Creation-Evolution Headlines
January 2005
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[Darwin’s] whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers.  This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account.  Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account.  It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.
—Antony Flew, former atheist, in an interview in Philosophia Christi (Winter 2004).
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Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week    01/31/2005
Astrobiologist Steven Benner thinks there could be hydrogen fish swimming in methane seas on Titan.  He’s using the Huygens landing (see
01/21/2005 entry) to re-open the question of whether life requires water, or if it could have evolved to use other liquids.  “If life is an intrinsic property of chemical reactivity,” Benner concludes, “life should exist on Titan.”  Philip Ball at News@Nature.com asks, “Are those dark patches on Titan really oceans, fed by rivers of liquid ethane?  And if so, what are the fish like?”
Steve, you know better (see 11/05/2004 entry).  Stop grandstanding to dupe the gullible news media.  This appears to be a naked ploy to arouse funding for another Titan mission: Benner said, “We need to go back, with a lander that can survive for weeks, not minutes.”  We should go back, all right, but to learn more about an intriguing geology and atmosphere, not to prop up a dying theory.  Why didn’t you tell Nature that you cannot fathom a chemical basis for life that does not use DNA and proteins?  Why not explain why water is unique for life? (see 12/30/2003 entry).  Why not tell them that the problems with your naturalistic origin of life studies are almost bad enough to make you contemplate becoming a creationist?
Next headline on:  Origin of LifeDumb Stories
Editorials Lukewarm to ID, but Not as Hot to Darwin    01/31/2005
A subtle shift seems to be taking place in media coverage of intelligent-design controversies in school boards across the country.  Darwinists used to be the unchallenged kings of the hill.  Alternatives, whether creationism or intelligent design, were disqualified before they reached the starting gate.  It also used to be “open season” on anti-Darwinists.  No vituperative rhetoric or impugning of motives was too strong for reporters in their treatment of the villains of creationism.  Several recent articles, however, show some cooling of the jets, and a little more attempt at balanced coverage by spokespersons from both sides:
  • A Newsweek article by Jerry Adler began by asking, “How did life, in its infinite complexity, come to be?  A controversial new theory called ‘intelligent design’ asserts a supernatural agent was at work.”  In “Doubting Darwin,” Adler gives good coverage to both sides, though ending with the suggestion that theistic evolution would result in fewer conflicts.
  • Diane Carroll in the Kansas City Star was certainly not partial to the intelligent-design side, but gave its spokespersons substantial coverage.  The main Darwinist objections she cited were in the “hidden agenda” category.
  • David Klinghoffer, writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, decried the branding of Stephen Meyer as a heretic after his ID paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal (see 09/24/2004 entry).  He characterized the uproar not as science vs. religion, but “an instance of one religion persecuting a rival, demanding loyalty from anyone who enters one of its churches--like the National Museum of Natural History.”
  • Josh Kelley in The Arizona Republic actually gave most of his coverage to the intelligent design side, including Walt Brown, a young-earth creationist with a PhD involved in rewriting the state science standards.  Biochemist Michael Behe, who coined the phrase “irreducible complexity,” actually got the last word for a change.
There are, naturally, plenty of the usual rabid anti-creationist articles out there still, like this editorial at the Boston Globe that calls evolution “the bedrock of biology” and warns against those who want to “sneak Genesis into the teaching of science,”  and Time Magazine’s hit piece against ID called “Stealth Attack on Evolution.”  But that’s not news.
Big ships turn slowly.  While none of these articles endorses ID or gives Darwinism the interrogation it deserves, it does hint at a slight temperature change that can have big El Niño consequences later.  At least more and more reporters are listening to ID arguments and not dismissing them out of hand.  Here are some suggestions reporters should consider for their next articles:
  • Design science has an illustrious history.  Most of the great scientists of history were religious people, like Newton, Boyle and Maxwell, who believed the universe was created.  Their religious beliefs didn’t hinder science, but, on the contrary, advanced it.
  • The pure atheistic, naturalistic brand of science is relatively new.  The trend to discount Genesis dates primarily from the 18th century, but the overtly anti-religious, materialistic brand of science was championed by the likes of Huxley and Haeckel in the late 19th century to early 20th century.  These Darwin bulldogs knew nothing of modern genetics and biochemistry.
  • Design is already an accepted part of several sciences, including archaeology, cryptography, information theory, criminology and SETI, yet is not dismissed there as being religiously motivated.  These examples prove that design detection can legitimately be part of scientific investigation, and that design explanations can be valid, without knowing the designer or his/her/its motives (especially in the case of SETI).  They also demonstrate that a design conclusion is not a cop-out, but can be a valid inference based on evidence.
  • The controversies within Darwinism are deep and profound; they cannot merely be characterized as nitpicking about the mechanism while accepting the “fact” of evolution.  Is a fact without a mechanism really a fact at all?
  • The evidence from microbiology has been trending steadily toward a design inference and away from a Darwinian inference.  We know things about genetics that Darwin and all the early evolutionists could not possibly have known.  These and other evidences, like the Cambrian explosion and the anthropic principle, pose new and severe challenges to the belief that life arose without a Designer (see 01/28/2005 entry).
The points above are rarely mentioned in secular news reports about the intelligent design vs. Darwinism controversy.  It’s time to give them more prominence.
Next headline on:  EducationDarwinismIntelligent Design.
Your Motors Are Turbo-Charged    01/30/2005
Think how fast 6000 rpm is.  It would redline on most cars.  Yet you have motors in your body that make that speed look like slow-mo.
    The Japanese have taken great interest in the cellular machine ATP synthase since its rotary operation was discovered in 1996 (see
12/22/2003 entry).  Maybe it’s because they like rotary engines.  ATP synthase is an essential protein complex that generates ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency of the cell.  Found in the membranes of mitochondria and chloroplasts, it runs on an electrical current of protons, from sunlight (in plants) or digestion (in animals).  It is a reversible engine: it can just as easily generate protons from the dissociation of ATP.  It has five major protein parts, including a rotor, a stator, and a camshaft.  The F0 domain runs like a waterwheel on protons and turns the camshaft.  Three pairs of lobes in the F1 domain catalyze ATP from ADP and phosphate, in a three-phase cycle of input, catalysis, and output.  Each revolution generates 3 ATP.
    Hiroshi Ueno and team, reporting in PNAS,1 have invented new techniques for studying and measuring the tiny motors.  Now, with the aid of a high-speed camera running at 8,000 frames per second, they have clocked the rotational speed of the entire F0F1-ATP Synthase motor at 352 revolutions per second, a whopping 21,120 rpm.
    Although this molecular machine exists in all life forms, they used motors from a thermophilic bacterium.  To monitor the action, the team fastened a microscopic bead to the carousel of c subunits.  At 25° C, it ran at 230 rps.  At 45° C, it ran at 650 rps.  Extrapolating up to 60° C, the organism’s optimum growth temperature, they speculate that it could be running as fast as 1,600 rps – an unbelievable 96,000 rpm – and that with nearly no friction and almost ideal efficiency.  While they caution that reservation is needed whether these “enormous numbers” are actually achieved, they do say with confidence that the rotation rates they measured are much higher than earlier claims.  “It is intriguing to learn,” they say, “whether these rapid rotations are really occurring in living cells.”
1Ueno et al., “ATP-driven stepwise rotation of F0F1-ATP synthase,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0407857102, published online before print January 24, 2005.
We owe an apology to our readers.  We have been repeating earlier reports that ATP synthase runs at 6,000 rpm.  That’s like insulting the Ferrari company by watching one moving slowly in a parking lot and claiming it is rated at 10 mph.  We’re sorry for not giving proper credit to the Designer of this high-performance marvel.  Eat your heart out, Charlie.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Stories
Astrobiology: 0 Steps Forward, 3 Steps Back    01/28/2005
Astrobiology, the science in search of a subject, has major hurdles to overcome in its quest to explain everything from hydrogen to high technology.  Despite being one of the most active interdisciplinary research projects around the world (see
01/07/2005 entry), a leading researcher this week conceded that several promising leads of the past are now considered unlikely.  Because the biochemicals we know (proteins and nucleic acids) are so advanced and improbable under prebiotic conditions, attempts to generate them or build living systems based on them have proved fruitless.  Astrobiologists are having to imagine simpler, hypothetical precursor molecules as stepping stones.  If square one was the Miller experiment in the 1950s, this puts them behind square one.
    Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund leads a team of astrobiologists at Leiden University in the Netherlands.  In the third presentation in a “Life Detection” seminar series at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (see 12/03/2004 and 11/05/2004 entries for first two), Dr. Ehrenfreund, a specialist in complex molecules in space, who described herself as an experimentalist rather than a theorist, first put astrobiology into the larger context cosmology and astrophysics.  Prebiotic molecules either had to be formed in situ on the early earth, or had to be delivered via comets, asteroids, or interstellar dust.  She listed 137 molecules that have been identified in space (see Astrochemistry.net), including a number of complex carbon compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).  Also of interest are some 80 varieties of amino acids identified in meteorites (living things only use 22 of them).  So far, this is all chemistry, not biochemistry; but if such molecules could arrive on earth by extraterrestrial special delivery, presumably they could contribute to the “prebiotic soup,” she speculated.
    Most of the talk consisted of typical astrobiology scenarios and the details of carbon chemistry and interstellar clouds.  What really got interesting were the results of her team’s own specific laboratory experiments.  They put thin films of amino acids (glycine and D-alanine) into a chamber made to simulate a Martian environment, complete with the UV radiation expected at the surface.  The goal was to determine, even if such molecules could form in early Martian lakes, whether they could survive long enough to contribute to prebiotic chemistry.  The answer was depressing: the amino acids had a half-life of only eight hours under those conditions.  They repeated the experiment ten times with the same results.  “We have to implement that knowledge into models of regolith mixing,” she said, “to understand what kind of results that would give, and how long amino acids can survive....”  She quickly changed the subject to future Mars missions, but other problematical facts came to light during the presentation and the Q&A session following:
  1. Mars:  Dr. Ehrenfreund agreed that the Martian Meteorite that sparked the modern astrobiology movement did not contain signs of life.  It was useful in retrospect for arousing interest in astrobiology, she said, but the consensus of scientists is that the alleged biogenic markers were produced by purely physical processes.
  2. Water:  The primary source of water in our oceans was probably not comets, she agreed, but outgassing or water-rich planetesimals from 2-3 AU (see 03/02/2002 entry).
  3. Chirality:  She agreed that polypeptides have to be 100% one-handed to function, and suggested that maybe adsorption on minerals provided the sorting of otherwise mixed-handed molecules; she conceded, however, that minerals are often heterogeneous.
  4. Dilution:  The concentration of amino acids in meteorites is exceedingly low; they would have been hopelessly diluted if a meteorite landed in the oceans.
  5. Fellowship:  She admitted that molecules delivered from space would have to collect somehow in small areas where they could “meet” one another.  She suggested small basins or rock layers, but failed to explain how a rapidly-moving meteorite could protect its precious cargo, or how the molecules, once delivered, could be protected from the same UV radiation that her experiments showed were rapidly destructive.
  6. Real vs. Virtual:  She agreed with Benner (see 11/05/2004 entry) that ribose is very unstable in all conditions, and so are phosphates, the essential backbones of nucleic acids.  This forced her to suggest that the biomolecules with which we are familiar were not involved in the origin of life, and that astrobiologists must seek simpler, more stable, more abundant, more primitive building blocks to get life started.  Even PNA, a popular alternative to RNA, is already fairly “evolved” and therefore unlikely to be the first, she said.  What these more primitive, more abundant molecules must have been to produce something that could be considered alive, she did not specify.
  7. Takeover:  When confronted with Benner’s argument that you cannot invoke so many ad hoc “genetic takeovers” in an origin-of-life scenario, she dismissed it by claiming Benner is a theorist, not an experimentalist.  (Yet Benner’s team had tried hundreds of alternatives to ribose, and all the popular alternatives to RNA, and said they don’t work.)
During the Q&A, this reporter mentioned that Benner (11/05/2004) had suggested a desert environment was necessary to stabilize ribose, yet Russell (12/03/2004) countered that was the worst environment because of the radiation, which her experiments seemed to confirm.  What was her take on these mutually exclusive scenarios?  All she could offer were vague suggestions that comets or meteorites might deliver simpler materials to concentrated areas somehow, perhaps in environments alternating hot and cold between impacts.  Most of her answer discussed problems #4, 5 and 6, above.
    The audience was polite and receptive to Dr. Ehrenfreud, who, given the challenge of the subject matter, was knowledgeable and personable.  If they were expecting encouraging laboratory evidence, however, to support astrobiology’s contention that life can originate spontaneously on a planet, most of what they got was, “more work needs to be done.”
    The entire presentation can be viewed in streaming video from JPL Multimedia.  As a footnote, Huygens scientists announced this week that the methane found on Titan was not produced by life, in case anyone was hoping.  See the story on Space.com.
Astrobiology is a totally bogus science built on the assumptions of Darwinism and naturalistic philosophy.  Its only bright side is to motivate more experimental work in chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy – which is good, but assumes no other motive would do so.  And its track record is abysmal.  Of the biomolecules we know, Dr. Ehrenfreund said, “I wouldn’t really fix on this modern biochemistry thing, and on one component [like ribose or RNA]; we have done that for 50 years, and we didn’t succeed to go any step further with that; so I think you have to think a little bit in a new way.”  So 50 years after Stanley Miller proudly announced the formation of amino acids in a laboratory flask, we now know all that was irrelevant hype.  Today, the wizards of chemistry are into visualization.  They ask us to envision hypothetical simpler entities, yet to be discovered, that might self-organize into self-reproducing machines.
    So what do you think?  Is the “useful lie” tactic the only way to get funding for science?  (see 05/02/2003 entry).  The Miller experiment used it.  The Mars Meteorite used it.  Both are now defunct.  Is astrobiology a welfare program for scientists who ought to be studying the real world, not hypothetical sci-fi landscapes where primitive molecules “get together” and start living?  What if Wall Street acted this way?  Would you continue patronizing a financial adviser who, after 50 years, admits that you have lost money on every investment he tried, and said that now you need to think of new, unspecified, unknown, untested investments?
Next headline on:  Origin of Life
Book 01/28/2005: The Evolution-Creation Struggle by Michael Ruse (Harvard, 2005).  The blurb says,
Michael Ruse, a preeminent authority on Darwinian evolutionary thought and a leading participant in the ongoing debate, uncovers surprising similarities between evolutionist and creationist thinking.  Exploring the underlying philosophical commitments of evolutionists, he reveals that those most hostile to religion are just as evangelical as their fundamentalist opponents.  But more crucially, and reaching beyond the biblical issues at stake, he demonstrates that these two diametrically opposed ideologies have, since the Enlightenment, engaged in a struggle for the privilege of defining human origins, moral values, and the nature of reality.
Is Michael Ruse evolving?  The man once ridiculed creationism as a “crackpot pseudo-theory, manufactured to cover the nakedness of biblical literalism in scientific dress to get around the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state” (see also 02/18/2003 entry) now appears to giving it equal philosophical status with evolutionism.
Maybe that’s what hanging around Phillip Johnson for too long does to a hardened Darwinist.  To his credit, Michael Ruse has been open-minded enough to debate his opponents publicly numerous times (see 07/19/2002 entry) and appear on the air and at conferences with them.  Perhaps Ruse is realizing that such friendly and intelligent folk can’t be as wicked and ignorant as Richard Dawkins said they were.  Maybe also he is cringing at the weak arguments being foisted by his side (see 09/03/2002 entry, for example).  It seems he is starting to take Dawkins’ attacks against his new friends personally, and trying to find some middle ground.  Ruse seems in a mental tug-of-war between Charlie and Phil.  Is this part of a slow-motion Damascus experience? (see 06/12/2003 entry).  Write in if you know more about this book.
Next headline on:  Darwinism
Bat Theory Strikes Out   01/28/2005
