Casey and Junk DNA, Yet Again


That delightful illustration is what we use whenever Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist, writes about junk DNA. The last time we posted about this was Casey Explains the Catch-22 of Junk DNA, and the time before that was Hey Casey! Our Genome Is 93% Junk.

For background (which our regular readers can skip), you need to know that since the earliest days of this humble blog, the Discovery Institute has been claiming that there’s no such thing as junk DNA. They insist that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional. After all, their transcendental designer — blessed be he! — wouldn’t do it any other way.

Whenever the Discoveroids make that claim, we point out that there are other organisms — regarded as less complicated that we are — that have genomes far larger than ours. Consider the Polychaos dubium. The genome of that amoeba has 200 times more base pairs than ours. And then there’s the humble onion. Although not as spectacular as the amoeba, the onion’s genome is five times larger than ours. What does that say about the work of the designer? What wonders lurk within the onion’s DNA that the designer deliberately left out of ours?

There are other examples we’ve written about in the past, which tell us that if the Discoveroids’ bizarre claim is correct, and every genome is perfect, then their designer has a lot of explaining to do. Okay, you’re up to speed. Casey’s latest at the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog is New Book on “Junk DNA” Surveys the Functions of Non-Coding DNA. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

What Discovery Institute biologist Jonathan Wells calls the “myth of junk DNA,” long a favorite with advocates of unguided evolution, isn’t yet quite dead and buried.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, somehow it’s not quite dead and buried. Then he tells us:

But for many scientists, “junk DNA” is an idea that is increasingly untenable in light of the empirical data. A new book from Columbia University Press, Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome [Amazon listing], by virologist Nessa Carey provides a detailed review of the vast evidence being uncovered showing function for “junk DNA.”

What “vast evidence” is Casey talking about? Let’s read on:

She explains that junk DNA was initially “dismissed” by biologists because it was thought that if it didn’t code for proteins, it didn’t do anything: [alleged quote from the book]. Of course in dismissing non-coding “junk” DNA, we must conclude that these same evolutionary scientists hindered research into its function.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Then who has been finding that some non-coding DNA actually has a function? Hint — it’s not creationists. We’ve asked before why it is that real scientists — not creationists — keep looking at junk DNA and when they find that some minute fraction of it has a function, they’re the ones who publish their findings. That’s inexplicable behavior for a conspiracy that — according to the Discoveroids — is desperately clinging to the fiction of junk DNA. Casey continues:

Now Carey [the book’s author] gives no indication that she’s an ID proponent and in fact she adopts many standard evolutionary viewpoints within her book. But note how, in making her case that we ought to suspect non-coding DNA has function, she employs a curious analogy. She draws a comparison to a car factory — something that obviously is intelligently designed:

[Alleged quote from the book:] Let’s imagine we visit a car factory, perhaps for something high-end like a Ferrari. We would be pretty surprised if for every two people who were building a shiny red sports car, there were another 98 who were sitting around doing nothing. This would be ridiculous, so why would it be reasonable in our genomes? … A much more likely scenario in our car factory would be that for every two people assembling a car, there are 98 others, doing all the things that keeps a business moving.

That “analogy” makes sense — but only if we’re talking about a human-designed factory. It has no applicability to an evolved genome. In fact, although the idea horrifies the Discoveroids, all that unused material is a clear indication that there was no designer. But Casey doesn’t think like that. He gives us another quote from the book — but, remember, we haven’t checked his quotes for accuracy or context:

The whole organization only works when all the components are in place. And so it is with our genomes.

Eureka! There’s a quote Casey can use. He enthusiastically declares:

Don’t miss that last line: “The whole organization only works when all the components are in place. And so it is with our genomes.” Doesn’t that sound exactly like irreducible complexity? So here we have a biologist, unaffiliated with the intelligent-design community, arguing that junk DNA must be functional because it’s like a car factory where all the components are needed in order for the entire system to function. Critics might claim that ID has had no impact on biological thinking, but the evidence shows otherwise.

Yes, yes — we know that’s not evidence of anything. But it’s supremely useful for the Discoveroids. They can show it to their generous patrons as “proof” that they’re having an effect on the scientific world, and then the cash will keep flowing.

Casey goes on for a while, giving a few more quotes mined from the book. He’s quite thrilled, even though he admits:

… she [the books’ author] doesn’t claim that our genome will eventually turn out to contain no “junk” DNA whatsoever. But she is clear that the trend line in research is away from junk DNA, and she notes that one reason for our lack of understanding of what a lot of junk DNA does is that we haven’t yet developed the technologies to study it …

In other words, there’s no new data here. All Casey has is a shabby analogy to a factory, some mined quotes, and an author who is likely to be horrified that she’s being cited by the Discoveroids.

Perhaps we’re being too harsh here, but it seems to us that the Discoveroids employ this rule of intellectual consistency: “Whatever argument was used yesterday doesn’t matter, whatever works for the moment is okay, and if necessary, we’ll come up with something else for tomorrow.” That might work, for a while, if one is a night-stalking purse snatcher, but it’s no way to practice science.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “Casey and Junk DNA, Yet Again

  1. The difference between the author (whom I’ve never heard of but is probably a thoughtful and intelligent scientist) and your average cdesign proponentist is that if Ms. Carey were presented with evidence that refuted her argument, she would either change her mind or keep doing scientific research.

    Those are obstacles Casey and crew never want to negotiate.

