There seems to be a new sort of Creationist argument, drawing on information theory, which argues that the presence of information in DNA, or the increase of information in DNA, proves that DNA was created by an intelligent designer. Information, they say, can only be the result of intelligent agency, and cannot arise on its own. And without the information contained in DNA, evolution can’t get started.
A good example of this argument is this creationist paper written by Werner Gitt. The paper in question is absolute nonsense, full of misrepresentations, assumptions, and incredible leaps of logic (only the first third of it, which is concerned only with historical discoveries and statistical facts, is accurate). But it is a good example of what we’re dealing with.
The Creationists start at the right place, which is to ask what information is. But they miss the point completely when they start including the concept of code. Take Egyptian hieroglyphs, for example, since it’s used by Gitt. He argues that Egyptian hieroglyphs were regarded as information even before we knew how to translate them, because “they obviously did not originate from a random process.” But without the code, how can we posit that? Understanding of the process that led to the creation of symbols can only start from our understanding of the meaning of those symbols, if there is any at all (case in point: how do we know the Voynich manuscript is not random gibberish based off of a natural language? I certainly don’t want it to be, but I don’t discard the possibility).
More importantly, the statement that “not random process=information” is ultimately trivial. The colour of flowers is information about the composition of the soil, our blood content is information about our health, the shape of clouds is information about the weather, and so on. In general we can say: every thing which has a cause conveys information about said cause. But this is a useless principle, since, everything around us having a cause, it tells us absolutely nothing.
And of course, none of these things are designed by a mind or any intelligent designer. They arise naturally, within the framework of cause and effect. The only reason why the Creationists use the word “random” is because they hold to this weird belief that evolution is random. That’s what it’s all about! But the process of evolution is no more random than any other form of cause and effect.
In fact, it’s rather ironic that Gitt himself uses the example of a language to make his point, since words, syllables, rules of grammar, and all other features of languages, evolve much in the same way that DNA does. Sure, language is man-made, but it wasn’t created the way it is now, any more than current-day organisms popped out of nothing. It seems strange to classify one as random and another as non-random.
The main issue is actually much simpler than that. It has to do with differentiating between information and its meaning. When the Creationists say that information cannot be explained, they don’t mean that the color of flowers, the composition of blood, or the shape of clouds cannot be explained. Rather, they are talking about meaning itself. Genes in the DNA strand have a structured and structuring meaning that a cloud doesn’t have. It has its own characters, syntax, and grammar, in short, it is more language-like.
But there’s no reason to consider such a structure special compared to other forms of information. No information has innate meaning. Without the knowledge of human languages, a book is just a bunch of paper pulp with blots of ink on it. In the same way, without knowledge of cell biology, DNA is just a double strand floating somewhere in the cell for no particular reason. The information in DNA is not innately meaningful.
So in a sense, all meaning is “designed,” in the sense that it is created by the individual. But there is no reason to believe that information has to be created. This information argument is therefore no different from any other god of the gaps argument or watchmaker argument. From the materialist perspective, there is no more reason to single out DNA than there is to single out any other part of this universe; if Creationists were really serious about their argument, they should be just as puzzled about cloud types or blood tests, or pretty much anything else in the universe, than they are about DNA, and there would be no reason for them to single out DNA as being especially significant at all.