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Earth’s surface feels like a stationary platform. In fact, it feels so solid and immobile that it took about 2,000 years from the time of Aristotle for astronomers to show otherwise. They were slow to adopt Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, which requires Earth to orbit around the Sun and spin on its axis. Now, not only do we know that our home speeds at 30 kilometers per second around the Sun and a point on the equator moves at 460 miles per second relative to Earth’s center, but we also know that the Solar System hurtles at 220 kilometers per second around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. All these are easy to measure today with astronomical methods.

A Subtler Motion

There is another motion that is much more subtle. The ground under your feet is literally moving. The continents are drifting apart near an average rate of one inch per year. Direct observations of these sluggish motions began about forty years ago with laser pulses reflected off satellites, GPS (more recently), as well as Very Long Baseline Interferometry using radio telescope observations of distant quasars. Continental drift theory was proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912. Continental drift theory was itself subsumed within plate tectonics theory (last year was its 50th anniversary). Plate tectonics also includes the sub-theories of plate subduction and mid-ocean spreading ridges. Mantle convection keeps everything in motion.

In 1981, James Kasting and two colleagues proposed that plate tectonics is an integral part of an important long-term climate-stabilizing feedback called the carbonate-silicate cycle. This cycle is responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and burying it in the mantle via the subducting plates. Some of the carbon dioxide returns to the atmosphere millions of years later via volcanism; several other chemical elements are also cycled back to the surface and made available to the biosphere (see here and here). In 2000, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee echoed their ideas in their best-selling book, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe

Building Continents, Promoting Biodiversity

Ward and Brownlee also argued that plate tectonics aids life by building continents and promoting biodiversity by bringing continents together and then separating them again. Our two lifeless planetary neighbors, Mars and Venus, with their nearly pure carbon dioxide atmospheres, offer us test cases to show what happens when plate tectonics doesn’t operate. Given that the Earth is the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics and that special conditions might be required for it, Ward and Brownlee also made a case for the rarity of planets with plate tectonics throughout the universe.

Not only does plate tectonics aid life, it now appears that life pays back the compliment. The action of life increases the amount of water subducted into the mantle. Water in the mantle serves as a kind of lubricant, allowing for plate motions. It also lowers the melting point in the mantle, which leads to more volcanism and therefore more continent building. Without life speeding up the weathering at the surface and thus the sedimentation rate on the sea floor, the fraction of the surface covered by continents would be far smaller. This kind of two-way dependency reminds us of the thorny problems Darwinists encounter in attempting to explain the origin of life.

A Near-Ideal Land Fraction

About 40 percent of Earth’s surface is either continents or continental shelves. Most life is found in these regions. The deep oceans, in contrast, are deserts. Given this, biological productivity increases as you increase the fraction of land starting from an ocean world. However, beyond a certain point increasing the land fraction will hurt life. This is because less precipitation will fall on the interiors of the continents. Earth’s land fraction is probably close to the ideal. Simulations suggest that Earth’s land fraction is not a common outcome of planet formation and evolution models

It is becoming more clear that plate tectonics is also required to generate Earth’s magnetic field. Plate tectonics speeds up the transfer of heat to the surface, and in turn induces convection in the liquid iron outer core. It’s the dynamic outer core that generates the planet-enveloping magnetic field. The magnetic field protects Earth’s atmosphere from excessive erosion from the solar wind and surface life from some of the dangerous cosmic ray particles.

With the astronomical rise in exoplanet discoveries in recent years, astrobiologists have a strong motivation to determine their habitability. That includes establishing the conditions required for plate tectonics and whether alternate modes of planetary interior dynamics can also provide for habitable conditions. The main alternative to plate tectonics is called stagnant lid tectonics.

Stagnant Lid Tectonics

A planet with stagnant lid tectonics has a lithosphere consisting of a single plate overlying the mantle. In this case no parts of the lithosphere subduct down into the mantle, the way they do on Earth. Mars and Venus have stagnant lids. What’s more, Venus is said to be in the episodic regime, wherein subduction occurs rarely or sporadically. Apparently, Venus experienced a catastrophic event less than one billion years ago when the entire surface subducted into the mantle. We don’t know what the surface of Venus was like before then, but it is hellish today.

Recently, some astrobiologists have been trying to learn whether stagnant lid planets can be habitable. One study tracked the mantle thermal, volcanic, and climate evolution in models for several billions of years. While some of their modelled stagnant lid planets can have long-lived habitable conditions (defined solely by the presence of liquid water at the surface), they have very high levels of carbon dioxide. By this criterion alone, such planets would not be habitable for complex life, which requires low carbon dioxide and high oxygen in the atmosphere. 

