Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Junk DNA", "vestigial" organs, and a poster child for California (mis)education

Greetings to all you wanderers who land in the graveyard today. It is just good to know that not all who wander are lost.

You know, I have never met Kendra Grinsell. I don't know if she is smiley or frowny, don't know if she is a Miss or Mrs or Ms, don't know if Kendra has 2.5 children and a dog, or what. All I know is that I only today read a statement attributed to her by a 2004 article in the Sacramento Bee that qualifies her, in this blogster's humble view, to be the poster child of California (mis)education. And I don't always name names, but M. Grinsell, in a public position, put her name and words (and reputation) into the public square. So, here goes.

DUHH ...

It seems that in 2004, trustees of the Roseville (California) Joint Union High School District decided to keep anti-evolution ideas out of biology classes (see Sacramento Bee article:


http://dwb.sacbee.com/content/news/education/story/9195255p-10120592c.html ).

It is an interesting read, but most stunning to me was the last paragraph of the article:
"It's still an issue that they're saying we've got to teach strengths and weaknesses," said Kendra Grinsell, chairwoman of Woodcreek High School's science department. "It wouldn't be a theory if there were weaknesses."

I think it was Jesus who mentioned something about the blind leading the blind. If the Bee's quote and attribution are correct, here is a chairwoman of a high school science department who does not even understand that the scientific method begins with a hypothesis which is subsequently tested by observations which may then falsify or support the hypothesis. By a long long string of successes, a theory may be elevated to a "law" of science. If the Bee's attribution is correct, then serious miseducation in science in California is well into the second generation. If M. Grinsell is close to retirement, then California science miseducation is thoroughly embedded in the third generation and likely beyond.

So let's do just a little bit of the "testing" that M. Grinsell does not understand. We are not going everywhere with this. We are not going to run with the big dogs of genomic entropy or intelligent design or the fossil record. We are just going to peek at a teentsy slice. We will merely look at some implications of the growth of our knowledge of "junk" DNA and "vestigial" organs and see if Mr. Darwin's predictions will wash or wash out.

JUNK DNA:

My poking around today began as I read an article in Science News entitled "MICROMANAGERS: New Classes of RNAs emerge as key players in the brain." (Science News, March 1, 2008, vol 173, p. 136). This article was discussing the great importance of a certain class of "non-coding" DNA, i.e. segments of DNA which are not known to code for the synthesis of any known protein. I knew that 30 years ago most scientists considered that the great majority of DNA was "junk DNA', remnants of forms either attempted with failure or selected out by competition against subsequent new and improved forms. It was Professor Susumu Ohno who stated, “at least 90% of our genomic DNA is ‘junk’ or ‘garbage’ of various sorts” (Ohno, S. 1972. So much "junk" DNA in our genome. In Evolution of Genetic Systems (ed. H.H. Smith), pp. 366-370. Gordon and Breach, New York.). When I first heard that, I knew the good professor was way off base, because I know GOD DOES NOT MAKE JUNK. Now accumulations of mutations after the "fall of man" following a perfect creation may create a fair amount of excess baggage as time goes on. But 90%? Uh-uh! And I told that to many people doing research in our local medical university. The increased respect (even awe) now held by the formerly spurned and disdained "non-coding" 90% of DNA is a major story of modern science - and should be a major story of modern science education.

The Science News "MICROMANAGERS" article caught my eye as it said, "Some researchers estimate that as much as 98% of the human genome is copied into RNA ... That figure is vastly different from what was originally postulated." And it goes on to say, "Researchers now know that noncoding RNAs get involved in virtually everything that happens in or to a cell, St. Laurent says. The molecules are control freaks, touching every piece of cellular machinery. They monitor temperature, chemical conditions, electrical currents, and other signals from the environment and then tell the cell how to respond."

