Wednesday, July 25, 2012

6 Reasons to Believe in God - Reason 4 - DNA is Code!


Code!
Lately, I've been deconstructing a webpage that describes six reasons to believe in God. I first saw it as an ad, and decided to look into it.

My prior posts are:
Today's Argument - #4 - DNA is Code!

All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program? As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros, like this: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It's made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell like this: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT and so on. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell!! 
Well, just like you can program your phone to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual. 
Why is this so amazing? One has to ask....how did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person's body should develop. 
Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it.
Awesome! It's an Argument from Analogy! Oddly enough, this is one of my more favorite apologetics, mostly because the error isn't so mind-numbingly blatant as Arguments from Ignorance. At least now we're getting some diversity in the logical fallacies this webpage has put forth!

Argument from Analogy

Before we dive in, let's clarify what's up with Arguments from Analogy.

In a nutshell, this is when one equates/compares two things, and then assumes that all attributes of A also belong to B. 

Analogies are useful for conveying a concept, for the purpose of bridging understanding for someone who already understands A, but doesn't know what B is yet. This is handy, but an Argument from Analogy is problematically attempting to establish that something about B is true, because it's true in A.

For instance, consider this example:
  1. Rocks are like bricks (for stone walls, etc)
  2. Bricks are created by intelligent entities (humans)
  3. Therefore, rocks are created by intelligent entities
Or this example:
  1. Airplanes are basically mechanical birds
  2. Birds occur naturally
  3. Therefore, airplanes occur naturally
Or, this example - which isn't an analogy per se, but hopefully conveys the mechanism of the fallacy:
  1. Bob, Fred and Jack are humans
  2. Fred and Jack like cookies
  3. Since all the other humans we know like cookies, Bob likes cookies too.
It might not be cookies that we're addressing. It could be any attribute. Whatever that attribute is, we're presupposing that, due to our comparing two or more things, placing them into a category of our opinion, that therefore they share the same attributes as well - whatever it is we may want to compare.

Let's look at the website author's argument.

DNA, Instruction and Intent

Chipmunk has DNA
This creature has DNA!
All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent.
How do we know this? Actually, I'll agree that teaching and training comes with intent. Instruction, I'm not buying. We're already dangerously close to having a semantic debate - not an evidence based one.  These types of arguments are a type of trying to "logic God into existence", void of empirical confirmation - in this case, through defining God into existence.

It's not a good idea to presuppose that instruction must have a sentient instructor. It could be self-forming. Why not? Critical thinking dictates that we not make this assumption.

But let us continue.
Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program?
Here's the basic Argument from Analogy. Does it seem familiar?

  1. DNA is like a code
  2. All code is programmed by a programmer
  3. Therefore, DNA is programmed by a programmer

Sure, comparing DNA to code is good for a basic introductory understanding of what DNA's function is, but  it isn't established through this argument that DNA has a programmer - at least, not by an intelligent one. The structure of this argument is an official logical fallacy.

As I mentioned before, this is more a semantics game than anything else. A lot depends on the definition of "code" or "program". If that definition requires an intelligent programmer/coder, then DNA couldn't be labeled as "code", because it isn't fitting one of the key parts of the definition.

The whole point behind genetics in evolution is that the DNA is "programmed" through natural mechanisms. That's the point. We can observe DNA modifying over generations - adding new imformation, modifying current DNA, etc. There's no indication that any intelligence is at the helm.
As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros, like this: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It's made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell like this: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT and so on. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell!! 
Hooray for facts! None of this, however, affects the problem of whether or not an intelligent entity is responsible for the DNA of various lifeforms.

We also mimicked birds to figure out flight. That doesn't mean that birds were designed too.
Well, just like you can program your phone to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual. 
Not exactly - DNA isn't a "program" as in what a computer does. It's more like a stencil for production of proteins, among other things, that then chemically do their things - like embed in the cell wall, or produce more cell wall, etc.

This is where the analogy breaks down. There's no computer that's running the code. The cells do have catalysts/enzymes - proteins that facilitate protein duplication. It's not computer code, or executed as computer code, in the way we traditionally think about it.

None of that matters though - even if the author was spot-on, the core fallacy still invalidates the argument.
Why is this so amazing? One has to ask....how did this information program wind up in each human cell? 
It's definitely amazing! Amazing doesn't equal God though!

How the information in the DNA was formed is an excellent question. That's where evidence comes in, not logical fallacies and word games.
These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person's body should develop. 
Yes, they are just chemicals. The capacitors that make up the memory array of the RAM in one's computer are just capacitors. They don't instruct anything. They hold charges (or not), which is then interpreted by a computer as data - but that's me being pedantic again.
Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. 
No, natural biological causes are not completely lacking in explaining this. That's what evolution does.  That's the point. 
You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it.
It's interesting that the author ends with this, because it's actually a key point to the void of critical thinking displayed on this page.

We have two examples of "code" that we've discovered so far.
  1. DNA 
  2. All the code humanity has programmed
The author is looking at #2, and saying "Welp, all the other code we know of is programmed and they're all programmed by intelligence", then looking at #1 and saying, "This must be too!"

The key is - how do we know that DNA isn't our main example of naturally occurring code? This argument only makes any sense if one presupposes that all code is intelligently created - which is begging the question, because that's what we've set out to prove. We've presupposed what we're trying to show.

It's like arguing that a particular black swan we're examining is actually white because the other 999 swans are white, because as we all know, all swans are white! Do we know that? Do we know that all code is intelligently programmed?

A while back, I went into depth as to how to determine whether a particular thing is designed or not. The only way to tell is through demonstration - meaning, the apologist has to demonstrate that God exists, and then demonstrate that God is designing DNA.

Meaning, they're caught in a circular trap.

What's worse, is that even if they demonstrate that DNA is designed by an intelligent agency, that still doesn't necessarily demonstrate God. It could be that life on this planet was established by another natural agency within this reality (like aliens), with one such example being programmed panspermia. It could be that a non-intelligent natural mechanism, of which we aren't currently aware, is responsible. Similar to the cosmological argument the author made in Reason 3, they're also engaging in an argument from ignorance here - they state that science can't account for it, so they're apparently therefore correct in making something up.

Recap

Ah yes, the much rejoiced classic - argument from "DNA is Code!".

This reason for believing in God suffers from multiple levels of failure.
  • It's a common logical fallacy - Argument from Analogy and an Argument from Ignorance - argument invalidated
  • The analogy breaks down, anyway
  • Even if it were true, it doesn't prove a supernatural entity is involved
  • The lack of a scientific explanation wouldn't mean their assertion is true
Grade: F-


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