Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where Does Information Come From?

Geneticist Craig Venter recently gave a talk at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland in which he said this:
All living cells that we know of on this planet are 'DNA software'-driven biological machines comprised of hundreds of thousands of protein robots, coded for by the DNA, that carry out precise functions," said Venter. "We are now using computer software to design new DNA software.
In other words the fundamental basis of all living things is a kind of software, which means it's information. Scientists like to say that similar causes produce similar effects. If every time some phenomenon has in the past been found to be produced by the same cause then we're justified in assuming that whenever we see that phenomenon today we can assume it to have been produced by that same, or a similar, cause.

If this is so, however, then there are fascinating implications in what Venter says about the nature of DNA's information content. Information - complex arrangements arrayed in specific, recognizable patterns - is always, in human experience, produced by an intelligence. Software is information, it's a code. If similar causes produce similar effects then the cause of the information in DNA should be similar to the cause of information we find in any other medium - books, DVDs, magnetic tape, etc. The information we find in these devices is produced by minds, indeed, information is always, in our experience, produced by minds, so why think the information in DNA is any different?

Moreover, Venter's description of the cell as a collection of information-driven machines is precisely what intelligent design theorists have been saying for two decades. Machines are products of minds. They're constructed to serve a function. They don't just happen to form through the action of physical processes and time. Indeed, physical processes and time work to degrade machines. Even if the Darwinian myth of unguided mutation, natural selection, and differential reproduction could be invoked to explain the diversity of cells it cannot explain the origin of the first cells.

Evolution News and Views gives a dozen reasons why regarding DNA as software, i.e. information, leads to the conclusion that the cell is intelligently designed:
  1. Our uniform experience with software is that it is intelligently designed.
  2. Software runs on machines, and machines are intelligently designed.
  3. Software operates other machines (e.g., robots) that are also intelligently designed.
  4. Systems of interconnected software and hardware are irreducibly complex.
  5. Functional systems imply purposefully planned architecture of the whole.
  6. Software is comprised of information, which is immaterial.
  7. Information is independent of the storage medium bearing it (e.g., electrons, magnets, silicon chips, molecules of DNA).
  8. Meaningful information is aperiodic; so is DNA.
  9. As a form of information, DNA software is complex and specified.
  10. Epigenetics regulates genetics just as computer software can regulate other software.
  11. Software can improve over time, but only by intelligent design, not by random mutation.
  12. Software can contain bugs and still be intelligently designed.
This is not to deny that there has been descent through modification. The hypothesis that cells have been intelligently engineered does not rule out evolution, but it does rule out the idea that evolution could have occurred via blind, unguided processes. That idea is every day coming to seem more and more like a fairy tale.

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

It's curious that when the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed the documents that would shed light on the Fast and Furious scandal, Democrats vigorously opposed their release, calling it a "fishing expedition" designed to just dig up whatever dirt the Republicans could find to discredit the administration, and the President himself refused to release them. Yet when Mitt Romney refuses to release his personal tax returns those same people consider this prima facie evidence that he's hiding something and scurry to pass a law that would make it a requirement that a presidential candidate reveal his tax returns for the last ten years.

The same people who condemn the Oversight Committee for seeking the F&F documents and who support those who refuse to release them are demanding that Mitt Romney release his tax returns, something he's not required to do, and criticizing him for not complying with their demand.

Moreover, the same people who insist that Romney turn over his financial records are the same people who get irate when people ask the President to release the records of his home loans in Chicago, his college records, and a legitimate, unphotoshopped birth certificate.

The Democrats play by an interesting rule: "You do what we say and we do what we want." Romney's response should be that as long as the President feels no need to release his personal records or the F&F emails he, Mr. Romney, sees no reason to release his personal records either. And if Congress wants to pass a law requiring candidates for office to make public their personal records why not pass a law requiring candidates to prove that they're constitutionally eligible to hold the office they're seeking?