An international team of biologists set out to write the family history of bats, a story that is “largely unknown,” they admitted in Science.1  They didn’t have much to go on.  “The fossil record is impoverished,” their research confirmed, so they tried to piece together a phylogenetic story by combining all that is known about bats from molecular genetics, biogeography, and the fossil record.  First, some background about bats from Nancy B. Simmons, who analyzed the research in the same issue of Science.2  They really are quite a remarkable group of mammals:
Bats, the only mammals capable of powered flight, constitute more than 20% of living mammal species.  Unlike birds and other terrestrial vertebrates, most bats use echolocation—a biological form of sonar—to locate and track their prey.  Bats are found on every continent except Antarctica, and they exploit a wide variety of food sources including insects, small vertebrates, fruit, nectar, pollen, and even blood.  More than 110 bat species may coexist in some ecological communities, a number that far exceeds that of any other mammalian group.  Despite their prominent position among mammals, the evolutionary history of bats is largely unknown because of a limited fossil record and incomplete phylogenies [circular reasoning].   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
It seems surprising that such a large and diverse group of mammals should be so under-represented by fossils.  The researchers estimate that 61% of the fossil history is missing.  Furthermore, “the evolutionary history of this order has been obscured by controversial phylogenetic hypotheses.”  There are large bats, small bats, Old World bats, New World bats, echolocating bats and non-echolocating bats.  Some theories propose that echolocation arose more than once: unlikely, says Simmons, “Because bat echolocation is a complex system involving specialization of the respiratory system, ear, and brain....”  Their tree requires either that it arose more than once, or some groups had it then lost it.
    The group of researchers came up with a family tree all right, but not without problems.  “Our molecular dates suggest that there are large gaps in the fossil record for most bat lineages,” they state.  More importantly, they exploded on the scene without apparent ancestors:
On average, the fossil record underestimates the origin of 58 bat lineages by 73% (Fig. 2).  The four major microbat lineages are missing on average 56 to 86% of fossil history, with the Gondwanan clade (noctilionoids) missing the most (Fig. 2).  Megabat lineages are missing a sum total of 98% of their fossil history (table S5).  The terminal and internal branches are missing on average 58 and 88% of fossil history, respectively (table S5).  With well over half of the Cenozoic history missing for microbat lineages and nearly all of the fossil history missing for megabat lineages, it is not surprising that Paleocene bat ancestors having transitional morphological adaptations for flight and echo-location have never been discovered.
So how does one put together a family tree with so little data?  The best one can.  Despite the phylogenetic tree drawn for publication, the above statement was the last paragraph in the paper!  Simmons says of this predicament, “The scope of this ‘big bang’ Eocene radiation is unprecedented in mammalian history.”
1Teeling et al., “A Molecular Phylogeny for Bats Illuminates Biogeography and the Fossil Record,”
Science, Vol 307, Issue 5709, 580-584 , 28 January 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105113].
2Nancy B. Simmons, “An Eocene Big Bang for Bats,” Science, Vol 307, Issue 5709, 527-528 , 28 January 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1108871].
For a case study on how to spin-doctor a bad situation, read the UC Riverside press release.  You’d expect lies from National Geographic, of course: “Scientists Fill Blanks on Bat Family Tree.”  They just don’t tell you what they filled it with: imagination.
    In debates with evolutionists, creationist Dr. Duane Gish, author of Evolution: The Fossils Say No, often taunted the opponent by showing a picture of the earliest known fossil bat, which was clearly 100% bat.  He would emphasize that there were no transitional forms between a mouse-sized mammal and a flying bat.  Dr. Gish has earned a grin for Science to say the same thing.
    Both papers suggest that bats appeared because new food sources arose.  Presumably, a wealth of new insects, fruits, flowers and small mammals was like a shopping mall without customers, so the customers “emerged” somehow to fill all the wonderful new ecological niches.  Maybe this is the “If you build it they will come” theory of evolution.  We think, rather, that if Charlie has been up to bat for 140 years and is still striking out, it’s time to retire.
    Bats are exceptional examples of incredible creatures that defy evolution.  Some of their technical feats are illustrated in the Moody Institute of Science classic Dust or Destiny, which shows them navigating through jail bars in total darkness by echo-location.  They can swoop up an insect in their wings during their agile, acrobatic flights, and detect texture, shape and movement with sonar.  Despite their scary appearance, bats are our allies, ridding the air of excess insects.  Bats are among four totally separate groups of animals capable of flight – reptiles (pterosaurs), insects, birds and mammals – each different, yet thoroughly capable from first appearance on earth, just as the Bible creation account says.
Next headline on:  FossilsMammalsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Medical Professionals Lambaste the Nature of Ethics   01/27/2005
Nature’s editorial on religion and ethics last month (see
12/09/2004 entry) motivated two medical professionals to write in and give the journal a piece of their mind.1  Apparently indignant over the editorial’s patronizing view of religion and its simplistic view of ethics, they made it clear that the scientific establishment is no judge of truth and righteousness.
  • Ben MacArthur, a bone and joint researcher at University of Southampton, reminded Nature that science without dissent is in danger of dogmatism.  He said that science, which has become the “orthodox worldview of the industrialized world,” has become a court from which there is no appeal, and in so doing, has become the mirror image of medieval religious intolerance:
    As you note in your Editorial, “Where theology matters” (Nature 432, 657; 2004), this is perhaps most clearly seen in medical research.  It is often presented as being carried out purely to relieve pain and maximize personal autonomy.  Yet most religious traditions would disagree with these aims, suggesting that well-being additionally depends upon other, ‘spiritual’, factors such as expressions of love and fulfilment of purpose.
        Critical dissent has played a central role in advancing scientific understanding, and the right to dissent should be held in high esteem by scientists.  In the past this dissent has primarily been by thinking scientists against the religious establishment.  It seems ironic that these roles have now been reversed, with much dissent coming from thinking religious communities against the scientific establishment.
        Like it or not, such dissent should be accepted, perhaps even embraced, since it may provide a means to a more balanced view of the place of science in society.
      (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    Did he have in mind the intelligent design scientists and the creationists as the dissenters that should be embraced?  The context seems to demand it.
  • Stephen McSorley of the University of Connecticut Health Center gave Nature some advice about claiming the moral high ground.  In a tone of righteous indignation, he writes that it’s not just theologians who are morally troubled: on the contrary, the shoe is on the other foot:
    Your Editorial “Where theology matters” (Nature 432, 657; 2004) fails to mention that it is scientists, not theologians, who are out of step with society.  The seemingly important ethical question, “Why [should society] be denied a medical advance just because some of its members find it morally troubling?”, is disingenuous.
        I question the assumption that only a small minority are troubled by the ethics of medical research.  In the United States, scientists who believe that “all scientifically sound lines of research should be pursued simultaneously” are in the minority.  Although US polls reveal a large majority in support of stem-cell research for therapeutic purposes, they also indicate broad support for President Bush’s stance on federal funding restrictions.  Scientific progress within strict ethical limitations seems to be the majority opinion.
        Thankfully, we live in a democracy where public policy is decided by elected representatives, not a scientific oligarchy.  A better question is why certain individuals should be allowed to pursue a line of research when most members of our society find it morally troubling.
A third letter, by a Indian mathematician, tended to agree with Nature.  Rahul Siddharthan wrote that followers of Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism and others) stress following one’s own path within certain basic ideas of ethics, rather than following the holy writ of ancient texts.  He seemed eager to distance himself from Nature’s characterization of the “‘religions of the book’ that originated in west Asia, and to Christianity in particular.”
1Correspondence, Nature 433, 355 (27 January 2005); doi:10.1038/433355a, b, c.
Medical professionals may be the awakening giant among allies in the revolution against Darwinism and the naturalistic, secularistic Big Science oligarchy.  Highly intelligent, well trained and compassionate, doctors have no use for a philosophy that glorifies selfishness and survival of the fittest, even though the Darwin Party tries to wiggle its way into the medical schools (see 06/25/2003 entry).  Medical doctors have devoted their lives to the unselfish care of the unfit: the weak, the sick, the poor and needy, unlike followers of eastern religions that have viewed the suffering as better off left alone to work out their karma.*  Western doctors understand morals, love and purpose.  If you are a medical professional, follow the lead of these two bold letter-writers, and voice your opinion.  All that is needed for out-of-touch, dogmatic, disingenuous scientific oligarchies to triumph is for good doctors to say nothing.
Next headline on:  Politics and Ethics
*Mother Theresa, recall, was from the Western Christian tradition, not a product of Buddhist or Hinduist philosophy; that is one reason her example in the slums of Calcutta stood out so starkly against the status quo.  William Carey’s epic story provides another good example of the contrast between the two religious traditions regarding ethics, science, compassion, and “following one’s own path” vs. obeying the Word of God.
Venus Flytrap Is Snappy-Fast   01/27/2005
One tenth of a second is all the time the fly gets.  The traps of the Venus flytrap, an insectivorous plant Charles Darwin called “one of the most wonderful in the world,” somehow responds to stimuli quickly without muscles.  The entire mechanism is still largely unknown.  A team of French, UK and American scientists set out to study how it works so fast.  Their research, published in Nature,1, describes how the leaves are flexed into an outward curvature along two axes.  The trigger hairs inside the leaves propagate a signal that causes a rapid turnover, something like turning a half tennis ball inside out.  The closure has three phases: an initial slow action, a fast close, followed by a slow tightening of its grip around the prey.  See also the write-up by
New Scientist, which ends, “Our study still leaves us baffled about one question that motivated him [Darwin] – how did this mechanism evolve?” (emphasis added).
1Forterre et al., “How the Venus flytrap snaps,” Nature 433, 421 - 425 (27 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03185.
Maybe it didn’t evolve; did you ever consider that possibility?
    With all our lab technology we still cannot understand how a brainless, eyeless plant managed to invent an exquisite, functioning trap.  Actually, the question these scientists investigated (the fast action) is one of the simplest aspects of this wonderful organism.  How does the plant keep from springing its traps when only one trigger hair is touched?  (This keeps it from responding unnecessarily to wind-blown particles.)  How does the signal get propagated at the cellular level?  How does it maintain the curvature of the leaves?  How did trigger hairs form at just the right positions?  How do the spines along the trap edges grow and overlap, to form a secure prison the fly can’t wiggle out of?  How does the trap close even more tightly after the prey is captured, so as to squeeze the juice out of the bug?  How does a plant digest animal tissue, and why does it need to, when it can apparently survive without it?  How does the trap know to stay closed until digestion is finished, and how does it reopen like new?  Where are the transitional forms for this amazing plant?  How can evolutionists believe it arose by chance?
    The Venus flytrap makes a wonderful object lesson for the family.  Pick one up at the nursery and let your kids experiment with it.  It’s a good way to have them learn to ask questions, try to figure out how things work, and develop a sense of wonder about natural phenomena.  Follow it up with a showing of the Moody Institute of Science classic The Prior Claim, a fun film that shows the plant in action.  It also shows a “simpler” plant – a fungus – that has a microscopic trap that is so fast, you can’t see the action even if you avoid blinking.  One moment the bug is outside, and within a split second it’s inside.  Amazing.  There are wonders everywhere that almost seem designed to create headaches for unbelievers.
Next headline on:  PlantsAmazing Stories
Design Paper Published in PNAS    01/26/2005
Can scientific progress be made from a design perspective?  The Intelligent Design movement says so, but critics say ID has no place in science, which by definition must be naturalistic; judges rule that alternatives to Darwinian evolution are forbidden in public schools (see
01/13/2005 entry).  The rationale is that anything else assumes God, and is therefore religiously motivated.  Then how do we interpret a paper in PNAS this week,1 that is chock full of design language?
    A team of Japanese and American biologists, from Caltech and University of California and elsewhere, describe the heat shock response in the cell.  They not only compare this biological system to good engineering, but treat the engineering paradigm as a proper approach to the study of cellular systems: in fact, they say, “Viewed from this perspective, heat shock itself constitutes an integral functional module.  Such a characterization of functional modules is extremely useful, because it provides an inventory list of cellular processes.  An analogy would be a list of machines and their function in a factory.”  For more design language, look at the abstract:
Molecular biology studies the cause-and-effect relationships among microscopic processes initiated by individual molecules within a cell and observes their macroscopic phenotypic effects on cells and organisms.  These studies provide a wealth of information about the underlying networks and pathways responsible for the basic functionality and robustness of biological systems.  At the same time, these studies create exciting opportunities for the development of quantitative and predictive models that connect the mechanism to its phenotype then examine various modular structures and the range of their dynamical behavior.  The use of such models enables a deeper understanding of the design principles underlying biological organization and makes their reverse engineering and manipulation both possible and tractable.  The heat shock response presents an interesting mechanism where such an endeavor is possible.  Using a model of heat shock, we extract the design motifs in the system and justify their existence in terms of various performance objectives.  We also offer a modular decomposition that parallels that of traditional engineering control architectures.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The paper is filled with design words: engineering, robustness, feedback loops, feed-forward loops, modularity, performance, functional criteria, and the like – all but the buzzphrase “intelligent design.”  For example, “Biology and engineering share many similarities at the system level, including the use of complexity to achieve robustness and performance rather than for minimal functionality.”
    The only mention2 of biological evolution is a passing reference in the final discussion that, in the surrounding design language, seems almost irrelevant: “The formulation of such a problem aside, the physical implementation of any of its solutions seems to have been evolutionarily solved by using a number of recurring motifs...”  How it was solved, and who solved it, is left unexplained.  Instead, the authors seem enthusiastic that a design-theoretic approach, viewing cellular mechanisms the way a computer scientist would reverse-engineer software, can be a fruitful avenue for research:
However, to understand the operational principles of a certain machine, to repair it, or to optimize its performance, it is often necessary to consider a modular decomposition of the machine itself.  Such a decomposition does not necessarily require stripping the machine down to the component level but rather identifying its submodules with their predefined functionalities.  A particularly successful such modular decomposition has been extensively used in the field of control and dynamical systems, where components of a system are classified in terms of their role with respect to the regulation objective.  Similar decompositions exist in computer science, for example, because modularity is a basic principle of good programming.
The authors make no mention of a Programmer, or state their personal beliefs about origins.  But that, again, supports a principle stated frequently in the intelligent design literature: the identity of the designer is not the issue.  Design detection is a purely scientific question, and the design-theoretic approach is a fruitful avenue of research.
1El-Samad, Kurata, Doyle, Gross and Khammash, “Surviving heat shock: Control strategies for robustness and performance,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403510102, published online before print January 24, 2005.
2The only other possible allusion states, “Indeed, in higher level languages, a complicated programming task is usually divided into a set of modules, subroutines, or objects, with simple well defined interfaces.  This results in flexible and robust programs, whose modules can be designed almost separately and, as such, are more easily evolvable.”  However, being in the context of computer program design, the statement implies guided evolution – i.e., upgrading – by intelligent design, not evolution by an undirected or Darwinian process.
