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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Why Aren't More Biologists Intelligent Design Advocates? Here's 6 Likely Reasons.


1) If the genome of each organism is “intelligently designed” to function so well, then why do only a TINY percentage of organisms from each generation of each species survive long enough to pass along that genome? It doesn't sound like the genome is really maintaining itself all that well. Not when its mere survival depends on so much death taking place in an endless stream.

That’s similar to what Darwin asked after reading Malthus on the population growth of species. If I may paraphrase in a loose fashion some of Malthus's and Darwin's observations using modern data:
A single bacterial cell that divides every twenty minutes would multiply to a mass four thousand times greater than the earth’s in just two days if none died. (Sidenote: microbes are the most adaptable of organisms, they can be found in soil, in the ocean, in clouds, on the outside and insides of all other animals, even extremophile bacteria that live in some of the hottest deepest regions on earth, and, bacteria can survive outer space better than other organisms. So maybe evolution is true after all, since the organisms with the highest rates of reproduction and death also "just happen to be" the most adaptable).

About one hundred million sperm cells are found in each cubic centimeter of human ejaculate, and they all die but one. Equally bountiful numbers of pollen and seeds in the world of seed-bearing plants simply perish.

Even after insemination and fertilization (the fertilized egg cell is called a zygote) a large percent of zygotes of all species do not survive. The pro-lifer, Dr. John Collins Harvey, admits, “Products of conception [often] die at the zygote, morula, or blastocyst stage. They never reach the implant stage but are discharged in the menstrual flow of the next period. It is estimated that [this] occurs in more than 50 percent of [human] conceptions. In such occurrences, a woman may never even know that she has been pregnant.” [“Distinctly Human,” Commonweal, Feb. 8, 2002] And a fairly high percentage (20-30% or more?) of people born as single individuals used to be twins in the womb but one of them was reabsorbed into the womb, or into the other twin (called, “vanishing twin syndrome," noted since the advent of sonograms). So, regardless of whether you believe genomes were "designed" with extreme care by a super-intelligent Being, who “loves all the little zygotes in the world,” apparently that love does not include giving them all a whole and healthy start in life.

A single oyster, left to its own devices, produces more than one-hundred-twenty-five million eggs in a season. That’s more than enough oysters, if none died in eight years, [10 to the 89th power number of oysters] to crowd the water out of the oceans and make it cover the earth. So the number of oysters that perish from the egg-state onward is immense.

If all the eggs from one mother housefly lived, she would produce more than five trillion offspring in just one season. But countless flies perish from the egg-state onward.

A sunfish sometimes lays three hundred million eggs. But countless sunfish perish from the egg-state onward.

A female sea turtle lays a hundred or more eggs. But countless turtles perish from the egg-state onward.
To sum up: There are massive die offs of sperm and zygotes in the animal world (as well as massive die offs of pollen and seeds in the world of seed-bearing plants). Add to that the enormous death toll of the young of all species. For instance, the French naturalist, Buffon, who wrote during the middle of the eighteenth century noted that "half of all children born never lived to reach the age of 8 years old." The young of all species suffer great losses due to illnesses, viruses, bacterial infections, parasites, as well as mental, muscular, or sensory deficiencies. So the life of every living thing consists of countless numbers of hurdles they must leap over from the egg-stage onward, viz. natural selection. The last hurdle to leap over is to reach sexual maturity, mate and conceive young but many members of each species do not conceive, or conceive far fewer than certain rival members of their own species.

In other words, the genome is so “intelligently designed” it requires the production of countless eggs and young to sustain it, the vast majority of which perish--kind of like having to toss an endless stream of children into the flames just to keep the “intelligently designed” genome burning. Or to put it in the form of a question:
Were our genomes 'designed,' knowing it would take endless rounds of massive death merely to SUSTAIN them? Or are mutations and natural selection part of an evolutionary process that does more than simply sustain each species?

