Thursday, June 12, 2008

 
Book Interview: The Cell's Design by Fuz Rana

Dr. Fuz Rana, the author of The Cell's Design, kindly agreed to answer interview questions about his new book via email. Dr. Rana has a Ph.D. in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Ohio University. He currently serves as the vice president for science apologetics at Reasons To Believe.

There are some formatting irregularities due to the process of copying the text received from Dr. Rana. For that, I apologize, but it is still pretty readable.

1) What is
the central thesis of your book?


In the last decade or so molecular biologists, biochemists, and biophysicists have developed a wide range
of new techniques that give us an unprecedented view of life’s operation
at a molecular level. In my opinion, these new insights provide some
of the most compelling evidence that life must stem from the work of
a Creator.


The Cell’s Design
is my attempt to communicate the breadth and depth of these discoveries
and organize them into a formal argument for intelligent design (ID).
To make my case, I utilize a form of analogical reasoning called pattern
recognition.


I attempt to define an intelligent
design pattern using the behavior of human designers as a guide. Remarkably,
the defining characteristics and features of life’s chemical systems
closely correspond to the intelligent design pattern.


In my view, this analogy compels
the conclusion that life stems from a Creator. It’s not that life’s
chemistry appears to be designed. But it appears to be designed
in the same way that a system or object created by a human designer
appears to be designed. 

 

2) Why did you feel The Cell’s Design needed to be
written at this time?


In my opinion, the scientific
evidence for the work of a Creator and the reliability of the Old and
New Testaments abounds in all areas of science. As a biochemist, I think
the most compelling evidence for ID is found in biochemistry, the study
of life’s most fundamental systems.


I find that very few people
appreciate the power and extent of the biochemical evidence for ID.
Most science apologetics works are quick to jump on the problems with
evolutionary explanations for life’s origin, including the information
content of living systems. These works might make some mention of Behe’s
concept of irreducible complexity (IC), but that usually is about it.
A small number of apologetics works give the appropriate attention to
the case that can be made for a Creator’s existence using biochemistry.


Of course the two chief exceptions
are Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and his new work
The
Edge of Evolution. Both of these seminal works focus
on the biochemical case for ID. Still, much of Behe’s attention is
focused on explaining why evolutionary processes can’t yield IC biochemical
systems or trying to define the boundaries of biological evolution at
a molecular level.


The two goals I had for
The Cell’s Design
were to:



  1. Make a positive
    case for ID from a biochemical perspective—without spending a lot
    of space discussing what evolution can and can’t do. Without question,
    this discussion is critical, but I felt that there needs to be a work
    that focuses on the evidence for ID, not the problems with natural process
    molecular evolution.


 


  1. Communicate the
    broad range of biochemical evidence for a Creator. Behe’s concept
    of IC is powerful, but in my view, it is only one category of biochemical
    evidence that can be marshaled in favor of ID. Oddly, I feel that
    The Cell’s Design
    is incomplete. I could have written volumes
    and still not exhausted the examples of intelligently designed systems
    in life’s chemistry. The Cell’s Design
    is just a sampling of the evidence for a Creator’s handiwork observed
    at the biomolecular level.


 

3) How does your book use, go beyond, etc.
irreducible complexity?


In many respects, Behe pioneered
the biochemical case for intelligent design in Darwin’s Black Box.
In The Cell’s Design I continue the journey started by Behe,
and hopefully make the biochemical case for intelligent design that
much more pronounced.
 


Though compelling, irreducible
complexity does not necessarily represent an iron clad case for the
intelligent design of biochemical systems. Many skeptics feel that they
have an objective basis for rejecting Behe’s argument. Even though
Behe does an admirable job responding to his critics, many remain unmoved.
Their objections motivated me, in part, to write my book.
 


Irreducible complexity stands
as just one of an ensemble of biochemical features that individually
and collectively evince design. In The
Cell’s Design
I attempt to go beyond irreducible complexity and
communicate the full range of amazing design features that characterize
life’s chemistry and use them to extend the biochemical case for intelligent
design.



By looking at the weight of
evidence, I hope to convince the reader that it is not a single piece
of evidence that points to intelligent design at the biochemical level.
Rather, it’s the collective body of data. While skeptics may not be
impressed by the irreducible complexity of biochemical systems, I hope
that they will respond differently to a growing collection of evidence
that points to the same conclusion—a supernatural basis for life.