Another study determined that the carbonate-silicate cycle can operate on stagnant lid planets for a few billion years as long as their volcanic activity is continuously active (along with other uncertain assumptions). Of course, when you consider the other benefits to life of planets with plate tectonics that stagnant lid planets lack, it is still the case that the former are more habitable than the latter.

Photo: Fertile Earth juxtaposed with barren Mars, via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The post Plate Tectonics: Why Life Is Served on Plates appeared first on Evolution News.

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Paul Nelson attended a recent meeting at Cambridge University, “Evolution Evolving: An International Conference on the Evolving Mechanisms and Theoretical Framework of Evolutionary Biology.” Behind the wordy title, Dr. Nelson found fascinating evidence of unhappiness among evolutionary biologists. On a new ID the Future episode, he talked with host Andrew McDiarmid about what he witnessed. Download the episode or listen to it here.

Nelson offers a comparison from the world of dating. We’ve all seen it: the supposedly content couple where one partner is in fact clearly “looking around,” literally casting his or her gaze around the room seeking other, better prospects. It’s painful to watch, even though of course the dissatisfied girlfriend or boyfriend would deny what’s plainly going on. 

It’s much the same with the up-and-coming generation of professional evolutionists. They’re seeking what they call an extended evolutionary synthesis, purportedly just a bit of mild correction to classic neo-Darwinism. But the outside observer sees more clearly. 

“No one looks for a better theory if they’re happy with the one they have,” says Nelson, a philosopher of biology and Center for Science & Culture Senior Fellow. And in fact at the conference last month he saw previously “forbidden topics” being explored — “non-genetic inheritance,” “environmentally induced phenotypes,” and more — that surprised even this veteran observer of the ongoing ferment in Darwinian circles. Says Paul, “It’s very difficult to know where that’s going to end up.”

Photo credit: Trouble in paradise? by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash.

The post An Unhappy Couple: Paul Nelson Reports on the Cambridge “Evolution Evolving” Meeting appeared first on Evolution News.

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If you ask your typical garden variety evolutionist, he will tell you that all is well in the land of Darwinia. But if you look behind the right curtains, you find that some highly placed, mainstream evolutionary biologists concede that neo-Darwinism is in deep crisis. They acknowledge its imminent fall even as they cling to the hope that some purely blind, materialistic version of evolution can be cobbled together to replace it.

Such thinking was front and center at a recent University of Cambridge event, held April 1 to 4 on the campus of Churchill College. Entitled “Evolution Evolving,” the meeting sought to encourage novel thinking about evolution, starting from the premise that existing textbook theory fails to explain many of the most interesting and important phenomena in biology.

2016 meeting of the Royal Society of London, which included many distinguished evolutionists, struck a similar note. Such recognition is significant, since no one bothers to look for a new theory if the one they already have is doing its job.

Pretenders to the Throne

The various new proposals include punctuated equilibrium, neutral evolution, evolutionary developmental biology, self-organization, epigenetic inheritance, and natural genetic engineering. Big claims are made for each of these variants and other versions of blind evolution. But in the end those claims — while undoubtedly believed sincerely by their proponents — have little more substance than a bluff. Each has serious shortcomings as a substitute for foresight and planning with a purpose.

Punctuated equilibrium, for example, attempts to explain why we see few transitional fossils in the fossil record from one animal form to a fundamentally different animal form. But the theory offers no credible mechanism for the geologically rapid appearances that it posits. Indeed, whatever challenges traditional neo-Darwinism faces in this regard, punctuated equilibrium faces them in an intensified way, since it has less time to build new forms.

Neutral evolution de-emphasizes natural selection and focuses on mutations that, at least for a long time, would have been neutral or even deleterious for fitness. The idea is that such mutations might predominate in small populations. The benefit of this approach is that evolutionists no longer have to envision a series of functionally advantageous steps from some starting point to the evolution of some new molecular machine, organ, or organism. 

But the benefit comes at an enormous cost, a cost its proponents tend to overlook.

Neutral Evolution’s Shark-Free Pool

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer — in discussing work on neutral evolution by Michael Lynch and Adam Abegg — explains with an illustration of a man dropped into a vast but happily predator-free body of water. The lack of any predators in the analogy mirrors neutral evolution’s de-emphasis on natural selection. The man in the water just has to swim to a ladder somewhere in that vast body of water and climb out. The catch: He’s blindfolded and has no idea where the ladder is. 

Now, as Meyer notes, if in estimating how long it would take him to reach the ladder you calculated a fairly direct line between man and ladder, you’d generate “a fantastically optimistic estimate of the severity of the problem facing our unfortunate swimmer.” The reason: A straight line obscures the key problem the swimmer faces, namely that he has no clue where the ladder is, nor any way to gauge whether he’s getting closer to or further from the ladder at any given moment. 

