It is said that General Montgomery kept a picture of Field Marshal Rommel on his desk. In order to outwit Rommel he had to understand how he thought. Arguing against creationists is an on-going battle, and to persuade effectively we need to understand how creationists think. Creationists will commonly refuse to believe that the living world we see around us “arose by chance”, and the scientist will reply: But you misunderstand evolution, yes mutations happen by chance, but evolution overall is not a random process.
I was reminded of this by Tweets by science broadcaster Brian Cox, the particle physicist who is enthusing large swathes of British teenagers about science, and managing the near impossible, getting actual science content onto prime-time BBC television. Professor Cox was annoyed by a misunderstanding promulgated on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day religious slot.
First, what does a scientist mean by the above terms? The mutations that are the raw material for evolution are “random”. In statistics “random” means that different outcomes have the same probability, and in this specific context “random” means that the mutations occur regardless of whether they are harmful or beneficial to the organism. There is nothing that “knows” which mutations would be harmful or beneficial, and so there is nothing that can bias the mutations towards one or the other.
Natural selection, however, is the opposite of random, it is a sieve that preferentially selects the mutations that are beneficial (organisms with these mutations leave more descendents) and preferentially rejects the mutations that are harmful (organisms with them leave fewer descendents). As Professor Cox tweeted, natural selection is non-random. The combination of random mutations and non-random selection of those mutations is the engine of evolution, the engine that adapts an organism to its environment, leading to the whole wonderful panoply of life. As summarised by Richard Dawkins: “Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators”.
If “chance” were a synonym of “random” then the complexity of today’s life would not have originated “by chance”, since it results from the highly directional process of Darwinian evolution, which is a one-way ratchet continually selecting organisms that better fit their environment.
But is that really what people mean by “chance”? Well, no. In common parlance, “chance” is not a statement about probability, it is statement about intent and design. A “chance outcome” is one that no-one intended. The most salient aspect of a “game of chance” is not so much randomness but that crucial elements are not under conscious control, in contrast to, say, chess. If you say “I bumped into my friend Alex by chance”, you are not making a statement about the probability of your meeting, you are saying that neither of you had planned or intended it.
Thus the primary definition of “chance” is (e.g. from Oxford Dictionaries) “the occurrence of events in the absence of any intention or design”. Does life result from a process without any intention or design? The scientific answer is “Yes”! To a scientist life’s complexity does occur “by chance”!
Replying to a creationist who refuses to accept that life arose “by chance” by talking about random and non-random process is missing the point. The creationist makes a much more profound rejection of the idea. After all, the creationist has no problem with processes that lack intelligent intervention but are still non-random and directional. For example rain water running downwards and eventually running into the sea is directional, but such processes (the creationist thinks) don’t produce complexity, they don’t produce life.
The creationist is a vitalist, he doesn’t accept that something living can arise from non-living material or from merely physical processes, whether directional or not. To him life can only arise from previous life, and ultimately from a god. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Dust alone would not have sufficed.
The creationist doesn’t accept Darwin’s Dangerous Idea that life can arise from non-life, that both living and non-living matter are physical material, obeying only physical processes, and that the difference between them is just the result of replication, replication after replication, with random variation and non-random selection of the variants.
The idea that, over vast eons of time, over billions of generations, such a process could generate complexity, is unfathomable to a creationist. It is unfathomable because his brain is a product of that process, produced to do a job of promoting more replication, and thus his brain’s intuition is tuned to understanding changes that can occur within human lifetimes, not to understanding the eons of Earth’s deep time.
Thus the creationist intuitively rejects the idea that Darwinian evolution can produce complexity, when in truth it is the only process that can produce complexity of the degree seen to dazzling magnificence in Earth’s life. To a creationist such complexity could only have arisen by intelligent purpose.
In saying that “life could not have arisen by chance” it is not the presence of randomness that the creationist is complaining about, it is the absence of intention and purpose. And thus a response about random and non-random processes can only be a small part of the reply.
The neat thing about all of this is that a rational combination of God and evolution answers everything. Wish more could realize that an evolutionary process designed by, started by and moderated by Him and His laws (plus interevention when He chooses!) is very reasonable.
Evolution is not a science but a cult. The chance of a single protein self organizing is not only impossible but 20 to the power of 300, meaning that in the Darwin fable there is not enough time or story telling for 1 single protein to self create. Your body has more than 2 million…..Evolution fails basic bio chemistry and math. It is truly uneducated. Fiction and rhetoric are not science.
Excellent description of the random-chance difference. Just a few comments if I may.
“The creationist doesn’t accept Darwin’s Dangerous Idea that life can arise from non-life”
Well, creationists wouldn’t, of course, but this wasn’t actually Darwin’s idea. He famously steered well clear of making any claims of abiogenesis apart from some very brief speculation about warm ponds.
“…..the highly directional process of Darwinian evolution, which is a one-way ratchet continually selecting organisms that better fit their environment”.
I’m not sure that you can so easily equate directionality with fit and by doing so you (unwittingly I’m sure) play into the hands of the theistic evolution crowd. Natural selection has no inevitable direction in which to go as you correctly point out. But the most successful organisms on this planet (those with the best fit to environment, in terms of their endurance) are definitely not the more complex. I discount Homo sapiens here, as we are a comparatively recent species that conceivably may not last any longer than some of our Homo forebears).
“thus his brain’s intuition is tuned to understanding changes that can occur within human lifetimes”
At the less educated end of the creationist market, this hits the nail on the head. In my experience one of the major stumbling blocks between a scientific mind-set and a literal Biblical or Koranic mind-set is their fundamental inability to envisage or even consider longer periods of time than scripture alludes to. Only the other day I was told that the best evidence us ‘evolutionists’ have is our claim that the universe is billions of years old. Well, yes……if we are ever lucky enough to observe a universe less than, say, 5 billion years old, there may well be no natural selection to observe. Similarly, if the universe really is 6000 years old then natural selection would be considerably harder to detect. Yet we have abundant evidence that……
oarubio: Pardon, but I am not at all persuaded that a conclusion of compatibility existing between evidence acquired from outside the mind (strongly indicating absence), and an unsubstantiated figment manufactured inside it (a claim that wants verification), is either rational or reasonable. It is, at best, a wishful opinion and a choice which expressly requires the suspension of reason and rationality.
Evolution posits abiogenesis – an impossibility, and information being created from nothing – another impossibility. It ignores the physical laws of thermodynamics and offers up fairy tales of scales to feathers [impossible], or scum to scientist [impossible]. It is basically a cult which offers the besmirched name of ‘science’ to Atheists who like the Nazis and Communists, can use it to murder others and enforce their cult’s control.
Just like the Rockies, things of the world as we see them haven’t always been this way. Climate isn’t the only thing to experience ongoing change.
There logical reasons why the current supply of evolution theories don’t quite add up. It’s because we can never understand completely the process God used to create us or the rest of the universe. Most importantly, we’ll never discover how He put the first souls into us. Only He knows that.
We can try to figure how God worked within His universe to create what He did — so long as we never lose sight of the fact that HE did it and we’re the beneficiaries of it, not the creators.
Some problems I would appreciate clarification on.. It does not seem feasible that chemicaLS COULD ARRANGE THEMSELVES IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PRODUCE LIFE. A single cell has golgi apparatus, a cell membrane, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, etc. Enzymes(which are proteins) are neede to make proteins, at least quickly enough for an organism to stay alive.
Too many coincidences would have to happen at the same time for a cell to form. DNA is an amazing information storing device, but that information can’t program itself, can it? We all started as a single cell. Mitosis occurs, producing replicas. How can that one cell “know” to start making muscle cells, bone cells, nerve cells, etc? Then how does your spleen, liver, heart, lungs, etc go in exactly the right spot? Not mention your brain, miles of blood vessels, and the ability to repair and replace cells( we lose about 3oo million per minute).
I also get that natural selection and evolution occur. How many trillions of bacteria are studied?
There is certain evidence of beneficial mutations, for example antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. But, in all these studies the bacteria produce, you guessed it, more bacteria, not a new type of organism.
Any clarifications are welcomed. I may have misconceptions, but true evolution theory if traced back, says we all have a common ancestor( all life, not just humans). I see blue whales, ants, dogs, clams, monkeys and humans. For humans it is claimed we and chimps once had a common ancestor, which is hard enough to believe. But if you keep tracing back, ALL life originated with simple single cell organisms. It doe not seem possible we would see the diversity we do today no matter how much time has elapsed.
Creationists are wrong to think that something like the modern cell is the simplest life form that could exist, and thus that life would have had to start by jumping straight to a cell. The cells we see are highly evolved, the first replicators would have been much, much simpler.
The programming came from natural selection.
