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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Coral Can Call for Help

Posted by jlwile on March 29, 2013

This broad-barred goby is one of the species that responds to a coral's call for help (click for credit)

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated by the mutualism that seems to be all over creation. You can seem some of my previous posts about this topic here, here, here, here, and here. I recently came across a study that provides another example of mutualism in one of favorite habitats: a coral reef. As an amateur scuba diver, I spend a lot of time enjoying the wonders of coral reefs, and the more we study their biology, the more amazed I am at the interconnectedness that exists among their inhabitants.

The authors of the study were trying to understand how a very common species of coral, Acropora nasuta, protects itself against the toxic seaweed Chlorodesmis fastigiata. This particular seaweed attempts to take over a coral reef by producing chemicals that harm the coral. The chemicals reduce the coral’s ability to grow and feed, allowing the seaweed to “muscle in” on the coral’s turf. When the seaweed is completely successful, it chokes out the coral, forming a shrubby thicket where the coral once was.

As the authors note, previous studies have already shown that overfished coral reefs are more likely to be taken over by such seaweed, so they wondered if perhaps the fish that live in the coral reefs provide some sort of protection for the coral. They found that certain species of goby (particularly the broad-barred goby, Gobiodon histrio, and the redhead goby, Paragobiodon echinocephalus) do, indeed, protect the coral from the seaweed, but the process by which this happens is rather surprising.

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Soft Bone Tissue in a Triceratops Fossil

Posted by jlwile on March 27, 2013

A triceratops skull like the one from which the horn in the study came. (click for credit)

These are exciting times to be a creationist! Ever since Dr. Mary Schweitzer first demonstrated the existence of soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is supposed to be 65 million years old,1 soft tissue is turning up in all sorts of supposedly ancient fossils (see here, here, here, and here for more information). The latest example comes from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, which is supposed to be about 65 million years old, so the fossil is assumed to be that old as well.

The fossil in question is a horn from a Triceratops horridus specimen. After it was collected, it broke in several places, indicating that the fossil had been fractured. Since the fossil was broken, the authors of the study decided to get rid of the “hard parts” of the fossil to see if there was anything soft inside. To do this, they soaked the horn in a weak acid for a month.

As the acid ate away at the minerals that formed the horn, the authors found strips of light brown, soft tissue remaining. Now this soft stuff could be from all manner of things, so the authors decided to do a microscopic study of the tissue, and what they found was was exactly what you would expect to see if you examined the tissue from the bone of a recently deceased animal!2

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Science & Human Origins

Posted by jlwile on March 25, 2013

I was recently asked to review the book Science & Human Origins for Apologetics 315. While the book is not perfect, it is definitely worth the read.

You can see my review here.

Does Natural Selection Weed Out Harmful Mutations?

Posted by jlwile on March 20, 2013

A model of the influenza virus (Public Domain Image)

It is generally assumed by evolutionists that natural selection tends to “weed out” harmful mutations. After all, if a mutation is harmful to an organism, that organism will be less fit to survive and less likely to pass on that mutation to its progeny. While this idea makes perfect sense, it is not clear how effective natural selection can be at its job.

In his book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, award-wining geneticist and young-earth creationist Dr. John C. Sanford argues that most mutations simply don’t produce a strong enough effect to influence natural selection. As a result, organisms continue to build up deleterious mutations as time goes on. This leads to an erosion of the genome. As he puts it:1

While selection is essential for slowing down degeneration, no form of selection can actually halt it. I do not relish the thought, any more than I relish the thought that all people must die. The extinction of the human genome appears to be just as certain and deterministic as the extinction of stars, the death of organisms, and the heat death of the universe. (emphasis his)

While he quotes a lot of experimental research to support his findings, he has never been able to demonstrate this effect directly…until now. He obviously hasn’t shown that the human genome is deteriorating, but last year he and young-earth creationist Dr. Robert W. Carter published (in a standard, peer-reviewed journal) the results of some of their research, which directly demonstrate that even when natural selection is working hard, it doesn’t seem to do a good job of getting rid of harmful mutations.

