Creation-Evolution Headlines
October 2005
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“We see that the Darwinian world view must look upon the present sentimental conception of the value of life of the human individual as an overestimate completely hindering the progress of humanity.... The state only has an interest in preserving the more excellent life at the expense of the less excellent.”
—Robby Kossmann, German zoologist (1880), cited by Dr. Richard Weikart in From Darwin to Hitler (Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), p. 78.
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Darwinists Refute ID “Irreducible Complexity” Argument   10/31/2005    
“New book explains how evolution really works, rebuts intelligent design.”  That’s the triumphant title of a new book announcement from Harvard Medical School, reported on EurekAlert.  According to the release, Marc W. Kirschner (Harvard Medical School) and John C. Gerhart (UC Berkeley) have addressed a “key problem in evolutionary theory that has puzzled scientists from Darwin on and which is now under intense scrutiny by proponents of intelligent design: where do the big jumps come from in evolution?” (emphasis added in all quotes.)  The product of their investigation is their new book The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma (Yale Univ. Press, 2005).  The answer, they claim, lies in newly-discovered molecular properties of organisms:

The origin of novelty, the development of new arrangements of interlocking parts that some call “irreducibly complex,” can only be understood in the light of the last 20 years of research in cell biology and development.
    We now know that the ‘parts’ that make up a living organism are very unlike the rigid parts designed for machines.  Instead, they can flexibly connect and re-connect, using the same pieces over and over to make new functions.
    For example, one might think that a mutation that makes the neck of a giraffe longer would have to be accompanied by several other mutations, one that expands the length of the muscles of the neck, another that makes the blood vessels longer, and so on.  But instead, the muscles grow to fit the length of the bone and the blood vessels grow until all the muscles have a sufficient supply of oxygen.  Apparently very complex adaptations can therefore be achieved with few, simple mutations.
    Today, it is understood for the first time that all animals use the same set of core processes to develop into adult forms.  Applying this knowledge to evolution, the authors show that novel traits emerge from the ways the organism is constructed: its complex mechanisms for adapting to the environment, its modular construction, and its internal circuitry that can be re-specified and reconnected.
At first glance this sounds very Lamarckian, so let’s examine a book review by another evolutionist who published his remarks in the journal Cell.1  Douglas Erwin of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC was not all that impressed with their arguments.  In fact, he thinks the authors didn’t to their homework researching the abundant literature on the subject.  He did, however, appreciate the magnitude of the problem the book tried to address:
The diversity and complexity of life on Earth—from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals—suggest the generation of remarkable variation upon which natural selection can act.  But how do new traits—new morphological architectures (bodyplans), developmental processes, and behaviors—arise?  Did the vertebrate brain and neural crest arise through processes that are different from those that generated new hairs on the legs of the fruit fly?  Can major evolutionary transitions in the history of life be explained by random variation—variation that is random with respect to the future needs of the organism—filtered through the process of natural selection?  These questions are not new, but the promise of a more mechanistic basis for answering them through comparative developmental biology imbues them with a fresh urgency.
Erwin summarizes their argument: animals have evolved to evolve.  Variations acted on by natural selection have produced “phenotypic plasticity” or evolvability – they ability to adapt to changing environments (see 08/04/2004 entry on this idea).
In Kirschner and Gerhart’s view, there are four aspects of gene regulation and development in animals that constrain the direction of heritable variation.  These are the extensive conservation across metazoa of certain regulatory patterns; a modular pattern of organismal design; what the authors term “weak linkages” in gene regulation, caused by, in their view, regulatory interactions that do not specify outcomes; and nondeterministic outcomes of development.
To Erwin, what they are saying is, “natural selection needs some help.”  He denies it.  Natural selection can get along just fine without “random genetic variation that is biased toward viability, functional utility, and relevance to environmental conditions.”  He thinks that Kirschner and Gerhart don’t understand what random means:
This is the first place where the authors get into trouble; for through much of the book they seem to fundamentally misunderstand how evolutionary biologists use the term “random.”  By random mutation, evolutionary biologists mean random with respect to the adaptive needs of the organism, not, as the authors would have it in the early part of the book, completely random in the sense that many nonevolutionary biologists may think of the word “random.”  One of Charles Darwin’s key insights was that the combination of undirected mutation and natural selection is a powerful positive force for evolutionary creativity (and not, as so many later biologists have suggested, merely a negative force).  Evolutionary biologists have long understood that the nature of variation depends critically on what has already evolved.  Indeed, there is a rich literature discussing how phylogeny, function, structure, and other features constrain evolutionary variation.  Kirschner and Gerhart ignore this uncomfortable fact, dismissing constraint as “a minor effect, or trivial, for example, in explaining why mollusks (sic) and echinoderms were less able to evolve wings than vertebrates.”  They refer to variation as random alterations that can have little positive impact or that “lead to catastrophic failure.”  This results in the appearance of some odd comments as, for example, when the authors claim that evolutionary biologists “do not commonly appreciate...”  that “present-day organisms come from previous organisms.”  Indeed.
Want to meet a few?  he asks in effect.  He accuses them of a “limited view of the evolutionary literature” on the subject which “undercuts most of their own arguments” in favor of “facilitated variation.”
    Erwin puts this new book into a new genre of books finding the current model of evolution incomplete.  Most other authors, however, have had the good sense not to proclaim a “major new scientific theory” or “an original, far-reaching recasting of evolutionary theory,” as these do in their Preface.  Erwin mentions several books that do a better job attempting to “solve problems of evolutionary innovation that remain unresolved by the Modern Synthesis, the reigning paradigm of evolution developed in the 1940s by Mayr, Simpson, Wright, Haldane, Dozhansky, Fischer, and others.”  He is not sure, though, that any combination of these books amounts to a revision of the Modern Synthesis.
    Looking at the thesis of the book in more detail, Erwin cuts to the chase.  He says that Kirschner and Gerhart don’t recognize the effect of environment on variation. 
Presenting no evidence, they claim that these waves of innovation are not linked to changes in the physical environment.  In fact, one of the most exciting areas of current research addresses how the origin and spread of these innovations are linked to a variety of geochemical, climatic, and other changes.  These core processes—DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis, formation of the cytoskeleton, and limb patterning—have descended relatively unchanged since they first arose.
Erwin does agree with them on one point: “most evolution within the Animal Kingdom since the Cambrian radiation of metazoans involved the carefully regulated deployment of these core processes,” and that environmental conditions can become a “rich source of new phenotypes” that can become “developmentally integrated and viable.”  For instance, mutations might exhibit “exploratory behavior” and the most useful will become stabilized:
Kirschner and Gerhart invoke exploratory behavior as a means of avoiding what they view as an otherwise insurmountable difficulty: that novelty appears to require multiple, correlated changes from phenotype to function.
Does a bacterial flagellum come to mind here?  Erwin also likes their “wonderful and most appropriate” term for the compartmentalization of network modules: “invisible anatomy.”  Here he praises the book:
The most important part of this book is, in my view, the authors’ description of the evolutionary significance of the interactions between compartments and the conserved regulatory networks that underlie them via weak linkages [i.e., signals that trigger a response without specifying information about what the response should be].  Although the authors do not emphasize this sufficiently (at least for a paleontologist), this network of relationships imposes a developmental reality to the architectural forms described as body plans and generally characterized within Linnean systematics as phyla and classes.  As Kirschner and Gerhart note, this modularity of design often allows relatively independent evolution of different body parts without greatly increasing the coordination among them.  The gills, paddles, mouthparts, claws, and walking legs of various arthropods are all modifications of a single ancestral structure.  The modularity of arthropod body plans has enabled the rapid adaptation of limbs without inhibiting the workings of the whole animal.
Now, to the “troubling” parts of the book.  Erwin is glad they have tackled “one of the most challenging issues in evolution,” and appreciates their insights as far as they go and as incomplete as their theory is.  But he criticizes the lack of justification and depth of detail that “leave far too much to the imagination of the reader.”  The book, therefore, “feels more like a vision of where the field should go rather than a thoroughly constructed theory of the origins of phenotypic novelty.”
    To their credit, Kirschner and Gerhart tackle the problem of phenotypic novelty more forthrightly than other “revisionist” books like those of the late Stephen Jay Gould.  This leads Erwin to list some of the outstanding problems.  Some seem strong enough to make one wonder if evolutionary theory has ever really addressed the core questions Charles Darwin set out to solve:
The generation of morphological variants is a critical issue, and several of these book authors have raised important questions and proposed new viewpoints.  But the generation of variation is only the beginning of the problem of evolutionary novelty.  Novel phenotypes succeed or fail based on their ecological relationships with other organisms and with the physical environment.  This ecological dimension is conspicuously lacking in these books, yet we cannot really understand novelty without it.  In particular, evolutionary biologists need to address such issues as how phenotypic “space” expands, how new niches are constructed, and related ecological events.
One thing Erwin is sure of: in spite of all these fundamental issues challenging evolutionary theory, no one outside the Darwinian camp need apply:
Is the neo-Darwinian view of evolution in need of reformation?  Certainly the diversity of rumblings indicates some degree of unhappiness, but evolutionary biologists have regularly published new models of evolution since the late 19th century (see Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism, Johns Hopkins, 1993).  Is there reason to think that our view of evolution needs to change?  The answer is almost certainly yes, although not, as the purveyors of creationism/intelligent design would have it, because the reality of evolution is under question.  Rather, we need to revise our view of evolution to reflect a more detailed understanding of how genetics and development both allow and facilitate phenotypic variation, to take into account the temporal dynamics of changes in the environment, and to incorporate the likelihood that there is selection and feedback at multiple levels (cell, tissue, organism, clade).  The central issues that need to be incorporated into evolutionary theory are the origin of phenotypic novelty and the discontinuous patterns of appearance of new phenotypes.
Now wait – wasn’t that EurekAlert said that this book solves, putting to rest the claims of the intelligent design movement?  At the end of Erwin’s book review, is he still at square one?  He dismisses The Plausibility of Life as an “entertaining read” of only “introductory” value into recent trends in evolutionary theory.  In sum, it contains a lot of sound and fury, signifying little: “But with its sometimes troubling limitations, the book falls short of the major new theory that the authors promise in their introduction.”
1Douglas H. Erwin, “A Variable Look at Evolution,” Cell, Volume 123, Issue 2, 21 October 2005, Pages 177-179, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2005.10.003.
If you get a kick out of watching villains shoot themselves in the foot, you will rollick with this entry.  We provided extended quotes to let you savor the moment.  Here is the biggest problem in the history of evolutionary thought: the abrupt appearance of new body plans and complex structures with interrelated parts each necessary for function.  The Darwinists realize that the creationists and intelligent design proponents have been hammering them on the fact that they have no answers.  And finally, here was the new book that EurekAlert said was going to put those criticisms to rest once for all.  And what is it?  Blind search!  “Exploratory behavior” is putting feelers out in the dark and seeing if anything sticks.  But then what is leading the blind: the blind random variations in the molecules, or the blind random variations in the environment?  Can anyone really believe that a succession of blind actions will produce irreducibly complex systems like wings, gills, paddles, mouthparts, claws, legs, and rotating motors of exquisite design and efficiency?  If this book had the answer, Erwin would not have left it (“the origin of phenotypic novelty”) and “the discontinuous patterns of appearance” (e.g., the Cambrian Explosion), as unsolved problems.  Then Erwin did us the favor of pointing out that all the other books don’t solve them, either – though they have been trying since the 19th century.  [Quiz question: in what century did Charles Darwin write his famous book?]
    If you found anything other than smoke and mirrors in all the mumbo-jumbo they came up with, go ahead and put your money in Darwin Circus stock.  That’s where the magicians have mastered the art of mass hypnosis, pointing their fingers into the air and and saying “watch this space” (e.g., 08/19/2004) till everyone is staring, mind-numbed, at nothing.  That’s where the clowns, wearing pink-tassled slippers and conical hats (see 04/01/2005) end their long comedy of errors act by shooting each other’s feet simultaneously.  One of their lines is starting to go over like a lead balloon, though.  That’s when they say the real clowns are the ones across the street at Philharmonic Hall, listening with soaring hearts and minds as the Maestro conducts hundreds of skilled players and singers in his masterpiece, The Creation.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent Design
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  In a detailed article in the journal Cell1 about ATP synthase, the “smallest rotary motor” that “works in both directions with high efficiency” and drives the synthesis of up to 40kg of ATP per day in a resting human, Yi Qin Yao, Wei Yang and Martin Karplus only mentioned evolution once.  Here it is: “Interestingly the conformational changes in the beta subunits have been shown to correspond to their lowest frequency normal modes.  This implies that the structure of the protein is designed by evolution such that the motions required for its function can take place with a low energy cost.”  (Emphasis added).
1Yao et al., “A Structure-Based Model for the Synthesis and Hydrolysis of ATP by F1-ATPase,”
Cell, Volume 123, Issue 2, 21 October 2005, Pages 195-205, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2005.10.001.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyDumb Ideas

Baloney Detecting Exercise:  Alan Elsner of Reuters tries to make the case that the U.S. is becoming “hostile to science” largely because of its opposition to evolution (see MSNBC News).

Replace the word “scientists” by “elitists” and the article makes a lot more sense.  Conservatives love good science, but they have this thing about leftist liberals in academia (see 12/02/2004) who always seem to take the far-left position on everything and try to cloak it in scientific robes.  Will education really suffer if the leftists lose power?  Will students be deprived if Darwinist lies are expunged from science textbooks?  Will hearing that alternatives to evolutionary theory exist make students bored with science?  See non-sequitur in the Baloney Detector.
Take Their Word For It:  “Venus was formed about the same time as Earth, around 4.6 billion years ago, but you wouldn’t know from looking at it.”  Source:

Is Darwin or ID the New Halloween Spook?   10/30/2005    
Scary, isn’t it?  A textbook committee in Montgomery, Alabama approved dozens of new textbooks, but found objectionable material in three of them: they contained material on evolution that was deemed controversial for children.  They decided that pictures of reptiles evolving from amphibians and humans evolving from apes was not appropriate for elementary children who were not developmentally ready for such controversial material.  The AP story reprinted on the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer website on October 27 quoted a sociologist at Troy University who objected to one textbook that he claimed was “nothing other than a full endorsement of Darwinian evolution.”  He also called it “at best a waste of taxpayers’ money and at worst a numbing of student minds.”
    “Scary” was a seasonally-correct word included in another AP story posted by the Arkansas news service ArkCity.Net.  John Hanna reported on a speech by Phillip Johnson to a student group at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.  Johnson described the reaction of the scientific establishment to people who question evolution.  “This is very scary to the Mandarins of science,” he told the audience at the off-campus meeting sponsored by Christian Challenge.  “There’s been a panicky and hysterical response to this, some of which you’ve seen in your state recently.”  Johnson also spoke Saturday night at the university student union.
    In Kansas, meanwhile, two professional associations are barring the doors to the ID spooks.  MSNBC News said that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Teachers Association wrote the Department of Education, refusing to let the school board use their copyrighted material in the proposed science standards, because they feel the standards promote creationism.

