Judge Jones's Misguided NCSE-Scripted Kitzmiller Ruling and the Origin of New Functional Genetic Information
Not long before the beginning of the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, then-National Center for Science Education staff member Nicholas Matzke told a reporter, "The origin of genetic information is thoroughly understood." 1 During the Dover trial, plaintiffs' expert witness, biologist Kenneth Miller, testified that he presented Judge John E. Jones with "more than three dozen scientific studies showing the origin of new genetic information by these evolutionary processes." 2 The plaintiffs' attorneys, working with the NCSE, successfully convinced Judge Jones to parrot Miller by stating in the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling that Miller had "pointed to more than three dozen peer-reviewed scientific publications showing the origin of new genetic information by evolutionary processes." 3
Virtually all of those "publications" mentioned by Judge Jones came from one single paper Miller discussed at trial, a review article, co-authored by Manyuan Long of the University of Chicago.4 The article does not even contain the word "information," much less the phrase "new genetic information." 5
The NCSE continues to cite Long et al. claiming that the origin of new functional biological information is nothing to be troubled about. Last year NCSE posted an online response to parts of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism ("EE"), stating that "Biologists have no trouble showing how new information (in the sense used by information theorists) originates, nor how new genes, kinds of cells or tissues evolve." Similar arguments appear in an article co-authored by former NCSE staff member Matzke critiquing critical analysis of evolution. Matzke writes with Paul Gross that it is "scandalously wrong" to argue that modern evolutionary biology has had difficulty accounting for the origin of new biological information because "[c]ompetent scientists know how new genetic information arises."6 He too relies upon the paper by Long et al. asserting that "it reviews all the mutational processes involved in the origin of new genes and then lists dozens of examples in which research groups have reconstructed the genes' origins."7
But are Judge Jones's, Ken Miller's, and the NCSE's bold proclamations supported? Does Long et al. actually reveal the origin of new biological information? Is Explore Evolution wrong? A closer look shows that the NCSE is equivocating over the meanings of the words "information" and "new," and that the NCSE's citations are largely bluffs, revealing little about how new genetic functional information could originate via unguided evolutionary mechanisms. This bluff was accepted at face value by Judge Jones, who incorporated it in his highly misguided legal ruling.
In fact the origin of new functional biological information is perhaps the most important question in biology. As origin of life theorist Bernd-Olaf Kuppers stated in his book Information and the Origin of Life, "The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information."8
Judge Jones was not merely in error. Worse than any simple mistake, the misinformation he propounded in his ruling entered media and academic culture, becoming enshrined as a Darwinian myth, alongside many others. This myth holds that perhaps the most important question in biology has been solved, when really (as this series of 8 total posts will show), that is far from being the case.
[1.] Nicholas Matzke quoted in Michael Powell, "Controversial Editor Backed," Washington Post (August 19, 2005).
[2.] Kenneth R. Miller, Kitzmiller v. Dover Day 1 AM testimony, pg. 135 (September 26, 2005).
[3.] Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F.Supp.2d 707, 744 (M.D.Pa. 2005).
[4.] Manyuan Long, Esther Betrán, Kevin Thornton, and Wen Wang, "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses from the Young and Old," Nature Reviews Genetics, Vol. 4:865-875 (November, 2003).
[5.] The word "information" appears once in the entire article--in the title of note 103. Id. at 875 n. 103. See Manyuan Long, Esther Betrán, Kevin Thornton, and Wen Wang, "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses from the Young and Old," Nature Reviews Genetics, Vol. 4:865-875 (November, 2003).
[6.] Nicholas J. Matzke and Paul R. Gross, "Analyzing Critical Analysis: The Fallback Antievolutionist Strategy," pg. 42 in Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools (edited by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, Beacon Press, 2006).
[8.] Bernd-Olaf Kuppers, Information and the Origin of Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 170--172.