Biological Information – New Perspectives A Synopsis and Limited Commentary. My Limited Review of This Synopsis and Limited Commentary — (Don’t be intimidated by this title)


There is this little thing called: “The Law of non-contradiction”, and is one of the basic laws in classical logic.  It states that something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context.  For example, the chair in my living room, right now, cannot be made of wood and not made of wood at the same time. Or an example more appropriate to this little essay of mine:

In an article written for “The Science Teacher” magazine by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), NCSE advises science teachers:

  1. If a controversy is presented as a scientific controversy, it should be a genuine scientific controversy.
    Don’t confuse a scientific topic that’s socially controversial with a scientifically controversial topic. Climate change and evolution, for example, are politically or religiously controversial, provoking headlines and arousing passions. But they are not scientifically controversial (unlike, say, quantum gravity). Indeed, quite the contrary: The vast majority of scientists in the relevant disciplines accept climate change and evolution (on climate change, see Cook et al. 2013; on evolution, see Pew Research Center 2009). Misrepresenting a socially controversial scientific topic as scientifically controversial is committing the deadliest sin in science education: misrepresenting the science.

   ….. There’s more, so read the whole article …

So there you have it … NCSE and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have declared there is no “scientific controversy” over evolution.  The chair in my living room is made of wood.

But hold on now … wait a controversial doggone minute here what follows below is a discussion of a group who say the chair in my living room is not made of wood. Can they both be right? If one says a thing is true and another says the same thing is not true … at the same time  … is that not controversy?

So who are these that say my chair in not made of wood?

They are a group of 29 scientists (Biographies below) who represent a diverse spectrum of scientific disciplines, including information theory, computer science (my own field for close to 40 years), numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics. These scientists generally agreed on three crucial points:

  1. Information is the key to understanding life. Within the simplest cell there exists an immense flow of information through a mind-boggling system of information networks. There is constant and multidirectional communication between proteins, RNAs, and DNAs, and these biological information networks are in many ways comparable to the internet.
  2. These biological information systems appear to greatly surpass human information technologies. Such information systems cannot possibly operate until all the countless components of the system are in place – including hardware, software, multiple languages, storage/ transmission of communicable prescriptive information units, error testing/ correction systems, designated senders/ receivers, etc. Such systems must be comprehensive and coherently integrated before they can effectively operate. .
  3. The enormous amounts of information found within any cell, and the irreducibly complex nature of information systems, can no longer rationally be attributed to just the mutation/ selection process. New perspectives are needed that might help us better understand the nature, origin, and maintenance of biological information.

These are PhD scientists educated in fully accredited universities, actively working in the scientific fields noted above … they know of what they speak.  This group gathered at Cornell University, an Ivy League university, and presented quite a number of papers detailing their findings in a variety of topics surrounding the nature of life and its characteristics. If you read the synopsis by Dr. J.C. Sanford, or my synopsis of Sanford’s synopsis below you will not find any discussion of advocacy of politics or religion … what you will find is scientific controversy.

Is the chair made of wood or not?

  I’ll cut to the chase here and give you a piece from Dr. Sanford’s conclusions … but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself … either Dr. Sanford’s synopsis, or my synopsis of that synopsis, or the complete set of the Proceedings papers.
Here are Sanford’s remarks:

“It is just that it is increasingly clear that the long-reigning neo-Darwinian paradigm is collapsing – and despite many efforts to deny what is obvious – clearly “the emperor has no clothes.” The extremely sophisticated hardware and software systems that enable life simply cannot be built by any trial and error system. In particular – it is very clear that software can never be developed one binary bit at a time. Apart from a fully functional pre-existing hardware/ software system, a single bit has absolutely no meaning. I feel that if we are to preserve our scientific integrity, we must acknowledge that we have a major explanatory problem , and we need to go back to the drawing board in terms of understanding the origin of biological information”.

So this is the nature of the scientific controversy our school kids are not allowed to see and examine … and come to their own conclusions.

If you have objectively followed this, I would ask some questions:

  1. Is there a matter of truth and integrity here on the part of NCSE?
  2. Is NCSE pushing an ideological agenda here rather than the defense of science education?
  3. Is NCSE actively pushing an agenda of atheism into our school system?
  4. Is NCSE involved in the censorship of scientific discovery?
  5. Should the C in NCSE actually be Censorship as in the National Censorship of Science Education?

… and …

Is the chair made of wood or not?

If NCSE is truly concerned about the quality of the teaching of science, I would challenge them to offer up Dr. Sanford’s synopsis … without comment … to it’s audience at the National Science Teachers Association, so as to give them a look at the other side of this scientific controversy.

*  *  * Beginning of Dr.  J.C. Sanford’s Synopsis *  *  *

Note from AYFP: This is only a portion of the Synopsis … those portions such as those Sanford marks as Significance: as well as some of his introductory comments and his  Final Comments.
(Click on the image below)

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The proceedings include the research findings of 29 scientists who represent a diverse spectrum of scientific disciplines, including information theory, computer science, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics. These scientists generally agreed on three crucial points:

  1. Information is the key to understanding life. Within the simplest cell there exists an immense flow of information through a mind-boggling system of information networks. There is constant and multidirectional communication between proteins, RNAs, and DNAs, and these biological information networks are in many ways comparable to the internet.
  2. These biological information systems appear to greatly surpass human information technologies. Such information systems cannot possibly operate until all the countless components of the system are in place – including hardware, software, multiple languages, storage/ transmission of communicable prescriptive information units, error testing/ correction systems, designated senders/ receivers, etc. Such systems must be comprehensive and coherently integrated before they can effectively operate. .
  3. The enormous amounts of information found within any cell, and the irreducibly complex nature of information systems, can no longer rationally be attributed to just the mutation/ selection process. New perspectives are needed that might help us better understand the nature, origin, and maintenance of biological information.

Theme 1: The Nature of Biological Information

Significance: It is irrational to believe that inanimate matter, without any guiding force, can spontaneously give rise to complex information systems embodying language, meaning, and purpose. It is our universal experience that these things arise only through the operation of intelligence. If information/ language/ meaning/ purpose do not imply intelligence, then what do we mean by the word “intelligence”?

Significance: Language is arguably the strongest single evidence for the presence of intelligence. The existence of many types of very high-level languages imbedded throughout all biological systems strongly points to an underlying intelligence.

Significance: The evidence presented by Macosko and Smelser strongly argues that the genetic code had to have been already established and optimized BEFORE the first living cell could have come into being.

Significance: The amount of biological information that requires explanation is exploding. The term “junk DNA” has been used for decades as a dismissive term, meant to trivialize biological information, but it is now clear that our DNA, including the non-protein-coding parts of it, is an incredibly sophisticated information network.

Significance: The existence of whole new types of biological information (which transcend classic DNA-based genetic systems) greatly amplifies the explanatory deficiencies of neo-Darwinian theory. In addition to the membrane code, we have the splicing code, the methylation code, the histone code, the epigenetic code, etc. Neo-Darwinian theory cannot explain these newly understood information systems. How did they arise? How are they coordinated?

Significance: The existence of multiple new categories of biological information, including this possible new vibrational communication system between molecules at a distance, is extremely exciting. Such systems could never be explained by mutation/ selection, because like epigenetic systems and the membrane code, they must transcend DNA-based genetics.

