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Dr. Michael Behe: Professor, Biochemistry, Lehigh University (Part Two)

Dr. Michael Behe

ABSTRACT

Second part of an extensive and thorough two-part interview with Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Dr. Michael Behe, on the following topics: influence of world views on scientific output; philosophical and cosmological considerations for biological systems and origins; Sir Karl Popper, falsificationism,and predictions of intelligent design theory; considerations of changes in the scientific method and relation to intelligent design;  2005 paper entitled Scientific Orthodoxies, intellectual climate among mainstream Catholic discussions on scientific or theological matters; Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education in December of 2005 and view of litigation with respect to intelligent design v. evolution; The Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute; advice do you have for young scientists; upcoming projects; and intelligent design in the near and far future.

Key Words: biochemistry, Catholic, Darwinian, Ernst Mayer, Evolution, intelligent design, Irreducible Complexity, Kitzmiller v. Dover Board, Lehigh University, Professor Michael Behe, Sir Karl Popper, The Wedge Document.

12. In the debate between creationism v. evolution v. intelligent design, there do arise some peripheral – regarding biology, but ultimate, issues around the larger cosmological questions of origins.  In that, in any case of biological systems having origin through design, natural forces, some combination of the two, or an alternative, does the universe itself exhibit transcendent/‘top-down’ design in the form of a first cause/creator/designer or natural/’bottom-up’ design in the form of a natural law/self-creating universe?  Now, these have invocation at some point during the debates because cosmological design would supersede biological design.  For instance, if the universe had a designer, in a general sense, all biology would have potential of being in the design plan of the universe from the instance of the cosmos’ creation.  Even so, some have characterized this – at the limit – as a debate between two philosophical worldviews: theism and atheism.  However, this seems misleading and pre-maturely simplifying the matter, and more a reflection of personal views of many major figures in the public debate.  How much do worldviews influence the output of research?  Do personal religious/irreligious views have any bearing on the facts and theories from science? 

Although most of science can happily carry on without impinging on matters of ultimate concern, views about the ultimate nature of reality can certainly strongly influence theories that touch on them. For example, some  physicists opposed the Big Bang theory when it was first proposed in the middle of the 20th century because it seemed to have theistic implication – perhaps that was the creation event of the universe, pointing to a Creator outside of nature. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity itself was opposed when it was first published because most scientists of the time thought a force such as gravity, which could act at a distance, was reminiscent of spooky teleological concepts of Aristotle. If a scientist takes it as a basic assumption that nothing exists except matter and energy, then he’ll never accept evidence for the existence of the design of the universe or parts of it, and will necessarily cram all facts into a materialistic framework, no matter how bad the fit. On the other hand, a person who believes that some aspects of the universe or life evince design has much more freedom. Just because some things are designed does not necessarily mean that all things are designed, so he can let the evidence speak for itself.

13. With regards to the larger philosophical and cosmological matters, to you, how would new philosophical arguments, experimental evidence, and theoretical frameworks influence the debate regarding biological systems and origins?

Well, to change my mind at this point would require Darwinists to produce actual evidence that their theory can do what they claim for it. They aren’t used to doing that, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

14. In addition, with regards to historical considerations of the practice of science, it began with some rudimentary forms from Aristotle, even the attempts to naturalize reality with the atomists, or even the pre-Socratics – especially the Ionian school of philosophy: naturalism.  In fact, more modern, historically speaking, scientists were originally called natural philosophers. For example, Isaac Newton went by that title only a couple hundred years ago.  However, science seems to me to have treatment like a capitalized abstraction, ‘Science’, without a lot of context into the history of the endeavor, by which I mean the highly human process of trial-and-error of improving on the failures of prior generations – even in the production of processes such as science.  Rather new to the process comes the logician, Sir Karl Popper, creating an entirely new criterion for scientific theories, namely: falsificationism.  If something wants consideration as a part of modern science, it best have the ability to become falsified.  Furthermore, and more to the point, science makes predictions.  In the decades-long debate of creationism v. evolution v. intelligent design, some core arguments against intelligent design and creationism start with the process of modern science, regarding intelligent design the question comes to the fore, ‘Can intelligent design make predictions?’  What predictions have those researching intelligent design made? 

Well, I, along with many philosophers, don’t think Popper’s work on falsificationism is the last word. Many theories are notoriously difficult to falsify, yet keep going like the Energizer Bunny. For example, in physics string theory has been studied for decades, but no experimental evidence of the existence of subatomic “strings” has been produced. Some scientists have proposed that our universe is actually the result of a computer simulation by aliens in another universe. That’s a bit hard to evidentially support, too. A third example of the failure of falsificationism is Darwin’s theory. Despite many wrong predictions and utterly mysterious, long standing problems such as the conundrum of sexual reproduction, as well as the failure to demonstrate the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce molecular machinery, the theory keeps chugging along, oblivious to severe problems.

One attractive feature of intelligent design theory is that it can easily be falsified. All it would take is for Darwinists to demonstrate that their theory can do what they claim for it – construct molecular machinery – and ID would be blown out of the water. ID properly makes only one strong, necessary prediction: no undirected, unintelligent process will be found to make sophisticated machinery such as that found in the cell. So far, so good for ID. Darwinism makes the opposite, so far unsupported, prediction.

15. Furthermore, what predictions have yielded experimental results?  In addition, what would falsify intelligent design?

See above

16. Regarding the outcomes of predictions and experimental results, from your vantage, how have the intelligent design explanations done better than evolutionary explanations?  How have they done worse?

See above

17. The practice of ‘design detection’ or design inference, as termed by Dr. William Dembski (1998), infused into the biological sciences may imply a tacit proposal to altering the operation of fundamental scientific processes.  If so, how would this change the practice of science?  Do you think the practice of science needs revision?  In your analysis of the issues over the last few decades, and only if you think so, how would you revise the practice of science?  What might others argue in opposition to this argument?

I don’t think the actual practice of science needs any revision at all to accept a theory of intelligent design. Rather, it’s just people’s attitudes that have to change, because only an unprincipled taboo keeps design off the table. As I noted above, in the past science has been confronted with ideas that shook the foundation of what was thought to be the nature of reality. Newton’s theory, with its apparent action at a distance, and the Big Bang theory, with its very suggestive beginning to nature, both changed scientists’ understanding of the very nature of nature. Yet they were no problem for science. Design itself is permitted in science, as long as it’s kept within bounds. And I don’t mean just human design. Francis Crick famously proposed the idea of “directed panspermia”, which speculated that space aliens first seeded the earth with life. The SETI project of course has searched the skies for signals that might be interpreted – from their physical pattern – as having come from an intelligent, probably alien, source. Even design from beyond our universe can be entertained in the most respected scientific venues. For example, Nature, the most prestigious science journal in the world, published a short fiction story a while back whose premise was that our universe was created by a physicist from another universe (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v406/n6791/full/406023a0.html ). (Try publishing a story in Nature about how God created our universe….) And work by scientists purportedly supporting the notion that we and our “universe” are actually one big computer simulation run by beings living in an entirely different plane of existence from us was described recently in Discover magazine (http://discovermagazine.com/2013/dec/09-do-we-live-in-the-matrix ).

So science can accept fundamental changes to what it thinks to be the nature of reality (e.g., Newton, Big Bang). It acknowledges that the effects of intelligence can be detected by physical evidence (e.g., archeology, forensic science), even alien intelligence (e.g., SETI). It has no problem thinking beings outside of our universe may effect it (e.g., the fictional Nature story), or even that other beings entirely created our plane of existence (e.g., the computer simulation theory). Thus there is no principled reason that the scientific community could not accept and investigate a theory of intelligent design as I and others have proposed. Rather, in my experience it balks for nonscientific reasons: it associates the idea with disfavored religious groups and fears there would be unpalatable sociological results from allowing the idea of design full play.

18. In a 2005 paper entitled Scientific Orthodoxies, you recount a story of your wife, Celeste.  In the seventh grade, she attended Our Lady of Saint Carmel in the Bronx.  The experience presented something of interest.  In it, you state, “Catholics have always been rather blasé about evolution.”  What do you mean by this?  How does this figure up to the present regarding the intellectual climate among mainstream Catholic discussions on scientific or theological matters?

As a rule Catholic scholars consider science to be a subordinate discipline to philosophy, let alone theology. Thus, in the past the thinking was that no discovery of science could challenge what we know from higher studies. Darwinian evolution may be true, but exactly how God created life was much less interesting or important than our knowledge that he had in fact created it, and intended us to know, love, and serve him. What’s more, we knew from philosophy that we have free will, the ability to choose between good and evil, the ability to discern natural law, and so act as God would want us to. That was the background to my future wife’s grade school instruction.

Darwinism, however, has come a long way since then, at least rhetorically if not scientifically. Now the most prominent Darwinists explicitly define their theory as one which required no direction or help from anyone, pointedly including God. Now it is routinely claimed, with all the scientific rigor of a children’s fairy tale, that this or that mental tendency – from the love of mothers for their children to the likelihood that men will grow beards to the tendency to rape– is as much the result of undirected change as the shape of a bird’s beak. The metastasis of Darwinian rhetoric, and its unthinking acceptance by large portions of the lay public, is a cause of grave concern in today’s Catholic Church.

19. In terms of the teaching of intelligent design in United States classrooms, there exists much controversy, which can probably have fair claim to having a peak of controversy within the Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education in December of 2005.  How do you view the idea of litigation with respect to intelligent design v. evolution?  How do you examine the outcome of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial?

I am no lawyer, so I don’t have a strong opinion on how to interpret the various laws and constitutional texts that legal eagles cite on various matters. However, it’s unfortunately true that sometimes the law has precious little to do with reality. If a court decided that it was illegal to teach the Big Bang theory in American public schools because, as many physicists and others have thought, a beginning to the universe supports theism, I would have no professional opinion on the laws. But I would have a very strong opinion on the science. The same goes for the idea of intelligent design in biology. Courts, lawyers, and politicians – often in thrall to Darwinists — can say what they will, but that changes nothing of the evidence from biology – of molecular machines and the digital information of DNA, of the genetic code and gene regulatory networks – that points insistently to design. I can only say that indoctrinating students in Darwinism to the exclusion of other legitimate views is shameful.

As for the Kitzmiller trial itself, I view it as little more than a farce. In his written opinion the judge offered his own views on testimony about school board meetings, newspaper editorials, and other quotidian matters. But whenever the topic turned to intellectual questions – whether in science, philosophy, or theology, whether by the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses or the defense’s – he simply copied, word for word, from a document given to him by the plaintiff’s lawyers at the end of the trial. (http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=1186 ) There is no reason at all to think that the fellow – a former head of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board – comprehended any of the scientific or philosophical issues discussed in depth in his court, let alone made an independent judgment about them. Those who think, as some do (http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/time-magazine-and-judge-john-jones/ ), that in the Dover trial a philosopher-king weighed competing ideas and independently saw the merits of one side have been seriously misled. For those who see his plagiarized opinion as somehow intellectually definitive, just think about a court ruling on any matter with which you disagreed, and ask yourself if you think the ruling settled the matter intellectually.

20. One document did produce further controversy such as the The Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute.  For those unfamiliar, what is the The Wedge Document?  How do you examine the issues surrounding this document?  How would others differ from you?

