Friday, September 29, 2006

Whence life began

Ooh! This is fun! An entire issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society dedicated to research on the origin of life. It covers everything from the prebiotic earth to the chemistry of replicators. I'm going to see how much of it I can read today and over the weekend and try to post some summaries. I'm no biochemist, so don't expect too much critical analysis, but origin of life stuff is a bit of a side hobby of mine. So hopefully I can say something meaningful. In the meantime, if you're keen enough to slog through some of this stuff, check it out!

01/10/06: Not going to get around to posting any summaries soon. There's a couple of conferences coming up, so preparing my talks and finishing a manuscript have taken priority. I'll try to get on it before I leave.
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Sunday, September 24, 2006

And now for something completely different

Since I've been really busy and this site has recently been devoid of much content of a biological character, I'm going to continue the trend. Here's an interesting homepage for an artist who examines the interface of advertising and western media and politics. I like it. I think his stuff has guts, humour, and isn't (in my opinion) overly pretentious. He's also my cousin and so I should plug his stuff. I particularly like this piece and this one.

Check out the site and enjoy!
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Anti-science vs. anti-evolution

I've grown to disapprove of the term "anti-evolution" to refer to the efforts of creationists to undermine education about evolution. I find it too vague a term, as it could also imply being against the actual process of evolution itself. Moreover, it masks the fact that the fundamental problem with creationism is not the fact that it is counter to a particular scientific theory (in this case evolution). Rather, the problem with the modern creationist movement is that it attempts to erode the honest, questioning, and disinterested process of investigation that gives us the best and most meaningful view of the world. There is no need for me to re-iterate the number of ways in which creationism is anti-scientific.

Because of this, I prefer to characterize this contemporary movement against evolution as that which it is: anti-science.

Creationists will frequently argue that it is not their facts that are different but merely their interpretation. Whereas the evolutionist assumes there is no god, the creationist assumes that there is and we just get a different result. This kind of thinking exemplifies the creationist misunderstanding of science. For they have no concept simply not assuming anything about god. For them, the fact that this independent and freely-thinking method of reasoning cannot discover gods and mysticism is a threat, because the world that it can discover did not discover one in agreement with their favourite scriptures.

For this reason, religious bodies have attacked science at nearly major turn in its history. Evolution is only the latest victim. But reproductive biology is already under heavy fire and it won't be long before the neurosciences and psychology are victims, too. The attack on evolution is only part of a larger pandemic of superstitious unreason. The people who attack evolutionary science fear it because it has been one of the most stark reminders that a literal reading of Genesis is incompatible with science. It is doubly unnerving for these people since it presents an altogether more convincing case, thoroughly modern in its expression, and based on the same principles of reasoning that have given us vaccines and rockets. People who oppose the teaching of evolution and who are disputing based on their egregious misunderstandings of the theory and deep-running ignorance of the facts are not simply opposed to evolution but to science in general.

However, as a minor semantic point alluded to at the beginning of this entry, the creationists aren't preventing evolution as a phenomenon (except socially). I would say they are trying to stymie that phenomenon known as science. Because of this, I think the semantic difference becomes important and the creationists are best referred to as "anti-scientists" and their activities as "anti-science". While their particular beef is with evolutionary theory, I'd say that referring to them as "anti-evolutionists" is too restrictive.

My problem is not their problem with evolution, it's with their bad methods, bad logic, bad evidence, and dishonest tactics. For that reason, I prefer not to call them anti-evolutionists but anti-scientists.
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