Dismantled: A Scientific Deconstruction of the Theory of Evolution

Over the years, I have read (and met) several creation scientists for whom I developed great respect. For example, I consider Dr. John Sanford’s work to be not only brilliant, but also very important when it comes to understanding genetics and evolution. I have been fortunate enough to get to know him personally, and his keen intellect is overshadowed only by his deep devotion to our Lord. I personally think of him as a scientist on par with John Ray or Robert Boyle.

I recently got an email from him promoting a documentary entitled Dismantled: A Scientific Deconstruction of the Theory of Evolution. I am not a fan of documentaries, because they often devolve into propaganda pieces. However, since Dr. Sanford is featured in it, along with other creationist luminaries like Dr. Robert Carter, Dr. Georgia Purdom, and Dr. Nathaniel T. Jeanson, I decided to watch it.

Overall, I was quite pleased. I didn’t like the beginning very much (more about that in a moment), but once the documentary got into the serious science, I thought it did a very good job of communicating important truths about nature in a way that non-scientists can understand.

Early on, for example, it makes the standard (and important) distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. It discusses how dogs descended from wolves and then makes the point that this microevolution is well understood: It involves using selection to discard genetic information instead of producing new genetic information. This, of course, is the opposite of what is needed for macroevolution, the naturalist’s creation myth. To illustrate this fact, the documentary makes the point that you can selectively breed wolves to make Chihuahuas, but because of the loss of information required by the process, you cannot selectively breed Chihuahuas to make wolves. I have never heard it put quite that way before.

The documentary spends a lot of time on human evolution, looking at both the genetic issues and the fossil evidence. Dr. Sanford brings up the “waiting time” problem that he has done original research on, which shows that the genetic changes required to go from some ape-like creature to man would take much, much longer than the evolutionary timescale allows. The Laetoli footprints are discussed, as are many of the other fossil-related problems with human evolution. One of the best parts of this section is where Dr. Carter discusses how evolutionists ignore the measured mutation rates in populations because they aren’t consistent with evolutionary theory. Thus, they replace the known mutation rates with ones that have been calculated to be consistent with evolutionary theory.

Speaking of Dr. Carter, he has the best line in the documentary. Towards the end, he sums up the recent genetic evidence for mitochondrial Eve, Y-chromosome Adam, a human population bottleneck, etc. He discusses how evolutionists didn’t expect any of these things, but they are necessary if the Biblical account is true. He then says:

So what we’re seeing over time is that the evolutionary model is getting more Biblical.

While I had never thought of it that way, I completely agree!

Now before I end, I do want to point out that I strongly disagree with the first part of the documentary, which tries to claim that evolution isn’t really science; it’s history. As such, it’s not the same as the science that cures disease and makes Mars rovers, because it studies something that is not repeatable: the past. This is a very common assertion among creationists, but it is utterly false.

In fact, epidemiology has cured disease by studying the past. More importantly, the study of the past is definitely repeatable. We cannot repeat the past itself, but we can study the evidence related to the past, develop a hypothesis, and then test that hypothesis with more observations of the evidence related to the past. We can repeat such observations in different parts of the world, and if the hypothesis is repeatedly verified, it is just as scientific as a hypothesis about a medical procedure. A theory is scientific if it makes predictions that can be observationally verified. This is true whether the theory is about the past, present, or future.

Despite this glaring flaw, I do think the documentary is worth watching, especially if you need an overview of how the latest scientific discoveries support the creationist position.

NOTE: You can watch the documentary on Answers TV as part of a free trial and then see if you like Answers TV enough to continue the subscription.

