Monday, December 20, 2010

Protein Folding

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of metabolic processes occurring in each of the trillions of cells in your body at this very moment. Each of those processes requires the work of a team of specialized proteins, and each of those proteins must have a particular shape in order to perform its assigned task.

Examples of Protein Shapes
 If a particular protein fails to achieve the proper shape when it is formed the fitness of the cell will suffer and thereby hangs an interesting problem. Given that the universe of possible configurations that a protein could adopt is vastly greater than the number of seconds since the earth formed, how is it that just these highly specific shapes have been discovered for each of the myriad proteins in the cell by natural selection? Biologists tell us that the shape of a protein is a function of the sequence of amino acids that make the protein up, much like beads make up a necklace, but how, out of all the possible sequences that there are, did just the right sequence arise?

Cornelius Hunter offers an interesting discussion on the problem at Darwin's God. He writes:
But [the protein] works just fine only because a very special amino acid sequence was specified. That amino acid sequence is just as astronomically rare as the three dimensional structure that the unfolded protein was able to find. So from where did this amino acid sequence come?

The string of amino acids that make up a protein comes from the cell’s translating machine called the ribosome. The ribosome takes as input a string of nucleotides and produces as output a string of amino acids. The translation is done according to the genetic code.

And from where did the string of nucleotides come? It came from the DNA. A massive protein copying machine slides along an opened section of DNA and copies a gene.

And from where did the DNA gene come? According to evolution it evolved, but it is here that we find another entropy barrier. Just as the folding protein is confronted with an astronomical number of structures, so too the DNA gene is confronted with its own nightmare of choices. But that is where the similarities end.
DNA is a code. It's information. At bottom is the question of where information comes from. Can it be produced by chance and blind forces, or does it require intention and intelligence? We have never experienced information such as a code being produced apart from a mind, and yet despite the complete lack of empirical warrant the naturalist takes an enormous leap of faith and chooses to believe, without any evidence, that not only are such wonders possible but that they actually happened in the origin of living things.

Then the naturalist, having committed himself to the belief that unthinking nature is capable of such miracles, the equivalent of believing that a computer program could be produced by a random symbol generator, criticizes those who are skeptical as being superstitious and unscientific for thinking that the existence of information is evidence of the existence of an intelligent mind. Pretty funny, I think.

Mixed Feelings on the DREAM Act

The DREAM act failed to achieve cloture in a bipartisan vote (55-41) in Congress over the weekend, which means it's dead for this session and probably for the foreseeable future. It would have granted citizenship to children who were brought to this country by their parents who were themselves illegal aliens if those children completed high school and/or served in the military.

Guests on some of the Sunday talk shows were saying what a terrible thing it is to deny citizenship to men and women who serve in the military, and other supporters of the act have expressed similar sentiments. Here are some examples from the linked article:
“A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country,” Obama said. “There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation.”

“This is a dark day in America,” said Jorje-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. “The Senate has … thrown under the bus the lives and hard work of thousands and thousands of students who love this country like their own home, and, in fact, they have no other home.”

“They stand in the classrooms and pledge allegiance to our flag,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the bill’s chief sponsor. “This is the only country they have ever known. All they’re asking for is a chance to serve this nation.”

“This country has a history of opening its arms,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “Today, it’s arms were closed, but we’re going to get there.”
Be all this as it may, the failure to give these children a path to citizenship lies squarely on the shoulders of those, both Democrats and Republicans, who have refused to take the common sense measures necessary to solve the problem of illegal immigration and to insure that granting citizenship to those who complete high school or serve in the military isn't simply a first step toward granting citizenship to tens of millions of other aliens who entered this country illegally.

If people really want to see the DREAM act passed in some future congress all they need do to win over their opponents is the following:
  • Do what it takes to secure the border. Illegal immigration must be slowed to a trickle before any reform makes sense. Otherwise, we're laying the carpet in the house before we've put the roof on.
  • Insure that no one who came here illegally as an adult will be granted citizenship as long as they remain in this country. To grant them citizenship is to reward illegal entry and to guarantee more of it.
  • Alter the current interpretation of the 13th amendment. The amendment has been interpreted to confer citizenship on any children born here to parents who arrived illegally. Conservative scholars argue that this is a misreading of the amendment and it should be clarified or changed.
There has been little appetite in Congress for any of these changes, mostly because Democrats see the illegal alien population as a vast sea of potential Democrat voters and Republicans see them as a vast sea of cheap labor. Both see them as the solution to funding the social security shortfall.

I'm quite sure though, that if congress and the president were able to pass legislation that allayed the three concerns mentioned above there would be a lot more support for legislation like the DREAM act among the general public and among those Senators who currently oppose it.

That Congress (and the administration) refuses to do this suggests that granting a path to citizenship for the children of illegals is not really the goal but rather a sly first step toward granting amnesty to all illegal aliens. Let's give these children, who are here through no choice of their own, who have never really known any other home, a chance to become citizens, but only after we've made sure that they're the only ones who'll be awarded that prize.