If DNA is exquisitely programmed, why is there death and disease?
Brendan asks on my blog:
You say DNA is like a computer program or language. But if it is, surely its not a very good one? It has so many bugs! Diseases and cancer, mental problems, so many horrid things. If we can debug it as we are starting to, how come God didn’t?
The difference is that we can perfect languages. The error checking in DNA is rubbish, because there is cancer. there are diseases. Why would God build it like that?
We have about 150 years of medical science under our belt and we have almost cracked heaps of illnesses. So the all-knowing creator cant figure out how to build something better than primitive humans can in a few years? Why? I genuinely want to know. I want to believe but there has never been a useful argument.
DNA, like everything in the world, is subject to entropy. All forms of information are subject to information entropy, which is irreversible degradation of a signal. Once your signal has static and noise, it’s never coming out.
Your question is no different than saying “Why is there static on the radio when I drive by an arc welder?” The answer is: It’s impossible for it to be any other way.
Therefore, what’s remarkable about DNA is cellular error correction. It has five distinct mechanisms. The 2015 Nobel Prize was for the study of 3 of those mechanisms as relates to cancer.
Cells are superior to anything humans have ever made because as Barbara McClintock showed, not only can cells detect and correct errors, they literally improvise when there is too much missing information.
To persist with the analogy, you can add static to a DNA signal and if it’s not too catastrophic, the cell will over-write the static with new, suitable information, even if it has to borrow it from somewhere else. This is an ACTIVE process. Cells are profoundly robust. This is not in any way shape or form something that happens “accidentally.” I cover this exhaustively in my book “Evolution 2.0.”
I debate this point with famous atheist PZ Meyers in my blog post “Memo to PZ Myers: Damage is random. Repair is not.”
Cells reverse entropy. Cells evolve all by themselves. No human knows how to create systems or write code that does that. And the best way we can learn how is to study cells.
So actually your question runs far, far deeper than you may have ever considered in the past, because life is exponentially more impressive than any human system.
And yes, life on earth has flaws.
Just because a system has flaws doesn’t mean it’s not engineered. In fact, those very flaws are proof of engineering because the only way you know engineering has been done is because you can actually contrast a CORRECTLY functioning system with an INCORRECTLY functioning system. In fact that’s a working definition of teleology.
There is no such thing as an incorrectly functioning rock. There is very much such a thing as an incorrectly functioning human body.
And that’s precisely how you know it is endowed with purpose. Because it goes right and it goes wrong. We can confidently assert that all living things are teleological for this simple reason. Cells engineer and re-engineer themselves.
Now, if you have a moral issue with the universe having entropy, or evolution being harsh and competitive, then welcome to the theological question of theodicy.
OK… so let’s address theodicy. Allow me to put on my Christian hat.
The Young Earth Creationists deal with this by claiming that “there was no death before the fall.” They blame all disease and death in the world on man.
Well, this is wrong for two reasons.
First, we have absolutely zero evidence of the earth ever being death-free. Everything we know about geology, astronomy, anthropology and biology (without exception) says the universe is very old and things have been dying for a very very long time.
Second, this YEC idea comes from Romans 5 where Paul says “Through one man, death entered into the world and death through sin.” I talk about this more at www.cosmicfingerprints.com/not-young-earth-creationist and www.cosmicfingerprints.com/genesis1.
Paul is clearly NOT talking about physical death here. You can see this for yourself. Read the passage very carefully and you will see that if you insert “physical death” or “physical life” every time it discusses life and death, it makes no sense. It is talking about spiritual death.
This doctrine that physical death came from sin is one of the biggest mistakes in the history of Christianity. It continues to pit Christians against science to this day, when in fact the Bible never taught this. People injected it into the text and made it dogma.
OK, so then what does “spiritual death” mean?
Well, one thing it means is that man abdicated his spiritual authority by turning away from God. This of course is described in the Adam and Eve story.
By the way, I think it makes sense whether you interpret Genesis literally, as most conservative Christians do, or even if you interpret it as allegory or “saga.” Either way, the message is exactly the same. The point the story makes is that man had authority to heal the earth, which he gave up.
I know healing is real, because I’ve been in the room twice when people who were deaf got their hearing back after 30+ years. I have an entire page devoted to my own miraculous experiences at www.coffeehousetheology.com/miracles. I encourage you to read this page very, very carefully. Click on every link. Watch every video. Because it includes some very extensive documentation.
We humans are currently only exercising 1% of our God-given ability to heal. If we harnessed more of that we would see serious progress on all fronts.
And by the way, scientific and medical knowledge are just as legitimate forms of healing as the kind which I have seen and describe above, which is described in the New Testament. They’re both valid and they’re both real. People without faith have medicine. People of faith can access miracles and medicine.
Flickr / Julien Harneis https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/