Eugenie Scott offers her services to squelch even more academic freedom.
Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), is expanding NCSE’s “mandate” beyond anti-creationism activism to include the way “global warming” is taught in the classroom. An NCSE statement declares, “Educators trying to teach climate change, like their counterparts trying to teach evolution, are often likewise pressured to compromise the scientific and pedagogical integrity of their instruction.”1
Scott says, “We can use some of the expertise that we’ve gained over the years dealing with evolution to apply to this related problem.” She considers “climate change a critical issue in our own mission to protect the integrity of science education.”1
In 2011 a National Earth Science Teachers Association survey of earth-science teachers revealed “25–30% of respondents reported that students, parents, administrators or other community members had argued with them that climate change is not happening or that it is not the result of human activity.” Furthermore, since some school boards and legislatures “have threatened to require educators to ‘teach the controversy’ about climate change,” Scott believes these teachers are being unfairly pressured by ideological opposition.
The NCSE strategy to shut down classroom discussion of controversial aspects of this issue is to “clarify for students why science is an appropriate tool for understanding the natural world” and help “people to understand the reasons why scientists overwhelmingly accept climate change.” Scott, convinced NCSE views are indisputable, says “people are very emotionally concerned” and if they “feel threatened ideologically, politically or economically, ‘all the science in the world won’t convince them.’”
So how is the climate-change issue “related” to the creation-evolution issue? Why is it many theologically conservative Christians who acknowledge their God-given responsibilities as good stewards of the earth are often demonized, being portrayed as indifferent or hostile to the notion that global warming is a man-made crisis of epic and urgent proportions? Pointing out that a scientific question should be examined from all sides certainly does not suggest science is not “an appropriate tool for understanding the natural world.” The problem comes down to questions about observational science and academic freedom.
We often make the point that observational science cannot decipher the origins of the universe, the earth, and life because those origins cannot be subjected to observable repeatable scientific tests. “Evidence” gathered by humans is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation always involves some sort of presuppositional bias.
Climate change is observable, but observations have not matched the magnitude of predictions based on models. Climatology models typically predict massive and rapid temperature changes. Yet past increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have produced only a fraction of the predicted change. Therefore, many people do not accept the catastrophic predictions those models suggest for the future.
The climatology models in use were influenced by uniformitarian interpretations of abrupt temperature-related oxygen isotope changes in ice cores.2 Such uniformitarian interpretations ignore the influence of the global Flood and Ice Age it triggered. By misinterpreting the cause of isotope changes, uniformitarian climatologists naturally construct their models for the future on an incomplete understanding of the past.
Thus, these issues are related on the basis of the foundational thinking at their heart. The global warming issue involves observational science that does not support certain conclusions based on worldview-based interpretations of the untestable past. The evolution-creation issue involves the fact that observational science cannot answer questions of origins buried in the untestable past.
The issues are also related because in each instance the true nature of science as an open-minded inquiry in pursuit of knowledge is being subjugated by dogma and rhetoric. Scott claims the NCSE mission is to protect “the integrity of science education.” To raise a generation of good scientists, children in school should learn how to gather available facts, ask questions, devise experiments to test ideas, and examine all sides of issues—including global warming. When scientific models fail to make accurate predictions, those models need to be re-evaluated, not protected because they agree with the agendas of people in positions of power. Refusal to consider scientific alternatives damages the integrity of science education. As a popular global-warming advocate recently said, “To have an open mind, we have to use the brains that God gave us to look at the science.”3
Many theologically conservative Christians—as well as many secular scientists—are uncomfortable with the politically correct version of the man-made global warming crisis as well as the increasing popularity of exalting “Mother Earth’s rights” above the concern for human beings. The impact of global warming initiatives on the well-being of people all over the world is also a concern to many who simply want to be sure decisions are based on sound scientific reasoning and not emotional overkill. As Bible-believing Christians we see the “dominion mandate” of Genesis 1:28 as a call for a balanced, responsible view of environmental stewardship.
Kepler: boldly seeking where life could have evolved
The mission of NASA’s Kepler space telescope is to “find terrestrial [nearly Earth-sized] planets . . . especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist.”4 Kepler scientists—and even lay volunteers—search for exoplanets5 by watching for periodic dimming of stars as planets pass in front of them. Recent discoveries have included a somewhat oversized habitable zone planet6 and two Earth-sized planets too hot for life.7 This month’s discoveries—Tatooine-like planets8 with binary suns9 and the tiniest known solar system—are also too hot for habitation, but by presumably expanding the statistical probability of finding habitable planets, they have raised evolutionary expectations for extraterrestrial life.
