Friday, July 10, 2015

Information Degradation

One reason for the growing persuasiveness of arguments for an intelligent architect behind the structure of the universe and of life is that modern technology affords some very helpful analogies to design arguments. For example, living organisms are coded for by information systems - including, but not limited to, the DNA/RNA complex - which in many respects are similar to computer software programs. This creates difficult conceptual problems for naturalists since the principle that like effects can be assumed to have like causes leads to the conclusion that information, which is always in our experience the product of intelligent agency, points to an intelligent provenance.

Another difficulty biological information poses for naturalism is the problem of information degradation. In an article at Evolution News and Views Dr. Kirk Durston, who holds advanced degrees in biophysics and philosophy explains how this phenomenon militates against any naturalistic view of life's origin. Here's the centerpiece of his argument:
In the neo-Darwinian scenario for the origin and diversity of life, the digital functional information for life would have had to begin at zero, increase over time to eventually encode the first simple life form, and continue to increase via natural processes to encode the digital information for the full diversity of life.

An essential, falsifiable prediction of Darwinian theory, therefore, is that functional information must, on average, increase over time.

Interestingly, a prediction of intelligent design science is quite the opposite. Since information always degrades over time for any storage media and replication system, intelligent design science postulates that the digital information of life was initially downloaded into the genomes of life. It predicts that, on average, genetic information is steadily being corrupted by natural processes. The beauty of these two mutually incompatible predictions in science is that the falsification of one entails verification of the other. So which prediction does science falsify, and which does science verify?

Ask computer programmers what effect ongoing random changes in the code would have on the integrity of a program, and they will universally agree that it degrades the software. This is the first problem for neo-Darwinian theory. Mutations produce random changes in the digital information of life. It is generally agreed that the rate of deleterious mutations is much greater than the rate of beneficial mutations. My own work with 35 protein families suggests that the rate of destruction is, at minimum, 8 times the rate of neutral or beneficial mutations.

Simply put, the digital information of life is being destroyed much faster than it can be repaired or improved. New functions may evolve, but the overall loss of functional information in other areas of the genome will, on average, be significantly greater. The net result is that the digital information of life is running down.
Durston goes on to cite research showing that the information for both bacteria and humans, so far from increasing as would be expected on Darwinian principles, is actually decreasing. He closes with this:
We continue to discover more examples of DNA loss, suggesting that the biological world is slowly running down. Microevolution is good at fine-tuning existing forms within their information limits and occasionally getting something right, but the steady accumulation of deleterious mutations on the larger scale suggests that mutation-driven evolution is actually destroying biological life, not creating it.

This is hardly a surprise, as every other area of science, except for evolutionary biology, grants that natural processes degrade information, regardless of the storage media and copying process. For neo-Darwinian macroevolution to work, it requires something that is in flat-out contradiction to the real world.
The naturalistic evolutionist may be able to come up with ad hoc answers to these apparent falsifications of their theory, of course, but the problem is that informational degradation is a direct prediction of almost any intelligent design theory, especially those that involve "front-loading," but is contrary to what one would expect on the basis of Darwinian naturalism.

This result is reminiscent of the finding that much of what's been labelled as "junk" DNA clogging up the nucleus actually turns out to have a function in the living cell as predicted by ID theorists and formerly scoffed at by Darwinians. It's fascinating that where the two theories generate opposite predictions which can then be tested ID's predictions keep being confirmed.