Knowing Science Doesn’t Mean Following the Scientific Consensus

The study being discussed indicates that people with a strong knowledge of science don’t necessarily follow the scientific consensus. (click for credit)

Some people get distressed over the fact that there are those of us who don’t blindly follow whatever is advertised as the “scientific consensus.” The distress becomes so great that such people often have to come up with some kind of explanation for this non-sheep-like behavior. For example, in response to a 2014 poll that indicated Americans are skeptical about human-caused global warming, evolution, and the Big Bang, Nobel Laureate Dr. Randy Schekman said:

Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.

I read and hear this idea a lot. If you don’t automatically accept what the High Priests of Science say, you obviously don’t know or don’t understand science. While such an idea might be comforting to those who don’t wish to think for themselves when it comes to scientific issues, it doesn’t have any basis in reality. Indeed, some of the most intelligent, well-educated people I know do not believe in evolution (in the flagellate-to-philosopher sense), do not think the earth is billions of years old, and do not think that humans are causing significant global warming.

Of course, the people I know don’t necessarily make up a representative sample of the population as a whole. As a result, I was very interested to read a study that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The authors of the study analyzed the 2006 and 2010 results of the General Social Survey, which attempts to determine the views of the American people on a wide variety of issues. At the same time, it tries to get a general sense of each individual’s level of education on those issues. The results of their study seemed very surprising to the authors, but they weren’t at all surprising to me.

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Thoughts and Pictures from the Eclipse

The International Space station (the structure in the center of the image) photobombs the 2017 eclipse. (NASA image)

I remember the 1994 eclipse. I was on the faculty at Ball State University, teaching chemistry and physics. I told all my students about the eclipse, and when it came time to view it, I joined a few of the university’s staff watching the eclipse with welder’s goggles, pinhole viewers, and even natural pinhole viewers made by the foliage of the trees. As we watched, a few people joined in. Most of them had no idea that the eclipse was happening until they saw us looking at it.

Well, the 2017 eclipse was very different! Because of social media, a lot more people knew about and planned for the eclipse, so my Facebook feed was filled with awesome photos of people watching the eclipse, the eclipse itself, and the effects that the eclipse had on the surroundings. While I agree that social media has a lot of negative effects on our culture, it also has some positive effects, and the eclipse highlighted one of those. Social media has made it much easier to “get the word out” on a variety of issues, including science-related events that people can experience.

I thought I would share some of my photos of the eclipse as well as some better ones, providing “color commentary” as I go. Before I do that, however, I would like to just make a comment about how some people, like Eric Metaxas, view an eclipse as evidence for God’s existence. The argument goes something like this: the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it is also 389 times farther from the earth. As a result, they each take up roughly (not exactly) the same amount of space in the night sky. Without this pleasant “coincidence,” a total solar eclipse could not happen. Of course, it is no coincidence. It is another piece of evidence for the fact that our solar system is designed.

While I think that nature explodes with evidence of design, I am not sure this is really one of those evidences. Sure, it represents an interesting example of “balance” between natural variables, and it certainly makes for an awesome sight. But honestly, it’s only four parameters (two distances from earth and two sizes). It’s not all that improbable for four different parameters to be balanced as a result of mere chance. In addition, those parameters are somewhat constrained, because we need a large moon for healthy oceans that can support life and a reasonably small, “gentle” star for our energy source. So while I think that the moon and the sun both provide strong evidence for the idea that our solar system is designed, I don’t think the fact that they can produce a total solar eclipse does.

Now let’s see some pictures!

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When People Don’t Believe in God, They Will Believe Anything!

Some people actually think it is possible that we are living in a computer simulation.
(click for credit)

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who was largely responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to the world’s attention, once said:

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.
(Malcolm Muggeridge and Christopher Ralling, Muggeridge Through the Microphone, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967, p. 44)

I couldn’t help but think of that quote when a student asked me to read Scientific American’s article entitled, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

Apparently, that question was the topic of a debate held at the American Museum of Natural History back in 2016. The debate was moderated by serial spreader of falsehoods Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is responsible for one historian asking if it’s okay to lie about history, as long as the lies support a good cause.

