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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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August 7, 2005

An Off-Topic Ramble

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Posted by Derek

Note for new readers: I don't talk much about politics on this site, since there are more than enough blogs to cover every political position imaginable. But once in a while we veer off course. . .

The uproar over President Bush's support for "Intelligent Design" seems to have died down a bit. (You can find commentary all over the blog world, naturally - My fellow Corantean Carl Zimmer was, understandably, dismayed. For some cries of distress on the pro-Bush side, try Sissy Willis, Jane Galt, and this roundup at Instapundit.)

I wasn't too thrilled myself. I have no time for the ID folks. I think that the best of them are mistaken, and the worst are flat-out intellectually dishonest. But I wasn't that surprised by Bush's statement, either. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that he doesn't know enough biology to know how silly his support (wishy-washy though it was) makes him sound to people who do.

But I also think that, as a politician, Bush made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that saying this sort of thing wouldn't do him any harm, and (within error bars) it probably hasn't. I'm not sure how much of a slice of the electorate people like me represent (voted for Bush twice, convinced that Intelligent Design is pernicious), but I'll bet it's not too big. And other issues, which frankly - though I hate to admit it - I find to be more pressing, still leave me not regretting my vote in the last election. If Bush goes further in promoting ID teaching, I will of course oppose that in any way I can think of, in the same way I opposed his steel and textile tariffs. That doesn't mean I'm cheerful about the situation, but there's no possible President who wouldn't tick me off about something or another.

I would expect most Presidents to outsource their needs for any knowledge of evolutionary biology, anyway. It's not a job requirement. Now, I know that being smart enough to see problems with Intelligent Design would seem, on the other hand, to be a job requirement, but it depends on what a person turns their attention to. And a review of Presidential history suggests that performance is not well correlated with intelligence, anyway. If anything, the distribution is a bit U-shaped. Dullards like Franklin Pierce and Warren Harding failed, but on the other end of the scale, academicians like Woodrow Wilson failed in different ways.

Aaron Haspel's discussion of "Chet" - friendly, hard-working, well-adjusted, riotously well-paid Chet - is worth reading in this context. And I'll let James Branch Cabell have the last word, in a famous passage from Jurgen, when he meets that fantasy's nearest thing to God:

". . .And of a sudden Jurgen perceived that this Koshchei the Deathless was not particularly intelligent. Then Jurgen wondered why he should ever have expected Koshchei to be intelligent? Koshchei was omnipotent, as men estimate omnipotence: but by what course of reasoning had people come to believe that Koshchei was clever, as men estimate cleverness? The fact that, to the contrary, Koshchei seemed well-meaning, but rather slow of apprehension and a little needlessly fussy, went far toward explaining a host of matters which had long puzzled Jurgen. Cleverness was, of course, the most admirable of all traits: but cleverness was not at the top of things, and never had been."

I'll try to talk a bit about Chets (and George Bushes) as I've experienced them in the drug industry in an upcoming post.

Comments (38) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News | Intelligent Design


COMMENTS

1. daen on August 8, 2005 5:51 AM writes...

Few problems are actually either as pressing or as important as this. Science and engineering are treated with contempt or, at best, ignored by most Congressmen and Senators. How many of them are from a science or engineering background? How many from business or law? That's quite a disparity. With all due respect, an ability to argue the law is not a prerequisite for, and probably mitigates against, being a good scientist. Legal frameworks are complex and baroque and mirror a country's social, political and cultural history which, of course, is why international tax and extradition treaties (and indeed the UN and diplomacy) aren't a walk in the park. On the other hand, a good tub-thumping essay, however pleasing to the hoi polloi (or the bench), doesn't belong in PNAS or Nature.

Which is why admitting a vehicle of pure rhetoric like ID into an environment where pure rhetoric has no place is such a bad idea. What it will teach children is that science is about who can argue the longest and the loudest. It will teach children that science is not about creativity, inutition, hard work, careful thought, logic and analytical ability. And, following through, I don't particularly want to fly on the plane built by a team of engineers whose main selling point is that they could out-shout the others.

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2. Derek Lowe on August 8, 2005 7:09 AM writes...

I know what you're talking about - I wouldn't want to climb so much as a stepladder that was built by political means rather than by carpenters.


