Creation-Evolution Headlines
January 2006
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“When you look at the individual steps in the development of life, Darwin’s explanation is difficult to disprove, because some selective advantage can be imagined in almost anything.  Like every other scheme designed to violate the second law [of thermodynamics], it is only when you look at the net result that it becomes obvious it won’t work.”
— Granville Sewall, professor of mathematics at Texas A&M University, Appendix D of textbook, The Numerical Solution of Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations, 2nd ed. (John Wiley & Sons, 2005)
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Quote  01/31/2006
“Human life is a gift from our Creator – and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”
—President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address
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Bible and TheologyPolitics and Ethics

A Whale of a SETI Tale   01/31/2006    
Disney’s Fantasia 2000 had an episode that pictured whales gliding through the air as if in outer space.  Lawrence Doyle of the SETI Institute connected whales with space in another way.  His article discussed whale language as a sign of intelligence.  Appealing to information theory and entropy, Doyle discussed how scientists deduce the syntax and entropy of whale messages, even when we can’t figure out the meaning.  By entropy, he means the “number of choices in a given communication system.”  For instance, squirrel-monkey language does not have enough entropy for Shakespeare to be translated into it. 

An important measure of entropy is the highest “entropic-order” at which the communication systems peaks.  In measuring this, we ask how dependent the signals are on each other.  In human speech we have grammar and in human writing we have spelling (or brush strokes, etc.) that depend on each other.  If you made a copy of a written page, but the toner in the copy machine was low, you would find that you could nevertheless recover some of the missing words because there are rules of spelling and grammar superimposed on our language system.  It is these rules that allow error recovery – and this works in both vocalization as well as written communication systems (as well as any others, e.g., chemical signaling units, bee dances, visual facial features, etc.)   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Scientists are not yet sure if whale language has the entropy level anywhere near that of humans.  But he argued that observing correlations between language and sociality of whales can help us, when we find life in space, deduce something about the social structure of the aliens:
And how might this apply to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?  If there is a relationship between social complexity and vocal complexity, then the measure of one will be a measurement, to some degree, of the other.  If a SETI signal is received, and is a normal (i.e., un-coded) communication, it will have to obey the rules of information theory in order to transmit information.  Thus, a measure of the information complexity of such SETI signals could also be a first direct measurement of the social complexity of an extraterrestrial species, irrespective of the actual decipherment of the meaning of such a message itself.  Exciting prospect indeed!
Until such a signal is detected, however, it remains only a prospect for the space-intelligence prospectors.
Wait a minute.  We heard Seth Shostak say last month (12/03/2005) that SETI wasn’t looking for an information-bearing message, like the proponents of intelligent design claim, but only for a persistent narrowband whistle in an unusual context that they could claim was non-natural.  What’s all this talk about information theory?  Now the SETI institute is going even beyond the inference to intelligence to an inference about social complexity.  That’s a lot of inference from a persistent narrowband whistle.  Is it not more credible to infer an intelligent cause for a language with sufficient entropy to generate tens of thousands of precision protein machines, like DNA?
Next headline on: MammalsSETIIntelligent Design
How Circular Reasoning Passes Peer Review    01/31/2006  
“Evolution is a fact; therefore, evolution is a fact.”  That kind of logic would strike most people as either odd or flawed.  Yet it is common fare in scientific journals, where the assumption of evolution is used as proof of evolution.
    Darwinists are fond of comparing evolution to gravity, making it appear such a well-grounded belief, supported by such an immense weight of evidence (e.g., 01/26/2006), that it is no longer in need of proof.  For instance, in USA Today this month, Harvard evolutionist E. O. Wilson said,
Modern biology has arrived at two major principles that are supported by so much interlocking evidence as to rank as virtual laws of nature.  The first is that all biological elements and processes are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry.  The second principle is that all life has evolved by random mutation and natural selection.
Because evolutionists believe that molecules-to-man evolution is a law of nature, it can be used as an axiom from which other ideas can be logically deduced.  Alternative explanations are simply out of bounds by definition, even when evolutionary inferences appear stretched.
    For example, consider a paper by Geerat J. Vermeij (UC Davis) published this week in PNAS,1 entitled “Historical contingency and the purported uniqueness of evolutionary innovations.”  Vermeij tackled a vexing problem between evolutionists: whether evolutionary innovations are unique, rare, one-time occurrences (as argued by the late Stephen J. Gould); or, instead, somewhat predictable, because environments will constrain evolution to follow replicable pathways.  The abstract states:
Many events in the history of life are thought to be singular, that is, without parallels, analogs, or homologs in time and space.  These claims imply that history is profoundly contingent in that independent origins of life in the universe will spawn radically different histories.  If, however, most innovations arose more than once on Earth, histories would be predictable and replicable at the scale of functional roles and directions of adaptive change.  Times of origin of 23 purportedly unique evolutionary innovations are significantly more ancient than the times of first instantiation of 55 innovations that evolved more than once, implying that the early phases of life’s history were less replicable than later phases or that the appearance of singularity results from information loss through time.  Indirect support for information loss comes from the distribution of sizes of clades in which the same minor, geologically recent innovation has arisen multiple times.  For three repeated molluscan innovations, 28-71% of instantiations are represented by clades of five or fewer species.  Such small clades would be undetectable in the early history of life.  Purportedly unique innovations either arose from the union and integration of previously independent components or belong to classes of functionally similar innovations.  Claims of singularity are therefore not well supported by the available evidence.  Details of initial conditions, evolutionary pathways, phenotypes, and timing are contingent, but important ecological, functional, and directional aspects of the history of life are replicable and predictable.
Clearly Vermeij takes the second of the two positions.  What’s interesting about the paper, though, is that all the support for it comes from evolutionary assumptions.  His paper contains two tables: one of first-time evolutionary innovations, and another of repeated instantiations of previous innovations that arose by “convergent” or “parallel” evolution.  Even the dates for the innovations came from the geological column, a construct devised from evolutionary assumptions.  Evolutionary theory, therefore, not only was assumed in the tables, but also used to deduce how evolution acted in the past, and will act in the future and throughout the universe.
    In creation-evolution debates, when asked to provide examples from the immense “weight of evidence” for evolution, debaters on the Darwinian side will typically point to the shapes of finch beaks, antibiotic resistance in bacteria (01/29/2006), the color of peppered moths, or other small-scale changes.  Even creationists agree that these kinds of variations occur naturally.  The innovations listed in Vermeij’s table, by contrast, are large-scale changes involving complex systems with interrelated parts, including: the origin of life, the universal genetic code, sexual reproduction, wings, and human language.  Creationists deny that small-scale change can be logically extrapolated into large-scale change, citing lack of evidence from the fossil record and observed limits to artificial selection.
    Scientific journals, however, give no voice to these criticisms, because they already have taken molecules-to-man evolution to be a fact based on the observed small-scale changes.  Having extrapolated from finch beaks to all of the variety and complexity of life, the evolutionist feels free to speculate on even larger issues.  Vermeij used his logic to address questions of what life could be expected to look like on other worlds.  Apparently none of the editors or reviewers at the National Academy saw any problem with any of this.
1Geerat J. Vermeij, “Historical contingency and the purported uniqueness of evolutionary innovations,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Published online before print January 27, 2006; DOI 10.1073/pnas.0508724103.
What this means is that to the degree Darwinian dogma relies on circular reasoning, it is like a gigantic house of cards balanced on a toothpick.  Effectively dislodge the point holding up the whole structure, and it could collapse quickly and catastrophically.
    Phillip Johnson predicted a growing body of scientists and lay people who would ask the right questions and no longer take bluffing and evasion for an answer.  Learn to look past the E. O. Wilsons and Lord Martin Reeses of the Darwin Party who stand up flaunting their science badges, spouting royal hot air about the overwhelming weight of evidence for evolution.  Remember what Schwarz said last week about that evidence? (01/26/2006).  Don’t look at the size of the house of cards or how intricately its parts are interlocked.  Look at the flimsy pillar of assumption supporting it.  Test that, and stand back.
Next headline on:  Darwinism and Evolutionary theoryDumb Ideas
How Fossils Form: We Don’t Rightly Know   01/30/2006    
Fossils have been such a mainstay of evolutionary theory for at least two centuries, one would think we have a pretty good picture of the process.  An article by Sid Perkins in Science News1 is revealing: “Only in the past decade or so have people begun to study in detail what happens to organisms after death,” the article states.  That’s surprising in a world where death is pervasive.
    Some research teams have actually done science projects on taphonomy, the study of fossilization.  They have buried everything from birds to rhinos and exhumed them a few years later to see what happens.  In most cases, much of the animal is gone.  Consider what happens to birds.  Perkins shows a picture of Archaeopteryx and puzzles not why only 10 have been found, but why any have been preserved at all:
Most carcasses that harden into fossils, including those of birds, were deposited in a body of water and then buried by sediment, says David A. Krauss, a paleobiologist at City University of New York.  However, the irksome fact that dead birds float conflicts with this observation.  In fact, bird carcasses float for quite a while, according to the results of experiments conducted by Krauss and his colleagues.  The researchers reported their findings last October at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Mesa, Ariz.
    In their tests, conducted outdoors during the summer, Krauss and his colleagues placed carcasses of doves, swallows, and blackbirds in tanks filled with water.  Every one of the dozen birds floated.  By the end of the third day, a thick film of bacteria had formed on the carcasses.  Soon thereafter, the birds’ remains became infested with bugs and maggots.  Over the next 3 to 4 weeks, the carcasses decayed, lost some feathers, and began to fall apart—but they still floated.
    Only after decomposition breached the birds’ internal air sacs and permitted water to flow into those cavities did the body parts finally sink, says Krauss.  At that point, the remains certainly wouldn’t have made informative fossils.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
They did get better results when sand or silt in the water impregnated the feathers, but still, the remarkable preservation of Archaeopteryx and many of the bones in China is startling considering the odds.
    Other than bones and teeth, which already contain minerals, most of an animal’s carcass is soft tissue which decomposes rapidly.  Buried eggs, for instance, are rapidly consumed by bacteria, yet fossils are known.  Rare are the chemical conditions, such as acidity, which allow for preservation.  Scientists are still not sure which conditions can avoid the usual decompositional processes.
    In 1983, a team from U of Wisconsin-Madison buried a white rhino that had died in a local zoo.  They checked how the fossilization was going after about eight years, and then a few years later.  The limbs had detached and much of the flesh on the legs had disappeared, but surprisingly, some of the muscles from forelimbs and shoulders looked fresh, “like [they] came out of a butcher’s shop” a team member commented.  Most of the skin was missing and a coating of a hard, grainy substance called “grave wax” coated the body cavity.
    In short, very little is known about fossilization.  Plants and animals have a variety of tissues, so there is “no single route” to becoming a fossil.  “In a sense, fossilization is as much a process of elimination as an active means of preservation,” Perkins stated, referring to how taphonomy needs to take into account what vanishes as much as what remains.  In one memorable line, he said, “Most organisms live, die, and disappear without leaving any hints that they ever existed.”
1Sid Perkins, “Modern science investigates the initial stages of how fossils form,” Science News, Week of Jan. 28, 2006; Vol. 169, No. 4 , p. 56.
No, we are NOT going to say “billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth,” but think about this; it must require unusual conditions to get an Archaeopteryx and all the fine detail of preservation of feathers and soft tissues seen in many famous museum pieces, especially those coming out of the Liaoning Province of China.  Think of the dramatic fossil graveyards around the world where large mammals, dinosaurs or whales are buried in huge expanses of strata.
    Perkins speaks glibly about this 570-million-year-old embryo, or that 150 million year old Archaeopteryx, and such, but how can he know?  All this research is relatively new, and shows rapid decay within less than 20 years.  How is it possible to claim what a fossil will look like in millions of years?  Think of how little remains when coroners exhume famous remains like Jesse James to look for clues in some historical mystery, and yet fossil embryos and jellyfish have been found, and things as ephemeral as footprints, raindrops and even dinosaur vomit.
    This is a good area of research for a budding young scientist who has some decades of useful career ahead to work.  Since so many claims are made based on assumptions of long ages, it would be useful to know the requirements for fossilization with actual field testing, and get some numbers on how long various features can be expected to last even if completely mineralized.  We wonder if Harry Truman has fossilized at Mt. St. Helens under the ash at Spirit Lake.  Probably so; he was a pretty hard cuss already.
Next headline on: FossilsDating Methods
ID Kills Darwin with Kindness in Town Hall   01/29/2006    
Exclusive  The Darwinists may have gotten the headlines with their lawsuit to stop intelligent design in a local high school (see 01/19/2006 story), but the townspeople of Frazier Park, California showed warm support for ID in person.  A town hall advertised in the local paper and sponsored by one of the area churches packed out the community center with some 250 people eager to hear more about intelligent design.  Most seemed to be from local churches, but several town officials, reporters and some families of the lawsuit plaintiffs were present.
    After the showing of the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, a panel of scientists and teachers supporting ID took questions from the audience.  No one was hostile or confrontational; if anything, the anti-ID people seemed rather timid or just sat quietly.  An independent filmmaker gathered footage for a documentary he wants to make on the ID controversy in America.  A reporter for the local paper said he came expecting to hear religious arguments for the existence of God, but was surprised by the quality of the scientific arguments for intelligent design and found them convincing.  His staff also were impressed by how polite and friendly the pro-ID people were.
One point made clear was that this was an opportunity for people to learn about ID and to open the door for rational discussion on this issue in a pleasant, non-confrontational manner.  The pastor who acted as MC did not lead in prayer or create any religious pressure, but broke the ice by thanking them all for coming, humorously congratulating them for getting their small town in the national spotlight, and inviting them to share their questions.  Panel members stayed on topic about what ID is.  Though religious or philosophical implications are important on both sides of the debate, the panelists were careful to stick to the issue of whether design from intelligent causes can be approached scientifically.  Church volunteers brought tables of refreshments and a bookseller had a table full of ID books and videos for sale; another table contained handouts on ID topics found on the Discovery Institute website.
    This could be a great idea for your home town.  Organize a town hall on intelligent design and show one of the Illustra Media films.  These quality productions say most of what needs to be said.  Have handouts, serve some food, make some books and videos available for sale, and get some knowledgeable teachers or scientists to take a few questions.  You could well get a big crowd of interested people, like the little town of Frazier Park did.
    The Darwinists may have felt outnumbered on this occasion, but if so, they were overpowered only by friendly and gracious people.  Another producer was overheard to say that in his experience Christians and pro-ID people tended to be likeable, compared to pro-Darwinists who tend to be “loud, aggressive, insecure and unlikable, or just hopelessly naive.”  Every effort was made to give opponents a sympathetic hearing.  The emphasis of the meeting was to define what intelligent design is, and to learn more about it, without pressure or confrontation.  The film was extremely effective.  Afterwards, you could almost sense that any antagonists would have felt sheepish trying to contradict the arguments made so effectively.  They seemed to have been caught off guard.  The ID they learned about was apparently much more scholarly, well-reasoned and attractive than what they may have read in the newspapers.
    This is what needs to be done from the grass roots up.  One of Phillip Johnson’s books is entitled, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.  Let’s open some minds, shall we?
Next headline on: Intelligent Design
Nobody Nose What Dino Crest Was For   01/28/2006    
Some duck-billed dinosaurs, like the Lambeosaur, had tall bony crests.  No one is quite sure what these odd appendages were used for.  David Evans (U of Toronto) decided to test the theory that they were for enhancing the sense of smell, reported Bjorn Carey in LiveScience.  Evans created the first brain cast of a Lambeosaur, and it didn’t appear to curve up into the cavity.  The other theories are up for grabs.  Was it a snorkel?  A brain cooler?  A device to attract mates?  A weapon to deter predators?  A voice resonator?  Look at the picture on MSNBC and invent your own theory.
It’s worthwhile to measure things, and it’s fun to speculate, but without recreating Jurassic Park, we are not going to be able to know for sure.  Maybe they were back scratchers, or used for some unknown dino sporting event.  Maybe they were just cute.  One reader wrote in suggesting they were handles for the moms to carry their little darlings; one for each hand (claw?) and two for the mouth.  But then, doesn’t that give T. rex a handle, too?  Wait: T. rex has no hands to speak of.  Maybe the crest was like a steering column or joystick for the wild Lambeosaurus-back ride.
Next headline on: Dinosaurs
Darwin Acid Eats Literature   01/27/2006    
A potent acid has fallen on the bookshelf, eating away the minds and intentions of its characters, dissolving romances and adventures into a hideous morass of uniform consistency.
    Prominent evolutionist Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, wrote that evolution is like a “universal acid” that cannot be contained in its scientific vial.  It spills over onto every traditional belief and transforms everything it touches.  For an example, look what it does to literature.  John Whitfield, a freelance science writer from London, writing in Nature,1 explored the concept of “Literary darwinism”2 as a form of “Textual selection.”  In the article, a cartoon shows a monkey with Darwin’s face pondering Homer’s Iliad.  What is “literary darwinism”?  It is looking at all the characters and actions in literature as outworkings of the processes of evolution.  It is reading literature through the glasses of an evolutionary theory of mind.  It interprets every action of the characters as sexual strategies to pass on one’s genes.
When, at the beginning of The Iliad – and Western literature – King Agamemnon steals Achilles’ slave-girl, Briseis, the king tells the world’s greatest warrior that he is doing so “to let you know that I am more powerful than you, and to teach others not to bandy words with me and openly defy their king”.  But literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall believes that the true focus of Homer’s epic is not royal authority, but royal genes.
    Gottschall is one of a group of researchers, calling themselves literary darwinists, devoted to studying literature using the concepts of evolutionary biology and the empirical, quantitative methods of the sciences.  “Women in Homer are not a proxy for status and honour,” says Gottschall.  “At bottom, the men in the stories are motivated by reproductive concerns.  Every homeric raid involves killing the men and abducting the women.”  The violent world of the epics, he says, reflects a society where men fought for scarce mates and chieftains had access to as many women as slaves and concubines.  And he thinks that everything written since Homer is open to similar analysis.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Lest one think this is an idle pastime of a few academic elitists, Whitfield explains that literary darwinists are on “a crusade, an attempt to shake up literary criticism.”  They believe they have the scientific approach, founded on an evolutionary theory of mind, that will bring an objective “truth” to literary criticism.  Approaching texts with reference only to “the subjective and the social”, in their opinion, fails to understand “human motives and cognitive biases” that have been shaped by evolution.
    This sounds like a new variety of social deconstruction, but its promoters say it’s not.  “The problem, say the literary darwinists, is that for the past few decades the humanities have, in the case of critics deconstructing texts, denied the need for a theory of human nature, asserting that the study of texts can be concerned with nothing outside those texts.”  According to one literary darwinist, earlier forms of social deconstruction only got parts of the truth but missed the important thing:
Those influenced by freudianism, for example, might read a novel looking for hints of a child’s sexual desire for its parent.  A marxist would seek out economic and class conflicts.  [Joseph] Carroll [U of Missouri, St. Louis] has no truck with this: “The theories up to this point have all had a little bit of the truth, but have also all been fundamentally flawed,” he says.  “None comes to terms with the fundamental facts of human evolution.”
How does literary darwinism work in practice?  Whitfield gives a few examples that illustrate the breadth of the territory eyed by this new crusade:
  • Poetry:  One literary darwinist “uses ideas from cognitive science in her analysis of the mother-child bond in William Wordsworth’s Prelude.
  • Novels:  “A darwinian analysis of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, he [Carroll] says, goes beyond the simple idea that women look for fortune in men, to show how such animal concerns are filtered through the vast flexibility of human behaviour, cultural conditions and individual variation.
    “I don’t look at Pride and Prejudice and try to sort out what is biological and what is cultural,” says Carroll.  “I look at it and examine the way underlying biological dispositions are organized in a specific cultural ecologyNobody in the novel escapes the problems of mate selection, status and forming alliances.  But the characters also integrate these concerns with human qualities, such as intelligence, character, morals and cultivation.”  The noble, romantic characters, such as Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy, integrate successfully, hiding their reproductive issues beneath their social graces.  The more comic characters, such as Elizabeth Bennett’s mother, do not (although in marrying off her daughters, she is quite the evolutionary success).
  • Comedy:  “Romantic comedies play upon the audience’s pleasure at seeing reproductive strategies rewarded.”
  • Tragedy:  Tragedies, like when Medea kills her children, “appeal by invoking recoil from maladaptive acts.”
  • Folk literature:  Gottschall found that “the majority of folk tales feature brave heroes marrying beautiful heroines, with the two living happily ever after.”
To the literary darwinists, therefore, everything in the arts and humanities is fair game.  Novels and poems, epic tales and movies, histories and fantasies – indeed, everything written about the human condition – are the spoils of war as the scientists invade the humanities, gathering rich data on the “natural history of our species.”  As they plunder, texts are robbed of their original meaning and whatever the authors thought they were saying.  Everything must now be reinterpreted according to the Laws of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection.
    Like any conquerors, the literary darwinists argue they are improving a bad situation.  They feel they are filling a void left by a long tradition of literary criticism that has “lost its place” and is wandering in a sphere of “obscurantism and irrelevance” with arguments settled solely by the one who “deploys the sharpest rhetoric and the best memory.”  In its place, literary darwinism offers “testable, durable knowledge” by applying “evolutionary psychology” to “work out what a story is ‘really’ about, not in some ultimate, metaphysical sense, but in the sense of whether a wide range of people interpret a work in the same way.”
    Does this mean that literary darwinism is concerned primarily with attaining a new social consensus, with political ramifications?  It seems so.  Whitfield ends, “Ultimately, the theories of human nature that become widely held in a society will influence how that society believes people respond to their environments, and how they should be treated.”  The literary darwinists are not just trying to toss one more opinion into the ring.  They really are on a crusade.  Whitfield quotes Gottschall,3 “Literary scholars aren’t harmless,” Gottschall says.  “When we get it wrong it matters.”

