Re: Weekly Web Watch: 10 October 1999

Stephen E. Jones (
Mon, 25 Oct 1999 20:46:23 +0800


Here is my summary of Creation/Evolution news on the Web from the week
beginning Sun 10-Oct-99. My comments are in [SJ> square brackets]. Note some
of these links may require free registration.


Dinosaurs: "ABC [Australian] News
Online: Tue, Oct 19 1999... New dinosaur species named after Qantas. A previously unknown
dinosaur has been found in 110-million-year-old fossil deposits on the Victorian coast. The
discovery also adds weight to theories that some dinosaurs were warm-blooded and able to
live in a wide range of habitats. Palaeontologists have named the creature Qantassaurus
intrepidus after the Australian airline which helped transport dinosaur exhibitions around
Australia several years ago... A jaw bone found at Inverloch, south-east of Melbourne, three
years ago indicates Qantassaurus had a beak-like mouth and may have eaten ferns and Norfolk
Island pines. They were the size of a small kangaroo, had long tails, no hair but possibly
scales, and probably had a mottled camouflage pattern as they lived in a dense forest in
Gondwanaland. Gondwanaland comprised Australia, Africa, Antarctica and South America.
The piece now occupied by southern Australia was near the South Pole and although there
was no ice cap, rocks from Inverloch show the scarring of ice..." [SJ> If this is only a jawbone
then it seems a lot is being deduced from it!]

Solar System: "CNN ... October 12, 1999
... Mars lander set for course adjustment on October 20 (CNN) -- Flight operators have set
October 20 as the date for a fourth planned thruster firing to correct the course of a lander
speeding toward Mars ... Missions commonly undergo such course corrections so engineers
can fine tune the path of a spacecraft after it is launched and approaches its target ..." [SJ>
Another example how human intelligent designers, design with the intention to intervene in the
future, rather than build in all the information at the beginning. The claim by the so-called
`fully-gifted' creation advocates that to intervene later is a mark of inferior design, is therefore

Education: "The New York
Times. October 10, 1999 Science vs. the Bible: Debate Moves to the Cosmos By JAMES
GLANZ. Scientific lessons about the origins of life have long been challenged in public
schools, but some Bible literalists are now adding the reigning theory about the origin of the
universe to their list of targets. Nearly overlooked in the furor over the Kansas school board's
vote in August to remove evolution from its education standards was a decision on the
teaching of the science of the cosmos. Influenced by a handful of scientists whose literal faith
in the Bible has helped convince them that the universe is only a few thousand years old, the
board deleted from its standards a description of the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins, the
central organizing principle of modern astronomy and cosmology." [SJ> This might be harder
to defend on scientific grounds. There is strong empirical evidence for the Big Bang and
indeed many Christians (and atheist/agnostics!) see it as good evidence for creation.] "Los Angeles
Times. Tuesday, October 12, 1999. Science Debate a Confusing Lesson By ANJETTA
MCQUEEN, AP Education Writer WASHINGTON--Terry Mondy, who's taught high school
science for 32 years in Wheeling, Ill., already knows the difficulty teachers will face if they are
ever forced to balance evolution and creationism in their classrooms....his students also ask
questions about creationism -a biblical-based view that holds God created life on Earth in six
days approximately 6,000 years ago. He recalled one time when he took a book on
creationism to a meeting in the teachers' lounge: "I just asked, 'Do you know about this?' and
one teacher jumped up and grabbed the book and threw it against wall and started swearing.
"At that moment I realized it was a controversial issue." No state can force a public school
teacher to teach creationism, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997, citing separation of church and
state. And evolution dominates in virtually all public middle school and high school science
textbooks. But the matter is far from settled. Three states - Alabama, Kansas and Kentucky -
give districts the option of offering in science classes creationism as an alternative or
accompanying view to the evolution. ... Such decisions could leave science teachers caught in
the middle, particularly those in small districts where better-organized creationism advocates
may offer their own books and lesson plans ... " [SJ> A comprehensive article, but marred by
the usual stereotype that "creationism" is only YEC. The teacher's overreaction to a creationist
book shows how prejudiced some teachers are against creation.] "The New York Times
October 12, 1999 Abroad At Home / By Anthony Lewis Something Rich and Strange ...
BOSTON -- What a contradictory country this is. More than any other, it has always been
open to new ideas, to change ... Yet there is also an America locked in rigid certainties and
shibboleths. That other part of our divided national character, the second America, is displayed
in the effort to put the Bible ahead of science in schools. The advocates speak of "creation
science," replacing the Darwinian theory that life forms evolved over millions of years with the
biblical account that God created the earth and its creatures in six days. Most of us thought the
attempt to stifle the teaching of evolution was a fringe phenomenon. Hadn't it been effectively
disabled by the Scopes trial three-quarters of a century ago? Then, in August, the Kansas
Board of Education voted to downgrade the teaching of evolution in public schools. A new
curriculum it approved removed evolution from the state tests that students have to take. The
Kansas board also took aim at the science of the cosmos, voting to delete from its standards
the Big Bang theory of how the universe originated around 15 billion years ago ... Of course
evolution is a theory. The whole ethos of science is that any explanation for the myriad
mysteries in our universe is a theory, subject to challenge and experiment. That is the scientific
method. Those who take the biblical account of creation literally reject the scientific method,
offering instead a doctrine of faith ... Concern about aspects of American life is fair enough.
But depriving children of the great ideas of science cannot make things better. We thought we
had advanced since Galileo was silenced for advancing the theory that the earth revolves
around the sun ..." [SJ> Again the official caricature that the only people opposed to evolution
are Biblical literalists. If "evolution is a theory ... subject to challenge" then why is he opposed
to those who are challenging it?]

