Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Can Darwinian evolution create new functional biological information?

Here’s a great article from Evolution News that explains the trouble that Darwinian evolution has in building up to functional new biological information by using a process of random mutation and natural selection.

Casey Luskin takes a look at a peer-reviewed paper that claims that Darwinian evolution can do the job of creating new information, then he explains what’s wrong with the paper.

Excerpt:

In Wilf and Ewens’s evolutionary scheme there is a smooth fitness function. Under this view, there is no epistasis, where one mutation can effectively interact with another to affect (whether positively or negatively) fitness. As a result, any mutations that move the search toward its “target” are assumed to provide an immediate and irrevocable advantage, and are thus highly likely to become fixed. Ewert et al. compare the model to playing Wheel of Fortune:

The evolutionary model that Wilf and Ewens have chosen is similar to the problem of guessing letters in a word or phrase, as on the television game show Wheel of Fortune. They specify a phrase 20,000 letters long, with each letter in the phrase corresponding to a gene locus that can be transformed from its initial “primitive” state to a more advanced state. Finding the correct letter for a particular position in the target phrase roughly corresponds to finding a beneficial mutation in the corresponding gene. During each round of mutation all positions in the phrase are subject to mutation, and the results are selected based on whether the individual positions match the final target phrase. Those that match are preserved for the next round. … After each round, all “advanced” alleles in the population are treated as fixed, and therefore preserved in the next round. Evolution to the fully “advanced” state is complete when all 20,000 positions match the target phrase.

The problem with this approach is that a string of biological information that has only some letters that are part of a useful sequence has no present function, and therefore cannot survive and reproduce.

Look:

Thus, Wilf and Ewens ignore the problem of non-functional intermediates. They assume that all intermediate stages will be functional, or lead to some functional advantage. But is this how all fitness functions look? Not necessarily. It’s well known that in many instances, no benefit is derived until multiple mutations are present all at once. In such a case, there’s no evolutionary advantage until multiple mutations are present. The “correct” mutations might occur in parallel, but the odds of this happening are extremely low. Ewert et al. illustrate this problem in the model by using the example of the difficulty of one phrase evolving into another:

Suppose it would be beneficial for the phrase

“all_the_world_is_a_stage___”

to evolve into the phrase

“methinks_it_is_like_a_weasel.”

What phrase do we get if we simply alternate letters from the two phrases?

“mlt_ihk__otli__siaesaaw_a_e_.”

Under the assumptions in the Wilf and Ewens model, the “fitness” of this nonsense phrase ought to be exactly half-way between the fitnesses of “all the world is a stage” and “methinks it is like a weasel.” Such a result only makes sense if we are measuring the fitness of the current phrase by its proximity to the target phrase.

But the gibberish of the intermediate phrase doesn’t cause any problem under Wilf and Ewens’s model. Not unlikeRichard Dawkins, they assume that intermediate stages will always yield some functional advantage. And as more and more characters in the phrase match the target, it becomes more and more fit. This yields a nice, smooth fitness function — rich in active information — not truly a blind search.

Not only is there that first problem, but here’s a second:

Wilf and Ewens endowed their mathematical model of evolution with foresight. It is directed toward a target — an advantage that natural selection conspicuously lacks. And what, in our experience, is the only known cause that is goal-directed and has foresight? It’s intelligence. This means that once again, the Evolutionary Informatics Lab has shown that simulations of evolution seem to work only because they’ve been intelligently designed.

This is worth the read. If Darwinian mechanisms really could generate code, then there would be no software engineers. The truth is, the mechanisms don’t work to create new information. For that, you need an intelligent designer.

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William Dembski discusses irreducible complexity and co-option

William Dembski explains what the debate on origins is really about.

About the speaker:

Dr. Dembski has taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dallas. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, and a Ph.D. in philosophy, he also received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1988 and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1996. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships.

The lecture:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Summary (snark is in italics)

What is evolution:

  • Is it enough for Christian students to just retain their faith in college?
  • Or should Christian students seek to transform their universities?
  • The word “evolution” refers to a unguided, purposeless, undirected process
  • Living organisms are not designed, they just appear to be designed
  • Therefore, it is an atheistic theory – there is NO ROOM for God
  • Random variations and natural selection can do the creating of life without God
  • Nothing about evolution suggest that God had anything to do with it

The appearance of design:

  • The cell is a nano-engineered information processing system.
  • The cell has engineering, e.g. – signal transduction, message passing, etc.
  • There are molecular machines similar to man-made machines, but less efficient
  • E.g. – the bacterial flagellum which has 40 parts
  • These molecular machines have minimal complexity – all the parts are needed
  • can’t build a molecular machine step-by-step – all the parts must be present and integrated

How does evolution try to explain molecular machines:

  • The standard naturalistic response is “co-option”
  • Each intermediate step has pieces that are used for other purposes
  • I.e. – Subsets of the parts can have different functions
  • For example, a subset of the bacterial flagellum can be used as a syringe
  • The subset, called the Type-3 secretory system, has only 13 parts
  • The problem is that evolutionists don’t show all the steps, and all the functions
  • For this to be a good response, you need a smooth path from 1 part up to 40
  • Each step of the path has to have a working system with a different function
  • But the atheists don’t have the path, or the intermediate functions
  • It’s like arguing that you can walk from Seattle to Tokyo via the Hawaiian islands

Is the bacterial flagellum a cherry-picked example?