Significance: Overlapping codes represent a type of data compression that computer scientists can only dream of. How could overlapping codes have ever arisen? Once in place, how could they ever be improved? Unambiguously beneficial mutations which are actually subject to selection must be vanishingly rare. How then do complex biological specifications arise?

Significance: Nobody thinks that computer networks (including the associated hardware, software, language, and specified meaning), could ever arise spontaneously. So is it reasonable to think that vastly superior biological information systems, occurring just above the atomic level, could arise by any type of Darwinian trial/ error process?

Significance: Tandem repeats within genomes have historically been used as evidence for “junk DNA” and are cited as proof that the genome came together via a haphazard process. But nearly identical tandem repeats are also found throughout executable computer code. The tandem repeats in computer code are certainly not junk – they contain essential information. The tandem repeats in executable computer code never arise haphazardly; they only arise by design. The amazing architectural similarities between executable code and higher genomes clearly indicate that biologists have much to learn from computer scientists, and computer scientists much to learn from biologists.

Theme 2: Difficulties in Creating Biological Information

Significance: Tierra was not a realistic model of biological evolution, yet it still failed. It teaches us nothing in terms of how real-world biological information networks might be established or expanded. Instead, it only shows us: a) adaptive fine-tuning (small superficial changes in a pre-existing information system); and b) adaptive degeneration (minor adaptations based upon loss of information). It shows a few inherently superficial and limited adaptations – followed by terminal stasis. This is consistent with the study by Basener.

Significance: Even with massive amounts of front-loaded design, Avida cannot honestly be used to support neo-Darwinian theory. Instead, Avida helps to reveal numerous and profound limitations inherent in the mutation/ selection process. Given biologically realistic settings, Avida fails to create a single binary bit of new information. The more we make our genetic simulations biologically realistic, the more clearly the mutation/ selection process fails. As will be seen, the most biologically realistic simulation to date (Mendel’s Accountant) very clearly reveals the profound limitations of the mutation/ selection process.

Significance: The work of Dr. Dembski et al. indicates that un-directed natural forces could never reasonably be expected to give rise to spontaneous search engines, which could never give rise to spontaneous information, which could never give rise to spontaneous life.

Significance: Strawberries, cows, bacteria, and finches all change in limited and superficial ways (by fine-tuning of existing information), but such minor changes occur only so that a given life form can persist and fundamentally stay the same. Adaptive fine-tuning does not explain the origin of all the underlying information networks which give life to these creatures. Instead, genetic fine-tuning leads only to stasis.

Significance: It is now well established that there are extensive overlapping codes within higher genomes, representing an extremely advanced form of data compression. Deployment of overlapping codes transcends anything computer scientists would even dream of. Overlapping codes represent a quantum leap in our understanding of the sophistication of biological information systems . The Darwinian trial and error mechanism cannot create or improve this type of information technology.

Significance: It has long been thought that since beneficial mutations happen, and since natural selection happens, continuously increasing biological information should be inevitable. This paper shows that this oft-voiced historical perspective was naïve. Not only are there too few beneficial mutations for genome-building, but most of the information in higher genomes is encoded by nucleotides which individually are too subtle to be have been selectively established. The few truly beneficial mutations that arise and have sufficient impact to be selectively amplified only arise independently and in isolation. This profoundly limits their potential impact. They can only accomplish fine-tuning of pre-existing biological information. Realistically, genomes cannot be built one beneficial mutation at a time.

Significance: The authors make it very clear that metabolic pathways cannot be created one mutation at a time. Their last point might be expressed most broadly in the form of a new adage: “To make any one of the essential components of life, one must already have that component present – plus all the other essential components of life”. I believe this is the fullest expression of the concept of biological irreducible complexity.

Significance:

Most of the papers presented in this book have been research papers which presented detailed scientific analyses of specific scientific issues. Symposium authors were asked to stick to their scientific analysis and at most, to only touch on philosophical issues in passing. However the authors of these last two supplemental papers were given greater license, and so provided essays that are primarily philosophical in character. These papers were welcome additions to this book. They broaden the range of presented “new perspectives”. These two authors oppose the concept of “intelligent design”, but I take the liberty to point out that they also oppose the strictly materialist explanation. Dr. Kauffman suggests that information systems arise via what he calls “natural magic ”. For me personally, this seems to presuppose a type of magic that requires some kind of intelligent magician . Similarly, Dr. Weber suggests that the natural world has built into it the natural ability (and apparently the inclination) to spontaneously organize itself into highly ordered information systems (such as living cells). If this is indeed true, such a remarkable built-in ability and inclination requires a cogent explanation. In my mind it strongly points to an intelligent cause.

Theme 3: Difficulties in Preventing Erosion of Biological Information

Significance: This paper shows that even when adaptive mutations do happen , they will almost always be manifested as a loss of functional information. This is because, given a pressing environmental challenge, selection will favor whatever solution to the problem arises first. Since there are many ways to break a gene, but very few ways to make a gene better, the first solution to arise will almost always involve a loss of functional information. Dr. Behe’s theoretical analysis is in perfect agreement with his previous analyses showing empirically that real-world adaptive mutations consistently involve loss of information. This paper, stands alongside the paper by Dr. Montañez et al. ( Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Paper ) both papers show that beneficial mutations are almost always only beneficial in a narrow or superficial sense, but in the bigger picture are consistently degenerative in nature, in terms of information content.

Significance: This fundamental theoretical problem of deleterious mutation accumulation is not new, but it has been consistently clouded by confusion . This paper uses a new method of analysis (comprehensive numerical simulation ), which finally brings clarity to the issue. It is now abundantly clear that the deleterious mutation accumulation problem is very real, and in fact is much more serious than has previously been thought.

Significance: The theoretical problem of accumulating deleterious mutations has often been dismissed by invoking mechanisms wherein selection eliminates the individuals with the most numerous mutations. This paper effectively falsifies this hypothetical mutation-count mechanism, leaving the problem of deleterious mutation accumulation un-resolved, and leaving the neo-Darwinian mechanism without a credible defense.

Significance: Synergistic epistasis is a rare deviation from normal genic interactions , and it would never even be discussed, except that it has been invoked as a solution to the mutation accumulation problem. The mechanism has been largely used as an abstraction – as a way to dismiss the mutation accumulation problem. Synergistic epistasis, as it would apply on a genomic level, has never been rigorously examined. Dr. Baumgardner et al. for the first time rigorously examine the hypothesis that synergistic epistatic interactions might solve the mutation accumulation problem on the genomic level. The authors effectively falsify the hypothesis, leaving the problem of deleterious mutation accumulation un-resolved, and again leaving neo-Darwinian theory without an effective defense.

Significance: Avida is a life-simulation computer program which many have claimed proves that the Darwinian mechanism is effective at creating a net gain in information. It appears to do this by eliminating all deleterious mutations and simultaneously amplifying all beneficial mutations. But when Avida is run using biologically realistic parameters, what is seen is just the opposite. There is a consistent net loss of information (to the point where all information which is subject to mutation is lost), because low-impact deleterious mutations consistently escape purifying selection. Beneficial mutations fail to accumulate. To the extent that Avida reflects the Darwinian process, it very effectively falsifies neo-Darwinian theory.

Significance: It has often been said that viruses in general, and specifically influenza , are proof that the mutation/ selection process creates new information. This study shows just the opposite. Viral strains can certainly undergo fine-tuning in terms of adaption to their host or adaption to antiviral pharmaceuticals. However, RNA viruses such as influenza are inherently subject to spontaneous degeneration due to deleterious mutation accumulation. This can lead to genetic degeneration as reflected by attenuation of its effects, pandemic termination, and strain extinction.

