Give a Hand

Scientists have come up with a new explanation of birth defects. And it has dramatic implications for theories about the origin of life. Remember the Thalidomide tragedy? In the 1950s, this synthetic drug was prescribed for pregnant women. It caused hundreds of children to be born with birth defects. A recent report in the New York Times says chemists think they know how it happened. You see, molecules come in two forms, which are mirror images, just as your right and left hand are mirror images of each other. Scientists even call the two forms right and left handed. But the cells in your body can use only one form of each molecule. The wrong one doesn't fit the cell's metabolism--just as a right hand won't fit into a left glove. Worse, the wrong form of molecule sometimes acts as a poison that damages or kills the cell. This is the key to many birth defects. When drugs are synthesized in the laboratory, what results is a 50/50 mixture of right- and left-handed molecules. So when you take a synthetic drug, you're taking both forms. But only one can actually be used. The other one may even be harmful. In the case of Thalidomide, chemists now believe one form acted as a sedative, while the other caused the birth defects. This is important news for the field of medicine--but think what it also means for the origin of life. Scientists have tried for decades to prove that life began in a chemical soup. There was a big hoopla about 40 years ago, when scientists first succeeded in producing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. It was hailed as compelling evidence for evolution. But that early excitement has died down. And one reason is this thorny problem of right- and left-handed molecules. You see, when scientists mix chemicals in the laboratory, they run into the same problem we saw with synthetic drugs: They get 50/50 mixtures of right- and left-handed molecules. There's no natural way to isolate just one form. But life can only use one form. The amino acids in proteins, for example, are all left-handed. A protein may consist of thousands of amino acids strung together--and every one of them has to be left-handed, or the protein can't function. To put it bluntly, a 50/50 mixture of amino acids is as useless for life as no amino acids at all. Now, there are artificial means of separating right- and left-handed molecules. But they are highly complex, and represent the application of considerable intelligence and expertise. There's a lesson in this. Isn't it logical to conclude that the same conditions were necessary at the origin of life? That the first molecules of life likewise required intelligence and expertise--this time, of a Creator? We're not talking about anything very complicated here--DNA or protoplasm or cell walls. We're talking about the simplest, must fundamental step in the reconstruction of the origin of life. Even at this simple level, living things show an order, a selectivity, that comes only from intelligence and design. Yes, the tiny right- and left-handed molecules have become one more voice in a crescendo of solid scientific evidence that God is real.


Chuck Colson



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