Birds: "Researchers find fossils of
primitive flying dinosaur October 14, 1999 ... WASHINGTON (AP) - Researchers find fossils
of primitive flying dinosaur ... A fierce turkey-sized animal with sharp claws and teeth may
have been the first flying feathered dinosaur, a missing link between the lumbering lizards of
millions of years ago and the graceful birds of today. Fossils of the animal, called
Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, suggest that it lived 120 million to 140 million years ago when a
branch of dinosaurs was evolving into the vast family of birds that now live on every continent,
researchers said Thursday. "We're looking at the first dinosaur that was capable of flying," said
Philip Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, a dinosaur expert who helped
analyze the new fossil. "We don't know how good a flier it was, but it certainly has all of the
structures you would expect to see in a flying animal," he said. The animal's shoulder girdle
and breast bone resemble that of modern birds, said Currie, and its hands had been modified to
form part of the wing structure. It also had a full set of feathers and a long tail that probably
gave it stability in flight." Also at:
[SJ> While I believe that God probably created the first bird by modifying a dinosaur, I regard these
`feathered dinosaur' claims from China as probably hype. At 120-140 mya, this fossil is 5-30 mya
younger than Archaeopteryx (145-150 mya).]

Disease: "Healthy animals avoid
sick animals ... ENN October 14, 1999 ... The recent study that examined how tadpoles
respond to disease may have implications for other animals, including humans. Animals may be
able to recognize and keep their distance from diseased animals, according to a recent study.
The research by Yale professor David Skelly, in collaboration with Professor Joseph Kiesecker
at Penn State University, indicates that healthy bullfrog tadpoles can distinguish the odors
given off by infected tadpoles. When presented with a bullfrog tadpole infected with a
contagious fungus that attacks the digestive tract, the healthy tadpoles moved up to a foot
away, Skelly said. If animals can sense the risk of disease and respond to it in a way that
reduces their risk, than diseases will spread slower than they would otherwise, he said.
Although Skelly and Kiesecker have only studied amphibians thus far they believe their
research may have implications for all animals, including humans. "Biologists had long
speculated that animals might gain an advantage from being able to avoid diseased animals, but
there was no experimental evidence," said Skelly, a professor of ecology and evolutionary
biology. "If these behaviors are widespread, they could be important in making accurate
predictions of the spread of disease." ... Our understanding of predators and their prey has
changed drastically since it was discovered that many kinds of prey animals can change their
behavior and even their body shape when they smell nearby predators," Skelly said.
"Responding to disease risk may be quite similar from an animal's perspective. In both cases,
animals appear to be able to use behavior to reduce the chance that they will be harmed or
die." [SJ> If this holds up it might be a useful counter to the Argument from Evil.]