Significance: In terms of direct observation, it is our universal experience that the only meaningful counterforce to entropic degeneration is an intelligent will. This is the underlying factor which allows people, human society, and life itself – to resist entropic decay. Picture a young lady’s bedroom, which has been undergoing increasing entropy (it is a mess). When it is a closed system (with nothing entering or leaving), the room will never organize or clean itself. But what if it is an open system (so things can enter or leave)? For example, what if we import energy? Will turning up the thermostat reduce the room’s disorder? Will letting sunlight in through the window reduce the disorder? Will opening the widow let disorder escape? What might come in through the window that might reverse the entropy? Letting birds and insects in will not organize the room. Dr. Sewell points out that whatever is impossible within a closed system (i.e., a room that might self-organize), is on a practical level still impossible in an open system. The only thing that can come into the room and reverse the disorder would be an intelligent agent (i.e., the young lady), or an agent of intelligence (a housekeeping robot). Only an intelligent will can reverse the growing entropy in the room.

Significance: It is sometimes incorrectly stated that life violates the second law. This is not correct and creates confusion, because living systems are not isolated. There is always an external energy source. But this is not where the Darwinian mechanism fails. The fallacy is in the assertion that energy on its own can build the necessary machinery of life. This does not occur and cannot occur thermodynamically. Science repeatedly shows this not to be the case. However, because life involves many layers of intricate coded and nested software programs, life does something very extraordinary – it actively resists going to its lowest energy state. Life has the unique ability to “hover”, in a sustained manner, far above the energy state of an otherwise dead or decaying organism. This happens specifically because it has coded information instructions which actively capture and channel the energy available, for necessary synthesis, repair and maintenance of all systems. In this way life can remain in a suspended state of extreme disequilibrium.

This can be visualized nicely by considering a hovering hummingbird. It does not go to its lowest available energy state (on the ground – dead and decaying), but instead maintains itself in an exceedingly improbable state of disequilibrium. This is possible, in part, because within the nectar which the bird drinks there is more than enough metabolic energy for that needed for the bird to hover. But that is not the interesting part. High-quality raw energy by itself is NOT what really makes the hummingbird hover. It is necessary but not sufficient . It is only the bird’s very high quality biological information that channels the available energy in precisely the right way which enables and maintains the bird’s perfect levitation . The required information is resident in the bird’s brain, nervous system, muscles, feathers, hollow bones, cells, proteins, ATP synthase, RNAs, and DNAs. This information is not just a series of zeros and ones floating around somewhere within the bird. The information is active and “alive” within a labyrinth of information networks. These networks require a vast matrix of senders and receivers, as well as many languages, and massive global integration. Every component of every cell, within every tissue, within every organ of the bird, requires continuous information flow. The biological information which levitates the hummingbird is the collective effect of the operation and interaction of countless executable programs.

Based upon everything we know about information systems, this biological labyrinth of information systems, which is required for the life to be alive, clearly seems to be the outworking of a fundamental underlying intelligence. It should be obvious to any biologist that this amazing information labyrinth is what enables the hummingbird to hover and be alive. The only rational basis for the existence of such an information network is some type of underlying intelligence. The reason why so many biologists vehemently deny this obvious conclusion is their unwavering philosophical commitment to strict materialism.

The flowering plant, from which the hummingbird obtains its energy, has its own enabling labyrinth of information which allows it to photosynthesize and grow. The plant has no brain , yet its enabling information labyrinth also appears to be the outworking of a fundamental underlying intelligence. Reasonably, it is this underlying intelligence that enables the information labyrinth, which enables the plant to capture low-quality radiant energy from the sun, and convert it into higher quality chemical energy (that the machinery in the hummingbird can use to do work), which enables the hummingbird to hover. The sun provides the energy, but biological information is the basis for capturing the energy, improving its form and quality, and directing it to create, maintain, and operate the machinery needed for life. It is information that enables life to intelligently control and make use of the downward flow of energy (thermodynamics).

In conclusion, one of the main revelations that has come out of this symposium is that biological information is the key to understanding life – more specifically it explains how life can actively sustain itself in a state of extreme thermodynamic disequilibrium . This revelation immediately raises the question –“ Where does that enabling biological information come from?” The answer is not clearly shown, but it is becoming clear that it cannot come from the simplistic mutation/ selection process, and appears to require the operation of some type of intelligence. Since information is the key to life, and since biological information is clearly subject to entropic degeneration, a second question immediately arises – “How might biological information be sustained through deep time?” Again, the answer is not clearly shown, but it is shown that purifying selection is not adequate, and that halting the entropic loss of biological information would appear to require the operation of some type of intelligence.

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Figures above: The hovering hummingbird, along with the flowering plant that nourishes it, epitomize life’s amazing ability to persist in sustained thermodynamic disequilibrium (top image). Many factors are involved, but the primary “vital force” which enables hummingbirds and plants to “hover” far above thermodynamic equilibrium, is active biological information flowing continuously through elaborate information channels (bottom image).

Final Comments from the Author

When I first conceived of the Cornell symposium in 2010, I could not have imagined that it would attract so many gifted scientists from so many diverse disciplines . It was my privilege to work with Drs. Marks, Behe, Dembski, and Gordon in enlisting the speakers, getting the papers reviewed, and editing the proceedings. I believe everyone who contributed to the symposium went away with a greatly enhanced appreciation of what biological information really is (certainly I did). When you start to see it, the depth and sophistication of biological information is simply breathtaking.

Many scientists who are committed to the standard neo-Darwinian model of life may find these proceedings disturbing – which is unfortunate. I do not think any of the contributing authors to the proceedings had any intention to offend anyone. It is just that it is increasingly clear that the long-reigning neo-Darwinian paradigm is collapsing – and despite many efforts to deny what is obvious – clearly “the emperor has no clothes.” The extremely sophisticated hardware and software systems that enable life simply cannot be built by any trial and error system. In particular – it is very clear that software can never be developed one binary bit at a time. Apart from a fully functional pre-existing hardware/ software system, a single bit has absolutely no meaning. I feel that if we are to preserve our scientific integrity, we must acknowledge that we have a major explanatory problem , and we need to go back to the drawing board in terms of understanding the origin of biological information.

The entropic degeneration of information is something we all understand – it is a general problem we all have to deal with every day. It is clear that this is also an enormous problem within the biological realm. We all have a limited life expectancy – primarily due to mutation accumulation on the personal level . The problem of mutation accumulation is clearly also a serious problem on the level of the species. Selection does not generally appear to be capable of halting deleterious mutation accumulation, and most genetic adaptations appear to involve loss of information. The problem of entropic degeneration of biological information should not be swept under the rug. While it seems paradoxical within the ruling paradigm, it is extremely important and clearly deserves to be studied in much more depth.

Biographies – Editors
Robert J. Marks II
Distinguished Professor, Baylor University, USA
Robert J. Marks II is currently the Distinguished Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University. He is the author, coauthor, Editor, or Coeditor of eight books published by MIT Press, IEEE, and Springer-Verlag. His most recent text is Handbook of Fourier Analysis and Its Applications (Oxford University Press , 2009). His research has been funded by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, General Electric, Southern California Edison, Electric Power Research Institute, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the Whitaker Foundation, Boeing Defense, the National Institutes of Health, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Army Research Office, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Dr. Marks is Fellow of the IEEE and the Optical Society of America. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON NEURAL NETWORKS. He was the recipient of numerous professional awards, including a NASA Tech Brief Award and a Best Paper Award from the American Brachytherapy Society for prostate-cancer research. He was the recipient of the Banned Item of the

Michael J. Behe
Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 18015.

