On the old blog, I started a series of postings to correct common misunderstandings about the hypothesis of front-loaded evolution as laid out in The Design Matrix. Let me repost them here.
Today, we’ll deal with the following erroneous belief:
Claim #1: The original front-loaded state had all the information needed to build complex, multi-cellular organisms (including humans).
This view of front-loading is often favored by those who think that evolution is incapable of generating new “information.” As such, the idea is that all the information for life is invested in a rather remarkable ancestral cell and that the history of evolution has been merely a history of differential information loss and maintenance.
Yet this view is flawed precisely because it denies that evolution can create new information. Front-loading is simply about biasing and channeling the type of new information that the blind watchmaker would stumble upon and use. For a simple example, consider the Wiki description as linked to above:
For instance, say a certain gene codes to produce the protein mentioned above (or any protein, for matter). A duplication mutation causes duplication of this gene, so now there are two copies of this gene in the genome. This mutation is clearly not a harmful mutation, since it supplies a protein that is already there, and as such has little or no effect on the organism. Then a second mutation causes the copy to make a different version of the protein, which adds some new ability or function. That mutation would clearly be selected for, because it is beneficial. Now the “information” in the second gene has been added, without any loss in genome space. A similar mechanism can work by using some of the unused DNA that makes up the majority of all genomes.
As I explain in The Design Matrix, gene duplication is precisely a mechanism we would expect from front-loading. And in this case, the new information in the second gene was not a string of purely random nucleotides, but a slightly altered version of a pre-existing gene, such that the past constrained what was found in the future. The original sequence, working in conjunction with the genetic code and the rest of the cellular architecture, biased what the second functional gene could look like.
Instead of Claim 1, the proper formulation is this:
The original front-loaded state had sufficient information that would bias evolutionary trajectories needed to evolve complex, multi-cellular organisms.