A common argument from theists is that DNA is ‘information’ and that ‘information’ can only be created by an intelligent being. This is half true. Information is created by conscious intelligent entities – us. Information is something we assign to other things.
A rock is just a rock, even the designation ‘rock’ is something we give to it. We can also discover all sorts of other information about the rock. We can weight it, measure its density, discover what materials make it up. We can dig through it for a fossil, we can determine how radioactive it is. We can discover all sorts of information about it but, again, this is all something we assign to it. Without our words, without our interpretation, the rock just is what it is and that we can determine this information about the rock doesn’t mean that it is a made, intelligently created thing.
The same is true of DNA. We describe it as a ‘code’ and as ‘information’ because it encodes proteins, governs so many factors about our bodies, minds, everything about us and about every living thing but in its own way the DNA isn’t all that different than the rock. Rather than being shaped by erosion – natural factors, DNA is shaped by natural selection – also natural factors.
The analogy I like to use it that of the river.
A spring bubbles up from underneath the ground and starts to flow. As it flows it becomes a river. The river starts to wind and twist its way across the landscape.
What determines the shape of the river? We can extract all sorts of information about it. The soil density of the banks. The shape and hardness of the rocks it encounters. The shapes of the valleys. The way it splits into different flows, pools into lakes and ponds, all determined by the landscape it flows over.
Is it right, though, to say that this IS information? Is the landscape encoding, telling the river what form to take?
No, the river is just flowing and the context in which the water and the flow finds itself determines the shape, determines the way it goes. Hopefully nobody would argue that this river is intelligently designed or that the banks are created ‘just so’ to shape it in this particular way so why do they do that for human DNA?
Our banks, our rocks, our rates of flow, our valleys, our gulleys… these are the contexts in which we find ourselves. Our predators, our prey, our diseases, our famines. These are the encounters that shape our evolution just as the banks, the rocks, the rains and so on shape the river.
Information is just the way we interpret these things.