One of the things that drives me craziest about the ID people is the "just a theory" argument - you know, "teach the controversy", "all sides of the issue", etc. But that kind of language is meat and potatoes to politicians, who love (and can smell from a great distance) potential compromise positions that might please the greatest number of voters (and tick off the fewest). And that, of course, is a big reason why the Intelligent Design folks phrase things that way.


This is why I think it's important to fight ID, but to not expect to do so by making politicians change the way that they act. Rolling back the Intelligent Design people will be a political process, accomplished by making politicians think that that decision is in their best interest.

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3. SP on August 8, 2005 7:30 AM writes...

I suspect you want to continue to avoid politics on this blog, there are enough other places for that. However, I hope you've read people like Chris Mooney who discuss the Bush approach to science and regulation in general- it's not just about ID. From the sound of your views on Bush, I'm worried you're reading too much Instapundit.

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4. WBurke on August 8, 2005 9:30 AM writes...

Look in your empty garage, throw in a set of keys to a car (far more than the whole evolution theory had to begin with) and come back what 2-4 million years later and see if there is a car there.

That is not logical now is it?

Well how about the fact that all around us we have manufacturers, manufacturing, designers, designing, yet our "scientists" are trying to convince us that given enough time all these things would have EVOLVED from the forces of "nature".

Your arrogance is indescribable, your elitist attitude (Oh you can't talk to me about evolution, because you're just a stupid uneducated simpleton who thinks ID has science behind it, what a laugh, haven't you seen the museums that support evolution?)makes the idea of having a fruitful conversation with any of you about this improbable.

Considering that science is supposedly based on EVIDENCE and everyone knows you can't go to a graveyard and dig up Bones McCoy and start telling about his family history (longevity, numbers, occupations, physical deformities of relatives, etc) how exactly is it that you guys stand on a mountain of fossils, in layers of sediment (which any global flood would have caused) amid the presence of Polystrate fossils (again something that could only happen in a flood as no tree seeds could be strong enough to grow through era's of solidified soil or last for millions of years) and think you've got conclusive PROOF Darwin was right?

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5. Derek Lowe on August 8, 2005 9:31 AM writes...

Yep, this is as close to a political thread as I'm going to get, and it'll only happen once in a while. I figured, though, that if I'm going to be a science-blogging type, I couldn't let this one slide by without looking either lazy or disingenuous.

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6. The Novice Chemist on August 8, 2005 10:10 AM writes...

Ugh. As someone who is both religiously observant and a scientist, this is like listening to your divorced parents argue in the kitchen.


One thing that stuns me is that with the world pressing in and competing for jobs, etc., can this possibly be an important issue? This is a clearly an issue that is to be learned at school and discussed at home.

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7. Timothy on August 8, 2005 10:47 AM writes...

Is it wrong to love WBurke's comments purely out of spite? No internet troll has ever made me so happy not to be crazy.

Derek: I generally agree with you, but I think the saddest thing about all this is that the POTUS feels the need to define a position on classroom curricula. It's pathetic that we've gotten to that point, really. So much for limited government.

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8. daen on August 8, 2005 12:15 PM writes...

I thank my atheist bones, WBurke, that when I die I won't be spending eternity anywhere near you.

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9. utenzi on August 8, 2005 2:12 PM writes...

While the thought of voting for President Bush horrifies me, everything else you said I agree with Derek. Anyone who seriously believes ID isn't a person I'm going to worry about--and the liars and posers who just use ID for political reasons I can't do anything about. So why eat my guts out over it?

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10. Katherine on August 8, 2005 2:44 PM writes...

Well, to be fair, Bush didn't go out and hold a press conference on classroom curricula. He got asked a question and answered it, and he prefaced his answer by saying the decision should be left to local school districts. (Transcript here.)

I'm hoping to move to rural Missouri in the next couple of years, and I don't imagine the local school board will think much of my views on evolution, but I figure I can handle it. I'd rather fight local support for creationism than have the science curriculum dictated by Washington.

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11. jsinger on August 8, 2005 2:58 PM writes...

re Bush: As Katherine says, he wasn't issuing a statement on the subject. He was asked a question and gave what he thought was an anodyne "We need to look at both sides.." answer. I have plenty of objections to Bush, but this hardly makes my list.

re Chet: I don't necessarily care for fratboy types, but their loudest critics -- the sort of people who think LSAT scores should be the sole measure of a person's quality and worth -- are still less attractive to me.

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12. SRC on August 8, 2005 3:16 PM writes...

