Re: Weekly Web Watch: 17 October 1999

Stephen E. Jones (
Thu, 28 Oct 1999 06:31:03 +0800


Here is my summary of Creation/Evolution news on the Web from the week beginning Sun
17-Oct-99. The page is now on my web site at
The web site has page links which might make navigation easier. Some of these articles might
already have been posted by others, but they are here linked as a permanent reference.

My comments are in [SJ> square brackets]. Note some of these links may require free
registration. Also some of the long links may become broken by word-wrapping in
transmission, and will need to be rejoined. Please let me know if any of them don't work. But I
will be on holidays for a week so any problems will have to wait until then.

BTW the link to The Times in my post "why the mind evolved remains a mystery" should
have been:
Otherwise go from The Times front page into Back Issues,select 5 May 1996, and then


Stephen E. Jones
Weekly Web Watch: 17 October 1999

Molecular machines:
"Image Shows Body's Little DNA Zipper A tiny molecular motor that literally unzips DNA so
that cells can replicate themselves or be repaired has been frozen and imaged by a team of
scientists at Harvard University...`Once these guys figure out the structure, they spend a
month and a half talking about what it does,' Ellenberger said." [SJ> "Biologists must
constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved." (Crick
F.H.C., "What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery", [1988], Penguin
Books: London UK, 1990, reprint, p138)]

Primates: "Tiny
Primate Could Rewrite Some History ...Teeth and bits of jaw from a tiny, squirrel- sized
animal that lived 40 million years ago in what is now Myanmar (Burma) suggest primates
originated in Asia, not Africa as was believed, researchers said Thursday. A team of
researchers from France and Myanmar say the little animal, which they have named Bahinia
pondaungensis, was probably the ancestor of modern apes, monkeys and humans. Jean-
Jacques Jaeger of the Universite Montpellier-II in France and colleagues found the fossils in a
layer of red clay, along with a complete lower jaw from a more advanced primate called
Amphipithecus ...Writing in the journal Science, they say their findings may help decide where
the earliest anthropoids -- the advanced primates that include humans, monkeys and apes --
came from. See also:" [SJ> The
evidence seems to be mounting that humans may have originated in Asia, not Africa. If so, this
would be another failed prediction by Darwin. It also might have some implications for the
Bible which depicts the first humans in an Asian setting.]

Mind-Brain: "New
Cells Grow In Highest Brain Area ... Researchers said Thursday they had reversed one of the
oldest beliefs about the brain -- that brain cells do not regenerate. A team at Princeton
University said it had shown that new neurons are born in the cerebral cortex of adult
monkeys -- the part of the brain where the very highest functions originate...Writing in the
journal Science, they said their finding will transform a good deal of brain research. `People
thought, "If the cerebral cortex is important in memory, how could it change?"' Gross said in a
statement." Also at: & [SJ> Since there now may be no
continuity of self in permanent neurons, this seems to be more support for there being a
permanent non-material mind which works through the brain.] "BBC ...Tuesday,
October 19, 1999... Morals on the brain Damage to the part of the brain which learns moral
and social rules could cause children to grow up into irresponsible adults and even criminals,
new research suggests. The scientists warn that it is too early to draw firm conclusions and
that their work does not mean that all antisocial behaviour can be blamed on damage to this
area. But an intriguing finding is that patients with these problems do not learn lessons from
being punished after misbehaving. This could call into question the effectiveness of criminal
penalties when applied to this group ... The affected brain area is called the prefrontal cortex
and has long been known to affect social behaviour, without affecting general intelligence. Its
function is illustrated by the classic case of railway worker Phineas Gage. In an 1848
explosion, a metal rod was driven through his prefrontal cortex. Before the accident he had
been industrious, dependable and well-liked, but afterwards he became a drifter who was
profane, unreliable, impulsive and inconsiderate to his family. The new work by
neuroscientists from the University of Iowa investigated two individuals who had suffered
damage to the pre-frontal cortex as babies. One was a girl aged 20 who had been knocked
down by a car at 15 months. The other was a man aged 23, who had undergone brain surgery
at three months ... Both children recovered well and were nurtured in middle-class families
with educated parents. But when they reached adolescence, their behaviour changed
dramatically - they lied, became selfish, lazy and disruptive, started fights and stole money.
They also became sexually reckless, becoming parents of children that they then neglected. In
both cases, the brain's normal cognitive functions, such as reading and writing, were
unaffected. What was affected was an ability to realise the social consequences of
misbehaviour and to carry out moral reasoning ... The team also noticed a difference between
those people brain injured as children and those damaged as adults. The adult patients
understood moral and social rules but appeared unable to apply them to their own lives. Those
damaged at an early age seemed unable to learn the rules in the first place, having as adults the
moral reasoning skills of 10 year olds. They also were more likely to exhibit psychopathic
behaviour like stealing and being violent. The researchers acknowledged that two is a small
number of case studies but noted that it is hard to find documented cases where brain damage
has such restricted effects. The research is published in Nature Neuroscience."
Also at:
"Electronic Telegraph 21.10.99 ... Studies of brain damage
reveal 'moral compass' By Roger Highfield SCIENTISTS believe they have discovered the
"moral compass" of the brain - which helps a person to tell right from wrong by studying
young offenders who have suffered damage to the region. The study of individuals who were
brain-damaged early in life and grew up to be irresponsible, disruptive and unsociable, has
revealed a brain region that plays a role in the acquisition of emotional knowledge - learning
from mistakes ... The findings were published this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience by
the leading neurologist Prof Antonio Damasio, his wife Prof Hanna Damasio, Dr Steven
Anderson and colleagues at the University of Iowa. They said this understanding would not
change the definition of a crime, but could influence punishment." [SJ> Presumably such
extreme cases would be included under existing insanity provisions of the law? ]

