Intelligent Design question

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Hey all--I am a high school physics teacher, A student asked me a question about the fact that DNA does not increase the amount of information in the strand--the information is just reshuffled. I have searched and I have read many people saying this is inaccurate but nobody gives any specific examples. Can anyone help me out with this argument?

Thanks in advance.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Depends on the strict definition of information.
There is no more information in the works of Shakespeare than there is an a random sequence of letters of the same length.
This, along with arguments about increasing complexity and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, are common attacks on evolution.
 
  • #3
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Depends on the strict definition of information.
There is no more information in the works of Shakespeare than there is an a random sequence of letters of the same length.
This, along with arguments about increasing complexity and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, are common attacks on evolution.
Right. I think he means that an increase from say 10 to 12 bits of information. I think he is referring to quantity. I don't think he is concerned with the complexity of the information.

I have a physics degree so I handled the 2nd law of thermodynamics!
 
  • #4
Evo
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Hey all--I am a high school physics teacher, A student asked me a question about the fact that DNA does not increase the amount of information in the strand--the information is just reshuffled. I have searched and I have read many people saying this is inaccurate but nobody gives any specific examples. Can anyone help me out with this argument?

Thanks in advance.
First, Intelligent Design is religion, it has no place in school, so I'm confused about the thread title.

A student asked me a question about the fact that DNA does not increase the amount of information in the strand--the information is just reshuffled.
What about his question has some point? What exactly are you asking?
 
  • #5
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First, Intelligent Design is religion, it has no place in school, so I'm confused about the thread title.
Does it have to be exclusively religion? I thought some ID theorists didn't believe supernatural entities but rather more advanced species (extraterrestrials) that designed us.
 
  • #6
Evo
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Does it have to be exclusively religion? I thought some ID theorists didn't believe supernatural entities but rather more advanced species (extraterrestrials) that designed us.
It's still religion. Or pointless hand waving, either way, the people that created it are Christian creationists and made it up in order to try to get it snuck into public school curriculums. It's not science.
 
  • #7
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First, Intelligent Design is religion, it has no place in school, so I'm confused about the thread title.

What about his question has some point? What exactly are you asking?
Going back to the book analogy mentioned above--let's say you have 1000 letters. Has the number of letters actually increased. For example---1000 letters become 1100. I explained that the dictionary has more information than the same number of random letters--and he understood that. So I guess it isn't "information" but quantity of letters increasing.

Oh--I know ID has no place in school. This isn't part of instruction--he is a smart kid (and he is actually not religious--more of a deist) and we have just been having this discussion after class.
 
  • #8
Does it have to be exclusively religion? I thought some ID theorists didn't believe supernatural entities
Intelligent design is creationism, calling it intelligent design is just a stalking horse to say 'this isn't a religious issue'.
 
  • #9
Evo
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Going back to the book analogy mentioned above--let's say you have 1000 letters. Has the number of letters actually increased. For example---1000 letters become 1100. I explained that the dictionary has more information than the same number of random letters--and he understood that. So I guess it isn't "information" but quantity of letters increasing.

Oh--I know ID has no place in school. This isn't part of instruction--he is a smart kid (and he is actually not religious--more of a deist) and we have just been having this discussion after class.
Ok, so why would DNA have to change? For what? You didn't say. What's his argument behind his question?
 
  • #10
Going back to the book analogy mentioned above--let's say you have 1000 letters. Has the number of letters actually increased. For example---1000 letters become 1100. I explained that the dictionary has more information than the same number of random letters--and he understood that.
Sorry - there is a certain tendancy to leap on ID/Creationism like a kitten on a ball of wool!

The amount of DNA bases, or the number of chromosones doesn't translate to the evolution or advanced-ess of a species. Actually an important point in evolution is that nothing alive today is more advanced or evolved than anything else alive today.
Sharks are just as evolved as primates, there is an unfortunate tendency in text books and science programs to say that sharks are 'living fossils' because their body plan is the same as it was 200MYr ago. The job it has to do hasn't changed, and it's so close to perfect that there aren't any big changes that are advantageous - but that doesn't mean it isn't evolved.

DNA mutations more frequently shuffle base pairs than introduce new ones - this is totally irrelevent. All DNA does is make proteins, mutation makes differnet protein, that gives an animal an advantage, animal has more babies, that new 'mutation' is in the babies, it becomes normal.
 
