Friday, May 5, 2017

Last Call At The Whine Bar

As I said last night, I really don't want to discuss the problems with the neo-Darwinian synthesis while my country and, in a real way, the world are under attack from the Republican-fascist party.

But a lot of the response to your whining complaint about me dissing the god of contemporary atheism, randomness, was condensed in an article by J. D. MacAllister* from an exchange between Denis Noble and Richard Dawkins during a long debate that seems to have been organized by Lynn Margulis not long before her death.

Denis Noble begins his presentation with the explanation that as a physiologist, he studies the interaction of gene products that produce function (e.g., heartbeat or pancreatic secretion). How many interactions he asks are possible given the human genome? The human genome is currently estimated to comprise 25,000 genes. We humans have neither the largest nor the smallest number of genes in our genome. Noble states that the number of possible interactions is calculated to be 1070,000. Noble provides a frame of reference for this astounding number. The total of atoms in the Universe as determined by the Hubble telescope is 1080. The actual number of working gene interactions is far fewer than the total number of possible interactions, but even if we considered only 1/1000th of Noble’s number, it would still be astounding.  

Dawkins states that “any power that a gene can exert over the world that improves the possibility of it replicating itself into the potentially eternal future will be favored by natural selection.” However, even considering 1/1000th of working gene interactions to be tested and the relative shortness of deep time, a different explanation of the serendipitous favorable combinations that do exist is warranted. 

Add to this that most random gene mutations studied have no or very little effect on phenotype. When a random mutation does affect phenotype, it is most often deleterious and even fatal. Therefore, the odds that a random beneficial mutation (or any accumulation of beneficial random mutations) will affect phenotype positively in terms of survival is exceedingly long.

I would note, to start with that, given that possible number of random mutations and the fact that most random mutations that affect the phenotype, the organism,  itself, are fatal, I wonder if life wouldn't have died out altogether if the mutations of them were truly random.  I can't find anyone who has made a statement to that effect or against it, I suspect that since Noble was talking to his colleagues, he might have relied on them understanding something like that.  I'd like an answer to the question.

The point reminds me of an argument I made in relation to my year long attempt to get atheists to say how a new idea could arise before the structure they said was required to "be" the idea in the brain could have been present to instruct the brain on what to build,how to build it or even that it needed to build it.  The answer given by several orthodox atheists of "DNA" brought up a similar problem of the time it would take for a trial and error method of creating the proteins involved, which would take more time than the age of the Earth by a good number.

If the chain explored all possible configurations at random by rotations about the various single bonds of the structure, it would take too long to reach the native configuration.  For example, if the individual residues of an unfolded polypeptide chain can exist in only two states, which is a gross understatement, then the number of possible randomly generated conformations is 1045 for a chain of 150 amino acid residues ( although, of course, most of these would probably be sterically [spacially] impossible ones  If each conformation could be explored with a frequency of molecular rotation (1012 sec.-1) , which is an overestimate, it would take approximately 1026  years to examine all possible conformations.  Since the syntnesis and folding of a protein chain such as that of ribonuclease or lysozyme can be accomplished in about 2 minutes, it is clear that all conformations are not traversed in the folding process.  Instead, it appears to us that, in response to local interactions, the peptide chain is directed along a variety of possible low-energy pathways (relatively small in number), possibly passing through unique intermediate states, toward the confirmation of lowest free energy.

Christian Afinsen: I believe from his Nobel lecture but I don't have time to look it up this morning.

I know some atheists don't seem to think with great facility - something they share with just about any group you could name - but I don't think if it were truly a result of random action anyone would have ever come up with even one generally accurate idea in their life time, never mind enough to account for even our everyday experience.  I mean, who has 10 to the twentysixths seconds, (or twenty-six seconds) never mind years, to make up your mind on whether or not you should keep driving through that pedestrian?  I'd love to have someone explain to me what's wrong with that idea.

Clearly, the idea of turning random chance into a creator god - especially operating under trial and error towards producing a certain end in real time -  is as stupid an idea as turning probability into a creator god or even to explain other natural phenomena.  I'd love to have the time to follow up on why and how that attempt at god-making out of math was made, especially before quantum physics was invented.  I suspect that before then it was entirely a matter of ideological convenience, afterwards its application got entirely out of hand.  It clearly doesn't work to explain some of the items most vital to the atheist agenda, such as disposing of the origin of life, the evolution of life species or our minds through its naive invocation.

*  I can't get a link to the article, though you can get to it online, HOMAGE_TO DARWIN DEBATE COMMENTARY.docx.   It is in one of those annoying "dox" Word format documents.  I saved it and opened it with Libreoffice.   Or you can listen to the very long debate, including an incredibly interesting film presented by the late Lynn Margulis (with incredibly annoying background music) as well as hearing what was said.  I will note that Margulis would seem to like debunked historical fables as much as her divorced husband, Carl Sagan, did.   She sort of hashes a citation of the common received baloney about the Huxley-Wilberforce debate which had been debunked by historical methods decades before.  I guess scientists don't really have much respect for the methods of history in finding truths far more reliable about far more complex areas of experience, in many cases, than science can.  At least when a good story is more gratifying to them than accurate historical accounts.  Bishop Wilberforce was not a scientific ignoramus, he was a member of the Royal Society and Charles Darwin, himself, in a letter said Wilberforce had found exactly the weakest points in his case.  I used to enjoy reading Thomas Huxley but you can add him to the number of fallen gods of my intellectual adolescence who have fallen under the weight of having their entire works available to read online.  He was a total pig and a thug.

I really do research these posts.

Update:  I've fiddled and fiddled with the html in that first paragraph from that summary of the debate and this is the best I can do.  Sorry, I'm no html wizard.


  1. Interesting: Noble offers a carefully deliberate proposition based on statistical analysis, and Dawkins counters with bafflegab in the form of a vague and glittering generality supported only by its own assertion.

    1. Oh, but he's such a fine writer. If I had time I'd look up Marilynne Robinson's tongue-in-cheek mention of that so often mentioned thing. I do, actually, marvel at how long he has been able to sell some of the junk he wrote in The Selfish Gene but that will get me back on to his first bird to call out fable, again.