The quest for new genetic information continues
ralph] Gene sequence a bird and what will you find? You will
find genes that consist of long strings of nucleotides that are
identical in structure to our nucleotides.
A: Where did they come from? How come they could form into fur, arms, legs,
eyes, etc all by themselves, and placing themselves in the right places and
in the right numbers? Why did not natural selection prevent this from
Dave: If you don't even know the first basics of the basics
of DNA, then why should anybody think you have enough
education in the matter to correctly analyse any
proofs of new genetic information?
A: You know, it's quite in Dave-fashion that you ignore the other things I
wrote in my long post and concentrated on the couple of letters that you
feel that you found and that supposedly turn my request to you upside down.
I'm afraid that your little attempt doesn't get you very far. I'm still able
to see when something is new and when something is not. Use of already
existing genes, as Mr Musgrave covers, does not mean anything else than
playing with what is already there. Well, I already know that fur, legs,
arms, eyes, and wings are already there, because I can see them all around
me. The question is how they got there, and how simple organisms could take
on some new genes so that they could evolve into more complex organisms and
where the engine is that could make evolution move uphill and not downhill.
You have only presented me things that could move forward exactly as they
are or downhill. Thats not exactly uphill evolution is it? Are you able to
inform me what the engine of evolution is? I've told you that natural
selection doesn't work, and nor mutations. What do you have left? Finally,
do you think that your skills are superior to PhD Don Batten and PhD
Jonathan Sarfati? Yes or no?
If an auto mechanic tells you over the phone, in
genuine sincerety, that she has never heard of a
A: Dave and his bad analogies again. I know the "screwdriver" because I know
what NEW genetic info is, so this doesn't apply to me. You don't have to
know every single detail in science to know that for instance Musgrave or
Dawkins have failed to list one single positive mutation that could cause
new genetic info. This goes for you too. Actually, a little kid understands
that dogs can only make dogs, even if they do so for millions of years. Dogs
will make dogs, and they have always been nothing but dog-types. Why would
be start to believe they have been something else in the past? It doesn't
take much science knowledge to see that the burden of proof is on those who
believe they were something else than what they have always been. Again, the
Nobel prize should be ready for the first one who can provide a valid
example of what I request to see from you. Of course I would hear about the
one who suceeds with listing the first positive information ever to cause
something new that wasn't already there.
I deliberately chose an expression that couldn't be
located on the internet---
A: Looks like you wasted your time again then. You acquired nothing and the
request I have on you remains despite your attempts to put up smoke screens
to avoid answering.
Suppose you have the information "I have a
A: Please quit your bad anaologies that don't apply here. They won't help
you overcome your problem. You try to convince me that Musgrave was on to
something, but he couldn't give an example of new genetic info either. Is
Musgrave the best ace you have up your sleeve? Doesn't it bother you that he
wasn't able to do anything more than speculate in the subject? Old genes can
recombine, yes I already know that.
If you DO admit that a LOSS of information can change
the old information into something new with new
meaning which it didn't previously have, you will lose
the last hope you have of denying that new genetic
information can arise from old genetic information. I
understand completely why you don't so much as dare
speculate that your disagreement with the standard
sources of DNA information theory might just mean your
views in the matter are false.
A: I'm not interested to hear you say that we have support for micro
evolution and that old information can be rearranged so that we get new
features. I already know this. It's observational science and fact. Can we
therefore not focus on what we do not agree with? What happened before these
"old" genes where there? How can simple organisms evolve into more complex
ones? Can you list the examples of positive mutations due to new info? How
come I was able to list positive mutations due to loss of genetic info?
Don´t you realize that you put me in the lead by not being able to list what
I require from you?
Why do you think that, when there is no college
textbook on biology or DNA that says new genetic
information arises inexplicably, but rather say new
genetic information is either code loss or code
Are you sure that Dawkins' 11 second pause on that
video, after being asked for an example of new genetic
information arising in a gene, really implies
everything you think it does?
A: He wrote a long letter to the film makers afterwards, and with that tried
to cover up for his blunder. The pause was even longer in reality because
they had to cut in his silence. The letter he wrote was 4 pages long, if I'm
not mistaken, and how many examples of new genetic info did he list in his
letter? None! But he listed lots of old and imaginary scenarios of how the
new information could have arisen. Anyone can use their imagination, so
that's no support for evolution at all.
With other words, you, Dawkins and others simply expect me to trust
evolution eventhough there is no scientific support for it under the sun.
What would be your best reason for believing in evolution? What is your best
> ralph] Gene sequence a bird and what will you find? You will
> find genes that consist of long strings of nucleotides that are
> identical in structure to our nucleotides.
> A: Where did they come from? How come they could form into fur, arms,
> eyes, etc all by themselves, and placing themselves in the right placesand
> in the right numbers? Why did not natural selection prevent this from[ralph] I normally don't like to deal with long laundry lists of questions
because it dilutes the conversation. However, there are only 3 here. 1.
Where did the nucleotides come from? The source of the very first ones is
still a topic of research. Once they were established, however, more
nucleotide bases can be added by duplication, insertion, splice-site
mutations, in fact many of the types of mutations I mentioned earlier. 2.
How could they form themselves etc. The information that allows the genome
to produce fur ultimately resides in the arrangement of the genes and the
bases in the genes. Mutations can alter this arrangement. There is no
physical barrier to any arrangement the nucleotides and genes can take. To
a lot of time, add billions of organisms trying out different
configurations. 3. Why didn't natural selection prevent this from
happening? The change might have been beneficial. The change might have
been neutral. The change might have been in a non-coding area. Natural
selection is not a neat housekeeper. It will not necessarily reject a
change that has no effect on the organism, or only has a minor effect.
