In many of the theists vs. atheist debates that we see on MN24 (and on other forums all over the world), one will see the old creationist mantra being trotted out; “Information cannot increase in the DNA”, which therefore implies that evolution cannot possibly account for the existence of new species and the wide diversity of life that we find on earth. And that of course implies that the ONLY way that new and diverse species can ever come into existence is that (the Christian) God ‘must’ have created them. This then automatically concludes the argument; evolution is false, and creation is true, end of debate.
Along with this declaration comes some derivations such as; God locked DNA, God prevents speciation on the DNA molecule or gene level because he is omnipotent, the well-known claims and refutations by the Intelligent Design community such as Irreducible Complexity, Evolution is possible on a ‘Micro’ (adaptation) level, but is impossible on a ‘Macro’ (speciation) level, Information is Something, and Something cannot come from Nothing, unless God put it there, Evolution contravenes the Second Law of Thermodynamics (or in some cases the Second law of Dynamics!), We are getting dumber because we are using up the information in our DNA, etc. All these explanations have one thing in common; they are all utter and total garbage.
One will often get the exclamation; “Show me one example of speciation in nature!” One can then supply the evolution nay-sayers with examples of evolution that has happened, and even observed in our own lifespans, such as Ring Species, laboratory fruitflies and microbes, and even Flora in a natural existing settings occurring over some decades, and you will get the counterarguments that: “It’s still a bird”, or “It’s still a fruitfly” or “It’s still a plant”, even though all the requirements of the accepted definition of biological speciation have been met.
Anything that has to do with a laboratory experiment is discounted out of hand and it is said; “Yes but humans made the speciation happen, it didn’t happen by itself”. If one should make a detailed computer simulation using evolutionary programming techniques, and show how speciation occurs, you would get the response; “Yes but the programmer programmed the information into the DNA, so it’s not a valid explanation”. All these counter arguments also have one thing in common; they are also all utter and total garbage.
It’s clear that there is some floating definition of what constitutes a species in the evolution nay-sayers’s mind, that varies somewhere between a Biological Genus, and a Biblical Kind. If one then asks what their definition of a biological species (or kind) is, you will not get a conclusive answer (mostly gibberish), or in extreme cases you will get the response: “I don’t believe in evolution, so it’s not for me to define a species”.
It is also clear that it’s absolutely imperative for the creationist to cling to this notion that DNA is somehow restricted in it’s design, either by divine intervention or some other mechanism that evolutionary biologists don’t seem to know anything about. Some creationists also have a major problem with the concept of “time” that evolution requires, as there is obviously not all those ‘millions and billions of years’ available for the evolution mechanism to operate if the Earth was only created 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
So lets get back to DNA. Firstly we have to define what “information” means. Now one can go into a highly detailed treatise of Information Theory and Entropy, and use the Shannon-Weaver Communications Model to come to the conclusion that if you don’t understand it, the next best most probable career path for you would be that of a Rocket Scientist. Suffice to say that Information Theory is not quite in the same league as Home Improvements, and it would be a futile exercise to try and explain even the basics, let alone the implications on biological DNA in a forum like this. For the purposes of this article I think it’s better to keep it as simple as possible.
Therefore for our purposes let’s just define the following relatively simple correlation; the correlation between information and complexity. It can be said in most cases that the more complex a machine, design or organism is, the more “information” you would need to fully describe this entity. Therefore the information required to fully describe a ball bearing is less than the information required to fully describe a BMW. Therefore it follows that the information (or recipe) required to build a ball bearing is also less extensive than the information (or recipe) to build a BMW. In the same vein it can also be said that the information required to ‘build’ an amoeba, contained in the DNA, is less than the information required to build a kangaroo.
So if the Theory of Evolution (ToE) is valid, and all life originated from simple single celled organisms we can state the following: If we accept that the basic recipe of the building of an organism is information contained in the organism’s DNA, and we also accept that the ‘later in time’ organisms such as humans and elephants are much more complex than the original single celled organisms, it is clear that some kind of ‘information increase’ in the DNA must have occurred, and this accompanies the evolution process in the ToE.
