Sunday, December 28, 2008

Making Use of Natural Selection

One of the more interesting commenters at Telic Thoughts is Rock, a commenter who has not been heard from since October. One of the comments he made that month can be accessed here. Quoting from the comment:

But all I actually will “claim” is that the genetic code is definitively a code, as code theorists define “code.” The idea that the genetic code is was or could be designed by known methods and with known purposes is an idea rejected by both IDers and their critics. Therefore, whatever I (or code theorists and designers) have to say is irrelevant in these discussions.

Also, Bradford, I accept as a matter of fact that natural selection applies in design, and that technological evolution is subject to natural selection, and can’t imagine how it could possibly be different! For me “natural selection” is just a statement that naturally given conditions effect the performance of designs and designers obviously consider those conditions and include them in their designs. Designers design for naturally given conditions and therefore natural selection applies to design. Like I said, how could it be otherwise?

Designers, Bradford, do indeed deal with natural selection, with conditions, quite creatively. And maybe, as I've suggested to you before, rather than resisting the idea, you make it yours! Know what I mean?

Rock is a deep thinker and makes the point that given conditions (natural selection) effect design performance and therefore designers create designs suitable to those conditions. He makes a valid criticism of me in pointing out that I should be incorporating natural selection into design theory rather than directing fire at selection based targets.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another Limited Mathematical Variation Range

Dark Energy is a Viewpoint article. The implications of dark energy for an expanding universe are explored and analyzed. From an intelligent design perspective the most cogent observation relates to an estimate of the amount of dark enrgy in the universe and a very limited range within which it could vary and still allow for conditions favorable to life. The extremely limited range of variation is yet another finely tuned value arguing for a correlation between life and tight constraints on values of nature's basic constants. From the linked article:

At any rate, here's the most fascinating thing about this. Scientists have determined that the amount of dark energy present in the universe cannot vary from the actual value by more than one part in 10(120). That's a one with 120 zeroes after it. If it did deviate from its actual value by more than this amount life would not be able to exist in the universe that would result. That is an unimaginably precise setting. It's the equivalent of the mass of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the mass of a single electron.

What an amazing thing that this dark energy is calibrated to just the right value to allow life to survive. What an extraordinary amount of blind faith it takes to think that it's just a lucky accident.


Monday, December 22, 2008


Nature Reviews Genetics (doi:10.1038/nrg2484) features a paper titled RNA-Seq: a revolutionary tool for transcriptomics. It is authored by Zhong Wang, Mark Gerstein and Michael Snyder. The paper describes RNA-Seq, an innovative approach to transcriptome profiling which, in the words of the authors, "uses deep-sequencing technologies." The method makes more precise measurement of transcript levels and their isoforms possible. The authors point out that RNA-Seq already has changed our thinking about eukaryotic transcriptomes with respect to their extent and complexity. That should be sobering to those who are so sure that design cannot be found in nature. We've just scratched the surface of knowledge in many fields.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Distinguishing Ditches

Telic Thoughts commenter Zachriel introduced the puddle-logic argument into one of the blog threads. From Zachriel's comment:

The CSI of the puddle's hole is huge. It's not that the shape of the hole is merely complex. It's that it matches so precisely the shape of the puddle. It's highly specified!

William Dembski dealt with this type of objection to CSI in his book Intelligent Design. Dembski used the example of an archer shooting an arrow at a wall. If the wall is large and the archer blindfolded he can shoot an arrow in the general direction of the wall and hit it. If the spot of impact is subsequently encircled someone who did not observe the event might conclude that the archer hit the bullseye. That's essentially the puddle CSI argument. The specification criteria is faulty for the puddle.

One might construct a legitimate specification criteria that distinguishes a puddle, formed by random ground and weather conditions, from water lining an irrigation ditch; thereby avoiding the blind archer problem. That was alluded to in a separate comment.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Common Sense

A friend of mine sent this to me. The author is unknown.

Obituary for Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend by the name of Common Sense who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, and that life isn't always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch, and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student, but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit on her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

He is survived by two stepbrothers, My Rights and Ima Whiner.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still know him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hsp 90

In chunkdz's thread about Behe, irreducible complexity and more at Telic Thoughts a commenter and fellow MMA fan named computerist referenced a paper authored by Helen Pickersgill. It is slightly confusing in that the journal Cell Biology (Hidden Change) is mentioned at the top of the quote and PLOS Biology at the Bottom. In any case the quote is as follows:

Biological systems are buffered against variation by proteins termed phenotypic capacitors, of which heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) is the founding member. This protein chaperone reveals diverse phenotypic variation when its level falls, exposing previously silenced genotypes. Given that species advancement requires genetic diversity and phenotypic change, phenotypic capacitors have been suggested to support evolution; the reduction of Hsp90, which occurs under stressful conditions, would release phenotypes that can be acted on by natural selection to drive evolution. Whether other cellular proteins harbor capacitor function is unclear. Levy and Siegel used high-throughput morphological phenotyping and found that more than 5% of yeast genes act as capacitors by buffering environmental variation and suppressing phenotypic diversity. These capacitors were found to control cellular processes, such as cell cycle regulation and stress responses. Beyond a role in natural selection, phenotypic capacitors may also support the evolution of cancer cells, which are notoriously resilient to many environmental stresses and exhibit widespread genetic instability. Hsp90 is thought to buffer these tumorigenic properties and promote survival, and Hsp90 inhibitors may have potential as cancer chemotherapeutics.

There's enough to induce one to locate and read the full paper.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Scientific Consensus: The Refuge of Weakness

In the Viewpoint article Scientific Consensus RLC refers to a Casey Luskin article at Evolution News & Views. Luskin's article notes the views of science fiction writer Michael Crichton who passed away recently. RLC quotes from a Crichton piece titled Aliens Cause Global Warming which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on November 7, 2008. The quote:

"I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

"Let's be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

"There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period....

"I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way."

Consensus arguments are intrinsically weak. If you have confidence in your argument you do not need to cite the fact that most people go along with your argument. You can be the only one in a room holding a viewpoint and still be right.

RLC goes on to make this remark:

"Darwinian processes" means that only physical mechanisms have been at work in the creation of the diversity of structures, functions, and operations found in living things. In other words, Darwinian processes (e.g. natural selection and random mutation) exclude any role for mind and intention, and it's simply untrue that all real scientists embrace the exclusion.