The Bible and the Laws of Science: The Laws of Genetics
One of the newest, and certainly one of the most exciting, of the sciences is that of genetics. After all, every living thing—plant, animal, or human—is a storehouse of genetic information, and therefore a potential “laboratory” full of scientific knowledge. Studies have shown that the hereditary information found within the nucleus of the living cell is placed there in a chemical “code,” and that it is universal in nature. Regardless of their respective views on origins, all scientists acknowledge this. Evolutionist Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Blind Watchmaker (1986, p. 270), stated what all scientists today know to be the truth of the matter when he noted: “The genetic code is universal.... The complete word-for-word universality of the genetic dictionary is, for the taxonomist, too much of a good thing.” Creationist Robert Kautz, in his book, The Origin of Living Things (1988, p. 44) agreed when he wrote: “It is recognized by molecular biologists that the genetic code is universal, irrespective of how different living things are in their external appearances.”
However, it is not simply the fact that the genetic code is universal in nature which makes its study so appealing. The function of this code is equally intriguing. A.E. Wilder-Smith, an eminent scientist with the United Nations, observed: “The construction and metabolism of a cell are thus dependent upon its internal ‘handwriting’ in the genetic code. Everything, even life itself, is regulated from a biological viewpoint by the information contained in this genetic code. All syntheses are directed by this information” (1976, p. 254). Since all living things are storehouses of genetic information (i.e., the genetic code), and since it is this genetic code that regulates life and directs all its syntheses, the importance of the study of this code (genetics) hardly can be overstated. The renowned British geneticist, E.B. Ford, in his work, Understanding Genetics, provided an insightful summary in this regard:
It may seem a platitude to say that the offspring of buttercups, sparrows and human beings are buttercups, sparrows and human beings.... What then keeps them, and indeed living things in general, “on the right lines”? Why are there not pairs of sparrows, for instance, that beget robins, or some other species of bird: why indeed birds at all? Something must be handed on from parent to offspring which ensures conformity, not complete but in a high degree, and prevents such extreme departures. What is it, how does it work, what rules does it obey and why does it apparently allow only limited variation? Genetics is the science that endeavours to answer these questions, and much else besides. It is the study of organic inheritance and variation, if we must use more formal language (1979, p. 13).
We know, of course, that sparrows, buttercups, and human beings give rise only to sparrows, buttercups, and human beings. But we know this today because of our in-depth knowledge of genetics—the study of inheritance. However, it has not always been so. The history of how we stumbled upon this knowledge, and thus this new science, provides an interesting, and profitable, case study.
THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF GENETICS
There can be no doubt that genetics is deeply rooted in antiquity. While the ancients did not understand the genetic principles involved, or their basis in such a complex chemical code, evidence exists which documents that they knew enough to use selective breeding, various forms of hybridization, etc. Eldon Gardner, in his classic work, The History of Biology, suggested:
Tablets of stone prepared by the Babylonians some 6,000 years ago have been interpreted as showing pedigrees of several successive generations of horses, thus suggesting a conscious effort toward improvement. Other stone carvings of the same period illustrate artificial cross-pollination of the date palm as practiced by the early Babylonians. The early Chinese, many years before the Christian era, improved varieties of rice. Maize was cultivated and improved in the western hemisphere by the American Indians, beginning at an early period in their history. In another era, Hippocrates, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers made observations and speculations suggesting genetic principles (1972, pp. 399-400).
Various writers have chronicled early attempts at hybridization, selection, etc. (see Suzuki and Knudtson, 1989, pp. 32-35). But it is agreed unanimously that the true origin of the science we call genetics had its beginnings in 1865, as the result of studies performed by an Augustinian monk, Gregor Mendel (1865). In 1857, Mendel began a series of experiments in the garden of the abbey in Brünn, Austria, using edible peas (Pisum sativum). For eight years he worked with these peas. The story of Mendel’s research is too lengthy to recount here in its entirety. It has been recorded, however, by numerous writers (see: Edey and Johanson, 1989, pp. 108-122; Suzuki and Knudtson, 1989, pp. 35-38; Asimov, 1972, pp. 366-368; Gardner, 1972, pp. 401-403).
