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Casey Luskin Versus Dan Stern Cardinale: A Wonderful Debate About “Junk DNA”

Photo source: YouTube (screenshot).

Dr. Dan, with a YouTube channel called Creation Myths, doesn’t at first sound as if he’d be a likely partner for a classy, respectful, and substantive debate with an intelligent design proponent. That was my thought, anyway, when I first heard of him. But I was wrong! Dr. Dan is actually a Rutgers University biologist, Professor Dan Stern Cardinale, who debated geologist Casey Luskin last night for more than two hours on The NonSequitur Show, another YouTube channel, hosted by Steve McRae. The subject of the discussion: “Is the Human Genome Largely Junk DNA?” 

Everyone did a great job, and the conversation was science-packed from beginning to end. Not one word of invective, and indeed highly cordial. That may be attributed in large part to the host (an agnostic, in case you’re curious). Now, it just so happens that the human genome being stuffed with junk — useless evolutionary debris — is a Darwinian expectation that has failed. Intelligent design predicted the opposite — widespread function ­— and the trend in the data has been a striking vindication for ID theorists. 

An Unfinished Story

Luskin quoted John Mattick and Paulo Amaral, neither one an ID proponent, from last year, “While the story is still unfolding, we conclude that the genomes of humans and other complex organisms are not full of junk but rather are highly compact information suites that are largely devoted to the specification of regulatory RNAs.” In fact, a post yesterday at Evolution News cited numerous mainstream scientists saying much the same. If Professor Stern Cardinale has a bone to pick with ID, he’s also got one with all those other researchers. The article with the quotes, assembled by Dr. Luskin, lists three categories: statements 1) by evolutionists predicting widespread junk, 2) by ID scientists predicting the opposite, and 3) by scientists rejecting the “junk” theory in light of mounting evidence. Richard Dawkins appears in Category 1 and in Category 3: he predicted 95 percent junk, but later backtracked and said widespread function is just what evolutionary theory would expect.

A Vast Literature

Dr. Luskin also cited the vast literature finding specific functions for what was previously dismissed as junk. A post here by Luskin and our colleagues Dr. Richard Sternberg and Dr. Jonathan McLatchie from this week gives a sampling of well over 800 such papers from peer-reviewed journals and observes that it could be “multiplied…many times over.” Professor Stern Cardinale was willing to admit that still more function should be expected to be found, but he predicts that it will cap out. Maybe so! Who knows at the moment? 

But I wonder, if 800+ papers showing unexpected functionality don’t put a dent in the Junk DNA thesis, with many more out there that didn’t make it on the list that was put together (say the co-authors) in a day and a half, what number of such publications would cause Professor Stern Cardinale to consider reversing his view? If I were a student in his biology class at Rutgers, I think I’d like to ask him that. I’d keep pressing and not be satisfied till I got a number.