Dodging Darwin: How Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Slowly Embracing Evolution

Please welcome David MacMillan* as a guest author today on Naturalis Historia.** 


As the strict young-earth creationists at Answers in Genesis work to complete their Ark Encounter “theme park,” they have expended an impressive amount of energy organizing the millions of species of land animals alive today into a handful of small groups they call “baramins.” They claim these groups represent the original created kinds of which Noah would have brought pairs onto the ark. This consolidation of numerous species into single “baramin” groups is driven primarily by the space on Noah’s purported vessel. The smaller the menagerie the Ark was purported to have contained, the more feasible it seems, and so the “baraminologists” at Answers in Genesis have gone to great lengths to explain how the vast array of species today could have been represented by a relatively low number of ancestral pairs.

One well-known hallmark of modern young-earth creationism is the dogma of separation between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”. Although early opponents of Darwinian evolution categorically denied that speciation or natural selection were possible at all, advances in genetics and biology made this position completely untenable. In response, creationists (particularly the young-earth crowd) protested that while “microevolution” was a viable, observable process in biology which they accept as “change or speciation within a kind”, the notion of “macroevolution,” or “change between kinds”, remains impossible. These definitions beg the question by assuming such things as discrete “kinds” exist, but creationists are nonetheless insistent that while adaptation or speciation within a particular “baramin” is observable (and, indeed, necessary in order to account for the present observed diversity of life), there is never any overlap between separate kinds. Their most well-known example of “kinds” is the difference between cats and dogs, where they explain that the diversity of dog breeds is the result of “microevolution” from some original dog/wolf kind, but that dogs will never “macroevolve” into cats.

Unfortunately for the young-earth model, the push to minimize the number of animals riding on the Ark has exposed a major problem with this view. Ironically, this problem is perhaps nowhere more apparent than with the very clade (the technical/evolutionary equivalent of the term “kind”) to which cats and dogs belong: Order Carnivora.

The Answers in Genesis website has repeatedly posted large, detailed lists of various species, families, and orders with attempts to organize them into baramins. One of the largest such postings, “Mammalian Ark Kinds” by retired veterinarian Jean Lightner, organizes the majority of Order Carnivora into eight distinct “baramins”: felines, civets, dogs, hyenas, bears, mongooses, weasels, and red pandas.


Eight major carnivorous “baramins,” as claimed by young-earth creationists at Answers in Genesis.

Baraminologists claim that hundreds of species of carnivorans all descended from just eight ancestral pairs that survived the global Flood by riding on Noah’s Ark just a few dozen centuries ago. The creationist rule is simple: there can be dramatic variation within each of these groups, but no creature will fit between any of these groups.

Presently, the designers of the Ark project are working on the models which will go onto the Ark to depict each original pair. The problem arises when they imagine what each of these original “created kinds” must have looked like.


This cartoon, featured in several of Ken Ham’s well-known presentations, depicts the creationist view of “microevolutionary” speciation. They explain: “You can breed wolves to get to chihuahuas, but you can’t breed chihuahuas to get wolves—variation in the genetic information has been lost.”

Answers in Genesis claims that “microevolution” is a fundamentally degenerative process: that adaptation and speciation can only take place as a result of information loss. This belief allows them to insist that all genetic information ultimately traces back to a divine author, rather than being generated by natural processes. Yet this requires that the “original created kind” be the ultimate representation of its clade, containing all possible genetic information. So, although only a few “original created kind” models for the Ark project have been completed so far, we can determine with relative ease what the “original” within each baramin is presumably believed to have looked like:


Each species most likely to be identified by AiG creationists as representative of the “original created kind” within each of their “baramin” groups (see footnote for more). The depicted representatives of Canidae (canines) and Felidae (cats) have specifically been identified by Answers in Genesis; others have been selected from the largest, most “advanced” extinct members of the clade or superclade known from full fossil skeletons.

The problem is obvious. Creationists claim that the various “baramins” all have intrinsic, essential differences that render them totally unique and distinct from one another, but the presumed ancestors of each of these groups are all very, very similar. In fact, if creationists were presented with only the eight “ancestral” species depicted above, they would likely group most or all of them into a single baramin based on their obvious similarities. There is more morphological and genetic variation within each of the terminal “baramins” identified by Answers in Genesis than there is within the collective group formed by their ancestors.

Of course, this is exactly what biologists expect. As “microevolutionary” adaptation and speciation accumulate, the variation in any group will eventually be exceeded by the variation within individual subgroups, so that each subgroup becomes far more diverse than the original group was to begin with. The accumulation of microevolutionary changes into the origin of entirely new families is the very definition of macroevolution.

For example, creationists currently consider foxes to be part of the “dog baramin” as shown above. However, if the Vulpes genus survives long enough, it will eventually diversify so much that creationists would no longer identify it as part of the “dog baramin” at all, and insist that it represents its own “created kind”.

Free from the contradictory constraints of creationist dogma, mainstream paleontologists ask whether all the carnivores above could have shared a single common ancestor. The answer? Absolutely! All these root species can be placed within the same kind (the technical term in biology is “clade”), tracing back to the miacids, a genus of small, arboreal placental carnivores which appear in the right strata and region to have been the ancestor of all modern carnivores. Together with a series of other known carnivores from various regions and strata, they can be used to trace the origin of the entire carnivoran clade:


This reconstruction of the phylogeny of carnivorans matches independent lines of evidence from genetic, morphological, and fossil research, avoiding any possibility of “evolutionary assumptions” dominating results. The multiple dating methods used to verify the age and order of these species are also independent from evolutionary considerations and from each other. Though not depicted, the Carnivora clade includes numerous other families like skunks, raccoons, seals, and sea lions.

Contrary to how creationists define macroevolution, the above tree does not show “one kind changing into another.” Hyenas are not turning into dogs and bears are not turning into weasels; that is an elementary caricature. Rather, macroevolution happens as microevolutionary changes accumulate, until a group of species once small enough to be considered a single family or genus has split into multiple families of far greater diversity.

It almost seems it would be easier for creationists to claim a “super-carnivore” species which survived the flood as a single pair on board Noah’s Ark and thereafter multiplied into the many species shown above. Of course, they can’t do that, because they’ve spent the last sixty years insisting cats, dogs, hyenas, and bears (along with numerous other families) are all separate, distinct kinds which couldn’t possibly share a common ancestor. They would have to explain how a single common ancestor for all carnivores is really just “extended microevolution” if they wanted to keep insisting that “macroevolution” is impossible.

What’s more, they’re running out of time. Creationists believe in an Ice Age which ended about 700 years after the global flood, at which point most modern species would have had to already emerge. They must already propose an exponentially rapid burst of evolutionary speciation following the flood; there is no way they can fit a full 40 million years of adaptation and speciation into the 200-odd generations that would have spanned this period.

As the Ark Encounter project continues to develop, it will be more and more challenging for the artists to depict “Ark kinds” without making them look like they are all part of the same family. It seems that Ark’s enthusiastic depiction of the variation and speciation presumed to have taken place since the Flood may end up being the most obvious endorsement of “evolution” that Answers in Genesis could ever make.


*David MacMillan has been fascinated by the creation/evolution controversy for many years. Growing up, he was fully committed to creationist apologetics. He purchased a lifetime charter membership to the Creation Museum and even had blog posts featured on the Answers in Genesis website. During college, he continued to actively pursue creation apologism as he earned a degree in physics, but began to recognize the mounting religious and scientific problems with young-earth creationism. His renewed investigation uncovered more and more misconceptions implicit in creationism, and he eventually rejected it as both theologically indefensible and scientifically baseless. He now writes extensively about young-earth creationism for multiple websites.

