Sunday, 30 May 2010

Synthetic life?



Craig Venter did not succeed in creating life from scratch. Michelangelo: Creation of Adam. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.




Joel Kontinen


During the past ten days or so, the popular media have been busy with their news of Craig Venter’s achievement. A typical front page title shouted: ”It's alive!”

Source criticism was one of the earliest victims of the enthusiasm spurred by the breakthrough. Few popular publications were able to see the forest for the trees.

What, then, did Venter and his research team achieve?

Venter and his colleagues examined the genome of a microbe called Mycoplasma mycoides and used it to build the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides in the laboratory. (In non-technical English this might perhaps be called plagiarism.) Then they removed the DNA of the microbe Mycoplasma capricolum and replaced it with the genome of M. mycoides.

In other words, they moved the content from one tiny container to another equally tiny container. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, had this to say:

The idea that this is 'playing God' is just daft. What he has done in genetic terms would be analogous to taking an Apple Mac programme and making it work on a PC – and then saying you have created a computer. It's not trivial, but it is utterly absurd the claims that are being made about it."

The media nonetheless had a field day, or perhaps two or three.

Venter’s achievement is by no means insignificant. It required years of hard work and intelligent design.

But it is a far cry from creating synthetic life.

Sources:

Adams, Tim. 2010. Craig Venter: The dazzling showman of science. Observer (23 May)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/may/23/observer-profile-craig-venter

Bland, Eric. 2010. It's alive! Artificial DNA controls life. MSNBC (20 May) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37256799/ns/technology_and_science-science/

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Goodbye, Ardi! Ardipithecus ramidus is becoming more apelike



Researchers are questioning the classification of Ardi. Image courtesy of Science via Time.com. © 2009, J. H. Matternes.




Joel Kontinen

When Science published Ardi last October amid great fanfare, some researchers already doubted the significance of the discovery.

This week brought Ardi or Ardipithecus ramidus down at least a notch or two. Science published two technical comments on the discovery. One of them challenges Ardi’s assumed environment and the other her place in the human lineage.

Primatologist Esteban Sarmiento criticises the way Tim White and colleagues, the discoverers of Ardi, compared her remains with the traits of other hominids. They classified Ardipithecus ramidus into the human lineage mainly on the basis of teeth – canines and premolars. Sarmiento says that this kind of comparison is very unreliable.

According to Sarmiento, Ardi is probably too old to fit into the human lineage.

In addition, Rex Dalton of Nature News suggested that Ardi might be more apelike than it was thought.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


Sources:

Dalton, Rex. 2010. Ardi may be more ape than human. Nature News 27 May http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100527/full/news.2010.267.html

Sarmiento, Esteban E. 2010. Comment on the Paleobiology and Classification of Ardipithecus ramidus. Science 328: 5982, 1105. (28 May)

Atheist Attacks Richard Dawkins



Richard Dawkins has recently suffered severe setbacks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.



Joel Kontinen

David Sloan Wilson, an expert on group selection, takes issue with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and other angry atheists since they fail to acknowledge that religion can be beneficial.

In an interview in Nature News, Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology, who admits he is an atheist, says:

One of the things that infuriates me about the newest crop of angry atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, is their denial of the beneficial aspects of religion.

He goes on to say,

They are ignoring the scientific theory and evidence for the ‘secular utility’ of religion, as Émile Durkheim put it, even though they wrap themselves in the mantle of science and rationality. Someone needs to call them out on that, and that person is me.”

Richard Dawkins has suffered severe setbacks recently. First, even the Darwinists decided to bury the concept of junk -DNA and then it was time for the death knell of Dawkins' favourite argument, i.e. bad design of the human eye. A paper published in Physical Review Letters revealed that he is way behind the times.

Sources:

Labin, A. M. and E. N. Ribak. 2010. Retinal Glial Cells Enhance Human Vision Acuity. Physical Review Letters. 104, 158102. http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v104/i15/e158102


Marris, Emma. 2010. All evolution, all the time. Nature News 25 May
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100525/full/news.2010.260.html

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Earth’s Watery Origin



Genesis records that our planet had plenty of water from the beginning. Image courtesy of NASA.



