Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mouse Vision, the Creation Museum, and the God FAQ

It's been a few days now since my last post. My wife and both kids were suffering food poisoning all weekend, and you would not believe what all I've had to clean up in the last couple of days. Kiddo #2, my poor darling daughter, had it worst of all. She threw up about 18 times -- and I won't even mention what came out the other end, except to say that it coated myself, my wife, and our bed. Everyone is doing much better now, though, and I'm expecting a completely normal day tomorrow.

Ahem..... Now that that's over with....

I found a bit of science news particularly fascinating last Friday. Humans (most of us, at least) have what is called trichromatic vision. In other words, we have three different types of cone cells in our eyes which receive different sections of our visible spectrum. Each type of receptor can differentiate between about 100 different shades, so all told the human eye can differentiate between about 1,000,000 colors. Humans and other primates are fairly unique among mammals in our trichromatic vision. (Although, some women are tetrachromates, and can see about 100,000,000 colors!)

Mice, on the other hand, are dichromates. Until now! Scientists have produced a genetically modified mouse that has trichromatic vision. On the surface, this is just pretty cool. But if you look deeper, there are two fascinating elements of this study that show how simple the evolutionary process was to get from di- to trichromatic vision.

The first thing is that the process only involved introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. Just one gene. The second is that the mouse was able to interpret data from the extra receptor. Which means that the brain doesn't need to evolve at all in order to interpret the extra data.

The evolution of the eye is a hot topic in the Intelligent Design / Evolution farce. ID people claim that the eye is an example of irreducible complexity. Yet here is a tremendous example of how simple an evolutionary advance in the development of an eye can be. Instead of being irreducibly complex, here is an evolutionary step that is almost irreducibly simple. Just one gene! (Humans are thought to have about 35,000 genes total) It also has no dependencies, it's just beautifully simple.

(Here is a diagram that shows the visual difference between di- and trichromatic vision.)

That was the good news. Now for the bad news. I just heard about the new Creation Museum that will be opening this June in Cincinnati. I've always thought of museums as the very pinnacle of science. I grew up in Virginia, and when I think museum, I think Smithsonian. The Creation Museum is cunningly designed to sap intelligence right out of people. There are exhibits like "Life on the Ark: A real Survivor story." and "T. rex: The Terror that Adam's sin unleashed!" and how T. rex was a vegetarian in the Garden of Eden.

What's really scary is that this is a $27 Million project. And it apparently looks pretty sharp. This is scary because of how many people might actually fall for this. I'm glad my kids aren't going to school in Cincinatti, it's just going to be a matter of time before some "teach the controversy!" school board decides that this "museum" is a good field-trip destination.

Couldn't they think of anything better to do with $27 Million? What about feeding kids in third-world countries? What about providing jobs for the unemployed in the US? They had to go and build a shrine of ignorance?

Well, here's something to cheer you up. The Official God FAQ -- it contains detailed, accurate answers to every important question that has ever been asked about God. Yet it has condensed it all down into a very accessible, easy-to-reference collections of answers. Definitely worth reading, memorizing, and quoting often.

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