Now there are a number of different mechanisms that can ‘increase’ the information in DNA. The most simple is Gene Duplication in which a long stretch of DNA is copied, followed by point mutations that change one or both of the copies. Another mechanism is “Vertical Gene Transfer” where genes from one organism is passed vertically to the DNA of another organism. There are other mechanisms, but the most important mechanism is the Information Theory one. One of the best descriptions of this I have found is from Talkorigens.org, that I will quote here:
“According to Shannon-Weaver information theory, random noise maximizes information. This is not just playing word games. The random variation that mutations add to populations is the variation on which selection acts. Mutation alone will not cause adaptive evolution, but by eliminating nonadaptive variation, natural selection communicates information about the environment to the organism so that the organism becomes better adapted to it. Natural selection is the process by which information about the environment is transferred to an organism's genome and thus to the organism (Adami et al. 2000).”
Let me try and describe this using a ‘not so simple’ example. Some years ago, I was fortunate to work for an American company where we did some Artificial Intelligence work. At one time, as at that time there was a lot of money available, we found that we had some spare funds available on our budgets that were not used up. We then decided to use ‘up’ this money to investigate this ‘increase in information in DNA’ conundrum that always seemed to pop up.
We did this by building a computer program of a machine player (game) that could play 4-cell 3-dimentional tic-tac-toe. The design was such that using evolutionary programming techniques, we could run multiple instances of the program in successive generations, with a simple DNA stored in a database, where this DNA would be used to select the ‘next move’ of the player while playing the game. The player’s skill was therefore programmed into this database in the form of a simple DNA code. We found a program on the Internet that could play 4-cell 3-dimentional tic-tac-toe at a relatively expert level and we put these two programs to play against each other. We then ran 100 of our programs simultaneously, and at the end of the run we would take the ten programs that lost ‘less badly’, and discarded the other 90 that lost ‘really’ badly. We would take those ten, randomly ‘mutate’ the playing rules in the database (its DNA) into a hundred more, and then start the process over. So here we simulated the classic Random Mutation PLUS Natural Selection mechanism that the standard ToE follows, with each of our runs being one ‘generation’ of evolution.
We started the system initially with very simple DNA code, just so much that it ‘knew’ not to break the rules of the game, but it had no strategy of how to play at all intelligently. It just plonked down markers wherever it felt like doing, up to the point where it lost the game. During the first few generations our program just plodded along, as it had no idea what it was doing, and it lost quite quickly. But after even ten generations we could see that sometimes our program started to make seemingly more intelligent placements, and lose less and less badly. At about 50 generations our model would either win or draw 30% of the games it played. After 120 generations our player had moved this up to about 70% of games. At this point it would beat ‘most’ human players most of the time. Our money then ran out and we stopped the project. If we had gone on with the project our program would have eventually ‘evolved’ to reach an ‘expert’ level of proficiency.
So it’s clear that our player program had become more proficient over time playing the game. We could easily see this as the DNA information stored in the DNA database became increasingly more complex and more voluminous with each new generation. Very soon the complexity of the DNA data became so high that it was impossible to humanly see clearly what exactly it contained, but it worked. So the increase in ‘information’ in the DNA made our player better, and therefore made it more survivable in our ‘player’ environment.
But where did this additional information in our DNA code come from? Did we somehow program it in? No. Did God put it there? No (we checked). So how did it get there? The answer is clear. From the mechanism that was predicted by the Shannon-Weaver Information Theory as quoted above (from Talkorigens), the DNA received its information from its environment, i.e. in our case, it learned (or deduced) it from the expert player program (its environment) it was playing against, specifically using the mechanism of Random Mutation and Natural Selection.
So this is exactly the same way that biological DNA gets its additional information. It uses the process of Random Mutations, PLUS the NON-RANDOM Natural Selection mechanism to extract information from its environment and add that information to its own database, i.e. the DNA itself, so it is better adapted to the environment. It is therefore clear that information increase in DNA can, and DOES occur, and that it’s not just a ‘random’ process as creationists want to believe. If someone or some creationist website tells you something different, they are simply lying.