Now it turns out that most of that junk actually does something functional, though still largely unknown in the specifics:
In addition to showing that up to three-quarters of our DNA may be transcribed into RNA, the data strongly suggests, according to Gingeras, that a large percent of non-protein-coding RNAs are localized within cells in a manner consistent with their having functional roles.
The current outstanding question concerns the nature and range of those functions. It is thought that these "non-coding" RNA transcripts act something like components of a giant, complex switchboard, controlling a network of many events in the cell by regulating the processes of replication, transcription and translation -- that is, the copying of DNA and the making of proteins based on information carried by messenger RNAs.
Allow me to get a little New Age-y and suggest that the most successful religions may have been on to something in their beliefs about how life is created and maintained. They have an elite group of gods (perhaps in the form of a holy trinity) whose performances are the clearest. They're like a 2% of spiritual beings that code for spiritual building blocks.
Something in the human mind doesn't find it plausible that so few beings would have such awesome power on their own, so religions that are more on the monotheistic side often have all sorts of intermediary spiritual beings to help orchestrate the work of the Big Guys upstairs -- a "switchboard" of saints, angels, lesser gods, legendary figures, etc. That's in practice, regardless of whether or not it fits with orthodox elite doctrine.
They also have devils, demons, imps, and so on to assist the life-destroying work of the Big Guys underground. Sure enough, researchers are going after all this noncoding DNA for its role in disease. Maybe a devilish coding gene can only cause disease with the orchestrating help of legions of demons throughout the "junk" DNA.
If there's some kind of bridge or analogy between the natural and supernatural -- not an identity, of course -- then perhaps religions that are farther in the strictly monotheistic direction have gotten too far out of touch with reality. Puritanical strains tend to scrub out the wide variety of lesser or intermediary spiritual beings, portraying things more as God vs. The Devil alone. Revival strains tend to paint those smaller guys back into the picture, whether it's the Counter-Reformation's emphasis on saints, or the Pentecostals' putting the Holy Spirit closer to center-stage, to take two familiar examples. At least judging by similarity to the natural world, the revivalists may have been on to something.
I'm pretty ignorant of biology at such a micro scale, but I never bought into the "junk DNA" idea -- not because I had a compelling alternative to promote, but because by that point I'd had enough experience with the personality types who pushed the "junk" idea, enough to know they had to be full of it. Kind of like the idea that "humans only use 1% of their brains."
There's a basic but ultimately not too important logical objection -- then why has natural selection maintained all that waste? Some for insurance, sure, but that much?
The central objection I have to those kinds of theories is that they're full of arrogance and betray an utter lack of curiosity and wonder. Since those types of people never understand the real world, or at least the living world, their theory must be as airheaded as it sounds. "We don't understand it" becomes "There's nothing there to understand." (Or if you prefer, "Highly illogical.")
This attitude is most prevalent among glibertarians, but they're just the right tail of our entire population, which is sadly moving steadily in their direction. The popularity of the phrase and the activity of "debunking" shows how low we keep sinking.
You might have expected these types to only make religion the target of their debunking, but for the profane-minded, nothing is sacred. Even DNA -- the most materialist cause you could point to in the creation of life -- was not safe from their glib dismissal. "Mostly filled with junk, snicker snicker."
Now that their view has been overturned, they just act a little surprised and embarrassed for having been factually incorrect -- not humbled, ashamed, or penitent for coasting through conversations on the topic with such arrogance. They will not develop a new sense of awe before the wonders of nature, but simply update their list of factoids to reflect the most recent reports, lest they be one-upped by some other mouth-breathing nerd on the internet.
I can't emphasize strongly enough how this kind of glibertarian atheist type has not simply replaced a sense of wonder and reverence of a religious nature with the same feelings derived from more material sources. The greatest science writers have that, like Richard Dawkins, but most do not, and their typical reader does not have a Romantic bone in their body. Popular science books for them are not a portal to an encounter with the Sublime, but an armory to be pillaged for their never-ending snark wars.