1John Whitfield, “Literary darwinism: Textual selection,” Nature 439, 388-389 (26 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439388a.
2Notice that Whitfield’s frequent use of uncapitalized darwinism, darwinist and darwinian demonstrates that Darwin’s name has become an idiomatic parcel of the English language.
3Jonathan Gottschall is co-editor of a series of essays on literary darwinism, entitled, The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (eds Gottschall, J. & Wilson, D. S., Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston, Illinois, 2005).  He also has an upcoming book, The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer.
Friends, Romans, first Corinthians, lend me your ears.  I come to bury Darwin, not to praise him.  The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.  So let it be with Darwin.  The noble Gottschall hath told you Homer was ambitious: if it were so, it were a grievous fault, and grievously hath Darwin answered it.... O judgement!  thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.  Bear with me; my heart is in the coffin there with Wordsworth, and I must pause till it come back to me.
    If you have had enough of Darwin’s acerbic dregs, if you shudder at the destruction left in his wake, if this reduction of all that is noble and praiseworthy into sexual actions of mindless selfish genes leaves you horrified (realizing that no land is exempt, not even Narnia nor Jerusalem), if you have woken up to realize this is a crusade of titanic proportions, if you understand that Dennett’s universal acid has congealed into The Blob that is on the move, swallowing whole universities and institutions (12/21/2005), then rise to the occasion.  The darwinists have a vulnerability that neutralizes their acid and turns it into harmless vapor.  If you were perceptive, you caught it in their very words.  Joseph Carroll spoke of “the truth.”  Say those three little words that make the orcs freeze in their tracks and stab their own chests: What is Truth?
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryPolitics and EthicsDumb Ideas
Evolutionary Theory: Verified or Vilified?   01/26/2006    
Jeffrey Schwartz has reason to be happy that his particular theory of evolution received some support recently, according to a press release from University of Pittsburgh.  But look at the pedestal he is standing on: the ruins of classical Darwinism and neo-Darwinism.  In supporting his own theory, he kicked out the props from under standard evolutionary theory (emphasis added in all quotes):
  • Fossils:  The missing links Darwin expected to find “have not been found because they don’t exist,” he claims.  The gradualistic theory “glosses over gaps in the fossil record,” he accuses.
  • Gradualism:  Gradual change does not occur: “evolution is not necessarily gradual but often sudden, dramatic expressions of change.”
  • Resistance to change:  “Why don’t cells subtly and constantly change in small ways over time, as Darwin suggests?  Cell biologists know the answer: Cells don’t like to change and don’t do so easily.
  • Quality Control:  “Cells in their ordinary states have suites of molecules—various kinds of proteins—whose jobs are to eliminate error that might get introduced and derail the functioning of their cell.  For instance, some proteins work to keep the cell membrane intact.  Other proteins act as chaperones, bringing molecules to their proper locations in the cell, and so on.  In short, with that kind of protection from change, it is very difficult for mutations, of whatever kind, to gain a foothold.
  • Improbability:  Mutations “may be significant and beneficial (like teeth or limbs) or, more likely, kill the organism.”
  • Disequilibrium:  “This revelation has enormous implications for the notion that organisms routinely change to adapt to the environment.  Actually, Schwartz argues, it is the environment that knocks them off their equilibrium and as likely ultimately kills them as changes them.  And so they are being rocked by the environment, not adapting to it.
With statements like this, that seem to echo those of creationists, what is Schwartz proposing in the place of standard neo-Darwinism?  It’s called the “Sudden Origins Theory.”  That sounds like creationism, too.  It’s not.  It is repackaged evolutionary theory, just as unguided and naturalistic as the old, but now it puts more emphasis on the environment as the instigator of adaptive change.  Aided by colleague Ian Tattersall, Schwarz wrote a book on this six years ago, Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), that the press release summarizes:
The mechanism, the authors explain, is this: Environmental upheaval causes genes to mutate, and those altered genes remain in a recessive state, spreading silently through the population until offspring appear with two copies of the new mutation and change suddenly, seemingly appearing out of thin air.
Because cells resist change and correct their errors, defeating gradualism, Schwarz and Tattersall looked for other ways to make mutations stick.  The environment became the stressor to knock organisms out of kilter and plant the germs of creative change into their genes, in a recessive state.  There, the ones that don’t kill the organism await the next opportunity to bloom.  These recessive mutations amount to a sort of toolkit for evolution to tinker with, not knowing what they are good for until a need arises in the environment.
    Why is this six-year-old proposal getting press now?  Schwarz just co-authored a paper with Bruno Maresca, appearing in the Jan. 30 New Anatomist Journal, that they claim supports the new theory, based on some “emerging understanding of cell structure” that was left unspecified in the press release.
    One implication of Schwarz’s theory is that today’s organisms are loaded with mutations from previous environmental stresses.  It is too late, therefore, to try to make a quick fix to the environment.  “The Sudden Origins theory, buttressed by modern cell biology,” he said, “underscores the need to preserve the environment—not only to enhance life today, but to protect life generations from now.”
So he ends with a flourish, giving a little politically correct environmentalist spin to help legitimize his rhetoric and distract attention from his crazy idea.  This is rich.  Schwartz and Tattersall have just corroborated all the criticisms creationists bring against neo-Darwinism: mutations are generally harmful, cells are intricately designed to resist change, and the fossil record, riddled with real gaps, debunks gradualism.  Thank you, Dr. Schwarz, for helping shovel standard evolutionary theory into the dustbin of history.
    But is his replacement any better?  All he has done is transfer the creative power of evolution from one undirected, natural cause (gradual natural selection) to another undirected, natural cause (the environment and sudden natural selection).  Has he shown that the pool of recessive mutated genes has any more creative power to generate wings and eyes than the old gradualism?  Has he explained how fully-formed, functioning complex organs, like teeth or limbs, could burst on the scene, as if from nowhere?  This is not science, this is magic.  The new evolutionists have become illusionists, producing rabbits out of thin air.
    With friends like these, Charlie doesn’t need enemies.  This press release announces open season for creationists and intelligent design people and all the critics of evolutionary theory to brush past the fluff of “Sudden Origins” evolution and to say, “We told you so!”
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory
Darwin Dissed in His Own Homeland    01/26/2006  
One would think Brits would cherish their guru Darwin, but he didn’t come out all that well in a poll, reports BBC News.  More than half the population doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution, results showed, and 39% said either creation or intelligent design best explains their view on the origin and development of life (about 12% didn’t know).
    Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society was stunned.  “It is surprising that many should still be sceptical of Darwinian evolution,” he said.  “Darwin proposed his theory nearly 150 years ago, and it is now supported by an immense weight of evidence.”
    The editor of the BBC Horizon program that initiated the poll called this the first introduction to the British public’s views on this issue.  He also was surprised; “Most people would have expected the public to go for evolution theory, but it seems there are lots of people who appear to believe in an alternative theory for life’s origins,” he commented.  People over 55 were more likely to reject Darwinism.
For a country steeped in Darwinian dogma for over a century, with only a small minority attending church where religion is nearly moribund, this is quite a surprising statistic.  If Darwin gave the world the best idea anyone ever had, and is the figurehead of modern biology, why is his claim not so obvious to all the people?    Lord Martin Rees was glad there is no movement to oppose evolution like in the US, but then why can’t Darwin’s disciples win more converts when they have complete control of the science curricula and a near monopoly on the definition of science and truth?  Can’t the people see the weight of evidence?  Maybe they see through it.
Next headline on:  DarwinismIntelligent Design
Lawsuit Halts ID in Philosophy Class: Will it Backfire?   01/25/2006    
Exclusive  Picture this: a small community high school nestled in the mountains far north of the big city of Los Angeles.  A gentle, silver-haired schoolteacher who wouldn’t hurt a fly, who coaches soccer, loves teenagers and takes her time-consuming and non-lucrative job, which she has done for many years, seriously, and is well liked by students.  A trailer outfitted as a classroom next to the agricultural center, with a bed sheet as a projection screen, a small projector, a whiteboard and some desks.  A rooster crowing outside.  13 students from ordinary American families who live in a small mountain town (population 2348) with no mall, one main street, and two hardware stores.  This little classroom ignited a national legal firestorm that reverberated briefly around the country, and caught the attention of reporters as far away as Romania and India.  What happened?  Why did it become the subject of a documentary in progress?  Simply put: one teacher decided to offer an elective class called “Philosophy of Design” that included discussions of intelligent design and critical thinking about evolution.
    Though this story began in December, it was in the news all month.  You can read about it on CBS News, the LA Times, the Tri-Valley Herald, ABC News, the Tacoma News Tribune, LiveScience, MSNBC #1 and #2, and Fox News.  They will tell you that the school was sued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on the grounds that the class violated constitutional prohibitions against teaching creationism in public schools, and that a group of parents joined in the suit, and that the school acquiesced and agreed to stop the class.  Another victory, in other words, for science over religion.  Even the pro-ID Discovery Institute pressured the school to drop the class, according to Evolution News, and praised the school when it did so (see Discovery Institute press release).
    As usual, there is more to the story, so we visited the school to find out.  Sharon Lemburg, the teacher under fire, is wife of the pastor of the local Assembly of God church in town.  She has taught at Frazier Mountain High School for years in subjects like special ed, history, and social studies.  The school offers an annual intersession elective program between semesters.  Noting that previous intersession electives included subjects like Mythology and Comparative Religions, she volunteered to teach a new class on “Philosophy of Design” in which she hoped to expose interested students to this high-profile subject that is being debated in school boards around the country.  A reporter had visited her church after the class had been announced.  The sermon was on Proverbs 3:5-6, an oft-quoted and well-loved passage among all Jews and Christians: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.  After developing a comfortable conversational relationship with the teacher, the reporter got Lemburg to say that “this was the class I felt the Lord wanted me to teach.”  That was the sound bite the reporter needed: Teacher claims God told her to teach class on intelligent design echoed around the world.
    Another incident contributed to how the media reported the story.  Lemburg had delivered to the principal a rough outline of the class, for his comments and suggestions.  This version of the outline was never adopted, never voted on, never agreed on, and never formed the basis of the curriculum, yet found its way on news reports and blogs all over the internet.  It included a predominance of pro-ID resources, books and tapes, including some from a young-earth creationist perspective.  A scientist in town named Ken Hurst, who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and acts as lead mentor for the school’s robotics team, got hold of this initial outline and was incensed.  He wrote a strong letter to the principal, that was subsequently printed in the local paper, explaining his reasons why the class should be canceled because, in his opinion, intelligent design is masqueraded creationism, a religiously-motivated belief that is not science.  Energized by the Dover case and other rulings about creationism, he proceeded to organize 11 parents and, with the willing cooperation of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, obtained a temporary restraining order and filed a lawsuit to stop the class on the grounds that this was “the camel’s nose under the tent” to undermine science teaching at the high school.  The teacher, the principal, the superintendent and the board of trustees of the school were named as defendants.  Needless to say, these actions created a firestorm of debate in the small community (with no small number supportive of the class).  Letters to the editor varied from polarized views to others calling for peace and understanding.
    What some reporters omitted was that the revised outline was much different: much more balanced, with recommended resources from both sides, including all eight hours of the PBS series Evolution.  Nevertheless, the pro-ID Discovery Institute sent a lawyer to the community who strongly urged them to withdraw the class, because by having introduced young-earth creationist materials it was misrepresenting what intelligent design means.  When he saw the revised outline, however, he praised it highly.  Still, he saw legal vulnerabilities in the case due to the apparent advocacy of creationism in the initial planning, though the curriculum in its final form was perfectly defensible.  The school acquiesced and agreed to withdraw the class.  “School District Waves the White Flag,” reported Fox News.  The Contra Costa Times was disappointed, feeling the school board gave in too much.  Believing that a philosophy class (though not a science class) was an appropriate venue for discussing such issues, they hoped other schools would “not follow in the footsteps of El Tejon’s educational leaders,” because “Our society will only become more polarized if the next generations don’t realize that issues have more than one side.”  Even the Hammer of Truth blog, no friend of ID, thought philosophy was an appropriate venue and that the lawsuit was overboard.
    Evolution News, a blog of the Discovery Institute focused on media bias on the ID issue, took the media and the anti-ID PACs to task for hypocrisy.  Robert Crowther quoted Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, having stating earlier that “when it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they [ID issues] can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class.”  Here was a case of ID in a philosophy class, and not even that was tolerated.  The AU’s Legal Director Ayesha Khan gloated that the decision “sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class.”  To Crowther, this represents the ultimate in censorship.  “Now, we have Lynn and other Darwinists on a crusade to make sure that students will never even know that a theory called intelligent design was ever discussed anywhere,” he said.
There are some things you should know in interpreting this story.
  • None of the plaintiffs had students in the class.
  • The class was an elective between semesters.  No one was required to take it.  The students all chose to be there, when they could have been out snowboarding, playing sports or hanging out with their friends.
  • The parents all signed permission slips for their teens to take the class.
  • The class had the full support of the principal, the superintendent, and a majority of the board of directors.
  • While the final syllabus did contain a number of intelligent design videos and books on the list of suggested resources, it also included all eight hours of the PBS Evolution series, a video interview with paleontologist James W. Valentine, a presentation from the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and the textbook Evolution vs. Creation by Eugenie Scott (as recommended by Ken Hurst).
  • The syllabus listed no resources promoting young-earth creationism, but only asked one question: “How does Intelligent Design differ from Creationism? and how is it similar?”  (Lest this item beg the question that young-earth creationism is somehow evil or unconstitutional, see what ID leader Phillip Johnson said about it on Touchstone, May 2004).
  • Almost all the students are Christians, and none are staunch evolutionists, so they were not being subjected to unwelcome or forced instruction about creationism or ID.  If anything, their beliefs were subject to challenge by the pro-evolutionary material.
  • The final syllabus used in the class states, “This class is not meant to guide you into a certain belief, but to allow you to search, become aware of the differences, and gain a better understanding of world views on origins.”  It also specified that “Equal and balanced instruction will be given on all philosophies.”
  • The students appear unanimously upset at the reaction by those opposed to the class.  One is taking it upon herself to write newspapers around the country expressing her displeasure with the censorship imposed by evolutionists on this class. She wants to set the record straight on what was taught.
  • The teacher invited a pro-evolution biology PhD from UCLA to teach for a day.  He spent a lot of time talking about the Miller experiment (see 05/02/2003 story).  Several of the students said that he dodged their questions.
  • Lemburg explained her intentions in a letter published in the local paper.  After explaining what she meant by her statement “this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach,” she wrote on January 8,
    My motives were honest and sincere, in that all I desired was to present an educational experience to give the students an opportunity to hear and study about the philosophers of design, to be able to critically analyze them and to learn to examine the opinions or philosophies and to weigh them...to ask who made the statement, what is their bias, what is their philosophy, what evidence do they bring?
        Each student in my class will have the opportunity to hear and study philosophies concerning the origin of life.  These ideas represent atheistic, agnostic, liberal and Christian views. We are looking at the ways these views have shaped and changed our world views, and I am challenging these students to know what they think and what those thoughts are based on.  To know it because they believe it, not because someone else says ‘it is so,’ but to become critical thinkers who can express their own beliefs.
Does this sound like a rabid Christian fundamentalist with an agenda, out to force her narrow religious beliefs down the throats of unsuspecting high school students?  Good grief.  The Darwin Party hypocrites have been telling us for years that ID was OK in philosophy, social studies, history or religion – just not in biology class, but look at what they do when someone takes them up on it.  This innocent little class in a minor rural town with 13 students and a mild-mannered teacher wanted to talk about “Philosophy of Design” and develop critical thinking skills, and the Darwin dogmatists went paranoid.  When will they realize this smells like the Inquisition?  The very people who preach against dogmatism are the most intolerant of all, worrying about the “hidden agenda” and the “camel’s nose under the tent,” as if high school students are so stupid, so incapable of reasoning, that they cannot handle the thought that Darwinism is not the infallible idol its priests say it is.  Teaching ID as philosophy should be completely non-threatening to evolutionists.  The action of this school made perfect sense to William Dembski, who called this a step in the right direction.
    One other thing.  The class was not ordered to end immediately.  It was allowed to complete its five-week run.  As part of the out-of-court settlement, the school agreed never again to offer a course that promotes creationism, creation science or intelligent design.  Sounds like an utter defeat for ID and a complete victory for the Darwinists, but Lemburg explains that she never intended to “promote” ID or creationism in the first place.  For all their gloating, the Darwin-Only-Darwin-Only DODOs won a hollow victory here, and earned a reputation as Inquisitors out to hunt down heretics, as hypocrites saying one thing then doing another, as dogmatists fearful of exposing their pet theory to scrutiny.
    School boards interested in getting this important debate a hearing on their campuses should not be alarmed by what happened in Frazier Park or Dover, because “teaching the controversy” is backed by the full force of the United States Congress and the President.  It is the law of the land.  For vital information on why teaching the controversy is legal and constitutional, get this must-see video by Phillip Johnson that explains it all: “One Nation Under Darwin,” available from Access Research Network.
Next headline on: Intelligent DesignEvolutionEducation
Human Evolution: Clear as Mud   01/24/2006    
Evolutionists speak of our descent from apes with an air of confidence and certainty, but connecting the dots requires a bit of artistic license.  Here are some examples of how any data, no matter how puzzling, can be made to fit the Darwinian picture.
  • Stretchy Clocks:  A famous painting by Salvador Dali portrayed clocks draped over objects as if made of wet clay.  A new paper in PNAS1 announced that scientists have figured out why human beings developed much longer generation times (length of childhood) than the apes: our molecular clocks are stretchy.  “Humans have a slow molecular clock,” explained Michael Balter for News@Nature.  By comparing gene differences between humans, gorillas and chimpanzees, the team decided all three clocks ticked at different rates.  Balter summarized, “Because the large difference in generation times between humans and chimps does not match the small difference between their molecular clocks, modern human generation times must have evolved recently—perhaps as early as 1 million years ago, the team calculates.”  And lo and behold, the teeth of Homo erectus seem to fit the picture of a shorter childhood.  They must be onto something.  Not everyone is convinced; Blair Hedges (U of Pennsylvania) believes that “generation time might only be one factor among many that control the molecular clock,” Balter wrote.
  • Neanderthal Nimrod:  Forget the beetle-brained, stoop-shouldered Alley Oop image of Neanderthal Man.  Now we’re told by EurekAlert that they were ahead of the game: Neanderthals were just as good at hunting as modern man (probably better, since hunting is a lost art except in the frozen foods section).  Since the superior skill of modern man was part of the story of the disappearance of Neanderthals, “This study has important implications for debates surrounding behavioral evolution and the practices that eventually allowed modern humans like ourselves to displace other closely-related species.”  Maybe the moderns did better in Social Studies, the article suggests.
  • Neo-Neanderthal:  Speaking of Neanderthal Man, a paper in Nature last November argued that Neanderthals apparently coexisted with moderns in the same cave.2  They used radiocarbon and stratigraphic analysis in a French cave to conclude, “These data strongly support the chronological coexistence—and therefore potential demographic and cultural interactions—between the last Neanderthal and the earliest anatomically and behaviourally modern human populations in western Europe.”  See also a related article on MSNBC.
  • Face the Facts:  Last month in PNAS,3 a team of anthropologists kicked out another prop holding up the standard story of where Europeans came from.  A study of 24 facial features of human fossils around Europe found only “a questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form.” 
    The surprise is that the Neolithic peoples of Europe and their Bronze Age successors are not closely related to the modern inhabitants, although the prehistoric/modern ties are somewhat more apparent in southern Europe.  It is a further surprise that the Epipalaeolithic Natufian of Israel from whom the Neolithic realm was assumed to arise has a clear link to Sub-Saharan Africa.  Basques and Canary Islanders are clearly associated with modern Europeans.  When canonical variates are plotted, neither sample ties in with Cro-Magnon as was once suggested.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    So what’s my new line?  “The data treated here support the idea that the Neolithic moved out of the Near East into the circum-Mediterranean areas and Europe by a process of demic diffusion but that subsequently the in situ residents of those areas, derived from the Late Pleistocene inhabitants [sic], absorbed both the agricultural life way and the people who had brought it.”  Any questions?
  • Cannibal Animal:  Mike Balter explored a recent claim on the human evolution story in ScienceNow: are we descended from cannibals?  Apparently not; an earlier study appears flawed.  Thank God (see our cannibal parable).
  • Ethiopia: The Place to Be:  Rex Dalton ventured out with paleoanthropologists to get the view from Afar (Ethiopia, that is), where rival teams of researchers with “hominid fever” dodge bullets of political rivals, avoid lions, endure oppressive heat, protect their secret spots and bounce around on rattletrap trucks to search for their precious quarry: hominid bones.  In his Indiana-Jones style account in Nature,4 Dalton gave more an impression of a gold rush than a reliable scientific enterprise, complete with claim jumpers and inflated announcements.  “This is where it all began,” they are convinced, as Dalton “gets on the trail with a team of devoted experts who just live for the next find.”  A few, like Tim White, are trying to be careful.  “White dislikes what he calls ‘hominid treasure hunts’, where researchers move in for short field visits to grab hominids and then headlines,” Dalton wrote.  As for White’s most recent find, it was a surprise: “hominids – then the earliest known – lived in a wooded environment, not a savannah as previously thought”  (see also 09/01/2005 story).  Any consensus theory seems Afar way off.
  • Egypt UScience,5 however, announced last October that Egypt is the place to be.  A find in Egypt by Seiffert et al.6 was described by Jaeger and Marivaux as “Shaking the Earliest Branches of Anthropoid Primate Evolution.”  The paper began, “Early anthropoid evolution in Afro-Arabia is poorly documented, with only a few isolated teeth known from before ~35 million years ago....”
  • Spanish-American War:  Believers in the 40,000-year-old Mexican footprints are not giving up without a fight, reported BBC News (see 11/30/2005 story).  Dr. Silvia Gonzalez seems to have a ready answer for every skeptical criticism.  That makes some of her critics even more skeptical.
  • Intercontinental BallisticsNational Geographic News last month entertained the novel suggestion that the favored “Out of Africa” theory might be wrong.  Maybe they evolved from Asia.  Interesting; provocative; possibly persuasive; not convinced – those represent some reactions so far.  Nature studied the suggestion also7:  “We show here that it is time to develop alternatives to one of palaeoanthropology’s most basic paradigms: ‘Out of Africa 1’,” wrote Robin Dennell and Wil Roebroeks.  The more basic paradigm, of course, is that mankind did evolve from somewhere.  That paradigm is not on trial.