Few problems are actually either as pressing or as important as this.

daen, I beg to differ.


First, the evolution/creationism argument is neither pressing nor important. It's more in the nature of a barroom debate about who was the best athlete – it provides grist for conversation, but changes no one's mind, and has minimal social impact. Creationism strikes me as silly, but to my mind the whole issue is something of a Ginger/MaryAnn kind of debate, a trivial issue compared to balancing an effective fight against terrorism with maintaining civil liberties insofar as possible.


Science and engineering are treated with contempt or, at best, ignored by most Congressmen and Senators. How many of them are from a science or engineering background? How many from business or law? That's quite a disparity.

I have to defer to your knowledge on the first point. In any case, the desirability of having many scientists and engineers in government is debatable. (Recall that Jimmy Carter, by all accounts one of the worst Presidents of the 20th century, was a nuclear engineer.) There's nothing magical about science and engineering, nor anything about it that especially qualifies anyone to serve in the legislative or executive branches of government.


Politics is a social endeavor, not a technical one, and requires the ability to perceive and balance others' interests and needs. Scientists and engineers are notoriously bad at this; interpersonal skills are not their strong suit (only programmers are worse, in my experience). That ability is central to business and law; businessmen and lawyers lacking it fail dismally.


With all due respect, an ability to argue the law is not a prerequisite for, and probably mitigates [sic] against, being a good scientist.

Not true; both require skill at logic, but in any case, it's not relevant, since Congressmen aren't proposing to be scientists. (Also, consider the converse to your proposition: the ability to synthesize a compound certainly is not a prerequisite for the ability to draft coherent, sensible legislation.) Most scientists lack the verbal skills to make good lawyers; the sloppy linguistic usages with which the journals are replete would, in the legal context, result in untold litigation.


Science (that is basic science, not applied, as in pharma, which is basically like engineering) seeks fundamental verities. Law seeks what IT types call "scalability", philosophical principles that can be applied consistently across presently unforeseen contigencies to implement public policy. As such, it requires close reasoning to ensure that no future combination of variables will, in combination with the principle, lead to an unacceptable result (the legal equivalent of a contra-thermodynamic outcome). This is surprisingly difficult to do, and deserves respect.


So for my money, after years of experience with scientists, businessmen, and lawyers, on the whole I'd much rather have the latter two groups in Congress than the first, despite belonging to it.


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13. WBurke on August 8, 2005 6:03 PM writes...

That's unfortunate daen, because the only other option is an eternity in the fires of Hell, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not even you.

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14. daen on August 8, 2005 6:24 PM writes...

That's unfortunate daen, because the only other option is an eternity in the fires of Hell, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not even you.

So, no hope for my karma? Reincarnation off the list? Nothing in the Rig-Veda that might save me? Or the Torah? Or the Koran? Or the Guru Granth Sahib? Or the Greco-Roman pantheon? So, if none of the others have any claim on me, why are you so arrogantly certain that a Christian god has, and indeed, who has given you the authority to judge and condemn me so?

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15. Timothy on August 8, 2005 7:11 PM writes...

daen: Well, obviously, like God totally did. Burke is a direct conduit, didn't you get the memo? Some people think the Pope is God's conduit on Earth, but they're wrong. It's WBurke.

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16. daen on August 8, 2005 7:45 PM writes...

mitigates [sic] against
Militates, I meant! Blast, I hate it when someone else makes a miskate like that.


minimal social impact
I'm not sure. Might we see the Scopes trial, and the circumstances leading up to it, all over again? What sort of victory for anyone would that be?

There's nothing magical about science and engineering, nor anything about it that especially qualifies anyone to serve in the legislative or executive branches of government.
I'm talking about balance and informed debate, not dominance. According to the National Academy of Engineering, only 4% of the 107th Congress had medical, scientific or engineering backgrounds. I have no idea whether the picture has changed. I suspect not.


requires the ability to perceive and balance others' interests and needs.
Indeed, the art of the possible. And the art of compromise. Given the nature of science's quest for verities, compromise and consensus make for poor science, which makes for poor teaching. Unbroken, this dismal chain of poverty will eventually erode the research base which forms the foundation of so much of industry and technology in the US.

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17. WBurke on August 9, 2005 12:09 AM writes...

