[Editor’s note: In June 1990 The
John Ankerberg Show taped a series of interviews with men from several
branches of the sciences regarding the evidence for creation. For
technical reasons we were unable to air these interview. Nevertheless,
we have decided to release portions of these interviews in a series of
articles so you could read the arguments that were being made at that
time—more than a decade ago.
Considerable effort has been made to quote the
gentlemen correctly. We have attempted to find the correct spelling of
the scientific terms used. However, the reader should keep in mind
that this is a transcription of oral interviews. Mistakes in spelling
and in the technical language should be laid at the feet of the
Dr. John Ankerberg: There
are some scientists that are saying, "Hey, you can take a crystal and
you can come back with a pretty complex form." Is there a difference,
David, between form and complexity?
Dr. David Menton: Life has
often been associated with the process of crystallization, although
one investigator once suggested that crystallization was perhaps a
better model of death than it was of life. Since it’s hardly a
creative process, it tends to lock into a rather fixed pattern.
In fact, I’m told that there are really only 32
fundamentally different crystal lattices in nature. Whether this is
true or not, crystals reflect the organization of the atoms that make
them up. This has led some people to conclude that life itself is
merely a matter of chemistry. That is, chemical reactions do occur. If
you put zinc metal into hydrochloric acid, you will, under standard
conditions, produce zinc chloride (which is now a new chemical), and
free hydrogen gas. And this reaction will continue to go in the
direction of producing hydrogen gas until you’ve used up all the
components. And so it’s been argued that since living organisms,
living cells, are made of chemicals, then we ought to be able to
account for the origin of cells and the origin of life from what we
know about ordinary chemistry.
But what this argument overlooks, in my view, is the
important role of the informational macromolecule. The sequence of
bases, which is the code in DNA, determines the sequence of amino
acids, which we now know makes protein. Typical protein contains about
500 of these amino acids and they have to be in a particular order.
And that order is dictated by the DNA. There are four different bases
in the DNA and they are put together in groups of three and this
triplet code is able to then code for more than enough amino acids to
account for the 20 different amino acids that have to be dealt with.
Thus, we call it a redundant code—that is there is one more than one
combination that can code for a particular amino acid.
But if we use our ordinary experience in life, if we
use our experience of chemistry, there is nothing that we know about
chemistry to suggest that chemistry can produce information. We’re not
simply talking about order, such as in a crystal. We’re talking about
Now what’s the difference? Suppose, if you will,
that you have two neighbors. One neighbor has put up a picket fence,
and we can admire his craftsmanship. He has carefully alternated long
boards, short boards, long board, short board. We would call this
certainly a well-ordered fence. It’s the neighbor next door we are
kind of wondering about. He has also put up a picket fence, but his
looks entirely different. There appear to be boards missing. Sometimes
there are two short boards together, sometimes a long and a short,
sometimes we see a little group of long boards and a little group of
Which of these two fences has the most order, in the
sense of the crystal? Well, the first one has the most order. But is
the other one chaos? Well it could be. It could just be chaos. But if
we looked carefully at these fences and we applied modern information
theory to them, we would see that there is in fact a coding convention
being used in the second fence.
And this coding convention is kind of interesting
because the second neighbor isn’t just trying to build a simple fence.
He is trying to make a point. He has used boards to write
International Morse Code. He’s used short boards for dots and he’s
used long boards for dashes. And so, using International Morse Code,
he has spelled out a message.
Now, imagine the information set that would be
necessary to describe these two things. The first fence would be like
a crystal: a very, very short information set. That is, instructions
for building this fence would be simple. We could reduce the
instructions for building this fence to the following total amount:
"Take a stack of long boards and short boards, then put up a long
board, then equal distance away put up a short board, and continue in
this fashion until you run out of boards." That’s the entire
information set of this highly ordered crystal-like structure.
International Morse Code
N - .
B - . . .
O - - -
C - . - .
P . - - .
D - . .
Q - - . -
R . - .
F . . - .
S . . .
G - - .
H . . . .
U . . -
I . .
V . . . -
J . - - -
W . - -
K - . -
X - . . -
L . - . .
Y - . - -
M - -
Z - - . .
1 . - - - -
6 - . . . .
2 . . - - -
7 - - . . .
3 . . . - -
8 - - - . .
4 . . . . -
9 - - - - .
5 . . . . .
0 - - - - -
What’s the information set for the second fence?
Well, first of all we have to have a language. What language did you
want to work with? English, French, Italian? Once we have a language,
we have to have logic and thought. Using the example Dr. Gish gave us
of "S-O-S", we have to know what distress signals are all about, the
meaning assigned to "s-o-s", and what it means to be distressed and
what it means to send help and all that.
