May 24, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Ape Archaeology, Cat Psychology, Old DNA, and a Bridge

From May 2002, here are more CEH articles that disappeared after a website upgrade awhile back. They’re still informative and sometimes funny.

Note: some embedded links may no longer work.

Apes Use Stone Tools, Too   05/24/2002
ScienceNow has a news summary of a paper in the May 24 online issue of Science about a nut-cracking galley used by chimpanzees. This opens a new field of human evolution studies called “ape archaeology.” If similar sites are found in the fossil record, perhaps the evolution of human tool use could be traced. Tim White of the University of California cautions, however, that even the simplest hominid tool site is fundamentally different from the chimpanzee nutcracking site, where the apes simply use unmodified stones as hammers against other stones.

On a related subject, the BBC News reported April 26 that animal activists in the US were launching a campaign to let chimpanzees go to court: “The Chimpanzee Collaboratory says chimpanzees are so close to humans – sharing 98.7% of our genetic make-up – that they deserve to get the same kind of legal representation as children.”

Let’s give credit to the ingenuity a Creator would give to His creatures so that they could eat and survive in the wild. What’s so big about tool use? Even birds use tools to dig bugs out of wood. If a bird can build an elaborate nest, and a beaver an architecturally-sound dam, and honeybees a geometrical hive, what’s the big deal about apes pounding nuts with rocks? Evolutionists are driven by the desire to show there is no essential difference between me and thee and the chimpanzee.

The genetic similarity of 98.7% is an oft-quoted piece of misinformation. We don’t mind if apes get legal representation, so long as they hire their own lawyers from within their own species and pay for them out of their own banana banks. We’ll even grant them the right of a peel, so long as they leave it on the floor in the path of an animal rights activist.

Binary Asteroids Puzzle Astronomers   05/24/2002
A team of planetary scientists from Caltech, NASA, JPL and Cornell writing in the May 24 online issue of Science discusses the unusually high number of asteroids that have companions orbiting them. About 16% of studied near earth asteroids (NEA) have companions, and the parent bodies have a spherical shape that indicates they did not simply split apart. After ruling out impacts and capture as the most likely mechanisms, the authors hypothesize that breakup of loosely bound aggregates from tidal stresses during near-planet encounters might explain their numbers and orbital characteristics the best. The problem is that this mechanism could only keep binaries together for 10 million years, less than one 400th the assumed age of the solar system, so why are binaries so common?

No one anomaly like this means the solar system is younger than believed, because there is always some explanation that can be offered. But when you find numerous other phenomena that are short-lived, like ring arcs around Neptune, young rings around Saturn, an atmosphere on Titan that can’t survive for long, young meteorites and lunar craters, hot violent volcanoes on a tiny moon, short-lived radioisotopes in the solar wind, young-looking structures on icy Callisto, small moons with too much heat, comets still burning up when the source is smaller than previously thought, and Mars covered with mind-boggling features, these observations together have to make you wonder how firm that often-touted number of 4.5 billion years is, considering that scientists still can’t explain how the solar system formed in the first place.

It is only the radioactive dating of certain asteroids that yields the standard old age, but what if there are other explanations for that? Should not all these other considerations, taken together, have some weight on dating the solar system? The only reason that the old age date is untouchable is that a young solar system would not provide the vast periods of time evolutionists need to account for life on earth. As if that would help them; we invite our readers to wade through the links on Origin of Life and see all the hand-wringing going on there, too.

Cats Have Evolved to Manipulate Their Owners   05/23/2002
Evolution has given your cat the ability to make you give it what it wants, claims Nicholas Nicastro, a graduate student in evolutionary psychology at Cornell University. The BBC News reports that Nicastro played 100 different recorded cat calls to a group of 26 humans and asked them to rate the pleasantness of the sounds to conclude that cats have evolved the right tones in their meows [American spelling] to get humans to give them food, or pet them, or otherwise manipulate their owners. SciNews also discusses this story as an experiment on the evolutionary process of artificial selection. Others are skeptical and claim this has nothing to do with evolution or genetics. Nicastro, however, explains, “Cats are domesticated animals that have learned what levers to push, what sounds to make to manage our emotions. And when we respond, we too are domesticated animals.”

Lamarckism is alive and well at Cornell. Dr. John Bradshaw of Southampton University correctly argued, “The idea that a female would go up to a male in a back alley somewhere and say, ‘could I hear your miaow [British spelling] to see if the kittens you father will be appealing to people’, couldn’t happen. Cats don’t have that level of communication.”

But if this is artificial selection, it is not evolution. Artificial selection is intelligent design! Human breeding involves guided choice on which animals or plants are allowed to breed, and has nothing to do with evolution; breeders have done artificial selection for millennia before Darwin.

So here is another ramification of the evolutionary mentality: you are the pet, and your cat is the owner. You are a “domesticated animal” now; your cat has you on the leash. But we didn’t need an evolutionist to tell us that; we read Garfield.

