Creation-Evolution Headlines
October 2004
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The world view of the scientist, even the most atheistic scientist, is that essentially of monotheism.  It is a belief which is accepted as an article of faith that the universe is ordered in an intelligible way.  Now you couldn’t be a scientist if you didn’t believe these two things... that is a theological position; it’s absolutely clear when you look at history [that it] comes from that theological world view.”
—Paul Davies, theoretical physicist, in the Q&A portion of the new film The Privileged Planet.
AstronomyBirdsBotanyCell BiologyCosmologyDating MethodsDinosaursEarly ManEducationEvolutionFossilsGeneticsGeologyHealthHuman BodyIntelligent DesignMammalsMarineMarsMediaOrigin of LifePhysicsPolitics and EthicsSETI Solar SystemTheologyZoology     Awards:  AmazingDumb      Note: bold emphasis added in all quotations unless otherwise indicated.
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“Evolution Stories Are Subtle and Complex” – Truth or Euphemism?    10/29/2004
A worm brain has photoreceptors similar to those in humans.  What does it mean?  Elizabeth Pennisi in Science1 sets the stage, commenting on work by Arendt et al. in the same issue,2 “Ciliary Photoreceptors with a Vertebrate-Type Opsin in an Invertebrate Brain.”  One might think this demonstrates common ancestry, but Pennisi explains that it’s not a simple evolutionary story:
Despite incredible variation in size and shape, eyes come in just two basic models.  The vertebrates’ photoreceptor cells, typified by rods and cones, are quite distinctive from the invertebrates’.  And although both use light-sensing pigments called opsins, the opsins are quite different in their amino acid makeup.
    For years biologists have argued about how these varied components came to be.  Some insist that eyes evolved only once, despite this modern difference.  Others have argued that optical structures evolved at least once in invertebrates and again in vertebrates.
    New data showing unexpected similarities between photoreceptors of a marine worm and humans add a new twist to this debate.  Detlev Arendt and Joachim Wittbrodt, developmental biologists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and their colleagues have found that in addition to its regular opsin pigment, the worm contains another one almost identical to the human’s.  Their finding suggests that even the earliest animals had the makings of both vertebrate and invertebrate visual systems, and that some of the photoreceptor cells in the invertebrate brain were transformed over a series of steps into vertebrate eyes.  Although some researchers are skeptical, others think the data are sound....
The research team thinks this “sheds new light on vertebrate eye evolution,” but the problem is that it pushes the origin of sight, a complex interaction of multiple functional parts, even farther back in time.  Another problem is that the human-like opsin in the worm has been conserved (unevolved) for 500 million years, according to the standard evolutionary time scale:
Arendt and Wittbrodt jumped into the fray over eye evolution after Arendt noticed some odd cells in the brains of ragworms, a relic marine annelid species that’s been relatively unchanged for the past 500 million years.  “We were surprised,” Arendt recalls, as these cells looked very much like rods and cones.
Further molecular and genetic studies showed that “Not only the morphology [outward appearance] but also the molecular biology of the two types of receptors was already set in our common ancestor”, according to a French biologist.  To put this new discovery into an evolutionary context, Arendt et al. had to invent a hypothetical ancestor even further back in time from the hypothetical ancestor of vertebrates and invertebrates, dubbed Urbilateria: 
They go further to suggest that the two types likely arose in a predecessor of Urbilateria.  In that organism, they speculate, the gene for one opsin and the genes to build the one type of photoreceptor cell were duplicated.  The extra set of genes might have evolved into a different visual system: “We think both photoreceptor cells track back to one cell type,” [Joachim] Wittbrodt [one of the authors of the paper] says.
As the authors put it in conclusion, “The vertebrate eye thus represents a composite structure, combining distinct types of light-sensitive cells with independent evolutionary histories”.  So although this proposal seems to favor those who argue for the single origin of eyes, it illustrates that “evolution stories are subtle and complex.
1Elizabeth Pennisi, “Worm’s Light-Sensing Proteins Suggest Eye’s Single Origin,”
Science, Vol 306, Issue 5697, 796-797, 29 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5697.796a].
2Arendt et al., “Ciliary Photoreceptors with a Vertebrate-Type Opsin in an Invertebrate Brain,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5697, 869-871, 29 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099955].
“A likely story” can have opposite meanings depending on the tone of voice.  Is the phrase, “subtle and complex” descriptive of a truth, or a euphemism for a dodge?  Suppose you were a teacher, and your student’s story about the origin of his term paper, which was clearly a hodgepodge of plagiarisms from several internet sources, he described as “subtle and complex.”  Suppose a politician described his flipflops over the years as being subtle and complex.  Suppose your husband’s disastrous room addition project was defended with a story he said was subtle and complex.  One thing is clear about this evolutionary story, as admitted by Pennisi: it is not simple and straightforward.
  The PBS Evolution series tried to claim in 2001 that the eye followed a simple and straightforward progression from simple to complex, using the visual power of suggestion that a series of pictures of animal eyes in a progression from apparently simple to complex suggested an ancestral relationship.  Evolutionists love the word “suggest”.  Scattered similarities between distant organisms, all thriving in their own environments, all using highly-complex functional systems only “suggest” an evolutionary story when you have put yourself under Charlie’s spell and have opened yourself up to the power of suggestion.  Snap out of it.
    Read this evolutionary story with the wide-awake understanding that opsins are very complex proteins (see 10/01/2004 headline and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, pp. 15-25).  But their complexity alone is useless without even more complex organs and neurons that can interpret their responses.  Evolutionists want to hypnotize us into the suggestion that stories relating worms to humans by common ancestry are scientific.  Be a clear-headed judge of the evidence.  When missing links have to be invented out of thin air, and when complex functions have to be presumed to have “arisen” [a miracle word] earlier than previously believed, the burden of proof is on the storyteller that the statement, “evolution stories are subtle and complex,” is not just pulling wool over the eyes. 
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryTerrestrial Zoology
Platypus Has 10 Sex Chromosomes    10/29/2004
The duck-billed platypus has thrown another curveball at evolutionary theory.  Long puzzling to phylogenists for its mosaic of features that make it seem part mammal, bird and reptile, it has now revealed a genome with 10 sex chromosomes – 10 X in the female, and 5 X plus 5 Y in the male.  Moreover, the sequence of the X chromosomes differs in length and makeup.  The purpose of this arrangement is unclear, but observations by Australian scientists showed that the chromosomes segregate faithfully during meiosis.  “It’s hard to speculate on how that could have evolved,” said one researcher, according to
Nature Science Update.    Whatever the reason, it works.  Science Now says, “the platypus manages to keep its reproduction from going awry.”
For a creationist view on how this is problematic for evolution, see Brad Harrub’s analysis on Apologetics Press.
Nature Science Update relates the Darwinian tale as, “Monotremes were the first group to branch off after mammals evolved 210 million years ago.  Their egg-laying shares a common origin with birds and reptiles, although the bill is thought to have evolved independently.”  Any proof?  No.  Any transitional forms?  No.
    One researcher said, “Mammals are pretty boring when it comes to sex chromosomes.  The platypus is a huge exception.”  Who said sex was boring?  It keeps the Darwin theorists awake at night, but with more pain than pleasure.
Next headline on:  MammalsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Will it Become Unlawful to Think Critically?    10/29/2004
The legality of disclaimers in biology textbooks will be decided by a U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Georgia.  A judge will hear the case Nov. 8 about stickers the Cobb County school board put in the books that say, “This textbook contains material on evolution.  Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.  This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”
    Lawyers who sued the school board over these stickers claim that the statement “restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.”
The claim that the sticker restricts the teaching of evolution, requires the teaching of creationism or discriminates against particular religions should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered, unless the courts make it against the law to do so, at which time all students must assimilate into the Charlie Borg.
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Cassini Eyes Titan at Close Range    10/28/2004
Cassini spacecraft got its closest ever look at Titan on Oct. 26, and downloaded its cargo of precious bits in spite of the rain in Spain and California.  This was the first of 45 targeted flybys of Titan planned during its four-year tour, and should prove one of the best.  The raw and processed images can be viewed on the Cassini website.
    The instrument-laden spaceship had been relatively quiet since its successful orbit insertion last June 30 (see 07/01/2004 headline) and distant untargeted pass of Titan the next day (see 07/06/2004 headline).  Now, after the first of its long, elliptical orbits, it has returned, and what a comeback: passing less than 750 miles above Titan’s haze-shrouded surface, Cassini took unprecedented measurements of Titan and its atmosphere in a whole spectrum of wavelengths – radio, infrared, visible and ultraviolet.
    A press conference unveiling first processed images was held the morning after the flyby.  At the second press conference on Oct. 28, JPL Director and Radar Scientist Dr. Charles Elachi unveiled the first of many radar tracks to come over the four-year mission.  Over the next four years, Cassini radar should map about 25% of the globe at high resolution.  The first radar track showed a complex terrain with possible evidence of lakes; visible-light photographs, however, have not yet seen the glint of reflected sunlight expected if large bodies of liquid were present.  Other images showed streaks due possibly to winds, and organic patches with different thermal properties than those of ice.  No impact craters have been found yet.  The scientists are wondering if any are buried under organic deposits.  Evidence suggests that acetylene, which would be solid at the surface temperatures, is as abundant as ethane.  Some hydrocarbon surface deposits may be flaky, others sticky.
    The ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) found evidence of complex hydrocarbons high in the atmosphere, including diacetylene and benzene, much higher than expected.  This suggests the atmosphere is well mixed.  The INMS principal investigator estimated based on nitrogen isotope ratios that, despite a denser atmosphere than Earth’s on a body less than half its diameter, Titan has lost 3/4 of its atmosphere over “geologic time.”  Surprisingly, the only methane clouds detected were around the south polar feature, although the report at Space.Com questions this.  It may be too early to tell for sure.
    Interdisciplinary scientist Jonathan Lunine, who has studied Titan for over 20 years, appeared happy to see evidence for a dynamic surface and active atmosphere.  There are very complex geologic processes going on, he said, of enormously diverse types.  All the scientists were baffled by long linear features.  They might be ridges or cracks in a thin crust, like cracks in an eggshell.    Mass/density measurements from orbit show that Titan is about half rock, half ice, with the rock presumably having settled at the core.  This means that Titan’s “bedrock,” if visible, should consist of water ice.  That leaves the possibility that some of the linear and streak features might be cryovolcanic in origin, or consist of ammonia-water flows.  Microwave emissions suggest that some areas may be coated with complex hydrocarbons.  How much is liquid and how much is solid is still unclear.  The rich new data sets elicited new puzzles to investigate during future encounters.
    The Huygens Probe scientists from the European Space Agency were excited to get their first high-resolution glimpses of the landing site: though fuzzy before processing, it looked tantalizing and even had a faint X to mark the spot.  The Huygens team leader judged it an excellent site because of its “diversity” (a politically correct answer, some chuckled).  Cassini had all its instruments aboard the ship turned on, and discoveries about surface features, temperatures, plasma characteristics, magnetic field effects, atmospheric and surface composition, and electrostatic effects should continue to get mined out of the treasure trove of new data.
    Coming up: the Huygens Probe mission begins Christmas eve as the probe separates from the mother ship and begins its solo flight to Titan.  On New Year’s Day 2005, Cassini flies by the enigmatic moon Iapetus at about 40,000 miles.  On January 14, the Huygens Probe parachutes open for the historic two-hour descent and landing on the surface, where the world eagerly awaits the first-ever on-site views of this frigid, alien world soaking in hydrocarbons.  Will it land in an ocean or on a solid surface?  The close flyby today may give the best clues before touchdown in January.
Update 11/09/2004: A press release from JPL shows one of the radar images indicating something may be flowing on the surface.  “Titan’s surface is young,” the report says, a growing opinion from the fresh-looking flows and lack of impact craters.  Scientists are still unsure what to make of the dark and light markings.
As reported before, Titan is the moon to watch (see 10/16/2003 headline).  It has many bizarre features that are sure to fascinate scientists and threaten pet theories.  One of the scientists interviewed, who has been studying Titan for 23 years, said two of the biggest questions are, (1) why does Titan have an atmosphere, and (2) what is the source of its methane?  We know that the methane in Titan’s upper atmosphere breaks down in the presence of sunlight and is lost to space, forming a large hydrogen cloud around the huge moon.  Since it is being depleted, why is there any left, if the moon is over four billion years old?  Is the methane resupplied by volcanic outgassing, are there methane lakes or oceans on the surface that evaporate, or was the current methane supply brought in recently by comets?  Till these historic measurements are analyzed, this is a major puzzle on this alien world.  The methane keeps the nitrogen in the atmosphere in a gaseous state, else the entire atmosphere would collapse to the surface in frozen nitrogen snow.
    Some of the Cassini scientists have said that, when giving public talks about the mission, the question they get asked most often is, “Is there life on Titan?”  Sad.  The question reflects indoctrination of a gullible public in evolutionary assumptions.  Even Neil Cavuto at Fox News fell for it.  What do you expect when all the TV science programs keep using misleading phrases like “the building blocks of life” and “early earth in a deep freeze.”  We expect the Titanians will say, “Nobody alive down here, Mate.”
Next headline on:  Solar System
Movie Sequel   10/27/2004
Exploration Films has done it again: it just released Part III of its popular documentary series on Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution.  Former evolutionist Jobe Martin and narrator David Hames take viewers on a quest around the world for animals both ordinary and exotic that have design features that challenge evolutionary theory.
These films are a lot of fun to watch.  The producers have hit on a winning formula: amazing facts, a little humor, good visuals, and challenging thoughts.  Jobe Martin bubbles with excitement at each creature: mussels, horses, ostriches and much more.  He not only explains why evolutionary theory cannot account for these animal champs, he shows how their abilities enrich the world and our lives, and has a way to explain complex things in a way even kids can enjoy.  This terrific family film is nearly twice the length of the original.  Get the whole set and turn off the Charlie-worshipping science channels with their endless just-so stories.  You’ll learn facts with these films and have fun watching.
Next headline on:  Movies and Media
Middle Earth in Indonesia?  Fossil “Hobbits” Smash Evolutionary Ring   10/27/2004
Here we go again: another alleged human ancestor fossil that shakes up the evolutionary family tree.  No sooner had
Nature1 announced a little 1-meter tall fossil female “hominin” that the discoverers classified as Homo erectus, that the science news media like MSNBC and the BBC flew into action reporting it as “fossil hobbits”  They seem to have all borrowed National Geographic’s artwork, which appeared so fast they must been tipped off.  The drawing by Peter Schouten shows an upright-walking, naked, dark-skinned male with spear and prey over the shoulder.
    The trouble with the fossil is that it was dated at only 18,000 years.  The bones were soggy and unfossilized in the cave, and they were found on an island far from the Indonesian mainland, with stone tools apparently associated with them.  Having a member of genus Homo so far to the East so late in the timeline is forcing a major revision of the idea that modern humans arrived in Europe much earlier.  “My jaw dropped to my knees” said one researcher upon hearing the date.  Homo erectus were long assumed too primitive to have migrated to an island as distant from the mainland as where the two partial skeletons were found.  Yet surprisingly, local natives have legends about “little people” that lived in the jungle, and the BBC article says Henry Gee (editor of Nature) goes as far as to suggest that descendants of this tribe might be found alive today.
    The small stature of these individuals was a big surprise.  Skull capacity of Homo floresiensis, as it was named, is only 380cc – yet evidence of stone tools, upright posture and other “derived” (i.e., advanced) characteristics seemingly contradicts the suggestion these were primitive.  Maybe it’s not brain volume but complexity that matters; after all, DNA can store 1018> bits of information in one cubic millimeter.  “The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find,” remarked Henry Gee.  Everyone seems to be agreeing on one thing: this astonishing find is going to rewrite the textbooks on human evolution – again.
    Carl Wieland has written a creationist perspective on this find at Answers in Genesis.
Update 11/12/2004: Was so-called Homo florensiensis a small but modern human with a skull deformity called microcephaly?  Michael Balter reported in Science3 that two prominent paleoanthropologists think so.  Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson published an article on Apologetics Press that quotes one of them, and argues this skeleton cannot be anything but fully human.  Balter, for now, leaves the controversy unresolved.
1Rex Dalton, “Little lady of Flores forces rethinking of human evolution,” Nature 431, 1029 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311029a.
2Mirazon and Foley, “Paleoanthropology: Human evolution writ small,” Nature 431, 1043 - 1044 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311043a.
3Michael Balter, “Paleoanthropology: Skeptics Question Whether Flores Hominid Is a New Species,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5699, 1116, 12 November 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5699.1116a].
People don’t have to be 5 to 6 feet tall to be people.  There are little people and big people today, yet they show an uncanny commonality in average intelligence, sociability, language, and understanding that Francis Schaeffer used to call the “mannishness of man” (i.e., the set of universal distinctives that separate people from the animals).  Calling something a “hominid” or “hominin” is just a word game to make scientists appear to know more than gullible reporters.  Nothing primitive or transitional about these creatures was found; they have all the marks of full humanity.
    National Geographic and its allies in the news media should be excoriated for the racist artwork they published.  With only bones to draw from, they made Mr. Floresiensis have a protruded chimp-like jaw, an ape-like squat nose, and black skin.  Everything else about the drawing looks fully human, including the proportion of skull size to body size, musculature, walking posture and hunting skill.  Any black person, any respecter of black persons, should be outraged not only at the racist overtones of the picture, but the evolutionary spin put on the data.
    Evolutionary paleoanthropology was in such a complete upheaval of confusion already, what’s another skeleton going to hurt?  It’s just making the rubble of evolutionary storytelling bounce at this point.  The only progress to be hoped for is that they will start calling themselves creationists (see 09/23/2004 headline).
Next headline on:  Early ManDumb Ideas
Bacterial Flagellum Reveals New Structural Complexity   10/27/2004
The bacterial flagellum, the unofficial mascot of the Intelligent Design movement, got more praise from the evolutionary journal Nature this week: Samatey et al.1 analyzed the hook region in detail and found that it is composed of 120 copies of a specialized protein that “reveals the intricate molecular interactions and a plausible switching mechanism for the hook to be flexible in bending but rigid against twisting for its universal joint function.
    Christopher Surridge, commenting on this paper in the same issue,2 adds that this joint must be able to bend up to 90 degrees in a millisecond or less while rotating at up to 300 times per second.  He says that the researchers describe “how they determined the atomic structure of this super-flexible universal joint, and thereby how it achieves such a feat of engineering.
1Samatey et al., “Structure of the bacterial flagellar hook and implication for the molecular universal joint mechanism,”
Nature 431, 1062 - 1068 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02997.
2Christopher Surridge, “Molecular motors: Smooth coupling in Salmonella,” Nature 431, 1047 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311047b.
The hook region surely appeared to be one of the simplest-looking parts of the complex molecular motor.  Now, even that little item, something that just bends at an angle, is shown to be exquisitely designed, with exacting specifications to allow bending without twisting.  If all the amino acids in this one protein element were not in the right places, the protein would not work.  And if all 120 were not joined together, and were not assembled at the right time and in the right place, the flagellum would be useless.  Inside that hook is an entire highway of molecular trucks that build the propeller (see 06/14/2004 headline).  No wonder Jonathan Wells remarked, “What we find is irreducible complexity all the way down.”
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design
Adult Stem Cells Continue to Work Miracle Cures   10/27/2004
Chalk up two more amazing successes for adult stem cells (not derived from human embryos, like the controversial ES stem cells):
1. Blindness:  The
BBC News reported that stem cells from the back of the eyeball might be able to restore sight to those afflicted with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
2. Parkinson’s DiseaseEurekAlert reports that scientists at Thomas Jefferson University found a way to convert adult stem cells to dopamine-producing neurons.  This could lead to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and other diseases caused by a lack of dopamine.
Vote for what works: vote for adult stem cell research.  Embryonic stem cell research – having no track record, no investors, and huge ethical concerns (see 10/21/2004 headline) – makes this vote a no-brainer.
Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsHealth
How Plants Wax Their Leaves   10/27/2004
Plants have a waxy coating on their leaves, some more and some less, a fact many gardeners may notice without much thought.  A recent paper by two plant biologists in Science1 reveals that even this seemingly ordinary feature comes about only through a complex process in plant cells.  The waxy coating, called the cuticle, is composed of three distinct layers including water-resistant wax crystals that are synthesized by epidermal cells.  Burkhard Schulz and Wolf B. Frommer, commenting on research on this subject, note that over 100 transporter genes of a class named ABC have been discovered in plants, some of which carefully move the insoluble wax molecules to the surface.  They describe the process as major effort in transporting a multitude of large, complex molecules.  Their diagram shows a multitude of molecular machines that take part in the construction of the “elaborate structure” of the cuticle.  Yet they assume this cuticle, with its varied and essential functions, and all the machinery required to product it, arose through a “sloppy” evolutionary history:
When plants moved from water to land 450 million years ago, they needed to develop a sealed surface to protect themselves against water loss in the “dry” air environment.  To solve this problem, plants invented an epicuticular wax layer that covers the entire surface of the plant that is exposed to air.  This protective wax cuticle also serves a multitude of other functions.  Its elaborate micro- and nanostructure prevents water and other particles from sticking to the surface of leaves, keeping them clean and so enhancing their ability to trap light for photosynthesis.  Adhering water droplets and other particles are washed away in a self-cleaning process called the lotus effect.  The wax layer also filters out damaging ultraviolet rays, prevents volatile chemicals and pollutants from sticking to leaves and stems, and protects plants against attack by microbes and herbivores
Schulz and Frommer want to know “what were the evolutionary steps that led to this innovation?”  They figure that early plants somehow co-opted existing transporter machinery for this new function, because the plants needed it:
How did land plants invent wax secretion?  The genomes of living land plants contain more than 100 ABC transporter genes.  Because transporters seem to be sloppy with respect to their substrate specificity, it is feasible that when plants crept out of the water, they turned a member of the ABC transporter family into a lipid exporter by ensuring that it became localized to a different cellular compartment.  Perhaps this is an example of an evolutionary principle in which sloppiness is transformed into flexibility.
It’s only a suggestion, they end; “Obviously, there is more work to be done....”
1Burkhard Schulz and Wolf B. Frommer, “A Plant ABC Transporter Takes the Lotus Seat,”
Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 622-625, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105227].
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week, easily.  At the rate the Darwin Party is turning up the propaganda, we’re going to have to make this a daily award.  So plants invented something because they needed it when they crawled out of the water onto the land, and used existing machinery that just happened to be in their toolbox.  This is going to sound so stupid to everybody some day, just like it already does to anybody that cleans his ears of Charlie Ear Wax.
Next headline on:  PlantsDarwinismDumb Ideas
DNA Coding Multiplies in Complexity   10/27/2004
As if the discovery that DNA is a language translation system was not enough to challenge evolutionary theories, it is becoming increasing clear that DNA is a code operated by another code.  Science on Oct. 221 had a feature on gene regulation, which writer Elizabeth Pennisi termed “Genome’s Second Code.”  She began, “The genome has more than one code for specifying life.  The hunt for the various types of noncoding DNA that control gene expression is heating up.”  Her second article in the same issue2 describes the “fast and furious hunt for gene regulators.”
    In a letter to Nature,3 a team found that some non-coding DNA is not essential to viability.  They deleted megabases of genetic elements from the mouse genome and could not find anything wrong with the mice.  “Some of the deleted sequences might encode for functions unidentified in our screen,” they suggested; “nonetheless, these studies further support the existence of potentially ‘disposable DNA’ in the genomes of mammals.”  Yet how such DNA would arise if it is not vital for survival, or why it would persist if not essential, seems to contradict the principles of Darwinian natural selection.
    In yet another paper in Science,4 Kosak and Groudine argue that genes are organized in a way to take advantage of space.  Thus, the very spacing and placement of genes with respect to one another and to regulatory elements provide a function: “the clustering of coregulated, lineage-restricted genes indicates a functional organization of transcriptomes that define a given cell type.”  (Transcriptome refers to the body of DNA, regulators and enzymes that work together to transcribe a gene into a protein.)
    Yet another paper in Current Biology5 has complexified the story of telomeres, those end caps on DNA strands that keeps them from unraveling.  Another protein regulator has been found to be essential, and it “adds even more complexity to telomere protein interactions,” a subject already more complex than initially thought.
    In short, it is no longer possible to predict gene expression by just looking at the DNA.  Much more is going on to control what genes get turned on and off and in what order.  The controls are appearing more and more like a super-code behind the genetic code.  Pennisi quotes one geneticist who sighs, “The complexity of the genome is much higher than we have defined for the past 20 years.  We have to change our way of thinking.
1Elizabeth Pennisi, “Searching for the Genome’s Second Code,”
Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 632-635, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.632].
2Elizabeth Pennisi, “A Fast and Furious Hunt for Gene Regulators,” Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 635 , 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.635].
3Nobrega et al., “Megabase deletions of gene deserts result in viable mice,” Nature 431, 988 - 993 (21 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature03022.
4Kosak and Groudine, “Gene Order and Dynamic Domains,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 644-647 , 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103864].
5Lorel Colgin and Roger Reddel, “Telomere Biology: A New Player in the End Zone,” Current Biology, Vol 14, R901-R902, 26 October 2004.
Yes, Darwinites, change your way of thinking.  Think intelligent design.  Thinking itself is not even possible without it.  As could be expected, this section is a treasure trove of juicy quotes and findings of design that leave the Darwinites squirming in their naturalistic straitjackets.  They only have themselves to blame.  They were the ones who said they had to be worn.
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNAIntelligent Design
Did Language Evolve by Natural Selection?   10/27/2004
In the Oct 14 issue of Nature,1 Gary Marcus (Dept. of Psychology, New York University) appears conflicted about how human language arose.  He wants to attribute it to a Darwinian process:
If, as François Jacob famously argued, evolution is like a tinkerer who builds something new by using whatever is close at hand, then from what is the human capacity for language made?
    Most accounts of the evolution of language have focused on characterizing changes that are internal to the language system.  Were the earliest forms of language spoken or (like sign language) gestured?  Did language arise suddenly?  Or did it emerge gradually, progressing step by step from a simple one-word ’protolanguage’ (limited to brief comments about the ‘here and now’) into a more complex system that combined individual words into structured meaningful sentences encompassing the future, the past and the possible – as well as the concrete present?....
Yet in the last sentence, after considering several options of how language might have arisen and developed by natural processes, he cannot help but wonder at the result:
To the extent that the neural or genetic substrates of language and cognition overlap, language should be understood not just as an adaptation selected for effective communication, but also as a darwinian descendant with modification from pre-existing cognitive systems.  Studying how linguistic systems may have descended with modification from cognitive precursors could in turn elucidate the oft-noted (but never satisfactorily explained) co-morbidity between language disorders and other cognitive impairments, in terms of overlap in genetic and neural machinery.  At the same time, by highlighting how new mechanisms can be built on top of old, we may be able to make better sense of the mystery of how, within a relatively short period of time, with just a relatively small amount of genetic change, humans evolved the amazing gift of speech.

