Mendacity Monday: DNA Information

The creationist statement we’ll be exploring today begins with this rhetorical question: “Does a computer networking expert have something new and important to say about the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate?ā€

Well, the computer networking expert in question thinks there actually is a debate, so no. No he doesn’t.

Some background first. A poster who styles himself Wayne from Jeremiah Films spammed one of my posts last week, with a link to a video espousing more tired “no new information” garbage. The video’s production was terrible and the speaker’s voice was annoying, so I followed some links until I found this page. It was the personal webpage of Mr. Perry Marshall, the computer networking expert who produced the video, and who thinks that his knowledge of computers makes him an expert on DNA. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Most arguments about evolution and intelligent design offer only anecdotal evidence and are inherently incapable of actually proving anything.

Most arguments for evolution only offer anecdotal evidence, hmmm? You’ll notice no support for this claim. That is well, because the evidence for evolution is far from anecdotal. (There is no evidence for intelligent design.)

Also, there is no proof in science, only evidence. I’m only one sentence in and I’m already worried about this guy.

He then constructs a logical argument:

  1. DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
  2. All codes we know the origin of are created by a conscious mind.
  3. Therefore DNA was designed by a mind, and language and information are proof of the action of a Superintelligence.

Allow me to paraphrase: “I can’t think of any other way DNA could come about except by conscious design, therefore it was designed.” This is the classic argument from ignorance, which to this day remains the only weapon in the creationist arsenal.

It gets better. Mr. Marshall, having concluded that DNA is designed, then lists its possible origins:

  1. Humans designed DNA
  2. Aliens designed DNA
  3. DNA occurred randomly and spontaneously
  4. There must be some undiscovered law of physics that creates information
  5. DNA was Designed by a Superintelligence, i.e. God.

He then dismisses all but the fifth option, therefore “proving” that God designed DNA. Never mind that this is simply another appeal to ignorance. This is even more galling when one considers that Mr. Marhsall left out what scientists consider the probable origin of DNA (another common creationist tactic.) There should be a sixth option:

6. DNA arose through an intelligible, predictable, repeatable natural process.

Scientists are already observing self-catalyzed replication in RNA. Most believe that DNA came to supplant RNA over time, as RNA became more and more intertwined with proteins. This is all fairly tenuous at present, but research continues, and such research is far more useful than simply saying, “We don’t know where DNA came from, therefore God did it.” Marshall’s argument amounts to the latter.

Plus there were a lot of “mutation can’t produce new information” canards, and there’s no excuse in today’s world for continuing to spout that nonsense.

Let’s get down to the calculation!

First: the reliance on scriptural inerrancy of the statement.

X = 1: Metaphorical use of biblical Qu’ranic quotation.

There is no quotation, but the existence of God is taken as a presupposition, which is not a good thing to do if you’re trying to prove his existence.

Scientific illiteracy:

S = 4: No understanding or knowledge of area being discussed

Apologies to Mr. Marshall, but being a computer expert does not mean he is a DNA expert. DNA is code, sure, but it’s not a machine code, and it has numerous inefficiencies which betray its naturalistic origin. Also, the numerous “no new information” canards betray a complete lack of understanding of basic information theory.

Idiocy:

i = 8: Unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons

Seriously, his argument is pretty stupid. It’s a grand edifice built on a single argument from ignorance. Welcome to CreationLand.

Internal Inconsistency:

p = 3: Internal flaw in logic invalidates statment completely, and is unaddressed

Mr. Marshall attempts to use his argument to prove that God exists. In reality, if his argument proves anything (hint: it doesn’t), then it simply demonstrates that DNA is designed. It says nothing about the nature of the designer. God is taken as an assumption, and when you assume what you’re trying to prove, you’re making a very poor argument.

Mendacity:

m = 2: Statement maker knows that they are lying enough to mislead an educated audience

I wanted to be harsher with Mr. Marshall, because I don’t take kindly to people who misrepresent their expertise, but I have to save the higher values for the real liars out there. Mr. Marshall uses his knowledge of computers (i.e. human-made systems) and attempts to apply it to DNA, and in a rather clumsy fashion at that. This is clearly an attempt to make his argument look respectful. I don’t imagine it would work on an educated audience, but it certainly amounts to an attempt.

The final Hovind Factor: 45. Not a whopper, but respectable.

If you want, you can post some comments on Mr. Marshall’s videos. He needs someone to hold his feet to the fire!

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6 Responses to “Mendacity Monday: DNA Information”

  1. leebowman Says:

    First let me state that I am no creationist, and have a science and engineering background.

    You wrote:

    “Allow me to paraphrase: “I can’t think of any other way DNA could come about except by conscious design, therefore it was designed.” ”

    Now allow me to paraphrase the antithesis: “I can’t think of any other way DNA could come about except by self-catalyzing replication of proteins, therefore it evolved.

    You did allow that the hypothesis is tenuous at this time. I would add, highly speculative, BUT worth pursuing. So is teleology, I might add. And no, teleology doesn’t prove God (or gods), but there IS evidence of design.

    Logical questions are why all the precursors, and why over so much time, if man was intended? Why 350,000 species of beetles, for example? Kind of goes against the anthropomorphic principle does it not?

    My predictions:

    1. Earth was a kind of ‘biologic workshop’ for non corporeal entities (spirit forms, perhaps). Today it’s more of a ‘theme park’.