**This article was first published on PandasThumb.org

Footnote:  Casual readers may not immediately recognize that the eight ancestral species I included above represent actual genera, not mere artistic representations of imagined “missing links”. They are, starting at the top and moving clockwise: Protictitherium, Ictitherium,E. ekakeran, C. spelea, Simocyon, Amphicyon, H. gregarius, and Proailurus. The last two, H. gregarius and Proailurus, have been specifically identified by Answers in Genesis as the probable Ark ancestors of canines and felines respectively; the rest are extinct members of their respective clades. Because creationists don’t dispute that these species existed, the Ark Encounter has to put them somewhere, and they would best fit within baraminology at or near the apex point of their clades.

Figures copyright David MacMillan 2015, CC Attribution-NoDeriv 3.0

Image attribution:

Fair use, criticism:
www.AnswersInGenesis.org

Creative Commons or public domain:
The Wikimedia Foundation
The Smithsonian Institution
Mauricio Anton

Comments

  1. Great post, thank you. My contention is that AiG is nearing a tipping point. This article points out some of the problems the of the baramin theory that are difficult to resolve. I truly believe that creationism has started its path on the famous “slippery slope” leading to evolutionary explanations, although my guess is they will continue to insist that Darwin was wrong until the bitter end. I think the next step will be something like you implied in the post, that they will suddenly discover that the ark animals were not actually modern bears, cats wolves and so on, but ancient common ancestors for each “kind”. If that does happen, then we can celebrate another large drop down the slope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I think the next step will be something like you implied in the post, that they will suddenly discover that the ark animals were not actually modern bears, cats wolves and so on, but ancient common ancestors for each ‘kind’.”

      Oh, that’s not the next step. They’re already there. In the link I posted at the very beginning of the article, the YECs explain that all bears (from polar bears to spectacled bears to giant pandas to sloth bears to the extinct short-faced bears, cave bears, and paractids) come from the same ancestral Ark pair. They would probably lump Amphicyonidae in with the “bear baramin” as well, though they might assign it to its own baramin. Similarly, all members of Felidae are claimed to have descended from a single Proailurus pair on the Ark, all wolves, dogs, and foxes are claimed to have descended from a single Hesperocyon pair on the Ark, and so forth.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you underestimate the perversity of the creationists. They have managed to accommodate a weird and wonderful breakneck version of plate tectonics into their flood geology, so is it really progress when they invoke word and wonderful breakneck episodes of evolution to explain post-flood (as they must see it) phylogeny?

    One quibble: “clade” is not really equivalent to “kind”. You and I belong to the hominin clade, the ape clade, and the simian clade etc. Clades nest, showing family relationships recognised ever since Linnaeus; baramins are unsupported constructs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There isn’t an exact functional equivalence between “clade” and “baramin” but that’s mostly due to the fact that baramins are utterly arbitrary inventions. The “baramin” concept is about as close as creationists can get to understanding what a clade is without actually understanding evolution.

      They use terms like “holobaramin” to refer to the original “highest” clade and “monobaramin” to refer to the subordinate clades into which the holobaramin has separated. For example, the cat holobaramin is believed to have originated as a single monobaraminic Proailurus-like pair, but now contains multiple monobaramins, such as the lion-tiger monobaramin and the domestic-cat monobaramin and the extinct saber-tooth-cat monobaramin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed. At this rate, they seem fair set to discover the ideas of species, genus, and family, and boldly leap into the eighteenth century. BTW (I may have mentioned before) they fondly imagine that baramin means created (bara) kind (min), whereas it actually means he-created a-kind-of.

        The whole sad thing is evidence of humankind’s capacity for self-deception, and the feebleness of minds evolved for staying alive on the Savannah when it comes to dealing with abstractions

        Liked by 1 person

    • It can even be argued that “miyn” means something more like “type”, so that “bara-min” means “he-created-that-type”. E.g., God let the waters bring forth the type of creatures that belong in the waters, God let the fields bring forth the type of beasts that belong in the fields, God let the skies bring forth the type of birds that belong in the skies, and so forth.

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      • You have sent me back to Genesis. “miyn” never occurs on its own there, but always as a compound, such as le-miyn-o, according to its kind. Again, in Leviticus 11, defining what kinds of birds may or may not be eaten, it occurs in much the same way, except that in Leviticus the subdivisions are sometimes clearly so narrow as to correspond individual species. So it seems to mean “according to its defining characteristics” telling us nothing about how narrow the definition may be. Come to think of it, the same applies to the English word “kind”. Notably and comically absent is miyn on its own as the object of the verb “bara”, “he created”. So you will need a better Hebraist than me to tell you exactly how miyn should be used, but the way the baraminologists use it is clearly wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Christine Janis says:

    Great illustrations! Did you make them yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on The Book of Works and commented:
    The following is reblogged from Joel Duff’s blog Naturaiis Historia, a great source for information about how young earth creationists are trying to deal with the science of evolution. This post is by David MacMillan.

    Like

  5. Fascinating. I don’t think I had realized just how much of a problem they must be facing back behind the closed doors of the creation museum boardrooms, but you’ve laid it out very clearly. I’ve always viewed AiG as being ingenuous, but I think you need a degree of mental perversity to face such problems without seeing that they cast serious doubt on your position. Thanks for the well presented observations!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is a very interesting post. I really like the illustrations. I would be interested in using them in talks with your permission and proper credit of course. It might be illuminating to creationists to present work like this from people they respect, then show how this is starting to parallel standard evolutionary thought. It could be very useful as a bridging tool to get them to more seriously consider evolutionary theory. They will likely not accept it during the presentation, but they will think about it nevertheless, making them more amenable to the topic in future discussions with other people.

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  7. After reading many of your posts, I am forced to come to the conclusion that the YEC worldview imagines a universe so poorly designed that if it were not for continuous miraculous interference by God, it would blow apart from its own defiance of physics. How do they then reconcile that with an omniscient, omnipotent God? The only answer I have gotten from YEC followers on this topic is that the very fact that their worldview requires constant miracles is proof that God exists, a view that I have never understood.

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    • Yes, you have identified one of my biggest concerns with YECism. I talk about science mostly but the only reason I even both with young-earth creationism is because of the concern I have with the damage it does to man’s understanding of God. I don’t believe the God of YEC is the God that has revealed himself in Scripture and who displays his works in creation.

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  8. Hmmm… it seems to me that this article, in attempting to bring simple clarity to the challenges of YEC, has oversimplified the scientific understanding of and/or evidence for “macro” evolution. I speak as an experienced engineer with some depth in the sciences, married to a woman who majored in human biology with a core strength in evolutionary population biology. (And we are both strong Christians fully accepting of God’s creation, yet not YEC at least in the way Ken Ham presents it ;) )

    A few brief thoughts along those lines, hoping to help urge future posts here in a positive direction toward full reconciliation of scripture and science (I admit I’ve only done a brief search yet haven’t found these kinds of things here yet…)

    1) To say “The accumulation of microevolutionary changes into the origin of entirely new families is the very definition of macroevolution:” is in a way missing the point. From an information specialist perspective, I too would disagree with YEC’s oversimplification that NO information is ever added through speciation (simple? picture: if speciation introduces “nose length” variation, that IS new info, but perhaps only one or two bits), yet at the same time, the introduction of brand new capabilities, whether sight or other complex features involves huge amounts of information. Thus I would disagree with the author’s statement as well. I have yet to see a realistic evolutionary mechanism for introducing the amount of information necessary to develop the *information-rich* structures we see in nature.

    2) There are some very good evidences for varieties of OEC that are in many ways MORE compatible with scripture than Ham’s YEC… and even MORE able to guide people to the awesomeness of God. Two that I appreciate: a) The relativistic perspective (see http://sixdayscience.com/six-days-2/) and b) The “started in a 24 hr period” perspective (See John Lennox’s writings.)