  2. michaelfugate

    Is Casey implying that under the ID “model” every base pair in every genome of every organism was put there for a purpose by the Grand Designer, continues to have the functional role given by said designer, and if removed the organism would become sick or die?

  3. Geneticist Larry Moran and the commenters at Sandwalk already trashed Nessa Carey’s book a month and a half ago.

    There’s nothing new here– she repeats the same old tropes used by science journalists since ~1993: “Long dismissed as junk, non-coding DNA…” blah blah blah, use of passive voice verbs in order to evade specificying who did the dismissing, when, and where. A 22-year-old meme.

    Breathy descriptions of some scientist who finds a regulatory element in non-coding DNA that turns on or off the expression of a gene. Wow, 10 whole base pairs of functional DNA, maybe 20. Great. Divide that by the 3.2 billion base pairs in the whole human genome and tell me the %age function. If you don’t divide by 3 billion, you can $%^& me. Tell me the percentage of the genome, you “Paradigm Shift” mother$%^$#rs.

    It’s 2015 now, and time to admit that the opponents of Junk DNA failed to present evidence for function in more than 5% of the genome. Meanwhile science marches on. We’re sequencing more and more *individual* human genomes so we can get an assessment of how much variation, how many mutations there are altogether, and it’s way, waaaay too many mutations for most of our DNA to be functional. The human population is 7 billion which means that in each new human generation, every possible mutation at every base pair in the genome will occur in *dozens* of independent, novel, brand new mutations, somewhere in some person on Earth today (unless it is a lethal mutation). The human population has already done the experiment for us; we already have a living library of all possible non-lethal mutations. In the future, when most people in the developed world have their *individual* genomes sequenced, we’ll laugh at the “Death of Junk DNA.”

    You lost Casey, your genome is 92-93% junk, and dummy science journalists can’t save you.

  4. P.S. Every human baby born has ~130 new mutations that its parents didn’t have, twice that number relative to its grandparents, etc. (Not accounting for standing variation inherited from your parents, etc.) Let’s round it to 100 mutations, 10^2.

    A human has 3.2 billion base pairs per 23 chromosomes, we’re diploid, so let’s round it to 6 billion, 6*10^9.

    Divide the total diploid genome size by new mutations per baby, 6*10^9/10^2 = 6*10^7 = 60 million. That’s about the population of California plus New York State.

    Unless you’re a senior citizen now, if you live in the developed world, you’re going to have your individual genome sequenced at some point for medical reasons, probably cancer treatmens.

    So if we sequence the individual genomes of every person in California plus New York state, that’s it– we’ll have a record of every possible non-lethal mutation in every base pair in the human genome. (Not accounting for standing variation inherited from your parents, etc.) If it’s mutated and there’s no visible effect on fitness (and to be relevant to the Junk DNA hypothesis, the effect on fitness must be large enough to be detectable by natural selection), then that base pair is junk. J-U-N-K.

    The death of the “Death of Junk DNA.”

  5. Diogenes speaks of:

    The death of the “Death of Junk DNA.”

    Wrong! The existence of vast amounts of junk DNA is the death of intelligent design, and the Discoveroids can never let that happen. So they’ll keep flogging this one.

  6. Doctor Stochastic

    Perhaps the junk DNA is just there for future purposes.

    “They also surf who only sand and wade.” – Alfred E, Newman

  7. Nah, they’ll pretend like it never happened. Do any of you ever remember that Jonathan Wells used to say that centrioles, tiny structures which appear when cells are dividing, and to which meiotic spindles attach, were tiny little turbines spinning around, and making “vibrations” that pull the chromosomes to left and right as the cell divides? No you don’t remember him saying that? Or that Stephen Meyer in “Signature in the Cell” cited Wells’ “centriole = turbine” hypothesis as a key prediction of ID?

    Everybody in cell biology knew that myosin and actin were pulling the chromosomes apart, but Wells said that ID predicts that it must be “vibrations” caused by tiny turbines. They were hoping centrioles would be turbines like the bacterial flagellum.

    No you don’t remember that ID prediction, because before Meyer wrote his book, electron microscopy had high-res images of centrioles showing they were not, not, tiny turbines and there were no mystical vibrations. Before Meyer wrote his book, scientists knew it was BS, but he wrote it anyway.

    Nobody in ID ever said the word “centriole” ever again. That failure didn’t falsify ID– they just pretended it never happened.

  8. “Of course in dismissing non-coding “junk” DNA, we must conclude that these same evolutionary scientists hindered research into its function.”
    Wow. The IDiot version of Schrödinger’s Cat applied to DNA. Yes, that’s definitely cutting edge creacrap “science”.

  9. michaelfugate

    From a review of Nessa Carey’s book in Nature this week:

    Finally, Junk DNA, like the genome, is crammed with repetitious elements and superfluous text. Bite-sized chapters parade gee-whizz moments of genomics. Carey’s The Epigenetics Revolution (Columbia University Press, 2012) offered lucid science writing and vivid imagery. Here the metaphors have been deregulated: they metastasize through an otherwise knowledgeable survey of non-coding DNA. At one point, the reader must run a gauntlet of baseball bats, iron discs, Velcro and “pretty fabric flowers” to understand “what happens when women make eggs”. The genome seems to provoke overheated prose, unbridled speculation and Panglossian optimism. Junk DNA produces a lot of DNA junk.