Home » Intelligent Design » Whacha gonna do with all that junk…

Whacha gonna do with all that junk…

…such as, for instance, those LINE elements?

Wired magazine weighs in with an article about the shifting fortunes of so-called “junk DNA.” Anyone following the ongoing discovery of functional roles for DNA once assumed to be evolutionary rubbish should agree that this is the very worst heuristic for biology:

I don’t know what X does; therefore, X probably does nothing.

Wrong.

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23 Responses to Whacha gonna do with all that junk…

  1. “Junk DNA” and other arguments about vestigal structures are examples of Darwinism as a science stopper.

    “I don’t know what it does therefore it must be vestigal” world view is far more deletirious to the mission of science than “The specified complexity is impossible to evolve by random chance, therefore, it must be designed” world view could ever be.

  2. Yes the so called Darwinist approach – I don’t know what is does so its vestigial – is a dangerous route in science. But how does the ID approach – too complex to have evolved, must be god – fair any better? Both perspectives lead to a science stopper.

    However, the Darwinist approach doesn’t shirk any interest or research if something is believed to be vestigial. A reason for its presence and its lack of function would be explored. The above article is an example of were research leads (even when the matter of interest is believed to be vestigial) – a better explanation of the ‘junk DNA’.

    If one merely labels god as the designer – now what? What research would one want to conduct? What could you possibly want to find out?

  3. Suspicions of functionality for “junk dna” have been around for many years. I first recall reading about junk functionality in the 90′s. There has been quite a bit of research into the functionality of junk dna for some time now. Arguments that the search for natural causation will be a “science stopper” that rest on junk dna are awfully out dated.

  4. dave,

    ID isn’t a science stopper because we will be open to looking for purposes and figuring out how things work as opposed to writing it off (without investigation) as some evolutionary dead-end.

  5. Dave557: “If one merely labels god as the designer – now what? What research would one want to conduct? What could you possibly want to find out?”

    Oh please! There are some very obvious errors of assumption in these statements that have been explained, re-explained, debunked, re-debunked over and over again.

    Worse is that they are easily discernible with just a little effort of thought.

    1. ID does not claim “God is the designer” – only that design is a valid inference given the empirical data.

    2. Further “research”? Isaac Newton, or any of the 1000′s of other creationist scientists that have contributed enormously to science all through history – precisely because they believed in an Intelligent Designer would be confounded at such a strange view!

    So would the creationist that invented the “scientific method”.

    3. What “to find out”? Are you seriously stating that knowing that a designer made something implies that no further investigation is possible? Or that no further understanding is needed?

    Apply that to forensic anthropology and see where it leads. In that context, do you really think that demonstrating that a death was caused by an intelligent agent vs natural causes means that there is nothing more to research?

    Or, in a different context, that knowing a car was designed by GM implies that no further information can be discovered about the car and it’s designers, how it’s 1000′s of parts work, it’s purpose, etc.?

    If so then that’s ridiculous and very shortsighted to say the least.

    Darwinists really must try to rise to higher levels of thinking before handing out the usual brain numb assessments.

  6. “Arguments that the search for natural causation will be a “science stopper” that rest on junk dna are awfully out dated….”

    Agreed, the working model *began* with a strong assumption, predicated in part by darwinian notions, that there *must* be a function for it to be there. That was wrong-headed, and it took years to convince people it might just be random junk, some of it selfishly propagating, that at least that was a legitimate *possibility*. Now some of the “junk”–and I emphasize *some*–is turning out to be functional. The moral is that we never stopped digging for more truth no matter what the prevailing paradigm. To say the darwinian paradigm was a science-stopper is a complete mischaracterization of both the history and the science. There were many flavors of the paradigm.

    (As an aside, there is so much terrible science writing concerning junk DNA that I wouldn’t completely trust anything you read in the popular press.)

  7. great_ape,

    But even if such is the case in your own words, we’re left with examples of careless thinking.

    “X is there – it must have a function, though what is anything but obvious!”

    “X is there – the function is anything but obvious, so there must be none!”

