Monthly Archives: March 2010

Cell Plans and Evolution

As I noted in the previous entry, Steve Matheson does not see eye-to-eye with me regarding introns and design.  In fact, he lists several areas of significant disagreement.  Let’s have a look.

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Intron Reply

A few weeks ago, I started a series of blog entries on introns by laying out the following objective:

I’d like to take the topic of introns and steer it into a much more interesting teleological direction.

Let me propose a hypothesis that flows naturally from the hypothesis of front-loading evolution: introns facilitated the evolution of metazoan life.

I then laid the groundwork for my position. Since that time, Steve Matheson has weighed in and offered his own take on this issue here.

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Science, Scientism, ID, and the Matrix

[I've combined all the recent science/design entries together to make it easier to read.  However, I did not have the time to thoroughly edit, so some parts might seem a little repetitive and awkward.]

A portion of Douglas J. Futuyma’s textbook Evolution is available on the web – the chapter that describes natural selection and adaptation.  The NCSE describes Futuyma as the “Distinguished Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.”  In other words, he is a highly respected, mainstream evolutionary biologist.  His textbook (the linked chapter is from the second edition) is a widely used, mainstream text on evolution which was reviewed by dozens and dozens of other scientists.  While it may seem trivial to point this out, we will soon see it is a very important consideration.

I want you to consider a key excerpt from the text, entitled Design and mechanism:

The complexity and evident function of organisms’ adaptations cannot conceivably arise from the random action of physical forces. For hundreds of years, it seemed that adaptive design could be explained only by an intelligent designer; in fact, this “argument from design” was considered one of the strongest proofs of the existence of God. For example, the Reverend William Paley wrote in Natural Theology (1802) that, just as the intricacy of a watch implies an intelligent, purposeful watchmaker, so every aspect of living nature, such as the human eye, displays “every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which exists in the watch,” and must, likewise, have had a Designer.

Supernatural processes cannot be the subject of science, so when Darwin offered a purely natural, materialistic alternative to the argument from design, he not only shook the foundations of theology and philosophy, but brought every aspect of the study of life into the realm of science. His alternative to intelligent design was design by the completely mindless process of natural selection, according to which organisms possessing variations that enhance survival or reproduction replace those less suitably endowed, which therefore survive or reproduce in lesser degree. This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or in any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior. – (p. 282; emphasis not added).

Let’s pull out the key point to make it crystal clear:

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Introns and Design

[I've combined all the previous intron entries together to make it easier to read.  However, did not have the time to thoroughly edit, so some parts might seem a little repetitive.]

Since I will be discussing introns, let me begin with a few points of clarification.

First, I will be focusing on introns found in protein-coding genes.  In other words, these are the introns that interrupt sequence that code for amino acids and are removed by spliceosomes in order to form the mature mRNA.  There are other introns that may have front-loaded the existence of these protein-coding introns, but that is another topic for another day.  For now, when I refer to ‘introns,’ I am referring to introns found in protein-coding genes.

Second, I am going to use the following hypothesis as a guide: introns facilitated the evolution of metazoan life.

This hypothesis stems from two teleological vantage points:

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Crazy Rabbit

Over at his blog, Steve Matheson has an interesting response to my essays on introns and design.  It’s a good read, so you should check it out.  I’ll ask da bunny what he thinks and get his reply up sometime this week.

Silly Rabbit!  Introns are for Ducks!

That Subtle Frontloading Pattern Again

Let me show you another example of that subtle front-loading pattern.  This time, we’ll use a published paper that discusses a protein I have previously tagged as a candidate for front-loading:

Pincus D, Letunic I, Bork P, Lim WA. 2008. Evolution of the phospho-tyrosine signaling machinery in premetazoan lineages.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 105(28):9680-4.

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A Subtle Front-loading Pattern

Cytosolic beta-glucosidase is an enzyme found in your liver that plays a role in the metabolism of sugar.   This particular enzyme is a member of one family among many families of glycosyl hydrolases.  I thought I would use this enzyme to show you something subtle, but interesting, that adds more plausibility to the hypothesis of front-loading.

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How to Nudge Human Evolution

Some time ago, I noted that a key human feature, the opposable thumb, might be nudged into existence simply with the emergence of the pentadactyl limb and the appearance of trees. In fact, there is evidence to support the idea that the origin of our bipedalism occurred while our genetic ancestors lived among the trees.

Now there is a new study to suggest that this bipedalism was a preadaptation:

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My Inner Felix

In the comments section of a previous entry, chunkdz posed an excellent question to me.  So let me use this opportunity to stand on my soapbox.

First, you are asserting that your approach is not science but simply “open-ended curiosity, guided by critical thinking and intellectual honesty”

But you simultaneously acknowledge Haack’s assertion that science is not limited to the scientific method but that it should include “everyday modes of inquiry”:

“…scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry. Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms.”

Sounds like a description of your own Design Matrix. An “everyday mode of inquiry”, as the article says, which relies upon analogy, metaphor, and honest inquiry.

If Susan Haack says your approach is contiguous with scientific inquiry and therefore part of science – then why should you so vehemently disagree?

Yes, Haack’s description is very close to what The Design Matrix is all about and I am delighted that chunkdz sees this.  But I don’t think she is saying science is not limited to the scientific method but that it should include “everyday modes of inquiry.”  If she is, I am not.  What I am saying, and I think she is saying, is that the scientific method is not limited to the domain of science as the scientific method is part of everyday modes of inquiry.  That is, since we can all employ the scientific method in everyday modes of inquiry, we should not fall victim to the message of those who preach scientism  – “Either your views are part of science and of great value or they are little more than subjective fantasy and of little value.”

So why is it that I do not consider my approach as part of science?

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Scientism and the Matrix

I’d like to draw your attention to an excellent article by Edward Feser who is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, CA. It is entitled Blinded by Scientism.

Feser begins by outlining scientism:

Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.

Yes, people do commonly make that equation and yes, science is not synonymous with reason, as I clearly demonstrated here.  While Feser goes on to refute scientism from the perspective of a philosopher, I’ve been trying to draw your attention to the manner in which scientism has illegitimately skewed the whole question of design in life.

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