Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “DNA

An evolutionary miracle

The theory of biological evolution is the current scientific explanation of life on earth. This assumes that life has developed from simple to complex over time. So if we extrapolate backwards in time, we eventually reach the first living cell. As this theory relies on natural selection, it only operates on populations of species, and not on the original members of the species (like the first living cell). So where did the original living cell (which is assumed to be the ancestor of all life on earth) come from? It’s assumed that life originated from non-living chemicals via chemical evolution.  Did you know that this theory includes a miracle that can’t be explained by modern science? According to the Macquarie dictionary, a miracle is “an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency”.

Complexity of life

In the 19th century many people believed the theory of spontaneous generation; that life arose from non-living matter. This is understandable because they knew little about the cell’s structure.

But today we know that even the simplest living single-cell organism is extremely complex, including numerous, complex machines and instructions to build them, all stored in a way that can be both decoded for use by the organism and passed on to offspring. In fact, a single cell is vastly more complicated than anything human minds have ever engineered.

Scientists agree that the first living cell possessed DNA, RNA and proteins, a universal genetic code, ribosomes (the protein-building factories), ATP and a proton-powered enzyme for making ATP. The detailed mechanisms for reading off DNA and converting genes into proteins were also in place. So it must have been like a modern cell. This is called “irreducible complexity” – all these components are required for a cell to function and reproduce. Because this complexity could never arise by chance, it was either designed or it was a miracle. Life can’t evolve from chemicals by chance.

Information

Living cells are comprised of hardware and software. The software is information stored in the DNA molecule. Enormous amounts of coded information are stored in DNA. Each of the thousands of genes on a DNA molecule contains instructions necessary to make a specific protein that, in turn, is needed for a specific biological function. All the detailed chemical and structural complexity associated with the metabolism, repair, specialized function, and reproduction of each living cell is a realization of the coded messages stored in its DNA. This information is read by a RNA molecule and used to make proteins. But the RNA is also encoded in the DNA, which is a “chicken and egg” problem! And the energy to do this is produced by the nano-motor ATP synthase which is also encoded on the DNA and is decoded by machines needing ATP! So there are multiple “chicken and egg” problems.

ATP synthase is one of many enzymes which are biological catalysts that speed up vital chemical reactions. Without them many reactions essential for life would be far too slow for life to exist. These enzymes, as well as other processes, must exist in the first replicating cell in order for that cell to survive and pass on the DNA, and the DNA must code for the proteins required for those processes!

The naturalistic explanation of the origin of life from non-living matter has a problem because there is no known natural process which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. Information cannot arise by naturalistic processes. The DNA code within all plant and animal cells is vastly more compact than any computer chip ever made. Therefore, the originator of the information must be supremely intelligent.

The theory of the chemical evolution of life assumes that this information is produced by physical processes. But the chemical workings of the cell are controlled by information which does not reside in the atoms and molecules of that cell. For example, the order of the DNA base pairs (like letters in a message) cannot be predicted from the chemical characteristics of the individual base pairs (letters). And as there is no law of physics about creating information from nothing, this assumption is equivalent to a miracle.

Extra-terrestrial life

Because of the impossibility of chemical evolution on earth, some have suggested that life began in outer space. In order to be able to start the evolution of life on earth, it has been proposed that life was seeded on earth by meteorites, comets or extra-terrestrials. Of course, there is no evidence of this and it doesn’t answer the question of the origin of life. It just transfers it to another place in the universe.

Discussion

Besides the above, the theory of chemical evolution goes against the law of biogenesis (Appendix A).

And the Milller-Urey experiment, which is often quoted to support the theory of chemical evolution didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life (Appendix B).

Conclusion

The theory of chemical evolution of life on earth involves a miracle that can’t be explained by operational science. This is a fatal flaw for a model that doesn’t accept miracles! But the theory of biological evolution can’t start without this miracle.

I’m skeptical of a model that claims to be based on naturalism, yet requires miracles! It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! This kind of historical science isn’t consistent.

But the Bible is consistent when it attributes the creation of plant, animal and human life to the all-powerful spiritual God (Gen. 1:11-12; 20-27).

