Welcome to the home of The Question Evolution Project. Presenting information demonstrating that there is no truth in minerals-to-man evolution, and presenting evidence for special creation. —Established by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Special Guest Post: Understanding Information

DNA

Understanding Information:
Why Snowflakes and the Lottery Have Nothing to Say about Evolution

by Kevin P. Moritz

The Lottery


Frequently, in creation/evolution discussions and debates, the odds are brought up concerning the probability of random forces creating the order of amino acids in DNA. And it’s rightly pointed out by creationists that for such huge, encyclopedic amounts of genetic information, the odds that it could have come about randomly are practically 0. In reply, the opposition (usually those among it that have little understanding of the issue) often responds with arguments such as the following: “The odds that any one person will win the lottery are extremely small, but someone wins it every week” or “Shuffle a deck of cards, and the odds against its resulting order are inconceivably small, yet there it is.”

There are two points to consider, though, in these types of arguments. The first is that when you shuffle a deck of cards, a resulting order has to happen. In spite of the fact that every possible outcome has an inconceivably small chance of occurring, there is a 100-percent probability that a result with an inconceivably small chance will occur; and that much is known before shuffling. You could shuffle the cards a million times, and your deck will always end up having an order. And every order will work—if the only qualification for “working” is that there be an order. The second is the use of the word are in the second example. The odds for any given order of a deck of cards are determined beforehand (or, in the case of an event that has already happened, determined for what would have been the expectation beforehand [i] , not after. For anything that has already happened, the odds “are” that it’s an absolute certainty. A particular useful order for a deck of cards is never specified beforehand, as no one would bother playing any game requiring an order of cards with a 1-in-8x10^67 chance of occurring. If someone had specified a particular order beforehand, its occurrence would be either miraculous or a coincidence of the highest order.

With DNA, however, there are an inconceivable number of ways the amino acids could be arranged, yet only a vanishingly small number, relatively, of usable orders that could result from random shuffling. One might argue that we’re still deciding the odds after the fact. If any order could work—as with card-shuffling (with the intention of merely mixing them up)—that would be true. But, with only an extremely small number of outcomes that would work, it’s reasonable, given the functionality of DNA in living things, to assume that its purpose was determined beforehand, in which case either the Arranger of the amino acids was extremely lucky when He shuffled them or their order didn’t come about randomly and He, through intelligence, chose it.

In most card games, the order of the cards doesn’t matter. If one came across a deck of cards whose past he knew nothing about and noticed the order of cards was 8, 2, Q, 9, J, 6, J, 3, 7, A, 4, etc., he wouldn’t think that someone had bothered to arrange them in that particular order; but if he noticed the order to be A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A, 2, 3, 4, etc.—even though its likelihood of having occurred randomly is exactly the same as the other arrangement’s—he would make the logical assumption that someone had arranged them that way with the specification beforehand that the cards be in numerical order by suit. The second example has obvious order while the first doesn’t. [ii]

Some say the order in DNA isn’t brought about randomly because natural selection “chooses” the order to keep based on its survival value for the organism. But natural selection doesn’t choose the order that’s available to pick from in the first place. One might assert that natural selection isn’t entirely random in its choosing of the “more fit,” but the mutations that cause the order—more properly, disorder—remain random.

Finally, what some will resort to arguing is that computer programs have allegedly simulated how natural selection can choose from random results and arrive at a specified conclusion. But their relevance to real evolution can be dismissed without bother of a demonstration, by the same previous logic. Generally, when they are demonstrated, often with the example of letters forming a sentence, one easily sees that the programmer has already predetermined the sentence he wants, whereas evolution can’t plan ahead. What isn’t helpful (letters randomly placed in the wrong spots) toward reaching the end result is dismissed with the knowledge of what the end result is supposed to be, whereas natural selection doesn’t know what the end result should be and can only eliminate in-between results that are harmful enough to affect an organism’s survival, regardless of the useful function a change might have in the future after further modifications. If a half-leg/half-wing develops, evolution doesn’t know to let it keep becoming a wing (even assuming random mutations will lead in that direction)—but in these programs, in-between results are generally kept as “useful,” which for the programs’ purposes they always are. All evolution “knows,” however, is that a partial-leg/partial-wing is currently useless and actually a detriment to survival, and it will tend to select against it. (Evolution doesn’t get to keep the “cards” that are properly positioned for some unknown future order that may be useful.) And while, by flukes, some intermediate results may be helpful in a different way in the meantime, much more often they will be useless or harmful and will not be selected for.