1Elango et al., “Variable molecular clocks in hominoids,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print January 23, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0510716103.
2Gravina, Mellars and Ramsey, “Radiocarbon dating of interstratified Neanderthal and early modern human occupations at the Chatelperronian type-site,” Nature 438, 51-56 (3 November 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature04006.
3Brace et al., “ The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print December 21, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0509801102.
4Rex Dalton, “Ethiopia: Awash with fossils,” Nature 439, 14-16 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439014a.
5Jaeger and Marivaux, “Shaking the Earliest Branches of Anthropoid Primate Evolution,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5746, 244-245 , 14 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1118124].
6Seiffert et al., “Basal Anthropoids from Egypt and the Antiquity of Africa’s Higher Primate Radiation,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5746, 300-304 , 14 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1116569].
7Dennell and Roebroeks, “An Asian perspective on early human dispersal from Africa,” Nature 438, 1099-1104 (22 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature04259.
Anyone who has worked around scientists enough knows that a community of specialists in a given subject takes on the character of a club.  Scientific conferences have a certain social structure and networking protocol similar to a small town.  Everyone knows everyone else, and gossip is a favorite pastime.  While exciting finds and new twists on the plot are welcome (though usually greeted somewhat more dispassionately than at a healing service), there is a certain code that guards against anyone straying too far out of bounds.  You can wear a cowboy hat, but act like a maverick and you are likely to be shunned more than overtly criticized.  For many, that is too much a price to pay.  The respect of one’s peers is vital for a scientific career.
    So here we have the paleoanthropology crowd, roaming around the globe or wading through rivers of genes for their nuggets, trying to fit them into a huge crown for Charlie.  The crown is much bigger than the specks found so far, so it will take a long time to complete.  To finance these expeditions, the participants need to convince their home institutions, usually funded with government grants, that it is all worthwhile because we are getting warmer looking for just the little piece that fits into the niche we have selected to work on.  (The shape and style of the crown, of course, has already been decided, along with the wearer; only the details of gem placement provide some artistic license.)
    Is this really a search for truth?  Could it be a massive case of self-deception that relishes the process more than certainty?  Might it be that Big Science is in a rut, entrenching a social protocol guaranteed to keep mavericks in line and preserve paradigmatic presuppositions?  You can see why any outsider looking at this game and deciding that it is all bunk, all unsupported and contradictory nonsense that does nothing to disprove the belief of the majority of people on this planet that humans were created, would not receive a very friendly reception.  It’s too late to turn back now.  Too much is riding on it.  The show must go on.  (And keep those funds flowing.)
Next headline on: Early ManGeneticsFossilsDumb Ideas
Where Did Humans Learn Geometry?   01/22/2006    
In Plato’s dialogue Meno, Socrates illustrated his view that certain foundations of knowledge are innate rather than learned.1  He took an untutored slave boy and, with a series of sketches in the sand, got the boy to deduce the Pythagorean Theorem by his own reasoning (see Encarta).
    In a modern version, Harvard scientists found that basic concepts of geometry are understood by untutored tribespeople of the Amazon rainforest.  LiveScience reports:
While high school freshmen sometimes struggle with parallelograms and the Pythagorean Theorem, people deep in the Amazon quickly grasp some basic concepts of geometry.
    Although these indigenous tribes had never seen a protractor, compass, or even a ruler, a new study found they understood parallelism and right angles and can use distance, angles, and other relationships in maps to locate hidden objects.
    The finding suggests all humans, regardless of language or schooling, possess a core set of geometrical intuitions.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Their research was published in Science.2  The authors referred to the Meno story at the end of their paper, feeling they had done Socrates one better – because his slave boy already possessed Greek language and familiarity with lines and shapes, and their Amazonian tribe did not.  The researchers did not speculate, however, on how this uniquely human capability evolved:
Our experiments, in contrast [to Socrates], provide evidence that geometrical knowledge arises in humans independently of instruction, experience with maps or measurement devices, or mastery of a sophisticated geometrical language.  This conclusion is consistent with paleoanthropological evidence and with previous demonstrations of a right-hemisphere competence for nonverbal tests of geometry in split-brain patients.  Further research is needed to establish to what extent this core knowledge is shared with other animal species and whether it is available even in infancy or is acquired progressively during the first years of life.  There is little doubt that geometrical knowledge can be substantially enriched by cultural inventions such as maps, mathematical tools, or the geometrical terms of language.  Beneath this fringe of cultural variability, however, the spontaneous understanding of geometrical concepts and maps by this remote human community provides evidence that core geometrical knowledge, like basic arithmetic, is a universal constituent of the human mind. Constance Holden in Science3 also wrote up this story about possible “cognitive universals” but mentioned a couple of skeptics who think interpretation of the results is difficult.  Even so, they seem to point to at least a “general reasoning ability” that has only been demonstrated in humans.  Cognitive neuropsychologists are very interested in the study.

