I’ve been wondering about what kind of information DNA really is? Is it like a written book kind of information? Or is that a faulty thing i took up from the YEC phase i had?
How does DNA rule how my body looks and stuff? I have learned very little about DNA in my school for now. And i don’t know when i will learn about it. But i really want to understand it!
@Totti this series by @DennisVenema is a great place to start: https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/biological-information-and-intelligent-design-introduction.
We will be talking about this topic all next month, so stay tuned!
Not like a well written book at all. Not even like computer code either. Sorry, that’s a faulty view put forward by YEC and ID all the time.
No problem! It’s good that i know now.
I have worked with DNA quite a bit, so I can give you my perspective.
I tend to view DNA as a chemical template. It is a place where other molecules bind and then react with one another. Some people like to compare DNA to a architect’s blueprint, but this is a really bad analogy. If you put a blueprint on the ground and throw a bunch of lumber and building materials on top of the blueprint nothing happens. The opposite is true for DNA. The building materials in cells chemically react with DNA to produce new things.
One example to help illustrate the difference between books and DNA is to look at the physical structure of DNA and the different shapes it can have. One such shape is called a stem-loop:
G and C like to bind to one another as do A and T. This causes DNA to take on 3D shapes that are important in many DNA related functions. RNA also takes on 3D shapes which is very important for some functions that RNA participates in.
On top of that, the physical properties of DNA regions like promoters are extremely important. The chemical and physical shape of these regions is what allows proteins to bind to DNA in specific ways and in specific conditions. This allows for things like gene regulation.
To use your book analogy, you don’t have to allow letters on each page to bind to one another and produce a 3D structure in order to read it. More importantly, the chemical properties of the letters on the page don’t mean anything. You don’t have to chemically react and bind to the letters on a page in order to extract information from a page in a book.
It is also difficult to call DNA the ruler of the body. You could make an argument for RNA and proteins also playing a crucial role in ruling the body. It is RNA molecules in ribosomes that make proteins, and they use RNA templates to make proteins. Proteins and RNA combine to copy and create DNA. In my own opinion, inheritance appears to be the main function of DNA.
I will make some reeeaaally big simplifications on the topic, since there are lots of factors playing in how DNA works. But putting it very simply, you could think of it as more of a “mold” than a book (a 3D strucutre like T_aq said). DNA is used as a mold to build up RNA (this process is called transcription), and there is a type of RNA called “messenger RNA” which is in turn used as a “mold” to build proteins (a process called translation), since DNA was used as the template/mold for building RNA, which was in turn used to build the protein, the “information” present in the piece of DNA which was used as a mold will determine the “information” of the protein (the order in which aminoacids are linked together to build it up), a gene is basically a segment of your DNA which contain the information/mold to build a protein (I.E. The lactase gene contains the information to build the lactase protein). This video shows the general scheme of things for what I said until now:
Proteins do all kinds of stuff, some are used as structural parts of your body (like collagen), while others can speed up chemical reactions (which would take forever to happen without the protein to catalyze it) that result in things like sucrose (sugar) being broken into glucose and fructose, this specific type of proteins are called enzymes. People have variations in their DNA, so protein “sequences” will slightly vary between individuals, not only their sequences, but how much of them you make, etc, which is what ultimately make each individual physically distinct (taking environmental factors out). There are lots of other factors involved, molecular biology is a vast area, but that cover the basics.
Essentially, I would say no. DNA has undergone countless changes, slowly building up to its current form in the hierarchy of evolution. The only way you can consider it like a book is if you presume a lot, and I meant a lot of editing went in to write the book over the many hours. And a book is written by someone, whereas DNA evolved slowly by evolution, though it can be added, in God’s constraints.
Joshua, How do you consider the information of DNA? Do you consider this as a hierarchical ordering of information?
I’d say one of the big differences between biological “information” and information you find in a book or computer code is biological information isn’t abstract. It’s tied to the structure and function of molecules. Meaning it can’t be removed from its structure. But text can be stored in multiple physical forms. So the information we see in DNA is exactly the type we don’t see being created by intelligent agents.
The “DNA is like a book” analogy is a useful one, for certain limited features, but it’s not like information that humans make. This ^ is the primary difference.
Thanks for the replies everyone!
From my own perspective, one of the difficulties for today’s Christians is learning how to fully respect the science of our biology without at the same time losing the sense of mystery and humbleness that’s so important to us in our relationship with God. We can get so carried away with the minutiae of scientific debate that we lose sight of the big picture. For me, the big picture is always about our relationship with God. So when I look at a question about DNA, I try to see it through the lens of human science. But I also try to see it through the eyes of a mystic. I respect and agree with all the information about DNA given above (and as always the science and the history of the science are totally awesome!). But I also have a different take on the question of “DNA as a book” from a mystic’s point of view.
