Web edition: August 27, 2010
Print edition: September 11, 2010; Vol.178 #6 (p. 31)
Designing for chance
The science in “Life from scratch” (SN: 7/3/10, p. 22) is extremely interesting, and I look forward to hearing further results. However, a few comments in the article play into a common Intelligent Design error. The stated aim is “to show how unguided natural events might have led to life...”; the reference to “higgledy-piggledy chance” is in a similar vein. Both the atheistic attempts to infer lack of design from science and the Design advocate’s attempts to claim holes in scientific explanation are based on the erroneous assumption that natural causes equal lack of guidance. By this reasoning, if the experiment is successful, we should infer that Szostak’s team does not exist. In reality, the experiment is very carefully designed and adjusted, even though it relies on natural processes. Science tells us about natural processes. It cannot tell us whether God (or some functional equivalent) is guiding natural events. Rather, that is a philosophical and religious question.
David Campbell, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Jack Szostak’s group is indeed carefully setting up the test. The care, however, is to do so with conditions and materials that plausibly could arise by chance on a sterile planet. If successful, nobody could claim that the team’s novel, primitive life form arose in the lab by random luck. Researchers are shepherding it into being but leaving its precise form to evolutionary selection. This and follow-up tests should offer insights into how spontaneous, unassisted chemistry could have done so on Earth. And as the reader thoughtfully suggests, evidence of supernatural guidance would be hard to measure, prove or refute. —Charles Petit
Weight loss a psychological issue
As a licensed social worker with 30 years of experience who has written four books on eating and weight, I am disappointed that Science News and Robert Russell (“Nutrition society president says eat less, move more,” SN: 7/17/10, p. 32) have climbed on the tired, old “eat less, move more” bandwagon. Russell is correct in saying that “just getting the word out and providing education” isn’t slimming down America and that “awareness has not translated into major behavioral change for the vast majority of the overweight population.” However, he fails to include psychotherapists as a catalyst for behavioral change along with communities, families and schools. Sadly, all the education in the world won’t change people who need to resolve underlying psychological — not biological — issues before they can succeed at weight loss.
Karen Koenig-Loring, Sarasota, Fla.