Creating Information Naturally, Part 1: Snowflakes, Chess, and DNA


(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/creating-information-naturally-part-1-snowflakes-chess-and-dna

#2

Beautifully written, Dr. Haarsma. The potential of matter to “self-create” in a virtually infinite number of patterns both simple and complex is a wonderful witness to the power of God. And to the love of God. After all, this self-creation system may be the only means of having a truly free creation–one that can move undetermined either toward or away from its Creator. With such a free creation come, therefore, the possibilities of order and chaos in the inanimate world, good and evil in the animate one. What we have then is the intersection of information and meaning–meaning in the sense of purpose and significance. In other words, without this potential infinitude of information, we would not be free creatures, able to respond or not to respond to our Creator.


#3

If it is of interest . . .

One of the few attempts I know of to use Shannon information in a biological context is in a paper by Thomas Schneider.

I don’t know if this is of any help, but the paper does hit on some important aspects of the debate.


(Ashwin S) #4

One commonality between intelligent design proponents and evolutionary creationists is that both parties claim the ultimate source of information in life is God.
I don’t know any scientist who argues that God created snowflakes in the air before they fall. This is because the mechanism is well known. But yes, there are scientists who point to the cosmological Constants which allow us to have a world with snow flakes as proof of God’s design.
When we posit, that all the information in the world and esp in living beings developed from quarks, electrons etc by natural processes, we need to have a mechanism that accounts for this.
Pointing to snow flakes and chess games really do not satisfy. Perhaps a candid assertion that we don’t know how information grows in a universe where entropy constantly increases would be an answer more worthy of respect.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

(my own emphasis added)

Be careful about your choice of words there. The only reason I nitpick is because of how commonly the 2nd law is misused. You probably meant “increases” rather than “reduces” in your context, but regardless of that --it is worth repeating that entropy is not constant in either direction. It is indeed reduced in certain local situations (a snowflake), but is increased in others (the air around the forming snowflake). The only constant thing is that always has a net increase for every non-ideal process.


(Ashwin S) #6

Hi Mervin,

Thanks for the pointer. I did mean increases. it would have been more accurate on my part to say entropy constantly increases in the universe.Thanks for the correction.

However that was not what I was mainly saying. If you didn’t get it, I was pointing out that stories about snow flakes and chess boards do not really explain the mechanisms involved in how quarks, electrons etc end up as proteins, DNA and living cells.
These kind of analogies don’t satisfy the need for a proper explanation. And it’s a fallacy to think that since nature can form snow flakes, it can form living cells, or new proteins etc.
These kind of answers to the question of how nature creates information can backfire as they come across as a little flakey for the reasons cited above.(pun intended).


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Agreed.

I also agree that this small correction to a [common] 2nd-law abuse cannot (does not) by itself bear the weight of evidence that proteins, cells, and such might form naturally. Other considerations must (and I would argue have) come into play to convince us that there are natural mechanisms God could use to form other more complicated things. I just wanted to nip any potential “entropy never decreases” assertion in the bud. And indeed you already understood this – as you properly added the qualifier that it never decreases when universally considered.


#8

If it were physically impossible for proteins and DNA to form then your cells would not be able to make them. Obviously, your cells do naturally form DNA and proteins, so physical laws like thermodynamics are not a problem.

I also don’t see how thermodynamics automatically applies to human models of information. Information, as we define it, is not energy or heat. You can’t directly take a law for one thing and automatically apply it to another thing.


(George Brooks) #9

Just to clarify, @Ashwin_s, Earth is in a perturbation of the local universe that allows it to temporarily avoid constantly increasing entropy.

The Sun is roughly 5 billion years old, with another 5 billion more years to go by many estimates.

As long as the sun remains organized enough to shine on the Earth, we will continue to receive energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation. 5 billion years is enough time to do lots of things by means of Evolution!

We are clearly not currently in an entropic spiral down to maximum entropy.
Pass the word around! Thanks.

