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Intelligent Design

Nobel laureate, organic chemist and a leader in origin of life studies, Professor deDuve writes in his excellent book, Tour of a Living Cell, "If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacteria cell to chance assembly of its atoms, eternity will not suffice to produce one..”
Humans and all mammals have some 50,000 genes. That implies, as an order of magnitude estimate, some 50,000 to 100,000 proteins active in mammalian bodies. It is estimated that there are some 30 animal phyla on Earth. If the genomes of each animal phylum produced 100,000 proteins, and no proteins were common among any of the phyla (a fact we know to be false, but an assumption that makes our calculations favor the random evolutionary assumption), there would be (30 x 100,000) 3 million proteins in all life.
Now let's consider the likelihood of these 3 million viable combinations of proteins forming by chance: Proteins are complex coils of several hundred amino acids. Take a typical protein to be a chain of 200 amino acids. The observed range is from less than 100 amino acids per protein to greater than 1000. There are 20 commonly occurring amino acids that join in varying combinations to produce the proteins of life. This means that the number of possible combinations of the amino acids in our model protein of 200 amino acids is 20 to the power of 200 (i.e. 20 multiplied by itself 200 times), or in the more usual 10-based system of numbers, approximately 10 to the power of 260 (i.e. the number one, followed by 260 zeros!). Nature has the option of choosing among the 10 to power of 260 possible proteins, the 3 million proteins of which all viable life is composed. In other words, for each one correct choice, there are 10 to power of 254 wrong choices!

Randomness cannot have been the driving force behind the success of life. Our understanding of statistics and molecular biology clearly supports the notion that there must have been a direction and a “Director” behind the success of life.

Topics: evolution

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  • Jan 17 2012: "A proportion of favorable mutations of one in a thousand does not sound much, but is probably generous ... and a total of a million mutational steps sounds a great deal, but is probably an understatement. ... With this proportion, we should clearly have to breed a million strains (a thousand squared) to get one containing two favorable mutations, and so on, up to a thousand to the millionth power to get one containing a million. ... No one would bet on anything so improbable happening ... And yet it has happened!"-Julian Huxley

    No, I wouldn't bet on it myself.
    • Jan 17 2012: I would ask where did you get those numbers from. A group of scientists by the early 1990s introduced mutations at each position in a protein (one position at a time with every possible amino-acid), and much more than 95% of these mutations had no effect in the activity of the protein. I doubt that this would be the same in every protein, some proteins must tolerate much less, some perhaps more. However, this shows that most-mutations-are-bad is a myth.

      As for advantageous mutations and your probabilities, other experiments with the same protein introduced a process that produced random mutations, combined with a selecting environment for a different activity for this protein. The process also was able to recombine those proteins that survived the selective environment. The process was carried out with higher selective pressure, and the protein evolved a very high activity towards a new substance that it did not recognize before. [Middle to late 1990s.] Thus, I doubt that advantageous mutations need a thousand squared strains to occur and succeed.
      • Jan 18 2012: : I was quoting Julian Huxley, the late evolutionary biologist, so I didn't come up with those numbers. But, I don't believe anyone is being honest with themselves if they don't admit that evolution is improbable to say the least, despite the attribution of billions of years to aid in the effort. Even Richard Dawkins theorized about aliens playing a role. In the same way, Intelligent Design is improbable, and more importantly IMPOSSIBLE if you don't believe in a higher power. So it's not surprising that there are heated debates on this subject; one side is using what they know about science and extrapolating it back to understand the world, and the other is using what they know about God to make sense of the world. Unfortunately religious fervor has gotten in the way of science over the years, but I think this speaks more to narrow mindedness and unwillingness to change in our lovely species than to a particular religion. I don't think God is intimidated by science.

        We can't see evolution happen, we can see natural selection happen. Evolution has some big problems, one of which is the origin of life (something coming from nothing) and the other is speciation (something turning into something else by a series of advantageous mutations.) Natural selection and more importantly, human's selection or "higher selective pressure" is easy to see and duplicate but does not prove evolution. People have been using 'higher selective pressure' for ages to select for desirable qualities in animals specifically. They haven't selected for a different species yet (although the definition of species is dicey as well.)

