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Do mutations add information? Is that Evolution?

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Published: 28 March 2020 (GMT+10)

Russell F. wrote to us with a question of whether mutations ever add genetic information. He is involved in street evangelism and is looking for an accurate and concise summary of the topic.

CMI’s Joel Tay explains,

I have a question which I’ve sought a clear answer for from your website, but still aren’t clear on it. In brief, the question is, can mutations ever add genetic information?

This is more than an academic question. I share the Gospel with the unsaved, and as part of that, seek to demolish evolutionary strongholds. My bread and butter statement re the theory of evolution goes like this. Please correct me if I’m wrong: ‘What Charles Darwin called natural selection invariably involves a loss of genetic information - never an increase in genetic information. So how can it be that a process that invariably involves a loss of genetic information result in life forms with an increase of genetic information?

And this bare fact has caused a number of scientists who were previously atheists and evolutionists to become full Bible believing Christians.

Ought this statement be modified in some way, without becoming unwieldy? Some people challenge the statement, citing mutations as an exception to the rule. I don’t want to be discrediting the Gospel by making statements which may not be entirely accurate.

Please advise. And God Bless you. :)

R.F.

I would recommend familiarizing yourself with this excellent article by Dr Robert Carter as well as this reply by Dr Matthew Cserhati. After you have done this, let’s address the issue further. The two articles mentioned above give some reasons why I am a little hesitant to just say, that “mutations, do not ever add genetic information”. This is because mutations can sometimes cause an increase, even a doubling, of gene content (in many plant species, for example), rearrangements of genetic factors (that might cause the appearance of traits never seen before), or an adaptive allele that greatly aids in survival (e.g. the sickle cell gene in Central Africa helps fight off malarial infection). Clearly, we must first define ‘information’. It would be better to say that “mutations do not add the type of genetic information required for evolution”. This qualification is important for reasons explained here.

Consider these three phrases:

  1. AHK AHK AHK AKH AHK AHK AHK AHK AHK
  2. A nut for a container of tuna
  3. A nut for a jar of tuna

Depending on how you define information, phrase 1 would have the most information if you are comparing the length of the sentence. But biological information is not just about ordered patterns or sequence length. Information in the genome is more accurately understood as ‘specified complexity’. Biological information may, or may not have a repeatable pattern, but it must have Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Apobetics—as explained by Dr Werner Gitt in this article. Biological information can be compared to a language, which in turn requires a mind to produce it—an intelligent creator.

In other words, any definition of information as ‘physical’ would be wrong. Information is propositional and metaphysical. I can write “In the beginning was the Word.” with a quill pen on a piece of parchment, or I can type the sentence into a computer and store it on my hard drive, or I can code it into a binary representation of the ASCII character codes and beam it into outer space in Morse code with a flashlight. All three have the same information content, but they are radically different in the way the information is stored and encoded. Why? Because information is not a physical property.

A mutation might change a letter in the genome so that it carries a brand-new meaning. In phrase 2 above, ‘A nut for a container of tuna’, might be changed to ‘A cut for a container of tuna’. This new phrase has a different meaning altogether, and, by definition, it is ‘new’ information—it has a new propositional meaning. In the genome, this can be likened to mutations giving us new information for new traits.

Let me emphasize the point again, mutations can create new traits and, by definition, new information, but this is only possible at the very basic level. Mutations cannot give us the type of information required for evolution. It cannot account for the type of information required for making irreducibly complex machinery in the cell such as ATP synthase, or the incredibly complicated biochemistry of photosynthesis.

Also, mutations are more likely to corrupt the meaning of the genome rather than to come up with something new. In the long run, random changes will still destroy the genome many times over time, even if mutations might, on the rare occasion, produce new, original traits at the basic level. Worse, most mutations have a negligible effect so they don’t affect the organism enough to be ‘seen’ by natural selection. Near-neutral mutations that do not outrightly kill the organism nor present a significant disadvantage to reproduction, cannot be removed by natural selection, so these slightly-deleterious mutations continue to accumulate in the genome, eventually leading to ‘genetic extinction’—not unlike a car slowly rusting out over time. This phenomenon is known as genetic entropy, and it is a tremendous problem for evolution. See Genetic entropy and simple organisms, and critics ignore the reality of genetic entropy. Also, see Genetic Entropy.

Now let us consider a different concept. Look at phrases 2 and 3 again.

