Re: [asa] Molecular Biology and Design

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Sun Dec 28 2008 - 02:53:28 EST

Mike Gene wrote:
"...All of these concepts play key roles in molecular biology's understanding of protein synthesis and these are all concepts derived from engineering and the information sciences.
...If engineering concepts have helped to shape molecular biology, it is worth noting that molecular biology has been shaping developmental biology for some time. And developmental biology has been rewriting our understanding of evolution that renders front-loading more plausible. People sometimes ask me what science would look like if life was designed. I say it would look a lot like it looks right now."

Mike, I'm not sure you intended to say this but it seems that you may be implying that the successful use of concepts derived from engineering and the information sciences in understanding protein synthesis is an indicator that life is designed.

I think we should be careful about such a conclusion. In general, the use of equivalent concepts for analysis of two different systems does not logically lead to the equivalence of the systems. Let me illustrate with two examples from my own field of expertise.

Firstly, in semiconductor physics we use the concepts and tools for understanding electrons to describe and analyze holes. We talk of an effective mass, an effective velocity, energy, etc. even though we know that the hole is merely the absence of an electron and has no independent existence of its own. Usually we omit the adjective "effective" since it is well understood. The point is that the same concepts are used to describe holes and electrons, but one cannot conclude that holes have a similar type of existence as electrons.

Secondly, in my thesis on understanding dislocation motion in superconductors, I used my advisor's innovation of using concepts derived from the equations of motion for ordinary string to analyze dislocations. The string model (not to be confused with string theory!) turned out to be superb for understanding dislocations. The latter could be described as having tension, mass, damping forces, pinnors, vibrational modes, etc. in the same way as strings. The same second order equations of motion could be used. But even though I used concepts derived from strings to understand dislocations, I could not conclude that dislocations have the same type of existence as strings.

Similarly, the use of concepts derived from engineering and information science to understand protein synthesis is very helpful and useful but does not help us conclude or even give us a hint as to whether or not life is, in fact, information from an intelligent cause, or is designed. It just means that the same analytical concepts can be used in the two fields. I recall that a number of months ago, someone cited a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal on molecular biology about Shannon's theorems being useful to understand DNA. That may well be true but it doesn't provide evidence that DNA is therefore information of the same type as Shannon was describing. It just means the same concepts can be useful.


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Received on Sun Dec 28 02:54:42 2008

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