A book, as we know, is more than just a collection of facts and more than a peer-reviewed research article. A book (if it’s good enough to be published, that is) is always about the relationship between an author (who knows a lot about a particular topic or human experience) and a reader (who wants to know more about that topic or experience). A book weaves a tapestry within the mind of the reader. And there are so many different threads an author and a reader have to keep track of. There are logical threads, emotional threads, technical threads, and threads of learning that can create a transcendent experience (if the book is really, really brilliant). I think we’ve all had the experience of reading a book that’s changed our lives in ways we can’t fully understand or express. We just know we’re really grateful for what the book has shown us about ourselves.
For me, the experience of life as a soul-in-human-form, with a body shaped and governed by the “book” of DNA, is like living each day through the lens of what God wants to tell us about life in God’s universe. (Does that make any sense?) What God wants to say to us through our human experiences is so complex and so multi-layered and so emotionally transformative that it can’t be fully conveyed through words alone. So we walk through the story, and we work through the story, and we cry and laugh through the story. And it’s our own personal story, but it’s also a story we share with Mother Father God. It’s like a tapestry. The warp threads are given to us by God through our DNA, and the weft threads are the colours and patterns we add through our own choices and experiences – what we do with our DNA and with the epigenetic factors we have some control over.
At a personal level, the experience of being a mother, and also a bereaved mother, has taught me what it feels like to want to give everything I can to my sons – to be a mentor and a nurse and a friend and a student, all at the same time. Walking the path of parenthood has taught me things about God that I didn’t know I didn’t know till I got there. But because each person has unique learning needs, God gives each of us the chance to follow a unique path based in part through our unique DNA. So my path has been right for me, but it wouldn’t be the right path for somebody else. We’re all different. But we’re all united in our need to know and love our God to the best of our ability.
When we die, and return Home to our beloved Mother Father God, we carry the experiences Home with us in our hearts and in our “soul bones.” And we’re forever changed.
So, for me, it’s not the DNA per se which is the book. It’s the entire set of experiences, both cognitive and emotional, which make the book and tell us what it feels like to be made in the likeness of God.
Edited for clarity.
I know that is totally off topic, but just for curiosity, what do you mean by “being a mystic?” I’ve heard other people declaring themselves as that recently, but I didn’t really get what is the difference between that and having some kind of spiritual belief (which would include being a theist, for instance).
Thanks for your question, which is, as you say, off topic, but hopefully the moderators won’t mind if I make a short reply.
Can I start with my pet peeve about mysticism? Mysticism is an aspect of human consciousness that’s been given very little serious attention by researchers in either neuroscience and theology. You’d think theologians, at least, would have a keen interest in understanding mysticism, but you’d be wrong! I regularly see philosophers and theologians praising William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, first published in 1902, or Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, the first edition of which was published in 1920. And I think . . . would a chemistry professor be using a textbook that’s a hundred years old?
Such has been the dismal state of affairs for such research until recently.
Bernard McGinn, an esteemed University of Chicago professor, has done some fantastic research, and he sometimes defines mysticism as part religious tradition, part way of life, and part an attempt to express a “direct and transformative experience of God.”
There are several different kinds of mysticism, all of which are found in every part of the world and in every major world religion. So you can’t categorize a mystic by religion alone. Within the annals of Christianity, you’ll find some mystics who are anagogic, some who are apophatic, some who are cataphatic, and some who are hard to categorize. Then, to make things more complicated, there are the people who claim to be mystics because they think it sounds cool; and there are the people who claim to be mystics but who are actually suffering from major mental illness or a head injury or abuse of psychotropic substances; and there are the people who conflate prophecy with mysticism because they assume they’re the same thing.
Perhaps you can sense my frustration . . .
Really, though, what it boils down to is neuroscience. A mystic is a person who is pushing the limits of the human experience of intuition through a combination (I’m pretty sure!) of genetics and temperament and education and good health. It’s like having a finely tuned inner radar. So you pick up impressions and sensations from the world around you that most people can’t pick up except on rare occasions (what Abraham Maslow referred to as “peak experiences”).
The difference between a person having a peak experience and a mystic is less about quality and more about quantity. A mystic can more reliably and more consistently and more frequently feel the deep connections that bind all of us together at deep quantum levels.
It’s often assumed that mystics are only found in spiritual or religious circles, but, in fact, when you start to do the research, you realize that many great scientists and many great writers have quietly admitted that their personal mystical experiences led them to important insights and breakthroughs.
So I hope that helps.
I think I gost the gist of the idea, I will do some reading on that research you posted the link to to see if I can understand it better. Thank you!
For what it is worth, I posit that it is not like information in a book (conceptual information), it more like instructions you’d find in the microchips or hard drives of a 3D printer… all the information is there in a searchable index that allows the rest of the machinery to construct the required other machines. In this case, of course, all biochemical, rather than mechanical or electronic, but i think the basic concept is quite analogous.
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