ID Prediction #12

“The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid ¬sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.”

The final prediction listed in this appendix relates directly to the research work done by Doug Axe in the BioLogic Institute. The argument is that the arrangement of amino acids in functional molecules like proteins should be rare, that is, the protein’s function is very sensitive to changes in the amino acid sequence. The inference is that it could not have been achieved by chance mutations of individual amino acids and therefore could only have been arranged by an intelligent designer. Axe has reported on a significant amount of work that shows the arrangement of amino acids is indeed highly tuned and specific to its function.
The question is not whether such a sequence is rare, but whether this truly reflects the work of an intelligent agent rather than natural selection operating on a large population of possibilities. The ID claim builds on Dembski’s explanatory filter and relies on probability calculations to show that no random event could achieve such a configuration in the lifespan of the universe.
However, the great difficulty of all probability calculations for living molecules is that neither the intermediate steps nor the process mechanisms are adequately known to calculate a trustworthy probability. The history of biochemistry has been that transformations from one state to another that seem incredibly improbable, turn out to be highly probable when we understand the details of the process. One example of that was discussed in a previous post, namely the antibody example. The transition from a state of a population of identical pre-B cells to a state of highly specified complex B cells with high affinity to relevant antigens would be calculated to have impossible odds of occurring if we knew nothing about the mechanisms driving that transition. Now that the details have been elucidated over the last few decades, we see how random rearrangement processes and natural selection make that transition highly probable.
I would suggest that all of Meyer’s probability calculations in this book, as well as any others relating to the development of biomolecules, suffer from this deficiency. A proper probability calculation requires detailed knowledge of the initial state and the process by which the system moves to the next state. It must also reflect the size of the population of the initial state. Instead, Meyer makes calculations of the type that assume the initial state is a set of disconnected nucleotides which then inexplicably and randomly assemble themselves into a functional protein. It is no wonder the result is impossibly low. Nature doesn’t work that way. Most origin of life researchers are not looking for evidence of the incredibly improbable event. Rather, they seek the understanding of the precursor populations that could predictably migrate to the next step. At the present time, no one knows enough about the intermediate steps to either claim understanding of such evolution or of claiming that such evolution could not have occurred.
Axe may well find that the sequences are rare with respect to sensitivity to changes in individual amino acids but that still doesn’t give us much information about the probability of its evolution. Larger scale mixing, matching, and borrowing of sections of amino acids are known to occur in many processes that form proteins. This means that the opportunity space for generating new proteins is enormous, making it extremely difficult to ascertain what actually happened in the evolutionary past. But it makes it even more difficult to show that such evolutionary changes couldn’t have happened. In light of current evolutionary thought of how proteins evolved, one might even predict that many, if not most, amino acid sequences in proteins are rare. They were unlikely to have evolved by changes in one amino acid at a time. This prediction does not seem to be fruitful in elucidating a unique prediction of ID.

22 comments to ID Prediction #12

  • Randy Isaac

    No, Larry, credibility in the context I used it is not a matter of probability but a matter of genre. The creative suggestion of a being for which there is no evidence and no way of detecting is best left to the Tolkien’s of this world. I enjoy hobbits and ents and orcs too but it’s not really the purview of science.

    Randy

  • Larry Parsons

    Hey Randy,
     
    That wasn’t a very scientific reply!!  You certainly didn’t refute my theory with that reply.  I am being dead serious here.  Could ID proponents make a proposal that doesn’t invoke non-physical forces that could be classified as “scientific”?
    Again, I’m positing a physical agent here – not non-physical.
     
    Larry

    • Randy Isaac

      Larry, I actually was serious and scientific though maybe not “dead” serious. My point is that postulating the existence of something that is physical as opposed to non-physical doesn’t make it scientific. To be a legitimate and serious scientific hypothesis, it needs to be based on evidence and be testable. Your suggestion of a being that contradicts everything we know about the existence of sentient beings and disappears without leaving a trace seems to be driven solely by a desire to preserve a notion that there must have been an intelligent designer at some time. By the way, Meyer argues strongly against a front-loading ID concept which implies an on-going effect, not something that existed in the past and then disappeared without a trace.

