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Science - General

Why animals don’t get lost (and no, it’s not because they’re willing to ask for directions)

Since the advent of global positioning satellites, or at least since their availability for civilians, scientists have found many uses for these devices. One of the more interesting applications is to track animals. Of obvious popular appeal are programs such as “fish with chips.” A multimillion-dollar "Census of Marine Life" project fitted marine animals in the Pacific Ocean with electronic surveillance tags. As of 2005, about 1,800 sharks, tuna and turtles had been fitted with transmitting devices which relayed information to a satellite when the animal surfaced. By this means, a bluefin tuna was tracked as it crossed the Pacific Ocean three times in 600 days! This fish swam 40,000 kilometers (km) with an average of 66 km/day. More dramatic still, were the exploits of Nicole, a 3.5 meter long great white shark. This specimen swam 11,000 km from South Africa to Australia and back within three months. Nicole averaged 122 km/day! She swam in a straight line, never less than 5 km/hr, and 60% of the time she stayed within one meter of the surface. It's obvious she knew where she was going. Scientists have been astonished to discover how far these and many other animals migrate. Another interesting study involved young fingerling salmon emerging from 16 river systems on the Pacific coast of North America. The tags on several thousand of these fish were scanned as they passed over special receivers placed on the ocean floor from Washington State up to Alaska. This study revealed that the young salmon follow precise migration paths which vary depending upon their river of origin. The results of these tracking studies intensify the question, long pondered, as to how animals navigate long precise routes through the oceans or skies. As our tools for study become ever more sophisticated, our insights might be expected to increase too. This may be, but the more famous cases still abound in unanswered questions.  Sea turtles Most of the seven species of sea turtle can be found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas. Despite this wide range, local populations exhibit very specific nesting site preferences and sometimes even a specific preference in feeding sites as well. This might not seem remarkable, until we realize that the nesting and feeding sites may be thousands of kilometers apart. After decades of ecological studies, scientists still have only a poor understanding of the wonders of sea turtle navigation. Green turtles are a rugged, long-lived species (up to 70 years). As is typical with sea turtles, the female lays her eggs at night in the sand of a wide beach along the seashore. She digs a pit and lays as many as one hundred eggs. After covering the eggs, the mother then retreats into the sea. Several weeks later, all the eggs hatch at the same time. The hatchlings emerge from the sand and head straight for the ocean. Once immersed, they swim straight out, farther and farther from land with its multitude of avian, crustacean, and human predators. Only about one in one thousand hatchlings survives long enough to mature. Once in the open sea, young turtles apparently set out for the feeding grounds. Green turtles hatched on beaches of Costa Rica later turn up in Spain, Chile, and Brazil. Then, once mature, females return to the very same beaches from which they hatched fifteen to thirty years previously. Tagging programs with young turtles have never revealed an adult female nesting on a beach other than the one from which she emerged. How do these turtles, out at sea, navigate towards the appropriate beach? Ascension Island One of the more remote destinations on earth is Ascension Island. Situated in the mid South Atlantic Ocean, this island of 88 square kilometers lies about 1100 kilometers northwest of Saint Helena, itself an island famous for its remote location. (Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days on Saint Helena, a site chosen as his prison because its distance from everywhere made escape impossible). However Ascension Island is even more isolated than Saint Helena. Nevertheless green turtles, feeding in shallow waters along the Brazilian coast, and others in similar habitats near Gabon (Africa), swim due east or west (respectively) to nest on the beaches of Ascension Island. The journey from Africa to the island is 2,500 km and from Brazil to the island is 2,250 km. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Nevertheless adult female turtles make the journey once every three to four years. Moreover, they do not eat at all during the entire eight month return trip. Leatherback Amazing skills in navigation are not unique to green sea turtles. Studies on the largest turtle of all, the leatherback, reveal some interesting details too. Unlike the green turtle, the leatherback forages for food in the deep ocean so they are less tied to specific feeding grounds. Nevertheless, there are only a few dozen places in the world where these turtles lay eggs. Of these, only four beaches attract large numbers of nesting leatherbacks. One of these four beaches is Playa Grande Beach on the west coast of Costa Rica. Tagging studies have revealed that these turtles travel 2,500 km west from Costa Rica toward the Galapagos Islands and beyond into deeper waters. They confine this travel to a narrow corridor up to 480 km wide. The females return to Playa Grande to lay eggs up to ten times per season. The females of another leatherback population, which feeds on jellyfish in the waters off Canada’s Nova Scotia coast, later proceed to beaches within the Caribbean Sea in order to nest. Studies on turtle navigation have revealed that young hatchlings react positively to wave direction, the earth’s magnetic field, moonlight, and perhaps chemical gradients. Nobody has, however, established precisely how adult turtles navigate thousands of kilometers in the open ocean, or even why they do so. Even if turtles are able to orient themselves in a specific direction, how do they locate the particular beach from which they hatched so many years previously and on which they spent so short a time?  