    3) My wife and I were both rather shocked to discover that four of the ten fundamental assumptions of modern evolutionary biology have been recently disproven. (I need to get back to you w/ a reference. And I probably have some of my vocabulary wrong here… but one example: Lamarck was NOT an imbecile. While my broken arm is not inherited by my kids, it turns out that the way a chameleon mom licks her offspring produces a change in her offspring that is inheritable for a number of generations! There are others, such as mutational DNA changes that take place within a single organism, NOT during reproduction.)

    I’m thinking the need for humility in exploring the books of God’s works and word has never been greater :)

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    • Are you thinking of epigenetics? If so, how does that undermine evolution, rather than enriching its mechanisms? And I would greatly appreciate references to, and description of, your other examples.

      Liked by 1 person

      • (Sorry for the delay… Real Life intervened :) )
        Epigenetics is one aspect. A summary paper with a lot of good references is here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/expphysiol.2012.071134/pdf — “Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology.” My memory above was inadequate: he demonstrates, with citations, that all four fundamentals of the Modern Synthesis have been disproven. This was quite a shock to my wife whose very good college education built on these.
        Another that I find fascinating: Somatic Hypermutation. Ultra-high-speed genetic mutations within the cell, in response to an external attack.

        The interesting thing about all this: it’s upsetting to both YEC but also to traditional evolutionary thinking.

        And none of it provides a mechanism for the addition of information content. I’ll address David MacMillan’s comments on clades below…

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        • Since the term “modern synthesis” describes biology in 1940, I am not surprised that it looks very different today. But you mentioned three specifics apart from epigenetics, and apologised for not providing details and citations; I await, with ongoing curiosity.

          I don’t understand your problem about “new information”. Let me give one very simple well understood example. Most mammals apart from old world monkeys and their descendants have binary colour vision. We have ternary. The blue and green receptors are traceable back to a common ancestor. So, spelling it out, we had accidental gene duplication of the green ancestor, and one copy mutated to produce a red-sensitive rhodopsin. (This does not seem to have been a very improbable process, since it also occurred independently in some New World monkeys). Depending on exactly how you define information, the new information arose at the doubling event, and became meaningful as a result of natural selection; or the raw material for new information arose at the doubling event, and selection for a new colour sensitivity was the point at which new information was generated by selection pressure. in a sense, the deep origin of the information is the environment, and as if I recall correctly Zuckerman said a generation ago, the organism is our model of the pressures that have produce it. We end up with the information to specify three colour receptors rather than two. Does this not demystify the origin of new information? If not, what would?

          And it’s worth bearing in mind that there have been two complete genome doublings since our last common ancestor with tunicates, giving lots of material for this kind of mechanism to work with.

          So I remain mystified by your mystification.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Paul, I just realized that I didn’t really answer your other question: how do these things undermine rather than enrich the evolutionary perspective?

        Of course, it somewhat enriches one aspect of evolution (enabling more rapid change)… although I suppose that same attribute might be of some comfort to YEC’s who need *some* mechanism for all the speciation we see. :-D

        Now, how does this, and particularly Somatic Hypermutation, undermine any aspect of an evolutionary perspective? Since I’m an information specialist, I will (of course) look at this from my perspective :)

        All of these mechanisms involve either little change, or a *reduction* in information content, or a *concentration* if you will. Non-viable options are eliminated, viable ones survive. In any case, the mechanism (aka “program”) for these adjustments already exists. Based on stimuli, the genome is modified in specific ways until a “key” is found that better survives the current environment. Yet in reality, no new information is actually generated. We might say that some *efficiency* could in theory be discovered (i.e. if the survivable-options are remembered for the next generation, then no time is wasted next time) yet if that’s done and the “find the answer” algorithm is lost… then the next new challenge will not be addressed in a similarly creative way, and that “efficiency” has actually harmed future survival.)

        So What? Well… what we’ve done is introduce a rather amazing set of complex mechanisms… that themselves need to be explained. Dynamic mechanisms such as these are very very costly. They are even less likely to develop through random or even survival-reproduction pressures.

        And any time a new, complex, mechanism is introduced, the evolutionary side of the discussion has a new challenge on their hands.

        (BTW, my baseline “elephant in the room” challenge for evolutionists is the same one my wife had while studying the topic, *before* she became a Christian. If the penultimate evolutionary pressure is survival+reproduction, then what allows evolution to go beyond bacteria, the absolute winner in both realms? We’ve not seen this discussed anywhere…)

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        • Briefly and finally (we all have real lives): you have admirably identified major areas of scientific interest. You ask questions to which the answer is not immediately obvious, and whose detailed answering is a large part of the research agenda of current biology. It would be a pity if you were to infer, from the incompleteness or the indirectness of the answer, or from the fact that you personally don’t know it, that no answer is possible without invoking the supernatural. That would be a pity scientifically (the death of research) and theologically (mere argument from ignorance, and God of the gaps).

          You have slid from asking where new information comes from to asking where all the information necessary to make an eye comes from. This is, of course, the research programme of evolutionary developmental biology. I recommend Alice Roberts’ The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being for an introduction. You admit that information can enter the genome as I described, but say that this information is not sufficient to specify the phenotype. (though do bear in mind paths to patterning with very little informational input, as in cellular automata and in Turing’s discussions of morphogenesis by diffusion). This is, of course, correct at a trivial level – your genome does not fully specify your fingerprints or even your detailed brain wiring. But if you are claiming this at a more important level, then you are demanding divine intervention, not only in evolution, but in the development of each and every individual.

          As to why there are any organisms more complex than bacteria, I refer you to what has been claimed (controversially) as “Biology’s first Law” in the highly mathematical book of that name by Daniel W. McShea and Robert N. Brandon (U Chicago Press, so it’s not likely to be crank stuff). More your area than mine. Crudely, the idea is that life diversifies to fill the niches available by a process of diffusion in possibility space. I would add that possibility space is defined in large measure by the life that is already there; this takes us into ecology and biogeochemistry.)

          Thanks for an interesting discussion

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      • “Modern Synthesis” may have been a new term in 1940, but it hardly was discarded then. “Evolution” was first used in 1622… but we don’t toss that term just because the word is old ;)

        I think I’ve given you a full set of references. The first is the paper I linked that describes how the entire modern synthesis has been disproven, and provides quite a lot of citations in support. The second is the relativistic view; I provided a link. I consider what Lennox describes as secondary although interesting. It’s in one or more of his books… I just moved recently and in any case would have to do some digging myself to find the exact reference, once I’m unpacked. The third relates to information theory. That’s a big topic; I’ve not seen one single paper covering the wide variety of aspects necessary. If you’re interested I recommend searches on information theory, bayesian brain, etc.

        So, let’s run with your example from an information perspective. Again a reminder (see my reply to David down below) of a simple (simplistic?) definition, leaving out some rather complex details like noise: information content is measured by comparing the size of the smallest computer program necessary to generate a given info set. Thus, repeated, transposed, moved and replicated data by definition has very little additional information.

        Given a starting point: blue and/or green receptor.
        New addition: red-sensitive rhodopsin providing ternary vision
        A bit of sleuthing shows all of these are among the opsins, which are a subclass of a more general receptor class, the GPCR’s

        (Fun stuff by the way! Thanks for pointing this out :) . One nice reference: http://www.genomebiology.com/content/6/3/213 )

        Paul’s interpretation:
        – We had accidental gene duplication of the green ancestor, and one copy mutated to produce a red-sensitive rhodopsin
        – the new information arose at the doubling event, and became meaningful as a result of natural selection; or
        – the raw material for new information arose at the doubling event, and selection for a new colour sensitivity was the point at which new information was generated by selection pressure.
        – the deep origin of the information is the environment, and as if I recall correctly Zuckerman said a generation ago, the organism is our model of the pressures that have produce it.
        – Bottom line: We end up with the information to specify three colour receptors rather than two.

