Science - General
Canada’s beautiful beaver
An internationally recognized rodent has become our northern nation’s emblem, but more importantly, the curious nature of this creature highlights the creativity of its Creator.
Most Canadians are rightly proud of the beaver, their iconic national emblem. Indeed, the beaver is a remarkable animal with exceptional talents! Its lifestyle is made possible not only through the wonderful design of its body, but also through in-built skills. The fact is that beavers are the only animals anywhere which can change the landscape to suit their own needs and desires.
Bigger and biggest dam
The skill of beavers at dam building is legendary wherever they live. Prior to 2010, a beaver dam in Montana (USA) was the largest such structure known. It was 652 meters long, 4.3 meters tall and 7 meters thick at its largest extent. For our imperial friends, that’s 2,140 feet long, 14 feet high and 23 feet wide!
However, the Montana beavers’ claim to fame ended when scientists looking for evidence of climate change, scanned satellite images of Canada’s far north lands. These scientists were not looking for beaver dams. Such a thing had never been visible from space. But now they observed a beaver dam in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta. First visible (in retrospect) in a Landsat 7 image from 1990, in a 2004 image, the beaver dam appeared to be 850 meters or 2,790 feet long.
Jean Thie, a remote sensing specialist, first noted the artifact in a satellite image taken in July 2004, but he did not make his identification until 2007. Eventually, in 2009, Parks Canada was informed of the situation. Thus, it was not until 2010 that Parks Canada released a statement to the world. The terrain is so boggy that nobody can access the site, but aerial reconnaissance has confirmed its existence. The dam must be about 35 years old, built and maintained by generations of beavers.
To avoid being tasty treats...
Beavers are engineers and builders. With only their teeth and front paws, they change landscapes so that a safe home can be built and enough food harvested and stored for winter. The lodges/homes are large and conspicuous, often about 5 meters in diameter and 2 meters high. Animals as large and tasty as beavers would surely be a popular meal for predators if all the hunter had to do was wait by the lodge until the beaver came home. Obviously, hidden entrances are essential to survival.
So what the beavers do is to locate the lodge in the center of a body of water. Then the entrances are hidden underwater, well shielded from the view of predators like wolves. Since the beavers are active throughout the year, they must be able to come and go from their lodge even in winter. Since most small bodies of water freeze at that time, the beavers need to find ponds and streams deep enough so that some liquid water remains below the ice. Since such deep locations are hard to find, the beavers instead change shallow bodies of water into deeper locations. This is where the amazing dam-building skills of the beaver are called into play. First of all, the beavers must select a suitable location for their dam. It is the sound of trickling water that stimulates the beaver to plug the flow. The point that the beavers typically choose is where the noise of moving water is the greatest and the flow rate is fastest.
Beavers are not committed to any one style of dam. They build whatever it takes to block the flow of water. A sluggish flow of water calls for a very wide dam, as we see in Wood Buffalo National Park. When the current is strong, however, the dam is built with a convex curve in the upstream direction so that it best resists the pressure of the water. The beavers instinctively know how to compensate for stress and strains of the water pushing against the structure. These animals even build outlet sluices for disposal of overflow water. The construction, after all, must not flood the lodge during times of higher-than-normal rainfall. The beavers always make the right engineering choices.
The beaver are certainly unique in their water management capabilities. These animals do not learn their building skills from their elders. They just know them. In Europe, beavers were hounded almost to extinction and for generations had no opportunities to use their talents, but now, once again they are displaying their full architectural expertise.
In parts of the American West such as Washington, Oregon and Utah, beavers are increasingly being deployed as effective, low cost agents to restore watersheds. Beaver dams and ponds restore complexity to the landscape, slowing the flow of water and sediment and restoring fish habitat.
Besides brainpower, each beaver needs the physical ability to actually build dams. These large animals, distinctly rotund in shape, weigh between 16 and 32 kilograms as adults (or 35 to 70 pounds). They look awkward on land but quite the opposite in water. Their fully webbed hind feet, transparent membranes that protect their eyes and special valves in the nostrils and ears all facilitate underwater activities. The oxygen holding capacity of their red blood cells also must be impressive since they are able to spend as much as 15 minutes submerged. So don’t hold your breath waiting for a diving beaver to re-appear!
The beavers’ front paws are small and delicate, without webs. They function almost like hands. They are able to carry objects such as sticks, stones or mud in their hands and they manipulate these into place in the course of their building activities.
