Sunday, February 2, 2014

Three Logical Prerequisites for Biological Evolution

One central question that proponents of biological evolution must answer is: How did the information in DNA get there? We might disagree on how much information is present in living things or even on how to quantify or define it, but pretty much everyone agrees that the DNA of living things contains information not found in non-living things and that complex organisms have more of it than simpler organisms.

So how did that information get there? Can information be added, bit by bit, through unguided natural processes? That’s what evolution claims. But, so far, this step by step addition of information has not been observed. Until it is observed, the idea of common ancestry of all life is merely conjecture.

Of course, even if we could show that there are some instances in which information is added by unguided natural processes, that would be necessary to support common ancestry, but not sufficient. In other words, you have to have that if evolution is true, but it's not enough, by itself, to prove it. In order to even begin to make a solid case for biological evolution, one must show three things. If even one of these prerequisites is false, the modern theory of evolution (i.e. common ancestry via unguided natural processes) cannot be true. If any one of them cannot be shown to be true, evolution remains unverified and thus belongs to the realm of speculation, not science.

1: It is possible to add biological information.

Think of Dawkins’ proverbial "Mount Improbable" which looks like an impossibly steep cliff on one side, but can be climbed by tiny little steps up the back. This is the evolutionist's concept of adding biological information in tiny steps, so that over time they add up to all the complexity we see among organisms today. However, you cannot climb Mount Improbable unless it is, at some level, possible to go UPWARD. If you only ever take downward or level steps and cannot step upward, you will never get to the top, no matter how much time you have or how shallow the slope is. Thus, in order to prove evolution, it is necessary (but not sufficient) to show that it is possible to add genetic information through unguided processes.

2: There are more upward steps than downward steps (or at least a way to get more upward steps than downward steps at least some of the time).

We know that genetic information is corrupted and destroyed through mutation. We know that there are many, many harmful effects when an organism's DNA is altered. In order for evolution to overcome this downward current toward catastrophic information loss, there must be an even stronger current upward (at least some of the time) in order to explain how the information was able to increase from that present in a tiny and simple organism to the information in a larger and more complex one.

Again, using the Mount Improbable analogy, it is impossible to get to the top by taking three steps downward for every step upward. There must be an overall trend toward increasing information. So even if there are a few examples of increasing information, they are not sufficient to prove evolution. If evolution is true, these upward changes must be the rule, not a rare exception.

3: There does exist a gradual genetic pathway that can be climbed in tiny, incremental steps.

In order for evolution to be true, not only does information have to be added over time, but each successive change must occur in a living organism and it must be conserved by being passed on to offspring. Thus, the change cannot kill the organism or seriously disable it, or the change will not be passed on. This must be the case for EVERY step in the entire evolutionary sequence, no matter how small. At every step you must have a functional organism. Thus, the changes must be gradual enough that the tiny upward steps (if they exist) can achieve each new level without killing or disabling the organism.

To use a simplistic analogy, if one tries to change from one word to another by changing one letter at a time (cat to cot to dot to dog, for example), there must, at every step, be an actual word that can be reached by changing one letter. In the Mount Improbable analogy, this means that there can be no upward jumps in the trail. If the maximum possible upward step is 6 inches, then there can be no 6 foot cliffs along the trail, or even 7 inch steps. If ever there is a step which requires more information than unguided evolution can provide, then evolution is falsified in that instance. It cannot account for the change in information if that is the case.

The problem with these three points is that, not only have they not been proven, but they aren't even adequately addressed by modern science. There has been a bit of discussion on point 1, with a handful of examples that might show information increase. However, even these are controversial and far from settled. There has yet to be shown any clear-cut examples of the addition of information by unguided, natural means. There are plenty of examples of genetic change that benefits the organism, but none that clearly do so by increasing information. In other words, while these examples do show that organisms change, it is not clear that these cases show the KIND of change that is necessary to account for how the current genetic information in living things got there in the first place.

So point 1 above has not yet been conclusively proven. We don't even have adequate evidence that upward evolution (increasing information) is possible. But that's just the first step.

Points 2 and 3 aren't even talked about, much less proven. In fact, there is good evidence that point 2 is false. Simply the fact that there are only a few cases where an increase in information is even postulated, compared to the huge number of examples where genetic change is known to destroy information, suggests that the downward current is stronger and that genetic information is far more often destroyed than built.

Furthermore, point 3 is usually just assumed without any discussion. The assumption appears to be that the theoretical gradual pathway of increasing complexity is real, without bothering to determine whether the proposed intermediate steps produce a functional living organism or whether or not there are information cliffs, so to speak, that cannot be bridged by gradual means.