Joel Kontinen

According to the naturalistic model of origins, Earth began as a dry planet and got its water as comets crashed into it.

However, recent research takes issue with this view. Maria Schönbächler at the University of Manchester, Richard Carlson of the Carnegie Institution and colleagues looked at the silver isotopes of meteorites and Earth rocks and concluded that our planet had to have water at a very early stage.

They believe that palladium-107, which has a half life of 6.5 million years, decayed into silver -107 very early in the history of our planet and that Earth got its water much earlier than previously assumed.

This study, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), was published in Science last week. Although it pays lips service to the idea of millions of years, it actually gives support to the Genesis model.

3500 years ago Moses already knew things about the Earth that scientists discovered recently. He wrote in Genesis:

And God said, ’Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ’land,’ and the gathered waters he called ’seas.’ And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:9-10)

Sources:


Silver Tells a Story of Early Earth: Water Here Since Planet's Very Early Days. National Science Foundation Press Release 13 May 2010.
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116934&org=GEO&from=news

Water Was Present During Birth of Earth, Study of Silver Suggests. ScienceDaily 14 May 2010.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100513143457.htm

Ice on the surface of an asteroid: the astronomers’ coelacanth?



Using NASA’s infrared telescope on Mauna Kea, astronomers found surface water ice on an asteroid. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.




Joel Kontinen

What does the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae have in common with surface ice on an asteroid called 24 Themis? According to an article in Nature, both are relics of the past and should no longer exist.

The coelacanth is a living fossil. The first live Latimeria chalumnae was found in 1938. The surface ice on 24 Themis was discovered much later.

Recently, Nature published two letters on the surface ice of the asteroid. 24 Themis orbits the Sun at about 3.2 astronomical units (AU) from it in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (1 AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun.)

There is still surprisingly much water ice on the surface of 24 Themis. However, astronomers who believe in billions of years would not expect ice to remain on the relatively warm surface of an asteroid so they have had to think hard to find explanations for this ”anomaly”, such as (a) ice continually rises to the surface from deeper in the asteroid or (b) impacts with other asteroids keep the surface covered by ice.

A much more logical explanation would be to acknowledge that 24 Themis is not billions of years old. Like comets, Saturn’s moon Titan and Mercury’s magnetic field, 24 Themis speaks of a young solar system.


Sources:

Campins, Humberto & al. 2010. Water ice and organics on the surface of the asteroid 24 Themis. Nature 464:7293, 1320-1321 (29 April).

Hsieh, Henry H. 2010. A Frosty Finding. Nature 464:7293, 1286-1287 (29 April).

Rivkin, Andrew S. and Joshua P. Emery. Detection of ice and organics on an asteroid surface. Nature 464:7293, 1322-1323 (29 April).

Saturday, 22 May 2010

30 Years Ago: Mount St. Helens Erupted

Joel Kontinen


The recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland was a minor blast compared to what occurred in May 1980 when Mount St. Helens exploded.



The eruption of the snow-capped volcano in the state of Washington caused enormous destruction. Tens of people lost their lives.

The Mount St. Helens eruption indicated that thick sediment layers could form in almost no time. A single lava flow in June 1980 formed over 7.5 metres (25 feet) of sediment in just three hours. What is more, the layers look like they are millions of years old.

In addition, mud slides formed a huge canyon very rapidly. The Toutle River Canyon looks as if it is millions of years old but its real age is 30 years.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens reminds us what the Genesis Flood could do.


Sources:

Morris, John and Steven A. Austin. 2003. Footprints in the Ash. Green Forest: Master Books.

Snelling, Andrew A. 2010. Thirtieth Anniversary of a Geologic Catastrophe. (18 May.) http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/05/18/thirtieth-anniversary-of-geologic-catastrophe

Monday, 17 May 2010

The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1)

Joel Kontinen

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.
(Luke 19:37-40)



Even if we keep silent, the rocky planets and other created objects in sky declare the glory of our Maker: ”The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” King David wrote 3000 years ago.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Charles Darwin’s family history suggests that the Genesis account of human origins is true



Charles Darwin suffered from poor health. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.