Tremendous teeth and quite the pair of lips
The beaver begins his dam by laying sticks and rocks in the streambed at the desired location. Lots of timber is required for this project. Here, too, the beaver is appropriately equipped for his task. His front teeth are hardened with a dark orange enamel (not pretty, but effective). The teeth grow continuously and the outer tips grind against each other. This keeps the cutting edges chisel-sharp. With these tools, beaver can easily fell trees 30 centimeters or even twice that (1 or two feet) in diameter. The trees are used in building operations, and as sources of twigs, bark and leaves for food. Another interesting feature of beaver mouths is the fact that their lips can be closed behind their front teeth. Thus, while submerged, they can chew without choking on sawdust or water. This gives a whole new meaning to the expression “My lips are sealed”!
So, people pursue their agendas and beavers fell trees and flood the landscape. We may find beaver activities expensive and annoying at times. On other occasions, we greatly appreciate their work. Wherever they are, we must admit they are beautiful animals. Canada’s national emblem is characterized by skill, initiative and lots of energy. It’s fun to watch them in action. We do not always realize that God confers on some animals amazing behavior patterns which enable them to follow unique lifestyles. Such is the beaver. All peoples, near or far from Canada, who appreciate wonderful design, will surely see the hand of God in the creation of Castor canadensis.
Dr. Margaret Helder is involved in headSTART.create.ab.ca an online tool that defines scientific terms from a creationist perspective, highlighting the 100+ most important ones like convergence, Junk DNA, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and the Framework Hypothesis. It's designed for high school students but useful for their parents too, so be sure to check it out! And also be sure to check out this 10-minute clip on beaver lodge creation.
Science - General
Half duck, half beaver: the astonishing platypus
In recent years a strange assortment of animals, some familiar and some obscure, have enjoyed a brief moment of scientific attention. In each case, th...
Science - General
Why animals don’t get lost (and no, it’s not because they’re willing to ask for directions)
Pro-life - Abortion, Science - General
The wonder of the womb
If you haven’t seen any of the YouTube videos of Dr. Kristin Collier talking about the unborn, you've missed out. This Christian physician and Unive...
Science - General
Surprising similarities: shrubs and whales, trees and snails
In his fabulous nonsense poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter (1871), Lewis Carroll groups cabbages and kings together. Upon reflection, we might ask what cabbages and kings have in common. Probably nothing. Nevertheless, there are some cases in nature where similar groupings might call for a different answer. Let me riddle you this: what do marine cone snails have in common with a tall tree growing in tropical Australia? And what do sperm whales have in common with a desert shrub? Don’t be quick to confidently reply “nothing”! The true answer is, “You would be surprised!” Toxic tree and savage snail The Australian stinging tree's stems and leaves are covered with longish hairs a quarter inch long in a layer so thick it looks like velvet. Picture by Norbert Fischer and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The tree in question is the Australian stinging tree Dendrocnide excelsa which grows 35 m (115 ft) tall. Its stems and leaves are covered with longish hairs 1/4 inch long in a layer so thick it looks like velvet. But looks can be deceiving. These hairs are actually hollow tapering tubes with a small bulb at the tip. If anyone or anything happens to brush one or more of these trichomes/hairs, the victim receives an excruciatingly painful sting which can cause symptoms that last for days or even weeks. There are two features of this event that interest us, the delivery of the sting, and the nature of the poison. The sting mechanism is certainly interesting. According to a recent article, the needle-shaped hairs (trichomes) “act as hypodermic needles that, upon contact with skin, inject specific pharmacological mediators contained within the trichome fluid...”1 A leave that injects? That might seem a bit far-fetched. After all, how can a hollow tube inject anything? To answer that, a different study points out that it all comes from the complex design of the trichome (hair). Except for a flexible base, the rest of the hair is a hollow tube whose walls are made very stiff with calcium carbonate and silica. The interior of the hollow tube is filled with a cocktail of nasty compounds. The scene is set for the following event: “The stinging cells are essentially hollow from the base to the bulbous tip and break off with the slightest touch. Breakage creates a sharp edge connected to a large liquid reservoir similar to a hypodermic needle. Pressure applied to the trichome will compress the bladder-like base and eject the irritant fluid from the tip in an action analogous to the plunger in a hypodermic syringe.”2 Concerning that process, the authors of that paper declare: “Stinging hairs – even as mechanical structures – are not simple cells with mineralized walls, but stunning examples of unique plant microengineering.”3 That certainly sounds like design! The Australian stinging tree is classified in the same plant family as common stinging nettles. The nettle characteristics are very