Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Define biomimetics and give two examples from peer-reviewed science journals?

I'm baby octopus, and I approve this message

I’m baby octopus, and I approve this message

Today, I have two examples of biomimetics.

But first, here’s what that is:

Biomimetic refers to human-made processes, substances, devices, or systems that imitate nature. The art and science of designing and building biomimetic apparatus is called biomimetics, and is of special interest to researchers in nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the medical industry, and the military.

Here’s the first example from Science Daily.

A robotic arm that can bend, stretch and squeeze through cluttered environments has been created by a group of researchers from Italy.

Inspired by the eight arms of the octopus, the device has been specifically designed for surgical operations to enable surgeons to easily access remote, confined regions of the body and, once there, manipulate soft organs without damaging them.

It is believed the device could reduce the number of instruments, and thus entry incisions, necessary in surgical operations, with part of the arm being used to manipulate organs whilst another part of the arm operates.

The device, which has been presented 14 May, in IOP Publishing’s journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, holds a key advantage over traditional surgical tools due to its ability to quickly transform from a bending, flexible instrument into a stiff and rigid instrument.

It has been inspired by the eight highly flexible arms of the octopus which have no rigid skeletal support and can thus easily adapt to the surrounding environment by twisting, changing their length or bending in any direction at any point along the arm.

The octopus can, however, vary the stiffness of its arms, temporarily transforming the flexible limbs into stiffened segments to allow the octopus to move and interact with objects.

[…]The ability of the robotic arm to manipulate organs while surgical tasks are performed was successfully demonstrated in simulated scenarios where organs were represented by water-filled balloons.

‘Traditional surgical tasks often require the use of multiple specialized instruments such as graspers, retractors, vision systems and dissectors, to carry out a single procedure,’ Dr Ranzani continued.

‘We believe our device is the first step to creating an instrument that is able to perform all of these tasks, as well as reach remote areas of the body and safely support organs around the target site.’

Fascinating, and useful. If we are reverse engineering these designs, should we assume that they were designed in the first place? Especially when there is zero evidence for macroevolution either in the lab or in the fossil record.

The shorebird's beak is more interesting than you might think

The shorebird’s beak is more interesting than you might think

My second example of biomimetics is also from Science Daily.


A UT Arlington engineering professor and his doctoral student have designed a device based on a shorebird’s beak that can accumulate water collected from fog and dew.

The device could provide water in drought-stricken areas of the world or deserts around the globe.

Xin Heng… a doctoral student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Cheng Luo, MAE professor, have made a device that can use fog and dew to collect water.

Cheng Luo, professor in the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department, and Xin Heng, PhD candidate in the same College of Engineering department, published “Bioinspired Plate-Based Fog Collectors” in the Aug. 25 edition of ACS’ (American Chemical Society) Applied Materials & Interfaces journal.

The idea began when Heng saw an article that explained the physical mechanism shorebirds use to collect their food — driving food sources into their throats by opening and closing their beaks. Luo said that inspired the team to try to replicate the natural beak in the lab.

“We wanted to see if we could do that first,” Luo said. “When we made the artificial beaks, we saw that multiple water drops were transported by narrow, beak-like glass plates. That made us think of whether we could harvest the water from fog and dew.”

Their experiments were successful. They found out they could harvest about four tablespoons of water in a couple of hours from glass plates that were about 26 centimeters long by 10 centimeters wide.

Now, if we are lifting designs out of nature, then shouldn’t we give honor to God for putting the designs in there in the first place? I really think it’s important to give God credit where due for his clever designs, even if you’re not a big fan of the shorebird. I also think it’s interesting that it’s engineers who made this application of something in nature, not biologists.  Also, I feel I have to mention that the birdy is also cute, which is not insignificant, if you like birds as much as I do. I blog about birds a lot on this blog. And dragonflies too! Because wings are awesome!

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

Does peer-reviewed science support Bill Nye’s attempt to prove materialism?

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth?

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth?

Casey Luskin looks at Nye’s new book “Undeniable”, which turns out to be very deniable, since it uses discredited science to support materialist philosophy.

Luskin writes:

If you think Nye’s ideology is bad, wait until you see the “science” he uses to justify these claims.

On the origin of life, Nye maintains that the famous Miller-Urey experiments “simulate[d] the conditions on earth in primordial times,” and “produced the natural amino acids.” Yet the Miller-Urey experiments did not accurately simulate the earth’s early atmosphere. An article in Science explains why the experiments are irrelevant: “the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey situation.”

Nye also invokes the unsophisticated argument that humans and apes must share a common ancestor because our gene-coding DNA is only about 1% different. “This is striking evidence for chimps and chumps to have a common ancestor,” he writes.

This argument is not just simplistic, it’s also false.

