Decoding of Human Genome Unlikely to Make Creationism Go Away

Arthur Caplan claims that the decoding of the human genome should settle the debate over evolution vs. creationism once and for all. That, however, is exceedingly unlikely to happen.

The main problem is that Caplan seems to think there is such a thing as “scientific creationism” but every version of creationism I’ve seen is most decidedly not scientific. Which is not to say that creationism is necessarily false, but that most formulations of it are beyond the realm of science to evaluate.

Take, for example, the critic of evolution Philip Johnson who is quoted by Focus on the Family as saying the evidence is completely against natural selection. In fact the creationists quoted by FOF consider the fact that primates, rats and humans share common genes to be proof of special creation rather than evolution from common ancestors.

But to return to Johnson’s views, in his book Darwin on Trial Johnson argues that the problem at the core of evolution is the widespread acceptance among scientists of what Johnson calls “doctrinaire naturalism.” Johnson essentially argues that scientists simply leave God out of the universe by definition by assuming that any given observed phenomenon occurs through naturalistic processes.

Take something as important as the orbits that planets take around the Sun. Prior to Isaac Newton there were lots of speculations on what caused planets to maintain their orbits including a theist answer — God intervened to make sure planets maintained their orbit and didn’t crash into each other. Newton and other scientists, however, looked for a completely naturalistic cause and Newton was the first person to prove that elliptical orbits of planetary objects was explained by the inverse square law of gravitation.

Johnson essentially argues that by constantly looking for only naturalistic explanations for phenomenon such as the orbit of planets, scientists write God out of the picture without giving him a chance. This is to some extent true, but it’s hard to imagine how to create a theistic science that would involve God unpredictably intervening in the universe. In fact Johnson retreats at this point and has yet to give an adequate explanation of what he would put in place of naturalistic explanations.

The decoding of the human genome will settle nothing as far as the creationism debate goes since it merely adds the longstanding accumulated evidence of the similar genetic composition of a wide variety of species. Evidence which has already been rejected by creationists as proof of natural selection.

Deja Users Whine Over Google Acquisition

Many years ago, Deja News began archiving all Usenet feeds and making its archive publicly available. Back when Deja first started there was a lot of hype about how valuable owning a complete archive of Usenet would be. In fact Deja was just one of several companies who were talking about building a business on top of Usenet.

To my knowledge Deja never came close to being profitable even though it tried every idea under the sun to turn a profit (they certainly deserve an A for effort). It looked like Deja was going to go under and take their Usenet database with them, when Google announced they were purchasing the Usenet database.

That sounded like a perfect arrangement to me. Unfortunately, a lot of Deja users are whining because Google took part of the Deja archive offline for awhile to better integrate the Usenet archive with Google’s other services. A typical comment is from Deja user Frank Davies,

I used Deja three or more times a day. I’m enraged that it has been taken from me. It’s as if a private firm bought and then closed down all of Manhattan’s public libraries for a few months simply because they wanted to rearrange the bookshelves.

Give me a break. As someone on Slashdot added, maybe he should sue and demand his money back!

Since all Usenet posts are available publicly, there is nothing stopping anyone who wants to create their own searchable archive from doing so, and anybody paying attention would have seen the writing on the wall months ago that Deja’s archive was in serious trouble. For these people to whine that Deja and/or Google owes them something — especially the source code Deja uses for searching Usenet — is ludicrous.

Davies claims that, “We simply cannot lose access to the collected wisdom that is contained in Usenet. It’s an important piece of history that must be preserved.” Well, okay, lets see him put up the money needed to maintain such an archive. The bottom line is that doing so is simply not cheap and rather than blasting Google for coming to Deja’s rescue, they should be glad that somebody’s willing to take a risk of putting up real money for the archive.

Researchers Find Mice Bone Marrow Cells Can Transform into Neurons

Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke published an article in Science in December 2000 reporting on a very surprising finding — bone marrow injected into mice were able to transform themselves into brain cells.

Bone marrow consists of a couple of different types of stem cells which are the source of blood cells in the body. Scientists knew that neural stem cells can transform themselves into muscle, but the accidental discovery that bone marrow stem cells can transform into neurons was a major surprise.

In fact the researchers weren’t even investigating that possibility in their initial experiments. They had injected mice with a genetically altered form of bone marrow that contained a gene that made the stem cells glow in the dark. The researchers were investigating whether or not the stem cells would convert themselves to muscle cells in the mice.

