# Natural selection can put Functional Information into the genome

It is quite common for ID commenters to argue that it is not possible for evolutionary forces such as natural selection to put Functional Information or Specified Information) into the genome. Whether they know it or not, these commenters are relying on William Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Complex Specified information. It is supposed to show that Complex Specified Information cannot be put into the genome. Many people have argued that this theorem is incorrect. In my 2007 article I summarized many of these objections and added some of my own.

One of the sections of that article gave a simple computational example of mine showing natural selection putting nearly 2 bits of specified information into the genome, by replacing an equal mixture of A, T, G, and C at one site with 99.9% C.

This post is intended to show a more dramatic example along the same lines.

Suppose that we have a large population of wombats and we are following 100 loci in their genome. We will make the wombats haploid rather than diploid, to make the argument simpler (diploid wombats would give a nearly equivalent result). At each locus there are two possible alleles, which we will call 0 and 1. We start with equal gene frequencies 1/2 and 1/2 of these two alleles at each locus. We also assume no association (no linkage disequilibrium) between alleles at different loci. Initially the haploytypes (haploid genotypes) are all combinations from 00000…000 to 11111…111, all equiprobable.

Let’s assume that the 1 allele is more fit than the 0 allele at each locus. The fitness of 1 is 1.01, and the fitness of 0 is 1. We assume that the fitnesses are multiplicative, so that a haploid genotype with M alleles 1 and 100-M alleles 0 has fitness 1.01 raised to the Mth power. Initially the number of 1s and 0s will be nearly 50:50 in all genotypes. The fraction of genotypes that have 90:10 or more will be very small, in fact less than 0.0000000000000000154. So very few individuals will have high fitnesses.

What will happen to these multiple loci? This case results in the gene frequency of the 1 allele rising at each locus. The straightforward equations of theoretical population genetics show that after 214 generations of natural selection, the genotypes will now have gene frequency 0.8937253. The fraction of genotypes having 90:10 or more will then be 0.500711. So the distribution of genotypes has moved far enough toward ones of high fitness that over half of them have 90 or more 1s. If you feel that this is not far enough, consider what happens after 500 generations. The gene frequencies at each locus are then 0.99314, and the fraction of the population with more than 90 1s is then more than 0.999999999.

The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or Specified Information, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypes have gone. The relevant measure is fitness. Whether or not my discussion (or Dembski’s) is sound information theory, the key question is whether there is some conservation law which shows that natural selection cannot significantly improve fitness by improving adaptation. My paper argued that there is no such law. This numerical example shows a simple model of natural selection doing exactly what Dembski’s LCCSI law said it cannot do. I should note that Dembski set the threshold for Complex Specified Information far enough out on the fitness scale that we would have needed to use 500 loci in this example. We could do so — I used 100 loci here because the calculations gave less trouble with underflows.

I hope that ID commenters will take examples like this into account and change their tune.

Let me anticipate some objections and quickly answer them:

1. This is an oversimplified model, you were not realistic. Dembski’s theorems were intended to show that even in simple models, Specified (or Functional) Information could not be put into genomes. It is therefore appropriate to check that in such simplified models, where we can do the calculation. For if natural selection is in trouble in these simple models, it is in trouble more generally.

2. You have not allowed for genetic drift, which would be present in any finite population. For simplicity I left it out and did a completely deterministic model. Adding in genetic drift would complicate the presentation enormously, but would still result in the achievement of a population with all 11111…1111 genotypes after only a modest number more of generations.

3. If fitness differences are due to inviability of some genotypes, fitnesses could not exceed 1. Yes, but making the 0 allele have fitness 1/1.01 = 0.9900990099… and the 1 allele have fitness 1 could then be used, and the results would be exactly the same, as long as the ratio of fitnesses of 0 and 1 is still 1:1.01.

4. You just followed gene frequencies — what about frequencies of haplotypes? This case was set up with multiplicative fitnesses so that there would never be linkage disequilibrium, so only gene frequencies need to be followed.

I trust also that people will not raise all sorts of other matters (the origin of life, the bacterial flagellum, the origin of the universe, quantum mechanics, etc.) To do so would be to admit that they have no answer to this example, which shows that natural selection can put functional information into the genome.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Joe Felsenstein. Bookmark the permalink.

Been messing about with phylogenies, coalescents, theoretical population genetics, and stomping bad mathematical arguments by creationists for some years.

## 228 thoughts on “Natural selection can put Functional Information into the genome”

1. I hope that ID commenters will take examples like this into account and change their tune.

Sorry but CSI refers to origins- that is very clear in everything Dembski has written- and that is supported by Meyer.

Ignoring that isn’t going to make it go away.

2. Joe G: Sorry but CSI refers to origins- that is very clear in everything Dembski has written- and that is supported by Meyer.

Ignoring that isn’t going to make it go away.

Of course Dembski was applying it to evolution after the origin of life. Otherwise if it applied only to the OOL it would not help at all in proving that adaptations that arose afterward were really Design, it would not be of any use in making a Design Inference for them.

Would be happy to discuss the after-the-OOL issue of Functional Information with anyone. Not interested in further dispute about this issue.

So at any rate it sounds as if you do agree that natural selection can bring about adaptation after the OOL?

3. Wait- Dembski wrote in “No Free Lunch” that existing CSI can give rise to SI- as I have said if living organisms were designed then they were designed to evolve/ evolved by design- also functional information refers to biological function, as in new proteins and especially new protein complexes- useful and functional.

Can NS bring about adaptation? NS is just a result- if you have differential reproduction due to heritable random variation you have NS.

With the finches the variation was there- the moths, already there- NS produces a wobbling stability

4. BTW Joe, Dr Behe puts the limit at two new protein-to-protein binding sites- do you have any examples that deals with NS and protein-to-protein binding sites?

5. Hello Joe, you say:

“We start with equal gene frequencies 1/2 and 1/2 of these two alleles at each locus.”

So we start with a population in a state of equilibrium, 1 bit. Then the fitness shifts, and the population frequency changes. This will cost the population a measure of uncertainty, i.e. Shannon entropy. This population is no longer maximally complex.

You change the frequency in your example to:

1 = 1.01
0 = 1

Unless I’m not getting this strait, this would follow that that the binary population would carry more than 1 bit of information per base(?) unless I’m misunderstanding what’s going on. Rather if the weight of one element changes in the binary population {1 | 0} then the frequency of the entire population changes and bit rate should reduce.

If by 1 = 1.01, this means +.01

Such that:
1 = .51

H(1) = .51 -log(.51) = .495

and

0 = .49

H(0) = .49(-log(.49)) = .504

Bit rate = .999

The fitness weight applied to the element {1} decreases bit rate from 1 to .999. The population is no longer in a state of equilibrium, (maximum unpredictability). This population is no longer maximally complex, however slightly more compressible, or simply describable, and as such, the strings will continue swapping complexity for compressibility, to the point where populations will end up exhibiting complexity approaching 0 with compressibility approaching 1 similar to something like crystal formation. This is not a demonstration of CSI, unless I’m misunderstanding what is going one here. Unless NS is selecting at all times from the original population with equaprobable frequency, then CSI stalls.

“The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or Specified
Information, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypes
have gone.”

CSI is simply the measure of a string output from a population with equaprobable frequencies that is compressible, (simply describable), and exhibits function.

6. Prof. Felsenstein: “Whether or not my discussion (or Dembski’s) is sound information theory, the key question is whether there is some conservation law which shows that natural selection cannot significantly improve fitness by improving adaptation.”

I am not sure what you mean by improving adaptation. The whole point of adaptation is not needing improvements. Finch beaks get bigger, then get smaller again, and then bigger once again. Which is the improvement, the bigger beak or the smaller beak?

Trait oscillations smack of maintenance routines, rather that home improvement.

7. junkdnaforlife: CSI is simply the measure of a string output from a population with equaprobable frequencies that is compressible, (simply describable), and exhibits function.

Well, Dembski, at least in Specification: the Pattern that Signifies Intelligence, doesn’t add the rider “exhibits function” (IIRC).

As you say, however, he does seem to be talking about equiprobable distributions, which is one of the problems. Another of the problems is finding a practical measure of compressibility.

However, the Hazen paper discussed in this thread would seem to offer a neat alternative that has the bonus of incorporating the concept of function. Would you accept that as a substitute?

8. (1) You begin with the information (1′s) already in the genome, so NS didn’t “put” any information into the genome. You’re only arguing that it preserves and distributes it. Perhaps you meant “fix” information in the genome.

(2) 1+1+1+1+1 doesn’t represent combinatorial information (complex specified) It only represents accumulative information. When one takes the entire genome, all 1s are already in the genome. Accumulating them all into a single group doesn’t increase the functional information contained in the genome.

