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British Christian Darwinists dump on origin of life theorist Steve Meyer

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design

You know, Meyer, as in Signature in the Cell (though you can alsoread his paper in The Nature of Nature ).

Christian Darwinism is called Christians in Science over there, but the schtick is the same, like this from “Simon”, who cutes himself out as a four-year-old boy with an eye patch:

Meyer’s lecture was truly awful. I was sat next to a pro vice chancellor of a Russell group university (I’m not supposed to divulge who else was at the event) who left pretty much as soon as the lecture was over saying he didn’t have time for this drivel. To be fair I was expecting something much better from so senior an ID person and was disappointed. He started with a brief overview of natural selection followed by a more detailed (but stumbly) description of the cellular transcription/translation machinery. He then showed all the usual calculations of why a functional protein sequence can’t have evolved by chance, followed by a really confused attempt to explain how the information content cannot have evolved by necessity (ie physical laws). This was the worst bit of his lecture by a long way – something about bonds between base-pairs in DNA not being able to self assemble. He really did not spend enough time explaining his reasoning on this point and sort of jumped quickly to his conclusion (he was running late at this point) by saying since the cellular machinery was so complex, it must have been intelligent design.

Fair enough. Whether design is the best explanation for a given mechanism or not, origins biology is never going to be a lab coat’s Yay-hoo for Jay-hoo.

The impression one comes away with is: The vast mediocrity of the British “Science Faith community.” One senses it’ll be a long time before these people break any new ground anywhere, except awards for stuff like “I turned to the Big Noise Around Here, and he said he couldn’t see anything in it either, which strengthens my ignorance.”

Meanwhile, a contact helpfully offers some thoughts, hoping to make it easier to understand the nature of the problem the ID theorists address:

“As the arrangement [information] of a printed page is extraneous [irreducible] to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence [information] in a DNA molecule extraneous [irreducible] to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. ” -Michael Polanyi

“Informational macromolecules [DNA, RNA] can code genetic messages and therefore can carry information[precisely] because the sequence of bases or residues is affected very little, if at all, by [self-organizing] physico-chemical factors.”–Hubert Yockey

Nice try that, but major theorists’ issues sail right through the God Gap in the average Christian Darwinist’s head, landing in a pile of sandals somewhere.

UD author David Tyler responds to the extent possible, for example here:

GrumpyBob wrote: “I genuinely think that a current lack of understanding of life’s origins doesn’t mean we will not uncover more likely mechanisms in the future. I certainly don’t think one should respond to a difficult scientific problem by throwing one’s hands up in the air, giving up and proclaiming that a Designer did it.”

This seriously underplays the state of research. You should read Koonin closely on this. The reason he has developed the argument he has is not because of ignorance, but he is responding to the force of evidence. He is also pursuing an “inference to the best explanation” approach although sees the evidence differently to Meyer. Regarding throwing up one’s hands in the air and resorting to a “God did it” proclamation – see my previous comment.

By the way, Koonin is so flummoxed by the origins problem that he is willing to accept multiple universes as a solution. But then Koonin is too honest a thinker to argue, Darwin’s God dunnit somehow!

Update: One local notable didn’t attend, for reasons he is happy to share.

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28 Responses to British Christian Darwinists dump on origin of life theorist Steve Meyer

  1. So archaeologists are just giving up by saying “a designer did it”.

    Forensic scientists are just giving up by saying “a criminal did it”.

    Earth to evotards:

    Saying a “designer did it” determines what path the investigation will take. And seeing that one of the three basic questions science aks is “How did it come to be this way/ the way it is?”, just making that determination is a requirement for science.

    The strange thing of all this is evotards always accuse of of not understanding science yet every day they prove they don’t even understand its basic concepts.

  2. This reveals some pretty blatant bias. You can search for one answer forever, and even if you never find it no evidence can ever persuade that it doesn’t exist, but if you come to a different conclusion that’s “giving up.”

    By that logic, any answer to any question could be considered “giving up.” Why did the apple fall from the tree? I guess you’re going to give up, throw your hands in the air, and say that gravity did it.

  3. Well put, Joseph!

    As to the original quote, Meyers, in SitC, points out that there is no preference in how the base-pairs actually pair up; hence, there is no physico-chemical force that could drive sequencing. And, of course, if it did, then it wouldn’t contain any information. It would be tantamount to crystal formation.

  4. Perhaps it isn’t “giving up” if you find the answer “they” want.

    “If you find the answer that I want then your search was justified. If you find something else, keep looking until you find what I want.”