Daen, Daen, I'm not judging you dude, you've already judged yourself out of any chance of Heaven because you deny the only person EVER to conquer death and rise again, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who took upon Him the penalty for your sins and my sins, a penalty that must be paid. God cannot be in the presence of sin and we, in our sinful state, cannot see the face of God and live. You can spend your life worshiping all those other gods and spiritual idols but if you breath your last and have not repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as LORD of your life, forsaking all He may require - even your life, to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then my friend you will be breathing embers in the fires of Hell for an eternity.

You know what eternity means don't you? Ten years from when you arrive you're no closer to the end than you were 9 years earlier?

Name for me one other Deity that has themself conquered sin and death, has risen to Glory, and in life raised the dead and brought sight to the blind?

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18. SRC on August 9, 2005 12:23 AM writes...

Might we see the Scopes trial, and the circumstances leading up to it, all over again?

What was the impact of the Scopes trial, other than finishing off William Jennings Bryan and farm state populism, and inspiring Inherit the Wind? All parties to the Scopes trial essentially viewed it as a debating forum, not a serious prosecution. Scopes himself, IIRC, responded to a request that someone challenge the law. Its long-term impact was somewhere between minimal and non-existent. The designated hitter rule has had a greater long-term effect (deleterious, in my view) than the Scopes trial.

I'm talking about balance and informed debate, not dominance. According to the National Academy of Engineering, only 4% of the 107th Congress had medical, scientific or engineering backgrounds.

No point to having them there; the chances of a particular technical person's expertise being on point for a given issue is nil. (Say a matter concerning semiconductors or cloning comes up. What does a chemist know about it? Bupkus, that's what.) Even if that person's expertise were relevant, that expertise should be ignored (for the same reason jurors with expertise relevant to a case are excluded). It's undemocratic and intellectually hazardous to accept arguments from authority.

[As an aside, implicitly one may think that a scientist in Congress would favor (i.e., dole out money to) science, but suppose that weren't so? Or suppose Dr. Congressman proposed shifting support from your field to his field? Then his ability to speak as an authority on science – and therefore difficult to argue with - would be much less desirable.]

Moreover, how often do experts disagree? (Or, more to the point, how often do they agree? Look at the global warming debate.) That's what Congressmen have staffs for; to research positions for them. Technical considerations are only one facet a legislator needs to consider in deciding his position, and typically not the most important one. Technical aspects tend to be either cut and dried – in which case they are not an issue – or unclear, in which case they are inevitably convolved with politics.

To extend your point, how many members of Congress have, say, banking, construction, agricultural, or manufacturing backgrounds? Each of these field is far more important for making substantive contributions to the everyday workings of Congress than a scientific background.

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19. daen on August 9, 2005 6:55 AM writes...

Its long-term impact was somewhere between minimal and non-existent

Quite. The Butler Act was religiously inspired. Darrow and Bryan were less concerned with Scopes's case than about defending their ideological positions, and the way in which the Scopes trial was conducted really put neither side in a favourable light. It took a further 30 years before the Butler Act was repealed. And today, is evolution a widely accepted fact? "We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States," said Darrow during the trial. I would say that purpose has not been fulfilled.


It's undemocratic and intellectually hazardous to accept arguments from authority.
I don't think so, if that authority is democratically elected to argue on your behalf.

Look at the global warming debate
That is also a politically, not scientifically, motivated debate. Every paper on climate change published in Science or Nature shows evidence of real measurable anthropogenic effects. That indicates a very broad measure of agreement between the experts in this case.


banking, construction, agricultural, or manufacturing backgrounds? Each of these field is far more important for making substantive contributions to the everyday workings of Congress than a scientific background.

The everyday workings of Congress affect and inform the future workings of society. I think it is very important that Congress members are not only capable of arguing briefs written for them by advisers, but that they need to have a personal understanding of the issues under debate, especially where those issues court controversy and pertain to science, before they pass into law.

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20. daen on August 9, 2005 7:15 AM writes...

WBurke, are you offering me brimstone and treacle now mixed with chlorella? Ugh. I suggest that you go and sit in a meadow and watch some butterflies until you feel human again. Could take a while from the sound of it.

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21. LNT on August 9, 2005 7:17 AM writes...

I'm a PhD chemist in "big pharma" (Wyeth) -- maybe that adds some credibility to what I'll say, maybe it doesn't.
Why should I presuppose that there is not a "God" involved in the creation of what we see? Isn't that the antithesis of good science? Science is not supposed to presuppose anything!