1Gary Marcus, “Concepts: Before the Word,”
Nature 431, 745 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431745a.
Can a schizophrenic psychologist understand human language?  He sees the “amazing gift of speech,” with all its mystery and wonder, but wants to attribute it to a goddess tinkering with parts cobbled from whatever is at hand (shall we name the evolutionary goddess Charlotte, the fairy godmother of Charles Darwin)?  He can’t have it both ways.  Either language is an amazing gift, designed by intelligence, or it is a meaningless end product of a mindless, undirected natural process.  How much evidence does Mr. Marcus have for his speculation about language arising by evolution?  (Dead silence.)
Next headline on:  Human BodyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Dinosaurs Survived Cold Arctic   10/27/2004
Dinosaurs, ferns and trees grew in Canada’s far north provinces, according to
EurekAlert report from McGill University.  “You wouldn’t expect it, yet dinosaurs and a great variety of plants lived in the High Arctic 240 to 65 million years ago,” said Hans Larsson, leader of research over two years. 
Who wouldn’t expect it?  Evolutionists.
Next headline on:  Dinosaurs
Disembodied Brain Flies Jet Aircraft    10/25/2004
Researchers at
University of Florida claim to have connected rat brains neurons in a dish to electrodes, which learned to run an F22 flight simulator.
We can’t speak to the validity of this claim or its interpretation, but what stands out in the article is the awe over the computational abilities of the human brain:
“We’re interested in studying how brains compute,” said Thomas DeMarse, the UF professor of biomedical engineering who designed the study.  “If you think about your brain, and learning and the memory process, I can ask you questions about when you were 5 years old and you can retrieve information.  That’s a tremendous capacity for memory.  In fact, you perform fairly simple tasks that you would think a computer would easily be able to accomplish, but in fact it can’t.
    While computers are very fast at processing some kinds of information, they can’t approach the flexibility of the human brain, DeMarse said.  In particular, brains can easily make certain kinds of computations – such as recognizing an unfamiliar piece of furniture as a table or a lamp – that are very difficult to program into today’s computers.
Hmmmmm... think about your brain.  The brain is thinking about me, and I’m thinking about it.  I’ll have to think about that one for awhile.
Next headline on:  Human BodyAmazing Facts
Was Darwin Wrong?   10/24/2004
One would think National Geographic wants to know, judging from the cover of the November 2004 issue: “Was Darwin Wrong?”  A reader might think the magazine editors, in light of the controversy about evolution sweeping the country, thought it would be timely to engage in a scientific debate about Darwin’s 19th-century theory.  The reader might anticipate seeing an article quoting experts from both sides.  Flip ahead to page 3, and a double-page photo of a fancy pigeon again frames the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?”  Now turn the page, and the debate is over.  The answer, in 250-point bold type, screams: NO.  The subtitle, in 72-point bold type, declares, “The evidence for Evolution [capitalized] is overwhelming.
    The remainder is mop-up work: photos of naked mole rats, Galápagos finches, skeletons of giraffes and whales and flightless birds and orang-utans, an orchid and its pollinating moth, a bulldog, salmon fry, a Cambrian fossil, a Venus flytrap, ants in amber, DNA, bacteria, a chest X-ray and 18 pages of text by David Quammen.  After rehashing a bit of Darwin-Wallace history, he highlights evolutionary evidences from biogeography, paleontology, embryology and morphology.  The story in a nutshell: “Evolutionary theory... is... such a dangerously wonderful and far-reaching view of life that some people find it unacceptable, despite the vast body of supporting evidence” (p. 6).
    And who would these people be?  Fundamentalist Christians, ultra-orthodox Jews, Islamic creationists, Hare Krishnas and “millions of adult Americans” suffering from “honest confusion and ignorance.”  To this group, 45% of whom think God created mankind sometime within the last 10,000 years, and another 37% who mix God and Darwin, this article appears targeted.  (Only 12% believe “humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god.”)  To these unenlightened 82%, many who “have never taken a biology course that dealt with evolution nor read a book in which the theory was lucidly explained,” Quammen writes to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and alleviate their fears.  Evolution is not dangerous, he explains.  On the contrary, “Evolution is a both a beautiful concept and an important one, more crucial nowadays to human welfare, to medical science, and to our understanding of the world than ever before” (p. 8).
  Perhaps this targeted message is best illustrated on the last page by a picture of a Russian ex-convict who “carries two enduring remnants from his prison time: a Crucifixion tattoo and drug-resistant TB.  He hopes God will help him, but evolution-based science is what guides the truth for an earthly cure.”
    The article refers to anti-evolutionists as “Creationist proselytizers and political activists, working hard to interfere with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools” (p. 6), for example, an unnamed traveling lecturer “from something called the Origins Research Association,” whose dinosaur-illustrated flyer offered “free pizza following the evening service” at a local Baptist church.  Quammen smirks, “Dinosaurs, biblical truth, and pizza: something for everybody.”  Presumably, evolutionists will take the pizza.
    No mention was made of the intelligent design movement, nor any living scientist with a Ph.D. who might whisper “yes” to “Was Darwin wrong?”
Update  Jonathan Wells published a critique of the issue for the
Discovery Institute, and Terry Mortenson issued another rebuttal on Answers in Genesis.
NG has provided a valuable article.  For historians, it will illustrate the desperation of the Darwin Party right before their buddha collapsed.  For logicians, it will provide a classic case study on how to promote a failed theory with logical fallacies, selective evidence, spin doctoring and propaganda.  Thank you, National Geographic, for providing this documentation for future researchers.
    This article has it all: fear-mongering, glittering generalities, analogy, straw man, bluffing, sidestepping, card stacking, big lie, half truth, non-sequitur, extrapolation, equivocation, visualization, personification, and everything else in the whole baloney arsenal.  It won’t work any more.  A new generation of discerning students and adults has arisen.  They are no longer intimidated by bluffing and evasion from the Darwin Party propagandists.  Many of them are readers of Creation-Evolution Headlines and follow the debate closely.  It doesn’t work any more to bluff about the “mountainous accumulation of peer-reviewed scientific studies,” because they are mountain climbers: they read the journals.  They know that evolution is only assumed when mentioned, and that the evolutionary storytelling is inversely proportional to the detail in the observations.  (As a result, they never get much of a workout from climbing said mountains.)  They know how to separate observation from interpretation.  This kind of quick lie in passing, for instance, won’t fool today’s informed readers:
Can we see evolution in action?  Can it be observed in the wild?  Can it be measured in the laboratory?
    The answer is yes.  Peter and Rosemary Grant, two British-born researchers who have spent decades where Charles Darwin spent weeks, have captured a glimpse of evolution with their long-term studies of beak size among Galápagos finches.
Sorry, NG, we examined the Grants’ original papers (see 04/26/2002 and 09/03/2004 headlines) and they showed no such thing.  The best they could do was to find a minor variation in beak size among interfertile finches that reversed when the weather changed, and showed no long-term trend; in fact, the Grants admitted that 30 years is far too short to demonstrate any evolutionary trend.  And your own article showed that no clear example of speciation has been observed (p. 30), and that 999 out of 1000 frames in the “film of evolution” are missing links (p. 25).  The only way to get the attention of today’s informed anti-evolutionists is to stop the propaganda tricks, which are ineffective because we filter them out on the front end, and talk real, objective evidence, addressing the best arguments on both sides.  Since you never do this, we assume you can’t.
    Every one of the other evidences in the National Geographic piece has been contradicted by other scientists, or is irrelevant because it fails to address the main issue Darwin claimed, that everything is related by common descent.  No example of natural selection creating new functional information by an undirected natural process was presented without merely assuming evolution did it – somehow, left unexplained.  Can you believe that they would still dredge up the old stuff about the horse series, vestigial organs and embryologic recapitulation as evidences for evolution?  Come on, you guys, this is 2004.  At least they didn’t showcase peppered moths and Haeckel’s embryos.
    The use of 250-point bold font to shout “No” to the question of whether Darwin was wrong can be interpreted either as (1) a patronizing disdain for the intelligence of the average reader of the magazine, as if they cannot judge the validity of evidence but have to be told the answer (“Evolution is a fact, do you hear?  It’s a fact; are you listening to me?”), or (2) positive self-talk to stave off depression, like a coach’s pep talk to a discouraged team facing formidable odds.  It exudes a flavor of, “Darwin was right, wasn’t he?  Wasn’t he?  We’re losing 82-12 in the polls, but ol’ Charlie boy was right, don’t you think so, Tom?”  “Sure, boss.  Charlie was right.  Don’t let those anti-evolutionist PhDs with all their evidence make you question your faith.  Just ignore them and stick to the playbook: finch beaks prove humans had bacteria ancestors.  Show a picture and maybe they’ll go away and stop bothering us.”
    The worst violation in this propaganda piece was a sin of omission: none of the best arguments against Darwinism were addressed or even mentioned, and intelligent design theory was completely ignored.  Poor Mr. Quammen; he probably wrote his piece before neo-Darwinism was falsified last week (see 10/19/2004 headline).  Should we pressure him for an Archaeoraptor-style retraction? (see 09/27/2000 headline).  Why not, if “a trait that’s valuable in a scientist” is “a willingness to admit when he’s wrong”? (p. 31).
    Read the critiques of this article by Jonathan Wells and Terry Mortensen.  Knowledgeable and articulate readers may wish to take National Geographic up on its offer: “...join our forum and share your thoughts on “Was Darwin Wrong?” at  And never underestimate the power of a succinct, informed, articulate letter to the editor.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryFossils
Note to Pastors:  Quammen ends with an interview with an evolutionist who said, “I grew up in a conservative church in the Midwest and was not taught anything about evolution.  The subject was clearly skirted.”  Now, this evolutionist gets “a spiritual experience” by pulling up fossils to piece into his evolutionary just-so stories.  “The evidence is there,” he claims; “It’s buried in the rocks of ages.”  Just thought you would find this little anecdote inspiring.
Scientific Supporters of ES Stem Cell Research Fear Future Abuses    10/21/2004
“How would you know if a human brain was trapped in a mouse’s body?”  This frightful and intriguing question opened an article in Nature this week.1  More on that in a minute.
    Last week, in the Oct. 14 issue,2 a Nature editorial on California’s Stem Cell Proposition 71 stated that “the proposal is less of an unalloyed blessing than it seems.”  Though most professional scientists are eager for funds to test embryonic stem cells, Nature feared that the proposition goes overboard.  It amends the state constitution, threatens a state economy that is near insolvency, and promises it will pay for itself, “But it is not clear that these analyses hold water.”  Worst of all, it prevents oversight by the state legislature, expecting the researchers to police themselves.  Surprisingly, Nature supports government oversight of scientific funding.  The NIH and NSF at the federal level, which operate under the scrutiny of Congress, perform a healthy role: “At these agencies, scientific merit is judged almost entirely by the community itself, but Congress ultimately ensures that the public good is paramount.”  No such policing comes with Prop. 71, however, and the money trail looks too tempting:
Proposition 71, in contrast, would introduce a new model for the support of scientific research at the state level that would rely on mere transparency as a guarantee against abuse.  Although public meetings are promised, the oversight committee would consist mainly of people with close ties to the universities, institutes and companies that stand to benefit from the money spent.  Most of the rest are representatives of disease groups.  The committee makes the ultimate funding decisions and will be allowed to modify NIH rules of informed consent and human-subject protection as it sees fit.
    The advocacy of such people as the actor Christopher Reeve – whose untimely death this week deprives biomedical research of one of its most forceful and effective lobbyists – has helped to elevate the promise of embryonic-stem-cell research, sometimes to unrealistic levels.  It is up to the people of California whether they want to approve Proposition 71.  But if they do, researchers must strive to ensure that no funds will be abused, and they must give full consideration to a wide array of ethical concerns.  Anything less risks damaging public trust in science.
Yet how effective can self-policing by researchers be, when the temptations for grant money, prizes and lucrative pharmaceutical contracts threaten to make ethics take a back seat?  This was the subject of the editorials this week in Nature1 and Science3 about feeble first attempts in Washington to decide what is right or wrong.  The lack of clear guidelines on stem cell research occasioned the question about human brain cells in mice: how would anyone know?  If the researcher feels he has to experiment with chimeras (see
BreakPoint commentary) to find a cure, on what basis will the scientific community claim it is unethical, and how could they stop it?
    Erika Check wrote about prominent biologists debating such questions just in the last few days at the US National Academies, now that California’s Prop. 71 is already on the ballot and appears poised for an easy win, especially since the state’s popular governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has endorsed it along with Michael J. Fox and other celebrities.  Since no clear guidelines exist, and no federal policies have the force of law, the scientists have a free rein to create their own consensus about what is ethical.  The vacuum has allowed some already to charge ahead into areas that are blurring the line between human and animal:
Researchers at the meeting agreed on a lot: that the use of human embryonic stem cells to produce a baby should be banned, for example, and that stem-cell researchers should adopt guidelines to reassure the public that their work is ethically sound.  But they differed on how to handle chimaeras, which mix cells and DNA from different species....
    Scientists could even construct a mouse whose entire brain was made of human-derived cells....
The article quotes Irving Weissman of Stanford who is already creating human-mouse chimeras with private funds.  Weissman claims the “yuck factor” is no reason to ban such research.  The fact that the government so far has not taken the lead in establishing guidelines puts the burden on the scientists themselves, but is this the fox guarding the henhouse?  “That leaves a hole for scientists, who are not sure what the law permits them to do, and lack guidance on their work’s impact on public opinion.”  How, then, can they “reassure the public that their work is ethically sound?”
    Speaking for Science,3 Constance Holden provided more details on the meeting of scientists last week in Washington, DC.  The scientists seemed to agree on little more than the need for guidelines.  They admitted that there is no clear distinction between “stem cell research” and “cloning” even among biotech investors, though the public is usually reassured that cloning is bad.  And they could not answer such basic questions as, “what does it mean to accord an early embryo ‘respect’?”  It didn’t help to hear a legal expert confide, “much assisted reproduction is human experimentation in the name of treatment.”  The potential for deceiving a gullible public appears more powerful than ethical concerns, especially from the so-called religious right (see 09/27/2004 headline). 
EurekAlert reported that the UN is also considering talks about the ethics of therapeutic cloning, as ES stem cell research is called.  Dr. Gerald Schatten (U. of Pittsburgh) argues research first, ethics later as he admits that ES stem cells have no track record: “Will therapeutic cloning create immune matching?  It’s unclear.  At this point, we don’t even know if human embryonic stem cells are safe, let alone effective.  What’s important is that research be allowed to continue so we can find out.
    The bottom line: the race toward this potentially lucrative technology by states and other countries seems to be outpacing concerns about ethics, even though there is no evidence ES stem cells will cure anything (while adult stem cells already have plenty).  Now that they are on the verge of getting their way, the scientists are having one last twinge of conscience before charging full steam ahead.
1Erica Check, “Biologists seek consensus on guidelines for stem-cell research,” Nature 431, 885 (21 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431885a.
2Editorials: “California dreaming,” Nature 431, 723 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431723a
3Constance Holden, “Bioethics: Stem Cell Researchers Mull Ideas for Self-Regulation,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 586, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.586].
If anyone should have a voice in the ethics of stem cell research, it should be Joni Eareckson Tada, the advocate for the disabled who has spent the last 37 years in a wheelchair herself.  She has done far more than the TV celebrities to help the afflicted.  Her organization “Joni and Friends” has supplied over 25,000 wheelchairs to the disabled poor in Africa and other third world countries.  Moreover, she could certainly be expected to look with hope over any therapies that might allow her to walk again.  Yet she remains a staunch opponent of embryonic stem cell research, for good reasons, as explained on the bioethics page of her website
    Joni has appeared on radio talk shows and TV interviews, such as in a debate last week on Faith Under Fire.  The clarity of her logic is unimpeachable.  Yet it is unlikely that she can overcome the tear-jerking, emotional commercials by celebrity actors that tug at the heartstrings with empty promises that embryonic stem cells might cure your grandmother of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, despite no track record and many problems (while adult stem cells are flourishing: for another example, see EurekAlert report this week about skin cells fighting brain tumors).  Meanwhile, beneficiaries of Prop. 71 stand to make a killing on taxpayer funds.  Follow the money trail: why don’t private investors support ES stem cell research?  Yet the taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for a possible boondoggle that may take decades to show any results– maybe never, while a class of human beings will be created to be destroyed for scientific research (a good time to re-read John Durkin’s letter; see 09/03/2004 headline).  Since California voters never seem to find a bond issue they didn’t like, even when living in a state climbing out of near bankruptcy, the world is staged to see the next chapter in our brave new world opening on November 2.  Maybe the scientists will figure out how to be “ethical” while they’re laughing on the way to the bank.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Neo-Darwinism Falsified in the Lab   10/19/2004
Will the Spaniards be noted in history books as the ones who falsified neo-Darwinism?  Not likely; no one experiment would bring down a biological paradigm with such international and historical momentum behind it.  Nevertheless, looking at the results and conclusions of experiments by three evolutionary biologists at the Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Universitat de Valencia in Spain, published in PNAS this week,1 it would be hard to find any support for the central tenets of neo-Darwinian theory: namely, that evolutionary adaptations arise by natural selection acting on beneficial mutations.  Instead, this paper shows experimental evidence that it doesn’t work.
    Neo-Darwinism, also termed the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology, was formulated in the 1940s to rescue Darwin’s views on natural selection from growing theoretical problems (see
07/02/2004 headline).  It incorporated the necessity of genetic mutations to provide the raw material for variation on which natural selection acts.  This revision was necessary when the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of inheritance ruled out ideas of blending inheritance, showing instead that inherited characters were based on discrete entities (genes) that were passed on unaltered to the offspring.
    To test neo-Darwinian evolution in a microcosm, Rafael Sanjuán, Andrés Moya, and Santiago F. Elena worked with RNA viruses: organisms with a small, compact genomes that should respond quickly and noticeably to mutations.  The team was looking for epistatic interactions: i.e., the effects of multiple independent (non-allelic) mutations on each other, rather than the effects of single mutations alone.  These interactions can be antagonistic or synergistic: they can work against one another or with one another.  Epistasis is defined as “any interaction of nonallelic genes, especially the suppression by one gene of the effect of a nonallelic gene.”  Of note in this paper are the opening lines in the abstract that tell how rarely this important concept has been studied before (read: never):
The tendency for genetic architectures to exhibit epistasis among mutations plays a central role in the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology and in theoretical descriptions of many evolutionary processes.  Nevertheless, few studies unquestionably show whether, and how, mutations typically interact.  Beneficial mutations are especially difficult to identify because of their scarcity.  Consequently, epistasis among pairs of this important class of mutations has, to our knowledge, never before been explored.
Let’s picture a 2x2 grid.  On the left side, label the rows “beneficial” and “deleterious.”  On the top, label the columns “synergistic” and “antagonistic.”  Now put two dots in each box, with the dots representing mutations that will interact with one another.  Quiz question: which box represents the only hope for evolutionary advancement?  Well, the bottom and right boxes are clearly not any help.  If the mutations are both deleterious and both antagonistic, at least they might turn each other off to stop the damage, like two criminals fighting each other instead of you.  If the mutations are both deleterious but synergistic, they will multiply each other’s damage, like two criminals ganging up on you.  If they are both beneficial but antagonistic, that won’t help, either, because it would be like two guardian angels having a squabble instead of helping you.  In short, neo-Darwinism’s only hope is to find mutations in the top left box: two good mutations that work synergistically, increasing your “fitness” in the evolutionary world of competition.  So how did the experiments go in the lab?
    They performed two classes of experiments to measure the effects of epistasis on mutations.  Continuing with the abstract, here is what they found:
Interactions among genome components should be of special relevance in compacted genomes such as those of RNA viruses.  To tackle these issues, we first generated 47 genotypes of vesicular stomatitis virus carrying pairs of nucleotide substitution mutations whose separated and combined deleterious effects on fitness were determined.  Several pairs exhibited significant interactions for fitness, including antagonistic and synergistic epistasis.  Synthetic lethals represented 50% of the latter.  In a second set of experiments, 15 genotypes carrying pairs of beneficial mutations were also created.  In this case, all significant interactions were antagonistic.  Our results show that the architecture of the fitness depends on complex interactions among genome components.
In other words, none of their pairs of mutations occupied the necessary box labeled “beneficial and synergistic.”  Half of the synergistic (working-together) actions they measured were “synthetic lethals” – which is like the two criminals both shooting the victim simultaneously.  The other 50% maybe didn’t kill the organisms but still decreased fitness overall.  The second experiment was all the more depressing: given two beneficial mutations in the same organism, all significant interactions were antagonistic.  This means the guardian angels were preventing each other from helping.  It recalls another paper in PNAS in March 2003 (see 03/17/2003 headline) that took into account indirect genetic effects, noting that increases in fitness do not act in isolation; they often counteract one another, creating “slippage on the treadmill.”
    In the current paper, the researchers found that beneficial mutations do not add up, even in the best of circumstances.  Neo-Darwinian theory assumes that beneficial mutations act independently, but the team found that of the eight actual best-case scenarios (two beneficial mutations working antagonistically, since none worked synergistically) over half decreased the total fitness of the result from what would be expected if the beneficial mutations acted alone.  They called this “decompensatory epistasis” if you need a new phrase to impress your friends at the water cooler.  What does this mean to neo-Darwinian theory?  “Indeed, when epistasis is decompensatory, both beneficial alleles involved in the interaction cannot spread to fixation in the population, because the double mutant is less fit than each single mutant.”  This drastically undercuts any hope for evolutionary progress.  Beneficial mutations are “scarce” to begin with, but more is not better – it’s worse.  Like adding hot sauce to ice cream, the benefits of each counteract one another when combined.  “As a consequence,” they continue, describing the only hope left, “lineages bearing alternative beneficial mutations should compete with each other on their way to fixation and, as a consequence of asexuality and clonal interference, only the best competitor will eventually become fixed in the population.”  That is, only one beneficial mutation can become fixed at a time, even in the best case scenario.
    The discussion of results in the paper by Sanjuán et al. hammers neo-Darwinian theory with additional gentle, but effective, blows.  First, they restate the basic finding: “Among pairs of deleterious mutations, although both synergistic and antagonistic epistases have been detected, interactions were predominantly antagonistic, such that their combined effect is significantly smaller than expected under a multiplicative model.”  And in the best-case scenario of artificially-induced beneficial mutations, “antagonistic epistasis represents the most abundant type of interaction among beneficial mutations, with several cases showing decompensatory epistasis.”
    How should these experiments impact evolutionary theory, including the “queen of evolutionary problems,” the origin of sex? (see 04/14/2003 headline).  Neo-Darwinists may well wish to run and hide:
The results reported here have two important implications for theories seeking explanations for the evolutionary advantage of recombination and sexual reproduction.  First, according to the Fisher–Muller argument, sex and recombination are advantageous because they combine into a common genotype beneficial mutations that arose in different ones, speeding up the rate of adaptationHowever, if the genetic architecture of RNA viruses determines that, in general, antagonistic epistasis and, in particular, decompensatory epistasis among beneficial mutations is the norm, then recombination would not necessarily imply a benefit in terms of adaptive evolution.  Second, sex might still be beneficial for RNA viruses as an efficient mechanism for purging deleterious mutations.  However, according with the Mutational Deterministic Hypothesis [i.e., the suggestion that sex enables a population to purge deleterious mutations from the genome], if this is the case, an excess of synergistic epistasis among deleterious mutations is required to compensate the 2-fold advantage of clonal reproduction [i.e., asexual reproduction].  Our first data set shows that synergistic interactions among random mutations are neither stronger nor more common than antagonistic interactions.  Indeed, the existence of variability among loci in the sign and strength of epistasis, and especially the dominance of antagonistic epistasis, decreases the parameter space over which sex may evolve.
Since the parameter space was small to begin with, their words sound euphemistic, as if to cheer up a prisoner facing a hanging at dawn that maybe someone will find an alibi: “Like who?  Like what?” the prisoner asks.  “I dunno; just supposin’,” the friend replies.  How sex may evolve: that’s somebody else’s problem.
    Also, they note, their results “impose a strong burden” on the “often invoked limitless adaptability of RNA viruses.”  Citing another paper, they quote, “RNA viruses might be more at the mercy of their mutation rates than we think.”  If decompensatory epistasis and antagonistic interactions are the general rules for mutations in all organisms, any hope for variability and adaptability due to mutation and selection has been severely limited, if not falsified, by these experiments.  On the contrary, they say their experiments demonstrate a mechanism for stability of the genome: “In this sense, because it involves masking the interaction among deleterious alleles, antagonistic epistasis might be seen as a sort of genetic mutational robustness.”  (See 09/22/2004 headline on robustness as a design constraint in the living cell.)
    In conclusion, they caution evolutionary modelers to realize that they can no longer merely assume fitness gains (if any) add up.  Mercifully, they use the words hint and suggest:  “Finally, we would like to hint that the above findings prompt the necessity of considering nonmultiplicative fitness effects in mathematical descriptions of viral evolution.”  Indeed, “the results we present here suggest that more realistic models must incorporate variance in the type and strength of epistasis among mutations.”  But did they themselves find any synergistic, beneficial epistatic effects by experiment?  None.  Maybe neo-Darwinism is like the businessman who lost money on every sale but thought he could make it up in volume.
1Rafael Sanjuán, Andrés Moya, and Santiago F. Elena, “Evolution: The contribution of epistasis to the architecture of fitness in an RNA virus,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0404125101, Published online before print October 18, 2004.
Any scientific hypothesis must be testable and subject to falsification by experiment.  It is not enough to tell just-so stories, and describe things in glittering generalities with armchair scenarios.  Neo-Darwinian theory, the idea that natural selection acting on “scarce” beneficial mutations can produce all the diversity of life, from diving cormorants to catapulting chameleon tongues to sponge fiber optics to high-tech fruit fly aircraft to supersonic high-jumping froghoppers to efficient penguin, whale and dolphin flippers to fish physics students to glass-sculpturing diatoms to self-propelled motors, must be testable if it is to be declared scientific.
    So there.  These scientists finally put neo-Darwinism to the test in a microcosm that should have shown, if the principles were correct, a clear case of fitness increasing as a result of natural selection acting on beneficial mutations.  It failed.  It failed miserably.  Not only were no instances of synergistic beneficial mutations detected, the beneficial mutations that were artificially inserted worked against each other!  Neo-Darwinism is falsified!  And it was falsified not by creationists, but by evolutionary biologists working in the lab at an institute for the study of biological evolution!
    Now all we need to do is get the word out.  Stop the propaganda machine, stop the NCSE and ACLU threats at the school boards, stop the PBS NOVA programs and the media spin doctors.  Rearrange the museums, gather up the pro-Darwin displays and national park signs and toss them, along with neo-Darwinian theory itself, and by implication all of Charlie’s baggage that was already obsolete before 1940, onto the dumpster of discredited ideas.  Darwin’s Century is now a mere footnote of history, an unfortunate detour that killed 100 million people, but at least now we know better.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
National Geographic Faces Fact that Darwinism Is Minority View    10/18/2004
The cover of the November issue of
National Geographic is asking the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?  The work of the 19th-century English naturalist shocked society and revolutionized science.  How well has it withstood the test of time?”  The lead article by David Quammen notes that for decades, though evolution is supported by “overwhelming evidence,” 45% of Americans believe Darwinism had nothing to do with the origin of man, while an additional large share, about 37%, allow for theistic evolution.  This statistic has remained constant for two decades.  “The creationist conviction—that God alone, and not evolution, produced humans—has never drawn less than 44 percent,” Quammen notes with some surprise.  “In other words, nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most.”
    Yet NG is not quite ready to capitulate; Stefan Lovgren writes for National Geographic News that evolution and religion can coexist, provided people are willing to give up a literal reading of the Bible. The Bible must be wrong, because “Scientific evidence shows that the universe was actually formed about 13.7 billion years ago” [see 01/02/2004 and 10/06/2004 headlines], “while the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago,” Lovgren asserts [see 10/06/2004 and 09/20/2004 headlines].  “The first humans date back only a hundred thousand years or so” [see 09/29/2004 and 09/23/2004 headlines].  Both sides in the war of worldviews can get along, suggest some scientists, if religious people can just view evolution as God’s tool.
Sorry, appeasement will not work.  The King will not negotiate with unrepentant mythmakers.  He demands unconditional surrender.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryBible
Darwinian Dogma Doubted: Cave Fish Go Blind on Purpose    10/18/2004
Contrary to previous belief, blind cave fish have the genes to build eyes but turn them off during development, reports
Science Now
When a body part is no longer needed, scientists usually assume that mutations accumulate in the genes controlling the structure, eventually preventing it from working or being made.  “That was the dogma,” says Stephen Ekker of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  But because the cave fish eyes are actively killed, natural selection is probably doing its thing, says Jeffery.  And that, he adds, might come as a surprise even to Darwin, who thought the cave fishes’ loss of sight might be an exception to the rules of natural selection.  The next step, of course, will be to figure out what the fish gain by losing their sight.
So it’s not simply an issue of “use it or lose it,” the article states; “new research suggests that for some cave-dwelling fishes, blindness results from the careful coordination of gene expression, not simply from lack of use.”
    Science News also reported this story, describing how the researchers could induce blindness in sighted fish by controlling the expression of a gene, and could partially restore sight in blind fish with different gene regulation.  The article ends, “Because the genes orchestrate both mouth and eye development, the blind fish may have lost their eyes as t hey gained a more effective mouth—a useful feature for catching food in the dark.”
Creationists have argued that natural selection eliminates things, rather than constructing them, so this is no surprise.  What is surprising is that the eyes did not merely degenerate through disuse, and that the response could have occurred quickly through changes in the regulation of one gene during development.  Maybe there is a functional reason why this gene is being switched off in the darkness of the cave environment.  Maybe with eyes not in the way, it helps enhance the other senses the fish will need when sight is not possible.  Whatever the reason, natural selection cannot be credited with creating new function, because both eyes and mouths already functioned well. 
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryFish and Marine Life
Planet-Building a Mess, or Theories a Mess?    10/18/2004
A news release from the
Spitzer Space Telescope operated by JPL says, “Astronomers Discover Planet Building is Big Mess.”  Data from the orbiting infrared observatory indicates that dust disks around stars appear to be dominated by collisions of large bodies.  Surprisingly, the dust disks do not correlate with the stars’ ages.  A study of 266 stars showed 71 with disks.  Contrary to the belief that disks condense into planets over time, some young stars showed no disks, and some old stars showed massive ones.  The disks appear to be subject to violent, swirling activity, if infrared signatures from these disks can be taken to indicate that collisions between large bodies are taking place now.  “Prior to these new results, astronomers thought planets were formed under less chaotic circumstances.”
    The project scientists are not worried, though, putting a positive spin on the “messy” findings: “Spitzer has opened a new door to the study of discs and planetary evolution,” said one, and another beamed, “These exciting new findings give us new insights into the process of planetary formation, a process that led to the birth of planet Earth and to life.”
    Astronomy Picture of the Day highlighted this story on October 19, stating that scientists expected to find dust disks depleting over time, but found the opposite.
Anyone see a solar system or planet or organism forming in the data?  The only thing Spitzer sees is heat from crashing bodies, not a process leading to planets and life.  “When embryonic planets, the rocky cores of planets like Earth and Mars, crash together, they are believed to either merge into a bigger planet or splinter into pieces.”  There is indirect evidence for the latter, but the former is merely a belief. 
According to the most popular theory, rocky planets form somewhat like snowmen.  They start out around young stars as tiny balls in a disc-shaped field of thick dust.  Then, through sticky interactions with other dust grains, they gradually accumulate more mass.  Eventually, mountain-sized bodies take shape, which further collide to make planets.
Most people make snowmen by intelligent design.  When they have snowball fights, nothing creative emerges out of the mess – only pain for the impactee.  None of this evidence matched the evolutionary expectations: not the dates, not the timeline, not the formation of planets.  All Spitzer sees is colliding projectiles – no snowmen, no planets, no life.  Whaddya say we stick to the evidence, OK?
Next headline on:  StarsSolar SystemDating Methods
If Mars Had Water, It Wasn’t for Long    10/18/2004
The Mars Exploration Rovers found evidence for the minerals jarosite and gypsum.  Jarosite has been found on earth in connection with lava and acidic, sulfur-rich fluids, but usually only persists in an arid environment, says a press release from
Virginia Tech based on a paper in Nature last week.1  Consequently, jarosite might be an indicator of a water-limited environment, and “liquid water may have been on Mars briefly.”
As to how much water was on Mars, the researchers do not know if there was a great deal for a short time or a little for a longer period.  However, they can say there was a geologically short window in which liquid water was present, suggesting there also was a limited time period when conditions may have been hospitable for life, [Donald] Rimstidt said.

