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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How Christianity and Science Can Interact

James Joule, one of the 19th century's most important physicists.
James Joule, one of the 19th century’s most important physicists.
Over the past few years, I have been writing a series of elementary science courses for home educated students. Since the courses discuss scientific concepts in chronological order, I have spent a lot of time learning the history of science. In the process, I have found that a lot of what I was taught in school (including university) about how science developed is simply false. I have also become acquainted with the views of many great scientists from the past, which has allowed me to learn from them. I want to discuss one of those great scientists in order to share something I have learned.

James Joule was born in 1818. Because his father was a successful brewer, chemistry was in his blood. He was taught at home for many years, and then his father sent him to study under John Dalton, the founder of modern atomic theory. Dalton suffered a stroke two years later, but his influence on Joule continued long after he stopped teaching. Even though Joule ended up taking over the family brewery, he spent a lot of time doing experiments, mostly focused on trying to explain electricity and magnetism in terms of Dalton’s new atomic theory.

However, the more experiments he performed, the more interested he became in the heat that was generated in electrical systems. As he studied heat, he eventually demonstrated that he could convert mechanical energy into heat. This allowed him to argue that heat is just another form of energy, which went against the scientific consensus of his day. Of course, today we know he was correct, and because of that, the standard unit for measuring energy is named after him (the Joule).

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Yes, Earth Is Unique, But This Study Doesn’t Demonstrate That!

The earth as seen from space
The earth as seen from space
The earth is sometimes called “the blue planet.” Just as Mars looks red when viewed from the earth, the earth looks blue when viewed from space. Why? Because of all the water. About 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and that’s one of the many, many factors that allows life to flourish on this planet. Based on the limited observations we have, there is simply no other planet like earth. To me, that’s not at all surprising. God created this earth as a haven for life, so it makes sense that there isn’t another planet like it.

Based on my news feed from a few days ago, you would think that a recent scientific paper confirmed this idea. The Daily Mail, for example, proclaimed:

Earth really IS special: None of the 700 million trillion planets in our known universe are similar to our own, study finds

Other sources, such as Science Alert and Discover agree. The latest, most cutting-edge physics demonstrates that earth is unique.

Because these headlines peaked my interest, I decided to look at the scientific paper that describes this cutting-edge research. When I did so, I learned that once again, the media doesn’t bother to try to understand the science that they report. In fact, the researchers who wrote the paper didn’t find the earth to be unique. They estimate that there are about 2×1018 similar planets in our observable universe.

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The Inquisition Strikes Again

Karl Aspelin's painting of Martin Luther burning the papal bull that excommunicated him from the Roman Catholic Church.
Karl Aspelin’s painting of Martin Luther burning the papal bull that excommunicated him from the Roman Catholic Church.

There are times when modern scientists act like members of the Inquisition. Such situations can result in people getting removed from their positions in the scientific community, courses being shut down, scientists being fired, or papers being retracted. (see here, here, here, here, and here). Unfortunately, it has happened again, resulting in another scientific paper being retracted.

The paper, Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living, discussed the results of an experiment that tried to figure out the functional link between the architecture of the hand and its coordination. In the experiment, 30 individuals (15 men and 15 women) with apparently healthy hands were given a glove to wear while performing several mundane tasks. The glove measured the angles of the joints in the hand throughout the time each task was being performed. This allowed the researchers to then determine the degree to which the movements of the hand joints were coordinated.

The researchers found that while some joints (particularly those of the thumb) did move independently of the others, there was an enormous amount of coordination between the joints. The authors note:

This suggests that there is no need for the human hand to control each joint independently. If there was not such biomechanical architecture, such as the separated connection of each articular from a single muscle, it would significantly increase the computational burden of the [central nervous system] to make up for the loss of the biomechanical architecture.

In other words, the joints of the hand are coordinated so that the brain doesn’t have to concentrate on controlling each joint independently when the hand is grasping objects.

Why was this scientific paper retracted? Was there a serious methodological error in the experiment? Was the data analysis incorrect? Did the authors commit some sort of fraud? No. It was retracted because the authors dared to do something that scientists have done throughout the vast majority of human history: They dared to mention the Creator in their scientific work!

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Review of Evolution: Still A Theory in Crisis

Dr. Michael Denton's latest book
Dr. Michael Denton’s latest book
Back in January, I read that Dr. Michael Denton was about to release a new book on evolution. I ordered it right away and started reading it as soon as I could, because I thought that his previous book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, was amazing. For a long time, I considered it the best discussion of evolution that was available to the general public. However, like all books on scientific issues, much of the information became outdated over the years, so I was really excited that he was releasing a new book on the same subject.

