One of the most frequent and hard-to-answer
criticisms of creation science has been the presence of pathogens.
Bacteria and viruses, if designed, would seem to be the nefarious products of a malevolent
genius rather than of a compassionate Creator. This was one of the main
reasons for Darwins slide to agnosticism, from youthful admiration of Paley
to middle-aged rejection of Christianity, revelation and purpose in nature.
While most people can appreciate the abundant evidences of design
in nature, creationists have
been hard pressed to explain disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
A Weed Is a Nice Plant at the Wrong Party 02/28/2004
But what if they were beneficial living machines running wild,
out of bounds and out of control? The Type III secretion system
looks like a weapon, designed to inject poison into
a hapless victim. But could it have originally been like a compassionate
hypodermic needle, intended for good? Instead of weapons, were
pathogens originally regulatory devices, meant to act as governors on our
Do our metaphors mislead us?
After all, too much of a good thing can be bad. We need accelerators,
but we need brakes, too.
These authors seem open to the possibility that harmful pathogens
may be the exception rather than the rule. They point out that
beneficial interactions probably vastly outnumber harmful ones, and at least some
of the harmful ones may be beneficial interactions out of kilter.
Their chosen belief is that these interactions coevolved on the long
Darwinian road from bacteria to man, but this fails to explain the intricate
design of even the one-celled organisms. There is an alternative
explanation that should not be arbitrarily dismissed, because it explains
good design gone bad: the
because of sin.
See also 03/14/2003 and
02/21/2002 entries on this subject, and
also the next headline, below.
Next headline on:
How do weeds go wild? That is a question investigated by
on Feb. 20.1 A complex relationship between a plant and its microbial
partners may keep it in check. Transplant that species to an unfamiliar
territory, and it may go out of control because it no longer has its
restraining pathogens, or natural enemies (if that metaphor is
useful: see 07/03/2003 entry).
Experiments on knapweed have shown two processes at work:
Enemies clearly matter, and thats especially true in the old country.
When the researchers grew knapweed in French soil, it fared better in soil that
had been previously planted with bunchgrass than with knapweed--presumably
because the bunchgrass soil had not accumulated knapweed-specific pathogens.
But it appears that enemies arent the whole story. Montana soil
showed the opposite pattern: Knapweed planted in soil that had grown knapweed
did better there than in once-grassy soil, the team reports in the 19 February
issue of Nature. They think that invasive knapweed has not only
escaped its natural pathogens in Montana but is modifying the soil to its
own advantage, perhaps by cultivating helpful mycorrhizal fungi.
This suggests that the contribution of soil organisms in invasiveness is
two-fold: [Invasives] escape from the bad guys and [get] help from the good
guys, notes Wim Van der Putten of the Centre for Terrestrial Ecology in
Heteren, The Netherlands.
1Erik Skogstad, How Weeds Go Wild,
Now Feb 20, 2004.
The article starts with the language of warfare, but is it misleading?
Superstar Challenges Theory 02/28/2004
It may not make great action footage for nature documentaries, but plants
are in constant battle with each other--for space, light, water--and with
soil pathogens that threaten to kill or stunt them. Now its becoming
clear just how important this subterranean struggle can be. Plants that
escape their natural soil-borne enemies, and strike up alliances with
friendly microbes, can become aggressive invaders.
This Malthusian, dog-eat-dog imagery may be opposite the truth
(see 07/04/2003 entry.)
If the plants and their soil organisms are in a balance of growth and
regulation, that can be a picture a peaceful homeostasis just as much as the
regulation that goes on inside a single cell: agonist and antagonist,
on-switch and off-switch, accelerator and brake.
Imagine instead a post-Fall and post-Flood world.
After a worldwide flood and ice age, the ecology was radically changed with
continents having drifted apart and land bridges vanished under rising seas.
New groups of organisms, now isolated from one another, settled into new levels
of mutual regulation suitable for their climate. The more isolated the
environments became, the more damage an invasive species could cause.
Increasing human migrations accelerated the upsets to ecologies that had become
established over thousands of years (e.g., the importation of tumbleweeds
to the western United States by Russian immigrants, Dutch elm disease, etc.).
An original worldwide balance in nature was replaced by islands, each
balanced internally, but out of balance with each other.
All human investigators have the same data available for study.
Darwinian struggle, Biblical paradise lost your metaphor
will affect how you look at the data, and what questions you will find
Next headline on:
A new record holder has been found for biggest star: LBV 1806-20 in
Sagittarius. According to the NewsNotes entry on p. 20 of the April 2004
issue of Sky and Telescope, the star is up to 3 times hotter than the
surface of our sun, and has a diameter 200 times as big.
Most interesting is the stars mass, estimated to be
150 solar masses perhaps more. That ought to make stellar
theorists sit up and take notice. No star can survive with more than
about 100 or 120 solar masses, according to well-established theory.
Theories, like Olympic records, are made
to be broken. Let facts be true, and every theory a liar.
Anthropic Principle Wont Go Away 02/28/2004
The news item on the next page, Getting to Know Our
Stellar Neighbors, reports results of a survey of all the stars within
10 parsecs (about 32.6 light-years) of our sun. Surprisingly, small
red dwarfs rule, nearly 12 times more numerous than stars like our sun.
This provides more evidence against the belief that Earth
orbits an ordinary star. Also, the habitable zone around a red dwarf is
much narrower, lowering the probability life could exist around such a
star. The astronomer doing the survey, Todd Henry,
believes the constraint is balanced by the sheer numbers of red dwarfs,
but what is the chance an earthlike planet would be found in a circular
orbit within such a narrow ring, when even around our sun the habitable zone
represents a small fraction of the radius of our solar system?
One might almost suspect our location, at just the right distance around
the right kind of star, was intelligently designed (see next headline).
Next headline on:
The so-called Anthropic Principle is the observation that
the universe, whether by accident or design, appears to have been
fine-tuned for our existence. Dating back decades, if not
centuries, the idea has been alternately criticized and seriously
pondered by the worlds greatest cosmologists. During the 1990s
the idea was ridiculed to the point that, if you mentioned the a
word at an astronomy conference, you risked being pelted with eggs.
to Dan Falk in the March 2004 issue of Sky and Telescope (pp. 42-47),
it is undergoing a surprising resurgence. Several
astronomers used the a word at a UC Davis conference in
March 2003 and left with clean clothes and thoughtful hearers.
Falk lists some of the cosmic coincidences
that seem designed for our benefit: (1) the strength of gravity,
(2) the smoothness of the Big Bang, (3) The masses of subatomic particles,
(4) the strength of the strong nuclear force, and (5) the magnitude of
the cosmological constant. There are many other parameters, from
atomic to planetary to cosmic, that have been cited in the debate.
Some of the parameters
Falk lists are recent additions, especially #5. He cites Linde claiming
that the cosmological constant is just slightly above zero, yet
120 orders of magnitude smaller than expected. If it were
much higher, stars and galaxies could not exist.
Are the life-favoring values of these physical constants due to luck,
or are they evidence for a benevolent Creator?
Falk quotes Paul Davies, Andrei Linde, and other advocates and
naysayers. Some, like Stephen Weinberg, think it
argues for a multiverse (the idea that our universe is the
lucky one out of many, perhaps an infinite number of universes).
Surprisingly, Falk gives this bizarre interpretation the best press,
calling it more or less established as a viable scientific
idea if not an immediately testable hypothesis. Others, however,
like David Spergel (Princeton) think the A.P. commits
Perhaps the most telling criticism of the A.P. is by David Gross,
a string theorist (UCSB). Falk says that Gross considers it a
dangerous explanation, because it plays into the hands of
Intelligent Design supporters, who feel that the universe was
custom-made for human beings by a benevolent God (Falks
paraphrase). In Grosss words, It smells of religion,
and like religion, it cant be disproved. Spergel is
similarly disdainful: Some people invoke miracles to explain the
underlying processes in evolution, and some people invoke the anthropic
principle to explain the underlying processes of cosmology.
To him, this is intellectual surrender, claiming that things we dont
understand are things we will never understand.
Here we see the Elephant in the Living Room
phenomenon. Design in nature is the elephant, and the cosmologists
are the investigators explaining why the elephant is not really there.
The elephant, however, continues to make its presence known, denials
How Science Reports the School
Controversies Over Darwinism 02/27/2004
Find the contradiction in the statements above.
Gross criticizes religion because it cannot be disproved, but can
multiple universes be disproved? There is no way to observe or
test the existence of multiple universes; the whole notion was invented
to get around the obvious evidence for design in our
universe. It is our universe that is subject to observation
and testing, not some hypothetical multiverse. That makes the
multiverse explanation essentially a religious notion.
And cannot a religion
be disproved? Some can, if they make statements about the world or
the universe that can be tested. If a religion teaches that the earth
sits on top of a turtle or is held up by Atlas,
you can check from a spacecraft. If Mormonism teaches that American
Indians are descendants of Israelites, you can compare their DNA (see
DNA vs. the Book of Mormon).
Why doesnt Gross get on Andre Lindes case? He is a
Hindu. Doesnt an infinite series of multiple universes play
into the hands of his religious beliefs?
Gross might reply that no amount
of evidence will convince a believer. OK, lets apply that
standard to the Darwinians. No hypocrisy here; the Darwin Party
always goes where the evidence leads (see 02/27/2004
entry, for example). If evidence for design is staring them in
the face, they will go to the lengths of proposing hypothetical infinite
universes, which can never be observed, to maintain their faith in
Pope Darwin (see 02/13/2004 entry).
Spergel seems to be thinking of theistic evolutionists when he says, Some
people invoke miracles to explain the underlying processes in evolution.
Yet that is exactly what fundamentalist Darwinians do, when they incessantly
trust in the mythical powers of emergence
(see 02/25/2003 commentary).
This is intellectual surrender as much as any easy-believism in religion.
On the contrary, the Design perspective has a track record as a driving
force for discovery in the history of science (see online
The Gross fear that the anthropic principle plays into the
hands of Intelligent Design supporters betrays naked atheistic bias.
He will not allow non-skeptics into the room to declare, There is an
elephant in here! No, that is intellectual surrender.
We must find a different explanation
for this pain on my foot. Those are the rules. No elephants
allowed. That is how science must be done. Keep looking.
Next headline on:
In the Feb. 28 issue of
Constance Holden reports on the battles over Darwinism vs. creationism in
schools across the United States. The tone is one of military alarm.
Here is the score as Science sees it (emphasis, underlining and brackets ours):
The article expresses the mood of alarm felt by evolution-only advocates:
- Georgia school officials took a big step back from opening the door
to creationism last week. They provisionally restored evolution and
some other key scientific concepts to the states proposed curriculum
standards, after dropping them from earlier drafts. But although
science educators see it as a victory, the Georgia dispute is just
one of several ongoing battles over the teaching of evolution in the
nations schools. ...
On 19 February, the Georgia Board of Education approved proposed
curriculum standards consistent with support of evolution after initially
proposing standards that not only left out the word evolution
but omitted major concepts in both physical and biological sciences.
The ensuing uproar (Science, 6 February, p. 759) drove State
Superintendent Kathy Cox to restore the e word.
Scientists continued to press for restoration of key features
such as plate tectonics and the age of Earth, however, and last week the
board approved a version that contains most of the omitted material.
A final vote is set for June.
[see 01/30/2004 entry.]
- In Ohio, where ID promoters were beaten back 2 years ago,
the state Board of Education this month voted 13-4 to approve a chapter
called Critical Analysis of Evolution in the model teaching
guide for 10th grade biology. Critics have complained
that the chapter relies heavily on a popular ID text, Jonathan
Wellss Icons of Evolution, and refers students to Web sites
that promote the concept. A final vote is scheduled for next month.
- The issue has also raised its head in neighboring Michigan,
where Grand Blanc school officials are weighing proposals that would
add both creationism and Bible study to the curriculum. A petition
asking for equal time for creationism and evolution was presented
to the school board by a high school student who is also the daughter
of a board member.
- In Darby, Montana, a nasty dispute has broken out over a
proposal by a local minister, Curtiss Brickley, to encourage teachers
to look at evidence for and against various scientific theories,
evolutionary theory in particular. Weve been told that
fights have actually broken out on the school grounds, says
Skip Evans of NCSE, which monitors the issue.
- Missouri Representative Wayne Cooper has introduced a bill,
HB911, that would require equal treatment for ID and evolution,
starting in 2006, and would sack teachers who refuse.
- An Alabama bill, SB336, would protect teachers from getting
into trouble for teaching creationism. I think there is
a tremendous ill balance in the classroom, says the bills sponsor,
Democratic Senator Wendell Mitchell.
- In Minnesota ... the latest state science teaching standards may
be weakened if the legislature chooses to include a minority report
authored by ID supporters. The current commissioner of education,
Cheri Yecke, believes the decision on whether to teach creationism should
be left up to local school districts.
[see 01/22/2004 entry.]
- And in Texas, a citizens group this week alleged that
antievolution members of the state board of education have been
ordering textbook publishers to correct errors, quotes
in original] identified by creationist groups.
[See Constance Holdens account of the Texas controversy,
11/15/2003 entry; also see
The article includes a map that shows that Proposals to encourage
teaching creationism and intelligent design have been
advanced in 37 states since 2001.
- The flurry of fights at both local and state levels reflects the
pervasiveness of resistance to evolutionary theory, says biologist
Randy Moore of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Its
relentless. It comes up just about everywhere. And its not
going away, he says.
- Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
in El Cerrito, California, believes that the timing is not a coincidence.
Its an election year, she says, meaning that there is a
heightened awareness of hot-button issues among both politicians and the public. ...
Theres a lot of support out there for this view, says Scott: The
Teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution language appeals
to the spirit of fairness in
- Scientists should not underestimate the threat to science
from such grassroots efforts, says Moore: In every survey that Ive
seen data for, 15% to 20% of high school biology teachers teach
creationism. University faculty have no idea what is happening
in high school classrooms across the country.
1Constance Holden, CREATIONISM:
Georgia Backs Off a Bit, But in Other States Battles Heat Up,
Volume 303, Number 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, p. 1268.
Its always interesting to watch the
spin the Darwin Party Defenders put on this issue. This article is
not as bad as some, but the imagery is still not subtle. Here are
the tricks of their trade:
Evolution of Language Debated 02/27/2004
You cannot understand these kinds of reports without being alert to the
gimmicks of misdirection and obfuscation used. To Science and
other Darwin Party organs, evolutionists are the citizens fighting off the
intellectual barbarians. They should read the account of how Darwin
and his Four Musketeers (see 01/06/2004
entry) waged a subversive coup of the scientific
institutions between 1859 and 1870 (see 01/15/2004
entry), letting in the Starving Storytellers (see
With that history, a revolutionary war is overdue.
Its time to kick the rascals out of their cushy ivory towers
and put science back on a search for the Truth.
- Portray creationists as religious zealots. (Name Calling.)
- Portray them as sneaky. (Fear Mongering.)
All ID and creation material is readily available and out in the open in
the marketplace of ideas.
- Portray them as radical fringe groups with an agenda. (Darwin Party
members, of course, are always mainstream and have no agenda.)
- Always put ism on creation-ism but use
evolution without the suffix. (Loaded Words.)
- Conflate evolution with science; lump in
age of the earth for good measure. (Association.)
- Use quotes to indicate doubt: intelligent design,
fairness, equal treatment, errors. ID proponents dont want
to present scientific criticisms; they want to present scientific criticisms.
- If all else fails, lie. (See Big Lie
and Half Truth). Example:
The current battle lines are the result of
a 1987 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that creationism is religion and
cant be taught in science class. False. The decision
banned equal-time laws; it explicitly stated that teachers had the freedom to
present any scientific approach to origins, including creation.
Institutes response to Darwinist claims in Ohio that teaching ID
Since then, the
antievolution movement has gathered adherents under the rubric
of intelligent design (ID) [quotes in original]. Instead of
going to court, ID supporters are trying to build grassroots support.
Is that so bad? Is persuasion based on evidence and logic no longer
worthy activity? Are courts supposed to be the referees in the marketplace of ideas
about origins? The perception is that this is a devious group of
zealots trying to lay siege to the peace-loving inhabitants of scientific
utopia. And their success, says Moore, is premised on the
perception that, on its face, ID is not linked with religion.
(Notice the hidden assumptions that religion and science are mutually
exclusive, and that evolutionism is not religious. These assumptions
would make for lively debate.)
Next headline on:
The Feb. 27 issue of
features the topic of the evolution of language.1 The thousands
of words in 10 articles might be summarized by the title of a book review by
Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy: Many Perspectives, No Consensus.2
Since there are many perspectives and no
consensus, language evolution is one of the subjects Darwinists love.
They can brag about how much they dont know and weave tall
tales with reckless abandon, like the one in Nature yesterday
(see 02/25/2004 entry).
Evolution Is Like the Matrix Revolutions 02/27/2004
These articles are a treasure chest of embarrassing quotes.
Its interesting that two of the authors employ Biblical metaphors.
The metaphors, however, turn around and bite their Darwinian assumptions:
- Whatever the traits that separate humans from our ape ancestors,
complex language is clearly among them. Thank you, Culotta and Hanson,1
for pointing this out. The gist of their article is that Darwinists dont
understand the evolution of language, and all the old theories are obsolete.
Pennisi explores the new Just-So Story that language evolved
from click-speech, like that performed by some modern African hunters:
Although the idea is far from proven, it seems
plausible that the population that was ancestral to all living
humans lived in the savanna and used clicks, says vertebrate
systematist Alec Knight of Stanford University.
Tsk, tsk. Here is the
plausibility criterion at work (see 12/23/2003
entry), trumping empirical proof.
also explores the research of Joseph Greenberg (Stanford, d. 2003)
who tried to build a Darwinian tree of languages. But all these
analyses continue to draw fire from researchers who say the data
simply cant support peering so far back in time.
Languages have been evolving for so long that too much has
been lost, says [Donald] Ringe [U. of Pennsylvania]. Many
of the similarities Greenberg noted, such as similar first letters,
are so subtle that they may be circumstantial, says Ringe.
Circumstantial evidence can be
misleading, especially when too much of the sought-for data have been lost,
so far back in time.
- Michael Balter
goes on a Search for the Indo-Europeans and
describes researchers who try to apply Darwin tree-building methods to
language evolution: Although the contribution of genetics to the
debate has so far been disappointing, that has not stopped
evolutionary biologists from jumping into the fray. Later,
However, many linguists remain unconvinced by such analyses,
questioning the relevance of evolutionary biology techniques to
linguistic problems (Science, 28 November 2003, p. 1490).