1Madden, Bodnar and Rimstidt, “Jarosite as an indicator of water-limited chemical weathering on Mars,” Nature 431, 821 - 823 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02971.
The wet-Marsers are losing, and the Mars-lifers are down for the count.  The place reeks with sulfur and is bombarded by death rays.  The solar wind is dehydrating the whole planet.  Sorry, Percival.
Next headline on:  Mars
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week    10/18/2004
This week’s entry has a little jargon in it, but if you remember what we’ve said about the tRNA synthetase family of proteins (see
05/26/2004, 07/21/2003 and 06/09/2003 headlines), you’ll get it.  Paul Schimmel and Karla Ewalt comment in Cell1 on new discoveries by Sampath et al.2 that two of these synthetases fuse together to regulate the inflammation reaction:
Aminoacyl tRNA synthetases are ancient proteins that appeared before the split of the tree of life into its three great kingdoms—archae [sic], eukarya, and bacteria.  The 20 enzymes—one for each amino acid—catalyze aminoacylation of tRNAs and thereby establish the rules of the genetic code by associating each amino acid with a nucleotide triplet (the anticodon of the tRNA).  The transition from the RNA world to the theater of proteins was thus made possible by the development of specific aminoacylation reactions.  While the central connection between synthetases and the code has long been recognized, the modern enzymes have surprised us with novel functions beyond aminoacylation.  They are key regulators and active components in a wide range of cellular functions from RNA splicing and transcription to apoptosis and angiogenesis....
    .... we now see that tRNA synthetases in mammalian cells have more diverse and comprehensive connections to the inflammatory system than was previously appreciated.  The diverse functions of these essential enzymes never cease to amaze!

