Biological Information and Intelligent Design: Meyer, Yarus, and the Direct Templating Hypothesis

(system) #1
Scientists have some solid clues as to how the RNA “code” developed through natural processes.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Dennis Venema) #2

Thanks for reading, and as always I’m happy to answer questions. Given the technical nature of this post, don’t be afraid to ask questions of clarification.

(Larry Bunce) #3

I really enjoy these technical discussions on BioLogos. My last biology course was my freshman year in high school, starting in 1962. We thought science was pretty sophisticated back then, but an amazing amount has been learned since. Today’s post is a college-level biology lecture. Thank you Dr. Venema, for this and your other informative posts. From what I have learned on BioLogos so far, I was able to follow the discussion, although it is mostly over my head.

I am reminded of when I was a preschooler, when my science teacher dad read stories to me at bedtime. I enjoyed “Winnie the Pooh,” and “Uncle Remus," but my favorite was his high school science textbook. I didn’t really understand what it was about, but I loved the sound of it. It seemed so complicated and mysterious.

The primary difference between ID and EC seems to be at what point God is responsible for the design. It seems more amazing to me that God designed molecules and chemical bonding so that they would lead to life, than that he waved his hands and made every living creature individually from scratch. If it turns out that our chemistry is based on the properties of sub-atomic particles, God had no less of a hand in bringing life into being.

(Dennis Venema) #4

Thanks for the comment Larry, and I think your assessment is spot on. God is the author and designer of all natural processes. I think the ID desire stems in large part from wanting an effective apologetic against philosophical naturalism, which the EC view does not provide. I’m not convinced that God would bury definitive proof of his existence deep in nature in the form of discontinuities. I think Bonhoeffer had it right on that point.


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(Dennis Venema) #6

Hi Eddie,

It seems to me that Meyer’s version of ID requires discontinuities, and that is what I am discussing. Even Behe requires discontinuities, as does everyone else in the movement as far as I can see. Denton may be a counterexample - I haven’t read his works, so I can’t comment there. I have never encountered a popular supporter of ID who did not want there to be discontinuities.

(Brad Kramer) #7

Right. @eddie: As I’ve responded to you on several occasions before, when we use ID here, we’re using it in the sense of “ID as defined by the overwhelming majority of its adherents, proponents, and followers, outliers not withstanding.” I support Dennis in using ID in that way, especially when specifically discussing Meyer’s work.


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(Christy Hemphill) #9

C’mon. You like the attention. I only harrass people whose posts I actually read, so in a way it’s kind of a compliment that I have read so many of your posts, in their formidable entirety. No small feat. :tired_face:

(Dennis Venema) #10

Hi Eddie - I do have a hazy recollection of this, so yes, I’ll defer to that and admit the mistake. Can you pull that quote again for me to refresh my memory? How does Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity square with “no discontinuities”, then?


Denton’s is a deistic argument, so it’s “hands off” after the formation of the universe. Others may dispute this but I think Denton’s claims are largely untestable, unless we find life on other planets with distinctly different chemistry.


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(Dennis Venema) #13

Thanks for the link & refreshing my memory, Eddie.

Behe’s two books assume discontinuities - irreducible complexity and Behe’s purported “edge” of what evolution can accomplish make no sense if one does not invoke discontinuities. So, I don’t see this comment as logically consistient with his books. If you know of a place where he has developed his ideas about front-loading beyond an offhand comment please let me know. Or you could ask him to drop by and discuss it here - the door is always open.

(GJDS) #14

I am interested in gaining a greater understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of biology and from that hopefully, gain insights into the basis for ToE. One area that is particularly interesting is the concept of a gene. This quote below, and scheme, is from “Shifting Attention from Theory to Practice in Philosophy of Biology”, by C. Kenneth Waters. It seems to me that the more we know, the greater the complexity of biological notions, which casts, to my mind, greater uncertainty to notions of mutation, random and chance events, and natural selection, as the fundamental understanding of ToE. I understand this post does not directly address arguments on ID, or EC, and I want to avoid arguments that seek to support, or denigrate, ToE. I think asking questions is more important, and the goal should be to seek greater insight into the mechanisms underpinning biology and the way we understand species and their environment. Insightful comments would be appreciated.

