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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Media watch: Statements from scientists as beyond question? Why?

In a recent column on a new book by Tom Bethell, THe Politically incorrect Guide to Science, columnist William Rusher notes:
As Bethell points out in an introduction, science is forever being used, like everything else, to reinforce political viewpoints. Normally, an advocate using something to support his point of view is promptly countered, more or less effectively, by an opponent citing something else that contradicts it. The rest of us can listen, with the help of the media, and decide for ourselves which viewpoint is better supported and therefore deserves to be believed.

But, Bethell notes, "Scientists seem to enjoy a measure of immunity." If a statement is made by a scientist in his professional capacity, non-scientists are afraid to contradict him. Even the media, whom we can usually count on to report opposing points of view, seldom look for information contradicting what a seemingly impartial scientist has declared to be the case.

Yes, that in particular struck me as most intriguing, when I was working on By Design or by Chance? and The Spiritual Brain. Essentially, even if a statement was complete nonsense and/or easily refuted by common observation, few journalists would question it if it came from a scientist. Some of the examples in The Spiritual Brain are downright hilarious.

The best explanation I ever heard is that media pros tend to behave as though it is our job to promote materialism and we ar taught to view science as applied materialism. So we bolster our own status by submissive belief.

But ... "the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said ... "

That said, at least some media pros are starting to ask some serious questions.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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Converting proteins to classical music

UCLA molecular biologists say they have converted protein sequences into classical music:
On the biologists' site , you can listen to the compositions and even submit your own genetic sequence and have it translated to music. The browser allows anyone to send in a sequence coding for a protein, which will then be converted into music and returned as a MIDI audio file. The research is published in Genome Biology, a major journal in the field of genomics.

This has all the potential in the world for schlock, of course, but on the other hand, one of the scientists found that a piano teacher understood it all better that way. Particularly scary is the sequence for the deadly disease, Huntington's chorea.


What happens when science disowns religion?: It discovers politics ...

Here's an intersting essay at The American Thinker on the perils of scientism:
When science lost its moral foundation through hostility to religion, it became preyed upon by another corrupting influence: politics. And once infected thus, science slowly transmogrified into scientism, or the religious advocacy (by elites within the scientific, academic, journalistic, and government communities) of consensus-based theories whereby a majority-rule mentality takes the place of the traditional scientific method. Under this system theories need not be proven, only agreed upon, and once agreed upon, these dogmatic beliefs become the stuff of enforced orthodoxy and woe to anyone who dissents from the majority.

... dubious scientific claims are made to oppose such things as over-population, man-made climate change, the use of bio-engineered foods, and nuclear power. These are clearly political movements dressed up as science and have had some truly bizarre results. For example, some proponents of secular scientism are in the weird position of rejecting the consumption by humans of bio-engineered foods whil supporting efforts (through cloning, selective abortion, euthanasia, DNA manipulation, embryonic stem-cell cultivation, etc.) to bio-engineer human beings themselves! They then propose to mitigate the unproven harmful effects of the consumption of bio-engineered foods by increasing the malnutrition and starvation which inevitably result from its ban.

These kinds of causes tend to become religions, over time, and I think it is better to leave religion to the experts in that kind of thing. By the way, don't miss Victor Davis Hanson's witty analysis of how the environment movement has rediscovered medieval penance, in the form of buying carbon offsets.

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Thinkquote of the day: Did Einstein believe in detectible intelligent design?

This explanation of his religious beliefs appeared in his 1955 New York Times obituary.:
My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive With our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible Universe, forms my idea of God.

Einstein explicitly denied being an atheist in a number of places, though many have insisted he was. Apparently, when getting on in years, he told a friend:
You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or an eternal mystery. Well a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in anyway. One could (yes one should) expect the world to be subjected to law only to the extent that we order it through our intelligence. Ordering of this kind would be like the alphabetical ordering of the words of a language. By contrast, the kind of order created by Newton's theory of gravitation, for instance, is wholly different. Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the "miracle" which is being constantly re-enforced as our knowledge expands.

There lies the weaknesses of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but "bared the miracles." (That is, explained the miracles. - ed.) Oddly enough, we must be satisfied to acknowledge the "miracle" without there being any legitimate way for us to approach it . I am forced to add that just to keep you from thinking that --weakened by age--I have fallen prey to the clergy …
— From a letter to Maurice Solovine; see Goldman, p. 24

Based on his views, one only wonders what Einstein would have made of the current anti-God crusade, waged by Darwin's village atheists.

Meanwhile, this which advances the view that this commonly quoted Einsteinism might have been spin doctored:
I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.

My own sense is that Einstein wanted design without a designer, but he hated chance (which is why he hated quantum physics (and may not really have understood it), so he settled for design with (maybe) a designer, but he sure wasn't having anything to do with religion as such.)

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Intelligent design and popular culture: NASA people can say the most surprising things ...

Here, for example, from Science Question of the Week from the Goddard Space Flight Center, on the position of the North Star, ever the friend of mariners:
Polaris or the North Star is nearly directly above the North Pole (it's actually about 1 degree away from the celestial pole). You might think that with all of the stars in the sky, it shouldn't be that unusual for a given star to rest above the pole, but really, it's an extremely unlikely occurrence. It's even more unlikely that our pole star would be relatively bright - second order magnitude. If you divided the night sky into squares that are one degree latitude by one degree longitude in size, there would be 41,253 square degrees in our night sky. There are approximately 2,000 stars that we can see on the clearest night, and perhaps 6,000 different stars are visible to us throughout the year, but only 50 of these are as bright or brighter than Polaris. The chances of a star like Polaris occupying a place over the pole are about slim indeed - about 1 in 1,000. Nevertheless, Polaris defies the odds and has become our guiding light.

We are told that Polaris will shove off in a couple of centuries, and not come b ack for 20 000 years:
Polaris and the Sun are now about as close to each other as they'll ever get. Alas,all good things must come to an end, and in a few centuries, Polaris will drift away from it's current heralded post to a location carrying much less esteem, somewhere to the south of where it is now. If it's any consolation, Polaris will return to the pole again but not for another 20,000 thousand years.

Well, in the meantime, we will have to make do with the Global Positioning Satellite.

Maybe I should revisit Guillermo Gonzalez's "Privileged Planet" hypothesis. Wait! Isn't he the one they're trying to get rid of at Iowa State? Maybe the guy talks too much ...

It makes me want to revisit Guillermo Gonzalez's "Privileged Planet" thesis.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

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?

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

Anti-God crusade ... no, really! My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

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

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