Thursday, October 27, 2005

Faith-based reality

I've said here before that intelligent design is not just bad science, it is the end of science. Michael Behe, that indefatigable advocate of ID, offers the cilia of cells -- the propellerlike appendages that, among other things, give cells mobility -- as an example of a biological system that is "irreducibly complex," i.e. beyond any natural explanation and therefore prima facie evidence of design. Or, more simply: "I don't know how cilia evolved, therefore God did it." This is what Richard Dawkins calls "the argument from personal incredulity."

Here is the abstract of a paper on celia biology in the October 13th issue of Nature:

The unanticipated involvement of several intraflagellar transport proteins in the mammalian Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has hinted at a functional connection between cilia and Hh signal transduction. Here we show that mammalian Smoothened (Smo), a seven-transmembrane protein essential for Hh signalling, is expressed on the primary cilium. This ciliary expression is regulated by Hh pathway activity; Sonic hedgehog or activating mutations in Smo promote ciliary localization, whereas the Smo antagonist cyclopamine inhibits ciliary localization. The translocation of Smo to primary cilia depends upon a conserved hydrophobic and basic residue sequence homologous to a domain previously shown to be required for the ciliary localization of seven-transmembrane proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans. Mutation of this domain not only prevents ciliary localization but also eliminates Smo activity both in cultured cells and in zebrafish embryos. Thus, Hh-dependent translocation to cilia is essential for Smo activity, suggesting that Smo acts at the primary cilium.

I don't know what most of this means, but I recognize science when I see it, and appreciate that knowledgeable researchers are not simply throwing up their hands in the face of complexity, but are chipping away at the mystery.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's current nomination to the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, belongs to a church in Texas that holds to the inerrant truth of Scriptures. Their website links to a creationist museum that promotes the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. The possibility that we might have a judge sitting on the nation's highest bench who believes such nonsense beggars belief.

The current issue (November-December) of Skeptical Inquirer is largely devoted to the creationism/ID assault on science. An assembly of SI articles on the subject can be found here.

Late breaking addition: Ms. Miers has withdrawn.