People Can Compensate for Bad Genes!

In DNA, a gene is made up of exons and introns.  The exons determine the protein that is made.

In DNA, a gene is made up of exons and introns. The exons determine the protein that is made.

DNA is incredibly complex, so it’s really not surprising that the more we examine it, the more it challenges our notions of how it works. Consider, for example, genes. They make up less than 2% of human DNA, but they are important, because they tell the body what proteins to make and how to make them. At one time, evolutionary scientists actually thought that the vast majority of the rest of human DNA was useless junk. However, like most evolutionary ideas, that notion has been falsified by the data.

Despite the fact that they represent less than 2% of human DNA, genes are obviously important, because most of the chemical reactions that occur in our bodies are controlled by and depend on the proteins that genes specify. Because of the amazing design behind DNA, however, a single gene can actually produce many, many different proteins. This is because, as shown in the drawing above, a gene is actually constructed of introns and exons. The exons represent functional modules in the gene, and the introns separate those modules. When a gene is read, the exons can be grouped in many different ways, producing many different proteins. Because only the exons are used in the production of proteins, geneticists often study an organism’s exome, which is the collection of all the exons in a organism’s DNA.

When it comes to animals, studying how the exome affects overall health is difficult, but straightforward. Scientists can damage the gene of an animal and see what health consequences arise. This is referred to as a gene knockout, and it is an invaluable tool for learning what a gene does. For example, when the gene lovingly referred to as PRDM9 is knocked out of mice, they become sterile.1 Thus, we know that the PRDM9 gene is essential for reproduction in mice.

When it comes to humans, it’s not ethical to do gene knockouts. However, you can study a population and find examples of people who have a natural mutation that has disabled a gene. By comparing that person’s health to similar people who have a working version of that gene, you can learn something about how the gene affects health. A recent study published in the journal Science did just that, and the reported results were surprising, to say the least!

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Another Mother’s Day Drama

Click for credit

Click for credit

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I was asked to do a drama for the church service. I have a Mother’s Day Drama that I really like, but it has been done at least three times at our church, so I thought I should write a new one. Also, we have three incredibly talented young ladies who are all willing to do dramas. I have used each of them in different dramas over the past few months, but I decided it was time to put them all on stage together. In the end, I thought they did a fabulous job.

As always, feel free to use this script in any way you think will be meaningful to the body of Christ, but I would appreciate a credit.

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The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

An interesting book about an even more interesting friendship.

An interesting book about an even more interesting friendship.

Larry Alex Taunton is a columnist who started the Fixed Point Foundation, an apologetics organization that is probably best known for arranging high-profile debates between well-known atheists and Christians. For example, it arranged the famous “God Delusion” debate between Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. John Lennox. Other notable debates include The “Is God Great” debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. John Lennox and the “God on Trial” debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza. Because his organization has arranged such debates (and because he often moderates them), Taunton has met and gotten to know the participants, including Christopher Hitchens, who many recognize as an outspoken atheist. Despite the fact that Hitchens and Taunton were polar opposites when it came to their core beliefs, they developed a deep friendship, which is the topic if this book.

Taunton’s publisher suggested that he write the book shortly after Hitchens passed away in late 2011, but Taunton wasn’t interested at the time. He didn’t see how he could write a book about their friendship that was both interesting and uplifting. However, as time passed and he thought more about it, he realized that there was a way he could get the job done. I have to say that he was right. This book is both very interesting and quite uplifting. I have already relayed one very uplifting part of this book at the end of a previous blog post. Now it’s time for me to share more.

The most interesting aspect of the book, of course, is the friendship that developed between these two men. It’s interesting simply because it’s so rare these days. Many people spend so much time characterizing those with whom they disagree as “the enemy,” it seems unfathomable that a Christian apologist and a vocal atheist could be real friends. Indeed, as Taunton himself says:

The truth is, there were those who did not want us to be friends. This is a sad commentary on our society and the degree to which we have lost our ability to reason with one another. I speak exclusively to Christians when I say this: how are we to proclaim our faith if we cannot even build bridges with those who do not share it? (p. xi)

I couldn’t agree more. Of course, the problem goes both ways. Taunton reports on one Hitchens fan who was taken aback by their friendship:

That same night while speaking to an audience of some 1,200 people, Christopher made a passing reference to a road trip we had taken together through the Shenandoah Valley. At the book signing following the event, a man, an atheist and a devotee of all things Christopher Hitchens, asked his hero why he would undertake such a journey. “Have you ever seem the Shenandoah at this time of year? It’s beautiful.” Having signed the book, Christopher closed it, handed it back, and reached for the next one. “That’s not what I meant. I meant why would you do it with him? You know, a Christian?” “Because he is my friend, and you, sir, are an idiot. (p. 115)

I can just hear Hitchens saying that to his crestfallen fan!

