A Reasoned Response to Darwin

Introduction: 2009 is the year in which the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection are being widely celebrated throughout the world. It is probable that the inferences that have been drawn from his book by countless millions of people have radically changed their understandings of man's place in the universe, the meaning of their lives and the irrelevance of personal morality. Each year, countless academic journals and books are published which assume, as a "given," one common theme: Darwin's theory of evolution (or a variant thereof) is the only solution palatable to modern sophisticated man to explain the existence of the universe and life on this planet.

In spite of the above, annual surveys in the United States indicate that 40% - 50% of its general populace believe in creation by God (Pew, February 2009), therefore implicitly or explicitly rejecting the evolutionary hypothesis. Confronted with the reality that there are millions of facts extant in the Earth which have to be systematically integrated into some model (evolution or creation), how can the average person possibly evaluate such vast quantities of information in order to arrive at a conclusion? How can a single individual possibly gather enough relevant facts to synthesize them into a comprehensive belief system? If we each had to carry out such a daunting assignment, no conclusions could ever be reached in a single lifetime on this subject.

Fortunately, the key areas of nature which require analysis can be dramatically reduced in scope. Three recent books point to the crucially relevant subject areas. (1) The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry (Fazale Rana, 2008). Written from a creationist perspective, the author, a mature credentialed scientist, does not overstate the case, but nevertheless presents very compelling evidences for design, suitable for a person familiar with current biological and biochemical concepts. (2) God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (John Lennox, 2007). John Lennox is a professor at Oxford University in England who has engaged the atheist Richard Dawkins on more than one occasion in public debate, at least one of which is viewable online. This book is 'hard going' in some places, but nevertheless is a very useful summary of current thinking, pointing to the need to invoke the Creator to explain the existing order. (3) The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues (Mike Gene, 2008). This is perhaps the most useful book for the purposes of this article. An individual believed to be a leading professor at a large eastern US university wrote it under the pseudonym "Mike Gene" only after several years of intense discussions on various Internet forums on the subject of design in nature. He states in the preface his reason for writing: My original intention had been to play the gadfly for a short time and walk away. But through the various arguments I had with many other people, a way of viewing things slowly began to open up and become clearer to me. I eventually became convinced that there could very well be something solid with this notion of Intelligent Design, and gradually came to envision what you now hold in your hands - this book. My decision to stick with my pseudonym is...because it pays tribute to a personal belief that I hold dear. As I have repeatedly argued on the Internet, I am not going to make any appeal to qualifications or training. If I have no qualifications or relevant training, this may cause some to dismiss or overlook a good argument for this reason alone. If I do have qualifications and relevant training, this may cause some to embrace a bad argument for this reason alone. I would rather let the arguments stand on their own to be evaluated without prejudice... You must decide for yourself if the evidence and arguments make sense, and if need be, track down the references that may support them (pp. xiii-xiv of the Introduction). This writer is in some ways an "adversarial (hostile) witness," making his testimony less intrinsically biased towards design as a result. It is the evidence in this book which shall be reviewed. Chapters 1-5, pp. 206-210 and chapter 10 are useful − much of the intervening material is somewhat tedious.

The three primary issues he addresses are (1) the genetic code; (2) the concept of 'biological machines'; and, (3) nanotechnology. Only the issue of the genetic code will be discussed here.

A Comparison: Morse Code with the Genetic Code

It was particular aspects of the genetic code which first attracted Gene's attention. For instance, in Morse Code, the symbol "-" ("dash") is always and only translated as the letter "T" in English. Likewise, the symbol "." ("dot") is always and only translated as the letter "E" in English. There are 26 letters and 26 corresponding letter symbols - there is a direct 1:1 relationship. The reader can verify this by examining the Morse symbols and the corresponding letters below.

Morse Code

Now in the early days of wireless telegraphy, if there was a thunderstorm between the sending and receiving stations, the phrase "YOU ARE FIT" could become "YOU ARE FAT" simply because the static in the head-phones caused the person writing the message to think that ".." or "I", was in fact ".-", or "A". The effects of such a simple communication error could be disconcerting!

In living organisms, errors in the translation of the DNA code can be much more serious than hurt feelings. At every instant on this globe, literally trillions of organisms are "reading" their DNA codes very rapidly. If errors were abundant during this process, long ago death would have resulted everywhere - the complexity of life does not allow for errors in code translation.

Since the 1960s, it has been known that there are 20 "standard" amino acids (corresponding to the English alphabet of 26 letters) but there are 64 triplet codons (as they are called) specifying only 20 acids - or more than a 3:1 apparent "excess of coding" (also calledThe Genetic Code inverse table is given below - the reader can see that for the amino acid Leucine, for example, there are six DNA codons which the cell will "translate" into Leucine (through an extremely complex, elegant mechanism). If there is an error when the DNA is replicating, and the codon CUG (instead of UUG) is mistakenly reproduced in a given section of a gene in the next generation, when the cell reads this "mistake codon" it will still produce the correct amino acid Leucine because of the innate structure of the code.