Journal Tries to Bend the Knee to the Inquisition and Ends up Hurting the Cause!

click for credit

Three months ago, I blogged about an excellent article which used statistical methods to demonstrate that the fine-tuning seen in biology is even more extreme than what is seen in the properties of the universe as a whole. It was very much supportive of intelligent design and referenced many works from the intelligent design community. The article, which was published in a secular, peer-reviewed journal, finally caught the notice of the Inquisition. As a result, the High Priests of Science demanded penance from the editors of the journal. Their penance has come in the form of a disclaimer that appears in the journal. Here is what the disclaimer says:

The Journal of Theoretical Biology and its co-Chief Editors do not endorse in any way the ideology of nor reasoning behind the concept of intelligent design. Since the publication of the paper it has now become evident that the authors are connected to a creationist group (although their addresses are given on the paper as departments in bona fide universities). We were unaware of this fact while the paper was being reviewed. Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors. We have removed these from the online version of this paper. We believe that intelligent design is not in any way a suitable topic for the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

I laughed out loud when I read this, because it shows how ignorant the journal editors are when it comes to the issue of origins. As a bonus, it also shows how wrong the High Priests of Science are about intelligent design and creationism.

First, the disclaimer makes it clear that the journal editors know nothing about intelligent design. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of intelligent design and the work that has been done in the area would immediately recognize that this paper strongly supports intelligent design. Yet the journal editors didn’t seem to notice at all! Thus, this very disclaimer is admitting that the journal editors are against something they know virtually nothing about!

Second, the disclaimer shows how strong the science in the article is. After all, the journal is predisposed to dislike any science that points to intelligent design. Nevertheless, this article points to intelligent design, even if the editors are too ignorant to realize that. Thus, the evidence it presents is so strong that even some scientists who are predisposed to be against its conclusions consider it worthy of publication!

Third, they note that while the authors “are connected to a creationist group,” their addresses are from “bona fide universities.” Why? Because creationists and intelligent design scientists are real scholars. “Bona fide universities” would not hire non-scholars! So even though the High Priests of science dogmatically say that those who support intelligent design aren’t real scholars, this very disclaimer admits that they are!

The disclaimer shows the untenable situation in which science finds itself today. The High Priests of Science proclaim from their exalted places of power that intelligent design and creationism aren’t science. Nevertheless, their actions demonstrate the exact opposite. This untenable situation cannot last, and when it finally does collapse entirely, science will be much better off.

Microscopic Analysis of Dinosaur Soft Tissue Casts More Doubt on Proposed Preservation Mechanism

The dark mass near the center is the cell body of a dinosaur bone cell. The various “arms” extending from the body are its filipodial extensions. (click for credit)
I have written a lot about soft tissue found in dinosaur fossils and other fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Right now, the best work being done on this issue comes from the Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute, which is run by microscopist and young-earth creationist Mark Armitage. Without the help of government grants, he and his colleagues have produced some truly incredible work. Their latest contribution was published in Microscopy Today, and it strengthens the case that these fossils cannot be millions of years old. As always, I encourage you to read the article in its entirety, but here is my “color commentary.”

First, the article shows more incredible, delicate structures that would not be expected to survive any preservation process that would protect them for millions of years. For the first time in the scientific literature, there are two excellent pictures of dinosaur vein valves (Figures 2 and 3), features that are so delicate they are hard to extract from animals that have just recently died. In another first, he shows a nerve from the same fossil (Figure 6). In that nerve, you can see the delicate Bands of Fontana, structures that are unique to nerves.

He also shows a bone cell from the same fossil (Figure 7). While bone cells from dinosaur fossils have been published in the scientific literature, this particular one is very important. Bone cells have characteristic structures called filipodial extensions that are remarkably thin (widths of less than 200 billionths of a meter). The bone cell shown in their study has a filipodial extension that is 24 millionths of a meter long. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is about 30% longer than any other dinosaur filipodial extension found in the literature. This is important, because its length is more than 100 times its width. Think about a structure with those dimensions made out of soft tissue. It would be ridiculously fragile, yet there it is in a dinosaur fossil!

Second, and more importantly, he shows that the current explanation evolutionists have for the preservation of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils doesn’t work. Dr. Mary Schweitzer was the first to give strong evidence for the existence of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils, but she is committed to an evolutionary view. As a result, she needs to find an explanation for how such tissue could survive for millions of years. Seven years ago, she published a study in which she hoped to show that iron from the blood of a dinosaur could produce certain reactions that would preserve the tissues. I wrote about her explanation at the time and how it didn’t seem to make sense based on what we knew. Later on, better chemists than I wrote a detailed analysis about how her explanation is inconsistent with the data.

