Discovery Institute Says Junk DNA Is Vital

The Discovery Institute has lately stopped posting about what they claim is actual evidence for intelligent design. Instead, they’ve been relying on analogies, their imaginary design filter, and their ever-reliable design intuition. But in the past, they used to claim that there’s no such thing as junk DNA. They insisted that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional. That’s because their transcendental designer — blessed be he! — wouldn’t do it any other way.

The Discoveroids went bonkers over the ENCODE project. Casey posted Our Top 10 Evolution-Related Stories: #1, ENCODE Project Buries “Junk DNA”. We wrote about it here: The Discoveroids’ Top Story for 2012. Since then there have been studies that continue to confirm the fact that most of our genome is junk — see Hey Casey! Our Genome Is 93% Junk.

They’ve been quiet about junk DNA for the past six months, ever since some researchers deleted nearly half the genes of a microbe, creating a stripped-down version that still functions. That must have been devastating news. They tried to flip it around by claiming that it actually demonstrates intelligent design. Their effort was hilarious, and it inspired us to write Removing Junk DNA “Proves” Intelligent Design.

Since then the Discoveroids have avoided the issue, but they never abandoned their fantasy that the genome is perfect, from beginning to end. Today, however, they’ve ended their long silence. The latest post at their creationist blog is Surprise Grows Over Importance of Previously Dismissed Portions of the Genome. It has no author’s byline. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

We’ve often pointed out how the collapse of the junk-DNA concept fulfills intelligent-design predictions while falsifying Darwinism. At the risk of being repetitive, it is important to keep reporting the latest evidence, for the benefit of holdouts.

Are you one of those holdouts, dear reader? Then pay attention, because this is for you. The Discoveroids say:

News from Duke University announces, “Variation in ‘Junk’ DNA Leads to Trouble.” Trouble, indeed: “unstable genomes, cancer, and other defects.” That’s what they found can happen when apparently worthless repetitive sequences around centromeres are varied.

This is the news story from Duke University: Variation in “Junk” DNA Leads to Trouble, sub-titled “Changes linked to unstable genomes, cancer and other defects.”

It’s risky to leap to conclusions based only on Duke’s headline, but it certainly suggests that a mutation occurring in a genome’s vast amount of junk could indeed be troublesome. Were that to happen, a sane creationist (if such exists) would have to wonder why the intelligent designer left all that potentially dangerous junk lying around — although it normally does nothing, if it gets scrambled it could harm the organism. Upon reading the news article, our initial reaction seems justified. It says:

Although variants are scattered throughout the genome, scientists have largely ignored the stretches of repetitive genetic code once dismissively known as “junk” DNA in their search for differences that influence human health and disease. A new study shows that variation in these overlooked repetitive regions may also affect human health. These regions can affect the stability of the genome and the proper function of the chromosomes that package genetic material, leading to an increased risk of cancer, birth defects and infertility.

The published paper appears in Genome Research: Genomic variation within alpha satellite DNA influences centromere location on human chromosomes with metastable epialleles. You can’t read it without a subscription, but the abstract concludes with this:

Our study demonstrates that genomic variation within highly repetitive, non-coding DNA of human centromere regions has a pronounced impact on genome stability and basic chromosomal function.

You’ve got to be wondering: How can the Discoveroids use that to support their “theory” of intelligent design? Stay with us and watch them try. After some selective quoting from the Duke article, they tells us:

This, then, constitutes an example of indirect support for function. What looks like a useless stretch of repetitive DNA cannot tolerate much variation.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Then why did the mystical designer put that potentially hazardous junk in the genome? The Discoveroids don’t consider that question. Instead, they rely on the finding that if it mutates, things might go wrong. That’s true of any part of the genome. It’s also true that mutations can occasionally be beneficial. But to the Discoveroids it means that the genome — including junk DNA — is perfectly designed and must remain just as it is. They conclude by saying this:

Yes, there’s function in the junk-tion, and it’s music to our ears.

If that’s the best the Discoveroids can do, then they’re wise to rely primarily on their design intuition. Other than the fact that it doesn’t get them anywhere, no one is going to dismantle it without probing their minds — and nobody wants to go there.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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31 responses to “Discovery Institute Says Junk DNA Is Vital

  1. Total Klinkleklankle. I wonder why he doesn’t take credit? Kleeperpeeper is all a-twitter about the “collapse” of junk DNA which would be a total surprise to real scientists who actually study the subject, and that “Darwinism” has been falsified! Wow, a twofer!

    Well, one good thing comes out of all this. Klappertrapper gives us a glimpse into the mind of a person wearing a strait jacket, locked in a padded cell. I always wondered what their world was like and now I know!

  2. So, your proof that junk DNA services a function is to demonstrate that it causes cancer. Huh. Well, points for originality of approach.

