“DNA is a Program, and Programs Demand a Programmer”: a Response

DNAOne popular science-y argument for God is that DNA is information. In fact, it’s not only information, it’s a software program. Programs require programmers, so for DNA, this programmer must be God.

For example, Scott Minnich, an associate professor of microbiology and a fellow at the Discovery Institute, said during the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, “The sophistication of the information storage system in nucleic acids of RNA and DNA [have] been likened to digital code that surpasses anything that a software engineer at Microsoft at this point can produce.” Stephen Meyer, also of the Discovery Institute, said, “DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers.”

I wonder why DNA brings anything new to the conversation. The idea that the human body is like a designed machine has been in vogue ever since modern machines. The heart is like a pump, nerves are like wires, arteries are like pipes, the digestive system is like a chemical factory, eyes and ears are like cameras and microphones, and so on. But let’s ignore that and respond to the apologist’s claim that programs (in the form of DNA) require programmers.

Nature vs. machine

As a brief detour, notice how we tell natural and manmade things apart. Nature and human designers typically do things very differently. This excerpt from my book Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change explores the issue:

By the 1880s, first generation mechanical typesetters were in use. Mark Twain was interested in new technology and invested in the Paige typesetter, backing it against its primary competitor, the Mergenthaler Linotype machine. The Paige was faster and had more capabilities. However, the complicated machine contained 18,000 parts and weighed three tons, making it more expensive and less reliable. As the market battle wore on, Twain put more and more money into the project, but it eventually failed in 1894. It did so largely because the machine deliberately mimicked how human typesetters worked instead of taking advantage of the unique ways machines can operate. For example, the Paige machine re-sorted the type from completed print jobs back into bins to be reused. This impressive ability made it compatible with the manual process but very complex. The Linotype neatly cut the Gordian knot by simply melting old type and recasting it. . . .

As with typesetting machines, airplanes also flirted with animal inspiration in their early years. But flapping-wing airplane failures soon yielded to propeller-driven successes. The most efficient machines usually don’t mimic how humans or animals work. Airplanes don’t fly like birds, and submarines don’t swim like fish. Wagons roll rather than walk, and a recorded voice isn’t replayed through an artificial mouth. A washing machine doesn’t use a washboard, and a dishwasher moves the water and not the dishes.

With DNA, we again see the natural vs. manmade distinction. It looks like the kind of good-enough compromise that evolution would create, not like manmade computer software. Not only does the cell have no CPU, the part of a computer that executes instructions, but we’ve created genetic software that changes and improves in an evolutionary fashion. This software can be used for limited problems, but it must be treated as a black box. It looks nothing like the understandable, maintainable software that humans create.

As another illustration of the non-software nature of DNA, the length of an organism’s DNA is not especially proportionate to its complexity. This is the c-value enigma, illustrated with a chart comparing DNA length for many categories of life here.

We actually have created DNA like a human programmer would create it, at least short segments of it. The Craig Venter Institute encoded four text messages into synthetic DNA that was then used to create a living, replicating cell. That’s what a creator who wants to be known does. Natural DNA looks . . . natural. (See more on the broken stuff in DNA here and how this defeats the Design Hypothesis here.)

If God designed software, we’d expect it to look like elegant, minimalistic, people-designed software, not the Rube Goldberg mess that we see in DNA. Apologists might wonder how we know that this isn’t the way God would do it. Yes, God could have his own way of programming that looks foreign to us, but then the “DNA looks like God’s software!” argument fails.

Consider more broadly this supposed analogy between human design and biological systems.

  • Human designs have parts purposely put together. We know they are designed because we see the designers and understand how they work.
  • Biological systems live and reproduce, and they evolve based on mutation and natural selection.

But these traits of human designs don’t apply to biological systems, and vice versa. So where is the analogy? The only thing they share is complexity, which means that the argument becomes the naïve observation, “Golly, biological systems are quite complicated, so they must be designed.” This is no evidence for a designer, just an unsupported claim that complexity demands one. And why think complexity is the hallmark of design? Wouldn’t it be elegance or something similar?

The software analogy leads to uncomfortable conclusions

The DNA = software analogy brings along baggage that the Christian apologist won’t like. The apologist demands, “DNA is information! Show me a single example of information not coming from intelligence!”

This makes them vulnerable to a straightforward retort: Show me a single example of intelligence that’s not natural. Show me a single example of intelligence not coming from a physical brain (h/t commenter Benjamin Bastin). These apologists are apparently quite comfortable with things that have no precedent (and far too comfortable with things that have no evidence, like the supernatural).

Actually, we find information in lots of nonliving natural things. The frequency components of starlight encodes information about that star’s composition and speed. (h/t commenter Greg G.) Tree rings tell us about past precipitation and carbon-14 fluctuation. Ice cores and varves (annual sediment layers) also reveal details of climate. Smell can tell us that food has gone bad or if a skunk is nearby.

Genetic software is another example of information creation. The apologist will object that genetic software doesn’t qualify because it’s created by humans. That’s true, but the software is simply a concrete demonstration that proves the idea. Drop the software and make it a thought experiment.

The popular DNA = software analogy should be retired for lack of evidence.

Next: A response to evolution deniers: how complex comes from simple

To ask an atheist what evidence would change their mind
is to admit we’re in a naturalistic universe
and thus make the question void.
— commenter primenumbers

Image credit: AndreaLaurel, flickr, CC

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Michael Neville

    DNA is not a program or a blueprint. DNA codes for chemicals and it doesn’t take a chemist to make chemicals, they are made spontaneously and naturally from other chemicals like DNA.

    • Halbe

      Not completely true. The making of the chemicals that DNA codes for requires quite a lot of machinery inside a living cell. “Naturally” is correct, but “spontaneously” is not I would say.

      • eric

        I would agree. Biological development (I.e. the building up of structures based on DNA replication) almost certainly doesn’t meet the definition of spontaneous in thermodynamic terms. Take away whatever sources of energy the system is using, and it stops.

