Sunday, February 12, 2006

The mind's 'Enigma machine' #2

The mind's 'Enigma machine', Daily Telegraph, 24 January 2006, Roger Highfield ...

[Continued from part #1. My comments are bold and in square brackets.]

One third of the MASC machine is present in the yeast, a simple organism which lacks a nervous system, revealing how the human brain is probably the descendant of machinery to help our ancestors adapt to their surroundings. [I have no problem with this, since I accept common ancestry. But Darwinists typically think that if they can identify part of the machinery (in this case only "One third"), in a possible ancestor, then that of itself demonstrates it "evolved" by a `blind watchmaker' process. That is because in their heads they think of the only alternative to "evolution" as instantaneous, ex nihilo creation, as Darwin evidently did, thinking that the only alternative to evolution was "miraculous act[s] of creation" where "certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissues":

"Several eminent naturalists have of late published their belief that a multitude of reputed species in each genus are not real species; but that other species are real, that is, have been independently created. This seems to me a strange conclusion to arrive at. They admit that a multitude of forms, which till lately they themselves thought were special creations, and which are still thus looked at by the majority of naturalists, and which consequently have all the external characteristic features of true species,- they admit that these have been produced by variation, but they refuse to extend the same view to other and slightly different forms. Nevertheless they do not pretend that they can define, or even conjecture, which are the created forms of life, and which are those produced by secondary laws. They admit variation as a vera causa in one case, they arbitrarily reject it in another, without assigning any distinction in the two cases. The day will come when this will be given as a curious illustration of the blindness of preconceived opinion. These authors seem no more startled at a miraculous act of creation than at an ordinary birth. But do they really believe that at innumerable periods in the earth's history certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissues? Do they believe that at each supposed act of creation one individual or many were produced? Were all the infinitely numerous kinds of animals and plants created as eggs or seed, or as full grown? and in the case of mammals, were they created bearing the false marks of nourishment from the mother's womb? Undoubtedly some of these same questions cannot be answered by those who believe in the appearance or creation of only a few forms of life, or of some one form alone. It has been maintained by several authors that it is as easy to believe in the creation of a million beings as of one; but Maupertuis's philosophical axiom `of least action' leads the mind more willingly to admit the smaller number, and certainly we ought not to believe that innumerable beings within each great class have been created with plain, but deceptive, marks of descent from a single parent.' (Darwin C.R., `The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,' [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, pp.456-457)

But that is a delusion because a far-sighted Intelligent Designer can create parts for a simple machines with a long-term plan to use that simpler machine as part of a later, more complex machine. What Darwinists need to do is show how (and why) a `blind watchmaker' could (and would ) do it. I have added Darwin's quote above to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 2. 8.7 "Fallacies used to support evolution ... False alternative (False Dilemma)"]

The researchers have shown that dozens of the proteins in the MASC are essential for learning, for memory and are implicated in human diseases of the nervous system, making it a major new focus for research. When one of the proteins that make up MASC is lacking or is mutated in a disease, then the overall function is impaired and there is a permanent change in the nerve cell and the way it works. [This sounds like a form of irreducible complexity (see below).]

The proteins in MASC made many connections and these can be represented as a wiring diagram. [A "wiring diagram"!]

Dr Douglas Armstrong, deputy director of the Edinburgh Centre for Bioinformatics and a senior author, said the methods used to analyse the MASC are similar to those used to study the information flow across the internet or how people interact socially. "For the first time, we have modelled complex activity in nerve cells using these techniques." Like an electrical grid, there are key "hub" components and the network can be severely disrupted if the hub proteins are disturbed. "We found that the genes for different diseases, such as schizophrenia and depression, fall on different clusters, which is a beautiful insight," said Prof Grant. Nearly one third of MASC proteins are involved in human mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and mental retardation. "When a molecular cog in MASC is broken, the brain handles information abnormally," said Prof Grant. [This may not be strict irreducible complexity, but it still is a problem for a Darwinian `blind watchmaker' to arrive at the completed machine, because it would have to pass through a stage (in fact many stages) where "a molecular cog ... is broken," but which then would be eliminated by natural selection. ]