  3. It is amazing that they cannot even conceive of a non-coding region of junk DNA mutating and becoming encoding – and for cancer no less.

  4. I was trying to find an analogy –
    The non-coding DNA is like glass in a light fixture. It is totally unnecessary for the light to function and you could get rid of it, but if it becomes too dirty you can’t see? And this is somehow an example of intelligent design?

  5. I too was trying to think of analogy, and the best that I could think of is the function of the appendix, which is to become life-threatening if it is diseased.

  6. If a tornado went through junkDNA, would you end up with a 747? Come DI, I want to know

  7. Zetopan, I’m not a geneticist or anything, but based on what I’m reading, it looks like the problem is that the junk DNA around the centromeres mutates, either generating additional base pairs or losing some, and that’s what causes the cancer, not that the junk DNA actually does anything itself.

    Can someone correct me if I’m wrong here?

  8. It sounds like mutations in junk DNA create (gasp) new information. Negative, in the case of cancer, but there is no reason to believe a different mutation might not confer an advantage. Yet another example of the mechanisms driving evolution.

  9. Yeah Ed, ID proponents deny that “information” can increase in a genome, but non-coding DNA can become coding DNA when a start codon arises (by simple point mutation or translocation) in a junk region. This is the origin of some “orphan” genes. As described by science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer in a NY Times Article“Where Do Genes Come From?”

    They can’t make up their minds – perhaps because they have lost them.

  10. Dweller42:
    “it looks like the problem is that the junk DNA around the centromeres mutates, either generating additional base pairs or losing some, and that’s what causes the cancer, not that the junk DNA actually does anything itself.”

    Thank you for pointing out the confusion, my wording was poor. Non-coding junk regions can become coding due to mutations, and junk mutations can alter regulatory functions and end up causing cancer.

    Cumulative mutations over time within junk DNA can cause the junk DNA to alter the regulation of other genes, causing “both the genesis and progression of colorectal tumors”.
    http://www.medicaldaily.com/junk-dna-decoded-last-reveals-genetic-mutations-contributing-development-cancer-294552

  11. Of course, for creationists, there can be no part of the body which has no function, and no gene either. I’m surprised the ID’ers haven’t come out with the suggestion that “junk” DNA is the genetic material which originally made Adam and Eve immortal and physically perfect but which God inactivated when the pair committed the sin of acquiring sense of right, wrong and nudity.

    Perhaps ID proponents are afraid to make such claims for fear it might damage what they ludicrously think of as their credibility. People might start thinking they were creationists or something!

  12. “They insisted that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional.”
    Not even close. I’m pretty sure no one at the DI said anything like that but I’m happy to be proven wrong. Anybody have something to back up what The Sensuous One claims?

  13. KevinC dismisses our Curmudgeon’s synopsis of ID:

    Not even close.

    No? Well then, m’boy, this is your golden opportunity! As a clear authority on ID, pray tell us what ID actually does say about the genome! It would be refreshing to hear something substantive–and that means a tad more than the usual ‘it’s too complicated to arise from natural causes, ergo Oogity Boogity.’

    Of course, this assumes (1) ID actually has anything substantive to say about anything (if it does, I’d love to hear it), and (2) you are interested in a serious discussion rather than your rather tiresome trolling.

  14. @ KevinC: Oh, and maybe have a look at the inimitable Casey Luskin’s article (from May 2008): Another Intelligent Design Prediction Fulfilled: Function for a Pseudogene.

    Inter alia, Luskin wrote therein:

    Darwinists have long made an argument from ignorance, where our lack of present knowledge of the function for a given biological structure is taken as evidence that there is no function and the structure is merely a vestige of evolutionary history. Darwinists have commonly made this mistake with many types of “junk” DNA, now known to have function. In contrast, intelligent agents design objects for a purpose, and therefore intelligent design predicts that biological structures will have function.

    Here’s where it gets interesting: Functionless structures may have been originally designed but were later rendered functionless by natural processes.

    I’d say our Curmudgeon’s precis was pretty much spot on. But I’m glad you said you’d be “happy to be proven wrong.”

  15. That’s your proof that the Discoveroids “insisted that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional”?
    Anybody else?

  16. The best ID can do is claim some things may be designed by an intelligence and most of the genome is functional. Great predictions – can they be any more vague?

    Some things are functional and not the product of intelligence. Some things have many functions – in fact most things do – was it designed for all of them? Was Candide right?

    Kevin has claimed that if we can’t find a function for something that doesn’t preclude it from being designed. In contrast, if we do find a function for something that doesn’t make it designed for that function or designed at all.
    And none of these things tell us that intelligence is necessary.

  17. @michaelfugate
    Nor that intelligence is sufficient.

  18. KevinC characteristically whines:

    That’s your proof…?

