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Douglas Axe

What experiments were you conducting at the Medical Research Council Centre that ultimately led to your ouster in 2002?

I was working on a class of proteins called enzymes. Proteins are the molecules responsible for most of the cellular activities of life, and they consist of long chains of amino acids. I was testing the idea that was prevalent at the time that proteins can do their function even if you monkey with their amino acid sequences. Now, that turns out to be true to a degree, but if you push that to its limit, you ruin them. And that gives you a probabilistic problem for evolution because in order to find one of these working sequences you have to imagine a blind unguided search landing on an extremely rare functional sequence.

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How rare?

Well, my Journal of Molecular Biology paper published in 2004 came up with the number of one in 1074. And then if you need a particular function, it’s going to be even worse. I estimated it to be about one good sequence in 1077 sequences. So, roughly, one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion – which is not very good odds.

Why is your research problematic for evolution?

Because if evolution is unguided, then the whole process has no idea what sequence it needs in order to get to a particular function. Yet somehow it ends up finding these functions. Well, that’s only plausible if the targets are large enough that a blind staggering walk can land on them. But if the targets are one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion small, then no blind search is ever going to find them.

Wouldn’t proteins develop properly just by accident given enough time, say 15 billion years, which is what scientists estimate the age of the universe to be?

If you have ten billion chances for a one-in-ten-billion event to occur, then it could very easily occur. But when you have a number like 1074, it turns out that even when you take into account the age of the earth, that’s not enough to solve this problem.

Do you reject the entire theory of evolution? Or just the notion that it was unguided?

I’m not arguing against common ancestry or some form of descent with modification. What I’m saying is that accidental processes cannot possibly have invented these things.

You write that the limits of natural selection are actually well known to scientists and are not terribly controversial.

There’s nothing controversial about saying that natural selection has been proven to be much less potent than Darwin thought it was. There have been mathematical challenges to natural selection since the 1960s. For example, Motoo Kimura, a great Japanese population geneticist, among many others, showed that it’s far from a sure thing that a more genetically fit individual will give rise to a more genetically fit species. More often than not, that more genetically fit individual will die and not have progeny. So it’s a very hit-and-miss thing. But very few people take that conclusion to the extent that I have and say the entire theory is false.

One popular response to any type of design argument for the existence of God is to posit the existence of trillions upon trillions of parallel universes. If there are these alternate universes, it isn’t surprising that eventually one of them would contain working proteins – as well as plant, animal, and human life. How do you respond to this argument?

If there’s an infinite number of universes and it’s physically possible for everything we see here to evolve – and I don’t grant that – the question would then be: Why are we in that special universe? We should find ourselves on a minimal planet where there’s nothing except that which is necessary for us to think. Instead we find ourselves in a rich biosphere with biological diversity beyond our wildest imagination.

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Elliot Resnick is chief editor of The Jewish Press and the author and editor of several books including, most recently, “Movers & Shakers, Vol. 2.” Follow him on Facebook.

13 COMMENTS

  1. life is the search for the living of eternity.What do you do to live in harmony so the body and spirit survive for ever this is the true quest of a being alive on Earth,we are the creator of our destiny establishing the needs to survive.Ending the carcinogenes that kill the body the planet, to live in harmoney with the created living planet, that makes all of life posssible thru the Star.Sustainability to live eternity.the goal of life to preform in the living Universe of beings traveling thru the expanding Universe flow.What do we meet as this Milky-way galaxie travels thru the dark matter of the Universe our star pulls us one million miles everyday,,,,gjmars

  2. Start with a unshackable conclusion, attempt to prove conclusion, ignore evidence that disproves conclusion, then publish conclusion you started with all the while by-passing peer review. This is not the work of an honest person but a religious inspired lying charlatan.

  3. I came to very similar conclusions on my own. In my own words, there are two answers to this argument that claims that with infinite chances available in multi-verses eventually a world like ours would form. (1) Many, if not most or all, of these improbable situations that we find are actually impossible situations. Along with the stupendously small probabilities like you mention, there is the "undo" factor, which means that while we are waiting for the next improbable step (such as a new, appropriate protein molecule) to join the parade, the first will come apart. A 1/10^77 chance does NOT mean that if you wait that many chances then the event will happen. (2) We have in our world a huge number of fortuitous situations that are not required, such as the fact that the sun and moon are the same apparent size to our eyes. We and animals have abilities that are not necessary for survival, but enhance our enjoyment immensely. There is a great variety of food options that are not needed. In fact, we do not eat them all. There is a strawberry-flavored banana I get in South America whenever I can. How can anyone seriously try to claim that if things were not this way, then we would not be here to observe it?

