Creation-Evolution Headlines
August 2004
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Today we buy information, we sell it, we regard it as a commodity, we value it, we send it down wires and bounce it off satellites— and we know it invariably comes from intelligent agents.  So what do we make of the fact that there’s information in life?  What do we make of the fact that DNA stores far more information in a smaller space than the most advanced supercomputer on the planet?
—Stephen C. Meyer, quoted in The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (Zondervan, 2004), p. 244.
AstronomyBirdsBotanyCell BiologyCosmologyDating MethodsDinosaursEarly ManEducationEvolutionFossilsGeneticsGeologyHealthHuman BodyIntelligent DesignMammalsMarineMarsMediaOrigin of LifePhysicsPolitics and EthicsSETISolar SystemTheologyZoology     Awards:  AmazingDumb      Note: bold emphasis added in all quotations unless otherwise indicated.
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Multispectral Galaxy Studies Contradict Theories   08/27/2004
The latest issue of Caltech’s magazine Engineering and Science1 has beautiful pictures of galaxies taken in ultraviolet by the
Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), and in the infrared by Hubble’s sister, the Spitzer Space Telescope.  Combining images of the same galaxy in visible, ultraviolet and infrared is helping astronomers figure out their structure, and as D. Christopher Martin claims, the origin and evolution of galaxies and stars.  Why, then, at the end of the article, does he say this?
The interesting thing is that the history we have measured completely disagrees with some of the most recent models.
He had just pointed out that “our early results seem to be telling us that star formation was much more vigorous in the past” and that “something has changed very radically about star formation since that time....”
    Whatever; discovery marches on.  “We have found many other interesting things, and we have only just begun to survey the sky.  As our own team and other astronomers explore the data, we look forward to many other discoveries in the future.”
1D. Christopher Martin, “Galaxy Evolution: The View from the Ultraviolet,” Engineering and Science (LXVII:2, 2004), pp. 8-15
We like the pictures, and we like the data, but if the model is going in the wrong direction, we’d rather use a different mode of transportation more likely to arrive at the destination.
Next headline on:  AstronomyCosmology
Delicate Planet Dance Disturbs Theories   08/27/2004
Theorists have been thrown a curve ball with the discovery of a planet orbiting a binary star.  It appears that the gravitational tug on a hypothetical dust disk would have prevented the possibility of a planet forming around one of its members, but Gamma-Cephei has one.  “The formation of a planet in a binary star system poses serious problems, in particular when the two stars are very close,” reports the
Paris Observatory.  Some possible scenarios are considered, but “the ‘standard’ planetary formation scenario encounters here several problems.  It requires very specific initial conditions in order to successfully complete,” the study concludes.
The ongoing discoveries of extrasolar planets, unheard of a decade ago, are providing storytellers wonderful new challenges to practice their art.  No matter the difficulty, as long as there is an audience, the show must go on.
Next headline on:  AstronomySolar System
Extinctions Too Complex for Simple Stories   08/26/2004
Impact theories of extinction are fighting for their own survival.  A commentary in PNAS1 warns that extinction theories are more complex than can be handled by a single event, like a meteor impact.  At best, they might be invoked as the coup-de-grace in a series of situations.  Hermann Pfefferkorn reveals the complexities in the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions, and says it is doubtful the extinctions can be tied to singular events.  “An impact could have increased the intensity of an ongoing major volcanic event,” he says.
1Hermann Pfefferkorn, “The complexity of mass extinction,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, August 31, 2004, vol. 101, no. 35, 12779–12780.
Scientific advance is the art of poking holes in neat, easy stories: see “First Law of Scientific Progress” in right column, below.
    Interesting that Pfefferkorn, in his brief history of geological thought, redefines the old Lyell doctrine of uniformitarianism for the postmodern era.  Lyell would hardly recognize the new definition:
Today, uniformitarianism is defined as the constancy of physical and chemical laws over time, while the rates and areal extent of any given process can be variable.  In addition, there are processes that happen so rarely that humans have never observed them during the exceedingly short span of written history.  Thus, catastrophes are now part of our uniformitarian understanding of Earth processes.
Now, everybody wins, and everybody gets a prize.
Next headline on:  DarwinismFossilsGeology
Genes Fail to Reveal Evolutionary Pattern in European Mammals   08/27/2004
One would think an examination of DNA from fossils would track the animal’s geographical distribution as they evolved.  However, a study reported in PNAS1 failed to find any correlation in European mammals after the last glaciation.  Hofreiter et al. report:
Here, we analyze mtDNA sequences from cave bears, brown bears, cave hyenas, and Neandertals in Europe before the last glacial maximum and fail to detect any phylogeographic patterns similar to those observed in extant species.  We suggest that at the beginning of the last glacial maximum, little phylogeographic patterns existed in European mammals over most of their geographical ranges and that current phylogeographic patterns are transient relics of the last glaciation.
In other words, it may be impossible to deduce the animal’s geographic ranges from their assumed evolution, because “Cycles of retreat of species in refugia during glacial periods followed by incomplete dispersal from one refugium into other refugia during interglacial periods is likely to be responsible for the deep genetic divergences between phylogeographic clusters of mtDNA seen today.”
1Hofreiter et al., “Evolution: Lack of phylogeography in European mammals before the last glaciation,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403618101, published online Aug 18, 2004.
Put on your thinking cap.  Could this evidence (or lack of it) be interpreted another way?  Does Darwinian theory provide any usefulness to story, other than to patch up an unmet expectation?
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGenetics and DNAMammalsFossils
Adult Stem Cells Might Restore Hearing   08/27/2004
A report from
Marine Biological Laboratory found that adult stem cells show promise for restoring inner ear hair cells (see 08/09/2004 headline).  The tests, done on mice, might lead to treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders that affect 28 million Americans.
    A few days earlier, Jonathan Knight, in Nature, worried over the possibility that cloning hype will undermine research on embryonic stem cells.
While adult stem cells continue to rack up successes, can anyone point to a clear case of embryonic stem cells doing any good?  If a promising technology without ethical concerns trumps a questionable one with huge ethical concerns, why is there a contest?
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Kin Selection and Group Selection: Survival of the Fictitious   08/26/2004
Nature1 provided another case where W. D. Hamilton’s kin selection theory, which proposes that “selfish genes can lead to cooperation and altruism,” is wrong.  Kinship does not always lead to cooperation.  David C. Queller comments, “a once-heretical theory [group selection] and an unconventional social organism show that the cooperation-enhancing effect of kinship is sometimes negated.”
1David C. Queller, “Social evolution: Kinship is relative,”
Nature 430, 975 - 976 (26 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430975a.
We appreciate the continuing efforts of the Darwin Party to undercut their own beliefs.  It saves us a lot of work.  Queller tries to claim that the case under consideration, a study of bacteria by Griffin et al., does not mean we should discard kin selection theory.  He claims it has support from studies of social insects.  But on what basis?  He claims that both kin selection theory and group selection theory are both good for each other, to “rein in” each other’s excesses: “Once, group selectionists saw cooperation everywhere but were brought down to earth by individual selectionists.  Now group selection is being used, not to show the ubiquity of cooperation but to rein in theories on an important form of cooperation envisaged by individual selectionists.”  Pardon me, David, but two wrongs don’t make a right.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
New Techniques Reveal Deep Sea Wonders   08/26/2004
Operation Deep Scope has a new Eye-in-the-Sea deep-sea camera system that is revealing amazing animals never before seen, says
EurekAlert.  A test run in the Gulf of Mexico by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute saw a fluorescent shark, a fluorescent sea anemone, a large squid and some fish that became invisible at certain angles in polarized light.  The team had some close calls with sharks, and had to dodge a hurricane.
This was a positive story of discovery and adventure.  Discovery and evolution-talk can be mutually exclusive.  This report needed Darwinese like a fish needs a bicycle.  Good work.
Next headline on:  Fish and Marine Life
What Would a Man Born Blind See With New Eyes?   08/26/2004
The Bible records an instance of a man born blind miraculously healed, who was immediately able to walk and recognize things.  Scientists had doubted whether a blind person suddenly able to see would understand the world of vision at all, or be able to make any sense of his new sense.  Then a real world case in 1959 provided an opportunity to learn, when Sidney Bradford, blind from infancy, at age 52 had an operation to restore his sight.  Investigator Richard Gregory in Nature1 records “the blind leading the sighted”— as Bradford’s eyes opened to the world of vision for the first time
We found a cheerful, confident, middle-aged man who was willing to be investigated and who, so far as we could tell then or later, was truthful and honest.  But an initial shock nearly made us turn back with the disappointment that this must be a put-up job, or at least a Great Mistake: he correctly read the time on the clock in the ward.  Could he have guessed it?  Borrowing a nurse’s alarm clock, we set its hands to various positions, and he told us the times it showed.  Taking a large watch, which had no glass, from the top pocket of his jacket, he told its time by rapidly touching its hands, as he had done for many years.  So he could see immediately, from earlier touch experience.  At least for us, this was a turning point for understanding vision.
Bradford also quickly learned to read and recognize objects, but had trouble initially with optical illusions and perspective.  Nevertheless, his sense of touch prepared him for the visual world.  Some scientists and philosophers had thought each sense acted separately, but this case showed there is “cross-modal transfer” between them.  Another case in 2000, Mike May, mirrored the experience of Bradford.  These findings were, to Gregory, “an eye-opening experience of the wonders of perception.”
1Richard Gregory, “The blind leading the sighted,”
Nature 430, 836 (19 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430836a.
It becomes less an issue with these observations to consider how a blind man, miraculously healed, could have picked up his mat and walked, and made sense of the new world around him, as skeptics might complain.  Of course, any Miracle Worker capable of healing the blind could also heal the complete neural sensory and interpretive apparatus along with it.
Next headline on:  Human BodyBible and Theology
Researchers Record the Hum of Cellular Motors at Work    08/25/2004
Researchers from UCLA placed a probe on a yeast cell and found that it vibrated at 1.6 kHz.  Further tests showed the vibration responded to temperature and to metabolic agents.  They think they have discovered the hum of cellular motors at work, reports Science News.1  “By the UCLA team’s calculations,“ writes Alexandra Goho, “molecular-motor proteins inside the cell are the likely source of the rumble.  Such proteins carry chemical cargo along molecular tracks called microtubules and pump nutrients in and out of cells.”  They translated the vibrations into a sound file you can download at the website of lead investigator
James Gimzewski.
1Alexandra Goho, “Rattle and Hum: Molecular machinery makes yeast cells purr,” Science News, Week of Aug. 21, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 8 , p. 116.
The sound of motorized freeway traffic inside the cell: fascinating.  Blobs of jello don’t purr.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week   08/24/2004
From
Science@NASA comes a story about a medical doctor trying to coax adult stem cells to do DNA repair on astronauts exposed to extended periods of radiation on future trips to Mars.  Struggling with the techniques, Dr. Alan Gerwitz (U of Pennsylvania) said, “It’s hard to beat millions of years of evolution for picking out what works, and works well.”
Thank you, Dr. Gerwitz, for your charming entry.  Keep up the great comedy act, and good luck on the real science, too.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Interview   08/24/2004  Alister McGrath, Oxford historian and theologian, was interviewed in the Aug. 21 issue of World Magazine.  McGrath thinks atheism is on the decline, and with it, Darwinism.  Some of his comments have direct relevance to the reporting in these pages.  Peter Cava and Susan Olasky interviewed McGrath, who claims he underwent a conversion from atheism to Christianity parallel to that of C.S. Lewis.  They asked him how Christians should show the falsity of Darwinism: “Should Christians declare that the prime weakness of Darwinian Christianity is not its opposition to the Bible but to the scientific evidence?”  He answered,
My personal belief is that the best way of criticizing atheist Darwinism is to focus on the scientific evidence, and ask whether it demands that we abandon faith in God.  It clearly does not. I’m very interested in this question, as I will publish a work later this year entitled Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life which argues that the noted atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins—author of books such as The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene—is actually unable to justify his atheism on the basis of the scientific evidence he offers.
He was also asked, “Should religious presuppositions inform scientific inquiry?”  He answered,
Let me mention one point here.  For a Christian, there is an obvious and important connection between the doctrine of creation and scientific inquiry.  As John Calvin pointed out, to study God’s creation is to appreciate the wisdom of God in greater depth.  It’s no accident, I believe, that the natural sciences became especially significant in Christian Europe, as there was a natural religious motivation to study nature as God’s creation.  This doesn’t mean for one moment that people regarded nature as God.  They saw it as the work of God, which was to be honored and appreciated for that reason.
And that is what our online book, The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists, explores in depth.  McGrath is the author of The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (Doubleday, June 2004).
It’s good to see Christian thinkers with the caliber of C.S. Lewis still roaming the halls of Oxford.  McGrath explores the history of atheism and suggests it flourished in France (1780s) and Germany (1840s) largely as a liberation movement against a corrupt and oppressive institutionalized church.  But it ended up being just as oppressive as what it sought to overthrow, as the 20th century illustrated.  Now, it is in retreat, he claims.  What is on the rise, however, is Islam, and the Christian response will be very different.  Christians will need to befriend Muslims, correct misunderstandings about the gospel, and show the power of the gospel to liberate them.
    Lest anyone suspect that atheism is no longer an issue, it’s “Reign of Terror Week” on The History Channel.  No fictional horror film could match what this series is revealing.  The episode Inside North Korea is a must see about the unbelievably horrible atrocities going on now in one atheist regime under the world’s worst living dictator, Kim Jong Il.  Global Prayer Digest says, “Being a Christian is illegal in North Korea, punishable by death or years of hard labor.”  If you thought routine, systematic evil went out with Hitler or Stalin, wake up!  It is happening, right now – evils just as bad or worse than anything from the 1930s and 40s – in communist countries that have not heard, or don’t care, that the foundations of their philosophical and political systems have collapsed.  It is doubtful any church or inquisition ever came close to the brutality and utter lack of conscience of the perpetrators of Nazi and communist genocides.  The episode Inside Pol Pot’s Secret Prison is a withering account of atrocities committed within the living memory of many of us: a systematic genocide rooted squarely in Darwinian principles.  These films are worth purchasing and sharing with pastors who are focused on their building programs or entertainers instead of the battle for truth.
    Bizarre footnote: the mastermind of Pol Pot’s systematic executions, that ran like a conveyor-belt gas chamber, claims to have become a born-again Christian, and is awaiting trial in Cambodia.  Pol Pot died peacefully in 1998, and no Khmer Rouge member has ever been convicted of crimes against humanity.
Next headline on:  DarwinismMvoies & MediaPolitics and Ethics
Don’t Read Face of Molecular Clock at Face Value   08/24/2004
A press release from
PLoS Biology says the so-called “molecular clock” (the idea that genes mutate at a steady rate) is “not so dependable after all.”  Mutations tend to cluster around microsatellites in the genome, biasing the arrangement of genetic changes.  The claim is based on the work of Edward Vowles and William Amos, who found that “the clock is anything but constant.  Instead, a mutation in one spot in the genome affects the chance of getting another mutation nearby.”
The finding disputes evolution, but the article claims that mutations are the raw material for evolution.  It also repeats the myth that the genome is mostly filled with “apparently meaningless nonsense.”  Any evidence?  Nope.  Any assumptions?  Yep.  Junk DNA?  See 06/03/2004 headline.
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNA
Antarctica Hit by Catastrophic Meteors, Researchers Claim   08/23/2004
A story in
BBC News claims that multiple impact sites have been found under Antarctic ice covering an area 1300 by 2400 miles, with one impact making a hole in the ice 200 miles across.  The estimated date of these impacts (around 780,000 years ago) creates a problem, however:
The research suggests that an asteroid the size of the one blamed for killing off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago could have struck Earth relatively recently.
    Early humans would have been living in Africa and other parts of the Old World at the time of the strikes.
If such a destructive impact killed off dinosaurs, how could the humans and other mammals survived?  A suggestion was quickly forthcoming: “But the impacts would have occurred during an ice age, so even tidal waves would have been weakened by the stabilising effect of icebergs on the ocean.”
For an ad hoc just-so story to explain away evidence against a popular theory, this one takes the cake.  These theorists seem to have been hit with a rock on the head.
Next headline on:  Geology
Biblical History Artifacts Falling Prey to Looters    08/23/2004
The plunder of antiquities in Iraq and Israel continues, forever diminishing the ability of archaeologists to recreate the Biblical past, say Newsweek reporters Melinda Liu and Christopher Dickey in
MSNBC News.  Neither the new government in Iraq nor coalition troops are able to guard the many sites at which looters, in full daylight, dig up treasures thousands of years old to sell to collectors.  Even if recovered, items have limited value without the context in which they were found.  With no solution in sight, the article ends on an apocalyptic note:
For believers contemplating the rise of the looters, lines from the Revelation of Saint John the Divine may come to mind: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.”  For archeologists, for the faithful, for all of us, the loss of this past impoverishes the future.  Ripping artifacts from their contexts takes away the last chance we have to know those civilizations—from the world of Abraham to that of Nebuchadnezzar—that gave us our own.
In Iraq, many of the looters are poor people just trying to support their families.  The little they get is multiplied once the artifacts reach the antiquities market, where some may end up on a collector’s mantle.  In Israel, ongoing violence often makes archaeological work impossible, despite “a rising tide of funds for Bible-related projects.” 
Where is Indiana Jones when we need him?  This article raises awareness of a very real problem that demands action.  But who is at fault?  The political bias of the writers is hardly veiled.  “In Israel, much care is taken to preserve the slightest trace that might reveal literal truths about the mystical teachings of scripture,” they say; much care is taken by whom?  Why not identify the good guys?  It is not the Palestinians who cast precious artifacts down the Kidron Valley and try to destroy evidences that might support Israel’s history in the land (see this Jerusalem Post article, for instance).  What “mystical” teachings of Scripture do they have in mind, as contrasted with “literal truths” that an archaeologist might discover?  An artifact is literal, but its interpretation requires a philosophy of history that can have many political, moral and theological components.  They seem unaware that their philosophy colors their own interpretation of the Genesis account: thus they call the Temptation and the Fall “myths”.
    The authors fail to mention the atrocious acts of the former Iraqi dictator, and only speak of “the fall of Hussein” without mentioning who made him fall, as if he fell over by himself.  If it weren’t for the American coalition toppling him, Hussein would still be in power, flooding dozens of important sites with the Tigris River (see 03/22/2002 headline).  It also gives negative press to coalition forces, saying “coalition forces sometimes make matters worse,” selectively reporting one incident.  They allege an American military base moved earth “potentially rich in relics” at the Babylon site while building protective walls, without giving the officer in charge a chance to respond about what exactly he was doing and why.  The authors say nothing about the many extraordinary efforts the American soldiers have taken to preserve antiquities despite being shot at by anti-democratic Muslim terrorists and Saddam loyalists.
    The authors also fail to point the finger at the real problem in Israel.  Look at this biased sentence: “In Israel, a rising tide of funds for Bible-related projects is flowing into Jerusalem and its environs [from whom?], but archeology is an overlooked casualty of the intifada: the violence has cut down the number of active digs.”  Who is causing the violence but Muslim terrorists?  What is the intifada but Palestinian Arabs intent on the destruction of Israel, the only democratic government in the region that supports archaeology?  Who, on the constructive side, is giving money and promoting the scientific exploration of archaeological sites, but Israeli, British and American archaeologists?  The authors write as if “the violence” is just a fact of life, like rainfall.  If you cannot identify the problem, you cannot begin to identify a solution.
    The authors could have focused on solutions rather than wailing Biblical words out of context.  Why not promote the peace and prosperity of the new democratic government in Iraq, so that the poor have good jobs that can reduce the desperation that makes getting a quick buck in looting attractive?  Why not make sure that programs like “oil for food” actually get to the poor, instead of lining the pockets of dictators and U.N. officials?  Why not promote the free and open access of scientific archaeological teams to the sites that Hussein long kept off limits?  Why not severely punish convicted looters and dealers to set an example?  Blaming the freedom-loving governments who have sacrificed the most blood, given the most money, and taken the most positive action to bring a peaceful environment for archaeologists is not helping find the solution to a very real problem.  We have a suggestion.  Send Newsweek reporters to Iraq to perform an archaeological dig on the mass graves.
Next headline on:  Bible and Theology
Land Dinosaurs Buried with Fish   08/22/2004
Since dinosaurs are icons of evolutionary TV shows and even children’s cartoons about prehistoric evolving life, it may come as a surprise to some that evolutionists do not own the dinosaurs; even the name dinosaur was invented by a creationist, Richard Owen.  Last month, a creationist dinosaur dig in Montana1 was a monstrous success.  Joe Taylor and a group of Christian fossil hunters at a Fossil Camp sponsored by Otis Kline found more than the usual bones of triceratops, hadrosaurs, and velociraptors.  They were looking for what the matrix reloaded:
As always, we are very interested in how the bones are laying and what else is buried with them, and there was a lot of good news for creationism in that regard.  On our T-rex site a few miles away, we found petrified figs, crocodile teeth, water turtles, fish bones, closed clams and a log jam of trees mixed in with 18 broken T-rex teeth.  There were also a half dozen velociraptor teeth and numerous fish teeth, but very few leaves.  At the triceratops site there were lots of plants mixed in with the clay layers above and in with the bones.
Taylor and his team confirmed that the bones were buried in a current flowing southeast. 
[John MacKay, Australian creationist] uncovered layers of plants well above our layer as well as at least 12 feet below it.  In almost every case, the twigs and plants were orientated southeast.  He also pointed out that, due to the fact that we found plant material stuck to the surface of the bone, our triceratops’ illium (about 3-feet long) was probably from an animal that already become a skeleton rather than being buried alive.
A strange assortment of plant material was found buried together, plants that could not have grown in the same climate: figs, sequoias, willows and horsetails.  The clay also contained bits of amber, “which signifies that the trees were buried quickly, preserving the sap still oozing from their freshly broken trunks.”  To the team, the evidence of diverse plants, land animals and marine animals buried together in the same deposit “all strongly suggest a terrific, wide-ranging catastrophe and rapid burial.”  Taylor, a fossil hunter with many years’ experience, says this is not a local anomaly: “I can testify that the same phenomenon is typical over several surrounding states,” he says.
1From an August email newsletter distributed by Joe Taylor.  His website is
www.mtblanco.com.
Do you remember movies or TV shows on dinosaurs showing triceratops and velociraptors running around with clams and fish?  The context of these bones is just as important as the bones.  The depth of these layers, and the diverse contents, spread over multiple states, cannot be explained by some local flood or slow, gradual process.  The catastrophe that buried these animals ripped the flesh off the bones and ground plant material into them.  Why don’t you hear about these things from the major media?  Is it because the findings don’t fit their favorite just-so story?  If you don’t agree with Joe Taylor’s interpretation, get out there and dig.
Next headline on:  DinosaursDating Methods
Watch This Space:  What, and When, Was the Ediacaran Biota?   08/19/2004
Evolutionary paleontologists are understandably very interested in the Ediacaran period (recently added to the geologic column) because, to them, it incorporates “the most ancient complex organisms on Earth.”  As classified, this Precambrian period (dated 580 to 543 million years old) precedes the Cambrian explosion by some 20 million years, yet “remains one of the greatest enigmata within evolutionary paleobiology.”2  The type section for which it is named, discovered in 1946, is in the Flinders Ranges, Australia.  Paleontologists had classified several species from the original Australian deposits and others in England and Russia.  Some thought their frond-like shapes indicated they were possible ancestors of sea pens or even jellyfish, that arose later in the Cambrian.
    A new sample of exquisitely-preserved Ediacaran fossils was uncovered in Newfoundland, and reported by Guy M. Narbonne in the Aug. 20 issue of Science.1  Martin Brasier and Jonathan Antcliffe analyze the samples in the same issue2, but feel the time has come to “raise difficult questions about the methodology used to analyze Ediacaran fossils.”  They take issue with classification by analogy, the idea that because some of the fossils resemble sea pens, they are related by evolution.  An alternative view is likely:
Paleontologists eagerly sought relationships between Ediacaran fossils and living seapens and worms, jellyfish and crabs.  This “great ancestral” view has held sway for almost 40 years, but a growing number of paleontologists argue that Ediacaran creatures were not ancestral to Cambrian life at all.  They suggest that members of the Ediacara biota were uniquely fashioned beasts that met their doom at the end of the Precambrian.
Narbonne seems perplexed just how to classify these animals.  “It is difficult to relate rangeomorphs [a clade of Ediacaran animals] to any modern group of macroscopic organisms, and they appear to represent a ‘forgotten’ architecture and construction that characterized early stages in the terminal Neoproterozoic evolution of complex multicellular life,” they conclude their paper.  Brasier and Antcliffe also take issue with the practice of classifying forms into different species without considering the possibility they may be stages of development of a single species:
Our concern is that the current “Ediacaran species concept” is no longer tenable.  It is based on a “typological” approach using type specimens rather than populations, and on an “analog” approach that compares fossil morphologies with modern organisms according to assumed similarities.  But these similarities could well have evolved independently.  This approach is therefore unsound for deciphering long-extinct groups and, unlike cladistics, is an insecure basis for classification.  We need quantitative studies of fossil populations, with analysis of morphological gradients [i.e., transitional forms--ed.] in the same geological successions and bedding planes, as well as detailed analyses of growth programs (morphospace), life history (ontogeny), and evolutionary history (phylogeny).  It is premature to put forth any evolutionary history for fossils whose diagnosis has been conceived without reference to a postulated growth program observed through successive stages of ontogeny.  Without such reference, both the taxonomic pattern and the evolutionary processes responsible for it will remain obscure.
They point out several differences between Ediacaran animals and living sea pens and corals.  They note also that many of these alleged “species” overlap each other in the strata.  Reading the history of Ediacara is like reading hieroglyphics, they say, but a “Rosetta stone” is lacking.  The only way they can fit an evolutionary account to the data is to suggest that speciation occurred by heterochrony: i.e., “architectural novelty arose through accentuation of adult or juvenile growth stages.”   For his part, Narbonne simply assumes that ancestors for the Cambrian explosion existed in the Ediacaran period, but it wasn’t these creatures: “It is probable that the Ediacara biota included stem groups for the Cambrian explosion of animals, but there are no obvious analogs for rangeomorph architecture and construction among modern taxa.”
1Guy M. Narbonne, “Modular Construction of Early Ediacaran Complex Life Forms,”
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5687, 1141-1144, 20 August 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099727].
2Martin Brasier and Jonathan Antcliffe, “Paleobology: Decoding the Ediacaran Enigma,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5687, 1115-1117, 20 August 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102673].
Yes, it is time to ask difficult questions.  They just admitted that these fossils appear suddenly, then disappear, with no clear relationship to the Cambrian fossils that followed.  As such, they are no help to explaining the Cambrian explosion.  They already had complexity, forming leaf-like fronds with three levels of fractal patterning.  Yes, we agree; they appear to be “uniquely fashioned groups.”  One sentence demands another look: “We need quantitative studies of fossil populations, with analysis of morphological gradients in the same geological successions and bedding planes, as well as detailed analyses of growth programs (morphospace), life history (ontogeny), and evolutionary history (phylogeny).”  In plain English, this means: we can’t tell an evolutionary story if we have no transitional forms to connect the dots.
    Now for some difficult questions of our own.  Does anyone see an evolutionary picture in the Ediacaran biota?  Is anyone convinced by the dates attached to the strata, which have been stitched together from four continents?  Is anyone impressed by giving a just-so story a fancy name like heterochrony?  The conclusion of their article teases, “If this sequence of evolutionary development (heterochrony) is correct, then perhaps we are about to break the code to the evolution of the Ediacara biota, the earliest animals.  Watch this space.”
    Interesting ending: “Watch this space.”  This implies that there nothing to watch except space: i.e., emptiness, a void, a vacuum.  If, after 58 years of speculation about the Ediacaran biota, the evolutionary story has left nothing but a space, asking us to watch it as if something important is about to happen sounds like an empty promise from a used Darwinmobile salesman.  Last question (an easy, not difficult one): any takers?
Next headline on:  FossilsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Newton Believed in Absolute Truth   08/19/2004
One would think by now everything written by or about Isaac Newton has been printed.  Not so; Nature1 reports August 19 that a commentary on the Apocalypse (Revelation) by Newton was published for the first time just last month by
The Newton Project online.  Newton’s commentary holds “radical” views that the Pope was the personification of the Antichrist, and other statements probably unpopular in his day.  The article confirms that “Newton’s religious writings constitute more than half of his entire written work.”  More interesting, the article delves into his unified belief in science and the Bible:
In the past, many thought that Newton pursued religion only in his spare time, or that the majority of his religious work had been copied from others.  But [Robert] Iliffe [science historian at Oxford] claims that these writings show his theological work was carefully planned and often related to his work in mathematics and physics.  For example, he sets up his text on the Apocalypse with mathematical formalism, outlining rules, definitions and a proof of his beliefs.
    Ultimately, Newton’s religion and science may have been tied together by belief in absolute truth.  Newton used testable hypotheses to find truth in nature, and believed that his religious writings revealed the truth about God, says Iliffe.