1Paul Schimmel and Karla Ewalt, “Translation Silenced by Fused Pair of tRNA Synthetases,” Cell, Volume 119, Issue 2, 15 October 2004, Pages 147-148, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.10.001.
2Sampath et al., “Noncanonical Function of Glutamyl-Prolyl-tRNA Synthetase Gene-Specific Silencing of Translation,” Cell, Volume 119, Issue 2, 15 October 2004, Pages 195-208, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.09.030.
To be an evolutionist, you have to take the Crick brainwashing class.  This involves repeating the following quote by Francis Crick over and over until it is engraved on the heart with an iron stylus: “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but evolved.” Next headline on: 
Genetics and DNADumb Ideas
Ghost of Hitler Still Haunts Western Medicine    10/18/2004
“During the 1930s, the German medical establishment was admired as a world leader in innovative public health and medical research.  The question we want to examine is: ‘How could science be co-opted in such a way that doctors as healers evolved into killers and medical research became torture?’”  The question was posed by Dr. Alan Wells, medical ethics expert with the AMA, at a conference in Washington D.C. last week sponsored in conjunction with the Holocaust Museum, reports
EurekAlert.  He continued:
Many of the most important issues in medical ethics today – from genetic testing and stem cell research to caring for prisoners of war are directly affected by the experiences of medicine leading up to and during the Holocaust.  Physicians need to explore these issues without getting caught up in political agendas or the results can be something we never intended and cause great harm.
He recounts that German doctors were considered leaders in medical innovation in the years leading up to the Holocaust.  Yet their efforts were aimed by the Reich at improving the purity of the Aryan race.  This meant the unfit or non-Aryan were viewed as threats to health:
Adolf Hitler spoke of Germany as a body with himself as the doctor.  He wanted to make Germany ‘healthy’ by eliminating diseased, unhealthy parts of the body.  At first this meant killing the disabled.  But because the Nazis also believed that Jews possessed ‘bad’ genes, they, too, came to be portrayed by public health ‘experts’ and ‘scientists’ as a threat to racial purity and a healthy nation.
According to Dr. Patricia Heberer of the Holocaust Museum, the evil actions grew out of eugenics, a “distortion” of Charles Darwin’s theories of survival of the fittest.  The abuses in Nazi Germany continue to influence medical practice today, the article states.  For instance, Dr. Wells says, “our codes of ethics demand that we treat every person equally, without regard to race or ethnic background.  This ethical obligation is a direct outgrowth of the horrors of Nazi medicine.”  He cautions that even though these horrors seem so long ago, we can never forget this history.  See also the 07/30/2001 and 04/22/2004 headlines.
A grave cause for alarm is that people are forgetting.  First of all, let’s clear up the distortion that eugenics was a distortion of Darwin’s theories.  The subtitle of Charlie’s book was the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.  What does “favoured races” mean when speaking of the human race?  In later editions of his book, Darwin moved from the term “natural selection” to Herbert Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest.” The Victorian British were caught up in the myth of progress, and many, including Darwin and his friends, held racist beliefs, some of them radical.  The success of their empire surely proved they were the fittest, did it not?  The “father of eugenics” was Darwin’s own cousin, Francis Galton.  Ernst Haeckel took the core beliefs of survival of the fittest and eugenics to Germany, where they were taking hold before Hitler came to power.  Hitler merely lifted constraints on trends that were already established, the article says:
Some eugenics programs, such as laws sanctioning the sterilization of the ‘feeble minded’ initially met with resistance throughout the world, including in Germany.  But when the Nazis came to power, and particularly during World War II, these constraints disappeared as the Nazi regime was able to implement its radical version of medicine.
Lest anyone think the evil was constrained to the German borders, eugenics and anti-Semitism was widespread throughout Europe and America at the time; America itself had a pre-Hitlerian forced sterilization program (see 10/21/2001 headline).  There is a direct line philosophically from the ideas of Darwin to the actions of Nazi Germany, as historian Richard Weikart has documented.
    Nazi Germany provides a classic case study that bad ideas can have horrific consequences, and that “good” doctors and scientists can be hoodwinked into letting their talents be co-opted for evil.  How could we forget?  Yet that is exactly what Nature suggested last month (see 09/27/2004 headline), that we need to get over our ethical hangups stemming from Nazi abuses, and move forward with today’s medical technologies.  Notice how pre-Hitler eugenics started with killing the disabled.  Sound familiar?  (Clue: Terry Schiavo.)  Hitlerian medicine also justified killing of those that it defined as not really human (clue: human embryos).  Peter Singer has advocated killing senior citizens and children based on Darwinian principles.  Now we are on the verge of synthetic biology, whose horrors can only be imagined (see 10/11/2004 headline).  Hitler may be gone, but the core beliefs of Darwinism still reign supreme in the halls of academia.  Another holocaust may await a new madman rising to power and promising Big Science all it wants, as he steers it to his agenda.
    Welcome to 2004.  On one side we have radical Muslims wanting to disconnect our heads and nuke our cities.  On the other we have Big Science ready to endorse the New Eugenics.  If we don’t want evil to triumph, doing nothing is not an option.  As J. Gresham Machen warned in the pre-Nazi, pro-eugenics days of 1913, “What is today matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.  In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate.”  Will the archival footage of World War II help us learn from history this time?
Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsHealth
Grand Canyon Creation Book Stays on Shelves    10/14/2004
The ruckus over a creation-oriented geology book on Grand Canyon at the Visitor Center (see
01/18/2004 headline) is back in the news.  The Environmental Media Services reports that plans for a review have been shelved by the park:
Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was “under review at the national level by several offices,” no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act.  Instead, the real agency position was expressed by NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy as quoted in the Baptist Press News:
    “Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it.”
The group calling itself “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility” (PEER) complains that the Bush Administration has a “Faith-Based Parks” agenda:
“Promoting creationism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, “If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it.”
This reporter found copies on the bottom row of the North Rim Visitor Center in August.  The Ranger on duty indicated that people seem to like the book and want it, so they keep it on hand.
Update  On Oct. 19, World Net Daily posted an article on the controversy.  A National Park Service official said the review has not been shelved, but is “being looked at very carefully because it could be precedent-setting throughout the Park Service.”
The Darwin Party can only thrive in a totalitarian regime.  They are so threatened by other interpretations of the scientific evidence, they must resort to intimidation, the courts, and lies to try to stop the other side from being heard.  The book in question is not a flaky mythology like some native American stories that get evangelistic support at many national parks.  Grand Canyon: A Different View was written by scientists (at least 13 with PhDs) and canyon explorers with a lot of experience studying the canyon.  They just don’t subscribe to the reigning uniformitarian myth, but neither do some non-creationist geologists (see 07/22/2002 headline).  Many of the evidences supporting the Flood model are well known within the scientific community.  The secularists have no explanation for these things, such as 160 million years of missing strata with no evidence of erosion, and all they can offer is just-so stories that assume the ages anyway.  It is perfectly legal for any scientific viewpoint to be heard, especially one that explains these things in a superior fashion.  Why should it be “legal” and “appropriate” for the Bush Administration to “pander” to the atheists?  Promoting atheism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools.  PEER should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it.  Buy the book AT the Grand Canyon visitor center if you can.  It’s not only a vote for fairness, it’s a worthwhile book to read and enjoy.
Next headline on:  GeologyPolitics and Ethics
How a Darwinist Explains “Living Fossils”    10/13/2004
Darwinism is a flexible concept that must embrace a wide variety of observations, from apparently fast-evolving plants (see
10/12/2004 item on maize) to organisms that seem to remain unevolved for eons.2  Darwin himself saw this flexibility as a strength for his unifying concept of common descent; others criticized it as rationalization (i.e., a concept that can explain anything explains nothing).  Take the case of so-called “living fossils,” organisms whose modern counterparts are virtually identical to fossils sometimes hundreds of millions of years old.  If a land animal could evolve into a whale in 50 million years, for instance, why would a horseshoe crab show no change at all for 10 times as long, 500 million years? (see 06/21/2002 headline).  How can the fluidity of constant evolutionary change over time be reconciled with observations that many different kinds of creatures – trees, salamanders, ostracods, reptiles, insects and fish – have apparently not evolved at all?
    This subject was recently tackled by Lee Hsiang Liow of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.  Examining fossil crinoids (branch-like echinoderms that attach to the seafloor, also called sea lilies and feather stars), Liow tested “Simpson’s Rule” of “the survival of the relatively unspecialized,” a rule George Gaylord Simpson proposed in 1944 as an explanation for living fossils and long-lived taxa.  Basically, it suggests that specialists evolve, but generalists persist.  Liow applied the rule to crinoids and published the results in American Naturalist.1  She studied 1,195 species, representing 752 genera, and concluded that long-lived crinoid genera seem relatively unspecialized, in accordance with Simpson’s Rule, but the reverse is true for higher taxa.  The conclusion seems to raise doubts about the utility of Darwinian explanations.
Prolonged stasis in a world of change is a puzzling biological phenomenon.  Extremely long-lived or geologically long-ranging taxa have been a popular subject of discussion for paleontologists and neontologists alike ever since Darwin ([1859] 1964) coined the term “living fossils.”....
Whether it is called bradytely, arrested evolution, morphological stasis, long-lived taxa or something else, or whether “living fossils” are dubbed paradoxical, relictual, primitive or specialized, the phenomenon of stasis has rarely been studied in a quantitative manner.  This Liow set out to correct, at least in the case of crinoid evolution.  The crinoid class is ideal for study because it span much of the geological column and contains many well-characterized examples, both fossil and living.  She compared samples and deduced a morphological average, then tried to determine if longevity was a function of “bizarreness.” 
Simpson implicitly took a comparative approach when he wrote about the “rule of the survival of the relatively unspecialized” (1944, p. 143).  He thought that unspecialized subgroups of a clade seem to persist for longer periods of geologic time but did not explicitly define “specialization.”  Here, I quantify specialization by comparing individual morphologies to a group mean; the closer a morphology is to a group mean, the less specialized it is.  I ask whether long-lived genera ... in any given crinoid order occupy regions of morphospace that are random with respect to the mean morphology of that order.  Could survival be correlated with morphological bizarreness or a deviant morphology ...?  Or would long-lived genera have morphologies close to the mean morphology...?
The short answer is: Simpson seems to be right on one level.  “I find that the morphologies of long-lived crinoid genera are, in general, closer to mean morphologies than shorter-lived genera in the same order.”  But when higher taxonomic categories are examined, the rule fails:
Similarly, but from a completely different conceptual perspective, I ask whether long-lived crinoid genera in any given crinoid higher taxon (e.g., suborder, order) occupy regions of morphospace that are random with respect to a basal morphology of that higher taxon.  I find that mean morphological distances of long-lived genera from basal morphologies are seldom distinct from those of their shorter-lived relatives.
In other words, she found a contradiction in the trend between lower and higher taxonomic groups.  Part of the problem is the fuzziness of the evolutionary record:
There is no available phylogenetic framework for comparing rates of character transformation in the global pool of fossil crinoids.  Likewise, there are no detailed samples of crinoid lineages in a stratigraphic column for investigating character reversals, convergence, or the lack thereof.
Nevertheless, she found a way to compare features: “The morphological characters used here are not assumed to be strictly homologous but are assumed to reflect only general fossilizable morphology determined consistently within the crinoid bauplan [body plan].”  Also, the fossil history was determined from location in the geological column, both first and last appearance (see 05/21/2004 headline), and when dealing with fossils, the classification into genus and species is not always clear cut.  Geological history adds to the confusion:
Just as in previous analyses when genera are grouped according to orders, genera in each period are mostly short lived.  However, rarefied samples of shorter-lived genera through each period inform us that the long-lived taxa can be more, less, or equally deviant compared with shorter-lived taxa of an equivalent sample size (table C2).
    Genera that are extremely long lived within each order are also more likely ... than other genera in the database to have passed through one or more mass extinctions even though passing through mass extinctions does not necessarily ensure persistence.
I.e., the longer you live, the more dangers you have faced, but facing dangers doesn’t make you Supercrinoid.  She claims, nevertheless, that “the likelihood of the occurrence of ‘living fossils’ or long-lived taxa increases with time,” a truism given the evolutionary and geological-time assumptions.
    Liow addresses more factors that confuse the picture and could bias the results, such as taxonomic lumping, limited range of some species, the tendency for long-lived species to swamp short-lived ones, “issues of stratigraphic resolution of age dating,” and disagreement over how to define a “long-lived” taxon.  This discussion seems intended to cushion the next paragraph, the conclusions.  Before opening the curtain, she cautions, “In summary, longevity is relative and dependent on taxonomic inclusiveness.  These important axioms are often neglected in articles that address extreme persistence or morphological conservatism.”
    Conclusion time.  What can be claimed based on this detailed analysis of crinoids?
  1. “First, most taxa (genera and families) are short lived and ‘average”.... which implies that experiments in morphology are usually not long lived.”  This seems to suggest Mother Nature is a bumbling tinkerer.
  2. “Second, long-lived genera within orders are often less morphologically deviant or less specialized than expected when compared with rarefied samples of corresponding shorter-lived genera.”  This was apparently a big surprise.  “In other words, long-lived genera are not only not unusual, some are unusually average!” (exclamation in the original).
  3. “Third, patterns of morphological deviations from basal morphologies versus durations are unclear.”  Enough said.
  4. Fourth, there appears to be an increase in long-lived groups through time, but this appears to be an artifact of the assumptions of phylogeny and geologic ages.
  5. “Fifth, taxonomic ranks and inclusiveness of higher taxa are critical factors when discussing longevity because identities of long-lived taxa may dramatically change according to these factors.”  This suggests that previous investigators failed to see the big picture.
  6. “Last, identities of long-lived taxa may change with respect to which definitions of longevity are used.  This may or may not (as was the case for this article) change conclusions being drawn on long-lived taxa.”  This seems to say that conclusions are a function of definitions, not data.
She lists a few suggestions that have been offered for why some species persist.  Maybe “extinctions are not biologically random,” for instance.  Overall, though, she is confident that “Based on the results of the current study, I rule out the idea that long-lived genera are morphologically deviant or unusual when compared within the realm of an order.”  This seems to say, “Simpson was wrong” at higher taxonomic levels.
    What are more instructive in this paper are the zingers in the last paragraph:
There are of course many unanswered questions.  This study focused on persistence, but there is no available information on actual rate of character evolution.  Do long-lived taxa experience rapid rates of character reversals or zig-zag evolution (Henningsmoen 1957), such that apparent persistence is only a sampling artifact, or does persistence necessarily mean slow change or cryptic change (Knowlton 2000)?  .... To remain similar enough to an ancestor so a lineage retains a single taxonomic identity requires whole chains of more or less identical events (Gingerich 2001), but what causes these identical developmental events to occur generation after generation?  What relative proportions do ecology, biogeography, morphology, and phylogenetic inertia contribute to longevity?  Patterns and statistical correlations do not imply causation; tests using techniques from fields ranging from paleontology and phylogenetics to molecular biology and genetics need to be designed to investigate the existence and workings of mechanisms that promote longevity.
Go to the top of the paper.  Infinite loop.
1Lee Hsiang Liow, “A Test of Simpson’s ‘Rule of the Survival of the Relatively Unspecialized’ Using Fossil Crinoids,” The American Naturalist 2004, Vol. 164, pp. 431-443, University of Chicago, 0003-0147/2004/16404-40222.
2For examples, see previous headlines about coelacanth fish, pine trees, horseshoe crabs, tuatara reptiles, salamanders, bacteria, protozoa and termites, and butterflies.
Every word of this long paper was scrutinized for a hint, somewhere, of an explanation for living fossils.  It was like taking a long, hard hike with a confused guide and at the end of the day finding yourself right back where you started, and on top of that, finding out that your destination was much farther off than you first expected.  Nothing in this paper was any help to the Darwinites.  Simpson’s Rule was tested and found wanting.  The number of variables outnumbered the constants, and the validity of any formula was questionable to begin with.  There is no reason to suspect that fragile little sea lilies would outlive dinosaurs through mass extinctions, and there was nothing within the known diversity of crinoid classes to predict why some would last long and others would disappear quickly.
    This is not to pick on Dr. Liow.  After all, she meant well and tried to be scientifically rigorous, at least more so than predecessors who relied on comparative rather than quantitative methods.  She did her homework and referred to all the prior literature on this subject.  And she is, after all, an expert, being on the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.  But in the end, it didn’t matter; the doubts swamped the claims.  Just when we were about to give her credit for finding at least half a trend, she let loose with a barrage of major questions that cast doubt on the validity of any evolutionary explanation for living fossils.  Notice also that her subject was not a minor matter.  The debate about stasis is a major issue that bears on the very heart of evolutionary theory.  If the Darwin Party cannot explain how things change or how things stay the same, then they cannot explain anything.
    Notice what she admitted in that last paragraph: there is no available information on actual rate of character evolution, she said, and she’s not restricting that statement to crinoids.  In lieu of explanations, she tosses out alternative plot lines and made-up concepts, like “zig-zag evolution” and “cryptic change” and other head-scratchers, then unloads a dump truck load of devastating statements that say, in effect, that Darwinists don’t know anything.  She just hopes that some day, somebody else will figure it out.  From our experience, this paper was not an isolated case.  The more in depth evolutionary theorists try to support their hunches with evidence, the more trouble they find.
    Evolutionary explanations are like hot potatoes.  The Darwin Party brags about how many players are in the game and how many potatoes are being tossed around, but there is no potato anyone wants to hold onto and eat.  Dr. Liow held it long enough to decide that, “yes, it is hot,” then tossed it to someone else.  This game goes on and on in the literature while Eugenie Scott and the other Darwinite salespeople speak of this frenetic activity as if a healthy meal of science is being cooked up.  We’re tired of waiting.  When do we get served, and how do we know the spuds are even palatable?  The ones we have glimpsed so far are pretty gross.  No amount of heat will fix a rotten potato.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryFossils
News Nuggets    10/12/2004
Here’s a collection of news items that deserve quick notice:
  1. Mars Rumbles:  Mars still has minor earthquakes, says, That’s without plate tectonics, “But scientists don’t know exactly how Mars is constructed.”  The Mars Exploration Rovers, meanwhile, awaking from a winter’s nap, are still gathering science data long past their expected lifetime.  Evidence for past water is being claimed, even though it would have been loaded with epsom salt.  Mars Express has photographed the southern highlands, an area of thick volcanic ash deposits, wind-blown dust, and dust devils.

  2. A-Maize-ing Genes:  The genome of maize (corn) shows some surprises, according to EurekAlert.  It has 59,000 genes, and 22% of them are unique compared to closely related species.  That’s more difference than between apes and humans.  “It looks like significant evolutionary change happened in a relatively short time,” and maybe there was a merger in corn’s past.  Or so the story goes.  “Plants are continually faced with a variety of seasonal challenges and assaults by a series of different pests which may well lead to evolution on a fast track.”  Makes sense when you don’t think about it.