      • Kevin K

        Not in prokaryotes. In eukaryotes, I’d agree. But prokaryotes are quite a bit simpler.

        • Halbe

          DNA does absolutely nothing “spontaneously”, not even in a prokaryote; this requires at least ribosomes, cytoplasm and an “encasing” (cell).

    • Objective Judgment

      Explain yourself then

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        The answer doesn’t involve any Gods-SPOILERS!

        • Objective Judgment

          I agree – it sure does involve DNA as a program/blueprint though

        • Michael Neville

          DNA is not a program or blueprint. Argument by analogy is generally weak. Analogies are a teaching tool. They are for describing a difficult concept to someone who has no experience with that concept. To a grade school student, I would make the analogy that DNA is like a blueprint. It tells the cells how to make proteins. I would not use that “DNA is like a blueprint” analogy in a discussion with anyone who had the least idea about what DNA actually is.

          It’s arguable that DNA is digital information. True, DNA is made of nucleotides (which are the important bit) attached to a common sugar backbone. Those four nucleotides could be described digitally using two bits. Because of binary notation two bits can represent four things, in this case the four DNA nucleotides: A, T, C, and G. So four bits covers the four nucleotides for DNA. But you need another bit to get include RNA, which acts as a enzyme to change DNA. So, that’s pretty important.

          But DNA is more detailed than that. We need to another bit to cover methylation. Basically, the molecule for the nucleotide gets changed and has a methyl group attached to it. That can have a variety of effects including stopping other things from happening. In fact, there are over 100 known chemical changes that can occur to various nucleotides. Each one being either present or not, so we need over 100 bits to deal with those.

          The real problem in dealing with DNA as digital information is that DNA pieces aren’t taken in isolation. The entire gargantuan molecule that is a DNA chromatid interacts with itself and with other DNA strands. It folds around a histone molecule (most of the time) and certain portions of DNA are more likely to be in certain locations on those histone molecules. That can have an effect on how the DNA is copied, translated, and mutated. So, our digital model has to account for that. Oh, and there are multiple types of histone too.

          I could go on but it becomes obvious that DNA is a chemical which interacts with itself and other chemicals to produce various other chemicals. We can’t even model protein folding very well and DNA is orders of magnitude more complex. DNA is not a program or a blueprint except by very simplistic analogy.

          Information cribbed from Ahmed Abouelmagd’s Basic Genetics.

        • Objective Judgment

          “DNA is not a program or a blueprint except by very simplistic analogy”

          Thanks, that’s what I thought.

        • Joe

          You know what an analogy is, right?

        • Objective Judgment

          I do, yes.

        • Kevin K

          I would think DNA would be more analog than digital.

        • Kuno

          digital=/=binary

          I made that mistake myself a while ago.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          DNA is as much a “program/blueprint” as a body of water and a downward slope of land next to each other are a “program/blueprint” for a river. Both are a complex string of physical reactions of matter with matter. It only looks like a complex plan when interpreted from hindsight (including labeling certain outcomes as “defects, exceptions, abnormalities, etc” when those outcomes follow from their string of reactions. This is special pleading to defend the idea that we “normal” humans are designed).

        • Objective Judgment

          I disagree – the river is not self-replicating in any way – it does not produce exact copies of itself, nor is the final course of the river determined almost entirely by the river rather than the environment it passes through. A human is not materially changed (there are of course minor environmental effects) by the environment in which the human is created/grows up. I accept that DNA is a naturally occurring blueprint/program, and blueprints/programs have a designer. But there is no reason to say that the mass of other material similarities between them should be disregarded just because one is designed and the other not. Of course creationists are wrong – about linking the necessity of a designer to the characteristics of DNA as a blueprint, but it is just as illegitimate to pretend the obvious similarities between the two do not exist just because it helps in the argument – it just makes you look equally as dishonest and stupid as they do.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “the river is not self-replicating in any way – it does not produce exact copies of itself”

          The river was a simplistic comparison using a non-living object forming by complex interaction of matter. A forest fire might be another example. Also, life does not produce exact copies of itself, which is why we have mutation and evolution. That body of water could form a river that increases in dimension each year. Much later that river could connect to a new body of water or pool and form a new one. Eventually it could cut deep into the earth and form canyons as well as follow paths of least resistance to make islands. Maybe it will run into rough spot with looser ground on either side and create new rivers and the other things mentioned. Perhaps one path will get blocked from the source and become a lake or estuary. If rain and ground water can’t sustain it it might dry up. This may not be the complex chain of chemical reactions we call life, but there is still a mind-numbing amount of complexity in this water/land interactions set.

          “nor is the final course of the river determined almost entirely by the river rather than the environment it passes through.”

          Nor does any one element present in DNA/RNA make up the entire chemical reaction. I wanted to show that the water and land interacting was part of a whole. The “environment” of the water, land, and likely air (wind erosion) interactions is the vacuum of outer space, which does have matter not directly connected to this interaction set that can come into contact with it and affect it (like a meteor strike or heating/cooling).

          “blueprints/programs have a designer”

          We are only able to design based on existing properties of matter and interactions of matter. Blue prints/programs are merely our descriptions of how we will use these properties. Everything a blue print/program describes is a set of physical interactions (examples: parts of a building connecting to each other/tiny switches flipping from either 1 or 0 within a computer processor). I’m not trying to be dishonest. I just see DNA/RNA like my river analogy. Just because we can design rivers for our own use doesn’t mean useful rivers could not have come about completely by simple natural forces working in complex concert (because of each part’s intrinsic properties) over a relatively long period of time.

        • Objective Judgment

          Well I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that (apart from replication – mutations are hardly an intended, integral or significant element of the process). Perhaps we are just emphasising different elements of DNA – what part it plays and how it operates.

        • Greg G.