Dr. Denton earned an M.D. from Bristol University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from King’s College London. After earning his Ph.D., he was appointed to the faculty at La Trobe University in Australia. He then did pathology work in England, Canada, and Australia. Eventually, he ended up on the faculty at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, which tells you he is a member of the “intelligent design” community. His dual training in medicine and biochemistry, as well as his experience working in several different countries, gives him an interesting perspective on science in general and evolution in particular.

Like his previous book, this one is encyclopedic. It covers a wide range of topics, but unlike his previous book, it is focused on the difference between structuralism and functionalism. The way he constructs the two positions, all Darwinists fall into the functionalism camp. They believe that structures develop in nature because they are functional. After all, natural selection is constantly weeding out poor adaptations and preserving useful ones. As a result, whether or not it is functional determines whether or not it exists in the biological world. Denton, however, argues for structuralism, a view that was quite in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this view, there are certain structures that are inherent in the world, and life makes use of those predefined structures. As Denton writes:

It is hard to imagine two scientific frameworks as diametrically opposed as structuralism and functionalism. Where functionalism suggests that function is prior and determines structure, structuralism suggests that structure is prior and constrains function. (Kindle e-reader, Chapter 1: Introduction)

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Review of Shadow of Oz

shadow_ozDr. Wayne D. Rossiter earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in February of 2012 and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University. His book, Shadow of Oz, has already caused me to write two blog posts (here and here). In one of those posts, a commenter called Rossiter’s book a “must read,” and I have to agree. While I have issues with some of the content, on the whole it is a valuable addition to the wealth of information that has already been written on the subject of origins. As a result, I encourage you to read this book and seriously think about its contents.

In some ways, the main thrust of his book is obvious: the standard view of Neo-Darwinism (random mutations filtered by natural selection) is incompatible with the Christian faith. I don’t know many people who would disagree with that statement. Nevertheless, the way Rossiter makes that point is rather profound. Early on in the book, for example, he gives five extended quotations from different authors regarding the history of the universe. The first and fourth are from Dr. Carl Sagan (atheist), the second is from Dr. Richard Feynman (atheist), the third is from Dr. Richard Dawkins (atheist). The fifth is from Dr. Karl Giberson (Christian who is a staunch evolutionist). The passages are indistinguishable, and that’s the point. As Rossiter says:

I could have chosen any number of brief atheistic accounts of the history of the universe, and not one of them would differ in any functional way from the one offered by Giberson. (p. 25)

Rossiter’s discussion of Dr. Kenneth Miller’s views on origins is equally insightful and perhaps even more damning. He shows that, like Giberson, the “creation” account that Miller believes is indistinguishable from that of an atheist. Further, he shows in rather stark terms just how confused Miller is when it comes to what he believes. For example, Rossiter quotes Miller as saying that he tells his students that he believes in Darwin’s God. However, as Rossiter makes clear, that statement is pure nonsense:

…as Miller admits earlier in his book, Darwin was not a believer in God. He became a staunch agnostic, who demanded strict naturalistic answers for life’s workings. As so, it’s quite appropriate that Miller should claim to share Darwin’s view. (p. 163)

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Yet Another Global Warming Alarmist Prediction Has Been Falsified

One species of coccolithophore (click for credit)
One species of coccolithophore
(click for credit)
The best way to evaluate a scientific hypothesis is to use it to make predictions, which can then be compared to observations. The more the predictions line up with the observations, the more scientific merit the hypothesis has. Based on this commonly-used evaluation, the hypothesis that increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will result in catastrophic climate change has virtually no scientific merit whatsoever. As I have discussed previously (see here, here, here, here, and here), the predictions made by global warming alarmists have been demonstrated to be wrong time and time again. Recently, I ran across another study that adds to this growing list of falsified predictions.

The picture shown above is of an ocean-dwelling microscopic organism known as a coccolithophore. It makes its own food via photosynthesis, and it also makes the “plates” that you see covering it. It makes them by absorbing bicarbonate (HCO3) and calcium from ocean and making calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When coccolithophores die, their calcium carbonate plates sink to the bottom of the ocean, making deposits of chalk.

Now it turns out that this process of making plates out of calcium carbonate is influenced by the acidity of the water. The more acidic the water, the harder it is for coccolithophores (and all organisms that do the same chemistry) to make calcium carbonate. Well, increasing levels of carbon dioxide leads to increasing acidity (technically, lowering alkalinity) of ocean water, since carbon dioxide can react with water to form carbonic acid. It is therefore assumed that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will harm coccolithophores. As one book on biodiversity puts it:1

Higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, by making oceans more acidic, could reduce coccolithophore populations (by interfering with their skeletal formation), thereby reducing a major CO2 sink and leading to still higher levels of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Fortunately, actual scientific observations demonstrate precisely the opposite.