Mendel carefully self-pollinated the peas. He collected the seeds from one generation and replanted them. He studied the height (stem length), color, and seed texture of the peas. He also cross-pollinated the peas, to further study these traits. He kept meticulous mathematical records of each generation’s activity—records upon which the “laws of genetics” ultimately would be based. Prior to Mendel, it was commonly believed that traits were transmitted along blood lines as unseen and undefined substances which somehow intermingled to produce offspring. In addition, scientists accepted the idea that traits “blended” as they were passed from generation to generation. Mendel’s work proved otherwise. He discovered that traits were transmitted by some kind of “particles”—borne by both members of the species—which retained their own specific identity even while being shuffled into new combinations during reproduction. Mendel called these particles by the German word, Anlagen. Today we know these as “genes” which are constructed of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Mendel’s accomplishments were impressive. Richard von Mises observed that Mendel’s work “...plays in genetics a role comparable to that of Newton’s laws in mechanics” (1968, p. 243). Edey and Johanson echoed that same sentiment: “Mendel was certain that his hypothesis was correct: hereditary traits of living things come in separate packages; they do not blend; they behave according to simple mathematical laws; some are dominant and ‘show,’ while others are recessive and lie ‘hidden’ unless present in the pure state. This was a momentous insight. It became the keystone for the great edifice of genetic knowledge that would be erected in the following century” (1989, p. 114). In summary, Davis and Kenyon listed what we now refer to as “Mendel’s laws.”
He [Mendel—BT] brilliantly concluded that inheritance is determined by six principles:
1. The inheritance of traits is determined by (what were later termed) genes that act more like individual physical particles than like fluid.
2. Genes come in pairs for each trait, and the genes of a pair may be alike or different.
3. When genes controlling a particular trait are different, the effect of one is observed (dominant) in the offspring, while the other one remains hidden (recessive).
4. In gametes (eggs and sperm) only one gene of each pair is present. At fertilization gametes unite randomly, which results in a predictable ratio of traits among offspring.
5. The genes controlling a particular trait are separated during gamete-formation; each gamete carries only one gene of each pair.
6. When two pairs of traits are studied in the same cross, they are found to sort independently of each other.
While Mendel’s principles have been expanded and refined, they still remain basically sound today (1989, p. 60).
In 1866, Mendel’s work was published in the Transactions of the Natural History Society of Brünn. For thirty-five years that work sat on library shelves, unknown to all but a few, and causing no great interest among them. Then, in 1900, three scientists, working independently of one another, rediscovered Mendel’s works. Hugo de Vries (a Dutchman), Karl Correns (a German), and Erich Tschermak (an Austrian) simultaneously read Mendel’s works and published their own papers on similar matters, each crediting Mendel. De Vries is credited with discovering genetic mutations (changes in the genes and/or chromosomes, producing offspring unlike the parents). In 1902, Theodor Boveri (German embryologist), and W.S. Sutton (American cytologist), building on the work of another German embryologist, Wilhelm Roux, documented that Mendel’s Anlagen (genes) were distributed throughout the body on chromosomes. In 1903, Wilhelm L. Johannsen, a Danish botanist, coined the term “gene,” which is still in use today. In 1906, at a meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society, the English biologist, William Bateson, offered the term “genetics” as the name for this new science. Finally, Mendel’s works were bearing fruit.
Mendel died in 1884, never realizing that he was to become the “father of genetics.” Many scientists since him have added to the knowledge he gave us about this important science. It would be a futile task to try to mention, or give credit to, all of them. But certainly the science of genetics was greatly advanced by the discovery, in 1953, of the chemical code that provides the genetic instructions. It was in that year that James Watson and Francis Crick published their landmark paper about the helical structure of the DNA molecule (1953). In 1962, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for their achievement in elucidating the structure of DNA. Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, in their book, The Mystery of Life’s Origin, remarked:
According to their now-famous model, hereditary information is transmitted from one generation to the next by means of a simple code resident in the specific sequence of certain constituents of the DNA molecule.... The breakthrough by Crick and Watson was their discovery of the specific key to life’s diversity. It was the extraordinarily complex yet orderly architecture of the DNA molecule. They had discovered that there is in fact a code inscribed in this “coil of life,” bringing a major advance in our understanding of life’s remarkable structure (1984, p. 1).