Generally, there are far too many interrelated fortuitous “accidents” that have to happen just right—which can’t happen if everything is evolving randomly. (Consider vision, with all the necessary complexity of the eye itself, as well as the connections to the brain and the brain’s complex means of interpreting what our eyes see. Consider all the parts necessary to get oxygen to the cells: a bloodstream that makes contact with virtually every cell in the body and already has many other highly complex functions; cell membranes that can allow the passage of oxygen; and lungs, which provide oxygen to the blood cells.) This just can’t happen even assuming that the intermediates can have some other uses along the way.

Here, we get into the idea of “irreducible complexity,” which some erroneously think means that there’s no other way a structure’s function can be designed for and still be functional. What it means is that, given the parts in whichever irreducibly complex mechanism you have (a mousetrap, for example), there’s no way of building it up with those necessary parts step-by-step. The fact that they’re all “needed parts” prevents the trap from working before all the parts are together and in the right arrangement. And even the odds that fewer of the needed parts can have some other function every step of the way are effectively 0, especially in any system as complex as most bodily functions. Upon further examination of the computer programs, it’s generally found that, aside from the dissimilarities given above, the program and the examples it uses are extremely simple and would otherwise still have little relevance to evolution.

Information 


Information is defined most simply as “specified complexity.” But to understand what qualifies as information and how the arrangement of amino acids in DNA does qualify, it’s helpful to understand, including the definition, the ideas of complexity, specificity, order, message, and communication. The arrangement of all the grains of sand on a beach has vast complexity, more so than an individual’s DNA, but it has no specificity. You could rearrange them an infinite number of ways and every way would say the same thing: nothing. Now if someone had a system that assigned some meaning to each grain of sand based on its three-dimensional micro-coordinates and its size, shape, or color relative to its neighboring grains, then of course the beach could contain huge amounts of information. But it’s the fact that no one has set up such a system that we know of (let alone the impractical nature of trying to duplicate, i.e., communicate, the message on some other beach) that makes their positions, sizes, shapes, or colors meaningless—without information.

The pattern in a snowflake is often given as an example of complexity or order (specifically, “self-organization”) to show that both of these can come about without intelligent guidance. [iii] But like the sand on a beach, it has no specificity and thus has no relevance to the genetic information in DNA. And like the ions in a salt crystal, mere order can come about naturally and thus it also has no relevance to the genetic information in DNA. (Consider the instantaneous order of a handful of marbles dropped above a flat surface: One second they’re at various heights, moving in various directions; the next they’ve all landed at the same level and are only moving horizontally. That should show how little relevance mere “order” has to genetic information. Obviously, one couldn’t write an informative essay with such ease.) What order it has, in any case, is minimal and is understood to be brought about by the positive and negative “poles” of the water molecules and the fact that the molecules’ geometry will tend to cause crystallization in a six-sided pattern. While beautiful (which is beside the point, at least in this discussion), the order in snowflakes is no more than a pattern of twelve identical formations, six of which are simply mirror images of the remaining six, five of which are merely repetitions of the remaining one, all of whose smaller offshoots are entirely random other than their angle from the main branch brought about by the water molecule’s geometry. (And that’s all disregarding the myriad minor imperfections in its order as seen through a microscope, which diminish the amount of “order” it seems to have superficially.) The most information that could even conceivably be inferred from a natural snowflake is the number 6 (or 12) and the number 60 (the number of degrees of angle between adjacent spokes). Basically, the difference between snowflakes and DNA is that it is not within the properties of chemistry and physics for amino acids to arrange themselves in a particular order on their own (the order has to be imposed on it from outside), but it is within the properties of water molecules to arrange themselves according to the geometry of snowflakes. [iv]

A ten-foot line of matchsticks placed end-to-end is very ordered, but not complex in the least. Nor is it specified, as no one has come up with an understood system to interpret the arrangement (unless it’s intended to represent the lowercase letter L, whose information content, by itself, is about as minimal as possible). Nor is it even possible that it could be specified any more than, perhaps, as the repetition of a single unit of information (whatever each stick represents). The letter A may be specified, but a long line of As isn’t very informative.

The word HI written in the sand on a beach has more information than the arrangement of all the grains of sand on that same beach. That’s because it’s specified. The characters have a specified meaning, and together in that order they’re rightly understood to be a greeting. The system of its coding is available in any English dictionary. Whether it’s seen by someone who doesn’t speak English doesn’t change the fact that it’s information (though not intelligible to him) any more than a baby looking at a newspaper undoes the information content therein.

