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Friday, September 19, 2014

Strike Yet Another Vestigial Organ

Posted by jlwile on September 15, 2014

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale.  The small pelvis is circled.  (click for credit)

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale. The small pelvis is circled. (click for credit)

Evolutionists love to talk about vestigial organs. Consider, for example, the human appendix. This wormlike tube connected to a person’s cecum looks something like the cecum that you find in some herbivores. Since there is some similarity between the two organs, and since a person can live an apparently normal life without his or her appendix, evolutionists long thought it was a vestigial organ – a remnant of our evolutionary history. Most evolutionary sources said it was useless in people, but we now know that isn’t true (see here and here). Others claimed it wasn’t necessarily useless, but it was still vestigial. They said the appendix is definitely the remnant of a herbivore’s cecum, but as it shrank, it developed a new purpose. We now know that’s not true, either.

Of course, there are many other organs that evolutionists claimed were vestigial but we now know aren’t (see here, here, here, here, and here). It seems we can add another to that list: the pelvis in a whale. Like the appendix, most evolutionary sources say that the whale pelvis is useless. For example, the book Life on earth says:1

During whale evolution, losing the hind legs provided an advantage, better streamlining the body for movement through water. The result is the modern whale with small, useless pelvic bones.

We now know that this is simply not true.

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Confirmation of a Creationist Prediction Becomes Even More Stunning

Posted by jlwile on August 11, 2014

A model of the vertebrate retina, showing the Müller cells (image by Dr. Jens Grosche, Universität Leipzig, found in reference 2)

A model of the vertebrate retina, showing the Müller cells (image by Dr. Jens Grosche, Universität Leipzig, found in reference 2)

Nature is filled with amazing designs, which leads me to the conclusion that it is the product of a Magnificent Designer. Of course, many scientists disagree with that conclusion, and some of them try to argue against it by pointing out examples of what they think are bad designs in nature. One of the oft-cited examples is the retina of the human eye. As Dr. Michael Shermer puts it:1

The anatomy of the human eye shows that it is anything but “intelligently designed.” It is built upside down and backwards, with photons of light having to travel through the cornea, lens, aqueous fluid, blood vessels, ganglion cells, amacrine cells, horizontal cells, and biploar cells, before reaching the light-sensitive rods and cones that will transform the signal into neural impulses.

To understand what he is saying, look at the illustration above. When light hits the surface of the eye’s retina, it has to travel through layers of cells that essentially connect the retina to the rest of the nervous system. Only then can it reach the light-sensitive cells, called rods and cones, and be converted into a signal that can be sent to the brain. This, of course, seems backwards to most evolutionists. According to them, if the retina were designed intelligently, the rods and cones would be at the retinal surface so they are the first thing the light hits. That way, the connecting neurons could be placed behind the rods and cones so they don’t interfere with the light in any way.

Like most arguments inspired by evolution, the more we learned about the human retina, the less reasonable this argument became. Back in 2007, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA showed that light doesn’t have to travel through the connecting neurons to reach the rods and cones. Instead, as shown in the illustration above (which appeared on the cover of the journal), there are special cells, called Müller cells, that collect the light and guide it to the rods and cones.2

Three years later (in 2010), an analysis published in Physical Review Letters concluded:3

The retina is revealed as an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images.

The authors of the analysis showed that the position of the rods and cones in the retina combined with the way the Müller cells guide the light to them make them much less sensitive to light that is scattered within the eye itself. This, in essence, reduces the “noise” that the rods and cones would get from errant photons, making the overall image sharper and clearer.

I blogged about this previously, pointing out that it is precisely what creationists predicted and quite opposite what evolutionists maintained. I am bringing it up now because further research has confirmed the creationist prediction in an even more stunning way!

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Instant Cooperation Among Organisms

Posted by jlwile on August 4, 2014

The alga (left) and yeast (right) are free-living, but when put in a situation where they must cooperate in order to survive, they do.  (images in the public domain)

The alga (left) and yeast (right) are free-living, but when put in a situation where they must cooperate in order to survive, they do. (electron microscope images in the public domain)

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated with mutualism – the phenomenon whereby organisms of different species live together in a mutually-beneficial way (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I think it is probably a glimpse of what nature was like before the Fall. Based on what I see in mutualism, I think that lots of species were designed to cooperate with one another, and many of the pathological relationships we see today are corrupted versions of previously-beneficial ones.

Evolutionists have a different view, of course. The generally-accepted view is that mutualism starts out with one species trying to exploit another species. Here, for example, is how the text Symbiosis: An Introduction to Biological Associations, Second Edition puts it:1

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of two organisms starting out in a mutualistic association. Most mutualistic symbioses probably began as parasitic ones, with one organism attempting to exploit another one.