If the Darwin costume is scaring the children, acting panicky or hysterical only makes it worse.  Which side wants to keep high school students in the dark, and and which side wants to turn on the lights?  Which side wants to shield impressionable elementary students from pedagogical tricks, and treat them to the truth?  Which side is shrieking and threatening, and which side is calmly asking for an enlightened discussion of the facts?  The thing apparently scaring the Darwinists the most is that the morning twilight reveals their long night on Bald Mountain is coming to an end, and that can only mean one thing: Thanksgiving is near.
Next headline on:  EvolutionIntelligent DesignEducation
Georgia Tech “Bioneers” Plagiarize Mother Nature to Advance Science   10/29/2005    
“Copying the ideas of others is usually frowned upon, but when it comes to the work of Mother Nature, scientists are finding they can use nature as a template.”  That’s how an interesting press release from Georgia Tech begins (reproduced on EurekAlert) about a new center on campus called the Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID).  This new multidisciplinary research center (see a similar story about Caltech, 06/25/2005) seeks to explore natural solutions to physical problems and apply them to human engineering projects.  This approach is often called biomimetics, or the imitation of nature (for examples, see 07/16/2005 on sharks and beavers, 10/05/2004 on pine cones, 09/21/2004 on termites, 08/27/2002 on geckos, and many others in the “Amazing” category of Chain Links).  A well-known example is the invention of Velcro® by someone who became intrigued by the sticking ability of cockleburs (see Wayne’s Word for a popular account).  The press release describes the origin and purpose of the CBID:
An interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently formed the Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) with the goal of capitalizing on the rich source of design solutions present in biological processes.  The researchers believe nature can inspire design and engineering solutions that are efficient, practical and sustainable and thus have the potential to greatly enhance new technologies, materials and processes.
    “Biology can be a powerful guide to understanding problems in design and engineering,” said Associate Professor of Biology Marc Weissburg, CBID co-director.  “In comparative physiology, we teach that every animal has to solve a particular problem to survive, so every animal is a design solution for a particular problem.
    “They can provide solutions for more efficient manufacturing and design of materials with new capabilities, for example.  These are things the biological world has solved, and if you study them, you have the opportunity to apply that knowledge in the human sector.  You can also extend that reasoning to ecological processes.  These are guiding principles behind the Georgia Tech Center for Biologically Inspired Design.”
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The center has 17 initial members, but expects to grow.  One of its goals is to extend its discoveries for public benefit: “CBID researchers also want to communicate to government and industry officials that nature can provide unique design solutions to the problems they must address.”
    The center also reaches beyond to a “network of citizens, scientists and entrepreneurs that explores practical solutions adapted from natural systems and native cultures and then applies these solutions to fundamental environmental, economic and social challenges.”  The name for this network is: “Bioneers.”  An invited talk by the “Bioneers Southeast Forum” is being held today at the Atlanta campus of Savannah College of Art and Design
    Any examples from this new research approach?  Sure: learning navigation from honeybees (02/15/2005), studying orienteering in lobsters (01/06/2003), imitating materials manufacture by diatoms 10/01/2004), and studying neuromechanical principles of animals (02/09/2005) to build better robots and prosthetics – for a few.  The sky’s the limit.  Subjects for investigation abound: the gathering and transporting of energy, remote sensing, locomotion, system organization, and eco-friendly technology.  One professor is studying fish ears to build an “auditory retina.”
    Another ancillary benefit will ensue from this approach, according to one of the CBID biology professors: “biomimetry even offers inspiration for the way students – and faculty – learn.
OK, Intelligent Design community, charge again!  (See 06/25/2005 commentary.)  This is exactly the kind of new infusion of creative energy and practical benefit that a design perspective can bring to science and technology.  Despite the humorous reference to Mother Nature, this approach does not need to focus on the identity of the Designer to parlay design detection (a fundamental principle of intelligent design) into fruitful scientific research.  This is not to say that knowing the Designer personally would be a hindrance, obviously – but it demonstrates that design science can produce a cooperative enterprise among diverse people regardless of their religion.  Maybe someday the plagiarism will be rectified by appropriate attribution.  For now, though, the ACLU and other religion-hating groups would not be able to get their bony fingers on the CBID, because members only need good observational and engineering skills.  Simultaneously, the ability to tell spooky Darwinian stories would drop off the list of qualifications.  Are Georgia Tech and Caltech’s new multidisciplinary centers for biological design indicating that a major shift in scientific research is underway?  Is there a promised land beyond the crumbling, haunted remains of Down House?  Bioneers!  O Bioneers!  The fruitful land, the frontier of discovery and happiness, belongs to you.
    There was no mention of evolution in the press release, demonstrating again that Darwinism has no necessary or pragmatic connection to the new wave of institutions like the CBID.  Unlike the founders of science who, like Francis Bacon, put a high priority on applying science to improve the human condition, the Darwinists, like the later scholastics, waste their time looking for confirming evidence for the outworn philosophy of their Victorian Aristotle.  It’s time to question the presumptive authority of the past 146 years, and look to the future, where the Bioneers of design science are taking their inspiration from the exquisite contrivances of observable nature.  A Darwinist Bioneer is almost a contradiction in terms.  Any Darwinists on the CBID faculty must certainly be Darwinists in Name Only (DINOs), because whether or not they bow at the shrine of Charlie, pitch the obligatory incense and repeat the mantra “Evolution is a fact, like gravity,” such exercises contribute nothing to their actual research.  DINOs should be distinguished from DODOs (those who squawk “Darwin Only!  Darwin Only!), but it doesn’t matter, since both clades are rapidly going extinct.
Next headline on:  DarwinismIntelligent DesignBiomimeticsAmazing Stories
Charity?  Chimps Don’t Get It – Nor Give It    10/28/2005  
The science news media took note of an experiment showing that chimpanzees don’t care to share, even when it costs them nothing (see the BBC News and Science Now, “Tightwad Primates”).  Joan Silk and a team at UCLA created an apparatus where a chimp could pull one rope to get a treat for itself, or pull another to both get one and give one to another chimp in an adjacent cage.  Even when the neighboring chimp begged for the reward, the chimps tested were no more likely to share than to be selfish.  They could see it cost them nothing to pull the rope that shared the treats, but they didn’t seem to care; half the time they would pull the selfish rope, whether alone or with the hopeful neighbor.  Humans, by contrast, will give to charities or donate blood to help people across the world they will never meet.  National Geographic titled their report, “Uncaring Chimps May Shed Light on Humans, Study Says.”
It may shed light on humans, all right, but not in the way evolution-obsessed National Geographic wants.  It underscores the difference between humans and animals.  Even though the study was investigating the “evolution of primate behavior,” they had to admit that altruistic behavior appears to be a uniquely human trait.
    We must not assume that the chimpanzees were acting selfishly, because that would require a moral sense.  They were just acting like the beasts they are.  Could we perform a mind-meld with a chimp during the experiment, we would probably be cognizant only of the instantaneous present.  The body would react to whatever senses call most for attention at the moment.  The memory would bring forth stored responses that brought pleasure, but there would be no planning for the future, no awareness of the mental state of the neighboring chimp squealing for a treat, and no sense of moral obligation – only a memory of what previous actions elicited pleasure, whether or not they benefited the other.  That is the chimp’s mental state.  It is not wrong for the chimp, just chimpy.  We don’t expect more of the beasts.  They cannot ascend to our nature, but humans can descend to theirs (look what Peter said).
    We have many physical similarities to animals, especially to the apes.  The image of God does not relate to our physical nature, but to our spiritual, moral and intellectual nature: the ability to think, love, create, communicate in abstract language, care for one another, contemplate our origin and destiny, and to have a personal relationship with God.  Most animals care for their young and many form cooperative groups, but these are instinctive behaviors.  You won’t see a chimpanzee sending a donation to disaster relief (see next story) or praying.  Exercise your human nature – all of it – not just sharing a banana.  (See David’s counsel.)
Next headline on:  MammalsPolitics and Ethics
It’s Official: Mangroves Would Have Prevented Most Tsunami Damage    10/28/2005  
EurekAlert summarized a paper in Science1 that confirmed an earlier claim (02/10/2005) that intact mangrove forests along the Asian coastlines would have prevented the bulk of damage and death from last year’s mega-tsunami.  A large, diverse research team from seven nations estimated that more than 90% of the damage could have been prevented by the buffer effect of mangrove forests absorbing the wave energy.  See also Science News,2 that said that in areas of maximum tsunami intensity, little could have prevented catastrophic destruction; but areas hit by 4- to 5-meter waves were modest enough for vegetation to make a difference.
    Mangroves grow naturally in coastline thickets about 30 trees per 100 square meters, but have been drastically reduced by business interests to the point of becoming an endangered species.  The cleared coastlines were among the hardest hit by the waves.  For instance, two shoreline villages unprotected by mangroves in India were obliterated, whereas three other villages behind a screen of mangroves hundreds of meters thick survived.
    The affected nations are now looking again at restoring this natural protection zone, this “living dyke,” realizing that mangroves will not only provide defense from the next extreme storm surge, but also enrich local fisheries and habitats of many native species.
1Danielson et al., “The Asian Tsunami: A Protective Role for Coastal Vegetation,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5748, 643, 28 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1118387].
2Ben Harder, “Breaking Waves: Mangroves shielded parts of coast from tsunami,” Science News, Week of Oct. 29, 2005; Vol. 168, No. 18, p. 276.
Famous last words: “Look at this mess of trees blocking our view of the sea.  How are we supposed to get our boats on the water through all that tangled up wood in the way?  Those mangroves are such a pain.  Cut ’em all down.  I’ll start a fishery, and Sam, think of all the money you could make with a beach resort hotel over there.”
Next headline on:  BotanyAmazing Stories
Red Blood Cells Are Master Contortionists    10/28/2005  
Biophysicists have analyzed why red blood cells are able to squeeze through tight spaces on their journeys through our tissues, reports the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering.  Their membranes contain a network of 33,000 hexagons arranged in a complex geodesic dome formation.  Each hexagon vertex is joined with flexible lines to a central maypole-like proto-filament, giving it the ability to twist and contort without breaking.  This contortionist ability serves another purpose beyond just enabling the cell to get through tight spaces: it also helps squeeze out the oxygen into the tissues.  Despite being twisted, folded, flattened or stretched, the geodesic structure permits the cell to pop back into its familiar biconcave shape.
    The press release states, “Their paper in Annals of Biomedical Engineering uses aeronautical terms commonly used to describe the changing position of an airplane to explain how the six attached spectrin fibers make a proto-filament swivel and flip.”  Science Now took note of this study on “bendable blood.”
The shape of red blood cells is also the optimum for maximizing surface area (for diffusion) without sacrificing volume (for payload).  If they were rigid disks, they would get stuck, starving tissues of oxygen and causing death.  As you work today, think about those little erythrocyte spelunkers making their rounds, delivering the goods from that last breath of air to every cubic micrometer of your body.  The Creator thought of everything.
Next headline on:  Human BodyCell BiologyAmazing Stories
Emperor Penguins Get More Respect   10/27/2005    
A handsomely-dressed emperor penguin made the cover of Science News this week.  Gerald Kooyman of Scripps Institute is gratified over the success of the documentary March of the Penguins; “I’ve been telling people they’re remarkable for years,” he said.  In the article, Susan Milius brought out several additional amazing facts not mentioned in the film.
  • Diving Champs:  Emperor penguins can dive as deep as 500m for up to 20 minutes, without getting the bends or excess free radicals in their blood.  This is enabled by several adaptations: the ability to lower their heart rate during dives from 200 to 60 beats per minute, storage of extra myoglobin in their tissues, and storing more blood per body weight than humans.  Their stiff bodies and flexible flippers also reduce drag, making them better designed hydrodynamically than most mammals, the article claims.  “They can keep swimming even when their bodies’ oxygen stores have been depleted beyond levels that would knock out a human diver,” a photo caption states; specifically, 20mm of mercury, compared to a human’s lower limit is 25mm.  Scientists still do not understand how the birds can avoid damage from the rush of blood as they surface rapidly and catapult onto the ice.
  • Marching Champs:  The birds make their long marches in complete silence.  Some colonies have a few hundred breeding pairs; others can have 10,000.  There are about 40 colonies known.  In midwinter, there is only three hours of dim light per day sandwiched between 21 hours of darkness under aurora-spectacled skies.
  • Huddle Champs:  The conditions during storms look miserable to us, but the male birds huddle to conserve body heat, and actually get “toasty” at 20° C in groups.  A male could only survive alone only down to -10° C; in groups, they can lower their metabolic rate by 40%.  They seem to actually have to go outside once in awhile to cool off; at all times, however, the safety of the precious eggs must be the highest priority.  Inside the huddle, their heads on flexible necks can be seen sticking up like periscopes once in awhile, with little puffs of warm air indicating things are OK.  In springtime, the young learn to huddle early.  Both parents go off to forage as soon as they can, leaving the young in playgroups to learn on their own.
  • Diet Champs:  The males incubating the eggs all winter actually starve themselves with their bellies full, the article says.  They are able to block their digestion and maintain enough store to feed the growing chick with reserves till the female returns.
  • Travel Champs:  Radio-collared penguins have been found to forage as far as 1,900 km at sea.
  • Fashion Champs:  Those tuxedos have to come off once a year.  In the summertime, the birds fast again for a month, standing on ice floes to molt.  All the old feathers come out and the new fluffy ones come in underneath.  The undercoat of down provides an insulating layer of air, and the oiled outer feathers provide a “waterproof dive suit” that compresses underwater, keeping the downy feathers dry and preventing the chilly water from reaching the skin.
The new suit comes in just in time for the birds to forage and begin the next long march.  “How can emperor penguins live like that?” Milius titled her article.  The answer is in their exquisite physical adaptations.  Working together, these adaptations, from cell chemistry to finished coat, give them a life they seem to enjoy in one of the harshest environments on the planet.
1Susan Milius, “How can emperor penguins live like that?”, Science News, Week of Oct. 22, 2005; Vol. 168, No. 17 , p. 26.
Fortunately, Susan Milius did not try to speculate on how the emperor penguin evolved.  If you tried to count how many lucky mutations would be needed to evolve from a dinosaur to an early bird to an emperor penguin, what number would you come up with?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  It’s a total remake.  The biochemistry of the cell, the oxygen handling capabilities, the pressure protection and scuba gear, the dive suit, the lungs, the bones, the dietary adaptations, core body heat, timing of the molt, ability to waddle upright, the stiff body and flippers, the incubating patch and tough feet, eyes adapted to deep underwater vision, navigating ability over vast distances on ice and in the sea – and these are just some of the physical changes that the ambitious dinosaur would need.
    Then there are the behavioral adaptations.  How did the penguins learn to transfer the egg from the female to the male without breaking it, and when did the male decide to forego eating for months, holding the egg on its feet?  How did the males overcome their usual territoriality instinct and decide to pack in tightly together, 10 birds per square meter?  How did the females figure out when the eggs would hatch, and learn to forage only long enough to get back in time to feed them and give hubby a well-deserved break?  How did they find their way back to the correct nesting site?  What made them regurgitate their own food for the sake of a chick they had never seen before?  How do they find their mates when everyone looks alike?  How do the feathers know when to molt all at once (unlike on air birds, who molt continuously), so that the reupholstering job minimizes time out of the water?  Where did they learn those rocket jumps out onto the ice?  How do the young catch on to all this so fast?
    Evolutionists provide only empty speculations for these things, arguing from ignorance that “if these mutations had not occurred, the penguins would not be there.”  That only assumes their materialistic view without explaining the observations.  Creationists may not be able to explain everything about why God would create emperor penguins to live like this, but they surely need far less faith than an evolutionist.  If this were the only example of a creature possessing dozens of tight-knit adaptations needing to function together simultaneously or not at all, it would be challenging enough for evolutionary theory.  Now let’s talk about giraffes, bats, water striders, cheetahs, geckos, kangaroos, hummingbirds, humans....
Next headline on:  BirdsMarine LifeAmazing Stories
Cellular Black Box Reveals Precision Guidance and Control   10/27/2005    
Amazing discoveries about the cell are being made each week.  It’s a shame more people don’t hear about them.  They are usually written up in obscure journals with incomprehensible jargon, but when explained in plain English, the findings are truly astounding.  Not long ago, the cell was a “black box,” a mechanism of unknown inner workings that somehow survived and reproduced.  Only recently have imaging techniques allowed us to peer inside the box at the nanometer scale (one nanometer is a billionth of a meter) and see what is going on.  Prepare to be astonished.
    A fundamental shift in thinking about cellular processes has occurred since the structure of DNA was elucidated in the 1950s, and has been accelerating ever since.  What used to be mere chemistry is now mechanics; what used to be imagined as fluids mixing in a watery balloon is now programmed robotic machinery.  Cells don’t just perform chemical reactions like we did in high school, pouring mixtures together and seeing if they explode or not.  It’s more like robotics, and is properly known these days as “biophysics.”  Cells are not just tossing ingredients together, but guiding them into place with motors, pivots, guardrails and inspectors.5  The cell is engaged in precision manufacture with molecular machines and motorized transport.  The coolness factor of these molecule-sized gadgets would blow away any competition in Popular Mechanics if they could be appropriately visualized and described.  Let’s try with some recent examples.
  1. tRNA: Guided Trackways:  A paper in PNAS1 took five pages describing one tiny segment of the DNA translation process: the moment when transfer RNA (tRNA) enters the inner sanctum of the protein-building machine, the ribosome (see also summary on Science Now).  If you have seen the animations in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, you probably remember the climactic scene of tRNAs lining up in assembly-line fashion as their attached amino acids are fastened together.  Stunning as that animation was, it was vastly oversimplified.  The ribosome actually contains a precisely-molded entrance tunnel where each tRNA is inspected and guided into place before allowed into the active site.  Each tiny movement along the track is authenticated by contacts with specific atoms at checkpoints along the way.  A Los Alamos team achieved the highest-resolution images yet of this process and found that parts of the tRNA and the tunnel turnstiles actually flex as much as 20° as part of the guided entrance, called accommodation.  Their diagrams show multiple precision contacts all along the four specific stages of accommodation they investigated.  Whether able to follow their dense jargon-laden description or not, the reader is sure to get the sense that something incredibly precise is going on.  And then to learn that it all takes place in two nanoseconds is almost too much to handle.
  2. DNA Copying: Tight Fit:  Another paper in PNAS2 explored the fit of DNA bases in the copying machinery at the sub-angstrom level (an angstrom is 10-10 meter, about the width of a hydrogen atom).  Stanford and MIT scientists investigated how thymine fits into DNA Polymerase I as the genetic code is transcribed.  As in the tRNA case above, the fit is precise and guided.  They were surprised to find a little bit of margin inside the active site, which they speculated might “allow for an evolutionarily advantageous mutation rate.”  Nevertheless, their “results provide direct evidence for the importance of a tight steric fit on DNA replication fidelity.”  The tight fit ensures that illegal interlopers cannot make it into the active site.  They also found that simple Watson-Crick base-pairing was not sufficient: the machines actually force the bases together in a coordinated way with error-checking.  They remarked that this authentication and guidance system is speedy: “This choice, which occurs dozens of times per second, involves the selection of one nucleotide among four for insertion into the growing primer strand, opposite each DNA template base as it is addressed in turn.” (Emphasis added.)
  3. Unzipping Acrobatics:  A paper in Nature3 investigated helicases, the molecular machines that unwind and unzip DNA strands.  “Helicase enzymes can move along DNA or RNA, unraveling the helices as they go,” said Eckhard Jankowsky in an analysis of this paper in the same issue.4  “But simply traveling along a nucleic acid in one direction seems not to be enough for some of these molecular motors.”  They discussed how helicase repeatedly bends over, forms loops, and snaps back into position during the operation.  These acrobatic machines don’t just plod along in one direction but undergo a complex choreography with moving parts as they consume ATP for energy.  The “repetitive shuttling” the authors described has a purpose, possibly for “keeping the DNA clear of toxic recombination intermediates.”
  4. Cellular Oarsmen:  Three German researchers imaged eukaryotic flagella with twice the resolution of previous attempts.  The whiplike propellers, which beat with back-and-forth motion (unlike the rotary flagellar motors of bacteria), contain a 9+2 arrangement of microtubules that are tied together with motors and spokes.  “Both the material associated with the central pair of microtubules and the radial spokes display a plane of symmetry that helps to explain the planar beat pattern of these flagella,” they wrote.  Their paper in PNAS6 includes a stereo pair image that provides a 3D look down the flagellum shaft.
The literature is filled with examples like these.  They usually say little or nothing about how these machines evolved; in fact, more often, they are likely to mention that the machines are “highly conserved” (i.e., unevolved) between the simplest one-celled organisms and humans.
    Though the articles valiantly attempt to describe what happens at these submicroscopic levels, the subject matter would greatly benefit from top-notch animation.  Microscopic imaging technology keeps improving, though; some day soon, it may be possible for scientists to watch the machinery of the cell at its own nanometer scale in real time. 
1Sanbonmatsu et al., “Simulating movement of tRNA into the ribosome during decoding,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0503456102, published online before print October 25, 2005.
2Kim et al., “Probing the active site tightness of DNA polymerase in subangstrom increments,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0505113102, published online before print October 25, 2005.
3Myong et al., “Repetitive shuttling of a motor protein on DNA,” Nature 437, 1321-1325 (27 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04049.
4Eckhard Jankowsky, “Biophysics: Helicase snaps back,” Nature 437, 1245 (27 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371245a.
5This is not to say that biomolecular machinery looks like human machinery.  Straight lines and geometric shapes are rare; tRNA entering a ribosome looks like spaghetti in a blender to an untrained eye.  In addition, at the nanometer scale, molecules are subject to the random vibrations of Brownian motion.  It has taken decades of careful research to tease out the order and intricacy of the cell’s moving parts.  Nevertheless, the language of motors and machines in the literature is apt and ubiquitous, as is the language of physics (piconewtons of force, thermodynamics, translational motion in nm/s and rotational motion in Hz or rps).  Human engineers are trying to emulate some of these machines in the new science of nanotechnology.
6Nicastro et al., “3D structure of eukaryotic flagella in a quiescent state revealed by cryo-electron tomography,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0508274102, published online before print October 24, 2005.
These are just a few of the reasons students should be allowed to hear about intelligent design.  Darwin?  He was just an old Victorian who didn’t know anything about this.  If he had, he might have decided to stick with his training to become a country parson after all.  This is the 21st century, folks: the age of nanomachinery and biophysics.  Enjoy!
Next headline on:  The CellPhysicsAmazing Stories
Darwinian Fitness/Selection Studies Lack Real-World Experimental Verification, Produce Contradictory Results   10/26/2005    
“Evolution: Do Bad Husbands Make Good Fathers?” is the provocative title of an article in Current Biology1 that conceals the real subject.  The first paragraph of the article by David J. Hosken and Tom Tregenza explains the title:
Males sometimes harm their mates as they seek to maximise the number of offspring they sire.  But are females really suffering or do the benefits of having sons that inherit their father’s manipulative traits make up for the costs?  Three recent studies provide the first hard data addressing this issue, but they differ in their conclusions.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The article is deeper than a discussion of bad dudes; it is an analysis of the idea of sexual selection – what to Darwin was the second most effective agent of evolutionary change after natural selection.  (The harmful males under investigation, by the way, are fruit flies, so not to worry, ladies.)  Their critique of sexual selection experiments, however, applies equally well to natural selection experiments.
    Hosken and Tregenza are not even sure that “harmful males” could drive the evolutionary process.  They listed three reasons why the direct costs probably outweigh any indirect benefits.2  (Evolutionary benefits, after all, must persist in the grandchildren.)  The question most interesting in this article is: has sexual selection theory ever been convincingly demonstrated in the wild?  “Theory is all very well,” they say, “but as critics have repeatedly pointed out what we really need are good data.”  The question implies a deficit in that regard – even when including the three recent studies that provided the “first hard data.
    That remark in the article begins a series of doubts over whether experimenters really know anything about selection – natural or sexual.  Worse, the authors throw doubt on the validity of measuring fitness, arguably the most important parameter in all of Darwinian theory.  In mentioning three studies (the ones that ”differ in their conclusions”) they note in passing that one of them “sidesteps many of the problems associated with measuring fitness.”  None of the three studies seems to succeed.  The first tries to see if the harm caused by the males is compensated in other ways; the second tries to measure “total fitness” in a laboratory setting.  These two studies produced opposite findings.  So what are we to conclude, they ask?  Watch out: “Perhaps, the main lesson is just how difficult it is to measure something as slippery as fitness.
    They turned to the third study, which supposedly sidestepped many of the problems.  It found a possibility that the fitness cost of harmful males might be compensated for by indirect benefits.  But this study had other problems.  It was conducted in a very artificial laboratory environment – not out in the real world.  They question whether scientists have ever rigorously determined how sexual selection might operate where it counts – in nature:
The population was established over 300 generations ago and has been maintained continuously at high population size to retain genetic diversity.  The authors claim that this approach means that the flies have had time to become adapted to the laboratory.  Although this may be true in the sense that alleles present at low frequencies in the wild population that are beneficial in the lab can be expected to have raced to fixation, it cannot be true in the broader sense of gradual evolution through new mutations.  A small glass tube in which males and females are forced into close proximity and walk around on a sea of food bears little resemblance to the varied natural environments where D. melanogaster are found, and it is safe to assume that there will be a continual stream of new mutations that prove beneficial on this laboratory island.  Indeed, recent work documents on-going evolution in fly populations maintained in the lab for over a 1000 generations.  This constant adaptation to the lab may mean that naturally selected differences between individuals are much more important than sexually selected differences, but whether this is the case in the wild is a point of contention.  A second issue is that the lab is particularly unusual in relation to conflicts over mating because of the high-density housing conditions and females cannot escape from males since they are robbed of their major natural defence, which is to simply fly away....
One begins to wonder if all this talk about mean-old males, for instance, is an artifact of the lab setup.  After all, how would humans get along after being packed shoulder-to-shoulder in prison for 1,000 generations?  That question aside, Hosken and Tregenza now hit home and hard.  Sexual selection theories need more scientific rigor, and their ending paragraph indicates that convincing experiments have never yet been done.
But we still have no clear idea what the relative magnitude of direct and indirect effects are generally.2  If we are really going to move this debate forward and out of the lab, incorporating the full gamut of costs and benefits of sexual selection, then systems are needed where trans-generational fitness can be measured in nature.  Tellingly, in one of the few long-term studies of organisms in the wild, sexual selection is reported to have no fitness consequences, which suggests either the equilibrium situation Fisher envisaged (where the benefits of choice are balanced by natural selection costs), or perhaps that the costs and benefits of sexual selection alone are balanced.  If this is the case, and costs generated through sexual conflict are balanced by benefits through traditional sexual selection mechanisms, then we may not expect sexual selection to drive rapid evolutionary change.  Determining how commonly males impose serious costs on females without compensatory benefits in nature is the next major challenge in the study of sexual conflict.
One interesting footnote.  Want to know what they were referring to in “one of the few long-term studies of organisms in the wild”?  Check the references: it was Peter and Mary Grant’s 2002 study of the Galapagos finch populations, entitled, “Unpredictable evolution in a 30-year study of Darwin’s finches.”
1David J. Hosken and Tom Tregenza, “Evolution: Do Bad Husbands Make Good Fathers?” Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 20, 25 October 2005, Pages R836-R838.
2For information on the impact of “indirect genetic effects” on natural selection (i.e., “slippage on the treadmill”), see these entries: 03/17/2003, 07/23/2003, 10/19/2004.
It is said that those who respect the law and love sausage should never watch either being made.  The same could be said of Darwinian theory.  It’s packaged in the textbooks nice and neat, but inside it is full of baloney, fat, and filler, the composition of which you would not want to know.
    Let the reader understand.  These two knowledgeable scientists, both evolutionists at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Cornwall, UK, have just spilled the beans.  They confessed in print that there is no real-world, long-term, multi-generational study of any animal that proves sexual selection accomplishes anything!  They effectively pulled the rug out from the lab studies by emphasizing how artificial they are.  But what Darwinist has ever taken the time to watch critters in their natural habitats, without interference, and actually get a grip on the slippery parameter called “fitness” so as to prove Charlie right?  Peter and Mary Grant?  Ha!  All they showed after 30 years was that evolution is unpredictable, and oscillates back and forth (08/24/2005).  Their results, after probably the longest and most detailed experiment in the history of evolutionary research, showed no net evolution – and even they complained that 30 years is probably way too short (considering how slowly evolution must act) to draw any firm conclusions (04/26/2002).  As far as anyone could know, the finches were essentially unchanged since Darwin’s visit in 1832.  Where is the evolution?  Yet their study is often cited (10/24/2004 commentary), as it was here, as one of the few long-term, real-world examples of evolution at work.
    Notice that whatever undercuts the value of sexual selection, the silver coin in Darwin’s currency, also undermines the golden coin: natural selection – because both depend on the concept of “fitness.”  Fitness is just as slippery a metric in either case (see the 10/29/2002 entry, “Fitness for dummies: Is it running in circles?”).
    To be considered scientific, a theory needs mathematical and observational rigor.  Mere hand-waving with charts and graphs and lab activity won’t cut it.  Also, for a theory to gain credibility, experiments should reinforce one another, not lead to opposite conclusions.  Hosken and Tregenza’s article ended like most Darwinian papers, with appeals to the future: “We need more data” or “We need more fossils” or “We need more real-world experiments.”  When Darwinists cannot even define their parameters or measure them, let alone study them in realistic settings, one begins to get the distinct feeling that this has been a 146-year long con game.
    Admissions like this should make one angry.  Dr. Richard Weikart, in his recent book From Darwin to Hitler (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), quoted page after page after page of influential German thinkers after Darwin – scientists, doctors, eugenicists, militarists, ethicists, philosophers and political scientists – who built their entire worldview on this slippery notion of Darwinian “fitness” (for instance, see the quote at the top right of this page).  The fit overpower the unfit.  This is the law of nature: Darwin proved it.  The strong overcomes the weak.  The superior race exterminates the inferior race.  The healthy deserve to live; the weak should get out of the way or be sterilized lest they contaminate society.  Whole groups of innocent people were deprived of basic human rights when categorized as “unfit”: first criminals, mentally ill, “idiots” and “imbeciles” and other “defectives”, then handicapped, elderly, sickly, deformed, “primitives,” and finally entire races, countries and continents.  We all know what happened next.  And now they tell us they can’t even measure fitness, which means they don’t even know what it is.  Yet today the same Darwinian worldview reigns nearly unchallenged in academia and the centers of intellectual power, built on the very same slippery concept of “fitness.”
    As we weep over the mass graves of the victims of this false and destructive doctrine, let us rush to Dover and demand accountability, as we vow, with informed passion: Never again.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Dispute Over Hobbit Man Intensifies with New Bones    10/25/2005  
The debate over the status of Homo florensiensis has not calmed down (see 09/28/2005), even with the discovery of more bones in the Ling Bua cave on the island of Flores as announced in Nature (437, 1012-1017 (13 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04022).  Michael J. Morwood and colleagues are still sticking with their identification of it as a new species, and are even claiming the little humans had affinities with the Australopithecines.  This would mean that they evolved into a species of Homo independently, developing human-like characteristics and even learning to use stone tools by convergent evolution.
H. floresiensis’ diminutive stature, long arms, and nearly chimp-size brain resemble body proportions of australopithecines, Morwood says.  That group of human ancestors lived more than 2 million years ago.  The Flores population may have directly evolved into a Homo species from an unknown Asian australopithecine, Morwood speculates.   (Emphasis added.)
Bruce Bower in Science News, however, stressed that the young dates of the bones – 12,000 years, by radiocarbon dating – indicate this population survived much longer than originally believed.  (The new arm bone dates at 15,000 years, while the new jaw dates to 12,000 years; the original find was dated at 18,000 years, with some bones thought to be as old as 95,000 years.)
    Other scientists claim Morwood et al. misidentified them as a new species, and argue, instead, that the skull represents a true Homo sapiens with microcephaly.  Robert D. Martin (Field Museum, Chicago) said that a small-brained non-human creature could not have made the sophisticated stone tools found among the remains.  Robert B. Eckhardt (Penn State) agreed, claiming that Morwood had underestimated the brain and body size of the population.  He said, “I’m absolutely, totally confident that H. floresiensis will not last.”
When Homo florensiensis gets renamed as Homo sapiens that lived in modern times, remember the fanfare and chutzpah displayed by the evolutionary paleoanthropologists over this discovery.  Nature and other Darwin foghorns were cocky they had another missing link with which to hammer the creationists.  Remember also the incredible leap of imagination that Morwood et al. asked us to believe, that a population of Lucy’s children moved to Indonesia and evolved into tool-making modern humans independently.  The date of 12,000 years for some of the bones must have been a staggering disappointment to the Darwinists.  The true date is most likely much less than that.  Maybe a living Hobbit will sneak up behind them on Oct. 31 and scare the living daylights out of them – or rather, into them.
Next headline on:  FossilsEarly Man
Extraterrestrials Likely to Be Unicellular    10/25/2005  
An AP story printed at HeraldNet jokes that extraterrestrial life probably won’t look like “the negligee-clad Number 6 from [Battlestar] Galactica, the television series that features a genocidal war between humans and their robot creations.”  Instead, according to the authors of a new book about extraterrestrial life, you would need a microscope to see it.  Seth Shostak of SETI Institute, however, only partly agrees.  Most worlds would be sterile, and most with life would have unicellular life – but with hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy, he is confident some will have aliens able to carry on a conversation.  Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Louis N. Irwin, authors of Life in the Universe, suggest Titan as a good bet for alien life of the microbe kind.
This article has all the usual airy SETI fluff.  It is pathetic to see these aimless wanderings in speculation space get associated with science.  Life in the Universe was inspired by Star Trek, not chemistry, physics, biology or mathematics.  No other religion than secular materialism could get away with scientific carelessness at this level.  It could be termed “rigor mortis.”
Next headline on:  Origin of LifeSETI
Intelligent Design War Rages   10/24/2005    
Because of the high-profile Intelligent Design trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, the news media and scientific societies are all discussing Darwin vs Design with fervor.
  • Surprise, Surprise:  AP reports that the Dover school board did not expect the uproar when it drafted its policy allowing alternatives to Darwinism to be heard; see LiveScience.comMSNBC News also carried the story.
  • Alas, Poor York:  the York Dispatch printed another article about Michael Behe’s testimony at the trial, and the debate that ensued.  It followed with another story Oct 21 about the defense witness lineup.
  • Czech Cache:  The first European Intelligent Design Conference was announced by PR Newswire, based on information from the Discovery Institute.  It began Oct. 21 in Prague and is called Darwin and Design; the Discovery Institute wrote about it, and the Prague Post interviewed one of the speakers, Dr. Charles Thaxton.
  • Official Condemnation:  The American Association for the Advancement of Science printed remarks by fellow John Staver denouncing ID with “strong concern” about the Kansas school board decision to allow criticisms of Darwinism.
  • Battle of the Books:  Alan Boyle on MSNBC News talked about the book wars for and against evolution, and suggested that Michael Behe has probably made a million in royalties for his popular book, Darwin’s Black Box.  He thought that lay books that fit public opposition to evolutionism are likely to sell better than serious works on science, and quoted an author who tells science writers to emphasize the scientific process and the practical applications of evolutionary theory.
  • His Two PenceCurrent Biology 10/25/2005 interviewed Russell Foster (Imperial College, UK) who said, “I think the science community should be very proactive over this issue and take every opportunity to explain why Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory and that it has no place in the teaching of biology.”
  • His Two Pounds:  Nigel Williams, also writing in the 10/25 Current Biology, weighed in hard against I.D. in the lead editorial.  He thought it odd that so many creationists and political conservatives are using the movie March of the Penguins as evidence of design, but ended with a reference to the “major new exhibition on Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in New York next month are expecting controversy and tackle the issue of intelligent design head-on.”  The museum directors are baffled by ID’s prominence, but don’t see any debate worth their time, because, to them, “Darwin is so fundamental to modern science.”
  • Outmatched Armies?  Over 7000 scientists signed an online petition stating intelligent design is not science, reported PRNewsWire.  Organizer R. Joe Brandon, an archaeologist, wanted to show up the Discovery Institute’s list of 400 scientists who question evolution and support intelligent design.  (Don’t make any inferences from Brandon’s website name,  Casey Luskin of EvolutionNews was not particularly impressed by the appeal to authority, arguing they were attacking a straw man version of ID.
  • Doctors’ Orders:  The 17,000-member Christian Medical Association issued a statement decrying the “scientific inquisition” against intelligent design, according to Christian Communication Network.  CMA Director Dr. Gene Rudd pointed to a survey of over a thousand doctors that found 76% believe in God, 59% believe in some kind of afterlife, and 55% said their faith influences how they practice medicine.  The statement also referred to historical scientists whose breakthroughs were “consistent with their religious faith and belief in the God who ordered the universe.”
  • Scare Tactics:  Brad Harrub of Apologetics Press wrote an editorial criticizing how the Darwinists are trying to “plot, dictate, threaten and scare” to keep their control over science education.
  • Down Under and Below the Belt:  Aussie blogger Stephen Jones discussed the underhanded tactics of the anti-ID crowd in his country.
  • Hypocrites:  George Neumayr on American Spectator called the ACLU lawsuit a Kangaroo Court, writing, “No sooner had the Darwinists ended their 80th anniversary celebrations of the Scopes trial than they turned their attention to conducting censorship trials of their own.”
  • Morning Gory:  Donald Hoffman on Morning Call Online defended ID and claimed the plaintiffs in the Dover trial are over-reacting and making much ado about nothing.
  • Big TargetPatriot News reporter Bill Sulon wrote about how the Dover policy would be difficult to defend, according to district solicitor Stephen Russell, because it would be perceived as initiated for religious reasons.
  • Tech StressTopTechNews said “Tension mounts on intelligent design.”
  • Students Demand Free Speech:  the Berkeley of the 21st century?  The Cornell IDEA Club responded to university president Hunter Rawlings’ tirade against ID Oct. 21.  He spent two thirds of his State of the University Address attacking intelligent design, with what they felt was a “blatant disregard for the facts” and speaking in an “unscrupulous, unknowledgeable manner.”  They called for free and open exchange of ideas.
  • And more...  Access Research Network writer Denyse O’Leary keeps abreast of additional columns and articles of note about the ID controversy.
This sampling can be considered representative of rhetoric that surely is making small-town newspapers all over the country.
Something is strangely missing in all these reports.  No Darwinists seem to be defending any evidence that humans have bacteria ancestors.  It seems to be all about power.  (Social Constructivists, don’t get any ideas.)  The ACLU may silence a Behe, but if intelligent design is built into the fabric of the universe, 7,000 Darwinists cannot fight it any more than they can stop a glacier.  Same advice still applies: watch for flying baloney, keep away from the heat, know history, re-read If by Kipling, have a deep and abiding respect for brute facts, and fear not the wroth of the people of froth.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and EvolutionIntelligent DesignEducation
Archaeopteryx Meets Its Younger Grandpa, and Other Flights of Fancy    10/24/2005  
Science Now said that a “slightly embarrassing gap” in the fossil record has been filled by a find in Wyoming.  The oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx was older than its presumed ancestors, the Maniraptorans, its closest dinosaurian relatives.  A team near Thermopolis, Wyoming found a maniraptoran dating from about the same time as Archaeopteryx.  This new fossil “begins to fill the time gap between bird fossils and their closest dinosaur relatives.”  The team feels this supports the idea that flight evolved from the ground up.
    Another team thinks they have figured out the foot feathers on the strange Chinese fossil Microraptor gui (see 05/19/2003).  MSNBC News reported that a Texas Tech team believes the foot feathers formed another flight surface, making the animal fly like a biplane.  EurekAlert says the Wright Brothers have been upstaged.  Sankar Chatterjee of the Texas Tech group remarked that “The biplane wing configuration was probably a very first experiment in nature,” paralleling the human design of flight.  “It is intriguing to contemplate that perhaps avian flight, like aircraft evolution, went through a biplane stage before the monoplane was introduced,” said Chatterjee.  “It seems likely that Microraptor invented the biplane 125 million years before the Wright 1903 Flyer.”
    These researchers feel it was unlikely Microraptor could have run along the ground with its foot feathers, and must have taken off from high branches.  The team feels this supports the idea that flight evolved from the trees down.
We don’t think that Wilbur and Orville would be flattered by the suggestion that their invention was the product of blind, unguided processes of evolution.  Whatever Microraptor gui was, or how it lived, it was not an experiment.  Chance does not do experiments.  Humans sometimes do, but they more often stumble around in their own imaginations.
    Darwinists need to be more embarrassed.  To call the gap before Archaeopteryx “slightly embarrassing” does not do justice to the degree of blushing we should be observing.  Did this new maniraptoran fossil explain how the early bird, a strong flyer with completely modern feathers, arose from a grandpa its own age?  Did the aboreans convince the cursorians by finding a fossil dinosaur leaping off a fossilized limb of a fossilized tree? (see Kevin Padian’s sarcasm, 05/19/2003).  We may not be witnessing the evolution of flight, but we are amassing plenty of observations on the flightiness of evolution, both from the top down and the bottom up.  We’ve even identified the species: cuckoo.
Next headline on:  DinosaursBirdsFossilsEvolution
Listen to Yourself Evolve    10/23/2005  
A pretty gene is like a melody, decided Mary Anne Clark at Texas Wesleyan University, so she gave life to music—literally.  She translated the structure of proteins into musical notes so that she could hear “protein songs,” reported National Geographic News
By listening to the songs, scientists and students alike can hear the structure of a protein.  And when the songs of the same protein from different species are played together, their similarities and differences are apparent to the ear.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
That leads us to the Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: “Therefore, Clark said, by playing the beta globin song for a human and tuatara, an ancient three-eyed lizard, people can hear the process of evolution—a variation on a theme that was present before mammals split from reptiles some 200 million years ago.”
Need we remind Clark that Theme and Variations is a musical form created by intelligent composers?
Next headline on:  DarwinismGeneticsDumb Ideas
Evolution Runs in Reverse   10/22/2005    
A commercial for Guinness Beer shows devolution: evolution running in reverse.  It’s called, “The history of life in :50 seconds flat.”  Is beer drinking a slippery slope to the primordial ooze?
This commercial is really funny to watch, and very clever, but it demonstrates the pervasive influence of Darwinism on our culture.  We like the intelligent design commercial by Honda better (see 03/01/2005).
Next headline on:  MediaDarwinismDumb Ideas
Spider Evolution: A Theory in Crisis    10/21/2005  
Sea spiders look so similar to land spiders, everyone would have thought they were related.  They differ, however, in several significant ways, said Graham Budd and Maximilian Telford in Nature:1  ’Their bodies are so slender that the digestive systems and gonads are squeezed into their limbs; they possess a forward-pointing proboscis with a terminal mouth; and the males brood the eggs.”  Now, additional observations “are bound to provoke controversy in an already acrimonious field,” the field of spider evolution.  Organs called chelifores near the proboscis of sea spiders are not related to the chelicerae of land spiders, reported Maxmen, Browne et al. in the same issue,2 because they originate from different parts of the head.  “The association of chelifores and chelicerae with different parts of the brain implies that the two types of limb are not equivalent, but are derived from different segments,” Budd and Telford said.  These observations will “shake up the field of arthropod evolution.”
    A check under the hood shows there is more trouble in the engine of arthropod evolution.
This result cuts across previous results based on adult structure, and to see the wider implications we need some historical background.  The composition of the arthropod head is one of the bitterest and longest-running problems in animal evolution.  Unresolved after more than a century of debate, this sorry tale is (in)famously known as the “endless dispute”.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The only way to salvage the evolutionary model is to assume that sea spiders “are extraordinary living fossils, retaining an organization of their head that all other living arthropods lost hundreds of millions of years ago,” Budd and Telford suggested.  The caption of a phylogenetic chart explains how both possible interpretations are distasteful:
a, If pycnogonids branched off before the appearance of insects, crustaceans, myriapods and arachnids, we can interpret their protocerebral chelifores (red) as equivalent to the supposedly anterior great appendage of fossil groups such as Anomalocaris.  The labrum (green) would have evolved in the common ancestor indicated with a star.  b, But if pycnogonids are related to arachnids, then either their protocerebral chelifores could be an atavistic re-evolution of the great appendage, or the labrum must have evolved independently in arachnids and the other three taxa.  Both of these latter hypotheses are contentious, and could raise doubts about the conclusions of Maxmen and colleagues.
The former interpretation, taken by Maxmen et al., is that the chelifores are examples of convergent evolution.  “Pycnogonid chelifores and chelicerate chelicerae are convergent structures,” they decided, “innervated from different segmental neuromeres.”  Budd and Telford don’t seem ready to swallow that line.  They ended their analysis with more bitter words:
The conclusions of Maxmen et al. overturn entrenched ideas about the body plan of the sea spiders and, furthermore, lend support to some controversial theories of arthropod evolution.  Unlike their terrestrial analogues, sea spiders lack a poisonous bite, but this paper is bound to inject venom into what is already one of the most controversial of all zoological topics.

