A Failed Test of Fossil Record Interpretation

When you read about earth history in most textbooks, lots of definitive statements are made concerning events that occurred in the distant past. For example, in Biology: How Life Works, Volume 1 (Morris et. al., Macmillan 2014, 2016), students are told:

A giant meteor struck Earth 66 million years ago, causing the extinction of dinosaurs and many other species…Researchers have documented other mass extinctions, but the event that eliminated the dinosaurs appears to be the only one associated with a meteorite impact. (p. 7)

Any unsuspecting student reading those words would think that we know that a mass extinction of dinosaurs occurred 66 million years ago, that it was definitely cause by a meteor impact, and that there have been other mass extinction events as well.

The problem, of course, is that definitive statements like the ones above come from interpretations of the fossil record. The fossil record itself is spotty at best, and the interpretations are based on all sorts of unverifiable assumptions. So the obvious question becomes, “How accurate are those interpretations?” That’s awfully hard to test, since we can’t go back in time and confirm them. However, the great thing about science is that original thinkers can come along and figure out ingenious ways to test what you might think is untestable.

A team of researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Bologna, the University of the Bahamas, and the State University of New York at Geneseo decided to test how well we know things like the mass extinction events discussed in the textbook I just quoted. They took a series of geological samples from the Po Plain in Italy that are supposed to represent what went on over the past 126,000 years. They specifically examined the mollusks in those samples, which leave behind hard shells.

Their test was both simple and brilliant: Imagine that a mass extinction event occurred right after the samples were taken, and all 119 identified species of mollusks that are currently living there had been wiped out. Would this hypothetical mass extinction be properly interpreted from the fossil remains in the geological samples that had been taken? Not surprisingly, the answer was a solid, “No!”

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This Could Be One of the Most Important Scientific Papers of the Decade

What best explains the common features shared by animals? According to this study, it’s the fact that they are designed.

More than eight years ago (have I really been blogging that long?), I was excited to see the appearance of a new peer-reviewed journal, BIO-Complexity. I thought it was going to have a lot of impact on the science of biology, but so far, its impact has been minimal. A few good studies (like this one and this one) have been published in it, but overall, it has not published the ground-breaking research I had hoped it would.

That might have changed. I just devoured the most recent study published in the journal, and I have to say, it is both innovative and impressive. It represents truly original thinking in the field of biology, and if further research confirms the results of the paper, we might very well be on the precipice of an important advancement in the field of biological taxonomy (the science of classifying living organisms).

The paper starts by detailing the fact that while evolutionists have always hoped that living organisms can be organized into a tree of life (starting with one universal common ancestor and branching into all known organisms), that hope has never been realized. In particular, when we look at organisms on the genetic level, no consistent tree can be produced. Instead, a “tree-like” arrangement can be made, but it needs all sorts of rescuing devices to explain the many inconsistencies that crop up.

Nevertheless, the fact that the structure somewhat resembles a tree tells us something. It tells us that the organisms we see today contain a lot of commonalities. However, since no consistent tree can be constructed, it is doubtful that those commonalities are the result of evolution. How, then, can scientists understand the “tree-like” structure of biological relationships?

The author of this new paper, Dr. Winston Ewert, makes a suggestion that is both innovative and, at the same time, so obvious it makes me wonder why I haven’t heard it before.

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“Nylon”-Digesting Bacteria are Almost Certainly Not a Modern Strain

This marine bacterium has the ability to digest nylon waste products, despite the fact that it doesn’t live in an environment that contains nylon waste products. (click for credit)

Evolutionists are fond of stating “facts” that aren’t anywhere near factual. For example, when I was at university, I was taught, as fact, that bacteria evolved the genes needed to resist antibiotics after modern antibiotics were made. As with most evolutionary “facts,” this turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of evolutionists. We now know that the genes needed for antibiotic resistance existed in the Middle Ages and back when mammoths roamed the earth. They have even been found in bacteria that have never been exposed to animals, much less any human-made materials.

Of course, being shown to be dead wrong doesn’t produce any caution among evolutionists when it comes to proclaiming the “evidence” for evolution. When Dr. Richard Lenski’s Long Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE) produced bacteria that could digest a chemical called “citrate” in the presence of oxygen, it was hailed as definitive “proof” (a word no scientist should ever use) that unique genes can evolve as a result of random mutation and selection. Once again, that “fact” was demonstrated to be wrong in a series of experiments done by intelligent design advocates. They showed that this was actually the result of an adaptive mutation, which is probably a part of the bacterial genome’s design.