There is no reason whatsoever to assume that vocabulary would
behave the same way that organisms do, says Alexander Lehrman, a
linguist at the University of Delaware in Newark.
language, a faculty of intelligence, evolve by Darwinian naturalism?
- Carstairs-McCarthy2 states the confusion of tongues in
an interesting way: The evolutionary origins of language should
intrigue anyone interested in the relationship of humans to other species.
For them, Language Evolution will provide a useful starting point.
But the volume is not a summary of mainstream views, because no such
He lists 20 questions researchers into the
evolution of language are asking, but the answers are all futureware:
Contradictory answers to all of these questions can be found
in the volume. But do not let that put you off.
This may well be, as the editors put it, the hardest problem in
science. Nonetheless, with so many diverse specialists
now talking to one another, a good start has been made.
Its not really all that hard when you believe the
- Pennisi entitles one of her articles
in Tongues. The metaphor points back to a miraculous event
(see Acts 2)
that teaches intelligent design. God supernaturally endowed the minds
of the early church to speak languages they had not known. Can Pennisi
prove that early humans evolved the ability to speak in tongues?
Bdbdbdbdbdb (rub finger rapidly up and down over lips).
- Scott Montgomery refers back to the Tower of Babel in his article,
Towers, Walls, and Fields: Perspectives on Language in Science.
He thinks science has nearly realized Nimrods dream, but waves two hands:
Science, it appears, has come to a historical crossroads.
On the one hand, it would seem to have completed the Tower of Babel,
its knowledge now reaching far beyond the heavens and, through the
global spread of English, recovering the ancient dream of a single
language for the wisdom of the nations. Yet, from another
vantage, the very opposite is suggested: this great tower of
unanimity broken and rebuilt into a thousand walls by the power of jargon,
dividing the disciplines by the arcanity of specialist speech.
Is scientific language diverging or converging, creating unity or a new
diaspora? Yes, he says: many [barriers] have become increasingly porous,
allowing flow in both directions. Such will undoubtedly continuescience
is today the most active area of language creation. Well, that
is certainly creation by intelligent design, not evolution.
From earliest times, human beings have communicated with language.
It is much more than the animal communication of birdsong or
the howling of monkeys: human language has syntax, grammar and semantics.
It requires specialized organs for transmission and reception.
It implies the ability to understand abstract concepts.
The earliest evidences of written language in the Fertile
Crescent describe commercial transactions and legal matters, presupposing
an already-developed culture involving complex verbal skills and
capacity for abstract reasoning.
According to the creation account in
1-2, God endowed the first man and woman, but not the animals, with
the gift of language from the very beginning, because only humans were
created in His image. After the Flood, according to the Tower of Babel account in
11, God supernaturally created language groups on one day by intelligent
Languages have diversified significantly (and become amalgamated and corrupted)
since then, but did not evolve from grunts (in fact, some so-called primitive
languages have more complex grammar and more expressiveness than Greek). The ongoing
evolution of language is not by mutation and natural selection,
but by the applied effort of human intelligence (i.e., creating new terms
to express scientific concepts). In the early church, God provided
the ability to speak languages not previously learned. All these Biblical accounts
present an approach to understanding language by intelligent design instead of evolution.
Which approach better fits the facts of science and history? Which has more documentation?
Speak now, or forever hold your tongue.
C.S. Lewis applied the Tower of Babel imagery to modernism
in his novel, That Hideous Strength (see review by
1Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson, First Words,
Volume 303, Number 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, p. 1315.
2Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Language: Many Perspectives, No Consensus
(a review of Language Evolution, ed. Christiansen and Kirby, ed., Oxford,
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Bible and Theology
Matthew L. Albert enjoyed the Matrix movies. In his
review in the Feb. 20 issue of
he thought the movies were parallels of evolutionary biology. The
machines keeping the rebels alive are like retroviruses, he thinks:
These retroviruses are responsible in part for our evolution, while
other retroviruses are attacking us. So, who is in control?
The films illustrate the absurdity of this question. We can no more
get along without our retroviruses than the rebels can survive without
He did have a complaint, though: Critics may have difficulty
looking past the trilogys not-so-subtle biblical references....
Nevertheless, Albert is at work at the movies: I will continue combing
pop culture for insights into the natural world.
1Matthew L. Albert, Immunology: Danger in Wonderland,
Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, p. 1141.
Get a real job, Matt.
Seniors, Pay Attention: Stay Active 02/27/2004
Next headline on:
Cardiovascular activity is good for everyone. Seniors can benefit
from taking walks, too. A new study shows it can help the elderly
keep their attentiveness and improve mental performance.
reporter Bruce Bower writes:
Seniors interested in pumping up their brains and maintaining an attentive edge might consider taking this inexpensive prescription: Go for a walk every 2 or 3 days. Dont sweat it, but make an effort.
Limit each walk to between 10 and 45 minutes.
One study showed that fitness was correlated with performance
on an activity requiring attentiveness. Another study demonstrated
improvement in performance after six months of aerobic training.
The results from cardiovascular exercise were noticeably better compared
to stretching and toning exercise.
Thats the conclusion, at any rate, of two new studies that demonstrate for the first time in people that physical fitness, whether achieved on ones own or through a brief aerobic-training course, induces brain changes associated with improved performance on an attention-taxing task.
Benefits include a sharper mind, better outlook on life,
and improved neural functioning that can enhance independent
living. Its an all-around good investment. Make walking
a regular part of your week, if you can.
1Bruce Bower, Neural Aging Walks Tall: Aerobic activity
fuels elderly brains, minds,
Week of Feb. 21, 2004; Vol. 165, No. 8.
Those legs were made for walking. Use it or lose it makes
sense for limbs as well as talents. Not mentioned in the article is
the spiritual benefit you will find
from taking walks: thankfulness for the beauty of creation.
Get out where the trees are; look at the sky, listen to a bird, and breathe
in the fresh air. Go with a friend and get the added benefit of
quality time with someone you love.
a picture to inspire you. (More in our
Beagle 2 Still Lost, But Beagle 1 Found 02/27/2004
Next headline on:
Explorers have found partial remains of Darwins lost ship, the HMS Beagle,
in a swamp near Kent, reports BBC
News (see also Science
Now). The ill-fated Beagle 2 on Mars, however, may take another 168 years to find.
And it has no water to float in; results from the twin
Mars Exploration Rovers are
inconclusive about the presence of water on the red planet.
Lets hope the Charlies boat doesnt
become a religious shrine (see 02/13/2004 entry).
Antarctic Dinosaurs Found 02/27/2004
Next headline on:
Darwin and Evolutionary Theory
Penguinosaurus? Not exactly, but two previously unknown species of
dinosaurs were found in different parts of Antarctica recently, according
Bones of a theropod and a sauropod were found by separate teams.
Judd Case, one of the discoverers of the theropod (of which T. Rex and
velociraptor are examples), was perplexed by the find: One of the
surprising things is that animals with these more primitive
characteristics generally havent survived as long elsewhere as they have
in Antarctica. But, for whatever reason, they were still hanging out
on the Antarctic continent.
Dinosaur finds are always exciting news,
but we dont need the storytelling that usually goes with it.
Learn to Speak: Toss a Spear
Next headline on:
Human language evolved after our ancestors learned to throw a spear,
according to William H. Calvin, in his new book
A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond
(Oxford, 2003). Robin Dunbar is not too sure about this, in a
book review in the Feb. 26 issue of
Nature.1 Although he respects Calvin, he
is not convinced of his thesis for the origin of human language:
I found the themes of the book, broadly speaking, congenial, and the account well informed and authoritative, as one might expect from a neuroscientist and science popularist of Calvins stature. However, there are aspects of this particular book that I found less satisfying. Calvins insistence on the importance of a gesturally based phase to language evolution does not, I think, make sense. Language is a parsing skill, and, even though parsing is a hierarchical process, it seems to me to be a very different kind of skill from that used in coordinated throwing. Manipulating concepts is not the same kind of activity as manipulating muscle masses. Nor does the timing really work. The evidence, as Calvin himself notes, points to a period about 500,000 years ago as the likely timing for the origin of speech, if not full-blown language. But the archaeological record is very clear that real projectile-based hunting did not become widespread until the Upper Palaeolithic revolution, which kicked in around 50,000 years ago (perhaps a little earlier in Africa). The evolution of speech, then, pre-dates the fine muscle control of aimed throwing by a very wide margin.
He also found Calvins look into the future unconvincing.
Nevertheless, Dunbar is glad that After a century of neglect, the mind has suddenly become an issue of evolutionary interest once again.
1Robin Dunbar, Could throwing spears have laid the foundations for language acquisition?,
Nature 427, 783 (26 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427783a.
Dunbar is way too polite with his criticism.
Why? Darwin Party members are loathe to call each other stupid.
It might provide fodder for those darned creationists.
How Darwinians Approach the Golden Rule 02/22/2004
In support of evolution, all Calvin provides is a just-so story
that spear throwing evolved our brains into speech machines. How can that
be? It violates the principle learned by every child: sticks
and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
One would think that words, the later weapon, would be more effective in the
struggle for survival.
What Calvin lacks in evidence for evolution he makes up for
in evidence against it. Dunbar states:
Notwithstanding the enthusiasm in the 1970s and 1980s for the similarities between humans and our primate cousins, both in popular culture and among academics, the fact is that humans are very different from even our ape sister species. William Calvins latest book looks at how different we really are.
Apes, of course, have no such abilities, nor are there any transitional
forms between us (see 01/20/2004
From this clear statement declaring the gulf between apes and man,
he launches into the JSS (just-so story):
The essence of Calvins argument is that the difference between humans and other animals comes down to what he calls
structured stuff (that is, coordinated, structured task processing). One of the most obvious examples is the way we deconstruct sentences to expose their meaning.
We can do this, he argues, because we evolved the capacity to coordinate fine-tuned movements in the context of throwing. The great revolution in human evolutionary history stems from the shift from the older forms of heavy-duty hunting, mostly by dint of thrusting spears, to projectile hunting (throwing spears or using bows), which required careful aiming and much finer coordination.
Convinced? This is so lame. So Lamarckian.
Even if practice stretched a hunters brain, it would not help his kids
any more than a giraffe stretching its neck would promote the inheritance
of that acquired characteristic. The trait has to get into the gametes.
Practice at these activities fine-tuned the neural machinery that allowed the delicate motor control required for speech and language. Much is made, in this respect, of the growing evidence for the brains ability to coopt neural circuits. For example, the neural substrates for reading have different location in the brain in different individuals, as one might expect of a skill that does not have a long evolutionary history. This softwiring, as Calvin calls it, is clearly of major importance in human cognition.
No problem, well just modify the JSS a little.
Presumably, a chance mutation gave a hunter a more complex brain, granting
him better aim at spear-throwing.
He brought more meat back to the cave, which made him more attractive to the
females. So he had more kids bearing the same mutation, who survived to
reproductive age while all the others starved.
Isnt evolutionary storytelling fun?
You never have to prove your JSS. As long as it keeps the Darwin Party
in power, it is such a dreamy, endless pastime.
Next headline on:
Is nothing sacred? Gretchen Vogel has written a piece on The
Evolution of the Golden Rule in the Feb. 20 issue of
Jesus Christ and most religious teachers have
taught the Golden Rule as a moral principle and a sacred duty, but to Darwinians, it must
have evolved like everything else. Yet this poses a conundrum, as
Vogel states in the subtitle: Humans and other primates have a keen
sense of fairness and a tendency to cooperate, even when it does them
no discernible good. In a world of competition, fitness and
survival, why would animals cooperate, or why would
one lay down his life for his friends?
Vogel describes competing theories, such as strong
reciprocity, game theory, and reciprocal altruism. Studies on
monkey fairness, neurological signals, and mathematical modeling have
each participated in answering the question, but each of the explanations
offered have one thing in common. They assume the Golden Rule is
an artifact of an evolutionary process, not a moral absolute.
(The article also touches on the evolution of suicide bombings.)
1Gretchen Vogel, Behavioral Evolution: The Evolution
of the Golden Rule,
Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, pp. 1128-1131.
If this article doesnt make you mad,
it should. It means nothing less than the demise of personal responsibility
and the downfall of civilization. If suicide bombing is merely an
evolutionary behavior, then it is not morally wrong, just unfortunate for
the victims. Pastors and believers everywhere had
better wake up and get angry that the ultimate altruism, depicted in The
Passion, is being presented by mad scientists as the result of evolution
from monkey antics. This is not only disingenuous
entry) and blasphemous to a large segment of the population, but a
A Golden Rule that evolves is neither golden, nor a rule.
Its fools gold. These charlatans
use humans as lab rats (see 06/25/2002
entry), but exclude their own intellects as relics of rat behavior.
Lets turn the game on them and ask about the The Evolution of
Evolutionary Nonsense. Short circuit!
SETI Sans ETI So Far 02/20/2004
Darwinists have a sick habit of talking about
the evolution of this and that and
whatever, even the teachings of Jesus. Darwinists treat their little
catch-phrase the same way some superstitious people talk about the
demon of this or that, like the demon of alcohol or the demon of
bad breath. The evolution of is a mere mantra, an
intellectual plaything or hook on which to build any plot
(see The Evolution of Presbyterians,
09/03/2002, The Evolution of
Rape 07/18/2003, The Evolution
of Monogamy 07/03/2003, The
Evolution of Fairness 09/17/2003,
and The Evolution
of War 09/16/2003). It is their
hammer that sees everything as a nail. It doesnt bother them
that they can never figure it out (see Human Kindness,
10/23/2003, and 06/23/2003).
Its OK. They dont have to figure
it out. They just get kicks out of arguing about it. They have
the audacity to become our preachers (see Users Guide to Life
04/25/2003), and they
think creationists are the doctrinaires, beholden to their dogmas
(doctrinaire, n., one who attempts to put into effect an abstract
doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties).
Such nonsense and amorality
deserves the severest reproach any respectable human being can muster.
Tough love, after all, is a corollary of the Golden Rule. If you
were spouting a foolish or dangerous teaching, wouldnt you want someone
to correct you? Then take some advice from the Apostle Paul:
For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers ...
whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching
things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain
1:10-11). Each generation has its deceivers. It is an
abdication of social responsibility to let their lies go unchallenged.
Watch where you deposit your intellectual and moral
treasures. The Darwin Party Credit Union is going bankrupt.
Jesus said, Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also
to them, for this it the Law and the Prophets (Sermon on the Mount,
7:12). Now theres genuine Gold you can bank on, with real
interest, compounded daily.
Next headline on:
Politics and Ethics
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Bible and Theology
Theres no din of alien chatter in our neighborhood,
writes Richard Kerr in the Feb. 20 issue of
Early-generation searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are coming
up empty-handed, but the SETI community is carrying on, he writes.
Search pioneer Frank Drake admits We found nothing in the latest Project
Phoenix, a survey of 700 nearby sunlike stars. James Trefil adds,
this idea theres a galactic club that we would join as soon as we started ...
doesnt look like its panning out. Paul Horowitz is
not near ready to quit, though, urged on by the conviction that There's got to be life
in the galaxy. Statistically, even with optimistic assumptions,
it would not be probable to have found one by now just hopeful.
Upcoming searches promise to be quicker and more powerful.
But if there are only 10,000 alien civilizations surfing the galactic radio
internet, it could take decades to find one. The importance of a
positive signal keeps the search going. Until one is found, however, SETI has
been termed by Seth Shostak as looking for an uncertain manifestation of
a hypothetical presence.
1Richard Kerr, No Din of Alien Chatter in Our Neighborhood,
Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, p. 1133.
Without the belief in Darwinian evolution,
one wonders how much motivation SETI would have. Would believers in
God expect to find life all over the universe trying to contact us?
If so, would they work this hard looking? The Darwin Party seems to
think a discovery of alien life would disprove the Bible, but is that
necessarily true? Why would it not just as clearly indicate creation?
What if the aliens tell us they evolved, but are lying? What if they
turn out to be storytellers as incorrigible as members of the
Darwin Party here on earth?
Darwin Propagandist Reveals Too Much 02/20/2004
Its fun, but maybe not useful, to speculate about things we cannot
know. Take your pick on this one. Not even all secularists, though,
agree SETI is worthwhile. Michael Crichton used it as an example of
policy-driven pseudoscience, essentially a religion
The only data point we have so far is that the local
neighborhood is not teeming with alien broadcasters on the channels we
are checking. Maybe that means something.
If nothing else, the SETI researchers are making a great case
for intelligent design (see 07/29/2002). Their core assumption is that a nonrandom,
coded message would be convincing evidence of intelligence, even if they knew
nothing about the sender.
Next headline on:
You cant always tell a chocolate by its coating. Similarly,
a positivistic, pro-evolution article might have surprises inside.
Billions of years of evolution have produced organisms
of stunning diversity, begins Eörs Szathmáry in the
Feb. 17 issue of
Biology,1 with vintage Darwinian confidence. A
theoretician at heart, Szathmáry explores the evolutionary transitions
not by looking at bones or genes, but by making models of intermediate
stages of organisation and the evolutionary transitions between them.
Theoretical biology had its Golden Age, he claims, when Fisher, Haldane
and Wright founded population genetics in the first half of the twentieth
century. As he justifies his conceptual-over-empirical approach,
he reveals some large gaps in
evolutionary theory. He evidently feels Darwinism provides enough
conceptual material in each case to fill in the gaps, but it will be up to
the reader to judge his success:
Non-intuitive explanations: How can apparently unDarwinian
aspects of biology be explained?
Take evolutionary biology, for example. A few decades after the Golden Age,
evolutionary biologists started to tackle (ultimately with considerable success)
questions where the Darwinian answer is far from obvious.
Why do we age? Why are there sterile insect castes? At first
it does not seem to make much sense to argue that your death or sterility
increases your fitness. But evolutionary theory can provide
satisfactory resolutions of these conundrums. In some cases
even the question itself cannot be formulated well enough without some
modelling: the problem of the evolutionary maintenance of sex is
a case in point. Whole sub-disciplines, like evolutionary game theory,
have been set up to meet such challenges.
Cosmic evolution: What can we predict about what evolution
would do on another planet?
(For more on evolutionary game theory,
see 02/10/2004 entry.)
The problems become a lot harder when we come to the large-scale
dynamics of evolution. Imagine, say, a thousand Earth-like planets
with exactly the same initial conditions of planetary development.
After one, two, three billion years (and so on), how many of them would
still have living creatures? And would they be like the eukaryotes?