 

4) Could you give an example of some of the design patterns we find
in the human cell and how they support your thesis?


One of the things I find absolutely
mind-boggling is the recognition that the salient characteristics of
biochemical systems are identical to those features we would immediately
recognize as evidence for the work of a human designer. In The Cell’s
Design
I argue that the close match between biochemical systems
and the artifacts produced by human designers logically compels the
conclusion that life’s most fundamental processes and structures stem
from the work of an intelligent agent.


For example, biochemists have
discovered that many of the proteins that operate in the cell function
as molecular-level machines. Remarkably, many of these molecular machines
bear an eerie resemblance to man-made machines replete with drive shafts,
cam shafts, turbines, clamps, lever arms, bushings, stators, and rotors.
As I argue in The Cell’s Design, these discoveries re-invigorate
William Paley’s Watchmaker argument.


The production of these molecular
machines resembles a manufacturing process with the proteins produced
in an assembly-line fashion. I find it astounding that the manufacture
of proteins employs quality control checkpoints at key points in the
process. (For a preview of the chapter that discusses this in The
Cell’s Design
check out this link,
www.cellsdesign.com.)  


Even though the biomolecular
pathways responsible for protein synthesis are well-designed, mistakes
inevitably creep into the operation because of the inherent nature of
chemical and physical processes. This makes quality control procedures
necessary.
 


Biochemical quality assurance
further highlights the remarkable ingenuity that defines the cell’s
chemistry and reinforces the conclusion that life has a supernatural
basis. Effective and efficient quality control procedures don’t just
happen. Rather, intentional foresight characterizes them. Sound quality
control systems require careful planning, a detailed understanding of
the manufacturing process, the product, and the way that the product
will be used. All of these features are evident in the quality control
activities in the cell. In protein biosynthesis, the placement of quality
assurance checkpoints occurs at strategic stages in the production process
in a way that ensures reliable protein production while generating manufacturing
efficiency.
 


The close correspondence between
the quality control operations designed by human engineers and the quality
control procedures found in the cell strengthens the biochemical intelligent
design analogy. In this context, the cell’s quality assurance systems
logically compel the conclusion that life’s chemistry emanates from
the work of a Divine Engineer.
 


Protein production is also
a chicken and egg system. Proteins are needed to produce proteins. Chicken
and egg biochemical systems add to the biochemical intelligent design
analogy. Human designers and engineers frequently face chicken and egg
problems. These problems can only be resolved by the strategic and simultaneous
implementation of interdependent components. In like manner, the biochemical
chicken and egg systems must have come about through the work of a Creator.


 

 

5) Do we find or do we expect to find software design patterns (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_Patterns) in the cell's genetic code?


I’m not a software engineer,
so in many respects I don’t feel fully qualified to address this question.
Having said that, my sense is we will find software design patterns
in the cell’s information systems.


In The Cell’s Design,
I propose what I call the Watchmaker Prediction. Accordingly, as human
designers develop new technologies, examples of these technologies,
which previously went unrecognized, will become evident in the operation
of the cell’s molecular systems. In other words, if life stems from
the work of a Creator then it’s reasonable to believe that life’s
biochemical machinery anticipates human technology advances. The Watchmaker
Prediction applies to software design.


Something quite interesting
along these lines is recent work by a chemist from Trinity University
(Dublin, Ireland). It turns out that when adenine, guanine, thymine
(uracil), and cytosine are incorporated into DNA, they impart the double
helix with a unique structural property that causes the information
contained in this biomolecule to function like a parity code. Information
scientists and technologists use parity codes to minimize error in the
transfer of information. None of the other nucleobases that could have
been used to build DNA impart this biomolecule with this special quality,
only the specific combination of A, G, C, and T/U.
 


Every time the cell’s machinery
transcribes a gene or replicates the DNA molecule information is transmitted.
Transmission errors have disastrous consequences for the cell. Error
minimization during information transfer, and consequently, DNA’s
parity code, exists as a critical structural feature of the cell’s
information systems.
 


