Information Theory and DNA vs. Atheists
For seven years, I successfully advanced the Information Theory argument for design in DNA on Infidels, which from 2005-2010 was the world’s largest Atheist discussion forum.
My infidels debate eventually became the longest-running, most viewed thread on the board, as you can see here:
Click image for a higher resolution screen shot
Across seven years, the Infidels failed to refute the information theory argument for design in biology. You are invited to study, in detail, one of the longest-running debates in the history of the Infidels discussion board.
On August 30, 2005, a member of the infidels online forum (screen name “wdog”) posted the following on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. The link (now dead) was http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=135497&page=1
“I have been emailing back and forth with Perry Marshall, the author of this site http://evo2.org/ifyoucanreadthis.htm and since it quickly expanded in scope I invited him to come here and present his ‘evidence’ and proof. You might find the site amusing anyway. Feel free to critique his statements as i am sure he may at least read this since i will make him aware of this thread. please be polite. Thanks”
My first post:
The starting point of this discussion is my central thesis, which is: 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. If you can provide an empirical example of a code or language that occurs naturally, you’ve toppled my proof. All you need is one. Perry Marshall
Initially, the discussion continued for more than 4 months and 300 posts. At the end, nearly all participants dropped out, having failed to topple my proof or produce any new objections that had not already been addressed. In the course of a very detailed and vigorous discussion my argument did not suffer the slightest injury. There were six major counter-arguments to information as proof of intelligent design. You can follow these links for a thorough summary of the discussion threads:
(Note: for brevity and because of copyright concerns I have edited and / or paraphrased most of the questions, being careful not to change the intent of the message. I was challenged by dozens of people and responded in detail to all major objections.) Notice that my language re-stating my syllogism is somewhat tightened as a result of four months of discussion:
Let’s review where we’ve been in this thread. I have said:
(1) The sequence of base pairs in DNA is a code.
Much effort has been made to discredit this statement, unsuccessfully. This statement is fully and explicitly supported in virtually all of the scientific literature since the 1960’s.
(2) All codes that we know the origin of come from a mind.
Much effort has been expended to discredit this statement as well. Assertions have been attempted that gravity, snowflakes, magma flows and the like are codes. But none accurately conforms to Shannon’s communication model. Most of the examples cited do not contain an encoding system, and none contain a decoding system.
(3) Therefore DNA came from a mind.
The objection to this statement has been that the conclusion is reached inductively. Complaints have been lodged that inductive reasoning is inherently unreliable. But we do observe that the laws of thermodynamics and in fact the majority of known scientific laws are determined inductively and not deductively. If you wish to throw out inductive reasoning, then we can discard almost all scientific knowledge and start all over again and use rocks and sticks to make fire.
Thus we have, right here on the Infidels discussion forum, after more than 300 posts, robust evidence that life was intelligently designed.
It is not possible for me to persuade people to believe in God if they do not want to; that is not my job. But one can hope that some will follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
At this point the moderator, RBH, said:
“I’ve pretty much abandoned this thread as hopeless, but recently ran onto the Evolving Code Wiki run by Stephen Freeland’s bioinformatics lab. A good resource for those who wish to ‘follow the evidence’.”
Mr. Freeland’s site doesn’t answer the questions I raise either, but skeptics are free to pursue that line of inquiry if they wish. Let’s not forget that the entire enterprise of scientific inquiry during the last 500 years has been the ongoing discovery of underlying order, not the assumption of accident.
For that reason I think it’s far more productive to hypothesize design in DNA and devote our energies to discovering all its wonders. Open Challenge: The discussion continued long after that on IIDB, as discussion resumed in late February 2005.
No doubt people will editorialize about this elsewhere, attempting to dismiss it as ‘arguing by failed analogy’ or whatever. But to whoever said I’m wrong, I instructed visitors: Read the summaries, and if you have a counter argument, step into the ring with me and prove I’m wrong.
Discussion Board History: Eventually the Infidels board ownership was transferred to another organization, freeratio.org. The thread continued to be open for a few more years. Later, it became locked; then password protected; then removed.
Freeratio.org no longer appears to exist. All during this time, I actively encouraged visitors to my website to go investigate this and see it for themselves.
I even bought paid traffic on Google AdWords to expose as many people as possible to this debate.
Again this became the longest-running most-viewed thread on the entire forum and remained so for several years. I would post the entire contents of the forum here for you, but I do not own the copyrights.
I have thus far been unable to obtain permission or cooperation in continuing to make this discussion public. This is understandable of course, but no one should be deceived into thinking that Infidels or the Freeratio board is interested in pursuing the truth.
Note: Before you enter into this discussion here on my blog, do your homework. (I’ve done mine.) Carefully read every single item and make absolutely sure you’re not just repeating what somebody else has already said. After more than 1000 messages on the board, the atheist position is forced to insist, against decades of firmly established scientific literature and every convention in the field of biology, that DNA “isn’t really a code.” And yet things like pebbles and snowflakes somehow are.
A number of people on the atheist side called them on this, but even the moderator continued to insist that I’m foolish for taking all those biology books literally.
