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Thursday, April 24, 2014

This Climate Study Claims to Have the “Right Stuff”

Posted by jlwile on March 10, 2014

This graph shows the predictions of the most popular global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares).  [The graph is from the report being discussed.]

This graph shows the predictions of various IPCC global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares). [The graph is Figure 1.1 from the report being discussed.]

It is well known in the scientific literature that the computer models being used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have done a miserable job in predicting the change that has occurred in global temperature over the past two decades. You can see that for yourself by looking at the graph shown above. The various lines that have no circles or squares on them are the results of the climate models used by the IPCC. Notice that no model comes close to lining up with the actual data (the squares and circles). Indeed, the later the date, the worse the models become when compared to the data.

A group of retired NASA scientists and engineers led by Dr. Harold H. Doiron, a mechanical engineer who is best known for his work on eliminating unstable vibrations in liquid propellant rockets, has decided that these models simply can’t be used to make rational decisions about earth’s future climate. As this group says:

We have concluded that the IPCC climate models are seriously flawed because they don’t agree very closely with measured empirical data. After a 35 year simulation the models over-predicted actual measured temperatures by factors of 200% to 750%. One could hardly expect them to predict with better accuracy 300 years into the future required for use in regulatory decisions.

So what are we to do? If we can’t properly model how the earth will respond to increased carbon dioxide concentrations, how can we estimate what the consequences will be if we do nothing to curb the activities that are filling earth’s atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide?

In this research team’s mind, the answer is to look at the actual data and develop an empirical estimate. After all, we have about 100 years of measured data when it comes to global temperature, and we have a few thousand years of data that can help us estimate how the earth’s temperature has changed over that timeframe. In addition, we have measurements and estimates for how the amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere has changed over time. If we look at past correlations between carbon dioxide and temperature, perhaps they can tell us what future correlations will be.

I have to admit that I am surprised no one has used this approach before. Sure, climate scientists have studied the correlations between past global temperatures and past atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, but this is the first time of which I am aware that scientists (and engineers) have tried to use those correlations to make definitive predictions about the future.

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Salmon Seem to Inherit a Map for Their Migration

Posted by jlwile on March 5, 2014

This is a Chinook salmon in its parr stage.  (click for credit)

This is a Chinook salmon in its parr stage. (click for credit)

Pacific salmon are fascinating to study, because their lifecycle is so interesting. They hatch in freshwater streams, at which point they are called alevin. Although they have hatched, they still have a yolk sac upon which they feed. Once they have absorbed the yolk sac, they are called fry, and they begin feeding on the plankton in the stream. They eventually mature into parr, which are also called fingerlings. After about 12-18 months in freshwater, they move to the brackish waters of estuaries, ecosystems where freshwater rivers meet the ocean. At this point, they are usually called smolts. After a few months, they venture out into the ocean, where they will spend several years growing.

The amazing part, of course, is that after spending several years in the ocean, they return to the same freshwater stream where they hatched to spawn another generation. From a scientific point of view, one of the most important questions you can ask about this lifecyle is, “After spending years in the ocean, how do the salmon know the way back to the freshwater stream in which they hatched?” It makes sense that while they are fry and parr, they get a good sense of the mix of chemicals that make up their “home stream,” but they obviously can’t follow that trail of chemicals from the ocean! So how do they get from the ocean to the correct estuary so that they can get back to the stream in which they hatched?

About a year ago, I discussed a study that gave a partial answer to that question. It showed that sockeye salmon use the earth’s magnetic field as a “map” that leads them to the proper estuary. The study suggested the salmon had other means of navigation at their disposal, but the magnetic field was a very important tool in the fish’s repertoire. How do the salmon acquire this map? In the previous study, it was suggested that the map is imprinted in the salmon’s brain as it is traveling from the estuary to the open ocean.

Well, the same research team has done a follow-up study, and they have decided that this suggestion is probably not correct. Instead, the real story is more complex and much more interesting!

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More Evidence That Antibiotic Resistance Existed LONG BEFORE Antibiotics Were Developed

Posted by jlwile on March 3, 2014

This is a drawing of a bacteriophage, a virus that attacks bacteria.  (click for credit)

This is a drawing of a bacteriophage, a virus that attacks bacteria. (click for credit)

Many people know that bacteria have developed resistance to popular antibiotics. Indeed, it is a big problem in medicine, and it has caused many health-care providers to call for doctors to prescribe antibiotics only when they are necessary. The Centers for Disease Control calls this “antibiotic stewardship” and thinks it will improve medical care throughout the country.1 I have written about antibiotic resistance before (see here and here), because some evolutionists try to cite it in support of the idea that novel, useful genes can be produced by evolutionary processes. Of course, the more we have studied the phenomenon, the more we have seen that this is just not the case.