Appendix A: The law of Biogenesis

The law of biogenesis says that all life comes from life. Lois Pasteur disproved the idea of spontaneous generation (that life could come from non-living material). He demonstrated that life does not arise from matter that has not been contaminated by existing life. This means that life has never come from non-life.

Appendix B: The Miller-Urey experiment

This was a chemical experiment that simulated the conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth. In this experiment a mixture of water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen was exposed to an electrical current. It resulted in the production of amino acids that were claimed to be the precursors of life. But this experiment relied on the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere, whereas more recent studies indicate that oxygen was present in the earth’s atmosphere earlier than had been believed. And if there was no oxygen, there would be no ozone and the amino acids would be destroyed by ultraviolet solar radiation. Also, they had to isolate the amino acids from the mixture to stop them being destroyed (by hydrolysis, for example). And the amino acids produced were a mixture of left-handed and right-handed, which would be detrimental to life because all the proteins in animals and plants are only made up of left-handed amino acids. So this experiment didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life.

Reference

Sarfati J. (2014), “The origin of life”, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, Creation Book Publishers, p.79-111.

Written, May 2019

Also see: Two Big-bang miracles


What is intelligent design?

Implications of the complexity of life

Western society is becoming increasingly godless and anti-Christian. In fact many see no need for a God because they think that modern science and knowledge has explained everything that used to be attributed to God. In particular, the theory of evolution has helped to displace God.

The Theory Of Biological Evolution

The word “evolution” is commonly used to describe “any process of formation or growth or development” and the theory of biological evolution is an explanation of how life began and changed over time to be what it is today. According to this theory a big bang or explosion took place in space that set into action the events of evolution. Then stars and planets were formed and life began on earth when non-living molecules changed into single-cell organisms. These simple creatures eventually turned into more complex creatures and finally into humans. It is assumed that all this happened over billions of years.

The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on earth shares a common ancestor, just as we share a common grandmother with our cousins. The causes of evolution are said to be variations in genetic makeup due to random mutations that are sorted by the environment in a process called natural selection whereby those with advantageous characteristics are more likely to pass them on to the next generation.

This is a dominant paradigm today, which is used to explain many aspects of life by attributing them to evolution. Evolutionists assume this theory is true. It is a materialist and naturalist viewpoint; as it only allows material and natural causes.

Interpreting The Evidence

When we look into what happened in the past, we are like a detective trying to solve the cause of a fire or of a death. They investigate, whether it was due to natural causes or due to human causes such as a criminal act. All that is observable is the current evidence. When detectives seek the cause of a crime, they use assumptions to interpret the evidence. Their findings are only as good as the accuracy of both their investigation of the evidence and the assumptions they make.

Intelligent causes are studied in forensic science, archaeology, and in extraterrestrial intelligence. Are such causes applicable to the origin of terrestrial life? How can we recognise an intelligent cause? Was a rock an Aboriginal tool or eroded by natural processes? Let’s look at two examples from extraterrestrial intelligence. Because of a belief in evolution, some people believe that life would have evolved elsewhere in the universe and we should be able to communicate with it. The Pioneer space probes in the 1970s had a message for any life forms that they might meet travelling across the galaxy. A plaque was bolted to the outside of the spacecrafts which depicted a man and woman, a map of our solar system, and other symbols that may help intelligent beings interpret the message and understand something about us. Someone who saw the plaque would recognise that it had an intelligent cause, because it couldn’t have been made by natural processes alone.

Then there is the SETI project. This Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is looking for radio signals being transmitted by beings that are assumed to be located outside our solar system. The regular radio pulses emitted by pulsars were briefly thought to be potential intelligent signals; the first pulsar to be discovered was originally designated “LGM-1”, for “Little Green Men”. However, they were quickly determined to be of natural origin. Nevertheless, scientists are still analysing signals from space for signs of intelligence.

