Planetary Science Journal Icarus, the “Wow!” Signal of Intelligent Design

Here’s a new paper that can be added to the growing stack of intelligent-design articles in peer-reviewed journals. Even though the authors do not use the phrase “intelligent design,” their reasoning centers on the detection of an intelligent signal embedded in the genetic code — a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by a natural cause, “be it Darwinian, Lamarckian,” chemical affinities or energetics, or any other.

Dr. Vladimir I. shCherbak, a mathematician at the al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Kazakhstan, and Maxim A. Makukov, an astrobiologist at Kazakhstan’s’s Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute, gave their paper a catchy title: “The ‘Wow! signal’ of the terrestrial genetic code.” Their paper has been accepted for publication in the prestigious planetary science journal Icarus, where it’s already available online.

Their title comes from a curious SETI signal back in 1977 that looked so artificial at first, a researcher wrote “Wow!” next to it. With no follow-up examples, that signal has remained interesting but inconclusive. shCherbak and Makukov looked into “biological SETI” — the “biological channel” of communication (e.g., DNA) and concluded “Wow!” — the genetic code has features that defy natural explanation. The abstract states:

It has been repeatedly proposed to expand the scope for SETI, and one of the suggested alternatives to radio is the biological media. Genomic DNA is already used on Earth to store non-biological information. Though smaller in capacity, but stronger in noise immunity is the genetic code. The code is a flexible mapping between codons and amino acids, and this flexibility allows modifying the code artificially. But once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known. Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature, if that conforms to biological and thermodynamic requirements. As the actual scenario for the origin of terrestrial life is far from being settled, the proposal that it might have been seeded intentionally cannot be ruled out. A statistically strong intelligent-like “signal” in the genetic code is then a testable consequence of such scenario. (Emphasis added.)

Since intelligent design theory doesn’t consider the question of the identity of the designer, design by space aliens is one possible intelligent cause; however, the phrase used here, “seeded intentionally,” would appear to refer to a broader class of intelligence(s).

Here we show that the terrestrial code displays a thorough precision-type orderliness matching the criteria to be considered an informational signal. Simple arrangements of the code reveal anensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of the same symbolic language. Accurate and systematic, these underlying patterns appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing rather than of stochastic processes (the null hypothesis that they are due to chance coupled with presumable evolutionary pathways is rejected with P-value < 10-13). The patterns display readily recognizable hallmarks of artificiality, among which are the symbol of zero, the privileged decimal syntax and semantical symmetries. Besides, extraction of the signal involves logically straightforward but abstract operations, making the patterns essentially irreducible to natural origin. Plausible ways of embedding the signal into the code and possible interpretation of its content are discussed. Overall, while the code is nearly optimized biologically, its limited capacity is used extremely efficiently to pass non-biological information.

From there, the authors explore a number of fascinating patterns they find in the genetic code itself (not necessarily in animal genomes) — i.e., the relationship between the base pairs of DNA and the 20 amino acids. They are driven to the conclusion of design not only by what they observe, but also “by the fact that how the code came to be apparently non-random and nearly optimized remains disputable and highly speculative.” This reasoning is similar to Stephen Meyer’s in Signature in the Cell in which all the possible natural causes for a phenomenon were considered before inferring design.

The signal of intelligent origin, they reasoned, was strong because both arithmetic and ideographic signals are apparent, both using the same symbolic language. They predicted that a signal, if it exists, should be robust from modification. They did their best to avoid arbitrariness, considering what natural causes could be available to explain their findings. They identified two dimensionless integers — redundancy of codons and number of nucleons in the amino acid set — as “ostensive numerals” forming the basis of the signal, showing in detail how the patterns in those numerals satisfy the conditions for intelligent signals.

Considerations of brevity prohibit giving a complete analysis of their arguments, but let an example suffice. Of the 20 amino acids, only proline holds its side chain with two bonds, and has one less hydrogen in its block. The effect of this is to “standardize” the code to a 73 + 1 block nucleon number. Yet the distinction between block and chain is “purely formal,” they argue, since there is no stage in amino acid synthesis where the block and side chain are detached. Here’s their comment:

Therefore, there is no any [sic] natural reason why nucleon transfer in proline; it can be stimulated only in the mind of a recipient to achieve the array of amino acids with uniform structure. Such nucleon transfer thus appears artificial. However, exactly, this seems to be its destination: it protects the patterns from any natural explanation. Minimizing the chances for appealing to natural origin is a distinct concern of messaging of such kind, and this problem seems to be solved perfectly for the signal in the genetic code. Applied systematically without exceptions, the artificial transfer in proline enables holistic and precise order in the code. Thus, it acts as an “activation key”. While nature deals with the actual proline which does not produce the signal in the code, an intelligent recipient easily finds the key and reads messages in arithmetical language….

In addition, they find a decimal system including zero (via stop codons), and many other fascinating signs of intelligent origin. They examine possible criticisms, such as the claim that the patterns could be due to unknown natural causes:

But this criterion is equivalent to asking if it is possible at all to embed informational patterns into the code so that they could beunequivocally interpreted as an intelligent signature. The answer seems to be yes, and one way to do so is to make patterns virtual, not actual. Exactly that is observed in the genetic code. Strict balances and decimal syntax appear only with the application of the“activation key”.

