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Evolution vs. Intelligent design

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Dave Robinson
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Once again I am thinking aloud - the work may have already been undertaken, I just don't know. The trigger for this train of thought came about when I came across one of the first programs I had ever written when I was at University circa 50 years ago. In those days a computer filled a room the size of a hall, and it was programmed using a stack of hand punched cards. My Fortran program was just about awful, no comments, full of goto statements (no option in those distant days!). When I compared the programming styling with one of my current programs, there is just about no comparison, now I have almost more comments than code, nicely indented, Object Oriented (yes and no goto's) I was instantly aware that just by looking at the coding style one could tell the difference between an experienced programmer and a novice.

So what has this got to do with this thread; well we have two models of the development of life on Earth (and presumably elsewhere in the Universe). We have the Evolutionary model where progress up the evolutionary chain is more or less random, and where the various species living on our planet have come about by them developing in local potential minimum regions some of which are caused by ecosystem variations, others caused by the relative crudity of the  'survival of the fittest' fitness function that is driving it. The other model is that of Intelligent Design, where the argument runs that life is much to complicated to have arisen this way. There just hasn't been time, so this requires some designer operating in the background (e.g.. God).

Rather like a computer program, life (at least on Earth) has its DNA control code readily visible to us (well to the geneticists who know how to extract it). Going back to my original paragraph I concluded that studying the overall structure of this code, it may well be possible to differentiate between the two options, in the first case the code would have come about by random mutation; whilst in the other, the intelligence of the designer should be well visible. I know it won't be possible to do it simply by looking at the code structure. However I wondered whether using the Information Theory techniques that have been used in studying animal communication etc.it may be possible to discover whether there is any intelligence behind the codes structure, and thus settle the argument once and for all.

I must admit I wouldn't have a clue on how to begin such a study, but I guess the Biologists at the Seti Institute would be well qualified to tackle such a project

Regards

Dave Robinson

sigblips
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There is a SETI - DNA paper

There is a SETI - DNA paper that has been in the news recently:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/alien-code-in-human-genes_n_303...

IMO this paper is pure rubbish and lacks any hint of scientific method / discipline / rigor / ...

Now I am huge fan of the idea of finding a message, signature, or watermark embedded in DNA.  In fact, many years ago I added to baudline the feature of being able to read several standard DNA file formats. I've looked at all sorts of DNA with baudline.  Yes there is a strange structure in some DNA, it looks a lot like binary machine code but that is exactly what DNA is!  Nothing I've seen makes me think artificially designed, it is more form follows function.  An interesting tidbit is that viruses are extremely compact and look the most like white noise.  It is like any repetitive structure has been optimized away which makes a lot of sense for a virus from an evolutionary perspective.

sigblips
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I just found this DNA strand

I just found this DNA strand in the setiQuest data!  It definitely has that distinctive double-helix look.

Unfortunately it is just some time aliasing distortion. Not SETI.  The signal is RFI.  The image is sort of like an optical illusion.  It shows how careful you need to be when analyzing signals.  Must keep searching ...

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I found a longer DNA strand

I found a longer DNA strand with some gaps (damage).

Now if I only had some frog DNA to splice in to fix the damage ... (:

Dave Robinson
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Braver Man than me

Hi Sigblips

You are a braver man than me, I wouldn't have dared put your last two postings up - all you need is some non scientific reporter getting sight of them, not realizing you are have fun (and I really appreciate the humour, it is very funny) I can see the headlines now

"SETI Scientist discovers DNA in the cosmos. Genetic code suggests they are amphibian"

all they need is a screen shot of your Baudline display, and your reputation will join Pons and Fleishmann, especially when they report your denial as

"SETI Scientist admits to Frogs in space hoax"

If you can, I think that removing them might be a good idea.

I must admit that the fact Baudline can read genetic code is very impressive, however I think you should get your priorities right - get the coffee making function perfected and installedsmiley

I am not surprised that eyeballing the genetic code didn't  provide any answer to the Evolution/Intelligent Design question. Although if it was the latter I guess they aught to have included a nice header block that said something like

"(c) Global Organic Designers Inc
Magrathea "

Taking your analogy with microcontroller machine code; if you simply take a top level look at the byte pattern in any such program, it will look remarkably like a random collection of bytes. Whether the code has been hand crafted by a master programmer, or thrown together by some mythical evolutionary mechanism. The point that I was wondering if information theory or some such technique was able to differentiate between an evolved code or a designed code. Clearly one would have to analyse a very simple 'lifeform' maybe a simple virus. Maybe I am a few years too soon. I guess once we are in a position when we start designing custom viral payloads, we can make a direct comparison between intelligently designed viruses and naturally occuring ones.

Regards

Dave Robinson

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"You are a braver man than

"You are a braver man than me, I wouldn't have dared put your last two postings up - all you need is some non scientific reporter getting sight of them"

Extraterrestrial space frog DNA discovered in the cosmos 

would be an amazing newspaper headline to see!  No one reads the setiQuest forum anymore so the odds of this happening is very low.  I also doubt any journalist would mistakenly comprehend my description and make such a wild leap of interpretation.  I'm not claiming Cold Fusion.  All I'm claiming is that a distorted RFI signal found in the setiQuest data looks like DNA.  It's not a hoax and it is not fake.  It's just an incorrectly analyzed signal and we can learn from it in several important ways:

* SonATA and SETI Live may both be susceptible to this sort of problem.