          Mutations provide the variation that selection works on. Most of it is against the mutations but a small number are beneficial in certain environments until the mutation becomes the norm for the population and no longer appears to be a mutation.

        • Objective Judgment

          Yes, I know. Its certainly fortuitously beneficial and a significant factor in adaptation/evolution, but its also nothing to do with the purpose of DNA, which is to create/operate you/me and allow us to replicate. To put it another way, DNA would operate just fine if there were no incidental mutations.

      • Michael Neville

        What specifically do you need explained? I agree with Halbe’s correction about spontaneity but other than that I thought my comment was simple and straightforward.

        • Objective Judgment

          If DNA can’t be accurately likened to a program or blueprint, explain why you ended up the way you are, compared to all the other organisms on the planet (which coincidentally have different DNA). To put it another way, if DNA is not the program or blueprint for what you are, then what is?

        • Michael Neville

          See my comment below.

        • MNb

          “explain why”
          Wrong question. The correct question is “explain how come”. MN actually already answered it; for more details you could consult a textbook on biochemistry.

        • Objective Judgment

          MN’s aknowledgement I was correct wasn’t up when I posted my comment (or if it was I didn’t see it)

        • MNb

          It’s still a wrong question.

        • Objective Judgment

          It may well have been the wrong terminology, but you understood the intended question perfectly well.

        • MNb

          Actually not. Or do you happen to be a mind reader?

        • Objective Judgment

          Nope, but you pointed to MNb’s answer to the question, demonstrating you perfectly well understood what was being asked. Piss off and bother someone else if you can’t be honest, I do dislike liars, especially those who tell stupid, transparent ones.

        • Otto

          >>>”If DNA can’t be accurately likened to a program or blueprint, explain why you ended up the way you are, compared to all the other organisms on the planet (which coincidentally have different DNA).”

          Evolution explains this issue quite well, and is also explains why while some of our DNA is different much of it is shared, which makes sense since evolution says we all share common ancestry.

        • Kuno

          A program doesn’t build the computer it runs on. And a blueprint isn’t part of the device or building it depicts.

          Seems they aren’t much like DNA.

        • Objective Judgment

          Those are not materially defining characteristics of either programs or blueprints. If they were self-replicating (and a computer program with the right hardware could easily be self-replicating), they would still be programs/blueprints. Try again.

        • Kuno

          Yet they are defining characteristics of DNA. Seems DNA isn’t much like blueprints or programs.

        • Objective Judgment

          You miss the point. The blueprint/program part of blueprints and programs is materially the same as the blueprint/program parts of DNA. Sure DNA has other unique characteristics which are to do with self-replication, how it operates etc, but so what. A motorhome is still a vehicle, even though its also a home. no one would say its not a vehicle just because it has other additional elements that all other vehicles don’t have.

        • Kuno

          You seem to miss the point. Blueprints and programs are used as analogies for what DNA is and how it works. But every analogy only works to a certain level. After that the analogy no longer fits, because if the analogy would be simply the same.

          To keep with your example, it is if you were trying to explain what a ship is to someone who has never seen one. So you say “A ship is like a motorhome, only it drives on the sea.” On a superficial level, this analogy works, it conveys the idea that as a motorhome is a device for travelling on land, a ship is a device for travelling on sea.

          But if you go to another level, say the person asks “So, a ship has wheels?”, the analogy breaks down.

          So DNA is in some aspects analogue to a blueprint or program, but that doesn’t make it a blueprint or program.

          And to get back to you original question “To put it another way, if DNA is not the program or blueprint for what you are, then what is?”: Who says we need a blueprint or a program to make us what we are?

        • Objective Judgment

          Well yes of course. I accept that at some level a digital computer program or a written blueprint is physically different and operates in a physically different way from DNA. If you thought that I was saying that DNA is a paper plan or a computer program then I can see why you had difficulty seeing my point.
          As for your last point, well science says we do. Without DNA acting (analogously) to a blueprint or program, you wouldn’t be what you are. ‘You’ (as in you self aware combination of matter, energy and chemical reactions) wouldn’t be at all.

        • Kuno

          Yes, we need DNA to determine some* of what we are. But DNA is neither a program nor a blueprint. This is what I am trying to get across. That DNA is in some aspects analogue to them doesn’t make it to them.

          Your question seemed to imply that a human needs a blueprint and/or a program to make them what they are. They don’t. They need DNA, but DNA isn’t a program or a blueprint.

          Let’s make another analogy. DNA is analogue to the set of rules for a board game. It determines the rules which every game has to follow, but thanks to external variables (dice rolls, card shuffling, number of players, decisions of players, etc.) the outcome is slightly different every time while it still is the same game.

          You could even explain copying errors (the players make a mistake about the rules without noticing it) or cancer (a player cheats) with this. Or genetic manipulation (houserules).

          I would argue that this analogy fits in some aspects even better than the blueprint or program.

          But would you say that DNA is a set of rules for a boardgame? If not, why would you say that DNA is a blueprint or a program?

          Would you say that a human being needs a set of rules for a boardgame to make them what they are?

          *Not all, otherwise identical twins really would be identical. They aren’t.

        • Objective Judgment

          I see the points you are making, but on that basis surely you could see a set of building plans just as equally as the rules for the game of building a house. Replace the workers and their human fallacies for chemicals and the risk of mutations and voila, no two houses, like twins, are the same. I think DNA and blueprints/programs still serve materially the same function, but happy to agree to disagree.

        • Kodie

          I don’t really understand how it’s awfully different, but the one thing I’d say is I don’t think humans would program computers based off what DNA is like. From what I know, it takes a lot of information just to change one word to a 30-point font and blue. I mean, I don’t think people got the idea for coding from DNA, so it would have to be a huge coincidence if they were really similar.

          I’ve seen blueprints, they don’t do anything. A human has to interfere and interpret it and order materials and building contractors for anything to be built. A blueprint can’t do shit!

