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Showing posts from May, 2009

Streetlevel tour of Scopes sites

I recently noticed that Google Maps & Earth finally upgraded Dayton to high resolution photos and to streetlevel views of many of the streets in town. That inspired me to create this little tour of sites associated with the Scopes Trial.

Dayton Coal & Iron Co. Mines
Dayton's involvement in the Scopes Trial began with the failure of one of its major employers, the Dayton Coal & Iron Company. There had been a number of companies that had tried to sustain a mine in the area (in fact, there are old mine works in the hills behind my house). None of them were very successful. The latest closure led to the famous meeting in Robinson's Drugstore where F.E. Robinson and George Rappleyea came up with the idea of answering the ACLU's ad for someone to break the recently-passed Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of human evolution in Tennessee high schools. There's not much to see in the street level view, but if you follow that gravel road, you'll eventual…

Ancient biomolecules are boring

Yeah, that's right. I said it: BORING! They're so boring, I almost didn't bother writing this post. That's how bored I am with the subject.

It seems that my little off-hand paragraph on Schweitzer's hadrosaur collagen stirred up a few responses. I got emails and read a few online posts about it. Some agreed with me and some did not. I'm always amused about what people actually react to on my blog. Stuff I care deeply about goes virtually unnoticed, and stuff I just throw out as an aside gets all sorts of response. Go figure. I guess I should be grateful that somebody's actually reading this stuff. God bless you for that!

So why are ancient biomolecules boring? Well, I guess there's some intrinsic coolness to them. Recovering DNA from dead things like mammoths, extinct horses, and Neandertals is pretty nifty. (Especially the ancient horse results which partly corroborate my contention that all equids are a single baramin.) The Neandertal geno…

AIG happenings and organosubstrate

I guess the AIG/CMI settlement is moving forward. Yesterday, I got a copy of Creation magazine in the mail from AIG with a very neutrally-worded note: "As a former subscriber to it, you may want to know that you can re-subscribe to the same publicaton through CMI." Strange, though: I was never a subscriber to Creation magazine at my home address where this complimentary copy of Creation was delivered.

Yesterday, AIG also posted a copy of Joe Francis's 2003 ICC paper, The organosubstrate of life: a creationist perspective of microbes and viruses. It's a creative look at microbiology, and it's worth a look.

Hype-driven science

I resisted commenting on Ida (AKA Darwinius masillae), mostly because I didn't have anything to say. It's a pretty fossil, very well preserved. It's a primate, and it's supposed to be a representative of the earliest branch of ape evolution. OK. That's nice. There are lots of fossil primates that are supposed to represent various branches of what would become the human evolutionary tree. This is one of them.

I finally found the hype about this thing a little hard to resist when my mom (of all people) asked what I thought about it. My mom doesn't really follow science news all that closely. So you know if she's curious about it, it must be everywhere. So here's what I think:

Yuk.

Shall I elaborate? This fossil has a movie coming out. With a trailer. Don't like movies? How about an attractive companion book? Still not cool enough for you? Check out their promotional website www.revealingthelink.com.

I could sort of understand this level of …

From the Library: T.B.B. of the C.S.S.M.

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

Several years ago I began a project to study the history of creationist thought regarding the origin of species. My aim was to understand how Frank Marsh arrived at his ideas about "created kinds." That work led me to a number of obscure and now poorly-known books on the subjects of creation and antievolution. One of those books was Evoluion Criticised by T.B. Bishop, described on the title page as "Member of the Council of the Victoria Institute." Evolution Criticised, published in 1918 in England, was a peculiar work that consisted largely of quotes from evolutionary literature with very little overriding organization. Bishop cited Erich Wasmann's view of species favorably, but otherwise concentrated almost exclusively on trying to document disagreements between evolutonists themselves (a very typical antievol…

Selection in human and primate genomes

Several years ago, I was discussing possible research projects with a creationist who happened to be quite taken with the issue of natural selection. I thought the evidence of seletion in the human and chimp genomes would make an excellent topic to evaluate, specifically by expanding the sample of genomes (to gorilla or orang) to see if the number of genes exhibiting evidence of selection holds up. My suggestion was not well received, but maybe I didn't communicate it very well. With a few recent papers touching on this topic, it seemed like a good topic for a post. Maybe I can explain why these types of study have value.

How do we detect natural selection in genome sequences? One method (by no means the only one) is to look for genes that have an unusual number of changes to the coding sequence (estimated by the dN/dS ratio). Basically, any mutation in a protein-coding gene can change the protein sequence (a nonsynonymous mutation) or not (a synonymous mutation). This happens beca…

About those Oxytricha transposases

Ciliate genomics is nifty. Ciliates are little one-celled organisms. You're probably familiar with the ciliate Paramecium, ubiquitous in high school and college biology lab exercises. Unlike most familiar eukaryotes, paramecia have two nuclei in each cell, a large and easily recognizable macronucleus and a much tinier micronucleus. The macronucleus is transcriptionally active, meaning that it's the one that carries on the day-to-day activities in the cell. The micronucleus is used in sexual conjugation. After sex, the existing macronucleus degrades, and a new one is synthesized from the micronucleus.