An observation: If, as you believe, God created all the animals as we see
them, it is a fact that when he created the dog, he used the same kind of
genetic material (nucleotides and genes) that he used to create cats,
elephants, carrots and us. There is nothing in any of these genomes that is
materially different from the genetic material in any other genome, except
the ordering and the expression. Nothing is ever added to any of these
genomes that is not the same kind of genetic material.
- Genesis 2:77 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground,Common source for all.
Ralph Krumdieck <ralphkru@...> wrote:
There is nothing in any of these genomes that is
materially different from the genetic material in any other genome, except
the ordering and the expression. Nothing is ever added to any of these
genomes that is not the same kind of genetic material.
- --- PeroAnnika <biggles.flyger@...>
> ralph] Gene sequence a bird and what will you find?Another proof that Anna doesn't know enough about
> You will
> find genes that consist of long strings of
> nucleotides that are
> identical in structure to our nucleotides.
> A: Where did they come from? How come they could
> form into fur, arms, legs,
> eyes, etc all by themselves, and placing themselves
> in the right places and
> in the right numbers? Why did not natural selection
> prevent this from
evolution to correctly discern when she's been
> Dave: If you don't even know the first basics of theThat's false, as I already showed you with my
> of DNA, then why should anybody think you have
> education in the matter to correctly analyse any
> proofs of new genetic information?
> A: You know, it's quite in Dave-fashion that you
> ignore the other things I
> wrote in my long post and concentrated on the couple
> of letters that you
> feel that you found and that supposedly turn my
> request to you upside down.
> I'm afraid that your little attempt doesn't get you
> very far. I'm still able
> to see when something is new and when something is
> not. Use of already
> existing genes, as Mr Musgrave covers, does not mean
> anything else than
> playing with what is already there.
text-example, if you start with "I have a
ribonucleotide", this is a far cry from what you end
up with due to LOSS of information, i.e., "I have a
rib". The meaning of the two phrases is entirely
different, and therefore they second constitutes new
information. The meaning of "I have a rib" is NOWHERE
TO BE FOUND in the phrase "I have a ribonucleotide".
>Well, I alreadyThat's your question, not ours, we already know, you
> know that fur, legs,
> arms, eyes, and wings are already there, because I
> can see them all around
> me. The question is how they got there,
> and howBacteria can gain DNA from outside themselves, didn't
> simple organisms could take
> on some new genes so that they could evolve into
> more complex organisms
you know that?
> andWrong again, evolution has produced many more mistakes
> where the engine is that could make evolution move
> uphill and not downhill.
than successes, which is why most animal species have
died out. Evolution is more downhill than uphill most
of the time. Wow, I was SO wrong when I lamented that
debating you is more like correcting your consistent
misunderstandings with every post.
> You have only presented me things that could moveAnother basic truth you missed is self-organizing
> forward exactly as they
> are or downhill. Thats not exactly uphill evolution
> is it?
> Are you able to
> inform me what the engine of evolution is?
molecules. That would be the "engine" for evolution,
if you were searching for a reason why any of it
occurs in the first place.
> I've toldSure, you said that.
> you that natural
> selection doesn't work, and nor mutations. What do
> you have left?
But that's a far cry from proving it. You haven't so
much as begun to refute the case of the nylon-eating
bacteria, evidenced by your almost total dependence on
third-party writings, evidencing your personal lack of
familiarity with the subject.
> Finally,If they deny macro-evolution, then yes.
> do you think that your skills are superior to PhD
> Don Batten and PhD
> Jonathan Sarfati? Yes or no?
By the way, finding a Ph.d to support your position
doesn't prove squat.
What do you think about Richard Dawkins and Steven J.
Gould? They have Ph.d's, and they support
macro-evolution, do you think that your skills are
superior to them?
Or, are you starting to see that finding a Ph.d who
supports you doesn't prove squat?
> If an auto mechanic tells you over the phone, inBut passing a third-grade reading comprehension test
> genuine sincerety, that she has never heard of a
> A: Dave and his bad analogies again. I know the
> "screwdriver" because I know
> what NEW genetic info is, so this doesn't apply to
> me. You don't have to
> know every single detail in science to know that for
> instance Musgrave or
> Dawkins have failed to list one single positive
> mutation that could cause
> new genetic info.
The truth is, they HAVE cited examples, and your
denial merely stems from your paper thin knowledge of
the issues. Like I said before, you cannot be
expected to know when you've been refuted, when you
don't have a working knowledge base to begin with.
> This goes for you too. Actually, aWhat is proven by saying "even little kids know"?
> little kid understands
> that dogs can only make dogs, even if they do so for
> millions of years. Dogs
> will make dogs, and they have always been nothing
> but dog-types.
> Why wouldI can provide you with examples of transitional
> be start to believe they have been something else in
> the past?
> It doesn't
> take much science knowledge to see that the burden
> of proof is on those who
> believe they were something else than what they have
> always been.
fossils all day long, but I don't wish to give you the
opportunity to say that I failed with the nylon-bug
and so i moved to something else which also didn't
convince you. Thus I stay with the nylon-bug. But be
forewarned: I am gonna start giving you reasons why
the nylon-bug constitutes a good example of positive
mutation using new genetic material, which reasons you
will NOT be able to find any hits for by pasting them
into Google or the search engine of AiG. I have other
things to do right now that are more important that
building a case for the obvious for somebody whose
base-knowledge is so off-center they are prevented
from seeing a good refutation when it stares them in
> Again, theYou need to stay up with the times.
