Discoveroids React to Nobel Prize Award

Yesterday we posted Nobel Prize for ‘Directed Evolution’, in which we said:

You know that a certain creationist outfit in Seattle is going to grab that phrase “directed evolution” to claim this is evidence for you-know-what … . Okay, now lets sit back and wait for the creationists to claim that this proves they were right all along.

We knew we’d be hearing from the Discoveroids because they’ve made bizarre reactions before to some Nobel Prize awards — see Discovery Institute — At Last We Understand, in which they claimed that the 2015 chemistry award was given “to three biologists who made a design inference about genetic information. … [T]he 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry reflects the validity and fruitfulness of the design inference for top-flight scientific research.”

This popped up last night at the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute: Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Intelligent Design?, by Douglas Axe. The last time we wrote about him was Klinghoffer: More Scientists Praise Axe’s Book. Here are some excerpts from Axe’s new post, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Reports the New York Times, “Nobel Prize in Chemistry Is Awarded to 3 Scientists for Using Evolution in Design of Molecules.” It’s not every day that you see the words “evolution” and “design” in the same headline. Nor, in my experience, does a Nobel Prize go to two people you know, on a typical day.

We already know about the Prize, and Axe says he knows two of the winners — Frances Arnold and and Greg Winter. That’s nice. After some irrelevant reminiscence he says:

She [Frances Arnold] and the graduate students working with her soon found that it was much harder to anticipate the effects of designed changes than they had thought. That’s when she made the shift to what is known as directed evolution. [Ooooooooooooh!] The idea here is that by applying carefully designed [Hee hee!] biological selection to huge collections of variant genes that came from a suitably designed starting point, we should be able to find the one-in-a-billion variant that does what we want. If we do, then we can make a billion variants of that one and repeat the process.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Axe tells us:

Both scientists pushed their respective technologies to the limits, and highly significant accomplishments came from both of their research groups. Both did Nobel Prize-worthy work, so it’s fitting that they have been chosen for this highest of scientific honors.

That was very gracious. Okay, here it comes:

It’s also fitting that words like “design” and “directed” be attached to their work. [Hee hee!] The truth is that by much hard work and careful thought, they accomplished what accidental processes would never accomplish on their own.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Nothing good ever comes from “accidental processes.” Intelligent intervention is required. Then he tells us what the Prize-winners haven’t accomplished:

Equally true is that even these stellar scientists have not found a way to invent from scratch proteins that rival the ones we see by the thousands in living cells. As Frances Arnold once said with admirable candor:

[Unverified quote:] “[E]fforts to date to generate novel catalysts have primarily demonstrated that we are getting good at making bad enzymes. Making good enzymes will require a whole new level of insight, or new methodologies altogether.”

Yeah — those Darwinists haven’t yet made life in the lab, so what’s the big deal? Only the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — can do that. We’ll break Axe’s final paragraph into two parts. It starts with this:

The problem these efforts face in the lab is exactly the problem faced by Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism in the wild: Nothing can be selected until it already exists.

That’s true. But it’s not a “problem” of evolution, it’s the mechanism. Everyone knows that natural selection works on mutations that naturally appear with every act of reproduction. In each generation, those individuals that are better able to obtain food, evade predators, resist disease, and successfully reproduce will be the progenitors of the next generation, which will inherit their favorable mutations. If the environment changes and the required traits to deal with it don’t exist, the species goes extinct — as most of them do.

Okay, here’s the end of Axe’s post:

The fact that some clever thing would be enormously beneficial if it existed has no power to make that thing exist.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! What did he say? Apparently, he’s suggesting that only the great, cosmic designer can produce the right mutations. But why does it take the designer so long? As anyone familiar with the genome will tell you, every individual born has several mutations, most of which are of no consequence whatsoever. Some are harmful, and a very few are beneficial. Natural selection filters the species’ genetic inventory in every generation. But the process of producing a successful new feature can take an enormous number of generations — far too long if you’re looking for the cure to some medical problem. As we said in yesterday’s post on this year’s Prize:

Arnold carried out pioneering work in the 1990s on ‘directed evolution’ of enzymes. She devised a method for inducing mutations in enzyme-producing bacteria and then screening and selecting the bacteria to speed up and direct enzyme evolution. … “Biology has this one process that’s responsible for all this glorious complexity we see in nature,” she told Nature shortly after the prize announcement on 3 October. But although nature operates blindly, scientists know what chemical properties they want to get from an enzyme, and her techniques accelerate natural selection towards those goals. “It’s like breeding a racehorse.”