similar to the tree except for size (nettles are much smaller), and the nature of the irritant, which is not dangerous in the case of the nettles. Sinister similarity But finally getting back to our riddle, we now discover that the mode of delivery of the nasty chemicals in the tree (and the nettles) is very similar to what we see in some animals such as poisonous spiders and marine cone snails. Cone snails are dangerous predators that we see in tropical seas. Up to 22 cm or 9 inches long, these creatures hunt worms, other mollusks, or fish. Some of the 500 species exhibit toxin so potent that it can kill people. Interestingly, these nasty cone snails inject the poison into their victims by a syringe-like action similar to that of the stinging tree. However, it is in the appearance and action of the poisons that the similarity between stinging trees and cone snails becomes particularly clear. As a recent article declares: “Our results provide an intriguing example of inter-kingdom convergent evolution of animal and plant venoms with shared modes of delivery , molecular structure, and pharmacology.”4 Translating this into ordinary English, they are telling us that the poisons produced by the stinging tree and the cone snail are very similar to each other. The term “convergence” communicates the idea that these highly unusual products come from totally different sources. How the tree and the marine snail might have obtained these products through an evolutionary process, is unknown. Hence the term convergence suggests that organisms converged on the same obscure choice for unknown reasons by unknown processes. Despite the obscurity of the explanation, most scientists are sure that there must be an evolutionary explanation. The most remarkable aspect of the unexpected similarity between a tree and a marine snail is in the nature of the poisons that they produce. From the variety of compounds in the venomous liquids, the team found that the most effective products in the tree were “mini proteins” of only 36 amino acids long. Despite the fact the molecule is so short, the order of amino acids is unlike any other protein known in any other organism. Because the molecules are so unique to the stinging tree, the scientists called them gympietides (after the name for this tree in the local Gubbi Gubbi language). Although the mini protein is unique, its weird folding pattern or shape is similar to toxins found in some spiders and in cone snails. Another term for this molecular shape is “inhibitor cystine knot” (or aptly ICK or knottin). Apparently, the amino acid chain folds in on itself a couple of times, and sulphur atoms in one amino acid link up with another amino acid to hold the structure in a tight knot.5 The action of the gympietides (the knot) involves its victim’s nerves. If you recall your high school biology you’ll remember that the transmission of a signal along a nerve involves sodium ion gates that open in the nerve cell membrane allowing sodium to rush into the nerve cell. As the signal proceeds down the nerve cell, the previously opened gates slam shut so that the cell can return to its former condition in preparation for receiving a new signal. What the gympietide poison does is open the sodium gates and then doesn’t allow them to close or recover. Thus the scientific team reports that: “The intense pain sensations and reflex flare observed after by Dendrocnide species are consistent with the potent activity of the gympietides at channels .”6 While the order of amino acids in the protein chain from the stinging tree’s toxin has not been observed anywhere else, nevertheless the folding pattern confers on the molecule an effect similar to some spider and cone snail toxins.7 Thus the study authors conclude concerning the gympietides: “Their structural similarity and a delivery mode identifiable as envenomation exemplify cross-kingdom convergence of venoms.”8 The scientists can scarcely contain their surprise when they reflect that these close similarities in design are found between members of different kingdoms. Of course, plants and animals could scarcely be more different from each other in appearance, capabilities, and lifestyle needs. Whatever could lead to evolutionary processes which start so far apart but end up with a product so similar? As to whether there could be an evolutionary reason for a plant to produce animal venoms, the scientists declare that the issue remains “unclear.”9 Indeed it seems obvious that an evolutionary answer will never be found. Rather, the explanation is clearly that these were choices made by God. In our fallen world there are many agents of death and disease. That is not how it was supposed to be. Nevertheless, these agents demonstrate the same intricate characteristics as the rest of the Creation. Whale and shrub If similar compounds produced by a tropical tree and a marine snail are difficult to explain from an evolutionary point of view, how about liquid waxes from a whale and a desert shrub? According to an article from University of Washington Magazine, up to 1972 when the Endangered Species Act was passed in the United States, in North America alone up to 55 million pounds of sperm whale oil were used to protect automobile transmissions. According to the article, thanks to protection from whale oil, prior to 1972, car transmissions seldom failed. Within three years of the moratorium on whale killings, the rate of car transmission failures in the US increased 800%. Thus, the article declares: “Because the automatic transmission is the second-most expensive component in a car