Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

New study: sub-optimal / poor design of the eye / retina isn’t really

I think this “sub-optimal” argument against a Designer is stupid, because designs are always trade-offs between different quality goals, but just to put this one to bed, here is Evolution News.

Excerpt:

Now a new paper in Nature Communications, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” has expanded upon this research, further showing the eye’s optimal design. According to the paper, Müller cells not only act as optical fibers to direct incoming light through the optic nerve, but are fine-tuned to specific wavelengths to ensure that light reaches the proper retinal cells. From the Abstract:

Vision starts with the absorption of light by the retinal photoreceptors — cones and rods. However, due to the ‘inverted’ structure of the retina, the incident light must propagate through reflecting and scattering cellular layers before reaching the photoreceptors. It has been recently suggested that Müller cells function as optical fibres in the retina, transferring light illuminating the retinal surface onto the cone photoreceptors. Here we show that Müller cells are wavelength-dependent wave-guides, concentrating the green-red part of the visible spectrum onto cones and allowing the blue-purple part to leak onto nearby rods. This phenomenon is observed in the isolated retina and explained by a computational model, for the guinea pig and the human parafoveal retina. Therefore, light propagation by Müller cells through the retina can be considered as an integral part of the first step in the visual process, increasing photon absorption by cones while minimally affecting rod-mediated vision.

(Amichai M. Labin, Shadi K. Safuri, Erez N. Ribak, and Ido Perlman, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5319 (July 8, 2014).)

The paper presents Müller cells as a direct answer to the view that the vertebrate eye has a suboptimal wiring:

[T]he mammalian retina and the peripheral retina of humans and primates are organized in a seemingly reverse order with respect to the light path. This arrangement places the photoreceptors, responsible for light absorption, as the last cells in the path of light, rather than the first. Therefore, the incident light must propagate through five reflecting and scattering layers of cell bodies and neural processes before reaching the photoreceptors. This ‘inverted’ retinal structure is expected to cause blurring of the image and reduction in the photon flux reaching the photoreceptors, thus reducing their sensitivity. It has been recently reported that retinal Müller cells act as light guides serving to transfer light across the retina, from the vitreo-retinal border towards the photoreceptors.

Bookmark it because this is the kind of silly objection to design that they hear on the Discovery Channel, PBS, etc.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , ,

Did your science textbook teach that peppered moths prove evolution?

Here’s a post by Jonathan Wells at Evolution News, which re-caps the history of the peppered moths experiment.

Excerpt: (links removed)

The peppered moth story is familiar — even overly familiar — to most readers of ENV, so I will summarize it only briefly here. Before the industrial revolution, most peppered moths in England were light-colored; but after tree trunks around cities were darkened by pollution, a dark-colored (“melanic”) variety became much more common (a phenomenon known as “industrial melanism”). In the 1950s, British physician Bernard Kettlewell performed some experiments that seemed to show that the proportion of melanic moths had increased because they were better camouflaged on darkened tree trunks and thus less likely to be eaten by predatory birds.

Kettlewell’s evidence soon became the classic textbook demonstration of natural selection in action — commonly illustrated with photos of peppered moths resting on light- and dark-colored tree trunks.

By the 1990s, however, biologists had discovered several discrepancies in the classic story– not the least of which was that peppered moths in the wild do not usually rest on tree trunks. Most of the textbook photos had been staged.

In the 2000s the story began disappearing from the textbooks. British biologist Michael Majerus then did some studies that he felt supported the camouflage-predation explanation. But before he died of cancer in 2009, he only managed to publish a report of his study in the Darwin lobby’s in-house magazine Evolution: Education and Outreach. Now four other British biologists have presented his results posthumously in the Royal Society’s peer-reviewed Biology Letters. In an accompanying supplement, the authors presented their version of what they call “the peppered moth debacle.” And a debacle it certainly is, but not in the way they think.

According to Charles Darwin, natural selection has been “the most important” factor in the descent with modification of all living things from one or a few common ancestors, yet he had no actual evidence for it. All he could offer in The Origin of Species were “one or two imaginary illustrations.” It wasn’t until almost a century later that Kettlewell seemed to provide “Darwin’s missing evidence” by marking and releasing light- and dark-colored moths in polluted and unpolluted woodlands and recovering some of them the next day. Consistent with the camouflage-predation explanation, the proportion of better-camouflaged moths increased between their release and recapture.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, researchers reported various problems with the camouflage-predation explanation, and in 1998 University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent and two colleagues published an article in volume 30 of Evolutionary Biology concluding “there is little persuasive evidence, in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and experiments, to support this explanation at the present time.” (p. 318)

The same year, Michael Majerus published a book in which he concluded that evidence gathered in the forty years since Kettlewell’s work showed that “the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate, or incomplete, with respect to most of the story’s component parts.” (p. 116) In a review of Majerus’s book published in Nature, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote: “From time to time, evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong.” According to Coyne, the fact that peppered moths in the wild rarely rest on tree trunks “alone invalidates Kettlewell’s release-and-recapture experiments, as moths were released by placing them directly onto tree trunks.”