According to Meyer, therefore, “any realistic estimate of how long it will actually take him to swim to the ladder — as opposed to an estimate of the theoretically fastest route possible — must take into account his probably aimless wandering, fits and starts, swimming in circles and drifting in various directions.”

How does the analogy map onto neutral evolution? “Similarly Lynch and Abegg fail to reckon in their calculation on the random, undirected, and, literally, aimless nature of the mechanism that they propose,” Meyer explains.

Instead, they mistakenly assume that neutral processes of evolution will make a beeline for some specific complex adaption. In fact, these processes will — in all probability — also wander aimlessly in a vast sequence space of neutral, functionless possibilities with nothing to direct them, or preserve them in any forward progress they happen to make, toward the rare and isolated islands of function represented by complex adaptations.

The takeaway, according to Meyer: “Lynch vastly underestimates the waiting times required to generate complex adaptations and, therefore, fails to solve the problem of the origin of genes and proteins or any other complex adaptation.”

A Mutant Fly in the Evolutionary Ointment

There is another problem. Evolution tends to innovate via random mutations that break things rather than by making something new, devolutionary breaks that lead to niche advantages. Michael Behe explores this pattern in his book Darwin Devolves. No new molecular machinery is built in such cases, and it’s precisely the origin of new molecular machinery and information that any evolutionary account of the diversification of life needs to account for, neutral or otherwise.

The other alternative evolutionary proposals face similarly devastating shortcomings. What they all lack is the secret sauce in every great engineering success — foresight, ingenuity and planning with a purpose in mind.

We must applaud the search for a replacement to neo-Darwinism. Despite all the grand claims, it has failed to explain the origin of new form. But if origins biology’s quest for answers is to be guided by evidence rather than by a dogmatic rule, we would do well to have both material and intelligent causes in our investigative toolkit. 

Dr. Eberlin is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, winner of the prestigious Thomson Medal (2016), and former president of the International Mass Spectrometry Society. Eberlin has published close to 1,000 scientific articles and is author of the new book Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose, from which this essay was adapted.

Photo: Charles Darwin, enthroned, by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Game of Thrones: As Darwinism Dissolves, Top Evolutionists Scramble for a Successor appeared first on Evolution News.

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When renowned Brazilian chemist Marcos Eberlin was in Seattle recently he sat down with me to answer a few questions about his new book, Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose, which comes trailing endorsements from three Nobel laureates. I asked how his own presentation of intelligent design differs from how ID proponents have framed the case in the past:

Marcos Eberlin on How Foresight Builds on Past Arguments for Intelligent Design - YouTube

He briefly touches on arguments from specified complexity and biological information, and notes that his concept of “foresight” both builds on and advances them.

The idea is that life and the cosmos were evidently designed by a mind with the ability to look forward, toward the future, and anticipate problems which could then be addressed before they come up. The solutions prove, again and again, to be both “proper” and “ingenious.” Only a mind, not a mindless process like Darwinian evolution, is capable of that.

The post Marcos Eberlin: How <i>Foresight</i> Builds on Past Arguments for Intelligent Design appeared first on Evolution News.

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In a recent post at Evolution News , Michael Egnor quoted “universal Darwinist” John Campbell:

The second law is one of the most fundamental laws of physics, and states that the total entropy — that is, disorder — of an isolated system can only increase over time. Darwinian processes may be viewed as nature’s method of countering this universal tendency towards disorder and non-existence.

My reaction was: finally, a Darwinist who says what they all really believe about the second law, which is: we have a scheme that can defeat (“counter”) it.

“To Heck with It”

Understandably, most do not want to say, “To heck with ‘one of the most fundamental laws of physics,’ we have a scheme that can beat it.” So they have developed creative ways to avoid having to say this. Traditionally, the primary way to avoid saying this has been: unintelligent forces rearranging the atoms on a barren planet into computers and libraries and nuclear power plants and Apple iPhones — just entropy decreasing in an open system, happens all the time. Well, no, it doesn’t happen all the time. 

In other cases where order increases in an open system, it is because the order or information is being imported from outside, not created (more precisely: something is entering that makes the increase in order not extremely improbable). The fact that entropy can decrease in an open system does not mean that computers can appear on a barren planet as long as the planet receives solar energy. Something must be entering the system from outside that makes the appearance of computers not extremely improbable, for example, computers. This “compensation” argument has been the target of much of my writing on this topic, such as a 2016 post here, “The Common Sense Law of Physics,” and more recently a 2017 Physics Essays article, “On ‘Compensating’ Entropy Decreases.”

