Defining life foolishly

Some like to define living organisms as that which

1) reproduces,

2) has inheritance, and

3) has variation.

In other words, living things would be those which evolve by natural selection. Rosie Redfield (blog) espoused this view in a recent talk at the Evolution 2012 conference in Ottawa (#evol2012 Twitter feed). Jerry Joyce (lab page) did the same at the 74th symposium of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in 2009.

But this is folly.

First of all, I can easily give an hypothetical example of something that must clearly be alive, but which does not evolve. I’ll defer that to the end of this post.

But I can also give an example of something that most people will not agree is alive, namely languages. Metaphorically, I can accept that languages are alive. “Danish is such a beautiful language, alive with raunchy adjectives and verbs that sing.” Or something. But not actually alive in a literal sense. It is spoken by beings that are alive, but is no more alive than thoughts or books, even if it does evolve (note that languages evolution really isn’t of the Darwinian kind, either, just like memes aren’t).

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

Grow up, Americans!

Seriously, Americans. What is this infatuation you have with your founding fathers?

Whenever Americans from the right of the political spectrum (which, btw, is far right compared to normal countries*) insist that America is a Christian country, they turn to the founding fathers to prove their point. And when Americans from the left of the spectrum (why is quite far to the right compared to normal countries**) counter that it is not, then they too turn to the Constitution. Fair enough, you might say. It is the law, after all (at least the Constitution is, which says nothing about America being a Christian nation: We The People ring a bell?). However, it is the law as written centuries ago. Newsflash: it is outdated.

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

What’s adequate evidence for God in principle?

As an atheist, is there any evidence that I would persuade me to provisionally accept that God exists?

This questions has recently been dealt with by both PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne – who are both atheists and biologists, and usually agree on most things, as far as I can discern. This time they don’t, however. PZ argues that nothing would persuade him, and Coyne explains how he could be persuaded (two other bloggers I follow, Massimo Pigliucci and John Wilkins – both philosophers with a heavy interest in biology, and both atheists, even though Wilkins doesn’t know it, have indicated that they side with PZ on this one).

First off, the question as stated doesn’t completely make sense. In order to refute a concept/hypothesis, it must be adequately defined. And quite frankly, those people who say they will not be persuaded by any evidence whatsoever, are exactly the ones who seem to me not to own up to this problem. If I just say ‘God’, then one can always refute positive evidence for the concept by saying that something else could explain it, by pushing further back what ‘God’ means. For example, if we define ‘God’ as that which caused a particular person with leprosy to be healed, then evidence that this particular person with leprosy was healed would be evidence of ‘God’. Stupid definition, of course, but the problem is that all the definitions are stupid, in this sense. Events purported to be explained by some God-concept can all be explained in other ways, too. And this is exactly the problem, and the reason that tree quarters of people surveyed (see above) will say that no evidence is sufficient to persuade them.

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

Re: The Male Privilege Checklist

In our modern society men clearly have many privileges over women. See The Male Privilege Checklist at some blog, and on Pharyngula.

As a man – one of those who are not happy that people are treated badly in any way because of their gender – I find that I want to highlight some of the disadvantages there are to being a man.

Here’s is my list with immediate reactions to some of the points made on The Male Privilege Checklist. The fact that I react to them in this way does emphatically not mean that I disagree that men have many privileges over women. We obviously do. But women have some, too, and some of those I am quite honestly very envious of, particularly in regards to children. The numbers refer to points in the original list.

3. If I am never promoted, I cannot blame it on my sex.
4. If I fail in my job or career, it is more likely that it will disrupt my family.
5. I am far more likely to be sued for sexual harassment than my female co-workers are.
7. If I’m a teen or adult, it is less likely that I can stay out of prison (where my odds of getting raped increase dramatically).
9. If I choose to be a housespouse, my masculinity will be called into question.
10. If I have children but am not the breadwinner, my masculinity will be called into question.
11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, in public people will often ask where their mother is.
17. As a child, if I chose a hero of the opposite sex, I could be sure other children and adults would worry about me.

Read the rest at Pleiotropy.

The scare of genetically engineered crops

People are so scared of science, man. I think a huge part of the population even in well-educated countries don’t trust the scientists very much.

Ingo Potrykus is chairman of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, and writes in Nature about the trouble getting golden rice out to the people who really need it: Regulation must be revolutionized.

The potential benefits of genetically engineered crops is huge. Take golden rice, which has just two genes added that adds vitamin A to the rice. The benefits to malnourished children is huge.

Read the rest at Pleiotropy.

Say you’re wrong

Let me start by sharing just how much of an opinionated bastard I am. I was conceived out of wedlock, so I am truly a bastard. I treasure that fact on a weekly basis. But other than that, I am not really much of a bastard. I’m a nice enough guy, and if you think not being a scoundrel disqualifies me, pass along. As for opinionated, I was once called that because once no one could decide where to go for lunch, and that quickly drove me nuts and I plainly said where I felt like going.

[I’m a slow learner, apparently. Now go read the rest at Pleiotropy.]

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