Discovery Institute: Design, Design, Design!

Yesterday we saw this article at PhysOrg: Totally rad: Scientists create rewritable digital data storage in DNA, announcing that:

Scientists from Stanford’s Department of Bioengineering have devised a method for repeatedly encoding, storing and erasing digital data within the DNA of living cells.

Here’s a link to the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Rewritable digital data storage in live cells via engineered control of recombination directionality. The PhysOrg article says:

The team calls its device a “recombinase addressable data” module, or RAD for short. They used RAD to modify a particular section of DNA within microbes that determines how the one-celled organisms will fluoresce under ultraviolet light. The microbes glow red or green depending upon the orientation of the section of DNA. Using RAD, the engineers can flip the section back and forth at will.


The researchers found it was fairly easy to flip a section of DNA in either direction. “But we discovered time and again that most of our designs failed when the two proteins were used together within the same cell,” said Endy. “Ergo: Three years and 750 tries to get the balance of protein levels right.”

[Lead author Jerome] Bonnet has now tested RAD modules in single microbes that have doubled more than 100 times and the switch has held. He has likewise switched the latch and watched a cell double 90 times, and set it back. The latch will even store information when the enzymes are not present. In short, RAD works. It is reliable and it is rewritable.

We immediately thought about writing a post that would taunt the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

What we had in mind was asking: “If mere humans can literally write code in DNA, and if your magical designer has allegedly done the same, then why don’t we see any evidence of the invisible magician’s work?” But then we decided that we shouldn’t get ahead of things. The creationists would soon get around to this, and it would be more entertaining to wait and post about that. It didn’t take very long.

At the Discoveroids’ blog they’ve just posted this: If Humans Write Genetic Code, Is It Intelligent Design? The “deep” question presented by their silly title is easily answered: No! What humans do is human design. What the magic designer does is supernatural design — and by definition that’s something humans cannot do.

Anyway, let’s see what the Discoveroids have to say. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

[T]he original paper in PNAS speaks of genetic material as a “natural data storage medium”.

Ooooooh! There’s a phase that’s ripe for quote-mining! The Discoveroid paragraph continues:

Their new system works in conjunction with the natural genetic code and can survive 100 cell divisions; in other words, it is an artificial code working alongside a natural code.

They keep using that word “code” in two different contexts and pretending that it’s all the same. But in the expression natural code, the word “code” refers only to the arrangement of the genetic material, not its intentional placement. A slight difference there.

Hey, now that we’ve been alerted to watch for context switching, check out the Discoveroids’ next paragraph. It’s the last one in their little article:

This leads to a totally rad question: If a researcher without foreknowledge of this technology examined a microbe employing it, would he or she be justified in inferring that an intelligent cause played a role in its origin? If so, what’s the difference with inferring an intelligent case for the origin of the “natural” genetic code, since it also involves the encoding and storage of functional information?

No normally-functioning mind could possibly think that way. This is a transparently obvious attempt to create confusion. But it won’t work. Sorry, Discoveroids. What humans do is human design. We know it when we see it. What your magical designer does is … well, he doesn’t do anything, which is entirely appropriate to his non-existence. But if you guys want to worship him, go right ahead.

But wait! We can’t end without showing that two can play this little game, so — in the style of the Discoveroids — here’s a “totally rad” question of our own: If a savage from 100,000 years ago blundered into a time warp and popped out in our time at Mt. Rushmore, would he be justified in assuming that its sculptured heads were the work of the gods? And even if a savage would make that assumption — does that mean his “gods made Mt. Rushmore” theory has any value at all?

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Discovery Institute: Design, Design, Design!

  1. Nice curmie.!

  2. NeonNoodle

    If I were affiliated with the Discover Institute, the last subject I’d ever bring up is genetic codes. Science already sequenced the chimp genome, and found that humans are 96 percent simian — er, similar. Whether or not it indicates design is almost beside the point; it screams common descent.

  3. Nice analogy. You just know that someone from, say, 6,000 years ago would claim that the Mount Rushmore carvings were the work of the gods. They might even pass the story down for a few hundred generations with appropriate embellishment and eventually write it down in a holy book. Those things happen…

    The DI knows full well that the discovery of evolution by natural selection (and other methods) simply means that a supernatural designer is not necessary as an explanation for life. A designer will not be necessary to explain existing organisms no matter how many times scientists tinker with DNA and create new ones. It doesn’t matter if what scientists do looks like what nature does. The processes are not the same.

    Their position is akin to claiming that since Richard Dryfuss memorably created a replica of Devil’s Tower, it proves that a supernatural designer must have created the original Devil’s Tower.