A natural arrangement of sand that’s formed on the beach appearing to say “HI” is not a message; nor is it information, although it may have that appearance. (One may argue it’s a message from God, but then it’s not the “natural” formation we’re talking about.) There is no message-sender. There is no actual greeting. If its lines looked like a crude map, it wouldn’t really tell you how to get anywhere except by the most unlikely coincidence. And without also a label for the place it’s conceivably directing you to, it’s useless and, for that reason also, not “information.” Of course, the more complex the pattern and greater resemblance to information, the more the chances of its being natural (i.e., random) can be ruled out.

It’s often claimed by the simpleminded that random mutations in a creature’s genetic material (which, in combination with natural selection, is the alleged agency of evolution) create new or more information. First of all, we can easily dismiss the idea that a change can bring about more information by eliminating the previous information; and the less simpleminded will claim only that it creates new information (not more). But is any random pattern automatically “information”? [v] Try rearranging letters randomly in a newspaper article and see if it’s more informative, or even—as often argued regarding genetic information—as informative. You may by chance get a new recognizable word, but will it have any more meaning than the natural “HI” formation we discussed previously? You may happen to change “The blue car ran the light” to “The glue cat ran the fight,” but does a false and/or nonsense statement that isn’t even intended have meaning? Or just similarity to another intended statement about an actual event that does? Or does duplicating genes give you any more information than photocopying a term paper? As the example goes, try turning in two copies of your school assignment and see if you get extra credit.

“Intention” is intimately tied to the definition of information and is why information can only arise from an intelligence (even if indirectly, as in a programmable calculator’s solution to an equation) and why the information argument (referring to the genetic information even in the simplest of organisms) is one of the most devastating to evolution, whether evolutionists recognize and admit it or not. [vi] In one sense, creationists have an advantage in the debate: since information is defined as “intentional,” even the appearance of information, randomly caused, can be ruled out (though so far even proffered examples of the appearance of information, randomly caused, have been extremely minimal, highly debatable, or both). Of course, if they could give an example beyond the simplest, they would have more of a case for claiming it as actual information. [vii]

It’s ironic: Some evolutionists will argue that random mutations can cause new genetic information; others argue that DNA coding isn’t information in the first place by their definition (it doesn’t have what they consider “a message”). Clearly there’s a difference of opinion among them or, perhaps more likely, a difference of tactic depending whom they’re arguing against. And claiming that it isn’t information is clearly a circular argument based on the premise that it came about naturally in the first place.

Sometimes, though, their point is that DNA doesn’t have a message per se. There is no “Hi, how are you? I missed you at church last week.” But there is a message: there are coded instructions for building specific proteins (a blueprint doesn’t have a message either by similar reasoning, but few would say it contains no information), and the message can be communicated (i.e., reproduced). Since Creation, each organism’s message about how to construct the next generation has been passed down to the present day, with amazing efficiency. The fact that mutations cause occasional errors, with their slight lessening of the information content, doesn’t change the fact that there’s information (or that there was originally information in the case of high-level corruption) and that it has been communicated any more than a typo on a memo does when it’s copied over for the boss.

The means of passing on information is irrelevant. Information isn’t stored in the ink on a page, the dots used in Braille, the electrical connections in a computer, or the amino acids in DNA. It’s contained in the arrangement of the given units. If we took our hypothetical beach earlier whose sand was arranged with huge information content according to the placement of the grains, etc., and transported all of its sand to another place by dump trucks, we would lose all of its information, even if we saved every grain. The sand itself doesn’t contain the information—only the arrangement of its grains (and then, only in this hypothetical example of an information-containing beach).

It’s the “coded arrangement” that makes information independent of the size of the medium used to convey it. The same information on a billboard could be written on the back of a stamp or stored in DNA itself (if we assigned letters to individual amino acids, etc.), in a medium smaller by more orders of magnitude than I feel like calculating. [viii] And the same message can be carried by many mediums without its message being changed (at least fundamentally, given the differing nuances possible in various languages): English, German, French, Morse code, electrical signals, smoke signals, Braille, etc.