        Here's a fun thought: Let's say you fully believe in God and the Bible and the seven day creation story. If you walked in on day 8, how old would you say Adam, and the mountains, waters, trees, plants and animals were? Mature, fully grown, not babies, not seedlings, not eggs. Yet technically you believe they were less than seven days old. How would you determine age?
        • Jan 18 2012: Dear Ms. Rose,
          I wish I had time to respond to all these comments, but frankly I'm overwhelmed with reading person suggested to me which I'm slowly getting through. I am still quite awed by the tone and cynical disrespect and aggression of most of the responses I have received. In addition, the preconceived notions that people feel I or anyone who believes differently than they do have is fascinatingly sad to me. My questions have been largely ignored and maligned. I've mentioned, I'm a psychotherapist and did not see the world and how we interact with each other, whether through politics, arts, intellect, medicine, etc. as separate forums which allow different behaviors in each. Love and respect are the prerequisite for all interactions at all times. The Torah states love your neighbor as yourself - it does not state love humanity as yourself, although obviously included. Why? It is easier to love an amorphous idea than the actual person next door whose character you dislike. We tend to judge ourselves according to what we think and philosophically aspire to rather than our actions. No one in the Milgram experiment would have thought they would have ever acted the way they did beforehand.
          When I quote a noble laureate disagreeing with their views I'm insulted and demeaned but they allow themselves a double standard. As I mentioned before I would no more tell an astrophysicist I understand what their study is about because I learned the poem twinkle, twinkle Little Star. I know many people who have not seriously studied religion in their adult years with competent teachers believe they understand theology. This is a pity.
          In terms of your questions. The Talmud asks these and much harder ones. I direct you to:

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          Jan 22 2012: Dear Ms. Rose.

          I just wanted you to know, that my sister, who is doing her doctorate on microbiology here in Norway, has directly observed speciation (what you would call macro-evolution), as have all university students of microbiology in Norway.

          It's sad that you don't know enough about evolution to know how the mechanisms of it is.

          To David Kaufman:
          Quoting a Nobel Laureate, you did. You also did it out of the context of the book, and failed to mention that your equations, based on the Nobel Laureates words (you say), goes DIRECTLY AGAINST what the Nobel Laureate himself beliefs and thinks.

          Simply put, it is YOU who disagree with him, and when you get insulted by others who you dishonestly says disagree with him, you are "only" insulted by people not agreeing with you. One of them happens to be a Nobel laureate. They may still be wrong, and you can still be right, but please stop being intellectually dishonest or lazy.
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          Jan 23 2012: Hi Marius.

          Just curious; what change did your sister actually see ? A new colour of orchid, is called a new species. A bunch of rabbits who lose the ability to mate with another bunch, are called a new species. Speciation & Macro Evolution are not the same thing.

        • Jan 23 2012: Pete,

          I am sorry to inform you about this, but, if it is not, "speciation" naturally leads to "macroevolution," whether YECs like it or not. We might not see enough changes in the lab for you to accept it (how much do you need?). Yet, we have not found any barriers there that would stop populations from diverging so much that you would then put them into different genera, more time and events and you would put them on different families, and so on.

          There's plenty of proof that this happens by just putting together the evidence in nature. Holding to a "request" to have all of this happen in a lab is mere mental gymnastics to avoid confronting the truth. I am sure that some years from now, after scientists show real-life examples of new families, creationists will say "familiation is not the same as macroevolution." Where does denial stop Pete?

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          Jan 24 2012: Hi Gabo.

          Just an honest enquiry Gabo. I want to be up to date; if an orchid evolves into a non- orchid then I need to evolve my views. This may be the day; I need to ask to find out. Sorry.

        • Jan 24 2012: "I am sorry to inform you about this, but, if it is not, "speciation" naturally leads to "macroevolution"
          > Speciation is actually a synonym for micro-evolution and this is undeniable. However micro-evolution does not lead to macro-evolution. It cannot. It is just a philosophical supposition not yet proved furthermore masked as scientific law. If not the evolution theory should/must be called evolution law. But it isn't.

