Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fortuitous Flukes

Nobel Prize winning biologist Francis Crick once said that "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see (in their microscopes) was not designed, but rather evolved."

It's no wonder Crick thought biologists had to keep reciting this mantra to themselves. It seems so counterintuitive that the miniscule structures they've discovered over the last fifty years are the product of a mindless, purposeless, accidental processes. The design intuition, as protein biologist Doug Axe calls it, is so powerful in biology that biologists, when incautious, find themselves frequently slipping into language redolent of purpose and engineering.

As an example of one of those structures consider ATP synthase. ATP synthase is a cluster of molecular machines which manufacture a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is to cells what gasoline is to cars. It provides the energy for everything the cell does. Here's a short video which shows how ATP is produced by ATP synthase. Bear in mind that the video simplifies what is in fact a much more complex process:
This system must have evolved quickly soon after the first cells appeared and without the benefit of eons of random genetic mutation. To think it evolved purely by blind chance is something like thinking that if you put all the separate component parts of an iphone in a blender and ran the blender enough times you'd get a functional iphone. It's possible, in the same way that anything not logically contradictory is possible, that there are such fortuitous flukes, but it takes an awful lot of faith - blind faith, actually - to believe they've happened.