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Friday, October 24, 2014

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.

Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Anti-Science Guy

Posted by jlwile on January 6, 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?

More than a year ago, Bill Nye was in an anti-science video that tried to convince people the creationist view should be censored. As I pointed out then, this is an incredibly anti-science notion. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only example of Mr. Nye’s anti-science behavior.

Nevertheless, I now have to give Mr. Nye some credit for doing something very pro-science: He is going to debate Ken Ham on the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins?” The debate will take place on February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It is good to see that Nye is stepping away from his promotion of censorship and is interested in actually engaging the creationist view. I tried to order tickets online as soon as they were available, but the event seems to already be sold out!

Now even though this is a positive step towards a more pro-science attitude for Bill Nye, many evolutionists are trying to convince him to be more anti-science. As one Christian-turned-secular-humanist put it:

Will the Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate Advance the Secular Cause? Of course not. Debates are all about the faithful on each side saying their side wiped the floor with the other side. I am not sure why Bill Nye decided to debate Ken Ham. Nothing good can come of it.

I obviously disagree. I think debate is usually a good thing, because it allows us to hear another point of view from someone who actually believes in that view. For the creationists who attend the debate (and I suspect they will be the large majority), they will hear from an evolutionist who actually believes in evolution. This will be good, because most likely, much of what they hear about evolution comes from creationists. For the evolutionists in attendance, they will hear about the creationist point of view from a creationist. This is also good, since most of them have probably never bothered to get the creationist view from someone who actually believes it.

In an effort to help Mr. Nye with his budding pro-science attitude, I will give him a piece of advice: Be Prepared!

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Chromosome Fusion? It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Believe.

Posted by jlwile on December 9, 2013

An illustration of the fusion of two chromosomes. (public domain image)

People have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46 chromosomes. Most apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 48 chromosomes. One very popular piece of genetic evidence for the idea that humans and apes have a common ancestor is that human chromosome 2 looks like two chimpanzee chromosomes that have been stitched together. As the evolutionary story goes, the common ancestor between apes and humans had 24 pairs of chromosomes, and it initially passed them to those animals that began evolving into apes and humans. The apes kept that number of chromosomes, but after the human lineage split off from the chimpanzee lineage, something happened to fuse two of the chromosomes, leading to only 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans. As Dr. Francis Collins puts it:1

The fusion that occurred as we evolved from the apes has left its DNA imprint here. It is very difficult to understand this observation without postulating a common ancestor.

This idea has been around for a long time, but I never put much stock in it. Why? Because even if human chromosome 2 is the result of two independent chromosomes being fused together (an example of which is shown in the illustration above), I don’t see why this can only be understood in the context of evolution. After all, we know that chromosome fusion events happen in human beings today.2 Thus, if human chromosome 2 really is the result of a fusion of two chromosomes, it could have happened early in the history of human beings. It need not have happened to some hypothetical evolutionary ancestor. Any event that restricted the human population to those who arose from the people who originally experienced the chromosomal fusion would then fix that chromosome in the population. A worldwide Flood in which a single family was saved would be one example of such an event.

Regardless of whether or not human chromosome 2 is evidence of common ancestry, it’s getting hard to understand how it could even be the result of two chromosomes fusing.

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An Odd View of an Old Debate

Posted by jlwile on November 20, 2013

Mr. Strock's book

Carl Strock is a journalist-turned-columnist who recently retired from the Schenectady Gazette after 25 years of service. After he traveled to Israel and wrote some decidedly anti-Israel columns, the Gazette received numerous complaints. In response, his editor told him to stop writing about Israel for a while and submit all of his columns to her for editing. This bothered Strock, because he saw it as censorship. After continuing his columns with less frequency, he eventually retired. However, he has not stopped writing. He has a blog at the timesunion.com and has written a book, From D’burg to Jerusalem, The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman.

Why am I writing about Mr. Strock? Because in his book, he mentions a debate he had with me back in 2006. I had actually forgotten about the debate, but when a reader in Schenectady told me about being mentioned in his book, I recalled the event. I got his book and planned to read the entire thing, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I did read some parts of the book, including the chapter that discusses the debate. I found his view of that event to be very odd.

