March 1, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Black Cats, Early Galaxies, Baghdad Batteries, and a Christian Geologist

These articles from early March 2003 show what CEH was reporting 21 years ago when the Iraq War was going on. The second article below, about early galaxies, shows that the “lumpiness problem” was well known in 2003 and has only gotten worse since then, now that the James Webb Telescope is finding even more early structures that continue to give Big Bang cosmologists headaches.

Note: Some links may no longer work.

How Black Cats Evolved   03/04/2003
It’s not Halloween, but some Maryland scientists studied why some cats are black and reported their genetic investigation in the March 3 cover story in Current Biology. Apparently melanism (black coloration) is recessive in domestic cats but dominant in jaguars; in some species it is frequent but never predominant. They identified two genes that cause melanism in some species but not others. They feel there must be at least “at least four independent genetic origins for melanism in the cat family. The inferred multiple origins and independent historical elevation in population frequency of felid melanistic mutations suggest the occurrence of adaptive evolution of this visible phenotype in a group of related free-ranging species.”

And your point is? This is supposed to be a paper about why black cats evolved. You read the paper and there are observations about which species have this or that gene, but no theory as to why black color is adaptive. They say, “To date, little is known about the molecular or adaptive basis of coat color variation in free-ranging mammals, and so far no study has addressed this issue in multiple polymorphic species from the same family.” So did they come to the rescue and find a reason for natural selection to select melanism? See if you can find one in their conclusion:

The elevation of independent gene variants in parallel Felidae lineages raises the possibility of an adaptive advantage of melanistic mutants under certain ecological circumstances. An interesting example is the jaguarundi, whose “wild-type” dark coloration is here shown to be a derived condition, having replaced the ancestral reddish form throughout its continental range. The prospect of directly inspecting gene variants that specify phenotypic variation potentially subject to natural selection will allow the direct study of such traits in free-ranging populations. These and other applications of such integrated genetic approaches will hopefully enhance our understanding of species survival, diversification, and adaptive evolution over space and time.

You can hunt through this jargon jungle without ever finding the promised nugget of evolutionary wisdom; it’s just empty promises and futureware. So some cats are black. They’re still 100% cats, aren’t they? What’s Darwin got to do with it? Some sheep are black, too.

Scientific papers on evolution so often deal with little microevolutionary changes here or there that are of either no consequence or might conceivably possibly be adaptive if we could ever figure out why. Color variation is not controversial for creationists or evolutionists. People have color variations, too, but are all of one species – it’s just a matter of amount of one pigment. In cats, it would seem melanism involves a loss of information, degenerating from the rich patterning found on a jaguar’s coat to none at all. Show us a new organ or function arising where it did not exist before, by a plausible sequence of changes, each one naturally selected, or else don’t call it evolution.

So is this paper an example of Dobzhansky’s oft-quoted principle that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution?” Without the empty rhetoric about evolution and adaptation, it could have been written by a young-earth creationist. It’s scientifically legitimate to study the genes of color variations in animals, but to promise insight into “adaptive evolution” and fail to deliver is bait and switch. “Step right up for fresh new insights into natural selection and its ability to create a new adaptation! Whoops… Maybe we’ll get around to it someday. In the meantime, would you settle for this mutation?”

Early Galaxies Give Cosmologists Lumps   03/03/2003
When the universe was only 2 billion years old there were already mature galaxies with old stars, reports the cover story of Science News (March 1, Vol 163, No. 9). It claims galaxies were undergoing a rapid burst of star formation just 800 million years after the big bang, less than 6% the currently accepted estimate for the age of the universe, 13.7 billion years. Even just 200 million years after the big bang, there were enough stars to ionize all the hydrogen in the universe. These recent findings about distant galaxies and quasars have led astronomers to the conclusion that galaxies and stars were already mature when the universe was very young, millions of years sooner than previously believed. These evidences mean that “astronomers may have to revise the accepted view of galaxy formation.”

In another cosmology story, the BBC News reports a surprise from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP); the newly-published, detailed map of the cosmic microwave background shows unexpected structure along the quadrupole and octupole components.