Space prevents an in-depth examination of the inner workings of the DNA molecule. Excellent summaries, however, are available (Kautz, 1988, pp. 43-47; Davis and Kenyon, 1989, pp. 62-64; Suzuki and Knudtson, 1989, pp. 41-45). Just how important is this “coil of life” that is represented in the DNA molecule? A.E. Wilder-Smith reminds us that “the information stored on the DNA-molecule is that which controls totally, as far as we at present know, by its interaction with its environment, the development of all biological organisms” (1987, p. 73). Professor E.H. Andrews explained how this can be true: “The way the DNA code works is this. The DNA molecule is like a template or pattern for the making of other molecules called ‘proteins’.... These proteins then control the growth and activity of the cell which, in turn, controls the growth and activity of the whole organism” (1978, p. 28). Thus, the DNA contains the information that allows proteins to be manufactured, and the proteins control cell growth and function, which are ultimately responsible for each living organism. The genetic code, then, as found within the DNA molecule, is vital to life as we know it.
THE LAWS OF GENETICS AND THE BIBLE
There are at least two important points that relate genetics directly to the Bible, and which will be discussed here. First, the genetic code’s chemical instructions are copied faithfully time after time. In other words, to use Dr. Ford’s earlier examples, sparrows produce only sparrows, buttercups produce only buttercups, and human beings produce only human beings. Sparrows never produce robins; buttercups never produce tulips; human beings never produce anything but other human beings. Second, the genetic code—with its complexity, orderliness, and function—provides the most powerful kind of evidence for intelligent design, which requires a Designer. Let us examine briefly these two important points.
The biblical record is quite clear when it comes to the first of these two points—that the genetic code was designed to copy itself faithfully. In Genesis 1:11-12 we read: “And God said, let the earth put forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof upon the earth, and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind whose seed was in itself.” This same wording—after its kind—is repeated in such passages as Genesis 1:20,21 and Genesis 1:24,25. A comparison of similar passages (e.g., Leviticus 11:13-23) provides additional dramatic emphasis of the importance of this phrase. Byron Nelson, author of the classic work, After Its Kind, offered the following commentary on these statements of Scripture:
In the first chapter of Genesis, however, because it is a matter of the greatest religious importance, the Bible speaks clearly and finally on a matter of biology. After its kind is the statement of a biological principle that no human observation has ever known to fail. The most ancient human records engraved on stone or painted on the walls of caves bear witness to the fact that horses have ever been horses, bears have ever been bears, geese have ever been geese, reindeer have ever been reindeer. The most desperate and subtle efforts of man in modern times have been unable to alter this divine decree. The Bible teaches that from the beginning there have been a large number of types of living things, man included, which were so created as to remain true to their particular type throughout all generations.... The latest results of modern biological research, Mendel’s Laws, agree exactly with what was written by Moses three thousand years ago—and they also elucidate it... (1967, pp. 3,103, emp. in orig.).
Even evolutionists are hard pressed to avoid the implications. In his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, William Bateson, the English biologist who first coined the term “genetics,” made this startling admission: “Descent used to be described in terms of blood. Truer notions of genetic physiology are given by the Hebrew expression ‘seed.’ If we say he is ‘of the seed of Abraham,’ we feel something of the permanence and indestructibility of that germ which can be divided and scattered among nations, but remains recognizable in type and characteristic after 4,000 years” (1914, emp. in orig.). Seventy-five years later, not much had changed. Suzuki and Knudtson noted, for example:
Yet long before the concept of the “gene” crystallized in human consciousness early in this century, human beings felt compelled to search for ways to make sense of at least the most visible evidence of biological inheritance that surrounded them. For they could not help noticing the recurring pattern of reproduction in the natural world by which every form of life seemed to generate new life—“according to its own kind.” The keen-eyed agriculturalists among them could not have missed the similarity between successive generations of livestock and crops. Nor was it possible to ignore the sometimes uncanny resemblances between members of one’s own immediate family or ancestral lineage (1989, p. 32).
Suzuki and Knudtson, however, suggested that these poor humans lived in a state of “scientific innocence” and that they thus could be excused for not knowing any better. But is it a state of “scientific innocence” to accept what is today a fact of science? Listen to John Gribbin, himself an evolutionist, when he says that “...once a fertilized, single human cell begins to develop, the original plans are faithfully copied each time the cell divides (a process called mitosis) so that every one of the thousand million million cells in my body, and in yours, contains a perfect replica of the original plans for the whole body” (1981, p. 193). Did Dr. Gribbin say that these original plans (i.e., the genetic code) are faithfully copied so that every one of the trillions of cells in the human body ends up with a perfect replica of that genetic code? Indeed he did! Dr. Wilder-Smith spoke to this very point when he observed:
The Nobel laureate, F.H. Crick has said that if one were to translate the coded information on one human cell into book form, one would require one thousand volumes each of five hundred pages to do so. And yet the mechanism of a cell can copy faithfully at cell division all this information of one thousand volumes each of five hundred pages in just twenty minutes (1976, p. 258, emp. added).