Unfortunately, the fact that someone can imagine a gradual pathway of increasing information that results in a living organism at every step doesn’t mean it actually exists. Science requires more than mere speculation to make a valid theory. Until these issues are addressed and evidence is provided that all three prerequisites are true, it is more than premature to speak of evolution as fact – it is downright dishonest.


20 comments:

  1. Here is a great YouTube video that can quickly illustrate what Lindsay is saying.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWecPwrQv2c

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  2. Wintery Knight, of the Wintery Knight Blog, has featured this post on his blog (which happens to be one of my favorite blogs). You can read his assessment of my arguments here.

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  3. I posted this comment in a blog that re-hashed and linked to this blog here:

    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/three-logical-prerequisites-for-biological-evolution-to-work/#comment-97644

    My comment:

    I've never found a person who rejected evolution and accurately understood it or the underlying mechanisms. Case in point, the claim that there is no way to add more "information". This claim was originally that all mutations could do is delete DNA, that all life was being gradually degraded over time from a perfect state. When of course for centuries we've known this not to be the case, because (we now know due to things like duplication mutations) DNA can be either added, removed, copied, transplanted, or modified. This is also just common sense because we know someone can, to use an obvious and freakish example, be born not just with fewer digits but also with more digits or a digit in another part of the body or a longer digit or a shorter digit etc, etc. Most mutations are not as severe as a thumb growing out of the forehead, but the idea that mutations only delete "information" is obviously not the case, they also modify and add it.

    The "cambrian explosion" was not so much an increase in information in life as it was an increase in how much of that information was recorded in the form of fossils - it is the period when soft-bodied creatures which do not fossilize well or often began developing structures like bones and teeth and exoskeletons which fossilize easily and commonly, thus it appeared as an "explosion" of life in the way the dawning of the written word would appear as an "explosion" of language, when of course people had spoken languages for thousands of years prior and the only thing new was that we had a record of it. This period also does not, as some creationists still claim, represent the beginning of life on earth.

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    1. I do indeed understand evolution. I have a Master's degree in Biology from an accredited secular university. I taught college undergraduate biology and anatomy classes until my oldest daughter was born. I know of what I speak.

      I know of no creationist who has claimed that DNA cannot be added. But adding DNA nucleotides doesn't necessarily add information to the genome. Information is software, not hardware. The nucleotides of DNA are more analogous to hardware. It is the sequence of nucleotides and what that sequence tells the cell that forms the software. Just as adding a random string of numbers to a phone book doesn't add any new information (it doesn't allow you learn the phone number of any new person), adding nucleotides without adding functionality doesn't add information.

      So, yes, mutations can add, delete, rearrange, and modify the sequence of nucleotides. That is something we all agree upon. We also know mutations can delete information (by modifying or deleting the nucleotide hardware that transmits it). However, whether or not mutations can add information (usable software for the cell) remains to be seen.

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  4. Continued:

    As for upward steps vs downward steps, there is no upward or downward since removing a trait is going to be just as useful as adding it in some environment and natural selection does not universally favor either. However the species that tend to be the most complex seem to be the ones with the widest range which have inhabited the most numerous different environments, and the species which appear to be living fossils or primitive forms of modern species are often isolated and shielded from natural selection. It is the same with civilizations, the ones that are the most advanced have had the most contact and competition with their neighbors whereas the ones that have lived in isolation for thousands of years often have stagnated in terms of culture and technology. A civilization would no more develop a nuclear bomb or a stealth fighter if that civilization were not regularly invaded than natural selection would favor something like higher intelligence if a species never left a pond in half a billion years.

    As for a series of intermediates from one body plan to another, those intermediates do exist and you just haven't been exposed to them. Study the comparative anatomy of different species and you will see that everything in nature is a different version of everything else. How did the heart evolve? Well we have a four-chambered heart, as do all mammals. Reptiles have a three chambered heart, with the exception of alligators/crocodiles which are not true reptiles and are more closely related to pre-dinosaurs - they have a three-chambered heart with a flap that can temporarily turn it into a four-chambered heart during moments of exertion. Amphibians and fish have a two-chambered heart and if you examine crustaceans, some of them have a heart and some don't. This is just one example, you can find similar patterns throughout nature with every imaginable aspect of human (or other) anatomy. I remember once seeing a creationist say, mockingly that birds couldn't have evolved from dinosaurs because "I've never seen a feather that looked like a scale". It turns out that feathers and scales are both made of a substance called keratin, which is also what claws (and our claws that we call "fingernails"), fur (and our fur that we call "hair"), and callouses are made of. And the gene that makes the substance in reptiles apparently only suffered one mutation between reptiles, dinosaurs and birds.

