Monday, 20 June 2016

What is Genetic Information?

I have recently encountered a gentleman on YouTube who insisted that genetic information is lost during speciation. I asked him to demonstrate his reasoning and his evidence for this is "because it's obvious."  He is under the impression that because a chihuahua is smaller than its wolf ancestor and doesn't look like a wolf, then the genetic information needed to make a wolf has obviously been lost.  This reasoning comes as a result of a common misunderstanding among evolution deniers.  The fact is, a chihuahua still has the genes of its wolf ancestor but they reside in the genome as obsolete data.

I frequently hear this in combination with the fallacious second law of thermodynamics argument where it is argued that everything degenerates, therefore genetic information can only be lost, not gained.  Of course this is entirely untrue, but let's look at the crux of these arguments; the failure to understand what genetic information actually is.  The following is an excerpt from my book Answers In Evolution - Can Genetic Mutations Add Information to the Genome?

Read the following two sentences.

1. The large Boeing 747 passenger jet plane landed on the long flat runway airstrip before coming to a stop.

2. The Boeing 747 landed.

            What is the difference between these two sentences?  Does either one convey more or less information than the other or do they both tell the same story?  At first glance, one may be forgiven for claiming that there is more information in the first sentence than the second sentence.  But look again.  When you read, ‘The Boeing 747 landed’, does that give you a different picture than the first sentence?  We already know that a Boeing 747 is a large passenger jet plane, we already know that planes land on long flat runway airstrips, and we already know that the plane will inevitably come to a stop.
            The information in the first sentence is uneconomically portrayed, wasting time, data and money if this was a message sent via a paid means of communication such as text messaging, emails and the old-fashioned telegrams.
            Now let’s say we have a person who has never seen a Boeing 747 or an airstrip before.  This scenario changes our perception of information.  Whilst the second sentence contains enough information for a person who knows about aviation, it’s meaningless to one who does not.  In this case, the first sentence contains more information than the second sentence.
            So we see, information is only as valuable as its ‘surprise factor’.  If you didn’t know that the Boeing landed, then giving you the new information results in the surprise.  All of the superfluous information in the second sentence is of no surprise to you at all. Therefore, nothing is gained.  From this, we can draw two conclusions.  The first conclusion is that information can be useful in some applications and obsolete in others.  Information has no effect unless it causes a change.  The second conclusion is that there is a lot of obsolete information which is nothing more than random noise in the grand scheme of things.  This information causes no change under the relevant circumstances.

If you'd like to learn more on genetic information, you can purchase my book here.

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