This new paper demonstrates rather conclusively that Schweitzer’s explanation doesn’t work for the fossil being discussed. Armitage and his colleague (Jim Solliday) search the filipodial extensions of bone cells that are found right outside a canal that held a blood vessel. Since the cells are so close to what was a blood vessel, and since the filipodial extensions are so delicate, those iron-induced reactions should produce noticeable effects on the filipodial extensions. He shows that those effects are not present. Thus, it is unlikely that such reactions happened at all in the fossil.

Also, in her study, Schweitzer took great pains to prevent blood clotting so that iron from the blood could be distributed throughout the soft tissue she was trying to preserve. However, Armitage and Solliday present strong evidence for massive blood clotting in their fossil. This would prevent iron from being able to promote any tissue-preserving reactions. While their evidence is strong, however, it is not conclusive. Thus, as they suggest, more research needs to be done.

The Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute is on the forefront of this issue in science, and they are doing it without the massive government grants available to organizations who are desperately trying to fit the data into an evolutionary framework. If you have the means, I suggest that you make a donation to keep science progressing in this area.

A Journey from Judaism to Atheism to Christianity

Dr. Larry Kramer, PhD.
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I collect stories of atheists who became Christians. This one is very interesting to me for two reasons. First, I know Dr. Kramer personally. He and I met several years ago at a conference that we both attend regularly. He was familiar with my books, so he introduced himself to me. I got to know both him and his wife, and we became friends. I always look forward to seeing them at the conference. Second, as the title indicates, atheism was more of a “transition point” on his journey. I have encouraged him to write about this for some time, and I am thrilled that he has. I hope you enjoy reading it:

My Journey from Judaism to Atheism to Faith

Regardless of What You Have Heard, the COVID-19 Deaths in the U.S. are Real

The purple bars are the deaths in the U.S. each week since2017. The yellow line represents the maximum number of deaths that were projected for those weeks. (graph by The Conversation, data from the CDC)

I have referenced this article in some comments I made previously, but I want to highlight it in a separate post, because the graph it contains (also shown above) makes it clear that the COVID-19 deaths are not some manipulation of the data. They are real. Very real. The purple bars in the graph represent all deaths recorded in the U.S. each week since 2017. The yellow line represents a projection of the maximum number of deaths that should have happened each week. The projection is based on historical data, and it fluctuates with the season. That’s because there are usually more deaths in the winter and fewer deaths in the summer, and as you can see, the actual deaths show that same fluctuation.

Notice that for most weeks, the actual deaths were lower than the maximum number of projected deaths. That’s expected. If the projection is done well, there should rarely be a time when the actual number of deaths meets or exceeds the maximum projection. However, there were some weeks in December of 2017 and January of 2018 when that happened, because there was a particularly virulent strain of the flu that season. As a result, more people died than were expected.

But those excess deaths are dwarfed by the ones that start showing up the last week of March in 2020. In that week, about 4,000 more than the maximum projected deaths occurred. Since then, the actual deaths have exceeded the maximum projected deaths by a considerable margin every week. All of this is discussed in the article from which I took the graph. However, I want to make a couple of additional points.

First, look at the shape of the excess deaths. There appear to be two peaks – one very large one the second week of April, and a smaller one at the end of July. This is important, because it looks very, very similar to the COVID-19 deaths reported over the same time span:

When the excess deaths have essentially the same time profile as the COVID-19 deaths, you know that the COVID-19 deaths make up most of the excess deaths. This tells us that the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths are real and most certainly represent people who would not have died had there not been the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, some friends have asked me why they don’t know anyone who got the disease or died from it. After all, if there really have been more than 180,000 people who died from the disease and more than 6 million confirmed cases, shouldn’t everyone know someone who has suffered from it? Of course not! There are 328.2 million people who live in the U.S. That means about 2% of the population has contracted COVID-19, and about 0.05% have died from it. Thus, your chance of knowing someone who died from it is ridiculously low. While your chance of knowing someone who contracted it but didn’t die from it is significantly higher, remember that for most cases, the disease is mild. Thus, you would have to know someone well enough that you track his or her common illnesses to be aware that he or she had the disease!

