A commenter quoting George Church on the ribosome in Paul’s thread reminds me of how I came to be on this side of the ID controversy.
For decades I’d uncritically accepted the notion that life could emerge from chemicals bumping together in a primordial soup and that once started it could evolve through mutation and selection into what we see today. In 1991 I read something from the ID camp that, among other things, pointed to some closely related proteins differing by just several point mutations where any of the mutations occurring singly would be fatal and where all of them occurring at once was statistically almost impossible. In other words, there was no path from A to B that natural selection could take. I suspected what they were saying might be true but in 1991 I didn’t have the time to do any due diligence on what was claimed but a seed of doubt about neo-Darwinian evolution had been planted.
I retired in the year 2000 and among other things that I suddenly had much more time for was online debates about religion and politics. I’ve always been agnostic (if not outright positive atheist) on religion. My mother told me I was questioning bible stories almost as soon as I learned to talk. We’d always had a lot of pets so I had a good idea of what’s required in the way of food and care they needed. When I was told the story of Noah and the Ark my immediate comment was that all those animals plus all the food they’d need wouldn’t fit on a wooden boat and there weren’t enough people on board to tend to their needs and clean up after them. So I have a very long history of skepticism when it comes to miraculous claims. At any rate, after a few years of arguing about religion and politics, George W. Bush was elected to a second term and politics suddenly became boring.
One of the people I’d often engaged with was a medical doctor who was also an evangelical Christian. We were both staunch conservatives so there was little disagreement on politics but we locked horns a lot on religion. Eventually the subject of evolution came up and I took the side of consensus science while the doctor took the side of special creation.
Early in the discussion he challenged me: “Dave, replication of DNA requires a lot of very complex protein machinery and that protein machinery needs a lot of DNA to store the instructions for how to make it. If you can show me which came first, DNA or protein, I’d find the rest of the Darwinian narrative a lot more convincing.” At that point I knew the basics about how DNA is transcribed to RNA and that RNA is fed through a ribosome like a paper tape to manufacture proteins. I also knew the central dogma of molecular biology that information only flows one way from DNA to RNA to protein. So off I went in search of an answer to his question. I came back to him with the RNA World hypothesis. He laughed. “Dave”, he said, “the RNA world is science fiction. There are more holes in it than there are in all the highway signs in Texas. None of the chemistry is realistic.” So off I went again to dig deeper into the RNA World hypothesis. I discovered that the doctor was correct.
In the several years since then and very much investigation into the science underlying the neo-Darwinian claims it has become nothing but increasingly more clear that the emperor is wearing no clothes. The so-called overwhelming evidence for evolution is in fact invariably evidence of common descent (nested phenotype and genotype hierarchies) with little evidence supporting the further claim that mutation and selection is the primary mechanism of phenotype and genotype modification. Indeed, the nascent field of evo-devo is putting even nested hierarchy under heavy fire through the discovery of non-homologous development pathways in closely related species!
Which came first, DNA or protein, is literally and figuratvely the mother of all chicken/egg paradoxes. I’ve written here on UD and elsewhere many times in the past that the ribosome, not the flagellum, is the structure that ID proponents should use as the leading example of irreducible complexity. George Church IMO is right. The ribosome should be our focal point. Other ID proponents, Bill Dembski in particular, say that the DNA/protein paradox is too complex for lay persons to easily grasp and the ribosome’s structure doesn’t immediately bring to mind any machines people are familiar with. And so the flagellum remains the icon of ID instead of the ribosome. I see their point but I still think we should point to the ribosome more often and thus this article.