Tag Archives: Amino Acid

William Dembski debates Lewis Wolpert about intelligent design

It’s the latest debate from Unbelievable, courtesy of Justin Brierley!

The MP3 file is here.

Details:

William (Bill) Dembski is an American mathematician, theologian and professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, TX. He debates the issue of ID with atheist Lewis Wolpert, Emeritus Professor of Biology at University College London.

For Bill Dembski see http://www.designinference.com/ or his blog http://www.uncommondescent.com/

For Lewis Wolpert’s Wikipedia profile see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Wolpert

Intro:

  • Bill Dembski’s religious background (Catholic-raised atheist/agnostic, later Protestant)
  • Dembski’s view of the interface between science and religion
  • Lewis Wolpert’s religious background (Jewish-raised atheist)
  • Wolpert’s view of whether God exists

First half:

  • Dembski explains the mathematical foundations for detecting design
  • Wolpert asks whether designs can emerge without intelligence
  • Dembski asks whether anything in biology could be like SETI signals
  • Wolpert says that it is impossible to recognize design in biology
  • Dembski asks whether the Darwinian hypothesis is falsifiable
  • Wolpert says that it is never warranted to rule out chance as an explanation
  • Dembski says that you can set limits on what chance can do within a certain time
  • Wolpert says that chance can do anything regardless of time, etc.
  • Dembski says, what about the work of Doug Axe published in the peer-reviewed JMB?
  • Wolpert says those calculations must be wrong!
  • Dembski says then you’re just a dogmatic reductionist
  • Wolpert agrees that he is a dogmatic reductionist

Second half:

  • Dembski explains why intelligent is not repackaged creationism
  • Dembski explains why intelligent design isn’t an argument from ignorance
  • Dembski talks about whether evolutionary mechanisms can create more information
  • Wolpert asks whether chemistry requires intelligent design too
  • Dembski says that there is a fine-tuning argument for cosmological constants too
  • Wolpert agrees that the origin of life is unexplained naturalistically
  • Wolpert asks if everything after the origin of life is explained
  • Dembski says that there are still problems like the Cambrian explosion
  • Wolpert asks Dembski if anything could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski gives an example of something that could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski asks whether naturalistic explanations of life are falsifiable
  • Wolpert asks whether intelligent design affects the way that people do science
  • Dembski asks whether it is possible that the resources of naturalism are adequate to explain life
  • Wolpert says that you can’t explain anything in nature as the result of intelligence
  • Dembski says that it happens all the time in other sciences like engineering
  • Wolpert says that he doesn’t want a Designer
  • Dembski says we should just follow the evidence and who cares what people on either side want

And then there are closing speeches.

I am not sure if I had anything to do with this, but I did send Justin Bill’s e-mail address recently. I’m pretty happy that Justin managed to get Bill and Lewis to debate on this topic. Justin says that Bill will be back next week! He’ll be discussing his new book “The End of Christianity” which is about the problem of evil.

Did you miss Lewis Wolpert’s last debate with the professor of nanotechnology?

UPDATE: Justin says that it was indeed my e-mail that helped him to contact Bill, and what’s more we should expect a show that features Stephen C. Meyer soon, too!

MUST-READ: Doug Axe defends intelligent design at science conference in Germany

Doug Axe got his Ph.D from Caltech and did post-doc research at Cambridge University, and published some of his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology. He was trying to see whether it is easy or hard to shuffle amino acids randomly in order to make functional proteins. Those JMB publications show that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny, compared to the number of possible sequences.

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

And now let’s see what he was up to in Stuttgart, Germany.

Story here from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

While there have been many events to discuss intelligent design sponsored by the scientific establishment this year, few have dared to invite an actual design proponent.

But on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, Biologic Institute Director Douglas Axe was invited to the National Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, for a panel discussion titled Design without a Designer? where “the ‘bold generation’ of young thinkers turned up in droves, listening intently as the discussion went well beyond its advertised ninety minutes.”

Here’s the official description of the event (in German), and a translated excerpt:

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Darwin’s theory, this high-caliber panel discussion between evolutionists and Darwin critics will consider the question of whether the evolution of life on Earth is based solely on blind and unguided natural processes, or whether there is non-religiously based, verifiable evidence of meaningful and purposeful acts of creative intelligence in the natural world. This meeting at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History aims to contribute constructively and with clarity and objectivity to this important debate. A public debate between evolutionary biologists and evolutionary critics at this high level is very rare in Germany, and therefore can be expected to be a very exciting evening.