Exobiology: "Scientists pin hopes on
prospects for life on Europa. October 14, 1999 ... PADUA, Italy (AP) -- Hundreds of cosmic
scientists gathered in Galileo's homeland Wednesday, hoping to learn from a spacecraft named
Galileo whether a heavenly body the Renaissance astronomer discovered four centuries ago
might support life. The NASA spacecraft Galileo, winding down a two-year, $30 million probe
of Jupiter, made its closest-ever flyby of the planet's moons earlier this week, passing within
380 miles of Io, Jupiter's innermost large moon. But many of the scientists here are more
interested in Jupiter's fourth largest moon, Europa, spotted by Galileo in 1610 ... In the world
of planetary science, Europa is very hot these days. Not in terms of temperature -- the surface
is blindingly bright ice and the thermometer hovers around minus 260 degrees -- but in terms
of the search for life beyond Earth. Some scientists here believe that Europa, the brightest
object in our solar system other than the sun, may have the elements needed for life: water, a
heat source deep in the core and organic molecules ... Other researchers reported in a recent
issue of the journal Science that Europa probably could not support life because any oceans
beneath the frozen surface could barely support single-cell organisms let alone complex
species. They said a layer of ice at least 6 miles deep blocks the sun's lifesustaining energy
from the water. Scientists have also reported finding evidence of frozen sulfuric acid on
Europa's surface ... and the discovery gave them pause at first, one of the Galileo scientists,
Robert Carlson, admitted. Then he talked things over with astrobiologists, who said sulfur can
be a source of food for microbes. "It's not as bad as I thought. In fact, it might be good,"
Carlson said ..." [SJ> Having failed to simulate the conditions to spontaneously generate life in
the laboratory, materialistic-naturalistic science is hoping to find it in space! But there seems a
basic illogic here - if their assumption is correct that life generates spontaneously whenever
conditions are right, then they should be able to simulate those conditions in a lab. Indeed,
those conditions should exist naturally somewhere on Earth today. How much of this search
for life in space is to do with NASA's need for funding and/or to further a scientific materialist