1In Socratic philosophy, Truth (with a capital T) was self-existent, and was intuitively known – merely recalled – by humans, not learned by experience.  Socrates argued against the world of flux portrayed by Heraclitus, who taught that a man could never step in the same river twice.  To Socrates and Plato, by contrast, experience could only speak of material objects, not abstractions or concepts.  Material objects may be in a state of flux but Truth is eternal.
2Dahaene et al., “Core Knowledge of Geometry in an Amazonian Indigene Group,” Science, 20 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5759, pp. 381 - 384, DOI: 10.1126/science.1121739.
3Constance Holden, “Hunter-Gatherers Grasp Geometry,” Science, 20 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5759, p. 317, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5759.317a
Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, the Stoics and many other great thinkers in the classical world – probably the majority of the famous philosophers (Democritus and Lucretius being exceptions) – believed in intelligent design.  They were non-evangelical, pagan philosophers to whom the intrinsic order and design of the universe and life was self-evident.  Their concepts of the Designer differed, but they all pointed to design as coming from an intelligent source.
    Most of the classical philosophers were also absolutists.  They believed that outside of the mind of man there existed an unchanging truth beyond the mere objects accessible to the senses.  Evolutionists will find little support for relativism and materialism among the ancients.  History does not support their contention that intelligent design is a conspiracy by evangelical Christians.  The burden of proof should be upon the modern sophists who claim geometry is an artifact of the mindless, materialistic process of natural selection.
    So the stone-age indigenous peoples of the rain forest comprehend geometry.  Fascinating.  Tell us, Darwinists, how did this evolve?  Be sure to include your axioms.
Next headline on: Early ManHuman BodyAmazing Stories
The Evolution of Spite   01/21/2006    
Since everything evolves, according to consensus science, why not attitudes like spite?  The BBC News reported about a University College London study on attitudes of revenge between the sexes.  They found that men seemed to get more satisfaction out of hurting foes than women.  This is all part of an evolutionary explanation for altruistic behavior in humans.  According to lead researcher Dr. Tania Singer, “evolution has probably seeded this sense of justice and moral duty into our brains.”
    Where a sense of revenge came from seems a puzzle, however, from an evolutionary viewpoint, because apparently apes don’t have it.  In another press release from the Max Planck Society, chimpanzees exhibit neither altruism nor spite.  Researchers put chimpanzees in a cage with levers that could either deliver a treat equally easily to another chimpanzee in another room, or to an empty room.  The scientists were surprised that the chimps seemed to have no preference for either choice.  “Contrary to initial expectations the chimpanzees behaved neither altruistic nor spiteful,” the press release stated.  “According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific.”  Humans give blood and give to charities for people they don’t even know.  “This kind of altruism has never been demonstrated in any other animal except for humans and some believe it is one of the characteristics that makes us human,” the article continued.  The evolutionary explanation for this was given as follows:
If altruism and spite are unique to humans and are not present in chimpanzees, then it is likely [sic] that these characteristics have arisen in the last 6 million years [sic] since humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor [sic].  Humans’ intense regard for each other, either positive or negative, may have made an important contribution to our ability to cooperate, our sense of fairness, and the morality that defines today’s society.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Presumably this explains the Israeli-Iran controversy, discussions about earmarking on Congressional bills, and what to do about terrorism.
Only an evolutionist can take negative evidence and give it a positive spin.  Only an evolutionist can take moral evil and turn it into brain chemistry.  Only an evolutionist can speak of morality and altruism while denying the definitions of the words.  Should evolutionists be able to get away with presenting these ideas as the only permissible scientific explanations in public schools?
Next headline on: MammalsHuman Body and SocietyPolitics and EthicsDumb Ideas
Is Dark Matter Going Out of Style?   01/20/2006    
Dark matter has been a staple in cosmological theories for decades.  One of the initial reasons was that galaxy rotation curves could not be explained without it.  Another was that galaxy clusters, to be held together over long ages, needed more “stuff” to bind them.  Finally, Big Bang cosmologists invoke copious amounts of dark matter and (more recently) dark energy to make their models work.  What the dark matter is has remained an unanswered question.  If it were normal “baryonic” matter we would see it, and it would not be “dark” (i.e., undetectable by current methods).
    On the scale of galaxies, a paper in the Astrophysical Journal has undermined some of the justification for dark matter.  Brownstein and Moffat found a way to account for galaxy rotation curves without it1 (see also summary on EurekAlert).
    On the cosmological scale, two other papers show that dark matter and dark energy are not simple parameters to model.  An American-Israeli team writing in Astrophysical Journal2 put constraints on cosmological simulations of dark matter halos and showed the picture is complex: “the clear separation of the evolution of an individual halo into series of quiescent and violent phases explains the inability to fit its entire evolution by simple scaling relations, in agreement with previous studies,” they wrote.  A news story in Science3 described some of the ruckus over dark energy’s role in the cosmos.  Specifically, astronomers are arguing about using gamma-ray bursts as a “standard candle” to infer the history of dark energy in cosmological theories.  See also the reprint on EurekAlert of a report from New Scientist that said, “the result stressed how little we know about dark energy and the need for different approaches.”
1J. R. Brownstein and J. W. Moffat, “Galaxy Rotation Curves without Nonbaryonic Dark Matter,” Astrophysical Journal 636:721-741, 2006 January 10, 2006.
2Romano-Diaz et al., “Constrained Cosmological Simulations of Dark Matter Halos,” Astrophysical Journal 637:L000, 2006 February 1, 2006.
3Robert Irion, “Astronomers Push and Pull Over Dark Energy’s Role in Cosmos,” Science 20 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5759, p. 316, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5759.316.
In the history of science, practitioners sometimes invoked “imponderable substances” in their theories.  These included phlogiston, caloric, wound salve, ether, electricity, magnetism, and animal magnetism.  Some of these substances went the way of the dodo, others became staples of science.  So far, it appears that cosmologists are in the dark about dark matter (put "dark matter" in the search box above and see).  It will be interesting to see how future astronomers look back on this period.  Till established, theories built on dark matter should be treated like phlogiston theory or The Force.  Duct tape is like The Force.  It has a dark side, a light side, and it holds the universe together – at least as well as dark matter.
Next headline on: CosmologyPhysics
Fish Gill Evolves toward Tetrapod Ear?    01/20/2006  
“This is another nail in the coffin of the creationist view, in my opinion,” said the curator of Chicago’s Field Museum about a paper published in Nature,1 reported the Washington Post yesterday (see MSNBC News).  Brazeau and Ahlberg of Uppsala University in Sweden examined the skull of Panderichthys, a Devonian lobe-finned fish, and found what they are calling a transitional form between gills and ears.  They found a spiracle (respiratory channel) they are claiming is intermediate between the gills of the Devonian fish Eusthenopteron and the middle ear bones of the purported earliest tetrapods like Ichthyostega and Acanthostega (08/09/2003, 07/03/2002, 08/03/2004).
    The origin of the middle ear in tetrapods has “remained elusive,” the researchers said, “with little indication of how this transformation took place.”  After examining the skull of Panderichthys, they claim that this spiracular region was “radically transformed” from earlier lobe-finned fishes, and “represents the earliest stages in the origin of the tetrapod middle ear architecture.”  Though the spiracle resembles that of tetrapods, it was still used for respiration in Panderichthys, they believe, but later developed into a larger middle ear channel in which a bone called the hyomandibula developed into a stapes (a middle ear bone).  This, in turn, was co-opted for use as a sound-transmitting device.  From there, mammalian ears developed.
    The news media are taking notice of this transitional form to hammer creationists.  “Question: What do you do with half an ear?  Answer: You breathe through it,” wrote David Brown for the Washington Post.  This answers the creationist claim that organs like the ear are “too complicated to have evolved step by step” and therefore “had to have been created in their final form.”  If the structure had an intermediate function, it could have had survival value, in other words. 
Their conclusion is controversial, as it amounts to a radical reinterpretation of how the ear developed in land-based animals.  If it withstands scientific scrutiny, the fossil will be a rare example of an organ glimpsed partway along its evolutionary path, at a point when its function was very different from that of its final form.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Both the Washington Post and LiveScience indicated that not everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon, however.  Bjorn Carey in LiveScience pointed out that this differs from previous beliefs that ear evolution began after the transition to land.  Also, since no soft tissues are preserved in either Panderichthys or the early tetrapods, no one knows how these spiracles were actually used.  David Brown ended with a quote from Michael LaBarbera (U of Chicago), an expert on the functional anatomy of the extinct animal, who is not convinced the structure even is a spiracle.  He criticized the theory of Brazeau and Ahlberg as being “based on the interpretation of a structure that would be completely novel and unprecedented in this lineage.”
1Brazeau and Ahlberg, “Tetrapod-like middle ear architecture in a Devonian fish,” Nature 439, 318-321 (19 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04196.
Let us pause for a moment to think like a consistent evolutionist.  This is very hard to do and is rarely accomplished.  It requires purging our minds of certain persistent myths and misconceptions promulgated by textbooks and TV animators.  First, we must disavow orthogenesis.  The concept of “straight-line evolution” is out; we cannot arrange Eusthenopteron, Panderichthys and Acanthostega on a straight line and imagine one form evolving in a direct fashion to the other.  No – we must picture evolution branching out in a tree or bush-like pattern, and, therefore, place all these fossils at different points on different branches.  Next, we must disavow Lamarckianism.  There is no inheritance of acquired characteristics.  If an early Panderichthys acquired a spiracle by accident or striving, such a structure would not be inherited unless the mutation affected the germ line.  Third, we must disavow teleology.  None of these creatures were “trying” to evolve an ear, or even a spiracle.  There was no purpose or goal of achieving a fully functioning tetrapod ear.  Evolution cannot see into the future.  Natural selection acts only on present survival requirements.  Finally, we must disavow vitalism.  None of these creatures had any kind of world-soul or vital energy driving them upward by some inexorable path toward higher degrees of complexity and organization.  The fitness landscape is not a mountain, but a chaos of undulating, dynamic hills and valleys.  Ready?  Good, let us proceed.
    Now, we consistent evolutionists are ready to give an honest look at the challenges of those pesky creationists.  They say that it is not just the bones of fossils, but the missing soft parts, that are key to understanding the impossibility of getting irreducibly-complex organs via natural selection.  The mammalian ear, they say, has a cochlea, an organ of Corti with molecular springs and motors, a tympanic membrane, some finely-tuned bones that act like levers, and a complex brain to interpret the electrical signals transduced mechanically from air or liquid to nerve impulses.  They say that there should not be one questionable transition, but thousands of them.  They also say that these alleged transitions must have complete functionality at each stage, such that they outcompete those lacking the function to the point of remaining the only survivors in a vast battlefield of death (the cost of selection).  They point to “living fossils” like Coelacanth that were long thought to represent transitional forms, only to be found alive and well in the present day (and not using their lobed fins for anything resembling walking).  They embarrass us with the shortness of time in our scheme for coming up with major new body plans and organs, and they cast doubt on the dating and timing of the few existing fossils.  They tease us by saying that these branches would have had to be “evolutionary dead ends” that went extinct and therefore did not go on to develop functional ears.  And they pester us with reminders that new function requires new genetic information.  They criticize this paper as representing little more than a just-so story unless a detailed series of steps can be elucidated to show how new information for a spiracle or ear was embedded into the genes and then translated into proteins and developmental programs.  In short, they are not quivering at this announcement, and have delivered us all these counter challenges.  So now, let us consistent evolutionists, having cleansed our minds of misconceptions, rise to the occasion and answer them.  Who will be first?  Isn’t there someone?  Isn’t there anyone?  Goliath, how about you?  Pretty please?  No fair hiding in that coffin we built for the creationists.
    The ancient biosphere was more diverse and ecologically rich than our modern world.  Many extinct species are found in the record.  Undoubtedly these can be arranged and rearranged into all kinds of imaginary ancestral relationships.  Evolutionists have a bad habit of arranging only the similarities that fit their preconceived imaginary trees into homologous groupings, and calling other similarities analogous.  Why shouldn’t a school kid look at a proboscis monkey, a tapir and an elephant and use similar reasoning to think this is a transition from nose to trunk?  Or a jellyfish to sea slug to a jelly sandwich?  Maybe mudskippers and walking catfish are evolving into lizards or salamanders, or butterflies into birds, or penguins and seals into whales.  Sea stars have five fingers like a human hand.  Octopi have eight tentacles and spiders have eight legs.  Similarities are everywhere; why get worked up about a select few?  Could it be because they reinforce a favorite story?
    For more on problems with the fish-to-tetrapod transition in evolutionary theory, see the review of the evidence by Paul Garner from the Creation Technical Journal.
Next headline on:  Marine/Aquatic LifeFossilsEvolutionary Theory
Soil Provides Library of Antibiotic Resistance   01/19/2006    
The “evolution of antibiotic resistance” is a staple in the creation-evolution debates, providing evolutionists with a living illustration of evolution taking place right before our eyes.  What if all the information for antibiotic resistance, however, already exists in a library from which bacteria can find it?  That seems to be the implication of a study by D'Carlo et al. in Science.1  A Canadian biochemical research team decided to survey the techniques of antibiotic resistance already present in soil bacteria.  They were astonished.  Every antimicrobial medicine, including some only recently developed, had a defensive weapon ready for it:
This study provides an analysis of the antibiotic resistance potential of soil microorganisms.  The frequency of high-level resistance seen in the study to antibiotics that have for decades served as gold-standard treatments, as well as those only recently approved for human use, is remarkable.  No class of antibiotic was spared with respect to bacterial target or natural or synthetic origin.  Although this study does not provide evidence for the direct transfer of resistance elements from the soil resistome to pathogenic bacteria, it identifies a previously underappreciated density and concentration of environmental antibiotic resistance.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The authors could not determine whether “The presence of antibiotics in the environment has promoted the acquisition or independent evolution of highly specific resistance elements in the absence of innate antibiotic production,” and are not sure whether today’s resistant pathogens acquired their resistance from soil organisms.  They could not rule it out, however: “The soil could thus serve as an underrecognized reservoir for resistance that has already emerged or has the potential to emerge in clinically important bacteria.”  A frightening implication is that no matter what agents we throw at them, bacteria may be able to check out a defense from this “environmental resistome.”
    Alexander Tomasz commented on this study in the same issue of Science.2  He said that, “Actually, the majority of the most effective antibiotic-resistance mechanisms in human pathogens are acquired,” or gained not by evolution but by lateral gene transfer.  The acquired resistance, he says, is superior to that gained by mutations:
The superiority of such acquired mechanisms is illustrated by the contrast between Staphylococcus aureus strains that have decreased susceptibility to vancomycin through mutations (so-called VISA strains) as compared to VRSA strains, S. aureus that acquired a complete vancomycin-resistance gene complex via the transposon Tn1546.  The VISA strains have low-level resistance (the minimal inhibitory concentration of vancomycin is 6 to 12 g/ml), are often associated with reduced oxacillin resistance, and show abnormal cell wall synthesis; the multiple transcriptional changes documented by DNA microarray analysis reflect the complexity of this mechanism.  In contrast, in VRSA strains, the Tn1546-based mechanism produces high-level vancomycin resistance (with a minimal inhibitory concentration of more than 500 g/ml) that does not interfere with oxacillin resistance, and cell wall synthesis proceeds with a depsipeptide cell wall precursor specific to these strains.
Though the transfer mechanism is not known, “Clearly, mobilization of a resistance mechanism must involve ‘packaging’ into a plasmid, phage, or some transposable element,” he believes.  Tomasz called the sheer variety of resistance mechanisms catalogued by D'Carlo et al. “remarkable”.  It appears that microorganisms might not only make antibiotic weapons in profusion, but also make a plethora of defenses against them.
1D'Costa et al., “Sampling the Antibiotic Resistome,” Science, 20 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5759, pp. 374 - 377, DOI: 10.1126/science.1120800.
2Alexander Tomasz, “Weapons of Microbial Drug Resistance Abound in Soil Flora,” Science, 20 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5759, pp. 342 - 343, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123982.
Neither of these papers ruled out that the resistance mechanisms have always been present in the gene pool.  If so, then the claim that bacteria “evolve” resistance to antibiotics is negated.  Bacteria may simply find access to an existing library of information, a “resistome” that, coupled with a packaging and delivery mechanism (plasmids and transposons), confers the resistance that previously appeared to evolve out of thin air.
    Notice that the resistance conferred by mutations harms the organism.  The case cited by Tomasz reduced the fitness of the organism by weakening its cell wall.  Mutationally-gained resistance is like the illustration Lee Spetner gave: cutting off a man’s arms makes him resistant to handcuffs.  In a population of prisoners being handcuffed, this person would be the fittest, but only in a specific environment and at the cost of overall fitness.  In the wild, he would be at a disadvantage.  Scott Minnich also illustrated this type of bacterial resistance in the film Icons of Evolution with cultures of bacteria exposed to antibiotics.  The kind of resistance conferred by specialized enzymes able to disable the agent, however, require specific genetic information that appears designed.
    Too little is known at this point, but these articles uncover the possibility that genetic information that confers antibiotic resistance is already present in the environmental resistome.  If so, this undermines a commonly-used evidence for evolution.
Next headline on: Cell BiologyGeneticsDarwinian Evolution
Orion Nebula Revealed in Hubble Splendor   01/19/2006    
The Hubble Space Telescope’s new mosaic image of the Orion Nebula (M42) made Astronomy Picture of the Day.  For those of us who grew up admiring the old Palomar observatory’s photo of it, the upgrade is worth a thousand words.  This is a keeper.  The next day, APOD posted a portion of the image that looks like a pastel oil painting.
Any commentary would be superfluous.  Click on the image for the full size, and just look.
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Can Caves Record Climate History?    01/19/2006  
Many geologists and climatologists have assumed that cave formations, forming slowly over long ages, preserve a record of climate changes.  These assumptions have been challenged by University of Texas researchers who experimented with water dripping from stalactites in a cave in Barbados.  Their work was published in GSA Bulletin.1
    Climate history could be inferred if the isotopic signatures of carbon and oxygen in the stalagmites and stalactites were purely a function of their abundances in the groundwater feeding the speleothems, and if speleothem growth were also a function of flow rate.  The problem is that these isotopic signatures are not in equilibrium.  They change dynamically, and are sensitive to variations even in the physical morphology of the growing formation.  Mickler et al. found that kinetic factors, such as the shape of a dripping stalactite, and how long the water has to flow down its surface before dripping onto the stalagmite below, can produce “large kinetic isotope effects” in the measurements.  The scientists put glass plates on three stalagmites within one square meter of each other, but measured very different signatures depending on the size of the stalactite above.
    Their measurements cast doubt on models in use to infer climate history.  Although they still believe that speleothem isotope measurements can still be used in such studies, they cautioned that other non-equilibrium effects must be taken into account:
Speleothem records may be influenced by kinetic isotope effects such that temperature-controlled equilibrium fractionation models alone cannot adequately explain the significance of the records.  Proper interpretation of these records may require that the non-equilibrium isotope effects ... be calibrated to physical conditions in the cave, such as temperature, cave PCO2, drip rates, calcite precipitation rates, stalactite geometry, and drip water chemistry.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
They did not specify how such non-equilibrium kinetic effects might be calibrated.
1Mickler, Stern and Banner, “Large kinetic isotope effects in modern speleothems,” Geological Society of America Bulletin, Vol. 118, No. 1, pp. 65–81, doi: 10.1130/B25698.1.
This study points out some important principles of interpretation in scientific studies, especially those used to infer conditions in the unobservable past.  There are usually more factors influencing a measurement than many simplistic models assume.  Consider, for instance, how the experimental apparatus itself can alter a measurement.  The authors noted that even the shape of their glass plates differed from the natural situation: “Our experiment uses flat glass plates, which may affect the stable isotope composition of calcite along the growth layer by forcing the drip water to flow across a flat surface, unlike a natural convex stalagmite,” they said.  “This likely prolongs the residence time of drip water, relative to a natural stalagmite, allowing more time for CO2 degassing and calcite precipitation.”  Though they discounted the effect of this particular influence, there could well be other influences they did not consider.  After all, previous studies working on this subject apparently did not take speleothem geometry into account.
    Even putting a human being in a cave next to a stalagmite alters its environment.  A body gives off over 100 watts of heat, and alters the moisture of the atmosphere with his or her breath.  When making sensitive measurements of delicate isotopic ratios on a glass plate, how can they be sure all such influences have been calibrated, or even considered?  In addition, as they mentioned, the measurements are sensitive even to the geometry of the drip source.  Perhaps you can think of other influences that would be difficult to calibrate and easy to ignore: microbiology in the soil between the atmosphere and the cave, changes in the source of the water, the complex arrangement of cracks and channels in the cave roof, the presence of cave biota, or much more.  Consider how in recent decades a major paradigm shift in cave geology occurred when geologists began to consider the effect of bacteria on cave formation (05/10/2004).  Prior to that, they were not even thinking about it.  They were looking at geological forces alone, and had overlooked factors that turned out to have a huge effect on cave excavation processes and speleothem formation rates, leading to whole new ways of thinking about underground geology.  Meanwhile, summer-hire cave tour leaders were still regurgitating the old paradigm to the tourists.
    Regardless of how comfortable these scientists feel in their conclusion that isotopic ratios can reflect climate history with some degree of reliability, they admitted that the correlation of oxygen and carbon isotopic covariations was only about 55%.  Some studies showed no correlation, or even a negative correlation.  How can they know that the anomalous studies were not the more significant for true understanding?  Does the majority rule in science?  None of these questions should suggest that field studies and careful measurement are not profitable, but before swallowing a simplistic statement in a popular-level book or TV program about how we “know” something about prehistory, remember that even the best estimates are subject to drastic revision by subsequent findings.  Even if scientists could garner accurate measurements of every “known” parameter in the present, they cannot, in principle, know the unknowns.  In addition, the further that present processes are extrapolated into the past or future, the more uncertain they become – the more subject to assumptions that cannot be tested.  This is an inherent limitation of the scientific method.  Process is not the same as certainty.  When that is admitted, it is a good thing.  More often than not, interpretations are touted as facts, and the assumptions underlying the interpretations are not disclosed.
    For an interesting analysis of factors that call into question consensus views about cave formation and speleothem dating, order this DVD by Dr. Emil Silvestru, a specialist in karst geology with years of field experience: Geology and Cave Formation.  It also contains stunning photographs of some incredible crystalline wonders hidden in the darkness of these underground cathedrals (photo).
Next headline on:  GeologyDating MethodsPhysics
How to Squeeze Fossils Into Evolutionary Trees   01/18/2006    
Fossils do not come with dates or labels on them.  Sometimes it is quite a puzzle to figure out where they fit in Darwinian ancestral trees.  One such example was published in Nature on January 12 by Chinese scientists who found an oddball in the famous Liaoning fossil beds.1  They called it a “Cretaceous symmetrodont therian with some monotreme-like postcranial features” (monotremes include the famous duck-billed platypus), and named it Akidolestes cifellii.
    There are some technical terms in the paper that require translation: apomorphy, homoplasy, and plesiomorphy among them (thank goodness for Dictionary.com).  One phrase jumped out of the otherwise jargon-laden paper: “rampant homoplasy.”  A quick check shows this word homoplasy to be a synonym for “convergent evolution,” the idea that unrelated animals “converged” on similar body parts.
Within eutriconodontans, lumbar ribs are present in gobiconodontids but not in the related Jeholodens.  Within spalacotheroids, these are present in Akidolestes but absent in zhangheotheriids.  Outside the crown mammals, lumbar ribs are absent in morganucodontans but variably present in many advanced cynodonts.  It is possible that this rampant homoplasy of the lumbarosacral vertebral ribs is patterned by developmental genes that are deeply conserved in widely separated mammalian taxa that lacked a recent common history.  However, homoplastic development of the lumbar ribs is not mutually exclusive of the interpretation that these ribs and related features also have convergent function to extant monotremes.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Those who wish can insert most of the terms in the above quote into Dictionary.com or google the various animal group names.  The upshot is that this fossil, and many others in other “widely separated” mammal groups, show “rampant homoplasy” (convergence) of several “post-cranial features” (i.e., parts behind the skull, or, in other words, the rest of the body).  The authors are suggesting here two possible explanations for these similarities: (1) developmental genes for these structures are “deeply conserved” (i.e., they began way, way back in time before these groups split apart), or, (2) somehow the environment forced their body plans to become similar (“convergent function”).
    The following sentence from the abstract jargonizes these two choices: “These peculiar features may have developed as functional convergence to locomotory features of monotremes, or the presence of lumbar ribs in this newly discovered mammal and their absence in its close relatives might be due to evolutionary developmental homoplasy.”  The authors confessed some astonishment at their find: “this new mammal revealed some surprisingly convergent features to monotremes in the lumbar vertebrae, pelvis and hindlimb.” 
    A reading of the paper reveals that they had some confusion deciding where to place this mammal.  It seems to have a mosaic of features from distantly related groups.  Isn’t that what happened with Platypus itself?  When first discovered, some taxonomists were convinced this strange animal with a duck’s bill and webbed feet, a snake’s venom and a mammal’s hair was an Aussie hoax.  It wasn’t.
1Gang Li and Zhe-Xi Luo, “A Cretaceous symmetrodont therian with some monotreme-like postcranial features,” Nature 439, 195-200 (12 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04168.
Words like “homoplasy” and “convergent evolution” are surreptitious gimmicks evolutionists use to hide their naked assumptions.  When data are not cooperative, when fossils exhibit “surprisingly convergent features,” when evolutionary paleontologists don’t have the foggiest idea where to hang their ornaments on the tree, they use such hand-waving terms to pretend their speculations are scientifically based.  Here you see the “stretch and squish” theory of “evolutionary agility” (12/14/2004) in action, with working magicians manipulating words to keep Darwinism safe from the observations.  Don’t be fooled (see Smokescreens in the Baloney Detector).
Next headline on: FossilsEvolutionary Theory
Dust Bunny Lays Planet Eggs   01/17/2006    
Where do planets come from?  The Dust Bunny.  That’s a line coming from a press release from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.  They measured spectra of gas and dust at radio and infrared wavelengths around a sunlike star, and concluded the dust was collecting.  “This suggests that the dust particles are sticking together, much as dust bunnies form under a bed,” said Dr. Jonathan Williams.  “This is the first, albeit tiny, step toward forming new solar systems.”  They had better form fast, though, because time is short.  The release says, “They found that the disks rapidly disappear and concluded that stars have only a few million years to get started on making planets, a far shorter time than conventional theories require.”
Did they watch dust collecting?  No – it was an inference based purely on seeing longer wavelengths than expected from the disk region.  Did they watch for millions of years to see what would happen?  Obviously not.  Did they see planets forming?  No.  Did they demolish conventional theories of star formation?  Yes.  Did they tell a fairy tale?  You decide.
Next headline on: Stellar AstronomyDumb Ideas
ID Film Takes Hollywood   01/15/2006    
Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard is a top tourist attraction in Tinseltown.  It features dozens of handprints of famous movie and TV stars, from Lucille Ball and Bill Cosby to Mickey Mouse.  This venue of many a blockbuster and glitzy opening night seemed hardly a place for naturalistic cosmology to take a thrashing, but Saturday morning, The Privileged Planet made Hollywood history.  Shown as part of the American Renaissance Film Festival, an event dedicated to positive-values films, it was a smash.
    About 200 people – a good turnout for a rainy Saturday morning – attended the screening and gave it a hearty round of applause at the end.  One visitor was overheard during his long, loud clapping telling his neighbor, “That was good.”  An editor for a DVD Club who had flown in from Washington DC for the festival was heard to comment that this film was “one of the most powerful and important documentaries ever made.”  Feedback was outstanding, the producer said.
Now you can advertise this film as the one shown at the Smithsonian (06/09/2005) and on Hollywood Boulevard.  The Privileged Planet is a keeper.  The visuals, the original music by Mark Lewis, the narration by John Rhys Davies, and the content are all exceptional; it has “quality” stamped all over it, and the message is equal to the production excellence.  It covers a tremendous amount of interesting and important scientific, historical and philosophical material in just 60 minutes without feeling rushed or overly technical.  The speakers, mostly PhD scientists with strong credentials, including Paul Davies, Robert Jastrow and Donald Brownlee (principal scientist for the just-landed Stardust mission) are unimpeachable.  This film will make an impression – get it and pass it around.
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Why Your Brain Has Gray Matter, and Why You Should Use It   01/13/2006    
Vertebrate brains have an outer layer of “gray matter” over the inner “white matter.”  Why is this?  “By borrowing mathematical tools from theoretical physics,” a press release from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced, two researchers found out.
Based on no fewer than 62 mathematical equations and expressions, the theory provides a possible explanation for the structure of various regions including the cerebral cortex and spinal cord.  The theory is based on the idea that maximum brain function requires a high level of interconnectivity among brain neurons but a low level of delays in the time it takes for signals to move through the brain.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Their paper was published in PLoS Computational Biology.1  Despite the implicit deduction that the brain appears optimally designed, the authors looked to the random, unguided processes of evolution to explain how it got that way.  Notice the first word in this next sentence: “Assuming that evolution maximized brain functionality, what is the reason for such segregation?”  they asked.  Did the claim of evolution ever get past the assumption stage?
Gray matter contains neuron somata, synapses, and local wiring, such as dendrites and mostly nonmyelinated axons.  White matter contains global, and in large brains mostly myelinated, axons that implement global communication.  What is the evolutionary advantage of such segregation?  Networks with the same local and global connectivity could be wired so that global and local connections are finely intermixed.  Since such design is not observed, and invoking an evolutionary accident as an explanation has agnostic flavor, we searched for an explanation based on the optimization approach, which is rooted in the evolutionary theory.
Their use of the term agnostic is not what most people think (i.e., uncertainty about the existence of God), but a-gnostic, or “not knowing.”  They understood, in other words, that saying it was a lucky accident is a non-answer.  Rather, they assumed that evolutionary theory provides a pathway through the randomness toward optimization.  They stated again that this was their starting assumption:
We started with the assumption that evolution “tinkered” with brain design [sic] to maximize its functionality.  Brain functionality must benefit from higher synaptic connectivity, because synaptic connections are central for information processing as well as learning and memory, thought to manifest in synaptic modifications.  However, increasing connectivity requires adding wiring to the network, which comes at a cost.  The cost of wiring is due to metabolic energy required for maintenance and conduction, guidance mechanisms in development, conduction time delays and attenuation, and wiring volume.
Sounds like a lot of engineering talk.  The scientists assumed, but did not demonstrate in this paper,2 that natural selection was up to the task of yielding this optimized entity sometimes called the most complex assemblage of matter in the known universe.

