Science in Christian Perspective
A Response to David Siemensí Prediction Sets
Gordon C. Mills, ASA
Leeward Manor #570
One Fleet Landing Blvd.
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
From: PSCF 51 (September 1999): 209-210.
I read with interest the article by Siemens in PSCF proposing some prediction sets for evaluation of intelligent design theories.1 I think he has made a beginning, primarily in examining theories based on DNA and the genetic information encoded therein. My intelligent design position was not specifically mentioned, but my views appear to be very similar to those of Michael Behe.2 Behe does not use the words "genetic information" as I do, but he often uses the term "information" in much the same sense, and as a biochemist, it is clear that he is thinking of either DNA, RNA or proteins in his use of the term "information."
I now wish to critique Siemensí prediction statements.3 I note: "Ö we should find no quiescent genes that are similar to active genes." Siemensí related prediction notes: " ... some structurally similar genes will have specific functions that do not parallel or overlap those found in related species." Also this "Ö prediction specifies that we should find sets of genes in various species in which one gene of a set preserves a function while other members of the set produce different effects." Although these items are listed as predictions by Siemens, they are really citations of some known experimental findings. Both Behe and I have emphasized that our view of design should be in accord with the scientific evidence. Both of us recognize the possibility of chance events (gene duplications, point mutations, gene crossovers, etc.), so quiescent genes, genes with parallel functions, or genes where different members of a set produce different effects, can be consistent with our concept of design theories. Hence both Beheís view and my own would be compatible with these latter two predictions of Siemens. Consequently, I disagree with Siemensí statement that each prediction would confirm only one of the two distinct intelligent design views noted earlier.
In regard to Siemensí suggested consequences, I do not consider "Efficiency" to have the significance that he suggests.4 There are many other important considerations in regard to why living organisms are as they are. Siemens seems to be talking about the trapping and utilization of energy by a cell or organism. The assumption being, that if God were involved, these cells or organisms would operate at a maximum efficiency. I believe our knowledge is much too limited to even suggest how important a factor "Efficiency" is as a defining characteristic of the deityís impact on living organisms.
Siemensí second consequence, "On Descent," is probably of greater significance. I, and probably Behe, would accept a certain amount of ancestral descent, when the gene sequences clearly support this descent. In some instances, the role of the deity might be at the "governance" level as suggested by Van Till,5 and not subject to experimental study. In other instances the role of the deity might be more clearly evident from an examination of the data. I have recently noted one instance where genes seem to have appeared suddenly in the geological record (e.g., the genes for antibody formation which appeared first in the jawed fishes about 350 million years ago6). I have also noted that certain changes in the mitochondrial genetic code are not consistent with ancestral descent by chance alone.7 I believe looking for similar instances would be a valuable re- search endeavor. I would caution, however, that we need to be aware of the possibility of interspecies gene transfer as a source of unexplained nucleotide sequences in DNA.
In dealing with the third suggested consequence listed by Siemens, "Extinction vs. Overlap," I would note that as a biochemist/molecular biologist, I have tried to phrase my "Design Theory of Theistic Evolution" so that it will be in accord with the scientific evidence.8 Others (e.g., theologians or philosophers) might prefer to begin with a theological or philosophical position and attempt to fit the DNA sequence data to their position. I believe my position (a moderate MI by Siemens classification?) would be in accord with each of the scientific findings described in Siemensí "Extinction vs. Overlap" section.
It has always been my position that if my theory is found not to be in accord with the scientific evidence, it should be modified accordingly.9 In my most recent papers, I have shown how the theory could be adapted to more recent findings (e.g., concepts of modular gene segment transfer, and the mitochondrial genetic code).10 I have also suggested several different levels of possible activity by a designer, some of which might be subject to experimental confirmation, and some which could never be tested.11 In a letter (with Philip Anderson), we tried to show that our view of the deityís activity was not as radically different from the views of other scientists (Van Till, Peacocke, and Polkinghorne) as some have suggested.12 I believe continued discussion of these different views, in a charitable manner, to be worthwhile.
1D. F. Siemens, "Two Prediction Sets and Their Consequences for Applying Intelligent Design Theories," PSCF 51:2 (1999): 108ñ13.
2M. J. Behe, Darwinís Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), chapters 9, 10, and 11. See also æææ, "Experimental Support for Regarding Functional Classes of Proteins to be Highly Isolated from Each Other," in J. Buell and V. Hearn, eds., Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? (Richardson, TX: Foundation for Thought & Ethics, 1994),60ñ71.
3Siemens, "Two Prediction Sets and Their Consequences," 109.
5H. J. Van Till and P. E. Johnson, "God and Evolution: An Exchange," First Things (June/July 1993): 32ñ41, p. 38.
6G. C. Mills, "The Origin of Antibody Diversity," PSCF, In Press.
7G. C. Mills, "Similarities and Differences in Mitochondrial Genomes: Theistic Implications," PSCF 50:4 (1998): 286ñ91.
8G. C. Mills, "A Theory of Theistic Evolution as an Alternative to the Naturalistic Theory," PSCF 47 (1995): 112ñ22; see also ______, "Theistic Evolution: A Design Theory Utilizing Genetic Information," Christian Scholarís Review XXIV (1995): 444ñ58.
10G. C. Mills, "Possible Role of Protein Modules in a Theory of Theistic Evolution." PSCF 50:2 (1998): 136ñ9; ____, "Similarities and Differences in Mitochondrial Genomes: Theistic Interpretations," PSCF 50:4 (1998): 286ñ91.
12P. E. Anderson and G. C. Mills, "Functional Integrity and Godís Interaction with his Creation," PSCF 48:4 (1996): 282ñ4.