Here’s what prompted the debate: Strock had written some columns in the Gazette regarding creationism and intelligent design. Since he obviously knew little about either subject, his columns provoked some rather heated responses, which he seemed to find surprising. Eventually, he tired of people pointing out his ignorance, so he said:

I will meet any of them in open forum, and we’ll see who’s ignorant of what. (p. 161)

A student who was using one of my textbooks at the time contacted me, and (of course) I agreed to meet Mr. Strock in open forum. Strock was surprised, but he agreed to the debate. I thought the debate was amatuerish but informative. Based on what he has written in his book, he obviously disagrees.

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The Bacterial Flagellum: More Sophisticated Than We Thought!

Posted by jlwile on November 18, 2013

This is a schematic of a bacterium's flagellum (image in the public domain).

The bacterial flagellum is a symbol of the Intelligent Design movement, and rightly so. After all, bacteria are commonly recognized as the “simplest” organisms on the planet. Nevertheless, their amazingly well-designed locomotive system has continued to amaze the scientists that study it. In 1996, Dr. Michael Behe highlighted the intricate design of the bacterial flagellum in his book, Darwin’s Black Box. While some have tried to explain it in terms of Neo-Darwian evolution, they have not come close to succeeding.
Not only is the bacterial flagellum amazingly well-designed, it is far more versatile than anyone imagined.

Some bacteria (like Escherichia coli) have multiple flagella, which makes it very easy for an individual to navigate in water. All the bacterium has to do is adjust which flagella are spinning and how they are spinning, and the single-celled creature can do acrobatics in the water. However, the vast majority of bacteria have only one flagellum. It was thought for a long time that because of this, it is difficult for them to make sharp turns in the water.

Two years ago, this thinking changed abruptly when a group of physicists from the University of Pittsburgh showed that the bacterium Vibrio alginolyticus, which has only one flagellum, can make sharp turns with ease. They showed that in order to execute such a turn, the bacterium backs up, lurches forwards, and swings its flagellum to one side.1 The entire maneuver takes less than a tenth of a second and results in a 90-degree turn. So not only is the bacterial flagellum an exquisite “outboard motor” that propels the bacterium through the water, it is also a rudder that allows the bacterium to make sharp turns at will!

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The Great Debate, Take 2

Posted by jlwile on September 26, 2013

The skulls of some primates. Based on genetics, most evolutionists believe the chimpanzee is our closest living relative, but physical characteristics indicate the orangutan is. (click for credit)

Last night I once again debated Dr. Robert A. Martin, a vertebrate paleontologist who is professor emeritus at Murray State University. The previous debate was on the broad subject of creation versus evolution. This time, the organizers of the event wanted us to narrow our discussion, so we chose to talk about dinosaurs and people. Before I discuss the debate, I want to thank Dr. Martin for participating in it. I personally think the best way to understand an issue is to hear from multiple sides, so I think debates can be extremely helpful to those interested in controversial topics. However, it is difficult to get evolutionists to participate in debates about the creation/evolution controversy. I thank Dr. Martin for being committed to education strongly enough to be an exception to that general rule!

Since Dr. Martin had the weaker position scientifically, I allowed him to choose whether to present his case first or second. He chose to go second, so I was up first. The initial activities (songs, introductions, and remarks from the organizers) made it clear that for some reason, the audience this year was overwhelmingly creationist. The previous year, creationists were in the majority, but there were many evolutionists present. That didn’t seem to be the case this year, so I started by thanking Dr. Martin for being willing to act as a lion in a den of Daniels.

In making my case, I concentrated on the evidence that indicates dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old. I stressed the soft tissue that is being found in fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I also discussed the fact that several dinosaur bones from different locations around the world all have enough carbon-14 in them to indicate that their maximum age is less than 40,000 years old. I also discussed how living organisms like the coelacanth, Wollemi pine, and tuatara falsify the geological-column thinking that leads most scientists to conclude that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time.

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