There are essentially two ways that a bacterium develops resistance to an antibiotic. One way is to have a mutation that confers the resistance. For example, a bacterium can become resistant to streptomycin if a mutation causes a defect in the bacterium’s protein-making factory, which is called the ribosome. That defect keeps streptomycin from binding to the ribosome, which makes streptomycin ineffective against the bacterium. However, it also makes the ribosome significantly less efficient at its job.2 So in the end, rather than producing something novel (like a new gene that fights the antibiotic), the mutation just deteriorates a gene that already existed. While this is good for a bacterium in streptomycin, it doesn’t provide any evidence that novel, useful genes can be produced by evolutionary processes.

There is, however, a second way that a bacterium can develop resistance to an antibiotic: It can get genes that fight the antibiotic from another bacterium. Bacteria hold many genes on tiny, circular portions of their DNA called plasmids. Two bacteria can come together in a process called conjugation and exchange those plasmids, which allows bacteria to “swap” DNA. If a bacterium has a gene (or a set of genes) that allows it to resist an antibiotic, it can pass those genes to others in the population, ensuring their survival.

Of course, the natural question one must ask is, “Where did those antibiotic-resistance genes come from in the first place?” Many evolutionists want you to believe that evolution produced those genes in response to the development of antibiotics. After all, antibiotics didn’t exist until 1941, when penicillin was tested in animals and then people. Why would antibiotic-resistance genes exist before the antibiotics?

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Bacteria Put Out “Welcome Mats” for Tubeworms

Posted by jlwile on February 28, 2014

On the left, you see a tubeworm with its feathery feeding appendages extended.  On the right, the tubeworm has retracted those appendages, and you see only the opening of its tube.

On the left, you see a tubeworm with its feathery feeding appendages extended. On the right, the tubeworm has retracted those appendages, and you see only the opening of its tube.

When I scuba dive, I love finding tubeworms like the one pictured above. As adults, these worms build tubes made out of calcium carbonate to house their delicate bodies. They feed by extending feathery appendages called radioles, which catch nutrients that are floating in the water. On the left side of the picture above, you see a tubeworm with its radioles extended. However, if you scare a tubeworm (I do so by flicking my fingers at it), the worm will pull its radioles back into its tube for protection. At that point, you see only the opening of the tube, which is shown on the right side of the picture above.

An adult tubeworm spends its life attached to a hard surface, such as a piece of coral, a rock, or even the hull of a ship. However, when a tubeworm egg hatches, the larva that emerges is free-swiming and looks nothing like the adult. In order to mature, it must find a surface to which it can attach itself. It has long been known that tubeworm larvae tend to attach themselves to surfaces that contain specific bacteria, but no one understood how the larvae know where the bacteria are.

Nicholas J. Shikuma and his colleagues have done a study that helps us understand this amazing process. They concentrated on a specific species of tubeworm, Hydroides elegans, which is a common nuisance because it tends to stick to the hulls of ships (that’s not the species pictured above). They already knew that these tubeworms tend to settle where a specific bacterium, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea, is found. As a result, they studied the bacterium in detail, and they found something rather incredible.

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Flight to Heaven

Posted by jlwile on February 25, 2014

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

Not long ago, I wrote a review of the book Proof of Heaven. It was written by a neurosurgeon who was convinced that he had died and gone to heaven. I expressed quite a bit of skepticism, for reasons that are discussed in the review. Shortly after, I got an email from a reader who suggested what he considered to be a better book, Flight to Heaven. I put the book into my “queue” and finally got a chance to read it while I was in Central America. I agree with the commenter that this is a much better book, but I am a bit skeptical that the author, Captain Dale Black, actually went to heaven.

Captain Black is currently a retired airline pilot who owns a real estate company with his wife. He has two grown children and has worked tirelessly to improve aviation safety. He has also flown as a missionary pilot in 50 different countries. Indeed, the book starts with a harrowing experience he had while flying for missionary purposes in Africa. He sets up the desperate situation and uses it to introduce the airplane crash that caused what he thinks was his visit to heaven. Once he completes the retelling of the crash, his visit, and his recovery, he resolves the book by finishing the opening tale about his experience flying in Africa. It is an exciting way of getting the reader hooked early on in the book.