  • There are no detailed molecular pathways for any biochemical systems in the cell
  • The atheistic response is to speculate that pathways will be found as science progresses
  • The pathways are unobservable entities, just like the multiverse and the Cambrian precursors

Where does the machinery to create proteins come from?

  • The molecular machines are composed of proteins
  • The proteins are manufactured by copying protein-building instructions from the DNA
  • The instructions are carried to the build site by messenger RNA
  • The build site is called a ribosome
  • The DNA requires proteins to build, so there is a chicken-and-egg problem
  • The problem is that protein transcription systems require everything in place
  • There is no materialistic theory about how to build this step-by-step

So what do the molecular machines tell us about how life began?

  • The problem of the origin of life is the problem of the origin of information
  • What needs to be explained are the functional sequences of parts
  • The sequences are identical to sequences of letters that make sense
  • The atheist has to say that material processes can create the information
  • The problem of finding sequences of amino acids or proteins is a search problem
  • A blind search of the space of possible sequences is not efficient
  • even with lots time, parts and trials, you can’t converge on functional proteins
  • information is required and the only known producer of information is a mind

Bill is one of my favorite people. He’s smarter than practically all of the atheists who dominate the universities. But because he is an outspoken Christian, he never gets the recognition he deserves. He just keeps plugging away on his research. He doesn’t make excuses.

What is intelligent design?

Related DVDs

Illustra also made two other great DVDs on intelligent design. The first two DVDs “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” are must-buys, but you can watch them on youtube if you want, for free.

Here are the 2 playlists:

I also recommend Coldwater Media’s “Icons of Evolution”. All three of these are on sale from Amazon.com.

Related posts

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How long will it take to sort a deck of cards by trial and error?

Inside the cell, things like proteins and DNA are formed by sequencing parts together in just the right way so that the sequence will have biological function. If the sequence is wrong, because some component of the sequence is the wrong piece or is in the wrong place, the sequence has no function. It’s just like writing English or computer instructions.

To calculate the probabilities, you have to use a rule called “The Product Rule”, because the order of the parts in the sequence (“permutation”) is important. For example, the odds of getting the sequence “ABC” just by choosing three random letters is 1/26 x 1/26 x 1/26 = 1/17576. Things get very unlikely quite quickly, don’t they?

So, take a look at Neil Simpson’s latest post, where he uses cards instead of letters or amino acids, but the principle is exactly the same. His calculation is a little different because the odds actually go down a little each time you choose a card. So, for the first card, it’s 1/52, but the second card is only 1/51, and so on…

Excerpt:

This is by no means a definitive argument against evolution, but I offer it to put the “time, chance and random mutation” theory in perspective.

Everyone knows that micro-evolution occurs, such as dog breeding and bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.  But macro-evolutionists believe that with enough time an amazingly complex single cell of unknown origin could make lots and lots of small changes, develop reproductive capacities and eventually become humans, elephants, caterpillar/butterflies, chameleons and so much more.

Let’s consider something very simple.  Imagine that you shuffle a deck of cards.  If you shuffled it one time per second, how often would all the cards go back into their original order? (Ace of spades, King of spades, etc.)  The math is simply 1/52 (the odds of the Ace of spades being on top) times 1/51 times 1/50, etc. I left out the Jokers to make it easier.

Guess how many years it takes?

Click through to see his calculations, or do them yourself! It’s easy and fun! Neil has a pretty fun discussion going on with the angry atheists who frequent his site, too.

This is everyone should learn probabilities in school, because then we can really talk about these things with our neighbor. Shalini can even do biochemistry, so she can actually explain it even better than I can!

Remember, we are looking for a specific sequence of cards – the sequence that the cards originally came in. In this example, it’s that sequence and that sequence alone that has biological function. The other sequences are just junk – they have no biological function. And most importantly, you don’t get to save any of the cards that are in the right spots because the sequence as a whole has no present function that would allow it to be “saved” for later. You have to re-select all 52 cards each time at random!

A typical protein isn’t made of 52 parts, it’s made of around 200, and there are 80 possible amino acids, not just 26! And in the case of proteins,the vast majority of the possible sequences that you can make won’t have any biological function at all! (And there are many more problems besides, such as chirality, cross reactions, and bonding type). Even if you filled the whole universe with reactants and reacted it all at Planck time, for the entire history of the universe, you still wouldn’t be likely to get even one protein!

You can read more about the origin of life in this post.

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