The information to make all of those is encoded in the genes. That’s what they are there for.
That is determined by a series of chemical gradients in the developing embyro. Chemical gradients mean that different genes are triggered in different places.
Human studies usually last a few years, and are thus vastly shorter than the billions of years that life on earth has evolved. You wouldn’t expect to see hundreds of millions of years worth of change in just a few years.
I find it easy enough to believe — and the evidence for it is clear and copious.
Arguments from mere Personal Incredulity are not convincing.
Wisdom must also consider the possibility that God created evolution. We can believe in just science, just creationism or look at the REALLY big picture which results in both. Science on its own, doesn’t necessarily care or want a “who did it?” Religion/faith can’t be restricted so that it limits God’s creativity.
It is impossible for Science to prove or disprove the existence of God. Religion was never meant to be a purely technical or historical handbook. Or as Mrs. Anna said in “The King and I:” “Your Majesty, the Bible is not a book of science, it’s a book of faith.”
It’s wonderful to have God and the science He created.
Sure, but wisdom also says that the way to evaluate that possbilility is on the scientific evidence.
But if there were a “who” who had done it then science would be the best tool to find that out. It is revealling that science produces no evidence for any gods.
That’s simply not true, and is merely an excuse put forward by those who want to believe in god but have no evidence. If there was a god then science could find the evidence and prove it. And science could disprove the existence of any god who amounts to something, any god who actually affects the universe. The only gods which can’t be proved or disproved are apophatic gods that are indistinguishable from non-existent gods.
Last thought: science is limited to what is detectable within the universe, not outside. If I don’t mess my life life up, I’ll look forward to seeing you in the afterlife 🙂
“DNA is an amazing information storing device, but that information can’t program itself, can it?”
Coel’s reply: “The programming came from natural selection.”
This one short sentence reply is woefully inadequate to explain away what is probably the central and biggest question in origin of life studies today; ie. the origin of specified information in DNA.
The reply is also just simply incorrect:
1. Natural selection is a process that works on already existing living organisms (to “determine” which of the organism’s offspring will survive). So for natural selection to occur, there must first be a living organism.
2. But a ‘living’ organism is so defined because of it’s ability to reproduce, and genetic information (the “programming”) drives this reproduction. So for reproduction to occur, there must already be genetic information.
You can’t use something that came after (natural selection) to explain something that came before (genetic information).
If, instead of natural selection, you meant to say that the programming came from some other unguided, undirected process, then merely stating this emphatically as if it was the standard, prevailing consensus is “not convincing”. In fact the opposite is true: Despite many attempts since the 1950’s, there hasn’t been a single scientific hypothesis that adequately explains the origin of functional, sequence specific DNA information from some undirected, natural process.
“Specified” information is a weasel phrase that creationists use. The problem is they have no real definition of “specified” information.
The reality is that the information in DNA is not “specified”, it arises from a combination of random mutations, followed by those mutations that are beneficial for survival then propagating and becoming “fixed” in the genome. That’s all there is to it, and Darwinian accounts explain it well enough.
So which are you talking about? The information content of the DNA in today’s organisms did indeed come from mutation and natural selection. The information content of the first replicator did not, that would have been a chance process, but then the information content of the first replicator would have been vastly less and vastly more crude. It would not have been anything like the “functional, sequence specific DNA information” in today’s organisms and may not have involved DNA at all.
““Specified” information is a weasel phrase that creationists use. The problem is they have no real definition of “specified” information.”
First, the point about the inadequacy of your reply stands even if you take out the word “specified”. The origin of information is in no way settled and, in fact, studies over the last decade or so have raised even more challenges to natural, random explanations. Respectfully, I think it’s dishonest to not acknowledge that.
I also don’t think it’s helpful to lump everyone we don’t agree with into “creationist” or “evolutionist” categories. To find out what is meant by “specified” we should enquire from scientists in the field, not from “creationists”. I imagine you’d be familiar with Crick’s Sequence Hypothesis which says precisely that the “specific” arrangement of parts is crucial. I’d also recommend chapter 4 of “Signature In The Cell” by Stephen Meyer, but if I may offer a summary:
DNA doesn’t JUST contain highly complex Shannon information (which is what most people think of when discussing DNA), but this information is also functionally specific on several levels:
The specific arrangement of nucleotide bases in DNA DETERMINES the specific arrangement of amino acids in a protein chain. If this nucleotide base arrangement is wrong, then the arrangement of amino acids is wrong.
The specific sequence or arrangement of amino acids in a protein chain DETERMINES the specific shape of the chain. If this sequence is wrong, then the protein shape is wrong.
The specific 3 dimensional shape of a protein DETERMINES it’s specific function. If the shape is wrong, it cannot perform the function.
So, the function of the whole system DEPENDS on the specific arrangement of the parts, and DNA doesn’t just exhibit mere (Shannon) complexity, but also specified complexity (which is synonymous with information content). Such specified complexity doesn’t occur anywhere else in the natural world.
“…it arises from a combination of random mutations, followed by those mutations that are beneficial for survival then propagating and becoming “fixed” in the genome. That’s all there is to it, and Darwinian accounts explain it well enough.”
The pattern or specific SEQUENCE of base pairs in DNA is the code (the information at question here).” There is an important difference between the message and the medium. The molecule itself is the medium, but the ordering of the base pairs defines the code. Also, the information in DNA is independent of the communication medium insofar as every strand of DNA in your body represents a complete plan for your body; even though the DNA strand itself is NOT your body but only a sequence of symbols made up of chemicals (A, G, C, T). A book represents more than paper and ink, because it contains plans and ideas and instructions via coded information. “Darwinian” accounts may have explained where the molecules and chemicals came from, but not where the code came from.
Also, regarding mutations: All designed communication systems are subject to mutations, following the laws of probability. That’s why they have error correction and redundancy features. DNA has error correction and redundancy features as well. Mutation, noise and entropy are all the exact same thing in communication theory.
“The information content of the DNA in today’s organisms did indeed come from mutation and natural selection.”
No, not at all. See above.
“The information content of the first replicator did not, that would have been a chance process, but then the information content of the first replicator would have been vastly less and vastly more crude.”
You’re just speculating, I’m afraid. For the first replicator It may be possible, though not easy, to explain the origin of mere complex information by chance, but most scientists have already abandoned chance hypotheses for the origin of functionally specified biological information.
“A single, freak, highly improbable event can conceivably happen. Many highly improbable events – drawing a winning lottery number or the distribution of playing cards in a hand of bridge – happen all the time. But a string (my insertion: sequence) of [such] improbable events – drawing the same lottery number twice, or the same bridge hand twice in a row – does not happen naturally.” – Christian de Duve, winner of 1974 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
But Stephen Meye is a creationist not a scientist. On Crick:
Why sure, agreed. But putting things together in a *functional* way is exactly that natural selection explains! If by “specified” information you mean particular arrangements of DNA that make it *functional*, then yes, agreed. But this is exactly what natural selection can indeed explain and does explain very well.
If you mean that such “functional” complexity only occurs as down-stream products of natural selection, then yes, agreed, that’s because natural selection is the mechanism that produces it.
No, completely wrong, explaining the “code” (the arranging in a sequence that produces function) is exactly that Darwinian natural selection does.
Sure, if by that you mean the hugely complex “functionally specified information” of *today’s* biology. But nobody supposes that the first replicator would be anything remotely like that complicated.
“But Stephen Meye is a creationist not a scientist.”
Actually, according to Meyer himself, he isn’t a creationist, but he is a proponent of Intelligent Design (as are other scientists). He’s a former geophysicist and college professor. The chapter I mentioned is not so much HE’s argument for ID, but rather a detailing of the history of the information problem in DNA as experienced by scientists in the relevant fields.
“If by “specified” information you mean particular arrangements of DNA that make it *functional*, then yes, agreed. But this is exactly what natural selection can indeed explain and does explain very well.”
Again, I have to say that this isn’t a convincing response.
Merely insisting that natural selection does explain it (without giving or citing that explanation) doesn’t make it so.
Saying that natural selection has not adequately explained the origin of genetic information is based on a brute and easily refutable fact: there is no single universally accepted paper, treatise or theory that gives such an explanation.
In fact, there certainly is no consensus among scientists about the origin of information. Some propose the “RNA world” MODEL, some suggest Metabolism First MODELS, Dawkins has discussed several HYPOTHESES, Shapiro favoured a Metabolism First over an RNA World MODEL, etc. All of these MODELS attempt to account for the origin of information. You even suggested yourself that information in the first replicator MAY not have involved DNA.
So, the fact that there is no scientific consensus, and that there are multiple suggestions/models/hypotheses, means that your statement that natural selection adequately explains information isn’t a statement of scientific fact, but rather it’s an opinion. Perhaps it’s a hypothesis (that you haven’t shown yet).
