Friday, June 14, 2013

New information appearing in organisms

There is a mantra often repeated by creationists: "There is no known observable process by which new genetic information can be added to an organism's genetic code."

They consider this a scientific fact. Yet, curiously, only creationists say this, not scientists. The actual fact is that this is an invention of creationists. Actual biologists and physicists don't have any problem in understanding how genetic code can become more complex over time without breaking any laws of physics. Only creationists can't understand this. (Or, more precisely, creationists refuse to accept any explanation about this, even if the explanation comes from somebody who actually knows how physics work.)

The amount of information that can be said to exist in a system is, in fact, very closely related to the concept of entropy. The more "information" there is in a system, the less entropy, and vice-versa. (After all, "information" is a form of "order", which is something measured by entropy.)

There is absolutely nothing in the laws of physics, not in thermodynamics nor in any other field, that would forbid entropy from decreasing locally due to physical effects. The only thing that thermodynamics says is that the total amount of energy cannot change, and that the total entropy never decreases. In other words, entropy can freely decrease locally as long as it increases by at least that much somewhere else. Also energy can freely move around as long as its total amount doesn't change. Nothing of this breaks any laws of physics.

As I'm writing this blog post, I'm both decreasing entropy and increasing the amount of information inside certain systems. However, this does not break any laws of physics. By doing this I'm consuming energy, which is released mostly as heat, which increases the universe's entropy more than what this information I'm writing is decreasing it. (Thus, perhaps a bit ironically, by writing this I'm increasing the universe's total entropy, rather than decreasing it, even though it's decreasing locally.)

There isn't much difference compared to living organisms gaining new genetic information. As genetic changes happen over time, the universe's entropy increases (because, basically, a lot of energy is being used for all these changes, and the waste energy produced by this increases entropy.) Some of these changes add new information to the genetic code, which is retained due to natural selection. No laws of physics are being broken by this. As said, producing this new information actually "wasted" a lot more energy overall than the amount of gained information, so the total entropy of the universe has increased overall by this whole process, and no laws of physics are being broken.

And this is not pure speculation. Unlike the creationist mantra claims, such new useful information has been observed to happen spontaneously in living organisms, and the mechanisms for this are very well understood. For example some bacteria have gained the ability to feed on nylon (a material that didn't even exist until the 1950's.) Even some humans have gained immunity to AIDS due to a genetic mutation. And there are many other examples.

None of this breaks any laws of physics. Only creationists say that it does.

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