i’m sorry

somebody said… in trying to suggest that DNA conflicted with information theory and therefore couldn’t have evolved because DNA is a “4-bit (A, C, G, T) code”. Honestly I don’t know *anything* about DNA and I don’t know much about information theory besides a few basics, but you don’t have to know much information theory to know that a 4-bit code isn’t the same as a quaternary code, and if you are confusing the two I’m going to come out and say you don’t know anything about information theory and shouldn’t be trying to pass yourself off as an expert! (also it would only take 2 bits to store each codeword)

It is like with people who argue that climate change is not happening. They go on and on and quite frequently throw out lots of scientific buzzwords and they can get very persistent and/or aggressive. Okay, but just because you argue with fervour doesn’t mean you’re right. You can’t pick at a random detail until you get to a level low enough that people aren’t sure how it works, then say “this disproves everything!” when there’s a tonne of evidence the other way and it really does just look like a detail that hasn’t been filled in yet. People who come up with these things never seem to have PhDs in biology or climatology, and they never publish rigorously argued scientific papers. It’s always “some guy on the internet who claims to be an expert said…”. I don’t see how you can deny climate change is happening without doing quite a lot of research, by which I don’t mean reading Wikipedia, I mean getting hold of a few gigabytes of data and running your own statistical tests on it. Have you done that? no? well shut up then. Honestly, I’m a climate-change sceptic but I am so because I am sceptical of the scientific integrity of some work on the subject, I don’t pretend that this has any bearing on whether or not it’s actually happening, though.

Now back to DNA.

Here is the web-page of the man responsible for popularising these DNA arguments

His argument, which is regurgitated by different people, but I think he came up with it originally, boils down to (in his own words):

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

You can introduce any code you like (including DNA!) to disprove point 2, but the argument is ‘poisonous’ in that any counter-example you find is immediately tainted; the argument is constructed such that you can find a counter-example, then the argument can say “well that must have been designed too!”, or you can use the fact it wasn’t designed to reject it as being analogous. Uh-oh do I spot some CIRCULAR LOGIC here, I THINK I DO. In fact the argument is flawed because ‘conscious mind’ is too broad an abstraction; we don’t know any codes designed by pigs or dogs or dolphins or antelopes, the only codes we know of that have come from a conscious mind are from HUMAN minds. Therefore DNA was designed by a human? Don’t think so.

The problem is that some people with a familiarity with, but not a deep understanding of, mathematics (Perry Marshall is an engineer [so he claims], go figure) think that making an argument like this is sensible. They create an abstract logical system within which they make a logical ‘proof’, and they are correct WITHIN THIS SYSTEM. It often makes sense to do this, but you have to be careful to make your abstract logical system reflect real life as closely as is practical. Then you might well have a predictive mechanism, but it’s limited to being a predictive mechanism because of the problem of induction, it is not something that necessarily tells you truths.

But that is not what Perry Mason has done; not only is his system circular and thus unconvincing as a model of anything, he has then supposed that it is absolutely made of the stuff that defines real life and therefore any conclusion it throws out is unquestionably correct. Mathematical proof doesn’t work in real life, anyone who thinks it does either doesn’t understand maths or they don’t understand real life. Possibly both.

Going a bit deeper into the idea of a code… the problem is that a code is a mathematical entity, which means it’s a human-built abstraction. This particular abstraction encompasses many things and excludes others quite arbitrarily based on the opinion of the reader. The light from a star can be said to ‘encode’ the distance of the star from the viewer. A rock can be said to encode its age, which can be decoded via carbon dating. Are these things codes? Yes but no. They literally are, but you wouldn’t usually classify them so. Semantically the word ‘code’ is a bit more complex than that. Obvious codes are everywhere: telephones, television, CDs, etc, all somehow convert data from one form to another. This page is viewable now only through tonnes of codes, from HTML right at the top to your CPU’s instruction set at the bottom. These things are all unquestionably examples of ‘codes’.

For Perry’s argument to hold, it must selectively reject light from a star, and pretty much every other natural phenomena you can think of, as being a code, while still allowing telephones and CDs and so on. The difference between these two ideas, which makes somebody think of the latter but not the former as a code, is design and intent1. Step 2 says a “conscious mind”, what it really means is somebody designed it and intended it to transmit messages; it doesn’t happen just because it happens, i.e. as an apparently unintended consequence of the nature of the universe, and that the decoding process actually produces a useful message to the decoder; something they CARE about.

But there isn’t any obvious intent to DNA, because although it is necessary for life, there isn’t any obvious intent or purpose to life. If organic reproduction stopped working tomorrow we have no reason to suspect the universe would care. We would care, but we didn’t design it in the first place, so that’s not relevant. DNA does its job without any intelligent, conscious intervention whatsoever. If there’s no clear intent then we must reject the conclusion that god designed DNA (which follows from DNA being a code, and codes being designed), because DNA fails the definition for code.

The only way to introduce intent into DNA is to pre-suppose existence of a creator who designed life and designed DNA with intent to aid reproduction. Thus it must be taken as true that a creator exists before you even start the argument, but this is what your argument sets out to prove. This is called begging the question. You might as well have just said “god exists, FACT!”, because that’s all this argument amounts to.

Perry Marshall is an idiot and so is anyone else arguing this line of reasoning.

1. For brevity (in vain), I omit to observe another distinction in that in obvious codes there involves an actual decoding process that occurs without humans consciously getting involved. We can see this also applies to non-obvious codes if we consider say planetary orbit, where the ‘decoding’ process has the effect of a planet following an orbit whether or not a human is there to interpret anything or to create an equation to describe it. Pretty much any deterministic physical cause and effect is a non-obvious code.


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