Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Prize

Harry Lonsdale is an atheist activist and a very wealthy man. So wealthy that he has offered a prize of $50,000 to anyone who can come up with a solution to the problems inherent in naturalistic abiogenesis (i.e. the origin of life from non-life through purely natural means).

The offer is revealing for a couple of reasons. First, it spotlights the fact that there is at the moment no plausible explanation as to how living things could have arisen apart from some sort of intelligent guidance. Second, it spotlights the desperation that this lack of an explanation for something so fundamental to a naturalistic worldview has induced among atheists.

Ever since Darwin naturalists have assured us that in time a solution will be discovered to the problem of how life originated, but every attempt to solve the riddle has come to naught. Worse, from their point of view, discoveries in molecular biology keep making the problem more and more intractable.

As long as the cell was thought to be a tiny glob of jelly there was every reason to be confident that chemistry would yield an answer to the problem of how the first glob arose. But now the cell is seen as more like a computer complete with a very sophisticated operating system, and a materialistic explanation for how such a thing could have arisen by chance and chemistry seems more remote than ever.

Add to that the problem that the cell is filled with specified complex information and that all of our experience has been that such information is invariably the product of a mind and never the product of chance, and you can understand why rich atheists are willing to part with $50,000 to try to motivate someone, anyone, to proffer a plausible hypothesis.

Mr. Lonsdale explains:
My goal in supporting Origin of Life research is to help scientists solve one of the great remaining problems in biology. A solution will give every science teacher in the world, from high school to college, a fundamental understanding of how life probably began on the Earth. In time, the world will learn that the laws of chemistry and physics, and the principle of evolution by natural selection, are sufficient to explain life’s origin.
I'm an expert on neither origin of life science nor finances, but I nevertheless have good news and bad news for Mr. Lonsdale. The bad news is that it's highly unlikely that anyone will qualify for his prize. The good news is that means his money is safe.

HT: Telic Thoughts

Skin to Brain in One Step

Developments in the field of tissue regeneration are proceeding apace. Now comes word of yet another major advance in the use of skin cells to develop neural tissue:
Skin cells from a 30-year-old woman have been turned directly into mature nerve cells similar to those found in the brain using a procedure that promises to revolutionise the emerging field of regenerative medicine.

Scientists said they were astonished to discover that they could convert a person's skin tissue into functioning nerve cells – bypassing an intermediate stem-cell stage – by the relatively simple procedure of adding a few short strands of RNA, a genetic molecule similar to DNA.

The breakthrough could soon lead to the generation of different types of human brain cells in a test tube which could be used to study a range of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
It seems that so much of the progress we read about in this field is based on the use of somatic cells rather than embryonic stem cells. This is wonderful news in that it renders moot the ethical controversy over the killing of human embryos to harvest their stem cells for research.

The Thrill Is Gone

Naomie Emery declares that our 70 year fling with welfare statism is over. It doesn't work, and the evidence is there for all to see. Here's the heart of her brief:
In the United States, the states patterned most on the Old Europe model—those with high taxes, high spending, and strong public unions—suffered the same plight as Europe, while those with free-market models did not. “The eight states with no state income tax grew 18 percent in the past decade,” Michael Barone tells us. “The other states grew just 8 percent.”

The 22 states with right-to-work laws grew 15 percent in the past decade, the 28 others grew 6 percent. The 16 states that don’t require collective bargaining with state employees grew 15 percent, the others grew 7 percent. The most rapid growth—21 percent—was in the Rocky Mountain states and Texas, which have low taxes, weak unions, and light regulation.

Among the states with high taxes, strong unions, and heavy public employee pension burdens are those in the Rust Belt around the Great Lakes. As Matt Continetti writes in the Washington Post, “Five of the eight states that border the Great Lakes now have Republican governors working to limit union power,” while one Democrat, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, son of a much revered liberal icon, has been praised by New Jersey’s Chris Christie as his cost-cutting twin. And to everyone’s shock, the Democratic legislature in Massachusetts has voted to rein in unions, too.

“For decades, the Great Lakes states have subscribed to a high-tax, high-spend, closed-shop political model,” explains Continetti. “That hasn’t worked out.” That didn’t work out in Europe (whose welfare states the American left has always looked up to); that didn’t work out in American states such as California and Michigan; that didn’t work out in Detroit, which is becoming a wasteland in spite of massive infusions of government money, and that didn’t work out for General Motors, which turned in time into a retirement plan with a car company attached to it, which priced itself out of the general market while foreign car companies built factories in right-to-work states in the South, employed hundreds of thousands of people, and took its share of the market away.

It probably won’t work out in Illinois, either, where the Democratic governor passed a massive tax increase, and the Republican governors of neighboring states invited Illinois businessmen to relocate there.
Of course, this overwhelming evidence of failure will be blithely ignored by true believers like Mr. Obama who insist, despite the contrary record provided by human experience, that if we just raise taxes on the rich high enough the rest of us can all have a good life at their expense.