How good is good enough?
“Mimicry of harmless species pretending to be dangerous ones in order to avoid being eaten is one of the best celebrated examples of the outcome of evolution by natural selection,” says evolutionary biologist Tom Sherratt. But even poor mimics are quite successful. “Good examples of mimicry are highlighted in biology text books, but many mimics are poor and their emergence remains something of a puzzle.”
Natural selection should reward the best. Yet poor mimics effectively avoid predators and reproduce. For example, about a fourth of the 5,600 species of the harmless hoverfly resemble stinging wasps and bees, both in sight and sound. Many are only poor copies, yet bird predators avoid even these.
Hypotheses abound to explain the success of imperfect mimics. The eye-of-the-beholder hypothesis, for instance, suggests predators and people may not see things the same way. The jack-of-all-trades hypothesis suggests imperfect mimics combine features of several noxious neighbors. Another hypothesis “holds that there is little selective benefit in refining resemblance beyond a certain point.”1
Sherratt’s team compared the shapes, sizes, and colors of 38 species of hoverflies to 10 bee and wasp species. They found the imperfect mimics were not composites but merely poor copies. They also had people rate insect photos. From those assessments and studies of bird perception, they determined birds and people view these buzzy beasties the same way. Thus the jack-of-all-trades and eye-of-the-beholder hypotheses both failed to explain hoverflies.
Surprisingly, the best mimics were the biggest. Smaller species succeed with sloppy copies. “If you are a small hoverfly then birds are not going to be very interested in you,” Sherratt explained. “You are a relatively unprofitable meal and so the selection on mimicry is relatively weak. All you need to do is vaguely look like a wasp, and a bird will be sufficiently deterred to leave you alone because it's just not worth taking the risk if it turned [out] you were a wasp because the benefit is that much smaller. But if you are a nice fat juicy hoverfly, you are a substantial meal to a bird, and in those cases you might experience even stronger selection to resemble something like a wasp or bee and therefore gain protection from predators.”
Apparently bigger hoverflies make more tempting prey and so need a greater degree of protection, while the small flies aren’t so tempting a target and get by with just a little imitation of stingers. For them, sloppy is sufficient. So natural selection seems to work fine after all.
“Mimicry provides some of the most exquisite examples of the power of natural selection,” says Sherratt. “There is a famous saying that ‘Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.’ It is just as important to investigate examples of seemingly poor adaptation than sitting back and enjoying the celebrated examples of adaptation we see in textbooks.” (Be sure to read the recent ARJ paper refuting Dobzhansky’s popular mantra at An Evaluation of the Myth That “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”.)
We beg to clarify a bit. Does this study offer any support to the idea of upward evolution to new kinds of organisms? No. Creationists, like evolutionists, observe natural selection in nature. Natural selection here enables survival of varieties of hoverflies, not the evolution of new kinds of organisms. Natural selection cannot create new genetic information but only acts on traits that already exist. And for the hoverflies it evidently does, facilitating survival of even the poorest mimics.
Are we human because we learned to walk on our own two feet . . . or do we walk upright because we’re human?
Since fossils are notoriously reluctant to walk, “the earliest evidence of habitual bipedality”2 eludes evolutionists. But because they assume humans and chimpanzees share a common ape-like ancestor, an international team of researchers, who just published studies of chimpanzee behavior in Current Biology, believe they have discovered “the selective advantage that led to the origin of hominin bipedality.”2
“Bipedality as the key human adaptation may be an evolutionary product of persisting competitive strategies that ultimately set our ancestors on a separate evolutionary path,”2 they write. Believing natural selection is the driving force that propelled ape-like ancestors up the evolutionary tree of life, the team wished to determine what survival advantage bipedality could bequeath. So they gave eleven chimps a small supply of coula nuts—a chimp favorite—and watched the show . . . for 44.5 hours.
The chimps were so eager to scarf up coula nuts they walked upright in intermittent bursts three times more often than when coula nuts abounded. “Presence of coula nuts also stimulated more varied forms of carrying: chimpanzees used not only their hands,” they report, “but also mouths and feet to transport items and frequently employed more than one body part at a time, thereby increasing the number of items that could be carried simultaneously.”2
In a companion study, chimps were observed raiding crops. The most ambitious thieves—the ones carrying the most contraband—resorted to bouts of bipedality, using their hands and mouths to carry more.
