One of the most rhetorically effective portions of evolutionist Kenneth Miller’s testimony in the Dover trial was his PowerPoint discussion of pseudogenes. As Ted Davis describes it here, “For evolution, he gave several such examples, esp. the recent discovery of pseudogenes in identical locations for humans and some other primates–a “fact” that favors the “theory” of evolution over a theory of a common design plan, since the genes have no known functions and thus a designer would have no reason to give them to all of these organisms.”
But how strong is this argument for common descent by the Darwinian mechanism? In an open letter to Nature, design theorist and biochemist Michael Behe discussed the pseudogene argument:
The modern molecular example of poor design is pseudogenes. Why litter a genome with useless, broken copies of functional genes? It looks just like the aftermath of a blind, wasteful process. No designer would have done it that way.(2) Yet Hirotsune et al (3) show that at least one pseudogene has a function. If at least some pseudogenes have unsuspected functions, however, might not other biological features that strike us as odd also have functions we have not yet discovered? Might even the backwards wiring of the vertebrate eye serve some useful purpose? [Go here for the answer.]
The peril of negative arguments is that they may rest on our lack of knowledge, rather than on positive results. The contention that unintelligent processes can account for complex biological functions should, to the extent possible, be supported by positive results, rather than by intuitions of what no designer would do. Hirotsune et al’s (3) work has forcefully shown that our intuitions about what is functionless in biology are not to be trusted.
The letter to Nature touches on another point relevant to the Dover trial. The ACLU is trying to ban the mere mention of intelligent design from the public school science class room. Nature is also eager to shut down two-way debate about intelligent design in its pages. As the note points out before Behe’s letter, “Nature declined to publish this correspondence, citing lack of space.
Nonetheless the journal found space in the next issue to publish a 468 word letter warning of the dangers of intelligent design in Germany. Behe’s letter is 350 words.”