Stephen Meyer and Information

What’s the standard reply from evolutionists (which I consider myself) to Stephen Meyers book claiming new genetic information cannot come about apart from by intelligent design? I had thought DNA wasn’t information in the sense of a language or computer code, but having discussed this with some scientists it appears it is information like words in a book.

1 Like

What the correct response is depends on what Meyer considers to be “new” Information. If he means Functional Information or Specified Information then one can simply point to any example of natural selection increasing the gene frequency of a fitter allele and note that FI (or SI) has then increased. But if Meyer says that by “new” he means something like a new body plan, I.e. something Really Big And Important, then that is an invitation to lots of endless wrangling over what that means. Often people don’t consider changes of gene frequency to count as “new” information, only new alleles arising by mutation. That totally useless concept is not FI (or SI).

But I have been asking what the “correct” response would be. That is different from what the “standard” reply is. It is to bring up an excessively messy and complicated case involving gene duplication, which is totally unnecessary.


By any sensible definition of information, information can come about by evolution. The trick is to get the creationist to first give definition of information you can use to do before-and-after calculations.

So you have to first ask them what definition of information they’re using, and then ask how they calculate how much there is in some given system or sequence of DNA.

They almost always refuse, but any rational person would have to admit that without defining what it is and how to relate a system/sequence to a quantity of information, it’s pointless to argue about it.

Anyway, assuming the creationist actually bothers to supply you with a definition of information which you can use to do calculations about the quantity of information in a system, it is trivial to show that information can be produced by evolution.


Lots of luck with that.

“Information” has many possibly meanings, and that makes it a frequent source of equivocation. That’s why I usually try to keep out of these “information” wars.


Let me add a note from the rhetorical, rather than the strictly scientific, point of view.

It has to be remembered that all of the talk about “information” in terms of whether there is something about it which constitutes a bar to evolutionary processes is quite silly, and is purely a matter of rhetorical strategy rather than some sort of worthwhile and novel scientific position. “Information” is at best one way of characterizing processes in evolution that are already known in non-“informational” terms. From biochem to phenotypes making their way in the physical circumstances of their environments, we understand the core mechanisms of evolutionary processes and the influences upon lineages of living things. While there can be purposes for which looking at this in terms of information theory may be useful, “information” is not a thing separate from these processes. It is, rather, one way of describing them. Since these processes demonstrably operate in the world, any competent “information”-based mode of describing them will likewise describe real, operating processes.

The ID Creationist line on this is really quite bizarre. Essentially what they do with “information” is treat it not as a construct which we impose upon the subject for purposes of analysis and explanation, but as a new ingredient in living things, the existence of which was unknown until the era of modern genetics. They speak of it as though this “information” is the mysterious vital essence, the elan vital, which, injected into non-living matter, transmogrifies it into living matter.

It’s always good to remember that all of this is going on in the domain of chemistry and physics. And even “chemistry” and “physics” are, reliable and useful as they are, explanatory systems for humans to use. In the real world there is just reality, however characterized. If one generated a mathematical prediction, based upon “information theory,” which concluded that things which demonstrably happen are, in fact, impossible, then one would have to check one’s math. One surely would not be justified in proceeding to the conclusion that things which demonstrably happen are impossible. Reality is the test of explanations; explanations are not the test of reality.

When these conversations turn to “information,” one question to ask oneself is: why don’t the creationists want to talk about biology, and instead want to take it up to a level of higher abstraction? The answer, of course, is that biology is and has been a dead loser for creationists for a long, long time. Information theory poses a whole range of complicated terms and definitions and opportunities for confusion, which is why it is useful for creationism as a rhetorical strategy. It is, however, quite useless for creationism as anything other than a rhetorical tool.


Because it makes them appear to be doing actual science to credulous laypeople when they aren’t.


Oh I just covered Meyer and “information” recently. The kind of information he describes is easy to generate via non-intelligent processes. For example, the Yona et al. 2018 paper on random sequences as Lac promoters.


This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.