Big Science went ballistic when Stephen Meyer published an ID paper in a minor journal (see 09/24/2004 entry), claiming it was a mistake to let such material pass peer review.  Well, ID scientists should print this paper and wave it in the face of Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller and all the other Darwin Party hacks who claim ID is illegitimate in science.  Here again – and this is one of many examples we have reported (see 01/01/2005 and 12/20/2004 for recent examples) – ID is not only detectable in biological phenomena, but ID itself is the most fruitful approach to doing science.  This is abundantly evident in this paper, written by authors completely outside the “intelligent design movement” and published in a leading secular journal.  Most likely unintentionally, they have underscored what the ID movement has been saying all along: regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or lack of them), a reasonable inquirer into a phenomenon can detect design, and the design approach is productive for science.  It’s the same approach used by Faraday, Mendel, Kepler, Carver and most of the other great scientists of history.  Only the Darwin Party welfare bums have a problem with it.  (See 12/22/2003 entry; contrast it with the one that follows it.)
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyIntelligent Design
Shroud of Turin Debate Reopens    01/26/2005
The shroud was from the 13th century, concluded earlier researchers, using carbon 14 dating methods.  Now, other experts are claiming the methods were flawed, because the researchers dated a mended patch made by medieval monks.  The
BBC News reports a new claim that it is older than thought: between 1300 and 3000 years old.  National Geographic News says the new tests, published in a peer-reviewed journal, “greatly increase the possibility that the shroud may be as old as Christianity itself.”
We’ll leave it to others to debate whether the Shroud of Turin dates from the time of Christ or not.  Even if so, whether it was the burial shroud of Christ is a separate question.  Suffice it to say that adherents on both sides had their experts, but experts are only human.  Scientific results don’t exist in a vacuum.  Fallible humans must interpret them.
Next headline on:  Bible and TheologyDating Methods
Trail + Trail Mix = Health Mix    01/26/2005
Peanuts, a staple ingredient in trail mix, are “rich in good chemicals,” reports the
BBC News.  They have as many antioxidants as fruits, are high in protein and “good” monounsaturated fat.  So take some along and go on the trail, because, according to Southwestern Medical Center, “Exercise helps reduce symptoms of depression,” and EurekAlert reminds us that aerobic workouts prevent disease.
So George Washington Carver was right about the humble peanut: it is delicious and nutritious.  And they bring good luck.  That’s why JPL scientists always pass the peanuts just before every important spacecraft maneuver.
    You already knew these things, so what are you waiting for?  Your mind, your body and your spirit need Creation Safaris.  Look at what you missed just this past weekend – and it only took 2.5 hours.  Life is too short to be a couch potato.
Next headline on:  Health
Hippo to Whale: Missing Chain    01/26/2005
Despite claims to the contrary,2 whale and hippo evolution are poorly understood.  That’s the gist of a paper in PNAS this week1 that tries to connect the dots between hippopotami (artiodactyls) and whales (cetaceans) and other groups of mammals.  There’s lots of missing dots: 
The origin of late Neogene Hippopotamidae (Artiodactyla) involves one of the most serious conflicts between comparative anatomy and molecular biology: is Artiodactyla paraphyletic? [i.e., unrelated, but similar by “convergent evolution”].  Molecular comparisons indicate that Cetacea should be the modern sister group of hippos.  This finding implies the existence of a fossil lineage linking cetaceans (first known in the early Eocene) to hippos (first known in the middle Miocene).  The relationships of hippos within Artiodactyla are challenging, and the immediate affinities of Hippopotamidae have been studied by biologists for almost two centuries without resolution.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Their paper proposes a phylogenetic tree based on morphology; it rejects hippo relationship to pigs, and puts them as a sister group to whales, but puzzles remain: for example, “the position of Ruminantia [cows] is a central question, still to be solved.”  Clearly, they need more fossils: “Further progress in this debate is likely to come from morphological studies of paleontological data, whether known or still to be discovered” (emphasis added). 
1Boisserie et al., “The position of Hippopotamidae within Cetartiodactyla,”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0409518102, published online before print January 26, 2005.
2See, for example, 11/21/2003 and 11/18/2003 headlines.  National Geographic News, reporting on this paper, calls whales and hippos “close cousins,” which is an odd statement, considering they conclude, “There is a 40 million-year gap between fossils of early cetaceans and early hippos.”
And you thought the animators on PBS and the Discovery Channel had whale and hippo evolution all figured out.  From what missing links did hippos get their antibiotic sunscreen sweat? (see 05/25/2004 entry).
Next headline on:  MammalsDarwinism
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week    01/26/2005
This week’s entry goes to Bill Hansson, who discussed the robber crab for
Science Now.  This crab has an air-adapted sense of smell similar to that of insects – unusual for a crab.  Accomplice for the prize is reporter Amitabh Avasthi, who explained what the crab needed to evolve:
When the ancestors of robber crabs first walked out of their watery environment to live on land, their sensory equipment needed a makeover.  The olfactory receptors on the antennae of marine crabs detect soluble, water-loving molecules.  A landlubbing crab must zero in on molecules that waft through the air.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Insects have a similar electrical response to airborne scents.  Avasthi dubbed this evolutionary feat “the robber crab’s development of a bug’s nose.”  Hansson, whose team examined red crabs and robber crabs on Christmas island, called this “a great example of convergent evolution.”  Then came his winning line, “The robber crabs have reinvented their smell for land so remarkably that they can even smell water.”  All by evolution, of course.
The prize is a week-long series of lectures by George C. Williams (see 05/31/2004 entry) on how not to tell Darwinian just-so stories, followed by a friendly visit with Phillip Johnson – in a courtroom.
Next headline on:  DarwinismDumb Stories
Newspaper Editorials Lead Revolt Against King Charles    01/24/2005
Some columnists and editorial writers are gaining boldness to attack the Darwin-only rule in science education.  Some examples:
  • Senator Rick Santorum (R., Pennsylvania) in The Morning Call advocated a balanced approach to teaching evolution.
  • Brian Fahling in The Union Leader took up the charge to defend Georgia’s “critical thinking” stickers (see 01/13/2005 entry).
  • Neal McCluskey, writing for the Cato Institute, argued that the Georgia case is a reason for vouchers.  The “one-size-fits-all” method of teaching means someone will always be offended: “Why is it acceptable to force them [Christians] to use their tax dollars to teach their children something to which they strenuously object, but unacceptable to place a sticker on textbooks that asks other people to consider, even for a moment, beliefs contrary to their own?”  The answer, he thinks, is privatization.  Get government out of education and let the parents exercise consumer choice.
  • John Whitehead, Constitutional attorney, writing for Accuracy in Academia, agreed with Phillip Johnson that “It’s the Darwinists who are religious dogmatists.”
  • Jeff Gardner wrote a scathing rebuke of PBS in the Albuquerque Tribune, after New Mexico affiliate station KNME pulled the intelligent-design film Unlocking the Mystery of Life from its schedule after first agreeing to air it, under pressure from scientists and the ACLU.  He mercilessly castigated “the rabidly anti-Christian voices that squeak like greaseless wheels in the so-called science community” for this act of “censorship,” and decided PBS is not only wrong, but irrelevant in today’s TV market.
Want to take part in one of the biggest revolutions of modern times?  Take up the pen, not the sword, and let your eloquence help bring down the idol of King Charlie the Usurper, where it can join its mates in the fantasyland section of StalinWorld.
Next headline on:  Intelligent DesignDarwinismEducation
Spinach Leaf: “One of Nature’s supreme examples of nanoscale engineering”    01/24/2005
Under the peaceful summer sun, plants deal with a life-or-death situation: too much sun.  Those of us with legs can take cover, but a poor spinach plant out in the furrow must deal with the excess energy or die.  Since it usually doesn’t die, what’s its secret?  A process called photosynthetic feedback de-excitation quenching, if you care to know.  Scientists at
Berkeley Labs discovered one key molecule in the process that helps ferry away the excess energy safely.
    You can read the details in the press release, but Graham Fleming, one of the researchers, was impressed.  “This defense mechanism is so sensitive to changing light conditions, it will even respond to the passing of clouds overhead,” he commented (emphasis added in all quotes)  “It is one of Nature’s supreme examples of nanoscale engineering.”  Some of the steps in the multi-step process respond in a million billionth of a second.  It took special ultrafast equipment in their work on spinach leaves to discover what the molecule, a carotenoid named zeaxanthin, was doing.  Science Now has a picture of the crystalline molecule under the microscope, calling it a “unique safety valve.”  Those who want all the technical details can find the team’s report in Science.1
1Holt et al., ”Carotenoid Cation Formation and the Regulation of Photosynthetic Light Harvesting,” Science, Vol 307, Issue 5708, 433-436 , 21 January 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105833].
Think about this when you eat spinach.  You are consuming a supreme example of nanoscale engineering.  A can of spinach may not help you punch Brutus to kingdom come, but might help you appreciate the King who came.
Next headline on:  PlantsAmazing Stories
How To Make Instant Petrified Wood    01/24/2005
“Want to petrify wood without waiting a few million years?  Try this,”
EurekAlert teases.  The recipe: pick up some pine or poplar wood chips from your local lumber store, soak them in an acid bath for two days, then soak them in silica solution for two more.  Air dry, then put into argon-filled furnace at 1,400°C for two hours.  Let cool in argon to room temperature.  “Presto.  Instant petrified wood.”  The press release from the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory states, “The acid-leaching method yields an identical, positive reproduction of the wood.”  One of the researchers concurs; it “replicates exactly the wood architecture.”
    Nature, however, works much more slowly, according to the report:
Yongsoon Shin and colleagues at the Department of Energy lab have converted wood to mineral, achieving in days what it takes nature millions of years to do in such places as the Gingko Petrified Forest, an hour up the Columbia River.  There, trees likely felled in a cataclysmic eruption and, buried without oxygen beneath lava, leached out their woody compounds and sponged up the soil’s minerals over the eons. (Emphasis added.)
The article adds an interesting factoid about wood tissue.  “The intricate network of microchannels and pores in plant matter provide enormous surfaces—in wood, 1 gram of material flattened out would cover a football field,” it says.  Scientists are interested in creating ceramics that mimic these properties.  With instant petrified wood, they might be able to separate chemicals in the lab, or filter pollutants from escaping gas.
A million years is an awful, awful, awful long time.  Think about everything that has transpired since the first record of human civilization: all the wars, natural disasters, climate changes, environmental and population shifts.  Now multiply that thought by a hundred – that is less than one million years, let alone 10 million or a hundred million.  Don’t you think in all that time, with all the volcanoes going off and continents drifting around, all the weathering and erosion, all the pressure and temperature changes, nature couldn’t figure out how to petrify wood a little faster, if we can do it in less than a week?  Why do you think this article claims it took millions of years?  Evidence?  ... or maybe another reason?
Next headline on:  PlantsDating Methods
More Titan Results Announced   01/21/2005
A week after the successful landing on Titan,
ESA held its second main press conference on the findings.  The scientists were clearly upbeat about the results.  The probe transmitted data for 72 minutes from the surface after its 2.5 hour descent through the atmosphere.  The mesas, observed in stereo, are made of water ice about 100m high, and the channels are most likely formed by erosion from methane rain.  The dark material appears concentrated in the canyons that cut through the ridges.  The processed images show fluid flow in the form of rivers has been active, and also extruded water ice with possible methane springs.  Even the dark regions show evidence of fluid flow.
    The dark “lakes” or playas do not appear to have surface liquid now, although it seems evident they did in the recent past.  From the surface, the “stones” of ice appear to have been rounded by erosion.  Most of the elevated features are composed of dirty water ice with crushed ice scattered around.  The eroding agent, which rains down and flows over the surface, is almost certainly liquid methane.  Except for the chemistry and temperatures involved, the processes appear familiar to us on earth: condensation, evaporation, erosion, rain, rivers, wind and weather.  Huygens did not sense rain on the day of landing, but the scientists suspect it rained recently, and will probably rain more, in this strange place.  The rains could be seasonal.  In short, dark material precipitates from the atmosphere, and is washed off the icy mesas by methane rain, where it flows down the channels to the flat areas.  It’s like Arizona except for the chemistry and the cold.
    The Surface Science Package (SSP) worked well after landing.  The probe may have settled about 10-15cm into the soil.  Because the probe gives off heat from the mass spectrometer, and a 20W light bulb, scientists detected volatiles evaporating from the landing site.
    From the mass spectrometer data, the team found that methane density increased during the descent and was strongest at the surface where it appears to be emitted from the soil.  This was a big and important surprise.  A reservoir of liquid methane must be evaporating from the subsurface.  The dark “seas” are not from liquid ethane, but liquid methane.  The scientists were pleased that many aspects of pre-Huygens models, including atmospheric composition, pressure and temperature, turned out to be quite correct.
    The chemists found radiogenic argon, but not primordial argon, in the atmosphere.  The methane must be primordial, it was said, because the water ice is too cold to provide a source of oxygen which would have created carbon dioxide (as on Mars).  Good thing there was no free oxygen, or this world of highly flammable gases would have exploded.  The haze layer exists lower than previously thought.  The methane must condense, they believe; but why is it still present at all?  It has to be continually renewed or else it would be long gone.  Is there a reservoir inside Titan?  This is a puzzle they are working on.
    Where are the pools of methane?  It appears the landing site is a bit of a “desert.”  If it rains methane, the fluid appears to sink into the surface rather than remain in pools.  Like dried up ponds, the flat areas appear to have liquid under the surface.  How often does it rain?  They could not say.  The fact that liquid was evident just a few centimeters below the surface leads them to infer it must rain often.
Wow – truth is stranger than fiction.  What a strange and imaginative world!  And think, all this is just from one small location on a sphere bigger than Mercury.  It looks like our prediction won: no thick deposits of hydrocarbon precipitates were described, only water-ice geology with thin coatings of dirty snows that are easily washed off.  Before gloating, we would need to know how deep the flat lakebeds are.  Our opponents also need to come up with a plausible source for the methane.
    Truth is also better than speculation.  Results will continue to be announced as time goes on.  It will be interesting to see what complex chemicals were detected from the surface.  The analysis will take some time.  Don’t expect the chemical evolutionists to be vindicated, even if they try to draw a happy Charlie face in the mud of this dynamic scene of frigid sterility.
Next headline on:  Solar System
Daffy Duck Found in Dino Park    01/20/2005
A fossil duck from the Cretaceous has been discovered, indicating that the branch of birds including waterfowl already coexisted with the dinosaurs.  A press release from
NC State explains the significance of the paper published in Nature1 this week.  Dr. Julia Clarke and colleagues say this means that “at least duck, chicken and ratite bird relatives were coextant with non-avian dinosaurs.”
1Clarke et al., “Definitive fossil evidence for the extant avian radiation in the Cretaceous,” Nature 433, 305 - 308 (20 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03150.
Wow, those early birds must have evolved from dinosaurs pretty fast.  This seems to require a dramatically accelerated rate of lucky mutations per year.  Beware, Charlie: gambling is addictive.
Next headline on:  BirdsDinosaurs
Some Exoplanets May Be Exostars    01/20/2005
A brown dwarf was measured with more precision, and was found to be more massive than expected.  Robert Roy Britt in
Space.com says this may call into question some of the discoveries of bodies orbiting other stars that were assumed to be planets.  I. Neill Reid,1 writing in Nature where the measurement was announced,2 explained the implications:
Clearly, this is only one datum point, for one particular age and one particular mass.  Nonetheless, there are wide potential ramifications.  If this is a fair reflection of the theoretical models, then analyses of the luminosity distribution of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs in young clusters may be systematically underestimating their masses.  In consequence, the turnover in the mass function would be exaggerated (that is, there would be more brown dwarfs than currently estimated), but a lower-mass cut-off might lie at higher masses, because the supposed objects of 1-2 Jupiter masses might in fact exceed 15–20 Jupiter masses (0.015–0.02 solar masses).   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
See also the report on EurekAlert.
1I. Neill Reid, “Astronomy: Weighing the baby,” Nature 433, 207 - 208 (20 January 2005); doi:10.1038/433207a.
2Close et al., “A dynamical calibration of the mass-luminosity relation at very low stellar masses and young ages,” Nature 433, 286 - 289 (20 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03225.
There could well be planets around other stars, but it’s one thing to find an exoplanet.  It’s another thing to find a privileged exoplanet.
Next headline on:  Stellar Astronomy