This extraordinary structural
property of DNA indicates to me that a Mind bears responsibility for
the cell’s information systems. The even parity code found in DNA
is identical to the ones used by information technologists. It as if
an intelligent agent carefully selected of the nucleobases, A, G, C,
and T (U) to optimize DNA’s structure so that errors can be readily
detected and minimized when information is transmitted.
 


 

6) What are evolutionary explanations for those patterns and why
are they insufficient?
 

 


Most evolutionary biologists
would evoke chemical selection as a way to explain the origin of information-rich
biomolecules, (proteins and nucleic acids, like DNA and RNA). As astronomer
Hugh Ross and I show in Origins of Life, chemical selection seems
to play a minor, almost negligible, role in the formation of information-containing
molecules.
 


Because of the limited role
that chemical selection plays, the formation of biochemical information
systems, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a probability problem.
And based on what is currently known, it appears to be astronomically
improbable for the essential gene set to emerge through natural means
alone. Still, this probability analysis is incomplete, since the fundamental
relationships among sequence, structure, and function are still not
known for proteins and DNA.
 


When these relationships are
better understood, it may turn out that it is much easier for mechanistic
processes to generate information-rich molecules than anyone thinks.
But these future insights also could make the probabilities of producing
functional biomolecules more remote. The bottom line: Current knowledge
about the capability of evolutionary processes is insufficient to either
establish or rule out an evolutionary origin of biochemical information
systems.
 


While it is not completely
possible at this point in time to calculate the probability of functional
proteins emerging through natural means, it is possible to rigorously
access the likelihood that the genetic code arose through natural processes.
The genetic code is the set of rules the cell’s machinery uses to
translate proteins from the information stored in DNA.
 


Simply put, there does not
appear to be enough time for evolutionary processes to stumble upon
the universal genetic code—a code which displays exceptional levels
of design in terms of its error minimization capacity. As I describe
in The Cell’s Design, biophysicist Hubert Yockey has determined
that natural selection would have to explore 1.40 x 1070
different genetic codes to discover the universal genetic code found
in nature. Yockey estimated 6.3 x 1015 seconds is the maximum
time available for the code to originate. Natural selection would have
to evaluate roughly 1055 codes per second to find
the universal genetic code. On this basis alone, the universal genetic
code, which defines biochemical information, can’t have an evolutionary
origin.
 


 

7) How does the evidence you mention point to the God of the Bible,
not just evidence for design?


The significance of the argument
I make for biochemical intelligent design extends beyond the notion
that life’s chemistry stems from the work of a Creator. The close
analogy between the characteristics of human and biochemical designs
points to a resonance between the human mind and the Mind responsible
for creating biochemical systems.


This connection finds explanation
in the biblical text which declares that humans are made in God’s
image. The Genesis 1 creation account (and Genesis 5) teaches that God
created human beings (male and female) in His image. This declaration
implies that humans bear a similarity to God, at least in some ways.
 


Just as God is a Creator, so
too, human beings, which bear God’s image, are mini-creators. This
implies that the hallmark characteristics of humanly designed systems
will mirror those of divinely designed systems, if, again, the Divine
Artist is the God described in the Bible.


 

8) If Darwinism is defined as all life is descended from a
common ancestor by means of blind natural forces (natural selection)
acting on random mutations for variation in a step-by-step process,
I see major significant negative critiques in the greater ID and Creationist
movements. The first is that life can't get off the ground in the first
place, best exemplified in your Origins of Life book. The second
is that you can't explain a lot of structures with a blind step-by-step
mechanism (irreducible complexity). The last major critique I see is
William Dembski's concept of Complex Specified Information. If life
has it that means life can't be brought about by blind forces. Do you
see your book complementing these negative critiques?


As I mentioned in response
to an earlier question, the primary focus of The Cell’s Design
is to present a positive, comprehensive weight-of-evidence case for
ID. Still, I do raise questions about the validity of evolutionary explanations
for the origin of biochemical systems. For example, I argue (with some
mathematical rigor) that the universal genetic code—the set of rules
that the cell’s machinery uses to make proteins from the information
harbored in DNA—can’t arise on Earth at any time in its history
through undirected processes. I also argue that the origin of cell membranes
is inexplicable through chemical evolutionary processes. I also point
out that the widespread occurrence of molecular convergence fits awkwardly
within an evolutionary framework. Theses critiques discussed in The
Cell’s Design
complements the major criticisms raised by Behe
and Dembski against the evolutionary paradigm.