It disturbs me that there are so many people (many of whom are Christians) who think this pandemic has been made up. The data clearly say that it hasn’t been. Lots of people died because of the disease, and misinformation will only increase the number of deaths. Now please understand that I am not saying that I support any of the measures that governments have taken to slow the spread. We don’t know enough about the disease or the consequences of the actions that have been taken to know whether or not they are a good idea. I said this before, and I will say it again:

As a scientist, let me assure you that no one really knows what we should be doing. There are a lot of experts saying a lot of different things, and you should listen to all of them. Then, you should decide what works best for you and your family, and you should start doing it. But once you decide what you and your family should be doing, please please please show grace to those who choose to do something different. Since the experts can’t agree on a proper course of action, there is no reason to expect your neighbor to agree with your course of action.

In addition to showing grace to others, please please please stop spreading the false idea that the COVID-19 deaths are few in number or not real at all. They are real, and there are a huge number of them. There is simply no other way to understand the data.

Please Stop Spreading False Information About COVID-19

Falsehoods meant to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 (click for an enlarged image)
On Saturday, I received the image on the left from a well-meaning individual. She wanted me to see that we have been fooled regarding the severity of the virus that causes COVID-19. By Sunday, this image (or one like it) was all over my Facebook feed. Please understand that the statement starts out as completely false and then uses true statements to imply something else that is completely false. Unfortunately, it tends to resonate with people who do not understand medical science and who have not been personally affected by the pandemic. As I watched this lie literally spread around the world, I couldn’t help but think of Jonathan Swift’s famous statement1

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.

Here is my attempt to get the truth to come limping after this falsehood.

Let’s start with the first lie. The CDC has not “quietly updated” the numbers to “admit” something. The CDC has been regularly updating the numbers in the same place since the pandemic began. In addition, they have been saying that 94% of COVID-19 deaths were in patients with underlying conditions since at least April 3rd. That’s nothing new to anyone who has done even a little investigation into the matter.

More importantly, this image is meant to imply that COVID-19 is not dangerous because the vast majority of people who die from it have some other illness. Once again, that is simply 100% false. If you look at the underlying conditions that are included in the 94% (table 3 in the link above), you find things like high blood pressure (hypertensive diseases), diabetes, obesity, etc. The image tries to categorize them as “serious illnesses,” and depending on the person, they might be. However, they are present in a large percentage of the population. 45 percent of adults in the U.S. have a hypertensive disease, 10 percent of the U.S. population have diabetes, and 42 percent have obesity. Thus, a huge number of people in the U.S. have at least one of the “serious illnesses” that make you likely to die from COVID-19. In other words, there are many, many people at risk of death from COVID-19.

But how can we say that these people died of COVID-19 when they had some other condition? Because most of these conditions are completely treatable and will not generally kill a person. However, when that person gets an infection, the underlying condition makes it harder for his or her body to fight off the infection, leading to death. The more serious the infection, the more likely the person is to die. In fact, the majority of people who die of an infection like influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, etc. have an underlying condition that makes it more difficult for them to fight off the infection. Thus, it is not even remotely unusual that 94% of people who die from COVID-19 had one or more underlying conditions. It is common for many serious infectious diseases, especially in the developed world.

There is one more issue in the image above that I must address. It says that the overwhelming majority of people who died from COVID-19 were of advanced age. That’s true, but it’s true for all deaths in the developed world, not just COVID-19 deaths. Indeed, a recent study compared the ages of people who died from COVID-19 to those who died from all causes. Guess what? They were quite similar:

In fact, the age distribution of deaths attributed to COVID-19 is quite similar to that of all-cause mortality, which tends to increase by about 10% every year of age after age 30 y.

We don’t know a lot about COVID-19, and there is no way to scientifically state the best cause of action against the disease at this time. However, we do know that it is a very serious disease, and it is being downplayed by some using falsehoods like the image above. Please stop the misinformation! If you want to share something about COVID-19, at least make sure it doesn’t communicate something blatantly false, like the image above does.

ADDENDUM (added 9/4/2020): Someone on a friend’s Facebook feed wrote an incredibly insightful comment that I must share. She said that if you really think that the only COVID-19 deaths are the ones that had COVID-19 as the sole cause, then you must think that AIDS has a mortality rate of zero!