  • #11
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DNA mutations more frequently shuffle base pairs than introduce new ones - this is totally irrelevent.
I TOTALLY get your argument. But do we have examples of DNA increasing the base pairs.

Also--I can already see this question coming--what was the process that allowed DNA to evolve.
 
  • #12
Evo
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Going back to the book analogy mentioned above--let's say you have 1000 letters. Has the number of letters actually increased. For example---1000 letters become 1100. I explained that the dictionary has more information than the same number of random letters--and he understood that. So I guess it isn't "information" but quantity of letters increasing.

Oh--I know ID has no place in school. This isn't part of instruction--he is a smart kid (and he is actually not religious--more of a deist) and we have just been having this discussion after class.
Ok, so why would DNA have to change? For what? You didn't say. What's his argument behind his question?

You need to answer these questions before we can continue.
 
  • #13
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Ok, so why would DNA have to change? For what? You didn't say. What's his argument behind his question?

You need to answer these questions before we can continue.
Agreed. I don't know. I will ask tomorrow.

Thanks for your help.
 
  • #14
Evo
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Agreed. I don't know. I will ask tomorrow.

Thanks for your help.
Thanks, once we know what he's thinking, it may be very simple to point out where his error lies.

We won't go around in circles trying to guess what he's thinking, that's pointless.
 
  • #15
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Sure, no problem

Actually there are methodologies for adding information to a genome by duplication and polyploidy. For example, If a bacteria becomes penicillin-resistant, it really does contain new information. We know this because researchers have now got to the point where they have read out (sequenced) every last bit of the DNA in some bacteria. This means that it's possible to do before-and-after measurements.

Here is a link with other scientific references if you'd like to track them down ..

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB102.html" [Broken]
 
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  • #16
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Hey all--I am a high school physics teacher, A student asked me a question about the fact that DNA does not increase the amount of information in the strand--the information is just reshuffled. I have searched and I have read many people saying this is inaccurate but nobody gives any specific examples. Can anyone help me out with this argument?

Thanks in advance.
The simplest answer would be in the case of micro-organisms where it is common knowledge (ie, has been scientifically proved over and over, even video-graphed) that free strands of DNA (i.e., floating freely, not inside any living cell) are often 'ingested' ( absorbed) into a near-by organism. This 'transfer of plasmids' , eg, is one mechanism that bacteria use to spread specific antibiotic drug resistance among the population.
This fact exemplifies that , indeed, DNA information can be increased within a cell.
But what does this have to do with the religion known as 'Intelligent Design'?
 
  • #17
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The job it has to do hasn't changed, and it's so close to perfect that there aren't any big changes that are advantageous - but that doesn't mean it isn't evolved.
Correct. It is accurate to say that a shark is, in fact, highly-evolved. That species seems to fit perfectly into its niche.
Most of us err and equate 'evolving' with something such as 'gaining intelligence'. Then we misapply that concept to homo sapiens , a species which has progressed to the point of being fully capable of eradicating itself from the planet .. a very unintelligent thing!
 
  • #18
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Sorry if I have misunderstood. But you might want to look at retrotransposons (and transposons in general), polyploidy, and even differential splicing. Mutations may even lead to different interactions between genes (especially important in embryogenesis, and development more generally), and pleiotropy may also be taken in to account (a mutation in a gene may alter it's interactions with other genes and alter development aswell). This all counts as increasing information, I think. The last two may not be quite what your looking for, but I think the first three satisfy what you are after.
 
  • #19
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Polyploidy does indeed increase the amount of DNA in a cell (and can act as a speciation event), but does that really count as an increase in information? Would you know more about the Bill of Rights if I were to hand you two copies of it rather than just one? And does horizontal transfer of a drug-resistance plasmid explain the origin of the information in that plasmid?

To understand the student's original question, one must unfortunately think from the point of view of a creationist. Humans (and presumably their DNA) were perfect until the fall from grace due to an unfortunate incident with a fruit. The only thing that happen with perfect DNA once no longer protected by God's favor is for mistakes and degradation to occur. The longevity of Methuselah and other ancient crones is evidence that the human race is becoming more and more imperfect as time wears on. When referring to information in DNA, they are referring to "useful" information, information that has not been degraded from its original state.

