Tag Archives: Darwinism

John C. Sanford’s genetic entropy hypothesis

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

JoeCoder sent me a recent peer-reviewed paper by John C. Sanford, so I’ve been trying to find something written by him at a layman’s level so I could understand what he is talking about.

Dr. Sanford’s CV is posted at the Cornell University web page.

I found this 20-minute video of an interview with him, in which he explains his thesis:

The most important part of that video is Sanford’s assertion that natural selection cannot remove deleterious mutations from a population faster than they arrive.

And I also found a review of a book that he wrote that explains his ideas at the layman level.

It says:

Dr. John Sanford is a plant geneticist and inventor who conducted research at Cornell University for more than 25 years. He is best known for significant contributions to the field of transgenic crops, including the invention of the biolistic process (“gene gun”).

[…]Sanford argues that, based upon modern scientific evidence and the calculations of population geneticists (who are almost exclusively evolutionists), mutations are occurring at an alarmingly high rate in our genome and that the vast majority of all mutations are either harmful or “nearly-neutral” (meaning a loss for the organism or having no discernible fitness gain). Importantly, Sanford also establishes the extreme rarity of any type of beneficial mutations in comparison with harmful or “nearly-neutral” mutations. Indeed, “beneficial” mutations are so exceedingly rare as to not contribute in any meaningful way. [NOTE: “Beneficial” mutations do not necessarily result from a gain in information, but instead, these changes predominantly involve a net loss of function to the organism, which is also not helpful to [Darwinism]; see Behe, 2010, pp. 419-445.] Sanford concludes that the frequency and generally harmful or neutral nature of mutations prevents them from being useful to any scheme of random evolution.

[…]In the next section of the book, Sanford examines natural selection and asks whether “nature” can “select” in favor of the exceedingly rare “beneficial” mutations and against the deleterious mutations. The concept of natural selection is generally that the organisms that are best adapted to their environment will survive and reproduce, while the less fit will not. Sanford points out that this may be the case with some organisms, but more commonly, selection involves chance and luck. But could this process select against harmful mutations and allow less harmful or even beneficial mutations to thrive? According to Sanford, there are significant challenges to this notion.

Stanford is a co-author of an academic book on these issues that has Dembski and Behe as co-authors.

Now, I do have to post something more complicated about this, which you can skip – it’s an abstract of a paper he co-authored from that book:

Most deleterious mutations have very slight effects on total fitness, and it has become clear that below a certain fitness effect threshold, such low-impact mutations fail to respond to natural selection. The existence of such a selection threshold suggests that many low-impact deleterious mutations should accumulate continuously, resulting in relentless erosion of genetic information. In this paper, we use numerical simulation to examine this problem of selection threshold.

The objective of this research was to investigate the effect of various biological factors individually and jointly on mutation accumulation in a model human population. For this purpose, we used a recently-developed, biologically-realistic numerical simulation program, Mendel’s Accountant. This program introduces new mutations into the population every generation and tracks each mutation through the processes of recombination, gamete formation, mating, and transmission to the new offspring. This method tracks which individuals survive to reproduce after selection, and records the transmission of each surviving mutation every generation. This allows a detailed mechanistic accounting of each mutation that enters and leaves the population over the course of many generations. We term this type of analysis genetic accounting.

Across all reasonable parameters settings, we observed that high impact mutations were selected away with very high efficiency, while very low impact mutations accumulated just as if there was no selection operating. There was always a large transitional zone, wherein mutations with intermediate fitness effects accumulated continuously, but at a lower rate than would occur in the absence of selection. To characterize the accumulation of mutations of different fitness effect we developed a new statistic, selection threshold (STd), which is an empirically determined value for a given population. A population’s selection threshold is defined as that fitness effect wherein deleterious mutations are accumulating at exactly half the rate expected in the absence of selection. This threshold is mid-way between entirely selectable, and entirely unselectable, mutation effects.

Our investigations reveal that under a very wide range of parameter values, selection thresholds for deleterious mutations are surprisingly high. Our analyses of the selection threshold problem indicate that given even modest levels of noise affecting either the genotype-phenotype relationship or the genotypic fitness-survival-reproduction relationship, accumulation of low-impact mutations continually degrades fitness, and this degradation is far more serious than has been previously acknowledged. Simulations based on recently published values for mutation rate and effect-distribution in humans show a steady decline in fitness that is not even halted by extremely intense selection pressure (12 offspring per female, 10 selectively removed). Indeed, we find that under most realistic circumstances, the large majority of harmful mutations are essentially unaffected by natural selection and continue to accumulate unhindered. This finding has major theoretical implications and raises the question, “What mechanism can preserve the many low-impact nucleotide positions that constitute most of the information within a genome?”

Now I have been told by JoeCoder that there are many critical responses to his hypothesis, most of which have to do with whether natural selection can overcome the difficulty he is laying out. But since this is not my area of expertise, there is not much I can say to adjudicate here. Take it for what it is.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian Explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data.