In 1999, I published an article in The Scientist summarizing these and other criticisms of the peppered moth story, and in 2000 I included a chapter on peppered moths in my book Icons of Evolution. Then, in 2002, journalist Judith Hooper published a book about the controversy titled Of Moths and Men. Hooper accused Kettlewell of fraud, though I never did; my criticism was directed primarily at textbook writers who ignored problems with the story and continued to use staged photos even after they were known to misrepresent natural conditions.

Jonathan has actually written about a number of  misleading things that you may mind in Biology textbooks.

Here are the sections in his book “Icons of Evolution“:

  • The Miller-Urey Experiment
  • Darwin’s Tree of Life
  • Homology in Vertebrate Limbs
  • Haeckel’s Embroys
  • Archaeopteryx–The Missing Link
  • Peppered Moths
  • Darwin’s Finches
  • Four-Winged Fruit Flies
  • Fossil Horses and Directed Evolution
  • From Ape to Human: The Ultimate Icon

Dr. Wells holds a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer discusses his book “Darwin’s Doubt” on the Michael Medved show

The new paperback edition of Darwin’s Doubt is now out (June 2014), and has a new epilogue responding to criticisms of the hardcover first edition. If you don’t have the book, now’s the time to grab it.

Here is a radio interview that Dr. Meyer did about the book, courtesy of the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

The MP3 file is available for download. (38 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the Michael Medved Show welcomes Dr. Stephen Meyer to talk about his new bestselling book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Listen in as Meyer and Medved discuss the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion and why this phenomenon continues to stump Darwinian evolutionists.

Each week, leading fellows from Discovery Institute will join Michael Medved to talk about the intersection of science and culture. Listen in live online or on your local Medved station, or stay tuned at ID the Future for the weekly podcast.

Topics:

  • Darwinism offers a materialistic account of where humans and animals came from, but is that all human beings are?
  • Darwin was the first to have doubt about his theory of evolution because of the sudden origin if many different animal forms in the Cambrian era
  • The book is about the sudden origin of these animal forms and more generally about how much information is needed to make an animal genome
  • An animal is not just the form or the organs it is also the information to make new proteins and the instructions to make proteins are in the DNA
  • At least 20 new phyla appear suddenly in the Cambrian fossils and the question is what is capable of creating all of that new information
  • Mathematicians and computer scientists are especially likely to doubt evolution as a way of making new features because they know that random changes to the code base of an application are more likely to break things and degrade performance
  • Naturalists have tried to explain the Cambrian explosion as being a case of the transitional fossils being not yet discovered
  • The consensus of science at this time is that there is no known naturalistic explanation for the sudden origin of these animal types
  • Caller: how abrupt are we talking about for the introduction of these new animal forms?
  • Meyer: We can calculate the amount of time that is needed to generate change, and the period of time that is needed to generate new forms of life exceeds the time available
  • Caller: is it possible that meteors, asteroids and comets could transport biological components to the Earth to shorten the development time?
  • Meyer: that’s related to my first book on the origin of the first living cell “Signature in the Cell”, and that life-from-space hypothesis would only get you building blocks, but not the bio-molecules that have the building blocks sequences – it’s the difference between a pile of Scrabble letters and a Shakespearean play – it’s the arranging of the components that is the problem
  • Medved: The book has a lot of endorsements from scientists who are working at good universities and institutions
  • Meyer: the strange thing about exploring the limits of evolution is that you can cite mainstream papers to criticize the Darwinian mechanisms, and then the proponents of Darwinism just assert that no criticism of Darwinian evolution is allowed
  • Caller Greg: are you saying that all the phyla came in during the Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: No, of the 26 phyla that we see in the fossil record, 20 come in during the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: But there are some sponges that existed before the Cambrian explosion, so maybe all the Cambrian phyla came from sponges?
  • Meyer: There are 3 phyla present in the pre-Cambrian but they are not ancestral to the 20 Cambrian phyla, the sponges are very simple – 6-10 cell types, arthropods have 60-90 cell types – you can’t go from sponges to compound eyes in just 5-10 million years
  • Meyer: even the sponges in the pre-Cambrian appear abrutly at the end of the pre-Cambrian
  • Caller Greg: but there are complex worms in the Pre-Cambrian as well, and maybe those are ancestral to the 20 new phyla that appear suddenly in the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: what you’re saying is that we scientists don’t understand what happened so an intelligence did it
  • Meyer: No, what I am saying is that the Cambrian explosion involves massive amounts of new biological information, and none of the naturalistic Darwinian mechanisms can create that much new information in that short of the time
  • Caller Greg: it’s magic!
  • Meyer: there are two points in the development of life forms where intelligence is needed: the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion, and this is because of the new information that is being added
  • Caller Greg: new information is added by Hox Gene duplication
  • Caller: don’t we have to look a bit more at epistemology when discussing these issues?
  • Meyer: Yes, we have to highlight that many people reject intelligent design because of a pre-supposition of naturalism that prevents them from seeing that intelligence explains anything regardless of the evidence
  • Caller: well if you define evolution as change over time, then evolution happened, and who cares about the details like the origin of life and Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: well there are many definitions of evolution: 1) change over time, 2) universal common ancestry, 3) undirected random process can explain the origin of life and the explosion of new animal forms in the fossil record
  • Meyer: I accept 1) and I am skeptical of 2) and 3)

You can read more about caller Greg and Hox gene duplication at Evolution News.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , ,

The best explanation for the design of bird wings is intelligent design

A great post from Evolution News about my favorite animals in the whole world – BIRDS!

