‘Junk’ DNA, asteroid impacts and supernovas
Published: 21 April 2007 (GMT+10)This week’s feedback comes from Neil Porter from Australia, who has some questions after reading a book on the Darwin Awards. Andrew Lamb and Don Batten reply.
Hello CMI Staff,
I am a long-time subscriber of Creation magazine and supporter of CMI (through all its incarnations).
I was given a book for Christmas: The Darwin Awards IV: Intelligent Design, by Wendy Northcutt. It’s supposed to be funny, but I ended up praying for the surviving relatives more often than not.
The Introduction of this particular edition clearly states that, ‘ … pokes fun at the embarrassing pseudo-science of religious fundamentalists.’ (page 1)
Apart from numerous snide remarks here and there, there is one deliberate essay of high mockery of us. The book also contains a series of essays on various aspects of evolution, by various authors. In some cases, these essays have been used as an excuse for creationist-bashing. Of these, there are three instances that I am curious about:
- page 153: In a reference to endogenous retroviruses, Stephen Darksyde writes, “Creationists hate ERVs. They usually ignore them, or recursively label them ‘intelligent common design’. ERVs have no known function.” etc
- pp 183–187: An article by Norm Sleep on an asteroid crashing into ‘Yucatán, early June, sixty-five million years ago’— no particular digs at creationists, but very persuasively written.
- page 285: In an article by Stephen Darksyde on Supernova 1987A, he states, ‘One immediate benefit was that SN1987A demolished Young Earth Creationism’.
Has CMI anything to say about these three topics, as I know little of them? Are there any creationist responses to these claims that I can read?
Thanks for your support and encouragement. Yes, as an organization we’ve had a few names over the years, but we still have the same aims and objectives. And we are still producing Creation magazine, which is now in its 29th year. See a brief history, if you want to know more.
Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are segments of DNA which, due in part to some similarities and their seemingly haphazard distribution, are thought to have resulted from past viral infections. Much of the human genome is supposed to be composed of such haphazard additions of DNA—a major component of the so-called ‘junk DNA’.
Even if this idea were correct, it does little to support evolution in the microbes-to-man sense. Such evolution requires the coming into existence of encyclopedic quantities of new functional information, coding for new organs etc., whereas ERVs would involve merely the transfer of relatively tiny amounts of existing DNA from one organism to another. Inserting DNA in places where it ‘doesn’t belong’ often results in functional loss, as those involved with the ‘gene gun’ approach to genetic engineering of plants have found. At the very least it would be adding mere ‘junk’. ‘Downward’ change like this is in the opposite direction to that required by evolution. See The evolution train’s a-comin’.
However, a large proportion of a typical genome consists of ‘mobile elements’ or ‘transposable elements’ of various kinds, and it is very wrong to assume that these came from accidental virus insertions. Some segments of human DNA that were once identified as being endogenous retroviruses are now known to have important functions. For some examples, see Junk DNA: evolutionary discards or God’s tools? See especially reference 41 in this paper.
Note that even after a vital function has been identified for a segment of DNA, thus belying the idea that it is an endogenous retrovirus, many scientists will still tend to refer to it by the invalidated term ‘endogenous retrovirus’. The more generic term of ‘transposable element’ is much better and does not presuppose origin or function.
Studies of embryo development in mice have implicated these transposable elements in controlling embryo development. Such elements amount to about a third of the DNA in mammals and they seem to be involved in controlling the sequence and level of gene expression during development by moving to/from the sites of gene control. See No joy for junkies, which explains this and other evidence for the functionality of ‘junk’ DNA. A leader in the field, Prof. John Mattick of University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, said:
‘the failure to recognise the implications of the non-coding DNA will go down as the biggest mistake in the history of molecular biology’.
He regards much non-coding (‘junk’) DNA as an ‘advanced operating system’, a theory many of his fellow evolutionists reject out of hand because such a system could not have evolved—see DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess?
