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Michael Denton on the deepening crisis in evolution theory

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Michael Denton 2 The crisis is typefied by one of Vince Torley’s posts here going viral during a whole week of splat Darwin news. It’s irrelevant that newsbots don’t report that. Read the dispatches yourself.

At Successful Student, Jake Akins recently interviewed Michael Denton, author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe —and possibly the first modern post-Darwinian. (Lynn Margulis would have been that if she’d dared, but her name lives for other reasons, including an intelligent account of symbiosis.)

We are told that Denton will publish a new book, following up on the previous two. In the interview, he also discusses his genetic eye research in India and the fitness of nature for life:

8. Q: Your retinal work has contributed to identifying several new disease genes, including a gene used in a successful gene-therapy trial at London’s Moorfields eye hospital. Would you elaborate a bit by explaining the nature of this gene-therapy trial and how it was successful?

A: The gene was identified in a family from the city of Bangalore. We collected the family in the early 90’s, and the gene was identified in the late 90’s. The gene happens to be RPE65 which is mumbo-jumbo of course to a non-geneticist but that’s just the way genes are named. It’s a gene which is involved in regenerating the visual pigment. In the eye, the critical act of seeing, involves the visual pigment which changes slightly when the photon hits it, then it has to be regenerated, and it’s regenerated in the so-called retinal epithelial cells in the back of the eye. So in other words, basically, the gene we found is involved in that act of regeneration of the visual pigment. It’s a gene that causes a severe form of retinal degeneration which causes severe visual disability from birth and rapidly progresses in early childhood leaving most patients with very limited vision by age ten. So it was one of these very severe forms of retinal genetic disease, which cries out for something like gene therapy. And the group in Moorfields happened to select this gene for the first gene therapy trial in the retinal disease area. It turned out to be just about the first successful gene therapy trial in any area of biology, and any area of medicine. What this involves is you put a good copy of the gene into a viral vector and then you actually inject billions of copies of the viral vector containing the good gene in it into the back of the eye, and it automatically incorporates itself into the DNA of the retinal epithelial cells and corrects the defect.

9. Q: In 1985 you wrote Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which is credited by Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe as being the genesis for their skepticism of Darwinian evolution. Phillip Johnson is considered the father of the Intelligent Design movement, and Michael Behe and yourself are Senior Fellows at the Discovery Institute. In this way it may be said that your book’s influence was instrumental in the founding of Intelligent Design. What are your thoughts concerning the influence you have had in the science of Intelligent Design? Did colleagues or other academic professionals treat you or your work any differently after writing this book? Do you have any thoughts on where science is going in the future?

A: Well, certainly as far as the critique of Darwinism is concerned I think the book was quite influential, and of course critiquing Darwinism is a major thrust of the whole ID movement. Because if you can’t account for adaptive complexity in term of the cumulative selection model of Darwin, then you really have got to turn to some design hypothesis. So although Evolution was basically a critique of Darwinism and not primarily an argument for design I think that in fact it did play some role in founding the Intelligent Design movement. There were other books though. There was a book on the origin of life by Charles Thaxton, Roger Olson, and Walter Bradley which is in fact actually still a very good book in this area. So, there were other books as well. But yes I think Evolution did play a role for sure.

What was the response of my academic colleagues to Evolution: A Theory in Crisis? Well, in medical circles it didn’t matter too much, because medics are not primarily interested in fundamental biology or evolution. Medicine is a pragmatic art. If it works you do it. It’s not so theory-bound, as academic biology. …

His new book?

Yes I wrote Evolution: a Theory in Crisis mainly to show that Darwinism cannot provide a coherent and convincing explanation for the origin or evolution of life. And I wrote Nature’s Destiny and I’m laboring now with Microcosm to show that the fitness paradigm predicts this failure, because important elements of life’s design are built into nature herself from the beginning. Obviously what arises lawfully from self-organizing processes in nature cannot be generated by or explained in terms of a contingent mechanism like cumulative selection. If nature has a hand in the origin of life and in directing the course of evolution then Darwinism will never provide a convincing explanation. There is bound to be something missing.

Put another way if the universe is uniquely fit for life and its becoming, then that means that there are natural laws, organizational principles, which are going to, for example, draw life from chemistry. And if they do exist and have played a part in the origin and evolution of life then you’ll never explain it in terms of Darwinism. Darwinism is all about little tiny adaptive changes, step by step. Darwinism isn’t saying life is lawful, it’s saying life is lucky. And so if in fact life is lawful, and built into nature, then its actualization is not just a matter of luck.
More.

Guy’ll never get troll insurance in this town.