When Dale Black was nineteen, he had his pilot’s license. He had wanted to be a pilot for quite some time, and he worked hard earning the money necessary to take the required classes. He wasn’t ready to fly jets yet, but he was able to be part of a three-man group that was flying a twin-engine cargo plane making several deliveries throughout California. Upon takeoff, the plane couldn’t get enough lift, and it crashed into, ironically, a monument built to honor the pioneers of aviation who had passed on.

Of the three-man team, Dale Black was the lone survivor.

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An Atheist Detective Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on February 19, 2014

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I like to discuss the stories of other atheists who have become Christians (see here, here, here, here, and here.) This post adds to that list of stories.

J. Warner Wallace is a successful homicide detective. He specializes in cold cases – unsolved murder cases that remain open, waiting for someone to examine them in a new way that will lead to finding the killer. He has been trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA), which is a methodology that examines a person’s linguistic usage to determine the veracity of what he or she is saying when being interviewed about a case. He also used to be an atheist. As he says in his book, Cold-Case Christianity:

My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview… (p. 16)

However, a fellow officer kept inviting him to church. He was able to avoid going for a while, but he eventually felt obligated to accept the invitation. He says that he managed to ignore most of what the pastor was saying during the service, but he noticed that the pastor painted Jesus as a smart guy with a lot of good things to say. As a result, Wallace purchased his first Bible, just to see if this Jesus fellow was the great teacher that the pastor made him out to be.

What Wallace found changed his life.

As he began to read the Gospels, he noticed something:

I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts. (p. 17)

Of course, it didn’t take him long to realize that he could treat the Gospel accounts like one of his cold cases. He could evaluate the testimony of those claiming to be eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Jesus, look for corroborating evidence, and try to determine whether or not the accounts are accurate. When he did that, he came away believing that the Gospels are, indeed, accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. As a result, he became a Christian.

His book takes you through his analysis, so that you can see exactly how he evaluated the “cold case” of the Gospel accounts. To make sure you have all the requisite skills necessary to follow his analysis, he gives you 10 tips on how to be a good detective. They are all great tips, but his first one is the best. He tells the story of the first homicide case he ever worked: a woman who had been murdered in her bed. A seasoned detective who had seen far too many cases took the lead, and as soon as he saw the crime scene, he thought he knew what had happened. Based on his experience, he concluded that the husband was the killer. However, as they investigated the crime, they found that the woman was single. All the signs that pointed to the husband as the killer (no forced entry, the victim didn’t put up much of a fight, etc., etc.) ended up being explained by a completely different killer (a friendly neighbor).

This taught Wallace to avoid presuppositions. The lead investigator let his presuppositions guide him in the case, and for that particular case, those presuppositions were completely wrong. Following them hampered the investigation. Each case is unique, and you should avoid any presuppositions you have about it. This is his first tip for any detective, including anyone who is trying to determine the veracity of the Gospel accounts. If you avoid presuppositions, you can allow the evidence to guide you.

After giving you his 10 tips for being a good detective, he then shows you how he evaluated the Gospels. He shows you why he thinks the Gospel accounts indicate that the sources for the four Gospels were actually there at the events discussed in the Gospels. He then shows you what he considers strong corroborating evidence for the eyewitness reports. He then ends with a discussion of the possible biases in the eyewitness accounts. I have read many, many Christian apologetics books, but I honestly think that this one has the best analysis of the Gospels.

Even though this is primarily a book showing the evidence that supports the veracity of the Gospels, there is also a lot in it for believers. Indeed, it taught me some new things. In evaluating whether or not the accounts in the Bible are authentic, he spends time discussing the “little details” that show the sources for the Gospels were actual eyewitnesses to the events reported. He notes, for example, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s mother is never called by name. She is simply called “Jesus’s mother” or “the mother of Jesus.” Why is that? He explains:

The answer might be found in the nineteenth chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus entrusted Mary to John at the crucifixion. Jesus told John that Mary was now his mother, and He told Mary that John was now her son. ..Writing the Gospel of John many years later, it just may be that John was uncomfortable calling his own mother by her formal name. (p. 91)

This is something I never noticed, and had I noticed it, I am not sure I would have made the connection that Wallace made. This is just one of the many nuggets found in this book.

