This is part of my discussion about The Myth of Junk DNA by Jonathan Wells. I still haven't read the book—it won't be released in Canada until May 31st.
Over on Evolution News & Views (sic) David Klinghoffer is already counting his chickens [Junk DNA and the Darwinist Response so Far].
Over the weekend, Jonathan Wells's The Myth of Junk DNA broke into the top five on Amazon's list of books dealing with genetics -- a list normally dominated at its pinnacle by various editions of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Not bad, Jonathan.Not bad indeed, except I can't tell if it's true. When I check the top selling recently published books I don't see The Myth of Junk DNA in the top five. Never mind, I'm sure there will be many skeptics like me who will buy the book just for a good laugh.
UPDATE: The latest information shows that Wells' book is ranked 23rd under "Genetics." I'm sure the IDiots just made a simple arithmetic error when they said it had broken into the top five.
The juxtaposition with Dawkins' Selfish Gene is appropriate, notwithstanding the demurrals of biochemist Larry Moran et al. Dawkins and other Darwinists, such as Jerry Coyne, have indeed posited that neo-Darwinian theory predicts that swaths of the genome will turn out to be functionless junk. The Junk DNA argument has been a pillar of the Darwin Lobby's efforts to seduce public opinion and influence public policy. Professor Moran wants to imagine that Dawkins never held that neo-Darwinism predicts junk DNA. But that's not how other Darwinists see it. (Compare, for example, Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, page 316.)The IDiots have a bit of a problem. In order to make this book look important they have to first establish that the concept of abundant junk DNA in our genome was a "pillar" of support for evolution. That's hard to do when their understanding of evolution is so flawed that they don't see the difference between "Darwinism" and evolution by random genetic drift.
Their claim that evolutionary theory PREDICTED the presence of huge amounts of junk DNA in our genome is just plain false. They been told this but they keep repeating their error. There's a word for that kind of behavior.
It's easy to see how they got confused.
It's also partly because the IDiots don't know the difference between selfish DNA and junk. Here's what Daniel Dennett says on page 316 of Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
The presence of functionless DNA in the genome is no longer regarded as a puzzle. Dawkins (1976) selfish-gene theory predicts it, and elaborations on the idea of "selfish DNA" were simultaneously developed by Doolittle and Sapeinza (1980) and Orgel and Crick (1980) (see Dawkins 1982, ch. 9, for the details).Selfish DNA is not junk DNA. The classic examples of selfish DNA are active transposons and integrated viruses. These bits of DNA have a function—even if it's only to propagate themselves. As you can see from my summary [What's in Your Genome?]. I don't count them as junk.
It's remarkable that Klinghoffer quotes Chapter 9 of The Extended Phenotype (1982) since Dawkins take pains to point out that much of the junk DNA in our genome could have a function. This is exactly the sort of skepticism one would expect from a Darwinist.
This does not mean, however, that the so-called junk DNA is not subject to natural selection. Various 'functions' for it have been proposed, where 'function' means adaptive benefit to the organism.He goes on to describe several of the proposals that are common arguments against junk DNA. If the DNA has a function and it's adaptive, then it is not junk. Selfish DNA is not junk.
Let's be very clear about one thing. The scientific dispute is not over the existence of junk DNA. That's well established. The dispute is over how much of our genome is junk (DNA with no function). In order to refute the idea that MOST of our genome is junk, you have to show that most of it has a function of some sort. I'm looking forward to Jonathan Wells' book where he is going to prove to us that >50% of our genome has a function. (Not holding my breath!)
So far, with none of them having actually read the book (though P.Z. Myers threatens to do so), the Darwin apologists' response to The Myth of Junk DNA has followed along four lines of defense.You know, there's one sure way to prove you're not an idiot. The IDiots have been trying for over twenty years to show that they understand science. I'll gladly stop calling them idiots as soon as they deserve it.
1) The usual insults. In his blog Larry Moran of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, a grown man and from the looks of him not a young one either, repetitively derides Jonathan as an "IDiot." (How embarrassing for this mature gentleman, you might think. Can you imagine Jonathan Wells or anyone else prominent in the ID community replying in kind, designating Professor Moran as "Larry Moron" or similar? The question is self-answering and tells you a lot about how desperation kindles anger among these people.)
Speaking of insults. There's one sure way to ensure that you aren't going to be insulted and that's to stop calling evolutionary biologists "Darwinists" and stop saying that they don't understand their own discipline. I find that extremely insulting and I'm not going to refrain from responding in kind.
I don't know what Jonathan Wells is going to say in his latest book but here's a few examples of insults in Icons of Evolution.
There is a pattern here, and it demands an explanation. Instead of continually testing their theory against the evidence, as scientists are supposed to do, some Darwinists consistently ignore, explain away, or misrepresent the biological facts in order to promote their theory. One isolate example of such behavior might be due simply to overzealousness. Maybe even two. But ten? Year after year? (p. 230)Klinghoffer continues with his four lines of defense that we "Darwinists" apparently use to defend the existence of abundant junk DNA (>50%) in our genome.
