By Chad Greenslade
A few days ago, I watched a video that made me think for a second about being atheist. The premise was simple. They likened DNA to a book. They placed an actual book in the hands of an atheist and asked the atheist, "Do you think this book could have materialized out of thin air?"
Of course the atheists replied, "Absolutely not! A book cannot magically appear out of thin air. Someone must have made it. Someone must have made the paper, made the ink, created the language, pictures, etc., required to physically produce the book. A book clearly has a creator."
Then, the narrator goes on to explain how DNA is the instruction book for every living thing on this planet, and how every living thing, when it comes time to make a cell for a certain function, refers back to it’s DNA book in order to produce the cell to the correct specification. The narrator got the atheist to agree that DNA is a book, and then re-presented the atheist’s previous conclusion that a book must have a creator. All of the atheists interviewed were speechless.
So, I thought about this. I thought about this in the context of religion, science, evolution, the age of the universe, and my limited but interested, understanding of chemistry, physics, space and time.
My initial rebuttal is that comparing a physical book to DNA is false equivalence. A physical book simply cannot be the same thing as DNA. After all, DNA is a chemical; it’s an acid. But apparently, in that acid sits a code, and that code can be compared with a book that has three billion pages. For humans, 99% of those three billion pages are the same. The remaining one percent makes up the differences between you and me. The other three billion pages are reserved for every other form of life that exists on this planet. So, when you think about it like that, simply denying that DNA is a book is not enough to justify mine, or anyone else’s, atheism.
After my initial rebuttal, I thought some more, and here’s where the “DNA is a book” analogy breaks down, at least for me.
I’ve observed every living thing on this planet have defense mechanisms. These mostly biological responses serve to protect an organism, and in certain situations, other organisms like them. We see protective responses all the time. In animals, we see them when mothers care for their young, and when species live in packs. We see plants chemically warn other plants of impending destruction. None of these living organisms has a god, none of these organisms stand to benefit by recognizing that there is a god, and none of these organisms will ever think about being punished by a god.
From the Miller-Urey experiment in 1952 that proved amino acids can be built from inorganic precursors while simulating the conditions of early Earth, to the Abiogenesis theory that that the transition from non-living to living entities was not a single event, but an evolutionary process of increasing complexity involving molecular self-replication, self-assembly, autocatalysis, and ultimately the emergence of cell membranes, it’s clear that electricity, a natural phenomenon, jump-started, and was later harnessed by, molecular self-replication (a.k.a. “life”). At a sub-atomic level, molecular self-replication used electricity to assemble a chemically-encoded instruction set for how it came to be, and how it could continue to be.
This chemically encoded instruction set was “the book”. So what created the book? It’s simple. It’s obvious. It’s the only answer that’s ever stood the test of time, and probably ever will stand the test of time. We did. Life did. It’s always been us. It’s always been life. The book was required for life’s self-preservation.
When I set this theory against the backdrop of time and imagine the elements forming organic compounds in a primordial soup, chemically instructed at a sub-atomic level to preserve themselves, to look after each other, aging, evolving, using new materials and chemically recording their experiences, given the vast expanse of time and space (Earth is 4.53 billion years old), I can see how the book accumulates three billion pages.
I think it was slow at first and probably suffered some setbacks, but with electricity (lightning) as the catalyst for the specialized chemistry of carbon and water, building largely upon four key families of chemicals (lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids, and nucleic acids), after one billion years, these organic compounds began manifesting their destiny. With enough time, they’ve recorded enough intelligence in their chemistry to animate themselves and evolve in many different directions, resulting in an explosion of life in the oceans. Within the first billion years of Earth's history, life appeared in the oceans and began to affect Earth's atmosphere and surface, leading to the proliferation of anaerobic and, later, aerobic organisms.
Some geological evidence indicates that life may have arisen as early as 4.1 billion years ago. Since then, the combination of Earth's distance from the Sun, physical properties and geological history have allowed life to evolve and thrive. In the history of life on Earth, biodiversity has gone through long periods of expansion, occasionally punctuated by mass extinctions. Estimates of the number of species on Earth today vary widely; most species have not been described. More than 99% of all species of life forms, amounting to over five billion species that ever lived on Earth, are estimated to be extinct.
But I digress. This post is not necessarily about theories on the origins of life, but more about disproving the existence of god.
Look, I get it. People need spirituality to feel connected. A feeling of connectedness is how we reproduce. Often, people need to feel that someone somewhere is looking out for them, preserving them. This, innate, biologically-encoded ideal is the origin of the god construct that has plagued humankind’s psyche since the beginning of their existence on this planet. We only have it because our brains are evolved enough to operate above an instinctual level. This has freed our mind to wonder, and for early humans to derive supernatural explanations for the unexplainable. These leftover supernatural explanations gave rise to modern day religion.
So what is god? God is a defense mechanism. It’s a defense mechanism we construct for ourselves, in order to feel connected, to feel preserved. But, if defense mechanisms come from a chemically-encoded instruction set for how a being came to be, and how it continues to be, it can be argued that the innate feeling of preservation for ourselves and others, is the real defense mechanism, and that “God” is merely a figment constructed by the conscious mind. What else do we call it when we take action to preserve ourselves and others? Love. We call it love.
That same feeling, that same energy, that drives us to hug our family and friends, to pamper our pets, and to water our garden is the same energy that pushed the building blocks of life, all those eons ago, to band together and simply look after one another, to take care of each other, so that it, whatever “it” was, could continue. Over time, life came to realize “it” as reality.
You don’t need a deity to mask your love. You don’t need a deity to justify your love. You don’t need a deity to augment your love. You are able to generate the same amount of love with or without your idea of a god. Love is not simply a feeling; so much as it is the actions you take from those feelings. If there’s a universal force, it’s undoubtedly electricity, a predictable and sometimes controllable physical phenomenon. Once that force jumpstarts the reaction, self-preservation, or love, is what sustains it. The explanation of god begins and ends with love. At least the bible got that part right.