  3. Molecular Clock Fixed?  Nature Science Update reports on a French team that developed a new computer model for getting the so-called “molecular clock” – the rate genes mutate – to correlate with the fossil record (see 04/20/2004 headline).  They calibrated assumed evolutionary changes in the genes to six fossil species, and then built an evolutionary tree based on it.  Not all are convinced, though.  In one case, the tree says that a red alga appeared after its fossil.

  4. Cave Dating:  In Earth and Planetary Science Letters Oct. 15, pp. 265-273, an international team dated aragonite formations in a South African cave.  They extracted thin cores from two speleothems.  They claimed the cores correlate with climate, but there were anomalies.  The trace minerals don’t correlate with rainfall, the cores don’t correlate with temperature, and the two stalactites don’t correlate with each other; one outgrew the other six-fold in an inferred 11-year period.  This led them to conclude that “the constant speleothem growth rate we assume is simplistic.  The growth rate of the speleothem undoubtedly varies within an annual cycle (growing faster in the rainy season and slower over the dry season) and between different years (growing more in wet years and less in drier ones).”

  5. DNA Repair Team Can Dance:  An article in Cell last month (118:6, 17 Sep 2004, 666-668, described what your DNA repair team (see 01/04/2002 headline) does as a sophisticated kind of ballet, with both orchestra and dancers:  “Repair of damaged DNA is a dynamic process that requires careful orchestration of a multitude of enzymes, adaptor proteins, and chromatin constituents.... ”  Double-stranded DNA breaks are particularly deadly, but the repairmen, like NYFD heroes, know just what to do, and they can dance:
    But how is the multifaceted DSB response “choreographed” so that each molecular “dancer” involved knows when to arrive on the stage, how long and with whom to perform, and when to give way to those that are scheduled to followAmazingly, nature has provided cells with a score for a fascinating play called “DNA repair.”  Although we have known some of the “dancers” for quite awhile, only now are we actually beginning to see the performance unfold in front of our eyes.
    The authors refer to a paper in the same issue by Columbia University scientists, Michael Lisby et al., entitled “Choreography of the DNA Damage Response.”  A related story using the choreography metaphor was posted on EurekAlert.

  6. Junk DNA Promoted:  Another story strengthens the case that there is no such thing as “junk DNA” (see 05/27/2004 and 05/23/2003 headlines).  A story posted on EurekAlert says that mobile elements called retrotransposons, long thought to be junk from retroviruses that propagate at random in the genome, actually provide “ a large repository of start sites for initiating gene expression” that is apparently very important for developing embryos.  “Therefore, more than one third of the mouse and human genomes, previously thought to be non-functional, may play some role in the regulation of gene expression and promotion of genetic diversity.”  See also the writeup in Science News 166:16, week of Oct. 16, 2004, p. 243.
  7. Fossil Fool’s Gold:  A paper in Geology this month examines the fine preservation of China’s Chengjiang fossils (see 07/22/2004 headline) and suggests that pyrite was involved.  “The apparent explosive diversification of animal life in the Cambrian is one of the most significant events in the history of life and continues to be controversial,” the paper begins.  Another paper in the same issue that describes a discovery of Early Cambrian bilaterian embryos and larvae from China states, “In contrast to the Precambrian, evidence for the structural diversity of embryos and larvae in Cambrian strata is mounting.”

  8. Flip & Flap over ID Paper:  The journal that published Stephen Meyer’s intelligent design paper (see 09/24/2004 headline) has now issued a statement that the article should not have been published.  To Mark Hartwig writing in Access Research Network’s Weekly Wedge Update, though, this can hardly help their reputation.  Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute continues to publish line-by-line refutations of criticisms coming from pro-Darwin forces.

  9. Fall Colors Delight Tourists, Confuse Scientists:  When leaves turn red and yellow, there’s a “reason for the season,” says National Geographic News, but then fails to find it.  Yellow is explained by the plant shutting down chlorophyll (green) production, which otherwise swamps the yellow color that is always present.  But production of xanthophylls (red) is costly; is it for sunscreen?  Antioxidants?  Fungal protection?  No one knows for sure why deciduous forests turn a riot of color in the fall (see 10/19/2001 headline).  One thing is for sure: humans like it.
Next headline on:  MarsPlantsGenes & DNACell BiologyGeologyDating MethodsFossilsIntelligent Design

Another Thing to Worry About: Synthetic Biology    10/11/2004
Philip Ball is no alarmist, but as consultant editor of Nature,1 he had sobering words last week about things that could go wrong in the new field of synthetic biology, where scientists are tinkering with cells to create artificial life forms:

The expanding toolbox of ways to re-engineer microbes – and even construct new ones – has opened up extraordinary possibilities for biomedical discovery and environmental engineering.  But it also carries potential dangers that could eclipse the concerns already raised about genetic engineering and nanotechnology.  If biologists are indeed on the threshold of synthesizing new life forms, the scope for abuse or inadvertent disaster could be huge.
Humans are taking existing design to new levels.  “Synthetic biology,” Ball explains, is the logical corollary of the realization that cells, like mechanical or electronic devices, are exquisitely ‘designed’ – albeit by evolution rather than on the drawing board.  Their functions are enacted by circuits of interacting genes.”  But can we trust humans putting them back on the drawing board?  He gives some nightmare scenarios:
  • Artificial disease:  “In a dramatic demonstration of the potential risks, virologist Eckard Wimmer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook announced in 2002 that his team had built live poliovirus from scratch using mail-order segments of DNA and a viral genome map that is freely available on the Internet.  The feat put a spotlight on the possibility that bioterrorists could create even more dangerous organisms – including Ebola, smallpox and anthrax – perhaps endowing them with resistance to antibiotics.”  Wimmer’s feat took three years, but last November, Craig Venter took only three weeks to concoct a virus that infects bacteria.  And soon, synthetic bacteria themselves may move from concept to reality.
  • New living things:  “And researchers are getting close to determining the smallest set of genes necessary to support a living cell, which might make it possible to cook up new life forms.”
  • New molecular machines:  “In a parallel development, other researchers have been tinkering with the building blocks of genes and proteins themselves.  Naturally occurring proteins are built from a standard set of 20 amino acids.  Although these are enough to produce protein chains with a staggering array of functions, expanding this repertoire might enable the design of biomolecules with new functions, such as protein-based drugs that resist being broken down in cells.”  Already, some 80 unconventional amino acids have been artificially incorporated into proteins.
  • New genetic codes:  Steven Benner has gotten DNA to incorporate an unnatural base pair.  He said, “I suspect that, in five years or so, the artificial genetic systems that we have developed will be supporting an artificial life form that can reproduce, evolve, learn and respond to environmental change.  This will help define how life not of earthly origin might appear”.
  • New circuitry:  “But building a new bacterial genome is not just a matter of chemistry – you have to design the circuitry too,” Ball says, and that’s just what some researchers are attempting. 
  • Bioterrorism:  “An unclassified report by the CIA released last November warned that synthetic biology could produce engineered agents ‘worse than any disease known to man’...,” he says.
  • Unintentional Risks:  Probably riskier than bioterrorism is human errorism.  “It is much harder to anticipate the unintentional dangers of synthetic biology,” Ball says.  “For example, if new strains of bacteria were developed with unprecedented capabilities, how could they be kept under control?”  Even those that have been designed with built-in self-destruct mechanisms have apparently mutated around them.
  • Unanticipated Risks:  “Yet as synthetic biology develops, it will be hard to anticipate all the possible problems, whether malevolent or inadvertent.”  How can we protect ourselves against the unknown, when the “repertoire over the coming decade is limitless”?
In 1975, scientists held a summit at Asilomar, California, to “voluntarily forego” certain kinds of research on recombinant DNA, and institute “safety measures to prevent abuses of new techniques” that might go awry.  Is a new summit overdue?  There is some self-policing going on, but safety might be a casualty of the promise of great discoveries, carelessness, curiosity or the desire to be first.
    In addition, the threat of bioterrorism is as real as the memories of 9/11.  Either by stealing materials or learning how to do it themselves, there are groups who would have no qualms about unleashing deadly agents that could not only resist our defenses, but turn out to be uncontainable.  Ball says that for the time being, safety protocols are “informal” because no one can properly understand the issues or assess the threats well enough to formalize any policies, let alone enforce them:
Synthetic biology is now raising the bar.  Should limits be set on what is attempted?  If so, what should they be and how should they be enforced?  And what steps can be taken to ensure that a rogue organization, or even a state-sponsored bioweapons programme, does not use the technology to synthesize a dangerous microbe?
Meanwhile, “into the unknown” march the researchers into this risky yet promising new field, with the public largely unaware of what is going on.  Ball ends his article with more apprehension than hope.  “Sooner or later, synthetic biology may find itself facing dangers that are far more than hypothetical.  As [bioterrorism expert George] Poste puts it: ‘Biology is poised to lose its innocence.’
1Philip Ball, “Synthetic biology: Starting from scratch,”
Nature 431, 624 - 626 (07 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431624a.
Would you trust a Darwinist, who can say with a straight face, “cells, like mechanical or electronic devices, are exquisitely ‘designed“ ... by evolution” (Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week) to have any moral sense?  [Dumb Ideas.]  Would you trust an unethical scientist somewhere, with eyes on a Nobel prize, or winning a race against a competitor, or getting a big payoff from someone, to be overly concerned about safety, let alone ethics?  Big Science resists any political restraints on their work.  They like to think they can police themselves.   Most scientists are conscientious and ethical, but it just takes one that’s not, and these nightmare scenarios become tomorrow’s reality.  Only ethics based on loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourself will stand the test of time.
    For those who trust God and his word, there is comfort commensurate to any threat, local or global (for example, read Psalms 144-147).  The reason for that comfort is the confidence that the Creator of the world is in control.  He understands DNA because He invented it.  Scientists might make a superbug that resists all our defenses, but God can – and will – override man’s worst.  He is not going to let the world that He formed to be inhabited (see Isaiah 45) be wiped out by man’s mistakes, and the future of this planet is in his hands.  That doesn’t mean we should stop fighting evil and working for peace and safety.  It does not mean we should forego pursuing good uses of science and technology, even though there is risk.  But no matter what comes, even if global terror threatens, our trust should be in the Lord, not in scientists, summits, national defense or human promises to be good.  There is only one reliable source of help for mankind.  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills– From whence comes my help?  My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth....The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore” (Psalm 121).
Next headline on:  Politics and EthicsIntelligent DesignHealth
Your Brain Hums While Idling    10/11/2004
Your brain is 100% occupied when watching and concentrating on things, and still processing at 80% in the dark when idle, say researchers at
University of Rochester.  Opening your eyes only adds 20% more brain activity to the 80% while in neutral.  The amount of neural processing going on in idle mode surprised the researchers.  They suggest that the adult brain may be reprocessing our initial thoughts and experiences, because young subjects do not show this amount of activity.
    The researchers monitored the brains of ferrets while in the dark versus watching TV static or the movie The Matrix.  “There’s an old myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains,” begins the press release, “but researchers at the University of Rochester have found in reality that roughly 80 percent of our cognitive power may be cranking away on tasks completely unknown to us.”
They didn’t ask the ferrets how they liked the movie.  Sounds like good material for a cartoon here.  Seriously, the brain is a marvel hopelessly beyond our measuring instruments or our comprehension (and think about the conundrum of using the very thing you are trying to comprehend to do the work of comprehending).  Imagine the subconscious, like an unseen processing center, doing all the background research while your eyes are focusing on the immediate situation.  Some of the brain’s most vital activity is filtering out useless information which would overwhelm us, like the feel of your socks or the hum of an electronic device nearby, but any one of those sensory inputs must be able to trigger the conscious mind if it becomes important, like if the device catches fire or a spider crawls into your sock.  The storage and retrieval of information in the brain is also staggering.  Have you ever tried to remember something, only to recall it later after thinking about something else?  It seems your brain was running its search engine in the background, ferreting out (sorry) the desired information from a vast array of interconnected memories.  All this takes place continuously in a little three-pound, jelly-like mass that is the most complex organization of matter in the universe.  “And it runs on potatoes!” as Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith used to exclaim.  So don’t pass on the myth about only using 10% of our brains.  Some of us use more, some less, particularly members of the [insert name of political party here].
Next headline on:  MammalsHuman Body
Do ES Stem Cells Prevent Heart Disease?   10/08/2004
The promise of stem cells, whether embryonic or adult, is in their power to differentiate into any type of somatic cell.  Although adult stem cells have racked up an impressive number of therapeutic successes,* embryonic (ES) stem cells have only been promised to do so – until now.  In Science Oct. 8,1 Cornell scientists coaxed embryonic stem cells to prevent a fatal heart defect in mouse embryos, but in an unusual way: they did not differentiate into heart tissues at all, but locally (in the blastocyst) and “from a distance” (via the mother’s circulatory system) secreted factors that stimulated the embryo to trigger the formation of its own cardiac cells.  Three UC San Diego scientists, in the same issue,2 explain:
Unlocking the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem (ES) cells has remained a tantalizing but elusive goal.  In this new era of “regenerative medicine,” the central experimental game plan has been predicated on driving the differentiation of ES cells along specific cell lineages (for example, neural, cardiac, endocrine), expansion and purification of the cell type of interest, and in vivo repopulation of damaged or degenerating organs by ES cell-derived differentiated cells.  However, there are numerous hurdles to using ES cells as therapeutic tools.  These include the need for reliable ES cell differentiation protocols for different cell lineages, purification techniques for the differentiated progeny, as well as ways to circumvent the immunological rejection of transplanted cells.  Given the complexity of these multiple steps, it is not surprising that there are few clear examples of in vivo ES cell therapy for treating disease-related phenotypes. On page 247 of this issue, an exciting new study by Fraidenraich and co-workers1 expands the potential therapeutic repertoire of ES cells.  These investigators provide direct evidence that ES cells can rescue otherwise lethal cardiac defects in mouse embryos.  Intriguingly, the rescue effect is not subject to the differentiation of ES cells into the cardiac cell lineages that are normally associated with heart regeneration.  Rather, the therapeutic effect of the transplanted ES cells depends on their secretion of defined factors that act either locally within the embryonic heart, or at a distance via the maternal circulation, to trigger fetal myocyte proliferation in utero.
Stem cells from an embryo face rejection because they do not belong to the individual being treated and are seen as invaders.  In addition, they have a tendency to produce deformed embryos when injected into a blastocyst.  Adult stem cells from the patient’s own tissues do not have the rejection problem, and undergo differentiation as expected.  So while adult stem cell therapies have already demonstrated the differentiation of cells into other types, these ES cells in this study did not – they merely secreted substances that caused a mutated mouse embryo, which otherwise would have died before birth, to grow its own cardiac cells.  In essence, the secreted factors only stimulated the mouse’s own genes to supply missing ingredients caused by the mutation.  Since stem cell differentiation was not involved, and the stem cells did not get incorporated into the mouse tissues, what kind of benefit does this study promise for human therapies?
Given the potential of ES cells to induce the formation of teratomas (defective embryonic tissue), these findings do not necessarily suggest that administering ES cells to pregnant mothers will become a new therapeutic approach for treating congenital heart disease.  However, given that a subset of maternal factors can cross the placenta, there remains a possibility that a subset of embryonic cardiac defects could be partially corrected by the careful delivery of the necessary proteins in the maternal circulation.  Increasingly, congenital heart defects can be diagnosed accurately in utero with noninvasive imaging technology.  In addition, ES cell-based assay systems may ultimately allow for the identification of likely candidate maternal factors that could correct a subset of severe human congenital heart defects.
The potential benefits of this study, therefore, appear tentative at best, while adult stem cells have a proven track record without ethical concerns.
*For examples, use the Search box with the phrase adult stem cells.
1Fraidenraich et al., “Rescue of Cardiac Defects in Id Knockout Embryos by Injection of Embryonic Stem Cells,”
Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 247-252, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102612].
2Chien, Moretti and Laugwitz, “ES Cells to the Rescue,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 239-240, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1104769].
Big Science wants ES stem cell funding, and they jump on any tentative success with excitement unwarranted by the facts.  If the ES cells do not differentiate, and only treat an prenatal condition that otherwise would be fatal, then they not only hold promise for living children or adults, but instead provide a reason for not aborting the embryo, because the stem cells might save it.  Would the political liberals who support ES stem cell research want that?
    In tonight’s second presidential debate, John Kerry dodged questions on both of these moral issues.  In one case, he was asked point blank why, if adult stem cells already show success, we need embryonic stem cell research (see article on WorldNetDaily).  He patronized the questioner with phony compassion about the deep moral convictions that motivated her question, then proceeded to ignore it.  The only reason he gave for supporting federal funds for ES stem cell research was that Big Science says it wants it, and he wants to be a president that supports “science”  (see 08/11/2004 editorial).  President Bush, in rebuttal, reiterated the principle that guided his difficult decision on stem cells: a life should not be created to be destroyed, even to assist another life (see 09/03/2004 headline).
    In another case, a questioner asked what Kerry would say to a voter who did not want her tax dollars used to support abortion.  Again, he patronized the questioner but dodged the question.  He said although he personally disliked abortion because he is Catholic, he cannot as a legislator impose his moral values on others.  That was not what she asked.  She asked why others’ moral values should be used to force her to pay her tax dollars on something that violates her moral values.  For the questions Kerry should face without bluffing or dodging, read this article by Steven Ertelt on on
    Kerry also dodged the issue of his vote against the partial-birth abortion ban (six times), passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, but overruled by a federal judge.  He said he had to oppose it, because it did not contain a provision for the life of the mother, in spite of the fact that the carefully-worded law specifically made that provision (see ACLJ website for documentation and history of the bill).  The claim that the bill needed a provision for the “health of the mother” is a huge loophole.  Health could mean anything – mental health, hangnails or a cold – and there is never a health reason for the grisly practice of sucking the brains out of a baby halfway born.
    So this is the kind of “science-friendly” president the liberals are promoting, for less than moral reasons (see 09/27/2004 headline).  Science and baloney do not go together.  They are supposed to be opposites.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
Volcanic Gas Helps Link Up the Building Blocks of Life    10/08/2004
A gas emitted by volcanoes, carbonyl sulfide (COS), enables amino acid molecules to form peptide bonds.  That’s what long-time origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel and colleagues at Scripps Institute have found.  The reaction is especially productive in the presence of metal ions that act as catalysts, and even better in the presence of oxidizing agents.  Moreover, the bonds form at ambient temperatures, and are not hindered by salty seawater, they state in their paper published in Science.1
    Science news outlets like
EurekAlert are claiming this indicates that “volcanic gas may have played a significant role in the origins of life on Earth,” and that the discovery bridges an important “missing link” in studies of “pre-biotic” chemistry (National Geographic News.  Reza Ghadiri, one of the team, does not think life began at volcanoes, of course, but said, “It puts the whole idea of pre-biotic speculation on sure footing.  It’s something that could have happened.”  Amino acids have been produced in previous origin of life experiments (see 05/02/2003 headline), but, critics of chemical evolution have often claimed that peptide bonds between amino acids do not form readily in water (in fact, water hastens their dissolution).
    The team’s experiments began using one amino acid, phenylalanine, in only the left-handed form.  Several intermediates were produced in the reaction with COS, one of which was “reasonably stable” against hydrolysis with a half-life of up to 20 hours.  That intermediate was concentrated with more L-phenylalanine at alkaline pH 9.0 plus or minus 1.4 in anaerobic conditions, and yielded 6-7% dipeptide in 40-60 hours.  The step from the intermediate to the peptide bond is the slowest.  The team found, however, that metal ions (doubly-ionized lead, iron or cadmium) produced “dramatic rate accelerations” up to fourfold.  Even more effective, oxidizing agents (including oxygen, although not expected to be present on the early earth) produced 63% yield of dipeptide in just 5 minutes, 13% tripeptide, and 3% quadrapeptide and traces of longer chains of 5 or 6 amino acid residues.
    The team also succeed getting chains of another amino acid, serine (left-handed only) and mixtures of serine and phenylalanine.  They then generalized the experiment to others, including L-tyrosine, L-leucine, and L-alanine, in the presence of the lead ion catalyst.  “In all reactions,” they reported, “efficient production of mixed dipeptides and tripeptides was observed.”
    How realistic is the presence of COS in early earth scenarios?  Orgel et al. claim that COS is present in 0.09% of volcanic emissions, but “hydrolyzes rapidly on a geological time scale,” so is “unlikely to have accumulated to a high concentration in the atmosphere.”  A “prebiotic soup” or enriched atmosphere of peptides by the tons is not envisioned, therefore, but rather enrichment at “localized regions close to its volcanic sources.”  Because of the relatively short half-life of the intermediate, “it may be unlikely that a substantial proportion of any amino acids present would have been converted” to the necessary intermediates.  The team suggests a “polymerization on the rocks” scenario, “in which peptides long enough to be irreversibly adsorbed near the source of the COS were subject to slow chain elongation,” especially if metal ions or oxidizing agents were also present.
    “The direct elongation of peptide chains using COS as a condensing agent and the condensations catalyzed by Fe2+ or Pb2+ ions seem plausible as prebiotic reactions,” they claim.  And who knows; maybe COS was the effective ingredient to speed up other prebiotic reactions, too.  “It remains to be determined whether COS could have participated in prebiotic chemistry in other ways—for example, as an intermediate in the reduction of CO2 and as a condensing agent in phosphate chemistry.”
1Leman, Orgel and Ghadiri, “Carbonyl Sulfide-Mediated Prebiotic Formation of Peptides,” Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 283-286, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102722].
There’s the plausibility criterion again (see 12/22/2003 and 01/15/2004 commentaries).  But how plausible is this series of ad-hoc scenarios?  First, the amino acids (however they got there, from meteorites or wherever) need to find themselves near a volcanic source with all the expected heat and commotion going on, to breathe in that 0.09% COS without getting destroyed in the process.  Then they need some handy doubly-ionized lead, iron or cadmium ions, or oxidizing agents, nearby to speed up the slow reaction before the COS or intermediates get hydrolyzed (i.e., split by the very water they are presumably soaking in).  But simultaneously, the other prebiotic molecules need to be shielded from the salts and oxidizing agents that would destroy them.  Then the lucky dipeptides or tripeptides need to find a handy rock to get adsorbed onto before they fall apart in the water, which hopefully was within the right pH range to begin with.  Good luck.
    Does Orgel really believe that under ideal conditions any chains longer than five or six are going to be produced?  Short chains are no more useful to a cell-wannabee than single amino acids.  What happens with a more realistic experiment consisting of a racemic mixture of left- and right-handed amino acids?  Why did they start with a concentrated, highly improbable one-handed set? (see online book).  Speculation on a “sure footing” is still speculation.  “Could have happened” doesn’t cut it in science.  Lots of things could have happened.  I could have won the lottery 100 times in a row, if I had bought the tickets.  Good thing I don’t have that kind of faith.
    The team can be congratulated for doing some interesting lab work in organic chemistry that adds to our understanding of how certain reactions occur under carefully controlled conditions.  To leap from there and think that it has any relevance to a naturalistic origin of life, however, is like thinking “the existence of plastic explains the origin of Legos.”  This new scenario suffers from all the faults of previous attempts to bridge the canyon between nonlife and life (see 10/31/2002 headline and 05/22/2002 commentary).  Every step in the Darwin Party’s hypothetical naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios is exceedingly improbable.  It is illogical to assume they reinforce each other.  Improbabilities do not add up to probabilities; they multiply into even greater improbabilities.  Even if, against all odds, Orgel succeeded in getting hundreds of peptide bonds, it would not explain the origin of the information needed for a polymer to function in any useful way as part of a system containing genetic instructions and molecular machines.
    Get real; read Creation-Evolution Headlines where, unlike the Darwin-worshipping science news outlets, we let you in on the damaging details camouflaged within the original journal articles instead of squawking like a silly parrot, “Volcanoes May Have Sparked Life on Earth” (National Geographic).  If you believe that, we have a fountain of youth to recommend: Mt. St. Helens.  Jump in and inhale all that life-giving carbonyl sulfide.
Next headline on:  Origin of Life
Great Telescopes Converge on Kepler’s Supernova    10/08/2004
The last supernova in our galaxy seen from earth was described October 9, 1604, by
Johannes Kepler, a few years before the invention of the telescope.  Now, on the 400th anniversary of that observation, three of NASA’s “Great Observatory” orbiting telescopes – the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope – have joined forces to produce a combined image of the expanding shell of this exploded star.  The supernova remnant is now spread out 14 light-years wide and is still expanding at 4 million miles per hour, according to the press release at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The press release has links to the telescope sites.
Like fireworks, supernovae are fun to watch from a safe distance.  Michael Shirber in an article on Space.Com confirms a claim in the new film The Privileged Planet that certain parts of the galaxy are dangerous (see 09/01/2004 headline).  He mentions a study that shows the galactic center is subject to deadly radiation from exploding giant stars.  “Anyone looking for signs of extraterrestrial life,” he says, “need not look in the center of our galaxy.”  Fortunately, earth is situated about 25,000 light-years away, where starbursts are rare.
Next headline on:  Astronomy
Preventing Bird Divorce: Mates Take Different Flights, Arrive Together   10/07/2004
A shorebird named the black-tailed godwit presents a puzzle to biologists: “arrival synchrony” (leave it to scientists to give big names to simple concepts).  The males and females of this bird mate for life, but like some humans, live apart for months at a time.  This presents two puzzles: how do they stay apart without getting divorced, and how do they arrive together for the summer fling when they take different routes to the destination?  Some birds migrate together; others stagger their take-off and landing.  But the faithful black-tailed godwits winter in different areas averaging 955 km apart, yet somehow find a way synchronize their migrations to arrive within 3 days of one another.  This remarkable synchronization shows that “The mechanisms required to achieve this synchrony and prevent ‘divorce’ illustrate the complexity of migratory systems,” write four UK biologists publishing in Nature:1
Long-lived migratory birds generally show high degrees of mate fidelity, and divorce is often followed by a decrease in reproductive success.  Synchrony in timing of arrival on the breeding grounds is thought to be crucial for retaining a mate from the previous year and avoiding a costly divorce....
How is this degree of synchrony maintained between pairs when they winter so far apart and the environmental conditions for migration are likely to differ locally?  It is possible that pairs of birds may winter in areas of similar quality (despite their geographic separation) and so be in a similar condition to arrive at specific times in spring; or they may share some genetic or physiological determinant of timing of migration; or they may independently synchronize their arrival to the optimal time for each specific breeding location (for example, to exploit peaks in resource abundance).  As individuals often use a series of passage sites during spring migration, they may refine these timings as they approach their breeding grounds.  Identifying which of these mechanisms is operating is likely to be key to understanding how synchrony is achieved and divorce avoided in migratory species.
Thus they leave it an unsolved puzzle, and offer no explanation for how the chicks learn this by their first anniversary, or what form the “genetic or physiological determinant” might take that could explain another wonder of nature.
1Gunnarsson et al., “Pair bonds: Arrival synchrony in migratory birds,” Brief communications,
Nature 431, 646 (07 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431646a.
Humans can learn some things from birds.  Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or does absence make the heart go wander?  Somehow these godwits are able to maintain remote relationships and stay faithful (although “faithful” has no moral meaning to a bird).  (Notice that divorce is costly to birds, too, even without lawyers.)  More amazing is how they can synchronize their arrivals without a long-distance phone call and  Do they plan ahead and communicate their schedules with loving chirps?  How can they even find one another after landing, among all the other couples, when they all look alike?  There are still lots of puzzles out there for naturalists.  Just don’t bore us with another evolutionary just-so story.  This bird apparently was given some kind of God wit.
Next headline on:  BirdsAmazing Facts
Modern Cosmology Is Clueless, Astronomy Columnist Says   10/06/2004
A letter to the editor in the latest (November) issue of Astronomy tipped us off to something we missed in the
July issue.  The subscriber wrote,
Kudos to Bob Berman for bringing up the slipperiness of modern cosmology in ‘Theory chaotic’ (July 2004).  He must be one of the first to do so.  As he makes clear, a healthy skepticism can and should be a necessary part of the scientific method.
This we had to see, and Berman’s editorial surpassed expectations.  In his monthly column “Bob Berman’s Strange Universe,” he was ruthless.  After detailing the flip flops of cosmologists over the last ten years, and their parade of wacko pronouncements (see 07/27/2004, 02/10/2004, 01/23/2004, 06/20/2003 and 06/18/2003 headlines, for instance), he has had enough.  Wit meets dead seriousness:
Suddenly, we’re imbedded in a frothy quantum foam of unlimited possibilities.  It’s a free-for-all where each solemnly presented theory is soon changed or rebutted.
    In one sense, it’s very cool.  Imagination rules!  It’s a unique period in cosmology’s history.  Throw the math this way, that way, tweak the equations, set fire to the physics building, nothing matters.  It’s Alice in Wonderland meets Stephen Hawking.
    Unfortunately, cosmologists are starting to resemble naked emperors parading before the mass media.  Hey, we love you, but you have no clue about the universe’s true origin or fate, and little knowledge of its composition.  Yet each pronouncement is delivered with pomp and flair.  Maybe you need a serious “time out.”
(Italics in original.)
Berman distances real astronomy, the kind that “deals with optics, gadgets, software, planets and nebulae, observations, beauty, and real science” – from the fantasyland that he feels modern cosmology has become.  He suggests the following disclaimer before any cosmology articles in Astronomy: “Warning: The following contains contemporary cosmology.  Reading it can produce disorientation and confusion.  Nobody knows what’s going on and nothing you read here is likely to be true.
This is a howler; read the whole thing if you can get it.  It encapsulates all you need to know about modern cosmology, because why study it in detail when it is like the weather in Cleveland – if you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes.  Such bold honesty is refreshing.  Dear Mr. Berman: would you like a side job as a guest columnist for Creation-Evolution Headlines?
    Only one recent cosmological suggestion seems to have any staying power, the trend toward viewing information as a fundamental property of the universe (see 08/14/2003 headline).  Otherwise, let this editorial be a lesson for all those who think Biblical cosmology should be linked to the secular cosmology du jour.  One day you feel honored to be invited to the elite cosmological convention.  Next thing you know, you’re at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, where you learn six impossible things before breakfast and the cosmic Cheshire Cat grins and disappears as everybody laughs.  Only if imagination rules will you think this is very cool.
Next headline on:  Cosmology
Little Tyrannosaur with “Proto-Feathers” Found    10/06/2004
National Geographic News wasted no time; a day before a report of another Chinese dinosaur with feathery-like structures was published in Nature,1 they already had color artwork on their news page, trumpeting the title, “T. Rex Cousin Had Feathers.”  Yet Nature itself seemed ho-hum about the announcement.  It was neither the cover story, nor mentioned in any news briefs in the journal.  Though Nature Science Update was proud of the find, it hastened to add that the proto-feathers, as some are calling them, “are not what we would recognise as feathers today, but are their evolutionary precursors.  Rather than having a central shaft and barbs, they are single flexible filaments that would have covered the dinosaur’s body like hair.”  Next day, Science2 was more interested in its advanced cranium than its fuzz, and mentioned nothing about it being an ancestor of feathers or flight.
    A look at the illustrations in the scientific paper confirms the impression that calling these “proto-feathers” is a stretch.   Any suggestion that these “integumentary structures” even had branches at all is unclear; they look like narrow, overlapping stripes on the rock, and there is no way to tell how they were attached to the skin.  The filaments are only about 2 cm long and were found related to the tail and jaw bones.  The team that discovered Sinornithosaurus, another “feathered” dinosaur, admitted in 2001 that “Despite these similarities, homology between the integumental filaments of Sinornithosaurus and avian feathers has been questioned.”  The team that reported this new find, named Dilong paradoxus, only referred back to that paper with a cautious statement that such “filamentous integumentary structures in Jehol theropods have been interpreted as protofeathers.”
    They suggest that these structures might have provided thermal insulation.  These beasts, about the size of large dogs, may have had trouble storing heat.  Big animals, like teenage T. rex monsters (see 08/11/2004 headline), have trouble getting rid of it – that’s why elephants lose their baby hair as they grow.  They did not give any indication the filaments were related to the origin of flight in any way.  Another problem is that Dilong is classified as “early” in the evolution of dinosaurs, and it already had some “derived” features (i.e., fully evolved, similar to those of later descendants), while other contemporaneous groups lacked them.  “The distribution of postcranial pneumatization” [hollowness in skeletal bones], for instance, “is thus very complex among coelurosaurians, rather than displaying a continuous evolutionary trend along the line to birds.”
    The bottom line: strange filaments apparently associated with a small, new kind of tyrannosaurid dinosaur have been found well preserved in Liaoning province, China, but no one knows quite what to make of them.  They appear early on in the tyrannosaurid lineage, but are not yet known among Cretaceous monsters like T. rex.  The filaments do not establish any unambiguous phylogenetic link to modern bird feathers except for superficial similarities.  They look more like hair than feathers, and probably functioned as insulation.
1Xu, Norell et al., “Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids,” Nature 431, 680 - 684 (07 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02855.
2Erik Stokstad, “T. rex Clan Evolved Head First,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 211, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5694.211a].
This critter was no more evolving into a bird than a porcupine is, but news outlets like National Geographic are so eager to prove birds evolved from dinosaurs, you can practically sense them chomping at the bit to leap into the air themselves.  Mark Norell (on the discovery team) said that Jurassic Park IV will probably portray all the monsters with feathers instead of scales.  We’ve learned to be cautious about claims of feathered dinosaurs evolving into birds (see 05/06/2004, 05/19/2003 and 11/21/2002headlines, for instance).  It’s going to take a lot more than a few scratch-lines on rock to make this story stick.
    Since dinosaurs are not all that similar to living reptiles and are all extinct, we should be open to any piece of evidence that helps us understand what they looked like: skin impressions, tracks, and now these filaments.  If the filaments helped keep the little doggy dinosaurs warm, like hair does, then they were not evolving into something else; they had a function.  Perhaps the young had some kind of downy covering to retain heat and lost it as adults.  Avian feathers, on the other hand, are much more complex than these filaments and are designed (for birds of the air) for flight.  Each creature was adapted to its environment; that shows design, not evolution.  Anyone thinking the dino-bird advocates have scored yardage with this find should read this description of the difference between scales and feathers by Dr. David Menton, and also read our previous reports on problems the Darwin Party wrestles with in their own just-so stories of the evolution of feathers (see 10/30/2003 and 08/21/2001 headlines).
Next headline on:  DinosaursBirds
How Are Radioactive Dates Determined?    10/06/2004
To most of us, the practice of radioactive dating seems like a highly-technical, incomprehensible skill that nevertheless (we are told) yields absolute ages of things.  We don’t know exactly how they arrive at the results, but are led to trust them because very smart people get their answers using hard science with extremely accurate equipment.  It might be helpful to look over their shoulders and see how it’s done.  A couple of recent papers dealt with uranium-lead dating, the kind of method that typically yields ages in the millions of years.
  1. A paper in Science last week1 by an international team of earth scientists discussed evidence for extinct plutonium-244 in Australian rocks dated at 4.2 billion years old.  Plutonium-244 has a half-life of 82 million years.  The authors, Turner et al., begin by assuming Pu-244 was well mixed within the cloud that presumably formed the solar system.  Since the Australian rocks are assumed to be among the oldest on earth, they wanted to determine the ratio of plutonium to uranium (Pu/U) for clues to the early evolution of the earth.  Xenon-136 would have been produced primarily by the more rapidly-decaying plutonium-244 in the early years of the earth, then the slower-decaying uranium-238 would gradually have predominated; but the ratio is so low, .004 to .008, that U tends to overwhelm the contribution from Pu unless the rocks are older than 3.8 billion years, the authors claim.
        They extracted eight tiny zircon crystals just 50-200 millionths of a meter in size, from rocks they claim are up to 4.1 to 4.2 billion years old.  Detecting the xenon in such a small grain – a quadrillionth of a cubic centimeter – is beyond the range of most instruments, “comparable to blank levels and sensitivities of conventional noble gas mass spectrometers” (i.e., the instrument would show no xenon at all).  They developed what they claim is a more sensitive instrument able to get two orders of magnitude below that low detection threshold, and found a few thousand atoms of xenon.  They measured the xenon isotope ratios from the eight zircons, and graphed their results.  Only two of them fell on the expected Pu/U ratio line expected from the age of the rocks, compared with ratios measured in meteorites which presumably predate the formation of the earth.
        The other six were “discordant,” off expectations by 24% to 97%.  Their explanation for these is: “This could be the result of preferential loss of the earlier-formed Pu xenon or the result of chemical fractionation of Pu and U during or before the formation of the zircons.”  How can this be, since they say “Xe is at least as strongly retained as Pb” [lead, the ending fission byproduct]?  Well, lead has also been found to leach out of zircons, and these crystals have been through a long, wild ride: “Nevertheless, Pb loss associated with metamictization is commonly observed in zircons, and, given the antiquity and complex history of the ancient detrital zircons, it is likely that loss of Xe will also have occurred in a portion of our samples.”.  This history could have included “diffusion or recrystallization events” and other metamorphic processes.  Most of the loss would have been early on, when plutonium production of xenon dominated, according to their model, so that explains why the ratio fell short of expectations.  “To be more definitive requires an additional relationship between the time of Xe loss and the degree of loss,” they suggest.  So their study can only claim partial success, and will require more work: “The highest implied Pu/U ratio is within the range of estimates from meteorites, but, in order to quantify a global Pu/U ratio for the early Earth, future work will require an improved understanding of the geochemical behavior of Pu relative to U and the rare earth elements in zircon crystallization.”
  2. A paper in the October issue of Geology1 dated the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary to four significant figures, 360.7 million years, with uranium-lead dating, from zircons in Germany.  A closer look at the German team’s methods of selection and treatment of samples, however, indicates a number of assumptions were made.  First, the target date of the period was established by biostratigraphy, or use of index fossils (see 05/21/2004 headline).  Second, since fossils don’t typically contain uranium, the radiometric dates have to be taken from non-fossiliferous material, like volcanic ash that might be in and around the fossils (as in this case) or removed from them (in many other cases).  Third, the zircons were subjected to air blasts, then heating and soaking in acid solutions for days.  Fourth, anomalous dates were thrown out and only 5 of 13 were kept.  The ones thrown out yielded impossibly old dates, which the team shrugged off as a bit of surprise:
    On the basis of 13 analyses (single zircons or zircon fragments), a younger zircon generation of 5 analyses is distinguished from older zircon generations (Table 1).  The latter, obviously inherited [i.e., formed in earlier periods], yielded 207Pb/206Pb ages of 444 to 2044 Ma (Table 1).  The abundance of Precambrian ages is a remarkable feature; note that no inherited zircons were detected in the study of Claoué-Long et al. (1992).  The error ellipses of the older zircons are clearly separated from a tight concordant cluster of the five youngest zircon analyses, which yield a 206Pb/238U concordia age of 360.5 ± 0.8 Ma (Fig. 2A).  This age is interpreted as the crystallization age of the comagmatic zircon population and thus the time of eruption of the ash.  Comagmatic zircons are only a small fraction of the total zircon population.  It is possible that the youngest zircon generation occurs as micrometer-sized rims around inherited zircons as well, but these new growth zones were removed by the air-abrasion procedure prior to the dissolution of the grains.  
    It might be surprising to outsiders to see the amount of pretreatment of samples that goes on as standard procedure in radiometric dating:
    Zircons selected for analyses were subjected to air abrasion (Krogh, 1982), and most samples were additionally cleaned for 2 h in concentrated HF-HNO3 (4:1) at 80°C to remove attached impurities.  After washing in 7N HNO3 at 80 °C for 25 min, individual grains were placed in multisample Teflon microcapsules and dissolved for at least 4 days in concentrated HF-HNO3 (4:1) at 180°C [285°F].  Subsequently, dissolved zircons were spiked with a mixed 233U-205Pb tracer solution, dried at 80°C, redissolved in 6N HCl [hydrochloric acid], and equilibrated at 180°C for 1 day.  After drying at 80°C, the samples were loaded on a single Re filament using a mixture of silica gel and 6N HCl-0.25N H3PO4.
    That was just for starters.  The team also “corrected” their measurements; for instance, “For each charge of samples, the maximum Pb blank was assumed to be equivalent to the total amount of nonradiogenic Pb in the analysis of the most radiogenic sample.”  Also, the measurements were done on extremely tiny grains, millionths of an inch in size, with lead masses on the order of tenths of picograms (billionths of a gram): “It was thus necessary to reduce the Pb blank as much as possible... by extremely careful sample handling.”  When measurements were still too low, assumptions were made: “The U blank was too small to be measured and was thus assumed to amount to 20% of the individual Pb blank, based on experience with the analysis of milligram-sized samples” (i.e., they assumed that their samples followed curves established for samples ten million times larger).
        The date concluded for the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary, 360.7 million years, was not calculated directly.  It was interpolated from the ages that remained after the air blasts, acid, heat, and interpretation of selected samples.