> Nobel prize should be ready for the first one who
> can provide a valid
> example of what I request to see from you.
The Nobel prize is never offered to anybody for coming
up with proof of something that has already been
common knowledge for 75 years or better.
> Of courseNo you wouldn't. Your ignorance of DNA basics prevent
> I would hear about the
> one who suceeds with listing the first positive
> information ever to cause
> something new that wasn't already there.
you from recognizing what exactly constitutes "new"
information as geneticists see it.
> I deliberately chose an expression that couldn't beSorry, the term I asked you to define would be defined
> located on the internet---
> A: Looks like you wasted your time again then. You
> acquired nothing and the
> request I have on you remains despite your attempts
> to put up smoke screens
> to avoid answering.
by anybody who'd had the first two weeks of
college-level introductory studies on DNA. You
couldn't tell me what it was, so it's as obvious as
the sun on a cloudless day at noon, why exactly you
can't see the forest for the trees.
By the way, what does "b-d" or "b-s" mean? How can
you NOT know, given your lengthy diatribes against
evolution so far? Surely you only argue against
evolution because your base-knowledge of evolution
consists of something more involved than creationist
> Suppose you have the information "I have aI disagree with you that they are bad analogies which
> A: Please quit your bad anaologies that don't apply
> here. They won't help
> you overcome your problem.
don't apply here. I proved with that analogy that you
can end up with a completely NEW piece of information
that didn't exist previously, via LOSS of some code.
Does my ribonucleotide analogy show that old
information can generate NEW information via LOSS, yes
If no, why? Do you think "I have a ribonucleotide"
and "I have a rib" mean the same thing? If not, then
you agree that those two sentences carry completely
different meaning, so why do you request a different
type of "new" genetic code, when there is not an
evolutionist textbook on the face of the planet that
ever gave you a reason to think that evolution took
place apart from lost code parts and/or rearranged
Obviously whatever motivated you to ask for such a
phanton sort of "new genetic code", it wasn't a proper
education in biology. No evolutionist ever credited
Macro-Evolution to the sort of "new" code you ask for.
> You try to convince meWhere did I quote Musgrave?
> that Musgrave was on to
> something, but he couldn't give an example of new
> genetic info either. Is
> Musgrave the best ace you have up your sleeve?
> Dave:I never once limited my postings on new genetic code
> If you DO admit that a LOSS of information can
> the old information into something new with new
> meaning which it didn't previously have, you will
> the last hope you have of denying that new genetic
> information can arise from old genetic information.
> understand completely why you don't so much as dare
> speculate that your disagreement with the standard
> sources of DNA information theory might just mean
> your views in the matter are false.
> A: I'm not interested to hear you say that we have
> support for micro
> evolution and that old information can be rearranged
> so that we get new
> features. I already know this.
to micro-evolution only. YOU are the one who so
fallaciously limits it, in contradiction to the
standard reference works on biology.
> It's observationalYou asked for examples of beneficial mutations
> science and fact. Can we
> therefore not focus on what we do not agree with?
> What happened before these
> "old" genes where there?
resulting from new genetic information. I'm sticking
with that subject. We can debate abiogenesis later.
> How can simple organismsGo actually get a proper education in college in
> evolve into more complex
first-year biology, and you won't bog this discussion
down with such unlearned questions.
> Can you list the examples of positiveIrrelevant, I already did, you disagreed, we continue
> mutations due to new info?
to debate the merits of my examples. Why ask the same
question again when it is far from settled whether
I've fulfilled your request for beneficial mutations
based on new genetic information?
> HowYour question is pointless, because I disagree with
> come I was able to list positive mutations due to
> loss of genetic info?
> Don´t you realize that you put me in the lead by not
> being able to list what
> I require from you?
your opinion that I wasn't able to list what you
required. I believe I DID so list, and you just don't
know about correct information on the subject to know
the difference, it's that simple.
> Why do you think that, when there is no collegesnip stuff about Dawkins, relegated to additional
> textbook on biology or DNA that says new genetic
> information arises inexplicably, but rather say new
> genetic information is either code loss or code
> Anyone can useWe don't expect you to trust things that you don't
> their imagination, so
> that's no support for evolution at all.
> With other words, you, Dawkins and others simply
> expect me to trust
> evolution eventhough there is no scientific support
> for it under the sun.
> What would be your best reason for believing inWe have not resolved the debate about whether I gave
> evolution? What is your best
you a good example of beneficial mutations occuring
based on new genetic information. I'm gonna stick
with that subject, until you either admit your
ignorance, give up, or agree with me, or convince me
that I am wrong.
Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
> Are you sure that Dawkins' 11 second pause on that
> video, after being asked for an example of new
> genetic information arising in a gene, really
> everything you think it does?First, Dawkins has covered the subject of
> A: He wrote a long letter to the film makers
> afterwards, and with that tried
> to cover up for his blunder. The pause was even
> longer in reality because
> they had to cut in his silence. The letter he wrote
> was 4 pages long, if I'm
> not mistaken, and how many examples of new genetic
> info did he list in his
> letter? None!
information-increase in 4 of his books. If I were
him, my four-page letter to film producers whom I feel
duped me, would also not replow ground I already
plowed in my writings, but would naturally be entirely
focused on my having felt deceived by them.