1Quan Wen and Dmitri B. Chlovskii, “Segregation of the Brain into Gray and White Matter: A Design Minimizing Conduction Delays,” Public Library of Science Computational Biology, Volume 1 | Issue 7 | December 2005.
2Here are the only other mentions of evolution in this paper:
  • “Although wiring volume minimization is an important factor in the evolution of brain design, [earlier] results remain inconclusive...”
  • “Finally, it is likely that, in the course of evolution, minimization of conduction delay was accompanied by the increase in connectivity.”
  • “In a neurobiological context this means a combination of high computational power in local circuits with fast global communication.  Thus it is not surprising that evolution adopted this architecture when the size of the network made all-to-all connectivity impractical.”
  • “Although we do not know whether competing desiderata of short time delay and high interconnectivity were crucial factors driving evolution of vertebrate brains, our theory makes testable predictions.  Below, we compare these predictions with known anatomical facts.”  (These concerned measurements of cortical thickness and brain size among various vertebrates.)
  • “In general, the evolutionary cost is likely to include both the volume and the time delay.”
In none of these references to evolution were specific details provided about how the variations occurred, how they added up, and how they converged on a variety of vertebrate brains, each composed of billions of neurons that function together as an optimized unit.
Brains are mathematically perfect for achieving the sweet spot between maximized interconnectivity and minimized transmission delays.  The authors reminded us that a human brain contains about 10 billion neurons, and that each one can contain thousands of connections with other neurons.  The two-layer structure meets the competing requirements to a T.  That part is amazing.  Assuming that evolution did it earns this entry the Dumb award – really dumb.
    Here again we are told about another apparition of the goddess of the Darwin Party, Tinker Bell.  As the legend goes, she flitted aimlessly around the Cambrian swamps about 500 million years ago, zapping some emerging vertebrates with her mutation wand, killing countless myriads of them till one emerged lucky enough to have the beginnings of an optimized brain.  As animals evolved, this process was repeated myriads of times more over millions of years, producing larger and more complex brains.  Finally, at the end of the line, computational biologists emerged who could look back and analyze the whole process with abstract reasoning and mathematical equations, concluding that evolution had produced an optimized brain.  Let us ask these true believers a simple question.  If the brain evolved, how can you be sure of anything, including the proposition that the brain evolved?  (From experience, we know that posing this type of question to a Darwinist is like putting a moron in a round room and telling him there is a penny in the corner.)
    By assuming evolution at the outset, these computational evolutionists have provided as much insight into the origin of the brain as the vain mathematician did in the “assume we have a can opener” joke in the 12/17/2005 commentary.  Their logic is as follows: Assume evolution produces optimized structures.  An optimized brain would be structured so as to maximize interconnectivity and minimize delays.  The brains we observe accomplish this by segregating highly-connected neurons in a gray matter layer and long axons in a white matter layer, thus fulfilling both requirements in an exquisite product that is the most complex device in the universe, that took us 62 simultaneous equations to describe.  Isn’t evolution wonderful?
    Undoubtedly this paper will be dutifully added to the growing corpus of scripture that the Darwin Party can hold up at school board meetings to show that the peer-reviewed scientific journals are filled with evidence for evolution, and that nothing in biology would make sense without it.  Anyone raising his hand and saying, but to me, that looks like design would be quickly answered with, “Excuse me, we are talking about science here.  If you want to change the subject to religion, go to church.”
    Assumption is the mother of all myths.  Perhaps you have heard the etymology of the word ASSUME: making an ASS (donkey) out of U and ME.  Having gray matter is one thing.  Using it is another.
Next headline on: Human BodyDarwinismAmazing FactsDumb Ideas
Plants Contribute to Global Warming?   01/12/2006    
If anyone needs a reminder that scientists still have a lot to learn, consider this major discovery of something right under their noses that caught them completely off guard.  Up to a third of methane in the atmosphere comes from plants.  This is not only a baffling puzzle about how or why plants would create such a reducing molecule in an oxic environment, but the finding will have a major impact on how scientists calculate the greenhouse-gas budget – a data point that feeds right into political negotiations over what to do about global warming.  It will also ripple back through models of earth history and climate.  (After carbon dioxide, methane is the major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere; previously, scientists thought most of it was coming from microbial activity in wetlands or cow farts – in scientific terms, the “eructations of ruminant animals.”)
    The astonishment of two news reports in Nature was palpable.  Atmospheric expert David C. Lowe1 called this startling, because it is the first case of non-bacterial agents producing methane, and the amount is large: up to 30% of the annual total of methane entering earth’s atmosphere.  Methane has been a target for emission control under the Kyoto protocols, but is it possible that by planting forests in some wetland countries will make the problem worse?  They had recommended drier rice farming than flooding rice paddies with water.  Lowe asks, “could the rice plants themselves be as significant a source of methane as the flooded paddy fields?”
    Quirin Schiermeier in Munich was similarly stunned.2  This finding will send scientists and politicians back to the drawing board, he said: “The newly revealed methane emissions have taken plant physiologists by surprise, because far more energy is required to create methane than, say, carbon dioxide in an oxygenated environment.”  A sidebar asked, “How could we have missed this?” and has them “wondering what else might have been overlooked if it is true.”  It could be very important, and may not be the last surprise.  It does not change the fact that atmospheric methane has doubled over the past 200 years, and does not remove the need to understand the human impact on atmospheric change, but “It means we neglected a big driving force for the climate,” remarked Martin Heimann, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, who was most surprised by the large amount of methane detected.
    The discovery was made by Keppler et al. and announced in Nature.3  They said, “We suggest that this newly identified source may have important implications for the global methane budget and may call for a reconsideration of the role of natural methane sources in past climate change.”  See also the summary on EurekAlert.
Update 01/19/2006: The authors issued a clarification in a Max Planck Society press release that their findings were not intended to suggest that plants cause global warming, or that reforestation efforts would be harmful.  “Emissions from plants thus contribute to the natural greenhouse effect and not to the recent temperature increase known as ‘global warming,’ they said.  “Even if land use practices have altered plant methane emissions, which we did not demonstrate, this would also count as an anthropogenic source, and the plants themselves cannot be deemed responsible.”  The authors were apparently chagrined over widespread “misinterpretation” of their findings in the news media; “The blame is not with the plants,” the press release was titled.
Update: see 08/28/2006 headline.
1David C. Lowe, “Global change: A green source of surprise,” Nature 439, 148-149 (12 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439148a.
2Quirin Schiermeier, “Methane finding baffles scientists,” Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v439/n7073/full/439128a.html.
3Keppler et al., “Methane emissions from terrestrial plants under aerobic conditions,” Nature 439, 187-191 (12 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04420.
CEH does not generally take positions on political issues like global warming, but two lessons stand out from this surprising discovery:
(1) Plants must have some yet-to-be-discovered remarkable mechanism for producing an unlikely molecule in oxidizing conditions.  Here’s a chance for an ID-friendly researcher to find out how and why plants accomplish this feat.  Think of the possibilities for ID science: can plants teach us an efficient way to produce natural gas?  Could this bring our energy bills down?
(2) There may be a lot more going on in this old world than the experts, who influence the politicians, could ever realize.  When they speak glibly about what the climate was doing umpteen gazillion years ago, take note of this startling finding that was right under their noses, right here in the present.
Next headline on: PlantsPolitics and Ethics
Observing Animals for Fun and Profit   01/11/2006    
Whether scientists watch Animal Planet for inspiration or not, they often are fixated on the wonders in the animal kingdom and want to understand and imitate them.  Here are some recent examples:
  1. Waddle of the Penguins:  Max Kurz at U of Houston enjoys watching cuddly penguins like most of us, but wonders how they waddle without falling down.  If he can figure out how they keep their balance as they bob from side to side when walking, he thinks he may be able to help the elderly and disabled.
  2. Antlers in a Rut  How can male elk and other members of the deer family grow such huge bony structures every year?  Joanna Price of the Royal Veterinary College wants to know, reported BBC News.  The antlers apparently grow from stem cells.  If they can do it, maybe humans can learn the secret of regenerating body parts.
  3. Go to the Ant, Thou Student:  Well, what do you know: ants have teachers and students.  An article in UK News Telegraph summarized a paper in Nature1 by two biologists at University of Bristol who found that ants can do “tandem teaching” – that is, the teacher will stop until the student signals that he got the lesson.  This is better pedagogy than in the ape world, where the teaching is always one-way.
        The scientists were stunned at this “example of teaching.”  They wrote that, “to our knowledge,” this is “the first in a non-human animal, that involves bidirectional feedback between teacher and pupil.”  Reporter Roger Highfield threw in a rather quizzical line at this unevolutionary finding: “dullards and dunces will be encouraged by the discovery that it is the value of what is being taught and the teaching style, rather than brain size, that has most influenced the evolution of teaching2 (emphasis added).  Teacher, could you repeat that?

