The... very goodness of God should convince all people to believe and trust their Creator. Although they know that sin has separated them from God and that death is the result of sin, they also know that he has not abandoned them.... Men and women should always have known that there is a God of Creation and that he is also a God of holiness who must punish sin. But they should also have realized that he is a loving God who will somehow provide salvation. The God of Creation must also be the God of Redemption.
Several articles this month showed further evidence for a growing realization in astronomy: stars and galaxies were already mature at the beginning of the universe (see, for instance, 09/21/2005 entry). Some recent examples:
A second area in astrophysics that can be construed as a cloud on the horizon is that recent observations in the years 2002-2003 suggest that not just suggest, recent observations tell astronomers that when the universe was less than 3 billion years old, there were already galactic clusters [03/12/2003]. Not only were there galaxies... but here we have, astronomers have discovered, a modest galactic cluster (I believe that it has something like 30 some-odd galaxies in it) that goes back to less than 3 billion years after the big bang. Thats much too much structure to have after only two and a half or 2.7 billion years of expansion. So that is another problem that astrophysics needs to come to grips with.Goldman compared these challenges to a couple of mysteries at the beginning of the 20th century that Lord Kelvin described as small clouds on the horizon (1) the inability to explain the blackbody radiation spectrum and (2) the lack of deviations of the speed of light through the ether as found by the Michelson-Morley experiment. These two small clouds became cloudbursts a few years later when they led directly to quantum theory and relativity theories that dramatically overhauled our conceptions of space, time and the universe.
1Cusumano et al., Gamma-ray bursts: Huge explosion in the early Universe, Nature 440, 164 (9 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/440164a.
2Steven L. Goldman, Lecture 36, Looking Around and Looking Ahead, Science in the 20th Century: A Social-Intellectual Survey, The Teaching Company, 2004.
Goldman suggested later in the lecture one possible new conception of the universe that might emerge in the years ahead: that the universe might be viewed as some kind of information structure. Sound like intelligent design? Sound like instant creation? He asked, and how will we understand that philosophically and physically? Easy: in the beginning was the Word. Consider creation: an idea ahead of its time.Sacrificial Love Evolved from Colored Beards 03/31/2006
Scientific jargon is like a foreign language to most lay people, but anyone stumbling across a paper on altruism through beard chromodynamics in Nature1 this week must surely wonder what on earth Vincent Jansen and Minus van Baalen were talking about. Lets see if their introduction can explain, or if Nature has printed a grown-up version of Dr. Seuss:
The evolution of altruism, a behaviour that benefits others at ones own fitness expense, poses a darwinian paradox. The paradox is resolved if many interactions are with related individuals so that the benefits of altruism are reaped by copies of the altruistic gene in other individuals, a mechanism called kin selection. However, recognition of altruists could provide an alternative route towards the evolution of altruism. Arguably the simplest recognition system is a conspicuous, heritable tag, such as a green beard. Despite the fact that such genes have been reported, the green beard effect has often been dismissed because it is unlikely that a single gene can code for altruism and a recognizable tag. Here we model the green beard effect and find that if recognition and altruism are always inherited together, the dynamics are highly unstable, leading to the loss of altruism. In contrast, if the effect is caused by loosely coupled separate genes, altruism is facilitated through beard chromodynamics in which many beard colours co-occur. This allows altruism to persist even in weakly structured populations and implies that the green beard effect, in the form of a fluid association of altruistic traits with a recognition tag, can be much more prevalent than hitherto assumed. (Emphasis added.)Evolutionists sometimes employ fairy-tale metaphors for effect, such as the red queen hypothesis to explain the origin of sex, prisoners dilemma to explain group dynamics, and the tinkerer who cobbles together whatever parts are around to describe evolutionary innovation. (Perhaps astronomers contribute to the fun with their talk of red giants and white dwarfs.)
Ladies might contribute to the scientific research of this particular hypothesis and decide which beard colors belong to the most unselfish men. The guys could further test the idea by going to the paint store and experimenting with beard chromodynamics (samples).
1Jansen and van Baalen, Altruism through beard chromodynamics, Nature Nature 440, 663-666 (30 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04387.
Need we say anything more? Do you get the picture that evolutionary theorists have gone totally wacko? Thanks, Jansen and van Baalen; keep up the good work. Anti-evolutionists appreciate the free ammunition.Reviewer Stunned by Authors Handwaving 03/31/2006
David Nicholls appears to have suffered whiplash from a line in a book he was reviewing in Science,1 Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane (Oxford, 2006). Though he liked the book in general, he said this about Lanes explanation for how the first cell got its power generator:
The author is less convincing when he turns to the origin of life (at least he is not afraid to deal with big topics). Citing the work of Mike Russell2 and Alan Hall, Lane states that in order to generate a primitive cell from an iron sulphide vesicle all that the cells need to do to generate ATP is to plug an [proton translocating] ATPase through the membrane. Any bioenergeticist who has followed the elucidation of the extraordinary structure and mechanism of the mitochondrial ATP synthase over the past decade will pause at the word all, because the ATP synthasewith its spinning rotor massaging the surrounding subunits to generate ATPis without doubt the most amazingly complex molecular structure in the cell.3 (Emphasis and footnotes added.)After that, Nicholls had mostly praise for the rest of the book.
1David G. Nicholls, Cell Biology: Energizing Eukaryotes, Science, 31 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5769, p. 1869, DOI: 10.1126/science.1126251.
2See 12/03/2004 on theories by Michael Russell.
3The amazing structure and function of the universal ATP synthase motor has been discussed many times in these pages. See, for instance, 01/30/2005 and 12/22/2003, and animation mentioned on April 2002 page.
If a pro-Darwinist convinced evolutionist is this surprised that a colleague would treat the most amazingly complex molecular structure in the cell so dismissively, what are the rest of us supposed to think? This is the perpetual bad habit of evolutionists. It will prove their downfall. As the gap between lifes complexity and evolutions explanations continues to grow, Charlie is going to look more and more like Wiley E. Coyote clinging by fingernails and toenails to both sides of a rapidly-widening canyon.Minimum Genome Doubles 03/31/2006
How many genes does a bacterium need to live? Evolutionists interested in the origin of life have been trying to determine the minimal genome for life. Those estimates may have been way too low, say researchers from the University of Bath. Though they did not supply a number, they estimate the required number of genes should be twice as high as earlier estimates. Their conclusions were published in Nature this week.1
1Hurst et al., Chance and necessity in the evolution of minimal metabolic networks, Nature 440, 667-670 (30 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04568.
This means Mt. Improbable just got higher, and the evolutionists cannot use their Natural Selection ice axes to climb. All they have is bare feet to go straight up on ice, now twice as high, with avalanches every few minutes.Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: Evolution of ABC 03/30/2006
Four Caltech scientists have tried to explain the shapes of alphabet letters in evolutionary terms, reported EurekAlert:
In a new study forthcoming in the May 2006 issue of The American Naturalist, Mark A. Changizi and his coauthors, Qiang Zhang, Hao Ye, and Shinsuke Shimojo, from the California Institute of Technology explore the hypothesis that human visual signs have been cross-culturally selected to reflect common contours in natural scenes that humans have evolved to be good at seeing. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)They believe that the contours of letters tend to correlate with contours in nature. Theres more. The researchers also examined motor and visual skills and the shapes that are easiest to see and form, the article continues. They make a strong case [sic] that the shape signature for human visual signs is primarily selected for reading, at the expense of writing.
No hint, now, that these skills might have been designed that way? As usual, evolution is both the premise and the conclusion. It is the question and the answer, the approach and the justification, the jot and the tittle, the alpha and omega.Spiders Rappel Without Getting Dizzy 03/29/2006
How can spiders drop straight down their dragline silk without going into dizzying spins on the way down? Its because spider silk has shape memory and a resistance to twisting, due to its unique molecular structure. Scientists tested three strong threads for shape memory: Kevlar thread, copper thread, and spider silk. The winner was spider silk; it also retained its flexibility after multiple twists. The report in Nature1 was summarized by Bjorn Carey on LiveScience.
1Emile et al., Biopolymers: Shape memory in spider draglines, Nature 440, 621 (30 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/440621a.
Too bad the Darwinists are in power; they bring science to a halt claiming, evolution did it. (This is called the Darwin-of-the-gaps fallacy.) Think of how rock climbers and rescue workers could benefit from studying the lowly spider from a design perspective. If we could just learn a little intelligent design from these lowly organisms, we would advance civilization and bring biology out of the Darkwin Ages.Chicxulub Impact Not a Global Catastrophe 03/29/2006
In a surprising reversal of stories told for decades, it appears the dinosaurs did not die from the impact of a large meteor near the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. According to a press release from the Geological Society of America, the Chicxulub Impact occurred too early 300,000 years too early to have killed the dinosaurs and many other species. Researchers found that spherules in the layers estimated to be from the impact do not line up with the iridium layer that marks the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary. Apparently, no nuclear winter occurred, because many sun-loving species like crocodiles and turtles survived just fine. Even giant impacts arent necessarily global catastrophes, admitted the press release. This means the leading contender for the Cretaceous extinction is going extinct itself.
It was such a fun story while it lasted. It really made for dramatic pseudoscience documentaries on the Discovery Channel and provided animators with a usable motif. Now, back to the drawing board or how about this time, as Henry Morris advised, back to Genesis.How Dry I.D. 03/27/2006
Greg Schirf of Wasatch Brewery is riding the wave of publicity over the intelligent design controversy in Utah. He came out with a new intelligently designed beer: Evolution Amber Ale. The press release expresses his alarm over the alleged erosion of separation of church and state, but how serious (or sober) he was may be a matter of dispute:
To critics who accuse him of just being up to the same old publicity stunts, the often times contentious brewmeister responds, Perhaps, but we are really trying to live up to our mission statement, Craft the finest ales and lagers possible. Achieve a commercial profitability while maintaining the highest level of social responsibility. And have as much fun as we can legally get away with.Previous stunts included marketing a beer as the Gold Medal winning unofficial Amber Ale of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
If this were intelligently designed product, why didnt they show the fully-evolved primate with a beer belly? This guy clearly didnt get his physique drinking Evolution Amber Ale, and if he were fully evolved, he would be sitting in the pose of Rodins Thinker, not pumping glass.Human Missing Link Skull Found in Ethiopia 03/26/2006
Reuters reported that a skull intermediate between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens has been found in Ethiopia (see MSNBC News): Ethiopian find could fill gap in human origins, reads the title. Skull seen as intermediate between modern humans and older ancestors. Associated Press (see Fox News) says this fossil is 250,000 to 500,000 years old, but another AP story on Fox News claims there is new evidence from stone tools that humans were in England 700,000 years ago. The discovery that early humans could have existed this far north this long ago was startling, said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.
