The Miller-Urey experiment set a dangerous precedent all those years ago. While it claimed, somewhat deceptively, to demonstrate that simple biopolymers could be produced through natural conditions, it failed to address a critical question, and in doing so caused many subsequent generations to ignore that aspect of naturalistic origins as well. That ignored question is simply ‘from where did the information for the construction of life arise?’
The gravity of the situation should be clear. Ignoring the overall failure of the Miller-Urey experiment and others to produce the requisite diversity of viable amino acids, assume for a moment that, somehow against all the impossible odds, a full complement of the necessary amino acids arose naturalistically. What’s more, let’s assume that, even more miraculously, all of the many thousands of proteins necessary for life also came into being through random processes. At that point, essentially all of the components for life are in place and ready for the next critical step. Even so, something is desperately lacking, and without it, in spite of all prior naturalistic accomplishment, life would be dead in the water.
To put the problem another way, suppose a man was preparing to build a house. He went out and purchased many loads of lumber, plywood, brick and mortar, wiring, pipe and fittings, shingles, and many odd-and-end items. Selecting a plot of land for the house to be constructed on, the future homeowner transports all the materials to the site, and deposits the load there. With everything in place, he waits for magic to happen. Hours stretch into days, days into weeks, and weeks drag on into months and years, with no sign of constructive activity…
To any reasonable person, the notion that a home could form on its own, even with all the requisite material in place, is ludicrous. Even so, is this not what we are told by mainstream researchers concerning the advent of life? In fact, the naturalistic rise of life should be a far more daunting prospect, as, unlike the components of a home which can often be purchased assembled and ready for installation, the components for even the most basic life would require extensive and delicate reactions for their individual construction, each made all the more tedious with their propensity for undesired chemical reactions with other organic components along the way.
What’s more is that even the simplest form of life is infinitely more complex than the largest, most intricate homes, being more comparable to the intricacy of a bustling city instead.
Mainstream researchers assure us that the critical element to such assembly is time, and that given great swathes of time, coupled with an infinite amount of variable attempts, the impossible could be made a reality. With that understanding, how long could one reasonably expect to wait for the pile of building materials to assemble themselves into a proper home? Any sane person would dismiss the notion immediately, with the clear knowledge that, under no known conditions would the disparate components assemble themselves into a home. How much more impossible, ridiculous even, is it to expect the same of life?
For a home to be properly constructed, one must make use of a blueprint, whereby all of the assembly instructions for the home could be found. With that information and the proper builders in place, construction of the home can begin. The same is true for life. In spite of whatever perfect conditions were in place to bring about all the necessary amino acids and proteins, an information system – like the blueprints for a home – would have had to have been in place in order to make sense of the disparate biomaterials, and with it, another resource would be required to assemble those biomaterials into life. That resource, that information system of biology, is found in the nucleic acids.
Though the term ‘nucleic acid’ may be less familiar to many than perhaps proteins, or even amino acids, the fact is that the vast majority are familiar with them, possessing at least a passing recognition of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
The depth of complexity found in these gigantic molecules is absolutely staggering, yet a discussion of that complexity is critical for one to understand the gravity of the situation at hand. Bear with me as we broadly examine these various, important elements.
Though fundamental differences exist between DNA and the various forms of RNA, the overall design is fairly straightforward, with the voluminous complexity of each being built upon spiraled chains of simpler molecules – specifically nucleotides – themselves composed of particular sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous bases. Critical to each is the arrangement of their inherent nucleobases – the molecular components that encode the necessary information itself – and it is here with rare exceptions that DNA and RNA differ in their composition. The five primary nucleobases are cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine, and uracil, with cytosine, guanine, and adenine being utilized in the structures of both RNA and DNA, and with thymine being specific to DNA, uracil to RNA. Due to the molecular makeup of each, hydrogen bonds are formed exclusively between particular sets of these nucleobases, with cytosine pairing to guanine and adenine pairing to thymine (in DNA) and uracil (in RNA).
