Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dani's New & Hot (Week 9) and Book Review

My new & hot this week comes from USA Today. The whole article can be found here.
The article is entitled "Why Do Flowers Grow Like So?" and it talks about the discovery of two genes in Robbie's favorite family of plants, Arabidopsis, whose relative amounts determine how the plant flowers. The question that instigated this research was that theoretically, there should be no limit on the number of ways a plant can flower, but regardless of these immense possibilities, why do are plants found to only flower in THREE different ways? And what determines how the plant flowers?
The same type of question can be posed for animals as well. Wouldn't two noses enhance a bloodhound's sense of smell? What about three? Four? A hundred? So why has nature selected against animals with extra body parts? And why has nature selected against animals with fewer body parts? For instance, we can surive on one kidney, so why do we have two? One for backup? Then why don't we have a backup heart?
On another note, today in my Biotech class, Hank Greeley, a professor from the law school came in to talk to us about ethics & genetics. His presentation was pretty interesting, especially because he started off talking about the DNA database tha we had discussed last week or so. He brought up some interesting points about CODIS:
• arrests have been made on relatives of databased individuals due to partial matches
• about 14% of the population is in the database, the majority of which are males, 42% are African American
These details would indicate that a partial database such as CODIS discriminates against African American males.
And finally, Darwin + Stanford = LOVE:
Book Review
I've decided to post my book review on this blog instead of on Amazon because it is more of a personal reflection than a objective book review:
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I began this book with high expectations because of what others had said about it and also because of its general popularity. Maybe it is because my expectations were too high, but I was quite disappointed in the overall argument provided. Overall, I think Dawkins, in the process of trying to get his point across, undermined some of his arguments along the way.

Speaking as someone who comes from a non-religious background and whose belief in God is fickle at best, but who also does not consider herself an atheist, this book did not further persuade me to become more or less of an atheist. And nor did Dawkins’s argument persuade me in the non-existence of a supernatural being that has the potential to control all aspects of the world. In fact, I am perhaps even more inclined to give a little to the religious faction in that after reading The God Delusion, the one conclusion that I am thoroughly convinced of is that there is absolutely no way to scientifically prove the God Hypothesis, as Dawkins successfully hammered through in just the second chapter. I believe that this argument, presented at the very beginning (although I concede that it was necessary to do so) made me very skeptical as I read further.

Also, just to play devil’s advocate (no pun intended), Dawkins’s presentation about how scientists and other higher educated people are more likely to be non-religious can be undermined by the idea of self-preservation. The belief in an omniscient/omnipotent God renders scientific work useless. If every time an enigma about the natural world comes up and science cannot explain it, then religion would automatically say that this enigma is how it is because God decided to create it that way. And thus, problem solved, and no further experiments would be needed. Thus in a completely religious world, there would be no need for science, and scientists would have no purpose. Therefore, I argue that scientists are less religious not because they know better, but because they cannot be religious in order to preserve their purpose and distinction in society.

However, one argument that Dawkins brings up that I think is valid to consider when debating the existence of a supernatural God and the validity of religion is the question of “Who created God?” To me, the answer is obvious: Man did. [Sidenote: this is a quaint contradiction to the religious belief that God created Man.] Following on Dawkins’s train of thought, if God is the most perfect perfect being, then whoever created him must also be near perfection, a state which definitely does not describe Man, as both sides would agree. The idea of a God created by Man would not hold up in religion and thus the idea of God falls.

On the other hand, Dawkins does bring up a good point that in order for a God to create such complexity in the world, God himself would have to be extraordinarily complex. However, this argument does not prove the non-existence of God, as Dawkins tries to use it as evidence for his case because it only works against the postulation that God is a being. But what if God is a process or a means? What then? Does God, the process have to be extremely complex? Darwin’s theory of evolution is a great example where the means of complexity is very simple. Natural selection is so simple that it is intuitive.

In conclusion, Dawkins’s The God Delusion was a disappointment for me, but it did get me thinking on the creation vs. evolution debate and has allowed me to form my own opinions based on my personal experiences. The book provides some thought-provoking arguments but the arguments were not strong enough to persuade me on either position.

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