All entries for October 2004

October 16, 2004

Darwin's Black Box

5 out of 5 stars

I have just finished reading this book for the second time, so I though I would give my thoughts on this book as a biochemistry student.

I will assume that readers of this review are familiar with the concept of evolution.

In the book Michael Behe argues based on analogies with some mechanical systems (the mousetrap) that there are “Irreducibly complex” systems within organisms that demand an intelegent designer.

The “irreducible complexity” argument relies on there being biological systems that completely fail when one component is removed. A mechanical example of this given by Behe is a mouse trap (p42 fig 2–2) which will not function at all if one component is removed. Behe then describes various biochemical systems and pathways such as the vision event in rods in the eye, blood clotting, the cilia, the bacterial flagellum and intracellular transport (ask me if you need these explaining to you). He shows that each of these systems is nonfunctional if components are removed and in some cases are actually detrimental and dangerous to the organism in question when incomplete (e.g. unregulated blood clotting). The “irreducible complexity” of these systems argues for an “intelligent designer” that can place these systems in place complete. Behe also defends the “intelegent designer” concept from the argument that states that some organisms appear to have features that (according to those suggesting this) are not perfectly designed so (supposedly) refuting intelligent design.

The book is friendly and accessible to both laymen and scientists, each deriving his own from the book. The layman will become more educated about biochemical systems, and the scientist will find extensions of the argument into his own area of interest.

In conclusion: this book should be read, and read carefully. It will do you no good to casually read this and/or to vent your spleen on it because it challenges evolution. Read it carefully, analyzing the points made and you will find a well reasoned argument. It may or may not convince you, but no doubt you will better off for reading this book carefully, since carefully study of issues always improves your mind.


I suggest that you treat reading this book like you would a science textbook or paper, read it carefully, going back over sections and making notes. This is no light book so the more effort spent on reading and understanding it the more usefulness you will derive from it.

October 15, 2004

Why? – Happy

Writing about web page

5 out of 5 stars

The final (and only still avaliable) album from the british christian band Why? Formed at Bath uni in the early nineties Why? played an attractive folk based music, with a very changing line up, until slimming down to four members for this, their final album. Really worth a listen, especially at the current listed price of 79p, hold on let me repeat that 79p +p&p for a full 14 track album. Gets the full five stars on VFM alone, but also happens to be stocked full of quality songs, from songs on the atractiveness of the clergy (The Vicar) to clever songs about twins (Not enough Womb) that sound dodgy until you realise what they're really about. The album has been described as a mix of funk, folk and rock and that about sums it up.

Why? are sadly split up, so buy this record for 79p while you still can…


FreeDB links

Look Back – 1998 Greatest Hits
Jig at a Why? Gig – 1996 Live Album

Other Links

Why? Webpage – really old, not updated in a long time, I don't know how much longer it will be up

October 13, 2004

Random Musings on Stem Cells

Writing about web page

The death of Christopher Reeve has brought to the forefront of my mind the issue of stem cells and the permission/non-funding of embryonic stem cell research in the UK and the USA. Christopher Reeve believed that stem cells treatments, had they been available, might have been able to reverse his paralysis. I’m sure that his death will be used by the campaign to allow embryonic stem cell research as a clear example of a tragic case where stem cells could have greatly helped.

I agree with the US administrations position that embryonic stem cell research should not be funded by the state. Of course it is tragic that someone should be in such as state as Christopher Reeve was, but we should not allow our (right and appropriate) sense of outrage at someone dreadful injuries to overhaul our moral sense in determining whether a treatment should be researched or not. The need for a treatment is not enough. The treatment should also be morally acceptable. This is the issue with embryonic stem cells.

