Irony and Stupidity

Marc Hauser is an evolutionary biologist on the faculty of Harvard College, which is (of course) a part of Harvard University. His research blends evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience, and one of his areas of interest is the evolutionary origins of morality. In 2006, he wrote a book called Moral Minds: How Nature Designed a Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, and in it he argues that millions of years of natural selection have produced what he calls a “moral grammar.” Essentially, this moral grammar is a set of principles that are based on the causes of actions and their resulting consequences, and it allows us to build moral systems without reference to religion.

If you follow the news of science at all, you know that Marc Hauser took a leave of absence from Harvard, because the university began an investigation that eventually led to a declaration that Hauser was guilty of eight instances of scientific misconduct. While Harvard has yet to reveal the exact nature of the misconduct involved, it is related to both published and unpublished studies. One paper co-authored by Hauser has already been retracted, and there are widespread concerns about several other papers. According to the journal Science,

Hauser is the only author common to all of them.1

This, of course, is the “irony” referenced in the title. An expert in the evolution of morality has been found guilty of scientific misconduct, which (of course) is not exactly moral.

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Some Perspective on the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Tugboats fight the flames on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
(Image in the public domain.)
The disaster at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was horrendous. Let’s make no mistake about that. Because not enough attention was paid to safety and environmental concerns before the explosion, an estimated total of 4.9 million barrels of oil (210 million gallons)1 were dumped into the ocean. The oil killed wildlife and will probably negatively affect parts of the environment for years to come. With that said, however, I want to look at the disaster from a scientific perspective. If nothing else, such a perspective will give you a deeper appreciation for the wonderful creation God has given us.

The first thing you need to realize is how much oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico naturally. Probably the best estimate done to date was published by the National Academies Press. It indicates that about 140,000 tons of oil (about a million barrels) leak into the Gulf of Mexico each year due to natural oil seeps.2 So the Deepwater Horizon disaster dumped as much oil as 5 years’ worth of natural seepage.

Now, of course, there are some big differences between the way the Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled oil into the gulf and the way the natural seeps do it. First, the natural seeps release oil into the gulf much more slowly. Second, they release oil into the gulf over a wider area so it is not as concentrated. Third, since no one is trying to stop them, there isn’t all the pollution associated with engineers doing everything they can to stop a leak. As a result, the natural oil seeps do not produce the environmental devastation that the Deepwater Horizon disaster did.

However, because oil seeps naturally into the ocean, you would expect that the ocean has a way to deal with it, and indeed it does. What we have seen already as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster tells us just how well the oceans have been designed to deal with oil pollution.

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More Evidence for Variable Radioactive Half-Lives

NOTE: Long after this article was published, new experimental data was published indicating that the effect is not real.

One of the foundational assumptions of the various radioactive dating techniques that attempt to measure the age of things is that the half-life of a radioactive isotope does not change significantly over the time period being measured. Even though we have been measuring half-lives for only about 100 years, those who want to believe that the earth is billions of years old are forced to assume that over those billions of years, the half-lives of various radioactive isotopes have not changed significantly. As I have pointed out before, this is a terrible extrapolation, and a careful scientist should avoid using it unless there are very good reasons to believe it is justified. As more and more data come in, it becomes more and more clear that there are very good reasons to believe it is not justified.

I previously discussed data that indicate radioactive half-lives are not constant, but over the past year and a half, some new information has come out that lends more strength to the claim. As I discussed previously, two independent labs noticed that the decay rate of certain isotopes were influenced by the distance between the earth and the sun. They produced a paper in 2008 reporting on their findings: the rate at which these isotopes decayed varied in perfect sequence with the changing of the distance between the earth and the sun1 Many in the scientific community blamed this on experimental errors such as environmental changes or problems with the detectors that were monitoring the isotopes. Studies published over the past year and a half, however, seem to have ruled out these possibilities and have lent even more credence to the idea that the sun influences radioactive decay rates.

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Speculation Above Data – Standard Fare for “Global Warming”

Wallace Smith Broecker, known to friends and colleagues as “Wally Broecker,” has an earned PhD in geology from Columbia University. He is a professor in Columbia’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department and has published more than 450 journal articles in various earth science disciplines. He also has 10 books to his credit, including Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat–and How to Counter It.

