Can you get there from here?

Can you get there from here? September 19, 2020


The site of Axe's postdoc work
A scene at the University of Cambridge in England. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


Here are some further passages that I marked while reading Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016).


Douglas Axe studied engineering and molecular biology at the University of California at Berkeley and at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he earned his doctorate.  He then did postdoctoral research at Cambridge University in England, followed by a stint as a research scientist there.  In the comment below, he mentions Ann Gauger, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and her Ph.D. from the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington, followed up with  a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.  He also mentions Mariclair Reeves, who holds a bachelor of science degree in animal science from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of Hawaii Mānoa in Honolulu. After finishing her doctorate, she was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine:


[B]iologist Ann Gauger and I chose to work with two strikingly similar yet functionally distinct natural enzymes, which we’ll call enzyme A and enzyme B.  Our aim was to determine whether it would be possible for enzyme A to evolve the function of enzyme B within a time frame of billions of years.  If natural selection really coaxed sponges into becoming orcas in less time, inventing many new proteins along the way, we figured it should have ample power for this small transformation.  But after carefully testing the mutations most likely to cause this functional change, we concluded it probably isn’t feasible by Darwinian evolution.  Additional work supports this conclusion.  Mariclair Reeves — like Ann Gauger, a biologist at Biologic Institute — painstakingly tested millions upon millions of random mutations, searching for any evolutionary possibility that we may have overlooked in our first study.  She found none.  (81-83)


On pages 82-83, Dr. Axe provides illustrations of the enzymes in question.


If natural selection really shaped life, it worked more like an artist shaping clay than erosion shaping sandstone.  It was skillful enough to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and wise enough to know when that work was finished.  (85)


Dr. Axe cites a comment from Dan Tawfik of the Department of Biomolecular Sciences at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, an acquaintance of his from postdoctoral days in Cambridge:


“Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.”  In other words, don’t expect a working X (you name it) to come out of the evolutionary process unless a working X went in. .  .  .  What’s left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn’t explain how things originate?  (86, italics in the original)



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