O'Reilly: The handwriting in our DNA
Two seemingly contradictory stories broke in mid-December and promptly got lost in the holiday shuffle.
The first involved a Dec. 13 article in the journal "Science," which said a second DNA code or "language" was discovered by a University of Washington professor of genome sciences. The new code, according to the research study, is written right on top of the previously discovered DNA language that had blown scientific minds for its native intelligence and information-storage capacity. This new breakthrough updates decades of understanding about the human, double helix instruction set.
"Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture," the study's author, Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, said in a news release. "These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways."
Then, on Dec. 22, a Harris Poll said in a news release that Americans' belief in God is on the decline. While still high at 75 percent, Americans' belief in an almighty has dipped significantly from Harris' polling on the question in 2005, 2007 and 2009 when it held steady at 82 percent. Meanwhile, according to Harris, 47 percent now say they believe in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, compared with 42 percent in 2005.
I was surprised, frankly, at that second statistic. Here in the Northeast, the number of evolution subscribers is probably way higher. For many in these quarters, "The Origin of Species" has long been the bible on human development, and those who question it are often mocked. But the more we learn about DNA -- and this latest breakthrough suggests that our understanding is extraordinarily limited still -- the harder it becomes to accept the neat package left on our doorstep by Professor Darwin.
Sure, I can feel above my backside where a tail might have neatly fit, but the notion that evolution alone could have created the three billion genetic letters in the human DNA molecule seems preposterous. A single human DNA strand measures two millionths of a millimeter thick, yet it stores the amount of information contained in 12 sets of The Encyclopaedia Britannica. No, I don't think my wife evolved from a man's rib, but I also refuse to believe that the language in her DNA could have occurred randomly. Not my wife's.
I was a philosophy major in college for about 40 minutes before ontological arguments rendered me senseless. (Thereafter, I sought my proofs of God in 86-proof Johnnie Walker Red and the female form, the former more successfully than the latter.) But I do recall vaguely the extraordinary efforts of Immanuel Kant, Baruch Spinoza, René Descartes and all the other philosophers who labored a lifetime to prove the existence of God. None of their arguments struck me as more convincing than the complexity and exactness of DNA as we currently understand it.
Stephen C. Meyer is a Cambridge-trained philosopher of science and a founder of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which advocates intelligent design theory. In 2009, he told cnsnews.com the story of a former Microsoft software engineer:
"He walks into my office one day, throws a book down on the table. It's called Design Patterns -- standard textbook for computer design engineers -- and he says, 'I get the eerie feeling, when I'm looking at what's going on in the cell, that's somebody's figured this out before us.' And I said, 'What do you mean?' And he says, 'Well, it's the design patterns,' and then he points to the book. . . . 'We've got design logic for processing information, for doing error correction, for doing distributed data retrieval and reassembly, and for hierarchical organization -- we've got files within folders, like on your desktop, you know, in the hierarchical filing system.' And he says, 'All those design patterns are inside the cell, except they're using a design logic that's like an 8.0, 9.0, 10.0 version of ours. It's the same basic logic, but it's more elegantly executed,' and he says, 'It gives me an eerie feeling.'"
It doesn't give this New Yorker an eerie feeling at all. It gives me hope that, at a minimum, that Harris Poll number is an outlier. The world is a far more interesting place with God in it.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a columnist and a Republican political consultant.