I also am only taking your word for it that Dawkins
did write such 4-page letter and included no examples
of information increase. Given your near-total
dependence on third-party information to substitute
for your own personal knowledge of the subject matter,
I am very leary of agreeing to any assertion you mine
out of other people's caves.
Second, Dawkins's own assessment of the matter is
found at the following link, the last half of which he
explains why you can't properly answer how information
increases in a genome, in a mere soundbite, which is
what the film crew expected to hear, given their
creationist misunderstandings. He then uses the rest
of the article to actually ANSWER the question which
you believe surely did stump him, proving that it
surely did NOT. And if you had ever actually read any
of his books on the subject, you would know that he is
no stranger whatsoever to the subject of how
information increases in a genome:
For convenience, in case the link doesn't work for
somebody, I now copy and paste the full article below.
The Information Challenge
by Richard Dawkins
In September 1997, I allowed an Australian film crew
into my house in Oxford without realising that their
purpose was creationist propaganda. In the course of a
suspiciously amateurish interview, they issued a
truculent challenge to me to "give an example of a
genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can
be seen to increase the information in the genome." It
is the kind of question only a creationist would ask
in that way, and it was at this point I tumbled to the
fact that I had been duped into granting an interview
to creationists - a thing I normally don't do, for
good reasons. In my anger I refused to discuss the
question further, and told them to stop the camera.
However, I eventually withdrew my peremptory
termination of the interview as a whole. This was
solely because they pleaded with me that they had come
all the way from Australia specifically in order to
interview me. Even if this was a considerable
exaggeration, it seemed, on reflection, ungenerous to
tear up the legal release form and throw them out. I
My generosity was rewarded in a fashion that anyone
familiar with fundamentalist tactics might have
predicted. When I eventually saw the film a year later
1, I found that it had been edited to give the false
impression that I was incapable of answering the
question about information content 2. In fairness,
this may not have been quite as intentionally
deceitful as it sounds. You have to understand that
these people really believe that their question cannot
be answered! Pathetic as it sounds, their entire
journey from Australia seems to have been a quest to
film an evolutionist failing to answer it.
With hindsight - given that I had been suckered into
admitting them into my house in the first place - it
might have been wiser simply to answer the question.
But I like to be understood whenever I open my mouth -
I have a horror of blinding people with science - and
this was not a question that could be answered in a
soundbite. First you first have to explain the
technical meaning of "information". Then the
relevance to evolution, too, is complicated - not
really difficult but it takes time. Rather than engage
now in further recriminations and disputes about
exactly what happened at the time of the interview
(for, to be fair, I should say that the Australian
producer's memory of events seems to differ from
mine), I shall try to redress the matter now in
constructive fashion by answering the original
question, the "Information Challenge", at adequate
length - the sort of length you can achieve in a
The technical definition of "information" was
introduced by the American engineer Claude Shannon in
1948. An employee of the Bell Telephone Company,
Shannon was concerned to measure information as an
economic commodity. It is costly to send messages
along a telephone line. Much of what passes in a
message is not information: it is redundant. You could
save money by recoding the message to remove the
redundancy. Redundancy was a second technical term
introduced by Shannon, as the inverse of information.
Both definitions were mathematical, but we can convey
Shannon's intuitive meaning in words.
Redundancy is any part of a message that is not
informative, either because the recipient already
knows it (is not surprised by it) or because it
duplicates other parts of the message. In the sentence
"Rover is a poodle dog", the word "dog" is redundant
because "poodle" already tells us that Rover is a dog.
An economical telegram would omit it, thereby
increasing the informative proportion of the message.
"Arr JFK Fri pm pls mt BA Cncrd flt" carries the same
information as the much longer, but more redundant,
"I'll be arriving at John F Kennedy airport on Friday
evening; please meet the British Airways Concorde
flight". Obviously the brief, telegraphic message is
cheaper to send (although the recipient may have to
work harder to decipher it - redundancy has its
virtues if we forget economics). Shannon wanted to
find a mathematical way to capture the idea that any
message could be broken into the information (which is
worth paying for), the redundancy (which can, with
economic advantage, be deleted from the message
because, in effect, it can be reconstructed by the
recipient) and the noise (which is just random
"It rained in Oxford every day this week" carries
relatively little information, because the receiver is
not surprised by it. On the other hand, "It rained in
the Sahara desert every day this week" would be a
message with high information content, well worth
paying extra to send. Shannon wanted to capture this
sense of information content as "surprise value". It
is related to the other sense - "that which is not
duplicated in other parts of the message" - because
repetitions lose their power to surprise. Note that
Shannon's definition of the quantity of information is
independent of whether it is true. The measure he came
up with was ingenious and intuitively satisfying.
Let's estimate, he suggested, the receiver's ignorance
or uncertainty before receiving the message, and then
compare it with the receiver's remaining ignorance
after receiving the message. The quantity of
ignorance-reduction is the information content.
Shannon's unit of information is the bit, short for
"binary digit". One bit is defined as the amount of
information needed to halve the receiver's prior
uncertainty, however great that prior uncertainty was
(mathematical readers will notice that the bit is,
therefore, a logarithmic measure).