An article in the journal Science challenged “the myth of 1%,” suggesting the statistic is a “truism [that] should be retired,” since “studies are showing that [humans and chimps] are not as similar as many tend to believe.” Geneticist Richard Buggs maintains that “the total similarity of the genomes could be below 70%.”

Even if we do share DNA with chimps, why should that demonstrate common ancestry? Intelligent agents regularly re-use parts that work in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and wheels for airplanes). Nye’s crude argument ignores the possibility of common design.

Undeniable also botches arguments that the fossil record shows “transitional forms.”

Nye cites Tiktaalik as a “‘fishapod’ (transition between fish and tetrapod, or land animal with four legs)” that is a fulfilled “prediction” of evolution because of when it was found in the fossil record. Nye is apparently unaware that this so-called evolutionary “prediction” went belly-up after scientists found tracks of true tetrapods with digits some 18 million years before Tiktaalik in the fossil record. As Nature put it, Tiktaalik cannot be a “direct transitional form.”

In another instance, Nye claims we’ve “found a whole range of human ancestors, including Sahelanthropus tchadensis,” apparently not realizing that an article in Nature reported there are “many … features that link the specimen with chimpanzees, gorillas or both,” since “Sahelanthropus was an ape.”

There are other scientific errors in Nye’s book, but one more will suffice. Throughout Undeniable, Nye demeans humanity by claiming our bodies are poorly designed, promoting the old canard that the human eye is wired backwards, and “not an optimal optical arrangement.” Nye apparently never saw a 2010 paper in Physical Review Letters which found that our eyes have special glial cells which sit over the retina, acting like fiber-optic cables to channel light through tissue directly onto our photoreceptor cells, showing the human retina is “an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images.”

Undeniable  is one long attempt at wedding materialist philosophy with science. “The natural world is a package deal,” Nye insists at one point, “you don’t get to select which facts you like and which you don’t.” Yet he consistently ignores facts that contradict his arguments for Darwinian orthodoxy.

Interesting that he stands by the Miller-Urey experiments, when we now know that the experiment used gases that were not found on the early earth, not to mention that the experiments required experimenter intervention. And this is just to get the letters for proteins and DNA code – it doesn’t even count the sequencing problem, which is where you run into improbabilities that make materialist explanations for the origin of life as unlikely as flat-Earthism. You can believe if you really need to, but I wouldn’t call wanting to believe something really badly “scientific”.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

Michael Ruse debates Stephen C. Meyer on intelligent design and evolution on NPR

Here’s a debate between:

  • Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
  • Michael Ruse, Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University

The MP3 file is here. (28 minutes)

The following summary is rated S for Slightly Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.