  5. I’m curious. Now that the whole of the human genome has been sequenced, is the focus now on determining what function(s) the arrangement of proteins in the sequence confer upon development on the containing host?

  6. Semi OT:

    “Darwin on Trial 20th Anniversary: Stephen Meyer on Phillip Johnson’s Courage” – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....4_26-08_00

    This Week on Unbelievable : Stephen Meyer vs Keith Fox
    http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

  7. ciphertext, this recent article may offer a little insight as to where research is currently at:

    With a Startling Candor, Oxford Scientist Admits a Gaping Hole in Evolutionary Theory – November 2011
    Excerpt: As of now, we have no good theory of how to read [genetic] networks, how to model them mathematically or how one network meshes with another; worse, we have no obvious experimental lines of investigation for studying these areas. There is a great deal for systems biology to do in order to produce a full explanation of how genotypes generate phenotypes,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....52821.html

  8. You and I seem to agree that design is very difficult and has not been demonstrated.

    Where we differ is that I see evolution as an ideal process of design where one cannot anticipate the utility of particular code changes.

    Without omniscience, it’s the only known way.

  9. What is this “known?” It is speculated, not known.

  10. We know from observation of nature and from genetic algorithms that evolution can design.

    What isn’t absolutely proven is that the functional landscape supports incremental change. Where the experiments have been run, as with Lenski and Thornton, it has.

    But any landscape that supports traversal supports design by evolution. Such as the traveling salesman problem, or load balancing for power grids, or design of pharmaceuticals, or optimizing the acoustics of auditoriums, or optimizing aircraft wing design, or designing trusses and booms for spacecraft solar panels.

    Certain kinds of landscapes lend themselves to evolutionary traversal. That’s a fact.

  11. Petrushka, you state:

    Where the experiments have been run, as with Lenski and Thornton, it has.

    Perhaps you should drop a note to Dr. Behe and tell him to stop citing Lenski and Thorton’s work as supporting ID?

    As well the rest of your comment is thoroughly misleading, though you, of course, will deny to your dying breath that it is.

  12. We know from observation of nature and from genetic algorithms that evolution can design.

    We certainly do not know that it can design. We know that it can modify.

    What isn’t absolutely proven is that the functional landscape supports incremental change. Where the experiments have been run, as with Lenski and Thornton, it has.

    The functional landscape consists of loss of function. The experiments show modification, not design. There’s a pattern developing.

    Then you’re back to the GAs, which again, never actually invent something. You can use one the find the best truss or boom for your solar panel, but never to come up with the idea for a solar panel, or to invent trusses or booms. Never. And they are intelligently designed, which chalks everything they do up to intelligence.

    The light bulb has been modified a thousand times. But it took a person to A) identify the need for light, B) consider electricity as a power source, C) conceive that electricity passed through a filament might produce light, and D) test various configurations. No incremental pathways, just huge leaps of imagination and implementation.

    A light bulb is simple. If evolution or GAs design, how might they design a light bulb or solve the same problem some other way? You’ve referred to this as “known” in nearly every post, so this should be easy.

  13. Using your reasoning, light bulbs were not invented. They were just modified from the accidental observation of a wire heating due to current flow. Everything is mostly just a modification of something that came before.

    Why the need to test configurations? Surely intelligence doesn’t require evolutionary trial and selection.

    Trusses and booms are just modified tree limbs. Leaves are solar panels.

    The functional landscape consists of loss of function.

    This is simply not true. It’s not even true in Behe’s review of the literature.

  14. this “This is simply not true. It’s not even true in Behe’s review of the literature.’

    Is deliberately misleading once again!

  15. It’s not misleading at all. three of Behe’s reviewed studies showed gain of function.

    That might not sound like a high percentage, but considering the studies do not even cover a microsecond of deep time, they are significant.

    Deliberately misleading would be asserting we should be able to observe speciation in a human lifetime.

  16. Petrushka,

    I explained in several rough steps how light bulbs were imagined and invented, and then you attribute to me the statement that they were never invented. ???

    If Edison tested a thousand filaments to find one that worked, that’s not evolution. It went from non-function to function. There’s more to the world than evolution. It’s not evolution every time someone tests something. Do you own stock in evolution, so you’re trying to drive the price up?

    Light bulbs were imagined and invented in leaps and bounds. Explain how light bulbs evolve. It starts with not having a light bulb and ends with having a light bulb. How does that happen?

