Tag Archives: Intelligent Design

Biomimetics again: scientists reverse engineer the design of snake scales

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Today, I have an example 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.

This is from Science Daily. (H/T Fuz Rana)

It says:

A snake moves without legs by the scales on its belly gripping the ground. It generates friction at the points needed to move forwards only and prevents its scales from being worn off by too much friction. Researchers of KIT have found a way to transfer this feature to components of movable systems. In this way, durability of hip prostheses, computer hard disks or smartphones might be enhanced.

“Friction and wear are two of the biggest challenges in systems of several individual components,” Christian Greiner of the Institute for Applied Materials says. A solution is found in nature: Snakes, such as the ball python, or lizards, such as the sandfish skink, use friction to move forwards, but can reduce it to a minimum thanks to their scales. Together with Michael Schäfer, Greiner developed a process to transfer the scale structure of reptiles to components of electromechanical systems: With a fiber laser, they milled scales into a steel bolt of 8 mm in diameter.

With the help of two different structures, the materials researchers tested whether the distance of the scales influences friction behavior. In the first structure, the scales overlap and are located very closely to each other, such as the scales on the belly of a ball python. The second structure consists of scales arranged in vertical rows at a larger distance, such as the skin of a sandfish skink. “The distance between the rows in our experiment was the smallest possible distance we could produce with the laser. The structure, hence, does not entirely correspond to that of the sandfish skink,” Greiner says. In the future, however, the researchers plan to produce structures that are closer to the original in nature.

[…]To find out whether scales reduce friction, Greiner and Schäfer fixed the structured surface of the bolts to a rotating plate. The experiments were carried out without and with a lubricant (1 ml of mineral oil). For the experiments with oil as lubricant, the scientists used steel disks. Under dry sliding conditions, sapphire disks were applied. The disk diameter was 50 mm.

Experiments under lubricated conditions revealed that both narrow and wide arrangements of the scales increase friction compared to the unstructured bolt: By the wide scales, friction is increased by a factor of 1.6. The narrow scales increase friction by a factor of 3. In the non-lubricated state, the wide scale structure reduced friction by more than 40 percent, while friction was reduced by 22 percent in case of a narrow scale structure.

The finding that the narrow scale structure increases friction under both lubricated and non-lubricated conditions had not been expected by the researchers: “We assumed that the narrow structure is more effective, as it is closer to nature,” Greiner says.

See the related posts for more examples of humans learning from the engineering designs in nature.

Related posts

New software calculates the probability of generating functional proteins by chance

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Here’s an article sent to me by JoeCoder about a new computer program written by Kirk Durston.

About Kirk:

Kirk Durston is a scientist, a philosopher, and a clergyman with a Ph.D. in Biophysics, an M.A. in Philosophy, a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering, and a B.Sc. in Physics. His work involves a significant amount of time thinking, writing and speaking about the interaction of science, theology and philosophy within the context of authentic Christianity. He has been married for 34 years to Patti and they have six children and three grandchildren. He enjoys landscape photography, antiques of various types, wilderness canoeing and camping, fly fishing, amateur astronomy, reading, music, playing the saxophone (alto), and enjoying family and friends.

Kirk grew up on a cattle and grain farm in central Manitoba, Canada, where he spent countless hours wandering around on his own in the forest as a young boy, fascinated with the plants and animals that are native to that region of the province. Throughout his teen years he spent six days a week in the summer working as a farm hand with cattle and grain. He left his father’s farm at the age of 19 to go to university.

Canada? Can anything good come out of Canada? Oh well, at least he’s not from Scotland. Anyway, on to the research, that’s what we care about. Code!

Summary of the article:

  • Biological life requires proteins
  • Proteins are sequences of amino acids, chained together
  • the order of amino acids determines whether the sequence has biological function
  • sequences that have biological function are rare, compared to the total number of possible sequences
  • Durston wrote a program to calculate the number of the probability of getting a functional sequence by random chance
  • The probability for getting a functional protein by chance is incredibly low

With that said, we can understand what he wrote:

This program can compute an upper limit for the probability of obtaining a protein family from a wealth of actual data contained in the Pfam database. The first step computes the lower limit for the functional complexity or functional information required to code for a particular protein family, using a method published by Durston et al. This value for I(Ex) can then be plugged into an equation published by Hazen et al. in order to solve the probability M(Ex)/N of ‘finding’ a functional sequence in a single trial.

