by Roy Tov
Thursday, September 13th, 2012
Once every few decades, one can enjoy a rare moment of intellectual delight, when something suspected right during the entire period but that was opposed to mainstream views, is found to be true. Many years ago, I was performing my third rotational research at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Since the establishment is interdisciplinary in nature, despite my belonging to the chemical-physics department, I was working on a biological model. I was trying to define the light-absorption function for a DNA molecule. In the internet era one must clarify this; after all in Bolivia—my actual place of stay—if one knows how to click Google’s search button one is defined as a researcher. Back then, the DNA absorption function wasn’t known. It wasn’t possible to search for it in the literature or in the still university-oriented internet. The model was to be theoretically derived from more basic principles. During my preliminary study of the topic, I found two very perturbing terms, “junk-DNA” and “selfish-genes.”
At their very basic, the terms were disturbing. Even before explaining them, it is pretty obvious that the people coining them had humanized DNA, attributing to molecules characteristics unfit for them. A DNA molecule clearly doesn’t have a soul, thus defining it as “selfish,” is nothing but the wishful thinking of a truly eccentric researcher. Both terms, “selfish gene” and “junk DNA,” are alternative names for non-coding DNA, in other words, DNA that doesn’t encode proteins. This contradicted the known role of the DNA, thus the insulting nicknames. This wasn’t a secondary issue. Up to 80% of human DNA falls within this category; in other species, it may go up to 99% of the total. Yet, since its role wasn’t known, it was defined as “junk,” or even more intriguing, as “selfish.”
In Evolution and 9/11, I analyzed one of the severe logical fallacies used by Richard Dawkins, one of the loudest advocates of the Evolution Theory. This tabloid-oriented scientist was the one to coin the term “selfish-gene.” In another one of his monumental misinterpretations of science, he claimed that all junk-DNA is exclusively engaged in self-preservation, in fact acting as a parasite in the host’s DNA. Thus, these were selfish molecules, selfish DNA. For a long time there was no way of effectively arguing with these claims. Yet, this claim felt wrong. God doesn’t work in wasteful ways. Moreover, it was very clear that the scientists making the outrageous claims were exceeding the limits of the scientific method. Yet, what can one do? Unlike Dawkins and his peers, i understood that “I feel like…” is not a legitimate claim in good science.
Over the years I relegated the issue to one of the most inactive spots in my brain. It was defined as “read only if something new is discovered.” After all, it wasn’t an important topic. Then, on September 2012, a scientific paper on the human genome was published with the cooperation of over 400 scientists. It got wildly quoted by the mainstream media. The research was summarized for the laymen as “Human genome more active than thought.” In fact, what it found was that the junk-DNA was not junk at all. It even wasn’t selfish. It was very active on the regulation of the DNA encoding the proteins. In other words, you can define it as regulating-DNA. Following the publication, I made a very basic search on Mr. Dawkins, and failed to find any comment by him on the issue.
This is not surprising; he may publish a reaction in the following days or months, but this won’t change the fact he got a humbling lesson. Again, he was publicly shown to misunderstand what science is. Science is a simple method, which has systematized the finding of “how” something works. Science answers “how,” religion answers “why.” There is no contradiction between them. At the moment pseudo-scientists cross this borderline, attempting to humanize what is not human, attempting to centralize the human role in the universe as humanists do, they are bound to fail. The point is simple. At the very basis of the scientific method is a humbling statement: “I don’t know.” Drunken on their own vanity, the scientists weren’t humble enough to say: “We don’t know the role of this DNA.” Instead, they made up stories and sold them to science tabloids.
I have no illusions. Most readers of this article are not scientists and are not aware of the method’s details. Yet, let me emphasize a simple lesson that has been exemplified by this lengthy affair and that can make our lives better. Once a day, say “I don’t know.” Straight, without any excuses. Once a day, apologize. I mean a true apology, not in the Western style “If I offended you, I apologize.” Say an honest “I apologize” from the bottom of your heart. Finally, at least once a day, pray to God. Soon afterwards, these little pseudo-scientists infesting our lives with corrupting false-ideas of vanity and humanism will be relegated to their right spot in reality: “read only if something new is discovered.”