Immune System Evolution #1: Comments on Annotated Bibliography

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This post contains my commentary on the Annotated Bibliography on the Evolution of the Immune System, now online in the NCSE Kitzmiller archive. The Annotated Bibliography describes the significance of each publication listed in the Supplementary Material for the recent Nature Immunology article on the “immune system cross” during Behe’s testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover. For article, click here. For the full Annotated Bibliography, click here. The Annotated Bibliography has reached an approximately final state, but I would still be interested in any additional comments people might have. My overall point with all this, of course, is that unless and until ID proponents (1) acknowledge the existence of this scientific literature, (2) admit that their previous statements about the nonexistence of this literature were wrong, and (3) substantively rebut this literature, providing a better and more detailed explanation for the immune system, then they aren’t even beginning to be scientifically serious.

As you read through this, keep in mind the Discovery Institute’s hiliarious commentary in their recent book attempting to rebut to the Kitzmiller decision, Traipsing Into Evolution:

Consider [Judge Jones’s] skewed summary of the evidence relating to the irreducible complexity of the immune system. He cited Kenneth Miller’s speculative assertions as if they were facts, while refusing even to mention biochemist Michael Behe’s detailed rebuttal during the trial. (Traipsing, p. 45, italics added)

Speculative? I guess in ID-Land, dozens of publications in top journals confirming key expectations is “speculation”, whereas the vague statement that divine intervention occurred sometime, somewhere, for unspecified reasons is considered rock-solid. Even better, Traipsing then quotes from Behe’s “detailed response” to the immune system section of Jones’s opinion. However, the book neglects to point out that Behe tried exactly the same silly arguments in his direct testimony at trial, and they were specifically debunked on cross-examination. For more on Behe’s “detailed rebuttal”, see here.

Introduction

The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to give the nonspecialist reader some sense of the scholarly weight of the evolutionary immunology literature (here is another method). In particular, this bibliography focuses attention on the scientific work that developed, tested, and established the “transposon hypothesis” for the origin of receptor rearrangement in the adaptive immune system. Contrary to the impression one might get from the ID literature, the transposon hypothesis was not idle speculation, it was not thought up yesterday over breakfast, it is not particularly vague, it is not untestable, and it is not scientifically useless. In contrast, by reading through the bibliography in chronological order, we can see that the transposon hypothesis was explicitly proposed and published in top journals, it was carefully and seriously discussed for decades in the professional literature, it has inspired a very productive research program (both experimental and comparative), it has been tested with diverse evidence by researchers working in many different labs, and it has been dramatically confirmed.

In short, it is a classic case of serious, advancing evolutionary science. Without ever getting mentioned in a newspaper article or cable news show, hundreds of PhD scientists have devoted their careers to working out how and why the immune system evolved. Any one of these researchers has quietly produced more research results than the entirety of the intelligent design movement with their collection of op-eds, webpages, in-house publications, books published by InterVarsity Press, one or two books by slightly more rigorous publishers but with dubious peer-review, and one or two review articles slipped into obscure journals. Unlike “intelligent design” proponents, evolutionary immunologists repeatedly published their key work in top journals. For some reason, they have not felt the need to write law review articles, lobby school boards and legislatures to get their view taught, or muck around with state science standards, because they know that scientific hypotheses succeed by convincing other scientists through research.

For more along these lines, see Bottaro et al. (2006) and the Kitzmiller decision.

Why the Immune System?

The decision to make the evolution of the immune system a key example in both Kenneth Miller’s direct testimony and Michael Behe’s cross-examination was based on several factors. First, among the major systems that Behe discusses in Darwin’s Black Box, such as the eukaryotic cilium, the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, Behe makes particularly florid claims about the absence of literature on the origin of the immune system – for example:

“As scientists we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustruation.” (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 139)

“We can look high or we can look low, in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 138)

These are claims crying out for refutation. As it happens, there is probably more scientific literature directly on the evolution of the immune system than on the other three systems put together (we can chalk this up to (1) the long tradition of evolutionary and comparative studies in immunology; (2) the age of the discipline (going back to the 1800’s); and (3) the massive amount of medical research money available for studies of the immune system, for obvious reasons). So, while Behe makes various mistakes on the other systems, many also discussed at trial, he is most dramatically wrong about the immune system literature.