        Pete’s interpretation:
        – GPCR’s provide a generalized method for converting sense (of something) into cellular response
        – Opsins are a generalized class of photoreceptor, converting electromagnetic radiation into biochemical response
        – These are the primary form of “information content” needed in the genomic “library” to accomplish the additional capabilities we’re discussing
        – For whatever reason, an extra copy of an opsin, with modified frequency sensitivity, became available at some point
        – The information involved in these variants appears to be primarily:
        – Number of opsins expressed
        – Variations needed for specific frequency sensitivity

        The fact of an extra opsin is only a TINY bit of additional information. I can write a virtual computer program as follows:

        Constant SpectralSensitivity = {440,530,580}; // Blue, Green, Red
        Function MakeEye( Int ReceptorCount )
        {
        For (i=1 to ReceptorCount)
        {
        GenerateOpsin( SpectralSensitivity[i] );
        }
        }

        Thus, oversimplifying to be sure (smile), the only “extra information” is the extra spectral sensitivity definition for red, and the fact that my loop needs to handle up to three receptors rather than one. The driver code, and much more everything involved in GenerateOpsin() and more… those are already present.

        The key question is to discern what it takes to generate something that goes significantly beyond what we already have.

        I’ll put it in terms that are VERY familiar to me.

        To develop a GIS mapping software package requires (oversimplifying):
        – Desktop publishing (Adobe Illustrator)
        – Spreadsheet (Excel)
        – Database (Access)
        – CAD (AutoCAD)
        – Graphics Rendering/Drivers (Windows or OSx or whatever)
        – Intense mathematical transformation libraries (projections etc)

        You can’t just take one of those and modify it a little… or a lot. In fact, one of those will never morph into another. Nor is there a common ancestor other than perhaps the very definition of a computer.

        Hope that helps!

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        • Very last comment: congratulations again; what I think you are asking, in biologists’ language, is for a description of the origins of the genetic code, which needs to be there for a change in the gene specifying an opsin (a single nucleotide mutation as it happens) to make a difference that matters (like beng able to distinguish between ripe and unripe fruit). BTW, most mutations are harmful and (probably) get bred out; many are neutral and spread by chance.

          There is a clear meaning to the expression “last common ancestor” when applied to this opsin, and it would presumably date to some time between the branching of old world and new world monkeys, and the deepest branch within old world monkeys such that both sides of the branch have 3 colour vision. We can compare those limits with what we can infer from the variation between the green receptor in different species. This, I believe, is the kind of thing that molecular phylogenists do for a living.

          It is true and interesting that extreme stresses can increase the mutation rate by damaging the organism. It is true and surprising that simple changes in control genes can have complex effects on morphology. As Leslie Orgel used to say, evolution is stronger than Leslie Orgel (from which it immediately follows that it’s smarter than me and, probably, you).

          If you are saying that the amount of useful information in the human genome is huge, you can see if it is surprisingly huge using known mutation rates and plausible selection factors. This is the kind of thing that population geneticists have been looking at for a century. Molecular biologists i correspond with don’t think the amount of variation is surprising, but maybe they’re wrong – do the math. If you’re saying that the information in a genome isn’t nearly enough to specify the vital aspects of a person, then you are invoking supernatural forces, as I said before, in every individual.

          Beware the argument from incredulity, which some of what you say reminds me of

          Thanks again. Over and out.

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      • Like Paul, I suppose this shall be my final contribution to this interesting conversation.

        Paul wrote, “what I think you are asking, in biologists’ language, is for a description of the origins of the genetic code, which needs to be there for a change in the gene specifying an opsin (a single nucleotide mutation as it happens) to make a difference that matters (like being able to distinguish between ripe and unripe fruit). BTW, most mutations are harmful and (probably) get bred out; many are neutral and spread by chance.”

        Nice guess, but no. I’m happy to ignore the origins of the genetic code for this conversation. At this point, I don’t much care where we begin. AFAIK significant huge amounts of new information have been added along the way, far more than the tiny bits represented by evolutionary effects that we know about.

        I’m looking for any evidence that significantly new *information* is being added by evolution. Without arguments from incredulity nor the typical “well it happened and it couldn’t have been XYZ.” Let’s follow the evidence where it leads! I simply have not found any credible theories or examples suggesting evolutionary processes such as mutation, recombination, replication, selection, etc can generate significant new information. Change is not new information, as you’ve so rightly noted: most change is random or deleterious, increasing entropy but that’s about it. Change plus selection is at best approximately break-even from an information perspective.

        BTW, what Orgel actually said is somewhat more interesting than “evolution is stronger.” His second rule is: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”

        Here’s what makes that interesting to me: Brian Kernighan was a member of the original Unix team. Kernighan’s law is: “Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.” I’m a pretty smart guy yet have still found that Kernighan is right. Assuming a magical intelligence built into my code… let alone evolution… is hardly sane. Minor defects can be “bred out” even in software. Major defects? Hardly. Dead is dead :)

        I’m happy to accept both of these as subtle encouragements toward humility. After all, Orgel himself punted on finding sufficient information aka evolutionary pressures to inform what we see in biology. His solution: panspermia, which of course is no solution at all to the information-source problem.

        If we define “supernatural” as simply meaning “more than four dimensional,” I have no problem. Extra-dimensionality is rational in theory and practice.

        I like to trace the evidence to its logical conclusion, without boundaries.

        How about you? :-D

        PS I find it fascinating to discover both leaps in information content in nature, as well as what I call “uncertainty gaps” in basic sciences — gaps that have been proven to be mathematically unsolvable (and thus not just waiting for resolution for some future smart person.) The former provide evidence that Something is injecting new intelligence into nature. The latter provide plenty of wiggle room for an n-dimensional being to do so without breaking any of the “rules.”

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    • While it’s entirely reasonable to ask how information is added to the genome, it’s a misconception to think that information content is the dividing line between microevolution from macroevolution. That’s a myth that has been roundly perpetuated by YECs and OECs alike and has probably been reinforced by mainstream scientists who didn’t entirely understand the argument being broached. The difference between microevolution and macroevolution is solely a quantitative one; it has to do with the emergence of multiple clades within what was formerly a single clade by the repeated process of adaptation and speciation. Creationists, particularly YECs, would very much like for the difference to have to do with some “information limit”, but that is not how evolutionary biologists use these terms. Even in the extremely unlikely event that multiple new clades were formed from a parent clade without any “new information” being added, this would still be macroevolution. Alternately, if some organism gained a completely new ability through an influx of new mutagenic information but remained capable of reproducing with the rest of its species, this would still be microevolution regardless of how much “new information” was added.

      And just based on the way the “fundamental assumptions of evolutionary biology” thing is being phrased, I’m inclined to already suspect the source.

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      • David, I’m not writing from the perspective of either YEC or OEC. I’m writing from the perspective of an information specialist (my professional background, besides a good chunk of science as I started out on a pre-med path, is engineering, specifically computers and data. I go back to the earliest years of modern computing, particularly the development of personal computers and related technologies.)

        I don’t have all the right vocabulary within the biological sciences, and am happy to apologize for that up front. My wife’s the one with both the great memory (how DOES she remember the names of all those birds AND fish AND interesting tide pool critters ;) ) and the biology background. I’m happy to agree with you on clades, and on speciation. (One of the things that saddens me even about your “kind” illustration: do the YEC’s even admit that essentially all modern dogs are a single species?) Another nice illustration of this can be found in the realm of birding… thousands of species… and there are the “splitters” (breaking one species into two) and “lumpers” (combining species into one) who revise the lists each year, often based as much on DNA evidence as anything else. Thus, there’s a realm where we can see speciation at work, in detail, in real time.