1Geoff Brumfiel, “Newton’s religious screeds get online airing,” Nature 430, 819 (19 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430819a.
Newton was not always the most exemplary Christian, and some of his theological beliefs bordered on the fringes of orthodoxy.  Nevertheless, no one can question that his worldview treated science and theology as highest priorities in the search for truth.  Unlike a majority of moderns, Newton believed in the existence of absolutes.  Specifically, he believed that the true and living God revealed Himself in the holy Scriptures even more clearly than in His works in nature, and therefore the Scriptures are more worthy of serious and systematic investigation than anything in nature.  This is clear from the volume of systematic study he gave the Bible compared to science, as this article affirms (contrary to previous speculations that tried to minimize the emphasis this eminent scientist and thinker gave to his religious writings.)  Can anyone claim that such a worldview is “scary stuff” in its implications for science (see yesterday’s headline), when you have the greatest scientist in history steadfastly affirming his belief in the Biblical account of creation?
Next headline on:  Politics, Ethics, and HistoryBible and Theology
British Cave Art Wins Admiration   08/18/2004
The British are overtaking the French in the ancient cave art competition;
National Geographic News reports that “English caves may hold the most elaborate Ice Age cave-art ceiling ever discovered.”  Thought to be 12,000 to 13,000 years old based on radiocarbon results and “stylistic comparison.”  There was some surprise that the art could have survived so long: “Some experts have argued that cave paintings are quickly degraded in the damp British climate.”
Never any indication that cave people were dumb.  Always an indication that humans had a human nature.  The dates and phylogenies are modern myths woven around scattered, silent artifacts.  When the observations continue to defy the expectations, the mythmakers ought to seriously reconsider their assumptions; either that, or get out of science, and try matching the the skills of their ancestors.
Next headline on:  Early ManDating Methods
Germs and Venoms Can Heal    08/19/2004
Three recent stories indicate that “nasty” things can be good, under the right circumstances:
  1. Germs and AgingScience Now reported that germs may prolong life.  A study on fruit flies showed that flies whose embryos were exposed to bacteria lived longer than those grown under sterile conditions.  Apparently the germs provide services in regulating genes that affect longevity.  Title: “Live Clean, Die Young.”
  2. Snake Venom:  Australia has many venomous snakes.  These are a boon to medical researchers who are combing the outback for potential medicines, reports National Geographic News.  Title: “Could Australia’s Deadly Snakes Put Bite on Cancer?”
  3. Spider Venom:  Also from National Geographic comes word of “Venom Venture,” a project from Cornell going “bioprospecting” for medical uses of spider venom.
These stories indicate that biological compounds and organisms are not evil in themselves, but cause either suffering or healing depending on context.  They raise the possibility that, under different conditions, the toxins in nature might have had beneficial applications.  Even cells have built-in poisons called caspases that are part of the natural process of recycling.  Since most of us operate in the context of predation and defense in this era, watch your step anyway.
Next headline on:  Health
School Science “Tyranny” Tries to Scare Off Lecture Critical of Darwinism    08/18/2004
Is a high school campus an open marketplace of ideas and a guarantor of free speech?  Look at this story in
Agape Press about the troubles a high school student endured trying to get Michael Behe to speak at an after-school lecture this past February.  Though an optional event not during normal operating hours, and sponsored by a student group, not the school itself, the idea ran afoul of the science faculty even though Samuel Chen planned it according to standard procedure.
    Once word got out of the upcoming event, Chen found himself the target of Darwinist teachers who used intimidation, rules changes, backroom dealing, scare tactics, venue swapping and demands for rebuttal to try to halt or undercut the lecture.  Six months of controversy later, the lecture finally occurred and was successful, but the conflict intimidated many of the students who watched on the sidelines.  Chen described the atmosphere on campus:
I feel that there’s a dictatorship on academic freedom in our public schools now.  I refer to evolution education as a tyranny .... You can’t challenge it in our schools.  Kids have been thrown out of class for challenging it.... Some of the students who support me are afraid to speak out, especially because they saw how the science department reacted.
Chen felt the long struggle to get the lecture approved took a toll on his health, but was worth it.  Some students were beginning to question evolution for the first time.
What are they afraid of?  If evolution is so obvious, so well supported by the facts, why not let both sides present their evidence and teach the students how to evaluate claims with critical thinking skills?  Why did one teacher call intelligent design “scary stuff”?  These are all signs of a weak position.  What’s scary stuff is terrorism, not open examination of the facts.  A few more brave students like Samuel Chen, willing to stand in the path of the tanks, may demonstrate to the world that a dogmatic view that relies on intimidation is not worth believing.
Next headline on:  SchoolsDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
Humans Lose Some, Win Some in Animal Olympics    08/17/2004
Imagine humans competing in Olympic events with animals. 
Astrobiology Magazine predicts we would lose many events, but excel in others: “In most cases of physical competition, the animals beat us at our own games,” says the website’s staff writer, Dr. David Noever.
  • 100 Meter Sprint:  Cheetah wins the gold at 3 seconds.  Silver goes to Ostrich, bronze to Greyhound.  Elephant and Hippo beat Human, far back in the pack at 10 seconds.  If birds were allowed, Swift could go 102 mph, and Peregrine Falcon at 185 mph, or Mach 0.25.
  • Long Jump:  Grey Kangaroo wins at 12 meters, Impala wins silver at 10 meters, Human might win bronze at just under 9.
  • 100 Meter Freestyle:  Swordfish, at 78 mph, wins the gold; Sailfish at 66 is not far behind.  Killer Whale and Squid put in good shows.  Human, at 5 mph, is dead last.
But the Human contingent can take pride in certain events they win hands down: “shooting rifles, javelin throws, fencing and archery.”  (Apparently no one told him about the archer fish: see 09/30/2002 headline.)
This otherwise fun article is marred by several uninformed, ridiculous Darwinian assumptions.  Dr. Noever should know ever so painfully that every one of his evolutionary pronouncements is questionable at best, outright false at worst; yet he spouts them with the glibness of a politician.  Here are quotes numbered for comments afterwards.
  1. With over 10,000 human competitors taking part in more than 20 sports, the Olympic battle of better physiques leaves out the other millions of species with specialized survival skills.  These animals have evolved their success from repeated failures, as matters of life and death....
    Darwinian selection has been announced through history with the same life-and-death struggle that is the Olympic hallmark: Let the Games Begin.
  2. Fortunately the memory of having a tail (and gills) is not too distant.  As one principle of embryology maintains, stages of evolution from water to land are played out in our mother’s womb.  All humans have to lose their gills and tail, in order eventually to master the land.
  3. To an evolutionary theorist, the only event that matters is the game of survival, which is a complex function of reproductive rates, maturation, resource limits and lifespan.
  4. All winners, whether animal or human, are likely temporary champions.  The animal Olympics is far from the top of the evolved food chain.
Got your baloney detector handy?  Let’s examine his evolutionary assertions.
  1. The struggle for existence metaphor, the original Malthus/Darwin picture of nature red in tooth and claw with only the strongest surviving, is now known to be simplistic and often simply wrong, even to Darwinians.  After the atrocities of social Darwinism, the Darwin Party is now trying to project a kindler, gentler picture of evolution: cooperation, altruism, symbiosis.  Noever assumes that struggle will produce Olympic champions, like cheetahs from flatworms, given enough time.  Evidence, please?
        Notice also how he incorrectly associates animal fitness with human physique.  Fitness has nothing necessarily to do with strength or vitality, as we usually think of it (“fitness centers” with brawny weightlifters, etc.).  Fitness in evolutionary terms means anything a Darwinist wants, as long as it results in fertile offspring.  To a Darwinist, who is more “fit”: a bodybuilder who intimidates women, or a beer-belly couch potato who has a way with girls?  As long as the latter produces lots of gene carriers (i.e., kids) before he dies of a heart attack, he is Charlie’s champion.
  2. The “principle of embryology” he references, the old Recapitulation Theory, is as defunct as the tooth fairy.  How many times do creationists and knowledgeable evolutionists have to remind the purveyors of this myth that it is utterly false and illogical?  Human embryos never have gills nor structures that develop into gills, and they never have slits.  Conclusion: they never have gill slits.  Similarly, human embryos never have tails.  No animal is obliged to play some mythical recording of its evolutionary past on the way to becoming an adult.  Why should it, when any “memory” or use for those genes is gone, and every structure in the embryo has a function?  It’s all hogwash, but look at the power of myth: once propounded to impressionable minds, once it gains a following, it is easier to embellish the myth than to dislodge it.
  3. If you define fitness in terms of survival, you fall into the tautology trap.  This has been explained so many times in such detail by so many theorists on both sides of the origins debate, it needs no elaboration here (see 06/25/2002 commentary, for instance).  If he wants to claim selection is a complex function, let’s see the math.  Let’s watch him assign observable values and error bars to the factors and coefficients.  Otherwise, this assertion is a handwaving dodge.
  4. This statement, again, assumes evolution instead of demonstrating it.  Getting the Darwin Party to repent of this cardinal sin is like asking a leopard to change its spots or a cheetah to stop cheating.  Noever just assumes that the struggle for survival will produce innovation, new function, new complex and interrelated structures, and engineering expertise.  He assumes that natural selection (a conservative process) is up to the task.  Evolutionists neither demonstrate that selection has such powers, nor show that it ever did in the past: the fossil record shows sudden appearance, stasis and extinction, with large and systematic gaps.  (Exercise: name all the transitional forms for: kangaroos, swordfish, squid, cheetahs, peregrine falcons, and all the others in this article.  Can’t be done.)  There is no basis, therefore, for him to extrapolate selection into the future, to presume evolution will add new, improved athletes to the Olympic line-up over millions of years to come.
So the gold medal in the Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week competition goes to: David Noever, for his line: “As one principle of embryology maintains, stages of evolution from water to land are played out in our mother’s womb.  All humans have to lose their gills and tail, in order eventually to master the land.”  Didn’t Mom teach him not to tell fibs?
Next headline on:  Human BodyMammalsBirdsFish and Ocean LifeDarwinismDumb Ideas
Earth’s Ugly Sister Can’t Get a Date   08/16/2004
Venus is the subject of an interview with David Grinspoon of NASA’s Exobiology Research Program in
Astrobiology Magazine, and admits that the entire surface of our hellishly hot sister planet looks young.  It appears the globe was resurfaced almost simultaneously in the relatively recent past. Grinspoon relives the surprises from the Magellan mission:
We’ve begun to understand the story of its surface evolution largely due to the Magellan mission in the 1990s.  The biggest surprise of Magellan was that the surface seems like it’s all the same age.  That’s what I’m calling the second great transition [the first being the loss of its water].  Something changed on Venus 600 or 700 million years ago to make the surface all the same age.
    If you use the word catastrophic it rubs some people the wrong way, but something dramatic happened on Venus which wiped out almost all signs of an older surface.  The planet got re-paved, basically, 600 or 700 million years ago.
Grinspoon discusses possible ways to explain such a “catastrophic” event on a planet similar in size to the Earth.  Did it start with water like Earth, then dry up?  Did the drying bring plate tectonics to a grinding halt?  Was the global volcanism a last belch of activity?  Or is the resurfacing periodic?  Nobody knows.  He talks about models he and other planetary scientists use to characterize what might have happened.  Putting dates to these models is imprecise, to say the least:
We’ve been taking a look at the models that have been done of the runaway greenhouse and the moist greenhouse to try to understand the time scale for the loss of the oceans.  The first thing you realize when you look at these models is that it has not been done in a very sophisticated way.  Not because the people that have done it are unsophisticated — Jim Kasting is the best in the business, and his models are state of the art.  But the state of the art is not that good.
    If you read Kasting’s paper, there are these huge uncertainties in the time scale.  He’s had to make many simplifying assumptions to try and solve the problem of the loss of oceans on a planet like Venus.  When you include all these assumptions, the real range of uncertainty in his model is longer than the age of the solar system.  In other words, Venus could have lost its oceans in 10 million years, or retained them for longer than the age of the solar system.  The time constraints are not that good.
Venus, it could be said, is trying out a lot of blind dates.
Whenever you listen to the just-so stories of the evolutionists (planetary or biological), always watch for the data.  Watch for something that was observed or measured in some way.  The radar scans from Magellan revealed a terrain remarkably uniform around the entire globe, with lava flows everywhere and few craters.  Its paucity of terrestrial diversity is very unlike the Earth, with its rich array of mountains, oceans, moving continents, rivers, weather systems, canyons and dynamic landscapes.
    On Venus, based on crater counts alone, the surface appears to be the same age, with nothing much having happened since some global resurfacing episode.  That is about all that can be said with any certainty.  Deducing what that age is from crater counts is a risky business based on assumptions of cratering rates which cannot be observed in the present.  The models and suggestions about water loss, early plate tectonics on Venus, periodic burps and so forth is just handwaving in the dark, assuming that the planet had a 4.5-billion year history.
    That number, the Sacred Parameter of Planetary Evolution, 4.5 billion years, is the assumed Age of the Solar System (acronym omitted for the sake of propriety).  What kind of a model has error bars as large as those he just admitted?  Is there any evidence for any of the model prior to the current observation of a uniformly cratered, resurfaced globe?  Is there any evidence of a missing 3.9 billion years?  No.  Science is supposed to be about what you can see, not what you can’t see.  When you need to visualize the unseen to keep your worldview from collapsing, it isn’t planetary science yet, just planetary mythmaking.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
Plants Found Two Miles Under Greenland Ice    08/16/2004
According to a press release from
University of Colorado,1 remnants of pine needles, bark and grass have been pulled up in an ice core from two miles under the Greenland ice sheet, between the bottom of the ice sheet and bedrock.  This is the first time plant material has been found under the Greenland ice, the report says. 
The suspected plant material under about 10,400 feet of ice indicates the Greenland Ice Sheet “formed very fast,” said NGRIP project leader Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute.  “There is a big possibility that this material is several million years old — from a time when trees covered Greenland,” she said.

1Lead: EurekAlert.
The plant remains held in the researcher’s fingers are the scientific facts.  The deduction that trees covered Greenland sometime in the past is logical.  The millions-of-years scenario is storytelling.  But what amazing facts: how did pine trees grow in a place now seen as one of the biggest deep freezers on Earth?  How did the remains survive decay if the climate change was not extremely rapid?  This is one of many indicators of a past temperate climate in northern latitudes that changed suddenly; remember the redwoods under the Arctic? (see 03/22/2002 headline).
Next headline on:  FossilsPlants
SETI Ponders the Silence    08/13/2004
Since no clear signals from space aliens have yet arrived in 40 years of looking, SETI thinkers are asking why.  They’re coming up with a variety of explanations.  Here are three possibilities from recent articles.
  1. Too Soon to Tell.  Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, writing in the September cover story of Astronomy Magazine, isn’t ready to call it a failure.  He gives the standard SETI response that we’re unsuccessful so far because the search has only just begun.  Considering the number of stars to search, it may take centuries to cover the sky adequately.  Sagan, Drake and others knew this and have been saying it all along.  But new technologies are rapidly accelerating the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and could give us an answer within 20 years.  So remain optimistic, he says, and stay tuned to the stellar radio dial.
  2. Narrow Window.  Frank Drake, SETI pioneer and author of the Drake Equation, surmises that the parameter L (lifetime of an intelligent civilization) may be the most telling factor, but it needs to be qualified by our recent human experience, according to an article on New Scientist August 4.  Detectability was predicated on an assumption that radio “leakage” from earth would be visible to aliens, and vice versa.  Our own leakage has dropped significantly, however, since cable TV and direct-broadcast satellites became popular.  This means that when the last “I Love Lucy” broadcasts reach the aliens watching from a distant star, the earth may appear to go silent.  The bad news is that maybe advanced civilizations only have a narrow window of time during which they would broadcast radio toward us, either on purpose or inadvertently through broadcast leakage.  The good news is that SETI researchers don’t necessarily have to be discouraged at the silence.  Perhaps a switch to optical SETI (searching for laser beacons) can fill in the gaps.
  3. Look Up, Look Down.  Aussie astrobiologist Paul Davies, never shy about proposing ideas “at the extreme end of the spectrum of speculation,” has a new detection strategy.  If aliens were trying to send us a message, radio would be a wasteful method, he claims in an August 10 piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Why would aliens keep radio beacons going for centuries with little hope of them being detected?  Leaving artifacts like plaques or big chunks of metal, on the other hand, would incur horrendous shipping costs, with no guarantee they would survive millions of years of erosion or burial.  Get ready for his surprise solution, as he role-plays the alien messengers in council:
    The ideal solution would be to encode the message inside a large number of self-replicating, self-repairing microscopic machines programmed to multiply and adapt to changing conditions.
        Fortunately such machines already exist: they are called living cells.
    Although this sounds uncannily like an argument used by Intelligent Design scientists,* Davies means something very different.  That he’s not talking about evidence for a Creator God is clear from his next sentence: “The cells in our bodies, for example, contain genetic messages written by Mother Nature billions of years ago.”  Like any good Darwinist, he believes cells and their genomes evolved in the usual Darwinian way.  But, he speculates, aliens might have left messages in the so-called “junk DNA.”  (See 06/03/2004 headline).  He proposes, therefore, that SETI researchers should turn their attention to hidden messages in the large, non-coding regions of our own genomes: “There is plenty of room there for ET to etch a molecular message without damaging any vital genetic functions,” he claims, particularly because “scientists in the United States have discovered whole chunks of human and mouse junk DNA that seem to have remained virtually unchanged for tens of millions of years.”  (See 05/27/2004 headline.)  Those regions would be good places to store messages, he thinks, kind of like how we encoded messages in radio beams and on the Voyager record.  What about the shipping cost?  His tale gets curioser and curioser.  Since viruses can insert genes into a host cell, “An alien civilisation could, for negligible cost, dispatch tiny packages across the galaxy, loaded with customised viral DNA.”  We might just find that “The truth is inside us.”
*ID scientists have argued that if intelligence can be detected in coded messages from space, why cannot intelligent design be detected in coded messages within living cells?  For example, see “Is Intelligent Design Testable?” by William A. Dembski on www.arn.org.
Welcome to the SETI Bizarre (intentional spelling), where a rainbow of imaginative speculations is colorfully displayed and dished out on the cheap.  The Bizarre is popular because of all the free advertising provided by the gullible media.  Isn’t science thrilling?  Too bad those church-going fundamentalist types operate only on faith.
    Remember an old childhood prank?  A smart aleck walks up to a gullible kid and gets him to follow his hand: “Look up.  Look down.  Look at my thumb.  Gee, you’re dumb.”  Try it on the next astrobiologist you meet, except with the following interpretive expansion: Look up (at the heavens, the anthropic universe, and the cosmic order).  Look down (at the earth, the lithology, the biosphere, and the improbable convergence of parameters that makes life possible).  Look at my thumb (biology, anatomy, physiology, and all the molecular machines, organs and integrated systems that make muscular motion and vision function nearly instantaneously, and the consciousness that gives sense to the observations).  Astoundingly, you appear philosophically challenged and willfully ignorant (if you think this all just happened by chance).  Which leads to a suggested revision of the Davies proverb: not, “the truth is inside us,” but rather: “the thumbprint of the Truth is inside us.”
Next headline on:  SETIIntelligent Design
Dragonfly Inspires Hi-Tech Hovercraft for Mars    08/13/2004
Exclusive  Dragonflies possess not only compound eyes like other insects, but additional “simple” eyes called ocelli (sing., ocellum) with full-field retinas like mammalian eyes.  These function as a “horizon sensor/attitude reference system,” according to an engineer trying to copy it.  In an engineering project supported by the military and aerospace, Dr. Jaavan Chahla and an Australian team have built mechanical ocelli that allow small drone planes and helicopters to mimic the dragonfly’s ability to achieve low-altitude flight without hitting obstacles.  In a presentation at JPL August 13, he showed film clips of flight tests that apply the dragonfly’s processing of “optical flow”, the information that comes from a shifting angles of light as you move.  Since this is not dependent on heavy inertial guidance systems, magnetic compasses or other flight technologies, it permits the development of low-mass flight hardware suitable for Mars, which has no useful magnetic field.
    Commenting on the dragonfly’s abilities, Chahla stated that it (and other insects) are able to process huge amounts of data with 8-19 millisecond response – a volume of data man-made sensors have trouble managing.  Yet they do it with a tiny brain with 0.01% the neurons in a human brain.  All insects rely on optical flow sensing, he said.  It’s a useful sense, because as a passive response system, it does not depend on echoes or transmissions, as with radar, and also is independent of wind motion.  Another inherent problem with horizon sensors is failure when the sun falls into the field of view.  The dragonfly has overcome this failure mode using multispectral processing in the green and UV bands.
    Insects also have rapid ability to “self-bootstrap” or respond quickly to new information, for instance when released into the open from a dark enclosure.  This has been a challenge for humans to emulate.  Another challenge has been hovering in place.  Optical flow sensing is easier in a moving environment, but more difficult when the horizon is stationary.  Chahla showed a film clip of a dragonfly hovering next to a blade of grass moving in the wind.  The dragonfly’s motion tracked the movement of the grass almost instantaneously.  Having worked with model helicopters, Chahla seemed particularly impressed with that ability.
    An abstract of an earlier paper by Chahla et al. is available on
Journal of Robotic Systems.  A diagram (PDF format) of a dragonfly head with ocelli can be found at University of California Press.
The simplest, ordinary things in the garden or out on a nature walk are really extraordinary when you look at them in detail.  No one respects nature’s abilities more than a human engineer who has tried to figure it out and reverse engineer them.  When our brightest designers can barely keep up with the observed specifications in the insect world, are we to honestly believe that blind, undirected natural laws achieved these natural abilities without a Designing intelligence?
Next headline on:  Terrestrial ZoologyMarsAmazing Facts
The Evolution of Drunkenness    08/12/2004
No kidding; an evolutionist is trying to figure out why humans evolved into the stoned age.  “What Would Darwin Say About Drinking?“ reads the title of an article on
WineSpectator.com: “Some Scientists Believe Humans Evolved to Enjoy Alcohol.”  Reporter Jacob Gaffney proposes the strange idea that survival of the fittest produced alcoholics: “your desire to drink could be the result of an evolutionary hangover.”
    “The subject generated enough interest to be the focus of a symposium at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s conference earlier this year,” the article says. Robert Dudley, a professor at UC Berkeley (where else) and colleagues are “exploring the possible evolutionary origins of drinking, hoping to shed light on the relationships between humans, alcohol and health.”  Gaffney quipped, “This Darwinian approach to medical science has fermented debate in the research community.”  Is that a euphemism for sending scientific discussion reeling in a drunken stupor?
    The tale has some missing links, one being that no primate in the wild is known to get drunk, though there are anecdotal reports of some birds and wart hogs becoming inebriated from overripe fruit.  “There are still gaps in the hypothesis,” admitted Doug Levey (U of Florida), speaker at a symposium on the subject, “such as how one makes the leap from low-level consumption of ethanol in wild fruits to the drinking habits of modern society to full-fledged alcoholism.”  Not everyone is impressed with Dudley’s line of argument.  Katharine Milton, a Berkeley primatologist, doesn’t think drunkenness provided any evolutionary advantage to our ancestors.  “You can’t afford to have even a mild sense of euphoria when you are a primate, because you will get eaten or fall out of a tree and onto your head.”
Lead: WorldNetDaily.
This is cartoon material and calls for a contest.  Send in your joke or caption to CEH Feedback.*  Should we have titled this The Evolution of Drunkenness, or the other way around?  Dar-wine must be popular in the Berserkeley faculty lounges.  So what would Charlie say about drinking, then?  Probably, “Nobody knows how dry I am.”  If these “scientists” want to test their hypothesis, undoubtedly they will find plenty of willing experimental subjects in the campus zoo, otherwise known as the dormitory.
*Join the fun: add your joke to our reader’s entries:
  • If a man can get so drunk that he makes a monkey of himself, then what the problem with a monkey getting so drunk that he makes a man of himself?
  • How much proof do you need for evolution?  Apparently 80 proof will do.
  • [from Austria]: I am not dry, I am a darwinist, drunken by my ability to tell you and me “just so” stories.  It’s a selective advantage for me in the present day’s biosciences.
  • Your entry here.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryDumb Ideas
Mars Update: Woeful Lack of Lakes
Spirits seem low since last week’s Science results from Mars (see
08/06/04 headline).  Mark Lemmon seems disappointed that the Mars Exploration Rover teams have not found evidence for lakes or seas; only thick dust that coats everything and clogs up the equipment.  “Although the rovers uncovered the presence of small amounts of water in rock samples, no large lakebeds have yet to be found, Lemmon says,” according to a news brief on EurekAlert.
Next headline on:  Mars

