I had a twitter exchange with an atheist a while back. He claimed that DNA was neither functional information nor code. He was obviously not well-read on the topic and was merely repeating what he had been told. So I challenged him to produce a peer-reviewed paper that said DNA was neither information nor code. He found a paper and tossed it at me but, a careful reading of the paper, revealed he had misunderstood it and it actually did claim DNA was information. He got very quiet after I pointed this out. However, his comments sparked me to thinking. Is DNA a code and information? Let’s figure it out.
I have addressed this question before, in previous articles, but we’re going to briefly re-examine it in layman’s terms here. First, we need to define what we mean by terms. Code is, according to Merriam-Webster is “a system of symbols (such as letters or numbers) used to represent assigned and often secret meanings”. This definition is excellent. It essentially means that the symbols stand for something other than the obvious surface appearance.
Does DNA fit this definition? Yes it does. Think about it. DNA is composed of a long string of paired nucleotides in a double helix pattern. These nucleotides do not directly represent the sequence needed for amino acids. Instead, they must be copied by an RNA strand, which does so in an indirect fashion. It does not copy nucleotide sequences. Instead, it binds to the nucleotides opposite number to form a chain which is identical in content, if not nucleotide (RNA uses one different nucleotide) to the strand of DNA it did not bind to. Once the RNA strand is assembled, it is sent to a special molecular machine called a ribosome that translates the nucleotides sequence into an amino acid chain. This is literally how codes work. A message is sent in code. It is given to either a code breaker or a code reader, and the contents are then translated into understandable information. So yes, DNA is code.
However is DNA information? This gets tricky because information can be difficult to define. Fortunately for this conversation, Merriam-Webster answers the question for us. “the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (such as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects”. One of the two examples they give is literally the nucleotide sequence of DNA. That makes answering this question a lark.
Being that a very basic internet search would have caused the atheist to reach a different conclusion, it begs the question why he insisted that DNA could not be coded information? After all, the evidence is blatantly obvious, so much so the Merriam-Webster, by no means a scientific reference site, is fully aware of it. I can think of just one reason why the atheist is so adamant that DNA cannot be information: the implications.
There are significant implications of DNA being information. We know from experience and from science that information does not arise randomly. It always requires something outside the information to record the information and place it into its location, after which it may be copied freely. This means that, if DNA is information, it could not have arisen randomly. If it could not have arisen randomly, then there had to be a designer. If there is a designer, it might behoove the atheist to figure out who he is and what he wants from them.
However, this does not explain why the atheist attempted to deny the evidence. After all, a quick google search could have told him everything I’ve written here. So why does he choose to remain ignorant? It comes down to worldview. He has convinced himself that there is no God, and, therefore, all evidence is interpreted in light of this idea. Therefore, it is impossible for him to see that there is a designer to the world. DNA is not the issue. The information it contains is not either. The important thing is the worldview. Until the atheist changes his worldview, he will continue to insist, in the face of all evidence, that DNA is not code, that God does not exist, and so on. Evidence does not change someone’s mind, only God does that. However, evidence can have a strong influence on honest, open-minded people and thus should be presented on at least some occasions.