In its natural state, RNA twists in an elegant spiral, the interior of which being studded with arms of nucleotides stretching out. DNA on the other hand forms a beautiful double-helix, much like a spiral staircase, with each step being composed of the paired nucleotides. Beyond the double-helix, DNA is arranged by a system of molecular structures which aid in its replication. The simple double-helix is wound first around histones – tiny protein bundles – forming nucleosomes, and these in turn are arranged into bundled solenoids, which likewise form the chromatin fibers that makeup the chromosomes.
Individually, the nucleotides mean little, yet cumulatively, in the form of arrangements known as genes, they are vitally important to every aspect of life, encoding specific instructions for cellular function and development. Genes, found both amongst RNA & DNA, come in several forms. While non-coding genes typically control gene expression, the majority represent protein-coding genes, each of these being expressed as either transcription genes or translation genes. The basic function of genes relies on their inherent structure. As such, many genes possess a particular pattern of arrangement. The start of a gene within a sequence is signaled by a series of specific base pairs known as an initiation codon. Following the initiation codon are sequences which provide information on the assembly of amino acids into proteins, regulatory elements concerning the synthesis of those proteins, or the transmission of other forms of information. The end of the gene is signaled by the presence of a termination codon.
The process is simple in its overall design, yet the information that it transmits through this process is astonishing beyond measure. Consider for a moment that the smallest known human gene is only 500 nucleotides in length, encoding for the histone protein. Conversely, the longest known gene, encoding for the protein dystrophin, is approximately 2.5 million nucleotides in length.(1) All told, the human genome numbers some 3 billion base pairs in length, condensed into 23 pairs of chromosomes, and encoding at least 21,000 known genes.
There is no doubt that DNA contains a staggeringly large amount of biological information. So much information in fact that it has been said that, if physically written in a script that would require a microscope to read, the information contained in a single stain of DNA would fill over a thousand 500-page books,(2) and if all of the DNA strains within a human body were printed in this fashion, there would be enough books to fill the Grand Canyon twice over!(3) That fact leads us to an interesting phenomenon.
It is understood among researchers, philosophers, and others that the fundamental laws of information dictate that information must come from an intelligent source. Additionally, as the mathematician Norbert Wiener stayed, “Information is information, neither matter nor energy,”(4) implying that information is in and of itself non-material in nature. Existing apart from matter and energy, the origin of information cannot be adequately explained through simple naturalism, and this fact is critical to understand what’s at stake.
Some critics have suggested that information is a byproduct of chemistry, citing the natural organizational properties of crystals and even amino acids, explaining that their very molecular structure provides a system for the transmission of fundamental information. In spite of their claims, the fact of the matter is that the physical properties of DNA and RNA are not responsible for the information they transmit. As one researcher observed:
“As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence in a DNA molecule extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. It is this physical indeterminacy of the sequence that produces the improbability of occurrence of any particular sequence and thereby enables it to have a meaning—a meaning that has a mathematically determinate information content …”(5)
That said, the information contained within the genes illustrates a completely different situation than the naturalistic organizational characteristics of crystallization or protein folding. Something more than random organization is required to explain the origin of the inherent information of the genes. As Sir Fred Hoyle, a well-known astrophysicist and evolutionist, stated, “The notion that not only biopolymers but also the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial soup here on Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.”(6)
To make matters even more interesting, the information contained within the genes – no matter its origin – requires specialized equipment to make sense of it. Consider how a book, written in English, is essentially useless to one who does not comprehend the English language. Likewise, the information contained within the genes is nothing more than an assemblage of chemical components if there exists no system by which that information can be processed, decoded, and utilized. That necessary system by which the vital information contained within the genes can be unlocked comes in the form of specific enzymes, such as RNA polymerase, and protein synthesizers known as ribosomes.
The role each of these components is critical to all biological life, and as such, can be found within everything from the ‘simplest’ bacteria all the way up to the most complex, multicellular creatures. Without these vital structures, the genes would simply be a useless arrangement of chemicals. With them however miracles take place at the molecular level.