    Everything in nature is a different version of everything else. If you want more examples feel free to ask.

    Oh, and here's a good illustration for the eye:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duBW9QabXfw

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    1. There has to be an upward and downward overall if you are to get higher organisms (containing more information) from lower organisms (containing less information). Obviously, a single celled bacterium with a single short chromosome and a simple lifecycle contains less information than a multi-celled, intelligent organism with multiple chromosomes and a social structure. How did the latter come to exist from a simpler beginning unless information was, at some point, added to the genome? The information to build hearts and kidneys and brains and lymph nodes and endocrine glands isn't present in simpler organisms - so how did it come to exist? That is the question. At some point that information had to be added. Until one can demonstrate that information can be added AND that it can be added at a greater rate than it is being removed AND that there is a step-by-step pathway to add the information over time without killing the intermediate organisms, the evolutionary sequence is just conjecture. It's merely lining up existing organisms and imagining a relationship between them based on little more than similarities in their blueprints (which could also be accounted for in other ways, such as a common designer).

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  5. Hi Lindsay
    I came across your post from wintery knight, and I have been reading up quite a bit on evolution, specifically Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt. I find I am in agreement with your post, as far as I know there currently is no scientific theory about how random mutations produce novel functioning proteins. My question to you is: suppose a random mutation produced a new functioning protein, what use would it be in an organism not built to read or use it? How would the new protein know where it is supposed to go and arrange itself with pre-existing proteins to form a new trait? My analogy would be what good is a usb for a computer that only reads floppy disks.

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    1. That is a good question. The standard answer would be that if such a trait arose in an organism that could not use it, the trait would not be helpful to the organism and would not be selected for and thus would not likely be passed down or become prevalent in the gene pool. However, it might become prevalent in some small group by chance and provide fodder for further evolution if an organism happened to develop a mechanism that would use that pre-existing trait that just happened to already be there.

      This explanation has several problems though. Notably, producing a useless protein is a waste of resources and thus one would expect organisms with useless proteins to have lower fitness than their competitors and do less well.

      Also, the chances of a mechanism coming into place to take advantage of a pre-existing and formerly useless protein by pure chance is also astronomically unlikely (far more so than merely developing a new and functioning protein by chance, which is very unlikely all by itself). In fact, it's so unlikely that this would happen, that it smacks of design.

      Anyway, the problem of fitting new proteins into the existing structure of an organism, such as its metabolic pathways and multi-protein structures, is a serious problem that has not been adequately addressed by mainstream biology thus far.

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  6. So even if a mutation could produce a new gene/ protein in an organism, there would still be the problem of how that novel protein is going to fit into the pre-existing structures of the organism.

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    1. Yes, in some cases. It wouldn't apply to all possible new proteins or genes. But it would apply in a significant number of cases.

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  7. "I do indeed understand evolution. I have a Master's degree in Biology from an accredited secular university. I taught college undergraduate biology and anatomy classes until my oldest daughter was born. I know of what I speak."

    Dr. Gerardus D. Bouw has a Ph.D. in astronomy and holds to geocentrism. Academic credentials do not hold in the face of stupid beliefs.

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    1. I agree that academic credentials do not guarantee that a person is right or even sane. But credentials are a means of finding out whether a person has studied a topic. In the case of evolution, I have studied it. And I find it lacking.

      As for my arguments, please refrain from labelling them "stupid" until you have engaged with the actual substance. If they're so "stupid" you shouldn't have any trouble explaining where either my reasoning in false or my facts are in error, right?

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  8. 1: It is possible to add biological information.

    Brown, C. J., K. M. Todd and R. F. Rosenzweig, 1998. Multiple duplications of yeast hexose transport genes in response to selection in a glucose-limited environment. Molecular Biology and Evolution 15(8): 931-942.

    2: There are more upward steps than downward steps (or at least a way to get more upward steps than downward steps at least some of the time).

    Lenski, R. E., 1995. Evolution in experimental populations of bacteria. In: Population Genetics of Bacteria, Society for General Microbiology, Symposium 52, S. Baumberg et al., eds., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 193-215.

    3: There does exist a gradual genetic pathway that can be climbed in tiny, incremental steps.

    Lenski, Richard E., Charles Ofria, Robert T. Pennock and Christoph Adami. 2003. The evolutionary origin of complex features Nature 423: 139-144.

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    1. Study 1:

      I don't see that this conclusively shows addition of biological information by random mutation and selection. Some genetic material was duplicated in a strain of bacteria grown in a specific environment and provided a fitness increase in that environment.

