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A Rejoinder to Part II of Stephen C. Meyer’s Response to Francisco Ayala

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March 11, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Rejoinder to Part II of Stephen C. Meyer’s Response to Francisco Ayala

In Part 2 of Stephen Meyer’s response to Francisco Ayala’s critique of the Intelligent Design movement in general, and of Signature in the Cell in particular, Meyer focuses primarily upon Ayala’s statement that, “there are lots and lots of DNA sequences that are nonsensical.”

First, I would like to note that one cannot help but be impressed with how current Meyer is with regard to this literature. He cites ten articles from 2009 and three from this year. Clearly he and his colleagues are keeping up with the literature. This is just one example of why I have come to conclude that the ID movement ought to be considered a scientific movement.

Another example is Meyer’s book itself. In the book, Meyer, quite eloquently in my opinion, demonstrates that his approach fits within the bounds of how historical science is done. The fact that he spends time carefully analyzing the scientific literature for evidence of function is further indication that they are doing science. Their Intelligent Design model predicts that the DNA in the human genome (and other organisms) is fully functional, and Meyer and his colleagues are carefully scrutinizing the scientific literature to see if it is.

Although I am convinced they are wrong on many counts, I appreciate that they are doing science (however good or bad it is) and I hope the scientific community will engage them on the basis of that science and not on the basis of rhetoric (theirs and ours!). Elements of their work are clearly rhetorical, and I alluded to one example of that in yesterday’s post. Regretfully, there are times when I slip into that mode as well. I am trying my best to stay focused on the issues—if you catch me doing otherwise, you should feel free to call me on it.

Since Meyer used technical language unfamiliar to many non-scientists, I want to refer readers to an excellent new book, Inside the Human Genome: A Case for Non-Intelligent Design, by leading evolutionary biologist, John Avise. Like Ayala, Avise argues that biology informs theism, and most certainly does not negate it. If there is any one science-related book I would urge our audience to read in the upcoming year it would be this one. Avise clearly lays out the philosophical and theological work we Christians have yet to do, based on detailed but accessible descriptions of genomic data.

Meyer spends considerable time disputing what he calls “Ayala’s claim” that Alu1 sequences are distributed randomly. I’ve reread Ayala’s post several times trying to find what makes Meyer think Ayala claimed this. Put simply, he doesn’t say it nor does he imply it. He does say that on average there are about 40 copies of Alu sequences between every two genes, but this is simply a fact. Meyer spends considerable time trying to show Ayala is wrong about something he didn’t say. I don’t know why he does this and don’t consider to be helpful to the discussion.

There are about a million Alu sequences (see footnote) scattered around the human genome. They constitute about ten percent of all letters in the DNA code. Meyer points out that a number of functional regions have been discovered within Alu sequences. He’s right. But this comes as no surprise to biologists—evolutionary theory certainly predicts that some portion of these sequences would take on useful functions over time.

However, there is no question that many Alu sequences really have no function. As Avise explains in his book, and as Ayala mentions in his post, most of these elements are almost certainly of no value to cells. On the contrary, these extra sequences can cause serious problems. In Avise’s words, “To the best of current knowledge, many if not most of these repetitive elements contribute not one iota to a person’s well-being. They are well-documented however to contribute to many health disorders.”

Alu is only one of many kinds of repetitive elements in the genome. The actual number of DNA letters devoted to all mobile elements (those which move from one location in the genome to another) is at least 1.3 billion! That’s 45 percent of the genome. In addition, non-mobile elements represent another huge portion.

For sure, plenty of magnificent “sense” is scattered throughout the genome, coding for absolutely marvelous things—like how to make the brain, for example—but this still doesn’t negate the fact that almost certainly much, if not most, of the DNA plays no role, and in many cases can be harmful.

Since many of our readers are not experts and they depend upon authorities, I would like to conclude with a request. If you hold a faculty position in molecular biology at a research university (or you know of someone who does), and you think that my portrayal (or Avise’s and Ayala’s) of the current state of our knowledge about this is inaccurate, please send an email to info@biologos.org. We will post the names of any dissenting molecular biologists who hold faculty positions in research universities on our website. I am aware that ID folk will simply say that such scientists will not respond because of the need to be clandestine in order to protect their careers. However, my experience is that tenured faculty are not afraid to say what they think; indeed it is that quality that especially distinguishes the faculty I have known over the years.

1. Alu is a short stretch of DNA code. There are three billion letters of code in the human genome. One Alu sequence is about 300 letters long. There are about a million copies of this short sequence scattered throughout the genome.

Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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glsi - #63580

July 30th 2011

Didn’t the term “junk DNA” only recently fall out of vogue?  Back in Darwin’s day didn’t they think the cell was just a little bit of goo that couldn’t possibly do very much on it’s own?  Doesn’t Professor Falk and the rest risk looking pretty silly when all that useless DNA winds up being something that they have no way of presently understanding?  If it were medically feasible I wonder if Dr. Falk would be willing to surgically remove all of his own “useless” Alu sequences.

Also a comment to Dr. Falk on his facile and cavalier assurance that tenured dissenters to Darwinism feel free to express their opinions about the matter in our universities:  I personally know a tenured university Chemistry professor who is not shy about sharing his own disbelief in mainstream Darwinism.  Although he has not been in danger of losing his tenured position, he has been personally ridiculed for his beliefs in a letter which has been circulated by the Biology dept. at this university.  Probably, a weaker individual would rather keep quiet than suffer that type of personal attack.  Also, in Signature in a Cell, Dr. Meyer cites at least one example of a university professor being severley  sanctioned for his views on evolution.  Dr. Falk read the book so is he then dismissing Dr. Meyer as untruthful on that point?

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