Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Edge of Evolution

This link takes you to a video that shows transport proteins moving along a cilium (It's called a flagellum at the site) in an alga called Chlamydamonas. Michael Behe talks about this system of proteins in his new book The Edge of Evolution, and it's astonishingly complex. Imagine small railroad cars carrying building supplies moving along a track that runs up and down an under-construction skyscraper.

The whole system would consist of hundreds of parts whose movements must be coordinated and timed with the availability and need for different supplies. The supplies would need to be loaded onto the cars and off-loaded at the site, and so on.

These proteins carry the materials necessary for the construction of a cilium and no one, evidently, has a clue as to how this system got set up or what keeps it organized, synchronized and functioning.

Behe describes the system in some detail, and it's fascinating reading. I'm about half-way through his book and if the second half is as interesting as the first it's going to be extremely hard to put down.


The Iranian Gambit

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to be trying to provoke Israel into an attack upon Iran as this NewsMax story suggests:

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday said the world would witness the destruction of Israel soon, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Ahmadinejad said last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah showed for the first time that the "hegemony of the occupier regime [Israel] had collapsed, and the Lebanese nation pushed the button to begin counting the days until the destruction of the Zionist regime," IRNA quoted him as saying.

By threatening Israel's destruction Ahamdinejad seems to be hoping that Israel will launch a preemptive strike that will justify Iran's retaliation, or at least earn Israel further international contempt.

The Iranian leader is playing his hand cleverly. If Israel doesn't rise to his bait Iran will just grow stronger until it is able to destroy Israel on some other pretext. Israel will be damned if it does attack and damned if it doesn't.

The danger for Iran is that Israel will decide that if it's going to be damned either way it might as well be damned for doing something rather than for doing nothing. And it might decide to hit Iran much harder than they anticipate.


The Atheist's Con

Johann Hari, an anti-theist leftist, is in a quandary about Tony Blair's successor as British prime minister, Gordon Brown. Apparently Brown is a devout Christian heavily influenced by Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine. Hari sees this as both good and bad.

The irony of Hari's post on Brown is that he sees no irony in statements like this:

All this puts left-wing atheists like me in a quandry [sic]. I think faith is a dangerous form of bad thinking - it is believing something, without evidence or reason to back it up.

[But] If religion drives Brown's best instincts and whittles down his worst, should we still condemn it?

The "best instincts" Hari refers to are Brown's concern for the poor, the worst are what Hari assumes, because of Wallis' influence, would be Brown's opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and a preference for non-secular schools.

So what's the irony? Hari, as an atheist, is making a moral judgment about Brown's instincts. It is, he implies, more moral to be in favor of the poor and less so to be against gay marriage, but where does Hari get this from? Why, on his assumption that there is no moral standard beyond ourselves, would it be wrong to despise the poor? What is the source from which he draws his moral valuations? In actual fact, having denied any transcendent ground for moral value, he's left with no ground at all. He simply draws upon his own preferences and tastes and seeks to gain for those subjective inclinations some sort of privileged standing. When an atheist employs moral language it's really nothing more than a con game that they are fond of pulling on everyone else, even though most of them don't even realize what they're doing.