Re: Revised Kansas science standards

Tim Ikeda (
Wed, 18 Aug 1999 20:04:22 -0400

Hello Bertvan,

Tim said:
>Quoted from a compromise draft of the Kansas state science
>standards (posted by Stephen):
>>> Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but
>>> does not add new information to the existing genetic code.
>> I've got to dispute this statement. Can variation and natural
>> selection add or create new information? I think so. And I've
>> yet to see a reliable and consistent metric of information
>> proposed by the people who make the claim made above. We've
>> been around this topic before and I don't recall anyone who
>> adequately defended that position. This his also been
>> brought up in and Again,
>> with no coherent description by these supporters.
>> What do these people mean by new genetic information:
>> Additional sequences? Altered reactions catalyzed by the
>> encoded enzymes? New functionality? Upon what are they
>> basing this position?

> Hi Tim,
> You say, "Can variation and natural
> selection add or create new information? I think so."
> A legitimate opinion, but hardly scientific evidence.

One can find this information on the web or, preferably,
by reading some journal articles. However, don't be
discouraged if medlines searches fail initially; they
don't use keywords or subject headings like: "genetic
information - new", or "selection - new information".

> Until someone explains exactly how new information is created
> by natural selection, or how it arises accidentally and randomly,
> so it can be "selected", no opinion should be imposed upon society
> as "scientific truth" by the legal system.

Don't even get me started about the legal system and its
relationship with scientific truth. The two can be miles apart.

> Can you say what YOU
> mean by new genetic information? Additional sequences? New
> functionality? Etc.?

Yes, I think I can describe what I mean WRT "new genetic
information". At the simplest level, it could mean a new
sequence or combination of sequences which weren't
originally present. Some may wish to amend this further to
specifically describe those new variations which also produce
a new functionality or permit an organism to occupy another
niche which wasn't available earlier. I could go with that idea.

So, are is there evidence that mutations and variations
have produced these effects? Yes, there are many. I've personally
seen mutant strains of bacteria arise in my lab which have been
able to survive or do better a wide range of conditions, compared
to the parental strains.

Posts about "new information";
(the last one contains a URL to medline along with
instructions for finding examples for yourself).

Post about the detection of mutations and IC evolution:

Drug resistance and IC:

Confusion of "bad" mutations vs. "good" recombination (both
are potential sources of info)

FWIW - This topic has also appeared in
and (search for these articles).

> Until such questions are answered, all discussion and
> suggestions might be helpful.

The "Spetnerian" approach to mutations and the creation of
new information seems to be to characterize all possible
types of mutation as not capable of adding information
and then claiming that something like the evolution of apes
to humans necessarily required an information increase. Yet,
if we look at the variation between human and say, chimp
genomes, I don't think we really see anything that could
clearly eliminate the possibility of a natural route
connecting the two. That is, the sorts of genetic
differences we see are not different from what we see
happening in the lab. But note that these are the same
processes which Spetner et al. claim cannot generate
new information. So one can imagine that either there
really was no increase of genetic information during in human
evolution, or that the mechanism observed might really be
capable of generating the sorts of information envisioned
by Spetnerians.

> I realize many people's objection to intelligent design is
> antipathy toward conventional religion and the fear that
> someone will identify a "designer".

What about UFOs? With UFOs one can accept the possible
"design" of life on this planet that also had "natural"

> If the laws of nature fit together in rational patterns,
> they are part of a rational design. (In some people's opinion,
> anyway.) Knowledge about a "designer" is something over which
> science should not be concerned.

UFOs being a possible counterexample. Remember, if we are not
concerned with knowing something about a "designer", then
making sense out of a designer's actions becomes difficult if
not impossible. This would tend to make the work of science
more difficult.

> Perhaps some people fear the admission that purpose might exist
> in nature would be evidence of a "designer". However, the acceptance
> of purposeful relationships and patterns would still say nothing
> about the nature of any "designer." Science's role is merely to
> figure out the details of the designs-if any exist.

Unfortunately, to get very far figuring out the details of
the designs (for instance, being able to determine whether
something was designed in the first place), one needs a bit
more information. See Elliott Sober's _Philosophy of Biology_,
chapter 2, regarding the difficulty of validating the
auxiliary assumptions required for any workable theory of

> That is all science can do. If science tries to impose ideas
> about purpose, or its lack, in nature, the public would be
> justified in loosing confidence in it.

Nobody in their right mind can claim that evolution has or lacks
purpose. So I don't understand the problem. It seems to me that
part of the problem (with Johnson in particular) is the
insistence that science must demonstrate purpose in the universe;
otherwise religions like Christianity must be false. I don't
buy that for a moment. Neither does any TE on this list that
I'm aware of.

Tim Ikeda (despam address before use)