Letters for Monday n October 17 2005

  • Immigration reform; Lenin’s remains

Intelligent-design theory does not fit science curriculum

A reply to Dr. Saker’s letter of Oct. 7 and the controversy on teaching intelligent design:

At the heart of Dr. Saker’s argument for intelligent design is the statement that “point mutations only result in a loss of information, never an increase.” It is difficult for me to see how anyone could make this claim. In genetics, a mutation that changes the gene product so that it gains a new and abnormal function is called a “gain of function” mutation. A search of the PubMed biological literature database returns no less than 4,370 publications on “gain of function mutations.” Although less common than “loss of function” mutations, they clearly occur and are observable in the lab!

A major tenet of intelligent design is the idea that complicated organisms could not have evolved because a mutation or disruption in one specific part would kill the organism. Dr. Behe, a founder of intelligent design, uses the mousetrap as an example. All the interacting pieces — the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer — must be in place for the mousetrap to work, and the removal of any one piece destroys the function of the mousetrap. In a previous letter, I mentioned gene duplication because it illustrates a counter-argument to this idea. Duplication of a gene provides redundancy in the system. A second copy of the gene may mutate, while the first carries on the original function. Information from DNA sequencing has shown that gene-duplication has been critical in the evolution of complex organisms with novel functions. Gene duplication is just one small example of a mechanism for evolutionary change.

Dr. Saker also asserts that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. But the second law applies to systems at equilibrium. Living creatures exist far from equilibrium. See the works of Stu Kauffman, T.C . Collier, and T.D. Schneider, among others for the mathematical details of how order can arise in such systems.

He also criticizes the scientific literature for “censoring” work on intelligent design, citing the magazine Scientific American as an example. But this magazine publishes only invited overview articles by world-renowned experts. It is not a peer-reviewed research journal. Proponents of intelligent design are free to submit their work to any one of hundreds of academic journals. Papers must typically be approved by only three anonymous scientist-reviewers for publication. Why have they been unable to convince reviewers to publish their work? Because it does not fulfill the requirements for testability and falsifiability. Intelligent-design proponents simply infer that an intelligent designer is behind any part of the process that is not yet understood scientifically.

The bottom line: parents and educators should know that proponents of intelligent design have recently embraced a rather-deceptive slogan: “Teach the Controversy.” I strongly believe that children should be taught that science is not just a musty collection of facts to be memorized, but rather a dynamic (even evolving!) discipline with room for passionate debate and excitement. Many points of evolution theory remain controversial among scientists, and it is appropriate to present those particular controversies in science classes. However, intelligent design is not considered seriously by the scientific community. To present it in a science class as a viable alternative to evolution negates the very concepts of rigorous reasoning that a science curriculum ought to develop.

  • Amy Brock, Ph.D.

Protests government’s ‘war’ against citizens

We seem to be ambivalent about war. A few misguided souls, steeped in their hatred for our president, recently staged an ‘antiwar’ rally — totally ignoring the fact that our American freedoms (including those to peacefully protest) are not found in many other places, and must be fought for or be lost. Fighting terrorists in Iraq keeps them occupied, and, for now, too busy to come here. Does anyone really believe that if we withdraw from Iraq that we will be forever free from terrorist attacks? Tell that to the people in Madrid, or London, or Bali.

But then these same people seem to be mighty happy with a different kind of war. A recent headline declared that our island has a new general in charge of the “war on tobacco.” A subsequent front-page article extended the battle to a “war on lifestyle” to prevent cancer. At the same time, our state government has apparently declared a “war on pickups.” They sneaked in the ban by making it illegal for 12-year-olds to ride in the pickup beds — now they want to expand that to 17 year olds — and, no doubt, everyone, later on. This is an effective ban on one-vehicle families owning a pickup. I wonder how many people die in pickup beds versus those killed inside the trucks.

It is sad, but our freedoms are under attack not only by external terrorists, but also by our own elected governments. And the truth is that these “wars” never work as they are intended. The “war on drugs” is a total failure. It has not cut the use of the banned substances — but it has filled our jails to overflowing, and made the importers, distributors, and manufacturers rich beyond belief — and tax-free to boot. Recent scenes from the underside of New Orleans show that we have clearly lost the 40-year-old “war on poverty.” The “war on guns” has succeeded in making criminals of those who would protect themselves — while trying to ensure that only bad guys are armed — thus making crime a lot safer for the perpetrator. And the “war on poor education” has run into impediments from the educational establishment and unions who demand ever more money with no more production. The new “war on obesity” is another example of misguided government intervention.

Notice that these wars are always declared on victimless crimes — the only ones who might get hurt are those doing the banned activity. How can something be a crime (punishable by the government) when there is no victim? And, of course, the really biggie in the various wars against users, prohibition, was finally repealed when the government figured out that it would not work.

My anti-war protest is not against our freedom-fighters in Iraq — I am thankful for them being there protecting me. My anti-war protest is against all these government “wars” on its own citizens.

  • Stan Godes

Letter was in poor taste

It is sad to see the letter by Peter Antonson appear in The Garden Island. His criticism of Ray Chuan is far beyond poor taste, and unjustified. Nowhere in his letter does he give factual arguments, but rather attacks by innuendo.

This is journalism at its worst. Your choice of letters to the editor that are printed should reach a higher standard than that shown by Mr. Antonson.

  • Monroe Richman

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