Evolutionary Biologist Francisco Ayala on Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”

Evolutionary biologist, Francisco Ayala of UC Irvine, read Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (2009), and raises some interesting issues and asks some rather telling questions:

The human genome includes about twenty-five thousand genes and lots of other (mostly short) switch sequences, which turn on and off genes in different tissues and at different times and play other functional roles. There are also lots and lots of DNA sequences that are nonsensical. For example, there are about one million virtually identical Alu sequences that are each three-hundred letters (nucleotides) long and are spread throughout the human genome. Think about it: there are in the human genome about twenty-five thousand genes, but one million interspersed Alu sequences; forty times more Alu sequences than genes. It is as if the editor of Signature of the Cell would have inserted between every two pages of Meyer’s book, forty additional pages, each containing the same three hundred letters. Likely, Meyer would not think of his editor as being “intelligent.” Would a function ever be found for these one million nearly identical Alu sequences? It seems most unlikely. In fact, we know how these sequences come about: one new Alu sequence appears in the genome for every ten newborns, generation after generation. The Designer at work? Unlikely: many of these sequences damage the genome causing abortion of the fetus during the early weeks of life.

Perhaps one could attribute the obnoxious presence of the Alu sequences to degenerative biological processes that are not the result of ID. But was the Designer incompetent or malevolent in not avoiding the eventuality of this degeneration? Come to think of it: why is it that most species become extinct? More than two million species of organisms now live on Earth. But the fossil record shows that more than ninety-nine percent of all species that ever lived became extinct. That is more than one billion extinct species. How come? Is this dreadful waste an outcome intended by the Designer? Or is extinction an outcome of degeneration of genetic information and biological processes? If so, was the Designer not intelligent enough or benevolent enough to avoid the enormity of this waste? . . . 

The biological information encased in the genome determines the traits that the developing organism will have, in humans as well as in other organisms. But humans are chock-full of design defects. We have a jaw that is not sufficiently large to accommodate all of our teeth, so that wisdom teeth have to be removed and other teeth straightened by an orthodontist. Our backbone is less than well designed for our bipedal gait, resulting in back pain and other problems in late life. The birth canal is too narrow for the head of the newborn to pass easily through it, so that millions of innocent babies—and their mothers—have died in childbirth throughout human history. I could go on about human features that betray a design that certainly is not intelligent. I will add only one more consideration. More that twenty percent of all human pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion during the first two months of pregnancy. That is because the human genome, the human reproductive system, is so poorly designed. Do I want to attribute this egregiously defective design to God, to the omnipotent and benevolent God of the Christian faith?

I think all this dreadful waste, extinction, poor design, and massive suffering needs a better response than—“Well, it’s a product of the Fall—not God’s fault!”—don’t you? I’m not saying this is the official ID position, but for those IDers who don’t posit the Fall of Adam to account for these things, then how does one account for them?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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