Jupi-Tar?   08/11/2004
Among the incomprehensible titles of most papers in the Astrophysical Journal, this one stood out: “Jupiter Formed with More Tar than Ice.”1  Looking at Galileo spacecraft data for oxygen abundance and other things, Katharina Lodders was led to propose the following model:

Carbonaceous matter, which has high sticking probabilities, was the agent that sped up accumulation of solid matter of proto-Jupiter.  This led to runaway accretion of the planet.  Major consequences of this scenario are that the water ice condensation front (the snow line) typically placed near 5.2 AU in solar nebula models must be replaced by a carbonaceous condensation/evaporation front (the “tar line”) and that the snow line is located farther out in the solar nebula.
Update 12/09/2004: A press release from Washington University in St. Louis described this new theory as “Tar and muck and everything yuck.”
1Katharina Lodders, “Jupiter Formed With More Tar than Ice,” Astrophysical Journal 611:587-597, 2004 August 10.
This sounds like a pretty drastic revision to textbook models of planet formation and dating, so we’ll have to wait and see if she garners support for the idea that Brer Jupiter is a giant tar-baby.  The textbook artists already are reduced to drawing toys (see 08/06/2004 headline).  Now do they need to draw Uncle Remus folk tales?  If so, the results will be no less plausible than today’s naturalistic just-so stories of planetary evolution.
Next headline on:  Solar System
Editorial: Kerry’s Stem Cell Sales Campaign
In an editorial on
The Weekly Standard, Eric Cohen accuses US presidential candidate John Kerry of misguided zealotry in his advocacy of embryonic stem cell research.  “He offers no serious discussion of the ethical dilemmas involved in destroying nascent human life—just assertions that the ethical issues will be ‘resolved’” somehow, Cohen asserts.  Yet Kerry provides no specifics on what “moral compass” might guide the scientists – if any.
    Cohen accuses Kerry of demagoguery in bating listeners with empty promises of health panaceas, while glossing over major ethical issues: “stem cells have become a political religion, with scientists as the persecuted saviors,” he quips.  Kerry teases listeners with emotional lines like “stem cells have the power to slow the loss of a grandmother’s memory,” in spite of no clinical trials or evidence.  This begs the question whether stem cell research would do any good.  Advance sales advertising with such a dubious track record amounts to propaganda – with ominous moral possibilities.  Cohen lists a few potential abominations that might spring from similar rationalizing, such as growing fetuses for spare parts, or implanting human embryos into animals.  Then he challenges, “Is there anything a civilized people should refuse to do—even if it might advance medicine in the future?”  On that question, Kerry is strangely silent.  It’s unconscionable that embryonic stem cells should get all the publicity when adult and umbilical stem cells, which overcome the ethical objections, already show results, as (for example) this article on EurekAlert illustrates.
    LifeNews.com also claims that Kerry is wrong to say that President Bush ‘banned’ stem cell funding.  The administration set restrictions and guidelines, but “It is a completely false statement to call it a ban,” according to Senator Sam Brownback.  Chuck Colson agrees in his daily BreakPoint commentary: it is a half truth to call it a ban, he says.  But the race to open Pandora’s box has already begun: BBC News reports that the UK has given a go-ahead for “therapeutic cloning” for the first time.  Other countries will surely desire to catch up.  Maybe it is too late for Peter Pike in OpinionEditorials.com to ask, do the ends justify the means?
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics

T. Rex: I Was a Teenage Monster   08/11/2004
The news media quickly latched onto a report in Nature1 that Tyrannosaurus rex had a growth spurt in adolescence.  Dr. Gregory Erickson of Florida State measured growth lines in leg bones and found faster growth between age 14 and 18 on the famous Rex specimen named Sue, says EurekAlert based on info from
Florida State and the Field Museum.  (See also National Geographic News, BBC News etc. that figured out this means Sue gained 5 pounds a day as a teen.)
    “T. rex is notable for its great size, which is at least 15-fold greater than the largest living terrestrial carnivorous animals today and second only to Giganotosaurus among theropod dinosaurs,” the paper in Nature begins.  “How did it attain such great proportions within the Tyrannosauridae?” Because the growth rates of dinosaurs is “a topic of considerable interest in evolutionary biology,” Erickson’s team tried to fit the growth rate to “two competing phylogenetic hypotheses for the Tyrannosauridae,” but no clear winning hypothesis seemed to emerge; T. rex’s “method of attaining gigantism contrasts with that in the largest crocodilians and lizards, where ancestral growth rates were retained and the exponential stages lengthened,” the paper says.  Fast growth rate seems to be diagnostic of the Tyrannosauridae, but not its ancestors, according the paper.  Also, “A second substantial increase in growth rate optimizes as a physiological autapomorphy of Tyrannosaurus irrespective of phylogenetic hypothesis and optimization criterion.”  [Autapomorphy: “a character state that is seen in a single sequence and no other.  Sometimes called a uniquely-derived character state.” Source: Molecular Systematics and Evolution glossary.]

From the two competing hypotheses of tyrannosaurid phylogeny it is most parsimonious to conclude that T. rex acquired the majority of its giant proportions after diverging from the common ancestor of itself and D. torosus, a species with an optimized body mass of about 1,800 kg.  Direct comparison between the tyrannosaurid growth curves shows that the transition to the exponential and stationary phases of development occurred about 2-4 years later in T. rex (Fig. 2).  However, such temporal post-displacement had little to do with the evolution of its gigantism because the exponential stage, during which most body size is accrued, was not extended beyond the ancestral, 4-year condition observed in other tyrannosaurids.  Rather, the key developmental modification that propelled T. rex to giant proportions was primarily through evolutionary acceleration in the exponential stage growth rate and the transition zones bounding it.  This is reflected in the regions of maximal slope on the growth curves depicted in Fig. 2 and holds true regardless of which evolutionary hypothesis is correct and how the maximum growth rates are optimized....
The actual magnitude of the growth rate change reconstructed at ancestral nodes differs with topology and more drastically with the optimization method.  Linear parsimony yields a punctuated pattern with higher changes at individual nodes, whereas squared-changes parsimony forces a ‘smoother’ distribution on the data but also incurs some counterintuitive deceleration in growth for the slower-growing basal taxa.
Since T. rex seems to stand on its own two feet phylogenetically, the study ends on a question instead of a definitive answer: “How other dinosaurs attained gigantism within their respective sub-clades will serve as an interesting line of inquiry in the future.  Does the same pattern of acceleratory growth seen here characterize the means by which all or most members of the Dinosauria attained great size?”
    The study might help the next Jurassic Park movie.  The researchers suggest that T. rex teens might have been able to run.  After reaching 1000 kg, they probably were too heavy to chase down a jeep.
1Erickson et al., “Gigantism and comparative life-history parameters of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs,” Nature 430, 772 - 775 (12 August 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02699.
We’ll leave the teenage monster jokes to the imagination of our readers.  Notice in passing how the popular-level reports of this paper all talk about how these studies are going to help us understand dinosaur evolution: such as, “With the life history parameters, we can better understand T. rex evolution, biology, biomechanics and population dynamics.”  Three out of four, maybe, but what evolution?  The paper looked for it and didn’t find it.  Give us some evidence, not empty promises.  We’re getting frustrated with the ubiquitous unresolved plots in the endless soap opera, Charlie’s Angles.
Next headline on:  DinosaursDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
ATP Synthase: Another Unexpected Case of Fine Tuning    08/10/2004
ATP synthase, the miniature rotary motor that powers our cells, has been a subject of great interest since the elucidation of its rotary function won three scientists a Nobel prize in 1997.  As an example of a precision-crafted, true electric rotary motor in living systems (another being the larger bacterial flagellum), it also provides a classic case study in intelligent design vs. evolution.  It has been the subject of frequent updates in these pages (start at
02/13/2004 and work backwards).  Now, another discovery about this ATP-synthesizing engine has revealed a deeper level of fine tuning.  Japanese scientists publishing in PNAS1 found a precision coupling between two components that was unexpected, yet apparently essential.
    For review, recall that ATP synthase has two functional domains, named F0 and F1.  The F1 part that actually synthesizes ATP from ADP + P is now fairly well understood.  It is composed of three pairs of lobes that spring-load ATP with every 120o turn of the camshaft, each pair of lobes either loading, catalyzing or ejecting an ATP molecule.  The F0 domain, however, has been harder to study.  Scientists knew it looks like a carousel of identical proteins, labeled c subunits.  Linked to it is a camshaft, named the gamma subunit, that drives the synthesis of ATP in F1.  Scientists knew the F0 carousel runs on protons delivered by a gumball-like mechanism named the a subunit (see 12/22/2003 headline).  But up till now, they were not sure how many c subunits comprised the carousel – or even if the number mattered.  Some studies had hinted that the F0 motor contained anywhere from 8 to 13 c subunits, depending on the species.  Now, the team of Mitome et al. found the answer: it is 10, and it must be 10 and only 10.  Other numbers don’t work.  That’s strange.  It means that F0 needs 10 protons per revolution, but F1 produces 3 ATP per revolution.  The ratio 10:3 is not an integer.  How can that be?
    The scientists arrived at the number 10 by customizing F0 rings with fixed numbers of c subunits, 2 through 14.  Then they linked them to the F1 domains and watched how much ATP was synthesized.  Results were obtained for only c=2, 5, and 10, which is interesting, considering that 2 and 5 are factors of 10.  The c=2 and c=5 cases produced a little ATP, and c=10 produced the maximum.  All the other numbers produced none.  The team deduced, therefore, that 10 (or one of its factors) is essential to match the proton-loading mechanism of the a subunit.
    The scientists also measured the proton flow through their custom carousels when disengaged from F1 and found, again, that 10 was the only number that worked.  Without 10 c subunits, no protons flowed.  Divide a circle of 360o by 10, and you get a 36o angle per c subunit during a complete revolution of the F0 motor.  The F1 domain, by contrast, produces ATP for each 120o turn, or 3 ATP per complete revolution.  The scientists seemed surprised that the proton-ATP ratio, “one of the most important parameters in bioenergetics,” is not an integer.  It’s as if three protons are sufficient to generate an ATP sometimes and four other times, because one cannot have a third of a proton.  Wouldn’t it be more logical if the number of c subunits was a multiple of three, say 6, 9, or 12?  With c=9, for instance, the camshaft angle would regularly line up with the F1 lobes every 3 protons, yielding one ATP every time, nice and neat.  The fact that it does not means that the coupling between F0 and F1 is not strict, as with toothed gears, but “permissive” – as if the two domains rotate according to their own structural needs, and are coupled together by a adaptor mechanism that has some degree of freedom to either twist or slip.
    The scientists ruled out slippage.  They knew that the camshaft can only produce an ATP in the F1 domain when it is lined up perfectly at the 120o steps.  Instead, they found that there is enough elastic flexibility in the camshaft to permit twist up to 40o during its rotation.  This flexibility allows the two domains to work separately, each according to its optimum configuration, with the twisting camshaft able to rock back and forth a little to give the F1 lobes time to complete their work.  In scientific lingo, “The flexibility of gamma allows both the F0-gamma and F1-gamma interfaces at the free-energy minima to stay in conformations adequate for the proton transport in F0 and the catalysis in F1 despite the step-size mismatch, providing sufficient time for those events to take place.”
    One more thing.  There isn’t much tolerance for error in this system.  The team found that a single point mutation at a spot named E56 in the c subunit was enough to quench all proton flow and all ATP synthesis: “This result provides evidence that each of all 10 E56 in the c-ring is indispensable.”  Also, the quantity of 10 subunits in the c-ring is critical, because 8, 9, 11, 12 and other numbers did not fit the gumball proton-delivery system of the a subunit: “Thus, the proton transport through F0 requires very strict arrangement of contact surface between F0-a and F0-c in the F0 assembly and even a rotary displacement as tiny as 3.3o (360o / 10 – 360o / 11) seems to be enough to disable a proton transfer between them.”
    The team made their measurements on ATP synthase motors from a species of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria.  They feel they have found a coupling strategy in living systems that could demonstrate a general principle: “Here, we report the permissive nature of the coupling between proton transport and ATP synthesis of F0-F1, but such nature of the coupling can be general among other biological motor systems to connect critical well tuned microscopic events in the large domain motions.”
1Mitome et al., “Thermophilic ATP synthase has a decamer c-ring: Indication of noninteger 10:3 H+/ATP ratio and permissive elastic coupling,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403545101, published online 8/09/04.
This discovery reveals a deeper level of design even more difficult to explain by evolution.  (As expected, these authors make no reference to evolution in their paper.)  A simple, easy-to-fathom machine would use the integer ratio; 3 protons yields one ATP.  The 10:3 ratio, puzzling at first, actually shows superior engineering.  It enables two disparate components with different operational requirements to be coupled together for the maximum efficiency of each.  In software, it would be like the driver that allows a device to work with any operating system.  In hardware, it would be like a tractor with a power-takeoff adapter that allows the engine to operate an attachment running at a different RPM.
      ATP synthase is made up of two finely tuned domains, F0 and F1, that operate under their own stringent requirements for function, but are useless without one another.  Why would the F0 c-ring carousel evolve by itself, if it had no function vital to the cell?  And how could the F1 system of six lobes, exquisitely-crafted for the synthesis of ATP, operate without an electrical motor to turn the camshaft?  The camshaft itself is a perfectly-designed component, with just the right amount of elastic flexibility, to couple the two very different domains.  Add to that the a subunit that feeds the protons at just the right rate and matches them to the appropriate active site on each c subunit, and the epsilon subunit that anchors the motor to the membrane, and you have an irreducibly complex system of irreducibly complex systems.  The fact that this whole composite machine works at near 100% efficiency is proof of product, a contrivance that virtually shouts “made by intelligent design.”
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design
A Martian Crust: Was It Alive?   08/09/2004
David McKay, the father of the Martian meteorite that started feverish debates about life on Mars in 1996, is at it again.  Now he thinks a mat of crusty soil was made by microbes, according to
Space.Com.
    In spite of the salty, acidic soil (see 08/06/04 headline), Gilbert Levin, also interviewed by Space.Com, thinks life on Mars is likely.
Give it up, David.  There are more honest ways to get funding for new NASA missions than hyping the meagerest of circumstantial evidence while ignoring the problems.  “Mars has all the conditions for life: water, energy, and organic substances, McKay pointed out.”  One thing thou lackest: information.  From whence cometh information, if not from intelligent design?  That doth make all the difference between mat – and Matt.
Next headline on:  MarsOrigin of Life
Inner Ear Hairs Provide Optimum Sensitivity   08/09/2004
The inner ear cochlea is lined with hair cells that transduce mechanical vibrations into electrical signals for the auditory nerve.  European scientists publishing in PNAS1 measured the sensitivity of inner ear hair cells to mechanical motion, and considering the noise caused by thermal motion, calculated that the ear operates at the optimum level. 
The ear relies on nonlinear amplification to enhance its sensitivity and frequency selectivity to oscillatory mechanical stimuli.... We find that the magnitude of the fluctuations resulting from the active processes that mediate mechanical amplification remains just below that of thermal fluctuations.  Fluctuations destroy the phase coherence of spontaneous oscillations and restrict the bundle’s sensitivity as well as frequency selectivity to small oscillatory stimuli.  We show, however, that a hair bundle studied experimentally operates near an optimum of mechanosensitivity in our state diagram.