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Mathematics and Science

This is one way to visualize the meaning of the irrational number "pi."  If a wheel has a diameter of 1, it will travel a distance of pi when it makes one complete revolution. (click for credit)
This is one way to visualize the meaning of the irrational number “pi.” If a wheel has a diameter of 1, it will travel a distance of pi when it makes one complete revolution. (click for credit)

Was mathematics discovered or invented? That might seem like an odd question, but it is an important one. I haven’t seen any official poll on the matter, but I suspect that most mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists would say that it must have been invented. After all, math is a tool. We use it for accounting, parceling out land, etc. Surely people invented this tool and then improved on it over time. If that’s really true, however, there is a deep mystery that is awfully hard to explain. Nobel laureate Dr. Eugene Wigner (a theoretical physicist and mathematician) put it this way:

The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it.

Think about it. We didn’t invent the natural world. We simply study it. If we invented mathematics, why does it play such an integral role in our understanding of the natural world?

In my opinion, there is no mystery as to why mathematics is so useful in the natural sciences. That’s because I don’t think we invented it; I think we discovered it. Indeed, I think it is the language of creation. As Galileo wrote:

[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.

I was reminded of Galileo’s wise words when I read a short paper by two professors from my alma mater, the University of Rochester.

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More Examples of Organisms Changing the Products of Their Genes!

This is an example of the squid that was studied in the experiment that is being discussed.  (click for credit)
This is an example of the squid that was studied in the experiment being discussed.
(click for credit)

Almost three years ago, I posted an article about an octopus that actually changes the products of its genes so it is better suited to its environment. I had never heard of such a thing before, and it seemed fantastic to me. After all, when I was at university, I was taught the central dogma of molecular biology:

DNA —-> RNA —–> Protein

In other words, DNA carries a set of “recipes” that tell your cells how to make the proteins they need to make. That recipe is copied by another molecule, RNA, and the copy is transported out of the nucleus of the cell to a ribosome, where the copy is then translated into a protein. At that time in history, biologists thought that there was one gene for every protein.

As scientists learned more about the marvelous design of DNA, they found that the idea of one gene producing one protein was far too simplistic. In plants and animals (and many microscopic organisms as well), the genes are interrupted by stretches of DNA called introns. At first, geneticists lumped introns into the category of junk DNA, an evolution-inspired idea that couldn’t be more incorrect (see here, here, here, and here, for example). However, molecular biologists eventually found out that the introns are an integral part of a multi-layered data storage system that allows a single gene to code for up to tens of thousands of different proteins through a process called alternative splicing.

Essentially, the introns divide a gene into several “modules of information.” The cell can chop up the RNA copy and splice those modules together in different ways. Each different way the modules are spliced produces a different protein. Once alternative splicing was figured out, the idea of one gene producing one protein was discarded. One gene can, in fact, produce lots and lots of different proteins. However, even in alternative splicing, the information contained in the DNA is preserved. Each individual module of information codes for a specific part of a protein, and if you look at that specific part of the protein, it is made exactly the way that module of information says it should be made.

Well, the octopus study I wrote about nearly three years ago shows that’s not always true. Some organisms can edit their RNA to make a final protein that is actually different from what the modules of information in the gene actually specify!

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Strike Yet Another Vestigial Organ

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale.  The small pelvis is circled.  (click for credit)
This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale. The small pelvis is circled. (click for credit)

Evolutionists love to talk about vestigial organs. Consider, for example, the human appendix. This wormlike tube connected to a person’s cecum looks something like the cecum that you find in some herbivores. Since there is some similarity between the two organs, and since a person can live an apparently normal life without his or her appendix, evolutionists long thought it was a vestigial organ – a remnant of our evolutionary history. Most evolutionary sources said it was useless in people, but we now know that isn’t true (see here and here). Others claimed it wasn’t necessarily useless, but it was still vestigial. They said the appendix is definitely the remnant of a herbivore’s cecum, but as it shrank, it developed a new purpose. We now know that’s not true, either.

Of course, there are many other organs that evolutionists claimed were vestigial but we now know aren’t (see here, here, here, here, and here). It seems we can add another to that list: the pelvis in a whale. Like the appendix, most evolutionary sources say that the whale pelvis is useless. For example, the book Life on earth says:1

During whale evolution, losing the hind legs provided an advantage, better streamlining the body for movement through water. The result is the modern whale with small, useless pelvic bones.

We now know that this is simply not true.

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