(3) Your argument assumes that all currently existent 1′s across the genome are compatible, accumulative and I suppose (but for which you make no case for here) combinatorial. You’ve ignored the fact that what might exist across the genome in small groups as 1s might in combination with other 1s in other groups prove deleterious, fatal, or turn both 1s into junk. As the number of 1s increase in any particular group, the chances that other 1s from other groups would prove delterious, fatal or junk-ifying to some of the 1s in the more accumulative group grows exponentially, drastically decreasing the chances that any information that is advantageous to some other group will prove advantageous to the more accumulative group.

This is like arguing that I can take parts that are particularly advantageous to a Humvee and insert them willy-nilly into a Ferrari and expect the Ferrari to run better, and then take parts from a ford pickup and chevy van and stick them in the Ferrari and expect it to run even better. The more complex functional machinery is, the fewer and fewer things you can add to it, and the fewer and fewer parts you can modify willy-nilly without turning the whole thing into junk.

(4) Since all the information was already in the genome to start with (in order for NS to act on it), and collecting all 1s that are cohabitable into a single group while eliminating (selecting against) 1s that are not cohabitable with the growing accumulation of 1s in our target group, all NS can possibly do is subtract information from the genome by killing off lines of 1s that do not play nice with the larger aggregates of 1s.

9. This is like arguing that I can take parts that are particularly advantageous to a Humvee and insert them willy-nilly into a Ferrari and expect the Ferrari to run better

As a general rule we get our genomes from our ancestors, not from our cousins. With rare exceptions.

10. Thanks to all who gave on-topic responses. I will respond (to the on-topic ones) one at a time. For this comment by “junkdnaforlife” I will divide my response into two replies, as two different issues are raised.

junkdnaforlife:
Hello Joe, you say:

“We start with equal gene frequencies 1/2 and 1/2 of these two alleles at each locus.”

So we start with a population in a state of equilibrium, 1 bit. Then the fitness shifts, and the population frequency changes. This will cost the population a measure of uncertainty, i.e. Shannon entropy. This population is no longer maximally complex.

You change the frequency in your example to:

1 = 1.01
0 = 1

The 1.01 and the 1 are not frequencies, they are fitnesses. So we may be off on the wrong foot right away.

In addition, I am not calculating measures of complexity of the population. You do a certain amount of the that, but it is not important to my argument. Rather, the argument is about whether natural selection can result in the population moving into the region of the scale (in this case, the fitness scale) that has high fitness.

The fact that I happened to start with all gene frequencies 0.5 is not important to my argument. I could as easily have started with gene frequencies of the 1 allele at 0.1, and then we would still see them shift until they reached 0.9 or so, and the effect on the degree of adaptation would be strong.

11. [quoting me:]
“The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or SpecifiedInformation, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypeshave gone.”

CSI is simply the measure of a string output from a population with equaprobable frequencies that is compressible, (simply describable), and exhibits function.

Dembski actually used compressibility as one possible way of defining a rejection region on a scale. In my 2007 article I set that aside. It has the problem that a lifeless perfect sphere is much more specified than an actual organism. I am using the scale of fitness. Using such a scale (in their case “functon”) is also what the Functional Information people did.

12. Steve Proulx:
Prof. Felsenstein: “Whether or not my discussion (or Dembski’s) is sound information theory, the key question is whether there is some conservation law which shows that natural selection cannot significantly improve fitness by improving adaptation.”

I am not sure what you mean by improving adaptation.The whole point of adaptation is not needing improvements.Finch beaks get bigger, then get smaller again, and then bigger once again.Which is the improvement, the bigger beak or the smaller beak?

Trait oscillations smack of maintenance routines, rather that home improvement.

(I would say hi, good to hear from you, but I expect you are not this Stephen Proulx).

Anyway, natural selection can act in all sorts of strange patterns. But Dembski’s conservation law is supposed to apply to all of them. That it does not work is made clear by a tractable counterexample such as the one I used. In that case his LCCSI is supposed to show that we cannot get out into the tail of the fitness distribution by causes other than design. But under natural selection with this fitness pattern the population does go there.

13. It is quite common for ID commenters to argue that it is not possible for evolutionary forces such as natural selection to put Functional Information or Specified Information) into the genome.

Well. I’m an ID advocate, and I have to agree, if an ID commenter says that, I think they are wrong. On the other hand, I don’t think that is what ID, properly understood, says. At its simplest, ID says that the probability of any mutation producing new ifnormation is dependent on the increase in information achieved, and that while small steps are plausible, and observed, very large steps, requiring multiple mutations are extremely rare or impossible, given the resources available. So, yes Avida works just fine. It takes nice easy steps. Two bits of information, or 20 bits of information doesn’t seem too much to me in large bacterial populations. I would, however, declare the inability of natural, mutational processes to add CSI (complex-specified information), that is 150 (or even 120) bits of information, in a single step.

14. William J. Murray:
(1) You begin with the information (1′s) already in the genome, so NS didn’t “put” any information into the genome. You’re only arguing that it preserves and distributes it. Perhaps you meant “fix” information in the genome.

I would reject the notion that changes in gene frequency are inconsequential. You can say that the information comes from the natural selection, or you can say that the information comes from the mutation process that creates the alleles from other alleless, or if you are Dembski and Marks (in their recent papers on Search for a Search) you can even say the information was out there in the shape of the fitness surface, lying around. But in any case all this is an exercise in semantics.

The point is that William Dembski has a conservation law (his LCCSI) that is supposed to show that a population cannot end up in the high end of the relevant scale (I am using fitness, which is a natural choice) by mechanisms other than Design. The example shows otherwise. (And in my 2007 paper I pointed to an existing argument by Elsberry and Shallit, and a new one by me, that Dembski’s theorem is not true, and not relevant to the Design Inference argument because it changes the specification in midstream). Thus there is an explanation for why Dembski’s argument does not work in this numerical example.

Demsbki’s criterion is set up so as to make it implausible that a pure mutational process could get you into the region of the scale that defined CSI. If natural selection is around, the population can in fact get there (as my numerical example shows). So even if natural selection isn’t “putting” the information into the genome, its presence has the dramatic effect of invalidating the argument that the presence of CSI proves that natural processes other than Design could not be responsible for the adaptation.

(2) 1+1+1+1+1 doesn’t represent combinatorial information (complex specified) It only represents accumulative information. When one takes the entire genome, all 1s are already in the genome. Accumulating them all into a single group doesn’t increase the functional information contained in the genome.

Functional information is defined in terms of the population getting into the extreme region of the scale. Gene frequencies are highly relevant to that.

(3) Your argument assumes that all currently existent 1′s across the genome are compatible, accumulative and I suppose (but for which you make no case for here) combinatorial.You’ve ignored the fact that what might exist across the genome in small groups as 1s might in combination with other 1s in other groups prove deleterious, fatal, or turn both 1s into junk. As the number of 1s increase in any particular group, the chances that other 1s from other groups would prove delterious, fatal or junk-ifying to some of the 1s in the more accumulative group grows exponentially, drastically decreasing the chances that any information that is advantageous to some other group will prove advantageous to the more accumulative group.

Sure, all sorts of complex interactions can arise. Some of them so complicated that they will frustrate an evolutionary process. (I note, however, that the standard models of quantitative genetics deal mostly with noninteraction like that in my model, and an awful lot of animal and plant breeding uses these noninteractive models for predictions of selection response).

The point is that William Dembski’s argument is supposed to apply to all of these cases, including the simple one I gave. And I have shown that his argument does not work for that one.

This is like arguing that I can take parts that are particularly advantageous to a Humvee and insert them willy-nilly into a Ferrari and expect the Ferrari to run better, and then take parts from a ford pickup and chevy van and stick them in the Ferrari and expect it to run even better.The more complex functional machinery is, the fewer and fewer things you can add to it, and the fewer and fewer parts you can modify willy-nilly without turning the whole thing into junk.

Yup, but see above.

(4) Since all the information was already in the genome to start with (in order for NS to act on it), and collecting all 1s that are cohabitable into a single group while eliminating (selecting against) 1s that are not cohabitable with the growing accumulation of 1s in our target group, all NS can possibly do is subtract information from the genome by killing off lines of 1s that do not play nice with the larger aggregates of 1s.

Yes, NS is very dumb, boring, incompetent etc. But (in my example) it does move the population along the scale, into the region of high adaptation which is where Dembski’s theorem says it cannot plausibly be expected to go unless Design is present.

15. I’m somewhat curious where you have found a biologist who claims that more than a few bits are added at a time. Duplication events present a pathway for accumulating significant new information, but at the time they occur they are not really adding much information.