A Fun Homework Assignment

Once Darwinists realize how silly the compensation argument is, they generally fall back on: the second law is really only about thermal entropy and should never have been generalized beyond thermodynamics. But it has been generalized by scientists for a long time: physics texts often cite things like tornados running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, as examples of “entropy” decreases that are forbidden by the second law. Here is a fun homework assignment for you: try to imagine something that would be a more spectacular example of what is forbidden by the generalized second law than what has happened on Earth.

In the first half of my (recently revised) video Why Evolution Is Different, I point out that the compensation argument could equally well be used to say that because tornados receive their energy from the sun, tornados running backward would not violate the second law either. (The second half explains why similarities do not prove absence of design.)

In fact, as I noted there, the only reason it is widely claimed that what has happened on Earth is allowed by the second law, while tornados running backward are forbidden, is that there is a widely believed scientific theory as to how intelligent beings could arise on a barren planet, while there is no widely accepted theory as to how tornados could turn rubble into houses and cars.

Follow Campbell’s Lead?

So now maybe other Darwinists will follow John Campbell’s lead and finally openly argue what they have always believed, that they have a scheme that can “counter” the second law. Do they? Is natural selection of random mutations really the one natural cause in the universe that can create spectacular order out of disorder? Although Michael Behe’s new book Darwin Devolves does not mention the second law in its index, the whole book argues that natural selection, like every other known natural process, only destroys order and information, it does not create them.

Well, now I have to admit that I also have a scheme that I believe can defeat the generalized second law. My scheme is called “intelligence.” But while Behe and his critics are engaged in a lively debate as to whether or not the Darwinian scheme for violating the second law has ever been observed to result in any non-trivial increase in genetic information, we can watch my scheme create spectacular amounts of order and information every day, in every writer’s office, in every inventor’s lab, and in every R&D division of every engineering firm throughout our civilization. You can even try it yourself, at home.

Photo: A tornado, near Elie, Manitoba, Canada, by Justin1569 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Two Schemes to Defeat the Second Law appeared first on Evolution News.

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The culture of death brooks no dissent. In Canada, doctors have been ordered to bend the knee.

Here’s the story: The Canadian Charter (Constitution) guarantees “freedom of conscience and religion” — a stronger and more explicit protection of religious liberty than our First Amendment. After the Supreme Court created a right to euthanasia, Ontario passed a law requiring doctors to kill legally eligible patients who want to die or provide an “effective referral” if they have moral objections — i.e., procure a doctor known by the dissenter to be willing to euthanize patients.

Referring Equals Complicity

Catholic and other religious doctors sued to enforce their Charter liberties. Referring equals complicity, the doctors argued, and thus the law forces them to violate their religious beliefs and consciences.

In one of the world’s most important “medical conscience” rulings, a trial judge admitted the doctors’ Charter rights were indeed infringed. But he ruled that a right (nowhere mentioned in the Charter) to “equal and equitable access” to legal and government-funded medical interventions trumped doctors’ freedom of religion.

Now a Court of Appeals has affirmed, ruling that doctors must not only euthanize or refer, but also abort or refer, and provide any other controversial legal service that a patient might want or refer — their religious freedoms or moral consciences be damned. From, Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario:

The medical procedures to which the appellants object (an objection shared to varying degrees by the individual appellants and members of the appellant organizations) include: abortion, contraception (including emergency contraception, tubal ligation, and vasectomies), infertility treatment for heterosexual and homosexual patients, prescription of erectile dysfunction medication, gender re-assignment surgery, and MAiD [medical aid in dying, i.e. lethal injection euthanasia]. It is impossible to conceive of more private, emotional or challenging issues for any patient.

When it comes to taking human life in abortion and euthanasia, it is impossible to conceive of a more private, emotional, or challenging issue for religiously and morally opposed doctors — particularly when the physician would consider it a grievous sin impacting her immortal soul to have any part in it. And those beliefs are supposed to be protected explicitly by the Charter!

Times Change, So Must Doctors

Not only that, when most doctors got into medicine, euthanasia was a felony! But who cares? Times change and doctors must change with them because patients are “vulnerable”:

The vulnerable patients I have described above, seeking MAiD, abortion, contraception and other aspects of sexual health care, turn to their family physicians for advice, care and, if necessary, medical treatment or intervention. Given the importance of family physicians as “gatekeepers” and “patient navigators” in the health care system, there is compelling evidence that patients will suffer harm in the absence of an effective referral.

Baloney. The real issue here is the message dissenting doctors send when they refuse to participate in a controversial intervention because it is wrong, which the court ruled is “stigmatizing” to patients.

Get Out of Medicine

The point of opposing medical conscience is to drive pro-life and Hippocratic Oath-believing doctors out of medicine. The Court goes there, telling doctors who don’t want to euthanize, abort, facilitate sex change, etc., that they can always go into hair restoration:

[In] the following areas of medicine…physicians are unlikely to encounter requests for referrals for MAiD or reproductive health concerns, and which may not require specialty retraining or certification: sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, hernia repair, skin disorders for general practitioners, obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine, and practice as a medical officer of health.