According to the article, Dr. Tyson made the evidence-free speculation that there is a 50/50 chance we are, indeed, living in a computer simulation. Why? Because as Muggeridge suggested 50 years ago, when you give up belief in God, you must believe in all sorts of wild ideas in order to make sense of the universe around you.

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A Test to Determine Whether or Not We Have a Creator

The prevalence of junk DNA is a strong indicator of creation or evolution.
I have always said that evolution requires the presence of a large amount of junk DNA. Not only does it make sense that the “trial and error” nature of random mutations acted on by natural selection would produce a large amount of garbled nonsense in the genome, evolution simulations like Avida require a very large percentage of the virtual genome to be junk in order to get any evolution. A few months ago, I discussed a piece by Salvador Cordova that seemed to make the case even more strongly. However, it was based on the work of Dr. Dan Graur, which I had not read. Thus, I couldn’t evaluate it in a detailed fashion. That has changed.
Just recently, a paper by Dr. Graur was published in Genome Biology and Evolution. In it, he makes his argument in a detailed, mathematical way. Having read his paper, I can now see why he made the following statement:

If ENCODE is right, then evolution is wrong.

If you don’t recognize the word “ENCODE,” it refers to a huge scientific initiative that is designed to determine what portions of the human genome are actually used by the various cell types that exist throughout the human lifespan. Their landmark publications in 2012 came to the conclusion that at least 80% of the human genome is functional. Dr. Graur says that if their conclusion is right, then there is no possible way we could have been the product of naturalistic evolutionary processes. When I read his argument as discussed by Salvador Cordova, I was a bit skeptical. However, now that I have read his paper, I am inclined to agree.

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More Confirmation of a Creationist Prediction

The centromere is the point at which a chromosome and its duplicate attach during cellular reproduction. (click for credit)
The centromere is the point at which a chromosome and its duplicate attach during cellular reproduction.
(click for credit)
Uninformed people often say that creationism cannot make testable predictions. Since testable predictions are a necessary part of any scientific theory, these people claim that the creationist view isn’t scientific. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! Creation scientists regularly make testable predictions, many of which have already been verified by further scientific research (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

One of the more stunning examples of a confirmed creationist prediction is given by the nature of DNA. Since the 1970s, evolutionists have taught (as an indisputable fact) that the majority of the human genome is made up of useless stretches of nonsensical sequences which have been collectively referred to as “junk DNA.” However, in a Herculean study of human DNA, the ENCODE team demonstrated that a minimum of 80% is used by the cell and therefore should not be referred to as “junk.” One of the scientists on the team (Dr. John A. Stamatoyannopolous) stated:

I don’t think anyone would have anticipated even close to the amount of sequence that ENCODE has uncovered that looks like it has functional importance…

Actually, there were several scientists predicting this very result! Creationists have been doing so for years.*

Well, now that we know the vast majority of the human genome is functional, some scientists have removed the evolutionary blinders from their eyes (at least when it comes to the nature of DNA) and have begun to look at regions of the DNA that scientists have been assuring us could not possibly have any function whatsoever. When they study such regions, they (not surprisingly) find that those regions do have a function, and it is often a very important one.

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Dr. James Tour Tells Us How Little We Know About the Origin of Life

James Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry.
James Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry.
A few days ago, a reader asked me to review an article by Dr. James Tour, as well as a video of a talk that he gave. I was initially hesitant to do so, because Dr. Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry. For example, he is the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University. For those who aren’t familiar with the academic structure of universities, only the most elite professors are appointed to a position that is named in honor of someone else. This is called an “endowed professorship,” and anyone who holds such a position is in the upper echelon of academia. He has won several awards for his outstanding research accomplishments, including being named by Thomson Reuters as one of the top ten chemists in the world in 2009. Not only is his research outstanding, but he is also an excellent teacher, having earned the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching at Rice University in both 2007 and 2012. What could I possibly add to the words of someone so knowledgeable and distinguished?

After reading the article, however, I do think I have something to offer. Because of the nature of what he is trying to discuss, his article is very, very technical. There were times, quite frankly, when my eyes glazed over a bit. I didn’t listen to a lot of the video (it seems to cover the same ground as the article), but it is also quite technical. For those who do not have the fortitude to make it through such a technical article or talk, I thought I could summarize it.

