DNA and creationist beliefs


Permit me to express my reaction to the article entitled "DNA-the information in the cell" by V. J. M. S. de Silva (VJMS) that appeared on the 24th October issue of The Island. VJMS reviews the development of modern ideas of the cell, and the encoding of heredity information in the DNA. Thee he quotes main-stream scientists. Then he quotes from a number of non-mainstream scientists to lead the reader towards the view that DNA is a truly marvellous indication of the action of an external intelligence in designing the DNA molecule as well as life.

This view is part of the line of thinking known today as `intelligent design' and it is a part of `creationism'. An early writer in the west who began this line of reasoning was William Paley. He argued that if a simple person were to find a watch (a time-piece), he would marvel at its intricate mechanism, its accuracy, and would correctly conclude that it has been constructed by an `intelligent watch maker'. He would never conclude that it had come to being by `pure chance'. In just the same manner, VJMS is leading us to the conclusion that the complexity and coding of information found in the DNA of the cell is indicative of the handiwork of an intelligent creator.

But is the DNA molecule so intelligently designed?

This is not the view of the vast majority of molecular biologists and scientists. A poll taken at a meeting of the American Chemical society showed that over 99% rejected the idea of an intelligent process being behind the information coding in the DNA. A similar poll at a meeting of the American Physical society rendered 98% rejecting `intelligent creation' of DNA, while the disagreeing 2% were found to be mostly Islamic scientists. There were some who declined to answer and they were not included in the poll.

Most molecular biologists would point out that the DNA chain is full of junk segments with no information, and then you have allele mixed with those generating good and bad, decay and disease, malignancy and madness, and all the painful conditions of animal and human life. Any competent molecular biologist could look at a segment of DNA and show how it could be improved. In effect, it has all the tell-tale marks of a random acquisition of alles and genes; and this can be verified by looking down along the genome maps of other species. Watson showed that even the coding system used in nature was very inferior to a method he designed. Thus to claim that the very poorly designed DNA full of malefics, with its poor information coding etc., indicate the works of a Divine Being is really to insult the intelligence of such a Being. One has to conclude that it is the work of an ignorant imbecile - Nature!

VJMS says that such complexity and information coding could not have come by chance, and quotes Hoyle and his acolyte Chandra Wickremasingha to have proved it `mathematically'. We should remember that Dr. Wickremasingha gave evidence on the side of the creationists in a US court - thus he is not a non-partisan scientist. VJMS refers to the late Sir Antony Flew, and irrelevantly points out that he became a Deist at the late age 81, probably when he had lost his critical capacities.

In any case, Darwinists do not claim that the DNA, the cell, or life forms were formed by `pure chance'. They were formed by the process known as natural selection. A river does not choose to flow along the lowest valley by `pure chance'. There is an energy optimization process involved in the evolution of the path of the river. Evolutionary natural selection also involves an optimization of a more complex nature (in a `fitness landscape') that we cannot discuss in a short newspaper article.

Furthermore, VJMS claims that there is a chicken and egg problem since DNA needs RNA for its formation and vice versa. This is very far from the present state of knowledge. DNA is a two-stranded molecule, and RNA is much simpler. The consensus is that DNA was formed in a per-existing RNA world with RNA-based life forms. Our understanding of the auto-synthesis of RNA from simpler molecules has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. There is no 'chicken and egg' problem here. In any case, if scientists don't understand something, they do more research instead of running back to beliefs no longer current in science.

Bodhi Dhanapala



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