What are the fundamentals of Genetic Entropy?

I was earlier drawn into a debate over the particulars of Carter and Sanford’s H1N1 paper, and being a non-scientist I did my best to hold my own in the discussion. There were some questions I couldn’t answer, but on the other hand I believe there were quite a few that I did answer.

But one thing doesn’t sit well with me: I think the impression was created that somehow Sanford’s general thesis of Genetic Entropy is ultimately tied to the validity of that paper. I want to say that is categorically false. I believe that was one foray they have done to attempt to show some real-world examples of GE in action, but it by no means is the central thrust of the argument. Viruses are a special case because while they do reproduce and have genetic material, they are not alive; they cannot reproduce without help from a host creature which is living.

None of this is to say that I don’t stand by their research on H1N1, because I certainly do, and nobody in the peer-reviewed literature has ventured to even attempt a rebuttal of their findings, let alone successfully overturning that paper. But even were that to happen, it would not change the simple fact that we are all dying from genetic diseases. And there’s no way to stop it.

Here is my grossly oversimplified, yet perfectly accurate to the best of my knowledge, summary of GE, along with some quotations from the literature to show support for each premise:

Most mutations are known to be bad, not good. They damage, rather than helping.

“Although a few select studies have claimed that a substantial fraction of spontaneous mutations are beneficial under certain conditions (Shaw et al. 2002; Silander et al. 2007;
Dickinson 2008), evidence from diverse sources strongly suggests that the effect of most spontaneous mutations is to reduce fitness (Kibota and Lynch 1996; Keightley and Caballero 1997; Fry et al. 1999; Vassilieva et al. 2000; Wloch et al. 2001; Zeyl and de Visser 2001; Keightley and Lynch 2003; Trindade et al. 2010; Heilbron et al. 2014).”


Natural selection is supposed to come to the rescue here, by weeding out bad mutations and amplifying the good ones. But as Kimura showed, most mutations fall in a zone of no selection; they are, as Kimura called them, ‘effectively neutral’. Why? Because their effect is too small to affect survival/reproduction, and thus they are not selectable.

“In terms of evolutionary dynamics, however, mutations whose effects are very small …
are expected to be dominated by drift rather than selection.”

Shaw, R., Shaw, F., adn Geyer, C., Evolution
Vol. 57, No. 3 (Mar., 2003), pp. 686-689


Kimura himself admittedly dismissed this problem in his own paper, after showing it is a real decline; he said that this decline would be compensated for by the occasional mega-beneficial mutation–

Whether such a small rate of deterioration in fitness constitutes a threat to the survival and welfare of the species (not to the individual) is a moot point, but this will easily be taken care of by adaptive gene substitutions that must occur from time to time (say once every few hundred generations).

–a naive conjecture (no offense) that was not supported by anything in Kimura’s day, and remains today unsupported by good science. Indeed, how could the occasional beneficial mutation possibly hope to undo the myriad of harmful and damaging ones that are constantly accruing all throughout the genome?

Many scientists have attempted to wave away this fundamental genetic problem for evolution by suggesting that most mutations may be neutral–but this is missing the point because no mutation could ever be truly neutral. Every change you make to the genome will have some effect.

… it seems unlikely that any mutation is truly neutral in the sense that it has no effect on fitness. All mutations must have some effect, even if that effect is vanishingly small.

Eyre-Walker, A., and Keightley P.D., The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations, Nat. Rev. Genet . 8 (8):610–8, 2007. The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations | Nature Reviews Genetics.

Now no doubt many of you here will view this post as me throwing down the gauntlet. That’s not my intention, because I’m not a scientist myself and I cannot go toe-to-toe on the finer detailed points of everything here; but my getting pulled into the previous thread on GE has forced my hand on the matter, because I do want the truth to be out there.

So, in conclusion, if you scoff at GE, then you owe it to yourself to at least read what Dr. Sanford has written and give it fair consideration. I believe that genetic entropy is the greatest public health crisis in the world and for all time, and I don’t believe there is any naturalistic, man-made solution to it. We will go extinct without God’s help, and God has promised to provide it.



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Science has given it fair consideration. It’s 100% disproven by the fact life is still on the planet after 3.5 billion years.

Pity when such a pretty idea like Sanford’s is crushed by those ugly scientific facts, but that’s science.


Then quote a peer-reviewed scientific paper that mentions Sanford by name or Genetic Entropy by name, and actually refutes it. Show me where the scientific community is even acknowledging these issues publicly.

