New Genes | A Science Explainer with Dennis Venema

In a recent article in the journal Science , researchers described a process where new genes come about from parts of DNA that were thought to be useless and led to bigger brains in humans.

Jim and Colin, along with @DennisVenema, discuss what’s going on and describe some of the basic science that reveals why this discovery is an exciting new development in understanding what it means to be human and how we got to be the way we are.


As a Christian I am not following the logic behind the idea that an intelligent God designs a primitive being (mankind) with a brain far too small to be useful for reasoning that separates us from animals, and then voila suddenly we start to evolve of our own accord into what we are today.

In all honesty, it strongly suggests to me that anyone subscribing to the above theory also believes that man will elevate himself to perfection…“Self Transcendance” which is completely antibiblical. If that were the case, who needs Christ to die on the cross?

There was no sudden start, there was evolution throughout.

The basic logic is that God would create the universe with laws that would produce what he wanted without having to constantly create new things along the way. As Darwin put it:

In the same way, God created physical laws that creates rainclouds. He doesn’t need to create each and every raincloud because his laws are incapable of creating them.

I don’t see why they would believe that. God created nature with laws that would produce what he wanted, so if he doesn’t want something that is antibiblical then those laws would not produce them.


So now you are promoting ID (Intelligent Design). The idea that ID means God simply placed the mechanism inside us all an then waited for something to happen…can you quote bible verses that directly support such a view please?

Also, there is a large chasm between the idea of self transcendence and the discovery of a word to describe what holds us firmly on terra firma. They are completely different concepts…so i do not see how you can use one to demonstrate the truth of the other

No. ID also has God intervening in nature because his laws were incapable of producing what he wanted.

I’m not aware of any Bible verses that try to communicate scientific ideas from the 20th century to people in the ancient Near East in 400 BC.

There’s a large chasm between scientific and theological truths which is why many Christians do not try to conflate the theological truths in Genesis with scientific truths.


ID as far as i am aware states that God placed all of the mechanisms inside us already…it does not state that he was incapable of producing anything.

Why do you separate the laws of our existence from God btw? I don’t see how you can do that…ooooh thats right you are an atheist.

You arent ware of any Bible verses, again because you are an atheist is that not the truth of the matter?

Can I ask, why does an atheist attend Christian forums are you seeking conversion given that the idea of Biologos is to bridge the gap between Christianity and Science…so its mission is still a Christian one?

Why would it suggest that? Presumably you think you developed from a small-brained, not very rational infant into a reasoning adult. If you subscribe to that theory, do you also believe that you will elevate yourself to perfection?


What you are describing is more closely related to deism. Some ID folk do allow for evolution within limits with intelligent intervention intermittently, and some old earth progressive creationists allow for something like evolution, but with God making interventions and new creations here and there.

And perhaps the question I would have in return, is " Why to young earth creationists separate the laws of our existence from physical reality?"


Back to the podcast, I thought it did a good job of explaining some of the complexities in terms that we semi-literate people could understand. It touches on some of the complexities of determining what “junk dna” is and is not, and how perhaps even junk can be used to build something totally new, not unlike how my grandson can build a Lego car out of the pieces of a Lego set that was originally designed to be a Star Wars set. And why that car now has a ray gun on its hood.


That answer is very simple…a Muslim is not a Muslim because of science, a hindu is not a hindu because of science, a Buddhist is not a buddhist because of science, a christian is not a christian because of science…science has no part to play in theology of any religion…that is the point.

Philosophy is not scientific. You should be very aware of the fact that we choose to be Christian despite that vast majority of those around us who say its fairytales.

It is quite stupid in my view to make the claim that Christians leave God because of scientific conflict they can’t resolve. The bible is very specific on exactly this point…and all christians know exactly what the bible says about such things. The reality is, people leave God because of unbelief and that stems from a poor understanding of the philosophy of Christianity…not science. Science has nothing to do with it in my view (and I would argue most YEC are of a similar view)

If I were to use an analogy, it would be a bit like having a dumpster full of broken beer bottles. Most of us would consider it junk. Someone could grab a bucketful of those glass shards and make them into a piece of art. This doesn’t mean the broken bottles aren’t junk, or weren’t junk when they were sitting in the dumpster just before they were scooped out. The glass shards had to be modified before they produced something functional. In the same way, junk DNA has to be modified before it becomes functional as happened in the study that is highlighted in the podcast.


Many ID proponents argue quite vociferously against that idea. They continually argue against evolution which means they disagree with what you are describing.

