Re: Information theory?

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 17:31:16 EST

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    I apologise for the delay.

    On Fri, 14 Jan 2000 11:19:27 -0600 (CST), Wesley R. Elsberry wrote:


    >SJ>Johnson is summarising a complex issue for a *newspaper*
    >>interview. I cannot speak for Johnson but I believe, from
    >>discussions in another forum, that he would probably
    >>concede that mutation and selection might be able to create
    >>small amounts of information in a specialised, technical,
    >>Information Theory sense. For example, when a gene is
    >>duplicated, according to Information Theory, there is no
    >>new information *content*. But then if one of the pair of
    >>genes subsequently mutates, that is technically the
    >>production, of one new bit of information content, in an
    >>Information Theory sense.


    WE>By either Shannon or Kolmogorov information measures, a
    >message comprised of two identical subunits does contain more
    >information than is in the subunit, so long as the subunit is
    >not composed entirely of repeats of one symbol. The
    >highlighting of "content" makes it look like Steven is
    >attempting to discuss meaning, which is not a topic of
    >Information Theory.

    Thanks to Wesley for this, but I am well aware that " not a
    topic of Information Theory":

    "Some have attempted to develop a theory of meaning from these ideas.
    Shannon (1949) warned against this at the outset of his paper. The
    assignment of meaning or in biology, specificity, to certain particular
    member of the ensemble lies outside information theory." (Yockey H.P.,
    "An Application of Information Theory to the Central Dogma and the
    Sequence Hypothesis," Journal of Theoretical Biology, Vol. 46, 1974,

    But then if " not a topic of Information Theory", one cannot
    then say that the production of information (as defined Information
    Theory" by Darwinian processes of random mutation and natural selection,
    combined with non-Darwinian processes of gene duplication and neutral
    mutations, is adequate to explain the *enormous* build up of *meaningful*
    information needed to turn "a bacterium into a butterfly".

    WE>The information change due to a point mutation doesn't reduce
    >to "one bit" so easily. Under Shannon, one could develop an
    >expectation based upon the fact that one base instantiates one
    >out of four possible states. Then one could modify this by
    >reference to an ensemble of possible messages. Of course,
    >other types of mutations may cause larger changes in measured
    >information by either Shannon or Kolmogorov measure

    See above. If " not a topic of Information Theory" then one
    cannot invoke Information Theorists like "Shannon" and "Kolmogorov" to
    explain the build up of *meaningful* information needed to turn "a
    bacterium into a butterfly".

    WE>William Dembski took a stab at estimating a maximum information
    >increase per generation due to natural selection. See it in

    Again, thanks to Wesley for this. But at the very beginning of the above
    paper Dembski says:

    "Algorithms and natural laws are utterly incapable of producing
    information. Indeed, it is an oxymoron to attribute the origin of information
    to algorithms and natural laws-information is inaccessible from algorithms
    and natural laws. Eigen is working on the right problem, but looking to the
    wrong solution. Eigen's insight is to see that the origin of information
    constitutes the central problem facing origins-of-life research; Eigen's
    mistake is to think that algorithms and natural laws constitute the solution."
    (Dembski W.A., "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information",
    Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise, An Interdisciplinary
    Conference at the University of Texas -- Austin, Feb. 20-23, 1997.

    The point is that random mutation and natural selection are now admitted
    *even by the Darwinists* to be inadequate to build "totally new functions".
    For that *non-Darwinian* processes of gene duplication and neutral
    mutations must be added:

    "But all of evolution cannot consist of changes in genes that are already
    present. Totally new functions have also been added to the biochemical
    repertoires of organisms during evolution. Bacteria do not make muscle
    fibers, bones, hormones, blood antigens, or the host of other structures and
    compounds that make up higher organisms. New genes, in addition to the
    old ones, must be made. It is thought that this occurs as a two-step
    process. First, a gene (or group of genes) is accidentally duplicated so that
    a chromosome now carries an extra copy of it. Because only one good
    copy is needed to produce the original protein, the extra copy is free to
    accumulate mutations without harming the organism. After a time, enough
    changes may have accumulated in the duplicate to give it a new function."
    (Lewontin R.C., "Human Diversity", Scientific American Library: New
    York NY, 1995, p151).

    But there is no evidence that without natural selection that complex new
    functions involving massive amounts of precisely tailored new information
    could be built. Dawkins points out that without natural selection any
    sequence of genetic steps would "career off in an endless random walk":

    "And also only if there is a mechanism for guiding each step in some
    particular direction, otherwise the sequence of steps will career off in an
    endless random walk." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker", 1991,

    Indeed, on another List that I am on, I claimed that "Evolution by gene
    duplication" may well be "the knock out punch of Darwinism", and I

    But to claim that genes can duplicate, go off-line where selection cannot
    `see' them, accumulate massive quantities of new design information by
    random neutral mutations, and then come back on-line ready to be slotted
    back seamlessly into the system, is the equivalent of believing in genetic
    miracles. It is compatible with an Intelligent Designer modifying genes
    while they are off-line, and then bringing them seamlessly back on-line into
    the system (much as intelligently designed computer program upgrades
    do), but not with a `blind watchmaker'.

    It seems to me this is a *major* problem for Darwinian theory (it
    effectively guts it with natural selection playing only a minor role) and yet
    is highly compatible with ID theory.


    I had believed that it would probably not be possible to knock out
    Darwinism with one punch, but this IMHO has the potential to do just that
    and replace it with ID theory in the same king-hit!


    "So, the geological time scale and the basic facts of biological change over
    time are totally independent of evolutionary theory. It follows that the
    documentation of evolution does not depend on Darwinian theory or any
    other theory. Darwinian theory is just one of several biological mechanisms
    proposed to explain the evolution we observe to have happened." (Raup
    D.M., "Evolution and the Fossil Record", Science, Vol. 213, No. 4505, 17
    July 1981, p289).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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