      Duplicated material is not addition of new information. If I write the same sentence twice in a row, it doesn't add any new thoughts. And duplicating a string of genetic material doesn't necessarily add any new information.

      In this case, the duplications did increase the ability of the cells to transport and thus utilize glucose. Yet the cell could already do that. It only did it in greater abundance after the change in DNA. Significantly, this mechanism for producing greater efficiency of transporting or metabolizing a particular food source - duplicating the relevant gene or part of the regulatory mechanism that controls it - is a very common way of producing greater efficiency in bacteria. In fact, it is so common that there is good reason to believe this may be a non-random mutation - a programmed response in which the organism changes its DNA in specific locations or specific ways in order to increase fitness in specific environments. If that is the case, then it's not a case of increase of information by random mutation because 1) it isn't random, it's directed and 2) the information to control the mutation was already present in the genome.

      It is a common belief among many evolutionists that any genetic change or increase in fitness they observe is an example of an increase in biological information. This is incorrect. Plenty of neutral, directed, or degradative genetic changes can be beneficial to the organism, but do not show the kind of novel genetic information that is needed to explain the origin of the many complex and integrated biological systems we observe in living things.

      See my other blog post for more on the difference between the evolutionary and creationary frameworks.

      http://lindsays-logic.blogspot.com/2014/11/creation-vs-evolution-frameworks.html

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    2. I can't seem to find Study 2 available for me to read, but I am familiar with Lenski's experiments. Suffice it to say that, from an evolutionary perspective, they were downright disappointing. They found lots of ways that harmful mutations can occur and only a few cases where mutations were beneficial (which is not to say that they increased biological information). This actually supports my point that the downward trend toward information corruption and loss is stronger.

      Only in one case, among billions of E. coli studied, did they find two mutations building together to form a useful trait - the ability to metabolize citrate under aerobic conditions (which made it, technically, a new species). However, E. coli has always had the ability to metabolize citrate - it just doesn't do it under aerobic conditions. The underlying mechanism for the change is not yet known (last I heard), but probably involves a change in the regulatory mechanism that causes the bacterium to metabolize citrate without regard to the oxidative environment. If that is the case, this is actually a loss of regulation, not an addition of new function.

      Further, this does not support the contention that there are more upward than downward mutations.

      See Michael Behe's book, The Edge of Evolution, for an in-depth assessment of Lenski's experiments and how they illustrate the limits of evolution by unguided means.

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    3. Study 3:

      Since this study involves replicating computer programs that are supposed to simulate evolution, this is not evidence that there does exist a biological pathway of small genetic steps from a common ancestor to each of the descendant organisms that can produce a living, functioning individual at each stage.

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  9. Lindsay,

    Thanks for showing the only thing interesting for science about "creation science" is the psychology behind the beliefs.

    If you might be interested in a mirror see:

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~evansem/Evans-Scopes.pdf

    Knowledge change in response to data in science, religion, and magic.
    Chinn, Clark A.; Brewer, William F.
    Rosengren, Karl S. (Ed); Johnson, Carl N. (Ed); Harris, Paul L. (Ed), (2000). Imagining the impossible: Magical, scientific, and religious thinking in children. , (pp. 334-371). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press, xx, 418 pp. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511571381.013

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    1. I responded by evaluating the studies you posted and showing that they did not support the premises you thought they did. But rather than engage, you basically told me it's all about the psychology and I'm just in denial. Actually, it's all about the philosophy - especially the axioms and premises you are operating under when looking at the evidence. It's also about the psychology of whether people want to evaluate the evidence fairly or whether they'd rather just go along with the prevailing views to be thought intellectual.

      But whatever allows you to continue dismissing the opposing view without looking too deeply, I guess...

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  10. Lindsay,

    "Actually, it's all about the philosophy"

    Ah, the retreat to presupposition.

    We all know your presupposition. AIG articulates it particularly well:

    "By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information."

    Please square that with your supposed "scientific" outlook.

    I have more respect for the geocentrists than the YEC'ers. At least geocentrists have a consistent epistemic frame. YEC'ers tend to be ignorant of both science AND their literature.

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    1. AIG doesn't speak for me. I don't like presuppositionalism. I'm an evidentialist.

      However, even for those looking at evidence, bias can get in the way. I'm aware of my bias and I take great pains to look at the evidence from the other perspective also to see how it lines up.

      Unfortunately, I have not found many evolutionists who even know much about the other perspective and how they would interpret the evidence, much less that they evaluate the evidence from the other perspective. Thus, their bias is blinding because they do not admit they have one or that it might be influencing their evaluation.

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