Every Bit Digital: DNA’s Programming Really Bugs Some ID Critics

Original Article

Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” but unfortunately, not all who work at the search engine behemoth seem to practice the slogan. Mark Chu Carroll, a mathematician and Google software engineer, called Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell “a rehash of the same old s**t,” even though he admitted, “I have not read any part of Meyer’s book.” Chu Carroll further decried the “dishonesty” of Meyer, whom he called a “bozo” for merely claiming that DNA contains “digital code” that functions like a “computer.”

It seems that Meyer’s book isn’t the only relevant literature that Chu Carroll hasn’t read.

In 2003 renowned biologist Leroy Hood and biotech guru David Galas authored a review article in the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature, titled, “The digital code of DNA.” The article explained, “A remarkable feature of the structure is that DNA can accommodate almost any sequence of base pairs—any combination of the bases adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T)—and, hence any digital message or information.” MIT Professor of Mechanical Engineering Seth Lloyd (no friend of ID) likewise eloquently explains why DNA has a “digital” nature:

It’s been known since the structure of DNA was elucidated that DNA is very digital. There are four possible base pairs per site, two bits per site, three and a half billion sites, seven billion bits of information in the human DNA. There’s a very recognizable digital code of the kind that electrical engineers rediscovered in the 1950s that maps the codes for sequences of DNA onto expressions of proteins.

DNA’s computer-like attributes have also been noted by leading thinkers. Software mogul Bill Gates said, “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” Francis Collins—head of the Human Genome project and a noted proponent of Darwinism (see Salvo 8, “Darwin on Acid”), describes DNA as a “digital code,” and observes that “DNA is something like the hard drive on your computer” that contains “programming.” Even Richard Dawkins has observed that “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

The Factory Cell

But what is the computer code doing? It turns out that it’s programming nothing less than nanotechnology—micromolecular machines inside the cell. In the words of Bruce Alberts, former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “The entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.”

For Chu Carroll to ignore the many leading evolutionary scientists and thinkers who have compared the cell to computers or machines, and instead to accuse Meyer of “dishonesty” is, well, a low form of argument that the Google motto probably prevents us from naming. But where in our experience do digital code, computer programming, and factories filled with machines come from? Chu Carroll knows the answer, which is probably why he doesn’t like Meyer’s argument.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.