Of course, the positive case
I make for ID gains strength from the work of Behe and Dembski (and
others who have raised significant questions about the validity of naturalistic
explanations for the origin of life and life’s fundamental features
at a molecular level).


 

9) What are your plans for further research or for your next book?


I
just signed a contract with Baker Books to write a book on the quest
to create artificial and synthetic life in the laboratory. I plan to
describe the most important and high-profile scientific work done in
this arena and to explore what these efforts mean for evolutionary and
creation/ID paradigms. 

 

10) Do you have any plans to tackle the biological case against universal
common descent (which would be the major item not yet comprehensively
addressed within the greater ID movement)?


I don’t have any overly ambitious
plans for addressing the problem of universal common descent at this
point in time. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t paid attention to
this challenge to ID, nor that I will forgo this challenge in the future.


One arena I have given a lot
of attention to along these lines is “junk” DNA. One of the most
compelling evidences for common descent are the shared junk DNA segments
found in the corresponding regions of the genomes of organisms that
appear to be related. This argument for common descent, in my mind,
is being actively eroded by advances that indicate that nearly every
class of junk DNA has function. I document a number of these discoveries
in Who Was Adam? in the context of human origins, and also touch
on these discoveries in The Cell’s Design in the context of
“bad” biochemical designs. I also write updates about junk DNA discoveries
for the Reasons To Believe website (
www.reasons.org) as part of the Today’s New Reason
To Believe
feature. (Here is a link to one of more recent articles
on pseudogenes,
http://www.reasons.org/tnrtb/2008/05/28/an-unexpected-find/.)


I have also done some work
on convergence. In my mind, convergence undermines the notion of common
descent. This term refers to the widespread pattern in nature in which
unrelated organisms possess nearly identical anatomical, physiological,
behavioral, and biochemical characteristics. The wings of birds and
bats represent one textbook example. According to the evolutionary paradigm,
undirected natural processes yielded the identical outcome (wings, in
this case) because the forces of selection channeled evolutionary pathways
to the same endpoint.
 


This explanation doesn’t
square up, however. If biological systems are the product of evolution,
then the same biological systems should not recur throughout nature.
Chance governs biological and biochemical evolution at its most fundamental
level. Evolutionary pathways consist of a historical sequence of chance
genetic changes operated on by natural selection, which, too, consists
of chance components. The consequences are profound. If evolutionary
events could be repeated, the outcome would be dramatically different
every time. The inability of evolutionary processes to retrace the same
path makes it highly unlikely that the same biological and biochemical
designs should repeatedly appear throughout nature.
 

 


The concept of historical contingency
embodies this idea and is the theme of Stephen J. Gould’s book
Wonderful Life.
To help clarify the concept of historical contingency,
Gould used the metaphor of “replaying life’s tape.” If one was
to push the rewind button, erase life’s history, and then let the
tape run again, the results would be completely different each time.
The very essence of the evolutionary process renders evolutionary outcomes
non-repeatable.
 


And yet, over the last decade
or so, evolutionary biologists have discovered a number of examples
of convergence at the organismal and biochemical levels. (For more information
on this topic check out articles I wrote on convergence (
http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/2000issue04/index.shtml#convergence_evidence_for_a_single_creator ) and repeated evolution


(http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/2000issue04/index.shtml#repeatable_evolution_or_repeated_creation


).) 


In The Cell’s Design,
I document over one hundred examples of convergence at the biochemical
level and argue that the widespread occurrence of the multiple repeated
origin of a wide range of biochemical systems raises significant questions
about the validity of evolutionary explanations for life’s origin
and diversity, and along with it the case for common descent.
 


As I argue in The Cell’s
Design
, designers and engineers frequently reapply successful strategies
when they face closely related problems. Why reinvent the wheel? It’s
much more prudent and efficient for an inventor to reuse the same good
designs as much as possible, particularly when confronted with a problem
he or she has already solved.
 


