Cornelius Hunter’s Darwin Predictions – The DNA code is not unique

creationism-breakdown1

We continue on with the breakdown of Cornelius Hunter’s website, Darwin’s Predictions, this time focusing on another aspect of the predictions about DNA that the theory of evolution makes that have supposedly been falsified in the light of modern scientific advancement. All this, of course, according to Cornelius. Otherwise it wouldn’t be on his website now, would it?

This prediction is “The DNA code is not unique”, and seeks to show how evolution predicted that the DNA code is not unique, and how this has been falsified, by, what we hope, is rigorous science.

Article link: DNA Predictions: The DNA code is not unique, by Cornelius Hunter

2.2    The DNA code is not unique

Prediction

Shortly after the discovery of the DNA code, evolutionists began theorizing how it could have arisen. The same code was found in very different species which, for an evolutionist, means that the same code was present in their distant, common ancestor. In other words, according to evolution, the DNA code must have arisen when the common ancestor to all life appeared, and then the code remained essentially unchanged thereafter.

This is a possibility. Homology in biochemical systems such as the genetic code is strong evidence for common ancestry, and later drastic changes to the genetic code would be unlikely, because as evolution progresses, in general, biochemical systems become more complex and become harder to revolutionise. This limits the ability of new biochemistries arising via evolution at this late stage in evolutionary history.

Various theories of the code’s origin soon emerged. Perhaps the code was, to some extent a consequence of chemistry. The codons AAA and AAG, for example, would in this case code for the amino acid lysine because lysine was somehow stereochemically “related” to these two codons. Or perhaps the code evolved to reduce the impact of mutations. On the other hand, perhaps the codon-to-amino acid mapping was simply a matter of chance. These different theories and their variations and intermediates were considered.

Perhaps. I don’t pretend to be an expert in stereochemistry or the technical nature of biochemistry, because I’m obviously not, but I don’t see much wrong with that.

It is not easy to generate plausible explanations for how the DNA code evolved and evolutionists were impressed with “the great difficulty of the problem.” [1] Therefore it is not surprising that no theory emerged as a clear winner. A common thread in evolutionary thinking, however, was that the code was not particularly unique or special. For how could such a code have evolved so early in the history of life? As Nobel Laureate Francis Crick wrote in 1968:

“There is no reason to believe, however, that the present code is the best possible, and it could have easily reached its present form by a sequence of happy accidents.” [1]

It is rather tricky to explain how the DNA code evolved, but it’s by no means impossible. One can easily think of a kind of scaffolding mechanism by which RNA is replaced as the information storing molecule, with DNA originally starting out as a backup system, and then taking over when it was “discovered” that it’s far more stable than RNA and less prone to replication error.

It’s a fallacy though, to say that because we don’t know how DNA’s intricate mechanisms evolved that we have to assume that DNA is or isn’t the only possible mechanism for biological information storage. I don’t see a connection either way. And the mistakes of past scientists really shouldn’t tar the thinking of modern experts, should they? No matter what Francis Crick thought, he could still have been wrong.

Regardless of how the code was thought to have evolved, this view became common among evolutionists. As one widely used undergraduate molecular biology text later put it:

The code seems to have been selected arbitrarily (subject to some constraints, perhaps). [2]

Maybe, but we don’t know, simple as that. We can’t draw conclusions one way or the other based on what we don’t know.

This was in spite of the fact that even a casual inspection of the code reveals substantial structure. Yet evolutionist Mark Ridley explained in his 1993 evolution textbook:

The most popular theory is as follows. The code is arbitrary, in the same sense that human language is arbitrary. In English the word for a horse is “horse,” in Spanish it is “caballo,” in French it is “cheval,” in Ancient Rome it was “equus.” There is no reason why one particular sequence of letters rather than another should signify that familiar perissodactylic mammal … All living species use a common, but equally arbitrary, language in the genetic code. The reason is thought to be that the code evolved early on in the history of life, and one early form turned out to be the common ancestor of all later species … The code is then what Crick called a “frozen accident.” The original choice of a code was an accident; but once it had evolved, it would be strongly maintained. [3]

In other words, somehow the DNA code evolved into place but it has little or no special or particular properties. Most any other code could have just as well evolved rather than the DNA code we have discovered.