I don’t. That’s what OEC’s and YEC’s do. This is why they vilify “secular” science because it doesn’t separate the laws of the universe from God. YEC’s, for example, need almost every natural law we are aware of to suddenly change or stop working in order for YEC to be true.

I am discussing the view of Christians. Perhaps you can ask them what scriptures they use to justify their position. At the same time, the logic of their position makes a lot of sense. An all powerful deity would certainly be able to create a universe whose laws were able to produce what that deity wants.

Bridging the gap between Christianity and science includes bridging the gap between the Christian and scientific communities. The scientific community includes people of all religions and no religion. Some of the hesitancy that that Christians have towards the scientific community is the presence of atheists in that community. I think it is helpful to show that Christians and atheists stand shoulder to shoulder when it comes to showing Christians that science can be trusted, and can be a great place for Christians to find a career.


I think you misunderstand the point made by YEC. And ID. On this…they do not separate laws from God, they believe that the laws are and exact representation of who God is. That makes sense because they (yec and ID)believe he created everything. God is not bound by any law because He is law.

Science is open to interpretations that’s the idea…it’s the secular interpretation and conclusion that is being debated…not the tool itself there’s a difference. Both reach different conclusions based on presuppositions…Christianity and or humanism. I disagree that science interpretation isn’t bound to prior decisions, academics write papers with supporting evidence on a daily basis that are contrary to existing papers also with sound supporting evidence…anyone who’s studied at university already knows this fact. In any case, YEC presuppose the Bible account as authoritative. Atheists obviously cannot agree with this, they do not believe in God or his book so their scientific conclusions will be very different.

So God can choose to allow evolution to produce the biodiversity we see today, correct?

YEC invents ad hoc mechanisms like accelerated nuclear decay in order to make inconvenient data go away. YEC also purposefully throw out evidence that contradicts their conclusions.

“No apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field of study, including science, history, and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture obtained by historical-grammatical interpretation.”
–Answers in Genesis

That’s not science.

Science isn’t humanism. In science, we follow the evidence. We don’t ignore the evidence or invent evidence such as accelerated nuclear decay.

Do you get a different half life for the decay of 40K depending on prior decisions? Do you get a different ratio of K/Ar in a rock based on prior decisions? Do zircons suddenly start including Pb when they form if you just believe in YEC?

Science does not presuppose any written account is authoritative. Science only accepts empirical measurements as authoritative. That’s the difference. YEC’s start with the conclusion and then throw out empirical measurements that lead away from those conclusions. That’s why YEC is not science.


Not even close to science.

I agree, and I liked @T_aquaticus analogy of the mosaic. Regarding the podcast, another recent article highlights the opposite – a bacterial genome deliberately trimmed to the minimum in 2016. Seven years (edit: My bad. Seven yrs between publications. Actually, it was 300 days) and 2,000 generations later, all the losses in fitness and function had been regained. Wow.


Possessing only essential genes, a minimal cell can reveal mechanisms and processes that are critical for the persistence and stability of life1,2. Here we report on how an engineered minimal cell3,4 contends with the forces of evolution compared with the Mycoplasma mycoides non-minimal cell from which it was synthetically derived. Mutation rates were the highest among all reported bacteria, but were not affected by genome minimization. Genome streamlining was costly, leading to a decrease in fitness of greater than 50%, but this deficit was regained during 2,000 generations of evolution. Despite selection acting on distinct genetic targets, increases in the maximum growth rate of the synthetic cells were comparable. Moreover, when performance was assessed by relative fitness, the minimal cell evolved 39% faster than the non-minimal cell. The only apparent constraint involved the evolution of cell size. The size of the non-minimal cell increased by 80%, whereas the minimal cell remained the same. This pattern reflected epistatic effects of mutations in ftsZ, which encodes a tubulin-homologue protein that regulates cell division and morphology5,6. Our findings demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly increase the fitness of one of the simplest autonomously growing organisms. Understanding how species with small genomes overcome evolutionary challenges provides critical insights into the persistence of host-associated endosymbionts, the stability of streamlined chassis for biotechnology and the targeted refinement of synthetically engineered cells2,7,8,9.

Addendum: Here’s a more understandable article on the subject:


I should probably make this a separate thread, but if you prefer podcasts to reading, the first 9 minutes of this Nature podcast are a great explainer. Love to hear @jstump and @DennisVenema parse this one for the BL audience.