You can read more at the Biologic Institute. They even have excerpts from Doug’s opening statement. It’s short and to the point.

Excerpt:

William Dembski and Stephen Meyer have both framed the design argument in terms of functional information, meaning information that specifies a significant functional outcome.  Since this fits well with my own understanding, I offer the following three-statement summary of the design argument:

First: Living things contain within their genomes large amounts of functional information.

Second: The only cause known to be capable of generating large amounts of functional information is intelligence.

And third: It is therefore reasonable to infer that the functional information in living things must have an intelligent source.

Here we have not a pronouncement but an argument based on evidence and logic.  It is perfectly fair to argue against it, of course, but it is hardly fair to dismiss it as dogma.

I like this, because I am a software engineer. This is what we do.

New video takes you inside the cell to see how DNA is replicated

Wow, this is pretty! (H/T Uncommon Descent via ECM)

If you need to understand how to explain this video in the context of intelligent design, see my previous posts on the building blocks of life and the origin of biological information. I find it useful to draw up the probability calculations for your friends. It’s all explained in the latter article. Fun!

Stephen Meyer explains the design of DNA at the Heritage Foundation

THIS IS A MUST-SEE VIDEO!!!

The Heritage Foundation is by far my favorite think tank. If any of my readers have a blog, and you would like to get into policy a little bit, I highly recommend them. My Christian readers may be worried that think tanks are too focussed on fiscal conservatism and that they neglect foreign policy and social conservatism, including faith issues. You will not have that problem with the Heritage Foundation.

This time, they hosted one of my top 5 Christian scholars, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, so that he could give a lecture to the public about the evidence for an intelligent designer of DNA.

The video and audio of the lecture is posted here, at The Foundry. (H/T The Discovery Institute)

I have seen Meyer give this lecture live. He steals his children’s toys to explain DNA to people! I am begging you: do not be afraid of learning about scientific evidence. Watch the lecture!!! And then watch it again!!!

Information about Dr. Meyer from that page:

Stephen C. Meyer is Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.  Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

And you can listen to a wonderful podcast with Stephen Meyer, too!

This episode of ID the Future tells the story of how philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer first began his quest for the origin of life. How did one of the architects of the intelligent design movement move from the oilfields of Texas to the study halls of Cambridge to pursue the mystery of where biological information originated? Listen in and find out. The new book, Signature in the Cell, tells the rest of the story, the culmination of over 20 years of study and research on the origins of life.

I wrote about the evidence for intelligent design in the cell here, using a paper published by Stephen Meyer. Watch the lecture, and read the paper.

Don’t forget to bookmark the Heritage Foundation’s blog!

Further study

One of my favorite resources on the origin of life is this interview from the University of California with former atheist and origin of life researcher Dean Kenyon. Kenyon, a professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, wrote the textbook on “chemical evolution”, which is the view that chemicals can arrange themselves in order to create the first living cell, without intervention.

This interview from the University of California with another origin of life researcher, Charles Thaxton, is also one of my favorites.

You’ll need Quicktime to see the videos, or buy the videos from ARN. (Kenyon, Thaxton) I have both of them – they rock!

Could life have emerged spontaneously on the early Earth?

Last time we saw how the progress of science in the last 30 years has proved that the environment of the early Earth would not have allowed the emergence of the basic building blocks of life. This time, let’s allow the atheist to assume the building blocks were created by the noodly appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, (peas be upon him), and see whether it’s possible for the blocks to chain themselves together to make a living cell withinin a reasonable amount of time (400 million years, say).

For this post, I will be referencing an article by Stephen C. Meyer, which he published in the Catholic journal “First Things”. I chose this article deliberately because it was written at the level of an ordinary layman, so we could all understand everything well enough to feel confident explaining it to our neighbors. All unattributed quotes are from this article.

The combatants

The contest over origins features two opposing points of view:

  • A Creator and Designer is responsible for the origin of life
  • Matter, chance and long periods of time are sufficient to explain the origin of life

What’s at stake?

Atheistic Cornell University professor Will Provine explains what logically follows from naturalistic evolution:

There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either. What an unintelligible idea.

So, the stakes are high.

Why doubt the apparent design in nature?

