02 May 2008

Weekly sampler 16

Well, no sampler last week, so here are the answers to the last DNA content quiz.

  • Top row: the beluga whale has a slightly larger genome than the brine shrimp (3.29 vs. 2.91).
  • Second row: the damselfly, in all its beauty and intricacy, sports a genome half the size of that of the woodlouse hunter (1.50 vs. 3.00).
  • Third row: the aardvark needs more than twice as much DNA as the American cockroach (5.87 vs. 2.72). Ah, now that must be due to "degree of advancement." Just what a well-conceived biblical creation model would have predicted. NOT.
  • Bottom row: the chameleon's genome is almost 10 times the size of the leech's (2.24 vs. 0.23). Another victory for junk science!
Just don't speak of the mountain grasshopper (16.93) and the bald eagle (1.43).

So, what's been keeping me so busy that I can't attend to my blog?

1. I've made a lot of dumb decisions in my time, but one magnificent success covers for all of them: a quarter of a century ago, I somehow convinced Susan Massee to enter into a long-term collaboration which has been enormously fruitful. We have four great kids (two teenagers, one of whom has a blog of her own) and lots of stories, but only recently have we started collaborating professionally. We'll be teaching two classes together in the next several months, with the most exciting one taking us (we hope) to London and Edinburgh next January. The idea is to explore the Christian roots of the Scottish Enlightenment, with Harry Potter as a theme (you know, to get us in the mood), and superstars like Hume, Reid, Burns and Smith as favored ghosts. It'll be a blast; now we just need to get about 20 students to sign up. We've been working on promotion and planning, trying not to emphasize Scotland's January climate. (Which, of course, is a heck of a lot better than Michigan's.)

2. Susan did change her name (it was a long time ago), so you'll need to add my Scottish surname to hers when looking for her work online. Start at the fascinating online magazine Catapult, then check out Calvin's television program, Inner Compass.

3. John Farrell passes along an interesting take on Michael Behe and his weird new book that I've been discussing here; see Laelaps for discussion of Behe's curious absence from a recent propaganda film. Key point: the Discovery Institute seems unenthused by the book, probably because Behe gave away the store. Here's Richard Dawkins in his review in the New York Times:
Behe correctly dissects the Darwinian theory into three parts: descent with modification, natural selection and mutation. Descent with modification gives him no problems, nor does natural selection. They are “trivial” and “modest” notions, respectively. Do his creationist fans know that Behe accepts as “trivial” the fact that we are African apes, cousins of monkeys, descended from fish?
Well, heh, maybe now they do.

4. Sorry I'm late on this, but a week and half ago D.W. Congdon at The Fire and the Rose presented Four theses against Intelligent Design. Please check it out. I'm particularly interested in his comments on natural theology and his blunt equation of ID with a "god of the gaps." My friend and colleague Del Ratzsch has convinced me that design arguments need not evoke god-of-the-gaps fallacies, but I find the ID movement to be rife with that malignancy, and Congdon's harsh judgment of such errors is spot-on. When I comment further on Behe's The Edge of Evolution, I'll claim that the book is nothing more than a single, flawed, ignorance-based argument, with the desperate aim of creating a gap.

5. I recently heard Stephen H. Webb, American Theologian, give a talk and thereafter concluded that his web site is not the parody I initially took it to be. I won't say much about the talk, for various reasons. But after hearing him speak, and looking at some of his other writing, I was unsurprised to see that he wrote a comically uninformed positive review of The Edge of Evolution. The comments reveal that not all of the readers of Christianity Today are as gullible as Stephen H. Webb, American Theologian. That's encouraging, eh?

6. John Derbyshire is a columnist at National Review, which makes him a conservative. (I used to refer to myself in that way, but I really don't know what it means anymore.) You thought I can't stand ID? Check out his remarkable condemnation of the movement, Henry V-like in its merciless passion. The high point:

And now here is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world — that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone. Stein claims to be doing it in the name of an alternative theory of the origin of species: Yet no such alternative theory has ever been presented, nor is one presented in the movie, nor even hinted at. There is only a gaggle of fools and fraudsters, gaping and pointing like Apaches on seeing their first locomotive: “Look! It moves! There must be a ghost inside making it move!”

The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism. (A thing that cannot be said of Darwin. See Chapter X of Voyage of the Beagle.)

I don't know what Derbyshire has against Apaches, but that's beside the point.

7. I've mentioned Francisco Ayala before: he's a real evolutionary biologist, the kind who performs research and co-authors scientific papers as opposed to the kind who keeps a blog or leads a religious crusade. Read about him and his new book at the New York Times, and let me know your thoughts on the book, which I'll read and review sometime in the next...year. :-)

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