November 30, 2004

Origins of Life

This is the only kind of life creation debate going on among actual scientists:

Scientists have found the essence of life - at least on a genetic level - and it comes down to about 300 genes.

US researchers think this is the minimum set of molecular instructions required to build a living organism.

It has been suggested that this could be tested by trying to synthesise an artificial bacterium in the lab - for scientists to create life from non-living chemicals.

The idea is currently the subject of an ethical review and the scientists involved say no attempt will be made to proceed with the daring experiment until there has been a full and public debate. ...

Yet the science hostile Bush administration and their allies are gearing up for a field day in their fight for the honor of factual relativism. The most pernicious bleeding edge of the war on science is the creationists' public relations crusade that tries to pass itself off as science, led mainly by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute:

...But scientists aren't buying it. What Meyer calls "biology for the information age," they call creationism in a lab coat. ID's core scientific principles - laid out in the mid-1990s by a biochemist and a mathematician - have been thoroughly dismissed on the grounds that Darwin's theories can account for complexity, that ID relies on misunderstandings of evolution and flimsy probability calculations, and that it proposes no testable explanations.

As the Ohio debate revealed, however, the Discovery Institute doesn't need the favor of the scientific establishment to prevail in the public arena. Over the past decade, Discovery has gained ground in schools, op-ed pages, talk radio, and congressional resolutions as a "legitimate" alternative to evolution. ID is playing a central role in biology curricula and textbook controversies around the country. The institute and its supporters have taken the "teach the controversy" message to Alabama, Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Texas.

The ID movement's rhetorical strategy - better to appear scientific than holy - has turned the evolution debate upside down. ID proponents quote Darwin, cite the Scopes monkey trial, talk of "scientific objectivity," then in the same breath declare that extraterrestrials might have designed life on Earth. It may seem counterintuitive, but the strategy is meticulously premeditated, and it's working as planned. The debate over Darwin is back, and coming to a 10th-grade biology class near you.

...They've used so much technical jargon that anybody who doesn't know a whole lot of evolutionary biology looks at it and says 'It sounds scientific to me, what's the matter with it?'" says Princehouse. "As a friend of mine said, it takes a half a second for a baby to throw up all over your sweater. It takes hours to get it clean." ...

At least a group of parents in Georgia have decided to fight back against their school board teaching their kids creationism and calling it science.

Perhaps they want their children to have a shot at a future researching what all of the carefully preserved 'junk' DNA we carry around is good for. Or exploring the origin of mammals, as a research project endeavors to reconstruct a partial image of the genome of the first ancestral mammal by DNA comparison of its descendants. Or doing stem cell research. Or any other cutting edge life science career that requires an understanding of the evolutionary principles of biology.

If the foundations of life science education in this country are torn down, there will be a heavy economic price to pay. I don't relish the possibility of the rest of the world profiting from our educators' failure to spot the danger until it's too late.

Posted by natasha at November 30, 2004 10:28 PM | Science | Technorati links |

I hear Joe 'Slow' Scarborough is going to talk about creationism vs. evolution on the Dec 1st MSNBC Scarborough country show... I'd be interested in your review.

Posted by: TABS at December 1, 2004 02:08 AM