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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

DNA analysis means death of taxonomy (determining what a "species" is)?

According to Bob Grant, in The Scientist (June 2009), traditional taxonomy is a fading field:
It isn't hard to see why:

Just like the organisms taxonomists study, the discipline of systematics and biology as a whole was evolving. By the 1980s, the field of systematics, like many other fields, became entranced by the promise of DNA analysis and its ability to decipher genetic codes, enabling taxonomists to look past an animal's skin and into its cells.

[ ... ]

Now older taxonomists like Wood and Judd are retiring from museum and university positions, with institutions tending not to replace them with more taxonomists. The United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, for example, has not had a gymnosperm taxonomist since the last one there retired in 2006, and has not replaced its last fern specialist, who retired in 2007.

Perhaps it's a bit like paternity analysis. People want a simple yes/no answer, not a saga, and you can't entirely blame them. But something is surely lost as well as gained.

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New Book: Hindu entry into intelligent design stakes - Nature's IQ

A new book, Nature's IQ: Extraordinary Animal Behaviors That Defy Evolution, by Hungarian Hindus, demonstrates the resonance of design in nature among the world's cultures.

I'll have more to say about the book when I finish reading it, but one point they stress - that is often neglected in the West - is this: Intricate physical adaptations among animals are useless without adaptations in behaviour. How does the animal know that it has a skill? I mean "know" not so much in a philosophical sense, but just "know" how to do it? I think they are right to stress that behaviour is key to adaptation.

I well remember the day that a kitten rushed off the staircase while chasing a house fly. She propelled herself about two metres straight forward - and fell about 3.5 metres, a straight drop.
She picked herself up and went on with the hunt, but she never tried walking on air again. Of course, a fledged young bird, faced with similar circumstances, would have discovered that it could fly.

So far, my favourite thing about the book is the golden ant on the cover, carrying what looks like a computer chip (or something similar) in its mandibles.

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New Book: Ben Wiker's Life and Lies of Charles Darwin

A friend writes to draw attention to Ben Wiker's new "very balanced" biography of Darwin, which argues that he "deliberately set out to create a 'godless' science and that the theory preceded his collection of evidence."

Don't be put off by the title, "The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin." As I will describe in an upcoming review of a different book, the ol' Brit toff told lots of stretchers during his career and deliberately misled people on many occasions. If the recent ridiculous hagiography around Darwin has accomplished anything, it has forced people who know the facts to make them public.
Wiker, in my friend's view, argues rather convincingly that the divorce of science and theism dates to Darwin.

Yes, absolutely. That is precisely what makes "theistic evolution" so stupid. The whole point of Darwin's theory was to get rid of theism - as stories like this clearly show. Theistic scientists are reduced to mumbling that they believe "in their hearts" that there must be a God somewhere out there, but they are not allowed to use any evidence to support their view. They should just holler from their guts about Jesus, or whatever.

My friend also expects a cascade of rote negative votes from Darwinist trolls and combox morons against Wiker's book, people who are their own best demonstration of why their belief system doesn't promote human civilization, only animal rights - which makes a lot of sense if we are the animals, right?

Meanwhile, Mike Flannery, whose book, Alfred Russel Wallace's theory of Intelligent Evolution, I shall shortly review, also wrote, to say,
That Darwin deliberately set out to establish a materialistic metaphysic supported by some biological speculations is clearly supported from Darwin's early university years and his notebooks, a point which I have already argued in my book. That Darwin clearly did not follow the evidence, as he claimed in his autobiographical boilerplate (largely a promotional effort instigated by Francis, his son), is also very true. I was able to read portions of Wilker's book in Amazon and have ordered a copy. I do indeed look forward to reading his entire assessment. This could be the most completely honest and frank analysis of Darwin yet; it certainly appears as though he's asked the right questions of this Victorian paterfamilias.
Of course Darwin did not follow the evidence. He knew what conclusion his culture compelled him to come to, and he obliged, as soon as he had cobbled together a theory. It's high time someone started asking the right questions.

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Speaking: Five Critical Things You Must Do With New Media

I'll be leading a session at Write! Canada this year called "Five Critical Things You Must Do With New Media" on Saturday, June 20, 11:00 a.m., at the Guelph Bible Conference Centre.

If you are a writer or would like to be one, and do not know how new media will affect you, see if you can get a Saturday pass for the session - and introduce yourself!


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