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

If you’d like to see Dr. Meyer defend his views in a debate with someone who reviewed his book about the Cambrian explosion, you can find that in this previous post.

Further study

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

Can you expect the mainstream media to report honestly on science education?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Whenever policy makers try to get public schools to teach both sides of issues like evolution or global warming, the mainstream media is there to distort the issues.

With respect to evolution, there are criticisms of elements of the theory from within naturalistic science.

For example, here is an interview with famous biologist Lynn Margulis, published in the radically pro-evolution, pro-naturalism Discover magazine.

Excerpt:

Margulis came to view symbiosis as the central force behind the evolution of new species, an idea that has been dismissed by modern biologists. The dominant theory of evolution (often called neo-Darwinism) holds that new species arise through the gradual accumulation of random mutations, which are either favored or weeded out by natural selection. To Margulis, random mutation and natural selection are just cogs in the gears of evolution; the big leaps forward result from mergers between different kinds of organisms, what she calls symbiogenesis. Viewing life as one giant network of social connections has set Margulis against the mainstream in other high-profile ways as well. She disputes the current medical understanding of AIDS and considers every kind of life to be “conscious” in a sense.

Here is something from the interview:

And you don’t believe that natural selection is the answer?


This is the issue I have with neo-Darwinists: They teach that what is generating novelty is the accumulation of random mutations in DNA, in a direction set by natural selection. If you want bigger eggs, you keep selecting the hens that are laying the biggest eggs, and you get bigger and bigger eggs. But you also get hens with defective feathers and wobbly legs. Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.

Now, that’s a criticism of the standard theory from a prominent scientist who is a naturalist. She has a naturalistic alternative that she thinks can do the creating. Can we teach her criticism of the standard theory in the public schools? This is what people mean by “teach the controversy”. We don’t mean teach intelligent design, we mean teach the weaknesses of the theory of evolution from within the naturalistic scientific community. But this is apparently too much for journalism graduates to understand.

This article from The Stream explains:

In states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and the current flash point of South Dakota, we have supported responsible academic freedom laws. These laws allow science teachers to present the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory as an explanation of biological novelties. They don’t introduce or protect teaching about intelligent design, and certainly not about any religious doctrine (like creationism). They explicitly extend protection to science instruction alone, and then only when it enriches students’ understanding of subjects that are already part of the curriculum (which ID is not). Yet journalists routinely assert that these laws would shoehorn intelligent design and “creationism” in public school science classes.

In the same context, when we advocate introducing students to “critical thinking” on evolution, with teaching material drawn only from mainstream science, the media claim that “critical thinking” is “code” for intelligent design, or for “intelligent design creationism.” We know that it’s not, and that the “code word” conspiracy theory is utterly false.

The author of that piece tries to explain the difference between criticism of evolution from within mainstream science, and intelligent design, but the journalists just can’t understand what he is saying. There is an example of it here on Evolution News.

Stephen C. Meyer debates intelligent design with two scientists on NPR

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Evolution News reported on a 27-minute debate featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer – probably the best proponent of intelligent design there is.

Description:

We often say that Darwinists are reluctant to debate advocates of intelligent design, but here are two who deserve a tip of the hat. Keith Pannell is a chemist at the University of Texas at El Paso who hosts a program, Science Studio, on the NPR station there. He invited Stephen Meyer on to talk about the science of ID, pegged to the Dover anniversary.

Clearly Pannell is an ID critic so he gets kudos for being willing to have a civil and informative conversation. Perhaps feeling insecure about facing the author of Darwin’s Doubt by himself, Dr. Pannell invited a biologist colleague, Ricardo Bernal, to serve as “co-host.”

So it was two against one, but no worries. Meyer is, as always, superb, and the discussion sounds like it was an education for the two Texas scientists. Listen and enjoy.

I took a back-up of the MP3 file here.

Summary:

  • How did Dr. Meyer get interested in science?
  • What is intelligent design? (origin of life, fine-tuning)
  • What is creationism? (young Earth, different epistemology)
  • Who does Dr. Meyer think the intelligent designer is?
  • Finding the best explanation from multiple competing hypotheses
  • Critic: aren’t you arguing for a designer from ignorance, then?
  • The importance of naturalists acknowledging what they do and do not know about the origin of life
  • We do have experience with intelligent causation, whenever we sequence symbols to have meaning and purpose, e.g. – writing
  • Critic: information in DNA is not digital information, is it?
  • Information in the cell follows a 4-character alphabet
  • the sequences are composed of many parts / symbols
  • the sequences themselves are specified to have function
  • Critic: the complexity just emerges from change over time
  • the origin of the first life is immune to explanation of change over time, because there is no replication – this is the first replicator
  • Critic: but isn’t it just ignorance about the origin of life?
  • what we do is look at a number of competing hypothesis and what they are capable of, and see whether each cause is capable of generating the effects we observe in nature
  • Critic: where is the experimental verification of your theory?
  • well, in the appendices of Signature of the Cell, we predicted that the non-coding regions of DNA (junk DNA) would be found to have function, and that was later proven out
  • the Darwinists said that non-coding regions of the DNA was junk, but that’s not what has been proven experimentally
  • Critic: where was this prediction written up, who wrote it?
  • intelligent design theorists predicted it: Dembski, Kenyon, Mims, Sternberg
  • Critic: but we used the scientific method to disprove the Darwinian predictions, you don’t like the scientific method
  • intelligent design proponents love science, and the scientific method, and they do work in labs to confirm their hypotheses, (WK:for example, the probability of generating a protein by chance)
  • Critic: what about the Dover court case that you lost?
  • the Discovery Institute objected to actions taken by the Dover school board
  • Critic: what about the molecular machines, how are they related to intelligent design?
  • even in the simplest living organisms, there are tiny machines that are tightly integrated, and cannot be built up in a stepwise fashion
  • Critic: I’ve worked with the ATP-synthase and other molecular machines, but “you can kind of begin to tease how some of these molecular machines have come about” – pieces have multiple functions, and they are co-opted into larger systems
  • the problem with the co-option argument breaks down when you look at the specific details of different machines
  • for example – the type III secretory system cannot be an precursor to the bacterial flagellum, it is younger, not older than the bacterial flagellum
  • Critic: what would it take for your view to be falsified?
  • demonstrable undirected processes that are capable of creating functional information in DNA, or processes that can build up an irreducibly complex molecular machine within the time available with a decent probability

If you like this debate, check out Stephen C. Meyer’s two books: “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. They are now out as audio books, too.

Information Enigma: 21-minute video explains intelligent design

Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?

The video is here:

I have read and listened and watched a lot of material on intelligent design, but I have never seen so much value packed into such a short lecture. I really hope you’ll watch this and that it’s helpful to you.

Summary:

  • the big question when discussing the origin of life: where did the information in living systems come from?
  • Until 530 million years ago, the oceans were largely devoid of life
  • In a 10 million year period, many new forms of animal life emerged
  • New biological forms of life require new information
  • the discovery of DNA shows that living systems work because cells have information that allows them to build the components of molecular machines: cell types, proteins, etc.
  • can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
  • normally, random mutations tend to degrade the functionality of information, e.g. – randomly changing symbols in an applications code does not usually introduce useful new functions, it usually renders what is there non-functional
  • the majority of possible sequences will NOT have functions, so random mutations will more likely give you non-functional code, rather than functional code
  • example: a bicycle lock  with 4 numbers has many possible sequences for the 4 numbers, and only one of them has unlock functionality, the rest have no functionality
  • if you have lots of time, then you might be able to guess the combination, but if the lock as has 10 billion numbers, and only one combination that unlocks, you can spend your whole life trying to unlock it and won’t succeed
  • how likely is it to arrive at a functional protein or gene by chance? Is it more like the 4-dial lock (can be done with lots of time) or the 10 billion dial lock (amount of time required exceeds the time available)?
  • the probability is LOW because there is only one sequence of numbers that has unlock function
  • consider a short protein of 150 amino acids has 10 to the 195th power possible sequences
  • if many of these sequences of amino acides had biological function, then it might be easier to get to one by random mutation and selection than it is with a lock that only unlocks for ONE sequence
  • how many of the possible sequences have biological function?
  • Thanks to research done by Douglas Axe, we now know that the number of functional amino acid sequences for even a short protein is incredibly small…
  • Axe found that the odds of getting a functional sequence of amino acids that will fold and have biological function is 1 in 10 to the 77th power
  • Is that number too improbable to reach by chance? well, there are 10 to 65th atoms in the entire Milky Way galaxy… so yes, this is a very improbable outcome
  • can random genetic mutations search through all the sequences in order to find the one in 10 to the 77th power one that has biological function? It depends on how much guessers we have and how many guesses we get in the time available
  • even with the entire 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, only about 10 to the 40th organisms have ever lived, which far smaller fraction of the 10 to the 77th total sequences
  • even with a very fast mutation rate, you would not be able to reach a functional protein even with all that time, and even with all those organisms

I was once having a discussion with a woman about the research that Axe did at the Cambridge University lab. He published four articles in the Journal of Molecular Biology. I held out one of the papers to her and showed her the numbers. She said over and over “I hate the Discovery Institute! I hate the Discovery Institute!” Well, yeah, but you can’t make the Journal of Molecular Biology go away with hating the Discovery Institute. JMB is peer-reviewed, and this was experimental evidence – not a theory, not a hypothesis.

We have been blessed by the Creator and Designer of the universe in this time and place with overwhelming evidence – an abundance of riches. For those who have an open mind, this is what you’ve been waiting for to make your decision. For the naturalists who struggle so mightily to block out the progress of experimental science, they’ll need to shout louder and shut their eyes tighter and push harder to block their ears. Maybe if they keep screaming “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” over and over to themselves, they will be able to ignore the real science a little longer.