Evolution Intelligent Design Natural selection

Is there no such thing as a neutral mutation? Art explains why there probably isn’t.

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Laszlo Bencze

Laszlo Bencze offers these thoughts on genetic mutations seen from the perspective of art:

I’ve been very much enjoying my read of John Sanford’s Genetic Entropy. His main thesis is that not only are beneficial mutations so rare that no one has ever seen one, but that if one happened to pop into existence it could not be selected by natural selection. The reason for this unselectability is that any reasonably small mutation of the sort that Darwinians assume to be the driving force of evolution produces a fitness benefit too small to be “visible” to natural selection.

By the same token small deleterious mutations are likewise invisible to natural selection and cannot be selected against. However, harmful mutations truly are frequent and do accumulate in the genome of species. Thus, the genetic structure of any species inevitably deteriorates, hence “genetic entropy.”

Now the big question is whether there are mutations that are genuinely neutral and have no effect one way or the other. Sanford argues that there are not and, furthermore, that there cannot be any such. In order to understand his point better I came up with this art analogy:

Here is a famous and gorgeous painting by Ingres which I just saw in person at the Frick Museum in New York [click the link if you cannot see the painting below. – ed.].

Comtesse d’Haussonville/Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, The Frick Collection

Let’s imagine we can improve it by adding a dot of paint 1mm in diameter to it. In evolutionary terms we will give it a “point mutation,” the smallest possible change. If we add this dot randomly, the odds are pretty high it will damage the painting by creating an obvious, intrusive speck. So let’s give evolution every advantage. Let’s make the process far more likely to succeed by having the great contemporary painter, David Hockney, add the speck wherever he thinks it will “do the most good.”

Now I happen to know that Hockney is a great admirer of Ingres and would be shocked and dismayed at any such request. But if a cruel tyrant under pain of death forced him to do it, Hockney would understand that there is no place he could possibly place a dot of paint that would improve the painting. Like a living thing, the painting is so well crafted that anything he might add to it could only be neutral at best. So Hockney would strive to place the most neutral dot he could by choosing a pigment that matched some dark portion of the painting and hope to hide his speck there.

But would such a speck be truly neutral? No matter how well it matched the color, wouldn’t it be visible as a raised dot under the right lighting conditions? And wouldn’t that actually damage the painting even if ever so slightly? And this is precisely Sanford’s point. In the world of biology it is impossible to create a neutral mutation. The change may be extremely slight, even invisible, yet always a degradation no matter how small.

Now imagine the tyrant demands Hockney place a thousand dots on the painting and any notion of neutrality evaporates. There’s no way so many dots would not be apparent even without special lighting. The painting would be damaged. Mutations cannot create any improvement. Even the least of them will introduce some speck of damage. Let the process continue for enough generations and the host of near neutral mutations will show up as visible flaws.

15 Replies to “Is there no such thing as a neutral mutation? Art explains why there probably isn’t.

  1. 1
    vikingmom says:

    Interesting point.

    Mutations seem to produce defective things…at least as far a I’ve ever heard. So dumping some spot into a quality artwork would similarly mess it up

    The artistic range in all creation is amazing.

    Some will consider my argument for a Designer – from classy natural design…”fluff”.

    But the Renaissance inspired lists of quality art include things like rhyme, repetition, line weight, balance or counterbalance, color harmonies, etc. etc. etc.

    And one trip to a zoo will show you all these art qualities (and many more).

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the human body as a work of art (and contrary to it being a piece junk as Darwinists insist it is,, i.e. vestigial organs, 90% junk DNA!). The Human Body is simply amazing:

    One Body – animation – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDMLq6eqEM4

    Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth — visualized – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyljukBE70

    Mathematician Alexander Tsiaras on Human Development: “It’s a Mystery, It’s Magic, It’s Divinity” – March 2012
    Excerpt: ‘The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go, the complexity of these, the mathematical models on how these things are indeed done, are beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with the marvel of how do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us. It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.’
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....57741.html

    The Baby In The Womb (for full video, please follow link in description)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPPkXe8KUg0

    Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Glimpses At Human Development In The Womb – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4249713

    Human Anatomy – Impressive Transparent Visualization – Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – video
    http://vimeo.com/26011909

    Introduction to Cells – Anatomy – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFuEo2ccTPA

    The Human Body – You Are Amazing – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5246456

    Verse and music:

    Psalms 139:14
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    MercyMe – Beautiful
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vh7-RSPuAA

  3. 3
    selvaRajan says:

    I beg to differ.Neutral mutation means that the organism is not affected by the mutation. Genes form duplicates routinely and redundancy is built in DNA chains. Mutations occurring in these places will not affect the organisms in anyway, that is why they are called Neutral mutations.
    The way selection works is by Bayesian inference, so it necessary ‘selects’ out deleterious mutations. The prior probability will always be less than the posterior probability, so however small the beneficial mutation, the probability of beneficial mutation increases- even if slightly.
    In some cases, for example in chimp, a single mutation acts like a switch (evo devo) and stops brain development. The mutation is absent in humans so our brain continues to develop.
    It is a different matter that deleterious mutation are too numerous and suppress beneficial mutation and evolution by mutation alone is thus impossible and that’s the reason-among other absurd probabilities- that I am a ‘new’ IDist

  4. 4
    JGuy says:

    One thing I find interesting about this idea, is that how one might think such a process would refine biolocial features that are macroscopic AND have undetectable benefit. For example: Eye brows. Not having eyebrows won’t kill a person, and it wouldn’t have prevented one from having children. For the process to resolve the undetectable eye brow into the place it reduces irritating sweat into the eyes seems problematic. Even moreso, it’s many smaller (even more undetectable) parts (hairs) need to be selected for in the correct place… and this is just one example of fine tuned undetectable features.

