Response to Edward Max on TalkOrigins Immunity Article
[Editor's Note: This is the final post in a six-part a series from microbiologist Donald L. Ewert, where he argues that the processes used by our immune system to generate antibodies are anything but "random," and do not serve as an example of Darwinian evolution. Other posts in this rebuttal can be found at: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four, and Part Five. In the first five posts, Dr. Ewert responded to Kathryn Applegate of the BioLogos Foundation. In this sixth post, he responds to similar arguments from Edward Max at TalkOrgins that antibody generation is "evolution in miniature."]
One of the goals of Edwards Max's post at TalkOrigins is to refute a narrow claim of "creationists" that "random mutations are detrimental." But he goes further and, like Applegate, asserts that "clearly what we observe in the antibody response is evolution in miniature." Max believes that because affinity maturation of antibodies is an established biological process, it therefore carries more weight than the computerized model of evolution used by Richard Dawkins to demonstrate that "without the intervention of any intelligent designer...successive rounds of mutation and selection could be unambiguously shown to lead to increased fitness within living organisms." Like Applegate, Max draws inspiration from a na�ve reductionist view of affinity maturation to give false comfort for his philosophical perspective.
I would agree that somatic hypermutation (SHM) is a good model for the efficacy of random mutation and selection in promoting "increased fitness." However, it is not a model for how Darwinian evolution works. In contrast to neo-Darwinism, the process of introducing un-programmed changes in the DNA during SHM is tightly regulated. Unless one is willing to accept that the entire process of evolution was pre-programmed (orthogenesis), as Applegate may, there is no room for teleology in modern evolutionary theory. The fallacy of the argument is that both the computer in Dawkins's scenario and the process of hypermutation show evidence of a design which permits the mutations to achieve a defined objective. Chance is bounded by the limits of the system in which it operates.
Furthermore no significant new information is being generated by SHM. The nucleotide changes are limited to replacing amino acids that alter the electric forces between two proteins. The specificity of the antigen receptor must remain unaltered or the B cell would be destroyed by cell-suicide or apoptosis.
As noted above, when the entire system of enzymes, cells, and regulatory networks is viewed as a whole, the hallmarks of design are apparent. Therefore, I find Max's concluding remarks astounding. After outlining the process of affinity maturation, he states: "And, to people who can appreciate the amazing complexity of life as a thing of wonder, the story of the generation of antibody diversity reveals in the immune system another example of an undesigned but beautifully functioning system." This view amounts to an article of faith, not science. Unlike Applegate, Max has ruled out, a priori, a designer, so all he has left is blind chance and a process, natural selection, that has never been shown to create anything but the simplest levels of complexity.
The question is not simply whether the immune system is designed, but whether there is any objective evidence in the universe of comparable design that did not have an intelligent "first cause." Max notes that "evolutionists believe that this resemblance is misleading (that complex mechanisms resemble mechanisms designed by intelligent humans); they hypothesize that astounding complex adaptations can arise from simple organisms by evolutionary mechanisms." The literature of comparative immunology provides no empirical evidence to support the latter hypothesis. However, there is ample evidence that complex programmed biological mechanisms like SHM resemble hierarchical computer-based systems. Tomorrow we may discover a self-evolving program emerging from a pool of carbon compounds, but until then, all complex programs I know of originated from an intelligent source.