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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Update on Mark Armitage and the Inquisition

Posted by jlwile on July 25, 2014

This is Mark Armitage giving a talk at a meeting of the Creation Science Fellowship.  (click for source)

This is Mark Armitage giving a talk at a meeting of the Creation Science Fellowship. (click for source)

Last year, I discussed how Mark Armitage fell victim to the evolutionary Inquisiton. In July of last year, he published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Histochemica. In that paper, he reported finding soft tissue in a Triceratops fossil that is supposedly 65 million years old. Remarkably, the soft tissue was composed of tiny, fragile cellular structures which showed no evidence of being mineralized. In addition, there was no doubt that this tissue came from the Triceratops, as it has exactly the microscopic structure one would expect for bone tissue.

That was too much for the High Priests of Science. The Inquisition struck, and Armitage was fired from his position at California State University. Armitage himself commented on the post, indicating he was convinced that his firing was directly related to the paper and he would sue the university.

Today, I ran across an announcement from The Pacific Justice Institute indicating that he has filed the lawsuit. The announcement includes something Armitage mentioned in his comment – that a university official proclaimed:

We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!

A staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute is quoted as saying:

It has become apparent that ‘diversity’ and ‘intellectual curiosity,’ so often touted as hallmarks of a university education, do not apply to those with a religious point of view.

That isn’t news to me. It isn’t news to a lot of other Christians who happen to be scientists, either. It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit progresses.

How Do You Design the Best Train? Copy the Designs of the Ultimate Engineer.

Posted by jlwile on June 11, 2014

This is an Azure Kingfisher.  The Shinkansen "bullet train" in Japan was improved by copying the design of a kingfisher's beak.  (click for credit)

This is an Azure Kingfisher. The Shinkansen “bullet train” in Japan was improved by copying the design of a kingfisher’s beak. (click for credit)

I ran across a story on biomimicry a few days ago. Although it discusses things that happened a while ago, I thought it was a great example of how copying designs found in nature can improve the designs produced by modern science and technology. The story involves Eiji Nakatsu, a Japanese engineer who worked on the high-speed “bullet” trains in Japan. These trains travel at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, and not surprisingly, there are a lot of design challenges involved in such systems.

In particular, there were three design issues that plagued the trains. First, the train would produce a very loud noise when entering a tunnel, because it would be “smashing” into a column of confined air. While this slowed down the train a bit, the big problem was the noise that it produced. The loud bang would disturb not only wildlife but also nearby residents. In order to comply with Japanese noise pollution regulations, something needed to be done.

According to the article, Nakatsu met this challenge by redesigning the front of the train. As a bird-watcher, he had observed Kingfisher birds diving into water without producing much of a splash. He realized that this was similar to what the trains had to do when entering a tunnel, so he designed the front of the train to be more like the head and beak of a kingfisher. It worked. The train could enter tunnels at full speed without producing a loud noise.

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New Record Set for Soft Tissue in Fossils

Posted by jlwile on May 22, 2014

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

Sabellidites cambriensis is an animal that we know only from the fossil record. It is thought to be a worm-like creature that built its own tube in which to live. Its fossils are found in Ediacaran rock, which is supposed to be on the order of 550 million years old. Evolutionists are interested in studying organisms from this rock, because they are thought to be the oldest multicelled animals. The problem is that there are other fossils of tube-forming animals in the same rock, so it is difficult for evolutionists to tease out the supposed relationships that exist between S. cambriensis and similar animals that are alive today.

In order to better understand S. cambriensis, a group of paleontologists examined several fossils using electron microscopes, X-rays, and spectrometers. Their analysis indicates that the structure and layering of the fossils’ tubes are similar to that of an existing group of animals known as beard worms,1 an example of which is shown below:

These are beard worms.  They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales.  (public domain image)

These are beard worms. They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales. (public domain image)

As a result, the authors conclude that the S. cambriensis fossils represent ancient forerunners of the beard worms. This presents a bit of a problem for evolutionists, however. As the authors note, using molecular clock estimates, it was thought that beard worms didn’t evolve until about 126 million years ago. Since the fossils the authors studied are supposed to be about 550 million years old, their analysis says that the molecular clock estimate is off by almost a factor of four! However, I personally think these fossils represent an even bigger problem for evolutionists.

