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Conformable Contacts
Notes from the intersection of faith, reason and geology
Curated by YEC Geo
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Taking on Behe's Challenge: Evolve Me a Cilium

Taking on Behe's Challenge: Evolve Me a Cilium | Conformable Contacts |

"In Darwin's Black Box (1996) and again in The Edge of Evolution (2007), Michael Behe challenged the scientific community to explain irreducibly complex molecular machines, like the cilium and bacterial flagellum, in Darwinian terms. The eukaryotic cilium, especially, represented "irreducible complexity squared," he said, with further research showing a complex transport system, Intraflagellar Transport (IFT), acting like a system of "freight cars" at a "construction site," moving cargo up and down the cilium with forward and reverse motors. His first literature search in 1996 showed "only a few attempts" to Darwinize the cilium. By 2007, nothing had changed


Now, a team of scientists in the Netherlands has sent another contender into the ring. In an open-access paper in PNAS, "Evolution of modular intraflagellar transport from a coatomer-like progenitor," Tuenis van Dam and six others make audacious claims in the introduction and again in the conclusion."

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Fossil "sheds light" on scientific fallacy (my take)

Fossil "sheds light" on scientific fallacy (my take) | Conformable Contacts |

"This multi-limbed creature is a Fuxianhuiid arthropod, and it's not waving, but eating. ... This has given researchers the first opportunity to examine the appendages on the creature's head, which turn out to be the earliest and simplest example of manipulative limbs used for feeding purposes."


Here's the problem I have with reportage like this, in one word:




Says who?  Shells, limbs, cellular organization--there are no simple organisms.  Just because it's small doesn't mean it's not complex. 


It's the fallacy of scientific sizeism--small must equate to simple, and/or primitive. 


Here's another example: "Fossils also revealed the oldest nervous system on record that is 'post-cephalic' -- or beyond the head -- consisting of only a single stark string in what was a very basic form of early life compared to today."


This critter could move, it could filter feed, it grew a hard carapace--the biological mechanisms necessary to accomplish those tasks are anything but "simple" or "basic."  Ask any robotics engineer about the difficulty of reproducing biological processes.


Using qualitative terms such as "simple" or "primitive" to downgrade obvious complexity is totally unscientific.


One more pet peeve:  science journalists, please, please, for heaven's sake, stop using the term "sheds light!"!!!


I did a totally unscientific study by googling "sheds light on evolution"--got 123,000 hits.  Of the first 10, 2 were of a non-biological nature, and 3 were repeats, so that comes out to 6 out of 10 being unique, biologically related hits.  Multiply that by 123,000 and you get 73,800 unique articles on something that "sheds light on evolution." 


With all that candle power, you could illuminate a small city.  So why aren't the big problems answered yet--the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, to name a few?


And the biggest elephant in this particular living room--why is this Fuxianhuiid so exquisitely preserved?  And all the other fossils in the Xiaoshiba biota?  Where today do we see deposition rapid enough to preserve organisms from decay without being so turbulent that they rip them apart?


Enough ranting for the day.  It is a very cool bug.

Via Catherine Russell
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Science teachers who live in glass houses...

Science teachers who live in glass houses... | Conformable Contacts |

In an article giving a science teacher’s perspective on a visit to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, the writer has this to say:  “Creationists begin with answers and work to prove those answers right,” adding:  “This is antithetical to the scientific process.”


Fair enough.  However, what might his opinion be of the authors of a recent article in the Royal Society journal Interface, who give perhaps the most elegant description I’ve seen yet of the OOL (origin of life) problem:


“We need to explain the origin of both the hardware [biochemical] and software [coded information] aspects of life, or the job is only half finished. Explaining the chemical substrate of life and claiming it as a solution to life's origin is like pointing to silicon and copper as an explanation for the goings-on inside a computer.” (1)


The authors go on to state:


“While we have stressed that Darwinian evolution lacks a capacity to elucidate the physical mechanisms underlying the transition from non-life to life or to distinguish nonliving from living, evolution of some sort must still drive this transition.”


What? How is assuming evolution as the driver any different than assuming special creation?


Here’s the answer:  it’s not, because the crux of the matter is the act of assuming.


Just as a geometrical proof cannot begin without assuming fundamental axioms, any debate on the origins issue must have as resolved the following question before any further discussion can commence:

"An order of existence beyond that of the purely natural (i.e., the supernatural) does/does not exist."


You don’t have any business taking a stand on the origins issue until that question is resolved, because if  the supernatural exists, then a supernatural causation for the universe is on the table when considering explanations for its existence. Otherwise, it's not.


