Thanks to Facebook and Google Translate, I have developed a relationship with a budding Christian apologist and scientist in Ukraine. Artem recently alerted me to a paper published in the journal Icarus by two Kazakhstan astronomers, Vladimir shCherbak and Maxim Makukov.1 In the paper, the authors claim to have discovered a “Wow!” signal in the genetic code of Earth’s life (think crop circles in our DNA and RNA).
The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) community has defined a Wow! signal as a transmission that is so unusual in its characteristics as to challenge reasonable naturalistic explanations, thereby leaving open the possibility that the transmission was sent by an intelligent being or community of intelligent beings. The term “Wow!” has its origin in a 72-second signal recorded in 1977 by “Big Ear,” Ohio State University’s radio telescope. The signal was not seen or heard again, and to this day the nature of the signal remains a mystery.
In their paper, shCherbak and Makukov first explain the technical difficulties an intelligent civilization would face in trying to transmit a message at radio or optical wavelengths that would last, undisturbed, for a very long time. They then note that the genetic code of terrestrial life is a flexible mapping between codons and amino acids that permits the code to be modified artificially. That is, they showed how the genetic code could serve all of its necessary biological functions and also include a small intelligent message or signal. Because of how faithfully the progeny of a cell can preserve the genetic code, the intelligent message or signal, at least in principle, can remain frozen or unchanged for billions of years.
Wow! Signals in the Genetic Code
ShCherbak and Makukov argue that intelligent beings desiring to communicate across interstellar space would take advantage of the exceptionally reliable and stable storage of intelligent messages and signatures afforded by the genetic code. Such intelligent beings, they assert, would communicate their presence by seeding life-conducive planets with cells whose genetic codes contain embedded intelligent messages or signals.
ShCherbak and Makukov then proceed to show the high likelihood that the genetic codes of Earth’s life indeed show evidence of embedded intelligent messages or signals. They demonstrate that the terrestrial genetic code “displays a thorough precision-type orderliness matching the criteria to be considered an informational signal.”2 They establish that the code reveals “arithmetical and ideographical patterns of the same symbolic language.”3 They further show that the patterns “appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing rather than of stochastic processes.”4 By stochastic processes, they mean chance coupled with evolutionary pathways. They calculate that the possibility of evolution explaining the patterns is more remote than one chance in 10 trillion.5
ShCherbak and Makukov further observe in the terrestrial genetic code “the symbol of zero, the privileged decimal syntax and semantical symmetries.”6 They note that extraction of the intelligent signal/message involves logically straightforward abstract operations that make the patterns, in their words, “irreducible to any natural origin.”7
Origin of the Wow! Signal in the Genetic Code
So, have shCherbak and Makukov proven that intelligent beings living on another planet traversed interstellar space to seed our planet with cells containing embedded intelligent messages broadcasting their presence to us? Hardly. What shCherbak and Makukov have overlooked is the impossibility of an intelligent, technologically advanced species existing on another planet at the time of life’s origin on Earth.
Origin-of-life researchers now possess a well established date for life’s origin on Earth: 3.825 ± 0.006 billion years ago.8 At that time, the universe was far too young to permit the possibility of a physical, intelligent, and technologically advanced species of life. For many reasons, we humans must be the first, or at least among the first, such species to exist in the history of the universe.9
Some other intelligent life-form, therefore, must be responsible for the “signals/messages” that shCherbak and Makukov have found in the terrestrial genetic code. The only candidate that remains is the Creator God of the Bible who also must be responsible for designing and creating the terrestrial genetic code in the first place.
- Vladimir I. shCherbak and Maxim A. Makukov, “The ‘Wow! Signal’ of the Terrestrial Genetic Code,” Icarus 224 (May 2013): 228–42, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2013.02.017.
- Ibid., 228.
- I review the latest research on the dating of life’s origin in chapter 8 of my book Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), pages 94–107.
- I review the latest research on the minimum cosmological, galactic, stellar, planetary system, and terrestrial preparations needed for the survival of a physical, intelligent, technologically capable species of life in chapters 3–15 of my book Improbable Planet, pages 23–219.
Subjects: Artificial Life, Evolution, Origin of Life, Panspermia, SETI