Michael J. Behe graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He did his graduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded a Ph.D. for his dissertation research on sickle-cell disease. From 1978-1982 he did postdoctoral work on DNA structure at the National Institutes of Health. From 1982-85 he was Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Queens College in New York City, where he met his wife. In 1985 he moved to Lehigh University where he is currently Professor of Biochemistry. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and two books (Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution , and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism). These books argue that living systems at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design. The books have been reviewed by the New York Times, Nature, Philosophy of Science, Christianity Today, and many other periodicals . He and his wife reside near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with their nine children.

William A. Dembski
Discovery Institute, 208 Columbia Street, Seattle, WA 98104.
William A. Dembski received a B.A. degree in psychology, a M.S. degree in statistics, a Ph.D. degree in philosophy, and a Ph.D. degree in mathematics in 1988 from the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, and the M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary , Princeton, NJ, in 1996. He was an Associate Research Professor with the Conceptual Foundations of Science, Baylor University, Waco, TX. He is currently also Senior Fellow with the Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute, Seattle, WA. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. He has published articles in mathematics, philosophy, and theology journals and is the author/ editor of more than a dozen books.

Bruce L. Gordon
Associate Professor, Houston Baptist University, USA.
Bruce L. Gordon is associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University. He formerly taught science and mathematics at The King’s College in New York City, and philosophy at Baylor University, the University of Notre Dame, and Northwestern University. A senior fellow of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle, he also served as its research director for a number of years. He holds an A.R.C.T. in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, a B.Sc. in applied mathematics and an M.A. in analytic philosophy from the University of Calgary, an M.A.R. in apologetics and systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of modern physics from Northwestern University in Chicago . The author of a variety of academic articles and the contributing co -editor of two books, he lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Mari-Anne.

John C. Sanford
Department of Horticulture, NYSAES, Cornell University , Geneva, NY 14456.
John Sanford has a Ph.D . in Plant Breeding/ Genetics from the University of Wisconsin. He has been a Cornell professor for over 30 years, conducting research in the areas of plant breeding, plant genetic engineering, and theoretical genetics . John conducted plant genetic research that resulted in many new crop varieties, more than 100 scientific publications , and several dozen patents. John was the primary inventor of the biolistic “gene gun” process, which was used to produce a large fraction of the transgenic crops grown in the world today. John was team leader in the development of the program Mendel’s Accountant, the world’s first biologically realistic forward time genetic accounting program. John is the author of the book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. John is now semi-retired from Cornell, and continues to hold the position of Courtesy Associate Professor.

Biographies – Authors

Douglas D. Axe
Director of Biologic Institute, Seattle, WA. Douglas D. Axe is the director of the Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After a Caltech Ph.D. he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. His work has been reviewed in Nature and featured in a number of books, magazines and newspaper articles, including Life’s Solution by Simon

Conway Morris, The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, and Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer.

William F. Basener
School of Mathematics, Rochester Institute of Technology. Dr. Basener is an associate professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Chief Imaging Scientist for Spectral Solutions. He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Marist College and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Boston University in 2000. He has published research in dynamical systems, chaos, topology, population modeling, economics and remote sensing and is the author of an NSF-funded textbook, Topology and Its Applications. He has also worked on projects funded by the Dept. of Defense, various corporations, and has worked as a con-tractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

John R. Baumgardner
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ludwig Maximilians University, Theresienstrasse 41, 80333 Munich, Germany.
Dr. Baumgardner has a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University, a M.S. in electrical engineering from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in geophysics and space physics from UCLA. From 1984 to 2004 he served as a staff scientist in the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory engaged in a variety of research projects in computational physics. Beginning in 2004 he has been part of the team which developed Mendel’s Accountant, a computer model for investigating research topics in population genetics . He is currently an adjunct staff scientist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

Michael J. Behe
Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 18015.
Michael J. Behe graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He did his graduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded a Ph.D. for his dissertation research on sickle-cell disease. From 1978-1982 he did postdoctoral work on DNA structure at the National Institutes of Health. From 1982-85 he was Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Queens College in New York City, where he met his wife. In 1985 he moved to Lehigh University where he is currently Professor of Biochemistry. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and two books (Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism). These books argue that living systems at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design. The books have been reviewed by the New York Times, Nature, Philosophy of Science, Christianity Today, and many other periodicals. He and his wife reside near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with their nine children.

Wesley H. Brewer
Fluid Physics International
Wesley Brewer is the sole proprietor of Fluid Physics International, a small consultancy specializing in developing numerical simulation software for modeling complex scientific phenomena. His primary research area is in computational hydrodynamics, but has also been working in computational genetics and numerical weather simulations. Since 2005, he has been part of the Mendel’s Accountant development team. Dr . Brewer holds a B.S. in engineering science and mechanics from the University of Tennessee, an M.S. in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in computational engineering from Mississippi State University. Since 2007, Dr. Brewer spends much of his time teaching computer science in Korea.

L. Dent
Visiting Professor of Biology, Pepperdine University Malibu, CA 90263.
Laurieanne Dent is a Visiting Professor of Biology at Pepperdine University where she teaches courses in physiology and zoology. In 2008, she completed doctoral studies at Cornell University in Neurobiology and Behavior with a minor in Genetics and Development. Her dissertation research was focused on brainstem neural circuits which process sub-millisecond communication stimuli from electric organ discharges of weakly-electric African mormyrid fish. As an undergraduate at Texas Christian University, she earned a B.S. in Biology and Secondary Teacher Certification in Composite Science, as well, in 1991. After teaching a diversity of science subjects and levels for several years as a secondary educator, she studied for a M.S. in Biology in physiological ecology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

Sanford, Dr. John (2014-02-05). Biological Information – New Perspectives A Synopsis and Limited Commentary (Kindle Locations 898-905). FMS Publications. Kindle Edition.

Winston Ewert
Electrical & Computer Engineering, One Bear Place #97356, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798-7356. Winston Ewert received a B.Sc. in Computer Science from Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., and a Ph.D. at Baylor University where he was a member of Evolutionary Informatics Lab. Together with Dr. Robert J. Marks II, Dr. William Dembski, and George Montañez , he is an author on a number of papers investigating the informational content of evolution-inspired search algorithms. He now works as a Software Engineer.

Paul Gibson
Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept. of Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems, Southern Illinois University.
Professor, Plant Genetics and Statistics, Cooperative Studies, Inc., Overland Park, KS. Paul Gibson has had a career-long interest in theoretical quantitative genetics and its application to plant breeding for the improvement of food crops in hungry areas of the world. His Ph.D is in Plant Breeding and Cytogenetics from Iowa State University in 1981, with his dissertation research conducted at the International Crops Research Institute (ICRISAT) in India. After working as a maize breeder in Zambia, he conducted quantitative genetic and molecular research and taught at Southern Illinois University. Paul now serves as the primary instructor and mentor in a regional MSc and Ph.D program in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at Makerere Univ. in Kampala, Uganda . He contributed to the development of Mendel’s Accountant as a biologically-realistic computing tool for understanding the dynamics of mutation, selection, and random drift in natural populations.

