Re: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon Sep 12 2005 - 16:52:55 EDT

Moorad -

Viruses can indeed be studied as "strands of DNA or RNA covered by a protein
coating " without any decision one way or another about "the essence of
living entities." But your phrase "little more than" betrays an unfortunate
reductionism that we physicists are often prone to, what Donald MacKay
called "nothing buttery." Our brains can also be studied in great detail
from the standpoint of physics & chemistry but they are not "nothing but"
neurotransmitters &c. & a neurologist or psychologist is not less of a
scientist than is a physicist because he/she may study the brain from
another standpoint. Again, the essence of scientific study is to
investigate the phenomena in question by means that are appropriate to that
phenomena, not simply reduction to physics.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; "Terry M. Gray"
<>; <>
Sent: Monday, September 12, 2005 12:46 PM
Subject: RE: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research
Findings Are False

Whether a virus is alive or not is still an open-ended question since we do
not know how to characterize the essence of living entities. Accordingly,
viruses can be studied as being little more than strands of DNA or RNA
covered by a protein coating and thus fall clearly on the side of being
assemblies of atoms and molecules



From: George Murphy []
Sent: Mon 9/12/2005 12:10 PM
To: Alexanian, Moorad; Terry M. Gray;
Subject: Re: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research
Findings Are False

Moorad et al -

Your distinction assumes that biologists have a great deal invested in a
definition of "life." They don't. There is still some debate wbout whether
or not viruses are "alive" (see, e.g., the cover story in the Dec. '04
Sci.Am.) but virologists don't have to make a decision about the matter in
order to learn a lot about them.
Which of course doesn't mean that the concept of life is unimportant, but
it's notably hard to pin down.


----- Original Message -----
From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
To: Terry M. Gray <> ;
Sent: Monday, September 12, 2005 11:11 AM
Subject: RE: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research
Findings Are False

The drastic difference between biology and physics is that the notion of
life enters the former while is totally foreign in the latter. The real
question is how much of biology can be reduced to atoms and molecules
without tackling the question of what life is. However, I believe that life
cannot be defined in terms of purely physical concepts. Of course, people
still talk of complex molecules like DNA as describing much of what humans
and animals are. Needless to say, the question of human rationality and
consciousness presupposes life but must represent an astronomical jump in
complexity, whichever way the problem is tackled.



From: [] On
Behalf Of Terry M. Gray
Sent: Sunday, September 11, 2005 5:49 PM
Subject: Re: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research
Findings Are False

Hi everyone,

I'd like to suggest a more conciliatory approach to moderate the recent
rancor on these two threads.

Loren Haarsma from Calvin presented to following paper at the ASA meeting
this summer as part of the ID "vs" TE symposium:

Loren, I think, masterfully set the right tone for a productive debate.
Dembski followed him prepared, of course, to argue that ID is "scientific"
and when Loren didn't come loaded with that particular critique was
surprisingly, in my experience, conciliatory himself. He even admitted that
theistic evolution is a plausible Christian position.

I created a web version of Loren's handout and paper and he gave me
permission to put it on the ASA web site. If you would like a Word document
version, you can get it directly from Loren's web site at Calvin at

I am in Loren's "explainable" or "partially explainable" camps when it comes
to most of the ID examples from biology (flagella, origin of life, other
irreducibly complex systems). I'm quite content to argue against ID on the
basis of plausible scenarios rather than demarcationist arguments.

For what it's worth, in my opinion as a biologist (and otherwise), the
recent arguments that biology is not science are just pompous physical
science arrogance. From the information about joining the ASA: "Science is
interpreted broadly to include anthropology, archeology, economics,
engineering, history, mathematics, medicine, political science, psychology,
and sociology as well as the generally recognized science disciplines." I've
long disagreed with Moorad on this and it's just putting your head in the
sand to say otherwise. Most people say that biology is not a physical
science, but a unique, autonomous scientific discipline, biological science.
Most people will, however, categorize biology as a natural science (notice
that natural does NOT equal physical in these characterizations). Natural
science is conventionally contrasted with human or social sciences (please,
don't make the joke about, if science is in your discipline's name, it's not
science). We really must abandon these demarcationist arguments and be
willing get to more substantive discussions asking whether or not the claims
are correct not whether or not they match up with someone's rules of the



Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.

Computer Support Scientist

Chemistry Department

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO 80523

(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801
Received on Mon Sep 12 16:57:00 2005

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