Is There Scientific Evidence that Life has an Intelligent Cause?
Is there is evidence of God’s existence found within every cell of all living things? Interestingly, scientists have discovered that cellular life is built upon biological information, which is evidence of an intelligent cause for life.
Cells are miniature factories composed of molecular machines made of proteins. Proteins are composed of long chains of smaller organic compounds called amino acids. Thus, amino acids are the basic building blocks of life. However, amino acids form proteins only when joined together in the proper order. It is important to note that amino acids cannot self-assemble themselves into the proper order required to make proteins.
Rather, biologists have discovered that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) directs the process of protein formation in cells. DNA contains the genetic instructions used in the formation of proteins from amino acids. Along with ribonucleic acid (RNA) and proteins, DNA is one of the three major macromolecules in the cell that are essential for life.
DNA consists of a double helix backbone made of sugars and phosphates. Attached to each strand of the backbone are matching pairs of four types of molecules called nucleotide bases. The four nucleotide bases in DNA are Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C).
The specific sequence of nucleotide bases along the spine of the DNA molecule determines the specific order of amino acids to be assembled to make a protein. This sequence is critical. That’s because the function of a protein depends entirely upon the specific order of the many amino acids of which it is composed.
Basically, the nucleotide bases in the DNA molecule convey instructions for the proper formation of proteins because of their specific sequence. Similarly, the letters in the human alphabet convey a meaningful sentence only when arranged in a specific sequence. Just as the meaning of an English sentence depends upon the sequential arrangement of individual letters, so too the function of a protein depends upon the sequential arrangement of individual amino acids.
The specific arrangement of letters in a meaningful sentence contains and conveys human encoded information. So, too, the specific arrangement of nucleotide bases in DNA contains and conveys biologically encoded information; namely, the precise set of instructions for building proteins. In other words, the sequencing of amino acids to make proteins is directed by the information, the set of biochemical instructions, encoded in the DNA molecule. Without that information, life could not exist.
The specific arrangement of nucleotide bases along the spine of the DNA molecule stores and processes the protein assembly instructions (genetic information) in a four-character digital code (A, T, C, G). This is analogous to a computer that stores and processes information based on the specific arrangement of just a two-character digital code (0 and 1). In fact, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has written, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has also acknowledged, “The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.” That’s why the DNA molecule is routinely described as an “information-rich system.”
Furthermore, the specific sequence of nucleotide bases in DNA is not determined by chemistry or by any physical law. Because chemical bonds do not determine the arrangement of nucleotide bases in DNA, these “letters” can assume a vast array of possible sequences and thereby express many different biochemical messages. And, just like the information contained in a meaningful sentence printed in a newspaper or book does not derive from the chemistry of paper and ink, so too the information in DNA transcends the properties of its physical medium. Indeed, printed information originates from a source beyond the paper and ink that is used to contain and convey the information. The same is true of the information in DNA because the medium is not sufficient to determine the message (genetic information). Again, the message transcends the medium and chemistry does not determine the code.
Random genetic mutations (caused by DNA copying mistakes) can and do change the information in pre-existing DNA. And, even if just one nucleotide base is changed in the coding sequence of DNA, the result can be significant. A striking example of this is sickle-cell disease. This genetic disorder was caused by the mutation of a single nucleotide, from GAG to GTG. Just replacing one “A” with a “T” in the coding sequence causes a change in the protein and makes red blood cells form a “sickle” shape. Biologists refer to such a change in only one nucleotide base as a “point mutation.”
Of course, point mutations within an organism can be productive, resulting in a gain of function. Indeed, this is the fundamental basis of the natural selection process, where genetic changes (e.g., point mutations) that yield a functional advantage are preserved. Biologists typically extend this argument to suggest that numerous functional mutations may even explain the formation of the first cellular life. However, to create a totally new set of information is a very different thing than to slightly modify existing information. In other words, it is not so difficult to see how a random change in an existing life form may, on occasion, be beneficial. It is another thing entirely to suggest that randomness could somehow create information where there had been none previously.
Furthermore, just because point mutations look to us like totally random events, does this preclude any role for God in this process? Or, is it possible that what appears to us to be a random change could have been subtly guided by God to achieve the creative action in development of life that He desires? In other words, could God be intimately involved in the evolutionary creation of life by “tweaking” these point mutations in a way that is not detectible by science? How can this possibility be ruled out?
Moreover, an intelligent cause is known to be capable of generating useful information, such as a meaningful sentence. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, “Information habitually arises from conscious activity.” Thus, the discovery of biological (genetic) information in DNA provides strong grounds for inferring that intelligence had a causal role in the origin of this information.
An intelligent cause is, therefore, a valid explanation for the biological information encoded in DNA. Thus, information-rich biological systems, such as DNA, provide compelling evidence of an intelligent cause for life. The specifically arranged and functionally significant sequences of nucleotide bases in DNA―the encoded information―implies the past action of an intelligent cause, even if such an intelligence cannot be directly observed today.
We know from repeated experience that specified information―whether inscribed hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal―arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of specified digital information in DNA provides strong grounds for inferring that an intelligence played a causal role in the origin of DNA.
In short, the information in DNA provides biological evidence that God was the primary and intelligent cause who guided the mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations, which was merely a secondary and natural cause of the evolution of life on earth.
Indeed, the fundamental question in biology today is whether natural causes (such as natural selection acting on random genetic mutations) are primary causes in and of themselves alone. Or, are these natural causes merely secondary causes ordained and sustained by an intelligent agent (God), who is the primary cause?
The biological evidence of God’s existence can be summarized as follows:
1. Premise One: DNA contains useful information (to place amino acids in the proper order to make functional proteins).
2. Premise Two: Useful information habitually arises from an intelligent cause.
3. Conclusion: Therefore, an intelligent cause is a valid explanation for the useful information contained in DNA.