The “take home” message is straightforward: We have no idea how some of the most basic molecules necessary for life could have been produced by unguided processes. Why does Dr. Tour feel compelled to write a detailed article making a statement that, in my mind, is quite obvious? He explains:

Those who think scientists understand the issues of prebiotic chemistry are wholly misinformed. Nobody understands them. Maybe one day we will. But that day is far from today. It would be far more helpful (and hopeful) to expose students to the massive gaps in our understanding. They may find a firmer — and possibly a radically different — scientific theory. [Note that “prebiotic chemistry” refers to the chemistry that occurred on earth before life existed.]

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Watch Your Assumptions: They Can Lead To False Conclusions!

Poor assumptions can lead to myths instead of facts (image from shutterstock.com by Thinglass)
Poor assumptions can lead to myths instead of facts (image from shutterstock.com by Thinglass)
I am always on the lookout for experiences that can be turned into a “teachable moment.” Over the past two weeks, I have had two such experiences, so I thought I would write about them. The first one was a result of my article entitled Reflections on the Ark Encounter, which is a positive review of the latest attraction produced by Answers in Genesis. The day after it was published, I got a Facebook message from someone who had shared my post with a friend of hers. In reply, this friend asked if I was a “real” scientist. She assured him that I was and shared my Facebook page with him. She was rather taken aback when her friend sent her the following reply:

A mimeographed “PhD” from whatever fundamentalist “college” he sent his box tops to is not qualification to shine a real scientist’s shoes, let alone make claims about the natural world. Further, any parents who buy into this complete fiction, and indoctrinate their kids in this manner, are guilty of emotional and mental child abuse, and in my opinion should be prosecuted. I cant think of a better way to sabotage a child’s future in a modern, scientific and technological society.

This didn’t surprise me, of course. I am used to having my credentials questioned and being insulted because I don’t slavishly “toe the line” when it comes to today’s scientific consensus. That comes with the territory. Indeed, Dr. Dan Shechtman was asked to leave his research group because he dared to question the scientific consensus. Of course, the data eventually proved him to be correct and the scientific consensus to be wrong. However, that was until after being ridiculed as a “quasi-scientist” by one of the greatest chemists who has ever lived!

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A Really Undeniable Book, Written By a Real Scientist

A book that discusses some undeniable truths.
A book that discusses some undeniable truths.
Dr. Douglas Axe is a very interesting scientist. He did his undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley and got his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Caltech. His thesis was focused on molecular biology, which is why you find his scientific papers published in The Journal of Molecular Biology, PloS One, and Biochemistry. He is also a co-author on a paper that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Currently, he is the director of the Biologic Institute, which is a research organization that encourages its scientists to do their research from an Intelligent Design point of view. He is also one of the authors of Science and Human Origins, a book that surveys the evidence for human evolution and concludes that humans cannot be the result of an unguided, neo-Darwinian process. I recently had the pleasure of reading his latest book, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed.

The first thing you might notice about the book is its main title, which is the same as the main title of an error-riddled book written by Bill Nye. While Nye likes to call himself “The Science Guy,” some of his behavior is decidedly anti-science (see here and here, for example), and his book makes it clear that he doesn’t try to understand some of the issues that he discusses publicly. Unlike Nye’s book, this book is written by a real scientist who actually does educate himself on the issue about which he is writing. Indeed, most of what he writes in this book is directly related to the scientific work he has published over the years.

Before getting into the meat of the book, I think that a personal story he shares is worth noting. While he was a graduate student at Caltech, one of his final exams asked which biological molecule was likely the first “living” molecule. In other words, the person writing the exam wanted the student to relate what was currently the most fashionable conjecture regarding the origin of life. Here is how he describes his answer and its result:

I decided to give the expected answer in full and then – for extra credit – to state why I found that answer unconvincing. I explained why, contrary to the consensus view, I didn’t think any molecule has what would be needed to start life. As shrewd at that seemed at the time, I learned when my exam was returned (with points deducted) that we students were expected to not only know current thinking in biology but also accept it without resistance. We were there as much to be acculturated as educated. (kindle version, Chapter 1, emphasis his)

That is so true. If you ever wonder why so many scientists resist new thinking in the origins debate, it’s because they have been taught to resist it! Fortunately, some scientists (like Dr. Axe) don’t don’t take that lesson to heart. Instead, they do what scientists should do: question the existing paradigm when the data speak against it.

