Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dismissing "catastrophic plate tectonics"

"Catastrophic plate tectonics" is a Young Earth Creationist Con-job. For the short description see Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History from the Institute for Creation Research.

We can dismiss "catastrophic plate tectonics" with just a few observations about inertia, and friction. If some single land mass were to break up and then the bits (Africa, Eurasia, North and South America, Australia, and Antarctica) go slamming across the globe like billiard balls, there are consequences. One of them being the heat necessarily generated by friction between the crustal rock, and the upper mantle. Were did this heat go? Because it would have been enough to have melted the crust, and boiled the oceans into steam. And, we can calculate an estimate of the energy needed to push up mountains all over the world as continents crash together. If this were to have occurred rapidly, again the heat generated would have melted the mountains, and not forced them into the air. (For public lectures have the audience rub their hands together for friction heating, and clap them together for impact heating).

If you free inertia by reducing the friction between the mantle and the crust so that they can move quickly without melting, then when you slam then together mountains splash into space- ridiculous.

Mantle transmits vibration just like sound through air, or water. We can use the same techniques as sonar to map the interior of the Earth. And, because vibration travels differently through cold matter (faster) than warm, we can map the interior temperature structure.;

Above is a map of cold crust sinking into the mantel, and below is one of warm mantel rock moving upwards by convection;

Both images above were from The Harvard Seismology Group

These maps illustrate another reason for rejecting "the catastrophic plate" nonsense; the rapid movements of the continental crust would have swirled the mantle into a homogeneous mass, and the temperature separation we can clearly measure would have disappeared. Nor could creationist twaddle about rapid continental crust movement account for why convective plumes just happen to perfectly coincide with submarine spreading zones,oceanic mountains, or basalt traps.

There are other consequences as well. In the scientific study of continental movement, we learned that there are submarine spreading zones marked by intermittent basalt eruptions that force the continents apart. We also know that the Earth's magnetic field occasionally reverses polarity. As the rock of submarine basalt ridges cools, it records the magnetic polarity of the planet. Basalt on continents does the same thing, but not quite so well. Below is a map of the magnetic reversals recorded from a submarine spreading zone, and the corresponding map of these polarity changes from a stacked series of continental basalts;

North Cascades Geology: Sea-Floor Spreading Adapted from Raft and Mason (1961) and Tabor (1987).

There are some very interesting features, the magnetic signal from the submarine basalts is symmetric- the same on both sides of the fault. The magnetic signal weakens the further away we go from the spreading fault line due to fragmentation, and burial (more simply "erosion"). The continental basalt stack recorded the same polarity reversals, at the same times. There is the expected differences in physical spacing since the two formations are built from different flows.

There is another feature we find in the continental stacks of basalts illustrated in the photo below taken in Oregon, USA;

Paleosol developed on basalt in eastern Oregon.
Bruce Railsback, Professor, Department of Geology, University of Georgia

(Educators are welcome to use these images in their teaching, so long as the images are not reproduced in publications and are not used for financial gain.) I think that permission covered this use. If you disagree, I have provided the sources and you are free to contact them.

Note the fractured, and oxidized red color were the lower basalt flow has been capped by a later one. That is the result of weathering. It was exposed to the action of plants, air, and water. Not possible in the middle of a flood.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This caught my eye, and you should read it too!

Allen MacNeill is a professor of biology at Cornell University. He has a blog which recently made the following comment regarding new species.

At reasonably low concentrations, copper is toxic to many plant species. However, several plants have been seen to develop a tolerance to this metal (Macnair 1981). Macnair and Christie (1983) used this to examine the genetic basis of a postmating isolating mechanism in yellow monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus). When they crossed plants from the copper tolerant "Copperopolis" population with plants from the nontolerant "Cerig" population, they found that many of the hybrids were inviable. During early growth, just after the four leaf stage, the leaves of many of the hybrids turned yellow and became necrotic. Death followed this. This was seen only in hybrids between the two populations. Through mapping studies, the authors were able to show that the copper tolerance gene and the gene responsible for hybrid inviability were either the same gene or were very tightly linked. These results suggest that reproductive isolation may require changes in only a small number of genes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Oops Redux

The other day I wrote a short response to a foolish bit of creationist fluff published on-line by the Johannesburg, SA Times live. That piece by creationist Joseph Ulicki was trivial enough; Mr. Ulicki quoted a bit if Geneses, and then he wrote
"And Cutting-Edge Science tells us:

"The specific complexity of genetic information in the genome does not increase spontaneously. Therefore, there is no natural process whereby reptiles can turn into birds, land mammals into whales, or chimpanzees (or any other supposed common ancestor) into human beings".

Biblical creationism and Cutting-Edge Science are in agreement:

And I wondered what "Cutting-Edge" bullshit was this man smoking?

I found this particular bit of creatocrap was from the American Catholic website "The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation." So, I decided to write a short comment about genetic addition of "specified complexity" by various mechanisms. I called it Cutting edge or bleeding Idiot?. Submissions are by email only, and a day or two later the piece appeared. And, I saw that I had written, "One of the more obvious is simple duplication of a gene during mitosis."

Oh shite!

I wrote "mitosis" instead of "meiosis." There was no way to correct it. Then I thought, Oh shite, Oh shite! because I had actually been thinking of bacterial fission instead of eukaryote cellular division anyway. So, here is a short video on the difference between mitosis, and meiosis.

Play the video.

So, in meiosis there is just 1/2 of the genes of the parent organism in the resulting four haploid cells (ignoring for the moment sex differences). Then these cells can combine their genes with a 1/2 gene complement from another haploid cell to form a full complement, or diploid cell. In Mitosis, the entire gene complement is copied, and two diploid cells are produced, each with the entire set of genes. In both of these kinds of cellular reproduction, proteins called polar fibers, or "spindles" attach to the duplicated chromosomes and pull them to opposite ends of the cell prior to division. There is a fantastic resource that gives excellent definitions of all these terms, and more the Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms created by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

Bacterial cell division is a very different process, as we understand it today. First, bacteria do not have their genes arranged into chromosomes in the same way as ours- the bacterial chromosome forms a circle of DNA. DNA duplication is followed with each chromosome attaching to the cell membrane, and the daughter cell "pinches off" from the mother cell, a process called "Cytokinesis."

This all is high school biology today (noted that people received Noble Prizes for what our high school students are expected to learn today- a blog for a future day). So how did I manage such a dumb mistake? Working back through my mistake this morning, I realized it was in a weird way rather sophisticated. ("polishing a turd" ain't it)?

What I was thinking was "Where/When does gene duplication actually happen?" My top of the head answer was wrong, but less now than I first thought.

Where does eukaryote gene duplication happen? In the adult gonad, there are both stem cells which multiply symmetrically- mitosis- growing the gonad matrix, and asymmetrically- meiosis yielding germ cells. The symmetrically reproducing cells form a cap surrounding the stem cells dividing by meiosis. So, what we see happening is that copying errors during meiosis make one chromosome with both copies of a gene, and one that lacked it. The resulting cell missing the gene will most likely be sterile. The one with the duplicated cell now has extra evolutionary resources. And this happens at the interface between stem cells that duplicate by mitosis, or meiosis. Since a sterile egg, or sperm cell is essentially free to the parent organism, the conferred evolutionary advantage is overwhelming. (Otherwise we human boys would never survive puberty). There is a long term cost when organisms get very elaborate (like us), and that is that asymmetric cell division at the wrong time, in the wrong organ will cause cancer. But that is the typical evolutionary solution; there is never any anticipation for future events or consequences. For an excellent current introduction to this, I recommend the review article;

Sean J. Morrison, Judith Kimble
2006 “Asymmetric and symmetric stem-cell divisions in development and cancer”
Nature 441(7097): 1068-1074.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The other day, I wrote a reaction to a comment posted in the Johannesburg Times LIVE, South Africa. I titled it "Cutting edge or bleeding Idiot?"

Very clever, but I made a big mistake. I wrote, "We do of course know several natural mechanisms that add "specified complexity" to genomes. One of the more obvious is simple duplication of a gene during mitosis."

I was thinking, of course, of writing meiosis.

But that was not the BIG mistake. What I was really thinking about was bacterial fission, and not even meiosis at all!

I'll stick in more links and an explanation of why that was such a lame mistake tomorrow. (I wonder if anybody else will notice)?

The rest of the piece was OK, excluding a trivial typo.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Dragons, and gods, and dinos- Oh My!