“These chimpanzees provide a model of the ecological conditions under which our earliest ancestors might have begun walking on two legs,” explains anthropologist Brian Richmond. “Something as simple as carrying—an activity we engage in every day—may have, under the right conditions, led to upright walking and set our ancestors on a path apart from other apes that ultimately led to the origin of our kind.” The somewhat Lamarckian idea here is that ape-like ancestors best able to walk upright could carry away more food during tough times, survive and reproduce, and eventually through natural selection produce a bipedal anatomy. In other words, “Over time, intense bursts of bipedal activity may have led to anatomical changes.”
Based on the researchers’ logic, since eager chimps used their mouths and even feet to carry extra nuts, we might well ask why humans didn’t evolve cheek pouches like hamsters and toes designed to grip-on-the-go. Furthermore, exercising a physical skill feasible within the anatomical constraints of a creature’s design does not demonstrate it is ancestrally related to another kind of creature.
These researchers admit the impossibility of determining the origin of bipedality “from the fossil or archaeological records.”2 Yet they believe they can determine the evolution of bipedal anatomy and a resulting transformation to human-ness by observing counterfeits of bipedality in living animals not anatomically equipped for true bipedality. Humans are anatomically designed for bipedal walking. The angles of the leg and thigh bones at the knee, the structure of the feet, the shape of the pelvis, and arrangement of the muscles all contribute to an integrated design allowing humans to walk upright without the exaggerated side-to-side swing an ape must use to walk on two feet. Having a better ape-walk would not produce this constellation of anatomical changes.
But the real point—aside from the fact there is no evidence that humans and apes share an ape-like ancestor anyway—is that the study implies we became human because we learned how to walk. Biblically we know that God created animals (including apes) and humans as separate creations on the 6th day of Creation week. Humans were made in the image of God with unique mental and spiritual attributes. And while our Common Designer gave us certain similar physical features, He also created apes and humans with many distinct differences. Nothing in the fossil record or genetics confirms humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. Neither does this study tell us anything about how human ancestors learned to walk. Humanity’s ancestors were Adam and Eve. And God created Adam and Eve fully able to walk on their own two feet.
Academic freedom to “teach the controversy” in Tennessee awaits the governor’s signature.
Tennessee has the chance to join Louisiana as a state in which children have freedom to critically analyze popular scientific positions rather than simply taking the word of their textbooks on faith. HB368 has passed both houses of the state legislature and is ready for the governor’s signature. The new law will not require or even permit public school teachers to teach creationism, intelligent design, or any religious doctrine. In fact, Tennessee-approved curriculum does not contain such material. “Most people who look at this [bill] with an open mind will see it calls for helping students develop critical thinking skills and using objective scientific facts,” says House sponsor Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.
The new law will protect teachers who “teach the controversy,” allowing students to discover that scientific interpretations do not all toe the popular party line, an impression often given in textbooks. After all, even Darwin critically discussed some aspects of his ideas, such as the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. And the ACLU itself has written that “scientific critiques” of “any explanation of life,” (even evolution!) are legally discussable. They write, “In science class, however, they [schools] may present only genuinely scientific critiques of, or evidence for, any explanation of life on earth, but not religious critiques (beliefs unverifiable by scientific methodology).”3
Of course, we contend that all such scientific explanations of life’s origins rely on worldview-based assumptions that are scientifically unobservable and therefore untestable. In fact, teaching students that fact is part of “teaching the controversy.”
Despite the outcry of evolutionists and politically active organizations, HB368 will not “roll the clock back to 1925” when John Scopes—a substitute teacher in science class—was tried for teaching human evolution in violation of Tennessee’s law. By the way, be sure to watch Inherently Wind available as video-on-demand to learn the real story behind the Monkey Trial! You will probably be surprised! For example, the teaching of evolution was actually allowed in Tennessee’s schools, though instructors could not teach that humans evolved from some ape-like creature. In reality, with the state’s Butler Act, all other forms of supposed molecules-to-mammal evolution were permitted in the classroom. Also, Scopes never taught evolution to students; he simply volunteered to join the ACLU in an attempt to repeal the Butler Act and claimed he taught evolution.
Like a similar bill just passed in the Oklahoma House, HB368 is intended to “help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens.”4 Both bills would protect teachers who help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories”5 concerning “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”4 The Oklahoma bill adds “protections for students who choose [to] voice their disagreements.”4 (Evidently the sponsors of the bill believe the rights of free speech and free expression should extend to all citizens of the United States, even public school students!)
