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Does Information Run Your Life?

Does Information Run Your Life?


We all like to communicate, don’t we – at the very least to tell others what to do. Indeed a slang expression has been coined about this “Communication is the name of the game!” People, of course, are able to communicate in words. However there are other sorts of communication which do not involve words, but which nevertheless involve information. Some scientists, especially in their study of biology, have become very interested in information and its source. Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, for example, discussed the genesis of biological information in his 1981 book The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution. Moreover this fall two new books on this subject (by Dr. William A. Dembski) are scheduled to be released. Dr. Dembski is an associate editor of Origins and Design (www.arn.org) and the titles of these new books are The Design Inference (Cambridge) and Mere Creation: Reclaiming the Book of Nature (InterVarsity). Dr. Dembski’s interest in information theory is in its implications for origins theory. This also was Dr. Wilder-Smith’s concern. In addition there is another book recently translated from German, which provides fascinating insights on this topic. The title of Dr. Werner Gitt’s book is In the Beginning was Information.

Prof. Dr. Gitt is currently director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt Braunschweig). His expertise includes information science, numerical mathematics and control engineering. Some people may wonder what possible interest the works of such a specialist may have for the general public. Every field is interesting however as long as it is appropriately explained. Dr. Gitt writes in German but some of his publications have been translated into a total of twelve European languages. This book was translated into English by Prof. Dr. Jaap Kies of South Africa.

The author sets out first of all to define information, namely that it is something separate from matter or energy. In other words, we are dealing not with an actual object but with a communication concerning an object. Information therefore is not a property of matter but always an idea. Moreover, in order to communicate any idea one needs a code or language. But how does one recognize a new or unfamiliar code? It could take the form of pulses of light, hieroglyphics, smoke signals, sounds etc. etc. However not all manifestations of these phenomena represent true codes. Someone might simply be fanning a fire to get it to burn (rather than sending smoke signals) or switching a light on and off to be annoying (rather than sending a message in pulses of light).

A code, it transpires, must use a uniquely defined set of symbols. The sequence or order in which the symbols are presented must be irregular but not random (not originating by chance) nor can it be explained as the result of a chemical or physical process. Most importantly a code is recognized when it can be read. The essential character of a code then is that it is essential for the communication of information. Physical matter however is unable to generate any codes. All our experience indicates that a thinking being is required for a code which yields information. A random fall of Scrabble letters does not spell out “Feed the cat” or “Thaw the meat” or any other intelligibkle remark.

But we know all this anyway. Why is Dr. Gitt telling us the obvious? The point is that information controls all processes in living cells and living creatures. So where did this information come from? One thing is certain, information never originates by chance but is always purposefully produced. At this point Dr. Gitt turns his attention to DNA or the genetic code found in all living cells. This code controls the entire operation of each and every cell. The author points out that there are about 50,000 different proteins in the human body. Each has a very particular function. In order for a cell to manufacture any given protein, the chemical formula must be communicated to the cell as well as the method by which it is to be produced. The cell therefore needs a coding system to identify the precise order in which the amino acids [protein building blocks of which 20 are used] are to be attached together. The cell also needs to know when and where to produce any given protein.

Even a preliminary study of the information stored within each human cell reveals the remarkable properties of the DNA code. For example, during division of a cell which may be smaller than a speck of dust, the contained information is completely copied. This process is the equivalent of correctly copying within twenty to eighty minutes the contents of 1000 different books each containing 500 pages. That is quite a duplicating machine!! Biochemical research has revealed that the genetic code takes the form of four symbols which are combined in various arrangements of three to represent the twenty different amino acids. The author examines various alphabets [from the binary code of computers to our own alphabet to the thousands of characters in Chinese script] . He then considers how many characters or symbols are most suitable to represent each amino acid. He shows that the system we see in DNA is, from an engineering perspective, the best one possible! It is the most efficient in terms of minimum storage requirements and ease of copying correctly. The author has already established that DNA or the genetic code is an abstract representation of material realities. Of DNA he remarks: “…. this is a true coding system. Three chemical letters comprise the code for a certain amino acid, but the acid itself is not present, neither spatially nor temporally …; it is not even present elsewhere. The actual acid is only synthesized at a latter stage according to the code which substitutes for it.” (p. 85)

It is evident that biological information is highly unusual in its extreme storage density. Each tiny cell stores the equivalent of a library. Moreover, like all information, it requires a sender exercising his own volition. Dr. Gitt maintains that this fact immediately excludes any model for origins which is based solely on chemical or physical processes. The system is obviously the product of supernatural design. The function of DNA is only a small and recently discovered part of the works of the Creator so apparent in nature. Nevertheless the information contained and revealed to us in the natural world is only a small part of God’s revelation to man. The most important source of information is of course the Bible. Prof. Dr. Gitt now turns his attention to this body of information. In it, God’s thoughts encoded in human language, are made available to mankind. Dr. Gitt then delves into who the sender of the Bible’s message is and what is the purpose of this communication.

This book is not suitable for everybody. Admittedly some sections are less interesting than others. The reader may want to skip Part I “The Laws of Nature” and go directly to Part II “Information”. Later s/he may well dip back into Part I once its relevance is more apparent. Part III is concerned with “Application of the Concept of Information to the Bible”. Lastly there are extensive appendices. Although the discussion sometimes bogs down, the author does go to considerable trouble to provide lighthearted anecdotes, cartoons, relevant diagrams and other illustrations. Indeed for those who enjoy a somewhat technical discussion, this book provides delightful new insights into God’s providential care of mankind and of all creation.

Margaret Helder
October 1998

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