Questionable Motives

January 11, 2010

A cautionary tale: which came first in the origin of life?

Filed under: abiogenesis,Biology,Chemistry,Science,Skepticim — tildeb @ 3:30 pm

A new study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences rejects the theory that the origin of life stems from a system of self-catalytic molecules capable of experiencing Darwinian evolution without the need of RNA or DNA and their replication.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defines life as a “self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.” The scientific theories on the origin of life revolve around two main ideas: one focuses on genetics — with RNA or DNA replication as an essential condition for Darwinian evolution to take place — and the other focuses on metabolism. It is clear that both situations must have begun with simple organic molecules formed by prebiotic processes, as was demonstrated by the Miller-Urey experiment (in which organic molecules were created from inorganic substances).

Science more recently demonstrated that sets of chemical components store information about their composition which can be duplicated and transmitted to their descendents. This has led to their being named “compound genomes” or composomes. In other words, heredity does not require information in order to be stored in RNA or DNA molecules. These “compound genomes” apparently fulfil the conditions required to be considered evolutionary units, which suggests a pathway from pre-Darwinian dynamics to a minimum protocell.

Researchers concluded that this fundamental limitation of “compound genomes” should lead to caution towards theories that set metabolism first as the origin as life, even though former metabolic systems could have offered a stable habitat in which primitive polymers such as RNA could have evolved.

Researchers state that different prebiotic Earth scenarios can be considered. However, the basic property of life as a system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution began when genetic information was finally stored and transmitted such as occurs in nucleotide polymers (RNA and DNA).

From the article at Science Daily here.

January 7, 2010

What does it mean, “We are a multitude?”

Symphony of Science

December 23, 2009

Is evolution predictable?

Filed under: Biology,Chemistry,Evolution,Science — tildeb @ 2:46 pm

How do critters with deadly poisons manage to stay alive? From a fascinating NY Times article here by Sean B. Carroll, we learn about a particularly nasty poison called tetrodotoxin and how it operates in different species without killing them. The conclusion is also very intriguing:

Remarkably, some of the same channel gene mutations responsible for conferring partial resistance to tetrodotoxin have occurred in different snake species. Moreover, some of these and other mutations have also occurred repeatedly in puffer fish channels.

These precise parallels in channel evolution among species reveal a surprising facet of evolution that biologists had no inkling of before the ability to pinpoint adaptive changes in DNA — namely, that evolution is more reproducible than previously thought. The simple explanation for that profound insight is that given similar agents of natural selection (tetrodotoxin in this case), very different species living in different places on the planet will evolve similar or identical adaptations.

It follows then that evolution is somewhat predictable. Given the prevalence of tetrodotoxin-producing bacteria and the many known uses of the toxin as a defensive weapon strategy, we should expect to find more toxic animal species.

November 17, 2009

Faith in faith? Why?

The former bureau chief of BBC India, Sir Mark Tully, appealed to the scientists to strike a balance between science and religion to bring about harmony in the society. The noted journalist and author also added that science limits perception. “Like you can have different perceptions on music and poetry, science should be open for different views,” he said. Here.

Balance? Different views? Harmony? What on earth is Tully talking about? Here is an apparently intelligent man talking gibberish.

Let us replace the generic term ‘science’ with an actual science… let’s say chemistry, and see if what he is saying makes any sense. When a chemical reaction is shown to be the same regardless of the geography in which it takes place, the culture in which the reaction occurs, or the religious assumptions of the individual carrying out the chemistry, how does chemistry as a science – and those who rely on its known formulas that always work – cause social imbalances, promote different and competing world views, limit perceptions? Tully assumes that it does, even that it must. That is why he urges scientists like these chemists to alter their trust in this science to be more ‘open’ to the kinds of faith-based views… different but equally meaningful even if the faith challenge modern chemistry directly. What does Tully mean? Does the chemist who allows for the deceptions of alchemy to be tolerated without criticism  make the world a better place?  Apparently so, according to Tully. But note he fails to provide us with any kind of link that shows science to be culpable of his accusations; instead, he begins his advice based on the assumption that superstitious belief provides us with similar perceptions of musical and poetic interpretations: different but meaningful and enriching to the human condition. Oh really? It is exactly this assumption that is open to question and the one to which Tully and other religious apologists fail to answer. In its place we are given empty accusations that somehow science is to blame for faith’s empty truth claims.

But not to be outdone by a respected colonial, the Mother Country goes one better. The British government has appointed a Faith Council to advise the government! Don’t apply if your religion falls outside of the more popular ones: your truth claims are not worthy of consideration. Why only some religions and not others to offer official advice? Asked to explain the reasons for the creation of this faith-based advisory council, the Minister of Communities, Mr Denham, argued that Christians and Muslims can contribute significant insights on key issues, such as the economy, parenting and tackling climate change.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he admitted that the Government had failed to listen to these voices in the past, but is now determined to include them in the decision-making process.

“Anyone wanting to build a more progressive society would ignore the powerful role of faith at their peril,” he said.

“We should continually seek ways of encouraging and enhancing the contribution faith communities make on the central issues of our time.

“Faith is a strong and powerful source of honesty, solidarity, generosity – the very values which are essential to politics, to our economy and our society.”

The minister said that the Government needed to be educated by faith groups on “how to inform the rest of society about these issues”. Here.

Lots of assertions here. I wonder if they are true? I know… it’s very intolerant of me to even ask.

I may be out of line, but I’m not sure on what knowledge basis how a group of old men, some celibate, are really a good source for parenting advice.  I’m uncertain how honest are those who permit and enable child abusers to avoid prosecution, nor how generous are those who support laws to keep women from equal legal status. Granted, I’m just another strident, militant, and arrogant atheist for even asking, of course, and immoral to boot because the assertion must be respected that one cannot be moral without faith in some superstitious belief. In fact, all of us should be encouraging more faith, according to this sniveling and pandering politician because… well, just because. Don’t ask, of course. How rude. Don’t question, of course, because like in all faiths we already have all the answers you need to know. Now shut up and respect us faithists. We know best because god has informed our beliefs with the truth. If you have the moral weakness to dare ask for evidence to inform these assertions, just accept them as if they were true, and whatever you do don’t turn to any kind of knowledge based method of inquiry like science to find your answers. That chemistry is just too intolerant to trust.

Let us turn our trust to faith, that fount of knowledge and wisdom how to live a life of purpose and meaning, and pay no attention to the necessity of groups like HAWK, Humanists Against Witch Killing. Witchcraft and the killing of children is an unfortunate by-product of allowing faith claims to go unchallenged but we can’t stand in the way of building a more progressive society, now can we? Faith is essential.

And make no mistake. A better democracy is built on tolerating and respecting faith. British jihadists may say that we don’t do psychology or sociology. We do Allah, and Allah alone, but what they really mean is that the land of Kumbaya can be ours if only those damned strident, arrogant, and militant atheists would stop yammering on about respecting knowledge-based science; instead, let us find a better balance. Let’s keep our faith that, in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, faith is good or at least a necessary counter weight to the cold-hearted atheistic materialistic secularized perceptually limiting bitch that science is made out to be… you know, the one that is NOT like the music and poetry of faith. And for god’s sake, don’t ask why.

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