16. SCheesman: Well. I’m an ID advocate, and I have to agree, if an ID commenter says that, I think they are wrong. On the other hand, I don’t think that is what ID, properly understood, says. At its simplest, ID says that the probability of any mutation producing new ifnormation is dependent on the increase in information achieved, and that while small steps are plausible, and observed, very large steps, requiring multiple mutations are extremely rare or impossible, given the resources available. So, yes Avida works just fine. It takes nice easy steps. Two bits of information, or 20 bits of information doesn’t seem too much to me in large bacterial populations. I would, however, declare the inability of natural, mutational processes to add CSI (complex-specified information), that is 150 (or even 120) bits of information, in a single step.

OK, so you agree that William Dembski’s CSI argument is wrong, that his Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information is wrong? And you instead rely more on Michael Behe’s arguments? Because it is quite clear that my numerical example (well, OK, a version of it with 500 loci instead) violates Dembski’s Law.

Note also that it does not attain 500 bits of information in one step, it accumulates it by natural selection acting over many generations.

I would add that ID advocates say all the time that CSI (or Functional Information) cannot arise except by Design. And I have never noticed them being corrected by their fellow ID advocates.

17. Joe Felsenstein: OK, so you agree that William Dembski’s CSI argument is wrong, that his Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information is wrong? And you instead rely more on Michael Behe’s arguments? Because it is quite clear that my numerical example (well, OK, a version of it with 500 loci instead) violates Dembski’s Law. Note also that it does not attain 500 bits of information in one step, it accumulates it by natural selection acting over many generations.I would add that ID advocates say all the time that CSI (or Functional Information) cannot arise except by Design. And I have never noticed them being corrected by their fellow ID advocates.

Well, I think that if you read William Dembski’s work, the idea of “hitting the bullseye” implicitly contains the “single-step” assumption, as does the law of conservation of specified information. I’m quite ready to be shown it does not; however, I would be surprised to find he believed it in exactly the manner you attribute to him.

I agree my ideas do closely follow Behe’s. I am also quite willing to entertain the possibility that someething with a lot of information might be built step-by-step, so if I am out-of-step with a lot of other ID commentators, so be it. I do, however believe that irreducibly complex systems exist (and cannot be built up step-by-step), and one way to measure that property is through the use of the CSI measure.

18. I would reject the notion that changes in gene frequency are inconsequential.

I didn’t say it was inconsequential; I said, it doesn’t add any information not already present in the genome

You can say that the information comes from the natural selection, or you can say that the information comes from the mutation process that creates the alleles from other alleless, or if you are Dembski and Marks (in their recent papers on Search for a Search) you can even say the information was out there in the shape of the fitness surface, lying around. But in any case all this is an exercise in semantics.

I hardly call being flat wrong about what puts functional information into the genome “semantics”.

The example shows otherwise.

Reasserting it doesn’t make it so.

Functional information is defined in terms of the population getting into the extreme region of the scale. Gene frequencies are highly relevant to that.

One has nothing to do with the other unless the info is combinatorial into a new function. Accumulating information doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere significant in terms of generating new information.

The point is that William Dembski’s argument is supposed to apply to all of these cases, including the simple one I gave. And I have shown that his argument does not work for that one.

No, you haven’t.

Yes, NS is very dumb, boring, incompetent etc. But (in my example) it does move the population along the scale, into the region of high adaptation which is where Dembski’s theorem says it cannot plausibly be expected to go unless Design is present.

It doesn’t move it anywhere in terms of inserting additional functional information into the genome, because all of the functional information in your argument was already there to begin with. Accumulating it all into one spot (even if one could without nasty stuff happening) doesn’t change the amount of functional information in the genome one bit. Only if the already-present functional information is successfully combinatorial as new functional information (IOW, does something new), and leaves the old information intact and still proliferating through the species has the functional information been increased. NS doesn’t combine information that way – only mutations of some sort can.

NS cannot increase functional information in a genome – only mutations can. NS can then work to fix the new functional information into the genome. NS can only remove information from the genome, not add it, which is why if the job (generation of functional new information) can’t be excpected to get done via the infinite monkey theory (even if not fixed into the population) , appealing to NS to help out is absurd. NS can’t act on what doesn’t exist in the first place.

This is a simple and straightforward logic issue.

19. SCheesman: Well. I’m an ID advocate, and I have to agree, if an ID commenter says that, I think they are wrong. On the other hand, I don’t think that is what ID, properly understood, says. At its simplest, ID says that the probability of any mutation producing new ifnormation is dependent on the increase in information achieved, and that while small steps are plausible, and observed, very large steps, requiring multiple mutations are extremely rare or impossible, given the resources available. So, yes Avida works just fine. It takes nice easy steps. Two bits of information, or 20 bits of information doesn’t seem too much to me in large bacterial populations. I would, however, declare the inability of natural, mutational processes to add CSI (complex-specified information), that is 150 (or even 120) bits of information, in a single step.

Welcome to TSZ

You may be right (I’m not sure – I guess a duplicated gene might do the trick), so is your position that some features we observe in biological organisms must have been achieved in a single step?

Because I’d note that AVIDA doesn’t, in fact, take “nice easy steps”. No function can be achieved in a single step From another function, and some of the functions (at least using the default settings) actually seem to require multiple neutral (non-selected( steps, as well steps that are actually deleterious (reduce fitness).

What makes you think that some biological features require all the steps to be simultaneous? Why can’t they be achieved by a series of neutral, or even deleterious steps as in AVIDA?

20. SCheesman: Well, I think that if you read William Dembski’s work, the idea of “hitting the bullseye” implicitly contains the “single-step” assumption, as does the law of conservation of specified information. I’m quite ready to be shown it does not; however, I would be surprised to find he believed it in exactly the manner you attribute to him.

His theorems are posed in terms of a mapping from one state to another, and he argues that his theorem rules out arriving in the region which is Compex Specified Information (the top 10-to-the-minus-150th of all genotypes) as a result of that transformation. That affects the Design Inference because it is the justification for saying that if we see CSI then we can infer it was design that did this. Although posed in terms of a single step, he certainly wants to use this to rule out gradually getting there by processes such as natural selection. As his model of natural processes is a 1-1 mapping, that can be iterated generation by generation so that the net outcome after (say) 100 generations is itself a 1-1 mapping.

I agree my ideas do closely follow Behe’s. I am also quite willing to entertain the possibility that someething with a lot of information might be built step-by-step, so if I am out-of-step with a lot of other ID commentators, so be it. I do, however believe that irreducibly complex systems exist (and cannot be built up step-by-step), and one way to measure that property is through the use of the CSI measure.

I have given no argument about irreducible complexity. My focus here is on Dembski’s LCCSI and the use of it (endlessly) by ID commenters to argue that if we see (Complex) Specified Information or enough Functional Information, that we can conclude in favor of design. I’m glad to see you agree with me about this.

21. I would add that ID advocates say all the time that CSI (or Functional Information) cannot arise except by Design.

When we say that we mean from scratch, meaning starting with zero SI blind and undirected cannot produce CSI.

22. Sorry but CSI refers to origins- that is very clear in everything Dembski has written- and that is supported by Meyer.

Not so, Joe:

The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories, Stephen C. Meyer, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2):213-239. 2004

…One way to estimate the amount of new CSI that appeared with the Cambrian animals is to count the number of new cell types that emerged with them (Valentine 1995:91-93). Studies of modern animals suggest that the sponges that appeared in the late Precambrian, for example, would have required five cell types, whereas the more complex animals that appeared in the Cambrian (e.g., arthropods) would have required fifty or more cell types. Functionally more complex animals require more cell types to perform their more diverse functions. New cell types require many new and specialized proteins. New proteins, in turn, require new genetic information…

23. William J. Murray: It doesn’t move it anywhere in terms of inserting additional functional information into the genome, because all of the functional information in your argument was already there to begin with. Accumulating it all into one spot (even if one could without nasty stuff happening) doesn’t change the amount of functional information in the genome one bit. Only if the already-present functional information is successfully combinatorial as new functional information (IOW, does something new), and leaves the old information intact and still proliferating through the species has the functional information been increased. NS doesn’t combine information that way – only mutations of some sort can.

Could you say exactly what you mean by this, William? specifically what you mean by “inserting additional functional information into the genome”. Are you talking about an additional sequence (or new) into a specific genotype, or are you talking about the frequency/probability of an additional (or new) sequence in a population? Because I think this may matter.

Finally this: “Accumulating it all into one spot…” : what do you mean by “one spot”, specifically?

24. William J. Murray: I didn’t say it was inconsequential; I said, it doesn’t add any information not already present in the genome

I hardly call being flat wrong about what puts functional information into the genome “semantics”.

