Word Mutagenation: Zachriel's Word Mutation and Evolution Experiment
Word Mutation and Evolution Experiment
And it takes less than "zillions of years"!


This project started with a discussion on the newsgroup talk.origins

"a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology."

You can read more about talk.origins on the talkorigins.org website. 

A Creationist, Sean Pitman, had suggested an analogy between the evolution of genes and the evolution of words. His contention was that evolving words by simple mutation would be impossible for words more than a few letters in length. This is his basic claim:

"The problem here is that there simply is not enough time this side of zillions of years to get the limited number of phrases to "bump together" enough times to make anything beyond the lowest levels of functional complexity without the input of a higher intelligence or pre-established information system. It just won't happen. Try it and see."

Lava, Word Mutagenation

Birds, Word Mutagenation

Whales, Word Mutation

He calculated the odds as the number of valid words divided by the number of possible permutations of the given number of letters (26^number of letters). So to evolve a three-letter word is easy, but anything longer than seven letters or so is virtually impossible. His challenge:

"Just try a little experiment yourself. Start with a short 2 or 3-letter word and see how many words you can evolve that require greater and greater minimum sequence requirements. No doubt you will quickly find yourself coming to walls of meaningless or non-beneficial potential options that separate you from every other meaningful and beneficial option."

This argument is representative of Creationist thinking, and improperly equates random chance with evolution through mutation and selection. This newsgroup post can be found here.


In response, and starting "with a meaningful English word," I played his simple word game, beginning with a "seed" word, the single-letter word "O". By changing just one letter at a time, or adding a letter, or deleting a letter, or concatenating two words, we can derive "or", "to", "do", "a", "I" . . . . From these words, we can evolve other words. A simple succession of such changes might be "o" , "do", "doe", "dose", "lose", "close", "chose", "chosen" . . . . 

Using these simple mutational rules, I derived a big of doggerel in iambic verse, "Beware a war of words ere you err." You can read the entire poem, its derivation, and then click to the entire newsgroup exchange from here.

Of course, the Creationist then moved the goalposts. He claimed I had failed to account for snips, that is, recombinations of pieces between different words, that if I would count all the possible mutations plus all the possible recombinations, that the number would be so big that random chance would not be able to navigate through all the possibilities. 

Redwoods, Word Mutation

Of course, even if we were to assume that all recombinations were meaningless and detrimental, we know that there are a finite and significant number of point mutations in nature. But no matter. I accepted the challenge anyway. We know that a path exists between the single-letter word "O" and "Beware a war of words ere you err", so it is only a matter of determining how many mutations are required to discover that path. If it is "zillions", then we will cede the argument to our Creationist friend. But in fact, we will demonstrate that it is significantly less than "zillions", indeed, is less than "trillions and trillions". 

The results are discussed later in this essay under the title "A Pond of Doggerel". 

Flowers, Word Mutagenation

Diversity, Word Mutagenation

Which brings us to Zachriel's Word Mutagenation. This program starts with "seed" words and then evolves longer and longer words, using bit-by-bit mutation, or through recombination. Word Mutagenation is actually two separate programs. 

The first spreadsheet program, Word Mutator, checks every mutation and recombination for each and every generation. This meets the technical challenge presented by the Creationist. One advantage of this program is that the results are replicable.

The second spreadsheet program, Word Mutagenator, mutates random words in random ways, sometimes with mutation, sometimes with recombination. This more closely approximates the process of biological evolution. 

In any case, the programs are quite interesting to watch, and clearly demonstrate that our Creationist friend is not only wrong, but completely, absolutely, utterly wrong. 


Word Mutagenation

Word Mutagenation
Zip format ~2MB.

Zip format ~2MB.

Zip format ~2MB.

(Requires VBA6 which is included in Office 2000 and Excel 2000.  
Please extract all files to a folder before running software.)
Certified Virus-Free

2004 Zachriel


Sea of Beneficence Beware a War of Words A Pond of Doggerel Contact


 If you are looking for Phrasenation, you can find it here:



Zachriel's Word Mutagenation brought to you by 
Moods in Music - MIDI Music by Lee Croteau
Moods in Music
All music written, performed and copyrighted by Lee Croteau.
All rights reserved. 1995-2004  


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