The Amazing Tiny Cell
Two great achievements occurred in 1953, more than half a century ago.
The first was the successful ascent of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Sir Edmund Hillary and his guide, Tenzing Norgay, reached the summit that year, an accomplishment that’s still considered the ultimate feat for mountain climbers. Since then, more than a thousand mountaineers have made it to the top, and each year hundreds more attempt it.
Yet the second great achievement of 1953 has had a greater impact on the world. Each year, many thousands join the ranks of those participating in this accomplishment, hoping to ascend to fame and fortune.
It was in 1953 that James Watson and Francis Crick achieved what appeared impossible—discovering the genetic structure deep inside the nucleus of our cells. We call this genetic material DNA, an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid.
The discovery of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule opened the floodgates for scientists to examine the code embedded within it. Now, more than half a century after the initial discovery, the DNA code has been deciphered—although many of its elements are still not well understood.
What has been found has profound implications regarding Darwinian evolution, the theory taught in schools all over the world that all living beings have evolved by natural processes through mutation and natural selection.
Amazing revelations about DNA
As scientists began to decode the human DNA molecule, they found something quite unexpected—an exquisite ‘language’ composed of some 3 billion genetic letters. “One of the most extraordinary discoveries of the twentieth century,” says Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Wash., “was that DNA actually stores information—the detailed instructions for assembling proteins—in the form of a four-character digital code”
It is hard to fathom, but the amount of information in human DNA is roughly equivalent to 12 sets of The Encyclopaedia Britannica— an incredible 384volumes” worth of detailed information that would fill 48 feet of library shelves!
Yet in their actual size—which is only two millionths of a millimeter thick—a teaspoon of DNA, according to molecular biologist Michael Denton, could contain all the information needed to build the proteins for all the species of organisms that have ever lived on the earth, and “there would still be enough room left for all the information in every book ever written”
Who or what could miniaturize such information and place this enormous number of ‘letters’ in their proper sequence as a genetic instruction manual? Could evolution have gradually come up with a system like this?
DNA contains a genetic language
Let’s first consider some of the characteristics of this genetic ‘language.’ For it to be rightly called a language, it must contain the following elements: an alphabet or coding system, correct spelling, grammar (a proper arrangement of the words), meaning (semantics) and an intended purpose.
Scientists have found the genetic code has all of these key elements. “The coding regions of DNA,” explains Dr. Stephen Meyer, “have exactly the same relevant properties as a computer code or language” (quoted by Strobel, p. 237, emphasis in original).
The only other codes found to be true languages are all of human origin. Although we do find that dogs bark when they perceive danger, bees dance to point other bees to a source and whales emit sounds, to name a few examples of other species” communication, none of these have the composition of a language. They are only considered low-level communication signals.
The only types of communication considered high-level are human languages, artificial languages such as computer and Morse codes and the genetic code. No other communication system has been found to contain the basic characteristics of a language.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, commented that “DNA is like a software program, only much more complex than anything we’ve ever devised.”
Can you imagine something more intricate than the most complex program running on a supercomputer being devised by accident through evolution—no matter how much time, how many mutations and how much natural selection are taken into account?
DNA language not the same as DNA molecule
Recent studies in information theory have come up with some astounding conclusions—namely, that information cannot be considered in the same category as matter and energy. It’s true that matter or energy can carry information, but they are not the same as information itself.
For instance, a book such as Homer’s Iliad contains information, but is the physical book itself information? No, the materials of the book—the paper, ink and glue contain the contents, but they are only a means of transporting it.
If the information in the book was spoken aloud, written in chalk or electronically reproduced in a computer, the information does not suffer qualitatively from the means of transporting it. “In fact the content of the message,” says professor Phillip Johnson, “is independent of the physical makeup of the medium”
The same principle is found in the genetic code. The DNA molecule carries the genetic language, but the language itself is independent of its carrier. The same genetic information can be written in a book, stored in a compact disk or sent over the Internet, and yet the quality or content of the message has not changed by changing the means of conveying it.
As George Williams puts it: “The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it’s not the message” (quoted by Johnson, p. 70).
Information from an intelligent source
In addition, this type of high-level information has been found to originate only from an intelligent source.
As Lee Strobel explains: “The data at the core of life is not disorganized, it’s not simply orderly like salt crystals, but it’s complex and specific information that can accomplish a bewildering task—the building of biological machines that far outstrip human technological capabilities” (p. 244).
For instance, the precision of this genetic language is such that the average mistake that is not caught turns out to be one error per 10 billion letters. If a mistake occurs in one of the most significant parts of the code, which is in the genes, it can cause a disease such as sickle-cell anemia. Yet even the best and most intelligent typist in the world couldn’t come close to making only one mistake per 10 billion letters—far from it.
So to believe that the genetic code gradually evolved in Darwinian style would break all the known rules of how matter, energy and the laws of nature work. In fact, there has not been found in nature any example of one information system inside the cell gradually evolving into another functional information program.
Michael Behe, a biochemist and professor at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University, explains that genetic information is primarily an instruction manual and gives some examples.
He writes: “Consider a step-by-step list of [genetic] instructions. A mutation is a change in one of the lines of instructions. So instead of saying, “Take a ¼-inch nut,” a mutation might say, “Take a ⅜-inch nut.” Or instead of “Place the round peg in the round hole,” we might get “Place the round peg in the square hole” … What a mutation cannot do is change all the instructions in one step—say, [providing instructions] to build a fax machine instead of a radio” ( Darwin’s Black Box , 1996, p. 41).