So, an experienced and skilled oncologist who doesn’t want to kill can implant hair plugs instead of curing cancer. Brilliant.

And if they won’t do that, get the hell out of medicine.

The appellants have no common law, proprietary or constitutional right to practice medicine. As members of a regulated  and publicly-funded profession, they are subject to requirements that focus on the public interest, rather than their interests. In fact, the fiduciary nature of the physician-patient relationship requires physicians to act at all times in their patients’ best interests, and to avoid conflicts between their own interests and their patients’ interests.

Forcing doctors to be complicit in the taking of human life or face potential civil/professional consequences is despotism.

The Moral Cost of Socialized Medicine

It is also worth noting that this case illustrates the high moral cost associated with socialized medicine. The good news is that the newly elected provincial administration ran on a plank of protecting medical conscience. One hopes that the Ontario Parliament will soon right this injustice. In fact, it is my understanding that a bill is already in the hopper to do just that.

Otherwise, the U.S. has a doctor shortage and we should welcome these dissenters of conscience to move here where they can practice their profession in peace without being forced to act contrary to their religious beliefs — at least for now.

Photo credit: Tomy1978, via Pixabay.

Cross-posted at The Corner.

The post Canada Court: Doctors Must Euthanize, Abort, or Refer appeared first on Evolution News.

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It’s great to have insightful colleagues. Denyse O’Leary, with Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, has been writing about evolution for years as well. Having read my post “The Return of John Derbyshire,” she points out something I hadn’t quite grasped. Now a lightbulb goes off. 

Inherent, Unavoidable

The thread of racism in Darwinian thinking isn’t a chance thing, a mere byproduct of Charles Darwin’s personal views as a “man of his time.” You think if Darwinism had emerged not in the dark age of the 19th century but in our own woke era, it would be different? No, it wouldn’t. The racism is inherent, unavoidable:

That’s just the difference between Darwinism and any type of creationism OR non-Darwinian approaches to evolution. In a Darwinian scheme, someone must be the official subhuman.

I have been trying to get that across for years. It’s why Darwinism can never get away from racism. Racism is implicit in the Darwinian belief system about how things happen.  Even if one’s creationism amounts to no more than the idea that humans have an immortal soul, it makes all humans equal for all practical purposes. Take that away and believe instead that humans are animals that slowly evolved from less-than-human creatures and a variety of things happen, none of them conducive to non-racism.

True, O’Leary has been saying this for a long while. As she wrote over at Uncommon Descent last year:

The problem is not merely that Darwin, a man of his age, was a racist. The problem is that his bias resulted in his and others distorting the fossil record to suit a racist worldview.

Those issues with the fossil record are the theme of most of paleontologist Günter Bechly’s recent writing at Evolution News. She goes on:

To “get past” the fact that Darwin was a racist, we must be willing to undo science that begins by assuming that non-European features are sub-human. But the “hierarchy of man” is rooted in the fundamental assumptions of the “Descent of Man,” the idea that Darwin popularized. Rooting it out would call so many things into question as to produce a crisis. What will we be left with?

Indeed. But then an even bigger problem looms: In any Darwinian scheme, someone must be the subhuman. If not the current lot (formerly, the “savages,” currently the Neanderthals and/or Homo erectus), who will it be?

If they aren’t found, the Darwinist is looking down the maw of some sort of creationism. It need not be theistic creationism. But it does mean that a momentous event happened with explicable swiftness, like the Big Bang or the origin of language, findings naturalists do not like precisely because of their creationist implications.

Surely these are the true reasons Darwinists simply can’t confront the race issue and get past it, and so they resort to long-winded special pleading.

A Minimal Concept

The word “creationism” is used unfairly as a cudgel against proponents of intelligent design. But fine, let’s entertain it for a moment, if only to designate a minimal concept like the philosophical one that says humans, while sharing biological common descent with other creatures, are uniquely endowed with souls bearing some sort of exceptional quality, however you characterize that. It could be a divine image, but need not be. The consistent materialist must deny all this.

The idea of racial equality, perfectly natural to a design perspective, can be achieved by the Darwinist only by continually and ruthlessly suppressing a built-in tendency. It requires bad faith: fooling himself about his own way of thinking. Like an irremediable birth defect, it’s never going to go away.

“Tell It on the Mountain”

Or it’s like driving a car with misaligned wheels that always pulls you in one direction and cannot ever drive straight without your exerting continuous effort toward correction. If you don’t fight it all the time, you’ll go off the road and crash into a nasty, muddy ditch, as folks like John Derbyshire have done. John and other “Race Realists” humiliate their fellow evolutionists by dancing in the muck.