1Nigel Franks and Tom Richardson, “Teaching in tandem-running ants,” Nature 439, 153 (12 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439153a.
2Highfield took this from the authors’ introduction to their paper: “This behaviour indicates that it could be the value of information, rather than the constraint of brain size, that has influenced the evolution of teaching.”  This was the only mention of evolution in the paper.
We’re going to just keep racking up cases of wonders in the animal kingdom, and evolutionists’ utter cluelessness about explaining them, till students everywhere get the lesson.
Next headline on: BirdsMammalsTerrestrial ZoologyAmazing Stories
Step Aside, Creationists: Darwinists Figured Out How Bees Fly   01/10/2006    
With an air of triumph, LiveScience announced that Caltech scientists have won one against ID:
Proponents of intelligent design, which holds that a supreme being [sic] rather than evolution is responsible for life’s complexities, have long criticized science [sic] for not being able to explain some natural phenomena, such as how bees fly.
    Now scientists have put this perplexing mystery to rest.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Exactly who has said that bee flight is inexplicable to science was not named.  Reporter Sara Goudarzi spoke of bee flight mechanisms as “more exotic than thought,” and that they “work like racing cars” – even that engineers might learn how to design hovering aircraft by observing them.  So how does this relate to a putdown of intelligent design?
... They are also pleased that a simple thing like bee flight can no longer be used as an example of science failing to explain a common phenomenon.
    Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, have tried in recent years [sic] to promote the idea of a supreme being [sic] by discounting science [sic] because it can’t explain everything in nature.
    “People in the ID community
[who?] have said that we don’t even know how bees fly,” [Douglas] Altshuler [Caltech] said.  “We were finally able to put this one to rest.  We do have the tools to understand bee flight and we can use science to understand the world around us.”
This story was picked up verbatim by Fox News and MSNBC, complete with the pretty picture of a bee hovering at a flower.  The research revolved around fairly mundane lab work, observing bees with high-speed cameras and robotic sensors, in different concentrations of oxygen and with varying payloads to analyze their aerodynamic principles.  They mainly discovered that the insects use principles different than those of airplanes and helicopters.  There was no mention of how these flight mechanisms evolved.  It was even subtitled, “Robotic wings mimic insects’ rapid beat and could inspire new designs.”  Presumably this would involve the work of intelligent engineers.
Update 01/13/2006:  The author was contacted about this paper and a copy was received for review.  The paper said nothing about creationism or intelligent design.  Apparently he made some off-the-cuff remark at the end of the interview about ID proponents claiming science could not explain how bees fly, and the reporter made that the title and theme of her article.
This article is very perplexing.  Who were they talking about?  Steve Meyer, did you ever say that?  Paul Nelson?  William Dembski?  Did you ever define intelligent design that way, as an argument from ignorance?  Phillip Johnson?  Jonathan Wells?  Michael Behe?  President Bush?  Pope Benedict?  Any of you creationists ever say that science could never understand how bees fly?  Duane Gish?  Henry Morris?  Isaac Newton?
    We don’t get it.  We have no idea what these guys are talking about.  Everyone in the ID community we know respects and loves observational, testable, repeatable science.  No problem.  What we would really like to hear, dear LieScience reporter, is how these racing-car hovering flight mechanisms that are the envy of engineers originated.
    So here goes Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: “Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, have tried in recent years to promote the idea of a supreme being by discounting science because it can’t explain everything in nature.”  If LieScience doesn’t understand how they won this award, they need to study up on Straw Man in the Baloney Detector.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent DesignBiomimeticsTerrestrial ZoologyDumb Statements
Peer Review: Can You Trust a Scientific Journal Paper?   01/09/2006    
Science magazine has egg on its face – deviled, poached, and scrambled – everything but sunny side up.  Last May, it printed one of the biggest breakthrough stories of the year in stem cell research: Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang, a professor at the Seoul National University and President of the World Stem Cell Hub, a man called the “pride of Korea” and a “national treasure,” had cloned human stem cells (05/23/2005).  The story began to unravel when rumors of fraud emerged in December; last week, Science admitted the paper was hopelessly flawed, and it all came crashing down this week.  It’s all over the news now (see Fox News, News@Nature and, of course, Science): Hwang’s last hopeful claims about his human stem cell clones have been demolished – all of it was fakery, fraud and lies.  Hwang had already stepped down from both positions and has been forever disgraced.  Not only that; News@Nature called this a “huge setback for therapeutic cloning,” saying that “the field is now left with no evidence that it is possible in humans at all.”
    How could such a huge fraud make its way past the rigors of peer review into one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world?  The editors of Science sheepishly tried to answer that question last week as they officially retracted the paper.  While it is not uncommon for scientists to retract findings after further research, or to question the validity of others’ findings, there was a lot more than just ignorance or honest disputation in the Hwang case.  In the magazine’s News of the Week section, Chong and Normile wrote like investigative reporters on a spy case, “How Young Korean Researchers Helped Unearth a Scandal.”1  Jennifer Couzin followed up with chapter two, “... And How the Problems Eluded Peer Reviewers and Editors.”2  She quoted another journal editor who explained, “Peer review doesn’t necessarily say that a paper is right.  It says it’s worth publishing” (emphasis added in all quotes).  Yet shouldn’t a journal’s standards exceed those of the New York Times?  A big factor that seduced the reviewers was their eagerness to be first to publish a sensational, high-profile paper.  Yet isn’t a scientific journal supposed to have better practices than a tabloid?
    The buck stops at the top.  Science chief editor Donald Kennedy had to accept responsibility on behalf of the journal, and explain what went wrong.  In his “Editorial Expression of Concern,”3 Kennedy warned readers not to trust the Hwang results (this was before the full extent of the fraud had become known).  In Couzin’s article, he defended the policy of aggressively seeking out high-profile “firsts” to publish, but said that changes would be put in place to try to prevent future fiascos.  “Peer review cannot detect [fraud] if it is artfully done,” he cautioned, but the practice of requiring every author to describe their contribution to the paper, though “administratively complex,” might help, because “If the paper is wrong and has to be retracted, then everyone takes the fall.”  Presumably peer pressure would augment peer review.  He did not promise, however, that this new policy would be put into effect, and confessed it wouldn’t be foolproof anyway, because perpetrators could still be dishonest about their contributions.
    Several uncomfortable findings about peer review came out of the investigation.  All the peer reviewers gave enthusiastic reviews, even though a more careful eye should have seen that the only thing cloned were not stem cells, but faked photos, rotated and cropped to look real.  In the rush to get the paper out, Science also failed another scientific principle: waiting to see the results replicated elsewhere.  The images used by Hwang were never scrutinized carefully.  The journal rushed the submitted paper to its Board of Reviewing Editors (two people) and gave them only 48 hours to decide whether to send it out for review.  In addition, Couzin found out that these first reviewers don’t even look at the data: they are looking for “a mixture of novelty, originality and trendiness.”  Shouldn’t a scientific journal have better standards than Rolling Stone?  The actual reviewers (3) were given only a week, and admitted they weren’t all that careful.  “you look at the data and do not assume it’s fraud,” one said.
    Was this an isolated case, a rare slip-up in one journal?  Consider a test of the peer review process.  Couzin wrote,
Although the flaws in the Hwang paper were especially difficult for reviewers to catch, the peer-review system is far from foolproof, its supporters concede.  In 1997, editors at the British Medical Journal (BMJ) described a study in which they inserted eight errors into a short paper and asked researchers to identify the mistakes.  Of the 221 who responded, “the median number spotted was two,” says Richard Smith, who edited BMJ from 1991 until 2004.  “Nobody spotted more than five,” and 16% didn’t find any.
Science did not commit to requiring authors in the future to detail their individual contributions to a research paper (Nature doesn’t require this, either).  Nor were the editors specific about what they were going to do to clean house:
In the aftermath of the Hwang case, editors at Science will be having “a lot of conversations about how we can improve the evaluation of manuscripts,” says Kennedy.  One thing unlikely to change is the aim of high-profile journals to publish, and publicize, firsts.  “You want the exciting results, and sometimes the avant-garde exciting results don’t have the same amount of supporting data as something that’s been repeated over and over and over again,” says Katrina Kelner, Science’s deputy managing editor for life sciences.  In weighing whether to publish papers such as these, “it’s always a judgment call,” she says.
But maybe that’s the issue: whose judgment, and by what standards?  Couzin ended with a rejoinder that most scientists do not accept things as dogma until the results are replicated, despite the “hype” of exciting first pronouncements.  “A culture that wanted to see things reproduced before making a big deal out of them would probably be a healthier culture.”  From the tone of these articles, though, it doesn’t sound like reducing fat and doing more exercise are high on the New Year’s Resolution list.
1Sei Chong and Dennis Normile, “How Young Korean Researchers Helped Unearth a Scandal...”, Science, 6 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5757, pp. 22 - 25, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.22.
2Jennifer Couzin, “... And How the Problems Eluded Peer Reviewers and Editors,” Science, 6 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5757, pp. 23 - 24, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.23.
3Donald Kennedy, “Editorial Expression of Concern,” Science, 6 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5757, p. 36, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.36b.
We don’t wish to be overly critical of peer review nor draw exaggerated conclusions from this one case.  Peer reviewers, editors and scientists are all only human, and are like most of us: trying to work on many things simultaneously under time pressure, subject to mood swings and emotions, loathe to become bogged down in petty details, easily distracted, desirous of recognition and usually trusting of their peers.  In general, there is safety in numbers.  Independent eyes can catch errors in reasoning and constructively criticize unwarranted claims.  Supporters of the peer review status quo can also claim that this fraud was eventually uncovered.  See?  Science is a self-correcting process (echoes of positivism).  A few flaws get through, but at worst, peer review is like American government: awful, but better than any of the alternatives.
    OK, granted, but look how the Darwin defenders use peer review as a selling point.  For one thing, they trumpet all the thousands of papers on evolution, as if the more buckets of sand, the more solid the foundation.  For another, they chide supporters of intelligent design for their shortage of peer-reviewed publications.  Third, they rank the journals by prestige: Science and Nature win more points than the lower-profile journals (remember how Stephen Meyer’s peer-reviewed ID article was disparaged for being published in a “low-impact” journal? 09/08/2004).  Clearly, many evolutionists treat peer review like a gold standard of scientific validation, an imprimatur of officiality and a badge of membership into elite scientific circles.
    So now that we see how the sausage is made – the push to be first with sensational stories, the time deadlines, the lack of rigor, the assumptions about data being honest, and the ease with which mistakes get through – how much stress should be put on peer review?  Are the more prestigious journals better at it?  Is it the only standard?
    Peer review can be a safeguard, but is no guarantee.  In almost each interview in Current Biology, a working scientist is asked about peer review.  The answer usually expresses problems with it and with the whole way scientific information is validated.  They get angry that it can spill the beans of hard-bought original work to rivals.  They doubt that the best findings get the prominence they deserve, or that the papers that get published are really all that significant (remember the “publish or perish” syndrome?)  Authors squeeze in their names as contributors when maybe all they did was run the software application and record the numbers in a lab book.  Among all the verbiage and charts and references and impressive equations, how much is really significant?  Can really fundamental work never get noticed, because it never gets past the Board of Reviewers who are looking for “novelty, originality, and trendiness”?  How about truth?  A lot of Darwinian papers look novel and trendy, but like the tiresome papers on game theory or digital evolution, seem to have little or nothing to do with the real world.  They amount to little more than trendy, original, novel twists on the art of just-so storytelling.
    Recall also that peer review as a “touchstone of the modern scientific method” is a recent tradition (see Wikipedia).  Though its roots date from the Royal Society in the 1700s, its implementation only became routine after World War II.  Throughout history, even up to the present day, many of the most important discoveries have been announced in books with NO peer review.  Copernicus, Newton, Boyle, Maxwell, and many others proposed the most earth-shaking scientific theories in book form out of their own creative genius.  Darwin himself wrote The Origin of Species single-handed, with no PhD.  Peer review these days often shuts out alternative viewpoints, like intelligent design, at the front door (12/21/2001).  It is often rigged to perpetuate reigning paradigms and hinder original-thinking mavericks (02/06/2003).  One can still publish original work without asking some distant editors owing allegiance more to Darwin than to Diogenes to cast judgment on it.  What’s important in science is for an idea to be correct, not for it to pass the muster of a few other fallible humans, or to garner prized real estate in a prestigious rag.  ID proponents may not have many peer-reviewed papers in journals yet, but they have published a great deal of original, scholarly research in groundbreaking books, such as Dembski’s The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998).  Read good books and do more than just peer.  Review.
Next headline on: GeneticsPolitics and Ethics
PS:  This huge embarrassment to Science began just one week after they had announced “Evolution in Action” as “Breakthrough of the Year” (see 12/22/2005).  Trendy!  Novel!  Original?  (True?)
Darwin Hits Home: Adultery Rationalized   01/08/2006    
USA Today began an article with a steamy picture of a man and a woman embracing.  As could be expected, they are not married; reporter Sharon Jayson began, “Some men cheat on their partners.  So do some women.  Now researchers say it is more than a wandering eye that might cause a woman to stray.”  And what is that extra touch?  Why, it’s the selfish genes.
    The article reported, without question or controversy, on results by UCLA and UNM scientists who claim that women feel more lusty for non-husbands (excuse me, partners, that is) during ovulation, compared to how the guys feel about the chicks (i.e., ready for one and all, all the time, but jealous when their main partner’s eyes wander).  This conclusion was based on two studies of college men and women.  They were asked how they felt at different times of the month about sex objects outside of their steady relationships:
Something biologically wakes up around high fertility and says, ‘Is your romantic partner the best sexual partner for you, given that you’re likely to conceive?’” says Martie Haselton, assistant professor of communication and psychology at UCLA’s Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture.
    Along those evolutionary lines, men more than women desire a variety of sexual partners because genes carrying that trait were passed along in men, Haselton says.
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Jayson wrote that this does not necessarily mean women have to cheat in the middle of the month, but just that they experience changes that are biologically predictable.  And so far, this only relates to college students.  “Further study would be needed to say whether the findings apply to married couples or those in longer-term relationships,” she said.  Undoubtedly, this would also make biological sense to someone whose career is in a Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture.
Pastors, this one is for you.  Notice two things about this putrid article.  The obvious one is that this is another (06/07/2004, 08/20/2001) stupid, pseudoscientific rationalization for cheating (they call it that, too!) on one’s “partner” (whoever or whatever that is; we wouldn’t want to use the old words husband or wife for fear of offending someone with some other, more liberated relationship), based on flawed reasoning, shoddy technique, and baseless interpretations of weak data, leading to purely amoral ends, justifying immorality, all flowing straight out of Darwinian evolutionary dogmatism.  Nothing new, in other words.
    The second thing, even more alarming, is that you, as a pastor, have nothing to contribute to this discussion.  You see, our culture has decided that any stupid thing a “scientist” says about reality, even culture and the most intimate of human relationships, is sacrosanct and not open to question (except perhaps between competing Darwinian views).  Make any claim in the name of Darwin and “science” and you will have an eager lapdog reporter panting at your knees, waiting to retrieve your stick and run with it.  The evolutionary tale will be dutifully recorded in the growing materialistic scripture known as the scientific journal.  By contrast, when was the last time they came to your church and took notes from your sermon? (except, perhaps, with intent to file a lawsuit on the grounds of separation of church and reality.)
    Pastors have no voice in this culture.  In colonial days, pastors were esteemed as pillars of the community.  Pulpits stirred the heart and soul of the young republic, and government leaders looked to the men of God for inspiration and guidance.  Now, virtually no one in the media or elite institutions of power in this country takes a pastor’s view on marriage and adultery seriously, even if he is a scholar of the Bible, history, theology and philosophy with multiple degrees and fluent in Greek and Hebrew, because, you see, he represents “religion,” something for the weak and backward who don’t yet understand “science” (i.e., molecules to man evolution).
    If you think that’s disturbing, read Janet Folger’s wake-up article in the cover story of Whistleblower magazine (Dec. 2005).  It may not even be safe very long for you to say what you think about these matters from your own pulpit, to your own congregation, on your own property.  While the public schools do “reverse evangelism” on your young people with unopposed license (see Agape News), the powers of government influenced by special interest groups and activist judges may soon rule it intolerable for you and your church to engage in evangelistic activities (i.e., hate speech) in the community, and may make it illegal for you to spread your message outside the walls of your church building – or jail cell.  Now read Ezekiel 22.
Next headline on: DarwinismPolitics and EthicsDumb Ideas
Bet on the Winning Dodo: Darwinism or Intelligent Design   01/07/2006    
A new film about the creation-evolution controversy is coming out, titled Flock of Dodos.  Randy Olson, a marine biologist with a PhD in evolutionary ecology and another degree in filmmaking, decided to put this documentary together to help scientists realize that they are behind the curve on marketing their ideas.  According to the Kansas paper Lawrence Journal-World, Olson claims his purpose is not to take sides, but to highlight the importance of public relations.  The film is “slated for upcoming preview screenings at Harvard University and other prestigious venues.”
Flock of dodos.  Wonderful.  Such a scholarly, uplifting title.  With an evolutionary ecologist running the show, any doubt who will be labeled as the real dodos?  Do you think the word dodo will stand for “Darwin Only! Darwin Only” to an evolutionary ecologist who will be showing off his work at Harvard?
    There is a slight chance he will warn his fellow Darwinists they might go extinct without better marketing, but more likely, the blurb sets the odds: “Filmmaker and evolutionary ecologist Dr. Randy Olson tries to figure out who exactly is the flock of dodos.”  Compare this attitude with the respectful, evidence-focused comportment of films like Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet.  The Darwinist strategy is, when you can’t block, mock.
Next headline on: Darwinism and Evolutionary TheoryIntelligent DesignMedia
Darwin Wars Continue Unabated    01/06/2006  
The Dover decision did not end the fervent discussion about Darwinism and intelligent design.  There are too many articles to mention separately, so here is a sampler:
  • Dover Board Rescinds Policy:  As expected, the new Dover school board quickly put an end to the policy that required reading a statement that alternatives to evolutionary theory exist, including (but not limited to) intelligent design.  See: LiveScience and MSNBC News.
  • Jews News:  The Miami New Times reported about a lively debate before an audience of 300 Jewish scientists and intellectuals in Miami about how Jews should respond to the ID debate.  Opinions at the “Sixth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science” ranged everywhere from calling Darwinism irrational to saying embracing ID would be a disaster.
  • Great IDEA?:  Sarah Price Brown reported on BeliefNet about the rising interest in forming ID clubs on campuses, and how the IDEA Center is assisting.  There are about 30 IDEA clubs at last count, including ones at Cornell, UCSD and George Mason University.
  • Basking Sharks IIThe Wichita Eagle reported that the lawyers who defeated the ID initiative in Dover, Eric Rothschild and Stephen Harvey, are scheduled to speak at the University of Kansas later this month.  They want to leverage their experience for others involved in the debate.
        The losing side, though, is not going away any time soon – there is too much momentum across the country, said Richard Thompson, President of the Thomas More Law Center that defended the school board.  He criticized the Dover decision: “The judge specifically ordered the school board never to denigrate or disparage the theory of evolution,” he remarked, “which now makes that theory sacrosanct and violates one of the major principles of America -- that no official, high or petty, should establish dogma or orthodoxy in a method of thinking.”  Source: Agape Press.
  • Domino:  Both Nature and Science expressed triumph over the Dover decision, claiming it affirmed unequivocally that ID is not science, and that this decision is likely to affect other cases.
  • Just the Facts:  Robert Crowther on Evolution News criticized the habit of major media to editorialize.  Instead of reporting the facts, they are intent on telling us “what it means.”  Crowther says they go even further, trying to tell people how to think about what it means – and that, according to Crowther, in their usual biased and inaccurate manner.
  • Danger Signs:  R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, CrossWalk.com used the title of Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea to warn that there is “no middle ground” in this debate.
  • Science by Court Order:  Robert Robb in the Arizona Republic criticized the Dover decision by Judge Jones, saying it is not the provenance of the courts to determine what is science.
  • Is ID Testable?  Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt made the case on Evolution News that intelligent design is empirically testable and makes predictions.
  • Freedom!  D. Eric Schansberg argued for the Acton Institute that the solution to the ID-Darwin acrimony in schools is to give parents freedom of choice.  Lord John Acton (1834-1902) was the British historian famous for the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Schansberg tied this thought to the education monopoly.
  • Separation of Church and Science?  According to Agape Press, some professors at Samford University, a Southern Baptist school in Alabama, are protesting the appearance of an ID proponent with degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, Dr. John Lennox, who has 60 peer-reviewed publications to his name.  The grounds of the protest?  Go figure– “separation of church and state.”
  • Lawyer Pub:  Albert Alschuler continued his blog about the Dover decision on the University of Chicago Law School site, and got a variety of reactions.
  • Outdoor Evangelist:  Biblical creationist Peter DeRosa got good press in Florida’s Contra Costa Times.  The fossil hunter and his dinosaur-digging team reject the “lightweight Christianity” that remains nebulous about the designer.  They are not ashamed to declare the Bible as the true Word of God, and Jesus Christ the Lord as the Creator.  But DeRosa also holds his own answering tough questions about scientific evidence, and while polishing in his lab the allosaurus his team found (01/29/2003), explains why the evidence contradicts evolution and supports the Genesis creation account.
The controversy over intelligent design, creation, evolution and education extends from the grass roots of small town school boards and churches all the way up to international scientific institutions and governments.
With so many opinions flying left and right, it is more important than ever to keep informed, know how to use your baloney detector, and understand the key issues.  Here, you get the sources where the proponents can explain their views in their own words.  Don’t expect the major media to get it right, especially when discussing ID.  Go to the Discovery Institute and Access Research Network and get the story straight from the sources rather than letting reporters “explain what it means” for you.
    Pay particular attention to which side wants open debate and which wants to shut it down.  Notice who wants the scientific evidence to speak for itself, and who threatens lawsuits or relies on judges to issue orders from the bench.  Notice which side speaks with reason and scholarly logic, and which resorts to mockery.  Such observations contain an important message, sometimes more important than the actual arguments used.
Next headline on:  EducationIntelligent DesignDarwinism and Evolutionary Theory
These Feet Were Made for Walking (and Running)   01/05/2006    
We usually walk or run.  When walking, we roll from heel to arch to toe and rock our arms back and forth.  When running, we bounce up and down slightly while pumping our arms.  Did you know that many other gaits are possible?  Why do we use only two?  A team of specialists in bio-robotics at Cornell decided to apply a mathematical model to human foot travel.  Like true scientists, they asked questions about the obvious:
Why do people not walk or even run with a smooth level gait, like a waiter holding two cups brim-full of boiling coffee?  Why do people select walking and running from the other possibilities?  We address such questions by modelling a person as a machine describable with the equations of newtonian mechanics.  The basic approximations are: first, that humans have compact bodies and light legs; second, that gait choice is based on energy optimization; and third, that energy cost is proportional to muscle work.  We use a simplification of previous models, perhaps the simplest mechanical model that is capable of exhibiting a broad range of gaits that includes walking and running.  Although the model is a mechanical abstraction that is not physically realizable, it is subject to the laws of physics.  Because of its simplicity, the model is amenable to interpretation.  It can also be studied with exhaustive and accurate simulation experiments, far beyond what is possible with human subjects.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
So, putting the model in the computer and cranking out the equations, they discovered that these two gaits are the most energy efficient for beings our size and shape.  Their only mention of evolution referred to the fact that, in their model, running did not require elastic spring energy: “human ancestors could have started to run before the modern human long Achilles tendon was fully evolved.”  Their derivations were published in Nature.1
1Srinivasan and Ruina, “Computer optimization of a minimal biped model discovers walking and running,” Nature 439, 72-75 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04113.
That statement merely assumes evolution, again – the mortal sin of Darwinists.  “Before the Achilles tendon was fully evolved,” right.  Since evolution is already a fact to these dogmatists, it must make perfect sense.  After all, running in circles in a big enough squirrel cage provides the illusion of making progress down a straight track.
    Human bodies can be treated like physical objects and described according to physical laws.  Drop yours out a window and you will accelerate at thirty-two feet per second squared till reaching terminal velocity.  The crater you formed can be measured, and the force you generated on impact can be calculated.  The mechanics of running can be described, quantified, and modeled (see 11/18/2004).  This is all wonderful and useful, but says nothing about how humans, and these mechanical abilities, arose.  Nor does it say how we should use them.  Newton needed to look elsewhere for those laws: Walk circumspectly; do not run in vain.
Next headline on: Human BodyPhysicsAmazing Stories
Health Depends on Robust Cell Machinery    01/05/2006  
When we think of health, we typically visualize the big things: firm muscles, energy, lack of a protruding stomach and the like.  Cell biology, though, is showing us how our health depends on the proper functioning of countless myriads of molecular machines.  Here are some recent samples from the science journals:
  1. Heroic Underdogs in the Brain:  Neurons always got the glory in neurology studies, but now it appears that structural cells called astrocytes deserve more respect.  A summary of work at U. of Rochester posted on EurekAlert says that these “housekeeping” cells actually perform critical functions in regulating blood flow.  They “play a direct role in controlling blood flow in the brain, a crucial process that allows parts of the brain to burst into activity when needed.”  When they malfunction, they might contribute directly to degenerative maladies like Alzheimer’s disease.  See also LiveScience.
  2. The Vital Destroyer:  When cancer spreads, hope shrinks.  Friends and family of cancer victims know the agony of metastasis.  At least in some kinds of cancers, metastasis may be traced to failure of a protein named caspase-8 that acts like a curfew cop.  Normally, reported EurekAlert about work by St. Jude’s Research Hospital, caspase-8 patrols the surfaces of tissues looking for vagrant cells that have dislodged from their normal locations and are wandering into unsafe territory.  When it finds them, it turns on their built-in self-destruct program, called apoptosis.  When the cops are out sick, the vagrants get out and cause trouble.  The paper was published in Nature.1
  3. Your Third Eye:  A rare type of eye cell can see.  Rods and cones, we know, do most of the real-time visualization, but scientists at Brown University found “intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells,” or ipRGCs, that respond to light and are hardwired to the brain.  They are pretty sure these slower-acting light sensors are responsible for setting our biological clock and controlling the iris muscles, regulating how much light enters the eye.  “These cells operate like a light meter on a camera,” said researcher David Berson.  “They tell the brain to constrict the pupil based on the amount of light registered over time.”  There are about 2,000 of these cells in the eye, compared to millions of rods and cones.
  4. Don’t Bang the Eardrums:  Our ears can tolerate many orders of magnitude in volume, but there are limits.  Researchers at Ohio State found that “years of repeated exposure to loud noise increases the risk of developing a non-cancerous tumor that could cause hearing loss.”  Please pass this warning along to your local fitness center.
  5. Watergate Scandal:  Point mutations to our water gates, the water-regulating channels in cell membranes, can let the wrong substances in, reported Breitz et al. in PNAS.2  These elaborate channels made of protein, called aquaporins, depend on a precise amino-acid structure to authenticate water but keep other similar-size molecules out; they can even keep out tiny protons.  The team inserted mistakes here and there and found that contraband like urea or glycerol could sneak in.  One amazing factoid they mentioned is that a single red blood cell has as many as 200,000 aquaporins.  For more on membrane channels, see 05/29/2002 and 12/20/2001.  A reader found detailed powerpoint presentations and animations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign website, and more at the University of Maine.
  6. Gutfull Wonders  The stomach is a lively place.  Lots of organisms live there; hope you don’t mind.  A team from Stanford and NYU decided to start surveying these one-celled companions, because “The microbiota of the human stomach ... remain largely unknown.”  Their preliminary results, published in PNAS,3 began, “A diverse community of 128 phylotypes was identified, featuring diversity at this site greater than previously described.”  Ten percent of them were previously unknown, and they come from at least five separate phyla.  Surprisingly, the population in the stomach differs from that in the mouth and esophagus, and different people have different assortments.  There are some known bad bugs like Helicobacter pylori that form ulcers, but most of them must be OK or even helpful, since we usually feel good after a big meal: “The gastric microbiota may play important, as-yet-undiscovered roles in human health and disease,” they said.
  7. Clamp Champs:  You have sliding clamps in your cells.  Really.  Current Biology4 talked about these wonderful machines that twist DNA during the copy process:
    DNA sliding clamps were first characterized as DNA polymerase processivity factors: without their presence, cell division would be inconceivably slow; replication of long stretches of DNA would be hopelessly inefficient because DNA polymerases tend to fall off the DNA after elongating a strand by just a handful of bases.  By tethering the polymerase to the DNA, such processivity factors enable the polymerase to add thousands of bases in a few seconds without detaching from the DNA.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
    They work kind of like magic Chinese linking rings.  Somehow they melt around the DNA strand without harming it.  This allows all the other machinery to get a grip during that heavy-duty copying cycle.  Good thing we don’t have to wait so long for the copy operation or we might never grow up.
  8. DNA Gyrations During PackagingNature printed articles on two other DNA motors that deserve special notice: one is an acrobatic “gyrase” that generates negative supercoils in DNA (that’s important for packing and safety during cell division).5  In their words, “Negative DNA supercoiling is essential in vivo to compact the genome, to relieve torsional strain during replication, and to promote local melting for vital processes such as transcript initiation by RNA polymerase.” The little motor runs on the cell’s special fuel pellets, ATP.  The scientists put beads on it and watched it spin around.  They found it was quite sensitive to tension.
  9. More DNA Acrobatics:  Another team publishing in Nature6 studied motors called DNA helicases, which are “involved in nearly all aspects of DNA and RNA metabolism.”  Utilizing special techniques, they watched this incredibly tiny molecular motor and discovered that it “might move like an inchworm” (that’s scientific lingo).  It also runs on ATP in a precise range of stresses.  Without the helicase machinery, DNA unfolding would be very, very slow.  This particular helicase, named NS3, is just one of many “helicases involved in many essential cellular functions.”

