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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Just up at Colliding Universes

Study: Sun not special, therefore alien life should be common?

Does time's one-way street prove that other universes exist?

The day time went backwards

Flogos: Coming soon to a clear blue sky near you ...

Just up at The Mindful Hack

Chuck Colson on neural Buddhism: Do neurons get reincarnated?

Hopeful signs: Disaster causes outpouring of charity in China

On Jane Goodall, apes, human uniqueness, and God

Science and ethics: When the devil offered a no-strings research post ...

In an earlier post, I quoted British science journalist Geoffrey Lean warning against the "institutionalised idolatry of science." An instructive study subject would be the gifted Werner von Braun, who worked for Nazi Germany and later the United States.

Von Braun, in the words of Mark Walker ("A 20th-Century Faust", a review of Neufeld's recent von Braun biography),
Wernher von Braun is an iconic figure of the 20th century, someone who built deadly missiles for Adolf Hitler and the Saturn V rockets that sent Americans to the Moon. Michael J. Neufeld's long-awaited biography, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, steers a course between the extremes of demonization and hagiography. "Von Braun has often been depicted as a saint or a devil, as a hero of spaceflight or as a Nazi war criminal," observes Neufeld. "It is comforting to pigeonhole him as either white or black," he goes on to explain, "because then one does not have to deal with his ambiguity and complexity, or the ambiguity and complexity of the moral and political choices offered to scientists and engineers in the modern era." Neufeld's thorough, nuanced, insightful account does this challenging subject justice.

[ ... ]

Nevertheless, von Braun was one of the most important men of his time. Neufeld characterizes him as "a twentieth-century Faust," someone who succumbed to "the temptation to work with an evil regime in return for the resources to carry out the research closest to one's heart." This book, truly a historian's masterpiece, will become the definitive biography.
Faust might find the field a bit crowded today. I still remember our Canadian geneticist turned environment activist David Suzuki pointing out back in the 1970s that the defense industry (i.e. war) was the major employer of scientists. I hope that's changed now, but it must have left some imprint on a generation.

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Nature's IQ - intelligent design from a Hindu perspective

A friend writes to tell me about a book, Nature's IQ (Torchlight), arguing for intelligent design from a somewhat different perspective:
Nature’s IQ is a soon to be published book, written by two Hungarian scientists, Balazs Hornyanszky ( M.S., bio-engineer, University of Technology, Budapest), and Istvan Tasi (M.A., Phd student, cultural anthropologist, Eotvos Lorant University, Budapest). They argue for intelligent design from a different approach than most of us nowadays do. The focus is the 'real' biological world, in particular the behaviour and instincts of animals, which the authors argue cannot be explained in terms of a random, gradual Darwinian mechanism but is evidence of intelligent design. As a look into nature, the book is fascinating in its own right, and the arguments appear to be solid.

My friend and the authors of the book write from an Indian (Hindu Hare Krishna) perspective. Sympathizer Michael Cremo (of Forbidden Archeology fame) wrote the foreword. You can read sample chapters online.

It is unclear whether the book has actually been published yet, even though its forthcoming date was 2006, (That too feels very eastern to a westerner like me - who would have hyperventilated a cyclone in the mean time.) Here are some Hare Krishna views on science as well.

I can't currently find Cremo's foreword on line though I have seen it. That the book is intended to be a work in the growing intelligent design library is clear from one of Cremo's closing comments,
This book is bound to become a classic, taking its place alongside the works of Michael Behe and William Dembski in the modern intelligent design movement.
I am looking forward to reading Nature's IQ, because I would like to see what a Hindu would make of the evident design of life.

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Science journalist warns against the "institutionalised idolatry of science"

A friend sends this report by Geoffrey Lean, "Beware scientists who insist they always know best" from the Daily Mail, in which he notes,
In far-reaching, hotly debated votes over the past two days, MPs have been making decisions that get to the very essence of what it is to be human, when it is right to kill and how far we should go in order to save lives.”

[ ... ]

“Shamefully, the worst offenders have been the scientists and their supporters, the very people who make the loudest claims to rationality and of being swayed by facts not fundamentalism.”

None of that should be any cause for surprise. As a bioethicist told me years ago, some scientists would like nothing better than to get their hands on live human beings that they could do anything they wanted to.

I do not know why anyone should be surprised by that. A decision to go into science no more guarantees morality than a decision to go into policing or social work. Morality must be determined by what happens after that.

If the mystique of science (what Lean quotes Professor Brian Wynne of LancasteraUniversity as calling "the institutionalised idolatry of science") blinds us, we will all be guilty along with the perpetrators.


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