Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE FINGERPRINT OF GOD: Why complex life requires information, and why all life is complex

On a personal level, one of the most startling single facts about our origins is that life arose so quickly on the new planet Earth. As soon as the Earth’s surface cooled about 3.8 billion years ago, single-celled life was there. This fact was quite a shocker to modern evolutionary theorists, who, up until that point, had figured that Life had several billion years to create itself. Given that amount of time, they assumed it was only inevitable that molecules would arrange themselves into something resembling a living cell.

Suddenly the theorists found themselves with a problem. How do you account for something as complex as a living cell, given that you have virtually no workable timeframe to account for time and chance to play a role? For all appearances, life seems to have arisen by “cosmic imperative” of some sort. I use that term because Nobel Laureate Christian De Duve, a cell biologist, used it as the subtitle of a book. In other words, life arose because it had to… it was built into the equation, it was chemically "pre-destined."

De Duve, of course, attacked the problem from an agnostic viewpoint, but clearly understood the scope of the problem. For those who have read his books, you know that he typically addressed the metaphysical aspects of biology with a fairness rarely found in scientific writings.

The appearance of life is the original version of the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” conundrum. We know that to build a living cell, we need DNA, which carries the blueprint of life. DNA quite literally provides the instructions needed for molecules to arrange themselves into all the amazing things that make up a living cell. Without DNA, you simply have a mess of chemicals and proteins. But DNA only exists within a living cell. And a living cell only exists because of DNA. So which came first?

I’ve read the works of many scientists who propose how the cell arose through purely natural forces. For the most part, no one can really agree on a logical path that’s supported by science. The position that it happened naturally is based upon circular reasoning, as noted in the previous post. Essentially, the scientist says: The cell came to be, and we don’t believe it had any supernatural assistance, so therefore it had to have somehow happened through natural causes.

But that doesn’t get very far when we consider the scope of the problem. DNA contains a vast amount of complex information in a code that far exceeds anything dreamed up by Mankind. And that’s the million-dollar question. Where did the information come from? How does such complex information imprint itself upon the very particles that make up all matter?

From a purely logical point of view, the answer is simple. The information had to come first. Unfortunately for science, this creates an insurmountable problem. Information capable of building a living cell just doesn’t create itself by chance, no matter how much Science insists that it must have. But it’s important to keep in mind that just because a single cell is small, it isn’t simple. It’s a hugely complex piece of work, and even at its most basic, functional size, it still requires vast amounts of information to build.

I’m a huge fan of Gerald Schroeder and his three books on the subject of God, Science and the harmony between them. In the last of the three, The Hidden Face of God, he talks about life and how it far exceeds the simple properties of its building blocks, and how it also exceeds the physical laws which govern the matter that it’s made of.

I wrote to Dr. Schroeder recently and was delighted to get a personal reply from him. I posed the question of how the information for life could have been built into the equation, and his reply blew me away. I’d never thought of it before, but it suddenly all made perfect sense.

"My guess is that the information [for complex life] was somehow contained within the first forms of life, but it did mutate and give rise to variations. But the basic information with which complex life developed was already there. Gilbert Goller notes that the initial energy of the Big Bang was highly related to electro-magnetic radiation. Vast amounts of information can be imprinted on electro-magnetic radiation, as we know from what we humans do with it. Hence a super-intelligence could put all the information ever needed onto that initial burst and somehow imprint the ability to have it read out and implemented."

In a nutshell, he confirmed what I already suspected. The difference was that he explained how it could have happened. DNA is a code, and the code was there from the beginning, imprinted upon the very particles that would form the matter that would someday become life. The information was there from the beginning, and imprinted upon the electro-magnetic radiation released in the Big Bang. As he noted, we do the same thing today with electro-magnetic radiation; we send information through space to cell phones, radios, televisions, and even imprint this information upon matter, such as hard drives and mag-strips on credit cards. Information can be stored and transferred so easily. Why couldn’t a super-intelligence do the same?

And then, in what can only be described as an “Aha!” moment, it all sunk in. I remembered seeing a photo back in 2006 of a newly-discovered nebula in our own Milky Way galaxy (the photo is shown at left in both infra-red and regular imagery). It was twisted into a double-helix, just like the strands of a DNA molecule. Only this double-helix was about 100 light years long. It blew my mind, especially when I read that scientist were baffled by the amazing amount of order that must be present for something like this to take place. I was surprised, but I wasn’t baffled. And it all made sense.

The information and order needed to hold this Universe together was present from the first moment of Creation. In the DNA nebula was simple confirmation that whatever creates the tiniest bits of substance also creates the largest. All is One, and we are part of It.

In the most beautiful five words I’ve ever read—and the five words most loaded with meaning— we find the answer to why everything is as it is: “In the beginning, God created...”

And we are the privileged witnesses to His handiwork.

1 comment:

jayjay said...

That's amazing - love the picture of the nebula, and yes indeed, it looks just like a strand of DNA. The never ending patterns obvious in everything created, from ice and snow through to what WE see as huge in the cosmos. And I love the thought that all of this exists INSIDE of a creator - his own DNA as it were. Makes the movie Horton hears a Who even more relevant, ha ha.