While Dr. Broecker’s list of academic accomplishments is very impressive, he is best known among earth and atmospheric scientists as the man who coined the phrase “Global Warming.” In 1975, he authored a paper entitled, “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” 1 In that paper, he predicted how temperatures would rise due to increased carbon dioxide emissions.

Interestingly enough, he doesn’t like being called the “father of global warming.” In a recent interview in the journal Science, he says he offered a $200 reward to anyone in his class who could find an earlier reference to “global warming” so that someone else can be given that title. Unfortunately for him, no one could find an earlier reference.2

What I found fascinating about the interview, however, was his admission that the data really don’t support the idea that “global warming” will be a catastrophe.

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Those Bones Keep Looking Younger and Younger

Fossil mosasaur that contained soft tissue. (Image from the PloS One article mentioned below)

Mosasaurs are aquatic reptiles that are (as far as we know) extinct today. According to evolutionists, they went extinct about 65 million years ago. Regardless of when they went extinct, there are several fossils of these large creatures, and some of them are quite well preserved.

On August 9, 2010, PloS One published a paper by Johan Lindgren and his colleagues, and it discusses the fossilized remains of a mosasaur that belongs to genus Platecarpus. The fossil is exceptional because it is largely intact, the bones are well-articulated, and it contains soft tissue.

Of course, soft tissue in dinosaur fossils is not new. As I mentioned in a previous post, Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues stunned the world in 2005 by discovering soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex femur that is supposed to be 65 million years old. Some scientists tried to discredit the claim, but it held up under scrutiny. In addition, other fossils that are supposedly millions of years old have been found to contain soft tissue.

So why am I blogging about this particular find of soft tissue in a fossil that is supposedly about 80 million years old? Because the details found in the soft tissue are quite remarkable.

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Are Autism Rates Really Rising?

In a previous post, I discussed the rise in autism that seems to be occurring in the United States. In that discussion, I made it clear that genetically-based diseases can increase over time. One commenter (Eric) suggested that autism is not rising all that rapidly in the United States. This prompted a spirited exchange, which I enjoyed, and I hope Eric enjoyed as well.

The comments on that article are now closed, but Eric recently commented on another post to add a link related to that previous discussion. It is an excellent link, so I want to share it in a post that clearly relates to autism.

In essence, the author (an academic clinical neurologist at Yale) is skeptical that there is any significant increase in autism itself. Instead, he thinks that broadened diagnostic criteria for autism as well as increased surveillance have caused the number of diagnosed cases of autism to increase, but the actual number of autism cases has not increased much over the years. We are just doing a better job of diagnosing it, watching for it, etc.

You should read the article and see what you think. I personally think the Bearman studies he mentions (it was a series of studies, not just a single study – see this New Scientist article) are the most convincing, and they argue that there is a real increase in the rate of autism. Even the author of the original link seems to be willing to admit that increasing parental age (which I highlighted in my previous post) is causing at least some real increase in the prevalence of autism.

Will Evolutionists Ever Learn?

Cover of the June 25, 2010 edition of the journal Cell, which put the final nail in the coffin of the idea that the primary cilium is useless.
Evolutionists are very fond of the idea that there are useless things scattered throughout the living world. Darwin suspected that there were many, many useless organs in several members of the animal kingdom. After all, since he thought “higher” animals evolved from “lower” animals, he assumed that some of the important organs in the “lower” animals would serve no function in the “higher” animals. Nevertheless, since those organs were already there in the “lower” animals, they might continue to appear in the “higher” animals, because making a useless organ was not enough of a disadvantage for natural selection to remove it. He likened such useless organs to the silent letters in a word – they tell you things about the word’s origin but serve no function. In the same way, a useless organ serves no purpose for the animal, but it does tell you about the animal’s evolutionary ancestors.

Since Darwin, evolutionists have continued to point to useless organs and even useless DNA that supposedly litter the living world. The only problem is that annoying functions keep being discovered for these supposedly useless things. Up until about 2004, it was confidently taught that the human appendix is useless, but now we know it serves a vital function. It was once thought that large sections of the genomes of most organisms have “junk DNA” that serves no useful purpose, but time and time and time again, DNA that was confidently described as useless has been shown to have important functions. Evolutionists have been wrong time and time again when it comes to claiming that a given structure in creation is useless.

Well…we now know that evolutionists were wrong…AGAIN.

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With Enough Blind Faith, You Can Believe Anything!