Fraud is a dirty word, and it should not be used lightly. In the cases described in this book, dogmatic promoters of Darwinism did not see themselves as deceivers. Yet they seriously distorted the evidence—often knowingly. If this is fraud when a stock promoter does it, what is it when a scientist does it? (p. 234)
If dogmatic promoters of Darwinian evolution were merely distorting the truth, that would be bad enough. But they haven't stopped there. They now dominate the biological sciences in the English-speaking world, and use their position of dominance to censor dissenting viewpoints. (p. 235)
The truth is that a surprising number of biologists quietly doubt or reject some of the grander claims of Darwinian evolution. But—at least in America—the must keep their mouths shut or risk condemnation, marginalization, and eventual expulsion from the scientific community. This happens infrequently, but often enough to remind everyone that the risk is real. (p. 239)
2) Denying that junk DNA ever figured preeminently in the Darwinist's quiver of arguments against design. Moran, for example, asserts, "There was never a time when knowledgeable molecular biologists equated 'junk' DNA and 'noncoding' DNA." Huh, that's strange. I'm not aware of anyone who has scientifically polled the community of professional biologists on the subject. But I do know that in the struggle for public opinion over the question of Darwin versus Design, junk DNA has again and again been employed, by all the most eminent protagonists on the Darwinian side, as a bludgeoning weapon against intelligent design. Never mind The Selfish Gene, in his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth (2009), Dawkins observed that "the greater part...of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes," and that this fact is "useful for...embarrassing creationists."I said that knowledgeable scientists never said that all non-coding DNA is junk. Klinghoffer says, blah, blah, blah, not even addressing my statement.
Similarly, in Why Evolution Is True (2009), Jerry Coyne offers it, again, as a "prediction" of neo-Darwinian theory that we'll find the genome littered with useless "vestigial genes."
You can't make this stuff up. At every single opportunity the IDiots demonstrate that they deserve the title.
3) When not denying that junk DNA is a prime, staple argument for Darwin apologists, Professor Moran wants to have it the opposite way. In the same series of blog posts attacking "the IDiot" Jonathan Wells, Moran maintains his own belief that the genome is indeed overwhelmingly useless junk. "Some (I am one)," he writes, "still think that as much as 90 percent could be junk." He insists that "it's not sufficient to show that a few bits of repetitive DNA have gained a function in some species."Theme
Dr. Moran's problem is that he has neither read Jonathan's book nor, it seems, followed the cascade of evidence from the scientific publications. It's a heck of a lot more than just "a few bits of repetitive DNA" that have been shown to be functional. In a brief (and enviably readable and accessible) 115-page book, Jonathan Wells offers over 600 references to recent peer-reviewed literature.
Twenty-five thousand studies further down the road from where we are now, no one knows how much of the genome will turn out to be truly functionless and therefore genuinely worthy of the appellation "junk." But for Darwinists, the speedily mounting evidence against junk DNA is an ominous portent. As Casey Luskin and others have put it, it's the trend that stands out prominently here, on which the likes of Larry Moran have so far been in denial.
& Junk DNAI've tried and tried to get the IDiots to have a serious, scientific, discussion about the evidence for and against abundant junk DNA in our genome. Some of them have tried but their arguments soon degenerate into insults about my lack of knowledge of the scientific literature. This is in spite of the fact that I have dozens of postings on the subject over the past few years and nobody has ever shown that I've been ignorant of the science behind the controversy. We may disagree about the interpretation but that's not what I'm being accused of here.
As soon as I read the book I'll post a bunch of articles pointing out why it's wrong. That will give the IDiots, like Jonathan Wells, a chance to debate the points I make and show that he is right and I am wrong. I'm looking forward to it.
4) Finally, in my own small contribution to this debate, I made a facetious comment here about how the identification of Osama bin Laden's corpse by DNA fingerprinting, using his "junk DNA" as the media habitually referred to it, provided a welcome news hook for the publication of Jonathan's book. This provoked braying responses from the Darwin Lobby. For example, our journalist friend Lauri Lebo, challenged as ever in her reading-comprehension skills, somehow understood that I was saying the usefulness of non-coding DNA for this forensic purpose proved it isn't junk.Every now and them some IDiots get something right—even if it's just by accident. One example is when Klinghoffer describes his posting as "my own small contribution."
P.Z. Myers tried to show that the usefulness of non-coding DNA for genetic fingerprinting is another demonstration that the stuff really is junk, being "subject to random changes at a higher rate than coding DNA, because it is not subject to functional constraints."
But whether "junk DNA" is functional is exactly the question at issue, isn't it? The fact that our DNA is pervasively transcribed, as Jonathan Wells points out in Chapter 3 of his book, itself suggests pervasive functionality. As has become clear, too, DNA may serve in various functions even if it does not code for functional RNA.It will be fun to read how Wells deals with the issue of spurious transcription based on his understanding of how RNA polymerase and transcriptional activators bind to DNA. I'm certainly looking forward to learning about the reliability of those genome studies on transcription and I'm sure Wells is going to discuss conflicting data in the scientific literature. After all, Wells has a Ph.D. in molecular biology so he must know about the real scientific controversy, right?
As for functions that don't require transcription, I highly recommend my short summary of these in What's in Your Genome. We've known about them for decades but apparently the IDiots think this is a new discovery.
So far, the Darwinist response fails to appreciate that Jonathan is in the act of very seriously blunting a Darwinian icon. What, in this context, is an icon? It's a mainstay in the public debate about Darwinian evolution that turns out, on inspection, to be based not on solid science but on puffery, illusion or deception.Whatever. Wells' first book, Icons of Evolution was full of lies and I suspect this one will be too. Only one of the ten so-called icons was "blunted" by Wells and that one was the Haeckel drawings. Even then, Wells seriously distorted the significance of those fake drawings by claiming that there was now no evidence of similarities in the development of all mammals.
This is another icon that, as Jonathan shows, was in the process of being blunted by biologists who are not ID advocates, well before Dr. Wells gathered the evidence together so concisely and conveniently in these pages.