We have simply no knowledge about the time evolution of this distribution,
and educated guesses differ widely.
Origin of Life: Undoubtedly, the origin of life remains a major challenge for at least two disciplines: chemistry and biology, he says. (One might wonder
what other scientific disciplines would have greater import on this question.) He reviews the
famous experiment of Miller and Urey, but dismisses its actual relevance:
Still, when contemplating lifes origins, the gap between
Millers world and the DNA world is discouragingly enormous.
How do you get from the primordial soup to the genetic code?
The snag is that, in contemporary biological systems, there is a division
of labour between nucleic acids and proteins: the former store genetic
information and the latter exert function. Genetic information
is expressed with the help of proteins, which are encoded by nucleic acids.
We seemed to be at an impasse: no genes without proteins and no proteins
without genes the classic chicken and egg problem.
Szathmáry is not the first, of course, to point out this conundrum, but he quickly
suggests that it now seems that the primordial soup may not have been
that important, and that we may not need a genetic code for early life.
As support, he refers to the RNA World hypothesis, that one
molecule (RNA) might have performed both information-storage and enzymatic
functions. How this would obviate the need for a soup of chemicals or
a genetic code is not explained.
Models vs. reality: How far can you take a model?
He praises the chemoton model by Hungarian theorist Tibor Gánti,
but cautions about the applicability of any model:
The chemoton is an abstract model of a
minimal biological system comprising three sub-systems: a metabolic
cycle producing the materials for all three sub-systems at the expense of
nutrients; a replicating template; and a boundary membrane. All three
systems are autocatalytic, and the system as a whole can also divide in
space within a certain parameter range.
Nevertheless, he thinks Gántis modeling is as valid as were Galileos
experiments with smooth balls rolling down smooth slopes. Comprehending
this analogy is left as an exercise.
(For more on requirements for minimal life, see the
Important advances often come from appropriate abstraction and
idealisation, neglecting unnecessary detail.
This neglect cannot, unfortunately, be automated: science remains the
art of the soluble.
Has evolutionary biology succeeded in explaining the first life?
No, but we may be on the verge of beginning to find a way, he thinks.
In promoting conceptual approaches over experimental, however, he pretty much
shuts down production of the primordial soup line:
The simplest autonomous living systems today are prokaryotes,
the results of billions of years of evolution.
There is just no way that a prokaryote with its genetic code could
have self-assembled in the primordial soup. There must have been
a long phase of evolution by natural selection from the first
living entities to bacteria, as Gánti recognized in 1971. But how can
one think of these earliest systems? Chemoton theory offers
such a conceptual breakthrough.
From here he jumps to trends in synthetic biology, seeming to promise
the checks in the mail on the origin of life.
1Eörs Szathmáry, Magazine: From biological analysis to
Biology, Vol 14, R145-R146, 17 February 2004.
When your opponent is shooting himself
in the foot, there is really no need to return fire, but rather to sit back
and enjoy the entertainment.
How to Get a Genetic Code by Chance 02/19/2004
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Origin of Life
The Feb. 17 issue of
Biology1 has a Q&A magazine feature on the genetic code.
After dismissing some myths about it being universal, consisting of only
20 amino acids and obligated to only three codons (there are some minor
exceptions to these mostly-true principles: see
the authors tackle the big question:
where did it come from?
I heard about a frozen accident…
(Emphasis in original.)
One of the first proposals, in 1968, for the origin of the code, was
Francis Cricks frozen accident model. But the discovery of
alternative codes showed that the code is not frozen. And similar
codons are assigned to similar amino acids, indicating that the
code is not an accident.
So, how did the code evolve?
There are several theories that try to explain the origin of the code.
Most can be classified in one of three major groups.
Chemical: posits that direct chemical interactions between amino acids and
their cognate codons/anticodons influenced codon assignment. Studies
of binding of RNA aptamers to amino acids showed that, for at least some
amino acids arginine, tyrosine and isoleucine such chemical interactions
do exist. These theories fail to explain the assignment of codons
that do not show direct interactions to their cognate amino acids.
Historical: proposes that an initially smaller code grew by incorporation
of new amino acids. For example, new amino acids may have captured codons
from their metabolic precursors, contributing to the assignment of similar
amino acids to similar codons.
Selection: suggests that the code was selected to minimize the phenotypic
effects of point mutations. The codes organization supports
this: nonsynonymous substitutions often lead to replacement of an amino
acid by one chemically similar, causing little disruption in the protein.
Accumulating evidence for these models suggests that they are not
mutually exclusive. Rather, the code probably evolved by an
interplay among some or all of them. Direct interactions of short
RNA molecules and amino acids may have fixed the assignment of certain
codons, while subsequent assignments may have been driven by history
1Andre R.O. Cavalcanti and Laura F. Landweber,
Magazine: Genetic Code,
Biology Vol 14, R147, 17 February 2004.
They just violated Occams razor. They also violated the rule
that three wrongs dont make a right.
theory is the old biological predestination idea that Dean Kenyon
abandoned. If RNA happens to bind to three amino acids better than
the 17 others, that does not explain how they subsequently linked via
peptide bonds to form a polypeptide with any catalytic activity.
Amino acids do not have the ability to link up by themselves.
Getting just one element of the complex protein machinery that can
translate DNA and construct a protein is astronomically improbable,
to put it mildly (see our online book).
The Historical theory is hysterical, because it
personifies amino acids. One cannot ascribe purposeful processes
to chemicals. No cheating with natural selection, either; it cannot
even begin to a player unless an accurate system of self-replication
is already working.
The Selection Theory also personifies the chemicals:
the code was selected to minimize ... point mutations
Enough of this passive-voice nonsense. Who selected it, and
why would he/she/it want to, if not to optimize the system?
The sentence makes perfect sense in intelligent design theory, but is
bizarre otherwise. No cheating with natural selection here, either.
Early Man Studies: Start Over 02/19/2004
The authors committed one more foul: card
stacking. All their theories assume naturalistic evolution.
They left out the only theory that explains the observations without
violating Occams razor: intelligent design.
Next headline on:
Origin of Life
Genetics and DNA
Anthropologist Leslea J. Hlusko (U. of Illinois) had some stern advice
for her paleoanthropologist colleagues in PNAS1 recently.
Noting that Competing interpretations of human origins and evolution
have recently proliferated despite the accelerated pace of fossil discovery,
she thinks an approach is needed that integrates genetics and development
with the search for bones. She takes issue with three presumptions
that can confuse and mislead the interpretation of fossils:
She warns bone hunters to recognize that they need to take genetics and
development into account. The standard response to controversy
in paleontology is that more fossils will resolve the issue.
Not necessarily; even for species with adequate fossil records,
new and different approaches like those suggested here will be necessary.
- Presumption 1: Anatomical Traits are Independent.
Genetic studies, on the contrary, have shown that multiple traits can
be linked because of pleiotropic effects. Also, the number of labeled
traits may not correspond to the number of genes affecting those traits.
- Presumption 2: Most Anatomical Traits Are Adaptively Informative.
Pleiotropic effects may also blur the interpretation of single traits.
In Lucy, for instance, the genes that shorten fingers may simultaneously
The shortened fingers, therefore, may not be a clue that the animal was
spending less time in trees.
- Presumption 3: Small-Scale Morphological Change Is Almost
This is not always the case. Measurements of trends in enamel
thickness on teeth, for instance, appear to have no correlation to sex
or tooth size. Rapid changes can occur with dietary change, not
evolution. All of this clearly makes the paleontologists
task of identifying the most phylogenetically informative traits difficult
1Leslea J. Hlusko, Integrating the genotype and phenotype
in hominid paleontology,
of the National Academy of Sciences USA, March 2, 2004, vol. 101,
no. 9, pp. 2653–2657. Published online before print.
This is a revealing article that basically says, everything you
know is wrong, and we hope we can figure out the truth some day by starting
over. Like so often reported here, it is more admission of ignorance and promises
of futureware. Quote-hunters might find a bonanza in this article.
Respect the Conch Shell 02/19/2004
Not only that, Hlusko points out the tremendous
complexity of genetic and developmental mechanisms. She mentions
that more than 250 genes are known to be involved in the development
of dentition. Are we being asked to believe that those genes all
evolved by chance, and that they must mutate together to keep an animal
having a proper bite? What if a tooth on the upper jaw mutates, but
the one on the lower jaw doesnt? Teeth need to match.
Remember how much propaganda the Darwinists got out of one tooth in the
case of Nebraska man? (It turned out to be a pigs tooth.)
Even today, a debater for evolution claimed that a good anatomist can tell
a lot about a creature from a tooth. But if all you have is a tooth,
even if it is the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth, would it convince
a jury? Not if they read this article first.
Things are not looking good for the pseudoscience of human evolution.
Digging up bones in Africa may be a sport, but interpreting what they mean
is often a function of the storytelling ability of the discoverer.
Does hominid dentition tell us anything about human ancestry?
Dont bite on it.
Next headline on:
Genetics and DNA
Engineers and materials scientists seem to never run out of examples
in nature that should fill us with awe. In the Feb. 19 issue of
Nature,1 Rosamund Daw brings our attention to the
construction ability of the conch shell:
Giant conches are seldom treated with the respect they deserve.
Their impressive shells are prized as holiday souvenirs, but size and
aesthetics are only half the story. At the microscopic scale,
they are one of natures greatest engineering masterpieces: a
stunningly intricate hierarchical architecture of inorganic crystals,
interwoven with organic molecules.
Recent experiments have shed light on the ways these marine organisms
build and repair their shells. An organic layer is deposited, providing a base
on which fine crystals of aragonite form perpendicular to the organic layer.
Then a three-layered, cross-lamellar structure grows a few millimeters thick,
forming the body of the shell.
The result is a strong, exceedingly fine structure, often decorated with
streaks or spots of intricate colors, with bumps and horns and geometric
Broken shell? No problem.
When experimenters drilled a hole into the shells of
living conches, a new organic layer was formed within 24 hours, upon which
new aragonite crystals grew to begin the repair process.
Theres still much to learn about the complex
process of shell formation, Daw says. It remains to be
discovered how the interplay of organic and inorganic components is controlled
at the molecular level, in conch shells as well as in other mineralized
1Rosamund Daw, Materials Science: Give a shell a break,
Nature 427, 691 (19 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427691a.
This could be a teachable moment on your
familys next trip to the beach. Tell the kids that this construction
project the conch performs is the envy of materials scientists.
Teach them that complex processes that build things do not just happen.
DNA, genes, enzymes, signalling, feedback
and quality control all contribute to the work of art that is a seashell.
Irreducible Complexity: Can It Be Explained Away? 02/18/2004
Next headline on:
When Sharon Begley, writing in the Wall Street Journal Feb. 13,
criticized the intelligent design movement (see reprint on
Network), Michael Behe answered with a pointed reply five days later.
Begley particularly singled out the concept of irreducible
Behes reply, defending the validity of irreducible complexity
(a term he coined in his 1996 book
Darwins Black Box
as evidence for intelligent design), can be read on the
Another article on intelligent design was printed on
In it, Ronald Numbers, a historian of the controversy over Darwinism, thinks
that inroads of intelligent design into the classroom might be a good thing,
but doubts the scientific societies will ever accept it, because it would
involve a major change in the way science is done: The intelligent
design people are saying that if the goal of science is to discover the truth,
why should scientists, a priori, reject the theory of intelligent design?
Charlie Darwin said a fair evaluation of any question can only be made when
both sides are heard. Strange that many of his disciples dont
want you to hear the opposition. They think their sound bites tell
you all you need to know about any controversy surrounding
their idol. Numbers is an apostate Christian
who accepts many of the Darwinian myths, but thankfully he seems to not
be as viciously dogmatic as the rest of the Darwin Party against
intelligent design. It is notable that SpaceDaily.com printed
this partially open-minded article. Too bad they didnt allow
a qualified ID spokesman to make the case.
Birds Are Memory Champs 02/17/2004
Next headline on:
We humans lose our keys and often cant remember the location of half
a dozen identical items. Maybe it takes a bird brain to find the
car keys, teases Susan Milius in the cover story of the Feb. 14 issue of
Ornithologists have been intrigued with how birds remember where they stash
their food. One champ is Clarks nutcracker, a noisy denizen of
western national parks observed and named by the Lewis and Clark expedition.
In a year, each bird buries 22,000 to 33,000 seeds and manages to find
two thirds of them 13 months later. Chickadees and scrub jays are
pretty good at this game, too. Experiments have demonstrated that
bird memories are flexible and can even do time travel into
How could such good memories evolve? The only going
theory seems to be that tough times select for better memories.
As evidence, researchers found that Alaskan chickadees outperformed
Coloradoans in a seed storage and retrieval contest. Not all
ornithologists are convinced of this theory, however, since the two species
differ in many other respects. To resolve the question of
whether tough times have contributed to the evolution of catching
wizardry is currently difficult, says [Nicola]
Clayton [Cambridge]. More experiments will be required, but
Milius concludes, What started out as a fidgety search for the
operating rules of feathered robots has turned into studies of how
1Susan Milius, Whered I Put That?
Vol. 165, No. 7, Feb. 14, 2004, p. 103.
The claim that tough times create design
is like the Phoenix myth, that a living bird arises from the flames
of catastrophe. No. Fire burns, and stress kills.
Making stress a
creative genius is no explanation at all, yet it remains a favorite plot
in Darwin stories. Didnt an asteroid blast give rise to the
zoo of complex and diverse mammals, according to the going myth?
We can enjoy the marvels of birds without the insipid, useless, wasteful,
distracting, unsupportable, pseudoscientific bad habit of trying to find
evolutionary origins for everything. Remember that.
DNA Is a Code Operated by Another Code 02/17/2004
Next time in Yellowstone, Yosemite or other western
national parks, dont be annoyed by the squawking of the nutcrackers
and jays. Pay them a little respect. Theyve got a
better memory than you in that little brain of theirs. Milius began
her article by reprimanding, Should humanity get a little too full of
itself and its intellectual prowess, theres always Clarks
nutcracker to think about.
Next headline on:
The discovery in the 1950s that DNA stored a coded language was amazing,
but recently a new level of complexity has come to the awareness of
biochemists. Apparently, another code determines which DNA genes
will be opened for expression and which should be suppressed.
The Feb. 14 issue of
News1 describes the history of the discovery of the so-called
histone code. These are patterns of tails attached
to the histones around which DNA is tightly wrapped. Within the last
eight years, scientists have been discovering that the histones do not merely
spool the DNA, they regulate which genes get expressed.
of acetylation and methylation on the histone tails appears to form a code
that is heritable through cell divisions. Compared to the well-known
DNA genetic code, A histone code may be much more complex,
writes John Travis. Shelley Berger (Wistar Institute) exclaimed,
There are all kinds of sites [on histone tails] that can be
modified. The possibilities for a code are quite enormous.
Its not going to be a simple code. After summarizing the
literature, Travis concluded, With such designer histones, it seems
that researchers are on their way to having in their hands all the words
of the histone code. But, it may still be a stiff challenge to
figure out what those words mean.
For a previous story on the histone code, see
Memory Borders on the Miraculous.
1John Travis, Code Breakers: Scientists tease out the
secrets of proteins that DNA wraps around,
Vol. 165, No. 7, Feb. 14, 2004, p. 106.
Evolutionary biologists had their hands
full explaining the origin of the DNA-protein language, and now this.
As usual, there is no description in the article about how this code
might have emerged through an evolutionary process.
There is only the following quip, that not only fails to explain the codes
origin, it adds another problem: apparently the code has not evolved at all:
From species to species, he [C. David Allis, U. of Virginia] notes,
these tails are nearly identical, implying that they are important to
the cell. Nature has held these things constant for a
reason, says Allis. Certainly. Give me a working histone
code in the beginning, or give me death.
Scientists Probe Differences Between Living and Nonliving Chemicals 02/15/2004
Next headline on:
All life forms are composed of molecules that are not themselves
alive. But in what ways do living and nonliving matter differ?
How could a primitive life form arise from a collection of nonliving
molecules? Any article beginning with questions like that is
bound to be interesting. Thats how Rasmussen et al.
tantalized readers of
on Feb. 13 as they described two recent international workshops discussing
the origin of life and artificial life.
The workshops, one at Los Alamos and one in Germany,
focused on two overlapping questions: (1) How did
life originate? and (2) Will scientists ever be able to create
life? Regarding the latter, some are taking the top-down
approach, taking the smallest known living organism and trying to tweak
it, and others are taking a bottom-up approach, trying to build
a self-replicating cell from scratch. The bottom-up approach is
general and more challenging, but holds
more promise, they think, for understanding ways in which life might have
originated on its own.
Recognizing that the definition of life is notoriously
controversial, the authors sought middle ground in their definition:
there is general agreement that a localized molecular assemblage
should be considered alive if it continually regenerates itself, replicates
itself, and is capable of evolving.
(For another view, see 12/30/2002.)
Those seeking to produce a cell matching those criteria
have generally recognized three requirements that would have had to be
met: genetic information, metabolism, and containment:
Regeneration and replication involve transforming molecules and
energy from the environment into cellular aggregations, and evolution
requires heritable variation in cellular processes. The current
consensus is that the simplest way to achieve these
characteristics is to house informational polymers (such as DNA
and RNA) and a metabolic system that chemically regulates
and regenerates cellular components within a physical container
(such as a lipid vesicle).
The scientists have developed models of how these three requirements
might be met, and have partially achieved some of them separately
One proposal would make use of a simpler polymer than DNA/RNA, called PNA.
According to the model, light energy might synthesize lipids
(for the container) and PNA, with the PNA...
...acting as both an information molecule and as an
electron-relay chain. This is the first explicit proposal that
integrates genetics, metabolism, and containment in one chemical
system. Metabolism in this system has been shown to produce
lipids, but experimental realization of the rest of the integrated
system has not yet been achieved.
Harold Morowitz (George Mason Univ.), long interested in the requirements for a minimal
living system (see online reference at this site),
helped clarify the divide between living and nonliving matter.
Morowitz and three colleagues gave presentations at the workshops:
They described how nonliving chemical
reactions, driven by thermodynamics, explore the state of space
in an ergodical fashion, and thus tend to conduct a random
exhaustive search of all possibilities; in contrast, living systems
explore a combinatorially large space of possibilities through an
evolutionary process. This echoed a central workshop
theme: how and when information becomes a dominant factor
in the evolution of life, that is, how and when selection
plays a greater role than thermodynamics in the observed
distribution of phenotypes.