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Thoughts From Two Adoptive Fathers

A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)

A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators Convention. I have spoken there at least twice before, and I have not been disappointed. This weekend was no exception. I met a lot of really interesting people, including one second-generation homeschooling mother who was pregnant with her middle child at the same time her mother was pregnant with her youngest sibling. What an incredible experience that must have been!

In contrast to that situation, I had a nice, long talk with a gentleman who related his adoption story to me. Being an adoptive father myself, I am always interested in hearing such stories, but this one was unlike anything I had heard before. He and his wife had several children of their own, but they are all grown up and out of the house. Because he and his wife had “extra time” on their hands, and because they genuinely wanted to serve “the least of these,” they decided to become emergency foster parents for babies who are abandoned. In that role, they care for the infant until he or she can be permanently adopted. He told me that it doesn’t usually last very long, because lots of people are looking to adopt infants.

However, one of their emergency foster children (a little girl) had serious digestive issues pretty much at birth and spent a long, long time in the hospital. In fact, the poor little girl had to have a lot of her small intestine and all of her colon removed, which meant she couldn’t eat normally. Essentially, she had to be continuously fed through a tube. This made her long-term prognosis questionable, and as a result, the agency could not find a permanent home for her. After much prayer, he and his wife decided to adopt her.

The good news is that the girl is now 3 years old, and while she still has some special nutritional needs, she can eat normally. However, because of the way she got nutrition for so long, she actually doesn’t like to eat. Thus, they are working on getting her to enjoy eating. I rejoiced with him that his daughter’s long-term prognosis is now very good, and eventually, the conversation turned to the effects that an adopted child’s previous traumas have on her future life. On that topic, he offered me a profound insight.

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Nimrod: A Story of Relentless, Unconditional Love

nimrod

Several years ago, I was given a script by an incredibly talented artist named Christopher Stout. It was for a short film that explored sexual abuse in children and its negative effects on sexuality in later years, and he was looking for investors to help make the film a reality. I immediately fell in love with the story, but since I was not at all familiar with such issues, I decided to get a second opinion. I gave the script to someone who is very, very dear to me who experienced sexual abuse as a child, and I asked her to read it. When she said that she loved the story, I knew it was time to invest.

The film was completed in 2005, and I was fortunate enough to attend the premier. The audience loved it, and I was both proud and honored to have played a small role in such a wonderful work of art. Recently, the author decided to release it on Vimeo to be viewed for free, and I want to share it with my readers.

I have filed this post in my “Christian Drama” category, although the film is not overly Christian in any way. However, I consider it a Christian film because while the main character is romantically in love with the leading lady, he models the relentless, unconditional love that Christ has for all of us. The healing that you see in the film is the same kind of healing that Christ’s love can accomplish.

Before you view this film, I would like to offer a word of warning. While the film would probably not even earn an “PG” rating in today’s film rating system, it does deal with sexual issues, specifically those that result from sexual abuse. Thus, it might not be appropriate for all viewers.

Nimrod from Christopher Stout on Vimeo.

How Christianity and Science Can Interact

James Joule, one of the 19th century's most important physicists.

James Joule, one of the 19th century’s most important physicists.

Over the past few years, I have been writing a series of elementary science courses for home educated students. Since the courses discuss scientific concepts in chronological order, I have spent a lot of time learning the history of science. In the process, I have found that a lot of what I was taught in school (including university) about how science developed is simply false. I have also become acquainted with the views of many great scientists from the past, which has allowed me to learn from them. I want to discuss one of those great scientists in order to share something I have learned.

