The RNA Virus Paradox

A diagram of HIV, which is a retrovirus (image in the public domain)

Dr. Peer Terborg has an incredible series of articles on genetics and the design of life over at Creation Ministries International’s website. The ones to which I refer begin with “Evidence for the design of life…” While I plan to write about many of the major concepts discussed in these articles, I want to start with sort of a “sidelight” that appears in part 3 of his series.

Not too long ago, I wrote about the fact that evolution (in the ‘goo to you’ sense) is, at best, an unconfirmed hypothesis. A commenter, Grant C, tried to convince me that it is something more by offering several lines of evidence for evolution. Of course, I attempted to educate Grant on what the evidence really meant, but after only a few exchanges, he stopped responding.

One of his major lines of evidence for evolution was endogenous retroviral insertions (ERVs) in the genomes of primates. If you don’t know what ERVs are, you need to first learn what a retrovirus is.

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Science Has Demonstrated Evolutionists Wrong and Creationists Right…AGAIN

Schematic of the Human Retina
Illustration by Megan Fruchte

Many evolutionists have claimed that the human eye (actually the vertebrate eye in general) is wired “backwards.” According to evolutionists, this is such a terrible way to make an eye that it clearly shows the eye has no Designer. What is so “terrible” about the way the eye is wired? Well, light that enters the eye is detected by specialized cells called rods and cones. Those rods and cones convert the light that they detect into signals that travel through association neurons and into nerve fibers that carry the signals to the brain. As shown in the illustration above, however, the neurons and nerves that carry those signals are in front of the rods and cones. Thus, light must travel through the nerves and association neurons before it can hit the rods and cones.

According to evolutionists, this is a terrible design. After all, if anyone with any sense were to design an eye, the rods and cones would be the first thing the light hits. That way, the rods and cones would get an unobstructed view of the light. Since the vertebrate eye is not designed the way these evolutionists think should be “obvious,” it is clear (to them) that the eye was not designed. Indeed, in his book The Blind Watchmaker (probably his best work), Richard Dawkins says:

Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate retinas.1

Of course, like most evolutionary nonsense, the more science we learn, the more we see how wrong this argument is.

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Another Confirmation of the Creationist View of the Genome

In my previous post, I discussed the new journal BIO-Complexity. I briefly discussed the first two articles in the journal, but I want to go into one of them in more detail, because the results are fascinating.

To understand the importance of the paper’s result, remember one of the ways evolutionists think information can be added to a genome. They think that gene duplication occurs, resulting in two identical genes. The copy of the gene can mutate freely, since it doesn’t really have to produce anything. After all, the original gene is still producing the protein that the organism needs, so if the duplicate gene doesn’t produce anything useful, there is really no problem. Since the copy is free to mutate, it can presumably become a completely different gene, adding information to the genome. This is supposed to play a major role in evolution.

So imagine you have this gene copy that is free to mutate. Since it can mutate a lot, it presumably can “explore” all sorts of possibilities as far as the new proteins it might make. When it hits on a protein that is beneficial to the organism’s survival, it will be naturally selected, and presto, there is new information in the genome of that species.

This idea sounds reasonable (ignoring annoying things like information theory), but it hinges on the assumption that a duplicated gene is free to mutate and that the cell continues to “sample” that mutating gene so as to “try out” the new proteins for which the duplicate is coding. Well, that didn’t happen in the experiment presented in the BIO-Complexity paper.

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Real Science Might Be Alive and Well

Sometimes I worry about the state of science today. The majority of students are woefully ignorant about even the most basic scientific concepts. More worrisome, however, ideology drives much of science. Evolution (in the ‘goo to you’ sense) is taught as fact, even though it is, at best, an unconfirmed hypothesis. In an attempt to promulgate this myth, many scientific journals refuse to publish anything that challenges the dogma of evolution.

And if any journal dares to publish a heretical paper, heads must role. For example, when Stephen Meyer sent a paper entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” to the small journal called Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, the editor (Dr. Richard Sternberg), sent it out for peer review. It passed peer review, and it was published. Then, a firestorm occurred. As the Washington Post says

Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution — which has helped fund and run the journal — lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.

Why did the firestorm occur? Because the paper discussed intelligent design in a positive manner. It doesn’t matter that the paper passed peer review. It doesn’t matter that the reviewers who didn’t even agree with intelligent designed called it meritorious and worthy of publication. The fact that it dared to question the dogma of the day was enough. Sternberg faced retaliation, defamation, and harassment because he allowed heresy to creep into the biological literature.

