‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Why Synthetic Biology Needs to Hear Religious Voices

Adam Rutherford argues that we need to meddle more, not less, with the genes of biological organisms. Writing in the Guardian Comment is Free Synthetic biology: 'playing God' is vital if we are to create a better future for all - The present gains and future benefits of synthetic biology are too great for it to be written off with fear-mongering maxims  he is critical of environmentalists and religious groups for apparently seeking to restrict scientific discovery.

However, he muddies the waters by confusing scientific discovery with technology. He writes for instance
"That accusation has been made in attacks against many of the major scientific advances of the modern era, including Watson and Crick's description of the structure of DNA in 1953; the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, in 1978; the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1997; and the sequencing of the human genome in 2001. In all these scenarios, it's not clear exactly what "playing God" actually means."
I am not sure what evidence he has for the claim that religious people have been critical of scientific discoveries such as unravelling the mystery of DNA, or the human genome sequencing, but there are legitimate concerns about the technological use of knowledge that arises out of science. Dolly the Sheep being an example of where the technology failed; the poor animal inherited an already aged gene pool from its 'mother.' Scientists though always seem keen to rush ahead before sufficient knowledge is gathered, promoting their work to keep research grants flowing.

Genetic engineering needs to be carefully scrutinised to avoid the mistakes of the past that an unfettered belief in secular progress delivers. Those who hold that there is something sacred about living organism are right to raise concerns. Often genetic engineering is driven by profit, sometimes in ways that seek to control free market access to crops for instance. There is something wrong about seeking to place an intellectual property right on something given for free by God. Even where farmers resist the use of such crops they are taken to court for breach of IPRs because of contamination. The polluter doesn't pay when genetic engineering is linked to profit, and scientists are intrinsically linked to the flow of money in research institutions from such businesses. 

Of course there are some advances that are good and it would be wrong to stop scientific research altogether, but ethically we need to allow religious voices to be heard in science if scientific progress is to be harnessed so as to provide useful service for humanity, and not profit for a few with the environment damaged along the way.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Are The Rephaim Already Defeated? Giant's Causeway Brings Out True Colours

Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian and asks What made the creationist footprints in the Giant's Causeway visitor centre? He comes up with the usual ‘bash-the-creationists’ stuff we expect from the Guardian, but fails to engage in understanding foundational commitments that are necessary in science. Instead he accuses creationists of lying and preaching conspiracy theories. But creationists have grown to expect critics to misunderstand the issues. So I won't bother to enlighten him here.

And Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox get in on the act, throwing out tired insults for effect; Cox even descends to swearing instead of offering a scientific argument. Dawkins thinks that creationists are 'intellectual baboons' engaged in 'ignorant bigotry.' Cox comments that ‘to suggest there is any debate that Earth is 4.54 billion years old is pure s***.' (It rhymes with manure). It is hardly worth responding to.

Comments by Brown though are worth commenting on. As well as being liars and stupid, Brown now comes up with the notion that creationists are somehow malevolent. He writes that ‘Creationism isn't a kind of benevolent nonsense, like most forms of New Age belief systems. It's malevolent…’ So for believing ‘nonsense’ and being verbally abused rather viciously in the media creationists are now to be thought of as ‘evil’ as well? Is that really what you mean Mr Brown? Although we live an age when every ‘phobia’ is becoming a criminal offence, some beliefs are still to be subject to the Orwellian ‘two minutes of hate.’

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/richard-dawkins-creationism-at-giants-causeway-is-intellectual-baboonism-16181959.html#ixzz20DvtLDJY