        I apologize as well for the “fundamental assumptions of evolutionary biology” phrase… again from my poor memory :). Hopefully the following phrasing is better: “all the central assumptions of the Modern Synthesis have been disproved.” (from Physiology is rocking the foundations
        of evolutionary biology; Denis Noble, Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, Oxford, UK; DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2012.071134)

        When I speak of information content, I’m thinking on rather large terms. Just about every variation I’ve seen in the various mutation chains involves a relatively tiny amount of *information* change. Replicating or transposing DNA sequences represents almost (but not quite) zero additional information content. I can get a huge amount of adaptation and speciation with hardly any additional information, just through mechanisms such as:
        – How many copies? (0,1,2)
        – What direction? (Forward, reverse)
        – Where inserted? (Choose how many bits required to specify… two bits is enough for four positions)

        (Note that, in simplistic terms, and ignoring noise, information content is measured by comparing the size of the smallest computer program necessary to generate a given info set. Thus, repeated, transposed, moved and replicated data by definition has very little additional information.)

        All of this mutagenic information content is a far cry by many orders of magnitude from the precise information needed to specify an eardrum, eye, let alone our brains which are hundreds of times more energy+speed efficient than the very best designs engineers can even envision for the next century. As I noted to a friend… if it were that easy, we could just mix together a thousand copies of Notepad and produce a Geographic Information System. (I was involved in creating the first PC GIS mapping software, so I know a little of what I speak here ;) )

        Simply put: I have not seen any proposed mechanism or theory or demonstration that suggests how such massive amounts of additional information can be introduced into the genome. If “Macro Evolution” is the wrong term for that, I apologize. I’d love to know the correct terminology!

        Many blessings,
        Pete

        (I’m still astounded that it’s even conceivable that a significant aspect of brain function may be able to approach an ideal Bayesian analysis model. That’s just incredible :-D )

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      • MrPete: “I’m writing from the perspective of an information specialist (my professional background, besides a good chunk of science as I started out on a pre-med path, is engineering, specifically computers and data. I go back to the earliest years of modern computing, particularly the development of personal computers and related technologies.)”

        I appreciate your profession in computers, data and electronic information; however, your professional discipline is not biological science. Your understanding of biology is based on analogies you bring from your computer information engineering profession. Your professional background does not directly apply one for one to biology, genetics or evolution science.

        Analogies while useful in teaching concepts are at best limited and many times contradictory to the facts when indiscriminately applied to a different body of knowledge. It may be helpful for your understanding of biological sciences to break the “computer, data, information specialist” mental block and study biology as its own science.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bob S writes, “Analogies while useful in teaching concepts are at best limited and many times contradictory to the facts when indiscriminately applied to a different body of knowledge. It may be helpful for your understanding of biological sciences to break the “computer, data, information specialist” mental block and study biology as its own science.”

        I agree entirely and am reminded of that by my wife who IS trained in biology, far more than me. (I got through the basic biology, plus more advanced physics and chemistry, of a pre-med major, before tweaking things.)

        However, aren’t some concepts applicable across many if not all of the sciences? How about mathematics, statistics, and logic? Don’t physics and chemistry have application to biology as well? I would suggest the same is true for information. I would also suggest that we all would do well to encourage a more multidisciplinary view of the sciences and science-related challenges.

        Just because we usually use computers to manage information today, does this mean that information itself is bound to the world of computing or electronics? In my experience, a background in dealing with information applies to quite a bit more than computing-related topics.

        If anything, I would suggest that even those who specialize in computer-related aspects would do well to begin from a bigger/deeper information perspective. Without that, a variety of computing-related challenges remain intractable. (One of my favorites that’s not too hard to envision: while algebra has “infinite precision,” computers do not. All numbers in computers are actually points on a grid. And it’s easy to envision, say, the intersection of two line segments whose endpoints are on that grid but whose intersection is not. This can be proven to generate literally infinite amounts of error depending on the situation…)

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  9. My thanks to everyone wanting AiG and ICR to get real for the good of Christian apologetic. Trying to do my part, I appreciate David pointing us at the specific claim that Proailurus was maybe the ur-feline, and H. gregarius the ur-canine. I would add that 700 post-Flood years (200 generations) is an older creationist guess. If you Search: snelling matthews cave men, and: snelling matthews ice age – you find AiG claiming 2350 to 2000 BC. (This, of course, leaves no time for Egyptian pyramids.) It might help everyone to focus on the Nye/Ham debate, where Ken gave us an elephant “kind” story of sudden post-Ark “diversification” (that should at least specify mammoth and mastodon pairs) producing everything found in the last 20,000,000 years of Deep Time geology. (That should inform useless argument about Flood vs. post-Flood geology.)

    My concern is that “the general public” should be given as many “safe harbors” as possible to choose from in wanting to do good science while also wanting the Bible to be factually true. I seldom see anything about what you get on Search: gerald aardsma virtual history. My worldwide Flood date (6000 BC) is a bit farther back than his, but still within Creation less than 10,000 years ago. If God consistently hides himself (as Isaiah says), then there is no problem with his creation of a “history” of plate tectonics, and fossil wasp cocoons in broken dinosaur eggs, for instance. Total absence of any Flood evidence is in line with God wanting us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” There was room enough on the Ark, if dinosaurs and other extinct forms (including most ice age megafauna) didn’t have to be aboard.

    It is beyond silly, seeing what the AiG Ark Encounter is posting today. BIG cages sitting on flat floors, SMALL cages with no living room (that creatures could chew their way out of), and other cages stacked above each other – all requiring labor-intensive upkeep. This is also a great waste of space overall. Their hull is an eggshell just where it would impact a great stump or rock outcrop, and there’s no hint of a ship’s needful I-beam construction to maintain rigidity at sea. My Ark design is a barge starting with hewed, staggered 75-foot “sticks” from the bottom ends of 150-foot cedars & pines growing just south of the Black Sea. Every 14×73-foot section inside, top to bilge, is a “habitat” where creatures of similar size and habit can “nest” in spaces provided, with air, light, food and water sources in common.

    Nobody is asking what DOMESTIC creatures, especially, were useful and needful before the Flood. Noah needed big horses and oxen to haul big trees down from forested ridges. People expanding east could have brought chickens west by 6000 BC. It was God who brought the “kinds” into the Ark, so let that include 3 dog pairs (great & small, and fast hounds), their bones found in human settlements from before this time. It was God who brought Baltic, Asian, and African young women to Turkey to marry Japheth, Shem and Ham during the last decade before God’s Flood. And if God could “jump” his man, Philip, along the coast of Palestine almost 2,000 years ago, then he could do the same to get modern kangaroos back to Australia, and hummingbirds back to the New World. We want only needful interventions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If your God is *morally* capable of generating a false history, down to bogus evidence for plate tectonics and wasp cocoons in dinosaur eggs, maybe you’re worshiping the wrong God

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      • It’s not a “false history” if God told us how he created the world in the Bible. I agree with Mr Pete above that many unanswered questions should bring a lot more humility to the conversation that what is typically shown by all sides of the argument.

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    • Barking mad. You wrong about Philip. God had nothing to do with it. It was superman. I have an old book that says so.

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    • I have heard the idea that God made the universe look very old, even though it is only 6-10,000 years old. However, that opens up a huge problem, Because all the evidence points to a very old Earth, one must choose between two alternatives. 1) the Earth really is as old as it appears. 2) God is a liar. (Ordinarily, reducing something to a simple dichotomy is a fallacy, but I see no other rational third option here.) Why would one believe, much less worship, a God that lies to you? Why would one choose a God that lies over the physical evidence? (Please note: this is not a claim that God doesn’t exist. Assuming that we take for a given that God does exist, one must then ask what type of God one wishes to follow.)

