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Friday, October 23, 2015

"We don't have a single example of a mutation resulting in a net gain of information. Not one" (But we do)

The title of this post quotes Eric Metaxas, and is part of a post, by him, on BreakPoint: "We don't have a single example of a mutation resulting in a net gain of information. Not one."

I appreciate Mr. Metaxas. I have read a couple of excellent books by him, and have previously posted about his writing, here and here. However, Mr. Metaxas, who has many gifts, and has done a great deal of good, is not an expert in genetics. He seems to be repeating a statement that he has heard from the Discovery Institute, an organization which argues that mutations did not bring about new functions in organisms. Please note that it is always possible to argue that any difference, however small, between two organisms is the result of God's specific miraculous intervention, and this cannot be experimentally disproved. (It has not been proved, either, and probably couldn't be, even if true.) But it can be doubted, and alternative mechanisms for the rise of new genetic information have been found.The Discovery Institute promotes the idea that God has, indeed, caused all changes in the DNA of two related species, because random changes cannot produce new functions. However, most scientists, Christian and otherwise, believe that most, or all, of such differences have come about through random mutation, followed by selection. Many Christian scientists believe that God has allowed random mutation and selection to exist, as a means of bringing about the diversity of organisms present on earth.

I'm not completely clear as to what Mr. Metaxas means by information. That is a complex subject, and different experts define it in different ways. But it seems clear that he is claiming that living things have never added a function as a result of a mutation. Sorry, but we do have such examples.

The first comment on Mr. Metaxas's post proposes that frameshift mutations have been a common means for the arrival of new functions, and provides a URL, which leads to this article, which is quite technical. The article claims that searching the genome of mice and humans has led to the discovery of several hundred genes that must have arisen by this type of mutation. The first two sentences of this article (after the abstract) are as follows:
"Several mechanisms, such as exon shuffling and alternative splicing, are responsible for novel gene functions, but they generate homologous domains and do not usually lead to drastic innovation. Major novelties can potentially be introduced by frameshift mutations and this idea can explain the creation of novel proteins."
The authors, then, believe that there are "several" mechanisms for the origin of novel gene functioning, including frameshift mutations.

The matter of the rise of new information has been discussed, in six posts in the BioLogos forum, by Dennis Venema. I briefly summarize these posts:
In the first, Venema discusses the position of the Discovery Institute, and the Intelligent Design Movement, and is related to the second paragraph of this post.
He says: "... describing how specified information can arise through natural means does not in any way imply God’s absence from the process. After all, natural processes are equally a manifestation of God’s activity as what one would call supernatural events."

In the second post, Venema describes the Long-Term Evolution Experiment. During this experiment, a colony of sexually reproducing bacteria experienced a mutation which allowed them to use citrate as an energy source, when, prior to that mutation, or series of mutations, they had not been able to do so.

In the third post, Venema discusses evidence that genes for hormone receptor proteins developed, in vertebrates, from duplication, and subsequent alteration, of an ancestral gene.

The fourth post argues, with evidence, that even the DNA responsible for complexly folded proteins may change so that a new function comes about, and that this has happened many times.

In his fifth post, Venema summarizes evidence that the entire vertebrate genome was duplicated, in an ancestor in the distant past, and that some of the "extra" copies of the genes thus formed have gone on to be responsible for new functions in vertebrates:
"This evidence is a strong indication that the modern vertebrate genome went through two rounds of [Whole Genome Duplication] early in its evolution, and that these events provided substantial 'raw material' for the acquisition of new information through gene divergence and neofunctionalization."

In his sixth, and last, post, Venema discusses the differences between the genes of humans and our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

Thanks for reading. Mr. Venema, nor I, doubt that God is able to create, and change His creations, by any way He sees fit, including the miraculous. However we, and many other Christian scientists, believe that God designed the world so that random mutations, of various types, and natural selection, have given rise to much of the variety that is found in God's good creation. The assertion by Mr. Metaxas that forms the title of this post does not stand up the the evidence.

Added April 8, 2016: A later post on this blog refers to two other examples of recently arising functional genes.
describing how specified information can arise through natural means does not in any way imply God’s absence from the process. After all, natural processes are equally a manifestation of God’s activity as what one would call supernatural events. - See more at: https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/evolution-and-the-origin-of-biological-information-part-1-intelligent-design#sthash.baHk5Eyt.dpuf
describing how specified information can arise through natural means does not in any way imply God’s absence from the process. After all, natural processes are equally a manifestation of God’s activity as what one would call supernatural events. - See more at: https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/evolution-and-the-origin-of-biological-information-part-1-intelligent-design#sthash.baHk5Eyt.dpuf

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