Freshwater eels Eels are long snake-like fish which can grow up to 3 meters long. While some might consider such creatures ugly, many in Europe and North America consider them very tasty snacks. However, there was one longstanding mystery concerning the freshwater eels of eastern North America and Europe. Why were no young eels ever observed? Did they spring fully grown from their parents, like the mythical goddess Minerva who was imagined to have sprung mature and fully clothed from Jupiter’s brain? A Danish biologist solved the problem early in the twentieth century. Johannes Schmidt discovered that freshwater eels from both sides of the Atlantic spawn in a remote region of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas Islands. As is typical when one mystery is solved, this answer raised many new questions. How and why do all these eels navigate so far? Sargasso Sea The Sargasso Sea, a region of the Atlantic Ocean where water currents slowly move in a gigantic gyre (whirlpool), is roughly the size of Australia. Its existence is a byproduct of the Gulf Stream which carries warm water north along the eastern coast of North America and then eastward toward Europe, and the North Equatorial Current which carries cold water south towards Africa and then west towards the Caribbean. It so happens that this sluggish whirlpool region of the Atlantic is very rich in mineral nutrients. Sargassum, a distinctive floating brown seaweed, grows so thickly there that the sea surface sometimes looks more like a meadow than like open water. Naturally this region is a wonderful habitat for sea life and there the eels go to mate. In the fall, eels which are about ten years old, undergo physical and physiological changes. They stop eating as their stomachs shrink, and their reproductive organs expand. These mature specimens then move from their preferred freshwater habitats down streams to rivers, and from rivers to the sea. They proceed from far inland along the Atlantic coast from Mexico up to Labrador, from Greenland’s coast and Iceland, from the British Isles, from Scandinavia and from lands bordering the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As these eels converge on the Sargasso Sea, they show no specific preference to mate with specimens from their part of the world. Each female then lays up to twenty million eggs. These hatch into thin, flat, almost transparent creatures about one half cm long. As they move north in the Gulf Stream, those which mature first, apparently stop off in the fresh waters of North America. Others may take longer to mature, up to two or three years and these drift towards Europe. The American and European populations look different, but biologists think that genetically they may be almost identical. It is apparent that we know some of the story concerning eels but there are obviously many blanks yet to fill. What causes the eels to migrate to a common area in the open ocean? Why do they not spawn closer to their feeding grounds? Drifting towards coastal areas is obviously easy enough, but how do the eels navigate their way back to the Sargasso Sea? There obviously is more to freshwater eels than a tasty snack. Monarch butterflies One of the most amazing examples of navigation is that of the monarch butterfly. During the spring, these insects leave tiny stands of trees in Mexico where they spent the winter. They fly northeast to destinations throughout eastern North America. Then in the fall, several generations later, these butterflies head back to the very same stands of trees from which their great great grandparents had emerged the previous spring. Several questions naturally arise. It may be that day length triggers the instinct to fly southwest in the fall, but how do these tiny brains identify the appropriate direction? Laboratory studies have shown that adult butterflies emerge at dawn from the chrysalis. This time is apparently internalized within each insect’s 24 hour physiological clock. (Your own physiological clock tells you, for example, when it is time to sleep and time to eat.) It is the insect’s awareness of passing time which allows these butterflies to navigate with the sun as their reference point. As the sun moves across the sky, the butterflies automatically adjust their orientation to the sun according to the time of day and thus they maintain a constant southwest direction. If any butterflies are artificially caused to emerge from the chrysalis at a different point in the day, they cannot navigate according to the sun’s position and consequently they get lost. Imagine a navigating system that automatically adjusts for time of day! This is a fancy computer to cram into a very small insect brain. Obviously the whole system was designed to function in a sophisticated manner while using on a few simple cues. In the spring after over wintering, these very same butterflies will fly toward the northwest. Arctic birds In certain instances a much simpler navigating system than that of the butterflies may suit the needs of an animal. This situation applies to arctic birds on their annual migration south. Navigation apparently is most difficult near the poles since many useful parameters, like magnetic field, all converge. During the late summer of 2005, scientists carried out a study of arctic bird navigation. As flocks of birds passed over the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia, scientists briefly tracked them by radar. From hundreds of such tracks, the travel trajectories (direction) could be calculated. The scientists had calculated the various routes that birds would follow if they were using one or other navigational cues. If the birds were navigating by means of a magnetic compass, for example, they would proceed towards the northeast (not an ideal direction). If they used the sun as their reference point, adjusting their calculations according to time of day, they would proceed towards the east. However if they followed the sun without adjusting direction for time of day, they would proceed in a southeast direction. This was indeed the path these birds appeared to follow. The end result of this strategy is that their route then traces an arc, part of a great circle. Such a route is by definition the shortest distance connecting two points on the globe. For people relying on technology, a great arc requires continuous changes in compass direction. Navigating by compass (magnetic field) is longer but much easier. Obviously, however, one expends less energy on a shorter route. In the case of arctic birds, lacking complex computer programs, they nevertheless manage to follow a sophisticated path out of the arctic. Scientists cannot refrain from asking how these birds learned such a navigational strategy. Conclusion There is no doubt that tracking studies have revealed exciting details about animal navigation. In addition, physiological studies continue to give us glimpses into methods that these creatures use to plot their routes. But none of these environmental cues would be any help at all without senses designed to perceive them, and brains to interpret the data correctly, and to act upon it. Secular scientists may eventually describe the tracking mechanisms ever so precisely, but they will never be able to tell us why or how these remarkable designs were conferred on these creatures. Christians know.

