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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 University of Michigan Medical School faculty member has been speaking at universities around the USA, sharing scientific evidence about the interconnection between mothers and babies in the womb. Let me share a few of the highlights. The placenta: a cooperative project Many of Dr. Collier’s presentations have focused on the amazing miracle of the placenta. Often referred to as the “afterbirth,” it is actually the vital organ inside of which a baby grows. Dr. Collier states,

“In a mother’s womb following conception, God is building between mother and child an anatomic masterpiece, a relational organ. The placenta is therefore considered a fetomaternal organ because it is made by both the baby and mother (and Providence). The placenta is the only purposely transient organ in humans and is the only single organ that is created by two people in cooperation. Through the placenta, mother and prenatal child interface. In one organ we see the function of what is usually performed by multiple organs and systems. The placenta provides the function normally assumed by one’s lungs and kidneys and additionally has metabolic, thermo-regulatory, endocrine and immune function.”

In other words, when the baby is merely 6-7 weeks old inside the mother, he or she is contributing by assisting the mother in building the placenta. This is an important proof that even at that very early gestational age, this is not just a blob of tissue, but a co-worker in the process of life. Microchimerism: an interconnection Dr. Collier has also shared how analysis of DNA, taken during prenatal screening tests, shows that there is another sort of profound interconnectedness between the prenatal child and the mother.

“We know that genetic material from the prenatal child crosses through the placenta and can be found in the mother’s circulation. The interaction at the level of genetic material between mother and prenatal child is illustrated in what is called ‘microchimerism.’”

Microchimerism is the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. Dr. Collier goes on to say:

“The growing baby sends some of her cells across the placenta into her mother in a way that we are only beginning to understand. These cells migrate to various sites of maternal tissue and integrate into them. They then assume the function of the surrounding tissue and begin to function as such. Microchimeric cells have been found in various maternal tissues and organs, such as the breast, bone marrow, skin, liver and brain.

“Early and late effects of these cells have been hypothesized. Some of these cells appear to target sites of injury and may help mother heal after delivery by integrating into a Cesarean section wound and helping to produce collagen. Fetal cells may be involved in the process of lactation by signaling the mother’s body to make milk. Others have been thought to help protect a mother against breast cancer later in life. This process likely involves negotiation and cooperation between mom and baby at the cellular level. Researchers are in the early stages of attempting to understand the full function of these cells, which may have important implications for the immune status of women.”

To summarize, cells of their children remain within women throughout their lives, helping the mother, and also perhaps explaining the connection that mothers feel with their children - and their lost children.

“Human beings carry remnants of other humans in their bodies. These cells become integrated into maternal tissue and are active and working in ways that we are just beginning to understand. Think about mothers who have lost both prenatal and postnatal children, and how they have longed for their children still to be with them in some way. Now we see that in fact, they are.”

Babies: a superb design by our Creator God Psalm 139 rejoices in how God forms children within the womb. Learning how these babies participate in building their own placenta reinforces the truth that these are little people growing in there. And discovering the wonderful ways in which mothers and babies are, and stay connected gives us cause to rejoice in the superb designs of our Creator God. And this is why Dr. Kristin Collier is determined to share this knowledge throughout the world. You can learn more in the doctor's wonderful 45-minute presentation below.

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)! ...