The following quote is a good summary of the notion in question (what is a gene wrt DNA?). “The molecular concept of the gene does not divide DNA at its fundamental joints because the molecule has no such joints. Hence, instead of asking “what is a gene?”, with the presumption that genes are units in the uniquely correct partitioning of DNA, we should be asking “how should biologists conceive of genes and why?” Answering this question indicates that biologists should conceive of genes in a multiplicity of ways. In some contexts, precision is not important or possible, and biologists conceive of genes in much the same way as classical geneticists did. In other contexts, precision is important. In these contexts biologists should employ the molecular gene concept because it provides a flexible and precise way to identify functional units and this enables biologists to slip and slide through the causal complexities of the biological world".


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(Dennis Venema) #16


Do you know if Behe has written about his views on front loading anywhere else? I’m genuinely interested to know.

Also, you know full well that the ID community has said far worse things about me (as one example) than have ever been said about Behe here on BioLogos. Our comment policy here would delete anything over the line in short order.

Despite this, I would be happy to interact with folks on places like Uncommon Descent. I tried to register, but I was blocked from registering without any explanation given. So, commenting there is simply not an option for me.

I might contact Behe, sure - but I’d like to read more about his views on front loading first. Is that the sum total of what he has written on it? If so, that’s a pretty slender evidence base, however much weight you put on it…

(sy_garte) #17

I like this wording @Eddie , and I think many people find “design woven throughout the fabric of the universe”. I know that I do. I recently asked @Jon_Garvey a question related to this issue: If God designed any particular biological feature (lets use the genetic code as an example) HOW did God do it? To which Jon answered that the question is not germane to his own notion of what design means. It is not the instantiation of the design but the concept that belongs in God’s realm. I totally agree with this, and I would wish that Paul Nelson and Steve Meyer would also. If they did, they would no longer need to try to prove that “natural” explanations of anything, such as the genetic code or biological information is impossible.

That is not the right question. The question should be: is everything accidental, unguided, undesigned, meaningess. Or is so much of our universe, including all of life, guided, designed, purposeful? Notice that these are not scientific questions, they cannot be answered in either direction by science. Both the new atheists and the ID proponents (some of each, rather) make the mistake of trying to use science to answer them. In truth, all of nature is God-created, God -guided, God-designed, and full of God’s purposes.

When ECs are asked by IDers (and you have asked similar questions at times) “OK, you think everything is explained by natural processes. So where is God?” The answer is: everywhere. All of nature is God’s work. And that includes design, in the sense that Jon uses. But, as I have said a few times, it is divine design, not “intelligent” design. This means that we cannot conceive of how God designed the genetic code, any more than we can conceive of how God designed gravity or the quantum states of electrons.

So what sense does it make to say “God must have had a role in evolution and abiogenesis, because there is evidence of design” Of course God had a role, He did it all, but we will never learn all the details of how. The most we can learn is what was done, and some of the overall mechanisms, like evolution by natural selection (or direct templating of aptamers for code origin). But a deep understanding of how God works to instantiate his divinely brilliant purposes will forever be a mystery.


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(Dennis Venema) #20

Eddie, you’re welcome to have this discussion here with Sy if you’d like. If the conversation wanders a bit that’s fine with me - as of yet no one is discussing the content of the post, really.

If we do later get to that, then we can shift the focus back. Perhaps @paulnelson will drop by to critique my critique - which of course would be welcome also.

More than once I’ve (half jokingly) said that people could choose their position on origins merely on who has the most open commenting policy. One of the things I really value about BioLogos is that we welcome supportive, cautious, and even non-supportive voices as long as a few basic courtesies are followed. We feel that the truth, as we see it, is strong enough to be challenged by anyone who is interested in gracious dialogue.