Creationists believe Homo erectus were true humans, so this is no issue about evolution, really. Weve seen these kinds of claims so many times before. Now that it has made its splash in the media, a rival will soon be along to discredit the classification, or the date, or the significance of the find. If their dates are not all mixed up beyond comprehension, there is no way the Ethiopian find could be a missing link if humans were already in Camelot.Plant Species Divisions Are As Distinct As Those of Animals 03/25/2006
Plants were thought to speciate differently than animals. Evolutionary taxonomists presumed that their species barriers were more fuzzy, with hybridization, polyploidy and other mechanisms blurring the lines between species. Not so, claim three scientists from Indiana University writing in Nature.1 These perceptions may just be artifacts of the plants selected for study:
Many botanists doubt the existence of plant species, viewing them as arbitrary constructs of the human mind, as opposed to discrete, objective entities that represent reproductively independent lineages or units of evolution However, the discreteness of plant species and their correspondence with reproductive communities have not been tested quantitatively, allowing zoologists to argue that botanists have been overly influenced by a few botanical horror stories, such as dandelions, blackberries and oaks. Here we analyse phenetic and/or crossing relationships in over 400 genera of plants and animals. We show that although discrete phenotypic clusters exist in most genera (> 80%), the correspondence of taxonomic species to these clusters is poor (< 60%) and no different between plants and animals.... Contrary to conventional wisdom, plant species are more likely than animal species to represent reproductively independent lineages. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The authors ended with an interesting statement: Botanists have been accused of poisoning Darwins mind about the nature of species and our results at least partly validate this accusation. They refer to Ernst Mayrs 1982 book The Growth of Biological Thought; Mayr, a devotee of the biological species concept (i.e., a species is a reproductively isolated population), decried the botanists who presented plant species as a mess with no clear dividing lines. These authors reiterate their finding in their conclusion: In the majority of sexual plant taxa, discrete entities that correspond to reproductively independent lineages do exist at the species level and a useful classification would reflect this.
Science News (Week of March 25, 2006; Vol. 169, No. 12, p. 180) reported on this story, calling it Reality Botany.
1Rieseberg, Wood and Baack, The nature of plant species, Nature 440, 524-527 (23 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04402.
How much of what scientists think they know about nature might be subjective judgments based on sampling bias? How much more fallible might be theories based on these judgments?Non-Coding DNA: Whatcha Calling Junk? 03/24/2006
The focus on genes continues to blur, as more geneticists look outside the box. Some 98% of DNA in the nucleus of human cells does not code for genes. Long dismissed as genetic junk, much of it may turn out to be the hands on the controls.
A press release from Johns Hopkins Medicine reports Junk DNA May Not Be So Junky After All. It may contain vital control regions that switch the genes on and off. Researchers found that control regions dont have to look the same between different species. They found a case where a control region for a human gene looked very different from one in a zebrafish, but both performed the same function. This hints that the non-coding regions are filled with enhancers and suppressors that we are only beginning to understand.
Evolutionists baffled, not a simple story of descent, natural phenomena more complex than realized, design scientists vindicated; watch this space.New Book: Traipsing Into Evolution 03/23/2006
The Discovery Institute has published a new book, Traipsing Into Evolution, analyzing the Dover decision. (Traipsing is defined as walking or traveling about without apparent plan but with or without a purpose.) An article on Evolution News introduces the contents, and describes the authors: The book was written by David K. DeWolf, professor of law at Gonzaga University, Dr. John G. West associate professor and chair of the political science department at Seattle Pacific University, Casey Luskin, attorney and program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute, and Dr. Jonathan Witt a senior fellow and writer in residence at Discovery Institute. A lengthy response by Michael Behe, lead expert witness for the Dover school board, is also included.
They felt the book is necessary because news media, scientists and some school boards are assuming that the Dover decision settled the matter. For instance, in Current Biology this week,1 Paul Katz claimed, as was recently pointed out by a Federal Judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, the supposed alternatives are based on religious beliefs, not science, and so may not be taught in public school science classes. The book argues against that claim, but acknowledges the repercussions of the Dover decision. Theres already been a negative chilling effect on open inquiry in places such as Ohio and South Carolina, Casey Luskin said. Judge Jones message is clear: give Darwin only praise, or else face the wrath of the judiciary. Professor of Law Steven D. Smith (UC San Diego) does not consider Judge Jones the last word. The mainstream science establishment and the courts tell us, in censorious tones that sometimes sound a bit desperate, that intelligent design is just a lot of fundamentalist cant. Its not, he said. Weve heard the Darwinist story, and we owe it to ourselves to hear the other side. Traipsing Into Evolution is that other side. See also our 03/10/2006 entry. The book is available on Amazon.com.
1Paul Katz, Q&A, Current Biology, Volume 16, Issue 6, 21 March 2006, Pages R190-R191, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.02.033.
Quotable quote from the blurb: Despite Joness protestations to the contrary, his attempts to use the federal bench to declare evolution a sacred cowunquestionable in schools and fundamentally compatible with all true religionare exposed by these critical authors as a textbook case of good-old-American judicial activism. Jones was only one district judge, and his opinion has no bearing outside that district. But his lengthy diatribe deserves debate and battle. Judges do not decide what is science and what is not. How strange that scientists like Paul Katz are leaning on decisions of lawyers and judges. Science needs to be judged on the evidence.Dry-Marsers Score Points 03/23/2006
Those looking for water on Mars in hopes that life would grow in it had some setbacks this week. National Geographic and Mars Daily reported on work by Gwendolyn Bart (U of Arizona) who found gullies on the moon similar to those on Mars thought to be formed by water. Since the moon never had liquid water, this puts some doubt on the Mars-water claims and hints that other processes could have formed the gullies.
Also, MSNBC reported that Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution is claiming a non-biological origin for the carbonates in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 (see Carnegie Institution press release). Both these negative claims have their critics, however, as shown in the stories on Mars Daily and page two of the National Geographic articles.
As the hunt for water and life continues, bystanders might instead opt for a thrill ride through the Martian Grand Canyon Valles Marineris posted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Take the thrill ride, and while enjoying the scenery, notice the utter lack of flowing water, trees, deer, mountain lions, wildflowers and sentient beings taking digital photos from the rim. No Martian national park can compare with our Grand Canyon. Percival Lowell would have been so disappointed.Stromatolites Can Form By Non-Biological Processes 03/22/2006
Exclusive Stromatolites have been Exhibit A for stories of the rise of life on the early earth. These column-shaped rocks found in Precambrian strata are usually assumed to be evidence of microbial mats that grew upward as sediment slowly accumulated on top of them. Scene 1 is usually Sharks Bay in Australia, where stromatolites form in shallow coastal lagoons. Scene 2 might be a place like Transvaal Supergroup in South Africa, where fossil stromatolites are assumed to preserve a record of the earliest life on earth.
Scientists at Caltech decided to investigate the origin of stromatolites. Dr. John Grotzinger1 gave a presentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on March 21 in which he shared some surprising findings. When the Opportunity rover on Mars found a structure resembling a stromatolite, he was not ready to jump to the conclusion it was evidence for life. He and his colleagues decided to take a neutral stance on whether they are biogenic, and find mechanisms that might produce these structures under inorganic conditions. (A number of Mars rover scientists were present in the audience.)
The problem with the biogenic theory, he said, is that there is no way to demonstrate it. Plus, in the classic field cases that compare Sharks Bay with Transvaal, the cross-sections of these structures are completely different. Grotzinger and his team used both theory and experiment to show how stromatolites can arise by chemical and geological processes alone. Crystals growing upward from regularly-spaced starting points, for instance, will eventually interfere and form convex tops. As sediments become entrained between the fronds of the crystal, new lenses of crystal and sediment will continue to grow upward, resulting in side-by-side columns. Occasionally, higher fluxes of sediment will flatten the upper surface, and the process can begin again. This is apparently what happened at the Transvaal site.
Employing an original mathematical model, Grotzinger showed how stromatolites can originate on a flat surface. If crystals begin growing upward, any points slightly higher will attract more sediment, while the sides will interfere with nearby crystals. The growing points will amplify the column height. There are probably many circumstances where this can happen life or no life. In his opinion, the type sections for stromatolites are not microbial mats, but travertine springs or playa lakes.
By contrast, he showed areas where current microbial mats possessing what would seem ideal conditions for stromatolite growth are not producing stromatolites. He said a researcher is in a fools paradise to just observe the morphology of these structures to understand them. Dont start with biology, he said; start with the rock. Understand its diagenetic history, then reconstruct the primary texture, then evaluate the sediment accretion process, and consider the biological contribution last.
In the rock record, therefore, do radical changes in morphology of the rock necessarily indicate radical changes in biology? No; he preferred to call these unusual structures environmental dipsticks rather than evolutionary mileposts.
1See an earlier publication of this work at:
Grotzinger, J.P., and Knoll, A.H., 1999, Stromatolites in Precambrian carbonates: Evolutionary mileposts or environmental dipsticks?: Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Science, v. 27, p. 313-358.
One of the lessons from this talk was how assumptions can subtly influence the scientists approach. Dr. Grotzinger showed conflicting definitions of stromatolites, one that began, organogenic structures.... in other words, there was a biological bias built into the very definition of the word. Interestingly, the NASA Astrobiology Student Focus website says that stromatolites were formerly defined as laminated organo-sedimentary structures formed by the trapping and binding, and/or precipitation of minerals by microorganisms, but then does not provide a more neutral definition, and goes on to portray stromatolites as evidences for life. Biased definitions like these could send a graduate student off in a prejudiced direction to assume they were made biologically, and just as easily influence a TV producer working on a script about the early earth.Planet-Making a Lost Art 03/21/2006
Exclusive Solar system theorists are trying to reverse engineer the planets without the recipe. Planets exist, but they cant get from a rotating disk of dust and gas to a solar system from their models. They are at a loss to explain Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and a host of Jupiter-class planets around other stars.
A press release from Astronomy & Astrophysics explains some of the problems. Two British astronomers found a show-stopper in their models: any hopeful clumps tend to march in lockstep to their deaths in the center, like lumps of oatmeal washing down the drain before they can solidify. This is called Type I migration the viscosity of the stellar disk carries material inward like a spiral conveyor belt. The migration is so rapid (a few thousand years), there is simply not time for a gas giant to form by core accretion. (If the planet is able to open a gap in the disk, a more benign Type II migration still keeps it moving inward, but more slowly.)