The alternative is to get those wheels nicely aligned. Of course it’s possible to find people who believe in creation and who are also racists. You can find bad apples in any community of thinkers. But the key point is that the two ideas are permanently at odds with each other. Whereas Darwinism and racism are a match made in… Well, they’re conjoined twins, let’s put it that way.

“Klinghoffer,” Denyse advises, “tell Derbyshire he needs a louder mike. He should go tell it on the mountain. Worldwide.” Okay, done.

Image: An artist imagines Homo erectus pekinensis, a proposed “official subhuman” species, by Cicero Moraes [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Why Darwinism Can Never Separate Itself from Racism appeared first on Evolution News.

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Proponents of intelligent design see significance in the observation that molecular machines require a precise sequence of amino acid residues to fold into functional shapes. The “sequence hypothesis” was a primary argument in Douglas Axe’s book Undeniable and in Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, where both authors focus on the high degree of specificity required in proteins. Only a tiny fraction of amino acid sequences in the universe of sequence space will produce foldable proteins — and proteins need to fold into three-dimensional architectures in order to function.

What, though, are we to make of the fact that cells contain large numbers of “intrinsically disordered proteins” (IDPs) that flop around in the cytoplasm without folding? Boreiakaite et al. write in PNAS, “IDPs are characterized by a lack of defined structure and they populate many different conformational states.” These polypeptides do not fold. Are they junk? Are they mistakes? Are they evolving? Are they transitional forms? What are they there for? Prepare for a major turnaround in thinking. Here’s a case where an IDP turns into a functional machine on the fly, regulating a rotary engine like an emergency brake. In fact, the disordered part makes it “exquisitely sensitive” to environmental conditions, only switching into its functional role when needed. It’s like an automatic brake that kicks in when it senses the car slipping downhill.

A Quiet Revolution

Five years ago, Jonathan Wells considered IDPs a case to watch. From “Biology’s Quiet Revolution” here at Evolution News:

In 1996, biologists discovered a protein that does not fold into a unique shape but can assume different shapes when it interacts with other molecules. Since then, many such proteins have been found; they are called “intrinsically disordered proteins,” or IDPs. IDPs are surprisingly common, and their disordered regions play important functional roles. [Emphasis added.]

Wells did not give any detailed examples at the time, but mentioned two scientists who were looking at “assemblages” of IDPs to figure out what they do. He seconded their efforts, because “huge unanswered questions remain” about proteins in cells. The one we will look at is pretty spectacular. It may lead to paradigm shifts about the relationship of sequence and function.

Before we look at this case in detail, recall our good friend ATP synthase. It’s a tiny irreducibly complex rotary engine that keeps us alive. This rapidly spinning motor, powered by protons as our animation shows, pumps out ATP energy “coins” for almost everything cells need to do. There’s one problem; it is reversible. It can just as easily spin backwards, spending valuable ATP to output protons. It’s like the car that can roll downhill as easily as it rolls uphill. In some cases, that is good, but something needs to regulate the direction needed. Here comes an IDP to the rescue:

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel of biology, is produced by a molecular machine with a rotary action. Inside the mitochondria of eukaryotic cells, rotation is driven by a proton-motive force across the inner membranes of the organelle generated by oxidation of sugars and fats in food. Under anoxic conditions, the rotary machine hydrolyzes ATP and reverses rotation. This wastage is prevented by an intrinsically disordered region of the inhibitor protein, IF1, which inserts itself in the machine and stops reverse rotation. The inhibitory activity of IF1 is regulated by self-association, which is influenced by pH and ion-types, providing a potential molecular mechanism for the modulation of ATPase activity by cellular physiology via this solution-responsive, self-associating protein.

To the Rescue

In simple language, this disordered protein IF1 acts like an emergency brake when the pH changes, which would otherwise waste precious ATP and turn the machine into a proton pump. But how does it do that?

If the pmf [proton motive force] is dissipated, for example, during ischemia, the enzyme reverses its direction of rotation and starts to hydrolyze ATP, but this hydrolytic activity becomes inhibited by a protein known as IF1.The active state, which is present at pH values around neutrality, binds to one of the three catalytic sites of the membrane extrinsic F1-domain of the enzyme, stopping hydrolysis.

