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Saturday, October 20, 2007

DNA pioneer James Watson embroiled in PC racism uproar: Updates

Watson is currently suspended from chancelor duties.

Watson’s own institute has itself been linked to historical Darwinian racism, even though it dutifully denounced him.

Also, here’s a spoof interview from The Brites on the reaction of a paragon of political correctness, trying to hold together Darwinism and egalitarianism. (Of COURSE it doesn’t work. As I point out here, you can’t have both Darwinism and egalitarianism. The only possible result is PC idiocy. )

More seriously, a friend offers some brief extracts from Watson’s book DNA:
"Our discovery had put an end to a debate as old as the human species: Does life have some magical, mystical essence, or is it, like any chemical reaction carried out in a science class, the product of normal physical and chemical processes? Is there something divine at the heart of a cell that brings it to life? The double helix answered that question with a definitive No" (xii).

"Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we had grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours. Life, we now know, is nothing but a vast array of coordinated chemical reactions. The 'secret' to that coordination is the breathtakingly complex set of instructions inscribed, again chemically, in our DNA" (396).

One of the most innovative scientists I know has strictly cautioned me against any kind of “nothing buttery” as observed above.
Watson is nonetheless generous, after his fashion:
I do not dispute the right of individuals to look to religion for a private moral compass, but I do object to the assumption of too many religious people that atheists live in a moral vacuum. Those of us who feel no need for a moral code written down in an ancient tome have, in my opinion, recourse to an innate moral intuition long ago shaped by natural selection promoting social cohesion in groups of our ancestors.

But, unbelievers that we are, Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I doubt that any such “innate moral intuition” can be created by the magic of natural selection. The moral intuition of relatedness come rather from the relationship between our limited minds and the mind that created the universe in which we live

Oh, well, it is obvious that Watson is not a corner stool at our local coffee klatsch. He doesn’t even like Gattaca, whose limitations I concede myself - but he dislikes it for entirely different* reasons:
In addition to laying out a misleadingly dismal vision of our future within the film itself, the creators of Gattaca concocted a promotional tag line aimed at the deepest prejudices against genetic knowledge: "There is no gene for the human spirit." It remains a dangerous blind spot in our society that so many wish this were so. If the truth revealed by DNA could be accepted without fear, we should not despair for those who follow us. [p 405]

Well, it’s just true. There is NO gene for the human spirit. That doesn’t mean that science could never discover anything about the human spirit. It means that looking for a God gene (God spot, God module) that creates it is a waste of time.

*I didn’t believe that a guy could fake out the fitness tests with a diseased heart. Didn’t sound right.

Also: Key atheist argument a shell game?

Another novelist overcomes stroke, produce new bok

The US government did NOT falsify accepted age of Grand Canyon

Neanderthal guy was one of us (but still won’t use underarm deodorant)

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Myth watch: US government doesn’t admit accepted age of Grand Canyon

Earlier this month, Joe Klein at TIME claimed that the Bush administration has been “refusing to allow literature at the Grand Canyon that mentioned the real age of that marvel because it contradicted the Book of Genesis.”

That sounded wrong to me. And here, e-Skeptic explains:
... the claim is absolutely false. Callers were told that the Grand Canyon is millions of years old, that no one is being pressured from Bush administration appointees — or by anyone else — to withhold scientific information, and all were referred to a statement by David Barna, Chief of Public Affairs, National Park Service as to the park’s official position. [that the Canyon is about 5 to 6 million years old]

Other myths of possible interest:

Copernicus's view that the Earth revolved around the sun (not the other way round) demoted humans, as compared to previous religious views

Religious people opposed anaesthesia in childbirth
If you are interested in the intelligent design controversy, check out my book, By Design or by Chance?

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Neanderthal man was one of us?

Neanderthal DNA is apparently identical to that of a typical crowd of Toronto subway patrons.
Neanderthals might have spoken just like humans do now, new genetic findings suggest.

Neanderthals are humanity's closest extinct relatives. Since their discovery more than 150 years ago, researchers have found out they could make tools just like our ancestors could.

Whether Neanderthals also had advanced language, rather than mere grunts and groans, has remained hotly debated, however.

Well, in THAT case, the Neanderthals are identical to subway patrons trapped in the tunnel on a stifling August day. They grunt, groan, twist bits of paper into weird shapes (like our ancestors could), and stare at the roof of the car ...

Why anyone should be surprised by such findings, I do not know. It suggests that Neanderthals were not very different from modern humans, but there are other reasons for believing that anyway. See also Neanderthals in The Encyclopedia of Evolution in the Light of Intelligent Design.

Some claim chimpanzees have 99% the same DNA as humans, which - if true - primarily shows what DNA will NOT tell you.

More recent figures put the similarity at 94% or 96%. That’s good news for the people who produced them.

A friend draws my attention to these expert comments.

If you told me that chimps and humans had 100% similar DNA , I would conclude that DNA is not a useful source of information. If you tell me that chimps and humans have 95% similar DNA I will believe that DNA might provide useful information. After all, on a dark night at a distance, one might mistake the chimp for a human - until he opens his mouth. So the newer figures are more believable. And I would certainly like to believe that DNA IS a useful source of information.
Check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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