Tom Siegfried holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University, where he majored in chemistry, history, and journalism. He earned a master of arts from the University of Texas at Austin with a major in journalism and a minor in physics. I know of him because he is currently the Editor in Chief of Science News. I read that journal regularly, and since he often writes an editorial that appears on the second page of each issue, I have read a lot of his work. He is a talented writer, and he has a good grasp of a broad range of scientific issues. He also seems to have a lot more faith than I could ever muster.

In a recent editorial on origin-of-life research1, Mr. Siegfried made some statements that illustrate what a paragon of faith he really is. After remarking that humans have been trying to puzzle out how to create a simple form of life, he says:

It doesn’t sound like it should be that hard. After all, sometime not quite 4 billion years ago, lifeless molecules gathered somewhere on Earth and self-assembled into an entity that spawned the planet’s full repertoire of ancestral life-forms–without help from any fancy laboratory equipment.

Mr. Siegfried is quite confident that once upon a time, lifeless chemicals randomly interacted to produce something that eventually evolved into all the amazing living organisms we see today. He believes this despite the fact that every origin-of-life experiment has been a miserable failure, which makes him a true paragon of faith.

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Autism – Closing In On the Causes

Autism is a poorly-understood condition characterized by problems with social interaction and communication. It is clearly a complex neurological issue, and its symptoms range from quite mild to very severe. As a result, neurologists tend to use the term “autism spectrum disorders” (ASDs), as they suspect autism is made up of a group of disorders with similar features.

I have a good friend with Asperger Syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. While he seems mostly like any other person, he has some obsessive, repetitive rituals, and he sometimes experiences great difficulty in communicating with people, especially those who are unfamiliar with his personality. On the other side of the spectrum, a couple I know fairly well has a son with severe autism. It is difficult for them to communicate with him. It is as if he lives in his own little world. Additionally, he often experiences “meltdowns” in which he slams himself against the ground or the wall and screams at the top of his lungs. His behavior is not the result of “bad parenting.” It is the result of a serious neurological disorder.

What is frustrating for both health-care providers and parents is that so far, medical science has little to offer in terms of explaining what causes autism. In addition, while there are behavioral therapies that have helped many people with ASDs, it is difficult to prescribe a specific therapy for a specific individual. This, of course, leaves doctors and parents rather frustrated.

While there is a lot we don’t know about ASDs, there are things we do know. We know that they are on the rise. Even though there are many different ways to define ASDs, which leads to many different specific numbers, a good overview can be found here. Based on their numbers for the U.S. and outlying areas, for example, ASDs among people age 6-22 have increased 18-fold since 1992!

What are the causes of ASDs? The answer is that we don’t know. However, medical scientists are at least closing in on them.

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Patriarch Age and Genetics

A schematic of DNA, showing the nucleotide bases that code the information it contains. (click for credit)
A schematic of DNA, showing the nucleotide bases that code the information it contains. (click for credit)
In 2005, Dr. J. C. Sanford wrote a book entitled Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome (Elim Publishing, 2005). Dr. Sanford is well-suited to write a book on genetics, given that he has a PhD in plant breeding and genetics and holds more than 30 patents in his field. While the main thrust of the book is that the field of genetics as we understand it today provides little evidence for evolution and an enormous amount of evidence against it, there are some fascinating “side issues” he brings up from time to time.

I was reminded of one of those side issues on Friday when a student asked me why the patriarchs in Genesis lived to be so old. Noah, for example, lived to be 950, according to Genesis 9:29. Given today’s lifespans, that seems pretty outrageous. How could Noah possibly have lived that long? Also, even though his descendants didn’t live as long as he did, they still lived longer than anyone today.

Noah’s son, Shem, lived to be 600 years old, according to Genesis 11:10-11. Noah’s grandson, Arphaxad, lived 438 years, according to Genesis 11:12. If you continue through Noah’s line, you will find that (on average) the later a descendant was born, the shorter life he led. Nevertheless, it takes many, many generations for the lifespans of the patriarchs to reach what we would call reasonable based on today’s standards.

Of course, one way to deal with this issue is to say that the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis are not accurate. Instead, as a kind of “hero worship,” the writer of Genesis artificially inflated the patriarchs’ ages to make them look “larger than life.” In his book, Dr. Sanford not only shows why such an explanation is probably not correct, he points out the data that indicate a decay in lifespan is exactly what you would expect given our current understanding of genetics.

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