1Nadrowski et al., “Active hair-bundle motility harnesses noise to operate near an optimum of mechanosensitivity,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403020101, publ. online 8/9/04.
Was this optimum found by trial and error?  Did all the individuals below optimum die until perfection was reached?  Imagine a sound engineer designing the perfectly sensitive receiver electronically.  Now imagine him making it work throughout a double-flipping dive into an Olympic pool without an interruption of response or sensitivity.
Next headline on:  Human BodyAmazing Facts
“Toy Model” of Planetary Migration Partially Explains Neptune, but Not Uranus   08/06/2004
When we last saw Hal Levison (Southwest Research Institute), the genius-at-work was going crazy in fairyland over the difficulties of explaining Uranus and Neptune (see
05/30/2002 headline).  He’s been recovering sanity slowly; he thinks he has a working hypothesis for why Neptune stopped migrating at 30 AU (astronomical unit = sun-earth distance).  Uranus, though, is still enough to drive a sane man nuts.
    Levison concluded last time that the two blue water giants could not have formed where they are; the protoplanetary disk would have been too sparse.  This fact and observations of Jupiter-class extrasolar planets orbiting very close in has raised consciousness of the need to consider a wild and crazy idea: planetary migration.
    Classical (i.e., simplistic) nebular/planetesimal hypotheses considered primarily orbital motion, the around-the-racetrack vector.  These days, planetary physicists have to add the radial vector, the inward vs. outward component.  They suspect a planet forms at one radius, then somehow moves closer in or farther out from the parent star.  There are some physical laws to support these notions: gravitational interactions between two large bodies can perturb orbits, gas drag and disk instabilities can cause angular momentum exchange, and asymmetric collisions with minor bodies can produce net motions in certain directions.  But migration has multiplied the complexities of explaining planets from a rotating disk.  Even a three-body problem is notoriously difficult to solve, to say nothing of one involving billions of objects ranging from dust particles to gas giants.  Of necessity, planetary scientists use models to simulate what might have happened.  Typically, when the simulation solves one condition, others fly off the chart.  Then there is always the tedious necessity of having to match one’s pet idealized model against the hard, cold realities of the observed planets.  Planetary migration models are new; how are they coming along?
    “Despite the importance of planetary migration,” he says, “not much work has been done up to now to study the migration process per se.”  In a new paper in the August issue of Icarus,1 Levison and two colleagues try a “back-of-the-envelope analytic ‘theory’ for migration in planetesimal disks,” which they describe as “an intuitive, easy to understand toy model, intended to be a guide for interpreting the range of behaviors observed in our numerical simulations.”  It must be a tinker toy model.  The authors tinker with pirouettes around Jupiter, square dances with Kuiper Belt Objects and other fancy footwork, with some hand waving along the way.  One excerpt:
We have not been able to identify any dynamical reason for why, in some cases, Neptune sometimes reverses direction.  Thus, we believe it is a matter of chance.  If so, this whole effect may be the result of the fact that our simulations contain a relatively small number of massive bodies compared to the real early Solar System.  Perhaps an ideal system with a nearly infinite number of planetesimals with infinitesimal mass would behave differently.  We will address this issue again in future work....
They get Neptune all the way out to 120 AU, but then the simulation reveals a runaway inward migration, so they try various ways to get it to stop at its observed radial distance without ejecting out all the KBOs and comets in the process.  Phrases like “not obvious” or “not clear exactly how” and “we cannot rule out the possibility” season the entree.  After examining many scenarios, they decide “Therefore, we believe that the current location of Neptune and the mass deficiency of the Kuiper belt imply that the proto-planetary disk possessed an edge at about 30 AU,” which is where Neptune stalled out in its migration.
    Uranus, however, is the stick in the mud that puts the simulation in doubt.  Clearly, explaining planets from a rotating work is, at best, a work in progress:
So far in this paper, we have focused on the evolution of Neptune.  Unfortunately, we find that we have a significant problem with Uranus.  In all simulations starting from a compact planetary configuration where Neptune is initially inside 20 AU, Uranus always stopped well before its current location at ~19 AU.  This is because in these cases the planetesimals scattered by Neptune interact with Saturn almost at the same time as they interact with Uranus, so that Uranus effectively ‘sees’ only a small portion of the total disk’s mass.  This may indicate that Uranus and Neptune formed at 17-18 and 23-25 AU, respectively (see Hahn and Malhotra, 1999), despite of the apparent difficulty of accreting planets at large heliocentric distances (Levison and Stewart, 2001 and Thommes et al., 2003).  Alternatively, it may indicate that the migration process was triggered by some instability in the originally compact planetary system, something similar to what was proposed by Thommes et al. (1999).  This will be the subject of future investigations.
Till next time, happy travails.
1Gomes, Morbidelli and Levison, “Planetary migration in a planetesimal disk: why did Neptune stop at 30 AU?”, Icarus, Volume 170, Issue 2, August 2004, Pages 492-507; doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.03.011.
The word planet is from the Greek root for “wanderer” because, to the ancients, the planets in their orbits appeared to wander against the fixed stars in mysterious ways.  Kepler’s and Newton’s laws only temporarily removed the mystery: once again, the planets wander in mysterious ways.  At least now we know the lyrics to the music of the spheres: The Happy WandererI love to go a-wandering along the radial track / And as I go, I love to fling the KBOs out back.
    Hal is fun because he is so brutally honest and able to laugh at himself.  (He looks like a biker or cowboy on the Science Channel Planets series, not your typical white-lab-coat science geek.)  Keeping a sense of humor is one way to keep your sanity: another is to keep working on the details and don’t let the big picture get you down.  Whether these strategies lead one to the truth is a different question.  For anyone having delusions about planetary scientists being able to explain the origin of our solar system through natural processes alone, papers like this should provide a reality check.  Everyone, sing!  Valderi, valdera, valderi, valdera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha / Valderi, valdera / Beneath God’s clear blue sky.
Next headline on:  Solar System
Cell Nucleus Complexity Baffles Evolutionists   08/06/2004
In her inimitable way, Science reporter Elizabeth Pennisi has once again portrayed a scientific controversy undergoing active ferment.  This time it’s about the evolutionary origin of cell nuclei, which she terms “specialized, DNA-filled command centers.”1  At the conclusion, she gives prominence to a “provocative, but circumstantial and controversial” suggestion that viruses taught cells how to wrap their DNA in double membranes with controlled access.  Since the idea presupposes that viruses preceded all three domains of life – prokarya, eukarya and archaea – “If this is true, then we are all basically descended from viruses,” as a believer puts it.  The idea is unpalatable to some.  “I do not believe [it],” a German molecular biologist retorts.  “The idea of the viruses ‘inventing’ [eukaryotic cells] from scratch is hard for me to conceive.”
    Pennisi treats the new viral theory as tentative at best.  What’s more revealing in her article are the problems with previously-popular ideas, and why.  According to her, the key insight at a meeting in France last month on the subject was: “They had underestimated the complexity of the eukaryotic cell’s 1.5-billion-year-old precursor.  The data presented indicated that this ancestral cell had more genes, more structures, and more diverse biochemical processes than previously imagined.”  For a glimpse why, look at Pennisi’s brief description of the nucleus:
Each nucleus in a eukaryotic cell consists of a double lipid-based membrane punctuated by thousands of sophisticated protein complexes called nuclear pores, which control molecular traffic in and out of the organelle.  Inside, polymerases and other specialized enzymes transfer DNA’s protein-coding message to RNA.  Other proteins modify the strands of RNA to ensure that they bring an accurate message to the ribosomes outside the nucleus.  The nucleus also contains a nucleolus, a tightly packed jumble of RNA and proteins that are modified and shipped out of the nucleus to build ribosomes.
(For more on the nuclear pore complex, see
06/17/2002 and 01/18/2002 headlines.)
Eukaryotes are distinguished from bacteria by their double-membrane nuclei.  “The nuclear distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes shaped early speculation about the development of complex life,” Pennisi says about ideas floating around up to the 1970s.  Some thought eukaryotes were evolved prokaryotes, and others thought prokaryotes were degenerate eukaryotes.  But then Carl Woese created new woes by identifying bacteria-like cells that were distinct from both prokaryotes and eukaryotes: so different, in fact, to warrant classification in their own domain – archaea.  Others soon were surprised to find that eukaryotes appeared to have genes from both bacteria and archaea.
    So another story was born, the endosymbiont or merger hypothesis.  This proposed that eukaryotes arose from “the ancient symbiotic partnership between bacteria and archaea.”  That theory came under fire from the discovery of faint but distinct nuclei in an unusual group of bacteria, named planctomycetes, that live in soil and fresh water.  Some of these planctomycetes have organelles and double-membraned sacs of DNA and RNA.  According to a critic of the merger model, these observations “turn the dogma that ‘prokaryotes have no internal membranes’ upside down”  Now, it seems no one is sure which way is up.
    There’s more to cause vertigo for evolutionists: the complexity of the nuclear pore complexes (NPCs).  “Explaining these structures has always posed a sticking point for nuclear evolution.”  For one thing, “without pores, the nucleus can’t function.”  But for another thing, Pennisi continues, the same planctomycetes, and possibly some other archaea and prokaryotes, apparently possess structures resembling these complex traffic-control gates.  “Bacteria with nuclear pores and internal membranes, features typically considered eukaryote-specific, suggest that the nucleus was born much earlier than traditionally thought.”
    For some, that leaves as the leading contender the controversial theory that viruses first invented the nucleus.  This, however, only pushes the complexity of nuclei and their pores farther back in time, and foists a huge design problem on earth’s most primitive biological entities.  That is why the molecular biologist quoted earlier can’t believe that simple viruses created such complex structures from scratch.  Pennisi shares a few speculations, based on circumstantial evidence, how it might have happened.  But when she ends by pushing the answer to the future, it underscores the fact that no current theory accounts for the origin of the nucleus:
Did a virus provide the first nucleus?  Or was it something an early bacterial cell evolved, either on its own or in partnership with an archaeum?  To resolve the origin of the nucleus, evolutionary biologists are exploring new techniques that enable them to determine relationships of microorganisms that go much further back in time....
The biologists in France argued and discussed many ideas.  “But when it came to accounting for how the nucleus was born,” Pennisi admits, “no single hypothesis bubbled to the top.”  She quotes French molecular biologist Patrick Forterre who said, “It’s like a puzzle.  People try to put all the pieces together, but we don’t know who is right or if there is still some crucial piece of information missing.”
1Elizabeth Pennisi, “Evolutionary Biology: The Birth of the Nucleus,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5685, 766-768, 6 August 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5685.766].
The crucial piece of missing information is information itself.  Information: DNA, logic, codes, controlled access, complex systems of integrated parts: these are all indicators of intelligent design.  This would be obvious if the biologists at that meeting would only think outside the Darwinian box in which they have imprisoned themselves.  Look at what contortions they have to go through to account for such biological complexity by chance.  As usual, the answer is somewhere out there in the future.  Also as usual, the same trend is seen here as in everything else in biology, and even in paleontology and cosmology: more complexity, further back toward the beginning.
    Poor Elizabeth.  She has reported on so many of these evolutionist hand-wringing sessions you would think she might have taken up gardening by now to maintain her sanity.  But that might not help.  Just looking at the soil and thinking about those planctomycetes, and looking at the leaves and thinking about those nuclear pore complexes, DNA decoders accurately translating messages into specialized enzymes, all those shipping and receiving docks, and all the other thousands of sophisticated complexes working together in those command centers called nuclei might bring the stress and anxiety right back again.  “Come unto Me,” said the Designer, “all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyOrigin of LifeDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
Kansas Elects Two ID-Friendly School Board Members   08/06/2004
According to John Calvert writing for
Access Research Network, Kansans defeated two pro-evolution candidates for the state school board, electing instead Kathy Martin and Steve Abrams who both oppose the “evolution-only” policy.
    Martin won against Bruce Wyatt, an incumbent who based his entire campaign on the need to keep intelligent design or creation out of the classroom.  Apparently voters tired of Wyatt’s one-issue campaign and took more of a liking to Kathy Martin, an experienced school teacher who tried to keep the campaign focused on the needs of students instead of letting it get bogged down over the “E” word.
    Despite her efforts, Wyatt and the media kept returning to the evolution vs. intelligent design issue, reminding everyone what a horrible decision the school board made in 1999 when they “downplayed” evolution.  The strategy apparently backfired.  Calvert feels the vote is significant because “it also reflects a defeat of the media that seemed to try their best to hinder the election of Martin and Abrams.”
Darwin Party hacks should realize that the public may tire of their tirades, and demand that their board stop the haggling and focus on educating their kids to read and write and learn to become productive members of society.  But the new board members had better get their armor on; round two of the Kansas Ooze-slinging Attack Campaign will begin as soon as they give any faint hint of a suggestion of opening minds to doubts about Charlie darling.
Next headline on:  EducationDarwinism and EvolutionIntelligent Design
Mars Science Results Fleshed Out, but the Spirit Is Weak    08/06/2004
The first detailed science results from the
Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” have been published in eleven papers in the Aug. 6 issue of Science.1  Highlights include: the Gusev Crater shows no sign of lake sedimentary deposits, but rather is composed of volcanic ash with some windblown dust.  Lacustrine (lakebed) deposits, if any, must be buried deep underneath the current volcanic sediments.  Rocks are olivine-rich basalts which would have degraded in the presence of standing water (see 01/22/2004), and they show no signs have having been transported by water through Ma'adim Vallis, the valley that looked from orbit like a flood channel leading into the crater.  The high concentration of sulfates indicates that sulfuric acid prevented the formation of carbonates and influenced the climate of Mars.
    The technical details are fascinating as usual, but lacking is any enthusiasm over the possibility of finding life.  Any past water would have been “as acidic as gastric juices,” says Richard Kerr: “The emerging picture is of a salt-laden, often corroded planet that had standing water early in its history.  Volcanic emanations made that water acidic enough to leach salt from the rock and lay it down in thick beds, and water beneath the surface seems to have altered rock as well.  Most of the planet is now covered by weathering products of yellow-brown dust or rock rinds.”  Spirit’s age is showing as it struggles over the hill (Columbia Hills, that is).  Is the spirit of the investigators also waning from excess acid?
1Overview by Richard A. Kerr: “Rainbow of Martian Minerals Paints Picture of Degradation,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5685, 770-771, 6 August 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5685.770].
Scientists must be disappointed after high hopes that Gusev Crater was an ancient lake.  It sure looked like one from orbit, inlet channel and all (see 06/21/2002 headline).  Now, Mars does not sound like a beachfront resort you would want to visit, even if you could stand the smell.  Kerr was surprisingly silent about the usual high-priority subject of looking for signs of life (see 06/23/2003 headline).  In fact, none of the 11 papers even discussed the habitability of the planet, let alone the presence of present or past life.  The descriptions in these papers do not portray Mars as a suitable place to cook primordial soup.  How could life have emerged from a salty acid bath?  It’s astronomically improbable under ideal conditions (see online book), but salt is a poison to hopeful molecules.  No less than the journal Astrobiology said that even a weak salt solution prevents membranes from forming and RNA from polymerizing (see 09/17/2002 headline).