    2. A nut for a container of tuna

    3. A nut for a jar of tuna

These two phrases look similar, but phrase 3 has fewer letters. Which of the two has more information? Here, we see again that information is metaphysical. It is not a just matter of ‘counting the number of letters’. Instead, the meaning of the code is what is important (i.e. it is propositional). Phrase 3 is arguably more complex, even though it uses fewer letters because the sentence can actually be read backwards and it still spells the same thing (a palindrome). Also, ‘a jar’ is more highly specified than ‘a container’ because all jars are containers but not all containers are jars. It takes far greater intelligence to code sentence 3 because it has overlapping layers of information. Any attempt to randomly change a letter in one direction is very likely going to affect the meaning of the information in the other direction. Now, this is an overly simplified illustration of what information is like in the genome. In this illustration, we have a phrase that can be read in two directions in one dimension—back and forth on a line of letters. The genome also does this! But the genome doesn’t just store biological information forward and backwards. It stores information in at least four overlapping dimensions at the same time. When you have multiple overlapping dimensions of information, changing information in one dimension affects the information in all the other dimensions. Here is an evolutionist describing the complexity of the genome:

“One stretch of DNA can include a protein-coding gene, long non-coding RNAs, small RNAs, antisense RNAs, splice signal sites, untranslated regions, promoters and enhancers. Layer on to this the effects of variation in DNA sequences between individuals, directed and random epigenetic modifications, changeable three-dimensional interactions, plus binding to other RNAs and proteins, then add in the effects of our constantly altering environment. When we really think about the complexity of our genomes, it isn’t surprising that we can’t understand everything yet. The astonishing triumph is that we understand any of it. There is always something new to be learnt, out there in the dark.”1

This is the reality of what we call biological information. It presents an insurmountable problem for evolution because you cannot evolve by slow gradual step-by-step evolution. Changing information in one dimension affects the information in the other dimensions. Can mutations give new traits (and new information)? Yes, but what happens on the other dimensions, and how does it explain irreducible machinery in the cell, which must first have everything encoded in the genome all at once, on multiple dimensions? For example, “Life depends on an incredible enzyme called ATP synthase, the world’s tiniest rotary motor”, and the instructions to make this biological machine has to be there at the very beginning in the genome. Worse, it requires ATP to manufacture the ATP motor, creating a 3-way chicken-and-egg problem. Slow gradual mutations cannot account for such things, nor would it be possible to evolve them by slow, gradual, step-by-step mutations even if you gave it enough time.

Back to your question: we strongly advise against using the phrase “mutations do not add information”. Instead, you will need to qualify it with the bolded phrase: “mutations do not add the type of genetic information required for evolution”.

This is more than an academic question. I share the Gospel with the unsaved, and as part of that seek to demolish evolutionary strongholds. My bread and butter statement re the theory of evolution goes like this. Please correct me if I’m wrong: ‘What Charles Darwin called natural selection invariably involves a loss of genetic information - never an increase in genetic information. So how can it be that a process that invariably involves a loss of genetic information result in life forms with an increase of genetic information?

To be exact, Darwin did not know anything about DNA or the genome. He thought that the cell was just a bag of salts. Evolutionists today depend on Neo-Darwinian evolution, but even this understanding of Neo-Darwinianism is showing itself to be highly problematic in light of newer areas of research such as epigenetics. Darwin did write about natural selection, but the concept did not start with him and was used by creationists such as Edward Blyth, and William Paley before Darwin. Furthermore, Darwin was strongly influenced by Lamarckian evolutionary thinking that is rejected by most geneticists today.

You are correct to say that natural selection invariably results in a loss of information in the gene pool. This is because natural selection is a culling (not creative) mechanism that removes existing traits from a population. Evolutionists have to appeal to mutations for a source of new information, as we have already explained, but mutations cannot account for the type of mutations required for evolution. Natural Selection is not evolution.

And this bare fact has caused a number of scientists who were previously atheists and evolutionists to become full Bible believing Christians.

I get what you mean, but for the sake of our readers I must point out that a person is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He is justified by believing the Gospel—not creation. People can believe in creation and still be lost. That said, evolution is one of the biggest stumbling blocks and explains why many people are not willing to even consider Christianity. I am convinced that creation apologetics is often one of the most effective ways to get them to consider the truth of God’s Word. Many of our speakers and scientists at Creation Ministries International, were once evolutionists, who later came to believe in the word of God because someone shared with them using creation evangelism.

That said, apologetics goes beyond just evangelism as it also serves the purpose of leaving unbelievers without excuse for their rejection of God (Romans 1:18–20). Apologetics is part of what the Bible calls ‘spiritual warfare’: the destruction of arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God, in the minds of our listeners.

Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4–6:

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

Ought this statement be modified in some way, without becoming unwieldy? Some people challenge the statement, citing mutations as an exception to the rule. I don’t want to be discrediting the Gospel by making statements which may not be entirely accurate.

Please advise. And God Bless you. :)
R.F.

The statement is good as a whole. Just add in the qualifier, “mutations do not add the type of genetic information required for evolution”. Familiarize yourself with the articles mentioned here so that if your detractors disagree you can address their concerns. Be especially conscious of the tendency by evolutionists towards the ‘bait and switch’ in definitions.

Keep up the good work in sharing the Gospel.

Regards,
Joel Tay

References and notes

  1. Carey, Nessa, Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome, 2015, p.287–288. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Genetic Entropy
by Dr John Sanford
US $25.00