Update   The author of the paper, Nick Nicastro, wrote us to explain that his theory is not Lamarckian; he is stating that cats that have developed symbiotic relationships with humans are more likely to leave offspring. Whether or not this idea is defensible, however, we would claim it is still a case of artificial selection and has nothing to do with the evolution of cats or humans from some other kind of creature. Cats had all their organs and vocalization skills before people decided which ones they liked to pet and hold, and which ones they wanted to chase away with stomping foot and angry holler, Scat out of here!

Intact DNA Found in 465 Million Year Old Salt   05/23/2002
English scientists writing in the May 23 issue of Nature, report recovering bacterial DNA samples from several salt deposits they estimated are 11 to 465 million years old. The DNA sequences, taken from evaporite deposits in Michigan, Poland and Thailand, were nearly identical to each other and to living counterparts. They write, “The close relatives of these salt-crystal phylotypes are thus ubiquitous, and live in a wide variety of environments, including the subsurface. Therefore, it is probable that some of these related but geographically distinct organisms have been separated for millions of years, yet they still share very similar 16S rRNA sequences. This lends support to the argument that the molecular clock may be slow in certain phylogenetic lineages.” They conclude that “DNA entrapped in halite can survive over geological timescales….”

Others are critical. A write-up in New Scientist thinks this claim will come back to haunt Nature for publishing it. Some scientists feel the DNA are common contaminants; others argue that at best, DNA could only survive a million years without degrading. The authors respond that salt is a preservative.

Something sounds drastically wrong with their assumptions. DNA intact after 465 million years? How can this fragile molecule survive splitting continents, asteroid impacts, mountain building episodes, floods, earthquakes and other earth-shattering events? And where is the evolution after all that time? How did identical bacterial DNA get spread around the world, and show no change to the present? Doesn’t this throw out all the other evolution papers that depend on the molecular clock? Isn’t it more likely these deposits are young? Could evolution be a myth? Question authority (when the authority is questionable).

Self-Replicating Evolutionary Cycle Demonstrated in Test Tube   05/22/2002
A paper by a team of Japanese chemists in the May 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled, “Importance of compartment formation for a self-encoding system,” claims to have demonstrated that, if tightly compartmentalized, a gene and the protein that reads it can maintain a “hypercycle” of reactions that is evolvable and can replicate itself through at least ten generations. The cycle breaks down in three generations if not compartmentalized. Moreover, the successful compartmentalized products showed variation under the selection pressure of the compartments that could have led to further evolution (although the mutations actually observed appeared to be either deleterious or neutral). They used off-the-shelf DNA polymerase in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with in vitro protein synthesis in their laboratory. They describe their results and its implications for evolutionary theory:

Here, we showed a sustainable in vitro self-encoding system, where the genotype-phenotype dichotomy gyrated in a cyclical feedback coupling of the translated product, the DNA polymerase, and the replicated gene of its own throughout the evolutionary process. In addition, the system was also proven effective in evolving molecules based on functional selection. From the fact that functional selection comes into effect through imposed strict compartition on a self-encoding system, we may assume that primitive life used occasional subsequent dilution and compartition for its evolution. When some of the replicators adopt strict compartition, their information will become digitalized and the system will become evolvable.

Recalling the “RNA World” hypothesis for how the first self-replicating, self-encoding cycle might have begun, they see a bright future: “As evolution proceeded, the replicator may have taken a more sophisticated mechanism, such as dividing vesicles, leading to the development of a whole arsenal of integrated networks that render the present status of cells. Considering the robotics-supported technology of directed molecular evolution, it may not be too far to see the evolution of more sophisticated self-encoding system in the near future.”

This paper sparked our interest, because it seemed to be claiming that scientists had almost created life in a test tube. It seemed to be saying that they got a gene and a protein to dance together in a self-replicating, self-encoding cycle that demonstrated how simple molecules could have started an evolutionary path that led to (eventually) intelligent biochemists who could recreate the process in a laboratory. Isn’t this a beautiful example of evolutionary theory verified by empirical methods? Doesn’t this show the superiority of naturalism over design, in that it leads to testable experiments instead of speculations about some undefined Mind out there? Doesn’t this experiment, and others in the references, show the plausibility of chemical evolution?

No; this was an experiment demonstrating intelligent design.

If you go into a factory and isolate some machines that have dependencies on the rest of the factory, you might be able to get them to run as standalone systems for awhile. It is a non-sequitur to conclude that you have demonstrated how the factory created itself. At every step in this experiment, the scientists imposed their intelligent guidance on the molecules to make them do what they otherwise would not do. This is called the fallacy of investigator interference and is a serious flaw in chemical evolution studies, as explained in the book The Mystery of Life’s Origin by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen.

Moreover, these researchers started out with very information-rich ingredients: a gene and the sophisticated enzyme DNA polymerase. Did you see their magic trick? Watch carefully: “When some of the replicators adopt strict compartition,” they say, “their information will become digitalized…” Whoa! What information? That was a clever sleight-of-hand maneuver… did you catch it?