1Stupack et al., “Potentiation of neuroblastoma metastasis by loss of caspase-8,” Nature 439, 95-99 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04323.
2Breitz et al., “Point mutations in the aromatic/arginine region in aquaporin 1 allow passage of urea, glycerol, ammonia, and protons,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print January 3, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0507225103.
3Bik et al., “Molecular analysis of the bacterial microbiota in the human stomach,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print January 4, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0506655103.
4Barsky and Venclovas, “DNA Sliding Clamps: Just the Right Twist to Load onto DNA,” Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 24, 24 December 2005, pages R989-R992.
5Gore et al., “Mechanochemical analysis of DNA gyrase using rotor bead tracking,” Nature 439, 100-104 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04319.
6Dumont et al., “RNA translocation and unwinding mechanism of HCV NS3 helicase and its coordination by ATP,” Nature 439, 105-108 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04331.
Most of these articles mentioned little or nothing about evolution.  Here is legitimate science in action: seeking understanding, observing phenomena in real time, learning things so as to benefit human health.  Was Darwinism valuable in the slightest?  These articles are mere glimpses into the new world of molecular machines for which evolutionary theory was completely unprepared.  Most of these machines are parts of complexes with other machines, and they all must meet precise specs or they won’t work – and not working often means serious impairment or death.  How could such elaborate factories emerge by mindless, undirected processes of evolution?
    Darwinists are either scrambling to patch up their theory with new just-so stories, or else going schizophrenic by not even attempting to explain these machines on one side of their head while stating “evolution is a fact, like gravity” on the other.  Any thinking person examining evidence like this will quickly tire of the “maybe this, maybe that” habit of the Darwin Party: “perhaps in some warm little pond, the first life needed a way to pack DNA, so it invented gyrase.”  Yeah, right.  Preach it, brother.
    Charlie was plagued by stomach aches most of his life.  Had he knowledge of such small wonders, his groans might have been heard round the world.  Those not infected with Gastroenteritis darwini can avoid infection by clicking back through five years of Chain Links on Cell Biology and Amazing Stories.  Doing so has the added benefit of inducing a state of euphoria, also known as intelligent worship.
Next headline on:  HealthCell BiologyAmazing Facts
Cosmologists Can’t Escape Conclusion of Design   01/04/2006    
Geoff Brumfiel of Nature1 decided to investigate the growing fracas over the anthropic principle (see 12/18/2005 entry); i.e., that our universe appears to be more than a coincidence.  In a piece called “Our universe: Outrageous fortune,” he looked at the views of Leonard Susskind and his few critics.
For two decades now, theorists in the think-big field of cosmology have been stymied by a mathematical quirk in their equations.  If the number controlling the growth of the Universe since the Big Bang is just slightly too high, the Universe expands so rapidly that protons and neutrons never come close enough to bond into atoms.  If it is just ever-so-slightly too small, it never expands enough, and everything remains too hot for even a single nucleus to form.  Similar problems afflict the observed masses of elementary particles and the strengths of fundamental forces.
    In other words, if you believe the equations of the world’s leading cosmologists, the probability that the Universe would turn out this way by chance are infinitesimal – one in a very large number.  “It’s like you’re throwing darts, and the bullseye is just one part in 10120 of the dart board,” says Leonard Susskind, a string theorist based at Stanford University in California.  “It’s just stupid.”
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Brumfiel found that a majority of cosmologists have come around to this view kicking and screaming.  Before, most were “violently opposed” to the anthropic principle, but their inability to explain the fine-tuned values of physics has led them, like Susskind, to imagine a large number of universes, perhaps 10500, in which all the constants are random.  We just happen to live in the lucky one that permits atoms, stars, and life.  Stephen Weinberg admitted to being a “reluctant convert” to the idea.  Another part of their reluctance has stemmed from the Intelligent Design movement:
Because other universes would be causally separated from our own, it seems impossible to tell whether our cosmos is the only one, or one of many.  Most scientists find this disturbing.  Talk of a Universe fine-tuned for life has already attracted supporters of intelligent design, who claim that an intelligent force shaped evolution [sic].  If there’s no way to tell whether the values of scientific constants are a coincidence, the movement’s followers argue, then why not also consider them evidence of God’s handiwork?
Why not, indeed?  Brumfiel’s subtitles include the phrases One in a zillion, Strings attached, and Ignorance is bliss.
    One critic of taking the multiverse way out is David Gross, a Nobel-prize winning theorist.  He has a problem with Susskind’s landscape of universes being impossible to disprove.  He also finds the idea disturbing on another level: its dependence on random chance.  That eliminates any hope for a model or pattern on which a scientific principle could be built.  “The power of the [anthropic] principle is strongest where you have ignorance,” he quipped.  Like Gross, Lisa Randall of Harvard feels more work needs to be done before taking such “radical leaps of faith.”  Gross added, “People in string theory are very frustrated, as am I, by our inability to be more predictive after all these years,” he said, but that’s no excuse for using such “bizarre science”, he cautioned.  “It is a dangerous business.”
    Brumfiel ended with that, but not with any solution on the horizon.  Earlier in the article he had put a callout quote from Susskind: “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science.”  That sounds strikingly similar to what proponents of Intelligent Design have been saying for years. 
1Geoff Brumfiel, “Our Universe: Outrageous fortune,” Nature 439, 10-12 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439010a.
In the popular ID film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, Dr. Paul A. Nelson pointed to the arbitrariness of rules that say one cannot use intelligent causes in science.  “Science should be a search for truth about the world,” he said.  We shouldn’t throw out a kind of cause in advance by saying I don’t like that idea, but instead, should bring to bear all the causes that could explain a phenomenon.  If the evidence is shouting design, then why not investigate intelligent causes?  Yes, it would be very foolish to throw away the right answer when that’s where the evidence leads.
Next headline on: CosmologyIntelligent Design
Minimal Cell More Complex Than Expected   01/03/2006    
Craig Venter’s lab has been working on an interesting project in theoretical biology: what is the minimum set of genes needed for life?  They have taken one of the simplest organisms, Mycoplasma genitalium, and knocked out genes to see which ones are essential and which are nonessential for viability.  (This is part of the “top down” approach to understanding the origin of life; the “bottom up” approach, by contrast, tries to build life from scratch).  Their latest results, published in PNAS,1 showed a larger number of essential genes – 347 – than their earlier prediction in 1999.  That’s 79% of the organism’s inventory. 
This is a significantly greater number of essential genes than the 265-350 predicted in our previous study of M. genitalium, or in the gene knockoutdisruption study that identified 279 essential genes in Bacillus subtilis, which is a more conventional bacterium from the same Firmicutes taxon as M. genitalium.  Similarly, our finding of 387 essential protein-coding genes greatly exceeds theoretical projections of how many genes comprise a minimal genome such as Mushegian and Koonin’s 256 genes shared by both H. influenzae and M. genitalium, and the 206-gene core of a minimal bacterial gene set proposed by Gil et al.  One of the surprises about the essential gene set is its inclusion of 110 hypothetical proteins and proteins of unknown function.  Some of these genes likely encode enzymes with activities reported in M. genitalium, such as transaldolase, but for which no gene has yet been annotated.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Since this organism, an obligate human parasite, is apparently stripped down to bare essentials, “it is likely that all its 482 protein-coding genes are in some way necessary for effective growth,” they said.  The team hopes this information will lead to building synthetic free-living cells.
1Glass, Venter et al., “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Published online before print January 3, 2006, 10.1073/pnas.0510013103.
Wow – that’s a lot of genes, for a lot of proteins and cellular functions.  The authors’ charts of gene networks look like complex flowcharts designed by an engineer.  Since getting one protein by chance is so improbable it would never happen in countless universes (see online book), expecting to get 387 is overkill on evolutionary theories, kind of like H-bombing a city a googolplex number of times.  After awhile, it becomes ridiculous to expect to find any survivors.
    What’s also interesting are the 100 or so nonessential genes.  How could these evolve?  If they do not have survival value, why would nature select them?  Darwinism’s criterion of survival value appears to be too reductionist to explain many aspects of life that, while not essential, add some seasoning to life.
Next headline on: Cell BiologyGeneticsOrigin of Life