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  10. Reblogged this on A Yewnique Life and commented:
    A very interesting article on The Natural Historian.

    No matter how much YECists deny it, the fact that they accept adaptation and speciation means that they do accept evolution.

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  11. this is probably a silly question but I wanted to clarify something. When it is written here that all carnivores came from one ancestor it seems to mean all mammalian carnivores. Am I right here? I mean there is no mention of sharks or birds of prey, etc. would whales be included in this lineage as well? Sorry for the elementary question; I’m just curious about it.

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    • Yeah, that’s right. David’s use of Carivorans is a reference to the taxonomic classification Order Carnivora. This is a taxonomic grouping that doesn’t include all carnivores which is a term that refers to a the trait of being meat-eating. Because all members (well, with exceptions like the Panda which eats bamboo) of this group are meat eaters that is where it gets its name. There is a marsupial wolf that is a carnivore and even looks much like the members of the Carnivora but it is classified with the Marsupials because there are so many other features that makes it more Marsupial than Carnivoran. There are even other mammals which are primarily carnivorous that aren’t included in this group because they many other features that are more similar to other groups of mammals that are mostly not carnivorous. In this case we consider those carnivores secondardy adaptations to canivory much like a Panda is a secondary adaptation to herbivory from what was almost certainly an ancestor that was a carnivore (evidenced of this can be seen in the intestines of the Panda which are short just like a carnivore).

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    • Without detracting from Joel’s explanation, I’ll just simply add that carnivores are any primarily meat-eating organism, while carnivorans are the various species which have descended from the small carnivorous predatory placental mammals known as the miacids about 40 million years ago. So not all carnivores are carnivorans, and not all carnivorans are carnivores.

      The tricky thing for creationists is that they believe the eight “kinds” listed above are completely distinct. If the “cat kind” and the “dog kind” and the “bear kind” were all created completely independent of one another, then there isn’t any reason why they should be able to group so readily into a single Order Carnivora which has all the appearance of having descended from a single carnivorous common ancestor. The fact that creationists like Jean Lightner use the existing taxonomic classification at all shows that they know this commonality exists; they just don’t want to admit it. Their model requires cats and dogs and civets and bears to be no more closely related than are toads and toadstools, even though any kindergarten student knows that’s ridiculous.

      If the YEC model was correct, then the various “groupings” of different “kinds” would be wildly arbitrary. There would be no neat nested classifications, no independently-convergent trees of descent. You could perhaps group several predatory kinds together based on one characteristic (like diet or tooth structure) but those kinds would inevitably have completely different characteristics in other areas (like genes or morphology). Creationists will insist that God was merely “re-using” designs and genes that were optimal for their environment, but if this the case, why would re-use be limited to groups which seem to be closely related? Feathers would have been far more useful to pteradons than to ostriches, after all. Or, in a more realistic example, why would God give all the carnivorans the same canine/feline jaw and tooth structure but give the thylacine and tasmanian devil a basically marsupial jaw and tooth structure? The most obvious evidence of actual “common design” would be the appearance of identical structures in two species which couldn’t possibly share a recent common ancestor…but they come up short.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the responses. I was asking because there was a section I thought could use some clarity in this post: “…ask whether all the carnivores above could have shared a single common ancestor. The answer? Absolutely! All these root species can be placed within the same kind (the technical term in biology is “clade”), tracing back to the miacids, a genus of small, arboreal placental carnivores which appear in the right strata and region to have been the ancestor of all modern carnivores. ”

        The way I read it, it seemed to imply that these arboreal placental carnivores are the ancestors of “all modern carnivores” as opposed to carnivora. That seems to be what the sentence was stating at the end, and I wanted to clarify. Thank you!

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  12. After reading the interesting (and unusually cordial) exchanges between MrPete and others, I thought I would put in my two cents to express how I see it. MrPete, you have stated that as an information specialist, you don’t see how the proposed natural mechanisms can add the amount of new information needed for evolution to supply an acceptable explanation. One difficulty in your view is your definition of information content. As you state, “information content is measured by comparing the size of the smallest computer program necessary to generate a given info set. Thus, repeated, transposed, moved and replicated data by definition has very little additional information.” However, that is not true in biology. A very little amount of change can result in widespread effects. A minor change in the timing of development of an embryo or a small change in the interaction of where in the developing fetus two genes interact can radically alter the form of the organism. You may think that doubling a genome is not adding new information, but I can assure you that is indeed new information to a living organism and will have marked effects on that organism, sometimes lethal, sometimes deleterious, sometimes highly beneficial depending on the organism and its particular genetics. There is far more interactions in biology than in computers and what may seem like insignificant amount of new information can make an enormous impact. Add to this the fact that incredibly complicated systems can be created with a few simple rules. In your field, I am sure you are aware of the almost limitless variations that can be created with a simple feedback loop and a few simple rules. If I recall correctly, the behavior of schooling fish in all of its complexity can be accurately modeled with only three or four very simple rules dictating the movements of each fish compared to its neighbors.

    As an information specialist, I am sure you are familiar with the use of evolutionary algorithms in machine learning? I have seen them used several times in paleontology to figure out how certain animals moved. One feeds into the program basic parameters of leg length, estimated strength, joint flexibility, etc.. The program then chooses a starting stride, which invariably fails spectacularly, but after using the information learned from that trial gradually tweaks the model. After thousands of attempts, with each one getting better, one goes from a dinosaur model that can’t stand up to one that can realistically move. Now scale that up to what happens in nature.

    I think your problem is that you, like the vast majority of people, don’t truly grasp the scale at which biology works, which is far more complicated than anything humans have built or conceived. The true level of natural selection and the amount of variation undergoing selection is far greater than most people understand. Consider that every successful birth is already the result of millions upon millions of combinations, each combination carrying its own several thousand new mutations (compare the size of the genome with the accuracy of the DNA polymerases and you will see that yes indeed, every single fertilized egg carries many thousands of novel mutations and that doesn’t even begin to address the changes wrought by recombination and all the numerous alterations that can happen then). Yes, the vast majority of mutations are deleterious or neutral, but each birth has already been forced to weed out the lethal ones and most of the deleterious ones before a successful pregnancy even occurs. This process takes place millions of times a year for every species, adding another huge round of selection that further weeds out the less successful varieties. On top of that, add in millions upon millions of years (I have modeled this to students by using an 18′ timeline of the past 600 million years and asking them to calculate how much space the past 6000 years of recorded human history would take up. I have yet to find a student that initially guesses accurately, which is just over the width of a single human hair.). Considering how successful humans have been in getting their own machines to use evolution for learning in just a few decades with a truly paltry number of experiments and then add in the fact that due to the immense numbers of alterations that can be done with truly minor tweaks, the only real question is not how so much new information has been added to achieve the diversity we see, but why there is so little (which can then be answered with stabilizing and purifying selection, extinction events, etc.).

    Liked by 1 person

    • paeloaerie, thanks for your in-depth thoughts.

      The definition I provided for information content is not *my* definition. It’s a standard definition. The topic is actually huge; I’m using simplified terms for this discussion. (Noise alone adds a level of complexity that takes this topic to the stratosphere in terms of complexity ;) c.f. Claude Shannon[1948] )

      Another way to think about it, again ignoring noise, is to consider a “perfect” compression algorithm. However the information is described, that determines the attributes of (something), that information potentially can be compressed using some Very Clever Method, in such a way that the original data can be recovered. **By Definition** we can compare the information content of two info sets by comparing the size of the two data sets when perfectly compressed.

      The example of using a computer program to generate the info set is simply another way to describe the exact same thing.