Dr. Margaret Helder is the President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue.

Science - General

A sixth sense? Yup, it's true!

We all know about the standard five senses – taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing – but did you know some of God's creatures have a little something extra? In some animals that extra amounts to "super senses": hummingbirds can see in the ultraviolet range (their eyes' 4 types of color receptors is one more than we have), and elephants can communicate over long distances by using tones that are so low our ears can't detect them. In other animals that extra something goes beyond the standard five senses. Bumblebees seem to be able to use the positive electrical charge their bodies generate while buzzing around to help them detect flowers' pollen which has a negative charge. Meanwhile, sea turtles are able to somehow navigate across the ocean using variations in the Earth’s magnetic field to guide them on their way. Exactly how they do it is unclear, but scientists are closing in on how birds do something similar, and remarkably, it may involve quantum mechanics. It's theory at this point and a really complicated one at that, but just the gist of it is amazing enough. Scientists are speculating that some birds can "see" the earth's magnetic fields and do so by using particles in their eyes that are in a "quantum entangled" state. We don't need to worry about what that exactly means; here's one key point: that state lasts for just 1/10,000th of a second. That these birds might be processing information derived from a state lasting such a short time is pretty cool, but there's another incredible wrinkle, as detailed by PBS Nova's Katherine J. Wu. Even in ideal laboratory conditions, which usually involve powerful vacuums or astoundingly icy temperatures, artificial quantum entanglement can unravel in just nanoseconds. And yet, in the wet, messy environment of a bird’s eye, entanglement holds. “It seems nature has found a way to make these quantum states live much longer than we’d expect, and much longer than we can do in the lab,” Gauger says. “No one thought that was possible.” A nanosecond is a billionth of a second (yes, I had to look it up). This might have us tempted to say that the birdbrains are beating the brainiacs, but as amazing as the bird's performance is, to give the credit where it is due we should be singing the praises of its Designer! Humans beings also have a sixth sense, and we’re not talking about ESP. Proprioception is your sense of bodily awareness – the ability to know where all the bits of your body are without looking or feeling them. That might not seem as cool as "seeing" magnetic fields, but just consider what it allows you to do. When you close your eyes and can still touch your nose, that's proprioception enabling you to do it. This is also why a quarterback can throw the ball accurately, even though his overhand motion doesn’t really allow him to see his throwing arm until the ball is released. And proprioception is why you can be balanced (even on one leg!) and how you can walk, without having to look down at your feet. This is one important sense! So if you’ve ever thanked God for the wonderful flowers you can smell, the amazing sunrise you can see, the funky music you can hear, the delicious pizza you can taste, or the amazing softness of a newborn's cheek that you can just barely feel, now you know there’s also a sixth sense to marvel at and thank Him for!...

