Tag Archives: Darwinism

Biomimetics again: scientists reverse engineer the design of snake scales

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity 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

What difference does believing in evolution make?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

In this post, the word evolution refers to the theory that unguided natural forces such as mutation and natural selection can explain the emerge of life from non-life, as well as the diversification of simple single-celled organisms in the diversity of animal life that we observe today, and in the fossil record. mean merely change over time, or variations within types “micro-evolution”. I mean molecules-to-man evolution, with nothing detectable done to guide any part of the process by any outside intelligence, be it natural or supernatural.

What else do people believe when they accept evolution as true?

Evolution News reports on a new poll:

From the earliest days of civilization, humans have considered themselves exceptional among living creatures. But a new survey by Discovery Institute of more than 3,400 American adults indicates that the theory of evolution is beginning to erode that belief in humanity’s unique status and dignity.

According to the survey, 43 percent of Americans now agree that “Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other,” and 45 percent of Americans believe that “Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals.”

The highest levels of support for the idea that evolution shows that humans aren’t fundamentally different from other animals are found among self-identified atheists (69 percent), agnostics (60 percent), and 18 to 29 year-olds (51 percent).

The theory of evolution is also reshaping how people think about morality. A majority of Americans (55 percent) now contend that “Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places.”

“Since the rise of Darwin’s theory, leading scientists and other thinkers have insisted that human beings are just another animal, and that morality evolves based on survival of the fittest,” says historian Richard Weikart, author of the new book The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life (Regnery).

What this new survey shows is just how pervasive these ideas have become in our culture. Many people no doubt continue to believe that humans are unique, but most do not think that evolution supports that position. Many critics of my earlier scholarship will be disconcerted to see this data, which powerfully supports my arguments about the way that Darwinism devalues human life, a key point I explain further in my new book.

Weikart is a professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

So, it definitely makes  a difference whether you believe in evolution or not. I have found that even Christians who believe in evolution have some very weird things going on elsewhere in their worldviews. Let’s just say that I don’t know any conservative Christians who accept evolution.

Take a look at Howard Van Till, who taught at a seminary for many years. He always asserted that evolution and Christianity were compatible. That’s what he told his students. He was regarded as one of the foremost proponents of theistic evolution – the view that God exists and sits around doing nothing while animal diversity appears without any detectible design work on his part.

Take a look at this event that Van Till did for a FREETHOUGHT group a while back.

Excerpt:

FROM CALVINISM TO FREETHOUGHT: The Road Less Traveled
by Howard J. Van Till

Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Emeritus
Calvin College
Presented 5/24/2006 for the Freethought Association of West Michigan
Lightly edited 5/26/2006

Precis: Born into a Calvinist family, shaped by a Calvinist catechism training, educated in the Calvinist private school system, and nurtured by a community that prized its Calvinist systematic theology, I was a Calvinist through and through. For 31 years my teaching career was deeply rooted in the Calvinism I had inherited from my community.

During most of that time it was a fruitful and satisfying experience. Nonetheless, stimulated in part by the manner in which some members of that community responded to my efforts to practice what I had learned from my best teachers, I eventually felt the need to extend my intellectual exploration into philosophical territories far outside the one provided by Calvinism. Did I complete the lengthy journey from Calvinism to Freethought? The listener will be the judge.

Freethought is a politically correct happy-clappy term for atheism, by the way. Trying to put a positive spin on it, I guess.

Evolution means unguided evolution. It means that natural processes do all the work, and there is nothing required from any supervening intelligence – natural or supernatural. That idea has consequences for your worldview.

One last point, and this is important. I don’t reject evolution because I find the consequences of the idea distasteful. I reject it because it is not supported by the evidence in two crucial areas: the origin of the simplest living replicating organism, and the sudden appearance of a wide variety of body plans in the Cambrian explosion within a very short period of time. I have no problem with science challenging my interpretation of the Bible – that’s why I am for an old universe and an old Earth. But evolution is not scientifically grounded – it’s really a philosophical speculation that is required by a metaphysical assumption called naturalism. And since I am an adherent of experimental science, and not theoretical speculative philosophy, I reject it. And so should you.