Dr. Alan Boss (Carnegie Institute of Washington) shared some of his heretical views at a presentation March 21 to scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He listed many cons outweighing the pros of the core accretion theory. Core accretion was the leading model dating back to Laplaces original Nebular Hypothesis, until in the 1990s the problem of migration came to light. The problem was exacerbated by the discovery of hot Jupiters around other stars gas giants closer to their parent stars than Mercury is to the sun. Earlier theory prohibited gas giants from forming so close. Also, many red dwarf stars have been found to have Jupiter-size planets, contrary to predictions. Gas giants seem to form regardless of the metallicity of the star (i.e., the proportion of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium). Furthermore, our Saturn appears to have a much larger core than Jupiter, when the reverse should be true.
While core accretion is a bottom-up hypothesis, there is an alternative: a top-down approach. Dr. Boss presented his newer disk instability model (the heretical one), not so much to pit it against core accretion (the conventional one), but to pit both models against the observations. Both leave many problems unsolved. For instance, while disk instability overcomes some of core accretions defects, it adds new problems. In the model, eddies in the rotating stellar disk collapse quickly into clumps. It is not clear, however, that a clump will survive and continue to shrink into a planet. Also, the gas giants need to form closer in than expected, then get kicked outward, to account for Jupiter and Saturns radial distances. This means larger clumps must form to take the low road into the star while ejecting the others to the high road. This process, however, would spell death for any incipient rocky planets like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
Disk instability was invented primarily to try to save the timescale, he said. No one realized how quickly migration would carry a planet in: an upper limit is 10,000 years, when core accretion is assumed to require millions of years. Modeling planet formation under these constraints is tricky. Models vary in one parameter by five orders of magnitude. Boss cited a model that simply ignored Type I migration, and another that artificially set the viscosity very high. That one got a Jupiter, but no Saturn. Also, most modelers ignore the situation in most gas nebulas like Orion and Eta Carina, where photoevaporation from high-mass stars blows away the gas in stellar disks quickly. Bosss model gets a Jupiter in about 245 years, but thats only in the computer. Eventually the models need to account for the highly diverse and anomalous extrasolar planets currently 150 and counting being found around other stars, to say nothing of those in our own solar neighborhood. Eventually, observers will tell us what the answer is, he ended.
Footnote: Dr. Boss mentioned several times that core accretion is only a problem with gas giants; he claimed it worked well with rocky terrestrial planets like Earth. In the Q&A session, however, he did admit that there is a gap in our understanding of how the initial particles begin to accrete. Bodies need to reach at least 10 meters before gravitation can pull in more material. He referred to studies performed in space demonstrate that dust grains moving with slow relative velocities in a vacuum will clump into filaments and irregular clumps he called dust bunnies, but after they get to a certain size, they begin to impact one another too fast for further accretion to occur. At that stage, more material is lost than accreted. So he confessed there is a question mark between the dust-bunny stage and the 10-meter stage. Also, he said there are problems in the outer disk. While accounting for Kuiper Belt objects was theoretically not too difficult, he asked, Can you really explain the Oort Cloud?
Alan Boss was fairly frank about the problems and difficulties, but his thinking is enslaved to a larger molecules-to-man world view that assumes everything from the big bang to man can be explained with references to natural causes alone. The possibility that planets were designed and created is utterly alien to their thinking. The film and book The Privileged Planet should challenge these modelers with stringent reality checks on the ability of natural processes alone to account for Earth, for the solar system that protects life on our planet, and for the galactic and cosmic systems of which our planet is a part. Creationists, on the other hand, need to do serious thinking also in the light of the discoveries of extrasolar planets. Are all planets equally designed, even for stellar systems devoid of life? If not, did natural processes form them? If so, how does one differentiate the need for design in our solar system? Intelligent design theorists argue that it is not necessary to claim everything is designed to make the case against materialism. To show that some things cannot be explained with reference to natural causes, and that it is possible to discriminate design from chance and natural law, is sufficient to establish ID. Such questions may forever remain outside the purview of scientific investigation and remain debate topics for philosophers and theologians. As shown by todays story, with more anomalies than successes, materialists are in no position to claim the upper hand. In the meantime, all players can benefit from more observations.Inflation: Cosmic, Comic, or Cosmetic? 03/20/2006
The science media seem beside themselves with enthusiasm over some dots and lines. When scientists analyzing data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) told reporters they determined the polarization of certain points in the cosmic microwave background, one could almost hear the yawns. But when they suggested that this tells us something about what might have happened in the first trillion-trillionth of a second of the birth of the universe, one could hear the laptop keys chattering like old-fashioned ticker tape. Proof of Big Bang Seen by Space Probe, reported National Geographic. New Satellite Data on Universes First Trillionth Second, trumpeted a Johns Hopkins press release. NASA helped translate the data bits into interpretation with a glitzy diagram and title, Ringside Seat to the Universes First Split Second. And Science Now explained, Big Bang Afterglow Points to Inflation.
Whats the ruckus about? Some of the WMAP astronomers believe that the polarization data is consistent with a controversial model of the Big Bang proposed by Alan Guth in 1981. He claimed that the universe doubled in size a hundred times times in a trillionth of a second, going from the size of a marble to outta sight in less than the blink of an eye. Inflation Theory, despite numerous criticisms, overhauls, deaths and resurrections since it was proposed, has become somewhat mainstream in the last decade. Science Now explains that the WMAP polarization data merely falsify certain models of inflation, assuming inflation happened. Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist from Columbia University, said, This is a powerful step toward winnowing the field of contenders of how inflation took place.
Is that all? They woke us up for that? Good grief. The only inflation here is exaggeration in the media, taking a data point and making a worldview out of it (cartoon). Theoretical astrophysics is nearly incomprehensible (cartoon), certainly not enough to produce confident pronouncements (cartoon) that violate all common sense (cartoon). Whatever happened to scientific objectivity and caution? Not a word said about all the problems with inflation theory (11/02/2002). In these days of molecules-to-man hype, hubris is the highest virtue. Are all science reporters from Texas? (cartoon).Can Scientific Journals Perpetuate False Ideas? 03/17/2006
An unusual paper appeared in PNAS this week.1 Four social scientists from Columbia and Yale argued that scientific papers can actually perpetuate false ideas rather than correct them. The abstract says that an influential paper can generate momentum that becomes merely cited as fact by subsequent authors:
We analyzed a very large set of molecular interactions that had been derived automatically from biological texts. We found that published statements, regardless of their verity, tend to interfere with interpretation of the subsequent experiments and, therefore, can act as scientific microparadigms, similar to dominant scientific theories [Kuhn, T. S. (1996) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago)]. Using statistical tools, we measured the strength of the influence of a single published statement on subsequent interpretations. We call these measured values the momentums of the published statements and treat separately the majority and minority of conflicting statements about the same molecular event. Our results indicate that, when building biological models based on published experimental data, we may have to treat the data as highly dependent-ordered sequences of statements (i.e., chains of collective reasoning) rather than unordered and independent experimental observations. Furthermore, our computations indicate that our data set can be interpreted in two very different ways (two alternative universes): one is an optimists universe with a very low incidence of false results (<5%), and another is a pessimists universe with an extraordinarily high rate of false results (>90%). Our computations deem highly unlikely any milder intermediate explanation between these two extremes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)In other words, scientists tend to follow bandwagons, and one can either be an optimist that they will get it right most of the time, or a pessimist that they get it wrong most of the time. Either way, the problem arises partly because scientists do not have the resources to study or replicate every experiment, so they tend to trust what is published as authoritative. The volume of published material is daunting: More than 5 million biomedical research and review articles have been published in the last 10 years, they said. Automated analysis and synthesis of the knowledge locked in this literature has emerged as a major challenge in computational biology. Although new tools for sifting and collecting this information have been designed, what comes out may not always accelerate knowledge toward the truth, but rather maintain inertia against change.
The authors examined millions of statements from scientific texts, then formed a mathematical model to study the large-scale properties of the scientific knowledge-production process
We explicitly modeled both the generation of experimental results and the experimenters interpretation of their results and found that previously published statements, regardless of whether they are subsequently shown to be true or false, can have a profound effect on interpretations of further experiments and the probability that a scientific community would converge to a correct conclusion.They discovered chains of reasoning that relied on previously-published interpretations. This counters the commonly-held belief that scientific findings act like independent data points that accumulate toward a more accurate picture. Scientists, like other people, can follow the lemmings over a cliff:
There is a well established term in economics, information cascade, which represents a special form of a collective reasoning chain that degenerates into repetition of the same statement. Here we suggest a model that can generate a rich spectrum of patterns of published statements, including information cascades. We then explore patterns that occur in real scientific publications and compare them to this model.Sure enough, scientists fell into this trap. They tended to gather around accepted interpretations, though tending to believe their own interpretations most of all: scientists are often strongly affected by prior publications in interpreting their own experimental data, they said, while weighting their own private results... at least 10-fold as high as a single result published by somebody else.
The researchers applied probability theory to study how likely a chain of reasoning would lead to a correct result:
An evaluation of the optimum parameters under our model (see Model Box) indicated that the momentums of published statements estimated from real data are too high to maximize the probability of reaching the correct result at the end of a chain. This finding suggests that the scientific process may not maximize the overall probability that the result published at the end of a chain of reasoning will be correct.As they noted, the model is more significant than just for teasing academic curiosity: If the problem of convergence to a false accepted scientific result is indeed frequent, it might be important to focus on alleviating it through restructuring the publication process or introducing a means of independent benchmarking of published results.
1Rzhetsky, Iossifov, Loh and White, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published online before print March 16, 2006, doi 10.1073/pnas.0600591103.
Imagine that: the very methodology invented to uncover truth could suppress it. This could explain the near uniform acceptance of Darwinism and condemnation of intelligent design (and other maverick ideas) in Big Science. Could it be that publication sets off a chain reaction that gains momentum and leads to erroneous interpretations? Could scientists sometimes be just as prone to crowd psychology as the rest of us? And you thought that the scientific method, peer review and publishing were safeguards against collective error. The Hwang scandal should have provided a sharp wake-up slap (see 01/09/2006).Go to the Ant Farm, Thou Darwinist 03/16/2006
Its the 50th anniversary of the Ant Farm, and inventor Milton Levine is still tickled about the impact his toy has had on millions of kids, reported AP on MSNBC. The charm of Uncle Miltons Ant Farm was in creating a whole world that you can see, a world of creative and industrious ants. Moms didnt mind too much as long as the ants stayed confined.
