The application of powder diffraction methods to problems in structural biology is generally regarded as intractable because of the large number of unresolved, overlapping X-ray reflections. Here, we use information about unit cell lattice parameters, space group transformations, and chemical composition as a priori information in a bootstrap process that resolves the ambiguities associated with overlapping reflections. The measured ratios of reflections that can be resolved experimentally are used to refine the position, the shape, and the orientation of low-resolution molecular structures within the unit cell, in leading to the resolution of the overlapping reflections. The molecular model is then made progressively more sophisticated as additional diffraction information is included in the analysis. We apply our method to the recovery of the structure of the bacteriorhodopsin molecule (bR) to a resolution of 7 Å using experimental data obtained from two-dimensional purple membrane crystals. The approach can be used to determine the structure factors directly or to provide reliable low-resolution phase information that can be refined further by the conventional methods of protein crystallography.