The thing about I.D. that I find complelling is the concept of "irreducible complexity". You can see it both in macrobiology and microbiology: the parts of the system alone serve no purpose -- they only function as part of a UNIT. You can see this in various signalling cascades, simple organs, and even in the food chain. (i.e. plants and animals could not have evolved seperately -- we need each other for survival) What selective advantage did the pieces of the unit serve?

I.D. may be politically unpopular in the scietific community, but I have yet to hear why it is scientifly unsound.

On the other hand, I have to agree with an ealier post: the whole arguement is overblown -- both sides get very upset about a "theory" that has very little relevance to our daily life.

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22. daen on August 9, 2005 8:52 AM writes...

LNT, ID is not science, because the conclusion has already been arrived at (that a creator created everything) and the only evidence which is considered is that which supports the conclusion. What it is is a modification of one of many narrative creation myths. The fact that an alternative hypothesis with equal explanatory power (that the Universe was sneezed out of the nostril of the Great Green Arkleseizure, for example) is not discussed is because ID has been primarily constructed by Christian fundamentalists, and not, say, fans of Douglas Adams. In other words, it's an artifact of a cultural background, not some deep-seated basic truth. Like all creation myths, it's still interesting, because of what it tells us about the people that believe in it, but, in an objective scientific sense, it reveals nothing new or interesting or meaningful about the universe or how we came to be in it.

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23. The Novice Chemist on August 9, 2005 11:36 AM writes...

Just to nitpick, ID's main proponent is Prof. Michael Behe. I believe that he's a Roman Catholic; this Prod is happy to point out that the Catholic Church is far from typical religious fundamentalism as practiced in the United States.

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24. SRC on August 9, 2005 2:25 PM writes...

It's undemocratic and intellectually hazardous to accept arguments from authority. I don't think so, if that authority is democratically elected to argue on your behalf.

It's not clear we're talking about the same thing. By "argument from authority" I mean the stance that "I know more about this than you, so you should defer to my position, just because I say so."

I don’t care whether someone is elected or not, such an argument is beneath contempt intellectually.

[All too often people who resort to it don't know much about the matter, because if they did, they'd be more than happy to bore the pants off everyone explaining it in excruciating detail.]

The everyday workings of Congress affect and inform the future workings of society. I think it is very important that Congress members are not only capable of arguing briefs written for them by advisers, but that they need to have a personal understanding of the issues under debate, especially where those issues court controversy and pertain to science, before they pass into law.

Again, the chance that any given Congressman's technical expertise would actually be relevant to a particular issue is remote. It would be like shooting at birds with a hunting rifle. On an issue a millimeter away from his expertise, he'd be at the same Scientific American reader level as every other member of Congress. Imagine, say, a chemist in Congress; an issue arises concerning the semiconductor industry, and all heads turn to him. What does he know about it?

Even if the guy was a medicinal chemist, and it concerned pharma, what does a medicinal chemist necessarily know about pharma as an industry? No one is going to be asking him about the Woodward-Hoffman rules; they might ask how gross margins or the percent of revenues devoted to R&D have changed over the last 30 years. Do you know? I don't. I better Derek doesn't either. Why should we? If we were in Congress, we'd turn to our staffs and say, "Find out." You don't need a scientific background for that.

The point is that a Congressman (or any senior executive) operates at a much broader level than any scientist, who can (and indeed must) take a deeper but necessarily narrower view of things. No one expects the Secretary of Defense to qualify on the rifle range, or be able to field strip an M-16; he needs to be able to sift through and weigh disparate sources of information, draw conclusions, set goals and directions, select and work through people to achieve those goals, hold those people accountable for progress, and represent his organization to third parties. Interpersonal, management, and communication skills are the recurring theme; most technical people are more comfortable dealing with ideas and equipment than with people.

BTW, Congressmen don't argue briefs. Their advisers provide them with information to reach and then support their own conclusions. Their actual speeches may be written for them, but the views expressed in them are theirs, and they know they will have to defend them in public (particularly at the next election). A Congressman is a lot more than a newsreader, for whom that is not true.

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25. daen on August 9, 2005 2:56 PM writes...

