Language and Design: Product of a Mental Process

Language, Information, and Naturalism vs. Intelligent Design

Page 2 of Perry Marshall’s talk at Willow Creek’s Truthquest, South Barrington, Illinois, June 3, 2005

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like a month from now. You can’t get further than about a week. Because it’s driven by chaos, chaos happens when very tiny forces build up into very big things and you never know which tiny thing is going to become big.

Now lets talk about designs.

Let me give you some examples of designs. Music – you can hear music, and we all know it sounds like. You see the musicians in the picture, and the sheet music here is a symbolic representation of that music. The sheet music corresponds to what you hear but music exists in two forms. It exists in the symbolic form the notes on a piece of paper. It also exists in the physical form, which is the vibration in the ear. Both are equivalent to each other but they are in different forms, right?

Music: Exists in symbolic form (sheet music) and also in physical form (vibrations in the air)

This is a map of Washington D.C. On the right is the actual Washington D.C.; On the left is a symbolic representation of Washington D.C.

Designs are always represented symbolically.

Microsoft Windows: On the right is a picture of what a screen looks like in Microsoft Windows. On the left are the ones and zeros that are actually on the CD ROM that has windows on it. There’s the symbolic presentation of Windows, and then the actual windows code operating on your computer. There’s a symbolic representation and there’s a reality.

Microsoft Windows: Actual 1’s and 0’s on the left, the implementation (display on your screen) on the right

Again, in a design, there’s always a representation of the thing in addition to the thing itself.

Chinese is a little bit different than English because Chinese characters represent ideas, whereas English characters represent sounds. So the t-h-e, the letters t-h-e represent the sound of the word the. But in Chinese a character represents you have a character for girl or a character for boy or a character for house.

So here we’ve got yong bao, which means to hug. Ge ge means older brother and there is the Chinese symbol for it. So you have the symbol of the word you have in the middle something called pin yin which is the English representation of Chinese.

The Fundamental Characteristic of Designs

Chinese people don’t normally use pin yin, but if you see Chinese signs written for English people you see pin yin. Then you have a translation into English. And you have two kinds of symbolic representation of Chinese. There’s the word ge ge, which means older brother. So once again the design is always characterized by a plan that symbolizes what was actually created later.

That’s the fundamental characteristic of a design. So here’s what I want to illustrate: First we talked about patterns and chaos. Stalactites and stalagmites, tornados, hurricanes weather, snowflakes. On the right I’ve got information music, maps of Washington D.C.., Chinese symbols English letters.

Patterns & Chaos: Purely a Result of Matter and Energy, Not Mental Processes

What is the difference between the two? Patterns are simply created by matter in energy. That’s all that’s there. In the world of patterns there is never an exact copy. That is an interesting little observation. It requires no thought from anybody, true?

Language and Design: Product of a Mental Process


On the right, all information is based on language. You cannot symbolically represent something without language. That’s what language is. Language is a symbolic representation of something else.

To have information you have to matter and energy and will. Somebody has to decide to create information. Somebody has to write the music. The interesting thing about information is that you can have exact copies of it. You can have an exact copy of a book. I can send you an email and what can you do with it? You can read it on your screen. You can print it out on your printer. You can read it out loud. You could read it over the telephone. You could save it as a Microsoft Word document. You could post it on the Internet as a web page.

The Message is Not The Medium

Does the message change? No. The message is separate form the media that it comes in. That’s what information is, and it requires thought. All information requires a thought process, which I will talk about.

So really the fundamental question if you want to frame the fundamental questions of evolution and the origins question. The question becomes:

Can patterns turn into designs?

Can stuff on the left turn into stuff on the right? Is there a natural process that allows that to happen?

And here’s the big question:

Is DNA a pattern or is it a design?

The whole argument rests on the answer to that question.

Tonight we are going to answer that question. And when you have designs how do they evolve? I’m going to discuss that towards the ends of my talk.

How DNA Works

I’m going to explain very briefly how DNA works. DNA is a molecule; it’s a double helix. When it divides to multiply it separates in half, and a complementary chemical falls into place at every station and creates a new replica of itself.

Components of DNA

So the bridge between the edges of the helix is made of a combination of four chemicals, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine. Which I will abbreviate as A, T, C and G. Those are the letters of the DNA alphabet. A, C, T, and G encode all information necessary for life. In the simplest tiny microorganisms it takes 500,000 letters to represent a living organism. It takes five hundred thousand A’s, or C’s, or T’s, or G’s.

In a human it takes three billion (3,000,000,000) of those letters to represents a copy of you, and there is one of those three billion letter messages inside every cell in your body. (By the way modern technology, to date, has not produced an information storage mechanism that is more dense than DNA.) All the information in your hard drive is a lot bulkier than the information in your cells.

So DNA is not just a molecule, DNA is a language. It is actually very comparable to English and human languages in the way that it is structured. Here is a little chart and it shows the comparison between human languages and DNA. The nucleotide is the A, T, C, G.