      I fully agree that tiny changes in information content can have huge impact on the ultimate result. Just consider left vs right handed molecules. From an information perspective only one “bit” is different, yet one set is generally lifegiving, the other not so much ;)

      As for doubling the genome… I hope you understand what I was saying. I was referring to a “simple” doubling, ie replication. The same thing, duplicated. Again, considering the actual information content, the second set being simply a duplicate has no new information at all. We can generate it simply by remembering whether to generate one copy or two. If you’re thinking about a genome that’s twice the size — and NOT a duplicate — that’s an entirely different matter.

      You gave some nice examples that aptly illustrate my point: it doesn’t take a lot of effort to create patterns or search methods with quite a lot of apparent complexity. Yet in reality, they’re rather simple: the amount of instructions required is tiny, as you noted.

      Now compare to life. How complex a living organism can be generated from a few hundred DNA instructions? AFAIK, there is a vast and very real difference, between an organism with a few hundred, a few tens of thousands, and a few million.

      Your example of “improved” animal motion is also a nice illustration of one of my points. You glossed over a crucial item, with terms like “failed”, “learned”, “tweaks the model”, “each one getting better”. The item: what is the defined goal of the process? I would be very glad if you could demonstrate that this machine learning algorithm knows NOTHING about a goal of “better motion” but rather involves only things like “survival” and “reproduction.” So far, in every example I’ve seen to date, a filter for the end goal is hiding somewhere in the system. In other words, the desired information is **already there.**

      That’s why it’s NOT so simple to “scale that up to what happens in nature.” Nature doesn’t already have the end goal in mind. Or at least, according to evolution it’s not supposed to.

      It literally doesn’t matter that there are millions or trillions of mutations. Unless something is pushing them in a particular direction, they don’t go anywhere. And as I suggested above, one of the apparent “elephant in the room” evolutionary challenges is this: if the goal is survival and reproduction, how do you get beyond bacteria? If that’s not the goal, what IS the goal, stated in such a way that we’re not introducing an external source of information?

      As for scale… I’ll gladly return that challenge to you :-D I’m not sure any of us can really grasp the scale at which the universe functions. I certainly try! Earlier this year I did a presentation on scale. I wonder if you’re able to guess (without looking ;) ) how many (power of ten) digits of resolution are found in nature… and in man-made objects.

      I like to begin with pi, as many people are familiar with it, and there are fun apps that can calculate an astoundingly long sequence for pi (my little Surface Pro 3 can generate 100 million digits in less than a minute ;) ). Of course all those digits are meaningless until we consider them as powers of ten… I.e. to scale. Just considering 100 digits is something comprehensible… how many of those digits of precision are actually found in nature or in man-made items?

      Answer:
      – Space: from largest known extent of the universe to smallest string-theory level, covers about 43 powers of ten (in each dimension)
      – Time: from the big bang to now, resolved to one wiggle of the most accurate atomic clock envisioned, covers about 53 powers of ten
      (In other words, any point in the universe, at any point in time, can be specified to our best accuracy in “only” 43*3+53= 182 digits.)

      Those are the kinds of scales and magnitudes I enjoy considering ;)

      BTW — the best man-made (static mechanical) precision I’ve found so far is accurate to 13 decimal digits. (That’s a hard disk drive head flying at full speed… an achievement on the order of flying a 747 at full speed a tiny fraction of a mm above the ground…) If you know of something better, I’m all ears!

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      • “As for doubling the genome… I hope you understand what I was saying. I was referring to a “simple” doubling, ie replication. The same thing, duplicated. Again, considering the actual information content, the second set being simply a duplicate has no new information at all. We can generate it simply by remembering whether to generate one copy or two. If you’re thinking about a genome that’s twice the size — and NOT a duplicate — that’s an entirely different matter.”

        Even just taking the idea of a doubling the entire genome, it most certainly adds new information, even though it is the same information. Unlike computer programs, biological organisms are indeed affected by the number of copies of a gene. This is commonly seen in plants, which can handle duplicating entire genomes quite readily. Moreover, if one looks at crucial genes that are needed for survival of the organism, the original is constrained and cannot change significantly without harming the organism. The copies, on the other hand, are much freer to change and can mutate quite readily. This is in fact how many new genes are created.

        “Now compare to life. How complex a living organism can be generated from a few hundred DNA instructions? AFAIK, there is a vast and very real difference, between an organism with a few hundred, a few tens of thousands, and a few million.”

        Correlating DNA instructions with complexity doesn’t really work. Humans have about 20,000 genes in 23 pairs of chromosomes weigh in all of 3 pg. Yet the plant Paris japonica genome weighs over 152 pg and has 40 chromosomes. The organisms with the smallest genomes are all parasites which can be shown to have shed DNA as they evolved. Birds have much smaller genomes than other amniotes, yet no one would seriously argue that they are less evolved or less complicated than other amniotes. Bacteria and Archaea have far more diversity than any other type of organism, having evolved metabolisms that have adapted to a much, much greater range of environments and food sources than any other organism, yet it would be easy to claim they have a very simple and uncomplicated DNA sequence.

        “ I would be very glad if you could demonstrate that this machine learning algorithm knows NOTHING about a goal of “better motion” but rather involves only things like “survival” and “reproduction.”

        Sadly, I am neither a computer programmer of any significance, nor do I have the mathematical skills I expect to fully understand the programs even if I had access to the code. I thus am simply taking the word of those who have worked on those programs and filtering it through my very limited knowledge in that area. I thus cannot answer your question with any degree of truthfulness. My training is in biology and geology, not computers and programming.

        “Unless something is pushing them in a particular direction, they don’t go anywhere.”

        But that is exactly what natural selection is all about. Natural selective pressures provide that push without any need of knowing where one is going. All it needs is to have variation in the species that leads to differential survival. The environment is not stable over the long run, so selective pressures are also not stable, thereby for most organisms (certainly for those individuals on the fringes of the population range, who experience more variable environments than those in the center of the range), there is a constant selective pressure to change. Even without selective pressures, organisms will change simply based on random changes, which will then at some point create a selective pressure in a certain direction because it has then changed the selective environment. Usually, those changes are not strong, so take considerable time to make large changes. Other times the pressures are strong enough on a suitably sized population (here again, absolute numbers make a big difference) that changes can happen quite rapidly. Island lizards have been known to change from carnivorous to herbivorous, with accompanying significant morphological changes, in under 30 years. Give the species 100 million years and you may not recognize it as a reptile at all. I have seen nothing to suggest that these changes cannot scale up over long periods of time.

        This is where the numbers of mutations and alterations does play a big role. Because there are so many potentials being tested all the time, the variation available to evolution is enormous whereas the number that can survive is highly curtailed. I fail to understand why you think this cannot bring changes from bacteria to human given the immense time scale involved. If one assumes the earth is very young, as the young earth creationists do, then I can understand why this wouldn’t make sense, but physics indicates the creationists are wrong. There is plenty of time, variation, and new information being added (understanding that DNA does not follow information theory as has been presented here, nature is not a computer and does not always take the most efficient or direct path) to cover more diversity than would fit on any ten worlds.

        I like your spatial and temporal scale descriptions. Clearly you grasp the enormity of time and variations we are discussing as well or better than anyone. I certainly bow to your greater understanding of the scale upon which humans have worked. So what I think your difficulty is, if I may conjecture and have understood you correctly, is that you are oversimplifying how DNA works. In the view you have expressed, you are disregarding things that, while they may not be significant in computers and information theory, are vitally important in biological systems.

        You are quite right in that I glossed over some things. But then, the topics we are discussing have filled libraries:) If I were even able to provide complete answers, you or I may die of old age before I finish. Then again, it would hardly be worth discussing if it were simple. Everyone would already agree.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. By sheer coincidence, immediately after I pressed post, I ran across this article that speaks directly to the creation of new information in the genome. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160104080257.htm

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    • Hi paleoaerie,
      Please re-read the article you linked. Clearly I need to cover some aspects of “information” in a bit more detail.