The pretence that intelligent design is not creationism is a device designed to get round the First Amendment prohibition on US schools promoting religion. It didn’t fool the judge in Dover, it doesn’t fool anyone (except, perhaps, creationists who want to be fooled).
He’s not a scientist, and nearly all the “scientists” who advocate intelligent design just happen to be — surprise, surprise — religious.
He did an undergraduate degree in geophysics and then worked for company for a while. That doesn’t make him a research scientist; he has no track record of publishing actual scientific research and he’s never been employed by any actual scientific research institute.
Only at Christian colleges. He’s never had an academic post at a recognised research university.
Natural selection produces functional information like this:
Step 1 is mutation, which produces non-functional (Shannon) information. Step 2 is the sieve of natural selection, which, over time, sorts the information into a functional sequence. There are oodles of books explaining the elements of Darwinian evolution.
You seem to have a big misunderstanding, thinking that specified/functional information arrived all in one go with the first life form, and has not increased since. This is wrong. Functional information is generated and produced gradually by evolution (by the above process). It’s ongoing. Thus all the information in *today’s* biology was indeed produced by natural selection.
The information needed for the first replicator would have been vastly, vastly less and vastly cruder, *That* information (a tiny amount compared to that in biological DNA today) likely arose by a chance process.
It is true that there is no consensus of how that first abiogenesis step arose, since there is no fossil information from that time. But that is not the same thing as explaining the functional information in today’s biology.
“The pretence that intelligent design is not creationism…”
I’m actually not interested in any of that, but you are, of course, free to have that opinion.
“He’s not a scientist, and nearly all the “scientists” who advocate intelligent design just happen to be — surprise, surprise — religious…”
Are you suggesting that being “religious” disqualifies someone from being a scientist?
As I said before, I suggested the chapter in his book for an elaboration on “specified information” because you complained that “they have no real definition”. So, his status as a scientist is actually irrelevant in that regard.
You can read it (following your own advice that “…to persuade effectively we need to understand how creationists think.”), or you can choose to ignore it because he’s a “creationist”, or whatever other reason you want.
“Step 1 is mutation…”
This is grossly simplistic and there’s nothing new here to respond to.
“There are oodles of books explaining the elements of Darwinian evolution.”
Agreed. Now, which of these books provide an adequate, universally accepted explanation for the origin of functionally specific information from natural selection. There are also oodles of books that say otherwise.
“You seem to have a big misunderstanding, thinking that specified/functional information arrived all in one go…”
I think you’re projecting. I can fully appreciate the possibility that genetic material in “today’s” biology may have evolved, but that isn’t the same as claiming that the details of this has been decided, or that natural selection is sufficient as a cause for “all the information”.
“The information needed for the first replicator would have been vastly, vastly less and vastly cruder”
I don’t know what you mean by “vastly, vastly less and vastly cruder”.
“But that is not the same thing as explaining the functional information in today’s biology.”
This is the crux of it. I think it is well accepted that in order to adequately explain the functional information in “today’s biology” one has to explain the origin of information at the origin of life. That is was probably all scientists accept.
To be clear, the main claim I’ve made in these comments is that the statement that the information/programming is fully explained by, and came from natural selection, is simply wrong.
Here are some extracts from the conclusion of the scientific article “Origin and evolution of the genetic code: the universal enigma” – by Eugene V. Koonin* and Artem S. Novozhilov
“…In our opinion, despite extensive and, in many cases, elaborate attempts to model code optimization, ingenious theorizing along the lines of the coevolution theory, and considerable experimentation, very little definitive progress has been made…”
[Vast quote snipped — since the link is given just above and people can go and read it, there is no need for a very lengthy quote. — Coel]
If they put their religious ideology ahead of what the evidence tells us, then yes. (And that’s what religious IDers do.)
Yes, and the idea of “specified” information by such as Meyers has been pretty well rebutted, which is why I say that have no real definition of it.
It’s also true and explains where functional information comes from. That’s what you asked for.
All of them. This is exactly what evolution is all about.
Nope, wrong. See my previous comment for why those are very different things.
And just saying things like “I don’t know what you mean by “vastly, vastly less and vastly cruder”.” is not a rebuttal. I’m confident that most people would readily realise what I mean.
We seem to be going in circles, so before this devolves into a never-ending back and forth, I’ll yield the last comment to you.
I note that you haven’t even attempted to respond to the scientific article (by a recognised expert in the field of evolutionary and computational biology) and that actually flies in the face of your claims with conclusions like:
“…it stands to reason that any scenario of the code origin and evolution will remain vacuous if not combined with understanding of the origin of the coding principle itself and the translation system that embodies it. At the heart of this problem is a dreary vicious circle: what would be the selective force behind the evolution of the extremely complex translation system before there were functional proteins? And, of course, there could be no proteins without a sufficiently effective translation system. A variety of hypotheses have been proposed in attempts to break the circle…but so far none of these seems to be sufficiently coherent or enjoys sufficient support to claim the status of a real theory. “
“It seems that the two-pronged fundamental question: “why is the genetic code the way it is and how did it come to be?”, that was asked over 50 years ago, at the dawn of molecular biology, might remain pertinent even in another 50 years. Our consolation is that we cannot think of a more fundamental problem in biology.” – [in other words, why “today’s” code is the way it is, and how it came to be so, is currently unknown]
“If they put their religious ideology ahead of what the evidence tells us, then yes.”
I suppose that is reasonable (if you don’t mean “disqualify” in some legally enforceable way). But this also goes for anyone who puts any philosophical, idealogical beliefs ahead of the evidence, including Neo-Darwinists/evolutionists. They could justifiably say the same thing about you.
“And that’s what religious IDers do.”
This is just a generalisation. I’m sorry, but I think such an attitude is narrow-minded, intellectually immature, and quite puzzling considering that the first paragraph of your blog post says: “to persuade effectively we need to understand how creationists think”. But you do you Boo.
“…the idea of “specified” information by such as Meyers has been pretty well rebutted…”
What are you talking about? The idea of specified information that we were talking about isn’t something that Meyers owns or proposed, and it’s not something that needs rebuttal. In fact, you agreed to it and used it in your previous comments (see “Why sure, agreed.”).
“It’s also true and explains where functional information comes from.“
Saying “It’s also” acknowledges that it’s grossly simplistic, which makes it inadequate as a scientific explanation, and therefore not accepted as true. What you’ve done is just give a minor elaboration of your previous repetitions that natural selection produces information, without giving any evidence to show how. And this despite the fact that no serious scholar today would make this claim (see article as just one example), and the further brute fact that there isn’t a single example in the entire natural universe where a random, undirected process produced functionally specific complex information that maps 1:1 to Shannon’s Information Model.
“All of them. This is exactly what evolution is all about.”
Same as above. The onus is on you to prove your claim.
“Nope, wrong. See my previous comment for why those are very different things.”
Same as above. And again, saying so don’t make it so.
“And just saying things like “I don’t know what you mean by “vastly, vastly less and vastly cruder”.” is not a rebuttal. I’m confident that most people would readily realise what I mean.”
Perhaps only people who already agree with you, but to others your statement is ill-defined and unscientific.
Yes it is. The idea of “specified” information is something invented by “inteligent design” advocates such as Dembski and Meyers.
The idea of *function* information is well accepted, and *that* is readily explained by Darwinian evolution. Explaining that is exactly what Darwinian evolution does best.
IDers need “specified” information to be something different from “functional” information, and it is that that they have never had a proper definition of.
That was agreement about *functional* information. This is not in any way a difficulty for Darwinian evolution. That’s why IDers need “specified” information to be something different.
See, e,g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specified_complexity and
All you’re going is sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la la la” whenver someone points out that producing *functional* information is exactly what Darwinian evolution does. As I said:
“Step 1 is mutation, which produces non-functional (Shannon) information. Step 2 is the sieve of natural selection, which, over time, sorts the information into a functional sequence.”
That really is all there is to it.
“The reality is that the information in DNA is not “specified”” – Coel
“explaining the “code” (the arranging in a sequence that produces function) is exactly that Darwinian natural selection does.” – Coel
“You seem to…thinking that specified/functional information arrived all in one go…” – Coel
“The idea of “specified” information is something invented by “inteligent design” advocates…” – Coel
You seem to be confused and contradicting yourself, and I’m not sure what you’re objecting to regarding specified information. Nevertheless, regardless of whether or not you think this idea was invented by ID’ers (or anyone else), you either accept it, or not. If you don’t accept it (ie. that the ‘meat of the matter’, the message, the information, the code, the plans for an entire body, resides not just in any random string of nucleotides or amino acids, but in the specific sequence of those nucleotides or amino acids), then you should take that up with scientists.
