Those who maintain that all life is a product of chance have a new opponent on their hands. He is Dr. David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale University, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, and a member of the National Council of the Arts. He says that we are not a product of chance.
One of Dr. Gelernter’s main arguments is the difficulty of producing a stable and functional protein by blind, mechanical chance. Proteins are the work-horses of life. Proteins called enzymes catalyze all sorts of reactions and drive cellular metabolism. Other proteins, such as collagen, give cells shape and structure. Proteins drive nerve function, muscle function, and photosynthesis. The question is whether mindless, random changes in molecules can create all the different proteins necessary for life to exist.
The argument starts with amino acids, which we know can be formed by natural processes in specific environments. Statisticians calculate that the odds of amino acids forming a stable protein are 1 in 1074. As Gelernter writes, “To say that your chances are 1 in 1074 is not different, in practice, from saying that they are zero.” For comparison, science tells us there are only 1080 atoms in the universe. Gelernter says, “The odds bury you. It can’t be done.”
It is essential to understand that we are not talking about the formation of life here. Gelernter is talking about making chance mutations in existing DNA that result in a useful new protein that could play a role in evolution. Macroevolution, or the creation of new species, would require new genes that could create a meaningful new protein. This is simply one small step in producing the materials necessary for life.
We are not a product of chance. There is growing evidence of the design and planning that has gone into the making of life and us. Dr. Gelernter says he has been attacked by some atheistic scientists, because, as he says, “I am attacking their religion.”
One of the promises of modern genetics is that in the future, we will create “designer babies.” The idea is that if you produce a group of embryos and then look at the DNA of each of them, you can select which embryo you want to become your child. The other embryos would be destroyed. The process is called “preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).” You might call it playing God with DNA.
With PGD, the embryos are created through in vitro fertilization. Technicians remove a single cell from each embryo and test it for single-gene variants which cause cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, or other diseases. Many diseases such as diabetes may result from variants in hundreds or thousands of genes. The risk for heart disease may involve millions of gene variants.
Medical scientists are working to establish a polygenic score, which would indicate intelligence, height, and other traits by examining the DNA. They call these factors “enhancements.” The problem is that those traits may also be the result of multiple genetic variants. Playing God by trying to select the attributes for a “designer baby” can be not only immoral but dangerous.
A group of researchers published a study in the journalCell on November 21, 2019, in which they attempted to learn how reliable polygenic scores would be for determining height or IQ. The research indicates that the DNA genetic predictions about those enhancements are unreliable and insignificant at best. Among other problems is that “differences in diet, lifestyle, exposure to pollution, culture, undiscovered genetic variants, and other unknown factors can influence how complex traits develop.”
The original use of polygenic scores was to help people know if a lethal or disruptive disease was a part of their heredity. Being able to repair the DNA or choosing not to have children is an option that would be useful to couples. Embryo selection for non-medical traits such as height, intelligence, or gender is a whole different question.
An article on this study in ScienceNews.org quoted Dr. Nicholas Katsanis, who is a human geneticist at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Dr. Katsanis said, “The idea that we’re going to do genetic screening for anything other than medically actionable items is the definition of eugenics. That we’re even contemplating this is disturbing.”
We agree that humans playing God in areas like this is immoral and likely to be disastrous at worst and disappointing at best.
One of the main groups described in the Old Testament is the Philistine people. Genesis 10:14 tells us that the Philistines came from Casluhim, the son of Mizraim, the son of Ham. Abraham and Isaac had dealings with the Philistine king Abimelech and his general Phichol.
The Bible goes on to tell us that when the Israelites left Egypt, the Philistines had settled along the coast between Egypt and Gaza (Exodus 13:17-18). There they prevented the Israelites from moving through the area. There were many Philistine encounters after Israel had moved into the Promised Land. We are all familiar with the story of Samson and the Philistine temptress Delilah. David and the Philistine Goliath is also a familiar story. Skeptics throughout the years have tried to suggest that these are all myths and that such characters and peoples never existed.
