We’ve discussed the incompetence of cranks in their critical reasoning skills, and their inability to think about science in a lucid or productive fashion. But have we tried to help them? Have we moved beyond caddy criticisms and actually bothered to extend a hand to our fellow man? Clearly not. Rather than continuing to mock ID for being the intellectually-dishonest, crank-laden nonsense that it is, why don’t we help them become a real science?
Genomicron has some suggested experiments to help ID get on the right track. Maybe, if they are legitimately interested in science, we’ll be able to direct them towards some productive research, since they can’t seem to figure out how to get beyond their current promiscuous teleology and crank arguments without help.
Here are some of the suggested experiments:
1) Specify the basis for assuming that all non-coding DNA must be functional. This makes implicit assumptions about the designer and the design process (namely, that he/she/it would not produce non-functional features of organisms). This assumption must be justified. It also opens the discussion to more philosophical questions, such as why the designer would choose to design such a massive number of pathogens and parasites. Either one can know the designer’s plan or one cannot; if the former, then the way that one would come to know this must be explicated.
2) Specify how one would go about demonstrating evidence of functions for non-coding DNA in the absence of a framework based on common descent. To date, most evidence for function comes from demonstrations of conservation of non-coding sequences, which indicates that constraints imposed by natural selection have maintained these sequences over long spans of evolutionary time. ID would need to propose a testable means of identifying functional sequences that does not rely on the assumption of common descent. Also, it should be recalled that, at present, there is suggestive evidence that about 5% of the human genome is functional. It will be necessary to specify how function will be demonstrated in the other 95% of the genome.
3) Make specific predictions about what function(s) all non-coding DNA is likely to be fulfilling, and propose ways to test those predictions. A vague prediction that all non-coding DNA will prove to be functional is not useful. Moreover, strict Darwinian theory in which natural selection is assumed to remove any non-functional features makes exactly the same prediction, so this does not distinguish ID from Darwinian theory.
4) Propose functions for transposable elements that take into account their parasitic characteristics (e.g., as disease-causing mutagens) but do not invoke the notion of co-option. There are clear examples of transposable elements (TEs) that are functional, for example as regulatory sequences, in the vertebrate immune system, and in cellular stress response. However, this represents a very small percentage of TEs, most of which are neutral or deleterious in the genome. The evolutionary explanation is that, in some relatively rare cases, these former parasites have become integrated into the functional system of the genome. This process of co-option of function is the same process that evolutionary biologists use in explanations of the evolution of complex structures such as eyes or flagella. If co-option is ruled out a priori, then it cannot be used to explain the acquisition of function of formerly parasitic elements and a different explanation must be provided.
5) Provide a specific explanation for how the great majority of transposable elements in the human genome can be functional while showing clear signs of being inactive. Most TEs in the human genome have experienced mutations in regions that render them incapable of undergoing transposition. Many are so degraded by mutation as to be hardly recognizable. How these highly mutated elements carry out a specific function needs to be explained.
6) Provide an explanation for why the DNA sequences of non-coding regions in different species appear to correspond to degree of relatedness. If species do not share common ancestors, then an alternate explanation is required for why species that are claimed to be close relatives exhibit similar sequences whereas those that are claimed to be more distant relatives possess DNA sequences that are not as similar.
7) Propose a testable explanation for why similar species may have widely different quantities of non-coding DNA in their genomes. A simple example is provided by onions and members of the same genus.
8) If one does accept common descent, propose a testable explanation for how there can be significant reductions in DNA content in some lineages. There is evidence that many lineages have experienced losses of non-coding DNA. For example, the evolution of saurischian dinosaurs appears to have included a reduction in DNA amount. How this loss of DNA could occur requires explanation under the assumption that all non-coding DNA in the ancestor’s genome was functional.
It’s a tad heavy on the non-coding DNA stuff, but that’s fair given how much ID harps on their supposed contribution to uncovering functions of “junk” DNA (their predictions of the past from the future). One should also mention experiments that have deleted megabases of DNA from the genomes of animals like mice with no discernable phenotype – those need some explanation. Also, more emphasis must be placed on how they know that the designer is competent and not wasteful. Why is it important not to have leftovers, loose-strings, and poorly designed physiology in design? Haven’t they ever seen an American car? Design doesn’t imply quality. If ID is a science, and not just an attempt to specifically give Jehovah credit for all life on the planet, they need to provide a good reason that designs can’t be redundant, wasteful or poor. I mean, if they’re going to say junk DNA shouldn’t be useless, they’re making a big assumption about their designer. If they’re a science, they need to better explain the origin of this assumption.
I can think of a few more experiments they should try. For one, they need to design some kind of “designer detector”, pointing out existing complexity is a silly cop-out (the promiscuous teleology problem) since there are naturalistic explanations that are perfectly valid. If a designer has been playing a role in the evolution of life on this planet there must be some way of detecting this influence beyond this childish “inference”. Some IDers believe species are the same now as they’ve always been, so where is this lab that created all these animals? Are the Raelians correct? Did they come on a spaceship, drop us off and fly away? Maybe should start funding SETI really well again. It’s a science, right, so they can’t just say we were all miracled into existence. Otherwise they’re talking about religion, not science, and they wouldn’t want to do that.
If the IDers believe there has been some “guiding hand” in macroevolution instead, there has to have been some mechanism that brought this about. Did this guiding hand only operate in the past? It had to have operated over millions of years, and been something that was/is long lived and able to affect speciation over the entirety of the planet – an amazing spatial and temporal feat. Where is it now? There must be some observable effect that can be measured and described if such a powerful force were operating over so many years over such a large area. What was the physical mechanism that allowed this designer to affect macroevolution? Can this be replicated in a lab? They should do so, unless the mechanisms they describe could only be done by say, a deity, in which case we’d be talking about religion, not science, and they wouldn’t want to do that.
There has to be some proof of this designer beyond sitting around and saying, “hey, that there DNA looks designed to me”. Otherwise, they’re appealing to miracles, a suspension of the physical rules of the universe or some other supernatural phenomena. And ID is a science, so that couldn’t possibly their explanation for how the designer managed to affect the evolution of millions of species over the entire planet over millions of years. There must be some physical “design-force” that can be described, explained by physical phenomena, measured, and quantitated. Otherwise, they’re just full of crap, and trying to insert theology into science.