and the most complex to repair, total sales for transmission shops exceeded $50 billion by the 1990s.”10 The problem is that the sperm whale liquid wax was just the right product to provide for excellent lubrication in car transmissions and there was no other similar product available. The oil of the sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus is a liquid wax. The characteristics which made this product so perfect for lubrication included the following. For a start and most uniquely, this wax is liquid at room temperatures. Also, it is viscous (much thicker than water) but slippery and not sticky. And most importantly, this viscosity does not change much with greatly increased temperature and pressure such as we see in running motors. For example, if you were expecting a product to lubricate your engine, but the product became much more fluid with increasing temperature and pressure, your engine would soon seize up. Also helpful are the facts that liquid wax does not readily oxidize (breakdown) and it flows in cold weather rather than congealing. Deeply concerned that they had lost an exclusive and useful product, the automobile industry began desperately to search for alternatives. And they soon found one in seeds of a desert shrub, the Simmondsia chinensis, or jojoba. A professional oil chemists’ journal in 1979 declared: “The protected but still endangered sperm whale and desert-grown nuts from jojoba are the only major sources of liquid waxes.”11 Similarly, an article declared in 2009: “Jojoba oil is very similar to that of spermaceti for which it is an excellent substitute.”12 Later in 2017 scientists writing in Biological Research describe jojoba oil as a “high-viscosity liquid-oil that differs from any other oil produced by plants”13 so that “The jojoba oil plant is a promising alternative to threatened sperm whale oil.”14 So, the world did an about-face and focused their attention on the desert instead of the sea. Slick similarity So why are these oils, from two such different sources, so similar and otherwise so unusual? The secret of these oils is their chemical identity as liquid waxes. Without embarking on a crash course in organic chemistry, we find that most organic oils are fats. Fats involve long chain fatty acids linking up with a glycerol molecule. Glycerol has only three carbon atoms, but each of them is usually connected with a long chain fatty acid. This makes quite a complicated molecule, like a glove with three very long fingers. Liquid waxes are totally different. A moderately short chain fatty acid links with a similar molecule which ends with an alcohol grouping instead of an acid. So, we just have one straight chain of carbons in a liquid wax. For whale oil liquid waxes, we generally see 28 to 32 carbons.15 As organic compounds go, these are small molecules. For jojoba, the liquid waxes are a little longer, from 38 carbons to 46 carbons.16 The commercial exploitation of jojoba liquid waxes is not totally straightforward. The oil is found in the seeds (up to 50% by weight), but less than half of the shrubs actually produce seeds. For some reason, there seems to be a bias to grow more male plants than female plants and one cannot identify the female plants until they flower, several years after germination. Although the plants tolerate quite terrible desert growing conditions, the flowers don’t always set seed well. Altogether jojoba liquid is very expensive to produce. Nowadays we see mostly synthetic products of jojoba oil for automotive uses. The intriguing issue is why two such different organisms happen to exhibit this highly unusual chemistry. Evolutionists would say that this capability came about by chance. Since no other organisms display this capability, it is obvious that these choices were not a case of the organisms needing these waxes for survival. It appears that the liquid wax does enhance germination of the jojoba seeds. Of course, whales don’t care about that. Several explanations have been proposed to explain the large amount of liquid wax in sperm whale heads. There certainly was no common condition encouraging the development of an unusual chemical product in these two creatures. We see rather God’s whimsical choices in conferring this valuable product on two such different creatures. At this point it seems appropriate to give thanks for the fascinating beauty that we see among living creatures of all types. We also see that diversity and unexpected complexity confer a richness on the Creation which never ceases to comfort us that God is in control. Dr. Margaret Helder is the President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta which has just published an intriguing new book called "Wonderful and Bizarre Life forms in Creation" which you can learn more about and order by clicking here. Endnotes Edward K. Gilding et al. Neurotoxic peptides from the venom of the giant Australian stinging tree. Science Advances 6: September 16 pp. 1-9. See p. 1. Adeel Mustafa et al. Stinging hair morphology and wall biomineralization across five plant families. American Journal of Botany 105 (7): 1109-1122. See p. 1115. Mustafa et al. 1121. Gilding et al. 1. For people who like chemistry, the amino acid cysteine ends in a sulphur atom. And the cystine is formed from 2 cysteine residues joined end to end through the sulphur atoms (disulphide bond). Cystine is formed by linking cysteine residues through their sulphur atoms across different parts of the loop. In a knot, there are two cystine molecules connecting different parts of the chain and another in a different direction which ensures that the knot does not fall apart.] Gilding et al. 5. Gilding et al. 5 Gilding et al. 5 Gilding et al. 5 Jon Marmor. 