I first heard the term “wedge” in the context of the ID-evolution debate from Phillip Johnson, then a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley and a skeptic of Darwinism. Phil described the wedge as the strategy of splitting apart two very different definitions of science: 1) science as a no-holds-barred search for the best explanation for nature, versus 2) science as applied philosophical materialism. He saw that the public thought of science in terms of definition one, but that, especially when push came to shove in the area of evolution, much of the scientific community thought of it as definition two. He wanted to make it as clear as possible to as large a fraction of the public as possible that what they thought was an unbiased search in science for the best answer was actually strongly guided by preconceived philosophical prejudice.

I never heard of the “Wedge Document” until some news story about it appeared. It seems to have been a draft of some internal document at the Discovery Institute, probably for fund raising purposes. As far as I know it was never accepted by higher-ups there as an official policy or document. It essentially made the case that the social and political history of the United States was largely guided by Christians and others (such as, say, Thomas Jefferson) who were convinced that nature exhibited purpose, which as an historical observation is unquestionably correct. It also proposed typical think-tank actions, such as holding meetings and publishing books, to once again promote that view.

The document was stolen from the Discovery Institute, scanned, and posted on the internet. Some opponents of ID seized on phrases from the document that spoke of making science consonant with Christianity, and claimed, ludicrously, that here was a grand conspiracy to have religious fundamentalism take over science, probably by stationing preachers in every lab to monitor activities. Reading the document calmly makes it plain that what was meant was to disestablish materialism as an extraneous assumption of science — to have science be the no-holds-barred search for truth that Phil Johnson spoke of, rather than a propagandist for a materialistic philosophical view.

21. What advice do you have for young scientists?

Study hard! Also, unfortunately, watch your backs and toe the line. If you decide to challenge an accepted explanation – even one that is comparatively noncontroversial – keep your eyes wide open and count the potential cost before you do.

22. What projects do you have in progress over the next few years?

I’m interested in trying to establish as rigorously as possible where the likely dividing line exists in biology between what can be accomplished by unintelligent processes and what requires purposeful design. I’ve made a start of that with my 2007 book The Edge of Evolution and hope to build on it

23. Where do you see intelligent design in the near and far future?

I’m serenely confident that a theory of intelligent design in some form will be adopted in biology at some point, probably not too far in the future. It’s not because of anything I or anyone in the ID movement has done. Rather, it’s because that is where the data are headed. The astounding elegance and sophistication of the machinery of life are being made more and more plain, and the conclusion of design cannot be long avoided.

Bibliography

1)      BAUMAN, E. (2009). Outfacing Darwin: Intelligent Design and the case of Mount Rushmore. Critical Quarterly, 51(1), 61-81. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8705.2009.01850.x

2)      Behe, M. (2008). Can a Scientific Theory Ameliorate a Theological Difficulty?. Theology And Science, 6(2), 147-152.

3)      ​Behe, M. J. (1996a). Clueless at Oxford. National Review, 48(19), 83-85.

4)      Behe, M.J. (1996b). Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, NY: The Free Press.

5)      Behe, M. (2005, Feb 07). Design for living. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/docview/92953145?accountid=13800

6)      Behe M. J. (2007). The Edge of Evolution: the search for the limits of Darwinism. New York, NY: Free Press.

7)      Behe, M. J. (2010). Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and “the First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”. Quarterly Review Of Biology, 85(4), 419-445.

8)      Behe, M. J. (1998). INTELLIGENT DESIGN AS AN ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION FOR THE EXISTENCE OF BIOMOLECULAR MACHINES. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 1(4), 565-570.

9)      Behe, M. (2004). Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution. In , Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Pr.

10)  Behe, M. (2007, Jul 29). Mutation by design. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/docview/848081510?accountid=13800

11)  Behe, M. (2007). Richard Dawkins. (Cover story). Time, 169(20), 108.

12)  Behe, M. (2005). Scientific Orthodoxies. First Things: A Monthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life, (158), 15-20.

13)  Behe, M. J. (2000). Self-organization and irreducibly complex systems: A reply to Shanks and Joplin. Philosophy Of Science, 67(1), 155.

14)  Behe, M. J. (2002). The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity. Natural History, 111(3), 74.

15)  Behe, M. (2001). The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis: Breaking Rules. Philosophia Christi, 3(1), 165-179.

16)  Behe, M. J. (2009). Waiting Longer for Two Mutations. Genetics, 181(2), 819-820.

17)  Behe, M.J. & Snoke, D.W. (2004).  Simulating the Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features that Require Mutiple Amino Acid Residues. Protein Science 13, 2651.

18)  Behe, M., Wilson, D., Blumhofer, E., Gardner, C., & Stafford, T. (2014). Under Discussion. Christianity Today, 58(2), 17.

19)  Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

20)  Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.

21)  Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

22)  Durrett, R., & Schmidt, D. (2009). Reply to Michael Behe. Genetics, 181(2), 821-822.

23)  Durrett, R., & Schmidt, D. (2008). Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution. Genetics, 180(3), 1501-1509. doi:10.1534/genetics.107.082610

24)  Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

25)  Gold, S. F. (2007). Michael Behe’s Argument for Design. Publishers Weekly, 254(16), 25.

26)  Gould, Stephen J. & Vrba, Elizabeth S. (1982). Exaptation – a Missing Term in the Science of Form. Paleobiology 8, 4-5.

27)  Mayr, Ernst (1991). One Long Argument. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

28)  Miller, K. R. (2002). The flaw in the mousetrap. Natural History, 111(3), 75.

29)  principles of physical science. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1357106/principles-of-physical-science

30)  SHAFFER, R. (2011). The Humanist Interview with Leo Behe. Humanist, 71(5), 32-35.

31)  Shanks, N., & Joplin, K. H. (1999). Redundant complexity: A critical analysis of intelligent design in biochemistry. Philosophy Of Science, 66(2), 268.

32)  Sir Karl Popper. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/470154/Sir-Karl-Popper

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Dr. Michael Behe: Professor, Biochemistry, Lehigh University (Part One)

Dr. Michael Behe

ABSTRACT

First part of an extensive and thorough two-part interview with Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Dr. Michael Behe, on the following topics: youth and interest in science and the natural world; pivotal moments motivating his trajectory into the study of biology; root of differences with the biological community’s consensus; influence of William Paley and Natural Theology (1802); origins of ‘irreducible complexity; irreducible complexity from Behe (1996), The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity (2002), Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution (2004), and argument and evidence for the concept of irreducible complexity; Joplin’s and Shanks’s (1999) reply to irreducible complexity with redundant complexity and intelligent design theoretic responses; Professor Kenneth R. Miller’s argument against irreducible complexity from a 2002 article; mathematical probabilities for the limits to Darwinian evolution from Behe and Snoke (2004), Durrett’s and Schmidt’s (2008) response in an article entitled Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution, and the development of the debate; the article Intelligent Design as an Alternative Explanation for the Existence of Biomolecular Machines with three definitions of ‘evolution’ based on Ernst Mayer’s One Long Argument; and thoughts on the phrase ‘scientific materialism’.

Key Words: biochemistry, Biology, Darwinian, Ernst Mayer, Evolution, Irreducible Complexity, Lehigh University, materialism, natural world, probabilities, Professor Michael Behe, redundant complexity, Science, Theology, William Paley.

1. How was your youth? What motivated an interest in science and the natural world?

My childhood was very happy. I was born into a large Roman Catholic family, one of eight siblings. We were not well-to-do, but we had all we needed. All we kids went to Catholic grade school and high school, played sports, were involved in school clubs and such. I was taught Darwinian evolution in Catholic school. We were told that God could make life however He saw fit. So if He wanted to create the universe with laws sufficient to make life, who were we to say differently? That always sounded good to me, so I never gave much thought to the topic. It was only much later in life that I decided that Darwinism didn’t comport with the evidence. Ever since I was young I wanted to know how the world worked at its fundamental level, so that’s why I chose a career in science. I went on to study chemistry at Drexel University, got my Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, did a postdoc studying Z-DNA at the National Institutes of Health, got an assistant professorship at Queens College in New York, and then three years later moved to Lehigh with my wife and our baby daughter (the first of our eventual nine children).

2. Do you recall pivotal moments motivating your trajectory into the study of biology?

Drexel University, where I went for my undergraduate studies, offers what they call a “cooperative work-study” program. That means that students go to school for six months of the year, and then for the other six months they work in a job related to their field of study (which the university helps them secure). My first work-study job was at Holy Spirit Hospital near Harrisburg, where I worked running blood tests in the clinical lab. That’s where I discovered I didn’t want to be a doctor. My second work-study was at the Department of Agriculture Research Facility outside Philadelphia, where I assisted a Ph.D. in basic biochemical research (on milk proteins – this was after all a government agriculture facility). It was there I got hooked on biochemistry. I had taken a year of organic chemistry just prior to starting at the USDA, and was used to thinking of small organic chemicals of the size of benzene and derivatives, whose molecular weights are on the order of a few score to a few hundred. My boss mentioned casually that one protein we were studying had a molecular weight of a hundred thousand! I couldn’t imagine a molecule like that; it seemed fantastic to me. From then on I wanted to know how proteins worked in particular, and how life worked at the molecular level in general.

3. How did you find your early study and investigation into the discipline of biology? When did you begin to differ with consensus on core explanations for biological systems?

For my graduate work in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania I joined the laboratory of Walter Englander, a protein chemist and later member of the National Academy of Sciences. Walter had helped to develop a technique called “hydrogen exchange”, which could probe the structure of macromolecules by examining how quickly they exchanged protons in solution with radioactive water. Everyone in the lab worked on the hydrogen exchange of normal adult hemoglobin — except me. My project involved sickle hemoglobin — the mutant version of hemoglobin that can lead to sickle cell disease. We came up with a really neat explanation for the extraordinary concentration dependence of the sickle hemoglobin gelation reaction, as well as its peculiar behavior in the presence of other hemoglobin variants.
For my postdoctoral work I joined the lab of National Academy-member Gary Felsenfeld at the National Institutes of Health, supported by a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship. I switched from studying a protein to studying a new kind of DNA, called “Z-DNA”. Z-DNA has the opposite twist to the normal Watson-Crick double helical structure. It turned out some DNA could flip from the normal structure to the Z conformation and back again, depending on its environment. We discovered some interesting effects on the Z form of a chemical modification of DNA called methylation. I took this work with me to my first faculty job in the Department of Chemistry at Queens College in New York City and when I moved to Lehigh University three years later. I worked on various aspects of DNA structure and DNA-protein interactions for the next couple of decades.
At no point was my lab research concerned with evolution. I had little interest in the topic until the late 1980’s when I read a book by the geneticist Michael Denton, called “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis”. Denton, who was an agnostic at the time, didn’t have any particular axe to grind; he was just sick and tired of hearing Darwinists claim so much for their theory when he saw many serious problems. I had no answers for Denton’s criticisms. I had never heard Darwinism criticized by a scientist at all until then, and here I was a tenured faculty member at a good university. I got very ticked off. I concluded that I had been led to accept Darwinism not because the evidence for it was compelling, but for sociological reasons — this is just the way we’re supposed to think these days. From that point on I became very interested in evolution.

4. Some of the oldest arguments from design in the ‘modern’ era come from the 19th century priest William Paley. In his book Natural Theology (1802), he provided an analogy of the watch and watchmaker to reason by analogy for the existence of a designer. For those not knowing the argument in full, how did William Paley argue for the existence of a designer? Did his work have any influence on your own?

