Educational Note 1: DNA and Information

What is information? An engineer in Kathmandu, Nepal, has designed a building that is about to be constructed in Mumbai, India. He wants to send some last-minute changes via fax. The proper instructions and diagrams are printed onto a piece of paper. The fax machine in Kathmandu records the image of the printed piece of paper, converts that image into electrical signals, which are then transmitted via cell phone to a communications system. These electrical signals are modulated onto a radio wave for transmission, are reconverted into electricity (voltage and current) in the receiving tower, and may additionally be converted several times into radio signals that travel through the air or laser pulses that travel through fiber optic cables.

In a Mumbai construction company office, a fax machine spits out a piece of paper with exactly the same instructions and diagrams created by the engineer in Kathmandu. So just what was it that traveled from Nepal to India? The paper and ink used by the engineer never left his office. The construction foreman has no concern over the electrical, radio, and optical signals that conveyed the fax. Matter and energy were involved in the process, but neither matter nor energy was what the engineer needed to convey to the foreman.

What traveled was information, created in an engineer’s mind and received in the foreman’s mind once he reads the fax. This information has both instructions and design information to allow the foreman to direct the fabrication of a useful part of the new building. The information was created in the mind of the engineer. It was represented as ink on paper, electrical impulses, modulated radio waves, and modulated laser beams. But clearly the information is something quite different from the matter in the ink and paper or the energy in the radio or laser signals.

What about DNA? The DNA molecules in every cell in your body also represent design information. The molecular letters, abbreviated A, G, C, and T, are grouped into short words (codons) that are translated within the cell, enabling the production of protein machines and structures. There are about 100,000 different kinds of protein machines that your body uses to build and form its tissues, metabolize food, and generate energy so that you can walk, run, eat, breathe, see, think, and enjoy life. Your DNA stores the information for both the design and the construction processes necessary for you to live day to day.

It is important that the information coded within your DNA be accurate. If the engineer’s fax mentioned above has some errors in it, the building may suffer from defects that could be dangerous to people. If your DNA has errors – mutations – then you might suffer from a disease or a deformity. Your cells contain a marvelous system of molecular machines that work continuously to check for errors whenever your DNA is used to build new cellular machines. In fact, each microscopic cell in your body is about as complicated as an entire large city, with all of its structures, highways, machines, manufacturing plants, and communication networks.

Many scientists are convinced that since DNA is information, just like the information you find in faxes, books, photographs, computer software, and building designs, that there must be a Creator, someone who created the information in DNA. They see that this thing called “information” is quite different from matter and energy and operates by different rules. For example, the first law of thermodynamics states that energy must be conserved in all processes. Information, on the other hand, can be created or destroyed. A blank computer hard drive weighs just as much as one loaded with data files. Wiping a loaded hard drive clean clearly destroys a lot of information.

Other scientists, who believe in evolution, think that natural chemical processes are responsible for the DNA code and all of the design information stored within cells. Many of them believe that the universe consists entirely of matter and energy and that information can arise from natural physical or chemical processes.

All scientists, both those who believe in Intelligent Design and those who believe in evolution, recognize that the information we humans create, send, and receive in everyday life ALWAYS has an intelligent creator. The only disagreement is whether the information found in DNA, which is far more complex than any information ever invented by man, is the result of creation or evolution.

What do you think?

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