Man on a Darwin Mission

When you think of helping people in the inner city, do you think of Darwin? Probably what comes to mind are religious missions, government social workers, the Red Cross, the Peace Corps, or UNESCO. David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everyone, who has spent a lifetime studying evolution, had a “Damascus moment” a few years ago; the idea that Darwinism is so powerful and productive, it can improve people’s lives. Like an apostle, he has taken his faith to the streets of Binghamton, New York.

Adventures in Biomimetics

The imitation of nature in engineering has become one of the hottest trends in science. Almost every week, amazing technologies are being advanced the easy way – by observing how living things do it. We all stand to benefit from the design-based science of biomimetics. Here are a few recent examples.

How the Reporter Evolved Its Silliness

When it comes to evolutionary stories, reporters have a knack for propounding the silliest notions about human origins. This tendency is evident in several recent science news stories about early man propounding, with nary a blush, outlandish claims with little evidence – or no evidence whatsoever.

Living Fossils Rise from the Dead

The oxymoron “living fossil” is suggestive. Seeing a plant or animal come to life, when it was only known from fossils, might seem miraculous. Perhaps, though, the phrase was invented to rescue Darwinian theory from the vast ages it requires. Is it credible to believe the time gaps? Here are two recent stories about creatures long thought dead, only to be found doing “Quite well, thank you.”

Hi-Tech Pharmaceutical Plants Are Green

In environmental lingo, what could be greener than a tree? And what is more despised by many environmentalists than chemical companies, especially the pharmaceutical and pesticide industries? Maybe we should take a tip from plants. They are not just environmentally friendly, they produce a myriad of complex compounds that are slowly finding their way into healthful products—and evolutionists have no idea how they do it.

Your Rotary Engines Are Arranged in Factories

As if ATP synthase was not amazing enough, a team of scientists in Germany now tells us they are arranged in rows with other equipment to optimize performance. From electron micrographs of intact mitochondria, they were able to detect the rotary engines of ATP synthase and other parts of the respiratory chain. Their diagram in an open-source paper in PNAS looks for all the world like a factory.

Would Wood Evolve?

The woods. We call them by their primary substance: wood. But would wood evolve from plants lacking woody stems? Was there some evolutionary pressure to force plants to grow tall to reach the sun, so that lucky mutations found a way to produce lignin and the other building blocks of wood? What other mutations did the blind evolutionary algorithm have to find to organize the components into trunks for trees? Two discoveries, a fossil and a mechanism, offer evolutionists a way to enhance their woody story.

Origin of Life Made Easy

As anyone knows who has been given directions and told “you can’t miss it,” sounding easy and being easy can be entirely different things. Reporters sometimes make the most difficult step in evolution – the origin of life – look like a cinch through the use of suggestive metaphors, like the commonly-invoked phrase, “building blocks of life.” The directions in their articles usually lead to dead ends at worst, or, at best, baby steps on a long march, most of the route TBD, a TLA (three letter acronym) meaning “to be determined.”

Archaic Humans Are One With Us

According to the biological species concept, two varieties of anything are considered one species if they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Applied to humans, new evidence suggests that Neanderthals and the recently-discovered Denisovans were members of the human species. According to New Scientist, “On the western fringes of Siberia, the Stone Age Denisova cave has surrendered precious treasure: a toe bone that could shed light on early humans’ promiscuous relations with their hominin cousins.” Since one can only be promiscuous within the same species, this puts enormous pressure on evolutionary timelines that assume the Denisovans split from the Neanderthals 300,000 years ago.

Playing Fast and Loose with Evolution

The word evolution gets used and misused often. Strictly speaking, neo-Darwinian evolution demands that mutations and natural selection operate with no foresight or oversight, no purpose or direction, no impetus toward a desired outcome. In actual practice, scientists and reporters play fast and loose with the term, making it into a designer substitute.

Hobbits Were Brain Diseased Modern Humans

The discovery of fossils of miniature humans in Indonesia, designated Homo floresiensis but nicknamed Hobbits, was one of the most exciting and controversial announcements of 2004. Since then, interpretations of the fossils have fallen into two camps: those who think the skeletons represent normal humans with the brain-defective disease microcephaly, and those who think they represent evolutionary missing links. A new paper compared skulls of H. floresiensis with those of modern humans, Homo erectus, and humans with microcephaly. The result favors the interpretation that the Hobbits most likely were diseased modern humans.

When Science Gets Political

The classic view of the scientist as an unbiased observer of nature was shattered with the development of the atomic bomb. Suddenly, it became apparent to the physicists working out the equations of nuclear fission could not absolve themselves completely of responsibility for the political uses of their research. Yet since the days of the French Academy of Sciences in the 17th century, kings and other rulers have called on natural philosophers to inform their decisions. These days, scientific institutions state political opinions at will. Some recent news items show them inserting their opinions beyond what the data alone might indicate.

Cold Dinosaurs Resembled Warm Dinosaurs

Cold dinosaurs were just like warm dinosaurs, scientists have found. Species living in the Antarctic, with up to six months of winter darkness, show no major differences in bone structure than those who lived in temperate climates. This was a surprise that falsified earlier studies. Whatever adaptations the high-latitude dinosaurs had did not show up in their bone structure.

Poison Rat: Did It Evolve?

The African crested rat has a unique way of deterring predators. It licks the bark from a poisonous tree (the same one native hunters use to poison their darts), and licks it onto its fur. Any predator that tries to eat the rat becomes very sick, and quickly learns to keep its distance. This kind of defense has been seen in other animals, but is the first known case of a mammal using a substance from another organism to make itself toxic to predators. Is it a classic case of evolution?

Cell Chaperones Keep Proteins Properly Folded

Imagine linking together a chain of 300 plastic shapes, some with magnets at various places. Then let it go and see if you could get it to fold spontaneously into a teapot. This is the challenge that cells face every minute: folding long chains of amino acids (polypeptides) into molecular machines and structures for the cell’s numerous tasks required for life. DNA in the nucleus codes for these polypeptides. They are assembled in ribosomes in single-file order. How do they end up in complex folded shapes? Some polypeptides will spontaneously collapse into their native folds, like the magnetic chain in our analogy. Others, however, need help. Fortunately, the cell provides an army of assistants, called chaperones, to monitor, coax, and repair unfolded proteins, to achieve “proteostasis” – a stable, working set of proteins. That army is so well-organized and complex, scientists continue to try to figure out how it performs so well in the field.
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