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Science - General

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

Since the advent of global positioning satellites, or at least since their availability for civilians, scientists have found many uses for these devices. One of the more interesting applications is to track animals. Of obvious popular appeal are programs such as “fish with chips.” A multimillion-dollar "Census of Marine Life" project fitted marine animals in the Pacific Ocean with electronic surveillance tags. As of 2005, about 1,800 sharks, tuna and turtles had been fitted with transmitting devices which relayed information to a satellite when the animal surfaced. By this means, a bluefin tuna was tracked as it crossed the Pacific Ocean three times in 600 days! This fish swam 40,000 kilometers (km) with an average of 66 km/day. More dramatic still, were the exploits of Nicole, a 3.5 meter long great white shark. This specimen swam 11,000 km from South Africa to Australia and back within three months. Nicole averaged 122 km/day! She swam in a straight line, never less than 5 km/hr, and 60% of the time she stayed within one meter of the surface. It's obvious she knew where she was going. Scientists have been astonished to discover how far these and many other animals migrate. Another interesting study involved young fingerling salmon emerging from 16 river systems on the Pacific coast of North America. The tags on several thousand of these fish were scanned as they passed over special receivers placed on the ocean floor from Washington State up to Alaska. This study revealed that the young salmon follow precise migration paths which vary depending upon their river of origin. The results of these tracking studies intensify the question, long pondered, as to how animals navigate long precise routes through the oceans or skies. As our tools for study become ever more sophisticated, our insights might be expected to increase too. This may be, but the more famous cases still abound in unanswered questions.  Sea turtles Most of the seven species of sea turtle can be found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas. Despite this wide range, local populations exhibit very specific nesting site preferences and sometimes even a specific preference in feeding sites as well. This might not seem remarkable, until we realize that the nesting and feeding sites may be thousands of kilometers apart. After decades of ecological studies, scientists still have only a poor understanding of the wonders of sea turtle navigation. Green turtles are a rugged, long-lived species (up to 70 years). As is typical with sea turtles, the female lays her eggs at night in the sand of a wide beach along the seashore. She digs a pit and lays as many as one hundred eggs. After covering the eggs, the mother then retreats into the sea. Several weeks later, all the eggs hatch at the same time. The hatchlings emerge from the sand and head straight for the ocean. Once immersed, they swim straight out, farther and farther from land with its multitude of avian, crustacean, and human predators. Only about one in one thousand hatchlings survives long enough to mature. Once in the open sea, young turtles apparently set out for the feeding grounds. Green turtles hatched on beaches of Costa Rica later turn up in Spain, Chile, and Brazil. Then, once mature, females return to the very same beaches from which they hatched fifteen to thirty years previously. Tagging programs with young turtles have never revealed an adult female nesting on a beach other than the one from which she emerged. How do these turtles, out at sea, navigate towards the appropriate beach? Ascension Island One of the more remote destinations on earth is Ascension Island. Situated in the mid South Atlantic Ocean, this island of 88 square kilometers lies about 1100 kilometers northwest of Saint Helena, itself an island famous for its remote location. (Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days on Saint Helena, a site chosen as his prison because its distance from everywhere made escape impossible). However Ascension Island is even more isolated than Saint Helena. Nevertheless green turtles, feeding in shallow waters along the Brazilian coast, and others in similar habitats near Gabon (Africa), swim due east or west (respectively) to nest on the beaches of Ascension Island. The journey from Africa to the island is 2,500 km and from Brazil to the island is 2,250 km. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Nevertheless adult female turtles make the journey once every three to four years. Moreover, they do not eat at all during the entire eight month return trip. Leatherback Amazing skills in navigation are not unique to green sea turtles. Studies on the largest turtle of all, the leatherback, reveal some interesting details too. Unlike the green turtle, the leatherback forages for food in the deep ocean so they are less tied to specific feeding grounds. Nevertheless, there are only a few dozen places in the world where these turtles lay eggs. Of these, only four beaches attract large numbers of nesting leatherbacks. One of these four beaches is Playa Grande Beach on the west coast of Costa Rica. Tagging studies have revealed that these turtles travel 2,500 km west from Costa Rica toward the Galapagos Islands and beyond into deeper waters. They confine this travel to a narrow corridor up to 480 km wide. The females return to Playa Grande to lay eggs up to ten times per season. The females of another leatherback population, which feeds on jellyfish in the waters off Canada’s Nova Scotia coast, later proceed to beaches within the Caribbean Sea in order to nest. Studies on turtle navigation have revealed that young hatchlings react positively to wave direction, the earth’s magnetic field, moonlight, and perhaps chemical gradients. Nobody has, however, established precisely how adult turtles navigate thousands of kilometers in the open ocean, or even why they do so. Even if turtles are able to orient themselves in a specific direction, how do they locate the particular beach from which they hatched so many years previously and on which they spent so short a time?  Freshwater eels Eels are long snake-like fish which can grow up to 3 meters long. While some might consider such creatures ugly, many in Europe and North America consider them very tasty snacks. However, there was one longstanding mystery concerning the freshwater eels of eastern North America and Europe. Why were no young eels ever observed? Did they spring fully grown from their parents, like the mythical goddess Minerva who was imagined to have sprung mature and fully clothed from Jupiter’s brain? A Danish biologist solved the problem early in the twentieth century. Johannes Schmidt discovered that freshwater eels from both sides of the Atlantic spawn in a remote region of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas Islands. As is typical when one mystery is solved, this answer raised many new questions. How and why do all these eels navigate so far? Sargasso Sea The Sargasso Sea, a region of the Atlantic Ocean where water currents slowly move in a gigantic gyre (whirlpool), is roughly the size of Australia. Its existence is a byproduct of the Gulf Stream which carries warm water north along the eastern coast of North America and then eastward toward Europe, and the North Equatorial Current which carries cold water south towards Africa and then west towards the Caribbean. It so happens that this sluggish whirlpool region of the Atlantic is very rich in mineral nutrients. Sargassum, a distinctive floating brown seaweed, grows so thickly there that the sea surface sometimes looks more like a meadow than like open water. Naturally this region is a wonderful habitat for sea life and there the eels go to mate. In the fall, eels which are about ten years old, undergo physical and physiological changes. They stop eating as their stomachs shrink, and their reproductive organs expand. These mature specimens then move from their preferred freshwater habitats down streams to rivers, and from rivers to the sea. They proceed from far inland along the Atlantic coast from Mexico up to Labrador, from Greenland’s coast and Iceland, from the British Isles, from Scandinavia and from lands bordering the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As these eels converge on the Sargasso Sea, they show no specific preference to mate with specimens from their part of the world. Each female then lays up to twenty million eggs. These hatch into thin, flat, almost transparent creatures about one half cm long. As they move north in the Gulf Stream, those which mature first, apparently stop off in the fresh waters of North America. Others may take longer to mature, up to two or three years and these drift towards Europe. The American and European populations look different, but biologists think that genetically they may be almost identical. It is apparent that we know some of the story concerning eels but there are obviously many blanks yet to fill. What causes the eels to migrate to a common area in the open ocean? Why do they not spawn closer to their feeding grounds? Drifting towards coastal areas is obviously easy enough, but how do the eels navigate their way back to the Sargasso Sea? There obviously is more to freshwater eels than a tasty snack. Monarch butterflies One of the most amazing examples of navigation is that of the monarch butterfly. During the spring, these insects leave tiny stands of trees in Mexico where they spent the winter. They fly northeast to destinations throughout eastern North America. Then in the fall, several generations later, these butterflies head back to the very same stands of trees from which their great great grandparents had emerged the previous spring. Several questions naturally arise. It may be that day length triggers the instinct to fly southwest in the fall, but how do these tiny brains identify the appropriate direction? Laboratory studies have shown that adult butterflies emerge at dawn from the chrysalis. This time is apparently internalized within each insect’s 24 hour physiological clock. (Your own physiological clock tells you, for example, when it is time to sleep and time to eat.) It is the insect’s awareness of passing time which allows these butterflies to navigate with the sun as their reference point. As the sun moves across the sky, the butterflies automatically adjust their orientation to the sun according to the time of day and thus they maintain a constant southwest direction. If any butterflies are artificially caused to emerge from the chrysalis at a different point in the day, they cannot navigate according to the sun’s position and consequently they get lost. Imagine a navigating system that automatically adjusts for time of day! This is a fancy computer to cram into a very small insect brain. Obviously the whole system was designed to function in a sophisticated manner while using on a few simple cues. In the spring after over wintering, these very same butterflies will fly toward the northwest. Arctic birds In certain instances a much simpler navigating system than that of the butterflies may suit the needs of an animal. This situation applies to arctic birds on their annual migration south. Navigation apparently is most difficult near the poles since many useful parameters, like magnetic field, all converge. During the late summer of 2005, scientists carried out a study of arctic bird navigation. As flocks of birds passed over the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia, scientists briefly tracked them by radar. From hundreds of such tracks, the travel trajectories (direction) could be calculated. The scientists had calculated the various routes that birds would follow if they were using one or other navigational cues. If the birds were navigating by means of a magnetic compass, for example, they would proceed towards the northeast (not an ideal direction). If they used the sun as their reference point, adjusting their calculations according to time of day, they would proceed towards the east. However if they followed the sun without adjusting direction for time of day, they would proceed in a southeast direction. This was indeed the path these birds appeared to follow. The end result of this strategy is that their route then traces an arc, part of a great circle. Such a route is by definition the shortest distance connecting two points on the globe. For people relying on technology, a great arc requires continuous changes in compass direction. Navigating by compass (magnetic field) is longer but much easier. Obviously, however, one expends less energy on a shorter route. In the case of arctic birds, lacking complex computer programs, they nevertheless manage to follow a sophisticated path out of the arctic. Scientists cannot refrain from asking how these birds learned such a navigational strategy. Conclusion There is no doubt that tracking studies have revealed exciting details about animal navigation. In addition, physiological studies continue to give us glimpses into methods that these creatures use to plot their routes. But none of these environmental cues would be any help at all without senses designed to perceive them, and brains to interpret the data correctly, and to act upon it. Secular scientists may eventually describe the tracking mechanisms ever so precisely, but they will never be able to tell us why or how these remarkable designs were conferred on these creatures. Christians know. Dr. Margaret Helder is the President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Return of the God Hypothesis

Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe by Stephen C. Meyer 568 pages / 2021 Stephen Meyer’s impetus to write Return of the God Hypothesis came from a debate at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College in March 2016. Our family actually watched this event. The topic concerned whether we can see evidence of God’s handiwork in nature, and three very different viewpoints were represented: professing Christian Stephen Meyer, atheist Lawrence Krauss, and theistic evolutionist Denis Lamoureux. From the start it was an organizer’s worst nightmare in that Lawrence Krauss led off using a good proportion of his time not to debate, but to make light of Stephen Meyer, remarking that if he had known that his opponent was to be someone with the poor credentials of Meyer, he (Krauss) would never have come. Worse still, Stephen Meyer rose to speak, but the bright lights brought on a migraine headache such that he could scarcely see or speak. While he had come intending to take on Krause’s “universe from nothing” views, his condition did not permit this to be the time nor the place. But this missed opportunity motivated Meyer to create another – after much additional research, this book became the time and the place! But it isn’t just Lawrence Krauss that Meyer addresses here. He tackles the claims of both Krauss, America’s most prominent scientific atheist, and those of Stephen Hawking who was, until his death in 2018, the world’s best-known scientist and atheist. These men both claimed to have demonstrated that the universe spontaneously appeared from nothing. In a posthumously published book, Hawking declared: “No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.” In response, Stephen Meyer confides: “Reading Hawking’s final words saddened me not only for Hawking, but also for the many millions of people who have long labored under the impression that the testimony of nature renders belief in God untenable.” Meyer shares that as a teen, he himself was saddened by the futility of such a life, one without God. So he’s written a book that would have benefited his teenage self – Return of the God Hypothesis is a refutation of Hawking’s atheistic message. Thus, Meyer replies to Hawking: “ book has better news: ….Not only does theism solve a lot of philosophical problems, but empirical evidence from the natural world points powerfully to the reality of a great mind behind the universe. Our beautiful, expanding, and finely tuned universe and the exquisite, integrated, and informational complexity of living organisms bear witness to the reality of a transcendent intelligence – a personal God.” Order gives evidence of an “Orderer” Stephen Meyer begins his book by pointing out that it was the Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation that first fostered the development of science in the Christian West. These early philosophers realized that nature was the product of a rational God. Stephen Meyer, therefore, declares that, indeed: “the monotheistic worldview of the ancient Hebrews suggested a reason to expect a single coherent order in nature and thus a single, universally applicable set of laws governing the natural world.” Obviously, scientists did not retain those initial views. Enlightenment ideals led to skepticism about God and emphasis on the value of human reason alone, which also promoted materialism – this is the idea that matter and energy should be understood as the sole foundations of reality. Soon scientists were declaring that only materialistic explanations of nature were legitimately scientific. Therefore, “By the beginning of the twentieth century, science – despite its theistic beginnings – seemed to have no need of the God hypothesis.” Key scientific discoveries With this background, Stephen Meyer now begins to consider biology, chemistry and especially physics. Everything didn’t come from nothing The particular interest of most theoretical physicists is to explain where everything came from. We soon discover that there are no physical explanations of origins which do not need a causal intelligence (a creator). We have all heard about the big bang, but not so many people realize that extrapolation of the mathematics back from the present, continues on to zero, the “singularity.” In Meyer’s words: “…Hawking, Ellis and Penrose’s singularity proofs … implied that a materialistic universe of infinite density began to exist some finite time ago starting from nothing – or at least from nothing spatial, temporal, material or physical.” The cause, then, of a beginning would have to come from something outside of nature – something (or rather, Someone) supernatural! As young earth creationists, we have our own (eye-witness) account of the universe’s origins, but we can appreciate how God has so arranged things, that even the Bible-rejecting materialist can’t escape the implication that the universe had a supernatural origin. Of course, atheists certainly do not want to contemplate this idea. An incredibly finely tuned universe In the 1980s, there was more bad news for the atheists. When physicists studied the physical forces and natural laws governing all nature, they discovered a “curious thing.” Forces like gravity, or electromagnetism exhibit extremely precise values and constants which cannot be otherwise if life is to exist. Thus, Stephen Meyer points out that: “…the number Penrose calculated – 1 in 1010123 – provides a quantitative measure of the unimaginably precise fine tuning to the initial conditions of the universe….The mathematical expression 1010123 represents what mathematicians call a hyper-exponential number – 10 raised to the 10th power (or 10 billion) raised again to the 123rd power. To put that number in perspective, it might help to note that physicists have estimated that the whole universe contains ‘only’ 1080 elementary particles (a huge number – 1 followed by 80 zeros). But that number nevertheless represents a minuscule fraction of 1010123. In fact, if we tried to write out this number with a 1 followed by all the zeros that would be needed…there would be more zeros… than there are elementary particles in the entire universe…. I’m not aware of a word in English that does justice to the kind of precision we are discussing.” Even more bad news for the atheists is that “the specific values of the constants represent features of the laws themselves, not aspects of nature that the laws could conceivably explain.” A causal agent is required, neither “nature” nor “nothing” will do. Atheist answers aren’t coming Enter to the scene the quantum cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking who most emphatically did not want to admit any need for God to explain origin of the universe. Quantum cosmology attempts to “explain the origin of our universe as the outcome of a set of possibilities described by the mathematics of quantum mechanics.” Quantum cosmologists such as John Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt developed an equation that synthesizes mathematical concepts from quantum mechanics and general relativity. Solving their equation, “allows physicists to construct a wave function for the universe. That wave function describes different possible universes with different possible gravitational fields, that is different curvatures of space and different mass-energy configurations (or matter fields).” The problem for scientists doing these calculations is that the range of possibilities is so huge, and the characteristics of our fine-tuned universe are so precise that they have to choose what values to include in the equations. But explaining why nature would choose such arbitrary values has proved difficult for those people “that attempt to explain how the universe emerged from nothing.” And there are other problems for quantum cosmologists. “If the medium of math is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate universe?” Indeed “we have no experience of mathematical equations creating reality.” Thus Stephen Meyer insists that quantum cosmology “attributes causal powers to abstract mathematics and depends upon intelligent inputs of information from theoretical physicists as they model the origin of the universe.” The highlight of this discussion and the book itself is that: “quantum cosmology implies the need for an intelligent agent to breathe, if not ‘fire into the equations’ then certainly specificity and information. Thus, it implies something akin to the biblical idea that ‘in the beginning was the Word.’ And that’s not nothing – by anybody’s definition.”  Even materialist assumptions lead to Supernatural implications No matter what the theories are that scientists may propose to explain our observations of nature, none can avoid implications about intelligent cause and control. Stephen Meyer also discusses other exotic theories such as various approaches to a multiverse. None of these concepts is at all convincing either. The take home message is that “reflecting on this evidence can enable us to discover – or rediscover – the reality of God. And that discovery is good news indeed.” The author discusses a lot of technical concepts over many disciplines, but he works hard to make the concepts reasonably understandable. While the author supports long ages, his message resonates with young earth advocates as well. For the interested adult, this book is well worth the effort and an inspiring read. You can watch a one-hour dialogue about Stephen Meyer's book above. 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....

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.”...

