Fellow ScienceBlogger Mark Chu-Carroll has now posted on the argument with Michael Egnor. He rightly points out the absurdity of Egnor’s claims about information theory:
We’ve got Dr. Egnor demanding that he be shown “how much new information darwinian processes can generate”. and making it very clear that what he wants is an exact measure.
So people respond – showing how to compute the specific quantity of information generated by particular evolutionary processes. And of course, they do it in terms of the only mathematical or scientific framework that can assign specific values to quantities of information: Shannon theory.
Exactly right. First he demands a precise measurement be given, then he rejects the only possible means of providing such a number. That’s actually good, because at least he appears to recognize that measuring the amount of Shannon information in the genome doesn’t really tell us anything about evolution. Even Egnor recognizes that what matters is that the information in the genome “does things, specific things”, that is, it codes for traits and functions. What he is apparently too dense to understand is that recognizing that makes his demand for a precise measurement meaningless.
No, what matters is that mutation and selection can produce variation in function and fix new traits within a population. And the example that PZ gave him a week ago remains perfectly valid for that purpose: gene duplication and diversification is a primary process by which new information – that is, information that codes for new functions – is created and fixed in a population. We have identified this happening many times, both in the lab and in the wild. All Egnor is doing is shifting the ground beneath his argument.