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 human embryos. The stated objective, in usually something noble-sounding: to learn more about human biology, or to possibly treat some disease conditions. And while few scientists will admit to an interest in cloning people, or in actually producing genetically-altered individuals, this is the direction our society is heading. Indeed, modern society does not value unborn babies enough to protect them, and at the same time society is terribly afraid of genetic abnormalities. Under these conditions – little respect for unborn human life, and little respect for those with genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome – it would seem human cloning and gene alteration is inevitable. But it isn’t acceptable yet. That became clear when, on November 26, 2018, the scientific and medical world reacted in horror to the announcement by Dr. Jiankui He at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, that he had created modified human embryos. These embryos had been implanted in their mother, and in early November, twin baby girls had been born in China. This was a world-wide first – the first genetically-edited full-term human babies.  What happened Ever since the 1970s introduction of in vitro fertilization of human eggs with sperm outside the womb, the stage was set for scientists to experiment on such embryos. Many people, mindful of the special nature of humans at every level of development, protested against such work. Even some scientists were nervous about the implications of these experiments. However, for many, the concern was only that individuals damaged in laboratory experiments should not be allowed to develop to term. They were okay with the human experimentation – they just didn’t want these babies to be born. As a result, a general understanding was reached between ethicists and scientists, that no experiments on embryos would continue longer than 14 days – at this point these embryos were to be destroyed. The 14-day limit was chosen because it is at this point that the embryos begin to develop specialized tissues and thus becomes more obviously human (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). But as the experimentation has become more sophisticated, scientists have begun to promote the idea of a longer timeline for their investigations. Thus, a conference was held in May at Rice University at which 30 American scientists and ethicists discussed “whether and how to move the boundary” (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). About the same time, Nature magazine published an announcement concerning such research: “At present, many countries …prohibit culture beyond 14 days, a restriction that reflects the conclusions of the 1984 UK Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology (also known as the Warnock Report. Whether this rule should be relaxed is currently being debated” (May 3, 2018 p. 6, emphasis mine). Scientists are clearly seeking to relax the rules governing their studies. “Germ-line changes” Research on human embryos has continued worldwide since those early days. However, all parties once agreed that on no account should modified embryos be implanted into a mother and be allowed to develop. The reasons included society’s disapproval of experiments on people, but especially because such individuals would carry “germ-line changes.” Changes to most cells in the human body have no impact on future generations – these changes die with that individual. However, changes to the gametes (egg and sperm) are called germ-line changes because these modifications will be passed on to each subsequent generation. It is not that the scientists involved actually object to germ-line changes. The problem is that they want their results to be predictable and “safe.” Any uncertainties could lead to catastrophic results, ensuing hostile public opinion and big lawsuits. It would be far better to proceed cautiously. Thus, it is illegal in the US and many other countries to alter genes of human embryos or gametes. However, within the last decade, another new biomedical technology has appeared on the scene that has drastically streamlined gene editing in numerous organisms. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology has made gene editing much easier and much more precise.* Obviously, it was a mere matter of time before someone used this to try his hand at gene editing in human embryos. The scientific community offered no serious objections when Dr. Jiankui He of China presented an account of such work at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York during the spring of 2018. At this conference, Dr. He discussed the editing of embryos from seven couples. However, at that point, this man made no mention that any of these embryos had been implanted into their mothers. Dr. He “edits” babies to be HIV-resistant According to a Nov. 28 news item at Nature.com (David Cyranoski's "CRISPR-baby scientist fails to satisfy critics") Dr. He recruited couples in which the male was HIV positive but the female was normal. Individual sperm cells were washed to remove any viruses and the cells were injected into eggs along with CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes carrying a gene for resistance to HIV infection. A total of 30 fertilized