Paley wrote that if you see a watch resting in a meadow you know it was purposely made, that it had a designer, because when you examine it you can see how its parts are put together for a purpose. He then argued that nature is like that, too (its parts are put together for a purpose), so we can recognize the benevolent God behind nature. Paley had no influence on me for the simple reason that I had never heard of the man or read about him until years after I became interested in intelligent design. After reading him I saw that his famous example of the watch is exactly correct — anyone in his right mind would recognize the design of a watch on a heath. Unfortunately, Paley wasn’t rigorous in the development of his argument, bringing in many dubious examples from nature. What’s more, he extended it beyond a simple recognition of design to an argument for a loving, paternal God. Then all a critic had to do was to point to the fangs of rattlesnakes, say that no loving designer would make that, and sweep out the argument for design with the argument for benevolence. Paley overreached, He mixed a scientific argument for design with a theological one for God and for benevolence, and in the end got neither.

5. Furthermore, for those unfamiliar with your ideas, and in particular, what provided the original basis for the idea of ‘irreducible complexity’?

Roughly, an irreducibly complex system is one that requires multiple parts to function, and the removal of a part causes the system to lose its function. A good example of this from our everyday world is a mechanical mousetrap, such as I discussed in Darwin’s Black Box. All of the mousetrap’s parts are involved in trapping mice, and if one of the parts is removed it can no longer do that. I was just sitting in my office in the early 90’s cogitating about the problems I saw for Darwin’s theory in the structure of biochemical systems. Biochemistry studies enormously complex systems. Okay, I thought to myself, why is that a problem? Well, I answered myself, in a lot of cases the systems require many parts, and without one or more of them it wouldn’t work. You can’t reduce it. It’s irreducible. When the word “irreducible” popped into my mind I knew I had captured the essence of the problem. In order to work at all, Darwin’s theory requires a pretty continuous, gradual evolutionary route. Irreducible complexity is a massive conceptual roadblock to that gradualism.

6. By some markers, you could fall under the category of the founder of modern intelligent design, especially with respect to the academic side through creation of one core idea from Behe (1996): irreducible complexity. You continued this same conversation from the 1996 book with The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity (2002) and Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution (2004). In it, you delve a bit further with the use of the same phrase ‘Black Box’, i.e. “a system whose inner workings are unknown.” How would you define it? Where does it gain experimental traction? What do you consider the strongest arguments for the idea? What about against it?

Although most people think of a “black box” as the recorder on a plane that stores data in the event of a crash, in science the phrase means a system that does interesting things, but whose inner working are mysterious. They are mysterious because we can’t see into the black box. In my book I used the phrase “Darwin’s black box” to refer to the cell, because in Darwin’s day the inner workings of the cell were unknown. Most scientists thought the cell was a simple entity — a glob of protoplasm — essentially a microscopic piece of jelly. Now we know the exact opposite is true. The cell is an exceedingly complex, nanoscale factory whose sophistication we cannot match even in our technological age. It is filled with machines — literally, molecular machines. And just like machines in our everyday world (even ones so simple as a mousetrap) cellular machines need multiple parts to work. Thus they strongly resist evolutionary explanation by the gradual manner Darwin proposed. What’s more, their purposeful arrangement points insistently to design.
Irreducible complexity is easy to experimentally demonstrate. Just knock out (destroy) a gene for a necessary part of the cellular system and see that the system no longer functions. That has been done for all the systems I described in Darwin’s Black Box and many more besides. These results are the strongest argument for – indeed a demonstration of — the concept. There is no experimental demonstration showing that random mutation and natural selection can build any such system. Rather, the most difficult opponent that the concept of irreducible complexity faces is the Just So Story. That is, Darwinists will invent superficial, plausible-sounding tales to account for the machines, much as Rudyard Kipling told children’s tales such as “how the tiger got its stripes”. Although not explaining the evolutionary development of machinery in anything like sufficient scientific detail, the plausible-sounding stories can impress laypeople and give those who don’t want to deal with design an excuse to declare victory and go back to sleep. The “victory” is hollow, of course – entirely rhetorical rather than scientific. But a surprising number of people are anxious to avoid the issue of design.

7. In particular, some research, for instance Joplin and Shanks (1999), replied to your early argument for irreducible complexity and proposed an alternate explanation called ‘Redundant Complexity’. In the section of their paper on genomics, a far more prominent field in this decade than at the time of publication, they focus on the experiments dealing with the ‘knockout’ of genes in Saccharomyces Cervisiae, a species of yeast,to create a less-complex yeast genome through removing, or ‘knocking out’, non-essential genes. How did the Joplin and Shank (1999) proposal of redundant complexity differ from irreducible complexity? What do you think of the alternate explanation of redundant complexity? Where do you see the status of intelligent design theoretic explanations of findings from the field of genomics?

Briefly, Shanks and Joplin’s proposal of “redundant complexity” was that there are so many kinds of active biochemical factors, such as proteins in the cell, that if one is removed then another kind can almost certainly take its place. Their simple mistake was in assuming that, because some biochemical systems are redundant, that all biochemical systems must be redundant. That of course is not true. Although some genes can be knocked out and a function taken over by another system (mostly in metabolic pathways), many others can’t. Tellingly, in their article Shanks and Joplin did not discuss any of the irreducible biochemical systems I wrote about in Darwin’s Black Box.
Genomics is advancing at a breakneck pace these days, and it’s premature to reach definite conclusions. Nonetheless, genomics has the potential to strongly support intelligent design. The reason is that investigators are finding layers of sophisticated controls — strongly reminiscent of the structures and controls found in complex computer software — in the genome that no one suspected existed way back in 1996 when I wrote my book.

8. Dr. Kenneth R. Miller (2002), professor of biochemistry at Brown University, published an article stating, “In the final analysis, the biochemical hypothesis of intelligent design fails not because the scientific community is closed to it but rather for the most basic of reasons–because it is overwhelmingly contradicted by the scientific evidence.” What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the counter-argument of Dr. Miller contained, in brief, within the 2002 article – and some of his arguments more generally? Where does this debate stand in the literature at the moment? What about the general public?

I don’t want to sound harsh, but I consider Ken Miller’s writings to be exercises in damage control rather than a serious attempt to engage the issues. It’s silly to say that the scientific community (as a whole – there are some exceptions) is not closed to intelligent design when a coordinated campaign was undertaken by scientific societies to declare design to be unscientific and therefore not needing scientific rebuttal. It’s hard to pretend that Darwinists are simply evaluating it solely on its scientific merits when some science magazines actually warned that Western civilization itself would be destroyed – thrown into a new “Dark Ages” — if ID were to prevail. It’s also silly to say that design is contradicted by the evidence when some Darwinists don’t recognize that experimental results are the opposite of what they had thought ( http://www.discovery.org/a/442 ), or when prominent researchers publish evolutionary “explanations” for molecular machines that are quickly rejected by other workers (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/04/darwinism_gone_wild_neither_se003517.html ), or when the best, longest, most closely-studied laboratory evolution experiment shows beneficial mutations involve mostly the degradation of pre-existing genes and see not a glimmer of evolutionary processes building any new molecular machinery of the type that fills the cell (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/04/darwinism_gone_wild_neither_se003517.html).

9. In some academic research over mathematical probabilities based on populations beginning with your work arguing for the mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution – in Behe and Snoke from 2004, subsequently, Durrett and Schmidt replied to this argument in a 2008 article, Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution. More articles were published concerning the argument-counterargument and further publications in that form. From the start, what did you consider the mathematical limits of Darwinian evolution? How did the debate develop? At present, what do you think of the mathematical probabilities for Darwinian evolution?

The basic problem is that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a gradual one – life is postulated to improve slowly, in tiny steps, over long periods of time. Yet a profound discovery of 20th century science is that the information for life is digital, written in the code of DNA. Among other things, that means that at bottom there is no “gradualism”. Rather, there are fundamental “quanta” of mutation, such as the replacement of one nucleotide in DNA by another. You can’t replace half of a nucleotide, or a quarter of a nucleotide, or a millionth of a nucleotide. You have to replace one (or more) nucleotides at a time.
How likely is it that a given nucleotide could be mutated if it would give an organism some beneficial effect? That depends on several physical, empirical factors: the number of nucleotides in the organism; the mutation rate; and the generation time. That’s relatively easy to calculate and has been confirmed experimentally for a number of kinds of organisms. It’s reasonably do-able in evolutionary time. Now here’s the controversial, difficult problem for Darwinism: what if some beneficial effect for an organism requires more than one mutation? What if, to secure the improvement, two separate nucleotides have to be changed? Or three? Or more? It turns out that as the number of separate mutations that are required for a beneficial effect increases, the improbability of its occurrence (or, looked at another way, the time expected to achieve it) increases exponentially and soon becomes prohibitive. This is also where irreducible complexity rears its ugly head. To get an irreducible biochemical feature it would seem that multiple mutations would have to occur before a selectable effect arrived, making it very, very improbable.
My paper with David Snoke simply quantified this problem for some simple cases. Simple and obvious as it was, the paper set off a firestorm at the poor journal that published it – the editor was quickly inundated with angry letters. They then published a response to our paper within months (an extraordinary step for a journal) as well as a response to it by us. People interested in the topic can look it up. Suffice it to say here that the response missed the point. And so did the article by Durrett and Schmidt. I have to admit that I find it frustrating that the topic is so emotional that even modest discussion of obvious problems for Darwinism invariably provokes angry, defensive reactions.
My current thinking is that the limits to Darwinian evolution are much more severe than I had envisioned in 1996, and even more severe than I discussed in my 2007 book, The Edge of Evolution. Random mutation and natural selection sometimes produce simple beneficial results for an organism, but usually by degrading some genetic feature the organism already had. Darwin’s mechanism cannot coordinate the many changes necessary to build even modestly complex systems.

10. In some of the discussion with intelligent design v. evolution v. creationism, much confusion arises over the term ‘evolution’, in the article Intelligent Design as an Alternative Explanation for the Existence of Biomolecular Machines, you define three conceptions of the term ‘evolution’, “Change over time, common descent, and Darwinian natural selection.” You take this from the book One Long Argument by Ernst Mayer (1991). For those not considering distinct, or even different, definitions of the term ‘evolution’, how would you define each of these sub-phrases for the super-term ‘evolution’? What one features more prominently in the public debate? What one features more prominently in the academic debate?

It’s important to realize that theories can be mixtures of logically separate ideas, some of which can be true and some false. If that’s the case, then each logically-separate idea has to be tested on its own. It turns out, as the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr noted, that Darwin’s theory is a mix of a handful of ideas. The three most important concepts in Darwin’s theory are those of change over time, common descent, and natural selection acting on random variation. Intelligent design is concerned exclusively with the third concept (especially random variation); it has no proper quarrel with the first two. Change over time – for example, that there were once dinosaurs and now there aren’t – is noncontroversial; everyone agrees with it. Common descent is more controversial, but is in itself not an explanation for how organisms might have arisen or changed over time. For my money, 99% of scientific and philosophical interest is packed into the third concept of Darwin’s theory, natural selection acting on random mutation. Darwin’s claim to fame was not to have proposed that modern animals descended from ancient ones. (Earlier scientists had proposed this before Darwin.) Rather, his impact was to have putatively identified an entirely unintelligent mechanism that could mimic the effects of purposeful design. That has always been, and remains, the most doubtful part of his theory. We currently have good evidence for change over time and common descent, but evidence for the constructive power of Darwin’s mechanism is meager to nonexistent at best, and strongly contradictory at worst.

11. You have brought to bear the idea of ‘scientific materialism’. How would you define this phrase? Do you consider scientific materialism pervasive? What do you consider the strongest set of evidence and argument for pervasive scientific materialism? What do others with differing views consider the case?