The tendency of engineers and
designers reuse the same designs provides insight into the way that
a Creator might work. If human engineers, made in God’s image, reutilize
the same techniques and technologies when they invent, it’s reasonable
to expect that a Creator would do the same. If life stems from the work
of a Creator then it’s reasonable to expect that the same designs
would repeatedly appear throughout nature. Use of good, effective designs
over and over again would reflect His prudence and efficiency as a Divine
Engineer. 

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Monday, May 26, 2008

 
Iran Paid Insurgents to Kill British Soldiers

If I can fault the Bush administration for anything vis a vis Iraq, it has been on two things. 1) They didn't clamp down on Iranian influence early enough. 2) They did not make it clear to the public Iran's role. We're basically fighting a proxy war against Iran like the Soviets were fighting a proxy war against us in Afghanistan.

So the question is, what is anyone going to do about what is essentially an act of war. My guess is that the "stop before I say stop again" type of diplomacy.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

 
Is Being a Single Mother a Good Thing?

I was recently called to task for saying that one of the biggest problems facing America is single parent households. The person thought I was attacking single parents. Of course not. I wish them well, but the situation is not ideal. And if it can be avoided should be avoided.

I recently ran across this Chris Rock quote:
In Mr. Rock's HBO special, a performance taped at the Apollo Theater, he maintains his reputation for outrageous cutting-edge comedy by taking Dan Quayle's side of the Murphy Brown debate. ''A bunch of girls say you don't need no man to help you raise no child,'' he says, and promptly dismisses them.

''Yeah, you can do it without a man,'' he says. ''You could drive a car with your feet if you want to. That don't make it a good [expletive] idea.'' Mr. Rock excoriates deadbeat dads and laments the lessened importance of the traditional father.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

 
If You Vote Against Obama You Are a Racist

I saw this on a LA Time blog (in the comments):
I have a Master's Degree, 30 years of social work experience and a daughter at Harvard. I am not a "redneck" or "hillbilly", you condescending Obamites. But I am a woman who has spent years watching shallow young men being promoted over hard working women based on their ability to BS.

Is it so hard to see why I don't want to vote for a candidate with no experience, unbelieveable arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I am no racist but I resent being told by Black pundits that I have to vote for an "empty suit" or Blacks will be rioting in the streets. That is called blackmail and I won't be intimidated.

I see a lot of Obama supporters saying stuff like "everyone knows Kentucky is filled with racists." Yeah, keep that talk up.

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Obama the Naive

Obama has some problems. First, he freaks out when President Bush comes out against appeasers. "Hey, stop talking about me!" So he admits he's an appeaser. Not good.

Then he tries to say that Kennedy talked to the Russians, what's the big deal with talking to the Iranians? Kennedy's first meeting with Kruschev made him think that Kennedy was a light-weight. Kennedy then brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Does anyone seriously think that the Iranians are going to take Obama seriously if he threatens them?

I have no problem with talking with our enemies. But this "stop before I say 'stop' again" stuff has to go.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

 
Pushing for Plants Rights

In my college and high school newspapers, I wrote an article where I said something along the lines that they should give maple trees rights instead of dolphins. You never see maple trees being caught in tuna nets.

I guess I was ahead of time.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

 
Sabremetrics Coming To Basketball, or At Least the Celtics

When I heard Michael Lewis give a book talk while he was promoting 'the Blind Side', Lewis mentioned that NFL and NBA teams had contacted him about his book. While this article makes it sound like baseball teams are rushing on the stat bandwagon, Lewis said he hadn't heard much from baseball teams.

My guess would be that several teams are getting into sabremetrics, but only a handful are true believers.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

 
Just Waiting for the Dog Food

Good thing I buy my Lab high-end dog food.

In an otherwise interesting article about food choices in harder economic times, the New York Times has this gem:
Burt Flickinger, a longtime retail consultant, said the last time he saw such significant changes in consumer buying patterns was the late 1970s, when runaway inflation prompted Americans to “switch from red meat to pork to poultry to pasta — then to peanut butter and jelly.”

“It hasn’t gotten to human food mixed with pet food yet,” he said, “but it is certainly headed in that direction.”

Well, yes. If we GDP goes down 1 percent it isn't economic doom, but it is headed in that direction. The Red Sox might lose one game. That doesn't mean they'll miss the playoffs...yet. But it is headed in that direction.

Burt, I hope you were taken out of context.

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