Drug companies have traditionally targeted molecules that have been known for decades, focusing on the chemical signals that flash between nerve cells. Now that they have the computer that processes these signals, Prof Grant believes the companies will have dozens of new targets for drugs that can change the ability to think, feel and remember. [This repeated reference to "computer" and also "wiring diagram", makes Denton's point that we do not fully appreciate the "ingenuity in biological design" until our technology eventually catches up with it":

"But it is not just the complexity of living systems which is so profoundly challenging, there is also the incredible ingenuity that is so often manifest in their design. Ingenuity in biological design is particularly striking when it is manifest in solutions to problems analogous to those met in our own technology. Without the existence of the camera and the telescope, much of the ingenuity in the design of the eye would not have been perceived. Although the anatomical components of the eye were well known by scientists in the fifteenth century, the ingenuity of its design was not appreciated until the seventeenth century when the basic optics of image formation were first clearly expressed by Kepler and later by Descartes. However, it was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the construction of optical instruments became more complicated, utilizing a movable iris, a focusing device, and corrections for spherical and chromatic aberration, all features which have their analogue in the eye, that the ingenuity of the optical system could at last be appreciated fully by Darwin and his contemporaries. We now know the eye to be a far more sophisticated instrument than it appeared a hundred years ago. Electro- physiological studies have recently revealed very intricate connections among the nerve cells of the retina, which enable the eye to carry out many types of preliminary data processing of visual information before transmitting it in binary form to the brain. The cleverness of these mechanisms has again been underlined by their close analogy to the sorts of image intensification and clarification processes carried out today by computers, such as those used by NASA, on images transmitted from space. Today it would be more accurate to think of a television camera if we are looking for an analogy to the eye. There are dozens of examples where advances in technology have emphasized the ingenuity of biological design. ... But it is at a molecular level where the analogy between the mechanical and biological worlds is so striking, and the genius of biological design and the perfection of the goals achieved are most pronounced." (Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett: London, 1985, pp.332-333)]

With this new understanding, the MASC "computer" can now be superimposed onto the computer based on networks of nerves to create new models of the human brain, marking what the team believes is one of the biggest advances in understanding the synapse since Sir Charles Sherrington described the brain as "an enchanted loom, where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern - always a meaningful pattern - though never an abiding one." ... [This article makes Denton's point that it is due in part to "advances in ... computer technology that "In the atomic fabric of life we have found a reflection of our own technology. ... as if we had held up a mirror to our own machines" (my emphasis):

"The eerie artefact-like character of life and the analogy with our own advanced machines has an important philosophical consequence, for it provides the means for a powerful reformulation of the old analogical argument to design which has been one of the basic creationist arguments used throughout western history - going back to Aristotle and presented in its classic form by William Paley in his famous watch-to-watchmaker discourse. ... It is only possible to view an unknown object as an artefact if its design exploits well-understood technological principles and its creation can be precisely envisaged. For this reason, stone age man would have had great difficulty in recognizing the products of twentieth-century technology as machines and we ourselves would probably experience the same bewilderment at the artefacts of a technological civilization far in advance of our own. ... It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution and with the advances in cybernetic and computer technology that Hume's criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing. In opening up this extraordinary new world of living technology biochemists have become fellow travellers with science fiction writers, explorers in a world of ultimate technology, wondering incredulously as new miracles of atomic engineering are continually brought to light in the course of their strange adventure into the microcosm of life. In every direction the biochemist gazes, as he journeys through this weird molecular labyrinth sees devices and appliances reminiscent of our own twentieth-century world of advanced technology. In the atomic fabric of life we have found a reflection of our own technology. We have seen a world as artificial as our own and as familiar as if we had held up a mirror to our own machines." (Denton, 1985, pp.339-340)

I have added part of this article to section PE 8.2.5. 6. "Molecular machinery ... MASC brain `computer'" of my "Problems of Evolution" book outline. ]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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