Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Information

Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Information August 7, 2013

Christian apologetics doesn't hold upThis is a continuation of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity made at a recent debate. See the beginning of the discussion here.

The I in CRIMES is Information

Turek said, “Darwinists say we all evolved from a one-celled amoeba.” If by “Darwinists,” he means “biologists,” I’m pretty sure that biologists say that we share a common ancestor with an amoeba.

Turek likes to pick and choose his science. When it pleases him (the Big Bang, for example), he’ll point to the scientific consensus. When it doesn’t (evolution), he points elsewhere, hoping that you won’t notice the contradiction. Is science a reliable tool or not?

There is no scientific pushback against evolution, but not to worry. He has a scathing schoolyard taunt: that evolution means “from the goo to you via the zoo.” (Here, he relies on the well-known rule, “if it rhymes, it must be true.” Or something.) Somehow, “goo” is supposed to be derogatory. But, of course, Turek has no problem with making Man out of dirt, as God did in Gen. 2:7.

The choice of the amoeba is the absolute worst category of animal Turek could’ve chosen to make his point. Protozoa, which includes amoebas, have DNA that ranges in size over five orders of magnitude—from 3 million to almost 1 trillion base pairs—broader than any other category of animal.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider this animal that Turek thinks shows the hand of an all-wise Designer. The animal with the longest DNA isn’t Homo sapiens. Salamander DNA can be 10 times longer, but it’s not salamanders, either. How about fish, with DNA up to 40 times longer? Wrong again. No, it’s the amoeba species Amoeba dubia, which has DNA 200 times longer than human DNA. Can this amoeba possibly need all that information, or is most of it (dare I say it?) junk?

DNA—no evidence for a Designer

The marvelous DNA that Creationists so often point to is a Rube Goldberg machine riddled with sloppiness. I discuss that more here. Here is a summary.

  • You know how humans get scurvy if we don’t get enough vitamin C? Almost all other mammals can synthesize their own vitamin C. We also have the gene that does that … except that it’s broken. Every cell of your body carries the DNA encoding of this broken, useless gene. That’s just one of 20,000 pseudogenes (broken genes) in human DNA.
  • You know how viruses can’t copy their own DNA but must force cells to do it for them? If the infected cell is a sperm or egg cell, that snippet of viral DNA gets passed on to children. It’s happened so often that 8% of our DNA is now inactivated viral DNA.
  • You know how the human appendix is vestigial (no longer used for its original purpose)? Other animals have vestigial structures, too—the pelvis in whales or eyes in blind cave fish. What’s really spooky are atavisms—archaic structures that get inadvertently switched on. Examples are humans with tails, dolphins with hind limbs, chickens with teeth, and snakes with legs.

Design Hypothesis

The Design Hypothesis argues that nature looks as if it were designed by an all-powerful Designer. How would we tell whether something is designed or not? We’d look for evidence of the principles followed by the designers that we know of, human designers. For example, designers might want to balance cost, strength, durability, beauty, and so on. But designers never put junk in their designs. The excess length of the protozoa DNA, pseudogenes, viral DNA, vestigial structures, and atavisms are traits that no designer would put in DNA. (I explore this more here.)

This doesn’t mean that God couldn’t do his work in ways that we don’t understand, but the Design Hypothesis is now defeated.

Messages and minds

Turek gives an example of information. Suppose you saw on the breakfast table Alpha Bits cereal spelling out “Take out the garbage, Mom.” Clearly this was intelligent design, he says, and I agree. We’ve seen people compose text just like this countless times.

“Messages come from minds,” Turek says. “Where I come from, codes always come from coders.”

Text made with cereal is just one of many similar examples. But where are the similar examples of people sending messages with coded chemicals? Where’s the proof that this can’t come from nature? Turek’s cereal example is irrelevant, and he has avoided the hard questions.

Turek wraps up: “To believe that [the amoeba’s DNA] resulted by natural forces is like believing that the Library of Congress resulted from an explosion in a printing shop. I don’t have enough faith to believe that.” Snap! Respond to that, atheists!

But anyone who’s studied evolution knows that it proceeds by mutation (which is random) and natural selection (which is not). An explosion in a printing shop is just random, and Turek’s analogy fails completely.

I want to interpret Turek’s points charitably, but I can’t believe that he hasn’t been corrected on this point already, probably many times. I’m guessing he deliberately prefers the useful to the accurate. Accurately characterizing evolution doesn’t suit his purpose, so he mischaracterizes it. It’d be refreshing if he would take his medicine and drop flawed arguments.

Continue with part 5.

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure
that we can comprehend only very imperfectly,
and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility.”
This is a genuinely religious feeling
that has nothing to do with mysticism.
— Albert Einstein

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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