Anyway, that’s the Discoveroids’ reaction. It wasn’t much, but perhaps they’ll have more to say on the subject. We’ll be watching.

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15 responses to “Discoveroids React to Nobel Prize Award

  1. these stellar scientists have not found a way to invent from scratch,
    which goes to show that inventing from scratch …

  2. Michael Fugate

    Someone was laughing about making an apple pie from “scratch”…
    First you cut up some apples, no first you make an apple, no a tree, no a plant, no a cell, no life, no molecules, no atoms, no subatomic particles….

  3. Meanwhile, Axe returns to the Green Screen Lab to continue his attempts to evolve a dog into a cat.

  4. Michael Fugate

    I thought he was squinting at 3D protein shapes to see if they reminded him of a Chinese character or an Egyptian hieroglyphic. Or on days it doesn’t rain in Seattle, he is lying on his back looking at clouds to see if they remind him of human-designed objects. God makes clouds, clouds look like cars, humans make cars and frantic hand-waving makes intelligent design true.

  5. ” … what accidental processes would never accomplish on their own”. That’s the crux of the matter. Are natural processes – without supernatural intervention – sufficient to produce the diversity of life we see around us?

    Nobody can visualise a timespan of more than a few thousand years. If one accepts three thousand million years of life (and devotees of ID seem to agree with this time span) then evolution through random mutation and natural selection is the obvious way. Supernatural intervention would have shortened the timeline considerably and wouldn’t have left 99+% of all species extinct.

  6. Karl Goldsmith (@KarlGoldsmith)

    Sounds just like Ken Ham getting upset with a Guardian article about schools in some countries removing evolution. He hasn’t written about the Nobel yet. “Evolution’s not fact just cause people claim so! There’s no corroborating evidence! They ignore real facts. Antibiotic resistance has zero to do with evolution. Natural processes never & never will produce new information from matter! Evolution’s a lie”

  7. Is supernatural intervention sufficient to produce the diversity of life (or anything else in the natural world) without natural intervention.
    “Design” (or “crafting”) is dependent upon nature. But what does it have to do with the supernatural? Is anybody even interested in such a question?

  8. Alan Conwell

    @M Fugate #2: That quote comes from the original Cosmos series with Carl Sagan in the opening of one of the episodes where he says (paraphrasing from memory here) “To make an apple pie truly from scratch, first you must make a universe”. I believe the episode went on discuss Big Bang cosmology. Hm! Makes me want to look it up and watch again …

  9. I can practically hear Sagan’s mellifluous voice now, as he cut up that apple pie: “Crumbly…but good!”


    You make some astute points. I seem to recall Discoveroids proving very cagey regarding the age of the earth, during the Kansas evolution hearings, the transcripts of which are available at TalkOrigins. Meyer especially so. He got quite stroppy when asked for his professional opinion.

  10. Ashley Haworth-roberts

    Link discusses not only Ken Ham outrage over a Guardian article but also NESS blogger mentioning that chemistry Nobel prize.

  11. Ashley Haworth-roberts

    Maybe, as ID people say, God did it (some sort of evolution). But YEC Ken Ham insists ‘God didn’t do it.’

  12. About making from scratch …
    I am reminded of the advertising which describes the product as made from all natural indregients.

  13. Michael Fugate

    Does the DI want it described as made from all supernatural ingredients? or all intelligently-designed ingredients?

  14. Supernaturally designed, but crafted from all natural ingredients?

  15. As I predicted yesterday, the DI argument is that this kind of evolution doesn’t count, because the selection constraints have been intelligently imposed. In other words, because it’s just another example of artificial, as opposed to natural, selection. Which indeed it is.

    However,the difference between natural and artificial selection is the highly contingent one of whether the selection criteria are imposed by the natural environment, or by an environment set up by the experimenters (or breeders).

    What this work really does illustrate, is the ability of the evolutionary process of successive mutation and selection to generate unforeseen novelty. This, of course, is what the entire ID movement claims to be impossible.

    As always, @TomS is correct in reminding us that the kind of deity apparently envisaged by DI would have no need of design, since design only arises when one is working within constraints.