    2. The created entities at the higher levels didn’t develop consciousness, but rather became ‘vehicles’ for spirit forms to inhabit, allowing a corporeal existence. This would include the ability to eat, mate, run, challenge, fight, kill, be killed, etc, i.e. partake in an adventurous role of sorts, and an ongoing one. We race cars and airplanes. Spirit forms inhabit bio forms (and race cars and airplanes).

    3. The embryogenesis process is the formative process, and is ‘designed in’. Thus the answer to the chicken/ egg question would be the egg, or more definitively, earlier forms.

    4. Evolution as we know it is also a designed in process for 1) adaptation to environmental variations over time, and 2) to provide diversity in the offspring.

    5. We are in a lineage of the entities that that began the process.

    There may well be a supreme power, or an authoritive council, that we are beholden to. That would constitute a hierarchy of which we are members. If ANY of the above is true, or even partially true, teleology is a viable explanatory alternative to random natural processes alone.

    One caveat to the ‘supernatural’ dilemma’ that science may face. Spirit forms are not necessarily supernatural, but as likely of an as-yet undefined construct. Since they wouldn’t replicate like bioforms, their origin may be unexplainable by processes that we currently understand.

    It’s fine to jump on the religionists, who base their theology solely on ancient texts. I more respect the ones who are NOT strict literalists. Scriptures obviously contain errors, due to man’s prior lack of science knowledge, and perhaps his propensity to fabricate to some extent. Couple that with oral traditional errors, language translational errors, time frame discontinuities, and the likelihood that some religious bodies (and governments) have sought to control their clan by the untoward imposition of rules and even contrived dogma, and you have religion today. Remember, even if God inspired, it all came through the ‘man filter’.

    That said, I suggest that we not base an atheist position on the problems that organized religions have caused. If the evidence points to a directed world, and it does, then I suggest keeping an open mind.

  2. soulbiscuit Says:

    If ANY of the above is true, or even partially true, teleology is a viable explanatory alternative to random natural processes alone.

    All of the “above” you refer to are different ways of saying that life on Earth is designed at some level. You’ve basically said that if life was designed, life was designed. That statement is tautological.

    If the evidence points to a directed world, and it does, then I suggest keeping an open mind.

    You have not presented any evidence for design in the world, beyond the pseudo-design produced by natural selection.

    Your ideas here are interesting, but I see no way to subject them to rigorous scientific testing. How would we test whether consciousness, for example, is the product of roaming “spirits?” Are these spirits detectable? If consciousness is something separate from the body, then why does damage to the brain affect consciousness? If consciousness is dependent on the body, in what sense does it exist outside the body? If there is no evidence that consciousness exists outside the body, then why postulate that it does?

    In short, Mr. Bowman, I don’t see how any of the ideas you’ve presented in your comment are useful scientifically. To be perfectly honest, it sounds like New Age twaddle to me.

  3. Al Says:

    I am disappointed that your expose of Mr. Marshall seems like little more than arrogant name calling than a persuasive argument.

    You say DNA code is not a machine code. So what? As I understand a code, it is a physical representation of something which something is quantatively different from the physical representation of the something and the code needs a mind to interpret it. I cannot find an interpreting mind to put DNA information in operation. Consequently, I assume DNA operates purely by chemical processes. However, if that is so, in what sense is DNA a code or a re-presentation of something else?

  4. soulbiscuit Says:

    I am disappointed that your expose of Mr. Marshall seems like little more than arrogant name calling than a persuasive argument.

    I’m a little baffled by your comment. You say there isn’t a persuasive argument there, but you don’t refer to any part of my post to back up your claim. I call Mr. Marshall’s argument purely an argument from ignorance, because that’s what it is. That’s not name-calling. I even link to Wikipedia above to explain what an argument from ignorance is.

    DNA is a code, because the sequence of nitrogen bases it contains represents the amino acids in the protein that will be created during translation. Every possible triplet of bases corresponds to a specific amino acid, and each triplet corresponds to the same amino acid in every organism ever discovered. It is a code, and a code that needs no mind to design or interpret it.

  5. Al Says:

    “DNA is a code, because the sequence of nitrogen bases it contains represents the amino acids in the protein that will be created during translation. Every possible triplet of bases corresponds to a specific amino acid, and each triplet corresponds to the same amino acid in every organism ever discovered. It is a code, and a code that needs no mind to design or interpret it.”

    You are way over my head, but you use “represents”, “during translation”, and “corresponds”, while at the same time you evidently deny my proposition that it must be operating chemically. Please explain in what sense you are using the quoted words. I have trouble understanding how a representation or a translation can not involve a mind.

  6. soulbiscuit Says:

    OK Al, I’m starting to see your objection. You’re wondering how anyone can see a code in DNA, when there is no conscious mind to interpret it. I appreciate the difficulty now.

    I don’t know if I can clear it up, but I’ll do my best. You are absolutely right in saying that the genetic code operates purely chemically. There is no conscious mind “reading” the base pair sequences and “interpreting” which amino acid goes with which triplet of bases. Each triplet of bases corresponds to a particular tRNA molecule, which binds a specific amino acid.

    It’s a code because every possible triplet of bases corresponds to a specific tRNA molecule, and therefore to a specific amino acid. Further, the same triplets correspond to the same amino acids in every organism. The correspondence is due to chemical affinity between the triplet and the tRNA molecule, so you could say that the tRNA “interprets” the code. It is a code, regardless of whether the interpreter is a mind or a class of molecules.

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