Both bills specify they “shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”4 David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee believes the bill’s vocal opponents “have a political agenda” as “the bill applies only to state-approved science curriculum, which excludes creationism and intelligent design.”
Activists challenging the Tennessee bill are not only lobbying the governor's office to obtain a veto but are trying to intimidate all who wish to provide academic freedom for Tennessee's children and their teachers. Among the opposition, not surprisingly, is the National Center for Science Education. NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch expressed a thinly veiled threat of litigation evidently intended to frighten school officials. He said, “The legislature is setting a trap for school districts. It does seem like [a] very real possibility that some creationist teacher somewhere is going to be abusing the provisions of law and teaching creationism. That will set up that school district for a pretty unpleasant situation.”
Despite the implication that Tennessee schools will find themselves embroiled in lawsuits, Louisiana's experience suggests otherwise. Since Louisiana’s Science Education Act of 20086 went into effect, Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum Action reports, “To date, not a single complaint has been filed, not a single school board has moved to address a related concern and not one lawsuit is on record to correct inappropriate action on behalf of a Science Education Act infraction!”7 The guidelines for the policies concerning controversial issues are clear. Furthermore, as teachers all over the country are discovering, scientifically sound non-religious resources (such as textbook addenda8 developed by a retired professor of electrical engineering, Dr. Charles Voss) are available to help teach students to ask incisive questions. And thanks to the Louisiana statute, public school students are legally able to discuss divergent scientific opinions about controversial current events such as the prohibition on federal funding for research that destroys human embryos and policies affected by concerns about global warming.
We applaud the Tennessee legislature’s decision to allow teachers to truly teach without an enforced evolutionary bias. Also, we have never suggested public school teachers should be forced to teach creation (because it would probably be taught poorly by pro-evolution instructors and thus would be counter-productive), and we are pleased to see HB368 does not promote such an idea. All that said, we hasten to point out that evidence does not speak for itself. Every person has a bias affecting the way he views scientific evidence. Therefore, we exhort Christian parents and churches to re-double their efforts to teach not only critical thinking skills but also the truth of the Bible as God’s Word. Students need to be taught the Bible is consistent with science both at church and home even while learning to critique conventional textbook content at school.
Understanding the answer in Genesis 3:16
Modern obstetrical practices fell under condemnation recently in a Christian blogspot interpretation of Genesis 3:16. The writer states he shares our conviction that the Creation account of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is literal history. However, his comments attacking the obstetrical choices of countless women and their doctors haven’t just “stepped on toes” as he suggests but instead lead to an illogical and inconsistent interpretation of the Genesis Curse.
God told Eve He would greatly multiply her sorrow and her conception and in sorrow she would bring forth children (Genesis 3:16). The blog writer rightly acknowledges that to the other “fallen conditions of the world,” would be added “multiplied pains in childbearing” as a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve. However, the writer considers the “easy-out of pain killers” to be a choice made by “women dodging what is Biblically [sic] described as part of the consequence of sin.” Remarkably, in addition to referring to “quack doctors” and wrongfully insulting the integrity of medical professionals, this writer actually suggests women avoid the pain they are mandated to endure by “simply scheduling a C-section”!
The blog writer says believers who accept the truth of Genesis 1 and 2 but opt for obstetrical means of diminishing pain “pick-n-choose what they want to believe out of the Bible.” As a representative of a ministry that seeks to rightly interpret and defend God’s Word, as a retired board-certified obstetrician who was privileged to care for women and their unborn children, and as a Christian mother who has not only performed a number of Cesarean sections but experienced them, I felt the need to challenge the blog writer’s position.
It is incredibly difficult to take seriously anyone who suggests a Cesarean section is a way to avoid pain. Oversimplification of the vicissitudes of labor and delivery coupled with needless attacks on the judgment and practices of obstetrical professionals suggest the writer has a jaundiced attitude or is at least ignorant of the process. Furthermore, the writer seems to have a mythically futuristic view of obstetrics, for as any person involved in the process can honestly attest, there is presently no way to avoid all the pain associated with childbirth. That said, I’ll confine the remainder of this discussion to the blog writer’s misapplication of Scripture.