Amazing stories from times past

The Gift of Flight: Two brothers' determined quest

As stories go, this one sounds as if it comes from Through the Looking Glass: and what Alice found there, the classic story by Lewis Carroll where everything is backward. That is how this plot goes: amateur technologists succeed with a few dollars of their own money while big science, with a big budget, fails. And the improbable scenario continues. Even when the amateurs succeed, establishment science and the national media refuse to acknowledge that fact. They don’t want it to be true, so it isn’t. Then, when belatedly everyone knows that the amateurs have indeed achieved what they have long claimed, the government honors the scientist who failed! This isn’t a nihilist plot by Franz Kafka, this is history. And these events have much to tell us about the impact of vested interests on scientific research and public honors. Langley gets the government onboard In hindsight, it is obvious that the time was ripe for a breakthrough in heavier-than-air flight. During the mid-eighteenth century Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli had developed equations to describe the flow of fluids. Since air currents flow in the same fashion as fluids, similar equations apply. Thus it was as easy to study the flow of air over an object as it was to study the flow of water. In both instances, as the speed of flow increases, the pressure decreases. If a current moves over an object with a curved upper and a flat lower surface, then the flow above the object moves faster than the flow below. As a consequence, the pressure exerted on the upper surface is less than on the lower surface. With reduced pressure above, the object will move upward. Such theory, towards the end of the nineteenth century, provided the basis for the new science of aerodynamics. The object with the curved upper surface was an airfoil or wing, and this was the structure that would carry heavier-than-air flight into reality. Some scientists at the time insisted that such a phenomenon was impossible. There were others, however, like Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906), who were actively involved in aerodynamic research. Indeed, this American astronomer and physicist had published a treatise in 1891 entitled Experiments in Aerodynamics. Five years later he designed and successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered model airplane. The machine flew 0.8 km (0.5 mile) in one and a half minutes. Based on this success, he applied for, and received, a grant of $50,000 to scale up his model to pilot-carrying size. That grant represented a huge fortune. Obviously there were influential people in government and science who believed that heavier-than-air flight was possible. Enterprising brothers Some bachelor entrepreneurs in Ohio also knew that heavier-than-air flight was possible. They had observed buzzards, and other feathered flight success stories (birds), and they decided that it might be fun to try their hand at this project. Wilbur and Orville Wright (born 1867 and 1871 respectively) were the third and fourth sons of Bishop Milton Wright of the United Brethren Church. Their Christian commitment translated into a joyous and lively curiosity about nature. They refused, however, to pursue any research or work on Sunday. Glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) in 1894, about to test one of his glider designs. Although bright, these men never actually graduated from high school. Nevertheless, they loved a mental challenge. Their main source of income during the late 1890s was as bicycle shop owners. Not only did they sell machines, they also manufactured them. This business was somewhat seasonal in nature which left time during the off-season for the brothers to pursue other interests. Moreover, the tools and know-how from bicycle manufacture would prove useful for developing another technology. The Wright brothers’ interest in heavier-than-air flight was piqued by the news in 1896 that German Otto Lilienthal had been killed in a crash of one of his gliders. Since 1891 this man had experimented with various glider designs and everyone recognized that he had significantly advanced the science of aerodynamics. Lilienthal was the first person to ride an airborne glider and by the time of his death he had about 2,500 flights to his credit. On to Kitty Hawk By the summer of 1899, the Wright brothers had researched the topic and they understood what problems needed to be solved for success to be achieved. Next, upon inquiry, they discovered that the coastal sand dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, were a promising place to fly gliders. This identification was based on the unusually strong and steady winds which were typical of that area. Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk thus became the site of their early experiments. The Wrights set out, first of all, to find a glider design that was stable and reliable in the air. Others had made gliders before them, but none that were well controlled – balancing a “flyer” seemed easy but it really wasn’t. When the wings were arranged in a V pattern with the passenger at the lowest point, the system performed adequately in calm air but got knocked back and forth, oscillating in wind. Alternatively, when the center of gravity was located in front of the wings, there was constant up and down undulation. In view of these already identified problems, the Wrights determined to build a glider that would allow the operator to restore balance. They thus set out to design wings that could be manually warped – twisted slightly – when the pilot shifted his weight so he could make ongoing inflight adjustments, somewhat like birds do by twisting and tipping their wings. Their objective was to obtain from the wind, the forces needed to restore balance. When they tried out their design at Kitty Hawk in October 1900, they discovered that their device did not have enough lift to carry a man. These trials did however suggest that they were on the right track as far as balance and control were concerned. The brothers returned to Kitty Hawk during July of 1901. They now used a wing shape that Otto Lilienthal had developed, and also relied on his lift calculations to determine how big the wings should be. This design performed much worse than their previous year’s model. They rebuilt the glider and still it insisted on spinning. After further modifications, the balance was improved but the lifting capacity was still most disappointing. The Wrights realized that “the calculations upon which all flying-machines had been based were unreliable and that all were simply groping in the dark.” Even Samuel Langley’s data they concluded was “little better than guess-work.”  (All quotes are from “the Wright Brothers’ Aeroplane” by Orville and Wilbur Wright published in the Sept. 1908 edition of The Century Magazine.) World’s first wind tunnel The Wrights returned home to Ohio, determined to generate their own data. To this end, they devised the world’s first wind tunnel. This was a contraption six feet long that they set up in their bicycle shop. The brothers had taken up aeronautics “as a sport.” Now they reluctantly undertook real research. Soon they found the work so fascinating they were “drawn deeper and deeper into the project.” Using the wind tunnel, they made systematic measurements of standard surfaces, ...so varied in design as to bring out the underlying causes of differences noted in their pressures. Measurements were tabulated on nearly fifty of these at all angles from zero to 45 degrees, at intervals of 2.5 degrees. Based on these new data, they ran successful trials of a new glider during the fall of 1902. With a stable device, and with accurate data on lift, they were now ready to build a powered flyer. The two hurdles yet to overcome were propeller design and building a suitable lightweight engine. Early in 1903, they turned their attention to propeller design. It wasn’t as easy as they had expected. As they later reported: What at first seemed a simple problem became more complex the longer we studied it. With a machine moving forward, the air flying backward, the propellers turning sidewise, and nothing standing still, it seemed impossible to find a starting point from which to trace the simultaneous reactions. After much agonizing, they apparently sorted out the problems. The result of their calculations was highly satisfactory propellers. The last requirement was a small internal combustion engine. This they built in their bicycle shop. The cost of the entire flying machine was about $1000. It featured the propellers behind the wings, the rudder in front, and wings covered with “Pride of the West” muslin, a cotton fabric manufactured especially for ladies’ underwear. The fateful day Samuel Langley’s Aerodome was to be launched, catapult style, off the roof of a houseboat. But both his 1903 trial flights ended up in crashes. On October 7, 1903, Samuel Langley’s scaled up airplane design crashed. He asked for, and received, more government funds to try again, but on December 8 his device crashed again. Then on December 17 at Kitty Hawk, Orville Wright made the first successful powered flight. Five people witnessed the event. The fight lasted 12 seconds and extended only 120 feet. Later in the day, a flight of 852 feet was achieved. Heavier-than-air flight was now a reality and modern life would never be the same. The almost universal response of their fellow Americans was to deny that anything had happened. The media refused to take any notice of this achievement. By the fall of 1905 the Wrights were now airborne for one-half hour at a time. They practiced flying in Ohio, above a large field with public roads and a railroad nearby. Thousands of eyewitnesses testified to the reality of this success story. Reporters refused to believe firsthand accounts nor even to investigate for themselves. In January 1906, Scientific American insisted in print that the story of flight was a hoax since no newspapers had reported it. Finally, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered flight trials at Fort Myers. As a result, the brothers signed a contract to deliver airplanes to the US Army. However, public acclaim only came after Wilbur carried out a “public” flight in France on August 8, 1908. Now the age of flight had really dawned. Within less than a year, on July 25, 1909, Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across the English Channel. Wright Air Force Base? The relationship of the Wrights with the American scientific establishment was never cordial. After a dispute with the Smithsonian Institute in 1928, the only model of the original flyer was sent to England for display. There it remained until 1948, the year Orville Wright died. His older brother had died many years earlier. Meanwhile, significant honors were accorded Langley rather than the Wrights. Langley Air Force Base was established in 1916 to honor this “American air pioneer.” From 1931 to 1995 the world’s most prestigious wind tunnel operated at the Langley base. This site is also famous for its NASA research laboratory located there. In addition, the nation’s first aircraft carrier was also named after Langley. The world nevertheless remains deeply indebted to these two Christian bachelors who used their God-given talents for the benefit of their fellow man. Their objective was not fame and fortune, but rather the joy of discovery of God’s creation. Thus just over one hundred years later, Christians can give special thanks for the testimony afforded by the lives of these interesting men. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”...

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....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Yellow & Pink

by William Steig 1984 / 32 pages Sometimes one encounters a work of art, a poem, piece of music, figurine or painting which is so simple yet so perfect. Simplicity, you see, takes more talent, not less, to bring about. Sometimes these works come from unlikely sources too. Yet the masterpiece can be appreciated for what it is, rather than for who the artist is. Most people would not consider children’s literature to represent works of art, but of course, there are exceptions, and one such exception is a story called Yellow & Pink by William Steig. This story is so simple, the illustrations so charming, the whole so pregnant with meaning, that it merits the attention not only of children but also of their discriminating elders. The story involves two recently assembled wooden puppets laid out in the yard to allow their paint to dry. Suddenly aware of themselves and of their surroundings, they begin to speculate on where they came from. Pink declares that somebody must have made them. Yellow rejects this idea although he notes that they are “so intricate, so perfect.” He proposes time and chance as the preferred explanation: “With enough time – a thousand, a million, maybe two and a half million years – lots of unusual things could happen. Why not us?” Pink, however, declares that idea to be “preposterous.” Thus the puppets engage in dialogue. Yellow proposes hypotheses involving “natural processes” while Pink expresses skepticism in the form of further probing questions. The discerning reader will notice that Yellow’s hypotheses deal only with shape (form). They never deal with function or even the intricacies of form such as joints. Yellow continues his appeal to time and chance with speculations which become more and more improbable. Finally, he bogs down and appeals to mystery. This puppet is content, in the end, to say we may never know the answer, but he refuses to consider Pink’s suggested alternative. In the end, a man (whose drawing bears a striking resemblance to the book’s author and illustrator) comes along, checks the puppets’ paint and carries them away. Neither puppet recognizes that this is their maker. This simple story, illustrated with elegant line drawings colored pink and yellow, is an obvious analogy to evolutionary speculations. The appeals to time and chance to explain highly improbable events (such as hailstones of the right size falling repeatedly only in the eye sockets) have an all too familiar ring. This is like using time and chance to explain how a particular orchid flower ever came to resemble a particular female bee in appearance, texture, and smell. The author of this little story was a most interesting man. An artist by training, he had provided cartoon-like illustrations for The New Yorker magazine for almost forty years, when at the age of sixty he undertook to write and illustrate children’s books. Thus in 1968, Mr. Steig began a new, highly successful career, that would span a further twenty years. He favored stories that encouraged children to think. One device was to sprinkle big words into the text and another was to espouse unusual ideas. For example, in Shrek, he encourages his readers to value strength of character rather than conventionally attractive personal appearance. Thus it is in Yellow and Pink that he turns his attention to Darwinian speculations. Perhaps he wanted to encourage critical thinking. Whatever the author’s reasons may have been for writing this book, it conveys an important idea by means of an elegant and non-confrontational device – a children’s story. Buy the book because it is a discussion starter, or as a collector’s item, or just because it is fun to read....

