The Genetic Code: Expected Before it was Found

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.

90 Replies to “The Genetic Code: Expected Before it was Found”

  1. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: Both of those are beliefs are functions of your worldview. They are not observations or explanations of observations. The are preconceived axioms of how the word is and works.

    How are preconceived axioms formed?

  2. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: How are preconceived axioms formed?

    I’d say they are a function of our deepest desires and proclivities along with various cultural factors.

    Usually most of these things are beyond our conscious awareness. Instead they make up the background knowledge that is taken for granted to be true.

    That is why it takes real effort to examine them.

    peace

  3. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: I’d say they are a function of our deepest desires and proclivities along with various cultural factors.

    So acceptance that randomness exists is a function of our deepest desires or proclivities not our observation of the world and from learning from the observations of others?

    Usually most of these things are beyond our conscious awareness. Instead they make up the background knowledge that is taken for granted to be true.

    For some provisionally true subject to new input, an evolving worldview.

    That is why it takes real effort to examine them.

    How does your conscious mind examine your unconscious awareness?

  4. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: So acceptance that randomness exists is a function of our deepest desires or proclivities not our observation of the world and from learning from the observations of others?

    I would say so.

    To accept that randomness exists is to categorically reject God’s sovereignty and to assume that your personal perspective is normative. There is just no possible observation that warrants that sort of conclusion.

    newton: For some provisionally true subject to new input, an evolving worldview.

    1) What sort of input would cause you to abandon the idea that your perspective is normative?
    2) The idea that you can autonomously modify your worldview when given new input is an axiom that you choose absent any sort of evidence to justify it.

    newton: How does your conscious mind examine your unconscious awareness?

    1) Ever hear of Meno’s slave?
    2) What do you think psychology is all about?

    peace

  5. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    FMM,

    I cannot believe that you’d rather try and cheapen the most important character in your fantasies, to be but an explanation to a limited set of observations. Yet, you call that character “Lord,” for the opposite reason. Namely, that you actually think that “he” has “absolute sovereignty” over the whole of the universe.

    What do you gain from being so inconsistent to your own beliefs? Oh, sorry, you believe that your “lord” has absolute sovereignty. What does “he” gain by making you so inconsistent? Wouldn’t “he” do a lot better if “he” made you aware of the stupidity of calling Darwinism a worldview? Why would “he” choose imbecility to be “his” conduit to glory? How does imbecility translate into glory?

    I doubt this will make you stop. So I’m stopping myself. Keep calling Darwinism a worldview. It’s your mistake to keep, and your lack of reasoning to display. All the while believing that it’s your god’s doing in the first place.

    Funny that.

  6. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: I would say so.

    To accept that randomness exists is to categorically reject God’s sovereignty and to assume that your personal perspective is normative.

    For sure it is to assume your perspective is not normative. It seems to me to require God to decide whether heads or tails comes up is trivializing God. In fact the mere flip of a coin would require some action for God. God’s action would be contingent on our actions. That just seems wrong

    There is just no possible observation that warrants that sort of conclusion.

    Does God’s sovereignty over coin flips help you know whether it is heads or tails? If not it is for all practical purposes random.

  7. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: That just seems wrong

    Exactly,

    You reject it not because of evidence but because it seems wrong to you. I really don’t wish to argue the merits of this “presupposition”. I just want to point out that you did not adopt it because of the evidence or your observations

    newton: Does God’s sovereignty over coin flips help you know whether it is heads or tails? If not it is for all practical purposes random.

    Accepting or rejecting that randomness exists is empirically equivalent from our perspective that’s why I know that you hold to your position on the matter not because of the evidence but because of your presuppositions.

    That was after all my point.

    peace

  8. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    Entropy,

    Do you honestly think that calling names is an appropriate way to have a civil discussion?

    Why not try checking your attitude at the door for once and actually interacting with what is being said?

    Peace

  9. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: It seems to me to require God to decide whether heads or tails comes up is trivializing God.

    It might seem like that to you but it did not to the folks who wrote the bible or to those who believe it.

    quote:
    The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
    (Pro 16:33)
    end quote:

    peace

  10. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: It might seem like that to you but it did not to the folks who wrote the bible or to those who believe it.

    quote:
    The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
    (Pro 16:33)
    end quote:

    How does the Lord make that decision?

  11. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: Accepting or rejecting that randomness exists is empirically equivalent from our perspective that’s why I know that you hold to your position on the matter not because of the evidence but because of your presuppositions.

    Exactly wrong, the randomness of coin flips is observed. Because of your presuppositions concerning the nature of the divine you hold the observed randomness does not exist but rather the observation is the unpredictable ,undetectable action of a deity. Which from our perspective is random.

  12. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: Exactly,

    You reject it not because of evidence but because it seems wrong to you. I really don’t wish to argue the merits of this “presupposition”. I just want to point out that you did not adopt it because of the evidence or your observations

    I know the evidence that it does. Since I lack the presupposition that your version of God exists, what is the evidence that randomness does not that does not require that presupposition?

  13. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Glen is wrong, again.

    Code denialism is still popular among materialists. We have even seen it rear it’s ugly head right here at TSZ.

    But let’s rewrite history and pretend we knew it all along and no one ever denied it.

  14. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: At this stage, the only thing about creationists and ID advocates that interests me is their psychology.

    That’s good to know.

    Kantian Naturalist: They are so absolutely confident in the sheer obviousness of their claims — that the genetic code is ‘literally’ a code, that large biomolecules are literally machines, that codes and machines are always reliable indicators of intelligence — that we just look like ignorant fools or nefarious knaves in not seeing what they see, or at any rate not seeing it as they see it.

    The idea that someone might be reasonably well-informed about biology and think, “well, ‘codes’ and ‘machines’ are useful metaphors but that’s all” must look like willful ignorance and special pleading to them.

    It actually is a code and code is not a metaphor. Didn’t you read the OP?

    By the way, I’m interested in the psychology of code denialism. But there’s none of that to be found here, so I should probably just move along.

  15. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: The creationist/IDers’ error is not that they see codes and machines in biology. It’s that they attribute those things to an intelligent designer.

    And why on earth would they do that I wonder.

  16. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: “Virtually unlimited power” in evolution is basically the projection of religious belief in the supernatural onto something that avoids such nonsense.

    This made me laugh. Surely Glen has read Darwin.

  17. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: And why on earth would they do that I wonder.

    I don’t find it that mysterious. It’s simply because they have a religious axe to grind.

  18. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: This made me laugh. Surely Glen has read Darwin.

    I don’t know if Glen has, but I have. I haven’t found an instance of Darwin writing that evolution has virtually unlimited power. I have been to conferences on evolutionary biology, none of the attendees have talked about evolution having virtually unlimited power either. It seems like you’re exemplifying Glen’s point by projecting your religious beliefs onto something that avoids such nonsense.

  19. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Entropy: I don’t know if Glen has, but I have. I haven’t found an instance of Darwin writing that evolution has virtually unlimited power.

    You have to read it with an open mind.

  20. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: You have to read it with an open mind.

    I think you mean with a religious perspective. But no thanks. It’s all right to read it as it is.

  21. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: Exactly wrong, the randomness of coin flips is observed. Because of your presuppositions concerning the nature of the divine you hold the observed randomness does not exist but rather the observation is the unpredictable ,undetectable action of a deity.

    It’s not observed randomness it’s perceived/assumed randomness

    We both observe phenomena that are seem to us to have no pattern. Because of your presuppositions you determine that your perspective is normative and there is indeed no pattern.

    On the other hand I assume that there is a pattern waiting to be discovered.

    Our positions are empirically equivalent.

    newton: Which from our perspective is random.

    There are other perspectives. Why is yours deemed to superior?

    4159265359 is not a random sequence of numbers even though it may appear so from your perspective.

    newton: I know the evidence that it does. Since I lack the presupposition that your version of God exists, what is the evidence that randomness does not that does not require that presupposition?

    You need to re-parse that sentence I don’t know what you are trying to say here.

    peace

  22. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: How does the Lord make that decision?

    How does anyone make a decision?

    He weighs the options and chooses the best course of action to accomplish his goals

    peace

  23. Fair Witness Fair Witness
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: How does anyone make a decision?

    He weighs the options and chooses the best course of action to accomplish his goals

    So he doesn’t already know the best course?

  24. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    fifth:

    What they would object to are the claims that evolution is undirected and that RM/NS has virtually unlimited power.

    Glen:

    “Virtually unlimited power” in evolution is basically the projection of religious belief in the supernatural onto something that avoids such nonsense.

    Mung:

    This made me laugh. Surely Glen has read Darwin.

    Entropy:

    I don’t know if Glen has, but I have. I haven’t found an instance of Darwin writing that evolution has virtually unlimited power.

    Ditto. Surely Mung hasn’t read Darwin. (Or if he has, it was with a characteristically Mungian lack of comprehension.)

  25. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    fifth:

    4159265359 is not a random sequence of numbers even though it may appear so from your perspective.

    For the zillionth time, it is random, in that it can be produced by a random source. And it is algorithmic, in that it can be produced by an algorithm.

    So, by your goofy “nonrandom, nonalgorithmic” criterion, you would not infer intent when presented with this number.

  26. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    Fair Witness: So he doesn’t already know the best course?

    God chose the ends then he created the means to those ends.

    peace

  27. Fair Witness Fair Witness
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: God chose the ends then he created the means to those ends.

    So the outcome of the roll of the dice was determined long before the dice were rolled? In other words, it’s predetermined.

  28. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    Fair Witness: So the outcome of the roll of the dice was determined long before the dice were rolled? In other words, it’s predetermined.

    At least that is my theological position, Your mileage may vary 😉

    peace

  29. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    : So the outcome of the roll of the dice was determined long before the dice were rolled? In other words, it’s predetermined.

