I’m going to link to a post on Uncommon Descent. I try to avoid that, because I think it is a vile harbor of malign idiocy, but Dembski has just put up something that I think is merely sincerely ignorant. That’s worth correcting. It also highlights the deficiencies of Dembski’s understanding of biology.
For example, consider how SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) works. You take a mammalian egg (which “just happens to be” a HUGE cell, very easy to experiment on). You take out the nucleus. (Think about how INCREDIBLY ARTIFICIAL that is.) You take an ENTIRE SOMATIC CELL (not just the nucleus—that’s one of the “tricks of the trade”) and you insert it into the enucleated egg cell. The “headless” (no nucleus, no genome, etc.) egg cell proceeds to break down/destroy the non-nucleic parts of the somatic cell. It then “gets ahold of” the somatic nucleus. It then proceeds to “reprogram” the nucleus to express the appropriate genes for embryonic life.
If all goes well (and often it doesn’t—in this case, nature fails to act “always or for the most part” in the famous phrase of Aristotle), a [fairly] normal embryo starts developing. But how can an enucleated egg possibly “know how to” do that? Such an occurrence has never happened in the entire history of life on earth. And yet it works—yes, only once in awhile, but it’s absolutely impossible that it could work AT ALL on Darwinian principles because the organism has never before encountered a circumstance in its natural history where this capability could have been selected for.
I know everyone who knows any basic cell biology is gawping in disbelief at that. This occurrence has never happened in the history of life? It happens all the time. The nuclei of your liver cells and skin cells and brain cells contain pretty much the same genetic material as the cells in your gonads. The egg ‘knows’ how to do that because every egg since the metazoan dawn of time has received the same ol’ ordinary genetic material that every other cell also receives, and then proceeds to differentiate along a path that enables the appropriate set of genes for an oocyte. Cells that were unable to do that did not become eggs and did not contribute to the next generation.
We even have a technical term for a more general aspect of the phenomenon: transfate. Cells respond to signals in their environment and respond by changing their prospective pattern of development. This is an artificial and extreme example, but it really is just an expression of the consequences of normal patterns of development. The scientists who are doing SCNT are taking advantage of a natural developmental mechanism to do their work for them.
Similarly, the ability of the egg to remove extranuclear material is treated as something magical, that never occurs in the natural world. Hello, fertilization? This fusion is exactly what happens when the sperm meets the egg.
Dembski thinks this expected capability is a disproof of evolution. This sounds a lot like the extravagant claims made for “irreducible complexity”…which also turned out to be a predicted expectation of genetic mechanisms.
I think the list has underappreciated (if I may sound a bit peevish a point I’ve made several times, namely, that any ability that an organism has to adapt to a highly, highly artificial constraint is a de facto disproof of the (complete adequacy of) neo-Darwinism. If an organism can adapt readily to an artificially induced change that has no analog in nature, than that adaptability cannot be explained (or explained away, or hand-waved-over) by random variation and natural selection. By hypothesis there is no place in natural history where such a capability could have arisen “naturally” (in the Darwinian sense).
This is absurd. Basically what Dembski is arguing here is that if organisms are not absolutely rigid and inflexible in their development, incapable of responding to variation in their environment, then evolution is wrong. He ignores (or more likely, is completely unaware of) everything we’ve known about basic developmental biology for a century and a half—the concept of regulation seems likely to freak poor Bill Dembski out, and I fear the mention of the words evo-devo and eco-devo would cause his head to ka-splode.
There’s another very strange implication in Dembski’s post. He seems to think that the ability of transplanted nuclei to transform cells must have been specifically conferred upon our cells by his mythical Designer, for a specific purpose. What would that be? Has Mr Dembski just endorsed embryo cloning and experimentation?