2) And speaking of “sustaining” genomes . . .
If a Designer took great care and intelligence in the design of each genome, primping and preening them over eons of time, until each family, order, genus or species was “just right,” then why mass extinction events?
There have been five major extinction events over geologic time, along with more localized less massive events, as well as individual extinctions of countless species drawn out over time. Doesn’t that constitute evidence that the Designer was shaking their Etch A Sketch like some less than proficient human artist who was trying to sketch a picture of something they had in mind, but they had to erase large portions of the sketch multiple times because they lacked the ABILITY to fully sketch the image they had in their mind? Either that, or, during the process of sketching (like the process of screenwriting), they continued to come up with different ways to shape the face (or the plot) and was playing around with them in the mind as well as on paper? That’s the kind of Designer, or rather, Tinkerer, one might propose based on the actual evidence from the fossil record.


3) Lastly, even IF a Designer was carefully orchestrating genetic changes--mutating old genes and inserting new ones over eons of time--those changes have to be looked after. That means it takes more than just subtle genetic manipulation but additional planning and intervention on the part of such a piece-meal Designer who has to continue to intervene so that the organisms carrying the new genome are not overtaken by natural counter-mutations, birthing difficulties, pathogens, parasites, predators, tsunamis, so that the organism as a whole does not trip over any accidental hurdles that might diminish the chances of the newly installed genes or other genetic materials from being passed along -- so that the freshly mutated organism will survive and also produce more offspring than the rest of its peers. Therefore the Designer has to make the eyes of hungry owls look the other way if a mouse with some new genes is scurrying past that hungry owl and toward the den of a potential mate. The Designer has to constantly keep watch and intervene in ways too numerous to mention, including keeping watch over natural mutagens floating around inside the germ cells of males and females of that species, brushing away such natural mutagens from crucial regions of the genome that the Designer has just altered, or brushing them away from other parts of the genome that the Designer has not even touched, because if such mutagens did come into contact with such regions it might still reduce that animal's chances of passing along the fresh new genes the Designer has given it. To mention another example, the Designer would have to deflect cosmic rays if they are about to hit a critical base-pair in the DNA of the male or female germ cell.

To illustrate some of these questions in the form of a parable:

Divine Designer or Incessant Tinkerer?
Once upon a time in a small village there lived a Clock-maker whom the people praised high and low for designing marvelous clocks that kept perfect time, but the people, so full of praise for "the grandest of all Clock-makers," simply failed to note the fact that the Clock-maker often had to walk into people's homes where each clock was proudly displayed to move the clock's hands a bit faster or slower to ensure it was keeping time. And sometimes he ran round the village incinerating his clocks and any nearby furniture with a flame-thrower.

4) Stephen Schaffner, statistical geneticist at the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research--points out why he finds the evidence for evolution compelling. Schaffner (who is a Christian) asks:
Where is the creationist or I.D.ist model that explains the following types of observed genetic data? Such a model should produce estimates of the following measurable genetic data for modern humans:
a) The minor allele frequency spectrum.

b) The relationship between minor allele frequency and probability that the minor allele is the same as the chimpanzee base at that site.

c) The ratio of transition (purine<->purine or pyrimidine<->pyrimidine) polymorphisms to transversion (purine<->pyrimidine) polymmorphisms.

d) The ratio of polymorphisms at CpG sites to the overall polymorphism rate.

e) The distance over which significant linkage disequilibrium extends in a chromosome.

f) The genetic distance (difference in allele frequencies) between African and non-African populations.

g) The difference between African and non-African populations in the extent of linkage disequilibrium.

h) The distance over which significant autocorrelation in heterozygosity extends in a chromosome.

i) The ratio of fixed transition to transversion differences between humans and chimpanzees.

j) Same as (9), but for CpG sites.
There are other possible questions, but these are a reasonable starting point, since the quantities in question are all ones that I routinely use evolution to predict or intrepret. If the claim is true that creationists/I.D.ists look at the same data and just interpret it differently, there should be no difficulty in providing the creationist interpretation of these data.(Note that the answers should be derivable by anyone using the same model.)

I'm happy to answer questions about my list (which is deliberately terse -- I didn't feel like writing a survey of population genetics). Young-earth creationists should have the most trouble meeting my challenge. As you allow more and more time, and more and more evolution, it becomes harder to distinguish special creation from evolution. In the extreme case where all God does is cause a small number of critical mutations in the development of humans, the results will look exactly like evolution (provided the mutations occur in a fairly large population). In that case, of course, you have to wonder why those mutations also couldn't have happened on their own, since every other mutation can.