Scientists recently found the remains of ten individuals buried at the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon. Archaeogeneticists used the DNA to compile genetic evidence that supports the biblical account. Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute says that the genetic evidence indicates a seafaring population from southern Europe settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast and inhabited Ashkelon between 3400 and 3150 years ago.
The Philistine people certainly existed, and as scientists gather more evidence, their interactions with ancient Israel seem to be without question. Science continues to confirm the Bible in many ways.
The key to this question is a basic chemistry issue involving the water molecule. We have posted previously on the nature of the water molecule. You can also access articles from our printed publications by using the search engine on doesgodexist.org.
The main point is that the water molecule is polar. The bonding positions on the oxygen atoms in water are 105 degrees apart. Because of that, the two hydrogen atoms that bond with the oxygen atom are on one end of the molecule and oxygen is on the other end. That makes the water molecule polar, and it gives water unique properties, including the ability to dissolve most inorganic compounds.
Discover magazine (July/August 2019, page 82) carried an excellent explanation of why the chemistry of water is essential to life, making it possible for life to exist. Here is a quote from the article:
“For the chemical processes of life to happen, molecules must be able to connect, separate, and reconnect in specific ways. Think about DNA replication, for instance. The base pairs that make up the genetic code bond when their negatively charged hydrogen atoms are attracted to positively charged atoms in another nucleotide. Those bonds hold the two strands of the double helix together, but because hydrogen in water molecules also bond this way, it’s relatively easy for enzymes to ‘unzip’ the double helix for replication, then bind the two new strands together again. However, the molecules of life won’t work in hydrocarbons the way they do in water. That’s because most hydrocarbons don’t tend to form hydrogen bonds.”
In Genesis 1:2, the very first action of God on the newly created Earth is that His “Spirit moved on the face of the waters.” In Proverbs 8, wisdom speaks of the fact that in the creation process there was a time when there was no liquid water (Verse 24). We are finding water scattered throughout the cosmos, and it has become pretty apparent that water was a created and carefully designed tool to allow the basics of life. The chemistry of water is essential to life.
If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit two locations in the United States. One of them is the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the other is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. They are both very impressive; however, they have a big difference. Mount Rushmore and DNA have something in common that the Grand Canyon does not.
The Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are both made of stone, and both are very complex. The Grand Canyon is much larger, but Mount Rushmore demonstrates specified complexity while the Grand Canyon does not. The specified complexity of Mount Rushmore indicates that natural forces did not create it. It is evident that some intelligence has acted on the granite of that mountain to give it specified features. By contrast, the complex features of the Grand Canyon did not require the direct act of intelligent agents, but only natural forces.
How do I know that Mount Rushmore was acted on by intelligence? First, I recognized that the shape of the mountain is very improbable and highly complex. It doesn’t look like any mountain I have ever seen before. But then, the Grand Canyon is also very improbable and highly complex, and it is not exactly like any canyon I have seen before. More than that, I recognize that the patterns on Mount Rushmore match something that I have seen before—pictures of some US presidents. Very few people would argue with my idea that this mountain shows design by intelligent beings while natural forces can explain the Grand Canyon without requiring the direct action of intelligent agents.
So what do Mount Rushmore and DNA have in common? In recent years, scientists have unlocked the secrets of DNA. We know that the base sequences of DNA are very improbable and contain a highly complex set of instructions. The nucleotide base sequences specify the complex synthesis of proteins in three dimensions. Those who are familiar with computer programming recognize that there are “design patterns” in DNA. There is more than just complexity; there is SPECIFIED complexity to accomplish a complex task. Intelligent people write programs for computers to perform tasks, such as to create an animation of the synthesizing of a protein. Would it not require intelligence to arrange the base sequences in DNA to synthesize actual complex proteins in three dimensions?
Nearly two centuries ago a young biologist on a ship 60 miles from the nearest coastline was amazed by some spiders. The spiders were showing up on his ship when they had not been there before. Since his discovery, other researchers have seen similar mysterious migrations of ballooning spiders across open waters. Scientists have studied this amazing technique on Robinson Crusoe Island in the Pacific Ocean 415 miles off the coast of Chile.
