Every so often, a creationist will start babbling about “information theory”, and thereby defaming a perfectly legitimate line of research. While I’m at the airport, waiting for my flight back from ASM2011, here’s something from the archives, “Creationists, “Biological Information”, and Cyber-Vitalism” about that topic:
In response to us foul-mouthed evolutionists, Casey Luskin asks, “Yet for all their numbers and name-calling, not a single one has answered Egnor’s question: How does [sic] Darwinian mechanisms produce new biological information?” I’ve never liked the whole “biological information” concept.
As far as I can tell, the creationists started bandying the term about after this George Gilder article in Wired was published:
Just as physicists discovered that the atom was not a massy particle, as Newton believed, but a baffling quantum arena accessible only through mathematics, so too are biologists coming to understand that the cell is not a simple lump of protoplasm, as Charles Darwin believed. It’s a complex information-processing machine comprising tens of thousands of proteins arranged in fabulously intricate algorithms of communication and synthesis. The human body contains some 60 trillion cells. Each one stores information in DNA codes, processes and replicates it in three forms of RNA and thousands of supporting enzymes, exquisitely supplies the system with energy, and seals it in semipermeable phospholipid membranes. It is a process subject to the mathematical theory of information, which shows that even mutations occurring in cells at the gigahertz pace of a Pentium 4 and selected at the rate of a Google search couldn’t beget the intricate interwoven fabric of structure and function of a human being in such a short amount of time. Natural selection should be taught for its important role in the adaption of species, but Darwinian materialism is an embarrassing cartoon of modern science.
As PZ notes, if you’re going to comment on cellular function and organismal development, you really should know what the hell you’re talking about. When you strip away the ‘Power and Glory’ bit, it’s an absurd argument, particularly coming from someone who supposedly knows something about computers. Why? Because cellular functions don’t happen sequentially, but in parallel–as in parallel processing. A ‘technologist’ should have heard of that before….
But then Gilder brings the Full Metal Stoopid: welcome to the world of Cyber-Vitalism! Brace yourself (italics mine):
Intelligent design at least asks the right questions. In a world of science that still falls short of a rigorous theory of human consciousness or of the big bang, intelligent design theory begins by recognizing that everywhere in nature, information is hierarchical and precedes its embodiment. The concept precedes the concrete. The contrary notion that the world of mind, including science itself, bubbled up randomly from a prebiotic brew has inspired all the reductionist futilities of the 20th century, from Marx’s obtuse materialism to environmental weather panic to zero-sum Malthusian fears over population. In biology classes, our students are not learning the largely mathematical facts of 21st-century science; they’re imbibing the consolations of a faith-driven 19th-century materialist myth.
Mind you (pun intended), Gilder doesn’t actually present any evidence that “the concept precedes the concrete”, but I suppose an emphatic declarative statement is just as good. Of course, if this sounds anything like the Genesis story where God speaks (i.e., generates information), and only then creation happens, I’m sure that’s a coincidence. It’s sure not evidence (“coincidence is not evidence”–I like the sound of that).
But enough about the possible origins of the creationist infatuation with “biological information”–I prefer the term genetics, but that’s so Darwinist. (an aside: We, like, so need a Darwinist emoticon). Here’s another problem with Luskin’s argument (PZ demolishes the supposed production of new information problem): sometimes evolution results in the reduction of information, whether it be the loss of operons during the evolution of Shigella/E. coli, or the massive chromosomal reduction during the evolution of Wolbachia and other insect symbionts.
When you hear someone talk about “biological information” and evolution, there’s a creationist lurking around somewhere.