Calling all Darwinists: plan a vacation to StalinWorld, a theme park that celebrates the legacy of atheistic survival of the fittest!

Education:  Awareness of the Intelligent Design controversy by the media is on the rise.  Tuesday January 18 on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly interrogated biologist Dr. Michael Crane about the Dover, Pennsylvania controversy, trying to get him to explain what is so bad about considering the possibility there is a “higher power” that created life.  Crane’s argument revolved around the assumption that “science” cannot consider such things, and that ID belongs in the comparative religions class.  O’Reilly responded with the possibility of theistic evolution, but hinted that stories about the past are not as scientific as subjects observable in the present.  What if God really did create the world? he asked.  Wouldn’t that be science?

Ribosome Unties the Messenger-RNA Gordian Knot    01/19/2005
Cells needing to translate their DNA into proteins have a problem.  The messenger RNAs, the molecules that carry the genetic code from the nucleus to the translating machine called the ribosome, get tied up in knots.  How does the ribosome untie them before they can begin translating?  Takyar et al., writing in Cell,1 explored this problem and found that the ribosome has a novel solution.
    If you have seen the film
Unlocking the Mystery of Life, you watched a messenger RNA molecule, nice and straight, exit the nuclear pore complex and neatly enter the ribosome, like a man reclining in a barber chair waiting to get a haircut.  Unfortunately, things are not so simple.  Because of chemical affinities between the bases of the RNA molecule, the bases attract other bases (base-pairing) or else fold over on themselves, forming amorphous lumps (secondary structure).  Untangling this mess would be like straightening out a chain of several hundred magnets that has clumped together.
    The untangling problem is not unique to messenger RNA (mRNA).  DNA in the nucleus also has to be unwound.  Each of the processes of “replication, DNA repair, recombination, transcription, pre-mRNA splicing, and translation” have their own specialized enzymes, called helicases, that latch onto the nucleic acids and work their way down the helix, unwinding them for whatever subsequent operation is necessary.  Until now, though, no helicase was found associated with the ribosome.  It turns out the helicase activity is built-in.
    The ribosome has an entry tunnel and exit tunnel.  As the mRNA strand enters, specialized proteins named S3, S4 and S5 are precisely placed to form a ring around the mRNA helix.  They grab the phosphate groups on the side chains and separate the base pairs.2  There’s only room in the tunnel for a single strand.  As the interior of the ribosome pulls the mRNA through, this entry-tunnel helicase, built into the walls of the tunnel, effectively “melts” the double strands, sending in a clean single strand for the translation machinery to work on.  And how does the ribosome pull it in? 
In their studies of ratcheting of the two ribosomal subunits between the pre- and posttranslocation states, Frank and Agrawal (2000) observed a reciprocal expansion and contraction in the diameter of the upstream and downstream tunnels, suggesting that these two features may alternately grab and release the mRNA during translocation of mRNA.  This dynamic behavior in the downstream tunnel could also be related to its helicase function.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The action seems analogous to those old Dymo labelmakers people used to use for labeling household items.  You remember: as your hand clicked the machine, the tape came in one tunnel and out another.  In the case of the ribosome, the entry and exit tunnels alternately expand and contract, forcing the mRNA molecule to ratchet through the system.  The ratchet prevents backward motion and also is delicate enough to prevent breakage of the single strand during the unwinding process.
    The placement of S3, S4 and S5 in the tunnel is critical.  The researchers found that when they were mutated, the helicase activity stopped.  Because it latches onto the phosphates, which are universal to RNA molecules, they can unwind any strand, regardless of the sequence of base pairs.
    The authors do not speculate on how this helicase system, which is unique to the ribosome, evolved.  They only note that if it did, the unwinding puzzle needed to be solved by the very first living cell:
The inescapable presence of secondary structure within mRNA coding sequences must have been one of the first problems encountered in the transition from an RNA world to a protein world and may have resulted in coupling of ribosomal helicase activity with the fundamental mechanics of translocation.
How this was accomplished by a sequence of random changes, they do not explain.
1Takyar et al., “mRNA Helicase Activity of the Ribosome,” Cell, Vol 120, 49-58, 14 January 2005.
2It was not clear to the authors whether the helicase pulls the bases apart with the expenditure of energy.  It may be that the helicase can take advantage of spontaneous separation.  Base pairs tend to “breathe” as their weak hydrogen bonds stretch.  The helicase may be able to latch onto the nucleotide during its spontaneous separation, as if saying “Aha!  Gotcha!” and prevent the hydrogen bond from re-forming.
Again, we see an elaborate system, with only a wave of the Darwinian hand to explain it.  It is a cardinal sin of evolutionists that they merely assume evolution can solve any problem the realities of chemistry, physics and the environment throw at life.  They invoke hypothetical lucky mutations, never observed, that somehow appeared at the right time and place to produce irreducibly complex structures like ribosome helicase.
    Take off the funky Darwin glasses and what do you see?  Evidence of exquisite, effective design.  The authors take note that this helicase activity is very efficient and works rapidly: “The ability of the ribosome to unwind a long, highly stable helix shows that it is a highly processive helicase, capable of successive disruption of many base pairs without dissociation from the mRNA.”  Materialists decry miracles, yet they want us to believe nature solved this problem so exquisitely all by itself.  Come, let us reason together.
Next headline on:  The CellGenetics and DNAAmazing Stories
A Proverb a Day Keeps the Doctor Away   01/18/2005
Short, pithy statements of wisdom can keep you on the right health track, according to a press release from
University of Toronto.  Bernard Choi offers some examples, like “seven days without exercise makes one weak.”
King Solomon had some pretty good ones:
  • A joyful heart is good medicine (17:22)
  • A wise man is strong (24:5)
  • The glory of young men is their strength (18:40)
  • A tranquil heart is life to the body (14:30)
  • Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (16:24)
  • Who has woe?  Who has sorrow? ... Those who linger long over wine (23:29-30)
  • Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones (15:30)
  • Eat honey for it is good, and the honeycomb which is sweet to your taste; so shall knowledge of wisdom be to your soul. (24:13-14)
A proverb a day is good advice, but not all pithy sayings in Reader’s Digest or elsewhere are wise.  Pith without fruit is substance without nutrition.  Pick your proverbs with discernment.  The advantage of Solomon’s proverbs over Choi’s is that this wisest of kings gave attention not merely to physical health, but, more importantly, to spiritual health.  Notice how they are related.
Next headline on:  HealthBible
Are Humans Still Evolving?   01/18/2005
Science Now asks the question, “are humans still evolving?”  Comparisons of genes and chromosomes between different people groups from Asia, Europe and Africa are challenging the view that there is one human genome.  Some long stretches of DNA are inverted in some groups, and women so affected seem to have more children on average, even though the section isn’t related to fertility.  Oxford statistician Peter Donnelly says of these surprising findings, “This could be the tip of several icebergs.”
So “The Human Genome” may be a myth.  Perhaps DNA storage is more dynamic than we expected.  The story does not establish any connection to evolution by natural selection except by assuming evolution and its commonly-accepted time scale.  Notice this non-sequitur: at the end, Donnelly says, “If such inversions are common, then there isn’t just one version of the human genome... this shows natural selection is still acting on us.”  Come again?  We’re here, we have differences, therefore we evolved?  Get a grip, Pete.
Next headline on:  Human BodyEvolutionary Theory
Remember to Exercise, and You’ll Remember More   01/18/2005
Old dogs can remember old tricks and learn new ones, say researchers from the National Institutes of Health.  According to an article on
EurekAlert, the secret is a program of diet, exercise and stimulating environments.
    Scientists got snoopy about old beagles, and found their brains could remain in tip-top shape with lifestyle adjustments.  These included diets with fruits and vegetables and antioxidants, stimulating environments and social interaction with other dogs.  This combination probably works for humans, too, and looks like it can stave off some of the degenerative effects of aging.  “This research brings a note of optimism that there are things that we can do that may significantly improve our cognitive health,” said one of the researchers (emphasis added).  Of the positive factors, the scientists also found that more was better.
Pack a healthy lunch in a day pack and drive off with a group of friends to a trail head in God’s great outdoors – why, that’s the recipe for Creation Safaris.  Doesn’t this picture look healthy?  How about an encore?  Here’s proof that more is better.  It doesn’t have to be all strenuous, though.  Relaxation can be healthy, too.
Next headline on:  Health
Lowly Plant Inspires Waterproof Glass   01/18/2005
By adopting the lotus position, the glass in your windshield may become so water-repellant you won’t need windshield wipers.  That’s what an
Ohio State press release says: “Ohio State University engineers are designing super-slick, water-repellent surfaces that mimic the texture of lotus leaves.”  The leaves of the lotus, or water lily, are covered with microscopic bumps that resist water stains.  Soon we may have self-cleaning glass.  Everyone but the window-washing industry should be pleased.
How many generations of water lilies had to drown till the right combination of lucky heritable mutations came along?  The simplest things about plants and animals are sometimes just as noteworthy as the dazzling ones.
Next headline on:  BotanyAmazing stories
Bart Simpson Moons Saturn    01/18/2005
There was a little-known story about the Huygens landing on Saturn’s moon Titan last Friday (see
01/15/2005 entry).  The human race sent a gift to the Titanians.  Four songs recorded by two European rock musicians before launch were included along with the spacecraft.  The website Music2Titan.com explains the purpose of the project:
October 1997: to enrich the Cassini-Huygens mission with a human message to potential extra-terrestrial populations, and to leave trace of our humanity to the unknown, 4 original musics [sic] composed by French musicians Julien Civange and Louis Haéri are placed on board Huygens....
    The Music will reach Titan on January 14 2005 after a 7 year and 4 Billion Kilometer Journey.  Never will human signs have traveled and landed so far.
    “Music2Titan reflects a wish to highlight mankind’s existence in the universe through music and to familiarize people with the spatial exodus and possible existence of extra-terrestrial life,” said Julien Civange, producer, musician and initiator of Music2Titan.  “It also serves as a way to offer people hope for the future and to make music travel beyond normal boundaries.”
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The 4 songs are named Lalala, Bald James Dean, Hot Time, and No Love.  The lyrics of No Love include the line: “What will we export there?  Our dustbins, our fast-food, our knowledge, Wall Street, Che Guevara, the Mona Lisa, Bart Simpson...?”  According to the composer, the song “raises the questions linked to the conquest and the exodus of space.”
Good thing nobody was there to listen to this stuff.  Can you believe it?  Here was an opportunity to send a token of man’s greatest art, music and intellectual achievements, and what do the Europeans send?  A dustbin of human depravity (except for the Mona Lisa and Wall Street, perhaps, and whatever these mopheads considered “knowledge”).  Don’t blame the scientists for this folly: most of them probably didn’t even know about it.  At least Carl Sagan had enough taste to outweigh Johnny Be Good with lots of Bach and Beethoven aboard the Voyagers, and Rosetta sent along a language disk of Genesis 1-3 in 1000 languages (see 01/13/2003 entry).
    On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing these recordings were sent to Titan, where they could be drowned out in the howling wind as they freeze into harmless monuments no one will ever hear or see again.  Any extra-terrestrials finding these artifacts on Titan might well debate a stimulating question: did these items arise from chaos, or were they intelligently designed?  Examining the hardware, then the recordings, they might come to mixed conclusions.
Next headline on:  SETIDumb Stories
Simple Darwinian Theories Have to Be Abandoned   01/17/2005
Mutate one gene and a cascade of changes can result.  This effect is called pleiotropy (see
10/01/2003 entry).  According to an article by Stephen Strauss reporting for the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail, “The emerging richness of pleiotropy means that any simple Darwinian notion of what is going on during natural selection has to be abandoned.”
    Unless Darwinians can show that the positive changes outnumber the negative effects, pleiotropy seems to spell difficulty, if not doom, for neo-Darwinian theory, which relies on beneficial mutations.  But if beneficial mutations are rare to begin with, how can evolutionary theory face the new problem of pleiotropy?  “The simplest answer,” Strauss writes, “is that nearly 150 years after Darwin first explained the theory of evolution, the richness of multiple effects from the same gene is such that existence itself seems problematic” (emphasis added in all quotes).
    Strauss gives examples of a few more nuanced proposals for salvaging Darwinian evolution: “Faced with what amounts to a growing daily confusion of genetic effects, biologists are proposing new and more highly refined theories of evolution.”  Some biologists hope that some mutations have only minor effects.  Others are looking for examples of single mutations that might have a cascade of good effects.  He ends on a hopeful note: “With modern genetics increasing the supply of data about the multiple functions of genes, evolutionary biologists are increasingly confident that they are going to be able to do what Darwin promised but couldn’t quite delivery [sic] -- truly explain the origin of species.”
So Charlie couldn’t deliver, and now, 150 years later, we are stuck with teaching his mythoid as fact without being able to subject it to critical analysis (see 01/13/2005 entry).
    The problems with evolutionary theory are mounting.  Now that neo-Darwinism has been falsified (see 11/29/2004 entry), and so many thousands of beneficial mutations would be required to evolve a human brain (see 12/30/2004) that human evolution is falsified, what mechanism is left?  Judge Cooper said it was OK to criticize evolution as to its mechanism, but like a car without an engine, a theory without a mechanism is not a theory at all.  Would this kind of logic work in commerce and relationships?
  • I’ve invented a new form of shipping heavy freight.  Now I just need to invent a mechanism to convert power into motion.
  • The check is in the mail.  Now we just need a mail system.
  • I conceived of a perpetual motion machine, but haven’t figured out a way to overcome the second law of thermodynamics.
  • Watch me swim up this waterfall, as soon as I learn how to swim.
  • The Nigerian government will give you $10 million dollars; we just need you to send in $10,000 now.
  • I’ll buy you dinner, but I have no money.
  • I love you; just give me everything you have until I find out how to express my love.
Why don’t we all tell Charlie, Mr. slick used car salesman, that we’re wise to his tricks.  Let’s tell him to stop giving us the runaround, and come back when he has his magic mechanism that can deliver the goods: bald eagles from slime.  Meanwhile, what say we walk over and kick the tires on that Model ID over there.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryGenetics and DNA
Flying Saucer Lands on Titan   01/15/2005
The
Huygens Probe successfully landed on the surface of Titan Friday morning, and appears to have remained active for an hour after impact. See the official European Space Agency site for latest scientific results.  Download this 27-page Mission Description from JPL (2.0mb) for a detailed plan of the now highly successful mission.
    At the day-after press conference, scientists provided some tantalizing samples from their data, including the sounds of the atmosphere recorded on a microphone (download the audio files from The Planetary Society).  The principal investigator for the Surface Science Package (SSP) said they got excellent data from all 9 sensors during descent and on the surface.  He won a sweepstakes for guessing the time of descent to within 7 seconds (just under 2.5 hours).  Results from the Gas Chromatograph - Mass Spectrometer (GCMS) indicate a source of methane at the surface.
    Eager for pictures, the media will continue to have to wait for the team to get some sleep after working through the night.  But what they got produced gasps and applause: the first crude mosaic seemed to show some relief with drainage channels pouring into a shoreline, and the first color image from the landing site that showed an orange landscape and orange sky (see ESA Huygens site).  The mosaic could be mistaken for an oblique aerial view of the coast of California, except that instead of a balmy beach, the scene is almost 300° below zero.
    The only glitches of the mission were a missing command to turn on the Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE), and a redundant data channel that failed, losing half the possible images.  However, the DWE data can be reconstructed entirely from combined data received by Earth-based radio telescopes (a remarkable capability comparable to watching a tennis court on the moon), and the imaging team got the planned number of shots; because of overlap, they should be able to reconstruct most of the panoramas they hoped for.  Overall, scientific results were 100% of planned objectives – and then some.  That so many parts of this complex assemblage of hardware and software actually worked as hoped in an alien environment humans have never before visited is truly remarkable.  This was a mission for the history books.
    The “treasure trove” of scientific data returned from Huygens could well occupy scientists for many years.  Despite lack of sleep over the last day and a half, each principal investigator seemed bristling with excitement.  Some almost choked up as they described the results they got.  Patience will be required for us onlookers as the experts mine the data.  After years of speculation, a more accurate understanding of the atmosphere and surface of this bizarre world should emerge.
Update 01/17/2005: More science findings should be announced on Friday, Jan. 21, one week after the landing.  All 369 raw images were posted by ESA yesterday.  Over a third were taken after landing, and 20% were too blurry to be useful.  A good 40% or so show the landscape as the probe descended about 5 meters per second.  ESA also posted the sounds of Titan, including a microphone recording of winds, and a series of radar echoes that rise in frequency and tempo as the probe reached the ground with a thud.  The surface texture “resembles wet sand or clay with a thin solid crust, and its composition as mainly a mix of dirty water ice and hydrocarbon ice, resulting in a darker soil than expected.”
Speaking of predictions, here’s a chance to compare expectations of liberal evolutionists and conservative creationists.  If Titan is old, it should have a layer of hydrocarbon snow half a mile thick (see 04/25/2003 and 10/16/2003 entries).  If young, it should have less than an inch.  Let’s see whose prediction matches the findings.  Let’s also see if the old-agers can account for the replenishment of methane, which should have eroded away long ago if Titan had an atmosphere 4.5 billion years ago.
    You read that prediction here before the descent began.  Well, where are the deposits?  So far, it is unclear they even exist.  The probe landed with a thud on a surface comparable to wet sand or clay.  Is this the top of half a mile of hydrocarbon snow?  Or is it an icy bedrock somewhat softened by a thin veneer of surface hydrocarbon slush?  Too soon to tell, but keep an eye on that subject.  Remarkably absent was any mention of craters.  The few images released to date show not a single clear impact crater.  Either the surface of this frigid moon has been active for 4.5 billion years, or it is not that old.  Stay tuned.
    At the night-before celebration in Pasadena, Planetary Society president Wes Huntress reminded the audience that every time we have visited a new world, our prior speculations were proved wrong.  This was true at Venus, where scientists envisioned swamps and life, and Mars, where 1960-era astronomers still believed they saw vegetation.  Much of the speculation about Titan (even the day of landing, on The Science Channel special) revolved around the chance for finding life – or at least “prebiotic chemistry similar to that which existed on the Earth at the time life evolved.”  We expect the chemical evolutionists will be sorely disappointed.  For now, though, it’s time to enjoy the salt air of discovery, like sailors leaning over the bow of Columbus’ ship, eyes straining wide open to see the new world, after first hearing, “Land ho!”
Next headline on:  Solar SystemDating Methods
Critical Thinking Outlawed in Georgia School District    01/13/2005
A federal judge has ordered the stickers removed from Cobb County, Georgia biology textbooks that encourage students to think critically when examining the theory of evolution (see
