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Monday, October 06, 2008

Does the study of evolution have practical benefits for science or medicine?

Here's a podcast by Casey Luskin, one of the evil Discos, on whether the study of evolution has any practical benefits for science:
Does evolution have any practical benefits for science? In this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin reveals that the answer, surprisingly, is no. Listen as Luskin discusses past biological discoveries, reviews recent surveys of biologists, and quotes several scientists, including noted Professor of Biology and intelligent design critic Jerry Coyne. All three sources agree: the theory of evolution has yielded few practical benefits for scientific discovery.
Actually, that's not really very surprising.

The study of evolution is the study of - to use the vernacular - what used to was and ain't no more. It is necessarily heavy on speculation and interpretation. That's okay, as long as it doesn't become a cult.

Fast forward to Darwinism, which - unfortunately - has become a cult, big time.

Plus, I have been meaning to post this for months - Catriona J MacCallum (PLOS Biology, April 2007 Volume 5 Issue 4 e112) argues for the alleged importance of evolution in medicine. She complains,
One reason that evolution doesn’t figure prominently in the medical community is that although it makes sense to have evolution taught as part of medicine, that doesn’t make it essential. ... , medicine is primarily focused on problem-solving and proximate causation, and ultimate explanations can seem irrelevant to clinical practice. Crudely put, does a mechanic need to understand the origins, history, and technological advances that have gone into the modern motor vehicle in order to fix it?
Crudely put, medicine is about saving lives and limbs today in the real world.

MacCallum thinks that evolution can help us understand epidemics, and this may be so if we mean the evolution of bacteria in a test tube. Not that bacteria evolve much, if you go by Edge of Evolution, except that they tend to junk intricate machinery under stress.

Apart from that, consider the example of heart attacks: What if the lemur-like creature from which humans are said to descend never had heart attacks? What if it usually did, under stress? How does such information help the medical interne whose patient presents with cardiac arrest? Whatever the interne decides to do must work in half a minute, not half a billion years.

Yes, evolution is very interesting - like any other type of ancient history - but no, it is not essential. I think it should definitely be studied, along with the cave paintings, ancient Egypt and theories about the origin of life and the universe and all that. But the burden of pretending that evolution is useful in a concrete way is tiresome and surely avoidable.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: As election nears, the green, dark forest is stirring!

For one thing, Guy Earle is back, and this time the comedian - charged by the BC human rights commission - is offering

Hey Folks and comics

New show starts THIS SUNDAY the 12th
PRO-AM open stage - come down for a spot, best act gets paid spot following week
(+ a weekly surprize guest) MC'ed by Guy Earle and friends... here's the

NEW WEEKLY SUNDAY ROOM (starting Oct.12) "Rebels in a PC World" is a weekly PRO-AM open stage hosted by Guy Earle (and friends) every Sunday night at Whelan's Gate (1663 Bloor St West) from 8-10pm. It's a PWYC-anything-goes celebration of new and true stand-up comedy. Open stage with at least two pro comics to end off the show.

Whelan's is a cool Irish bar on Bloor between Dundas West and Keele. Great atmosphere and small energy-filled room. We don't know what to expect but there should be a boat load of law suits!

email me for spots; whooa!

And this would be the Saturday before the election, too ...

Look, I always say, don't just be offensive, be funny. However, you can't be funny without offending people who lack a sense of humour. And, while we are here, beware the Man of No Jokes.

Also, Nigel Hannaford of the Calgary Herald tells us of a key victory: "A pro-life free-speech heroine walks free" (October 04, 2008): Linda Gibbons has spent 75 months of the last fourteen years in jail in Canada for trying to non-violently talk women out of abortions. As Hannaford tells it,
So she kept showing up, being arrested, going to jail, and because she wouldn't promise not to go back to her spot on the sidewalk, stayed there for years.

It is important to understand Gibbons, a frail woman of 60 who reportedly weighs all of 100 lbs, is totally non-violent. On none of the dozen occasions she was arrested, did she resist. She would, however, speak to women entering the clinic.

The need to care for elderly parents took her off the front line for a few years, but eventually she was back, silently walking up and down outside a Toronto abortion clinic.

As on other occasions, she was charged with obstructing a peace officer.

This past Tuesday though, and unlike former occasions, she was acquitted. A Toronto provincial court judge decided her non-violence and non-resistance could not be construed as obstructing a peace officer in the performance of his duties.
Some say that the acquittal was a strategic move to avoid a jury trial, because no jury would convict her. She had never done anything except argue the other side.