Science - General

Why we’ll never run out of things to discover

A few years ago National Geographic published a provocatively titled article: “Opinion: Science is running out of things to discover.” Author John Horgan’s view is a rarity, but not entirely unique – it was already popping up in the late 19th century. In Steven Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory, he shares this recollection from famed physicist Robert Millikan: “In 1894, I lived…with four other Columbia graduate students, one a medic and the other three working in sociology and political science, and I was ragged continuously by all of them for sticking to a 'finished', yes, a 'dead subject', like physics when the new 'live' field of the social sciences was just opening up. There was an idea at the time that it would be possible to finish off a whole field of science because we’d discovered all there was to learn there. This was a minority view then and is today, but there’s a reason some scientists held it and a reason some still do. The new discoveries still being made are evidence against it, but when Horgan's view is evaluated from an evolutionary perspective, it’s actually the logical conclusion to draw. After all, if the physical universe is all there is then no matter how vast, it is finite. And if it was brought about by chance, and without purpose, then just how sophisticated and complex can the universe really be? Shouldn’t we expect to figure it all out eventually? Deeper and deeper In contrast, Christians have every reason to expect the discoveries will never end. We know the universe was crafted with purpose, and designed to reflect the attributes of our infinite God (Ps. 19:1-4, Roman 1:19-20). We should assume that no matter how deep we dig into God’s creation there’ll always be more to uncover. And that is, in fact, what we find. In the last decade, there has been a flood of discoveries related to our own DNA. Back when Darwin first published his book On the Origin of the Species, the individual cell was a “black box” – its inner workings were undiscovered and thought to be simple structures. That assumption served Darwin’s theory because the more complex that Man proves to be, the more obvious it is that we couldn’t have come about by evolutionary happenstance. But since then we’ve discovered that even a single one of our cells has a level of complexity comparable to that of a city, with its own microscopic vehicles traveling on its own highways, carrying material from manufacturing plants, supplied by energy from its power plants. Even after DNA was discovered and we started to get a glimmering of how much more was going on in the cell than Darwin had thought, evolutionists repeated their mistake – they underestimated the cell’s complexity. Again, that was only natural: how complex should something produced by unguided processes really be? So it was, that prior to about 2012, evolutionary scientists were writing off the 98.5% of human DNA that didn’t produce proteins as being “junk DNA” because they had no apparent function. As evolution apologist Richard Dawkins put it in his 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for Evolution:   “it is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95% percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well be not there for the difference it makes.” But just a few years later the ENCODE project discovered this “junk DNA” was active, getting transcribed into RNA, and may have a role in regulating protein production. There’s lots of maybes and perhaps still being tossed about, so there’s much more to discover, and in an area of the genome that was once thought to be unimportant. Still sticking with DNA, one of the more fascinating recent discoveries has been how the same section of our DNA can produce different proteins if read different ways. Or as Andrew Moore explained in his Nov 12, 2019 Advanced Science News article “That ‘junk’ DNA…is full of information!”: “One of the intriguing things about DNA sequences is that a single sequence can ‘encode’ more than one piece of information depending on what is ‘reading’ it and in which direction – viral genomes are classic examples in which genes read in one direction to produce a given protein overlap with one or more genes read in the opposite direction…to produce different proteins. It’s a bit like making simple messages with reverse-pair words (a so-called emordnilap). For example: REEDSTOPSFLOW, which, by an imaginary reading device, could be divided into REED STOPS FLOW. Read backwards, it would give WOLF SPOTS DEER. Once again, the deeper we dig the more we find there is to learn! No end in sight What's true for our DNA is true everywhere else too – Millikan's roommates couldn't have been wronger about physics being a dead science. But endless and ever more intricate discoveries present a problem to an evolutionary theory that says the universe is finite and unplanned. If they were right, there should be an end to it. But no such end is in sight. In contrast, these constant discoveries are an inspiration to Christians. Knowing our Creator to be inexhaustibly great, God's people can look forward to not only a lifetime of discoveries, but to an eternity of them!...

