Fine-tuning has received much attention in physics, and it states that the fundamental constants of physics are finely tuned to precise values for a rich chemistry and life permittance. It has not yet been applied in a broad manner to molecular biology. However, in this paper we argue that biological systems present fine-tuning at different levels, e.g. functional proteins, complex biochemical machines in living cells, and cellular networks. This paper describes molecular fine-tuning, how it can be used in biology, and how it challenges conventional Darwinian thinking. We also discuss the statistical methods underpinning fine-tuning and present a framework for such analysis.
Dembski, Axe, and Behe come up, and the paper includes essentially a review of just about all ID arguments we’ve heard. This is a secular journal, but does make me wonder about who the editor was and who reviewed it. It is hard to imagine this paper surviving an unbiased review.
It seems a key question in analyzing this paper is determining the extent to which their argument depends on, for example, Axe’s work. The strongest case would not have such dependencies, and would thereby avoid inheriting the criticism of prior work. I don’t see much data.
The final sentence of the paper is interesting though:
Yet researchers have more work to do in order to establish fine-tuning as a sustainable and fully testable scientific hypothesis, and ultimately a Design Science .
The Journal of Theoretical Biology and its co-Chief Editors do not endorse in any way the ideology of nor reasoning behind the concept of intelligent design. Since the publication of the paper it has now become evident that the authors are connected to a creationist group (although their addresses are given on the paper as departments in bona fide universities). We were unaware of this fact while the paper was being reviewed. Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors. We have removed these from the online version of this paper. We believe that intelligent design is not in any way a suitable topic for the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Large sample spaces do not imply biological systems are ‘fine-tuned’
We write to rebut the conclusions of a recently published paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology (Thorvaldsen and Hössjer, 2020). The central claim of this paper is that because biological systems are complex then they must be fine-tuned. This inference is flawed and is not supported by the evidence.
What does this paper contribute to our understanding of theoretical biology? The primary claim of Thorvaldsen and Hössjer is that protein complexes, molecular motors, and biological networks are not random. This is true – in a mathematical sense - but is not a new discovery. What they claim to be novel is the conclusion that the existence of these specific systems amongst the space of all possible systems is so rare as to only possibly exist by ‘fine-tuning’ – a proxy for intelligent design. That components of living systems - or systems themselves - are exceedingly rare does not suggest agency or intent. Furthermore, irreducible complexity ignores the idea that evolution and natural selection act on a pool of variation: any number of individuals within the pool will not pass on their genes because their specific complement of protein complexes and cellular networks do not accomplish the necessary functions for life to continue. Hence, neither fine-tuning nor intelligent design is required when sample spaces are viewed through the lens of evolutionary dynamics.
Notably, the authors of this paper list “Intelligent Design” as a keyword and repeatedly return to the idea of irreducible complexity, a hallmark of creationism. These ideas have been repeatedly debunked in the past. In the words of Carl Sagan: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, a threshold that is not met in this paper.