The spiders climb to a high point and secure themselves with silk. The spiders have fine hairs called trichobothria which they use to sense wind direction and electric conditions. When it rains, electrons are carried to the ground making the ground negatively charged and the upper atmosphere positively charged. The spiders sense the field that results from this separation of charge. When conditions are right, the spiders release a silk that is so light that even the slightest breeze will keep it afloat. As the spiders spin off this low-density silk, their spinnerets also acquire a negative charge from the ground. The negative charge of the ground repels the negative charge on the silk. When the electric field and the breeze are strong enough, the spiders release the securing silk and become lifted into the air.
The ballooning spiders can rise up to 2.8 miles high and ride the winds for thousands of miles needing no food or water. When they land, they attach themselves and deposit their eggs. The ones that land on Robinson Crusoe Island are called ghost spiders.
The question of why this system is built into the spider’s DNA, how it knows when to send out different kinds of silk, and how it knows to use its legs for flight control is still being studied. There is no connection to other spiders and no compelling force to make them leave their original habitat.
Nearly every day the newspaper has an article that announces some new research on DNA. One of the recent applications of DNA research is to classify living things. Classification is an old issue, going back to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:19-20 God brought all kinds of living organisms before Adam so that he could name them. In 1 Kings 4:33 Solomon wrestled with the issue as well. Our current system of naming living things was brought into existence by Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s, but it is gradually being replaced by what is called DNA barcodes.
You can compare DNA barcodes to the barcodes we see when we shop for merchandise. Instead of bars, DNA barcodes are a string of DNA nucleotides. In 2003 scientists began to identify species by these nucleotides. Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell. They convert oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical energy that powers the cell’s metabolic activities. There is one gene named cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COX1) which is found in mitochondria. It is passed only from mother to offspring. The mixing of traits from the father and mother does not happen in this mitochondria, so the DNA nucleotides in mitochondria make it ideal to use in identifying species.
Studies by M.Y. Stoeckle and D.S. Thaler have involved analyzing the DNA barcodes from five million individual organisms which represent 100,000 different species. What they found was that barcode variations within a species vary by small amounts, and there are huge gaps between the species. What that means historically is that each species is essentially an island not connected to other species. If all species came from a common ancestor, you would not see this, but you would see a river from island to island.
The biblical record is very consistent in identifying the groupings of living things. In our materials, we have referred to these “islands” as being “trees in the forest of life.” First Corinthians 15:39 identifies these “islands” or “trees” in this way: “There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts (mammals), another flesh of birds and another flesh of fish.” This same grouping is used consistently in the Bible with Genesis 1 & 2 in describing the creation of life, Genesis 7:14 describing what Noah took on the Ark, and 1 Kings 4:33.
Environmentalists claim that animal species are becoming extinct and that we must preserve their DNA. The problem with this claim is that as the environment changes, animals may not be able to survive. An example is animals that have a very specialized diet, such as eating mostly on bamboo. If something wipes out the bamboo, what are these animals to do? We can save samples of their DNA, but moving them away from their natural habitat to a different place where bamboo is growing may not be the answer. It can expose them to predators and diseases that were not present in their original environment. We call this human wildlife management. While in some cases it can correct what humans have done, there are many cases where humans are not the cause. Massive investments may only delay the inevitable extinction of an animal.
The red wolf is a current example of human wildlife management. Red wolves were once common across a large region of Texas and Louisiana. The red wolf was classified as endangered in 1967 and extinct in 1980, although some were living in zoos and wildlife facilities. In the 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bred red wolves and in 1986 introduced them to the wild in North Carolina. By 2006 there were over 100 wolves in North Carolina, but the population was not healthy. Many were killed by farmers and ranchers so that by April of 2018, fewer than 50 remained.
Recently a pack of red wolves was found on Galveston Island in Texas. At first, red wolf advocates were delighted. Then they became dismayed when scientists found that the Galveston wolves had DNA that was different from the original red wolves. The change in the DNA may be in part from coyotes in the area. We would suggest that God created red wolves to occupy a particular environmental niche. When that niche was changed, no matter what changed it, another design feature kicked in. That design feature which God has placed in living things is hybridization.
