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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Yet Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction

Posted by jlwile on June 23, 2014

This a colony of coral from the genus Acropora, the same genus analyzed in the study that is being discussed.  (click for credit)

This a colony of coral from the genus Acropora, the same genus analyzed in the study that is being discussed. (click for credit)

One of the main ways to test the validity of a scientific hypothesis is to use that hypothesis to make predictions. If those predictions are confirmed by the data, more weight is added to the validity of the hypothesis. If those predictions are falsified by the data, the validity of the hypothesis should be called into question. When it comes to the hypothesis of evolution (in the flagellate-to-philosopher sense), prediction after prediction has been falsified (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds to the very long list of failed evolutionary predictions.

In this case, the researchers were studying the phenomenon of apoptosis, which is programmed cell death. In an organism that is composed of several cells, it is important to have a mechanism by which cells that are diseased, very old, or otherwise unstable can be removed. That way, they won’t harm the rest of the organism. This is one of the purposes of apoptosis. When a cell recognizes that it is a potential threat to the organism as a whole, it can actually release protein-destroying chemicals that cause it to kill itself.

Not surprisingly, the process by which apoptosis occurs is incredibly complex. Nevertheless, scientists have made a lot of progress in understanding it. We now know that there are specialized enzymes that start the process. They belong to a group called the TNF receptor-ligand superfamily. In this superfamily, there are TNF ligands (collectively called TNFSF) and receptors (collectively called TNFRSF). When the ligands bind to the receptors, a process starts that can either cause the cell to override its programmed cell death or continue on with it, depending on other chemical signals that are taking place within the organism.

Now don’t get lost in the terminology here. The idea is that multicelled organisms must have a way to get rid of cells that might be bad for the organism as a whole. One way this happens is for special chemicals from a group called TNFSF to bind to other special chemicals from a group called TNFRSF. This activates a process that determines whether the cell should continue to be a part of the organism or kill itself for the good of the organism.

The researchers who published this study decided to analyze apoptosis in one of the more “primitive” organisms on the planet, a species of coral called Acropora digitfera. According to the researchers, corals like this species have been around for 550 million years, so it should be a good representative of some of the earliest animals that ever existed on the planet. Given that assumption, the researchers thought that the apoptosis process in corals should be rather simple – at least a lot less complicated than what we see in the “higher” animals such as flies, birds, and people. Surprisingly, they found the exact opposite.

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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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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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Bill Nye and the Fossil Record

Posted by jlwile on February 12, 2014

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

I already gave you my general thoughts on the debate that took place between Ken Ham and Bill Nye last week. However, I would like to address a few of the particular subjects that Bill Nye raised, because I don’t think Ken Ham did a great job of answering them. Of course, due to the debate structure, neither of the men had much time to address the other’s issues. Nevertheless, I do think they each could have done more than they actually did.

In this post, I want to concentrate on Nye’s contention that the fossil record neatly supports evolution. For example, in his presentation he described the geological column, claiming that the “higher” animals are found in more recent rock layers, while the “lower” animals are found in the older rock layers. Starting at 1:04:15 in the online video, he then says:

You never, ever find a higher animal mixed in with a lower one. You never find a lower one trying to swim its way to the higher one…Anyone here, really, if you can find one example of that – one example of that anywhere in the world – the scientists of the world challenge you – they would embrace you. You would be a hero. You would change the world if you could find one example of that anywhere.

Nye repeated a variation of this claim later in the debate, so it was clearly meaningful to him.

Of course, the fact is that you do find higher animals in rock layers with lower animals. Evolutionists have many ways of dealing with the problem, but none of them involve making the discoverer into a hero.

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Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate

Posted by jlwile on February 5, 2014

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

The much-anticipated debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham happened last night. I had some pretty high hopes for the debate, and some of them were realized. However, most of them were not. If you happened to miss the debate, it is still available as a video, so please feel free to watch it. As I understand it, the video will only be there for a limited time, however, so if you want to watch it, you should probably do so soon.

Let me start by telling you the things I liked about the debate. First, it went off without a technical glitch. With so many people watching it via live streaming, there were all sorts of problems that could have happened. However, I was able to watch clear video with crisp audio the entire time. It was great to think that so many people could enjoy the debate in that format. I also love the fact that it is still available as a video so even more people can watch it!

Second, both debaters were cordial, and they concentrated on making their cases. Neither one of them resorted to name-calling, which is all too common in such situations. Nye repeatedly said that Ham’s views were “extraordinary,” and he also repeatedly referred to science as it happens “outside” the Creation Museum. However, at no time did he turn his attacks towards his opponent. That was very good.

Third, both debaters brought up some good points. You will see what I mean later on in this post.

