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From Jacques Monod, a Grim Message for Humanity

Image credit: 2541163, via Pixabay.

In a series of articles on the science of purpose, I have maintained that the presence of life on Earth is the result of a purpose-driven process that is scientifically demonstrable. To that end it is worth remembering that the entire edifice of scientific atheism is based on the idea that life arose accidentally, i.e., by chance. The so-called scientific proof of the atheist argument was prominently articulated by Jacques Monod in his 1970 bestseller, Chance and Necessity. The Nobel Prize-winning Professor Monod, chief of the Pasteur Institute, then regarded as the most important biologist in the world, described what seemed to many, including myself at the time, as rock-solid evidence in favor of the concept of “life as cosmic accident.”

In 1970 Watson and Crick had just 17 years before demonstrated the double helix structure of DNA. The 1960s and the 1970s were regarded as the time of a biologic revolution in science. Biology was finally becoming a “real” science, as it melded with physical chemistry into the unique new discipline of biochemistry. At long last life was reducible to molecular interactions understandable by scientists.

DNA as Blueprint

What had been revealed through intensive research since the 1953 Watson and Crick discovery was that the nucleotides of DNA comprised a code which was translated into amino acids which were reassembled outside of the cell nucleus into the proteins which build the organism. DNA is the blueprint and polypeptides are its realization.

We all understand what a code is. It is a separate language that has to be translated into a different language in order to be interpreted by the receiver. For that reason, the nucleotides of DNA have to be energetically independent from the polypeptides they encode — just as words have no physical relationship with the objects they symbolize.

Realizing this, Monod came to the conclusion that the DNA blueprint, which designates the structure of an organism, was utterly independent of the proteins that construct the end product. He also believed in the fact of evolution, i.e., that organisms have changed over time, and that Homo sapiens emerged from more primitive ancestral creatures via that process.

Combining the dynamics of the DNA-protein-organism-construction concept and belief in evolution, the further conclusion was drawn that in order for one organism to evolve into another, the change has to happen in the DNA, because the blueprint designs, or directs, the final product.

The Crux of the Question

Which brought the exalted Professor Monod to the crux of the greatest question of all time, “Were human beings designed according to God’s plan, or are we here by accident?” Stated in biological terms, did the evolution from pre-human hominids to H. sapiens occur by design or by chance?

At age 31, long before he became world famous, Monod witnessed the Nazi occupation of his country. It is said that he fought in the French resistance. I have often wondered what impact this experience had on his worldview in later life.

What we do know about his worldview is that in his popular book, he declared on the basis of his extremely primitive biochemistry concepts, that the change in DNA that results in the evolution of one organism into another, occurs purely by random/chance mutation, and that the process is completely isolated from modification by the constructed proteins. Within that construct there could be no predetermined design, and as a result there can be no God. In his famous book he brazenly declares “the demand for… the definitive abandonment of the ‘old covenant'” and that “man must wake to his total solitude, his fundamental isolation… and realize he lives on the boundary of an alien world,” that is, our universe (pp. 171-173).

Powerful words, eloquently stated by one of the world’s greatest scientists and proffered to an unsuspecting, relatively non-scientific populace living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation, his macabre message arguably can be considered the flash point for modern day scientific atheism.

Monod died in 1976. As it turns out, on the basis of ongoing discoveries in biochemistry in the ensuing decades, his theory has been utterly discredited. His fundamental foundational theory for the scientific demonstration of atheism has been definitively disproven.

Carrying on for Atheism

And yet, the scientific atheists carry on, leaving Monod’s memory behind without acknowledging the catastrophic failure of his ideas, ideas that propelled our society into the darkness he predicted, based on his “theory.”

But there is always hope. Monod’s dangerous ideas are vanquished. We can move on with increased confidence in our quest to build upon and finalize the argument for the science of purpose.