The Theory Of Intelligent Design

The view that nature shows signs of having been designed by a pre-existing intelligence has been around, since the time of ancient Greece. The most famous version of the design argument was William Paley’s “watchmaker” thesis that went like this:

“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever. … But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think the answer which I had before given would be sufficient. To the contrary, the fine coordination of all its parts would force us to conclude that … the watch must have had a maker … who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.”[1]

Paley argued that we can draw the same conclusion about many natural objects, such as the eye. Just as a watch’s parts are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of telling time, the parts of an eye are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of seeing and so was evidence of an intelligent designer, which he inferred was the God of the Bible.

Since the 1980s, advances in biology have convinced some scientists that the theory of biological evolution, which is based on natural random processes, was inadequate to account for the sheer complexity of living things, and these could not have been built up in a step-by-step process over time. Called intelligent design (ID), this new approach claims “that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology” and “some biological systems are so complex that they only function when all of their components are present, so that the system could not have evolved from a simpler assemblage that did not contain the full machinery”. ID argues that design rather than random mutations is the primary source of genetic variation. ID research studies whether the “apparent design” in nature is the product of an intelligent cause or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations.

It is interested to note that biochemists use design terminology when they encounter the purpose, function and apparent meaning that pervades living systems. Intention and purpose, which can only be generated by intelligence, is implicitly recognized in this language: the genetic “code,” the “blue print” of life, “messenger” RNA etc.

Within a living cell there are thousands of biological molecular machines, which contain highly coordinated moving parts. Life is so complex that modern science is unable to create it from non-living matter. Furthermore, living organisms have the unique ability to continually repair and maintain themselves and to reproduce themselves; an ability that cannot be replicated by modern science and technology. Whenever we encounter complex systems – whether integrated circuits or internal combustion engines – and we know how they arose, invariably a designing intelligence played a role.

Of course, materialistic science rules out all evidence of design because it implies a supernatural cause and they only want to deal with naturalistic causes. So, when an evolutionist looks at life, they think it is the result of an evolutionary process, whereas those who follow ID think it is the result of intelligence. ID is often criticised as being a version of Biblical creationism: however, all they share is an intelligent cause.

DNA: The Genetic Code

DNA and proteins are the most important molecules of life. DNA carries the hereditary information in almost all living things (some viruses use RNA instead of DNA). Every cell in our body carries DNA; except for the red blood cells. DNA carries the genetic code which determines how cells make proteins and thereby how to make and maintain a person. The huge task of mapping the human genome was completed in 2003.

DNA functions like a language or software program that uses four symbols to carry messages (or instructions) in strands of DNA. These instructions for the protein structure, coded on the DNA molecule, are copied onto a messenger RNA molecule and taken from the nucleus of the cell to a ribosome where it is used to assemble amino acids into a protein molecule. Because they exhibit clear purpose, the code and messages in DNA necessary for life are powerful evidence for design and against materialism—the sequences of the symbols that make the messages are not dictated by physics, chemistry or any known material cause; and statistical analyses rule out chance, even with a universe trillions and trillions of years old. Genetic instructions don’t write themselves any more than a software program writes itself.

Just as intelligence is needed to explain a bird’s nest or a spider’s web or an orchard, which were designed and built by intelligent creatures, these scientists think intelligence is needed to explain the complicated messages found in DNA. They are skeptical of claims that undirected natural causes such as random mutation and natural selection can alone account for the complexity of life. Instead they think that intelligent causes are required.

Furthermore, the genetic information in the DNA cannot be transcribed without many molecular machines that are themselves encoded in the DNA. As the genetic code can only be transcribed if all the molecular machines were in place from the beginning, the origin of this central aspect of life cannot be explained by the evolutionary model of step-wise development from simple to complex. The proponents of ID refer to this as an example of the “irreducible complexity” of life on earth.

What Does The Bible Say?

Although the Bible is not a book of science, it often refers to the origin of life and the reason for life existing on the earth. Instead, the Bible is a book of history that uses poetic language on occasions.

God created out of nothing

The Bible begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1TNIV). The Hebrew verb bara used in this verse means “to create out of nothing”. Its subject in the Bible is always God. According to the Bible, God created: the heavens, earth, the great creatures of the sea, every living and moving thing with which the water teems, every winged bird, the heavens, earth, mankind, and the world (Gen. 1:1, 21, 27; 5:1-2; 2:4; Deut. 4:32; Is. 42:5; 45:18; Mk. 13:19; Eph. 3:9). Creating something out of nothing is beyond the realm of materialistic science.

