Monday, August 21, 2006

Rising to the Challenge, part III: Dog on, "Well, it's DNA!" and still, "Ew, no God."

I'm going to take a moment to go back to the comments of both Zondo Deb and Jono, and continue to expand on a concept I touched on in part I of this series of posts.

What if there was found in nature a message that unambiguously pointed to a higher power? Call me naive, but I still think there is. It's a message found inside every living thing on the planet, and it's called DNA. Now I admit I'm no biochemist, or whatever it is one might need to be to become an expert on DNA and all related sub-cellular information-carrying and processing molecules, but there is something fascinating going on at the microscopic level in living cells. Maybe it's the sort of thing that one would write off as creationist propaganda, but while I realize some creationists like to grasp at scientific and pseudoscientific straws, a lot of the things I plan to discuss here were things that I had mused over back in the days before I was a Christian, and I've never been a strict Biblical Fundamentalist Creationist. (Some of my views on creationism can be found at my other blog, mostly back about a year ago.)

What is DNA? It's a complicated molecule that carries within it a sort of chemical code. The code is written in four different chemical letters called "bases" which essentially come together to form various three-letter words that spell out sentences called "genes". Those words correspond to amino acids, which according to the gene they are in will be strung together to make a protein. Human DNA has about 3,000,000,000 bases which code for about 30,000 genes.

Now, admittedly human genetics are more complicated than those of lower forms of life, but you have to consider that the complexity goes down to a cellular level. Each individual cell of any living creature is made up of complicated little machineries which exist to process fluids, move minerals and burn fuel. The various genes coded onto DNA are accessed to formulize the creation of all the little proteins that make the parts that run the machinery of the cell.

Imagine trying to create a functioning automobile out of tinker toys. (Such a car would be huge, but scale isn't so important in imagining it, as the tinker toys at the cellular level aren't visible to the naked eye.) Just imagine fitting together tiny little pieces to make a machine that can transport things from one place to another under its own power, and has the standard amenities like power steering, anti-lock brakes, etc. That's an approach to the complexity that exists in a cell, but a cell is actually far more complicated than that. And aside from the complexity of the structures that make a cell simply function, there's also the fact that living cells have the property of self-replication. That is to say, imagine not only building a car out of tinker toys, but in the engine of your tinker toy car, you've got a sort of tinker toy encoded blueprint of the car that, rather than sitting there statically waiting for some tinker toy virtuoso to come along and read it to build another car, the car itself will gather loose tinker toy parts it finds and build more tinker toy cars as part of its normal function. Imagine building a car like that made from any material! And that's just a cell; imagine the further complexity of building a whole body!

Irreducible complexity is a popular concept among "Intelligent Design" proponents these days, but has some serious flaws scientifically, some of which I expect to address at a future date. The thing that really fascinates me, and something I've never heard addressed by any ID people, is a sub-cellular chicken-or-egg problem. (I actually heard this from an author who I believe is an atheist.) You've got DNA, right? It's a coded message that tells you how to build a human being, an amoeba, a redwood tree, whatever sort of massive "tinker toy car" it's a part of. How is the code read? Well, there are various sub-cellular structures such as RNA that serve various purposes like reading the code off, gathering the appropriate amino acids, stringing them together, checking the code for errors, making copies of DNA, and even cellular-level immune systems to protect from virus intrusion (these are totally separate from the system-level immune systems such as your white blood cells). All of these structures and systems are like the hardware on which the software of the DNA code is run.

Where does that hardware come from? Answer: it's built from certain parts of the code integrated into DNA. So you can't have the machineries that build living things on the cellular level unless you have the machinery to build them already in existence. Put raw DNA in a beaker and wait to see what happens. Nothing. Try with water, cold or hot. Nothing. Add a bunch of carbon, nitrogen and trace amounts of other important minerals. Still nothing. How about a warm soup of amino acids in varyingly oxygenated and heated environments? It will do nothing. Nothing whatsoever. No, DNA only functions in its natural environment, surrounded by a living cellular structure. And living cells don't come from nowhere.

So as usual, getting to the point after a wild series of paragraphs of blah-blah-blah-blah... Where does life come from, if not from an intelligence that is not life, at least, not as we know it? A DVD without a DVD player is useless, and vice versa. DNA without life does nothing, and if you somehow could remove all the DNA from a living organism, it would cease to function in fairly short order, and certainly would never fulfill its primary evolutionary function, which is to reproduce itself. So it seems logical, to me at least, that there must exist (or once have existed) an intelligent being that is not an earthly life form. While that intelligent being may not be "God" in the sense we tend to think about it, I have a hard time thinking of any alternate ideas that don't approach ridiculousness. It is for this reason that I have been fairly confident that there is a divine Creator, even in the days before I was a Christian.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on this.

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