          "We might not see enough changes in the lab for you to accept it (how much do you need?)."
          > changes we are able to see are showing only and exclusively the micro-evolution process. We see such micro-changes constantly indeed. However Peter put a simple but powerful question: did anyone of us see an orchid become an non-orchid? Or to extend the question: an ape becoming a man? There are too many missing links to simply state: "macro-evolution exists". If a lot of people believe in that, they are free to do that. But they cannot force other ones to consider that a "scientific law". Because it isn't.

          "Yet, we have not found any barriers there that would stop populations from diverging so much that you would then put them into different genera, more time and events and you would put them on different families..."
          > populations, genera and families diverge a lot. Biologically it is quite impossible that a perfect frog cell in course of the time become a perfect ape cell. A frog is a frog. An ape is an ape. A man is a man. Forever. If we are really now living the n-th millionth iteration of the macro-evolution process where are all the families/species between the man and an ape? Between fish and spiders? The planet should be full right now of this sub-families/species. But i do not see all that. Why? Simple: they do not exist at all.

          "There's plenty of proof that this happens by just putting together the evidence in nature."
          > Plenty of proof? Which ones exactly? All the best-selling Dawkings books? No, thanks. They are not.
        • Jan 24 2012: Paolo,

          "Microevolution" refers to evolution among relatively closely related species, oftentimes genera in the same family, depending on who's making the study. It is called "microevolution" to distinguish these studies from the larger scale ones ("macro" evolution), but there's no precise definition for this term. Speciation was previously denied by creationists, so they held their own version mean "changes within a kind," so they can move the goalposts. They define "kind" according to their level of denialism, not noticing that were it not because of previous ignorance, humans and chimps would be in the very same genus, thus well inside what you call now microevolution.

          Evolution is not called a "scientific law" because biology is not physics, and because evolution is the result of a series of phenomena, not something you can summarize with a single equation. You need to update your understanding of science just a bit.

          There are plenty of sub-families, sub-species, species, sub-genera, sub-order, long et cetera, all over the place. This was the first thing that frustrated me about biology, that it started with a neat classification, but as data accumulated, lots of confusion. Wanna guess why? Because the process of evolution is not a neat and tidy one, and leaves lots of things all over the classification scale, which is what we should expect from such a process. Natural processes don't think, "oh, some humans will want neat and clear barriers across species, so let's make them so." Thus, sometimes it looks as if species/genera/families/orders are perfectly separated, sometimes it doesn't. Then, if we look at fossils, the mess increases, barriers look less convincing.

          There is evidence in lab experiments, fossils, biogeography, molecular biology, etc. that confirms that there are no barriers stopping divergence anywhere.

          Science is not just books by Dawkins. Still, "The Greatest Show on Earth" could give you a good start.

    • Jan 18 2012: Stephanie,

      I think you might be quoting some creationist source who claimed to quote Julian Huxley. That's different.

      In any event, the numbers mean nothing because they forget natural selection. Evolution, again, is not pure randomness. Mutational background is somewhat random, but selection rejects deleterious mutations while promoting advantageous thus building up a background that can carry on to a next generation. This is an exponential process where favourable mutations would naturally "cluster" together because of selection, reproduction, and recombination. Only those who don't understand evolution think that it is "improvable." Evolution is the natural consequence of life and the way nature works. No way around.

      Richard Dawkins "theorized" about alien life because he was asked to. The question was, imagine a plausible scenario for intelligent design, what would that be? He answered that question. It does not mean that's what he truly thinks happened, regardless of the propaganda machinery that brought the wrong idea to you (it probably was that mockumentary).

      We see evolution happening all the time. There is no stopping it. We have witnessed speciation in lizards and other organisms, we have witnessed new traits appearing in populations that were moved to a very different environment, we have performed evolutionary experiments in the lab producing novel activities. But that's not all. There is a lot of evidence all over the place. Just put it together and you get to evolution. Evolution is confirmed by so much data that only ignorance and misinformation can keep you from accepting that it makes sense, even if you rather don't believe it for whatever personal reasons. Sure, if they existed, all powerful gods could have created everything to make it appear as if evolution happened. But I have no reason to believe that, unless you can show me those gods. Otherwise, all I see is incredulity based on misinformation. But gods? I see none.
      • Jan 18 2012: Dear Gabo,

        Actually I stole that quote by Huxley from a great article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "Are Mormons Any Weirder Than The Rest Of Us?' Read it, it's wonderful.

