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Old 05-29-2010, 08:46 PM
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Default DNA - Pattern or Design?

Is DNA just the product of a series of random occurences or was it designed by someone or something?

I'm first going to state that I'm agnostic so I'll be completely neutral in this, however I am going to present the argument that DNA is a design and that someone or something did create DNA. If someone wants to post the oppositions side to this I'll include it in this post.

DNA is a design

This is an extract of Perry Marshall's theory on why, according to him, God exists.

Is DNA a pattern or is it a design?

The whole argument rests on the answer to that question.
Tonight we are going to answer that question. And when you have designs how do they evolve? I’m going to discuss that towards the ends of my talk.

How DNA Works

I’m going to explain very briefly how DNA works. DNA is a molecule; it’s a double helix. When it divides to multiply it separates in half, and a complementary chemical falls into place at every station and creates a new replica of itself.

So the bridge between the edges of the helix is made of a combination of four chemicals, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine. Which I will abbreviate as A, T, C and G. Those are the letters of the DNA alphabet. A, C, T, and G encode all information necessary for life. In the simplest tiny microorganisms it takes 500,000 letters to represent a living organism. It takes five hundred thousand A’s, or C’s, or T’s, or G’s.

In a human it takes three billion (3,000,000,000) of those letters to represents a copy of you, and there is one of those three billion letter messages inside every cell in your body. (By the way modern technology, to date, has not produced an information storage mechanism that is more dense than DNA.) All the information in your hard drive is a lot bulkier than the information in your cells.

So DNA is not just a molecule, DNA is a language. It is actually very comparable to English and human languages in the way that it is structured. Here is a little chart and it shows the comparison between human languages and DNA. The nucleotide is the A, T, C, G.

DNA is encoding, decoding mechanism that stores and transmits the message of the living organism. Biologists have actually been using linguistic analysis to decode the human genome. Tools that we must use to analyze languages are continually being used to figure out what all of those genes actually mean.

So if you read some article in the newspaper it says we found a gene that causes Spina Bifida or something like that, some kind of linguistic analysis was used to help figure that out.

So what makes a language?

Well the first thing about a language, any language, is it symbolically represents something other than itself. All of you have papers on the tables here, and the papers have paper and they have ink. But the message on the flier there on the table has nothing to do with paper or ink for the most part. Paper and ink is just the medium that carries it.

To have a language, to have information, you have to have a transmitter and a receiver. Somebody has to talk and somebody has to listen. And then it has these four characteristics; it has an alphabet, it has grammar, it has meaning, and it has intent.

Every language has those four things. DNA has them; all the stuff going on inside your computer has them. If dogs are barking and yelping, the communication has all of these four things. It doesn’t matter if it’s mating calls if it’s pheromones between insects.

All Languages and Codes Have Four Components

Regardless of what kind of communication we are talking about those four things are present in that communication. Alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. And nearly all languages have error correction or redundancy.
English is about 50% redundant, which means if you’re talking on your cell phone and its cutting in and out and in and out, if you can hear every word you can still pretty much figure out what’s being said. If you lose more than that you really can’t.

Where does redundancy come from? If you take a word out, you can fill it in from the context. Your mind can fill in the difference. Most of you never thought of this, but in when you’re on the internet or getting and receiving emails there’s a whole collection of mechanisms that are put in the communication back and forth to ensure that errors are corrected before they get to you. This is common to almost all languages.

Is DNA a pattern? Or is it a language?

DNA is an encoding and decoding system. DNA molecule represents more than itself; it represents an entire living organism. It doesn’t just represent Adenine. It represents you or it represents a rabbit or a squirrel or a snake.
It has alphabet and syntax and semantics and pragmatics, or to use less technical terms alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. It can be copied and even stored in other media with no loss of information.

I used to work for a company that made DNA sequencers. Their machines would go through and figure out what all the letters were in a strand of DNA. You could store that on a computer disk, and somebody in the lab could take the right chemicals and they could put those back and they could end up with a clone of the organism. Because the information in DNA is information is something distinct and separate from whatever it is stored in.

So which is DNA more like?


Is DNA more like stalactites and stalagmites and tornadoes and hurricanes and snowflakes and fractals? Or is DNA more like music, maps, computer programs and Chinese?

It’s definitely in the second category. Absolutely there is no question about it. So what we have here is that between the world of chaos and patterns and the world of designs and information there is a huge chasm. A huge chasm. The pattern of DNA is not like a language. It is a language. By any formal definition of language it is a language.

