A New Face on an Old Argument Part 1
I was recently came across the website cosmicfingerprints.com and found an article that made the audacious claim of being able to prove that God exists through just a few simple arguments. These arguments also undermined evolution in the process. As an athiest and a darwinist, I was skeptical from the outset. Skepticism turned into frustration as I continued reading. The title asks the question “does a computer networking expert have something new and important to say about the evolution vs. intelligent design debate?” In this instance, the answer is clearly “no.” After reading the brief article and listening to the MP3 clip which accompanies it, I was convinced that this computer networking expert indeed had nothing new or important to say. In my experience following creationist vs. darwinist debate, I have come to expect a fair amount of faulty logic on the part of the former party. But what really annoys me is when creationists use outright lies to try and persuade people to their point of view, because not only are they tricking people into forming irrational beliefs, but good, reliable science often finds itself a collateral casualty.
In the author’s first argument, there are a myriad cases of faulty logic, and it would be exhausting to systematically go through them all, so I’ll just focus on the central fault in the argument. The author begins by arguing a distinction between a code and a pattern. Patterns can occur from chaos, and are commonplace in nature (an example would be weather patterns). Codes, on the other hand, are inherently the products of a designer. The author contends that DNA is a code, since it contains information. Information can only be created by a conscious mind. Therefore, if DNA contains information, it was created by an intelligent being (presumably God).
Intuitively, this almost makes sense. But stop and think about for a moment, and you’ll probably recognize this argument as an adapted teleological argument, or the “argument by design.” The argument by design basically asserts that living things are very complex, well suited for the roles they perform; in short, living things appeared to have been designed to live the ways they do. Consequently, they must have had a designer, or so the argument goes. This answer would certainly seem plausible to someone without another, more supported explanation for how complex, well-adapted living things arose. But for approximately 150 years, we’ve had a better, scientific explanation: evolution. Evolution functions in some very intricate ways, but there are three main “ingredients” with which it works. Firstly, mutation and other genetic changes result in variation that causes living things to become different than one another, by chance. Secondly, selective forces such as the environment organisms live in causes certain individuals with better adapted traits to survive more easily, and to leave more offspring than others. And thirdly, heredity of genetic material ensures that offspring tend to resemble their parents. The result is that over time, better adapted individuals tend to leave more offspring such that their more successful traits become more common over time. This is the fundamental process of evolution, and over the billions of years life has existed on this planet, it has had the capacity to produce complex individuals which are well-adapted to their environments. There is absolutely no doubt among good scientists that evolution is responsible for all living things we see today. With this powerful fact that is supported by immense amounts of evidence, evolution is a superior theory with which to explain the origins of complex life than the unsupported ‘God hypothesis’ (credit to Richard Dawkins for that phrase).
So what does this have to do with an article about codes and patterns? The above section is useful in demonstrating a point: apparently meaningful thing like complex and well-adapted life that may seem to have been designed can sometimes be explained by sheerly physical phenomena. Live things function as though they have been created with a purpose (to survive, to grow, to reproduce, etc.) but this can all be explained by understanding evolution, a force which is completely devoid of intention. The same logic applies to the idea of DNA being a code, rather than a pattern. DNA certainly does seem function as a code might. It contain thousands to millions of chemicals arranged so that the “blueprints” of life can be passed down from one generation to the next. Certainly this seems like a code written by someone or thing that intended DNA to carry information. But as we saw before with the teleological argument, the apparent design of living things and their components, DNA included, can be explained wholly and completely by evolution, without the need for an intelligent designer to have ever existed. DNA is just a pattern. It is just molecules which have arranged themselves over billions of years into a complex structure because those molecules that did so became replicated, again and again, causing them to become more common and more elaborate over time. DNA has resulted from sheerly physical processes, and consequently does not carry true information because it is not a message. It is just molecules which have arranged themselves over billions of years into a complex structure because those molecules that did so became replicated, again and again, causing them to become more common and more elaborate over time. And since DNA is only a pattern, there need not have been a conscious mind behind it. And there need not have been a God.
This article claims to have presented a new and interesting argument for the proof of God. But this first argument is an old one that has been defeated before. And the article is not so much interesting as it is an irritating attempt at misleading people towards erroneous beliefs.
(I have taken some partially deserved flack for this post. Please see the comments section for this criticism and my response to it, as well as a few revisions I have made to this post.)