Why Death and Disease?

If DNA is exquisitely programmed, why is there death and disease?

Brendan asks on my blog:

You say DNA is like a computer program or language. But if it is, surely its not a very good one? It has so many bugs! Diseases and cancer, mental problems, so many horrid things. If we can debug it as we are starting to, how come God didn’t?

The difference is that we can perfect languages. The error checking in DNA is rubbish, because there is cancer. there are diseases. Why would God build it like that?

We have about 150 years of medical science under our belt and we have almost cracked heaps of illnesses. So the all-knowing creator cant figure out how to build something better than primitive humans can in a few years? Why? I genuinely want to know. I want to believe but there has never been a useful argument.


DNA, like everything in the world, is subject to entropy. All forms of information are subject to information entropy, which is irreversible degradation of a signal. Once your signal has static and noise, it’s never coming out.

Your question is no different than saying “Why is there static on the radio when I drive by an arc welder?” The answer is: It’s impossible for it to be any other way.

Therefore, what’s remarkable about DNA is cellular error correction. It has five distinct mechanisms. The 2015 Nobel Prize was for the study of 3 of those mechanisms as relates to cancer.

Cells are superior to anything humans have ever made because as Barbara McClintock showed, not only can cells detect and correct errors, they literally improvise when there is too much missing information.

To persist with the analogy, you can add static to a DNA signal and if it’s not too catastrophic, the cell will over-write the static with new, suitable information, even if it has to borrow it from somewhere else. This is an ACTIVE process. Cells are profoundly robust. This is not in any way shape or form something that happens “accidentally.” I cover this exhaustively in my book “Evolution 2.0.”

I debate this point with famous atheist PZ Meyers in my blog post “Memo to PZ Myers: Damage is random. Repair is not.”

Cells reverse entropy. Cells evolve all by themselves. No human knows how to create systems or write code that does that. And the best way we can learn how is to study cells.

So actually your question runs far, far deeper than you may have ever considered in the past, because life is exponentially more impressive than any human system.

And yes, life on earth has flaws.

Just because a system has flaws doesn’t mean it’s not engineered. In fact, those very flaws are proof of engineering because the only way you know engineering has been done is because you can actually contrast a CORRECTLY functioning system with an INCORRECTLY functioning system. In fact that’s a working definition of teleology.

There is no such thing as an incorrectly functioning rock. There is very much such a thing as an incorrectly functioning human body.

And that’s precisely how you know it is endowed with purpose. Because it goes right and it goes wrong. We can confidently assert that all living things are teleological for this simple reason. Cells engineer and re-engineer themselves.

Now, if you have a moral issue with the universe having entropy, or evolution being harsh and competitive, then welcome to the theological question of theodicy.

OK… so let’s address theodicy. Allow me to put on my Christian hat.

The Young Earth Creationists deal with this by claiming that “there was no death before the fall.” They blame all disease and death in the world on man.

Well, this is wrong for two reasons.

First, we have absolutely zero evidence of the earth ever being death-free. Everything we know about geology, astronomy, anthropology and biology (without exception) says the universe is very old and things have been dying for a very very long time.

Second, this YEC idea comes from Romans 5 where Paul says “Through one man, death entered into the world and death through sin.” I talk about this more at www.cosmicfingerprints.com/not-young-earth-creationist and www.cosmicfingerprints.com/genesis1.

Paul is clearly NOT talking about physical death here. You can see this for yourself. Read the passage very carefully and you will see that if you insert “physical death” or “physical life” every time it discusses life and death, it makes no sense. It is talking about spiritual death.

This doctrine that physical death came from sin is one of the biggest mistakes in the history of Christianity. It continues to pit Christians against science to this day, when in fact the Bible never taught this. People injected it into the text and made it dogma.

OK, so then what does “spiritual death” mean?

Well, one thing it means is that man abdicated his spiritual authority by turning away from God. This of course is described in the Adam and Eve story.

By the way, I think it makes sense whether you interpret Genesis literally, as most conservative Christians do, or even if you interpret it as allegory or “saga.” Either way, the message is exactly the same. The point the story makes is that man had authority to heal the earth, which he gave up.