I wrote the following short study for a few reasons. It started out as a study of the textural origins of Psalm 89 provoked by something some creationist had said (I don’t recall who or what they had said). The second was that using the various names used biblically for the sea dragon, “Rahab,” or “Leviathan,” we can see how various biblical authors were drawing on each other, and earlier sacred traditions. Thirdly, it is a common fraud for creationists of link dinosaurs with these biblical monsters. As all of my blog pages, I consider this to be a draft of some later “dead tree” print article.

Psalm 89 is an exilic period prayer for the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty. The first section introduces the Psalm by praising God and reiterating the Davidic Covenant, vss 3-4. Verses 15-18 link the creation and supremacy of Yahweh with the Kingship of David.

Let's break it down to what is says, and what it is about.

(I will add some textual revisions from Dahood (1965-1970), Cross (1973), JPS (2004) indicated by bold:D, C, or JPS). Verse numbers follow the World English Bible rather than modern Hebrew texts. The line usually included as verse 53 is not part of the Psalm, but marks the end of the Third Book of Psalms in the Hebraic traditional codes. I have dropped the WEB "lovingkindness" in favor of the standard translation "love.")

World English Bible
Psalms 89

1. I will sing of the love of Yahweh forever. With my mouth, I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
2. I indeed declare, "Love stands firm forever. You established the heavens. Your faithfulness is in them."
3. "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David, my servant,
4. 'I will establish your seed forever, And build up your throne to all generations.'" Selah.

So, the opening is totally explicit about what the Psalm is about; The singer, Ethan- born in Judah, i.e. "native born" and not born in the Babylonian captivity- first affirms his devotion to God, and praises God for His steadfast faithfulness. And, Ethan not so subtlety reminds all listening that Yahweh has a covenant with David by paraphrasing the prophesy of Nathan in 2 Samuel 7: 15-16. (This is repeated in Ps 89:20-38 with a nearly exact repeat of 2 Sam 7: 14 in Ps 89:33).

Now, it is worth thinking about that the verses in Samuel were about the proper building of the Temple in Jerusalem and the consequent promise to David's kingship, in the Psalm's text the focus is on the Covenant implied to Hebrews through the Davidic Dynasty. This idea is repeated in verse 50 where God is reminded of His promise.

The Psalm then opens out with a considerably more ancient hymn of the creation which deserves some extended discussion, vss 5-14.

5. In the heavens they praise your wonders, Yahweh; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.
6. For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh? Who among the sons of the heavenly beings is like Yahweh,
7. A very awesome God (El) in the council of the holy ones, To be feared above all those who are around him?
8. Yahweh, God of Hosts, who is like you? Mighty Yah, your faithful ones surround you. : D
9. You rule from the back : D of the sea. When its waves rise up, you calm them.
10. You have broken Rahab in pieces, like one of the slain. You have scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11. The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; The world and its fullness. You have founded them.
12. The north (Zaphon) and the south (Amanus), you have created them. Tabor and Hermon rejoice in your name.
13. Yours is a mighty arm, O Warrior.
Your left hand is triumphant
Your right hand is raised in victory.
14. Justice and Right are the foundation of your throne. Love and Truth Stand before you
: D

Ugarit was a very wealthy coastal city near what eventually became the northern border of Israel. The people of Ugarit spoke a Western Semitic language close to ancient Hebrew, and there are many exactly matching words called cognates. Like Ugarit, the Phoenician language was also Western Semitic and in common use with Hebrew for far longer. Like most of the Canaanites, their pantheon was headed by the god El, 'Il, and the lesser gods and goddesses were collectively called the council of gods. From a Phoenician hymn, the Arslan Tash, we can read;

The Eternal One (lit. Olam) has made covenant with us
Asherah has made a pact with us

And all the sons of El,
And the great Council of the Holy Ones
With oaths of Heaven and Ancient Earth

This inscription also corrects verse 3 to read; With my mouth I declare: "Eternal One, your love created the heavens, but you made your fidelity more steadfast than these." (Dahood 1968). Asherah is of course the consort, or wife of God (Dever 2005).