Science - General

We’ve all got rhythm – internal clocks in plants, animals, and people too

To my husband, the idea that all humans are able accurately to measure time without recourse to clocks, seems laughable. For if this is so, why is it that I am so consistently late? To that question there may never be an answer. It is nevertheless a well-documented fact that some people can estimate time with an error of less than 1% even after 3 or more days. Clocks here, there, and everywhere This phenomenon, the ability to measure time, is extremely widespread among living creatures. The only exceptions appear to be bacteria, mosses, embryos, and creatures that live in constantly dark environments. A variety of functions in plants and animals such as enzyme activity vary in intensity with time of day. These cycles appear to be the source for biological clocks. In humans, for example, 20 functions have been shown to vary with time of day. These include wakefulness and body temperature. Processes in plants or animals which show a regular pattern of increase and decrease every 24 hours, are called circadian rhythms. The term comes from the Latin circa (about) and diem (day). To be a true circadian rhythm a process must take about 24 hours to complete. Moreover, the force driving the process must originate inside the organism. That is, the process must continue for several days at least, even when conditions are constant. In many plant species, for example, flowers are already beginning to open before dawn. It is almost as if they “know” the sun is about to rise. Even in constant darkness these flowers still open at the correct time. It is an interesting feature of biological clocks that they cannot be reprogrammed to cycles shorter or longer than approximately 24 hours. Studies on humans and test animals in space have shown that they do not adjust well to external cycles which deviate too much from 24 hours. While the length of a rhythm cannot be altered, the rhythm can be shifted. Organisms can adapt to new time zones but the adjustment may take some time. When the pattern of living has been reversed in humans, as for night work, rhythms such as body temperature may take as much as 9-10 days before inversion is complete. No wonder we experience jet lag! Even algae have it! In nature, the variety of organisms able to give off a glow of light include some bacteria, some fungi, and some marine crustaceans. The only photosynthetic organisms able to emit light, however, are tiny one-celled marine algae called dinoflagellates. In these organisms the capacity to glow follows a circadian rhythm. They give off light when they are jostled at night. When there is wave action the glow from concentrations can be seen for miles. In one such species the brightest luminescence occurs about 6 hours after night fall, and the dimmest flashes occur 12 hours later. Even in the laboratory where there is no change in the surrounding darkness to indicate passage of night and day, luminescence during the night phase may be as much as 14 times brighter than during the day phase. Biological clocks which measure tidal rhythms (12.8 hours) and lunar cycles (29.5 days) also occur. Certain diatoms (algae with glass walls) emerge onto tidal flats at low tide. They retreat down into the sand just before the tidal waters return – otherwise they would be washed away. This rhythm continues in the laboratory under constant conditions. How are these organisms able to anticipate the changing tides? Most famous of the organisms which measure lunar rhythms is the palolo worm of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It reproduces only twice a year, during the neap tides of the last quarter moon in October and November. Quite the mystery Although ability to discern tidal and lunar rhythms clearly enhances many organisms’ ability to survive, the same cannot be said for many circadian rhythms. It is a curious fact that many circadian rhythms lack obvious selective value. That is, the possession of these rhythms does not seem to enable the organism to survive better. If these capabilities came about by natural selection, as evolution theory demands, then they should confer those possessing the ability with some kind of advantage over those lacking it. Even more frustrating for the evolutionist is the question of the mechanism driving these rhythms. Experts assume the driving force must be physical rather than chemical, as temperature changes do not affect the clock. Temperature changes do affect chemical reactions, so these cannot be involved. What evolutionists would like to find is a driving force which is the same in all organisms. Conclusions about common ancestry would then be easy to draw. The evidence however seems to point away from such a common mechanism. It seems the different organisms keep time in different ways. Not only that, but different rhythms within one organisms, seem to run independently of each other. Such apparent independence of origin bodes ill for evolutionary theory. This article is a classic from Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 8, Number 2, 1981. For a fun sequel published last year, see “Celebrating Rhythm!” from Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 44, Number 3, 2017....

Science - General

Your head is fearfully and wonderfully made

“A little science estranges men from God, but much science leads them back to Him.” – Louis Pasteur or maybe Blaise Pascal or perhaps someone else altogether **** It's unclear who exactly spouted this bit of wisdom above, but it is clear it isn't always true. Well-studied evolutionists, like a Richard Dawkins, or like documentarian David Attenborough (the fellow narrating those amazing Planet Earth videos), have looked at God's creation closely and remained evolutionists still.  So, the principle doesn’t work always work. But there's still something to it. The deeper we dig into God’s creation, the more we find out how amazingly it's all been crafted. And then it is by choice, and not evidence, that one remains blind to God's artistry. From the neck up Consider just the human head. The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons, connected to maybe 1,000 other neurons (though some estimates up that by a factor of 10), for 100+ trillion electrical connections in all, making the human brain more complex than all the wiring done for all the houses in the world combined. All those interconnections then route into a very rigid, yet strangely flexible housing – your spinal column – that delivers messages to the rest of the body. Staying with our head, if we were to compare the human eye to a camera it's one with auto-focus, aperture control, and paired up to allow for depth perception. It has more than 100 million light-sensitive rods and cones that convert images into electrical impulses that our brain has the proper “program” to convert into images. There is said to be a blindspot where all the nerves bundle together in the back of the eye to head off to the brain and this is understood by critics to be evidence of the sort of bad design one might expect from accidental unguided evolution. But do you actually see any "blindspot" in your vision? No...because your brain, and the overlapping fields of vision from your two eyes, wonderfully compensate for it, such that it is only a theoretical and not actual blindspot. Astonishing! Your ears also come in pairs, allowing us to hear directionally. They are precision instruments, able to differentiate between thousands of different sounds. Their inner workings also give us our sense of equilibrium – our sense of balance – without which we really couldn't get around except on our hands and knees. Still sticking with our head, the tongue houses 10,000 tastebuds, is deft enough to tie a cherry stem in a knot, and tough enough to guide our food towards the teeth where it can begin to be digested. Those teeth first show up in a set of 20 shallowly rooted models, sized just right to fit our infant mouth. As we get bigger, these baby buds get replaced with teeth that are bigger too, with more of them, coming in a set of 32 that fills out our adult jaw. What wonderful timing! Concealing those teeth are our lips, which have the ability to express our moods, produce music, and, with our best beloved, smush other lips in a very agreeable manner! Let's not forget the nose, with its extreme sensitivity, filtration ability, and self-clearing capability (i.e. sneezing). Anyone not already amazed simply isn't paying attention. And we haven’t even looked at the rest of our body, like how our heart pumps 1,500 to 2,000 gallons a day, for 75 years, and yet weighs a mere 12 ounces. We haven’t looked at the skin, just a 20th of an inch thick, yet our body’s biggest organ, self-repairing, infection sparing, touch sharing. And what of our bones, all 206 of them, flexible during birth when they need to be, then toughening up to function as the scaffolding for all our other parts, and also produce the white blood cells that help us fight infection. Conclusion Of course, if we were to venture south of the jawline to start exploring God's engineering genius on display there too, this article might never end. So we'll have to limit ourselves to just the neck and up, and that is more than enough to make our point. Yes, educated men and women can deny God's evident artistry, they can choose not to see it, but that's only because it is possible for Man to suppress and deny the truth (Romans 1:18). But any with eyes to see – creatively and brilliantly crafted eyes! – the deeper we look, the more evident it becomes that from the top of our heads down, we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)! ...