It is interesting that 99% of the human DNA was labeled ‘junk’ before any studies of the so-called ‘junk’ were carried out. This labeling arose from evolutionary notions of the origin of the DNA. This was part of a reluctant admission that evolution, even with the best possible scenario imaginable, could not account for more than a tiny part of the total DNA if it were functional. The mounting evidence of functionality is a huge problem for the grand molecules-to-man evolutionary notion.
The remarks about an asteroid crashing into the Yucatán Peninsula are referring to the Chicxulub Crater. Articles on this geographical feature can be found by entering ‘Chicxulub’, ‘Yucatan’ and/or ‘iridium’ in the search field on our website. See especially: Did a meteor wipe out the dinosaurs? What about the iridium layer? Even many evolutionary dinosaur experts are scathing of the meteor extinction theory. For example, Jimmy Bakker of the University of Colorado Museum denounced the meteor proponents as follows:
‘The arrogance of these people is simply unbelievable. They know next to nothing about how real animals evolve, live, and become extinct. But, despite their ignorance, the geochemists feel that all you have to do is crank up some fancy machine and you’ve revolutionized science. The real reasons for the dinosaur extinctions have to do with temperature and sea level changes, the spread of diseases by migration and other complex events. In effect, they’re saying this: we high-tech people have all the answers, and you paleontologists are just primitive rockhounds.’
Bakker also pointed out that the meteor would have killed the very creatures that survived the supposed dino extinction:
‘it would send up a dust storm that would chill the earth. The dust would cause acid rain that would kill the frogs, turtles and fish right away. They are very sensitive to acid rain. Big animals wouldn’t be affected as much. So the theory of a meteorite hitting predicts just the wrong order.’
In 1987 a star was observed exploding, and designated Supernova 1987A. It was in a galaxy accepted as being about 170,000 light-years from earth. There have been many observed supernovas throughout history, and supernovas do not ‘demolish young earth creationism’. We can see an enormous number of stars that are so far away from us that it would take millions or billions of years for their light to reach us. The argument relating to SN1987A is the same as the general argument over distant starlight. Indeed, those who believe in the big bang origin of the Universe have a problem with the amount of time available for light to travel as well.
For a good overview of the distant starlight issue, using SN1987A as a specific example, see the first few paragraphs of: Distant starlight and Genesis: conventions of time measurement. Chapter 5 of the Creation Answers Book also deals with the issue, discussing the role of gravity in explaining how we can see distant starlight in an earth time frame of thousands of years.
SN1987A is also mentioned in: A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time. For a detailed treatment of SN1987A with respect to the distant starlight issue, see John Hartnett and Alex Williams, Functional creation and the appearance of age, pages 168–173 in: Dismantling the Big Bang. This section includes an explanatory diagram incorporating SN1987A.
Not only do supernovas not ‘demolish young earth creationism’, they are a powerful evidence for the biblical time-frame of only thousands of years. If we consider supernovas in our neighbourhood, our galaxy, which is not affected much by gravitational time dilation, the numbers of the different stages of expansion of supernovas match what would be expected for an age of the galaxy of thousands of years, not billions of years. See Exploding stars point to a young universe. This is a problem for the big bang’s naturalistic billions-of-years age scenario, as are many other observations, including the observation of very distant spiral galaxies, which according to the big bang idea are close to the beginning of the universe when they should not have existed. See ‘Early’ galaxies don’t fit!
Sometimes Skeptics point to supernovas as evidence that the Universe is imperfect and therefore could not be the product of the all-wise Creator of the Bible. However, in saying this they overlook the Fall, that we would not expect the Universe today to be perfect. See Creation and the Curse and The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe. But supernovas might well have been a part of God’s good design for the Universe anyway. They are a spectacular and beautiful display of the power of the Creator of the Universe (Romans 1:20), and do no harm to us (or any living creature that the Hebrew Old Testament calls nephesh chayyāh נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה) provided they are not too close (and God in His providence can make sure of that). They are like cosmic fireworks, and while our own fireworks displays destroy the gunpowder, they are certainly designed and beautiful.
We trust this helps refute the Skeptics’ claims.