Molecular Gears: A Misleading Analogy

DyneinFrank Sherwin provides the Wednesday article, Muscle Motion Discoveries Challenge Evolutionism. The subject – once you get past the talk of bat ears and echolocation – is the protein dynein, which acts as a “molecular motor” and is involved in the function of muscles. We previously encountered dynein in October, in a Brian Thomas article that compared Lis1 (a protein that regulates the activity of dynein) to a “molecular clutch.” Now it seems that dynein also has “gears” – Sherwin says:

Recently, scientists discovered another layer of complexity with molecular motors. They found that nano-motors have nano-gears! A ubiquitous cellular protein called dynein contributes to muscle contraction. Evolutionists thought this dynein motor was inefficient and sluggish. But more research showed that this “slow” motor is actually designed that way—complete with gears.


Motors and gears mean a brilliant engineer made them. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1 that the Creator/Engineer’s work is “clearly seen” in these remarkable biological structures. Random mutations would hardly be expected to produce intricate biological gears working “on a size scale that is ten-million times smaller than [a] Ferrari’s gear.”

The obvious point to make here is that “motors and gears” is an analogy to human-made machinery, and that you cannot leap from that to concluding that they were thus made by “a brilliant engineer.” This post could have been even shorter than Monday’s – no need for the Darwin quote.

But there is more to this story, for it seems that Sherwin may have been slightly mislead by the “gear” analogy – as shown by his use of the phrase “intricate biological gears.” This likely comes from the final paragraph of the press release, which is partially quoted by Sherwin but which reads in full:

Taken together, these new studies show that Nature may have learnt how to use the gear in a motor much before we made our Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s. But, what boggles the mind is that dynein’s gear works on a size scale that is ten-million times smaller than the Ferrari’s gear.

But there is another part of that article which he should have paid closer attention to. In the ellipses in my quote above Sherwin quotes Dr. Roop Mallik as saying:

Each dynein showed a special ability to shift gears, just like you shift gears in your car to go uphill. Therefore, each dynein in a team could speed up or slow down, depending how hard it was pulled back. This allowed the dyneins to bunch close together as they were pulling. The bunching helped dyneins to share their load equitably, and therefore work efficiently to generate large forces. Remarkably, motor-teams made up of another motor (called kinesin) which is much stronger than dynein, could not generate comparable forces. The reason? Well . . . you guessed it right. Kinesin does not have a gear!!

(Ellipses and double exclamation point in the original.) It’s clear that the researchers are not talking about literal (let alone “intricate”) gears, but gears in the sense of a gearbox. And that is a very different kettle of fish.

KinesinDynein works by stepping along a microtubule within a cell, carrying with it it’s cargo. The gear analogy comes into play when several dynein proteins act in a group to move a single item of cargo. The leading proteins (which carry more load) take shorter steps to allow trailing proteins, taking longer steps, to catch up and share the load. The comparison with kinesin comes from the fact that the latter protein cannot vary its step size, meaning that despite being stronger than dynein individually it functions comparatively poorly in a group.

Knowing how the system really operates demonstrates how, while it may describe the end result perfectly well, the gear analogy only distracts from the underlying mechanism and certainly tells us nothing about how the system originated. For example, it may be tempting to stretch out the analogy further and hypothesise that the lis1 “clutch” previously encountered changes the dynein “gear.” But the experiment that revealed the behaviour was conducted “in the absence of LIS1 or any other regulatory factor,” ruling out that option.

To make an analogy of my own, imagine you’re in a large underground cavern. Investigating how the roof of this cavern stays up you may chose to describe sections of rock as being load bearing columns and the like. But this does not mean that these rocks are structured in the same way as in a man-made cathedral, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the cavern must automatically have been designed by a “brilliant architect.” It might be, certainly (I never said this had to be a natural cavern), but the conclusion cannot be drawn simply from the analogy. The same applies to dynein: a misleading analogy makes for a poor argument.

9 thoughts on “Molecular Gears: A Misleading Analogy

  1. Peter and others

    YEC propagandist Bob Sorensen has posted THIS on his Facebook page less than an hour ago. Coward.
    “I had an atheopath write a libelous Weblog article about me, and used a picture of me. I told him to take down the picture. He said, “Trot on”. Got WordPress involved, they made him take it down. He took it down, then reposted it again. They made him do it again. He’s having fits, and cannot understand simple logic. Not only does he lie and steal, but he lacks intelligence. Good without God? Nope. -CBB”. (discussion under ‘Atheists don’t hate God’)
    See also:

    Yes I AM telling tales about more bad behaviour by Cowboy Bob.

    See the discussion under ‘Recursive Debunking’ for the actual sequence of events.

    • PS Unless this is a DIFFERENT ‘atheopath’ as yoiur blog was more about Petersen than Sorensen – though the latter turned up and complained that you had pinched an image from his blog (a green eye).

      Sorensen seems to have a lot of run-ins with atheopaths.

    • I may have jumped the gun – for which apologies, if so.

      I note that Alex Botten has posted THIS on Facebook earlier on Wednesday:
      “Arch coward Bob Sorensen has filed a dishonest DMCA claim against, getting it (for now) suspended. Beware, this nasty little gnome of a man is now throwing his weight around making false claims to get material that criticises him removed, whilst happily committing all the ‘crimes’ he accuses others of here –
      The paranoia of Bob knows no bounds, and his control freak narcissism is now fuelling an increase in his online bullying.”

      Again – this might not be what his Facebook page is alluding to as he does not identify the ‘atheopath’ concerned. But there IS a photo of Bob at ‘godsthatdon’texist’.

      (It can’t be me as I have no weblog.)

    • He is almost certainly talking about that. Hopefully Alex has filed a counter notice, as just re-uploading won’t help.


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