Paul Nelson

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture

Paul A. Nelson is currently a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Adjunct Professor in the Master of Arts Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He is a philosopher of biology who has been involved in the intelligent design debate internationally for three decades. His grandfather, Byron C. Nelson (1893-1972), a theologian and author, was an influential mid-20th century dissenter from Darwinian evolution. After Paul received his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in evolutionary biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he entered the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. (1998) in the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory.

As an early associate of Professor Phillip Johnson of UC-Berkeley, author of the bestselling critique Darwin on Trial, Paul was an organizer of the Mere Creation conference (1996), where the modern intelligent design research community first formed. His research interests include the relationship between developmental biology and our knowledge of the history of life, the theory of intelligent design, and the interaction of science and theology. Paul lectures frequently at colleges and universities throughout the United States and Europe, has spoken on American and Italian national public radio, and written for popular publications as varied as the Oslo Dagbladet and the Christian Research Journal.

Nelson’s scholarly articles have appeared in journals such as Biology & Philosophy, BIO-Complexity, Zygon, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, and Touchstone, and book chapters in the anthologies Mere Creation (Intervarsity Press), Signs of Intelligence (Brazos), Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (MIT Press), and Darwin, Design, Public Education (Michigan State University Press), and Next Generation Systematics (Cambridge University Press). Paul is one of the authors of the biology textbook Explore Evolution, and has appeared in several films on intelligent design for Illustra Media. He is a member of the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) and the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB).

Paul is married to Suzanne Nelson, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatric gastroenterologist, and they have two daughters currently attending graduate school. The family resides in Glenview, Illinois.


Nature Paper: Groundbreaking Science on the Decline

On today’s ID the Future philosopher of science Paul Nelson discusses a new paper in Nature making waves in the scientific community, “Papers and Patents are Becoming Less Disruptive over Time.” According to Michael Park and his fellow researchers, the rate of groundbreaking scientific discoveries is declining while the percentage of consolidating (or incremental) science is coming to dominate. Is the spirit of groundbreaking scientific discovery withering, and if so, why? Nelson notes a 1997 book by John Horgan, The End of Science. Nelson credits Horgan for seeing the trend a generation ahead of the Park paper, but Nelson breaks with Horgan on the diagnosis. Horgan posits that groundbreaking science is declining because we have already made most of the big breakthroughs there are to make. Nelson begs to differ. He suggests the problem lies elsewhere and likely is multifaceted. Tune in to hear his analysis and his prescription for reinvigorating the scientific enterprise in the twenty-first century. Crowther and Nelson discuss two other papers during their conversation. For Nelson’s paper on disruption and consensus in science, “The Paradox of Consensus,” go here. For the Thomas Gold paper on the problem of the herd effect in science, go here.

Orphan Proteins Spell Trouble for AlphaFold 2

On this ID the Future, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson further explores AlphaFold 2, a cutting edge computer program from Google’s DeepMind designed to rapidly suss out important secrets in the realm of proteins, indispensable molecular biological workhorses that come in thousands of different shapes and sizes. Nelson enthuses about AlphaFold 2 but also explains why he is convinced that AlphaFold’s creators have hit a series of immovable obstacles. The watchword here—orphans. Tune in to learn what these mischievous orphan proteins are about, and what they suggest for AlphaFold, evolution, and intelligent design.

Powerful Protein Folding Algorithm AlphaFold Foiled by Singletons

Today’s ID the Future spotlights AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence program in the news for its impressive breakthroughs at predicting a protein’s 3D structure from its amino acid sequence. Philosopher of Biology Paul Nelson walks listeners through the importance of this “amazing breakthrough,” as he describes it in a recent Evolution News article; but don’t uncork the champagne bottles just yet. The reason, according to Nelson, is that while proteins, protein sequences, and protein folding promise to reveal much that is still mysterious in molecular biology, we now know that biological information involves far more than just an organism’s proteome—that is, far more than the full suite of proteins expressed by an organism. Nelson uses analogies to manmade machines and cognates among closely and distantly related human languages to shed light on just how much more sophisticated the biological information directing life is than any model narrowly fixated on DNA, the amino acids DNA codes for, and the protein formed from those amino acids. Nelson further explains that, as powerful as the AlphaFold algorithm is, it has not solved the protein-folding problem, if we take such a solution to mean “predicting the three-dimensional conformation of a protein strictly from its primary DNA sequence, ab initio.” The clearest evidence of this: the algorithm is utterly stymied by sequence “singletons.” What are these curious sequences, why do they baffle AlphaFold, and why do these singletons trouble some evolutionists? Tune in as Nelson and host Eric Anderson explore this problem at the leading edge of biological research.