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Wistar and DNA Day: A 50-Year Fuse Under Neo-Darwinism

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Today, as we noted on Friday, marks two momentous anniversaries — of the elucidation of the structure of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick (they published in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953), and that of the opening of the Wistar Institute conference on “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution” (1966).

The latter, if only because fifty years is a nice round number and because Wistar is less familiar to the public, may for us be the more significant of the two. Wistar was the beginning of the end for neo-Darwinism, and in a sense the inception of the modern intelligent design movement.

How should you celebrate? First of all, for the background on Wistar, watch Discovery Institute’s Paul Nelson, below. Dr. Nelson predicts that the upcoming Royal Society meeting will be a replay or update of Wistar (see “Intelligent Design Aside, from Templeton Foundation to the Royal Society, Darwinism Is Under Siege“):

Second, the truth is the mathematical challenge to Darwinism is alive and well today. We describe it, and more about the Wistar conference, in the Discovery Institute documentary The Information Enigma, featuring the work of Stephen Meyer and Douglas Axe. See it here if you haven’t already:

This math, quite accessible really, also forms the background to Richard Dawkins’s recent dispute with Dr. Meyer. See Meyer’s post, “Dawkins’s Dilemma: Misrepresent the Mechanism…or Face the Math.”

Called forth by MIT’s Murray Eden, Wistar commenced with the memorable words of Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar:

[T]he immediate cause of this conference is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian Theory. … There are objections made by fellow scientists who feel that, in the current theory, something is missing … These objections to current neo-Darwinian theory are very widely held among biologists generally; and we must on no account, I think, make light of them. The very fact that we are having this conference is evidence that we are not making light of them.

But, finally, of course there would be no Wistar, and no consideration of DNA as life’s celebrated information carrier, were it not for the vital first step — Watson and Crick’s description of the molecule’s double helix structure. How long ago that seems. Just how far we’ve come since 1953, and the light that distance sheds on evidence for design in the genome, is the subject of a new website, “DNA and Beyond,” from our friend, the tireless scholar Thomas E. Woodward.

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Dr. Woodward, leading a team of science educators and medical professors, is staging “DNA and Beyond” as a month-long celebration. It begins today, DNA Day, with the unveiling of a new DNA model that illustrates the latest discoveries in the genetic control system — “epigenetics.”

The “DNA and Beyond” teaching group highlights recent research on the mysterious epigenetic system of chemical markers, comprising millions of chemical flags and tags that have been discovered “above” or “on top of” (Greek, –epi) the genetic code. The area is not only one of the hottest fields in biology; it is dynamically related to health factors such as diet, exercise, and stress management.

DNA Day is, in addition, the kickoff for the release of a series of short videos, some of which feature CGI action clips of the “dance” of DNA, all available for free streaming at dnaandbeyond.org. Celebrate by learning more there — and by reading Dr. Woodward’s fine books, which include The Mysterious Epigenome and Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design.

Image: Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, by Jeffrey M. Vinocur (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.