Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Chapter 3: Natural selection, mutations and information

"[T]o change microbes into men requires changes that increase the genetic information content." (The Greatest Hoax on Earth, page 43)
"[R]andom changes act mainly to degrade information." (page 44)"All the alleged proofs of 'evolution in action' to date do not show that functional new information is added to genes. Rather, they involve sorting and/or loss of information." (page 44)

In Chapter 3 Sarfati argues that mutations are unable to add new genetic information and he suggests they are ultimately unhelpful to populations.

Sarfati distinguishes between re-ordering existing information to produce something new and producing entirely new information (pp 43-4).  From his point of view, the new information produced by point mutations, frameshift mutations and gene duplication does not count as truly 'new' because it is produced by re-sorting existing information.

The argument comes down to how you define 'new' and 'information'.  This is conceded in
an article by Sarfati's organisation, Creation Ministries International (
Can mutations produce new information? Yes, depending on what you mean by 'new' and 'information'. Can they account for the evolution of all life on Earth? No!
Effectively, an act of supernatural creation is needed to meet Sarfati's definition of new information, which may be fine theologically but isn't particularly helpful scientifically.  (On the topic of information and creationists' use of information theory, including a critique of the work of Werner Gitt – who is cited in this chapter by Sarfati – see:

There are studies on bacteria (which are useful for observing mutation and natural selection because they reproduce and die quickly and in such large numbers) that demonstrate mutations producing new (in the sense of 'different') genetic information.

For example, the E coli experiment by Barry Hall and his colleagues at the University of Rochester. Hall began by deleting a gene from E coli bacteria. This gene produces an enzyme that allows the bacteria to break down the sugar lactose into subunits that can be used as food. The 'geneless' bacteria were then put in an environment containing lactose as the only food source. Initially, of course, they lacked the enzyme and couldn't grow. But after only a short time, the function of the missing gene was taken over by another enzyme that, while previously unable to break down lactose, could now do so weakly because of a new mutation.  Eventually, yet another adaptive mutation occurred: one that increased the amount of the new enzyme so that even more lactose could be used.  Finally, a third mutation at a different gene allowed the bacteria to take up lactose from the environment more easily.

An objection might be that such mutations may be helpful in a stressful environment (such as one with a single food source), but they make the bacteria less fit for its original environment.  This does not, however, discredit evolution.  If the original bacterium has had thousands of years to adapt to its normal environment, it is likely to perform optimally in that environment, so it's not surprising that (a) nearly any change to it will make it less-than-optimal for that original environment, or that (b) further spontaneous beneficial mutations are rarely observed for that environment.

Another example is the Pseudomonas bacteria that evolved the new ability to digest nylon.  This process has occurred in the wild and in the laboratory.  Nylon was invented in 1935. It didn't exist before then, and neither did this organism.  In the 1970s Japanese scientists noticed bacterial mats growing on nylon waste in ponds.  In 1984 Susumu Ohno found that these bacteria had a new enzyme that allowed them to digest nylon.  In 1995 Irfan Prijambada reported that researchers at Osaka University had observed the evolution of nylon metabolism in their laboratory cultures of Pseudomonas, after ensuring the original culture had no ability to digest nylon.  This new and useful genetic information arose from the standard evolutionary processes of mutation, natural selection, and reproduction.  The genetic mutation that produced the new enzyme probably occurred countless times in the past, and would most likely have been lethal, until the environment changed and nylon was introduced.


Scott Buchanan, 'STAN 1: Fossils, Runaway Subduction and Bible Interpretation' (2010),

Robert Carter, 'Can mutations create new information?', Journal of Creation, Vol 25:2 (2011), pp 92-8

Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, Viking: New York, 2009, p 140.

Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, Cliff Street Books, 1999, pp 104-6, 143-6.

Kenneth Miller, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, Penguin 2008, pp. 79-84.

Ian Musgrave, 'Nylonase Enzymes' (2004)

Ian Musgrave, Rich Baldwin, et al, 'Information Theory and Creationism' (2005

Dave Thomas, 'Evolution and Information: The Nylon Bug' (2004)   
"In this case, a mutation has clearly produced new information. That is, unless you want to quibble that the detailed three-dimensional structure and composition of a protein that reacts specifically to nylon is not "information.""


  1. Washington
    Minor correction - your post headed 'Chapter 6' (I clicked on the comments link under THAT page) actually refers to text about Colin Patterson that is contained in Chapter 7 of Sarfati's book.

  2. Thanks for the correcction - I'll fix that. (And odd that you were redirected here for your comment!)