To be fair, the authors of this text do allow for another option. There are some relationships between organisms that seem neither harmful nor beneficial. Barnacles that live on whales, for example, seem to neither harm nor help the whales in most cases. These kinds of relationships are called commensal, and the authors allow for mutualism to start out as a commensal relationship and then evolve into a mutualistic one.

The key, however, is the first sentence in the quote. They say it is difficult to conceive of two organisms starting out in a mutualistic relationship. Why? Because evolutionists cannot allow for a grand design in nature. They can’t look at the relationships in an ecosystem and see how they fit together in an overall plan. Instead, they have to imagine some scenario in which relationships are cobbled together by selfish organisms that are only concerned with their own survival. If organisms live in a mutually-beneficial relationship today, it is only because they evolved together (in a process called coevolution) from a negative relationship or at least a relationship that didn’t begin as a mutually-beneficial one.

A new study indicates that at least in some cases, this evolutionary-inspired idea is wrong.

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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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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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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 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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DNA Is Even More Sophisticated Than We Thought!

Posted by jlwile on December 17, 2013

The information in DNA is stored in sequences of four different nucleotide bases (A, T, C, and G). In a gene, three nucleotide bases code for a specific amino acid, and that three-nucleotide-base sequence is called a 'codon.' (click for credit)

Over the years, scientists have learned a lot about DNA. Nevertheless, the molecule continues to surprise us with its exquisite design. Not long ago, scientists demonstrated that a single gram of DNA can store about 500,000 CDs worth of information. It has also been shown that the code used by DNA to store this information has been specifically designed to allow living organisms to respond to their environment in many different ways. In addition, we know that DNA stores its information in “modules” that can be rearranged in many different ways. This allows a single stretch of DNA to contain many different meanings, depending on how the modules are put together.

In the December 13 issues of Science, researchers have demonstrated yet another incredible design feature of DNA, and according to the University of Washington, the scientists who made the discovery were “stunned.” To understand what was done and what the discovery means, however, you need a little bit of background information on DNA and how it is used by the cell.

DNA stores its information in sequences of nucleotide bases called adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). As shown in the illustration above, those nucleotide bases link together to hold DNA in its familiar double helix shape. The meaning of each sequence depends on where it is in the molecule. In many organisms, a small fraction of the DNA is made up of genes, and in most of the organisms with which you and I are familiar, the genes consist of two regions: exons and introns. The exons of a gene contain the recipe that tells the cell exactly how to make a protein. This recipe is given in groups of three nucleotide bases, which are called codons. Each codon specifies a certain chemical called an amino acid. When the cell stitches amino acids together in the sequence given by the codons, it makes a useful protein.

Introns are “spacers” that exist between the codons in a gene. Once derided by evolutionists as “junk DNA,” we now know that introns are a powerful means by which the exons are split up into functional information modules. The cell can stitch the modules together in different ways, so that a single gene can instruct the cell on how to make many different proteins. This is called alternative splicing, and it is a incredibly powerful design feature that allows DNA to store its information with amazing efficiency. Indeed, thanks to alternative splicing, there is a single gene in fruit flies that can tell the cells to make 38,016 different proteins!1

Now don’t get lost in all the terminology. Think of it this way: genes tell the cell how to make proteins. However, to increase the information storage capability of DNA, these genes are split into two regions: exons and introns. The introns separate the exons into modules of useful information, and the cell stitches those modules together in different ways so that a single gene can tell the cell how to make lots and lots of different proteins.

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Insults Do Not an Argument Make

Posted by jlwile on December 4, 2013

This book by Dr. Stephen Meyer has elicited a lot of insults from its critics, but not much reasoned response.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a review of double-doctor Alister McGrath’s book Why God Won’t Go Away. It ends with an amusing anecdote about a young man who meets Dr. McGrath and asks him to sign one of his theology books. The young man tells Dr. McGrath that he has Richard Dawkins to thank for his conversion to Christianity. He had read Dawkins’s The God Delusion and thought it was so unfair and one-sided that he had to look at the other side. When he did, he become convinced of the reality of Christianity.

While one might pass this off as an isolated incident, it’s not clear that’s the case. Not long ago, I blogged about another person who was raised Catholic but became an agnostic in her teens. She read The God Delusion and similar works, thinking it would drive her to atheism. Once she read Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists, however, she read authors on the other side of the debate. In comparison, she found the arguments of Dawkins and his ilk intellectually deficient, so she returned to her Catholic faith.

Note what happened in both of these cases. Each person decided to look at both sides of the issue. They looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is no God, and they looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is a God. Both decided that those who argued against the existence of God had a significantly weaker position. As a result, they ended up believing in God.

But what makes the arguments of the New Atheists so weak? It’s not just that they have little evidence to back up their claims. It’s more than that. I think one of the reasons their arguments are so weak is that they try to make up for their lack of evidence with insults and bluster. Somehow, they think they are making their case stronger, but to most reasonable people, it has the opposite effect. A few days ago, I ran across a story that makes this very point.

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