        I did not say that evolution was impossible, only improbable and unable to be proved. Natural selection is a process that reduces genetic variance in a population. I think it's great that the origin of life is an open problem; it leads to discussions like this. If we knew everything about the world, what would the fun in that be? I'm actually more concerned with health than evolutionary science, and there's still a lot to be discovered.

        So are we still evolving today? Yes, we are. We are reducing our genetic variance every day, and becoming more homogeneous. But we're all still human. Evolution requires increasing complexity, and advantageous mutations do not necessarily increase complexity. You must agree that it would take a lot of advantageous mutations to increase complexity from a chimpanzee to a human, hence the billions of years. I don't consider that proof that we came from chimps, even if we share 96% of our genes.

        • Jan 18 2012: Hey Steph,

          Yep, I thought so, because all I got when googling for the quote was creationist web-sites. Not very reliable. I wanted to know the context. In the end it does not matter anyway whether Huxley said so or not, what matters is that we understand how evolution happens and has happened.

          I know you said evolution could not be proven, I said that yes it can be proven and has been proven by loads of experiments, and loads of different lines of evidence.

          Now natural selection should have the effect of reducing genetic variability for sure, but things such as point mutations, genome rearrangements, duplication events, and recombination add genetic variability. So, I guess, there is no way of running out of variability, is it?

          Sure we are evolving, and I can assure you that if anything, we are adding genetic variability. I now from first-view data. I am involved in some studies about susceptibility to particular diseases, and the sequencing involved in these studies reveal addition of such variability. For instance, a recent study on parents/offspring, with full genome sequencing found about 60 mutations introduced in each baby (differences in positions compared to the parents). While previous studies showed a number close to 100.

    • Jan 18 2012: Stephanie,

      Oh, I was forgetting. The origin of life is not a problem for evolution. While I have no doubt that the origin of life might involve processes similar to those of evolution, once life is there, evolution follows naturally.

      I am talking science here. Evolution is well established, and too many evidences say that evolution is a fact. Too many evidences also say that evolution happened naturally, or at least show no reason to think that it did not happen naturally. The origin of life is still an open problem. But I see no reason why an open problem should mean that evolution, a well established fact, would be false. What's your logic there?

      • Jan 18 2012: Hey Gabo,
        While in on the subject of evolution... once again. You seem to be pretty knowledgeable on the subject, so I would like to ask you a few simple and honest questions, so here they come.
        As in many scientific theories, there always seems to come about modifications on that theory further down the line of research. Einstein's relativity for example.
        Now I'm no scientist and certainly no biologist.
        So, even though we can clearly see the process of evolution taking place in such experiments involving the breeding of mice or moths and the like. We see the factors that provide the basis for the"survival of the fittest" Such as the color in a specific bird or animal or moth that will help to hide it from its eventual predator. As the white and brown spotted moths against the stem of the birch tree. Moths that can't be seen, can't be eaten by their predators either.
        Now .. in the process of this "driving force" (OK with that word, I'm sure there is a more correct technical word but I don't know it) in this struggle for survival... this mechanism as it were... in your own mind.... is there any room for improvement in this process? Or has the process reached perfection? Understand that the process is still occurring over the "course of time" Perceivable in the present moment but still quite "theoretical" for all that occurred for many millions of years ago.

        Now to look again at the theory... Is there any room for a "more correct or more perfect" theory?
        This question came up about the theory simply because their seems to be an ongoing reference to Darwin's idea for the "theory of evolution" and to say that it is "FACT" in all capital letters seems to me to be sort of a monumental unconditional truth that cannot be tampered with at all cost. There is so incredibly much reputation based upon it.....
        • Jan 18 2012: Hey Daniel,

          (Maybe this is too simplified, hopefully not confusing.)