Related posts

 

New study: natural selection can act to impede speciation

Australian Walking Stick
Australian Walking Stick

My friend KL sent me this press release from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

It says:

An intriguing study involving walking stick insects led by the University of Sheffield in England and the University of Colorado Boulder shows how natural selection, the engine of evolution, can also impede the formation of new species.

The team studied a plant-eating stick insect species from California called Timema cristinae known for its cryptic camouflage that allows it to hide from hungry birds, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Samuel Flaxman. T. cristinae comes in several different types — one is green and blends in with the broad green leaves of a particular shrub species, while a second green variant sports a white, vertical stripe that helps disguise it on a different species of shrub with narrow, needle-like leaves.

While Darwinian natural selection has begun pushing the two green forms of walking sticks down separate paths that could lead to the formation of two new species, the team found that a third melanistic, or brown variation of T. cristinae appears to be thwarting the process, said Flaxman. The brown version is known to successfully camouflage itself among the stems of both shrub species inhabited by its green brethren, he said.

Using field investigations, laboratory genetics, modern genome sequencing and computer simulations, the team concluded the brown version of T. cristinae is shuttling enough genes between the green stick insects living on different shrubs to prevent strong divergent adaptation and speciation. The brown variant of the walking stick species also is favored by natural selection because it has a slight advantage in mate selection and a stronger resistance to fungal infections than its green counterparts.

“This is one of the best demonstrations we know of regarding the counteractive effects of natural selection on speciation,” said Flaxman of CU-Boulder’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, second author on the new study. “We show how the brown population essentially carries genes back and forth between the green populations, acting as a genetic bridge that causes a slowdown in divergence.”

A paper on the subject appeared in a recent issue of the journal Current Biology. 

[…]“This movement of genes between environments slows down the genetic divergence of these stick insect populations, impeding the formation of new species,” said Aaron Comeault, a former CU-Boulder graduate student and lead study author who conducted the research while at the University of Sheffield.

So, in the past I had read that natural selection can act as a stabilizing force in nature – keeping the organism operating within a type. This study seems to be confirmation of that. That’s a problem for naturalists, who believe that mutations and selection can drive evolution of new body plans or organ types (macro-evolution). I could even agree that mutation and selection drives changes within a kind, but that still wouldn’t explain how one kind changes into another kind.

But there are other problems with generating macro-evolutionary change.

Also related to the problem raised by the study is this problem of genetic drift, which also works against the preservation of beneficial mutations.

Evolution News explains the genetic drift problem:

Evolutionary biologists often assume that once mutations produce a functionally advantageous trait, it will easily spread (become “fixed”) throughout a population by natural selection. For example, imagine a population of brown-haired foxes that lives in a snowy region. One fox is born with a mutation that turns its fur coat white, rather than brown. This fox now has an advantage in hunting prey and escaping predators, because its white fur provides it with camouflage. The white fox survives, passing its genes on to its offspring, which are also adept at surviving and reproducing. Over time, the white-haired trait spreads throughout the population.

This is how it’s supposed to work — in theory. In the real world, however, merely generating a functionally advantageous trait does not guarantee it will persist, or become fixed. For example, what if by chance the white fox trips, breaks a leg, and gets eaten by a predator — never passing on its genes? Random forces or events can prevent a trait from spreading through a population, even if it provides an advantage. These random forces are lumped together under the name “genetic drift.” When biologists run the mathematics of natural selection, they find that unless a trait gives an extremely strong selective advantage, genetic drift will tend to overwhelm the force of selection and prevent adaptations from gaining a foothold in a population.

This underappreciated problem has been recognized by some evolutionary scientists who are skeptical of the ability of natural selection to drive the evolutionary process. One of those scientists is Michael Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at Indiana University, who writes that “random genetic drift can impose a strong barrier to the advancement of molecular refinements by adaptive processes.”2 He notes that the effect of drift is “encouraging the fixation of mildly deleterious mutations and discouraging the promotion of beneficial mutations.”3

I guess the point of this is that if someone wants to convince you that macro-evolution is possible through the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection, then they have some work to do. And it’s more work than just asserting that it happened.

People who are technical may benefit from reading Michael Behe’s book “The Edge of Evolution”, which studies how likely it is to get several positive adaptations in a row within a reasonable period of time.

