Is promoting ID a waste of time?

What makes you think that’s a ridiculously big number? When you’re dealing with numbers outside our usual range of experience, intuition is a very poor guide.

As @Lynn_Munter, there’s no simple answer. But we do have some information to give us clues. Antibodies have come up here before, and they’re a good test case. They’re proteins, and their function is to bind foreign proteins, specifically proteins on invading microbes. Each new microbe encountered has a modest number of potential binding sites, so the task is pretty specific: come up with a protein that will bind one of those sites so you don’t die from an infection. Your immune system routinely comes up with antibodies that do the job, by starting with a stock of ~10^11 random antibodies and varying the ones that have some binding affinity to the target. That must mean that something like 1 in 10^10 random antibodies binds the target well enough to be selected. The variable region of an antibody is about 120 amino acids. I don’t know if they’re all free to vary. If they are, then the number of possible antibodies that will bind to a particular target is ~10^146, i.e. 67 orders of magnitude larger than the ridiculously big number you picked. (If the number of variable sites is smaller, than the absolute number of possible functional proteins is smaller – but the fraction of functional ones, which is the important thing, is unchanged.) Similarly, I’ve seen estimates that 1 in 10^8 random antibodies will have weak catalytic activity for a particular target.


I’d dispute that antibodies are a good example, as by their very nature, there is benefit to them having wide effectiveness to affect numerous possible antigens, otherwise the immune system would have to come up with a very specific sequence in order to combat any said disease.

I’m thinking of proteins necessary for life that have a very specific biological function, that must be much more specific in sequence to fold to very partiuclar shapes to accomplish their function, or those we can study just how many mutations they can endure before they lose said function. From the little I’ve read, it doesn’t look like proteins can endure a particularly large number of mutations across their sequence before losing their ability to fold in their multiple folds and carry out specific functions… hence I thought even 1027 was a rather generous number.

But of more significance, if my number of, say, even 1092 is a ridiculously small estimate of how many possible combinations of a acids would still allow the specific primary, secondary, etc., folds needed to accomplish a particular critical biological function in my hypothetical, I’d need to know what evidence there is that actual said number is magnitudes higher, to see if that would work with evolutionary theory. If I’m pulling a number out of a hat and saying, “see, it’s impossible,” I get the impression (based on what you and Lynn both acknowledged that there is no simple answer) that others are believing it happened by faith, entirely regardless of specific numbers… elite in general it happened by faith, rather than because they have looked at hard numbers and have determined it is genuinely within the realm of realistic possibility.

Personally, if there are no specific answers yet on this question, I would prefer to see folks withhold judgment on whether or not it could happen by unguided processes or not, this seems only reasonable. Seeing folks affirming it happened by unguided process (by faith?) while we have no idea, really, of what those numbers are, and how probable or improbable it really is, feeds my skepticism of the larger approach, I’m afraid. “We have no real idea, really, of whether this unguided process is very likely, or cosmically impossibly unlikely, to produce this result. But I choose to believe the former… just because…?”

But I don’t have time to discuss this particular topic further, I just wanted to share with John as he’d asked my own personal take and what was most convincing to me. I’ll let you (and anyone else) have the last word here and I’ll bow out of this topic. Thanks for the engagement and discussion as always!

Which of course is exactly what happens. It has to be a good match to work, as you can tell when the flu vaccine does not stimulate the exact antibody to attach to that season’s virus.


There are studies that have easily found function for randomized sequences, and there are studies that have documented very good evidence for new functional genes arising (and then becoming essential in some cases). If new functions were really only one in 10 to the 77th power this would never be possible.

Don’t forget that Axe’s paper, where the much-touted figure of one in 10 to the 77th comes from, is an extrapolation from an unrealistic scenario based on one (yes, only one!) test protein. How accurate do you think extrapolating from a sample size of one will be?

This brings up the question of what a “critical biological function” would even be. Anything that is critical to function today would not necessarily have been so in the past; of course, by the logic of evolution, nothing other than the original self-replicating molecule would have been critical when it first formed.

As @jpm has pointed out, that’s just about perfectly wrong. Antibodies have to be highly specific, or they would bind to host proteins and we’d all have multiple autoimmune diseases. Antibodies are proteins that serve a highly specific, vital function. They are what you claim can’t evolve.

