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Jonathan Wells at Evolution News & Views on the recent revolution in biology

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Here:

But Darwin did not know the mechanism of heredity or the origin of novel variations, so his theory was seriously incomplete. After 1900, Mendelian genetics seemed to remedy the first deficiency, and after 1953 DNA mutations seemed to remedy the second. The resulting Modern Synthesis combined Darwin’s theory with the idea that organismal development is controlled by a genetic program written in DNA sequences, and that DNA mutations can change the program to generate the raw materials of evolution. According to molecular biologist Jacques Monod, “with that, and the understanding of the random physical basis of mutation that molecular biology has also provided, the mechanism of Darwinism is at last securely founded. And man has to understand that he is a mere accident.” (Quoted in Horace Freeland Judson’s 1979 book, The Eighth Day of Creation, p. 217.)

So in the context of Darwinian evolution and molecular biology, many biologists tend to regard the living organism as a special kind of machine — that is, a computer, in which DNA sequences are the software. As Bill Gates put it in 1995, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” In both the technical and popular literature, phrases such as “genetic program” and “DNA blueprint” have become commonplace. Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, wrote in his 2006 book The Language of God that DNA is an “amazing script, carrying within it all of the instructions for building a human being.” (p. 2)

Yet combining Darwinian evolution with the notion of a genetic program leads to a paradox. Computers and computer programs (like machines in general) are made by intelligent agents, namely, human beings. Not surprisingly, proponents of intelligent design (ID) have argued that machine- and code-like aspects of living things point to the very design that Darwinian evolution tries to exclude. Thus Michael Behe points to a molecular machine, the bacterial flagellum, which does not function unless several dozen parts are already in place — a feature characteristic of intelligent design. And Stephen Meyer points to complex and highly specified DNA sequences, which like computer software cannot arise by chance but point to an intelligent designer. More.

Don’t expect the old guard to get it, whatever they claim their faith to be. They “know” they are machines.

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7 Replies to “Jonathan Wells at Evolution News & Views on the recent revolution in biology

  1. 1
    tintinnid says:

    But Darwin did not know the mechanism of heredity or the origin of novel variations, so his theory was seriously incomplete.

    Finally, someone acknowledges that modern evolutionary theory should not be referred to as Darwinism?

    So in the context of Darwinian evolution

    I guess I spoke too soon. Seems like an inconsistency in logic here. At one point he admits that Darwin’s theory was seriously incomplete, which no biologist would disagree with, and then he goes on to critique Darwinian evolution. But that is not the only logical inconsistency here.

    Computers and computer programs (like machines in general) are made by intelligent agents, namely, human beings. Not surprisingly, proponents of intelligent design (ID) have argued that machine- and code-like aspects of living things point to the very design that Darwinian evolution tries to exclude.

    Just because something can be made by man does not mean that all occurrences in nature must have an intelligent origin. Humans can make diamonds, but not all diamonds are of intelligent origin. Humans can assemble thousands (if not millions) of chemical compounds, many of which are also found in nature, and even in space.

    Just because DNA carries information does not mean that it must be of intelligent origin.

  2. 2
    ppolish says:

    The “Modern Synthesis” is even MORE bogus than the original. Calling a NeoDarwinist a Darwinist is a compliment sheesh.

  3. 3
    Jon Garvey says:

    According to molecular biologist Jacques Monod, “with that, and the understanding of the random physical basis of mutation that molecular biology has also provided, the mechanism of Darwinism is at last securely founded.

    So Jacques Monod is one of those IDots who never realised that the Modern Synthesis makes the word “Darwinian” obsolete. Sheesh! He even mistakes the theory for the pejorative “Darwinism”, and thinks modern biology confirms that.

    Well, with that established I won’t bother to read the whole article by this stupid guy … what’s his name again? Yeah, “Monod”.

  4. 4
    ciphertext says:

    Just because something can be made by man does not mean that all occurrences in nature must have an intelligent origin. Humans can make diamonds, but not all diamonds are of intelligent origin. Humans can assemble thousands (if not millions) of chemical compounds, many of which are also found in nature, and even in space.

    Just because DNA carries information does not mean that it must be of intelligent origin.

    I agree with you that because something can be made by man does not mean that all occurrences in nature must have an intelligent origin. However, I don’t believe that is the argument being made by the passage you quoted.

    The truth of your statement hinges on two words, something and all. Something is a very specific instance. It does not have the same meaning as either everything, or anything for instance. Similarly, all carries with it the meaning of a selection in totality. There are no partials, meaning it is wholly complete.