Kepler’s confirmation that binary stars can actually have planets in stable orbits calls Star Wars to mind. Astronomer William Walsh, author of the announcement in Nature, says, “The fact that circumbinary planets are not rare flukes means that nature likes to form planets, and can and does form planets around binary stars, even though these are very dynamic and chaotic environments. And more planets mean more chances that some will be Earthlike.”9
Circumbinary planets “can have really crazy climates . . . with huge temperature changes,” says co-author Jerome Orosz, and “the effects of these climate swings on the atmospheric dynamics, and ultimately on the evolution of life on habitable circumbinary planets,” adds Walsh, “is a fascinating topic that we are just beginning to explore.”10
The Lilliputian solar system has three hot planets much smaller than Earth orbiting close to a small red dwarf star, KOI-961. Finding planets thought to be rocky around a red dwarf tips the cosmological odds in favor of finding lots more according to Cal Tech astronomer John Johnson. “Because red dwarfs themselves are so common,” Johnson says, “the whole galaxy must be just swarming with little habitable planets around faint red dwarfs.”11
Kepler detects planets using the transit method. Exoplanets are also detected by noting the wobble of a star due to the gravitational tug of planets. A new method—gravitational microlensing—will further increase exoplanet detection. The three methods complement each other and should greatly increase the number of detectable exoplanets. Therefore, evolutionary cosmologists expect many habitable worlds will be found.
Many think life will likely evolve when water and organic chemicals exist in the same place long enough under ‘habitable” conditions. However, scientists have never observed life evolve from non-living components. Therefore, finding habitable places in space should not suggest it has. The Bible does not say that God didn’t create extraterrestrial life. However, “without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).
Therefore, if life were to be indisputably found on another world, its existence would not confirm molecules-to-man evolution. Such life would simply show God’s power to create life where He chooses.
And what if that “alien” life were intelligent? God created the entire universe. God’s Son Jesus Christ came to Earth as a human being, the “last Adam,” (I Corinthians 15:45-47) to die for all human beings who, like their real common ancestor—the first Adam—are sinners. We also know from God’s Word that the whole creation groans with corruption (Romans 8:21–22) under the Curse of man’s sin. Thus the theological position of extraterrestrial intelligent life would cast aspersions on God’s character, as such beings would be reaping the guilty whirlwind of man’s sin without access to the grace of Christ. (See News to Note, October 8, 2011 for more on this issue.)
“Evolution in progress” said to show how easily multicellularity evolved
“Despite their modesty,” William Ratcliff and Michael Travisano’s “achievement has earned praise and admiration from evolutionary biologists around the world,” according to ScienceDaily.12 What have they done? According to Ratcliff, they don’t just answer questions about evolution in their lab: they “recreate it.”12 According to their work published January 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have elucidated a way multicellular organisms could easily evolve from unicellular ones by evolving multicellular yeast in their lab. (We discussed Ratcliff’s announcement about their results last summer in News to Note, July 2, 2011.)
Evolutionists are convinced that multicellular life forms evolved from single-celled ones but cannot explain how single cells could unlearn the selfishness required for survival and learn to cooperate. “Traditional theories make this out to be a difficult transition because you have to somehow turn off selection on the individual cells and turn it on for the collective,” according to a German evolutionary biologist, but Travisano’s team, he said, demonstrated “these transitions can be super easy.”
Travisano and Ratcliff chose a variety of brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that characteristically forms a snowflake-cluster of adherent cells when it reproduces. They demonstrated the yeast had this characteristic behavior before beginning the experiment. Some yeast and other microorganisms aggregate into biofilms, but with this particular variety “each cell was seen to give rise to a new snowflake-type cluster.”13
By then centrifuging the yeast each day and only keeping the large clusters that sank to the bottom, they artificially selected the best snowflake-formers to survive and reproduce. In two months, all the yeast “had evolved into snowflakes.”14
Travisano’s team said their newly evolved multicellular yeast then developed the capacity to behave like conventional multicellular organisms by developing “division of labor.” The required labor was apoptosis—cellular suicide of rows of cells. This coordinated cell death enabled the huge clusters to break into smaller clusters that reproduce more efficiently. Since single cells were sacrificing themselves for the good of the whole—analogous to “the split seen in more complex multicellular organisms, with body cells that die off every generation and germline cells (sperm and eggs) that carry over into the next one”14—the researchers believed their snowflakes had transitioned to genuine multicellularity.
Despite Ratcliff’s assertion that he has recreated evolution and demonstrated how easily multicellularity got off the evolutionary ground long ago, the fact is these yeast characteristically formed snowflake clusters before any selection pressure was applied to them. How could Ratcliff evolve something that already existed?
