The Week in DpSUs

I missed quite a few of the ICR’s DpSUs  in the last week or so. All these poor people who want to know more about whatever BS has been posted that day, suddenly no-longer a quick search away from some slightly more accurate information. It’s a tragedy.

The last DpSU I covered was The Petition to Ban Creationism, which was in September – there’s a few to cover now. I didn’t like how the last multiple-DpSU thing I did looked, so you’re spared from the terror of having to click through multiple pages.

Contents/Permanent Links:


New Life Origins Theory Has Old Problems – Brian Thomas

There’s a new abiogenesis hypothesis in town. Well, sort of new – I’m sure I’ve seen it before, and it certainly looks promising.

In the ocean there are hydrothermal vents of various kinds. The most commonly known are the Black Smokers – this hypothesis, however, deals with White Smokers, which are lower in temperature and alkaline in nature. They are constructed from Serpentine and are interesting in that they have microscopic interconnected compartments in which complex reactions take place, driven by the pH gradient between the ejected material and the surrounding ocean. According to Mr Thomas, however, this ‘theory’ has the same problems as any other abiogenesis idea.

According to a university new [sic] release, “this model of life’s origins is only feasible under very specific conditions. Serpentinite, a cool Earth, and an acidic ocean all must have coexisted for a time.” But many more specific conditions would have been required, including an intelligent designer. For example, the chemical building blocks of RNA—nucleotides named Adenine-5′-triphosphate, G-5′-triphosphate , C-5′-triphosphate, and Uracil-5′-triphosphate—do not all occur naturally. And when they are exposed to nature, they quickly break down.

He’s run a long way already. The beauty of this system is that you can get chemical reactions complex enough to be called ‘life’ by all but the least chartable observer building and spreading throughout the vent structure. RNA and the other things we associate with modern life need not have arisen instantaneously in the development of life – they could have come after. On a related subject, I find it interesting that the ICR never commented on the paper Carbonaceous meteorites contain a wide range of extraterrestrial nucleobases – it seems to contradict Mr Thomas’ claim somewhat…

Nevertheless, Stanford reported that “the nucleic acids that make up RNA may have occurred naturally in vent fluids.” However, there is no evidence that they ever could have and plenty of evidence that they could not. For example, nucleotides are more prone to separating than they are to joining together into RNAs, especially in water. “Vent fluids” at the bottom of the ocean would include water.

I don’t know how likely it is that said nucleic acids were in the vent – it doesn’t seem all that unlikely though. The ‘”Vent fluids” at the bottom of the ocean would include water’ comment I find to be quite funny – table salt contains the highly dangerous metal called sodium, along with chlorine (which is rather poisonous). And hydrogen peroxide contains two Hs and an O… and another O (which must be good). Point is that just because something has something in it doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting mixture is automajically imbued with the properties of that substance. While in this case the water is likely to be more-or-less in the same form as normal (unlike with the NaCl and the H2O2) water’s properties vary considerably. Even if it were true that nucleotides separate more easily than they join in a carefully climate-controlled test tube on a lab bench, that doesn’t mean that they will do so here, where we have both a temperature and a pH gradient, along with complex fluid dynamics and structures that can potentially collect and filter different substances. In short, saying that “nucleotides are more prone to separating than they are to joining together into RNAs, especially in water. “Vent fluids” at the bottom of the ocean would include water” is a major oversimplification.

On a related subject, in a DpSU from 2008 called Life from the Stars? discussing the discovery of amino acids in meteorites (not nucleotides as with the above) Brian Thomas said:

Nucleotides can only form by the action of enzymes, and have not formed in any experimental chemical soups.

Remember: Science advances. Fast, evidently.

And what about the meaningful organization of nucleotides into biologically functional structures? That requires an input of detailed, blueprint-like information that serpentinite cannot supply. Serpentinite substitutes for a real Creator about as well as a blob of oil substitutes for a master painter.

Complexity builds up, like in a tumbling snowball, and is refined by nature. If the structure can replicate better than its competitors, it takes over – first, of course, it must find a way to replicated, but then this is RNA so that’s probably not going to be very difficult. ‘snot hard…

Stanford’s news release proclaims that its scientists “lend geophysical support to a theory of life’s origins.” But scientific-sounding announcements like this one are deceptively ambiguous, because they have no real scientific substance to back their bold claims. Serpentinite-assisted life formation has the same problems as all previous naturalistic life origins theories—when all is said and done, they only offer empty speculations that further highlight the need for an intelligent, supernatural Creator as the source of life.

You can find the Stanford press release here. Once you’ve finished with the irony in the second sentence above, of course.

Whale Study Confirms Evolutionary Trees Don’t Work – Brian Thomas

We go from abiogenesis to phylogenetics.

Authors of a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted that most evolutionary trees do not show extinctions, but instead depict an ever-increasing diversification of species over time. However, the fossil record does show extinctions, and the study authors wrote that this inconsistency “is puzzling, and it casts serious doubt on phylogenetic techniques [using evolutionary trees] for inferring the history of species diversity.”