1Graham Budd and Maximilian Telford, “Evolution: Along came a sea spider,” Nature 437, 1099-1102 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371099a.
2Maxmen et al., “Neuroanatomy of sea spiders implies an appendicular origin of the protocerebral segment,” Nature 437, 1144-1148 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03984.
You probably didn’t even know that the Darwinists had this problem.  Behind the scenes, they have been injecting each other with venom and battling each other for over a century about where arthropods fit in the evolutionary tree, all the while telling the rest of us evolution is a fact.  Should we feel sorry for them?  Do you feel sorry for someone who builds a sand castle on a fault line?
Next headline on:  Marine BiologyTerrestrial ZoologyDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Planets and Moons Suddenly Got Much Younger   10/20/2005    
A planet or moon covered with craters just looks old, doesn’t it?  Planetary geologists have long relied on crater counts to estimate the absolute ages of surfaces, such as on the moon, Mars, Europa, and every other solid body.  Lots of craters meant old.  Few craters meant young.  Presumably, impacting bodies came in like clockwork and left their marks over the eons.  An uncomfortable fact has come to light that disturbs this simple picture like a bolide: most of the craters are secondary impacts.
    Picture a big meteor hitting Mars.  Did you know that it could toss up enough debris to create 10 million more craters – all from a single event?  That’s one of several shocking facts presented by Clark R. Chapman and two colleagues in a Letter to Nature.1 (see also summary on  Believe it or not, they calculate that some 95% of small craters (1 km in diameter and under) are secondaries, and many of the moderate size craters probably are, too.  This means that only a few impactors could quickly saturate a body with craters.  It also means that estimating surface ages via crater counts is a lost art, because it just lost its credibility:
Surface ages can be derived from the spatial density of craters, but this association presumes that the craters are made by interplanetary impactors, arriving randomly in time and location across the surface.  Secondary craters cause confusion because they contaminate the primary cratering record by emplacing large numbers of craters, episodically, in random and non-random locations on the surface.  The number and spatial extent of secondary craters generated by a primary impact has been a significant research issue.  If many or most small craters on a surface are secondaries, but are mistakenly identified as primaries, derived surface ages or characteristics of the impacting population size-frequency distribution (SFD) will be in error.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Their mathematical analysis yielded the 95% figure for secondaries.  The production of secondary craters on Europa, they found, was “unexpectedly efficient.”  Although secondary crater formation on icy bodies was so, they feel that similar secondary crater production occurs on rocky bodies like the Moon and Mars, and granted that, has a ripple effect casting the entire method into doubt:
Our work raises doubts regarding methods that use the lunar small-crater distribution to calibrate other inner Solar System surface ages (for example, Mars).  If, as on Europa, lunar and martian secondaries are 95% of the small crater (less than a few kilometres) population, the error bars (and thus derived surface ages) on any residual primary crater population become large (uncertainties are 20 times the measured density value).  This uncertainty applies to both the measured population on a martian surface unit and the lunar SFD that supposedly represents absolute age.  We emphasize that traditional age-dating analyses still derive robust ages when using large craters (greater than a few kilometres diameter), which are less likely to be secondaries.  However, the technique becomes increasingly unreliable when applied to dating tiny geographical units using small craters, which may be mostly secondaries.
As a result, they conclude that “any attempt” to age-date surfaces or characterize the population of impactors may suffer “a significant and perhaps uncorrectable bias” due to the contribution from secondaries.  They ended with that case of the single Martian impact that generated 10 million secondaries from 10 to 100 meters in diameter.
    Speaking of Mars, the Mars Global Surveyor recently took a sharp image captioned “secondary craters.”  Click here for a look.
1Bierhaus, Chapman and Merline, “Secondary craters on Europa and implications for cratered surfaces,” Nature 437, 1125-1127 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04069.
Things are not always what they seem.  This announcement must hurt like a rock to Darwinists, who really need those long periods of uniformitarian processes.  Imagine ten million craters forming in one day!  If crater counts say nothing about age, why could not all the observed cratering have occurred quickly, in relatively recent times?
Next headline on:  Dating MethodsMarsSolar System
Princess Dione:  Check out the color picture of Saturn’s moon Dione just released by the Cassini team.  Raw images from the October 11 flyby from 310 miles above the surface of Dione have been posted by the imaging team and at the Cassini website (also, close-ups of the little moon Telesto that leads Dione at its L4 langrangian point).  Dione appears crisscrossed by wavy cracks and bright cliffs (example), some over three miles high.

