Cooler Heads Are Starting to Prevail

Someone I respect and admire sent me a Wall Street Journal article that was published on January 27, 2012. It is an opinion piece written by 16 scientists and is entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.”1 While most of the scientists who authored the opinion piece are not climatologists, there are three notable exceptions: William Robert Kininmonth was in charge of Australia’s National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology from 1986 to 1998. Dr. Richard Lindzen is professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT and has more than 200 peer-reviewed publications in the field of climatology. Henk Tennekes is the former director of research at the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute.

These and the other 13 authors offered some advice to any candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy. He or she should understand:

…that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

The article makes many good points. It brings up the fact that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever left the American Physical Society because of its anti-science stance on global warming. It informs the reader that there has not been any detectable warming of the earth over the past ten years and that climate alarmists can’t explain why. It also tells us:

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse.

More importantly, it brings up the fact that all models which have been used to promote the idea that global warming is human-made and catastrophic in nature have consistently overpredicted the rise in earth’s surface temperatures for the past 22 years. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. Those who want to convince us that drastic action must be taken to curb global warming typically use computer models to tell us how horrible the results of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be in future decades. However, those computer models have consistently been wrong, and most climate scientists know this.

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Having Troubles Posting Comments?

I got an E-MAIL indicating that someone was having trouble posting comments to my latest blog entry. I tried posting the comment as a reader and also had trouble, so I am having someone who knows more about WordPress than me look into what might be the problem. Since I have gotten comments in the past few days, this might not be a problem that affects everyone. Hopefully, it will be cleared up soon.

UPDATE: It seems the problem with posting had to do with a specific link that was in the comment. Removing the link seems to make the comment post fine. If you are having trouble posting, please contact me here to let me know.

The New Creationism

Paul Garner is a British environmental scientist and Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He is a very active young-earth creationist researcher, currently doing original geological research in collaboration with Dr. John Whitmore and Dr. Steve Austin. He also recently authored a book called The New Creationism.

The word “new” in the title does not mean that he is offering some fundamentally new concept in creationism. Instead, the purpose of the book is to give the reader an understanding of the latest creationist models in the areas of astronomy, geology, and biology. In this purpose, Garner succeeds admirably. He is not only a very understandable writer, he is also very knowledgeable in a wide range of fields. As a result, this book is easy-to-read and (mostly) accurate.

There are many things l really like about this book, and one of them is that Garner makes sure the reader is not fooled by terminology. For example, in his second chapter (“The Sun, Moon, and Stars”) he discusses how astrophysicists think main sequence stars (such as our sun) eventually turn into different kinds of stars (like red giants, white dwarfs, and supergiants) and perhaps even supernovae. He then says:

Some creationists have instinctively reacted against this idea because the process of change is usually referred to as ‘stellar evolution.’ However, it is perhaps better to think of it as ‘stellar ageing’ because the changes are nothing more than an outworking of the law of entropy, the tendency of all natural systems to move towards a disordered state. (p. 37)

This is a very important point. What is generally referred to as “stellar evolution” has nothing to do with evolution as the term is generally used. It certainly has to do with change, and “evolution” can mean “change.” However, the general use of the term “evolution” implies an increase in complexity, and that is certainly not what goes on in stellar evolution.

Another thing I really liked about the book is that it concentrates on the evidence that supports creation and only discusses the evidence against evolution when necessary. Many creationist books are nothing more than attacks on evolution. While it is important to show a competing theory’s weaknesses, science should never be focused on shooting down opposing ideas. It should be focused on building up your own ideas. As a result, Garner gives the reader a lot of evidence that supports various creationist models.

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More Peer-Reviewed Papers Critical of Evolution

On August 4, 2004, an article by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer appeared in a rather obscure peer-reviewed journal entitled The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington,1 and it quickly ignited a firestorm of controversy. It argued that the current view of evolution can never hope to explain life as we see it today. The editor of the journal was branded a heretic, and he was then targeted for retaliation and harassment. Not surprisingly, he is no longer the editor of that journal. The Scientific Inquisition, which strives to enforce scientific orthodoxy, probably thought that would be the end of it. Surely no other peer-reviewed journal would ever dare to publish an honest discussion of evolution.