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There’s nothing stupid about that. On the other hand Adam, you don’t seem to be living in the real world! There’s tonnes of people who not only left, but never even were Christians, not even theists, precisely because of “scientific” anti-God opinions.

I find this statement illogical, but if that’s your opinion, fine, you’re entitled to it. But I wonder what do you mean specifically by “philosophy of Christianity”. What causes people to turn against religion (especially Christianity) from my observations is the negativity that surrounds it, only few days ago I came across someone proclaiming it “the religion of hate”, then there’s the view that it encourages “outdated and primitive” attitudes. That’s more than enough to put people off.

Well, I have watched a Muslim trying to back up his religious beliefs (and presumably encourage others to become Muslims) using science. Not that Christians are innocent it that kind of apologetics.

There are interpretations…then there’s extreme extrapolation of data… further, there’s even manipulation of data.

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Thank you for this very interesting podcast.

I have a question for our biologists: would this mechanism for creating new genes be part of an explanation for the theory of punctuated equilibrium? (Punctuated equilibrium - Wikipedia) In particular, geologically rapid species branching.

  1. God doesnt need to use evolution, but i think that most YECers should agree that mutations, although a direct consequence of the degeneration of this planet due to sin, exist. We certainly see biodiversity capabilities included in living things because of the re-population of the planet from a smaller number of individuals after the flood account. We do not know whether or not He foresaw the fall of man and entry of sin into this world and designed just in case, however, given other statements in the bible, i dont think miraculous changes to creation after the flood was too difficult a propsect (given He created it all from nothing anyway).

  2. I disagree with the claim regarding nuclear decay and so do a lot of well known scientists. It is not the only supporting evidence for the YEC view on this, just like the secular world, these scientists develop these views from a range of evidence. In this case, evidence that very clearly does not support the Old Age view. Your counterargument is to come up with the term “pseudoscience” and throw that out as apparent evidence…which it is not. That is nothing more than two sides of politics arguing across the floor at each other…directing pseudo-political names at each other all day long and yet the country somehow still manages to function.

  3. The half life argument is a non-argument. There are numerous assumptions that secular science makes in order to further that line of argument that are simply one of statistics and not actual history. At what level of decay was that element when it was first created? Was there even decay in a perfect world after creation? Was anyone around to measure it? Are there other possibilities that logically explain it…yes there are, but you call that pseudoscience and ignore such arguments. If there is one thing i learned first hand during my university days, it was that in academics, right and wrong is not what is being marked…it is the supporting arguments and evidence presented in support of the premise of the paper. One could easily find enough supporting evidence in an academic paper to claim the “pot really can call the kettle black” and receive a high distinction for it.

Contrary to what the general public are brainwashed with regarding evolutionary science, the fact is, the evolutionary view is based entirely on a compilation of supporting academic papers that have built upon previous papers that use only supporting evidence to demonstrate and build the theory. Anything that does not support that view is thrown out and not included in the evidence trail. The number of contradictions in evolutionary world view is rather significant, but most dont worry about such things, they ignore them because they have been taught “we dont know yet” is ok.

  1. YEC is a world view. I do not know why you continue to make out science is its own entity…it is not. Science in nothing more than a tool and that tool academically can easily be used to support all world views. Because you are an atheist, you do not believe in a God who can simply speak things into existence…and yet, you have not actually got a mechanism for explaining how what we see around us appeared in the first place!

The only choice left is to discredit the founder of the modern scientific theory…its fundamental principle is torn apart (ie that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed only transferred from one form to another)

At least with my theology, i do not need to stuff around with my belief structure in order to resolve the most basic of all scientific dilemmas (where did all this come from).

And then, despite your distaste for it, we have Pascals Wager. Whether or not you agree with it, what happens if your atheistic view are wrong and I am right? Are you really going to be happy with only this miserable existence given the historically supported possibility there really is a God and that there will be eternal life for those who choose to follow Him? Surely as a follower of Science, and more importantly mathematics, the statistical method says you should take Pascals Wager into consideration and follow the God path? Most Christians i would suggest, follow Pascals Wager because in fact the Bible itself promotes this very idea…if you want eternal life you must believe, if you dont, then you are condemned to die and not live eternally…this biblical theme is rather binary wouldnt you agree?

That characterizes me pretty well. :grin: Cool episode, and since mutations can be providential…

…the most common mutations, transitions, are not really ‘copying errors,’ because the keto-enol transition of the base is driving them and the polymerase is working correctly. So if you’d like, that can be seen as providence more than chance. - John Mercer, molecular biologist

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