embryos resulted of which 19 were deemed viable (able to live) and apparently healthy. These were tested for the CCR5 mutation which confers resistance to HIV infection. From one couple, two of four embryos tested positive for the mutation. One embryo carried the mutated gene on one chromosome and a normal gene on the other, while the other embryo carried the mutation on both maternal and paternal chromosomes. These embryos were implanted into the mother who successfully gave birth to twin baby girls early in November. No information was forthcoming on the fate of the other embryos, although Dr. He now says that another woman may be pregnant. The response of the scientific community has been shock and horror. But why are they so horrified? Is this not what they have been working towards? The scientific community is afraid because the risks of this procedure at this preliminary stage of research, are substantial. There are, at present, major questions as to whether the genetic modifications will actually have the desired effect. A well-known problem is that the CRISPR apparatus sometimes cuts the chromosomes at other places as well as/ or instead of the desired location. This off-target effect has been found to be a major problem in some studies. In addition, most genes are known to influence a number of seemingly unrelated traits. This phenomenon is called pleiotropic impact of one gene on other genes. These risks are particularly serious when we consider that these are germ-line changes, that will impact subsequent generations from this individual. Response The same Nov. 28 Nature.com news item declared: “Fears are now growing in the gene-editing community that He’s actions could stall the responsible development of gene editing in babies.” Indeed, a commentator on one website reflected that “if this experiment is unsuccessful or leads to complications later in life … set the field of gene therapy back years if not decades.” In view of these concerns, many individuals and medical and scientific institutions released statements expressing condemnation for this gene-editing work. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, declared that the NIH “does not support the use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences declared that Dr. He’s work “violates internationally accepted ethical principles regulating human experimentation and human rights law." A colleague and friend of Dr. He suggested that the gene-editing work lacked prudence, that it could, unfortunately, serve to create distrust in the public. Obviously, an important concern on the part of the scientists was that the promise of this technology not be rejected by the public. Dr. David Liu of Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute (heavily involved in CRISPR research), insisted of He’s work: “It’s an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society.” Dr. George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, summed up the feelings of many colleagues when he said: “It’s possible that the first instance came forward as a misstep, but that should not lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider more responsible pathway to clinical translation.” In other words, many scientists seek to continue to pursue the goals also sought by Dr. He, only the rest of them will proceed more slowly and carefully. Conclusion It is largely Christian objections to treating human embryos as things, rather than as persons (made in the image of God), that has led to the ethical rules that control this research. It is a vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage which limits scientists from just doing whatever they want. They have to obtain permission from ethics committees to conduct their particular research program. Of course, Christians want to see this work made completely illegal, but if political realities make such a ban impossible, then we can still seek to restrict this work as much as possible. It is interesting that a news feature in Nature (July 5, 2018 p. 22) articulated the fascination and unease that some scientists derive from this work. Bioethicist Dr. Jennifer Johnston of the Hastings Center in upstate New York, reflected on the respect that the human embryo commands even in secular observers: “That feeling of wonder and awe reminds us that this is the earliest version of human beings and that’s why so many people have moral misgivings …..  It reminds us that this is not just a couple of cells in a dish.” Are there any good results from this controversy over genetically-engineered babies? Perhaps there is one. The event may cause more people to pay critical attention to the experiments that are, every day, conducted on human embryos. Let the whole world know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, from the very first cell onward, and manipulation in laboratories should have no place in our society. For further study * For more on this topic, see: Dr. Helder’s book No Christian Silence on Science pages 32-39 for a discussion on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (ie. CRISPR). Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg’s book  A Crack in Creation: the new power to control evolution, page 281. Dr. Helder's article, providing further background to CRISPR, Natural Firewalls in Bacteria ...