Hat tip to Franklin Carter , Editor and Researcher, at the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, who also reminds me
Freedom and justice do not depend on the goodness of the people up top, but on the courage of the people down below.

- Richard Needham (1969)

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Michael Reiss, you sinned against the wrong god

From the (Double) Standard Measurement Department in Britain (so much Brit news these days!), a Church of England clergyman has been ordered to remove
comments about gay people from his blog, remarks described by his diocese as "highly offensive".

The Rev Peter Mullen, who ministers in the City of London, said he had gay friends and the words were "satirical".

He suggested in his internet blog that homosexuals should have their backsides tattooed with the slogan: "Sodomy can seriously damage your health".

The gay rights group Outrage described the comments as "Neanderthal".

A Diocese of London spokeswoman said the remarks did not reflect its views.
No, I wouldn't think so.

If it was a joke, seems nobody "got" it. And Outrage is surely being unfair to the Neanderthals.

Anyway, friend Jane Harris Zsovan writes to say,
Oddly enough, he hasn't had to quit his job, while that the priest that suggested that ID should be taught has resigned from his position with the Royal Society.
Ah yes, that priest would be Michael Reiss, the sinner in the hands of an angry god.

Looks like the Darwin god casts a bigger hex right now than the gay god.

Look, I just report the news around here, okay?

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Further to a friend's comment on how intelligent design is applied to crime detection ...

I've been rummaging my files for this design inference, and finally found it:

Excerpt from a recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report

The CBC report (October 25, 2006), which aired Wednesday night, says of the roughly 60,000 lottery ticket sellers in Ontario, retailers won nearly 200 times in the past seven years, with an average prize of $500,000.

A statistician with the University of Toronto called those numbers a statistical anomaly, saying there is a "one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion" chance of that many retailers winning. Dr. Jeffrey Rosenthal said the number of wins should be closer to 57. In fact, an investigation was held and a number of persons were later charged.
Meanwhile, Michael Josem (for whom see here) writes to disclaim any association with intelligent design, and to insist that the sheer number of stars in the universe makes the origin of life more plausible than poker cheating.

Huh? I think Josem better stick to ratting out poker cheats, and go Josem! His note is appended, below the book ads.

Meanwhile, a legend in his own lab wrote me to announce that he is "a scientist, thus trained in evolutionary thinking, but as a christian wondered whether intelligent design had anything to offer." Apparently, he decided to try to find out not by reading Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution or Bill Dembski's No Free Lunch or Mike Gene's Design Matrix or anything challenging like that.

No, he decided to hang out at this news and culture blog, so he could decide there was nothing in it without engaging in any serious science thinking. I wonder what he really does for a living?

Just for the record, I am a journalist, not a scientist, and this is a news and culture blog. Years ago, I realized that most of what you'd hear in legacy media about the intelligent design controversy is not written by anyone who follows ID as a beat. So I decided to just start following it as a beat.

I am now about 1000 news stories behind, but fortunately, the first seven hundred have been reclassified as "recent archaeology." Meanwhile, many thanks to generous donors at the PayPal button!

From Michael Josem:
I saw your blog post about chance, online poker and intelligent design.

I think that your argument that this case of online poker cheating has any relevance to your argument about intelligent design is incorrect.

My claim with the poker data was simply to highlight one of two possibilities - either this poker player's run of hot luck was one of the luckiest streaks of luck in the history of the planet, or that there was cheating happening here. That is clearly sufficient proof for further investigation, which resulted in the cheating being uncovered.

The same principle can be applied to the creation of life - either it was incredibly lucky, or there was some intelligent design by a greater power. Neither option appears to be disproved by the data.

Now, in the online poker example, there are only a few million players, and thus, a freak result is still incredibly unlikely. By contrast, there are many, many, many, more stars in the universe than there are online poker players. This would mean that such an event (even at 15 standard deviations) is more likely to happen over the whole universe of possible events.

I hope that you'll be able to correct your article with this clarification.

Michael Josem

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Just up at The Mindful Hack

Altruism: Can mathematics, with a dash of faith, explain altruism?

Artificial intelligence: Conversing with computers? ... or with their programmers?

Spirituality: Is this a trend? Guy tries Judaism "on spec" - discovers 7-day no-refund policy, ends as famous pulpit rabbi

Neuroscience: Getting past the "You are a computer made of meat" phase

Psychology: Picture yourself deciding you actually like the way you look!

The Mindful Hack supports Mario Beauregard's and my book, The Spiritual Brain.

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