How very interesting that the atheist position could no longer accept one of the most fundamental definitions in modern science, once the implications become clear: If DNA is a code, then we have every reason to believe that it is designed.
Personal Comments After Debating Information Theory in Public for Years and Successfully Advancing Design to hundreds of Atheists:
First of all, the vast majority of “evolution vs. creation” debates are fundamentally incapable of reaching a conclusion because 99% of the evidence is subjective and anecdotal. If you argue about fossils, for example, the evidence is extremely fragmentary and people see the evidence through their presuppositions.
An endless debate that never reaches a conclusion is a great way to sell books, because skeptics buy evolution books and creationists buy creationist books and nobody really listens to each other anyway. But Information Theory is different. The arguments I make here, and the arguments Hubert Yockey makes in his book Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life are not subjective at all.
(Yockey is not a creationist or even an advocate of Intelligent Design, by the way, and nowhere do I reference anything other than widely accepted, non-controversial scientific literature.)
The information theory argument is based on rigorous logical and mathematical definitions, and long-standing conventions in Electrical Engineering. The pattern in DNA is not like a code, it is a code, by definition. So information theory applied to DNA is not an analogy and actually has a possibility of making real progress in this debate.
Secondly, please understand the origin of life question is separate from the evolution question. This thread is not about evolution per se. As you will see here , the only resource the skeptic can use to fight this is confusion and obfuscation.
You’ll notice the skeptical attempt to take my simple argument and make it impossibly complicated and confuse people, including the skeptics themselves. Information Theory really isn’t all that complicated. But… it is sufficiently abstract that you can throw up smoke screens, and the smoke screens will work for quite awhile.
Notice how tirelessly these guys argued that DNA doesn’t actually contain a code. (Also notice that at the very same time they also try to argue that gravity is a code!) And although most members of the board don’t explicitly admit it, their argument does ultimately fail. The pattern in DNA is a code.
You will notice that there is a handful of atheists here who do acknowledge that DNA is a code – and that yes, my first two points are correct, all known codes are designed. They are lambasted by their brethren and accused of secretly being on my side.
My argument is inductive. It does not explicitly identify God as designer, it just leaves God as the only available possibility. So a person is still free to reject the God conclusion and suppose that there must be some other explanation. And of course one is perfectly free to pursue naturalistic explanations for the origin of information – after we acknowledge that we currently do not know! (This is why I organized the Evolution 2.0 Prize.)
But what is interesting is that almost nobody on this forum is willing to even acknowledge they don’t have an alternative explanation. This strikes me as self-deception. Hey, if you don’t know something, why not just admit it? How else can rational inquiry move forward? As you see here, not many infidels were willing to make that admission.
Fact is, “skeptics” take a whole bunch of things on faith, too – faith that science will fill the ever widening gaps of the origin of life question for example. Skepticism fails to satisfy its own criteria – because every worldview invokes a miracle, somewhere along the line.
Another thing you’ll quickly see on the infidels forum is extreme hostility. The gentleman who invited me to the forum asked his colleagues to be polite, but many were not. (At some points, he wasn’t all that polite either.) One guy said, “If you quote Yockey one more time I’ll claw your eyes out.” One participant had his posts heavily edited by the moderator and was eventually kicked off.
These guys hate design and everything it implies. The contempt for religious ideas and religious people, especially Christians, is palpable. But again, the infidels failed to put so much as a dent or scratch in my argument. Because the greatest failure of materialism is that it simply cannot explain the existence of information!
Decades ago this would have seemed like an odd and abstract argument, but living in the digital information age as we do now, with computers and credit cards and smart phones, even a child can easily grasp it.
It is not my intent to embarrass, humiliate or “show up” anyone here. Nobody likes to be publicly made a fool. Nonetheless truth does matter. And if naturalism is false, then the faster we put a fork in it, the faster we can get to the truth. After all, if there is a pre-programmed order in the universe, then the most unproductive assumption science could possibly make would be that it is random, accidental or purposeless.
Ultimately the outcome of this discussion reinforces what the great mathematician Norbert Weiner said almost 50 years ago: “Information is Information, neither matter nor energy. No materialism that fails to take account of this can survive the present day.” – Norbert Weiner, MIT Mathematician and Father of Cybernetics
On this discussion board I rigorously demonstrated that an Intelligent Designer is the only available explanation for the genetic code in DNA. I did so in the same manner that we assert the truth of other scientific theorems, like the laws of thermodynamics. But I couldn’t get a congregation of hard-core atheists to accept it – which goes to show that Dale Carnegie was right: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
Here, atheists show themselves to be just as devout in their beliefs, and just as steadfast in the face of reason, as the adherents of any world religion.
NOTE: Origin of Information is now the subject of a multi-million USD technology prized funded by private equity investment group Natural Code LLC. Details here.
Get 3 free chapters of Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design here.
“Let us break the chains of the prejudice called Logic. Are we going to be stopped by a syllogism?” -Dr. Floyd Ferris, villain who opposes reason and logic in Ayn Rand’s landmark novel Atlas Shrugged
“The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.” -G.K. Chesterton