James Joule was born in 1818. Because his father was a successful brewer, chemistry was in his blood. He was taught at home for many years, and then his father sent him to study under John Dalton, the founder of modern atomic theory. Dalton suffered a stroke two years later, but his influence on Joule continued long after he stopped teaching. Even though Joule ended up taking over the family brewery, he spent a lot of time doing experiments, mostly focused on trying to explain electricity and magnetism in terms of Dalton’s new atomic theory.

However, the more experiments he performed, the more interested he became in the heat that was generated in electrical systems. As he studied heat, he eventually demonstrated that he could convert mechanical energy into heat. This allowed him to argue that heat is just another form of energy, which went against the scientific consensus of his day. Of course, today we know he was correct, and because of that, the standard unit for measuring energy is named after him (the Joule).

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Trees Exchange Nutrients Through an Underground Network!

This forest contains Norway spruce and larch, two of the trees studied in the experiment that is being described. (click for credit)

This forest contains Norway spruce and larch, two of the trees studied in the experiment that is being described. (click for credit)

Ever since I learned about it, the phenomenon of mutualism has fascinated me (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to a situation in which two or more organisms of different species work together so that each receives a benefit. One of the most common examples of this kind of relationship is found among fungi and plants (see here and here). The fungi (called mycorrhiza) extract nutrients from the plants, but in exchange, they provide the plants with critical nitrogen- and phosphorus-based chemicals that the plants have a hard time extracting from the soil. As a result of this relationship, both the plants and the fungi thrive. It is not surprising, then, that the vast majority of plants in nature form relationships with mycorrhiza.

Swiss researchers were recently studying trees in a forest, and they learned something rather surprising about these mycorrhiza. They facilitate the exchange of nutrients between different trees in a forest, even trees of different species!1 Why is this so surprising? Well, it is thought that trees in a forest are in constant competition with one another. They compete to expose their leaves to the sunlight so they can produce more food via photosynthesis. They compete for the nitrogen- and phosphorus-based chemicals that they must absorb from the surrounding soil. They even compete for the water in the soil. Despite this perceived competition, however, there seems to be at least some cooperation as well.

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Bill Nye Couldn’t Be More Wrong!

Me with a family whose eldest is about to finish an MD/PhD program.

Me with a family whose eldest is about to finish an MD/PhD program.

I have probably harped on Bill Nye’s errors far too much (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Partly, this is because he continues to make them, when even a small amount of self-education would fix that problem. Partly, it is because some of his errors are so incredibly egregious. This post is a result of the latter situation.

In his error-riddled book, Undeniable, Nye makes the following statement:1

Inherent in this rejection of evolution is the idea that your curiosity about the world is misplaced and your common sense is wrong. This attack on reason is an attack on all of us. Children who accept this ludicrous perspective will find themselves opposed to progress. They will become society’s burdens rather than its producers, a prospect that I find very troubling. Not only that, these kids will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings. They will have to suppress the basic human curiosity that leads to asking questions, exploring the world around them, and making discoveries. They will miss out on countless exciting adventures. We’re robbing them of basic knowledge about their world and the joy that comes with it. It breaks my heart. (emphasis mine)

This is one of the most egregiously false things that Mr. Nye has claimed, and that’s saying a lot, given that it took me twelve pages to detail all of the errors I found in his book. I want to give you some idea of how egregiously wrong that statement is by just highlighting a few people I have met over the past six weeks.

Let’s start with the family pictured with me at the top of this post. The woman in the picture is a homeschooling mother. She has two young ones with her, but she wanted to tell me about her eldest son, who is in the fifth year of his MD/PhD program. Why is he getting two advanced degrees? Because he wants to do cancer research. To treat patients, you typically need an MD. Being trained to do original research typically involves getting a PhD. Thus, those who want to do original research in medicine often get both an MD and a PhD so they have all of the relevant training they need.

This mother’s son demonstrates in no uncertain terms how wrong Bill Nye is. I met her in Peoria, Illinois this past Friday, when I spoke at the APACHE homeschool convention. She came up to me at my publisher’s booth and told me that her son had asked her to inform me of two things: First, my science courses encouraged him to pursue medical research as a career. Second, they helped him excel at university so he could get accepted into medical school.