Werner Gitt
German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology. Former Director and Head of Information Technology.
Dr. Gitt obtained an undergraduate degree in engineering from the Technical University of Hannover in 1968 and completed his Ph.D. summa cum laude in 1970 from the Technical University of Aachen which also awarded him its prestigious “Borchers Medal.” In 1971 Werner Gitt started his career at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology in Brunswick, being promoted to Director and Professor in 1978. He served as Head of “Information Technology ” from 1971 to 2002, when he retired. He is the author of numerous research papers dealing with information science , numerical mathematics, and control engineering.

Donald E. Johnson
Ph.D. in Chemistry from Michigan State University as well as Computer & Information Sciences from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Don Johnson (see video clips from a presentation) has earned Ph.D.s in both Computer & Information Sciences from the University of Minnesota and in Chemistry from Michigan State University. He was a senior research scientist for 10 years in pharmaceutical and medical/ scientific instrument fields, served as president and technical expert in an independent computer consulting firm for many years, and taught 20 years in universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Europe. He has made ID-Friendly and Intelligent Design Presentations on most continents, including in Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Germany. He now owns and operates Science Integrity with Website http://www.scienceintegrity.org, which has more details on the books (including excerpts, reviews, and endorsements), as well as interviews, speaking tours, on-line videos, and other information.

Stuart A. Kauffman
Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics at the University of Vermont and Professor of Computational Systems Biology at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland.
Stuart A. Kauffman is currently Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics at the University of Vermont and Distinguished Professor of Computational Systems Biology at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland. He has also held professorships at the University of Chicago , the University of Pennsylvania, the Santa Fe Institute, the University of New Mexico, the Krasnow Institute at George Mason University, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Calgary, and Harvard Divinity School. A pioneer in the field of complexity theory, he is a biologist, trained as a medical doctor, who studies the origins of life and the origins of molecular organization. Kauffman is the holder of a dozen biotechnology patents and the founder or board member of a number of biotechnology corporations. In 2008 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. The author of over 180 scientific articles, he is the co-author of one book and the author of four others.

Jed C. Macosko School of Mathematics, Wake Forest University.
Jed C. Macosko is an associate professor of biophysics at Wake Forest University. He graduated from MIT with the Merck award for outstanding scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1999 for his work on the molecular machinery of influenza, HIV and nerve cells. From 2000 to 2002 his research on molecular machines continued as an NIH postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Carlos J. Bustamante and then in 2003 and 2004 as an adjunct assistant professor working with David J. Keller at the University of New Mexico. Since 2004 the Macosko lab at Wake Forest has used in vivo and in vitro microscopy to study how molecular machines move cargo from one part of a cell to another. His team has developed a novel drug discovery platform based on combinatorial libraries of nucleic acid encoded chemicals . His studies on molecular machines and nucleic acids have resulted in over 25 technical papers, book chapters and submitted patents, which have been cited nearly 1000 times and have provided further evidence for design in nature. He and his wife live in Winston-Salem with their five children.

Andy C. McIntosh
Prof. University of Leeds, DSc, FIMA, C.Math, FInstE , CEng, FInstP, MIGEM, FRAeS
Andy McIntosh holds a research chair in Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory, and has lectured and researched in these fields for over 30 years. He has a Ph.D. in combustion theory from the aerodynamics department of what was then Cranfield Institute of Technology (now Cranfield University), a DSc in Applied Mathematics from the University of Wales and worked for a number of years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Institute of Energy, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Aeronautical Society. A chartered mathematician and engineer , and author of over 180 papers and articles , his research has been in combustion in fluids and solids. His work has also included investigations into the fundamental link between thermodynamics and information, and in the last few years he has been involved in research in the area of biomimetics where the minute combustion chamber of the bombardier beetle has inspired a patented novel spray technology with applications to fuel injectors , pharmaceutical sprays, fire extinguishers and aerosols. This research was awarded the 2010 Times Higher Educational award for the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology.

George D. Montañez
BS Computer Science, University of California –Riverside (2004), MS Computer Science, Baylor University (2011).
George D. Montañez is a graduate student in the Machine Learning department, School of Computer Science, at Carnegie Mellon University. His research interests include predictive state model reconstruction, information properties of genetic algorithms, conservation of information in machine learning, and machine learning methods for textual data mining. He served as a research assistant to Dr. Robert J. Marks II at Baylor University.

Chase W. Nelson
Research Scientist
Chase W. Nelson is a biologist and musician currently pursuing a Ph.D. in bioinformatics and molecular evolution. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2010, where he performed honors research on mutation accumulation in Arabidopsis. While at Oberlin, he became an NSF STEM Scholar in Computation and Modeling, and also took part in several research experiences, including an NIH IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence Fellowship at the University of Wyoming. He subsequently worked under Dr. John C. Sanford at Rainbow Technologies, Inc., where he examined the power of natural selection in digital organisms. His current studies under Dr. Austin L. Hughes focus on developing computational methods to detect natural selection at the nucleotide level. His design of novel tools for next-generation sequence analysis and geographic information systems earned him an NSF GRFP Award in 2013. During the summer of 2013, he also undertook an NSF EAPSI Fellowship to study rice genetics under Dr . Wen-Hsiung Li at Academia Sinica Taipei, Taiwan.

John W. Oller, Jr.
Hawthorne Regents Professor IV, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
John W. Oller, Jr., Ph.D. founded the Department of Linguistics at the University of New Mexico in 1972 and the Applied Language and Speech Sciences Ph.D Program at UL Lafayette in 2001. Oller’s research has concentrated on the theory and experimental measurement of linguistic processes in education, high stakes testing, the diagnosis of disorders, the success of social interactions , and more recently on genetic systems, biochemistry, repair and disease defenses, etc. Winner of the Mildenberger Prize offered by the Modern Language Association, Oller is the author of over 200 peer -reviewed papers and monographs along with 16 books largely in experimental measurement and research on theories of linguistics and sign systems in general. His 2010 works include a book on the causes of autism, an encyclopedic reclassification of communication disorders and related disease conditions, and a monograph-sized contribution to the peer-reviewed multidisciplinary open source journal Entropy. The latter deals with the process of pragmatic mapping (as in referring to an object, person, event, relation, or sequence of them) and as found in genetics, the dynamics of immune systems, and the distinct neuroarchitecture of the human brain.

John C. Sanford
Department of Horticulture, NYSAES, Cornell University , Geneva, NY 14456. John Sanford has a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding/ Genetics from the University of Wisconsin. He has been a Cornell professor for over 30 years, conducting research in the areas of plant breeding, plant genetic engineering, and theoretical genetics. John conducted plant genetic research that resulted in many new crop varieties, more than 100 scientific publications, and several dozen patents. John was the primary inventor of the biolistic “gene gun” process, which was used to produce a large fraction of the transgenic crops grown in the world today. John was team leader in the development of the program Mendel’s Accountant, the world’s first biologically realistic forward time genetic accounting program. John is the author of the book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. John is now semi-retired from Cornell, and continues to hold the position of Courtesy Associate Professor.