You see, a great deal of the information contained within the genes pertains of the construction of proteins, which themselves are used in the construction of the complete life form. Those protein synthesizing genes are utilized through a process known as transcription.
The start of transcription begins with an RNA polymerase enzyme riding along a section of DNA, temporarily uncoupling the nucleotides and unzipping an area of the strain, all the while “reading” the nucleotide structure of the genes. In doing so, the polymerase produces a tail of messenger RNA (mRNA), which in turn is processed by the ribosomes. The ribosomes – tiny molecular machines composed of two separate but interlocking subunits of RNAs and polypeptide chains – then process the mRNA produced by the polymerase. When the need arises for a specific protein to be produced, the two separate ribosome subunits lock together on a given strain of mRNA, which in turn, provides the ribosome with instructions for synthesizing the protein it encodes for.
Raw ingredients – amino acids – are necessary at this point, and to obtain them, the ribosome connects to another form of RNA – transfer RNA (tRNA) – which itself is bonded to free floating amino acids. Stealing the amino acid connected to the tRNA, the ribosome then releases the spent strain, which then in turn bonds again with another free floating amino acid. The ribosome, for its part, continues this process, assembling numbers of amino acids into long polypeptide chains and proteins.
Now we come to the molecular equivalent of the chicken/egg debate regarding what came first. We have already examined the importance and function of proteins, how they are effectively the brick-and-mortar of life, and likewise we have discussed how the nucleic acids – DNA & RNA – are responsible for providing the information necessary to build, maintain, and replicate those materials required for life’s existence. Still, as critical as that information is, it requires decoding in order to be utilized, and that brings us to a point of interest: the molecular mechanisms necessary for decoding the genes required for life are themselves encoded within the genes!
What came first, proteins for use in the ribosomes or the genes to encode for the proteins and ribosomes themselves? Without the proteins there could be no ribosomes – among other structures – and without the genes there would be no instructions for the assembly of the proteins or the ribosomes themselves. Finally, without the ribosomes, the information encoded in the genes would be useless and unreadable, leading one observer to comment, saying:
“What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But … the machinery by which the cell … translates the code consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA. Thus the code cannot 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. Thus we may be faced with the possibility that the origin of life (like the origin of physics) becomes an impenetrable barrier to science, and a residue to all attempts to reduce biology to chemistry and physics.”(7)
To make matters worse, life requires a great many other components beyond amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, and transcription systems to live. While those elements are undeniably vital, they themselves would not constitute life, nor be sufficient to produce it themselves, alone. It is here, at this level of the assembly and interaction of molecular components, that the breadth and scope of the complexity of life, even at its “simplest,” becomes apparent. It is here that biology finally culminates into its critical iteration, the very foundation of life itself, the cell.
Notes & References
- Twyman, Richard, “Gene Structure”, August 1, 2003, http://genome.wellcome.ac.uk/doc_WTD020755.html,retrieved June 1, 2015
- Bergman, Jerry, “Unraveling DNA’s Design,” Koinonia House, http://www.khouse.org/articles/1997/143/, retrieved June 15th, 2015
- Chuck Missler and Mark Eastman, M.D., “The Creator Beyond Time and Space”
- Wiener, N., Hermann et Cie, “Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine,” The Technology Press, Paris, 1948
- Polanyi, M., “Life’s irreducible structure,” Science 160(3834):1308–1312, 1968; pg.1309
- Hoyle, Fred, “The Big Bang in Astronomy,” New Scientist, vol. 92, no.1280, November 19th, 1981, pg. 527
- Popper, K.R., “Scientific reduction and the essential incompleteness of all science,” in: Ayala, F. and Dobzhansky, T. (Eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Biology, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974, pp. 270
– This was an excerpt from “Remnants of Eden: Evolution, Deep-Time, & the Antediluvian World.” Get your copy here today. God bless! –
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