“The sequences of nucleotides or amino acids that carry a genetic message have explicit specificity. (Otherwise how does the organism live?) Of course, the genetic message, when expressed as a sequence of symbols, is nonmaterial but must be recorded in matter or energy.” – Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (Hubert Yockey, p. 7)
“…DNA carries genetic specificity. This structure immediately suggests that genetic specificity, the “information” that distinguishes one gene from another, resides in the sequence of nucleotides.” -The Way of the Cell (Franklin M. Harold, Oxford University Press, 2001)
It seems to me you’re not appreciating the import of this sequence specificity, and instead you’re conflating or reducing “specified arrangement” into “functional arrangement” to suit your personal, unsubstantiated theory:
“…Natural selection produces functional information like this:
Step 1 is mutation, which produces non-functional (Shannon) information. Step 2 is the sieve of natural selection, which, over time, sorts the information into a functional sequence. That really is all there is to it,” – Coel
So, some questions:
1. Mutation of what? Pre-existing “functional information”? And where did that come from? (Repeat this formula all the way back to the first replicator)
2. If step 1 produces non-functional (Shannon) information then, by definition (a) this information specifies nothing, and (b) performs no function. So why and how would it then be “sorted” into functional information?
3. As apposed to countless possible random sequences, how did the specific sequence of nucleotides or amino acids (that expresses the genetic message) come about? (refer to the Yockey quote above). Your personal theory doesn’t address this.
4. How did the “nonmaterial” genetic message (that is expressed in the specific sequence of nucleotides or amino acids) come about? (refer to the Yockey quote above). Your personal theory doesn’t address this.
The reason for the confusion is that there is no definition of “specified” information. You are taking it to mean “functional” information, but “functional” information is exactly what natural selection explains, so IDers need “specified” information to be something else.
That I entirely accept. That is functional information. That is what natural selection explains.
Mutations can *increase* information by duplicating lengths of the DNA string. That happens a lot. DNA copying machinery often produces extra copies. Mutations in the extra copies then increase the total amount of (Shannon) information.
Thus the total amount of (Shannon) information increases a lot over evolutionary time (owing to copying errors, duplications and mutations), and the amount of functional information also increases, owing to the “sieve” of natural selection operating on the Shannon information.
The amount of information in the first replicator will have been vastly, vastly less, and *that* small amount of information likely arose as a random chance.
It then gets sorted into functional information by step 2, natural selection.
Through natural selection creating a functional sequence.
Natural selection is not my personal theory, and yes it does answer your question.
Through natural selection creating a functional sequence.
“Natural selection is not my personal theory…”
Agreed, natural selection is not your theory. But making the following emphatic claims, without providing evidence, citations, sources, quotations, etc. to substantiate them, means that these claims amount to nothing else but your own personal theory.
“The programming came from natural selection.”
“…Natural selection produces functional information like this:
Step 1 is mutation, which produces non-functional (Shannon) information. Step 2 is the sieve of natural selection, which, over time, sorts the information into a functional sequence. That really is all there is to it,”
Waving a wand and shouting “natural selection” doesn’t magically turn any mumbo jumbo into a credible representation of what natural selection is.
Regarding your suggestions that the matter of the origin of DNA information is solved, that the case is closed, that the answer is natural selection and that is all there is to it:
“Explaining the origins of life remains one of the biggest challenges of science, and one essential aspect of this challenge is to explain the origin of the standard genetic code. Any theory of why the standard genetic code is the way it is and how it came to be must address three key facts: (1) the code’s regularity as expressed in non-random amino acid assignments, (2) its optimality as expressed in its robustness against errors in translation from code sequences to proteins and in replication of genetic material, and (3) its near universality across extant biological systems…Yet a current review of over 50 years of research concluded that despite much progress in this field we do not seem to be much closer to such a theory.”
“The theory that the standard genetic code was shaped by natural selection…is most widely accepted because it can explain the code’s regularity and optimality. Nevertheless, this theory takes vertical descent as its starting point, and thus to some extent assumes as given that which it sets out to explain. Moreover, this theory sits uneasily with the finding that standard genetic code is actually not that optimal, at least according to some measures, and that better codes can be found when specifically selected for robustness…” -Tom Froese, Jorge I. Campos, Kosuke Fujishima, Daisuke Kiga, Nathaniel Virgo (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5824800/)
“…The main question related to the organization of the genetic code is why exactly the canonical code was selected among this huge number of possible genetic codes. Many researchers argue that the organization of the canonical code is a product of natural selection and that the code’s robustness against mutations would support this hypothesis.” – de Oliveira LL, de Oliveira PS, Tinós R (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879480)
“Theories of the origin of the genetic code typically appeal to natural selection and/or mutation of hereditable traits to explain its regularities and error robustness, yet the present translation system presupposes high-fidelity replication.” -Tom Froese, Jorge I. Campos, Kosuke Fujishima, Daisuke Kiga, Nathaniel Virgo (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5824800/)
“…the question is, what kind of interplay of chemical constraints, historical accidents, and evolutionary forces could have produced the standard amino acid assignment, which displays many remarkable properties.” – Eugene V. Koonin and Artem S. Novozhilov (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293468/)
“Indeed, it has been shown in several studies that the standard code is more robust than a substantial majority of random codes. However, it remains unclear how much evolution the standard code underwent, what is the level of optimization, and what is the likely starting point.” – Novozhilov AS, Wolf YI, Koonin EV (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17956616)
“,,,despite a long history of research and accumulation of considerable circumstantial evidence, none of the three major theories on the nature and evolution of the genetic code is unequivocally supported by the currently available data.” – Eugene V. Koonin and Artem S. Novozhilov (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293468/)
“In our opinion, despite extensive and, in many cases, elaborate attempts to model code optimization, ingenious theorizing along the lines of the coevolution theory, and considerable experimentation, very little definitive progress has been made.” – Eugene V. Koonin and Artem S. Novozhilov (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293468/)
“The origin of the translation system is, arguably, the central and the hardest problem in the study of the origin of life, and one of the hardest in all evolutionary biology. The problem has a clear catch-22 aspect: high translation fidelity hardly can be achieved without a complex, highly evolved set of RNAs and proteins but an elaborate protein machinery could not evolve without an accurate translation system. The origin of the genetic code and whether it evolved on the basis of a stereochemical correspondence between amino acids and their cognate codons (or anticodons), through selectional optimization of the code vocabulary, as a “frozen accident” or via a combination of all these routes is another wide open problem despite extensive theoretical and experimental studies.” – Wolf YI, Koonin EV (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17540026)
Expositions of natural selection are given in many textbooks.
On your quotes, all of them are about the origin of the “genetic code”, meaning the particular mapping of particular codons (three-letter chunks of DNA) map to particular amino acids. The details of how that evolved are indeed unknown (being way in the past with no fossil information about it), but again, that genetic mechanism would have evolved by natural selection, and the functional-information content of it would have come from natural selection. Saying (correctly) that we don’t know all the details of how things evolved at that time is not the same as doubting the basic mechanism.
“The amount of information in the first replicator will have been vastly, vastly less, and *that* small amount of information likely arose as a random chance.”
Regarding your pontification that the true explanation for the origin of genetic information is obtained by arbitrarily distinguishing between “today’s” DNA information, which is caused by natural selection, and that of the first replicator, which is caused by random chance:
“…scenarios for the code evolution are based on formal schemes whose relevance to the actual primordial evolution is uncertain. A real understanding of the code origin and evolution is likely to be attainable only in conjunction with a credible scenario for the evolution of the coding principle itself and the translation system.” – Eugene V. Koonin and Artem S. Novozhilov (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293468/)
Regarding your apparent evangelical belief in Neo-Darwinian evolution, and particularly in natural selection as the sufficient and unique ‘force’ of evolution, and your implied claim (implied in what you’ve said and what you haven’t said) that this is a settled matter in science and there is no dissent, I refer you to:
James A. Shapiro Evolution: A View from the 21st Century (FT Press Science, 2011, ISBN 978-0-13-278093-3)
Sonia Sultan, Eva Jablonka, Kevin Laland, Alex Mesoudi, Stuart Newman, Massimo Pigliucci, Kim Sterelny, John Odling-Smee, Tobias Uller, as well as Denis Noble and others.
The Royal Society: New Trends In Evolutionary Biology scientific discussion meeting (7-9 November 2016) organised in partnership with the British Academy by Professor Denis Noble CBE FMedSci FRS, Professor Nancy Cartwright FBA, Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS, Professor John Dupré and Professor Kevin Laland.