Serendipitously or not, Philip Ward (UC Davis) published a primer on ants in Current Biology.1 Ants are one of evolutions great success stories, he began, but while his article had a lot to say about ant evolution, the actual evidence he presented seemed equivocal or imaginary. Some excerpts:
In addition to his evolutionary speculations, Ward provided some gee-whiz facts about ants sure to fascinate ant farmers. There are about 20,000 species inhabiting a range of habitats from deserts to tropical rain forests:
They impose a strong ecological footprint in many communities in their varied roles as scavengers, predators, granivores, and herbivores. In some tropical forests the biomass of ants exceeds that of terrestrial vertebrates by a factor of four, and their soil-turning activities dwarf those of earthworms. There is a word for ant in most languages, reflecting their ubiquity and distinctiveness to humans. The ecological dominance and conspicuous social behavior of ants have long engaged the attention of natural historians. In terms of their species diversity, relative abundance, ecological impact and social habits, ants emerge as one of the most prominent groups of arthropods.Perhaps they also join spiders as arthropodal challenges to evolutionary theory (see 10/21/2005, 05/25/2005, 09/13/2001). Ants have complex sticky feet 09/27/2001, 06/05/2001) and navigate with intricate software (09/12/2001). We learned last year that ants are also adept hang gliders (02/09/2005), and just two months ago that they are better teachers than chimpanzees (01/11/2006). They also teach us humans the value of industry. An early natural philosopher, Solomon, advised, Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise, which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8). See also Aesop.
1Philip S. Ward, Primer: Ants, Current Biology, Vol 16, R152-R155, 07 March 2006.
2Grimaldi and Agosti, A formicine in New Jersey Cretaceous amber (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and early evolution of the ants, PNAS, published online before print November 14, 2000, 10.1073/pnas.240452097. See also our 11/14/2000 entry.
3Engel and Grimaldi, Primitive New Ants in Cretaceous Amber from Myanmar, New Jersey, and Canada (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), BioOne, doi: 10.1206/0003-0082(2005)485[0001:PNAICA]2.0.CO;2, American Museum Novitates: No. 3485, pp. 1–23. See also a similar find in Geologica Acta, about the oldest known ant: Although its characters are those of modern ants, it does not fit in any recent ant subfamilies.
If anyone can find any value whatsoever in Wards evolutionary speculations, please write in and explain. If you subtract the assumption that evolution is a fact, and remove the fictional diagram of millions of years, and erase the supposition that everything evolved from something else by common ancestry, the actual empirical facts speak loud and clear: ants are complex and amazing animals that appeared suddenly on earth and fulfill a variety of important roles in the ecology. Why does anyone need to be told that they evolved from stinging wasps, evolved their distinctive features several times (05/28/2003), and figured out their complex foraging and navigating skills (the envy of robotics experts) on their own? How is this speculation helping science? It serves nothing but to prop up the dead corpse of Charlie at the head of a traditional evolutionary parade. Worse, it distracts attention from the wonders of nature that should inspire us to observe, study, and think. Send your local Darwinist a gift and support an industrious entrepreneur: send Uncle Miltons Ant Farm with a sticky-note saying, Prov. 6:6-8.This Is a Problem: Dino-Feather Story Gets Scaly 03/15/2006
Just when proponents of dinosaur-to-bird evolution were getting agreement on their story, along came Juravenator. Announced in Nature,1 this new dinosaur fossil from Germany is dated later than the earliest alleged feathered dinosaur, but had no feathers. The finely-preserved specimen, in the same Solnhofen limestone that preserved Archaeopteryx (dated 2-3 million years later), had clear impressions of scales. Commenting on this find, Xing Xu in the same issue of Nature2 explained why this fossil disturbs the simple line from scales to feathers:
The evolution of biological structures must be studied within an evolutionary framework. In the case of feathers, a robust theropod phylogeny is the basis for reconstructing the sequence in which feathers evolved [sic]. The distribution of various feather morphologies on the currently accepted phylogeny suggests that simple, filamentous feathers first evolved no later than the earliest stage of coelurosaurian evolution. More complex feathers with a thick central shaft and rigid symmetrical vanes on either side appeared early in the evolution of the coelurosaurian group Maniraptora; and feathers with aerodynamic features, such as a curved shaft and asymmetrical vanes, appeared within the maniraptors but before the origin of birds. This inferred sequence of events is supported independently by developmental data. Gohlich and Chiappe place Juravenator within the Compsognathidae, a group that is basal in the coelurosaurian tree (Fig. 1). So Juravenator should bear filamentous feathers. But it seems to be a scaled animal, at least on the tail and hind legs.Its so complex, in fact, that in order to maintain the phylogeny, scientists may have to believe that feathers and scales may have evolved and re-evolved more than once. Xu continues, It would not be surprising [sic] if feathers were lost and scaly skin re-evolved in some basal coelurosaurian species, or if feathers evolved several times independently early in coelurosaurian evolution. Xu opts for the possibility that the discoverers misclassified Juravenator; perhaps it belongs deeper in the evolutionary tree, before the first feathers appeared. Keeping a positive outlook, he says that the story of early feather evolution has been enriched by this find, whatever the explanation. Since the fossil record is poor to begin with, Juravenator may complicate the picture, but it makes it more complete and realistic.
See also the popular press on this new dinosaur: National Geographic, Live Science and MSNBC News. Bjorn Carey invoked convergent evolution in his LiveScience article, and quoted Chiappe saying that he didnt have a precise explanation: We see it as a red flag that says maybe you guys have been interpreting the evolution of feathers in too simple a way. Maybe things are more complex. In the Reuters story published on MSNBC, Gohlich told reporters, Now we have a little dinosaur that belongs to coelurosaurs that does not show feathers. This is a problem.
1Gohlich and Chiappe, A new carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Solnhofen archipelago, Nature 440, 329-332 (16 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04579; Received 1 September 2005; ; Accepted 10 January 2006.
2Xing Xu, Palaeontology: Scales, feathers and dinosaurs, Nature 440, 287-288 (16 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/440287a.
Problem? What problem? Scales are scales, and feathers are feathers. Dinosaurs are dinosaurs, and birds are birds. Before, evolutionists wanted us to believe that scales, a skin feature, evolved into feathers that are totally different and embedded beneath the skin. They expected us to believe there was a straight line of descent from gray wrinkles on a dinosaur into the colorful, aerodynamic, exquisitely-designed feathers of acrobatic swifts and high-diving cormorants. They asked us to believe that birds co-opted what appeared to be integumentary structures of doubtful utility on the legs and tails of some dinosaurs and turned them into flying wonders, complete with interlocking hooks and barbules that are lightweight, water-resistant and extremely adaptable (compare doves and penguins). They expected us to believe that at the same time feathers evolved, dinosaurs transformed all their internal organs and completely redesigned their lungs and most other bodily systems. One only has a problem when one has to keep telling new lies to back up old ones. Check out the whopper Mark Looy found at Chicagos Field Museum (see AIG report): the $17 million Evolving Planet exhibit triumphantly announces to unsuspecting children, Birds Are Dinosaurs. Maybe some day museums will be realizing that evolutionists are dinosaurs, too (see Tom Weller illustrations).Stardust Finds Burnt Rock in Comet Dust 03/14/2006
In a surprise upset, scientists analyzing cometary material returned from the Stardust mission found minerals that must have glowed white-hot when they formed. Comets were long thought to have formed in the outer fringes of the solar nebula or in the Oort Cloud, far from the sun where its icy cold and calm. They were supposed to represent pristine material from the time before planets formed. Whether this glazed material found in Comet Wild 2 fragments represents later processing as the comet neared the sun, or means that solar nebula material involved a great deal of mixing early on (meaning that no unprocessed material remains), or formed around other stars or some other possibility will require additional study. Sources: BBC News, National Geographic, University of Washington and JPL press releases. The later states, Comets, they said, may not be as simple as the clouds of ice, dust and gases they were thought to comprise. They may be diverse with complex and varied histories. The scientists found olivine (common to volcanic lavas), and exotic, high-temperature minerals rich in calcium, aluminum and titanium. According to the BBC article, the two leading theories are (1) that the material was cooked by other stars, or (2) that it was cooked by the sun then blasted to far distances by a so-called X-wind process. But Stardust co-investigator Mike Zolensky admitted, This raises as many questions as answers. We cant answer them all just yet.
For yearsfor decadesthey have been telling us that comets held the secrets to the early solar system. Drifting in the dark cold of the outer realms of the sun, comets were supposed to have accreted slowly from the original dust and ice of a molecular cloud. They only neared the sun when perturbed by a passing star and were flung into the suns neighborhood. This thinking has its origin in Laplaces Nebular Hypothesis of the late 1700s. Todays news is a complete turnaround. Now we have actual material from a live comet, showing that at least some of the material was so hot it was incandescent. Some of the material looks like it was born in the fires of a rocky planet. What Stardust has found will rewrite the textbooks and renders many a TV documentary obsolete. An ounce of data is worth a ton of speculation. Thats why the public should support sample-return and onsite-reconnaissance missions like Stardust, regardless of their opinions on origins and ages of things, if for no other reason than the entertainment of watching experts squirm.The Darwin Empire Strikes Back 03/14/2006
It would seem the ID republic is imprisoned on its own ice-world of Hoth, scrambling to escape as the empire has mobilized its machinery against the rebels. The AAAS, for instance, held its Evolution on the Front Line event in St. Louis and has posted its weaponry on its Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology website, along with portraits of its commanding generals: Eugenie Scott, Ken Miller and the rest. Another example can be found on the new Defend Science website with its urgent call by scientists to crush the rebels. It singles out red leader George W. Bush as a prime suspect for tie fighter targeting computers:
And that is not all: Here we are in the 21st century, and the head of the government himself, George W. Bush, refuses to acknowledge that evolution is a scientific fact! THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.That should be enough to mobilize the troops. This sample rhetoric displays that to certain evolutionists the situation is past negotiation or compromise. The emperor will accept nothing but unconditional surrender.