11/08/2004 entry), according to Yahoo News.  The attorney defending the stickers tried to argue that science and religion are not mutually exclusive, and that the school board was just trying to get past the conflict and teach good science.  US District Judge Clarence Cooper disagreed.  He said,
By denigrating evolution, the school board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories.... While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, the sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The judge must have changed his mind from November, when the Discovery Institute reported that he would not impute the motives of the parents for placing the disclaimer stickers; “The Judge also held the sticker had a dual secular purpose of promoting critical thinking and reducing parental offense in light of expanded evolution coverage in the science curriculum.”
    The Discovery Institute blames the decision on a poor defense by the Cobb County attorney.  For instance, he did not call any scientists to refute the charges, which allowed pro-Darwinist Ken Miller’s “expert” testimony to go unrebutted.  Whatever changed the judge’s mind, the parents of six students who, along with the ACLU, sued the board over the stickers, are beaming: “This is a great day for Cobb County students,” said an attorney.  “They’re going to be permitted to learn science unadulterated by religious dogma.”  Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State appeared on radio news programs saying he hopes this nails the lid on the coffin of this issue.  Lynn lambasted those who try to diminish the value of evolution and replace it with “religious dogma.”  An appeal, however, cannot be ruled out.
    The stickers were inserted in 2002 when over 2,000 parents complained that the new textbooks taught evolution as fact, without even mentioning any alternatives.  Dr. John West, speaking for the Discovery Institute called today’s decision “bizarre” from a constitutional perspective.  “After ruling that the school board had a legitimate secular purpose for creating the textbook sticker, and acknowledging the fact that there are scientists who criticize modern evolutionary theory,” he explained, “the court nevertheless declared that the sticker is unconstitutional because some citizens might mistakenly believe that the sticker was intended to advance religion—even though the Judge admits it wasn’t.”  He feels this shows the judge had a “low view of the intelligence of his fellow citizens,” because if he could figure it out, why couldn’t they?  To West, the only consolation is that Judge Cooper did state in his opinion that promoting critical thinking about evolution is legitimate.
Update 01/18/2005: Fox News reports that the board decided to appeal the decision.  They feel that the judge’s decision “amounts to unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools.”
Dogma?  What religious dogma?  The only religious dogma on display is that of the Judge and the ACLU who get paranoid when they think they sniff someone else’s religion, whether or not any is present.  They are like the drunk who thought the whole world smelled rotten when a practical joker had smeared limburger cheese in his beard.  For the life of them, these attorneys, judges and Darwin-worshippers cannot see the religious dogma is their own.  What is dogma, if not an insistence that other views must be excluded from free inquiry and critical thinking?  This decision is disappointing, because it seemed like a slam-dunk.  Anyone with common sense would agree that controversial ideas should be examined with critical thinking.  It takes the convoluted arguments of Charlie worshippers to explain why their buddha needs special protection from scrutiny.
    The “reverend” Barry Lynn shows his true colors, for any that think his title means anything.  His god (little g) is merely a figment of imagination that has absolutely nothing to do with the naturalistic, mechanistic, directionless universe he assumes he lives in.  Why is he always on the side of the liberal Democrats on every political issue, just like Big Science? (see 12/02/2004 entry).  Connect the dots.  Lynn’s position is not about scientific accuracy or protection of religion, but about naturalistic philosophy, which almost always overlaps with political liberalism and moral relativism.  (See Answers in Genesis editorial from 04/08/2004 on the Cobb County textbook controversy.)
    Here is another case of a single, unelected federal judge (this one a Clinton appointee) trumping the will of the people and their elected representatives.  And notice: he did it not for something they did or said, but for something he thought they might have meant: the wording of the sticker appeared (not in reality, but in suspicion) to be endorsing (start the somber, ominous music) that deep, dark, evil, malicious doctrine of: (shall we utter the word?) creationism!  Aaaaaiiiiiiaaaa!
    So now Emperor Charlie gets to parade naked in front of the crowd, and little boys with eyes open, who wonder why everyone is praising the invisible robes, are forbidden to say anything.  The royal robes cannot be “denigrated,” even indirectly; in fact, it is against the law now to even entertain the thought in your mind that something is wrong with this picture.  The potential effects of this kind of legal reasoning (or lack of it) on the decisions, discussions and even motives of locally-elected officials are chilling.  Parents, students, if you are mad about this, keep the heat on.  Just don’t underestimate the power of Charlie’s thought police and inquisitors.  Dogmatism is all the more reason to turn on the floodlights.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryEducationDumb Stories
Robots Don’t See as Well as You Do   01/12/2005
Robot designers are still working on ways to emulate the human eye.  Just when you thought digital cameras were all the rage, we learn from
EurekAlert they are miserable substitutes when put into the eye sockets of robots.  Robot-vision export Vladimir Brajovic explains:
Often, when we take a picture with a digital or film camera, we are disappointed that many details we remember seeing appear in the image buried in deep shadows or washed out in overexposed regions.  This is because our eyes have a built-in mechanism to adapt to local illumination conditions, while our cameras don’t.  Because of this camera deficiency, robot vision often fails.   (Emphasis added.)
But can’t automatic exposure meters do the same thing?  No; they pick either a spot or average of the scene, and adjust all the sensors to the same level.  Our individual rods and cones not only have individual light adjustments, but “talk to each other” about what they see, and do image processing before the signals reach the brain (see 12/30/2003 and 05/27/2003 and 05/22/2003 entries).  Brajovic is trying to develop image sensors with some of these desirable capabilities.
Werner Gitt provides many more gee-whiz statistics about the eye, and other body senses, in a wonderful book, The Wonder of Man.  One square millimeter of retina has 400,000 sensors.  The photoreceptors are so sensitive, a single photon can activate them.  The rods can react in 0.3 seconds, the cones in 0.075 seconds.  Three types of cones, sensitive to different wavelengths, give us complete coverage of the visible light spectrum, with over 300 discernible hues.  Unlike film, which is rated for a particular “speed” or sensitivity, the eye’s photoreceptors are sensitive over 5 powers of 10, or 100,000 to one.  The signals are transmitted on two separate channels then recombined, to avoid the problem of thermal noise.  The optic nerve also filters out noise by sensing the response from multiple rods within a time limit of 0.02 second, and sending the signal along only if there is nearly simultaneous response from four or five rods scattered across the field.
    Rhodopsin, the light-sensing protein, is a large molecule composed of 350 amino acids (see online book).  To avoid saturation of the photoreceptors, muscles move the eyes in constant jerks called saccade's, but the optic nerve and brain automatically compensates for the motion (see 03/29/2002 entry).  The optic nerves cross behind the eyes, and are received by opposite sides of the brain; there, the inverted images are flipped and recombined seamlessly.  The brain even fills in the blanks caused by the holes where the optic nerves leave the retina, by interpolating these “blind spots” with similar pixels from the surrounding field.  Small as they are, the eyes have 120 megapixel resolution and can separate angles of one minute (1') of arc.  What’s more, they can do it in full-motion stereo.  With the help of the iris, eyelid, retina and other mechanisms, we can see everything from dim stars to bright sunlight reflected off snow: a phenomenal range of sensitivity – a factor of 1 million million to one.  And our eyes are not even the sharpest or most sensitive in the animal kingdom.  Need more?  Buy Gitt’s book.  After you enjoy it, hand it to an evolutionist.  Perhaps, though, these days, intentionally giving someone cold shudders would be misconstrued as cruelty (see 07/13/2001 commentary).
Next headline on:  Human BodyAmazing Stories
This Badger Ate Dinosaurs for Breakfast   01/12/2005
BBC News claims a new fossil discovery published in Nature,1 a large badger-like carnivorous mammal, ate dinosaurs for lunch.  But then again, who knows what time of day the Cretaceous restaurants were open?
    The fossil, another in a series of spectacular finds from the Liaoning Province in China, is creating a sensation, because it overturns an assumption that Mesozoic mammals were ecological underdogs – just small, rat-sized vermin, of no account in the arena of the thunder lizards.  Now, it appears some mammals were carnivores, big enough to compete with dinosaurs for food and territory.  Juvenile psittocosaur bones were found in the stomach contents of the smaller of two specimens of the short-legged mammals.  The bigger one was over a meter long, over twice the previous record.  Paleontologists speculate they may have resembled badgers or Tasmanian devils, but their lineage does not appear to have any living descendants.
    Analyzing the meaning of the find in the same issue of Nature,2 Anne Weil writes, “Discoveries of large, carnivorous mammals from the Cretaceous challenge the long-held view that primitive mammals were small and uninteresting”  (emphasis added in all quotes.)  One wonders if she has been reading Phillip Johnson lately.  She continues, “Have palaeontologists been asking the wrong questions?”
    Science Now has a picture of one of the fossils.  The BBC News has an artist reconstruction of what the creature might have looked like.
1Hu, Meng, Wang and Li, “Large Mesozoic mammals fed on young dinosaurs,” Nature 433, 149 - 152 (13 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03102.
2Anne Weil, “Mammalian palaeobiology: Living large in the Cretaceous,” Nature 433, 116 - 117 (13 January 2005); doi:10.1038/433116b.
Some of the new questions Anne Weil is asking turn the evolutionary story of the Cretaceous upside down:
Hypotheses developed to explain the evolution of mammalian size often focus on dinosaurs.  The most frequently repeated speculation is that Mesozoic mammals were forced to remain small by a combination of heavy predation pressure from dinosaurs and the saturation of ecological niches by large reptiles.  Are the mammals from the Lujiatun beds large because the dinosaurs are small?  This question may be premature, as the fossil deposits are under active excavation and description of the fauna is not complete.  Yet the two new specimens of Repenomamus prompt a reversal of the question, if only in speculation: how might mammals have influenced dinosaur evolution?  It seems likely that small dinosaurs experienced predation pressure from mammals.  Indeed, in describing the diminutive S. changii, which lies evolutionarily at the base of a lineage closely related to that of birds, Xu et al. express surprise that, although the avian lineage continued an evolutionary trend towards small size, closely related dinosaurian lineages became larger again.  Maybe these small dinosaurs got larger – or got off the ground – to avoid the rapacious mammals.
So evolutionary theory can explain anything, no matter what the bones.  But if early mammals were already large and carnivorous, where is the evolution?  No problem; just throw in a few new subplots to the never-ending story.  Animals just got larger and smaller according to who was eating whom.  The old speculation game is alive and well (read about Doug in the 09/18/2003 commentary).
    By the way, Anne added an admission to the public: “Despite the frequently made generalization that Mesozoic mammals were rat-sized, palaeontologists have known for some time that this was not the case” – sizeable mammal fossils are also known from North America and Australia.  Time to revise Walking with Dinosaurs – again (see 09/25/2003 entry).  The animators don’t mind.  The Great Society for Storytellers (see 12/22/2003 entry) provides job security for them, too.
Next headline on:  DinosaursMammals
DNA Translators Cannot Tolerate Editor Layoffs   01/12/2005
We’ve explained elsewhere about the family of molecular machines called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (see
05/26/2004 entry and its embedded links).  Their job is to associate each word of DNA code (codon) with its corresponding piece of a protein (amino acid).  In a very real sense, they translate the DNA code into the protein code.  One amazing capability of these machines is that they proofread their work.  They can differentiate between similar molecules, and edit out incorrect pieces inserted by mistake.  Scientists from Scripps Institute writing in PNAS1 thought they would watch what happened when they gave one of these translators a mutation that diminished this editing ability.  It wasn’t pretty:
The genetic code is established in aminoacylation reactions catalyzed by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases.  Many aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases require an additional domain for editing, to correct errors made by the catalytic domain.  A nonfunctional editing domain results in an ambiguous genetic code, where a single codon is not translated as a specific amino acid but rather as a statistical distribution of amino acids.  Here, wide-ranging consequences of genetic code ambiguity in Escherichia coli were investigated with an editing-defective isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase.  Ambiguity retarded cell growth at most temperatures in rich and minimal media.  These growth rate differences were seen regardless of the carbon source.  Inclusion of an amino acid analogue that is misactivated (and not cleared) diminished growth rate by up to 100-fold relative to an isogenic strain with normal editing function.  Experiments with target-specific antibiotics for ribosomes, DNA replication, and cell wall biosynthesis, in conjunction with measurements of mutation frequencies, were consistent with global changes in protein function caused by errors of translation and not editing-induced mutational errors.  Thus, a single defective editing domain caused translationally generated global effects on protein functions that, in turn, provide powerful selective pressures for maintenance of editing by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases.   (Emphasis added.)
In short, removing the editing created big problems.  The poor bacteria were stunted and vulnerable to malfunctions.  When the translator could not maintain high fidelity by editing out mistakes, crippled proteins were produced, and the organism became a sitting duck for the harsh realities of survival.
Update 01/26/2005: This paper generated a commentary in PNAS by Randall Hughes and Andrew Ellington of the University of Texas.2  They agreed that “over the long run, there has been and will continue to be tremendous selective pressure to maintain the current genetic code.”  But they surmise that, since not all the substituted amino acids produced fatalities, evolution might take advantage of them.  “Taking advantage of protein misfolding might at first seem to be an improbable event,” they admit, “but this phenomenon is conceptually similar to other ways in which organisms take evolutionary advantage of even inclement environments.”  Like citizens under siege scrounging for food, they envision a cell under stress with “a general need to explore a larger genetic space or a larger protein folding space or both.”  Maybe the cell has already planned for such things through experience.  “To the extent that organisms have encountered environmental stress intermittently over evolutionary time,” they write, “it may even be advantageous to establish some sort of regulatory feedback between stress and phenotypic exploration.”  In the end, though, they agree that the cell works hard to prevent such errors and possesses exquisite means to eliminate typos.  That means it will be difficult to find ways to change the genetic code in lab organisms: “simple substitutions will be an uphill battle.”
1Bacher, Crécy-Lagard and Schimmel, “Inhibited cell growth and protein functional changes from an editing-defective tRNA synthetase,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0409064102, published online before print January 12, 2005.
2Randall A. Hughes and Andrew D. Ellington, “Mistakes in translation don’t translate into termination,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, February 1, 2005, vol. 102, no. 5, pp. 1273-1274.
Notice that they implied that natural selection had strong motivation to preserve the editing function of these machines.  They did not say natural selection had the ability to originate these machines.  That supports creation, not evolution.  Hughes and Ellington added nothing but speculation: namely, the Darwinian plot line that stress is good, because it forces organisms to evolve or perish.  But they only gave examples of mechanisms that are already in place to respond to stress.  They did not show how a mindless cell would think to itself, “Y'know, I really ought to come up with a disaster plan.”
Next headline on:  Genetics and DNA
We Were Wrong About Isochrons, Geologists Say   01/12/2005
An isochron (a word meaning "equal time") is supposed to be a line connecting points on a graph that represent the same age, or the same age difference.  If your rain gutter barrel fills fast and the bucket in your garage fills slowly, for instance, you can figure the time the rain started if you know their individual fill rates; the line connecting those two points on a graph would be an isochron.  If you found another bucket and its fill rate also fell on the line, it would imply it started filling at the same time.  As straightforward as this method is at home or in the lab, can it be misleading when extrapolated millions of years into the past, when the initial and intervening conditions were not subject to observation?
    When geologists date rocks, they seek to identify minerals that are isochronous, though they may decay at different rates.  A hidden assumption was that the initial isotope ratios were fixed at the time the rock formed.  Not so fast, say four geologists from the UK, Wisconsin and California, writing in Geology:1
The determination of accurate and precise isochron ages for igneous rocks requires that the initial isotope ratios of the analyzed minerals are identical at the time of eruption or emplacement.  Studies of young volcanic rocks at the mineral scale have shown this assumption to be invalid in many instances.  Variations in initial isotope ratios can result in erroneous or imprecise ages.    (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
This realization “questions a fundamental tenet in isochron geochronology—that the initial isotope composition of the analyzed phases is identical.”  Since variations in these ratios are now known, it creates the “possibility that it may compromise geochronological interpretations.
    Sources of variation in initial ratios include: (1) rocks forming over multiple stages instead of one, (2) crustal contamination, (3) partial assimilation of parent isotopes, and (4) magma recharge.  These sources of error “can, in principle, be identified,” they claim, by examining cross-sections of the rock from core to rim, “provided that the components involved are isotopically distinct.”  But unless identified via independent checks, isochron ages can be “fictitious,” they warn.  They give an example of how rubidium-strontium data points “may result in a good isochron fit, even though the age obtained is meaningless.”  One case produced an order-of-magnitude difference between the argon age and the rubidium-strontium age, even with a valid isochron.
    To date a rock via isochrons, the geologist has to know that the rock had (1) slow diffusion and (2) rapid cooling.  But then, “The cooling history will depend on the volume of magma involved and its starting temperature, which in turn is a function of its composition.”  They give examples where it is evident that “open-system processes during crystallization must be invoked to impart isotopic heterogeneity to the mineral population”; i.e., to explain away differences in age between two methods by claiming the rock was open to the environment during its lifetime.  They admit, though, that “if the initial variation is systematic (e.g., due to open-system mixing or contamination), then isochrons are generated that can be very good” based on their fit to the graph, “but the ages are geologically meaningless.”
       The authors assert that these sources of error might still be useful.  They describe ways how fictitious isochrons might, if true ages are known from other methods, lead to interpretations of how the rocks were formed.  They claim that it is highly unlikely that open-system processes that affect the isochrons of one method would affect another method the same way.  Their summary, however, consists primarily of cautions:
  1. The “assumption of a constant [initial strontium isotope] ratio in isochron analysis of ancient rocks may not be valid in many instances.”  In fact, significant variation is a “common observation,” they say.
  2. Statistical methods may not be able to distinguish between constant or variable [initial strontium isotope] ratios,” particularly as the rocks get older, or the rocks were subject to open systems during their formation.
  3. Independent ages are needed to evaluate rock-component isochrons.”  Disagreements “may constrain differentiation mechanisms such as contamination and mixing,” if they can be corrected by independent means.

