Sorry Sagan…

The Sun - Image from NASA
There are many, many data sets that clearly indicate the earth is young. I have blogged about several of them, some of which give direct measurements indicating that the earth is about 10,000 years old. Other data sets simply put upper limits on the age of the earth. One of those data sets is based on the behavior of the sun. As I have blogged before, the sun produces energy via thermonuclear fusion, and we know enough about thermonuclear fusion to understand that if the sun really has been around for billions of years, it is significantly hotter now than it was back then, probably by about 25%.

This, of course, produces a problem for an earth that is supposedly billions of years old. After all, the earth needs a certain amount of energy in order to support life. A billions-of-years-old sun would produce significantly less energy in the distant past than it does now, resulting in an earth that is simply too cold to support life.

Of course there are many scientists who are so desperate to believe in a billions-of-years-old earth that they are forced to produce some sort of narrative so that they can “explain around” this obvious problem. Once such scientist was Carl Sagan. In 1972, he and a colleague wrote a paper1 that suggested that the problem could be solved if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was significantly greater in the distant past.** He fervently hoped that a lot of extra carbon dioxide would produce a much stronger greenhouse effect, making the earth sufficiently warm enough for life, even when the sun was a lot dimmer.

Now this is only a partial solution to the problem, because not only did Sagan need to have faith that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were significantly greater in the past, he also had to ardently believe that those concentrations would slowly fall in perfect coordination with the increase in the brightness of the sun so that the earth would never get too hot or too cold as the sun got brighter and brighter.

Well, now we know that despite Sagan’s desperate hopes, his explanation doesn’t work.

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Bacterial Batteries?

A schematic of the bacterial flagellum.
Image in the public domain.
The bacterial flagellum has become a symbol of the intelligent design movement, and rightly so. After all, bacteria are commonly recognized as the “simplest” organisms on the planet. Nevertheless, these “simple” organisms can make an amazingly well-designed locomotive system. Well, it turns out that the flagellum isn’t the only example of the amazing things that bacteria can construct. It seems that they can construct batteries as well!

I saw a blurb about this in the March 1, 2010 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, so I went online to find more information. I found this article on Nature News. According to the article, Lars Peter Nielsen of Aarhus University (in Denmark) did some experiments to see how bacteria are able to consume organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide in sediments that have very little oxygen. You see, in order to use these compounds, the bacteria have to oxidize them, which means that have to remove electrons from them. In order to remove electrons from the chemicals they consume, however, the bacteria have to “put” those electrons somewhere else. In most organisms, the electrons go to oxygen molecules. This process, reasonably enough, is called oxidation, and it is the reason you and I breathe. We take in oxygen so that we can oxidize our food, which produces energy for us to live.

It is very easy to understand how most organisms oxidize their food, because most organisms are exposed to a reasonable amount of oxygen in the air they breathe or the water in which they swim. However, there are lots of sediments (on the sea floor, for example) that are low in oxygen underneath the surface of the sediments. Nevertheless, bacteria in those oxygen-poor sediments seem to oxidize organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide just fine. Nielsen wanted to know how they accomplish this feat.

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Still MORE Problems for Abiogenesis

A hydrothermal vent deep in the ocean. Some origin-of-life researchers hope that life could arise under such conditions.
Image from the NOAA.
I have blogged a lot about the myriad problems facing the idea that life arose naturally. Even those who want to believe in it admit that all origin-of-life experiments are miserable failures, producing only minute quantities of the simplest molecules of life, along with enormous amounts of “goo” that would be detrimental to life. Stephen Meyer’s seminal work, Signature in the Cell, points out the terrible informational problems that any origin-of-life scenario faces. Dembski and Wells point out that the very existence of so many different scenarios for the naturalistic origin of life indicate just how implausible it really is.

Now origin-of-life researchers face another huge problem – oxygen. You see, most evolutionists who accept scientifically irresponsible dating methods are confident of the fact that earth’s atmosphere didn’t have much oxygen in it until about 2.4 billion years ago. At that point, according to the evolutionary narrative, the evolution of photosynthesis allowed the carbon dioxide in earth’s ancient atmosphere to be converted into oxygen. This is called “The Great Oxidation Event,” and it is crucial to any evolutionary narrative.1

Why is this “Great Oxidation Event” crucial to evolution? Because all origin-of-life scenarios currently under consideration require earth’s atmosphere to be very low in or completely devoid of oxygen when life first evolved. A significant amount of oxygen would destroy any hopes of producing the molecules of life, as reactions with oxygen would convert them into chemicals that would not be useful in the chemistry of life.

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Once again, Global Warming Alarmists Were Wrong

The golden toad, Bufo periglenes was a cute little animal:

An Extinct Toad
Image in the public domain.

Unfortunately, it is now extinct. Why is it extinct? Well, in 2006, the journal Nature published an article that claimed it was the result of global warming:

“Here we show that a recent mass extinction associated with pathogen outbreaks is tied to global warming. Seventeen years ago, in the mountains of Costa Rica, the Monteverde harlequin frog (Atelopus sp.) vanished along with the golden toad (Bufo periglenes)…Analysing the timing of losses in relation to changes in sea surface and air temperatures, we conclude with ‘very high confidence’ (> 99%, following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC) that large-scale warming is a key factor in the disappearances…With climate change promoting infectious disease and eroding biodiversity, the urgency of reducing greenhouse-gas concentrations is now undeniable.1

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Going Green…And Causing Accidents

I ran across an old news story yesterday, and I decided I had to comment on it, because it is a great example of what happens when people rush to “go green” without thinking of the consequences.