Excerpt:

How hard can it be to make a flexible wing flap for an airplane? Almost all aircraft today use rigid wings with rigid landing flaps. They work, but they waste fuel. German engineers embarked on a mission to reduce kerosene consumption by 6%: “integrating flexible landing devices into aircraft wings is one step towards that target,” a news item from Fraunhofer says. They’ve named the project SARISTU, for Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures.

Birds are way ahead of them:

While birds are able to position their feathers to suit the airflow, aircraft wing components have so far only been rigid. As the name suggests, landing flaps at the trailing edge of the wing are extended for landing. This flap, too, is rigid, its movement being limited to rotation around an axis. This is set to change in the SARISTU project. “Landing flaps should one day be able to adjust to the air flow and so enhance the aerodynamics of the aircraft,” explains Martin Schüller, researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS in Chemnitz. (Emphasis added.)

What are some of the challenges in building a flexible wing?

  1. Knowing where to flex: The flap can’t be flexible all over, or it would be hard to control. The designers made “five hard and three soft zones, enclosed within a silicon skin cover extending over the top.”
  2. Finding stretchy skin: When the soft zone moves, the skin of the aircraft has to stretch with it. “The mechanism that allows the landing flap to change shape can only function if the skin of the landing flap can be stretched as it moves, a problem tackled by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced MaterialsIFAM in Bremen.”
  3. Covering the air gap: “Any gap between the flap and the fixed aircraft wingwould cancel out any positive effect,” the article notes. “This led us to develop an elastic connecting element, and this work already covers everything from the chemical makeup to the process technology andmanufacture of the component,” an engineer says.
  4. Designing the material to tolerances: “The mechanism sits underneath the soft zones, the areas that are most distended. While the novel design is noteworthy, it is the material itself that stands out, since the flexible parts are made of elastomeric foam that retain their elasticity even attemperatures ranging from minus 55 to 80 degrees Celsius.”

No feathers, but it’s a start. The team showed off their prototype at the ILA Berlin Air Show in May. Apparently it was not quite ready for takeoff:

When the prototype takes off for the first time it will benefit from a development known as SARISTU, a deformable wing which is currently the subject of intensive research by Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. In future the landing flaps will be designed to adapt in flight to the air flow conditions, thereby always ensuring the best possible aerodynamics.

We celebrate this advance, but you know where we’re going. Birds had it all figured out long ago: the right shape, the right material, the control of airflow, and much more. As Dr. Timothy Standish says in the film Flight: The Genius of Birds, “Feathers do a number of jobs remarkably well.” They are individually controllable, they flex, they insulate, they save on weight, and they can handle the temperature requirements of avian flight. That’s just a partial list achievements in powered flight that surpass anything man has yet designed.

If you want to get hold of that DVD on “Flight” that they mentioned, it’s right here on Amazon.com. I highly recommend it.

I also highly recommend owning birds – because if you work really hard at caring for one for a long time, they might grow to trust you. There is nothing quite like a tiny little bird trusting you enough to let you gently pull open his or her wing for a closer look at how it works:

Cockatiel lets a trusted friend see her wing

Awww! Cockatiel lets a trusted friend see under her wing

There’s more to birds than just well-designed wings. There’s a well-designed heart in there, too! That might even be more amazing than the design of the wing. It is to me.

Note: although this post does not provide a rigorous case for intelligent design, that can be found by looking at the work of Stephen C. Meyer on the origin of life and on the Cambrian explosion. The books that demonstrate the superiority of the intelligent design hypothesis are “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt“. If you’d like to see a good popular-level presentation of intelligent design related to the origin of life, click here for a lecture.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer lectures on intelligent design and the origin of life

A MUST-SEE lecture based on Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell“.

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (30 MB)

I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.

Topics:

  • intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
  • Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
  • Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
  • but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
  • even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
  • can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
  • there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
  • overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
  • the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
  • meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
  • it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
  • although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
  • similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
  • the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
  • so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
  • however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
  • there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
  • but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
  • the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
  • the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
  • the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
  • if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
  • the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
  • the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
  • we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
  • the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)

There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.

Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:

A sequence of amino acids forming a protein

A sequence of amino acids forming a protein

Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:

Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone

Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone

I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.

Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.

UPDATE: There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

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