          Look a bit carefully, and you might notice that I try and correct the misreference to anybody who accepts evolution as "Darwinist," or to refer to evolution as "natural selection." Evolution is a fact in the sense that we know very well, beyond reasonable doubt, for example, that species have changed across the eons, and we know lots of patterns that reveal common ancestry and much more. Several lines of evidence show that common ancestry, at least to a degree, is true for most-if-not-all species. Example, we are undoubtedly related to chimps by common ancestry, but the evidence becomes a bit prone to mistakes as we go farther and farther back into evolutionary relationships. Now, the mechanisms responsible are the theories that are perfectible. Natural selection is a fact, but it is not the only one mechanism for evolution, and it alone would explain very little. However, add background mutations and you get something much stronger, then add the effects of recombinations, and so on. Today we know that there's many other mechanisms in life that affect evolution, and they might explain things much better. Some parts of evolutionary theory, like evolution being mostly tree-like, well, not true. In microbes there's much more than that, and in us, at huge time-scales, well, there is also room for non-tree derivation. This because microbes are quite good at getting genes from other organisms not in parent-offspring relationships, and because we have acquired parasitic DNA elements that have given us non-vertical avenues for variability. Still, maybe most of our human evolution is through vertical inheritance, mutations and tree-like. Thus, room for better and more powerful explanations for evolution, sure there is.

          So, when I say evolution is a fact, I don't mean Darwin's theory, but our relationship with the rest of life, and the ongoing processes. Things have improved since Darwin.

      • Jan 18 2012: Also Gabo,

        Maybe we're not talking about the same things. I'm talking about primordial sludge, single celled organisms turning into multi-celled, fish growing legs and walking out of the ocean, and chimps turning into humans as dubious. That is part of the theory of evolution that I have problems with. I believe that dogs have a common canine ancestor, I believe that humans migrated from Africa/Asia and in Europe advantageously lost their ability to produce melanin so that they could absorb more vitamin D, etc. In none of those instances was there evolution to increase complexity, there was genetic variance that was expressed or not expressed. If that is what you are calling the theory of evolution then I am on board. What I'm NOT on board with is common ancestry from a single celled organism and increasing complexity. Do you see the difference? Complex genetic variance to specialization (with some loss of information) vs. simple to extremely complex.
        • Jan 18 2012: Hey Steph,

          No we are not. You are talking about something that's not evolution, like chimps transforming into humans, while I am talking about evolution, like a common ancestral population that divided, and as time and generations passed diverged and adapted until they started looking more and more like chimps, while the other population through generations diverging and adapting started looking more and more like us.

          Let's see: fish did not grow limbs, but across the variability of fins among fish, some fins were somewhat useful for crawling into mud because they were longer. Some of those fish bearing such fins or semi-limbs were able to make a living in mud (other fish with such anatomy existed, but were so far from mud that they were just examples of existing variability, neither harmful, nor advantageous in such environments). Once the first mud-fish bred, the offspring recombined genes giving them such limb anatomy producing a new variability that included a modification giving some fish a hinge. Those were better able to survive in the mud by moving better and faster, thus outcompeting the parent generation, and so on, until you got a generation where the fins were so modified they looked like limbs. Mutations increased variability, and thus "paved the way" for other improvements along the way. You know that we have enormous and inconsequential variability on almost any characteristic among humans, right? Why wouldn't any of those characteristics be advantageous under some conditions and not under others? Why wouldn't parents sharing such characteristics have children with such characteristics even more pronounced?

          Further back, of course, multi-celled organisms descend from unicellular ones. How else could it be?

          This is no magic Steph. I wouldn't be on board either if it were.

        • Jan 19 2012: Stephanie,
          Existence lead by confusion boats, mutinied from stern to bow...

