The conversation began on this post about how economic corrections are healthy but quickly diverged from the realm of finance into the more general realm of information theory. I'd recommend reading the comments there, but I want to post here my latest thoughts on the matter because I think they highlight a major reason that I'm skeptical about biological evolution.

Information is conserved, in a manner similar to energy and mass, except with losses over time due to entropy. Information can be thought of as the property that distinguishes useful energy from heat. To believe that biological life is due to evolution is to believe that natural selection and random mutations are transferring information from the environment into biological matter, with some loss due to entropy. (Due to entropy, there is an ever-decreasing amount of information in the universe.) This perspective reveals two difficulties facing the theory of biological evolution:

1. There doesn't appear to be a lot of information in the universe. There are a very limited number of physical laws that pretty much explain everything. We probably don't know all the laws yet, but I suspect if we did they could be contained in a single book. Cosmic background radiation exhibits almost no information whatsoever, for example. In order for information to be transferred from the universe to life through evolution, there must be enough information in the universe to start with.

Most naive experiments with evolutionary algorithms begin with a few simple rules and hope to generate complex results from them, but cannot do so. You don't get more information out of a system than what you put it, and you generally get less.

2. If there is a lot of information in the universe, where did it come from? This is a different question from "where did all the energy/matter come from?" because the presence of energy and matter does not necessitate the existence of information. As I said earlier, entropy transforms useful energy (with information) into waste heat (without information). Like our constant supply of energy and matter, our ever-decreasing supply of information came from somewhere, but where?

Random mutations don't net add information. They may increase information locally by moving it from somewhere else, but every transaction is degraded by entropy so in the net there's a loss of information. As with Brownian motion, the more interactions in the system the faster the whole tends towards the average. Contrary to the arguments of believers in biological evolution, longer time spans and larger populations actually make biological evolution harder to believe, not easier.

In my experience, information is never created without intelligence. I've never seen an example of a non-intelligent system that creates information, and I think the burden of proof lies with anyone who argues that it's possible. I'd even argue that, as a useful definition, an "intelligent system" is a system that creates information rather than just moving it from one place to another. I believe that God and humans fit this criteria, but I'm not convinced that any other systems or entities do.


There seems to be some confusion in the comments about what information actually is. Let's use an illustration. Wrote jez, suggesting a way that information might be created without intelligence:

7) a short computer program generates a continuing list of prime numbers

However, all the information required to represent every prime number can be written down in a very simple recursive form. Actually doing the work to process that function and generate a list of prime numbers doesn't create any new information. In fact, unless your list is infinitely long it contains less information than the function itself. My argument is that mathematics and the laws of physics encode all the information that makes our universe work. If biological evolution really happens, then the information must be derived from those sources. See again my problems with this theory, above.

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