Science - Creation/Evolution

What you need to know to survive and thrive in your secular science class

If you're heading into a secular university or high school science course, and you're a little intimidated, here's something to remember. It is not just the Bible-believing Christians who base their interpretations of nature on their worldview. So do secular scientists. However, these two groups' worldviews, and their assumptions used in interpreting nature, couldn't be more different. Two different starting assumptions The Christian scientist's most obvious assumption is that God’s work and character are evident in nature. Meanwhile, mainstream scientists assume that God will never be revealed in nature, but only matter and processes. One thing that cannot be overemphasized is how important it is to identify the assumptions used to draw conclusions from a given set of observations. The thing about assumptions is that they are based on the worldview of the expert. On this topic, philosopher of science, David Berlinski remarks in his book, The Devil's Delusion: “Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs…” The whole point is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. The Christian starting point The Christian naturally confesses that God exists, that He is omnipotent and omniscient and has communicated with us. Nature is God’s handiwork. Thus the Christian confesses that we see testimony to God’s work and character when we look at nature. For example, we read in Psalms 19:1-3: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” The apostle Paul points out the importance of this revelation from nature when he quotes the above passage. Thus he writes in Romans 10:17-18: “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” We see God’s works revealed in nature. The secular foundation The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. It isn't just that they don't see evidence of the supernatural, but rather that, from the start, they presume no supernatural input will ever be evident. Different questions lead to different answers With different expectations on the part of secular individuals and some Christians, there is a big difference in the questions asked of natural systems and the answers obtained. For example, suppose that somebody showed you a photograph of an unfamiliar object (for example an alga). If you were to ask that person “How did you make that?” the only possible response would be some sort of process. However, if you were instead to ask “Did you make that?” then the person has the opportunity to reply that he did not make the object, that it is in fact an alga floating in lakes in the summer. Similarly, in our study of nature, it matters what questions we ask. If a scientist asks “How did life come about spontaneously?” Then the only possible answer is a process. They have assumed it must have happened spontaneously, and aren't open to any other explanation. However, if the same scientists were to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” he now has opened up an opportunity to examine what cells are like and what biochemical processes in cells are like. And then the evidence will show him that life could not have come about spontaneously. He will be able to reach a conclusion he could not have seen if he didn't ask the right sort of question. The answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked. Mainstream science has blinded itself The mainstream scientist approaches the study of nature with a specific agenda. Nature is to be interpreted only in terms of matter, energy, and natural processes, even if the results look ridiculous. A prominent geneticist, Richard Lewontin actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, Dr. Lewontin wrote: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science…. because we have an a priori commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (New York Review of Books January 9, 1997). What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained. Secular scientists may restrict what explanations about nature qualify for the term "science" but they cannot at the same time claim that what they are dealing with is truth. For example philosopher of science Del Ratzsch from Calvin College pointed out in 1996 that: “If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then the science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort.” (The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. InterVarsity Press. p. 167). Thus secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort” (p. 197). And concerning the creationists, Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… creationists who accept the authority of Scripture and take it to be relevant to issues also will have unique input into their view of the cosmos, its origin and its workings. And there is nothing inherently irrational merely in the holding of such views — at least not on any definition of rational that can plausibly claim to be normative. Some critics will, of course, refuse to grant the honorific title science to the results of such views, but that is at best a mere semantic nicety. If the aim is genuine truth, the mere fact that a system purporting to display that truth does not meet the conditions of some stipulative worldview-laden definition of the term science can hardly carry serious weight” (p. 197). What better statement could there be to the effect that no one should be intimidated by the pronouncements of mainstream science? Any scientist who claims that science proves that man has descended from chimps has based his conclusion on a biased study of the issues in that it presumes a materialistic worldview. Conservative Christians do not need to be intimidated by such conclusions. Conclusion The nature of the materialistic assumptions and objectives of mainstream science must not discourage Christians from studying science. It is very important to understand how the information content and irreducible complexity of the living cell (among other issues), can really only be understood in terms of creation by a supernatural mind. There are many who want their children to appreciate this and to be able to resist the appeal of mainstream science. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2015 issue of "Creation Science Dialogue," (Create.ab.ca) where it appeared under the title "Surviving advanced courses in Science." It is reprinted here with permission....

Science - Creation/Evolution

"Inferior" design: a proof of evolution?

"Suboptimal" design in nature is supposed to be the result of, and evidence for, evolutionary trial and error ***** Everybody loves to hear about wonderful living creatures with their amazing talents. It is certainly uplifting to learn about Monarch butterfly's continent-spanning migration, and the toe pads of the gecko that allow it to walk upside down, and the amazing strength of spider silk. Christians enjoy discussing the wonderful designs that we see in nature. And among scientists, these creatures have their fans too. Indeed, there is an entire field in science called biomimicry where scientists try to learn from living creatures in order to produce practical designs for modern application. But not everyone is equally enthusiastic about the implications of these amazing talents. Prominent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) in 1978 wrote: "...ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator." Dr. Gould thus said that everyone should ignore examples of wonderful design and concentrate on phenomena that are below par. He continued: "Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce." Gould was telling us that he knew how God should act if, that is, God really existed. God, according to Gould, would make everything perfect. And since we know that everything is not perfect in nature then, said Gould, this proves there is no God. This kind of argument, based on assumptions of how God should act, continues to be common in science today. There is thus a lot of interest among scientists, in suboptimal (less than perfect) design. Let us look at some examples to see what the implications are. THE PANDA'S THUMB The example Gould discussed in 1978 was the thumb of the Giant Panda. These animals, native to China, eat almost nothing but bamboo shoots. They use their hands to strip off the leaves, leaving the nice tender shoots on which to munch. Their flexible hands are unusual – they have a thumb of sorts, an extra structure produced from an enlarged wrist bone, with associated muscles and nerves. Gould declares that this extra finger is a "somewhat clumsy, but quite workable solution…. A contraption, not a lovely contrivance." Here he was declaring that the panda's thumb was of suboptimal or inferior design, which thus constituted proof that the source of the thumb was evolutionary trial and error rather than from a "divine artificer" (supernatural designer). A major argument employed by many evolutionists, even today, is to point to suboptimal (inferior) design and to declare that this proves that evolution was the source rather than God. However, what makes something "suboptimal" is an open question. Sometimes a phenomenon that appears less than ideal actually displays superior and unexpectedly sophisticated design. Gould might not like the panda's thumb, but there is no denying how wonderfully this thumb gets the job done. INFERIOR EARS? Another example: the inner ear of humans includes a spirally coiled structure called the cochlea. Lining its interior are very fancy hair cells which, by their motion, amplify the sound. The whole cochlea functions as a remarkably sensitive and finely tuned sound detector. However, at the same time, it also distorts the sound. Might these distortions be considered inferior design? A study in 2008 (Nature, Nov 13) demonstrated that the distortions actually contribute to clarity of sound. The distortions come from a particular structure connecting the top of the various hair cells. Mice without this connector in their cochlea became progressively deaf. Who knew distortions were so useful? STABLE vs. MANEUVERABLE A recent article published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (November 4-8) discussed another counter-intuitive (contrary to our expectations) situation. The study was conducted by engineers trying to build efficient robots. This is a large field of research. The designers want systems that are not only stable but maneuverable. The problem is that these are opposite objectives. In general, the more maneuverable a robot is, the less stable it is. If your robot tips over, clearly it is not going anywhere. Alternatively, the more stable a robot is, the less one can fine-tune what it does – the harder it is to make sudden changes of direction. Thus your robot may be able to proceed briskly straight ahead, but what if you need it to turn a corner or climb over an obstruction? Will it be able to turn, or will it instead tip over? Animals obviously have no such problems. That's why engineers have turned their attention to animal locomotion. They ask themselves, how do animals achieve the "impossible" combination of stability and maneuverability? How indeed do actual insects like cockroaches manage their excellent locomotion skills? Biologists may have already observed the solution without recognizing its significance. Why, many biologists have wondered, do animals move in directions that are different from their desired destination? Why, for example, do cockroaches and lizards tilt from side to side as they run forward? An engineer would most likely eliminate these motions, which seem to waste energy, as they do not obviously contribute to the forward motion. Lately, however, mechanical engineers have begun to research how unexpected, "inefficient" movements may benefit these animals. Insight into this mystery recently came from studies of a tiny fish from the Amazon basin. In order to avoid predators, this fish prefers to hide in various shelters such as tiny tubes. Scientists used slow-motion video to study fin movements of this fish as it finessed its way into its hiding places. At 100 frames per second, a strange situation became apparent. The fish was using one part of the lower body fin to push water forwards, and the other part to push it backwards. This was definitely against common sense since it was like two propellers fighting against each other. When scientists built a fishy robot, they found that the opposing forces actually improved the stability and maneuverability of their model. The assumption of the engineers that it is wasteful or useless to employ forces in directions other than the desired forward motion had now been proven wrong. Apparently, the same principle applies to the motion of many other creatures. The take-home lesson is that what, at first glance, appeared to be inferior design (opposing forces) actually turned out to be superior design! PENGUIN ROCKETS  Another recent robotic study which shows promise is one inspired by the talents of emperor penguins. While these creatures look pretty inept on land, in the water they can accelerate from 0 to 7 meters/second in less than a second (a veritable rocket). One student at Caltech's Aeronautics Department set out to create new propulsion technologies with high maneuverability and improved hydrodynamic efficiency. The new mechanical design is based on the penguin's shoulder and wing system and features a spherical joint with various other technical features. Concerning the promise of the study, the student declared that the manner in which penguins swim is still poorly understood. Nevertheless, by accurately reproducing an actual penguin wing movement, he and his collaborators hope to shed light on the swimming mysteries of these underwater rockets (ScienceDaily.com November 14, 2013). THE FLY EYE There are many other examples of unrecognized excellence in design. For example, the compound eye of insects and other invertebrates is often considered to be less ideal than our own camera eyes. However, a recent study that modeled the compound eye found that it does offer some advantages over the camera style eye (Young Min Song et al. Nature. May 2, 2013). Specifically the compound eye provides for an exceptionally wide field of view, and secondly such an eye has a nearly infinite depth of focus. As an object recedes away from the eye, the object becomes smaller, but it still remains in focus. It is apparent that in the case of eye design, there is no such thing as inferior design. There is instead good design that is more applicable to certain applications than to others. GOD TELLS US TO EXPECT "INFERIOR" DESIGN Obviously however there are many situations in nature that are less than ideal. This is a fallen world and there are many cases where we see distressing phenomena. The secular argument that a good God would never mandate inferior design is simply not valid. God cursed nature as a result of man's sin, so we have no reason to expect wholesale perfection, and the former "very good" creation now displays many inferior design choices. For example in Job 39:13-17 we read: The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,    but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth    and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them    and that the wild beasts may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom    and given her no share in understanding. Clearly, the breeding behavior of the ostrich is suboptimal but nevertheless designed by God. Yet "when she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider" (Job 39:18). The strong legs of this bird and her running prowess also come from God. These gifts are a strong contrast to the behavioral deficits of the ostrich. The evolutionists think they have proven that God did not work in nature. However, since their argument depends upon a discussion (however faulty) of the nature of God, this is a religious argument. Since they claim to have ruled out all religious arguments, then how can they use arguments concerning what God would or would not do – arguments touching on the character of God – to prove evolution? They need to make up their minds. If they want to explore the character of God and why He'd allow brokenness in the world, then let's open our Bibles. As for Christians, despite the fallen condition of the world, we can still enjoy and benefit from, and give thanks for, the many wonders of creation as coming from God's divine wisdom. This article first appeared in the January 2014 issue under the title " Upon further reflection..." Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”...

