Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life is more than chemistry

In my retirement, I have been studying organic chemistry and how life works. Since I spent 43 years before I retired designing computers and related hardware and software for communicating information, it is natural for me to think of computer hardware and software as analogies to illustrate the general principles of how life works. In the following, I'll explain some of the essentials of life from this point of view, while trying to keep it simple.

Living things are made of more than chemical components, just as a computer is more than hardware. A computer is 'dead' if it doesn't have software -- the information that tells it how to function. Likewise, living things of all kinds -- even bacteria -- need internally stored information to function. So life is made of chemistry and information, just as a computer is made of hardware and software.

Life's information is stored mostly in DNA, and some information in similar structures. There is a mechanism for reading the DNA, interpreting the information to construct proteins and even to control the process. Even the proteins of the reading and controlling mechanisms are constructed from the DNA information. This is like having a CD with all the data needed to construct a computer, including the CD reader, and including the information for making the construction tools and how to use these tools.

In multicellular life, such as animals, the DNA information is actually stored in EACH cell. Imagine a computer where all the information for making and using the computer is stored in each small component (integrated circuit) of the computer!

There is also a mechanism for copying the DNA information onto new DNA media. This is used to make duplicate cells. Again, the DNA includes information for making and controlling the copying mechanism. This is like having a CD copier that can make duplicate CDs.

For all the various forms of sexual reproduction, a more robust copying process is used, one that can merge information from two configurations of the design. This allows a species to adapt to its current environment. The closest that modern computer designs come to this kind of functionality is the kind of redundant design used for computers used in satellite and military applications. These computers are made with many spare components and switches arranged so that if one component fails, a replacement component can be switched in.

But life lacks one function that computers have. CD readers would not be useful unless we have CD writers for putting information on the CDs -- else there would be no information for the CD readers to read. But nowhere in any life-form is there any mechanism for writing (recording) information in the DNA!

In fact, it is not possible by any chemistry to create the information in the DNA, as this would violate information theory. Likewise, it is not possible to design any hardware to create information on CDs. It is possible to design hardware to generate bit patterns (I've done a lot of that), but there is no more information in the patterns than the small amount of information used to make the hardware.

So modern scientists observe that life is full of information, but have no scientific way to explain how the information got there. To understand this conundrum better, imagine the following scenario:

Suppose that a global atomic war destroys most of society, and the survivors struggle to rebuild modern civilization. Apparently all the computers are destroyed, and no one can be found that knows how to design or build a computer 'from scratch'. Then someone discovers a computer manufacturing plant. It has computer-controlled robotic machines that operate and control the entire manufacturing process, turning sand (raw silicon) and various metals and plastics into complete, working computers, and even more robotic manufacturing machines if selected. There are even generators for making the necessary electricity from simple fuel.

The happy discoverers study this autonomous manufacturing plant carefully. They find that all the software is stored on CDs, and there are lots of CD readers and copiers and the facilities for making more CD readers and copiers. But there are no CD writers, nor data for how to make them, not even on paper. The existing software has the flexibility of making different kinds and configurations of computers, but since there are no longer any computer designers alive, there is no hope of making newer computer designs.

As I said, modern scientists have observed that life is full of information, but have no scientific way to explain how the information got there. Now Darwin didn't understand this problem, because he didn't understand anything about how the cell works, let alone that DNA existed. (Cellular life is still not completely understood.) Since Darwin, as the theory of evolution itself evolved, the problem (actually, very many problems) of how to get from non-life to life gradually became more apparent. I have discussed the chemical impossibilities of making life from non-life in other blogs, but here we discuss only the information source problem.

The atheists and humanists saw in Darwin's theory the potential for ruling out God as the source of all things scientific. As more knowledge and understanding of DNA was gained, a mechanism for each species to genetically adapt to changing enviroment became better understood. This mechanism, now known as micro-evolution, has been shown to use selection of existing DNA or loss of genetic information, but never creation of new genetic information. But it is not the same as macro-evolution.