This opened up a number of proposals by Morowitz and others:
Not everyone agreed with every proposal, but all agreed on the road map
ahead. Four main questions need to be answered. Their answers
will shed light, hopefully, on the biggest questions of all:
- Peter Stadler (Univ. Leipzig) reviewed selection using
replicator network dynamics, a theoretical framework describing
population growth produced by different kinetic conditions.
- Smith and Morowitz further described how the citric acid
cycle of living cells might be a thermodynamic attractor
for all possible metabolic networks, thus explaining its appearance
at the core of all living systems.
- Universal scaling in biological systems was discussed by
Geoff West (SFI) and Woody Woodruff (LANL), who explained why regular
patterns can be found, for example, between an organisms
weight and metabolic rate, regardless of whether the organism is a
bacterium or an elephant.
- Shelly Copley (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) explained how
catalysts operate in living systems today and how
these were likely to have evolved from less efficient precursors.
- Andrew Shreve (LANL) presented a rich variety of self-assembled
nanomaterials that display specific emergent properties of a
mechanical, photonic, or fluidic nature.
- Yi Jiang (LANL) reviewed the state of the art for molecular
multiscale simulations in which the challenge is to connect
realistic but slow molecular dynamic simulations with less accurate
but fast higher level simulations.
- Andy Pohorille (NASA Ames Research Center, California) used
simulations to argue that nongenomic early organisms could
undergo evolution before the origin of organisms with
- Takashi Ikegami (Univ. of Tokyo) presented simulations of a
simple and abstract model of metabolic chemistry that demonstrates
the spontaneous formation and reproduction of cell-like structures.
(i) What is the boundary between physical and biological
phenomena? (ii) What are key hurdles to integrating genes and
energetics within a container? (iii) How can theory and
simulation better inform artificial cell experiment?
(iv) What are the most likely early technological applications of
artificial cell research?
In addition, work on artificially-created nanobots, including some that
could repair and replicate themselves, require cautious courage,
because creating such entities would literally form the basis of a
living technology possessing powerful capabilities and
raising important social and ethical implications.
The authors noted that everyone at the workshops was confident that
useful artificial cells will eventually be created, but there was
no consensus about when.
In time, research on these forms of artificial life will
illuminate the perennial questions What is life? and
Where do we come from?
1Rasmussen, Chen, Deamer, Krakauer, Packard, Stadler, and
Transitions from Nonliving to Living Matter,
Volume 303, Number 5660, Issue of 13 Feb 2004, pp. 963-965,
We almost titled this entry Mad
Scientists Threaten World With Destruction! but didnt want to scare
the adults. Here you have it, folks: Frankenscience alive and well
in the labs that gave us atomic bombs. Our next fear may be
artificial cells too small to see that will wreak havoc on us, brought
about by some out-of-control prize seeker with courage but not enough caution.
Happy Darwin Day?
Actually, that is not the intriguing thing about this story.
It is that evolutionary biologists have no sense of smell. We quoted
extensively from this article to give readers the chance to sharpen their noses
and do some serious baloney detecting, because
this article stinks of rotten baloney left and right, up and down, through
and through. If you need practice in thinking straight, this article
is a good one to practice on.
Its not that the questions are bad: they are
vital: What is life? Where do we come from? People
have asked these questions since antiquity, and are not human if they dont
wonder about them.
The baloney begins with the assumption that evolution permeates all of
reality, even defines life, and emerges as a victor over thermodynamics
all by itself. That is the pervasive myth in this story.
They dont phrase their questions the way most people do:
Is there a God? a Designer? an all-wise, all-knowing Creator? (i.e., a source
of information). No! Every scientist at these conferences
assumed from the get-go that elephants and bacteria and human beings
emerged out of some unknown, fortuitous concourse of atoms
that crossed that divide between nonlife and life without help. That is the
only approach permitted under their Darwinian rules of
science. It leaves them in a hopeless muddle that becomes
almost comic, like a group of blindfolded cave explorers,
stumbling around because their rules forbid flashlights and require
the wearing of blindfolds.
Lets start by unraveling the
distinction made by Morowitz between living and nonliving chemistry.
He characterized nonliving chemical reactions as being driven by
This means that nonliving chemicals follow the laws of nature obediently.
The first law of TD says that no new matter and energy will emerge out of
nothing. The second law of TD, more important for our analysis,
dictates that chemicals will seek equilibrium and gravitate toward a state
of maximum disorder (notice that information is the polar opposite of disorder).
Scientists like to use big words, not just to show off, but
in an attempt to be precise. But here, Morowitz confused the issue by subtly
personifying nonliving chemicals,
claiming that they explore the state of space
in an ergodical fashion. (Ergodic means each member is representative
of the whole; for instance, the way one sodium chloride molecule reacts
can be considered the way all do; the word also is used in statistics
regarding the probability a state will recur.)
Thus, as he describes them, nonliving chemicals tend to conduct a random,
exhaustive search of all possibilities. Can a nonliving entity
search? Obviously not.
Surely what he intended to say is that nonliving chemicals,
merely bouncing around at random, will eventually hit on any possible
interactions. Depending on the energy states between them,
some interactions will be endothermic,
using energy; others will be exothermic, releasing energy. But whatever is
possible, nonliving chemicals will randomly explore
that space and then do what comes naturally. Water trickling down a rocky slope
appears to be searching for a way down, but is
really just responding to the laws of thermodynamics.
Sometimes water will jet up into the air,
as in a seaside blowhole or Yellowstone geyser, but only with the input of energy,
and even then, not because of a code or special combination of molecules.
Any and all water
molecules will react the same under the circumstances, because each is a
representative of the set of all water molecules.
What about life? In contrast, he points
out, living systems explore a combinatorially large space of
possibilities through an evolutionary process. The key word here
is combinatorially. DNA combines bases into a genetic code,
and proteins combine amino acids into functional machines. The combinations,
when meaningful and useful, open up seemingly limitless possibilities
that (when energized by metabolism in a container), can allow an organism to
beat thermodynamics in the short term. Locally and temporarily, it
can achieve a state of low entropy. A seed can grow into a gravity-defying
plant, and an egg can grow into a bird, flying through the air,
with feathers, bones, lungs and a host of richly functional parts.
Eventually, of course, TD wins; the plant withers, and the bird weakens
and dies. Both decay into particles with high entropy.
This distinction cannot be overemphasized. Nonliving
chemicals do not explore combination space because they
lack a genetic code to do so: i.e., they lack information.
You will notice that this article tosses around the word information as if
it will just magically appear if an appropriate informational polymer
can be found, whether DNA, RNA or PNA. Stop right there. That is equivalent
to claiming that the availability of ink, paper and type will form books without
an author. Foul; out; game over. It is not even worth
considering this argument further, but we shall, just for the fun of it.
Morowitz sneaks in a Darwinian assumption into the second
half of his description of living chemicals: he claims that living
systems explore a combinatorially large space of possibilities through
an evolutionary process. If we can ever get a Darwinian to prove
this instead of assuming it, the intellectual debate over origins will
come out of a dense fog. Yes, organisms can vary through mutation,
and yes, traits from pre-existing information can sort into distinct
populations, but can a Darwinist name one instance of new information for
a new function coming out of an evolutionary process? Richard
Dawkins, the king of Darwin dogmatists, was stumped on this question, and in 3.5
years of reporting from the premiere Darwinist journals, we have yet to run
across a clear example. We can, however, provide many cases of Darwinians moaning
about the lack of examples (see 11/01/2002, for instance).
Evolutionists are sneaky at embedding their philosophy
into their terms. They define life as something that evolves, and
they define science as materialism. Its impossible to carry
on a rational discussion with someone who
controls the dictionary.
In past commentaries, we characterized the gap between life and
nonlife as a canyon, and described the ways evolutionists try to imagine
nonliving chemicals spontaneously bridging the canyon.
This would be good time to review the 05/22/2002
entry about the ways evolutionists try to help life bridge the gap
from both sides. The important thing to remember is that the top-down
approach and the bottom-up approach both cheat by using information from
the evolutionists brain. If you keep the cheater out of the
process, the chemicals are simply not going to do what the evolutionist
wants without his help.
All the talk about artificial life, furthermore,
is intelligent design, not evolution, so it is irrelevant to the question of
the origin of life. With these principles in mind, it is easy to detect the
baloney in the various proposals in the article:
Charles Darwin was privately interested in the origin of life, but
publicly reticent to make statements about it. Out of a desire not
to appear impious, he had inserted into the ending of The Origin of
Species a suggestion that a Creator might have breathed life into a few forms,
or into one, which since had evolved. His real
agenda, however, was all-encompassing: he wanted a materialistic
universe with God out of the picture. But he was cautious.
Charlie was keenly aware
of the trap Pouchet had fallen into with Pasteur
over spontaneous generation. He watched cautiously from a distance
as Huxley and Haeckel made fools of themselves claiming to have found
primordial protoplasm in the seabed. He dreamed about a warm little
pond in a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker, but he remained silent
publicly, writes Janet Browne in Charles Darwin: The Power of Place
(Princeton, 2002). His caution was admirable, but inwardly, he
desired this philosophers stone, because it would make
his denial of God complete:
- So-called self-organizing nanostructures require intelligent
design of the components and the environment. Mass-produced, magnetized
Lego blocks might be coaxed to link up, for example, but only in an ergodic
fashion and only if they are put into a conducive container.
Even so, the structures contain no real information in the sense of coding;
they consist of repetitive patterns.
- The word selection is often misused as a
personification; who is
doing the selecting? Remember, chemicals dont care.
Example: how and when selection plays a greater role than
thermodynamics in the observed distribution of phenotypes.
Subtle, isnt it? Only actors play roles. He embeds
Darwinian assumptions into the sentence. It suggests a goddess called Evolution
that is like a stage director, gradually promoting the actor selection
over the actor thermodynamics. Sorry.
Thermodynamics always gets lead role unless information
is directing metabolism within a container to locally
and temporarily counteract it. This requires preprogrammed
instructions. Those are the rules in the theater of physics.
- Theoretical frameworks are intelligently designed, so they
have no relevance to a materialistic origin of life.
No theory or model can trump a realistic lab experiment. So PNA
might hold information, huh? And lipids might form a container,
huh? And the PNA might double as a metabolic engine, huh?
OK: put the raw ingredients into a realistic environment, keep your
informational hands off, dont prevent the harmful cross-reactions,
wait a few million years, and watch what happens. Entropy.
- What life already does is irrelevant to what nonliving
chemicals might do. If metabolism scales with body size
between bacteria and elephants, thats nice. What does that
have to do with the origin of life?
- A container without active transport is a death trap
(see 01/17/2002), or would leak out the vital ingredients just as readily
as the toxins. Now analyze the articles
bluffing, overconfident caption
to a picture of one of these death traps:
Short RNA oligonucleotides (red) are adsorbed to a particle of
montmorillonite (clay) and encapsulated within a fatty acid vesicle
(green). The assembly of RNA within the vesicle is coordinated
by the clay particle. Come on, now. You cant
get information out of clay. You cant concentrate metabolic
ingredients into the vesicle or expel wastes out of it except by
diffusion, in which the action will be opposite what is needed.
You cant have natural selection without replication (see
online book). Thus, the picture and the caption
and the big words are utterly irrelevant to the origin of life.
A thing that looks like a cell is no more a cell than
a bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt is the living man.
This should be obvious. The normally good-natured organic chemist,
Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, used to get pretty heated up about
similar claims by Sidney Fox years ago. Fox gained fame by
showcasing his contrived cell-like proteinoid microspheres.
Wilder-Smith called the claim rubbish.
Nothing has changed in 2004; the rubbish has just been reshuffled.
- The current consensus smokescreen fails on two points.
If its consensus, it isnt science (see
12/23/2003). And how could
it be a consensus anyway, when the opposition has been denied a hearing?
Claiming a consensus with only Darwin Party members participating
is like claiming the opinion of
a majority of Senate Democrats represents American opinion.
(This is not just to pick on Democrats. Charlie Darwin described
his political persuasion as liberal or radical [Browne, p. 399],
as did most of his ardent disciples.)
- State of the art and simulation: here are two more
terms that imply intelligent design, not evolution.
- Debug this code: the challenge is to connect realistic but
slow molecular dynamic simulations with less accurate but fast higher
level simulations. Pick your disappointment: slow realism or
fast fantasy? (See 02/10/2004 entry
on misuse of mathematics in biology.)
- Saying something doesnt make it so: Copley explained how catalysts
operate in living systems today and how these were likely to have evolved
from less efficient precursors. Instead of the cute just-so
story, can you please
perform a stage demonstration of less-efficient precursors evolving into
a highly-efficient enzyme? If not, dont call it science
- Debug another line of code: the citric acid cycle of living cells
might be a thermodynamic attractor for all possible metabolic networks,
thus explaining its appearance at the core of all living systems.
Ever heard of the post-hoc fallacy?
His own theory of evolution would stand to gain if spontaneous
generation was shown to be possibleit would acquire its
necessary starting point. Yet it was easy to make rash mistakes....
It could hardly be denied that the same enigma of
skepticism, agnosticism and materialism permeated the thoughts of
most participants at
these two international workshops. What would really have been
interesting at the proceedings,
more than the self-absorbed fluff about theoretical frameworks and models,
would have been a lively debate about the film
Unlocking the Mystery of
Life. If you havent seen it yet, by all means do.
And for additional humor, follow the chain links below on Origin of
Life. They might be termed the comic section of Creation-Evolution
Headlines. If you enjoy the just-so storytelling ability of the
Darwinians, you might also enjoy the Meatball Theory for the Origin of Music
To onlookers, the interconnections between these ideas
and the people who proposed them appeared closeevolutionary
theory and the physical basis of life seemed part and parcel of the
same sprawling intellectual enigma of scepticism, agnosticism, and
materialism. ...it looked as if naturalists were asserting the
sole sufficiency of science [i.e., materialism] as a means of
comprehending the entire universe....
.... Wallace suggested that these rapid transformations
of simple matter could quicken evolution to the point where
Thomsons warnings about the shortened age
of the earth could safely be ignored.
Darwin saw the value in this. He would like to
see spontaneous generation proved true, he told Wallace, for it
would be a discovery of transcendent importance. For the
rest of his life he watched and pondered.
(Browne, pp. 394-395.)
Next headline on:
Origin of Life
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Humanists hope to have a new international holiday by 2009:
Darwin Day. (Feb. 12 was Darwins birthday as well as Abe Lincolns,
so its already set aside as a holiday in America, but promoters want
this to be an international event.) According to Robert Evans story in
the British Humanist Association believes such a commemoration
would send out a signal that science matters in an era when pseudo-science
and fear of science seem to be gaining ground. For their part,
the humanists have their own fear: creationism. It is very,
very scary, said a leader of the Darwin Day movement in America.
Creationism is spreading further and further.
As evidence for anti-Darwinist sentiments,
they point to British Prime Ministers
recent tolerance for a creationist college, advances in creationist and
intelligent design movements in the United States under Bushs
administration, and polls that show 45% of
Americans believe a personal God created all life within 10,000 years.
They are also alarmed at the rise of Islamic and Hindu opposition to
invasion is getting too close for comfort. Evans claims that
In a church a stones throw from the Darwin Research Station
on Ecuadors Galapagos Islands -- where the biologist gathered much
of his evidence for evolution -- fiery evangelical sermons on hellfire
awaiting unbelievers are on the daily menu. In seeming
counterattack, Peter Backus at
has honored the alternative deity (see 02/12/2004
commentary) with the ultimate honor, naming everything that is, ever was,
and ever shall be, Darwins Universe.
Darwin Day--what a great idea.
It would be a perfect occasion to teach people important concepts.
Lets start now thinking up activities that could become favorite
family traditions. Darwinians could wear Selfish Jeans, light Cambrian
explosions, have asteroid fights and go extinct.
Here is a proposed list of Top 10 Darwin Day Activities:
New Website Aids Slow Process of Dethroning Darwin 02/13/2004
Send in your suggestions: write here.
One reader has sent in this prize-winner: a scavenger hunt. Item #1:
a true, transitional fossil. WARNING! Photos of the participants
of this activity may end up on the back of a milk carton.
- Have battles with slime and play King of the Hill.
- Blindfold monkeys and watch them type Shakespeare.
- Have a Darwin beard contest with lady judges to test sexual selection.
- Decorate lizards with feathers and drop them from trees.
- Vote on community Darwin Awards.
- Sponsor a Just-So Storytelling Contest.
- Hold a Planet of the Apes and Survivor movie festival.
- Play glue the peppered moth on the tree.
- Sing Evolution Songs around
a campfire fueled with creationist books.
- Test survival of the fittest: debate a creationist.
Next headline on:
Darwin and Evolution
A new website, Darwin and Design.com,
based on the book co-authored by Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell,
has been announced by
Institute. Meanwhile, Ohio anticreationists are trying to
caricature a proposed lesson plan on critical analysis of evolution
by identifying it
with intelligent design theory.
“Intelligent design isn’t even covered in this lesson,” said Bruce Chapman,
President of Discovery Institute, according to the press release on
Institute News Feb. 11. “The curriculum only examines the evidence
for evolution and the scientific challenges to Darwin’s theory that are
under debate by scientists around the world.”
The Darwin Party totalitarians are so protective of Charlie, their bearded
buddha,* that they do not want anyone asking questions about his deity while
they worship, let alone handing out tracts for another faith.
Perhaps the only way to get open debate back into science will be to get
the government to stop funding the state religion.
Your Internal Motors Can Run Nanotech 02/13/2004
*Janet Browne, in Charles Darwin: The Power of Place
(Princeton, 2002, ch. 10), describes the veneration of Darwin going on in 1871 British
media with example after example of illustrators portraying him as a little god.
For instance, Linley
Sambourne ... portrayed a great spiral from Chaos to
Gods throne in heaven, on which Darwin casually sprawled (p. 378).
The caricatures and cartoons of Darwin, ubiquitous in the media, had far
more impact on the popularity of his theories than any claimed scientific evidence.
Browne writes (p. 381):
Such powerful visual statements propelled the idea of evolution
out of the arcane realms of learned societies and literary
magazines into the ordinary world of humour, newspapers,
and demotic literature. Without Mr. Punchs
monkeys and gorillas, Figaros mirror of nature,
and Holyoakes cloud of protoplasm, the transformation
in nineteenth-century thought would probably have remained
predominantly an elite phenomenon. The full implications
of human descent would have taken much longer to sink in.
