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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Further quick posts: Recent events in the intelligent design controversy

■ In Frederick Turner's What's Good about Atheism
Societies that have developed sophisticated theological systems have tended to develop sciences and advanced technologies as well, because of a fundamental theological belief that things make sense and that there is an underlying order to the world. Thus from a strictly Darwinian perspective—the ultimate practical expression of pragmatism (and one to which I subscribe), religion is a powerful, perhaps the most powerful, survival strategy. One can even set aside the statistics that show that religious people tend to be happier, more long-lived, richer, and get better sex. If, pragmatically, by their fruits ye shall know them, and truth is whatever gets you the goodies and continues your germ line, the atheist should try to hypnotize himself into being a believer.

But this is shooting fish in a barrel. There are, actually, many valuable correctives and important questions that are offered by the atheist perspective.

One is here reminded of Satan's fateful question regarding Job,
"Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 1:9-11, NIV)
, which precipitate's Job's wild career of suffering, during which he never did curse God. Turner's attempt to find a natural religion stumbles over this, I think.

■ On origin of life, oceanographer Edward Peltzer (UCSD '79) writes to say
1. The structure of DNA (the double helix) and Miller's first experiment were published in the same year, literally months apart, in 1953. In the ensuing 53 years, genetics and molecular biology has made great strides, Miller and cohorts are still trying to make all 20 amino acids plus the 5 nucleobases in a single pot (they can make them all but have to do it in several vessels with different conditions in each = evidence of fine tuning, but that is a different story). Why is one field making daily discoveries and the other is still crawling? Simple: genetics begins with the presumption of a code = intelligence; Miller began with the presumption of random reactions leading to a random walk for the field = wandering in the wilderness with no sense of direction.

2. OoL researchers assert that a few simple reactions is all that is needed to go from a dilute broth to a living organism BECAUSE then they can dismiss an intelligence behind it all. Their investigations are directed by their materialist prejudices. In reality, we already know what the few simple reactions are that come next -- Miller describes a red oily goo coating the insides of his flasks after a few days -- and these are the products of the Maillard reaction. The reaction is well known (look it up on the web) and adequately explains the fact that the amino acid concentrations plateau long before the precursor compounds are consumed. These colored products are known as melanoids (formed by the condensation of reducing sugars with amino acids). They are highly branched, cross-linked, heterogeneous and generally intractable to detailed analysis. Hardly the compounds necessary as precursors of the linear, homogeneous bio-polymers one needs to start building a cell. Only someone with great faith in a materialistic pathway can look at this mess and think that they are on the path to life.

3. An intelligent person can clearly see that each new discovery in biochemistry / genetics raises the bar that they are attempting to jump over.

Yes, but an intelligent person with a whack of grant money and the presumption that they must come up with an accidental origin, no matter how implausible?

■ Re ID in the UK A friend notes the following news stories:
ABC - "Widespread creationism teaching would worry Blair" in a story from Reuters that is just breathtakingly wrong.


BBC - Blair downplays creationism fears . This story is locally grounded and makes some sense.

However, from New Scientist we learn that in response to a question,
One subject that is of great concern to scientists is creationism. There has been a suggestion that creationism is being taught in some British schools. What are your views on this?
Blair replied,
This can be hugely exaggerated. I’ve visited one of the schools in question and as far as I’m aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way. If I notice creationism become the mainstream of the education system in this country then that’s the time to start worrying. As I’ve said, it’s really quite important for science to fight the battles it needs to fight. ...

The whole interview is worth reading. At some point, some legacy media firm's story stencil needs replacing. This is that point, but they might go out of business first.

■ Norbert Smith, also known as Doc Gator, on whose recent book on the passive fear response in alligators, marsupials, and placental mammals I have blogged writes me to say that he has been refused permission to use a photo by an Ontario based photographer because he is writing for the Creation Society Research Journal
I KNOW this will not make the Evening News, but thought you might like to know that prejudice in science is alive and well, even in Canada. I am writing a small article for CRSQ about how skunk cabbage can literally melt the snow by non-shivering thermogenesis much like endothermic animals keep warm. I sought permission to use the first in the series of beautiful photos found at Ontario Wildflowers - Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), but was denied permission to do so.

Well here's the letter:
The goals and values of the organization to which you will be submitting your article do not at all match mine. So I decline to provide permission for use of my photo for this purpose.

Thank you for your inquiry. I respect your point of view and that of CRS, but those views are simply not mine. I wish you all the best with your journey.

The refuser was an Ontario naturalist photographer. I cannot reveal his name, as I have not sought his permission.

I will say this, though: Many Canadians garner a cheap righteousness from dissing whoever they can get away with. Sometimes we do this in order to inflate our own achievements, but more often to preserve our narrow, pristine world which is always under a supposed threat. Smith informs me that he can find another photo. I am sure he can.


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