When driven to form a population of large snowflakes by selection pressure, these yeast were still the same snowflake-forming yeast they’d always been. And when those large snowflakes of yeast showed how they were able to cooperate and detach manageable-sized reproducing clusters, they were still just doing what other microorganisms do under similar circumstances. Coordinated cellular death—apoptosis—is not unique to multicellular organisms. Apoptosis is common in biofilms-cooperative communities of microorganisms like dental plaque and slime mold. Furthermore, apoptosis is already known to occur in brewer’s yeast.15
The “divide-and-stick”14 mechanism of multicellular evolution may have been instrumental for other organisms too, the researchers suggest. For instance, they write, “Choanoflagellates, the closest unicellular ancestor to animals, can form multicellular colonies through postdivision adhesion, raising the possibility that a similar step was instrumental in the evolution of animal multicellularity.” However, what they are really pointing out is that some other microorganisms also already have the capacity to form clusters of cells adherent to each other after division. That characteristic has not been demonstrated to lead to multicellular organisms of any new type but only reveals a characteristic of some microorganisms. No new ability is acquired and no new kind of organism is formed. Furthermore, the ancestral relationship to which the team refers is pure speculation and also violates the biblical principle that God created all kinds of organisms to reproduce within their created kinds.
No new kind of organism has evolved in Travisano’s lab. His team is merely reporting the results of two months of standard agricultural husbandry principles applied to yeast. Some evolutionary biologists have posed questions about the genetics underlying the results. Massachusetts evolutionary biologist Mansi Srivastava, for instance, commented, “What remains to be seen for me is how relevant is it to actual transitions to multicellularity” and “what the underlying genetic changes were.”16 Stony Brook biochemist Todd Miller likewise wonders if there were “any changes in expression of signaling genes after they selected the snowflakes.”16 That work may yet be forthcoming and might reveal a mechanism for variation within the created kind. But since the yeast were already proven to have the ability to do what they later did, they did not evolve into anything new, just fluffier yeast.
TNA-world still doesn’t spell anything.
Evolutionary scientists trying to get around the irreducible complexity of the genetic code keep trying to come up with simpler, more achievable alternatives to explain molecules-to-man evolution. The latest candidate for a pre-biotic “genetic code” is threose nucleic acid (TNA). Proposed and tested by John Chaput’s team at Arizona State University, TNA is thought to be a simpler, more randomly achievable precursor to RNA and DNA. Chaput says the molecule even obeys the rules of Darwinian evolution.
Living organisms use DNA to encode their blueprints onto genes for reproduction and for transcription—copying—onto RNA. RNA then forms templates by which amino acids are assembled into proteins. Even the “simplest” known life forms possess a complex genetic code, so evolutionists search for simpler stepping stones to life. Since RNA, an intermediary between DNA and proteins, carries information and has some enzymatic functions, evolutionists have looked to it as the most essential pre-biotic component. The discovery that certain forms of RNA could assemble themselves without the assistance of additional enzymes popularized the RNA-world hypothesis.17
Since RNA is a pretty complicated molecule, though, the quest for a simpler analog that random chemistry could produce has continued. Chaput’s report published in Nature asserts TNA is a reasonable “RNA progenitor due to its chemical simplicity and ability to exchange genetic information.”18 TNA is built from a chain of nucleic acids using a four-carbon sugar (threose) instead of the five-carbon ribose used in RNA. Since a four-carbon sugar can be built from two identical two-carbon molecules, Chaput considers it more randomly achievable in the chaos of chemical soup. Chaput’s team reports it has “applied Darwinian evolution methods to evolve . . . a TNA receptor that binds to an arbitrary target”18 and that the TNA sequence folded into a complicated molecular shape required to biologically function as “an ancestral genetic system.”18
Chaput’s team built DNA-TNA hybrids with random sequences to show that, if provided with DNA polymerase enzyme, TNA could form complementary base pairs with DNA. Then they incubated those DNA-TNA strands with a target protein molecule and washed away the strands that didn’t attach to it. Finally, they separated the TNA from the DNA. Since only the TNA that matched the target protein survived the process, they said they had evolved the TNA using Darwinian evolution. And since the TNA strands held their shape, they said TNA transmitted the information stored in the DNA.
The various components of molecular machinery all had to be provided for this “simple” TNA polymer to assemble along DNA templates. One might well question the source of those components in the “pre-RNA world” scenario, but evolutionists are confident that molecules like ribozymes—a form of RNA with enzymatic functions—would answer that need. The TNA polymers took on tertiary structural shapes and held them as a natural result of the chemistry used to construct them. The polymers were built using standard nucleobases. Hydrogen bonds between the atoms of such molecular components stabilize specific shapes. This is the mechanism underlying many biochemical functions. And the “Darwinian evolution” of the TNA involved nothing more than throwing away puzzle pieces that didn’t match the templates. Thus the chemistry used to build the TNA did preserve the information provided by the templates.