Genes Are Not Telling the Whole Story    10/20/2005  
A growing realization is dawning on geneticists: there is more going on in DNA than previously imagined.  Now that whole genomes are becoming available, scientists are eagerly trying to understand how the genetic code (genotype) produces a full-grown organism (phenotype), like a fruit fly or human.  The interesting stuff in DNA used to be the genes, but two recent stories are showing that other players in the nucleus may have much more to do with the outcome than just the genes that code for proteins (09/08/2005, 09/23/2005).
(1)  A study from UC San Diego has, once again, showed the functional value of “junk DNA”.  Peter Andolfatto found large differences in non-coding DNA between closely-related species of fruit flies (Drosophila).  These differences appear to be important to the flies, perhaps in maintaining their genetic integrity.  He speculated that these non-coding regions may, therefore, have evolutionary importance.  Andolfatto, who published his findings in Nature,1 explained the change in focus:

Protein evolution has traditionally been emphasized as a key facet of genome evolution and the evolution of new species,” says Andolfatto.  “The degree of protein sequence similarity between humans and chimpanzees, and other closely-related but morphologically distinct taxa, has prompted several researchers to speculate that most adaptive differences between taxa are due to changes in gene regulation and not protein evolution.  My results lend support to this view by demonstrating that regulatory changes have been of great importance in the evolution of new Drosophila species.”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Andolfatto et al. found that about 50% of the non-coding DNA appeared to be under negative selection (i.e., evolutionary conservation), and other parts appeared to be under positive selection (although determining this is a statistical comparison of nucleotide substitutions to polymorphisms, not a linking of variations to actual fitness benefits).  This appears to be a “double whammy” against Kimura’s neutral theory of evolution, said Alexey S. Kondrashov, in the same issue of Nature,2 who said about this study, “Fruitfly genome is not junk.”  He began his analysis with a fairy tale that has been debunked:
Once upon a time, the world seemed simple when viewed through the eyes of evolutionary biologists.  All genomes were tightly controlled by various forms of natural selection.  DNA encoded functional genes, and most mutations that occurred were rejected through negative selection.  Those exceptional mutations that were beneficial substituted for the original gene variant (allele) and spread through the evolving populations by positive selection.  And polymorphisms – where several alleles coexist within a population – were maintained by yet another, balancing, form of selection.
Though Kondrashov is not ready to conclude that higher vertebrates are lacking in junk DNA and neutral mutations, or that Kimura’s neutral theory has been debunked outside of fruit flies, he draws one important conclusion from the new study: “It is truly amazing how little we know quantitatively about mutation and selection in the genomes of even the most well-studied organisms.”  See also Science Daily summary of this story.
(2) A separate study – closer to us humans – also found a big surprise in our DNA.  Ten years ago researchers were talking about “the human genome” as if there were a commonly-shared genetic code among us all.  While that is still largely true, scientists have been stunned by the amount of individual variation.  Erika Check, writing in Nature,3 explained:
Exactly one year ago this week, scientists announced that they had finished the ‘Book of Life’.  The complete sequence of the human genome had been painstakingly reduced to an ordered list of letters representing the four bases of DNA.  This text was believed to be virtually identical for every person on Earth – and the major differences between individuals, such as hair colour, were said to be the equivalent of typographical errors, no longer than a single letter.  The next major task for scientists was to find out which of these tiny differences can cause disease.
    But even as the ink was drying on the complete sequence, some researchers were questioning whether there was really such a thing as the definitive edition of the Book of Life.  By skim-reading individual genomes, these scientists were finding bizarre and unexpected irregularities.  In some people, whole paragraphs of the text were duplicated, whereas in others, large passages were missing, or even printed backwards.  These major revisions turned up in all kinds of people, including many who seemed healthy and normal.  Suddenly, it seemed possible that there was actually no standard version of the Book of Life, and researchers wondered whether we are all much more different from each other than they had thought.
These discoveries of major individual genetic differences, which began to surface in 2002 and 2003, have grown.  Scientists were “freaked out” to find different numbers of copies of genes in different people, and then to find whole sections missing or written backwards in normal-looking people was almost unbelievable.  So far these seem to affect 3.5% of the genome – a bigger portion than the oft-alleged differences between humans and chimpanzees.  (Those differences have grown, also, in the realization that non-coding elements and regulatory processes play a much more significant role than previously thought.)  Some of the differences may be matters of life or death – susceptibility to disease, or ability to adapt to certain environments, but many of them seem to provide no obvious phenotypic advantage or disadvantage, and all humans are clearly interfertile still.  What all this means is a matter of intense debate.  Erika Check concludes, “For now, the realization that we are all reading from individual texts has already altered scientists’ understanding of humanity – and of the library of unique volumes that makes up the human race.”
1Peter Andolfatto, “Adaptive evolution of non-coding DNA in Drosophila,” Nature 437, 1149-1152 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04107.
2Alexey S. Kondrashov, “Evolutionary biology: Fruitfly genome is not junk,” Nature 437, 1106 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371106a.
3Erika Check, “Human genome: Patchwork people,” Nature 437, 1084-1086 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371084a.
Neo-Darwinism was built on a pre-genomic, simplistic view of inheritance.  It, and its successors, can no longer pretend to account for the new complexities of genetics that are coming to light.
    More recently, evolutionists have attempted to arrange organisms into phylogenetic trees based on sequence similarities of this or that gene.  This is like focusing on individual trees and missing the forest.  There is much more than just genes and their protein products accounting for our individual differences.  If the genes are just pawns of regulatory processes, who is regulating the regulators?  How does a mature individual arise from the complex sequence of developmental processes that know which genes to switch on at the right times?
    In times of intellectual ferment such as this, it is unfair to grant sole authority for explanations to one team, the Darwin Bulldogs, that has repeatedly struck out.  Manager Charlie would never have predicted the curve balls that the nature would pitch at them.  Bluffing confidence and armchair strategies have proven inadequate.  Let design science come to bat.
Next headline on:  GeneticsEvolutionary TheoryHuman BodyZoology
Stem Cell Breakthroughs: No More Ethical Concerns?   10/19/2005    
Several science news sites have been reporting two new techniques for creating embryonic stem cells that do not involve the creation of viable embryos (see, for instance, New Scientist, Science Now, and Nature news, 437, 1065 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371065a).
    There is no consensus yet, however, whether these methods overcome all the ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research.  The ethical impact of one of the methods, alternate nuclear transfer (ANT), hinges on the definition of when life begins.  Every bit helps, reported Nature, but –
It remains to be seen if either method can do anything to resolve the political impasse over human embryonic stem-cell research....
The ethical appeal of the [ANT] approach has yet to be tested.  If proponents such as Hurlbut are sufficiently numerous and influential, it could help to tip the balance towards a more benign regulatory and funding environment for human embryonic stem-cell research.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
In the same issue of Nature (437, 1076-1077 (20 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/4371072b), Carina Dennis and Erika Check made it clear where the ethical pressure was coming from: “Religious and ethical concerns are forcing researchers using human embryonic stem cells to seek ways to sidestep these issues.”  The question dogging researchers is what is the definition of an embryo, if it is not viable and could not be implanted.  Some critics are not convinced; one says the ANT product is indistinguishable from a natural embryo; another said, “You do an engineering step to essentially destroy the embryo so that you can then use it.”
    Nature’s editorial writers make no bones about their desire to accelerate stem-cell research, and view these new techniques with cautious optimism – the caution deriving from what ethicists will think.  Other references in the journal encourage Germany to get rid of its ban on stem-cell research, and the Bush administration to loosen restrictions.  And the prior week, Erika Check had reported in Nature about how “US progressives fight for a voice in bioethics.”  She pointed to one incident that illustrates the difference between progressives and conservatives: “[Arthur] Caplan [ethicist, U of Pennsylvania] and others were outraged when Republican leaders fought to keep Schiavo on life support against her husband’s wishes.  ‘Nothing could make clearer the difference between progressive and conservative bioethics,’ says Caplan.”  Erika Check reported on steps progressives are taking to organize and combat the influence of conservative bioethicists.
These articles illustrate once again that mad scientists would go berserk with what they could do, if it were not for people with an ethical conscience, often derived from religion, putting the brakes on their reckless (and funding-motivated) enthusiasm.  It would be good to read again some of the moral issues and potential horrors of unregulated genetic engineering we listed in our 08/24/2003 commentary (see bullet item “Right to Life lobby”).  Keep the pressure on.  We would have no qualms over stem cell research that passes the most rigorous tests of informed ethicists, particularly those who understand Christian principles of compassion, like not grinding up some lives to help others.  But be careful.  Darwinism has bequeathed to us an unprincipled lot of opportunists and glory-seekers.  Their appeals couched in terms of compassion leave ample room for skepticism, when the mouth vocalizing altruistic rhetoric is accompanied with dollar signs in the eyes.
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyHealthPolitics and Ethics
Dover I.D. Trial Calls Star Witness   10/18/2005    
Michael “Irreducible Complexity” Behe, the Lehigh biochemist famous for flagella, mousetraps and black boxes, took the stand in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial Monday Oct. 17.  This was widely reported, such as in New Scientist, MSNBC News and the Washington Post.  For an ID-friendly report with more detail of the actual proceedings, see EvolutionNews.
    Behe snowed some of the listeners with technical jargon, but otherwise maintained his position that evidence for intelligent design in biology is overwhelming, based on positive evidence, not admissions of ignorance.  He also took swipes at the ability of Darwinian mechanisms to explain molecular machines.
    Other school boards are watching this trial with both interest and trepidation.  The Washington Post said,
More school boards are considering mandating mention of intelligent design.  Randy Tomasacci, a school board member from Shickshinny, north of Harrisburg, said his board is debating whether to require teachers to spend a few days on intelligent design.  We’re thinking about it,” he said.  “But we don’t want to get sued out of existence.”
For Behe’s part, he is safe.  Though Lehigh University, where he teaches, has repudiated intelligent design, Behe has tenure and (unlike some other ID supporters) cannot be terminated for his views.  Reporters and critics, meanwhile, seemed fixated on Behe’s Catholicism and on whether he believed the Designer is God.
Can’t the reporters get fixated on the evidence instead?  Maybe they would learn something about science instead of the secret motivations of their caricatured foes.  At least anti-ID reporter Alan Boyle is working his way through Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator among his stack of pro-evolution books and websites (see MSNBC), perhaps after being sufficiently hammered by emails from readers about his bias.  MSNBC also printed a story about a parent worried that his daughter might not be accepted by other students if she doesn’t agree with ID.  No worries.  Christians don’t believe in doing unto others as they did unto us.
Next headline on:  EducationIntelligent Design
Darwin on Offense I: Museums   10/17/2005    
What’s the solution to decreasing belief in evolution?  More evolution.  That’s the message of an article by Lisa Anderson from the Chicago Tribune published online by Yahoo News, “Museums take up evolution challenge.” 
Natural history museums around the country are mounting new exhibits they hope will succeed where high school biology classes have faltered: convincing Americans that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is a rigorously tested cornerstone of modern science.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Museum curators have not been incognizant of public opinion polls that, for two decades, have shown that high percentages of the public that do not buy Darwin’s theory of human descent from ape-like ancestors.  New exhibits, like “Explore Evolution” and “Darwin” are no longer pussyfooting around the E word, calling it “change through time” or other euphemisms, but putting it out there in bold print and making it “exciting.”
    The article portrays science as necessarily secular, and the opposition as inherently religious:
The majority of scientists deny there is any credible challenge to evolution.  They emphasize that scientific theory is not a wild guess, but a hypothesis subjected to careful testing and observation over time.  They point to a thoroughly documented geological and radiometric dating of the Earth’s age and to almost daily developments in genetics and molecular and cell biology that affirm aspects of Darwin’s 1859 “The Origin of Species.”
    But the strength of long-standing religious belief about the divine origins of man, in a country where more than a quarter of the citizens self-identify as evangelical Christians, is considerable.
    “One of the big misunderstandings, I think, is that a lot of people have stopped realizing that science is a secular activity,” said Lance Grande, vice president and head of collections and research at the Field Museum.  Field’s $17 million, 20,000-square foot, “Evolving Planet” exhibit is slated to open on March 10, 2006.1
The article links antievolutionism to the loss of interest in science among students, and the decline of American scientific leadership, and indirectly uses the word “magic” to describe religious faith or doubts about Darwinism.
    “Evolving Planet” will use the popular dinosaur exhibits as a draw, but intends to give viewers the whole spiel from chemical evolution to man.  John McCarter, Field Museum CEO and president, said that this time “we’re using the dinosaurs as kind of the marquee to draw them in and saying, this is a very complicated story, which you’ve got to dig into over a long period of time.”  (See also the 09/22/2005 entry about other museum strategies to combat antievolutionism.)
See Reader Responses to this story.