Why do sparrows produce nothing but sparrows? Why do buttercups produce nothing but buttercups? Why do human beings produce nothing but human beings? The reason is simple: all organisms reproduce faithfully copies of their own genetic code. Dr. Bateson spoke of the permanence and indestructibility of the “seed.” Dr. Gribbin says the code is faithfully copied. Suzuki and Knudtson comment on the recurring pattern of reproduction. It matters little what terms these evolutionists use: they still are doing nothing more than mimicking, and acknowledging, what the Bible writer said thousands of years ago—that all living things reproduce “after their kind.”
Today, of course, evolutionists offer up a vain attempt to get around the laws of genetics, and thus provide a mechanism for evolution, by postulating hundreds or thousands of “good” mutations that can alter the genetic code in a way beneficial to evolution. I have dealt with this elsewhere (Thompson, 1985), and have shown the paucity of such a system. The simple truth of the matter is that the Bible has been right all along. The genetic code ensures that living things reproduce faithfully—after their kind—exactly as the laws of genetics state that they should.
There is good reason why organisms should reproduce “after their kind”—the complexity of the genetic code. It is doubtful that you will ever hear anyone cognizant of the facts speak of the “simple” genetic code. A.G. Cairns-Smith explained why:
Every organism has in it a store of what is called genetic information.... I will refer to an organism’s genetic information store as its Library.... Where is the Library in such a multicellular organism? The answer is everywhere. With a few exceptions every cell in a multicellular organism has a complete set of all the books in the Library. As such an organism grows its cells multiply and in the process the complete central Library gets copied again and again.... The human Library has 46 of these cord-like books in it. They are called chromosomes. They are not all of the same size, but an average one has the equivalent of about 20,000 pages.... Man’s Library, for example, consists of a set of construction and service manuals that run to the equivalent of about a million book-pages together (1985, pp. 9,10, emp. in orig.).
It is no less amazing to learn that even “simple” cells like bacteria have extremely complicated “libraries” of genetic information stored within them. For example, the bacterium Escherichia coli, which is by no means the “simplest” bacterial cell known, is a tiny rod only a thousandth of a millimeter across and about twice as long, yet “it is an indication of the sheer complexity of E. coli that its Library runs to a thousand page-equivalent” (Cairns-Smith, 1985, p. 11).
It does not take much convincing, beyond facts such as these, to see that the genetic code is orderly, complex, and adept in its functions. The order and complexity themselves are nothing short of phenomenal. But the functioning of this code is perhaps most impressive of all. Dr. Wilder-Smith explained why when he commented that the coded information:
...may be compared to a book or to a video—or audiotape, with an extra factor coded into it enabling the genetic information, under certain environmental conditions, to read itself and then to execute the information it reads. It resembles, that is, a hypothetical architect’s plan of a house, which plan not only contains the information on how to build the house, but which can, when thrown into the garden, build entirely of its own initiative the house all on its own without the need for contractors or other outside building agents. Such a plan could, when thrown into the garden, build the house—providing it finds the correct conditions and energy supply for the “internal” contractors who build the house. It does this construction work entirely autonomously, working on the pure information which it contains. Thus, it is fair to say that the technology exhibited by the genetic code is orders of magnitude higher than any technology man has, until now, developed. What is its secret? The secret lies in its ability to store and to execute incredible magnitudes of conceptual information in the ultimate molecular miniaturization of the information storage and retrieval system of the nucleotides and their sequences (1987, p. 73, emp. in orig.).
Kautz followed this same line of thinking when he wrote:
The information in DNA is sufficient for directing and controlling all the processes which transpire within a cell including diagnosing, repairing, and replicating the cell. Think of an architectural blueprint having the capacity of actually building the structure depicted on the blueprint, of maintaining that structure in good repair, and even replicating it (1988, p. 44).
Little wonder, then, that Kautz concludes: “The DNA molecule is something utterly unique and had to have an unnatural or supernatural origin.... The information in the DNA molecule had to have been imposed upon it by some outside source just as music is imposed on a cassette tape. The information in DNA is presented in coded form as explained previously, and codes are not known to arise spontaneously” (1988, p. 44, emp. in orig.).
