We have a twofer! In his account of his visit with Stephen Meyer to Norman, Oklahoma, a couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Wells made another totally stupid remark just following the one for which he got an earlier award. This one contains a deceptive analogy that the ID creationists have grown fond of lately. Recall that their recent mantra has been ‘evolution can’t increase “biological” information.’ That’s the shorthand gloss of Dembski’s so-called Law of Conservation of Information.
In the Q&A Wells ‘explained’ to a questioner that HOX genes are remarkably non-specific, and burped up the egregiously stupid remark for which he got the earlier award:
If evolutionary changes in body plans are due to changes in genes, and flies have HOX genes similar to those in a horse, why is a fly not a horse?
To win his second award, Wells went on to write another truly dumb thing.
The questioner became agitated and shouted out something to the effect that HOX gene duplication explained the increase in information needed for the diversification of animal body plans. I replied that duplicating a gene doesn’t increase information content any more than photocopying a paper increases its information content.
Now let me see. Many genes code for proteins via transcription and translation processes. Proteins are the physico-chemical workhorses in cells. Some are enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions in cells, while others are structural components. (I’m leaving aside genes that code for stuff like ribozymes; they make Wells’ analogy even dumber.) The duplication of a protein-coding gene doubles the amount of some protein in the cell. Does Wells imagine that doubling the concentration of an enzyme or a structural component in a cell is biologically irrelevant? If so, I recommend that the next time Wells gets a prescription for codeine he double the recommended dosage. After all, according to his reasoning doubling the dosage should add no biologically relevant “information” content and therefore should be innocuous.
That particular analogy – photocopying a piece of paper as an analogy for gene duplication – is popping up more often lately and should be firmly slapped down at every opportunity. It has a surface plausibility for lay people but is deeply deceptive. And I’m sure Wells knows it!