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A 2009 interview with Denton:

6 Replies to “Michael Denton on the deepening crisis in evolution theory

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    I like Dr. Michael Denton’s answer to question 14 in the interview:

    Dr. Michael Denton Interview
    14. Q: ,,,you also detail that nature isn’t fine-tuned for just any kind of life, but life specifically like human life. Would you expound on this for our readers?
    A: there are certain elements of the fine-tuning which are clearly for advanced being like ourselves.
    We are warm-blooded, terrestrial aerobes; we use oxidation to get energy, we’re warm-blooded and we breathe air. We get our oxygen from the air. First of all, a warm-blooded organism needs to maintain a constant temperature. To do that we are massively assisted by the high specific heat of water, which buffers our body against rapid changes in temperature. In getting rid of excess heat, we utilize the evaporative cooling of water. That’s why dog’s pant, we sweat, etc. Warm-blooded organisms have to get rid of excess heat, and the evaporative cooling of water is the only way you’ve really got to get rid of heat when the temperature reaches close to body temperature. When it’s hot you can’t radiate off body heat to the environment.
    These critical thermal properties are obviously of great utility to air breathing, warm-blooded organisms like our self. But what relevance do they have to an extremophile living in the deep ocean, or a cold-blooded fish living in the sea? It’s obvious that these are elements of fitness in nature which seem to be of great and specific utility to beings like us, and very little utility to a lot of other organisms. Of course it is the case that they are playing a role in maintaining the constancy of global climate, the physical and chemical constancy of the hydrosphere and so forth. No doubt the evaporative cooling of water plays a big role in climatic amelioration; it transfers heat from the tropics to the higher latitudes and this is of utility for all life on earth. But definitely water’s thermal properties seem particularly fit for advanced organisms of biology close to our own.
    And even the freezing of water from the top down rather than the bottom up, which conserves large bodies of fresh water on the earth, is again relevant to large organisms. Bacterial cells can withstand quite well periodically freezing. And for unicellular organisms living in the hot sub surface rocks its pretty well irrelevant. In other words the top down freezing and the consequent preservation of liquid water is of much more utility for a large organism, but of far less relevance for microbial life.
    Or consider the generation and utilization of oxygen. We use oxygen, but many organisms don’t use oxygen; for a lot of organisms it’s a poison. So how do we get our oxygen? When we look at the conditions in the universe for photosynthesis, we find a magical collusion between of all sorts of different elements of fitness. First of all the atmospheric gases let through visual light which has got the right energy for biochemistry, for photosynthesis. And what are the gases in the atmosphere that let through the light? Well, carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen, and nitrogen. And what are the basic reactants which are involved in photosynthesis? Well, oxygen, water, and CO2. The same compounds that let through the light are also the main ‘players’ in photosynthesis.
    And then you might wonder what about the harmful radiations? UV, Gamma rays, microwaves? Well to begin with the sun only puts out most of its electromagnetic radian energy in the visual region (light) and near infrared (heat) and puts out very little in the dangerous regions (UV’s, gamma rays, X-rays etc.). And wonder on wonder, the atmospheric gases absorb all these harmful radiations. And so on and on and on, one anthropocentric biofriendly coincidence after another. And what provides the necessary warmth for photosynthesis, indeed for all life on earth. What keeps the average temperature of the earth above freezing? Well water vapor and carbon dioxide. If it wasn’t for water vapor and CO2 in the atmosphere the temperature of the earth would be -33 centigrade.
    Now when you consider all these factors necessary for the generation of oxygen via photosynthesis knowing that not all organisms use oxygen implying that all these coincidences are irrelevant to the vast majority of all species (most of the biomass on the planet may well be anaerobic unicellular life occupying the hot deep biosphere in the sub surface rocks) never use oxygen, its clear that the special fitness of nature for oxygen utilization is for us.
    http://successfulstudent.org/d.....interview/

    Of supplemental note, here is a peer-reviewed paper along the same thesis:

    The Place of Life and Man in Nature: Defending the Anthropocentric Thesis – Michael J. Denton – February 25, 2013
    Summary (page 11)
    Many of the properties of the key members of Henderson’s vital ensemble —water, oxygen, CO2, HCO3 —are in several instances fit specifically for warm-blooded, air-breathing organisms such as ourselves. These include the thermal properties of water, its low viscosity, the gaseous nature of oxygen and CO2 at ambient temperatures, the inertness of oxygen at ambient temperatures, and the bicarbonate buffer, with its anomalous pKa value and the elegant means of acid-base regulation it provides for air-breathing organisms. Some of their properties are irrelevant to other classes of organisms or even maladaptive.
    It is very hard to believe there could be a similar suite of fitness for advanced carbon-based life forms. If carbon-based life is all there is, as seems likely, then the design of any active complex terrestrial being would have to closely resemble our own. Indeed the suite of properties of water, oxygen, and CO2 together impose such severe constraints on the design and functioning of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems that their design, even down to the details of capillary and alveolar structure can be inferred from first principles. For complex beings of high metabolic rate, the designs actualized in complex Terran forms are all that can be. There are no alternative physiological designs in the domain of carbon-based life that can achieve the high metabolic activity manifest in man and other higher organisms.
    http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/.....O-C.2013.1