And what is the information set for putting this
fence together? Well, first of all, you would have to spell out the
language you’re going to use. Then you would have to spell out a
coding system for each of the letters of this language. How many
letters do we have in English? Twenty six letters, then if we count
the space as a 27th, we would then be able to generate a code.
And with this code, International Morse Code, which
is nothing but dots and dashes, we can spell out all the literature
written by mankind. Think of it, with no more than dots and dashes,
all of the literature, all of the sonnets of Shakespeare, for starters
could be written with dots and dashes. Now tell me, if we could
synthesize dots and dashes in the laboratory, which is basically what
we’ve done in synthesizing amino acids, could we say that we are very
close to Shakespeare’s sonnets? How close do dots and dashes get us to
the sonnets of Shakespeare? Not close at all. Because the dots and
dashes, in and of themselves, are totally unrelated to the sonnets of
Shakespeare. We can use them and impose on them the complexity and the
Now, what do we conclude from this? We conclude
that, just as from ordinary experience we can identify coding systems,
and coding conventions, and we know something about language and the
grammar of language, and just as we can see this in International
Morse Code, so also, when we look at living organisms, from bacteria
to man, we see a common coding mechanism, that is consistent
throughout, that uses a code of, not dots and dashes, but it uses a
code of four different chemicals called bases, that are arranged in
groups of three. And each of these groups of three of the four
different possibilities codes for an amino acid.
And by putting the DNA in a sequence, and as you can
see it would take at least three times as many bases of the DNA as it
would take amino acids because you need a code of three for each amino
acid—so to make a protein 500 long we would need a minimum of 1,500
bases arranged in a string and they would have to be arranged
according to a coding convention and when you have this code there has
to be a translating mechanism now to translate this. And when you
translate it the information has to make sense. It has to work in a
coordinated way with other words and other information to finally tell
you these are indeed the beautiful sonnets of Shakespeare.
And I propose that we know nothing on the basis of
ordinary chemistry to tell us how we get information. This is not
simple chemistry. In fact, I understand that some physicists have come
to the conclusion, or cosmologists, that in addition to matter,
energy, time, and space, we have another very basic ingredient called
information. And as far as we know there is nothing about matter,
energy, time, and space which, if left to itself, produces
information. Information is something that can use matter, energy,
time, and space.
I often like the analogy of a book. And it’s been
raised before except I’d like to add an additional thought to it. This
book is only chemistry. There is nothing here physically except
chemistry. There is a great deal of cellulose in here which is what?
carbon and hydrogen basically, and the ink. What do we make that out
of, basically carbon? Is it carbon black material? So there is a great
deal of carbon and hydrogen that is this book. And there is nothing
here but carbon and hydrogen perhaps a few other elements, some
oxygen? Right? Some carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
So we ought to be able to take this book, put it in
a beaker of water or weak acid and dissolve it. And when we dissolve
it, you can imagine, we would have a gray, slurry inside the beaker, a
completely dissolved book. Then we’d have another copy on the outside.
And we’d say, the chemistry in this beaker, this gray slurry, is the
very same chemistry as the chemistry out here. What is the probability
we can take these chemicals—because nothing is missing—and go back to
the book, or perhaps to a different book, maybe a better book, or a
book on a different subject?
Is there anything about the chemistry in the beaker
which, if left to itself, will just naturally, in the course of time,
generate or regenerate another book? I don’t think so. We have to have
an intelligent mind, use the raw material, or ingredients of nature,
in this case cellulose. We make paper. Once we have the paper, we use
carbon black for ink. And an intelligent mind and author, if you will,
has to decide what it is he or she wishes to say and then arrange the
letters in a way that produces information.
When we dissolve this book, what do we lose? Do we
lose any weight? No. You see, you can ask yourself, how much does
information weigh? If you take information away when you dissolve the
book, do we lose any weight? No. Do we lose any mass, length,
anything? No. Yet, we’ve lost something that cannot be restored from
the mere chemistry of which the book is made.
So I reject the idea that just because our living
bodies are made of chemicals, which they certainly are, and in a
purely physical sense, we are no more than chemistry, I reject the
idea that on the basis of what we know about chemistry, we can produce
spontaneously in some basic chemical fashion, a living cell, or life
itself, or the organs of the body, or the various organelles of the
cell. I think rather that the evidence is overwhelming that it
requires an author that generates information perhaps using the
physical material as much as a writer uses paper and ink to produce
ideas. And when you destroy these ideas through "soluble-ilizing"
them, they will not return from the chemicals themselves, but will
require another author.