UPDATE: A biologist friend tells me that “whether natural selection is driving speciation or preventing it, in neither case is it explaining how these organisms came to be in the first place. It only explains how existing organisms interact with their environment. And this can be explained at least as well through intelligent design as through naturalistic processes.” She also says that natural selection can drive speciation, but still within a kind.

Stephen C. Meyer debates Charles Marshall on the Cambrian explosion

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here is a summary of recent podcast of Unbelievable between intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall. Dr. Marshall had previously reviewed Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt” in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal “Science”.

Details:

Stephen C Meyer is the world’s leading Intelligent Design proponent. His new book Darwin’s Doubt claims that the Cambrian fossil record, which saw an “explosion” of new life forms in a short space of time, is evidence for ID.

Evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall of the University of California, Berkeley has written a critical review of the book. He debates Meyer on whether Darwinian evolution can explain the diversity of life in the Cambrian rocks.

For Meyer & Darwin’s Doubt:
http://www.darwinsdoubt.com/

For Charles Marshall’s review:
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1344.1.full

You can get the MP3 file here.

The brief summary this time is not provided by me, it’s from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

This past weekend Britain’s Premier radio network broadcast a debate between Stephen Meyer and UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, recorded at the beginning of November. As David Klinghoffer noted yesterday, the subject of the debate was Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. Yes, that’s the same Charles Marshall who reviewed Darwin’s Doubt in Science back in September. See here for our multiple responses.

It was an excellent debate, with both participants offering important insights and good arguments, though in my opinion Meyer unquestionably had the better of it, especially concerning the key scientific question of the origin of the information necessary to build the Cambrian animals. Nevertheless, both parties came to the table ready to engage in serious, thoughtful, and civil discussion about the core issues raised in Darwin’s Doubt, and we commend Marshall not only for participating, but for focusing his critique of the book on the central scientific issues, something other critics have conspicuously failed to do.

The debate was consequently both constructive and civil. Both parties complimented, as well as critiqued, the work of the other. Marshall, for example, described the first third of Darwin’s Doubt — the section that discusses the Cambrian and Precambrian fossil record, Marshall’s own area of principle expertise — as “good scholarship.” He also said it “looks like good science” and that Meyer “writes well,” and that he (Marshall) “really enjoyed reading”Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, for his, part expressed his admiration for Marshall’s many scientific papers in paleontology and noted that he had been looking forward to the conversation because he and Marshall clearly “shared a passion for the same subject,” despite their different perspectives. Of course, Marshall is not pro-ID and both men expressed spirited disagreements, but they did so in a mostly respectful way that made the debate all the more interesting and engaging to listen to.

I was very impressed with Dr. Marshall’s performance during the debate, although he did try to poison the well a bit against ID at the beginning, and he got nasty at the end. It’s amazing how Dr. Meyer was able to get him to stop it with the politics and get serious, just by sticking to the science. Even when Marshall got insulting at the end, it was still valuable to see how the other side has to abandon rational argument and scientific evidence once they see that they can’t win on the merits. It’s “Inherit the Wind” in reverse.

Evolution News also posted a more complete guide to the debate in this post, and I recommend that you read that post before listening to the debate if you are not familiar with the science.

This is a great debate, and you definitely ought to listen to it. I hope I’ve posted enough here to convince you. If you haven’t yet bought “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt“, then I urge you to get them, although they are intermediate/advanced level books. The two books are the state of the art in intelligent design research, good enough to be debated with a University of California, Berkeley professor of biology. Dr. Meyer is the real deal, and if you want to be convincing on these important scientific issues, you need to learn the scientific evidence from his books.

If you are not a regular reader of the Evolution News blog, you really should be. It’s also a good idea to subscribe to the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

Stephen C. Meyer and Keith Fox debate intelligent design and evolution

How did life begin?
How did life begin?

From Justin Brierley’s “Unbelievable” podcast.

Details:

Stephen Meyer is a leading proponent of Intelligent Design who directs the Centre for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. His [first] book “Signature in the Cell” claims to show that the DNA code is the product of intelligent mind, not naturalistic processes. Keith Fox is Professor of Biochemistry at Southampton University. He chairs the UK Christians in Science network but disagrees strongly with ID. They debate how life could have originated and whether design is allowed as an explanation in science.