Second, although the immune system is very complex, everyone is familiar with (a) its importance, (b) vaccinations and immunity to disease, and (c) many people have heard of antibodies. So it is actually not so difficult for a nonspecialist, such as a lawyer or judge, to realize the importance of immune system research.

Third, those in the community of “creationism watchers” knew that the ID advocates were particularly vulnerable on the immune system, given their past flailings in response to internet challenges. Some of this is mentioned in Bottaro et al. (referencing these Panda’s Thumb posts: [1][2]) and Michael Behe’s weak response. For an earlier episode often recalled by creationism watchers see this celebrated discussion on an ID bulletin board, where several pro-evolution posters challenged several leaders of the ID movement to admit that Behe’s 1996 claim was wrong.

Fourth, Behe’s dismissal of several famous articles on evolutionary immunology during his deposition also increased confidence that he was not at all familiar with the literature, and instead would brush off any challenges as not meeting his requirement for infinite detail.

Fifth, plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Rothschild had the strength of will to continue with the immune system gambit, despite Nick Matzke’s early attempt at explaining the evolution of V(D)J recombination to him on a whiteboard:

The beginnings of the immune system “battle plan” for the Behe cross-examination. Whiteboard drawings from May 2005, NCSE office. Click to see larger image.

Scientific Background

The annotated bibliography will not make much sense without a little background understanding of immunology. If you can understand this basic terminology, you should be well on your way to understanding the transposon hypothesis:

  • Adaptive immune system (AIS): The portion of the immune system that generates receptors that specifically recognize and bind to a particular pathogen. This system has “memory”, so that if a pathogen returns, it will be recognized much more quickly the second time around. Vaccines expose a person to a killed or weakened form of a pathogen, or key pieces of a pathogen. This “trains” the immune system to recognize common pathogens such as smallpox or polio, so that immunity can be developed without the person having to catch and fight off the actual disease. The adaptive immune response is restricted to jawed vertebrates (i.e., all vertebrates except lampreys and hagfish), and therefore evolved 450-500 million years ago in the common ancestor of cartilagenous fish (sharks and rays) and other “fish” (bony fish, including tetrapods). (Note: there is increasing evidence of different forms of adaptive responses in other organisms.)
  • Innate immune system: The portion of the immune system that uses general, nonspecific responses to fight pathogens. For example, a receptor molecule called TLR5 recognizes flagellin, the major component of bacteria flagella and a common conserved feature. The innate immune system is the first line of defense, and many of its features are shared between vertebrates and invertebrates
  • Immunoglobulins (Igs), also called antibodies: These are the receptor proteins of the immune system. They have a “Y” shape, where the top of the “Y” recognizes foreign molecules called antigens. The genes that encode immunoglobulins are composed of four basic kinds of segments: V (variable), D (diversity), J (joining), and C (constant). Vertebrates have hundreds of different copies of V, D, and J gene segments. Through a process called V(D)J recombination, different copies of these segments are spliced together, producing billions of different unique immunoglobulin receptors. Most of these receptors will not recognize a particular pathogen, but a few of them will, even if it is a completely novel pathogen.
  • Recombination Activating Gene (RAG): A RAG is a gene that codes for a RAG protein (the names of genes are italicized, and the corresponding proteins are not; sometimes PDF and HTML documents will be missing this formatting however). RAG proteins have the ability to recognize specific DNA sequences at two locations called Recombination Signal Sequences (RSSs), bring the pieces together, and cut the DNA at the RSS sites. DNA repair enzymes then repair the DNA and join the two segments, originally distant from each other, together. In the vertebrate immune system, two RAGs, RAG-1 and RAG-2, cooperate in this process.
  • Transposon: A transposon, or transposable genetic element, is a “jumping gene.” The transposon is usually a gene that codes for a protein. This protein, in turn, recognizes certain signal sequences (sound familiar?) in the transposon DNA allowing it to snip out the transposon DNA and transplant it someplace else. There are many different types of transposons with various degrees of relationship to each other, and they are found in all groups of organisms. Mutations can “break” transposons, resulting in “fossil” transposons that are thought to usually be “junk DNA” (although it may play some non-coding, structural role in cells). About 3% of the human genome is composed of the remains of DNA transposons, and about half of the genome is made of various other kinds of copied repetitive DNA.