There are two main reasons why atheists doubt the appearance of design in nature:

Minimal life functionality requires information

In order for a living organism to support life, it must be able to perform minimal functions:

  • store information
  • transmit information
  • edit information
  • use that information to regulate metabolic processes

There must be sufficient information inside the cells of that organism to support those functions. How does this information exist in the cell, and where did it come from?

Atheism is a pre-scientific worldview

Meyer describes the primitive superstitions of tribes of atheists living in primitive, pre-scientific cultures:

…in the 1870s and 1880s scientists assumed that devising an explanation for the origin of life would be fairly easy….they assumed that life was essentially a rather simple substance called protoplasm that could be easily constructed by combining and recombining simple chemicals such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen. …just as salt could be produced spontaneously by adding sodium to chloride, so… could a living cell be produced by adding together several chemical constituents and then allowing spontaneous chemical reactions to produce the simple protoplasmic substance that they assumed to be the essence of life.

Atheists believe in all kinds of primitive pre-scientific myths, like the eternal universe, etc., which the progress of science has falsified. Can the progress of science falsify the atheistic superstitions about the origin of life?

The Oparin-Haldane hypothesis

Atheists began to panic in the early 20th century as discoveries began to pile up confirming the that the entire physical universe, and time itself, was created by a supernatural force that existed transcendentally, independent of matter, energy, space and time. (See here for a listing of 6 of these discoveries from the progress of science). Atheists decided that they’d better get involved in this “science” thing that the Christians had started.

Meyer reports on one of their first groundless speculations:

During the 1920s and 1930s a more sophisticated version of this so–called “chemical evolutionary theory” was proposed by a Russian biochemist named Alexander I. Oparin…. Oparin, like his nineteenth–century predecessors, suggested that life could have first evolved as the result of a series of chemical reactions.

It was hoped that that the Flying Spaghetti Monster would appear to his true believers and ground this blind speculation, allowing atheists to continue in their flight from rationality and moral obligations.

The Miller-Urey experiment

Pre-biotic synthesis (see below) produces amino acids, which are the first step in explaining the origin of the simplest life, on atheism:

How did life begin?
How did life begin?

As we saw last time, the Miller-Urey experiments that were designed to produce the building blocks of life (amino acids) were horribly flawed and did not reflect the conditions that would have existed on the early Earth.

I’ll summarize the problems with the experiment:

  • the gasses were used in the experiment were not those present on the early Earth
  • molecular oxygen was excluded from the experiment
  • Harmful UV radiation was filtered out by the experimenter intervention
  • interfering cross-reactions were prevented by experimenter intervention

Other problems:

  • extinction events, such as meteorite impacts, were excluded not considered
  • the chirality problem (left-handed amino acids, right-handed sugars) was not considered
  • the problem of getting all peptide bonds was not considered

This experiment, though flawed, still exists in biology textbooks today, along side faked photographs of peppered moths and doctored drawings of embryos. All must praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and at taxpayer expense!

The problem of biological information

To create life, you need to sequence amino acids into proteins, and sequence the nucleotides on DNA strands.

Meyer explains:

To form a protein, amino acids must link together to form a chain. Yet amino acids form functioning proteins only when they adopt very specific sequential arrangements, rather like properly sequenced letters in an English sentence. Thus, amino acids alone do not make proteins, any more than letters alone make words, sentences, or poetry. In both cases, the sequencing of the constituent parts determines the function (or lack of function) of the whole.

…As it turns out, specific regions of the DNA molecule called coding regions have the same property of “sequence specificity” or “specified complexity” that characterizes written codes, linguistic texts, and protein molecules. Just as the letters in the alphabet of a written language may convey a particular message depending on their arrangement, so too do the sequences of nucleotide bases (the A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s) inscribed along the spine of a DNA molecule convey a precise set of instructions for building proteins within the cell. The nucleotide bases in DNA function in precisely the same way as symbols in a machine code. In each case, the arrangement of the characters determines the function of the sequence as a whole…. In the case of DNA, the complex but precise sequencing of the four nucleotide bases (A, T, G, and C) stores and transmits the information necessary to build proteins.

…As Bernd–Olaf Kuppers recently stated, “The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.”

How do atheists account for this biological information?

Atheistic superstitions about the biological information

Le’s take a look at the atheist’s faith-based explanations of the origin of life: chance, law and self-organization.

