New line of attack?
24 January 2003
CMI received the following letter from D.W. Although D.W. himself was not negative, he passed on something from a newsgroup written by a known anti-creationist attacking something Dr Carl Wieland, Managing Director, CMI–Australia wrote. As the reply from Dr Wieland shows, the anti-creationist once more failed to understand the issues.
In a Christian chat room recently, someone posted a link to a record of a talk.origins thread on its message board.
[Editor’s note: link removed per feedback rules.]
I'm letting you know about it (and I’ll post the entire text below just in case you can’t get to the site for whatever reason) because it specifically addresses Carl Wieland and his comments on information, and I would love to see a refutation of this seemingly new line of attack (at least, I’ve never seen this one before).
Thanks alot and I hope I have been of help.
From: Lenny Flank
Subject: Re: AiG nonsense about information increase (again)
Date: 2002-12-16 17:26:14 PST
Carl Wieland (MB BS) said
“However, it can be shown that in every situation where populations of living things change, they do so without increase (and often with a decrease) of information. Thus, it is completely illegitimate for anyone to claim that such changes show ‘evolution happening’.”
Creationism itself, of course, proves this silliness to be wrong. According to creationists, every human being alive today is descended from the 8 people that got off Noah’s Big Boat (actually, all of us are descended from 2 people who lived in the Really Nice Garden, but I will give the creationists the maximum benefit of the doubt here. …) Since I assume those 8 people on the Really Big Boat were diploid like all of us, that means they had a maximum possible of 16 different alleles for every genetic locus (actually they MUST ahve had less, since some on the Big Baot were descendents of others and therefore must have shared alleles, but again I will give the creationists the maximum possible benefit of the doubt). If Weyland’s [sic] drivel is right and ‘genetic information cannot increase’, then this means there can be NO human locus—none at all—that have more than 16 different alleles.
Hmmmm … there are over 200 known alleles for some of the hemoglobin genes, and over 400 allales for some of the HLA genes … Since there couldn’t have been more than 16 on the boat, and since there are well over 200 now, that means that genetic information has increased (after all, 200 is more than 16).
So I’d sure like to hear Weyland [sic] (or one of the creationist, uh, geniuses here) to tell me (1) how do we go from 16 alleles to over 200 alleles without a beneficial mutation, and (2) how does going from 16 alleles to over 200 represent a LOSS of genetic information. And please note than NONE of this—absolutely NONE of it, depends on any evolutionary assumptions. It is all straightforward CREATIONISM combined with fourth-grade-level genetics.
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Thanks for sending along that link. One despairs when one sees the many times that anti-creationists wax eloquent without ever having really read or carefully considered what the creationist arguments in question actually are. And we unfortunately know of this Flank person as one of the most abusive and ill-informed anticreationists and antiChristians on the Internet (for example, see Left Flank: Another Skeptic With the Same Old Canards).
I would believe that the various alleles of hemoglobin, for instance, could easily have arisen by mutation. But this is without any increase in information. The confusion in the critic’s mind comes because he clearly believes that ‘lots of varying copies’ means ‘lots of information’. That is as erroneous as the other commonly heard evolutionist claim that if you have doubling of chromosomes (polyploidy), that represents ‘more information’ (it would be like buying two copies of the same textbook and expecting to be able to learn twice as much!).
Information in the sense of ‘specified complexity’ is at stake. The specification involves function. No new functions have arisen for the hemoglobin alleles. The molecule in question actually has a part which is relatively fixed or invariant. This is the part that directly affects function (oxygen binding and release, primarily) and the variations that do not cause obvious disease all seem to take place in less critical portions, where quite a few changes can occur without impeding function. All these variant molecules function as either normal Hb (hemoglobin), or as defective Hb. Many blood diseases have been linked to mutations in the hemoglobin alleles.
Perhaps a simple analogy would help. Imagine you have a set of instructions in the form of a book for assembling an airplane. Imagine that in the set of instructions is a page specifying airline logos to be painted on the fuselage and tail. Now changes to this would be important to the airline, but it would not affect the airworthiness of the airplane. These are somewhat analogous to changes in a virus’s protein coat. They don’t alter any of the function of the virus, but like a change in an airplane’s logo, they might make it harder for the host immune system to recognize them. See Has AIDS evolved?.
In the course of copying, errors on this page of information would also not affect the airworthiness of the resulting airplanes. Many copies of the plans could end up in circulation, varying in their livery, but all having the same functionality. Copies of the instructions with changes to the core information would of course result in defective aircraft and would be discarded.
However, by using the logic of this critic, one would say that this shows that the original information in the assembly instructions for an airplane could easily have arisen by an accidental process whereby information gradually increases. I.e., he argues as if the random process that produced inconsequential variants of this airplane manual are the same processes that wrote the manual in the first place! This is not a perfect analogy, but I hope you get the picture.
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The critic would do well to read Dr Lee Spetner’s book Not by Chance (top right). Spetner is a biophysicist well versed in the whole issue of signal-noise relationships in DNA, and he explains the information issue carefully.
Also, John Woodmorappe’s book Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study specifically addresses the question of multiple alleles generated after the Flood (right). Furthermore, Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s book Refuting Evolution 2 goes further into gene duplication, beneficial information-losing mutations etc. Actually, there is nothing in Flank’s diatribe that isn't covered in our Q&A pages on mutations and information theory.