1Turner et al., “Extinct 244Pu in Ancient Zircons,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 89-91, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101014].
2Trapp et al., “Numerical calibration of the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary: Two new U-Pb isotope dilution-thermal ionization mass spectrometry single-zircon ages from Hasselbachtal (Sauerland, Germany),” Geology, Vol. 32, No. 10, pp. 857–860, doi: 10.1130/G20644.1.
Notice what Turner’s group did.  First, they assumed what they need to prove: that the rocks were really 4.2 billion years old.  The age of the solar system (4.56 billion years old) and the age of the meteorites was not open to negotiation: these were givens, assumed from the start.  Then notice the extremely minute amounts they had to work with: crystals weighing a few millionths of a gram.  The xenon they were looking for was below the detection threshold of most instruments; how can anyone be sure that their laser instrument, which detected a few thousand atoms in the crystal, did not disrupt the atoms in the process?  (Xenon, after all, is a gas.)  Then notice that only 25% of their 8 samples met expectations, so the rest had to be explained away.  Well, look at the explanation!  The crystals were subject to violent, metamorphic processes of heating and recrystallization, and even though lead is more easily leached from the samples, the lead remained somehow and the xenon was lost.
    These eight tiny zircons were found in detrital deposits.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, detritus is: “(1) loose material (as rock fragments or organic particles) that results directly from disintegration (2) a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away.”  How can any geochemist possibly know these itty bitty crystals, after presumably billions of years of plate tectonics, volcanism, erosion and weathering, hark back from the birth of the earth?  How can they know the composition of a presumed solar nebula, and the amount of processing and mixing of elements that occurred before the crust of the earth solidified?  Does any reader feel any confidence that this experiment tells us anything at all about the history of the earth billions of years ago?  Don’t be a sucker.  Zircons exist in the present, not in the past, and they don’t come with dates stamped on them.  To weave a story about what these rocks were doing 4.2 billion years ago requires many assumptions which are impossible to prove.  It also requires ignoring many other well-understood processes that show the earth could not possibly be that old.
    To show that the Turner et al. paper was not an isolated case of cherry-picking data, the second paper in Geology should support the assertion that radiometric dating is fraught with circular reasoning, selective evidence and extrapolation (see also 09/20/2004 where Richard Kerr points out some of the nasty “little details that don’t make it into the literature,” especially the picking and choosing of data they like).  Again, this team tossed out over half the samples that yielded dates too old for their needs.  Some were found to be almost six times as old, which would have put them deep into the Precambrian.  To end up in this volcanic ash deposit, therefore, those older zircons would have had to survive at least one trip through a volcano’s throat, maybe many (after all, a lot can happen in 1.684 billion years, plus or minus 1.683995 billion).  The team just whisked away this difficulty with the statement, “the abundance of Precambrian ages is a remarkable feature.”  OK, let’s hear some more remarks.  In addition, six of the ten samples taken from another boundary bed “are based on pyramids broken off from whole zircon crystals, and these fragments are typically free of inherited core material,” according to more assumptions.  We think readers who hear about “absolute ages” determined from radiometric dating need to see the amount of hand-waving and hocus pocus that goes on in the inner sanctums of the Darwin Party chemistry labs.
    The ratio that counts in any dating method is not the Pu/U ratio or the U/Pb, but the O/A ratio (observations to assumptions).  A conservative dating approach would observe present processes carefully and measure the rate of change, then try to set an upper limit on how long that process could operate, with a minimum of extrapolation: “this phenomenon cannot be more than x years old” (because, sooner or later, the source will run out, or the product will be saturated).  A liberal approach to dating, on the other hand, requires a lot of extrapolation.  It tries to set a lower limit on the age of something: “this phenomenon cannot be less than y years old.”  The conservative approach has a vastly higher observation-to-assumption ratio.  For instance, we’ve only known about radioactive decay for around 100 years.  Conservatively, we can extrapolate backward or forward a little, but should exercise caution beyond one or two orders of magnitude.  Most evolutionary geologists, however, recklessly extrapolate the observed rates of decay by seven orders of magnitude!
    Even if radioactive decay rates could be trusted so far back, knowing that our theories of fundamental physics continue to undergo revolutions (e.g., dark energy, exotic particles, string theory), this paper illustrates that no one can know the initial conditions or subsequent processes that might have altered the samples, without making other assumptions.  Counting atoms and measuring current decay rates may be hard science, but the conclusions are embedded in an assumption-ridden context.  Astrologers were very good observers of the motions of the planets, but the accuracy of their measurements did not justify their assumptions.  Before accepting any conclusion pronounced by the wizards, always separate the observations from the assumptions.  Respect observations; doubt assumptions.
Next headline on:  Dating MethodsPhysicsGeology
Professors’ Job Is to Fight Creationism?   10/05/2004
According to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, interviewed in Current Biology1 Oct. 5,
Once I learned how to be a professor, I needed new challenges.  It’s our responsibility as American evolutionists to combat creationism, which is far more entrenched here than in the UK.

1Jerry Coyne, Q&A,
Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 19, 5 October 2004, Pages R825-R826, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.031.
It’s hard to fight creationists when your favorite examples, like peppered moths, keep dropping off the tree (see 07/02/2002 headline).  Coyne exalts Darwin and all his favorite Charlie Parley prima donnas, dandies and bearded bigots (see 09/02/2004 headline): Dobzhansky, Simpson, Lewontin, Gould and Dawkins, especially when the latter is trashing religion (see 04/23/2003 headline).
    No, Professor Coyne, your job is not to fight creationism.  Your job is to teach good science.  Your job is to demonstrate that the Darwinian formula L = M + E (life = matter + energy) is sufficient to explain molecular machines, the origin of flight, the human brain and all the rest without any cheating invocations of the I term (information).  Your job is to show how all the evidence establishes your view of origins (see 07/30/2004 headline), without stooping to glittering generalities, extrapolation (see 01/15/2004 headline), selective evidence, bluffing or other propaganda tactics and logical fallacies.
    Your job is to teach students critical thinking skills by allowing them to hear all the evidence, not shield them from damaging discoveries that expose the failings of Darwinism (see 09/27/2004 headline) and falsify Charlie’s central claim to fame, natural selection (see 10/14/2003 and 08/20/2003 headlines).  Your job is not to fight the founders of modern science, who were for the most part creationists, but to exalt the pursuit of truth wherever the evidence leads.  Creationism would not be entrenched and gaining ground on the battlefield of ideas if it were not for the ineffectiveness of the weapons in the Darwin Party’s armory.  Creationists are not intimidated by spitwads.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Biomimetics Dept: Wear a Pine Cone    10/05/2004
EurekAlert says the British are developing new clothes using pine cone technology.  The fabric automatically adjusts to temperature by opening up or closing down, keeping the wearer comfortable in all environments.  “We’ve drawn upon nature,” said one designer of this “fundamental change in clothing.”
Makes you wonder how a pine cone figured this out.  The film Wonders of God’s Creation Part 1 has an amazing story about the knobcone pine.  It has the hardest cone of any tree, able to withstand the blows of a hammer and teeth of hungry rodents.  It can remain tightly closed for decades.  Only one force in nature is strong enough to crack them open, and that is a forest fire.  The cone opens just slightly during the fire to emit gases that insulate the seeds inside.  Only after the fire has passed will the cone open completely, allowing the seeds, like little one-winged helicopters, to spiral down to the newly-cleared ground.
Next headline on:  PlantsAmazing Facts
Dating of Crater Rays Needs Overhaul   10/04/2004
A dating method relied on by planetary geologists needs drastic revision, according to
Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD) scientists at the University of Hawaii.  Crater rays are the streaks that extend radially from impact craters.  Previously, planetary scientists assumed they darken over time under bombardment from the solar wind and can be used as indicators of young and old craters.  This overlooks factors like the brightness and composition of the underlying material, the effect of secondary craters, and the amount of mixing of new and existing material, and the actual darkening rate.  Dates estimated without knowledge of these conditions can apparently be in error by large margins.
    The researchers compared data on lunar crater rays from the Clementine lunar spacecraft, Apollo moon samples, and spectra from Arecibo radar and other instruments, and found that “the mere presence of crater rays is not a reliable indicator that the crater is young, as once thought,” according to the press release by Linda M. V. Martel.  The lunar crater Copernicus had often been used as a model for classifying craters as older or younger than the so-called C/E boundary between two conventional lunar epochs labeled Copernicus and Eratosthenes.  The younger, “Copernican” craters have sharp rims and bright rays.  But estimates from crater counts on lava flows around a classic “Copernican” crater, Lichtenberg, are much older.  “It follows that the mere presence of rays is not a reliable indicator of crater age,” Martel concludes,
And it is no longer valid to assign a Copernican age to craters based only on the presence of rays.
    [B. Ray] Hawke [U of Hawaii] and others conclude that a new method using the optical maturity parameter is required to distinguish Copernican from Eratosthenian craters.  They acknowledge a problem of not knowing the time required for a surface to reach full optical maturity; no such age has been firmly established.
    A possible solution was proposed by Jennifer Grier (formerly at the University of Arizona and now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Al McEwen (University of Arizona) and colleagues.  Their work showed that if the ejecta of Copernicus crater were slightly more mature, it would be impossible to tell apart from the optically mature bedrock.  Since the commonly accepted age of Copernicus is about 0.8 billion years, then perhaps full optical maturity occurs at about 0.8 billion years.  More work is necessary and future studies will look more closely at optical maturity maps of the Copernicus crater region to better define the C/E boundary in the lunar time scale.
Unfortunately, pinning down absolute ages by radioactive dating methods will require more samples from the moon, Martel says, so the uncertainty will be around awhile.
Another dating method is found to be deficient by the daters themselves.  Ask yourself the next logical question.  How are we to know that the “commonly accepted” ages of these formations have any validity?  After all, the previous estimates were considered valid till now.  How can anyone have confidence that the assumptions used to determine these dates, the dates remaining after this latest “whoops” report, are just as flawed as the assumptions that were used to date crater rays?   You can’t calibrate assumptions against assumptions, and nobody was there with a stopwatch to provide a real absolute age.  There are some things science cannot know for sure, such as processes extrapolated back in time when there were no observers.
    Readers had better be armed with good baloney detectors before swallowing the millions and billions tossed out so glibly by “experts” who weren’t there and can’t possibly know such things without assuming the very things they need to prove (see 10/09/2003 headline).   We’ve indicated many times that the assumed age of the solar system (4.6 billion years) is rarely if ever questioned; it is taken on faith by most researchers as a given (see, for example, the 05/13/2003 headline), yet is based on flawed, assumption-ridden premises (see 08/12/2003, 06/05/2003, 02/22/2002 and 10/25/2001 headlines).  As a consequence, they are often found force-fitting uncooperative data into it, just like they are doing here with lunar craters.  Who cares whether “most scientists accept” a date that fits into the currently fashionable (i.e., evolutionary) timeline, especially when it was arrived at by ignoring other dates that don’t fit?  Consensus doesn’t cut it in science (see 12/27/2003 editorial).  Let this latest admission be a lesson: geological dating is a splintered reed that will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
How Plants Send Email: Update    10/04/2004
Back in 2001 (see
07/13/2001 headline), we reported the startling finding that plants talk to themselves in email.  What’s new in this field?  Is there really an interplant intranet?
    In the Oct. 5 issue of Current Biology,1 Norman, Frederick and Sieburth report evidence that a signal molecule named BYPASS1 is sent from the roots to the tips of the plant, and suppresses the growth of leaves.  It acts as a negative regulator of plant growth hormones.
    Plant growth hormones are produced in the tips of shoots.  With too much growth hormone, leaves might grow too rapidly without knowing when the roots are struggling to find water, are having trouble getting through compacted soil, or fighting other harsh conditions.  The roots need to be able to regulate leaf growth, therefore, and must be able to turn up the release of hormone only when the supply is adequate.  The report on EurekAlert describes the control like a faucet handle that the root turns, but since the flow is at the shoot, the handle is really up where the leaves are.  By sending this chemical signal up the network, the root has remote control over the spigot of growth hormone: something akin to switch remotely operated by a computer system administrator, who sends a correctly-formatted message the switch understands.
    This explains how the same plant can look different depending on where it grows.  Plants are composed of cells without a central nervous system or brain, yet the various parts need to act in concert.  A plant can’t just walk away in tough times to look for greener pastures; it has to respond as a unit to changing conditions.  The solution is a coordinated system of signals, feedback and regulatory functions.  This study shows that roots are not just sending water and nutrients blindly upward, unaware of the conditions above ground.  They are sending chemical signals to keep in touch with the leaf tips.  Undoubtedly this is two-way communication, because the roots also must be informed of conditions above ground.
    BYPASS1, a gene that codes for a carotenoid compound, is one more example of signal transduction, or “email,” in plants.  The July 2001 headline spoke of messenger RNA used for signalling.  Undoubtedly proteins and other chemical compounds as well are used in the interplant intranet to convey messages.  Each chemical needs a receptor at the destination that understands the message.  A plant, therefore, comprises an information processing system.  Because information is passed throughout the branching pathways inside a plant, with sources and destinations defined, containing messages that are translated and understood and acted upon, the analogy to email over an intranet is an apt one.
    Overarching this system is a network of networks.  Different species of plants are also able to communicate with each other through the underground pipeline (see 06/17/2004 headline).  This shows that the local area networks of individual plants are combined into a wide-area network, or internet.  Information processing over a communication network is therefore the foundation of ecology:
Plant architecture is regulated by endogenous developmental programs, but it can also be strongly influenced by cues derived from the environment.  For example, rhizosphere conditions such as water and nutrient availability affect shoot and root architecture; this implicates the root as a source of signals that can override endogenous developmental programs. ...
The BPS1 expression profile clustered with a group of genes containing many kinases and transcription factors proposed to possibly function in a signaling network.1
Another article on EurekAlert discussed how researchers at Duke University are following one particular email message, a protein regulator in root cells.  The scientists “made the surprising finding that the ... protein is one means by which one root cell ‘talks’ to another to instruct it to develop in a certain way.”
1Norman, Frederick and Sieburth, “BYPASS1 Negatively Regulates a Root-Derived Signal that Controls Plant Architecture,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 19, 5 October 2004, Pages 1739-1746, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.045.
When you send an email to a friend, it presupposes a large infrastructure of computers, routers, wires, and software.  Without them, your message would sit in your computer and go nowhere.  Your message is formatted into packets according the standards of internet protocol.  Every piece of hardware and software in the network has to understand the protocol.  It has to be able to read the header to properly route the packet from the source to the destination.  Some messages can be broadcast to a group of recipients, or to everyone on the network.  Some require acknowledgement before action; others, like a message in a bottle, can be picked up by any recipient.  Different protocols provide many different services.  Somehow, a plant accomplishes the same thing.  It can send messages to individuals, groups, or “anyone online.”  The receptors understand the messages and act accordingly.
    The internet is a relatively new human invention that has revolutionized society.  It didn’t just happen.  It is the result of many efforts initiated by intelligent designers who dreamed of establishing a robust communications system.  As we pat ourselves on the back for our communications network, now we find that plants had one all along.  Think of the messaging going on from the roots of a giant redwood to the topmost leaves, and then all the messages being passed underground from plant to plant.  It wouldn’t be surprising to find out someday that plants are already programmed with spam filtering, security and antiterrorism surveillance and maybe even innovations we have not even imagined yet.
    Signal transduction – the passing and recognition of messages – is a defining characteristic of life.  All living things are continually in the communication business.  Single cells have elaborate signal transduction mechanisms for recognizing “self” and “other” entities, and for regulating all the machines in the molecular factory.  Cells communicate with other cells.  Within multicellular organisms, cells communicate within the body and without.  Plants, animals and humans are constantly sending and receiving messages.  Even the machines humans make, from railroad semaphores to telegraphs to wireless internet communications, are extensions of our own intelligent signalling systems.  Inanimate matter does not do any of this on its own.  Solids, liquids and gases can exchange energy through conduction, convection and radiation, but neither send nor understand signals that allow them to make decisions, unless programmed by intelligent design.  Since signaling is a fundamental property of life, why should anyone presume it could emerge from nonlife?  Would it not make more sense to assume that there is a living Creator who is a communicator by nature, and that he extended his intelligence to the life he designed?
    Non-sentient life might be considered analogous to our most advanced human robotics, with robust engineering design that allows it to respond to changing conditions (see 09/22/2004 headline).  Into humans, however, the Source of all communication – the Word – imbued an image of his own sentience, so that we can not only recognize and respond to messages, but understand them.  To these alone he shared the greatest communication of all (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Next headline on:  PlantsAmazing Facts
Genome of Diatom Reveals Unanticipated Complexity   10/01/2004
“Let’s play 20 questions.”:
“OK, I’m game.  Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“I give up.”
The answer is: a diatom.  Some of the most abundant one-celled organisms in the sea, and essential for regulating the global carbon cycle, diatoms seem to be part animal, vegetable and mineral.  Scientists aren’t sure how to classify them.  They do photosynthesis like plants, but have some animal-like genes, and they build crystal houses of exquisite beauty out of silica (see
07/21/2004 headline).  Now, for the first time, the genome of one species of diatom was sequenced.  It was reported Oct. 1 in the journal Science.1  The glass house of this organism, Thalassiosira pseudonana, looks like a pill box with a lid (for picture, see the news story on EurekAlert).
    The evolutionary story of the origin of diatoms is that once upon a time, a heterotrophic (other-feeding) microbe engulfed a red alga.  The two became one, and lived happily ever after in an arrangement called endosymbiosis.  The researchers did indeed find homologous genes to red algae and protozoa, but were not prepared for the complexity of the gene library of something so small.  This diatom has 24 pairs of chromosomes and 11,242 protein-coding genes in its 34 million base-pair genome.  The team was surprised to find genes for the urea cycle, a nitrogen-processing system commonly found in animals that eat meat, in a plant-like photosynthetic organism: “Identification of enzymes necessary for a complete urea cycle was unanticipated, because this pathway has not previously been described in a eukaryotic photoautotroph”.  This nitrogen cycle was not just an idle subroutine, either: “The urea cycle appears to be fully integrated into diatom metabolism in ways not previously suspected,” they said.  Also, who would have thought a little transparent sea creature would be an expert in fat metabolism?
We identified novel genes for silicic acid transport and formation of silica-based cell walls, high-affinity iron uptake, biosynthetic enzymes for several types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, use of a range of nitrogenous compounds, and a complete urea cycle, all attributes that allow diatoms to prosper in aquatic environments.
Apparently even diatoms can store fat for the winter in a manner “unusual among eukaryotes.”  Another unique feature of many diatoms is their ability to manufacture little hairs of chitin that protrude from their glass shells, so that they don’t sink so easily.  This enables them to stay near the sunlit surface on which they depend.
    Although the research team believes their discovery of alga-like genes supports the notion of a primordial endosymbiosis for the origin of diatoms, their paper exhibited two unsolved problems with the idea.  First, in a Venn diagram of homologous genes, the report showed 1853 genes not found in animals, green or red algae (3738 common to all three), and 2550 genes not found among cyanobacteria, green or red algae (922 common to all three).  “About half the genes in the diatom cannot be assigned functions on the basis of similarity to genes in other organisms, in part because diatoms have distinctive features that cannot be understood by appeal to model systems.”  That’s a lot of functionality for an organism to develop de novo, even if some of the knowledge was gained through a merger.
    Second, the team is baffled over how the alga genes made it past the barriers into the genome.  “Establishment of a stable secondary endosymbiosis required evolution of a protein import system to allow cytoplasmically synthesized proteins to traverse the two additional membranes that surround the plastid,” they note.  They can understand the first crossing of the endoplasmic reticulum, “but the mechanism of transit across the next three membranes remains unclear.”
    Scientists are eagerly striving to understand the exquisite glass-blowing capability of these creatures.  Their shells are beautifully designed, yet so small that 70 could fit across the width of a human hair.  “Diatoms can manipulate silica in ways that nanotechnologists can only dream about,” said one researcher.  For information on the importance of diatoms to the global ecology and climate, see the summary on EurekAlert, where oceanographer Virginia Armbrust (U of Washington) said, “These organisms are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle.”  The report elaborates, “Together, the single-celled organisms generate as much as 40 percent of the 50 billion to 55 billion tons of organic carbon produced each year in the sea and in the process use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.  And they are an important food source for many other marine organisms.”
1Armbrust et al., “The Genome of the Diatom Thalassiosira Pseudonana: Ecology, Evolution, and Metabolism,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 79-86, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101156].
Thank God for little things.  If it is phenomenally, inconceivably improbable for a cell to develop one usable protein by chance (see online book), how are we supposed to believe that after the hypothetical merger in some dim chapter of the evolutionary past, the new diatom evolved a “protein import system” to get the new genes past three more membranes?  Organisms don’t normally tolerate foreign proteins; they destroy them.  This explanation has all the flaws of the typical Darwinian just-so story.  It is a mere tentative suggestion, generalizing the broad-brush picture but ignoring the nasty details.  Who could possibly believe that diatoms just invented, in salty water, glass-sculpturing expertise that “nanotechnologists can only dream about,” to say nothing of evolving half its genes that are unique?  Such wishful thinking should be laughed out of court.
    Their endosymbiont tall tale doesn’t help Darwinism anyway, because it pushes even farther back in time the “evolutionarily ancient divergence of Plantae (red algae, green algae, and plants), Opisthokonta (animals/fungi), and the unknown secondary host that gave rise to the heterokont (diatom) lineage.”  Imagine their surprise at this admission: “ Interestingly, 806 diatom proteins align with mouse proteins but not with green plant or red alga proteins.”  So how to save the Darwin story now?  It gets even more convoluted: “The most straightforward interpretation is that these ‘animal-like’ genes were derived from the heterotrophic secondary host, although scenarios involving gene loss in the plant/red algal lineage cannot be ruled out.”  But the former would mean that these genes underwent no evolution from near the beginning of life all the way to the origin of mammals like mice, and the latter explanation would be devolution, not evolution.  Any story that violates Occam’s razor this badly should be rejected.  Both cases mean high levels of complexity already existed from the beginning.  The only explanation that fits the evidence is that diatoms are marvels of intelligent design, doing their part to maintain the biosphere of a privileged planet.
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNACell BiologyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Burnt Bridges, Brownian Ratchets, and Self-Propelled Motors Keep Skin Young Looking    10/01/2004
Rock climbers and cavers are familiar with mechanical devices called ascenders that enable them to climb ropes safely and easily.  Ascenders slide up the rope in one direction, but latch onto it tightly when pulled the other direction.  Now imagine the ascender by itself, hanging on the rope, in a flurry of winds blowing in all directions.  Despite the randomness of the gusts, the ascender might still make progress upward, because it slides up, but cannot slide down.  A team at Washington University School of Medicine, publishing in Science1 October 1, found something similar at work in the cell.  A molecular motor named collagenase MMP-1 uses the random thermal motion in its environment (Brownian motion) to self-propel itself along the triple tracks of collagen molecules.
    “Molecular motors,” like the motors in our experience, are machines that convert energy into motion, but in the cell, they’re constructed of protein.  Many kinds are known: propellers, railroad cars, walkers and other exotic things, but most of them extract chemical energy from the “energy currency” of the cell, ATP.  Collagenase uses the free thermal motion of the environment to its advantage.  Acting as a “Brownian ratchet,” it converts random fluctuations into unidirectional motion.  This is the first molecular motor found to work outside the cell.
    Collagen is one of the most plentiful proteins.  It’s an important structural component of many tissues, not the least of which is skin.  Composed of three strands of rope-like polymers, it provides both strength and flexibility to skin and other tissues.  (For background on collagen and collagenase, see this description on a
Wayne State biology site.)  Sometimes collagen fibrils need to be disassembled, however, and that’s the job of collagenase.  Providentially, collagen comes with joints called “cleavage sites” where the strands can be easily broken by the enzymes for quick recycling.  The collagenase motor clings like an ascender to a rope and walks up the collagen fiber to the nearest cleavage site.  Self-propelled by Brownian motion, it goes into action splitting the fibrils as needed.  What keeps it from falling back down?  Without a ratchet or clutch mechanism, all the motor could hope for when subjected to random forces is symmetric back and forth motion on the cable.  Collagenase, it turns out, uses a strategy called the “burnt bridge” technique.
    If you were on a monorail buffeted by random winds, but needed to get somewhere, you could avoid rolling backward, away from your destination, by burning your bridges behind you.  Assuming your technique braked any backward motion (rather than making you fall off), this strategy would result in a net forward “propulsion.”  The collagenase motor does this by “digesting” the fiber after it passes by, preventing backward motion, and allowing the next gust of thermal energy to propel it forward.  Wouldn’t this result in traffic jams, when multiple motors bunch up against cleavage sites?  No; the motors can switch to nearby collagen fibers.  “Relief of the traffic jam is achieved by the transfer of the trapped enzyme to new tracks,” the authors explain.
    The research team found that this form of propulsion is about 15% efficient but costs no ATP.  As a result, collagenase works its way along the fiber at about 4.5 micrometers per second.  On a molecular scale, that’s scootin’.  On our scale, that would translate to about a thousand miles an hour.  Imagine moving that fast on a highway with no gasoline, extracting energy from the road!  Senior author Dr. Gregory Goldberg expressed some wonder at this mechanism used by collagenase: “with our model, a whole new principle emerges in which molecular motors in the extracellular matrix operate by extracting energy from the very track they move upon.”
    What does this mean to you and me?  “By digesting collagen, enzymes such as MMP-1 initiate tissue remodeling, which can have a variety of purposes from organ development to tissue repair to metastatic invasion of tumors.”  A summary on EurekAlert explains,
The researchers propose the molecular motor contributes to restructuring the extracellular support matrix during tissue growth and development or wound repair or even during cancerous invasion of tissues.  Because MMP-1 moves directionally, it can serve as a clutch, assisting cell locomotion along networks of collagen in tissues.  Further, motion along the precisely aligned collagen filaments directs the proper development of individual tissue types.
Your skin cells continually export these molecular machines into the extracellular matrix to break down collagen for repairs, so that your scars can heal and you can grow fresh skin.  They might be involved in many other things, like moving the entire cell along on “a ‘no-skid’ surface generated by the digestion of collagen fibrils,” the authors propose (is this what makes our skin crawl?)  If uncontrolled, though, the scissors action of these molecular machines would wreak havoc on our skin, making us melt like the wicked witch of the west.  Not to worry; everything is tightly regulated.  Goldberg reassures us, “The enzymes aren’t loose and disorganized where they would just end up destroying the matrix.  By mechanisms that we are exploring further, they create a relation between cells and the structures in the matrix.  It’s a very elegant system.”  For soft, fresh, beautiful skin, ratchet up and burn your bridges behind you.
1Saffarian, Goldberg et al., “Interstitial Collagenase Is a Brownian Ratchet Driven by Proteolysis of Collagen,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 108-111, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099179].
Can’t get enough of these molecular machines.  Wow.  Giveaway question: how many times was evolution mentioned in this paper?  What is an integer less than one?
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyHuman BodyAmazing Facts
Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters    10/01/2004
Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in
EurekAlert summarizes a finding from Washington School of Medicine published in Science:1 “Working with embryonic chicken eyes, Washington University ophthalmology researchers found that cryptochrome allows the pupil to react independently from light-sensitive photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye.”
    Cryptochrome is a protein distinct from the opsin family of proteins usually involved in light response.  This molecule is apparently acting like a light meter on the camera.  A light meter doesn’t take a picture but helps the camera receive the proper amount of light.  Experiments suggested “it is as if the light meter of the eye is controlling the pupil without vision being involved.  In the mouse, the meter is located in the retina and primarily uses melanopsin to do its work with cryptochrome proteins amplifying the signal.  In the chick, it is as if the light meter is contained in the pupil itself.”  The team is trying to determine if this mechanism works in human eyes also.  They make no mention of evolution, other than indirectly to suggest, “These data characterize a non-opsin photoreception mechanism in a vertebrate eye and suggest a conserved [i.e., unevolved] photoreceptive role for cryptochromes in vertebrates.”
1Daniel Tu et al., “Nonvisual Photoreception in the Chick Iris,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 129-131, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101484].
The less we take things in the body for granted, the more we see exquisite mechanisms working together to achieve complex functions that could rightly be described as ultra-high-tech.  Humans only designed auto-exposure cameras in relatively recent times, after a lot of intelligent design.  Who designed opsins and crytochromes, and all the signalling and response mechanisms that cause them to make muscles, larger by orders of magnitude, respond rapidly to shifting quantities of light?  The human iris is far more complex than any Nikon aperture.  Yet it is only one of several automatic mechanisms on our stereo camcorders that provides a dynamic range of 10 million to one and transfers data at a gigabyte per second.  When a feeble little chick hatches out of the egg and sees the world for the first time, its automatic light meters are already working.
    For more on the complexity of the eye, see this description by Dr. Howard Glickman
Next headline on:  BirdsMammalsHuman BodyAmazing Facts
Neandertal Promoted to Fully Human   10/01/2004
The myth of the brutish, subhuman Neandertal is apparently almost dead.  Science1 Oct. 1 showed a picture of him in a business suit in an article entitled, “Dressed for Success: Neandertal Culture Wins Respect.”  Michael Balter writes, “respect is growing for Neandertals” as evidence mounts that they made jewelry, wore clothing, and survived a variety of harsh climates by their wits.
    Balter reports that most of a hundred archaeologists and anthropologists gathered at Gibraltar last month agreed that Neandertals were “complex hominids doing complex things.”  They may not have had the better needles of their “modern human” neighbors, but their sharp, pointed bone awls could have easily pierced animal hides to make clothing.  And clothes they needed: new studies show that their stout, muscular bodies would not have provided much protection from their low-temperature habitats, as previously assumed.
    Several at the meeting argued that Neandertals were also culturally the equals of the other humans.  Radiocarbon dates that had been used to separate the two groups have lately been called into question (for example, see
07/08/2004 headline).  Some are now arguing that Neandertals independently developed culture, art and tools without borrowing the technology from their presumably more advanced newcomers.  Leslie Aiello (University College, London) summed up the revisions: “The Neandertals had big brains, and they must have been using them for something.”  The gap is closing, but we haven’t fully closed it yet.”
1Michael Balter, “Paleoanthropology: Dressed for Success: Neandertal Culture Wins Respect,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 40-41, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5693.40].
If it were not for evolution-inebriated Charlie worshipers wanting to force scattered fossils and artifacts into a timeline of progress, this whole mess would not have lasted so long.  It’s time to conclude the old brutish-Neandertal story they told us for over 100 years was just another mistake in the long tradition of Darwin Party mistakes.  For that matter, the entire suite of early-man tales we were taught in the textbooks is now in the trash (see 02/15/2002 and 09/23/2004 headlines).  The evolutionary hall of shame would make for an interesting museum: show all the supposed human ancestors that were either hoaxes or misinterpretations (better buy plenty of floor space) and let viewers learn lessons from real, observable history.  Joachim Neander himself would feel vindicated (see 10/26/2001 headline).
Next headline on:  Early Man