With that terminology in hand, we can discuss the transposon hypothesis. The transposon hypothesis is based on similarities between transposons and RAGs, and suggests that RAG-1 and RAG-2, and the RSSs, are actually descended from “free-living” transposons. The model states that in an early vertebrate, already equipped with an innate immune system, a transposon inserted into a non-rearranging receptor gene. When this receptor gene was expressed, the transposon was activated, and snipped itself out of the receptor. However, because this excision process was inexact, the resulting receptor would be variable, and therefore some copies of the receptor protein would be better able to recognize new or mutated pathogens. Natural selection would therefore spread this variant. An extended process of gene duplication and diversification would elaborate this basic system into the modern V(D)J recombination system.

The transposon hypothesis suggests a number of specific observations that would corroborate the model if found:

  • sequence similarities between V(D)J RSSs and transposon recognition sequences
  • RAGs should operate by mechanisms similar to transposase mechanisms
  • RAGs might still be able to perform the same functions that transposons perform, such as DNA excision and insertion
  • immunoglobulins should have relatives that are non-rearranging receptors
  • if RAGs are descended from transposons, then “free-living” transposon relatives of RAG might still exist “in the wild”

All of these observations have been published in the last 10 years. The crowning achievements, and the easiest successes to understand, were the identification of transposon relatives of RAG-1 in sea urchins, lancelets, and cnidarians (Kapitonov and Jurka, 2005) and a RAG1-RAG2 homolog serving a non-immune function in sea urchins (Fugmann et al. 2006).

If the above, very short, summary did not completely sink in, other resources are available. For an excellent moderate-length introduction to evolutionary immunology, please see Matt Inlay’s online article, “Evolving Immunity.” Pay particular attention to the graphics. Next, read our Nature Immunology essay for a brief update on the scientific progress of the transposon hypothesis. See also these Panda’s Thumb blogposts by Matt Inlay or Andrea Bottaro: “New discovery of missing link between adaptive immune system and transposons,” “The Revenge of Calvin and Hobbes,” and “Behe’s meaningless complexity.” Once you have given those sources a try, take several minutes to work through Figure 1 and Figure 2 of Lewis and Wu’s (2000) commentary article, “The Old and the Restless”, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Figure 1 is a model of how receptor rearrangement works in modern organisms. Figure 2 is a model of how it evolved.

Hopefully, after you have worked through this material you can re-read the above summary and make some headway.

How the Bibliography was Assembled

This bibliography was originally developed for the Behe cross-examination in the Kitzmiller case, discussed in Bottaro et al. (2006). The annotations are based on notes that were taken while the bibliography was being assembled (in an all-night session the weekend before Behe testified, it must be said). The annotations have subsequently been revised and updated.

While assembling the exhibit, it was very important to make sure it was not vulnerable to some of the critiques that can be leveled against lists of articles that are uncomprehendingly culled from automated literature searches. When one searches online databases for publications that involve the keywords “immune system” and “evolution” – two immense research topics – one will get results on a wide variety of topics. These include:

  1. the evolution of disease organisms
  2. the evolution of modern populations in response to diseases
  3. the evolution of immune system cells when an organism’s adaptive immune response is triggered (such as when someone is vaccinated)
  4. the use of customized antibodies for innumerable biomedical purposes
  5. the “evolution” of chemical reactions or biochemical reactions (this is a nonbiological definition of evolution, for example, the “evolution” of hydrogen gas during hydrolysis)
  6. clinical research on AIDS, allergies, etc.
  7. the evolution of the immune system within closely-related organisms – e.g., mammals, birds, or tetrapods
  8. “deep” comparative immunology between vertebrates and invertebrates
  9. the selective forces driving immune system evolution and receptor diversity
  10. the origin of the innate immune system
  11. the origin of the adaptive immune system

Only the last four topics directly address the evolutionary origin of the immune system, although many of the other topics can have some relevance. Among these four topics, this bibliography focused mostly on topic #11, and included a smattering of work on topics #8, 9, and 10. Within topic #11, the origin of the V(D)J recombination system was emphasized, as it is widely seen as the “key” system, the most remarkable feature of adaptive immunity, and the biggest evolutionary “puzzle” according to ID advocates.

This bibliography also focused on the review literature rather than the research literature. First, the research literature is mostly opaque to nonspecialists, and the implications of findings are made much clearer in the review literature. Second, at his deposition, Michael Behe expressed the opinion that if scientists had made any progress worth talking about in evolutionary immunology, he would have expected to see it in the review literature. A few of the most famous research articles were included, but most of the articles are articles reviewing the research literature – many of the review articles cite several hundred other articles.

This literature collection should not be considered comprehensive or complete – it is merely a sample of the literature on the evolution of the adaptive immune system, focusing on V(D)J recombination, with a small sampling of literature on the evolution of innate immunity, MHC, large-scale comparative immunology, etc. For some idea of how much more scientific literature there is on this topic, see the longer unannotated bibliography.

The Larger Context

Matt Inlay (author of “Evolving Immunity” and coauthor of Bottaro et al. 2006) points out that Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box was ironically timed. In 1996, the year Darwin’s Black Box was was published, research on V(D)J recombination was in the midst of a dramatic upswing:

Research progress on V(D)J recombination over the last 25 years. Results of a PubMed search on the term “V(D)J recombination”, plotted as a function of time (blue dots). Numbers of articles per year are shown on the y-axis, and the years of publication on the x-axis. Publications for 2006 were projected based on Jan-Apr numbers. Major breakthroughs in the transposon model are listed in text boxes. The vertical line denotes 1996, the year Darwin’s Black Box was published. The trendline was calculated via moving average with a period of 3.

Graph and caption by Matt Inlay.

Inlay has added to the graph boxes showing the chronology of the major research findings supporting the transposon model. The viewer can see that they came fast and furious after 1996, almost as if on cue.

Major Themes

The story told by this bibliography, and by Ken Miller’s testimony in Kitzmiller, and by Bottaro et al. (2006), is basically of the proposal, development, testing, and confirmation of Sakano et al.’s 1979 suggestion in Nature that V(D)J recombination might have emerged when a transposon – a piece of DNA that codes for a protein that can chop out that piece of DNA and insert it somewhere else – inserted into the middle of a receptor gene. This hypothesis has been gathering steam for awhile, and really took off in the last ten years.

A subplot in the story is how evolution has played a key role in immunology throughout its development. Sakano et al.’s hypothesis was not born in a vacuum; it occurred in a field where comparative immunology, informed by evolutionary modeling, had been a core part of the discipline for a hundred years, going back to the work of Metchnikoff in the late 1800s.

If one reads chronologically through the bibliography, one will see the researchers themselves telling the same story, and citing the same papers that have been repeatedly cited in the various Behe immune system rebuttals. But you will also see some rather remarkable comments about Sakano et al.’s hypothesis. Some of the best ones will be highlighted.