For the first one, let’s calculate the odds of building a protein composed of a functional chain of 100 amino acids, by chance. (Think of a meaningful English sentence built with 100 scrabble letters, held together with glue)

1. Chance:

  • BONDING: You need 99 peptide bonds between the 100 amino acids. The odds of getting a peptide bond is 50%. The probability of building a chain of one hundred amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly (1/2)^99 or 1 chance in 10^30.
  • CHIRALITY: You need 100 left-handed amino acids. The odds of getting a left-handed amino acid is 50%. The probability of attaining at random only L–amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain one hundred amino acids long is (1/2)^100 or again roughly 1 chance in 10^30.
  • SEQUENCE: You need to choose the correct amino acid for each of the 100 links. The odds of getting the right one are 1 in 20. Even if you allow for some variation, the odds of getting a functional sequence is (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10^65.

The final probability of getting a functional protein composed of 100 amino acids is 1 in 10^125. Even if you fill the universe with pre-biotic soup, and react amino acids at Planck time (very fast!) for 14 billion years, you are probably not going to get even 1 such protein. And you need at least 100 of them for minimal life functions, plus DNA and RNA.

Research performed by Doug Axe at Cambridge University, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology, has shown that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny:

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

The problem of forming DNA by sequencing nucleotides faces similar difficulties. And remember, mutation and selection cannot explain the origin of the first sequence, because mutation and selection require replication, which does not exist until that first living cell is already in place.

2. Law:

The idea here is that components, such as nucleotides, might have special bonding affinities that might cause them to bond together spontaneously into functional sequences. Like if certain SCRABBLE tiles had an affinity for certain other tiles that caused them to bond together whenever they met.

Meyer writes:

Consider what would happen if the individual nucleotide “letters” in a DNA molecule did interact by chemical necessity with each other. Every time adenine (A) occurred in a growing genetic sequence, it would likely drag thymine (T) along with it. Every time cytosine (C) appeared, guanine (G) would follow. As a result, the DNA message text would be peppered with repeating sequences of A’s followed by T’s and C’s followed by G’s.

3. Self-organization:

The idea here is that some spontaneous order might arise due to some physical force, just like rocks sort themselves by size in a rock agitator because of gravity.

Meyer writes:

…just as magnetic letters can be combined and recombined in any way to form various sequences on a metal surface, so too can each of the four bases A, T, G, and C attach to any site on the DNA backbone with equal facility, making all sequences equally probable (or improbable). The same type of chemical bond occurs between the bases and the backbone regardless of which base attaches. All four bases are acceptable; none is preferred. In other words, differential bonding affinities do not account for the sequencing of the bases. Because these same facts hold for RNA molecules, researchers who speculate that life began in an “RNA world” have also failed to solve the sequencing problem…

Understanding what creates information

The bottom line is that in order for software code, or even English letters, to be functional, it needs to defy ordering mechanisms. Biological sequences are functional for the same reason that software code or English text is functional – because some intelligent agent chose an irregular sequence of characters in order to achieve a specific purpose. Look at the letters in this post – they are not ORDERED by physical laws. They are SELECTED by an intelligent agent.

Meyer writes:

To see the distinction between order and information, compare the sequence “ABABABABAB ABAB” to the sequence “Time and tide wait for no man.” The first sequence is repetitive and ordered, but not complex or informative.

What causes specified, complex sequences?

…the information contained in an English sentence or computer software does not derive from the chemistry of the ink or the physics of magnetism, but from a source extrinsic to physics and chemistry altogether. Indeed, in both cases, the message transcends the properties of the medium… Our experience with information–intensive systems (especially codes and languages) indicates that such systems always come from an intelligent source…

And this is what everybody means by “intelligent design”. This design inference came from the progress of science. The more we discovered about the cell, the more nature pointed towards a creative, designing intelligence. The only option left to atheists now is blind faith that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will swoop in and undo the progress of science over the last 100 years. Good luck with that, atheists!

Further study

One of my favorite resources on the origin of life is this interview from the University of California with former atheist and origin of life researcher Dean Kenyon. Kenyon, a professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, wrote the textbook on “chemical evolution”, which is the view that chemicals can arrange themselves in order to create the first living cell, without intervention.

This interview from the University of California with another origin of life researcher, Charles Thaxton, is also one of my favorites.

You’ll need Quicktime to see the videos, or buy the videos from ARN. (Kenyon, Thaxton) I have both of them – they rock!