Electronic Telegraph. 14-10-99. "Bad news for Venus - it's a pinball again Robert Matthews
traces the life and work of Carl Sagan ... AMONG the general public, the late American
astronomer Carl Sagan is probably best known for his long-running Eighties television series
Cosmos...Among academics, however, Sagan's reputation is still the cause of controversy
three years after his death. Many think of him as a highly creative scientist who made lasting
contributions to astronomy ... But as Keay Davidson makes clear in his extraordinarily
revealing biography of the astronomer, published this week, many other academics dismiss
Sagan as a publicity-seeking gadfly, lacking true intellectual rigour. About the only thing all
scientists do agree on is that 25 years ago Sagan did a grand job of ridding the world of the
theories of a Russian named Immanuel Velikovsky. During the Fifties, Velikovsky published a
series of books in which he outlined a new history of the human race which challenged existing
orthodoxies. In a nutshell, he argued that the planet Venus is a very recent addition to our
solar system, ejected by Jupiter a few thousand years ago, reaching its present orbit in the 9th
century BC. On its way there, Velikovsky claimed, Venus swept past the Earth, triggering all
manner of catastrophes. The publication of Worlds In Collision annoyed many scientists, who
saw it as a prime example of pseudoscience. But what sent them into paroxysms of rage was
Velikovsky's subsequent claims that his theory had been vindicated by the scientists
themselves. In his books, he had argued that the violent birth of Venus must have left it both
hot and spinning in an unusual way. When space probes finally reached the planet in the
Sixties, it turned out that Venus is indeed very hot, and spins slowly backwards so that one
Venusian day lasts marginally longer than its year. The fact that the scientific establishment
still refused to take Velikovsky seriously even after this apparent "vindication" was seen by his
supporters as proof of the stuffy arrogance of academics. The crunch finally came in 1974,
when the scientific establishment took on Velikovsky, then 78, in a public debate organised by
the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And captaining the stuffy
academics team was a 39 year-old professor of astronomy named Carl Sagan. It was an
unequal contest. Sagan argued that Velikovsky's predictions were vague to the point of
vapidness ... Sagan's criticisms centred on the sheer implausibility of Venus zooming around
the solar system like some pinball, defying the orderly laws of celestial mechanics ... [but] ...
This month's Scientific American suggests that a rethink is in order. Dr Renu Malhotra, of the
Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, argues that the orbits of the planets have undergone
substantial alterations since their formation, following close encounters with swarms of rocky
and icy "planetesimals" that whizzed around the early solar system like, well, pinballs. Dr
Malhotra concludes her report by stating: "One thing is certain: the idea that planets can
change their orbits dramatically is here to stay"... [SJ> While I hold no brief for Velikovsky, I
find it interesting how a non-scientist can be scorned by the scientific community and declared
to be a peddler of "pseudoscience" only to turn out to be largely correct! It's also interesting
that such a prominent science populariser can be regarded so poorly by his peers.]

Natural Selection:
Electronic Telegraph. 14-10-99. "Ants go in for topiary to repel tree invaders By Roger
Highfield. AFRICAN ants which indulge in the art of topiary by pruning the canopies of
whistling thorn trees have been discovered in East Africa. Their pruning prevents rival
colonies using the branches of neighbouring trees as bridges to invade, according to a study
led by Prof Maureen Stanton of the University of California. Four species of ant fight over the
whistling thorns, but Crematogaster nigriceps chew off their host tree's new growth, reducing
the spread of the canopy. "This allows these colonies to persist longer, almost as fugitives, in
hostile neighbourhoods," Prof Stanton said. Many specialised plant- ant species live co-
operatively with their hosts the plants house and feed the ant colony, while the ants protect
their hosts from herbivores, pathogens and competitors. Not so with C. nigriceps. Prof
Stanton said: "The pruning sterilises the host tree, so it is definitely not to the tree's benefit.
"Our field results suggest that this selfish pruning has evolved because it increases the life span
of C. nigriceps colonies."..." [SJ> This seems to be an example of natural selection building
instinctive behaviour. But note that the ants stay ants, and it doesn't do the host tree any good,
so it may eventually lead to the ants' extinction!]

Fine Tuning:
Electronic Telegraph. 14-10-99. "Our lives are numbered The universe is 'fine-tuned' by just
six numbers, without which we would not exist. Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, explains
his radical new theory ... More recently, astronomy has revealed a grander evolutionary
perspective, tracing cosmic history back far further than the birth of the first stars and galaxies
to a simple "Big Bang". The next radical idea for us to tackle is that our unimaginably complex
universe has been created from the simplest recipe: just six numbers. These numbers (see
below) determine how the universe expands, whether planets, stars and galaxies can form, and
whether the "chemistry" is propitious for evolution. This offers a new perspective on our place
in the universe, and even intimates that our entire universe may be just one "atom" in an
infinite "multiverse". Within the past five years, it has been established that our sun is not
unique in being orbited by a retinue of planets. Many other stars have planets around them,
too. Some could harbour life. But if aliens exist, they will be subject to precisely the same
physical laws and forces that govern us. The same six numbers will rule any little green men
that might be out there. Indeed, this uniformity seems to extend to the remotest galaxies that
astronomers can study ... Just Six Numbers, by Martin Rees (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) ...."
[SJ> Here we have Britain's Astronomer Royal noticing the universe is fine-tuned for life, but
rather than conclude that it was created that way by an Intelligent Designer, he believes
instead in a "multiverse" of which there is not (and presumably never can be) any evidence.]