      Randy

  • Larry Parsons

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.  I think what you say makes good sense: without evidence for what one would expect to find if a theory is in fact true, the impetus for continuing to repose confidence in the theory justifiably is weakened.  In fact, the theory may continue to hold purchase “driven solely by a desire to preserve a notion” – that is, the theory itself. 
    This is precisely my critique of Evolutionist’s approach to the utter lack of fossils that “link” the Phyla of animals we find in the Cambrian strata: Instead of the raw data (or lack thereof) shedding light on the validity of the theory – the response of the proponents of the theory is to judge the data by the theory (”incomplete” fossil record, as opposed to “inadequate” theory).   Simply put, the “missing” links for the Evolutionary theory are no less missing than the fossils of my posited intelligent physical agent.  Indeed, they are perhaps “more missing,” as my theory only posits a few such intelligent agent fossils that could have been made; Darwin’s theory predicted “innumerable” – I can imagine Imelda Marcos misplacing her wedding ring; but misplacing all of her shoes is another!
     
    Thanks for your excellent series here – it has kept me up many nights thinking about this stuff and reading more on this topic.  I would really love to come to an ASA conference – keep up the great work!
     
    Larry

    • Jon Tandy

      Larry,

      If only it were that simple!  However, it is well known that many aspects of the fossil record (not to mention the DNA record) are not necessarily subject to preservation.  And if you look into it far enough, there are some significant “gaps” that are being filled, if only partially or tentatively, to give some basis of confident that the overall theory has some merit.

      However, you do point out a valid issue.  Because a naturalistic solution is amenable to scientific study, and because our knowledge is clearly partial and incomplete, it is possible for scientists to hold indefinitely to the position “It happened this way, we just haven’t found the fossil evidence to prove it yet.”  That, coupled with a materialistic worldview assumption, leads them to rely unquestionably on future discovery with the same sort of religious zeal that some Christians hold to their theories in the face of contrary or lack of evidence. 

      However, it will be argued that the evidences that have been and are being discovered to support the current scientific consensus on cosmology, geology, and biology give a reasonable basis for such confidence (in the scientific models, I mean, not the underlying materialistic philosophies).  These are things that need to be honestly understood and addressed within a Christian context, which is one reason the ASA exists.  Thank you for your contribution to these discussions.

      Jon Tandy

  • Larry Parsons

    Thanks Jon.  I think ASA is doing a great job on this front.  I have been challenged to reassess my thinking and look at my presuppositions and look at the evidence through a paradigm different from my own.  I have opportunity to discuss evolutionary theory with many friends who consider themselves agnostics or atheists; they usually attack my position on religious grounds, not scientific.  I have always felt that it was vice-versa – I was making the scientific assertions and challenges and they were making primarily metaphysical assertions and challenges.
     
    I think what I have most appreciated about this forum is the arguments in favor of Darwinian evolution coming from folks who understand that to acknowledge  a realm outside of what our 5 senses can detect is not antithetical to (or dangerous to) scientific investigation.
     
    Francis Collins notes in “The Language of God” that folks don’t know about the TE  (or as he renames it “BioLogos”) position, but instead are familiar with ID and Creationism.  In my experience, most Christians with whom I am acquainted are Creationists – I know few TE or ID proponents (in fact, I know more TE adherents – my Catholic friends).  So, it is nice to see that there is a Christian organization for scientists where all of the theories and views on origins can be debated without questioning of ones state of grace.  As Followers of Jesus, we ought to show the most tolerance to our brothers who hold to different ideas (that are not heretical).  I still am unconvinced by the Darwinian scenario of origins (though not to evolution, per se); I think you are wrong (as I am certain, you think I am wrong), but this difference ought not to disrupt our communion in Christ.  Unfortunately, so often it does.  I have never sensed this on the ASA forum, which must be pleasing to our Lord.  I pray that we may continue to have a vigorous debate on origins in the future – but only as brothers!
     
    Larry

    • Randy Isaac

      Thank you for those comments, Larry. Yes, that is exactly what ASA strives to do (and including many sisters as well as brothers!) Sometimes I feel like we are advocates of none and critics of all when it comes to assessing various perspectives. Above all, we must focus on our unity in the body of Christ. That isn’t easy to do when we feel passionately about one position over another, but these positions are secondary to our faith in Jesus Christ.

      Randy

 

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