IDists often act as though there is something surprising about the DNA code. A recent post at UD highlights a letter from Crick containing the line “Now we believe that the D.N.A. is a code.” The typical implication is that somehow it came as a surprise that DNA would involve a code.
But there was nothing new about such an idea. Indeed, what is difficult is to imagine how genetic information could be held without being coded. In 1943, a decade before DNA’s structure was revealed, Erwin Schrodinger explained how a code would work in life, writing:
THE VARIETY OF CONTENTS COMPRESSED IN THE MINIATURE CODE
It has often been asked how this tiny speck of material, nucleus of the fertilized egg, could contain an elaborate code-script involving all the future development of the organism. A well ordered association of atoms, endowed with sufficient resistivity to keep its order permanently, appears to be the only conceivable material structure that offers a variety of possible (‘isomeric’) arrangements, sufficiently large to embody a complicated system of ‘determinations’ within a small spatial boundary
Page 21 of the pdf What is Life?
Indeed, and DNA fits quite well with that description. In addition, the linear nature of the DNA code allows for a straightforward geometry for producing transcripts and eventual translation of DNA information. The fact that Crick underscores “is” before “a code” appears to be nothing but recognition that what had been predicted is what was actually discovered, a genetic code.
Of course Schrodinger, like Crick and Watson, had no doubt that life had evolved. To be sure, this does nothing to demonstrate that DNA did evolve or any such thing, just that while the IDists simply assume that a code must be designed, people who lacked their biases merely considered how a genetic code was functional within life. The DNA code is just something that well fits the requirement for compact information storage and provides for a straightforward output of that information into proteins, RNA, and other needed molecules.
The evolution of the genetic code may well involve certain affinities between RNA and amino acids, and thus may not be entirely arbitrary in its origins, but that is a subject beyond the scope of this short post. The point at present is merely that one should not be hung up on the word “code” as if that means anything about its origins, for the fact is simply that it stores and puts out information in a manner that functions well for life. The term “code” denotes something important about DNA’s function, but not about its origin.