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Another Study that Confirms Homeschool Graduates Outperform Their Peers in College

Posted by jlwile on March 18, 2013

A happy graduate (Click for credit)

Last week, I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was very well attended, and other than a fire alarm that interrupted one of my talks, it ran really smoothly. I gave two brand-new talks at this convention, and they were both done with Diana Waring, whose high school history curriculum is truly wonderful.

One of these new talks was on the myths that you find in textbooks. It started off with the myth that ancient people thought the earth was flat. There is simply no truth to such an absurd idea. As early as 200 BC, natural philosophers knew the circumference of the earth, and the earliest Christian writers who mention the shape of the earth (such as Basil of Caesarea – c. 330-379) mention the spherical shape of the earth as an accepted fact. No one thought that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the earth. His problems getting funding involved people not thinking he could carry enough supplies to make a voyage all the way around the earth. The other talk was based on a study by Dr. Harold McCurdy, which I have already discussed here.

While the talks I gave were enjoyable, as usual, the most interesting thing that happened occurred as a result of someone asking me a question. One of the solo talks I gave was called Why Homeschool Through High School. As a part of that talk, I discuss studies in which homeschool graduates are compared to graduates of traditional schools when it comes to their performance in college. Not surprisingly, the homeschooled students do much better in college than their traditionally-schooled peers.

After the talk, a homeschooling parent who is also a college professor asked me a very interesting question. He asked me if any study had attempted to measure not the performance of homeschool graduates at the college level, but instead the preparation that homeschool graduates have when they arrive at college. After all, he said, a student can perform well at the college level even when he is unprepared, as long as he has the ability to learn on his own. I told him that the studies I had seen focused on performance, but I would take another look at the literature and see what I could find.

Well, it turns out that such a study has been done. It is a PhD dissertation, which is why I hadn’t seen it in the academic literature. It was done by a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and it at least partially addresses the question that the homeschooling parent asked.

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The Appendix Is Now So Important That It Supposedly Evolved Many Different Times!

Posted by jlwile on March 11, 2013

This medical image shows the appendix coming from the large intestine. (Click for credit)

The appendix is a tube-like structure that extends from the cecum, a small pouch that forms the beginning of the large intestine. In the medical image on the left, you can see it because it is filled with a contrast medium, as is the large intestine. For a long, long time, evolutionists have told us that the appendix is useless. It is a leftover vestige from when our ancestors depended heavily on vegetation for food. We have evolved out of such dietary needs, and as a result, we don’t need an appendix anymore. So the appendix we have today is just a shriveled remnant of what used to be a large, complex cecum in our ancestors. Here is how the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defined the appendix in 2008:1

BODY PART: 1 (plural appendixes) a small tube-shaped part which is joined to the INTESTINES on the right side of the body and has no use in humans
[emphasis in original]

Of course, anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows what the scientific evidence actually says: The appendix is not useless in any way. As a recent study tells us:2

Substantial evidence supports the view that the cecal appendix is an immune structure primarily functioning as a safe-house for beneficial bacteria, and comes from a range of disciplines, including medicine, epidemiology, immunology, and microbiology.

In order to salvage what they can, most evolutionists who know about the recent evidence now admit that the appendix has function, but they still insist that it is vestigial. They argue that the appendix evolved this new function once the old function was no longer needed.

At least some evolutionists, however, are more interested in what the data actually say. The authors of the study in reference (2) have looked at the data and have come to the conclusion that the appendix is not vestigial in any way. Instead, it is so important that it has evolved independently at least 32 separate times throughout the course of mammalian evolution!

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Dr. Gish Dies at Age 92

Posted by jlwile on March 6, 2013

Dr. Duane T. Gish (Click for credit)

According to Answers in Genesis, an icon of the modern young-earth creationist movement has passed into Glory. Dr. Duane T. Gish was a popular author among creationists, especially in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I read many of his books over the years, including Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record, Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics, and Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! While I did not agree with everything he wrote, I found his books incredibly helpful.