    Surely if any hope for finding life could be found in the data, the Spirit in these papers would be effervescent and the media would make every Opportunity to trumpet the news.  Such somber silence; such a depressing title, “Rainbow of Martian Minerals Paints Picture of Degradation,” hints of despair.  Though it is too early to say for sure, it seems the deadly truth about Mars is starting to sink in.
Next headline on:  MarsGeology
Science Journal Takes Political Sides   08/05/2004
It might seem unusual or even improper for a science journal to encourage its readers to vote for a particular presidential candidate, especially for voters in a different country than its publishers’ domicile.  Nature Aug. 5 contained two such articles that could hardly be defended as non-partisan.  An editorial1 said in ostensibly neutral terms, “Researchers should seize an opportunity to make their voices heard, whatever their political persuasion,” but made it abundantly clear what that persuasion should be.  “The Bush administration has been heavily criticized in scientific quarters,” it says, and reports on the Union of Concerned Scientists claiming that Bush has been guilty of “the politicization of science.”  Kerry, however is not so criticized; the editorial quotes a group of scientists that claims “John Kerry will restore science to its appropriate place in government and bring it back into the White House.”  Though trying to appear neutral, the editorial seems clearly tilted left.
    That leftward stance is reinforced by a news article in the same issue2 that gives prominent coverage to Nobel laureates who are campaigning for Kerry.  It has nothing positive to say about Bush: just allegations, criticisms and the anger of certain scientists, with no opportunity for rebuttal.  It mentions nothing about Bush’s space initiatives for NASA or any other accomplishments.  Kerry, in contrast, is cast in an entirely positive light: for instance, “Already, science has taken an unusually high profile in the Kerry campaign.  Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, mentioned the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini mission to Saturn in her speech at the Democratic National Convention last week.”
    Science has been a little more nonpartisan lately.  Last week it gave Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham3 an uncontested column on Bush’s Climate Policy, and this week, it presented a more balanced view of the election campaign as it pertains to science: David Malakoff4 presented both sides of the controversy over stem cell research.  Nevertheless, conservatives will find evidence of bias in certain statements, such as the prominence given to Matthew Nisbet (Ohio State) commenting on Kerry’s making stem cell research a campaign issue.  Malakoff quotes Nisbet: “’It allowed Kerry to highlight a major policy difference between the candidates on a health issue that is relevant to millions of Americans,’ he says.  ‘It also allowed him to reinforce reservations that undecided voters may already have about Bush being ‘an ideologue who doesn’t listen to experts who hold other views.’”  These charges are only weakly rebutted in Malakoff’s article.
1Editorial, “On the campaign trail,”
Nature 430, 593 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430593a.
2Geoff Brumfiel and Emma Marris, “Nobel laureates spearhead effort to put Kerry in the White House,” Nature 430, 595 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430595a.
3Spencer Abraham, “The Bush Administration’s Approach to Climate Change,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5684, 616-617, 30 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098630].
4David Malakoff, “The Calculus of Making Stem Cells a Campaign Issue,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5685, 760, 6 August 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5685.760].
We predicted last year that a survey would find academic scientists to be predominantly liberal Democrats (see 09/22/2003 editorial), and now we have evidence right from Nature’s editorial page: it says plainly, “In the current polarized political climate, it is hardly surprising that some scientists should swing behind Kerry in this way — the research community traditionally votes overwhelmingly Democratic.”  Let no one conclude that this means smart people vote Democrat.  These are the ones that brought us sunbathing fish evolving into humans, remember? (see 08/03/2004 headline).  No; rather, it means two things: the (1) Darwin Party that rules Big Science and the journals cannot tolerate anyone who believes in God and absolute moral standards, and (2) Big Science needs its entitlements to keep its Starving Storytellers welfare state going (see 12/22/2003 commentary).  From day one, Nature was a mouthpiece for Charlie Darwin’s musketeers (see 03/04/2004 commentary).  Since Darwin described himself as “liberal or radical” (see 02/13/2004 headline), it is not surprising his mouthpiece continues to be a propaganda machine for political liberalism as well as the moral relativism that fits leftist ideology and Darwinian theory like hand and glove (see 06/28/2004, 06/07/2004, 06/03/2004 and 05/17/2004 headlines, for instance).
Next headline on:  Politics, Ethics, and History
So Is Archaeopteryx a Transitional Form, Or Not?   08/05/2004
An international team set out to determine if the skull features of Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil bird, indicated whether it was capable of flight.  The answer reported in Nature1 was affirmative:
Here we show the reconstruction of the braincase from which we derived endocasts of the brain and inner ear.  These suggest that Archaeopteryx closely resembled modern birds in the dominance of the sense of vision and in the possession of expanded auditory and spatial sensory perception in the ear.  We conclude that Archaeopteryx had acquired the derived neurological and structural adaptations necessary for flight.  An enlarged forebrain suggests that it had also developed enhanced somatosensory integration with these special senses demanded by a lifestyle involving flying ability.
Everything they measured was within the range of characteristics for modern flying birds.  For instance, they say: “Birds with the same body mass as Archaeopteryx have from one-third (for example, galliforms and columbiforms) to five times (for example, psittaciforms and passeriforms) bigger brains.  However, the brain of Archaeopteryx is about three times the volume of those of non-avian reptiles of equivalent size.”  The scientists say nothing about transitional forms, and only make this one indeterminate statement about evolution: “it has remained contentious whether brain size increase was tied to the evolution of flight, arboreality, or other environmental influences,” hardly an affirmation that birds evolved from reptiles.
    A very different conclusion was reached by reviewer Lawrence Witmer (Ohio U), who calls Archaeopteryx “the near perfect transitional form.”  Since Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, he says, “it has been a compelling example in the case for evolution.”  Witmer understands that the requirements for flight are pretty demanding: “But flight isn’t just about wings, rudders and flaps,” he says; ”It’s also about the pilot and on-board computer, and those are the missing elements that this new study provides for Archaeopteryx.”  Nevertheless, he concludes, “This latest in a long line of papers on Archaeopteryx affirms the iconic status of this fossil” (i.e., as a classic transitional form between reptiles and birds).
    See also the
MSNBC and National Geographic slants on this story.
1Patricio Domínguez Alonso et al., “The avian nature of the brain and inner ear of Archaeopteryx,” Nature 430, 666 - 669 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02706.
2Lawrence M. Witmer, “Palaeontology: Inside the oldest bird brain,” Nature 430, 619 - 620 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430619a.
A more shameless example of spin doctoring by a Darwin Party hack could hardly be found.  The evidence showed that Archaeopteryx not only had the wings of a bird, but it had the skull of a bird, the eyes of a bird, and the pilot and onboard computer of a bird.  And he has the audacity to say this confirms it as a near-perfect transitional form between reptiles and birds!  Speaking of icons, Witmer needs to read ch. 6 of Icons of Evolution, where Jonathan Wells puts this fossil in its place.  (Click here and here for summaries of his arguments; TrueOrigin has an article by Ashby Camp on Archaeopteryx and the supposed evolution of birds from reptiles.)
Next headline on:  BirdsFossilsDarwinism
The Darwin Wars: New Book Reopens Old Scars    08/05/2004
In the late 1970s, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould reopened an episodic war between Darwinists over the question whether evolution is gradual or jerky with their theory of “punctuated equilibria.”  Even though both sides presented an evolution-as-fact face to the public, the bitterness of the attacks between the orthodox gradualists like Richard Dawkins and the punctuationists provided endless fodder for creationist sound bites.  Gould is now gone, but Eldredge continues to rankle his foes, as can be seen in a review of his new book
Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene (W.W. Norton, 2004) by Robert Foley (U. of Cambridge, UK) published in the Aug. 5 issue of Nature.1  Gradualism is not the issue of this book; instead, Eldredge attacks another major evolutionary bastion: the “selfish gene” hypothesis and its promoters, the evolutionary psychologists and “ultradarwinists” who reduce everything in life to sex.  First, Foley’s synopsis:
Eldredge’s argument is straightforward.  Sex for most animals, including or even especially humans, does not happen very often.  Most of life is filled with growing up, finding enough to eat and avoiding predators.  Sex is only occasionally interspersed among these activities – I leave it to other readers to quantify this, as I suspect there must be considerable variation.  Indeed, this is one of Eldredge’s main points: there are some individuals – and we’re talking about humans here – who never have sex.  What follows from this, Eldredge argues, is that because sex is relatively rare, it must, in evolutionary terms, be relatively unimportant.
    The next step in the argument is that sex is the source of the ‘selfish gene’ or ‘gene-centred’ model of evolution, so this model clearly must be wrong.  Selection is not for sexual and reproductive success alone, but affects all the other events between birth and death.  As Eldredge says, life is for living, not for having sex and reproducing, so fitness for life – not for the ability to spread genes – is what the game is all about.
    This otherwise straightforward argument has drastic ramifications for neodarwinism, apparently, because Foley considers Eldredge’s views “too extreme.”  Though he acknowledges his foe to be “an invertebrate palaeontologist and one of the major figures in the macroevolutionary debates of the 1970s and 1980s,” he can hardly restrain his indignation that Eldredge would try to “tear down the whole edifice of reproduction-driven neodarwinian behavioural and evolutionary ecology.”  Eldredge admits as much; according to the blurbs, the book aims to “shatter myths, recast darwinism and fundamentally change the way we understand our own evolution.”  This is too much for Foley: “If Eldredge’s explicit idea is correct, then anyone reading this book should emerge completely purged of the orthodox model of evolution as a process of enhancing reproductive success.”  Not unexpectedly, Foley believes Eldredge has failed miserably, and is nearly blind:
Is this the end for those Eldredge portrays as the ultradarwinists – notably Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, all evolutionary psychologists and probably most behavioural ecologists?  Has Eldredge demolished gene-centred evolutionary theory?  Hardly.  The logical error in Eldredge’s argument is so breathtakingly obvious that one can only wonder how he has missed it.  Reproductive success is not just about having sex.  Take virtually any animal, and certainly it may spend relatively little time actually copulating, but what Eldredge isolates as the economic sphere is clearly not independent of sex and reproduction.  How an organism grows – with males of many species being larger than females, for example – is not an isolated biological phenomenon, but represents an individual (through its genes) positioning itself to compete well in the reproductive arena.  Its social behaviour, being competitive or cooperative, and its feeding ecology are all part of its reproductive strategy – and hence are selected not just for their own efficiency, but for the extent to which they contribute to reproductive success.  Countless studies across vast numbers of species have shown how patterns of ‘economic’ behaviour are related to reproductive strategies and success.
So Foley seems to be saying, it is all about sex.  Economic behaviors (foraging, feeding, staying healthy) all have sexual reproduction as the bottom line and ultimate strategic purpose.  Does Eldredge’s antipathy to gene-centric evolution have a deeper philosophical motivation?  Foley notes that Eldredge wants to avoid the dark chapters of Darwinian history:
Humans are the central concern for Eldredge.  It is to his credit that his primary argument is not that selfish-gene models do not apply to humans because they are different, but that selfish-gene models do not work for any organisms, and therefore apply even less to humans.  Ultimately, as the final chapters make clear, this book sees in classic neodarwinism the dangers of biological determinism, and views evolutionary psychology in particular as the modern version of the older threats of social darwinism and eugenics.
Balderdash, Foley thinks: the evidence Eldredge cites is anecdotal and “hardly constitute[s] serious scientific study.” (Presumably, this means that sex is the be-all and end-all for human evolution, too; life is not “just” for living).  It’s in the final paragraphs that Foley’s venom is barely diluted:
It may seem harsh to criticize so heavily a book written in such an extraordinarily popular and friendly manner – this is not a scientific monograph, after all.  However, the claims made here are so strong, so polemical and so tilted towards making reproductive fitness seem like an irrelevance in the evolutionary process that it would be inappropriate not to point out the extent to which a naive reader might be misled.  There are many oversimplifications and difficulties with the strongly adaptive models of human evolution constructed by evolutionary psychologists and behavioural ecologists, but Eldredge’s approach is too extreme to bring these out in any way that might usefully influence future developments.
No fear, Foley says; this book may irritate but not convert. 
If you are in the mood for some relentless Dawkins-bashing, or want a rush of arguments against biological determinism, then you might enjoy it.  But if you are a neodarwinian in search of a road-to-Damascus experience, this is not the place to find it.  And if you are a neodarwinian not looking for such an experience, you had better avoid this book, as its superficiality, inconsistency and misleading logic will only irritate.  On the other hand, you need not have any fear of having your evolutionary world turned upside-down.  I closed the book with a sigh of relief.
Pretty harsh words against “an invertebrate palaeontologist and one of the major figures in the macroevolutionary debates of the 1970s and 1980s.”
1Robert Foley, “Sex under pressure,” Nature 430, 613 - 614 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430613a.
Dawkins-bashing is the same kind of entertainment as professional wrestling; the body-slams look fierce but the outcome is rigged, and you know that even if one lug seems to be getting the upper hand, the other lug might make a surprise comeback.  You probably didn’t expect to be seeing such a bitter slugfest in the pages of Nature.  This was as fun as watching Osama and Saddam gas each other.  Too bad for the Darwin Party the brawl was visible to the creationists.
    Intramural wars in the Darwin Party are nothing new; they go all the way back to the Mosstuh himself.  Charlie’s best friends, Huxley, Asa Gray and Lyell, could not stomach some of his ideas.  We saw last month Ernst Mayr review a number of severe disputes in the Darwin camp during the 20th century (see 07/02/2004 headline).  These included conflicts over the rate of evolution (gradual vs. saltational), some that can be traced back to 1859.  And philosophical arguments between determinists and free-willers, and between those who believe human sexuality needs self-control vs. those who want to justify unrestrained sexual passion, are as old as mankind itself.
    What is more interesting about this book review is that Eldredge’s stabs, and Foley’s counterstabs, cut deep into the muscle of Darwinian theory.  To see that issues of such magnitude could cause such bitter divisions within the Darwin Party’s own camp is tantamount to watching an organization debating the validity of its own founding documents and core beliefs.  These combatants may be tossing furniture at each other within the same house – the house of Charlie – but a house divided against itself cannot stand.  No wonder there are more and more who find Darwinism unconvincing (see next headline).
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Book Review    08/04/2004
In his daily Breakpoint commentary,
Chuck Colson briefly reviews William Dembski’s new book Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing.  Colson was especially taken by the interchange between David Berlinski and the pro-Darwinists.  It led him to think, “Suffice it to say, after reading this chapter, and better yet this book, you’ll realize that Darwinism is in for a grilling like none it has experienced before.  And it’s about time.”  He also mentions this unusual factoid from another chapter:
Another new name is Edward Sisson, an attorney who used to direct avant-garde theater.  His chapter sheds some much needed light on the Scopes trial.  For example, did you know that the very textbook from which Scopes taught advocated eugenics and promoted racism?  Indeed, it divided humanity into five races and ranked them in terms of superiority, concluding with “the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”  This is the book Darwinists insist Scopes had a right to teach?

