Does biology hint at God's existence?

Hi friends,

A recent post on the remarkable capabilities of biological intelligence got me thinking. Here it is:

I think the intelligent creation theory is very strong.

Look, we consider ourselves to be intelligent but we can’t even create a biological fly from the atoms up. But nature figured out how to make biological intelligence through infinite randomness?

Whatever this “nature” is, it seems well coordinated to me. So well coordinated I’d say it’s super intelligent whatever it/they are, these forces that made us - ****** life bro!

So yeah, I don’t church or pray or anything like that but this idea keeps me thinking about this stuff.


In his book Undeniable, Douglas Axe talks about his studies on functional proteins.

He mentions a challenge that Michal Denton proposed for new proteins to develop by chance:

There are, in fact, both theoretical and empirical grounds for believing that the a priori rules which govern function in an amino acid sequence are relatively stringent. If this is the case . . . it would mean that functional proteins could well be exceedingly rare. . . . As it can easily be shown that no more than 10^40 [1 followed by 40 zeros] possible proteins could have ever existed on earth since its formation, this means that, if protein functions reside in sequences any less probable than one in 10^40, it becomes increasingly unlikely that any functional proteins could ever have been discovered by chance on earth.

This challenge inspired Axe. So he started the research. Here was his conclusion:

As quoted in chapter 3, Denton reckoned that accidental processes would be incapable of finding new functional proteins if their amino-acid sequences were more rare than about one in 10^40 (1 followed by 40 zeros). Having now completed the experiments I described to Alan Fersht and the graduate students in 2002, I was able to put a number on the actual rarity—a startling number. With only one good protein sequence for every 10^74 bad ones, I had found functional proteins to be roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000– fold more rare than Denton’s criterion!

That is, at some point, the chance that something “might happen” is so low that it is effectively impossible.

What I appreciate about Axe’s work is that it takes the intuition, “gosh, it seems like it would be hard for proteins to evolve into completely new sequences and functions,” and provides a specific understanding of just how improbable these scenarios are.

What do you think? Does biological intelligence point us to consider the reality of a Creator?


Hi @Carson,

This question was fun for me to consider. This is a very long response to your question, I apologise for this, but there’s so much to consider. I don’t have a science background so can’t approach this discussion from my own knowledge although I can offer a small response. However, I wanted to do this justice so turned to my good friend, Dr Naomi Pollock, who happens to spend her life studying proteins, qualified with MBiochem DPhil (Oxon) and her current job is as a research fellow in biotechnology, so I asked her for her thoughts on this which she is happy for me to share here. I’m really grateful to her for taking time to consider your question and I appreciate her fair consideration of the arguments for and against a creator when considering the vast world of proteins. Through hearing what she could explain for the layman, I felt more able to form a general response. I hope you find it informative and helpful.

My answer is formed in 3 parts

  1. Dr Pollock’s overview of proteins and personal belief
  2. Dr Pollocks response to the question
  3. My response based on 1 and 2

1 Dr Pollock gave a general overview of proteins for the layman:. This helps to understand the topic just a little more.

Ultimately this debate is just another angle on evolution vs creationism. As a protein biochemist, I naturally think that proteins are super important. They are the building materials, the tools and the machinery of cells. DNA is just a library with all the assembly instructions and manuals for those proteins (and in this analogy, even the librarians are made of protein…). The evolution of proteins IS the evolution of cells and organisms, because changes to DNA change details about how the proteins are assembled, how and where they work, and how they are maintained. When lots of proteins change, this could ultimately change how organisms function and look, which is how species diverge and specialise. So although this is quite a detailed aspect of the debate, the key point is whether or not you believe that life could arise and develop spontaneously.

Personally, I don’t think there was a creator, but I also acknowledge that science still can’t explain some key steps between chemistry and biology that allow life to emerge. However, I do think that it’s logically consistent to believe in an initial act of the creation of life by a supernatural force, followed by evolution guided purely by the natural laws of chemistry and physics plus chance. To me, it’s equally consistent to assign this event to a chance of chemistry and environment that happened at the right moment to develop (eventually!) into self-replicating and then into conscious life.

2. Dr Pollock’s response to the question. I found it helpful to see how different people can respond to the same information in different ways.

My response to this question falls into two broad categories. Firstly, there needs to be the opportunity to find useful proteins by chance. The time-scales involved are vast (I know that can be controversial for some creationists, but it is the foundation of so much of this thought). Evolution in single-celled organisms happens fast! Bacteria can replicate in as little as 20 minutes, and their DNA replication machinery allows for a few errors, which introduces variation into the DNA of their offspring. I just calculated that you could have 25000 generations of a bacteria in just one year (3 per hour * 24 hours * 365 days), and they may have been here for 3.5 billion years (sorry for the large numbers!). So there’s been a lot of time for protein sequences and conformations to emerge.