1Davidson, Charlier, Hora, and Perlroth, “Mineral isochrons and isotopic fingerprinting: Pitfalls and promises,”
Geology, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 29–32, doi: 10.1130/G21063.1.
Now, wait just a rockhounding minute.  Isochrons have been touted by the uniformitarians as a fail-safe method for dating rocks, because the data points are supposed to be self-checking (Darwin-lover Ken Miller used this argument in a debate against Henry Morris years ago.)  Now, these geologists, publishing in the premiere geological journal in the world, are telling us that isochrons can look perfect on paper yet give meaningless ages, by orders of magnitude, if the initial conditions are not known, or if the rocks were open systems at some time in the past.  That sounds like what young earth creationists have been complaining about all along.  But then, these geologists put a happy face on the situation.  It’s not all bad news, they say, because if the geologist can know the true age by another method, he can glean some useful information out of the errors.  But if they were wrong about the isochron method, what faulty assumptions are going to turn up some day about other methods, in a future issue of Geology?  Their confidence that they can know anything about what happened 200 million years ago is about as reassuring as the surgeon who told his patient, “I have good news and bad news.  The bad news is that we removed the wrong kidney.  The good news is that your other kidney is doing just fine.”
Next headline on:  GeologyDating Methods
Dover, PA Administrators Will Read ID Statement    01/11/2005
In a compromise aimed at relieving recalcitrant teachers, the Dover, Pennsylvania school board decided that administrators will read a four-paragraph statement about evolution and intelligent design (ID) to high school students for any teachers that want to “opt out” of the new policy (see
11/04/2004 headline).  The decision, according to the York Daily Record, was made partly because of a lawsuit entered by 11 teachers that claim that intelligent design is not science.  Supporters of the ID policy claim they only want students to hear that there are alternatives to Darwinism.  The “one-minute” statement will say,
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
    Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered.  The Theory is not a fact.  Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence.  A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
    Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.  The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
    With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.  The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families.  As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The newspaper report ends by quoting an open letter from a biologist and a philosopher about why ID is not science but rather “a form of creationism propped up by a biased and selective view of the evidence.”  Evolution, by contrast, they claim is “based on and supported by an immense and diverse array of evidence and is continually being tested and reaffirmed by new discoveries from many scientific fields.”  They compare the “theory” of evolution to theories of relativity and continental drift, which no one questions.  They say that evolution promises great medical discoveries (see 01/13/2003 entry), and that students need “dependable scientific knowledge” to gain admission to colleges and universities and compete for good jobs.
Dr. Sniegowski and Dr. Weisberg (authors of this open letter), your assignment is to write on the blackboard, 500 times, “I will not tell a lie” (see 11/30/2004 entry).  Then you must read all four years of back issues of Creation-Evolution Headlines.  Anyone who cannot find anything wrong with this letter must also read the back issues before continuing.  Selective evidence?  Bias?  Religious motivation?  Such hypocrisy is laughable.  How many times do we need to go over this?  Go back and read 11/30/2004, 09/29/2004, 08/18/2004, 05/07/2004, 02/27/2004 and the rest of the chain links on Darwinism or Intelligent Design.
    As well-meaning as the board’s intentions are, this compromise will not work.  Teachers have much more emotional power over the students than administrators.  Students view administrators as distant bureaucrats in formidable offices, those mean guys with white shirts and ties that you get sent to when you’re bad.  You can just picture a Darwinista teacher smirking as the statement is read over the intercom, whistling a silly tune and rotating his finger around his ear.  Students will get the message – ID is crazy, and that it is “cool” to mock it.  A few students may glance at the alternate textbook (if they can find one – the Darwinista comrade will conveniently “lose” it), and a small number of students may feel relieved they have official permission to use their brains.  But unless there is a charismatic student leader in the classroom willing to stand up to the Darwin-only dogma and attract fellow students to his or her side, most students will just fall in line.  The Darwin Party teacher will also have power over grading, and with many and varied subtle techniques, will be able to make any student regret listening to the announcement.  Sadly, the policy may backfire, and raise up a class of students even more brainwashed than before.  That is why even the pro-ID Discovery Institute considered the policy misguided.  Proponents of ID don’t want to mandate their view; they want students to hear both sides and think critically; Darwinists do not.  That is the difference: using your brains, or being brainwashed.
    The Darwin Party muscles out ID mostly because of bandwagon and bully tactics, not evidence, as we repeatedly demonstrate right here.  Unless school boards understand the issues clearly, the Darwinistas will continue to get away with their blustering about science vs. religion, separation of church and state, equating evolution with good science education, threats about jobs and college, and empty promises of medical advances.  School boards should first master the baloney detector.  Then they must master the history and philosophy of evolutionism.  They need to understand clearly the philosophical bases of naturalism, and the fallacies of positivism.  They need to expose the religious bias of these philosophies, and be prepared to argue worldviews, not just pieces of evidence.  They need to understand the way Darwinists smuggled their philosophy into the definition of science; like physicist Keith Wanser said, “There is not one theory of evolution, but a body of opinions, speculations and methods for interpretation of observational facts so that they fit into the philosophy of naturalism” (see Nov. 2001 quote).  After these things, school boards need to devise strategies that empower the students and the teachers to unite against the illegitimate dictatorship of the Darwinista usurpers.  It’s as much strategy as knowledge.
    The latest Creation Research Society Quarterly has an essay by several authors that provides a primer on the historical and philosophical errors of evolutionism.  It points out how philosophical naturalists co-opted Christian assumptions that would otherwise make their own beliefs self-refuting, and how the naturalists pulled a coup over science with misdirection and redefinition of terms.  Their claim that science must be naturalistic is refuted by the fact that most of the greatest scientists of history were Christians and creationists (see online book).
    These historical and philosophical issues must be understood before writing education policy.  The students need to see “teaching the controversy” as a revolution against tyranny, against intolerant dogmatists who brainwash them, who shield from view the ugly problems with their views, as if student psyches are too tender to deal with them.  Students, parents and school boards need to be equipped to answer the Darwinist propaganda with facts, logic, and a firm grasp of the issues.  They need to be able to parry attempts to misdirect the argument, control definitions of terms or dodge difficulties.  They need to defend the right to think and ask questions.  They need to stop being intimidated by bluffing, even when signed off by a bandwagon of PhDs.  Can the establishment and the “experts” be wrong?  Have you ever had a history class?
    For every open letter like the one sent to the Dover school board, there need to be a dozen reasoned, informed responses.  For every ACLU threat, there needs to be a firm show of resolve by citizens who will not be cowed into silence.  The Darwinists should be the ones on the defensive; they are trying to push a myth that the universe came from nothing, that life arose by chance, and that all the complexity and beauty of life “arose” through undirected processes without purpose.  This is ridiculous on the face of it.  They want to maintain their right to tell these stories to kids, without contradiction.  The pompous Emperor Charlie is naked.  Don’t be afraid to shout the evidence to a docile crowd, bullied into thinking they cannot trust their eyes.
Next headline on:  EducationDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
Iapetus Cracked Like a Nut    01/07/2005
Saturn has a moon named for the two-faced Roman god Janus, but the real two-faced moon is the larger Iapetus.  Since Jean Dominique Cassini discovered the moon in 1671 and noticed its varying brightness, scientists have been mystified by its two hemispheres, one as black as coal, the other white as snow.  Investigators were sure they would figure it out when Voyager 2 flew by in 1981.  They didn’t.  Investigators were hopeful they would figure it out when Cassini flew by less than two weeks ago on December 31, 2004.  They didn’t.  In fact, they were thrown another curve: a ridge that wraps around the equator that gives the moon the appearance of a cracked walnut (see
imaging team picture and caption).  This is no ordinary crack; the ridgeline forms a mountain range 800 miles long and 13 miles high in places – three times the height of Mt. Everest.  For a global perspective, see this 3D image and this composite of the dark hemisphere.  The landslide at the right of the previous image slumped from a 9-mile scarp of an impact basin, and flowed tens of miles across a crater floor.
    For decades, scientists have tried to prove one of two models for Iapetus’ black-and-white contrast: either the dark material erupted from the inside (endogenic) and spread over the surface, or was splattered onto the moon from the outside (exogenic).  Since the dark material covers the leading hemisphere (the side facing the orbital motion, like a windshield), the exogenic model has been slightly favored, but planetary scientists could not understand a source for the material that would not have also plastered the inner moons, unless it was dust blown off from an impact on Phoebe (see 06/14/2004 headline) – but the spectra didn’t match.  The new hi-resolution images from Cassini, taken seven times closer than Voyager, still favor the exogenic model, because the dark regions have feathery edges and are distributed around the equator, not the poles.  The pictures seem to rule out a liquidy or mushy ooze spreading out from the interior, but scientists cannot eliminate the possibility that dusty debris erupted from cracks or geysers.  Could geological processes related to the equatorial ridge be related to the dark material?  If so, what drove those processes on a frozen moon?
    The ridge is a geological feature unique in the solar system.  It seems to cut right through more ancient craters.  The albedo difference divides the leading and trailing hemispheres, but this ridge divides the northern and southern hemispheres.  Are they related?  Since Iapetus is “far out” (literally and figuratively), Cassini won’t get another chance to observe it at close range till 2007.  That encounter, in September of that year, will be much closer and provide 100 times better resolution.  The JPL press release says scientists are hoping to determine whether Iapetus was volcanically active in the past – odd for an icy-cold moon far from any tidal influences.  Two weeks ago, scientists had a major mystery to solve at Iapetus; now they have two.
Planetary science is the art of building skeet for observations to shoot down.  Next episode in this exciting sport comes this Friday, when the Huygens Probe parachutes to the surface of Titan.
Next headline on:  Solar System
Astrobiology: Follow the Money    01/07/2005
To date, astrobiology remains, as George Gaylord Simpson once quipped, “an area of study without a known subject.”  Yet it is one of the hottest research areas within NASA.  A renowned origin-of-life researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Jeffrey Bada, found out why when he read the new book The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology by Steven J. Dick and James E. Strick (Rutgers, 2004).  His book review appears in Science:1
Today, it seems nearly everyone is an astrobiologist.  A decade ago, I knew essentially none.  Why this sudden obsession with a field that encompasses so many diverse areas in both the physical and life sciences?  So far, life has not been found to exist away from Earth, although the surge in interest in astrobiology suggests there is intense optimism within at least parts of the science community that this singularity will change in the future.  But scientific curiosity alone likely cannot explain the explosive growth of astrobiology.  After reading The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology, I came to the conclusion that one of the field’s attractions was money—and lots of it.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Following the money trail, Bada found that exobiology (astrobiology’s “older relative”) got over $5 million in funding from NASA, leading up to the 1976 Viking missions.  After they failed to detect life on Mars, exobiology funding dwindled, but in the mid-1990s, “NASA administrators Wesley Huntress and Daniel Goldin envisioned astrobiology as a means of integrating biological sciences into the space exploration program while also revitalizing places such as ARC [Ames Research Center] and providing a solid funding base for academic research.”  In 1995, the NASA Astrobiology Institute was inaugurated.  Fortuitously, the next year, the Martian Meteorite ALH84001 hit the newspapers with “supposed evidence for life.”  Bada says, “Among scientists and the general public alike, this claim generated intense interest in—as well as controversy about—the possibilities of life beyond Earth.  All of a sudden, astrobiology was the hottest topic around.
    And where there is interest, there is money.  “The scientific community raced to get a piece of the action, and today the Institute comprises 16 funded nodes with five-year budgets of between about $5 million and $12 million.”  Today, there are astrobiology journals, astrobiology conferences, and astrobiology international meetings.  They may not have found evidence for life out there, but astrobiology has become “a field with a life of its own,” he quips.  “The field has indeed exploded.”  It is a huge public-relations boon not only for NASA, but for the European Space Agency (ESA).  To be sure, NASA did not invent exobiology or astrobiology – speculations about life in outer space go back eons – but the terms became NASA funding buzzwords and mission drivers.  The assumption is that the public will be more jazzed over finding something that crawls instead of hearing about more craters, rock, ice, and dust.
    The Huygens Probe is now a week away from landing on Titan.  No scientist expects to find life at nearly 300° below zero, but astrobiologists have capitalized on their fad by portraying Titan as “the early Earth in a deep freeze.”  They tantalize school children with hopes that complex “prebiotic” carbon compounds might be found on the surface, that could be “the building blocks of life.”  When the Mars rovers found hints of past liquid water (see
01/05/2005 headline), it buoyed astrobiologists’ hopes that evidence for past life might be found in a future mission, such as the Mars Science Laboratory or Mars Sample Return.  If Mars proves lifeless, the last hope in our solar system will be Europa, where an ocean of liquid water may persist under the miles-deep ice crust.  “Astrobiology has a big stake in these efforts,” Bada warns.  “Finding evidence for life on another body in our solar system would give the field the justification it requires in order to remain an active, well-funded area of research.
1Jeffrey L. Bada, “A Field with a Life of Its Own,” Science, Science, Vol 307, Issue 5706, 46, 7 January 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1106678].
For astrobiology not to be viewed by historians as a giant boondoggle, its adherents had better find something soon.  But even if they don’t find it on Mars or Europa, their search extends to the stars, where they can speculate endlessly.  Missions like Kepler, the Space Interferometry Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder are motivated largely by the search for life’s origins (which being interpreted, always means a naturalistic origin by chemical evolution; see 06/23/2003 headline).  Similarly, SETI, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, thrives on the premise that life evolves wherever the conditions are favorable.  It, too, is “an area of study without a known subject.”
    It is worthwhile to ask big questions and seek answers.  Rather than keeping philosophers wandering blindly in speculation space, astrobiology may provide needed constraints on what is possible.  It would be better to know for sure whether all the bodies in our solar system beyond Earth are sterile or not.  The search for extrasolar planets has already helped corral speculation about the nature and possible origins of planetary systems.  The problem is that visions of money and fame can create self-perpetuating myths that enrich individuals and dupe the public.
    Some conspiracy theorists have claimed recently that cell phone companies are hiding evidence that long-term use of cell phones contributes to brain cancer, knowing that by the time instances of cancer start to rise, the companies will have made a lot of money and the managers will be retired.  Whether or not that is true is someone else’s research project.  But consider the case of Sidney Fox.  He got $1.7 million dollars from NASA for exobiology projects between 1959 and 1964, and became famous for his “protenoid microspheres” that he claimed showed how proteins could self-organize into bodies that resembled primitive cells.  But now, Bada claims in this book review that “the impact of his research today is generally considered minimal.”  Those microspheres were cooked up under conditions very implausible for the early Earth, and no more resembled cells than a bronze expressionist hunk of metal resembles a living Michael Moore.  (On second thought....)
    In short, Sidney Fox got rich and famous, on taxpayer money, for a sham.  He got to play around in an all-expense-paid laboratory, look like he was busy, generate nonsense, and retire, by racing to get “a piece of the action” when exobiology was a fad.  What other “useful lies” like the Stanley Miller experiment (see 05/02/2003 headline) become funding bandwagons?  Along that line, someone should try to connect the dots between the founding of the Astrobiology Institute and the announcement of ALH84001 the next year.  Dan Goldin, how about some hard questions?
    The only way to get control of the propensity for NASA to waste money on false hopes is to fund debate.  Why should Astrobiology funds go to only one party, the Darwin Party?  (They’re mostly liberal Democrats anyway–see 12/02/2004 headline).  NASA administrators are rightly concerned about maintaining public interest, because jobs and careers for many decent Americans are at stake, and legitimate science and technological spinoffs depend on a strong national program of basic research.  We have a suggestion.  Instead of cartoons, give the public professional wrestling.  Most of the public believes in creation, not evolution, so giving the public a steady stream of Charlie cartoons goes against the grain and is borrrrringggggg.  Let’s have NASA distribute Astrobiology funds to both parties, Darwinism and Intelligent Design.  Missions to collect data from Mars, Europa and Titan can continue.  Kepler, SIM, and TPF can proceed, and efforts to gather better data and constrain models will be valued.  But competition will simultaneously generate public interest while providing checks and balances against wild speculation.  Both sides will be motivated to falsify the other’s claims.  The best science will survive the battle.  (Whassamatta, Charlie.... chicken?)  The public, and the truth, will win in the end.  Write here with your comments on this proposal.
Next headline on:  Origin of Life
Why You Breathe Deep to Sniff a Flower    01/06/2005
It may sound like a 747 when your uncle blows his nose, but scientists at Imperial College found nose airflow to be more complicated than the aerodynamics of a jumbo jet’s wing, according to a press release by the reporting the
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council .  They made a 3D model of the nasal passages and studied colored liquid and beads as they flowed through.  The press release comments, “The fluid dynamics of the nose is one of the most complex in the body, even more so than the flow of blood through the heart, with anatomical structures that cause eddies, whirls and recirculation.”
Dr Denis Doorly, the other principal researcher [with Bob Schroter], said, “People are used to the flows around an aeroplane being complicated but that is in some ways simpler than understanding the flows inside the nose.  The geometry of the nose is highly complex, with no straight lines or simple curves like an aircraft wing and the regime of airflow is not simply laminar or turbulent.”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
This leads to the answer to the question posed by the title of this entry:
The research has mapped the flow of air around anatomical landmarks in the nose, such as the conchae and has discovered why we need to breathe deeply to smell a flower.  Our sense of smell relies on a sample of air reaching the olfactory bulb at the top of the nose and that requires a sharp breathe [sic] and a high velocity shot of air to reach it.  The Imperial scientists have found that the geometry of the nose causes the air to eddy around in the vicinity of the bulb so you can smell the flower.
One of the results of the study may be to design better ways to unblock a stuffy nose.  Come to think of it, the sneeze response is usually pretty effective, and pretty amazing, too.  It involves coordination between the lungs, the eyes, the brain, the nose and the diaphragm.
Sniffing must be true for all mammals.  Watch your dog sniff in puffs of air when trying to smell an object.  If the olfactory bulb were always exposed to every breath, it might overwhelm the brain with TMI (too much information).  This way, it allows the user to focus on a smell when it wants to.  So not only is the olfactory bulb offset from the breathing passage, it sits where the air forms an eddy, allowing it to get multiple readings for higher resolution.  Remember the 11/07/2001 headline, also, that reported you have a code in your nose.  Who designed the fluid dynamics of this system?  Charlie?  Eheu! (see 10/10/2002 headline).
Next headline on:  Human BodyAmazing Stories
ID Blog Opens     01/05/2005
The
Discovery Institute, an Intelligent Design think-tank in Seattle, has initiated a new blog, Evolution News & Views, that analyzes how evolution is presented in the media (see mission statement).  One of the first entries concerns how a PBS station in New Mexico censored the showing of the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life after it had been approved (see Discovery Institute response and article on World Net Daily).
Next headline on:  Intelligent Design

