Home » 'Junk DNA' » Christian Darwinists talk around the slam-dunk “junk” DNA – Casy Luskin dissects

Christian Darwinists talk around the slam-dunk “junk” DNA – Casy Luskin dissects

Whatever your theology, notice the significance of the fact that self-identified Christians were shown to be wrong because they made a prediction against God’s design in nature. It’s one thing to be wrong. It’s another to be wrong for discreditable reasons.

Here at Evolution News & Views (June 1, 2011), Casey Luskin reviews Giberson and Collins’ The Language of Science and Faith, a book outlining Christian Darwinism, BioLogos-style. He focuses here on the Christian Darwinist contention that non-coding (“junk”) DNA shows that God didn’t design humans:

Francis Collins’ Junk DNA Arguments Pushed Into Increasingly Small Gaps in Scientific Knowledge

…In his 2006 book The Language of God, leading theistic evolutionist Francis Collins made such an argument, claiming that caspase-12 is a functionless pseudogene and asks, “why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such a nonfunctional gene in this precise location?”

[ ... ]

Such arguments are dangerous for those who make them, because they are based upon our lack of knowledge of these types of DNA. They amount to “evolution of the gaps” reasoning–because as we learn more and more about biology, we’re discovering more and more evidence of function for so-called “junk” DNA. The argument that much DNA is functionless junk, and thereby evidence for evolution, is relegated to gaps in our knowledge–gaps which are increasingly shrinking over time as science progresses.

But what if such DNA has function?

[ ... ]

Since writing The Language of God, Dr. Collins seems to have realized that it’s potentially dangerous and inaccurate to argue that much non-coding DNA is junk. More.

So now the Christian Darwinists will need other evidence of bad design instead, one supposes.

Here are our pieces on Collins backing away from the “junk DNA” concept. Here is our interview with embryologist Jonathan Wells, author of The Myth of Junk DNA. There he points out that an ID theorist predicted it wouldn’t be junk.

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17 Responses to Christian Darwinists talk around the slam-dunk “junk” DNA – Casy Luskin dissects

  1. Of related interest: new DI podcast

    “”Science Is an Established Church” Says Skeptic David Berlinski ”
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....4_36-07_00

  2. Sadly the Dr Berlinski interview/podcast is recycled from when The Devil’s Delusion was first published . . . I think.

  3. semi OT: IDquest recently posted a ‘dated’ talk that has not been posted before;

    Jonathan Wells – Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSSelSy5rPo

  4. I don’t understand the junk DNA argument. Even if there is junk DNA, even lots of it, that says nothing regarding ID’s veracity. ID claims that if there is any specified, complex information (not explicable by law and/or chance), then design is the default explanation for that system, or at least that part of the system.

    It’s like if you find a car part in the desert – It is full of sand in every nook, so you argue that it must not have been designed since the sand is explicable via natural means (wind/water eroding rock over millions of years, which forms the sand, then wind and gravity depositing it in the car part). Yes, that aspect of the part does not fall to the final rung of the explanatory filter (LAW-CHANCE-DESIGN), but if there is at least one aspect of the part that lands beyond the reach of law or chance, then it can be considered designed. A car part would probably have multiple instances of design-only parts, and a biological organism is littered with millions of them.

    Perhaps you could make a theological argument around “bad design” (“the designer must not be a perfect Creator”), which would be debatable but at least logically valid on its surface. The “Junk DNA = no ID” or “giraffe’s inefficient laryngeal nerve = no ID” arguments fail from the outset, regardless of the veracity of the first part of the assertion.

  5. uoflcard: From an evolutionary point of view the ‘junk’ DNA is an accumulation of broken genes, duplicates and other bits of flotsam and jetsam created when copying errors were made and passed on via the sperm or egg. (We all have billions of cells which came from earlier cells and lots of them will have copy errors but unless the error/mutation becomes malignant, like in cancer, they have little effect on us and are NOT inherited by our offspring.)

    I should mention as well endogenous retroviruses which are bits of DNA artificially introduced into our DNA by a virus (nasty things viruses) which can get put into the sperm or egg.

    Now, modern evolutionary theory expects there to be bits of junk, in fact it demands it. Complex life would not evolve without mutations, according to the theory. Some mutations are good (rare), some are neutral (probably less rare), some are disastrous (common?). Some of the neutral errors may later turn into benefits if those DNA segments mutate again into something positive but they could also turn into something bad.