Famous Movie Quotes: “What’s the point?
… the Universe is Expanding” [ from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall ]

>>> YouTube Link to: Annie Hall scene about expanding Universe <<<


(Ashwin S) #10

There is a difference between the body creating protein and DNA as opposed to proteins forming from their basic raw materials in nature.
In the body, RNA,DNA and proteins are not formed from scratch. Pre-existing DNA in the zygote replicates itself, proteins are formed from RNA and DNA as templates. It’s an interdependent system. The information is already there.
However when we look at the scenario involved in the origin of life, we need new proteins, DNA ,etc to form from scratch. The scenario is totally different.

What we call information in the human body is actually long molecules such as DNA,Proteins etc being arranged in specific orders, shapes etc participating in complex chemical reactions resulting in specific functiins. All of this complexity involves energy and a reduction in entropy. So when it comes to origin of life/evolution, biological systems are moving in the opposite direction to rest of the universe, I.e towards lower entropies. Though this is not necessarily impossible, it leads to extremely low probability scenarios.
This calls for robust mechanisms to explain how this increase in "information"happens in nature.


(George Brooks) #11

@Ashwin_s

This is why many BioLogos supporters point to one of the fundamental premises of the BioLogos mission statement: God guides Evolution… [ the specifics? I’ll let you know when God let’s me know! ]


#12

From a physics and thermodynamics standpoint, there is no difference. The body isn’t some separate universe where the laws of thermodynamics are suspended.

The information for making proteins is all over the universe. In the right conditions a protein will form through abiotic processes due to the information embedded in all of physics.

The amount of entropy and energy needed to make a DNA molecule is dependent on the length of the molecule, not its sequence. A 1,000 base pair sequence from a gene takes less energy and entropy than a 2,000 base pair random sequence with no biological function. Most of the energy and entropy is involved in constructing the nucleotides from simpler molecules and connecting the phosphates along the sugar backbone of the DNA molecule.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

…and then responding to Ashwin above:

I’m going to guess, that this isn’t what Ashwin had in mind in writing this. I would guess, based on the rest of what was written that it was more to refute any notion that mere local decreases in entropy would by themselves constitute a “compete explanation” for how proteins or cells came to exist. And that is a correct, even if trivial claim. There is much much more that goes into explaining life origins --some [much] of which has been filled in, and some significant things (like Abiogenesis) still needing more investigation.

@Ashwin_s, this may be sort of like a person saying “I can jump 30000 feet high” (analogous to formation of a cell). Another responds: “well, I know you can jump 2 feet high” (a local decrease in entropy in our discussion here) – “but that’s not enough to explain how someone could be 30000 feet high.” Enter the evolutionary thinker: “well, nobody is claiming that a person can jump 30000 feet high in a single bound!” But a person can be standing atop Mt. Everest, and any jump they make there will be 30000 feet high. (Analogous to what evolutionary research shows: that big things don’t happen all at once in a huge random event --like a 747 in a junkyard storm. They happen in small increments, some of which are kept and passed along, and many of which are lost. So in fits and starts, the person proceeds up the tall mountain and eventually – yes! His “30000 foot jump” could be a reality. Very little (if any) of the process could be said to be totally “random”.

A great book to read as a lay-primer on these kinds of things is Dawkins: “Climbing Mt. Improbable.” Just ignore any of the embarrassing [anti-]theology that finds its way into his otherwise fine work, and concentrate instead on the brilliant science.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #14

And by the way, Ashwin, welcome to the forum! After a couple responses here and you probably haven’t been welcomed! Where were my manners?

In case you haven’t already figured it out, if you want to respond to something specific somebody said in their post, you can highlight that section of interest in their post, and then click the grey “Quote” box that pops up. This opens up a ‘reply’ box for you to type in, and includes at the top the quotation you are reacting to. That helps people know exactly what you are responding to.


(Ashwin S) #15

Hi Aquaticus

Blockquote
From a physics and thermodynamics standpoint, there is no difference. The body isn’t some separate universe where the laws of thermodynamics are suspended.
Blockquote

There is a difference because the process by which the body forms new DNA, protein molecules etc is totally different from what is involved in forming these molecules outside the body from scratch. The chemistry, physics ,thermodynamics etc are all different because the chemical/physical process that needs to happen is different.

