As I continue with my post on Information Theory, I must confess that there was an ulterior motive for the previous post that I presented, and a quick explanation can now be made. A few months ago I learned about certain viruses that replicate by having their RNA read in three separate frames. Each frame is necessary for the replication of the virus, because if the RNA is only read in the “normal” way then it would not give all the amino acids needed by the virus to replicate. The alternate frames (starting at the second and third nucleotide) were therefore critical for the successful reproduction of the virus.
Since the best way to explain this is actually by example, I’d spent some time wondering how to come up with a good example. Thankfully, I was afforded the opportunity at work the other day due to some shenanigans that happened with a couple of my co-workers. One of my friends, Travis, is a huge Star Trek fan. He’s got a model of the Enterprise sitting on the shelf in his cubicle. Or rather, he had a model of the Enterprise sitting on the shelf by his cubicle, since one of his other friends, Jeff, had stolen it over a week ago.
It quickly became apparent that Travis did not know it was missing. As a result, on Friday Jeff came up with a plan to “ransom” the model back to Travis by setting up a fake e-mail account. In the meantime, one of our other coworkers has been taking several pictures of a gnome in random locations, so I suggested to Jeff that he get a picture with that gnome. The end result is this ransom picture.
After the photo was taken, I came up with an idea. Rather than make it easy for Travis to figure out what was going on, we could make a secret code for him to crack. At the same time, I realized this would work for my illustration of Information Theory. So I wrote up the code and put it in my previous post. Then we sent Travis on a long scavenger hunt to finally claim his stolen Enterprise (although in reality the scavenger hunt was completely pointless because it lead nowhere and in the end Jeff just gave the model back anyway).
The only clue that I gave Travis was a link to my previous post on Information Theory as well as the instructions about “First letter. Last letter. One is forward, one is not.” From that, you can look at my previous post and see that it spells out the following hidden messages. The first letter of each sentence spells out “DON’T TRUST THE SMILE O’ THE GNOME WHO ROAMS OVER THE EARTH HERE” backwards (with punctuation added for clarity) and the last letter of each sentence spells out: “i saw travis’s enterprise go in the shredder box by kayla’s cube.” (By the way, this was a factual, yet misleading, statement. I actually wrote “Travis’s Enterprise” on a piece of paper and put it in the shredder box, hoping that Travis would get Building Services to open the box and reveal the paper…but due to the fact that Travis’s department was short-handed Friday, he was unable to do this.)
Obviously, if I was only intending to play a prank on a co-worker I would not have posted anything on Triablogue—I would have just kept that on my personal site. However, since I got a wonderful opportunity to use this as an example for Information Theory, I thought it was worth putting on the T-Blog too.
Anyone could have read my original post and it would have made sense as it was written. Due to the constraints of the hidden message, of course, the previous post seemed (at least to me) to be a little stilted in places, but it still conveyed information so that it was a worthwhile piece in its first reading frame (the straightforward reading on the blog post). The first level of the post provided information, and it was of such complexity that I would argue the very existence of the post proves that there was an intelligence guiding the writing of the post. It was not randomly put together.
Suppose, however, that someone wished to argue that there must have been a naturalistic explanation for that surface level reading. If we stipulate that the rules of grammar must be followed, then we could say that words were randomly put together via mutations of the alphabet. Those words that most closely matched the grammatical rules in place were selected for. Over time, the post would have been written by purely naturalistic, non-intelligent processes. This is, in other words, the way that Darwinists claim DNA and RNA came about.
Even if we grant all this to the Darwinist (a huge concession, mind you, but let’s not worry about it right now), we are immediately confronted with the fact that reading the first letter of each sentences backwards provides information too. Thus, not only must there have been a rule in place governing the straightforward meaning of the text, but there must have been a Darwinian selection process governing information from the first letter of each sentence. Furthermore, there must have been another one governing how to read the last letter of each sentence too.
It should be obvious to everyone that this is too complicated to be explained by naturalistic, non-intelligent, random mutations. Yet this textual analogy occurs in the very viruses with RNA sequencing.
When it comes to information theory, typically the shorter something is the less information is contained. Thus, a book that has only 10,000 words contains less information than a book that contains 20,000 words. And DNA that is 5 million bases long has less information than DNA that has three billion bases.
This, however, does not take into account intentional compression of information. My previous post was 893 words long. Yet it provided information not only in those 893 words, but in two hidden messages that added another 25 words. In other words, another text that is 910 words long but that does not have these hidden messages contains less information than my 893 word long post did despite it being longer.
But the increase in the complexity is seen not just in the message itself. In order to glean the extra hidden messages one must know how to read it. Therefore, one must know three separate methods of reading to gain all 918 words of information in that post. This means it is not sufficient to know the basic rules of grammar: you must know what to look for and where to find it in what order for the hidden messages too.
The same thing is true for RNA that is used by viruses. If the virus must have three separate frameworks in order to reproduce, the RNA sequence can be much shorter—yet it hides such complexity that it is astronomically more intricate than a similar string of RNA nucleotides. Since it must be read in three frameworks, the code must be able to function not simply in a straightforward manner but in two completely different ways too. Furthermore, the cell that the virus uses to reproduce must somehow be able to decode this complexity and reproduce the virus.
While it was fairly simple for me to come up with a hidden code for my previous post, it is somewhat more difficult to come up with three-letter codons that will encode amino acids in multiple ways. Indeed, it would be analogous to condensing the alphabet into 20 characters (this can be done by discarding certain letters, like X (which can be represented as a “ks”) and C (either a “k” or an “s” depending on the sound you need). The 20 characters would represent the 20 amino acids. Using four bases (ACTG) you would need to construct an alphabet of 64 variations, where for instance AAA = A, AAC = B, AAT = D, AAG = E, ACA = F, etc. When that is done, you will find it easy enough to write a straightforward coded text with English rules, but it is vastly more difficult to write a text that is correct English both in the first and second reading frame, let alone adding on the third reading frame.
In short, as close as we can come to simulating the way RNA works for certain viruses we have a tremendous difficulty grasping how this can all fit together. Yet viruses are supposedly the simplest life-forms. And we haven’t even begun to deal with issues such as the exons and introns.
The existence of such viruses, and the methods by which information is conveyed via nucleotides, provides strong evidence for Intelligent Design simply because of the vast complexities hidden within even the simplest looking strands.