Meyer concludes there are three critical questions that scientists investigating the origin of life must explain. “First they must explain the origin of the system for storing and encoding digital information in the cell.” For example what is the origin of DNA’s ability to store digitally encoded information? “Second they must explain the origin of the large amount of specified complexity or functionally specified information in DNA. Third they must explain the origin of the integrated complexity—the functional interdependence of parts—of the cell’s information system.”5
Question 1. How did the cell’s information processing system originate? The cell’s information processing system has far more parts than DNA, but DNA information is essential for production of proteins that “perform most of the critical functions in the cell.” “Proteins build cellular machines and structures, they carry and deliver cellular materials, and they catalyze chemical reactions that the cell needs to stay alive. Proteins also process genetic information. To accomplish this critical work, a typical cell uses thousands of different kinds of proteins. And each protein has a distinctive shape related to its function, just as the different tools in a carpenter’s toolbox have different shapes related to their function.”6 All proteins are made up from 20 amino acids. DNA has all the information needed to specify the work of a cell, but it is stored in a four-character nucleotide alphabet.7 A genetic code of three letter words links the DNA alphabet to the 20 amino acids alphabet.8 DNA stores the specification that the cell uses to generate physical building blocks (amino acids) which it then uses to chemically construct and physically shape proteins. Although seldom done, the origin of the DNA structure and arrangement of its complex sequence (in such a way to store digitally encoded information) should be the first question that origin-of-life researchers try to answer.
Question 2. What is the origin of the large amount of specified complexity in DNA? DNA has a particular type of information sequence that is followed when performing its functions in a cell. There are three different types of sequences available for the storage of information. The first type is “order”. Order is the simplest type of sequence since it operates in repeating sequences like XYZXYZXYZXYZ Order is highly redundant since once you have seen the first triad of XYZs, the rest are the same. Crystals like ice or salt are made of components having highly redundant order. Ice is H2O over and over. Salt is all NaCl. The more salt you have the more sequences of NaCl you have. No new information is provided beyond the first sequence that is simply repeated. Order is not the kind of sequence found in DNA.
The second type of sequence is basic or mere complexity. A random sequence of complex letters could be something like LNTZBTCZAX. It is complex because nothing in the sequence predicts what the next letter might be. Apparently random polypeptides or polymers can be made up from random sequences of amino acids having basic complexity, but they serve no function. They are unlike complex proteins and DNA that do not have random sequences. They are highly specified to do complex tasks. A set of numbers or letters can be randomly generated to make up mere complexity. For example a series of 10 numbers might be 2965609884. This list of numbers is random, somewhat complex, but meaningless. If a person wanted to call someone with these numbers, who knows who they would reach, if anyone. The same kind of mere complexity can be done with any sequence of letters. MNTDWTROOATIIEAFNEITMA is an arrangement of letters that is complex but the sequence does not communicate anything meaningful. DNA is not made up of mere complexity sequences.
The third type of information sequence is both complex and specified. For example, the same 10 numbers written above might be arranged to correspond to my telephone number 698-840-2956. This is a sequence that is specific and has meaning to anyone wishing to call me. Similarly the above sequence of letters can be arranged in a sequence that is both complex and specified. As an example “Time and Tide wait for no man.” is a sequence of letters which we can understand. DNA, RNA, and proteins have specified complexity just as an arrangement of words and sentences in a human language or the intelligent code of digital computers. Further, the DNA capacity is enormous for its specified sequences. The eukaryotic cell, for example, has a storage capacity many times greater than that of our most advanced silicon chips.9 The origin of this specified complexity and the large capacity inherent in DNA must be explained by origin of life researchers to show any basic understanding of the origin or life. DNA is made up of specified complexity sequences.
Question 3. What is the origin of the integrated complexity—the functional interdependence of parts—of the cell’s information system?
To make matters even more difficult to explain the origin of life is the fact that the complex information stored in DNA is not sufficient on its own to initiate cellular life. Living organisms must also contain systems for processing genetic information. Numerous biochemists and philosophers of science have noted the problem of life being more than identifying the information in DNA
Richard Lewontin states, “No living molecule [i.e. biomolecule] is self reproducing. Only whole cells may contain all the necessary machinery for self-reproduction… Not only is DNA incapable of making copies of itself, aided or unaided, but it is incapable of making anything else… The proteins of the cell are made from other proteins, and without that protein-forming machinery nothing can be made.”
David Goodsell describes the problem: “ The key molecular process that makes modern life possible is protein synthesis, since proteins are used in nearly every aspect of living. The synthesis of proteins requires a tightly integrated sequence of reactions, most of which are themselves performed by proteins.”
Jacques Monod emphasized 40 years ago “The code is meaningless unless translated. The modern cell’s translating machinery consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in DNA: the code cannot be translated otherwise than by products of translation.”10
The late British philosopher Karl Popper reflected, “What makes the origin of life and the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a really baffling circle: a vicious circle it seems, for any attempt to form a model, or a theory, of the genesis of the genetic code.”11
In summary these scientists have observed that the cell needs proteins to process and express the information in DNA in order to build proteins and the construction of DNA molecules themselves also requires proteins. The end result of protein synthesis is required before it can begin. The entire system of protein synthesis must be in place from the beginning. Life in its simplest form needs a complex integrated system of multiple integrated parts to operate. Life cannot exist at the simplest level without the entire system of integrated cellular complexity in place.