RE: [asa] SC Morris piece "Darwin was right. Up to a point."

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Thu Aug 20 2009 - 20:29:16 EDT

Does option 3 imply that we should easily find life on other planets too, since life isn't all that special (unlikely)? Seems like 1 and 3 may be able to make a prediction regarding finding life outside our planet.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Nucacids
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 3:43 PM
To: Austerberry, Charles;
Subject: Re: [asa] SC Morris piece "Darwin was right. Up to a point."

Here is a short paper that would seem very relevant to this topic: "How much
of protein sequence space has been explored by life on Earth?"

Let me quote the short discussion:

"Protein sequence space is often viewed as a limitless desert of maladjusted
sequences with only a few oases of working sequences linked by narrow
pathways (Axe 2000, 2004). The navigation over this space by natural
selection is difficult and could take many different routes thus resulting
in organisms with largely different protein compositions. This idea of
contingency, if taken at the level of species, led Gould to suggest that if
one was to rerun the 'tape of life' then evolution would take a totally
different path and we, as a species, would only appear as a highly
improbable accident (Gould 1991; Luisi 2003; de Duve 2007a,b). However, if
there is any merit to our simple calculation then protein sequence analysis
provides no support for the idea of contingency at a molecular level and it
provides strong support for the ideas of convergence (Conway Morris 2000,
2004; Dawkins 2005; Vermeij 2006; de Duve 2007a,b). If one was to rerun the
tape, then the protein composition of organisms would be similar. Our
calculation removes the almost impossibly unrealistic pressure on natural
selection to navigate through protein sequence space avoiding the vast
number of functionless sequences by simply indicating that most sequences
have been tried are useful in some way, and that there are many possible
routes to obtain proteins with desirable functions (Nagano et al. 2002;
Anantharaman et al. 2003; Holliday et al. 2007).

Finally, we conclude that the number 20100 and similar large numbers (e.g.
Salisbury 1969; Maynard Smith 1970; Mandecki 1998; Luisi 2003; Carrier 2004;
de Duve 2005) are simply 'straw men' advanced to initiate discussion in the
same spirit as the 'Levinthal paradox' of protein folding rates (Levinthal
1969; Zwanzig et al. 1992). 20100 is now no more useful than the approximate
2101?834?097 books present in Borges' (1999) fantastical 'Library of Babel'
and has no connection with the real world of amino acids and proteins.
Hence, we hope that our calculation will also rule out any possible use of
this big numbers 'game' to provide justification for postulating divine
intervention (Bradley 2004; Dembski 2004)."

It would thus seem we have three basic positions that can be represented in
the following crude formulations (using human origins as an illustrative

1. Human life was so unlikely that natural causes cannot account for it (DI

2. Human life was very unlikely, but not so unlikely that natural causes
cannot account for it ("Darwinist" view).

3. Human life was not unlikely (SCM view).

1 and 2 would unite against 3 in denying that human life was likely (both
play the "big numbers game"). 2 and 3 would unite against 1 in maintaining
natural causes are not insufficient. 1 and 3 cannot unite against 2 on the
basis of these positions as stated.

And there ya go.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Austerberry, Charles" <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 12:42 PM
Subject: [asa] SC Morris piece "Darwin was right. Up to a point."

> The BioLogos blog (Science and the Sacred) on BeliefNet recently
> highlighted
> this article by Simon Conway Morris from last February that I had missed:
> The comments posted below the article were overwhelmingly negative.
> Seems to me that Simon Conway Morris was simply stating that there are
> unsolved mysteries (such as evolutionary convergence, and human minds)
> that
> random mutation plus natural selection alone cannot explain. He also
> implies that such things as minds and direction in evolution are
> consistent
> (expected) with theism but perhaps not with atheism.
> It might seem that Morris concludes the article (with the bit about the
> coffin marked Atheism) by saying that the existence of minds and of
> convergence in evolution prove the existence of God. But the image of
> Darwinian evolution as God's "search engine" does not seem to match up
> with
> standard apologetic intelligent design-based proposals.
> From this short piece I can't tell if Morris thinks the search engine is
> guided, or the "possibility space" being searched is designed, or neither.
> Perhaps Morris is mostly just trying to refute simplistic (New?) Atheist
> arguments such as "No Gaps, so No God" and "Random, so No God".
> Anyway, I like his emphasis on unsolved questions and mysteries.
> Cheers!
> Chuck Austerberry
> -------
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.


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Received on Thu Aug 20 20:30:19 2009

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