Well, I’m not sure I myself have ever used the phrase “scientific materialism,” although other ID proponents have used it. I would define it either as the idea that the only thing that exists is matter and energy, or as the idea that science can properly study only matter and energy. Those two senses frequently get conflated by people who hold that the only things we can know for sure, or publicly argue for, are things that science studies. And that often transmogrifies into the (often unstated) conclusion that nothing else exists. I myself think that the contention is false: science can study the results of the action of a mind, and does so frequently in disciplines such as cryptography, archeology, and forensic science. It’s important to notice that scientific materialism is not itself science; rather it is philosophy. Ironically and self-contradictorily, then, the claim by some people that science tells us all we can know is not itself a scientific claim.
This view – scientific materialism – is certainly widespread in academia, not only in the sciences but, strangely enough, also in the humanities. It is much less widespread in the population at large, although it has strongholds in law and journalism. In my estimation scientific materialism is most easily seen in those familiar stories speculating why this or that human mental trait evolved – lust, anger, fidelity, friendship, and so on ad nauseam. It seems academically disreputable to take humans as responsible moral agents. Rather, we are often portrayed as the hapless product of evolutionary winds blowing where they will. It seems to me that proponents of scientific materialism rarely argue for it explicitly. Rather, they simply assume it, and treat other views as gauche at best, seditious at worst. It should go without saying that the actual evidence for the power of natural processes to mold minds as the materialists claim is nonexistent, yet that seems to give few of them pause.

**********************References at end of part two***********************

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller: Professor of Biology, Brown University (Part Two)

ABSTRACT

An interview with Professor of Biology at Brown University, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, examining the following subject-matter: youth and motivation for an interest in science and the natural world; early study and investigation of biology, inspiration, and pivotal moments; religious convictions; inspiration of the teachings of the Gospels, compelling historical accounts of the life of Jesus, and the logic and reason of Augustine and Aquinas for the faith; proportion of scientists and ‘elite’ scientists adhering to an evolutionary account of life; court battles and scientific investigation of ID; Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity and Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity; thoughts on teleology in nature; influence of personal religious views on matters of science; article Nagel’s Untimely Idea (2009) critiquing Thomas Nagel’s book entitled Mind and Cosmos (2012) and extensions of the critique to the problem of evil; new book project; unsolvable problems in practice and principle in the biological sciences; thoughts on a firm adherence to straightforward communication; book recommendation; and the John Templeton Foundation essay Does science make belief in God obsolete?(2008).

Keywords: Aquinas, Augustine, Biology, Brown University, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. William Dembski, Gospels, ID, Irreducible Complexity, John Templeton Foundation, natural world, problem of evil, Professor, religious convictions, Science, Specified Complexity, teleology, Thomas Nagel.

10. Of course, not every individual criticising foundational claims of neo-Darwinism have religious convictions. Someone such as Dr. Thomas Nagel comes to mind. In a book review entitled Nagel’s Untimely Idea (2009), you contributed in the critique of Thomas Nagel’s book entitled Mind and Cosmos (2012). In it, you state:

He puts forward no statistical argument, no critique of the fossil record, and no discussion of molecular evolution, genetic novelty, or biochemical complexity. His subtitle notwithstanding, Nagel leaves the vast inventory of evidence for evolution untouched.

Furthermore, you point to the heart of his apparent contention with neo-Darwinian evolution. In particular, the issue of consciousness, which isolates Nagel’s focus on neuroscience. How does this critique of neo-Darwinism hold to you five years onward? In any scientific discussion, does the identification of an area of mystery in science ‘knock down’ the dominant theory in the respective field? Or does it provide more space for scientists to research, discover, and propose new explanatory frameworks?

In the very same review, I urged my scientific colleagues to take Nagel’s arguments about consciousness seriously, and these are at the heart of his critique. I believe that he has put his finger on one of the greatest mysteries of modern science, which is how the subjective experience of consciousness can arise from the cellular biology of the human brain. This is a real problem, and contemporary neuroscience does not have a solution.

Does this “knock down” evolutionary theory? Of course not. What it does is to point research in the direction of an important unsolved problem. To me, this calls to mind the chemical nature of the gene, which was one of the major mysteries in biology in the middle of the last century. The solution, of course, was found in the structure of DNA, which explained, for the very first time, how a molecule might be capable of encoding, transferring, and replicating information. To my mind, the consciousness problem to which Nagel has called our attention is exactly the same sort of problem, and it will take a breakthrough of similar proportions to solve it.

11. How do you view the relation between an objective moral foundation – in light of personal Roman Catholic convictions – and an evolutionary explanation of moral judgment through emergence in primates such as ourselves? Does this suffice to you in merging personal religious convictions and modern scientific theories? How might this extend to the problem of evil?

To be perfectly frank, this is one of the topics I am hoping to address in a book I’m currently writing. Work in evolutionary psychology has supported the notion that our moral sense is very much the product of evolutionary forces, and I find such explanations persuasive. But that does not mean that our moral sense is therefore untrustworthy any more than the fact that evolution has shaped our ability to do mathematics renders that discipline suspect. By contrast, I regard our moral sense as a tool that has enable us to ask great questions about human behaviour and search for answers that coincide with those given us by religious teachings and traditions.

12. To date, what are the greatest unsolved problems in practice in biology? Do any problems seem unsolvable in principle to you?

I don’t think that I would classify any problem as unsolvable in principle. But that might just be my inherent optimism at work. However, in my own field, I regard the protein-folding problem (predicting the three-dimensional structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence) to be absolutely critical. A couple of Nobel prizes, I’m sure, are waiting for the folks who solve that one.

Other issues include the origin of life, which still eludes us despite much progress in recent years, and the intricacies of development and differentiation, the details of how each of us developed from a single cell.

13. From my vantage, and through reading your work, I see a firm adherence to a personal principle of straightforward discussion on ‘tough’ topics. For example, from the interview in the Brown Daily Herald (2007), “But what I will say is I think that all people who profess a religious faith have first of all the duty to be modest about their own understanding.” What benefit does ‘straight talk’ play in public discourse regarding theological and scientific matters? What drawbacks arise from it?

I don’t see any reason to be guarded or indirect on any topic, including the “tough” ones. When people perceive that you are not revealing your true thoughts on a particular topic, they rightly disregard much of what you may have to say as insincere or disingenuous. That’s why I’ve always tried to avoid that and to be up front about my own values and beliefs. I find that my colleagues value that sort of behaviour, and so do the lay audiences who attend my lectures and other presentations.

14. For research and some other reading: Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities, The Blind Watchmaker, The Origin of Species, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Do you have any other recommendations for further reading?

Yes. For religious people I would particularly recommend the books of John Haught (Georgetown University), particularly “God After Darwin.” John is a theologian who has thought long and hard about the religious implications of evolution. Christians, in particular, may be surprised at the extent to which evolution fits into a traditional view of the relationship between God and his creation, as John eloquently points out.

15. Finally, to quote your essay for the John Templeton Foundation, Does science make belief in God obsolete? (2008), “I suggest that if God is real, we should be able to find him somewhere else—in the bright light of human knowledge, spiritual and scientific.” Do you have any final word on proof for God, personal witness of God, faith, spirituality, and human reason?

I do not have proof of God, and I am sceptical of those who claim otherwise. But I find something remarkable in the very fact that we, as a species, have been able to learn so much about the universe and the nature of existence. As Einstein once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” To some, this comprehensibility seems to be either inexplicable or unimportant. But to a theist, it makes perfect sense. To them, the logic inherent in space, time, and matter simply reflects the work of an intelligent Creator. What this means for science, of course, is that scientific inquiry is possible precisely because the universe is structured along lines that make it possible. To me, that is a profoundly mystical and moving experience.

Bibliography
1)  [ChristopherHitchSlap] (2011, October 24). Kenneth Miller – Evolution vs. Intelligent Design FULL. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5PJG_-XlwE.
2)  [IntronFilm] (2009, November 7). Kenneth R Miller: The Bible wasn’t always interpreted literally. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tefklqzVtpA.
3)  [IntronFilm] (2009, November 8). Kenneth R Miller: Tensions in scientists who believe in unprovability of God?. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8grzTZPPU8.
4)  [TEDx Talks] (2011, July 26). TEDxBrownUniversity – Kenneth Miller – What Makes the Brown University Curriculum Unique?. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aNp6bJCAhU#t=140.
5)  Chang, K. (2009, July 6). The Mistakes That Argue for Evolution. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/06/the-mistakes-that-argue-for-evolution/?_php=true&_type=blogs&scp=3&sq=evolution&st=cse&_r=0
6)  Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
7)  Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.
8)  Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
9)  Firestone, C. (2007, September 19). Prof. Ken Miller: life as media’s darling. The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved from http://www.browndailyherald.com/2007/09/19/prof-ken-miller-life-as-sciences-media-darling/.
10)  Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
11)  Giberson, K. A. & Miller, K. R. (1998, February 9). A Somewhat Higher Opinion of God: An conversation with biologist Ken Miller. Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/CT-higher-opinion.pdf.
12)  Gutting, G., Miller, K. R., & Barr, S. M. (2013). Nagel’s Untimely Idea. Commonweal, 140(9), 14-19.
13)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Darwin’s Pope. Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.hds.harvard.edu/news-events/harvard-divinity-bulletin/articles/darwins-pope.
14)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Does science make belief in god obsolete?. John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/debate.html.
15)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Does science make belief in god obsolete?: Hitchens v. Miller. John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.templeton.org/belief/debates.html.
16)  Miller, K. R. (1999) Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between
God and Evolution. Cliff Street Books, HarperCollins, New York. 288 p. (ISBN 0-06-017593-1).
(Paperback edition appeared 10/1/00)
17)  Miller, K.R. (n.d.). Goodbye, Columbus. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/debate.html.
18) Miller, K. R. (2009, January 3). Ken Miller’s Final Guest Post: Looking Forward. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/04/ken-millers-final-guest-post-looking-forward/#.U026JvldXuI.
19)  Miller, K. R. (2009, January 3). Ken Miller’s Guest Post, Part Two. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/03/ken-millers-guest-post-part-two/#.U026SfldXuI.
20)  Miller, K. R. (2005, August 10). Kenneth R. Miller: The cardinal’s big mistake: Darwin didn’t contradict God. The Providence Journal. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/catholic/papal-letter.html.
21)  Miller, K. R. (2008) Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Viking /
Penguin Press, New York. 244 p. (ISBN 978-0-14-311566-3). (Paperback edition appeared
6/1/09) Note: In 2009, Only a Theory was named a Finalist for Best Science Book of 2008 in CV: Kenneth R. Miller (Updated through 2009) Page 3
the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, and was also named a finalist by the National Academy of
Sciences for Best Science Book of 2008.
22)  Miller, K. R. (2005, July 12). Open Letter to Pope Benedict on Evolution. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/catholic/papal-letter.html.
23)  Miller, K. R. (2009, January 2). Smoke and Mirrors, Whales and Lampreys: A Guest Post by Ken Miller. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/01/02/smoke-and-mirrors-whales-and-lampreys-a-guest-post-by-ken-miller/#.U021svldXuI.
24)  Miller, K. R. (2002). The flaw in the mousetrap. Natural History, 111(3), 75.
25)  Miller, K.R. (2009, June 10). Thoughts of an “Ardent Theist,” or Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong. Retrieved from http://www.millerandlevine.com/evolution/Coyne-Accommodation.htm.
26)  The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2010, January 12). Sixteen Notable Figures in Science and Skepticism. Retrieved from http://www.csicop.org/news/show/sixteen_notable_figures_in_science_and_skepticism_elected_csi_fellows/.