When they performed the dissection of the mice, however, they were surprised to find the animals’ brains contained neurons that now glowed in the dark. Several other experiments, some involving a second laboratory, were done to confirm that in fact the bone marrow was replacing neurons.

Helen M. Blau, senior author of the Science article, told the Associated Press that, “It may be a repair mechanism that is going all the time at a low level.” The bone marrow probably doesn’t work at a high enough level to repair serious brain damage or disease, but it may be on ongoing way that the body replace dying or defective neurons.

A lot more research will need to be done to better understand what is going on here, and this may never lead directly to any treatment for neurological disorders, but it does add an important piece of the puzzle on how adult stem cells can differentiate into a wide variety of other cells which is of great importance in many current efforts to find treatments for Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, and a whole host of other ailments.

Source:

Mice marrow can net neurons. Associated Press, December 1, 2000.

Should the United States Legalize Assassination?

Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) made news recently by introducing House Resolution 19 which would overturn the longstanding ban against assassination. President Gerald Ford instituted the ban when he signed Executive Order 11905 prohibiting the Central Intelligence Agency from carrying out an assassination. The order was necessary, Ford said, because of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency had been behind a number of assassinations throughout the world and had plotted to assassinate a number of world leaders. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan expanded the ban to prohibit anyone working with the U.S. government from being involved in assassinations.

Barr claims the policy unfairly limits the options of the president and can result in rather perverse outcomes. “The president of the United States, whichever president it is, Republican or Democrat,” Barr told Fox News, “ought always to have available to him the whole range of options” including assassination.

One of the arguments in favor of allowing assassinations is the widely held belief that the United States already finds ways to get around the Executive Order that end up killing innocent people. The 1986 night time raid on Libya, for example, seems like a pretty cut and dried assassination attempt that hit multiple targets only in order to technically comply with the edit against assassinations. The raid didn’t harm its intended target, Libyan dictator Moammar Khadaffi, but it did kill his young step daughter.

The problem with Barr’s proposed reform is that it is headed in the direction. Rather than giving the President more options and more ability to act unilaterally, the Republican and allegedly conservative Congress should be acting to shore up the War Powers Act and rightfully return the power to make war back to the Congress.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is explicit about the role of Congress in making war. “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Yet this remains one of the most ignored parts of the Constitution, with the President assuming war powers today in a way that many of the Founding Fathers would have considered bordering on tyranny (especially given their general fear of standing armies in the first place).

Instead of giving the President even additional powers that are not provided for in the Constitution, lets move to restore a strict constructionist view of the war powers of the executive and legislature and put the war power back in the hands of Congress.

Source:

Congress sets sights on assassination bill. Jon Dupre, Fox News, February 14, 2001.

Bush Administration Proposes Cut in Export-Import Bank

The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush administration’s is proposing cutting funding to the U.S. Export-Import Bank by up to 25 percent. The Export-Import Bank represents corporate welfare at its worst. The bank provides government-backed loans to some of the largest corporations in the country to finance overseas sales.

Chris Ullman, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget told the Post that, “As we try to slow the rate of growth of spending, and put money towards the president’s priorities such as education, spending on things such as corporate subsidies needs to be diminished.”

Okay this is a good start, but why stop at merely diminishing the subsidies? It’d be better just to eliminate the Export-Import Bank completely. How can the United States honestly say that it supports free trade when it provides such massive subsidies to some of the richest corporations on the planet?

Opponents of even a 25 percent cut resort to that explanation popular with children worldwide — everybody else is doing it. Since nations such as China, India and Japan provide lavish subsidies to domestic firms, supporters of the Export-Import Bank argue that the United States has to subsidy its firms in order for them to be competitive in those foreign markets.

That makes no sense at all from an economic point of view. The only thing corporations receiving these loans are being competitive at is using the levers of power to transfer wealth and income from other people into their own coffers. If a corporation needs government aid to survive in a market, by definition it is not competitive.

That didn’t stop ten business groups, including some that normally can’t talk enough about the beauty of free trade such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, from sending a letter to the Office of Budget and Management complaining that the proposed cuts would “set the Bank back nearly 10 years.”

We can only hope.

Source:

White House wants to curb ex-im lending. Paul Blustein, The Washington Post, February 14, 2001.