* Issues like this are found by looking at data. This highlights the value and importance of restarting the setiQuest data archive collection.  If you don't look, you can't learn.  We need to be smarter if the SETI enterprise has any hope of success.

* This sparked a new communication idea and I was hoping that Douglas Vakoch, the Director of Interstellar Message Composition, would have commented by now.  A DNA looking signal could be constructed in a way that is immune to the time aliasing distortion I found.  Then this signal could be sub-coded with actual DNA base pairs (GTATCATCGATCAGCAA...).  Pictorially it would look like DNA and internally it would contain DNA.  Sort of like a signal in a signal modulation.  It seems like a clever way to transmit and communicate a complex topic to ET.  If ET has ever seen the double helix of DNA they will immediately understand both levels of the message.

 

"Taking your analogy with microcontroller machine code; if you simply take a top level look at the byte pattern in any such program, it will look remarkably like a random collection of bytes."

I think you misunderstood me.  I was saying that both DNA and machine code can have similar looking structures. They don't look like noise.

Dave Robinson
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Too Late!!!

After outlining this idea to my Son he tells me that I am describing a technique already proven in his field of Computational Chemistry, apparently they can take sections of DNA and undertake an analysis based upon the statistical "information metrics" ( presumably Entropy creeps in somewhere), and are able to determine whether that chunk of DNA will express a Protein, or is simply a chunk of Junk DNA.

He tells me that if you compare the amount of the Genetic Code that actually produces something useful, compared to the amount of Junk, then there is very little doubt that the Genetic information has evolved - or if it has  actually been designed, he wouldn't offer the designer a job working for himsmiley

Oh well apparently if you want to start an interesting debate, the SETIQuest forum isn't the place to go

Regards

Dave Robinson

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"Oh well apparently if you

"Oh well apparently if you want to start an interesting debate, the SETIQuest forum isn't the place to go"

Huh?  I thought we were having an interesting debate.  I guess space frog DNA doesn't count?  I didn't like it but you should read that SETI DNA paper.  A free download version is available here http://gencodesignal.org

Too bad Douglas Vakoch hasn't commented yet on the communicating with DNA messages idea.

Some genetic experts are now saying that Junk DNA really isn't junk but it serves a purpose. They aren't sure exactly what that purpose is though.  Fascinating times ...

Dave Robinson
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Sorry!!

Hi Sigblips

I never meant to imply that I hadn't enjoyed our exchanges - indeed I actually said how much I enjoyed your frog DNA posting. What I was trying to say that the SETIQuest Forum wasn't put here for you and me to simply have a chat (enjoyable though that is). With 18000 members, and the Institute having world quality biology experts, and the deliberately contentious subject, I would have thought there would (and definately should) have been someone out there that knew that what I had proposed had actually been undertaken, and might have taken the effort to respond. I am just lucky that I have an inhouse expert who was able to put me right.

Sorry if a badly phrased post has upset you - it wasn't meant that way.

Regards

Dave Robinson

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Yes, you would think the SETI

Yes, you would think the SETI Institute biologists would love to mingle about here and discuss topics like this one. Unfortunately that is not the case.  I'm not sure why.  Are they just too busy?  Or is it that the real scientists don't like the concept of Open Science?  Or is it because of deficiencies in the planning and architecture of the setiQuest project?

Here is a talk that might interest you.  Next week's SETI Institute colloquium is titled "Life before genetics: autogenesis, information, and the outer solar system"

http://www.seti.org/weeky-lecture/life-genetics-autogenesis-information-...

The colloquium sounds interesting.  You can watch it live in the Google+ Hangout or you can watch it a day or two later when they post it to YouTube.

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The "Life before genetics:

The "Life before genetics: autogenesis, information, and the outer solar system" SETI Institute colloquium talk was great.  You can watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeMwy3xuEs8&feature=youtu.be

Dave Robinson
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Thoughts of an old man

Whilst playing games with my Grandson that I had played what seems such a short time ago with my Son when he was the same age, I started pondering on how short our life span really is. This got me thinking, Interstellar travel and communication is only very difficult because of our short life. The analogy that convinced me of this fact is the thought of a hypothetical intelligent adult Mayfly, which has a life span of approximately 24 hours. It would find that exploring the Earth as impossible as us reaching for the Stars. Its ships would still be in sight of their point of departure when the great reaper came to call,  Their solution to reaching say America from the UK would be the same as the suggested methods for our forays into the Universe. e.g. 

  • Generation Ships, where it takes many generations of Mayfly to reach their Destination
  • Suspended Animation, where the crew of the transatlantic boat elongated their lives by freezing themselves
  • Wait until they had developed the Mayfly equivelent of Jet aircraft to make the crossing (Equivelent to our hope for a Warp Drive spacecraft).

However given an intelligent species who had a sufficiently long life span, the ability to cross the Interstellar distances at sub light speed is only a matter of technology. It just wouldn't be a problem. Rather akin to us taking a cruise from the UK to New York, and back. 

What has this to do with SETI? Well it occured to me that if we extropolate from what we see here on Earth (A very dangerous assumption!) The longer the lifetime of a creature, the slower is its thinking processes ( think of a tortoise trying to swat a fly smiley). So might it not be possible with intelligences who have evolved to have life times in the 100 thousand year scale would think very slowly indeed. So a 'phone call between stars would be no different to them as a transatlantic phone call is to us. If such an interpretation is correct, then what chances are there of our 20 minute data observation of an interstellar conversation in which it might take several years - or maybe decades just to say "Hello", would detect anything of interest?

Regards

Dave Robinson