September 17, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Intelligent Design Found in DNA

Readers of this headline may say it is not news to say that intelligent design has been found in DNA.  Others may be ready for a fight on that issue.  But in this case, the design has been verified beyond any shadow of doubt.  The designers are not who you may be suspecting.  They are researchers at Brigham Young University, who spelled out BYU using strands of DNA.  Readers can see for themselves in an article on Live Science.

OK, maybe this was a setup, but it’s a teachable moment.  Let’s continue the line of reasoning to see “where the evidence leads.”  No question here – the letters were arranged to spell the university acronym because of a purposeful, intelligent plan.  We even know the names and identities of the designers.  OK so far?  Now, let us ask: did they intervene in nature?  Well, presumably so.  But did they use miracles?  No; they manipulated existing natural particles and forces to achieve the end they desired.
    All right then, was it necessary to know the identities of the designers?  No; anyone could see at a glance the arrangement of letters matched an independent specifiable pattern (and that it was not just happenstance the letters were found on the campus of BYU).  But even in this simple case, the complexity of the result lies far below the universal probability bound.  Remember the guy that photographed all the letters of the English alphabet in butterfly wings? (see Daily Mail).  Somewhere, in some lab, a researcher might happen upon a random arrangement of DNA strands spelling out BYU.  Already, though, it would take more faith to believe that than to believe this case was a result of intelligent design – even if one did not have the backstory explaining how it was done.
    With that in mind, let’s extend the logic further.  Say that instead of arranging DNA into the shapes of BYU, the researchers used the familiar nucleotide bases of DNA (A, C, T, G) and made up a code that could represent any letter of the alphabet (AAA might represent the letter A, AAC=B, AAT=C, AAG=D, or something like that).  Then they show their product as an ordinary-looking DNA strand that spells out BYU in code.  It might be harder to detect without being shown, but those of us with background knowledge still know it was done by design.  A scientist might crack the code without the background knowledge and discover the phrase “Brigham Young University” spelled out.  Even without knowing the designers, such a discovery would almost certainly be recognized as the result of intelligent causes, not chance (see PhysOrg for an actual case where a scientist stored information in the DNA code of living bacteria).
    Next, imagine that the researchers designed something more subtle.  They built a gene by sequencing ordinary-looking DNA, that would be translated by the ordinary processes of gene transcription and translation, that would come out of the ribosome as a string of amino acids that spontaneously folds into the letters BYU.  Now we’re talking some pretty heavy-duty design.  It would probably astonish other biochemists.  Would it be any less praiseworthy if the researchers sequenced DNA to perform a function?  Just spelling out one’s alma mater is kid stuff; they would want to do something useful.  They design a gene to produce a cancer-fighting drug.  All this, we know in our developing story, is the work of intelligent design.
    Now imagine a designer putting together a whole suit of enzymes into systems, such that it builds a cell that grows into a whole organism.  The organism grows, develops, walks upright, and joins with fellow organisms to build a university, whose scientists play with the building blocks of which they are comprised to spell out the acronym of their institution.  Oh – that can be explained by chance and natural selection.  Don’t give us any of that interventionist, religious stuff!  What are you trying to do, bring science to a stop?

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Categories: Intelligent Design

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