Guided mutations

So this “intelligence gene” was somehow embedded in the genome of, say, tiktaalik, perserved unchanged for ~400 million years, and then suddenly expressed iin some latter-day tetrapod? How did the designer know that even mammals would evolve?
If the designer didn’t care about the precise trajectory of evolution (which does not exist in evolutional theory), why hominids; why not turtles or kangaroos?

I don’t think it’s anymore implausible then the idea that god by divine providence guides evolution.

What would we look for to falsify the idea that some mutations are preplanned?

Nor is it any more implausible than the idea that the moon is made of Wensleydale, but that’s really not a recommendation.

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I agree, that wouldn’t be plausible. I was thinking more that if there were certain point mutations that were preprogrammed to occur at specific times in evolutionary history when certain specific conditions were met in the genome.

I don’t think there would need to be a particular reason why hominids. The right conditions weren’t met in those lineages (turtles, kangaroos etc) so the specific mutations never occurred.

Just to be clear I’m not actually arguing for this being true. Some ID proponents have put forward similar ideas, and I’m merely thinking about if such a thing would be testable. Obviously if it was a divine act of a supernatural god then we wouldn’t know. But ID proponents don’t all argue for the Christian god and their arguments, if valid, would equally apply to a “designer” who isn’t necessarily omniscient and omnipotent but rather works through natural processes. In which case that may be testable

I didn’t suggest that this can be falsified, because it can’t. My comments were about how one could do the converse: look for evidence that a god or demigod/superintelligence had somehow rigged things to trigger mutations or other events. In my view, a superintelligence that is capable of doing this is a being that is more than capable of doing it undetectably.

“Intelligent design” is inherently unfalsifiable as long as the designer has unlimited power or resources. I wrote about this years ago. My key claim is this: “Design is unfalsifiable to whatever extent the postulated designer is capable of acting in the world. If the designer […] is omnipotent, then it is impossible to rule out deliberate design in any place at any time.”

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Did the designer have a contingency plan for an event such, as example, Chicxulub?

What if his well-planned embedded genes were vaporized? Did the design team have to move in again and re-program the genomes of millions of species?

And by the way, what physical and chemical and laboratory processes would the designer use to re-write the genomes of whole populations? Because changing the genome of an individual won’t re-write a species.


Based on current knowledge, I think we can be confident that this requires either magic or the installation and maintenance of preset genome-editing systems in the biosphere. These systems would either be installed in the genomes of ancestors or somehow hidden in vectors (e.g. viruses) that would be somehow maintained for hundreds of millions of years and then released. If the systems were installed in ancestral genomes, they would have to be erased later to avoid detection by us. If the systems were stashed in viral vectors, the evidence for a sudden burst of targeted mutations would be hard to hide and thus (in principle) detectable phylogenetically.

Such scenarios are so laughably implausible that it is more reasonable to postulate magic. But they are detectable in principle, unless the superintelligent being decides to erase the evidence (or, just as effectively and plausibly, fake the counterevidence).

The answer to your basic question, I think, is no. There are no known ways to “preprogram” mutations, especially point mutations, that do not involve magic.

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I think I’m missing your point here. I don’t see why this would be problematic for the scenario I mentioned.

I never said anything about “embedded genes”. I was asking about the possibility that certain mutations may be preprogrammed to occur at certain times. I didn’t mean that a whole gene was just sat there inactive waiting to suddenly “activate”.

If there was a designer who’d preprogrammed certain mutations to occur the point would be to reach some intended “goal” (e.g. human like intelligence). So the preprogrammed mutation therefore would be beneficial, and so favoured by natural selection.

I agree with Behe, because mutations are only part of evolution.

I’m sure that Mike Behe accepts that selection acts on heritable variation (very little of which is caused by new mutations). Are you claiming he doesn’t?

No I’m not claiming he thinks that. Only that he doesn’t think that random alone can explain all evolution.

Behe has said that ID does not claim that the designer is god (although his theology does). And that ID is strictly scientific. So if we are doing science, not theology, what mechanism could a “designer” use to direct evolution without appealing to divine providence or the supernatural? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

But how would preprogramming work unless there were a genetic mechanism to implement it? And that mechanism would have to be inactive until it was time to cause the mutations. If that’s not your scenario, you are going to have to provide a better description of the “preprogramming”.


It might be possible to make a hypothesis that is falsifiable in this kind of a situation. If you were suggesting (for the sake of argument, of course) that when certain conditions are right, and a particular mutation will have the chance of making progress towards the human condition, that there is some hitherto undetected mechanism that causes that mutation to occur, and that as such human evolution (at least) is to some degree directed by an intelligence towards it’s present form, then there might be a way to present evidence against that.

For example, one could look at the degree to which the pattern of hominid evolution resembles a March of progress, (it doesn’t) and the degree to which animals which were in similar circumstances that ought to have triggered the preloaded guided mutation did or did not experience such a mutation.

My hypothesis is that where you rigorously define the instances where it is suggested a “guided” mutation occurred, and look at other lineages that were similarly situated, that you will find it did not occur for then. Thus, a mechanistic trigger that causes the key mutation “at the right moment” must not exist if it did not go off in any other circumstances, for any other lineages if hominid, when they reached the same (or sufficiently similar) circumstances

That is to say, if it was provided and mechanistic, multiple lineages of homo erectus for example would have experienced the trigger as the circumstances became just right to experience mutations for bigger brains, but only one interbreeding group did experience such a mutation, and the other similar groups stayed the way they were for long after that point.

If course, this argument is vulnerable to the reindeer that the circumstances for everyone else were just not quite right, so it’s not definitive, but it might at least decrease support for the existence of such a mechanism.