Molecular machines: "Synthetic enzyme
produces hydrogen cheaply ... ENN October 15, 1999 ... "Hydrogen is the most common
element in the universe ... Yet, scientists struggle to produce a cheap supply of hydrogen gas.
Scientists have created a synthetic enzyme that produces hydrogen fuel, a breakthrough that
could move the world closer to an energy-efficient, hydrogen-based economy. ... Current
manufacturing processes, such as electrolysis and the catalytic stripping of hydrogens from
hydrocarbons, are both costly and inefficient. ... "Fortunately, nature has already solved the
problem by designing numerous microorganisms that efficiently make or use hydrogen in
support of their metabolic activities," said Thomas Rauchfuss, a chemistry professor at the
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Rauchfuss and his colleagues are on a quest to
understand how this natural process works. Last year, scientists announced the chemical
structures of two hydrogen-producing enzymes and Rachfuss' team went to their lab to make a
synthetic version. The enzymes work at room temperature in water and make hydrogen fuel by
stripping hydrogen from hydrocarbons using iron catalysts, said Rachfuss. To date, they have
created a synthetic version of one of the enzymes. However, their version just contains 25
atoms, whereas the real version contains thousands. As a result, their version works for a bit
and then stops. "Nature has a little battery attached to its catalysts and we don't, so we are
trying to make a second generation enzyme mimic with a similar little battery attached,"
Rachfuss said ... The scientists hope to have a synthetic enzyme that produces hydrogen
nonstop within a few years. "My guess is that we will not quite match the nature system's
efficiency," he said.." Also at:
[SJ> "So we are expected to believe that blind physical forces were able to build a hydrogen-
generating molecular machine, comprising thousands of atoms, complete with a battery, which
is highly efficient and does not stop, when highly intelligent scientists, with the latest
technology, and the natural system as a model, can only build a far inferior version? Note the
language of Intelligent Design: "...nature has already solved the problem by designing
numerous microorganisms..."!] "Yahoo! News Science
Headlines Monday October 11 ... Nobel Winner: Discoverer Of Life's 'Postal System' ...
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - German-born biologist Guenter Blobel, awarded the 1999 Nobel
Medicine Prize Monday, discovered the "postal system" of life with his research into the way
proteins are directed around cells in living organisms. Blobel's discoveries make it possible to
use proteins -- the organic compounds that form parts of cells -- to create drugs to fight some
hereditary diseases or target defects in a cell. ... "It worked very much like the mail. There are
in fact (postal) codes," ... Blobel's work, elegantly establishing the signals which direct
proteins and which have been compared to the luggage tags on air baggage, builds on the
traditions of Palade's laboratory ..." Also at: Los Angeles Times
... Tuesday, October 12, 1999 "... Blobel ...found that each of the 1 billion protein molecules
in a single cell bears a short address tag. The tag indicates that it belongs in the nucleus, the
cell membrane or elsewhere, or that it should be secreted outside the cell. With such tags, the
cell runs like a well-organized factory. Without them, it would be like an earthquake-damaged
warehouse with cellular components scattered uselessly about. When proteins are sent to the
wrong location by a defective tag, they cannot perform their customary function and can
produce disease."; http: //
"The New York Times. October 12, 1999 ... Blobel ... won the 1999 Nobel Prize in
Medicine Monday for discovering that proteins carry signals that act as ZIP codes, helping
them find their correct locations within the cell ... Dr. Blobel reasoned that proteins have to be
transported either out of the cell, or to the different organelles. Such transport had to be highly
regulated, or the cell would be wide open to damage from things entering from the
outside...At a news conference at Rockefeller Monday, Dr. Blobel said there were many
disappointments in the 30 years of research, "such as when your grants and papers are rejected
because some stupid reviewer rejected them for dogmatic adherence to old ideas..." & the
official Nobel Prize announcement summary:
[SJ> "postal system", "zip codes", "luggage tags", "a well-organized factory". Sounds like the
work of an Intelligent Designer!]

