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This year in intelligent design

Intelligent design and evolution both have definitions not related to biology. Therefore, as in past analyses, I’ve included “species? as an additional search term. A Google Scholar search for articles mentioning “evolution? and “species?, in publications with “journal? in the title – this eliminates some journals, of course -- gave 17,200 hits for 2007. Substituting “intelligent design? for “evolution? reduced this to 51 hits.

This was few enough that I could check each title individually, looking for papers claiming to provide data showing that living things were designed rather than evolving. I was hoping to find at least one such paper to critique in my usual way, but no luck.

A large fraction of the papers are in religious, philosophical, legal or educational journals. For example, the Journal of Anglican Studies published a paper titled “William Paley’s Natural Theology: An Anglican Classic?? Whatever.

Some biological journals mentioned intelligent design to criticize it, as in “Evo/Devo and the lungfish: the last gasp of intelligent design? in The FASEB Journal. The Journal of Agricultural Science published a symposium paper suggesting that intelligent design of photosynthesis by humans might soon be possible. I doubt that we will improve on evolution anytime soon, at least when it comes to the basic efficiency of key enzymes.

In a second Google Scholar search, I dropped the requirement for “journal? in the title, but added “flagellum? (a favorite example, claimed to be evidence for intelligent design) as a keyword. I found an interesting paper on “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system? (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci.), which looked at DNA sequences and found that

many of these core genes show sequence similarity only to other flagellar core genes, indicating that they were derived from one another, and the relationships among these genes suggest the probable order in which the structural components of the bacterial flagellum arose. These results show that core components of the bacterial flagellum originated through the successive duplication and modification of a few, or perhaps even a single, precursor gene.

So here are some questions to think about. We can detect the signature, in DNA sequences, of gene duplication and other processes (selection, etc.) known to be important in evolution. What would the DNA-sequence signature of supernatural intervention look like? If the first life on earth had been created (perhaps by some extraterrestrial civilization, as a terra-forming project), are there any patterns (perhaps in the genetic code) that would survive four billion years of evolutionary processes? If there were a scientific discipline of intelligent design, these are the sorts of questions it would be asking. But, so far, there isn’t. One problem is that you can’t recognize any hypothetical departures from natural evolutionary processes unless you first understand those processes in considerable detail. And, as in all of science, you don't want to get too attached to a hypothesis you may end up disproving.

Comments

Didn't you know that there is TONS of evidence that extraterrestrials are tampering with our genome ALL THE TIME??

(Link features some of the more entertaining misinterpretations of my work on endogenous retroviruses - see October 11. Much less annoying than the standard creationism / ID nonsense).

Link disappeared: supposed to be http://www.panspermia.org/whatsne31.htm

{Comment is from VWXYNot? but I put the URL she provided as live link below. I don't think either of us are endorsing an extraterrestrial origin for life on earth, but if schools have extra time AFTER covering the many aspects of evolutionary biology that are well-established, any origin-of-life hypothesis that makes falsifiable predictions -- otherwise, it's not a hypothesis -- could be worth including. -- Ford]

Turns out it's not an origin-of-life hypothesis. They don't know how life originated either, but claim evolution on earth is driven by genes from space. We actually have a lot of data on what happens when, for example, pollen from plants in one environment blows in and fertilizes plants somewhere else -- it's usually harmful. The last thing I want in my genome is DNA coding for cyanide synthesis, however useful it might be on Jupiter's moon Europa.

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