So God created everything (Is. 44:24; Ecc. 11:5; Jer. 10:16; Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 4:11). “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Heb. 3:4). “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

Three other Hebrew verbs are used in the Bible with bara: asah means “to do or make”; yasar is a technical potter’s word “to mould into shape”; and kun means “to set up, establish”. All these verbs are mentioned in Isaiah 45:18: “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited”.

Creation: How and Why

Gen. 1:3 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”. “God said” is mentioned 10 times in Genesis 1. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6, 9). Also, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb. 11:3).

So something was created out of nothing at God’s command. These were miracles that can’t be explained by the laws of nature, which would have become operational when creation was completed (Gen. 2:2). As God created these laws, He is not subject to them. In fact, “God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding” (Jer. 10:12).

One of the purposes of the creation is that it would bring praise to God, the Creator (Ps. 148).

Evidence of a Creator

A creation provides information about its creator. This has been expressed in poetic language: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Because the universe was made by God; it is “the work of His hands”. As a creator is always greater than their creation and the universe is so vast and complex, it shows that God has greater power than we can imagine.

The Bible says that people can know about God from what they see: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

As everyone can see or sense the creation and be aware of its laws and characteristics, we can all know that it was made by a Creator. Therefore, Paul claims that there is no excuse for not knowing that God created the world. This fact should be obvious (Rom. 1:19). It doesn’t need education or indoctrination, just common sense. Why don’t more people see more clearly? It’s because the truth of the divine Creator is suppressed, which is wicked and foolish (Rom. 1:18, 21-22). Such people are like the Sadducees who were told “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God’” (Mt. 22:29).

Strengths And Weaknesses Of ID

As Christians can use archaeological research to show the truthfulness of the Bible, they can also use ID to illustrate the biblical description of creation. Design and other arguments from science can be used for pre-evangelism by exposing the fallacy of the evolutionary assumptions that blind the eyes of people today to the truth of the Word of God. It shows that material causes alone cannot explain the complexity of life.

However, ID allows for evolution in the sense that living things are related by common ancestry. This is because it only challenges “chance” as the cause of evolution, not whether evolution has occurred at all. Also, as nature does not reveal the identity of the designer, the theory of ID allows for any “designer” including aliens from outer space and New Age gods. It is like an “unknown god” (Acts 17:23). By leaving out the Biblical Fall into sin, the designer must be cruel and wasteful. The Fall was a major event in history, which changed everything. The world we see today has been corrupted by sin, it is not the original world that God designed.

As for the theory of biological evolution, ID does not explain the origin of life, but only deals with the arrangements of pre-existing materials. Where did all the matter, energy and information come from? Of course, the Bible says God “created” and “made” everything.

Lessons For Us

Let’s realise the importance of our paradigm of the origin and diversity of life. We all make assumptions. Naturalistic assumptions lead to believing that the complexity of life is due to natural processes and explaining life by evolution, whereas, Biblical assumptions lead to believing that the complexity of life is due to the Creator and explaining life by creation by God. We should base our thinking on God’s word; that’s where the real Designer is revealed.

In the beginning God created everything. He is the source of all the matter, energy and information in the universe. Life had a common Designer and Creator, not a common ancestor.

ID can be a tool to help show some of the problems with the theory of evolution. The complexity and design of life points to an intelligent Designer. It can be used in evangelism when we point out that the God of the Bible was the Designer and Creator and we add the history of the fall into sin.

If God is the Creator and Sustainer of everything, this means He has a plan and is directing human history. As His creatures, we are accountable to Him. Paul mentioned two categories of people; those who are wise and those who are fools (Rom. 1:22). Fools do not recognise the Creator; while the wise realise that the Creator came to earth to reconcile them with God. Don’t be a fool; but be wise and trust God’s promises for our future and be included in His plan for the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).


[1] “Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity” 1809

Written, September 2007