For example, as the transposon hypothesis began to pick up steam in the mid-1990’s, it did attract some critisms. E.g., Lewis and Wu (1997) wrote,

“It is nonetheless worth noting that in spite of various similarities, there are fundamental differences between transposition and V(D)J recombination. For one, there are no reports of a transposase (mutant or otherwise) that is able to mediate site-specific inversion. Conversely, it has never been demonstrated that V(D)J recombination can cause the integration of one piece of DNA into another.” (Lewis and Wu 1997, p. 162)

However, the very next year, two labs discovered that the RAG proteins actually could cause the integration reaction. In a research article in Nature entitled “Transposition mediated by RAG1 and RAG2 and its implications for the evolution of the immune system”, Agrawal et al. write in their abstract,

“Here we show that RAG1 and RAG2 together form a transposase capable of excising a piece of DNA containing recombination signals from a donor site and inserting it into a target DNA molecule. […] The results support the theory that RAG1 and RAG2 were once components of a transposable element, and that the split nature of immunoglobulin and T-cell-receptor genes derives from germline insertion of this element into an ancestral receptor gene soon after the evolutionary divergence of jawed and jawless vertebrates.”

In a commentary article in the same issue of Nature, Plasterk (1998) said, “the authors show that the RAG1 and RAG2 proteins (which mediate V(D)J joining) can still catalyse a full transposition reaction. A similar result has been independently obtained by Martin Gellert and co-workers, and is reported in tomorrow’s issue of Cell.” This second article was Hiom et al. (1998).

In 1999, Schatz reviewed the progress of Sakano et al.’s transposon hypothesis and pronounced it a “prophetic hypothesis”:

“When examined in their germline configuration, the RSSs flanking V and J constitute an inverted repeat, much like that found at the end of transposons, and this realization led to the prophetic hypothesis, in 1979, that insertion of a transposable element into an ancient receptor gene exon was responsible for the generation of split antigen receptor genes during evolution ([Sakano et al., 1979]).” (Schatz 1999, p. 170, bold added)

Also in 1999, Susanna Lewis – the same Lewis as Lewis and Wu (1997) – engaged in a little prophesy of her own. If the RAGs evolved from transposons, she said, it would be really handy to find one:

“It would be extremely useful if a contemporary version of the original RAG transposon could be identified. A distant cousin, with credentials, would greatly facilitate any attempts to reconstruct the lost history between the time the first RAG element took up residence in the vertebrate genome and the emergence of a developmental recombination system.” (Lewis 1999, p. 65)

Six years later, exactly this was reported by Kapitonov and Jurka (2005). It is worth pointing out that, apart from the transposon hypothesis, there was no reason whatsoever to suspect that transposons similar to RAG should exist.

Full Annotated Bibliography

For the actual Annotated Bibliography, please click here.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Andrea Bottaro, Matt Inlay, and the Panda’s Thumb crew for suggestions and corrections. Any mistakes that remain are my own.

25 Comments

Cue the “pathetic detail” and “it’s not our job to get bogged down in facts” responses…

Very nice summary. It also provides a great, detailed example of an evolutionary prediction that would be good to bring out as a counterpoint the next time ID’ers try trotting out their utterly vacuous junk-DNA “prediction”.

Six years later, exactly this was reported by Kapitonov and Jurka (2005).

Yeah? Well, um… it’s still a transposon!. Clearly just another case of microevolution.

…,then they aren’t even beginning to be scientifically serious.

I think DI’s goal is more to destroy science and replace it with what they say is science. After that they can move on to our democracy.

I wish I could get an inkling of when the Cobb County textbook stickers case is going to be ruled on.

I wish I could get an inkling of when the Cobb County textbook stickers case is going to be ruled on.

It doesn’t matter much any more. The _Freiler_ ruling has already killed such “disclaimer stickers”, and the _Kitzmiller_ ruling has already killed ID and, via Ohio, the whole “teach the controversy” thingie.

The Cobb appeals court can conclude whatever it wants to. ID is already dead as a mackerel. And smelling just as bad. Even Dembski seems to have recently given us his eulogy of the ID movement. (shrug)

Of course, I would certainly like to see the creationist/ID record upheld — in the past 40 years, they have managed to lose every single Federal court case they have ever been involved with. Every single one. Without exception.

I can’t think of any other social movement, offhand, that managed to lose so spectacularly and so consistently over such a long period of time.