Again, it’s the same quality of information being independent of its size that makes living things some of the strongest evidence for a Creator. As vast as the universe is, one could argue that maybe the universe is tiny and we’re all the tinier still. And he would argue rightly. With no outside scale to measure the universe by, who’s to say how big it is? (And if there were an outside scale, what would we measure that by?) Therefore size—by itself—is of lesser value as an evidence. (I purposely say “lesser value” rather than “no value” [ix] ; the mere fact that the universe exists is a separate, and greater, evidence.) If a single copy of the DNA (which is all that would be necessary, given that duplication doesn’t equal “more information”) of every original created “kind” (or perhaps two or more copies, depending on the number of created individuals of any one kind) were gathered into a ball, it would probably be barely visible, if at all. But if the entire universe were shrunk to a size just big enough to contain that ball and nothing else, it would be only slightly less significant as an evidence for Creation. As Augustine said, “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

Evolutionists will often talk of “evolution” as a law of nature as certain or universal as gravity. Yet in no other known case has information ever come about other than by an intelligence as its source. If they’ll even admit the principle in general, they will say evolution is the exception—which is of course begging the question. In any other field, for example forensic investigation, what has happened in the unseen past is often inferred from what we know universally happens in the seen present. Not only is genetic information, by logical extension, clearly caused by an intelligence, but it’s the type of creation that most requires an intelligence. And, given that even a natural creator would have its own genetic information (in whatever form) to explain, the ultimate Creator must be not only intelligent, but supernatural—in other words, God.

Table of Examples

EXAMPLES OF COMPLEXITY, SPECIFICITY, ORDER, MESSAGE & COMMUNICATION



LOTTERY NUMBERS

Complexity: Low; the arrangement of just a few random numbers.

Specificity: None; while the numbers determine the winner, they’re still chosen randomly, not according to a specification. What small specificity there may be is determined retroactively (similar to the deck of cards, where no one specifies the order to be used before the shuffling), not according to a known system (in the sense that someone knew beforehand what numbers would specify the winner), and it would still be the specificity of only one combination of numbers (like having a “language” with only one letter)—not information.

Order: None; what small order there might be is random.

Message: None but the identification of a winner, but still random; no communicability from one winner to the next (or else the system would quickly be shut down).

Communication: Possible by photocopying, accessing the computer source, broadcasting, etc.; depending on the programming, may or may not require an outside force to reproduce.


SHUFFLED DECK OF CARDS

Complexity: High; the arrangement of 52 units.

Specificity: None; while the various cards have specified values in various games, there is no specificity to any particular order of shuffled deck (assigning meaning to 8x10^67 possible outcomes is more than anyone has time for)—not information.

Order: None other than random juxtaposition between occasional cards; any high level of order would merely indicate that the deck was likely not shuffled.

Message: None, although a “message” could be specified according to the arrangement of the cards (but that would defeat the purpose of shuffling)—not information.

Communication: Possible with a card-by-card corresponding arrangement of another deck, but no direct means of message duplication; requires an outside force to reproduce, whether human intervention or an electronic card-reader, etc.


SAND GRAINS ON A BEACH 

Complexity: Extremely high—many orders of magnitude higher than possible with the mere 52 units in a deck of cards; impossible to duplicate, humanly speaking.

Specificity: None; no assigned meaning to any aspect—not information.

Order: Very low; limited to the possible sorting of smaller grains on the bottom, smoothness of the top surface, etc.

Message: None—not information.

Communication: No known or practical means of reproducing one beach’s sand-grain arrangement or even copying its information via another medium (say, by digging and noting the position of each grain) without destroying the arrangement of sand on the original beach—not information.


SNOWFLAKE 

Complexity: Low (considering only the macroscopic pattern, not the arrangement of every water molecule); a simple pattern repeated.

Specificity: None; no assigned meaning to any aspect—not information.

Order: High; very precisely arranged, geometrically (but only macroscopically).

Message: None; even if there was a message, there’s no way of communicating it from one snowflake to another—not information.

Communication: No possible means of reproducing a given arrangement, even by human intervention, because of the size and number of the individual molecules (or even only the macroscopic features) whose arrangement would need duplicating—not information.


GENETIC ARRANGEMENT IN DNA 

Complexity: Very high, though not nearly as high as that of sand grains on a beach (but complexity alone doesn’t have meaning)—information!

Specificity: Extremely high; an assigned reason for much, if not all, of the amino acid placement; few other examples come close—information!

Order: Very high, though apart from the complexity and specificity merely the uniform arrangement of millions of amino acids in a double-helix “ladder” (which itself is a highly ordered arrangement of amino acids)—information!

Message: Very high; the precise specifications for thousands of proteins and control of various cellular functions (though no “greeting” per se)—information!

Communication: Extremely high; specifically designed to contain and transmit (i.e., duplicate) vast arrangements of amino acids from generation to generation, and without any outside intervention—information!