Recently, I learned about an impressive genetic study by young-earth creationists Sal Cordova and Dr. John Sanford. It lays waste to another evolutionary “fact” I was taught at university: the recent evolution of nylon-digesting bacteria. The story goes something like this: In 1975, Japanese researchers found some bacteria, which are now charmingly named Arthrobacteria KI72, living in a pond where the waste from a nylon-producing factory was dumped. The researchers found that this strain of bacteria could digest nylon. Well, nylon wasn’t invented until 1935, and there would be no reason whatsoever for a bacterium to be able to digest nylon before it was invented. Thus, in a mere 40 years, a new gene had evolved, allowing the bacteria to digest something they otherwise could not digest.

Of course, we now know that this story isn’t anywhere close to being true.

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Study Demonstrates that Most Animal Species Came Into Existence at the Same Time?

Most of an animal’s DNA is in the nucleus of the cell, but there is DNA in the powerhouse of the cell, which is called the mitochondrion.
In a comment on a previous article, a reader informed me of a study that I had not seen. It was published in the journal Human Evolution and its results are consistent with the idea that 90% of all animal species came into being at roughly the same time. This is certainly not what the hypothesis of evolution would predict, so some creationists as well as some intelligent design advocates have presented the study as evidence against evolution. In my reply to the comment, I expressed skepticism, even though I would love for the conclusions of the study to be correct. Now that I have read the study itself, I am even more skeptical.

The authors of the study analyzed the DNA of many different species of animals. However, they did not look at the DNA found in the nucleus of the cell. That DNA, called nuclear DNA, is responsible for most of an organism’s genetically-defined traits. They looked at mitochondrial DNA, which is the small amount of DNA that is found in the mitochondrion, the structure that produces most of the energy that the cell ends up using. To give you an idea of how different mitochondrial DNA is from nuclear DNA, the nuclear DNA of a human being is over 3 billion base pairs long, while human mitochondrial DNA is just over 16,000 base pairs long. You don’t need to know what “base pairs” are to see that there is only a tiny, tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA in a human cell compared to nuclear DNA.

Now even though there isn’t a lot of mitochondrial DNA, some sections of it seem to be very characteristic of the species of animal from which the cell comes. For example, a 2016 study analyzed a section of mitochondrial DNA (called the COX1 gene) among different species of birds. It showed that the COX1 gene alone was enough to separate 94% of the birds into species. Similar studies indicate that the COX1 gene can separate other species of animals, so the sequence of the COX1 gene is often referred to as the DNA barcode of the animal. This is what the authors of the study I am discussing focused on.

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Michael Behe Earns a Well-Deserved Honor

Fossil of an extinct form of dragonfly that was named for Chris Moore and Michael Behe. The black line indicates a distance of 10 millimeters. (click for source, which includes a link to the license.)

Dr. Michael Behe is an icon in the intelligent-design movement. His book, Darwin’s Black Box, was an important early contribution to the intelligent-design movement, but more importantly, his most famous peer-reviewed paper put forth the idea that the majority of adaptive changes occur as a result of loss or modification of a pre-existing molecular function. This view, of course, puts a serious limit on the amount of evolutionary change that can occur as a result of random mutations guided by natural selection. The world’s longest-running evolution experiment seems to confirm this view (see here, here, and here).

Now please understand that Dr. Behe is no creationist. He believes in common descent, but his work indicates that it cannot be accomplished by random mutations guided by natural selection. In his book The Edge of Evolution, he explores how much such a process can change an organism and shows that it has severe limitations. In the end, he thinks that when the Designer created the first cell, He/She/It “front-loaded” all of the information into the cell’s genome, allowing evolution to proceed in a designed manner. I don’t think that’s a reasonable hypothesis, but I admire Dr. Behe for following the data and proposing something that most scientists find heretical. I also admire his ability to take the scorn that has been heaped on him and continue to persevere. Even though I think his particular hypothesis is wrong, he is doing science a service by challenging a hypothesis that is most certainly wrong.

As a result, I was happy to see that Dr. Behe (along with famous fossil-hunter Chris Moore) has been honored by having a species of dragonfly named after him. The fossil was in Chris Moore’s collection, but Mr. Moore didn’t know that it comes from a previously-unrecognized species. However, Dr. Gunter Bechly, world-renowned paleotologist and former curator at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, saw a picture of the fossil and thought it looked unique. As a result, he asked Mr. Moore to send him the fossil so that he could study it closely, and he confirmed that it did, indeed, represent a new genus and species. In his peer-reviewed paper, he officially names it Chrismooreia michaelbehei.