These caricatures were not just a transparent medium of
illustration but an actual shaper of contemporary thought,
as representative in their own way as any of the fine arts
or literary texts of the period. The themes of Darwins
Descent of Man were graphically repackaged in a versatile
cultural form enjoying wide distribution and popular appeal.
The cartoons might appear on the tables of any middle-class
home in the country.
(See Baloney Detector entry on
visualization as a
propaganda tactic and smokescreen.)
No wonder Charlie retains such a devoted group of hardline loyalists.
He was not a mere
founder of a scientific idea; he is the Holy Father of the materialists.
Visitors to his house acted as if they were making a religious pilgrimage.
Mischievously, Huxley sent a sketch of someone paying his devotions
at the shrine of Pope Darwin (p. 384).
Some worshippers during
their pilgrimages to Down House became breathless, so overcome with
awe they could hardly speak in the exalted masters presence.
Grown men could crumble in the presence of
the god, Brown writes (p. 383). Even his appearance was part of
the act. The long unkempt beard made him look like an Old Testament
prophet or patriarch.
Charlie shamelessly played along with this celebrity worship, and with the aid
of family members and friends like Huxley and Hooker, used it to his advantage.
He developed a shrewd management of personal publicity; for example, he
unashamedly manipulated his reputation for poor health to control
the timing and length of visits (p. 383).
She describes how Darwins entourage worked
as if they were a family firm, protecting and supporting their figurehead....
Darwins household was an integrated corporate enterprise (p. 384).
They played along with Charlies selfish escape mechanisms, like cutting
visits short due to alleged illness, the need for a nap, or the need to
get back to his pretended scientific work in the lab.
All this manipulation just
added to the mystique, and made visitors even more grateful for having had
even a brief opportunity to kiss the feet of their pope.
Some of these young pilgrims, filled with the spirit, returning to their homes,
labs, and schools with a cherished memory of the great man
and their near-religious experience having had a moment to
sit at Darwins feet and venerate him, understandably
treated his books of just-so stories like inspired scriptures. They
turned Darwin into a secular saint and Darwinism into
a religion (p. 383). You may now throw up.
Think times have changed? The editor of
Biology, Geoffrey North, lets us know where his adoration lies:
Charles Darwin is quite rightly a hero for many
in biology. He is undoubtedly the greatest biologist of all time;
I think many may also envy the way he was able to work at home, with a
lifestyle rather similar to that of a country parson, surrounded
by his family. What continues to astonish is the way that
he has turned out to be right on so many fundamental issues
(Feb. 17 issue).
Follow the Chain Links on Darwin for some data points
you need to make an informed vote. Greatest
biologist of all time? Right on so many fundamental issues?
We vote for Louis Pasteur.
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
In each cell in your body, and in that of every living thing, there exists
a tiny motor named ATP synthase that
calls the ultimate molecular machine. It converts electrical
to chemical energy, writes Alexandra Goho, with amazing efficiency.
Now, Japanese have harnessed some of these motors (only 12 millionths of a
millimeter high) to power artificial machines. They attached hundreds
of the motors to a glass surface and attached little magnetic beads to
the rotor part. With an electromagnet, they induced them to spin, and
were able to make them rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise.
1Alexandra Goho, Natures tiniest rotor runs like clockwork,
Week of Feb. 7, 2004; Vol. 165, No. 6, p. 94; see also article by
Jessica Gorman, Nanotech Switch: Strategy controls minuscule motor,
Week of Nov. 9, 2002; Vol. 162, No. 19.
Biochemists and nanotechnologists are rightly fascinated by these nanoscopic
machines, but strangely silent about where they came from. They want
to know what they can do with them, but where did they come from?
They hope they can borrow them for all kinds of nanodevices, but where did
they come from?
Utmost Precision Found in DNA Repair Enzyme 02/13/2004
Suppose we were members of a Star Trek crew from a distant
galaxy, and had just landed on Mars. We find this little rover with
solar panels and wheels and instruments, and all we can think about is
how we can play with it. Wouldnt some sentient being on the crew
be thinking, Where did it come from?
Exercise: if aliens found Spirit or Opportunity on Mars, would
they be justified in inferring intelligent design for its origin, even if
they knew nothing about the designers? Why or why not?
If scientists found an ATP synthase motor in the desert, but instead of
being nanoscopic it was the size of a cement mixer, would they be justified
in thinking it had evolved from the sand?
Support your answers.
Weve had many previous headlines on ATP Synthase.
You can start at the 09/18/2003 article
and work back through the links for more information.
Next headline on:
The cell has many helper enzymes that can repair DNA damage.
One such enzyme, named MutY, has been described in the
Feb. 12 issue of Nature.1 Reviewer Tomas Lindahl
sets the stage: Damaged DNA must be removed with the utmost precision,
as mistakes are costly. The structure of a repair enzyme bound to
its substrate provides a welcome clue to how this is achieved.
This particular enzyme is able to recognize its particular
error target, an adenine incorrectly paired to an oxidized guanine,
because of extensive and precise contacts it
makes with that specific erroneous pair. These contacts prevent it from
mistakenly removing a correct pair. In a paper in the same issue,
Fromme et al.2
describe an ingenious way by which this specificity is achieved
through these multiple, precise contacts.
Lindahl describes how this enzyme works. Details of the jargon are
not essential for appreciating the precision of this molecular machines
MutY belongs to a group of enzymes known as DNA glycosylases,
which recognize altered bases in DNA and help to remove them.
Like other DNA glycosylases, it generates a sharp bend in the DNA at the
site of the mismatch. The new structural data provide a suitable
explanation for why as is desired MutY doesnt recognize
and remove an adenine opposite its normal base partner, thymine (T):
the extensive and precise contacts between MutY and an AxoG pair
are entirely absent in a normal AT pair. Similarly, the
enzymes active site does not accommodate a cytosine opposite an
oxoG; for coding reasons, it is important that the oxidized
base rather than the normal base is repaired in this partnership.
Lindahl notes that mutations in this enzyme put humans at risk of colorectal
cancer. Other oxygen-altered bases, if not repaired, are implicated
in tissue degeneration and ageing.
1Tomas Lindahl, Molecular Biology: Ensuring error-free
Nature 427, 598 (12 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427598a.
2Fromme et al.,
Feb 12, 2004, p. 652.
How does a blind molecule do this? Notice how specific the contacts
are: some parts first allow the enzyme to contact the specific error-bound pair,
and if and only if a match is found,
other parts of this machine are designed to bend the DNA strand so
that the bad base can be cut out. (He didnt go into this, but
other machines are on hand to ferry in and insert the correct base.)
All these extensive and precise contacts exist
because another section of DNA that codes for this
enzyme contains bases that are also extensive and precise.
This underscores the principle that enzymes, to work, are not
indiscriminately mutatable. They have to be precise to work.
Mercurys Magnetic Field: Another Attempt to Save Theory from Data 02/13/2004
It also underscores the evolutionary conundrum that DNA needs repair enzymes
to prevent catastrophic errors, but the repair enzymes themselves are coded by DNA.
How could a DNA strand without the error-correction mechanisms survive
beyond a few copies? Evolutionists know that accurate copying is
essential to prevent error catastrophe yet they expect us to
believe that these marvelous high-precision error-correction systems (and
there are many, many parts of the DNA Damage Repair team), somehow came
into being via accidents. Give me a break. (On second thought,
dont--broken DNA is deadly.) Not surprising that there is no
mention at all of evolution in this article.
For more on the wonder of enzymes and their precision, see
our online book, Evolution: Possible or
Impossible? Though written years ago, the books
thesis that chance is utterly incapable of producing such incredible
precision of function is only amplified by discoveries like this.
Next headline on:
Genetics and DNA
Nature Feb. 121 restates a puzzle about Mercury known since
the Mariner 10 encounters (1974-5):
...why, against expectations, does Mercury have a global magnetic field?
Tim Lincoln mentions a new theory by Aharonson et al. published in
Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2004) that maybe the original field
was frozen into an uneven crust. We may not be able to tell until
the MESSENGER spacecraft, launching this May, sends
back its first data in 2007.
The planets diminutive size means that it should have cooled quickly after it formed. Any molten core would have become solid, or almost completely so. A magnetic-field-generating dynamo in an outer core (as is the case for Earth) should have long since seized up. But the news from Mariner 10 meant a rethink was needed, and since then attempts to account for the magnetic field have centred on how the core might have remained largely molten.
Planetary magnetic fields are astounding in their diversity.
Mercury has a small global field (but should not);
Venus, our twin, has essentially none; the gas giants all have fields
but those of Uranus and Neptune are extremely tilted and off center, while
Saturns is almost perfectly aligned with its pole axis.
According to theory, this cannot be. Earth, fortuitously, has
a perfect field to shield its inhabitants from cosmic rays and solar
flares, but its strength is dropping rapidly.
Oldest Fossil Insect Alleged
In this golden
age of planetary discovery, we should soon be gathering more
data to explain these mysterious phenomena. If trends continue, however,
each solution will breed new problems. At this point,
it does seem quite incredible that tiny Mercury should retain
any global field at all, if it were really 4.5 billion years old.
Note the surprise in Lincolns writing over this mystery: against
expectations...would have...should have...a rethink was needed.
Next headline on:
In a pattern that sounds familiar, an insect fossil has been
found that (1) is the oldest ever discovered, and (2) shows that
winged flight may have emerged earlier than previously thought.
Estimates put this fossil at about 400 million years old, among the first
creatures to colonize the land. Though wing impressions were not found,
the specimens may have belonged, based on other detectable features,
to an order of winged insects.
Source: BBC News,
based on the finding by Engel and Grimaldi published in Nature.1
The authors say, In fact, Rhyniognatha has derived characters
shared with winged insects, suggesting that the origin of wings may have
been earlier than previously believed. Regardless, Rhyniognatha
indicates that insects originated in the Silurian period and were members
of some of the earliest terrestrial faunas.
1Michael S. Engel and David A. Grimaldi,
New light shed on the oldest insect,
Nature 427, 627 - 630 (12 February 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02291.
Anybody see evolution here? The first bugs are already bugs.
The authors make a valiant attempt to fit these into some kind of evolving
lineage, but the discussion is all inference based on guesswork.
A set of disconnected links does not comprise a chain.
Darwinians Excel at Games 02/10/2004
Next headline on:
Martin Nowak (Harvard) sure got good press for his evolutionary game theories
last week. In
Nature,1 he retold the glorious story of how he and
Karl Sigmund met in an Austrian mountain cottage
and applied the prisoners dilemma game
to a new theory for social evolution. The same week, in
as part of a special section on mathematics in biology,
the two of them published a detailed accounting of the many insights game
theory has provided to Darwinists.
Thousands of papers
have been written on game theory since Nowak and Sigmund dreamed up this new
approach for characterizing biological interactions (for example,
Martin especially liked game theory because it didnt
require hard lab work: At university, I found labs disappointing,
he says. experiments failed for no good reason.
But theory was beautiful. You could do theory while walking through
the forest or lying in the grass. Theory was not grey, but a golden
tree of life.
His Science piece claims some progress, but lists
some substantial challenges ahead. He does not specify how many
hours of lying in the grass these puzzles will require:
Many challenges lie ahead. Evolutionary game theory is formulated
in terms of phenotypes, thereby ignoring the complexity of the
genotype-phenotype mapping. More work is needed on the
interaction of strategies encoded in genomic sequences.
Most evolutionary game dynamics have been studied in the context of
infinitely large populations. We expect that finite
population size effects will lead to surprising outcomes and might
question the importance of traditional evolutionary stability.
Cultural interpretations of replicator dynamics often assume that
successful strategies spread by imitation or learning, but the
learning of complicated strategies from behavioral observations is a
nontrivial task that needs specific investigation.
Similarly, studying human language requires a connection between
the mathematics of game theory, learning theory, and computational
Despite these challenges, Nowak is confident that game
theory provides a conceptual framework that is just shy of a panacea.
It can be applied to everything in biology, he claims, from interactions
between proteins in a cell to social interactions between people:
The applications of evolutionary game theory pervade by now all
areas of biology. Interactions among genes, viruses, cells, and
humans are often instances of evolutionary games that are amenable
to empirical and theoretical investigation. Game theory is the
appropriate tool whenever the success of an individual depends
With all the popularity his approach
has garnered, Nowak is like a kid in a candy store:
I am no longer embarrassed to work on games. They are the
generic description of evolutionary interactions among genes, cells and
people. Children love games. Scientific creativity is to never
Children love games. Children also love fairy tales.
Children are suckers
for logical fallacies.
Grow up, Martin.
Comets as Cosmic Storks 02/10/2004
These guys should read the piece by Robert M. May in the same issue of
on Uses and Abuses of Mathematics in Biology. Though not
targeting game theory or evolution specifically, May shows how mathematics
can confuse, not clarify, issues, and lead to false conclusions if the
assumptions or inputs are wrong or imprecise.
He does mention how Darwin might have avoided the now-discredited view of
blending inheritance had he known a little math (Charlie said, I have
deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand
something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus
endowed seem to have an extra sense.) If Darwin had grasped
the significance of Mendels results,
Robert May claims, he might have made better progress against critics.
(Or perhaps more accurately, would have gasped and moaned.)
May points out differences between mathematical uses in physics and
biology. Tycho collected planetary data, Kepler described patterns
that made the observations coherent,
and Newton provided fundamental laws to explain the patterns.
Mathematical biology is partly in each stage, but
every stage in this caricature is usually vastly more complex
than in the early days of physics, May warns. He provides
examples of abuses, and some good uses, such as in immunology.
But he ends on a word of caution that Darwinian game theorists should
read and heed:
Mathematics, however, does not have the long-standing relation
to the life sciences that it does to the physical sciences and
engineering. It is therefore not surprising to find occasional
abuses. ... Perhaps most common among abuses, and not always easy
to recognize, are situations where mathematical models are
constructed with an excruciating abundance of detail in some aspects,
whilst other important facets of the problem are misty or a
vital parameter is uncertain to within, at best, an order of
magnitude. It makes no sense to convey a beguiling
sense of reality with irrelevant detail, when other
equally important factors can only be guessed at.
Above all, remember Einsteins dictum: models should be as
simple as possible, but not more so.
Exercise: Re-read this quote, and then read
Nowaks quote above about the challenges facing game theory.
How likely are evolutionary game theorists to be duped by a beguiling
sense of reality? (A phrase which, being interpreted, means, fantasy.)
Extra credit: Apply the same analysis to Antonellis claim (see
01/12/2004) and to
computerized models of evolution (see 08/20/2003
1Martin A. Nowak, Prisoners of the dilemma,
Nature 427, 491 (05 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427491a.
2Martin A. Nowak and Karl Sigmund,
Evolutionary Dynamics of Biological Games,
Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 793-799, 10.1126/science.1093411.
3Robert M. May, Uses and Abuses of Mathematics
Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 790-793,
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised
the bar on tale-telling ability. They believe that comets splatting
on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and
farther out, eventually escaping the suns pull. Over time,
they might spread life to other worlds. They estimate that since
the origin of the Milky Way galaxy, over 10 billion worlds could have been
seeded with life by this process. Story in
Wickramasinghe, former colleague of
the late Fred Hoyle (see 08/22/01),
is a useful idiot-genius who has helped demolish arguments for a chance
origin of life, but replaced it by a tall tale even more incredible.
Since storytelling has become part and parcel of science, anything goes if you
have a PhD, the whoppier the better,
and the science news outlets will publish it with nary a
guffaw. (Unless you are a creationist.)
Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy the New Epicycles?
Next headline on:
Origin of Life
An article in
Economist suggests that dark matter and dark energy may not be
necessary to understand the structure of the universe. It refers
to two recent papers that explain the cosmic background radiation and
galaxy clusters with ordinary matter, without a need for either of the other two
unknown quantities. Are dark matter and dark energy like the
fudge factors called epicycles that Ptolemy used to keep his outdated
cosmology working? The article allows that, at this point, either side of the
controversy could be wrong, but On the other hand, a universe that
requires three completely different sorts of stuff to explain its essence
does have a whiff of epicycles about it. ... one cannot help but wonder
whether Ptolemy might soon have some company in the annals of convoluted,
Dark energy is the big fad these days.
Leading cosmologists are certain they have proved its existence
in this era of precision cosmology (see
06/20/03). A model that
doesnt rely on
96% unknown entities would seem to have a built-in advantage.
Lets watch to see who eats crow a few years from now.
Was the Nobel Denied to a Creationist?
Next headline on:
Rick Weiss, writing in
Magazine (Dec. 2003), analyzes Raymond Damadians
prize fight over the 2003 Nobel for Physiology and Medicine
and 10/10/2003 entries).
He suggests the possibility that one of the main reasons was Damadians
views on creation. A Nobel spokesman denies it, but Weiss wonders:
But it is difficult not to at least consider another explanation: that
scientists on the assembly or in other positions of influence could
not abide Damadian’s staunch support for creationist science.
Damadian is a firm believer in a literal translation of the Bible: he has
no doubt that the earth was created by God during a six-day stretch about
6,000 years ago. Damadian has also served as a technical adviser to
the Institute for Creation Research, which rejects the standard model
of evolution. ...
.... It is tempting to speculate that some assembly members
might have weighed the additional legitimacy a Nobel imprimatur would have
conferred upon groups whose views are so diametrically opposed to so
much of modern science.
The views of creationists are not diametrically opposed
to so much of modern science, for crying out loud. They are diametrically
opposed to the totalitarian elitism of the Darwin Party. Like so
many great creation scientists before him,
Damadian performed exemplary scientific research that has had phenomenal,
world-wide impact for good. That is what a prize should go for,
not for allegiance to any standard mythology.
Evolutionists Publish Racist Book 02/06/2004
We cannot know exactly how much this factor weighed in on the
Nobel committees secret deliberations, but it would not be surprising,
given the Darwin Partys history of smear tactics going back to
Huxley. Rather than have open debate about the evidence, they
present themselves as the noble couriers of science and everyone
who disagrees with them as crackpots. The Smithsonian, whose museum houses
Damadians first working MRI scanner, could have done a better job defending
his case, but at least this article is one of the few that have dared to suggest
the creation factor. Notice how Weiss talked about the Nobel
imprimatur, and portrays the committee as if it were a council of
bishops declaring the official interpretation of their scripture, The
Origin of Species. Whats next, the secular inquisition?
