Pharyngula

There’s a very good reason I reposted an old reply to a creationist today. It’s from 2004, way back shortly after I’d started this blog, and it addresses in simple terms the question of how ordinary biological mechanisms can produce an increase in information. I brought it up because Casey Luskin is whining again. He says the “Darwinists” have not answered any of the questions Michael Egnor, their pet credentialed creationist du jour, has asked.

Yet for all their numbers and name-calling, not a single one has answered Egnor’s question: How does Darwinian mechanisms [sic] produce new biological information?

Isn’t it obvious that we have answered the question, repeatedly, for years and years? That the answer is plainly stated in any college-level genetics textbook you might be able to pull off the shelf? We answer, we repeat the answer, we rephrase the answer, we’ve got a whole damn chorus of biologically informed people singing the answer at them, and the creationists just babble back, obliviously, “We can’t heeeeeeear youuuuu!”

Look, I’ve pointed out Luskin’s own embarrassing incompetence at basic genetics before; there are mechanisms operating in genetics that make duplication of genes and the concommitant increase of information in the genome routine. I’ve traced the origin of bicoid and zerknüllt to a duplication of Hox3, for instance, and I’ve described how genes, such as Wnt, are found in gene families, the product of duplications over evolutionary history. I’ve shown how Hox genes arose by duplications; seriously, how can anyone look at the serial chain of Hox genes and their phylogenetic distribution, and the fact that vertebrates have 4 sets of Hox genes, and not recognize their source in gene duplication, and not see that as a change in complexity over evolutionary time? We can go further and look at synteny, or the conserved order of sequences in the genome, and see that there is an explicable pattern of change, one that is explained by common genetic and evolutionary processes, and does not fit the design hypothesis (except in the sense that the design hypothesis is so uselessly vague that you can make any observation fit it).

Luskin actually asks two questions.

…two questions remain: (1) Why is such name-calling so common among Darwinists? and (2) How do Darwinian mechanisms produce truly novel biological information? I’ve seen no good answers to question 2, and perhaps their lack of such a good answer is driving the observations behind question (1).

We’ve answered question #2 many, many times as I’ve mentioned. The creationists like Luskin, Egnor, and many others obtusely resist paying any attention, ignore the scientific literature, and act like stupid little children when they are confronted with the evidence … which, I think, goes a long way towards answering #1. That creationist calliope is awfully repetitive and out of tune, excuse us if we are more than a little tired of the noise. Maybe if they actually had some respect and knowledge of the biological sciences they are abusing, and if they didn’t persist in lying and misrepresenting the facts, we wouldn’t be so pissed off with them.

Comments

  1. #1 MartinC
    March 28, 2007

    We all know there is only one book they look to for evidence of anything. Unfortunately the peer review process for that one has been somewhat a closed shop for the past 1600 years.

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    How do Darwinian mechanisms produce truly novel biological information? I’ve seen no good answers to question 2,

    Who knows what the modifiers are supposed to mean?

    Apparently they’re just weasel words to get around the fact that all of the questions have been answered, and they have no intelligent reply, so Luskin writes “truly novel” and “no good answers” to wave away all of these inconvenient facts and to repeat the same nauseatingly stupid lies.

    Gee, I guess I’m just a Darwinist calling names because all we do is to answer questions, and all they say is “Duh, thus God” (oops, the “designer” on the web (with frequent lapses), “God” in the church speeches). Sorry that I didn’t recognize the intelligence involved in saying “Duh, so God made humans”. From now on I will call that reasoning genius

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  3. #3 John Pieret
    March 28, 2007

    … which, I think, goes a long way towards answering #1.

    Not to mention their own name calling in virtually everything they publish: labeling scientists as “Darwinists,” instead of what they really are, biologists, geneticists, paleontologists, etc., etc.

    They long ago abandoned the rules of fair debate and civil discourse and cannot complain if they get some of their own back.

