DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess?

by Jonathan Sarfati

2003 is the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Its discoverers, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1962 for their discovery. [2011 update: this online version has been updated with animations and links to further amazing discoveries about the multiple codes in DNA.]

The amazing design and complexity of living things provides strong evidence for a Creator. We know from the Bible that God rested from (i.e. finished) His creative work after Day 6 (Genesis 2:2–3) and now sustains His creation (Col. 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:3). So how do complex living creatures arise today?

God’s information technology

One aspect of this sustenance is that God has programmed the ‘recipe’ for all these structures on the famous double-helix molecule DNA.1 This recipe has an enormous information content, which is transmitted one generation to the next, so that living things reproduce ‘after their kinds’ (Genesis 1, 10 times). Leading atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins 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.’2

Just as the Britannica had intelligent writers to produce its information, so it is reasonable and even scientific to believe that the information in the living world likewise had an original compositor/sender.3 There is no known non-intelligent cause that has ever been observed to generate even a small portion of the literally encyclopedic information required for life.4

The genetic code (see ‘The programs of life’ below) is not an outcome of raw chemistry, but of elaborate decoding machinery in the ribosome. Remarkably, this decoding machinery is itself encoded in the DNA, and the noted philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper pointed out:

‘Thus the code can not be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code.’5,6

The unity of life

Many evolutionists claim that the DNA code is universal, and that this is proof of a common ancestor. But this is false—there are exceptions, some known since the 1970s. An example is Paramecium, where a few of the 64 (4³ or 4x4x4) possible codons code for different amino acids. More examples are being found constantly.1 Also, some organisms code for one or two extra amino acids beyond the main 20 types.2 But if one organism evolved into another with a different code, all the messages already encoded would be scrambled, just as written messages would be jumbled if typewriter keys were switched. This is a huge problem for the evolution of one code into another.

Also, in our cells we have ‘power plants’ called mitochondria, with their own genes. It turns out that they have a slightly different genetic code, too.

Certainly most of the code is universal, but this is best explained by common design—one Creator. Of all the millions of genetic codes possible, ours, or something almost like it, is optimal for protecting against errors.3 But the created exceptions thwart attempts to explain the organisms by common-ancestry evolution.

  • The genetic codes, National Institutes of Health, 29 August 2002.
  • Certain Archaea and eubacteria code for 21st or 22nd amino acids, selenocysteine and pyrrolysine—see Atkins, J.F. and Gesteland, R., The 22nd amino acid, Science 296(5572):1409–10, 24 May 2002; commentary on technical papers on pp. 1459–62 and 1462–66.
  • Knight, J., Top translator, New Scientist 158(2130):15, 18 April 1998. Natural selection cannot explain this code optimality, since there is no way to replace the first functional code with a ‘better’ one without destroying functionality.