Next headline on:
Politics and Ethics
Bible and Theology
Disturbing is how Robert N. Proctor (Penn State) describes
a new book by two prominent evolutionists in the
5 issue of Nature.1 The book is
Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and
Frank Miele (Westview, 2004), and Proctor has a lot of politically correct
diatribe to heap on it, though reluctantly:
This is a disturbing book, especially given the stature of its
primary author, Vincent Sarich, as one of the founding pioneers
of molecular anthropology. In 1967, in a paper with Allan Wilson,
Sarich, then a graduate student at the University of California,
Berkeley, used a simple protein-molecular clock to show that humans
share a common ancestor with the great apes from as recently as
5 million years ago overturning previous estimates of more
20 million years.
Miele is a senior editor of Skeptic magazine. Both men are
ardent anticreationists. Sarich has debated Duane Gish four times,
and each time characterized the debate as the science game
being superior to
the faith game. So what is Sarich doing here promoting
emphasis on racial differences, in a day when the world is trying to put
the abuses of racism behind? Proctor would like to know.
But in his attack, he thinks evolutionary anthropology can, in
moderation, put racial studies to good use:
The authors case for race draws heavily on contentious
claims by raciologists such as Arthur R. Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton,
notorious for having postulated natural racial hierarchies in
intelligence, criminality, athletic performance, sexual endowment and the
capacity to accumulate wealth. This is a shame, because there
are good reasons to believe that certain aspects of race are
very real, and that important questions of human origins, prehistoric
migrations and medical therapeutics can be fruitfully addressed by
properly re-examining human biovariation.Proctor is especially upset that they made broad-brushed
claims without proof or attribution. After some examples, he continues
that Stronger claims are made that border on the incendiary,
particularly about affirmative action, intermarriage and eugenics.
He also finds it remarkable that the authors would simply
accept, with so little supporting evidence, a claim of inherent
low IQ for sub-Saharan Africans, ignoring the many ways that such
a sweeping and grotesque generalization could be flawed.
Not all anthropologists were racists, he assures the readers, and proper
study of anthropology might find racial studies useful:
Here, though, we have an exercise in bombast and overstatement....
Flaws in this book are so numerous that it would be
difficult to list them all.
The authors scoff at the idea of race as a social construct, but the
historical account they present is full of idealized white-and-black
polarities. The authors side with Ernst Haeckel over Rudolf Virchow,
Madison Grant over Franz Boas, and Carleton Coon over Ashley Montagu.
There is little effort to explore which of the myriad historical
realities postulated for race might have alternative explanations.
I suspect that the impact of this book could be the
opposite of the authors intentions. There is much to be
said for studying human genetic variability to explore questions of
prehistoric ancestry and migration, and to investigate how
different human populations respond to medical interventions.
But the leap from these to immoderate speculations about the
permanence of present-day inequalities is likely to give sceptics
even more reason to question racial realities.
Anthropology has a mixed history of dealings
with human racial injustice (think of Carleton Coons view that
Africans became human some 200,000 years after white Europeans).
The present book, so full of flim-flam and loose speculations, is
more likely to re-arm than to deflate sceptics.
1Robert N. Proctor, When is it helpful to categorize
people according to race?
Nature 427, 487 - 488 (05 February 2004); doi:10.1038/427487a.
Mixed history, indeed. Evolutionists cannot whitewash the atrocities and
genocide committed in the name of Darwinian survival of the fittest. Charlie himself, and many
of his followers, were confirmed racists, although some were more ardent
than others. Darwin maintained, at least outwardly, a deep concern for social justice, but Huxley
and Haeckel flaunted their European chauvinism. Francis Galton,
Darwins cousin and admirer, was the father of eugenics.
(Virchow, by contrast, was a vigorous anti-Darwinist, so Proctor cannot
place him in any evolutionary pantheon.) For more on
the racism of the Victorian-era Darwinians, see ch. 8-9 in Janet Brownes
Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002). She describes
Darwins racist beliefs as expressed in his second-most influential
book, The Descent of Man (1871):
Darwinian Phylogenists Do the Funky Chicken 02/05/2004
He ventured onto thorny ground....
His naturalism explicitly cast the notion of race into evolutionary
and biological terms, reinforcing contemporary ideas of a racial
hierarchy that replicated the ranking of animals. And he had no
scruple in using the cultural inequalities between populations to
substantiate his evolutionary hypotheses. Darwin certainly believed
that the moral and cultural principles of his own people, and of his own
day, were by far the highest that had emerged
in evolutionary history. (p. 345).
Darwinian apologists can, and do, point to misguided Christians who used
Bible verses to support racism and slavery. But judging from the
quote above, which belief system evolutionary naturalism or Christianity
leads directly from its core doctrines and founding statements to racism?
Darwin used evolution
to explain and rationalize racial differences; the subtitle of his initial
revolutionary book was The Preservation of Favoured Races in
the Struggle for Life. Yet the Bible teaches that we all
descended from one human pair, Adam and Eve. Paul reinforced this
core doctrine of both Christians and Jews
when he taught the Athenians that God had made all mankind of one blood
The teachings of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and
elsewhere are the antithesis of racism. Jesus continually
exalted the outcast, the poor, the underprivileged, and the weak as
better than the mighty (the fittest). So does the rest of Scripture
when each passage is understood in context. Faith, not race, is
always the criterion for fellowship in Gods family, whether
Rahab, Ruth, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, or countless others of any
nationality, ethnicity, sex, or social standing. Between Darwinism and
Christianity, the core doctrines and teachings of chief spokesmen lead in
opposite directions regarding race.
Creationists might have some agreement with Proctor,
in that there is some room for analyzing slight variations between
people that resulted from their histories (to be able to provide appropriate
medical care, for instance), but these variations are not due to
differences in human origins or to prehistoric migrations,
because the historic migrations of mankind are documented
in the Bible. Biblical creationists explain
the skin colors, eye slants, susceptibility to certain genetic
diseases and other identifiable characteristics of ethnic
groups as resulting from the separation of peoples after the Tower
of Babel. But they would claim these very minor and superficial
changes all occurred within just a few thousand years, and in no way
reflect on the truth that we
are all created equal, and endowed by our Creator with
certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness. Proctors belief, on the other extreme,
would put these racial differences
far back, millions of years, into our alleged evolutionary ascent from
ape-like ancestors. That could easily provide scientific justification
to modern racism. The Bible, by contrast, teaches that for all who
come to the foot of the cross, there is neither Greek
nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave
nor free, but Christ is all and in all (
A direct line can be drawn from orthodox Darwinism to racism, but not
from the cross of Christ. (Note also that theistic evolutionism
has no advantage over naturalistic Darwinism in this regard.)
Genesis has taken a lead role in revitalizing the concept that a Genesis
understanding of human origins is the solution to racial tensions in the
world today. So Vincent Sarich, the anti-creationist, sowed his
core beliefs, and now they have sprouted.
their fruits you shall know them.
Next headline on:
Politics and Ethics
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Fredrik Ronquist is active in phylogenetic systematics, the art of drawing
evolutionary trees from DNA comparisons. And he admires Joseph
Felsenstein, an icon in the field. But when he reviewed
Felsensteins new book, Inferring Phylogenies (Sinauer, 2004)
in the Feb. 5
issue of Science,1 he had mixed feelings about the
authors biases and his choice of humor.
Ronquist has much to praise about the iconic masters work,
concluding I can think of no one who could provide a better and
more comprehensive summary of the current methods for building
evolutionary trees. Nevertheless, his criticisms are revealing
about the state of this art:
After all this reluctant criticism, Ronquist manages to find something to compliment, in closing:
- What is it about, anyway? The book seems to omit a rather
important part of phylogenetic systematics:
What I found most surprising about the book is that it is not at all
about systematics. Readers will find no coverage of many
basic concepts in phylogenetic systematics--such as synapomorphy,
symplesiomorphy, sistergroups, outgroups, and monophyly.
While Felsenstein covers many subjects like techniques for statistical
testing of evolutionary trees, uses of phylogenies, and
nearly every quantitative approach to tree-building that has been tried,
Ronquist is most surprised there is no coverage of these important
terms and concepts in a 684-page definitive treatise by an expert in the field.
- No help on classification.
Another topic that many phylogenetic systematists consider important but the book glosses over is how one should convert phylogenetic trees into classifications of organisms. According to Felsenstein, The delimitation of higher taxa is no longer a major task of systematics, as the availability of estimates of the phylogeny removes the need to use these classifications. Even a cursory look at the literature would prove that many active systematists disagree; indeed, the discussion of classification and naming principles seems to be as vigorous as ever. This neglect of the classification issue is all the more remarkable because Felsenstein devotes an entire chapter--one of the more original and important contributions in the book--to the drawing of trees (specifically, to algorithms for drawing diagrams of trees). After all, drawing trees is just another way of communicating the results of a phylogenetic analysis. Often a diagram is better, but sometimes a name is necessary. I do not think we will ever see papers with titles like
The biology of <insert tree drawing here>.
- Controversy is bitter.
In a field that has been plagued by outrageously bitter controversy, the book is remarkably balanced on the whole. For example, consider Felsensteins summary of the debates on statistical inconsistency. It reveals when parsimony is inconsistent and suffers from long-branch attraction, but it makes no secret of the fact that likelihood methods can also be misled by similar phenomena when the model used for inference is incorrect. The attempt to provide balanced coverage probably will not stop ardent parsimony advocates from being disappointed.
This is because Ronquist feels Fenselstein was unfair in his choice of algorithms to exalt,
and ones to ignore.
- The Bayesian Funky Chicken. The books coverage of
Bayesian inference of phylogenies is surprisingly short and critical,
Ronquist complains. Bayesian inference is a fancy mathematical form of
educated guessing by applying values to likely causes, but it suffers from
GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. Ronquist disagrees with the authors
criticisms, and is not amused by the joking description
Fenselstein gives to this technique as applied to evolutionary tree-building:
I find the authors complaints about prior distributions partly misdirected. For instance, Mau and Newtons prior on clocklike trees is described as technically inadmissible and an impossible distribution because it is an improper probability distribution. But improper priors are often unproblematic in Bayesian inference, and there is an entire school of objective Bayesians who routinely use them. The comment on the choice of proposal distributions is more funny than helpful: At the moment the choice of a good proposal distribution involves the burning of incense, casting of chicken bones, use of magical incantations, and invoking the opinions of more prestigious colleagues.
Although it is easy to criticize a book that tries to cover so much, in this case doing so is like throwing stones in a glass house. Every phylogeneticist can probably find some points they understand better than Felsenstein, but I can think of no one who could provide a better and more comprehensive summary of the current methods for building evolutionary trees. It will be a long time before there will be a comparable book; perhaps the field is now growing too fast for there to ever be one. The publication of Inferring Phylogenies is a milestone for evolutionary biology in general and phylogenetics in particular.
1Fredrick Ronquist, Phylogenetics: A Broad Look at
Volume 303, Number 5659, Issue of 6 Feb 2004, pp. 767-768.
Sometimes you have to just stand back and let the Darwin Party members
do it to each other. Does anyone have confidence in evolutionary
tree-building after this indecent exposure? When an expert in the
field omits significant parts of the story (why? because he feels they
are invalid?), characterizes it as a battle over the most prestigious
authorities, and describes one of the chief methodologies to be as mystical
as casting chicken bones and using magical incantations, what are we
supposed to conclude? Dont they realize its confusing
to the peasants when the shamans are exorcising one another?
Why Darwin Is Like Yoda, and Darwinism Like Marxism 02/04/2004
For more on phylogenetic tree-building, see 11/26/2002
and 06/13/2003 entries, and follow
the Chain Links on Genes and DNA.
Next headline on:
Genetics and DNA
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Homage for the master is palpable in John Vandermeers review
(Science, Jan. 23)1 of a thick
new book entitled Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in
Evolution by Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman (Princeton, 2004).
Vandermeer seems almost worshipful in his opening lines:
The nascent germ of many novel ideas in biology can be traced directly
or indirectly to Darwin. Thus it would probably be unusual if a
book with laudatory cover blurbs by such notables as Lord May and
Comrade Lewontin did not somehow reach deep into the masters seed bank.
The force of Master Darwins insight was only recently brought
to full power by subsequent disciples, like Lewontin and Levins.
What is the neglected
process in evolution indicated by the subtitle? It is called
niche construction or constructivism, the idea that not
only does the environment impact the organism, the organism impacts the
environment. This dialectic approach produces a sort
of Hegelian synthesis-antithesis-synthesis in the operations of evolution:
Organisms in one generation can modify their environment, which is then
inherited by the next generation. Just as a sequence of generations of
organisms changes through the pattern of intergenerational inheritance,
the environment to which they respond likewise changes through ecological
inheritance. The authors approach incorporates two constructs of
inheritance, genetic and ecological, which are coupled through niche
construction and natural selection.
Vandermeer honors the work of his comrades, with only a few reservations
(not enough to get dismissed from The Party). One criticism, however,
might be exploited by enemies of the revolution. He suggests that
realistic experiments might reveal that the dialectic interplay between
natural selection and niche construction does not drive evolution,
but instead, steps on the brakes:
Consider, for example, an organism evolving increased resource use
efficiency. If the dynamics of the organism and its resource
generate a stable equilibrium over ecological time, then evolutionary
dynamics will tend to reduce the equilibrium biomass of the resource.
This arrangement is consistent with the niche construction framework.
(The resource biomass is the consumers niche; thus, niche
construction occurs through resource use while evolutionary change
drives increased efficiency in resource use.) However, the
gradual evolution of utilization efficiency requires, implicitly,
a relatively predictable regime of resource density. It is not
difficult to construct a dynamic model that generates well-behaved
equilibria at low levels of utilization efficiency but chaos at
high levels. Above some critical value of utilization
efficiency, the resource is no longer available at predictable
densities, which effectively negates the force of selection.
This arrangement would imply an internally generated stop on the
general evolutionary process (with niche construction) that
derives from the nonlinear dynamics of the ecological model, a
conclusion that would be missed with simpler models.
In other words, the thesis and antithesis might not lead to a synthesis,
but to stasis or extinction.
He has another criticism of the book: the authors
curious position on the fundamental problem of
gene-culture transition, i.e., the influence of biology on
sociology. The authors claim, for instance, that
human cultural processes are only possible because of human genetic
aptitudes.... For example, ...the capacity for language is the result
of biological adaptations. Vandermeer gently illustrates the
problems that leave him somewhat perplexed with their thesis,
and expands it to a general word of caution:
My son loves nature as much as I do.
Yet I doubt that even the most enthusiastic genetic determinist
would claim that I transferred that love to him with my genes rather
than my parental nurturing. But I would be first to admit that if
he could not understand what I said, I could never have culturally
transmitted that attitude to him. If this is all the authors
mean, they make a rather trivial point. The culture-genetic
dichotomy in general is rife with confused thinking. The fact
that lactose tolerance is correlated with animal husbandry,
arguably a product of gene-culture coevolution, is a far cry from
speculations about rape genes or genetically determined
biophilia. Critics, past and present, have no problem with lactose
and cattle herding, but find certain speculations about more sensitive
issues scientifically flawed and politically motivated.
Not to end on a note of contradiction, Vandermeer praises the
comrades fine work, which might just lead to a new five year plan:
Attempting to reorganize the field of evolutionary biology
certainly requires a work as long as Niche Construction, and any
volume so rich with ideas is bound to incur criticism on particular
points. I have offered some here in the spirit of constructive
criticism of constructivism. And although I have more, my
complaints do not signify a disagreement with the ringing endorsements
by May and Lewontin on the books back cover. With this
volume, we may indeed be looking at a major breakthrough.
Vandermeer stands in rank with Comrade
Lewontin in honoring the venerable gray-bearded Master:
In their now-classic The Dialectical Biologist, Levins and
Lewontin noted that Darwins major treatise was the culmination
and not the origin of nineteenth-century evolutionism.
But we must acknowledge the Masters prophetic powers. Vandermeer
reminds us, Indeed, the ideas expressed in Niche Construction
can be seen in outline form in The Origin....
1John Vandermeer, The Importance of a
Volume 303, Number 5657, Issue of 23 Jan 2004, pp. 472-474.
materialism homage to the Leader the parallels are too
striking to be coincidental. Is that why Marx found Darwins
views so supportive of his economic philosophy? (Incidentally,
though the story about Marx dedicating Das Kapital to Darwin
may be apocryphal, Marx did send him a signed copy in 1873, writing Mr.
Charles Darwin on the part of his sincere admirer Karl Marx.
Darwin, in reply, wrote, I believe that we both earnestly desire
the extension of knowledge & that this in the long run is sure to
add to the happiness of mankind. 100 years and 100 million
dead bodies later...
Legality Argument 02/03/2004
And then you have
the prophetic, exalted master, and a mystical force with two sides
in eternal competition, permeating the universe. Darwin himself
looked for humans with pointy ears. He thought they might be ativisms,
i.e., evolutionary throwbacks. Interesting.
The word Vandermeer chooses to speak of Darwin sounds best when uttered in a
deep, breathy voice, like Mossstuh. Lewontin seems to be
saying, I was once the Learnuh, but now I am the Mosstuh.
If you thought dialectical materialism went out of style
when the Berlin wall fell, you can find it alive and well in modern
evolutionary biology. The constructivists assume that evolution
proceeds by the interplay of adaptation and feedback from the environment
in a Hegelian way, but Vandermeer has unwittingly hit on a troubling
fact. What if the vectors of thesis and antithesis, or adaptation
and environmental constraint, are collinear and opposite?
Nothing happens. There is no evolution. Vandermeer has pointed
out an internally generated stop on the
general evolutionary process. His example is
telling. Natural selection adapts an animal toward utilizing a
food source. The animal gets so good at it that the food source runs out.
Now what? (For a similar discussion of this often unnoticed
slippage on the evolutionary treadmill, see the important
For another headline related to Vandermeers criticism of
the propriety of investigating the evolution of rape, see
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Institute has posted remarks by David DeWolf, a law professor,
to the Darby, Montana School
District. He addresses concerns that have been raised
about the legality and constitutionality of a
proposed change to their science policy
that would permit teaching the controversy about origins
in the science classroom.
Has it come to this, that common sense needs legal defense?
Accretion: The Missing Link in Planetary Evolution
Next headline on:
Politics and Ethics
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Every school child has seen artwork of planets evolving from a disk of dust
and gas around a star like our sun, but theres a missing link in the
story. How did the dust particles stick together?
Once a clump of material is massive enough, it can attract
more material by its own gravity. The moon, for instance, pulls meteors
in. They stay there and dont bounce off, except in the unusual
case of a high-speed glancing blow. From the well-understood law of
gravity, a planetary body needs to be about 1-10 km in diameter to grow
by accretion. From there, this planetesimal, according
to theory, would experience runaway growth as long as there is material
around to feed it. Getting the body to this size is the problem.