I know healing is real, because I’ve been in the room twice when people who were deaf got their hearing back after 30+ years. I have an entire page devoted to my own miraculous experiences at www.coffeehousetheology.com/miracles. I encourage you to read this page very, very carefully. Click on every link. Watch every video. Because it includes some very extensive documentation.

We humans are currently only exercising 1% of our God-given ability to heal. If we harnessed more of that we would see serious progress on all fronts.

And by the way, scientific and medical knowledge are just as legitimate forms of healing as the kind which I have seen and describe above, which is described in the New Testament. They’re both valid and they’re both real. People without faith have medicine. People of faith can access miracles and medicine.

Flickr / Julien Harneis https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/


10 Responses

  1. Ben Hunt says:

    Is the existence of cancer and pathogens evidence of a failure of DNA?

    Let me put forward an alternative theory: that the presence cancer, for example, could be a consequence of human technology.

    Can we say that cancers are *not* caused by pesticides, wi-fi and other electromagnetic fields, artificial sweeteners, air pollution, poor nutrition, prolonged stress, etc.?

    In other words, the further we step away from the natural world (which we evolved in and, arguably, were designed to live in), the more the human body struggles to maintain its beautiful equilibrium. So it’s not Nature’s or God’s fault, but our own.

    • Edwardtbabinski says:

      The world was not some pristine cancer-free paradise in the past. You forget about all the plagues and diseases of the past in which children and adults were devoured, quite naturally, by viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites. Not to mention crops also being devoured regularly by swarms of bugs and diseases.

    • Edwardtbabinski says:

      On the other hand, cancers also have an inheritable genetic component that just keep getting passed down.

  2. Frank Pettit says:

    There isn’t any “genetic entropy”; creationists (e.g. John Sanford) made it up. There is the usual physical entropy, but that’s not the same thing as creationist ‘genetic entropy’, because living things are an open thermodynamic system, and the genome in the next generation is not made of the same molecules as the genomes in the previous generation. The system, obviously, is not closed, and 2nd Law does not require a non-closed system to go to higher entropy– generally, if systems radiate heat, as living things do, they don’t go to higher entropy. Non-closed systems go to lower free energy, which may require higher entropy. Moreover, no creationist can explain what the alleged ‘perfect’, non-dying, non-disease-susceptible, genome was for humans or for any other species. If it were true that this imaginary creationist-only ‘genetic entropy’ were to blame for death and dying, then creatos should have a model of the initial non-disease state, and a STEP BY STEP model of how ‘genetic entropy’ turned the perfect state into the total genetic mess we have now. They don’t have one, and aren’t working on it, because ‘genetic entropy’ doesn’t exist. So what’s left is a fairy tale.

    • The 2nd law of thermodynamics has nothing to do with this. We are talking about information entropy not thermodynamic entropy.

      Energy does not create codes or coded information.

      But if you can find a way that it can, my investors have a large sum of money for you. Apply at http://www.naturalcode.org.

      Genetic entropy exists because information entropy exists in ALL coded systems. There are no exceptions to this. The fruit fly experiments that were done for decades amply proved that if you damage DNA, all you get is birth defects – not evolution. McClintock did something slightly different and found out that plants repair their own genomes – which introduced an entirely new and unexpected set of systems to the problem.

  3. Frank Pettit says:

    And secondly, the assertion, ‘once a genetic system has noise, it’s never coming out’, is absurd. By any *mathematical* measure of information, natural selection creates information in a population as a whole; see, e.g. the experimental work of Jack Szostak or Schneider’s ENV program which prove this. The whole idea leads to paradoxes and is self-contradictory. To give a very, very simple example, consider the mutation that causes sickle cell disease, an A to T mutation in beta-hemoglobin. Every creationist will call that ‘loss of information.’ Now ask them HOW MUCH information, like in bits? And not one will answer you; they have no way to measure loss of information by their made-up gobbledygook. Moreover, if they did answer you, you could then show their ideas are self-contradictory. For example, if they say, ‘an A to T mutation is a loss of, let’s guess, 1 bit of information’, then you can point out that 1 billion people have the T mutation, and they’re having children all the time, and several of those children will spontaneously BACK-MUTATE from T to A. which is to say, 1 bit of information would be *CREATED* naturally– and if those children live in an environment where A has an advantage over T, the A will spread through the population and become fixed. This is a very simple example of how natural selection *must* necessarily create information in a population. But creationists say ‘information can only be destroyed, never created’, and they never give a metric for measuring this information, because if they ever did, you could immediately expose the whole hoax.

