Intelligent Design

K´necting The Dots: Modeling Functional Integration In Biological Systems

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In 2001 Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson and Paul Chien wrote a lengthy discourse that explored the scientific challenges that the Cambrian Explosion of life poses to the Darwinian account of animal origins (1).  Central  to their arguments was the idea that biological processes in the organismic context are so tightly integrated that changes in one process invariably require compensatory changes elsewhere (1).  Their illustration of this basic premise seemed intuitive enough:

 “If an engineer modifies the length of the piston rods in an internal combustion engine, but does not modify the crankshaft accordingly, the engine won’t start.  Similarly, processes of development are so tightly integrated temporally and spatially that one change early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream” (1)

Drawing from examples cited in the biological literature and comments made by opinion leaders, notably geneticist John McDonald and zoologist Soren Løvtrup, the verdict they arrived at was that ”those genes which govern major changes, the very stuff of macroevolution, apparently do not vary, or vary only to the detriment of the organism” (1).  In an effort to model the tight integration of biological processes my sons and I teamed up to assemble a functional multi-component machine better known as the K’Nex Drop-N-Swing.  Not only did we successfully demonstrate how the operability of the ‘Drop-N-Swing’ mechanism was dependent upon the components having precisely the spatial dimensions that they display but we also showed how adjustments to any one of these required concordant adjustments elsewhere in the machine.

The layout of the Drop-N-Swing resembles the sky drop and swing carousel rides one finds in modern amusement parks (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udr-RxcnUFU).  On one side a centrally-located motor drives a series of four sequential gears each of which has just enough gear teeth to crank a chain-linked chair lift up a two foot-tall tower.  Because a defined portion of the circumference of the largest gear lacks teeth and can therefore not crank up any weight, the chair drops down immediately upon reaching the top of the tower.  This ‘rise and fall’ cycle is made possible through 86 chain links that form a closed chain circuit around two sprockets located at the bottom and top of the tower.  The bottom sprocket is connected to the gear system that consequently turns the chain and causes it to lift up the chair.   

As my sons toyed around with the Drop-N-Swing they found that they were unable to decrease the chain length and tower height without cutting down on the number of gear teeth.  That is, if they were to maintain the rise and fall capabilities of the chair lift, concordant adjustments were needed at more than one location (otherwise the chair would get irreversibly stuck on the top sprocket).  Even the tower height could not be facilely altered since the repeating unit of the tower struts did not correspond to an integral number of chain links.

Newsworthy cases in biology testify to the underlying charge brought by Meyer et al that major evo-morphing of structure and anatomy could not have been brought about through random piecemeal changes to already-extant body plans.  Famously Nobel Prize winning biologist Ed Lewis elucidated crucial details about the genetics of embryonic patterning in fruit flies (2-4).  Focusing on a group of genes known collectively amongst drosophila geneticists as the Bithorax Complex, Lewis built on the pioneering work of his predecessors who had identified homeotic (developmental patterning) mutants in the Bithorax gene that produced insects with an extra pair of wings (2-4).  These appeared appended to the front portion of sophisticated flight balance-mediating organs called halteres situated on either side of the flies  (2-4).  The Bithorax mutant broke thorassic segment identities (ie one segment was replaced by another).  But most importantly the mutant larva died early in development (2). 

Meyer et al note how this additional wing pair “innovation” was viably unsustainable for the largely self evident reason that “the developmental mutation was not accompanied by the many other coordinated developmental changes that would have been necessary to ensure the production of the appropriate muscles at the appropriate place on the fly’s body” (1).  Renowned Cambridge developmental biologist Peter Lawrence made his position clear in a review of the overall findings of homeotic mutation research:

“Homeotic mutations are encouraging because they raise the clarifying prospect of a class of controlling genes responsible for large chunks of the body pattern.  They also impress because the mutations produce massive anatomical transformations; it was even thought such mutations could allow the sudden generation of new animal groups during evolution – an idea that looks increasingly implausible (individuals produced by such mutations are very unfit!).” (4)

One cannot help but acknowledge the futility of a story that claims that evolution could have brought about beneficial large scale changes to body plan architecture.  The evidence speaks for itself.  And simple attempts at modeling do nothing less than support the science. 

DropNSwing

Further Reading

  1. Stephen C. Meyer, Paul A. Nelson, and Paul Chien (2001) The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang, See http://www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/Cambrian.pdf, p.36,  This article also appears in the peer-reviewed volume Darwinism, Design, and Public Education published with Michigan State University Press
  2. Vidyanand Nanjundiah (1996) The 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Resonance, http://www.ias.ac.in/resonance/Mar1996/pdf/Mar1996ResearchNews.pdf
  3. Stephen Jay Gould (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.1096
  4. Peter Lawrence (1992), The Making of a Fly- The Genetics Of Animal Design, Blackwell Scientific Publications, London, p.211

7 Replies to “K´necting The Dots: Modeling Functional Integration In Biological Systems

  1. 1
    Phaedros says:

    I really enjoyed Soren Lovtrup’s, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth.

    http://www.amazon.com/Darwinis.....038;sr=1-2

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Robert Deyes, Thanks for posting this; You have clearly illustrated a point that Dr. Sanford briefly brought out in his book “Genetic Entropy”. Though not as clear as your example, here is a site and video that gives an example of what Dr. Sanford terms Poly-Functional equals Poly-Contrained:

    Poly-Functional Complexity equals Poly-Constrained Complexity
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?doc.....Zmd2emZncQ

    DNA – Evolution Vs. Polyfuctionality – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4614519

    further note:

    John Sanford, a leading expert in Genetics, comments on some of the stunning poly-functional complexity found in the genome:

    “There is abundant evidence that most DNA sequences are poly-functional, and therefore are poly-constrained. This fact has been extensively demonstrated by Trifonov (1989). For example, most human coding sequences encode for two different RNAs, read in opposite directions i.e. Both DNA strands are transcribed ( Yelin et al., 2003). Some sequences encode for different proteins depending on where translation is initiated and where the reading frame begins (i.e. read-through proteins). Some sequences encode for different proteins based upon alternate mRNA splicing. Some sequences serve simultaneously for protein-encoding and also serve as internal transcriptional promoters. Some sequences encode for both a protein coding, and a protein-binding region. Alu elements and origins-of-replication can be found within functional promoters and within exons. Basically all DNA sequences are constrained by isochore requirements (regional GC content), “word” content (species-specific profiles of di-, tri-, and tetra-nucleotide frequencies), and nucleosome binding sites (i.e. All DNA must condense). Selective condensation is clearly implicated in gene regulation, and selective nucleosome binding is controlled by specific DNA sequence patterns – which must permeate the entire genome. Lastly, probably all sequences do what they do, even as they also affect general spacing and DNA-folding/architecture – which is clearly sequence dependent. To explain the incredible amount of information which must somehow be packed into the genome (given that extreme complexity of life), we really have to assume that there are even higher levels of organization and information encrypted within the genome. For example, there is another whole level of organization at the epigenetic level (Gibbs 2003). There also appears to be extensive sequence dependent three-dimensional organization within chromosomes and the whole nucleus (Manuelides, 1990; Gardiner, 1995; Flam, 1994). Trifonov (1989), has shown that probably all DNA sequences in the genome encrypt multiple “codes” (up to 12 codes). (Dr. John Sanford; Genetic Entropy 2005)

  3. 3
    GilDodgen says:

    If an engineer modifies the length of the piston rods in an internal combustion engine, but does not modify the crankshaft accordingly, the engine won’t start. Similarly, processes of development are so tightly integrated temporally and spatially that one change early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream

    This is so transparently obvious that I am mystified by the fact that Darwinists can’t see it. Apparently, their basic reasoning powers have been anesthetized, chloroformed by Darwinian ideology.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    slightly off topic, hot off the press:

    Flagellum Replaces Parts on the Fly
    Excerpt: A new study appears to show that the bacterial flagellum, a molecular rotary motor that has become iconic of the intelligent design movement, can repair parts of its rotor while it is rotating.,,, Previous studies had shown that parts of the stationary part (stator) could be replaced while the flagellum was in operation, but the rotor? “Turnover of a component of the rotor is even more surprising than stator turnover, given that it was previously known that the number of stator complexes can change while the motor is running,” the Oxford scientists said.,,,
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100612a

    Bacterial Flagellum – A Sheer Wonder Of Intelligent Design – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994630

  5. 5
    veilsofmaya says:

    Robert wrote:

    In an effort to model the tight integration of biological processes my sons and I teamed up to assemble a functional multi-component machine better known as the K’Nex Drop-N-Swing.

    The problem with this analogy is the presupposition that that biological systems were purposely designed to function as whole to perform a specific purpose, as the human designed K’Nex Drop-N-Swing is. In fact, as a puzzle of sorts, part of the fun is the challenge of putting all of the parts in just the right place before it will actually function. In other words, it’s intentionally designed NOT to work under the conditions you described.

    We can say the same about a car engine, which is intended to operate in a controlled environment and perform a specific function.

    Engine parts are specifically designed to operate within limited tolerances brought about by wear. Flexibility beyond these limits is intentionally omitted as the designer does not expect a crankshaft to spontaneously become longer or a piston diameter to become significantly greater. As such, engine designers intentionally exploit these expectations by building in dependencies as part of their design.

    So, it’s no surprise that your examples stopped functioning as they were varied beyond tolerances which they were intentionally designed not to operate under.

    Engines could be build that would accept the kinds of variances you described, but we do not build them as the cost and complexity are prohibitive. Again, variances are not expected unless due to catastrophic failure, so designing in support for such changes is both unnecessary and costly.

    Since engines do not reproduce, grow and mature, the flexibility required for this process is absent. Instead, they are assembled in their final intended form using high precision tools.

    So, it seems both of these analogies fails on multiple levels as they presuppose design in human design traits in biological systems.

  6. 6
    Phaedros says:

    Veils-

    whether or not they were designed for a specific purpose has no bearing on the fact that they have specific purposes now.

  7. 7
    veilsofmaya says:

    @Phaedros (#6)

    I’m not suggesting that the resulting compositions do not perform a specific function now.

    I’m noting that the two specifically known designed compositions he referred to were intentionally designed with the expectation that, as a whole, it’s parts would only vary by small amounts over the lifetime while performing a specific function. This expectation was exploited by the designer in regards to reduced complexity, cost and entertainment value.

    More specifically, I’d suggest they reflect our desire to maximize control of risk in proportion to our ability and knowledge to actually do so.

    We could make the puzzle more tolerant to variations, but it’s the challenge of putting everything in just the right place that makes the building process entertaining. In this case, the risk of the K’Nex Drop-N-Swing not functioning was intentionally designed to be significantly higher than necessary.

    We could design engines that accept significantly more variance in their components, but production costs would be significantly higher using current manufacturing processes. And, in reality, the risk of this actually occurring is very low except in catastrophic scenarios. So their design reflects these expectations and costs.

    In other words, from a design perspective, the fragile nature of internal combustion engine reflects the limited knowledge, ability and resources of the designer. It’s an intentional compromise that exchanges high rigidity for lower costs and reduced complexity.

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