Go read the quote above again: they got information out of compartition, just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! Then for the grand finale, they pull lions, tigers, elephants and whales out of the same hat: sophisticated mechanisms, dividing vesicles, and a “whole arsenal of integrated networks that render the present status of cells.” Clap enthusiastically for this dazzling magic show!

Back to the real world. How was the trick done? Like running an existing power tool, they merely harnessed existing design and information built into these molecules to make them work for awhile (without their usual retinue of error-correcting and proofreading helpers) until they sputtered to a halt. Left unexplained is how DNA polymerase and the gene that codes for it could have ever originated out of simple molecules without help from intelligent design. They took a giant leap of faith.

“But at least they were in the lab experimenting; isn’t that better than just giving up and claiming ‘God did it’?” (This is a favorite criticism of Eugenie Scott and the NCSE.) It depends.

To illustrate this, picture a large canyon, representing the origin of life, that the evolutionists must cross by building a bridge over it. They think they are making progress when they hire a helicopter to hold a steel girder out in mid-air and say, “We have demonstrated that this girder would work as part of our bridge, if all the other parts were in place.”But what happens the moment they let go of the girder, and the pilot flies away? It crashes to the bottom of the canyon, accomplishing nothing. In their write-up of their results, they might refer to other helicopters that have held up other girders and cables at other points, none of which could have ever hung out there in mid-air waiting for the next piece to join up, yet they boast about the progress they’re making.

An evolutionist may retort that they are not holding their girders in mid-air, but building from the sides to meet in the middle. No they are not; every one of their experiments independently cheats by invoking intelligent design (the helicopter or the prefabricated girders), which is unlike what nature would do. To imitate nature, they would have to take their intelligently guiding hands off the apparatus, and wait for millions of years in despair while nothing happens.

Besides, nature would only be able to build from one side of the canyon, and would have no directionality or will to aim for the other side, or to build on any previous “successes”. (How do you define success, by the way, without a mind?) Invoking natural selection prior to replication is also cheating; but without it, there is no building on prior successes.

Our bridge analogy is actually generous toward evolution; we gave them helicopters and steel girders, which are all designed objects built or manipulated by intelligent minds. The evolutionists’ task is to tell us how mindless nature, using raw materials like iron ore, built the bridge itself, without help, and tell us why nature would even want to do such a marvelous thing. And why even grant them the iron ore? Go back far enough, and they have to explain the origin of all the raw materials from nothing.

The Japanese researchers got their cycle going using existing off-the-shelf DNA polymerase and genes from existing bacteria. This is like the girder held in mid-air 50′ from the far side of the canyon, while thousands of feet of missing bridge are simply assumed to be filled in by someone else.

To show what a huge gap that is, consider that both the protein and the gene were made of single-handed components: left-handed amino acids for the protein, and right-handed sugars for the gene. The probability of getting even a short protein or gene of just 100 building blocks all of one hand is like the probability of flipping coins and getting 100 heads in a row: it is astronomically improbable, so much so that we can say confidently it would never happen in the whole universe in 20 billion years, even if every star had a planet with six billion people flipping coins trying. This one consideration alone renders chemical evolution a pseudoscience. 

Another huge gap is the fact that DNA is a language, a code, a carrier of information. Even these researchers correctly call it an informational molecule. As the triple-PhD organic chemist A. E. Wilder-Smith used to emphasize, languages only carry meaning if there is a language convention, an agreement between two parties on what the code represents.  I0 could mean ten, or two in binary digits, or sixteen in hexadecimal, or one of the moons of Jupiter, or nothing at all – depending on what we all agree in advance it means. It is meaningless until meaning is imposed on it.

In DNA, GCC codes for alanine, an amino acid.  GCC is not alanine, does not look like alanine, does not smell like alanine, and means nothing by itself. But DNA and transfer RNA and the ribosome have a language convention, so that when messenger RNA carries a GCC message from the DNA, the ribosome knows to put alanine on the growing protein chain. And then a host of other enzymes make sure it didn’t make a typo! This is amazing! Here we have a real language coding and translation system in nature that bears the imprint of a mind.

This fact is death to all concepts of chemical evolution. That is why it is not progress for these Japanese researchers to tell us how they have assembled a self-replicating hypercycle out of already information-rich ingredients. By failing to explain the origin of the key ingredient, information, evolutionary theories are committing a fundamental fallacy; they are building their bridges by their own intelligent design, and then turning around and asking us to believe nature did it without a mind, guidance, or the will to do it. That is not better than saying God did it; it is blind faith in miracles with no miracle worker around.

Footnote: does Intelligent Design thinking grind experimental science to a halt? No way. Look at history: it was belief in design that motivated Kepler, Newton, Boyle, Maxwell and most other great founders of science to figure out nature’s designs. It recently motivated Roderick MacKinnon to figure out the amazing design of the potassium channel in the cell membrane. Design thinking is good for science. It will put an end to the pantheistic myth that nature works miracles without mind. If information is a fundamental entity of the universe, a science that ignores it cannot hope to succeed. But scientists with a motivation like that of James Clerk Maxwell will joyfully pursue science to gain an understanding of the omnipotent Mind that left His imprint on all of creation.

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