At the root of the mysteries of the human body lies an amazing chemical called DNA. It is the stuff genes are made of, its sequence coding for the protein building blocks of our bodies. DNA itself is composed of four molecules called nucleotides and the sequence these appear in determines which protein is built. In other words, there is a sequence in the DNA which codes for a specific protein sequence. This microscopic assembly line is truly amazing and it parallels our experience of human communication. DNA is like a language, with nucleotides combining to code for proteins, which represent a pattern for complex organs and systems, just as letters combine in a written language to code for words, which represent ideas which can be realised in the physical world. At the basis of life, then, is information which is intelligible and useful. Of course, this information is only useful if the apparatus in the cell that is necessary for producing proteins is also present and that apparatus itself was built on the basis of the instructions contained in DNA. The scientific puzzle of the origin of life hits its greatest obstacle when confronted with the question of how random molecules can have come to take on an orderly form and how this could have caused proteins to be built in the absence of apparatus to build it. Which came first, the DNA or the protein? Logic tells us that language requires a speaker and that writing can only originate from an author. The existence of such complex information at the basis of life, is one of the most powerful indicators of the existence of a creator. Of course, it cannot ‘prove’ God’s existence, but it does point in His direction. The idea of an intelligent designer is certainly a logical explanation for what we observe – it fits with our experience in every other aspect of life that codes and complex systems reflecting intelligible information have designers. The Scriptures don’t tell us about DNA or genetics, but they do speak of God’s intelligence in the form of words as foundational to creation. Genesis 1 describes God speaking the physical universe into existence. He pronounces words describing His ideas and things emerge in obedience. God’s word is powerful and effective and it underlies the existence of the cosmos. Within this created order God gives a special position and responsibility to one species – human beings – who are created in His image. There is no mention of writing in Genesis 1, but in Romans 2:15 the apostle Paul says:
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
Of course the mention of ‘writing’ here shouldn’t be taken literally, but Paul is saying something important about human nature, that some of God’s ideas – His Law – are embedded in the essence of human identity and operates through the faculty Paul calls the conscience. This verse sits within an extended argument that God’s judgement against human beings is just. There is no question that God has enough evidence to convict every human being of sin. Our rejection of what can be known about God from observing the splendour of nature is already enough to condemn us (Romans 1:18ff.), but the conscience provides a second source of evidence. This means that there is a basic level of moral awareness that is available even to people who have never received any part of the Bible or heard the message about the God revealed in the Bible.
The existence of conscience is universal across human cultures and there is also a remarkable degree of uniformity in every human society about the principle that to act against one’s conscience is wrong. The human experience of guilt and shame suggests the existence of a standard of right and wrong against which we are found to be wanting. The conscience is pointing us to a law that has been written by God on our hearts. Of course, conscience is a very imperfect tool – it is distorted by sin and we can learn to blunt it through repeatedly ignoring it (1 Timothy 4:2 describes people who had effectively seared their conscience, rendering it inactive) – but it is an indicator that we are morally responsible creatures. We might debate what the proper standard of morality is, but we seem to share an instinctive sense that there are certain actions that are wrong – the taking of our personal property without permission; sexual liaisons with the sworn partner of another person; killing of an innocent person. These standards transcend cultures and indicate a basic morality embedded in human nature. Our experience corresponds with the testimony of Scripture – the divine law written on our hearts. The pangs of our conscience are intended by God not only as a basis for His judgement of sinners – it is also intended to start us on a journey towards Him. God is the only source of the forgiveness and restoration that our conscience tells us we need.
I discuss current scientific theories about the basis of human morality and their significance in an article entitled Are we just naked apes? which is available on the Apologetics page of my website.