Smells Like Design

Scalopus aquaticusBrian Thomas’ article for Wednesday – Moles Can Smell in Stereo – is a quickie. The subject is well summarised by that title: new research does indeed show that eastern moles specifically do smell in stereo, in much the same way as an animal might hear or see in stereo. This research was discussed in much more detail at Carl Zimmer’s blog The Loom, so there is no need to go over it here. Continue reading

Why are there still Archaea?

Carl WoeseIn memorial of the death of microbiologist Carl Woese Brian Thomas brings out an old classic creationist trope, that which asks “why are there still monkeys?”, for ‘Ancient’ Bacteria Still Alive and Not Evolved. Because stupidity loves company just as much as misery, a few other, similar arguments are chucked in as padding.

Archaeans are amazing microbes that run on completely different metabolic processes than other microbes. Discovering the first of them must have been like finding a car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells amidst a landscape of gasoline-powered vehicles. This was the privilege of evolutionary biologist Carl Woese, who died on December 30, 2012. How did he interpret these findings, and what should we remember about his contributions?

They don’t have completely different metabolic processes – Thomas is exaggerating significantly here. He also thinks that he’s smarter than Woese, or at least has a better “interpretation” of his results. Continue reading

The Star of Bethlehem

Supernova remnant N 63AIn 1955 Arthur C. Clarke published a short story titled The Star, about (spoilers!) a Jesuit astrophysicist investigating the remnant of a supernova referred to as the “Phoenix Nebula” that destroyed a civilisation when it exploded. This is revealed to have been the source of the star over Bethlehem, concluding:

[O]h God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?

Did I mention spoilers?

Anyway, Your Origins Matter has today posted an article called The Most Famous Star, about possible explanations for the event – supernova or supernatural. Continue reading

Anatomy of an Oyster Shell

Some Pacific oysters on a plateWe’re still on the same (4 October) edition of Nature today as we were on Friday, with Jeffrey Tomkins and Brian Thomas collaborating to produce Oyster Genome Confounds Mollusk Evolution.

Most evolutionists who study fossil mollusks believe these creatures evolved from a hypothetical ancestor that had no shell. How could nature, with no intelligent input, coax imagined soft-bodied ancestors to blindly construct the hard shells of oysters, which research now shows contain over 250 different proteins?

The paper is The oyster genome reveals stress adaptation and complexity of shell formation (open access; a Science Daily article can be found here), and does indeed mention that they “identified 259 shell proteins.” In their article Tomkins and Thomas take the popular “if it’s complex the it must be designed/can’t have evolved” line, with little further evidence offered. Let’s take a tour. Continue reading

Complexity and Design

YOM's cow (fair use; click through for full image)For their latest trick, Your Origins Matter has reprinted an article from another creationist website called Don’t have a cow, man!, subtitled “Cow’s unusual spots are putting evolutionists in a tight spot.” Needless to say, given that title, it’s from a different slice of the creationist sector of the internet than we are used to.

The article begins:

While doing some research on the Internet recently, we came across this photo of a cow bearing a detailed map of the world on its hide. Was the cow born with these markings or are the spots the handiwork of a skilled Photoshop artist?

The question is rhetorical, the authors of the article aren’t that stupid. Continue reading

Your Legs are Poorly Designed

You’ve heard of exoskeletons (‘bones outside’) and you’ve heard of endoskeletons (the opposite). The obvious question to ask is “which is better,” and while it’s probably impossible to give a definitive and overarching answer to such a question a newish paper can at least go some way to resolving the matter. By modelling bones as hollow cylinders with a radius and thickness the researchers were able to calculate optimal r/t ratios for resisting certain stresses. According to the abstract, locust tibias primarily deal with bending and is “optimized for this loading mode.” Crabs, meanwhile, endure both bending and compression and their ratio is thus an “ideal compromise to resist these two types of loading.” But because their leg bones are within the body, the tibias of vertebrates such as us have relatively smaller radii and greater wall thickness – according to this research, this situation is not optimal.

As is only to be expected, Brian Thomas runs with the fallacious “optimal insect = designed insect” argument in Optimized Engineering in Locust Legs, opening:

People instantly recognize intelligent engineering in a structure that has optimized size or shape. Optimum parameters don’t just happen. So when two mechanical engineers recently discovered optimum sizing in locust legs, to what did they attribute that high level of engineering?

Allow me to demonstrate an obvious problem with the idea that begins this article with an example: Continue reading

Who Needs Paley Anyway?

Not a watch, but nevertheless...

Paley’s Watch is one of the creationists best arguments: that is to say, it’s the best they have. But the opener to Jerry Bergman’s Acts & Facts article, Humans: The Imitators, sounds a discordant note. The watchmaker argument tries to claim equivalency between the design of humans and the (perceived) design of nature. But according to Bergman, human design is crap: Continue reading