Josiah, a frequent commenter on this blog, asked an excellent question in a post on my previous entry. I started to reply to his question, but I realized the answer would make a good blog entry. Josiah asked whether or not “cooperative relationships in the animal world” are a problem for evolution. He doesn’t think so, but the author of one of his homeschool books thinks it is. What do I think?
Well, let’s start with the terminology. A relationship between two or more individuals from different species is called symbiosis. However, that word has grown to refer to different kinds of relationships. It can refer to a relationship in which all participants benefit, a relationship in which only one participant benefits but the others are not harmed, or a relationship in which one benefits and another is harmed. Thus, to specifically talk about cooperative relationships, we use the term mutualism, which refers specifically to a relationship in which all participants benefit.
Josiah mentioned a couple of examples of mutualistic relationships. One was the tick bird, which eats ticks off a rhino’s skin. This is beneficial to the rhino, which becomes relatively “tick free,” and it is obviously beneficial to the bird, as the bird has a fairly safe place to find food. The tick birds also warn each other (and the rhinos) about any incoming danger. The other example was the single-celled protistans (flagellates) that live in a termite’s gut and digest cellulose. The termite (indeed, all multi-celled animals of which I am aware) cannot digest cellulose on its own, and since wood is 50% cellulose by mass, this would be a problem for an animal that eats wood. However, the flagellates in a termite’s gut digest the cellulose, which allows the termite to eat wood. Obviously, both participants benefit in this relationship. Are these kinds of situations a problem for evolution?
In 2005, Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues published an “astonishing” result – they had found soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex femur.1 Given the fact that such dinosaur bones have been supposedly lying around for 65 million years or so, no one expected them to contain soft tissue. Indeed, laboratory studies seem to indicate that soft tissue decays in a matter of 50 weeks or so,2 and it was thought that proteins would break down after only 30,000 years, unless special circumstances were present.3
Even when special circumstances are present, the molecules that make up soft tissue are not supposed to last for 65 million years. A multidisciplinary approach to the problem of biomolecule decay in fossils led to the conclusion that under nearly ideal conditions, DNA should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just 125,000 years, and collagen (a protein) should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just under 3 million years. 4 Nevertheless, Schweitzer and her colleagues found collagen in a bone that is supposedly more than twenty times as old.
It is not surprising, then, that many scrambled for any explanation other than the fact that Schweitzer and her colleagues had found soft tissue and collagen in the T. rex bone. For example, some researchers tried to produce a study indicating that the soft tissue found wasn’t soft tissue at all. Instead, it was a biofilm made by bacteria.5
As much as old-earthers would want what Schweitzer and her colleagues found to be anything but soft tissue, her results are now unequivocal. First, Schweitzer has found soft tissue in another dinosaur fossil that is supposed to be 80 million years old! 6 In addition, another group has made a soft tissue find, and in my opinion, it is even more remarkable.
Even though I don’t typically blog on things like this, the dives I had in the Caribbean were amazing, so I have to show some pictures. The best one, by far, was the dive in Tortola, where I got to examine the wreck of the Rhone. The ship sank in 1867, and the remains are awesome! Here, for example, is the tip of the bow:
Here are the remains of the “crows nest” that was on top of the mast:
And the remains of one of the boilers used to drive the steam engine:
There was even a section of tile floor that was still intact and not completely overtaken by coral:
While the Rhone was by far my favorite dive (it actually took two dives to see it all), my favorite pictures are as follows. First, the “serious side” of a spotted moray eel:
and these wonderful red-and-white shrimp:
All in all, it was a great set of dives!
My blog will be silent for the next few days, because I will be on vacation in the Caribbean. I’ll be doing a lot of diving, and I am especially excited, because I will be seeing things like this:
Wreck of the Rhone - Photo from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RMS_Rhone_2003_12.jpg
Underwater Sculpture Garden (photo from Flickr - http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3215/3115827590_5108c2c7a4.jpg?v=0)
Expect something the week of the 15th!
If you have been paying attention to the news this week (and quite frankly, I’ve been having too much fun to be paying much attention), you probably know that an unknown hacker broke into the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) and released hundreds of confidential E-MAILs. 1 In fact, this has been such a big story that it already has its own Wikipedia entry.
What do the E-MAILs revealed by the hacker tell us? Partly, that depends on who you read. Some say they could be the “final nail in the coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming.” 2 Others say they simply show “Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.” 3
What do I think about these hacked E-MAILs? You can find out below the fold.
I will be speaking at PHILCON again this year. This has become a yearly tradition that just keeps getting more enjoyable. My good friends Richard Stout, Christopher Stout, and JJ Brannon will be there, and we always have an awesome time.