This binding action, they explain, is pH dependent. At a certain point when acidity increases, disorder changes to order:

In solution, the dimerization of dimers and occlusion of the inhibitory region is pH-dependent. At pH values below about 7.5, IF1 is an active dimer, and at higher pH values, tetramers and oligomers form, and IF1 is inactive. The mutation H49K (10) abolishes the ability to form tetramers, and the mutated dimeric IF1 is constitutively active and pH-independent…. In solution, the C-terminal region of IF1 forms a dimeric α-helical coiled-coil on its own, whereas the N-terminal inhibitory region is unstructured and provides an example of an intrinsically disordered protein (IDP). During inhibition of F1-ATPase, the disordered region interacts with the most open of the three catalytic sites and becomes α-helical from residues 31–49. Hydrolysis of two ATP molecules converts this open site with bound IF1 to, first, a partially closed site, where residues 23–50 of IF1 are α-helical region, and then to the fully closed state, where the inhibitory region is structured to its greatest extent.

IF1 is, therefore, disordered when it needs to be inactive (in neutral and alkaline conditions), and converts to an ordered form when the pH becomes more acidic, which would cause the motor to go into reverse (i.e., to hydrolize ATP). Thus, “wastage” is prevented by this shape-shifting IDP that becomes ordered only when environmental conditions require it to function. Just how finely tuned is this “disordered” protein for its role?

We identified the equilibrium between dimers and tetramers as a potential central factor in the in vivo modulation of the inhibitory activity and suggest that the intrinsically disordered region makes its inhibitory potency exquisitely sensitive and responsive to physiological changes that influence the capability of mitochondria to make ATP.

They use that word “exquisite” again later on: “the intrinsically disordered nature of IF1 makes its inhibitory potency exquisitely sensitive and responsive to any physiological changes that may influence the capability of the mitochondria to make ATP.” This IDP is disordered on purpose!

One of the co-authors of this paper is John E. Walker, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997 for figuring out the rotary action of ATP synthase. Here he is, 22 years later, still fascinated with this motor. The inhibitory role of IF1 has been known for years, but this new paper shows how it works: changes in environmental pH make the IDP switch into an ordered state that binds to the motor and stops it, preventing wastage of ATP. 

Implications for Intelligent Design

ATP production by ATP synthase goes on continuously, even in our sleep. It’s been said that an active person generates his or her body weight in ATP each day. If production stopped, a person would be dead before hitting the floor. ATP synthase, a prime example of irreducible complexity, is present in all living cells — even the earliest “primitive” cells. The rules of probability render it vanishingly unlikely that chance could produce such a wonderfully efficient molecular motor. 

The earliest cells would have needed more than just the motors, though. They would have needed regulators to sense and control the direction of rotation of the machines, too, or else they would have died when conditions changed. Scientists are now beginning to learn that intrinsically disordered proteins are not really disordered at all, but work as environmental sensors and regulators that are “exquisitely sensitive and responsive” to conditions. Will other IDPs be found to quickly change from flopping strands into functional regulators based on environmental changes? Will the DNA sequences that produce IDPs continue to confirm the sequence hypothesis? 

Design-theoretic biology is poised to find out. If Darwinism had been helpful in understanding the function of IF1, the authors surely would have mentioned it. But they don’t. The “revolution in biology” that Wells saw coming is advancing by scientists who seek to understand the purpose for things, even when the purpose is not apparent. Understanding accelerates when research begins with Paul Nelson’s dictum: “If something works, it’s not happening by accident.”

Image credit: Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Orderly Disorder: A Molecular Motor Regulated by IDP appeared first on Evolution News.

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Evolution News by David Klinghoffer - 3d ago

A friend sent me a link to an online racialist journal, VDare, where I got the unpleasant surprise of seeing a screen shot of an article from Evolution News with my name on it. This accompanied a post by John Derbyshire. I should have expected it after Saturday night when an email popped up from a pseudonymous anti-Semitic and racist sicko who writes to us from time to time. I’ll spare you the content, but I guessed that someone out there on the alt-right fringe must be busy criticizing our work.

Chided for Hypocrisy

Derbyshire, I now saw, had responded to my commentary on Razib Khan, the genetics PhD candidate who took to the online pages at National Review to urge conservatives against engaging with Darwin skeptics. Derbyshire was our antagonist at National Review, blazing away at “Creationists,” some years ago. That was before he rode off, leaving mainstream conservatism behind, on a horse called “Race Realism.” His writing now appears at racialist publications including VDare, Taki’s Magazine, and The Unz Review. The last is particularly vile, but Derbyshire runs his pieces at all three.

So, down to business. He chides me for hypocrisy. I wrote against “blackballing and guilt by association,” yet says Derbyshire, I “then proceed[ed] to blackball/ guilt by association Razib because he has been ‘canoodling with the racist Alt-Right.’” I guess I should explain myself better.