Micro-evolution is a science, but macro-evolution is a theory -- that one species can change into another. The one is like learning how to train an athlete so that he can break world records. The other is like assuming that since records are continually broken, athletes will eventually be able to leap across oceans, given enough time. (You CAN go continually higher even though there is a limit: Stand 16 inches below a ceiling, then move twice as close repeatedly: 8 inches, then 4, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 ...)

But the problem of the origin of genetic information is a more obvious problem -- so much so that many scientists with little or no religious inclinations have turned to the investigation of "intelligent design" as a way to solve this problem without admitting to the existence of God. Some see "intelligent design" as evidence of a supernatural intelligence (God), but others look for the information source as coming from alien life - from another planet somewhere. But these people haven''t solved the problem -- they have only moved it to another planet. They 'solve' the problem of how life origninated on earth by creating another problem: How did life originate on Planet X?

The problem is that people don't want to believe in a Creator-God, because it is clear that He may rightly define the rules and demand something of us. It is our nature to want to be free and unrestrained. But God will not leave us alone. He reveals Himself by the marvels of His creation. (Would those discoverers of that self-replicating computer-controlled machinery ever think for a moment that it was not designed by intelligent minds?) And furthermore, He has given us His Word, the Bible. Unlike all histories of human origin, that boast of human achievements while glossing over the failures, this one includes all the failures, and more. This Word not only records the past, but includes predictions of the future that have been observed to be accurate. I could go on with more examples, but the point is that God's 'fingerprints' are on His Word as well as His creation. So, as the Bible says, we are "without excuse" for ignoring God:
... what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature --have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, from New International Version)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Restraining Evil

I was studying 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9 lately. In the New Kings James Version, it reads:

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.

Using Greek resources as a guide, I constructed the following rough translation of 2 Thess. 2:6-9, mostly following the word order of the original Greek, and including various inferences of the Greek words:

6 And now you know [perceive, understand] what holds [holds back, holds accountable] that he may be revealed in [this] his time [due season, opportunity].

7 For the mystery [as of a secret society] already works [is effective, is evident] of [that] iniquity [lawlessness], only he who holds [holds back, holds accountable] [will do so] now [henceforth] out of the way [midst, among them] is done [he is taken].

8 And then [at that time] shall be revealed that wicked [lawless] one whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the Spirit of his mouth and [alse, even] shall destroy [do away with, bring to nothing] with the brightness [appearing] of his coming [presence].

9 [Even him] who is [the one] coming after [the manner of] the working [operation] of Satan with all [manner or means of] power [miracle-working, mighty wonderful work] and signs [tokens of the supernatural, miracles] and lying [false] wonders.

Biblical scholars identify the "man of sin" and the "lawless one" as the Antichrist, and identify "He who now restrains" as the Holy Spirit. Since the subject of the passage is "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ", the "taken out of the way" of verse 7 is a reference to the "rapture" described in 1 Thess. 4:13:18. The explanation is that the Holy Spirit is in all believers, so that when the believers are taken way by Christ, the Holy Spirit thus is also taken away.

The Holy Spirit was given to the apostles by Jesus (John 20:22) and first given to other believers at Pentacost (Acts 2) and ever since. The epistle of Paul to the Romans makea clear that only true believers have the Spirit, because in Romans 8:9, last part of the verse, it says "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." (NKJV), and in Romans 8:16 it explains "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." (NKJV) The fact that the Holy Spirit confirms salvation is also taught in 2 Corinthians 1:22 ".. [God] who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." (NKJV)

My observation is that since the Holy Spirit restrains (or holds back, or holds accountable) the working of lawlessness and the appearing of the lawless one, He does this restraining through the believers that He indwells. When I think about this, I envision the Christians as a bunch of people pushing back on a wall that is about to collapse, threatening to cause an entire building to collapse. At the rapture, Christ snatches them away, and the building collapses. Perhaps this is how the US will fall as a world power and cease to have a role in Tribulation prophecy.

The lesson here is that we believers should be diligent to restrain, or at least hold accountable, all forms of iniquity where we can exercise any impact. In particular, in this election season, we should be voting against any charismatic, lawless deceiver who could be the lawless ONE.