From what I can make of the paper, Mr Thomas is misrepresenting it. The idea seems to really be that when you build these trees of evolutionary relationships between species you can’t easily see extinctions etc, probably because, as they are extinct, you don’t have them to put into the trees. What this means it that you do indeed get “an ever-increasing diversification of species over time.” For example, consider the world as it was 67 million years ago, not long before the dinosaurs went extinct. For sake of argument, imagine that there was the exact same diversity of species then as there is now. We wouldn’t see that from a phylogenetic tree, as we have representatives of only some of the groups that were around then. The other groups, represented by only scattered fossils if at all, would appear lesser than they really are. We would have no such problem if we were surveying the world as it is now – or as it was, only a short while ago – and we would think that there was a far greater degree of diversity now than there was before.

For example, from the abstract:

We then study the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), a group for which standard phylogenetic inferences are strikingly inconsistent with fossil data. When the cetacean phylogeny is considered as a whole, recently radiating clades, such as the Balaneopteridae, Delphinidae, Phocoenidae, and Ziphiidae, mask the signal of extinctions. However, when isolating these groups, we infer diversity dynamics that are consistent with the fossil record.

This is different from saying that we can’t see relationships clearly from trees, which is what Mr Thomas is trying to imply. Thus, the rest of the DpSU is basically pointless to go over. Next!

That’s a Fact – Christine Dao

I’ve already gone over this one in That’s a Video! Interestingly, whoever is running the ICRs vimeo channel apparently noticed when I tried to embed their video – they seem to have come over here and read some of my posts. Very interesting…

On a related note, as I mentioned on twitter, I’ve finally found Rhonda Forlow’s promised K-12 creationist blog. It’s at science-essentials.org and currently is unannounced and all-but empty. Due to it being an actual wordpress(.org) blog, rather than the system they have on their main site, they should notice it when I link to individual posts. They have comments enabled to all comers, although they are almost certainly moderated (as they should be – this is the internet after all). For example, see the Welcome post. While you’re here, Dr Forlow, I’d like to reiterate the whole fair-use-for-criticism thing, and to point out that there’s probably a way to turn off pingbacks completely, if you look hard enough. Also, I need a “DpSU” style acronym for these posts – I was thinking PEE, but that would be childish. It’s your call…

Has Einstein’s Limit on the Speed of Light Been Broken? – Larry Vardiman

By now, everyone has heard of the Neutrinos that supposidly broke the speed of light, the impassable speed limit of the universe. Vardiman begins:

A consortium of 174 scientists at the CERN and LNGS laboratories announced on September 23, 2011, that they had observed neutrinos traveling 0.0024 percent faster than the speed of light. If true, this could unravel Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, or at least cause it to be modified. The famous formula E=mc2 has stood firm for over 100 years and has been incorporated into much of our understanding of space and time. Would such a finding impact recent creationist research?

It’s nice to know that the ICR is not populated by relativity deniers, as they are, obviously, with creationists. Relativity, you understand, is the dangerous, liberal-sponsored untested theory that obviously has something to do with Moral Relatavism. It’s in the name, for goodness sake…

The equipment was also well suited to determine the neutrino velocity with high accuracy. The authors of the technical report, available on arxiv.org, wrote, “It is worth stressing that this measurement [time of flight] does not rely on the difference between a start (to) and a stop signal but on the comparison of two event time distributions.” In other words, the time of flight is not measured for a single particle but by a statistical method applied to the distribution of arrival times from multiple neutrinos.

With the regards to the accuracy that Vardiman is trying to hype, remember that a) we know the speed of light in a vacuum to a much higher degree of accuracy than this and b) if there is a systematic error (not accounting for gravitational anomalies and so on) the degree of accuracy is irrelevant – it doesn’t matter how many decimal places you have if your results are consistently n ms-1 off the correct answer.

Anyway, now for the implications. Assuming all the innumerable objections are wrong…

In recent years, Russell Humphreys, John Hartnett, and Robert Gentry have each used the general theory of relativity to build a case for their young-world cosmogonies. Each has solved various aspects of the mass, space, and time issue in a young universe by solving Einstein’s field equations using different boundary conditions or suggesting additional coordinates. For example, Humphreys has suggested that rapid expansion of the cosmos at creation and the Flood would have caused time to be accelerated at distances far from earth, permitting light to reach earth from outer space in only thousands of years, not billions.

These theories suggest that the effective speed of light relative to an earth timeframe can change. However, the general theory of relativity they used assumes the speed of light is constant and independent of all moving frames of reference. If CERN research is verified— that is, if the speed of light can change in the earth’s frame of reference—the equations of relativity may become even more complex than they are currently. Creation cosmogonies are not likely to be nullified by the speed of light not always being constant, but could be further complicated by it.

If the research is verified that doesn’t automatically mean that “the speed of light can change in the earth’s frame of reference,” I should point out.