Many people, perhaps, have not considered the terminology with which evolutionists describe the genetic code. Lester and Bohlin suggest that this provides a major clue as to DNA’s origin:
The DNA in living cells contains coded information. It is not surprising that so many of the terms used in describing DNA and its functions are language terms. We speak of the genetic code. DNA is transcribed into RNA. RNA is translated into protein. Protein, in a sense, is coded in a foreign language from DNA. RNA could be said to be a dialect of DNA. Such designations are not simply convenient or just anthropomorphisms. They accurately describe the situation (1984, pp. 85-86, emp. in orig.).
Further, consider that human beings have learned to store information on clay tablets, stone, papyrus, paper, film, cassettes, microchips, etc. Yet “human technology has not yet advanced to the point of storing information chemically as it is in the DNA molecule” (Kautz, p. 45, 1988, emp. in orig.). Professor Andrews was correct when he stated:
It is not possible for a code, of any kind, to arise by chance or accident. The laws of chance or probability have been worked out by mathematics... A code is the work of an intelligent mind. Even the cleverest dog or chimpanzee could not work out a code of any kind. It is obvious then that chance cannot do it.... This could no more have been the work of chance or accident than could the “Moonlight Sonata” be played by mice running up and down the keyboard of my piano! Codes do not arise from chaos (1978, pp. 28,29).
Dr. Wilder-Smith offered this important observation:
Now, when we are confronted with the genetic code, we are astounded at once at its simplicity, complexity and the mass of information contained in it. One cannot avoid being awed at the sheer density of information contained in such a miniaturized space. When one considers that the entire chemical information required to construct a man, elephant, frog or an orchid was compressed into two minuscule reproductive cells, one can only be astounded. Only a sub-human could not be astounded. The almost inconceivably complex information needed to synthesize a man, plant, or a crocodile from air, sunlight, organic substances, carbon dioxide and minerals is contained in these two tiny cells. If one were to request an engineer to accomplish this feat of information miniaturization, one would be considered fit for the psychiatric line.... To maintain that it all arose by chance and non-planning is to deny human common sense. Pole has become antipole.... The almost unimaginable complexity of the information on the genetic code along with the simplicity of its concept (four letters made of simple chemical molecules), together with its extreme compactness, imply an inconceivably high intelligence behind it. Present-day information theory permits no other interpretation of the facts of the genetic code (1976, pp. 257-259, emp. in orig.).
Isn’t this, after all, exactly what the Bible stated all along? The Hebrew writer (3:4) put it in these words: “Every house is builded by someone, but he that built all things is God.” From the microcosm to the macrocosm, the handiwork of the Creator is evident. The genetic code, and the laws of genetics based upon that code, speak eloquently to the existence of the great Creator-God of the Bible. Things still reproduce “after their kind” just as He designed them “in the beginning.” Man’s genetic laws express little more than what God set into motion from time immemorial.
Andrews, E.H. (1978), From Nothing to Nature (Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press).
Asimov, Isaac (1972), Isaac Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (New York: Avon).
Bateson, William (1914), Nature, August 20.
Cairns-Smith, A.G. (1985), Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Davis, Percival and Dean Kenyon (1989), Of Pandas and People (Dallas, TX: Haughton).
Dawkins, Richard (1986), The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton).
Edey, Maitland and Donald C. Johanson (1989), Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution (Boston: Little, Brown).
Ford, E.B. (1979), Understanding Genetics (New York: Pica Press).
Gardner, Eldon J. (1972), The History of Biology, (Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing), third edition.
Gribbin, John (1981), Genesis: The Origins of Man and the Universe (New York: Delacorte Press).
Kautz, Darrel (1988), The Origin of Living Things (Milwaukee, WI: Privately published by the author).
Lester, Lane and Raymond Bohlin (1984), The Natural Limits of Biological Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Mendel, Gregor (1865), Experiments in Plant Hybridization, reprinted in J.A. Peters, ed. (1959), Classic Papers in Genetics (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall).
Nelson, Byron (1967), After Its Kind (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Suzuki, David and Peter Knudtson (1989), Genethics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Thaxton, Charles, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen (1984), The Mystery of Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library).
Thompson, Bert (1985), Neo-Darwinism: A Look at the Alleged Genetic Mechanism of Evolution [Research Article Series] (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
von Mises, Richard (1968), Positivism (New York: 1968).
Watson, J.D. and Francis H. C. Crick (1953), “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” Nature, 171:737-738, April 25.
Wilder-Smith, A.E. (1976), A Basis for a New Biology (Einigen: Telos International).
Wilder-Smith, A.E. (1987), The Scientific Alternative to Neo-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory (Costa Mesa, CA: TWFT Publishers).