email - January 2018

New Genetic Data

Information can’t arise by chance.

This month’s email came from Josh.

Hello Sir,

Your website has often helped me educate myself.  I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on a trend I have noticed in the debate over the emergence of new genetic data in a living thing.

I was recently shown this website in a debate with an evolutionist:  https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/new-genes-arise-quickly/

There are more than a few assumptions in it, but I wonder what the real answer is to the statement that gene mutations are new data.  It would seem that mutations that result in some new trait, which that article claims were passed on to later generations, would in fact be evidence, however slow, of genetic evolution.  I suspect the wording is wrong or the assumptions invalidate their conclusions, but either way I'd like to know if their statement is true.  Is there strong evidence that new genetic information can be obtained and that gene mutations support genetic evolution?

Slightly off topic, but as I keep up with some evolutionary papers in order to monitor trends and new discoveries, I've noticed that more and more are claiming to have found proof of new genetic information coming from random mutations or both, and then using that to refute the belief that it can't actually happen.  This question may be more opinion than anything else (so feel free to leave unanswered), but do you believe this to be true?  Is the claim being blown out of proportion in order to "prop up" something that isn't really there?

Thank you for your time,

Josh

The Link

Let’s start with the link itself. It points to an article presumably written by Jerry Coyne seven years ago. We say “presumably” because the author is not identified. The page contains ads for two books written by Jerry Coyne, and the title at the top of the page is the same as the title of one of those books. We wrote a two-part review of that book shortly after it was published.1

As Josh noted, the article contains “more than a few assumptions.” Josh didn’t identify any of those assumptions, so we will.

Assumptions

Coyne equates “different genes” with “new genes” because he assumes the different genes are newly evolved genes. Specifically, he says,

The divergence between these two lineages is 35 million years, but by comparing the genomes of other species that branched off these two branches, they could estimate how often new genes arise over the entire period from 3 million to 35 million years ago.

What do they mean by “new genes”? These are genes in D. melanogaster that aren’t found in D. willistoni, but have arisen since their divergence by several processes—most often the duplication of an ancestral gene or its RNA followed by extensive genetic divergence, so that the gene acquires a brand new function. (This process accounts for about 90% of the new genes. Some genes, however, are so different between the species that how they arose is a mystery.) 2

He starts from the assumption of evolution. He assumes that new genes can arise by duplication, and somehow miraculously naturally change function. He doesn’t know how a gene acquires a new function, but somehow it must have because he believes it did.

This implies that the new genes have evolved completely different functions. And, as theory suggests, that’s the way these genes become essential: at first they do the same thing as their ancestral genes (they’re duplicates, after all), but as they diverge they assume new functions (usually impelled by natural selection) that fit them into new developmental pathways. 3

Actually, the theory of evolution never predicted any such thing. The theory had to be revised after the fact to accommodate the unexpected facts.

Suppose it is true that new genes are created by duplication and functional modification of existing genes. That premise depends upon the existence of genes which can be duplicated and modified. Where did the first genes come from? The first genes could not have come from duplication and modification of existing genes because they were the first genes—there were no previous genes to duplicate and modify.

Creationists start from the assumption that fruit flies were created about 7,000 years ago, and that there may have been multiple varieties of fruit flies created at that time. So, the differences might have been there from the beginning—but not necessarily.

It is an observed scientific fact that information can be lost through the copying process, so some of the differences might be because some genes were miscopied in some genetic lines and no longer function properly (or no longer function at all). This is devolution—not evolution.

You either have to believe that accidental duplication and modification created different, new functional genes out of existing genes—which originated naturally from a different unknown evolutionary process—(bearing in mind that neither process has ever been observed), or that faulty duplication of existing genes caused different, non-functional genes (which, sadly, has been observed, and is the cause of genetic diseases). Which is the more logical, scientific choice? We trust we don’t have to tell you.

The Fundamental Fallacy

Coyne says,

The data of Chen et al., then, show that new genetic information can arise quickly, at least on an evolutionary timescale, and that the new genes rapidly assume new functions. 4

The basic fallacy of this argument is the unwarranted assumption that differences in genes prove that they evolved by duplication and modification. It would be just as fallacious for a creationist to claim that the differences in genes prove that God created different genes. The existence of differences in genes tells nothing about how those differences arose.