—September 11-17,19-21,24,28, October 5, 2009; January 11, 2010; June 17, 2012

ADDENDUM
On Defining Information

I wonder if, in a certain sense, what the critics insist on—i.e., a specific definition of information—is impossible. What do they want? A mathematical definition of genetic information as “so many As, Cs, Gs, and Ts” and/or “in such and such sequences,” etc.? Obviously “information” can’t be defined so simply—as mere quantity of a certain “letter,” etc. It should be obvious that any such definition can be circumvented by any number of arrangements that meet such simplified conditions but are otherwise random. It seems that only a definition of the information that is as long and informative as the information in question itself would satisfy them. In a sense, how can you specify a definition of something that can vary widely and be in an infinite number of forms yet still be characterized as “information” other than a very simple definition such as “specified complexity” or “functional arrangement of characters,” etc., which is generally too simple and “vague” to satisfy them as well? Obviously, you can’t get overly specific and say, “Information will say such and such” or “Information will be so many characters (or bits, etc.) long” or “Information is a code that specifies this specific function (or that specific function or some other specific statement or some other specific fact).”

In a certain sense, only a consciousness can recognize information (not entirely the same, but similar to a recognition of “beauty” or “humor,” etc.)—or a computer “recognizing” a program (which, of course, is ultimately—directly or indirectly—a product of consciousness and intelligence). Can we really say the letters in “WET PAINT” are 100 percent information (for lack of other units of measurement), or 9 “bits” of information (counting the space)? Or that “WET PAIT” has 89 percent information, or 8 bits of information, if we still recognize the message intended? If we recognize the complete intended message, one might argue that it has the same amount of information. On the other hand, if we don’t recognize the message at all, one could argue that it therefore has no information.

But all this is regarding the difficulty in defining information, not in recognizing it (as we likewise have little trouble recognizing beauty or humor, in spite of the difficulty of defining them). Few would fail to consider “WET PAINT” as containing information and “wy9pI 7rS” as not containing information—at least in the English language that it’s intended to be read in. Likewise, DNA has a “genetic language” that it’s intended to be read in, and functional complexity is generally a good sign that it has information content, while failure of function is a good sign that the information has been corrupted.

In a certain sense, whether genetic information can be specifically defined—let alone to the skeptic’s satisfactionis irrelevant. (And obviously my lack of expertise doesn’t preclude someone else from having a useful, specific definition.) The idea that, because we can’t specifically define it, we can’t say that it’s there or recognize when it’s been there but become corrupted, etc., is a smokescreen. Such critics who suggest as much obfuscate the issue: One doesn’t need a specific definition of information to understand that, if 30 percent of the letters in this essay are randomly changed to another, information has been lost. Or that if the entire essay is duplicated, no new information has been created. Or that if I add a 10-page “Appendix” or 20 relevant footnotes, new information has been added. Or that if pages of random letters are added, no new information has been added.

It’s ridiculous to say, because someone else can’t define the elephant in the room, that therefore there is no elephant in the room, even while it’s stomping on your feet and eating peanuts. Information is there in the genetic code, and the critics darn well know it. And the ones who can think even remotely abstractly know that information doesn’t come about apart from the action of an intelligent agent. Once again, they hope to satisfy their own twisted sense of evidence by merely playing word games that don’t actually deal with the evidence. For one to take satisfaction that he has justified his own position—as if with evidence—merely because he thinks he scored points in some wordplay is self-deception at its worst.

Finally, one other mistaken notion occasionally heard is that the information (or “arrangement,” for those who quibble over how to define “information”) in DNA can come about relatively simply because there are only four nucleotide “letters” (a quaternary code, not binary as some mistakenly consider it*), which is also horribly flawed. Are the works of Shakespeare only a little more difficult to produce by chance because there are only 26 letters? What if they were written in a binary language? Could chance produce them even more easily that way? Obviously, it’s the arrangement of the letters that required intelligence and which couldn’t have come about by chance.

*I’ve heard someone say that the DNA code is binary because nucleotide A always pairs with G and C with T. But it’s that pairing that makes the quaternary code possible to reproduce. There are still four nucleotide “letters” that are used in the coding. Another way to look at it is that A pairs with G and C pairs with T—but G pairs with A and T pairs with C also! If you consider any one strand of DNA information, you’ll see that each of its four “letters” pairs with a different letter: A with G, C with T, G with A, and T with C. It’s similar to the way odds must be calculated for rolling a pair of dice and getting a “7”: One way is to get a “3” on one die and a “4” on the other, but another way is to get a “4” on the first die and a “3” on the other. (The fact that in both cases a “3” and a “4” add up to 7 doesn’t change the fact that 3 and 4 are two different numbers. Similarly, DNA nucleotides A and G offer two possibilities for what nucleotide can be in any one spot; C and T offer two more.) Those two possibilities of “3” and “4” double the amount of ways (or double the “chances”) you can get a “7” with a “3” and a “4”—and both must be taken into consideration (similarly with a “6” and a “1,” a “5” and a “2,” etc.) when calculating the odds, which rightfully predict that a “7” will be the most common result if a pair of dice are rolled enough times. (Even if 3 and 4 were the only numbers that could result in a “7,” it would still be easier than getting a “12”: Each die has two possible outcomes that are beneficial for a result of “7,”: “3” and “4”; but for a “12” each die has only one beneficial outcome: “6.” A result of “2” is similarly unlikely, due to a “1” and a “1” being the only possibilities that would work. Thus “2” and “12” are the least likely outcomes, while “7” is the most likely.)