Summary: (stuff in italics is my snarky paraphrase)

Meyer:

  • background and how he got interested in intelligent design
  • his research focus is on the origin of life – the first replicator
  • summarizes the history of origin of life studies
  • authored the book “Signature in the Cell”
  • the DNA enigma: where did the information in DNA come from?
  • naturalistic explanations of the DNA information have failed
  • but intelligent agents are known to be able to produce information
  • the best explanation of the information in DNA is that an intelligent agent authored it
  • Meyer’s book was named by atheist philosopher of science Thomas Nagel as a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year in 2010
  • why is design so controversial? Many people think that Darwin explained why nature appears design
  • the Darwinian view is that nature can create the appearance of design using mutation and selection
  • however, Darwinian mechanisms cannot explain the origin of the first living cell, it assumes replication, and the origin of life is about where the first replicator comes from

Fox:

  • Meyer’s argument is not about the evolution of life after the first cell
  • Meyer’s case for design is about the origin of life
  • naturalists do not know a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life
  • there are a number of naturalistic hypotheses for the origin of life, like the RNA-first hypothesis
  • maybe in a few years one of them will turn out to be correct
  • what intelligent design is arguing from a gap in our current naturalistic knowledge to infer that God intervened in nature

Meyer:

  • that’s not what intelligent design is at all
  • the approach ID theorists use is the inference to best explanation
  • you evaluate all explanations, non-intelligent causes and intelligent causes
  • you prefer the best possible explanation
  • we know that minds are capable of producing information just like the information we find in DNA

Fox:

  • living cells replicate, so they have the ability to introduce mutations as they replicate and then some of those mutations can be selected
  • so maybe the process of replicating that living cells do created the first living cell
  • maybe the first living cell created itself, X brought X into being, self-creation, what’s irrational about that?

Meyer:

  • the issue is the origin of life – where did the first living cell come from?
  • you cannot appeal to the operations that a living cell can perform to explain the origin of the first living cell
  • there was no first living cell operating before the first living cell
  • there was no replication, mutation or selection before the first living cell
  • in fact, in my book I show that there is no known naturalistic mechanism that is able to produce the information needed for the first living cell
  • nothing can create itself, that is self-contradictory
Fox:
  • Well, you are just saying that because something is complex that God did it
Meyer:
  • Sadly, no. What I actually said needed to be explained was the information, not complexity
  • And we know from software engineering that the process of adding information to code is performed by programmers
  • in the absence of any adequate naturalistic explanation for information, we are justified in taking the explanation that we are familiar with – namely, intelligent agency – based on our uniform, universal experience of what causes information
Fox:
  • well, maybe we can appeal to the mutation and selection in existing living cells to explain the origin of the first living cell
  • maybe there were living cells before the first living cell, and then these other living cells created the first living cell
Meyer:
  • we can’t keep invoking mutation and selection when those processes are not operating prior to the origin of the first living cell
Fox:
  • well maybe some bare-bones self-replication molecule was a precursor to the first living cell
Meyer:
  • even to generate very limited replicator would require a large amount of information
  • the argument I am making is – where does the evolution come from?
Fox:
  • well, maybe we will think of an explanation for information that is naturalistic in 20 years
  • we’ve thought of explanations to things that were NOT information before
  • so maybe we will be able to think of something to explain information based on our ability to explain NOT information before

Moderator: Change topics: the Dover decision

Meyer:

  • the Discovery Institute opposed the policy that causes the trial
  • the wording of the statute was poor
  • the judge was completely wrong in his decision
  • young earth creationists used the phrase “intelligent design” to cover their agenda
  • intelligent design is an inference using the normal methods of science
Fox:
  • intelligent design is a science stopper because it stops looking for a naturalistic explanation
  • everything in nature must have a naturalistic explanation
  • everything has to be explained using matter and time and chance
  • it just has to be that way!!!!
Meyer:
  • well, what luck would you have explaining an effect like Mt. Rushmore?
  • can you explain that using matter,time and chance?
  • Mt. Rushmore was the product of intelligence, not wind and erosion
  • similarly, there is information in the cell, and we know that intelligence causes information
Fox:
  • So you are saying that we don’t understand and therefore an intelligence is necessary?