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller: Professor of Biology, Brown University (Part One)

Dr. Kenneth Miller

ABSTRACT

An interview with Professor of Biology at Brown University, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, examining the following subject-matter: youth and motivation for an interest in science and the natural world; early study and investigation of biology, inspiration, and pivotal moments; religious convictions; inspiration of the teachings of the Gospels, compelling historical accounts of the life of Jesus, and the logic and reason of Augustine and Aquinas for the faith; proportion of scientists and ‘elite’ scientists adhering to an evolutionary account of life; court battles and scientific investigation of ID; Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity and Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity; thoughts on teleology in nature; influence of personal religious views on matters of science; article Nagel’s Untimely Idea (2009) critiquing Thomas Nagel’s book entitled Mind and Cosmos (2012) and extensions of the critique to the problem of evil; new book project; unsolvable problems in practice and principle in the biological sciences; thoughts on a firm adherence to straightforward communication; book recommendation; and the John Templeton Foundation essay Does science make belief in God obsolete? (2008).

Keywords: Aquinas, Augustine, Biology, brown university, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. William Dembski, Gospels, ID, Irreducible Complexity, John Templeton Foundation, natural world, problem of evil, Professor, religious convictions, Science, Specified Complexity, teleology, Thomas Nagel.

1. How was your youth?  What motivated an interest in science and the natural world?

I had a good time as a youth. I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey, not too far from New York City. I attended the local public schools, played sports, and hung out with a great group of friends. Outside of school, I was an Eagle Scout, and worked for three summers teaching scoutcraft and swimming at a Scout camp in northern New Jersey.

I was always interested in how things worked, and for a while expected I’d become an engineer, designing and building things.  Then, in 9th grade, I took my first course in Biology, and was hooked. My eyes were opened to the intricacy and beauty of the living world, and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a biological scientist.

2. How did you find your early study and investigation into the discipline of biology?  Who inspired you?  Do you recall pivotal moments motivating your trajectory into the study of biology?

It’s fair to say that Mr. Paul Zong, my 9th grade biology teacher, was my first inspiration. His classroom was a jumble of plant and animal specimens, and he emphasized the direct study of living things. He inspired me to enter a science fair for the first time, and in turn I pestered my parents for months to buy me the present he made me dream of having – a microscope.  I spent more hours than I can count looking through that instrument, but it made me determined to explore as much of the world of cells as I could.

3. What religious convictions do you hold?  What argument or evidence convinces you?  Or do you take personal revelation and faith for a foundation?

I am a Roman Catholic. I find the teachings of the Gospels inspiring, and embrace the sense of value and purpose that comes from the faith. Christianity depends, of course, upon specific historical accounts of the life of Jesus, and I find these compelling as well. I am also drawn to the insistence upon logic and reason that one finds in the writings of Aquinas and Augustine, as well as the continuing embrace of scientific inquiry by the Church itself and by its institutions such as Catholic colleges and universities.

4. To clarify the discussion prior to further plumbing of the issue’s depth, what proportion of scientists adhere to an evolutionary account of life?  What about the ‘elite’ scientists in the National Academy of Sciences?

Probably 95% or more of all biological scientists accept the board outlines of the theory of evolution. In the National Academy, the percentage is probably even higher.

5. You have been at the forefront of the public fight over creationism, intelligent design, and evolution in high school classrooms, especially with respect to having published an extraordinarily popular and widely-used biology textbook.  However, much news in the past reported on intelligent design and creationism having potential insertion into high school textbooks prior to long, hard scrutiny by experts in the scientific community, which seems odd.  Especially in light of the fact that most science goes through the rigours of the scientific method and community.  In your article Goodbye, Columbus, you state, “There was a simple way that ID could… find its way into the scientific curriculum… by fighting it out in the scientific marketplace.” What attempts have been made to “fight it out in the scientific marketplace” compared to court battles over intelligent design?

I have seen very few genuine efforts by the advocates of ID to carry out scientific investigations. Nearly all of their efforts have been in the spheres of politics and public relations. Typically, more than 3,000 papers are presented at the annual meeting of the scientific group to which I belong, The American Society for Cell Biology. If there were genuine scientific results on the complexity of the cell that supported ID, one would expect to find them at these meetings. But ID proponents seem to avoid such gatherings, perhaps because these are places in which their ideas would meet serious, expert scientific criticism.  Instead, they prefer to make their arguments to political groups such as school boards and state legislatures. In such places, they can seek the political support needed to rewrite curriculum standards and revise textbooks. My sense is that if they had a genuine scientific argument, they’d be ignoring the political route, and trying to find the evidence that would convince the scientific community.

6. Most notable of the intelligent design arguments are Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity and Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity.  What does each argue?  By your analysis, what evidence and argument most defeats them?  How might they respond?

Behe has argued that complex multipart biochemical systems are “irreducibly complex,” which means that the removal of so much as a single part renders them non-functional.  In his own words, “An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional.” Therefore, since such systems cannot be produced by evolutionary mechanisms, they must be the products of special creation by “design,” according to Behe’s formulation.

The problem with that argument is that even the systems that Behe himself has chosen as examples contradict that claim. I’ve pointed out that there exist subsystems with his favourite system (the bacterial flagellum) that are missing multiple parts and yet are fully-functional. Even more dramatic is the example of the vertebrate blood-clotting system, which he claimed as an example of irreducible complexity because each and every part of the system had to be present for blood to clot. However, thanks to the work of Russell Doolittle at the University of California, San Diego, it is now clear that there are many vertebrates that are missing multiple parts of the system, and still are able to clot their blood.  Even more devastating are Doolittle’s recent studies, which demonstrate how the multipart clotting system arose from simple components, something that Behe has always claimed would be impossible.

Dembski’s arguments regarding specified complexity are couched in the terminology of information theory, and this makes them sound authoritative to those searching for a scientific-sounding argument against evolution. In essence, Dembski notes that living systems contain a great deal of information coded in DNA and other molecules. That is true, of course. But he then makes the claim that information cannot be generated spontaneously, and must always come from an intelligent source. Therefore, there must be an intelligent designer who put that information into living systems. The problem with that argument is that we already know where biological information comes from, and that is the process of evolution itself.

The literature has many examples of how novel genes and new functions arise through evolutionary processes. Individual studies have traced the evolution of new enzymes and new receptor proteins, and even new biochemical pathways.  Each of these involves the production of new information. That information is generated by well-understood processes such as gene duplication, mutation, and natural selection. Joseph Thornton at the University of Oregon, for example, has traced the development of hormone receptor proteins, a process that generates new information in the form of genes that specify the structures of these critical proteins. Richard Lenski at Michigan State University has traced bacterial evolution for decades, and has recently watched as these organisms developed a new way to metabolize citrate. Where did the information for citrate metabolism come from? Not from an outside “designer,” but from the evolutionary process itself. This is why Dembski’s ideas have found no support within the scientific community. It is because they are wrong.

7. Have intelligent design theories made any predictions?  Have any intelligent design theories yielded experimental results?  What falsifies intelligent design?

First, it’s worth noting that the arguments advanced by ID are entirely negative. Think about the claims made by Behe and Dembski. They point to a characteristic of living systems (biochemical complexity or specified information) and then argue that evolution could not have produced these characteristics. They are wrong in their arguments, of course, but the remarkable thing is that neither of these arguments actually produce anything in the way of positive evidence for ID. They simply argue that evolution couldn’t do it.

“Design,” therefore, is assumed to be the default explanation in the absence of an adequate evolutionary mechanism. But that is a very weak argument, even if their critiques of evolutionary mechanisms were correct. By assuming a priori that the only mechanism for living things is special creation by a “designer,” they are ruling out, for no reason, a host of other possibilities. These possibilities include, incidentally, as yet undiscovered genetic mechanisms. Since the last two decades have seen several such discoveries, including RNA interference, epigenetic modification, and RNA editing, it would be foolhardy to assume that we have run the table in that respect.

Not surprisingly, a negative critique of evolution, like ID, makes no predictions of its own except that living things will have some characteristics that we cannot yet explain. If that were not true, of course, there would be no need to do research, because we would understand everything. And the “design hypothesis” has proved to be almost completely unproductive in the scientific sense.

It is also worth noting that almost nothing can falsify every claim made for “design” in the strict sense. But that’s actually ID’s greatest weakness. You can invoke “design” to explain anything, from the structure of the ribosome to the winner of last year’s World Series, but that proves absolutely nothing. Whenever we lack a detailed explanation of a biological structure, pathway, or process, you can always throw up your hands and say “it must have been designed,” and that’s that. But that’s not an explanation. It’s really an appeal to ignorance. And my greatest problem with ID is that it proposes that we be satisfied with ignorance rather than continuing to search for answers.

8. Do you see any room for teleology in nature?  For instance, if God created the laws of nature, then the non-teleological, i.e. deterministic, laws discovered of physics, chemistry, and biology would, in essence, result from teleology, i.e. an act of creation by God.  In other words, the deterministic laws and constants discovered by science can have consideration as teleological by-products, but, of course, intentional by-products from many adhered-to definitions of God.

That depends, of course, on exactly what one means by “teleology.” The Nicene Creed states that God is the “maker of all things, visible and invisible,” which would certainly include the laws of nature to which you refer.  Ironically, ID actually demeans the teleological role of God in creation by its claim that natural processes are not sufficient to account for the origin and evolution of life. To an ID adherent, teleology is not inherent in nature, and must be supplied by the supernatural intervention of an outside “designer.”

Evolution, by contrast, accepts that the origin and diversification of life were and are fully natural processes. To a person of faith, that means that the universe itself contained the seeds of life and consciousness that gave rise to the living world and to our own species. As a result, it becomes much easier to infer intention and rationality to the universe through the evolutionary process. In this very important respect, evolution makes a much more direct connection between God and the natural world that ID ever could.

9. In the arguments for creationism vs. evolution vs. intelligent design, there do arise some peripheral – regarding biology, but ultimate, issues around the larger cosmological questions of origins.  In that, in any case of biological systems having origin through design, natural forces, some combination of the two, or an alternative, does the universe itself exhibit transcendent/‘top-down’ design in the form of a first cause/creator/designer or natural/’bottom-up’ design in the form of a natural law/self-creating universe?  For example, if the universe had a designer, in a general sense, all biology would have potential of being in the design plan of the universe from the instance of the creation.  Even so, some have characterized this – at the limit – as a debate between two philosophical worldviews: theism and atheism.  However, this seems – unfortunately – misleading and pre-maturely simplifying the matter, and more a reflection of personal views of many major figures in the public debate.  How much do worldviews influence the output of research?  Do personal religious/irreligious views have any bearing on the facts and theories from science? 

I think it’s obvious that personal views on just about anything can influence the attitudes and work of scientists, and that includes religious views. But the great strength of the scientific process is its self-correcting nature. The very fact that scientific work is open to review, criticism, and correction ensures that mistaken theories and hypotheses don’t last for very long. For example, claims that the earth was formed less than 10,000 years ago or that the Earth’s geological formations were produced in a single worldwide flood are empirically testable. Even though these claims were accepted as fact by generations of naturalists, they were quickly abandoned when scientific tools made it possible to test them and to demonstrate that they were incorrect.