Joel Kontinen

For most of his life, Charles Darwin suffered from poor health. The suggested causes have varied from arsenic poisoning and parasite infection to lactose intolerance. A new study adds inbreeding to the long list of potential causes of ill health.

Tim Berra at Ohio State University in Mansfield and colleagues examined Charles Darwin’s family tree for four generations. Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood. They had ten children, which was not unusual in 19th century England. Three of them died in childhood. In addition, three of Charles and Emma’s children were childless.

The study published in BioScience shows that every fifth marriage in the ”Darwin/Wedgwood dynasty” (as they call it) was between near relatives, i.e. mostly between first cousins, and that members of both families had wed each other for a long time before Charles' day.

Berra and colleagues conclude that fatal diseases and poor health were significantly more common in the ”Darwin/Wedgwood dynasty” than in other families at that time.

Charles was very worried about his ailments and the poor health of his children. He began to think that at least some of the symptoms might result from marriages between close relatives.

The tragedy of Darwin’s family indicates that the Genesis-based model of human origins is correct. In the perfect world of Eden, marriages between close relatives were not problematic. However, after the Fall harmful mutations began to accumulate in the human genome.

4000 thousand years ago Abraham wed his half-sister Sarah but some 500 years later the law of Moses forbade marriage between close relatives.

It is not difficult to guess the reason. Since we get half of our genes from each parent, near relatives most probably have the same harmful mutations that can cause fatal diseases for their descendants.

Sources:

Berra, Tim, Gonzalo Alvarez and Francisco C. Ceballos. 2010. Was the Darwin/Wedgwood Dynasty Adversely Affected by Consanguinity? BioScience 60(5), 376-383. http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/Berra.pdf

Coughlan, Andy. 2010 Darwin dynasty's ill health blamed on inbreeding. New Scientist (3 May) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18847-darwin-dynastys-ill-health-blamed-on-inbreeding.html?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn18847

More soft tissue – this time from a ”150 million” year old Archaeopteryx feather



Archie is one of the best-known icons of evolution.





Joel Kontinen

After 150 million years, feathers should by no means be soft. However, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that this has happened. An international team of researchers used the synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF) method to take a closer look at Archaeopteryx and noticed that Archie’s feathers were still unfossilized.

The first Archaeopteryx fossil was found soon after Charles Darwin published his On The Origin of Species in 1859 and it became one of the best-known icons of evolution.

The fresh study caused the popular press to see birds as the descendants of dinosaurs although Archie is assumed to be much older than T. rex. New Scientist for instance pointed out that the Archaeopteryx bone has the same minerals – copper and zinc – as modern birds.

Such observations do not have much to do with bird evolution.

It would be more pertinent to discuss how a feather can retain its softness for 150 million years.

Like soft tissue in dinosaur bone, Archie’s feather suggests that it cannot be as old as evolutionists assume it to be.

Sources:

Bergmann, U. & al. 2010. Archaeopteryx feathers and bone chemistry fully revealed via synchrotron imaging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/05/05/1001569107

Hecht, Jeff. 2010. Soft tissue remnants discovered in Archaeopteryx fossil. New Scientist 2760. (10 May)
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18882-soft-tissue-remnants-discovered-in-archaeopteryx-fossil.html

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The first mother



Paul Anka in 2007. Image courtesy of Evert-Jan Hielema, Wikipedia

Joel Kontinen

Fifty years ago Paul Anka, a Canadian-American pop singer, recorded the single hit Puppy Love. Its B-side had a song called Adam and Eve, also known as In The Garden of Eden.

Yes, he was singing about the first couple in human history. On mother’s day it is good to think about the woman who became the great-great-great matriarch of us all. As Genesis 3:20 puts it: ”Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”

In the beginning there was no ape woman but Eve, a real woman who was created into a perfect world. She witnesses both great love and great tragedy as her decision caused disaster for the human race.

Jesus used Adam and Eve as an illustration of marriage (Mark 10:6-9):

But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

The first mother and the first father provide the biblical model for marriage: one man and one woman.