    And a talk along the same thesis:

    “Dr. Michael Denton on Evidence of Fine-Tuning in the Universe” (Remarkable balance of various key elements for life) – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....3_59-07_00

  2. 2

    Wow … this post and the full interview as linked to at http://successfulstudent.org/d.....interview/ are absolute must reads. Thanks “news” and UD for sharing this.

  3. 3
    Joe says:

    And if there arern’t any natural laws nor organizational principles that can draw life from chemistry, then what?

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Study of complete RNA collection of fruit fly uncovers unprecedented complexity – March 17, 2014
    Excerpt: Scientists from Indiana University are part of a consortium that has described the transcriptome of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster in unprecedented detail, identifying thousands of new genes, transcripts and proteins.
    In the new work, published Sunday in the journal Nature, scientists studied the transcriptome — the complete collection of RNAs produced by a genome — at different stages of development, in diverse tissues, in cells growing in culture, and in flies stressed by environmental contaminants. To do so, they used contemporary sequencing technology to sequence all of the expressed RNAs in greater detail than ever before possible.
    The paper shows that the Drosophila genome is far more complex than previously suspected and suggests that the same will be true of the genomes of other higher organisms. The paper also reports a number of novel, particular results:,,, “splicing factors” (proteins that control the maturation of RNAs by splicing) are themselves spliced in complex ways; and that the Drosophila transcriptome undergoes large and interesting changes in response to environmental stresses.,,,
    “As usual in science, we’ve answered a number of questions and raised even more. For example, we identified 1,468 new genes, of which 536 were found to reside in previously uncharacterized gene-free zones.”
    “We think these results could influence gene regulation research in all animals,”,,,
    An example they pointed to was the perturbation experiments that identified new genes and transcripts. New genes were identified in experiments where adults were challenged with heat shock, cold shock, exposure to heavy metals, the drug caffeine and the herbicide paraquat, while larvae were treated with heavy metals, caffeine, ethanol or the insecticide rotenone.
    Those environmental stresses resulted in small changes in expression level at thousands of genes; and in one treatment, four newly modeled genes were expressed altogether differently. In total, 5,249 transcript models for 811 genes were revealed only under perturbed conditions.
    http://news.indiana.edu/releas.....ered.shtml

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    Read the links. I was a inmate of sick kids for eye troubles. He worked there.
    He said good things, bad things in the interview.
    I like his insistence on how complexity is so contained that its unlikely to have come by chance.
    i don’t think sight for us iS in our eyes. I think its our soul reading a memory of what our eyeballs witness.
    The hand is not faster then the eye but faster then the repeat recording of what the eye saw.
    Gene research unravels the atomic structure of things but not the structure of sight. It seems one must bypass the eyeball somehow to fix people like me.

  6. 6
    Eric Anderson says:

    Sounds like some great work by Michael Denton and colleagues. Congratulations are in order.

    One nit:

    It’s a gene that causes a severe form of retinal degeneration which causes severe visual disability from birth and rapidly progresses in early childhood leaving most patients with very limited vision by age ten.

    No, it isn’t a gene that causes X. It is a gene that is important to the process of retinal epithelial regeneration, and when the gene is broken, the regeneration process doesn’t work properly.

    I know it is a technical point, but I tire of researchers and news bytes about scientists having discovered the “gene” for this or that disease. Generally, there aren’t genes for this or that disease. It makes it sound like there is a gene that is affirmatively created to go around doing bad stuff. If we keep the language a little clearer — that genes are required for proper function and that a breakdown/mutation in those genes can prevent proper function — then we not only keep our eye on the ball from a genetic engineering standpoint, but we don’t forget that the alleged mutation/evolutionary process is almost always a destroyer, not a creator.

    —–

    BTW, I looked at the page with the full interview. What is it about writers of web pages that keeps them from putting a date on the page? One of the most annoying things about many articles on the web, including many from major news organizations, is the failure to include a date. Or geniuses sometimes include just the month and day. Then a couple of years later the reader has idea which year it was written.

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