—June 25, 2011


NOTES

[i] Note what is perhaps a subtlety: When considering the odds “beforehand” for an event that has already happened, there generally has to be a reason for determining the odds of the end result that came to be. In other words, rather than say that the chances for a specific (though wrong) order of amino acids are the same as the one, correct sequence are equal (though true), the odds should be considered as one chance for the correct sequence out of a huge amount of possible sequences. The point in question is whether the one correct sequence would be the result or any of the incorrect sequences. Again, a result, even from a random mixing, must happen. To focus on the odds of a result (or any result) happening (other than the correct one), therefore, misses the point, since the odds would be one hundred percent, or “1.” Likewise, to focus on the odds, after the fact, that a certain incorrect sequence would be the result is also pointless, since no one would have cared about a specific incorrect sequence, but rather about whether any of the incorrect sequences or the correct sequence resulted. If there had been a speculation that a certain sequence (whether correct or incorrect) would result (or a desire for a certain sequence), whether for some unknown reason or simply because of a bet (or gamble), as with a lottery, then the fact that it resulted would be noteworthy. But even still, the result wouldn’t be universally relevant—i.e., millions of lottery players would each hope that their sequence would result, but only one might win and feel that his own sequence “beat the odds.” When all (or many) possibilities are covered, of course one of them is certain (or likely) to win. That isn’t noteworthy—one of them has to! In the case of information, to hold that adding or rearranging “letters” results in new information is to hold that any sequence of letters is “information,” whether the accidental spilling of a hundred Scrabble tiles, the introduction of several typos by a poor typist, or the duplication of a document by photocopying. To hold that any sequence of letters (or, by analogy, amino acids) is “information” is to play loose with definitions and implies, logically, that there is no arrangement of anything that isn’t information!

[ii] One might argue that the first example is more complex, while the second simply has order. While that is true, mere complexity—like the relative positions of all the sand grains on a beach—doesn’t indicate a purpose or intention to the arrangement, while simple order may and, in the case of a perfectly arranged deck of cards, almost certainly does. The difference with DNA, though, is that, while the arrangement of amino acids doesn’t have a discernable order at first glance, similar to the arrangement of letters in a foreign language, it (a) causes the functioning of the life-form whose genetic coding it is (which by itself would indicate its purposeful arrangement into “information”)—we can likewise assume that someone looking at a building’s room directory in a foreign country and then taking the elevator to the third floor was caused to take that path by his receiving and processing the information displayed in the directory—and (b) shows high levels of order once its arrangement, like the letters in a foreign language, are studied and understood (to whatever degree).