Next headline on:  Darwinism

Does Evolution Evolve?    08/04/2004
If phrases like “the conservation of conservatism” or “the production of productivity” leave you scratching your head, you may wear off a few hairs thinking about a paper in PNAS1 on the “evolution of evolvability.”  Entitled, “Is evolvability a selectable trait?”, this paper by two scientists at Rice University considers whether the rate of change of evolution can change.  (Pause here to think about that.)  In other words, can the ability of a population of critters to adapt to its environment quickly be selected by natural selection?  Might some critters become sluggish in their ability to change, while others develop flexibility in adapting to changing conditions?  Why is anyone even asking this question?
    It’s not that no one has thought about this before, but the idea has been shrugged off by other evolutionists in the past.  How could a population plan ahead to be flexible?  For this reason, the authors seem a little defensive writing this paper:

Whether the propensity to evolve, or evolvability, can be an object of Darwinian natural selection is a topic of interest.  Causality would suggest not because of the apparently anticipatory nature of evolvability.  Many within the field of evolutionary biology are uncomfortable with the concept that evolvability is a selectable trait.  A growing body of experimental data, however, would be explained if evolvability were a selectable trait.
    Higher organisms cannot evolve, or adapt, by germ-line mutation to an environmental change within their own lifetime.  Does this mean that lineages and individuals cannot be under selection for evolvability?....
....Although the use of the term evolvability has only recently come into vogue in the scientific community, investigations into the evolution of adaptation go back several decades.  Prominent from a theoretical perspective are works in population genetics and game theory
[see
02/10/2004 headline].  Despite the insights that these studies give as to the origin and maintenance of evolvability, evolution of and selection for evolvability remains a contested issue primarily because of the causality principle
So the burden of proof is on them to show that evolvability evolves.  Their paper is primarily a mathematical model, similar to computer models of evolution (see 07/04/2004 headline).  A model is needed, they say, because of the difficulty of measuring the effect in the wild:
Whether evolvability is selectable has been a difficult question to answer, primarily because observations in evolutionary biology tend to be correlative in nature and difficult on which to make mechanistic conclusions.  Therefore, we consider here the dynamics of evolvability in a well defined theoretical model of protein evolution.  Within this model of protein structure and function, we have a fixed population of proteins, which we take to be 1,000.  We have a microscopic selection criterion, which we take to be the folding and binding of a protein to a substrate.  And we have a means of inducing constant, random environmental change.
They claim the model shows that evolvability is a function of environmental change; the more dynamic the environment, the more evolvable the protein.  This, they emphasize, is their important finding.  It’s kind of like physics:
An analogy with thermodynamics illuminates the issue: How is free energy minimized in a physical system of particles despite the difficulty in defining the entropy of a given configuration of the particles?  An ensemble of particle configurations allows the definition of free energy and the approach to thermodynamic equilibrium just as a population of evolving organisms allows the definition of and selection for evolvability.
They seem to be viewing individual organisms as molecules, and treating Darwinian selection as a force acting on the ensemble– a form of group selection (see 05/31/2004 headline for opposing view).  Is there any evidence in nature for their position?  They point to a few possibilities:
Many observations within evolutionary biology, heretofore considered evolutionary happenstance or accidents, are explained by selection for evolvability.  For example, the vertebrate immune system shows that the variable environment of antigens has provided selective pressure for the use of adaptable codons and low-fidelity polymerases during somatic hypermutation.  A similar driving force for biased codon usage as a result of productively high mutation rates is observed in the hemagglutinin protein of influenza A.  Selection for evolvability explains the prevalence of transposons among bacteria and recombination among higher organisms.
Is this concept useful?  The authors feel that “therapeutics also confer selective pressure on the evolvability of pathogens, and that this driving force for antigenic drift should be considered in drug- and vaccine-design efforts.”
    The believe their model shows that “The rates at which the various events within the hierarchy of evolutionary moves occur are not random or arbitrary but are selected by Darwinian evolution.  Sensibly, rapid or extreme environmental change leads to selection for greater evolvability. This selection is not forbidden by causality and is strongest on the largest-scale moves within the mutational hierarchy.”
    One of their concluding statements summarizes their view into a pithy sound bite: “Not only has life evolved, but life has evolved to evolve.
1David J. Earl and Michael W. Deem, “Evolvability is a selectable trait,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0404656101.
It must get boring at the Darwin Party storytelling banquets (see 12/22/2003 commentary), so every once in awhile someone has to come up with a new plot to argue about.  To these guys, proteins in a test tube are a microcosm of caribou in the tundra or humans in Manhattan.  This paper might suggest a short story or novel on whether New Yorkers are evolving evolvability in response to terrorist attacks.  If so, terrorism might be a good thing; it makes the species more adaptable to sudden change.
    It doesn’t matter whether the model corresponds to reality or not, or can be observed or not, as long as it makes entertaining reading, generates lively discussions and opens new markets for GameBoy.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Worms Didn’t Evolve for 520 Million Years    08/03/2004
J.Y. Chen and team in China have found another Cambrian fossil that exhibits zero evolution for nearly the entire history of life.  The abstract from the Royal Society Proceedings: Biological Sciences1 reports the discovery of three kinds of sipunculan worm near the base of the Cambrian, which all “have striking similarities to modern sipunculans.”  These animals, also called peanut worms, have a “sausage-shaped body with a slender retractable introvert and a wider trunk,” and possess complex and distinctive “features, both external (e.g. perioral crown of tentacles, and hooks, papillae and wrinkle rings on the body surface) and internal (U-shaped gut, and the anus opening near the introvert-trunk junction).”  (See
Reefkeeping.com for photo and diagram).  The discoverers conclude, “This study suggests that most typical features of extant sipunculans have undergone only limited changes since the Early Cambrian, thus indicating a possible evolutionary stasis over the past 520 Myr [millions of years].”
1Di-Ying Huang, Jun-Yuan Chen, Jean Vannier and J.I. Saiz Salinas, “Early Cambrian sipunculan worms from southwest China,” Royal Society Proceedings: Biological Sciences, Volume 271, Number 1549 - August 22, 2004, 1671 - 1676; ISSN: 0962-8452 (Paper) 1471-2954 (Online); DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2774.
There’s a pattern here, but you have to take off the Darwin glasses to see it.  Darwin glasses cause an optical distortion of vertical parallel lines, making their bottoms appear to converge and connect.  Hard-core Darwinists cannot see without their glasses on.  When pressed to explain how parallel lines could meet, they invoke non-Euclidean biology across parallel universes (see 07/27/2004 headline).  With their glasses on, it’s obvious anyway and in no need of explanation.
See also 07/29/2004 headline on the Cambrian explosion.
Next headline on:  Fossils
Fish Evolved by Sunbathing    08/03/2004
A new slant on how the first land creatures evolved is found in
New Scientist: sunbathing fish received more energy, and this made them better predators.  In all seriousness, James Randerson writes,
Our distant fishy ancestors first hauled themselves on to land in order to warm up in the Sun.  So claims a team that says basking would have provided an energy boost that made the fish more agile in the water, improving their chances of snaring prey.  It was also an evolutionary milestone that heralded the rise of all land vertebrates, including us.”
Jennifer Clack, Ms. tetrapod evolution (see 08/09/2003 and 07/03/2002 headlines), is apparently a convert to this suggestion.  Presumably the new fad of sun-worshipping started a land rush, and all the fish tried to get the best spots on the beach.  Our ancestors were the ones that remembered to pack the umbrellas and sunscreen.
Does anyone need better evidence that Darwinism is not so much a scientific theory as the eternal quest for a good story?  (See 12/22/2003 headline).  The best candidates are those that lend themselves to cartoons by Johnny Hart and Gary Larson.  How the destructive energy of raw sunlight was able to generate lungs and legs and other specialized organs for land habitation is inconsequential, as long as the plot has possibilities for visualization.  Write here with your suggested caption:
  • Roll me over, Melba, I’m done on this side.
  • Charlie Tuna here, out to catch some rays, and shrimp, too.
  • Now you know why they call us sunfish.
  • That’s not skin cancer; it’s an evolving leg.
  • Let’s try another beach; there’s nothing to eat here (see 04/30/2002 headline).
  • The original fish fry.
  • Storm the beach: the marines are looking for a few good men.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryFish and Marine LifeDumb Ideas
Editorial    08/03/2004
Rodney Stark (Baylor University) has written an article very critical of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and the other early promoters of evolution, and their modern counterparts, in
American Enterprise Online.  Stark claims that Darwin never proved his central thesis, the origin of species, and was well aware of the problems in his thesis even while he promoted it.  It succeeded in spite of the problems because of propaganda tactics used by the early Darwinians.  They used evolutionary theory to bolster their atheism by promoting the science vs. religion stereotype.  The Huxley vs. Wilberforce debate in which Darwin’s bulldog Thomas Huxley supposedly trounced Wilberforce is also shown to be a myth.  Yet it has served as a warmed-over symbol of scientific progress over obscurantism for over a hundred years, even though Wilberforce’s trenchant criticisms of Darwin’s theory had Darwin himself backpedaling on some of his views.
    At the end of Stark’s editorial, there is a short interview with Freeman Dyson, who makes startling comments about the fine-tuning of the universe being almost miraculous.  He reinforces his well-known quote, “as we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.”  He denies that this was just a “playful suggestion,” and agrees it expresses religious sentiments.
Well worth reading; take a moment to check this one out.  It unmasks the smear tactics of the Darwin Party, their attempts to silence the opposition, and the fear of insiders to cross them.  Stark quotes Everett Olson who admits that there is a generally silent group of biologists who tend to disagree with much of the current thought about evolution, but who remain silent for fear of censure.  If so, how long can that silence be enforced?  If the occasion arose for them to feel free to speak their minds, would Darwinism be poised for a monumental collapse?
    Dyson’s comments almost sound like something written by Jay Richards or Guillermo Gonzalez.  This is all the more surprising since Freeman Dyson has no pedigree within the intelligent design movement, to say nothing of creationism or Biblical theology.  His visionary fancies about extraterrestrial life have often been more bizarre than anything coming from the SETI institute, but as a physicist, he cannot deny what he knows about natural laws.  Having enough eminence and age not to fear censure, he tends to speak his mind.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryPhysicsPolitics, Ethics and History
Hire a Gopher to Rototill Your Land    08/02/2004
We may holler at them when they dig up our lawns and gardens, but pocket gophers are an important part of the ecosystem, say Jim Reichman and Eric Seabloom in a
UC Santa Barbara press release.  They change the nutrient availability for plants, among many things:
They act like little rototillers, loosening and aerating the soil.  They loosen the soil and the speed at which plants decompose, causing higher production of plants, and they may be important to the biodiversity of plants.  They definitely have an important effect.”
It’s surprising anything would want to live underground, since it is costly; “burrowing through the soil costs 360 to 3,400 times as much energy as walking the same distance on the surface.”  Nevertheless, they are well adapted for their role in the underground economy.  Good eyesight is not important in their usual dark surroundings, but “they compensate for this with other, well-developed senses, such as large whiskers, which are sensitive to movement and help them in dark tunnels.  They have powerful claws and teeth for digging.  They are vegetarian, or herbivores, surviving mostly on roots,” the press release explains.  Their diet of roots significantly impacts plants, but has an overall beneficial effect on the landscape:
“Excavation behavior, which involves construction of long burrows by displacing soil into mounds on the surface, generates major impacts on the physical environment,” said Reichman.  “These produce a complex mosaic of nutrients and soil conditions that results in vertical mixing (through burrow collapse and moving deep soil to the surface) and horizontal patchiness (in relation to the hollow burrows, refilled burrows, surrounding soil matrix and surface mounds).”
For these reasons, gophers are the “ecosystem engineers” of the landscape.  The authors suggest that our attempts at cultivation and pest control has led to deterioration of the soil and detrimental impacts on native plants.  It’s another reason to allow restoration of native grasslands where possible.
A place for everything, and everything in its place in God’s country.  Each player has the equipment and the skills to do its job.  The payroll operates automatically, and the system as a whole enjoys the fringe benefits.  The little rototillers seem to enjoy their way of life (including making humans stomp their feet).
Next headline on:  MammalsPlants
Our Solar System Is a Rare Gem    08/01/2004
As if in time for the upcoming film release of The Privileged Planet (see
06/24/2004 headline), Philip Ball wrote a line for Nature Science Update that would have dismayed Carl Sagan and a host of SETI researchers: “Earth-like planets may be more rare than thought... In cosmic terms, our solar system could be special after all.”  The opinion is coming from research on extrasolar planets that suggests they were formed by a different process than what formed ours.  If that is so, according to Martin Beer, our solar system may be highly unusual and “there won’t necessarily be lots of other Earths up there.”  Ball comments,
Ever since Copernicus displaced the Earth from the centre of the Universe, astronomers have tended to assume that there is nothing special about our place in the cosmos.  But apparently our planetary system might not be so normal after all.  Is it just chance that makes Jupiter different from other extrasolar planets?  Beer and his colleagues suspect not.
Ball suggests that our solar system was formed by accretion of planetesimals, whereas the extrasolar planets seen so far were formed by a rapid disk instability process.  The observations show 110 Jupiter-class objects with wildly eccentric orbits or orbits too close to the star; in either case, rocky planets in the habitable zone could not exist.  In contrast, our Jupiter is far from the sun, and both Earth and Jupiter have nearly circular orbits.  More observations will be required to discern whether there really are two methods for making solar systems, and for determining “how unusual we really are.”
    An article on Astrobiology Magazine makes a similar statement.  “On the evidence to date, our solar system could be fundamentally different from the majority of planetary systems around stars because it formed in a different way.  If that is the case, Earth-like planets will be very rare.”  Space.Com has a similar report.
It was common for magazine and newspaper articles in the Sagan era to claim as matters of fact, “We are nothing special,” and to drone in weary prose set to timeless Vangelis music about how we are lost in space, drifting aimlessly on a tiny speck of insignificant dust in a vast, uncaring universe.  The data so far are not supporting that point of view.  Also, to set the record straight, Copernicus did not displace Earth from the center of the universe, because medieval cosmologists never put it there to begin with (see 06/24/2004 headline).
    It’s refreshing to see Philip Ball and some others starting to change their tone and recognize the extraordinary congruence of improbable factors that make our planet beautiful.  Next step is to help them cure their bad habit of talking like eyewitness news reporters, and treating speculative theories as historical facts.  Most of the following fairy tale from the NSU article, for instance, is built on imagination, not fact:
The planets in our Solar System were put together from small pieces.  The cloud of gas and dust that surrounded our newly formed Sun agglomerated into little pebbles, which then collided and stuck together to form rocky boulders and eventually mini-planets, called planetesimals.  The coalescence of planetesimals created rocky planets such as Earth and Mars, and the solid cores of giant planets such as Jupiter, which then attracted thick atmospheres of gas.
Recent observations are showing that stars blast away their dust disks in short order, far too rapidly for the formation of planets, even if the rest of the fairy tale were true.  But then, small bits of dust and rock do not stick together; they bounce.  What’s more, it takes a pretty large body to have enough gravity to start attracting material around it, and then it has to stop attracting material in time to avoid being dragged into the star.  So there are multiple improbabilities in getting a solar system to form.  Even the showcase of planetary evolution, Tau Ceti, is now looking too hostile to be considered a planet garden (see 07/06/2004 headline).  If you don’t accept the Design viewpoint, you have to thank your lucky star: the sun.
Next headline on:  Solar System


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Featured Creation Scientist for August