**********************References at end of part two***********************

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Francisco Ayala: Donald Bren Professor, Biological Sciences; Professor of Philosophy; and Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine (Part Two)

ABSTRACT

In the following comprehensive interview with Dr. Francisco Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at University of California, Irvine, he discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background; youth and early interest in the natural world; pivotal moments motivating an interest in biology; early study and investigation of biology and evolution; mentoring of Theodosius Dobzhansky; Dobzhansky’s influence on Dr. Ayala; Ph.D. thesis work with Drosophila flies; Dobzhansky’s essay entitled Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973);  Charles Darwin, William Paley, Natural Theology (1802), and the antecedents to the design arguments for biological organisms’ functionality and complexity; his 2007 book entitled Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion; Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity and Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity; predictions of intelligent design theoretic explanations of biological organisms; thoughts on climate change with caveats of the field not being his area of expertise; responsibility of academics and researchers; conception of God in a world of material processes; responsibilities to earning numerous awards such as the National Medal of Science in 2002 and the Templeton Prize; personal influences; and projects in the coming years.

Keywords: Academics, Biological Sciences, Biology, Darwin, Dr. Franciscio J. Ayala, Evolution, God, Irreducible Complexity, Irvine, Specified Complexity, Templeton, Theodosius Dobzhansky, University of California.

11. Even in terms of the scientific process, does intelligent design make predictions?  Do you see any predictions within the framework proposed by them?

One can have certain predictions.  I can do experiments and test my hypothesis, which are sometimes corroborated by the results, and other times not.  This is what science is about.  In terms of predictions of certain experiments, I do not think that one could have predicted in the Cambrian when the first animals came into existence 500 million years ago that one could have predicted them becoming humans, rabbits, or anything else.  In the long-term, you cannot always make predictions.  With regards to evolution, it is sometimes predictive, but we study what already exists rather than predict what is going to be – we can make predictions in the short-term.  We can make predictions that the temperature of the planet is increasing in the short-term.  The way in which science is predictive is in very specific ways, and in the short-term, which is essential to corroborate our theories. 

12. If I may enter into the topic, which you raised briefly, of climatic change, what do you consider the strongest evidence for people to understand the evidence behind it that the Earth is warming?

It is not my area of expertise, but it seems to me that one sees increasing temperature over the last 20 years because we have this periods of increasing and decreasing temperature.  However, when you compare it with the last glaciation, the coldest period in the last geological time happened about 15,000 years ago or so.  Since then, the temperature in the Earth has been increasing at a slow rate, but when one superimposes it.  The actual temperature increase in the last 20 years or so, you see the great increase in temperature is much, much faster than it ever was, which convinces me of human activity contributing to it.  However, I go from the evidence provided by people in the field.  It is not my field of knowledge

13. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?  Furthermore, and for those that practice in academe, where do you see the greatest benefits and damages to society and culture from well- or ill-conceived contributions?

We have the responsibility of carrying on our jobs properly and responsibly in one instance evolution and genetics.  We have the responsibility to teach it well and thoroughly, and become knowledgeable.  First of all, one is a scientist in addition to being a teacher.  We do research.  We need to educate the younger generations because to lead a productive life in the modern world people need to know science.  Science is very important.  It can depend on the careers and for the public in general to have a knowledge of science.  We live in a world of natural phenomena: physics, chemistry, and biology.  So we need to understand that world.

14. In terms of the world of science and faith, and you do consider yourself a man of faith, how do you conceive of God in this world of material processes? 

Well, (laughs), very interesting, I was reading something explaining that in the modern world earlier today a notice came to me.  The Templeton Prize, it has been given to a Czech Priest named Tomas Halik.  He said, “You cannot believe in God in the same way that we believe in the existence of another human being because God is not another being, but the source of being itself.  Belief in God is therefore more like seeing in the light.  I cannot see in the light.  I can only see things in light.  Likewise I cannot see and visualize God.  We say all I can do is see the world in God.”  He says that not, of course, as 100% in Christianity or some other religion as a superhuman being, but as a reality that transcends the world.  I think he puts it very well.  You can probably, if you look at Templeton report, you can see his picture and words on these matters.

15. You earned the National Medal of Science in 2002 and the Templeton Prize in 2010.  Each awarded for separate contributions to the academic world.  What do awards such as these, and numerous others, mean to you?  If any, what kind of further responsibilities does this recognition mean to you?

What it means to me in terms of my activities, as it were, is that these recognitions allow me to speak with authority, and therefore with credibility.  Of course, these kinds of recognition are very pleasant at the personal level, very satisfying, and very rewarding.  I have a list of prizes with my assistant, which is from several places around the world such as Europe and elsewhere.  I have many, many prizes.  I have pictures and some of these prizes in my office.  I have a very large office – at least 600 square feet or something like that.  I have beautiful windows with views outside.  I have diplomas and objects on display.  That is, of course, very satisfying and pleasing like anybody else.  I am vain.  So I enjoy these things.  Of course, there is the other dimension.  I earned the National Medal of Science.  It provides me with authority to speak on things I like to speak on.

When I earned the Templeton Prize, I was given 1 million pounds.  It was presented to me by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, which I donated right away to fellowships for students.  Now, it is even more money now.  I do not mind them giving it to me again – just being playful. 

16. What advice do you have for young scientists?

When they are going to study for a Ph.D., I always tell the students here to look for mentors.  At other universities, students apply for several universities and teams.  You want a mentor who is going to give you personal attention. Of course, you have to take your work seriously and work hard.  You will not have an 8-5 job.  You will have to work 10 hours a day and many weekends too.  It is very important within the areas of science that they are interested in to identify scientists who are mentors.

17. This echoes Dobzhansky.

It does.  There are many good scientists.  There are many who are not, you know. 

18. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

Scientifically in terms of genetics, I would say Dobzhansky.  His books too.  Of course, I can mention some other great evolutionists of the 20th century such as Ernst Mayer, George Simpson, and so on.  These are the people who influenced me the most. 

At a different level, as I was young, I was very interested in art and literature.  I can mention much fiction and non-fiction that have had an influence on my life.  Artists too.  Spanish painters too.  I collect Spanish paintings.  They influence me because of the view of the world.  Very explicit in the case of writers, but not so much in the case of painters or sculptors.  But their view of the world makes me understand the world better and to relate to the world better.

19. What projects do you have in progress over the next few years?

(Laughs)  Right now! I have been typing a book over the last few days, which is on the philosophy of biology.  The title will likely be something like ‘Evolution: Philosophical Reflections’.  That is the book that I am finishing.  I have already finished writing something about these things.  I want to write more about evolution in general and the advances that are taking place as we use molecular biology to understand evolutionary processes.  Two lines of work as in the past, doing the work in specific projects.  Technically, it is very esoteric.  I want to continue writing books for specialists.  Others for use as textbooks such as these philosophy texts that I am working on, which I think will probably be used as a textbook in many cases.

By the way, I will mention something that you may be surprised to know.  I write all of my textbooks and books by pencil on yellow paper.  I type them and write the words here and there.  Usually, my first draft is my final draft for the article or book.  I have developed over many, many years a synchronization between the speed of my writing by hand, in pencil, and the way I can generate text in my mind – generate sentences.  While I can use the computer sometimes for other purposes, indeed for communication for people, my creative works are still done by writing in paper and pencil.

Bibliography

1)  [IDQuest] (2013, January 17). Is Intelligent Design Viable? A Debate: Francisco Ayala vs. William Lane Craig. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfylw5okAag.

2)  [TEDxUCirvine] (2012, May 6). TEDxUCIrvine – Francisco Ayala – Cloning, Genetic Engineering, & The Future of Mankind. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_JIWtJWCtI.

3)  Ayala, F. J. (2012). All for One and One for All?: An eminent scientist reconsiders natural selection. American Scholar, 81(2), 112-114.

4)  Ayala, F. J. (2006). Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: The complex designs of living things need not imply a designer. American Scholar, 75(1), 131-134.

5)  Ayala, F. J. (2000). Debating Darwin (Book Review). Quarterly Review Of Biology, 75(1), 37.

6)  Ayala, F. J. (2007). Evolution. Nature Genetics, 39(10), 1179.

7)  Ayala, F. J. (2006). THE POLITICS OF SCIENCE. Bioscience, 56(1), 78-80.

8)  Ayala, F. J. (1976). THEODSIUS DOBZHANSKY: THE MAN AND THE SCIENTIST. Annual Review Of Genetics, 101-6.

9)  AYALA, F. J. (2012). WALTER MONROE FITCH. Proceedings Of The American Philosophical Society, 156(4), 435-442.

10)  AYALA, F. J. (2008). Where is Darwin 200 years later?. Journal Of Genetics, 87(4), 321-325.

11)  Balakirev, E. S., Anisimova, M., & Ayala, F. J. (2011). Complex Interplay of Evolutionary Forces in the ladybird Homeobox Genes of Drosophila melanogaster. Plos ONE, 6(7), 1-12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022613

12)  Barahona, A., & Ayala, F. J. (2005). The emergence and development of genetics in Mexico. Nature Reviews Genetics, 6(11), 860-866. doi:10.1038/nrg1705

13)  Behe, M.J. (1996b). Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, NY: The Free Press.

14)  Behe M. J. (2007). The Edge of Evolution: the search for the limits of Darwinism. New York, NY: Free Press.

15)  Cela-Conde, C. J., Gutiérrez Lombardo, R., Avise, J. C., & Ayala, F. J. (2013). In the light of evolution VII: The human mental machinery. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 11010339-10342. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307207110

16)  Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

17)  Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.

18)  Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

19)  DOBZHANSKY, T. (2013). Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. American Biology Teacher (University Of California Press), 75(2), 87-91. doi:10.2307/4444260

20)  Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

21)  Francisco J. Ayala. (2014).In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1550439/Francisco-J-Ayala.

22)  principles of physical science. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1357106/principles-of-physical-science.

23)  Reason Television [ReasonTV] (2010, July 19). From Priest to Scientist: An Interview with Francisco J. Ayala. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZH3mvJPqS8.

24)  Theodosius Dobzhansky. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/167314/Theodosius-Dobzhansky.

25)  University of California, Irvine News [UCIrvine News] (2012, November 28).What Matters to Me and Why?. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdaEPFvcGH8.

26)  University of California, Irvine (n.d.). Francisco J. Ayala. Retrieved from http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2134.

27)  Chardin, P.T. de (1959). The Phenomenon of Man. New York, NY: Harpers and Brothers.

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Francisco Ayala: Donald Bren Professor, Biological Sciences; Professor of Philosophy; and Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine (Part One)

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ABSTRACT

In the following comprehensive interview with Dr. Francisco Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at University of California, Irvine, he discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background; youth and early interest in the natural world; pivotal moments motivating an interest in biology; early study and investigation of biology and evolution; mentoring of Theodosius Dobzhansky; Dobzhansky’s influence on Dr. Ayala; Ph.D. thesis work with Drosophila flies; Dobzhansky’s essay entitled Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973);  Charles Darwin, William Paley, Natural Theology (1802), and the antecedents to the design arguments for biological organisms’ functionality and complexity; his 2007 book entitled Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion; Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity and Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity; predictions of intelligent design theoretic explanations of biological organisms; thoughts on climate change with caveats of the field not being his area of expertise; responsibility of academics and researchers; conception of God in a world of material processes; responsibilities to earning numerous awards such as the National Medal of Science in 2002 and the Templeton Prize; personal influences; and projects in the coming years.

Keywords: Academics, Basque, Biological Sciences, Biology, Columbia University, Darwin, Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, Evolution, God, Irreducible Complexity, Irvine, Madrid, Physics, Spain, Specified Complexity, Templeton, Theodosius Dobzhansky, University of California.

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?  How do you find this influencing your development? 