Happy mother’s day!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Neandertals were fully human



Reconstruction of a Neandertal girl. Image courtesy of Christopher P.E. Zollikofer, Anthropological Institute, University of Zurich.



Joel Kontinen

Our understanding of what Neandertal men looked like has changed incredibly in 150 years. At first, evolutionists described them as grunting, stooped ape-like cavemen.

In contrast, creationists have believed that as descendants of Adam, Neandertals were fully human just like us. Later, Darwinists began to change their views when discoveries suggested that Neandertal men were able to make musical instruments, tools and jewellery and most probably could also speak.

A fresh study suggests that the creationist view is much closer to the truth than the Darwinian one.

Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and colleagues sequenced 60 per cent of the Neandertal genome. They published their research results this week in Science. They obtained most of the DNA from three bones found in Croatia and read the draft genome 1.3 times.

Usually, to eliminate errors, researchers sequence a genome 10-20 times, so these results are very preliminary.

The research suggests that the genomes of Europeans and Asians are 1-4 per cent Neandertal.

This should not surprise us. According to the creationist view, Neandertals most probably lived in Europe in the harsh climate during the ice age following the global flood of Noah’s day.

Sources:

Dalton, Rex. 2010. European and Asian genomes have traces of Neanderthal. Nature News 6 May. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100506/full/news.2010.225.html


Green, Richard E. & al. 2010. A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science 328 (5979), 710 – 722. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/328/5979/710

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Has Noah’s ark been found?



Noah’s ark might have looked like this.





Joel Kontinen


A team of Chinese and Turkish explorers say they have found the remains of Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat. Members of the Hong Kong based Noah's Ark Ministries International found wooden structures on the mountain at an altitude 4, 200 metres (14, 000 feet).

Noah's Ark Ministries International held a press conference in Hong Kong on April 25 and released photos and a video of the discovery.

But as many biblical creationists criticised the assumed discovery, they took down the video.


The explorers say they took a sample of the wood and dated it at 4,800 years, which roughly corresponds to the biblical date of Noah’s flood.

However, not all creationists are convinced that the ark has really been found. Both Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International call for the need for further research. Archaeologist Randall Price at Liberty University and biologist Todd Wood of Bryan College also take a critical approach to the discovery.

The flood of Noah’s day was a global catastrophe that left marks everywhere in the world. Mass graveyards, fossils of sea creatures on high mountains and flood legends in every culture testify of a genuine, world-wide cataclysm that destroyed all land-based life outside the ark.

Further research will probably indicate what the Noah's Ark Ministries International expedition found.



Sources:

Noah's Ark Ministries International website. (They have obviously taken it down.)

Than, Ker. 2010. Noah's Ark Found in Turkey? National Geographic News. (28 April).


Update (9th December 2010):

It has become obvious that Noah’s Ark has not been found. You can read a detailed explanation here.

Stephen Hawking: Beware of big bad aliens!

Stephen Hawking. Image courtesy of NASA.



Joel Kontinen

Sending messages to outer space might not be a good idea. Greedy aliens, who have run out of green pastures on their home planet, might arrive with their giant spaceships and treat us like the early European conquerors treated the American Indians.

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking disclosed this while advertising a series he made for Discovery Channel. Hawking says that the sheer size of the universe almost guarantees that we are not alone.

Hawking’s logic is based on the assumption that since (as he believes) life originated randomly on Earth (or, as he suggests, an asteroid brought the building blocks of life from elsewhere), it must also have originated randomly elsewhere in the universe.

However, if we believe that God has created all life, we might forget speculations about greedy aliens.

How to get a whale from a cow

Joel Kontinen


Darwinists believe that whales moved into the oceans from dry land. The very name of the assumed whale ancestor Ambulocetus means a walking whale. However, this kind of change is anything but simple and hardly the type we can believe in.

Mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski calculates that a cow-like creature living on dry land would have needed at least 50, 000 morphological changes for such a move. From skin to the breathing apparatus, almost everything has to be changed if the cow wants to stay alive in its new watery environment. Like transforming a car into a submarine, it needs an enormous amount of changes.



Doctor Berlinski says that the fossil record does not support the view that such vast changes would ever have occurred in the extent required by Darwinian evolution.