Amino Acid Code Amino Acid Code
Alanine GCU, GCC, GCA, GCG Leucine UAA, UUG, CUU, CUC, CUA, CUG
Arginine CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA, AGG Lysine AAA, AAG
Asparagine AAU, AAC Methionine AUG
Aspartic acid GAU, GAC Phenylalanine UUU, UUC
Cysteine UGU, UGC Proline CUU, CCC, CCA, CCG
Glutamine CAA, CAG Serine UCU, UCC, UCA, UCG, AGU, AGC
Glutamic acid GAA, GAG Threonine ACU, ACC, ACA, ACG
Glycine GGU, GGC, GGA, GGG Tryptophan UGG
Histidine CAU, CAC Tyrosine UAU, UAC
Isoleucine AUU, AUC, AUA Valine GUU, GUC, GUA, GUG

The brilliance of the above arrangement was not fully grasped until about the year 2000. The ability of this code to prevent errors during replication was run against one million other randomly generated codes, and found to be the best. Mike Gene writes: "Chance alone would not be expected to produce a code that was better than any other million randomly generated codes, when it comes to protecting against harmful mutations...Both the universality and optimality of the genetic code fit well with the hypothesis of Intelligent Design. The code is optimized to resist potentially deleterious mutations as a consequence of intelligent foresight. It is universal because this single, optimal solution was implemented by the designer. These are the type of data we would expect from Intelligent Design" (p. 75,77).

Proofreading

In addition to life being programmed around an intrinsically elegant error-correcting code, there is an additional feature to prevent errors indicative of Intelligence − proofreading. The concept of proofreading originates only in a mind. Gene writes, "The replication machinery further increases its accuracy with components that perform an additional proofreading function... This proofreading function increases the fidelity such that only one mistake in every 10 billion nucleotides then occurs...What is most intriguing about this process of DNA replication and proofreading is its elegant sophistication when faced with a very difficult problem. This machinery must discriminate between [sic] four different nucleotides which are extremely similar... To use an analogy, the replication machinery is not reading a template string of red, green, white and black beads. It is reading four beads that are closely continuous shades of grey. Yet it discriminates between [sic] these shades of grey at a rate of 500 beads per second while making a mistake only once every 10 billion beads. The replication of DNA thus involves discrimination near the very threshold where the basis for discrimination begins to fade away. Yet it is exactly here that we find information processing events essential to life. This is quite an amazing feat of nanotechnology. Molecular proofreading underscores our intuitive suspicion of Intelligent Design" (p. 78,79).

Bit Parity Checking

Computers are set up so that when data is transferred, there is a mechanism known as 'bit parity checking' to detect errors. It now appears (as of 2006) that the four nucleotides which make up the DNA code innately constitute a parity code. Gene notes, "This is an excellent explanation of why life uses A, G, C and T but not other nucleotides... Whether it is the choice of codons or the choice of nucleotides, the theme of minimizing errors repeats itself...The genetic code has been shaped to minimize the effects of errors. The process of DNA/RNA synthesis appears to employ a parity code. Each phase of information transfer...is proofread. The echoes of technology continue to resonate under higher resolution, enhancing our suspicions of design" (p. 82,86).

Gene's Final Conclusion

After considerable discussion in the last few chapters of his book about the evidence (or otherwise) for design in nature, Gene finally comes down with his conclusions. He concluded that a book, a car and the Genetic Code are clearly, without equivocation, the result of intelligent design according to rigorous criteria he had established before considering the evidence. The Genetic Code, which is inextricably interwoven with all life forms, points clearly to being the result of Intelligent Design.

Our Conclusion

What then can a non-specialist conclude from this brief article? The Genetic Code (together with its associated mechanisms) is an astoundingly remarkable information retrieval and processing system. We do not need to travel to the Galapagos Islands or attempt to become an expert in some specialized area of biology to form a conclusion as to the origin of the biological wonders within and around us. Charles Darwin, when he developed his theory, knew nothing of optimal codes to prevent errors during information processing, proofreading of genetic data or the concept of bit parity checking in computer data processing methods. Man's understanding of the technology in the biological world around him has changed dramatically since then. Darwin's theory of natural selection as the means to explain all living forms did not, does not, and cannot address the issue of exquisite informational systems which orchestrate all living processes. The universal code of life bears testimony, as it functions in every corner of the globe every second of every day, in and of itself to the Creative Mind behind the existing order of life.

Bill Farrar, Hamilton, ON

Inextricable Confusion

To establish the continuity required by the theory [of evolution as articulated by Darwin], historical arguments are invoked even though historical evidence is lacking. Thus are engendered those fragile towers of hypotheses based on hypotheses, where fact and fiction intermingle in an inextricable confusion.

W. R. Thompson in the Introduction to the 1956 edition of The Origin of Species (See p. 293).