Congressmen don't argue briefs

I didn't mean that literally. I don't know whether it parallels the situation in the US, but in the UK very often an MP will vote on a bill based on nothing more than what the Whip's Office says they should vote. It's a rare backbench MP who has the courage of their convictions not to toe the party line. And when answering parliamentary questions (PQs), a Minister (head of a government department) will be provided with a list of likely questions and acceptable responses by the Civil Service and his political advisers. Again, the situation may be different in the US, but there is virtually no requirement for a given Minister to become involved in the troublesome details of actually knowing what they are talking about, which is rather a shame.

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26. PandaFan on August 9, 2005 3:54 PM writes...

A few comments

1) The important issue is whether ID should be taught as science in public schools. That is why it is an important topic, and why it should be fought -- it isn't science, so it shouldn't be in the science class

2) Irreducible complexity is simply a subjective concept -- it is the argument that I have imagined all possible routes which evolution could follow and proven every one impossible.

A notable example was pointed out by Russell Doolittle: one of Behe's examples was the mammalian clotting cascade, which Behe claimed could not function unless every component functioned. Doolittle pointed out that it had already been experimentally proven that the clotting system could function with _two_ components removed.

A related problem with the 'IC' concept is that it assumes that all routes must proceed from simpler predecessors, ignoring the possibility that the immediate predecessor may have been more complicated (but some prior ancestor simpler). By the ID logic, virtually all hydroelectric facilities were impossible to build, because you can't cast concrete underwater. Of course, that ignores the fact that structures that no longer exist (such as coffer dams) enabled the construction. In a similar way, biological structures that enabled a prior form may have been lost from organisms once they were no longer needed. Evolutionary theory argues you should look for evidence of such things; ID says why bother.

3) The argument that plants & animals can't exist without the other confuses the current state with possible prior states: just because two things are dependent now doesn't mean they were always that way. It also ignores that there are plenty of plants which do not have any great dependence on animals for their existence -- confusing a general trend for a universal law.

4) It is also worth noting that the overall structure of signalling cascade systems strongly suggests evolutionary processes -- both in the way entire systems are replicated using homologous components and the overall topology of biological signalling networks (small world networks).

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27. Derek Lowe on August 9, 2005 4:37 PM writes...

An excellent summing up, PandaFan.

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28. steve on August 9, 2005 9:48 PM writes...

I would have been surprised if Bush had repeated what his science advisor said a while ago--that ID is not science. This administration has taken the wrong side on most science-related political disputes, such as global warming.

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29. LNT on August 10, 2005 9:58 AM writes...

Daen,
Your quote:
"ID is not science, because the conclusion has already been arrived at (that a creator created everything) and the only evidence which is considered is that which supports the conclusion."

That's a good point Daen -- by it's very name, I.D. presupposes a creator. Maybe you are correct. However, evolutionary theory presupposes the absence of a creator. Why should it be taught in schools? BOTH THEORIES MAKE PRESUPPOSITIONS! Should we ignore both?

Purposeless creation leads to a purposeless existance. I don't believe that we should teach our children that we are simply freak accidents of nature -- because we aren't.

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30. LNT on August 10, 2005 10:04 AM writes...

As a followup to that last post, I don't have a problem (at all) with the tenents of evolution. I have problem with the "purposelessness" of the whole process. If there is no "grand designer" behind the process evolution/creation, then why are we here?

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31. Derek Lowe on August 10, 2005 11:05 AM writes...

There must be a personality component operating here, because I've heard LNT's objection many times myself. But it's never resonated with me, although it clearly does with many people.

On a non-evolution-debate front, I hear people wondering "Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?", and I'm always surprised by the unspoken assumption that there is one

Perhaps that comes, for better or worse, from scientific training. The universe doesn't (to me) particularly seem to care about what I think or do. I care, and some other people care, but the chemicals I work with and the galaxies I see at night through my telescope are completely indifferent.

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32. Lou Wainwright on August 10, 2005 12:07 PM writes...

LNT - I understand your concern, but evolutionary theory does not presupposes the absence of a creator. It simply says that one does not need to presume a creator for the theory to be consistent. Its no different than the theory of gravity. You don't need to presume a creator of the gravity to describe the function and behavior of gravity, but neither does the theory say that their can't be a creator.


