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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pond scum: Two genomes and as many genes as humans

A recent story, from Science Daily features a pond scum organism called thermophila with as many genes as a human, and no so-called “junk DNA.”

I think it mainly shows that we do not know how much of what we need to know about an organism is even in its DNA. The organism actually has two genomes. Check it out.

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Thinkquote of the day: Social conservatives should embrace Darwin?

Reviewing Michael Shermer’s book, Why Darwin Matters , David Brown, science and medicine reporter for The Washington Post comments,
"In a bit of his own proselytizing, Shermer tries to show why political and social conservatives should actually embrace Darwin's discovery, not vilify it. Evolution has given rise to species (and not just our own) that value social cooperation, monogamy and altruism -- the very values so many conservatives feel are threatened by the secular world. Natural selection, he writes, "is precisely parallel to Adam Smith's theory of the invisible hand " -- a process whereby self-interest creates order and a self-correcting whole that is larger than any of its parts."

If that’s what Shermer, and Brown, apparently, think - that people who doubt Darwin’s theory are merely invested in a social cargo cult - no wonder there is an intelligent design controversy!

While I am here anyway, the fact that someone writes a book called Why Darwin Matters shows why he doesn’t. For example, who writes a book called “Why bin Laden matters?” It’s when people start to matter less that such books appear.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy att he University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being granted tenure at Baylor after a long struggle - even after helping in a small way to destroy the Baylor Bears' ancient glory - in the opinion of a hyper sportswriter.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment are rarely accepted. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudeby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

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Intelligent design and evidence: First, what counts as evidence?

Recently, an ID-friendly scientist assured me that intelligent design would easily be accepted if only the ID guys would come up with evidence. To my mind, that shows the difficulty people have in understanding what is at stake: the very question of what may count as evidence. Here is how I replied:

Bench science, like book editing, is independent of content under normal circumstances.

But as Thomas Kuhn points out in Structure of Scientific Revolutions*, paradigms determine what COUNTS as evidence.

Mark what follows:

If materialism is assumed to be true and Darwinism is the creation story of materialism, then Darwinism is the best available explanation for the history of life.

So Darwinism is treated as true.

I am NOT saying that that follows logically. Materialism could be true but its orthodox creation story could be untrue at the same time. Some other materialist story could better account for the evidence, for example.

However, most people do not think that way. (I am describing a course of mental events here, not a logical argument.)

Because Darwinism is treated as true, questioning it is irrational or malign.

If you are a scientist, it is no defence to say that you have uncovered evidence against Darwinism. That makes you a heretic.

Don't try claiming that you do science better without Darwinism. If you don't believe it, you shouldn't be doing science at all, right?

The purpose of science is to uncover the evidence for materialism, and you may as well deny Genesis in a God-fearing chapel as deny Darwinism at the Smithsonian.

You could outperform all your colleagues in research and accomplish nothing except get yourself denied tenure. It happens, as Jerry Bergman can testify.

What if a theory that clashes with Darwinism better explains changes over time (and even makes verified predictions)?

Well, here's where the importance of a materialist paradigm comes in: Any explanation that conforms to Darwinism will be preferred to any explanation that does not conform to it - irrespective of a difference in explanatory power that favours the latter.

In the research for the neuroscience book, I found that really inane and unsatisfactory explanations for various mental states were preferred if they supported the materialist paradigm, over against better explanations that didn't particularly support it. Sometimes it was ludicrous. But always it was deadly serious.

You will find Kuhn's Structure a very useful book to read, for understanding how paradigms determine what can even be considered as evidence.

Thus, in my humble opinion, evidence that supports an ID perspective will be primarily useful to the ID scientists themselves in understanding their own view of the world.

It will be useless for making any general point against the materialist paradigm. ID-friendly evidence will merely be shelved as a problem to be solved or reinterpreted along materialist lines, no matter how flimsy.

So yes, by all means, find evidence, but mainly to educate yourself and sketch out your own theory. The more evidence you find, the more unwelcome you will be elsewhere.

Mike Behe was compared to Osama bin Laden, and that wasn't because he was thought to be a crank. One doesn't compare a crank to Osama bin Laden.

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