Well, it turns out that the Inquisition was wrong. Another obscure peer-reviewed journal, the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, has published an article by Dr. Joseph A. Kuhn, a surgeon who is affiliated with the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.2 The article brings up three main points:

1. There is no significant progress towards coming up with even a plausible Darwinian-style mechanism to explain the origin of life.

2. Cellular systems exhibit irreducible complexity, and thus cannot be explained by any kind of Darwinian-style mechanism.

3. There is no reasonable fossil evidence to indicate that any kind of Darwinian-style mechanism produced the diversity of life we see today. (Here, the author concentrates on the supposed evolution of humans from an apelike ancestor and the supposed evolution of amphibians from a fish ancestor.)

While the article itself is interesting, what I find more interesting is the response of at least one member of the Scientific Inquisition.

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All Quiet On The Blogging Front

I will be unable to spend time on my blog for the next several days. Even though it will be quiet around here, please feel free to leave your comments on any open post. Due to the vulgarity of past commenters, I cannot allow comments without moderation. Thus, your comments won’t appear until my time frees up again. Nevertheless, I will eventually find the time to moderate, approve, and reply, if appropriate.

Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction

In science, one of the most important things a hypothesis can do is make predictions that can be verified by experiment or observation. If a hypothesis makes predictions that are then confirmed by experiment or observation, its scientific value is high. The more confirmed predictions it makes, the more likely it is to be a good, scientific explanation for whatever phenomenon it is describing. However, if a hypothesis makes several predictions that are shown to by false by experiment or observation, its scientific value becomes questionable.

Dr. Cornelius Hunter has done an excellent job detailing many of evolution’s failed predictions. I have discussed a few on this blog as well (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Not surprisingly, as more and more research is being done, more and more evolutionary predictions are being falsified. The latest one involves bats and insects.

As most people know, bats have an amazing echolocation system that allows them to hunt in the dark. They send out high-frequency sound waves that bounce off anything in front of them. They receive the reflected sound waves, analyze them with sophisticated mathematics, and determine all sorts of useful information, such as the size, position, and speed of what’s in front of them. This amazing echolocation system allows bats to hunt and eat insects even when it is pitch black outside.

Well, it turns out that some insects are able to hear these high-frequency sound waves. This alerts them to the fact that a bat is hunting them, and they are then able to take evasive maneuvers. For many, many years, evolutionists have claimed that this kind of hearing in insects evolved after bats evolved. For example, a book that discusses the echolocation systems found in bats and dolphins says:1

The evolution of ultrasound sensitivity in nocturnal insects evolved in response to predation pressures exerted by echolocating bats.

Another evolutionary book makes a very similar statement:2

…before bats evolved…moths and other nocturnal insects owned the night sky, flitting about unmolested by predators. The appearance of bats forced them to evolve a novel antibat strategy – a way of hearing the echolocating calls of hunting bats, in effect a radar detector.

So evolution predicts that the high-frequency hearing in some insects arose after bats evolved, as a response to the bats’ new way of finding prey among the insects.

Like most evolutionary predictions, however, this turns out to be dead wrong.

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Motherhood Has a Lasting, Cellular Impact!

In pregnancy, the placenta is a barrier between the baby and the mother (Gray's Anatomy Image)
A very interesting writer named Amanda Read is a Facebook friend of mine. She has an amazingly diverse reading list, and she often posts things that she has read and found interesting. A while back, she posted a story about how a baby’s cells reside in his or her mother long after the baby is born, and that they may aid the mother in healing certain kinds of tissues. When I read the story she posted, I immediately expressed my skepticism. After all, we have an amazing immune system that fights any cells that are identified as foreign. Even though the baby develops in the mother’s body, there is a placenta that forms a barrier between the mother and the baby. It was obvious to me that a baby’s cells could not pass across the placenta, because the mother’s immune system would immediately attack them as foreign cells.

Well…it turns out that I was dead wrong. When I actually looked into the story, I found that while the story was a bit biased, the fact is that a baby’s cells do, indeed, cross the placenta, and they do, indeed, stay with the mother for a long, long time. In addition, the mother’s cells cross the placenta and stay with the baby for a long, long time. This phenomenon is called fetomaternal microchimerism, and believe it or not, scientists have known about for quite some time.