    Assuming that everything must have a purpose (Because a Great Designer is behind it) and that if the purpose isn’t obvious, it must not exist (Because there is no Great Designer) are both extremes of thinking, and shoddy. They are also not the only ways of approaching nature available to either people who believe a Designer is behind nature, or who believe no Designer is behind nature.

    In this case, the people who believed that we shouldn’t be so quick to declare Junk DNA as ‘Junk’ are being vindicated. Are they exclusively, even mostly ID proponents? I don’t have the figures, but I doubt it. But ID proponents are certainly present, so to speak. It seems that having a diversity of people with different ways – philosophical or otherwise – of looking at the data is beneficial. I’m sure it has a parallel in nature and evolution.

    Just one more reason I see scientists who are ‘Seeing Design present in the natural world’ as a boon for science, rather than (as often insisted) a liability.

  8. 8
    sagebrush gardener

    But how does the ID approach – too complex to have evolved, must be god – fair any better? Both perspectives lead to a science stopper.

    I believe X is designed. Therefore I can learn nothing by studying X.

    As Charles Babbage once said, “I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”

    As a software developer I work every day with systems that are without a doubt intelligently designed. I find it profitable, both intellectually and financially, to study these systems so that I might understand them, use them, modify them, and build on them.

    If learning to understand a relatively simple man-made system like this can be rewarding for myself and thousands of others, how much more rewarding should it be to study the design of infinitely more complex biological machines?

  9. But how does the ID approach – too complex to have evolved, must be god

    Clearly a caricature of ID. And doesn’t ID seek to refute much more specific evolutionary claims, which include a gradual, step-by-step process with improved functionality every step of the way?

  10. The junk DNA scandal is the modern version of the “verstigial organs” nonsense. Darwinism once agains shows it self to be useless to science.
    Time to move on.

  11. great_ape

    Agreed, the working model *began* with a strong assumption, predicated in part by darwinian notions, that there *must* be a function for it to be there. That was wrong-headed, and it took years to convince people it might just be random junk, some of it selfishly propagating, that at least that was a legitimate *possibility*. Now some of the “junk”–and I emphasize *some*–is turning out to be functional. The moral is that we never stopped digging for more truth no matter what the prevailing paradigm. To say the darwinian paradigm was a science-stopper is a complete mischaracterization of both the history and the science. There were many flavors of the paradigm.

    Interesting, originally Darwinism predicted it would all be functional, now “junk DNA” is used as evidence of Darwinism. It just goes to show the limited predictive power of Darwinism.

  12. “Interesting, originally Darwinism predicted it would all be functional, now “junk DNA” is used as evidence of Darwinism. It just goes to show the limited predictive power of Darwinism.” –jehu

    The correct inference from how things have played out with junk DNA thus far, IMHO, would be that even evolutionary biologists themselves don’t always know exactly what it is that their theory *actually* predicts about a given aspect of life. This is both due to limitations in factual knowledge about biological systems and sloppy thinking.

  13. Interesting how the review branded Michael Behe as a creationist or that ID is creationism.

    Part of the meme.

  14. I’m not a scientist, so take my comments for what they’re worth. And maybe someone else more knowledgeable could correct me on this if I’m wrong. But doesn’t it seem like the presence of junk DNA–if it somehow could actually be proven to be such–would still not necessarily be a slam dunk against design? Because if you have some sort of front-loading or initial perfection plus genetic entropy, then chances are good that some of the algorithms are going to get gunked up over time. Especially when you have a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy…

    Try that with a document in a photocopier, and it’s inevitable that the nth generation of the copy is going to have some “junk,” while some of the original information might still make it through albeit distorted. Perhaps eventually it will become unrecognizable and take on some other form; mabye become some sort of Rorschach ink-blot looking thing within which you could–with some imagination–see pictures. But that doesn’t mean that the original document wasn’t designed or that it didn’t have useful information in it. Or that the Rorschach picture that it turned into was what was originally intended, or that it is in any way superior to the original (probably far, far worse than the original, for instance if it started out as a printed text of a Shakespare sonnet and ended up a blotchy picture that you could imagine looks something like a cow, it would have turned into something else indeed, but would not have gained any information that is of a more advanced nature than its original form).

