Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

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On Junk DNA, Where's the Contradiction?

Larry Moran thinks he's caught Discovery Institute's Jonathan Wells and ENV's Jonathan M. in an embarrassing contradiction. The topic: "junk DNA." Moran crows:

Oops! Jonathan Wells says that some biologists referred to all noncoding DNA as junk but McLatchie admits that this is not true.

Those two need to have a talk. It's what honest people do.

Larry Moran.jpgJonathan Wells and Jonathan M. express themselves in different terms but there's no significant disagreement that any honest reader can detect. As Wells documents in his book The Myth of Junk DNA, some well known biologists have pretty flatly equated non-protein-coding DNA with junk. Richard Dawkins is one -- in 1976 and again in 2009. U.C. Berkeley's John Avise is another (2010). Others, like Kenneth Miller (1994), imply such an equation. Jerry Coyne (2009) sets up a dichotomy between those genes that "function" by coding for proteins and those that don't function and therefore are to be dismissed as "pseudogenes." Just as evolutionary theory predicts, writes Coyne, "Our genome -- and that of other species -- are truly well populated graveyards of dead genes."

Other biologists -- the cautious majority -- have assumed that non-coding DNA is overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, junk. This seems to be the party line at the moment, as Jonathan M. points out. But whether the equation is made flatly or with some wiggle room, the argument from "junk DNA" is a standard to which evolutionists have in the past reverted again and again. As Jonathan Wells shows in Myth of Junk DNA, it's an argument that is in retreat before the weight of the evidence. The rhetoric of evolutionary biologists themselves shows this.

To simplify things, let's say genes can be divided into three categories: (a) protein-coding; (b) non-protein-coding but otherwise functional; and (c) functionless. It's the last of these categories (c) that shrinks with every month, and with it the plausibility of what was once a major argument for Darwinian evolution, while the second (b) grows. What in the world is unclear, or even debatable now, about this?