Science - General

DNA: good discovery, bad agenda

­What a difference 65 years makes. It was in April of 1953 that a one-page letter appeared in the journal Nature. Two young scientists believed that they had figured out the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. In their communication to the journal, these men remarked with masterful understatement that, “This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” This was indeed the case. What these two men had achieved was to explain how the long DNA molecule in chromosomes stores information which can be accurately duplicated. This discovery has led directly to DNA fingerprinting, biotechnology, the sequencing of the human genome and evolutionary theories based on DNA sequences in various organisms. Although 65 years ago it was much too soon to foresee all these developments, nevertheless informed individuals understood that a significant milestone had been achieved. Nobodies are somebody too The big surprise in 1953 was not that the structure, and by implication the function, of DNA had been discovered, but rather who had done it. With established scientists like American Linus Pauling of Caltech in Pasadena, and British scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College, University of London, carrying out such research, it was expected that the problem would soon be solved. These scientists all had research funds, equipment and established names in science. On the other hand, the British Francis Crick (1916-2004) and American James Watson (b. 1928) were basically nobodies in the scientific community. Crick for his part, his career having been interrupted by war service, was still a graduate student in 1953. Four years earlier, he had come to the Cambridge Medical Research Council Unit. His base of operations was the Cavendish physics lab where Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford had achieved great things in the 1930s. Crick might be merely a graduate student, but he was nevertheless skilled in the methods of X-ray diffraction, so useful in searching for the structure of large organic molecules. Moreover he had devised a theoretical method for interpreting X-ray derived images of long chain molecules (polymers). This was a highly significant skill. Rebels with a cause The lead author of the April 1953 letter was James Watson. He had actually already earned his doctorate in bacterial genetics. Then in 1951 at age 23, he arrived at the Cavendish lab to carry out post-doctoral work on myoglobin, an oxygen storing protein found in muscles. Crick, for his part, had been assigned to carry out X-ray diffraction work on hemoglobin (the all important oxygen carrying molecule in red blood cells). Although they came from different backgrounds, Watson and Crick were alike in many ways. Both of them had, for example, read the 1944 book What is Life? by quantum physicist Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961). In this work, far outside the author’s field of expertise, Schrodinger had speculated that there must be a code of some kind in cells that allows molecules to carry information. Watson and Crick both suspected that DNA was such a molecule. They were fixated on the problem of DNA structure. It mattered little that they had been forbidden to work on this problem. By gentleman’s agreement between laboratories, the DNA problem had been allocated to the people at King’s College in London. Nevertheless nobody could forbid this irrepressible duo from bouncing ideas off each other, could they? Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re wrong Meanwhile at King’s College, the most capable person carrying out research there in X-ray diffraction was Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958). She was a shy, very work oriented Jewish young lady who suspected that her male Anglo-Saxon fellow scientists were trying to steal the results of her research. In this suspicion she was entirely correct. Unfortunately as a result of her attitude, she had few people-handling skills and thus she found herself isolated and unprotected. She was one of two people allocated to research DNA structure. The other was Maurice Wilkins, who was much better known in the scientific community. He hardly ever spoke to his female colleague. It was Rosalind Franklin who managed to overcome the difficulties of working with DNA. She designed a special X-ray camera for this work and protocols for handling the molecule. Soon enough, she began to produce X-ray images. What they meant however, she refused to speculate upon until her entire program had been carried out. It was X-ray images that would provide vital clues about DNA structure. She was quite sure about one thing; the images did not suggest a helical structure in DNA. Two’s company, three helixes is a crowd It is traditional for scientists involved in research to occasionally give lectures to update colleagues on what they are doing. Rosalind Franklin delivered such a seminar in November 1951. Her colleague Maurice Wilkins invited his friend James Watson from Cambridge. Francis Crick did not come because his interest in DNA was too well known. Watson listened carefully, but he did not bother to take notes. That might look too eager. Watson’s recall of what he had heard proved faulty however and progress on the issue was very slow. Then in January 1953, word came that American Linus Pauling was about to publish a proposed structure. This man sent a preprint to his son at Cambridge. The son showed it to friends Watson and Crick. They were relieved to see that Pauling had made a simple but significant error in the chemistry and was proposing a triple helix structure. They had a reprieve which might last a few weeks. Two days later Watson visited Franklin. The exchange of views did not go well. Watson taunted her that she was inept at X-ray interpretation. He then encountered Wilkins who showed Watson the best image Franklin had ever taken. From it Watson was able to see clear indications of helical structure and even measurements of angles. Wilkins also showed Watson a Franklin research proposal which contained further crucial details. Based on these insights, Watson and Crick solved the DNA conundrum within four weeks, proposed a double helix, and the rest is history. When they published, they failed to acknowledge any contribution of Rosalind Franklin. She died five years later, never having heard of her contribution to this story. In 1962 Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The achievement of Watson and Crick reveals how important theoretical analysis is to the solving of many scientific problems. However they could not have done it without the experimental foundation of Rosalind Franklin. Theory and empirical research go hand in hand. Driven by an agenda In the decades that have followed, both Watson and Crick enjoyed long careers. Interestingly, both attribute their success to their atheistic views. James Watson went on to a faculty position at Harvard University where he soon proved himself adept at fund raising and administration. Eventually he became director of the Human Genome Project. Francis Crick also enjoyed a long career and in his later years turned his attention to the seemingly unrelated issue of human consciousness. In Crick’s mind, however, there was a connection between the human brain and the DNA helix. During an interview with Matt Ridley, Dr. Crick described the connection. Apparently his interest in science came entirely from his atheistic views. Because of his distaste for religion, Dr. Crick said, he set out to research the two main topics often cited as support for religion: namely the gulf between life and nonlife, and the phenomenon of consciousness. As a hardcore materialist, it was Crick’s objective to explain both these phenomena in chemical terms. His hope was to dispense with any excuse for attributing natural phenomena to the work of God. After all, as colleague James Watson once remarked “Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely” (or so they would both like to believe). A description isn’t an explanation A little reflection on our part, however, will show that Watson and Crick had in no way explained the gulf between living cells and mere organic compounds. Indeed what they had achieved was to describe how information is stored in DNA but they had not explained how that information came to be stored in the DNA molecule in the first place. Nevertheless, under the mistaken assumption that their explanation did away with the need for a Creator of living cells, Dr. Crick turned his attention to the problem of consciousness. He wrestled with the problem for more than twenty-five years, but still the solution eluded him. One might imagine that after all that time, he might concluded that his program has no hope of success – that he might even grow discouraged with his atheistic agenda. On the contrary, right up until his death, Dr. Crick remained as firmly committed to his position as ever. Throughout his career, James Watson too has steadfastly declared his atheism. In an interview with editor John Rennie of Scientific American, Dr. Watson confided: “I never thought there was a spiritual basis for life; I was lucky to be brought up by a father who had no religious beliefs.” In another interview he suggested that one of the benefits of DNA research was to provide mankind with godlike powers. Thus he remarked: “Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours.” When it was pointed out to him that his sentiments were a far cry from those of the founding Pilgrim fathers, he replied: “America isn’t what it was like when the Pilgrims came here. We’ve changed everything. We’ve never tried to respect the past, we’ve tried to improve on it....” That’s his opinion at any rate. No end to the wonders to explore It is apparent that from the start, the objectives of Drs. Watson and Crick were atheistic in nature. They were bitterly opposed to religious faith of any sort. For example, Francis Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge when that college embarked on plans to build a chapel. He suggested alternatively that a brothel would be nice, a not too subtle put down of places of worship. The ultimate objective of these two men then was to explain both life itself and consciousness in chemical terms which would completely exclude any supernatural element. Of course in neither instance have they succeeded. The mystery of life cannot be explained in chemical terms. It is indeed ironic that our understanding of DNA has led to a greater appreciation of the gulf between nonliving chemicals and the living cell. No spontaneous or natural process can ever explain how a code such as DNA came to be, or the astonishingly concentrated storage of its contained information. Instead of providing us with an explanation of how we could have come about without God, their discoveries have only help show that we are more “fearfully and wonderfully made” than was understood before. Thus this objective of atheists Watson and Crick has been met with utter failure. In addition even Dr. Crick admitted that the search for an explanation for consciousness had been frustrating. No solution is in sight even after all those years of study. Christians for their part, still celebrate the achievements of April 1953. The motives of Watson and Crick were all wrong, but the nature of their information does not depend on attitude whether good or bad. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2003 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title “DNA and the atheists agenda.” Dr. Margaret Helder also writes for Creation Science Dialogue....

