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Monday, September 28, 2009

Intelligent design and popular culture: New ID book actually matters

Apparently, Breakpoint's Chuck Colson likes Steve Meyer's Signature in the Cell (Harper One, 2009):
I’m going to warn you up front: Signature in the Cell is not light reading. If you are not conversant in molecular biology, you might feel a bit overwhelmed at times.

But this is a profound, hugely important book for anybody interested in the scientific debate of our times—the origins of life. I feel it’s so important that we have posted an excerpt of the book at our website,, along with links to materials that will help you understand the main points of Signature in the Cell.

So what lies at the heart of Dr. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is the concept of information. And, as scientists have learned, the very building block of life—molecular DNA—is a vast storehouse of information. Information in the form of a four-character chemical alphabet that, when precisely arranged, provides the “instructions” for forming proteins and the structures that living cells need to survive.
Don't be intimidated. I am really glad that this concept is percolating down to the public because it is immensely important.

Darwin knew nothing of this, because the very concepts did not exist until World War II in Britain when scientists were trying to figure out how to break Nazi code. His tax burden followers perpetuate his ignorance with simple, reductionist theories about how life develops, but it won't do you any good.

I'm still getting through Signature, not because it is especially difficult but because I must concurrently read a number of other books and materials.


Origin of life theory: Complexity theorist Kauffman moving on

Stuart Kauffman, a big name in complexity theory, is leaving the University of Calgary for the University of Vermont . He used to be at the Santa Fe Institute.

I'm not clear on what he actually did at the University of Calgary, Canada, that attracted much attention but you can read more about him at Edge.

He wrote a book called Reinventing the Sacred, but he could have written it in Death Valley or Alaska. I am told it is the usual science-religion Templeton style book.

The press release informs me that Kauffman is ''one of the world's most eminent scientists" and that the MacArthur foundation has officially labelled him a "genius," stuff I could never have imagined from reading his first book, At Home in the Universe. But then I had no idea that Richard Dawkins (a guy who can't even find his own computer code) is, by his own admission, "the most formidable intellect in public discourse" either.

Obviously, these people take the concept of humility much more seriously than most people I run into.

An interesting coincidence is that Kauffman shared the 2005 Trotter Prize at Texas A&M with our own Bill Dembski, often sighted here. Does that make Bill a genius too?

I hope not. Co-blogging with a genius, I might feel intimidated (something you sure don't need in this business) or else start to give myself airs ("the most formidable intellect in raccoon riddance on Latimer Avenue in Toronto"). Hey, I want a more fashionable hairdresser already.

Details: Right now
Kauffman is director for biocomplexity and informatics at the University of Calgary. Over the past year, he has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School and will concurrently hold the title of "Finnish Distinguished Professor" with the Tempere University of Technology in Finland during part of his tenure at UVM.
Kauffman will join UVM's Complex Systems Center with a joint faculty appointment in the university's College of Medicine and College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. Funding secured by Senator Patrick Leahy in the NASA budget for 2009 launched the Complex Systems Center.

"I couldn't be more pleased that Dr. Kauffman, a world-renowned scholar, author, and entrepreneur in complex systems, has chosen the University of Vermont to continue his transformational work," said vice president for research and dean of the Graduate College, Domenico Grasso. "Stuart is tackling some of the most difficult and important issues of our time, from the behavior of cells in cancer treatment to the origin of life. His work adds new strength to the University of Vermont's growing reputation as a national center for excellence in high-value, multidisciplinary, and relevant research for our 21st century society."
In case you wondered,
Complex systems science focuses on the emergent and adaptive behaviors between multiple systems and their interactions  environmental, social, economic, technological  and has been identified as a strategic focus area for both federal government and private industry research investments in the next ten years. Over the past four years, and in advance of these national trends, UVM has successfully recruited world-class young faculty in complex systems  faculty with interests in adaptive robotics, social networks, infectious disease transmission, chaotic systems and climate change, "smart" energy systems, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.

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