William Dembski, one of the most prominent intelligent-design philosophers and advocates, is remarkably calm in the face of these ultimatums. In an article on Leadership U in 2004, he predicted the backlash and saw it as a sign of progress. It means were at step 2 of the Schopenhauer path: All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Conflating Darwinism with all of scientific progress the old association propaganda tactic. Dont follow the hordes of storm trooper lemmings after that one. Shouting the big lie evolution is a fact in all caps is likely to backfire. Too obvious. In fact, that whole quote wins Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week, or maybe of the month. If you can tell a politician is lying when his lips are moving, you can tell a Darwinist is lying when he has to use all caps.The Astrobiology Sky Is Falling 03/13/2006
Rocco Mancinelli (Principal Investigator, SETI Institute) made an impassioned plea on Space.com for continued funding of astrobiology projects, calling threatened funding cuts a national disaster if not reversed. And what is astrobiology? He defined it as the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. His reasons for keeping astrobiology a national priority: trying to understand the origin of life, searching for the extent of life beyond the earth, determining whether Mars will be a safe habitat for humans some day, and advancing the human urge to explore. Funding cuts would leave thousands of scientists on a limb, discourage a whole generation of young scientists, and cause the USA to lose its leadership in the world, he argued.
For a science born in 1996, its funding record is impressive. Mancinelli revealed, NASA essentially developed astrobiology as a whole new interdisciplinary scientific field from scratch. It now has thousands of researchers, many international affiliates, multiple peer reviewed journals and is growing (emphasis added). He continued, Even NSF [the National Science Foundation] has been amazed by what NASAs astrobiology program has accomplished. What tangible results other than searching, speculating and writing reports, however, he left unsaid (see 01/28/2005). Clearly, no one has yet found life in outer space, and what has been found about life is more and more complexity. Mancinelli also did not specify what kind of space science and engineering would not have gone on without the astrobiology label. Ironically, the very Mars meteorite that launched astrobiology is now largely believed to be dead (11/15/2003).
The smart money is on intelligent design. The next generation of bright, enthusiastic researchers knows that nanotechnology, biomimetics, genetic engineering and information-based research is where its at (e.g., 11/19/2005, 10/29/2005). Sorry, astrobiology; hope you enjoyed your little philosophical fling on company time (01/07/2005). Dont let us stop you. You can continue all you want on your own euro.Misfolded Proteins Cause Cascade of Harmful Effects 03/12/2006
Understanding how proteins fold is at the leading edge of scientific research. Proteins begin as linear chains of amino acids (polypeptides), but end as complex shapes with loops, sheets, bumps, ridges and grooves that are essential to their functions. If you imagine a string of beads, some with electrical charges, magnets, oil droplets or other attraction-repulsion attributes on them, what would happen if you dropped it in water? It would seem there are a myriad ways it could collapse into a shapeless mass. How many of those possible shapes would make it a machine? Thats the kind of problem that protein-folding presents to the researcher.
Normally, cells help the newly-assembled polypeptides fold properly with the aid of chaperones, the cellular dressing rooms where they can prepare for their debut (05/05/2003). Mistakes happen, however. A mutation might put a charge on the wrong amino acid, making it fold the wrong way. Here again, the cell usually deals with these badly-folded masses and destroys them as part of its quality control procedures. Once in awhile, however, misfolded protein machines get out of control, and some, like chain saws run amok, can cause harm. Heres an excerpt from an article in Science by Gillian Bates (Kings College London School of Medicine). Describing recent work on this subject, he explains the consequences:
This work indicates that the chronic expression of a misfolded protein can upset the cellular protein folding homeostasis under physiological conditions. These results have implications for pathogenic mechanisms in protein conformational diseases. The human genome harbors a load of polymorphic variants and mutations that might be prevented from exerting deleterious effects by protein folding and clearance quality control mechanisms in the cell. However, should these mechanisms become overwhelmed, as in a protein conformation disease, mild folding variants might contribute to disease pathogenesis by perturbing an increasing number of cellular pathways.... Therefore, the complexity of pathogenic mechanisms identified for protein conformation diseases could in part result from the imbalance in protein folding homeostasis. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)In other words, one mistake in one protein can have a cascading effect, causing a multitude of mistakes downstream. The normal dynamic equilibrium of the cell (homeostasis) turns into a disaster scene, as the quality-control cops become overwhelmed by victims, as in a natural disaster. Examples of degenerative diseases caused by misfolded proteins mentioned in the article: Huntingtons disease, Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosisthese neurodegenerative disorders are among many inherited diseases that have been linked to genetic mutations that result in the chronic aggregation of a single specific protein. Bates did not mention evolution in his article.
1Gillian Bates, Perspectives: One Misfolded Protein Allows Others to Sneak By, Science, 10 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5766, pp. 1385 - 1386, DOI: 10.1126/science.1125246.
Small perturbations in a highly complex working system can have drastic effects. Notice how the cell has numerous safeguards to prevent this kind of runaway disaster: mechanisms to prevent misfolding, and procedures to safely capture and dismantle the escapees. How this system ever arrived at such a high level of complex organization is never described in detail by the evolutionists, but they want us to believe that the escaped convicts are the heroes of the story. They want us to believe that the mistakes and terror attacks are responsible for all the beauty and complexity of the living world, from peacocks tails to flight muscles of bees that can flap hundreds of times a second, to the ability of humans to run a marathon. From all indications, on the contrary, life is in a tenuous balance, and the factors trying to upset that balance are increasing. The Theory of Devolution would appear to have better empirical support.Ararat Anomaly Photo Released 03/11/2006
To follow up on an old story, a satellite photo of the so-called Ararat Anomaly has been released (see 08/23/2001 entry). The photo taken by the Quickbird 2 satellite shows what is most likely a rock ridge. Some hunters for Noahs Ark were eager to see high-resolution photos of this area; others thought whatever it is, it is in the wrong place. See World Net Daily and Live Science for the picture.
This is probably nothing but a rock ridge. The most serious ark researchers deny this object has anything to do with the ark. It will take extraordinary proof to find Noahs Ark, even if it could have survived at all. Still, let the search continue. Better to know than to speculate endlessly. Publicity and confirmation are not one and the same. SETI and astrobiology people need to remember that, too.Lazarus, Come Forth: Living Fossils Rise from the Dead 03/10/2006
An animal goes extinct. Millions of years pass. The animal is found living in some remote jungle. Scientists call this the Lazarus effect, after the man Jesus raised from the dead (see John 11). Others call these finds living fossils, long thought to be extinct but now thriving in isolated ecological niches. There are many such organisms plant and animal. Two showed up in recent news.
In Science,1 Mary Dawson et al. talked about the new species of rodent found in Borneo (see 12/06/2005). They identified it as a member of a long-lost group called Diatonyids, thought to have gone extinct 11 million years ago. Live Science writer Bjorn Carey quoted study co-author Mary Dawson calling this the coelacanth of rodents after the well-known living fossil fish (emphasis added in all quotes). Most other mammals exhibiting the Lazarus effect spanned time gaps of 10,000 to just over a million years, she said. MSNBC, and National Geographic and CNN all noticed the story. Nobody questioned the 11 million year time gap.
Another living fossil made the news, this time a beak-headed reptile named the tuatara, once thought to be extinct since the age of dinosaurs. Bjorn Carey also wrote for Live Science a report on findings that this lizard-like animal from New Zealand already had advanced walking skills. Tuataras have been around for 225 million years [sic] and havent changed much, the fossil record shows. That stunner was followed by another: Since they can walk and run, both energy-saving mechanisms probably appeared when the first vertebrates moved onto land [sic], said study coauthor Steve Riley of Ohio University. The press release from Ohio State claims these lizards cannot survive in temperatures above 77 degrees Fahrenheit. For more on the tuatara, see the 03/31/2002 and 10/02/2003 entries.
1Mary R. Dawson et al., Laonastes and the Lazarus Effect in Recent Mammals, Science, 10 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5766, pp. 1456 - 1458, DOI: 10.1126/science.1124187.
The first vertebrates to walk and run on land; how do they know this? Why couldnt the first vertebrates to walk and run have had two feet? How do they know that other species that came before this one didnt vanish? If these animals can not survive in temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius, how have they survived at all? In all those 225 million years have there been no droughts and hot spells? Why have all the other animals, like dinosaurs, died out but this one has flourished? And where do they get the 225 million years from? Purely from evolutionary assumptions.Deities for Atheists, or Atheism for Dummies? 03/09/2006
Michael Shermer wrote a book review in Science entitled Deities for Atheists.1 The article reviewed George Basallas recent book, Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials (Oxford, 2005). Basalla (historian of science and technology, U of Delaware) contends that SETI is the continuation of an ancient religious quest. If so, who are the deities?
Shermer discusses Basallas assumptions.
He proceeds to outline three assumptions that underlie thinking about extraterrestrial intelligence from antiquity to the present: the universe is very large or infinite, there are other inhabited worlds, and these other complex and intelligent beings are vastly superior to us....At this point, Shermer announced a new scientific law to add to the collection of Murphyisms. Imitating Arthur C. Clarke, Shermers Last Law posits, Any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.
1Michael Shermer, Astrobiology: Deities for Atheists, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, p. 1244, DOI: 10.1126/science.1126115.
Isnt it amazing that whenever other inhabited worlds are discussed, the assumption is that they are always vastly superior to us. Suffice it to say that even if we met an advanced extra-terrestrial being it would be quite easy to distinguish it from God. God doesnt need a spacecraft for travel.Analysis: The Dover Decision 03/10/2006
Dr. Kevin L. Anderson of the Creation Research Society wrote an analysis of Judge Jones decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District case. Since this appeared in a members-only newsletter, Creation Matters, we sought and obtained permission to reproduce it: Click Here.
A very different view was expressed by David Johns (School of Government, Portland State U) in a letter to Science this week (10 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5766, p. 1376):
There is no question that the court decision in the Dover case was a good one. The opinion written by Judge Jones is rigorous and thoroughand yes, quite elegant. There is a substantial dark side to this decision, however, that reflects poorly on the scientific community. How did it come to this court fight? How, in a country as developed as the United States, have the school system, the media, and the scientific community failed so miserably to educate the majority of Americans about the nature of science in general and evolution in particular? Too often, scientists do not take their public role seriously enough. If scientists do not respond aggressively to the need to bring the rest of society along and confine themselves to talking to each other, the scientific enterprise [sic] will likely find itself uncomfortably out on a limb. Should the United States continue to drift closer to the worlds theocracies and away from the preferable if very flawed secular democracies, science and scientists will suffer.Since Science never prints any letters in favor of intelligent design, and has expressed similar statements in its editorials, this can probably be said to represent the feelings of the editors. Readers are encouraged to compare and contrast the views (and logic) of Johns and Anderson and then, consider the analysis of the Dover decision by one of the leading philosophers in the world today, Alvin Plantinga, posted on Science & Theology News this week.
