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Doug Axe Knows His Work Better Than Steve Matheson

When Stephen Meyer faced Steve Matheson and Art Hunt at Biola University last month, one scientist's research was key in their debate: Doug Axe, Director of Biologic Institute.

While there's a good deal of back and forth on the subject, for the first time Dr. Axe has something of his own to say on the subject of his work. From Biologic Perspectives:

The specific work to which Meyer, Matheson and Hunt referred [4] has added to the scientific case for functional protein sequences being extraordinarily rare within the whole space of possibilities. Matheson started off by arguing not that this deduction of extraordinary rarity is incorrect, but rather that it is irrelevant to the debate between Darwinism and Design.

Axe goes on to explain the problems with Matheson's reasoning:

Part of the difficulty is that the degree of rarity we're talking about here is so far beyond our everyday experience that our intuitions tend to be unreliable. When we think of extraordinarily rare events, we think of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, both of which are actually very common events on the scale relevant to protein origins. Picture this instead. Suppose a secretive organization has a large network of computers, each secured with a unique 39-character password composed from the full 94-charater set of ASCII printable characters. Unless serious mistakes have been made, these passwords would be much uglier than any you or I normally use (and much more secure as a result). Try memorizing this:
Now, if someone were to tell you that these computers can be hacked by the thousands through a trial-and-error process of guessing passwords, you ought to doubt their claim instinctively. But you would need to do some math to become fully confident in your skepticism. Most importantly, you would want to know how many trials a successful hack is expected to require, on average. Regardless of how the trials are performed, the answer ends up being at least half of the total number of password possibilities, which is the staggering figure of 1077 (written out as 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000). Armed with this calculation, you should be very confident in your skepticism, because a 1 in 1077 chance of success is, for all practical purposes, no chance of success.

My experimentally based estimate of the rarity of functional proteins produced that same figure, making these likewise apparently beyond the reach of chance. So, with due caution, let's transfer Matheson's reasoning from the problem of protein origins to this hypothetical hacking problem. It is as though Steve Meyer has said that computers with passwords of the strength described above cannot be hacked by trial and error, and Steve Matheson has responded that password strength has nothing to do with it.

That's a peculiar response. Reading between the lines, I suspect the train of thought is something like this: We know that there are millions of computers on the organization's network, not just the thousands that are to be hacked, and we know that the network is arranged in a branching pattern with neighboring machines having passwords that differ by only one character, so hacking the first machine will make it easy to hack the rest.

Ummm... but we don't really know these things. I can understand why Darwinists presume the equivalent things to be true for proteins (and even want them to be true), but Darwinism is itself the thing in question here, so all its presumptions need to be set aside.

Certainly an IT manager could configure a network in such a highly hacker-friendly way, if that were the objective. But absent any reason to think this was the objective, it would be a mistake to presume so. All we really know is that there are thousands of machines to be hacked and that they all use 39-character passwords. The only sensible deduction under these circumstances is that every attempt to hack one of these machines by sampling passwords must fail.

It seems to me that the default assumption for proteins ought to follow the same generalization--that fantastically rare points in vast spaces don't line up like stepping stones unless something forces them to. Might there be such a force for proteins--even a non-teleological one? Conceivably. So, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask whether something might possibly force functional protein sequences to align in this way. But to dismiss their fantastic rarity as irrelevant, as Matheson has done, is to misunderstand the problem entirely.

Read the whole thing here.