2019. The Innovation File: Solving a Whale of a Problem. UW Magazine 1-5. See p. 2. K. Miwa and J. A. Rothfus. 1979. Extreme-Pressure Lubricant Tests on Jojoba and Sperm Whale Oils. Journal American Oil Chemists’ Society 56 #8 pp. 765-770. See p. 765. Vijayakumar et al. 2009. Synthesis of ester components of spermaceti and a jojoba oil analogue. Indian Journal of Oil Technology 16 pp. 377-381 September. See p. 377. Jameel R. Al-Obaidi et al. A review of plant importance, biotechnological aspects and cultivation challenges of jojoba plant. Biological Research 50:25. pp. 1-5. See p. 1. Al-Obaidi et al. 3. Vijayakumar et al. 377. Rogers E. Harry-O’Kura et al. Physical Characteristics of Tetrahydroxy and Acylated Derivatives of Jojoba liquid Wax in Lubricant Applications. Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry. 2018 Article ID 7548327 pp. 12. See p. 1. ...
Science - General
Pluto: Déjà vu all over again
Until the summer of 2015, we knew very little about Pluto. We knew that it was far away, 5 billion kilometers. We also knew it was very cold, at -223 degrees C or less, which is just 50 degrees C above absolute zero. And we knew that at 2,370 km across it was small by the standard of other bodies in the solar system. Earth's diameter, for example, is 12,756 km, while Jupiter's is 142,984 km and even our moon's diameter (over 3,000 km) is larger than that of Pluto. Planetary scientists had few expectations that this small, cold, far away body would show many unique features. Based on a mistake The fact that NASA was sending an expensive probe to study this remote body was remarkable in itself. Especially when we consider it was only as a result of a mistake that the planet was even discovered! Astronomers in the nineteenth century had an inaccurate understanding of the real mass of the planet Neptune, discovered in 1846. They thought it was heavier than it really was, and then the only way they could explain its orbit, and that of Uranus, was if there was a sizeable body beyond Neptune exerting a gravitational tug on these planets. So people went searching for this “sizeable body” and eventually discovered Pluto. However, the mass of Neptune was adjusted downward after the Voyager 2 flyby (launched in 1977) and when this new, more accurate, value for Neptune was plugged into equations for the orbit of Neptune and Uranus around the sun, it was discovered that these values fully accounted for the observed orbits. No need for any sizeable body nearby! So it was as a result of incorrect impressions of the nature of the outer solar system that American astronomers undertook an energetic search for the ninth planet. Regardless they did find something: Pluto. It was actually in 1930 that an amateur astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered this small moving object on the periphery of the solar system. Thus Nadia Drake (daughter of famous astronomer Frank Drake) wrote in the July National Geographic: Uranus traces a predictable boring path around the sun. There never was another large planet tugging at its orbit. But if not for the faulty math, and one man's prodigious patience , we could have waited decades to discover the little world that really is out there. This situation demonstrates that it depends on the questions one asks, whether one discovers a given phenomenon or not. If the Americans had not been searching for another planet, Pluto might not have been observed until only a few years ago. Demoted, but dynamic Pluto is most often the outermost “planet” but twice during each orbit it crosses Neptune's orbit as both bodies travel around the sun, making Neptune the furthest out. By the time NASA’s New Horizons probe arrived at Pluto in mid July 2015, this object of study had been classified as merely one of many "dwarf planets." When the probe left Earth on January 19, 2006, Pluto was still regarded as one of nine planets, but later that same year the International Astronomical Union (IAU) met to re-evaluate the status of Pluto, and downgraded it. It was now considered merely one of potentially hundreds of dwarf planets. NASA might not have allocated scarce resources to tackle a mere dwarf planet, but the New Horizons probe was already on its way. Few of the voting members of the IAU considered that study of Pluto would be relevant to study of the solar system planets. But what did they find in 2015? Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, declared concerning Pluto: "n the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, the best was saved for last." Well! When we consider the amazing diversity of the planets already visited by our probes, what could possibly be so exciting about a cold, dark and remote body? The answer is, plenty! If there is one term that could best be used to describe Pluto, and its associated moons, that term is "energetic." This is very interesting and unexpected because there is no obvious long-term source of energy. It is "déjà vu" all over again! There are so many planets and their moons which exhibit unexpected phenomena. Many of these phenomena (like the rings of Saturn), require a lot of energy to keep them going more than a few thousand years. Astronomers do their best to explain how these phenomena could continue for long ages. The energy from the Sun, and from radioactive decay, and gravitational pull from larger bodies nearby, are all used to try to explain these observations. The interesting thing, in this case, is