Answering uninformed atheists on DNA complexity
Published: 28 February 2009 (GMT+10)
First, Matthew S (Australia) asks us to answer some questions from a poorly informed evolutionist, which allows CMI to explain the design of the DNA code. Then Patrick A, USA, tells us how a CMI article on life’s complexity was very useful.
Matthew S (Australia):
Before I ask any questions I would just like to say how much I truly appreciate your work. As a college science student in and away from the class room I am constantly bombarded by evolution and your efforts go a long way to helping me to stand my ground as a young earth creationist. Recently I was on Facebook and partaking in a conversation about the creation of new information in the genome. This is what one fellow said and I was hoping that you may be able to help me see where he went wrong:
“On the first issue: changes simply to what information there is can create ‘new’ information. For example, let’s simplify: all genomes are eight binary digits long (I know, massive). Conveniently all eight-digit binary numbers can be represented as a number between 0 and 255 inclusive. So let’s say all life is somewhere between 128 and 255 (i.e. it has a genome of 1xxxxxxx). It’s possible for the first digit to ‘mutate’ to 0, causing a completely new set of information—numbers 0–127. There is so much information in DNA and it’s used in so many places in the body that growing a new limb can happen indeed as interpreting x2 as x3; OR it could be a new TYPE of limb generated because of a mutation to the ‘finger’ code that makes it look like ‘tentacle’—or possibly even something we don’t even have a name for.
On the question of first cause, it does need a base. The base for DNA is protein, and the base for protein is amino acids and the base for amino acids is nitrogen. [ctd…][ctd…] I’m not a biochemist but the formation of amino acids by lightning (or similar) from natural minerals has been shown; as has the formation of proteins from amino acids. Sure, nobody’s shown the formation of DNA from proteins in the lab, but that’s can be a matter of chance. All it takes is the right combination and sufficient energy. Early earth surely had the energy—lightning, high-pressure high-temperature lava flows etc—and evidently it had the right combination. The question is: why did that combination appear here?
The answer to that question is generally given as the anthropic principle. Nitrogen exists on probably every planet in the universe. There are hundreds of billions of these; and on all of them, there is energy. And on whichever of them has the right combination, so appears life, which may eventually grow to ask ‘why here?’ The answer is: ‘because it was likely to happen somewhere, and wherever it appears, that’s where we are, so that’s why we see it.’”
So that’s it. I would appreciate your input
Yours in Christ
Glad you like our work. May I ask, what books of ours have you read? [Ed. note: he responded that he has By Design (among other things) but lent it to a friend before reading it.]
There is a lot of hand waving by this respondent.
An 8-bit genome is totally inadequate. So much information is needed for a self-replicating cell that even the simplest one has over half a megabyte (that’s over 500,000 x 8 bits) of information in its DNA—see How Simple Can Life Be? For an example, consider the energy source alone, ATP, made by the world s tiniest motor.
Leading atheist Richard Dawkins himself admits:
“[T]here is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.” [The Blind Watchmaker, cited in my book Refuting Evolution, ch. 9]
Just as the Britannica had intelligent writers to produce its information, so it is scientific to believe that the information in the living world likewise had an original Writer. Furthermore, the DNA information requires a complex decoding machine, the ribosome, but the instructions to build ribosomes are on the DNA. And decoding requires energy from ATP, built by ATP-synthase motors, built from instructions in the DNA decoded by ribosomes … “vicious circles” for any materialistic origin theory, as leading philosopher of science Karl Popper put it (see also Self-replicating enzymes? A critique of some current evolutionary origin-of-life models).
The non-Christian physicist Paul Davies points out:
“We now know that the secret of life lies not with the chemical ingredients as such, but with the logical structure and organisational arrangement of the molecules…. Like a supercomputer, life is an information processing system…. It is the software of the living cell that is the real mystery, not the hardware.”