The opening lines of the praise hymn in Psalm 89, vss. 5-8, identify Yahweh by His renown within the "assembly of the holy ones" (v.5), the sons of the heavenly beings (v.6), the council of the holy ones (v.7), and in verse 8 God Yahweh is identified as the "God of hosts" "surrounded by his faithful." The name Yahweh in verse 8 balances the name El used in verse 7 (see also Gen 33:22 El elohe yisra'el literally "El, god of the patriarch Israel." The council/assembly/host/"sons of" are the very same bene elohim from Genesis 6:2, "the sons of God" providing an answer to the question of who God spoke to in Genesis 3:22. The Council of Yahweh is biblically also attested in Psalm 82, the 'adat El , or literally "Council of El." We can now see that the herald Ethan while praising God is reminding all, even Yahweh!, that the Divine Covenant was properly witnessed by the Council of the Gods.

Psalm 89
9. You rule from the back : D of the sea. When its waves rise up, you calm them.
10. You have broken Rahab in pieces, like one of the slain. You have scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11. The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; The world and its fullness. You have founded them.
12. The north (Zaphon) and the south (Amanus), you have created them. Tabor and Hermon rejoice in your name.
13. Yours is a mighty arm, O Warrior.
Your left hand is triumphant
Your right hand is raised in victory.
14. Justice and Right are the foundation of your throne. Love and Truth Stand before you
: D

The verses above are very rich contextually, and together summarize the entire Canaanite creation myth. This is done largely by references to key phrases that would be recognized by the listener. Since this Hebrew poem had strict requirements of rhyme, and syllable counts per line, it is a superb literary achievement.

In verses 9 and 10 we have a short phrase that is used to refer to a larger, well known text or narrative, what might loosely be called an incipit. The referred to account is the defeat of the sea dragon by a god who then uses the body of the monster to create the Earth. The classical account is the Enuma Elish where the Babylonian deity Marduk kills the sea-dragon Tiamat using her body to create the world (Dalley 2000). In the Ugarit version, the supreme god El does not participate. Rather, the sea god Yamm (also called "Judge River" in a possible reference to the Code of Hammerabi) sends a challenge to the god Ba'l Haddu. Ba'l , biblical Baal, defeats Yamm using two clubs, one in each hand. Baal returns to the Council of the Gods and is proclaimed their king (Pardee 2002) . The first biblical parallel found in the text is of course in Genesis. This primordial sea is described as well in Genesis 1:2, when "the world was formless waste with darkness over the sea and only an awesome wind blew over the water." (see Speiser 1962). The same theme is found mentioned in Job 26:10, "He drew a boundary on the waters; At the extreme {edge} were Light and Darkness meet." But strictly within the current texts, verse 9 tells us that this is the God who defeated the sea which in Mesopotamian narrative was the primordial chaos. This primordial chaos is dominated by the God in verse 9 who "rules from the back of the sea."

This victory is further commented in Ps 89:10 where God crushed "Rahab" and dispersed his pieces. So, who was Rahab? We learn this in Isaiah 51:9-10,
"Was it not you who smashed Rahab the writhing dragon?
Was it not you who dried up Sea, the waters of the great deep?"

Also, Job 26: 12-13;
By His power He stilled the Sea.
By His skill He struck down Rahab.
By His wind the heavens were calmed.
His hand pierced the Elusive Serpent.

There are several key connections to be observed here. The obvious is that Rahab is the dragon of the sea that is also known as Leviathan. In Hebrew, Job 26:13b "Elusive Serpent" reads nahash bariah, if one translates "bariah" from Aramaic as "fleeing." However, this same word is elsewhere translated (cf. Exodus 26:24-29 as "straight rod" or "bar." The "straight serpent" is in Ugarit texts the dragon Lotan or the biblical Leviathan, the "bariah serpent with seven heads" (see also Isa. 27:1)(see JPS, 2004). The name Rahab is used poetically in Ps 87.4 to refer to Egypt judging by its context.

As elsewhere (Ps. 74: 12-17, Isa 51:7, etc.), the primeval sea dragons slain at the creation are used to attest to the power of God.

In Psalm 74:12-17 we read
12 O God El, my King from old,
who brings deliverance throughout the land;
13 it was You who drove back the sea with Your might,
who smashed the heads of the monsters in the waters;
14 it was You who crushed the heads of Leviathan, who left him as food for the "untranslatable"*
* The Hebrew phrase is lost. Conventionally this is rendered as "denizens of the desert" or "seafaring men." Neither translation has been attested elsewhere.