Reasserting it doesn’t make it so.

I disagree with you about whether natural selection can put functional information into the genome. Functional information is defined (by Hazen et al.) as a measure of how far into the tail of possible configurations the system is. In the case I gave I showed that in the presence of natural selection functional information increases. In the absence of natural selection, in that numerical example, the distribution of genotypes does not change. I am using Dembski’s SI and Hazen’s FI, not your own definitions.

[Quoting me:]
Functional information is defined in terms of the population getting into the extreme region of the scale. Gene frequencies are highly relevant to that.

One has nothing to do with the other unless the info is combinatorial into a new function. Accumulating information doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere significant in terms of generating new information.

Neither Dembski’s nor Hazen’s arguments are posed in terms of “new function”. Nor do they deal with “anywhere significant”. Those are constructs of yours.

[Quoting me:]
The point is that William Dembski’s argument is supposed to apply to all of these cases, including the simple one I gave. And I have shown that his argument does not work for that one.

No, you haven’t.

I have. I have shown where in Dembski’s argument he changes the specification — his Law of Conservation (of CSI) requires that you measure by a different yardstick before and after the natural processes act. Since use of this theorem in the Design Inference requires that we use the same yardstick throughout, this makes his theorem unusable for the Design Inference. In addition I pointed to Elsberry and Shallit (2003), who noted that Demsbki uses the process (the mapping which models the natural processes) itself in defining the specification, even though he previously required that the specification be defined independently of the mapping. And finally, I have given numerical examples (one here) that show the population moving farther and farther along the scale which defined CSI or FI. So this is not just a bald assertion.

It doesn’t move it anywhere in terms of inserting additional functional information into the genome, because all of the functional information in your argument was already there to begin with. Accumulating it all into one spot (even if one could without nasty stuff happening) doesn’t change the amount of functional information in the genome one bit.Only if the already-present functional information is successfully combinatorial as new functional information (IOW, does something new), and leaves the old information intact and still proliferating through the species has the functional information been increased.NS doesn’t combine information that way – only mutations of some sort can.

I doubt that you will find William Dembski arguing that complex specified information can be created by mutational processes alone!

NS cannot increase functional information in a genome – only mutations can. NS can then work to fix the new functional information into the genome. NS can only remove information from the genome, not add it, which is why if the job (generation of functional new information) can’t be excpected to get done via the infinite monkey theory (even if not fixed into the population) , appealing to NS to help out is absurd. NS can’t act on what doesn’t exist in the first place.

See above.

This is a simple and straightforward logic issue.

I am glad that there is something that we agree on.

25. The title gives it away. Also read Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and Dembski’s “No Free Lunch”

26. Ido:
Has anybody here read Steve Frank’s paper on the link between natural selection and information? It’s a challenge!

Thank you for pointing that out.

Also, there’s my 1978 paper in American Naturalist

27. Elizabeth: Because I’d note that AVIDA doesn’t, in fact, take “nice easy steps”. No function can be achieved in a single step From another function, and some of the functions (at least using the default settings) actually seem to require multiple neutral (non-selected( steps, as well steps that are actually deleterious (reduce fitness).
What makes you think that some biological features require all the steps to be simultaneous? Why can’t they be achieved by a series of neutral, or even deleterious steps as in AVIDA?

Well, “nice easy” I guess is relative to the number of bits of information changed in each step and the resources available to search the solution space around the current iteration. Avida is quite up to the task.

The requirement of simultaneity is, I would suggest, a hallmark of irreducible complexity. In biological machines you need not just a single protein, but frequently a dozen or more. It is challenging enough to obtain a single protein that does what you need, but to get an ensemble arranged in just the right fashion, moreover able to construct the machine in the proper order… well that’s a tall order, I say, and if you’re the skeptical sort (I’m more the sceptical sort, being Canadian), that looks like the sort of thing that only intelligent designers can accomplish.

28. that looks like the sort of thing that only intelligent designers can accomplish.

I’d be interested in your evidence that an intelligent designer can produce the kind of complex biological structures you refer to.

29. Joe Felsenstein:
Elizabeth –

I am getting emails from WordPress asking me to “moderate” certain comments.I think I should not be the one to do that, unless you hand them over to me.I find that subsequently you have posted the comments so I don’t need to moderate them.

Sorry about that, Joe. I’ve just instituted a moderation system, and I didn’t know that happened. I’ll try to stop it.

30. Joe Felsenstein: Thank you for pointing that out.

Also, there’s my 1978 paper in American Naturalist

The “macro-evolution in a model ecosystem” paper? Our library doesn’t subscribe to such ‘ancient’ volumes of amnat. Is there a link to a pdf somewhere?

31. Ido: macro-evolution in a model ecosystem

You can read it free online if you register with JSTOR.

I just did! Very worth while

32. Joe G:
Venter has synthesized a ribosome- NS has never been observed to do such a thing.

No, Venter didn’t “synthesise a ribosome”. Venter copied the genes to produce ribosomes – genes that had evolved in existing organisms.
Odd, isn’t it – everything we know for certain to have been designed, was designed under the control of a material, tangible entity operating in the material universe.

33. SCheesman: Well, “nice easy” I guess is relative to the number of bits of information changed in each step and the resources available to search the solution space around the current iteration. Avida is quite up to the task.

Could you be more specific? Are you essentially saying that the AVIDA genomes – and genes – are smaller? And what exactly do you mean by “search the solution space around the current iteration”? Each virtual organism in AVIDA has its own genome, and replicates asexually, with mutations (point mutations, insertions and deletions). These mutations affect the efficiency with which the organism copies itself, and the rate at which it acquires the “energy” it needs to perform its functions (including its self-copying function, but also the functions that net it extra “energy”). In other words the virtual organisms in AVIDA are really quite life-like – they have to exploit their environment for food, which takes various forms and must be “caught” in various ways. Every so often an organism finds itself with a genotype that enables it to exploit a new environmental resource, which improves its capacity to reproduce. Those variants will clearly then become more prevalent. However, the majority of mutations in AVIDA are either deleterious or neutral; only a small proportion turn out to be advantageous. Moreover, some advantageous mutations are only advantageous if they happen to a genotype that contains certain mutations which, on their own, are quite markedely deleterious.

And so, while I agree that AVIDA is “up to the task”, I don’t see that the task consists of particularly “nice easy” steps. The vast majority of “steps” are either neutral or deleterious, and some beneficial steps are actually dependent on prior deleterious ones.

The requirement of simultaneity is, I would suggest, a hallmark of irreducible complexity. In biological machines you need not just a single protein, but frequently a dozen or more. It is challenging enough to obtain a single protein that does what you need, but to get an ensemble arranged in just the right fashion, moreover able to construct the machine in the proper order… well that’s a tall order, I say, and if you’re the skeptical sort (I’m more the sceptical sort, being Canadian), that looks like the sort of thing that only intelligent designers can accomplish.

But what is your evidence that “simultaneity” is necessary? In AVIDA, certain functions (well, all, in fact, but some more than others) required several genetic sequences to be simultaneously present for the function to evolve. But those sequences did not have to appear on a single organism simultaneously de novo. Typically, all but one key mutations were present in the parent of the organism that was “born” with that missing piece, even though the other pieces did not, in the absence of the “key” piece, confer any advantage. In other words, every single AVIDA function is Irreducibly Complex, both by Behe’s original definition (remove any part and it doesn’t work), and by his allternate concept of IC “pathways” (evolved by many necessary neutral or deleterious steps unbroken by advantageous steps).

I hope Richard Hoppe might show up in this thread, as he has done a lot of playing around with AVIDA (and was the person who got me interested in it!)

But I guess the point I’m trying to get across is not: AVIDA works, therefore life evolved, but that the fact that AVIDA works falsifies the idea that Darwinian evolution cannot, in principle, generate Functional Complexity, which has been a strong plank of the ID case – certainly Dembski’s.

34. But I guess the point I’m trying to get across is not: AVIDA works, therefore life evolved, but that the fact that AVIDA works falsifies the idea that Darwinian evolution cannot, in principle, generate Functional Complexity, which has been a strong plank of the ID case – certainly Dembski’s.

And the example I posted here shows that quite simple population genetics models also falsify the idea that evolution with natural selection cannot, in principle, generate Functional Information.

35. Using the bacteria E. coli, Church and Research Fellow Michael Jewett extracted the bacteria’s natural ribosomes, broke them down into their constituent parts, removed the key ribosomal RNA and then synthesized the ribosomal RNA anew from molecules.

He copied and pasted. I can write Shakespeare that way. It doesn’t make me an author or even a writer.

