The Book of Life: Revised Edition
On April 5, 2005, the prominent British genetics professor Steve Jones published a witty essay in the London Daily Telegraph that explained with unusual frankness just how strange, and even paradoxical, is the role of mutation in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.
According to chemical laws, wrote Jones, who teaches at University College, London, we all ought to be dead by now. The basis for this gloomy prognosis is “thermodynamics, meaning the random noise that interferes with all chemical reactions and causes them to go wrong.” The chemistry of DNA ensures the continual production of much mutational noise, because “the chances of physical error as each DNA molecule is copied are such that mistakes—mutations—should build up with great speed and stop most of the dividing helices in their tracks. Even those that make it would be so damaged that their carriers would not survive.”
To explain why we don’t see genomic mutational meltdown, Jones appealed not to Darwinian natural selection, but to the DNA’s fantastic error-correction machinery, which he likened to a word processor’s spell-check software: “Special enzymes clean up the mess as they snip out a mutated segment, join together broken bits of the molecule, or replace a faulty piece with the correct version.”
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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