I think DI’s goal is more to destroy science and replace it with what they say is science. After that they can move on to our democracy.

You have it backwards – their goal right from the get-go was to destroy our democracy (uh, I mean, to “renew our culture by eliminating the destructive effects of materialism”). ID was just the spear they chose to use to make the attempt.

Mr Evodevo: Tell me, have you in fact got any science here at all?

Mr Id: Yes sir, it’s a scientific theory sir.

Mr Evodevo: Really?

Mr Id: No.

Mr Evodevo: You haven’t.

Mr Id: No, sir. Not a scrap. I was deliberately wasting your time.

“I can’t think of any other social movement, offhand, that managed to lose so spectacularly and so consistently over such a long period of time.”

And still creationism lives.

It’s for that reason, Lenny, that we can’t just write off creationism/ID as ‘dead’. They won’t be killed by science, or reason, or legal rulings. Creationism is ignorance and supersitiion and, being that, is nearly immune to reason. The only thing that will work, long-term at least, is education.

I’m not saying that the heroic efforts of scientists and lawyers in Dover were a waste of time, far from it, rather that this was just one battle in defense of enlightenment. The win in Dover was not the same as victory in the Culture Wars, but it did set back the bad guys for a while. For a little while. Keep fighting those battles. But most important keep teaching the young. The war will be won in the lecture hall, not the court room.

I predict that within five years we shall see a new, mutant offshoot of creationism, a new buzzword to replace “intelligent design”. It won’t be universally embraced, even within the wingnut community (consider the continuing presence of YEC today), but after ID’s recent losses, soon enough they’ll try a new tactic.

I predict that within five years we shall see a new, mutant offshoot of creationism, a new buzzword to replace “intelligent design”.

I predict it will be called “Meticulously Hidden Instructions on the Mechanisms of Life” or rather “Hide and seek with the designer”

Depending on what use you choose it can appeal to both those increased in years and children.

Coincidentally Dembski has a new paper out which also mentions the immune system. He’s gone back to what he does best - Christian apologetics.

My irony meter just exploded again, because:

Yes, pathogenic microbes constitute a natural evil brought on by God in response to the Fall. But God doesn’t just leave us at the mercy of these microbes. Our immune system is an amazing work of common grace by which God, acting preemptively, mitigates the harm these microbes would otherwise cause us.

Hahahahaha!

You have it backwards — their goal right from the get-go was to destroy our democracy (uh, I mean, to “renew our culture by eliminating the destructive effects of materialism”). ID was just the spear they chose to use to make the attempt.

I agree that it is backwards and the ultimate goal of the Creo Fundies is to convert our democracy into a theocracy Christian Nation. But as with any political movement, their ultimate goal is hard to accomplish in one feld swoop. Therefore they must take baby steps; destroy science, require teaching of religion, outlaw “immoral” behavior, etc… until they have evolved our government into what they want. Unfortunately for them, the general public has gotten a taste of what’s to come with W and have decided not to continue swallowing it.(at least that’s what I hope, but I’ve been wrong before)

Tim quoting Dembski:

Yes, pathogenic microbes constitute a natural evil brought on by God in response to the Fall. But God doesn’t just leave us at the mercy of these microbes. Our immune system is an amazing work of common grace by which God, acting preemptively, mitigates the harm these microbes would otherwise cause us.

That paper is a great find. I thought the intelligent designer wasn’t necessarily the God of the Bible. And further more that ID is not Creationism. I suppose if Dembski, one of the greatest proponents of ID, thinks the designer is God and that ID is Creationism then DI has just been lying all this time. Who would of thunk it.

I love that Dembski paper! Bwa Ha Ha! So how is #1 suck up DaveScott Springer handling his master’s sudden brush with the truth and actually equating ID with theocracy? I seem to recall DaveScott banning people like crazy when they tried to imply ID = religion a couple of weeks ago! Is he finally going to ban himself? Ban Buffalo Bill Dembski - from his own blog!