REFERENCES

1. The Examiner, Number 15 November 2 to November 9, 1710, (Article by Jonathan Swift), Page 2, Column 1, Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall, London.
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What Have Government Restrictions Accomplished with COVID-19?

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (left) and deaths (right) per million in Sweden and Denmark
(click for a larger view)

In a previous post, I compared COVID-19 cases and deaths in Sweden and Denmark. As I said then, it’s because they are very similar countries in the same basic region of the world, but they have remarkably different responses to the disease. Sweden has avoided lockdowns and tried to target their social restrictions, while Denmark has followed the practices of most other countries, strongly limiting what their citizens can do during the pandemic. While no comparison of two different countries is conclusive, I think the results are very interesting. The data come from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and while it may very well be a biased source of data, at least it is equally biased for both countries.

The graph on the left shows the cumulative COVID-19 cases per million. That means each day on the graph shows the total cases that were reported by that date, divided by the population in millions. Initially, Denmark had more cases (probably because initially they were testing more), but as you can see, Sweden quickly surpassed Denmark in cases per million, and the difference between the two countries has continued to grow. Since the death rate of COVID-19 is low (but higher than most infectious respiratory diseases), many people (including myself) think that death rate is a better indicator of the severity of the pandemic. Thus, the graph on the right shows the cumulative deaths per million. Notice that Sweden has more than 5 times the deaths per million as Denmark.

If the comparison between these two countries is legitimate, then, government restrictions did reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths per million in Denmark. However, there are those who suggest that this might be okay, since Sweden will reach herd immunity faster than Denmark. In the long term, then, Sweden will have fewer COVID-19 deaths because the spread of the disease will stop sooner.

Based on my evaluation of the data, I don’t think Sweden is significantly closer to herd immunity than Denmark. Take a look at the graph below, which records cases per day per million. Rather than adding all the cases reported by a given date (as is done in the graph on the left above), this shows the daily reports of COVID-19 cases per million.

If Sweden were closer to herd immunity than Denmark, the recent cases per million per day in Sweden should be lower than the cases per million per day in Denmark. However, they are not. For most of August, Sweden and Denmark have roughly equivalent cases per million per day. That tells me the disease is spreading roughly the same in the two countries right now, but Sweden has lost five times the people (per capita) as Denmark. As a result, my analysis indicates that Denmark’s restrictions kept a lot of people from dying of COVID-19, and that will continue to be the case in the long run.

Now please understand that this analysis considers only deaths from COVID-19. We know that government restrictions have also caused deaths. There are those who say that the government restrictions will cause more deaths than the ones that were saved from COVID-19. Others say that overall, the restrictions have saved lives. I think the data are insufficient to make that determination, but I do agree that most countries are ignoring the devastating death toll caused by the restrictions themselves. Nevertheless, I think the data are now clear that Sweden’s strategy has not accomplished what the country had hoped it would.

Another Possible COVID-19 Treatment

The three components of blood (click for credit)
So far, there are no widely-accepted treatments for COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine, often mixed with other things like azithromycin, was initially thought to be promising, but the data so far are inconclusive. While there are some indications that it is effective (and some physicians are convinced it works very well), the controlled studies that have been done so far see no significant benefit to its use. The antiviral drug remdesivir shows some promise, as does the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone. However, there are not enough data yet to make a firm decision on either of them.

Yesterday, President Trump held a press conference to announce a new possible treatment: convalescent plasma. Based on an analysis of several different studies, it seems to be the best candidate yet (in my non-medical-doctor opinion). I say this because of the kinds of studies that have been done. First, there have been three randomized clinical trials. This means patients were assigned to either get the treatment or not get the treatment based on random chance. The group that got the treatment was compared to the group that didn’t (called the control group). In the three studies, the death rate in the treatment group was half that of the control group. There were also five matched-control studies, where the treated patients were compared to a control group specifically selected to closely match them. The results of those studies were similar to those of the randomized clinical trials. There were also four case-series studies, where patients were given the treatment and their progress was tracked. While that kind of study has practical uses for physicians, its ability to determine the effectiveness of a treatment is extremely limited. However, the case-series studies seem to support the other two kinds of studies. All of the studies were done on patients with severe or life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