Why is this important? The psalm's hymn of praise has again revealed the deep connections between the Canaanite mythopoetic and the Bible's origins. The Babylonian exile brought the northern and southern Hebrew theologies closer together then they had been since the united monarchy, perhaps ever before.

The Canaanite source for this hymn in Psalm 89 is further demonstrated in verse 12;"12. The north (Zaphon) and the south (Amanus), you have created them. Tabor and Hermon sing with joy in Your presence" (following Dahood 1968). The four named locations, Zaphon, Amanus, Tabor and Hermon are each mountains that were the local seats of power for the principle Canaanite gods just as Mt. Zion became fixed as the seat of Yahweh. Mt. Zaphon is nearly due north of ancient Ugarit, and dominates the northern horizon viewed from the site. This is the traditional home of Ba'l Haddu, or Baal. Thus, it is no wonder that "Zaphon" became in Hebrew sapon or "north" and in later Hebraic use became equivalent with the "heavens." There is an excellent association here with Greek mythology as well. The Greek myth of the battle between the supreme god Zeus and the ancient sea power/god Typhon in Homer's epic Iliad and echoed in his Hymn to Apollo, also mirrors the Canaanite Ba'l Haddu epic. The sea dragon Typhon gives birth to Gaia or the Earth. She is defeated in battle by Zeus on Mount Cassios (cassios (Greek) -> hazi (Hittite) -> zaphon (Ugaritic).

The closing verses to this praise hymn are;

13. Yours is a mighty arm, O Warrior.
Your left hand is triumphant
Your right hand is raised in victory.
14. Justice and Right are the foundation of your throne. Love and Truth stand before you
: D

The left and right arms of God (Triumph and Victory) in this context are clearly linked references to the clubs used by Ba'l Haddu to subdue the sea dragon/god, and the epithet "O Warrior" is commonly used for Baal. More interesting, Justice, Right(eousness), Love, and Truth are the "throne" and servants ("stand before You") of Yahweh. The Mesopotamian tradition uses these aspects as attributes and as guardians of the major gods and favored human kings.

In a theme that will later be written and added to the Bible as Genesis 1, the God of Israel, Yahweh or El (formal plural Elohim), is credited with the creation of the ancient powers of Heaven and Earth, the defeat of primordial chaos Yamm (the sea), and (in common with Canaanite El) the creation of all other gods and the Assembly of Gods (Friedman 1987, Smith 2003).

The sources for the entire praise hymn in Psalm 89:5-14 can be drawn back to the pre-monarchy, even pre-exodus period of 1,400-1,300 BC. The Ba'l Haddu epics are known from about that time, and they serve as the bulk of the later part of the hymn. The opening verses 5-8 are also part of that tradition, but reflect the association of Yahweh and the supreme Canaanite god El. The mixed use of El, and Yahweh within the hymn places this composition to around between 800 and 1,000 BCE. The next portion of the psalm brings the story forward from the pre-Exodus era to the time of the Davidic Covenant, or also about 1000 BCE. (See also Smith 2002).

Cross, Frank Moore
1973 Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Boston: Harvard University Press

Dahood, Mitchell
1965 Psalms I, 1-50: Introduction, Translation and Notes New York: Anchor Bible- Doubleday

1968 Psalms II, 51-100: Introduction, Translation and Notes New York: Anchor Bible- Doubleday

1970 Psalms III, 101-150: Introduction, Translation and Notes New York: Anchor Bible- Doubleday (1995 paperback printing)

Dalley, Stephanie
2000 Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Revised Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dever, William
2005 “Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Friedman, Richard Elliott
1987 Who Wrote the Bible? New York:Harper and Row

Jewish Publication Society
2004 “The Jewish Study Bible: TANAKA translation” Oxford University Press.

Pardee, Dennis
2002 Writings from the Ancient World Vol. 10: Ritual and Cult at Ugarit Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature

Pope, Marvin H.
1965 “Job: A new translation with Introduction and Commentary” Anchor Bible Vol. 15, New York: ABRL/Doubleday

Speiser, E. A.
1962 "Genesis: Introduction, Translation and Notes" New York: Anchor Bible- Doubleday

Smith, Mark S.
2002 “The Early History of God 2nd ed.” Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing
2003 “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts” Oxford University Press.