I asked for evidence that a designer can design. That would mean making a gene from scratch. And since, to my knowledge, human protein designers use evolution in their work, I’d say ID has nothing to offer unless you can show that de novo design is possible without using some form of evolution. Otherwise the designer is just doing what evolution can demonstrably do.

36. damitall: Citation?

You made the claim so it is up to you to support it- There isn’t anything on the interwebs about what you said…

37. petrushka: He copied and pasted. I can write Shakespeare that way. It doesn’t make me an author or even a writer.

I asked for evidence that a designer can design. That would mean making a gene from scratch. And since, to my knowledge, human protein designers use evolution in their work, I’d say ID has nothing to offer unless you can show that de novo design is possible without using some form of evolution. Otherwise the designer is just doing what evolution can demonstrably do.

How about NS making a gene from scratch?

And what has evolution been demonstrated to do?

38. that looks like the sort of thing that only intelligent designers can accomplish.

We’ve heard from JoeG, but I’d like to hear from SCheesman or any other ID advocate or evolution skeptic.

I’d be interested in your evidence that an intelligent designer can produce the kind of complex biological structures you refer to.

I’d like to know your source for the claim that intelligent designers can design complex structures in living things without using some form of evolution.

It seems self evident that if intelligent design appears to be the more likely explanation, you must have some evidence.

39. Elizabeth — I found a typo in the post. In the last sentence of paragraph 6, the second “then” should be “than”. Hardly noticeable but as I can’t edit the post and you can, I need to request the fix. Thanks.

40. Joe G: You made the claim so it is up to you to support it- There isn’t anything on the interwebs about what you said…

In point of fact , It was YOU made the claim, without evidence, that Venter synthesised a ribosome.

OTOH I know a little about how these things are done. Ribosomes contain both RNA and protein, as you know. And whilst one can synthesise RNA in vitro from the necessary individual nucleotides, when it comes to proteins, one is pretty limited as to the size of polypeptide that can be synthesised in vitro from the individual amino acids ( <100 aa from commercial peptide synthesising services, IIRC, and at least one of the ribosome proteins has around 400 aa in it)
So if you want ribosomes, you EITHER extract them from living cells (which can be done) , OR nick the necessary genes for a ribosome, muck about with them if you need to, then bung them in an organism where they will be expressed and the ribosome assembled.

Her's a quote from Venter
"We talked about the ribosome; we tried to make synthetic ribosomes, starting with the genetic code and building them — the ribosome is such an incredibly beautiful complex entity, you can make synthetic ribosomes, but they don't function totally yet. Nobody knows how to get ones that can actually do protein synthesis. That is not building life from scratch but relying on billions of years of evolution."

He tried, but failed.

And that quote is reported in no less than Evolution News

41. My point would be that even if we have the technology to construct a ribosome, we do not have the ability to design one from scratch.

The Intelligent Designer has a tough row to hoe. Without being alive and without ever seeing a living organism, he must conceive of the possibility, navigate through all that impossibly sparse sequence space to those 500 bit islands, and build the stuff out of quarks and such.

And this is considered more probable that chemical evolution. All I want to know is why design proponents assert that they know it can be done. I’d like to see an example of where it has been done.

42. Oh and with respect to George Church,it seems that he didn’t synthesise a complete ribosome, but the RNA portions of ribosomes. Good work, but not what I would call a “synthetic ribosome”

43. Anyone know if Prof Church has published his work on “synthetic ribosomes”? I can’t find it anywhere

44. petrushka:
My point would be that even if we have the technology to construct a ribosome, we do not have the ability to design one from scratch.

The Intelligent Designer has a tough row to hoe. Without being alive and without ever seeing a living organism, he must conceive of the possibility, navigate through all that impossibly sparse sequence space to those 500 bit islands, and build the stuff out of quarks and such.

And this is considered more probable that chemical evolution. All I want to know is why design proponents assert that they know it can be done. I’d like to see an example of where it has been done.

45. petrushka:
My point would be that even if we have the technology to construct a ribosome, we do not have the ability to design one from scratch.

So when we develop that ability- to design one from scratch- would that then “prove” ID?

46. Joe G: So when we develop that ability- to design one from scratch- would that then “prove” ID?

No. it would be another case of a known material, natural, entity designing. You know, like ALL known instances of proven design

47. We use the same principles to determine design regardless of the “nature” of the designer.

In the absence of direct observation, or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the design(s) or the specific process(es) used, is by studying the design and all relevant evidence.

48. It appears that natural selection is just a statistical artifact. And it may be an artifact that is indishtinguishable from genetic drift.

And that means one should be skeptical of any claims of it putting functional information anywhere.

49. I am out on my own limb here, but I put biological design in the same category as faster than light travel, time travel and perpetual motion. I don’t speak for mainstream science on this. I speak for myself.

I don’t think there is (or is going to be) any way to design living things and complex components of living things from scratch. I see the issue as one of complexity and emergence and horizons.

This isn’t magic. It’s simply a statement that you can’t anticipate all the properties of complex dynamic systems.All inventions are extensions of existing inventions. Aside from trivial structures whose properties can be calculated, most new things evolve by extending what is known to work and trying. Call it intelligent evolution.

The difference between intelligent evolution and what ID advocates call design, is that there is no magic. ID advocates seem to think there is some way to bypass cut and try. They are particularly fond of asserting that biological designers can magically poof into existence 500 bit sequences without cumulative selection.

I don’t think it can be done, and I’d like to see actual evidence that it is even possible. In this regard, design is less likely thatn time travel. Physicists can at least produce thought experiments that outline possible methods of time travel, but no one in the ID movement has produced a thought experiment that details how the designer works, how he knows what sequences are functional, how he obtained the list of functional sequences, where in the universe he stores the database of functional sequences (whose numbers must exceed the number of particles in the universe).

50. Actually we don’t use the same principles to detect design regardless of the designer. When doing forensics we always consider the motives and capabilities of potential designers.

Before Galileo and Newton it was commonplace to attribute phenomena to intelligent agents, but I can’t think of a single instance where this has worked out.

Aside from claims made regarding OOL and evolution, can anyone cite a single example where a phenomenon has been attributed to an unknown agent and where this attribution has been commonly accepted?

I mean, do the police ever attribute crimes to ghosts or disembodied spirits? Archaeologists? Paleontologists? Geologists? Astronomers? Chemists? Physicists?

51. It’s functional, even if it’s drift. to be fixed it must be as functional as what it replaced, or nearly so. It’s still natural selection, even if it isn’t uphill.

52. Joe G:
It appears that natural selection is just a statistical artifact. And it may be an artifact that is indishtinguishable from genetic drift.

And that means one should be skeptical of any claims of it putting functional information anywhere.

This will mystify anyone familiar with population genetics theory, which shows clearly the difference between the two forces. It apparently “appears” somewhere in a way that escaped theoreticians for a century.

53. I posted a comment in the Hazen thread, saying that its seems in some sense, Hazen’s I[Ex] shares some relationship to Shannon’s (U). Whereas in Hazen’s argument, as the possible number of equal or better solutions approach 0, that the p(x) in Shannon’s uncertainty argument would also likely be approaching 0. But the difference between these two equations is in the assumptions.
For Hazen’s equation, trying to imagine and pin down all of the equal or better functions, and then imagine and pin down all of the total possible functions, would require more assumptions and is more cumbersome then simply measuring population frequency and compressibility.

54. Joe Felsenstein,
You say:

“In addition, I am not calculating measures of complexity of the population.”

This has been made clear from your 2007 paper and this post. However, complexity is the first measurement in the Complex Specified Information argument.

You also state:

“So even if natural selection isn’t “putting” the information into the genome, its presence has the dramatic effect of invalidating the argument that the presence of CSI proves that natural processes other than Design could not be responsible for the adaptation.”

If you were not calculating population frequencies to satisfy or disqualify the complexity signature then I am not understanding how the presence of CSI was identified. You seem to pivot, bob and weave a little between CSI and term functional information.

55. My apologies Joe- I wasn’t referring to “theory”, I was referring to what we actually observe and how it is actually applied.

Perhaps you can tell us how to determine, just by looking at an existing population, if its members are there due to natural selection, genetic drift, sheer dumb luck, cooperation- or any other possible “mechanism”.

56. petrushka:
It’s functional, even if it’s drift. to be fixed it must be as functional as what it replaced, or nearly so. It’s still natural selection, even if it isn’t uphill.

To be fixed- those magical words- but anyway to be natural selection it has to be differential reproduction DUE TO heritable random generation.

57. Actually we don’t use the same principles to detect design regardless of the designer. When doing forensics we always consider the motives and capabilities of potential designers.

