Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Atheist's Riddle

There's a guy who claims to have proven that Intelligent Design is real. He makes this claim:

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.

(The whole page is here.)

He then defies anyone to prove his claim wrong by providing an example of a code that is not created by a mind. But this argument is filled with holes and problems. For example, he's making a rather outrageous claim and then demanding that the claim hold unless anyone can prove him wrong. That's not how science works. I've used this argument before: I could claim there is a guy named Frank sitting in the center of Jupiter controlling the universe. Prove me wrong. And until you do so, I DEMAND that you accept my claim as fact. Is that realistic? Of course not. Will all scientists of the world drop to their knees and suddenly believe in Frank? No. Science doesn't work that way.

And speaking of science, this guy's claim has absolutely no basis in science anyway. Even if it were true, what use is it? Does it help scientists solve some problem of technology? Evolution and thermodynamics both help scientist solve problems.

Using Google, I've found several pages that basically dismantle this guy's claims. But here's my take on it.

First, he's making an enormous assumption by defining the word "code" as he sees fit and forcing that definition into the argument. What is a code? Well, that depends on who use ask.

Consider this: What is Hydrogen? It's an element, and the first one in the periodic table. Its atoms consist of a single proton and a single electron. Virtually all scientists agree on what Hydrogen is. (Tomorrow will Hydrogen still have a single proton and a single electron? Yes. Because scientists have created a specific definition: An item that has a single proton and a single electron and no neutrons is called Hydogen. It's a definition, and it doesn't go the other way. Tomorrow Hydrogen won't suddenly consist of two electrons and two protons, because such a thing wouldn't be called Hydrogen.)

But what's a "code"? In order to bring this argument into the realm of science, we better have a solid definition of code. If "code" is a physical means used to transmit information from one mind to another mind, then DNA isn't a code. If it's a physical means of duplicating data, then DNA is a code, but language isn't. See the problem? This guy is using wordplay. He's making up a definition of "code" and then trying to use it in the realm of real science, where his argument doesn't belong.

In fact, he's leaving out the aspect of human observers. It appears that in his definition, a code is simply something that contains information. But does anything contain information? The letter H by itself contains no information. But in the context of a word, it has meaning to you and me, and I can use it to transmit information from my mind to your mind. It's the first letter of Hello. But it's not always used that way. It could be the symbol for Hydrogen. Or it could be a traffic sign showing there's a small connector between two parallel roads. By itself, this "code" has no information. In order to be useful, there must be two parties who agree on the meaning of the code. Otherwise is it even a code? If you find a tribe of people who have never had contact with any other humans, and you hand them a piece of paper that says, "Look out! There's a bear coming!" then certainly such a "code" would not transmit any information at all, since they don't speak English.

Yet this guy seems to equate "code" to the very thing that is being used to transmit my thoughts as I type this blog into your mind as you read the blog. But to make this happen, I'm using many different technologies: I'm using letters and punctuation to form words, sentences, and paragraphs that are part of the English language. Further, beyond the letters and grammar, I'm using careful choices of words to at least make a valiant effort to try to duplicate my thoughts into your brain, but at the same time I'm aware that that's impossible. (You'll hopefully come away with an understanding of what I'm saying, but certainly your thoughts on the subject won't be identical to mine in every possible way.)

Beyond the letters, symbols, words, and paragraphs, there an enormous thing that's helping transmit the information: My computer, your computer, and the huge Internet in between. And on each computer is, presumably, a keyboard and a screen; I'm using a keyboard to get the letters and symbols into the computer; and you're seeing a screen display the letters and symbols. Is that a code? Maybe; maybe not. It depends on how you define code.

But it appears this guy's own personal definition of "code" somehow includes DNA. But DNA has very little in common with the language you and I are using as I map my thoughts into your brain via this blog. DNA, rather, is a means of copying genetic information from one cell to the next and there's not a human mind on either end of it.