The answer to this riddle is deceptively simple. The environment adds information to the genome via natural selection. New genetic variations, whether they are point mutations in a gene or promoter, duplications of a gene or an entire genome, or DNA pulled in from an exogenous source, are all put to the test in the physical world. The world gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down - either the variant works as well or better or it does not. It's this constant trashing of the bad information, this constant trying and testing of new information, that allows Nature to not only maintain a species but to improve upon it - humans included.
 
  • #20
Borek
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Depends on the strict definition of information.
There is no more information in the works of Shakespeare than there is an a random sequence of letters of the same length.
I would risk a guess that Shakespeare work - as much more ordered - has much less information.
 
  • #21
bobze
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Polyploidy does indeed increase the amount of DNA in a cell (and can act as a speciation event), but does that really count as an increase in information? Would you know more about the Bill of Rights if I were to hand you two copies of it rather than just one? And does horizontal transfer of a drug-resistance plasmid explain the origin of the information in that plasmid?

To understand the student's original question, one must unfortunately think from the point of view of a creationist. Humans (and presumably their DNA) were perfect until the fall from grace due to an unfortunate incident with a fruit. The only thing that happen with perfect DNA once no longer protected by God's favor is for mistakes and degradation to occur. The longevity of Methuselah and other ancient crones is evidence that the human race is becoming more and more imperfect as time wears on. When referring to information in DNA, they are referring to "useful" information, information that has not been degraded from its original state.

The answer to this riddle is deceptively simple. The environment adds information to the genome via natural selection. New genetic variations, whether they are point mutations in a gene or promoter, duplications of a gene or an entire genome, or DNA pulled in from an exogenous source, are all put to the test in the physical world. The world gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down - either the variant works as well or better or it does not. It's this constant trashing of the bad information, this constant trying and testing of new information, that allows Nature to not only maintain a species but to improve upon it - humans included.
Thumbs up! Couldn't have said it better.

I TOTALLY get your argument. But do we have examples of DNA increasing the base pairs.

Also--I can already see this question coming--what was the process that allowed DNA to evolve.
As others have pointed out, mutations such as insertions, transposable elements or gene duplication events are the stuff of evolution. As they provide "new" genetic information for mutation to alter, until such a time it will be useful in the context of the environment in which it arose.

When this happens, we have one of those nifty "compounding interest" situations. Because not all variants (organisms) in a population are equally likely to survive or reproduce, those with the best fecundity and survivability for the environment will be more likely to pass on their hereditary information. Thus, in each successive generation a new allele or new gene will increase in frequency.

There are literally hundreds of thousands examples to choose from. From lactase genes in humans, to persistent hereditary fetal hemoglobin to mecA MRSAs.
 
  • #22
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Polyploidy does indeed increase the amount of DNA in a cell (and can act as a speciation event), but does that really count as an increase in information? Would you know more about the Bill of Rights if I were to hand you two copies of it rather than just one? And does horizontal transfer of a drug-resistance plasmid explain the origin of the information in that plasmid?
Hi, Barakn; thanks for the reply to my post.
I think polyploidy offers the opportunity for an increase in information. Lets say there is a gene A that is essential to the organism. Any non-neutral mutations in the gene would not be tolerated by the organism. Polyploidy offers the opportunity to modify the gene because the gene is present on a duplicate chromosome. This qualifies as a gain in information, because A is retained whilst a new gene - B - can be introduced. Alternatively, say that a gene C is converted to a gene D through mutation. There would be no GAIN in information. However, polyploidy would both allow C to convert to D yet still retain C on a duplicate chromosome. This is a gain in information. It literally gives more physical DNA to play with whilst retaining all the other genes of the organism. This is of course all in my rather humble opinion!

The answer to this riddle is deceptively simple. The environment adds information to the genome via natural selection. New genetic variations, whether they are point mutations in a gene or promoter...
I don't think these would qualify as a gain in information, just a change in information, but I think I have taken this out of context. Apologies if that is the case.
 
  • #23
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Polyploidy does indeed increase the amount of DNA in a cell (and can act as a speciation event), but does that really count as an increase in information?
Polyploidy can just be increase in the number - which means increase in no. of copies of the same genes. DO not know what role it has in speciation ?


does horizontal transfer of a drug-resistance plasmid explain the origin of the information in that plasmid?
I do not understand - are u suggesting the origin is from some other source ?
 