Assorted

Losers are part of the plan

As far as many politicians and voters are concerned, “going green” is the equivalent of “motherhood and apple pie.” Typically, the “transition to a green economy” is presented as a major step toward solving issues connected with the environment. For example, on May 1, 2019, the British Parliament declared a “climate change emergency.” According to the report in Nature (May 9, p. 165): “The declaration is not legally binding and there is no clear definition of what it means, but it is taken as a signal of Parliament’s intention to act.” And what was the particular emergency or crisis that led to this declaration? There were some major demonstrations about climate change in that country in April. That may have been the emergency. In any case, there is no doubt that the U.K. politicians mean business. And the U.K. is not alone in this endeavor. Enormous costs The next day following the declaration of an emergency, a British think tank on climate change issued a major statement. This group recommended that the U.K. should aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions – including international flights and marine shipping – by the year 2050. That should prompt a question: how exactly can society fuel jets, and ocean transport ships, without burning high-intensity fossil fuels? The think tank recommended that Britain should spend 1-2% of Gross Domestic Product (about $26-52 billion US per year) to achieve a result where emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and transportation and domestic heating and cooling are completely eliminated. Interest and support for the “green transition” is a major concern of many governments worldwide. For example, an intergovernmental agency, International Renewable Energy Agency was founded in 2010. With headquarters in Abu Dhabi, it works closely with the United Nations to make recommendations on ways to achieve the green economy. As far as specific countries go, Germany seems particularly keen to support studies on the economic implications of adopting renewable energy on a worldwide basis. For example, the German Federal Foreign Office funds a Geopolitics of Energy Transformation project out of Berlin. Climate change as a reason to abandon democracy? Four experts concerned with the worldwide political and economic ramifications of a move towards green technology, and away from an economy based on fossil fuels, published an article on this issue on in the May 12 edition of Nature titled: “How the energy transition will reshape geopolitics.” They consider four scenarios with respect to energy use up to the year 2100. The one they favor, which they entitle the “Big Green Deal,” involves a wholesale abandonment of fossil fuels. The scenario they really don’t want to see is called “Dirty Nationalism” which really refers to the status quo. Labels are powerful things. That’s why the activists who brought us the term “dirty oil” to refer to Alberta’s production of oil from oilsands, now bring us “dirty nationalism” to disparage any emphasis on national concerns (as opposed to an international agenda).  These authors define the status quo as a situation when “Politicians want to protect local jobs and incumbent industries such as coal and manufacturing.” Note that they seem to consider that manufacturing is on the chopping block along with fossil fuels like coal. They then continue to list what they don’t like today: “Elections bring populists to power in world’s largest democracies and nationalism grows. Nation-first policies put a premium on self-sufficiency, favoring domestic energy sources over imported ones.” The problem is, of course, that voters obviously desire an economy which will allow them to make an adequate living. But, the experts declare: “abating carbon will create losers.” They take this as a given. There are few people, however, who want to vote themselves into a loser category. Therefore top-down totalitarian measures may be necessary, these people declare. For example “China has scaled up renewable energy through top-down rule and state planning.” Indeed Western support for democracies should be questioned, they insist. Causing a crisis So what kind of costs is society facing as, or if, they contemplate a transition to using renewable resources for energy production? For a start, economies that produce oil and gas could lose a total of $7 trillion US in the next twenty years. (p. 30). Some oil companies and some states could go bankrupt. Oil exporters might lose global influence whereas importers will be empowered. We see that already in regional conflict in Canada. None of this is at all appealing to voters in oil-exporting jurisdictions. There is no point crying to government that such measures will cost many jobs. That is all part of the plan! The Yellow Vests movement in France is a case in point. In October 2018 large demonstrations took place to call attention to the high cost of fuels which was making life so difficult for ordinary working people. Wikipedia calls it a “populist grassroots revolutionary political movement for economic justice.” Similarly, we can consider the controversy over a carbon tax in Canada. A headline in the June 14 Edmonton Journal read “Carbon Tax must double to meet targets.” Apparently parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux calculates that for Canada to meet her Paris agreements (on climate change) by 2030, the carbon tax must increase to $102 per tonne compared to the present $20 per tonne and it would have to apply to all sectors of the economy. At present, large industries pay on only a fraction of their emissions. This is so that Canadian manufacturing can compete internationally. The objective of the tax, however, is to make it expensive to generate energy from fossil fuels, and that will impact anyone who drives, or wants to heat or cool their homes, or works in industries. Who are the desired losers? Of course, it is the ordinary citizens who will not be able to find jobs or pay for necessities. That is what the carbon tax is supposed to achieve. Platitudinous declarations that there will be other jobs, are not at all convincing. Alternatively, however, the zero-carbon world is not appealing either from a geopolitical point of view. A zero-carbon world does not do away with the conflict over access to fossil fuels, it merely produces different conflicts. Thus the authors point out: “In a low-carbon world, the struggle will be how to finance the infrastructure and to control the technology needed to harness wind, solar and other renewable power sources, and how to secure access to the materials required for the manufacture of that technology.” (p. 31) Significantly the rare earth metals lithium and cobalt are very important for battery manufacture and only a few countries can supply these. Even more concerning is the issue of land use under the new regime. The authors point out that “Competition over the use of land for energy production will have implications for food and water security.” (p. 30) We are already seeing some of this kind of conflict. Solar farms, for example, cover large tracts of land and yet yield quite low energy. There are no crops, no natural plant or animal communities under solar collectors. Wind farms produce their own problems including bird and bat deaths and noise. These sources of energy are so dilute and sporadic that huge tracts of land would be required. The climate modification (cooling) that natural communities provide, would be lost. This is not the way to a greener ecology! Conclusion The interesting thing is that governments are, presumably, aware of the costs of a green transition. Yet they have been so overwhelmed by the declarations of “the established science of climate change” that they press grimly onward with the green agenda, spending billions of dollars in the process. There are, however, a number of exceptionally qualified experts who deny that carbon emissions and climate are tightly linked. Let us not act like the people of the U.K. with their declaration of a “climate emergency.” Perhaps they are like the fabled Chicken Little who fooled everyone into believing that the sky was falling. It is to be hoped that more governments will display the courage needed to review the issue of climate change in a critical light.  The money saved from the green agenda would be put to much better uses. ...

RP App, Science - Creation/Evolution

The ordinary is extraordinary: Dr. Gordon Wilson at Creation Weekend 2018

During the Creation Science Association of Alberta’s Creation Weekend 2018, Dr. Gordon Wilson was the feature speaker, giving three lectures. This is an account of his second presentation. ***** While Dr. Gordon Wilson had entitled his presentation “The Magnificence of the Mundane” he wanted us to note that the words in the title are actually contradictory. While the word “magnificence” communicates excitement, the term “mundane” suggests that something is boring or dull. But what he wanted to share with us is that God’s “ordinary” work in creation is amazing, displaying God’s wisdom and finesse (Ps. 104:24). And in this context, we are told that King Solomon – full of wisdom – spoke about trees, herbaceous plants, beasts, birds, reptiles and fish (1 Kings 4:33). It is evident, declared Dr. Wilson, that one place to observe God’s wisdom is in nature. Similarly if one wants to be an expert on the Renaissance artist Michelangelo, one will endeavor to study his creative works in addition to any of his writings. Thus, said our speaker, biology is part of theology. It is the study of who God is, as an artist, engineer, and sculptor. In this context, Dr. Wilson discussed several organisms that might seem mundane or ordinary, but which are actually quite amazing. THE "NORMAL" EASTERN BOX TURTLE The eastern box turtle lives in the eastern half of the United States. This animal may look quite ordinary (as turtle appearances go), but it has an amazing capacity to survive cold winters. As fall gives way to winter, this reptile builds up high levels of glucose in its blood. This acts as a sort-of antifreeze which prevents ice crystals from forming in its cells (ice is allowed to build up in the turtle’s body cavity, but not in its cells where ice crystals would poke and rupture the membranes). With all this chill, the heart can even stop. But then, in the spring, when things start melting, the heart starts up again and the turtle goes about his normal life activities. ORDINARY HOUSEFLY In keeping with Dr. Wilson’s theme of looking at everyday creatures, what could be more ordinary than houseflies? It turns out, however, that these organisms have quite an interesting way to escape from the confining walls of their pupal stage. It so happens that there is a trapdoor of sorts fashioned in the skin on the face of the developing fly. Muscles in the abdomen push blood vigorously into the head. This blood fills an inflatable bag, which in turn pushes open the trapdoor and then bulges out from the face. This bag, called the ptilinum, exerts pressure on the puparium– the cocoon-like structure formed from the maggot skin which houses the pupa as it develops into the now-emerging adult. The puparium also has a weakened seam that cracks under pressure from the ptilinum. The now-adult-fly pushes out through the opened seam, and afterwards the blood-filled ptilinum empties, and retreats back into the body, and the trapdoor in the fly’s head closes back up. Then, behold, we see a normal fly descending on our hamburgers! LASSO-SWINGING SPIDERS More showy are the hunting habits of the Bolas spiders. These creatures, which look like bird droppings (for purposes of camouflage), share many characteristics with ordinary orb weaver spiders, and can be found throughout the eastern United States down to Chile. At night these spiders – looking every bit like cowboys swinging a lasso – hang from a leaf and swing their “bolas,” a thread with a glob of sticky glue attached to the end. This amazing spider secretes a very special organic molecule: the scent of a particular female moth. This compound, called a pheromone, acts like a perfume to attract male moths of the same species. The spider deftly swings its bolas and hits the incoming male moth, penetrating his scales. The spider then hauls in her pretty and wraps it up in silk. This spider is even able to vary the chemical composition of the pheromones in order to catch another moth species. The ability of the spider to imitate such elaborate pheromone designs demonstrates that these spiders possess remarkable synthetic abilities that could never have developed by trial and error. Magnificent indeed! And certainly not mundane. FUN FUNGUS Dr. Wilson also discussed spore dispersal in ferns, mosses, and in a fascinating little fungus called Pilobolus. This little fungus grows on the dung of animals like horses and cows. The entire fungus is only about 1 centimeter tall, but it consists of a short stalk with a bulging balloon-like area above, topped by a black cap which shelters many fungus spores. The bulgy area focuses light onto carotenoid pigments in its base. The bulge, with cap on top, grows straight sideways towards the incoming morning light. Pressure builds up in the bulge so that the cap is shot off at high pressure.  Full of spores the cap lands and clings to grass about 2 meters away from the manure. Then along comes a grazing animal. The fresh grass looks good enough to eat and, once inside the animal, the spores proceed through the digestion system without germinating. Once deposited outside in another dump of manure, more miniature Pilobolus specimens grow to start the process all over again. CONCLUSION These examples demonstrate wonderful design and fascinating ingenuity. Yet there are taken from everyday life. The “ordinary” around us is extraordinary! Dr. Wilson concluded with the admonition that we should observe Creation and ponder that God made it. God did not give us all the answers. He wants us to explore. As we read in Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of "Creation Science Dialogue" and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” Dr. Gordon Wilson has recently completed a nature documentary called “The Riot and the Dance.”...