In effect, the proline nucleon transfer is like a decoder ring that makes the signal apparent and all the blocks balance out. Some other signs of artificiality are the fact that nucleon sums are multiples of 037; the stop codons act as zero in a decimal system, and all the three-digit decimals (111, 222, 333, 444, 555, 666, 777, 888, and 999) appear at least once in the code, “which also looks like an intentional feature.

Could these patterns be due to selection or any other natural process? Could they be mere “epiphenomena” of chemical pressures for mass equalities, or something else?

But it is hardly imaginable how a natural process can drive mass distribution in abstract representations of the code where codons are decomposed into bases or contracted by redundancy…. no natural process can drive mass distribution to produce the balance … amino acids and syntactic signs that make up this balance are entirely abstract since they are produced by translation of a string read across codons.

Even more convincing, no natural cause can produce semantics — particularly the kind involving “interpretive or linguistic semantics peculiar to intelligence,” they write. “Exactly the latter kind of semantics is revealed in the signal of the genetic code.” Here’s a summary of the patterns they conclude show design:

In total, not only the signal itself reveals intelligent-like features — strict nucleon equalities, their distinctive decimal notation, logical transformations accompanying the equalities, the symbol of zero and semantic symmetries, but the very method of its extractioninvolves abstract operations — consideration of idealized (free and unmodified) molecules, distinction between their blocks and chains, the activation key, contraction and decomposition of codons. We find that taken together all these aspects point at artificial nature of the patterns.

Lest anyone perceive a creationist message, they write: “Whatever the actual reason behind the decimal system in the code, it appears that it was invented outside the solar system already several billions years [sic] ago.” In other words, their favored position is panspermia. (Keep in mind, though, that there are multiple versions of panspermia.)

If their thesis of “biological SETI” sounds a little like ideas floated by Paul Davies, the authors thank Davies in their Acknowledgements, along with Manfred Eigen in Germany.

How will evolutionists respond to this paper? It’s hard to see how they could dismiss it. Maybe they will try to mock it as old Arabian numerology, or religiously inspired (since Kazakhstan, which funded the study, is 70% Muslim). Those would be unfair criticisms. The authors have Russian names, certified doctorates, and wrote in collaboration with leading lights in the West. Or perhaps critics could argue that the authors hail from a foreign country whose name has too many adjacent consonants in it to take them seriously.

No, it appears the only way out for Darwinists would be the “Dawkins Dodge.” You may remember that one from the documentary Expelled, where Dawkins admits the possibility of panspermia for Earth, so long as the designers themselves evolved by a Darwinian process.

What’s most notable about this paper is the similarity in design reasoning between the authors and the more familiar advocates of intelligent design theory. No appeals to religion or religious texts; no identifying the designer; just logical reasoning from effect to sufficient cause. The authors even applied the “design filter” by considering chance and natural law, including natural selection, before inferring design.

If Darwinists want to go on equating intelligent design with creationism, they will now have to take on the very secular journal Icarus.


#academic-freedom, #intelligent-design, #science-news

How does the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis differ from design?

Reader asks:

Further to: New call for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (The main problem the extended evolutionary synthesis creates for Darwinism is that evolution happens in many different ways, not just their way):

From the paper:

By contrast, the EES regards the genome as a sub-system of the cell designed by evolution to sense and respond to the signals that impinge on it. Organisms are not built from genetic ‘instructions’ alone, but rather self-assemble using a broad variety of
inter-dependent resources.

A reader writes to ask,

1. “designed by evolution”?

That means that design is so obvious that you can not get rid of it. But you can not represent “evolution” as an agent because “evolution” is not an agent, a force, a cause… Evolution is just “nothing”, the way we name the passing of time, but not the cause of the change.

2. “Designed by evolution to sense and respond to the signals that impinge on it” That is purely teleological, thank you.

3. “Self -assembly??”Ontogeny is not a process of assembly of parts. Aristotle called this process “epigenesis” 2.500 years ago. Kant explained that parts and the whole form being cause and effect to each other.

4. “…using a broad variety of inter-dependent resources”This interdependence sounds a little bit like “irreducible complexity””resources” has big teleological implications. The cell (or the organism that is being formed) “uses the resources” in order to…(Form is the final cause of the process)

Thanks to Jablonka, Müler et al. for reminding us how evident teleology and design are in biology.

Doubtless, the extended evolutionary synthesizers will be asked by others to explain.

Should be an interesting discussion

#academic-freedom, #intelligent-design, #science

Simulation Universe

Please follow the next lines and images about an interesting questions.

That is, why inferring design on functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information, e.g.:

abu_6500c3magand equally:


. . . makes good sense.

Now, overnight, UD’s Newsdesk posted on a Space dot com article, Is Our Universe a Fake?

The article features “Philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University.”

I think Bostrom’s argument raises a point worth pondering, one oddly parallel to the Boltzmann brain popping up by fluctuation from an underlying sea of quantum chaos argument, as he discusses “richly detailed software simulation[s] of people, including their historical predecessors, by a very technologically advanced civilization”:

>>Bostrom is not saying that humanity is living in such a simulation. Rather, his “Simulation Argument” seeks to show that one of three possible scenarios must be true (assuming there are other intelligent civilizations):

  1. All civilizations become extinct before becoming technologically mature;
  2. All technologically mature civilizations lose interest in creating simulations;
  3. Humanity is literally living in a computer simulation.

His point is that all cosmic civilizations either disappear (e.g., destroy themselves) before becoming technologically capable, or all decide not to generate whole-world simulations (e.g., decide such creations are not ethical, or get bored with them). The operative word is “all” — because if even one civilization anywhere in the cosmos could generate such simulations, then simulated worlds would multiply rapidly and almost certainly humanity would be in one.

As technology visionary Ray Kurzweil put it, “maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high school student in another universe.”>>

In short, if once the conditions are set up for a large distribution of possibilities to appear, you have a significant challenge to explain why you are not in the bulk of the possibilities in a dynamic-stochastic system.

Let me put up an outline, general model:

gen_sys_proc_modelSuch a system puts out an output across time that will vary based on mechanical and stochastic factors, exploring a space of possibilities. And in particular, any evolutionary materialist model of reality will be a grand dynamic-stochastic system, including a multiverse.

Now, too, as Wiki summarises, there is the Boltzmann Brain paradox:

>>A Boltzmann brain is a hypothesized self aware entity which arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos. The idea is named for the physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906), who advanced an idea that the Universe is observed to be in a highly improbable non-equilibrium state because only when such states randomly occur can brains exist to be aware of the Universe. The term for this idea was then coined in 2004 by Andreas Albrecht and Lorenzo Sorbo.[1]

The Boltzmann brains concept is often stated as a physical paradox. (It has also been called the “Boltzmann babies paradox”.[2]) The paradox states that if one considers the probability of our current situation as self-aware entities embedded in an organized environment, versus the probability of stand-alone self-aware entities existing in a featureless thermodynamic “soup”, then the latter should be vastly more probable than the former.>>

In short, systems with strong stochastic tendencies tend to have distributions in their outcomes, which are dominated by the generic and typically uninteresting bulk of a population. Indeed this is the root of statistical mechanics, the basis for a dynamical understanding of thermodynamics i/l/o the behaviour of large collections of small particles.

For instance, one of my favourites (explored in Mandl) is an idealised two-state element paramagnetic array, with atoms having N-pole up/down, a physical atomic scale close analogue of the classic array of coins exercise. We can start with 500 or 1,000 coins in a string, which will of course pursue a binomial distribution [3.27 * 10^150 or 1.07*10^301 possibilities respectively, utterly dominated by coins in near 50-50 outcomes, in no particular orderly or organised pattern], then look at an array where each atom of our 10^57 atom sol system has a tray of 500 coins flipped say every 10^-13 – 10^-15 s:

sol_coin_fliprThe outcome of such an exercise is highly predictably that no cases of FSCO/I (meaningful complex strings) will emerge, as the number of possible observed outcomes is so small relative to the set of possibilities that it rounds down to all but no search, as the graphic points out.

This is of course an illustration of the core argument to design as credible cause on observing FSCO/I, that once functionally specific complex organisation and associated information are present in a situation, it demands an observed to be adequate explanation that does not require us to believe in statistical needle- in- vast- haystack- search- challenge miracles:


is_ o_func2_activ_info

The Captain Obvious fact of serious thinkers making similar needle in haystack arguments, should lead reasonable people to take pause before simply brushing aside the inference to design on FSCO/I. Including in the world of life and in the complex fine tuned physics of our cosmos that sets up a world in which C-chemistry, aqueous medium terrestrial planet life is feasible.

But we’re not finished yet.

What’s wrong with Bostrom’s argument, and wheere else does it point.

PPolish and Mapou raise a point or two:


  • Simulated Universes scream Intelligent Design. Heck, Simulated Universes prove Intelligent Design.

    I can see why some Scientists are leaning in this direction. Oops/Poof does not cut it any more. Unscientific, irrational, kind of dumb.

  • ppolish,

    It’s a way for them to admit intelligent design without seeming to do so (for fear of being crucified by their peers). Besides, those who allegedly designed, built and are running the simulation would be, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from the Gods.

    Edit: IOW, they’re running away from religion only to fall into it even deeper.>>

In short, a detailed simulation world will be a designed world.

Likewise High School student projects do not credibly run for 13.7 BY. Not even PhD’s, never mind Kurzweil’s remark.

So, what is wrong with the argument?

First, an implicit assumption.

It is assuming that unless races keep killing off themselves too soon, blind chance and mechanical necessity can give rise to life then advanced, civilised high tech life that builds computers capable of whole universe detailed simulations.

But ironically, the argument points to the likeliest, only observed cause of FSCO/I, design, and fails to address the significance of FSCO/I as a sign of design, starting with design of computers, e.g.:

mpu_modelWhere, cell based life forms show FSCO/I-rich digital information processors in action “everywhere,” e.g. the ribosome and protein synthesis:

Protein Synthesis (HT: Wiki Media)

So, real or simulation, we are credibly looking at design, and have no good empirical observational grounds to infer that FSCO/I is credibly caused by blind chance and mechanical necessity.