I was born in Madrid, Spain.  My family is of Basque origin.  Basque Provinces are in northern Spain. Although, they do not speak the language.  I was educated in Madrid, Spain.  The dictatorship of General Franco was a political environment felt very restricted. Although, you would have noticed it in the later-day activities.   I went to Catholic schools, private schools, in Spain.  All the schools in Spain were Catholic and run by priests or nuns.  Priests for men.  Nuns for women.

2. How was your youth?  What motivated an interest in science and the natural world?

When I was 20 years old, I had the first science class, which was called natural science.  Much of it was the descriptive natural science, natural biology.  However, they had a bit of physics and chemistry.  The teacher of that class I found it tremendously inspiring.  It inspired my interest in science.  I began to read science, but I only started to study science professionally at the university-level several years later.

3. Do you recall pivotal moments motivating your trajectory into the study of biology?

Well, I remember my interest was in evolution.  In particular, human evolution was an interest.  It was in 1955, when I had just read a book, which had just been published by a French paleontologist and Jesuit Priest called Teilhard de Chardin.  I found the book fascinating.  The issues that he raised about the meaning and origin of life, human life.  It was the first book that stimulated me to study evolution – particularly, human evolution.  From there on, in the second part of the ’50s, I read a lot about genetics and evolution in Spanish translations.

4. How did you find your early study and investigation into the discipline of biology and human evolution? 

Fascinating, I came to the United States of America to Columbia University in New York, where I studied introductory biology with a career in physics.  In my first year, I had to take an introductory course in biology.  They required that we had to do some lab exercises.  Rather than doing them in the regular classroom, I went into the lab of a geneticist called Fernando Galán.  I asked him if I could do experiments in his lab as part of the requirement for my one-year class in biology.  He allowed me to do that.  I learned to do some genetics with drosophila – so-called ‘fruit flies’.  Several years later, when I became very interested in evolution, he, and the person who had been his mentor – another distinguished Spanish geneticist called de Antonio de Zulueta, he recommended to explore several alternatives and to go abroad.  Biology and evolution in the advanced stages was not very good in Spain at the time.  With Franco’s dictatorship, mand of the great Spanish scientists left Spain at the end of the civil war.  I decided the best place to go was Columbia University.  Where there was a very, very distinguished evolutionist, one of the four or five giants of evolutionary biology of the 20th century called Theodosius Dobzhansky.  He accepted me as his graduate student.  So I came to New York.  In three years, I earned my M.A. degree and then my Ph.D.  I found the university fascinating in all relevant respects.  First, all of the professors were distinguished scientists.  Second, all of the students were close to one another and friendly.  Third, I enjoyed New York and cultural aspects of New York.  I was always interested in sculpture, art, classical music, and poetry.  There was no better place to find those things at that time.

5. In terms of Theodosius Dobzhansky’s mentoring style, what did you notice?  What style did he bring to other students and you?

He was very much a mentor rather than a professor.  He had written to me.  The moment I arrived in New York to call him to get in touch.  So I arrived in New York around 10 or 11 o’clock.  He says, “Yes, come to Columbia University today.  At 4 o’clock, there is going to be a seminar by a professor from Cornell University.  My former student called Bruce Wallace.  Afterwards, I will take you and two, or three, graduate students to my house for dinner.”  Well (laughs), this was an unbelievable shock.  In Spain, there were not particularly eminent or distinguished scientists, but always very distant.  Here I come to these great scientists, and he invites me to his home.  So the effect, as you may imagine!  We became friends.  He was very interested in my career as a geneticist, evolutionary geneticist– and even as a person.  We remained friends until he died in 1975.

6. How did this influence your form of mentoring?

It influenced me very much so.  I was always on very close terms with my graduate students, post-doctoral students, and visiting scientists.  To the extent that they approach me – or I approach them in the classroom.  I am very friendly in the classroom.  I follow a policy that, but I do not make it explicit in my labs and graduate classes, but my secretary knows it very well.  I have office hours on Wednesdays from 1-3, but if any student would come here from one of my classes – even from a different university, comes to see me.  I immediately receive the student.  I do not do that with scientists or faculty members.  I usually ask them to get an appointment first.  So the students always have more access.  As well, the personalization is primarily with graduate students and post-docs.  I, as I said, become very much personally involved and really like to help with my involvement.  Again, it is mentoring rather than teaching.

7. I consider this crucial to development.  In the last couple years, I understand at a deeper level the importance of mentoring for development of a student.  Under the mentoring by Dobzhansky, your doctoral work focused on Drosophila Flies.  What kind of work did you conduct for you Ph.D. thesis?

I was very lucky.  You could say very wise – probably both.  In the first year and classes at Columbia University, when I was still stumbling with my English and the like – I had to learn biology because my training was in physics, other than the one general course in biology.  In the second semester, in addition to the classes, we had lab exercises.  The way Dobzhansky planned it for 10 or 12 students.  The way Dobzhansky planned the lab with 12 or 15 small projects, which allowed each one of us to choose whatever we wanted to work on.  Then we would have the whole semester to do it.  I had just read a paper written by Dobzhansky and other great evolutionists such as a student of his called Richard Lewontin.  As well as another great scientist called girch, the three of them published a paper on evolution, where they started work of Drosophila from Australia, New Guinea, and other areas nearby.  They found a problem with their behavior.  It was very strange.  At the genetic level, they had these strange mating behaviors in these Drosophila flies from these different localities.  I decided to study them to see if I could find out the reason for this strange behavior.  Much to my surprise, I discovered they had combined samples from two different species.  In one of them, I discovered they had combined samples from two different species.  In one of them, they had combined two species in one sample.  There was only one species.  After one course and a second course of studying the genitalia of the males, I was able to classify them in different species.  That, of course, resolved the issue.  Now, I continued that work and I started the second semester.  We had ended in the January, but I continued on through the summer, maybe the early fall.  But I do not remember the exact length.  He said, “You could use this as a Ph.D. thesis – a dissertation.”  Columbia had a minimum of three years.  However, I had planned to go back to Spain.  So with their minimum requirement of three years, I decided not to publish it.  I began a new project with the sample of flies that I had from Australia, New Guinea, and so on. I began work on something called population dynamics to measure fitness.  Not only differences between genotypes, but among these populations.  That is what I published in my third year.  But at the same time, I published the other paper in a dissertation for parts of it journals such as Genetics. By the time I finished the experiments in the third year, I saw that I had, in addition to the descriptions of the two species that I named, all the components of the work to be published in other journals such as Ecology or The American Naturalist.  Dobzhansky did not want me to go to Spain because Spain was in a miserable condition for science.  We were talking about 1964.  So Dobzhansky offered me a post-doctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University.  Then without me applying for anything, he appointed me as an associate professor there.  This was two or three years later.  I decided to stay in the US by Dobzhansky and other mentors that I could not pursue a good scientific career out in Spain.  However, I could pursue it in the US.  Therefore, first became a permanent resident and then a full citizen.

8. Of those biology textbooks that I have seen, they often quote Dobzhansky (1973) from the title of an essay: Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. 

A Philosopher called Michael Ruse says, “Nothing makes sense except in light of evolution.”  Yes, however, Dobzhansky talked about ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’  That was the title of an address and to the future of teachers.  It was the title of an article in American Scholar mostly for teachers. I have, myself, quoted this in many places.  Including in the text that we published together called Evolution.  By the time this book appeared with four authors, I helped Dobzhansky and was very much in charge of the project.  I decided to put this as the theme for the whole book.

9. Prior to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, Priest William Paley in the 19th century argued in his book, Natural Theology (1802), he provided an analogy of the watch and watchmaker to reason by analogy for the existence of a designer.  In your book from 2007, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, you discuss some of the larger theological aspects related to the some modern biological debates, especially those relating to modern creationist and intelligent design theory.  In it, you argue against creationism and intelligent design as scientific explanations.  Dobzhansky makes note of this in his 1973 essay.  He argues science and theology do not conflict.  In that, science on the one half; theology on the other half.  They deal with different subject-matter.  Could you discuss some of the larger, brief historical aspects of the design arguments that have come around?  In particular, how did they come to the fore?

Yes, the sign of design in nature.  Obviously, I have the eyes to see, hands can manipulate, and leaves can photosynthesize, and on and on.  Organisms give evidence of being designed.  That tended to be explored in classical Greece among the great philosophers of the 5th and 4th century BCE.  They were looking at the signs this way.  These signs were attributed to the gods, but not in the modern sense of a modern God – not a universal god.  This was very much taken up in the Greek tradition.  That organisms were designed because there seemed no other way you explain such design.  Thomas Aquinas, a great Christian theologian in the opinion of many people, he used this as one of five arguments that God exists.  Since the organism is designed, animals and plants, only a universal creator could explain it.  That tradition continues.  There are very important works including books written about it.  The most complete elaboration of the argument was written by William Paley, published in 1802.  He was an author of several books of Christian theology.  Also, he was known in the latter part of the 18th and 19th centuries.  You may have read this in the book.  He was known mostly as a public speaker for abolitionism.  He was fighting against slavery.  He had to give up his public speaking career.  Instead, he decided to study biology.  He produced his book Natural Theology, which is the most complete book on the argument for design.   He provides the most complete argument about design in organisms in nature such as plants and animals.  It is a beautiful book, 350 pages or so. There was no other argument until Darwin came with the Origins of Species (1859).  Well, first of all with the two earlier long essays written by him.  However, the 1859 book was the greatest contribution to science and one of the most important discoveries of science was being able to provide a scientific explanation of the design of organisms.  Because everything else, we have the Copernican revolution with Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, and others in chemistry, but the design of organisms seemed impossible to explain in terms of science.  In terms of natural causes, the great contribution of Darwin was to provide the scientific explanations of design, which makes it one of the great scientific revolutions of all-time.

10. Some have concepts such as Irreducible Complexity of Dr. Michael Behe and Specified Complexity of Dr. William Dembski to argue against Darwinian evolution.  Do these hold any merit to you?

You see, they provide arguments.  I mean, Michael Behe and other proponents of intelligent design are known not to be correct.  Behe, he is the only serious biologist among those proponents of intelligent design.  He is a professor of biochemistry at a university.  He provides these molecular examples that he claims are so complex that they require all parts for them to function.  It is the same argument as Paley in terms of design for the human eye and other organs.  He claims, therefore, they could not have arisen by steps, but rather were designed.  Evolution produces things step-by-step.  He argues, if you cannot produce things step-by-step, then you need to have the cornea, lens, retina, optic nerve, and they could not have come one step at a time.  Dr. Behe’s examples have been shown to be wrong. As to the terminology of Dembki used in mathematics, by and the way, Dr. Dembski quotes two mathematicians that have published themselves saying the way William Dembski quotes them is wrong.  In fact, I use his argument to show that Dembski does not exist.  His argument goes as follows: take a protein, one that has, say, 100 amino acids.  There are twenty possible amino acids.  The probability of having the right one in each position in 1 in 20.  So 1 In 10 multiplied a 100 times.  Something like that, a number smaller than the number of atoms in the universe, and therefore it cannot arise by chance.  Of course, it does not arise by chance.  It arises by natural selection, which I explain in many ways.  I explained for other purposes a moment ago.  It makes, the highly probably, the necessary outcome doing one step at a time.  What I have done playfully, is taking William Dembski’s father, each ejaculation produced about 1012 sperm, genetically all different.  Only one of which that had the genetic combination to give rise to Dembski.  Now, his mother produced in her life only 1,000 eggs, which had the sperm entering it that produced Dembski.  So you have 10-3*10-12.  The probability that Dembski exists, a priori – which is how he does the calculations, is 10-15.  But that is only the beginning.  He could only have the genetic makeup his father had, but his father had 10-15 chance of having his genetic combination, but so did his mother.  Therefore, once you go to the grandparents, you can see the calculation.  This is the calculation that he uses for Specified Complexity.   It is the completely wrong way of arguing.  Of course he exists, but doing his calculations it would be impossible that he exists.