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The Inquisition Strikes Again

Posted by jlwile on May 19, 2014

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled "Inquisition."

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled “Inquisition.” (public domain image)

Dr. Lennart Bengtsson is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading’s Environmental Systems Science Centre. When it comes to climate scientists, there are few more distinguished. He has been awarded the Descartes Research Prize (for outstanding scientific and technological achievements resulting from European collaborative research), the International Meteorological Organization Prize (for outstanding contributions to meteorology, climatology, hydrology, and related sciences), and the Rossby Prize (the highest award for atmospheric science given by the American Meteorological Society). He currently has 238 papers published in the nationally-recognized, peer-reviewed scientific literature, focused mostly on climate science. Obviously, his credentials speak for themselves.

About a month ago, he accepted an invitation to join The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a think tank devoted to climate science and its effects on public policy. They say they are focused on “Restoring balance and trust to the climate debate,” and their members have a wide range of views on the science behind global warming. Some agree with the opinions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that human beings are causing the planet to warm and the results are potentially catastrophic. Others do not think the scientific evidence is strong enough to make such a statement, while others think the scientific evidence indicates that the climate changes we are seeing now are mostly the result of natural cycles which have been going on for a long, long time. In short, their membership represents the same variety of opinions that is found in the climate science community.

Unfortunately for Dr. Bengtsson (and science as a whole), this is considered unacceptable by the Inquisition, which seeks to enforce orthodoxy among scientists. According to the Inquisition, the science is settled. Despite the fact that the data are far from conclusive, the Inquisition has decided that to even suggest there might be something wrong with the “scientific consensus” on global warming is downright heresy. As a result, Dr. Bengtsson was bullied into resigning from his position at the GWPF. In his own words:

I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety…I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years. [Please note that English is not Dr. Bengtsson's mother tongue.]

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These Algae Falsify an Evolutionary Prediction

Posted by jlwile on May 7, 2014

This is one of the species of algae that seem to falsify an evolutionary prediction (click for credit)

This is one of the species of algae that seem to falsify an evolutionary prediction (click for credit)

Two species that are closely-related should compete for resources more strongly than two species that are distantly-related. This is a prediction Darwin himself made, and while it hasn’t been tested very much, it has been assumed to be true ever since. In 1967, MacArthur and Levins formalized the prediction1, and at least according to some biologists, it is “central to ecology and evolutionary biology.”2 It’s one of those ideas that makes sense in an evolutionary framework but is hard to test. As a result, most biologists have just assumed that it is true.

Well, while studying algae, Dr. Bradley J. Cardinale and his colleagues inadvertently put the idea to the test. They were trying to measure the competition that existed between 23 different species of green algae, such as the one pictured above (Coelastrum microporum). All these species are commonly found existing together in North American ecosystems, so it is assumed that they compete with one another. In their experiment, they took two different species from the group of 23 and put them together in a laboratory environment. They then measured how the two species competed with one another.

Now remember, they were looking at 23 different species, but they only put two species together to compete with one another. In order to look at all possible combinations of these 23 species taken two at a time, then, they had to examine 253 separate situations. They examined each combination of species twice, to make sure that their results were consistent, so they looked at a total of 506 competitive situations. However, in order to compare how the species did in competition to how they did without competition, they also had to put each species in a laboratory environment on its own. They examined each of those situations twice as well. In the end, then, they examined 552 different situations of algae growing in a laboratory environment. In other words, this was an extensive experiment.

The results of this extensive experiment were rather surprising, at least to the investigators and many other evolutionists.

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Using Stories to Indoctrinate Children

Posted by jlwile on April 23, 2014

A teacher reads a story to kindergarteners (click for credit)

A teacher reads a story to kindergarteners (click for credit)

Consider the following statement: “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe.” Do you think that’s a true statement? I do. However, if they are given enough time, many scientists will tell you that the statement is false. Sure, trees produce oxygen, but they don’t do it so that animals can breathe. Such a statement implies there is a purpose behind the fact that trees produce oxygen, and most scientists would say there is are no purposes in nature. Instead, most scientists would say that trees (and other photosynthetic organisms) evolved to produce oxygen, and the availability of oxygen in the atmosphere allowed for the evolution of oxygen-breathing animals.