I am not telling you this to “toot my own horn,” even though a former pastor of mine says I play that particular instrument very well.* I am telling you this because my courses are young-earth creationist courses, and this mother gave her son a young-earth creationist education. Far from suppressing “the basic human curiosity that leads to asking questions,” this young man’s creationist education encouraged him to continue to ask questions, explore the world around him, and make discoveries. He has, most certainly, already felt “the joy of discovery that science brings.” Indeed, I suspect he will be experiencing that joy for the rest of his career.

Now, if this justifiably-proud mother were the only person I met recently who demonstrated Mr. Nye to be wrong, I probably wouldn’t have posted about her and her son. However, the Lord has led several such people to me recently, and I want to introduce a few of them to you!

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Adult Stem Cells Continue to Effectively Treat Illnesses

A diagram showing how a stem cell in bone marrow becomes different types of blood cells. (click for credit)

A diagram showing how a stem cell in bone marrow becomes different types of blood cells. (click for credit)

In a 2003 speech, John Kerry complained about the Bush administration, saying:

Nothing illustrates this administration’s anti-science attitude better than George Bush’s cynical decision to limit research on embryonic stem cells.

During the heat of the “stem cell wars,” this was a common refrain. Life-saving treatments could be produced with embryonic stem cells, and anyone who questioned whether or not it was morally acceptable to destroy one life in order to experiment with saving another was “anti-science.” Never mind that there are stem cells in everyone’s body, commonly called adult stem cells, and those stem cells also have the potential to cure illnesses. Everyone “knew” that using embryonic stem cells would be better.

What’s the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stems cells? Well, most of the cells in your body have specific tasks. Your skin cells perform one set of tasks, while your muscle cells perform another set of tasks, your liver cells another set of tasks, etc., etc. These cells have all “specialized” so they can perform their tasks efficiently. A stem cell, by contrast, is a cell that hasn’t yet “specialized.” It can develop into many different cells, depending on your body’s needs.

Embryonic stem cells end up developing into all the cells that make up the body, so they are thought to be very, very flexible when it comes to what they can develop into. However, to get those stem cells, you have to kill the embryo. Adult stem cells, on the other hand have already specialized to some degree. For example, the drawing at the top of this post shows how an adult stem cell found in bone marrow can develop into various different blood cells. While that shows some serious flexibility, bone marrow stem cells don’t normally develop into wildly different cells, like skin cells. As a result, it is thought that adult stem cells aren’t as flexible as embryonic stem cells. On the positive side, however, you don’t have to kill anything to get adult stem cells.

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More Disagreement Between Climate Models and Data

A promotional banner for the film "The Day After Tomorrow."  (click for credit)

A promotional banner for the film “The Day After Tomorrow.” (click for credit)

The Day After Tomorrow was a 2004 film co-written, directed, and produced by Roland Emmerich. It depicted the destruction of a good fraction of the United States by a terrible weather calamity that had been brought about by global warming. While it was widely recognized as being scientifically inaccurate, it supposedly had a scientific premise. The idea was that global warming had caused so much polar ice to melt that it interrupted the North Atlantic current that transports heat around the world. As a result, outbreaks of violent weather occurred, causing terrible destruction. The media discussed the film a lot back then, and even Al Gore said that while it was fiction, it was a good starting point for a debate about climate change.

While no scientist would ever suggest that such a thing could happen as depicted in the movie (the timescale was way too short, for example), a study was published last year that suggested global warming has started disrupting ocean currents.1 In particular, the paper suggested that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) was slowing down. Since the AMOC is a “conveyor belt” of currents that move heat around the globe, the study got the media once again talking about the 2004 film.

Much like the science in The Day After Tomorrow, however, the science in last year’s study was (at best) speculative. It relied mostly on computer models as well as some “reconstructions” of surface temperatures that went back to 900 AD. Using these speculative tools, the authors claimed that their study

suggests that the AMOC weakness after 1975 is an unprecedented event in the past millennium. [emphasis mine]

Not surprisingly, a study that suggested something “unprecedented” received quite a bit of media attention. Equally unsurprising, a recent paper demonstrates that actual measurements of the AMOC indicate that there is no evidence for any kind of weakness.

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