So, the set of alternative possible explanations has implicitly questionable candidates and implicitly locks out credible but ideologically unacceptable ones, i.e. intelligent design of life and of the cosmos. That is, just maybe the evidence is trying to tell us that if we have good reason to accept that we live in a real physical world as opposed to a “mere” speculation, then that puts intelligent design of life and cosmos at the table as of right not sufferance.

And, there is such reason.

Not only is it that the required simulation is vastly too fine grained and fast-moving to be credibly  centrally processed but the logic of complex processing would point to a vast network of coupled processors. Which is tantamount to saying we have been simulating on atoms etc. In short, it makes good sense to conclude that our processing elements are real world dynamic-stochastic entities: atoms, molecules etc in real space.

This is backed up by a principle that sets aside Plato’s Cave worlds and the like: any scheme that implies grand delusion of our senses and faculties of reasoning i/l/o experience of the world undermines its own credibility in an infinite regress of further what if delusions.

Reduction to absurdity in short.

So, we are back to ground zero, we have reason to see that we live in a real world in which cell based life is full of FSCO/I and the fine tuning of the cosmos also points strongly to FSCO/I.

Thence, to the empirically and logically best warranted explanation of FSCO/I.


Thank you Dr Bostrom for affirming the power of the needle in haystack challenge argument.

Where that argument leads, is to inferring design as best current and prospective causal explanation of FSCO/I, in life and in observed cosmos alike.

Any suggestions and comments?

#cosmology, #math, #metaphysics, #philosophy, #physics, #science, #science-news, #universe

Spectacular Convergence: A Camera Eye in a Microbe

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They thought it was a joke. A century ago, biologists could not believe that a one-celled creature had an eye. But since the warnowiid dinoflagellate was difficult to find and grow in the lab, detailed research was rare, until now. A team from the University of British Columbia gathered specimens off the coast of BC and Japan for a closer look. They found that the structure, called an ocelloid, has structures that mimic the complex eye of higher animals. PhysOrgsays:

In fact, the ‘ocelloid’ within the planktonic predator looks so much like a complex eye that it was originally mistaken for the eye of an animal that the plankton had eaten.

“It’s an amazingly complex structure for a single-celled organism to have evolved,” said lead author Greg Gavelis, a zoology PhD student at UBC. “It contains a collection of sub-cellular organelles thatlook very much like the lens, cornea, iris and retina of multicellular eyes found in humans and other larger animals.” [Emphasis added.]

New Scientist shares the astonishment:

It is perhaps the most extraordinary eye in the living world — soextraordinary that no one believed the biologist who first described it more than a century ago.

Now it appears that the tiny owner of this eye uses it to catch invisible prey by detecting polarised light. This suggestion is also likely to be greeted with disbelief, for the eye belongs to a single-celled organism called Erythropsidinium. It has no nerves, let alone a brain. So how could it “see” its prey?

The “retina” of this eye, a curved array of chromosomes, appears arranged to filter polarized light. The news item from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research quotes Brian Leander, co-supervisor of the project:

“The internal organization of the retinal body is reminiscent of the polarizing filters on the lenses of cameras and sunglasses,” Leander says. “Hundreds of closely packed membranes lined up in parallel.”

And that’s not all this wonder of the sea has in its toolkit. It also has a piston and a harpoon:

Scientists still don’t know exactly how warnowiids use the eye-like structure, but clues about the way they live have fuelled compelling speculation. warnowiids hunt other dinoflagellates, many of which are transparent. They have large nematocysts, which Leander describes as “little harpoons,” for catching prey. And some have apiston — a tentacle that can extend and retract very quickly — with an unknown function that might be used for escape or feeding.

Did This Eye Evolve?

Lest anyone think the dinoflagellate’s eye presents an easy evolutionary stepping stone to more complex eyes, the data reveal several problems. The paper inNature claims that the ocelloids are built from “different endosymbiotically acquired components” such as mitochondria and plastids. “As such, the ocelloid is a chimaeric structure, incorporating organelles with different endosymbiotic histories.” We can treat endosymbiosis as a separate issue. For now, we can ask if this complex structure is explainable by unguided natural selection.

The authors did not think this is a clear evolutionary story. “The ocelloid isamong the most complex subcellular structures known, but its function andevolutionary relationship to other organelles remain unclear,” they say. Never in the paper do they explain how organelles with different histories came together into a functioning eye. Most of the paper is descriptive of the parts and how they function individually, or where they might have been derived by endosymbiosis. To explain the eye’s origin as a functioning whole, they make up a phrase, “evolutionary plasticity” —

Nevertheless, the genomic and detailed ultrastructural data presented here have resolved the basic components of the ocelloid and their origins, and demonstrate how evolutionary plasticity of mitochondria and plastids can generate an extreme level of subcellular complexity.

Other than that, they have very little to say about evolution, and nothing about natural selection.