Statements like the one above are called teleological statements, because teleology is the idea that there are purposes in nature. Obviously, creationists think in terms of teleology. We think that God designed the world, and just as a human designer puts purposes in his design, God put purposes into nature. Thus, trees (and other photosynthetic organisms) were designed by God specifically because He wanted to produce animals and people that breathe oxygen. As a result, He knew there would need to be a mechanism by which oxygen could be replenished in the atmosphere.

It is important to note, however, that creationists are not the only ones who believe in teleology. Indeed, atheist philosopher Dr. Thomas Nagel wrote an incredibly important book two years ago entitled Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. In that book, he clearly rejects the notion of any kind of creator, but he argues quite convincingly that the data show there must be a teleological explanation for the natural world. He is hard pressed to give an atheistic teleological explanation; he just argues that evolutionists must develop one.

In fact, even most scientists who reject teleology think in terms of it when they are caught off guard. Research shows that if you force scientists who reject teleology to evaluate scientific statements quickly, they tend to accept the teleological ones. However, if they are allowed enough time to think through the implications of each statement, they reject the teleological ones. This implies that the natural instinct of a person, even a person who rejects teleology, is to think about nature in terms of purpose. This, of course, is a danger to naturalistic evolution, which is what the high priests of science want people to believe. Thus, such blasphemous ideas must be rooted out of the human psyche.

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The President of the Flat Earth Society Is An Evolutionist Who Also Believes in Global Warming

Posted by jlwile on April 21, 2014

This is one conception of a flat earth.  The white around the edges is an ice wall that prevents people from falling off.  (click for credit)

This is one conception of a flat earth. The white around the edges
is an ice wall that prevents people from falling off. (click for credit)

When someone wants to really insult you in a scientific discussion, he or she often compares you to someone who believes that the earth is flat. Not long ago, for example, President Obama wanted to level an insult at those who question the idea that human activities are warming the earth. In a speech at Georgetown University, he said that he has no patience for people who deny that human-produced global warming is real. He added:

We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-Earth society…Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.

Of course, creationists are often given the same label. Wray Herbert, for example, is a journalist who focuses on human behavior and health. For a while, he was the psychology editor at Science News, an indispensable resources for keeping up with the most recent scientific discoveries. He wrote:

The last Flat Earther supposedly was spotted in California, near Los Angeles, some years ago. But the term endures in our cultural idiom, where it has come to mean any dogmatic, rigidly anti-scientific thinker: Creationists, holocaust-deniers, indeed anyone who insists on an irrational belief, all meaningful evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Wray is wrong about a couple of things in those two sentences, including the fact that the last Flat Earther was spotted in LA some years ago. In fact, belief in a flat earth is alive and well today, and one of its major spokesmen has a rather interesting mix of views.

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Even Leaf Fossils Contain Original Remains After Sitting for Supposedly 50 Million Years!

Posted by jlwile on April 16, 2014

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old.  Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material.  (click for credit)

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old. Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material. (click for credit)

One of the many recent scientific discoveries that is best understood in a young-earth creationist framework is the preservation of original tissue in fossils thought to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, and here, for example). So far, all of the examples of such tissue come from animals, but recently, a study was published in the journal Metallomics that indicates at least some plant fossils also have remarkably well-preserved original remains in them!

The research team, which includes palaeontologists, physicists, and geochemists, used the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the UK’s Diamond Light Source to examine fossil leaves which are believed to be 50 million years old. These two facilities use fast-moving electrons to produce radiation that is very intense and very high energy. This radiation can be used to study various aspects of an object that are not possible to study using visible light. In particular, the research team used the radiation from the facilities to examine the distribution of chemicals found in the leaf fossils.

