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The quest for new genetic information continues

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  • PeroAnnika
    Hi, 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
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 27, 2006
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      Hi,


      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
      happening?

      ________________________________________________________________________
      ________________________________________________________________________

      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
      Screwdriver---

      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
      ribonucleotide."---

      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
      rearrangement?

      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
      support?

      /Ann
    • Ralph Krumdieck
      ... legs, ... and ... [ralph] I normally don t like to deal with long laundry lists of questions because it dilutes the conversation. However, there are only
      Message 2 of 5 , Jan 27, 2006
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        > Hi,
        >
        >
        > 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
        > happening?

        [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.
      • Paul Leonard
        Genesis 2:7 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, Common source for all. Ralph Krumdieck wrote: There is nothing
        Message 3 of 5 , Jan 27, 2006
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          Genesis 2:7
          7 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.



        • Dave Wave
          ... Another proof that Anna doesn t know enough about evolution to correctly discern when she s been refuted. ... That s false, as I already showed you with my
          Message 4 of 5 , Jan 27, 2006
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            --- PeroAnnika <biggles.flyger@...>
            wrote:

            > 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
            > happening?

            Another proof that Anna doesn't know enough about
            evolution to correctly discern when she's been
            refuted.

            > 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.

            That's false, as I already showed you with my
            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 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,

            That's your question, not ours, we already know, you
            don't, apparantly.

            > and how
            > simple organisms could take
            > on some new genes so that they could evolve into
            > more complex organisms

            Bacteria can gain DNA from outside themselves, didn't
            you know that?

            > and
            > where the engine is that could make evolution move
            > uphill and not downhill.

            Wrong again, evolution has produced many more mistakes
            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 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?

            Another basic truth you missed is self-organizing
            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 told
            > you that natural
            > selection doesn't work, and nor mutations. What do
            > you have left?

            Sure, you said that.

            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,
            > do you think that your skills are superior to PhD
            > Don Batten and PhD
            > Jonathan Sarfati? Yes or no?

            If they deny macro-evolution, then yes.

            By the way, finding a Ph.d to support your position
            doesn't prove squat.

            Otherwise...

            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, in
            > genuine sincerety, that she has never heard of a
            > Screwdriver---
            >
            > 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.

            But passing a third-grade reading comprehension test
            IS required.

            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, 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.

            What is proven by saying "even little kids know"?

            > 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.

            I can provide you with examples of transitional
            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
            the face.

            > 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.

            You need to stay up with the times.

            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 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.

            No you wouldn't. Your ignorance of DNA basics prevent
            you from recognizing what exactly constitutes "new"
            information as geneticists see it.

            > 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.

            Sorry, the term I asked you to define would be defined
            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
            website quote-mining?

            > Suppose you have the information "I have a
            > ribonucleotide."---
            >
            > A: Please quit your bad anaologies that don't apply
            > here. They won't help
            > you overcome your problem.

            I disagree with you that they are bad analogies which
            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
            or no?

            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
            code parts?

            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 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?

            Where did I quote Musgrave?

            > Dave:
            > 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.

            I never once limited my postings on new genetic code
            to micro-evolution only. YOU are the one who so
            fallaciously limits it, in contradiction to the
            standard reference works on biology.

            > 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?

            You asked for examples of beneficial mutations
            resulting from new genetic information. I'm sticking
            with that subject. We can debate abiogenesis later.

            > How can simple organisms
            > evolve into more complex
            > ones?

            Go actually get a proper education in college in
            first-year biology, and you won't bog this discussion
            down with such unlearned questions.

            > Can you list the examples of positive
            > mutations due to new info?

            Irrelevant, I already did, you disagreed, we continue
            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?

            > 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?

            Your question is pointless, because I disagree with
            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 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
            > rearrangement?

            snip stuff about Dawkins, relegated to additional
            thread

            > 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.

            We don't expect you to trust things that you don't
            understand.

            > What would be your best reason for believing in
            > evolution? What is your best
            > support?
            > /Ann

            We have not resolved the debate about whether I gave
            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.

            __________________________________________________
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          • Dave Wave
            ... implies ... First, Dawkins has covered the subject of information-increase in 4 of his books. If I were him, my four-page letter to film producers whom I
            Message 5 of 5 , Jan 27, 2006
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              >> Dave:
              > 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?

              > Anna:
              > 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!

              First, Dawkins has covered the subject of
              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:

              http://www.skeptics.com.au/articles/dawkins.htm

              For convenience, in case the link doesn't work for
              somebody, I now copy and paste the full article below.

              ***quote***
              The Information Challenge
              by Richard Dawkins

              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
              therefore relented.

              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
              proper article.

              Information
              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
              rubbish).

              "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
              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 information
              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
              bits.

              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
              them here.

              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
              Edition).

              Gene duplication
              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
              the blood.

              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
              modern genome.

              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
              repeat DNA.

              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
              sides.

              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
              question. (back)


              Page last updated December 03, 2005
              Copyright © 2000-2006
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