      I’ll begin with some conceptual aspects, then apply them to the linked paper.

      “Even just taking the idea of a doubling the entire genome, it most certainly adds new information, even though it is the same information. Unlike computer programs, biological organisms are indeed affected by the number of copies of a gene.”

      There are some fallacies in this statement:
      1) Computer programs are also affected by the number of copies of a data set.
      2) The statement seems to define “information” as “anything that affects an organism.” This is a very loose definition.

      The key question is this: how much information is required to specify the details of an entity?
      Another way of saying it (lots of metaphors available :) ): to what extent does this additional information *expand* the shortest possible message necessary to transmit this?

      Key concept: Adding a copy of the exact same information is literally only one bit of added information, in ANY system (by definition) because an ideal mechanism could accomplish recreating the doubled information simply by “examining” a “double or not” bit. This is one of the key fundamentals of information theory.

      “Correlating DNA instructions with complexity doesn’t really work.”

      At some levels this is 100% true. After all, correlation NEVER demonstrates a cause-effect relationship. (Lack of correlation does often give a hint however ;) )

      However, I don’t think we could surmise that the human genome can be squeezed into the space available to a parasite.
      And, unless we are even more ignorant about DNA than I have come to understand, we would not suggest that Paris japonica **requires** all that extra DNA.

      Really, what you’re touching on here is the often-confounding aspect of noise, ie non-information. In a system such as the genome, we often are clueless what is signal (information) and what is noise. As I’m sure you are well aware, many used to call most of the human genome “junk DNA.” — Truly an argument from ignorance if there ever was one.

      Key concept: if we don’t understand the information value of a signal, we are therefore uncertain if it is signal or noise.

      “Sadly, I am neither a computer programmer of any significance…”

      So, I’ll just have to ask you to accept that I have never seen such a program that fails to embody the goal in its programming. I honestly believe nobody is trying to fool anyone with these programs… it’s incredibly difficult to get this right!

      “Unless something is pushing them in a particular direction, they don’t go anywhere.”

      “But that is exactly what natural selection is all about. Natural selective pressures provide that push without any need of knowing where one is going. All it needs is to have variation in the species that leads to differential survival.”

      NOTE: What you have just stated is that the pressure is toward differential survival. (I *am* reasonably familiar with what you are explaining; that my wife is trained in evolutionary population biology… she had some very good profs such as Paul Ehrlich :) )

      “I have seen nothing to suggest that these changes cannot scale up over long periods of time.”

      Can we agree that evolution leads toward optimizing whatever is in the direction of the “pressure”, eg in this case — improved survival?
      Can we agree that overall, changes that *reduce* differential survival will be eliminated while *increased* survival will be “preferred”? (I put it in scare quotes since the mechanism for this is built in to the system…)
      Can we agree that this is true ***no matter how many times we spin the dice***?

      If so, then the conclusion is this: bacteria are king of the hill for differential survival (and reproduction.) And no matter how many mutations we specify, survival-based (or reproduction-based) evolution doesn’t have a mechanism to move further.

      “DNA does not follow information theory as has been presented here, nature is not a computer and does not always take the most efficient or direct path) to cover more diversity than would fit on any ten worlds.”

      I’m sorry but this is not an informed statement. People aren’t computers either but communication of any kind, by definition, fits into information theory. Doesn’t matter if humans, computers, cells, electrons, or quarks are involved. We can’t just wave our hands and ignore reality.

      That is about the same as saying “the nervous system does not follow electromagnetic theory. Nature is not an electric circuit and does not use efficient or direct circuitry to accomplish its purposes.”

      There’s much more to this than just the information and efficiency side, by the way. Inefficiency can be due to noise, due to useful or non-useful redundancy, and so forth. (Useful redundancy: any kind of error-correcting code. These of course exist in the whole way that DNA works…)

      OK, let’s move on to the linked paper.

      Perhaps you missed it but the paper doesn’t discuss new information… and in fact the “new genes” it discusses are not based on *newly acquired information.* They’re simply discussing how *existing* (non-expressed) genetic info becomes “activated” so that it is expressed as a gene. This is not that much different from how the cell chooses whether or not to express a gene that’s normally in its repertoire. The only difference, this “new” gene is activated from the supposedly junk-DNA that normally never gets expressed.

      Certainly interesting… yet from an information perspective what is plain is that the information was already present in the “junk DNA.” It is not new information at all… except for the little bit that says “activate this segment of DNA, from XXX to YYY”.

      “…you or I may die of old age before I finish. Then again, it would hardly be worth discussing if it were simple. Everyone would already agree.”

      :-D Reminds me of a joke I recently heard, based on my Finnish background: “People have died trying to count to 100 in Finnish” — just put a number like “ninety three” into Google Translate :) :)

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      • By the way, if I could edit the above, I would soften some of it. Never intended the following to sound like an absolute statement of fact… thus:

        “bacteria are king of the hill for differential survival (and reproduction.) And no matter how many mutations we specify, survival-based (or reproduction-based) evolution doesn’t have a mechanism to move further.”

        would have been better stated as:

        “bacteria appear to be king of the hill for differential survival (and reproduction.) And no matter how many mutations we specify, survival-based (or reproduction-based) evolution doesn’t appear to have a (known) mechanism to move further.”

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    • This is a very interesting discussion. I wish I had time to be more involved but I am following along. Paleoaerie, I had to tell you that just a few hours before you posted that link to the PLOSOne paper I had downloaded and printed it thinking it was an important one to take a look at. Joel

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      • By the way, I want to say that I too am enjoying this interaction. I would love to be helpful over time… my time is quite limited yet I am aware that I have the privilege of an unusually diverse multidisciplinary background. Particularly over the last decade or so, I have been humbled and astounded by the amazing things I’ve learned from various disciplines… sometimes they are things that *ought* to be taught very early on… sometimes even in K-12 education let alone undergrad… yet are not “revealed” until people hit specialized grad school.

        paleoaerie, I clicked on your link. Assuming you’re one of the team represented there (if not the founder ;) ), I’ll assume that when you refer to students, you’re dealing with college level undergrads? I am thinking that I need to put some effort into considering what resources would be helpful to that audience. (I’ll see if I can get my wife involved; she spent many years as a professional educator…)

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  14. wowfunny251 says:

    The “limits” of evolution are bound to be harsher for natural process than artificial selection. Natural selection is limited to altering features that provide a significant survival boost. Sexual selection can only act on what a species is conditioned to prefer in mates, and natural selection will weed out sexually selected traits that are significantly detrimental to survival.

    Humans can pick whatever traits we feel like on a whim. Most (or maybe all) dog breeds are less efficiently built to survive in the wild than wolves are. Their mosaic of characteristics would not be produced by natural/sexual selection. Some breeds of bulldogs lose their ability to reproduce from human modifications.

    In short, it is fallacious (and even deceptive) for YEC’s to use dog breeds as an argument for a “baramin” being as broad as a genus, family, or order. The only reason they do this is because they are obsessed with a global interpretation of Noah’s flood.

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    • While I disagree about the extent of the limitations of mechanisms of evolution your point about artificial selection is well taken. The YEC extrapolation of dog breeds to whole families of species being produced in hundreds of years is a fallacious argument.

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  15. jlrtenjac says:

    Poor Red Panda. All along in its arbitrarily defined “kind”.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] Dodging Darwin: How Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Slowly Embracing Evolution […]

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  2. […] Dodging Darwin: How Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Slowly Embracing Evolution– “That which we call a rose…” is the essence of this post. As Ham and other young earth creationists decry evolution, they have been slowly embracing forms of it that go beyond the wildest dreams of modern evolutionary biologists. This post highlights the inconsistency of the Answers in Genesis answer to evolution. […]

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