  • #24
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Complexity is orthogonal to Information (in the Shannon sense). Using Information Theory one can estimate the total number of states that a system can occupy, but it tells you very little about it's "organization". It's counter intuitive, but if you have a high Shannon Information value you have a more _random_ system. To get a handle on organization you can compare the actual system configurations to the theoretical total to see how the information space is reduced. This is the obvious result of the Monkey's writing Shakespeare issue -- a document can be composed of N combinations of characters, but only a few of those combinations will have any perceivable "order" and only one will be Romeo and Juliet. Order is a function of sequences of characters which is not addressed in base level information measurements.

There are other "Complexity Measures" that may be more appropriate to the DNA problem -- a search for that phrase will provide a dizzying number of options. I also constantly reference this paper for an introduction: Inferring Statistical Complexity --
http://tuvalu.santafe.edu/~cmg/papers/ISC.pdf [Broken]

And I find it just astounding that the supposedly Scientific Community's response to all of the ID folks complexity arguments is so clueless...
 
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  • #25
Andy Resnick
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Hey all--I am a high school physics teacher, A student asked me a question about the fact that DNA does not increase the amount of information in the strand--the information is just reshuffled. I have searched and I have read many people saying this is inaccurate but nobody gives any specific examples. Can anyone help me out with this argument?
Depends on the strict definition of information.
There is no more information in the works of Shakespeare than there is an a random sequence of letters of the same length.
This, along with arguments about increasing complexity and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, are common attacks on evolution.
Going back to the book analogy mentioned above--let's say you have 1000 letters. Has the number of letters actually increased. For example---1000 letters become 1100. I explained that the dictionary has more information than the same number of random letters--and he understood that. So I guess it isn't "information" but quantity of letters increasing.
Polyploidy does indeed increase the amount of DNA in a cell (and can act as a speciation event), but does that really count as an increase in information? Would you know more about the Bill of Rights if I were to hand you two copies of it rather than just one? And does horizontal transfer of a drug-resistance plasmid explain the origin of the information in that plasmid?
Hi, Barakn; thanks for the reply to my post.
I think polyploidy offers the opportunity for an increase in information.
There's a lot of misconceptions in this thread regarding information theory mixed in with a lot of good information regarding genetics.

First- the information content of a string of symbols. The information content can be uniquely and precisely specified in two ways: 1) the Shannon entropy and 2) the Kolmogorov complexity.

The Shannon entropy is a measure that is appropriate for the transmission of a stream of signals, and relates to how well you can *predict* the next symbol, given that you know the value of the current symbol. For a random string of binary digits, each bit is associated with k ln(2) units of entropy (kT ln(2) units of energy). English text carries approximately 12 bits of entropy per word.

http://people.seas.harvard.edu/~jones/cscie129/papers/stanford_info_paper/entropy_of_english_9.htm

Kolmogorov complexity relates to the inherent information content of what is encoded, and is more difficult to quantify. One way is to set the Kolmogorov information as the minimum length message required to specify the object, or alternatively, the number of computer instructions required to reproduce the result:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolmogorov_complexity

The use of 'information' and 'entropy' in this context are opposite our intuitive sense of the terms- a random string of bits has maximal information, but makes no sense to us. So, it is common to use 'negentropy' of a string in order to make the concepts intuitive.

So now the question becomes, "How does DNA encode information?" I'm not an expert, but there are several ways to formulate a response:

1) each base pair of DNA corresponds to (IIRC) k ln(4) bits of information. So increasing the length of DNA increases the information.

2) Not all DNA encodes 'useful' information: introns and 'junk' DNA (to be sure, much of what we used to think of as noncoding DNA is used for alternative purposes). This is at the limit of my understanding of information theory, as the Kolmogorov measure is more appropriate.

3) One gene can encode multiple proteins through splicing and post-translational modification. This is at the limit of my understanding of genetics.

4) cells and higher-level structures operate using regulatory feedback networks: for example, the jak/stat pathway leads to nuclear translocation of a DNA-binding protein to regulate gene expression. It's not clear how this higher-level network relates to the information content of the genome.

5) Our cells contain more DNA than what's in the nucleus: mitochondrial DNA, for example. And AFAIK, it's not clear how centrosomes multiply after the cell has divided.

So, bottom line, DNA does encode information in a quantifiable way.

There's another problem pertaining to dealing with ID arguments- your opponent is not constrained by logic. No amount of logical argument will suffice to convince them that life and evolution are subject to the same physical constraints as say, a block of wood sliding down an inclined plane.
 
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