Johns repeats the usual canards and non-sequiturs of the Darwin Party: viz., if students dont get Sola Darwina crammed down their throats, then they wont be able to compete in the global economy (see 02/28/2006 entry) and our atheist utopia will degenerate into a society of ignorant AK47-toting fundamentalists.Introns Stump Evolutionary Theorists 03/09/2006
This story is not about Enron and Exxon, but about introns and exons. The proportions of the scandals they are causing in evolutionary theory, however, may be comparable.
Introns are spacers between genes. For several decades now, it has been a puzzle why they are there, and why a complex machine called a spliceosome takes them out and joins the active genetic parts the exons together. Only eukaryotes have spliceosomes, though; mitochondria have group II introns and some mRNAs may have them. Their presence and numbers in various groups presents a bewildering array of combinations. Figuring out a phylogenetic tree for introns has eluded evolutionary geneticists, as has understanding their origin and functions (02/18/2005). Why do genes come in pieces that have to be reassembled?
William Martin and Eugene Koonin said in Nature1 that The discovery of introns had a broad effect on thoughts about early evolution. Some theories have been falsified, and others remain in the running. Consider the scope of the problems:
A current consensus on introns would be that prokaryotes do indeed have group II introns but that they never had spliceosomes; hence, streamlining in the original sense (that is, loss of spliceosomal introns) never occurred in prokaryotes, although it did occur in some eukaryotes such as yeast or microsporidia. An expansion of that consensus would be that spliceosomes and spliceosomal introns are universal among eukaryotes, that group II introns originating from the mitochondrion are indeed the most likely precursors of eukaryotic mRNA introns and spliceosomal snRNAs, and that manyconceivably mosteukaryotic introns are as old as eukaryotes themselves. More recent are the insights that there is virtually no evolutionary grade detectable in the origin of the spliceosome, which apparently was present in its (almost) fully fledged state in the common ancestor of eukaryotic lineages studied so far, and that the suspected source of intronsmitochondria, including their anaerobic forms, hydrogenosomes and mitosomeswas also present in the common ancestor of contemporary eukaryotes (the only ones whose origin or attributes require explanation).This means that a complex molecular machine, the spliceosome (09/17/2004, 09/12/2002), appeared fully formed almost abruptly, and that the intron invasion took place over a short time and has not changed for hundreds of millions of years. They submitted a new hypothesis:
Here we revisit the possible evolutionary significance of introns in light of mitochondrial ubiquity. We propose that the spread of group II introns and their mutational decay into spliceosomal introns created a strong selective pressure to exclude ribosomes from the vicinity of the chromosomesthus breaking the prokaryotic paradigm of co-transcriptional translation and forcing nucleus-cytosol compartmentalization, which allowed translation to occur on properly matured mRNAs only. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)But this means that the nucleus, nucleolus and other complex structures also had to appear in a very brief period of time. It means that the engulfed organism that somehow became mitochondria had to transfer its introns rapidly into a genome lacking a nucleus. It means the nucleus had to evolve quickly to segregate the new mitochondrial genes from the nuclear genes. A lot had to happen quickly. This bipartite cell would not be an immediate success story: it would have nothing but problems instead, they admitted, but they believed that natural selection would favor the few that worked out a symbiotic relationship with their new invaders.
This is not the end of the problems. The group II introns would have had to embed themselves with reverse transcriptase and maturase without activating the hosts defenses, then evolve into spliceosome-dependent introns and remain unchanged forever after. Then those embedded group II introns would undergo mutational decay, interfering with gene expression. Will this work without some miracles?
A problem of a much more severe nature arises, however, with the mutational decay of group II introns, resulting in inactivation of the maturase and/or RNA structural elements in at least some of the disseminated copies. Modern examples from prokaryotes and organelles suggest that splicing with the help of maturase and RNA structural elements provided by intact group II introns in trans could have initially rescued gene expression at such loci, although maturase action in trans is much less effective than in cis. Thus, the decay of the maturase gene in disseminated introns poses a requirement for invention of a new splicing machinery. However, as discussed below, the transition to spliceosome-dependent splicing will also impose an unforgiving demand for inventions in addition to the spliceosome.A spliceosome is not an easy thing to invent; it has five snRNAs and over 200 proteins, making it one of the most complex molecular machines in the cell. Not only that, they appeared in primitive eukaryotes and have been largely conserved since. Perhaps the miracles can be made more believable by dividing them into smaller steps:
It seems that the protospliceosome recruited the Sm-domain, possibly to replace the maturase, while retaining group II RNA domains (snRNAs) ancestrally germane to the splicing mechanism. While the later evolution of the spliceosome entailed diversification with the recruitment of additional proteinsleading to greater efficiencythe simpler, ancestral protospliceosome could, in principle, rescue expression of genes containing degenerate group II introns in a maturase-independent manner, but at the dear cost of speed.Will a lateral pass from maturase to incipient spliceosome during a long field run lead to a touchdown? If a stumbling protospliceosome could survive, in spite of vastly decreased translation rate, it might have been able to run the distance with natural selections encouragement, they think. Players would be falling left and right in this extremely unhealthy situation, they say, and the prospects of any descendants emerging from this situation are bleak. How could the game go on, then? The only recognizable mechanism operating in favour of this clumsy chimaera is weakened purifying selection operating on its exceptionally small initial population. Purifying selection means weeding out losers, not adding new champions. Finding a solution to the new problem of slow spliceosomes in the presence of fast and abundant ribosomes required an evolutionary novelty.
They winnow down the possibilities. Getting instant spliceosomes smacks too much of an improbable feat. Getting rid of spliceosomal introns from DNA apparently did not occur. Their solution? The invention of the nucleus, where slow spliceosomes could operate without competition from fast ribosomes.
This adds new miracles, however. The nucleus has highly complex pores that permit only authenticated molecules into the inner sanctum. They think, however, that it must have happened, somehow: Progeny that failed to physically separate mRNA processing from translation would not survive, nor would those that failed to invent pore complexes to allow chromosome-cytosol interaction. So pick your miracles: since necessity is the mother of invention, The invention of the nucleus was mandatory to allow the expression of intron-containing genes in a cell whose ribosomes were faster than its spliceosomes.
The near-miraculous arrival of the nucleus is underscored by other feats it performs: In addition to splicing, eukaryotes possess elaborate mRNA surveillance mechanisms, in particular nonsense-mediated decay (NMD), to assure that only correctly processed mature mRNAs are translated, while aberrant mRNAs and those with premature termination codons are degraded. How could this originate? Again, necessity must have driven the invention: The initial intron invasion would have precipitated a requirement for mechanisms to identify exon junctions and to discriminate exons (with frame) from introns (without frame), as well as properly from improperly spliced transcripts. Thus, NMD might be a direct evolutionary consequence of newly arisen genes-in-pieces. But then, if it is verified that some translation occurs in the nucleus, that would be difficult to reconcile with our proposal.
They ended with comparing their hypothesis with others. Our suggestion for the origin of the nucleus differs from previous views on the topic, they boasted, which either posit that the nuclear membrane was beneficial to (not mandatory for) its inventor by protecting chromosomes from shearing at division, or offer no plausible selective mechanism at all. At least theirs is simpler and includes some requirements to select for the cells with the best inventors or the ones with the luckiest miracles.
1Martin and Koonin, Hypothesis: Introns and the origin of nucleus-cytosol compartmentalization, Nature 440, 41-45 (2 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04531.
Was any of this storytelling useful? The shenanigans they pulled, couched in biochemical jargon, can be summarized by two principles in their own imaginations: (1) since the cell needed these superbly-crafted machines, it had to invent them somehow, and (2) since evolution is a fact, it had to happen somehow. Do you catch any hint of a mechanism for actually inventing a 200-protein supermachine that would actually work? Did you find any hint that any cell any time had a protospliceosome that only worked half-way? All this was pure fiction built on childlike faith in evolution.Darwinists Take a Snubbing 03/08/2006
Darwinism got beat up in the polls again. World Net Daily reported on a new Zogby poll that showed that 69 percent of Americans believe public school teachers should present both the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution. Evolution News had comments about the poll; secular news media seemed to pay no attention.
An interviewer in France was stunned at the contempt against Darwinists expressed by mathematician David Berlinski, reprinted on Intelligent Design the Future. Berlinski attributed the power of Darwinism merely to money, power and prestige, not science. He expressed utter disdain for leading Darwinists like Eugenie Scott, Paul Gross and Richard Dawkins, calling them ideologues. Eugenie Scott is a small squirrel-like creature who is often sent out to defend Darwin, he said. Whenever doubts are raised, she withdraws a naturalistic nut from her cache and flaunts it proudly. In his wild ride through mathematics, history and philosophy, Berlinski maintained that Darwinism is a mere ideological system. The real mark of an ideological system is its presumptuousness, he said. There is nothing it cannot explain by means of a few trite ideas. He compared Darwinism to Marxism: a system that explained everything in simplistic terms, was fashionable among intellectuals for awhile, but has had its day and is rapidly fading.
Berlinskis interview sizzles with contempt and almost goes overboard. He can get away with it because he is a respected mathematician and not an evangelical Christian. Most of us had better talk a little sweeter. He agrees with what we have been saying here, though, that the Darwin Party is mainly an entrenched, power-hungry storytelling society, not a group of truth-seeking scientists. Its important to realize that not all the highly-educated, knowledgeable scholars claiming this are religious fundamentalists.Turkish Family Evolving Into Quadrupeds 03/07/2006
Is this a hoax? The Times Online UK posted a picture of a family in Turkey that walks naturally on all fours, and calls this a unique insight into human evolution. Sean ONeill at New Scientist is not sure what to think. A professor Humphrey claims this is an example of backward evolution, or a throwback to a long-lost animal behavior. ONeill thinks its probably not evolution, but an unfortunate genetic accident. Also, for our ancestors to switch to bipedalism, many skeletal changes would have been needed, he said. In fact, the ability to run long-distances may have been a more significant point in our evolution, suggest some researchers. (see 11/18/2004). Nevertheless, some are calling this a missing link.
Suckers. These are overgrown rug rats, not missing links. Or else they get dizzy standing up, and thus obey Pauls Law: you cant fall off the floor.In Praise of Fat 03/06/2006
Well, great balls of fat. Cells have spherical globs of lipid (fat) molecules that never had gotten much attention nor respect. They have been called lipid droplets, oil bodies, fat globules and other names suggesting they were just the beer bellies of the cell. Not any more. Scientists have been taking a closer look at these globs and are finding them to be dynamic, functional sites of critical metabolic activity. No longer are they bags of superfluous undesirable molecules: they have been promoted to essential organelles, named adiposomes.