Gerd B. Müller, Why an extended evolutionary synthesis is necessary, 18 August 2017, http://rsfs.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/5/20170015
Here’s some of what Müller has to say:
“A rising number of publications argue for a major revision or even a replacement of the standard theory of evolution, indicating that this cannot be dismissed as a minority view but rather is a widespread feeling among scientists and philosophers alike.”
“Indeed, a growing number of challenges to the classical model of evolution have emerged over the past few years, such as from evolutionary developmental biology, epigenetics, physiology, genomics, ecology, plasticity research, population genetics, regulatory evolution, network approaches, novelty research, behavioural biology, microbiology and systems biology, further supported by arguments from the cultural and social sciences, as well as by philosophical treatments. None of these contentions are unscientific, all rest firmly on evolutionary principles and all are backed by substantial empirical evidence.”
“Natural selection, the cornerstone of the MS theory so intimately linked to both gradualism and adaptationism, has itself been the subject of a fair share of critical debate. In this case, it is not so much the principle itself that is contested, but the uniqueness of the causal agency that has been ascribed to it. Are all features of biological organisms necessarily the result of natural selection, and is it the only factor in the evolutionary process that provides directionality to organismal change? Numerous authors have challenged the pervasiveness of natural selection as a unique ‘force’ of evolution, whereas others have questioned whether the individual is the sole and appropriate ‘target’ of selection or whether other levels of selection at supra- and infra-individual levels also need to be included in selectionist scenarios. Again we are confronted with a classical criticism that stood at the centre of multiple debates in the past, but the issue is as unresolved as ever.”
“Despite the fact that substantial challenges to these positions have arisen in the past decades from a host of different areas of biology…All the extensive discussions, led over decades, seem not to have altered the preponderant stance to hold on to the classical prerequisites of gradualism, adaptationism, selectionism and gene-centrism.”
It’s not an “arbitrary” distinction, it is a very real and pertinent distinction between most information being the product of natural selection and the much smaller amount of information in the first replicator likely arising from chance.
That is talking about something else again, namely the origin of the “code” as to which codons in the DNA code for which amino acids. (That codon-to-amino-acid mechanism will have been a product of natural selection, well downstream of the first replicator; the details are unknown since there is no fossil information about it.)
Yes, a minority of biologists are pushing an “extended” evolutionary synthesis (while the mainstream see it as just variations on normal Darwinian evolution). But in any case, nothing in the ESS overturns the basics of natural selection, nor does it change the answers I’m giving you as to where the functional information in today’s DNA comes from.
“That is talking about something else again, namely the origin of the “code”…”
Actually you’ve missed the point.
“…scenarios for the code evolution are based on formal schemes whose relevance to the actual primordial evolution is uncertain…”
What is being said here is that natural selection based theories for how the code evolved “downstream” don’t have the required proven relevance to the actual primordial (first replicator). In other words, Koonin & Novozhilov are saying that you can’t understand how the code evolved “downstream” if you don’t know how the coding principle and the translation system arose in the first replicator. In other words, your distinction between the code in the first replicator and the standard code today, is unhelpful and irrelevant.
“On your quotes, all of them are about the origin of the “genetic code”…”
Apparently you haven’t read the quotes you’re responding to. They say precisely that NONE of the theories that propose that the genetic code/the “genetic mechanism”/the “functional information” evolved by natural selection, are supported by evidence, NONE of them settle the problem.
“The theory that the standard genetic code was shaped by NATURAL SELECTION…to some extent ASSUMES as given THAT WHICH IT SETS OUT TO EXPLAIN…this theory SITS UNEASILY WITH the finding that standard genetic code is actually not that optimal…and that better codes can be found when specifically selected for robustness…” -Tom Froese, Jorge I. Campos, Kosuke Fujishima, Daisuke Kiga, Nathaniel Virgo.
“Theories of the origin of the genetic code typically appeal to NATURAL SELECTION and/or mutation of hereditable traits…YET the present translation system presupposes high-fidelity replication.” -Tom Froese, Jorge I. Campos, Kosuke Fujishima, Daisuke Kiga, Nathaniel Virgo
“…NONE of the three major theories on the nature and evolution of the genetic code…” (ie. including natural selection based theories) “…IS UNEQUIVOCALLY SUPPORTED by the currently available data.” – Eugene V. Koonin and Artem S. Novozhilov
“The origin of the genetic code and whether it evolved on the basis of…SELECTIONAL optimization of the code vocabulary, as a “frozen accident” or via a combination of all these routes IS ANOTHER WIDE OPEN PROBLEM…” – Wolf YI, Koonin EV
And here are some more experts who disagree with you:
“Moreover, we do not actually know where the genetic information of all living cells originates, how the first replicable polynucleotides (nucleic acids) evolved, or how the extremely complex structure-function relationships in modern cells came into existence.” Klaus Dose [Director, Institute for Biochemistry, Gutenberg University, Germany], “The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13 (4): 348 (1988).)
“We must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” (Franklin M. Harold, The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms and the Order of Life, page 205 (Oxford University Press, 2001).)
Regarding your claim that “We don’t know all the details…but we don’t doubt the basic mechanism.”:
“We do not yet understand EVEN THE GENERAL FEATURES of the origin of the genetic code. The origin of the genetic code is the most baffling aspect of the problem of the origins of life and a major conceptual or experimental breakthrough may be needed before we can make any substantial progress.” (Leslie E. Orgel [Adjunct Professor, University of California-San Diego, Resident Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California], “Darwinism at the very beginning of life,” New Scientist, page 151 (April 15, 1982).)
“But THE MOST SWEEPING EVOLUTIONARY QUESTIONS at the level of biochemical genetics are still unanswered. How the genetic code first appeared AND THEN EVOLVED…remain for the future to resolve…” (Caryl P. Haskins, “Advances and Challenges in Science in 1970,” American Scientist, Vol. 59: 305 (May-June, 1971).)
“So it is disappointing, but not surprising, that the origin of the genetic code is still AS OBSCURE AS THE ORIGIN OF LIFE itself.” (John Maddox, “The Genesis Code by Numbers,” Nature, Vol. 367 (January 13, 1994).)
“We hypothesize that the origin of life, that is, the origin of the first cell, CANNOT BE EXPLAINED BY NATURAL SELECTION among self-replicating molecules…” (M. Vaneechoutte, “The Scientific Origin of Life: Considerations on the Evolution of Information, Leading to an Alternative Proposal for Explaining the Origin of the Cell, a Semantically Closed System,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 901: 139 (2000).)
“… Having spent a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding …This gulf’s NOT MERELY IGNORANCE ABOUT CERTAIN TECHNICAL DETAILS, it is a MAJOR CONCEPTUAL LACUNA.” (Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life)
“…But how much of this neat tale is firmly established, and how much remains hopeful speculation? In truth, the mechanism of ALMOST EVERY MAJOR STEP, from chemical precursors up to the first recognizable cells, is the subject of either CONTROVERSY OR COMPLETE BEWILDERMENT.” (Andrew Scott, “Update on Genesis”, New Scientist, Vol. 106: 30 (May 2nd, 1985).)
Regarding your claim that Information content in today’s DNA came from random mutations and that it has since increased:
“No currently existing formal language can tolerate random changes in the symbol sequences which express its sentences. Meaning is invariably destroyed.” (M. Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory”, from “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution,” at the Wistar Institute Symposium, page 11 (Philadelphia, Wistar Institute Press, 1967), Cited by Wysong, ref , p. 107.)
“There is no known law of nature, no known process and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter.” (Werner Gitt, In the Beginning Was Information, page 107, 141 (Bielefeld, Germany, CLV).)
“mutations have a very limited ‘constructive capacity’” because “no matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution.” (Pierre-Paul Grass, Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence for a New Theory of Transformation(Academic Press: New York NY, 1977)
“…it remains a mystery how the undirected process of mutation, combined with natural selection, has resulted in the creation of thousands of new proteins with extraordinarily diverse and well optimized functions. This problem is particularly acute for tightly integrated molecular systems that consist of many interacting parts…” (Joseph W. Thornton and Rob DeSalle, “Gene Family Evolution and Homology: Genomics Meets Phylogenetics,” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 1:41-73 (2000).
Regarding your claim that the information in the first replicator “LIKELY” arose by random chance:
“The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less we can believe that it just happened by blind chance. Superficially the obvious alternative to chance is an intelligent Designer.” (Dr. Richard Dawkins [Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK], “The necessity of Darwinism”, New Scientist, Vol. 94: 130 (April 15, 1982).)
“The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going.” (Francis Crick [first to resolve the structure of DNA], in John Horgan, “In the Beginning,” Scientific American (February 1991).)
