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Essay - Zimmer zings Discovery Institute's double talk

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  • Todd S. Greene
    From: http://loom.corante.com/archives/2006/04/10/the_final_adventures_of_t he_blind_locksmith.php [link is line-wrapped] [go to link for full essay] ... The
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 15, 2006
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      he_blind_locksmith.php
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      The Final Adventures of the Blind Locksmith
      by Carl Zimmer (April 10, 2006)

      On Thursday I wrote about a new paper reporting the reconstruction
      of a 450-million year old hormone receptor, and experiments
      indicating how it evolved into two receptors found in living
      vertebrates such as ourselves.

      On Friday I took a look at the initial response to the paper from
      intelligent design advocates at the Discovery Insitute. They claim
      that there exist biological systems that show "irreducible
      complexity," which could not possibly have evolved. In response to
      the new research, intelligent design advocates claimed that hormones
      and their receptors do not actually make the cut as irreducibly
      complex systems. But to do so, they had to ignore their own
      published definition of irreducible complexity.

      As I mentioned on Friday, the Discovery Institute promised more, and
      more they have delivered. Not scientific papers published in peer
      reviewed scientific journals, of course, but a lot of press releases
      and such. There's a lot to wade through as of Sunday evening, and no
      doubt even more to come. But none of it amounts to much. They spend
      a lot of time rehashing their claim that irreducible complexity is
      not touched by this research. And they also use another standard
      strategy: raising doubts about whether a particular evolutionary
      scenario could take place, or whether biologists have done enough
      work to make their case.

      It's odd in a way, that they should go to these lengths. For one
      thing, they repeatedly claim that the whole experiment has nothing
      to do with irreducible complexity. For another, they dismiss this
      evolutionary change as minor stuff that they have no trouble with.

      "There is nothing in the paper that an ID proponent would think was
      beyond random mutation and natural selection," Michael Behe
      writes "...Intelligent design proponents happily agree that such
      tiny changes can be accomplished by random mutation and natural
      selection."

      Not happily enough, it seems.

      [...]

      Is it me, or is it strange that intelligent design advocates are
      telling biologists that they aren't working hard enough, that they
      are not getting enough results from their lab work? Remember, this
      is the same Michael Behe whose sole peer-reviewed paper in the past
      eight years was a computer model (and a pretty poor one, it turned
      out). Compare that to the work of Joe Thornton, the principal
      investigator on the new paper. In the past eight years he's
      published twenty papers on hormones and their evolution: he's been
      sequencing hormone receptor genes, working out how they respond to
      different hormones, determining how they're related to one another,
      and even resurrecting them after 450 million years of oblivion. All
      Behe is doing is complaining that Thornton hasn't done enough,
      without even bothering to explain how a scientist could even set up
      the sort of test he demands. The fact of evolution, which Discovery
      Institute folks like to ignore, is that natural selection is tough
      to measure precisely even in living populations. The challenge gets
      far greater after millions of years have passed. Scientists can
      detect the fingerprint of natural selection on various genes, but
      they may never be able to recover the precise chain of events that
      drove the evolution of a new kind of gene.

      Yet that doesn't mean that scientists can know nothing about
      evolutionary history. Here we have tightly integrated systems (MR,
      GR, and their hormones) which appear to have evolved stepwise from a
      common ancestor. Even though the receptors and their hormones are
      tightly integrated today, that doesn't mean that they couldn't have
      functioned without their partners. MR evolved long before its
      aldosterone partner did, and it just happened to have a structure
      that would allow it to latch on. As for GR, Thornton and co. have
      even showed which parts of the ancestral gene mutated, and offered a
      sequence of events by which those mutations may have taken place.

      And guess what? Thornton is now back in his lab right now, working
      with his colleagues to test their own hypothesis. The folks at the
      Discovery Institute folks might want to take a break from their
      empty complaints and give it a try.

      ----------------

      See also:

      The Blind Locksmith Continued: The Mushy Definition of Complexity
      by Carl Zimmer (April 7, 2006)
      http://loom.corante.com/archives/2006/04/07/the_blind_locksmith_conti
      nued_the_mushy_definition_of_complexity.php
      [link is line-wrapped]

      The Blind Locksmith
      by Carl Zimmer (April 6, 2006)
      http://loom.corante.com/archives/2006/04/06/the_blind_locksmith.php
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