We therefore have in the genetic code an immensely complex instruction manual that has been majestically designed by a more intelligent source than human beings.
Even one of the discoverers of the genetic code, the agnostic and recently deceased Francis Crick, after decades of work on deciphering it, admitted that “an honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going” .
Evolution fails to provide answers
It is good to remember that, in spite of all the efforts of all the scientific laboratories around the world working over many decades, they have not been able to produce so much as a single human hair. How much more difficult is it to produce an entire body consisting of some 100 trillion cells!
Up to now, Darwinian evolutionists could try to counter their detractors with some possible explanations for the complexity of life. But now they have to face the information dilemma: How can meaningful, precise information be created by accident —by mutation and natural selection? None of these contain the mechanism of intelligence, a requirement for creating complex information such as that found in the genetic code.
Darwinian evolution is still taught in most schools as though it were fact. But it is increasingly being found wanting by a growing number of scientists. “As recently as twenty-five years ago,” says former atheist Patrick Glynn, “a reasonable person weighing the purely scientific evidence on the issue would likely have come down on the side of skepticism [regarding a Creator]. That is no longer the case.” He adds: “Today the concrete data point strongly in the direction of the God hypothesis. It is the simplest and most obvious solution …”.
Quality of genetic information the same
Evolution tells us that through chance mutations and natural selection, living things evolve. Yet to evolve means to gradually change certain aspects of some living thing until it becomes another type of creature, and this can only be done by changing the genetic information.
So what do we find about the genetic code? The same basic quality of information exists in a humble bacteria or a plant as in a person. A bacterium has a shorter genetic code, but qualitatively it gives instructions as precisely and exquisitely as that of a human being. We find the same prerequisites of a language—alphabet, grammar and semantics—in simple bacteria and algae as in man.
Each cell with genetic information, from bacteria to man, according to molecular biologist Michael Denton, consists of “artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction … [and a] capacity not equalled in any of our most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours” (Denton, p. 329).
So how could the genetic information of bacteria gradually evolve into information for another type of being, when only one or a few minor mistakes in the millions of letters in that bacterium’s DNA can kill it?
Again, evolutionists are uncharacteristically silent on the subject. They don’t even have a working hypothesis about it. Lee Strobel writes: “The six feet of DNA coiled inside every one of our body’s one hundred trillion cells contains a four-letter chemical alphabet that spells out precise assembly instructions for all the proteins from which our bodies are made … No hypothesis has come close to explaining how information got into biological matter by naturalistic means” (Strobel, p. 282).
Werner Gitt, professor of information systems, puts it succinctly: “The basic flaw of all evolutionary views is the origin of the information in living beings. It has never been shown that a coding system and semantic information could originate by itself [through matter] … The information theorems predict that this will never be possible. A purely material origin of life is thus [ruled out]” (Gitt, p. 124).
Besides all the evidence we have covered for the intelligent design of DNA information, there is still one amazing fact remaining—the ideal number of genetic letters in the DNA code for storage and translation.
Moreover, the copying mechanism of DNA, to meet maximum effectiveness, requires the number of letters in each word to be an even number. Of all possible mathematical combinations, the ideal number for storage and transcription has been calculated to be four letters.
This is exactly what has been found in the genes of every living thing on earth—a four-letter digital code. As Werner Gitt states: “The coding system used for living beings is optimal from an engineering standpoint. This fact strengthens the argument that it was a case of purposeful design rather that a [lucky] chance” (Gitt, p. 95).
Back in Darwin’s day, when his book On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, life appeared much simpler. Viewed through the primitive microscopes of the day, the cell appeared to be but a simple blob of jelly or uncomplicated protoplasm. Now, almost 150 years later, that view has changed dramatically as science has discovered a virtual universe inside the cell.
“It was once expected,” writes Professor Behe, “that the basis of life would be exceedingly simple. That expectation has been smashed. Vision, motion, and other biological functions have proven to be no less sophisticated than television cameras and automobiles. Science has made enormous progress in understanding how the chemistry of life works, but the elegance and complexity of biological systems at the molecular level have paralyzed science’s attempt to explain their origins” (Behe, p. x).
Dr. Meyer considers the recent discoveries about DNA as the Achilles” heel of evolutionary theory. He observes: “Evolutionists are still trying to apply Darwin’s nineteenth-century thinking to a twenty-first century reality, and it’s not working … I think the information revolution taking place in biology is sounding the death knell for Darwinism and chemical evolutionary theories” (quoted by Strobel, p. 243).
Dr. Meyer’s conclusion? “I believe that the testimony of science supportstheism. While there will always be points of tension or unresolved conflict, the major developments in science in the past five decades have been running in a strongly theistic direction” (ibid., p. 77).
Dean Kenyon, a biology professor who repudiated his earlier book on Darwinian evolution—mostly due to the discoveries of the information found in DNA—states: “This new realm of molecular genetics (is) where we see the most compelling evidence of design on the Earth” (ibid., p. 221).
Just recently, one of the world’s most famous atheists, Professor Antony Flew, admitted he couldn’t explain how DNA was created and developed through evolution. He now accepts the need for an intelligent source to have been involved in the making of the DNA code.
“What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements together,” he said (quoted by Richard Ostling, “Leading Atheist Now Believes in God,” Associated Press report, Dec. 9, 2004).