“… Life cannot have had a random beginning …there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in 10 to the power of 40,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup…this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court …” (Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space)
“…the probability of the formation of a protein and a nucleic acid (DNA-RNA) is a probability way beyond estimate. Furthermore, the chance of the emergence of a certain protein chain is so slight as to be called astronomic.” (Ali Demirsoy, Kalitim ve Evrim (Inheritance and Evolution), page 39 (Ankara: Meteksan Publishing Co., 1984).)
“…it appears unlikely that a self-replicating ribozyme [an RNA molecule having some enzyme activity] could arise, but without some form of self-replication there is no way to conduct an evolutionary search for the first, primitive self-replicating ribozyme.” (G.F. Joyce and L.E. Orgel, Prospects for Understanding the Origin of the RNA World, in R.F. Gesteland and J.F. Atkins, The RNA World, page 19 (Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Press, 1993).)
“The likelihood of the formation of life from inanimate matter is one to a number with 40,000 noughts after it…It is big enough to bury Darwin and the whole theory of evolution…” (Sir Fred Hoyle, [Astronomer, Cosmologist, and Mathematician, Cambridge University])
“There is no chance (< 10^-1000) to see this mechanism [mutation-selection] appear spontaneously and, if it did, even less for it to remain…Thus, to conclude, we believe there is a considerable gap in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and we believe this gap to be of such a nature that it cannot be bridged within the current conception of biology." (Marcel P. Schutzenberger, [formerly with University of Paris], "Algorithms and the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution", page 75, at the symposium, "Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation")
"Contrary to the popular notion that only creationism relies on the supernatural, evolutionism must as well, since the probabilities of random formation of life are so tiny as to require a 'miracle' for spontaneous generation tantamount to a theological argument." (Chandra Wickramasinge)
“…I find it curious how little this problem-which I call the start-up problem-is addressed in conventional presentations…the first paper of the present symposium (Michod, 1982) addressed this topic: theory of first replicators. I find it curious that…this defect of evolutionary theory receives little mention. I surmise that the reason is that we have almost no ideas." (Oscar Kempthorne, "Evaluation of Current Population Genetics Theory", American Zoologist, Vol. 23: 111-121 (1983).)
"To insist, even with Olympian assurance, that life appeared quite by chance and evolved in this fashion, is an unfounded supposition which I believe to be wrong and not in accordance with the facts." (Pierre-Paul Grasse [Editor of the 28-volume "Traite de Zoologie", former Chair of Evolution, Sorbonne University, and ex-president of the French Academie des Sciences], Evolution of Living Organisms Evidence for a New Theory of Transformation, page 107 (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1977).)
"The spontaneous formation of a polypeptide of the size of the smallest known proteins seems beyond all probability." (W. R. Bird, The Origin of Species Revisited, page 304 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Co., 1991).)
“Wisdom must also consider the possibility that God created evolution”
It is of course possible that God created evolution but if so, we would need to ask ourselves what sort of an intelligent entity would let 99% of his creation become extinct in the most gruesome of circumstances and allowed the currently living species, including humans, to suffer so much from pathogens, predation, congenital malformities, natural disasters, gene replication errors etc.
“It is impossible for Science to prove or disprove the existence of God.”
Science isn’t bothering to find out. When science first started out it was conducted first by Islamic scholars and later by Christian scholars who all believed in God and used science explicitly to find out more about God and the creation. As we accumulated knowledge science changed it’s collective mind about God as it was realised that there were naturalistic explanations for all the phenomena investigated. Not a single scientific investigation has uncovered any evidence of a non-naturalistic explanation for anything. It’s not as if we don’t have the methodology. It would only take one observable unexplainable variation in physical laws to make science sit up very abruptly. If there were any unpredicted variation that showed some pattern that we could not attribute to any natural cause then science would be it’s steering it’s research endeavours in that direction, if only for the funding opportunities that would become available.
But after centuries of looking, using ever-increasing sensitive instruments there’s nothing. No sign at all. If there is a God he doesn’t seem to interact with the universe at all. Which means he’s of no consequence to us. And theology has faired no better. Far older than science and it hasn’t even come up with even a logical argument for his existence which can’t be demolished by empirical evidence or a keener philosophical mind. Indeed, theologians can’t even come up with a definition of God they can all agree on. And when it comes to explanations for the hard bits like the problem of evil…..let’s be honest, it’s not even off the starting blocks.
As far as science is concerned God has gone the way of leprechauns. It is impossible for Science to prove or disprove the existence of leprechauns. Of course they might live in some other dimension, beyond space and time, and ….etc etc
You’ve probably had personal experience of God or something you might describe as ‘spiritual’. I have too. But I wouldn’t hesitate to place my bets that the cause was to do with the way my neurons were firing and nothing more. Doesn’t mean it’s not a buzz though and shouldn’t be explored, but let’s not use that as an excuse to spend all our waking moments veering away from reality.
We have reached an impasse! Best wishes to all of us and our finite “little gray cells” as Poirot liked to call them.
I’d like to nit pick a little. In what way is natural selection ‘directed’? Directed towards what?
There is no evidence whatsoever that any of this is directed at all. There is a suspicion that the process of evolution may indeed follow some statistically significant law that ensures species become more complex, and that complexity, in some organs, such as brains, become intelligent, as we understand that term. But none of it was directed specifically towards us or any other species. There is no way to predict, ahead of time, what ‘direction’ evolution will take. In that sense we are here by accident. Even though each survival outcome, each fitness for survival to reproduce, is somewhat deterministic, it is not overall anything but chance.
The overall ‘directedness’ is only a post hoc rationalisation of what actually happened. At any point in evolution we can look back and say, well species A survived because it had these traits, and species B became extinct because it had these other traits – but that does not make the process of evolution directional in any reasonable sense.
The point that is being made when evolutionary biologists say that mutations might be random but natural selection is not, is the following. The anti-evolutionists object that a singular random event could not produce a whole human, or any other of the less complex organisms. And that’s right. But any specific random event contributes to survival, to extinction, or is neutral, according to the environment in which it occurs. Deterministic events act on the mutated organisms, the individuals to which the mutation has spread through inheritance; but only at a point-by-point basis in space and time.
A mutation may be contribute to survival if it occurs in one environment, and to extinction in another. It may be beneficial if it occurs at one time and detrimental at another. The coming together of all these events, changes in the inanimate environment, biological mutations and changes in other animals and plants in the environment, are collectively a chance coincidental coming together.
The meteorite that contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs was just as much a chance occurrence as any mutation is. There might be intelligent dinosaurs or birds having some online debate right now, had mammals not managed to find themselves in the accidental position of becoming dominant. And then of course it is an accident that of all the mammals we find ourselves here now in charge. Some other mammalian animal might just have well become dominant. Any of the other hominids may have got here instead of us. It’s is quite feasible that there could have been no technology and no internet debates at all at this point in Earth’s history, had some other species been dominant instead of our ancestors. Or for that matter some other species might have had descendants that would have surpassed our abilities, had their ancestors only, by chance, become dominant instead of our ancestors.
My response to any thesitic claims to evolution as part of God’s plan is as follows.
Evolution completely destroys the myth of human specialness, and all the theology that claims specialness.
What it does not do is tell us anything about how the universe began and what processes made it come about: something like a god, or multiple gods, good gods, evil gods, or of course any number of no theistic causes. The issue that atheist science proponents have with theism is not that it is a totally implausible hypothesis, but that it is one that has no more going for it than any other non-theistic explanation. All claims to a personal good God that cares about us humans is just pie in the sky fantasy. There’s nothing to back it up. All claims to revelation can just as easily be explained as neurologically determined brain experiences; because there’s plenty of science to illustrate those.
If theists want to claim that evolution is itslef God’s process, they first have to give some reason to presuppose there is a God pulling the strings.
Science is a really difficult business. Delving into the makeup of the universe demands fantastic collaborative efforts and amazing equipment to investigate the greater cosmos and the makeup of atoms, as Coel no doubt will attest. Do you really think a bunch of theists day dreaming about an imagined God can tell us anything whatsoever useful about reality? It’s totally crazy. Whenever a theists wants to tell us about the limitations of science he should note that the limitations of discovery apply even more so to some dude sat in an armchair introspectively contemplating the nature of God that was imagined by some ancient tribes that had very little access to the science we have now. If contemplative prayer worked at all it would have been put to practical use. There is nothing ever predicted from religion that has come close to what science has discovered. Scientific fact is heck of a lot stranger than any theistic fiction.
So, oarubio’s, “a rational combination of God and evolution” has to start with a rational contemplation of God. Why do you even think there is a God? What could possibly persuade you? Where does your belief begin? I get that once you believe you might want to start affirming that belief, having ‘faith’ in it, committing yourself to it. But why start? I’d be interested to know.
