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Thursday, June 05, 2008

And what's so bad about machines anyway?

Some people were not amused by my review of Christoph, Cardinal Schoenborn's book, Chance or Purpose?

One thing I had found surprising (and didn't make a secret of the fact) was the Cardinal's distaste for the idea that life forms could be compared with machines. He blamed the ID guys for that idea, which will be news to most biochemists.

Meanwhile, some people insist that only deists (people who think there is maybe a sort of God who wound up the world and let it go, but that's all, really) think that the design of life involves machines. Therefore it is a Bad Idea.

In reality - whatever we want to make of it - many elements of our physical life are much more like machines than they are like anything else. I have been reading Mike Gene’s book, The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues, which sets that out in detail. I strongly recommend Gene's book. By all means, sell your deluxe edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - with the gold-leafed illustration of “Ye Tree of Life” - and buy this one.

Here, for example, are some of the protein machines inside cells:

Examples: DNA processing machines

Replisome – replicates and repairs DNA (includes sliding clamps and clamp loaders)

Helices – unwinds and separates strands of DNA

Topoisomerase – untangles DNA strands that get knotted

Rad50 and RecA – fix DNA damage

RNA processing machines:

Transcriptosomes – massive complexes that make RNA copies of DNA genes

Splicesome “The function of the spliceosome is to cut the RNA into pieces, remove the sequences that are not part of the instruction for protein synthesis and splice he instruction pieces back together.” (Considered the most complex machine, 140 proteins, five RNA molecules.)

Editosome – “protein machines with more than twenty parts which function carefully select and precisely edit the protein synthesis instructions inherent in the ERNA molecule.”

Degradosomes and exosomes – degrade the RNA molecules when there is a problem with the instructions or when they are no longer needed.

(From pp. 90-91, but otherwise on and on)
Basically, it doesn’t matter what the Cardinal or the Deists or anybody at all think about machines.


Life is instantiated in machines. Any theory of life needs to just accept that and move on.

Re not liking the idea that our cells contain zillions of little machines: Years ago, an Ontario farmer was approached by someone who was upset by the fact that hens (like all birds) have only one orifice for the ejection of all body wastes, as well as for the laying of eggs.

He suggested that that individual complain to The Manufacturer ... Anti-Machinists may wish to do the same.

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