Why did they want to do this? Well, essentially the same team of scientists used a series of tests (including ones conducted at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource) on a reptile fossil that was also supposed to be 50 million years old. They found the chemicals you would expect to find in reptile tissue, and they found them in exactly the places you would expect to find them in living reptiles.1 As a result, they concluded that there was a remarkable level of chemical preservation in a reptile fossil that is supposed to be 50 million years old. They wanted to see if the same thing existed in plant fossils.

They found that it did!

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Really Generous Bacteria!

Posted by jlwile on April 8, 2014

This is an electron microscope image of a bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus.  The colors were added artificially. (click for credit)

This is an electron microscope image of a bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus.
The colors were added artificially. (click for credit)

The image you see above is of a tiny bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus. It is part of a phylum of bacteria called Cyanobacteria, and the members of this phylum are an incredibly important part of the world’s ecosystems. They live in water, converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen via photosynthesis. Estimates indicate that cyanobacteria are responsible for producing about 20 to 30 percent of the earth’s oxygen supply.

Prochlorococcus are particularly important cyanobacteria. They are thought to be the most abundant photosynthetic organism on earth, with an estimated worldwide population of an octillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).1 More importantly, they tend to live in parts of the ocean that are nutrient-poor. Their photosynthesis helps to alleviate this problem, of course, making them a food source for other organisms that might try to live there.

Dr. Sallie Chisholm at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) first described the organisms in 1988 and has continued to study them over the years. She and her colleagues were recently looking at them under an electron microscope and noticed what she described as, “these pimples – we call them ‘blebs’ – on the surface.”2 Dr. Steven J. Biller, a microbiologist who is also at MIT, recognized the blebs as vesicles, which are tiny “sacs” made by nearly every cell in nature. Since the vesicles were found on the surface of the cell, the scientists decided the bacteria were using them to get rid of whatever was inside the vesicles.

They studied the water from their laboratory samples and found that it was, indeed, rich with vesicles that had been released by the Prochlorococcus, and they were surprised by what they found inside.

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More Evidence That Antibiotic Resistance Existed LONG BEFORE Antibiotics Were Developed

Posted by jlwile on March 3, 2014

This is a drawing of a bacteriophage, a virus that attacks bacteria.  (click for credit)

This is a drawing of a bacteriophage, a virus that attacks bacteria. (click for credit)

Many people know that bacteria have developed resistance to popular antibiotics. Indeed, it is a big problem in medicine, and it has caused many health-care providers to call for doctors to prescribe antibiotics only when they are necessary. The Centers for Disease Control calls this “antibiotic stewardship” and thinks it will improve medical care throughout the country.1 I have written about antibiotic resistance before (see here and here), because some evolutionists try to cite it in support of the idea that novel, useful genes can be produced by evolutionary processes. Of course, the more we have studied the phenomenon, the more we have seen that this is just not the case.

There are essentially two ways that a bacterium develops resistance to an antibiotic. One way is to have a mutation that confers the resistance. For example, a bacterium can become resistant to streptomycin if a mutation causes a defect in the bacterium’s protein-making factory, which is called the ribosome. That defect keeps streptomycin from binding to the ribosome, which makes streptomycin ineffective against the bacterium. However, it also makes the ribosome significantly less efficient at its job.2 So in the end, rather than producing something novel (like a new gene that fights the antibiotic), the mutation just deteriorates a gene that already existed. While this is good for a bacterium in streptomycin, it doesn’t provide any evidence that novel, useful genes can be produced by evolutionary processes.

There is, however, a second way that a bacterium can develop resistance to an antibiotic: It can get genes that fight the antibiotic from another bacterium. Bacteria hold many genes on tiny, circular portions of their DNA called plasmids. Two bacteria can come together in a process called conjugation and exchange those plasmids, which allows bacteria to “swap” DNA. If a bacterium has a gene (or a set of genes) that allows it to resist an antibiotic, it can pass those genes to others in the population, ensuring their survival.

Of course, the natural question one must ask is, “Where did those antibiotic-resistance genes come from in the first place?” Many evolutionists want you to believe that evolution produced those genes in response to the development of antibiotics. After all, antibiotics didn’t exist until 1941, when penicillin was tested in animals and then people. Why would antibiotic-resistance genes exist before the antibiotics?

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