In practice, you first have to find a way of measuring
the prior uncertainty - that which is reduced by the
information when it comes. For particular kinds of
simple message, this is easily done in terms of
probabilities. An expectant father watches the
Caesarian birth of his child through a window into the
operating theatre. He can't see any details, so a
nurse has agreed to hold up a pink card if it is a
girl, blue for a boy. How much information is conveyed
when, say, the nurse flourishes the pink card to the
delighted father? The answer is one bit - the prior
uncertainty is halved. The father knows that a baby of
some kind has been born, so his uncertainty amounts to
just two possibilities - boy and girl - and they are
(for purposes of this discussion) equal. The pink card
halves the father's prior uncertainty from two
possibilities to one (girl). If there'd been no pink
card but a doctor had walked out of the operating
theatre, shook the father's hand and said
"Congratulations old chap, I'm delighted to be the
first to tell you that you have a daughter", the
information conveyed by the 17 word message would
still be only one bit.
Computer information is held in a sequence of noughts
and ones. There are only two possibilities, so each 0
or 1 can hold one bit. The memory capacity of a
computer, or the storage capacity of a disc or tape,
is often measured in bits, and this is the total
number of 0s or 1s that it can hold. For some
purposes, more convenient units of measurement are the
byte (8 bits), the kilobyte (1000 bytes or 8000 bits),
the megabyte (a million bytes or 8 million bits) or
the gigabyte (1000 million bytes or 8000 million
bits). Notice that these figures refer to the total
available capacity. This is the maximum quantity of
information that the device is capable of storing. The
actual amount of information stored is something else.
The capacity of my hard disc happens to be 4.2
gigabytes. Of this, about 1.4 gigabytes are actually
being used to store data at present. But even this is
not the true information content of the disc in
Shannon's sense. The true information content is
smaller, because the information could be more
economically stored. You can get some idea of the true
information content by using one of those ingenious
compression programs like "Stuffit". Stuffit looks for
redundancy in the sequence of 0s and 1s, and removes a
hefty proportion of it by recoding - stripping out
internal predictability. Maximum information content
would be achieved (probably never in practice) only if
every 1 or 0 surprised us equally. Before data is
transmitted in bulk around the Internet, it is
routinely compressed to reduce redundancy.
That's good economics. But on the other hand it is
also a good idea to keep some redundancy in messages,
to help correct errors. In a message that is totally
free of redundancy, after there's been an error there
is no means of reconstructing what was intended.
Computer codes often incorporate deliberately
redundant "parity bits" to aid in error detection.
DNA, too, has various error-correcting procedures
which depend upon redundancy. When I come on to talk
of genomes, I'll return to the three-way distinction
between total information capacity, information
capacity actually used, and true information content.
It was Shannon's insight that information of any kind,
no matter what it means, no matter whether it is true
or false, and no matter by what physical medium it is
carried, can be measured in bits, and is translatable
into any other medium of information. The great
biologist J B S Haldane used Shannon's theory to
compute the number of bits of information conveyed by
a worker bee to her hivemates when she "dances" the
location of a food source (about 3 bits to tell about
the direction of the food and another 3 bits for the
distance of the food). In the same units, I recently
calculated that I'd need to set aside 120 megabits of
laptop computer memory to store the triumphal opening
chords of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra"
(the "2001" theme) which I wanted to play in the
middle of a lecture about evolution. Shannon's
economics enable you to calculate how much modem time
it'll cost you to e-mail the complete text of a book
to a publisher in another land. Fifty years after
Shannon, the idea of information as a commodity, as
measurable and interconvertible as money or energy,
has come into its own.
DNA carries information in a very computer-like way,
and we can measure the genome's capacity in bits too,
if we wish. DNA doesn't use a binary code, but a
quaternary one. Whereas the unit of information in the
computer is a 1 or a 0, the unit in DNA can be T, A, C
or G. If I tell you that a particular location in a
DNA sequence is a T, how much information is conveyed
from me to you? Begin by measuring the prior
uncertainty. How many possibilities are open before
the message "T" arrives? Four. How many possibilities
remain after it has arrived? One. So you might think
the information transferred is four bits, but actually
it is two. Here's why (assuming that the four letters
are equally probable, like the four suits in a pack of
cards). Remember that Shannon's metric is concerned
with the most economical way of conveying the message.
Think of it as the number of yes/no questions that
you'd have to ask in order to narrow down to
certainty, from an initial uncertainty of four
possibilities, assuming that you planned your
questions in the most economical way. "Is the mystery
letter before D in the alphabet?" No. That narrows it
down to T or G, and now we need only one more question
to clinch it. So, by this method of measuring, each
"letter" of the DNA has an information capacity of 2
Whenever prior uncertainty of recipient can be
expressed as a number of equiprobable alternatives N,
the information content of a message which narrows
those alternatives down to one is log2N (the power to
which 2 must be raised in order to yield the number of
alternatives N). If you pick a card, any card, from a
normal pack, a statement of the identity of the card
carries log252, or 5.7 bits of information. In other
words, given a large number of guessing games, it
would take 5.7 yes/no questions on average to guess
the card, provided the questions are asked in the most
economical way. The first two questions might
establish the suit. (Is it red? Is it a diamond?) the
remaining three or four questions would successively
divide and conquer the suit (is it a 7 or higher?