1By contrast, the entire budget of the new Creation Museum being built by Answers in Genesis (scheduled to open in 2007), with all its exhibits, buildings, life-size dinosaur models, offices, stores, parking lot, hiking trails and property, is $25 million, and is taking five years to complete. 
When riding a dead horse, the Sioux strategy is to dismount.  The Darwinists have tried this strategy – continuing to ride the hobby horse of one-sided propaganda – for over a century.  They have tried Disney movies.  They have tried PBS documentaries.  They have flooded the media with specials from National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, and the Science Channel.  They have published children’s books, cartoon books, textbooks, magazines, pamphlets and newspapers.  They have dominated the national parks and museums with their material.  They have taken over the public schools and controlled the science curriculum.  Why hasn’t it worked?  Why do so many Americans still fail to “get it”?  Here’s the problem: people sense they are being propagandized.  Every one of these attempts to teach evolution is one-sided.  Each portrayal assumes evolution is a fact, and uses evidence merely as a prop for a play whose script is already written in stone.  Worse, many of them ridicule anyone who disagrees, and fail to give any criticism an honest portrayal.
    If the Darwinists really believe their story is well supported and deserves dominance, they need to get it out into the open marketplace of ideas and defend it against the best counter arguments.  They need to stop shouting “evolution is a fact” and “evolution is science, and anything else is religion” and talk about real evidence for the common ancestry of all things.  People know evolution is a controversial subject.  They are not convinced by the extrapolation of finch beak variations into the idea humans have bacteria ancestors.  No amount of media pizzazz can compensate for what many perceive is a weak case.
    To most people throughout history, even as far back as the Greeks and Romans, the evidence for intelligent design has been not only intuitive, but self-evident.  Darwinian materialism is really the new kid on the block.  In a real sense, the burden of proof is on the Darwinists, not the creationists and believers in intelligent design.  Darwin, Huxley, and the subsequent bulldogs (see 09/02/2004) never really made a convincing case; they won over the intellectuals more with chutzpah and intimidation than by rigorous proof.  Even today’s most ardent Darwinists, like Richard Dawkins, admit that life looks designed.  Now, Darwinism is under increasing strain from the findings of molecular biology and the discovery of elaborate molecular machines and networks at the most fundamental levels of life.
    Spending millions on exhibits is not the answer.  Engaging the public with honest consideration of the objections to evolution could be a good start, but unless it is sensed as a sincere and humble search for the truth, it will continue to be dismissed by large numbers of people from all walks of life.  The Darwinist spokesperson needs to get off his elitist pedestal and remove the chip on his shoulder.  All of them need to be willing to admit their theory could be wrong, and that scientific naturalism might really be inadequate.  They need to stop defining their critics out of scientific debate by definition.  Science is supposed to be a search for the truth, not a declaration of victory.  As in any dispute, the honest engagement of ideas in the open square, with humility and mutual respect, can bring light.  More one-sided propaganda will only turn up the heat.
    It was depressing to see some creationists react to the evolution displays with hate speech.  These incidents may have been exaggerated or misreported, but if someone indeed wrote to the Field Museum, “you will burn in hell,” nothing could be uglier or more harmful.  Such an epithet conveys pride, hate, ignorance and unreason – characteristics the Darwinists are sure to hold up as examples of religious intolerance, as they did here.  Worse, it is the opposite of the countenance that Christians should present to non-Christians (see Ephesians 4).  If you know a person prone to this kind of outburst, stop him.  Nothing is more sure to entrench unbelievers in their dislike of creationism or intelligent design.  Get REAL: Reason, Evidence, Attractiveness, Logic.  Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, said the wisest man in history (Solomon).  See also the 09/22/2005 commentary.
Check out the Reader Responses to this story.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and EvolutionIntelligent DesignEducation
Darwin on Offense II: Strategy Sessions   10/17/2005    
The Geological Society of America, normally concerned with technical details of rocks and how many millions or billions of years old they are, devoted two “expansive sessions” at its annual meeting Oct 16-17, with 24 separate presentations dealing with strategies to oppose intelligent design (ID).  Their press release portrays ID advocates as “trained attackers,” using the word “attack” four times as if their views and tactics are a frontal assault on science, using spurious arguments and devious methods.  It’s time for a counterattack, the GSA advises.  Donald Wise, one of the four speakers, has made his strategy public: the best defense is a good offense.
So how does a scientist or teacher defend evolution against trained attackers“Don’t,” suggests geoscientist Donald Wise from the University of Massachusetts.  Instead, go after the deep flaws in ID.  Take the human body, for instance, he says in his GSA presentation.  It’s a great argument against ID.  Anyone who has ever had back pain or clogged sinuses can testify to this.  Our evolutionarily recent upright posture explains our terrible back problems better than ID, and our squished, very poorly “designed” sinuses don’t function at all well and are easily explained by the evolutionarily rapid enlargement of our brains.
    Wise’s advice to scientists and educators is to: 1) get off the defensive; 2) focus on the ample weak points of Intelligent Design; 3) keep it simple; 4) accentuate it with humor; and 5) stick to irrefutable facts close to evolution and relevant to voters.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Eugenie Scott is one of the four speakers at the conference, with a talk on “Multiple levels of antievolutionism.”  The GSA also posted a complete resource kit with abstracts of most of the presentations and links to further information.  One of the presentations, seemingly out of place for a geological society, is called “Modern Biblical Scholarship as a Resource for Teachers of Evolution.”
See Reader Responses to this story.
Irrefutable facts – careful testing – observation – great.  When do they begin?  It would be harder to find a better illustration of Darwin Party hypocrisy.  These rockhounds have the gall to accuse their critics of propaganda tactics and logical fallacies when those are the Darwin Party’s stock in trade.  For plenty of examples, just look in the chain links here in five years of reporting on evolutionary theory: start here with entry #652 and work back.
    No need for lengthy commentary here; our readers did it justice (see reader responses).  Just to point out that Lee Allison’s tirade about bad design in the human body shows again the utter thanklessness in the Darwinian heart.  Isn’t that what Paul warned about those who turn their back on the obvious?  Watch gymnasts or weightlifters and anyone who puts their back into their work and tell them the human body was poorly designed.  There are limits to our specifications, yes – we cannot hoist 10 tons overhead – but no matter how much a body were designed to do, a Darwinist could always complain about why it is not better.  What do you want to bet these Darwinian ingrates brought on some of their own back pain by becoming obese or never learning good posture?  They also need a lesson on sinuses and the sense of smell (see 06/07/2005) – or any other aspect of human engineering (08/05/2005) – and learn a little gratitude.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and EvolutionIntelligent DesignEducation
Grown Man in the Stellar Crib: Now What?    10/14/2005  
The cover of Science News has a strange cartoon explained on the inside in an article by Ron Cowen:
Imagine peering into a nursery and seeing, among the cooing babies, a few that look like grown men.  That’s the startling situation that astronomers have stumbled upon as they’ve looked deep into space and thus back to a time when newborn galaxies filled the cosmos.  Some of these babies have turned out to be nearly as massive as the Milky Way and other galactic geezers that have taken billions of years to form.  Despite being only about 800 million years old, some of the infants are chock-full of old stars.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
So that explains the star with the face of Jimmy Durante cuddled with infant starlets with their blankies in the maternity ward.  Astronomers, though, aren’t laughing.  Finding galactic geezers in the stellar nursery is throwing their cosmological models out of whack:
These chunky babies may be pointing to a cosmic crisis.  They don’t seem to fit the leading theory of galaxy formation, which cosmologists have relied on for more than 2 decades to explain an assortment of puzzling features of the universe.  The theory posits that a pervasive, slow-moving, invisible type of matter vastly outweighs the observable matter in the universe.  Under the gravitational influence of this unseen material, known as cold dark matter (SN: 4/23/05, p. 264), galaxies start out as small, starry fragments that merge to become much bigger objects.  That’s usually a gradual process, according to the theory.
Cowen said that astronomers might tolerate a few exceptions, but most of the anomalous findings are relatively recent.  “But over the past 18 months, several teams have found so many massive galaxies from this early epoch that the theory is being stretched to its breaking point,” he stated as the feeling among astronomers.  These disturbing findings have a ripple effect:
Even if the theory of cold dark matter survives this onslaught, the new observations of big galaxies in the most ancient of times have important implications.  The findings suggest that the earliest galaxies formed stars in a great hurry, much more rapidly than galaxies that were born even a billion years later did.  What’s more, that first generation of stars might have been rife with heavyweights much more massive, on average, than stars from any later epoch.
An example in Cowen’s article was also reported by Robert Roy Britt in Space.Com.  They both spoke of a galaxy in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (03/09/2004) that bulked up “amazingly quickly” if understood in the context of leading theory (09/29/2005).  Proponents of the cold dark matter theory are not yet ready to admit defeat, but are concerned if more and more mature galaxies with mature stars in them will continue to show up in surveys from earliest epochs of the universe.  One astronomer admitted, “There could be a problem with the theory.”  Another feared, “the theory won’t be salvaged with just a small bit of tinkering.”
    Meanwhile, another pair of astronomers is saying, “Cold dark matter – who needs it?”  Cooperstock and Tieu published a paper on ArXiv that demonstrates how galaxy rotation curves could be understood without invoking massive, unseen halos of dark matter.  Britt also took note of that proposal on  Their model, which uses ordinary general relativity instead of dark matter, was tested initially with individual galaxies.  Next, they want to test it with clusters of galaxies.
Instant galaxies and stars with appearance of age – that sounds like creation, not evolution.  If God stretched out the heavens in the beginning, as it says multiple places in the Bible, it could have done weird things to space and time, such as making things look older than they really are.  But abrupt appearance would be the rule, just like it is in the fossil record of life on earth.
Next headline on:  Stellar AstronomyCosmologyDating Methods
Debate Sampler    10/13/2005  
The debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design (ID) continues unabated.  Here are samples of recent reasonings, harangues and actions in the news:
  • Separate Ain’t Equal:  Dave Dentel in the York Daily Record argued that making science and religion separate domains is about as effective as Plessy vs. Ferguson.
  • Old Time Evolution:  When The New Republic would not print a rebuttal to a pro-evolution article, Jonathan Wells wrote one anyway for Discovery Institute.  He ends with a Darwinian version of an old gospel song.
  • The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend:  Bruce Chapman for EvolutionNews noted the websites by non-Darwinian evolutionists or “structuralists” upset at the “intimidation tactics of the Darwinistas.”
  • Critical Thinking:  Doug Cowan (06/03/2005) wrote another guest editorial for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about how he successfully uses the creation-evolution controversy to teach critical thinking skills to his high school biology students.  Cowan was featured briefly in the film Icons of Evolution as an example of how to teach evolution critically without incurring charges of bias.
  • Daily Beserkely:  Cristini Bautista wrote a fairly balanced presentation of the controversy in the Daily Californian, a Berkeley newspaper.
  • Bow OutLive Science wrote about a Pennsylvania teacher at the Dover trial testifying why she refused to read the statement that questioned Darwinism’s scientific validity.
  • Sneaking SuspicionsNew Scientist and MSNBC made a big deal out of how the book Of Pandas and People, the Darwin-alternative text offered to Dover schools, changed references to creationism to “intelligent design” from the draft edition to the published edition.  This point was made by Barbara Forrest in her testimony at the Dover trial to try to link I.D. to religious aspects of creationism.
  • New Mex Flex:  The Washington Post wrote about attempts to introduce alternatives to Darwinism in New Mexico schools.  The ACLU said it stands ready to defend Rio Rancho teachers who refuse to teach ID, said the NewMexican, and will go to court if the new policy leads to teaching intelligent design.
  • Florida Brew:  The Tampa Tribune wrote about attempts to introduce ID alternatives by state’ department of education.
  • Opening Minds:  Brian Fahling with the American Family Association wrote an editorial for McCalls defending ID as a competing explanation for the origin of life.
  • Freedom FighterEvolutionNews wrote about the tireless efforts of Larry Caldwell to fight for “quality science education for all.”
  • Called Well:  Jeanne Caldwell has joined forces with the Pacific Justice Institute to challenge federal funding of a pro-evolution, anti-religious website, according to Access Research Network and World Net Daily.
  • Friends of the Court:  The Discovery Institute published an amicus brief for the Dover trial from 85 scientists “urging the court to protect academic freedom and not limit research into intelligent design theory.”
  • The Evolution of God:  Robert Winston tried to explain why people evolved religious beliefs, in The Guardian (UK).  Apparently he did not try to explain the evolution of Darwinian beliefs.
In spite of the occasional lies and rhetorical fluff, it’s good to see these ideas being debated.  Darwinists can no longer assume their position is unassailable.  A well-tuned Baloney Detector is your best defense against the People of Froth (see 09/26/2005 commentary).
Next headline on:  Intelligent DesignDarwinism and Evolutionary TheoryEducation
Early Dino: Early Bird?    10/12/2005  
Is it a bird or a dinosaur?  The cover of Nature Oct. 13, 2005 shows a creature with feathery fuzz and feather-like structures on its arms, but the article inside1 describes only the bones of a new dromeosaurid theropod fossil found in Argentina.  Theropods are the group the contained Velociraptor and other species often portrayed as skilled and voracious hunters.  The cover art shows this new chicken-sized species, named Buitreraptor, with a lizard in its snout – or beak – whatever it is; the picture blurs the distinction between dinosaurs and birds.  But was there a relationship?
    Popular reports on this discovery (see The Scotsman, EurekAlert) reproduce the artwork but emphasize the revolutionary nature of this fossil.  “A 90-million-year-old dinosaur with striking bird-like features may force scientists to rewrite part of the family tree of the extinct reptiles,” reported The Scotsman, “suggesting that flight evolved in two separate evolutionary paths.”  The problem relates to the dating and the location.  The ancestor of this species, with its ostensibly bird-like attributes, would have had to live before the Pangaea supercontinent broke up, because its similar-looking descendants in China, North America and now South American bore striking similarities.  That means that flight would have had to evolve twice on different continents.  The report on EurekAlert explains:
Results of an analysis of evolutionary relationships of advanced theropods undertaken as part of this research indicate that the Gondwanan dromaeosaurs and Rahonavis, an animal previously considered to be a very primitive bird, actually constitute a separate branch of the dromaeosaurid family tree.  This branch is distinct from Velociraptor and other Laurasian dromaeosaurids, including some of the famous feathered dinosaurs from China. [See 10/10/2005 entry].
    Because Rahonavis has long and wing-like forelimbs, this finding could imply that flight may have evolved twice, once in birds and once among this group of Gondwanan dromaeosaurs.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
– and with flight, presumably feathers.  The scientific paper in Nature mentions neither feathers, skin, fuzz or integumentary structures, but the cover art shows the creature covered in them.  Probably based on the artwork alone, The Scotsman said that it “probably sported short feathers.”  Yet the association of Buitreraptor to birds, feathers or flight is not at all clear.  Study of more specimens will, according to one of the discoverers, provide “information that may be useful to understanding the changes in body proportions that led to the origin of birds and flight.”
Sidelight:  Speaking of Velociraptor, the deadly villains of Jurassic Park may not have been as vicious as thought.  The BBC News reported on Dr. Phil Manning (U of Manchester), who built an artificial Velociraptor claw to study its mechanics.  His team concluded it was too fragile to slash into the flesh of a live animal, and instead of disemboweling the prey, must have been used simply to hold onto it while biting.  At most, the claws could only produce “small, rounded punctures” and would not have endangered vital organs.  While not dismissing the reputation of Velociraptor as a predator, Manning’s study considers it exaggerated.
1Makovicky et al., “The earliest dromaeosaurid theropod from South America,” Nature 437, 1007-1011 (13 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03996.
No sooner had we recounted how Nature had bluffed around the problems with bird evolution by printing cover art of feathered dinosaurs (10/10/2005), when they did it again!  At least last time there was some indication on the fossils of fuzz or flayed skin, but this time, the artist took liberties with complete absence of evidence.
    Can the Darwinists really believe for a moment that flight and feathers evolved twice?  Once would be impossibly difficult to imagine, even for a committed Darwinist who is used to that sort of thing.  That evolutionists would still cling to their story in the face of falsifying evidence illustrates the degree of commitment to a belief, not to science.
Next headline on:  DinosaursBirdsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Molecular Machine Updates    10/11/2005  
Scientists continue to make headway understanding the detailed workings of molecular motors.  The two most famous rotary motors yielded additional secrets recently:
  • ATP Synthase:  “Making ATP” was the short title of a paper in PNAS this week.1  Xing, Liao and Oster came up with a model that linked the rotation of the gamma subunit (the camshaft) to the beta subunits in the F1 hexamer, where ATP synthesis occurs.  They identified two “bumps” in the potential curve that prevent back-slippage of the rotor.  The shaft is tightly coupled to the lobes, to produce a kind of “zipping” effect of hydrogen bonds as the beta subunits bend along a hinge during the catalytic function.
        The eta part of the stator is apparently also essential in preventing slippage, in order to couple the energy to the synthesis function.  Mutations were shown to flatten the “energy bumps” on the potential curve, making slippage more likely.
        They also noted that in ATP hydrolysis mode (the reverse cycle) ADP tends to get stuck in the mechanism; “this is hardly surprising,” they said, “because F1 evolved to synthesize, and only under laboratory conditions does the eukaryotic F1 operate in hydrolysis mode.”  The bacterial ATPase and vacuolar ion pump do operate in hydrolysis mode in vivo and presumably do not have this inhibition problem.  Their lingo on this point mixes design and evolution: “The V1 motor of the vacuolar ATPase, being designed for ion pumping, may have avoided ADP inhibition by the evolution of additional subunits” (emphasis added in both quotes).
  • Bacterial Flagellum:  A Japanese and UK team publishing in Nature2 found stepping behavior in the flagellar rotor by direct observation.  The torque generation by the ion flux may be responsible for the rotation taking place in measurable steps.  Their observations “indicate a small change in free energy per step, similar to that of a single ion transit.”  They mentioned that this had been seen in ATP synthase, but never before in the bacterial flagellum.  They measured about 26 discrete steps per revolution.  There was no mention of evolution in the paper.
  • Type III Secretion System (TTSS):  The TTSS, a kind of molecular syringe embedded in the membrane of some bacteria that allows them to inject toxins in nearby hosts, was also described more fully in the same issue of Nature by two Yale scientists.3  They found that the protein ordnance is too large, so there are special chaperones on hand to unfold them before loading them into the barrel.