“We are convinced that it is a real effect,” Dr. [Max] Tegmark [University of Pennsylvania] said.  “It is telling us something about the shape of space on the largest scales.  We did not expect this and we cannot yet explain it.”

It may mean that the CMB is clumpier in some directions than others.  Some theories of the structure of the Universe predict this but observational evidence to support it would be a major discovery.

These observations add to a growing conundrum called the “lumpiness problem”: how did structure arise from a nearly featureless beginning? It also indicates that the early universe was already mature. Science News says, “A flurry of new reports suggests that a surprising number of galaxies grew up in a hurry, appearing old and massive even when the universe was very young.”

Cosmological measurements are always on the bleeding edge of the possible, so caution is advised in interpretation. The WMAP scientists had to attempt to find and filter out other sources of microwave interference; did they get them all? Nevertheless, these two stories illustrate how cosmologists are always changing their stories, because nature contains too many surprises to fit into neat theories. Having so much structure only 800 million years after the big bang (assuming their assumptions for the sake of argument) should spell the demise of naturalistic cosmologies, just like the Cambrian explosion should spell the demise of naturalistic biology, if we let the evidence speak for itself.

Iraq War Threatens Antiquities   03/03/2003
The BBC News is concerned that important archaeological artifacts may be at risk from the impending war in Iraq. Included among these are the curious “Baghdad batteries” sitting in a Baghdad museum. These strange pots containing copper cylinders and iron bars are presumed to have been batteries, because “they do work” based on experiments with replicas. Found in 1938, they are assumed to date either from Parthian era (250-225 BC) or Sassanian period (225-640 AD).  Other antiquities could also be threatened by war. Iraq sits right in the “Fertile Crescent” that was the cradle of civilization. It was the setting for many ancient kings, cities, and events mentioned in the Bible.

That ancient peoples could make batteries indicates they had intelligence and technology that is not often appreciated by moderns.  The discoverer, Wilhelm Konig, believed them to have been batteries, “though this was hard to explain, and did not sit comfortably with the religious ideology of the time.” Part of that ideology is the belief ancient people were backward and primitive. Other artifacts even older, from other parts of the world, show this attitude to be a type of modern chauvinism. They also argue that people were smart from the start, not evolving out of millions of years of brutish imbecility.

We can only hope that Iraq’s priceless antiquities do not suffer the fate its modern Nebuchadnezzar deserves.

Biography  03/01/2003   This month’s “Rock Star” in the geology journal GSA Today is James Dwight Dana (1813-1895), a devout Christian whose “influence was pervasive and extends even to us today,” according to biographer James H. Natland:

Dana held no strictly uniformitarian view of Earth history. A devout Christian, Dana had a New Englander’s properly Protestant view of the direction of Earth history. At one scale, he saw this in the progressive volcanism, erosion, and subsidence of linear volcanic chains. At another, the continents themselves have grown, and life itself has changed form in many ways; always, in Dana’s view, becoming more complex, accordingly as the area of land increased and global climate became more rigorous. This was plan, not chance. The paleontologist in Dana saw this, from a very nineteenth century phrenological perspective, in the growth and shape of the skulls of vertebrates. Thus a benevolent creator, whom Dana termed the “Power Above Nature,” prepared Earth for the benefit of His children, who are at the present end point of history.Such sentiments pervade Dana’s writing, as one might expect from a man who led Bible studies, played the piano for his church choir, and prayed with his family over meals.

Natland notes that “To many of his contemporaries, James Dwight Dana was the foremost American geologist of the nineteenth century.”  Recognizing the breadth and depth of his observations, Natland remarks that “One’s system of beliefs often contributes to scientific hypothesis.”

Can we apply that principle to the present day? Is it possible that naturalistic philosophy is contributing to the current geological paradigms, determining what they choose to observe and how they view the history of the world? James Dwight Dana was an admirable character in many ways, but compromised his Biblical faith with the growing scientific mood of the day that earth was many millions of years old. His acceptance of the belief that species had transmuted over time, with man as the goal, not only is irreconcilable with Scripture, but contradicts the Darwinian doctrine of unguided, purposeless evolution. His legacy is thus viewed as a mixed bag by both creationists and evolutionists.

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