"The Times October 19 1999 ...Debating the limits of Darwin's theories BY JIM MCCUE A
memorial statue of Charles Darwin is to be installed at Shrewsbury School, which he attended
from 1818 to 1825, the headmaster announced at the conclusion of a conference about
Darwinism and ethics. At the conference, the four speakers agreed about the enormous
potency of the theory of evolution, but also spent a great deal of time discussing the limits of
Darwinism. Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue, explained that this winter the human
DNA code will come close to being fully available, and in a paper on "why are people nice to
each other?" he discussed how altruism is compatible with the "selfish gene"... The
philosopher Mary Midgley implicitly took issue with Ridley when she attacked Richard
Dawkins's theory of the selfish gene. She argued that Dawkins is wrong to use this as the
single explanation for all biological phenomena. She said that different models for
understanding are complementary... Some Darwinian theorists, she said, make a grave,
reductionist mistake by claiming that complex phenomena - such as love - are nothing but
evolutionary strategies. Joining the attack on militant Darwinists, Professor Robert Young
compared their attitude to that of logical positivists earlier this century, who condemned
everything that was not scientific truth as mere confusion. Scientific understanding, he said, is
not the only kind: we also need art, philosophy and religion. A pluralist by training and
conviction, he urged that Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and others are as necessary as Darwin to
our appreciation of "the glory, jest and riddle of the World"... Attempting a reconciliation of
science and religion, Colin Tudge pointed to the many gaps in scientific knowledge. We may
know all about hydrogen and oxygen, but we have no idea why H2O is wet. He suggested
that an essential characteristic of religions is that they offer a complete and emotionally
satisfying narrative, and teach that the individual is less important than society as a whole -
and very small in the face of the mystery that is much greater than science." [SJ> We know
the tide is starting to turn against Darwinism when a leading newspaper like The Times airs a
discussion " the limits of Darwinism". If Darwinism is limited, then it is not really Darwinism!]