I downloaded 3,751 aligned sequences for the Ribosomal S7 domain, part of a universal protein essential for all life. When the data was run through the program, it revealed that the lower limit for the amount of functional information required to code for this domain is 332 Fits (Functional Bits). The extreme upper limit for the number of sequences that might be functional for this domain is around 10^92. In a single trial, the probability of obtaining a sequence that would be functional for the Ribosomal S7 domain is 1 chance in 10^100 … and this is only for a 148 amino acid structural domain, much smaller than an average protein.

For another example, I downloaded 4,986 aligned sequences for the ABC-3 family of proteins and ran it through the program. The results indicate that the probability of obtaining, in a single trial, a functional ABC-3 sequence is around 1 chance in 10^128. This method ignores pairwise and higher order relationships within the sequence that would vastly limit the number of functional sequences by many orders of magnitude, reducing the probability even further by many orders of magnitude – so this gives us a best-case estimate.

There are only about 10^80 particles in the entire physical universe – 10^85 at the most. These are long odds. But maybe if we expand the probabilistic resources by buying more slot machines, and we pull the slot machine lever at much faster rate… can we win the jackpot then?

Nope:

What are the implications of these results, obtained from actual data, for the fundamental prediction of neo-Darwinian theory mentioned above? If we assume 10^30 life forms with a fast replication rate of 30 minutes and a huge genome with a very high mutation rate over a period of 10 billion years, an extreme upper limit for the total number of mutations for all of life’s history would be around 10^43. Unfortunately, a protein domain such as Ribosomal S7 would require a minimum average of 10^100 trials, about 10^57 trials more than the entire theoretical history of life could provide – and this is only for one domain. Forget about ‘finding’ an average sized protein, not to mention thousands.

So even if you have lots of probabilistic resources, and lots of time, you’re still not going to get your protein.

Compare these numbers with the 1 in 10^77 number that I posted about yesterday from Doug Axe. There is just no way to account for proteins if there is no intelligent agent to place the amino acids in sequence. When it comes to writing code, writing blog posts, writing music, or placing Scrabble letters, you need an intelligence. Sequencing amino acids into proteins? You need an intelligence.

Walter Bradley lectures on the creation and design of the universe

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. It changed my life. The lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

About the speaker:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.

The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)

Summary slide:

This slide summarizes the content of the lecture
This slide summarizes the content of the lecture

Introduction:

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
  • A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
  • Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
  • When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing

Evidence #1: The Big Bang:

  • an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
  • In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
  • In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
  • In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model

Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws

  • the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
  • early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
  • the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
  • Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science

Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities

  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
  • organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
  • the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
  • These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
  • For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
    – if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
    – if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen

Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability

  • Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
  • Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
  • Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere

Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory

  • It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
  • But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
  • Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
  • Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
  • Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
  • Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe

Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability

  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
  • Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of  a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
  • Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
  • Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit

I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.

Dan Barker debates Casey Luskin on academic freedom

Two ninjas face off at sundown
Two ninjas face off at sundown

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience.

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

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the CSC’s Casey Luskin and atheist Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation debate academic freedom and free speech on the Medved Show. This debate was inspired by the ongoing case of Professor Eric Hedin, a physicist at Ball State University who is being threatened by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for favorably portraying intelligent design in the classroom.

Topics: (note that I am paraphrasing Dan Barker for the sake of humor, and he will probably sue me, since that is his entire contribution to the search for truth in this debate)

