Hot Air and Cold Experiments

Chapter 1 of Genesis and Genes deals largely with becoming an informed consumer of science. Such a person is able to sift through various scientific claims and to assign such claims appropriate degrees of credibility. At the end of the chapter I wrote:

The evolution debate is often heated; not surprisingly, it frequently produces lots of hot air. One of the silliest arguments one encounters is this: If you’re prepared to benefit from modern science – through X-rays taken by your dentist or a nutritional-value assessment on food packaging, say – then you must accept all the conclusions of modern science, including those relating to evolution.

Anyone whose IQ exceeds his shoe-size should be able to see straight through this blooper. One essential ingredient of critical thinking is the ability to discriminate. Discrimination – an unfortunately much-maligned word – is the application of different standards, as and when appropriate. As we have seen in this chapter, scientific results slot into a continuous spectrum of credibility. We accept the nutritional-value advice on a packet of pasta because the science behind it is repeatable, observable and limited. The chemical analysis that identifies the carbohydrates, proteins and sugars in foods conforms to all the requirements of credible science and therefore justifies our trust. But this does not justify unlimited withdrawals from our credibility account when scientists speak about the origins of life, or the behaviour of physical laws a moment after the creation of the universe. It is appropriate to apply greater scepticism at this end of the spectrum of scientific claims.

Here is a perfect illustration of the hot air phenomenon. Nature Nanotechnology recently published research about a nano-gadget that can spin clockwise or counter-clockwise.[1] To do this, the researchers had to cool the gadget to -268 degrees Celsius. A news release from Ohio University says that creating this gadget is

… an essential step in creating nanoscale devices—quantum machines that operate on different laws of physics than classical machines—that scientists envision could be used for everything from powering quantum computers to sweeping away blood clots in arteries.[2]

As impressive as this achievement is, it is utterly primitive in comparison to biological molecular machines that are ubiquitous in nature, like ATP-synthase or the ribosome, and which operate at room temperature.

The website PhysOrg covered this research.[3] As is common with websites, readers are given the opportunity to comment on the article (as happens on this website). One reader wrote:

OK, now that people are beginning to realize just how difficult it is to build and control things at such a small scale, it is time for evolutionists to meet reality. ATP synthase is an essential component for most life-bearing organisms. Without it the organism would have no energy to perform ANY other process. ATP synthase also just happens to be the most efficient motor known. PLUS, it is driven not by electrons but by protons. There is just no way for this astonishing nanoscale machine to have been assembled by purely random physical processes. The vibrational, torsional and chemical problems at that scale are just too great – exactly as the current designers have found out to their chagrin. Ask them why it is that they have to experiment at such low temperatures, then compare that to ATP synthase.

In response, a reader calling himself “RealScience” launched a personal attack on the first writer. And here’s the gem:

… And I see that you are still using a computer, a device based on discoveries made by the same science methods that support evolution. That’s hypocritical!

No, that’s silly.

References:

[1] The abstract can be read here: http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v8/n1/full/nnano.2012.218.html
[2] See http://www.ohio.edu/research/communications/motor.cfm.
[3] See http://phys.org/news/2013-01-scientists-movements-molecular-motor.html.

All sources retrieved on 18th January 2013.

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One Response to “Hot Air and Cold Experiments”

  1. Jason Says:

    Can you please clarify:
    In an earlier post you compared trust in medical authority to trust in religious authority. Are you not making the same logical error (as described above) by relating the scientific standards of modern medicine to religion? You also stated we need to compartmentalize our thoughts in order to be rational, but if this is the case I don’t understand how you can claim that theology intersects science (and would appear to support NOMA).

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