In the same issue of Nature, Richards and Gomes review the paper. They list other microbes including algae and fungi that have light-sensitive spots. Some have the rhodopsin proteins used in the rods and cones of multicellular animals. But instead of tracing eye evolution by common ancestry, they attribute all these innovations to convergence:

These examples demonstrate the wealth of subcellular structures and associated light-receptor proteins across diverse microbial groups. Indeed, all of these examples represent distinct evolutionary branches in separate major groups of eukaryotes. Even the plastid-associated eyespots are unlikely to be the product of direct vertical evolution, because the Chlamydomonas plastid is derived from a primary endosymbiosis and assimilation of a cyanobacterium, whereas the Guillardia plastid is derived from a secondary endosymbiosis in which the plastid was acquired ‘second-hand’ by intracellular incorporation of a red alga. Using gene sequences recovered from the warnowiid retinal body, Gavelis et al. investigated the ancestry of this organelle by building phylogenetic trees for the plastid-derived genes. Their analysis demonstrated that this modified plastid is also of secondary endosymbiotic originfrom a red alga.

Although derived independently, there are common themes in theevolution of these eye-like structures. Many of them involve thereconfiguration of cellular membrane systems to produce anopaque body proximal to a sensory surface, a surface that in four of the five examples probably involves type 1 rhodopsins. Given the evolutionary derivation of these systems, this represents a complex case of convergent evolution, in which photo-responsive subcellular systems are built up separately from similar components to achieve similar functions. The ocelloid example isstriking because it demonstrates a peak in subcellular complexity achieved through repurposing multiple components. Collectively, these findings show that evolution has stumbled on similar solutions to perceiving light time and time again.

But is convergence just a word masquerading as an explanation? We read:

The work sheds shed new light on how very different organisms can evolve similar traits in response to their environments, a process known as convergent evolution. Eye-like structures haveevolved independently many times in different kinds of animals and algae with varying abilities to detect the intensity of light, its direction, or objects.

“When we see such similar structural complexity at fundamentally different levels of organization in lineages that are very distantly related to each other, in this case warnowiids and animals, then you get a much deeper understanding of convergence,” Leander says.

But “convergent evolution” is not a process. It is a post-hoc observation based on evolutionary assumptions. An environment has no power to force an organism to respond to it with a complex function. Light exists, whether or not an organism sees it. Magnetism exists, too; does it contain the power to nudge fish, turtles, and butterflies to employ it for navigation?

#academic-freedom, #debate, #evolution, #eye, #intelligen-design, #science, #science-news

Spectacular Discovery Reveals Power Grid in Muscle Cells; Design Implications Are Profound


A new finding announced in Nature is a blockbuster for intelligent design. We knew about ATP synthase — that rotary engine that uses proton flow to create “batteries” of energy-packed ATP molecules. Those motors in the mitochondria are arranged along folds (cristae) in the mitochondrial membranes to maximize their output.

Now researchers have learned that the mitochondria themselves are connected by electrical wires in a vast intracellular network. This allows us to see, for the first time, another level in the hierarchy of design in the cell.

The findings are bound to revolutionize our understanding of muscle. Skeletal muscle cells were known to have many mitochondria, but it was not clear how the products of ATP production, called metabolites, became distributed throughout the cell. Many assumed it was by diffusion, or simple spreading out of molecules from regions of high concentration to areas of low concentration. The truth is far more exciting. Research news from the National Institutes of Health explains:

A new study overturns longstanding scientific ideas regarding how energy is distributed within muscles for powering movement. Scientists are reporting the first clear evidence that muscle cellsdistribute energy primarily by the rapid conduction of electrical charges through a vast, interconnected network of mitochondria — the cell’s “powerhouse” — in a way that resembles the wire grid that distributes power throughout a city. The study offers an unprecedented, detailed look at the distribution system that rapidly provides energy throughout the cell where it is needed for muscle contraction. [Emphasis added.]

Diffusion is too slow for a fast-acting muscle cell. Electricity, though, is fast. The same proton-motive force that powers ATP synthase is conducted along cellular wires, the researchers found. You’ve heard of the endoplasmic reticulum. They’re calling this one the “mitochondrial reticulum” — a conductive pathway for energy distribution. The Editor’s Summary of the paper puts it this way:

How is energy distributed within the cell? In the skeletal muscle, energy distribution has been proposed to occur through metabolite-facilitated diffusion, although genetic evidence has raised questions about the importance of this mode of distribution. Using various forms of high-resolution microscopy, Robert Balaban and colleagues explore whether the mitochondria themselvesas well as actually generating the energy — also have a role in its distribution. They find that they do, by forming a conductive pathway throughout the cell in the form of a proton-motive force. Throughout this network, the mitochondrial protein localization seems to be varied, allowing optimized generation and utilization of the mitochondrial membrane potential. Thisenergy distribution network, which depends on conduction rather than diffusion, is potentially extremely rapid, therebyenabling muscle to respond almost instantaneously to new energy demands.

Not only is the system extremely fast, it is well organized. The Abstract states:

Within this reticulum, we find proteins associated with mitochondrial proton-motive force production preferentially in the cell periphery and proteins that use the proton-motive force for ATP production in the cell interior near contractile and transport ATPases. Furthermore, we show a rapid, coordinated depolarization of the membrane potential component of the proton-motive force throughout the cell in response to spatially controlled uncoupling of the cell interior. We propose that membrane potential conduction via the mitochondrial reticulum is the dominant pathway for skeletal muscle energy distribution.