    Shouldn’t we see a unequal distribution of the outcomes then, Fifth? I wonder if there is any difference between predetermined randomness and randomness. Maybe predetermined randomness would be making sure the dice are fair.

  30. newton
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: God chose the ends then he created the means to those ends.

    Unless you know exactly the ends are and how He chooses to achieve them, I don’t see how you can know an omnipotent ,omniscient ,timeless being cannot accomodate randomness into the creation of His ends. Is it logically impossible to predetermine randomness?

  31. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: I don’t see how you can know an omnipotent ,omniscient ,timeless being cannot accomodate randomness into the creation of His ends.

    I love you and all but you are reading way too much into this.

    I have no desire to have another theological discussion right now. For the sake of argument I’ll grant that God can accomodate randomness.

    That does not mean he did. You are presupposing he did I am presupposing he did not.

    These two positions are empirically equivalent. We did not come by them by observation. That is all I’m saying.

    That makes the idea of Random Mutation a function of worldview and not simply an explanation of particular evidence. There is no reason to get hung up on this one point lots of things are like that.

    We are not just a neutral unbiased blank slate for evaluating evidence we all bring our own individual baggage to the table.

    peace

  32. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: Shouldn’t we see a unequal distribution of the outcomes then, Fifth?

    If we had access to all mutations that ever have or will exist in the universe then yes I suppose. We don’t have access to that information so what we “see” is really immaterial to what actually exists.

    newton: I wonder if there is any difference between predetermined randomness and randomness.

    Once again from our present empirical perspective the answer is no. Why is this so difficult for you to get your head around.

    You assume randomness I assume no randomness. It’s an assumption it’s not a conclusion based on any evidence from the mutations themselves.

    peace

  33. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.

    Yeah verily, it hath godlike powers. Amen.

  34. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    What physical, chemical, mechanical principles led them to infer that there must be a code prior to actually discovering the code?

    Glen doesn’t say.

  35. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Glean has no answer and I can’t say I am at all surprised.

    Anyone else want to take a shot?

    One would think there were reasons behind the predictions.

  36. Rumraket Rumraket
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung:
    What physical, chemical, mechanical principles led them to infer that there must be a code prior to actually discovering the code?

    Glen doesn’t say.

    I’m not sure what Shroedinger refers to, but there are facts about molecular biology that would imply something like a coding system must be in place. For example, the fact that proteins come in the form of chains of amino acids, and that these proteins are faithfully reproduced generation after generation by dividing cells. A system by which such sequences of amino acids are stored and reproduced must be in operation to keep it going.

    I see that this isn’t really what Shroedinger seems to be referring to. From what I can gather he is speaking about embryonic development of multicellular organisms. I’d have to know more about the specific observations he refers to, but in thinking about it I can give a guess. It would have been observed that embryonic development occurs in certain patterns every new generation, and this pattern is pretty much the same every time.

    Certain limbs, organs and bodily proportions develop in a particular series of events. This capacity must be somehow stored and faithfully executed every new generation. This implies a linear series of instructions, as in Do X first, then do Y second, keep doing X a bit more, now do Y+Z. Now stop with X, wind down Y, and ramp up Z, and so on.

    Obviously such instructions weren’t written in arabic letters, so it must have been stored in some other readable executable language. The fact that embryonic development is a series of events, implies the instructions are executed serially, which implies they’re stored serially, in sequence.

    My own issue is that the op seems to confuse the genetic code (the systematic way in which amino acid sequences are stored in DNA sequences), with the developmental program of multicellular organisms stored in DNA sequences. Those are two related but still quite distinct things. I think Shroedinger was talking about the latter, but the OP seems to imply that the former was expected in Shroedinger’s time. I don’t know if it was, but if it was it wasn’t because of the particular thing Shroedinger is quoted for in the OP.

  37. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    Rumraket: I think Shroedinger was talking about the latter, but the OP seems to imply that the former was expected in Shroedinger’s time. I don’t know if it was, but if it was it wasn’t because of the particular thing Shroedinger is quoted for in the OP.

    That’s why I wrote “in addition,” as in:

    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.

    I knew it wasn’t the same thing (hence the “in addition”), but I assumed that biologists thinking more along the lines of protein sequences likely did think of codes producing those sequences. Schroedinger was no biologist, but he was the one influential person (Crick and Watson had been influenced by him) who I knew had used the term “code.”

    Schroedinger seemed to be thinking primarily of how much information could be stored by atoms arranged into codes. He also seemed to think of development as more algorithmic than we do now.

    No, I did not confuse the two, although I did add in a surmise as to why biologists suspected a code, without carefully distinguishing the two.

    Glen Davidson

  38. Rumraket Rumraket
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: No, I did not confuse the two, although I did add in a surmise as to why biologists suspected a code, without carefully distinguishing the two.

    I should have read the OP through again, no worries.

  39. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    The fake skeptics are confused, again.

  40. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    The Genetic Code: Expected Before it was Found

    Yes the OP doesn’t seem to be about the genetic code at all.

    Why the misleading title?

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