etc.), finally homing in on the chosen card. When the
prior uncertainty is some mixture of alternatives that
are not equiprobable, Shannon's formula becomes a
slightly more elaborate weighted average, but it is
essentially similar. By the way, Shannon's weighted
average is the same formula as physicists have used,
since the nineteenth century, for entropy. The point
has interesting implications but I shall not pursue
Information and evolution
That's enough background on information theory. It is
a theory which has long held a fascination for me, and
I have used it in several of my research papers over
the years. Let's now think how we might use it to ask
whether the information content of genomes increases
in evolution. First, recall the three way distinction
between total information capacity, the capacity that
is actually used, and the true information content
when stored in the most economical way possible. The
total information capacity of the human genome is
measured in gigabits. That of the common gut bacterium
Escherichia coli is measured in megabits. We, like all
other animals, are descended from an ancestor which,
were it available for our study today, we'd classify
as a bacterium. So perhaps, during the billions of
years of evolution since that ancestor lived, the
information capacity of our genome has gone up about
three orders of magnitude (powers of ten) - about a
thousandfold. This is satisfyingly plausible and
comforting to human dignity. Should human dignity feel
wounded, then, by the fact that the crested newt,
Triturus cristatus, has a genome capacity estimated at
40 gigabits, an order of magnitude larger than the
human genome? No, because, in any case, most of the
capacity of the genome of any animal is not used to
store useful information. There are many nonfunctional
pseudogenes (see below) and lots of repetitive
nonsense, useful for forensic detectives but not
translated into protein in the living cells. The
crested newt has a bigger "hard disc" than we have,
but since the great bulk of both our hard discs is
unused, we needn't feel insulted. Related species of
newt have much smaller genomes. Why the Creator should
have played fast and loose with the genome sizes of
newts in such a capricious way is a problem that
creationists might like to ponder. From an
evolutionary point of view the explanation is simple
(see The Selfish Gene pp 44-45 and p 275 in the Second
Evidently the total information capacity of genomes is
very variable across the living kingdoms, and it must
have changed greatly in evolution, presumably in both
directions. Losses of genetic material are called
deletions. New genes arise through various kinds of
duplication. This is well illustrated by haemoglobin,
the complex protein molecule that transports oxygen in
Human adult haemoglobin is actually a composite of
four protein chains called globins, knotted around
each other. Their detailed sequences show that the
four globin chains are closely related to each other,
but they are not identical. Two of them are called
alpha globins (each a chain of 141 amino acids), and
two are beta globins (each a chain of 146 amino
acids). The genes coding for the alpha globins are on
chromosome 11; those coding for the beta globins are
on chromosome 16. On each of these chromosomes, there
is a cluster of globin genes in a row, interspersed
with some junk DNA. The alpha cluster, on Chromosome
11, contains seven globin genes. Four of these are
pseudogenes, versions of alpha disabled by faults in
their sequence and not translated into proteins. Two
are true alpha globins, used in the adult. The final
one is called zeta and is used only in embryos.
Similarly the beta cluster, on chromosome 16, has six
genes, some of which are disabled, and one of which is
used only in the embryo. Adult haemoglobin, as we've
seen contains two alpha and two beta chains.
Never mind all this complexity. Here's the fascinating
point. Careful letter-by-letter analysis shows that
these different kinds of globin genes are literally
cousins of each other, literally members of a family.
But these distant cousins still coexist inside our own
genome, and that of all vertebrates. On a the scale of
whole organism, the vertebrates are our cousins too.
The tree of vertebrate evolution is the family tree we
are all familiar with, its branch-points representing
speciation events - the splitting of species into
pairs of daughter species. But there is another family
tree occupying the same timescale, whose branches
represent not speciation events but gene duplication
events within genomes.
The dozen or so different globins inside you are
descended from an ancient globin gene which, in a
remote ancestor who lived about half a billion years
ago, duplicated, after which both copies stayed in the
genome. There were then two copies of it, in different
parts of the genome of all descendant animals. One
copy was destined to give rise to the alpha cluster
(on what would eventually become Chromosome 11 in our
genome), the other to the beta cluster (on Chromosome
16). As the aeons passed, there were further
duplications (and doubtless some deletions as well).
Around 400 million years ago the ancestral alpha gene
duplicated again, but this time the two copies
remained near neighbours of each other, in a cluster
on the same chromosome. One of them was destined to
become the zeta of our embryos, the other became the
alpha globin genes of adult humans (other branches
gave rise to the nonfunctional pseudogenes I
mentioned). It was a similar story along the beta
branch of the family, but with duplications at other
moments in geological history.
Now here's an equally fascinating point. Given that
the split between the alpha cluster and the beta
cluster took place 500 million years ago, it will of
course not be just our human genomes that show the
split - possess alpha genes in a different part of the
genome from beta genes. We should see the same
within-genome split if we look at any other mammals,
at birds, reptiles, amphibians and bony fish, for our
common ancestor with all of them lived less than 500
million years ago. Wherever it has been investigated,
this expectation has proved correct. Our greatest hope
of finding a vertebrate that does not share with us
the ancient alpha/beta split would be a jawless fish
like a lamprey, for they are our most remote cousins
among surviving vertebrates; they are the only
surviving vertebrates whose common ancestor with the
rest of the vertebrates is sufficiently ancient that
it could have predated the alpha/beta split. Sure
enough, these jawless fishes are the only known
vertebrates that lack the alpha/beta divide.
Gene duplication, within the genome, has a similar
historic impact to species duplication ("speciation")
in phylogeny. It is responsible for gene diversity, in
the same way as speciation is responsible for phyletic
diversity. Beginning with a single universal ancestor,
the magnificent diversity of life has come about
through a series of branchings of new species, which
eventually gave rise to the major branches of the
living kingdoms and the hundreds of millions of
separate species that have graced the earth. A similar
series of branchings, but this time within genomes -
gene duplications - has spawned the large and diverse
population of clusters of genes that constitutes the
The story of the globins is just one among many. Gene
duplications and deletions have occurred from time to
time throughout genomes. It is by these, and similar
means, that genome sizes can increase in evolution.