  15. Well, won’t this be a thorn for materialists. What was the proof for this being “junk” dna anyways? Why weren’t scientists up in arms about this long before?

    Also, I don’t believe every ID proponent believes in inreducible complexity. However, I think most ID proponents would state that a designer has a usage for a ll his design. This presupposition is far more beneficial to biology than either IC or junk. And, I think this is also one of the strongest arguments- a guidance seems quite evident in evolution- such as convergant evolution.

  16. jb,

    I am not a scientist either but had a fair amount of science in college and grad school. The evidence points to lots of ways to add to the genome with meaningless junk but this is part of the natural process and in no way invalidates design.

    Part of the design could have been the ability to adapt within certain limits and the various ways to modify the genome may have been part of this design. So in fact some of the “junk DNA” will end up as “junk” and be perfectly natural and result from how organisms have been designed. Genomes modify themselves quite frequently.

    What ID is saying is that the creation of this junk has rarely if ever provided a new function of any meaningful difference to an organism. NDE is saying that it is doing this all the time but have yet to point to anything definite. They have lots of maybes, models, just so stories but no definites. Usually they point to hemoglobiin as an example of gene duplication at work.

    Another thing that Darwinism does not predict but which is common, is wide variation on hundreds if not thousands of alleles within a species. NDE would predict most of these should disappear by NS or genetic drift over time but it does not seem to be the case. Some have described this as a major problem for NDE, namely the persistence of wide variations within a species. What is the origin of all the variations and why didn’t they get filtered out.

  17. “NDE would predict most of these should disappear by NS or genetic drift over time but it does not seem to be the case.” –jerry

    Jerry, you correct that it is predicted via NDE/population genetics that, in the majority of cases, any *particular variant* would disappear given enough time if it is not positively selected for. However, new variants are always arising in the population through mutation. It is a birth-death process where, overall, the population maintains a certain level of variable loci and this level is proportional to its size, mutation rate, and demographic history.

  18. May I suggest a positive design-theoretic research program?

    I just came back from Behe’s book signing. An offhand observation in his book, that it is possible for some random mutation to undo another random mutation, led me to think of this: reverse engineering of the original genome of, say, the E. Coli bacterium.

    This project would aim to undo the effects of Darwinian evolution, and seek to restore the genome of whatever creature under consideration to its original state.

    Clearly, this research program makes no sense from within the Darwinian paradigm, since, obviously, from the Darwinian paradigm, the original genome of any creature is no genome at all. A reduction to the absurd, to be sure.

    Interesting questions, similar to the problem of restoring ancient texts (how to detect random insertions, deletions, single letter changes, &c.), would undoubtely crop up, but these promise to be interesting and fruitful issues of study.

  19. This makes sense from a design-theoretic framework because Darwinian processes destroy functioning systems, for the most part; the original systems, therefore, are of interest.

  20. jaredl, good idea.

  21. Whatever the truth, the results pose fresh puzzles about how genes work. “It would now take a very brave person to call non-coding DNA junk,” says Greally.

    See ‘ Junk’ DNA makes compulsive reading

  22. Wow, even the God-hating slashdot crowd have posted on this. All those die-hard ignoramases on there will find this interesting no doubt!

  23. “But how does the ID approach – too complex to have evolved, must be god – fair any better?”

    All good science and mathematics looks for the limits of the abilities of processes. Are the laws of thermodynamics science-stoppers? Of course not. They simply point out areas where investigation will not likely produce good results. This has been a huge boon for science.

    Likewise, pointing out that certain things in nature require information helps scientists look in appropriate rather than inappropriate directions for solutions. Rather than searching for non-teleological mechanism (like RMNS), perhaps they should be searching for teleological solutions, like non-random mutation. Behe’s goal is to take a step towards understanding where the line between teleological/non-teleological explanations lie, so we can evaluate whether a non-teleological explanation is likely the case.

    What if you could say, for example, “on the basis of irreducible complexity, we can deduce that there is a higher-order mutational pattern occurring in the genome to generate this modification.” Then the search commences for what that higher-order pattern and mechanism is.

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