Molecular Storytelling and Degenerative Complexity

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Last week in our News to Note (item five) we featured a response to an article entitled “Scientists use ‘molecular time travel’ to recreate evolution of complexity.” As I read the news story and the actual technical article, I couldn’t help but think two things: (1) I’ve heard this story before (see my article on related research findings), and (2) it’s hard to believe evolutionary scientists are saying degeneration leads to complexity.

The research focused on the proposed evolution of a molecular machine called V-ATPase. This machine is a complex assembly of different proteins and is found in all eukaryotic organisms (fungi, plants, animals, humans). It performs the same function in all eukaryotes with the only difference being the number and type of proteins that make up the machine. The authors of the paper state, “Despite much speculation, strong evidence of the mechanisms by which these assemblies evolved is lacking.”[1] In other words, these machines are so complex that their evolution is difficult to explain if dependent on natural selection and the gradual gain of beneficial mutations leading to novel structures and functions over millions of years.

The authors admit, “How complexity and novel functions evolve has been a longstanding question in evolutionary biology, because mutations that compromise existing functions are far more frequent than those that generate new ones.”[2] Correct. All observed mutations cause a loss of structure/function/information not the gain needed for molecules-to-man evolution. So what do the scientists propose in their paper as a mechanism for the gain of complexity necessary for molecules-to-man evolution? Simple—degeneration of structure/function/information has led to increased complexity. Huh?!

The scientists found that V-ATPase is composed of three proteins in fungi and two proteins in most other eukaryotes. They surmised that the three protein machine evolved from the two protein machine due to gene duplications, mutations, and the subsequent loss of function of some of the proteins. Thus, a three protein machine in fungi was now needed to carry out the same functions that the two protein machine does in other organisms. They state, “. . . our data indicate that simple degenerative mutations are sufficient to explain the historical increase in complexity of a crucial molecular machine.”[3] But does this really indicate a gain of complexity? No! Let me use an analogy to explain.

Suppose I have a TV, and one day it loses the ability to produce sound, although it still has the ability to produce pictures. I go to a used TV shop and find the same make and model of TV as the one I have at home, though this one produces sound but not pictures. I purchase the broken TV, take it home, and put it beside my other broken TV. The two broken TVs complement each other (they have different defects), and together make it possible for me to see the picture and hear the sound for any given TV program. However, my broken TVs are not doing anything new; I’ve just partitioned the function of one TV into two TVs. And having more TVs certainly does not constitute a gain of complexity (most people would probably laugh at me and tell me to throw away both of them and buy a new single TV). Therefore, the more complex state should be the two protein machine that carries out all the same functions that it takes the three protein machine to do in fungi.

The authors conclude their paper with this statement, “There is no need to invoke the acquisition of ‘novel’ functions caused by low-probability mutational combinations [for a gain of complexity in molecular machines].”[4] For molecules-to-man evolution, yes there is! It is not possible to go from one kind of organism to another without the gain of novel functions. Their paper merely told one evolutionary story (built on many assumptions about the past) of how a machine lost complexity and partitioned already existing functions. The research does not provide an explanation for the evolution of complex molecular machines!

However, it does confirm the truth of God’s Word. God designed each organism according to its kind (likely some with a three protein V-ATPase and some with a two protein V-ATPase).  Since the Fall, mutations occur, resulting in loss of structures/functions/information. Beautifully complex, designed molecular machines require intelligence that only God possesses.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!

[1] Gregory C. Finnigan, et al., “Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine,” Nature, January 9, 2012 (advance online publication).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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