Josiah Seaman
Ph.D. student in Computational Biology at Colorado University, Denver, CO. Josiah Seaman is a student of Bioinformatics. He has a bachelor’s in Computer Science. He is currently working as a Ph.D. student in Computational Biology at CU Denver. His specialties are data visualization and sequence analysis. He is the creator of Skittle Genome Visualizer ( dnaskittle.com ) which is being used to better understand chromosome structure and organization. The downloadable version is freely available at http:// sourceforge.net/ projects/ skittle/

Granville Sewell
Mathematics Department, University of Texas, El Paso. Granville Sewell is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He completed his Ph.D in Mathematics at Purdue University, and has subsequently been employed by (in chronological order) Universidad Simon Bolivar (Caracas), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Purdue University, IMSL Inc. (Houston), UTEP, The University of Texas Center for High Performance Computing (Austin), and Texas A& M University , and is currently back at UTEP. He spent one semester (Fall 1999) teaching at Universidad Nacional de Tucuman in Argentina, on a Fulbright grant, and returned to Universidad Simon Bolivar to teach summer courses in 2005 and 2008. Sewell has written three books on numerical analysis, and is the author of a widely-used finite element computer program (video at http://www.roguewave.com/ pde2d ).

Bruce H. Weber
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, California State University at Fullerton, and Robert H. Woodworth Chair in Science and Natural Philosophy Emeritus at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. Bruce H. Weber is Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry , California State University at Fullerton, and Robert H. Woodworth Chair in Science and Natural Philosophy Emeritus at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. He is the author of numerous scientific articles and the co-author or co-editor of several books, including Evolution and Learning (MIT Press 2003), Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (MIT Press 1996), Evolution at a Crossroads: The New Biology and the New Philosophy of Science (MIT Press 1989 ), and Entropy, Information , and Evolution: New Perspectives on Physical and Biological Evolution (MIT Press 1988). His research interests are in macromolecular evolution with special emphasis on the application of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to the problems of the emergence of life, and the history of biochemistry, especially the conceptual development of bioenergetics.

Jonathan Wells
Discovery Institute, Seattle, WA 98104. Jonathan Wells holds an A.B. in Physical Sciences from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1985 he received a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University, with a dissertation on Charles Hodge and the nineteenth-century Darwinian controversies. In 1994 he received a second Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, with a dissertation on frog embryology. From 1995 to 1998 he worked as a hospital laboratory supervisor and did postdoctoral research at Berkeley. He then moved with his family to Seattle, where he is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Discovery Institute. He has authored scientific articles in BioSystems, The Scientist, The American Biology Teacher and Rivista di Biologia / Biology Review, and he has co-authored articles in Development and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. He is also the author of several books, including Charles Hodge’s Critique of Darwinism, Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and he is the co-author (with William Dembski) of The Design of Life. His most recent book, The Myth of Junk DNA, was published in 2011.

*  *  * End of Dr.  J.C. Sanford’s Synopsis *  *  *

Don Johnson – April 2014

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10 responses to “Biological Information – New Perspectives A Synopsis and Limited Commentary. My Limited Review of This Synopsis and Limited Commentary — (Don’t be intimidated by this title)

  1. Your list of contributors to this conference is revealing.
    At first I was more than surprised to hear such conclusions being reached from any scientific conference in complete opposition to the usual view. However, a leisurely perusal of the list makes it clear that this was it was definitely the ID/creationist camp that was up to bat in this get-together (I don’t doubt that they spontaneously burst into a campfire round of Kumbayahs upon reaching their forgone conclusion).
    Given John C. Sanford at the helm, Behe to his right and Dembski to his left (not to mention some of the creationist aristocracy in the background), why should anyone be surprised that they did not settle on conclusions favorable to evolution? But that isn’t the real question is it? The real question is why anyone would expect to take their conclusions particularly seriously in the scientific community at large? Why any more seriously than Ken Hams small pioneering group of certified creation scientists. Why on earth should NCSE suddenly drop everything in a paroxysm of doubt when these conclusions are issued by a group that has a very high population of individuals whose opinions are considered to be highly eccentric and not the least bit representative of their respective disciplines (with respect to their creationism anyway, I’m sure Sanford can talk orthodox horticulture through the phases of the moon)? This may have been one of the few places where they could actually hope to submit such papers with any safety from ridicule, strong criticism and rejection. Many of them have been ruthlessly critiqued by other scientists for the very thing that they were promoting en mass here.
    Even if someone doesn’t happen to know the intricacies of information theory and evolutionary biology, why should he give serious credence to such a small group when he is aware that the wider scientific community views at least half of them as quacks and none of them as truly representative of the consensus position in this community? Yes, there will always be well certified outsiders in every field, some will be quacks and the odd one will be a true visionary, but many of these are so far outside the uncontroversial consensus position that any gamble you might make on one of them being a visionary that will overturn modern biology is betting against all odds. A small subset of individuals with a known religious bias that is strongly suspected of driving their conclusions is hardly a good bet for any Kuhnian paradigm shift. A band of eccentrics gathering together and patting each other on the back for ideas that have been laughed out of the scientific world does not imply a controversy in the field, it implies that this is maybe the only way they are going to get these ideas published unless they go to ICR, hat in hand. And you are indignant that NCSE does not recognize the revolution? I’m afraid that critical mass against evolutionary theory (or theories) is not yet reached by any means Let them publish their conclusions in the teeth of real critical peer review and hostile scrutiny (as it must be if they are going to so easily discard the settled science of their disciplines) in journals that represent the field as a whole, involving them in real controversy within the scientific community instead of at the wild west fringe. If they run that gauntlet, NCSE may start listening, if not, there is no scientific controversy to speak of and a victory for anti-evolution at such a quasi-creationist gathering is only so much preaching to the choir.
    Just my opinion, but it is difficult to see why it shouldn’t also be yours; even if you think they are right, the rest of my points are fairly obvious and it would be bizarre to expect such a reversal from NCSE until their opinions filter into conferences that aren’t made up largely of creationists.

    • Thanks Brandon … nice review on 29 scientists of various sorts. But where is your review, analysis and rebuttal of the substance of what these 29 scientists actually say and present?

      Why can’t you do a sort of mini peer-review based on your own knowledge and understanding of the issues?

      The article I wrote was to show that there is indeed controversy within the scientific community. I know there is no controversy within the confines of NCSE, and for that matter those who subscribe to the “Materialistic” world view:

      “… the theory of materialism holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, the theory claims that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action.”

      This definition of reality by definition excludes any notion of design and I understand that, even though nature abounds with design. What my article shows is the dishonesty of NCSE in promoting their view of “evolution” to the exclusion of any other viewpoint.

      Did you actually read my Synopsis of the conference report … or better yet the original Synopsis by Dr. Sanford? Or even better yet pursue the full conference reports? If not do you have any intention to do so, or are you satisfied with just the names and affiliations of the contributors to the conference, and that those affiliations are sufficient for final judgement?

      How about Darwin’s Doubt (latest version with Meyer’s response to critics) and/or Signature in the Cell by Dr. Stephen Meyer … have you read them? Some pretty heavy hitters including Nick Matzke and Donald Prothero criticize Meyer, and Meyer responds in depth to these folks. Do you intend to read Meyer? If not … why not? Another example of their being controversy within the ranks.

      How about Professor Edgar Andrews and his book Who Made God Have you read him? Have you looked at his resume and credentials? If not why not?

      It’s right and proper to include a persons credentials and associations when critiquing his/her work … but don’t start and end there … listen and read what is actually said and written by that person.
      —————————–
      Let me tell you a story about a teacher I once had.
      Dr. Smith was a Math Professor at San Diego State College. Smith taught an upper division math course that was reputed to be the hardest math course on campus. He was a bit eccentric – a surfer dude often wearing shorts and sandals, a beard and long hair (this was in 1969).