    ID proponents object to biologist using the argument that “DNA has junk therefore it wasn’t designed because an intelligent designer wouldn’t put unnecessary junk in there”. One reason for objecting is that that is a theological argument: making inferences about the nature of the designer. ID proponents also point out that just because we don’t know it’s function doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And they will point to a number of sequences that were previously thought to be ‘junk’ now having been found to have a purpose. One prediction made by ID is that much/most/some of the ‘junk’ DNA will be found to have purpose. They also say that the ‘junk’ paradigm is damaging to science, discouraging research into possible functions of ‘junk’ DNA.

    Biologists will say in return: sure some sequences are now known to have a purpose but that’s still a small percent of what we said was rubbish. And how much did you say will be found to have function??

    And so it goes . . .

    Personally, I think there is real junk in the Human Genome. You and I may have widely different numbers of some sequences which couldn’t really have a function otherwise one of us would be much ‘fitter’ than the other. (I have to smile sometimes, in the UK someone being ‘fit’ means they’re good looking.)

    But that is just my opinion. Let’s see what other say.

    HTH

  6. ellazimm, the whole point is that IT IS a theological argument that neo-Darwinists are making. This is always the case, as was the case with the supposed 180 vestigial organs Darwinists use to claim as evidence. i.e. neo-Darwinists come across something that they (we) don’t fully understand, and therefore, before all the data is in, they declare it to be junk (vestigial) and therefore proof of neo-Darwinian evolution since God would not make so much junk (vestigial organs). Yet we now know after extensive investigation that the 180 ‘vestigial’ organs are essential after all!! ,,, neo-Darwinists never present positive empirical proof for ‘vertical’ evolution but always make bald assertions as to what God would or would not do!!! That is fine if you are arguing Theology, but that type of argumentation has absolutely no business being at the basis of a theory that, supposedly, is as well established as gravity!!!

    Science Owes Nothing To Darwinian Evolution – Jonathan Wells – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4028096

    Charles Darwin, Theologian: Major New Article on Darwin’s Use of Theology in the Origin of Species – May 2011
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....46391.html

    From Philosopher to Science Writer: The Dissemination of Evolutionary Thought – May 2011
    Excerpt: The powerful theory of evolution hangs on this framework of thought that mandates naturalism. The science is weak but the metaphysics are strong. This is the key to understanding evolutionary thought. The weak arguments are scientific and the strong arguments, though filled with empirical observation and scientific jargon, are metaphysical. The stronger the argument, the more theological or philosophical.
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....riter.html

  7. (6) ellazimm

    From an evolutionary point of view the ‘junk’ DNA is an accumulation of broken genes, duplicates and other bits of flotsam and jetsam created when copying errors were made and passed on via the sperm or egg.

    I understand how it is a prediciton of neo-Darwinian theory, but it is also predicted by any theory that accepts the fact that random mutation occurs. No sane ID advocate (that I know of) has asserted that random genetic mutation doesn’t happen. If you have even one random mutation event, it is quite probable that you have produced junk DNA at that moment.

    So if you believe the Earth and life are “old” and that random genetic mutation has been occuring the entire time, or even part of the time, you should expect there to be at least some junk DNA. Natural evolutionists do not have a monopoly on consequences of the existence of junk DNA. I know you did not say that in comment #6, but that is precisely what is implied by the “junk DNA = no ID” theory that is pushed by others. The existence of junk DNA says nothing regarding ID’s stance on the origin of the functional, specified, complex information in biology that we all agree exists. That was my only real point, which you did not seem to address.

    Allow me to summarize your fourth paragraph, where the omission is noteworthy. You said:

    ID propoents object to biologists using the argument that “DNA has junk therefore it wasn’t designed because an intelligent designer wouldn’t put unnecessary junk in there” …

    … because (perhaps in no particular order):

    1.) The biologists are making a theological argument.

    2.) Just because we don’t know its function doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one.

    3.) The “junk” paradigm is damaging to science.

    But you left out what I said which to me is more relevant to the debate of the veracity of ID than any of the other statments:

    4.) The existence of true junk DNA still says nothing about the possibility of evolving the funcitonal, specified complexity found in the rest of the genome.

    Again, see my analogy about a car part in the desert filled with sand. Okay, so the sand is naturally explicable, but what of the valves, springs, levers, conduits, chambers, etc.?

    As far as my thoughts about junk DNA…I’m not a biologist, I only wish I had become one. But I think I come out somewhere in the middle. I do think there is function and brilliance beyond what anyone comprehends yet, but I also would expect there to be some (and probably a lot of) junk since we know random mutations do, in fact, happen. If we discovered that there is very little junk DNA, that would be huge for ID, but that doesn’t mean that ID predicts it. That may be where most are getting confused.

    Also, I’m aware of the term “fit” meaning attractive in the UK. I’ll try to put that into our perspective…

    SURVIVAL OF THE SEXIEST

    …I would have to feel bad for high school biology teachers everywhere, regardless of my feelings about the theory.