Selection of mutations is directed towards an individual being better at surviving/procreating, and thus there is direction towards an individual being a better fit to its ecological niche. This makes natural selection very different from a random process, and is the mechanism producing complex adaptation.
But I do agree with you that there is no direction towards particular species, and that random processes such as meteorite strikes can be highly influential in determining what species evolve.
In what way is the ‘random’ occurrence of a meteorite any less ‘random’ that a particular mutation just happening to coincide with an environment which lets it survive? And remember here that for DNA the ‘environment’ consists of everything around the mutation in the cell at the time of the mutation, whether the change will be repaired or not, whether the change will propagate into the next generation, whether the change is consistent with events in the environment outside the organism. Put this into perspective with all the chance events that make these organisms meet with prey or predator that might influence survival – and not forgetting that prey and predators have random changes going on inside them too.
Here’s another condition. Fur coat colour can vary. Let’s start with brown animals in a desert environment. Light coats occur in some statistical variation, but any statistically significant persistence of a tendency to very light coats is selected against. The environment begins to change to a wintery one and the lighter coats become advantageous and eventually persist so that white coats become the norm. It’s the coincidental coming together of a particular variety and the environment that causes selection at that point. It is coincidental and not directed.
It is coincidental that a mutation results in a benefit, that will contribute to survival, or a detriment, that will inhibit survival. It is the sheer number of mutations that are happening all the time that make some of them coincidentally beneficial changes that are likely to increase survival chances in the current environment. It is selection, but coincidental selection and not directed.
The only sense in which the term ‘directed’ would be meaningful in this context is if the mutation was intended to match the current environment in some way, in order to ensure survival, or extinction. Or if the selection process was guided to favour outcomes that lead somewhere, to some target species. Given that Intelligent Design proponents are claiming this very ‘directedness’ I think it an inappropriate word that doesn’t convey the coincidental nature of natural selection.
The term ‘selection’, in ‘natural selection’ has to be understood in an entirely passive and coincidental sense, in opposition to artificial selection in animals, whereby humans are also observing the physiological outcomes of many mutations and deciding which to keep. In this latter sense artificial selection is ‘directed’ by the purposeful elimination of unwanted mutational changes. In natural selection whether a change is beneficial or not is pure luck, because the same change could be beneficial in some circumstances and not in others, according to the chance coincidental occurrence of organism change and environmental state.
If you ‘randomly’ fire a cue ball at a ‘randomly’ placed set of snooker balls on a table, some may well end up in pockets. There is a trivial sense in which we could say that the conditions on the table, the paths of the balls, ‘directed’ some balls into pockets; and yet we would still put the pocketing down to luck, chance, because in this example the relationship between un-directed, un-planned ball position, ball collisions, ball tracks, is to us epistemologically indeterminate. We are happy to attribute deterministic laws, models, to the individual collisions, but overall the outcome of which balls end up in which pockets is not directed by anything other than the unfolding of physical interactions.
This is the sense in which I think you are using the term ‘directed’ with regard to natural selection; but the micro scale deterministic events of molecular activity that causes the mutation, and those that act at a larger scale on the mutation, to copy it or not, and up higher to whether billions of other factors allow the organism to reproduce that may have no direct and immediate relationship to what changes the mutation might cause – all this is an accumulation of chance outcomes, or chaotic outcomes from micro scale deterministic events, a massive collection of independent events.
Evolution is the coming together of snooker balls, randomly, at all levels, and it’s the constraints of the laws of physical interaction, which determines chemical interaction, which determines biology, which determines behaviour, which determines interaction with the environment, including other behavioural systems, …
It may appear directed to us because of the hidden quantity of mutations of different sorts can result in a species apparently tracking changes in the environment. We see, in the unfolding changes in a species, only the ‘successful’ changes – or, those changes that we deem to be successful by virtue of their current presence in the genome. The attribution of success is a label imposed after the outcome of the undirected events have occurred.
First, we may be talking slightly at cross-purposes in using two somewhat different words. I didn’t call natural selection “directed” in the OP, I called it “directional”. I agree with you that “directed” (with connotations of a goal) is not an appropriate word to use about natural selection. However, I still maintain that “directional” (with connotations simply of having a direction) is indeed appropriate — and indeed that being directional is a necessary part of the process, necessary to produce adaptation.
Mutations are entirely random; then there is selection of the mutations. That selection is not random, but is biased in a particular direction, namely towards a better fit to the local environment. As you say:
The selection — at all times — is towards a better fit to the local environment, towards adaptation. The selection of the mutations causes the coat-colour to track the environment (whatever the environment does).
That is surely a directional process. Suppose we define the “fitness function” of “coat-environment difference” as zero when the coat and environment have the same colour and shade, and increasingly positive as they differ. If we plot the population of genes against that function then the “natural selection” would produce a direction, namely “downhill” (towards zero) of that function. You would never get *selection* for uphill (though changes in environment could cause the function to increase).
You are entirely right that all this is merely “the unfolding of physical interactions”, in the same way that water running downhill is also just the unfolding of physical interactions, but is also directional (though not directed!).
That’s the sense in which I’m using the terms “direction” and “directional” (though not the term “directed”), and surely that’s the engine that leads to adaptation.
Fair enough. I’ll stop picking this particular nit.
Beyond, over against, all the nit-picking details, selection: random v/s directed, an historical incongruity the secular critic must take into account:
The world’s greatest physicists, the founders and grand theorists of modern quantum and relativity physics: Einstein, Schreodinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Plank wrote extensively about their mystical convictions – all confirmed theists, while making the claim: The great difference between the old and the new physics: both were dealing with shadows and symbols, but the new physics was forced to be aware of the fact — forced to be aware that it was dealing with shadows and symbols – not Reality. Still in Plato’s cave looking at the shadows on the wall discovering no clue that the sole cause of the shadows was the fire outside.
You are welcome to present evidence that those physicists were all theists, believing in a personal god. For that matter you are welcome to provide evidence that modern physics is “forced to be aware of the fact” that it is not dealing with “reality” but only with “shadows”.
Of the physicists you mention only Eddington (a Quaker) and perhaps Heisenberg (Lutheran) could be considered ‘confirmed theists’.
According to Schrodinger’s biographer Walter Moore, he was atheist with an interest in eastern philosophy and had definitely no belief in a personal God. Pauli very publicly denounced his Catholicism in 1929 and never resumed any religious activity. De Broglie was widely considered to be areligious. J. L. Heilbron, Planck’s biographer states that he was a deist. According to Jan Faye, Bohr’s biographer, he was atheist. James Jeans believed in some vague concept of a ‘great architect’.
As for Einstein:
“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this”. (1954).
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.” (1954).
In any case having mystical convictions does not make one a theist by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also interesting that all the physicists you mentioned are now dead and did their work between 50-100 years ago. We know far more about the universe now (this includes reality). I wonder how many of their modern equivalents, armed with this expanded knowledge, consider themselves to be ‘confirmed theists’. Very few I’m sure.
“Some think that God is an imaginary being that people believe on faith to make them feel good. However, it also takes faith to be an atheist. An atheist must believe that DNA is the result of chance. The DNA molecule is like a very complicated computer program.
Nobody would believe that Windows 7 is the result of chance, but many believe that the human brain that created Windows 7 is the result of chance.
Below is a picture of Mount Rushmore. Four faces were carved out of solid rock. It was caused by a process of time and chance. Over the course of many years, wind, rain and blowing sand carved the faces in the rock:
That sounds ridiculous to claim that erosion carved the faces into the rock, right? But, many people believe that the men who are depicted in the rock carving and the people who carved the rock are a result of a process of time and chance. I myself believed it for many years. A living thing is much more complex that a rock. It should sound just as ridiculous to say that life began by a process of time and chance.”
[Very long comment, including extensive Bible verses, reduced to the above — moderator]
I reduced the above comment since it was hugely long. To reply:
It does not require “faith” to suppose that DNA arose by chance, since there is lots of evidence for it. If you see complexity and design, the educated and wise person says “there, that is the product of natural selection”.
Darwinian natural selection is the only mechanism we know of for producing very complex outcomes — either directly, as complex lifeforms, or as designs produced by the lifeforms that evolution produces.
Thus people and all lifeforms and (indirectly) Windows 7 and Mt Rushmore are all products of evolution by natural selection. That is what the evidence overwhelmingly tells us.
“An atheist must believe that DNA is the result of chance. The DNA molecule is like a very complicated computer program.”
Your view of biology is highly erroneous.
First, DNA is not the simplest form of self-replicating molecule. It has evolved from simpler biochemical forms. That’s why it appears to be so complex.