Chaos, fractals and natural processes do not produce languages or codes
Now usually if people try to disagree with this, this is where they try to disagree. I had a guy say “No, DNA isn’t a language or a code, it’s just a molecule.” So I looked up Watson and Crick who discovered DNA, they got the Nobel Prize for it. I surfed the internet and the first thing I found was James Watson’s Nobel prize acceptance speech. And the very first paragraph of his speech talks about the genetic code. Code, language, same thing.
I can make this argument quoting only books by atheists. You don’t need any kind of special definition.

DNA is a language. The DNA molecule itself is an encoding decoding system. I talked about this a minute ago; all languages have alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. I’m just going to illustrate this; you can change the alphabet and still have the same message.

When you type at your computer, your computer keyboard immediately turns those letters into ASCII code, I’m not going to go into what that is. Chinese can be represented in pin yin which is the English version of Chinese or it can be represented as characters; same thing.

All languages contain grammar; an illustration of that if I say
The car is red.
That’s a statement, but if I move is to the beginning of the sentence the syntax changes. Now it says
Is the car red?
And a statement becomes a question. That’s syntax. All languages have syntax, which is the rules about how you order things so that you determine what the meaning is.
Obviously all we need to do is move one word over and I completely change the meaning of the sentence.
Now semantics is the difference between saying;
DID he steal that car?
Did HE steal that car?
Did he STEAL that car?
Did he steal THAT car?
Did he steal that CAR?

That’s semantics. Every one of those versions, just by accenting one of the words, changed the meaning of the sentence. Even though the letters didn’t change. Right?

Last edited by Dreaming Of Pandora; 05-29-2010 at 08:48 PM.
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Old 05-29-2010, 10:14 PM
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I would present an argument but I'm not that far in Genetics and DNA at the moment. Sorry for denying you a debate. I would have enjoyed one like this.
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Old 05-29-2010, 11:22 PM
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Personally, I think DNA is in both catagories, it was a language that emerged from chaos. Take a bowl of alphabet soup, for example, and stir it around, and eventually a word will likely emerge. Though I admit it wasn't complete chaos, because the characteristics of the elements involved (bonding patterns, electronegativity, oxidation, etc) make them prone to developing certain molecules, and RNA is one of them, and it just so happens that RNA is also prone to self-replication, possibly even without life, which would in turn lead to it's more complex relative, DNA.

Good read on the subject.
DNA replication... without life - life - 27 May 2010 - New Scientist
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Old 05-30-2010, 12:29 AM
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What type of information is Perry Marshall referring to? It appears he may be referring to Shannon information, but I may argue that he is misapplying it in his statement.

I also do not agree that DNA is a code. We can treat it as a code for the purpose of simplifying it for analysis from an information theory point of view, but the assertion that DNA is a code like a computer program is code is unfounded. I doubt the claim that DNA has grammar, and I do not see DNA having any intent or meaning (other than what we choose to ascribe to it). It is not necessary for information to have meaning or intent. In other words, meaning or intent is largely inconsequential to the study of information.
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Last edited by Sonoran Na'vi; 05-30-2010 at 01:03 AM.
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Old 05-30-2010, 07:08 AM
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interesting question, i wouldn't say it's a pattern since it doesn't necesarily repeat itself. The order of the bases is random one after another BUT there is a pattern of Adenine linking with Thymine and Cytosine linking with Guanine.

With that said I also wouldn't say it's a design because although we design things, it's the DNA that was there first and brought us to life. I think it's just a method that evolution took in order to code for organisms: how they are made, how they function. And I find it very interesting that evolution took this method. the fact that 4 bases (arranged in sets of 3 to give 20 amino acids) make everything living thing amazes me.

However, you can design DNA to your liking (sort of) GMO have been made for years to produce certain traits that are favourable such as drought resistant wheat or larger fruits. The genes of one organisms with this favourable trait is taken and inserted into the DNA of whatever is going to recieve that trait. So in this sense DNA is a design.
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Old 05-30-2010, 12:32 PM
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What that argument doesn't say... Is that for every world like ours where DNA (or something similar) DID evolve, there are millions where it didn't. Not to mention, from what I admit was a fast read, as far as I can see, it ignores the presence of RNA, as well as simpler DNA structures such as viruses.
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Old 05-30-2010, 12:45 PM
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The DNA is the end product of endless experiments by nature , not a prove for a flying man in the sky .
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