Thursday, March 12, 2009

Biology 101

Maybe the reason many Americans support embryonic stem cell research is because they have no more idea what an embryo is than does former president Bill Clinton. What the ex-president doesn't seem to grasp, and for all I know the current president doesn't understand either (though it probably wouldn't make any difference in his decision to rescind George Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research even if he did), is that an embryo wouldn't be an embryo had it not already been fertilized:

How does it happen that people this benighted are allowed to make critical life and death decisions for millions? How did it happen that an ostensible "journalist," a medical man who had been considered for the post of Surgeon General in Obama's cabinet, didn't politely correct President Clinton after about the twentieth time he repeated the gaffe?

As an aside, can you imagine the media hilarity that would have ensued had George Bush said something this ill-informed?


The Scientific Status of Intelligent Design

Thomas B. Fowler has written an outstanding and disinterested analysis of Intelligent Design theory for Catholic Culture. It is, for the most part, very accessible to those with a modicum of philosophical and scientific background knowledge and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of the scientific status of ID and an appreciation its strengths and weaknesses.

Fowler also does a fine job of summarizing ID's chief competitors including Creationism, Neo-Darwinism, and Meta-Darwinism.

His conclusion gives us a good idea of the terrain he covers in the main body of the discussion:

Intelligent Design has been proposed as a new scientific hypothesis about the possibility of certain types of transitions occurring naturally. The thrust of its proposal is that biological (and other) entities may be partitioned into groups or classes within which transitions are possible, but between which they are not. This is an empirically testable hypothesis, one which contradicts a key assumption of Neo-Darwinism. As yet, only preliminary steps have been taken to formulate and test this hypothesis: Behe's irreducible complexity and Dembski's Design Filter. So no definitive statement about its truth can be made as yet.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Intelligent Design school will be able to reach its goals; nature may not be the way the theory postulates that it is. The notion of an "Intelligent Designer," for which the school is perhaps best known, is not part of its scientific basis, but rather an inference from it, or rather, an inference about reality based on the physical limitations in nature that the theory proposes. The school is, in some ways, its own worst enemy by not clearly distinguishing its scientific hypotheses from the extra-scientific inferences it draws.

Intelligent Design does not deny naturalism - that is, it does not require science to begin utilizing non-natural forces and entities. It does dispute metaphysical naturalism, which asserts that all phenomena can be explained by science and that there is no other reality. But the latter assertion is a metaphysical inference from the former, which is itself an extra-scientific assumption. The common attacks on Intelligent Design, accusing it of being Creationism in disguise, a Trojan Horse, and of injecting theology into science, are completely baseless. Its critics should therefore concentrate on the scientific issues raised, ignore the metaphysics and eschew the propaganda arguments, however satisfying these may be. But Intelligent Design must also deliver on the science.

Thanks to Bradford at Telic Thoughts for the link.


Heads Should Roll

Camille Paglia is a fiercely independent gadfly - usually. In this piece she gives us an inadvertant glimpse of an interesting phenomenon emerging among our chattering classes. People who are paying attention are growing increasingly disenchanted with the Obama administration, but they're aiming their barbs everywhere but at the man ultimately responsible for their distress. Like some Civil War general Obama sits tall in the saddle on the battlefield while the opposition directs its fire, strangely enough, at everyone in his army but him.

Those who fell in love with candidate Obama during the campaign cannot bring themselves to believe that they made a misjudgment. That would mean they'd have to admit that those rubes on right-wing talk radio were more politically perspicacious than they were.

So, rather than admit that to themselves, like a lovestruck teenager they simply refuse to see what was, and is, in plain sight about the guy. It was clear during the campaign that Barack Obama was a left-wing radical who was going to do precisely what he has done. The surprise is that people are surprised.

In the midst of their swoon a lot of people refused to believe that he could be anything but the best thing that's happened to this country since the Bill of Rights. They were so hostile to the Bush/Republican agenda McCain embodied that Obama was, by comparison, a demi-god in their starry eyes. They became so emotionally invested in him that now they find it difficult to think that anything he does is wrong, and they certainly don't believe that he might have misshapen motives for anything he does. Like the teenager whose boyfriend can do no wrong, no matter how much wrong he does, they're smitten with infatuation, and it's taking time for the pixie dust he's sprinkled in their eyes to wear off.

Paglia's essay is a good example. She faults everyone around Obama for the series of embarrassments he has suffered these first months of his presidency, but she doesn't fault him. Anyway, read her essay. Other than her eagerness to absolve the President of recent gaffes and clumsiness, it's a good summary of this administration's maladroitness.

Thanks to Jason for the link.


A Trillion Dollars

Bill sends along a link to a page that helps us grasp the sheer magnitude of the money our government is spending (and the debt it's piling up). Check it out.