Oxytricha is a ciliate like Paramecium, though they are not particularly similar (pictures here). Like Paramecium, Oxytricha has a transcriptionally-active macronucleus and a reproductive micronucleus. The macronucleus is replaced after each sexual conjugation. Here's where it starts to get confusing: When you actually count up the amount of DNA in the Oxytricha, the …

Success

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I recently had an email exchange with one of my readers (other than my mom), and he asked me these questions:
If you don't get charged up about ancient bio-molecules, what does charge you up? If you had to make a short list of the most exciting evidences for a young creation, what would it include?
I think he might have meant them to be the same question, but they're not the same to me. I'm going to answer them in order, first, what charges me up and then what excites me about creationism. I thought this would be a good followup post to that downer about Failure.

What charges me up? God's grace! I know that's probably not what you wanted to hear, but that is what charges me up. And I'm not just talking about salvation, either. I'm talking about all of God's graces, His bountiful and abundant gifts to every one of us. I really like this quote from Frederick Buechner's Now and Then:
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it i…

From the Library: Hell and the High Schools

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

Those having any interest in the Scopes trial are probably familiar with this image of evangelist T.T. Martin's book stall set up behind the court house. From this spot, he sold copies of the latest antievolution works, including Alfred Watterson McCann's God - Or Gorilla, pamphlets by B.H. Shadduck, George McCready Price's Phantom of Organic Evolution, and Martin's own Hell and the High Schools. (Business must have been good, since Ron Numbers records that Phantom is the only book that yielded Price any royalties.) H.L. Mencken described Martin in his July 15 Scopes trial essay,
A somewhat more plausible volunteer has turned up in the person of Pastor T.T. Martin, of Blue Mountain, Miss. He has hired a room and stocked it with pamphlets bearing such titles as "Evolution a Menace," "Hell and the High Sc…

Puijila is not an otter

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I wasn't going to comment on Puijila, but I just can't take it any more. For those unaware, a recent Nature article by Rybczynski et al. described the fossil pinniped Puijila, which has four nice legs and is the "least specialized for swimming" among the well-known fossil pinnipeds. (Pinnipeds are seals, sea lions, and walruses.) From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a nice example of what the pinnipeds might have looked like as they evolved from land to sea creatures. Paul Garner thinks it fits in with Kurt Wise's new perspective on mammal baramins, (published in the Genesis Kinds book) that makes mammal baramins much larger than previously suspected. Last year, I found evidence that seals (Phocidae) were a holobaramin and therefore not genealogically related to other pinnipeds (that work is published in Animal and Plant Baramins), and that makes Puijila kind of a puzzle to me. I don't like to comment on things like this until I feel I have som…

Failure

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The latest issue of Genome Research arrived in my mailbox this week, and the theme is "Genomics and Darwinism." There's lots of interesting stuff in the issue, including the body louse mitochondrial genome (in pieces) and several interesting papers on detecting selection in the human genome, which I might comment on later. Another article that caught my eye was Francisco Ayala's "One hundred fifty years without Darwin are enough!" It opens with a kind of a lament about creationist influence in modern culture, but the bulk of the article is an argument that Darwin completed the Copernican revolution, in the sense that
It was Darwin's greatest accomplishment to show that the complex organization and functionality of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process - natural selection - without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. The origin and adaptations of organisms in their profusion and wondrous variations were …

Homo floresiensis in the news again

It's another round in the ongoing Homo floresiensis debate. Is it an actual species or just a microcephalic dwarf? This time, there's two papers in the latest Nature that lean toward the "new species" interpretation:

Jungers et al. 2009. The foot of Homo floresiensis. Nature 459:81-84.

Weston and Lister. 2009. Insular dwarfism in hippos and a model for brain size reduction in Homo floresiensis. Nature 459:85-88.

Commentary here:

Lieberman. 2009. Homo floresiensis from head to toe. Nature 459:41-42.

I lean towards the "new species" interpretation, but probably just because I like species diversification. That, and it doesn't look like a microcephalic (see Schlitzie). But I'm no paleoanthropologist and I'm not competent to judge.

Here's Kurt Wise's take on the Flores fossils:

Wise. 2005. The Flores skeleton and human baraminology. OPBSG 6:1-13.

The paper is a bit ponderous, since the reviewers insisted that he basically spell out al…

Must be "On" in my "Off"

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Dinosaurs, immunity, and yeast

The latest issue of Science has some good stuff. Mary Schweitzer is back with evidence of hadrosaur collagen. I know lots of creationists that get charged up by this sort of thing, since this is supposed to be evidence that the fossils must be younger than conventional claims by millions of years. I've never been very excited about this, mainly because the Flood throws a real monkey wrench into these arguments. A major source of degradation of biomolecules is water. So anything that died in the Flood and floated in water for a year shouldn't really have many biomolecules left, right? Seems like if you believe fossils are millions of years old or are the remains of carcasses from the Flood, the outcome is the same: very little preservation of biomolecules. In this case, Schweitzer is finding collagen, which is pretty tough, so I guess it makes sense that it might be preserved in some extraordinary cases. In any case, finding the rare, hardy biomolecule from dinosaurs is…