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Featured Creation Scientist for October

Samuel F. B. Morse

Though an artist by profession, not primarily a scientist or inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse brought a scientific principle to practical use and changed the world.  When the grand idea of instantaneous communication across great distances hit him, Morse caught an obsession that cost him every last penny and earned him scorn and snubbing for twelve years, until at last the country gave him a chance to prove his idea.  It’s a great American story of perseverance, of putting science to use to improve the lives of millions.

Morse, a devout Christian, built on the exploratory work of other Christians and creationists, like Davy, Faraday and Henry.  In the process, he gave the world the first binary code (Morse Code) and a whole new industry (including a huge boost to the American economy and thousands of new jobs), to say nothing of his other achievements – major improvements to the new invention of photography, and some of the most famous portrait and landscape paintings in America.  Did all this go to his head?  When asked to sum up his life’s work, Morse remembered the first message sent across the wires (see below), and said, “It is His work.”  Quoting Psalm 115:1, he confessed, “Not unto us, but to Thy name, O Lord, be all the praise.”

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in Boston when America was young, in the period when Ben Franklin had recently experimented with the strange phenomenon of electricity.  Franklin had proven that lightning was the same as the static electricity familiar to those scuffing their shoes across the carpet.  Electricity remained, however, a curiosity with no practical use.  His father, Jedediah Morse, had achieved fame as a minister and geographer who also investigated Flood geology.  Young Samuel Morse was not an exceptional student.  When his father saw he had some talent for sketching things, he reluctantly allowed him to pursue a career as an artist.  Samuel studied with American masters Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West. 

After a “starving artist” period of time trying to support his new bride Lucretia with his portraiture work, Samuel’s skill garnered fame and aroused the notice of the political elite in Washington.  He was selected to paint the portrait of Lafayette.  While in Washington, meeting the rich and famous, he was unaware that his wife had taken sick and died!  It had taken weeks for the mail to arrive with heartbreaking news.  Regretting he had not even had time to say good-bye, Morse was reminded also of how many soldiers had died in the War of 1812 after peace had been declared, because news travelled so slowly.

Morse had seen demonstrations of electricity during his college years and his travels, but no one had yet put it to a practical use.  It was on board the Sully on a return voyage from France that he overheard a conversation about electricity and magnetism.  A passenger was describing how Benjamin Franklin had passed an electric current through miles of wire, and noticed an instantaneous spark at the other end.  Thus began the spark of an idea that would lead Morse through incredible trials, long hours of work, and near starvation, trying to bring a great idea to reality.

Until the telegraph, communication over long distances was slow and tedious.  The French had perfected a system of semaphores on mountaintops to send messages from peak to peak, but it only worked on clear days.  The proverbial Indians had their smoke signals.  Everyone else used feet and vocal cords.  Morse’s spark of an idea would bring the world the first instantaneous communication across the country and across the ocean, day or night, regardless of the weather.  But first he would have to sell his idea.

Samuel suspended his art work and poured himself into his new project.  Early on he succeeded in making a working prototype.  In his endeavors, he was helped by the most famous American scientist of his day, Joseph Henry (also a devout Christian and creationist).  To his dismay, Morse found few interested in the idea.  He spent all his money trying to garner support; years went by with hopes followed by disappointments: some dismissing the idea as foolish, some promising support but not delivering, few paying him serious attention.  One day, when he had raised enough support to attempt a public display across New York harbor, a passing ship cut the telegraph line and made Morse the laughingstock of the day.  Morse spent years experiencing the three stages of reaction to a new invention: 1. It’s crazy; 2. It’s a good idea, but it will never work; 3. I thought of it first.

Two years later Morse was in Washington with thirty-seven cents left to his name, waiting into the night for a Senate vote on whether or not to fund a test of the telegraph.  His proposal was low on the agenda after 143 other bills, the Senators were eager to adjourn for the season, and support did not look good.  Preparing himself for disappointment, he prayed and committed the work to the Lord, then slept.  At breakfast the following morning, he was approached by Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of the Commissioner of Patents, with the exciting news that the Senate passed his proposal just before midnight without debate, and it was already signed by President Harrison.  This meant a test between Washington and Baltimore would be funded by the U.S. Government.  Re-invigorated by the news, Morse immediately set to work.

The good news, however, was beset by more troubles: the underground cables shorted out and melted the insulation, wasting the first seven miles of work and thousands of dollars - over half the funding.  By now Europeans were testing telegraph designs of their own; it was a race against time.  With the advice of Ezra Cornell and Joseph Henry, Morse agreed on a new design destined to change the American landscape forever; overhead cables, strung between glass insulators on tall poles.  The work resumed in earnest.  By May 24, 1844, the line was completed and ready for its historic test.  Morse gave Annie Ellsworth the choice of the first message to be sent over the lines.  She chose a phrase from Numbers 23:23, “What hath God wrought.”  Morse was pleased.  It would be sent with the world’s first binary code, invented by Morse years earlier, a concept that would someday lead to ASCII and other binary codes that power the Information Age of the 21st century.  (Interestingly, after the binary system of the telegraph was overtaken by the analog telephone, our modern computerized world has returned to binary digital representation so completely that analog messages may soon be a thing of the past.  A new generation of IP phones that transmit digitized voice over the Internet will probably soon have us making our phone calls through our computers.)

Morse tapped out the message from the Supreme Court building in Washington: • – –   ••••   •–   –     ••••   •–   –   ••••     – –•   – – –   –••     •– –   •• •   – – –   ••–   – –•   ••••   – .  Within seconds, Alfred Vail, 41 miles away in Baltimore, who had not been told the contents of the message, received it and echoed it back.  It typed out in dots and dashes on a strip of paper before the hushed onlookers.  Morse translated the code, and read it aloud.  The crowd erupted with an ovation of congratulations, as the excitement of possibilities this invention would bring dawned like the light of a new day.  After twelve years of hardship, Morse’s hare-brained idea was finally vindicated.  A new chapter in history began overnight.  Within two years, telegraph lines stretched to Maine and Milwaukee.  Soon they would overtake the Pony Express to the west coast.  Within decades, Lord Kelvin (another of the world’s greatest creation scientists), would lay the first successful telegraph cable across the Atlantic.  No more would travellers have to wait weeks for word of a dying relative, or soldiers hear too late of declarations of peace.  Instantaneous communication across continents was now a reality.

(Note: The message was sent in the original “American” Morse Code, which was modified into the later “International” Morse Code.  IMC is identical to AMC in the message “What God hath wrought” except for the letter R, which in IMC is •–• .  Samuel Morse originally planned to represent whole words as codes, but Vail helped Morse decide to use the dots and dashes for individual letters instead.)

The telegraph is considered one of the ten greatest inventions in history.  Morse became one of the most famous men in America, and the world.  In his old age, thousands of telegraph operators came to thank him for creating a whole new industry and giving them well paying, satisfying jobs.  Morse gave all the credit to God, claiming the message Annie had chosen, What hath God wrought, seemed divinely inspired.  “It is His work,” he reminded them; “and He alone carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.  ‘Not unto us, not unto us, by to Thy name, O Lord, be all the praise.’”

Many who learned in school to equate Morse with the telegraph are surprised to hear that he also was one of the greatest American painters.  He painted three hundred major canvasses, portraits and landscapes, which hang in galleries across America and Europe.  One of his paintings sold recently for three million dollars, the highest paid to that date for an American painting.  Morse was also the father of photography in America.  He had seen Daguerre’s studio in France before it burned to the ground, and brought the technology to the United States, where he improved it greatly.  His improvements allowed people to sit for seconds instead of minutes under a hot lamp for their portrait. 

Morse supported education and Sunday School, making the prophetic comment, “Education without religion is in danger of substituting wild theories for the simple commonsense rules of Christianity.”  He saw a perfect harmony between the Word of God, the beauty of the landscapes he painted, and the scientific endeavors he undertook.  After a long and successful career, Morse said, “The nearer I approach the end of my pilgrimage, the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, the grandeur and sublimity of God’s remedy for fallen man are more appreciated, and the future is illumined with hope and joy.”

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.
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.
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.
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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