Why did Dr. Bechly choose this name? His analysis indicates that there is no genus for this extinct form of dragonfly, so he named the genus (the first part of the scientific name) after Mr. Moore, since he was kind enough to lend his fossil to Dr. Bechly for study. The species (the second part of the scientific name) is named in honor of Dr. Behe, because as I have written in a previous article, Dr. Bechly was originally an apologist for Darwinism. However, the works of intelligent design authors allowed him to see that the data do not support the evolutionary hypothesis, and like any good scientist, he decided to follow the data and stop promoting Darwinist propaganda. Since Dr. Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution was a major influence in this process, Dr. Bechly thought it was an appropriate honor.

Well done Dr. Behe. The honor is way overdue!

Human Technology is Garbage Compared to Biology

The main printed circuit board from a Hewlett-Packard HP9000 Model 715 UNIX Workstation. (click for credit)

Look at the picture above. It is the motherboard (the main printed circuit board) from a computer. How do you think it came to be? It could have been formed by an earthquake at a spare electronics warehouse. After all, it’s at least possible that in the midst of the warehouse shaking and being destroyed, lots of spare electronic parts started crashing into each other and, as a result, just happened to produce what you see above. Of course, I hope that no one is silly enough to believe such a story. It is obvious that the motherboard is the result of careful design and craftsmanship.

An example of the computer I used in the late 1980s. (click for credit)
As someone who started programming computers with punch cards, used DOE grant money to buy a 40-Megabyte hard disc for $1,200 in 1989, and stored his unimaginably vast (800 Megabytes) thesis experiment data on sixteen separate 10.5-inch magnetic tape reels, I have witnessed a lot of progress in the area of computers. I marvel at how technology can produce a hand-held device that is more powerful than the VAX-11/750 (pictured on the left, without the keyboard and monitor) that I used to analyze my thesis experiment. Nevertheless, with all of the amazing progress that human engineering has produced, it doesn’t come close to what we see in the natural world.

Consider, for example, this article’s comparison of a personal computer to a mouse brain:

A personal computer simulates a mouse-scale cortex model (2.5×106 neurons) 9000 times slower than a real mouse brain operates, while using 40,000 times more power (400 W versus 10 mW). [reference marks omitted for clarity]

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Cells Have Digital-to-Analog Converters

A schematic representation of the digital-to-analog conversion process.
(click to see credit for unedited image)

Suppose you want to listen to some music. You pull out your iPod or your phone, put the earbuds in your ears, and you start to enjoy your favorite tunes. You probably don’t think about the process that makes this possible: digital-to-analog conversion. Computers and devices based on them store all of their information digitally. On your iPod or phone, the music is stored as a string of 1’s and O’s. The 1’s represent electricity being on, and the 0’s represent electricity being off. So as your iPod or phone “plays” the music, it comes out digitally: as pulses of electricity, either on or off.

If you tried to listen to those pulses, they would make no sense to you, because your ears aren’t designed to hear things digitally. Instead, they are designed to hear sounds in a continuous flow. We call this analog. So while your iPod or phone stores music digitally, it must convert that music into a continuous, analog signal so that you can understand it. It does this with an electrical circuit called a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Here is a picture of a simple one (click it for credit):

Obviously, the digital-to-analog converter in your phone or iPod is much more sophisticated. It produces a higher-quality analog signal, but probably more importantly, it is packed into a tiny space. That’s what really makes it sophisticated. It can do a complex job while taking up very little room.

It turns out that cells have essentially the same thing, but it is significantly more sophisticated than what you find in an iPod or phone.

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Another Evolutionary Idea Falisified

In 1930, Dr. Ronald Fisher (statistician and geneticist) wrote a book entitled, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. In that book, he produced a mathematical proof of what he called the “Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection.” Partly due to his difficult writing style and partly due to a feud in the literature with American geneticist Dr. Sewall Wright, his theorem was misunderstood for quite some time. In 1972, however, physical chemist Dr. George R. Price explained it in a detailed way and showed that it was mathematically correct.