"ABCNEWS ... Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First ... By
Jennifer Viegas ... It may be a simple matter of historical chance that this story is not written
in Chinese. At least two scholars believe Asians traveled by boat to New World long before
Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Yet another anthropologist recently said water
travel permitted Australian aborigines to reach South America more than 11,000 years ago ...
The traditional theory on early migration to the Americas says much of the northern
hemisphere was covered in ice sheets until glaciers began to break up and sea levels fell about
12,000 to 13,000 years ago. At this time, a land bridge was thought to have formed over the
Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. Asian hunters tracking big game crossed the bridge
in search of dinner ... Researchers studied Native Americans from the Navajo, Chamorro and
Flathead tribes and determined that all three groups possess a unique type of retrovirus gene,
JCV, found only in China and Japan. After the land bridge migration, current dogma teaches
that Asia had no further contact with the Americas until the early 1800s ... But Michael Xu,
assistant professor of Chinese Studies at Texas Christian University, is among those who
theorize that China had further contact with the Americas before the early 19th century. ...
The striking similarities between the Olmec and Chinese Shang Dynasty symbols suggest that
Chinese may have traveled to the Americas by boat well before the early 19th century ...
While excavating Mesoamerican sites in the American Southwest and Central America, Xu
discovered jade, stone and pottery artifacts attributed to the Olmec, believed to be ancestors
of the Maya. Artistic motifs on the objects bear an extraordinary resemblance to Chinese bone
inscriptions from the Shang dynasty, about 1600 to 1100 B.C ... "When I first brought my
artifacts from the Americas to China, scholars there thought that I just had more samples of
Shang writing," Xu says. "The similarities are that striking." ... Betty Meggers, a research
archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, thinks Asian contact goes back even further, to
5,000 years ago. She has identified compelling similarities between pottery found at a site
called Valdivia in Ecuador to pottery from the Jomon period in Japan ... Meggers theorizes
that Asians have traveled to and from the Americas for thousands of years. While there is no
direct evidence for regular trade or foreign settlements, Meggers points to other signs of
contact, such as similarities between Mayan and southeast Asian pyramids ... A team of Rio
anthropologists also believes early water travel to the Americas was possible. As evidence
they point to an 11,500-year-old skull, found in Brazil, which they say belonged to a woman
of African or Aboriginal descent. Digital computer imaging last month revealed she had round
eyes, a large nose and a pronounced chin - features characteristic of ancient Africans and
Aborigines. Ventura Santos, a researcher at Rio's National Museum and the Federal
University of Rio de Janeiro, who led the study, suggests the woman had ancestors related to
Australian aborigines who boated across the northern Pacific 15,000 years ago. John Johnson,
curator of anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, is skeptical about
the Brazilian skull's history, and he says he doubts boats at that time could withstand long
journeys ... Despite such tantalizing evidence is difficult to prove anyone traveled by water
thousands of years ago. Early boats were probably made from wood, reeds and other plant
materials that decay easily ... Anthropologists who believe the earliest Asian migrants arrived
in the New World solely by land, and not by sea, generally attribute cultural similarities
between ancient artifacts from the Americas and Asian objects from the same time period to
independent invention ... Whether ancient great minds thought alike or water travel made idea
sharing between cultures possible, one fact remains clear: People the world over have more in
common than they probably realize ... Copyright (c) 1999 ABC News ... [SJ> Rapid migration
by sea across the oceans would be consistent with an earlier advanced civilisation which knew
how to make wooden boats, based on a former knowledge of the Noahic ark.]

