Over at Dembski’s blog, DaveScot trying to “fisk” Sean Carroll’s review of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. (You’d think that reprinting an entire copyright article would be a copyvio, but that seems to be the norm on the far-right). So far so bad (three posts in) they have zoomed in on:
In Darwin’s Black Box, he posited that genes for modern complex biochemical systems, such as blood clotting, might have been “designed billions of years ago and have been passed down to the present … but not ‘turned on’.” This is known to be genetically impossible because genes that aren’t used will degenerate
Scot takes issue with this in the typical ID fashion – taking an analogy (DNA to computer programming) and assuming that the analogy isn’t an analogy, it’s an actual mechanism.
It’s easily possible. Error checking to insure data integrity to any arbitrary reliability standard is de rigueur in computer memory systems. In my experience most things that human designers have come up with in electronic information processing has antecedents in biological information systems. I therefore anticipate things we’ve invented on our own to have parallels in organic systems and mechanisms for insuring any required level of data integrity is no exception.
He admits that
An organic mechanism for that level of data integrity has not been identified that does not rely on natural selection
but proceeds anyway, saying that
but it appears that the effect of such a mechanism has been discovered recently.
This assertion that a “mechanism has been discovered” relates to this article in New Scientist. It’s an interesting article – apparently researchers were able to knock of two segments of non-coding DNA which contained “nearly 1000 highly conserved sequences shared between human and mice”, with no discernible effect on the mice. For sequences to be conserved, there has to be some mechanism which weeds out mutations. Since conserved regions must be under selection, it’s odd that you can knock them out without affecting fitness, although
Yet the mice were virtually indistinguishable from normal mice in every characteristic they measured, including growth, metabolic functions, lifespan and overall development
Unfortunately, there’s no information about reproductive success, social interaction, stress tolerance, etc. So while it’s interesting, it’s by no means conclusive. Of course, Scot disagrees – he touts this as “evidence” of some selection-independent means of maintaining gene sequences, and “proof” that Carroll is wrong when he says that genes that aren’t used will degenerate.
I’d have to dig through the Denialist Deck of Cards, but this seems like a standard denialist argument. Carroll’s statement is backed up by an awful lot of empirical evidence. Finding one piece of evidence which could be interpreted differently doesn’t invalidate the generalisation. As is, cells are known to have the ability to “error check” DNA replication. If there is another, more powerful error-checking system, why is it only used for a few random sequences of “junk DNA”, and not used for maintaining DNA integrity in general? Oh, wait, of course: Goddidit! Of course, that’s the sort of God who intervenes to protect non-coding sequences in mice, but doesn’t stop mutations which develop into cancer… Oh, but wait, ID-proponent Jonathan Wells asserts that cancer isn’t caused by genes, it’s caused by centrioles. Now it all makes sense!
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