Science - General

Stephen Jay Gould: An evolutionist who helped creationists

Few American scientists achieved fame and fortune as quickly as Dr. Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), and few scientists aroused such mixed emotions among their colleagues and the public. Many of his colleagues never forgave him for so spectacularly aiding the creationist cause. As an ardent evolutionist, he certainly had no intention of providing help of any sort to Christians. Dr. Gould complained that creationists exploited his views in an unethical way – that they latter gleefully reported Gould's critical views on the fossil record – that the supposed transitional fossils largely didn't exist – but ignored his support for evolution. He was annoyed that they thought it perfectly reasonable to agree with Gould about the nature of the evidence without subscribing to his assessment of the significance of the evidence. As far as Gould was concerned, his opinions were a package deal: accept all or none. Of course it wasn't just creationists who latched on to just a portion of Gould's opinions. Some of his fellow secular scientists would quote his remarks about the evolution being a fact, while rejecting Gould's conclusions about the fossil record. Suffice it to say then, that Gould was a controversial character in many circles. He was, however, certainly the best known paleontologist of his time, and probably the most popular scientist with the public. Um...you're wrong! In his youth, Gould found deep inspiration for his studies in the concept of evolution. He confided in 1980: "I well remember how the synthetic theory beguiled me with its unifying power when I was a graduate student in the mid-1960s." There was a difference, however, between Gould and other similarly-motivated students in American universities. He and fellow student Niles Eldredge were unafraid to speak their minds. If the emperor had no clothes, then they would say so. And they did! They published an article in 1972 which famously proclaimed that the fossil record did not say what evolutionists were claiming it indicated. The secular scientists of the day claimed that the fossil record demonstrated gradual change over long periods of time. Eldredge and Gould, the cocky young upstarts, said "not so." Born in New York city in 1941, Gould received his doctorate in paleontology from Columbia University in 1967. He then went on to teach at equally prestigious Harvard University. He became a full professor there at the tender age of 33 and remained on the staff for the rest of his life. Among his extracurricular activities which contributed to his fame, he wrote monthly vignettes on science for Natural History Magazine. He began this in 1974 and continued for 300 consecutive issues, ending in 2001. Among his early pieces in Natural History was "Evolution's Erratic Pace." In it he described for public consumption views which he previously communicated in the technical literature. Concerning these views, creationists were ecstatic. Here was an evolutionist drawing the same conclusions they were. The public might be suspicious of people with a vested interest – Christian creationists – but Gould had no particular reason to differ from the establishment view. But differ he did. Thus Gould wrote: "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of the fossils" (Natural History May 1977 p. 14). "Punk eek" Traditional evolutionists or "gradualists," claimed to find fossils in-between one group and another, or in other words, fossils of transitional stages, as one animal evolves into another. But that simply wasn't the way it really was, according to Gould. He said that to make their claims these people had to reject "literal appearance and common sense" in order to discover the supposed "underlying reality" of transitional fossils and evolution (Natural History p. 12) Gould did not go so far as to conclude that "sudden appearance" of creatures in the fossil record suggested the occurrence of a supernatural event such as a worldwide flood. Instead he and Eldredge proposed punctuated equilibria or "punk eek" for short - the idea that evolution proceeds in fits and starts and that the actual process of change is so fast that the transitional stages – the in-between organisms – will hardly ever be preserved as fossils. Many people wonder why, if Gould's interpretation of the fossil record is correct, did establishment scientists of the time represent it as otherwise. Gould himself commented on this in his 1995 book Dinosaur in a Haystack (consisting of articles reprinted from Natural History). On page 127 he noted: "Before Niles Eldredge and I proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972, the stasis or nonchange of most fossil species during their lengthy geological spans had been tacitly acknowledged by all paleontologists, but almost never studied explicitly because prevailing theory treated stasis as uninteresting nonevidence for nonevolution." Creationists, for their part, reinterpreted such remarks to mean "interesting evidence for the creation model." Gould, indeed, reiterated his view that the fossil record was an embarrassing "manifestation of nothing (that is, nonevolution)" (p. 128). Supporters of the alternative model (creation) insisted that data suggesting an evolutionary "nothing" actually fit the creation model. As of 1985, Gould considered that his greatest professional achievement was documenting the frequency and importance of stasis (Paleobiology 11 # 1 p. 6). There is no doubt that this and other views of Stephen Gould had a marked effect on the public. This was particularly so because his writing style was witty, clear and full of unexpected cultural references. He was extremely well read, a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan's English nineteenth century satirical light opera (a particular favorite of mine too), and also an avid baseball fan. Naturally during all those years of writing, Gould communicated not only his views on nature, but his entire philosophy. Gould's philosophy Gould was a materialist. That means he believe that matter was all there is, and there is no spiritual realm. And he did not believe in God. This was the reason he was so taken with Darwinism. As Gould remarked in 1977 in another popular book, Ever since Darwin, Darwin argued that evolution exhibits "no purpose," "no direction" and it is "rigidly materialistic (and basically atheistic)." Since he was an atheist, one may well wonder whether Gould believed in an ultimate reality or in truth. The answer seems to be "perhaps." Indeed in Dinosaur in a Haystack he remarked "I do not think that 'right' and 'wrong' are good categories for assessing mental models of external reality - for models in science are judged as useful or detrimental, not true or false" (p. 96). Moreover he clearly recognized that data themselves do not force a given conclusion. Rather he said, we often have to adopt a new view or paradigm before we will see the significance of certain data. Thus it was only after the creation model was largely rejected and the evolution model adopted that scientists could see evolution in nature. He thus stated in Dinosaur in a Haystack: "Correction of error cannot always arise from new discovery within an accepted conceptual system. Sometimes the theory has to crumble first, and a new framework be adopted, before the crucial facts can be seen at all. We needed to suspect that evolution might be true in order to see variation among individuals in a population as the dynamic stuff of historical change, and not as trivial or accidental deviation from a created archetype" (p. 127). While Gould, time and time again, declared that it is possible to interpret the same data in different ways depending upon our preconceptions, nevertheless he insisted (e.g. Full House 1996 p. 19) that the creation account represents myth which is "not an option for thinking people, who must respect the basic factuality of both time's immensity and evolution's veracity." Since veracity means truthfulness, it appears that he equated evolution with truth. More tolerant than some Stephen Jay Gould died May 20, 2002 at age 60. He had been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer at age 40 in July 1982. Concerning that event, he wrote in Discover (June 1985) "death is the ultimate enemy - and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light." He had undergone an experimental treatment which prolonged his life a further 20 years. His hope however was only for this life. He believed only in chance or contingency as the agent at work in the universe. This view left him with nothing other than himself to believe in. He thus remarked in "Wonderful Life," an essay on British Columbia's Burgess Shale: "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes - one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or fail, in our own chosen way" (p. 323). It is impossible not to contrast this view with the Apostle Paul who pointed out that people who have hope only for this life are certainly to be pitied (I Cor 15:19). During his life, Gould was showered with honors including a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship (1981), membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1983), member of the National Academy of Sciences (1989), president of the Palaeontological Society (1985-6), president of the Society for the Study of Evolution (1990-91) and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999-2000). He was married for thirty years to Deborah whom he met at university. After a divorce in 1995, he married Rhonda, a sculptor from New York. Some people have called Gould cocky and arrogant and perhaps he was. Nevertheless, although he strongly disliked creationists, he was always polite to them. Moreover he knowingly directed the research of a graduate student well known for his creation based views. That fact alone indicates that Dr. Gould was more tolerant of contrary views than were most of his colleagues. His Christian student, who successfully graduated some years ago, never ceased to pray for him. And so a remarkable man has died. But he contributed much to science and we are sad that he has gone.   An earlier version of this article described Gould as a "professed Marxist and atheist." Was he? Well, his wife said he wasn't, and Gould also denied he was a Marxist, but in doing so noted that Marx himself rejected the label because the term had become too broad of meaning to be all that desirable a descriptor. He also gave people reason to believe he was indeed Marxist. As Luther Sunderland notes in "Darwin's Enigma" while "Gould has occasionally tried to give the impression that he objected to being called Marxist....at least once under oath in a court deposition...he acknowledged he was a Marxist." Evolutionist Michael Ruse has written that ""Quite openly, one of the leading punctuated equilibrists, Stephen Jay Gould, admits to his Marxism, and lauds the way in which his science is informed by his beliefs..." He was also said to be on the advisory board of the journal "Rethinking Marxism." So was he Marxist? If one was intent on arguing it one way or the other, it seems evidence can be found. But as we are not intent on making either argument, and as such an argument is a distraction from the central point of this article - that an evolutionist found problems with evolution – the line has been dropped. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science” which you can buy here. The photo of Stephen Jay Gould is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license as found here. ...