  4. docbill1351

    Just as Dembski is the Alfred E. Newman of Information Science, Luskin (who probably wrote the anonymous piece since it contains at least one footnote and no insipid, puerile comments (a la Klunkenklopper)), is the Jean Dixon of “intelligent design” creationism predictions. Of course, all of Luskin’s “predictions” are actually descriptions of things that have already happened but we can cut the Hamster some slack on account of its neurological deficits.

    Jean Luskin asks if an “outsider” would detect design given no info about the designer or techniques used. Great question, Gerb! Tell you what, why don’t you employ Alfred Dembski’s Explanatory Filter and tell us what you find. Tell you what, Gerb, why don’t you calculate the functional specified information and demonstrate that it exceeds the magical design threshold. Tell you what, Luskin, you feeble-minded lying sack of pink slime, why don’t YOU TELL US!! Here you have right in front of your whiskery little snout a great example of known biological information science engineering that should be a slam dunk, absolutely, positively textbook case of “intelligent design” creationism including the “intelligent design,” nature of the creator and technique.

    Granted, that might involve sorting out a few things like defining “design,” coming up with a metric to measure design, development of a rigorous, objective formulation of “functional specified complexity,” polishing up and lubricating the Nixplanatory Filter ™, doing the measurements and publishing the results. I mean, you’ve had 20 years to work on all these things you tout in your books, lectures and church basement Spin-the-Bottle parties.

    After all, the actual published researchers spent three years and 750 tries, as you reported, dear Gerbil. You’d think that you could get Axe and Gauger to quite making out in the Biologic Lab long enough to record a few numbers. What do you say, Gerb, game on?

  5. @Curmudgeon. “Ooooooh! There’s a phase that’s ripe for quote-mining!”

    There seems to me to be a trend by Creationists to take research by scientists who actually make contributions, and twist the results to make conclusions that the authors never would have intended. I wonder if the Discoveroids have ever contacted the research teams in their mining operations in order to suggest their profound interpretations.

    When are we going to see results from the state-of-the-art labs in Seattle that will identify the Designer or designers? It’s time to do some discovering Discoveroids, and stop using the work of dedicated people to advance your brand of ignorance.

  6. docbill1351

    Scam, not ignorance, Ian! ID is a scam and the scammers know it, of course. They know that ID is fake, there can be no research, so they just kick the can down the road hoping the can gets filled with donations from stupid rich people which, fortunately for them, there are scads. Just one religion-deluded pizza magnet can attract enough money to keep the Grifters of Seattle in sushi for a year. What a life!

  7. retiredsciguy

    Grifters of Seattle! Love it! Doc, you have a wonderful way with words. But “pizza magnet”? I’m a pizza magnet. Love the stuff. Assume you meant “magnate”, but your auto-spell corrector was over-active.

  8. “They know that ID is fake, there can be no research, so they just kick the can down the road hoping the can gets filled with donations from stupid rich people which, fortunately for them, there are scads.”

    It’s worse than that. I hate to contradict the Curmudeon’s oft-repeated characterization of him, but Bruce Chapman is a Catholic and a moderate Republican (swung socially conservative), not a theocrat. To understand what he’s up to, associate him with the political philosopher Leo Strauss, not the Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson, Jr.

    Chapman was a Reagan appointee. I’m sure he understands perfectly well how Ronnie incited the emerging Christian Right with stuff like the “Evil Empire” speech he delivered to National Association of Evangelicals. The votes of tens of millions of Americans intent on “winning back America for Jesus” were crucial in the Republican Revolution of 1994. I’ve long seen the ID movement as “winning back science for Jesus,” but only recently thought carefully about the timing, and took a close look at John West.

    Chapman Gordon hired West about the time he published The Politics of Revelation and Reason: Religion and Civic Life in the New Nation (Blurb: “This keenly revisionist analysis enriches our understanding of the period. It deserves a wide readership.”). So West was in fact was creating Straussian “noble myths” relevant to “winning it back for Jesus,” and generalized when he went to work for the Center for the RENEWAL of Science and Culture.

    I’ve sat in the sanctuary of a mega-church, watching West’s road show. He is as shrewd and calculating a manipulator as you’ll ever encounter. The advance publicity gave no hint that he would dominate the evening. He did little but to inflame the mostly-evangelical audience by telling them what awful things “Darwinism” has led some people to do and say. Then he made the event “scientific” by trotting out Behe, Richards, and Luskin — two ponies and a dog. It turned out that their presentations were to be on Saturday morning, and I suspect that only a small fraction of the (large) audience returned.

    I believe that Chapman sees “noble myths” like the notion that science gives evidence of intelligent design of life as good for culture, irrespective of whether they are true. And I believe that he intends to do his part to rile white evangelicals, and keep them going to the polls. It’s important to understand that the “academic freedom” bills in states like mine do not have to pass in order to serve that purpose. In fact, I wonder if the Republican leadership in the Oklahoma legislature sees more political value in killing them than in allowing them to reach the floor, where they surely would pass.

