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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Uncommon Descent Contest 11: Can biotechnology bring back extinct animals?

This one's a bit of fun, but there is a serious purpose behind it. Go here to enter.

In "A Life of Its Own: Where will synthetic biology lead us?" (September 28, 2009 New Yorker mag), Michael Specter reports, "If the science truly succeeds, it will make it possible to supplant the world created by Darwinian evolution with one created by us."

Jurassic Park, anyone? Consider this:
... researchers have now resurrected the DNA of the Tasmanian tiger, the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, which has been extinct for more than seventy years. In 2008, scientists from the University of Melbourne and the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, extracted DNA from tissue that had been preserved in the Museum Victoria, in Melbourne. They took a fragment of DNA that controlled the production of a collagen gene from the tiger and inserted it into a mouse embryo. The DNA switched on just the right gene, and the embryo began to churn out collagen. That marked the first time that any material from an extinct creature other than a virus has functioned inside a living organism.

It will not be the last. A team from Pennsylvania State University, working with hair samples from two woolly mammoths—one of them sixty thousand years old and the other eighteen thousand—has tentatively figured out how to modify that DNA and place it inside an elephant’s egg. The mammoth could then be brought to term in an elephant mother. “There is little doubt that it would be fun to see a living, breathing woolly mammoth—a shaggy, elephantine creature with long curved tusks who reminds us more of a very large, cuddly stuffed animal than of a T. Rex.,” the Times editorialized soon after the discovery was announced. “We’re just not sure that it would be all that much fun for the mammoth.”

The article discusses both the promise and the peril or reengineering nature.

Personally, I am a bit skeptical that an extinct creature can be resurrected from DNA alone, but ... wait! What I thought was passing traffic turned out to be a herd of tyrannosaurs heading off to eat the McDonalds.

So now to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 11: For a free copy of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell (Harper One, 2009), how likely do you think biotechnologists will be in bringing back the Tasmanian wolf or the woolly mammoth? You can try the tyrannosaur too if you are feeling ambitious.

Here are the contest rules, not an extensive read.


Darwinism and academic culture: Darwinists blither on in the face of the growing storm

Here's an article that unintentionally reveals Darwinists as clueless, if not useless tax burdens:
The critics of Creationism — and theology-in-sheep’s-clothing version, Intelligent Design — find more than enough to criticize in the sermons and ‘instructional’ videos filled with simplistic arguments, opportunistic fact poaching, aggressive ignorance, moralistic posturing, and monumental self-deceit of all sorts. I could say that the ‘critique is easy,’ but after watching a few of the more clever videos that are critical of Creationism, I’d have to say that some of the critique is quite sophisticated and thoroughly trounces many of the points that Creationists make, taking them seriously enough to actually refute the outrageous claims point by point.

So in my contrarian spirit, I offer some sympathy for Creationists (apologies to the Rolling Stones), although I have no intention of suggesting that I believe their account of the origin of species. In addition, I have the luxury of not having to deal with these people directly very often, and they are certainly not making decisions about my child’s education on the basis of their understandings of sacred texts. So, if what I write seems too generous, please understand that these folks really aren’t my problem – condolences to you if they’re yours.
There is no awareness whatever in the article of the mounting science-based objections to Darwinism, or the fact that more and more people know about them.


Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds?

Here's the latest UD Contest Question, so use this link to enter.

Addressing the Inbox, I discovered this most interesting tale about lotteries in Bulgaria, a tale that reminds me of a similar suspicious lotto in my own Canadian province of Ontario.

In Money Matters, at Australia's, we learn that "Lottery numbers the same in consecutive draws in Bulgaria" (correspondents in Sofia, Agence France-Presse, September 16, 2009)

Here are the bullet points, and you can read the rest yourself.

- The numbers 4, 15, 23, 24, 35, and 42 were drawn two weeks in a row / File
- Same numbers picked in consecutive draws
- Review of the national lottery is ordered
- Probability is 4.2 million to one

Hmmmm. If these charges are true, I'm glad I am not in charge of that investigation. I would hardly want to hear all the lies people would probably try to tell me. Our Ontario premier, faced with a similar situation, fired the chair and the whole board of the lottery corporation and decided to start fixing the problem from scratch. I would recommend looking for statisticians and tough cops, not just anyone with the "power from behind" to sit through an endless board meeting.*

But here's the question that this and other questionable lottery stories leaves me with: The intelligent design theorists emphasize probability issues. Their chief knock against Darwinism is that it appears improbable. In the same way, an accidental origin of the fine-tuned values of our universe appears improbable. If I understand the matter correctly, the universe is assumed to be over 13 billion years old, or so, and Earth over 4 billion years old. (I assume these values for convenience as I believe them to be generally accepted.) So we can assume a basis for computing probability.

So, for a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, which addresses the fine tuning of the universe:

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds. If not, why not? If so, how?

You might want to look at Bill Dembski's No Free Lunch.

(Note: Thanks to Ilion Troas for alerting me to this story.)

*One alternative: Don't have a lottery at all. Lotteries attract vast moral hazard and corruption because they look like free money. I never supported the idea and don't buy tickets, and think that worthy causes should be funded in the usual ways, through taxes, donations, memberships, sponsorships, premiums, etc. But this mini-editorial is unrelated to the point of the contest question.

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