The Code Word

Patricia A. Mondore, M.A. and Robert J. Mondore

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1

The error message appeared for the third time on my computer screen, "Unknown file format." "What do you mean, 'Unknown'?", I shouted at the monitor in frustration. Someone had E-mailed me a message over the internet and I was having a very difficult time being able to discover what it was. You see, in order to send a graphic file over the internet which is only able to read text, the document must be encoded into a text file. Once it has reached its destination it must then be decoded to get it back to its original format and, hence, be read by the receiver. I did eventually come up with a program that could decode my message and squealed with delight as the hieroglyphics on my screen transformed into a beautiful picture sent to me by my beloved husband just to brighten my day.

Just prior to that exciting episode I had been reading about DNA. Perhaps that was one reason that, after experiencing the thrill of having decoded the "secret message" my husband had sent, I found myself wondering if it was at all similar to what Crick, Wilkins and Watson felt when they first broke the DNA code. DNA is the genetic material found in every living cell. It is the fundamental substance of living things and is responsible for passing on hereditary characteristics from one generation to the next. The encyclopedia explains that "Though the entire field of study is still in its infancy, it is believed by researchers to have first been formed when the most elementary forms of life began on earth. The origin of the so-called genetic code they carry has been accepted by researchers as being very close in time to the origin of life itself."{1}

The research that first revealed the general structure of DNA was performed by the British biophysicists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, and by the American biochemist James Dewey Watson. They were the ones who initially succeeded in deciphering the code by discovering how the sequence of nucleic acids dictates the structure of proteins. Using an X-ray diffraction picture of the DNA molecule obtained by Wilkins in 1951, Crick and Watson were able to construct a model of the DNA molecule that was completed in 1953. For their work, the three scientists received the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

The two classes of nucleic acids are the deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) and the ribonucleic acids (RNA). The backbones of both DNA and RNA molecules are shaped like helical strands. To the backbones are connected a great number of smaller molecules (side groups) of four different types. The sequence of these molecules on the strand determines the code of the particular nucleic acid. This code, in turn, signals the cell how to reproduce either a duplicate of itself or the proteins it requires for survival.

All living cells contain the genetic material DNA. The cells of bacteria may have but one strand of DNA, but such a strand contains all the information needed by the cell in order to reproduce an identical offspring. The cells of mammals contain scores of DNA strands grouped together in chromosomes. In short, the structure of a DNA molecule or combination of DNA molecules determines the shape, form, and function of the offspring.{2} What all that means is that the DNA in every life form carries an encoded message unique to that individual life. Thanks to the research of Crick, Watson and Williams, we are now able to decode the message found in DNA. It is the message of life spoken in every living creature on our planet. From this, one might be prompted to ask, "a message from where," or more specifically, "a message from whom?"

Fred Heeren, in his book, Show Me God {3} has created a hypothetical situation involving the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, an actual project that was designed by NASA to target a search for other signs of life in the universe. SETI's mission was to seek out intelligent life by distinguishing between blind chance patterns and intelligent information on the basis of highly specified selections. In real life, after spending 60 million dollars and six months probing into the skies looking for signals indicative of life unsuccessfully, the SETI was turned over to a privately funded group who are still attempting today to discover whether or not we are alone in the Universe.

In Mr. Heeren's fictional version, the SETI began receiving encoded messages one day, clearly those only intelligent life could have transmitted. The scientists eventually realized these messages were being sent in, of all things, Morse Code. Once they began interpreting the messages they discovered the messenger, who or whatever that might be, was quoting the Scriptures to them in Hebrew. As the days went on, the message from space continued until it had transmitted the entire Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) after which it then went on to complete the entire New Testament in Greek. The rest of the story describes the effect that message had on various people. Some believed it had to be from God. That belief changed their lives. Others rejected it as a hoax or coincidence. The lead character chose the latter. Not wanting to deal with how believing it was God might effect his life, he chose to dismiss the significance of the encoded messages altogether. He ended his life a lonely and disillusioned man.

At one point early in the story, before the project had gotten underway, one of the scientists requested funding for the project from a rich Sultan. When asked what criteria would be used for identifying life she explained, "If you get a message in Morse Code, you know there's intelligence behind it. Nature can't duplicate that. In the same way, if we get a signal containing encoded information, even if we can't break the code at first, we'll know it's coming from an intelligent source." The obviously well-read Sultan replied, "You mean like the encoded information we find in DNA?" He continued, "You know, it occurs to me that perhaps - just perhaps- your investigations have already give you your answer, if you are prepared to accept it. What if this encoded information you are seeking-this signal of extraterrestrial intelligence-has been coming through loud and clear all along, but you've been missing it, because you've been looking in all the wrong places?...Did you know that the chance that amino acids would line up randomly to create the first hemoglobin protein is one in ten to the 850th power? ...There's an even smaller chance that the DNA code could have randomly reached the required specificity: one chance in 10 to the 78,000th power even for the DNA of a simple microorganism. This must be a signal of intelligence, wouldn't you say?"{4}

While this conversation was strictly fictitious the author has, nevertheless, made a fascinating point. Could there be any validity to what he is saying? Is DNA really an encoded message from our Creator?