What have you read? This isn’t my specialty, but I know that similar protein folds can occur with wildly divergent amino acid sequences. Based on that, I would say 10^27 is absurdly low.

As @DennisVenema noted, there are experimental studies that show that function is quite easy to obtain from random sequences. It’s true, though, that we cannot say that all proteins in the history of life have arisen through natural processes. What we can say is that known mutational processes are able to generate functional proteins pretty easily, and that wherever we have good information about the origin of a protein (e.g. a recently arisen protein with multiple closely related species to examine), it almost always looks like it originated by a known mechanism: e.g. from gene duplication, from a transposon, from noncoding sequence.

This combination – known mechanisms that appear adequate to explain the origin of proteins, and evidence that those mechanisms are in fact responsible for the origin of most proteins – justifies treating this as a largely solved problem. This is particularly true because of the complete absence of evidence that any other mechanism is operating.


Well said, Steve. ID as a whole takes a very Behe-like approach - unless something can be exhaustively shown to have arisen through natural mechanisms they will prefer an explanation where something supernatural is required. Behe’s testimony at Kitzmiller on the origin of the immune system was particularly informative.

Basing your faith on anything opposed to science is a terrible idea. That is just setting yourself up for a loss of faith.

The strongest basis for a faith in God is and always has been personal experience with God. But the fact that the universe did begin 13.8 billion years ago is solid – the evidence is quite robust.

This is the premise of Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion,” and it is my biggest criticism of the book. God cannot ever be a valid scientific hypothesis. Creationists and ID proponents should sing Dawkin’s praises for this wonderful gift to their cause, for this nonsense set back the education of evolution by a great deal.

Correct! I am a classic agnostic with respect to the objective knowledge of the existence of God – I don’t believe any such thing is possible. But I believe in God and the spiritual because even though I am a physicist, I cannot accept the naturalist premise that the objective evidence defines the limits of reality.

Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” has no validity for the hard sciences. At most it might apply to the rather whimsical opinions of psychiatric methodology looking at the changes from Freud’s psychoanalysis to Carl Roger’s self-actualization. Some areas of medical practice might also dominated by paradigms, and there are others areas of the scientific frontier where evidence is still a bit thin. But where there is the long accumulation of hard objective evidence, nothing can make that evidence go away, and so rather than relativity, quantum physics, and the standard model overthrowing Newton and Maxwell, the agreement with Newton, Maxwell and classical physics in the regime of supporting evidence was the first test that these new theories had to pass before they would be accepted.

I like many others have drifted away from Christ during adolescence not unlike todays young folks AKA Millennials.

In my case, my faith started creeping back for my children’s sake. Maybe to “play it safe”. I looked for inspiration at church which helped me attain a spiritual level of just “Half Full”.

Years later, and being a frustrated physicist, I set my “Google Alerts” for all things quantum with a little string theory thrown in. They soon lead me to my missing other half.

It is for this reason I believe that others who are instinctively captivated by the contemporary fields of physics and who followed or are following a similar path should look into restoring their faith on the evidence of intelligent design.

I’ll admit I arrived at this conclusion myself without any formal presentation, paper or otherwise. I am now just trying to put together a paper that best explains how I arrived at this independently.


I am the opposite. I was raised very critical of Christianity but found value in it with the scientific worldview as the perceptive filter through which I read the Bible. For the sake of my children, however, I have shown them the value of the atheist POV and the criticisms of Christianity and religion in general. One thing I reject absolutely and that is the idea that any Christianity is better than none.

Thinking that Christianity is needed for teaching morality to children suggests an authoritarian morality which is totally inadequate for mature rational human beings who have to confront moral dilemmas in a changing world. Far better to teach them that things are right or wrong because of actual measurable harm to other human beings and themselves.

I do not. In fact I am diametrically opposed, seeing ID as an attack upon science. Evolution is more compatible with Christianity than creationism or ID, and I could not be a Christian without it. I certainly see no reason for distorting the Bible in order to make it incompatible with the findings of modern science, which includes evolution as the answer to its inquiry into the origin of the species.