        • Kuno

          IDer or creationists were overjoyed when someone first made the blueprint and program analogy. So they could say “See, DNA is a blueprint. This is proof that it was designed!”

        • MNb

          Yeah, Paley’s False Watchmaker Analogy is one of the three or four pillars of IDiocy and other creacrap.
          That’s why I don’t care if DNA is a blueprint, program, language or not. The analogy remains false. What IDiots and other creationists (and also many apologists who accept evolution) always neglect is

          1. design of a watch, blueprint of a plan and human/ computer language are created by humans, made of flesh and blood, ie material and natural beings.
          2. DNA also is material and natural – but suddenly we must make the salto mortale towards an immaterial and supernatural creators/ designer.

        • Kuno

          I know. Every piece of design we know has been created by humans. If humans are designed, we must have designed ourselves.

        • epeeist

          And one that I stole from another post the other day. All the designers we know of had mothers…

    • RichardSRussell

      Actually, aside from hydrogen and helium, the rest of the chemical elements came from supernovae.

      “Forget Jesus. Stars died so that you could be here today!”
      —Lawrence Krauss

      • Kuno

        Wasn’t there also a bit it lithium at the start? And only the ones heavier than iron come from supernovae, the lighter ones come from the nuclear fusion within stars.[/nitpick]

        • RichardSRussell

          Don’t know about the lithium. Might have been, perfectly plausible, I’m just too lazy too look it up.

          Yes, nuclear fusion created the lighter-than-iron elements within the stars, but it took supernovae to FedEx them to a useful location.

        • Kuno

          Fair point.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    The “design” of the Bible convinces me that there is no God !

    • Robert Templeton

      I like this line of reasoning. God can create hyper-complex structures like DNA but when it comes to providing a ‘direct message’ to his little minions, total cock-up. Something is amiss. It is sometimes true that computer programmers aren’t the most socially adept. 😉

      • TheNuszAbides

        the AutismGod Spectrum!

      • Kevin K

        I mean really. God can’t even be consistent about what parts of a bacon cheeseburger are OK to eat!

      • Kuno

        He couldn’t even get his own date and had to send a friend to ask Mary out!

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    … digital code that surpasses anything that a software engineer at Microsoft at this point can produce.

    That’s not saying much.

    • Michael Neville

      Another satisfied Windows 10 user.

      /snark

    • RichardSRussell

      Originally told as occurring somewhere near Redmond, Washington:

      A man wakes up to find himself in a hot-air balloon, floating above a field. He peers over the basket and spots a person walking below. He calls out “Hey! Where am I?”

      The person replies “You’re in the basket of a hot-air balloon, floating above a field.”

      The man, irritated, snorts “You must be in tech support!”

      “How did you know?” asks the fellow on the ground.

      “Because your answer was technically correct but completely useless!”

      “Yeah? Well, YOU must be in management!”

      “How did you know?”

      “Because you don’t know where you are, how you got here, where you’re going, or what you’ll do when you get there; you have no idea how to get out of the mess you’re in; and yet somehow it’s all my fault!”

      • Michael Murray

        Nice. I’ve always told (against myself) the pure mathematician version. Here the guy in the balloon pauses before answering. Then the response characterising pure mathematicians is “you paused before you answered, the answer is completely correct, the answer is completely useless”.

  • Herald Newman

    The apologist demands, “DNA is information! Show me a single example of information not coming from intelligence.

    Look at the weather! Unless the apologist still believes that all weather systems are controlled by God. http://recursed.blogspot.ca/2009/10/stephen-meyers-bogus-information-theory.html

    • http://webpages.charter.net/silkroad/ kermit

      I would offer DNA as an example…

  • Akira625

    Judging by all of the genetic defects that far too many people suffer from, God’s a shitty programmer who doesn’t even bother to release bug fixes.

    • Robert Templeton

      Debugging wasn’t one of his strong suits at Creator of the University.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Because God’s the only [sufficiently powerful?] actor with moral agency?

  • kraut2

    Another one for the resumee…
    but with all that noncoding junk DNA around…it shouldn’t emphasize the job experience in this field…

    • Jim Jones

      It’s like 21st century code IMO.

      The 21st century: 8 billion lines of bad code.

  • dala

    There’s also the fact that computers programs can utilize evolutionary processes. Once you design a program that allows for generational variation, mutation, and selection processes, you have a program that can evolve.

    • Halbe

      You describe the somewhat obscure but interesting branch of self-modifying genetic algorithms. Genetic algorithms that are not self-modifying are widely used to find optimal solutions to problems with many interdependent variables. Those algorithms clearly show that evolution based on heredity, mutation and selection pressure works to create specimen with high ‘fitness’.

  • chemical

    “DNA is information! Show me a single example of information not coming from intelligence!”

    I’ll do you one better and show you information being created ex nihilo. Classic photon double-slit experiment. Where a photon will appear in a double slit experiment hasn’t been determined when the photon is emitted from its source. The quantum information isn’t available until after the photon has been detected on a screen. In addition, the idea that the quantum information is hidden in the photon is not only testable, it’s been proven false (through a complicated experiment I’d have a hard time describing). The only conclusion one could make is that the information is created upon detection.

    • Michael Neville

      Schrödinger’s photon.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Interesting thought, but not necessarily true: de Broglie–Bohm theory.

      • chemical

        I knew this as pilot-wave theory. The PBS spacetime youtube channel covered this; it’s still considered a bit controversial among physicists.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Oh, it’s definitely controversial. But it allows for determinate paths. :-)

        • MNb

          Not anymore when expanded to cover Quantum Electro Dynamics. Then it becomes a regular probabilistic theory again.
          Plus “hidden variables” fall under Ockham’s Razor.

  • Jim Jones

    > Airplanes don’t fly like birds, and submarines don’t swim like fish.