Taken all together, then, the treatment looks very promising. However, I do have to say that each study was very small, so even when all the patients were analyzed, the total number was only 804. Phase three clinical trials that determine whether or not a drug should be widely used typically involve a few thousand patients. Thus, this is still a limited data set. Also, many of the studies (as well as the analysis linked above) are not peer-reviewed. As a result, there could be major flaws that have not been noticed. A recent analysis (once again not peer reviewed) of more than 35,000 patients seems to support the small studies, but since it has no control group, it cannot be used to draw any real conclusions. Nevertheless, the FDA has approved emergency use of the treatment, and it is asking those who have recovered from the disease to help in determining whether or not it is truly effective.

How can someone who has recovered from COVID-19 help determine the effectiveness of the treatment? To understand that, you need to learn a bit about the wonderful mixture that is running through your circulatory system.

Continue reading “Another Possible COVID-19 Treatment”

Forbes Tells You Not To Think For Yourself

I have written about a couple of instances where Forbes has censored articles because they disagree with the “scientific consensus” (see here and here). As a result, it didn’t surprise me to find that they are now actively trying to discourage people from thinking for themselves. This discouragement comes in the form of a blog article written by Dr. Ethan Siegel, who holds an earned Ph.D. in astrophysics. It is entitled, “You Must Not ‘Do Your Own Research’ When It Comes To Science”.

Dr. Siegel believes that in order to assess any scientific statement, a person must have some expertise in the relevant field. Otherwise, the person’s “research” will only end up confirming what he or she already wants to believe. He writes:

It’s absolutely foolish to think that you, a non-expert who lacks the very scientific expertise necessary to evaluate the claims of experts, are going to do a better job than the actual, bona fide experts of separating truth from fiction or fraud. When we “do the research for ourselves,” we almost always wind up digging in deeper to our own knee-jerk positions, rather than deferring to the professional opinions of the consensus of experts.

He backs up this anti-science view by giving examples of how people deny the scientific consensus on issues like fluoridated drinking water, vaccination, and global warming (aka climate change). He then relates it all to the current pandemic. He says that rather than listening to the experts and obediently following whatever they tell you to do, some people are actually looking into the matter for themselves, and the results are devastating.

Continue reading “Forbes Tells You Not To Think For Yourself”

Another Exciting Development in COVID-19 Prevention

AeroNabs could be delivered as a nasal spray. (click for credit)
Scientists are pursuing several different strategies to protect people from the virus that causes COVID-19, and a recent paper that hasn’t been peer reviewed reports on a strategy I haven’t seen before. It makes use of the fact that the virus starts the infection process by employing specific chemicals called spike proteins to bind to an enzyme (ACE2) in human cells. The idea is simple: Block the virus’s ability to bind to that enzyme, and it will be unable to start the infection process. But how can that be accomplished? In the paper, the researchers report on making a small molecule, called a nanobody, that binds to the spike proteins on the virus. Once the nanobody binds to them, the spike proteins can no longer bind to the ACE2 enzyme.

First found in alpacas, nanobodies are like antibodies, but they are smaller, simpler molecules. Because of that, they are easy to make and manipulate. Essentially, scientists can build a small gene that produces the nanobody, insert it into certain microorganisms, and let the microorganisms churn out the nanobodies. As a result, there have been many, many different kinds of nanobodies produced over the years. The researchers searched a database that contained more than two billion nanobody genes, and they found 21 that should be able to bind to the virus’s spike proteins in some way. They put those genes into yeast, extracted the nanobodies that were produced, and studied them.

Based on their analysis, they found the three most promising candidates and tested them against the virus itself. One of the nanobodies was particularly effective, so they focused on it. They mutated the gene multiple times to make slight changes to the nanobody and tested the result against the virus. They then produced a gene that could take the three most effective nanobodies and chain them together. The result was a chemical that basically shut down the virus’s ability to infect human cells.

Continue reading “Another Exciting Development in COVID-19 Prevention”