Information, Please

To answer the question as to whether or not information can arise from chance, one has to know what information is. My understanding of information is biased by my experience in aerospace telemetry, missile guidance, and target recognition. Each of these situations involves experimentally verified processing of information. That is to say, we actually observed how information originated.

Information is the flow of data from a source to a destination through a communication channel.

For example, data from sensors on a missile gets transmitted over a radio link to the ground, where the data is received and analyzed. Or, an image is conveyed from a sensor to a processor which determines where the target is, and guides the missile to the target.

In the same way, in living things, DNA is the source of data which is passed through metabolic pathways to various biological mechanisms (destinations) which produce results (living cells).

Common Language

There is more to the story than simple data transfer. Not only does the data have to be transmitted, it has to have meaning to the receiver. Вы не знаете, что это говорит. Unless you speak Russian, you don’t know what I told you, so that sentence didn’t really tell you anything. I did not transmit any information to you because you don’t know what that said.

Information is transferred only when the source and the destination have a common understanding of the data.

If duplication, or random mutation, (or even an intelligent process) modified DNA, it would not contain any information if the biological processes in the cell didn’t know how to process the information.

That fact is often overlooked in discussions about the supposed creation of information through a random process. Not only does the information have to be created randomly, the mechanism for interpreting the information correctly has to arise by chance, too. Two different random processes (one that creates the source and the other that creates the destination) have to accidentally ascribe the same meaning to the data tokens passed from the source to the destination. Furthermore, a third random process has to create the means by which the data gets from the source to the destination.

We should be so lucky.

The Way the Fortune Cookie Crumbles

Let’s take another example. A baker prints some “lucky numbers” on a slip of paper and puts them inside a fortune cookie. The fortune cookie is conveyed to me in a Chinese restaurant. I break open the fortune cookie and play those numbers on a lottery ticket. (That’s a reasonable thing to do. They are lucky numbers, and I need luck to win the lottery, don’t I?)

So, we have an information source (the baker), a communication channel (the cookie) and a destination (me). Let’s continue.

Suppose I actually win the lottery using those numbers. Did I get information through an unguided, random process? No, for several reasons.

First of all, the baker did not know what numbers would win that week’s lottery. He did not have any information to give me.

Second, it wasn’t an unguided, natural, random process. The baker intentionally wrote those numbers on the paper and put them in the fortune cookie for me to read.

Third, he wrote the numbers using Arabic numerals which I can read, not Chinese characters, which I can’t.

There actually was an instance when six strangers shared a lottery jackpot because many cookies contain duplicate fortunes, and those six people had all played the same winning “lucky numbers” they found in their fortune cookies. But that was dumb luck—not information created by chance.

A clock that has stopped is right twice a day—but you never get any information from a stopped clock. If the clock tells you the correct time, it is luck, not information.

A Mental Experiment

Let’s do a mental experiment. Imagine we took the electronic text of this essay and used a computer program to change 75% of the letters to other, randomly selected letters. Do you think that would increase the amount of information in this essay? We hope not.

But that experiment wouldn’t really be fair because it doesn’t take natural selection into account. To be fair, the computer should eliminate all the nonsense words that are created and just look at the words which can be found in Webster’s dictionary. If we keep just the meaningful words, would the amount of information in the modified essay increase? No.

But that isn’t fair, either, because Coyne is talking about duplicating words, not random mutations of letters. So, let’s imagine the computer randomly duplicates words and sprinkles them throughout the essay. Would that increase the amount of information? Still, no.

Oh, but we forgot. Coyne doesn’t want just to duplicate the words—he wants to change their meaning, too, just like Humpty Dumpty does.

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.' 5

The real question is, whether chance can make genes do so many different useful things.

Hard to Believe

You really have to try hard to believe the unbelievable—specifically that a random process can produce every bit of the information necessary for life; but evolutionists like Coyne have the skill needed to ignore the obvious.

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, April 2009, “Why Evolution is True”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v13i7b.htm,
Disclosure, May 2009, “Why Evolution is False”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v13i8f.htm
2 https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/new-genes-arise-quickly/
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6 “Humpty Dumpty”, http://sabian.org/looking_glass6.php