  • Moderator: (to Meyer) define creationism, evolution, and intelligent design
  • Meyer: creationism is based on an interpretation of the Bible
  • Meyer: evolution is an unguided process of mutation and selection that produces organisms
  • Meyer: intelligent design is the idea that the best explanation for certain features of life
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Intelligent design is similar to creationism, but I won’t say how exactly
  • Meyer: ID is a good explanation for the sudden origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian era
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Is the designer God? Is the designer the Christian God?
  • Meyer: No, ID theory is an inference that is rooted in scientific evidence, not in a religious text
  • Meyer: ID can be inferred from the origin of biological information and from molecular machines
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous because ID requires the designer to be God
  • Meyer: The biological evidence for intelligent design by itself does not implicate God
  • Meyer: The fine-tuning of the cosmos is intelligent design in physics, and that *would* require God
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Explain what the Cambrian explosion is
  • Meyer: sudden origin of 36 body plans in 10 million years 530 million years ago
  • Moderator: So you think that 36 body plans in 10 million years is too sudden for Darwinian mechanisms to produce?
  • Meyer: Yes, for two reasons. One, there are no precursors prior to the start of the explosion in complexity
  • Meyer: And two, the complexity of animal life includes code, circuitry, hierarchies – best explained by a designer
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Is it a problem for you?
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that the Ediacaran fauna are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that microfossils are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that animal complexity goes from simple to complex in the fossil record
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that the Cambrian explosion took place over a few million years
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that there were complex organ types at the start of the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that we already have a materialist explanation for the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: everything is solved! nothing to see here! (folds arms and beams) I trust that my unsupported assertions have relieved your doubts, yes?
  • Moderator: Is intelligent design undermined by more recent science?
  • Meyer: no, there is an absence of precursor fossils in the period before the Cambrian explosion
  • Meyer: there are other things that make the problem even worse for naturalism, like information from epigenetics
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Answer that
  • Ruse: He is just pulling out passages out of context because he is a creationist!
  • Moderator: The leftist New Yorker reviewer Gareth Cook says that the Cambrian explosion took tens of millions of years
  • Meyer: Actually, the peer-reviewed science is clear that the standard date is at most 10 million nears
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Deny the mainstream date
  • Ruse: Well, Prothero says no! Ho ho ho! (folds arms) He just says it. No it’s not published in peer-reviewed research
  • Ruse: We know so much more than Darwin did, how could the progress of science disprove my materialist pre-supposition? It’s unpossible!
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Isn’t ID pseudo-science?
  • Meyer: If we limit ourselves to materialist explanations only, then we cannot infer intelligence when we see artifacts like the Rosetta Stone
  • Meyer: wind and erosion is not an adequate explanation for certain systems – systems that are rich in information
  • Meyer: the best explanation is the explanation that relies on known causes – we know that intelligence produces information
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) so the intelligence is the best explanation of systems that have information?
  • Meyer: yes, think about software code – the best explanation of new computer instructions is an intelligence
  • Meyer: we have uniform and repeated experience of intelligence bringing new information into being, and new animals need new information
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) must science only work with natural explanations?
  • Ruse: intelligent design is religion! Ho ho ho ho! (folds arms)
  • Ruse: there is no a priori way of ruling out supernatural causes in order to explain nature
  • Ruse: We don’t need to introduce supernatural causes to explain information in living systems or in software code
  • Ruse: Steve is asking me to explain the Cambrian explosion, but why does he want me to explain that?
  • Ruse: How did anything start to fly? How did whales come? There, those questions explain the Cambrian explosion naturalistically
  • Ruse: Steve’s answer to explain new information is to bring in miracles, like when he said that new computer code requires God
  • Ruse: inferring intelligence as an explanation for information like the computer code is religion! God! Creationism! Prayer in schools!
  • Ruse: we have to keep looking for naturalistic explanations for the Big Bang, the DNA, the fine-tuning, the Cambrian fossils, etc.
  • Ruse: we are never justified in inferring an intelligence to explain information, because that would deny my religion of materialism
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) what are the requirements for a theory to be scientific?
  • Ruse: any explanation has to be naturalistic, because I am an atheist and that’s my religion, and we can’t go against my religion
  • Ruse: it’s “really stupid” to infer God as the explanation of the creation of the entire physical universe or the cosmic fine-tuning
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why is intelligent design so popular when we have court cases saying it is not science?
  • Meyer: the Discovery Institute does not have an agenda to teach intelligent design in public schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about inferring intelligence as a causal explanation for information in living systems, and elsewhere
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are evolutionists unwilling to entertain the possibility of intelligence being the best explanation?
  • Ruse: scientists have to make sure that that all their explanations don’t go outside of the materialist reservation
  • Ruse: intelligent design is evangelical Christianity dressed up to look like science, the Dover judge said so
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous! Ho ho ho ho ho! (folds arms contentedly)
  • Meyer: first, judges don’t decide science, evidence decides science
  • Meyer: the Dover people made a mistake by trying to go to the courts to get things into the schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about research, writing books and papers based on what we learn from science
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) is intelligent design dangerous?
  • Ruse: yes, intelligent design is about politics, it’s not about cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, molecular machines or Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: intelligent design is about abstinence, prayer in schools, burdening women with unwanted babies and male-female marriage
  • Ruse: my reason for opposing ID is the socially conservative agenda which emerges from protein folding probability calculations
  • Ruse: I don’t want to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, I don’t want them to take away my drugs, etc. so that’s why I believe Darwinism
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why do you want to take abortion away, you meany?
  • Meyer: actually, intelligent design is about science, and in any case National Review gave my book a bad review
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are science and religion in conflict?
  • Ruse: well religion can just abstain from making any claims about the physical world, and just stick to subjective nonsense – that’s fair
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) isn’t all opposition to evolution rooted in fundamentalist religion?
  • Meyer: you can believe in Darwinism and be a theist, but the real reason for doubting Darwinism is the scientific evidence, not religion

Tell me how you think Dr. Meyer did in the comments.

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

How brief was the period in which the Cambrian phyla suddenly appeared?

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. ID proponents think that the period is between 5-10 million years at the most. Naturalists want to stretch out the period in which the body plans appear to tens of millions of years. The two sides can’t both be right. What’s the truth?

Evolution News has the answer.


To establish the length of the most explosive period of innovation within the Cambrian explosion itself, Meyer cites the work of MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring and his colleagues as well the work of another group led by Smithsonian paleontologist Douglas Erwin. The Bowring-led study showed that (in their words) “the main period of exponential diversification” within the Cambrian lasted “only 5-6 million years” (emphasis added). Meyer explains:

An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window. (p. 73)

[…][T]ake a look first at the following figure that Bowring and his colleagues included in their definitive 1993 article, published in the journal Science. They use radiometric methods to date the different stages of the Cambrian period, including the crucial Tommotian and Atdabanian stages in which the greatest number of new animal phyla and classes arise. Note that the so-called Manykaian stage of the Cambrian period lasts about 10-14 million years. Note also that the main pulse of morphological innovation didn’t begin during this stage but rather during the Tommotian and Atdabanian — a period that they describe as taking between “5 to 10 million years,” and in a more detailed passage as taking about 5-6 million years.