In addition, I strongly encourage all Christians to learn how the Bible came to be. In his book, Wallace goes through a “chain of custody” for all four Gospels, to make sure that the Gospels we read today have not been significantly altered from their original form. This chain of custody provides the best concise description I have ever read of how the Bible came to be. That section alone is worth the price of the book.

In the end, I think this book is one of the best additions to Christian apologetics that has come out in a long time. I strongly recommend it to everyone, but especially to skeptics of the Bible. If you are interested in what the evidence says, it is worthwhile to hear from someone whose career is devoted to following the evidence, regardless of where it leads!

I Was Wrong

Posted by jlwile on February 17, 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?

The day after the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I gave you my general impressions of how it went. One of the things I said was:

Will this debate change any minds? I doubt it, because each debater never really addressed the other’s contentions.

Fairly quickly, a commenter told me that I was wrong about that particular thought. In fact, the commenter wrote:

While I agree with most of what you said, I disagree with this statement… “Will this debate change any minds? I doubt it, because each debater never really addressed the other’s contentions.”

Ham presented the full Gospel, at least twice. God’s word does not return void. This debate will surely change some minds.

Well, it turns out that the commenter was right, and I was wrong. We now know that at least one person did change his mind as a result of the debate. An Answers in Genesis staff member reports:

A friend from Maine related to us that his family was praying for a young man, Kyle, who was having a hard time trying to reconcile science with faith. The family had witnessed to him many times and invited him to watch the [Nye] debate, which he did. Afterward, a friend was able to get him into the Scriptures, and Kyle finally repented and received Christ.
When asked what part the debate played in him finally receiving Christ, Kyle’s friend replied, ‘If anyone actually won the debate, it was Ken Ham. [Ken’s use of] the orchard model of species (versus the evolutionary tree) impressed him in particular, but that it was a greater trust in the Bible that helped him receive Christ.

As the commenter alluded to, Isaiah 55:11 tells us:

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I obviously forgot that verse, and as a result, I was clearly wrong. I am so glad that I was!

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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For Some Diseases, It Was Vaccination, Not Sanitation

Posted by jlwile on February 3, 2014

This is the logo of Project Tycho.  It depicts Tycho Brahe with his unique view of the universe. (click for credit)

This is the logo of Project Tycho. It depicts Tycho Brahe with his unique view of the universe.
(click for credit)

Dr. Wilbert van Panhuis and his colleagues have started an exciting initiative called Project TychoTM. In it, they are taking public health data that have been collected over the years and putting them into an easy-to-access digital system that is open to everyone. They describe the goal of their project in this way:

We aim to advance the use of public health data for the improvement of public health. Oftentimes, restricted access to public health data limits opportunities for scientific discovery and technological innovation in disease control programs. A free flow of data and information maximizes opportunities for more efficient and effective public health programs leading to higher impact and better health. Our activities are focused on accelerating the availability and use of public health data…

They named the project after Tycho Brahe, one of the more colorful 16th-century astronomers. Not only did he live an interesting life, he had a very interesting view of the universe. He made an enormous number of astronomical observations that he meticulously documented, and those observations convinced him that the planets must orbit the sun, not the earth. However, he couldn’t give up the idea of the earth being at the center of everything, so he produced what is probably the most interesting view of the universe ever. As shown in the logo above, he put the earth at the center of the universe, and he had the sun and moon orbiting the earth. The rest of the planets were then assumed to orbit the sun, as it moved in its orbit around the earth. While this view of the universe is clearly unworkable, it was incredibly original!

Why would a project involving public health data be named after this colorful character? Because his main contribution to science was the data he collected. While he couldn’t make heads or tails of his data, another astronomer, Johannes Kepler (who was once employed by Brahe) did. Kepler was able to use Brahe’s data to develop three laws of planetary motion that demonstrated all the planets, including the earth, orbit the sun. Sir Isaac Newton was then able to use Kepler’s Laws to develop his Law of Universal Gravitation, which describes how gravity works both here on earth and throughout the universe. Brahe’s data, then, were the foundation of some of the greatest advancements in the field of astronomy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In Dr. van Panhuis’s view, the data he is collecting could end up being like Brahe’s data. It might be used by other scientists to better understand diseases and how to deal with them as they spread through populations. While I can’t say whether or not that will ever happen, I can say that these data make it easy for me to address a popular myth about vaccination.

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