Secret codes and ciphers are serious business—just ask Paul Revere.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower, as a signal light—
“One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”1
Obviously, espionage relies on very precise and carefully crafted communication. Many spies and secret agents die when their messages are intercepted. Communications to and from spies, therefore, are often accomplished by using very clever codes to intelligently transmit valuable information. No one who honestly studies the use of coded information in clandestine espionage activities would attribute such carefully coded (and decoded) communications to mere chance or accident.
Coding and Decoding at the Biomolecular Level
Illogically, however, many look at the more cleverly coded communications that are sent and received inside living cells and explain what they see as products of blind chance and “evolutionary accident.” Yet genetic code-based communication is informationally more complex and detailed than any system humans could create, and it displays engineering complexity beyond our wildest imagination. And these biomolecular communications are being sent and received all the time, every millisecond! How can this be?
Evolutionists demonstrate the inexcusable illogic2 of crediting this remarkable communication system to “natural selection” by describing its supposedly “accidental” parts and processes using vocabulary that sounds like the cryptographic vocabulary of spies and secret agents. In other words, evolutionists use words that prove they are observing providentially programmed biomolecular communication at work. How is this?
When accurately describing what happens inside a eukaryotic cell’s nucleus or mitochondrion, evolutionary geneticists routinely describe what they see using terms like code (e.g., genetic code, protein coding, coding regions), encode, codon, anti-codon, decode, transcription, translation, blueprint, program, information, instruction, control, edit, decipher, messenger, reading, proofreading, signal, alphabet, letter, language, gene expression, information, surveillance (for detecting nonsense), etc. It is important to recognize that these genetic message-oriented terms were not imposed on the evolutionists by the creationists!
The details of how immeasurably ingenious all of this biochemical information machinery is—and it is!—have been documented, at least to some degree, by many who have honored God, intentionally or unintentionally, by their respective research in the related fields of microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics.3
The main point of the lengthy vocabulary list above is to illustrate how scientists have chosen to describe the micro-world of DNA, RNA, ribosomes, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticula, protein synthesis, etc., in vocabulary that befits intelligent and purposeful communication. Specifically, genetic science reveals God’s purposeful encoding of genetic messages, with mind-bogglingly complex instructions on how to build living things from the biomolecular level upward, with those same encoded messages being efficiently decoded and recognized with sufficient accuracy to produce responsive compliance with those biomolecular instructions!4
Unintelligible Messages Are No Good
In the world of spies and counterspies, intelligent agents use codes with language that is designed to be recognizable by the intended recipient. Codes have been employed from time immemorial to prevent messages from being intelligible to unintended recipients.
However, a coded message is no good at all if the intended recipient cannot understand its encoded meaning. Accordingly, every code-based message must be informationally devised (i.e., created), encoded, and sent to the intended readers. The readers must then decode the message, recognize the information it contains, and act on that information in a way that corresponds to the original purpose of the message’s creator. It is vital that the intended recipient understand the sender’s meaning, because the message itself is unrecognizable unless both sender and receiver share a common understanding of what the words (or other symbols) mean.
Consider the following message: “One if by land, two if by sea.” What does that sequence of words signify? Because that message used a language shared by the sender (Robert Newman, with the help of John Pulling) and receivers (those awaiting word on the movement of British troops), it provided a recognizable warning that “the Regulars [British soldiers] are coming” by water, not by land. Two lanterns lit in the Old North Church on the night of April 18, 1775, provided a signal—but it was recognizable as such only to those who knew the “language” shared by Paul Revere and his allies.
This principle of coded information transfer is illustrated at the sub-cellular level. If a protein-coding “message” borne by a portion of DNA cannot be transferred by RNA and translated on ribosomes providentially fitted for the task, the DNA’s instructions cannot be complied with, and that would mean no protein synthesis—which can be a fatal failure for whatever life form is involved, whether girl or gecko, boy or bacterium.