That brings me to the second point: constraints. Organisms cannot actually rest without infinite new protein structures, as making proteins cost them (us!) a lot of energy, and if the end product isn’t functional then it can be a matter of life and death. While in theory any combination of the 20 natural amino acids can be put together in any order to make a protein, there are limitations, for instance a maximum practical length of polypeptide chains. In addition, many proteins are built from smaller functional domains that assemble into larger objects that perform specific functions. So major new functions can emerge from existing structures put together in a new way

I find this all mind-bendingly amazing!

Dr Pollock recommends Nick Lane, a researcher in evolutionary biochemistry at University College London, as a reference point for articles or books that hypothesise about the details of this. For starters, this article might be interesting to consider in the discussion:

In our discussion, Dr Pollock continued with some sensible advice:

The numbers quoted in this article (in original post) are also mind-bendingly large. That makes it hard to think about, and I think we should be cautious of people on both sides of any division of opinion using large numbers to overwhelm us.

3. My response based on 1 and 2:

Where I differ to her conclusions is when she says:

However, in the same way that the number of possible proteins is enormous, and the probability of randomly generating a functional one is tiny, when you start applying any limitations or rules to how they are assembled, the numbers and probabilities dwindle really rapidly as well. The discussion you linked to mentioned “infinite randomness”, but I think that’s a misconception and it is highly improbable that a functional protein would spontaneously appear (much less fold into the right shape, but that is a whole separate debate!). But evolution relies on randomness marshalled by very strict rules of chemistry and physics.

My personal feeling is to ask who put the strict rules of chemistry and physics in place for the randomness of evolution to occur in the first place? With that in mind, ‘Improbability of functional proteins suddenly appearing’ isn’t really a problem for the Christian worldview.

And it’s worth considering that for every scientist who rejects the idea of a creator, there is another scientist who affirms a creator.
Professor John Lennox shares his thoughts on creation as a whole, which plays into the significance of proteins as building blocks of everything. The video below is a conversation where he begins to address the science of building blocks of life within the context of Genesis 1, asking the question, Is the Universe a creation or not? (There’s a 12 minute intro).

On the back of all this, my personal belief is that there are so many angles to life through biology, physics, chemistry, history, archaeology, language, morality, love, relationships etc, each which contain strong indicators of a creator. So whilst one discipline doesn’t 100% explicitly point to a creator, when one takes all these disciplines as a whole, each with its very own logically consistent evidence for a creator, I find it very compelling to believe that God truly is creator of it all. Then to look into the details, such as proteins, helps us to focus in more deeply, ask those questions, and enjoy a range of opinions, all whilst holding a general belief based on life as a whole. Finally, when studying things like proteins, the whole picture becomes much more enriched in my opinion, when you read the Bible consecutively and see why all these things even exist in the first place. It gives a deeper framework to place the study of proteins within, and opens new questions related to God’s purpose for relationship with mankind. As Alistair McGrath says in the video link below when speaking on this idea of drawing disciplines together to understand God,

it’s not just good enough to understand how things work. We need to understand what things mean.


Hi @alison,

You’ve given anyone who reads this discussion a lot to think about! What a gift. If it seems appropriate to you, please share my heartfelt gratitude with Dr Pollock for her expert insights.

I note a few different aspects of the discussion:

  • The regularities of nature described in the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. How do we account for these?
  • The ongoing scientific research into the origin of life
  • The ongoing scientific research into the evolutionary pathways for proteins, all the other bits and bobs, and so on, up to the arrival of entirely new species
  • A theological debate among Christians as to the age of the universe and the earth (I’m quite comfortable with the ~14 billion year timeline for the universe).
  • The existential questions - what does it all mean?

I’d add to Dr. Pollock’s argument that we aren’t just talking about one bacteria, say, but uncountable numbers. For instance, apparently there can be as much as 2,000 pounds of bacteria in the topsoil of one acre. The abundance of bacteria, of all kinds, across the earth and sea, surely adds to the generative possibilities she raises, and strengthens her case.

At the same time, what we are asked to envision in terms of the emergence of new species due to a stupefying number of accidental changes - still seems impossible.

I’ll share some research on two of these questions.

On the origin of life, Eugene Koonin’s 2017 article, published in Biology Direct, is fascinating.

