Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unintelligent Design #2: Help Me Invent This Protein

Previous entry in this series: Unintelligent Design #1, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms.

Next entry in the series: Unintelligent Design #3, HLA Markers.

I'm going to invent a protein. One half of it will bind to a receptor on the surface of intestinal cells; the other half will stick a carbohydrate onto a G-protein inside that cell, which will turn on adenylate cyclase. Why does that matter? Because then it means chloride is pumped OUT, and sodium stops coming IN. That means a huge amount of water moves into the intestine - and then it all comes out. But it's not just gross. As long as that keeps happening, whoever has this protein in them will be losing a huge amount of water. Eventually they'll die of dehydration.

Especially if they're children or elderly.

And I'm going to clone the gene for this protein into some bacteria.

And those bacteria will be able to survive passage through the intestine, so the sick will spread it.

Then I'm going to release those bacteria into the water supply.

Are you ready to invest in that idea so I can invent this protein?

Or are you ready to report me to Homeland Security?

Of course I don't have to invent this vicious nanomachine, because it already exists - it's the exotoxin of Vibrio cholerae, which produces the symptoms of cholera ("rice water stools" chiefly among them. You're welcome.) When you study the microorganisms that make us sick, you often find yourself reluctantly admiring how clever they really are at causing suffering.

A Ghana National Health Service cholera treatment facility.
From Ghana News Link.

The microscopic world is an encyclopedia of brilliant biochemical tricks to invade and hurt and kill us, and to put it mildly, this is a big problem for those who would tell us that living things were created by a benevolent deity. If I were a creationist, I would be racking my brains trying to explain these things if there were just one kind of these, but there are thousands. Yes, some of the more inquisitive creationists do sort of investigate these questions, although they focus on things like the existence of predators and venom; and it's worth asking any scientific creationist you ever talk to what they would have to find to make them abandon creationism. The bottom line is that cholera and its other microbial brethren, are far worse in terms of the suffering they cause to human beings than great white sharks and rattlesnakes.

(I should add here the frequent creationist claim is that nasty predators appeared only after original sin. Lions apparently only grew teeth and claws after Adam and Eve ate some fruit. I seriously want someone to tell me to my face that ADP ribosylation is a result of original sin. Mostly I want to see the biochemical pathway they draw to explain that. Does sin require the Krebs cycle?)

Of course I have to credit the good Samuel Clemens for originally devising this particular thought experiment, although he asked it in terms of inventing and releasing flies, and demanded to know how anyone could possibly be considered benevolent if he did so. So returning to cholera: imagine a parallel universe where Somalia (or Sudan, or Burundi, or Peru, or Haiti) had no cholera - if I were to invent cholera in some evil lab somewhere and add it to their water and their already copious misery, would I be benevolent? Would I even be arguably close to morally breaking even? Now let's come back to this world, where a) all those countries do have endemic cholera and b) creationists literally believe Someone "benevolent" created it and put it there - does that add up? It bears emphasizing that there is nothing theoretical about the problem of cholera - people will die from it today, maybe while you're reading this sentence - and here's one organization fighting it.

In a final question - where are the creationist antibiotics and medical treatments and breakthrough theories to help us in this fight? I think we'll probably be waiting for a while. If these kinds of organisms that hurt us and kill us really are creations of the Lord that He wishes to inflict on us, I don't care. I and many other people around the world have chosen to spend our lives fighting it, and to hell with the consequences.


Anonymous said...

If cholera is the only thing you've invented you probably won't have a statue in the Vatican. To claim it's unintelligent is to claim that you see the whole picture. But can you? There is no right if there is no wrong. And where is the evolutionist's answer to cholera? Humans with such superb intelligence haven't outsmart micro organisms? Plenty of creationists contributed in the fight against cholera and other disgusting micro organisms.

But in the end, it all comes down to poo.

Michael Caton said...

Your concluding doesn't exactly help anyone take your point seriously.

First, it must be pointed out that humans "outsmart micro organisms" all the time. (Did you see the news yesterday about the malaria vaccine?) But back to cholera's case, usually we just use good sanitation and keep people hydrated; epidemic over, lives saved. This is a result of post-Enlightenment medicine and not anything in a holy book. If there's anything in the gospels about B-lactam antibiotics or sterile technique, please help direct us to it.

There are two big problems with what seem to be your objections here. First is that no one is claiming that cholera isn't clever. That's the whole point of the post. Cholera is very clever at causing suffering. The point is that if you're assuming there's a designer responsible for cholera - which if you're a creationist, you are - then you have a real uphill battle to argue that this designer is morally good.
As far as whether I have "the whole picture", your claim seems to be that if we don't know everything, we can't know anything, which of course is false. Oddly enough, that's just the kind of thing lawyers say when their back is against the wall in a court case, or conspiracy theorists say when they're out of obfuscations. Or post-modern literary theorists, or psychics, or any other B.S. artist. If you're different from them, let me know how.