Recognition of the value of the entire genome has been building for a number of years, but especially since the completion of the Human Genome Project. See:
"Junk' throws up precious secret," BBC News Online , May 12, 2004.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3703935.stm

"Despite all the questions that this research has raised, one thing is clear: scientists need to review their ideas about junk DNA.
Professor Chris Ponting, from the UK Medical Research Council's Functional Genetics Unit, told BBC News Online: 'Amazingly, there were calls from some sections to only map the bits of genome that coded for protein - mapping the rest was thought to be a waste of time.
'It is very lucky that entire genomes were mapped, as this work is showing.' He added: 'I think other bits of 'junk' DNA will turn out not to be junk. I think this is the tip of the iceberg, and that there will be many more similar findings.'"


So why is there such an upward shift in respect for the "non-coding DNA"? Simply because the general acceptance of Darwin's evolutionary ideas earlier led to the PREDICTION (although rarely stated explicitly as such) that there must be and are useless remnants of DNA left over and left behind from mutations of the past, and that these "vestigial DNA" segments would have a substantial presence in the genome. And well, golly, 90% non-coding means 90% vestigial seemed to just feel kind of right if you were an ardent Darwinist.

The point here: Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory led scientists to believe that the 90% of DNA was useless. The Biblical Creation hypothesis suggested that likely a very large part of the DNA was still functioning as from the beginning, albeit with diminished utility because of natural decay processes active following the fall of man recorded in the Bible, Genesis Chapter 3. Which prediction verified? Without question, the Darwinian "prediction" failed miserably, and delayed the progress of science in the process. Without question, the Biblical Creation hypothesis verified. And the progress of science would have been accelerated had this hypothesis been functioning as the operative view.

Result? GOD, 1. darwin, 0.


VESTIGIAL ORGANS:

The same thing comes up with so-called "vestigial" organs - organs which are considered useless remnants of evolution - remnants of forms which failed or were selected out by subsequent competition. Same story as above. Only a bit more than 100 years ago, the number of organs considered "vestigial" exceeded 100. See:

http://www.creationinthecrossfire.com/Articles/VestigialOrgans.html

"While Robert Wiedersheim listed 180 alleged vestigial or rudimentary organs in 1895, today the list is down to a handful..l Vestigial organs were considered passé because of ignorance, but now we have discovered important biological functions and necessity for every one of them. At an ICR summer institute, Dr. Richard Lumsden stated emphatically that there are no vestigial organs. Creationists would do well to ask, "What was this made for?" when looking at a seemingly useless body part. Since God made the whole body, He had a reason for including every part."

I had the pleasure, by the way, to meet Dr. Richard Lumsden, sitting across from him in a cafeteria in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, about 10 years ago. It would take a lot of ink to print his resume, but what I remember most is that, in his later professional years, he came to consider creation - and then God - and then Jesus - as a result of challenges raised to him (after his class lecture on evolution) by a young pre-med student. She told him that she "just wanted to get her science straight." She later went to Africa to bring healing of both body and soul to that continent.



But why was there such a reigning presumption that so many organs (180 in 1895) were useless? Again, the presumption was made because the reigning Darwinian paradigm demanded that, as evolution marches onward, organs are left behind as well as species. Organs may be left behind with the remnant DNA continuing to express proteins that continue to make the useless organs generation after generation until some other mutation comes along to cease the waste.

But the creation hypothesis says that organs are made for a reason. Even if scientists, for a season, do not understand the function, we still presume the organ is useful until proven useless.

The summary here? Same as with "vestigial" DNA:

GOD, 1. darwin, 0.




THE FINAL TALLY: GOD, 2. darwin, 0.

So there is the result of our little tests of the hypothesis that M. Grinsell seemed to think needs no test. Her Darwinian hypthesis fell flat on its face by virtue of FAILED PREDICTIONS - in both cases.

The little picture shows how continued observation of both organ usefulness and DNA usefulness has led to clear agreement with the creation hypothesis: "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth."

Respectully,

D.U.




















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