      Dr. Smith announced that we would finish the course in half a semester, and said yes indeed this is the hardest course on campus … hmmm?

      As I recall, a couple of weeks into the course the professor announced there would be a test the following week. He passed out some papers and told us to study this material and we should do OK in the test. Well, test day comes and we sat down to do the test. Guess what … the test was exactly word-for-word what he passed out the week before. Guess what? I got an A on that test as I suppose all of the class did. But then the other sandal dropped when Smith announced something like the following:

      That test was typical of many you will see and take or have taken in the past – but that’s not how I do things.

      He threw out the test saying it doesn’t count. He further said that the next test will be a bit different and will be graded.

      Well, along comes Christmas Break (I think they called it Christmas Break in those days rather than Winter Break, but even though I was an atheist it didn’t bother me.) Dr. Smith handed out the next test on the last day before break … a take home test – with these instructions:

      The test was a take home test with, as I recall 7 or 8 questions.
      * It was a true/false test where if your answer was true you were done with it
      * If your answer was false you had to give a counter-example showing why the statement was false.
      * Scoring was thus: 5 correct answers a C.
      6 correct answers a B.
      7 correct answers an A.
      1 incorrect answer an F. That’s right, an F.
      * His admonition to us was to do your own work and not collaborate or rely on others in the class.
      * When you were comfortable in your answers – stop. Don’t force it and don’t guess. Be certain of those questions you choose to answer.
      * And, he announced that, as promised, the course would end at the end of this test at the halfway point of the semester.

      I worked my butt off for those days of break, but could only rise to a C. I had some ideas on those questions I chose to answer, but was only sure on the 5 answers that would get me a C.
      Remember, the first test was thrown out so we/I were starting from zero.

      Break is over and we reassembled in the class room. And of course dear Dr. Smith was a convenient 20 minutes or so late to class.

      During this 20 minutes of course, our little class broke up into little discussions all around the room “did you answer #7”, “I think #4 was true, but I’m not quite sure … what do you think?” and on and on.

      You guessed it … I went for the B on question #5, and changed my test paper.

      The professor returns and collects the papers and announces once more the class is finished.

      Next class the results are distributed … almost universal Fs as I recall and we were facing failing grades at the end of the course … we were set up. However, the professor then announced how he really intended to grade us. We would make one-on-one appointments with him where he interviewed us until he had a good reading on our understanding.

      After a few interview sessions … I GOT AN A. And I suspect many others did as well.

      So what’s my point here? What did I learn from all of this?
      We should work hard, study hard and prepare hard, but ultimately we need to rely on ourselves. Don’t trust the authority just because that authority carries the mantle of authority. Test the issues yourself … do your own homework.
      Oh yes, learn from the authorities … most often they can be trusted and are on the up-and-up, make sure you are comfortable with the conclusions you come up with.

      Fool proof? No … you will be mistaken, maybe even often. But you will learn.
      —————–
      I think I somewhat semi-consciously applied Dr. Smith’s lesson over the years in my profession of software development, especially during the PC and software technology explosion 1980s, 90s and into the 00s (thank you Bill Gates and Microsoft). I always tried to stay abreast of where technology was headed and how it could apply to the products I was working on. This sometimes got me into trouble because it had a tendency of going against the grain of what was orthodox at the time. For example converting a hard real-time system from mini-computers to a non real-time Microsoft Windows environment. It worked because we had people who could think outside the box, and with an understanding the OS and its capabilities and limitations, created a very successful semi-hard real-time system. This system trains US and allied combat aircrews around the world.
      ———————————-
      Fast forward to somewhere around 2009. A very popular television commentator Glenn Beck was saying all these crazy things and drawing crazy stuff on his blackboards. He was called many things, few complementary, a deranged lunatic and worse.

      But Beck would always (just like Professor Smith) admonish his viewers to do their own homework. Don’t trust Beck, don’t trust the “authorities” and “experts” … they may be right. But do your own homework and come to your conclusions through your own study of the issues.

      You know, Beck was so right on so much of what he said. And this is sad, because much of what he said in those days were warnings of things to come. And sad to say, much has come to pass.
      ————————–
      So that’s what I’m saying Brendan. Lets all do our homework … and perhaps you really are, and I hope so. But give some benefit of the doubt to those who may disagree with you … and with proper respect and dignity. When someone is showing you “machines” in a cell manufacturing this-and-that, and showing mechanisms to transport this-and-that to places thorough the cell, and into and out of the cell … don’t dismiss what is said simply because that person may see “design” where you see the “appearance” of design or only the “illusion” of a design. Read some of this stuff and strive for that C or even a B or A.
      And take a look at this amazing animation of The Central Dogma

      And I thank you for the civility of your comment. Having come here from my post(s) on NCSE I’m sure you are quite aware of the incivility and disrespect there. I thank you for not bringing that tone here.

      Regards,
      don

  2. Hi Don,

    I appreciate your giving a careful and thoughtful response. You have an entertaining way of bringing your points forward which makes it enjoyable reading. I agree with you about some of the incivility on NCSE; while I am in agreement with the scientific position they take and I like the interesting blogs, I think a number of visitors are a little too, um, excitable and to apt to conflate science with anti-theism in a loose and uncritical way.

    I will concede that I have not read the synopsis, nor have I read the other references you mentioned. That said, my point was not in any way dependent on the specific content of the conference and it stands on its own. The conclusions I did read, and they are completely in opposition to any sampling of the current literature with respected peer-reviewed journals. You see nothing even approaching such conclusions (which is strange if there is anything like a real paradigm shift really in the air).

    Maybe all 29 scientists did cutting edge work, not to be found in the scientific literature, and while being prefaced by some popular books beforehand, this work was finally revealed at this conference, completely justifying Sanford’s sweeping and revolutionary statements. As you said, I would need to dig to find out. It would nevertheless be true that they have not even come close to convincing the critical mass of experts who are far more likely to know what they are talking about than we are, and they have made no genuine incursions in the respected journals or conferences that are the agreed upon forums of debate in the scientific community. The lineup in this conference is made up largely of ID proponents and creationists, instead of being made of a representative cross-section from the relevant disciplines (I would take notice if the line-up was more representative cross-section). This means that conclusions, that are not representative of these disciplines and of which we have not so much of a whisper in the respected journals, should be looked upon with some doubt. It’s not that these conclusions should not stand or fall on their own merits, it’s that their merits have not, apparently, been deemed sufficient to make the slightest impact in the scientific literature and that they have been forced to bypass that literature by self-publishing and setting up their own conferences.

    What was special about this conference vs other creationist or ID conferences was that (a) the proceedings were published by a respected scientific publishing company (they got a lot of flak for this apparently! Anyway, that was simply a matter of polishing the scientific credentials of the conference for the public, there is no peer-review involved!) and (b) it took place at Cornell (apparently they rented an auditorium, and only one Cornell staff member showed up – Sanford, who is a known creationist). That’s it, that is what is supposed to stand up as proof of a real scientific controversy, when the forums of debate which I mentioned above, that are universally recognized by scientists as the locus of legitimate scientific controversy (and they showcase some very heated controversies, they are not exactly a united front) show no harmony whatsoever with these conclusions and evince no hint that these are even legitimate points of debate at this time.