Meyer:

  • no I am saying we DO understand and we are making an inference based on that understanding
  • you are the one who is insisting on a material explanation because you pre-suppose materialism
  • we know that minds have causal powers, and we can infer mind as an explanation from information
Fox:
  • well nature is a seamless chain of material causes and effects
Meyer:
  • agents can act without violating the laws of nature
  • even humans can act as intelligent agents to create information in books, and they don’t violate the laws of nature
  • intelligent causes are real, and they explain effects in nature
Fox:
  • you’re trying to impose on science something to do with meaning and purpose
Meyer:
  • no that’s not what we’re doing, we’re inferring from from the fact that we ourselves are known causes of information to the fact that an intelligence cause is the best explanation for information in the cell
Fox:
  • but I am a materialist, I need a materialist explanation
Meyer:
  • mind IS an answer to the how question
  • we infer to mind in many other scientific disciplines, like cryptography, archaeology, etc.
  • a materialist might accuse an archaeologist of engaging in a “scribe-of-the-gaps” argument, but the best explanation of an artifact with information is a scribe
  • we are inferring that mind is the cause from the nature of the effect: information
Moderator: is it appropriate to call DNA “information”

Fox:

  • well DNA is just a molecular polymer, any reference to information is just by analogy
Meyer:
  • DNA is a molecular polymer, but it also exhibits the property of specified complexity
  • the arrangement of bases, which function as machine instructions in a software program, for performings task in the cell
  • we have observed that the property of specified complexity always comes from an intelligence
Fox:
  • well, maybe there are other sequences that would work, so maybe it’s really not uncommon to develop functioning sequences by chance alone, without an intelligence
Meyer:
  • you can measure how precise the functional specificity is in DNA and proteins

Moderator: is Shannon information the same as functional information

Meyer:

  • Shannon information refers to the sequences of digits or symbols that do not necessarily have any function, i.e. – a four character string QSZX has as much Shannon information as WORD. However, only the latter is functional against the pattern of the English language. There are arrangements of DNA bases and amino acids that have the same number of symbols/characters as a functional sequence would have, but they have no biological function – they do not exhibit specified complexity
Fox:
  • Well, maybe there are lots and lots of sequences of DNA and proteins so that it is fairly easy to get a functional one by chance

Meyer:

  • DNA sequences that are functional are extremely rare, protein sequences are even more rare
  • this is not my opinion, this is what the research shows – functional protein sequences are rare
Fox:
  • well maybe there are other functional sequences that are occur before the first functional sequence that are precursors to the first functional sequence
  • maybe there are billions of years of replication, mutation and selection before the first replication, mutation and selection

Meyer:

  • you can’t get to the first selectable functional sequence by appealing to precursor selectable functional sequences – there are no selectable functional sequences before the FIRST one
  • you have to get the first selectable functional sequence by chance alone, because there is nothing to mutate or select before the first replicator
  • the chance hypothesis has been rejected because the minimal amount of information for the simplest replicator is too high to get by chance alone, given the resources, including time, that are available

Moderator: Keith are you confident that naturalism will be able to substantiate these naturalism-of-the-gap speculations that you offer in response to Meyer’s actual science that we have today? 

Fox:

  • well, it is hard to know for sure because it was just a fluke event
  • but there’s nothing irrational or unscientific or miraculous about it – the fluke would have a material explanation
  • there is nothing that we can detect that would implicate God, my speculations about a fluke which I cannot observe or measure or test would all be compatible with an atheistic worldview that omits God as a causal entity

Meyer:

  • where are those material processes that could account for this fluke then?
  • the whole point of this argument is that the information in DNA transcends the material components in the sequence
  • it’s the arrangement of the material parts/letters/characters/symbols/instructions that needs to be explained
Fox:
  • Well, I just have a different philosophy of science that rules out intelligent causation a priori

Meyer:

  • Yes, that’s the difference between us – you pre-suppose that all explanations of natural phenomena must exclude intelligent causes

There is a bit more where Meyer talks about how parts of the cell are implementations of various design patterns (Gang of Four design patterns) that are used by software architects who design software.

Find more posts on Stephen C. Meyer here.