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

Don’t push Dad into the pond (and don’t tell Mom about the bugs!)

An aquarium-based science experiment for the whole family ***** Summer is here and there are any number of projects in which the whole family can participate. Of course, some are more fun that others – painting the fence, for example, will not rank high on anyone’s list. This is especially so if the junior members of the establishment spill the paint, or elect to decorate the family car with it. However, almost everyone enjoys splashing about in water, so why not consider an expedition to a pond in your area to start off your own family aquarium? Be warned: some individuals may get a little wet while chasing aquatic insects with a bucket or net. And dad may have to venture the farthest out to catch some particularly elusive creature. But children, just remember that if you want the project to be a happy experience, don’t push your Daddy into the pond! If anyone gets pneumonia, the project will definitely not be judged a success! Step 1 – set up the aquarium The first thing to do is acquire an aquarium. It doesn’t need to be too big, and you can probably find something used on Kijiji or Craigslist for $50. The aquarium should be placed in a window where it will receive moderate light, or it should be equipped with a fluorescent light. Place about an inch of gravel in the bottom – soil works too, but it is messier. Next some structure should be provided in the form of a few larger stones, a rock, sea shells, or pieces of waterlogged wood. Don’t overdo the structure. Only a small proportion of the volume and at most a quarter of the bottom area should be occupied by solid objects. These are important because they provide hiding places for various animals and surfaces on which to grow. Living aquatic plants also provide structure. Several inches of water may then be added. City water contains chlorine, which isn’t good for our aquatic life so if you are using it, be sure to leave it out to sit for several days to allow the chlorine to escape. Once living creatures are in the aquarium, then any new city tap water you add (to make up for whatever evaporates) must be boiled and thoroughly cooled first, in order to remove the chlorine. Step 2 – just add life! The aquarium is now ready for the addition of pond water with its contained organisms. The objective is to set up a self-perpetuating ecosystem (physical environment with its contained living creatures). Ideally all you will need to add once the system is established is water and light. Plants use the light to combine water, dissolved carbon dioxide, and mineral nutrients into food for the rest of the organisms in the aquarium. Moreover, plants in the light release oxygen into the water. This is essential if the aquatic animals are to stay healthy. Gathering your aquatic animals is a particularly fun part. Before setting out for the pond, make sure that mom and dad and all the offspring are equipped with rubber boots and buckets or large jars all with tops. Scoop nets are optional. The best procedure is to fill the bucket with pond water and some submerged pond weeds. You will acquire many pond creatures simply by collecting water and weeds. A few small pieces of decaying vegetation are good to collect too. These will have other organisms growing on them and, besides the dead material will provide for scavengers. However, don’t collect very much of this “nonvigorous” (i.e. decaying) plant material because too much decay will result in all the oxygen being used up. And without oxygen many animals will die and soon the whole aquarium will smell “swampy,” releasing hydrogen sulfide gas and methane into the atmosphere. At this point some mothers might banish the whole system right out of the house! Step 3 – let’s find out what we have Once the aquarium is filled with water and pond weeds, then you and your children can peer into the water to discover what you have collected. Some creatures last only a few days, others last almost indefinitely. Among the animals in your fresh water ecosystem, some will be easy to see, others hard to see because they are small or because they hide. Some will be so small they’ll only be visible with a microscope. While all have fascinating life stories we will discuss only easy-to-see animals. Here are your possible cast of characters.  Gammarus In our family the favorite pond inhabitants are the amphipods or scuds known by the Latin name Gammarus. These delightful creatures do well in an aquarium. They swim through the water in a conspicuous way so that it is easy to show doubters that indeed there are animals present. Gammarus look much like marine shrimp. Their bodies are protected by a hard exterior skeleton or surface made of chitin. That is a hard, not easily decomposed material like our hair and fingernails. The body is divided into numerous sections and each segment bears a pair of legs. There are five different kinds of legs. Some have gills attached. The legs are used for swimming, for grasping food, and for obtaining adequate oxygen. These animals swoop through shallow water in semicircular arcs. They feed on bacteria, algae, and decaying plant and animal material. Mostly they confine their activities to within 20 cm of the bottom sediments. When collected in the summer Gammarus are at most one-and-one-half centimeters long. They continue to grow, however, as long as they live. By March, Gammarus which were collected the previous summer are three cm long (approximately twice as long as their maximum size in nature). Few will survive beyond April. Outside, in the Canadian climate, they would have died with the frosts of the fall. I add small pieces of boiled and cooled lettuce to the aquarium when the food supply for Gammarus seems low. If these “shrimp” are observed swimming round and round the aquarium, it is a safe bet that they are short of food. They seem to have a chemical sense for detecting food. When lettuce is placed into the water, they circle closer and closer. One individual may find the lettuce within seconds, eight or more within three minutes. As far as reproduction is concerned, in nature this proceeds throughout the summer. Both sexes are found in the population. The females carry their eggs and developing young in a brood pouch. The young resemble adults in miniature. One or two young have appeared in our aquarium during the winter months. Water fleas Most likely your aquarium will harbor water fleas as tiny as they are numerous. The white specks which move in jerky fashion through the water, are most probably Daphnia. You might even catch a species bigger than the tiny ones which presently populate our aquarium. The largest species of all can be found in very productive waters like the Delta Marsh of Manitoba. It boasts individuals as large as the fingernail on a lady’s fifth finger. All water fleas are crustaceans, as are Gammarus. They have an exterior skeleton of chitin and numerous jointed legs. Water fleas are an important source of food for aquatic insects, larger crustaceans, and various fish. Each Daphnia has a small head from which extend a pair of branched antennae. By moving these projections like oars, the animal is able to make awkward progress through the water. Five pairs of legs are attached to the body, but they do not show, nor are they used for swimming. Like the rest of the body except for the head, they are enclosed in a convex shell which is hinged along the back and opens along the front. Constantly moving within their confined space, the legs create a current of water which brings in oxygen to bathe the body surface and also a stream of food particles. The numerous hairs on the legs filter out the food particles and push them forward to the mouth. During most of the growing season only females can be found in the Daphnia population. Like dandelions which reproduce without benefit of sex, so water fleas also reproduce by parthenogenesis. Females produce eggs which do not need to be fertilized. These develop directly into more females. A pond can fill up with females in a very short time! The number of eggs per clutch varies from two to forty, depending on the species. The eggs are deposited within the female’s body into a brood chamber or cavity under the protective shell on the animal’s back. The eggs develop there and hatch to look like miniature adults. They remain within the pouch under the shell until the female molts, shedding her external skeleton and shell. Then the young are released. As conditions in the pond become unfavorable through drought, cold weather, or decline in food supply, fewer parthenogenetic eggs are produced. Now some eggs, by a mechanism which is poorly understood, develop into males! Other eggs at this stage require fertilization in order to develop. The brood pouch around eggs which have been fertilized, now thickens into a saddle-shaped structure called an ephippium. These are released to sit through long periods of drought or freezing. Ephippia can be transported from pond to pond in the intestines of aquatic birds or simply by clinging to their wet feet. When favorable conditions return, ephippia hatch exclusively into parthenogenetic females.  Plants Perhaps we should turn our attention to some suitable pond plants as well. The duckweeds are the easiest to identify. Exceedingly widespread, lesser duckweed (Lemna minor) is common in quiet ponds. Often these tiny leaves will form a mat over an entire pond. In these circumstances hardly any plant life grows below the water surface because the duckweed has intercepted almost all the light. In an aquarium this species does not grow well unless it has very bright light available. Dying leaves are quickly eaten by snails and Gammarus. Another species, ivy duckweed (Lemna trisculca), is much more suitable for aquaria. The leaves grow in T-shaped configurations which remain tangled in large clumps below the water surface. It does very well with moderate light and it is an important oxygenating agent in the water. Coontail and milfoil are similar plants often found floating free in tangles beneath the surface in ponds. Coontail (Ceratophyllum) is known for its densely bushy stem tips. The leaves, which occur in whorls, have tiny toothlike projections. This plant does only moderately well in aquaria. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the plants may take all winter to die and be eaten by scavengers. Milfoil (Myriophyllum) has whorled, finely divided leaves which look like fern fronds. These plants are good aerators of pond water and should do well in an aquarium. Waterweed or Elodea is so suitable for aquarium culture that you can buy it in pet stores. More enterprising individuals may simply fish some out of a pond. The stems are bushy with whorls of three oval leaves arranged along the stem. These plants start out rooted but can become free floating. Elodea has been popular in biology laboratories for generations. Students can perform experiments on oxygen production on whole submerged plants. Individual leaves, which have only two layers of cells, are good for examination under the microscope. A handy reference booklet, available for generations, is Pond Life (a Golden Guide) which was last updated in 2001. USOs – Unidentified Swimming Objects Having acquired an aquarium, pond water, and pond plants, your family may at this moment be scanning several unidentified swimming objects. Some of these may well prove to be aquatic insects. Among the varied inhabitants of ponds, the insects provide the greatest interest for many people. All insects have an exterior skeleton much like that of crustaceans, but, whereas crustaceans have numerous legs, insects have only six. Many insects make fresh water their home during part or all of their lives. Most, including those which spend all stages of their development in the water, have one or two pairs of wings as adults. The young of some insects have the same general build as their parents. They resemble miniature adults and differ from them only in the partial development or their wings and the lack of sexual organs. Mayflies and dragonflies produce such young called nymphs. These develop in fresh water, but the adults spend their lives in the air. Among the true bugs, of the fresh water representatives, water boatmen are the easiest to find. They live in water throughout their lives. Many other insects have young quite unlike the adults. These young often seem quite wormlike. Such larvae must enter a resting stage, the pupa, before an adult emerges. During the pupal stage, an individual’s tissues are broken down and reassembled into those of an adult. Among such insects, caddisflies spend immature stages in the water and adult stages on land. So do certain flies including crane flies and phantom gnats. Mosquitos act the same way. Aquatic representatives among the beetles, however, spend their complete lives in or on the water. These include whirligig beetles and predaceous diving beetles often called water tigers.  Mayflies Nymphs are typically found clinging to stems or stones in the water. Their abdomens curve upward towards the rear and the tip is equipped with three feathery tails. The abdomen sweeps continuously back and forth, perhaps to create a current in the water. In side view the numerous paired flaps down each side of the body cannot be seen. Viewed from above, however, these structures, called gills, are visible. Although the flaps are called gills, they seem not to be involved in gas exchange. Nymphs feed on small plants, on animals, and on organic debris. They live a few months to three years in the water, depending upon the species. This fall at least one adult successfully emerged into our living room after several weeks sojourn in an aquarium. Adults have four nearly transparent wings which they hold vertically when at rest. Adults are unable to eat, and they die shortly after mating. The females lay their eggs in water.  Dragonflies Nymphs are solid looking, flattened creatures up to 5 cm long. They do not swim much, preferring rather to wait until some suitable prey happens to pass. Then they suddenly extend a huge hinged “mask” or folding lower lip to seize the unsuspecting victim. They feed on insect larvae, worms, small crustaceans, and even small fish. They are very fierce, and I, for one, would not offer a finger to any of them. I maintained two nymphs for several months by feeding them small pieces of hamburger. They would seize the meat only as it was sinking. Often, they would fail to notice the food. In order to keep the aquarium from becoming foul due to meat decay, I usually retrieved the missing pieces (with tongs) and dropped them in a second time near the nymph. Some dragonfly species complete their development from egg to adult in three months, while others take as long as five years. During this time, they molt frequently. At about the fifth molt, wings begin to form. Adult dragonflies have slender silhouettes and they hold their transparent wings horizontally at right angles to the body. With their legs or jaws, adults grasp insect prey such as mosquitos, and they eat them while in flight. They live only a few months, but during that stage adults mate while in flight. The female often drops her eggs from the air into the water.  Water boatmen These adult bugs are one of the easiest insects to spot in ponds, but they do not do well in an aquarium. This is probably because they are strong fliers and can leave any body of water which they do not like. Adults appear silvery in the water since air taken at the surface surrounds them like a silvery envelope. Strong flattened hind legs enable these bugs to swim strongly. They feed on algae and decaying matter sucked out of the bottom mud. Adults lay their eggs on aquatic plants. In our aquarium, boatmen have reacted very negatively to the glassy confines of their new home. They spend their time frantically trying to swim through the glass walls. None lasted more than a day. Caddisflies The larvae of these insects are generally easy to identify. Only the head and front legs can be seen peeping out of tube-like cases made of green leaves, sand, twigs, or bark. Each species fashions a different characteristic house for itself. The adult emerges into the air and looks much like a moth.  Crane flies Last fall our children spotted a revolting, pudgy-looking worm just under the water surface of our aquarium. It was the larva of a crane fly lurking among the aquatic weeds. It always positioned itself so that its rear tip projected up into the air. This creature had no legs at all. Our tentative identification proved correct when after several weeks a crane fly, like a large mosquito with long legs, appeared in our living room. Apparently, we had missed the pupa stage. Adults of some species feed on nectar, others do not eat at all. None bites. Phantom gnats If you peer intensely into your aquarium, you may see one or two phantom larvae. Except for prominent eyes and a threadlike intestine running the length of the body, the rest of this creature is almost transparent. The rear is capped with a tuft of obvious projecting hairs. There are no legs. These larvae, 1-2 cm long, hover horizontally well down in the water. This animal is unusual among insects in its ability to maintain such a stationary position in the water. Antennae attached to the head allow these larvae to prey on mosquito larvae and other small animals. The adults, which develop from a pupal stage, look much like mosquitos, but they do not feed and hence do not bite. Mosquitos Probably no aquarium is complete without several wrigglers (mosquito larvae). These bend double and extend to their full 1 cm length again as they wriggle through the water. They too lack legs. Frequently they return to hang almost vertically from the surface. A tube extending from near the rear tip is extended up into the air to get oxygen. The larvae feed on microscopic organisms or organic debris. Within a few days, after passing through a pupal stage, the adults emerge. The females must obtain a blood meal in order to be able to lay eggs. Males feed on nectar and ripe fruit. If your mother does not like mosquitos emerging into her house, do not call them to her attention. Alternatively, you could place a screen over the aquarium.  Whirligig beetles Often the most conspicuous insects in a pond are swarms of small oval shiny black beetles darting frenetically back and forth on the surface of the water. Their eyes are divided into upper and lower parts. They are believed to be able to see both above and below the water surface at the same time. They eat anything they can find. Their front legs are long and slender, the others are shortened and flattened to serve as paddles. They can dive down into the water very suddenly if alarmed. Everyone chases these beetles, but they are difficult to catch. Anyway, they do not do well in aquaria.  Dytiscus Among the hungriest and meanest of aquatic insects are the larvae and adult stages of the predaceous (from predator) diving beetles. The streamlined larvae, up to 3 cm long, with upturned abdomen and fierce jaws open, stand awaiting the arrival of prey. Konrad Lorenz, in his classic book King Solomon’s Ring, devotes several pages to the nasty personalities of Dytiscus larvae. These larvae will attack other insects, tadpoles, minnows, or anything that smells of animal in any way. They will bite a finger or even attack other larvae of their own kind. Through hollow jaws they inject a digestive juice which dissolves the insides of most of their victims. For people, the bite is simply extremely painful. We had several such larvae in our aquarium, but they died within several days, probably because of lack of suitable food. The shiny oval adult beetles also manage in the air and they may grow to be as large as 3-4 cm long. The beetles enjoy much the same menu as the larvae, but the former are also strong fliers when they so desire. Other easy-to-culture animals Both leaches and snails are easy to identify and easy to keep in an aquarium. A leach has done well all winter in our aquarium. It occasionally appears undulating through the water. It is growing, so it must be doing well eating bacteria. Certainly, it is not obtaining any blood meals. Our giant pond snails also do extremely well. With a thin, narrowly spiraled shell, these animals grow to be about 5 cm long. Often you can see the mouth opening and closing as one oozes forward along the glass. Inside the mouth is a rasping tongue which scrapes algae and bacteria off all surfaces over which it moves. Occasionally, jelly-like masses of snail eggs appear on underwater surfaces. These soon hatch into numerous tiny snails which immediately begin eating their way around the aquarium. Keep it going Now the whole family is organized for a project which can last all year. Remember not to load too many relatively large animals into an aquarium. The larger the total volume of animal life, the more likely it is that you will have to bubble in air and supplement the food supply. One minnow, for example, could eat everything living and require oxygen besides. This is not your objective. Stock with more, but smaller animals! Tadpoles, too, will require oxygen and will eat everything in sight. Make it a practice to observe life in your aquatic ecosystem every day. It makes a wonderful topic for conversation at the supper table. You will have expanded your interests and your pleasure in God’s creation....

