The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

7 December 2004

Getting a complex

The editors of Discover, a science mag published by a Disney subsidiary, replied to a letter from an intelligent-design advocate (January '05) with this comparison:

Language is an information medium, as is DNA. Language gets transmitted and transformed from generation to generation, just as the information in DNA gets transmitted and transformed. Many languages have appeared, changed, and vanished over the centuries, but nobody has ever seen a new language spontaneously appear. Nevertheless, people accept that languages evolve and that modern languages derive from earlier ones that were, in many cases, considerably different. Why then is it so hard to accept that the same process might happen to the information in our DNA?

Obviously, this doesn't settle anything. My own thinking here is that it would be a fairer comparison were there any languages as complex as DNA strands: there are, admittedly, only four different building blocks, but the structures are astoundingly convoluted.

Then again, my own thinking along these lines has always been something like "Evolution is God's standard upgrade path," a position that appeals neither to hard-core Darwinists nor to young-earth partisans. I'd like to hear some rational (or at least justifiable) arguments either way.

Posted at 8:54 PM to Dyssynergy

Francis Crick provided insight on intelligent design in a lecture that can be read at the link below. His expertise on the structure and function of DNA cannot be disputed.

Posted by: hernesheir at 8:12 AM on 8 December 2004

"nobody has ever seen a new language spontaneously appear"

Not necessarilly true. There are numerous documented cases of twins or abandoned children or others without generational language exposure (such as communities of the deaf) creating thier own unique languages that have no correlation with other known languages. Humans have a need to communicate, and if the mechanisms aren't provided they will, through their own intelligence and design, create a means to do so. "In His image" indeed.

Posted by: submandave at 10:54 AM on 8 December 2004

The excerpt is interesting to me because while it acknowledges one of the problems that critics call a flaw in the dogma of evolution (which differs from the theory of evolution in ways the dogmatists seem to miss), and addresses it with an analogy that suffers from the same apparent flaw: Nature did not invent language out of nothing -- intelligent creatures did, as a means of conveying information too complex to be communicated any other way.

One problem with intelligent-design is that, so far at least, it's philosophical rather than empirical. But they criticize evolution on the same grounds, and Discover needs to do better than this if they're going to answer it.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:58 AM on 8 December 2004