In defence of science

[ Sun. Jun. 25. 2006 ]


 
According to critics, ID is neither observable nor repeatable.

 

ID or `intelligent design' is a movement that has been in the news recently for its alternative views about evolution. ID proponents allege that science shouldn't be limited to naturalism, and shouldn't demand the adoption of a naturalistic philosophy that dismisses any explanation that contains a supernatural cause out of hand, explains an entry for the phrase in Wikipedia.

ID has been the focus of lawsuits, with controversy revolving around issues such as whether ID can be defined as science, and taught in schools. According to critics, ID is neither observable nor repeatable, thus violating `the scientific requirement of falsifiability'.

Pitching science against ID movement, John Brockman has edited Intelligent Thought, from Vintage (www.vintagebooks.com) . The collection of 16 essays from experts begins with Jerry A. Coyne's piece about evidence of evolution buried in our DNA.

"Our genome is a veritable farrago of non-functional DNA, including many inactive `pseudogenes' that were functional in our ancestors," he notes. "Why do humans, unlike most mammals, require vitamin C in their diet? Because primates cannot synthesise this essential nutrient from simpler chemicals."

It seems we still carry all the genes for synthesising vitamin C though the gene used for the last step in this pathway "was inactivated by mutations 40 million years ago, probably because it was unnecessary in fruit-eating primates."

Tim D. White's piece takes one through volcanic rock samples `fingerprinted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory', and fossils aged millions of years. "Today, evolution is the bedrock of biology, from medicine to molecules, from AIDS to zebras," declares White.

"Biologists can't afford to ignore the interconnectedness of living things, much as politicians can't understand people, institutions or countries without understanding their histories.

`Intelligent aliens' is the focus of Richard Dawkins. How would we recognise intelligence in a pattern of radio waves picked up by a giant parabolic dish and say it is from deep space and not a hoax, asks Dawkins?

The universe can perform approximately 10 to the power 105 elementary operations per second on about 10 to the power 90 bits, writes Seth Lloyd in a chapter titled `How smart is the universe?' One learns that over the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang, the universe has performed about 10 to the power 122 operations.

He looks closely at how the universe processes information and states that atoms register bits the same way the magnetic bits in a computer's hard drive do. With magnets flipping directions and changing bit values, "every atom and elementary particle in the universe registers and processes information."

Most bits are humble, explains Lloyd. "But some bits lead more interesting lives. Every time a neuron fires in your brain, for example, it lets loose a torrent of bits. The cascade of bits in neural signals is the information processing that underlines your thoughts." To him, "Sex is a glorious burst of information processing designed to pass on and transform" the billions of bits of genetic information locked in the nuclei of the cells. "The more microscopic the form of information processing, the longer it has been going on."

Worth a read for the defence of science it puts up bravely.

Tailpiece

"What's the moral of the Gates story?"

"That we should do charity?"

"No. You should first gross a few billions."