But in the absence of direct observation, or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the design(s) or the specific process(es) used, is by studying the design and all relevant evidence.

Many crimes are unsolved and that does not mean they ain’t crimes- and we don’t know the designers of many ancient artifacts, we can only speculate and try to determine if humans had the materials to pull it off- we know the capability of the designer by the evidence it left behind.

58. Joe G:
Venter has synthesized a ribosome- NS has never been observed to do such a thing.

I’d be interested in your evidence of an extra cosmic designer designing biological structures.

59. “However, complexity is the first measurement in the Complex Specified Information argument.”

Will you please measure the complexity, and the specified information, in a chicken egg, and show your work?

60. Joe G: But in the absence of direct observation, or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the design(s) or the specific process(es) used, is by studying the design and all relevant evidence.

Many crimes are unsolved and that does not mean they ain’t crimes- and we don’t know the designers of many ancient artifacts, we can only speculate and try to determine if humans had the materials to pull it off- we know the capability of the designer by the evidence it left behind.

If not humans, then who commits crimes, and who designed and produced ancient artifacts?

Do you have any evidence that something other than humans and some animals have ever designed anything?

61. Umm we have to follow the evidence.

Do you have any evidence that blind and undirected processes can design anything?

62. I’d be interested in your evidence that blind and undirected processes designing biological structures.

63. petrushka: I’d be interested in your evidence that an intelligent designer can produce the kind of complex biological structures you refer to.
I’d like to know your source for the claim that intelligent designers can design complex structures in living things without using some form of evolution.

Any of the modern attempts to produce self-replicating molecules from the basic amino acids is design. The design is implicit in the selection of the chemical environment, including temperatures, quantities of materials, filtering, cycling frequencies, the ordering of steps. The number of contingent steps spanned by intelligent intervention in order to produce the outcome provides the required injection of CSI.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from David Berlinski in response to reports in advances to create self-replicating RNA:

If the steps leading to the appearance of the pyridimines in a pre-biotic environment are not yet plausible, then neither is the appearance of a self-replicating form of RNA. Experiments conducted by Tracey Lincoln and Gerald Joyce at the Scripps Institute have demonstrated the existence of self-replicating RNA by a process of in vitro evolution. They began with what they needed and purified what they got until they got what they wanted.

64. SCheesman: Here’s one of my favourite quotes from David Berlinski in response to reports in advances to create self-replicating RNA:

David Berlinski. Is there anything he does not know?

65. Joe G:
Umm we have to follow the evidence.

Do you have any evidence that blind and undirected processes can design anything?

You have no evidence then?

66. SCheesman: Any of the modern attempts to produce self-replicating molecules from the basic amino acids is design. The design is implicit in the selection of the chemical environment, including temperatures, quantities of materials, filtering, cycling frequencies, the ordering of steps. The number of contingent steps spanned by intelligent intervention in order to produce the outcome provides the required injection of CSI.

The problem here, as I see it, is that by that reasoning, any empirical attempt by Intelligent Scientists to find out whether, under a specific set of circumstances, life could begin/evolve supports design!

But we do not apply this reasoning to other aspects of science. If we can do something in a lab (find an elementary particle, for instance) we consider that support for the hypothesis that it could occur outside the lab, without Intelligent Scientists accelerating stuff in a cyclotron, for instance.

The point surely is that if we find circumstances under which life emerges or evolves spontaneously, then we have evidence that there exist circumstances in which life can emerge or evolve. The next step is to find out whether those conditions, or similar, were present on early earth, not to dismiss the findings just because the conditions were selected by Intelligent Scientists, surely?

67. Creodont: Can you point me to where the complexity, and the specified information, in a chicken egg was measured?

I hate to have to explain a joke, but since there is also a basic truth involved, I will write out the detailed, mathematical formula in simplified terms:

Sum (Egg CSI) = Sum (Chicken CSI)*

(* for derivation of chicken CSI, examine original egg)

68. YOU don’t have any evidence then?

YOU don’t even have a way to test your position.

69. Creodont: Can you point me to where the complexity, and the specified information, in a chicken egg was measured?

In a more serious vein, a good deal of the answer really is encapsulated in the genome of the chicken, being the instructions encoded for the production of all the required chicken parts necessary in the production of a chicken egg. I say “a good deal” because, plainly, given a single fertilized chicken egg cell a chicken will not spring unbidden, unless the considerable infrastructure of a mother chicken is not also present in the proper spatial relationship to nuture its development. So while it might be possible to quantify the amount of information by counting the number of letters in its genetic code, the it would seem that that is but a subset of the total required “information” to produce a chicken. That’s the best answer I can give you.

70. Any of the modern attempts to produce self-replicating molecules from the basic amino acids is design.

I agree with Elizabeth that the fact that experiments involve controls (and are designed) does not mean the the underlying phenomena being studied is under the continuous control of demiurges.

What science does (and the study of OOL is included) is look for regularities. The kind of regularities that allowed Newton to derive the motions of planets from the flight of cannonballs.

But you ignored my question. What is your response to my question regarding the possibility of design without evolution? How does the designer know what sequences are functional? How does the designer reach the supposedly isolated islands of function? How did he achieve this knowledge? What is the design process?

71. I’m going to expand a bit.

ID advocates have posed the problem of sequence design as something comparable to breaking the combination of a lock with a 150 bit combination (sometimes 500 bits). a lock that will open only when the correct combination is entered and still not yield any feedback if you get 10 or 100 or 149 bits right. No incremental fitness; no sideways fitness.

Modern cipher keys are like this, and civilization depends on the inability of intelligent agents to break ciphers. This is precisely the heart of my argument. Our whole financial world is dependent on the inability of intelligent designers to do precisely what ID advocates assert they can do.

The alternative hypothesis is that biological function is not like this. The mainstream hypothesis is that sequences evolve, that they can be connected by incremental change.

If functional sequences are isolated like combination locks or cipher keys, then design is impossible. If they are connectable, and incremental change is possible, then evolution is possible and ID is ruled out by Occam’s razor.

72. junkdnaforlife:
Joe Felsenstein,
You say:

“In addition, I am not calculating measures of complexity of the population.”

This has been made clear from your 2007 paper and this post. However, complexity is the first measurement in the Complex Specified Information argument.

“Complexity” may mean different things to different people. In regard to compressibility of the pattern, Dembski made clear in No Free Lunch that compressibility was one, but only one, of the ways to define a Specification. For example, in section 2.4 of that book he describes compressibility (from algorithmic information theory) as “another example of extremal sets … that successfully eliminate chance ….” (p. 58)

On page 148 he says that

The specification of organisms can be cashed out in any number of ways. Arno Wouters cashes it out globally in terms of the viability of whole organisms. Michael Behe cashes it out in terms of the minimal function of biochemical systems. Darwinist Richard Dawkins cashes out biological specification in terms of the reproduction of genes.

I am using a scale of the dosage of alleles that positively affect the fitness. That is similar to Wouters’s and Dawkins’s specifications.

You also state:

“So even if natural selection isn’t “putting” the information into the genome, its presence has the dramatic effect of invalidating the argument that the presence of CSI proves that natural processes other than Design could not be responsible for the adaptation.”

If you were not calculating population frequencies to satisfy or disqualify the complexity signature then I am not understanding how the presence of CSI was identified. You seem to pivot, bob and weave a little between CSI and term functional information.

I am not sure what you are arguing. I am using a scale of fitness (or the dosage of 1s in the genome, with a rejection region on that scale (as Dembski does). He defines Complex Specified Information as being in the top 10-to-the-minus-150th of that region, under some null distribution. Functional Information (as defined by Hazen et al.) is defined as minus the log-to-the-base-2 of the probability of being as far, or farther, out into that tail. I took the null distribution to be equiprobability of all sequences, which corresponds to gene frequencies of 0.5 at all loci, When Functional Information reaches about 500 bits, that means the genotype has Complex Specified Information.

I am not trying to “duck and weave”. These are broadly consistent notions. One measures how far out you are, the other tells whether you have reached a preset level.

73. Joe G:
YOU don’t have any evidence then?

YOU don’t even have a way to test your position.

Since you don’t know what my position is, how do you know if I have a way to test it or not?

Do you always play childish games and avoid answering questions about your claims? Are my questions making you uncomfortable? I hope you realize that avoiding my questions and the questions from others is demonstrating the vacuity of your claims.

74. Elizabeth: The problem here, as I see it, is that by that reasoning, any empirical attempt by Intelligent Scientists to find out whether, under a specific set of circumstances, life could begin/evolve supports design!

