Review Of Probability’s Nature And Nature’s Probability – Lite, by Donald Johnson
Zoologist Richard Dawkins has historically used the concept of ‘junk DNA’- those apparently useless portions of genomes- to lead the charge against the creationists’ position of purpose in nature. His view on the matter is quite simple: “creationists might spend some earnest time speculating on why the Creator should bother to litter genomes with untranslated pseudogenes and junk tandem repeat DNA”. In light of what we now know about DNA, Dawkins’ should spend some earnest time reviewing whether his littered genomes are so littered after all. In fact the term ‘junk DNA’ is now seen by many an expert as somewhat of a misnomer since much of what was originally categorized as such has turned out to be pivotal for DNA stability and the regulation of gene expression. In his book Nature’s Probability And Probability’s Nature author Donald Johnson has done us all a service by bringing these points to the fore. He further notes that since junk DNA would put an unnecessary energetic burden on cells during the process of replication, it stands to reason that it would more likely be eliminated through selective pressures. That is, if the Darwinian account of life is to be believed. “It would make sense” Johnson writes “that those useless nucleotides would be removed from the genome long before they had a chance to form something with a selective advantage….there would be no advantage in directing energy to useless structures”.
Johnson’s seemingly unstoppable siege on Darwinian orthodoxy is both well researched and freshly captivating. At the risk of unjustly losing credibility, several distinguished scientists have carried the baton of dissent against the received wisdom of modern day Darwinists. Those who have stayed abreast of the Intelligent Design (ID) claims need no reminding of the powerful arguments presented in their own counter-offensive, particularly regarding the fossil record. Johnson’s recapitulation of the Cambrian explosion and the trilobite high acuity visual system at the base of the Cambrian leave the reader wondering why the inclusion of ID has in recent years been so fiercely opposed by those in the biological sciences who carry reputational clout.
It turns out that much of the ‘science’ buttressing the anti-ID rhetoric is supportive of the very position it claims to counter- that of intelligent design. Computer simulations and genetic algorithms that purport to simulate the process of evolution do nothing of the sort, slipping in acts of intelligent agency at every turn. Summarizing the status quo, Johnson notes for example how AVIDA uses “an unrealistically small genome, an unrealistically high mutation rate, unrealistic protection of replication instructions, unrealistic energy rewards and no capability for graceful function degradation. It allows for arbitrary experimenter-specified selective advantages”. Not faring any better, the ME THINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL algorithm is programmed to direct a sequence of letters towards a pre-specified target.
One never tires of reading about the irreducible complexity of the multi-component bacterial flagellum. And Johnson does not disappoint in his engaging overview of this showpiece of ID theory. The icing on the irreducible complexity “cake” appears in his further consideration of sexual reproduction and the integrated aspect of DNA and protein synthesis. The plethora of symbiotic relationships we find throughout nature also form part of Johnson’s inventory of examples as he moves the reader decisively to the conclusion that natural processes cannot generate novel genetic information.
What is the price we pay for refusing to bring ID into the science arena? Johnson’s summarization of philosopher of science Del Ratzch’s answer to this question is a call to rally: “any imposed policy of naturalism in science has the potential not only of eroding any self-correcting capability of science but of preventing science from reaching certain truths”. Johnson condemns those who refuse to evaluate the merits of scientific evidence on the basis of philosophical or theological commitments. Indeed the compatibility of ID with differing theological views does not negate the scientific validity of its arguments. “Obviously, ID proponents have the freedom of religion allowed by the country of residence” notes Johnson “but those beliefs should not detract from the scientific evidence”.
As Johnson details, the duplicity in standards of the anti-ID lobby was made plain in the charges brought against molecular biologist Richard Sternberg who was removed from office as editor of the Proceedings Of The Biological Society Of Washington after publishing an ID-friendly paper authored by philosopher Stephen Meyer even though Sternberg had faithfully followed the journal’s regulations for publication. Cases such as this show that while ID theorists are heavily criticized for not having peer-reviewed publications to support their position they and their entourage are vehemently censured whenever they do attempt to meet their critics’ demands. Johnson draws from an extensive list of quotes from reputable scientists and philosophers who have made known their dis-satisfaction with the blind beliefs of Darwinian ideology. The ‘knowledge stopper’ that is naturalistic evolution has today handcuffed these same scientists to the pillars of ‘majority rule’ even though invigorating alternatives such as those that invoke intelligent design meet the strictest demands for scientific rigor.
In the last chapter of his book Johnson reviews not only the probabilistic evidence in support of ID but also the uniformitarian nature of ID’s conclusions. Occam’s razor, neatly summarized by the mantra “The simplest solution is the best” provides us with a fruitful avenue for deciding which theories on the origins and existence of life should be open for discussion. Since many would argue that ID wins the Occam challenge, we can safely conclude that its rejection stems not from its lack of scientific merit but from underlying philosophical prejudices. As with all scientific theories, that of ID remains falsifiable. Johnson concedes that there is no privileged status that somehow locks ID away from disputation. Indeed if natural processes can be shown to produce the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, the rich diversity of living forms that appeared in the Cambrian and the increasing information-based complexity of life throughout our earth’s history, then the ‘necessity of design’ will have been given its marching orders. But until then ID theory can only serve to enrich the scientific landscape.