Sociobiology: "The Forbes 400 ...
October 20, 1999 Over the years, human beings have turned commerce into a symbolic
exchange. Are there clues to be found in the animal kingdom? Fiat Money and Booby Birds
By Stephen Jay Gould ...Does the animal kingdom offer any clues about our tendency to turn
physical acts into symbols? In one of the great pitfalls of human thinking about the natural
world, and our evolutionary origins within this matrix, we search for analogs of puzzling
human behaviors in the actions of other animals and then err in thinking that we have located
the "true" explanation for the human phenomenon. By this logic--not always wrong, by the
way, but badly applied in the majority of cases--if we wonder why humans seem so willing to
accept mere symbols of value in executing their commerce, we should look for examples of
symbolic exchange in nature, and then postulate a common source or cause. We certainly have
no trouble, given nature's virtually infinite variety, in identifying behaviors that appear, in
human terms, to show creatures using objects in a symbolic manner that almost mocks the
utility of the action. Consider just two examples--the first, if you will, drawn from the world
of real estate. Several species of ground-dwelling birds build fairly rudimentary nests, but
booby birds of the Galapagos Islands construct no nest at all. Instead, they squirt out a ring of
excrement (stark white, as with most birds) in the shape of a nest. Although this guano ring
has no nestly substance, the booby parents make a sharp distinction between duties inside and
indifference outside--so much so that if one of their own nestlings (or should I say ringlings?)
falls outside the ring, they will never feed it again, and let it starve to death, all the while
ignoring the youngster's plaintive begging that can almost break the heart of a human
observer. ...In several species of small flies, males wrap an item of food in silk and present the
gift to a female in exchange for copulation. The female unwraps and eats, while the male
engages in another vital biological activity. In one species, the males construct an elaborate
package of wrapping silk--but place nothing at all inside. The female receives the symbolic
gift, apparently as a token of favor in the great Darwinian mating game. These examples seem
to record a basic structural likeness, or even a similar utility, between money as a symbol of
exchange and ersatz nests or mating gifts. But the birds and the bees (or, rather, flies in this
case) give us no causal insight into the analogous human phenomenon. First of all, no
evolutionary continuity links the fly's empty silk balloon to the suitor's diamond ring, although
potential mates may find the offering attractive in both cases. These similar strategies have
independent historical origin and entirely different biological foundations: a specific and
genetically evolved behavior for the fly, and a nongenetic social custom, whatever the
underlying evolutionary basis, for the human suitor. More important, although we cannot
enter the consciousness of another animal, we can draw conclusions about the great
differences in meaning between customs rooted in human consciousness and social
organization, and actions evolved for definite purposes by other organisms. The analogous
behaviors in birds and bees never rest upon full abstraction, but remain firmly linked to the
ancestral form and function. The guano ring looks like a nest, and the bird can continue to link
a set of evolved behaviors with this ancestral context. The fly's empty package looks like the
ancestral gift of real food, so the female simply retains an old behavior to receive sex without
sustenance. But human money, given our unique powers of full abstraction, need not look like
a cow or a jewel in order to win acceptance. This fundamental distinction drives right to the
heart of the deepest common error in our usual thinking about the relationship of humans to
other animals. We understand and accept the evolutionary connectivity that unites all
creatures, including ourselves of course, into one great genealogical nexus called the tree of
life. We therefore recognize that our uniquely complex consciousness must have roots in the
physical evolution of our oversized brains. But we rightly sense that our powers of language
and abstraction, to cite only the two most obvious and significant properties of human mental
specialness, so exceed what any other organism can do, including our closest relatives among
great apes, that we might as well acknowledge the qualitative gap between us and all of them.
How then can we square the physical continuity of evolution with this portentous chasm in
mental capacity? This classical problem in our thinking has a disarmingly simple conceptual
solution. Differences so great that we choose to call them "qualitative" do not imply absence
of physical continuity across the gap. In complex systems, sufficient accumulation of quantity
can be translated into changes that we perceive as qualitative--"the transformation of quantity
to quality," in the terminology of several classical philosophical theories, including those of
Hegel and Marx. ... Add brainpower in evolution, and these quantitative increments, applied
to a vastly more complicated system, can produce qualitative wonders even beyond our
present comprehension--clearly illustrated by...computers that can already beat the greatest
human chess players. The birds and the flies remain stuck in their concrete ranges of
perception and mentality. By quantitative changes in the evolution of our brains, we crossed a
threshold of quality so profound that we often mistake our natural attributes and potentials for
direct marks of a divine constructive power. As one consequence of our uniquely evolved
mentality, the form of our money can be purely symbolic because only we can think in such a
fully abstract way--and only we can develop a society complex enough to require such a
general medium of exchange in the first place. Cattle ruminate to redigest their food. But only
Homo sapiens can ruminate about rumination (and other matters). And only humans could
ever decree that a green picture of Ben Franklin should be worth a definite percentage of a
concrete cow..... (c) 1999 ..." [SJ> Gould is on firm ground early on against the
sociobiologists. But he is on shakier ground later in his quality = quantity materialitistic
argument. Indeed his example of computers playing chess defeats his argument. That a human
(Kasparov) who can calculate only about five moves a seond can almost hold his own against
a supercomputer (Deep Blue) which can calculate thousands of moves a second, shows that
the two are not really doing the same thing. And Kasparov knows he played Deep Blue but
not vice-versa. There is a qualitative difference in kind with what Kaspatov was doing
compared to what Deep Blue was doing.]

"ABCNEWS October 21, 1999 ... Earliest Dinosaurs Uncovered. Modest Beginnings for
Giant Plant Eaters ... Paleontologists have found what could be the earliest known dinosaurs,
a couple of kangaroo-sized plant eaters that roamed Madagascar about 230 million years ago.
The same site also yielded fossils of the reptile lineage that later evolved into mammals. About
230 million years ago, Madagascar and all of Earth's continents were connected, forming the
supercontinent Pangea. ... The findings are reported in the Oct. 21 issue of the journal
Science..."It's a whole new window in the evolution of animals at a key point," comments Neil
Shubin, a University of Pennsylvania biology professor. ... "They're filling both a gap in time
and a gap in space. We see the transition from an archaic fauna of reptiles and amphibians to a
more modern fauna... It's a revolution in the history of life that happened during this time
period." This cynodont skull, dating from 230 million years ago, was one fossil found during a
series of expeditions in Madagascar. Cynodonts evolved into mammals. ... Madagascar is an
island off east Africa, but 230 million years ago, it and all of Earth's continents were joined as
the supercontinent Pangea. This period known as the Triassic marked the appearance of many
modern groups of animals, including mammals, crocodiles, turtles, frogs and bony fish. The
most noteworthy newcomers were, of course, the dinosaurs, destined to dominate the
landscapes for the next 165 million years. ... Madagascar site has yielded only the jaws and
partial skull fragments of two early dinosaurs. The shape of the bones indicate the animals
were of a group of dinosaurs known as prosauropods. ... Although small, prosauropods later
evolved into behemoth sauropod dinosaurs such as Apatosaurus and Brachiasaurus. ...The
Madagascar rocks in which the fossils were found don't contain minerals that can be dated
directly. Rather, Flynn and his colleagues argue their rocks are very old based on what else is
and isn't found there. Two of the other types of animals - mammal- like reptiles and reptiles
with parrot-like beaks - are believed to have died out by 228 million years ago. Also,
paleontologists found no aetosaurs - small, armored reptilian plant eaters - that flourished
beginning about 228 million years ago. "The bottom line is, we think we have dinosaurs at
least as old as those discovered before," Flynn says. "It's not conclusive, but we think there's a
reasonable argument to be made that they may well be the oldest." Up to this point, the oldest
known dinosaurs are a species known as Herrerasaurus, dug up in Argentina and dated to be
just under 228 million years old.... "Some of the major divisions in the dinosaurs actually
happened early in their history," Shubin says and suggests that paleontologists might be
"missing more of the record than previously thought." ... Also of interest are the mammal-like
reptiles. "This is a group of things that are transitional, going from the big, cold-blooded
reptiles to the small warm- blooded true mammals," Flynn says. Although fractured and
incomplete, the wide range of fossils will help paint a more complete picture of this time. Says
Shubin: "They're pulling out a giant jigsaw puzzle that they're going to be figuring out over
the next few years." See also:; & /oldest.dinosaur.reut/index.html [SJ>Sounds like the
claim that these are the oldest dinosaurs might be a bit wishfull.]