This should be a better-than-usual convention for two reasons:
1. My old college room mate, Frank Wu will be there. He has made quite a name for himself in fantasy art, and I haven’t seen him since college.
2. While I normally speak on how realistic the SCIENCE part of “Science Fiction” is, this year, I am especially excited to be on a panel about one of my obsessions, World of Warcraft. It should be a hoot. Philcon always gives you a sign to put in front of you when you speak on a panel, but I am thinking of making a special one for this talk:
Convertmaker, Champion of the Frozen Wastes
As that is my main character on World of Warcraft.
Because I spend most of my time people-watching (there is NO better place to do that than at a science fiction convention), I won’t have time to do any blogging. Look for something after Thanksgiving!
I have a stack of journals and other periodicals that I read in order to keep up on what is going on in the world of science. Currently, I am working on the ones that came in late July. However, for some reason, the March 23 issue of Answers Update from Answers in Genesis got mixed up with the late July materials. As a result, I just read this:
The horrible school shooting in Finland in 2007 is a prime example. The killer stated: “I am prepared to fight and die for my cause . . .I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit…It’s time to put NATURAL SELECTION & SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST back on tracks!” This student was only carrying out in practice what he had been taught concerning origins, as well as the lack of purpose and meaning he found in life. Herein lies Darwin’s terrible legacy, which has affected all modern cultures. 1
In other words, Charles Darwin left behind a terrible legacy – one of violence and evil. Many other Christian works say similar things. For example, a book that claims to give people a “Biblical Worldview of God and Truth” says:
Darwin’s Tragic Legacy…his 1859 book…gave rise to the controversial theory of evolution. Sadly, 150 years later, modern evolutionary theory has become the basis for most biological studies and is taught as fact in our schools and universities, despite the truth that scientists are no closer to proving the theory after all this time. Meanwhile, the biblical account of God’s creation of the universe is no longer taught in most schools due to legal challenges brought by those who do not believe in God or the authority of His Word. 2
So according to this book, Darwin left behind a tragic legacy that has destroyed modern education.
Of course, both statements are seriously incorrect. Darwin certainly did not leave a “tragic” or “terrible” legacy. In fact, Darwin was a great scientist who left us a rich legacy of solid scientific data and conclusions. Sure, some of what he believed was wrong, but that can be said of almost every great scientist from the past. More importantly, a lot of what Darwin believed is correct. In fact, the great irony of all this is that both sources I quoted are from young-earth creationists, and without Darwin, it would be impossible for young-earth creationists to have a Biblical worldview!
As I have said before, PZ Myers is my favorite atheist. He says exactly what he thinks (no matter how stupid it is) and does so in an engaging, witty way. For example, this is probably my favorite PZ Myers piece I have ever read. It lampoons my position, but it is awesome!
So I had to feel a little sorry for him when someone with a BA in mathematics was able to fluster him during a Q&A session:
P.Z. Myers’ evolutionary equivocation
Of course, the physicist mentioned in the article also did a good job of showing how little evidence means to poor PZ.
I get all sorts of E-MAIL and snail mail from students who have used one or more of my books and are now excelling at university. However, I thought this one was worthy of a post.
Bethany B. wrote (a real letter!) to tell me that she used four of my books in high school (at home) and then read another “for fun” over the summer after her senior year. When she went to Winthrop University, she decided to study music and nutrition. She noticed, however, that she was not only incredibly well prepared for her science courses, but those courses were also much more interesting than the courses related to her major.
In the end, she changed to a double major in biology and chemistry. She ended up graduating cum laude and was accepted into a biological and biomedical sciences PhD program at Harvard. It is students like Bethany – those who get serious training in high school, university, and graduate school – who will shape what science becomes in the future.
God Bless you Bethany, and I hope Harvard is ready for you!
Jeffery E. Barrick and his colleagues have published the results of one of the most interesting evolution experiments I have ever read.1 Actually, the genius behind this experiment is Richard E. Lenski, who is on the author list as well. Lenski started an experiment with E. coli almost 20 years ago, and it is still producing excellent results. Essentially, the experiment followed twelve populations of E. coli over all those years. The focus of the paper was one of those twelve populations.
In the experiment, the bacteria were grown on a minimal medium with glucose as a limiting nutrient. Each day, a small sample of the culture was removed and placed in a fresh medium. Periodically, samples were frozen so that they could be analyzed in detail at any time.
Thanks to the wonderful technology we have today, the entire genome of E. coli can be sequenced in a “reasonably short” amount of time. So this paper reports on the results of comparing the genome of the original bacterium to that of the bacteria after 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, and 40,000 generations. The results were “rather surprising,” according to the authors.