    Your statement is true in instances where “something” refers to items such as diamonds (chemically anyway, or rough), certain kinds of chemical compounds (e.g. sulfuric acid, water molecules, hydrochloric acid, carbon dioxide gas, etc…), and charcoal. A naturally (non-manmade) occurring instance of each of the entities substituted for “something” can be found. I use “occurrence” rather than “made” because “occurrence” doesn’t connote the same degree of processing that “made” typically describes (made implies a purpose in some instances).

    However, the examples in the passage in which you quote (i.e. computers, computer programs, machines) have not been observed to occur naturally. I’ve not found any evidence or observation to date that would cause me to question that proposition (no naturally occurring computers, computer programs, or machines).

    Regarding your last statement “…just because DNA carries information…”; you introduce a topic that wasn’t discussed in the OP, however it is discussed in the piece to which the OP linked. In order to refute the ID proposition you would have to define information in such a manner as it could occur naturally. At which point, I believe that your definition would be sufficiently broad as to be useless as anything other than a category descriptor. A definition such as “matter” or “formula” or “compound” would be analogous in my opinion. In any case, it wouldn’t be the same definition (as I understand it) of information as is used in the ID propositions.

    In your statement, “information”, as you have used it is strikingly similar to the something you have used in an earlier statement. It is the specific instance of an entity. For the sake of argument, I’m going to define that entity as “What is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things”. I don’t know if that is the definition that you had in mind. As you illustrated in an earlier statement, what we substitute for “what is being conveyed or represented” (similarly to something) changes the truth value of your proposition. I would like to point out though, that the definition of information to which I linked is not the same definition as is used by the ID proponents.

    Using the definition to which I linked, you are left with a very general and mostly useless concept. It is really nothing more than a category descriptor. It would be possible to say that a beach, for instance, is what is represented by the arrangement of sand near a body of water. It would also be possible to say that a sand castle is what is represented by the arrangement of sand near a body of water, and still fall under the umbrella of that definition of information. Using that same definition, DNA, itself would be what is represented by the sequence of proteins. Similarly, computers, computer programs, and machines are what is represented by the sequence of matter.

    The definition of information being used by the ID proponents is a much more specialized version of the definition to which I linked. I think, that the ID proponents sometimes use the word “information” to refer to the more specialized type (as shorthand ) though I see evidence that they are being more careful to label (i.e. FSCo/I) their references more and more.

    It is at this level of definition of information (in my mind more correctly identified as a very specialized type of information), that the DNA molecule is recognized as belonging to a definition of information that here-to-for has exhibited (or has been observed to exhibit) no naturally occurring instance.

  5. 5
    tjguy says:

    Tin says:

    Just because DNA carries information does not mean that it must be of intelligent origin.

    Well, perhaps you are right, depending on how you define information, but it certainly would seem like posing an intelligent origin for information makes the most sense. It would seem like it should be the default hypothesis.

    And it would seem, based on what we know about information and it’s origin, that the onus would be on you to show that the volumes and volumes of complex specified information that exist in the cell did NOT come from an intelligent source.

    We are still awaiting experimental evidence that natural processes can do what you claim they did!

  6. 6
    tintinnid says:

    However, the examples in the passage in which you quote (i.e. computers, computer programs, machines) have not been observed to occur naturally. I’ve not found any evidence or observation to date that would cause me to question that proposition (no naturally occurring computers, computer programs, or machines).

    Hmmm, are there any naturally occurring computers? I wonder what people think about this. Maybe that word think might give you a clue. At present there are approximately 6,000,000,000 highly functional and effective natural computers in the world. And I have not even mentioned the many billions more that exist in non-human computer cases.

  7. 7
    ciphertext says:

    @6 tintinnid

    You make a point, though, likely not for the reason you think.

    Up to and until shortly after WW2, the term “computer” was used to refer to individuals. Specifically individuals that would perform the calculations needed by commerce or government. Indeed, it wasn’t until after WW2, when commercial entities began creating analog, and later digital, “computers” that the moniker achieved a new meaning.

    So I grant you that a person could be conceived of, as a computer, at least by one definition. I don’t believe, however, that is the definition of “computer” to which Dr. Wells is referring. I’m fairly certain he is referring to the digital (currently) variety of computing devices. Though I would find an analog computing device to be a decent substitute (e.g. lever action adding machine, abacus, German or Polish BOM from WW2)

    So, with respect to the quoted piece, I’m fairly certain that there are no naturally occurring computers.

    However, I don’t believe that granting humans (or non-human organisms) are computers helps your case (presumably against ID theory). In so doing, you are ceding that humans are both complex and specified, and (without an unreasonable stretch) similar in function (and construct in some respects) to entities that heretofore have only been manufactured by humans. Which, to my knowledge is the resultant conclusion of the line of reasoning employed by ID theorists.

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