          Are we speaking of the same phenomena Stephanie? Your knowledge is far beyond mine on this matter here but I have the feeling we are speaking of the same thing. Devolution.
          I don't think this concept has yet to become any scientific theory, however, when looking at the human being it seems quite obvious that it is a most active principle in our development. I wonder if this concept is being looked at in the field of biology. It is the first time I have seen anyone mention it here on TED at least. As the conversation here moves on, I hope we can go deeper in what devolution means in respect to the human beings development.
          Perhaps we are coming from the same angle here... and although we don't need to reveal our philosophical backgrounds on exactly this discussion, we might carry on our own discussion at a later point in time, perhaps on a new discussion.
          The principle of devolution to me has been like a revelation in understanding the origins of mankind. ... and although the concept is not generally discussed in all circles of evolutionary sciences, it comes as a befreeing factor in an otherwise locked discussion around the development of our species.
          I hope that you will say more about this principle of devolution or as I tried to put it... the "holding back" of certain elements of the "driving forces" of evolution.
          Perhaps you know something about embryology here too. In any case, your contributions are welcome and I think you can spread some new light on the subject.
          Thank you!
      • Jan 18 2012: Gabo,

        Thanks for the quick response, I have to read it again tomorrow to really digest what you said. Now I am off to bed 11.30pm here.

        Here is a thought before I leave you and go off to sleep.

        Could it be that a species is actually held back in its development for one or another reason. Instead of progressing further towards "specialization" as with the woodpeckers beak or the fins of the fish or whatever the developing limb, fin, organ of sight, hearing etc. etc. Could one consider somewhere along the lines of the progression of the species that the "driving force" (I use the word again here) is working in... shall we say ... the opposite direction.

        Think about that until tomorrow.

        Good night.
        • Jan 19 2012: Dearest Gabo,

          Well, by your term of endearment "Steph" at least we can assume that you don't hate me for my dissension, which I appreciate. I also appreciate the history of the walking fish that you presented. Sorry for my flippant "turning into" wording which suggests strongly of the magic that your practical self would not tolerate. I sadly remain unconvinced, but that is okay. I still maintain that point mutations, genome rearrangements, duplication events, and recombination are insufficient to explain it all. Especially when talking about adding information (more DNA), not just variation. Not to say that it is impossible. I am actually more concerned with the human body, and belief or non belief in evolution is pretty inconsequential. Except for the fact that things I don't understand, instead of dismissing them as artifacts of evolution, I seek to find a purpose behind them.

          For example, loss of expression for the gene for 3rd molars has been portrayed as an evolutionary advance. We don't need all those teeth, so we're evolving without them. And yet what's really going on is insufficient growth of the mandible to hold the 3rd molars, and subsequent loss of gene expression. Insufficient growth of the mandible is largely a result of hypoxia, improper diet, and improper breathing, and (besides being unattractive) negatively affects the growth and development of the face and airway, and that affects the whole organism. The same is true for lateral incisors. Yet people have labeled this as proof of evolution. (I'm sure you won't agree with them now.) Devolution.

        • Jan 19 2012: Hey Steph,

          I also appreciate your good mood regardless of my often harsh style.

          I don't think that anybody should just disregard anything because it could be an artifact of evolution. Artifact or not, it could have some effects, and, when dealing with our health, we better make sure that we are not missing something important.

          Those molars (are you talking about the "wisdom teeth"?), I would not herald them as proof of evolution despite such disappearance is also evolution (some things can go down, some things can go up, depending on selection pressures or lack thereof). Mostly because it is not a matter of coming up with all sorts of examples without a proper explanation, and explaining how a loss of genes happens requires a bit of work. Disappearance is due most often to random genetic drift. Yet, most people would present it as if there would be a selection pressure for the disappearance. That because most people, even many scientists, think it is all driven by selection, when lack of selection can let some things just go. I would talk about such example, not as proof of evolution, but as showing that natural selection and evolution do not mean the same thing, with natural selection being one mechanism, but other mechanisms also being around (such as random drift).

          Anyway, not to worry. Have a fantastic day.
      • Jan 19 2012: Hey Gabo,

        I sent a reply to Pete just now that I would like you to take a look at. I tried to explain a little more the point of view where I am coming from.
        I have followed you and Peter a little bit earlier in this and other discussions... as the announcer in the boxing arena ;-) You guys can really go at it. But I'm not there... I am a pacifist at heart. Can't learn a thing when I'm angry... But back to devolution again.. This is a very interesting idea that may build a bridge between those promoting intelligent design and those promoting the evolution theory that leaves little place for the spiritual being of man.

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