GT(N)T Wrote:

Keep fighting those battles. But most important keep teaching the young. The war will be won in the lecture hall, not the court room.

Or as I like to say, we are doing a great job of restricting the “supply” but a poor job of restricting the “demand.”

Nick’s excellent article above, and invaluable contribution to the Dover case are vital, of course. But until we convince the public that creationism/ID are first and foremost pseudoscientific scams, and not necessarily honest beliefs (to which most people react with “what’s the harm”?), there will be plenty of work to do.

The “new incarnation” of creationism could be called “Subtly Hidden Intelligence Theory.” It even has an appropriate and catchy acronym…

The “new incarnation” of creationism could be called “Subtly Hidden Intelligence Theory.” It even has an appropriate and catchy acronym…

Ahh Bee, very nice.

Yes, pathogenic microbes constitute a natural evil brought on by God in response to the Fall. But God doesn’t just leave us at the mercy of these microbes. Our immune system is an amazing work of common grace by which God, acting preemptively, mitigates the harm these microbes would otherwise cause us.

Wow. Davescot’s persecution meter must have just thrown a rod.

a charlatan named Dembski wrote:

Yes, pathogenic microbes constitute a natural evil brought on by God in response to the Fall. But God doesn’t just leave us at the mercy of these microbes. Our immune system is an amazing work of common grace by which God, acting preemptively, mitigates the harm these microbes would otherwise cause us.

So, when our immune system fails us and the microbes win, it is a sign that:

1) God actually hates us (“us” being those whose immune system fails) 2) God is an idiot designer 3) Satan is the true intelligent designer

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Yes, pathogenic microbes constitute a natural evil brought on by God in response to the Fall. But God doesn’t just leave us at the mercy of these microbes. Our immune system is an amazing work of common grace by which God, acting preemptively, mitigates the harm these microbes would otherwise cause us.

I am neither a Christian nor a Jew, and yet I find no problem whatever with that statement. I don’t find it scientific in anyway, of course, and I’m even not sure if Dembski even meant it that way either. While I find no evidence for a literal Fall, and am rather agnostic about a spiritual one (i.e., the soul “fell” upon learning of good & evil, and spiritual “death” began), the fact remains that many “evolutionists” have no problem with the statement. Including those whose religions also find it — and evolution — perfectly compatible with a spiritual “Fall.”

Here’s my usual alternate take: That is not just one of those careless statements made by IDers when “preaching to the choir” and hoping that scientific critics won’t notice. Rather it’s a deliberate action to get scientific critics to “take the bait” and go off on a “you see — ID really is sneaking in God!” tangent. I suspect that, after the Dover ruling, we’ll see even more of those strategically placed comments.

My advice is to take a lesson from Dembski, and don’t take the bait. IDers are trolling the literature, the media, and especially the Internet, for every word that can be taken out of context. To continue on my “supply/demand” argument above, the judicial system is doing an excellent job of exposing the religious motivation of anti-evolution strategies. They don’t need our constant cheering, especially if it makes science look anti-religion to a mostly religious, science-wary public. Where we can be of most benefit is to expose ID/creationism as bad theology, as well as bad science.

Let’s advertise the admission (by Behe, under oath at the Dover trial) that the designer might no longer exist. Then let’s please stop letting IDers get away without telling us exactly what they think the designer did and when. And every time they evade the question, let’s make an issue out of it; so far, Lenny Flank seems to be the only one who regularly does. Also, some YEC groups do not like the ID’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” either. Why do we ignore that so much? One does not have to endorse YEC to have YECs as an unlikely ally against ID (or vice versa). Let’s exploit the differences. Just repeating that “ID ‘is’ Creationism” without acknowledging the differences as makes us look ignorant, dishonest or both.

So, when our immune system fails us and the microbes win, it is a sign that: 1) God actually hates us (“us” being those whose immune system fails)…

That’s been the religious right’s standard “explanation” of HIV/AIDS ever since it was discovered.

proverka2010

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 25, 2006 1:13 PM.

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