    I’ve yet to see a propeller on an animal – although some plant seeds have them. But when you see a shark swimming I do wonder why we can’t do that.

    • Greg G.

      Do you ever wonder why tortoises are so aerodynamic?

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        They can be deadly to everyone in the environment if you hop on them twice. GET OFF THE GROUND!

      • Jack Baynes

        They’re also nature’s suction cup

        • busterggi

          Yet poodles still can’t fly.

        • Kevin K

          Damn them and their earthbound ways!!!

        • Kuno

          May they can and just keep it secret?

        • Kodie

          I’ve seen a poodle fly. It went by quick.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Biological inspiration is a separate issue (that also gives no support to the Creationist side). I attended a lecture by a prof of marine engineering (or maybe mechanical) and, IIRC, the energy required to drag a dead fish through the water at a certain speed is 5x the energy the fish itself needs. The tail flapping is that much more efficient.

      Color that comes from a butterfly’s iridescence, flying like a bee, climbing walls like a gecko (Van der Waals force), and so on might give new inspiration for engineers.

      • TheNuszAbides

        so far, my favorite “wish we could do that” is the acceleration of ‘dung cannon’ fungal spores.

        • RichardSRussell

          “You can do anything if you want it bad enough. That is why we see so many people who can fly.”

          — Elden Carnahan, Laurel

        • busterggi

          Ssshhhhhh…that’s The Secret.

        • TheNuszAbides

          and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
          the worst that i can find
          and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
          but i rely on mine
          did you know desire’s a terrible thing
          it makes the world go blind
          but if desire, desire’s a terrible thing
          you know that i really don’t mind

          –the Sundays

        • Kuno

          Flying is easy. You just have to fall towards the ground and miss.

    • eric

      IIRC there has been a recent (last 5-10 years) revolution in swimwear for professional speed swimmers, where the old “as smooth as possible” design concept has been replaced with suits that use microscopic-sized scales like a shark’s skin…because it’s faster.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        A vortex-shedding issue, I think?

        And IIRC, the best suits have been banned in international competition because they were too good. It’s often a technology vs. natural balance.

      • Kuno

        The same reason golf balls have dimples. At their size and speed it is more aerodynamic than a smooth surface.

  • rubaxter

    Response is absolutely on the point.

    ‘Information’ may be a concept that is the real issue, here, but that is not somming that requires a ‘creator’. Boltzmann’s Demon relies on information, but that’s not somming that requires a Gawd to intervene, unless it’s a huge micromanager.

    The original twaddle is just an attempt, once again, to invoke a Gawd of the Gaps to fill in for the scared-of-the-dark fools until the process that initiated the RNA/DNA world is uncovered.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Unfortunately, that it’s a bad argument does little to frighten away the apologists’ audience. They got their pat on the head, and that’s what they came for.

  • MNb

    “I wonder why DNA brings anything new to the conversation”
    Because it doesn’t. It’s just another version of Paley’s False Watchmaker Analogy.

  • http://webpages.charter.net/silkroad/ kermit

    As a retired SysAdmin who has done only a little coding, I’d like to observe:
    1. I always documented. DNA has no documentation.
    2. If the managers allowed the time, I always cleaned up the left over crap in programs, not being used. DNA is – IIRC – mostly junk DNA.
    3. If I wrote a subroutine that was useful, I’d use it in a later program, even if that program was not otherwise derived from the earlier one. Terran organisms only have characteristics modified from their ancestors. There are no birds that produce true milk, and bats don’t have feathers. Why would God producing species by magic constrain himself that way? Engineers have no trouble using a nifty little device in a new machine, even if it were developed in a completely unrelated one.
    4. I wanted my scripts to consist mostly of subroutines triggered by a command or value, and each subroutine doing only one task. This makes it easy for anybody else, or me years later, to fix bugs or add functions. DNA may have two genes located on different chromosomes interacting to produce a hormone at a given level, which in turn produces results on some distantly coded gene. Geneticists despair sometimes trying to track down where the information is that generates a chemical, behavior, or structure.

    DNA is nothing like a human program, especially a good one.

    • Jim Jones

      Sometimes you hire programmers who write code like DNA.

      You always have to fire them.

      • TheNuszAbides

        is it because they eat up too much time/memory/space? i suspect i would/might be that type (though i’ve thus far not motivated myself to learn any language to any grad/professional-useful degree).

        • Jim Jones

          Because they really don’t know what they are doing. Their code can’t be maintained if it runs at all. I’ve also seen code that looks like it works but actually does nothing.

        • Michael Neville

          I’ve also seen code that looks like it works but actually does nothing.

          I’ve written code like that.

    • Robert Templeton

      DNA is about as correspondent to computer programming as we can associate with it. But, it is much deeper and I beg to differ that what we know of it uncovers an ‘intelligent designer’. It is a blueprint for construction, a running program in action, an active agent in evolution, and probably much more than we have determined. In that sense, it is more like an OS with programs running within it. Shock and horror. I will tell you this: if this is the best that an extra-universal being can manage, he needs to hire more H2B-Visa programmers and support specialists.

      Making analogies to what we know to what exists is always perilous – and those who simply say, “Wow, this is so frigging complex, I think God did it” really pisses me off. God’s EULA and upgrade path are sub-par.

      • eric

        DNA is about as correspondent to computer programming as we can associate with it.

        Actually, I tend to think there’s a meta-principle at work here: when trying to create an analogy for something complex that we don’t fully understand, we tend to reference whatever our most advanced technology is at the time. Thus when we could only build clockwork, people said humans ran like a clockwork. When we could build electrical devices, people said we functioned like an electrical machine. We invent computers, and suddenly the stuff we don’t fully understand about our bodies is analogized to computers. Fifty years from now, our grandchildren will probably look back at us and think “silly grandparents, thinking that DNA is like software! The much better analogy is to a quorgle.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Right. If God did it with magic, why do natural explanations suffice? Maybe he’s just tricking us.