    That’s not an unfair question. You’ve attributed the design of every living thing to evolution using abstract concepts. Now let’s see the rubber hit the road.

    I’ll even allow the GA. How do you use a GA to invent the light bulb? I’m very curious to see how your repeated assertions that evolution can design anything fare against a very simple real-world example.

  17. If Edison tested a thousand filaments to find one that worked, that’s not evolution. It went from non-function to function.

    That’s simply not true. The first incandescent light was demonstrated 75 years before Edison. Some were even patented. Edison’s bulb was an evolutionary development. The fact that he developed by trying thousands of variations indicates that he did not foresee the one having the greatest utility, but arrived at it through variation an selection.

  18. Explain how light bulbs evolve.

    You start with the observation that thin wires heat up when current is passed. In 1802 Humphrey Davey developed a battery capable of incandescing a platinum wire and demonstrated it as a source of light.

    For the next 75 years, hundreds of people tried thousands of ways of making it practical.

    Evolution can have many related meanings, but all of them are applicable to invention.

    The central meaning is incremental change with selection. That applies to almost every invention.

    Another meaning, which separates it from engineering, is the aspect of trial and error. A system evolves incrementally because there is no formula for determining what the “final” form will be. In that specialized sense, evolution is blind.

    An engineered system uses formulas for determining strengths of materials and weighting costs. An evolutionary system varies the product and compares the variations against each other. It does not know what the answer is, only how one variant compares with another.

  19. Petrushka,

    Again, you are demonstrating the difference between invention and modification. The light bulb did not evolve. Someone, be it Edison or someone else, conceived of a solution to darkness. You seize upon the trial-and-error aspect, which although necessary, is a small part of the process. A GA could actually be used to improve upon it. That’s what they do. They modify. They do not invent.

    If Edison had “evolved” the modern light bulb the variation would have been truly random. He would have tested paper, orange peels, rubber bands, fingernail clippings, ferrets, etc., as filaments. If alive, he’d still be at it.

    The selection of possible elements itself was intelligent, taking into account their likelihood of producing an outcome corresponding to a specified goal. That is what intelligence does and what evolution does not do.

    The magic that you attribute to biological evolution is purposeless, devoid of intelligence. Why do you continue attempting to support it with examples of purposeful intelligent agency? Do actually not realize what you are saying?

  20. Not to mention that while filaments are one variation, the application of an electrical current is another. The strength of that current is another. They relied on batteries, which were in turn designed, but only because the value of producing and storing electricity was foreseen for purposes including powering light bulbs.

    So now you’ve got
    - The intention to produce light
    - The knowledge that a heated filament can produce light. Not just any random material, but something with specific properties which narrows the field to manageable number of variations
    - The applied knowledge that an electrical current could produce that heat
    - The foresight that the light bulb would require electricity
    - The complementary foresight that if someone invented a source of electricity, electrical devices would be available to make it useful
    - Let’s not forget the trivial fact that there were intelligent people involved somewhere in this process – coincidence?

    I’m oversimplifying. I’m leaving out the invention of the battery and the design and manufacture of the tools to used to form the light bulb and the battery and the tools and processes used to form the tools. And the written language used to record accumulated knowledge over centuries so that each person didn’t have to start completely from scratch and memorize every single thing he ever did, because each person had foresight that they and others would benefit from such an accumulation hundreds of years before any practical benefit had been realized.

    In what universe does any of this sound like evolution by random variation and selection, natural or artificial? Are you really going to try to hang onto this?

  21. Petrushka, let’s go over the 3 examples of Behe’s ‘gain of function’ mutations to show others how misleading you are with the evidence:

    EXPERIMENTAL EVOLUTION, LOSS-OF-FUNCTION MUTATIONS, AND “THE FIRST RULE OF ADAPTIVE EVOLUTION” Michael J. Behe
    http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/....._paper.pdf

    excerpts:

    Investigator action

    1. Deletion of 19 intercistronic nucleotides from RNA virus MS2 containing Shine-Dalgarno sequence and two hairpins

    2. 4 nucleotide deletion in lysis gene of MS2

    3. Separate viruses, f1 and IKe, engineered to carry distinct antibiotic resistance markers

    Underlying mutation

    1. One revertant deleted 6 nucleotides; another duplicated an adjoining 14- nucleotide sequence; missing functional coded elements substantially restored

    2. Reading frame restored by deletions, insertions

    3. In media containing both antibiotics, phages co-packaged into f1 protein coats; two-thirds of IKe genome deleted, second antibiotic gene captured by f1

    Now petrushka, as you well know, using the compensatory mutation mechanism, inherent within the programming of a cell, that is ‘recovering’ after a deletion event was purposely introduced onto it by the researchers, to argue that conclusive proof of ‘gain of function’ is now evident, is severely misleading. Moreover to argue that this type of mechanism extrapolated over ‘deep time’, as you have done, explains all the diversity of life on earth, is the same type of severely misleading hype that, as Phillip Johnson said in the Wall Street Journal,

    “When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in trouble.”