They’re on the shelf right next to the scientific papers refuting the flat Earth and the invisible gravity pixies… :slightly_smiling_face:

Sanford’s idea was so ridiculous and so easy to refute no one in the scientific community ever took it seriously. No one is going to waste time or money writing a paper for something which has never been demonstrated in the first place.


In that case you are admitting to the opposite of what you just claimed a moment before: the scientific community has not given this problem consideration. Were they to do so, the whole Darwinian house of cards would come tumbling down faster than the Cambrian Explosion.

Yes they did. It was deemed so dumb no one bothered to waste time on it. That was all the consideration it needed.

Why did Sanford publish his idea in a popular press book instead of a peer reviewed scientific journal?


Cite a source. Who deemed it that dumb? When? What reasons did this person or persons give? I want to read it from a scientific source.

Nobody has to do that. There doesn’t even have to be any paper that explicitly shows that to be the case. There is overwhelming evidence for life being old, so whatever model you can come up with that implies life could not have existed this long is contradicted by the real world. That should cause you to think there’s something wrong with your calculation. You should adjust your model to fit the evidence, not just ignore contradictory evidence. Or perhaps worse, claim that your pet model and it’s assumptions overrules the evidence.


As @Timothy_Horton mentions, it is false on its face. As the old saying goes, the map is not the territory. If a model says that life should not survive for millions of years, and we have ample evidence that life has survived for hundreds of millions of years, then the model is wrong. In science, reality trumps models.

With that said, there are educational opportunities for internet forum participants that want to discuss the specifics of why Sanford is wrong. We could probably pursue those in this thread.


Here’s a note just to help you understand why Sanford’s idea is so wrong. Sanford’s whole idea rests on two demonstrably false premises:

  1. All genomes were created “perfect” only 6000 years ago and have been degrading ever since
  2. All environments are static so any changes to a genome must degrade it.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” genome. Evolution is a process which drives genomes towards local fitness maxima. A genome may be very well adapted to its particular environment so it’s at the virtual top of a local fitness maximum. In that location most changes will cause a move away from the peak to a less fit position. But in the real world environments are not static. They’re constantly changing making the various local fitness maxima always be moving targets. That gives the process of evolution freedom to explore new genetic combinations which will then move toward the new maxima. Genetic combinations which were previously deleterious or neutral may now become beneficial.

Again we have a huge amount of physical evidence this process has been ongoing for over 3.5 billion years. Any idea which ignores that huge amount of contradictory evidence deserves to be laughed out of the room.


Really, Price? Then quote them. Where are these “many” scientists who have attempted to wave this away by saying most mutations are neutral? How many are “many”?

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Except there are countless experiments and observations that show continued fitness gains under all sorts of conditions.

So it seems you’re once again mixing up “damaging” mutations (which you have still not rigorously defined) with deleterious mutations.

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PDPrice do you at least understand a mutation can only be judged deleterious, neutral, or beneficial with respect to the effect it causes the organism in its specific environment?

A mutation for longer thicker fur may be beneficial for a cold climate Arctic fox but deleterious for a tropical climate lemur. Capisce?

We’ve been through this. Fitness is contextual, and is not defined in the same way in every experiment. It’s not always a proper metric for what Sanford’s GE is talking about, which is ultimately not ‘fitness’ but information. Most of the time, degrading the information in the genome does result in a loss of fitness, but not always, and not if you create an attenuated branch that is narrowly well adjusted to a particular experimental environment (but which has lost information in the process).

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ZOOM! go the goalposts! We know for a fact empirically observed evolutionary processes can add information to a genome so what’s the problem? :slightly_smiling_face:

You seem to be confusing Behe’s pet hobbyhorse with Sanford’s claims. They are not the same.

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It’s easy to conceptualize, but hard to directly quantify. It’s the same reason why you have to think about your words and form your sentences intentionally when you type; you don’t just add ‘information’ by banging on the keys or randomly copy and pasting from other peoples’ posts.

The evolutionary mechanism of gene duplication followed by subsequent mutations to the copy are empirically observed to create new genetic sequences with new function while still retaining the original function. That’s new information no matter what definition you use.


That’s why it’s much more nuanced than that. Best I can suggest is:

LOL! Once again you can’t answer for yourself but deflect with “read this Creationist link!” :slightly_smiling_face:

I thought you said you came to PS to learn some things about the science involved?

ETA: Just for grins I looked at your link to the Carter article. The first sentence I read was

“The phrase, “Mutations cannot create new information” is almost a mantra among some creationists, yet I do not agree.”

That’s what is called an “own goal”. :slightly_smiling_face:

Don’t worry, I am learning. I learn from most every exchange.

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