Dispatches from the Creation Wars

PZ, Egnor and Luskin

Michael Egnor continues to obfuscate while Casey Luskin stands on the sideline yelling “give me an E, give me a G, give me an N, give me an O, give me an R.” Meanwhile, PZ is skillfully shredding the argument and revealing to the world why the entire ID argument regarding “information” is so ridiculous. First he demanded a simple mathematical measurement to how much “new information” could be produced via mutation and natural selection – a measurement that could only possibly be made using a mathematical expression of information such as Shannon’s, he now admits that, in fact, it’s not the amount of information that matters, it’s what that information does:

So what’s the threshold, quantitatively? It seems to be a threshold of information generating capability. But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information, which is a measure of randomness and the extent to which a message can be compressed. Shannon information is not relevant to biological information.

And he’s right, but that’s the only way his initial overly simplistic and now admittedly irrelevant question could be answered. Now perhaps he is recognizing that it’s not relevant to try and measure how much new information can be gained through mutation and selection; it only matters what new functions can be developed. And in that context, Myers’ response was precisely on point:

Notice the sneaky move. He’s going to demand a quantitative measure of an information increase, but at the same time, he’s going to argue that mathematical measures of information, such as Shannon information, can’t be used. He’s saying “Give me a number, but you aren’t allowed to use any procedures that produce a number”–heads he wins, tails I lose.

Unfortunately for Egnor, I didn’t say anything about Shannon information; a gene duplication itself represents an increase in Shannon information, of course, but that wasn’t my point. I gave him an example of a change in genetic information of a specific organism that “does things, specific things”! The mosquitos have a new property, pesticide resistance, and they achieved it by adding a new gene, a copy of an old one with significant changes. It answered his demands, both the old one on the Time blog and the new one in his comment, perfectly.

And in fact, this has happened time and time again throughout the history of life. We can identify the duplicated genes and the mutations that brought about changes in amino acid sequence in a vast number of biochemical systems, including systems that even ID advocates like Behe agree evolved on their own via mutation and selection. What matters is not that there was an increase or decrease in some mathematical measurement of the amount of information, but that mutation and selection, working upon duplicated genes, allows the evolution of new functions and traits that help an organism survive. Nick Matzke has it exactly right when he says, “Michael Egnor is just ignorantly repeating some of the dumbest lines from the ID propaganda manual.”


  1. #1 MartinM
    February 26, 2007

    he now admits that, in fact, it’s not the amount of information that matters, it’s what that information does

    …except that it’s not, apparently. Quoth Egnor:

    There’s no question that a random process (meaning ‘one not directed by an intelligent agent’) can produce some information, however it is measured. But the question is how much, and the question really matters

    From http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/02/michael_egnor_comes_back_for_a.php#comment-354820

    What were you expecting, consistency?

  2. #2 SWT
    February 26, 2007

    Hey, didn’t Egnor read Dembski? Due to “Conservation of Information” (isn’t that Dembski’s term?), processes not directed by intelligent agents can’t “produce” information … I thought that was part of the party line.

    Hasn’t Egnor given away the whole game with this comment?

  3. #3 Jason F
    February 26, 2007

    It’s the same thing we’ve seen from young-earth creationists and “transitional fossils”.

    In both cases, they’re not saying “no transitional fossils/no new information” because they’ve looked at all the data and found it lacking; instead they make those assertions because they don’t believe it’s possible for those things to exist.

    That’s why when you present a transitional fossil or a case of new genetic information to them, they’ll find some excuse to wave it away or move the goalposts on you.

    They’re not asking you to show them examples because they’re genuinely interested in the answer, but they figure they can “stump the evolutionist” because in their minds, transitional fossils/new information are impossible.

    IOW, it’s a waste of time to try and argue with that sort of mindset.