Blockquote
The amount of entropy and energy needed to make a DNA molecule is dependent on the length of the molecule, not its sequence. A 1,000 base pair sequence from a gene takes less energy and entropy than a 2,000 base pair random sequence with no biological function. Most of the energy and entropy is involved in constructing the nucleotides from simpler molecules and connecting the phosphates along the sugar backbone of the DNA molecule.
Blockquote

You are missing out on the trial and error process involved in arriving at a functional protein/gene. As per evolutionary process, a functional protein must be preceded by a large no of useless variants. So the energy required is huge. It’s all about probability.

Blockquote
The information for making proteins is all over the universe. In the right conditions a protein will form through abiotic processes due to the information embedded in all of physics.
Blockquote

Can you explain what exactly you mean by this… it sounds kind of fantastic. Did somebody actually tell you this? Can you point out the source?


(Ashwin S) #16

Hi Brooks,

Can you tell me exactly what you understand by the word “guides”?


(George Brooks) #17

@Ashwin_s,

I will do my best to do so. But please understand that my definition of “guides”, or the application of that word’s meaning, is completely my own. It is my personal theological interpretation for what that word must entail:

If God is going to get exactly the humanity he needs, the term “guide” must be as comprehensive and as granular as needed. This means, in my view, that

  1. God must specifically invoke by supernatural means any and all mutations he requires which natural laws won’t provide to Him (according His timeline) without miracle. This is no different than god and rainstorms. Most rain is delivered quite well by natural and lawful conditions (as sustained by the Creator) - - using the principles of evaporation, condensation, winds and so forth. Any rain that is required that natural law does not provide, God will provide by means of supernatural engagement. Mutations of genetic information could be arranged with great precision, owing to the precise nature of amino acid chains.

  2. God must specifically invoke by supernatural means any and all changes in ecological niches which he requires but which natural law is not able to make to the required timeframe. For example, the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs: that could have been arranged since the very moment of cosmic creation - -

OR

God could have invoked a miracle and created that asteroid somewhere out by Jupiter and fired it precisely to hit earth.

Let me know if you have any questions.


#18

Both processes conform to the same laws of physics and the same laws of thermodynamics. All of the biochemistry in the body follows the laws of thermodynamics. Energy, in the form of ATP or other high energy molecules, have to be used in conjunction with enzymes to drive thermodynamically unfavorable reactions just as the laws of thermodynamics requires. The energy in those molecules ultimately comes from the Sun.

Thermodynamics doesn’t care if the protein is functional or not. It doesn’t require more energy to make 1,000 base pairs of functional DNA than it does 1,000 base pairs of functionless DNA. Both require the same amount of energy to make.

The same information needed to make a protein is the same information that is used to make water molecules. The information is embedded in the basic fundamental forces and constants in our universe.


(Ashwin S) #19

Hi George,

Thanks for the feedback. Now I understand your position better.

I also believe God intervened in the process of creation supernaturally.

In what way do you think your views are different from creationism?


(Ashwin S) #20

If I understand the current situation based on latest findings correctly, large leaps seem to have occurred very suddenly. At least as far as the fossil evidence is concerned. We don’t have any evidence of the small jumps in between. This has led biologists such as Stephen J Gould to theorise that organisms largely stay the same and don’t change except in sudden periods where they drastically change to form new species. This change happens so fast( in a few generations) that no fossils of missing links are left behind.

So the situation of slowly traversing Mt improbable through incremental steps is false. The picture is more like a person suddenly operating at base camp out of the blue (first life). Stays at base camp without moving for a long time. Then next thing you know he is up 6000(eukaryotes let’s say) and no one saw him move…
And in a similar manner mt Improbable is traversed in fits and starts… Oh… and even though there is a guy on the peak… he is also there at various phases of the mountain (living fossils).
Did Dawkins mention any of this in his analogy?
I think guys like Shapiro are right in looking for a better explanation.