      • Herald Newman

        One of the obvious problems is that, given the evidence we have, evolution is the best explanation, and if ID is true, then our designer is necessarily deceptive, and wanted to make it look like we evolved.

        This is what Ken Miller had to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK3O6KYPmEw

        • MNb

          With all respect, Ken Miller is wrong. This doesn’t shut up any creacrapper. He doesn’t realize there is an import creacrap principle:

          1. Evidence X is evidence for the Grand Old Designer.
          2. Evidence -X is also evidence for the Grand Old Designer.

          Thinking otherwise demonstrates you (and me) are a darwinist, communist, nazist, athiest evilutionist, who without any justification limits himself to the narrow boundaries of materialism (which is creaspeak for methodological naturalism, ie the scientific method).
          Creacrap and its subset IDiocy can’t be beaten by using reason, as Ken Miller wrongly assumes.

        • Ficino

          Basically, the people who believe in Evolution believe in it because they love sin. /s

        • Michael Neville

          And they hate God.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          It’s spooky how they can see into our very souls to prove that there are no atheists.

        • TheNuszAbides

          they love sin.

          And they hate God.

          but we repeat ourselves. i mean, how do you do one and not the other, amirite?

        • Herald Newman

          > Creacrap and its subset IDiocy can’t be beaten by using reason, as Ken Miller wrongly assumes.

          Yes, because they lead, or otherwise ignore, the evidence in order to get to their preferred conclusion. This certainly seems to be the case for the apologists, who I’m sure know what the evidence is.

          To anybody who is actually intellectual honest, I don’t know how you accept ID and a non-deceptive God, unless you haven’t encountered the evidence.

        • MNb

          Golden Rule of MNb: anyone who accepts IDiocy or other forms of creacrap is lying until proven otherwise.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          They couldn’t just be stupid or ignorant?

        • MNb

          Have you ever tried to point out a stupidity to a creacrapper or tried to remedy his/her ignorance?
          Note “until proven otherwise”. When a creacrapper admits “that was stupid of me” or “I didn’t know that” I accept that as proof of being honest. On that point.

  • Loren Petrich

    There are further problems that must be mentioned. Even if some of the evolution of life was a result of genetic engineering, there are plenty of questions that one can ask.

    Were there multiple designers? Human ones are multiple.
    Did the designers have finite capabilities (not omnipotent or omniscient)? Human ones are finite.
    Did the designers make mistakes? Human ones are fallible.

    So one concludes that any designers involved in the evolution of life were likely multiple, finite, and fallible.

    • epeeist

      There are further problems that must be mentioned.

      Yes, this comes up whenever one encounters Paley’s watch type arguments (of which this is one form). One should also mention that human designers/engineers are made of the same material as the rest of the universe and are also mortal.

      In other words, weak analogy.

    • D Rieder

      and all designers I am aware of had mothers.

      • epeeist

        all designers I am aware of had mothers

        I am stealing that one.

      • Kevin K

        The vast majority had fathers as well, I’m sure.

      • TheNuszAbides

        somewhere there is a [possibly pseudo-]Trinitarian stoner who thinks it’s wicked awesome that Yahwehjesus sent an avatar of Himself to Earth via the uterus of a perpetual virgin just so He could finally experience having a mother.

    • Kevin K

      Multiple designers would be at least one solution to the problem of why there are damned many potassium channels. And tyrosine kinases.

      • TheNuszAbides

        if people keep throwing away resources at this shite, there’s bound to be an offshoot Design By Committee movement.

        • Kevin K

          Aka, paganism. Too late, barn door’s open.

  • quinsha

    I learned in 3rd grade science class that a scientific model is just THAT. A model. And if you push the analogy too far, then the model breaks. Saying that gas molecules are like little bouncing balls don’t mean that the molecules are made out of rubber. And and saying that DNA contains information don’t mean that there was an intelligent creator that made it.

    • Kuno

      Exactly. I understand the software analogy is used to provide a quick superficial understanding of how DNA works, but it breaks down pretty quick.

      DNA is simply a molecule. A quite complex molecule but still just a molecule that’s reacting and combining with other molecules and atoms according to the laws of chemistry and physics.

      That’s nothing like a computer program.

  • Geoff Benson

    I find it interesting (annoying?) how apologists hang onto the coattails of science in order to advance their agenda. Science makes fantastic discoveries that churches, especially the catholic church, have done their level best to repress since time immemorial (literally in the legal sense of the phrase). Then, now they no longer have the ability to prevent technological and scientific advances, they start pretending they understand it, that the bible predicts it in some way, and that it’s all evidence of god.

    Actually the more we delve, as this article demonstrates, the more it becomes clear that the universe has naturally evolved because, well, no designer would have designed it the way it is.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      Nor do we even have a “God” who claims to have designed the universe. Only humans make such claims in place of a “God”.

  • Mojohand

    This reminds me of the infamous Far Side cartoon ‘Cow Tools’. It drove thousands of people crazy trying to figure out what the purpose of the ‘tools’ which were clearly ‘designed’.

    Only to find out…there was no design, and…they were from and for a cow for shits sake! You can google Mr. Larson’s story behind one of his greatest creations.

    Moral: Don’t try to force human perspective/methods onto the natural world.

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-sebJ2ghSjT4/UCNTfUPACYI/AAAAAAAAARM/QGlbroVihmM/s400/2006-11-27_142614_cow_tools.jpg

    • Michael Neville

      Cow tools, udderly ridiculous.

      • Greg G.

        What, you’ve never seen a cowpenter before?

        • Joe

          You guys are really milking it with these puns.

        • Michael Neville

          We’re just amoosing ourselves.

        • Kodie

          Low humor.

        • busterggi

          Behooves me to agree with you.

        • Kevin K

          You’re being udderly ridiculous.

        • busterggi

          This requires a pilot study.