    It’s merely one data point (of many) in the evidence demonstrating our Curmudgeon’s summary of ID’s position was accurate. It’s certainly far stronger evidence than you offered for your “not even close” contention–no, wait, you didn’t offer any evidence for that. Not a jot. Not a scintilla. Nothing.

    KevinC further trolls:

    Anybody else?

    No no no, stop weasling; it’s your turn. I invited you to set forth your expert view on the tenants of ID, but you have ignored that, as is your wont. That of course is very strong evidence that you ain’t got nothin’, kiddo.

    Put up or shut up.

  19. @TomS – unless their god is directing all mutations, migration, and selection, then intelligence isn’t sufficient. I can’t tell what creationists are willing to concede to nature. Either they don’t know or aren’t willing to tie their hands; apologetics does require infinite flexibility.

  20. It’s a simple request Megalonyx: where is the proof that the Discoveroids insist “that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional.”
    Remember, the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim.

  21. One of the things that I find amusing is that God-designers-the spiritual (gds) designed Earth to be special for life, but that was not sufficient to make life possible. The conditions of Earth still make life vastly improbable.
    Something more than design is needed.

  22. KevinC continues to shuck & jive:

    the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim

    And I have provided more than enough evidence in citing Luskin’s article previously linked; it clearly demonstrates just how accurately ID’s argument has been summarised in this post.

    You have yet to provide anything at all to back your original “not even close” claim, leave alone any response to counter evidence offered herein.

    The burden of proof is indeed on you for your claims, and would be easy to bear if you actually had anything of substance to say. But the evidence is now overwhelming that you have nothing whatsoever; sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  23. I find it funny that the Curmudgeon makes an unsubstantiated claim and because of his personal policy to not engage creationists, his Curmudgeonites are left to defend it for him. Just doesn’t seem fair to me.

    Dembski said in 1998, “If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function.” To me, that doesn’t sound like “the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional.” And as research continues to expand the functional genome and so-called junk DNA continues to shrink, ID proponents will continue to claim it as a prediction fulfilled.

  24. Still nothing positive to offer, eh?

  25. @KevinC: Jonathon Wells wrote an entire book on the subject, “The Myth of Junk DNA,” published by the Discovery Institute. The overall ID theory is that biology is too complicated to arise naturally, so it is designed, and “junk” DNA connotes something which is not designed. Thus junk DNA cannot exist.

    Some of the confusion comes with the fact that there are no universally understood principles in ID, no consensus about specific definitions, nothing that can be tested independently, no units of measure for ID concepts, etc. In the absence of a coherent body of knowledge, different writers advance their own opinions. Some may allow for small percentages of junk DNA, others may not.

    This is also the case with respect to vestigial organs. Search the Discovery Institute “Evolution News and Views” site and you will find the DI’s general position that there are no vestigial organs. Non DI writers may vary on this, although I think they are more consistent on this subject.

    DI is especially slippery in making any prediction at all that might be tested. They also have no evidence or proof of design. Thus what they do is try to raise doubt about any sort of scientific understanding of nature that might reflect evolution or some other natural cause.

  26. I believe that anyone who is a serious student of understanding DNA recognizes that the original description using “junk” was a misnomer and unfortunate. Most prefer the term non-coding DNA, some of which we know has specific functions and the rest awaiting elucidation. See: http://www.crystalinks.com/junkdna.html for a decent discussion.

  27. I bet I could come up with a function for everything – doesn’t mean any of it is intelligently designed. Kevin, go out in your yard or local park, pick up a rock, now come up with all the things you could use the rock for. Throw, juggle, put in rock garden, build a wall, make a diorama, grind into sand. See how easy that was?

  28. “Throw, juggle, put in rock garden, build a wall, make a diorama, grind into sand.” Don’t forget paperweight. That’s a Ken Miller favorite.
    Yes but if I don’t do any of the above with the rock, it won’t affect my health or prove fatal. See the difference?

  29. KevinC asserts:

    Dembski said in 1998, “If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function.” To me, that doesn’t sound like “the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional.” And as research continues to expand the functional genome and so-called junk DNA continues to shrink, ID proponents will continue to claim it as a prediction fulfilled.

    But Dembski has never demonstrated that organisms are designed; ever. We have been all over this many, many times before; Dembski has no clue about how to calculate the probabilities of molecular assemblies. All of his arguments are based on bogus concepts and bogus “mathematical calculations” that have no relevance whatsoever to the physics and chemistry of atoms and molecules. Not one leader or follower of ID/creationism has ever grasped this basic fact because understanding molecular assemblies requires a minimum of a high school level of understanding of biology, chemistry, and physics.

  30. Kevin, No I don’t. Why should it?

  31. never demonstrated that organisms are designed

    Has anyone ever described what it means to be designed?

    Do we have even one example where design is sufficient to product a real, material object?

    Is there an example which shows the difference that design makes in producing a real, material object? Like something which is created but not designed?

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