In the verse detailing God’s description of the consequences of human rebellion applicable to childbirth, the Hebrew words translated “sorrow” and “pain” convey toil which is worrisome, grievous, and mentally or physically painful. Many fears and anxieties accompany childbirth—worry about a healthy outcome, concern the child will grow up to be a person of good character, anxiety about the sort of world the child is being born into, and so on. But certainly fear of pain and the unknown do weigh on the mind of many women.
The extreme pain of childbirth is part of the Curse, but so are sickness and death. Even the difficulties associated with agricultural labor—“Cursed is the ground for your sake . . . Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Genesis 3:17–18)—are a consequence of man’s rebellion. Yet the writer doesn’t suggest people sin when they use fertilizer, pull weeds, or use labor-saving farm equipment. If the responsible use of analgesics in childbirth is unbiblical, then so are those practices.
We live in a cursed world as a result of sin, and that Curse affects all areas of our lives, not just childbirth. The groaning and travailing in pain by the whole creation as described in Romans 8:18–23 constantly reminds us we need our Savior who alone can fix our world and our hearts. Nevertheless, in compassion for one another and in imitation of the compassion of our Lord, we try to relieve suffering of the sick and dying. To suggest there is anything unbiblical about relieving pain in childbirth as far as is safely possible makes about as much sense as refusing to ease the suffering of the sick and dying.
We agree evolutionary thinking keeps many people ignorant of the true origin of suffering and death. But death and suffering are the enemy. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead before He endured the cross and defeated death Himself. Why should we then embrace unnecessary suffering?
Are resurrected proteins the death knell of irreducible complexity?
The actual Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is proof Jesus is truly the “Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4)—power as Creator (Revelation 4:11), power as Savior (1 John 4:14), and power as the source of reliable “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Thus, publicity surrounding Dr. Joe Thornton’s molecular genetics laboratory announcing he has in his freezer “a valuable collection of proteins that had been extinct for hundreds of millions of years until Thornton and his team brought them back from the dead” rings with the power of life and death over intelligent design and, more specifically, belief in biblical creation. A former Greenpeace activist, Thornton—whom we quoted previously in a more technical discussion of his work9—“has been fearless — almost enthusiastic — about highlighting the challenge that his work presents to a creationist argument called intelligent design: the claim that complex molecular systems can only have been created by a divine force. Thornton shows how evolution did the job, leaving no need for a designer.”
If you picture a modular construction with subsequent random alterations in some of the modules, you’ll have a pretty good grasp of Thornton’s theory. The idea, he believes, is that an ancestral gene duplicated itself multiple times—a modular construction. Then random mutations affected some of the copies. The final resulting protein built from this mutated modular mega-gene is therefore a complex evolutionary product of random destructive mutations. Such molecular time travel presumably proves “Random mutations that actually corrupted proteins . . . led to [what intelligent design proponents call] ‘irreducible complexity.’”
Why is Thornton so confident genetic blueprints for complex proteins evolved just this way? So confident he claims resurrected ancient proteins are in his freezer? How does he resurrect prehistoric proteins?
Most prehistoric proteins emerging from Thornton’s “protein-resurrection toolbox” are steroid receptors. Hormonal steroids are chemical messengers such as estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone. Steroid molecules have structural similarities and may be synthesized along similar chemical pathways, diverging at critical stages to produce the various steroids. Not surprisingly, therefore, the receptors that detect them have similarities along with key differences to allow the steroid molecules to bind and thus “deliver” their messages.
After comparing steroid receptor proteins in “a slew of living organisms,” Thornton “clambered backwards through the evolutionary tree to deduce the most likely sequence of the common ancestor of all such receptors, which existed some 600 million to 800 million years ago, in the common ancestor of ‘you and a snail,’ as he puts it. Instead of stopping there, as most evolutionary biologists would have done, he then built the gene and inserted it into cells that could manufacture the ancient protein. Resurrecting the protein, says Thornton, allowed his team ‘to experimentally test hypotheses about evolution that would otherwise be just speculation’” (emphasis ours).
Molecular clock dating—a method based on circular reasoning, statistical mismanagement, and unverifiable assumptions (see News to Note, December 31, 2011: Year in Review for more on this)—assures Thornton a steroid receptor evolved through gene duplication with subsequent mutations millions of years before a corresponding steroid evolved. Therefore, evolutionists are “sure such studies solidly refute all parts of the intelligent design argument,” as one recently wrote in an article entitled “Reducible Complexity.”
