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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Good News guy faces tough questions now

Here's my Mercator.Net story on Francis Collins as new NIH head:
President Obama has chosen an evangelical Christian as the new head of the National Institutes of Health. He is coming under fire from both sides of the culture wars.

[ ... ]

Of course, his advocacy of faith as a public scientist has received mixed reviews, to the point of attracting histrionics about looming "theocracy."

But now that Collins faces confirmation hearings before the Senate, the focus will shift from his persona to his view on issues relevant to his new job. He seems much more relaxed about abortion and human embryonic stem cell research than the average evangelical leader, so it will be interesting to see if he attracts any flak on that account.
Go here for more.


Darwinism and popular culture: Attacking Collins hurts science, Chris Mooney argues

A friend draws my attention to "Defenders of the Faith: Scientists who blast religion are hurting their own cause." by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (Newsweek, July 14, 2009), in which they warn against new atheist attacks on Francis Collins:
The critics, though, have it exactly backward: the United States needs more scientists like Collins—researchers who show by their prominence and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs. The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

The poster boy for the so-called New Atheist movement today is biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling book, The God Delusion. He and other New Atheists attack faith without quarter, and insist that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable. In the process, they are helping to keep U.S. society polarized over science and likely helping to make it still harder for many religious believers to accept scientific findings in areas like evolution.
This is all well-meaning rot, of course. The new atheists are making sure that if even a bland, "let's just saw off the differences" figure like Collins can't be left in peace, just think what would happen to a Christian who took issues like the importance of human life seriously?

As for evolution: The fundamental unbelievability of many propositions asserted in the name of "evolution" attracts skepticism from growing numbers of intelligent lay people, hundreds of whom have shared their doubts/scoffing with me. Remember, what lay people hear is the big bazooms theory of human evolution and ridiculous hagiography of Darwin. Or the recent "Ida" circus. (Also here and here for more tents in the Ida circus.)

You needn't know much to know that that stuff just isn't plausible - "Ida" was savaged even by the popular press, almost the first instance I can recall for an icon of "evolution".

Evolutionary biologists' insistence on defending the whole whack makes people wonder - very advisedly, I may say - just how much else they front to the public is either poorly sourced or known to be false.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Uncommon Descent Contest 6 winner announced: Why waste a crisis, especially in genomics?

This was the question:
Here's On the Epistemological Crisis in Genomics by Edward R Dougherty, which moved in Current Genomics, April 2008.


There is an epistemological crisis in genomics. At issue is what constitutes scientific knowledge in genomic science, or systems biology in general. Does this crisis require a new perspective on knowledge heretofore absent from science or is it merely a matter of interpreting new scientific developments in an existing epistemological framework? This paper discusses the manner in which the experimental method, as developed and understood over recent centuries, leads naturally to a scientific epistemology grounded in an experimental-mathematical duality. It places genomics into this epistemological framework and examines the current situation in genomics. Meaning and the constitution of scientific knowledge are key concerns for genomics, and the nature of the epistemological crisis in genomics depends on how these are understood.

He kvetched,

The rules of the scientific game are not being followed. Given the historical empirical emphasis of biology and the large number of ingenious experiments that have moved the field, one might suspect that the major epistemological problems would lie with mathematics, but this is not the case. While there certainly needs to be more care paid to mathematical modeling, the major problem lies on the experimental side of the mathematical-experimental scientific duality. High-throughput technologies such as gene-expression microarrays have lead to the accumulation of massive amounts of data, orders of magnitude in excess to what has heretofore been conceivable. But the accumulation of data does not constitute science, nor does the a postiori rational analysis of data.
What's happened since? Another black hole?

Contest question, for a free copy of Expelled?: What rules of science are relevant for genomics. Are they being followed?
This one didn't attract a lot of entries and they were all from the same person. Principally, I suppose, that is because many people interested in genomics react to the "crisis" the way I reacted to a recent claim about a crisis" in cosmology around gravity. To most of us, a crisis is when you lock yourself out of the house and see through the window that the dog has tipped the candlabra and set fire to the carpet. If you don't do something useful right this minute, you soon won't have a house or a dog.

Okay, and the winner is, by acclamation, Lock, for 2:
From Edward R Dougherty: "But the accumulation of data does not constitute science, nor does the a postiori rational analysis of data."

I assume he uses an a priori framework with which to make that judgement?

Of course he does. And rightly so. And that lens is the one science should be using (and does… but not consistently).

Here is the insanity… science uses this lens religiously, except that when doing so the evidence points to religious conclusions.

Denyse, you asked: "What rules of science are relevant for genomics?"

Available empirical data examined consistently through the lens of the 'law of non-contradiction'.

"Are they being followed?"

Really now… is that question necessary?
While Lock says he already owns Expelled, it may make a handy gift item, so he needs to be in touch with me at, to arrange shipment of his prize.


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