  4. What I am seeing that peer pressure, and an unwillingness to admit a flaw, a total disreguard of scientific method of the majority. If science is all for truth, then ALL possiblilties, no matter how unlikely, must be proven, by sceintific method and neither side has been able to do this proof. Thus, whithout absolute proof, neither evolution, which BTW is every bit a religion as others are, as it requires faith in things unseen and unproven, and canot be proven as of yet, so, one cannot make any absolute statement as fact because it cannot be reproduced outside of theory. There is no absolute standerd of religion, and no total agreement on evolution, either. Everyone is still guessing, save folks who do choose to have faith, whatever it may be, but as far as absolute truth, no, nobody has this, so it is presumptuoius to assume that an inference is the same as absolute reproducible proof. Also, in no place have you stated HOW this persons writings are incorrect. Both sides of this ignore the premises you state, so your point is actually, you hate religonists, which creates a bias, therefore, your statement will not hold under peer review either.

  5. James Duthsah Martenet See Kitzmiller v Dover (2005). Look up what science is. Look up the "Wedge Document". And please find one relevant peer reviewed document in a relevant journal that suppurts ID. What you will find is NOTHING. ZERO. ZIP. Also, you have no idea what it means to be a scientist. A scientist lives and breathes to discover a paradigm shifting idea. Just like Einstein and Darwin. That's what we live for. If there was real EVIDENCE for anything that Axe wrote about it would be earth shattering. World fame. What any scientist lives fofr. Except that hasn't happended has it? That's because Axe and his collegues are liars, frauds and charlatans. Look it up yourself.

  6. Joe Marcone paradigm shifts don't occur overnight and most (all?) journals have policies against publishing anything remotely resembling ID. As you said, look it up your self. It's probably because most have peer review editorial boards staffed with biased people like yourself who won't take such an affront to their worldview and instead resort to adhominem attacks such as yours; a sure indication you are losing an argument.

  7. Kyle Ramsey Oh yes the worldwide conspracy against Intelligent Design. I say again LOOK IT UP – Axe and his colleagues at the Discovery Instutute are NOT scientists – they are anti-science religious inspired lying dishonest loons. Look up "cdesign proponentsists" yourself. ID is not science it's anti-science religion with NOT one piece of postive empirical evidence in support. Axe is not ignorant – he's a liar and charlatan. The only people he has fooled are those ignorant of the science – that's why he has by-passed peer review. ID has had enough time to come up with something. They have NOTHING. No proposed experiments. No predictions. No publications. No mechanism of action. No proposed way it can be falsified. NOTHING. One big huge dishonest "god of the gaps" and "arguments from ignorance" whose audience is the ignorant public desperate for proof of the wizard in the sky. Honest scientists are not fooled by this fraud.

  8. //Axe: I perceived there to be a deep contradiction between the materialist worldview – which is the idea that everything is matter and energy – and our notion of human free will. //
    Mixing biology with "free will". There is a reason Axe, engineer turned biologist, doesn't have a doctorate in front of his name, and it isn't because of a conspiracy.
    Seriously, why is it that machanical engineers favor creation mythology?

  9. Bravo Dr. Axe. Those who would attack your thesis by arguing that people who believe in G-d can't be taken seriously as scientists, believe instead that atheism is a requirement for one's research to be given credence. Frankly, I don't understand this double standard. Science is about crunching the numbers objectively and letting the truth prevail. It should be clear to any rational mind that a creation as complex as a human being could not possibly have arrived thru a series of "accidents" particularly when you consider that the number of such accidents staggers anyone's imagination.
    Dr. Yaakov Stern
    Brooklyn NY

  10. Even if the the protein is one of 10**74 possibilities, there could be many (billions and billions?) of those possibilities that do something useful. A primitive cell only has to stumble onto a few of those. And there could be billions of primitive cells.

    The exact path from non-life to life is not known, but it wouldn't have required picking the right one choice out of 10**74.

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