Genetic Engineering:
"Yahoo! ... Thursday October 21 ... Artificial Chromosome Inherited In Mice-Magazine
LONDON (Reuters) - A Canadian biotechnology company was reported Wednesday to have
inserted an artificial chromosome into mice that was passed on to its offspring, a breakthrough
that could revolutionize gene therapy. New Scientist magazine, which reported the
breakthrough, also warned that it could raise new fears about the possibility of genetic
engineering producing designer babies. "This is obviously going to open up the debate again in
the field of germline gene therapy," said Norman Nevin, chairman of Britain's Gene Therapy
Advisory Committee. Eillen Utterson, vice- president of the British Columbia-based company,
announced the achievement at a London biotechnology conference earlier this week. "It's the
first time an artificial chromosome has ever been shown to be inherited in any mammal," she
said. Utterson said the company planned to use the technology, which does not interfere with
the cell's own genetic machinery, to create genetically modified animals with milk containing
pharmaceuticals. According to the magazine she is insistent it will be tightly regulated and not
be used for human germline gene therapy -- breeding in or out particular characteristics. "We
are in control of the technology, and we don't want to engage in germline gene therapy," she
said. Scientists routinely create transgenic animals, where genes have been altered, for
research purposes. Gene therapy in humans involves introducing a specific gene to target cells
to fix a defect like cystic fibrosis. Because it is so difficult, gene therapy is usually restricted to
a less risky procedure of adding therapeutic genes to specific tissue so it can be taken up by
enough cells to correct the problem. Any changes are not passed on to offspring. "However, if
genes could be ferried into embryos in an artificial chromosome that would safely be inherited
without interfering with the rest of the genome -- the collection of all genes -- germline
therapy might not be so risky," New Scientist said. "Chromo's experiments with mice suggest
that this should be possible," it added. The Canadian company said it was working on human
artificial chromosomes that could be used for conventional gene therapy. Japanese and
American scientists have also created synthetic miniature human chromosomes. In an editorial
New Scientist said artificial chromosomes could change attitudes about gene therapy and
genetically engineered embryos. Some scientists already believe genetically engineered
embryos are the best way to deal with some inherited diseases. "In polls, a sizable minority
consistently says it would accept genetic engineering for the treatment of serious illnesses. If
artificial chromosomes really can be made safe, their invention could nudge more people this
way," the magazine said. "It would be a mistake to expect the taboo on human genetic
engineering to last forever," it added. ... Copyright (c) 1996-1999 ..." [SJ> This has the
potential for good and also the potential for evil. Adding artificial chromosomes, which could
be inherited, could in the future be used to create a new species of human being.]

Copyright (c) 1999, by Stephen E. Jones. All rights reserved. This page and its contents may
be used for non-commercial purposes only. If used on the Internet, a link back to my home
page at http: // would be appreciated. Created: 19 October 1999.
Updated: 27 October 1999.

"The basic framework of the theory is that evolution is a two-stage
phenomenon the production of variation and the sorting of the variants by
natural selection. Yet agreement on this basic thesis does not mean that the
work of the evolutionist is completed. The basic theory is in many instances
hardly more than a postulate and its application raises numerous questions
in almost every concrete case." (Mayr E., "Populations, Species and
Evolution", [1963], Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA, 1974,
reprint, p6)
Stephen E. Jones | |