He was probably best known for his willingness to debate those who disagreed with him. He is said to have taken part in more than 300 public debates on the creation/evolution controversy. I always admired him for that. I never had the chance to meet Dr. Gish in this life, but I certainly look forward to doing so in the next.

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

-Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Homing Pigeons May Hear Their Way Home

Posted by jlwile on March 4, 2013

These homing pigeons can usually find their way home over very long distances. (Click for credit)

Homing pigeons have been specially bred to be able to find their way home, almost no matter where they are released. They have been used for more than 2,500 years to deliver messages in a fast, reliable way. For example, a homing pigeon was used to deliver the results of the first Olympiad back in 776 BC.1 Because people have been using these pigeons for a long, long time, scientists have tried to figure out how they are able to navigate their way from an unknown location back to their home. While scientists have been able to figure out some aspects of homing pigeon navigation, the details haven’t been entirely worked out.

It was once thought that homing pigeons use visual landmarks to help in their navigation, but experiments in which the pigeons’ eyesight was reduced using frosted contact lenses showed that’s not correct. Other experiments demonstrate that homing pigeons can sense the earth’s magnetic field, but many of those same experiments also show that disrupting that sense doesn’t always end up leading the pigeons astray. In addition, some experiments indicate that homing pigeons use the position of the sun in the sky to orient themselves, but that can’t be the entire explanation, either, because pigeons can navigate even on very cloudy days. It seems, then, that pigeons use a wide variety of strategies to navigate their way home.2

The mystery of homing pigeon navigation deepened back in 1997, when the Royal Pigeon Racing Association decided to celebrate its 100th year anniversary by releasing 60,000 pigeons in the south of France. These pigeons came from homes throughout southern England, and they were expected to be able to reach those homes in a few hours. While a few thousand of them ended up returning to their homes over a period of a few days, most never made it back.3

Over the years, several hypotheses have been put forth to explain why those pigeons never made it home. One of them suggests that the pigeons’ navigation was disrupted by the sonic boom of the Concorde jet whose flight path crossed that of pigeons. A recent study by Dr. Jonathan T. Hagstrum adds some support to this hypothesis.

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Nature’s Farmers Are Pretty Smart!

Posted by jlwile on March 1, 2013

The Central American agouti collects seeds and buries them for later use. (Click for credit)

When I was in Costa Rica last year, I saw several Central American agoutis, such as the one pictured above. I didn’t know anything about them, so when I got back home, I looked up some information. They can be omnivorous, but they prefer to eat seeds and fruit. One of their interesting behaviors is to follow troops of monkeys. They “hang out” underneath the trees that the monkeys climb, and they eat the fruit that the monkeys drop or inadvertently shake off the trees.1

Another really interesting thing about the Central American agouti is that it’s a scatter hoarder.2 This means it collects seeds and buries them in multiple locations. It remembers these locations and returns to them when food is scarce. However, it doesn’t just bury them once and leave them there. It often revisits its stores of seeds, digs them up, and reburies them somewhere else.

While this behavior is beneficial to the agouti (it provides storehouses of food for when food is scarce), it is also beneficial to the trees that drop the seeds. That’s because the agouti rarely uses all of its stored seeds. As a result, some of the buried seeds grow and develop into new trees. This means that the Central American agouti is, in fact, a “farmer” for the trees. It moves seeds away form the tree that drops them and plants the seeds so they can grow into new trees.

Why is this beneficial to the trees? If a seedling grows too near the tree that dropped the seed, it ends up competing with its parent tree. That’s not good for the parent or the seedling. By carrying the seed far from the tree and planting it, the agouti allows the seedling the chance to grow without competing with its parent. Pretty nifty, huh? Well, recent research shows its even niftier than that. It turns out that these “tree farmers” are smarter than we originally thought.

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