On the other hand, if the speed of light is found to be changeable under various conditions, this lends credence to the creationist view that basic physical constants are changeable. ICR’s RATE project found evidence that nuclear decay rates have changed in the past. Since decay rates, the speed of light, and other constants are tied to each other through physical laws, differing speeds of light would make it easier to justify the view that many parts of the cosmos could have been affected by processes that operated in different ways and at different rates in the past.

The RATE project couldn’t have been worse done if they tried. Seriously.

Anyway, to summarise this article, Vardiman is trying to say that EWKAR could be wrong. I’d say: probably not. We’ll see if the results are indeed replicated. Until then, in the words of Mr Thomas, he has “no real scientific substance to back [his] bold claims.”

Quintillions of Creation Witnesses: Blood Service Agents Testify for Creation – James J. S. Johnson

This isn’t a DpSU, but it did get to the font page and it is another example of Johnson – who we last saw in this month’s Acts & Facts doing the same thing – showing his ignorance of natural selection etcetera.

Johnson is a lawyer, and uses the old metaphor of eyewitnesses to prove his point. This is despite eyewitness evidence not being as good as other kinds, on account of being unreliable. Nevertheless, creationists are fond of asking ‘were you there?’

This can be appreciated by considering a courtroom scene in which one witness supplies testimony that establishes an important fact involving helpful services provided by the witness to a customer base.

Now imagine the same courtroom scenario, except this time there are literally quintillions—more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000—of witnesses, all providing uncontroverted and harmonious testimony to prove important facts about vital services provided by those witnesses to multitudes of consumers.

Thank goodness it’s a metaphor…

These quintillions of witnesses are microscopic blood cells—tiny “blood service agents” serving the “end user” cells of the human body. A small percentage of these agents are white blood cells, but most are red blood cells. These cells continually supply vital gas exchange and the immunity defense needs of the human body, yet the individual blood cells are unintelligent—they have no personalities or volition. They are microscopically small parts of a huge whole, and that whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because the parts themselves do not have human life and yet the whole body does.

It’s called ’emergence.’ What’s his point?

So why should unthinking blood cells provide such helpful services to a human body? It is beyond genuine dispute that our blood cells help us in ways that are so vital that we would promptly die without them. This indispensable service is true of both red blood cells and white blood cells.

Here’s one way: The genetic material that was in the red blood cell’s nucleus before it lost it would have been identical to that in the gametes (sperm/egg) in other parts of the body, more or less. Thus, the better this material set the cell up to do its job, the more likely it is to get passed on – after all, if it didn’t do it at all, “we would promptly die.”

Johnson talks about the functions of the cells, and then tries to say that they could not have evolved:

How these complex blood cells are produced is an amazing process, involving sophisticated manufacturing systems in the bone marrow. But why would bones do this? The bones themselves are not intelligent; they have no independent personalities. Bone marrow has no conscience, so why does it faithfully produce red blood cells, as if it had what secular sociologists call a “Protestant work ethic”?

Because the genes that are in the bone marrow, as with all cells, benefit if they do what they do, in that they will be passed on. That’s the effect of natural selection, whatever Johnson may wish to say to the contrary:

The evolutionary fairy tale called “natural selection” cannot magically explain this. “Nature” cannot think how to design and invent clever mechanisms for blood production, or for systematic ways that blood cells benefit the trillions of “end user” cells of the body. Bones and blood cells are mindless. Neither can “select” or “favor” one action over another action—so there is no natural “selection” involved in whether (or how) a blood cell or a bone acts (or does not act). Bones and blood do not try to be “helpful.”

Look – they don’t do the selecting. The selection is with the resulting organism – does it survive and breed? If it does, there will be more of the trait than if it does not. I feel like I’m repeating myself – I almost certainly am.

Accordingly, everything that blood cells and bones do while helping any part of the body (i.e., providing actions that benefit the whole body) must not only have been pre-programmed by God into the human bones and blood cells that He originally imagined and created, but must also be informationally reproduced and reactivated in every subsequent generation.

Isn’t DNA amazing?

Human bodies are thus served by blood cells that are purposeful, vital, and, in fact, absolutely necessary. And each of us has hosts of them. How many blood cells are in a human body? Hundreds of billions, at least.

Do the math: hundreds of billions of blood cells in each human body, multiplied by six-plus billion humans now alive on planet earth, equals quintillions of witnesses.

If “bones and blood cells are mindless,” then how can they be witnesses? This is where the metaphor breaks down, but Johnson doesn’t notice and and indeed gets a bit carried away. “[W]hat if we considered the [other] cells of the human body?…[T]hat would mean sextillions of witnesses for creation!…No judge would want to schedule a court trial with that many testifying witnesses!” Calm down.

Here’s an analogy for you: The creationists have an argument that Carbon-14 exists in diamonds, when, if the diamonds were truly millions of years old, it should have decayed to nothingness by now. The creationists also have an argument that Carbon-14 exists in coal, when, if the coal was truly millions of years old, it should have decayed to nothingness by now. This is the same argument, and, naturally enough, it has the same response – Carbon-14 decays to a background level, caused by its production in other radioactive events. Whether you count it as one argument or sextillion, it doesn’t matter. United they stand, united they fall.

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