[iii] Often it’s used as an example of “growth” in discussions about what life is. In other words, as the argument goes, “We can’t define life by the fact that it grows because a snowflake also grows and no one considers it living.” A pile of dirty clothes grows also if you don’t do your laundry enough. Most would consider true growth, at least in a biological sense, as more than an increase in size. My own definition of life is simply “that which is aware (having some sort of consciousness); and to whatever extent it’s aware, to that extent it’s alive,” which to me seems to avoid extraneous definitions involving the functions of growth, reproduction, use of tools, ability to learn, or what have you and also includes God and spirits (which my former definition, “matter that is aware,” didn’t). I don’t like including the second part because it seems to blur the line; but there does seem to be a continuum between amebas (which some would consider barely “aware,” if at all) and humans. Some would argue, “What about someone under anesthesia, or simply asleep, or in a coma?” I might consider them exceptions—or just revise my definition to “generally speaking.” Few people have trouble recognizing life when they see it, though. I might also make a distinction between parts of one’s body, which are “living,” and the body as a whole, which is “life” or, more specifically, “a life.” In any case, I wouldn’t consider anything below a single cell “life,” for example a virus, which seems more like a big collection of large molecules and doesn’t have the complexity (at least within itself) necessary for biological life (or awareness). I would also not consider plants “alive,” other than in a biological sense—and with that I make a clear distinction. I consider plants (and possibly certain very “low” forms of “animal” life) as “merely” following the laws of chemistry and physics—given their original form at Creation (though by doing so I don’t intend to diminish at all the Intelligence required for their genetic and physiological organization required to function). In other words, if you could put all the parts in their proper place yourself and then step back, your plant would function. I don’t think that to be the case with life (at least in the case of higher life, including humans): If you could hypothetically put all the parts in place, your “human” wouldn’t be alive. Even God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”—after forming Adam—before “man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7b), suggesting an immaterial aspect. Without an immaterial aspect of life, what continues after our physical death? And who’s to say that the reassembling of molecules (especially if they’re not the original molecules involved) restores the same individual that existed previously? I had a similar problem with the movie The Sixth Day: The premise seemed to be that no person who had been cloned minded dying because he would live on once his clone was given the finishing touches. An obvious problem is that they would still be averse to the actual process and pain of dying itself. But if nothing exists besides the physical world (as is likely the story’s viewpoint), the dead person wouldn’t live on. While the clone, with his “restored” memories, would think he was the original, the original himself wouldn’t think anything—he’d be dead and gone forever! Perhaps the line between “life” and “non-life” is best drawn where it seems to be drawn in Scripture, which uses the Hebrew term nephesh to refer to life (or at least to higher types of life, or the only types “aware” enough or “living” enough to truly be able to experience death); and it would rule out plants as well, along with smaller organisms such as insects and the like. Many people tend to think that some things—even a computer, or “artificial life”—can be considered “living” if they’re complex enough. I disagree; but I understand how a materialist—given that he believes in nothing supernatural (or spiritual) yet understands that some things in existence are obviously alive—is otherwise forced to that conclusion (just as he is to the idea that mutations can create information in DNA: “even the creationists consider the arrangement in DNA to be information, therefore the mutations that caused the arrangements must be able to creation information”; the difference, of course, is that mutations didn’t cause the “original” information, they’ve only reduced the information that’s left). I don’t think life can be boiled down to mere material, though: “Artificial life” is programmed to act alive and respond similarly to how humans would respond to various situations. Someone might reply, “But aren’t you programmed by ‘God’?” I would answer that our necessary “machinery” was created by God, and our “life,” or spirit, makes use of it. Our undeniable free will shows that our “life” is more than artificial (in other words, we are able to “initiate thoughts and actions [that] are not fully determined by deterministic laws of brain chemistry,” as Dr. Jonathan Sarfati says in a creation.com Feedback article, “Presuppositions required for science, ‘Christian’ v atheist atrocities, defending the faith: Correcting a severe misconception about the creation model,” http://creation.com/correcting-a-severe-misconception-about-the-creation-model, as of September 17, 2009), while an “artificial intelligence” is programmed merely to appear that way, possibly by exploiting the effects of quantum physics or a random number generator to avoid a one-to-one regular correspondence between a stimulus and a response. To me the mere “complexity” argument breaks down because the simplest mechanism can be built to respond to a given stimulus (like a calculator solving a problem) and thus, by such reasoning, appear alive, while no one considers the space shuttle (which has been called the most technologically complex machine ever made) alive. In the end, it may be difficult to draw the line, but most things on either side of that line are easily distinguished. And if “life” could be boiled down to just physical and chemical reactions, would it really mean anything to be “loved” by someone or something that's only doing what physical laws determined, any more than being “loved” by a robot that flashed “i love you” on its control panel merely because it was programmed to do so? If we’re created in the image of God, who loves us, wouldn’t our love have to have an immaterial aspect, a will, also to mean anything—apart from any physical properties of our brain that couldn’t help causing such “love”?

[iv] On an Internet discussion board, I added these comments about snowflakes for someone who remained insistent that snowflakes have complexity in the same way as DNA:

“Even without being fully versed in the technical terms and definitions of information science, certain differences between snowflakes and DNA should be obvious to almost anybody:

•  Whatever ‘complexity’ (or ‘order’) snowflakes have can’t be transmitted from one to another. Most concepts of information include the idea of reproducibility, without which information is pointless or at the least very limited…to the original flake having the ‘information.’ (The most that can be said is that the branches of a snowflake are reproduced among themselves. But since their formation actually happens simultaneously, they still can hardly be seen as an example of communication—i.e., ‘reproduction.’)

• Whatever complexity snowflakes have isn’t specified: It has no meaning (or, if one insists, mere purpose), as DNA coding has when it is used to reproduce itself. (The most meaning a snowflake could have would be the specification of an angle, due to the properties of water molecules, with many repetitious ‘statements’ of that ‘meaning.’)