Mary Beckman introduced two papers in Science with a summary of the new discoveries.1
Whatever their name, these intracellular blobs of triglycerides or cholesterol esters, encased in a thin phospholipid membrane, are catching the attention of more and more biologists. It turns out these lively balls of fat have as many potential roles within cells and tissues as they have names. Pockmarked with proteins with wide-ranging biochemical activities, they shuffle components around the cell, store energy in the form of neutral lipids, and possibly maintain the many membranes of the cell. The particles could also be involved in lipid diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular trouble, and liver problems. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Beckman discussed several recent findings demonstrating what happens when fat regulation by adiposomes is disrupted. Since there is still much to be learned about adiposomes, Beckman mainly teased the readers with the possibilities that lie ahead. She quoted one biologist who called the biology of lipid droplets immense and untapped.
A Perspectives paper in the same issue by Stuart Smith introduced new findings about the machines that make fat.2 He summarized a paper by Maier, Jenni and Ban revealing, in unprecedented detail, the structure of mammalian Fatty Acid Synthase (FAS),3 and another by the same authors plus Leibundgut about the comparable FAS machine in fungi.4 The former looks somewhat like a flying saucer; the latter, like a wheel with spokes from the top, or a complex cage from the side. The diagrams of these machines point out active sites and reaction chambers where complex molecules are assembled in a specific sequence. The machines apparently have moving parts. The conclusion of the mammalian FAS paper hints how everything must be done in order and with the right specifications:
The overall architecture of mammalian FAS has been revealed by x-ray crystallography at intermediate resolution. The dimeric [two-part] synthase adopts an asymmetric X-shaped conformation with two reaction chambers on each side formed by a full set of enzymatic domains required for fatty acid elongation, which are separated by considerable distances. Substantial flexibility of the reaction chamber must accompany the handover of reaction intermediates during the FAS cycle, and further conformational transitions are required to explain the presence of alternative inter- and intrasubunit synthetic routes in FAS. The results presented here provide a new structural basis to further experiments required for a detailed understanding of the complex mechanism of mammalian FAS.Even for the fungal machine, the authors spoke of the remarkable architectural principles it exemplifies. Its a whole new world of fat. Let that go to your understanding, not to your waist.
1Mary Beckman, Great Balls of Fat, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1232 - 1234, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5765.1232.
2Stuart Smith, Architectural Options for a Fatty Acid Synthase, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1251 - 1252, DOI: 10.1126/science.1125411.
3Timm Maier, Simon Jenni, Nenad Ban, Architecture of Mammalian Fatty Acid Synthase at 4.5 Å Resolution, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1258 - 1262, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123248.
4Simon Jenni, Marc Leibundgut, Timm Maier, Nenad Ban, Architecture of a Fungal Fatty Acid Synthase at 5 Å Resolution, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1263 - 1267, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123251.
The closer they look, the more wondrous the cell gets. Who would have thought that blobs of fat would contain machinery with moving parts and reaction chambers? Who would have imagined their surfaces would be covered with complex proteins that regulate the production inside? Who would have realized that fat was so important, the cell had complex assembly plants to build it? Fat is almost a mild cussword in our vocabulary, but it is another class of molecular building blocks we couldnt live without. Fats, sugars, proteins and nucleic acids all work together in life, from humans to lowly fungi. Each class of molecules has immense variety, each is essential, and each is manufactured to spec by precision machinery. What a wonderful post-Darwinian world.Little Colorado Grand Falls Much Younger Than Thought 03/05/2006
The Little Colorado River makes a dramatic drop over a lava cliff in Arizona after going around a lava flow. Previous estimates dated the lava at the falls at 150,000 years old (150ka). Now, a team of geologists publishing in GSA Bulletin1 used multiple methods that dated it at no more than 19,600 years old (19.6ka) one eighth the earlier age estimate. Here were some of their reasons for the revision:
The ca. 150 ka age of the Grand Falls flow provided by whole-rock K-Ar analysis in the 1970s is inconsistent with the preservation of centimeter-scale flow-top features on the surface of the flow and the near absence of physical and chemical weathering on the flow downstream of the falls. The buried Little Colorado River channel and the present-day channel are at nearly the same elevation, indicating that very little, if any, regional downcutting has occurred since emplacement of the flow. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Many people might expect radiometric dating of lava to be straightforward, but the authors began by casting doubt on the most widely-used methods: Dating Quaternary mafic volcanic materials has proven to be challenging in many cases, they said. K-Ar and 40Ar/39Ar are the most common dating methods, but results may be difficult to interpret because so little potassium is present in these rocks and because the rocks may also contain excess Ar from mantle or crustal sources.
They employed four independent methods that more or less converged on the approx. 20,000 year figure. That would seem to settle the matter, but in their discussion, they said: The question remains of how to decide what relative weight to apportion to each dating technique in trying to accurately define when the lava dam formed. Each technique includes its own set of assumptions and uncertainties.
Perhaps eyeball dating should be given more weight. The authors took notice of how little erosion had occurred in this area. They estimated downcutting rates, but then said of four lava flows in the area, These emplacement units lack evidence of physical erosion or chemical weathering, both within the stack of flows and at the basal contact of flows with underlying columnar basalt. The flows may simply represent overlapping lobes of a single lava flow. Speaking of dust on top of the flow, they said, All features not covered by eolian [wind-blown] sediment appear to represent original or nearly original surfaces of lava that have been little weathered or eroded, if at all, since their formation.
Considering that whole cities have been embedded in dust in recorded history, perhaps even 20,000 years is too much. They ended by discussing possible reasons why the earlier estimate was so much older, and warned of misinterpretation because excess argon may be a bigger problem than previously realized. Even so, However common excess Ar may be in lava of the volcanic field, caution is advised in all time-related generalizations about the growth of the field, including interpretation of the 100 m/m.y. rate of regional downcutting calculated from whole-rock K-Ar ages for samples from the two older lava dams along the Little Colorado River. Does anybody really know how old this lava flow is?
1Champion et al., Multiple constraints on the age of a Pleistocene lava dam across the Little Colorado River at Grand Falls, Arizona, Geological Society of America Bulletin, doi: 10.1130/B25814.1, : Vol. 118, No. 3, pp. 421–429.
Unless you subscribe to the Creation Research Society, Institute for Creation Research or the Creation Technical Journal, you may have been completely unaware of the quality of young-earth creation research that has been independently published for decades. Such research is so completely barred from the usual journals, creation geologists, astronomers and biologists have continually published their own work, with a few exceptions making it into the mainstream. Many of their papers are just as rigorous and scholarly as those in the secular journals. They would be indistinguishable except for the rags theyre printed in.Spiral Galaxies Wind Up Into Blurs In Short Cosmological Time 03/04/2006
Cosmic billions of years received another challenge. Sky and Telescope reported on a announcement by Michael R. Merrifield (University of Nottingham, England), Richard J. Rand and Sharon E. Meidt (University of New Mexico) in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that they measured the velocity of gases in the spiral galaxy, M77, and found that they behave just as you would expect: gases toward the center of the galaxy are orbiting faster than gases farther out. Billions of years cosmology requires that the spiral structure of galaxies be caused by something other than simple orbital mechanics, otherwise the spirals would blur in a cosmologically short time.
Merrifield and his colleagues derived new formulas and applied them to measurements of M77s carbon-monoxide-laced gas clouds (carbon monoxide molecules emit finely tuned radio waves, allowing astronomers to precisely measure the positions and line-of-sight velocities of interstellar matter). Spiral-shaped wave patterns that are just 3,000 light-years (20 arcseconds) from the galaxys center whirl around the core three times as often as those 6,000 light-years out, says the team all but guaranteeing that the galaxys bright inner pinwheel is destined to wind itself up into an amorphous disk. If this result turns out to apply commonly to other galaxies, the scientists write, then intergalactic travelers would be well advised not to use the morphology of spiral structure to identify their homes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The scientific community is not so easily persuaded:
Bruce G. Elmegreen (IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center) cautions that the composition of M77s interstellar clouds may differ from place to place, possibly fooling Merrifield and his collaborators into thinking that the innermost parts of the galaxys spiral pattern will outrace the outer parts after a few laps around the track. And while M77s inferred identity as a quick-change artist doesnt surprise John Kormendy (University of Texas, Austin), he doubts that M77s subtle inner spiral can shed much light on the longevity of simple but bold spirals seen in prominently barred galaxies like NGC 1300 and in closely interacting ones like M51.
Merrifield and his colleagues have shown with empirical evidence that spiral galaxies are doing exactly what they look like they are doing: spinning in an ever tightening wind-up that will, in a short time cosmologically, completely erase their spiral structure. This is anathema to astronomers such as Elmegreen and Kormendy who must at all costs support the 13 billion year old age of the universe. Elmegreen and Kormendy had no evidence of their own to refute Merrifield, and so resorted to attacking the quality of Merrifields data.Curious George Learns Helpfulness; Newspapers Go Bananas 03/03/2006
Item: Three evolutionists at the Max Planck Institute did experiments with chimps to see if they collaborated on problem-solving. Writing in Science,1 they said:
We presented chimpanzees with collaboration problems in which they had to decide when to recruit a partner and which potential partner to recruit. In an initial study, individuals recruited a collaborator only when solving the problem required collaboration. In a second study, individuals recruited the more effective of two partners on the basis of their experience with each of them on a previous day. Therefore, recognizing when collaboration is necessary and determining who is the best collaborative partner are skills shared by both chimpanzees and humans, so such skills may have been present in their common ancestor before humans evolved their own complex forms of collaboration. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Item: Two other Max Planck researchers2 found an apparent link in infant behavior and monkey behavior:
Human beings routinely help others to achieve their goals, even when the helper receives no immediate benefit and the person helped is a stranger. Such altruistic behaviors (toward non-kin) are extremely rare evolutionarily, with some theorists even proposing that they are uniquely human. Here we show that human children as young as 18 months of age (prelinguistic or just-linguistic) quite readily help others to achieve their goals in a variety of different situations. This requires both an understanding of others goals and an altruistic motivation to help. In addition, we demonstrate similar though less robust skills and motivations in three young chimpanzees.That was all the news media needed. The hint that monkeys can help each other made science reporters go ape. Clearly, more evidence had been found that humans evolved from a furry altruistic ancestor, millions of years ago. National Geographic touted, Chimps Can Be Team Players, Selfless Helpers, Studies Show. BBC News said, Altruism built-in in humans, and continued, Altruism may have evolved six million years ago in the common ancestor of chimps and humans, the study suggests. New Scientist claimed, Chimpanzees show hints of higher human traits and offered, The discovery suggests that some of the underpinnings of human sociality may have been present millions of years ago. In the same issue of Science,3 Joan Silk (UCLA) waxed melodramatic:
Do you hold the door for shoppers laden with packages? If you received two copies of the latest issue of Science in the mail, would you give the extra one to a colleague or throw it in the recycling bin? Do you make donations to charity, serve on departmental committees, recycle bottles, or donate blood? If you are like most people, you help in these sorts of situations and are motivated by empathy and concern for the welfare of others. Two reports by Melis et al. on page 1297 and Warneken and Tomasello on page 1301 of this weeks issue contribute to understanding how we came to be such caring and cooperative creatures.Silk did admit lower down in her review that previous studies produced negative results, but nevertheless left it as an option that this is a step in the right direction. Hope springs eternal: These studies will no doubt fuel debate about which best captures the essence of chimpanzee cooperation, she concluded. We can hope that the creative approach of the Leipzig research teams will inspire new experiments to address the arguments.