Fourth, there were two chances for the debaters to rebut one another, and then there were (pre-written) questions from the audience. As a result, there were opportunities for the debaters to interact with one another. This is where I come to my main problem with the debate. While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another. That’s unfortunate, because a real discussion between the two debaters would have been more illuminating than what happened in the debate. Nevertheless, there were some good (and bad) moments for both sides in the debate, so let me use this post to point out what I thought each debater did well and what I thought each debater did poorly.

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More Amazing News About Breast Milk

Posted by jlwile on January 27, 2014

This is an oligosaccharide - a molecule made up of a few simple sugars linked together. (click for credit)

This is an oligosaccharide – a molecule made up of a few simple sugars linked together.
(click for credit)

Approximately a year ago, I wrote about the bacteria in human breast milk. While that may sound like a bad thing, it is actually a very good thing. Over the years, scientists have begun to realize just how important the bacteria that live in and on our bodies are (see here, here, here, here, and here), and the bacteria in breast milk allow an infant to be populated with these beneficial microbes as early as possible. Not surprisingly, as scientists have continued to study breast milk, they have been amazed at just how much of it is devoted to establishing a good relationship between these bacteria and the infant who is consuming the milk.

For example, research over the years has shown that human breast milk contains chemicals called oligosaccharides. These molecules, such as the one pictured above, contain a small number (usually 3-9) simple sugars strung together. Because oligosaccharides are composed of sugars, you might think they are there to feed the baby who is consuming the milk, but that’s not correct. The baby doesn’t have the enzymes necessary to digest them. So what are they there for? According to a review article in Science News:1

These oligosaccharides serve as sustenance for an elite class of microbes known to promote a healthy gut, while less desirable bacteria lack the machinery needed to digest them.

In the end, then, breast milk doesn’t just give a baby the bacteria he or she needs. It also includes nutrition that can be used only by those bacteria, so as to encourage them to stay with the baby! Indeed, this was recently demonstrated in a study in which the authors spiked either infant formula or bottled breast milk with two strains of beneficial bacteria. After observing the premature babies who received the concoctions for several weeks, they found that the ones who had been feed bacteria-spiked formula did not have nearly as many of the beneficial microbes in their intestines as those who had been feed bacteria-spiked breast milk.2

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Cellular Communication – Another “Truth” Destroyed

Posted by jlwile on January 20, 2014

The insulin-producing cells in the islets of the pancreas use a communication strategy that is probably not the most common form in nature (click for credit).

The insulin-producing cells in the islets of the pancreas use a communication strategy that is probably not the most common form in nature (click for credit).

Naturalistic evolutionists are forced to look at the world very simply. After all, they think there is no plan or design in nature. Instead, they believe that random events filtered by natural selection are responsible for all the marvels we see today. Because of this unscientific way of thinking, they tend to look for simple processes to explain amazingly complex interactions in nature. Cellular communication is a perfect example of how this simplistic way of looking at things can produce serious errors.

In order for the different cells of an organism to be able to work together, they must communicate with one another. One of the most well-studied versions of cellular communication is called endocrine communication, and the insulin-producing cells in the islets of the pancreas (illustrated above) provide an example of how it works. These cells produce insulin, which is then released into the bloodstream. When cells in the liver, skeletal muscles, and fat tissues are exposed to this chemical, they absorb glucose (a simple sugar) from the blood. By controlling the release of insulin from the pancreatic islets, then, the body can control how much glucose is in the blood.

Now, of course, this is a great design for cellular communication that needs to affect a wide array of cells in many different places. It makes the release of the chemicals easy to control but their effect long-ranging. As a result, when the body needs widespread communication in different cells, endocrine communication is used. However, there are often times when cells need to communicate with other cells that are nearby. This is called paracrine communication, and biologists have taught (as fact) for many, many years that paracrine communication happens in essentially the same way as endocrine communication. For example, one of the volumes of the Handbook of Cell Signaling says:1

Paracrine interactions induce signaling activities that occur from cell to cell within a given tissue or organ, rather than through the general circulation. This takes place as locally produced hormones or other small signaling molecules exit their cell of origin, and then, by diffusion or local circulation, act only regionally on other cells of a different type within that tissue. (emphasis mine)

In other words, a cell releases some signaling chemicals, and those chemicals simply have to find their way to their targets via diffusion or some other local means of movement. Of course, such a signalling scheme is rather inefficient for communication with nearby cells, and new research indicates that it’s not the way paracrine communication is done.

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Watch The Ham/Nye Debate FREE At Home!

Posted by jlwile on January 17, 2014

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye will debate the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye will debate the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

Not long ago, I discussed a debate that will take place between Bill Nye the Anti-Science Guy and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. As I wrote, I tried to get tickets to the debate, but they sold out minutes after they went on sale. It turns out that the demand for this debate has been overwhelming, so Answers in Genesis has teamed up with Google+ and Youtube to give anyone who wants it a live streaming video feed of the debate!

The url for the live stream is debatelive.org. If you go there now, you can sign up to watch the debate. If all goes well, I will be watching it via this service and will blog about my thoughts the next day.