Dispatches from the Creation Wars

ID and Junk DNA

Pim Van Meurs has an excellent post at the Panda’s Thumb about junk DNA and ID. As he notes, many IDers like to crow every time an article appears that concludes that some portion of non-coding DNA has a previously unknown function. They do this to make one of two arguments: either that it shows that there is no such thing as junk DNA (an incredibly stupid argument) or that ID somehow “predicts” or “inspires” such findings (an even more stupid argument). But I want to point out a problem that Pim missed, an internal contradiction in the ID argument about junk DNA.

The existence of large amounts of non-coding DNA that becomes corrupted and useless through unexpressed mutations that can’t be weeded out through natural selection has long been an argument against ID creationism for a fairly obvious reason: it’s just bad design. Why would an all-powerful designer create genomes that are, in some cases, mostly made up of useless genes that don’t do anything? Evolution can explain it; if a gene gets switched off so it no longer expresses in the phenotype, through any number of well known processes, then it’s going to quickly mutate into total uselessness. But from a creationist standpoint, it’s hard to explain.

Now, the standard response to this has always been the same response given to all other instances of bad design, design that makes sense if one accepts a constrained process of natural evolution but makes no sense from the standpoint of an omnipotent designer working from scratch; the argument is that we can’t judge the goals of God (or “the unknown designer”), so we can’t know that bad design wasn’t the goal. Perhaps “the designer” (wink, wink) intended it that way (or, for the truly deluded, “it wasn’t that way before the Fall”).

But let’s think about this. If they actually mean that argument, what’s the point of crowing when someone finds that a particular bit of non-coding DNA has function, particularly if you’re going to claim, absurdly, that eventually all such DNA will be found to have a function? If you’re going to claim that ID “predicts” or “inspires” such findings, then you are implicitly agreeing with the argument that a designer wouldn’t create junk DNA, the very argument you denied was true previously.

Comments

  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    April 30, 2007

    It’s kind of like any time someone claims to understand god’s will. When something great happens it was his design, but when a tragedy happens he works in mysterious ways. It’s just the muddled thinking of the deluded.

  2. #2 Peiter
    April 30, 2007

    Or when the IDists claim that they accept common descent, but still rejoice every time someone publishes something that can be construed to look as if it’s somehow challenging to common descent.

  3. #3 MartinC
    April 30, 2007

    As someone working in the field of non-coding genomics I should point out that the term ‘junk DNA’ is pretty much confined to the popular scientific literature and isn’t a technical term that researchers really use. Its been clear for a long time that the non-protein encoding parts of human and other genomes do have functional significance and the main reason why we suspected this is because these segments are highly conserved between different related species. This comparative sequence analysis has allowed for the identification of transcriptional regulatory elements, such as promoters, enhancers or silencers and more recently elements important in post-transcriptional silencing, such as microRNA target sequences. It really just shows how out of touch the IDiots are with the scientific literature.

  4. #4 Stuart Coleman
    April 30, 2007

    It’s kind of like any time someone claims to understand god’s will. When something great happens it was his design, but when a tragedy happens he works in mysterious ways. It’s just the muddled thinking of the deluded.

  5. #5 Dave S.
    April 30, 2007

    Typical bit of junk thinking from the ID Creationists, an argument which by the way and which should come as no surprise was already trotted out by the Young Earth Creationists. On the one hand they scream that ID ‘theory’ can say nothing about the designer; methods, motives or abilities … and on the other crow about how (somehow) ID “predicts” function for junk DNA.

    Reminds me of how on the one hand they insist that directed evolution is an instance of intelligent design, except for that directed evolution called eugenics, which is of course not an instance of intelligent design at all but of Darwinian evolution.

    Luckily they need not be bothered by such such mundanities like being consistant or academically honest.

  6. #6 David Heddle
    April 30, 2007

    MartinC,

    Its been clear for a long time that the non-protein encoding parts of human and other genomes do have functional significance and the main reason why we suspected this is because these segments are highly conserved between different related species. This comparative sequence analysis has allowed for the identification of transcriptional regulatory elements, such as promoters, enhancers or silencers and more recently elements important in post-transcriptional silencing, such as microRNA target sequences. It really just shows how out of touch the IDiots are with the scientific literature.

    Yes, but then it also shows how out of touch some non-Iders are with the literature, for it implies that “junk DNA” cannot be used as part of a “bad designer” argument.

  7. #7 natural cynic
    April 30, 2007

    One problem that ID has is making inferences about genome sizes – the orders of magnitude-fold differnces from Fugu to H. sapeins to Amoebae seems to be a strong inference that there is a whole lot of DNA in most critters that could not be doing much at all. It’s hardly the best argument anyway – the presence of pseudogenes is a more direct argument.

  8. #8 Tyler DiPietro
    April 30, 2007

    David,

    “Yes, but then it also shows how out of touch some non-Iders are with the literature, for it implies that “junk DNA” cannot be used as part of a “bad designer” argument.”

    Not really, as far as I can tell. Just like clearly vestigial structures like the tail-bone retain some function in our physiology, the large amounts of non-protein coding sequences can still retain some function in the genome. The structure of such a thing still isn’t indicative of good design.

  9. #9 Jud
    April 30, 2007

    Heck, ID has at its heart a bigger self-contradiction than anything involving junk DNA: Paramecia, amoebae, etc., are far too complex to arise by themselves, so they must have been designed by an incredibly complex being. Oh, wait….

  10. #10 crf
    April 30, 2007

    ID is non-falsifiable. Proving there is, or is not, a “designer” is not a scientific task.

    Everything about the world “confirms” it, if only looked at from a certain way :-| . It’s just like religion.

  11. #11 Wade
    April 30, 2007

    The Panda friends over at Talk Origins maintain a FAQ web page called “Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics”. It’s entire premise is based upon the idea that the majority of non-coding DNA is “junk”. It even makes the following science stopping statement:


    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/molgen/
    These observations would predict the accumulation of useless DNA as the result of random genetic accidents, so when we see DNA that seems non-functional, we shouldn’t necessarily assume that it has function that we don’t understand

    More evidence that Transposons have function came in just this week:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070423185538.htm

    And I cover the numerous classes of functional “junk” that are treated as true junk by the Talk Origins
    http://www.geocities.com/wade_schauer/Changing_Tide.pdf

  12. #12 386sx
    April 30, 2007

    If you’re going to claim that ID “predicts” or “inspires” such findings, then you are implicitly agreeing with the argument that a designer wouldn’t create junk DNA, the very argument you denied was true previously.

    They say they don’t care about the identity of the designer (it could be any bum off the street for all they care), so how do they know the designer had something against junk DNA? Anyway, if they get their jollies from finding functions for junk DNA, then, uh, maybe they should go and find some functions for junk DNA. Lol.

    By the way, that reminded me of this exchange from the The Firing Line 1997 Creation-Evolution Debate:

    MR: But is this designer responsible when things go wrong? Or for parasites, these complex parasites?

    MB: Well, that’s the “argument from evil” — that is, bad things happen to good people, and it’s been discussed in religious literature for many many years, going back to the Book of Job —

    “MR” is Michael Ruse, and “MB” is Michael Behe.

  13. #13 Save Yourself
    December 2, 2009

    See how stupid the evolutionists look when they use the argument that Junk DNA lessens the potential of a God. See how much as changed in the 2 short years since this article was produced. Not so Junk DNA:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090606105203.htm
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090921134702.htm
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090528203730.htm

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