Bird Studies Overthrow Evolutionary Assumptions About Population Genetics    01/05/2005
The assumption was that gene flow homogenized a population, and selection diversified it.  But now, two studies in Nature1,2 of an English songbird called the great tit, Parus major, carried on for decades, has shown that differences between closely-associated populations can persist in spite of homogenizing gene flow.  Garant et al. explain the significance of this to evolutionary theory:

Evolutionary theory predicts that local population divergence will depend on the balance between the diversifying effect of selection and the homogenizing effect of gene flow.  However, spatial variation in the expression of genetic variation will also generate differential evolutionary responses.  Furthermore, if dispersal is non-random it may actually reinforce, rather than counteract, evolutionary differentiation.  Here we document the evolution of differences in body mass within a population of great tits, Parus major, inhabiting a single continuous woodland, over a 36-year period.  We show that genetic variance for nestling body mass is spatially variable, that this generates different potential responses to selection, and that this diversifying effect is reinforced by non-random dispersal.  Matching the patterns of variation, selection and evolution with population ecological data, we argue that the small-scale differentiation is driven by density-related differences in habitat quality affecting settlement decisions.  Our data show that when gene flow is not homogeneous, evolutionary differentiation can be rapid and can occur over surprisingly small spatial scales.  Our findings have important implications for questions of the scale of adaptation and speciation, and challenge the usual treatment of dispersal as a force opposing evolutionary differentiation.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
David W. Coltman (U of Alberta),3 commenting on these papers, summarized, “Gene flow between populations – caused by migration, for instance – is most often viewed as a homogenizing force in evolution.  But two studies of wild birds and non-random dispersal find otherwise.”  These long-term studies complicate theories.  He says: “we ought to be paying more attention to how quantitative genetic variation is spatially and temporally structured.”  But even that is not enough: “Indeed, a truly mechanistic understanding of microevolution requires an understanding of genetic architecture (the properties of the individual genes underlying variation).  One way of gaining such an understanding of microevolution in nature will be to apply genomics to ecological and evolutionary studies in non-model species, using comparative approaches.”  The fact that he speaks in future tense indicates this has never been done.
1Garant et al., “Evolution driven by differential dispersal within a wild bird population,”
Nature 433, 60 - 65 (06 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03051.
2Postma and Van Noordwijk, “Gene flow maintains a large genetic difference in clutch size at a small spatial scale,” Nature 433, 60 - 65 (06 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03051.
3David W. Coltman, “Evolutionary genetics: Differentiation by dispersal,” Nature 433, 23 - 24 (06 January 2005); doi:10.1038/433023a.
On the surface, this looks like it could accelerate evolution by removing the homogenizing effect of gene flow.  But consider what these papers indicate.  First, assumptions can be flat wrong.  Many evolutionists assumed, with armchair modeling, that populations with many opportunities for interbreeding would become more homogeneous.  Both these studies, however, showed that slight differences in clutch size and body mass could be maintained in spite of shared habitat.  Second, they found that differentiation of two populations can be rapid and occur in a small area.
    Keep in mind that these studies involve only microevolution.  They are about one species of bird, Parus major, that were still the same species at the beginning and end of the observations.  They have nothing to say, therefore, about the origin of birds, the origin of flight, the origin of feathers, the origin of species or any other major change that would help Charlie feel gratified.  In fact, creationists could use these studies to support the idea that microevolution was rapid after the Flood.  The evolutionists themselves were surprised that their assumptions about population genetics were wrong, and admitted that these studies “challenge the usual treatment” of dispersal, as well as gene flow and selection, as agents of evolution.  If you cannot trust your assumptions, you cannot trust your models; and if you cannot trust your models, you cannot trust your perception of reality.
    Incidentally, despite its embarrassing name, the great tit is beautiful bird.  The picture accompanying David Coltman’s commentary shows the bird in flight, wings splayed in geometrical artistry, exquisitely-designed feathers extended, handsome black-capped head, food in its beak, alert eyes, displaying aerodynamic excellence.  Differences in clutch size and egg size say nothing about these examples of functional adaptation par excellence.  The caption reads, “The great tit: challenging assumptions about gene flow and genetic differentiation.”  Darwinists preach macroevolution, but cannot understand microevolution.  They want to explain the whole living world by their theory, and can’t even get the population genetics of one species of bird right.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryBirds
Media and Journals Conflict Over Mars Life    01/05/2005
Timed for the one-year anniversary of the Mars Exploration Rovers, PBS aired a NOVA program last night about Spirit and Opportunity, and the teams that landed them and operated them on Mars.  As is common for popular programs about Mars exploration, NOVA suggested that evidence for past water found (especially by Opportunity at Meridiani Planum) means that life may have existed there.  As support, the program pointed to all the hostile places on Earth where life has been discovered.
    By contrast, very negative conclusions about life on Mars were announced in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets1 by Dawn Y. Sumner, geologist at UC Davis.  Her paper claims the mineralogy makes life very unlikely:
Life is composed of organic compounds, and characterizing preserved compounds provides insights into the presence of specific types of life, including early life on Earth.  With growing evidence for a wet early Mars, excitement over the potential of an early Martian biosphere strongly motivates Mars exploration.  However, the preservation potential of organic compounds in rocks on either Earth or Mars depends critically on mineralogy.  Results from elemental, mineralogical, and morphological characterization of sedimentary rocks by the Opportunity rover team in the vicinity of the Challenger Memorial Station, Meridiani Planum, demonstrate an abundance of Fe(III) and sulfate minerals that formed from liquid water.  The composition of these sedimentary rocks suggests that organic compounds are unlikely to be preserved within them, even if present when the rocks were deposited, based on comparisons with iron formation, acid lake deposits, and iron-containing concretions from Earth.  No evidence consistent with the presence of organic compounds, such as the presence of Fe(II) minerals, has been reported from Meridiani Planum to date.  Thus these Martian sedimentary rocks are not a good target to explore for organic compounds on Mars.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The poor potential for preservation of organics does not preclude the past existence of life, but the problem is that organics would have oxidized under the conditions that laid down the rocks.  For instance, the NOVA program made a big deal about the hematite and jarosite being evidence of water, but Sumner states, “Note that in the presence of hematite and jarosite, organics are not thermodynamically stable.”  If life is composed of organic molecules, it would seem conditions were hostile to life even during the past wet periods.  This has implications for the search for life on Mars, she concludes:
Exploring for complex organic compounds with an in situ mission to Meridiani Planum unit P2 sedimentary rocks is not likely to produce positive results given the absence of mineralogical evidence for good organic preservation and the abundance of evidence for minerals inimical to long-term preservation.  At best, organics will be difficult to find and, if not found, their absence can be attributed to the low preservation potential of the host rocks.  Results will not allow us to distinguish between an initial absence of organics and an absence due to poor preservation.  Thus, in situ organic compound characterization of these rocks is unlikely to contribute to the goal to “Determine if Life Ever Arose on Mars.”
A sample return mission would provide better resolution, but looking at another spot is her recommendation.
1Dawn Y. Sumner, “Poor preservation potential of organics in Meridiani Planum hematite-bearing sedimentary rocks,”
JGR Planets, Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 109, E12007, doi:10.1029/2004JE002321, 2004.
Do you get angry when TV shows ignore these facts?  Science programs on secular TV routinely gloss over major difficulties with evolutionary myths, and make the origin of life seem as simple as “just add water.”  The NOVA program was commendable for its portrayal of the human drama of exploration, and the MER team deserves credit for the tremendous technological feat they accomplished, and the enthusiasm and dedication with which they carried it out.  But they did not help the search for life: in fact, the results have been depressing compared to earlier expectations (see 12/20/2004, 12/03/2004, 10/18/2004, 08/06/2004 headlines).  They found evidence that Mars had wet periods, at least intermittent shallow ones sometime in the past.  But water is the easy part.  H2O is abundant in the solar system, and to get it in liquid form only requires an environment between its freezing and boiling points.  Despite its importance and unusual properties, water is a simple molecule.  It only has three atoms.  The simplest molecules of life involve thousands of atoms, in complex molecules hundreds of units long, interacting in complex ways.  What’s more, an incipient lifeform must be able to accurately duplicate all its parts.  It is the height of irresponsibility for NOVA, the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, Bill Nye and all the other media outlets to continue to push the myth that if water is found, life cannot be far behind.  If water is found, it does not mean life.  If life is found, it does not mean it evolved.  Extraordinary, mind-bogglingly incredible claims demand extraordinary, mind-bogglingly incredible proof.
Next headline on:  MarsOrigin of LifeMedia
SETI Has News   01/05/2005
...no, not a discovery of an alien civilization, just better hardware.  Seth Shostak listed for
Space.com some of the improvements in technology and search strategies that should speed up and narrow down the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence by orders of magnitude.  “Of course, it would be nice to say, ‘well, we detected three Type II civilizations last week, but they weren’t especially interesting,’ and sometimes I do this for effect,” he quipped.  “But of course it’s not true, and until it is, some people assume that there’s nothing new with SETI.”
It’s the Type III civilizations that are the interesting ones (see II Corinthians 12).
Next headline on:  SETI
Gecko Has Self-Cleaning Feet   01/04/2005
Imagine self-cleaning, reusable tape.  No matter where you stick it, you can remove it and stick it on another surface, no matter how dirty, and it always acts like new.  The tokay gecko has achieved such a feat on its feet, according to a physicist and a biologist from Lewis and Clark College, Oregon, publishing in PNAS.1  The abstract sets up the problem:
A tokay gecko can cling to virtually any surface and support its body mass with a single toe by using the millions of keratinous setae on its toe pads.  Each seta branches into hundreds of 200-nm spatulae that make intimate contact with a variety of surface profiles.  We showed previously that the combined surface area of billions of spatulae maximizes van der Waals interactions to generate large adhesive and shear forces. [see 09/05/2003 headline].  Geckos are not known to groom their feet yet retain their stickiness for months between molts.  How geckos manage to keep their feet clean while walking about with sticky toes has remained a puzzle until now.  Although self-cleaning by water droplets occurs in plant and animal surfaces, no adhesive has been shown to self-clean.  In the present study, we demonstrate that gecko setae are a self-cleaning adhesive.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
How do they do it?  The authors did a force analysis on the gecko spatulae, the surface, and contaminant particles.  They found that with the small size of the spatulae, contaminants are more likely to stick to the surface than to the spatulae.  (The spatulae look like split ends on a broom straw, with the setae represented by the straws).  As a result, the gecko feet possess a passive self-cleaning mechanism that is intrinsic to the structure of the setae and spatulae.  Furthermore, the spatulae have an “anti-self” property that keeps them from sticking to each other. 
    The fact that this operates by a mechanical, passive property rather than an active cleaning process gave the authors hope that man can invent a similar self-cleaning adhesive.  “Thus, the self-cleaning and anti-self conditions may represent a sweet spot in the evolutionary and engineering design spaces for adhesive nanostructures.”
1W. R. Hansen and K. Autumn, “Evidence for self-cleaning in gecko setae,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0408304102, published online before print January 3, 2005.
Question: why is this paper classified under Evolution?  Anyone see any evolution here?  Evolution is not an engineer.  Without all the structural properties present simultaneously, the gecko would quickly die of clogged feet that could not cling to anything.  These guys said nothing about how this intricate and effective structure could have evolved by a chance process.  Let’s keep Charlie out of it.
Next headline on:  ZoologyAmazing stories
Theologians Wrestle with God’s Role in Disasters    01/03/2005
As international rescue efforts accelerate in the aftermath of last week’s tsunamis in Asia (see
Caltech for the geological story, and Nature News for the earthquake’s affect on Earth’s rotation), commentators and theologians are beginning to ask the “why?” questions.  The liberal Archbishop of Canterbury is doubting the existence of God, according to the UK News Telegraph.  From a Jewish perspective, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, writing in World Net Daily, argues that it’s not God’s fault, but man’s, for living in quake-prone areas.  On his blog, Biola professor John Mark Reynolds answers the critics who try to use the disaster as an opportunity to attack theism.  Creationist writer Carl Wieland writes for Answers in Genesis about how this incident raises the age-old questions about death and suffering, as does Dr. David Miller on Apologetics Press.  Dr. Kelly Hollowell, also on World Net Daily, compares this disaster with Noah’s flood.  To be fair, the fearfulness of any disaster needs to be balanced against the sum total of factors that make Earth a privileged planet as an abode for life.  Perhaps the best philosophers are the relief agencies like World Vision, who are focusing their energy not on talking, but on helping the victims.
Sooner or later, everyone needs to come to grips with the big questions about suffering.  Actually, this disaster, which will undoubtedly go on record as one of the biggest in modern history, is a trifle compared to the global flood in the days of Noah described in the Bible (Genesis 6-9).  From orbit, these tsunamis would not even register as bathtub ripples.  The Flood killed all but Noah and his family, and reshaped the whole planet (see Dr. Walt Brown’s geological treatment of the Biblical Flood).
    The Creator God is the Sovereign God.  He can give life as well as take it, especially from a world of rebels.  Remember that the Flood was a judgment on sin.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); God never misses a payday.  His word warned us that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), so it’s not a matter of if, but when, and how.  This keeps our need for God and His mercy imminent in our minds.  We must always be ready to face the judgment, even when sunbathing on the beach at a vacation resort.  The tsunamis only accelerated the human death statistic (100%) in one region.
    The amazing thing is not that rebels will die, but that they can be forgiven (see Romans 5:8).   Jesus did not provide a philosophy of suffering.  He did something about it: in his passion, He offered the way of escape from eternal suffering – an eventuality far worse than anything rebels might endure on earth.  On one occasion Jesus was asked about a terrible thing that had happened.  His response referred both to suffering by accident and suffering caused by evil.  He said, simply, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13).  He also hinted that any given natural process is not specifically targeted at individuals, but runs according to natural laws, when He said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:45), speaking of our Father in heaven, “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
    That is sufficient revelation for now.  We cannot expect to out-reason the greatest philosophers of history since Job on the question of evil and suffering.  We cannot know things of God not revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).  There are things more urgent and worthwhile to do than philosophize.  Get your heart right with your Creator while you can, before it’s your turn (read Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul).  Then use this occasion of great need to grow in character and unselfishness: pitch in and help with your money, your prayers, and your hands.
Next headline on:  GeologyTheology
Anthropologist Claims Humans, Neanderthals, Australopithecines All Variations on One Species   01/01/2005
According to a news story in the UK
News Telegraph, all fossil hominids, including modern humans, Australopithecines, Neanderthals and the recent Indonesian “hobbit man,” belong to the same species: Homo sapiens.  Reporter Robert Matthews wrote about Maciej Henneberg (U of Adelaide) and his argument, based on skull sizes and body weights for 200 fossil specimens, that all known hominid bones fit within the range of variation expected for a single species.  Henneberg made the startling claim in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology, where he said, “All hominims [sic] appear to be a single gradually evolving lineage containing only one species at each point in time.”
Henneberg still believes humans were evolving, but his analysis points out several important shortcomings in the “science” of paleoanthropology that should make the thoughtful reader wary of its practitioners.  (1) There is a huge range of variation possible within a single species.  (2) It is difficult to assign any human bone to one or another species.  Notice what this led Henneberg to state: “There is no precise way in which we can test whether Julius Caesar and Princess Diana were members of the same species of Homo sapiens” (emphasis added in all quotes).  Consider what that means when judging bones of alleged human ancestors.  You could tell any story you want.  (We like the one that Caesar and Diana were different species.)  (3) The article reminds everyone that paleoanthropologists often bicker about the meaning of their discoveries (see 12/21/2004 headline).  Geoffrey Harrison (Prof. emeritus, Oxford) said it best: “Clearly there is a need to be more aware of the possibility of variation – but that is not the inclination today.  It has been a problem because the discoverers have usually put so much effort into finding the evidence, so they want it to be important.”  (4) There are too few bones to make any conclusions.  Henneberg said there are fewer than 30 Neanderthal specimens available for study.  (5) Neanderthals could be considered fully human.  The article refers to Henneberg stating, in effect, that “What evidence there is, however, is consistent with Neanderthals being from the same species as modern humans.”  Christopher Stringer (Natural History Museum, London) adds that Neanderthals were not significantly different from us in skull or body size.  “The argument they are a different species is, of course, only a hypothesis...” (italics added).
Best quote from the story is the last paragraph:
He [Henneberg] added that the never-ending announcements of new species said more about those making the claims than about human evolution.  “The problem is there are far more palaeontologists than fossil specimens”.
Corollary: it also says more about the editors of National Geographic than about human evolution, too – both when they make never-ending announcements, and when they become strangely quiet about stories like this one.
Next headline on:  Early Man.
Cellular UPS Gets Right Packages to Chloroplasts   01/01/2005
If all your packages were sent correctly over the holidays, consider the job a plant cell has getting 3000 proteins into a chloroplast.  Mistakes are not just inconvenient.  They can be deadly, or at least bring photosynthesis to a halt.  To guarantee proper delivery of components, plant cells have a remarkable shipping system, described in Current Biology by two UK biologists, Paul Javis and Colin Robinson.1   Part of the challenge is getting polypeptides past the double membranes of the chloroplast.  A remarkable crew of enzymes and molecular machines puts a shipping label (transit peptide) on each amino acid chain, reads it, routes it to the correct destination, and then removes it:
Over 90% of the ~3000 different proteins present in mature chloroplasts are encoded on nuclear DNA and translated in the cytosol [cell fluid outside the nucleus].  These proteins are synthesized in precursor form – each bearing an amino-terminal targeting signal called a transit peptide – and are imported into the organelle by an active, post-translational targeting process (Figure 1).  This process is mediated by molecular machines in the outer and inner envelope membranes, referred to as ‘translocon at the outer envelope membrane of chloroplasts’ (Toc) and ‘translocon at the inner envelope membrane of chloroplasts’ (Tic), respectively.  Upon arrival in the stroma [chloroplast interior], the transit peptide is removed and the protein either takes on its final conformation or is sorted to one of several internal compartments in a separate targeting process.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The authors believe, like most evolutionists, that plastids (including chloroplasts) arose when a primordial cell engulfed another and took over its light-harvesting machinery, a process called endosymbiosis (see
10/01/2004, 09/09/2004, 08/06/2004 and 10/07/2003 headlines, and refutation by Don Batten).  They believe the former cell that became the chloroplast retained only a stripped down version of its genetic code, and most of the DNA instructions for building these 3000 chloroplast proteins got transferred to the nucleus.  Yet this means that a tremendous amount of machinery had to be developed to get the proteins to their destinations:
Chloroplasts are complex organelles comprising six distinct suborganellar compartments: they have three different membranes (the two envelope membranes and the internal thylakoid membrane), and three discrete aqueous compartments (the intermembrane space of the envelope, the stroma and the thylakoid lumen).  One of the consequences of this structural intricacy is that the internal routing of chloroplast proteins is a surprisingly complex process.  While envelope proteins may employ variations of the Toc/Tic import pathway to arrive at their final destination, proteins destined for the thylakoid membrane or lumen employ one of four distinct targeting pathways (Figure 1).  Thylakoid membrane proteins are targeted by the signal recognition particle (SRP)-dependent and spontaneous insertion pathways, whereas lumenal proteins are targeted by the Sec and Tat pathways....
Each of these “pathways” is an assembly-line process involving multiple proteins dedicated to these tasks.  Several points brought out in the article make it challenging to perceive of a smooth transition from endosymbiosis to today’s complex shipping and handling pathways (numbering ours):
  1. The transit peptide needs to fit the receptor on the membrane, and another protein has to be ready to cleave it (remove it).
  2. The transit peptides have to be precise to avoid having the protein arrive at the wrong organelle, like the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondrion or peroxisome – organelles which also accept polypeptides with shipping labels.
  3. Transit peptides are varied.  “One might therefore expect chloroplast transit peptides to share well-defined primary or secondary structural motifs,” they say.  “On the contrary, transit peptides are remarkable in their heterogeneity.  They vary in length from 20 to >100 residues, and have no extended blocks of sequence conservation.
  4. The transit proteins “do not seem to form secondary structure in aqueous solution” but once they arrive at their target membrane, they seem to take on a characteristic structure.
  5. The polypeptides (precursor proteins) are threaded through the needle of specialized gates in the membrane.  There, additional molecular machines (chaperones) make sure they do not fold prematurely.
  6. To get a polypeptide through a membrane involves three steps: contact, docking, and translocation, when the transit peptide is cleaved.  This requires energy: a high concentration of ATP must be present for the operation.
  7. The Toc and Tic squads, like a delivery organization with a variety of employees skilled in particular tasks but working on common goals, is made up of multiple proteins, each with its own task to perform, all working in coordination.
  8. Once inside the outer membrane, the polypeptide has to get past the inner membrane.  Another set of specialized proteins are available for that task.
  9. A third import apparatus has to complete the task of getting the polypeptide to its final destination.  Many go to the thylakoid membrane, rich with light-harvesting structures and ATP synthase (see 08/10/2004 headline).
  10. Those polypeptides bound for the thylakoid membrane have a secondary shipping label (transit peptide).  In addition, they may have a “stop-transfer” signal to indicate their destination.
  11. Removal of the secondary transit peptide can occur by “one of two very different pathways,” called Sec and Tat.  Sec transports proteins in an unfolded state, but Tat can transport them in a folded state.  Each pathway involves multiple proteins working together.
  12. In the Tat pathway, “There is even evidence that some proteins are exported in an oligomeric form” [i.e., several proteins bound together in a complex], “which points to a remarkable translocation mechanism,” they remark.  Is this like squeezing a completed sweater through the eye of a needle?  “...we currently know very little about this mechanism,” they say.  “Somehow, this system must transport a wide variety of globular proteins – some over 100 kDa [kilodaltons] – while preserving the proton motive force and avoiding loss of ions and metabolites.”  Their surprise at this indicates it is quite a feat.
  13. The translocation process can expend 30,000 protons, “a substantial cost by any standard.”  According to current theory, a pH difference between inner and outer membrane provides the proton flow, but that pH balance must be carefully monitored and regulated.
  14. Another pathway named SRP inserts proteins into the lumen.  The authors claim this pathway was “clearly inherited from the cyanobacterial progenitor of the chloroplast,” but admit that there are differences in the insertion pathways and events at the thylakoid membrane in chloroplasts.  “...it is fair to state that, while the major players in this pathway have been identified, their modes of action remain unclear and we do not understand how such highly hydrophobic proteins are bound by soluble factors, shuttled to the membrane and then handed over to membrane apparatus and inserted.
  15. Evolutionists who expected the SRP pathway from E. coli bacteria to act the same in chloroplasts, where homologous proteins were detected, learned otherwise: “Surprisingly, this is not the case.  In vitro assays for the insertion of a range of membrane proteins have shown that the vast majority of such proteins do not rely on any of the known protein transport machinery, including SRP, FtsY, Alb3 or the Sec/Tat apparatus, for insertion.”  Nor do they rely on nucleoside triphosphates or proton flow.
  16. Speaking of the apparent spontaneous insertion of the thylakoid proteins, they comment, “This unusual pathway for membrane protein insertion appears to be unique to chloroplasts.”  Though the typical insertion components are not involved, they believe it would be “overly simplistic” to assume that this pathway requires no “complex insertion apparatus.”
  17. Other pathways than those described above are used for other proteins to get inside the chloroplast.  Some are encoded by the chloroplast DNA, translated in the interior, then transported to their destinations.
  18. Chloroplasts have to transport not only the essential light-harvesting proteins, but also “housekeeping” proteins for structural maintenance.  These must be imported at their own separate rates depending on the stage of development or the environmental conditions, and have their own specific transit peptides.
This represents the state of our knowledge on protein transport in chloroplasts.  It is only a partial picture of a varied and complicated picture with many players, as their final paragraph makes clear:
The Tat pathway manages the remarkable feat of transporting large, folded proteins without collapsing the delta-pH, and we currently know very little about this mechanism.  Most membrane proteins use a possibly ‘spontaneous’ insertion mechanism that just does not make sense at the moment – why do these proteins need so little assistance from translocation apparatus, when membrane proteins in other organelles and organisms need so much?  And how do these thylakoid proteins avoid inserting into the wrong membrane?  We have gone some way toward understanding the rationale for the existence of all these pathways, but the thylakoid may still have surprises in store.
By contrast, another paper in the same issue of Current Biology2 makes confident claims that the endosymbiosis theory has been demonstrated with diatoms (see 10/01/2004 and 07/21/2004 headlines about diatoms).  They suggest that it was dangerous for genes to remain in the plastids, because of free radicals generated by the photosynthesis machinery, and because of higher mutation rates, and that’s why most of them wandered to the nucleus.
1Paul Jarvis and Colin Robinson, “Mechanisms of Protein Import and Routing in Chloroplasts,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 24, 29 December 2004, Pages R1064-R1077, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.049.
2Nisbet, Killian and McFadden, “Diatom Genomics: Genetic Acquisitions and Mergers,” Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 24, 29 December 2004, Pages R1048-R1050, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.043.
If you survived this mind-numbing description of chloroplast protein transport, you probably gasped at the complexity of it all.  On a general level, getting a protein from one place to another sounds simple (that’s the way the authors of the second paper made it sound).  But look how many players are involved, how many checks and balances, how many protection mechanisms and signals are required to get the packages delivered accurately.  And this is all just to get the chloroplast to start to get ready to begin to commence doing its job: harvesting light for photosynthesis (and that’s another story: if this one was over your head, run for cover).
    You saw these scientists refer to the Darwinian tale that once upon a time, a bacterium engulfed a cyanobacterium that had learned somehow to harvest light.  Somehow overcoming their defense mechanisms, the couple learned to share their technologies, forming a glorious partnership that led to plants.  For this tall tale to be true, all these new protein transporting mechanisms had to arise to get the genes moved into the nucleus, and then to get their translated proteins back into the chloroplasts.  Why did some genes migrate, and others stay put?  The authors of the second paper had no answer – only three choices of just-so stories, their favorite one claiming that the other genes are on the way, but haven’t made it out yet (somehow avoiding the dangers of free radicals in the plastid for 500 million years).  But did they offer any plausible way an unpredictable series of accidents led to all this complexity?  Assuredly not.  Considering the difficulty in getting just one protein right by chance (see online book), it strains credibility, light-years beyond the breaking point, to think that these complexes of complicated proteins – all working like a company – arose by chance.  Nor would an unbiased person presume that time would suffice for thousands of beneficial mutations to occur for even one of the pathways to emerge, even assuming natural selection – that magic wand of the Darwinists – preserved them.
    But even then, one component would be useless if not part of a functioning system.  That is the power of the argument from irreducible complexity.  We’re talking about three thousand proteins needing special delivery to make a chloroplast work, and dozens of specialized transporter proteins.  Each one must have dozens or hundreds of amino acids arranged in the correct sequence.  Would one of the Toc proteins have any selective value if the other components were not present to help it get the polypeptide through the outer membrane?  Clearly not.  Even if all the Toc proteins emerged somehow, and managed to squeeze the polypeptide through the outer membrane, the polypeptide would just sit there uselessly without the Tic proteins to get it through the second membrane.  If it got past the inner membrane, it would be useless unless it folded correctly with the aid of chaperones, and then made it to the exact destination in the chloroplast, where, working together with other proteins, it could perform its spectacular feat: converting light energy to chemical energy.  But all the players in the system need that energy to do their jobs!
    It may be tedious to wade through some of these articles about cellular mechanisms, but take the time once in awhile, because the power of the the message – intelligent design – is in the details.  Hold this evidence up in the face of the Darwin Party and ask them some hard-hitting questions: how could such coordinated complexity arise by unguided, mindless, purposeless processes?  Did Fed Ex or UPS emerge from a tornado in a junkyard?  It’s details like this that convinced Antony Flew, the prominent (former) atheist, that the case for intelligent design was compelling, and over many years, convinced him to become a theist (see 12/09/2004 entry).  With some hard heads and hard hearts, overkill and persistence is necessary.
Next headline on:  The CellIntelligent DesignAmazing Facts
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week    01/01/2005
The authors of the second paper in the previous story compared endosymbiosis to mergers of companies, apparently unaware they were comparing undirected natural processes with intelligently planned decisions by human minds:
Imagine you are running a successful small business converting carbon dioxide into sugar.  Suddenly, you are taken over by a bigger company.  They commandeer your intellectual property, relocate it to head office, and – to add insult to injury – they ship your own tools back to you and expect you to keep making sugar. Such a business takeover is the perfect analogy for the endosymbiotic origin of plastids.  The small business is a photosynthetic cyanobacterium, the aggressive takeover merchant is the eukaryotic host, and the intellectual property is the cohort of genes encoding the machinery for photosynthesis, most of which have now been relocated from the endosymbiont’s genome to the host nucleus.   (Emphasis added.)

