It’s not often that this much nonsense is packed into a single headline. As New Scientist reports, researchers at Oakland University have simulated the spread of religious belief by treating it as a genetic factor and then using a computer to simulate its spread through a population. Read the article here.
Software engineer Gil Dodgen exposes the laughability of this study here: “Bogus Computer Simulations“:
It would be a colossal understatement to call this utter silliness, and it stuns me that anyone would take this seriously, much less allow it to be published as a “scientific” study by “The World’s No.1 Science and Technology News Service.”
The best critique of scientific pretensions to explain religion, though, come from G. K. Chesterton’s classic The Everlasting Man:
For the plain truth is that all this is a trick of making things seem distant and dehumanised, merely by pretending not to understand things that we do understand. Read more →
On the occasion of yesterday’s Feast of Corpus Christi, Marcellino D’Ambrosio offers this reflection on the sacramental miracle of transubstantiation.
The appearances of bread and wine stay the same, but the very essence of these realities, which can’t be viewed by a microscope, is totally transformed. What starts as bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood. A handy word was coined to describe this unique change. Transformation of the “sub-stance”, what “stands-under” the surface, came to be called “transubstantiation.”
Over at Uncommon Descent they are discussing a paper published in Genetics which presents evidence for a novel coding protein in the yeast S. cerevisiae. You can read UD’s post here, and the paper’s abstract here. Unfortunately a subscription to Genetics is required to read the whole paper.
Essentially, the researchers report that they have found a sequence in the yeast species S. cerevisiae which codes for an entirely new protein. While the protein itself has not been identified, the researchers say their study shows that it is likely part of a DNA repair pathway — processes in the cell that repair damaging mutations.
The primary evidence for the gene’s novelty rests on the fact that it lacks any homologues, or similar gene sequences, in related species. Homology is considered a sign of an evolutionary relationship. Thus the lack of a homologous gene in a closely related species indicates that the gene was produced only in the particular species that has it, and was not inherited.
If this is correct, it would be evidence in favor of the power of evolution to produce entirely new genes — evidence which has heretofore been lacking. While there is substantial evidence for the production of new genes by duplicating, shortening, shuffling, and recombining previously existing segments of genes, evidence for the formation of entirely new genes is sparse. Critics of Darwinian evolution have pointed to this fact, and to the prohibitive mathematical improbability of new genes forming by chance, as evidence against Darwin’s theory. This new study, however, would seem to indicate that this species was able to evolve an entirely new protein from a previously non-protein-coding segment of DNA.
The authors make some assumptions that need to be backed up by further experimentation, as noted by poster gpuccio at UD, namely: first, that the sequence actually codes for a functioning protein; and second, that the lack of homology is evidence for de novo evolution. (There are other biological explanations that could also apply).
It will take time to see what light further experimentation sheds on these results and their reliability.
Mission controllers of NASA’s Phoenix mission to Mars have announced the successful landing of the Phoenix spacecraft on Mars. For more information as it becomes available go here.
The Vatican is going to host a conference next year to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. The title of this article says that it is a “celebration”, but I think that’s too strong a term. The conference seems to be aimed rather at exploration of the impact of Darwin’s theory and its consequences for religious understanding. As the organizer of the conference, Professor Gennaro Auletta of the Pontifical Gregorian University, says:
“We hope this will really be an example of how to hold an open discussion without overtones. We simply wish to dialogue between people whose mission is to understand a little more.”
Look to this blog for more coverage of this conference as it approaches.
Mid-May is a particularly good time for observing the International Space Station as it travels overhead, because its orbit lines up with the earth’s terminator — the line between sunlight and shadow. This means the station is in a dark enough sky to be seen, but is still itself brightly lit by the sun. This article from Sky and Telescope explains how to look for the station as it passes over your home.
David Warren has written a commentary on Parliament’s recent decision to allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes. You can read it here.
We are most certainly dealing with a moral absolute in this case. Our entire civilization (including all legal codes throughout the western world) depends upon the sharp and unambiguous distinction between what is human, and what is not.
“All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive.”
G. K. Chesterton, The Thing
Here is an essay from the archives at the CERC about Georges Lemaitre, the Catholic priest who was instrumental in developing the theory of the Big Bang.
As with Einstein’s calculations ten years earlier, Lemaitre’s calculations showed that the universe had to be either shrinking or expanding. But while Einstein imagined an unknown force — a cosmological constant — which kept the world stable, Lemaitre decided that the universe was expanding. He came to this conclusion after observing the reddish glow, known as a red shift, surrounding objects outside of our galaxy.
Lemaitre’s name is well-known among cosmologists, but is not so well recognized outside of that community. Take some time to read about his important contributions to science while serving God as a priest. Click here.