The real issue I belive is your second point, "I don't belive that we should teach our children that we are simply freak accidents of nature -- because we aren't." This point of view is not science, it is philosophy or religion. Let me give another example. Science says that based on our understanding of stellar evolution that the Sun will turn into a red giant in roughly 5 billion years and the earth will be destroyed. Does that mean that all life is ultimately pointless? If humans are still alive then, should they damn God for creating a world that was doomed to die? Those are perfectly good questions for a philosophy discussion, but they have nothing to do with the scientific question of the lifetime of the sun. In the same way, the scientific evidence is that it appears that human existance can be explained without the direct intervention of a creator and yes, without a purpose. That leads you to ask, "...then why are we here?", a good question, but not one to ask of an evolutionist.


Let me give you one final example. Science, astronomers in particular, tell us that there are trillions upon trillions of stars in the universe. Further, many of those stars should have solar systems around them. And it seems to me extremely likely that around some of those stars are intellegent beings that we could communicate with. But, physicists tell us that the speed of light CANNOT be exceeded. A thorough and realistic look at the rules of the universe, the statistics of life devoping, and the distances involved, lead me to believe that it is likely that no human being will ever meet, or even communicate with, an alien intellegence. I find this heart-breaking. Why, I would ask God, create such a huge universe, filled with such wonder and diversity, and then create rules that prevent us from being able to explore it. But I would not consider challenging my child's physics teacher lesson that the speed of light is the absolute limit because otherwise the universe would be purposeless. They are two entirely different questions, in the same way as your concerns about evolutionary theory and humanities 'freak existance' are.

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33. Lou Wainwright on August 10, 2005 12:26 PM writes...

[Completely off topic]



It is almost physically painful for me to read that preceeding post. I simply cannot accurately proofread and correct in this silly little box! Is there some reason that commenting has to use such an incredibly basic and limited word processing technology? I hate it!



[Thanks for reading my rant]

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34. SRC on August 10, 2005 1:10 PM writes...

daen,

I don't know whether it parallels the situation in the US, but in the UK very often an MP will vote on a bill based on nothing more than what the Whip's Office says they should vote. It's a rare backbench MP who has the courage of their convictions not to toe the party line.

I know it's the case in the UK, but it's not true in the US. (We're a more contrary lot.) Congressmen derive much of their clout from wobbling (or threatening to wobble) on issues, and thereby extracting concessions (hence "pork barrel" projects, i.e., Federal largesse directed to that Congressman's district) from others. Relatively few votes fall along strict party lines.

And when answering parliamentary questions (PQs), a Minister (head of a government department) will be provided with a list of likely questions and acceptable responses by the Civil Service and his political advisers.

No firsthand knowledge here, but I suspect that in the US it's the other way around: the head of the government department decides policy and his staff carries it out, or else. I don't think the "Yes, Minister" scenario obtains here, because the administration appoints not only the head of the government department, but also most of the senior members of that department. Career civil servants do not wield the same kind of power (or have the same prestige) that they do in the UK.

Also note that, unlike in the UK, heads of government departments here are not also Congressmen; running the department is their full-time job.

Again, the situation may be different in the US, but there is virtually no requirement for a given Minister to become involved in the troublesome details of actually knowing what they are talking about, which is rather a shame.

Exactly the same here!

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35. SRC on August 10, 2005 1:13 PM writes...

On a non-evolution-debate front, I hear people wondering "Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?", and I'm always surprised by the unspoken assumption that there is one.

Entropy generation. We're entropy engines. Some people are just a lot better at it than others.

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36. daen on August 10, 2005 2:49 PM writes...

Lou, fret not; it was an excellent post. You can preview your posts before committing them completely to the pipeline. Also, you could use Word or Word Perfect or similar, then just select the whole gubbins, copy and paste in this squirty little box. I'm not sure what content management system Corante use, but I agree; the box could at least be a bit bigger ...

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37. GrrlScientist on August 11, 2005 11:13 AM writes...

I wrote an essay describing some of my thoughts regarding the value of blogs to science, especially regarding this so-called debate. It was inspired by the recent article about blogs published in The Scientist, so I do summarize the basic points made in that piece while also adding my own comments and opinions. I mention it here because I am curious to know what you think.

(Incidentally, thanks for the link from your blog, Derek. That was a pleasant surprise.)

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38. CrefCemiHiCle on November 9, 2009 2:56 AM writes...

Hello to All the Guests and Members.
My PC worked slowly, many errors. Help me, please to fix buggs on my PC.
My operation system is Windows XP.
With best regards,
CrefCemiHiCle

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