This article is going to be riddled with “maybes” on my part. I simply don’t know whether or not the DNA code is special or arbitrary. But I’ll tell you what I do know: that the DNA code is not unique is not a prediction of evolutionary theory per se. How does evolution predict this? It just doesn’t. This was “predicted” by scientists how looked at the code and thought that it wasn’t really all that special. Whether or not they turn out to be correct is irrelevant in this context, because this isn’t a prediction of evolutionary theory.

Falsification

We now understand that the DNA code is anything but arbitrary and the evolutionary prediction has been roundly falsified. As had been noticed, the code’s arrangement reduces the effects of mutations and reading errors. They often result in no change to the amino acid sequence, or merely a slight change as a similar amino acid is used in place of the original amino acid. And the degree of this safeguarding is now better understood. As one research study found, the DNA code is “one in a million” in terms of efficiency in minimizing these effects. [4] This structure found within the DNA code was “unexpected and still cry out for explanation” evolutionists admit. [5]

Congratulations, Cornelius! You’ve just pseudo-falsified a non-prediction made by evolution. Remember, it now matters not if this prediction is falsified, as I have demonstrated. But this doesn’t mean everything Sir Hunter writes is golden knowledge straight from Heaven.

The fact that the DNA code reduces mutational errors, in the form of the redundancy of the triplet code (ie. each group of three nucleotides codes for a specific amino acid) is not actually all that special. There are 64 possible combinations of nucleotide triplets (four squared), producing a redundancy of 44 combinations, as there are only 20 amino acids that are used in making proteins in the human body. But if a duplet system was evolved (ie. each group of two nucleotides codes for a specific amino acid), there would only be 16 combinations, not enough to code for the 20 amino acids. So a redundancy is to be expected, purely from the maths of the code being used.

The fact that “evolutionists can’t explain this phenomenon yet” is a tactic well-used in the intelligent design community. This is a classic argument from ignorance. And, because it’s a logical fallacy, it can’t be used to support an argument.

Several other studies have confirmed these findings and yet other studies have discovered even more unique and special properties of the code. For instance, the code’s degeneracy means that it is capable of carrying other messages, in addition to the protein amino acid sequence encoding. That is, such a code can, in theory, allow the DNA sequence to carry multiple, parallel, messages, and this is precisely what researchers have found. For instance, the DNA sequence tells proteins where to bind to the DNA structure and where to splice its duplicate copy that is created when creating new proteins. The DNA sequence also determines the structure of that duplicate copy. In addition to allowing for multiple messages, the DNA code also reduces the effects of harmful errors by increasing the chances that such errors will result in a stop codon.

Yep, the DNA code is pretty remarkable. But vast complexity does not mean that it’s unevolvable. Why couldn’t a different biochemical code do the same thing? Such properties as the ones just mentioned are not specifically bound the chemical nature of nucleic acids. Plus, this is more argument from ignorance non-logic.

What is important for our purposes here is not only that the DNA code has these capabilities, but the degree as well. Research has found that the DNA code is a very rare code, even when compared to other codes which already have the error correcting capability. [6]

Of course, and this is what we would expect from a code that has been constantly changing for however long it has been around for, probably over three billion years. That’s a long time for gradual optimisation to add up and produce a wonderful code. And yet, this does not show that a different code, given the same amount of time to adapt and get better through evolution, could not become as good, if not better.

Reaction

The DNA code was discovered almost fifty years ago and it has continued to serve up unanticipated capabilities. As one paper put it:

“As we learn more about the functions of the genetic code, it becomes ever clearer that the degeneracy in the genetic code is not exploited in such a way as to optimize one function, but rather to optimize a combination of several different functions simultaneously. Looking deeper into the structure of the code, we wonder what other remarkable properties it may bear. While our understanding of the genetic code has increased substantially over the last decades, it seems that exciting discoveries are waiting to be made.” [7]

I’m not doubting that the code is complex, Cornelius, otherwise I wouldn’t be so interested in it and be looking at studying it as a career, but this doesn’t prove much. Since you have no other evolved code to compare against, you can’t say with any convincing conviction that the DNA code is particularly special.