DNA Language Human Language
Nucleotide Character
Codon Letter
Gene Word
Operon Sentence
Regulon Paragraph

DNA is encoding, decoding mechanism that stores and transmits the message of the living organism. Biologists have actually been using linguistic analysis to decode the human genome. Tools that we must use to analyze languages are continually being used to figure out what all of those genes actually mean.

So if you read some article in the newspaper it says we found a gene that causes Spina Bifida or something like that, some kind of linguistic analysis was used to help figure that out.

So what makes a language?

Well the first thing about a language, any language, is it symbolically represents something other than itself. All of you have papers on the tables here, and the papers have paper and they have ink. But the message on the flier there on the table has nothing to do with paper or ink for the most part. Paper and ink is just the medium that carries it.

To have a language, to have information, you have to have a transmitter and a receiver. Somebody has to talk and somebody has to listen. And then it has these four characteristics; it has an alphabet, it has grammar, it has meaning, and it has intent.

Every language has those four things. DNA has them; all the stuff going on inside your computer has them. If dogs are barking and yelping, the communication has all of these four things. It doesn’t matter if it’s mating calls if it’s pheromones between insects.

All Languages and Codes Have Four Components

Regardless of what kind of communication we are talking about those four things are present in that communication. Alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. And nearly all languages have error correction or redundancy.

English is about 50% redundant, which means if you’re talking on your cell phone and its cutting in and out and in and out, if you can hear every word you can still pretty much figure out what’s being said. If you lose more than that you really can’t.

Where does redundancy come from? If you take a word out, you can fill it in from the context. Your mind can fill in the difference. Most of you never thought of this, but in when you’re on the internet or getting and receiving emails there’s a whole collection of mechanisms that are put in the communication back and forth to ensure that errors are corrected before they get to you. This is common to almost all languages.

Is DNA a pattern? Or is it a language?

DNA is an encoding and decoding system. DNA molecule represents more than itself; it represents an entire living organism. It doesn’t just represent Adenine. It represents you or it represents a rabbit or a squirrel or a snake.

It has alphabet and syntax and semantics and pragmatics, or to use less technical terms alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. It can be copied and even stored in other media with no loss of information.

I used to work for a company that made DNA sequencers. Their machines would go through and figure out what all the letters were in a strand of DNA. You could store that on a computer disk, and somebody in the lab could take the right chemicals and they could put those back and they could end up with a clone of the organism. Because the information in DNA is information is something distinct and separate from whatever it is stored in.

So which is DNA more like?

Is DNA more like stalactites and stalagmites and tornadoes and hurricanes and snowflakes and fractals? Or is DNA more like music, maps, computer programs and Chinese?

It’s definitely in the second category. Absolutely there is no question about it. So what we have here is that between the world of chaos and patterns and the world of designs and information there is a huge chasm. A huge chasm. The pattern of DNA is not like a language. It is a language. By any formal definition of language it is a language.

Chaos, fractals and natural processes do not produce languages or codes

Now usually if people try to disagree with this, this is where they try to disagree. I had a guy say “No, DNA isn’t a language or a code, it’s just a molecule.” So I looked up Watson and Crick who discovered DNA, they got the Nobel Prize for it. I surfed the internet and the first thing I found was James Watson’s Nobel prize acceptance speech. And the very first paragraph of his speech talks about the genetic code. Code, language, same thing.

I can make this argument quoting only books by atheists. You don’t need any kind of special definition.

DNA is a language. The DNA molecule itself is an encoding decoding system. I talked about this a minute ago; all languages have alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. I’m just going to illustrate this; you can change the alphabet and still have the same message.

When you type at your computer, your computer keyboard immediately turns those letters into ASCII code, I’m not going to go into what that is. Chinese can be represented in pin yin which is the English version of Chinese or it can be represented as characters; same thing.

All languages contain grammar; an illustration of that if I say

The car is red.

That’s a statement, but if I move is to the beginning of the sentence the syntax changes. Now it says

Is the car red?

And a statement becomes a question. That’s syntax. All languages have syntax, which is the rules about how you order things so that you determine what the meaning is.

Obviously all we need to do is move one word over and I completely change the meaning of the sentence.

Now semantics is the difference between saying;

DID he steal that car?

Did HE steal that car?

Did he STEAL that car?

Did he steal THAT car?

Did he steal that CAR?

That’s semantics. Every one of those versions, just by accenting one of the words, changed the meaning of the sentence. Even though the letters didn’t change. Right?

Intent Changes the Message

Let’s talk about intent. You can have the same message with difference intent just by changing the context. For example if I say ‘you’ve got a green light,’ I could mean that your proposal got accepted. It could mean that you’re holding a green light bulb in your hand. It could mean that you’re sitting in your car waiting to go and you’ve got a green light, it means you can drive your car.

Three completely different meanings of the same sentence just based on intent. The intent changed but semantics and the grammar and the alphabet didn’t change at all, right? These are properties that every language has.