The information in the templates, however, is the unconquerable problem for the “pre-RNA world” explanation of molecules-to-life evolution. Even if all those chemicals existed and randomly assembled into the simplest imaginable nucleic acids, what would they mean? What information would they convey? What code would they carry? What would read the code? The nucleobases in the TNA, just like those in RNA and DNA, are an alphabet. But without an understandable language, information to be transmitted, a producer of information, a decoder, and a method of using the decoded information, the nucleobase alphabet would be utterly meaningless.
This entire experiment hinged on providing the TNA with information and seeing if its chemical components could make a sustainable copy of the information. They could. But without God to provide the original information in the genomes of all created kinds of organisms, all the TNA in the world would be just so much chemical chaos.
Biological observations tell us life only comes from life. And information must be provided by a source of information. The living Creator God made all physical matter and all living things in the beginning, about 6,000 years ago. And He created the genetic code to enable all kinds of living things to reproduce and vary within their created kinds. His eyewitness account is in Genesis.
This ciliate gets the most from its veggies.
A newly discovered species of unicellular ciliate is being touted by New Scientist as the poster-child of endosymbiotic theory. Mesodinium chamaeleon was discovered in Nivå Bay in Denmark and characterized by Øjvind Moestrup’s Copenhagen team. The single-celled organism engulfs cryptomonad algae, encloses them in vacuoles, and presumably benefits from the sugar these photosynthetic algae produce. Eventually the algae are digested.
While harboring the live algae, M. chamaeleon seems to maintain a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with its algae. The algae may benefit from the protection afforded by the ciliate, at least until the ciliate digests them.
Endosymbiosis is merely symbiosis in which a microorganism lives inside its host. These organisms appear to have that sort of relationship, although Moestrup’s team could not keep the ciliate alive very long or get it to reproduce. The ciliate had “food vacuoles with recently ingested prey, some vacuoles with prey ingested some time ago, as demonstrated by the close-fitting membrane around the prey, and vacuoles with remains of food. All ingested cells had an intact nucleus.”19 The team could not determine the ultimate “fate of the chloroplasts”19 but think the algae remained photosynthetically active for a time and then got digested.
Some Mesodinium species immediately digest the algae they engulf, and others keep their algae in food vacuoles indefinitely. Although authors of the paper published in The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 19 do write that M. chamaeleon “appears to occupy an intermediate position” based on this behavior,19 they do not claim it is an evolutionary intermediate. The New Scientist, however, goes further.
The New Scientist journalist asserts, “M. chamaeleon may offer a snapshot of how endosymbiosis developed: the organism is still on the road from simply eating other cells to keeping them alive within itself.” Whereas ordinary endosymbiosis involves only a symbiotic relationship with a particular “geography,” the “endosymbiotic theory” popularized by Dr. Lynn Margulis suggests that eukaryotic cells evolved by engulfing bacteria and cyanobacteria and turning them into mitochondria and chloroplasts. As described by New Scientist, “Some 2 billion years ago, a single cell swallowed a bacterium and used it as an energy source. The descendants of the enslaved bacterium eventually became the mitochondria that now power all complex cells, including ours. Without endosymbiosis, there wouldn’t be any multicellular life.”
“Endosymbiotic theory” has a number of problems. For instance, the “proto-mitochondria/chloroplast” would have to establish a complex interdependence with the cell’s nucleus by transferring genes to the nucleus and evolving a way to transport the proteins back to the new organelle. Yet no part of this complex system could evolve and be selected for survival until all the parts were in place. (See “Non-Evolution” of the Appearance of Mitochondria and Plastids in Eukaryotes: Challenges to Endosymbiotic Theory.) Furthermore, no transitional forms have ever been found.
Moestrup’s team noted some algae were alive with intact nuclei while others were digested but never suggested the algae’s chloroplasts were becoming ciliate organelles. There is nothing in their paper to support the New Scientist’s assertion that the algae are anything other than ordinary symbionts and then prey.
God created all kinds of living things fully functional during Creation Week about 6,000 years ago. Living things—whether plants, animals, or microorganisms—vary within their kinds but only reproduce after their kinds. Microorganisms fulfill many important roles in our world, and they are frequently found as endosymbionts. For instance, we harbor beneficial bacteria in our colons. Mesodinea are functioning as they were designed and possess the capacity for various degrees of endosymbiosis. Nothing in the study even suggests they are “on the road” to becoming a new kind of organism or incorporating algae parts as their own organelles.
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