Check Your Associations

If you are going to argue for turning the mute button on against those who say biology gives evidence of design, excluding them as discussion partners, you do need to examine your own associations pretty carefully. Khan, it seems, has failed to do that. He wrote regularly for the Unz website, a home to sickeningly racist and anti-Semitic material, and his name still appears on their homepage. His advice to conservatives was to embrace Darwinian theory and reject evidence for intelligent design: 

A small number of skeptical intellectuals such as [Michael] Behe, as well as the circle around the Discovery Institute, will continue to carry the torch of evolution skepticism. A number of evolutionary biologists will engage with them directly, as they always have. But looking forward, the energies of the Right are not most fruitfully spent on debating descent with modification and the common origin of life.

Perhaps I should have been clearer that “blackballing and guilt by association” are a problem when the association does NOT tell you something important about the person under consideration or about his thinking. That is, it’s unfair when it’s arbitrary. If someone is a member of the Nazi Party, where he associates with other Nazis, that’s significant. If he runs his articles at a grotesque online venue like Unz, that’s significant. (Another friend checks in on The Unz Review from time to time, out of a morbid curiosity about the alt-right, and reports that it “gets worse every time I look.”)

Not by Chance 

Khan’s association with the alt-right, and Derbyshire’s, is not by chance. The thread of what the racist Right calls “Race Realism” has never been completely absent from Darwinian theorizing from Darwin himself down to today. See our colleague Richard Weikart’s book From Darwin to Hitler for more about this persistent taint. Derbyshire calls the opposite view “Race Denial,” which is another way of saying that the “denier” rejects racism. If you want to call it that, I’m glad to be a “denier.”

It’s not by innocent happenstance that Derbyshire puts his name on a vehicle for hate. Your name is your seal; it indicates you are taking responsibility for something. Using it is a matter of deliberate choice.

Derbyshire can be a charming and interesting writer — I regret that he took the course he did. I doubt he or Khan is a hateful person. But wise? Wise enough to offer counsel to fellow conservatives about who to talk with and learn from about science? When they can’t muster the wisdom to decide how to expend the precious resource of their own names? No, their own lack of wisdom is noteworthy. It says something about themselves, but more importantly, it should be a cause for reflection about the ideology, Darwinist materialism, that they promote.

Photo: John Derbyshire (center) discusses “6 Ways Race Realism Can Go Mainstream,” via YouTube (screen shot).

The post The Return of John Derbyshire appeared first on Evolution News.

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In our culture, the old have failed the young. Hate-driven shootings in schools and houses of worship, rising suicide and addition rates — these are the most dramatic indications. But a quieter sense of numbness and despair, concealed in mindless social media and the omnipresent screens, is far more widespread.

What Lies Behind It All? 

Questions about biological origins are NOT of merely scientific importance. These questions go to the heart of how we think about the value of individual human beings. Increasingly evident is the relationship between noxious racial theories, devaluing or demonizing whole classes of men and women, and the philosophy of scientific materialism.

As the news hammers home to us, young people are especially vulnerable to poisonous, Internet-mediated messages. That’s one reason Discovery Institute has teamed up with a gifted cinematographer who wanted to create a new video series, Science Uprising, that would be relevant to viewers in their thirties and younger. The series will launch on June 3, with new episodes to be released weekly through July 8.

An Edgier Style

The new series will have an edgier style than anything we have produced in the past. What does that mean? Take a look at the trailer:

Science Uprising Trailer - YouTube

Science Uprising is premised on the idea that a majority of us share a skepticism about the claims of materialism — the claims that people are just “robots made of meat, with a really sophisticated onboard guidance system,” lacking souls, lacking free will or moral responsibility, having emerged from the ancient mud without purpose or guidance. And yet, however skeptical we may be, the media labor intensively to correct our skepticism. Popular science spokesmen like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson insist that people are anything but designed children of a loving, intelligent creator. 

A Counterforce to Despair

The need for a counterforce is urgent. “This is one of those projects, that if my career concluded right now, I could finish satisfied,” says an editor of the series, one of those who came together to turn Science Uprising into reality, drawing on their past experience working with the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, National Geographic Wild, and Animal Planet, among other media venues.

Each episode features a masked narrator. Why? Because much of the burden of resisting materialism falls to scientists and others in the universities who have been made to fear speaking out in favor of the design hypothesis. 

Scientists and scholars who have spoken out, pulling the mask off materialist mythology, share the truth with viewers. From episode to episode, they include chemist James Tour, philosopher Jay Richards, neuroscientist Michael Egnor, biochemist Michael Behe, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, physicist Frank Tipler, and others.

Materialists understand very well what is at stake. That’s why Richard Dawkins, who became an atheist at age 15 under the influence of evolutionary thinking, has written his next book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide

Science Uprising counters these corrosive trends with a hopeful, accessible message in a fast-paced style, about meaning in the cosmos and in life. You can follow the series at the Science Uprising website, on YouTube, and here at Evolution News.

The post <em>Science Uprising</em> — An Edgy New Video Series, Coming June 3 appeared first on Evolution News.

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