“How did stupid atoms spontaneously write their own software? … Nobody knows … ” [Life force, New Scientist 163(2204):27–30, 18 September 1999. See also Huff and Bluff: Can quantum magic save chemical evolution?]
The critic is clueless about biochemistry when he says “The base for DNA is protein”. DNA is made from nucleotides, not amino acids (which make up proteins). There are numerous chemical problems with the origin of life from non-living chemicals; see for example “Loopholes in the evolutionary theory of the origin of life: Summary”, or for something more advanced, see these evolutionary criticisms of the RNA-world hypothesis. My By Design book has a whole chapter on the origin of life, refuting all notions of chemical evolution.
Certainly there are gene switches that control the expression of other genes, called Hox genes. However, there is obviously more to the differences between different animals than just switches. Evolution requires some way of generating the new information that’s to be switched on or off. The information needed to build a fish fin is vastly different from that needed to build a leg or arm. By analogy, the same switch on an electric outlet/power socket can turn on a light or a laptop, but this hardly proves that a light evolved into a laptop!
Indeed, actual mutations in Hox genes have been shown to be harmful. Even in articles and TV programs touting Hox changes as proof of evolution, they could only come up with an extra functionless pair of wings on flies, or a functionless leg where the antenna should be (antennapedia). (See also Argument: Some mutations are beneficial from Refuting Evolution 2.
The anthropic principle is vacuous as stated. It’s like being the only survivor in your town of a deadly plague epidemic; someone asked you how you were the only survivor, and you reply, “Well, if I didn’t survive, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it.” That is not an explanation of anything.
The whole approach of the critic reminds me of an honest statement by the evolutionary science writer Gordy Slack in What neo-creationists get right: An evolutionist shares lessons he’s learned from the Intelligent Design camp [The Scientist, June 2008]
Which leads me to a final concession to my ID foes: When they say that some proponents of evolution are blind followers, they’re right. A few years ago I covered a conference of the American Atheists in Las Vegas. I met dozens of people there who were dead sure that evolutionary theory was correct though they didn’t know a thing about adaptive radiation, genetic drift, or even plain old natural selection. They came to their Darwinism via a commitment to naturalism and atheism not through the study of science. They’re still correct when they say evolution happens. But I’m afraid they’re wrong to call themselves skeptics unencumbered by ideology. Many of them are best described as zealots. Ideological zeal isn’t incompatible with good science; its coincidence with a theory proves nothing about that theory’s explanatory power.
This was after he had admitted:
I think it is disingenuous to argue that the origin of life is irrelevant to evolution. It is no less relevant than the Big Bang is to physics or cosmology. Evolution should be able to explain, in theory at least, all the way back to the very first organism that could replicate itself through biological or chemical processes. And to understand that organism fully, we would simply have to know what came before it. And right now we are nowhere close. I believe a material explanation will be found, but that confidence comes from my faith that science is up to the task of explaining, in purely material or naturalistic terms, the whole history of life. My faith is well founded, but it is still faith.
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
Patrick A, USA:
Someone gave me a recording of a scientist (a creationist whose name I don’t recall) giving a lecture on DNA, mutations, etc., which forever convinced me that evolution is an untenable theory. However, it was almost thirty years ago that I listened to that lecture. So last year I thought I would get on the web and see if there was any new information out there from the evolution camp…well, there was nothing—no kidding. So I read every book I could get my hands on regarding the current state of affairs from the creationist viewpoint and was blown away by the wealth of data that was coming in support of biblical truth.
Now more than ever creationists should be getting a hearing … yet, strangely, evolutionists are making more noise than ever. I really believe that Darwinian (neo or otherwise) evolution is one of the most spectacular delusions ever foisted on mankind—the Devil has done some fine work. Thank you all for taking up the fight and giving me and many others hope. And, by the way the 2007 article “Life’s Irreducible Structure” by Alex Williams was one of the most lucid I’ve ever read on the subject—including Behe.