The mitochondrial reticulum was known before, but this is the first time scientists have seen that it conducts electricity. The potential of this discovery to shed light on muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and other disorders is apparent.

The images in the paper even look like a power grid. More:

For the current experiments, the NIH scientists collaborated in a detailed study of the mitochondria structure, biochemical composition, and function in mouse skeletal muscle cells. The researchers used 3D electron microscopy as well as super-resolution optical imaging techniques to show that most of the mitochondria form highly connected networks in a way thatresembles electrical transmission lines in a municipal power grid.

It’s clear why this is a superior design to diffusion. Strenuous exercise can raise the power demands of a muscle cell by 100-fold. “Researchers have suspected that a faster, more efficient energy pathway might exist but have found little proof of its existence — until now,” we read. That’s a case of design prediction!

Robert Balaban of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a co-leader of the team, tells more about how well-optimized the organization of this power grid is.

The study provides unprecedented images of how these mitochondria are arranged in muscle. “Structurally, the mitochondria are arranged in such a way that permits the flow of potential energy in the form of the mitochondrial membrane voltage throughout the cell to power ATP production and subsequent muscle contraction, or movement,” Dr. Balaban explained. Mitochondria located on the edges of the muscle cell near blood vessels and oxygen supply are optimized for generating the mitochondrial membrane voltage, while the interconnected mitochondria deep in the muscle are optimized for using the voltage to produce ATP, Balaban added.

This implies another level in the design hierarchy: not only is the power grid well organized inside the cell, but the cells are organized in the muscle tissues for the optimum utilization of the power where it is needed most.


The implications of this spectacular discovery for intelligent design are profound. To see why, we must remember that muscles first appear in the Cambrian explosion. Many of the Cambrian phyla that burst on the scene had muscles for contraction (jellyfish), crawling (worms), fin movement (Anomalocaris and Metaspriggina, the vertebrate fish), and coordinated action of jointed appendages (trilobites and other arthropods). Most of the Cambrian animals used muscles in various ways. Muscles are but one of many new cell types that appear suddenly, fully functional, across multiple phyla in the early Cambrian.

As Stephen Meyer emphasizes in Darwin’s Doubt, these new cell types are arranged in a hierarchy: tissues, organs, systems — and ultimately, integrated body plans. This hierarchical arrangement of complex parts for unified function challenges all undirected mechanisms such as natural selection. It takes foresight — a plan for a functional goal and the means to achieve it — to bring parts together into a hierarchical arrangement that works. The film Darwin’s Dilemmaillustrates this point as well. In our uniform experience, Meyer argues, the only cause capable of doing that is intelligence.

Now we can extend this hierarchical thinking into the arrangement inside one new cell type in a Cambrian animal: a muscle cell. That optimal hierarchical arrangement, furthermore, extends downward into the intracellular environment and upward into the tissue in which the cell resides. It’s hierarchy all the way down.

DDD for FB.jpeg

The design inference keeps getting stronger! This is an exciting confirmation of intelligent design that should be kept in mind as you read our new book,Debating Darwin’s Doubt. Remember, for a limited time you can get a 35 percent discount off the cover price by entering the code 4DXTSYJU at checkout here.

Image by TheRadialActive (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Not sure why galaxies “should not exist”

Astronomers are constantly uncovering the “most distant,” “most massive” or “most energetic” objects in our universe, but today, researchers have announced the discovery of a truly monstrous structure consisting of a ring of galaxies around 5 billion light-years across.

Astronomers believe these GRBs (and therefore the galaxies they inhabit) are somehow associated as all 9 are located at a similar distance from Earth. According to its discoverers, there’s a 1 in 20,000 probability of the GRBs being in this distribution by chance – in other words, they are very likely associated with the same structure, a structure that, according to cosmological models, should not exist.

The anti-Big Bang theorists always sensed that the stakes were high.

In 1938, renowned physical chemist Walther Nernst informed German physicist Carl F. von Weizsächer that “infinite duration of time was a basic element of all scientific thought.” A beginning to the universe would betray “the very foundations of science,” and “we could not form a scientific hypothesis which contradicted the very foundations of science.”

Science-Fictions-square.gifBut they did, and fruitful research resulted. Mid-2013 experiments confirmed the Standard Model, as it came to be known.

Worse, the Big Bang gave evidence of fine-tuning, the universe’s apparent preparedness for life, as a theoretical problem for materialists. In an eternal universe, wait long enough and anything might happen. Put a date on the universe and you invoke probability.

Irritatingly (for materialists), Earth seems particularly fine-tuned for life. We live in a nice neighborhood on a spiral arm of the galaxy, far from the black holes, supernovas (exploding stars) and magnetars (deadly radiation sources) at the center. But not so far as to lack heavy elements such as iron. And we have nice neighbors. Giant Jupiter stays far away and sucks up the asteroids that would otherwise kill us. By contrast, the giant uninhabitable planets that orbit stars other than our Sun either hog the habitable space or follow deadly, wonky orbits. Earth, by contrast, is aGoldilocks planet, just right for life.

Unable to dispute it, materialist cosmologists allow us to know they don’t like it. Nobelist Steven Weinberg has heard prominent physicist David Gross say, “I hate it,” and responds,

This is understandable. Theories based on anthropic calculation certainly represent a retreat from what we had hoped for: the calculation of all fundamental parameters from first principles. It is too soon to give up on this hope, but without loving it, we may just have to resign ourselves to a retreat … 1

Not necessarily.

How can we get the universe to play out of tune?

One alternative response has been denial. British intellectual Bertrand Russell declared in his 1935 book Religion and Science that humanity is a “curious accident in a backwater.” Conceivably, Russell didn’t know just how favorable our position is. But Stephen Hawking certainly does, and he has said of our dreary little backwater (1989):

We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburbs of one of a hundred billion galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence.

Another response has been to invoke extraterrestrials. University of Sussex astronomer John Gribbin argues that the creators of the world were “closer to men than to gods”:

Evolution by natural selection, and all the other processes that produced our planet and the life on it, are sufficient to explain how we got to be the way we are, given the laws of physics that operate in our universe.However, there is still scope for an intelligent designer of universes as a whole.

For now. Science writer Michael Shermer goes Gribbin one better, proposing“Shermer’s last law,” that any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God:

What would we call an intelligent being capable of engineering life, planets, stars, and even universes? If we knew the underlying science and technology used to do the engineering, we would call it an extraterrestrial intelligence, if we did not know the underlying science and technology, we would call it God.

In short, no designer can have qualities that transcend a sophisticated space alien. Intelligence maybe. But not wisdom.

A third, far more effective, response has been to develop the “Copernican” Principle (though Copernicus would have rejected it), sometimes called the Principle of Mediocrity: Scientists must assume — as a principle — that our planet is mediocre. At present, there is no way of knowing if that is true. It is a guiding assertion.

Media star astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996) dramatized the Principle in Pale Blue Dot:

You might imagine an uncharitable extraterrestrial observer looking down on our species over all that time — with us excitedly chattering, “The Universe is created for us! We’re at the center! Everything pays homage to us!” — and concluding that our pretensions are amusing, our aspirations pathetic, that this must be the planet of the idiots. (p. 12)

People don’t want to be thought idiots. The Principle sold. As a BBC writer riffs, “Far from being unique, many now regard Earth as an ordinary lump of space rock and believe that life ‘out there’ is almost inevitable.”

But mark what follows: In the absence of evidence, the Copernican Principle, itself a mere assertion, enables new Earths to merely be asserted. They do not need to be demonstrated; they can now be conjured. The Principle is thus hauntingly akin to Darwinism, which asserts a history of life consistent with materialism, conjures scenarios, and brooks no opposition from evidence.

Curiously, Darwin is frequently invoked in materialist cosmology. Steady State cosmologist Geoffrey Burbidge, who had taxed his colleagues with joining the “First Church of Christ of the Big Bang,” sought to link the 1957 paper that brought him fame with Darwin’s theory of evolution. The conclusion echoedintentionally the conclusion of On the Origin of Species.

We will encounter that theme again in this tale, and consider what it means.

References Cited:

(1) Steven Weinberg, “Living in the Multiverse,” in Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2011), pp. 554.

Fantastically Wrong: The Imaginary Radiation That Shocked Science and Ruined Its ‘Discoverer’


In the winter of 1903, just eight years after the monumental discovery of X-rays, a French scientist by the name of René Blondlot stumbled upon a brand new form of radiation. He called them N-rays, after his town of Nancy, perhaps because naming them R-rays after himself would have been both unwieldy and self-absorbed.

Fantastically Wrong
It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.

Browse the full archive here.

Blondlot had been experimenting with X-rays to see if they were in fact waves or a stream of particles, Paul Collins writes inBanvard’s Folly: 13 Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World. Firing X-rays through a charged electric field, Blondlot expected that if they were waves, the field would shift their path into a detector off to the side and brighten an electric spark within. “And that’s just what they did,” Collins writes. “Blondlot proved, quite correctly, that X-rays are actually waves.”

Next he fired X-rays through a quartz prism, which already had been shown to notreflect such radiation. Problem is, out of the corner of his eye, Blondlot noticed that the electric spark in the detector got brighter like X-rays actually had been deflected into it. Except they couldn’t possibly have been. So Blondlot leapt to a bit of a conclusion that he had discovered something entirely different: N-rays. It was a leap that would prove to be the end of his reputation.

At first, though, his discovery caused a sensation. It didn’t hurt that the scientific community was at the time a bit gaga over radiation, according to Collins. We’d known about X-rays for less than a decade, and the discovery of radio waves andgamma rays soon followed. Huzzah, then, for Blondlot’s discovery of N-rays!


And all the better for the buzz that this form of radiation was curious indeed. “They’d pass straight through materials that would block visible light—wood, aluminum, black paper,” notes Collins. “On the other hand, some materials that visible light could pass through, like water and rock salt, proved impenetrable to N-rays.” The scientific community had a mystery on its hands.

The sun seemed to emit the rays, but only until clouds passed over, Blondlot claimed. And anything that basked in the sun’s light, including you and me, would absorb N-rays like we would UV radiation. “Sea water and the stones exposed to solar radiation store up N-rays which they afterwards restore,” he wrote. “Possibly these phenomena play some hitherto unperceived part in certain terrestrial phenomena. Perhaps, also, N-rays are not without influence on certain phenomena of animal and vegetable life.” What phenomena these may be, Blondlot was mum.

Since his initial discovery, Blondlot had graduated from observing the spark of a detector to using phosphorescent screens that lit up, however faintly, when bombarded with N-rays. And he insisted that those scientists interested in replicating his experiment follow his procedures exactly, shutting themselves in a darkened room and allowing their eyes to acclimate for a half hour.

And don’t even dare think about watching the screens head-on. No, you must see them out of the corner of your eye. Some observers will pick it up just fine, but “for others,” Blondlot warned, “these phenomena lie almost at the limit of what they are able to discern, and it is only after a certain amount of practice that they succeed in catching them easily, and in observing them with complete certainty.”


To make things easier for those struggling to replicate Blondlot’s tests (and there were many such scientists), he claimed that when N-rays bombard phosphorescent screens that had previously been exposed to light, “the phosphorescent glow is observed to increase in a very marked fashion…. Of all the actions producing N-rays, this is the one which is most easily observed. The experiment is an easy one to set up and to repeat.”

But if this experiment is sounding rather subjective to you, you would have been right in league with any number of scientists trying to replicate Blondlot’s results. They couldn’t do it. Well, except the French, it seemed, including a scientist named Augustin Charpentier, who made a rather startling discovery: Our bodies, like the sun, emit N-rays, especially when we’re getting our pump on. “Stand behind a big enough phosphorescent screen in a dark room and flex your arms,” Collins recaps, “and a faint outline of your body would appear, with slightly brighter spots around your biceps and the Broca’s Area of the brain.”

But wait, there’s more. Not only were N-rays a pretty sweet party trick, they were also really good for you. Charpentier started firing the rays at human test subjects, not to mention dogs and frogs. N-rays beamed at the tongue and ears and nose or even frontal lobe would supercharge your senses, he claimed. Whether any of the subjects turned into superheroes, though, is lost to history.

Ray Banned

A whole lot of scientists that didn’t happen to be blessed with a lovely French accent hadn’t the slightest clue what Blondlot was seeing, and were more than slightly skeptical of the supposed health benefits of N-rays. One Canadian physicist wondered how Blondlot could take such precise measurements “with a radiation so feeble that no one outside of France has been able to detect at all.” Adds Collins: “Others wondered aloud whether France was in the grip of a spell of self-hypnosis.”

So the skeptics sent in the cavalry. Well, they sent a guy named Robert W. Wood, “a mischievous fellow,” according to Collins, who’d once taken a joyride on the as-yet-unfinished Trans-Siberian Railway. When he arrived in Blondlot’s lab, he was treated to a demonstration of N-rays illuminating the luminescent paint on a card, which he of course could not perceive.


Then Wood devised a test of his own: “I asked [Blondlot] if I could move an opaque lead screen in and out of the path of the rays while he called out the fluctuations of the screen,” according to a 1941 biography of the scientist. “He was almost 100 percent wrong and called out fluctuations when I had made no movement at all, and that proved a lot, but I held my tongue.”

Next Blondlot demonstrated an N-ray spectroscope, which used an aluminum prism to split the rays into distinct and measurable wavelengths. In a dark room, Blondlot read off the spectroscope’s measurements of N-rays. Then Wood asked him to repeat his numbers a second time before reaching into the spectroscope and removing the prism. Yet Blondlot read the exact same numbers as before. That, of course, was problematic both for the experiment and for Blondlot’s career. Wood wrote to the journal Nature of his coup, and with that, the theory of N-rays came tumbling down.

Let this serve as a lesson: Be wary of men who forbid you from looking at something straight-on. Not that he was intentionally trying to pull the wool over our eyes, as it were, but Blondlot’s insistence that the observer only view the luminous effects of N-rays with their peripheral vision guaranteed all kinds of error. It already was known in Blondlot’s time that this perspective produces strange effects on our vision, according to Collins, who cites the experiences of one astronomer: “It is a curious circumstance, that when we wish to obtain a sight of a very faint star, such as one of the satellites of Saturn, we can see it most distinctly by looking away from it, and when the eye is turned full upon it, it immediately disappears.” N-rays were Blondlot’s Saturnian moons.

And they ruined him. His friends say the shock even drove him mad. He retired three years after Wood’s disclosure and all but disappeared from the scientific community, which had been left understandably stunned. It was an embarrassment, sure, but also one of history’s more conspicuous triumphs of the scientific method: Experiments demand replication. Pick a good fight, and history may remember you for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.


Blondlot, R. (1905) N Rays: A Collection of Papers Communicated to the Academy of Sciences. Longmans, Green, and Co., London.

Collins, P. (2001) Banvard’s Folly: 13 Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World. Picador, New York, NY.

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