          See wiki

        • Michael Neville
        • Greg G.

          Not to toot my own horn, but I am out standing in the field.

        • Kevin K

          Are you “cud”ly?

        • Greg G.

          Are you chewing me out?

        • MNb

          Please guys, stop pulling that old cow out of the ditch. Instead grab one at her horns.

        • Otto

          Almost cowardly

        • busterggi

          You got a beef with that?

        • Kodie

          Now you’re trying to steer the conversation.

    • TheNuszAbides

      oh come on. one is obviously a backscratcher.

  • epeeist

    Oh and given we have had myintx equivocating like there is no tomorrow, try and pin down what the creotards mean by “information” and watch the equivocation that goes on.

    • Kevin K

      This “information” thing is misunderstood by lots of people. And there were a few people in the cosmology community who didn’t make it any better with semi-metaphorical assertions that the universe was “conscious”. This led to all manner of mischief, including the entire misguided career of Deepak Chopra and similar woosters.

      “Information” is an emergent property of a physical system. Any system. All systems carry “information” — it’s fundamental. Protons, neutrons and electrons carry the information of their mass, charge (or lack), and spin. Photons carry information of their frequency. And on and on.

      Snowflakes carry information, as do the water droplets that snowflakes are made from. There’s nothing “magic” about information. Nor supernatural. There does not have to be an “information giver” nor an “information receiver” in order for information to exist.

      It’s true that in quantum physics, the “wave function” collapses when it is “observed” — but again, this does not require a sentient “observer”.

      • epeeist

        It’s true that in quantum physics, the “wave function” collapses

        For some interpretations of QM.

        when it is “observed” — but again, this does not require a sentient “observer”.

        Very few people actually working on the foundations of QM think that the observer has a distinct role in observation (source).

        • Kevin K

          What fun!

          I also didn’t think Copenhagen would get so many votes. I’m more of a “many worlds” person myself — as far as I’m able to grok the whole quantum thing without being able to actually do the math myself.

          Somewhere, some 10-year-old in some Chinese or Indian classroom is just starting to learn about this stuff…and she will be the one to explain it all to us (in about 20-30 years). I hope I’m still around.

        • MNb

          One common mistake is that “the observer effect” refers to a sentient being of flesh and blood.
          A couple of years ago I’ve disqualified myself to takes sides in discussions about QM interpretations. I only understand the problems of the Bohm-De Broglie interpretation (hidden determination) well enough to reject it.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Good point. Snowflakes are a record of the conditions present during their formation.

  • Kevin K

    My multi-part reply.

    1. No, it fucking isn’t.

    Oh wait, there is no 2.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You’re eloquent and succinct.

    • Odd Jørgensen

      Elegant in its simplicity.

  • RichardSRussell

    … Scott Minnich, an associate professor of microbiology and a fellow at the Discovery Institute …

    Let’s call the self-proclaimed Discovery Institute for what it truly is: an oxymoronic propaganda mill masquerading as a research facility but completely dedicated to pushing the dominionist dogma of “intelligent design” as if it were real science. What has it ever actually discovered since it was founded in 1990? Nothing! That’s because it employs no scientists, operates no laboratories, conducts no experiments, sponsors no colloquia, publishes no papers, and has no intention of ever ever ever submitting its hypotheses for peer review.

    • Kevin K

      They did publish a few things…but they were mainly of the nature of mathematical models of protein folding, that never even came close to claiming that “it’s so complex only a disembodied brain could do it”.

      I think they’ve even given up those endeavors. Mainly, they seem to be fund-raising a lot.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        The Lord’s work ain’t cheap, my brother.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      What?? You mean that $1000 donation I gave to the Disco Institute went for PR and not research?!

  • RichardSRussell

    “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” is a program, but I don’t think it has an intelligent programmer.

  • Sophia Sadek

    People who cannot tell the difference between hardware, firmware, and software are so very quaint.

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    With DNA, we again see the natural vs. manmade distinction. It looks like the kind of good-enough compromise that evolution would create, not like manmade computer software.

    Or perhaps DNA is fantastically better than man-made computer software. Is that a possibility in your world†?

    † Or set of … “sufficiently close by” possible worlds?

    • adam

      “Or perhaps DNA is fantastically better than man-made computer software.”

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9b6e9c7edc0424ae229731b657e578c29099206ffd21075dd3a5cdeef56da60d.jpg

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      No, not really possible. In our world, human programmers evaluate anything labeled “software.” DNA looks very, very sloppy.

      It could be very cleverly and efficiently designed but we don’t understand that. In that case, the “DNA is like software” argument fails.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        DNA looks very, very sloppy.

        Do explain. That DNA can adapt to changing conditions doesn’t seem to necessarily merit the word “sloppy”.

        It could be very cleverly and efficiently designed but we don’t understand that.

        Then why take a stance either way? I thought you only believe things based on the evidence?

        • MNb

          How is evidence for an immaterial/ supernatural/ transcendental designer designing something material like DNA even possible? The evidence says that everything designed uses material/ natural means and follows material/ natural procedures.

        • Michael Neville

          How dare you bring up evidence in a discussion with a Christian? Don’t you know that Christians, at least those of the Luke Breuer persuasion, are allergic to evidence? Have you no shame?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          (1) DNA adapts. (2) DNA is sloppy. Where’s the conflict?

          As to your second point, i already addressed that in my previous comment.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Yeah I don’t understand how you mean the word “sloppy”. With zero flexibility in copying, you get zero adaptability. So unless you can suggest a system that (1) adapts; (2′) is not sloppy, I’m going to say that you are mincing words.

        • Greg G.

          Mutations are random with regard to the environment. Most are neutral but there are more deleterious mutations than beneficial mutations. That is sloppy. If it was designed it would not be so wasteful. Mutations would be targeted to the environment, even anticipating future environments. As it is, there is no guarantee that optimal mutations will even occur. That is sloppy.

