The DNA molecule is one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. First described by James Watson and Francis Crick in 19531, DNA is the famous storehouse of genetics that establishes each organism's physical characteristics. It wasn't until mid-2001, that the "Human Genome Project" and Celera Genomics jointly presented the true nature and complexity of the digital code inherent in DNA. We now understand that the DNA molecule is comprised of chemical bases arranged in approximately 3 billion precise sequences. Even the DNA molecule for the single-celled bacterium, E. coli, contains enough information to fill an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a double-stranded molecule that is twisted into a helix like a spiral staircase. Each strand is comprised of a sugar-phosphate backbone and numerous base chemicals attached in pairs. The four bases that make up the stairs in the spiraling staircase are adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). These stairs act as the "letters" in the genetic alphabet, combining into complex sequences to form the words, sentences and paragraphs that act as instructions to guide the formation and functioning of the host cell. Maybe even more appropriately, the A, T, C, and G in the genetic code of the DNA molecule can be compared to the "0" and "1" in the binary code of computer software. Like software to a computer, the DNA code is a genetic language that communicates information to the organic cell.
The DNA code, like a floppy disk of binary code, is quite simple in its basic paired structure. However, it's the sequencing and functioning of that code that's enormously complex. Through recent technologies like x-ray crystallography, we now know that the cell is not a "blob of protoplasm", but rather, a microscopic marvel that is more complex than the space shuttle. The cell is very complicated, using vast numbers of phenomenally precise DNA instructions to control its every function.
Although DNA code is remarkably complex, it's the information translation system connected to that code that really baffles science. Like any language, letters and words mean nothing outside the language convention used to give those letters and words meaning. This is modern information theory at its core. A simple binary example of information theory is the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." In that famous story, Mr. Revere asks a friend to put one light in the window of the North Church if the British came by land, and two lights if they came by sea. Without a shared language convention between Paul Revere and his friend, that simple communication effort would mean nothing. Well, take that simple example and multiply by a factor containing hundreds of zeros.
We now know that the DNA molecule is an intricate message system. To claim that DNA arose randomly is to say that information can develop randomly. Many scientists argue that the chemical building blocks of the DNA molecule can be explained by natural material processes over millions of years. However, explaining the material base of a message is completely independent of the information transmitted using those materials. Thus, the chemical building blocks have nothing to do with the origin of the complex message itself.
As a simple illustration, the information content of the clause "nature and design" has nothing to do with the writing material used, whether ink, paint, chalk or crayon. In fact, the clause can be written in binary code, Morse code or smoke signals, but the message remains the same, independent of the medium. There is obviously no relationship between the information and the material base used to transmit it. Some current theories argue that self-organizing properties within the base chemicals themselves created the information in the first DNA molecule. Others argue that external self-organizing forces created the first DNA molecule. However, all of these theories must hold to the illogical conclusion that the material used to transmit the information also produced the information itself. Although I'm not a scientist, logic tells me that the information contained within the genetic code must be entirely independent of the chemical makeup of the DNA molecule.
Does this science stuff make sense? Am I correctly interpreting the awesome complexity of the DNA molecule that we only recently started to understand? It seems to me that anyone who goes out and truly investigates the miracle of the DNA molecule -- this incredible micro, digital, error-correcting, redundant, self duplicating, information storage and retrieval system, with its own inherent language convention, that has the potential to develop any organism from raw biological material -- has to be equally awe struck!
- It is astonishing to think that this remarkable piece of machinery, which possesses the ultimate capacity to construct every living thing that ever existed on Earth, from giant redwood to the human brain, can construct all its own components in a matter of minutes and weigh less than 10-16 grams. It is of the order of several thousand million million times smaller than the smallest piece of functional machinery ever constructed by man.2
With the discovery, mapping and sequencing of the DNA molecule over the last few decades, we now understand that organic life is based on vastly complex information code, and, like today's most complex software codes, such information cannot be created or interpreted without some kind of "intelligence." For me, truly understanding the scientific reality of the DNA molecule single-handedly defeated my life-long presupposition that life arose from non-life through random materialistic forces. Even with trillions of years, the development of DNA is statistically impossible.
But, hey, let's dig in further... If DNA is the information storehouse that acts as the blueprint for cellular development, what do these functional cells look like? Are they really all that complex?
1 J.D. Watson and F.H.C. Crick, "Structure of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," Nature, 171:737 (1953).
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