The Genetic Code and the Codemaker

For 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.  Romans 1:20

          People have always been able to learn something of God from what God has created.  But as science has advanced, and has revealed more and ever more of the once-hidden secrets of the physical world, we can more deeply appreciate the awesome creative power of God.

           The field of genetics has seen rapid progress in the past few decades.  Ever since Gregor Mendel conducted his experiment on garden peas, we have know that parent organisms have something called “genes” that they donate to their offspring during reproduction, and that these “genes” determine most of the physical characteristics of the offspring.  Genes were just a concept, however, not a biological structure, and scientists didn't know where the genes would be found in living organisms. 

           Scientists soon realized that the genes were probably associated with threadlike microscopic structures in the nuclei of cells, called chromosomes.  Chromosomes come in pairs, and in sexually reproducing organisms, each parent donates one chromosome from each pair to the offspring.  This biological process mirrored Mendel’s laws of inheritance, strongly indicating that chromosomes contained the “genes.” But chromosomes were composed of proteins and nucleic acid, and scientists didn't know which contained the “genes.” 

           One of the most remarkable discoveries of the middle 20th Century was that the genes are contained in Deoxyribonucleic Acid—DNA.  DNA is a chain of molecules (a polymer) in the shape of a “double helix,” a structure that looks somewhat like a ladder twisted into a corkscrew. The two sides of the ladder are composed of alternating sugar and phosphate groups. Protruding from each sugar group is one of four nitrogenous bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Each base binds with a base protruding from the other side of the ladder to form the “rungs” of the ladder. 

           Because the pairs of bases that form the “rungs” of the ladder can be in any order, DNA can carry information.  Just as the order of letters determines the meaning of words, and the order of the words determines the meaning of a sentence, the order of the DNA bases determines what amino acids are specified, and the order of the amino acids determines what proteins are formed when the DNA is “transcribed” and “translated.” That molecular genetics has borrowed from linguistics such terms as “transcribed” and “translated” shows just how rich in information DNA really is.     

           Another analog to DNA is digital code.  Digital information is stored and expressed in a code of ones and zeros; the arrangement of those ones and zeros contains the information.  In recent years, most of our audio and visual information—most of our movies, music, television, and telephone communication—is stored in digital format, which in its most basic form is just ones and zeros.

           Just as a machine—a computer—reads the digital code of ones and zeros to produce our movies and music, cellular machines read the DNA code to produce the proteins necessary for life.  During transcription, an extremely complex machine called RNA polymerase binds to the DNA at a “promoter site” and moves along the gene locally unzipping the double helix and forming a complementary polymer called “Messenger RNA,” a molecule much like DNA.  Translation is a similar but even more complex manufacturing operation that involves another bio-machine traveling along the strand of Messenger RNA, collecting amino acids and concatenating them into a protein. 

           There is no question that the order of DNA bases constitutes a code, a language that communicates intelligent information.  The function of the DNA code is to direct the manufacture of the proteins that build us into what we are.  Now, if we have a code that has a purpose, that is designed to do something, we know that there was an intelligent code-maker. 

Where there is a program, there is a programmer who programmed it.

Where there is writing, there is a writer who wrote it.

Where there is music, there is a musician who composed it.

Where there is an engine, there is an engineer who designed it.

Wherever there is intelligent information, some intelligent being has created that information. This is a law of life to which there are no exceptions. 

           That there exists a molecule in which the information necessary to make a human being is encoded and stored proves that there was a creator who put the information into that molecule.  It is as simple as that.

            We don't understand the DNA program nearly as well as we understand computer programs.  A good programmer can read through a program and say, “it's designed to do this, this and this,” but because the genetic code is much more complex—and was written by God, not man—scientists understand thoroughly only about five percent of it, the part that controls the synthesis of proteins.  The rest is not so well understood; the way it works is only slowly coming into focus.  It was once called “Junk DNA,” but enough of its functions are now known to make that term obsolete. 

           Sometimes, errors creep into our DNA during replication, or copying, which is yet another machine-like process that is incredibly fast and incredibly accurate.  DNA polymerase moves along the DNA strand, unzipping it and synthesizing two new ladder sides and two new half-rungs at the pace of 1000 base pairs per second.  To give you a better idea of just how fast this is, if the DNA molecule were enlarged to a width of one meter, and DNA polymerase scaled up to the size of a truck, the truck would be moving along the molecule at 375 miles per hour as it copied it.  But the speed does not adversely effect the accuracy.  The polymerase makes a mistake less than once every billion base pairs copied, and even those are usually corrected by proofreading polymerases.  Once in a great while, however, a DNA copying error remains uncorrected.

           Our experience with codes is that small errors may interfere with or even prevent them from performing their function.  In college, I had the misfortune of having to learn a computer language called COBOL.  One day I had written a program and was trying to get it to “compile,” and, alas, it would not.  I studied my code for a long time, but could find no errors.  Finally, I gave up and took it to the instructor, who noticed that one period was missing from one line of the code.  One tiny dot was missing, and the program would not work at all. 

           Just as with computer code, an error in the DNA code often causes problems.  Life was designed so that minor genetic errors may be harmless, or may be “masked” by a healthy gene donated by the other parent.  But inheritable genetic copying errors are usually harmful, and sometimes fatal.  Inheritable DNA copying errors cause over 5,000 different disorders and diseases.  Clearly, a DNA copying error is something to be avoided, if possible, and our cellular machinery is superbly designed to avoid and correct copying errors. 

            Incredibly, the modern theory of evolution is based upon the idea that these mutations—these random, typically harmful DNA copying errors—have somehow created new, intricate biological mechanisms, new complex functional organs, and ultimately whole new organisms.  The theory posits that genetic copying errors accumulated one by one, and, over hundreds of millions of years, a single-celled organism diversified into all the plants and animals that we see in the creation around us.  It is a remarkable claim, not least for being contrary to everything we know about codes.   

           If you think you can change an existing computer program into a new program with a different function by introducing a small mistake every once in a while, you're in for a rude shock.  After very few errors, your program will be useless and your computer will crash.  To get a program that does something different, that has a different function, a programmer must write a new program.

           Do you think you will get a better piece of music if you copy it and some of the notes don't get copied and are lost?  Do you think you will get a better book, if you copy it a million times, and a letter goes missing every time you copy it?  Do you think Don Quixote will turn into War and Peace if you copy it 50 million times, with an error occurring every other time you copy it?[1]  Of course, no one believes that such things could ever happen.  If you want Don Quixote, you've got to get Cervantes to write it.  If you want War and Peace, Tolstoy must write it.  If you want Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, you need Mozart to compose it.  

           The same is true of the codes that control the building of organisms.  If you have a fish and you want a horse, no amount of DNA copying mistakes will get you from the fish to the horse.  God created the fish, and God will have to create the horse. The idea that DNA copying errors will bridge the gap from the fish to the horse—and that is the theory of evolution in a nutshell—is more like what is coming out of the horse's behind than it is like genuine science.  The modern theory of evolution is not science; it is science “falsely so called.”  It is a fairy tale, and it is one of the most outlandish fairy tales you'll ever hear. 


[1]This analogy was suggested by Dr. David Berlinksi.