that none of these sources of energy appears promising as an explanation for the dramatic features of Pluto. Pluto close-up As we proceed toward Pluto, we first encounter five moons. Charon, the innermost and first discovered, is relatively large for a moon with about 11% of the mass of the parent body. Pluto and Charon form the only "binary planet" in the solar system. The two bodies, similar in size, orbit their common centre of mass every few days. There are also four tiny and more remote moons that display some astounding properties. The four outer satellites of Pluto display masses about 0.001% or less of the parent body. Their orbits take from 20 - 40 days to complete one revolution. In addition, the orbits of these moons are as close as they could be without disturbing each other's orbit through gravitational attraction. Scott Kenyon commented in Nature (June 4/15) on this situation: "These tightly packed systems place severe constraints on theories of planetary system formation." Indeed he continued: "How some systems end up with objects in closely packed orbit is an open question." What Dr. Kenyon is saying is that it would be very hard to propose convincing separate origins for these moons. Yet there are some striking differences. Named Hydra, Kerberos, Nix and Styx, three of the four moons are shiny and bright. However Kerberos is the exception. As Dr. Kenyon remarks: "Kerberos is as dark as coal and seems out of place with such bright companions." NASA scientists M. Showalter and D. Hamilton point out that the darker colour of Kerberos raises "questions about how a heterogeneous satellite system might have formed" (Nature June 4/15). Drs. Showalter and Hamilton discussed the moon system before New Horizons actually arrived at Pluto. They had already seen enough to realize that the system was unexpectedly energetic for such a cold and tiny body. Thus they declared: Independent of the new discoveries in store, we have already learned that Pluto hosts a rich and complex dynamical environment, seemingly out of proportion to its diminutive size. Spinning tops Once New Horizons closely approached Pluto, the full realization of the amazing action of the four outer moons was revealed. These small bodies spin at inexplicably high rates. Hydra (the farthest out) rotates once every 26 minutes. Ron Cowen, writing in Eos, quotes Mark Showalter of NASA and SETI, who declared: "This is unlike anything we have seen elsewhere in the solar system. No one has ever seen a moon that rotates 89 times during a single orbit." The other outer moons also exhibit fast rates of spin, with Kerberos rotating the slowest at once every 5.33 hours (Eos Nov.9/15). And Nix, not to be outdone in interest, rotates in the opposite direction from the rest of these moons. So these moons display unexplained energy, and properties that eliminate any common explanation for the origin of all four moons. And there is more of interest. Dr. Showalter further pointed out that: The fast spin rates are so surprising because even if the moons formed as rapid rotators, the push and pull of the gravitational tides of Pluto and Charon ought to have slowed down that motion (quoted in Eos Nov. 9/ 15). So where does all this continuing energy come from? Is the system of recent origin? If it’s old, why is it so energetic? Pluto itself displays a surface that seems to require the flow of a lot of energy. The source of this energy is very puzzling because there is no sunlight and no nearby large gravitational fields from large planets. Nevertheless Pluto displays "incredibly complex geology" "beautiful" and "strange" (Nature July 23/15). Scientists reflected on how Pluto displayed "much more geological activity than anyone anticipated" (Nature). Very large seemingly volcanic mountains, white plains with absolutely no craters, and dark plains with craters, suggest an active geology as far as planetary scientists are concerned. And an active geology requires energy. Based on the density of craters in the dark areas, and on the basis of assumed rates of crater bombardment, scientists estimated that Pluto might be four billion years old. Then they looked at other features and concluded that Pluto has remained geologically active up to the present. The planet, for example is losing nitrogen gas at a most unexpected rate (NASA July 17/15). How many billions of years could that continue? Where is the energy coming from to sublimate the frozen nitrogen? Well, if it isn’t coming from the outside, then it must be internal, right? Ron Cowen quotes New Horizons scientist Kelso Singer who declared that, "Pluto has enough internal heat to maintain surface activity throughout the lifetime of this outer solar system body" (Eos Nov. 9/15). Some scientists suggest that radioactive decay may provide the energy required to keep Pluto geologically active (Nature July 23/15). With its small size, low density and watery ice exterior, this does not seem a promising explanation. And with every half-life of each radioactive element, the amount of radioactive element is reduced by one half. After several presumed billions of years, there would be very little radioactivity left. And radioactivity would not explain the fast spin rates of the moons, in any case. Scientists find themselves looking for unlikely sources of long-term energy because they want to explain how the system could have existed for long ages. Of course, with a recent origin, there is no need to look for energy other than that imparted to the system a few thousand years ago. Pluto is exciting because it displays unexpected characteristics. Most informed observers expected something that was geologically frozen, but we found a fascinating and active world instead. Like the rest of nature, Pluto testifies not to processes which have continued for long ages, but to a recent creation. This first appeared in the December 2015 issue. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”...