Hybridization is the interbreeding of two animals who are genetically close but not identical. The offspring produced by this mix of genes is often stronger and more resilient than either of the parents. When the Endangered Species Act was implemented in the 1970s hybridization was considered to be something to avoid. The reality is that God’s design allows animals to continue to prosper through hybridization.
Elizabeth Heppenheimer is a biologist from Princeton who has been studying the wolves on Galveston Island. She says, “Now we know hybridization is relatively common in natural systems and does not always have negative consequences, but the policy (of human wildlife management) hasn’t quite caught up with this notion.”
Many years ago there was a well-known radio news personality named Paul Harvey. He made a career out of digging into details on stories that were not publicized by the media. He called the reporting “The Rest of the Story.” People close to Harvey said that he got some heat from media people who felt he had made them look bad by revealing details they missed. With the general public, however, he was very popular. We want to examine the rest of the story on gene editing.
There has been a great deal of media reporting about CRISPR-Cas9 which is a tool for editing DNA introduced in 2012. Researchers hope that science can treat a wide range of genetic diseases by altering human DNA. The problem is that our understanding in this area is very primitive. Bioethicists writing in the Wall Street Journal (December 15, 2018, page C3) report, “scientists have only begun to understand what the tens of thousands of individual genes do. Moreover, they are far from unraveling how those genes interact with each other.”
When researchers deleted a gene that limits muscle growth in rabbits, the rabbits had enlarged tongues. Doing the same thing with pigs produced additional vertebrae. In calves the change caused the calves to die prematurely. Lambs grew too large in the womb to be born naturally. Lisa Moses who is a bioethicist at Harvard says, “Humans have a long history of messing around in nature with all kinds of unintended consequences. It’s really hubris of us to assume that we know what we are doing and that we can predict what kinds of bad things can happen.”
There are lessons to learn here. CRISPR has the potential to correct damage to DNA caused by human carelessness, pollution, and mismanagement. The rest of the story on gene editing is still to be written. When a Chinese scientist claims to have produced the first gene-edited human babies, there has to be immediate condemnation by the scientific community. Over the years, outstanding scientists have pointed out that science lacks the capacity to determine the use of its discoveries.
We desperately need Christians who are capable scientists using their faith in God to determine those uses. Will CRISPR be used to eliminate genetic diseases, or will it be used by political demagogues to produce pathogens that kill millions of innocent people? The Nobel Peace Prize was started by a man who discovered dynamite and was appalled at the way it was being used to fight wars. That kind of sensitivity is needed in today’s genetic research to write the rest of the story on gene editing.
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Sometimes we hear a song, and it seems to keep ringing in our brains for days. It may be a song we love. Sometimes it’s an annoying song that we can’t stand but can’t forget. Advertisers often use jingles in their commercials hoping that their little songs will keep haunting us until we buy their products. Whether good or bad, I can’t get that song out of my head.
I can be thankful that whatever the song is, it will eventually go away–and be replaced by another one. Imagine what it would be like if you had only one song for your whole life. More than that, imagine that your children and future descendants still had that same song. That could be the description of the life of a songbird.
We love to hear songbirds, and with a little effort, we can learn to identify different species of birds by their songs. That’s because, for the most part, each species has its unique song that it passes on from generation to generation.
Songbirds are born with a song stored in their brains. As the birds grow, they learn to match their vocal patterns to the song in their heads. Even if a baby bird never hears its parents sing, and although surrounded by the songs of other species, it will still learn to sing the song that its parents sang. There are a few species of birds that can imitate the songs of other birds, or even human voices and other sounds. Those birds are born with a different program built into their brains that gives evidence of a creative Designer of life.
When I can’t get that song out of my head, I can start singing or listening to a different song. Humans have that ability because the Designer has given us a creative capacity. That’s part of being created in the image of a creative God. But what if all people made their houses precisely the same way? Besides singing the songs of its parents, a bird will build only the same kind of nest its parents made. You would have to say that Someone also stored the nest-building instruction book in the bird’s brain.