The Evolutionary Origins of Genetic Information

by Stephen Freeland
Any living branch of science achieves progress by testing new ideas. The results of these tests determine whether each new idea is accepted as a change to what we thought we knew, is dismissed as incorrect, or simply stagnates, owing to a lack of clear evidence. For evolutionary theory, one such proposition is that some features of genetic information cannot evolve through natural processes unless we allow a role for an intelligent designer. This proposition claims testability by defining information in a way that is usually reserved for human creations, such as computer programming code. The argument is that since we know that intelligent beings create computer code, then perhaps similar features found within genetic information indicate a similar origin. However, many biologists perceive that they are able to understand exactly where life’s genetic information comes from (the local environment) by thinking in terms of more fundamental and well-established definitions of information that do not involve intelligent design.
Current science does not have a detailed, widely accepted description for how a genetic information system evolved in the first place. Intelligent design (ID) proponents suggest that this is a key weakness of existing evolutionary theory, consistent with the need for an intelligent designer. I describe the progress that mainstream science has made toward understanding the origin of genetic information ever since the molecular basis of genetic information was first understood, encouraging readers to reach their own conclusions.

PSCF 63, no. 4 (2011): 240–254

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November 2011
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