  • Michael Medved: untenured Ball State University professor Eric Hedin is under fire for teaching both sides of intelligent design in a college course
  • Dan Barker: this complaint against professor Hedin came to our attention from Jerry Coyne not from students of Professor Hedin
  • Dan Barker: professors are not allowed to question the presuppositions atheism, materialism, naturalism in the physics classroom
  • Dan Barker: this is a science course and you cannot question the religion of naturalism in class or else it’s teaching religion
  • Dan Barker: we need to use the power of the courts to stifle any dissent from of my religion (naturalism)
  • Dan Barker: the classroom of a university is not the proper place for students to inquire about both sides of scientific disputes
  • Dan Barker: even if students are paying their money and choosing this course of their own free will, they can’t be allowed to hear both sides
  • Casey Luskin: this course is not a science course, it is open to non-science students
  • Casey Luskin: the course evaluations from students of all majors is overwhelmingly positive
  • Casey Luskin: the course features people on both sides
  • Casey Luskin: the course features brilliant scholars like Lennox and Penrose, both from Oxford University
  • Casey Luskin: the course features opponents of intelligent design like Francis Collins and Karl Gilberson
  • Casey Luskin: the course features non-Christians like Lee Spetner, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose and Gerald Schroeder
  • Dan Barker: (taking over the host) you cannot study scientists like Francis Collins who mapped the human genome, that is “creationism”
  • Michael Medved: academic freedom allows professors to put a slant on what they are teaching
  • Dan Barker: if the professor’s slant is against my religion of naturalism, then I have to put them in jail and inquisition them
  • Dan Barker: you cannot teach science like the Big Bang and fine-tuning  as if it is science because it contradicts naturalism
  • Casey Luskin: Even radical atheist PZ Myers says that professors have the right to academic freedom
  • Dan Barker: I’ll burn that creationist at the stake, too! And smash his filthy microscopes and telescopes!
  • Michael Medved: Casey, would you use state power to fire a professor who disagreed with you because you were offended?
  • Casey Luskin: no, I had to take tons of courses from professors who had a slant against my views and I learned a lot from different views
  • Dan Barker: you will address me as the Holy Father, please! Every professor who disagrees with my religion must burn!
  • Casey Luskin: Barker has no idea what is going on in the class, he never attended it
  • Casey Luskin: The atheists students who took his class gave him high ratings and said he graded fairly
  • Dan Barker: I don’t have to look through the telescope to know the Earth is flat – Hedin is a traitor! Off with his head!
  • Dan Barker: Creationist PZ Myers is wrong, and I’ll burn him at the stake for creationist heresy against my Holy Church!
  • Dan Barker: Oxford professors like John Lennox are creationists because his Big Bang religion is grounded on experimental data like the cosmic background radiation, the hydrogen/helium abundances and the redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • Dan Barker: I have a degree in Religion and I write hymns, which makes me smarter than John Lennox since he is a “creationist”
  • Dan Barker: I haven’t published any scientific research myself, but I have written some atheist praise hymns, so I am qualified to burn the heretics!
  • Michael Medved: The course is taught by someone with a PhD in Physics, and the syllabus says that it investigates science and religion
  • Michael Medved: Why is it wrong to investigate the science that questions philosophical assumptions like naturalism and materialism?
  • Casey Luskin: The syllabus features amazing readings from all the latest science relevant to that question from both sides
  • Michael Medved: What will Ball State U do to the professor?
  • Casey Luskin: So far no action from Ball State U, but people need to sign the petition to protect the professor
  • Michael Medved: Isn’t academic freedom being applied inconsistently here?
  • Casey Luskin: Yes and science is supposed to move forward by disagreement and debate
  • Casey Luskin: How confident can intelligent design censors really be if their contribution to the debate is coercion and intimidation?
  • Michael Luskin: Is Dan Barker right to say that Oxford professor John Lennox is a “creationist”?
  • Casey Luskin: Creationism starts with the Bible, but intelligent design starts with scientific data

And there is a period of questions from the callers. This episode features a debate, so it is not to be missed.

Now Dan Barker sounded pretty confident in that debate, so you might be surprised by his academic background:

Dan became a teenage evangelist at age 15. At 16 he was choir librarian for faith-healer Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles appearances. He received a degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry by the Standard Community Church, California, in 1975.

[…]Dan preached for 19 years. He maintained an ongoing touring musical ministry, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism. An accomplished pianist, record producer, arranger and songwriter, he worked with Christian music companies such as Manna Music and Word Music. For a few years, Dan wrote and produced the annual “Mini Musicale” for Gospel Light Publications’ Vacation Bible School curriculum.

I’m not sure if Dan Barker has the right background for disputing whether intelligent design belongs in a classroom or not. Remember, the bulk of his life was spent writing and singing feel-good, happy-clappy songs. In his debates with Christians, it’s quite clear that he is totally unequipped to assess scientific evidence from the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, or habitability. It’s just not his thing, and I don’t think that musicians have what it takes to understand those arguments enough to feel comfortable using the courts to suppress people with actual PhDs in science.

You can read more about my opinion about how Dan Barker arrived at his atheism through a mistaken view of the Christian life.

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!

Zack Kopplin debates Casey Luskin on science education

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience.

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

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the Medved Show hosts the CSC’s Casey Luskin and student Zack Kopplin, a leading activist in the effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. Luskin and Kopplin debate the implications of the Louisiana law for science education standards and whether or not the law promotes the teaching of creationism.