          Sexual reproduction improves the process by combining multiple sources of mutations while the mutations are being selected for or against. Natural selection is efficient in approximately optimizing a set of genes that are non-optimal. But still no guarantee that there will be optimal mutations to select.

          Environments can change faster than the gene pool leading to evolutionary dead ends because the production of mutations is sloppy.

          PS: It’s like it is just random with no Divine guidance. K wonder why that is.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Fascinating comment; too bad we have this problem. In particular:

          LB: So, either deal with my attempt at (A) and do not go anywhere near (B), or we will be forever stuck at (A), excepting “what I perceive as attempted character assassination”.

          Unless you want to deal with my attempt at (A), or retract enough statements of yours such that (A) cannot be constructed, I will not engage you except as I described. If you do choose to deal with that knot, we can talk randomized algorithms. :-)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t mean “gets copied with mutations” as sloppy. I mean that DNA has much junk in it.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Evidence? I mean evidence that it is known to be junk.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’re a slippery fish. So now we’ve moved on to, “How do you know that human DNA has junk?”?

          Because 8% is endogenous retrovirus. And because it contains pseudogenes. But you know all this already, don’t you?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          You’re a slippery fish.

          Slippery? You said “sloppy”—

          LB: Or perhaps DNA is fantastically better than man-made computer software.

          BS: DNA looks very, very sloppy.

          —and I’m challenging you on that word. You’re clearly suggesting that there is a better way DNA could have been done, and I’m exposing that suggestion to criticism. If you don’t want to defend your assertions, then you can merely say that if something “looks like X” to you, that is relatively meaningless. Emphasis on the “looks like”, to someone who has zero established (i.e. evidenced) competence in said domain (that is: adaptable systems).

          Because 8% is endogenous retrovirus. And because it contains pseudogenes. But you know all this already, don’t you?

          And you know those aren’t important for “adaptable systems”? I’d love to see the evidence and reasoning. BTW, my wife is researching chromatin remodeling complexes for her postdoctoral work, so I have some connections for investigating these matters.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Tune in at 8 for ‘Hairsplitting with Luke’! Critics call it ‘An hour that will seem like eternity.'”

          Any reply I’d make would just be a repeat. But thanks for the opportunity.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Wait, I thought it was the Christian who was supposed to make claims without proper evidence & reason to back them up? I guess for Bob it’s “sloppiness works in mysterious ways”?

        • Kodie

          You’re the Christian, what are the mysterious ways this sloppiness pertains to. I know you coward have me blocked. Well that’s for the theist to answer. If you don’t know, why should the atheist give a shit?

        • Kodie

          If your wife is a serious scientist, don’t try to interfere with her work. By the way, Bob said YOU WERE SLIPPERY. DNA IS SLOPPY. If you have some better idea why “design” from an “intelligent creator” would be found to be going in many random directions as though intended to please show us the evidence. You don’t have evidence, you only have persistent grievances.

        • http://www.webook.com/member/PennyPritchard Loreen Lee

          Just posted this link another site for you to read, then my Disquis account came up in my e-mail box, – and so – on the ‘possibility’ it is relevant to this ‘argument’ – here it is again, for ‘possibly’ – “others” to read. (My use of quotations, etc. are getting to be as bad as they say those on D’s twitter account are… Sad….) http://www.metanexus.net/essay/creative-tension-edge-chaos-towards-evolutionary-christology

        • Kodie

          Goddammit Loreen Lee. We have tons of bullshit from Luke Breuer to deal with in addition to his personal correspondence. Get his message ID or email or something. Your messages on a public blog to correspond with Luke Breuer, it’s like you think you’re on facebook or something. What the fuck.

        • http://www.webook.com/member/PennyPritchard Loreen Lee

          My intention was to explain a dual posting of a link previously sent to him, to be found within my comment. I hope you enjoyed at least the attempt to present some self-effacing humor in a self-assessment of my writing style which I hope did not trump the Donald. And by the way, did you read the article? If not, I hope at least that you found the ‘tweet’ interesting. Thanks. (Oh. and I certainly hope this remark is not taken ‘personally’. Tweet. Tweet.)

        • Kodie

          You’re posting personal correspondence publicly on a public atheist blog and you haven’t lurked or anything. We call Luke Breuer the Lukieboy Show for his arrogance and extraneous efforts to take over the whole blog with his ego, and that’s stating it mildly. He has blocked most of us because he is so busy and self-important. No, probably nobody cared about your links.

        • http://www.webook.com/member/PennyPritchard Loreen Lee

          Thank you Kodie. I purposely don’t get into arguments, even personal ones, or ones about what is personal: be it a comment, a means of expression, or what not. Depending on the definition, possibly a lot of remarks on this site could be termed ‘personal’. I addressed my comment to Luke as it came up on the Disquis notifications, and yes, also because it was an unfamiliar site, something you were aware of somehow as mentioned in your phrase that I do not ‘lurk’. Perhaps the explanation for this is that it is your blog. In any case, I appreciate your polite response, whether or not this is considered to be the essential criteria of what constitutes the standard of acceptability within this blog. Whether the comment be personal, professional, public, or private, I am aware that maintaining an impersonal objectivity can often be a difficult task.

          And I did think the link could be of interest to someone, as I thought its content at least ‘appropriate’ to the ‘discussion’. Anyway, thanks for telling me, at least to my interpretation, that this is an a-theist/naturalistic ‘only’ blog. All the best. …(I trust I am not being too personal!!!) :)

  • oracle

    I’m not sure the DNA as software analogy is so bad really. Software design is evolutionary. Design is evolutionary. Inventions do not simply leap fully formed from the minds of their inventors. Intelligence can virtualize the selection process, but it doesn’t eliminate it. Draw a line from Turing to Tinder using the Designer metaphor and it won’t be half as insightful as the history of mistakes between the two.