Just claiming the garb of “science” doesn’t let you off, because science, by its very nature, only treats of phenomena that can be discerned by the natural senses.  Therefore science, while an important component in the search for truth, cannot claim to be the final arbiter of Truth—unless, and only unless, the fundamental axiom is upheld that the supernatural does not exist.  Which, unfortunately is not a theorem provable by science.


(1) Walker, S. I. and P. C. W. Davies. The algorithmic origins of life. Interface. Published online before print December 13, 2012.


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If it looks like a duck...

If it looks like a duck... | Conformable Contacts |
From Brian Thomas at ICR:

"A portion of a fossilized dinosaur upper arm bone from Tanzania, originally collected in the 1930s, spent many years nestled among thousands of dinosaur specimens housed at London's Natural History Museum. ...Researchers published their analysis, which visualized bones under a microscope, in Biology Letters. Taken together, the arm and spine fossils convinced the team that they were looking at dinosaurian bones, and yet they hesitated to confidently identify them as dinosaur. ...'It is possible that instead of being a true dinosaur, Nyasasaurus might have been a very close relative, lying just outside the dinosaur group,' according to the Natural History Museum."

Why not just call it a true dinosaur?

The problem is, the bones are dated to the mid-Triassic, which places them uncomfortably low in the evolutionary timeline for dinosaurs.

Thomas comments, " keep evolution's plausibility, the Current Biology authors nursed the idea that Nyasasaurus could have been almost a dinosaur despite its perfectly dinosaurian anatomy."

In the footnotes, he also points out that:

"On the one hand, researchers were able to reconstruct the general theropod dinosaur form by making valid inferences from the shapes of a few of its bones, assuming that the bones would have fit in a proper and practical arrangement. But on the other hand, co-author Paul Barrett told the Natural History Museum, 'Dinosaurs started as just one of a number of evolutionary experiments in reptile evolution.'

If Nyasasaurus was just an early evolutionary experiment, then why would Barrett expect its bones to be in any proper arrangement? Within the evolutionary worldview, there should be no reliable way to reconstruct ancient bones undergoing experimental size and proportion adjustments.

Thus the irony: Researchers had to borrow from the creation worldview's idea of well-formed kinds in order to do their evolutionary research."

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck...
YEC Geo's insight:




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The Humpty-Dumpty Effect: A Revolutionary Paper with Far-Reaching Implications

The Humpty-Dumpty Effect: A Revolutionary Paper with Far-Reaching Implications | Conformable Contacts |

(Occasional evolution article alert)


ID folks gone gaga over a numerical simulation.  Very interesting

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Good advice for Bright Young Things

Good advice for Bright Young Things | Conformable Contacts |

Advice from David Klinghoffer over at the Evolution News and Views blog, on the correct way to approach professors whose views differ from yours.

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Of fossils, floods and Florida

Of fossils, floods and Florida | Conformable Contacts |

One of the problems with taxonomic classifications of extinct organisms is determining what the normal range of variation was.  For example, in the article referenced here, researchers have used comparative analysis of a saber-toothed cat's jaws and teeth to help determine the animal's taxonomy.


But how can we be reasonably confident that the differences in the teeth and jaws really translated into true intraspecies differences?


As a side note, Florida is one of the most fossiliferous states in the US, and much of it is related to the phosphate deposits that cover much of the central region of the state.  The most fossiliferous formation is actually called the Bone Valley Formation, and is intimately related to the phosphate deposits. (1)


So what was going on here?  Certainly there are no fossil-rich layers forming anywhere in Florida right now.  There's some connection between the phosphate, the Bone Valley formation, and the 10-20 feet of sand that overlies the whole stratigraphic package.


I'm starting to wonder if there is a relationship between the Lake Agassiz paleoflood that had massive effects in the Caribbean, and the unique geological features of Florida (2).





Via Catherine Russell
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Evolution or intelligent design?

Evolution or intelligent design? | Conformable Contacts |

Every time I see this on the side of my hotmail inbox, I have to chuckle.  I can think of nothing more intricately designed than the innards of an outwardly simple, yet inwardly complex, coded html application.


Blatant analogy, anyone?

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Study: Chicxulub Asteroid Wiped Out Obamadon and Many Other Cretaceous Lizards, Snakes

Study: Chicxulub Asteroid Wiped Out Obamadon and Many Other Cretaceous Lizards, Snakes | Conformable Contacts |
"A new study shows that the Chicxulub asteroid collision led to a devastating mass extinction of Cretaceous snakes and lizards."