Topics:

  • Medved: Should teachers be forced to teach creationism in public schools?
  • Luskin: The Discovery Institute has never advocated that creationism be taught in public schools
  • Medved: Does the Louisiana law mandate that creationism be taught in public schools
  • Kopplin: Yes, the bill does because Bobby Jindal said that the bill teaches creationism
  • Luskin: (Reads the actual text of the law) the law EXPLICITLY STATES that teaching creationism is forbidden
  • Luskin: Governor Jindal is misinformed about the law, but if you look at the law it says NO CREATIONISM
  • Kopplin: I don’t care about what the law actually says, I’ll just repeat that Bobby Jindal thinks it’s creationism
  • Kopplin: Thirty years ago, there was an attempt to mandate creationism, therefore this law is doing the same thing
  • Medved: Are there any complaints that creationism is being taught in any schools after this law has been passed
  • Kopplin: No, I don’t know of any, but that’s not because there are none! Maybe there are some that I haven’t heard about yet
  • Medved: If you are taught something that you think is stupid, then is that automatically a violation of your rights?
  • Kopplin: Because you cannot allow the progress of science to call the religion of naturalism into question
  • Luskin: About that Jindal quote – he was talking about what he wanted to pass, not the law that actually passed
  • Luskin: (reads the text of the law again) The law explicitly says that teaching creationism in the classroom is prohibited
  • Luskin: Intelligent design is not creationism. Creationism starts with the Bible. Intelligent Design starts with science
  • Luskin: The law only supports teaching both sides of things that are already in the curriculum
  • Luskin: ID is not already in the curriculum, therefore, the law does not allow it to be discussed
  • Medved: Take Stephen C. Meyer’s book on the origin of life, could that be used in the classroom?
  • Kopplin: I am not very familiar with Meyer’s book, but if it is critical of Darwinism and naturalism, then it should not be taught. I don’t need to read it before I can censor it
  • Luskin: Meyer’s book advocates for ID, so it should not be taught in science classrooms
  • Luskin: non-ID science papers that are critical of Darwinism should be allowed in science classroom so students get both sides
  • Medved: Consider this brand new Oxford University Press book that is critical of Darwinian mechanisms, authored by Masatoshi Nei who is at Penn State University professor (written up on Evolution News)
  • Medved: Should this research critical of Darwinism be allowed in science classrooms?
  • Kopplin: I don’t know if this book should be allowed in science classrooms
  • Kopplin: I already know without reading anything though that there will never be evidence that supports intelligent design
  • Kopplin: There is no evidence against Darwinism and there is no controversy and there is no disagreement among scientists
  • Luskin: There are hundreds of papers in mainstream science peer-reviewed publications critical of Darwinism
  • Luskin: (lists a stack of papers critical of core tenets of Darwinian theory from respect science journals in the last few years)
  • Luskin: Masatoshi Nei recently posted a comment critical of the usefulness of the mutation-selection mechanism
  • Luskin: The real issue is whether students are allowed to hear mainstream scientific criticisms of Darwinism in the science classroom
  • Medved: Is it OK for a teacher to admit that on a specific issue in science, that there is no credible naturalistic explanation?
  • Kopplin: I am a history major, so I don’t want to comment on whether it is OK to admit that naturalism doesn’t explain everything
  • Luskin: A Harvard chemist says that the origin of life is an open issue in this peer-reviewed journal article
  • Luskin: Teachers should be allowed to say that there is no accepted naturalistic explanation for the origin of life
  • Luskin: teachers should NOT be teaching religion, or creationism, or even intelligent design in science classrooms
  • Luskin: but teachers should be allowed to say what the Harvard chemist said in that peer-reviewed article in the science classroom
  • Kopplin: there was a creationist woman who sat next to the Discovery Institute person when the law was being debated
  • Kopplin: so based on that there is a scary hidden creationist agenda behind the law which is not reflected in the actual text law
  • Luskin: Um, that woman has no connection to the Discovery Institute
  • Luskin: seating arrangement at the hearings were pre-determined, not selected by those in attendance
  • Luskin: what about people who are pushing Darwinism, who are anti-religious atheists and humanists? should they be disqualified?
  • Luskin: we should not discredit the arguments of either side based on speculations about their motives – what counts is the evidence
  • Kopplin: but I have a letter signed by lots of Nobel-prize winning scientists that opposes the Louisiana science education law
  • Luskin: but that letter never actually quotes from the law, it is critiquing views that have nothing to do with the actual law
  • Medved: Summarize your views
  • Kopplin: Criticism of Darwinism and naturalism using mainstream scientific evidence SHOULD NOT be allowed in the science classroom
  • Luskin: Criticism of Darwinism and naturalism using mainstream scientific evidence SHOULD be allowed in the science classroom

And there is a period of questions from the callers.

This episode features a debate, so it is not to be missed. it is always a good idea to hear both sides. Unfortunately, ID people are the only ones who think that both sides should be heard.

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!