The first paper that discussed this phenomenon was written by Herzenberg and his colleagues in 1979. Published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, the paper details how they found cells with Y chromosomes in mothers after pregnancy, but only if the baby was a male.1 Since a woman has no Y chromosomes, it was clear that the cells they found didn’t belong to the woman. The authors didn’t have the ability to use genetic testing to confirm that the cells belonged to the baby, but they showed that these Y-chromosome-containing cells appeared only when the mother had a baby boy. Thus, it was clear that the cells must be coming from the baby.

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The Appendix: More Evidence That the Creationist Prediction Is Correct

The Human Appendix (Gray's Anatomy Image)
For many, many years, evolutionists have called the human appendix a vestigial organ. In their view, our supposed ancestors needed a large cecum for digestive purposes. Over time, however, we evolved so that we didn’t need such a large cecum anymore. However, mutation and natural selection never got around to completely removing the large cecum and, as a result, we have a leftover, useless, small version called the appendix. As one evolutionist put it:1

…we have an appendix (a small remnant of a prior ancestor species’ intestinal sack) which not only is of no use to us but which can sometimes kill us when it gets clogged up and infected! What kind of god or other “intelligent designer” would design organisms with such useless, imperfect, wasteful, and sometimes even harmful physical features?

As I wrote previously, there is strong evidence that this evolution-inspired idea is incorrect. Evidence indicates that the appendix acts as a safe reservoir of the beneficial bacteria that usually populate your intestine. That way, when you have a disease that wipes out those bacteria, they can quickly repopulate your intestine so as to restore your normal level of health. This function conforms quite nicely to a creationist prediction made several years before this evidence began to mount.

Of course, a few pieces of evidence do not make a clear-cut case. As a result, it is important to test the idea that the appendix has a vital function in the human body by making predictions based on that assumption and then seeing whether or not the predictions are confirmed by the data. This has recently happened. In 2007, some medical scientists wrote a paper suggesting that the appendix served as a reservoir for the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines.2 As a result, they predicted that if specific intestinal diseases were investigated, it should be found that people who have those diseases are better able to fight them if they have an appendix.

Well, a study that tested this prediction was recently published, and the prediction was dramatically confirmed.

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More on Comparing the Human and Chimpanzee Genome

A schematic representation of DNA, concentrating on the nucleotide bases that encode biological information. (Click for credit)
How similar is the human genome to the chimpanzee genome? Since both genomes have been fully sequenced, you would think that would be an easy question to answer. Unfortunately, it is not. After all, how do you compare the genomes of two different species? You might think that the most straightforward way would be to simply line the two genomes up and see how much they overlap. If that’s the way you are comparing the genomes, then the answer is relatively easy. Based on the analysis done by the Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, about 75% of the two genomes overlap well. There is an error rate of about 3% within that overlap, however, so the two genomes are 72% similar based on this kind of analysis.

The problem is that simply lining two genomes up and looking for overlap might not be the best way to compare them. After all, it seems that genomes have been designed to change. Genes and their regulatory agents can move around, be copied to different parts of the genome, etc. As a result, when you compare genomes between species, you might need to be a bit more careful in how you do it.

One popular means by which geneticists compare genomes today is by looking at chunks of DNA in one organism and comparing them to the genome of the second organism. One common way to do this is to use the computer program called BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool). This program takes a chunk of DNA from one organism and splits it into a series of short sequences called “words.” It then looks through the genome of the second organism, trying to find regions where there is a lot of similarity with the words generated from the first organism. If the similarity is above a specified threshold level, BLAST scores it as an overlap, keeping track of precisely how similar the two sections of DNA are within that overlap.

In other words, rather than looking for long stretches of DNA that overlap between two organisms, BLAST looks for smaller regions of overlap. This makes sense, of course, since a given gene or a given regulatory piece of DNA takes up only a small part of the total genome. By comparing small parts of two genomes rather than the genomes in their entirety, you are better able to find the functional units within the DNA that are similar.

So…when scientists use a comparison method such as BLAST, how similar are human and chimp DNA? Surprisingly, the jury is still out on the definitive answer to that question!

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