'Junk DNA' Intelligent Design

Rob Sheldon on the battle underlying “junk DNA”

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Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on junk DNA, the claim that most of the human genome does nothing (often an argument for explicitly Darwinian evolution):

a) Chance is the truly unfalsifiable hypothesis, because all it gives you is a number. 1:10, 1:10^500 are all the same as far as the Darwinist is concerned. Even Dembski’s “1:10^150” possibility bound is not a limit to them. So everything I say about designers has to be seen against that light.

Of course, in the Darwinist’s defense, they don’t really get probability and logarithms.

b) A designer is recognized by a pattern. Writing experts can isolate a piece of scribal work to within 50 years by looking at the style. Architecture students can spot a building and do the same. A Frank Lloyd Wright house is unique. Engineers still marvel at the way Brunel built railway bridges, and even an unfamiliar one can be immediately identified.

In exactly the same way, biologists and biochemists can spot the way design determines the organism. This is not a generic “something designed it”, but a specific, personal, “I know how this designer thinks.” It is precisely because Wright had the liberty to build several different ways, that he could impose his signature on the design. We would be doing him a disservice to say “he couldn’t have built it any other way”.


c) Junk DNA is “patternless”. By definition it is characterized by randomness. Therefore it is not possible to believe that patternless systems were built by pattern-loving designers. This is why Dan Graur is so intent on proving the existence of junk DNA. It really is a defeater for designers.

d) But what if randomness is put to use in the cell such that the immune system finds antibodies by randomly permuting the branches of a Y-shaped molecule? Well, for one thing, it shows that we aren’t really very good at detecting “patternless” objects. After all, if we try a finite set of patterns on it, which fail to match, it only means that the pattern is not one we know. As it turns out, those antibodies are not that random, but exploring a part of phase space that is very likely to find a match to the antigen.

If normal proteins are 1:10^77 patterns according to Axe, then perhaps the phase space for these antibodies is something like 1:10^30—which while less specific than an enzyme, would still win you the Lotto.

So the real problem with falsifying the ID hypothesis isn’t that “any old random arrangement can be called design”, but rather “we often can’t tell random arrangements from design”. However this second problem is soluble: As we build up our library of patterns, we are better and better at separating them. That’s what Dan Graur hates so much about the ENCODE project–we are learning too much about design.

See also: Junk DNA: Dan Graur (junk!), ENCODE team (not junk!), and the science media

Anything I remove without causing immediate catastrophe Must Be Junk

Jonathan Wells’s Myth of Junk DNA

and

Some thoughts on how we know when things are junk (or not)

15 Replies to “Rob Sheldon on the battle underlying “junk DNA”

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Of course, in the Darwinist’s defense, they don’t really get probability and logarithms.

    I wonder of Dr Sheldon could elaborate on this? In particular, support the claim that Darwinists don’t get logarithms?

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    In particular, support the claim that Darwinists don’t get logarithms?

    I grant you, Darwinists aren’t special in that regard.

    🙂

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    Another LOL, roller-coaster of a thread-header, paragraph after paragraph.

    I know I’m always banging on about it, but I wonder how many non-scientific fields there are, in which the deficiencies of specialist academics in it are disparaged to such comical effect as is the case, here – not primarily from personal rancour, but simply by a factual exposition of their opacity to mathematically and in some cases empirically established truths (Cambrian explosion). Surely, it is this factual, often mathematically unassailable nature of the truths ‘in question’ that makes their refusal to accept them so highly comical.

    Imagine if engineers building, say, Sydney Harbour Bridge, had felt free to accept or reject mathematically, (thus, a priori) or empirically established truths that would normally be the very bedrock of its design : a plain ‘sine qua non.

    I had a French teacher who’d worked on it, actually. He must have been a polymath as well as a polyglot ; pretty ‘poly’ all round, realy, I suppose.

    Re the myth of Junk DNA trailer.. what a rascally expose ! tee hee tither tither ….. as they used to chortle in my comics in the forties..

    Crick’s quote was all the more perverse in the light of his observation concerning the digital code in DNA strands

  4. 4
    Bob O'H says:

    Sheldon should go back to his paints. Just to pick one clueless comment:

    Junk DNA is “patternless”. By definition it is characterized by randomness.

    Errm, no. If he had the faintest knowledge of what we know about “junk” DNA he would know that it does have patterns – TEs, micro-satellites, mini-satellites etc. have quite a bit of structure.

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    By definition, if it has patterns it is not junk DNA. Q.E.D.

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    Bob’s playing on the “non-coding” == “junk” fallacy. Right Bob?

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    a) Chance is the truly unfalsifiable hypothesis, because all it gives you is a number. 1:10, 1:10^500 are all the same as far as the Darwinist is concerned. Even Dembski’s “1:10^150” possibility bound is not a limit to them. So everything I say about designers has to be seen against that light.

    Do you accept that the only role “chance” is held to play in the theory of evolution is that genetic mutations appear to be random with respect to the fitness of the organism within a given environment?

    b) A designer is recognized by a pattern. Writing experts can isolate a piece of scribal work to within 50 years by looking at the style. Architecture students can spot a building and do the same. A Frank Lloyd Wright house is unique. Engineers still marvel at the way Brunel built railway bridges, and even an unfamiliar one can be immediately identified.