• Snowflake ‘complexity’ happens spontaneously, without any intelligent help. Any semblance of a coded protein arising from a mix of amino acids is impossible (so far, even with intelligent help), other than the briefest coincidental similarities or constructions in highly controlled environments.

• Even disregarding the mere duplication or mirror images involved in the branches of a snowflake, the ‘side-’ (or ‘sub-’) branches of any one of them are completely random, unlike the specifically placed amino acids in DNA. And of course duplication of anything doesn’t create more information.

• Even in its mere order, a snowflake’s will appear far less uniform at the highest magnifications, because of the innumerable slight differences between its branches due to the uncountable water molecules involved and the impossibility that even in its symmetry everything would be exactly the same. It will appear to have more complexity (though still unspecified) but even less order. Not so with DNA: due to the fact that its code is built on the arrangement of individual molecules (and their constituent atoms), it is exact (while it may still have rare copying mistakes); and two codes apparently similar will appear identical on closer examination.

• Any potential information a snowflake has is to no purpose (other than the basic properties water would need to make life possible), even if it could be kept from melting. The purpose of DNA can be readily seen in all the functions in all living things that it’s responsible for—a gap in functionality that’s infinite, for all practical purposes.”

[v] It’s long been recognized that some losses of genetic information (and perhaps an associated bodily structure) can be advantageous in certain environments. Information doesn’t automatically equal “advantage,” although loss of information usually means a disadvantage.

[vi] Related to the concept of “intention” is that of “message” and “communication”: Not all intentions have a message per se, but all messages must be intended. That’s why a natural formation on the beach resembling “HI” is a curiosity, but not a message—it wasn’t intended. As well, a message must be communicable, although not everything communicable (i.e., not everything intended) is a message (unless you consider a communicable disease some kind of greeting or an intended cough as some kind of statement). In one sense, a lack of message is what makes a scrambled pile of Scrabble letters not information: although there is complexity and each letter has a specified meaning (when otherwise used properly), the jumbled pieces render any message unintended.

[vii] While this might seem an unfair advantage, evolutionists give themselves an advantage as well by claiming that any new mix of letters (or amino acids) is “information” (see Note 1)—at least when they’re not denying that information exists in DNA in the first place. (I’ve heard evolutionists argue that any change is “new information.” I’ve also heard evolutionists argue that the arrangement of amino acids in DNA isn’t information. Either way, they try to excuse or dismiss the information present. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve heard the same evolutionists arguing either way, depending on the context or whom they’re arguing against.) In everyday life, though, the creationists’ “advantage” is much more legitimate. The idea that any sequence of anything is not only likely (which may be true), but also just as beneficial or relevant is a notion that people just don’t hold in reality—not when they have a lottery ticket with one set of numbers on it or a poker hand with one combination. No one takes a trip by using any road whatsoever to reach their destination. Not all possibilities are relevant or useful or beneficial.

[viii] It can be easily demonstrated, even to a child, that information doesn’t have parameters of size, and can even be increased while its medium is decreased: Cut letters out of a piece of paper and you have more information with less paper. Even electronically, typing a message with a word processor—given that the text is generally black on white—reduces the amount of light used. (As opposed to the entire screen being white, only most of it is.)


[ix] Certainly, David used the heavens as an awe-inspiring example of God’s creation—but perhaps primarily in the sense that they even exist and/or that they’re beyond our reach or understanding—when he wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God;/And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1, NASB). In the same way, he expressed his lack of understanding of the human body and how it formed within the womb, when he said, “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made/.…I was made in secret,/And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:14a,15b, NASB). Presumably, he hadn’t the remotest understanding of the sizes and distances involved in the “heavens,” which makes it at least possible that they were lesser factors in his awe of Creation. Not to trivialize Creation into mere DNA to the exclusion of everything else, but in a real sense, all of life’s functions—apart from the essence of life itself, which is a separate manifestation of Creation—all of its original variability, all of its interrelated systems are inherent in the DNA, from which all the necessary information for their construction and operation are derived. There are other secondary, or “natural,” effects of more directly created things that are impressive in their own way as well: While the Flood was a chaotic judgment on sinful humanity, without its erosive effect and that of all rivers, etc., since then, we would be without most of the spectacular natural scenery we have today. I’ve always wondered at the beauty even God’s judgment can, at least indirectly, bring about; and I’ve wondered what kind of scenery will exist in the new heaven and new earth, when there will be no more sea (Revelation 21:1)—not that I’ve seriously worried about it, though.



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