Metaphors Describe Genetic Information Transmittal
In short, genetic realities must be expressed using human communication metaphors, because only such metaphors accurately portray the underlying realties of biochemical information processing. It is quite proper to use metaphors if they accurately assist in communicating truth. DNA and RNA are heavily involved in encoding and decoding information, and the biochemical “language” used truly exhibits transcription, translation, editing, and the like.
Some Metaphors Are Misleading
The genetic code metaphors listed above are helpful because they help communicate real truth about how biomolecular information is sent and received at the sub-cellular level. However, not all metaphors employed by scientists are helpful for conveying truth. Darwin’s phrase “natural selection” is a poster child example of a misleading metaphor, because it illegitimately imputes selective power to an unintelligent and unpurposeful environment metaphorically personified by Darwin as “Nature.” This misleading reification of nature is employed to attribute to it the God-like power to select and favor creatures big and small, from Staphylococcus to cetaceans, so that “selected” life forms can out-compete their evolutionary inferiors.
But unlike the genetic code metaphors, the metaphor “natural selection” does not describe any underlying physical reality. Even some evolutionists recognize this and are embarrassed:
The answers that have been suggested so far have not been convincing. In particular, though there is no end of it in popular accounts of adaptationism, it is a Very Bad Idea to try and save the bacon by indulging in metaphorical anthropomorphisms. It couldn’t, for example, be literally true that the traits selected for are the ones Mother Nature has in mind when she does the selecting; nor can it be literally true that they are the traits one’s selfish genes have in mind when they undertake to reproduce themselves. There is, after all, no Mother Nature, and genes don’t have, or lack, personality defects. Metaphors are fine things; science probably couldn’t be done without them. But they are supposed to be the sort of things that can, in a pinch, be cashed. Lacking a serious and literal construal of “selection for,” adaptationism founders on this methodological truism.5
It is a good thing that Paul Revere did not wait on nature to “select” a code-message about the British, because there is no intelligent, decision-making “Mother Nature” who can select anything or anyone.
There is, however, a Creator who used infinite intelligence and engineering skill to provide the providential programming that is observed in the interactive coded and encoded communication that occurs, non-stop, in nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, RNA, and ribosomes. That Creator is the God of the Bible. He has revealed Himself in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the one we should gratefully revere.
- Longfellow, H. W. 1863. Paul Revere’s Ride (a.k.a. The Landlord’s Tale). In Tales of a Wayside Inn. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. Paul Revere historically said “river” (alluding to the Charles River) and not sea, but Longfellow apparently wanted a noun to rhyme with the word “be.” The poet also took a few liberties with the actual details of that night’s events.
- Romans 1:18-25, especially verse 20 (literally “without apologetic”).
- See, generally, Gitt, W. 2007. In the Beginning Was Information. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 15-254; Wilder-Smith, A. E. 2003. The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution. Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 5-100, 137-163; Sanford, J. C. 2005. Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, 2nd ed. Lima, NY: Elim Publishing, 1-151, 185-188. See also unintended admissions from a famous evolutionist geneticist in Sykes, B. 2002. The Seven Daughters of Eve. London: W. W. Norton, 22-62.
- A recent example of highly detailed research on DNA coding as it relates to human hearing is Ahmed, Z. M. et al. 2011. Functional Null Mutation of MSRB3 Encoding Methionine Sulfoxide Reductase Are Associated with Human Deafness DFNB74. American Journal of Human Genetics. 88 (1): 19-29. The article analyzes protein-coding exons, transcription, translation stop codons, translation initiation codons, the encoding of a mitochondrial localization signal, and other examples using communication terminology, showing that information transfer terminology is needed to aptly describe the content and function of DNA sequences that code for construction of proteins needed for human hearing.
- Fodor, J. 2007. Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings. London Review of Books. 29 (20):19-22.
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics at the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2011. DNA and RNA: Providential Coding to “Revere” God. Acts & Facts. 40 (3): 8-9.