    • Natural selection does not and cannot reverse information entropy. All you are doing here is presenting a just-so story based on Neo-Darwinism which has been obsolete for at least 30 years. Real world evolutionary events come from horizontal gene transfer, transposition, epigenetics etc which are all non-random highly systematic mechanisms.

      There is not a single company in the world that randomly mutates bits in software, lets natural selection sort it out and then produces a better program than before. Sure, there is a whole micro-industry of genetic algorithms, but they’re all intelligently designed and require considerable babysitting from highly paid people in order to work. They’re little more than a footnote across the broader software industries. I have started, operated and / or sold interest in at least three software companies so I am well aware of this issue.

      Please cite any useful commercial software programs that have ever been produced by Schneider’s EV program.

      I admire Jack Szostak and his work but Jack has not solve the information problem in biology.

  4. Frank Pettit says:

    I have to laugh at the self-contradictions: “Cells evolve all by themselves. No human knows how to create systems or write code that does that…it is endowed with purpose” LOL so the logic is, ‘Life is unlike anything we’ve ever seen designed by an intelligence, therefore life was designed by an intelligence.’

    And this: “life is exponentially more impressive than any human system… all living things are teleological.” Again you’re saying, ‘Life is unlike anything we’ve ever seen designed by an intelligence, therefore life was designed by an intelligence.’ Just because you can imagine a purpose for something doesn’t make it engineered.

    Natural bridges are formed by erosion. They have a function, but are not engineered. They are often used as real bridges that people drive across. I can imagine a function for them; I can imagine them breaking, and no longer performing that function. But they’re still a product of NATURAL processes only, no intelligence involved.

    I’ll also note that the claim, “the only way you know engineering has been done is because you can actually contrast a CORRECTLY functioning system with an INCORRECTLY functioning system”, is a very old idea, having been invoked by Paley in his book “Natural Theology”, which has been thoroughly debunked. The question was, “Why would an all-powerful God need to produce such overcomplicated, fragile contrivances?” and Paley’s answer was that God did it deliberately, he deliberately set up obstacles for himself, through the limits of natural laws, so that he could overcome his own obstacles with his clever engineering, thus showing off his cleverness. This argument is not a rational explanation for death or disease, which are the questions here, so it’s changing the subject. But the theological argument portrays the designer as a sadist, who throws up limitations that eventually lead to bad function (innocent people and children and babies dying in horrible pain) so he can show off his cleverness. Surely a benevolent deity could find some way to show off and display his grand ego with making babies and children die in horrible pain… if he were really all-powerful, he could make up some other rules. The question, ‘So why is there death and disease?’ has not been remotely answered by this post.

    • Nobody has solved the design problem in biology, because nobody has solved origin of life.

      If you can solve origin of information (which is a lot easier than solving life itself) then my private equity investment group has $5 million for you. See http://www.naturalcode.org. I have judges from Harvard, MIT and Oxford, along with Michael Ruse (famous atheist philosophy of science professor) who will be happy to vet the quality of your work.

      You are angry about the problem of theodicy and I can understand that. However your emotional response to suffering and pain should not cloud your assessment of a cold rational fact, which is that nobody knows how to even get from chemicals to code, let alone get systems to self-evolve without external guidance.

      Natural Code LLC is perfectly happy for someone to solve these problems in a 100% naturalistic way, and in fact it’s the job of a scientist to do so.

      Furthermore, if you can develop software that can do what bacteria do – namely re-configure and re-design itself and autonomously adapt – then my investors will likewise be extremely interested.

      But just because you’re upset about suffering in the world doesn’t grant you a license to misrepresent the current state of scientific knowledge.

  5. Tomi Aalto says:


    Cancers are typically results from aberrant methylation patterns. Sequence alterations are another consequence from them.

    Human genome is rapidly degrading. There are 208,368 disease-causing genetic mutations in the human DNA at population level. The annual increase was about 20,000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *