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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. ...

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....

Science - General

How the nose knows!

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

Apologetics 101, Science - Creation/Evolution

Wrong questions lead to wrong answers

Why don’t brilliant scientists see evidence of God’s design in Nature? Because they deliberately blind themselves to this evidence. The conflict between Biblical revelation and some aspects of modern science is a longstanding issue, and Christian young people can’t avoid being impacted by this dilemma. What should they believe? Should they accept that creation took place in six literal days, or should they seek some sort of accommodation of Scripture with the teachings of science? Many have anguished over this choice. The appeal of trying to accommodate to the popular scientific view – the appeal of bundling the Bible with the Big Bang – is clear. After all, don’t objective scientists know what they are talking about? So don’t we need to listen to what they are telling us they see? Christian vs. secular agendas In this context, what everyone must understand is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. 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, and 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. Another famous passage about the testimony of nature is Job 12:7-9: But ask the beasts, and they will teach you, and the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you, or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? When we study biology, we see that God is the creator! The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. No supernatural input will ever be evident. For example, an editorial in the journal Nature (March 12, 1981) remarked concerning the definition of science: “…one prejudice is allowable, even necessary – the preconception that theories can be constructed to account for all observable phenomena.” Thus the Christian expects to see God revealed in nature, while the secular person says God will never be revealed in nature. Different expectations prompt different questions How does a square melon get square? Newly sprouted watermelons are placed in plastic boxes, and as the melon grows it fills in the available space until this unique shape results. With different expectations come different questions – there is a big difference between what secular scientists and what some Christians will ask about natural systems. And their different questions will result in very different answers obtained. How does a square melon get square? Newly sprouted watermelons are placed in plastic boxes, and as the melon grows it fills in the available space until this unique shape results. For example, suppose somebody showed you a photograph of three unfamiliar objects, green in color and square in shape. If you were to ask that person “How did Nature form that?” the only possible response would be some sort of natural process. However, if you were instead to ask, “Did Nature form that?” then the person has the opportunity to investigate whether or not these square watermelons (which is what the objects turn out to be) had a simply natural origin. Only then could they discover that no, they did not. Similarly, if a scientist asks, “How did life come about spontaneously?” then the only possible answer is a natural process. If the same scientist were to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” in this case he has the opportunity to examine what cells are like and what the biochemical processes in cells are like, and thereafter conclude that life could not have come about spontaneously. Thus the answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked. No results There is no issue that more clearly demonstrates the impact of what questions are asked of nature, than the discipline of origin of life studies. Specialist John H. McClendon’s summary of the situation was as follows: “Since we know that life did arise, we are obligated to find mechanisms to accumulate enough organic matter to start life.” Scientists may feel themselves obligated to find such a scenario, but they are having a difficult time finding one nonetheless. The difficulties of proposing and defending a reasonable scenario for the origin of life were further highlighted by Simon Conway Morris in 2003 in a chapter entitled “The Origin of Life: straining the soup of our credulity” from his book entitled Life’s Solution. Of these chemists who are not discouraged by the results of their experiments, he remarks: …chemists have devised reaction pathways that can produce reasonable quantities of ribose , but the sheer complexity of the process and the careful manipulation of the many steps during the reaction make one wonder about its applicability to the origin of life. Dr. Morris is telling us that the kind of chemical reactions that require fancy manipulation by a chemist do not occur spontaneously in nature (apart from in living cells). Scientists were still looking for support for the “RNA world” in 2014 when the following description of a possible process was printed in Nature: After ten rounds of selection and amplification of catalytic molecules; pruning of superfluous sequences; insertion of another randomized segment to create a new pool; and then another six rounds of selection and amplification, a D-ribozyme was isolated that could perform template-directed joining of L-substrates about a million times faster than the uncatalyzed reaction. One would have to be very gullible indeed to believe that any of this could happen spontaneously. Indeed the article referred to the process as “engineering” which presupposed that an intelligent agent (the chemist) carried out the process. An article in Nature five years previously had similarly highlighted the difficulties of the RNA world hypothesis, the most popular explanation today for how life could have originated in spontaneous fashion. Matthew W. Powner et al declared: At some stage in the origin of life, an informational polymer must have arisen by purely chemical means. According to one version of the “RNA world” hypothesis this polymer was RNA, but attempts to provide experimental support for this have failed (italics mine). The determination of the mainstream scientists to keep looking for a spontaneous solution to the origin of life, even when the results are totally contrary, has long been recognized. But they do not see this situation as a problem. Thus David Deamer remarked in a book review on origin of life theories: Harold argues that, notwithstanding the vast literature, progress has gone little beyond the findings of Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin and British polymath J. B. S. Haldane more than 80 years ago, when they independently argued that Louis Pasteur’s dictum “All life from life” was wrong. Note that the “findings” of Oparin and Haldane that Pasteur was wrong, were not based on any evidence, (they still aren’t), but on a choice to believe that life can come from non-living chemicals. Their bias blinds The secular 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 (b. 1929) actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, he 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. What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained. Similarly astronomer Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) equated such an approach as almost a religion for scientists: Scientists…. believe that every event that takes place in the world can be explained in a rational way as a consequence of some previous event. If there is a religion in science, this statement can be regarded as its main article of faith… Nothing to do with the truth It is certainly reasonable to ask how legitimate it is to restrict science to only naturalistic hypotheses. The answer you’ll get to that question depends upon whom you ask. Biologist Leonard Brand (b. 1941) replies that such restrictions are not legitimate. Our research only answers the questions we are willing to ask, naturalism allows only certain questions to be asked… Naturalism has a powerful biasing influence in science, in steering scientific thinking, and, in many cases, deciding what conclusions are to be reached. Others point out that 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, philosophers of science Stephen C. Meyer (b. 1958) and Paul A. Nelson (b. 1958) point out: Restricting science to naturalistic hypotheses is not an innocuous methodological stratagem which nevertheless leaves science free to pursue the truth. God, after all, may not have been away on other business when life originated, or humankind came to be. These men declare that the secular assumption that God did not intervene directly in nature does not make it so. Similarly Calvin College (in Michigan) philosopher of science Del Ratzsch points out that: If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort. What Dr. Ratzsch has pointed out is that wrong questions will always elicit wrong answers. Scientific explanations may change (and indeed they do) but the answers will never be any closer to the truth if the wrong questions are being asked in the first place. It is often said that science is “self-corrective” i.e. that errors are exposed and better explanations developed. However the term “self-corrective” is meaningless when the studies are biased from the beginning. Conclusion Secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. Such, of course, is the theory of evolution. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort.” Similarly Dr. Brand tells us: “The evolutionary theory is based on the philosophy of naturalism, and does not consider any hypotheses that involve divine intervention in the history of the universe.” Influenced by their secular colleagues, many Christians choose a theistic evolution type of explanation for origins. For example, Clarence Menninga (b. 1928, science professor emeritus at Calvin College), wrote in The Banner: But it is presumptuous and arrogant for us to restrict God’s options by claiming that he could not have used natural processes to bring about certain complex structures and functions, even if we do not understand in scientific terms how that was done. Thus Dr. Menninga explains the appearance of living creatures in terms of an evolutionary process. He assumes that this is so, contrary to what the Bible says, even though he is unaware of a scientific explanation for the process. It is evident that if such scientists were to ask different questions, based on the expectation of seeing God’s work and character revealed in nature, they might not necessarily come to any evolutionary conclusions at all. In addition, the concept of long ages is a necessary ingredient in any evolutionary scenario. If there were no process of gradual change (evolution), if organisms were created directly, then there is no need for a long period of past time other than the few thousands of years for which we have historical records. This is an extract from Margaret Helder’s book "No Christian Silence on Science" which you can buy at the Creation Science Association of Alberta website...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

No Christian Silence on Science

SCIENCE FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE by Margaret Helder 2016 / 110 pages From the title onward, No Christian Silence on Science is a clarion call to Bible-believing, six-day creation upholding Christians to stand up and be counted. It's much more than that too. The author, Margaret Helder, has written for Creation Science Dialogue and Reformed Perspective  for years, and if you've read her there, then you know Dr. Helder approaches God and His creation with awe, and teaches us how to tackle evolution without fear. This book is very much an outgrowth of that work. This, then, is intended to equip us, so we will be able to give a ready defense of our faith, and fortify us, so we will continue to trust in God, even when we face that attacks that will come in this predominantly Darwinist and secular field. That's a big task to tackle in a book that's just 110 pages. That's why, while this is a great book, it is no light read - there is a lot packed in here. In the five sections Dr. Helder addresses: Science from a Christian Perspective How Design in Nature reveals God's Character and Work Christian vs. Darwinian Ethics The Christian Student: Meeting the Challenge of Secular Institutions Impact of Evolution Thought on Church and Society My favorites were the last two. They are worth the price of the book all on their own, and if I was giving this to a university student I'd tell them to head to Chapter 4 first, to hear Dr. Helder's advice on how to interact with evolutionary-minded professors. At one points she gives an example of a find that seems to prove evolution, and she then shows how a Christian student could respond. She suggests students be ready to ask questions, and starting with the 5 Ws is always a good idea (in Science, and journalism too!). A question-asking student will often find that this new, exciting, revolutionary find, is being really over-hyped. That's not to say creationists have all the answers. As Dr. Helder notes, in the early and mid 1900s Christians holding to a six-day creation had little supporting scientific evidence available to them, so it was only because they were so confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible that they weren't swayed by evolution. Today many problems with evolution can be pointed to, but there will still be occasions where a challenge to the biblical explanation is presented that we cannot answer. And perhaps we won't be able to answer it for several decades. But we, too, should hold to the Bible, because it is trustworthy. Who should read No Christian Silence? This will be of interest to anyone, but for the young high school graduate heading into the Sciences this is a must. If they were to read it before heading to their first university science class, and really work through it slowly and thoughtfully, they would be well-prepared. There are other books they should read too, but this is a very good place to start because Dr. Helder covers all the key controversies, and gives good solid direction on how to meet and deal with the opposition. No Christian Silence on Science is us available through the Creation Science Association of Alberta website or can be had by sending a $20 check ($14 for the book and $6 for shipping) made out to the CSAA, at 5328 Calgary Trial, Suite 1136, Edmonton AB  T6H 4 ...