And so you can see what's happening here: This guy has chosen the word "code" and has DEMANDED that we accept his postulate that both DNA and written language are both "codes" by this definition. Yet, in fact, DNA and written language are two drastically different items.

Ultimately, though, this guy isn't talking about codes themselves; rather, he's talking about who created the codes. English, if it's a code, was created by many, many people over multiple generations. And it continues to change. Was it created by a single mind? No. And so, we could change his argument into something that I'm sure even he would say is nonsense, yet could be forced onto people by the same dishonest means:

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a useful language.
2) All useful languages are created by a large group of people spanning multiple generations.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a large group of people spanning multiple generations.

In a blog posting, somebody who adheres to this guy's beliefs said that birdsong is a similar language like that spoken between humans. Who created birdsong? The birds? I suppose one could try to make that argument, although biologists would likely disagree, bringing instinct into the picture. But let's humor that and suppose that birdsong was created by the conscious minds of the birds. If that's the case, then are birds capable of creating human language? No. They're limited in their capabilities. So one could make this argument in the same dishonest vain:

1) DNA is a code just as human language and birdsong are.
2) All codes were created by beings just smart enough to create the codes, but not smart enough to create more sophisticated codes.
3) Thus, DNA was created by a God who was only smart enough to create that one code and no other codes.

I'm sure the guy would agree that that's absurd as well.

So let's get right to the real problem: This man's flawed argument is nothing but an assumption. He's inventing definitions and forcing his own mind to see it one way, and trying to force others to see it his way. He has no reason to write it as fact. Instead, the best he could do is write it like this:

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

And that, my friends, is not a very strong argument. Sphere: Related Content


crisjesse said...


One should note that the example given is one of inductive logic, meant only to provide a theory. And though it proves nothing factually, as inductive logic it stands pretty firm.

I didn't follow the link you provided, so I don't know what the originator did with the logic. If he said "Therefore God created DNA" and then said his logical example alone proves that true, then I would say he is mistaken. Though one would have to admit that his "proof" could actually be "evidence".

This leaves your next paragraph irrelevant, so it would be unfair to address it unless addressing a wholely separate issue.

Regarding the paragraph after that, I'm afraid I've missed your point, as well as the proofs of your statements. The statements don't seem to relate to the example or to each other, though I'm guessing you had a reason for putting them there. If you are able to better explain them it would help me as a reader to better understand your position.

Regarding the rest of your arguement, it's almost 4AM and your statements are ones you obviously spent time on. I can type my response to them, but it likely won't make any sense to you, other readers, or myself when I read it again. So out of respect I must say goodnight...

Mona Albano said...

Yes, it's called "begging the question"--in plain English, assuming your conclusion.

The Sulcus of Succulents said...

Here's the Theist's Riddle:

1) Physical matter is not created by conscious minds; there is no conscious process known to science that creates physical matter.
2) Therefore the physical universe was not created by a conscious mind.

If you can provide an empirical example of physical matter being created by a conscious mind, you've toppled my proof. All you need is one.

Nigel said...

I think the more glaringly obvious fault with the specious argument outline is: how can we speak of a molecular code and something like a morse code as being the same thing?

DNA has no intrinsic "meaning" - it is only analogically described as a "code" - and perhaps it would be better to say that it is a "encoding" rather than "a code". Meaning would imply that there was something being signified in the coding, but that isn't the case with DNA. There is nothing pointed to beyond the physical effects of the molecular patterning. This is not the case with a code. The physical side of the code - the sound waves of the telegraph, if you like - are meant not to point to themselves, but of the intention of the sender. DNA points to no "further message" - nothing is signified, no meaning is meant, therefore there is no sense of a code - let alone an intelligence "behind" it. It is bad logic - not inductive at all, for inductive logic would require satisfactory definitions even so and code does not define DNA in any meaningful way - scientific or otherwise. The use of "code" is plain wrong in this argument. The argument is both fallacious and invalid.