    Do we have any other means of reliably identifying design other than by comparing it to what we design? Some people infer the eye was designed because it has some similarities to a digital camera or the bacterial flagellum was designed because it has some similarities to a rotary motor. However, if we also take into account all the differences is the claim so persuasive?

    The other argument usually advanced is that the proponent cannot conceive of any way that such an organ as the eye could have come about through some natural process but that is essentially an argument from ignorance. And, as we know in the case of Behe’s original claim about irreducible complexity, others were able to offer at least a conceivable way that an allegedly IC structure could have emerged through natural means.

    One additional argument against design in living things, at least if it’s supposed to follow the same general principles as human design, is the capacity for genetic mutation. When aeronautical engineers at Boeing, say, design a new jetliner they want the finished product to perform exactly as specified over the whole of its intended lifespan. The last thing they want is for the turbine blades in an engine to mutate into a weaker alloy so that they fly off when spinning at normal speeds or for the glass in the windows to become more brittle so that they blow out under cabin pressurization at altitude. Yet, if we accept ID theory, that is exactly what the putative designer or designers did when they created life from the materials which we see. Living thing change over time and while a few of these changes prove to be advantageous an awful lot more don’t. From the perspective of human design that is poor design at best and yet the Designer is presumed to be a lot more knowledgeable and capable than we are. Maybe the simpler explanation is there is no designer.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    Do you accept that the only role “chance” is held to play in the theory of evolution is that genetic mutations appear to be random with respect to the fitness of the organism within a given environment?

    The claim is the mutations are random, as in happenstance, accidental occurrences. The “random with respect to fitness” is a canard and doesn’t address whether or not the mutations were directed or happenstance.

    Do we have any other means of reliably identifying design other than by comparing it to what we design?

    “Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium or intracellular transport rests on the same principles to be confident of the design of anything: the ordering of separate components to achieve an identifiable function that depends sharply on the components.” Dr Behe, “Darwin’s Black Box”

    So, if we see that and we have eliminated non-telic processes as the possible cause, we safely infer intelligent/ intentional design.

    Some people infer the eye was designed because it has some similarities to a digital camera or the bacterial flagellum was designed because it has some similarities to a rotary motor. However, if we also take into account all the differences is the claim so persuasive?

    Yes because there still wouldn’t be any blind, mindless process(es) that can account for it. And just as important, it meets Behe’s criteria.

    And, as we know in the case of Behe’s original claim about irreducible complexity, others were able to offer at least a conceivable way that an allegedly IC structure could have emerged through natural means.

    Just because someone can imagine it doesn’t make it conceivable. They have to actually test it for science to care about it.

    One additional argument against design in living things, at least if it’s supposed to follow the same general principles as human design, is the capacity for genetic mutation.

    Yes, organisms were designed with the ability to adapt. That only makes sense. Why design something to be stagnant and place it in an every-changing environment?

    Heck we see the power of such change in genetic algorithms in which populations are designed to evolve towards a solution or solutions to given problems.

    Look, if you don’t like ID then why don’t you or someone else just step up and actually test your position’s claims? Do that and get your claims confirmed and ID is falsified- Occam’s Razor slices off the intelligent designer requirement.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Those who claim the majority of our genome is junk have to explain the existence histone octamers. Did they just happen and then somehow were incorporated to spool up the junk and package the DNA is a useful way?

  10. 10
    rvb8 says:

    ET,

    please take your arguments to a larger audience. They are wasted on the scientifically challenged, such as my humble self.

    Put succinctly, your scientific talent is so much spilled seed, upon this small stage.

  11. 11
    ET says:

    My arguments are wasted on all evolutionists because all of you are scientifically challenged

  12. 12
    Bob O'H says:

    Mung @ 5 – where is this definition? I’ve never seen a definition that says that, and indeed pre-large scale sequencing one of the ways of looking for junk was to look for repeated sequences (you heat the DNA up until the strands separate, and then slowly cool it down again. The strands will re-anneal, with the repetitive DNA annealing first, because it is easier for it to find homologous sequences).

  13. 13
    LocalMinimum says:

    Bob O’H:

    While it’s true that having patterns does not indicate actual functional purpose, repetition surely does not denote junk.

    In programming, where factoring functions into the most reusable components is generally a primary aim, there are many situations where even good coding will result in repeated code.

    A lot of times it has to do with efficiency. Repeating code or “unwinding” loops is often a means to make the program more efficient, as loops, function calls, etc all come with overhead.

    Inline functions wouldn’t be a useful thing otherwise.

    Another thing to consider is that DNA is a part of a massively parallel process: which means you’re going to need many of the same things in many different places at the same time.

    In essence, it’s far too little to look at some larger metric of the code to make determinations as to the quality of its finer structure.

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    > Mung @ 5 – where is this definition?

    It’s right there in my post! And I know it’s right because I made it up. But isn’t the logic quite obvious?

    If junk DNA is patternless
    Then DNA containing patterns is not junk DNA.

  15. 15
    PaV says:

    Here’s the take-away from Sheldon’s comments:

    So the real problem with falsifying the ID hypothesis isn’t that “any old random arrangement can be called design”, but rather “we often can’t tell random arrangements from design”. However this second problem is soluble: As we build up our library of patterns, we are better and better at separating them. That’s what Dan Graur hates so much about the ENCODE project–we are learning too much about design.

    Or, to put it another way: “Another day; another bad day for Darwinism!”

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