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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Melissa previews the new Illustra Media ID documentary

From Hard-Core Christianity.

Excerpt:

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending lectures by one of the scientists featured in the upcoming Illustra Media documentary, Metamorphosis. Dr. Paul Nelson explained the science behind this unique argument for intelligent design theory, and I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the film’s resease ever since!

The intelligent design argument presented by the film (which I understand isn’t discussed until the third part) is the enormous problem that insect metamorphosis poses for the theoretical neo-Darwinian descent pathways. In plain language, neo-Darwinism claims that random genetic mutations coupled with natural selection acting over greats spans of time are responsible for a caterpillar’s physical ability to transform into a butterfly. There’s an insurmountable obstacle for this alleged process, however.

When it enters the pupa phase, in which it forms a hard chrysalis around itself, the caterpillar’s body totally liquefies. Subsequently, an entirely new body plan is constructed from this chemical soup, and what emerges from the chrysalis is absolutely nothing like what went in. Now, according to neo-Darwinism, mutations that equip an organism for such a spectacular metamorphosis are cumulative. The mutations that dictate chrysalis formation would come first. Next would come mutations that cause body-liquefication. Next would come—uh-oh—do you see the problem here? If a caterpillar goes into a pupa stage without the necessary genetic information to build the new body structure and GET OUT OF the pupa stage (an “escape plan,” if you will), it would simply die inside the chrysalis, never to emerge. Thus, there is NO ADVANTAGE for natural selection to act upon, and the process of metamorphosis could never evolve. What would be needed here is for the caterpillar to acquire ALL the mutations necessary for the pupa phase and ALL the mutations necessary for the architecture of a survivable adult body plan AT THE SAME TIME. Based on what evolutionary biology teaches about how mutations accumulate, this simply isn’t going to happen. This is a case of all-or-nothing that argues strongly for intentional, intelligent design.

If you want to see the first three in the series, look here:

About Melissa:

Melissa is a graduate student at Biola University, studying for the Master of Arts in Science and Religion. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in biology and worked in biotechnology and pharmaceutical research for five years after obtaining her undergraduate degree. She has spent more than a decade studying the science and philosophy pertaining to the origins debate and is also currently working toward her certification in general Christian apologetics from Biola. She directs The Woodlands chapter of Reasonable Faith and welcomes opportunities to speak and teach on scientific apologetics.

She also is a homeschooling mom, which is the best kind of mom.

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