But remember the distinction between the total
capacity of the whole genome, and the capacity of the
portion that is actually used. Recall that not all the
globin genes are actually used. Some of them, like
theta in the alpha cluster of globin genes, are
pseudogenes, recognizably kin to functional genes in
the same genomes, but never actually translated into
the action language of protein. What is true of
globins is true of most other genes. Genomes are
littered with nonfunctional pseudogenes, faulty
duplicates of functional genes that do nothing, while
their functional cousins (the word doesn't even need
scare quotes) get on with their business in a
different part of the same genome. And there's lots
more DNA that doesn't even deserve the name
pseudogene. It, too, is derived by duplication, but
not duplication of functional genes. It consists of
multiple copies of junk, "tandem repeats", and other
nonsense which may be useful for forensic detectives
but which doesn't seem to be used in the body itself.
Once again, creationists might spend some earnest time
speculating on why the Creator should bother to litter
genomes with untranslated pseudogenes and junk tandem
Information in the genome
Can we measure the information capacity of that
portion of the genome which is actually used? We can
at least estimate it. In the case of the human genome
it is about 2% - considerably less than the proportion
of my hard disc that I have ever used since I bought
it. Presumably the equivalent figure for the crested
newt is even smaller, but I don't know if it has been
measured. In any case, we mustn't run away with a
chaunvinistic idea that the human genome somehow ought
to have the largest DNA database because we are so
wonderful. The great evolutionary biologist George C
Williams has pointed out that animals with complicated
life cycles need to code for the development of all
stages in the life cycle, but they only have one
genome with which to do so. A butterfly's genome has
to hold the complete information needed for building a
caterpillar as well as a butterfly. A sheep liver
fluke has six distinct stages in its life cycle, each
specialised for a different way of life. We shouldn't
feel too insulted if liver flukes turned out to have
bigger genomes than we have (actually they don't).
Remember, too, that even the total capacity of genome
that is actually used is still not the same thing as
the true information content in Shannon's sense. The
true information content is what's left when the
redundancy has been compressed out of the message, by
the theoretical equivalent of Stuffit. There are even
some viruses which seem to use a kind of Stuffit-like
compression. They make use of the fact that the RNA
(not DNA in these viruses, as it happens, but the
principle is the same) code is read in triplets. There
is a "frame" which moves along the RNA sequence,
reading off three letters at a time. Obviously, under
normal conditions, if the frame starts reading in the
wrong place (as in a so-called frame-shift mutation),
it makes total nonsense: the "triplets" that it reads
are out of step with the meaningful ones. But these
splendid viruses actually exploit frame-shifted
reading. They get two messages for the price of one,
by having a completely different message embedded in
the very same series of letters when read
frame-shifted. In principle you could even get three
messages for the price of one, but I don't know
whether there are any examples.
Information in the body
It is one thing to estimate the total information
capacity of a genome, and the amount of the genome
that is actually used, but it's harder to estimate its
true information content in the Shannon sense. The
best we can do is probably to forget about the genome
itself and look at its product, the "phenotype", the
working body of the animal or plant itself. In 1951, J
W S Pringle, who later became my Professor at Oxford,
suggested using a Shannon-type information measure to
estimate "complexity". Pringle wanted to express
complexity mathematically in bits, but I have long
found the following verbal form helpful in explaining
his idea to students.
We have an intuitive sense that a lobster, say, is
more complex (more "advanced", some might even say
more "highly evolved") than another animal, perhaps a
millipede. Can we measure something in order to
confirm or deny our intuition? Without literally
turning it into bits, we can make an approximate
estimation of the information contents of the two
bodies as follows. Imagine writing a book describing
the lobster. Now write another book describing the
millipede down to the same level of detail. Divide the
word-count in one book by the word-count in the other,
and you have an approximate estimate of the relative
information content of lobster and millipede. It is
important to specify that both books describe their
respective animals "down to the same level of detail".
Obviously if we describe the millipede down to
cellular detail, but stick to gross anatomical
features in the case of the lobster, the millipede
would come out ahead.
But if we do the test fairly, I'll bet the lobster
book would come out longer than the millipede book.
It's a simple plausibility argument, as follows. Both
animals are made up of segments - modules of bodily
architecture that are fundamentally similar to each
other, arranged fore-and-aft like the trucks of a
train. The millipede's segments are mostly identical
to each other. The lobster's segments, though
following the same basic plan (each with a nervous
ganglion, a pair of appendages, and so on) are mostly
different from each other. The millipede book would
consist of one chapter describing a typical segment,
followed by the phrase "Repeat N times" where N is the
number of segments. The lobster book would need a
different chapter for each segment. This isn't quite
fair on the millipede, whose front and rear end
segments are a bit different from the rest. But I'd
still bet that, if anyone bothered to do the
experiment, the estimate of lobster information
content would come out substantially greater than the
estimate of millipede information content.
It's not of direct evolutionary interest to compare a
lobster with a millipede in this way, because nobody
thinks lobsters evolved from millipedes. Obviously no
modern animal evolved from any other modern animal.
Instead, any pair of modern animals had a last common
ancestor which lived at some (in principle)
discoverable moment in geological history. Almost all
of evolution happened way back in the past, which
makes it hard to study details. But we can use the
"length of book" thought-experiment to agree upon what
it would mean to ask the question whether information
content increases over evolution, if only we had
ancestral animals to look at.