1Alicia P. Melis, Brian Hare, Michael Tomasello, Chimpanzees Recruit the Best Collaborators, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1297 - 1300, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123007.
2Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello, Altruistic Helping in Human Infants and Young Chimpanzees, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1301 - 1303, DOI: 10.1126/science.1121448.
3Joan B. Silk, Who Are More Helpful, Humans or Chimpanzees?, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1248 - 1249, DOI: 10.1126/science.1125141.
*Sigh.* Has it come to this? What fluff passes for science these days. There is nothing about evolution here. There is nothing about millions of years here. A million here, a few million there, pretty soon, youre talking about real monkey (business). Wupi. Some chimps under lab conditions exhibit a little bit of intelligence enough to assist one another under certain circumstances. No one would ever think that that was behavior designed into their little brains, now, would they? Obviously, human evolution is proved and the puzzle of human altruism is solved. Now we know why people give blood and help disaster victims they have never seen. Mother Teresa was in a long succession of particles that learned unselfishness.Anti-ID Media Resorts to Mockery, Misrepresentation 03/02/2006
Evolution News, a blog of the Discovery Institute ID think tank, was launched in 2004 to try to correct misrepresentation in the media. It never seems to have a shortage of material (see their 3/2/2006 post). Even though the Discovery Institute maintains public documents on its website defining what intelligent design is and what it means, many reporters seem to get their information from IDs most virulent critics without even checking the accuracy of their statements. They also repeat old arguments and caricatures that the Discovery Institute has repeatedly addressed. The first rule of journalism ought to be to get the facts straight. The second ought to be to strive for neutrality and balance. If it were not for the internet, it seems the public would get a very lopsided and inaccurate view from the media of what ID is, what its proponents believe, and what they are trying to do.
Out of the steady stream of critical articles about ID, well summarize a few and look at one in more detail (emphasis added in all quotes):
In any encounter between scientists and the media on the subject of creationism, declare first and foremost that the specific scientific assertions of ID proponents are false.In other words, get your sound bite out before anyone else can. Their other suggestions had to do more with style than substance. They ended with advice from Thomas Huxley, who said: I am sharpening up my beak and claws in readiness. Others called him Darwins bulldog; he seemed to be calling himself Darwins vulture.
Those who want a taste of the pro-ID attitude in spite of all the negative reporting should read Jeffrey C. Longs letter in North Carolina Conservative. His metaphor for ID is a bit different than the one used by Sid Perkins. To Jeffrey Long, its not over till its over, and the strength of the combatant is more important than the circumstances.
In my favorite scene from Star Wars, Luke Skywalker has been transported to an arid wasteland where he is bound and pushed to the end of a gangplank from which hell be cast headlong to a certain horrible death. When asked if he has any last words, he turns to the hideous giant slug and his janissaries and defiantly yells: Im warning you, Jabba -- this is your last chance!Incidentally, the Los Angeles Times printed a fairly complimentary article about Dr. Henry Morris, who died last weekend (see 02/25/2006 entry and Scientist of the Month). ICRs latest Back to Genesis article, written by Dr. Morris shortly before he died, was critical of intelligent design also but for totally different reasons: he felt it is not Biblical enough. Whatever one thinks about ID, perhaps the bottom line is to end ones race well. Even Morriss critics had to admit he was an honorable and gentlemanly combatant. Maybe Dan Lethas After Eden cartoon honoring Henry Morris (see Answers in Genesis) will even leave some evolutionists those who grew up in Sunday School only to reject their faith in biology class3 with a bit of nostalgic longing in their hearts.
1Sid Perkins, Evolution in Action, Science News Week of Feb. 25, 2006; Vol. 169, No. 8.
2Jason Rosenhouse and Glenn Branch, Media Coverage of Intelligent Design, BioScience Volume 56, Number 3, March 2006, pp. 247-252(6).
3Examples: Will Provine, Michael Shermer, many others. Lee Strobel told a story in The Case for Faith about evangelist Charles Templeton, who lost his faith to evolution at Princeton. As the elderly Templeton, struggling with the onset of Alzheimers disease, bared his soul about his life, he was at first very critical of God, the Bible and Christianity. But when he thought of Jesus Christ, he softened and said that he felt Jesus was the most perfect man who ever lived. In a moment of weakness, welling up with tears, he blurted out, and I... I miss him! Templeton died in bitterness and cynicism. In contrast, Henry Morris, like all Christians, considered meeting Jesus Christ face to face in heaven as his blessed hope (Titus 2:12-14).
The reporting on intelligent design is a national travesty. It represents either extremely sloppy reporting, or intentional misrepresentation by leftists with an agenda to stymie all efforts to bring the Darwin Party to accountability. The article by Sid Perkins in Science News is a case in point. The spin had been spun before his sin had begun. Perkins used only hardline Darwinist sources like Eugenie Scott and Robert Pennock. He presented no evidence that naturalism is correct or even capable of explaining how hydrogen became brains; he merely assumed it is the established truth of Science. To these people, ID supporters are not even worth listening to, because the sentence is in: all who doubt molecules-to-man evolution must be fundamentalist creationist flat-earth pseudoscientific wackos trying to stuff religion into science. Well, with that kind of outlook, the only thing to do is load them onto the trains to Ravensbruck and get it over with.Keeping Icy Moons Warm for Billions of Years 03/01/2006
Each spacecraft that has explored the outer solar system has yielded surprises. It is common knowledge that Voyager scientists were blown away by the first views of active moons they expected to be cold and old. Recent discoveries have only intensified the surprises. Richard Kerr wrote recently in Science,1
Why is there geology on Saturns icy satellites? Where did these smallish moons get the energy to refresh their impact-battered surfaces with smoothed plains, ridges, and fissures? These questions have nagged at scientists since the Voyager flybys in the early 1980s, and the Cassini spacecrafts recent discovery that Saturns Enceladus is spouting like an icy geyser has only compounded the problem. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)(See 11/28/2005 entry about the discovery of eruptions on Enceladus, and 08/30/2005, 07/14/2005 and 03/04/2005 about its young surface and active south pole.) The temperature of a body depends primarily on four factors: its nearness to the sun (related to its composition), its mass (related to volume), the amount of tidal flexing imposed on it, and the amount of radioactive heating in its interior. Trouble is, small bodies short in all four quantities are looking pretty lively. Several small, icy moons at great distances from the sun show young surfaces and eruptive activity: these include Europa, Triton, and most recently Enceladus. Io, of course, has a great deal of volcanic activity which is only partly explained by tidal flexing. Titan is more massive than the other Saturnian moons, but its surface looks very young and active; it may have active cryovolcanos. And unlike all the other moons, it has a dense atmosphere that is quickly eroding. While many of the other moons appear quiescent, some, like Ariel, Miranda, Tethys, Iapetus, show evidence of recent surface activity.
Planetary scientists never question the age of these bodies. They unanimously assume that they are 4.6 billion years old the consensus view of the age of our solar system. (This is sometimes stated as geologic time). Presumably, the planets and moons all formed near the beginning, 4.6 billion years ago, and have been cooling off ever since (but see 09/12/2005). The small bodies should cool much more rapidly than the planets, because as radius decreases, surface area decreases by the square, but volume by the cube. The smaller the body, therefore, the greater the surface area for the interior heat to leak out.
Its interesting to watch how planetary scientists deal with surprises. It takes creative modeling to keep a moon active that should have frozen solid billions of years ago. Heres what the planetary scientists have been up to:
Kubo et al. argue that grain size-sensitive creep of Ice I and Ice II plausibly dominates the evolution and dynamics of the interiors of the medium to large icy moons of the outer solar system. Ice II is considerably more viscous than Ice I. The transition from Ice I to Ice II, which occurs at depth, is accompanied by an increase in viscosity of four orders of magnitude. If grain size-sensitive creep does not operate, then the increase in viscosity would be six orders of magnitude. So if grain size-sensitive creep is not taken into account as a deformation mechanism, estimates for viscosities of the interiors of the icy moons are off by about two orders of magnitude. Such a difference would have profound implications for interpreting their evolution and dynamics.(See also Lawrence Livermore press release.) Whatever this means, modelers apparently didnt set the knob right on this parameter before now.
1Richard Kerr, How Saturns Icy Moons Get a (Geologic) Life, Science, 6 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5757, p. 29, DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.29.
2Gabriel Tobie, Jonathan Lunine and Christophe Sotin, Episodic outgassing as the origin of atmospheric methane on Titan, Nature 440, 61-64 (2 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04497.
3Kubo et al., Grain Size-Sensitive Creep in Ice II, Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, pp. 1267 - 1269, DOI: 10.1126/science.1121296.
4Peter Sammonds, Creep and Flow on the Icy Moons of the Outer Planets, Science,
No sooner did the word water appear in news reports about Enceladus, when reporters started talking about life. The press release twists the evidence for a young Enceladus into evidence for old evolution: Scientists still have many questions. Why is Enceladus currently so active? Are other sites on Enceladus active? Might this activity have been continuous enough over the moons history for life to have had a chance to take hold in the moons interior? Geological activity is not necessarily related to biological activity. Enceladus is not a case for OOL, but for YEC. Who are these spin doctors that write press blurbs like this gem from a Cassini press agent: A masterpiece of deep time and wrenching gravity, the tortured surface of Saturns moon Enceladus and its fascinating ongoing geologic activity tell the story of the ancient and present struggles of one tiny world. Get real.