Indeed the DNA code has revealed several unusual properties. With each new finding, evolutionists ascribe the capability to an unknown evolutionary process that can generate and test an astronomical number of codes, and select the best one from the group. If yet more capabilities are discovered, there is no reason to think evolutionists will not subsume them as well into their increasingly complicated story. In the meantime, after more than 40 years there still remains no compelling explanation of how the code evolved.

Oh dear. We’d better give up then, eh? I fail to see why intelligent design proponents and creationists think that, just because a theory or explanation is complex, that it must somehow be automatically wrong or intellectually suspect. If this code did evolve, which is very well established fact mind you, then what would they expect the history of the code to look like? “3 billion B.C.E – Code not formed, 2 billion B.C.E – Code kinda formed, 1 billion B.C.E – Code formed, Present Day – Code optimised”? Nothing is that simple in science.

The DNA code is highly optimized yet, because of its universality, it must be regarded by evolutionists as highly difficult to evolve. Somehow the code evolved over an astronomical number of possible codes, and then froze in time. Furthermore, the code would not have evolved merely to reduce error rates, but to attain several advanced capabilities. Evolutionists must say that at a time when life was more primitive, the DNA code fortunately was gearing up to drive the machinery of much more advanced cellular designs.

Uh, no. The code’s universality can be put down to a lack of advantage to revolutionising your biochemistry when you have bigger things to worry about, like evolving new macroscopic structures. And why did the code need to evolve extra features that it did not yet need? This is unsupported in the literature and in the theory itself. There is no reason to think that advanced features of the code would have or could have evolved before they were to be used. Cornelius is just pulling out that “fact” from thin air.

Carl Woese, a long-time investigator of the code’s evolution, and co-workers at the University of Illinois are now calling for a speculative and fantastic dual role for the DNA code. In addition to its traditional role of encoding amino acid sequences in the genome, these evolutionists also see the code as providing for an “innovation-sharing protocol.” This is supposed to enable a “frictionless exchange of novelty” via a Lamarckian rather than Darwinian process of evolution. [5]

Larmarckian evolution? Inheritance of acquired characteristics? How is that supposed to work in accordance with modern biochemical knowledge? And how does this relate to the topic at hand? I’m confused. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

Gone are the ideas that the code’s degeneracy is merely an inefficiency, that the code is mostly arbitrary with perhaps a few constraints, that the code originated via an accidental series of events, and that the code originated via a Darwinian process. The code is a fundamental component of molecular biology but the evolutionary predictions of its origin have proven to be false.

Cornelius has not shown this in any way. All he’s done is cast “doubt” on an evolutionary explanation by showing how complex the code is, only after conflating the opinions of a few scientists forty years ago and the predictions made by evolutionary theory itself. This all proves nothing about evolution and its likelihood, but it does speak wonders about the justifications intelligent design proponents will go to try and get evolution portrayed in as negative a light as possible.

2 thoughts on “Cornelius Hunter’s Darwin Predictions – The DNA code is not unique”

  1. I have my doubt that the whole DNA sequence is encoded in triplets. The genes maybe encoded
    in tripelts but what about the vast lengths of introns or noncoding regions. These could have been encoded in DNA duplets which has only 4*4 or 16 codon duplets. It is like English language written
    with a mixture of 26 and 16 alphabet systems. Why not? By ignoring this possibility, molecular scientists are confusing themselves and us outsiders leading to nowhere. I am not very impressed by progress in this field for the vast public expense invested in its research. Tangential thinking needed! Right?

    1. You might be right – but remember that the cell translates these triplet codons using tRNAs, which all have a three-base recognition region. Ribozomes are also structured in such a way so that each section of mRNA exposes only three bases to a tRNA at any one time. There might be four-base or even two-base tRNAs, but they would require different kinds of ribozomes to the ones already identified, and we just haven't found them.

      But you did say introns and non-coding regions, and they don't really have a codon system or a "code" as such – they are just regions with specific sequences of any length that (in the case of non-coding regions) bind to various molecules in the cell and, for example, perform regulatory functions. There isn't a real need to "look for a duplet or quartet code" in these regions.

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