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....

Science - General

How the nose knows!

Of the five senses that keep us in touch with the world, one that we tend to take for granted is the sense of smell. Compared to the others, this sense may not seem very complicated or amazing. Nevertheless a little research reveals that our sense of smell is not only exquisitely designed, but it is also poorly understood by biologists. Of all our senses, that of smell seems to be the most complicated. Eye and ear vs. nose When we consider the other senses, we discover that with our sight, color involves only three kinds of receptor: specifically for green, red and blue light. All visual images come from messages to the brain sent from these three color receptors as well as from a receptor for light itself. The ear, on the other hand, could be thought the most sensitive human organ. The hair cells in the inner ear are designed to detect bass tones (low frequency sound waves) or treble tones (high frequency sound waves) or anything in between. Besides that they are able to detect extremely soft, low energy sound, and louder tones up to billions of times more energetic. However, all the receptors are much alike, whether they detect low or high pitched sounds. But the sense of smell is quite a different proposition. Imagine a sense which involves 350 entirely different kinds of receptor. It is evident that smell is more interesting than we might have expected. The nose is huge! Biologists expect that the number of odors which an organism can detect, is proportional to the number of relevant genes. In people, about 350 different genes code for 350 different receptors. The reason that we need so many receptors is because of the great chemical diversity in odor-causing molecules in the air. The receptor molecules in the nose are located on tiny projections emerging from nerve cells. These projections are situated in the mucous membranes high up in the nose. When an odor molecule collides with an appropriate receptor, the two fit together like lock and key. The receptor protein then initiates a chain of chemical reactions in the nerve cell’s membrane so that the electrical condition in the nerve cell changes. As a result, the nerve cell sends an electrical impulse toward the brain. The stimulation of different combinations of the 350 different kinds of receptor in the nose, results in the perception of at least 10,000 different odors. Each receptor responds to just one part of a molecule’s structure. Thus, if there are several reactive sites on the surface of one molecule, several different receptors may be stimulated at the same time by this one type of molecule. The blending in the brain of the different messages, leads to the sensation of a specific odor. Some smells are mixtures of large numbers of aromatic molecules. Wines, for example, may consist of as many as 200 different kinds of molecule, and that lovely aroma of coffee contains about 500 different kinds of molecule. Although we understand these basics, the chemistry of our sense of smell is nevertheless far from clear. Some molecules with very different compositions nevertheless smell much the same. Moreover, some molecules that are extremely alike, nevertheless elicit entirely different sensations of smell. Mirror images of an organic molecule called carvone, for example, smell either like cumin or peppermint, depending upon which arrangement the component atoms assume. Fearfully and wonderfully made We really don't appreciate the wonder that are noses are, and how important the sense of smell is...at least, not until our noses are clogged. In each nostril, an area about two square centimeters in diameter lies high up in the nasal cavity, just below the brain. This area is packed with tiny thread like extensions from the myriad nerve cells. Each nerve cell deals only with one kind of chemical receptor. Thus all the cilia leading to one nerve cell, have only one kind of receptor on them. Many nerve cells with identical receptors are connected by “wiring” which passes through the skull into collector systems called glomeruli in the brain. The glomeruli are located in two small extensions of the brain which are called olfactory bulbs. These bulbs are about the size of small grapes and there is one above each nostril. The bulbs are lined by the glomeruli, small collection centers, each for the extensions from about 2000 identical nerve cells. Since there are about 350 kinds of receptor, this means there are also 350 kinds of nerve cells. Groups of identical nerve cells send messages to one collection centre or glomerulus. Thus all the messages going to one glomerulus come from stimulation of the same kind of receptor. From the glomeruli, the messages pass to other nerve cells which transmit further into the brain. How the stimulated parts of the brain make any sense of the incredible plethora of messages, is something scientists do not yet understand. Better than a dog’s nose? An article in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology (May 2004) was entitled “Unsolved Mystery – The Human Sense of Smell: Are We Better Than We Think?” The popular perception, so author Gordon Shepherd declares, is that the human sense of smell is vastly inferior to that of some other mammals such as dogs, cats and rodents. Well maybe we should think again! Although humans have only 350 functional olfactory receptor genes, compared to much higher numbers for other mammals, it turns out that humans perform extremely well in odor detection tests. For example, when tested for the lowest amount of a chemical which they can detect, people performed better than dogs in some tests and much better than rats in others. Moreover, humans outperformed even the most sensitive machines (such as the gas chromatograph) designed to detect air-borne chemicals. Thus the author concludes “humans are not poor smellers …. But rather are relatively good, perhaps even excellent smellers.” The author ponders how it is that people have such excellent noses when they have so “few” detector molecules compared to other mammals. The popular evolutionary