As I said before, information is always distinct from the medium that carries it. This is really interesting if you think about it: Information can be stored and transmitted by matter, like in a book; or by energy like hearing the sound or seeing light on a computer monitor or seeing a TV screen.

Information is stored and transmitted with matter and energy. But information itself is neither matter nor energy. Okay? Very important, as we’ll get to.

If you only have an alphabet and syntax and you don’t have meaning or intent than you have a meaningless sentence. There has to be other sentences around it so you know what I mean when I say you “You’ve got a green light.”

This is the core problem with a naturalistic philosophy of materialistic science: Matter and energy all by themselves cannot produce information.

Most of you have probably only heard the word cybernetics. When somebody says that word I always think of the Six Million Dollar Man, you remember the TV show with Lee Majors back in 1976? I was how old? I was seven. I thought it was a great show and he had the muscles that were motors installed in his arm and he could pick up cars and everything.

That’s science fiction, but real Cybernetics is the study of the relationship between man and machine. It’s actually a very important discipline that has infiltrated all parts of our society, all the way from basic science stuff to science fiction.

Norbert Weiner, who is considered the father of cybernetics, was a mathematician at MIT an absolutely brilliant guy and he made this statement. He said

“Information is information, neither matter nor energy. Any materialism that fails to take account of this will not survive one day.”

That is a profound statement. You don’t have to think about it very long to realize it’s absolutely true.

So I frame it like this. If I drew a little three-dimensional axis with little x, y and z, matter is on the x-axis and energy is on the y-axis. But for any kind of information to exist I have to have another dimension, which is the dimension of will.

Matter, Energy and Information are three Distinct Entities

Information cannot be created without intent. There are no examples of information that is created without intent. You have to have the dimension of intent or will, which is a property of a conscience mind, in order to have any kind information. Otherwise all you have is chaos. All you have is tornadoes and hurricanes and stalactites and stalagmites and snowflakes. But you do not have any kind of language whatsoever.

So the problem with a materialistic, atheistic philosophy or belief is there is no way to explain where the language of DNA came from. Because all codes, all languages, all encoding, decoding systems come from a mind. No exceptions.

Paley’s Design Argument vs. Hume’s Skepticism

How many of you have heard of William Paley and the watch argument of Intelligent Design? And how many of you have heard of David Hume the philosopher from about two hundred years ago?

Let’s look at Paley, whose book in 1802 is a book in natural theology. He said if you went for a walk in the woods and you found a watch, you would know that it was designed instead of just occurring naturally, because you know that a watch has the purpose of telling time. Therefore a watch has a designer. And since life has a purpose therefore life has a designer too.

Now I remember getting in this conversation with my friend’s father who was a physics professor. I was asking him some questions about this. He said ‘the design argument has been refuted.’ What he was saying was that science has proven that this is not true. His statement was based on David Hume.

Now here is what David Hume said, Hume said, more or less, I’m greatly oversimplifying these guys; you’ll have to forgive me for that. But Hume said “the analogy between the watch and life is weak. Because life’s purpose cannot be proven. Therefore the design argument fails. If you can’t prove that life has a purpose, you can’t prove that somebody was purposely behind it, therefore you don’t know whether life happened naturally or whether it was designed. So Hume said that Paley’s argument fails.

Perry Marshall’s Update to Paley’s Design Argument

But now I have an improvement to Paley’s design argument. This sounds audacious but I’m serious. I have an improvement that makes Paley’s argument airtight:

  • Element common to both watches and life is language
  • The essential distinction between pattern and design is language
  • Fundamental Property of all Designs: Idea precedes Implementation
  • Idea must be represented by language
  • All language comes from a mind

Life is preceded by DNA, and a watch is preceded by a plan where a blueprint or at least an idea in somebody’s mind that preceded the building of the watch.

That is true of all things that are designed, an idea comes first.

The essential distinction betweens patterns and designs is language. Patterns don’t have languages, but designs do. So the fundamental property of all designs is that an idea precedes the implementation of the idea.

The idea exists in a symbolic form before it’s physically built. An idea, in order to exist, has to be represented by a language. Even to have an idea in your mind you have to talk to yourself and have images in your mind of what you want to do before you do it. So we know this:

  • Ideas always precede implementation, always, no exceptions.
  • All languages come from a mind. No exceptions.
  • There are no languages that do not come from a mind.
  • So we know that DNA was designed.
  • A mind designed DNA, therefore God exists.

Can this be refuted? Yes, if any exceptions to this can be found. But a lot of people have tried to refute it, unsuccessfully. It’s an airtight inductive proof that life was designed by a mind. If anyone can find a flaw in the logic, it fails. Until that happens, it stands. It’s just like the laws of thermodynamics, or gravity, or conservation of matter and energy. If anyone can find an exception, the law fails to hold.

This leads to what I call The Atheist’s Riddle:

“Show me a language that does not come from a mind.

It’s so simple and a child can understand, but so complex no atheist can solve.

Part II: Evolution – A Christian and an atheist go to the zoo.

Now I like to say you don’t need a zoo, a Christian and an atheist duking it out – that is a zoo!

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