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‘Intelligent Design’ Crowd Projecting onto Epigenetics Too?

Seems like “Intelligent Design” proponents are adopting epigenetics in their newest argument that Darwin had it all wrong.

Published in February, The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA, by theology professor Thomas Woodward and cataract surgeon James Gills, takes readers on a tour of biological molecules and processes, describing flagella, DNA, RNA, and so forth, to eventually conclude that it’s all far too complex to have evolved at all. Here’s a quote from the book posted by an admirer:

[T]he epigenome adds tremendous pressure to the already-weak Darwinian explanatory apparatus. Random changes, inherited over generations, must not just explain the explosion of DNA as one moves up the purported tree of life; one must also now explain by these mindless mechanisms the rise of each sophisticated layer of the epigenome. (p. 116)

I sincerely doubt that the book discusses genes that control epigenetic mechanisms. Call it a hunch. What’s particularly weird, reading about epigenetics as seen through Creationist eyes, is the approving descriptions of all the wonderful breakthroughs and discoveries that epigeneticists are making every day. And it’s side-by-side with conspiracy theories involving those same scientists:

In fairness, Darwinism rules in media and education, and both are now increasingly facts-optional environments, like Wikipedia. Once you’ve got the “consensus scholarship” claiming that nothing has happened, what more do you need?

Anyway, the book follows last May’s The Myth of Junk DNA, by Discovery Institute fellow Jonathon Wells. He argues that since “junk” DNA has a purpose — namely, epigenetic regulation — the arguments of Richard Dawkins and others are invalid, because they say an “intelligent designer” wouldn’t create organisms that carry around useless sequences. See, they are too all useful sequences.

That reminded me of ERVs, the dead and dead-ish viruses that our epigenetic mechanisms keep silenced by methylating them. They just don’t seem to be more than junk, somehow. OK, maybe some are toxic cargo — I’m not immune to persuasion. The blogger known as ERV — who actually researches ERVs — over at Scienceblogs wrote about this very topic in her characteristically irreverent way a couple of years ago, when intelligent design proponent Richard Sternberg made similar claims.

I think I understand the eager embrace of epigenetics. It’s hard not to love. With control over a great deal of gene expression, epigenetic mechanisms will undoubtedly reveal secrets about embryonic development, short-term adaptation, cancer, plain-ol’ living and surviving, and so much more.

It must be hard to keep from projecting one’s fondest hopes and dreams upon its shapely, but still incompletely defined, exterior. The same thing is going on, two aisles over, in the belief-based medicine section. And not too far from there, someone else is trying to use epigenetics to justify a belief that cell phones cause cancer.

It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, I say. And in a strange, all-goofball-roads-lead-to-goofball-Rome way, the big event promoting The Mysterious Epigenome ties it all together. “Shaping Your DNA Destiny: Exploring Epigenetic Keys to Improving Your Health” was the name of the February “conference” where authors Thomas Woodward and James Gills got together with Richard Sternberg and intelligent-design celeb Michael Behe to talk about epigenetics.

Along with promoting the book, I like to think they promoted a thousand dreams of what epigenetics might do, untethered from the earthly concerns of reason, evidence, and reproducibility.

[The cool photo Projection Shadow is by Flickr user Benjamin Chun, and it's used here under a Creative Commons license.]

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