The story reports on several communities that have changed the incandescent light bulbs in their traffic lights to LED lights. The LED lights produce a lot of light without producing much heat. Thus, for the same light output, they don’t use nearly as much energy. As a result, they cost less to run, and they are promoted as a green alternative to the old-style incandescent traffic lights.

Of course…there is only one problem. In snowy conditions, these LED traffic lights are responsible for causing traffic accidents and, according to the news story, at least one death. Why? Specifically because they don’t produce much heat. When it snows, the snow can cover up the lights on a traffic light. However, since the old-style incandescent lights produce a lot of heat, they melt the snow. That way, the snow doesn’t cover up the traffic lights. The LED lights don’t produce much heat, so the snow doesn’t melt. Instead, it covers up the light, making it impossible to see whether the traffic light is telling you to stop or go.

What’s to be done about this? According to Lt. Jim Runge of the Green Bay, Wisconsin police:

as far as I’m aware, all that can be done is to have crews clean off the snow by hand…It’s a bit labor-intensive.

Now the article says that Wisconsin saves a LOT of money by putting in the LED lights, and even though they have to hire crews to clean them off during snowstorms, there is still a net savings. That might be true, but I would have to see the actual numbers to be certain. Also, if you add in all the carbon dioxide emissions required to take crews from traffic light to traffic light in order to clean them all, it is not clear that this is reducing Wisconsin’s “carbon footprint.”

Of course, even if there is a net savings in both cost and emissions for Wisconsin, it is done at the expense of people’s safety. I expect some “environmentalists” have no problem with that. However, this environmentalist thinks that people are a part of the environment, and they should be protected as well.

More on Slime Molds

About a month ago, I wrote about an interesting study on slime molds.

This organism is surprisingly intelligent!
(Image from KeresH at

Even though they have no brain or other kind of “central processing unit,” they can figure out what the most nutritious food is for them, and they can adjust their shape and eating habits to make sure they get as much nutrition as possible.

These results surprised many scientists, because slime molds are supposed to be primitive creatures.

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Young-Earth Creationism Is Good for Science

There is a great article on the Creation Ministries International website called “Why Young-Age Creationism Is Good for Science.” The author (Brent W. Smith) makes some excellent points, so I would like to summarize what he says and then add one thought. You can tell Mr. Smith is a philosopher by how he summarizes his argument:

The basic idea is that [young-age creationists] offer to the current origins science establishment a competing rational viewpoint that will augment fruitful scientific investigation through increased accountability for scientists, introduction of original hypotheses, and general epistemic improvement.

If you don’t know what “epistemic improvement” means, you just need to know that epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limitations of knowledge. It attempts to understand how we know things, how knowledge is acquired, and what knowledge actually is. Thus, in this case, “epistemic improvement” means an improvement in our understanding of what we can know through scientific inquiry.

Obviously, young-earth creationism will improve the epistemology of science, because it continually argues with the establishment about what we can learn from scientific data. For example, the fact that soft tissue has been found in fossils that are supposedly millions of years old can lead us to make one of (at least) two different conclusions: (1) Soft tissue can be preserved over time periods previously not thought possible or (2) The fossils aren’t really millions of years old. Those who believe in a billions-of-years old earth tend to support option (1), and young-earth scientists tend to support option (2). Each side tends to look for data that support its position.

If it weren’t for young-earth creationists, option (2) would not be considered. Thus, scientists would assume that option (1) is what we can learn from the data, and they would go on their merry way, never wondering if the data could mean something else. Young-earth creationists, however, will collect data to try to support their position, which will at least allow for some evaluation of what we can learn from the fact that soft tissue has been found in these fossils. If option (1) ends up being correct, then at minimum, there has been an evaluation of what this fact tells us rather than just an assumption of what it means. If option (2) ends up being correct, then a long-running mistake in science will be fixed. Either way, science wins!

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And We’re Back…

If you visited this site on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you probably either saw nothing but a directory structure or a blank page. That’s because the server that hosts this blog was subjected to a denial of service attack. In the end, the hosting company had to move everything to another server and, of course, that took time. We’re back up now, however, so I can continue to annoy those who don’t like science!

The Scientific Consensus: Wrong AGAIN

I am a bit behind in my reading, so just today I saw an incredible article in the February 27th issue of Science News. The article, entitled “From Skin Cells to neurons, with no middle man,” discussed some astonishing experiments in which mouse skin cells were turned directly into neurons.1

Researchers at Stanford University took skin fibroblast cells (cells that make a protein called collagen) from a mouse and used a virus to insert genes that encode certain transcription factors. These transcription factors are proteins that actually help to regulate gene activity. In other words, their job is to turn genes on and off. The idea here is that even though skin cells are specialized, they have the same DNA that any other non-reproductive cells have. Thus, if we could “turn on” the right genes and “turn off” other genes, we could turn one type of cell into another type of cell.

So…the researchers inserted genes for three transcription factors that are present when neurons are just starting to form. It is assumed that these transcription factors activate the genes necessary for a stem cell to become a neuron, and they deactivate the genes that a neuron doesn’t need. The researchers thought that if they forced those transcription factors to appear in a skin cell, the transcription factors would turn on and off the right genes to make the skin cell turn into a neuron. They were right.

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