Smaller bodies do not have sufficient gravity to pull in neighboring
material. A disk around a star, however, starts out with dust and ice
grains much smaller, even microscopic in size. It is estimated that
the original dust particles in the primordial solar nebula were a tenth
of a micrometer in diameter, too small to see. How could these
grow into planetesimals a mile across?
This problem is not new. Planetary evolutionists have
wrestled with it repeatedly. In the
issue of Icarus,1 Sin-iti Sirono of Nagoya University,
Japan, tries to identify the requirements for colliding particles to stick together rather
than bounce or smash each other apart. He certainly respects the problem;
in his introduction, he asks with a Japanese accent, There is a
immense gap of 13 orders of magnitude between the grain size and the
size of a planet. How planets are formed across this gap?
Behold the missing link of planetary evolution.
Accretion is a complex problem with many
variables. Think of firing a bullet at a rock.
A small bullet might form a crater,
catastrophically disrupt the rock, or merge with the rock, if the
rock is porous and able to absorb the blow. What physical laws govern
the outcome? Sirono,
after a great deal of modeling and computation, arrives
at three constraints:
It should be evident with a little thought that other variables can also be
important. To visualize this, imagine two astronauts, Chuck and
Tom, having a snowball fight in the cargo bay of a space shuttle. Lets
say they both have good timing and aim; they always make their snowballs collide
in the space between them. Since gravity is not a factor
in the weightlessness of space, what factors would make the snowballs
stick together (accrete) instead of bouncing off each other or fragmenting
into smithereens? Here are a few of the variables:
- The target must have low compressive strength relative to shear strength
and tensile strength.
- Impact velocity must be 0.4% the speed of sound of the medium.
- The bodies must be made of materials that allow the
restoration of damage effect. This is an automatic
repair mechanism that occurs if a ruptured material can
rebound such that interatomic forces can partially heal the breach,
as if little magnets in the pieces pull them back together.
If our astronauts perfect the art of getting their snowballs to stick together,
new problems arise as the wad of snowballs grows. Earlier models often
assumed that the properties of an accreting mass scaled uniformly upward,
but Sirono reminds us that the aggregate of particles is subject to new
forms of catastrophic rupture. Sirono explains,
- Temperature. Soft, wet snowballs are more likely to stick
than hard, icy ones.
- Density. Low-density snowballs are more likely to stick
than packed ones. The compressive strength of snowballs can vary by
a factor of 1000, Sirono says: As the density of an aggregate goes lower,
the strength becomes lower and vice versa. For example, the strength
range due to density variations is more than three orders of magnitude
for a bed of snow. So if our astronauts tightly pack their
snowballs, they well be less likely to stick, but also more subject to
- Relative size. A small snowball might stick more readily
to a large one, than would two of equal size. Sironos simulations
suggest that the threshold ratio for optimum chance of sticking is 3/10 or lower.
- Glancing angle. A small
impactor is more likely to stick to a target in a direct bulls-eye hit
rather than a glancing blow.
- Differentiation. Lets say Chuck and Tom throw
rocks coated with snow. They might accrete if the relative velocity
is low and the snow coating absorbs some of the energy.
- Glue. If our astronauts have access to some kind of adhesive
with which to saturate their weapons, the snowballs might glue themselves
together. Sirono thinks interstellar organic molecules might just
do the trick. He cites earlier work that suggests organics might
comprise a significant fraction of the material (silicate:ice:organic
mass ratio of 1:1:1.6), and that the organics might form a viscoelastic
fluid between the particles. It may be possible that the
organic materials play a role of glue which connects grains and fragments,
There are voids and cracks inside
a large aggregate that significantly lowers the strength of an aggregate.
Tensile stress concentrates in regions around the cracks, and fracturing
starts from contacts between such grains. An aggregate will be broken
by much smaller stresses than those expected by direct extrapolation from
interaction forces between grains.
So until the aggregate is large enough for gravity to compress and homogenize
the insides, it is even more subject to disruption than were the original starting
grains. Even if a lucky aggregate forms, all Tom needs to do is lob
a high-speed ice ball at it and it could splinter into
small fragments again. Better luck next time.
It seems, therefore, that many special conditions are required
to keep the hopeful aggregate growing up to a size where gravitational
accretion can take over. Sirono does not estimate how likely this is
to occur in a real stellar nebula. He just points out that any accretion
needs to obey the laws of physics.
Conditions for collisional growth of a grain aggregate,
Volume 167, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 431-452,
Observation 1: planets around a star, with
a little dust. Observation 2: a lot of dust around a star, with no
planets. What are appropriate conclusions based on this data?
E-I-E-I-O in Old McDarwins Animal Farm 02/03/2004
There are two possibilities. One is that the second
star is a young star with a dust disk that is on the way to becoming a
new solar system, and the first is an old star with mature planets.
But theres another possibility. Maybe the first star has widely
spaced, mature planets with stable orbits and few collisions, and the second
star started out with mature planets in erratic orbits, which since collided
and ground each other to dust. The conclusion you reach has a lot to
say about your world view and your respect for observation.
While no one can rule out all possibility of dust and ice
grains sticking together, the probability seems rather low. Sirono
invokes several ad hoc conditions to increase the odds. Maybe if they
are as soft as silly putty and infused with some sort of organic glue,
with the right angle of attack, slow enough collision speed and the right
temperature, they just might stick instead of bouncing off each other.
But the organic glue cannot get too warm, because Sirono says,
It has been found that the shear modulus of the organics decreases
by five orders of magnitude as temperature increases from 200 to 300 K.
This means the glue loses its elasticity real fast as the temperature rises:
The consequence of decrease in elasticity by a factor of 10 is severe
fragmentation, he says.
For particles in the warmer parts of the nebula, this seems to be a problem,
yet we observe Mercury in our solar system baking in the heat of the sun,
and gas giants bigger than Jupiter in
even closer orbits around other stars.
Also, even if the conditions are lucky enough for the particles to start
sticking to each other, they become even more subject to disruption as the
Perhaps Sinoros constraints dont seem too outlandish,
and one can envision scenarios in which all the right conditions might be met.
It could be argued that out of
uncounted myriads of particles, some might reach the threshold
of runaway gravitational accretion. All it takes is a few to get
a planetary system, right? (Actually, our solar system is filled with
many thousands of gravitationally accreting bodies, like asteroids, Kuiper
Belt objects, comets, and small moons, in addition to the planets and larger
moons. Some of them appear to have been busted apart by collisions.)
Regardless, the fact remains that no one has observed
grains accrete into a planetesimal, but astronomers have abundantly observed
the opposite: bodies fragmenting into smaller bodies and dust.
Small bodies show abundant evidence of cratering and erosion, even the
recently-photographed comet Wild-2 (see
01/02/2004), a fact that
surprised scientists because this was supposed to be a pristine object from the
quiet deep freeze of the outer solar system. We observe ongoing processes of
fragmentation, catastrophic collision, erosion to dust and de-evolution,
but accretion exists only in the minds of theorists. Which principle
is more in accord with the second law of thermodynamics?
One would think that scientists would err on the side of
conservatism, and not make claims beyond the evidence. But the
disruption view implies starting conditions that are philosophically
repugnant to a naturalist: if the planets were already there, they must
have been created. So strong
is the urge to have a universe that evolves upward from a bang to galaxies
to planets to life, that philosophical naturalists will sneak glue and
fudge and whatever else is needed to fill in the gaps. You can
believe that the dust around
Vega is a young solar system in the
making, but be sure your model particles obey the laws of physics.
After all, a naturalist should respect the laws of nature, by definition.
Better yet, perform realistic lab experiments.
Well wait till you get particles that stick before worrying you
with all the other problems, such as the Kuiper capers
(10/05/2003), small moon mysteries
(09/29/2003), turbulent stress in planetesimals and in scientist minds
(09/22/2003), the rarity of sunlike solar systems
(07/21/2003), declining popularity of the planetesimal
(06/03/2003), migration woes
(05/16/2003), the war of the worlds
(04/17/2003), the tweak Olympics
(11/22/2002), etc., and so forth, and so on.
Next headline on:
One would think that if all animals are related according to Darwins
theory of common descent, this should be clearly evident in the genes.
It would also seem that the more genomes we sequence, the clearer the evolutionary
pattern should be. At least thats how Raible and Arendt
lay their foundation in a paper in the Feb. 3 issue of
It is a truism that the plausibility of an evolutionary
inference increases with the amount of data on which it is based,
and the ever-quickening provision of full genome sequences is providing
a huge amount of grist for the evolutionary biologists mill.
Ah, but that would make for a predictable plot if no conflict were inserted.
The thrust of their paper is that comparative genomics has produced many
evolutionary surprises. Particularly, humans share some genes with the
earliest metazoans that are not present in fruit flies, worms, and other
branches of more advanced metazoans. In one study, those groups have
lost 10% of early metazoan genes while humans have only lost 1%.
They cite several studies with similar findings. Somehow, humans
have retained many genes that other groups have lost. We seem to have
more in common with flatworms than fruit flies in terms of retained genes.
The authors take up another truism: Genes do not
evolve on hold: whenever a gene appeared on the animal
evolutionary tree, it was functional. This ancestral
function should be close to the consensus function present in todays
animals that have retained that gene. In other words, the genes
we retain from earliest ancestors have had to function all that time, not
wait for us to appear and decide to use them in recent times.
In their analysis of
several striking studies on the branch that led to us, the
authors conclude that advanced functions appeared early, and remained
intact for many millions of years, during which time other advanced
organisms managed to get by without those functions. These
findings imply that the Urbilateria [earliest ancestors]
were genetically more complex than
previously thought to be the case. Elsewhere they say,
Taken together, these new analyses of gene loss frequencies and of
sequence divergences suggest that the human genome and thus those of
the entire vertebrate lineage has diverged much less from the
ancestral genome of our urbilaterian ancestors than have the
Drosophila and C. elegans [roundworm] genomes.
This can only mean, in their thinking, that the fly and worm lines
learned how to evolve a lot faster than the vertebrate line.
Even more striking is the similarity between Darwin and
Vertebrates, lophotrochozoans and anthozoans are a good choice for such
comparative evolutionary research, because they appear to share a
surprisingly large part of the ancestral gene inventory that has been lost
in other groups. In a certain sense, therefore, these animals,
like some of those on Orwells Animal Farm, are more
equal than others, and thus should be most revealing about our
1Florian Raible and Detlev Arendt,
Metazoan Evolution: Some Animals Are More Equal than Others,
Biology Vol 14, R106-R108, 3 February 2004.
We beg to differ with their opening truism. Based on our empirical
research, reading hundreds of papers on evolution, the amount of actual data
available for study is inversely proportional to the amount and credibility of
Darwinian storytelling (see 11/16/2002
entry and the following story, for instance). Their truism is a mythoid.
How Snakes Lost Their Limbs 02/02/2004
These authors seem to feel that if the data dont fit, they really
ought to (see quote, top right box). One thing we have learned
about this Animal Farm. The pigs are the members of the Darwin Party.
They rewrote the constitution of science (see
12/22/03 commentary) to keep themselves
in power, because some beliefs about origins are more equal than others.
Next headline on:
Genetics and DNA
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Penn State scientists have a story for how snakes, which presumably
evolved from lizards, lost their legs. They had to burrow through
Part of their story involved disproving that snakes
evolved from sea-going reptiles, like mosasaurs, explains the press
release from Penn States Eberly
College of Science. They compared genes from 64 species of lizards
and snakes. Since no mosasaurs exist today, they took genes from
Komodo dragons, their assumed closest living relatives. They feel
their comparisons show that snakes evolved from land-dwelling lizards.
So why would a land lizard want to lose its feet?
The research suggests an answer to another long-debated question: why snakes lost their limbs. Their land-based lifestyle, including burrowing underground at least some of the time, may be the reason. Having limbs is a real problem if you need to fit through small openings underground, as anybody who has tried exploring in caves knows, Hedges says. Your body could fit through much smaller openings if you did not have the wide shoulders and pelvis that support your limbs. The researchers note that the burrowing lifestyle of many other species, including legless lizards, is correlated with the complete loss of limbs or the evolution of very small limbs.
The research, to be published in the May 7, 2004 issue of the Royal
Biology Letters, was funded in part by NASAs
Astrobiology Institute and by the National Science Foundation.
Better not explore caves if you want your
kids to have legs. Why do some lizards still crawl into tight places
tighter than a big snake could pass?
Why do gophers and weasels have legs?
Is limb loss really evolution?
The quote of the month (see top right box on this page) says it all.
Hundreds of Whales Buried Suddenly in Diatoms
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
A remarkable fossil find has been found in Peru: 346 whales
buried in diatomaceous earth. The preservation of the whales is so
pristine and complete, the authors of the paper in the
issue of Geology1 conclude that the whales had to be buried rapidly,
in days or weeks. If so, it represents a rate of accumulation of
diatoms many times higher than what occurs in modern oceans.
The authors point out some amazing things about this fossil
This is, of course, an amazing fossil discovery, but what does it mean?
For one thing, it means that scientists have vastly underestimated how rapidly
diatoms can accumulate. Common estimates have been 10 cm per 1000 years,
maybe up to 260 cm/k.y. in certain cases. But in this case,
clearly, Such burial requires diatom accumulation rates at least
three to four orders of magnitude faster than is usual in the ocean
todaycentimeters per week or month, rather than centimeters per thousand
years. The lack of bioturbation is another indicator the diatoms
formed in extraordinary numbers and buried these whales quickly:
- Condition: The whale skeletons are
preserved in pristine condition (bones articulated [i.e., still assembled] or at least
closely associated), in some cases including preserved baleen.
- Fine details: The most complete whale (WCBa 20)
was fully articulated; the microscopic detail of its baleen was preserved
... and there is black, heavy-mineral replacement of the
spinal cord and some intervertebral disks. There were no similar
minerals in the surrounding sediment. These nonbony tissues were
still present when the whale was completely buried. Other instances
of baleen, the delicate straining structure of the whales
mouth, were also found.
- Vertical extent: The 346 whales within ~1.5 km2
of surveyed surface were not buried as an event, but were distributed
uninterrupted through an 80-m-thick sedimentary section. Since they
were found uniformly distributed from bottom to top of the formation,
the conditions in which they were buried must have also been uniform.
- Unlaminated strata:
The diatomaceous sediment lacks repeating primary laminations,
but instead is mostly massive, with irregular laminations and speckles.
In other words, it was not due to a cyclic process, like the annual climate
change that produces tree rings.
- Lack of bioturbation: Small organisms have not altered
the deposit. There is no evidence for bioturbation by invertebrates
in the whale-bearing sediment. Apparently they didnt have
the chance, it happened so fast.
- Intact diatoms:
If most diatoms dissolve before preservation in the sediment, one
would find frustules in all stages of dissolution. Diatoms in the
Pisco diatomaceous sediment are often broken, but SEM study indicated
fine preservation, with no significant evidence of dissolution. ...
In the shallow-water Pisco Formation, the diatoms
were probably buried too quickly for much dissolution to occur.
The authors point out that in contemporary diatom deposits, only 2-3% of
the frustules (glass shells) usually remain undissolved, up to 24% in
special cases in Antarctica.
- Stormy waters: Something violent was going on when these
were buried. Indicators of storm deposits, such as hummocky
cross-bedding, indicate that the sediments were deposited above storm
- Single event: There are no indicators that the burial occurred
over years of time. There are no varves or other cyclical
laminations, but randomly located individual white laminations and speckles
consist primarily of diatoms (5%–10% clay), whereas the surrounding
massive grayish diatomite ... has a higher clay content.
- Numbers: The whales occur in
large numbers, 30–300 individuals per square kilometer of surface exposure
... and are fully articulated ... to disarticulated
but with skeletal elements still closely associated.
This hints there are probably many more than the 346 whales they found
in their study area.
- Other species: Vertebrate fossils in the Pisco
Formation include sharks, fish, turtles, seals, porpoises, ground sloths,
penguins, and whales, but the study area primarily included whales
and shark teeth.
In modern oceans, whale carcasses on the ocean floor are rapidly colonized
by large numbers of invertebrate scavengers that remove the flesh and
begin to degrade the bone. ... They also bioturbate the adjoining sediment
in search of organic compounds leached from the whale. This process
strips a whale skeleton within a maximum of a few years. Sediment
accumulating at a few centimeters per thousand years would deposit at
maximum a few millimeters of diatomite during the time available to
preserve even a reasonably complete whale skeleton. Preservation of
nonmineralized tissue would not be a realistic possibility at this slow
burial rate, and even bones are unlikely to be well preserved.
For another thing, this discovery means that a large catastrophe occurred
here. To get this many whales buried suddenly at one time requires
envisioning a perfect storm beyond anything observed today.
In addition, the rapid bloom in diatom number means they had to have
nourishment. The authors found evidence of volcanism in the area
which might have provided nutrients to the microscopic algae: Volcanic
ash, common in the Pisco sedimentary deposits, and runoff from the continent
could have contributed iron and other nutrients. This suggests
that volcanic eruptions were occurring around the same time. Since these
species of diatoms typically form in deeper water, the
authors believe that currents could have swept up vast numbers of diatom
shells and concentrated them into shallow bays where the whales were trapped.
The Pisco formation is labeled Miocene-Pliocene in the
geologic column. The authors rule out two alternate hypotheses for
the detailed preservation of the whales: (1) anoxia (that they suffocated),
and (2) a covering of diatom mats. The only explanation left is
1Brand, Esperante, Chadwick, Porras and Alomia,
Fossil whale preservation implies high diatom accumulation rate in the
Miocene–Pliocene Pisco Formation of Peru,
Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 165–168, doi: 10.1130/G20079.1.
The Two-Charlie Party (Lyell+Darwin) does not
own empirical geology. This is fine work by creationists and
Chadwick and some from Loma Lindas
Geoscience Research Institute
who are accustomed to exemplary
field work and publishing, as here, in reputable journals.
We should not be surprised. Even the publisher of this paper, the Geological
Society of America, which launched a crusade last month against a creationist geology book being
sold in the Grand Canyon bookstore (see 01/08/2004), honors a rock star in this months
issue of GSA Today, Clarence King (1842-1901)
a catastrophist. And this pioneering geologist of the West was
not alone in his views:
Extinction Puzzle Explained as Selection Effect 02/01/2004
King was convinced that Lyellian uniformitarianism, a theory of
gradualism and constancy of processes, could not explain the
geologic evolution of the region surveyed, especially late Cenozoic
effusive volcanism and the magnitude of glacial drainages.