No. Scientists can replicate an environment which approximates a natural one. This might include a system around a hydro-thermal vent which could include cycling and various concentration gradients etc, and that is fair game. In the same way geochemists regularly duplicate conditions for the formation and evolution of mineral species. What is important is the accounting of how many “decisions” are required along the route to produce required effect, and whether the probabilitstic resources are available to explore them. If abiogenesis really is possible, we should be able to demonstrate it in a lab; if not to “completion”, then at least an important fraction of the way along, and do it under conditions that are “reasonable” given our understanding of early-earth geochemistry.

75. The “accounting”, as I see it, falls into two parts; one is simply the production of the information-bearing molecules of sufficient size. Every step which requires filtering/purifying, or changes in the application of energy necessary to create a new chemical bond, or the availability of necessary catalysts or constituents, should be accounted for. Then there is the fact that not just any order is required in the final self-replicating molecules, and are enough produced to ensure reasonable odds of finding the “right” ones?

In geochemistry the material availability and the evolution of conditions as pressures and temperatures change directly feed into the output minerals. So the same sort analysis should extend to abiogenesis, except the ordering becomes a new issue.

76. SCheesman: In a more serious vein, a good deal of the answer really is encapsulated in the genome of the chicken, being the instructions encoded for the production of all the required chicken parts necessary in the production of a chicken egg. I say “a good deal” because, plainly, given a single fertilized chicken egg cell a chicken will not spring unbidden, unless the considerable infrastructure of a mother chicken is not also present in the proper spatial relationship to nuture its development. So while it might be possible to quantify the amount of information by counting the number of letters in its genetic code, the it would seem that that is but a subset of the total required “information” to produce a chicken. That’s the best answer I can give you.

In other words, neither the complexity nor the specified information (using those terms) has been measured in a chicken egg. Has either been measured in anything else, by a means that doesn’t just count letters that are a labeling system applied by humans? Does a spider have more CSI than a whale because there are more letters in the word spider?

I would also like to know how information can be called specified if a designers pre-production specifications are not known?

77. SCheesman: No. Scientists can replicate an environment which approximates a natural one. This might include a system around a hydro-thermal vent which could include cycling and various concentration gradients etc, and that is fair game. In the same way geochemists regularly duplicate conditions for the formation and evolution of mineral species. What is important is the accounting of how many “decisions” are required along the route to produce required effect, and whether the probabilitstic resources are available to explore them. If abiogenesis really is possible, we should be able to demonstrate it in a lab; if not to “completion”, then at least an important fraction of the way along, and do it under conditions that are “reasonable” given our understanding of early-earth geochemistry.

Well, the reason that there are ample “probabilistic resources” once self-replication-with-variation has got started is that the decision-nodes themselves are replicated.

But it is perfectly true that we do not yet have a convincing account of OOL. My hunch is that within my lifetime we will see self-replicating proto-cells emerge from non-self-replicating chemicals in the lab.

And I’m sixty today!

Feeling pretty healthy though, and looking forward to cake…..

78. Happy birthday Elizabeth!

My own take on the OoL question is that we don’t really know what it is we should be ‘creating’, nor which, out of the many nooks and crannies available on a 12,000-mile globe, we should be creating it in. Catalysis and energy sources are likely to be key ingredients – because of 2LoT – and the possible combinations are vast. And I’m inclined to think that membranes are vital, too, giving us an additional biophysical problem. Membrane gradients are the prime ‘energy converter’ in Life.

Evidently, it needs to be some kind of replicator, and the prime candidate for that is RNA. But we haven’t got too far with that. Oro in 1961 demonstrated how adenine can be synthesised abiotically from hydrogen cyanide, but getting that into stable polymers is one hell of a task.

I am interested in the role of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), however. The 3D shape of this molecule is vital for its role as a nucleic acid monomer. It is precisely because you can cleave off two of the phosphates and then attach the remaining one to the ribose of another that gives us both the energy to elongate RNA, and the physical ‘stuff’ of the RNA polymer itself. But the fact that the adenine comes off the chain at an angle is vital for that physical role. Plenty of sugar triphosphates with various side-chains could conceivably polymerise, but only ones with this flat side chain sticking out at such an angle can be stacked in the familiar way.

But there is another constraint – when such a single strand of RNA turns back on itself, it can form a ‘hairpin’ length of double helix. The chains are oppositely oriented (exactly as in DNA), so the bases going one way edge-align with those going the other way ‘upside down’ as it were – like a line of people with right arms extended: if it looped back, fingertips could touch but palms would be facing the opposite way. This restricts what can go the other side to stabilise the helix – polyadenine cannot form hairpins, but a stretch of polyadenine can form a hairpin with a stretch of polyuracil, because the charge distributions of the molecules, when oriented upside down, are complementary and form hydrogen bonds.

This pairing is carried forward into DNA, which is ALL about pairing – RNA can form all kinds of structures, but DNA is much more tightly restricted. Since modern RNA is all made from DNA, it is constrained to only hold the bases A, U, C and G. The range of RNA is limited by structural constraints in DNA.

But in ‘RNA world’, there is no such restriction. Where an RNA double helix forms, it must form between some kind of complementary pairs. But where unrestricted, the monomers can be anything – including ones that would disrupt a double helix, because they don’t come off at the ‘magic’ angle that ATP and its relatives do.

So the problem is, potentially, exacerbated. It may be that there are replicative reasons why RNA was constrained to A, U, C and G. Equally, there may not, and this opens up a vast variety of sequence space in which replicative ability can be found, but which needs bases in ribozymes that are not part of the current restricted RNA base set. And the ‘first replicator’ could be one of them.

So I’m inclined to be sceptical that we can ever successfully create a ‘proof of concept’ of the (assumed) ‘natural’ OoL.

79. Creodont: In other words, neither the complexity nor the specified information (using those terms) has been measured in a chicken egg. Has either been measured in anything else, by a means that doesn’t just count letters that are a labeling system applied by humans? Does a spider have more CSI than a whale because there are more letters in the word spider?

The question is really equivalent to “how many instructions does it take to create a chicken”, so it’s not surprising that such a measurement is not available on Wikipeadia. In addition, it’s not so easy to equate a certain length of the genome to a single instruction; sure some sections code for proteins that might perform a certain function, but the purpose of long stretches may be involved in such things as ensuring the shape of chromosomes, or any number of other things. Some might no longer have a function (junk DNA, anyone?). Finally, not all “specified information” need be complex-specified-information. It might, in principle, be possible to create some effective measure for individual molecular machines or pathways where just a few instructions are required for their construction. This question should be of interest to anyone interested in evolution. The information had to get there somehow, and it had to be added over time, if we assume we all came from carbon and oxygen and other atoms in the first place.

80. So I wonder which came first: the instructions for making the chicken, or the reader/interpreter of the instruction.

81. SCheesman:

it’s not so easy to equate a certain length of the genome to a single instruction

I don’t think it’s really that helpful to view the genome as ‘instructions’ at all. There is a ‘computer-like’ quality to it – the multiple sites of activator and repressor sequences, for instance, function like logic gates, the bases amount to a quaternary code comparable to binary, and the genetic translation system looks a bit like ASCII – but it is chemical ‘stuff’. It has linear form, but the phenotypes built from it are decidely non-linear.

The problem for any attempt to get a handle on ‘complexity’, or ‘information’, from the linear set of bases in DNA, is that context is everything. Just as a particular binary computer sequence could represent part of a picture of a horse, or a Beethoven sonata in MP3, or a virus, so does any piece of DNA depend upon what is ‘reading’ it as to what it does. And not just that; even a piece of coding sequence is entirely dependent upon where it ends up in the folded protein as to what its ‘function’ is. You can’t tell from looking at the genome, even though the ‘information’ is kind of in there. But it is also in the actual state of activator and repressor molecules in any given cell, it is in the physics of protein folding, it is in the complex chaos of multiple interactions between genes and gene products and the wider environment.

Genotype is linear. That’s why it is possible to amend it ad lib without having any real effect on its ‘complexity’ – most linear sequences of bases of a given length are just as complex as each other, in a trivial sense. The complexity that interests us – complex organisms – is pulled out of the linear sequence, folded by physics and integrated by better survival of successful integrations. But this is phenotype, and it is not inherited. There is nothing fundamental preventing the genotypes for complex phenotypes being inherited by the sequence-disinterested process of DNA replication – even if the complexity of the phenotypes is on an upward trajectory, the DNA copying process copies AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA and ATACAGTGACGATAGCAGAT with entirely even hand, even if the first means nothing and the second is a a vital instruction in the making of a heart (it probably isn’t; I made it up). But given that even simple protein folds are the kind of thing that takes a supercomputer (or Folding@Home parallel processing of networked spare pc capacity, a la SETI), trying to determine a serious ‘function’ heuristic, still less a ‘designed function’ one, for anything more complex seems like a non-starter.