interpretation is that people lost their sense of smell as they gained in brain power and bipedal locomotion. Obviously the scientists need to reconsider. A very brainy nose We now know that people smell very well with far fewer kinds of receptor than animals require. The reason people are able to do this, apparently, lies in the much more sophisticated interpretive capability of the human brain. For any individual odor, the brain calculates how many different kinds of receptor are simulated and what is the relative proportion of these stimulated receptors. Scientists have also recently discovered that smell perception involves many more areas of the brain than previously thought. The regions dedicated to odor interpretation include the olfactory cortex, olfactory tubercle, entorhinal cortex, parts of the amygdala, parts of the hypothalamus, the mediodorsal thalamus, the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and parts of the insula ("Unsolved Mystery..." p. 574). Dr. Shepherd points out that all these regions of the brain are involved in the immediate distinguishing of an odor. If memory is also involved, as is typical with smells, then the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain also become involved. It is the view of Dr. Shepherd that people need such a sophisticated system for identifying smells. Not only do we need to identify natural smells, but we also create all sorts of artificial aromas such as those from cooking and manufacturing. The design of our olfactory system (for smell) thus involves not only the hardware such as nerve receptors and wiring in the brain, but also software design so that these inputs can be interpreted. It is evident that scientists who try to draw conclusions about organisms based on comparisons of their chemical components, may be in for a surprise. Dr. Shepherd therefore remarks: “The mystery being addressed here is a caution …. against any belief that behavior can be related directly to genomes, proteomes, or any other type of ‘-ome’” (p. 575). None of these measures adequately characterizes an organism and its capabilities. An experiment to try on your friends/victims Now that we have established that the human sense of smell is extremely remarkable, we can turn our attention to the results of this gift. Most people understand, whether they are trained in biology or not, that our sense of smell is extremely important to our sense of taste. In this context, you might like to try a simple experiment on your friends or enemies. Separately puree some raw potato, apple and onion. Place each sample in an airtight container and provide each container with a medicine style dropper (or pipette). Now invite your friend (victim?) to undergo a taste test. Have the individual hold their nose and open their mouth. Drop a sample of puree on the tongue (apple first). As long as the nose is held, the person will not be able to identify the flavor except to say that it is sweet. Allow the individual to breathe through the nose in order to identify the sample. Repeat with the other samples with the onion administered last because after that the person will a) refuse to cooperate further b) chase you out of town c) run for a glass of water or d) all of the above. Anyway, the experiment is lots of fun and it amply demonstrates the role of smell in flavor appreciation. Apparently the flavors of coffee, wine and chocolate are all largely controlled by our sense of smell as are those of many other foods. That is why food is tasteless when one is suffering from a cold. In recent years, many people have become interested in the ways in which odors affect peoples’ moods. Obviously there is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked bread or of cinnamon buns to raise one’s spirits. It is said that the penetrating but pleasant fragrance of lily-of-the-valley or of peppermint enable some individuals to concentrate better on a given task. In some cultures the scents of lemon, jasmine or lavender may have the same effect. Other people have found that spiced apple scent or heliotropine (like vanilla and almond scents combined) are able to exert a relaxing effect. Not surprisingly, culture can affect our responses to certain stimuli. For example, a manufacturer tested three detergent samples which were identical except for scent. Test subjects in Toronto and Montreal were asked to compare the cleaning abilities of these three products. The people in Montreal (largely French speaking) preferred the sample which smelled the most like perfume. In Toronto (largely English speaking), on the other hand, the test subjects suspected that something this good smelling must not work very well. Thus they rated the perfumed product as least effective. The amusing thing is that all three samples were identical except for fragrance. There was no difference in their cleaning effectiveness. Now that we know the nose… Through the ages there have existed commercial interests which attempt to exploit the human sense of smell for commercial gain. Obviously the companies which market expensive perfumes and colognes top this list. There are other more subtle applications as well. The aroma of fresh baking can be purchased by store owners who keep their product protected in display cases. Furniture salesmen may spray an artificial scent of leather around their showrooms. Movie theaters may spray an artificial odor of fresh popcorn into the air. If there is a way to exploit people, we can be sure that someone will think of it. The use of scent has simply become another tool in that process. For most people, smells that remind one of beautiful locations or happy events are the best scents of all. The scents of the sea shore, or of freshly mown grass, or of a roast beef dinner all conjure happy memories (or happy anticipation) in most of us. Now that we understand how complicated the design of our odor detection system really is, we will be doubly thankful for the wonderful gift of smell. This was first published in the July/August 2004 issue. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of "No Christian Silence on Science" which you can buy here....