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 IAmAnAtheist » Information


The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist carpooling to work.

Quint: I was reading an article this morning that said that information theory provides our best evidence yet that God exists.

Raj: How does that work?

Quint: In a nutshell, it says that the only places you find information are places where it was put there by an intelligent being, like books and computer programs.

Raj: What do you mean by "information?"

Quint: Specified, encoded instructions or data that’s intended to be read or decoded. The point is that DNA is a code that describes how a living thing is built, and since information is always created by an intelligence, DNA is evidence for God.

Raj: I’ve read a couple articles myself, and I don’t think DNA meets your definition of information. It’s messy, inexact, and full of meaningless garbage.

Quint: It might look that way to us now, but as we learn more and more about DNA, we learn that every bit of it is important in one way or another. Eventually, we’ll see that the whole thing is important.

Raj: Even if that’s true, how can you say that information is always created by an intelligence? There’s all sorts of DNA in the world, and if it arose naturally, then it’s a huge example of naturally arising information.

Quint: But it couldn’t have arisen naturally, that’s the point. Every other example we have of information was created by an intelligence, so the information in DNA must have been also.

Raj: Isn’t that like saying that every example we have of nuclear fusion is caused by an intelligent being so nuclear fusion is evidence that God exists?

Quint: No, because your premise isn’t true. There’s nuclear fusion in stars and it is just part of nature.

Raj: But the point of the argument is to prove that the nuclear fusion in stars is evidence of intelligence, so you can’t use it as an example of fusion in nature.

Quint: Of course I can. It’s right there.

Raj: Then I can point to DNA as an example of information in nature. It’s "right there," too.

Quint: It’s not the same thing, though. DNA is clearly the result of intelligence, but nuclear fusion isn’t.

Raj: Then your statement that we only find information in places where it was put by an intelligent being is only true if we assume that DNA was created by God, and you can’t assume what you’re trying to prove.

Quint: You’re completely misunderstanding me. I’m saying that DNA is obviously the work of an intelligent being in the same way that a pocket watch is obviously the work of an intelligent being. If you found a pocket watch on the beach you’d assume it was made by a human, not a natural process.

Raj: That’s because I’m familiar with the process of making watches and that process always involves people. DNA isn’t like anything that humans create.

Quint: It’s like a computer program.

Raj: DNA is like a computer program in the same way that a stream is like an aqueduct. There is a similarity in function, but the way it achieves that function is incredibly different, and the natural process is messy, inexact, and full of randomness.

Quint: I already told you that DNA isn’t messy or inexact.

Raj: You asserted that we’d discover that some day. You didn’t give me any evidence for it.

Quint: But there’s nothing else in nature that even comes close to having the kind of information storage and retrieval that DNA does.

Raj: And there’s nothing else in nature that comes close to fusing hydrogen to create energy the way stars do. It’s the same argument. Besides, there are plenty of things in nature that sort of mirror things people do — like streams sorting pebbles by size, digestive systems using chemistry to split proteins, and bees building hives. We don’t say any of these are evidence of intelligence.

Quint: Maybe we should. Don’t you think it’s impossible for bees to know how to build hives unless they were given instructions by God?

Raj: I can see how evolution could lead to their building hives without anyone giving anything instructions.

Quint: But that’s impossible! Nature can’t create information. Random processes can’t lead to meaningful data.

Raj: Nature isn’t completely random; it obeys rules. Tree rings can encode hundreds of years of climate data, for example, without any intelligent direction.

Quint: That’s not meaningful in the same way that DNA is meaningful. Only an intelligent being can read tree rings.

Raj: Then what about bees that do dances to indicate to other bees where food is? That’s creating data that something in nature reads.

Quint: Those dances are programmed into their DNA, though. They’re not natural things; they’re part of the creator’s programming.

Raj: You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove again. You can only say that bee behavior is evidence of intelligent design if you assume that DNA isn’t the result of a natural process.

Quint: It’s just obvious, though! DNA is so different from anything else that there’s just no way it wasn’t designed.

Raj: All you’re saying is that you can’t imagine DNA evolving, therefore it couldn’t have evolved. That’s not reasonable, particularly since there are plenty of people who say that they can work out how DNA might have evolved.

Quint: Doesn’t the difficulty you have imagining DNA occurring randomly at least make you doubt that the so-called experts know what they’re talking about?

Raj: I can’t imagine how the electronics in a computer work, but that doesn’t mean that I doubt computer engineers and feel the need to look for a supernatural explanation.

Quint: But computers were designed by intelligent creatures.

Raj: You’re missing my point.

Quint: I think we both are.

Raj: Fair enough. So, what else have you been reading?


If you have a conversation that you’d like me to consider publishing on this blog or in an upcoming book, please see the conversation guidelines.

Posted on June 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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