Friday, May 16, 2008

The eighth day of creation

My son's business is named Platypus Multimedia. I suspect he chose the name because the platypus breaks the mold of what we expect for an animal. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, lays eggs like a bird or a reptile, makes venom like a snake, and produces milk (without nipples) and has a fur coat like a mammal. What could the Intelligent Designer have been thinking? Obviously, he was having a bit of fun. Maybe he designed the platypus on the eighth day of creation, when he had time on his hands and some leftover parts.

Clearly this hodgepodge of an animal had to come from somewhere, and if you are not into intelligent design, the the answer must be in the genome. Which is why zoologists are happy to see the platypus genome sequenced.

Evolutionists reasonably assume that the platypus can trace its linage to an ancestor that lived at the time -- 160 million years ago or so -- when mammals were diverging from the reptiles. If that's so, then the platypus should share some genes with mammals and some with reptiles. This is the sort of testable prediction that distinguishes science from Monday-morning creationism.

The platypus genome contains about 18,500 genes, similar to other vertebrates and about two-thirds the size of the human genome. Genes for egg-laying, vision and venom production link the platypus to reptiles, although the venom genes may be a case of convergent evolution. Genes for antibacterial proteins and lactation are mammalian.

Anyone who doesn't understand why intelligent design isn't science should look at the article in the May 8th issue of Nature reporting the platypus results. More than a hundred authors, from all over the world, with names like Laura Clarke, Asif Chinwalla, Shiaw-Pyng Yang, Carlos Lopez-Otin, Gennady Churakov, Ravi Sachidanandam, Enkhjargal Tsend-Ayush, and Yoko Sekita, just to dip into the pool. These folks presumably represent a variety of religious faiths and no faith at all. In any case, absolutely nothing in the long and brilliant article hints at the religion, politics, or ethnicty of the authors. The data speaks for itself. By contrast, I know of no reasearch data on intelligent design that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. No surprise, of course, because there can be no data for miracles.

It is not surprising that the platypus is native to Australia. That continent has been uniquely on its own since early in mammalian evolution. It provided a sort of natural zoo where genes could be conserved that were elsewhere lost or modified among the mammals.

Genes, anatomy, fossils and geology must be mutually supporting if we are to have confidence in the story of evolution. Intelligent design makes no predictions whatsoever.