The production of embryonic stem cells requires an embryo. In most envisioned treatments this embryo would be a clone of the patient in order to avoid problems with tissue rejection. The moral problem that I see with this treatment (and feel free to comment on this article in your agreement or disagreement) is that it requires the destruction of an embryo in order to treat the individual. We would not allow the killing of a newborn simply to treat an adult with a medical problem. The whole argument for the embryonic stem cell research hinges on the assumption that the embryo is not a valuable human in the same way as a newborn is. This argument, you will not be surprised to know is the basis of the pro-choice position, because lets face it, if the unborn is not as human and therefore as deserving of protection as any other human, then the pro-choice position is correct, it’s all about the choice of the mother

Fortunately for us, the pro-choice position is not correct. This can be demonstrated by drawing analogies between the conditions of the unborn that cause people to say that it is not human and valuable and adults who show some of these same traits but are still regarded as valuable humans. These differences can be summarised by the acronym SLED.

  1. Size – It has been argued the unborn are not human and worthy of protection since they are smaller than other humans. This doesn’t wash, a 8 year old is not more of a human than a 2 year old because he is bigger, a 7 foot basketball player is not “more human” than a 5 foot 9 geek because he is bigger. The size argument completely fails
  2. Level of Development – The argument is that the unborn is less developed, then it is not human. Again the same logic shows us why this is not true. A 5 year old is more developed than a 2 year old, but that does not make the 5 year old more “human” than the 2 year old
  3. Environment – this one is just absurd. Where you are has not bearing on who you are (in a morally relevant sense). Note that this was the argument that supported dilation and extraction late term abortions. In this abortion the baby is delivered breach first until only the head remain in the mother. How is it that a difference in location of 6 inches is morally relevant in whether the act is an abortion of infanticide? This is why these abortions are now illegal in the USA.
  4. Degree of Dependency – The argument is that since the baby is dependant on the mother then it is less human than an independent individual. This is absurd. I am a type 1 diabetic. I am dependant on Insulin. Does this make me less human than my next-door neighbour? How about those with pacemakers, or that dependant on kidney dialysis machines or that dependant on systems like Christopher Reeve was. They are no less human than any other.

The unborn is different from other people in all these regards, but none of them are sufficient for it to be less human than any other individual. The conclusion is that the unborn is human and should be protected as any other human.

This links to embryonic stem cell research in the issue of destroying the embryo to obtain the stem cells. Since it can also be demonstrated by analogies that the embryo is not morally different from any other human, embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed from the same reasons as abortion, that it kills a valuable human being.

Plenty of alternatives exist such as adult stem cells or placental stem cells. There is not really the need to kill embryos to derive these cells.

Get in contact if you agree/disagree

Rich Cowan


  1. The majority of the arguments in this piece are adapted from material by Scott Klusendorf, including “Pro-Life 101”. See Stand to Reason for details
  2. I am aware of other conditions placed on humanness, like the requirement of consciousness placed by Peter Singer, however this can be argued against using the examples of people in comas. Also someone who thinks that a dog is more valuable than an infant or a person in a coma needs help in my opinion.

Book Review – Traitor General by Dan Abnett

Writing about web page

I recently finished this book, the latest in the series about Gaunt’s Ghosts. Well all I can say at the moment is it was somehow cool and disappointing at the same time. It was lacking the mega-apocalyptic battles involving thousands of men that I had enjoyed in the previous books, but at the same time, the slow corruption of the whole team was a joy to red of. If you know the series the identity of the general is somewhat poorly concealed and you will guess fairly early on who he is, One of the most interesting bits in the book for future books actually occurs at the beginning where Dan Baur and Commissar Hark are named as the Commanding Officer and Commissar of the regiment specifically. I wonder does this mean that we might get some stories about the regiment being lead by these two? Also I want to know what’s happening to Brin Milo now that he’s gone off with Saint Sabbat. Perhaps another book in the vein of Ghostmaker would be in order to get an update on all the little story threads that could do with being progressed.

Overall I’d rate the book fairly highly, though not as good as some of Abnett’s other material. The best part of the book for me is that I have an autographed hard back copy (obtained at Games Day 2004)


Warhammer 40,00

Gaunt’s Ghosts

Dan Abnett

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