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Note: Please supply your name and location when writing in.  Anonymous attacks only make one look foolish and cowardly, and will not normally be printed.  This one was shown to display a bad example.

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Featured Creation Scientist for January

John Herschel
1792 - 1871

William Herschel married at age 50 and had one son.  John Frederick William Herschel in many respects surpassed his father.  Though he did not make as many fundamental discoveries, he extended his famous father’s astronomical work enormously, and achieved excellence in other fields as well.  Also, his Christian faith appeared to be deeper and more sincere.  John Herschel became the most eminent scientist in Britain during the first half of the 19th century, and a highly respected philosopher of science.  In his senior years, he witnessed the rise of Darwinism.  Though he opposed evolutionary theory, some of his scientific philosophy may have lent unwitting support to it, as we shall see.

It was a hard act to follow, growing up at Observatory House in the shadow of his father William.  An only child with few playmates, John found himself more often in the company of his father’s scientific friends.  Aunt Caroline loved him and provided a balance to the boy’s intellectual upbringing; the two remained close into her old age.  It is a credit to his father that he was able to inspire his son to continue the work rather than rebel against it.  This apparently was never forced upon him; William desired his son to enter a ministry in the Anglican Church, and John felt the freedom to consider law and other career paths.  Nevertheless, growing up around telescopes, young John learned early how to grind and polish mirrors, and to observe like a good scientist.  The lure of the stars gained a response; John also was destined to spend a good part of his life peering through the eyepiece of homemade telescopes, trying to understand the workings of the cosmos.  (Romantic as this sounds, it is hard work.  At age 30, he spoke of the sacrifice in time, health and strength involved, including “difficulties such as at one period had almost compelled me to abandon it in despair.”)

John’s genius showed up early; at Cambridge, he was “Senior Wrangler” (top of the class) in the math exams, the most rigorous in the world.  Soon after, at age 21, he was elected member of the Royal Society, the youngest to date to achieve that honor.  With the resulting association with the most eminent scientists of the day, John Herschel formed close friendships with many of them, including Charles Babbage, who became a lifelong friend.  The two founded the Analytical Society of London and toured Europe together, where John met many more leading scientists.  He could have taken a government salary, but decided to extend the cataloguing of of astronomical objects begun by his father.  This would require a vantage point from the southern skies.  In 1834, with his wife Margaret Stewart, he sailed to Cape Town, South Africa

For five years, John Herschel scanned the southern skies, cataloguing 1200 double stars, and observing nebulae, the Magellanic Clouds (sister galaxies of the Milky Way, visible only from the southern hemisphere), Halley’s Comet during its 1837 apparition, star clusters, moons of Saturn, sunspots and much more.  In all, his lifetime observations yielded an astonishing catalogue of 70,000 celestial objects, all presented neatly to the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.  A personal friend, N.S. Dodge, in an 1871 eulogy, stated that “His motives for his long expatriation had not been money, nor pleasure, nor health, nor fame, but increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

John was a good theorist of astronomy as well as observer.  Important principles came out of these observations.  He debunked a popular response to Olber’s Paradox (the question of why the night sky is mostly dark, if space is infinitely filled with stars).  Some had suggested that the background starlight was simply being absorbed by dust or gas; Herschel correctly noted that the dust would heat up and re-radiate the light, maintaining the paradox.  (A more lasting answer had to wait till the 20th century, when relativity and the expansion of the universe led astronomers to acknowledge that the universe is not infinitely old.)  In addition, Herschel noted that most nebulae were composed of faint stars.

He wrote of the physical insignificance of man, inhabiting a tiny dot of a planet among an innumerable host of stars.  He said that “we have here attained a point in science where the human intellect is compelled to acknowledge its weakness, and to feel that no conception the wildest imagination can form will bear the least comparison with the intrinsic greatness of the subject.”  The Copernican Principle was well along by Herschel’s time.

Perhaps his most far-reaching conclusion from his observations was the universality of physical laws.  From studying the orbits of binary stars, he deduced that the laws of physics operated the same throughout the universe as they did for our own solar system.  This “memorable conclusion,” the Duke of Sussex wrote, was “justly entitled, by the generality of its character, to be considered as forming an epoch in the history of astronomy, and presenting one of the most magnificent examples of the simplicity and universality of those fundamental laws of nature by which their great Author has shown that he is the same today and forever, here and everywhere.”

John’s diary of the South Africa years reveals that he and his wife attended church services regularly.  One entry, however, seems to indicate he disdained scientists who tried to build their scientific understanding from the pages of Scripture.  John Herschel believed that the Baconian ideal demanded a purely inductive science from observation and experience, regardless of his religious feelings.  Notwithstanding, his Christian commitment was strong.  As with most believers, there was a process of spiritual growth, particularly due to the example of his wife.  Dan Graves writes,

Like his father before him, John Herschel had been a nominal Christian at best.  But following his marriage, he underwent a genuine conversion experience.  Margaret was the daughter of a Scottish Presbyterian.  Her piety and quiet life elevated John from a Christianity verging on pantheistic-deism to a total and clear acknowledgement of Christ as Lord and Savior.
(Scientists of Faith, p. 115.)

Graves says that his conversion fired him with a deeper moral sensitivity to his fellow man; he worked for educational reform in South Africa, stating his belief that schools should “fit them for a higher state of existence, by teaching them those which connect them with their Maker and Redeemer.”  This reveals that Herschel believed in Christ as Savior, and accepted the doctrine of Divine creation.  In a memoir of a visit with the Herschels in 1857, Maria Mitchell described them as representatives of three generations of “sound Protestants, in days when and in places where Protestantism was a reproach.”  She took note of their faithful attendance at a simple church.

John published at least ninety papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, many of them of great significance.  In addition, he was president of the Royal Astronomical Society for six years, and presided over the British Association.  Herschel had many other interests besides astronomy, including chemistry, geology, philosophy, poetry and mathematics, any of which could have gained him fame had he been the type to seek it.  His knowledge of chemistry was so advanced, for instance, that he duplicated Daguerre’s discovery in photography one week after hearing about it, with only the “scantiest details of Daguerre’s process” (Graves, p. 115).  He even improved on it, finding additional chemical agents, such that “his photographs are among the earliest we possess” (Ibid.), and was the first to try applying it to astronomy, thus beginning a timeline on a fruitful field that led eventually to Hubble’s photograph plates and, in our day, to the Hubble Space Telescope and digital imaging.  One could only imagine William and John Herschel’s astonishment at today’s images of objects that, to them, were faint points of light that required the utmost in patience and concentration to discern.  To see the surface of Saturn’s moons from a spaceship, or to resolve stars in the faintest nebulae, must have been unimaginable, to say nothing of detecting bizarre objects like quasars, black holes, gravitational lenses, radio galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, pulsars, and so much more that is commonplace today.

John Herschel was a humble, truth-loving man of integrity.  N. S. Dodge’s lengthy eulogy of Sir John William Herschel is almost embarrassingly gushy in its praise of Herschel, not only for his achievements, but for his personal character.  He waxes eloquent about John’s unselfishness and dignity, his willingness to alter any cherished belief if required by the evidence, his moral sensibility, his thoroughness, his “conscientious dealing, with indefatigable industry that characterized his life.”  He calls him “the Homer of science because he was its highest poet.”  Of Herschel’s integrity, Dodge writes:

He was in the utmost degree a well-bred man, not from gentle birth and careful training, not from scholarly pursuits and polite society, not from association with persons of rank and intimacy with men of taste and thought, not even from his loving nature and noble aspirations—not from all these together, so much as from the lofty ideal he cherished from boyhood to old age of perfect manhood. ... the air and manner, and bearing of well-bred man never left him.  He received criticisms upon his own speculations with the same equanimity that he pointed out the errors of his opponents.  His action in discussion was never violent, nor his voice loud.  He readily acknowledged a fault, and still more readily apologized for a wrong. ...

Sir John Herschel’s life-long contemplation of the infinite in number and magnitude, exalting and hallowing his mind, was exhibited in its effects upon his character.  The truths he had learned from the stars were converted into principles of action.  Lofty thoughts promoted noble deeds.  “Surely,” he himself had said ... “if the worst of men were transported to Paradise for only half an hour amongst the company of the great and good, he would come back converted.”

Charles Darwin was strongly attracted to John Herschel’s philosophy of science.  Herschel had written an influential book, A Preliminary Discourse On the Study of Natural Philosophy, in which he advocated an inductive, religiously-neutral, bias-free Baconian ideal type of scientific investigation.  He taught that one should attempt to rid his mind of all presuppositions, and follow the evidence wherever it led.  So Darwin was quite mortified when the eminent scientist he so respected reacted negatively to his book, On the Origin of Species, calling Darwin’s idea of natural selection “The law of higgledy-piggledy.”

Yet Darwin’s so called “law” triumphed.  It could be argued that John Herschel had handed his enemies the rope to hang his Christian faith, because he, like Bacon, had assumed the unbiblical postulate of Thomas Aquinas, that only the spirit of man was fallen, not the intellect.  Accordingly, Aquinas thought that natural revelation could be a means to finding God (or ultimate truth), apart from Scripture and the convicting and converting work of the Holy Spirit.  This incomplete view of the Fall gave secularists a free reign to discover their own truth apart from divine revelation – not only reproducible facts about the operation of nature, but its origin and destiny.

Baconian science slowly evolved into scientism, logical positivism, and naturalism.  Secularists extrapolated methodological naturalism, in which the scientist attempts to discover laws through experiment, into a full-fledged philosophical naturalism, in which God had no place in nature.  The two naturalisms became indistinguishable.  God, spirit, faith and purpose were relegated to inner experience, until they became purely mystical and personal, unverifiable by history or science or logic or any objective means.  Secularists took great glee in capturing the flag of “science” and taking religious belief hostage, relegating any appeal to faith or divine revelation to the wastebasket of superstition and fantasy.

This, of course, is a wholly unwarranted position, and an extrapolation far beyond what both Bacon and Herschel believed.  Both sincerely believed in God as the Creator, and Jesus Christ as His incarnate, resurrected Son.  Their reaction to the authority of Aristotle or any other teacher should not have been used as a rationalization for rejecting the authority of God and His Word.  Not every field of knowledge is open to the scientific method: history, for instance, and the arts.  Yet secularists arrogated to themselves a presumed unbiased inquiry into all fields of knowledge, till it became a substitute religion, unaware that their own position was as metaphysical as any faith.

Though there are signs of change, we are still living today with the legacy of that unwarranted extrapolation of Herschel’s principles.  Phillip Johnson has characterized our secular society as having its own creation myth, and like any creation myth, it has a priesthood – the secular scientific establishment – that has sole custody of that myth.  Evolutionary theory today goes far beyond anything that can be observed or tested.  Cornelius Hunter describes the situation today: “Evolution is now found to be capable of creating just about anything.  We might say that evolution is a closed metaphysical system.  It not only supplies its own creation story but also supplies its own source of morality. ... Furthermore, having rejected divine creation and its Creator, evolution even becomes its own authority.  This story is true for those who believe it, but it cannot be demonstrated by strictly scientific argument, for it requires metaphysical premises” (Darwin’s God, p. 155.

Methodological naturalism is reasonable to a point, as a tentative or default position when examining observable, repeatable phenomena subject to testing.  It is like William Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, in which the flowchart first attempts to rule out natural law and chance as causes before inferring design.  But methodological naturalism today has become an iron-clad rule that eliminates design from the field of causes at the outset.  It is an arbitrary rule that can prevent a scientist from ever discovering the truth, when in fact design was the cause.  It has led to a modern science that is stuck with hand-waving and just-so stories to explain the origin of the universe, planets, life, and eternal destiny – phenomena that are not testable nor repeatable.  Having ruled out the validity of revelation or purpose, evolutionists are hostage to a closed metaphysical system that excludes intelligent design by fiat, not by reason, logic, or evidence.  The hypocrisy of this position is revealed by the fact that scientists routinely invoke intelligent causes in certain fields, such as forensic science, archaeology, and SETI; yet when design is clearly apparent in natural phenomena, the rules of naturalism prevent a design inference.

How would John Herschel have reacted to today’s reign of naturalism?  He probably would be appalled.  He never saw his scientific work as justifying atheism.  On the contrary, he wrote, with years of experience as one of the most eminent practitioners of the scientific method, “All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths come from on high and contained in the sacred writings.”

N. S. Dodge concluded his 16-page eulogy of Sir John:

Herschel’s whole life, like the lives of Newton and Faraday, confutes the assertion, and ought to remove the suspicion, that a profound study of nature is unfavorable to a sincere acceptance of the Christian faith.  Surrounded by an affectionate family, of which he was long spared to be the pride, the guide, and the life, John Herschel died, as he had lived, in the unostentatious exercise of a devout, yet simple, faith.

Herschel was buried in Westminster Abbey not far from Sir Isaac Newton.  In an ironic twist of fate, he was soon to have a strange bedfellow: interred next to him a few years later was an admirer who used some of his philosophical ideas against Christianity: Charles Darwin.


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

A Concise Guide
to Understanding
Evolutionary Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Souder’s Law
Repetition does not establish validity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from Paul

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

I Timothy 6:20-21

Song of the True Scientist

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

from Psalm 104

Maxwell’s Motivation

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

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

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

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