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. ...

News

Science politicized: when democracy doesn't suffice anymore

In the West most citizens take pride in their democratic institutions, pointing to how it’s through democracy that change can be peaceably pursued. Of course, not all change is positive. As Christians we understand that getting the government we deserve – the government that most of us have voted for – is not always a good thing. Why? Quite simply, the majority can be wrong. But that’s an insight available to us because we have an absolute standard – God’s Word – by which we can evaluate the “will of the people.” But for the secular West, which has rejected God and his Word as their ultimate standard, democracy has largely been the replacement standard, and government is said to get its legitimacy from being supported by the largest number of voters. So it is with some interest, then, that we can see the idea that the best governments are democratically selected has come under serious scrutiny from some in the international community of scientists, and a new ultimate standard is being proposed. Scientists vs. democracy? For the last couple of years the influential scientific journal Nature has touched on this topic repeatedly. In editorials and other articles it has been suggested that some voter choices are more legitimate than others. In other words, not all votes are equally valid. The new assertive stance of many scientists became evident during the April 22, 2017 “March for Science,” when tens of thousands of scientists marched in Washington and in at least 600 other cities around the world. A news item in Nature (April 27, 2017) said this event “may have been one of the largest-ever demonstrations in support of scientific research and evidence-based policymaking.” These objectives may sound quite harmless, but the rationale was that the scientific agenda is under threat and needs to be more forcefully promoted in the political arena. These people apparently believe that the recommendations of scientists are not making it into policy choices nearly often enough. Thus an editorial in Nature on May 11, 2017 declared: “…fears are increasing that anti-science forces are on the march. Indeed, on last month’s March for Science, a ‘war on science’ was frequently invoked as a reason for researchers to mobilize.” Obviously the conflict cited is not overt, such as one with guns and other weapons. But it is a power struggle and the scientists want to make sure that they win. So who are the others involved in this conflict? Commentary in Nature labels the other side as “idiots” (December 1, 2016) or “dissenters, doubters and right-wing jackals” (January 5, 2017). Those are strong words to describe political adversaries. But this battle is intense. Globalism vs. democracy? The scientific view, at least as it is articulated by activists in Nature, includes a desire for governments to move further towards international, or even global control. This would involve taking it out of the hands of democratically-elected representatives. For example, a trio of advocates declared that countries need to put scientifically-advocated programs and ideals ahead of national priorities (Nature, October 6/16 p. 29) But what does this mean? Consider the case of the province of Ontario. A news item in the Edmonton Journal (November 21/17) reported that electrical power exports from sources with nearly zero carbon emissions (for example solar and wind energy) resulted in a loss to the province of Ontario of between $732 million and $1.25 billion over a period of 21 months. This is happening at a time when consumers in Ontario are suffering from exceptionally high electricity costs. This is an example of placing international priorities for climate control ahead of local interests. The scientific community keeps promoting international agendas in other ways too. For example, a Belgian microbiologist declared in Nature (February 16, 2017): “To prevent further breakdown of the EU, scientists must shout from the rooftops that many of our problems today can be solved only at a European, or even a global, level. We must challenge time and again the current populist view that countries are better off trying to address the most pressing problems on their own.” Similarly, a Dutch sociologist from Utrecht declared that: “Academics also have a moral obligation to protect liberal democracy. By promoting social and political pluralism, the system produces the circumstances under which researchers can do their jobs and science can flourish” (December 15, 2016). The people who favor policies which protect the interests of the voters, are considered to be right wing, according to the scientific press. These people are also much less interested in “racial, gender and sexual identity politics” (Nature December 1, 2016) than are many in science and academia. An editorial in Nature (same date) declares that scientists and academics are rightly worried about allowing political discussion to include conservative and religious viewpoints. The scientists consider that this latter initiative would lead to “unacceptably broadening the limits of acceptable discourse – and freeing and normalizing people’s worst base instincts and a rhetoric of hate.” This editorial admits however that academics are often “tolerant,” but only of their own point of view. Liberal democracy vs. populist democracy? With recent electoral results that are the opposite of what left wing interests had hoped for, some scientists are warning about an increasing tension between populism and liberal democracy. Thus Matthijs Rooduijn, a Dutch sociologist, declared that there are two types of voters: those that support “liberal democracy” and those who support “populism” (Nature, December 15, 2016). Obviously liberal democracy sounds very appealing, but what about populism? This latter term is what many scientists have suddenly adopted as a way to portray in an unfavorable light the opinions they do not like. Thus voters who make political choices that many scientists do not like are described as populists. So what are populists? The implication seems to be that populists represent an ignorant mob (such as in the French revolution.) Alternatively a sympathetic definition in an editorial in the Edmonton Journal (November 10, 2017) stated: “A populist political culture is one that includes a widespread belief in the moral and intellectual capacities of the ‘common people’ and thus a strong reluctance to defer control over decision-making to the state or other elites.” Dutch sociologist Rooduijn elaborated on this point: “populists not only attack political and economic elites; they also target ‘snobby intellectuals’ in academia” (Nature, December 15, 2016). Well, fair enough. The Dutch sociologist nevertheless declares: “Academics also have a moral obligation to protect liberal democracy.” A lead editorial in Nature on April 20, 2017 echoed the above sentiments: “Social scientists rightly see this co-opting of far-right policies by mainstream parties as being as dangerous to liberal democracy as populist far-right parties themselves…” It should be noted that some people succumb to the temptation to label anything with which they disagree as “far-right.” Media and academic elites vs. democracy? It is evident that scientists applaud some voter preferences but suggest that others are to be discouraged. Matthijs Rooduijn rejected the idea that voter preferences (as declared in the ballot box) should in general be translated into government policy. Thus he declares: “Right wing politicians in the crop currently making headlines are populists in that they want the will of the people to be the point of departure for political decision-making. This ‘general will’ should, according to their populist message, be translated as directly as possible into actual political decisions” (Nature, December 15, 2016) But the scientific view is to reject such an approach. There are many reasons such as climate change considerations or human rights that might discourage implementation of voter preferences. Liberal democracy, according to views expressed recently in Nature and other scientific press, apparently promotes whatever the scientific community prefers: pluralism (many cultures all equal), internationalism, human rights that take priority over religious values, and a climate change agenda. Populism apparently represents the opposite. Sensible people, informed people, one hopes will not be discouraged by unflattering terms. Let the voters make their own choices without intimidation from the media and academic elites. Let us all be aware that “Science is only one of many factors and interests that a thoughtful politician needs to weigh when choosing a position on a complex topic” (Nature editorial May 11, 2017). Indeed that editorial ends on a high note, and so will we: “Name-calling and portraying the current political climate as a war between facts and ignorance simply sows division.” Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of No Christian Silence in Science, a book every Christian teen considering a career in Science should read before heading off to university....

Science - Creation/Evolution

On DNA and how "things are seldom what they seem"

Sometimes we forget that scientists like to be amused just as much as other individuals, and the illustration in the November 20/08 issue of Nature is certainly amusing. You see five ducks swimming serenely in a row. Above the water line, they are all identical but below the surface one duck is propelled along by a massive tricycle, one has extremely long legs with webbed feet, one has normal legs, one is propelled by a motorized propeller and the last one sits serenely on top of a gigantic octopus. It all makes one think of the sentiments expressed by “Little Buttercup” in the English operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. She warbles:  Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream… Black sheep dwell in every fold All that glitters is not gold. The amusing illustration in the Nature article, was actually promoting a similar idea. Organisms may look similar on the outside, it declares, but on the inside, their genetic information may be vastly different. Why does this matter? Well, it is certainly contrary to evolutionary expectations. Defying expectations As scientists first started building up a database of DNA coding in various organisms, they knew what they expected to find. Based on evolution theory, they expected that organisms that seemed to have a close evolutionary relationship would exhibit similar DNA codes, and those with a remote connection would show much different collections of code. In previous generations, scientists looked for similarities in form and function among organisms to draw conclusions about evolutionary relationships. Thus catlike animals would all be placed in the same group. Obviously the experts expected that the results of DNA coding studies would reflect the relationships already established on the basis of similarity in shape and biology. But often that’s not what happened. The illustration of the ducks, so similar above the water line, represents the form and function of organisms. The vastly different controlling mechanisms below the water represent the here-to-fore hidden differences in the DNA controls inside organisms. The first sign of unfulfilled evolutionary expectations was when the DNA from a spectrum of organisms was compared. Often the most similar DNA coding was not found among organisms that looked the most similar. Similar appearance ≠ similar DNA? This discovery can also be compared to an adult assembling two children's toys. The first box is opened and various component parts fall out along with an instruction sheet. The brave parent duly sets to work and assembles the toy. Now imagine a second box is opened and a similar toy needs to be assembled. The parent thinks this one should be easy, but alas, he discovers the component parts are all differently shaped and the instructions are different too. However in due course the second toy is assembled, and it looks and works much like the first toy. If the parent didn't know that the insides of the two toys were very different, he might have thought they came from the same company. But after seeing the instruction sheet and all the parts, the parent realizes that these two toys must have come from totally separate sources. Even if the first company had wanted to produce a slightly more elaborate model, it would not change the basic components and instructions. It would merely modify the initial program as required. It is the same with DNA coding in an organism’s cells. Even if the end result looks and works the same, if the instructions and component parts in the cell are very different, we suspect that the organisms have entirely separate sources, or lines of descent. Similar DNA ≠ similar appearance The response of the scientific community to this unfulfilled expectation was to change the groupings of organisms so that the pattern of DNA differences once again gave a picture of gradual change. The problem with this solution however is that the new groupings did not make much sense. Now creatures were grouped together as closely related, in an evolutionary sense, that did not have much in common at all. Hence we now have a classic “conflict between molecules and morphology .” As a result, over the past twenty years, we have seen a “radical re-ordering of relationships” among many animal groups (Nature Feb. 12/09 pp. 812 and 816). The same holds true for plants. So scientists have rearranged their groupings, often in illogical ways, to make the DNA fit an evolutionary scenario. The ducky illustration, however, applies more closely to other problems for evolution theory. Biochemists firstly noticed that many creatures which have few characteristics in common, nevertheless have many genes which are “virtually identical” (Nature Nov. 20/08 p 300). This can be made to fit both evolution theory and design. Evolutionists interpret this as showing lines of common descent, even if very remote. Meanwhile creationists understand this as showing God's choosing to use some similar elements in otherwise very different creatures. But at the same time, the experts have found “closely connected species can connect up their genes in very different regulatory networks while keeping the end result deceptively unchanged” (p. 300). Not only have the scientists found that similar organisms may use genes in different ways, but they may even use entirely different genes to produce the same result (p. 301). This discovery of very different codes in organisms that appear so similar is, of course, not predicted by evolution theory. Naturally these experts are looking for explanations that will still fit their theory. Thus: “Now researchers are trying to understand how evolution finds the solutions it does, and why. Some think that this ‘underground’ variation was selected for. Some think it appeared by chance” (p. 300). When scientists appeal to chance for an explanation, it means that they have no explanation. What’s your presupposition? The article in Nature declares that the situation “feels very counter-intuitive.” But is it? It all depends upon one’s basic premises. If evolution is the basis for one’s interpretation of nature, then the results do not make sense: very similar organisms (often microorganisms) using very different molecules to achieve the same result. It is obvious that many DNA data do not fit evolutionary expectations. However, the scientists involved simply look for alternative evolutionary explanations. It seems evident that this irregular pattern of DNA coding better fits an explanation involving intelligent choices by God the Creator. The evolutionist may retort that this does not prove the case for creation. Fair enough. There is no proof to be had in science. The evolutionists claim that all data can be accommodated within their worldview – this is not proof, but preference. Similarly we insist that all data fit Biblical revelation. In the case of DNA, the information from nature does not fit evolutionary expectations very well at all. It does fit the creation model better. Don’t expect ducks, however, to show the scale of internal diversity illustrated in the Nature article. That was merely for purposes of illustration. However, if anyone sees a duck driven by a propeller, let me know! This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in September 2009 issue under the title "On ducks and DNA." Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of No Christian Silence in Science, a book every Christian teen considering a career in Science should read before heading off to university....

Science - Creation/Evolution

MOLECULAR MOTORS: Design on a microscopic scale

One of the most famous molecular machines is the rotary bacterial flagellum made famous by Michael Behe in his book Darwin's Black Box (1996). This miniature mechanical-biological wonder is like a miniature outboard motor for the cell going at 100,000 rpm! https://youtu.be/MNR48hUd-Hw While this motor is only found in some bacteria another rotary motor has been discovered and that is universally found in all living cells. It is called the ATP synthase motor. ATP or adenosine triphosphate provides the chemical energy that drives the metabolic reactions of the living cell. If the cell has no ATP, it is dead. https://youtu.be/W3KxU63gcF4 But of course ATP gets used up and more has to be provided. The "burning" (oxidation) of food provides the energy to produce more ATP. The motor that achieves this is extremely tiny, only 10 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in diameter compared to 50 for the bacterial flagellum. The motor is very simple in its structure. As the motor spins, it squeezes two components (adenosine diphosphate and phosphate) together forming the finished ATP molecule. Apparently, the motor's efficiency is "uncannily high: nearly 100%" https://youtu.be/XI8m6o0gXDY?t=53s So this motor that spins at 10,000 rpm is almost 100% efficient! Not only is this rotary machine elegant in its design, but it is also unusual. None of this sounds like a phenomenon that came about spontaneously! This is an excerpt from Dr. Margaret Helder’s “No Christian Silence on Science” which you can buy here....

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....

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