1Xing, Liao and Oster, “Making ATP,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print October 10, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0507207102.
2Sowa et al., “Direct observation of steps in rotation of the bacterial flagellar motor,” Nature 437, 916-919 (6 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04003.
3Akeda and Galan, “Chaperone release and unfolding of substrates in type III secretion,” Nature 437, 911-915 (6 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03992.  See also the News and Views section by Blaylock and Schneewind, “Microbiology: Loading the type III cannon,” Nature 437, 821 (6 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/437821a.
Some evolutionists have identified similarities between the TTSS and the bacterial flagellum, and suggested that the flagellum evolved from the TTSS by co-option.  There are many problems with this suggestion, not the least of which is that most of the protein structural parts of the flagellum are unique.  The authors of the TTSS paper did not mention this suggestion or anything about evolution.  In fact, evolutionary theory was useless for all three papers.  Describing the machines in terms of their design was perfectly appropriate, illustrating again the utility of scientific research from a design perspective.  The two brief mentions of evolution in the ATP synthase paper were useless appendages, like vestigial organs of a less-evolved philosophy (sarcasm intended).
Next headline on:  Cell Biology
Have We Been Sold a Bill of Goods About Feathered Dinosaurs and Bird Evolution?    10/10/2005  
Most people remember the poignant moment at the end of Jurassic Park when the professor, on a flight away from his harrowing experiences on the island of dinosaurs run amok, sees a flock of modern birds and ponders their peaceful existence as descendants of the velociraptors and tyrannosaurs that nearly killed him and his friends.  The story of birds evolving from dinosaurs has taken on the status of confirmed truth in the minds of many.  This has been reinforced by repeated announcements of alleged “feathered dinosaur” fossils being uncovered in China.  Yet Alan Feduccia, a paleontologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has long contested this view.  He and his colleagues have just come out swinging against his fellow evolutionists, accusing them of easy-believism and wish-fulfillment in spite of the evidence.  According the U of NC press release:
“The theory that birds are the equivalent of living dinosaurs and that dinosaurs were feathered is so full of holes that the creationists have jumped all over it, using the evolutionary nonsense of ‘dinosaurian science’ as evidence against the theory of evolution,” he said. “To paraphrase one such individual, ‘This isn’t science . . . This is comic relief.’”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Feduccia has published 150 papers and six major books, including one The Age of Birds (Harvard, 1980) and The Origin and Evolution of Birds (Yale, 1996).  He and his colleagues have published these attacks on bird-from-dinosaur evolution in the Journal of Morphology.  His views were also reported by EurekAlert that asked, “Did feathered dinosaurs exist?”
    Although Feduccia believes birds and dinosaurs had a common reptilian ancestor, he argued, “to say dinosaurs were the ancestors of the modern birds we see flying around outside today because we would like them to be is a big mistake.”  His team, using powerful microscopes, compared the skin of reptiles, the effects of skin decomposition, and the alleged “protofeathers” on fossils.
    Here are some of the reasons in the press release for doubting the dino-to-bird evolution story:
  1. Resemblance only:  “They found that fossilized patterns that resemble feathers somewhat also occur in fossils known not to be closely related to birds and hence are far more likely to be skin-related tissues....”
  2. Taxonomy confusion:  “Much of the confusion arose from the fact that in China in the same area, two sets of fossils were found.  Some of these had true feathers and were indeed birds known as ‘microraptors,’ while others did not and should not be considered birds at all.”
  3. Preservation bias:  Because collagen has low solubility in water and is tough, “we would expect it to be preserved occasionally from flayed skin during the fossilization process,” Feduccia said.
  4. Wanting to believe:  The strongest case for feathered dinosaurs was Sinosauropteryx, found in 1996, which sported a coat of “dino-fuzz.”  Some concluded this fuzz provided insulation and pointed to the possibility dinosaurs were warm-blooded.  Major journals presented Sinosauropteryx as definitive evidence for feathered dinosaurs, complete with artist renditions of colorful feathery coats on the creatures.  “Yet no one ever bothered to provide evidence -- either structural or biological -- that these structures had anything to do with feathers,” said Feduccia.  “In our new work, we show that these and other filamentous structures were not protofeathers, but rather the remains of collagenous fiber meshworks that reinforced the skin.”
  5. Fumble fingers:  The most critical link between dinosaurs and birds, according to Feduccia, has been the three-fingered hand pattern.  Dinosaurs used digits 1, 2, and 3, but the team found that developing bird wings in the embryo derive from digits 2, 3 and 4.  “To change so radically during evolution would be highly unlikely,” the article states.
  6. Back to the future:  The earliest known birds predate the feathered dinosaurs.
    Also, the current feathered dinosaurs theory makes little sense time-wise either because it holds that all stages of feather evolution and bird ancestry occurred some 125 million years ago in the early Cretaceous fossils unearthed in China.
        “That’s some 25 million years after the time of Archaeopteryx, which already was a bird in the modern sense,” he said.  Superficially bird-like dinosaurs occurred some 25 million to 80 million years after the earliest known bird, which is 150 million years old.”
    Feduccia himself had studied Archaeopteryx in detail.  “He determined its flying ability by observing that the fossil’s feathers had leading edges significantly shorter than their trailing edges, which is characteristic of all modern flying birds.”
With all these evidences against bird-from-dinosaur evolution, why would the story take hold so deeply in the popular mind and in scientific circles?  Feduccia argues that the promoters simply wanted to believe it.  In a ruthless attack, he claimed that the desire to believe and promote this story indicates a serious collapse of credibility in the field of paleontology:
Feduccia said the publication and promotion of feathered dinosaurs by the popular press and by prestigious journals and magazines, including National Geographic, Nature and Science, have made it difficult for opposing views to get a proper hearing.
    “With the advent of ‘feathered dinosaurs,’ we are truly witnessing the beginnings of the meltdown of the field of paleontology,” he said.  “Just as the discovery a four-chambered heart in a dinosaur described in 2000 in an article in Science turned out to be an artifact, feathered dinosaurs too have become part of the fantasia of this field.  Much of this is part of the delusional fantasy of the world of dinosaurs, the wishful hope that one can finally study dinosaurs at the backyard bird feeder.”
So what does Feduccia himself believe about the evolution of birds?  “It is now clear that the origin of birds is a much more complicated question than has been previously thought,” he said.
Is it possible that the leading scientific journals in the world, including Nature and Science – both of which highlighted artwork of feathered dinosaurs on their covers – were capable of falling for and promoting a “delusional fantasy”?  Does this mean that major museums, like the Natural History Museum of Washington DC and many others, with their “Birds are Dinosaurs” displays, are promoting falsehoods based on flawed evidence?  Does this mean the traveling museum exhibit of feathered dinosaurs is a fraud?  Is it possible that evolutionary paleontology is imploding from the credibility gap caused by this lapse of rigor?  Does this raise the possibility that Darwinists are wrong about other claims?  You heard it right here – from an evolutionist – chagrined at the fact that these “wishful hopes” touted as fact have given ammunition to the creationists.  We hope you enjoyed the comic relief.  Relief from comedy posing as science would be better.
Project:  Print out copies of this press release and take them to your nearby natural history museum docent staff (see 09/22/2005 story).
Next headline on:  DinosaursBirdsDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Ancient Reptiles Exceed Textbook Explanations   10/07/2005    
Each new fossil from China’s Liaoning province seems to force a rewrite of the textbooks.  National Geographic News reported on fossils of pterosaurs with “much higher diversity... than one could possibly expect.”  Two species found in the Jehol area (02/21/2003) had long beaks with sharp teeth, and wingspans up to 8 feet.  “It was once thought that pterosaurs glided instead of flapping their wings,” Stefan Lovgren reported.  “However, researchers have now established that all but the largest pterosaurs could sustain powered flight.”  See also LiveScience.  The paper in Nature1 says that, surprisingly, bird fossils show more diversity than the pterosaurs.  40 pterosaur remains (16 species) and 1,000 birds (21 species) have been found in the deposits.  The closest relatives of the two new pterosaur species are from Europe, the discoverers said, also with apparent surprise.  “This unexpected mixture of different pterosaur groups in these Chinese deposits,” they wrote, “indicates a very complex evolutionary history of pterosaurs in general, which is just beginning to be deciphered.”
    Under the sea, another group of extinct reptiles are changing the textbooks.  Scientists from University of Newcastle in Australia found plesiosaurs that apparently munched on clams, snails and crabs instead of fish, as previously assumed.  Discoverers found stomach stones (gastroliths) for grinding up prey.  The report in Science1 states, “These finds point to a wider niche than has previously been supposed for these seemingly specialized predators and may also influence long-running controversy over the question of gastrolith function in plesiosaurs.”
1Wang et al., “Pterosaur diversity and faunal turnover in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems in China,” Nature 437, 875-879 (6 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03982.
2McHenry et al., “Bottom-Feeding Plesiosaurs,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5745, 75, 7 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1117241].
One interesting thing about the new pterosaurs is that their habits and physical characteristics overlapped those of birds in many striking ways; some of them almost looked like pelicans.  The scientists had to presume that the pterosaurs occupied the shore niche and the birds occupied the land niche.  These flying reptiles are being seen more and more as skilled pilots (09/09/2005), not just dumb gliders manipulating the webbing between their fingers.  To imagine one kind of creature mastering flight by an evolutionary process is tough enough for a Darwinist, but four independent groups (pterosaurs, insects, birds, bats)?   Throwing around phrases like “convergent evolution” is not going to solve the problems.
    In the sea, the parallels between fish and reptiles (especially ichthyosaurs – see 04/20/2005) in swimming ability is remarkable.  Some ichthyosaurs were shaped almost identically to fast-swimming tuna.  When flying or swimming reptiles appear in the fossil record, they already had these abilities, fully fleshed out and operational.  The same is true for insects, birds and mammals.  Would it not make sense to think that a designer able to invent a flying machine or a swimming machine would grant that technology to very different groups of animals, each for its own niche and role in the world?  Maybe he just wanted to confound those who would presume to speculate they evolved on their own.
Next headline on:  Dinosaurs and Extinct ReptilesMarine LifeFossils
Science Writer Advocates Debate with Creationists    10/06/2005  
The Darwinist monopoly on science has backfired, suggested Michael Balter in the Los Angeles Times in a Sunday commentary.  A human evolution writer for Science magazine (e.g., 09/09/2005, 03/04/2005, 11/12/2004, 02/27/2004, 02/15/2002), Balter advocated engagement with the opposition.  “A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.”
    Balter is confident that “science” (evolution) would win such a contest, but cited several reasons why a national debate is necessary.  “Most scientists don’t want any debate,” he wrote.  To them, evolution has already won, and deserves a monopoly in science classrooms.  The success of the Discovery Institute in finding hundreds of scientists unconvinced of Darwinian evolution, added to the consistent findings of polls that the majority of Americans do not accept evolution, Balter argues, “suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades – despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.”
    The failure of evolutionists to win “converts” is only partly a reflection of the continuing influence of religion, he said.  “Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life’s complexity.”  Part of their lack of persuasiveness has been their very reluctance to engage their opponents.  It’s time for a change, Balter argues:
Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate.  Let’s put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots.  If biblical literalists want to join in, let them.  Let’s encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies.  Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited.  Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
To those who worry about injecting religion in science class, Balter said it’s too late.  “Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest,” he wrote.  “And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.”
    Balter spoke of a long history of “bitter debates between religion and science,” and claimed that after Darwin seemed to have refuted the arguments of William Paley, “Darwin’s theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over the majority of scientists.”
    For these reasons, today’s evolutionists should not break tradition, but engage the critics.  “The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history.  The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, continuing challenges to it.”
    Balter’s surprising declaration of support for “teaching the controversy,” a policy the intelligent design movement has long advocated, goes against the grain of positions taken by scientific institutions like Nature (see 04/27/2004).  He argues, though, that evolutionists should engage the debate with gusto: “Bring it on.”
Anyone watching the controversy over evolution should see this as a major shift in strategy by someone pretty high up in the Science establishment.  It’s good that Balter wants this to be a debate in the open marketplace of ideas rather than the courts, and if the Darwinists are really willing to put their best arguments toe-to-toe with those of intelligent design, that would be a refreshing change.
    Watch out for stealth tactics, though.  Incumbent presidents, for instance, have been known to rig debate rules to give themselves the media advantage.  We don’t want to see twelve Nobel Laureates go against Kent Hovind on national TV with a Darwinist moderator, and subject the results to biased editing the way the last episode of PBS Evolution rigged the contest, and have the Darwin Party announce afterwards, “So there.  There was your debate, and you guys lost.”  But the fact that Balter encourages this kind of debate in school classrooms and assemblies should preclude that, if his advice takes hold.
    His history is flawed; Darwinism did not take hold because it was rigorously tested.  It won a huge propaganda blitz intentionally conducted by Charlie’s Four Musketeers (01/06/2004), Asa Gray, Thomas Huxley, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, with help from Darwinist radical Ernst Haeckel on the continent.  It won also because leading Darwinists obtained power over publishing and gained leadership of prestigious universities and museums, where they controlled the curriculum and content.  Darwin’s own theory of natural selection went through a long period of eclipse after his book, until it was resurrected as neo-Darwinism more by consensus than by rigorous testing.  Creationism and design science has always been a strong influence bucking this current of usurpation by the philosophical materialists.
    Balter is confident that “students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.”  That would be a great lesson.  Currently, students are learning that “evolution is a fact because all scientists agree it is a fact.”  Balter believes that engagement will remove the claim that Darwinian theory is shielded from “challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.”  When the views are compared, however, each Darwin convert is likely to be outnumbered by converts to the other side, based on the history of creation-evolution debates.  And if the Darwinists are finally forced to “reach conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument,” it will be their downfall.  Balter may have unintentionally heralded the end of the Darwin Party Storytelling Welfare State.  Bring it on.
Next headline on:  DarwinismIntelligent DesignEducation
Make Your Own Privileged Planet    10/06/2005  
NASA-Ames Research Center has produced an online simulation game called AstroVenture that allows kids to try to design a habitable planet.  After they pick half a dozen parameters, the game tells them whether humans could live there or not.
This is a cute feature that, with caveats, could be useful for parents and teachers.  The main problem is that it is too simplistic.  The planet-construction dialog asks what kind of star you want to put your planet around, how close to the star, how big it is, whether it has water and a few other things.  These are fine and good, but not enough.  It doesn’t discuss many other factors that could be show-stoppers: crustal composition, type of atmosphere, place in the galaxy, eccentricity of the orbit, size and distance of moon, and much more.  Still, kids may be surprised to find how few of their choices actually work.
    Of course, the Astrobiology folks behind AstroVenture want kids to learn early how to speculate about life in outer space.  They want to help kids exercise the power of imagination and speculation, since these are prerequisites for Darwin Party membership later.  All that aside, learning that only a small subset of possible planets are even in the ballpark for life is a worthwhile lesson.  For junior high and older, use this in conjunction with the film The Privileged Planet.
Next headline on:  Solar SystemGeologyMedia
Creation-Evolution Contest in Grand Canyon: New York Times Prints Eyewitness Report    10/06/2005  
New York Times reporter Jodi Wilgoren explored “parallel universes” along the Colorado River this summer (here for multimedia version).  She rode a raft with a creationist group led by Tom Vail for several days, then rode with another party led by evolutionist Eugenie Scott.  Her experiences with these two groups illustrated the stark contrast between the worldviews at conflict in American society.  “Two groups examining the same evidence,” she remarked.  “Traveling nearly identical itineraries, snoozing under the same stars and bathing in the same chocolate-colored river.  Yet, standing at opposite ends of the growing creation-evolution debate, they seemed to speak in different tongues.”
    Wilgoren mentioned several scientific evidences that Tom Vail discussed as support for his Genesis Flood interpretation.  One, the smooth perpendicular folds in Carbon Canyon, he explained as evidence the material had to be soft when bent.  The long-age view is that pressure over time could give the rocks plasticity; “That’s just a theory,” Vail replied.  He also discussed evidence for a mass kill event covering 5,700 square miles.  He pointed to a vertically-oriented nautiloid that could not have remained in its position for tens of thousands of years while it was being buried slowly.  On the evolution group’s raft, a geologist who had been questioned about it only responded that “scientists had not documented the billions of nautiloids creationists cite and had found no stunning pattern in their orientation.”
    Although Wilgoren asserted the correctness of the “scientific” view of the ages of the rocks and the canyon, her anecdotes about the behavior of the people of the parties seemed as contrasting as that of the differing interpretation of the canyon.  She portrayed creationists in the group praying for one another and expressing their joy and thankfulness to God over the beauty surrounding them.  The evolutionists, on the other hand, she portrayed as flippant and disrespectful about religion.  Perhaps that was best illustrated in the music.  Creationists sang hymns of praise accompanied by flute and guitar.  Eugenie Scott, on the other hand, taught her group this ditty about a fishlike invertebrate evolutionists claim is one of our ancestors: “It’s a long way from amphioxus / It’s a long way to us. / It’s a long way from amphioxus to the meanest human cuss. / Goodbye fins and gill slits / Hello lungs and hair! / It’s a long, long way from amphioxus, / But we come from there.”
    Another observation Jodi Wilgoren made was that all on the creationist raft had voted for George Bush, and all but two on the evolutionist raft for John Kerry.  She also pointed out polls that show a third of the American public believe the Bible should be taken literally and that nearly half believe humans were created in nearly their present form within the last 10,000 years.
    The article was peppered with the usual claims and counter-claims about science and religion, facts and faith.  But Wilgoren gave surprisingly good press to Tom Vail, who used to teach the evolutionary view before becoming a Christian, and whose book Grand Canyon: A Different View has ranked 17th out of 800 products in the national park bookstores.  It has sold 40,000 copies, she said, “despite science organizations’ protests of its sale in park shops.”  She gave Vail the last word: “We can read God’s word and we know what we’re supposed to do.  It’s real clear up here what we’re supposed to do.”
Considering the disdain with which creationists are usually treated, Jodi Wilgoren gave a pretty fair and balanced presentation.  The only flaws are the assumptions that evolutionists have the better science.  Some of her words assume that evolutionary geologists have science on their side.  We will suggest changes to the underlined words.
  • Geologists date this sandstone to 550 million years ago and explain the folding as a result of pressure from shifting faults underneath.”  Change that to “evolutionary storytellers” and “speculate.”
  • “That same week, a few miles upriver, a decidedly different group of 24 rafters surveyed the same rock formations – but through the lens of science rather than what Mr. Vail calls ‘biblical glasses.’”  Change that to “evolutionary glasses”.  Vail is up-front about his Biblical presuppositions.  Evolutionists need to be up-front about theirs.
  • “this trip was a floating geology seminar, charting the canyon’s evolution through eons of erosion.” Substitute evolutionary geology, speculating about the canyon’s formation through an unobserved period of erosion.
  • Eugenie Scott said, “To a standard geologist, to somebody who actually studies geology, this just shouts out at you: This is really old; this is really gradual.”
    Should be, To an indoctrinated evolutionary geologist, to somebody who views the world through evolutionary glasses, this just confirms one’s presuppositions.
  • Science unequivocally dates the earth’s age at 4.5 billion years, and the canyon’s layers at some two billion years.  Change to Evolutionary geology needs the earth to be 4.5 billion years old, and speculates within their evolutionary model that the canyon’s layers must be some two billion years old.
  • “Even the intelligent design movement, which argues that evolution alone cannot explain life’s complexity, does not challenge the long history of the earth.”  Should be, does not attempt to debate the age of the earth, because that is not the question they are addressing.
  • “‘I won’t defend evolution,’ Dr. Scott said in exasperation one evening.  ‘We don’t defend the spherical Earth.  We need to stop defending, as they put it, Darwinism, and just make them show they have a scientific view.’”
    Belief in evolution has nothing to do with belief in a spherical earth.  The sphericity of the earth is observable, and is even taught in the Bible (Isaiah 40:22, Job 26:10).  Evolution in the Darwinian sense of universal common ancestry is not observable and contradicts the fossil record.  Dr. Scott needs to get over her exasperation and defend her position with evidence.  The antecedent in “they” have a scientific view” is unclear.  Both views need to be plausible inferences about the past based on currently observable evidence.  Both have religious implications.
  • “Mr. Gishlick said scientists had not documented the billions of nautiloids creationists cite and had found no stunning pattern in their orientation.”
    Not scientists, but evolution-biased critics.  Evolutionary geologists may not have found this evidence, because they don’t ask the right questions.  The evidence is out there for anyone to see.
  • “‘I don’t really care how they reconcile Noah’s flood with scientific things – it’s about religion,ֻ protested Mary Murray, 54, an artist from Laguna Beach, Calif., who came with her biology-professor husband.  ‘We shouldn’t be talking about religion at all in the public schools.’”  What she means is, “I am closing my mind to their evidence.  It’s about maintaining special treatment and favored status for my secular religion.  We shouldn’t be letting their religion compete with mine in the public schools.”
You get the idea.  Words can bias an article and embed hidden assumptions.  Discerning readers need to be watchful for how reporters attempt to sway opinions with word games.  At least here on CEH, you get to hear both sides.
    Want to go on the river with Tom?  Check his 2006 ScheduleCreation Safaris, our parent organization, is co-sponsoring the August 25 three-day excursion.  View postcards from the 2005 trip, which was a great success with 26 people aboard: #1 and #2.  We guarantee you will have a lot more fun with creationists than with a bunch of sourpuss scoffers and mean human cusses.  We guarantee you will enjoy “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” more than “Goodbye fins and gill slits.” (compare this essay with the evolution songbook).  It may be a long way from amphioxus, but it’s a short way to the cross.
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Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Network Evolution Trumps ID    10/05/2005  
This entry will make more sense after reading yesterday’s story on the evolution of modular networks (10/04/2005).  A reader sent in a reference to a very similar article from scientists at Johns Hopkins published in PLoS Biology.1  It must be Network Evolution Week.  Before awarding the SEQOTW prize, some background is necessary.
    Like the Weizmann team, the Johns Hopkins team sought to explain biological network organization in terms of material mechanisms of mutation and natural selection.  They reasoned that “constraints” (the environment) dictate the dynamic character of network motifs and their interrelationships.  By awarding a “structural stability score” (SSS) to biological motifs in fruit flies and worms based on their ability to recover from perturbations, they found stable motifs cluster in a non-random way that determine the overall network structure.  They suggested, with apparent trepidation, that the environment therefore constrains biological networks to take a predictable form through pure mechanistic “forces” –
Do common “driving forces” underlie the organization of biological networks?  It seems fantastic to suggest that such forces could exist, considering that the biological entities involved are as diverse as genes, enzymes, and whole cells.  Nevertheless, even functionally unrelated systems may have evolved under fundamental constraints.  The analysis presented here suggests that the dynamic properties of small network motifs contribute to the structural organization of biological networks.  In particular, robustness of small regulatory motifs to small perturbations is highly correlated with the non-random organization of these networks.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
That their explanatory toolkit is limited to material causes is clear in a subsequent paragraph:
An evolutionary argument may help explain the overrepresentation of structurally stable motifs in real networks compared to random graphs.  Evolutionary pressure may select for network innovations that are structurally stable because these configurations are robust to variations in the strength of the connections.  A high SSS indicates that it is likely that randomly assigned connection strengths and signs will result in a stable equilibrium, while a low SSS indicates that stability is possible although it requires precisely weighted connection strengths.  Easily parameterized network designs that are predisposed to dynamical stability can be advantageous considering the evolutionary mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.  Of course, stability to small perturbations is by no means the only functional constraint on network performance and structure.  For instance, in the developmental transcriptional regulation network in Drosophila [fruit fly] considered here, irreversible switching of transcriptional circuits involving feedback regulation is an important determinant of irreversibility of the developmental progress, which might lead to selection of relatively unstable network motifs with feedbacks.  The C. elegans [roundworm] neuron network, which strays the furthest from structural stability in our analysis, may also have functional constraints leading to overrepresentation of oscillators and memory switchesNevertheless, the correlation between network motif overrepresentation and the SSS suggests that stability of small functional circuits may be a basic constraint common to all networks, which along with other functional requirements can significantly bias the likelihood that a given motif is selected for.
Functional constraints, in their context, can only come from the environment – not from design.  This was made clear in an earlier statement: “Regulation of gene expression is dependent on the particular demands of a cell with respect to its environment.”  In their experiments, environmental perturbations governed the “structural stability score” awarded the network motifs.  The reader is referred to yesterday’s discussion (10/04/2005) about whether the environment can generate robust, modular network design.
    Now to the Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.  Liza Gross, commenting on this paper in the same issue of PLoS Biology,2 used this paper to flaunt the superiority of Darwinian evolution over intelligent design:
While intelligent-design proponents enjoy their 15 minutes of fame denying the role of evolutionary forces in generating complex networks in nature, scientists are probing the organizing principles that govern these networks.  Traditional models of complex networks assumed that connections between units—such as genes, proteins, neurons, or species—occur randomly.  These notions changed as studies of protein interaction networks and other biological systems revealed “small world” features—characterized by short paths between nodes and highly clustered connections—and varying levels of organization, with certain patterns of local connections occurring more frequently in complex networks than in random networks.  What determines the abundance of these so-called network motifs in specific networks is not known....
....Discerning the global dynamics of these network structures has proved a major challenge.....
[She summarizes the paper by Prill, Iglesias and Levchenko.]
These results suggest that both global constraints on the network and properties of network motifs themselves influence the abundance of motifs and the overall structure of a given network.  While the authors caution that their networks are stripped-down versions of those found in biological systems, they point out that their approach can incorporate more complicated interactions as understanding of living networks increases.  And with this new understanding, scientists can test the hypothesis that selective pressures favor motifs with particular dynamic properties.
In short, who’s on the net?  Certainly not a designer.  Networks are things that just happen from time to time.  Maybe some day, after we have studied the networks in more detail, we can test that idea.
    The Runner-Up prize could go to another paper in the same issue of PLoS Biology.3  Skerker et al. marveled at the abilities of cells to process information and execute programs.  They didn’t try to explain how the systems evolved.  They just declared that they did:
Cells have the remarkable ability to sense, respond to, and adapt to their internal and external environments in order to maximize survival or accurately execute a developmental program.  Such behavior requires the ability to process information, and cells have evolved complex regulatory and signaling systems capable of sophisticated information-processing tasks.