Thornton’s work is garnering praise from fellow evolutionists. Popular evolutionary molecular biologist Kenneth Miller, for instance, says Thornton is “helping to put some flesh on the bones of speculation about how complexity arises.” So what is Thornton doing that no one has done before? “Instead of passively observing things as most evolutionary biologists do,” says evolutionary molecular biologist Antony Dean, if you work in Thornton’s lab “you actively go in and test the hypotheses experimentally.” Thus we see that Miller, Dean, and Thornton are in agreement that reliable scientific conclusions should be observable and testable.
But are his? Or are they yet still just more “speculation”? Common designs—such as biochemical similarities—are consistent with a Common Designer who designed all living things to live in and interact with the same world. Since molecules like steroids do have many similarities and shared biosynthetic pathways, the ability to reverse engineer an “ancestral” steroid receptor to create a functional hypothetical predecessor is a nice bit of biochemistry, but it doesn’t prove that “predecessor” was ancestral to anything. Likewise, determining what DNA structure could produce such a molecule, synthesizing that gene, and allowing cellular machinery to manufacture a protein from it is another nice bit of modern molecular genetics, but it does not demonstrate such a process happened in the past.
Origins science requires the scientist to base interpretations on assumptions about long past events. Those events are not occurring today and therefore cannot be tested scientifically or observed in the present. And even if those processes were occurring in the present, they would not be identical with the ones believed by evolutionists to have “created” the universe we see, since, after all, this universe is already here. Thornton believes his molecular time travel can “break evolution down into detailed steps that he can test” and indicates that which cannot be so tested should not be disguised as science. By his definition, then, though these biochemical processes work, they work in the present and should not disguise themselves as scientific proof about the past.
Far from demonstrating how genetic information evolved, Thornton’s work merely plays games with existing information. Creationist Dr. Georgia Purdom, a molecular geneticist, explains, “Once again we see a ‘just-so’ story of what gene duplication and mutation can supposedly accomplish. What evolutionists need to show are examples of mechanisms that lead to the gain of new genetic information that can lead from molecules to man given enough time. Thornton’s ‘resurrected proteins’ are merely the tweaking of pre-existing genetic information leading to loss of receptor specificity.”
This “resurrection” should not convince anyone of the truth of evolution. Indeed, a person’s worldview determines how convincing a resurrection is. If a person’s worldview is such that he understands observable science is observable only in the present, then these “resurrected prehistoric proteins” are nothing more than a nice biochemical puzzle. God’s eyewitness account in Genesis tells the true story of our origins. Molecular time travel cannot.
In contrast, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was attested to by many witnesses as He showed Himself alive by “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). Nevertheless, He prophetically explained that those who are determined not to “hear Moses and the prophets [who spoke of the coming Christ (John 5:46-47)], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It is for this reason we care that people understand the Bible is trustworthy from the very first verse, for those same books of the Bible explain clearly the reason humanity needed a Savior.
While many people connect dinosaurs with evolution, we have no difficulty with the word dinosaur being used by schools in standardized tests. Christians should have no fear of dinosaurs. As we show inside our Creation Museum, the appearance—and disappearance—of dinosaurs is no mystery if we use the Bible as our starting point. In fact, our museum has a number of high-quality dinosaur-related displays.
At the same time, we acknowledge that dinosaurs are probably used by secularists more than anything to indoctrinate young people in the idea of millions of years and evolution. This kind of approach is what parents should really be most concerned about regarding how dinosaurs are presented in their children’s schools. If teachers are using these remarkably designed creatures to try to teach the atheistic evolution worldview to young people, then that is bad education.
Now, there may be some people (very few, we think) who, out of ignorance, believe that dinosaurs never existed. But we have their fossils to study, and our museum displays several dinosaur fossils that guests can see for themselves (including a dinosaur bone that children can touch). For Christians, dinosaur bones can remind us about the origin of death—that while there was an original perfect creation, death entered the world when the first man disobeyed God (Romans 3:23 and Genesis 3:15). Many of the dinosaur bones we discover today are the remains of creatures that perished in our cursed, fallen world during the biblical Flood some 4,300 years ago.
Our staff scientists, several of them holding doctorates, agree with me that the book of Genesis is trustworthy and logically defensible. It is the true account of history.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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