1Nisbet, Killian and McFadden, “Diatom Genomics: Genetic Acquisitions and Mergers,” Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 24, 29 December 2004, Pages R1048-R1050, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.043.
At least they admitted genes are “intellectual” property.  “Adding insult to injury” is also intelligent design, of the mischievous kind.  Encoding, machinery, synthesis; these words do not belong in the Darwin Dictionary.  They were plagiarized from the creationist world view encyclopedia.  Plagiarism is also intelligent design of the mischievous kind.
Next headline on:  Dumb Stories


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“It’s like ‘opening a can of worms’ ... I love to click all the related links and read your comments and the links to other websites, but this usually makes me late for something else.  But it’s ALWAYS well worth it!!”
(a leader of a creation group)

“I am a regular visitor to your website ... I am impressed by the range of scientific disciplines your articles address.  I appreciate your insightful dissection of the often unwarranted conclusions evolutionists infer from the data... Being a medical doctor, I particularly relish the technical detail you frequently include in the discussion living systems and processes.  Your website continually reinforces my conviction that if an unbiased observer seeks a reason for the existence of life then Intelligent Design will be the unavoidable conclusion.”
(a medical doctor)

“A church member asked me what I thought was the best creation web site.  I told him CreationSafaris.com.”
(a PhD geologist)

“I love your site... I check it every day for interesting information.  It was hard at first to believe in Genesis fully, but now I feel more confident about the mistakes of humankind and that all their reasoning amounts to nothing in light of a living God.”
(a college grad)

“Thank you so much for the interesting science links and comments on your creation evolution headlines page ... it is very informative.”
(Joel)

“I still visit your site almost every day, and really enjoy it.  Great job!!!  (I also recommend it to many, many students.)
(an educational consultant)

“I like what I see–very much.  I really appreciate a decent, calm and scholarly approach to the whole issue... Thanks ... for this fabulous endeavor–it’s superb!”

“It is refreshing to read your comments.  You have a knack to get to the heart of the matter.”
(a reader in the Air Force).

“Love your website.  It has well thought out structure and will help many through these complex issues.  I especially love the Baloney Detector.”
(a scientist).

“I believe this is one of the best sites on the Internet.  I really like your side-bar of ‘truisms.’  Yogi [Berra] is absolutely correct.  If I were a man of wealth, I would support you financially.”
(a registered nurse in Alabama, who found us on TruthCast.com.)

“WOW.  Unbelievable.... My question is, do you sleep? ... I’m utterly impressed by your page which represents untold amounts of time and energy as well as your faith.”
(a mountain man in Alaska).

“Just wanted to say that I recently ran across your web site featuring science headlines and your commentary and find it to be A++++, superb, a 10, a homerun – I run out of superlatives to describe it! ... You can be sure I will visit your site often – daily when possible – to gain the latest information to use in my speaking engagements.  I’ll also do my part to help publicize your site among college students.  Keep up the good work.  Your material is appreciated and used.”
(a college campus minister)

 
Featured Creation Scientist for January

Roger Bacon
1214 - 1294

Roger Bacon was a man ahead of his time.  In the so-called “Dark Ages,” he foresaw a world of flying machines, powered ships, telescopes and other inventions that would result from experimental science.  His faith in science was born out of his faith in God. 

Roger Bacon studied at Oxford under the eminent Bishop of Lyons, Robert Grosseteste, who advocated the study of nature as evidence of the Creator.  Bacon performed systematic experiments on lenses and mirrors.  When he caught the excitement of what experimental science could do, he became an ardent promoter of the experimental method as a way to understand the world, improve the human condition, and avoid the errors of superstition and magic.  To Bacon, experimental science was superior to deduction from authority, having better accord with experience.  Bacon also saw the value of science as an apologetic, to draw people to faith in Christ.

On this theme, Roger Bacon wrote to Pope Clement IV in 1266, suggesting it would be good for the church to gather the work of scholars into a great encyclopedia of the sciences.  The pope misunderstood his request and asked to see this encyclopedia, believing it already existed.  Fearing to disobey the pope, Bacon hurriedly performed a monumental achievement - writing a three-volume encyclopedia of the known science of his day (which even included a description of how to make a telescope).  He worked feverishly on this project in secret, since his superiors at the monastery did not approve of it, but Bacon wanted to demonstrate to the Pope that science was the friend of faith and should be a worthy part of the University curriculum. 

After the pope died, hope for Bacon’s plans diminished, but not Bacon’s enthusiasm for science.  He continued to write on the value of experiment, and made remarkable predictions of what science could accomplish: powered ships and vehicles, eyeglasses and other inventions.  He wrote that the earth was a sphere and that it would be possible to sail around it.  He estimated the distances to stars, and encouraged mathematical rigor for good scientific work.  At approx. age 64, his fellow Franciscan friars imprisoned him for “suspected novelties” in his teaching, but Bacon continued to write impassioned essays for his last 15 years.

Roger Bacon is rightly honored as being one of the fathers of the scientific method, fully 300 years before it became popular (largely through the philosophical writings of another but unrelated Bacon, Sir Francis, also a Bible believer).  While others in the thirteenth century were content with supersitition, habit and acceptance of authority, Bacon saw the value of glorifying God through study of the world.  He believed science would draw people to faith in God.  It is interesting to note that it was the Christian thinkers in the Universities and in the monasteries who connected the dots between the Bible and science.  Bacon made errors, and had some superstitions of his own about alchemy and astrology (as did most people in his day), but saw how the realism of experimental science could lead people away from the errors of superstition and magic by demonstrating how the world really works.

In order to think along these lines, clearly Roger Bacon had to have a Christian world view that nature was rational and obeyed natural laws.  While other cultures achieved successes in engineering or medicine through pragmatism, luck or necessity, Bacon’s point was philosophical (philo=love, soph=wisdom); he valued knowledge not just for its practical benefits, but for its own intrinsic value both as a means of avoiding error and for understanding the mind of God.  This was the foundation that led to a sustainable scientific enterprise.  His prophecies were to be vindicated hundreds of years later as experimental science was taken up vigorously by more great Christians - Kepler, Boyle, Newton and others - and the world would never be the same.


If you are enjoying this series, you can learn more about great Christians in science by reading our online book-in-progress:
The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K.
Copies are also available from our online store.

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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