Science - Creation/Evolution, Science - General

The appendix question solved

For many years, we were told that the human appendix was a leftover of our evolutionary development and the proof was in the fact that it does nothing useful. If anything, that thing dangling off your intestine can only do you harm when it becomes infected and doesn’t get removed in time. For Christians, however, we humbly rest in the fact that we have a Creator and he knows far more about human anatomy than we will ever know. He created us with an appendix and the Designer knows why. Perhaps we will eventually discover that reason or perhaps not. It turns out scientists are beginning to discover why we have an appendix after all. Already in 2007, medical researchers were starting to find evidence that the appendix is important to overall intestinal health. Duke University published findings that proposed the appendix as a “safe-house” for helpful bacteria while the intestines are being flushed out by illnesses. In 2011, a follow-up study at Winthrop University Hospital determined that “individuals without an appendix were four times more likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium difficile,” a nasty illness often found in hospitals. Australian molecular immunologist Dr. Gabrielle Belz has recently (2015) published research that confirms and develops these earlier findings. According to her team’s work, the appendix definitely holds a key role in maintaining good digestive health. When gut health is threatened, the appendix works to keep the digestive system populated with the right bacteria. Of course, when the appendix was considered useless it served as proof of evolution – the appendix was a vestigial organ leftover from plant-eating ancestors. Now that it’s found a purpose, it still serves as proof of evolution because, according to one scientist, “it no longer serves the function for which it evolved.” No matter which way the evidence points, it can never point to a Creator! You see, it’s not really about the evidence after all. When God is ruled out at the beginning, all evidence to the contrary has to be seen in that light. SOURCES: Randy J. Guliuzza’s “Major evolutionary blunders: our useful appendix – evidence of design, not evolution”; Rob Dunn’s “Your appendix could save your life”...

Science - General

WONDERFUL WHALES: Design on a gigantic scale

When we look at nature, we can hardly miss the design that is everywhere so apparent in living creatures. We recognize it every time we see aspects of an organism that are elegant, beautiful and useful. There are many famous examples of design in nature, traits that are not only beautiful, but which work beautifully as well....but one can look anywhere! Some examples are more interesting to us than others, but all are worth considering. Design done big Consider for example the difficulties that the largest animals on earth, the rorqual whales must overcome to obtain enough food. The blue whale is the most famous and largest example of a rorqual. Another is the humpback. Such big animals are not going to be good at chasing smaller more agile prey. Their solution is to find very thick schools of small fish, and then to lunge forward and gulp in a huge mouthful of water containing lots of fish. The whales engulf the water and fish before the latter have a chance to panic and escape. The whales then push the water back out of their mouths through a special filtering system like Venetian blinds, which in this case is called baleen. What is left in the mouth, the whale swallows. It all sounds relatively uncomplicated, but it is not. Without a number of special and unique design features, these whales would starve. 1. Pleated throats The rorqual whales are named for their specially pleated throats (extending from mouth to navel) which can expand tremendously to accommodate 60 - 80 cubic meters of water and prey, "a volume equal to or greater than that of the individual rorqual itself" (Pyenson et al. Nature, 2012 p. 498, emphasis mine). 2. Filtration system The prey must now be separated out from all that water. What the whale does is push the water out of its mouth through a sieve-like structure which replaces teeth. This filtering system or baleen, consists of keratin, like our fingernails and hair. The baleen whale’s “suspension feeding system” – which involved feeding on, and straining out, suspended food particles from water – is unique among mammals and the pleated throat of the rorquals is unique to this even smaller group of baleen whales. That is not the end of the story. Without further special design features these whales would still be "dead in the water." No group other than the rorqual whales engulfs a massive volume of water in a single gulp. In order to do this, the animal lunges forward, accelerating to high speed, and then gulping in that huge volume of water, all within six seconds. But how does the whale know what volume of water to engulf? And how does it manage to engulf a volume larger than its own body? How does it know what water to gulp? If the whale just went around gulping random volumes of water, it would certainly starve – schools of fish are patchy in their distribution, and thus cannot be found in any old place. 3. The hair of their chinny chin For a start, the whale has bristles on its chin which function sort of like whiskers. These allow the animal to identify schools of fish that are sufficiently dense. Now the whale must take advantage of this dense concentration of fish. To do this, the rorqaul must control the rate of mouth opening and throat-pouch expansion so as to maximize the intake volume. All this must happen while the whale is lunging forward at high speed. 4. Jaw that splits down the middle We now discover more unique design features of the rorquals. The lower jaw consists of left and right halves which are only loosely connected by fibres, and also are only loosely connected to the skull. This allows for great flexibility of the mouth opening. As the rorquals lunge forward, they rotate the components of the jaw so that the opening is close to 90 degrees at the peak of the lunge. The tongue becomes convex and the throat pleats expand. Soon the jaws clamp around a huge volume of water and the whale begins the process of expelling the water and retaining the fishy harvest. 5. Always new wonders to find New research has shown that the rorquals enjoy the benefits of yet another design feature which enables them to be successful in this unusual lifestyle. In the centre of the lower jaw (between the two loosely connected halves) is a special and completely unique sensory organ. In its basic design it is something like the semicircular canals in our inner ear which allow us to figure out the orientation of our bodies. Inside the canals in our ears, there is clear gel and particles which occupy one position or another. Similarly, in the jaws of these whales there is a structure which has papillae (soft projections) surrounded by a gel-like matrix. This seems much like the mechanoreceptors in our inner ears. Apparently, this organ in the whale jaw informs the animal as to the extent of the rotation of the jaws and the expansion of the pleats during mouth opening. The rorquals alone possess this organ between the unfused halves of the lower jaw. Scientists consider that this sensory organ plays a fundamental role in the extreme feeding method of these largest animals on earth. Conclusion It is evident from details of the lifestyle of the rorquals that even apparently uncomplicated methods of feeding require special design features. The rorquals are certainly an example of irreducible complexity. Even with baleen instead of teeth, if they didn’t have the unique unfused lower jaw, pleats in the throat, the special sensory organ in the jaw, and the sensitive bristles on their chin, these largest of animals could never survive. Evolutionists have no adequate explanations for how these unique features could have developed through spontaneous processes. This is an excerpt from Dr. Margaret Helder's “No Christian Silence on Science” which you can buy here and which we review here....