    Further note, Compensatory mutations are briefly discussed in this video:

    Is Antibiotic Resistance evidence for evolution? – ‘The Fitness Test’ – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3995248

  22. You have now watered down the concept of evolution to mean anything that isn’t the way it used to be.

    In that sense it can be accurately be used to describe the invention of the light bulb or the helicopter, the painting of the Mona Lisa, a person gaining or losing weight, and air deflating from a balloon.

    By expanding it to encompass everything you’ve rendered it meaningless. We already have a word for change. It’s “change.”

    If invention is evolution, then we’re back to the original question. Did living things evolve by unintentional natural selection and variation, or did they evolve by being deliberately and intelligently invented and modified?

    I actually suggested over a year ago that someone would eventually demonstrate the reality of evolution by counting intelligent design as yet another evolutionary mechanism. I was joking. You’re not.

  23. GumbyRob : “I genuinely think that a current lack of understanding of life’s origins doesn’t mean we will not uncover more likely mechanisms in the future. I certainly don’t think one should respond to a difficult scientific problem by throwing one’s hands up in the air, giving up and proclaiming that Nature did it.”

  24. This seriously underplays the state of research. You should read Meyer closely on this. The reason he has developed the argument he has is not because of ignorance, but he is responding to the force of evidence. He is also pursuing an “inference to the best explanation” approach although sees the evidence differently to Koonin. Regarding throwing up one’s hands in the air and resorting to a “Nature did it” proclamation – see my previous comment.

  25. ScottAndrews2, I would be interested to see your response to Petrushka’s point (as I understand it) that an intelligent designer still has to try different filaments to find the one that works best. If there were more possible filament combinations than there are atoms in the universe, and its not possible to know which one is going to work best until it is tried, how is a designer going to find the right combination?

  26. 26

    Someone wasn’t paying attention to the lecture. Meyer’s argument borrows from Charles Darwin’s mentor Charles Lyell, who was known for the statement, “the present is the key to the past.” If we want to know about the distance past, we study the present. It was Darwin’s study of the present that allowed him to come up with Myth of Evolution (is my bias showing?? :)) Meyer notes that in the present the only source of functional information we have is an intelligent one. We don’t throw our hands up in the air, give up, and exclaim random selection caused this information. No, we test our hypothesis by seeking out functional information and looking towards its cause. So there it is for all you materialists. Find a source of functional information in our earth today that doesn’t have an intelligent source. Should be easy enough. And then you could shut these crazy ID theorists up once and for all. Hey, this makes me think about my new take on and old story. It’s called “The iPod Maker”. You are walking through the forest and you find an iPod Nano. You examine it closer and you notice it contains millions and millions of tiny 0′s and 1′s. These 0′s and 1′s are stringed together, fed through a D/A converter, amplifier, and transducer and out comes a harmoniously backed message, “I’m on a highway to hell…” You immediately recognize this as one of AC/DC’s works (a very fitting one I might add) and you draw the conclusion that the 0′s and 1′s must have assembled themselves randomly in that order. Oh, and you must just be missing the instructions on how to assemble the digital to analog converter or the wind blew some plastic and metal your way and melted them into a pair of headphones, or ears, which ever device you may be examining at the time.

  27. Meyer notes that in the present the only source of functional information we have is an intelligent one.

    If you start with an untrue premise you reach untrue conclusions.

    Selection is not random. At least not usually. there are things like volcanoes and asteroids that can kill off large chunks of life, but in general, selection revolves around some heritable physical trait in the organism.

  28. 28

    Petruska,

    Please cite the basis for your comment “If you start with an untrue premise [the only source of functional information we have is an intelligent one] you reach untrue conclusions.”

    Surely you can’t throw out a statement like this without backing it up. I’m not sure about your background, but when the most highly respected members of the materialist religion admit they have no answers for the origin of life, how are you qualified to discount their statements?

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