Another excerpt from my new book What Your Atheist Professor Doesn’t Know (But Should):
“There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”
~from “Stairway to Heaven”, by Led Zeppelin
The finest assembly of computer hardware will avail you nothing without software. Many of us don’t fully appreciate this, as nearly all computers come pre-loaded with software (“guilty!”). But nevertheless, without “software” (programming), any kind of “hardware” is useless. Software is tantamount to information. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the blueprints for assembling the protein parts for cells and organs in correct timing and order are encoded into our DNA, which is similar to binary computer code, although it is quaternary (having 4 letters instead of 2). This is the “software” or programming that allows for life to exist. It contains a substantial amount of the blueprint information for biological structures and forms. Other “blueprint” components which are encoded elsewhere in cells interact with it. This requires a “language convention” with which these components can interact, and each message must be interpreted properly to allow for that.
The density of the information encoded into DNA staggers the imagination; there is enough information-storing space in a half-teaspoon of DNA to store all of the assembly instructions for every creature ever made, and room left over to include every book ever written! The information content of a bacterium has been estimated to be around 10,000,000,000,000 bits of information — comparable to a hundred million pages of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1) Even if the insurmountable problems with the structure of life’s “hardware” assembly mentioned in the last chapter were somehow abridged, another completely separate phenomenon is needed for this life to operate and reproduce—a DNA language!
The information stored in life’s DNA is encoded by way various arrangements of four molecules called nucleotides; adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. These molecules are arranged in chains bonded together into what is called a “double helix”, which looks like a ladder that has been twisted into a corkscrew shape.
Just as with binary computer code, this seemingly simple structure can store vast amounts of information for the assembly of proteins throughout the organism. If all the DNA info in the one human body were printed in books, it would be enough to fill the Grand Canyon fifty times over! Moreover, the information would be nothing but gibberish, and would be worthless for constructing proteins unless there was an established language convention to which it conformed. This raises the question “who established the language convention?”