**********************References at end of part two***********************

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey: SENS Research Foundation, Chief Science Officer and Co-founder; Rejuvenation Research, Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Aubrey de Grey

ABSTRACT

Comprehensive interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Rejuvenation Research, co-founder of the Methuselah Foundation, and co-founder of the SENS Foundation.  The following interview covers the youth of Dr. de Grey; educational history; his work in the field of bio-gerontology and bio-medical gerontology; research conducted up until the present; definitions of ‘aging’ as seven separate processes: cell loss and cell atrophy, nuclear epi-mutations, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular crosslinks, extracellular aggregates, Intracellular aggregates; hypothetical research project; Methuselah Foundation (MF) & Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation (SENS) Foundation; and the trajectory of the ‘war against aging’.

Keywords: aging, bio-gerontology, bio-medical gerontology, cell atrophy, cell loss, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Editor-in-Chief, Education, extracellular aggregates intracellular aggregates, extracellular crosslinks, Methuselah Foundation,mitochondrial mutations, nuclear epi-mutations, Rejuvenation Research, SENS Foundation, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.

1. How was your youth? How did you come to this point?

Pretty normal, but rather short on social life: I had no brothers or sisters (or indeed any family other than my mother), and I wasn’t particularly outgoing until I was about 15. I was always reasonably high-achieving academically and I immersed myself in that. When I discovered programming, and found I was fairly good at it, I decided to study computer science, and pretty quickly I decided to pursue a career in artificial intelligence research because I felt it was where I could make the most humanitarian difference to the world. At around 30, I started to realise that aging was a criminally neglected problem and that, maybe, I could make even more of a difference there. So I switched fields.

2. Where did you acquire your education?  What education do you currently pursue?

I went to school at Harrow, a top UK boarding school, and then university at Cambridge. These days my education comes from my colleagues, via their papers and my interactions at conferences.

3. You work in the field of bio-gerontology.  How do you define bio-gerontology?  When did bio-gerontology interest you?  Why did this field become a distinct area of research?  Why does this garner such controversy?

In order to answer your question with clarity, I need to make a distinction first. There are two separate fields you’re talking about: bio-gerontology and bio-medical gerontology. Bio-gerontology is the study of the biology of aging as a basic science, with the goal of increasing our understanding of how it naturally occurs. Biomedical gerontology is the study of the biology of aging as a technology, with the goal of identifying ways to change how it naturally occurs (specifically, to slow or reverse it). Bio-gerontology has been a branch of biology for about 100 years, starting with ideas like the “rate of living theory”, and it’s not controversial at all. Biomedical gerontology has arguably existed for much longer, if you include the various elixirs that people have explored, but as a true field of technology I would argue that it has only existed for about 15-20 years, since people started trying to use what bio-gerontology had discovered as a guide to the development of therapies. I got interested in it about 20 years ago precisely because it was a field of technology that pretty much did  not exist and I thought that maybe we understood aging well enough to start to develop such medicines. Bio-medical gerontology garners controversy because people are scared of how different the world would be if aging were truly eliminated, and also because (conversely!) people do not want to get their hopes up too soon so they put the issue out of their minds by kidding themselves that it would not be such a good thing after all.

4. What do you consider a pivotal moment in the transition to your current work?

The most pivotal moment was undoubtedly the night in 2000 when I realised that repairing the damage of aging would be much easier than stopping the damage from being created in the first place. That was a huge departure from traditional thinking. Of course there were many other pivotal moments leading up to that, but that’s the biggest one.

5. What kinds of research have you conducted up to the present?

SENS Research Foundation conducts and sponsors research in all areas relating to the repair of aging damage. In the SENS scheme, there are seven major types of damage – of course there are many examples within each type, but the classification into seven categories reflects our strategies for addressing them. We conduct research in all seven areas, prioritising aspects that are not being researched as thoroughly by others as we think is necessary. This ranges from stem cell work to create artificial organs or to regenerate existing tissue, to elimination of molecular “garbage” from the insides of cells and the spaces between them, to the restoration of function to mutant mitochondria, to the underlying basis of certain types of cancer – and that’s just a minority of the range of our interests.

6. If you currently conduct research, what form does it take?

Our research is really no different than any other biology research: we use the same techniques, the same equipment, our staff have the same skills. What’s different about our work is the goals: we pick our projects very carefully for maximum potential to hasten the development of a comprehensive panel of damage repair therapies that will postpone the ill-health of old age.

7. You define aging as a process.  In particular, you define aging as seven processes: cell loss and cell atrophy, nuclear epi-mutations, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular crosslinks, extracellular aggregates, Intracellular aggregates. What academic and popular venues can professionals and lay-persons alike read on their own time about these processes in full detail?  What processes have the most progress in slowing, halting, and reversing their respective portion of the aging process?

First, instead of “nuclear [epi] mutations” we normally say “Division-obsessed cells” these days. It’s the same concept but easier to explain.
The best place to discover about all this is, of course, our own output. Our website sens.org has summaries and somewhat more detailed descriptions of all these areas for the general audience. My book “Ending Aging” is also written to be comprehensible to non-biologists, but it’s extremely detailed and no biologist reading it would feel short-changed. Then of course there is my corpus of academic output that first described the SENS approach and its merits; the relevant papers are mostly from 2002 to 2005 and can easily be found in PubMed.

8. If you had infinite funding and full academic freedom, what would you research?

One of the benefits of being an independent non-profit is that we already have pretty full academic freedom. In particular, we are free to work on really difficult projects that do not deliver a steady stream of high-impact publications. Therefore, if we had much more funding, our overall strategy would not change much: mostly we would grow the projects we already pursue, parallelising them more so that they would go faster, rather than changing direction.

9. What do you consider the most controversial research topic at the moment?  How do you examine the issue?

If anything I would say that the key research relevant to bio-medical gerontology is becoming less controversial. An obvious example is the development of iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells, which has largely obviated the need to work with cells isolated by destroying embryos. Also, as we get better at genetically manipulating species relatively distant from us (like mice), we become progressively less reliant on experiments using non-human primates.

10. How would you describe your early philosophical framework? Did it change? If so, how did it change?

I don’t really view myself as having a philosophical framework. I guess that if I have one it is just that it’s my moral duty to do the best I can to improve people’s lives. But really I would more accurately say that that’s simply what makes me feel fulfilled, whether or not there is any objective ethical basis for it.

11. You co-founded the Methuselah Foundation (MF) & Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation (SENS) Foundation.  You are Editor-in-Chief of the journal Rejuvenation Research.  What purpose do these and other outlets serve for the bio-gerontology research community?

SRF is SENS Research Foundation; SENS is the methodology, SRF is the organisation pursuing the methodology.  MF and SRF are not outlets for the research community – certainly SRF is not, because our focus is to do our own research. MF kind of acts as an outlet in that it highlights and popularises certain research areas by administering prize competitions. RR, on the other hand, is a regular peer-reviewed academic journal and thus is a standard type of outlet. It is distinctive mainly in that it is firmly focused on intervention, so it publishes work that might be seen as too “translational” for some other bio-gerontology journals but also too early-stage for clinical gerontology journals.

12. Who most influenced you? Can you recommend any seminal books/articles by them?

I have actually been influenced rather little by other opinion-formers. There are a few people I immensely admire, however, and in whose footsteps I try to follow. Let me just mention two, Mike West, founder of Geron and Advanced Cell Technology and now CEO of BioTime, has totally transformed the commercial landscape around some of the most critical biomedical technologies relevant to the defeat of aging, and I certainly recommend his book “The Immortal Cell.” Peter Diamandis founded the International Space University, then the Xprize Foundation, and then Singularity University, all real game-changes in the promotion and facilitation of visionary technologies designed to benefit humanity. His book “Abundance” tells the story really well. I’m privileged to know both Mike and Peter quite well and to benefit periodically from their insight.

13. Where do you see the bio-gerontology in the near and far future?  Do you have a precise itinerary for major breakthroughs in the ‘war against aging’?

I will answer with regard to biomedical gerontology – see the distinction I made in my answer to question 3. The short answer is no – just as for any pioneering technology, the timeframe and even the order of events leading to final success is spectacularly speculative. However, I do think that the track we are on has at least a 50% chance of delivering really big increases in healthy (and, as a side-effect, total) lifespan in mice within the next decade and in humans two decades later.

14. What advice do you have for young researchers, especially those engaging in controversial research areas?

The good news is that research in aging has passed through two profound transitions that leave it as a much less controversial option than it used to be. Starting about 20 years ago, it transitioned from a backwater viewed by other biologists as a poor man’s field where hypotheses could not be tested, to a high-profile discipline whose leaders would get most of their papers published in Science or Nature. Then, over the past 5-10 years, it has become far more acceptable to work on aging with a biomedical mindset rather than a basic-science one, in other words with a goal of actually doing something about aging in the future rather than just understanding it better. So my advice would be not to be concerned about historic controversy, but to pick one’s research area on the basis of its relevance to the eventual goal. We at SRF are always happy to offer advice on this – we get queries all the time and we do our best to guide young researchers into the most high-priority areas.

15. Besides your own organizations and research interests, what fields of research, organizations, and non-profits can you recommend for interested readers?

I don’t know how to answer that question. Obviously my recommendation to those who share my basis for choosing a research area is to get involved with SENS. If someone is deciding what interests them on a different basis, they’ll come to a different conclusion, but I’m not about to try to tell them what conclusion.

Bibliography

1)  de Grey ADNJ, Ames BN, Andersen JK, Bartke A, Campisi J, Heward CB, McCarter RJM, Stock G. Time to talk SENS: critiquing the immutability of human aging. Annals NY Acad Sci 2002; 959:452-462.

2)  de Grey ADNJ, Baynes JW, Berd D, Heward CB, Pawelec G, Stock G. Is human aging still mysterious enough to be left only to scientists? BioEssays 2002; 24(7):667-676.

3)  de Grey ADNJ. Challenging but essential targets for genuine anti-ageing drugs. Expert Opin Therap Targets 2003; 7(1):1-5.

4)  de Grey ADNJ. The foreseeability of real anti-aging medicine: focusing the debate. Exp Gerontol 2003; 38(9):927-934.

5)  de Grey ADNJ. Escape velocity: why the prospect of extreme human life extension matters now.  PLoS Biol 2004; 2(6):723-726.

6)  de Grey ADNJ, Campbell FC, Dokal I, Fairbairn LJ, Graham GJ, Jahoda CAB, Porter ACG. Total deletion of in vivo telomere elongation capacity: an ambitious but possibly ultimate cure for all age-related human cancers.  Annals NY Acad Sci 2004; 1019:147-170.

7)  de Grey ADNJ, Alvarez PJJ, Brady RO, Cuervo AM, Jerome WG, McCarty PL, Nixon RA, Rittmann BE, Sparrow JR. Medical bioremediation: prospects for the application of microbial catabolic diversity to aging and several major age-related diseases. Ageing Res Rev 2005; 4(3):315-338.

8)  de Grey ADNJ. A strategy for postponing aging indefinitely. Stud Health Technol Inform 2005; 118:209-219.

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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