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Another Creationist Prediction Confirmed

A cluster of the bacteria discussed in the article
A cluster of the bacteria discussed in the article

Dr. Richard Lenski, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University, has been running a long-term experiment on evolution. Indeed, it has been named the LTEE (Long-Term Evolution Experiment). It started back in 1988 and is still running today. It has followed 12 populations of the bacterium Escherichia coli through more than 50,000 generations, examining how environmental stress changes the bacteria’s genetic and physiological characteristics. More than 6 years ago, I discussed how the project was confirming the creationist view of the genome, and it continues to do just that. In addition, it has inspired another experiment that specifically confirmed a creationist prediction while, at the same time, falsifying an evolutionary one.

To understand what has happened, we need to go back to 2008. In that year, the LTEE showed that even though Escherichia coli normally can’t make use of a chemical called citrate when oxygen is present, one of the their populations developed that ability after 31,500 generations of existence.1 As a result, it was dubbed the “citrate plus” population. How did that happen? At the time, no one knew. However, evolutionists thought it was the result of some rare event or combination of events, exactly the kind upon which evolution depends. New Scientist put it this way:

By this time, Lenski calculated, enough bacterial cells had lived and died that all simple mutations must already have occurred several times over.

That meant the “citrate-plus” trait must have been something special – either it was a single mutation of an unusually improbable sort, a rare chromosome inversion, say, or else gaining the ability to use citrate required the accumulation of several mutations in sequence.

Lenski himself was bold enough to write:

So the bacteria in this simple flask-world have split into two lineages that coexist by exploiting their common environment in different ways. And one of the lineages makes its living by doing something brand-new, something that its ancestor could not do.

That sounds a lot like the origin of species to me. What do you think?

Not surprisingly, a recent experiment has shown that the evolutionary predictions of Lenski and New Scientist are wrong. At the same time, it demonstrated that the predictions of both intelligent design advocates and creationists were correct.

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People Can Compensate for Bad Genes!

In DNA, a gene is made up of exons and introns.  The exons determine the protein that is made.
In DNA, a gene is made up of exons and introns. The exons determine the protein that is made.
DNA is incredibly complex, so it’s really not surprising that the more we examine it, the more it challenges our notions of how it works. Consider, for example, genes. They make up less than 2% of human DNA, but they are important, because they tell the body what proteins to make and how to make them. At one time, evolutionary scientists actually thought that the vast majority of the rest of human DNA was useless junk. However, like most evolutionary ideas, that notion has been falsified by the data.

Despite the fact that they represent less than 2% of human DNA, genes are obviously important, because most of the chemical reactions that occur in our bodies are controlled by and depend on the proteins that genes specify. Because of the amazing design behind DNA, however, a single gene can actually produce many, many different proteins. This is because, as shown in the drawing above, a gene is actually constructed of introns and exons. The exons represent functional modules in the gene, and the introns separate those modules. When a gene is read, the exons can be grouped in many different ways, producing many different proteins. Because only the exons are used in the production of proteins, geneticists often study an organism’s exome, which is the collection of all the exons in a organism’s DNA.

When it comes to animals, studying how the exome affects overall health is difficult, but straightforward. Scientists can damage the gene of an animal and see what health consequences arise. This is referred to as a gene knockout, and it is an invaluable tool for learning what a gene does. For example, when the gene lovingly referred to as PRDM9 is knocked out of mice, they become sterile.1 Thus, we know that the PRDM9 gene is essential for reproduction in mice.

When it comes to humans, it’s not ethical to do gene knockouts. However, you can study a population and find examples of people who have a natural mutation that has disabled a gene. By comparing that person’s health to similar people who have a working version of that gene, you can learn something about how the gene affects health. A recent study published in the journal Science did just that, and the reported results were surprising, to say the least!

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