Archaeology: "Friday, October 15,
1999 ... Stonehenge face mystery. Silently watching us for 4,000 years? By BBC News Online
Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse Has the face of the creator of Stonehenge been staring at
us unrecognised for more than 4,000 years? A British archaeologist claims to have seen a face
carved into the side of one of the mighty stones at Stonehenge. The face can be seen on the
side of a standing stone It is the first face ever seen on the Neolithic monument and one of the
oldest works of art ever found in Britain. It was recognised by Terrence Meaden, an
archaeologist with a fascination for the ancient standing stones of the British Isles. "I just
happened to be there at the right time of day because only when the light is right can you see it
properly. During the summer months it is only obvious for about a hour each day around
1400." It is amazing that it has never been recognised before. Dr Meaden believes that it was
missed because previous researchers concentrated on the fronts of the standing stones and not
their sides... The particular viewing conditions to see it at its best will have also played a part
in it not being seen. "But once you see it it's obvious," he says...Meaden's photographs are
being evaluated by other archaeologists. He also claims that other faces can clearly be seen on
the Avebury stones not far from Stonehenge. But who is the face of Stonehenge? "We will
never know," says Meaden, "He could be the patron of the monument or even its architect.
Perhaps the designer of Stonehenge has been looking at us for four thousand years and we
didn't see him." [SJ> This story has a number of ID themes: 1. Design can be subtle and lie
unnoticed; 2. There is a potential specification in that it could reasonably be a human face; 3.
Design can be detected by working through a Dembski-type explanatory filter to eliminate the
other possibilities of law (eg. natural processes of erosion and weathering), and chance (e.g.
damage); and 4. Even if design is concluded, it may not be possible, and is not necessary, to
identify the designer.]

Development: "Nature Science Update Tuesday 12
October 1999 evolution: Starring role for the nose of a mole HENRY GEE One of the less
well-known wonders of nature is the nose of the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata). The
snout of this animal is fringed with 22 fleshy, finger-like projections, each making one point of
the star. As a whole, the star is an organ of touch so refined and complex that it can be
thought of as the tactile equivalent of an eye. As Kenneth C. Catania of Vanderbilt University,
Nashville, Tennessee and colleagues argue in a report in the Journal of Experimental Biology,
the star could represent a totally new model for the development of appendages in animals.
Most animal appendages, whether the wings of an insect or the arms and legs of a person, start
as outgrowths of the body wall. Recent work has shown that appendage outgrowth
throughout the animal kingdom is governed by a similar set of genes. This suggests that the
pattern for appendage growth was laid down back in the Precambrian era, more than 540
million years ago, before the common stock that gave rise to the large and varied suite of
multicellular animals had diversified. But need all animal appendages develop in this way?
Catania and colleagues use the star- nosed mole as a test case...In contrast to the usual plan of
appendage formation, this scheme does not involve a phase of outgrowth from the body wall,
and results in the reversal of the original embryonic orientation of the appendage. The general
importance of this unique pattern of development is hard to estimate, as this particular scheme
of appendage development is, as far as is known, confined to the star-nosed mole. However,
examination of other moles shows a kind of nascent developmental program which, if carried
on to its extreme, would result in the distinctive appendage of Condylura cristata -- a star is
born." [SJ> A unique developmental program for moles is evidence of them being a unique
line of descent, ie. polyphyletic. Also if the same set of (Hox?) genes are producing radically
different development pathways then it would seem that it may not be the genes that are the
ultimate cause of development.]

Stephen E. (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ Email:
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \ Web:
Warwick 6024 -> *_,--\_/ Phone: +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, Western Australia v "Test everything." (1 Thess. 5:21)