Is that helpful at all?

Yes, it would be genetic. In my comment your referring to I was only saying that I wasn’t thinking of a complete “inactive” preprogrammed gene just waiting to be “activated”. If there was such a gene that was “inactive” waiting to be “activated” at some point in the distant future it would be subject to mutations, and it would have no benefit to the organism during that period so natural selection wouldn’t prevent a build up of negative mutations. So it’s not going to survive “intact” for millions of years up to the point that it would be “activated”. My point was could there be certain specific mutations (e.g. frameshift mutation, insertion, substitution, deletion) that is programmed to occur at a certain event. Not a whole gene waiting to be activated. For example if we have the sequence ATCGAT, over time random mutations change the sequence, but when we a specific sequence is met, say ATCGAT now becomes ATCGAA that triggers the a preprogrammed mutation (e.g. frameshift mutation, insertion, substitution, deletion). So the question would be how does T changing to A trigger the preprogrammed mutation? By “preprogrammed” I don’t mean a complete gene that’s “preprogrammed”, I simply mean a specific mutations that’s designed to occur when “triggered”. Maybe “preprogrammed” gives the wrong idea. I’m not claiming I actually believe this, I’m just know that some theistic evolutionists and ID proponents have put forward similar ideas and an just considering the possibility and how it could possibly work. If certain mutations were not random then the likelihood of evolution producing an intelligent species capable of scientific discovery would be more likely than if all evolution was simply random variation and natural selection.

If that isn’t preprogramming, then what is?

Consider that whatever is encoded needs to contain the pattern for the “trigger” to be detected, and also the pattern for the mutation(s) to be created. You can’t have that and not have preprogramming or frontloading (pretty much the same thing).

Here’s a crazy idea: The “guiding code” could be hidden inside the folding structure of a conserved protein. When triggered the protein re-folds to reveal the hidden function.
This puts some size limits on how much information can be hidden in a single protein, but multiple proteins might be needed. There needs to be a CRISPR-like sequence created to edit genes, and that can’t be simple or easily hidden.

This would be a lot simpler if a very long lived Designer was monitoring the normal progress of evolution and released gene-editing viruses into the environment as needed.

Either of these should be detectable thru phylogenetic testing,, something that Design Proponents have refused to do (several article on ENV to this effect, but I can’t look for them now).

I’m sure those more knowledgeable can add additonal criticisms.


You mistake what I’m saying was inactive. It’s not the target gene, it’s the sequences (perhaps genes, perhaps not) that make up the genetic mechanism responsible for the targeted mutations.

What do you mean by “designed to occur”? If you agree that there’s a genetic mechanism that causes the designed mutations, that mechanism must itself be inactive until it’s activated. How is whatever sequence comprises that mechanism conserved? As it stands, your “designed to occur” is no better than magic.


It doesn’t. There is no known mechanism for this – indeed there is none we can even imagine under even the most potent of mind-altering chemical exposures. I’ll reiterate my earlier point, and then bow out: it is more reasonable and plausible to postulate supernatural intervention than it is to consider the scenarios you are sketching. It is much more likely that we’ll find cheese at the moon’s core than it is that we’ll even successfully imagine a cascade of point mutations that could be planned in advance by a non-deity.

I suggested the batshit crazy notion of planting genome-editing systems in the biosphere somewhere. Maybe someone on the forum can dream up a scenario more plausible than that one, then perhaps s/he and I can collaborate on a sci-fi book proposal.


I think, since we are considering a theistic evolution model here, it makes sense to think of this as a limited form of magic. Let’s just assume that the magic itself has rules that it follows, and that it can be understood. That is, let’s assume the “magic” is part of the naturalistic world, and that it conforms with physical laws, but just uses a process or mechanism that we can’t see and don’t understand yet.

In that circumstance, what I understand Elliot to be suggesting is there is an unseen trigger, (imagine it is attached to the DNA in the fourth spatial dimension for our science fiction novel) and it is put on the human ancestor with the power to induce a specific form of mutation, let’s say it’s a frame shift mutation, when it detects that a genome has a certain sequence. So whenever it detects ATCGAA, at a specific location, it induces a frame shift mutation in the subsequent generation.

If this were the case, given that we cannot detect anything directly (forth dimension, remember) is there a way for us to test whether something like this is going on indirectly, through phylogenetics or observation of morphology of something?

Maybe someone on the forum can dream up a scenario more plausible than that one, then perhaps s/he and I can collaborate on a sci-fi book proposal.

Now I remember the sci-fi book this same guano loco used as the plot. It was Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear in 1999. Even to a geologist like me, this book’s “biology” was so painful that I never finished it.


I’m not sure that it is helpful to bring reindeer into the discussion.


Yes that is the question. And we’d like to know how a system that could ensure this could last being inherited for millions of generations without itself being somehow encoded in genes that wouldn’t also mutate. That’s what we’re saying isn’t possible. The system itself needs to be encoded in genetic sequences that themselves would be subject to mutation. Hence the system would unavoidably lose the ability to trigger once a specific sequence is detected, or it would change in a way where it would be triggered by the wrong circumstances, or it would produce the wrong mutation, etc. etc.

The problem is the idea that the system can somehow persist over so many generations without being genetically encoded itself. Even if you posit some different hypothetical mechanism of inheritance than DNA, that other system of inheritance would have to be made of atoms and molecules too (and there’s no evidence such an alternative system is at work), and how would that system be faithfully copied millions and millions of times without any error or change coming along sooner or later? To be sure, other mechanisms of inheritance can be imagined than DNA, but all of them has the same problem: change is inevitable.

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