[…]In the figure above, the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages of the Cambrian period together span only about 5 million years, starting at about 530 and ending about 525 million years ago. Bowring’s figure also depicts the total number of classes and orders present at any given time during the Cambrian period. The biggest increases in morphological innovation occur during the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages. Indeed, during this period the number of known orders nearly quadruples. Moreover, Bowring and his colleagues also make clear that this period corresponds to the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation as measured by the number of new phyla and classes that first appear. They note that, while a few groups of animals do arise in the earliest Manykaian stage of the Cambrian, the most rapid period of “exponential increase of diversification,” corresponding to the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages, “lasted only 5 to 6 m.y.”

You can see the figure they are reference in the Evolution News article.

Also, check out these clips that explain the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The first clip features James Valentine, a professor of biology at the University of California who just co-authored a new book on the Cambrian explosion and is not a proponent of intelligent design.

The consensus among scientists regarding the period of time in which the new body plans appear is 5-6 million years. Biologically speaking, that’s a blink of an eye. You aren’t going that kind of complexity and innovation in such a short period of time any more than you can expect to win the lottery by buying 5-6 million tickets when the odds of winning are 1 in a googol (10 to the 100th power – 1, followed by 100 zeroes). You don’t have enough lottery tickets to make winning the lottery likely. Similarly, 5-6 million years is not enough time for naturalistic mechanisms to code brand new body plans from scratch. It would be like trying to research and write a Ph.D thesis during a single lunch hour. It’s just not enough time to produce the amount of information that’s required.

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

Did your science textbook teach that embryo drawings prove evolution?

Haeckel's embryos and scientific fraud

Haeckel’s embryos and scientific fraud

Jonathan Wells, a biologist with Ph.Ds from Yale and UC Berkeley, writes about one example of fake evidence here:

Charles Darwin thought that “by far the strongest” evidence that humans and fish are descended from a common ancestor was the striking similarity of their early embryos. According to Darwin, the fact that “the embryos of the most distinct species belonging to the same class are closely similar, but become, when fully developed, widely dissimilar… reveals community of descent.” 2 To illustrate this, German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel made some drawings in the 1860s to show that the embryos of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) look almost identical in their earliest stages.

But Haeckel faked his drawings. Not only do they distort vertebrate embryos by making them appear more similar than they really are (in a way that Stephen Jay Gould wrote “can only be called fraudulent” 3), but they also omit classes and stages that do not fit Darwin’s theory. Most significantly, Haeckel omitted the earliest stages, in which vertebrate embryos are strikingly different from each other. The stage he portrayed as the first is actually midway through development. Yet according to Darwin’s logic, early dis-similarities do not provide evidence for common ancestry.

Haeckel used his faked drawings to support not only Darwinian evolution, but also his own “Biogenetic Law,” which stated that embryos pass through the adult stages of their ancestors in the process of development.

…Haeckel’s drawings were exposed as fakes by his own contemporaries, and his Biogenetic Law was thoroughly discredited by 20th century biologists. It is now generally acknowledged that early embryos never resemble the adults of their supposed ancestors. A modern version of recapitulation claims that early embryos resemble the embryos of their ancestors, but since fossil embryos are extremely rare, this claim is little more than speculation based on the assumption that Darwin’s theory is true.

Now the standard response from Darwinists: no textbooks are still using the fraudulent embryo images.

You can see the actual faked pictures from the modern textbooks here. These textbooks were being produced as late as 2004, even though the fraud was detected in the 1800s! Is this the vaunted self-correction of science, or science being twisted to support social and political goals?

And this excerpt from that article is interesting:

Some Darwinists continue to deny that there has been any misuse of Haeckel in recent times. If that is the case, why did Stephen Jay Gould attack how textbooks use Haeckel in 2000? Gould wrote: “We should… not be surprised that Haeckel’s drawings entered nineteenth-century textbooks. But we do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks!” (emphasis added) Similarly, in 1997, the leading embryologist Michael K. Richardson lamented in the journal Anatomy and Embyology that “Another point to emerge from this study is the considerable inaccuracy of Haeckel’s famous figures. These drawings are still widely reproduced in textbooks and review articles, and continue to exert a significant influence on the development of ideas in this field.” (emphases added)

Here is a link to the peer-reviewed journal Science, where there is an article talking about the fraudulent embryo drawings. Yes – the drawings really are fraudulent.

And finally, Casey Luskin has a new post up at Evolution News that lists all the textbooks that contain the fraudulent drawings. One is dated 2013! The drawings just keep getting recycled over and over as a “proof” of evolution.

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

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