Charles Babbage
1791 - 1871

There’s a humorous scene in the movie Back to the Future III, in which Doc operates a crazy contraption he had built in a barn.  He and Marty had been transported back from 1985 to the Old West.  He asks Marty to turn a valve, then he pulls a lever on the large wooden machine.  Marty watches quizzically as wheels turn, gears engage, steam hisses, and all kinds of racket ensues.  Finally, as Doc proudly smiles, an ice cube tumbles down a chute into his cup of tea.  Go back even further in time, and a contraption even more amazing, though never built, was conceived in the mind of our scientist of the month, a genius named Charles Babbage.  Like Doc, he appears like a man trapped in the wrong century, because he envisioned not the first ice cube maker, but the first general purpose computer– in 1832!.  This is one of history’s classic “if only” stories.  If only Babbage had finished it, if only the British government had approved the funding he needed, then Windows 98 might have been Windows 1898.  Despite this failure, Charles Babbage did succeed in many things, and was always strong in his Christian faith during a period of tremendous intellectual and social change in Britain.
    Born in 1791 as son of a wealthy banker, young Charles grew in love with mathematics, a subject he nearly taught himself: in fact, he could have taught his tutors.  He excelled to the point of occupying the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge for 11 years, the same position Newton had held.  In personality, Babbage was too smart for the common people.  Like cowboys trying to “figger” a scientific genius, they thought him stuffy, arrogant and eccentric.  His obsession with facts, figures and statistics contributed to his “geek” reputation; he might be found measuring the amount of food consumed by zoo animals, the proportion of sexes among poultry, or the causes of broken windows, which he wrote up in a “Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breaking of Plate Glass Windows” (conclusion: drunks and boys cause 3%).  Like a good Baconian, Babbage believed facts were worth collecting and preserving, because “the preservation of any fact might ultimately be useful” and he wanted to set an example others might emulate.  Unfortunately, he expected everyone to possess his basic civility and honesty; such naivete predisposed him to victimization.  Socially, Babbage had friends in high places and got along with his intellectual colleagues, but stupid and thoughtless people irritated him: street musicians, especially.  When he tried to get them outlawed, because they ruined his concentration, the townspeople retaliated by tormenting him mercilessly, purposely playing out-of-tune violins, tin whistles, and brass instruments outside his windows.  This went on for years.  The rabble who considered him a grouchy recluse or an “old villain” did not know they were harassing one of the intellectual geniuses of the 19th century, a man their descendants would honor (too late for Babbage’s own satisfaction) as a seminal figure in the development of the computer.
    Charles Babbage turned his mathematical genius to many things.  He believed in practical science.  A railroad aficionado when the technology was young, he invented the first cowcatcher in Britain, and applied his statistical knowledge to argue for standardized wide gauge track.  The industrial revolution was in full swing during his prime.  Babbage became the world’s first “efficiency expert.”  He is considered a pioneer of a field that, 100 years later during World War II, became extremely important for industry and the military: Operations Research, the mathematical study of how to get the most productivity in the shortest time at the lowest cost.  Babbage was hired to advise the government on postal rates.  His analysis, like modern “time and motion studies,” demonstrated that a flat rate stamp was the best fee for moving mail efficiently.  The idea seems contrary to common sense; why should someone sending a letter across town have to pay the same price as someone sending it across the country?  Nevertheless, he showed that it made economic and practical sense, and today we still enjoy the benefits of that research.  Babbage also invented an ophthalmoscope (a device for examining the interior of the eye), a skeleton key, and a speedometer.
    The story of his computer is a tale often told.  It’s an interesting and complex mix of genius, politics, love and frustration.  In 1827, Babbage received government funding to build a machine for the construction of mathematical tables.  As construction began on the project, he found he had to design many of his own tools.  Disputes with contractors frustrated him.  Worse, before he completed a working model of his proposed Difference Engine, he conceived of an even better one, which he dubbed the Analytical Engine, and changed plans midstream.  By this point he calculated it would cost more to complete the old model than to begin the new one, but this was a hard sell in Parliament; politicians were understandably reluctant to release more funds when there was nothing to show for the money already spent.  Though Babbage never profited monetarily from the invention, one politician railed, “We have got nothing for our £17,000 than Mr. Babbage’s grumblings.”  (What Babbage possessed in intelligence, apparently, he lacked in diplomacy and the art of persuading politicians.)  “We should at least have had a clever toy for our money,” his political enemy continued.  Sir George Airy, an astronomer, dubbed the contraption “worthless” and it didn’t help that Britain was in the woes of a depression in the 1840s.
    Babbage did have one ardent supporter, however.  After his wife died at age 35 in 1827, Babbage developed a Platonic friendship with Lady Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron.  Her enthusiasm for the project matched his, and she helped him keep the dream alive.  Some have called her the first computer programmer (a bit of a stretch), since she wrote some sample problems the engine might solve.  And what an engine it would have been: a complicated contraption of gears, levers, wheels, rods, cylinders and racks, all driven by steam.  Babbage was inspired by the Jacquard Loom, a French invention that wove complex patterns in cloth with the use of punched cards.  Babbage incorporated punched cards into his design.  He envisioned his engine as being programmable such that it could solve any problem, even calculus using Newton’s method of numerical approximation.  Lovelace envisioned it someday composing music or generating graphics.  Consider how far ahead of his time his design was: it would be fully programmable, have input, a central processor, memory, and a printer for output— all worked out in Babbage’s head long before these became everyday concepts.  Despite 50 years of work on this idea, Babbage was to die in obscurity in 1871, nearly forgotten by his countrymen.  His drawings and descriptions gathered dust despite a feeble posthumous attempt by his son to build the Analytical Engine.  (It is rumored that Bill Gates bid on this device when it was auctioned recently for $300,000.)  Babbage, though embittered in old age at short-sighted politicians, never lost confidence that his idea was a good one and that its eventual success and benefit for humanity was only a matter of time.
    Steps toward fulfillment of the general-purpose computer were slow at first.  Punched cards became important in the early 20th century after Herman Hollerith employed them for the U.S. Census in 1890, and later founded a company that in later years defined the cutting edge of computer technology: International Business Machines, or IBM.  John Hudson Tiner describes the delayed renaissance of Babbage’s vision:
In 1937, Howard H. Aiken, a student at Harvard University, came across Babbage’s description of the analytical engine.  He caught the enthusiasm Babbage had for creating a calculating machine.
    Technology had improved enough to do it.  Aiken, working with IBM, constructed Mark I, the first general-purpose calculating machine.  An electronic computer replaced it a few years later.  Charles Babbage had been a hundred years ahead of his time.

And the rest, as they say, is history.
    As for his personal faith, Charles Babbage believed the Bible and was convinced that science and faith were not in conflict.  He was close friends with other Christian intellectuals of the day, including John Herschel and William Whewell.  Sadly, he was also undiscerningly cozy with liberal religious scientists like Charles Lyell, whose work he admired, unaware of the erosion of faith Lyell’s doctrine of uniformitarianism and long ages would cause for many believers, especially the young Charles Darwin.  Nevertheless, Babbage strongly supported the pre-Darwinian belief in Natural Theology, the proposition (as fully expounded by William Paley) that design in nature demands a Designer.  That Babbage identified that Designer as the God of the Bible is clear, because he fully accepted the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Tiner says that “While a student at Cambridge, Charles Babbage met with others who were Christians.  They resolved to dedicate their lives to God.”
    The Earl of Bridgewater had left a sum of money in his will to direct leading scientists to write treatises “for the purpose of advancing arguments in favour of Natural Religion.”  By the time Babbage was 46 and fully involved in developing his calculating machine, eight prominent British scientists had published their entries in what had become a well-known and popular set of books, the Bridgewater Treatises.  The suite included works by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers on “The Adaptation of External Nature to the Intellectual and Moral Constitution of Man,” William Buckland on geology, William Whewell on astronomy and physics, William Kirby on zoology, John Kidd on the same subject as Chalmers, Charles Bell on design in the human hand, and Peter Mark Roget on animal and vegetable physiology.  Perhaps Babbage felt the series need a ninth, like the Beethoven Symphonies, so in 1837 he added his own unofficial submission.  He said, “I have, however, thought, that in furthering the intentions of the testator, by publishing some reflections on that subject, I might be permitted to connect with them a title which has now become familiarly associated, in the public mind, with the evidences in favour of Natural Religion.”
    Employing his skill at mathematics and statistics, Babbage tackled the subject of the Biblical miracles: specifically, to counter the arguments of David Hume who had called miracles violations of natural law, and therefore impossible.  Though slightly off topic from the rest of the series, Babbage felt “I was led so irresistibly, by the very nature of the illustrations employed in the former argument [of the first eight treatises], to the view there proposed, that I trust to being excused for having ventured one step beyond the strict limits of that argument, by entering on the first connecting link between natural religion and revelation.”  In other words, he wanted to take the arguments of natural theology beyond the conclusion of an unspecified Designer, and link them to the historical accounts in Scripture.  Babbage set out to prove mathematically that the Biblical miracles were not necessarily violations of natural law.
    Babbage’s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (hereafter, NBT) is available online and makes for interesting reading, especially for those who admire the recondite and embellished prose of the Victorian intelligentsia.  Some caveats must be noted, however; with the benefit of historical hindsight.  It is obvious that Babbage was (as we must confess ourselves to be) a product of his times.
    First, as mentioned before, Babbage uncritically accepted the old-earth arguments of Lyell, which were becoming popular at the time, as irrefutable scientific facts.  He speaks, for instance, of “the facts in which all capable of investigation agree—facts which it is needless to recite, they having been so fully and ably stated in the works of Mr. Lyell and Dr. Buckland” that indicate “distant and successive periods.”  Babbage conflated the “facts of nature” with the interpretations imposed on those facts.  To Babbage, the existence of fossils and geological strata provided a clear, unmistakable record of vast ages of time that was so obvious, one would have to make leave of his senses to deny it.  If Babbage could have learned contrary evidence that large deposits of strata and fossils could have formed rapidly, indeed must have, including formations that some geologists long claimed must have required millions of years, such as the Redwall Limestone in Grand Canyon, it might have tempered his dogmatism.  Instead, jumping on the Lyellian bandwagon forced Babbage to conform the Bible to these “facts of nature” rather than trust the authority of Scripture and doubt the fallible interpretations of man – a fallacy made by some creationists today.  Predictably, therefore, we find Babbage in NBT making excuses for why the Genesis creation account might not mean what it clearly says.  In Chapter IV of his treatise, he argues that we cannot trust the transmission or translation of the ancient texts of Genesis to be accurate.  Arguments like this, unfortunately, hand skeptics the rope to hang all of Christianity: if we cannot trust what the Bible says about the history of the world, how can we trust its claims about eternal life?  Though his doubt apparently applies only to the early chapters of Genesis, since he appears to find the rest of the text reliable, he should have known that science has very limited interpretive validity when investigating the unobservable past, and is frequently wrong.  And why did he not tremble to contradict Jesus Christ, who treated the writings of Moses, including the creation account, as historically fact?
    This leads to a second caveat: the myth of scientific progress.  Babbage wrote like a positivist, assuming, as was common in Victorian Britain, that science was an upward, progressive path to nearly infallible truth.  It was easy to fall into this assumption, seeing the progress taking place rapidly all around during the Industrial Revolution.  Victorians were obsessed with progress, and since so much of the progress was due to scientific discovery, it was easy to grant science more powers than it can muster.  Babbage did not have our vantage point, with two world wars, the atomic bomb, the Darwinian Revolution, Social Darwinism, eugenics and many other fatal evidences that science is not the value-free, objective, progressive enterprise he assumed it to be.  Babbage knew nothing of Kuhn, Popper and the revolutions in scientific philosophy that have made moderns (and post-moderns) demote science from unwarranted exaltation.  Nor did he foresee how the Darwinian Revolution and the rise of Big Science institutions would trample the very Biblical faith he professed.  One must read the NBT, and any other writings of the time, with the maturity of hindsight.
    A third caveat regards Babbage’s position on natural law.  Nineteenth century scientists were obsessed with natural law; Newton, the British hero, had demonstrated that nature ran with clockwork regularity that could be described in mathematical terms.  Newton’s successors extrapolated the faith far beyond what Newton himself believed, to the point where Enlightenment scientists and thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries subjugated all of reality to natural laws, inviolable, and presumably as simple and straightforward as Newton’s laws of motion.  The search for natural laws got out of control.  By the end of the 19th century, Freud was searching for natural laws of human behavior; others were seeking to describe biology and earth history with equations.  They could not have known that the 20th century would bring quantum mechanics, relativity, and chaos theory.  Ultra-Newtonianism, expressed in Laplace’s claims that could one know the motions of all particles, one could predict the future, was dealt a death blow by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which revealed a fundamental unpredictability in the very fabric of physics.  Scientists today despair of finding laws of planet formation or animal behavior or human psychology that would allow them to predict such phenomena with any meaningful degree of accuracy.  The faith lives on among some cosmologists who believe that one day scientists will derive a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, a set of physical laws that will describe the universe.  Many philosophers today, however, believe this to be a chasing after wind.
    A bizarre example of Babbage’s faith in Newtonianism can be seen in chapter IX of NBT, in which Babbage claims that every word we utter is indelibly impressed on the earth, according to the law of action and reaction.  He believed anything anyone ever said could be retrieved if we had instruments sensitive enough.  Working just before Thomson, Maxwell, Carnot and other scientists who were developing the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, Babbage was unaware there could be limits on the reversibility of natural processes; therefore, as one biographer notes, “information cannot be shuttled between mill and store without leaking.”  The law of increasing entropy leads to irreversible processes, one consequence being that information uttered into the world can be irretrievably lost.
    When the reader understands where Babbage is coming from, he can find much of value in the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise.  Most interesting is his rebuttal to the arguments of David Hume (1711-1776), the skeptical philosopher who had created quite a stir with his seemingly persuasive argument against miracles.  Again, it was based on the Newtonian obsession with natural law.  Hume argued that it is more probable that those claiming to have seen a miracle were either lying or deceived than that the regularity of nature had been violated.  Babbage knew a lot more about the mathematics of probability than Hume.  In chapter X of NBT, Babbage applied numerical values to the question, chiding Hume for his subjectivity.  A quick calculation proves that if there were 99 reliable witnesses to the resurrection of a man from the dead (and I Corinthians 15:6 claims there were over 500), the probability is a trillion to one against the falsehood of their testimony, compared to the probability of one in 200 billion against anyone in the history of the world having been raised from the dead.  This simple calculation shows it takes more faith to deny the miracle than to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses.  Thus Babbage renders specious Hume’s assertion that the improbability of a miracle could never be overcome by any number of witnesses.  Apply the math, and the results do not support that claim, Babbage says: “From this it results that, provided we assume that independent witnesses can be found of whose testimony it can be stated that it is more probable that it is true than that it is false, we can always assign a number of witnesses which will, according to Hume’s argument, prove the truth of a miracle.” (Italics in original.)  Babbage takes his conquest of Hume so far that by Chapter XIII, he argues that “It is more probable that any law, at the knowledge of which we have arrived by observation, shall be subject to one of those violations which, according to Hume’s definition, constitutes a miracle, than that it should not be so subjected.” 
    The heart of NBT is an argument that miracles do not violate natural law, using Babbage’s own concept of a calculating machine.  This forms an engaging thought experiment.  With his own Analytical Engine undoubtedly fresh on his mind, he asks the reader to imagine a calculating engine that might show very predictable regularity, even for billions of iterations, such as a machine that counts integers.  Then imagine it suddenly jumps to another natural law, which again repeats itself with predictable regularity.  If the designer of the engine had made it that way on purpose, it would show even more intelligent design than if it only continued counting integers forever.  Babbage extends his argument through several permutations, to the point where he convinces the reader that it takes more intelligence to design a general purpose calculating engine that can operate reliably according to multiple natural laws, each known to the designer, each predictable by the designer, than to design a simple machine that mindlessly clicks away according to a single law.  So here we see Babbage employing his own specialty – the general-purpose calculating machine – to argue his point.  He concluded, therefore, as he reiterated in his later autobiographical work Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), miracles are not “the breach of established laws, but... indicate the existence of far higher laws.”  (Note again the obsession with natural laws.)
    Since some might argue his view is just as deterministic as Newtonianism, Babbage devotes a chapter to explaining why his view does not lead to fatalism.  He also briefly touches on the question of free will (Chapters III, XV), though he declines to become embroiled in “that abstruse discussion.”   His calculating engine analogy is intriguing despite possible theological problems it might raise.  Today it might best be suited for convincing a modern Newtonian that miracles can be scientific; they are not necessarily violations of natural law.  Otherwise, NBT is very much a product of its time, with a weak view of Scripture, but valuable for its thought experiments and glimpses into the mind of Charles Babbage himself.  At the more mature age of 73, Babbage wrote, “Almost all thinking men who have studied the laws which govern the animate and inanimate world around us, agree that the belief in the existence of one Supreme Creator, possessed of infinite wisdom and power, is open to far less difficulties than the supposition of the absence of any cause, or of the existence of a plurality of causes.”
    Charles Babbage stood shoulder to shoulder with the leading scientists of Britain.  He was a principal founder of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and promulgated the improvement of British science and mathematics.  John Hudson Tiner says of him, and his Cambridge fellow students who had resolved to dedicate their lives to God, that “They agreed to strive to leave the world a better place than they had found it.”  Babbage certainly did that.  He had his idiosyncrasies, as would be expected of a visionary and genius, and modern creationists might decry what his Victorian weak view of Scripture did to Christianity in later years.  But there can be little doubt Charles Babbage intended his words and his works to glorify God as Creator, and that he tried to live and work according to his sincerely held Christian principles.  His life also exemplifies the point of this series.  Look at the most eminent and influential scientists in history, and they overwhelmingly were Christians and creationists.  Let the computer you are using to read this story be an ever present reminder of that fact.


If you are enjoying this series, you can 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
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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