1Prill, Iglesias and Levchenko, “Dynamic Properties of Network Motifs Contribute to Biological Network Organization,” Public Library of Science Biology, Volume 3, Issue 11, November 2005 (published 10/04/2005), DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030343.
2Liza Gross, “Charting the Interplay between Structure and Dynamics in Complex Networks,” Public Library of Science Biology, Volume 3, Issue 11, November 2005 (published 10/04/2005), DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030369.
3Skerker et al., “Two-Component Signal Transduction Pathways Regulating Growth and Cell Cycle Progression in a Bacterium: A System-Level Analysis,” Public Library of Science Biology, Volume 3, Issue 11, November 2005 (published 10/04/2005), open access article.
Prill et al. subscribe to the same goofy theory as the 10/04/2005 attempt, and the same comments apply.  Friends, Romans, and First Corinthians, and all reasonable, thinking people, let us understand two principles that undermine the whole premise of this claim and others like it:
  1. Requirements do not build a system.  They only specify what a system must have to work.  NASA publishes many requirements.  The requirements for a small robotic spacecraft can fill hundreds of pages.  Do these requirements create “evolutionary forces” and “selective pressures” that produce functional, interacting parts?  If requirements were sufficient, NASA could just produce lots of requirements and let the spacecraft assemble itself out of the dust of the ground.