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Leaf Miners and Amazing Symbiosis

This is the ADULT form of a leaf miner. Image from:
I ran across a short article on Creation Ministries International’s website that really intrigued me. It was about “green islands” on decaying leaves, which are patches of green on a leaf that is otherwise dead. I have seen these “green islands” many times, and I just assumed they were the result of areas in the leaf where the majority of chlorophyll just hadn’t completely decayed away. Perhaps that region was chlorophyll-rich and thus would take longer to lose its chlorophyll than the rest of the leaf. However, when the green spot is strongly localized, it is probably the result of the larval version of a leaf miner insect.

This really intrigued me, so I spent some time looking into leaf-mining insects, and what I found was truly incredible. First, there are a lot of leaf miners. Some are moths, some are flies, some are beetles, and even some are wasps. The adult lays her eggs in within the tissue of a leaf, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae begin eating the insides of the leaf. This, of course, protects the larvae, because they are not exposed to predators. They stay inside the leaf until they are ready to pupate (start metamorphosis into their adult form).

Now, of course, if a larva is “unlucky” enough to hatch shortly before or after the leaf falls from the tree, this could be a problem. After all, the larva is eating the living tissue inside the leaf and therefore needs the leaf to stay alive while it is feeding. What happens if the leaf dies before the larva is ready to pupate? Well, that’s where the “green islands” come in. It seems that the larva can keep the portion of the leaf it is eating alive so that it can continue to eat and develop, and that’s why the area around the larva stays green!

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Cameleon Tongues – Another Example of Amazing Design

A chameleon using its tongue
The design we see in nature is powerful evidence for the existence of God. Indeed, it is so powerful that it forced world-renowned atheist Antony Flew to admit his lifetime of scholarship was wrong and that God must exist. The more we learn about this planet and the life on it, the more we stand in awe of that amazing design. The chameleon is an excellent example of this trend. For a long time, scientists have known about the amazing design features of the chameleon. The more we learn, however, the more amazing chameleons become!

For quite some time, biologists have puzzled over why a chameleon’s tongue is not affected by the temperature. After all, chameleons are cold-blooded. In other words, they cannot regulate their internal body temperature. As a result, their internal body temperature changes with the temperature of their surroundings. The colder the surroundings get, the colder the internal temperature of a chameleon gets.

Well, the colder the temperature, the slower the chemical reactions that power an animal’s muscles. Because of this, cold-blooded animals show a significant reduction in muscle action the colder the surroundings become. However, a chameleon’s tongue shows no significant reduction in action, even when the temperature dips almost to the freezing point of water! This is strange, because the tongue is a muscle, and all the chameleon’s other muscles are affected by temperature. Why not the tongue? Biologists now know the answer to that question, and it is remarkable.

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Antony Flew Dies

With apologies to Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked), there are atheists, and then there are Atheists. Hacks like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are atheists, and scholars like Thomas Nagel and Bradley Monton are Atheists.

Well, one of the greatest Atheists of all time, Antony Flew, recently died at the ripe old age of 87. Interestingly enough, he didn’t die an Atheist. Why? Because he was convinced by the evidence that God must exist. In his own words:

There were two factors in particular that were decisive.  One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.  I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so.  With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code.  The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical.  The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a”lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.

Now don’t get the wrong idea – Flew did not become a Christian. After a lifetime of arguing against the existence of God, however, he was forced to concede that the evidence clearly indicates that God does, indeed, exist. To him, this God is not necessarily a personal God, but He is an all-powerful Creator. In the end, Flew was probably best described as a Deist.

Flew was a rare man, indeed. As an Atheist, he was a formidable foe. As a philosopher, he had enough integrity to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion, even if it meant repudiating his life’s work and finally admitting that God exists. As an Atheist-turned-Deist, he was a powerful demonstration of just how strong the evidence for God’s existence is.

He will be missed.

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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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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How a Brilliant Philosopher Annoyed People Who Don’t Like Science

Thomas Nagel is a brilliant atheist. I have only had the pleasure of reading two of his books (The View from Nowhere and The Last Word). In addition, I recall reading only one of his essays (“Reductionism and Antireductionism” from The Limits of Reductionism in Biology), but it was a top-notch look at the philosophy of biology. While I disagree with much of what he says, he possesses a keen intellect as well as the ability to express that intellect in an enjoyable way.

Not only is Nagel brilliant, he is accomplished in his field. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Like me, he has also received support from the National Science Foundation. Probably his greatest award is the International Balzan Prize, which is given to those who do outstanding work in the humanities, natural sciences, culture, and the peace process. He was given that prize for:

…his fundamental and innovative contributions to contemporary ethical theory, relating to both individual, personal choices and collective, social decisions. For the depth and coherence of his original philosophical perspective, which is centered on the essential tension between objective and subjective points of view. For the originality and fecundity of his philosophical approach to some of the most important questions in contemporary life.

Clearly Nagel is a leader in his field. However, he has gone and done the unthinkable, and it has really annoyed a lot of people – especially people who don’t like science.

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