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
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 e...
News, Science - General
Genetically-engineered babies have now been born
Human experimentation has been happening around the world for the past four decades, with research scientists actively carrying out experiments on hum...
Science - General
Plants that pack an explosive punch!
Sometimes when my husband and I sit quietly in our house, maybe reading, or drinking coffee, we hear a barely audible “pop” followed by a tiny clattering sound of something hitting the floor. Mind-blowing mechanisms The “something” here are seeds, each about two millimeters wide, landing up to a meter away from the plant that has launched them. This happens a lot in our house because we started with two such plants about 15 or 20 years ago, and now we have many of these Euphorbia leuconeura or “Madagascar Jewels.” Their seeds often land in their own pot or in the pots of other plants where they happily germinate. While the plant is threatened because of habitat loss in its native Madagascar, that is not so at our house! It grows well, up to six feet tall in areas that are not too bright. The angular stem looks something like a cactus, as do some other Euphorbias, and it contains a mildly toxic milky fluid which has never been a problem to us, our grandchildren or our pets as everybody “leaves” the plant alone. The flowers of Euphorbias are all very small – the Madagascar Jewel has just tiny white flower clusters. The plant’s claim to fame, apart from its attractive and unusual appearance, is definitely its habit of explosively dispersing its seed far and wide. Flowering plants have been designed with various interesting seed dispersal mechanisms, everything from prickly burrs that ride along on passersby, to wings or parachutes attached to seeds to enable them to ride along on wind currents. Some seeds are even dispersed from the intestines of animals that ate the fruits. However the device of explosively ejecting seeds requires some fancier engineering than many seed dispersal mechanisms. Too fast for the naked eye to track One plant that has recently attracted attention in this regard is Ruellia ciliatiflora or “hairy-flower wild petunia.” Ruellia is no relation of real petunias. Rather hairy-flower wild petunia is classified in the family Acanthaceae, made up of mostly tropical herbs, shrubs and vines. The flowers in this family all develop into a two-celled fruit capsule that ejects seeds more or less explosively. Ruellia (named after a 16th century French botanist Jean Ruelle) may be toxic and it may be used in some medicinal applications, but, once again, its real claim to fame is the highly explosive ejection of its seeds from the fruit capsule. Ruellia‘s specialized seed dispersal has attracted the attention of a team of scientists with fancy high-speed cameras. Their research consisted of setting up the camera near suitable plants and filming the release of the seed. They then analyzed the recording frame by frame, and from there they calculated velocities and other details. And what interesting details they found! The seeds of the hairy-flower wild petunia are disk-shaped, about 2.5 mm in diameter and almost 0.5 mm thick. They are ejected from the fruit capsule at speeds of 15 meters/second, or roughly 60 kilometers per hour! They've even got backspin! The plant achieves this extraordinary result by stabilizing the seeds so that they sit vertically in the air like bicycle tires. The disks spin backwards while moving forward on a rising trajectory. (It is their spinning which stabilizes their orientation.) The backspin was measured at an extraordinary 1660 cycles per second. The fact that the seeds spin backward means that drag on the surface is greatly reduced. The reduced drag means that the energy required to disperse the seeds is reduced by a factor of five. Thus the seeds are shot up to seven meters (23 feet) from the small low-lying parent plant. These features of the hairy-flower wild petunia rightly amaze us when we consider where the energy comes from. Obviously, the energy comes from the design of the fruit capsule. It has to be so constructed that the capsule will open suddenly. This means that the connecting region between the two halves of the fruit develops a much weakened zone and a strong hinge to pull the halves apart quickly. Also the seeds have to be so shaped that they will spin and so loosely connected to their growth center in the fruit that they will be shot out spinning backward but moving forward. Any mechanical engineer will admit that the engineering of this system requires a lot of fine tuning in order to achieve these results. Such a fancy system did not just develop spontaneously (by chance) but exhibits the work of a supremely intelligent Designer. For more on exploding seed pods, see “Imagine that” from October 2005 issue of the "Creation Science Dialogue." This is about the dispersal of pollen grains from Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) which has similar amazing properties – it is because of this plant that I first learned what a French implement of war, the trebuchet, was! Also, take a look at the video below. ...