What is the importance of the Theorem and what does it say? This quote from Essential Readings in Evolutionary Biology (by Francisco J. Ayala, John C. Avise, 2014) answers both of those questions:

…Fisher’s formulation of the “fundamental theorem of natural selection,” which would play a preeminent role in the future development of evolutionary genetics: “The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variation in fitness at that time.” (p. 73)

In other words, natural selection will cause an organism to increase in fitness as long as its population has variation in the genes associated with fitness. The more variation in those genes, the faster the organism will increase in fitness. As Drs. Ayala and Avise indicate, this theorem became very important in shaping the field of evolutionary genetics.

While Fisher’s fundamental theorem is still quite correct, it is limited. In particular, it doesn’t take the effect of mutations into account. However, there is a corollary attached to the theorem: Since mutations should increase the genetic variation in a population, mutations should lead to a faster rate of fitness increase. While that corollary was important in shaping Neo-Darwinism, a recent paper published in the Journal of Mathematical Biology has shown that it is false when even mildly realistic conditions are considered.

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More Evidence That Bill Nye Has No Idea What He Is Talking About

Bill Nye, the Anti-Science Guy (click for credit)
Bill Nye calls himself “The Science Guy,” but most of his actions are decidedly anti-science. In 2012, he made a video saying that we should censor a scientific idea because it goes against the scientific consensus. He also narrated a faked experiment, demonstrating his ignorance of the physics related to global warming. He published a book about evolution that was riddled with scientific errors. He tried to discuss human reproduction and once again, ended up showing his ignorance. He also contends that the discipline which gave us science is essentially useless. The fact that he is one of today’s spokepersons for science is a frightening indication of this generation’s scientific illiteracy.

As I was preparing to blog about a completely different subject today, I realized that over the past few days, I have come across two more examples that indicate Bill Nye really has no idea what he is talking about, so I decided to put off the topic I was going to discuss and write about those examples instead. One of them relates to the first anti-science action I mentioned above. Nye made a video telling parents to stop thinking for themselves and encouraging their children to think for themselves. Instead, he told them to simply parrot what the High Priests of Science say when it comes to the origin of life and its diversity. Obviously, that is about as anti-science as one can get. Along the way, he made an incredibly ignorant statement about the debate regarding origins:

Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.

As I pointed out previously, that is utter nonsense. There are creationist movements in many, many countries, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Just a few days ago, however, I blogged about a specific example that comes from Germany. In 2015 Dr. Günter Bechly, a German paleontologist who was the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, publicly announced that he thinks Intelligent Design is the best explanation for the origin and diversity of life. The Inquisition was mobilized, and he is no longer the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History. He is now a Senior Fellow at an Intelligent Design Think Tank, and he spoke at an Intelligent Design conference that was held at Cambridge University.

If denial of evolution were unique to the United States (as the anti-science guy says) Dr. Bechly would not have been “converted” from materialist NeoDarwinism to Intelligent Design, and there would not have been an Intelligent Design conference at one of England’s most famous universities.

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Another Atheist Comes to Christ Because of Science

A 2009 display used by paleontologist Dr. Günter Bechly. It was meant to show that the weight of the scientific evidence supports NeoDarwinian Evolution. For Dr. Bechly, it ended up having the opposite effect! (Image taken from the video linked below.)

In 2009, one of the largest German events celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, was headed up by Dr. Günter Bechly, a world-renowned paleontologist with an incredibly impressive list of original research published in the peer-reviewed literature. At the time, he was the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, and he wanted to show, in no uncertain terms, that there is absolutely no scientific dispute about origins. As a result, one of the displays in his museum’s celebratory exhibit (shown above) was a scale with creationist and intelligent design resources on one side and Darwin’s book on the other. Darwin’s single book tipped the scale, indicating that the weight of the scientific evidence was in evolution’s favor.

There was only one small problem. Dr. Bechly had not actually investigated any of the resources that were on the “light” side of the scale. Oh sure, he had read other evolutionists’ views on those resources, but he had not actually investigated them himself. He decided to do so, and he was surprised by what he found. As he explains in the documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines:

…and what I recognized to my surprise is that the arguments I found in those books were totally different from what I heard either from colleagues or when you watch Youtube videos where the discussion is around intelligent design versus NeoDarwinian evolution. And I had the impression on one side that those people are mistreated – their position is misrepresented and on the other hand that these arguments are not really receiving an appropriate response. And they have merit.

He ended up being scientifically convinced that Intelligent Design is the better explanation for the amazing world he had been studying his entire career, and he made that decision public in 2015. Then he faced a firestorm.

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