  8. I don’t understand the junk DNA argument. Even if there is junk DNA, even lots of it, that says nothing regarding ID’s veracity.

    Those who employ the “junk” DNA argument doesn’t understand it either, so you’re not alone.

    There are two prongs to the junk DNA argument:

    1. Junk DNA established the fact of common descent.

    2. Junk DNA is inconsistent with a perfect God.

    But you’re right, neither of these speak to Intelligent Design.

    But since those who use this argument also insist, for rhetorical reasons, on equating ID with Young Earth Creationism, they fail to see any problem.

  9. ellazimm @5:

    Now, modern evolutionary theory expects there to be bits of junk, in fact it demands it.

    How much junk DNA per genome does modern evolutionary theory demand?

    Doesn’t modern evolutionary theory also expect there to be little or no junk DNA, since useless stuff ought be got rid of, according to evolutionary theory?

  10. uoflcard:

    “4.) The existence of true junk DNA still says nothing about the possibility of evolving the funcitonal, specified complexity found in the rest of the genome.”

    Yeah, I did leave that out. I didn’t think that issue had anything to do with trying to explain the views about junk DNA.

    Mung:

    “How much junk DNA per genome does modern evolutionary theory demand?”

    Just enough. :-) Sorry. I don’t think it predicts a certain level or amount. Mutations, etc occur randomly.

    “Doesn’t modern evolutionary theory also expect there to be little or no junk DNA, since useless stuff ought be got rid of, according to evolutionary theory?”

    Not that I’m aware of. The trouble is: stuff that isn’t negative isn’t selected against so it hangs about, disrupting the neighbourhood, taking up valuable resources, sometimes multiplying needlessly.

  11. Q. How much junk DNA per genome does modern evolutionary theory demand?

    A. Just enough.

    Not sure how seriously to take this. You did use a smiley.

    Darwinian evolution isn’t forward thinking. It has no concept of “just enough junk DNA to meet my future needs.”

    The trouble is: stuff that isn’t negative isn’t selected against so it hangs about, disrupting the neighbourhood, taking up valuable resources, sometimes multiplying needlessly.

    You don’t see the inherent self-contradiction? Maybe it’s bed time there. :)

    The point is, that to say that modern evolutionary theory demands junk DNA or no junk DNA, or a large amount of junk DNA or a small amount of junk DNA, is meaningless.

    Modern evolutionary theory tells us absolutely nothing useful about “junk DNA.” It’s utterly non-predictive about it.

    If a gene were to be duplicated, continue to function, gradually be modified to take on a new function, without ever becoming non-functional or “junk,” that would be just fine with modern evolutionary theory as well.

    No junk DNA required.

  12. Mung:

    “A. Just enough.

    Not sure how seriously to take this. You did use a smiley.”

    :-)

    “If a gene were to be duplicated, continue to function, gradually be modified to take on a new function, without ever becoming non-functional or “junk,” that would be just fine with modern evolutionary theory as well.”

    Exactly! Now you’re getting it!

    “No junk DNA required.”

    None required but it is expected. I’d say highly expected as most mutations are, as you’ve noted, not a good thing, fun thing or happy thing. But that doesn’t mean they kill you either.

  13. Mung: By the way, just had a thought . . .

    If biologists saying “The designer would not leave junk in the DNA” is a theological argument then . . .

    Is ID’s claim that some/much/most of the junk DNA will be found to have a purpose also a theological argument? It kind of says the same thing as the biologist, that the designer would not leave too much junk around.

    Interesting . . .

  14. Modern evolutionary theory doesn’t explain junk DNA, it doesn’t predict it, it doesn’t require or demand it.

    In fact, it seems to require just the opposite.

    …stuff that isn’t negative isn’t selected against so it hangs about, disrupting the neighbourhood, taking up valuable resources, sometimes multiplying needlessly.

    Now you’re getting it!

  15. According to the theory of Evolution, all life is descended from a common ancestor and the diversity of life forms we observe today is due primarily to natural selection acting on random genetic mutation.

    The existence of ‘Junk’ DNA is highly consistent with this theory.

    According to the theory of Intelligent Design, “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    Both the existence and the non-existence of ‘Junk’ DNA are consistent with this theory.

  16. Mung:

    “Modern evolutionary theory doesn’t explain junk DNA, it doesn’t predict it, it doesn’t require or demand it.

    In fact, it seems to require just the opposite.”

    Guess we’ll just have to disagree on that!

  17. Guess we’ll just have to disagree on that!

    Which part?

    Here’s a programming challenge for you.

    Modify a GA and introduces “junk DNA” into the genomes in the population. Let’s see how well it performs.

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