Science - General
Amazing green meat-eaters!
The first thing a student of nature learns, is that it is fatal to generalize – an exception can be found to almost any general rule. Most of us, for example, would define animals in terms of food capture – they go out and get their food – and we'd define plants as sedentary manufacturers of their own food, using sunlight for energy. Nevertheless there are plants that dine on animals: quite the reverse of the expected! Tempting embrace Probably the most famous meat-eating (carnivorous) plant is the Venus Flytrap. In scientific jargon it is named Dioneae after Dione, mythical mother of Venus, goddess of love. This is an apt name when one considers how the plant lures and catches victims. The trap consists of two fringed lobes, seemingly hinged by the midrib, at the end of each leaf. The lobes are bright red in the sun and they exude sweet scents to attract the unwary insect. Once a suitable insect has landed on the trap, it snaps shut in a fraction of a second. Interlocking "teeth" prevent escape of the victim. The more it struggles, the more tightly the trap closes. The leaf now releases a slimy fluid which contains enzymes able to digest protein. Then, once the meal has been digested, the fluid containing the new nutrients is reabsorbed into the leaf. Dry once again, the leaf opens and the victim’s empty shell falls away. The trap is again ready for business. PROMINENT "TRIGGER HAIRS" – 3 ON EACH SIDE – SPRING THE TRAP! Clever, clever, clever! How does the leaf surface "know" when a suitable victim has landed on the trap? Prominent hairs on the surface of each lobe are trigger mechanisms. Raindrops and small insects fail to spring the trap. Two hairs must be touched, or one hair moved twice in order to produce closure. This ensures response only to large insects, not useless small ones. How is the message of a suitable victim translated into slit-second action? No one really knows. An electric charge has been shown to flash over the leaf surface as the trigger hairs are stimulated. One guess suggests that the charge produces a rapid change of some chemical, from soluble to insoluble (eg. from sugar to starch), in the cells of the upper half of the leaf. Water then moves into the lower leaf cells which now contain relatively more dissolved solids. These cells swell, causing the leaf lobes to move together. This sounds plausible but slow. Obviously it is not the final answer. One would suppose so specialized a plant would have many less complex relatives. Such is not the case. The genus contains only one species. Even this species is very restricted in its occurrence. The plant’s natural habitat is sandy soil within 100 miles of Wilmington, North Carolina. Except for another genus with a single species, there are no similar plants. So many important parts It is conventional scientific wisdom that the trapping mechanism of Dionaea developed in response to nutrient-poor soil conditions. It is difficult however to imagine how transitional forms could exist. If the sweet aroma did not attract insects, the trap would be useless. Without rapid closing, or without teeth on the lobe edges, the insect would escape. Without suitable gland cells to release and absorb digestive fluids, all the rest would be useless. It is easy to see why Darwin called the flytrap ‘the most wonderful plant in the world’! It is more difficult to understand how he could have presumed evolution of such a precise mechanism. Natural selection could not select for traps which lacked any one component of the system. Only the fully developed system, produced by the Creator, can account for these amazing plants. This article first appeared in Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 8, Number 1, 1981, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science” which we review here, and you can buy here....
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...
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...