Evidence of Design Conference report

Florida Citizens for Science board member Pete Dunkelberg attended the Evidence of Design Conference earlier this month (November 3–4, 2006 — Clearwater and Tampa, Florida). Quoted from the promotional material, here is what the conference was to be about: “This conference will enable Christians and others to use simple evidence to demonstrate there is in fact a designer of life and that he is Jesus Christ.” Needless to say, evolution was the enemy.

Pete filed the following report about his adventure (originally posted at Panda’s Thumb):

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Had the Discovery Institute had found some startling new evidence just since the Dover trial? Brimming with curiosity, I drove all the way to Clearwater to hear the news. Nelson gave two talks, of which the first turned out to be the best. What follows is little more than my raw notes of that talk. The slides with quotes and citations came quicker than I could take them all down, and as the night wore on my note taking became rather sketchy, but you will get the gist of his presentation. Draw your own conclusions.

Report 1 on the Evidence of Design talks: Nelson on Friday night

The Calvary Baptist Church of Clearwater is not small. It has a built-in school (and Clearwater Christian College is only about a mile away) so the education of young Baptists is well in hand. Entering the large foyer, I saw that the C. S. Lewis Society (founded by Tom Woodward, who was also running the show) had quite a few books and magazines on sale. You could also order the DVD of both the Friday and Saturday sessions of the affair for $20.

The Design talks were given in the Sanctuary, an auditorium that might hold thousands. Entering the Sanctuary I saw that the pulpit was flanked by 5 ft high molecular models, DNA on one side and a protein on the other. Several hundred people were already there, and twin projector screens informed us that this was indeed the Evidence of Design Conference. Soon the first speaker took the pulpit and declared in no uncertain terms, three times, which side was right. Then he introduced Woodward, who, we learned, is a member of the church in addition to his other virtues. Woodward then took the pulpit, bragged a bit, reminded us of the comment cards we had on which we could write a brief question and give them our email address to get the answer, and introduced Nelson.

Nelson first said he wanted to introduce the concept of Minimal Complexity; this soon turned out to be mostly about ORFans and the impossibility of a natural origin of life (OOL). The latter was to be the main theme of the event. Nelson showed no memory of the ORFan discussion on PT. You may recall that Nelson participated in the discussion, and that it was pointed out that he conflated ORFans with proteins of unknown function, a different thing, and that the percentage of ORFans dropped off to nearly zero as a particular case was studied more fully. He didn’t remember any of this as far as I could tell.

What follows is a paraphrase of Nelson’s remarks.

Most of you don’t know biology, Nelson said … your last biology class may have been thirty years ago in high school, and that’s a problem but bear with me. God is in the details, but you don’t need to know a lot of biology to think about it.

ID is not creationism. ID is a much more minimal idea. ID says that we can detect the effect of intelligence in nature … a mind like our own. Intelligent causes may be used in scientific explanation and there is evidence that such a cause has acted in the history of the universe and life on earth. If you came upon this you would immediately know that there was an intelligence behind it. In the same way we can infer intelligence behind [adding pictures to the same slide as he names them] a fruit fly, a tunicate, a panda bear, a little girl, or Richard Dawkins.

[Slide with quote from Darwin 1859, 189 on what would falsify NS] “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

Intelligent Design is an infant science, barely 15 years old. {he does not mention Paley} It’s very promising but it is too early to expect results yet … but that’s just one side of it. The other side is a critique of existing theory. This side is very well developed … [ long joke about how men don’t ask for directions … the first step is to admit you are lost ]

In all our experience, complex systems with multiple parts have an intelligent cause.

Minimal complexity … first cell … origin of life … two approaches.

The bottom up approach to the origin of life (OOL) is like baking a cake; the top down approach is taking a cell apart to see what parts are absolutely needed. I could lose an arm and still be alive, but not my head.

RNA world needs three things: information + catalysis + replication

critic: Stuart Kauffman 1995, 42 used phrase ‘minimal complexity’ …

Mycoplasma is very simple as bacteria go. Experiments to simplify it further: Frasner 1995? 1999? in Science [note: slides slid by quickly — my references may be off]

Major functions needed for a minimal cell include ftsZ protein for cell division, chaperone (groEL)

How Hutchinson 2006 in PNAS used transposon method to identify essential genes

382 of 482 genes essential! including 110 genes of unknown function!!

jump back to 1999 for some reason, then say

28 % of genes belong only to Mycoplasma — ORFans!

Genbank holds all known DNA. ORFans a puzzle because not in Genbank [remember this is a paraphrase]

Hamlet and extinct words Quietus, bodkin

Quote Doolittle : one quarter of genes — unknown function

Israeli scientists has a website of ORFans

Doolittle again : We thought … because new genes come from old …

tree diagram from LUCA (the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all these ORFans)

this is soo problematic for evolution

Wilson 2005 — no sign of the number of ORFans leveling off

if you were building a dictionary of all genes, the dictionary would just keep growing as you sequence all organisms. A proper dictionary should become essentially complete after a while. This implies — slides — that LUCA’s genome keeps getting larger to accommodate them all.

He had to treat the bottom up approach to OOL briefly because in his enthusiasm and numerous slides he used nearly all his time on ORFans.

RNA is so fragile, it must be God’s signature that life is not natural.

Meat left in water for two years goes to pieces, so proteins could not last thousands of years in water — biogenesis is a no go from this — biologists know this — hopelessly unlikely.

Top down – minimal complexity — is a no go as already said

so the tunneling crews will not meet; they will miss by a mile.

So, is it possible that life did *not* arise via natural causes, but from ID?

The problem is: scientists are closed minded. They waste their lives looking for a solution that doesn’t exist.

Thus spake Paul Nelson.

There was one question from the audience, about cloning vs evolution. Then they took the offering. Woodward took over the pulpit and told us to be sure to make checks out to the C. S. Lewis Society. Don’t write your check just to C. S. Lewis he said. He’s dead and in heaven. Then he entertained us by unfolding and refolding the magnetic DNA molecule.

One Response to “Evidence of Design Conference report”

  1. Pete Dunkelberg Says:

    Thanks for posting this Brandon. It was first posted at The
    Panda’s Thumb.

    My aim is to give a description of Nelson’s talk at the church in our
    state, and to provide more basis for Ian Musgrave’s post,
    Nelson
    vs Mycoplasma: ORFans redux.

    Note that Paul Nelson joined in the comments to Ian’s post and said he
    would do certain things.

    Pete