Stratigraphically, an extinction means that fossils are found in lower rock layers, but not in upper rock layers, so an extinction is presumed to have taken place somewhere after the fossils disappear.

Besides the obvious, unverifiable assumption that fossilization must be relatively constant in order for the appearances of fossils in rocks to be proxies for speciation and extinction events, there's another problem. In many instances, fossils which are found to be inconveniently out-of-place because they are located above the presumed extinction zone are in many instances simply labeled as "reworked"--that is, they are presumed to be older fossils, which were exhumed by erosion and then re-deposited in younger sediment.

This is especially acute in fossils dated to the Cretaceous-Paleogene border, the place in the geologic column where dinosaurs are thought to have gone extinct.

For example, the article cited by the International Commission on Stratigraphy for the Danian stage (the period of time just above the Mesozoic) notes the presence of Cretaceous-aged fossils above the Chicxulub ejecta layer, stating that "..the fossils present in it are reworked from the Cretaceous and cannot be used for dating this unit as Maastrichtian [that is, upper Cretaceous]." (

It goes on to point out that there are Cretaceous species of calcareous nannofossils at El Kef, in Tunisia, but that they are "mainly considered as reworked."

It's too convenient, and too ad hoc. When theoretical considerations trump objective stratigraphic observations, the whole principle of parsimony is thrown out the window, and every paleontological age assignment is made suspect.
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Jerry Coyne's Chapter on the Fossil Record Fails to Show "Why Evolution is True"

Jerry Coyne's Chapter on the Fossil Record Fails to Show "Why Evolution is True" | Conformable Contacts |

Part of a series by Jonathan M. of the Discovery Institute reviewing Jerry Coyne's 2009 book, "Why Evolution is True."  This review focuses on Coyne's chapter on the fossil record.


Coyne's book is only 3 years old, but two of his fossil arguments are already outdated, and the third one is just absurd.


First, Coyne uses Tiktaalik as an example of a transitional tetrapod, when tetrapod tracks have been discovered that pre-date Tiktaalik by 20 million years. (


Second, he uses Archaeopteryx in the the birds-to-dinos argument, when a new fossil discovery has "knocked it from its perch," as Jonathan M. puts it. (


Lastly, he uses the presumed whale series as an argument for transitional organisms.  Anyone who has seen footage of whales swimming, or read about whale strandings, where you learn that the huge mass of the creature's bodies slowly crushes their skeletons and organ systems, realizes how superbly fit these creatures are for life in the sea. 


What sort of wholesale genetic manipulation would have had to have taken place to translate a four-legged carnivore like Pakicetus, which was fitted to live, move and have its being above ground, to the magnificent mammals we now see in the sea that are so precisely fitted to their aquatic life?


Jonathan M. argues that there's not enough time in the presumed fossil sequence to accomodate the  modifications necessary for such a transition to occur.  He lists 23 changes, including the reorganization of kidney tissues to allow the drinking of sea water, and the change from a fur-bearing epidermis to a skin that has incredible hydrodynamic properties.


I'm sorry, but I don't care how long you give it.  Anyone who has common sense can realize that there is no way random mutation and natural selection could orchestrate such a massive reorganization of just about every single body system there is.


To believe that the Pakicetus-to-whale series could have occurred by random chance takes much more faith than to believe that an eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent God could have created the universe and all that is in it in seven days.   It beggars rationality--in fact, I would call the whale transitional series, if it really occurred, a true miracle.

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Life's Origin: No Soup For You. : Celebrating Evolving Creation

Life's Origin: No Soup For You. : Celebrating Evolving Creation | Conformable Contacts |

Christian evolutionist group blog pondering the OOL questions--good summary, unsatisfactory conclusion.  Handwaving doesn't make the questions go away. 


But as a Seinfeld fan from way back, I couldn't resist the title.

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Another Look at the Latest Blow to the Darwinian Tree of Life, and the Man Who Dealt It

Intermittent evolution article, interesting primarily because of the information on how micro-RNA phylogenies are upsetting the evolutionary apple cart.  What bothers me is how some scientists scramble to abandon Occam's razor and search for complex solutions simply because the simplest solution doesn't fit the paradigm of methodological naturalism.



"Intelligent-design advocates are unsurprised by any of this, because their focus is on the origins of functional information, not unobservable prehistories imagined by assuming that a universal common ancestor gave birth to a family tree via random mutation and natural selection. Design theorists also believe in following the evidence where it leads."

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