5) Todd Wood, a Ph.D. prof. of biology at Bryan College (and both a Christian and creationist), admits:
The genome revolution. . . presents significant challenges to creationist theory, particularly in the realm of biological similarity. . . . [creationists] Robinson and Cavanaugh concluded that all extant felids [cats] belong to the same baramin ["kind"] and presumably descended from a single pair of cats on the Ark, but geneticists found distances greater than 5% among felid [cat] Zfy genes and greater than 3% among felid [cat] Zfx genes. Certainly if felid [cat] sequences can vary by that amount, what is to preclude the conclusion that the much lower differences observed between human and chimpanzees genomes indicates that they belong to the same "kind?" . . . . As with the genetic diversity of cats, what is to preclude application of this same argument to chimpanzees and humans with the conclusion that we share a common ancestor with an animal? To put this question another way, how can we maintain that cats share a common ancestor with their genomic differences, and deny that the smaller differences between humans and chimpanzees could not also arise from a common ancestor? . . . . This argument could be significantly amplified from recent findings of genomic studies. For example, geneticists have surveyed 50 olfactory receptor genes ["for smell"] in humans and apes. They found that the open reading frame of 33 of the human genes were interrupted by nonsense codons or deletions, rendering them pseudogenes. Sixteen of these human pseudogenes were also pseudogenes in chimpanzee, and they all shared the exact same substitution or deletion as the human sequence. Eleven of the human pseudogenes were shared by chimpanzee, gorilla, and human and had the exact same substitution or deletion. While common design could be a reasonable first step to explain similarity of functional genes, it is difficult to explain why pseudogenes with the exact same substitutions or deletions would be shared between species that did not share a common ancestor.

See Todd's paper, The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity

Todd has also stated on his blog:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

6) Christians at the BIOLOGOS website critique the arguments presented by Intelligent Design advocates, including articles by ex-I.D.ist, professor Dennis Venema, on his move From ID to BIOLOGOS, and on Evolution and the Origin of Biological Information.

And see:

An Evolutionary Algorithm Beats Intelligent Design--In the summer of 2006, a different kind of war was waged on the Internet—a war between computer programs written by both evolutionary scientists and by intelligent design (ID) advocates. The war came to a climax in a public math competition in which dozens of humans stepped forward to compete against each other and against genetic ("evolutionary") computer algorithms. The results were stunning: The official representative of the intelligent design community was outperformed by an evolutionary algorithm, thus learning Orgel's Second Law—"Evolution is smarter than you are"—the hard way. In addition, the same IDer's attempt to make a genetic algorithm that achieved a specific target without "specification" of that target was publicly exposed as a rudimentary sham. And finally, two pillars of ID theory, "irreducible complexity" and "complex specified information" were shown not to be beyond the capabilities of evolution, contrary to official ID dogma.

Information in Biology--is an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Professor of Philosophy by a Harvard professor who provides a useful definition of Shannon Information and biology. The same professor composed “Information and the Argument from Design,” a chapter in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, a work edited by Robert Pennock

Origin of new genes and new information series

EvoMath blog entries

1 comment:

Will said...

I re-read the article and like how much thought you put into it. I think it would help, though, to have a definition of Intelligent Design and some of the core tenets articulated first. It was a little hard to follow a refutation when the refuted position is not gone into first. I remember the argument by design for the existence of god and it seems that you took a clever tangent from the "watch proves the existence of a watch maker" allegory (which then extends to the universe). But it seems the ID view seems more rooted in the biblical story of creation (fundie version) and what one would expect from a perfect omniscient omnipotent being designing animals, humans, plants, etc. and how the process of evolution does not match what one would expect, kind of like the watch maker makes a lot of broken watches and only a few give birth to viable watches in some kind of line, but even these watches sometimes are broken ones, or have hands that move too fast or too slow. It seems evolution would presuppose a kind of "learn as you go" very wise being who is still tinkering with the watches and getting better over time (maybe), whereas a perfect god would not need to learn, but should make everything perfect and should have pre-anticipated all challenges by precognitive adaptations to all possible events (with a possible weakness with a space-time fall and free will messing things up, which may lead to some interesting discussions about whether it is possible to reverse engineer the perfect genes of some past state, assuming that it is not all fantasy). In any case, I am guessing a little to fill in some gaps...