  5. 5
    wd400 says:

    The thing about metaphors is they should, in some small way, be related to the subject of comparison. The kindest thing to say about this one is that it fails.

    Does the author really imagine changing a random “G” in an intron into to a “T” is going to make the slightest bit of difference to the organism? What does he of the fact two humans drawn at random have ~3 million single nucleotide differences – are these all deleterous for one or other person?

    It’s always amazing how little creationists want to talk about biology, and how much that want to talk about computers/engineering or now art!

  6. 6
    selvaRajan says:

    @wd400,
    My response @3 is scientific.
    Darwinist don’t get it even when talking about biology either.
    How can any true scientist support micro evolution when there are problems of probability, Combinatorics , species explosion,molecular clock, molecular phylogeny-anatomical phylogeny difference, epigenetics, evodevo, blatant lies(like chromosome 2 fusion),threat to publishers of scientific papers(recent case- Preventing Springer from publishing scientific conference papers),threat to ID supporting scientists by curtailing their career, stopping funding for even non ID projects and expelling them from labs and universities? and again, ID is not Creationism.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    selvaRajan,

    Scientists and Darwinists and Christians all support micro-evolution. Even Young Earth Creationists accept micro-evolution.

    Have you tried plugging in YEC rates for micro-evolution into Mendel’s Accountant?

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    So over at ENV they point out some problems with a paper on evolutionary rates in the Cambrian. But imagine how that problem is magnified if the earth is only 6,000 years and the global flood only about 5,00 year ago.

    All current arthropods descended from an original pair or seven that Noah took on the ark with him. Imagine the hyper-evolution that was required to bring that off.

  9. 9
    selvaRajan says:

    Oops! I meant Macro evolution not micro evolution!

  10. 10
    selvaRajan says:

    No I don’t believe in YEC. I believe the Cosmic Microwave Back ground is correct which rules out Young Earth. In fact I believe the universe is even older as the new Planck 2013 data seems to support lower efoldings.

  11. 11
    wd400 says:

    selvaRajan,

    I’m glad at least some IDist can see how silly this post was.

    I’m very happy to talk about biology. If you can refine any of the scatter gun attack into a clear description of a problem for mainstream evolutionary biology (not “Darwinism” as that term is understood in science…) I’d happily talk about it.

  12. 12
    Robert Byers says:

    This was a thoughtful thread.
    Beneficial mutations is a faith. not a demonstrated fact. Evolution breaths on this .Any slight mutation would have little impact on populations because it would be almost invisable.
    I think its a good area to attack this whole idea of a universe of mutations just johnny on the spot to turn bugs into buffalos.
    Its unlikely this ever could or did happen. Come on already.
    anyways prove it by science and no saying prove it couldn’t is NOT proving it.
    Science please not reasoning.

  13. 13
    Mung says:

    Robert, even the most ardent YEC believes in beneficial mutations. How else did all extant species evolve from just a few that were on the ark? By deleterious mutations?

  14. 14
    Dimitri44 says:

    Evolution? – Part 1. Charles Darwin wrote 500 pages on adaptation evidence, and 1 page on evolution speculation; and he stated that adaptation can only happen at the lowest level of the biological table (by Carl Linnaeus), the species level. The higher levels, from the top, are kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, and genus. That’s why he essentially titled his book, Origin of the Species, and not Origin of the Phylum. Darwin based his one page of speculation on the Geological Column proposed by his contemporary, Charles Lyell; which, however, now faces increasingly apparent scientific contradictions.

    The Evolution Story – Part 2. The evolution people have since seized upon the one page of speculation by Darwin, coupled with the Geological Column of Lyell, the name of which has since been changed to the Geological Time Scale. They have then used these two threads to develop what can be identified as a Pseudo-Adaptation Hypothesis. Before considering this, let us summarize the correct Theory of Adaptation that was scientifically proven by Darwin. This is something that only takes a few or so, at most, generations to work, and it relies upon the fact that there will be individual differences among the newborn from one generation to the next; so that those characteristics that are better able to cope with life are the characteristics that are going to prevail. Also bear in mind that this is something that can only happen at the species level, the lowest level from the biological table. This also means that when some evolution people say that Darwin proved evolution, they are not telling the truth.

    Now let us consider the Pseudo-Adaptation Hypothesis. The Geological Time Scale now allows for an estimate of the age of the earth to be in the millions, or even billions of years; rather than the few thousand years allowed by the Old Testament. The idea is then proposed that purely fortuitous, happenstance changes might take place from time to time over a period of zillions of years, even at higher levels from the biological table, so that life forms can become more complicated that way. This means any number of major new changes, each of which is individually useless, somehow then combining up, and then useful, only then leading, for example, to an actual new genus. All of this would also had to have happened, time and again, independently, defining each genus member of the genera.

    There are also two schools of thought as to the Geological Time Scale. One school relies on catastrophic events, such as a huge asteroid hitting the planet earth, something much too infrequent for the above combining up possibility. The other school of thought relies upon ordinary events, described above, taking place over the zillions of years. All of this also means that the Pseudo-Adaptation Hypothesis is something that can never be scientifically proven, or at least it certainly hasn’t been yet. Thus, to conclude, the only thing that the evolution people have to offer us is a hypothesis that can never be proven, and nothing any better than that.

  15. 15
    Dimitri44 says:

    Allow me to add to my Comment Number 14. The key to establishing the validity of Adaptation was the different islands among the Galapagos off the coast of Ecuador having similar species which could not cross from one island to the next, nor by human assistance; but similar preferred characteristics of the species nevertheless developed to a greater or lesser extent on each island – a novel way of repeating the experiment, as it were.

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