    Besides … what they are really complaining about is that we’re better at it than Bill “sound effects” Dembski and the rest of them. 😉

  4. #4 N.Wells
    March 28, 2007

    (whine) But that genetic stuff is so complicated. And those names are so confusing. I just want to see someone demonstrate how a starfish is supposed to evolve into a fish*. And by the way a duplication is just more of the same information, not an increase. (end snark)

    (*I heard that from a creationist decades ago. Questioning revealed that he figured “starfish” minus “star” should equal “fish”, and was not trying for a clever reference to the proposed common ancestry for deuterostomes.)

  5. #5 George
    March 28, 2007

    Okay, I am in awe. You remembered a comment from more than two years before..

  6. #6 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    They long ago abandoned the rules of fair debate and civil discourse and cannot complain if they get some of their own back.

    True, except they never started out fair or civil–remember the Wedge?

    They were always all about subverting the standards of science, and whining every time we held them to the rules of evidence (as understood in science). Then, just because they’re doing what is not science, our criticisms of their evidence-free nonsense don’t even count (hence, “no good answers”–they’re just “materialist” answers given by scientists holding to a “failed paradigm”, so hardly worth noticing). They began by saying that we’re wrong even about what humans are and how they operate, an ad hominem fallacy that avoids dealing with posts utilizing mere materialistic evidence from an ATHEIST materialist.

    They could not ever carry on a reasoned discussion, for their demand was that their “science” not be held to the standards of evidence and reason.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  7. #7 Lynet
    March 28, 2007

    We answer, we repeat the answer, we rephrase the answer, we’ve got a whole damn chorus of biologically informed people singing the answer at them, and the creationists just babble back, obliviously, “We can’t heeeeeeear youuuuu!”

    And just in case someone else accidentally hears you, they don’t allow comments on their main blog. But, really, they’re interested in discourse. Honest.

  8. #8 Peter McGrath
    March 28, 2007

    MartinC: “Unfortunately the peer review process for that one has been somewhat a closed shop for the past 1600 years.”

    And many of the dissenting peer-reviewers were burned at the stake, or done away with in a way that left no fossil remains or intermediate forms.

  9. #9 Joshua
    March 28, 2007

    Their petulant whining reminds me a lot of Ann Althouse’s recent implosion on BloggingHeads, where she ranted at length about how “liberal bloggers” hate her and are “mean, ugly people”… while not allowing the target of her rant to get two words in edgewise and while the entire rant was a completely unprovoked tangent.

    I feel like this is the flip-side of the bully who grabs your arm and insists that you “Stop hitting yourself!” Luskin and Althouse both are grabbing their opponent’s arms, slapping themselves silly, and shouting, “Stop hitting me!”

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich
    March 28, 2007

    Speaking of Egnor, South Dakota has another doctor who thinks he is smarter than Scientists. And he was afraid to speak up and say so in biology classes, pre-med and finally med school. So he and the Answers In Genesis folks are going to arm public school students with the tools they need in order to challenge evolutionist teachers.

    Doctors! Are they the new engineers?

    Dr. Randy Guzu…..

  11. #11 Mike Haubrich
    March 28, 2007

    And another thing:

    It’s not an “ad hominem” when the argument is stupid, and when the arguer ignores the evidence when it is shown to them, then the arguer is stupid.

    Poor innocent IDists that never are mean to evolutionists. BARF.

  12. #12 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 28, 2007

    Sean Carroll’s new book ‘The Making of the Fittest’ really does a terrific job of answering question #2, and the concluding chapter provides a measured but firm version of question #1. I’m commending it to my ID-sympathetic brethren, because it is just so accessible. It even takes the time to explain transcription/translation etc. for the genetically-illiterate.

    Very commendable, but at the end of the day we all know that many who raise question #2 are not interested in the answer, they are simply trying to score rhetorical points with the uninformed.

    Probably the best strategy is to push to get as much accessible public discussion of Evo Devo as possible, with an emphasis on its application in medicine. To this end, Carroll’s book is extraordinarily helpful as it makes clear, for example, that the emergence of cancers and their treatment is in a sense an evolutionary problem: freed from the burden of selection, cancer cells mutate at a higher rate, and eventually constitute a genetically heterogenous population that may not be amenable to a single program of treatment.

  13. #13 Madam Pomfrey
    March 28, 2007

    “Dr. Randy Guzu…..” To anyone who knows Persian, this is absolutely *perfect*.
    🙂

  14. #14 CalGeorge
    March 28, 2007

    Better question:

    How does a creationist twit produce so much hot air?

    1) I’m a doofus
    2) I couldn’t find a real job
    3) I like to annoy people
    4) All of the above

  15. #15 Tyler DiPietro
    March 28, 2007

    Casey Luskin blathered: “How do Darwinian mechanisms produce truly novel biological information?”

    Actually, it looks like that qualifier (in bold) is being used as the trap door to get away from any possible dis-confirmation. When it was pointed out to Egnor that any post-hoc measurement on the genome that uses any technical definition of information (Shannon-Wiener, KCS, etc.) allows the creation of “new information”, he just said those weren’t good measurements. Egnor then essentially asserted the existence of some informatic quantity that evolution couldn’t produce…even though he by his own admission didn’t have a clue what that could be.

    Something tells me, then, that we’ll never find an example of “truly novel information” being generated by evolutionary mechanisms, since TNI A.) exists and B.) can’t evolved via Darwinian mechanisms, evolution is TEH DOOMZORRED!!11 We just can’t be troubled to define this quantity in a way that it can be meaningfully investigated. HAVE A NICE DAY!

  16. #16 Tyler DiPietro
    March 28, 2007

    Fixing that last paragraph up a bit:

    Something tells me, then, that we’ll never find an example of “truly novel information” being generated by evolutionary mechanisms. Since TNI A.) exists and B.) can’t evolved via Darwinian mechanisms, evolution is TEH DOOMZORRED!!11 We just can’t be troubled to define this quantity in a way that it can be meaningfully investigated. HAVE A NICE DAY!

    Sorry for the errors. 🙁

  17. #17 BC
    March 28, 2007

    I should point out that creationists/IDists probably won’t regard gene duplication as an “increase in information”. I seem to remember Egnor saying something along the lines that photocopying a book doesn’t give you twice as much information. Nevertheless, I’ve pointed out to creationists/IDists on numberous occasions how point mutations can produce new information. I think that’s a better example because it doesn’t involve duplications, and produces what they consider to be “new information”. More often than not, I get the response along the lines that mutations cannot produce complex structures (i.e. that stepwise mutations aren’t going to produce organs or eyes). I always point out to them that they are changing the subject. Just once, I’d like to see a creationist/IDist admit their original error – that mutations can produce information. Only then would I move on to the questions of complex structures. But, they never admit their error, they want to move to a different criticism, and forget the fact that I showed them exactly how point mutations can produce information. No doubt, they’ll be repeating the “can’t produce new information” claim that I showed them was false.

  18. #18 Tyler DiPietro
    March 28, 2007

    I should point out that creationists/IDists probably won’t regard gene duplication as an “increase in information”.

    I would simply respond that when using the genome as a physical implementation of information, gene duplication can act as a sort priming operation for the generation of new information. Like if you took the following string and duplicated it.

    0101101100
    0101101100 (duplicate)

    You could iterate random digit switches on both strings (or the larger concatenated string) to produce “new information”.

  19. #19 Keith Douglas
    March 28, 2007

    More data in favour of the hypothesis that scortched earth is the policy …

  20. #20 BC
    March 28, 2007

    gene duplication can act as a sort priming operation for the generation of new information

    Well, you’re saying that the duplication does not (in itself) produce new information.

    You could iterate random digit switches on both strings (or the larger concatenated string) to produce “new information”.

    What IDists/creationists mean by “information” is essentially synonymous with “useful dna sequences”. There are a large number of sequences that produce non-functioning proteins, and a few that produce useful proteins. Simply writing a dna sequence using a random generator would produce information in the Shannon sense, but it’s unlikely to produce it in the “produces useful proteins” sense. Of course, “unlikely” is very different than “impossible”. Creationists think it’s “impossible”. It’s not.

  21. #21 Thinker
    March 28, 2007

    Yes, the creationist calliope is wheezing. I just hope that this and the unpleasin’ sneezin’ is a sign of an imminent crash to the ground.

    Ah, Manfred Mann…

  22. #22 Tyler DiPietro
    March 28, 2007

    Simply writing a dna sequence using a random generator would produce information in the Shannon sense, but it’s unlikely to produce it in the “produces useful proteins” sense.

    But that’s the problem my original objection alluded to, which is that the IDers are not defining the informatic quantity they want us to demonstrate being generated by evolution. I’m actually not all that familiar with Shannon theory, but a crude approximation of KCS information of a given string x is.

    C(x|y)= min{l(p): f([y, p]) = x}

    Where p is the program that computes x given y. Here terms like “useful” would be rigorously defined as the irregular aspects of the string p, so that the redundancy from it’s length (l(p)) is minimized. With some negligible modifications you can apply this to the genome and it would be trivial to generate new information. I’m not a geneticist, so I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. But how would you define “useful proteins” in a mathematically rigorous fashion? And if we know that they are generated, we can just use whatever example we know of to counter the argument.

    But that assumes they stick to the definition they agree to, which as Egnor demonstrated, is far from a given.

  23. #23 quork
    March 28, 2007


    Yes, the creationist calliope is wheezing. I just hope that this and the unpleasin’ sneezin’ is a sign of an imminent crash to the ground.
    .
    Ah, Manfred Mann…

    While Manfred Mann has the best known performance of that song, it was written by Bruce Springsteen.

  24. #24 Flex
    March 28, 2007

    Thinker wrote, “Yes, the creationist calliope is wheezing. I just hope that this and the unpleasin’ sneezin’ is a sign of an imminent crash to the ground.

    Ah, Manfred Mann…”

    Well, to be fair, ‘Blinded by the Light’ was written and first performed by Bruce Springsteen. Manfred Mann covered it, after re-arranging it a bit, but the lyrics are Springsteen.

    Thinking about it, Manfred Mann duplicated copies of the lyrics and re-arranged them a bit, you could maybe even say added he new information to the performance of the song.

    Certianly Manfred Mann’s version was better adapted to the fitness landscape of popular music.

  25. #25 Eamon Knight
    March 28, 2007

    Doctors! Are they the new engineers?
    Dr. Randy Guzu…..

    Well, according to the linked article, the guy was an engineer before he was a doctor. (Predictably, his argument boils down to: “Well it looks designed to me, and I’m smart!”).

    However, for a long time now, I’ve felt that the Salem Hypothesis should really inculde doctors (and dentists, and probably many other of the medical-ish professions). The common thread is a training in using the results of science to practice an applied art, but without necessarily getting a deep understanding of science itself.

  26. #26 blf
    March 28, 2007

    Are [target] the new engineers?

    Sigh…… There are are people working in engineering professions who are scientifically educated. Please don’t over-generalise…

  27. #27 Will Von Wizzlepig
    March 28, 2007

    It seems like the ID team needs to start presenting their ideas in an orderly and easily-referenced way if they are to be taken seriously.

    Oh, wait a minute?

    That would require a few things which they lack:

    The ability to do generate a cohesive document

    and

    Some proof to base that document on.

    Rather, they waste the time of fine people like PZ, and purposely irritate everyone with their blather.

    Good thing we’re AGAINST the right-wing thuggery approach for silencing idiots.

  28. #28 Haydin
    March 28, 2007

    Please don’t pick on engineers. Most engineers that I personally know graduated from either the BS or BS+MS program at UCLA, which requires rigorous study of quantum mechanics, electromagnetics, mathematics, etc…
    I double majored in physics and EE from UCLA, and I can say without a doubt that at least at this university, the EE program is much harder and contains at least as much ‘science’ as does the physics program.

    I think you are confusing technicians with engineers.

  29. #29 Mike Haubrich
    March 28, 2007

    “Please don’t pick on engineers. ”

    Haydin, some of my best friends are engineers. This was a reference to the “Salem Hypothesis” which in essence states that there is a relationship between evolution-deniers who claim scientific authority tend to be engineers.

  30. #30 BC
    March 28, 2007

    But how would you define “useful proteins” in a mathematically rigorous fashion?

    Right, it can’t be defined in any kind of quantifiable way. Of course, it’s possible to show IDists that mutations can create information with a simple thought experiment: Take a genetic sequence A, and make one point mutation to it. We’ll call this “sequence B”. According to them, mutations cannot create new information, so the information in sequence B is equal to or less than sequence A (i.e. never greater). Let’s assume that we are dealing with a case where sequence B actually has less information than sequence A. Now, do one point mutation to sequence B. There is a finite chance* that the mutated version of sequence B will be sequence A. In this case, the mutation MUST be an increase in information since we already established that the information of sequence A is greater than the information in sequence B. Oddly enough, the fact that mutations can “degrade” information means that mutations can also create information since all mutations are reversible. I’ve never heard a creationist/IDist has ever produced a decent rebuttal to this thought experiment. It also doesn’t use any quantifiable measure of information (there is none).

    * The chance that sequence B will revert to sequence A is equal to 3*(number of nucleotides in the sequence).

  31. #31 Jud
    March 28, 2007

    Ah yes, not the right sort of new information, i.e., “complex specified” information, which has as much scientific meaning as “cherry vanilla” information.

    So what’s complex specified information? Our friend Casey quotes one of Dembski’s books: “The crucial question, therefore, is whether an arrangement…conforms to the right sort of pattern to eliminate chance.” So the right sort of new information for chance mutation plus selection (the “Darwinian mechanisms”) to produce is the kind that chance mutation cannot produce. Kinda clears up why evolution can’t produce the “right sort” of new information, eh?

    Of course, I’d love to see an explanation of how one would know when an “arrangement…conforms to the right sort of pattern to eliminate chance,” short of Sal Cordova’s DNA steganography theory. (Yep, Jeebus has left hidden messages in your DNA, just waiting to be discovered!)

  32. #32 llewelly
    March 28, 2007

    (Yep, Jeebus has left hidden messages in your DNA, just waiting to be
    discovered!)

    Will Sal next proclaim the genes whose expression results in
    an appendix are part of such a message, and, therefor, the appendix
    had to be there so Jeebus could send us said message?

  33. #33 Graculus
    March 28, 2007

    What IDists/creationists mean by “information” is essentially synonymous with “useful dna sequences”.

    That’s not a quantifiable measure of information. It’s the exact opposite, assigning meaning to information. In Shannon IT “cat”, “grx” and “dog” contain exactly the same amount and type of information. Obviously, the meaning and usefulness of those sequences vary, not only by interpreter but by situation (“Hey, look out for that cat” is understandable but completely useless when you’ve just annoyed a Rottweiler.) So even “useful sequence” is out to lunch, as well as being non-quantifiable.

    Basiclly, what they do is re-define what they mean by “information” everytime someone smacks ’em with a clue-by-four.

  34. #34 BC
    March 29, 2007

    Obviously, the meaning and usefulness of those sequences vary, not only by interpreter but by situation

    That’s very true. A dna sequence which is useful in a fish might have no value at all in a mammal, and vice-versa. In order to quantify the value of a dna sequence in this way, you’d need to understand all the biochemical interactions inside an organism AND how that organism interacts with the environment – including predators, climate, other members of its species, etc. In other words, far outside the capabilities of anyone or any computer to calculate for a long, long time.

    Yet, that’s the game they’re playing. Personally, I think it’s okay to talk about information this way, but it’s definitely non-quantifiable, and that makes it easy game for anyone who wants to play games with phrases like “can’t increase information”. I absolutely disagree with the way they abuse the concept, and it’s obvious that they ignore the proofs that this type of information can and does increase. By in large, I think they simply understand “information” on an intuitive level, think about how random letters never come together to form a book, and then declare that random mutation cannot produce information. It’s a horribly simplistic and flawed way of thinking about DNA, but it confirms their theological worldview, and that makes them recalcitrant to correction.

  35. #35 Azkyroth
    March 29, 2007

    How do Darwinian mechanisms produce truly novel biological information? I’ve seen no good answers to question 2,

    Who knows what the modifiers are supposed to mean?

    Presumably the only “‘good’ answers to question 2” he ever saw were dead.

  36. #36 BSD
    March 29, 2007

    “Of course, it’s possible to show IDists that mutations can create information with a simple thought experiment:

    Take a genetic sequence A, and make one point mutation to it. We’ll call this “sequence B”. According to them (Creationists), mutations cannot create new information, so the information in sequence B is equal to or less than sequence A (i.e. never greater). Let’s assume that we are dealing with a case where sequence B actually has less information than sequence A.”

    Genetic Sequence A: [1a, 2a, 3c, 4w]
    Genetic Sequence B: [1, 2a, 3c, 4w] –we’ll say the mutation is such that “a” was lost in the replication process.

    B is less than A

    “Now, do one point mutation to sequence B. There is a finite chance* that the mutated version of sequence B will be sequence A.”

    Sequence B: [1, 2a, 3c, 4w] mutates/becomes Sequence A: [1a, 2a, 3c, 4w] –a was “gained”

    B = A

    “In this case, the mutation MUST be an increase in information since we already established that the information of sequence A is greater than the information in sequence B.”

    Wrong. The mutation never exceeded the boundary of information in Sequence A.

    What you overlook is that DNA has the means to correct and repair itself. What you are calling a mutation on Sequence B is actually the DNA repairing itself. Calling this repair process a “mutation” is inaccurate. What you have here is not an increase in information but a replacement of information that should have been there in the first place. What appears as a gain of information is merely DNA fixing itself to replace lost information.

    “Oddly enough, the fact that mutations can “degrade” information means that mutations can also create information since all mutations are reversible.”

    Yes, mutations are reversible because DNA has a built-in process to correct a mutation (flaw, corruption) in case of replication errors or interruptions. Information is not being gained here, just replacing that which was lost.

    Do I get my cigar now?

  37. #37 Iain Walker
    March 29, 2007

    BSD, Comment #36:

    What you overlook is that DNA has the means to correct and repair itself. What you are calling a mutation on Sequence B is actually the DNA repairing itself. Calling this repair process a “mutation” is inaccurate.

    In what way is it inaccurate? The copying errors that count as mutations are those errors that survive the repair process (otherwise they wouldn’t be passed on, or have any phenotypic effects on the organism). The change under discussion, from Sequence A to Sequence B, is the mutation that would be passed on from the first generation to the second, after the error-correction process. The change from B back to A again is the mutation passed from the second generation to the third, again after error-correction. The latter change, from B to A, is a subsequent copying error – and as such, if it had been caught by the error-correction mechanisms, was just as likely to be corrected back to B again.

    What you have here is not an increase in information but a replacement of information that should have been there in the first place.

    “Should have” according to who? And in what way is a “replacement” of information not an increase? It’s an increase with respect to the prior situation, which in turn was a decrease relative to the situation before that, and in each case the change is by the same mechanism. Not copying-error in the one case and error-repair in the second, but by copying error followed by imperfect repair in both cases.

    Do I get my cigar now?

    Only if you were satirising ID-style sophistry, in which case please help yourself to a box-full.

  38. #38 BC
    March 29, 2007

    BSD, Comment #36:

    What you are calling a mutation on Sequence B is actually the DNA repairing itself.

    Ha. Very funny. Now assume that sequence A wasn’t the original sequence. I had to put it in there otherwise you’d claim that the change from sequence B to the mutated version of B was a loss of information. By showing that it can mutate to a sequence identical to A, I show an information increase (thus preventing you from wiggling out of the result by erroneously and dogmatically claiming that the mutated version of B was information degradation).

    Second, the mutated version of sequence B can occur even when sequence A no longer exists in the organism. DNA repair only occurs when there are two different versions of DNA around. (Or do you think DNA repair mechanisms work by consulting some invisible book?)

    Do I get my cigar now?

    Nope, because you insist on claiming that the mechanism only works via the DNA repair mechanism. Guess what? It also works in the absence of a DNA repair mechanism. It works even when sequence A doesn’t exist in the organism, and it works when the original sequence A never existed in any organism.

  39. #39 BC
    March 29, 2007

    While my earlier explanation was perfectly good, here’s another way of describing the situation. Imagine two DNA sequences: sequence X and sequence Y. These sequences are 120 nucleotides long, and differ by a single nucleotide. If you do a single point mutation to sequence X, what are the odds that it will change into a sequence identical to Y? 1 in 360. (120 nucleotides * 3 other nucleotides = 360) If you do a single point mutation to sequence Y, what are the odds that it will change to a sequence identical to X? 1 in 360. Since both sequences can be converted into each other via mutations, we must assume (according to creationist logic) that it must be a neutral mutation (neither gaining or losing information). But, of course, I haven’t even said what these sequences are or what they do. Therefore, in order to maintain the “mutations cannot create information” belief, creationists must claim that *all* sequences X and Y that differ by 1 nucleotide contain the same information. Therefore, *all* point mutations are neutral — not only is it impossible for “information gain”, but it must be impossible for “information loss”.

    If, on the other hand, there are *any* sequences X and Y where X contains more information than Y, then a point mutation has a 1 in 360 chance of converting Y into X (an increase in information that is supposedly impossible). Probability theory proves that information gain can occur through random mutation. Unless you’re going to claim that some mysterious force intervenes to prevent a mutation that changes Y into X (against the predictions of probability theory), you’re going to have to admit that mutations can create information.

  40. #40 BSD
    March 29, 2007

    Thank you for the clarification and expanding upon the topic. The issue I have with your argument and why I think it is inaccurate is that you are correct in saying the mutation gained information (it went from having less information to having more than what it previously had) but the information it gained was not *new* information: the organism arrived back to the state where it should have been before the mutation, such as having 10 fingers instead of 9 or 2 useful wings instead of 4 worthless ones. In no case did it ever gain more information than what existed in Sequence A.

    Technically, the mutation gained information but it was information it should have had already (arms instead of stubs, optic nerve connected properly etc); so mutating back to the normal state is, in my mind, not really gaining information when you look at the whole set of organisms the mutant is a member of, its kind if you will.

    So technically yes, it gained information but the information it gained is already within the subset of information available to that organism: the tree
    may mutate and have leaves without brown pigmentation and may mutate back to having brown leaf pigmentation but it doesn’t develop lips and larynx and start talking.

    I guess I see it this way: Say I have a child born with a mutation that results in having no eyebrows. That child passes on the mutation so I have a grandchild with no eyebrows. The grandchild then has a child whose DNA mutates giving it eyebrows.

    Technically yes, the mutation gained information to make eyebrows but it is DNA that should have already been present, and either chance or some hidden mechanism in the DNA allowed it to make up the missing information.

    It may be too early for my cigar so I’ll pass at the moment.

  41. #41 BC
    March 29, 2007

    Yes, I think the “reversion” idea is a red herring, but it’s a little more subtle to explain why it’s wrong. Hopefully my “sequence X” and “sequence Y” explanation avoids that. Also, while we tend to think of evolution as adding whole new blocks of information (new genes, new organs, etc), there is a significant amount that occurs via point mutations. Comparing the chimp and human genome shows that the genetic differences are summed up as a bunch of point mutations spread across the entire genome.

  42. #42 Graculus
    March 29, 2007

    I guess I see it this way: Say I have a child born with a mutation that results in having no eyebrows. That child passes on the mutation so I have a grandchild with no eyebrows. The grandchild then has a child whose DNA mutates giving it eyebrows.

    That’s not information, that’s meaning. You are using a sujective valuation rather than an objective measure.

    Let’s put it this way, if the mutation that lost the eybrow confered immuntity to psoriasis, was that a gain or a lose of information?

    So technically yes, it gained information but the information it gained is already within the subset of information available to that organism:

    A Nobel Prize awaits you for finding the cellular storehouse where the genes that aren’t in the genome are warehoused while not in use.

  43. #43 Caledonian
    March 29, 2007

    Information has two very different technical definitions.

    Which definition are you using? If not one of the two generally-understood ones, please present your special definition now.

  44. #44 Iain Walker
    March 30, 2007

    BSD, Comment #40:

    the mutation gained information (it went from having less information to having more than what it previously had) but the information it gained was not *new* information

    In a sense it doesn’t count as “new”, but that is only in the context of the example being described. The point remains that the two mutations are independent occurrences. Consequently, there’s nothing to stop a given mutation giving rise to information that was not previously “in” the genome.

  45. #45 BSD
    March 30, 2007

    Information has two very different technical definitions.
    Which definition are you using? If not one of the two generally-understood ones, please present your special definition now.

    The information I was considering is information carried by DNA that is expressed in the phenotype, such as having eyebrows appear or not, since (per Graculus) “the cellular storehouse where the genes that aren’t in the genome are warehoused” has not been discovered (yet).”

    Let’s put it this way, if the mutation that lost the eyebrow conferred immunity to psoriasis, was that a gain or a loss of information?

    Depending on the amount of sequences of DNA that were different than what was contained in the original organism, it would be a gain if more DNA was present in the mutating organism than in the previous organism, but if it merely swapped one type of information for another retaining the same amount of DNA (that can be expressed in different ways) it seems the information remained the same, just the result changed.

    I guess what is confusing me is that I am looking at the mathematical total of information and comparing it with the type of information. They are different, meaning vs. amount.

    No cigar for me I suppose. I’ll need to take off my ragged thinking cap and go get my 38-liter one.

  46. #46 BC
    March 30, 2007

    it would be a gain if more DNA was present in the mutating organism than in the previous organism, but if it merely swapped one type of information for another retaining the same amount of DNA (that can be expressed in different ways) it seems the information remained the same, just the result changed.

    I think you’re confusing a couple definitions of “information”. If “information” depends on the amount of DNA, then the gene duplication (shown by PZ Myers) should be an example of “an increase of information”. (Although, maybe you don’t count that as new information because it simply creates an identical copy of existing information.) My example of a point mutation shows a sequence change. Most IDists seem to operate with a definition of “information” that translates to “useful information”. Under that definition, a point mutation can degrade information (and, as per my example, can also increase information). When IDists talk about mutations degrading the information in the genome, they aren’t talking about the loss of nucleotides, they are talking about changing the sequence of the DNA into a non-usable form. For example, if I apply a bunch of random mutations (for simplicity, let’s say point mutations) to the human hemoglobin gene, it’s probably going to change into a form that doesn’t do anything useful in the body. They would consider this to be a “loss of information” because now the organism lacks a useful hemoglobin gene. This is considered a “loss” even when the original gene and the mutated gene have the same number of nucleotides. But, as I showed earlier, if point mutations can cause a loss of information, then point mutations can also cause an increase in information.

    Also, if you don’t consider gene duplication or point mutations to “add” information, then what about a combination of the two. Humans have hemoglobin (transports oxygen to cells) and myoglobin (used to store oxygen in muscles). They are very similar in their genetic sequence, but not identical. What seems to have happened is that the hemoglobin gene was duplicated (by a mutation), then the different genes acquired different point mutations, resulting in two different genes. Would that be considered an increase in information? It’s not simply a gene duplication (although it adds DNA to the organism), and it’s not an identical copy of the gene.

  47. #47 BSD
    March 31, 2007

    the hemoglobin gene was duplicated (by a mutation), then the different genes acquired different point mutations, resulting in two different genes. Would that be considered an increase in information?

    I suppose it would be an increase in information if the mutation created information that was not present previously in either gene.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all this. I did not know that the amount of nucleotides (mathematical amount) does not have to change to present different information. Guess I was just confused with my terminology.

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