These views led King to be classed as a catastrophist.
However, he was in good company with most late nineteenth
century geologists in calling for greater variations of both rates
and intensities of processes than Charles Lyell preached.
King also believed that evolution did not proceed at a steady pace.
Blending catastrophe and “adaptivity,” he proposed that the former
was an integral part of the cause of change. Destruction of
biological equilibrium engendered by catastrophic change contributed
to rapid morphological change among what he termed “plastic species”
... King in essence proposed a blending of Darwins ideas on
natural selection with the variable rate of change of geological
processes. Employing data on rock fusion gathered at the USGS
Physical Laboratory, King (1893) attempted to advance to new
precision Kelvins estimate of
Earths age deduced from terrestrial refrigeration,
determining a maximum age of 24 Ma. Given this young
age, insufficient time remained to construct a Lyellian
geologic record of the Fortieth Parallel area.
King made his conclusions based on work in the
Sierra Nevada mountains. So even though Clarence King accepted some
form of evolution, he was certainly no uniformitarian, and his young age
determination must have only contributed to the fits that
was giving to Charlie and his
musketeers. (Darwin called Kelvins
limit on the age of the earth an odious spectre and one of
his sorest troubles because it did not allow enough time
The point is, the authors of this paper are not the first to point out
geological features that disprove uniformitarianism. Why does
anyone even hang on to that falsified idea?
If the Peru whales were an isolated instance, it would
be enough to give uniformitarians fits. But other similar finds
have been found. A notable one is the worlds largest diatomite
bed near Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara,
California. Dozens of
billions of herring fish have been buried in DE there, too, with
indications of rapid burial and volcanic ash. Could these beds, on
different continents, be related?
If so, what would that mean? Connect the dots, but it doesnt
spell uniformitarianism, thats for sure.
(see also 02/19/2003 and
03/19/2002 entries) are amazing
studies of beauty, elegance, strength and design in themselves.
Trying to imagine the countless myriads of these little jewels involved
in such fossil beds is an exercise in mind bogglemania.
Next headline on:
Its not evolution, its statistics. Thats the
conclusion of Robert Scotland and Michael Sanderson in the
Jan. 30 issue
of Science. Whats the puzzle?
When biodiversity is examined in the context of species richness, a
consistent feature emerges: Most taxonomic groups are species-poor,
relatively few are species-rich, and the frequency distribution has
the shape of a so-called "hollow curve".
The hollow curve is a graph that looks like a letter L with a curved
instead of square corner. Evolutionists have assumed that these
graphs of biodiversity (numbers of species) vs. species richness (number
of species per taxonomic group) tell us about evolution and extinction.
Nope, say the two scientists:
We suggest that the explanation for the lack of fit between hollow curves from real data and the SBT model [their model of
a "simultaneous broken tree" as opposed to the SBS, "simultaneous broken stick" model] is taxonomic, not evolutionary. Although there are no objective criteria for recognizing higher taxa, taxonomists are averse to studying genera that are either too large or too small. (Large genera are cumbersome and can be nonmonophyletic, whereas monotypic genera contain no information about relationships.) Observed hollow curves reflect a shortening of the tails of the SBT distribution. Our taxonomic explanation contrasts with evolutionary explanations, which depend on the premise that in real data sets there are too many monotypic taxa and species-rich groups that are too large. Evidence does exist for differences in speciation and extinction rates but it does not come from hollow curves.
Scotland and Sanderson,
The Significance of Few Versus Many in the Tree of Life,
This is like finding the oscillating signal
in the radio receiver is not from ETI but from a communications satellite.
Presumably the claimed evidence for differences in speciation and extinction rates
will be forthcoming in a futureware issue.
Next headline on:
Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Scientist of the Month
Click on Apollos, the trusty|
|Guide to Evolutionary Theory
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Featured Creation Scientist for February
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
1824 - 1907
Expanded since last presented April 2001!
William Thomson, Scottish physicist, mathematician and engineer, later awarded the barony Kelvin of Largs which gave him the
more familiar title Lord Kelvin, was the most eminent scientist of his day in the British Isles. He was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for over 50 years.
Lord Kelvin was largely responsible for the rise of engineering, taking the meteoric discoveries being made by 19th century
scientists to practical uses for man. He supervised the first successful transatlantic cable that brought
instantaneous communication across the ocean for the first time. This succeeded only with his invention
of signal amplifiers and sensitive receivers. With James Joule, he discovered the
Joule-Thomson effect that ushered in the invention of refrigerators. His name is also commemorated
in the Kelvin temperature scale, that begins at absolute zero (a concept he originated), which is widely
used in physics and astronomy. Perhaps Lord Kelvins most significant achievement was defining
the concept of energy and formalizing the laws of thermodynamics.
Applying the Second Law to the universe as a whole, he predicted the heat death of the universe in the
future, which also ruled out an infinitely-old universe.
Everyone has their moments of embarrassment. Historians still get a
chuckle out of Kelvins off-the-cuff remark that heavier-than-air
flying machines are impossible. Each of us has made remarks that,
in hindsight, we would hastily and silently retract if it were possible
(Kelvin lived to learn of the Wright brotherss success at Kitty
Hawk and the rapid advance of aeroplane technology.) Some of Kelvins
theories did not work out, and he never made a big, original breakthrough
discovery quite as profound as those of Maxwell, his friend and correspondent.
But we quibble about champions. Kelvin earned his place in the
hall of fame, as much as an inventor, co-discoverer of fundamental laws,
clarifier of prior discoveries and motivator of students and fellow scientists as
an original thinker himself.
As a Christian, Lord Kelvin was a gentle, wise and generous family man, faithful in his church, an ardent student
of the Scripture and a promoter of Christian education. He believed church members should study the maps
in the back of the Bible and understand history. He often expressed awe at the beauty, design and orderliness of
creation and natural law.
But he also recognized the rise of Darwinism both
for its weak science and evil influence. Accordingly, he got personally into the
battle. Many other prominent scientists of the period, like Richard Owen,
Rudolph Virchow, St. George Mivart and Whitwell Elwin, protested against Darwins
claims with scientific and philosophical rebuttals. But it was
Kelvin who launched a scientific attack that sent Darwin and his supporters
reeling. To his dying day, Darwin considered it the most serious and
unsettling criticism of his theory, because it pulled the rug
out from under his requirements, and it appeared to have strong scientific
Thomson applied his expertise in physics and thermodynamics to argue
that the earth could not be as old as Darwin required for evolution.
Darwin needed many millions of years to produce a man from a warm
little pond of chemicals. Janet Browne explains the seriousness
of Thomsons challenge, and describes how combatting anti-Biblical claims
(and bad science) was not a new avocation for the physics professor:
While working on this fifth edition [of The Origin
of Species], Darwin also encountered major intellectual problems over
the age of the earth. William Thomson (the future Lord Kelvin)
had asserted on the basis of experimental physics that the earth was
not sufficiently old to have allowed evolution to have taken place.
To some extent, Thomson was tilting at Lyellhe had never liked
Lyells endless geological epochs stretching back into eternity.
Earlier on, he had attacked Lyells gradualism and uniformitarianism,
saying that geologists ignored the laws of physics at their peril
and that the earth was much younger than usually thought....
thoroughly frustrated by what he regarded as pig-headed
obtuseness from the Lyellian-Darwinian fraternity, and
propelled by anti-evolutionary, Scottish Presbyterian inclinations,
Thomson launched a vigorous polemic against the lot of them,
stating that 100 million years was all that physics could allow for the
earths entire history. As Darwin noted, Thomson intimated
that the earth had a beginning and would come to a sunless end.
(Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002, p. 314; emphasis added).
(Its interesting to note the parallels with 20th-century cosmology,
with evolutionary astronomers facing the philosophically repugnant conclusion
that the universe had a beginning see Robert Jastrows book
God and the Astronomers for details.)
This excerpt from Brownes excellent biography of Darwin is just
one of many that shows evolutionary doctrine came primarily out of
a fraternity, a kind of socio-political party of liberals, who had an agenda to
undercut the historicity of the Bible and usurp science with their pet philosophy
of naturalism. It also reveals that Thomson, though
a Bible-believing Christian, was morally indignant not only over their
denial of the Bible, but over their refusal to accept the clear laws of
physics when they contradicted their beliefs. It was not that
Thomson himself believed the earth was as old as 100 million years. But he was
convinced that physics itself set an upper limit on the age of the earth
that falsified Lyells and Darwins claims.
Browne next describes the hubbub this caused in the Darwin fraternity.
Lyell tried to answer Thomsons challenge in the tenth edition of his
Principles of Geology. Huxley, in what Browne calls one of
his froth and fury speeches, tried to claim that it didnt
matter, because all Darwin would have to do was speed up the rate of
variation. That, she claims, was just what
Darwin could not do
In the first edition of the Origin of Species
he had calculated that the erosion of the Sussex Weald must have taken
some 300 million years, a breathtaking length of time that, taken with
the rest of the stratigraphic table, provided ample opportunity for
gradual organic change. But Darwins calculations were
wrong. The actual time was much shorter.
Those confounded millions of years, he had
complained to Lyell and deleted the entire example.
So no wonder that Thomsons views of the recent age of
the world have been for some time one of my sorest troubles.
The 100 million years that Thomson allowed was not nearly long enough
for the exceeding slow rates of change Darwin envisaged in
nature. The fifth edition of the Origin bore witness
to his discomfort. Rattled, he tried various ways to
speed up evolution. He was aware that he was becoming more
environmentalist, more Lamarckian, as it were, and producing a
poor-spirited compromise. He roped in George [his son],
with his Cambridge mathematics, to make alternative calculations,
telling him that the age of the earth was the single most intractable
point levelled against his theory during his lifetime.
Five years later Darwin was still protesting that
Thomsons shortened time-span was an odious spectre.
(Ibid., pp. 314-315, emphasis added).
Respected geologists, like Archibald Geike, James Croll and Clarence King,
confirmed Thomsons calculations. The evolutionists were up
a creek and running scared. Alfred Russell Wallace,
the co-claimant to the notion of natural selection, proposed a solution
based on climate changes and tilting ecliptics that Darwin grasped at
in hope, but it was regarded as unworkable by physicists and
naturalists alike (Browne, ibid.). Darwins son
tried to get more time out of the estimates, and Although
Georges relationship with Thomson was close, he warned scholars
not to accept all of Thomsons results (ibid.)
It is clear the younger Darwin was biding for time, not having any empirical
or mathematical support, but probably just trying to protect
his famous father from embarrassment and the downfall of his theory.
Thomson kept up the attack. To make matters worse for the Darwinians,
he calculated a maximum age for the sun, based on calculations of energy
due to gravitational potential energy, resulting in a sun far too young for
their requirements. He demonstrated irrefutably that the laws of
thermodynamics dictated that the universe and the sun and the earth had
a beginning, requiring a Creator, and would come to an utter end
a heat death barring a supernatural intervention.
Darwinians could not assume an infinitely old universe.
Darwin was so squeezed by Thomsons evidence, he was willing to
consider radical proposals to keep his theory of natural selection
alive. Though cautious about claims of spontaneous generation,
he grasped at a suggestion by Henry Bastian in 1872 that there was no
real difference between organic and inorganic substances.
Bastian intimated that Lamarcks notion of a constantly
replenished source of primitive organisms might be accurate.
Not convinced by the evidence, Darwin nevertheless grasped at the
possibility as a way out of Thomsons trap:
suggested that these rapid transformations of simple matter could
quicken evolution to the point where Thomsons warnings about
the shortened age of the earth could safely be ignored. Darwin
saw the value in this. He would like to see spontaneous generation
proved true, he told Wallace, for it would be a discovery of
transcendent importance. For the rest of his life he
watched and pondered. (Browne, pp. 393-394.)
Darwin died in 1882, never finding a way
out of this vexing corner Thomson had put him in.
Browne wraps up this episode, saying,
Decades of continuing debate over the age of the earth were
resolved only with the discovery of radioactivity early in the
twentieth century, that, broadly speaking, allowed the earth to
be as old as evolutionists needed it to be (Ibid.,
p. 315, emphasis added). In addition, the age of the sun became
extendable to billions of years when thermonuclear reactions were
discovered. Darwinians breathed a collected sigh of relief.
Some even felt this was the last stand for creationism, and they
must now declare defeat (see views of Stephen Weinberg,
They need to understand that claims
of its early demise are a bit premature.
argument for a maximum age for the earth and sun were made before the discovery of radioactivity and
thermonuclear reactions, and have been discounted unfairly on that basis. In actuality,
the age of the earth and sun are difficulties for evolution even today.
In addition, modern creationists have continued to exhibit additional prima facie scientific
evidences for a young earth and solar system: phenomena like the lifetimes of comets
and planetary rings, the amount of salt in the oceans, the amount of helium
remaining in deep earth sediments, and the presence of carbon-14 in presumably
million-year old fossils when it should be long gone. Evolutionists were so desperate to find a way to stretch out
the age of the earth, they leaped on radioactivity as if it were a panacea.
Thus inoculated against Kelvins odious spectre, they have
since presumed that the earth can be as old as evolutionists needed
it to be. Its time to turn up the heat again.
thermonuclear reactions have complicated the argument Lord Kelvin used, but not
destroyed it. Early geologists were not physicists, but now there
are geophysicists who use their expertise to argue that the earth is billions of years old.
Much of their argumentation, however, assumes that Darwinism is true; it does
not constitute independent evidence. The bar was raised for creationists.
It takes more learning to confute their abstruse math and convoluted arguments.
Yet much of their belief is predicated on preserving Darwins required
long ages. Once that is understood, it is remarkable how clear the evidence
for a young solar system appears to one not already biased to think in terms of
long ages. Modern creationists should continue Kelvins challenge, not standing
for pig-headed obtuseness from the Lyellian-Darwinian fraternity.
It is still necessary to insist that geologists ignore the laws of
physics at their peril.
There are other lessons from Kelvins battle over the age of the earth.
Though a Christian, Kelvin understood the power of scientific arguments.
He knew the Darwinian scoffers would ridicule Biblical reasoning, but they
had to respect science, because they were claiming to be the voice
of science in their culture. You want science? he seemed to
be saying; Here, have some. Lord Kelvin respected science, too,
and he was well qualified as a scientist. That should be a challenge
to those wishing to do battle with evolutionary philosophy. Its
important to know your field. Darwin, Lyell, Wallace and the other
frat members simply could not ignore the man or his arguments.
Another lesson is that Kelvin fought like a gentleman. Even his
adversaries respected the fact that he never became personally vindictive.
Even Darwins bulldog Thomas Huxley, praised Kelvin as a gentleman, a scholar, and a
formidable opponent: he called him the most perfect knight who ever broke a lance.
But a gentleman can be a warrior, too.
Known for his self-confidence, Kelvin held the Darwinists feet to the fire of scientific rigor and didnt let
them get by with mere storytelling. His students respected him for his skill at demonstrating
underlying, unifying principles (rather than requiring memorization of facts), and motivating them to do their best.
Physics students know of the Kelvin temperature scale, but should know about this
mans measure on the scale of greatness. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin published over 600 research papers and served as president of the Royal Society. Showered with 21 honorary doctorates from around the world (perhaps these could be referred to
as degrees Kelvin), he had right to more letters after his name than any of
his contemporaries. He received numerous other awards and was knighted by the queen.
Not only did Lord Kelvin advance science in fundamental ways himself,
he mentored Joule, Maxwell, Tait and other eminent scientists. He was buried in Westminster Abbey
after a long and successful career.
It was Biblical faith that gave Lord Kelvin confidence in a glorious future
despite what the cold laws of physics dictated. Referring to both
Scripture and science, he said, We have the
sober scientific certainty that the heavens and earth shall wax old as doth
a garment1 ... Dark indeed would be the prospects for the human
race if unilluminated by that light which reveals new heavens
and a new earth.2
If you are enjoying this series,
learn more about great Christians in science by reading
our online book-in-progress:
The World’s Greatest
Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
Copies are also
available from our online store.
A Concise Guide|
You can observe a lot by just watching.
– Yogi Berra
First Law of Scientific Progress
The advance of science can be measured by the rate at which exceptions to previously held laws accumulate.
1. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
2. There are always exceptions to established exceptions.
3. By the time one masters the exceptions, no one recalls the rules to which they apply.
Nature will tell you a direct lie if she can.
So will Darwinists.
Science is true. Don’t be misled by facts.
Finagle’s 2nd Law
No matter what the anticipated result, there
will always be someone eager to (a) misinterpret it, (b) fake it, or (c)
believe it happened according to his own pet theory.
3. Draw your curves, then plot your data.
4. In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.
6. Do not believe in miracles – rely on them.
Murphy’s Law of Research
Enough research will tend to support your theory.
If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.
1. The bigger the theory, the better.
2. The experiments may be considered a success if no more than 50%
of the observed measurements must be discarded to obtain a correspondence
with the theory.
The number of different hypotheses erected to explain a given biological phenomenon
is inversely proportional to the available knowledge.
All great discoveries are made by mistake.
The greater the funding, the longer it takes to make the mistake.
The solution to a problem changes the nature of the problem.
Peter’s Law of Evolution
Competence always contains the seed of incompetence.
An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.
Repetition does not establish validity.
What really matters is the name you succeed in imposing on the facts – not the facts themselves.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
Thumb’s Second Postulate
An easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex, incomprehensible truth.
There is nothing so small that it can’t be blown out of proportion
Hawkins’ Theory of Progress
Progress does not consist in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists
in replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.
The best theory is not ipso facto a good theory.
Error is often more earnest than truth.
Advice from Paul|
Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle
babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by
professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.
I Timothy 6:20-21
Song of the True Scientist
O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made
them all. The earth is full of Your possessions . . . . May the glory of the Lord endure forever. May the
Lord rejoice in His works . . . . I will sing to the Lord s long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my
being. May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord. May sinners be
consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!
from Psalm 104
Through the creatures Thou hast made
Show the brightness of Thy glory.
Be eternal truth displayed
In their substance transitory.
Till green earth and ocean hoary,
Massy rock and tender blade,
Tell the same unending story:
We are truth in form arrayed.
Teach me thus Thy works to read,
That my faith,– new strength accruing–
May from world to world proceed,
Wisdom’s fruitful search pursuing
Till, thy truth my mind imbuing,
I proclaim the eternal Creed –
Oft the glorious theme renewing,
God our Lord is God indeed.
– James Clerk Maxwell
One of the greatest physicists
of all time (a creationist).
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