Reaction to DNA: The Story of the Genetic Revolution
James Watson, famous for unlocking the structure of DNA in 1962, encompasses the past, present, and future of genetics with comprehensive detail in DNA: The Story of the Genetic Revolution. As he describes topics from editing DNA molecules all the way to genetically modified food, Watson elaborately describes the ethical, legal, social, and political consequences of the genetic revolution. Throughout his writings, Watson clearly backs nature over nurture and science over theology. He is outspoken, bold, and opinionated about controversial subjects – much of which are directly contrary to the Christian faith, such as evolution and the Holy Spirit’s quickening influence on humanity. He directly claims that he “is not religious” which is clearly underpinned throughout the whole book.
A running theme throughout the chapters was Watson’s optimistic attitude towards forwarding advances in genetics; he is clearly frustrated about anything or anyone who hinders the trailblazing of the genetic movement. He says, “Compared to almost any other object that starts with D, DNA is very safe indeed. Far better to worry about daggers, dynamite, dogs, dieldrin, dioxin, or drunken drivers” in response to people who believe that artificial gene sequencing will lead to the extinction of humans. As he describes the progress and setbacks of genetic research, Watson is clearly critical toward any societal entity that feared the danger of recombinant DNA; this fear has curbed research and slowed the progress of genetic advances.
For example, he supports the use of GMOs and stoutly disagrees with anyone who bans genetically modified organisms. Watson highlights a variety of fascinating aspects of the genetic revolution such as DNA fingerprinting in the field of forensics, the discovery of disease genes and DNA’s relation to cancer treatments. In regards to biotechnology, Watson uses storytelling methods to describe the struggle of the individual scientist against different institutions. He discusses the inevitable legal world of patents and whether one can patent a discovery such as a breast cancer gene.
Through explanation of scientific definitions and methods, Watson also spends a huge portion of the book discussing the rising popularity of human genome sequencing which has led to discoveries of why complex issues such as mental illnesses occur. Through sequencing scientists also are able to understand genetics behind behavioral traits such as intelligence and speech disorders. Watson ends with a positive outlook on the future of genetics, believing that love is an impulse that is inscribed in our genes and that this fact will ultimately defeat hatred and violence. He advocates gene-editing techniques to correct genetic defects and enhance future generations and wishes that “the truth revealed by DNA could be accepted without fear.”
One chapter that struck my curiosity was Chapter Ten, “Out of Africa: DNA and the Human Past” because of its focus on evolution. Evolution over creation is an unquestionable given for James Watson. He begins the chapter by describing the discovery of Neanderthals. Svente Paabo and his graduate student drilled into a Neanderthal relic to look for intact DNA in order to see how closely related humans are to them. They analyzed mitochondrian which contains a small loop of DNA and found that there were 379 base pairs identical in the Neanderthal mtDNA and modern human DNA. Further on in the chapter, Watson describes how Linus Pauling discovered that the more closely related two species are evolutionary, the more similar are the sequences of their proteins. For example, hemoglobin has 141 amino acids; there is only one difference between the human and chimpanzee hemoglobin while there are 18 differences between human and horse hemoglobin.
A “molecular clock” is also described – a scientist might use a foreign protein as a “molecular clock” with the purpose of studying evolution through correlation of two variables: first, the length of time that two species have been separated, and second, the extent of molecular difference between them. By using a foreign protein as a “molecular clock” the stronger the immune system’s reaction, the more foreign the protein. Allan Wilson and Vince Sarich examined fossils of Old and New World monkeys and through molecular research of human foreign proteins, they estimated that humans were separated only about 5 million years from monkeys.
Lastly in the chapter, Watson looks at Cann and Wilson’s findings that the human family tree has two major branches, one comprising only African groups and the other consisting of some African groups plus every other ethnicity. They did this by examining the placentas of 147 women, a gold mine of mtDNA. MtDNA is inherited from your mother so they traced the history of the human female line. At the end of Chapter Ten, Watson confesses that he was never interested in genealogy but that through examination of mtDNA or his Y chromosome, he can know more of the history of his evolutionary lineage.
From a biblical perspective, the entirety of Chapter Ten is contrary to traditional Christian belief of creationism over evolution. Watson writes, “My hunch is that humans are simply great apes with a few unique – and special – genetic switches”. Most biblically-based Christians believe that God created all things in seven days – Watson does not even consider referring to this belief, continually using huge numerical values of time (example: “Even under ideal preservation conditions, the molecule is likely to survive perhaps fifty thousand years at the absolute maximum.”) There are however, people who believe in theistic evolution in which they interpret “seven days” to mean seven extended phases of time.
Ellen G. White, the prophet of the Seventh-Day Adventist Christian denomination, writes, “In regard to the work of creation itself the divine testimony is, “He spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 33:9. With Him who could thus call into existence unnumbered worlds, how long a time would be required for the evolution of the earth from chaos”? Christians cite Noah’s flood to explain the discovery of remains of animals, plants, and men (like Neanderthals) not found today. They say that at the Flood, the surface of the earth was broken up and reshuffled the evidences of life previously existing. Clearly, biblical perspectives mostly contradict Watson’s writings on evolutionary genetics.
As a whole, this book was difficult because I have never been interested in science – my brain is mainly humanities-oriented. Watson writes that he intended that “someone with zero biological knowledge should be able to understand the book’s every word” but the profuse amount of scientific vocabulary and jargon was still confusing at times. However, DNA: The Story of the Genetic Revolution” did open my eyes to the genetic revolution’s tremendous impact on society. So much of what I do (such as what is on my kitchen table) and much who I am (nature versus nurture, behavioral genes) is impacted by the field of genetics. In regards to specifically Chapter Ten, as someone who is a firm believer, I staunchly worship in God as our Creator. I am not discounting the discoveries of evolutionary biology; I openly acknowledge my limited knowledge concerning the field.
However my devotion to God and the Bible compels me to believe in the seven-day creation without a doubt. Hebrews 11:3 records that the worlds were framed “by the word of God: so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” According to this verse, man was not made from monkey or apes – but by the word of God. The word of God has that property about it, which, when the word is spoken, causes things to be which was not seen before. Evolution is by long processes, while Creation is by the word Spoken. Jesus exemplified this – He healed men immediately from leprosy and other diseases by only speaking to them, demonstrating the creative power of His word, the same word spoken in the beginning of creation.
As exemplified over and over in this book, God has given man extraordinary thinking capabilities. However, it is wrong for men to conclude that Bible history is unreliable and false because they cannot explain God’s works from natural causes. Humanity has become so intent on excluding God from the scientific and genetic narrative to the point that they demean man to have come by slow degrees. Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, written by John Sanford, a famous geneticist, gives compelling evidence of creation. John Sanford extrapolated the entire DNA of humans and did his own genetic research by looking at genetic mutations from one generation to another.
According to Sanford, a mother and father will pass along mutations in addition, the infant will have 150 to 300 new mutations introduced. After reviewing genetic mutations back generation after generation until flawlessness (no mutations), Sanford found that there were 200 generations which aligned with the genealogy in the Bible starting with Adam and Eve. Furthermore, upward mutation has never been proven – on which the evolutionary theory is based on, that humanity will get better. This is compelling evidence for me that the Bible is substantiated. Some may call me simple-minded or naive, but I am thoroughly convinced that the knowledge of Christ Jesus is the highest science that any man can reach – it is the sum of all true science.