Robert Pollack is a biologist who actually worked with Watson in his early studies of DNA. He recently published a book entitled Signs of Life: The Language and Meanings of DNA {5} in which he compares DNA coding to human languages. He writes, "The DNA language of the cell, and the way it is made manifest in protein, find parallels in the Greek, cursive Egyptian, and hieroglyphic Egyptian inscriptions found on the Rosetta Stone."{6} Pollack goes on to draw parallels between the messages found in DNA and entire collections of literature. He states that "Once DNAs are read like books, whole new worlds of discourse will open up as we borrow from various disciplines involving textual analysis to interpret nature's text. How does a cell read its DNA/ Certainly with great precision and with greater fastidiousness than we can read and agree on the meaning of our books. Are cells reading, exactly, or are they merely decoding? If DNA encodes our ability to read, how can we read that information itself? Will there be, for instance, a "canon" of DNA Text? Will DNA texts allow themselves to be analyzed for their meaning....? When we can read DNA the way we read a book, we will have to address these questions."{7}

He even goes so far with his hypothesis as to compare DNA with the Bible. He writes, "To see how different versions of a gene coexist, we can compare the text of the human genome to another ancient..text, the New Testament. First set down in Greek, the NT has been translated and re-translated into English for the past five centuries. Each translation held great meaning for millions of faithful Christians. But though they are all the NT, each version is different...."{8}

After having stated all of the above Pollack, who is a self-proclaimed atheist concludes, "In DNA, nature has created a manifest and multifaceted text. Once we finally see that all genomes are a form of literature, we will be able to approach them properly, as a library of the most ancient, precious, and deeply important books. Only then can the new biology be born."{9} What is most amazing about this comment is that he is able to compare the intricately encoded messages of DNA with great literature and then attribute its existence to natural selection. Yet would he ever consider the possibility of such a conclusion if he were to discover an ancient manuscript? Could writings on the level of Shakespeare or the Bible have ever come together by natural phenomenon? Clearly, even the suggestion of such a thing occurring by chance is patently absurd.

If the words of an atheistic evolutionary biologist seem to indicate a pattern of intelligence behind the codes revealed in DNA, what does the Bible say? Is there anything found in the Scriptures that could back the claim that DNA is an encoded message sent by God?

The first verse found in the Book of John is considered a foundational passage in understanding the basic doctrines of the Scriptures. Hence, many great theologians have studied each word of this verse in detail, including the world renown Greek Scholar, A.T. Robertson.{10} His insights help us grasp the full meaning of this passage.

The verse starts with "In the beginning was the Word...." From the Greek translation one discovers these words are written in the imperfect tense which clearly implies "beyond the beginning of creation in time to eternity." Alluding to "In the beginning..." as found in Genesis 1:1, it is actually speaking of a time without beginning, or, outside of time. It conveys no idea of origin for God or the Word but simply continuous existence. God and the Word are ever-existent, outside of time. So just who is this one called the "Word"? As the context clearly reveals throughout the chapter, the "Word" is the 2nd person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14). The Greek word being used is "Logos," a word rich with meaning. The root meaning of Logos comes from a word that means "to collect, to speak, to express an opinion." It is commonly used to mean reason as well as speech. Heraclitus used it to describe the principle which controls the universe. The Hebrew equivalent, "memra" was used for the physical manifestation of God as in the frequent Old Testament appearances of the Angel of the LORD. The word "Logos" also appears later in a verse which says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 Jn. 1:1).

Jesus is the Word of life and as John 1:1 concludes, "the Word was with God and the Word was God." The following verses go on to declare that "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men."(3,4). How appropriate in a comparison of DNA to a spoken language, to realize that the name of the Creator of every living being in the Universe is "The Word." Phillip Johnson, in describing DNA writes, "The Gospel of John begins with the memorable statement that 'in the beginning was the Word." That is exactly how we would describe the creation of a literary work or a computer program, or a building. In the beginning was the concept and the working out of the concept in the mind of the author or designer. Thereafter the concept was recorded, or realized, in matter."{11} Jesus, the eternal Word is the expression, the language of God that spoke mankind into existence and them came to earth and spoke face to face in a language mankind could understand.

There are those who consider DNA as evidence of evolution claiming that its ubiquitousness proves all life must have evolved from a single source. Using their own logic there is a far stronger case that the highly encoded messages found in DNA could only have come into existence through intelligent design. The fact that it is found in every life form is proof that all life was formed by a single Designer. Encoded messages can no more be attributed to nature than could the writings of Shakespeare. To create a great work of literature takes an intelligent life. To create life, takes God; the Logos; the Living Word. To those of us who know the Designer personally it seems clear. We wonder how others can miss it. The passage in John goes on to offer the explanation that, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--."

It was well worth the effort it took for me to decode the message on my computer screen. It was a message sent by one who loves me very much. Those who broke the DNA code have, perhaps even without realizing it, been reading a similar message. They have been reading the message of the Word of life, sent by their loving Creator.


{1} Belair R. Nucleic Acids. Encarta 96

{2} Ibid

{3} Heeren F. Show Me God. Searchlight, Wheeling IL, 1995.

{4} Ibid;36

{5} Pollack R. Signs of Life: The Language and Meanings of DNA. Houghton Mifflin Co. New York NY, 1994.

{6} Ibid;70

{7} Ibid;13

{8} Ibid;37

{9} Ibid;177

{10} Robertson AT. Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol V. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids MI 1960;3.

{11} Johnson P. Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. 1997;71.

© Copyright 1998, Patricia A. Mondore, M.A. and Robert J. Mondore. All rights reserved.