  9. Doesn’t the DI didn’t wonder why the system has been generated by different techniques as outlined in Fig. 4 A:

    1. standard parts they had in their repositories
    2. computational designed parts
    3. parts selected by directed evolution

    Responses to be expected:
    1. sequence length is within the limmits Behe set
    2. by selecting the authors latched some information into the system which is thus intelligently designed

  10. docbill1351

    Aw, come on, RSG, “pizza magnet attracts?” Yes, Virginia, that was done deliberately.

    I think the DI is falling on hard times, but I’ve said that before. They seem to cycle through periods of depression – scant and scattered posts, not much news. There was a bit of a renaissance with the Biologic Lab but now it’s become an embarrassment with their “best” work a breathless announcement that the shadows made by protein puppets look like Chinese characters if you drink enough tequila and squint. That’s a sign of “intelligent design,” the shadows, not the squinting.

    It’s too bad the only “writer” they can whip these days is Klapperklopper. His flapdoodle excites the base of howlers into a fecal flinging frenzy and I guess the donors are happy so long as they hear trouble in the jungle. It’s telling that the DI’s best “writer” is a guy who was banned from the Puffington Host and those guys will publish anything!

    Who did I leave out? “You forgot the seating arrangements.” “Thank you, Mother.” (10 quatloos to the person who identifies that reference!) Oh, yeah, Luskin. I would edit the comment above to read “two ponies and a dog-faced boy.” After all, they are a side show act.

  11. @docbill1351
    “Thank you, Mother” sounds like Norman Bates, but I don’t recall Mother worrying about seating arrangements, so I’ll keep working on it. Haven’t seen Elmer Gantry in years…? By the way, do quatloos have something to do with loos, as in “Where’s the loo?” Just googled it – haha.

  12. NeonNoodle

    Sounds like Manchurian Candidate, and I didn’t Google it — but I have no need for quatloos. I’ll just take Uhura in her Mirror, Mirror outfit.

  13. @Tom English
    ” It turned out that their presentations were to be on Saturday morning, and I suspect that only a small fraction of the (large) audience returned.”

    They have no real audience, of either peers or sycophants, when you think of it. In order to sound “learned”, they write above the intelligence level of the rank and file religious wingnut, real scholars don’t buy into the nonsense – nor do they, themselves which leave no one. Conversations discussing “work” at ID must be interesting; not really the blind following the blind, but the disingenuous following the disengenuous.

    What a job! Reading cutting-edge science all day in order to think of ways either to spin or discredit it.
    There are two types of people when it comes to conscience: Sociopaths or classic narcissists have no conscience and therefore don’t experience the cognitive dissonance which would afflict a normal person whose job is to convolute truth all day; “normal” people are loosely defined here as those who are not sociopaths or narcissists. Whether the normal person is in denial, known as “stuffing” reality, represses, supresses, or intellectually rationalizes his/her reasons for continuing in a job which requires willful ignorance – thus harming self concept, coginitve dissonance always manifests somehow. Alcohol abuse is a common way, but there are a myriad of others, some very weird and peculiar to the individual. So while we make light of the crazy shennanigans at DI, the characteristic of mental illness at some level, is inherently true for everyone there.

  14. @@docbill1351
    The Graduate?

    I think you like bright, shiny things – and nothing wrong with that!
    Your post reminded me of a line in Weird Al’s Nerd song:
    “The only problem I find hard: Do I like Kirk or Picard?”

  15. Once past the abundant sarcasm and mockery, I noticed that the curmedgeon did not actually answer the question, at least not in a straightforward sense. He answered

    “No! What humans do is human design. What the magic designer does is supernatural design”

    However, the question was not “Do humans write intelligently designed code?”, or even “What do humans do?” but “If humans write genetic code, is it intelligent design?”. Two very simple questions. One simple answer. Yes.

    The curmudgeon appears to assume (based on his answer) that what humans do and what a supernatural designer does would not or could not be the same in some circumstances. Strange though, the question did not mention anything about the supernatural. Also, the curmudgeon appears to, a priori, reject the possibility (without evidence) that a supernatural designer would not use recognizable indicators of design, which he readily admits “We know it when we see it.”. ??

    I wonder how he knows that? What are the markers or identifying characteristics of design that humans leave behind? Are these not the same markers or identifying characteristics of intelligent agents? And how does he know a supernatural creator would not or does not leave those same indicators of design?

  16. Fail all!!

    Kill Bill 2. Preacher Harmony making the wedding arrangements.