  2. Properties of existing structures do not explain their origin.  A spacecraft, once assembled, has hundreds of pages of specifications.  These specs, if they met the design requirements, ensure that the spacecraft will reach the target and accomplish the mission objectives.  The spacecraft is observable; the specs are measurable and verifiable, but the hands that did the work can only be inferred.  Does Liza Graz expect us to believe that the requirements produced the specifications of a finished spacecraft, without any help from intelligent physicists, machinists, fabricators, assemblers, quality control engineers, software designers, testers and managers?
Mutation and natural selection cannot be called in as designer proxies.  Neither is a “force,” and neither connects requirements to specifications.  Neither has any direction, energy, or concern about the outcome.  Nature would be just as content with a black hole – a very stable structural motif – as with a biological clock.  Misfolded proteins are just as beautiful to Mother Nature as properly-folded ones.  Mechanistic processes have no stake in generating complex networks of molecular machines; they couldn’t care less.
    When a highly-ordered, functional, interrelated, robust, information-rich system is observed, the design inference is compelling to the point of being uncontestable.  Yet Liza Gross had the gall to scorn the intelligent design proponents in her victory speech praising the myths of the Darwinists.  ID proponents may only get 15 minutes of fame, but better that with sound science and logic than 146 years of totalitarian rule by fatuous charlatans wearing lab coats.
    When the usurpers are eventually toppled, they can still have a future.  They can compete in the National Storytelling Festival (see National Geographic report).  The best can graduate to the West Virginia Liar’s Contest and win a golden shovel.  They’ll have plenty of stuff to use it on.
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University of Idaho President Announces Evolution-Only Policy    10/05/2005  
Timothy P. White, President of the University of Idaho, just issued a letter to faculty, staff and students “to articulate the University of Idaho’s position with respect to evolution: This is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences.”  The Discovery Institute calls this naked viewpoint discrimination.
The president’s next sentence says, “we affirm scientific principles that are testable and anchored in evidence.”  Darwinism will have a hard time with that policy (see next entry).
    We wish Dr. White a speedy and complete recovery from his heart attack (see WorldNetDaily story).
Next headline on:  Darwinism and EvolutionEducation
Can Networks Design Themselves?    10/04/2005  
A molecular biologist and a physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (see also 09/26/2003) wrote a paper in PNAS1 with an intriguing title: “Spontaneous evolution of modularity and network motifs.”  Can a network arise spontaneously?
    Biologists increasingly speak of the interaction of genes, proteins and metabolic processes in terms of networks (e.g., 12/20/2004, 03/22/2004, 01/28/2004, 01/27/2003, 01/10/2003).  The networks with which most of us are familiar, like the power grid or internet, came about with intensive programming and intentional engineering.  After the network architecture and the rules of interaction were defined, however, many unforeseen and spectacular patterns emerged.  It could be argued that each emergent property of the internet had its roots in intelligent causes, however, since only sentient beings – humans – use the internet, and they do so with purpose and intent.  In biological system there are also characteristic network-like patterns.  Could these have arisen without purpose and intent?  For Kashtan and Alon to prove this, they need to establish that networking behavior can be an emergent property of the molecules of the cell, without any programming.
    In the history of computer software design, one important revolution was the invention of modular programming.  Early programmers got tangled in their own “spaghetti code,” writing routines that jumped to other routines in such complex ways that the entire system became one single point of failure.  Programmers realized that certain functions could be modularized, or segregated into independent routines that, though part of the big system, focused only on their own task.  A module for addition, for instance, might take two undefined inputs, and have the function: “add these two inputs together.”  The next module up the chain can call this module and give it any two numbers, and be assured the sum will be faithfully returned.  Computer systems and networks built with a modular design were found to be much easier to maintain, and became much more robust against perturbations.  A module could be upgraded or replaced without requiring a rewrite of the entire system.  Biological networks also appear to work in modular fashion.  Kashtan and Alon believe that they have found purely natural reasons for why this is so:
Biological networks have an inherent simplicity: they are modular with a design that can be separated into units that perform almost independently.  Furthermore, they show reuse of recurring patterns termed network motifsLittle is known about the evolutionary origin of these properties.  Current models of biological evolution typically produce networks that are highly nonmodular and lack understandable motifs.  Here, we suggest a possible explanation for the origin of modularity and network motifs in biology.  We use standard evolutionary algorithms to evolve networks.  A key feature in this study is evolution under an environment (evolutionary goal) that changes in a modular fashion.  That is, we repeatedly switch between several goals, each made of a different combination of subgoals. We find that such “modularly varying goals” lead to the spontaneous evolution of modular network structure and network motifs.  The resulting networks rapidly evolve to satisfy each of the different goals. Such switching between related goals may represent biological evolution in a changing environment that requires different combinations of a set of basic biological functions.  The present study may shed light on the evolutionary forces that promote structural simplicity in biological networks and offers ways to improve the evolutionary design of engineered systems.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
In short, if the environment is modular, the network will become modular.  This has been the problem, they reason, with computer models of evolution.  Modelers used to give the computer a fixed goal and let the evolutionary algorithm figure out the way to reach it, by rewarding each routine’s “fitness” as it got warmer.  These two researchers, instead, tried routinely switching the goal during the run.  The networks that won out in the end were the modular ones:
The networks evolved under modularly varying goals were able to adapt to nearly perfect solutions for each new goal, within about three generations after the goal was switched.  This evolvability was caused by the fact that the evolved networks for the different goals differed only slightly.  For example, in many cases they differed in the threshold value of a single neuron, allowing switching between the networks with a single mutation....
Networks that evolve under modularly varying goals seem to discover the basic subproblems common to the different goals and to evolve a distinct structural module to implement each of these subproblems.  Evolution under modularly varying goals produces networks that can rapidly adapt to each of the different goals by only a few rewiring changes.
So the winners evolved not only to be modular, but to be evolvable.  This, they think, is the secret of how biological networks became so robust in spite of changing circumstances.  Once a module for chemotaxis arose, for instance, a bacterium could reuse it with just a few “rewiring changes” if the chemical attractant changed.  But who is doing the discovering?  The subject of their sentence was, “Networks that evolve... discover...”  The language of intent continues in another sentence in the ending discussion.  Watch the subject:
In such cases [evolution with fixed goals], when the goal changes, the networks take a relatively long time to adapt to the new goal, as if it starts evolution from scratch.  Under modularly varying goals, in contrast, adaptation to the new goal is greatly speeded up by the presence of the existing modules that were useful for the previous goal.
That last sentence used a passive voice verb: “adaptation... is greatly speeded up.”  This hides the implication that the modules are seeking to adapt with goal-directed behavior.  The authors are clearly not intentionally attributing intrinsic purpose to the modules.  Their discussion of “fitness landscapes” in the subsequent paragraph treats the modules as pinballs on a bumpy landscape.  Shifting goals keeps the landscape undulating so that the pinballs don’t get trapped on “local fitness maxima.”  So is goal-effective modularity a true emergent property, as pointless and aimless as water running down a slope and seeking the least obstructed path?  They actually experimented more to clarify this possibility.  Notice the words information processing and useful:
One possible explanation for the origin of the motifs in the evolved networks is that modular networks are locally denser than nonmodular networks of the same size and connectivity.  This local density tends to increase the number of subgraphs (42).  To test this possibility, we evolved networks to reach the same modularity measure Q as the networks evolved under modularly varying goals, but with no information-processing goal (see Supporting Text).  We find that these modular networks have no significant network motifs (Fig. 9).  They show relatively abundant feedback loops that are antimotifs in the networks evolved under modularly varying goals.  It therefore seems that the specific network motifs found in the evolved networks are not merely caused by local density, but may be useful building blocks for information processing.
In other words, unless information processing was programmed in as a goal, mere environment-shifting produced anti-motifs – a backward step.  That is why their only success came with emphasis on achieving useful building blocks for “information processing.”  But what is “useful” to a network?  Why would a non-sentient network seek to process information?  If not the network, is there an outside agent that cares about such things?  Like the tree in the woods falling without a sound, can there be “information” without a mind to conceive of it?
    At this point, they compared their computer models to actual biological networks.  Here, they could not escape portraying the genes and cells as if they were tiny sentient beings:
How is evolution under modularly varying goals related to actual biological evolution?  One may suggest that organisms evolve in environments that require a certain set of basic biological functions....
[They discuss chemotaxis evolving as the chemical attractant changes.]  When environments changed, these modules adapted over evolution to sense and chemotax toward other nutrients.  Had evolution been in a fixed environment, perhaps a more optimal solution would have mixed the genes for these different tasks (e.g., a motor that can also sense and transport the nutrient into the cell), resulting in a nonmodular design....
    An additional biological example occurs in development.  Different cells in the developing embryo take on different fates.  Each cell type needs to solve a similar set of problems: expressing a set of genes in response to a given time-dependent profile of a set of extracellular signals.  However, in each cell type, the identity of the input signals and the output genes is different.  Thus, in development, cells need to perform essentially the same computations on varying inputs and output: a modularly varying goal.  The solution found by evolution is a modular design where signal transduction pathways (such as mitogen-activated protein kinase cascades), which are common to many cell types, hook up to specific receptors and transcription factors that are cell type specific.  This design allows simple rewiring of the same pathways to work with diverse inputs and outputs in different cell types.  Over evolutionary time scales, this design allows the addition of new cell types without the need to evolve dedicated new pathways for each input and output....
They threw in a bonus that their study might help engineers “evolve” improved networks.  But understanding biology was clearly the intent of the paper.  How to get biological design without a designer – that quest was evident in their last two sentences.  “In summary,” they said, “this study presents a possible mechanism for spontaneous evolution of modularity and network motifs.  It will be important to extend this study to understand how evolution could generate additional design features of biological systems.
1Nadav Kashtan and Uri Alon, “Spontaneous evolution of modularity and network motifs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print September 20, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0503610102.
Foul, time out, game over.  They just violated the No Free Lunch Principle.  You just caught them in the act.  This is the persistent sin of evolutionists, engraved with an iron stylus on their stony hearts.  They only get away with this evil because no preacher is allowed past the walls of the Darwin Party fortress to call them to repentance.  Naturalists cannot attribute will, purpose, intent and information processing to mindless entities.  This violates their core assumptions as philosophical naturalists (materialists), whose goal was to rid natural explanations of teleology (purpose, final causes).
    William Dembski in his writings, especially the book No Free Lunch, drives home the point that “no evolutionary algorithm is superior to blind search” – that is, unless information has been smuggled in behind the scenes.  Consider his famous treasure island analogy.  If you are on an island where treasure is buried, and have no clues, blind search is your only option – a very inefficient method, becoming more hopeless as the size of the island increases.  A friend tells you there is a treasure map.  Encouraged by this new hope, you go to the hostel where the map is locked in a cabinet.  You find, to your despair, that there are a million treasure maps, all different, all claiming to be the right one.  In a real sense, you now have moved your blind search to another space: the space of maps, where the the correct map is the new treasure.  This analogy can be extended indefinitely: your friend says a guru knows which map is the correct one.  You go to the mountain top, only to find again, to your despair, that a million gurus await you promising you the path to enlightenment.  The only way out of this infinite regress is to get true, useful information from someone with knowledge of the treasure’s location.  Anything else is blind search.
    Now, to a Darwinist, who is going to provide that information?  Surely not the environment.  Surely not random strings of DNA.  Surely not randomly floating bits of protein.  None of them can possibly have any goal or purpose in mind, or any embedded knowledge of the best way to build modular networks that grow, reproduce, and function robustly in changing environments, complete with error-checking, coded instructions.  We must emphasize this point: any attempt by a Darwinist to impose wish fulfillment, goal-directed behavior, or teleology on these molecules is strictly forbidden.  One must visualize these molecules as completely and utterly indifferent to success or failure.  They care nothing if a function is achieved, and nobody is there to cheer them on.  Kashtan and Alon conveniently left the origin of any primitive network as an unsolved problem.  Fine; they still must maintain the impersonality of that initial network.  By analogy, picture a bunch of unthinking robots that had an initial purpose imposed on them by some unexplained inventor – say, to sort and stack rocks.  Get real, now, and ask yourself: realistically, is changing the environment going to improve their modularity and evolvability?  If you come back after the magic factor of “evolutionary time scales,” will you expect to see the robots building airplanes, printing books and conducting orchestras?  Of course not.  Remember, the robots are not sentient beings.  They couldn’t care less whether some new “function” emerges, or whether they rust in a colossal heap of rubbish (a more thermodynamically favored outcome).
    Where evolutionists cheat incorrigibly is by personifying molecules into purposeful entities, or by invoking mindless processes as creative agents.  Notice again how subtly they do this: “One may suggest that organisms evolve in environments that require a certain set of basic biological functions....”  This “suggestion” makes no sense unless one personifies the environment as a manager setting design requirements, and the evolving entity “needing” or “wishing” to fulfill them.  Whether invoking Tinker Bell with her mutation wand, or shuffling environments to get the desired outcome, evolutionists are playing the guru telling the treasure hunter which map is the correct one.  This is forbidden.  The only evolutionary algorithm that is permissible on Darwin Island is blind search.  The island is the size of the universe, and according to our online book, the chance of getting even one useful protein, let alone a modular, functional network that can adapt to changing environments, is less than Dembski’s “universal probability bound” of 1 chance in 10150.  It would be easier for a blindfolded man to pick a single marked penny out of a whole universe packed with pennies than to expect chance to succeed at this task.  But chance is all they have according to the No Free Lunch Principle.  And no, they cannot cheat by saying “Well, we are here, therefore it must have happened somehow.”  Unless they are willing to consider intelligent design, this is a post hoc fallacy.
    In conclusion, Darwinian materialism must retreat into pantheism, or else give up in despair.  You just read two Darwinists whispering about biological entities as if they were sentient beings.  Their pantheism is implicit, despite their intent to explain biological networks in materialistic terms.  As such, they are teaching pantheistic nature religion, not science – and of all places, right there in central Israel!  This is right where Baal worship, another nature religion, was condemned by the Hebrew prophets 2800 years ago.  Where is Elijah when we need him?  Phillip Johnson?  Henry Morris?
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Muscle Motor Observed in Action    10/03/2005  
Myosin proteins have been heavily studied in recent years since they are critical to many cellular and tissue functions, including muscle.  According to EurekAlert Scientists from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of Vermont have captured the first 3-dimensional (3D) atomic-resolution images of the motor protein myosin V as it “walks” along trackways made of actin:
Myosins are a large family of motor proteins that interact with actin filaments for motor movement and muscle contraction.  Myosin V is the workhorse of the myosin protein family.  It exists to ferry a cargo of proteins needed in a specific place at a specific time.  Fueled by hydrolysis -- the process of converting the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into energy -- myosin V travels in one direction using actin as a track to deliver its payload of cell vesicles and organelles.  Myosin V is also involved in transporting proteins that signal and communicate with other cells.
    Myosin V has a two-chained “tail” that diverges to form two “heads” that bind to specific grooves on actin and walk hand over hand along the track, similar to the way a child moves along the monkey bars in a playground.  Myosin V differs from the other myosin family proteins in that it is able to sustain this processive motion, enduring many hydrolysis cycles.  The other myosins grab on tightly to actin and release after one hydrolysis cycle.
  (Emphasis added in all citations.)
Using 3D electron cryo-microscopy, the Burnham team took snapshots of the action to put together a sequence that allowed them to visualize myosin in its natural state.  They were able to see structural changes in the myosin and the actin, including movement of the “lever arm,” the scientists said.
    The tight specs of this molecular machinery were underscored in the press release.  “The precise characterization of this myosin-actin interface is critical,” it stated, “evident by the way a single amino acid change in myosin leads to familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (FHC), an undetectable condition resulting in death by sudden cardiac arrest in otherwise healthy young adults.”
Pictures say a thousand words, and in this press release the pictures and the words are all about design and nothing about evolution.  A key point here is that myosin V is useless without the actin trackway.  Considering the horrible impact from even one mutation, this appears to represent an irreducibly complex system – similar to the classic illustration by Michael Behe of a mousetrap, where if a single part is removed, it can no longer function.  Suppose a cell was producing thousands of specialized proteins and they had no place to go, or no way to get there.  In cells, everything must work together: the cargo, the delivery system, and the recipients.
    Evolutionists must explain the emergence of this complex system from simpler precursors, presumably by “co-option” of parts used for other functions.  Yet even a “simple” yeast cell contains three classes of myosin needed for key functions (See U of York), so the myosin-actin machinery must have arisen early, even in their own scheme.  Some evolutionists believe a mutation in one of the human myosin genes caused our ancestors to have smaller jaws, which then led to the development of bigger brains (see U of Washington article).  How can such leaps of imagination be justified when they have yet to explain how myosin evolved in the first place?
    The Darwinists are fond of saying that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.  This is another example of the converse: nothing in Darwinism makes sense in the light of biology – especially when seen with the aid of 3D electron cryo-microscopy.  It’s high time to eject the Darwin game CD and get back to the real world. 
    As you move about today, thank God for Myosin V.  His miniature invention provides the power-stroke for our muscles, from every blink of the eye and heartbeat to the most strenuous activity.  Recall images of a weight lifter straining every muscle to hoist 472 kg overhead, or a sprinter breaking a 4-minute mile.  Those feats are made possible by the collective action of untold myriads of myosin motors burning ATP – itself manufactured by other motors (02/23/2005).  Much as we applaud the champion athlete, who really deserves the gold medal?
Next headline on:  Cell BiologyAmazing Facts
Darwinian Phylogenetic Tools Are Mathematically Flawed   10/01/2005    
Many evolutionists use software tools to construct evolutionary trees from genetic data.  Two mathematicians have just reported in Science1 that several popular “tree-building” algorithms can give misleading results:
Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms play a critical role in the Bayesian approach to phylogenetic inference.  We present a theoretical analysis of the rate of convergence of many of the widely used Markov chains.  For N characters generated from a uniform mixture of two trees, we prove that the Markov chains take an exponentially long (in N) number of iterations to converge to the posterior distribution.  Nevertheless, the likelihood plots for sample runs of the Markov chains deceivingly suggest that the chains converge rapidly to a unique tree.  Our results rely on novel mathematical understanding of the log-likelihood function on the space of phylogenetic trees.  The practical implications of our work are that Bayesian MCMC methods can be misleading when the data are generated from a mixture of trees.  Thus, in cases of data containing potentially conflicting phylogenetic signals, phylogenetic reconstruction should be performed separately on each signal.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Will this workaround cure all problems, though?  Only for small data sets – maybe.  The more data, the more impossible the task becomes:
For small trees one can hope to overcome the slow convergence by using multiple starting states.  However, mixtures coming from large trees may contain multiple species subsets where one tree has T1 as an induced subtree and the other has T2.  If there are k such subsets, then about 15k random starting points will be needed.  Thus if there are 10 disagreement subsets, then 1510 random starting points will be needed in order to sample from the posterior distribution.
That’s over 576 billion.  Most tree-building programs try to take shortcuts around the computational hurdles, but these mathematicians are not sure that the heuristic algorithms used are successful in avoiding assumptions that could bias the results.  Their paper has proven one way the results can be misleading.  Are there others?
In our setting, BMCMC [Bayesian Markov-Chain Monte Carlo] methods fail in a clearly demonstrable manner.  We expect that there is a more general class of mixtures where BMCMC methods fail in more subtle ways.  These subtle failures may occur for many real-world examples where the Markov chains quickly converge to some distribution other than the desired posterior distribution.  Users of BMCMC methods should ideally avoid mixture distributions that are known to produce degenerate behavior in various phylogenetic settings.  A good practice is to decompose the data into nonconflicting signals and perform phylogenetic reconstruction separately on each signal.  Our work highlights important unresolved questions: how to verify homogeneity of genomic data and what phylogenetic methods can efficiently deal with mixtures.
Thus, they leave some potential gaping loopholes unexplored.
1Mossel and Vigoda, “Phylogenetic MCMC Algorithms Are Misleading on Mixtures of Trees,” Science, Vol 309, Issue 5744, 2207-2209, 30 September 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1115493].
What this seems to say is that the method might work on closely-related organisms, like species of snails, but the more you mix different types of organisms into a tree of common ancestry, the more the results of these popular methods will give misleading results.  Even with the closely-related trees, though, how can one be sure that the answers might “fail in more subtle ways”?  And how do we know that once the smaller trees are assembled, the algorithms won’t mislead horrendously in the final mix?
    Most creationists would probably not have qualms about trees of closely-related “kinds” of animals, like cats for one, or dogs for another.  It is the Darwinian assumption that everything is phylogenetically related – cats, pine trees, bacteria, sharks, petunias, turtles, mushrooms, senators – that causes the controversies.
    Evolutionists often showcase the printouts from these programs in their scientific papers to lend an air of computational legitimacy to their theories (see the fallacy of statistics).  Well, we warned you that evolutionists are bad at math (08/19/2005, 07/25/2002).  The only illustration in Darwin’s Origin of Species was a phylogenetic tree.  Since then, tree-building has become a favorite pastime around the Darwin Temple gamerooms (10/22/2001, 06/13/2003).  Impressive as the charts look to the uninformed, they hawk symbolism over substance.  This fits Hawkins Theory of Scientific Progress (right sidebar).
    After reading this article, and the links to previous ones, how do you feel about that NSF Tree of Life project costing $12 million in tax dollars? (10/30/2002).  If you want a better Tree of Life, try God’s (search) – it’s free, it’s honest, and you don’t have to play Monte Carlo to find it.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory

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Featured Creation Scientist for October

Raymond Damadian
b. 1935

On a given Sunday morning, in a small Bible Baptist church on Long Island, New York, sitting alongside his wife, you might find a quiet, unpretentious white-haired gentleman who changed the world.  Other than by his distinguished appearance, you might not know he warrants a place in our hall of fame, but in fact, millions owe their life and health to him.  His name is Dr. Raymond V. Damadian.  He invented the MRI scanner.

MRI is a household acronym these days; everybody knows somebody who has had one (if not themselves) when needing to be diagnosed for a serious disease.  But in the 1970s, it would have seemed like a device out of Star Trek.  To see inside a living body in fine detail, without the harm of X-rays, was a doctor’s impossible dream then; today it is a reality.  And it is going to get better.  His latest invention, just now coming on the market, will revolutionize the operating room.  More on that later.

Dr. Damadian, biophysicist, took a relatively new discovery of physics called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and applied it to biology.  But it was to prove an uphill battle against doubters and patent thieves.  The three stages of reaction to a new invention are, (1) It’s impossible, (2) It’s possible but impractical, and (3) It was my idea.  Dr. Damadian experienced all three.  After years of legal hassles and near loss of his livelihood, he was vindicated, and is rightly honored today as the inventor of the first practical MRI scanner.

His story comes right out of a Hollywood David-and-Goliath script, the lone entrepreneur against the giant corporations, the optimistic man with a vision against the skeptics in the establishment.  Physicists had been using NMR, first reported in 1938, to study various materials, but it was Damadian who reasoned that hydrogen (in water) might prove responsive within the cells of living tissue.  Moreover, he speculated that cancerous tumors might respond differently than healthy tissue.  Working on borrowed time, experimenting on mice, he gained confidence that his hunch was right.  He published a seminal paper in 1971 on his preliminary findings, then applied for a patent and attempted to get a research grant to build a prototype of the invention he had in mind, a device that would flood a human torso with high-energy magnetism and then receive radio emissions from the water in the tissues.  But his academic colleagues said it couldn’t be done; why, he would have to spin the patient at 10,000 RPM to make it work!  The experts laughed his idea to scorn; the National Institutes of Health refused his request for grant funds.

Undaunted, Damadian appealed directly to President Nixon, who in 1971 had just declared war on cancer.  He received a modest grant, but then found himself in a race to produce a working scanner when he learned that others, envious of his preliminary successes, were beginning to steal his idea.  Scientific American says, “Damadian pushed himself and his students relentlessly and found private backers to keep research going on a shoestring budget.”  Finally, in 1977, he was ready to step into his contraption he had named “Indomitable”  It must have looked like a scene from Frankenstein.

Damadian proved on his own body that the intense magnetic fields produced no harm, but the machine was too small for him.  He got a smaller graduate student to play guinea pig and made history by producing the first NMR image of a human torso.  The press leaped on this story, gaining him some notoriety, but since the image was imprecise (it showed the heart, lungs and chest, but needed improvement), no venture capital could be found.  Convinced of his belief it could detect cancer, he decided to go it alone.  With a small group of friends and supporters, he started FONAR Corporation to design and build Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners.  But the Big Boys wanted to play, too, and he was in competition with General Electric, Toshiba, Siemens, and other corporate giants wanting to capitalize on his discovery.

The big competitors nearly robbed him of his invention.  He learned first-hand about corporate greed, and had to spend millions defending his patent.  In 1982, a jury trial vindicated him against international corporations that were manufacturing scanners overseas, but a judge single-handedly reversed their verdict (any corruption there?).  After years of legal wrangling, Fonar Corp. was eventually awarded $100 million in damages, but the really big bucks are still going overseas to those never involved in the invention at all.  From his experience, Damadian became an energetic advocate for the lonely inventors competing against corporate giants, lobbying Congress for protection of patents from infringement and warning against the consequences of weakening the patent laws.

His reputation, however, seems secure.  In 1988, Damadian was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest award for applied science.  The following year he was enrolled in the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in company with Thomas Edison, Samuel F. B. Morse, and the Wright Brothers, among many other famous inventors.  Today, his prototype scanner ’Indomitable” resides in the Smithsonian alongside the first electric light bulb and the first airplane.

Needless to say, Magnetic Resonance Imaging has swept the medical world.  After years of embellishments and refinements by Damadian and others, thousands of MRI scanners are in daily use around the globe, detecting not only cancer but many other diseases and ailments, better and more safely than X-rays,.  Fonar Corporation remains the leader in MRI technology.  Damadian’s newest invention takes Star Trek to The Next Generation: a whole Operating Room MRI.  Soon, it will be commonplace for the whole surgical team to surround the operating table, unaffected by the intense magnetic field that is being applied only to the patient.  A projected 3-D image will allow the doctors to pinpoint the tumor precisely in real time, giving the surgeons unprecedented accuracy in treating life-threatening conditions.  Who knows how many more thousands, if not millions of lives, will be saved by this latest application of Damadian’s vision and genius.  His secretary told this author that he feels, however, like he did at the beginning when he could not find backers for his idea.  To date, few hospitals have been willing to pay for this invention, just now coming on the market.  We can only hope it will succeed as magnificently as before.

Scientific American described Raymond Damadian as a man of intense convictions and energy; “Twenty years later he seems able to muster the same enormous drive that allowed him to prove NMR scanning of the body would, after all, work.  One wonders whether the most indomitable thing to emerge from that dingy laboratory in Brooklyn was a novel machine or Damadian himself.”  But you might not know this from watching him in church.  With nearly a tear in his eye, he told this author, whose sister (a member of the same church) was dying of cancer in early 2000, that he regretted his new operating room MRI was not ready in time to help.  During her illness, and that of her husband who had brain tumors, he donated free MRIs for which they could not pay, and his dear wife Donna would come and sit with them for hours just to show she cared.  They are the most unpretentious and gracious people you could know.

Does creation play a part in Damadian’s philosophy of science?  No; it does not play a part, it plays the lead role.  Dr. Damadian, a young-earth creationist, is convinced that the Bible is the reason for the advancement of science and the blessings of Western civilization, and that our country is in great peril if we do not return to Biblical principles, including the foundational doctrine of creation.  He considers creation a vitally important message for America today.  He told Creation magazine in 1994 that acceptance of the unqualified Word of God “has been the foundation for Western civilization since the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in the fifteenth century,” resulting centuries of blessing.  But that blessing is now imperiled by greed for the almighty dollar.  “If America is to be rescued, she must be rescued from the pulpit,” he said, adding that any country “runs off its spiritual batteries, not off its bank accounts, and when those batteries are drained, its bank accounts will be empty.”

For himself, Dr. Raymond V. Damadian emphatically affirms that his greatest single scientific discovery was to find that “the highest purpose a man can find for his life is to serve the Will of God.”  And that he does, as a creation scientist, exploring and applying the laws of nature and of nature’s God for the benefit of all mankind.

Tragically, Dr. Damadian’s beliefs may have cost him the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003 (see 10/10/2003 and 11/10/2003 news stories).  Though Damadian had demonstrated clear priority on the discovery of the NMR signal that makes MRI possible, was the first to publish the find and mention its potential for medical imaging, and was the first to make an MRI body scan, the award went to two other physicists who built on Damadian’s seminal discovery.  Despite Dr. Damadian’s full-page ads denouncing the unfairness of the decision, signed by many other eminent scientists and historians, his protests got nowhere.  The rules allow for three to share in the prize, but they would not even grant that.  Even some evolutionists were surprised at the behavior of the committee.

Why was Damadian passed over?  Although the Nobel Committee’s deliberations are secret, several commentators, including pro-evolution secular sources, have speculated that the committee didn’t want their prestigious award to go to an outspoken creationist.  If so, it is outrageous that creationism has become so politically incorrect as to disqualify the best and most beneficial scientific work in the world if the scientist or inventor does not pay homage to Darwinism.  This may be the reason that Fritz Schaefer, though the best qualified in his field of computational quantum mechanics, never wins the Nobel Prize, year after year.

It appears that the credibility of the Nobel Prize is on the way out.  Unfair as it was to see a great man slighted, Raymond Damadian will be remembered by most as the real father of the MRI.  His reward on earth will be millions of lives saved.  And that’s just the beginning.  By faith in Christ Jesus, he possesses the Pearl of Great Price.  That’s an inheritance that is incorruptible, unfading, undefiled, and reserved with utmost security in the Bank of Heaven, worth far more than any temporal reward.  It can be yours, too (read I Peter 1).

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

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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