Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Biological Newspeak

I once opined that I thought biologists, in a desperate attempt to make intelligent design less appealing to students, would eventually try to strip the awe out of biology education. Awe causes students to think that a particular biological phenomenon just couldn't have happened by chance. Awe is the enemy of naturalism.

When biological discourse is sterilized so that astonishment and amazement give way to matter-of-factness - when "gee whiz" yields to "ho hum" - students will be less tempted to think they're gazing into the mind of God when they peer into their microscopes. Darwinian materialists everywhere would rejoice at such a denouement even if it came at the cost of diminishing the natural excitement students might feel when they learn the intricacies of the immune system or protein transcription.

Well, it appears that a lot of biologists have come to the conclusion that biology teaching does indeed need to be scrubbed of any misleading teleological overtones. The problem, it seems, is that biologists have a hard time talking about the things they study without resorting to that dreaded word design.

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Notes reports on the movement among biologists to rid themselves of the cursed locution that ensnares potential young proselytes to naturalism by suggesting that there really is design in nature. Here's just one of several examples Luskin has dug up:
A recent article in the journal Bioessays by its editor Andrew Moore, titled "We need a new language for evolution. . . everywhere," suggests that biologists should stop using the term "design." According to Moore, under "Evolution old-speak" we would say, "Structure X is designed to perform..." but under "Evolution new-speak" we must simply say, "Structure X performs Y." If there's any doubt that Moore is worried about the intelligent design implications of the language used by biologists, consider the following passage from his article:

"A banal example shows how an apparently trivial change in words can radically change perceived meaning: to accomplish metabolic process X, enzyme Y evolved a specificity for Z. In an objective scientific sense, we should phrase this as 'in accomplishing X, Y concomitantly evolved a specificity for Z'. It is that innocent little word 'to' that transforms the meaning, giving enzyme Y the essence of 'will' - 'to' being short for 'in order to', or 'with the purpose of'. Purpose can only be exercised by a supernatural entity in this situation."

Apparently Moore is so worried about any implications of language that might be friendly towards intelligent design that he's unwilling to even state that any particular structure exists "to" perform some function. Clearly this shows that evolutionary thinking is taking biology into the realm of the absurd.
Luskin notes the irony of Moore's decision to call his "new language" Newspeak. Newspeak, of course, is exactly what the totalitarian thought police in George Orwell's novel 1984 called their language. Newspeak was an attempt to deceive people into believing what the government wanted them to believe by truncating some words and completely deleting others. It was a form of thought control which shaped people's perceptions of reality.

Doubtless that's exactly what Moore and the others Luskin quotes in his piece have in mind when they propose banning the word design from all biological discourse.


Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has stepped into the leadership void left by the President and his party, both of whom seem to be uninterested in fulfilling their duty of offering a budget, and has proposed a serious financial plan for next year and thereafter. He's already taking a lot of flak from the same people who refused to advance a proposal themselves, but an ad he's put out makes clear why we have to severely reduce the amount of money that government spends, especially on entitlements:
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the abdication of leadership on this issue by the White House is in fact a political ploy. The objective, it's being said, is to draw the Republicans in to offering a plan and then to savage it in the media so as to discredit the GOP for 2012.

I hope this isn't what they're thinking. To be so corrupted by politics as to toy with our children's future just to get some short term political advantage would be unconscionable. Unfortunately, the only other alternative is that the leadership vacuum is due to the fact that the Democrats simply don't have anything they can plausibly say about spending, which is on the trajectory it is because they, with a kick start from the Bush administration, have put it there.
If we're going to save our future and that of our children, we need to put the economy in the hands of competent adults who know what they're talking about and are willing to lead, and shunt to the side those who just think that the role of a politician is to hand out goodies to every interest group that puts its hand out. Since the President either won't or can't, Congressman Ryan is trying to fill that role.