Second, the analogy of genomes to computer programs is strained, to say the least. Program code provides the entirety of the information necessary for software to run. Any input from sources external to the program can only be dealt with in a specific manner that is already written into the program’s code. The source code is deliberately designed to be not malleable. If this were not so, your version of Windows 7 might start out the same as everyone else’s but would, over time, evolve into a different kind of operating system according to the demands that you place on it. It might eventually no longer be compatible with other versions of Windows 7. Furthermore, Windows 7 does not ship with the bulk of its code redundant, simply left there by programmers from previous versions of Windows. The size of a program’s source code should correlate with what can be achieved with the program – simple programs require simple coding and vice-versa.
DNA is clearly the opposite, it is highly malleable; additional information is available to it to which it responds and so develops novelty (from e.g., ontogeny, random mutation, biogeographical factors, genetic drift, and a host of other environmental influences). Natural organisms ‘ship’ with large portions of their genome redundant, littered with the remnant DNA and pseudogenes from ancestor species. And the size of the genome bears no resemblance to the complexity of the ‘program’. The marbled lungfish, for example, has a genome 40x larger than human beings.
DNA has created Windows 7, as Coel pointed out; they are not analogous.
Analogues don’t have to be the same in every respect. Often an analogy will contain both aspects that are similar and those that are specifically different. The difference may be the uninteresting aspect which is only incidental, or, it may be important to the function of the analogy.
So, God v FSM – the similarity is that they are human invented concepts about deities that can be shown to exist by the same methodology, but with zero evidence, and they can both be believed in, or have the potential to be believed in. There difference is only when and how they were invented and the amount of history and tradition. To an atheist this is supposed to imply that if the FSM is ridiculous then so might God, since they are similar in supportive evidence. This, and the teapot and fairy analogies are usually lost on theists.
The DNA v program analogy helps to illustrate that the human is programmed in some way. It also helps show that if the analogy holds then the human is as mechanistic as a programmed computer. This might also be lost on theists, since rather than focus on the blind watchmaker programming by evolution they might prefer that both computer programs and DNA were designed by a designer.
Sometimes analogies work for you but not for the person you are trying to persuade.
But analogies need not be used to persuade in an argumentative sense (they are not arguments so don’t stand as arguments – something else often lost on theists using them) but may be mere aids to understanding.
The DNA v program analogy is fine in this respect. Programs are not complete usually. First, programs are themselves data. A compiler compiling source code, an interpreter interpreting source or intermediate code, or a hard-wire processor running macine (native) code, are all examples of one program running another. Further, programs ate often broken into parts: main program plus DLL files, under windows; and a single program may share DLL files, or may used multiple versions. Operating systems co-ordinate many programs to acieve a programmed task. HTML is data, but it encodes a program of presentation which many browsers can run.
Many chunks of code may be pieced together to program computers in different ways – so a single piece of HTML might look very diffetent on a desktop and phone – much like a gene might be expressed differently in two different animals.
There are many ways in which the analogy works. The trick is to take from it what the user/author intended and not to impose one’s own selection of the diffetences. Of course some analogies do fail to make a point and it is fair to criticise them when they do. But some generosity is required occasionally.
“Your view of biology is highly erroneous.”
And so is yours, I’m afraid.
DNA’s definition as a literal program (not just a figurative one) is nearly universal in the entire body of biological literature since the 1960’s.
“Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory (Shannon, 1948) and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.” (Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Ron, your précis of the FSM analogy demonstrates why Erich’s analogy is so bad.
“analogies need not be used to persuade in an argumentative sense………..The DNA v program analogy is fine in this respect”
Agree. And I acknowledge your point about taking what the author intended and not imposing one’s own selection of the differences. But Erich’s intention was to liken DNA to a computer program in order to infer a designer for both. The analogy doesn’t work IMO precisely because the similarities (in this regard) are so few.
“Operating systems co-ordinate many programs to achieve a programmed task………..much like a gene might be expressed differently in two different animals”.
Completely disagree. A gene (or a group of genes) is not an operating system running a predetermined program, or programmed tasks, nor is it a blueprint. It’s a means of replicating and expanding genetic information in the absence of any overriding program.
“Of course some analogies do fail to make a point and it is fair to criticise them when they do.”
If Erich had made an analogy between computer programs and DNA being means of disseminating information, I might well have agreed with him, but his analogy as it stands is strained. So I criticised.
You guys are off the chain! This is like an insanely intense arm-wrestling match of genius minds! Aahaha!
I feel like a little kid who jumped into a fight of highly skilled ninjas, threw one punch, and now the entire fight has turned towards me. Ninja Ron Murphy takes pity on this wannabe-warrior and knows that he too was once a passionate young man trying to find his feet in the world of Ninjitsu and tries to soften the blows. He appreciates Ninjitsu for what it is and likes to see the heart in any warrior, whether extremely skilled or not so much… Ninja Gary Hill is offended by this young shmuck and wants to annihilate him and his silly and wild right-hook off the face of the planet. All the while Ninja Coel is relentlessly droning forward like a robot-ninja that has only one prime directive: Advance Evolution at any and all costs and coldly deny anything to the contrary!
Anyone care to comment on that analogy? 🙂
I wish you guys could have read my entire post, though. That DNA stuff was actually just something I came across on the net. I just threw it in cos it made sense to my uneducated (compared to you guys) mind. Can I maybe mail my entire post to you guys individually? You could leave me you e-mail addresses if you like? Is that allowed Ninja Coel?
Have a great day guys!
Erich: ronmurp at gmail. Looking forward to it.
Oh, and the analogy was fine, if it expresses what you feel. Do you think it did the job you intended?
Erich, re the Ninja analogy, I can see how you might think that. From my perspective, however, I suspect you’re mistaking reasoned argumentation and passionate debate (common in secular circles) for animosity. I apologise if my passion for the subject appeared aggressive to you.
I’ll give your full email a read: seicolegwr (at) btinternet (dot) com
A scientific law should be able to encapsulate past experience and be able to predict. Newton’s laws can explain the motion of planets in the past as well as predict future eclipses. Quantum theory does this on the basis of probablistic models. The evolutionary theory gives an explanation as to the past but cannot predict the future … in this sense it does not become a full scientific theory but in the realm of a “narrative”. Narratives give a form to the past without being able to predict the future.
In this context, mathematically, chance refers to a set of events following a probability distribution.
Non random events are those which cannot be compressed to an algorithm shorter than the list of outcome events (see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a detailed and interesting discussion on these terms).
I don’t accept that there is a requirement for a scientific law or theory to be able to predict, it merely needs to be an explanatory framework that (as far as we know) is true. For pragmatic reasons to do with complex and chaotic systems, and to do with historical contingency, in some areas of science it is very hard to make accurate predictions. Forecasting next year’s weather is an example.
The foundations of science is based on experimental proof. This is based on testable hypothesis. However, if a theory cannot predict, it cannot be experimentally proven (by using a null hypothesis) – and any such reasoning is therefore devoid of experimental evidence which is the bedrock of science. Within this constraint, genetics is a science while evolutionary theory is not.
This is not to state that truth is obtained only though science…there are truths which are known through other modes. Geometrical proofs lead to truth but are not experimentally derived – geometry is not classified as science.
If we change the meaning of words used in a discussion, we are in the same boat as Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland: “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.”
Concepts may then become like hot air balloons which we conveniently use for credibility in order to cross the banks of the sea of our ignorance but they would be concepts without content – like balloons they will contain nothing when pricked.
I think that it is too narrow a view of science to require experimental proof. Many areas of science are not experimental but observational, either because the timescales are too long (e.g. geology) or because the subject matter is too far away or too big to experiment on (e.g. astrophysics). Science is pragmatic, and is about doing the best one can. If one can do experiments then good, but if one can’t then that doesn’t mean it is not science. As I see it, evolution is indeed scientific and is a fully fledged scientific theory.
Interesting description. Especially about the randomness of mutation. However, the events occurrence leading to a situation that requires a mutation are considered random. There’s no doubt that systems would settle in the best possible way. But the events that disturbed their initial state have no specific order. I have recently published a short ebook discussing Randomness in life https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074CT7CPF
I find this topic extremely interesting, and was on my mind since i was a teenager. I’m looking for your feedback on my thoughts. Thanks 🙂
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I actually enjoyed the article. But after reading the author’s comments below, it seems the person has a very militant perspective to the point of having a mental illness. Not interesting in discussing these topics in way similar to a dialectic, where people can take aim at trying to get a better sense of the matter from various perspectives….rather the author wants to debate and convert everyone to his belief. When the author disagrees or feels threatened by someone else’s views, they lash out.
Let me guess, you’re a creationist?
Such as by suggesting that presenting mainstream science amounts to a “mental illness”?