    As for the do-your-own-homework approach, I agree and I don’t. I think it is ultimately true that we are very limited by nature, so there is a need to rely to a certain extent on expert opinion. I spend my life studying and I’m not the least bit shy about going to the sources, whether that means reading Darwin’s (surprisingly readable) tomes, comparing the original manuscripts in textual criticism instead of breaking out the NIV and hoping it sees you straight, or looking up the references in a scientific article to see if they really support the sentence or “facts” you just read. Even then, I am relying on a battery of experts from paleographers to publishers to the peers doing the peer review. Ultimately, I expect to be able to find contrary opinions on every subject that carries weight or incites emotion, but I am very careful about who is airing that opinion and what presuppositions they might have, and if there is reason for doubt, I will go ahead and do just that. When it comes to something as complex as evolutionary biology, I can certainly understand someone not wanting to do the legwork, but in that case, I do not find it reasonable for that person to ignore the settled conclusions that are no longer considered to be controversial in any of the universally recognized scientific forums, instead favoring a minority opinion that is not even considered worthy of discussion in the scientific community, advocated by individuals with a known bias (towards theism to some extent, but mostly towards Christianity in particular).

    Beck sounds good on the surface, but this way lies madness and a great deal of unjustified arrogance: he insinuates that neither his opinion (confidently asserted for some reason) nor the opinion of the “experts” (I can almost hear the scary-quote marks) should be assented to and that we should do our own research. But this is pure rhetoric. He profoundly underestimates the need for prerequisite training, immersion in the technical context of the subject and iron-sharpening-iron (between experts) debate needed before any man-off-the-streets should reasonably view himself as competent to poo-poo the “experts” in a highly complex field. I’m not even sure why this point should be debated, it seems pretty obvious in something as complex and nuanced as modern evolutionary biology, just as it would be for any other complex field, be it ITS or laying down the wiring in a new house.

    I was willing to do the legwork (though I’ve less and less time to look into every new claim – like this one for example) and when it came to the currently accepted position of evolutionary biology, I did not find the means to be questionable, the authorities to be careless or the conclusions to be doubtful. Nor did I find the claimed biases of evolutionary biologists to be an accurately or fairly described counterpoint to the known biases of creationists.

    By the way, the reason I am commenting here is that I appreciate your efforts to remain civil at NCSE, it is very hard to do and I was not able to keep my cool in debates on that site, so I’ll keep my distance for now!

    -Brendan

  3. Don,

    Just to follow up with a missed point; you seem to have mischaracterized NCSE (maybe you are confusing the people who work there with the strident atheists who comment there). For some reason, you have thrown the work of this group and the philosophical commitments of materialists into the same pot, as though evolution was merely a sub-branch of materialism and is just a working out of the derivation. I am aware of a number of people at the NCSE who would strongly disagree with this perspective (they are not exactly a gang of rabid atheists). Evolutionary biology is neither dependent on materialism, nor opposed to theism. It is dependent on the scientific method(s), which are largely mute on points of philosophy and has always been subject to rather more rigorous scrutiny and opposition than most other scientific conclusions. It can be abused by being exported into philosophically untenable positions, but this is no longer science and such conclusions are not justified by any logical underpinning. Dawkins and others stray imperceptibly over the line from good science to tinfoil philosophy and none of their adherents seem to notice where the transition was made or even that it was made.
    Frankly, I could believe in fairies (I don’t, as it happens) and séances (ditto, though I’d love to see a floating table) without standing in any real opposition to the overall methods and conclusions of biologists since Darwin – no materialistic worldview seems at all logically necessary to me, just the rigorous, self-critical and entirely practical methods that scientists use every day.

    • Thanks Brendan. We’re leaving in the morning for an extended trip. Will get back to you later on this.

    • Brendan,
      In my readings of the articles written by the NCSE principles, and especially those who comment, I see a consistent atheistic viewpoint that allows no dissenting viewpoint. I have submitted quite a number of criticisms of the Materialistic mindset presented at NCSE, most based on my allowing a ‘design inference’ into my thinking and reading of materials from other sources in the Intelligent Design movement.
      Two things happen when I ‘talk back’ to the teachers at NCSE: the teachers (NCSE authors) never respond to the challenges, and secondly is a tirade of often venomous remarks, most often based on an anti-religious / anti-Bible bigotry having little to do with the particular topic on the table. Seldom is any specific or substantive counter argument offered, mostly just some vague references to ‘mountains of evidence’ or ‘evolution is a fact’ or reference to ‘vast majorities’ of scientists.
      NCSE refuses to admit the real and legitimate scientific controversies in the scientific community, and brushes them of as somehow coming from outside the realm of ‘real’ science. A recent example is the continuing study of the eye and it’s supposed ‘dumb’ design because of retina inversion. This attack on the dumb and backward design of the eye by many of the mainline evolutionary biologists such as Dawkins and Coyne has been countered in recent studies showing that inverted design is in fact a very efficient and optimal design using what is described as optical waveguides … are the evolutionists buying this? It would seem not.
      Other areas that should interest a ‘scientific’ educational advocacy group such as NCSE are ‘systems biology’ and ‘bio-mimicry’ which treat design in nature as real design, and not merely an appearance or illusion of design. Why do I not see NCSE advocating that teachers emphasize these top-down design studies to their students? The most obvious reason I see is that such teaching would go against a strong Materialistic/atheist bias resident at NCSE which depends on some sort of ‘deep time’ evolutionary mechanism to explain the many wonders of nature.

      So you may know members of NCSE that are “neither dependent on materialism, nor opposed to theism,” but where are they on the pages of NCSE?

      As to the conference held at Cornell, and the charge that ” … they have made no genuine incursions in the respected journals or conferences that are the agreed upon forums of debate in the scientific community. …” I would refer you to the articles on this topic written by Mr. Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute … as Professor Richard Lewontin has famously said, ” … materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” So when the Materialists, including NCSE, have a strangle hold on the publications, its not surprising to see dissenting voices excluded.

      Enough for now …

      regards,
      don

  4. Hi Brendan.
    Sorry for the miss-spelling of your name … not a good way to start a conversation.
    We seem to be starting out here in a mutual appreciation society – I certainly appreciate your tone and civility, and if we keep communicating my intent is to keep a civil and respectful tone.
    I see little need to rebuff what you say, you express your view with skill and intelligence so my inclination is to let it stand. My views are here in this blog for all to see, and I’ll let them stand as my argument.
    That said, I do invite you to read my top level “WHY I WRITE” to get an understanding of my motivations for writing.

    And I would like to say a few things about Glenn Beck. I don’t follow his as I used to when he was on Fox News … never did hook up my TV to watch internet things although it seems like a good thing.
    Beck was like a breath of fresh air in those days, and one thing I really liked, and miss, were his Founders Fridays where he would bring in historians, biographers and commentators and they would discuss, for an hour, guys like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and many others. An American history lesson once a week.
    Also from Beck, I formed a sort of personal “calibration”, where I would calibrate today’s politicians, commentators & public figures with a simple and admittedly subjective test: Would this particular person have singed the Declaration Of Independence had he lived in that day. Beck & Limbaugh though controversial, pass that test as do a number of others I could name but won’t.

    So that’s all I have to say at this point, other than to say Welcome to AYearningForPublius.

  5. *snore*

  6. Pingback: A running List of Biological Evidences of Design in Nature | A Yearning for Publius

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