82. SCheesman: The question is really equivalent to “how many instructions does it take to create a chicken”, so it’s not surprising that such a measurement is not available on Wikipeadia. In addition, it’s not so easy to equate a certain length of the genome to a single instruction; sure some sections code for proteins that might perform a certain function, but the purpose of long stretches may be involved in such things as ensuring the shape of chromosomes, or any number of other things. Some might no longer have a function (junk DNA, anyone?). Finally, not all “specified information” need be complex-specified-information. It might, in principle, be possible to create some effective measure for individual molecular machines or pathways where just a few instructions are required for their construction. This question should be of interest to anyone interested in evolution. The information had to get there somehow, and it had to be added over time, if we assume we all came from carbon and oxygen and other atoms in the first place.

ID proponents invented and use the term CSI (complex specified information), and adamantly claim that it can be easily measured. I think it’s reasonable to ask what the measurement of CSI is in easily available things, like chicken eggs for instance. I could have asked for the measurement of CSI in the nervous system or reproductive organs of a gynandromorphic Plebejus anna.

83. Creodont: ID proponents invented and use the term CSI (complex specified information), and adamantly claim that it can be easily measured.

Well, I think the concept is useful, but I don’t think it is so easy to measure. The construction of anything surely is reducible to a discrete number of steps or specifications, and if something requires a lot of steps, why not say that is a complex specification? The number of bits in a binary code is not an unreasonable start, since it represents a sequence of “yes” and “no” decisions, but extending that to a genetic code, as Allan Miller notes above, is hardly straightforward, in the best of circumstances. And I repeat, I do think this sort of analysis is valuable, no matter where you stand in w.r.t. ID vs naturalistic origins.

84. I believe you are conflating time-dependant systems and time-independent systems, (Hazen et al makes this distinction I believe in his I(Ex) argument).

To begin this difficult outline, we might choose to isolate at shell level, whereas the predominant element appears to be Ca, (source population earth’s crust). We might first consider all possible microstates of Ca that would be considered an egg shell/all possible microstates for Ca and take that value as x, then draw on Shannon, u = -log(p(x)), (however not sure how to handle Boltz k in this system). Nonetheless, if correctly calculated, a very high value for u might be be an argument that [C]SI is satisfied, it follows then to consider S is dependent on establishing C etc

p.s. Happy B-day Dr. Liz Liddle

85. SCheesman: Well, I think the concept is useful, but I don’t think it is so easy to measure. The construction of anything surely is reducible to a discrete number of steps or specifications, and if something requires a lot of steps, why not say that is a complex specification? The number of bits in a binary code is not an unreasonable start, since it represents a sequence of “yes” and “no” decisions, but extending that to a genetic code, as Allan Miller notes above, is hardly straightforward, in the best of circumstances. And I repeat, I do think this sort of analysis is valuable, no matter where you stand in w.r.t. ID vs naturalistic origins.

Reducible to a discrete number of steps, or to a number of steps, sounds more like Darwinian theory than ID, and I see no need or reason to add the word specification, if for no other reason that any so-called specification is unknown unless the assumed designer’s pre-production specifications are known. I think it’s safe to say that no such thing will ever be known.

The word complex is already used by scientists and adds nothing to ID claims, and also doesn’t add anything new to science. As with other arguments from ID proponents you appear to be suggesting that the terminology used in the study of evolutionary biology should be changed for no reason other than to give credit to an assumed designer that has never been shown to exist. It’s not a change of terminology that is needed from ID proponents, it’s a working hypothesis, definitions that make sense, and testable evidence that supports their claims, if they want to be taken seriously.

86. I believe you are conflating time-dependant systems and time-independent systems, (Hazen et al makes this distinction I believe in his I(Ex) argument).

To begin this difficult outline, we might choose to isolate at shell level, whereas the predominant element appears to be Ca, (source population earth’s crust). We might first consider all possible microstates of Ca that would be considered an egg shell/all possible microstates for Ca and take that value as x, then draw on Shannon, u = -log(p(x)),(however not sure how to handle Boltz k in this system). Nonetheless, if correctly calculated, a very high value for umight be be an argument that [C]SI is satisfied, it follows then to consider S is dependent on establishing C etc

p.s. Happy B-day Dr. Liz Liddle

Your response is interesting, although I feel as though you’re just trying to test me. Honestly, the only thing in your response that matters is the way you used the word “satisfied”, in reference to CSI. CSI is a poorly defined term that has been shown to be useless in determining anything that relates to evolution, or biology in general. Before anything in regard to the term CSI can be “satisfied” in a scientific sense, the term CSI must be specifically defined in a manner that makes the term useful, and actual CSI (whatever it is) must be measurable, and the measurement itself must be useful. I think it is very telling that no ID proponent seems to be able to measure the assumed CSI in something as common as a chicken egg, or in any other organism.

87. junkdnaforlife

We might first consider all possible microstates of Ca that would be considered an egg shell/all possible microstates for Ca and take that value as x, then draw on Shannon, u = -log(p(x)), (however not sure how to handle Boltz k in this system).

I think you may be confusing two kinds of entropy, and extending Shannon way beyond the ‘informatic’ realm! The observation that there is an interesting distribution of calcium on the surface of the earth, which on further investigation collects surprisingly in thin spherical sheets that turn out to be alternately inside and outside chickens, does not really tell us much about how that distribution came about! :0)

88. SCheesman:

The number of bits in a binary code is not an unreasonable start, since it represents a sequence of “yes” and “no” decisions, but extending that to a genetic code …

I think the vital word is “sequence”. Linear DNA sequence is important for chemical reasons, not informatic ones. You can only copy DNA to DNA or RNA in one direction (adding to the ‘sugar’ end, or 3′), and ribosomes only condense amino acids to protein by adding to the -NH2 end. Both of these constraints arise, in part, from stereochemistry – the simple fact that, as carbon has 4 binding directions that arrange tetrahedrally, molecules made from them with different atoms in each direction (including the ribose sugar of DNA/RNA, and amino acids) have distinct ‘ends’. When you polymerise the monomers, your enzymes/ribozymes that do this, being themselves built from carbon, have to ‘pick’ a direction and stick with it – and there may be energetic resons why one direction is preferable to the other.

The result – a folded protein or ribozyme – is just a globular chemical catalyst. The fact that it is made from a chain is secondary to the fact that this chain is folded.

But it is misleading to think that this sequence is anything more than analogous to sequential ‘information’ in comms packets or computer code/files.

A different meaning of sequence (and another computer analogy) arises when we think of the complex control that is applied to genetic expression during a life. The ordered expression of genes is vital for proper replication, and the ‘serial’ phenotype – the transitions from blastocyst to embryo to juvenile to adult – is just as ‘complex’ as a time-specific ‘slice’ taken through the current stage reached by the genetic ‘program’. And of course it never got to any stage without going through the one before. It always starts (comparatively) simple.

But really, this is all fixation upon phenotype. In one sense, phenotype hardly matters, so long as it ‘works’. Genes – the linear sequence of DNA – are replicated, life after life. In animals, the germ line genes remain dormant and broadly undifferentiated (except that they move towards generating gametes). The rest is just a massive shell of dead-end cells containing those same genes. Those shells can become enormously elaborate, and they play a vital role in the survival of the germ line. But they don’t have to be complex; they don’t even have to exist. Single-celled organisms get along fine without them. Obviously, since we are such somatic shells, we regard them as very important. But in evolutionary terms, they are just another way of making a living.

Coming up with a metric for their elaborateness would be interesting if we could do it. I’d go for a ‘psuedo-Kolmogorov’ measure – ‘complexity’ is the length of time it would take to execute a computer program that could determine, without actually needing to build the organism, whether the DNA genotype will be viable. Might be easier to just build the organism!

89. Creodont: I think it is very telling that no ID proponent seems to be able to measure the assumed CSI in something as common as a chicken egg, or in any other organism.

What is telling is your misunderstanding of the issues. Forget CSI for a moment. How much information is in a chicken egg? The same as in a chicken. What is that information except the instructions and machinery necessary to create a chicken? This is hardly different than asking to quantify the information required to create life. Give me the instructions to create life from non-life, and I’ll be well along the way telling you the quantity of “Chicken-Specifying-Information”.

CSI is about origins, as others on this and other threads have pointed out. It is virtually incoherent to ask how much CSI is in a chicken egg. What you can answer are questions like “What is the global increase in CSI in the universe when a chicken lays an egg?” The answer to that question, pretty well without exception, is zero, or negative. Of course “evolution” requires it to be, on average, greater than or equal to zero, or you have stasis or “devolution”.