The answer in practice is complicated and
controversial, all bound up with a vigorous debate
over whether evolution is, in general, progressive. I
am one of those associated with a limited form of yes
answer. My colleague Stephen Jay Gould tends towards a
no answer. I don't think anybody would deny that, by
any method of measuring - whether bodily information
content, total information capacity of genome,
capacity of genome actually used, or true ("Stuffit
compressed") information content of genome - there has
been a broad overall trend towards increased
information content during the course of human
evolution from our remote bacterial ancestors. People
might disagree, however, over two important questions:
first, whether such a trend is to be found in all, or
a majority of evolutionary lineages (for example
parasite evolution often shows a trend towards
decreasing bodily complexity, because parasites are
better off being simple); second, whether, even in
lineages where there is a clear overall trend over the
very long term, it is bucked by so many reversals and
re-reversals in the shorter term as to undermine the
very idea of progress. This is not the place to
resolve this interesting controversy. There are
distinguished biologists with good arguments on both
Supporters of "intelligent design" guiding evolution,
by the way, should be deeply committed to the view
that information content increases during evolution.
Even if the information comes from God, perhaps
especially if it does, it should surely increase, and
the increase should presumably show itself in the
genome. Unless, of course - for anything goes in such
addle-brained theorising - God works his evolutionary
miracles by nongenetic means.
Perhaps the main lesson we should learn from Pringle
is that the information content of a biological system
is another name for its complexity. Therefore the
creationist challenge with which we began is
tantamount to the standard challenge to explain how
biological complexity can evolve from simpler
antecedents, one that I have devoted three books to
answering (The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden,
Climbing Mount Improbable) and I do not propose to
repeat their contents here. The "information
challenge" turns out to be none other than our old
friend: "How could something as complex as an eye
evolve?" It is just dressed up in fancy mathematical
language - perhaps in an attempt to bamboozle. Or
perhaps those who ask it have already bamboozled
themselves, and don't realise that it is the same old
- and thoroughly answered - question.
The Genetic Book of the Dead
Let me turn, finally, to another way of looking at
whether the information content of genomes increases
in evolution. We now switch from the broad sweep of
evolutionary history to the minutiae of natural
selection. Natural selection itself, when you think
about it, is a narrowing down from a wide initial
field of possible alternatives, to the narrower field
of the alternatives actually chosen. Random genetic
error (mutation), sexual recombination and migratory
mixing, all provide a wide field of genetic variation:
the available alternatives. Mutation is not an
increase in true information content, rather the
reverse, for mutation, in the Shannon analogy,
contributes to increasing the prior uncertainty. But
now we come to natural selection, which reduces the
"prior uncertainty" and therefore, in Shannon's sense,
contributes information to the gene pool. In every
generation, natural selection removes the less
successful genes from the gene pool, so the remaining
gene pool is a narrower subset. The narrowing is
nonrandom, in the direction of improvement, where
improvement is defined, in the Darwinian way, as
improvement in fitness to survive and reproduce. Of
course the total range of variation is topped up again
in every generation by new mutation and other kinds of
variation. But it still remains true that natural
selection is a narrowing down from an initially wider
field of possibilities, including mostly unsuccessful
ones, to a narrower field of successful ones. This is
analogous to the definition of information with which
we began: information is what enables the narrowing
down from prior uncertainty (the initial range of
possibilities) to later certainty (the "successful"
choice among the prior probabilities). According to
this analogy, natural selection is by definition a
process whereby information is fed into the gene pool
of the next generation.
If natural selection feeds information into gene
pools, what is the information about? It is about how
to survive. Strictly it is about how to survive and
reproduce, in the conditions that prevailed when
previous generations were alive. To the extent that
present day conditions are different from ancestral
conditions, the ancestral genetic advice will be
wrong. In extreme cases, the species may then go
extinct. To the extent that conditions for the present
generation are not too different from conditions for
past generations, the information fed into present-day
genomes from past generations is helpful information.
Information from the ancestral past can be seen as a
manual for surviving in the present: a family bible of
ancestral "advice" on how to survive today. We need
only a little poetic licence to say that the
information fed into modern genomes by natural
selection is actually information about ancient
environments in which ancestors survived.
This idea of information fed from ancestral
generations into descendant gene pools is one of the
themes of my new book, Unweaving the Rainbow. It takes
a whole chapter, "The Genetic Book of the Dead", to
develop the notion, so I won't repeat it here except
to say two things. First, it is the whole gene pool of
the species as a whole, not the genome of any
particular individual, which is best seen as the
recipient of the ancestral information about how to
survive. The genomes of particular individuals are
random samples of the current gene pool, randomised by
sexual recombination. Second, we are privileged to
"intercept" the information if we wish, and "read" an
animal's body, or even its genes, as a coded
description of ancestral worlds. To quote from
Unweaving the Rainbow: "And isn't it an arresting
thought? We are digital archives of the African
Pliocene, even of Devonian seas; walking repositories
of wisdom out of the old days. You could spend a
lifetime reading in this ancient library and die
unsated by the wonder of it."
1 The producers never deigned to send me a copy: I
completely forgot about it until an American colleague
called it to my attention. (back)
2 See Barry Williams (1998): "Creationist Deception
Exposed", The Skeptic 18, 3, pp 7-10, for an account
of how my long pause (trying to decide whether to
throw them out) was made to look like hesitant
inability to answer the question, followed by an
apparently evasive answer to a completely different
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