Here’s one key section:

The crucial question, then, is how was the minimal complexity attained that is required to achieve the threshold replication fidelity. In even the simplest modern systems, such as RNA viruses with the replication fidelity of only ~10^3, replication is catalyzed by a complex protein replicase; even disregarding accessory subunits present in most replicases, the main catalytic subunit is a protein that consists of at least 300 amino acids [20]. The replicase, of course, is produced by translation of the respective mRNA which is mediated by a tremendously complex molecular machinery. Hence the first paradox of OORT [origin(s) of replication and translation] : to attain the minimal complexity required for a biological system to start on the path of biological evolution, a system of a far greater complexity, i.e., a highly evolved one, appears to be required. How such a system could evolve, is a puzzle that defeats conventional evolutionary thinking.

The commonly considered solution is the RNA world scenario, i.e., the notion that replication evolved before translation such that the earliest stage of life’s evolution was a versatile community of replicating RNA molecules [21-23]. A central element of the RNA world is a replicase consisting of RNA. The RNA world concept is supported by the experimental discovery of diverse catalytic activities of ribozymes (catalytic RNAs) [24-27]. However, all the advances of ribozymology notwithstanding, the prospects of a bona fide ribozyme replicase remain dim as the ribozymes designed for that purposes are capable, at best, of the addition of ~10 nucleotides to a oligonucleotide primer, at a very slow rate and with fidelity at least an order magnitude below that required for the replication of relatively long RNA molecules [28,29]. As recently noticed by one of the leading RNA world explorers, “Despite valiant efforts,…it appears unlikely that this particular polymerase enzyme will ever be evolved to the point that it can copy RNA molecules as long as itself (~200 nucleotides)” [30]. Of course, it remains possible – and this is, indeed, the belief in the RNA world community – that other ribozymes are eventually evolved to that level; however, the evidence is lacking.

The second paradox of OORT pertains to the origin of the translation system from within the RNA world via a Darwinian evolutionary process: until the translation system produces functional proteins, there is no obvious selective advantage to the evolution of any parts of this elaborate (even in its most primitive form) molecular machine. Conceptually, this paradox is closely related to the general problem of the evolution of complex systems that was first recognized by Darwin in his famous discussion of the evolution of the eye [16]. The solution sketched by Darwin centered around the evolutionary refinement of a primitive version of the function of the complex organ; subsequently, the importance of the exaptation route for the evolution of complex systems has been realized [18]. However, origin of translation resists both lines of reasoning. Primitive translation in a protein-free system is conceivable as an intermediate stage of evolution (see below) but this does not resolve the paradox because, even for that form of translation to function, the core components must have been in place already. Speculative scenarios have been developed on the basis of the idea that even short peptides could provide selective advantage to an evolving system in the RNA world by stabilizing RNA molecules, affecting their conformations or enhancing their catalytic activities [31-33] (see Ref. [34] for an attempt of a synthesis on this direction in the study of translation origins). These ideas are compatible with observed effects of peptides on ribozyme activity [35] but none of the scenarios is complete or supported by any specific evidence, and all include reactions without precedent in modern biological or model systems.

In other words, the chances are so astronomical that Koonin proposes an infinite number of universes to make the math work! As his conclusion states:

The MWO version of the cosmological model of eternal inflation could suggest a way out of this conundrum because, in an infinite multiverse with a finite number of distinct macroscopic histories (each repeated an infinite number of times), emergence of even highly complex systems by chance is not just possible but inevitable.

The origin of life presents an incredible paradox:

  • Until you have replication, there’s no selection.
  • But to get replication, you need (among other things) to select a protein with 300 amino acids arranged in precisely the right way.
  • And no one and nothing is trying to achieve selection or replication. So its emergence must be due to sheer chance.
  • And even when the most brilliant teams of scientists, aided by powerful computers, attempt to harness their intelligence to recreate these origin of life conditions in highly controlled laboratories, they are unable to do so.

Based on my amateur understanding of the issue, I find the origin of life question to be one that is very suggestive of a Creator.

Secondarily, on the evolution of proteins (and species).

In one paper that Dr. Axe cites, the transition needed from one protein structure to another is basically impossible. Here’s their conclusion (revised version): “Only under the unrealistically favorable assumption that kbl duplicates carry no fitness cost does the Kbl→BioF conversion fall just within the limits of feasibility.”

And of course, what’s needed are lots and lots and lots of proteins to evolve, in every evolutionary branch, to realize the incredible biodiversity that is all around us.

Consider how Michael Behe has made the point:

Darwinists overlook the considerable power of the example of the relatively minor changes in HIV: there have been a truly astronomical number of copies produced in just the past fifty years or so. And because of its much increased mutation rate, it has undergone in the past half century as many of some kinds of mutations as all the cells have undergone in the history of the world. If Darwinism had the power that its boosters claim, we should expect to see truly fundamental changes. Yet despite the enormous number of opportunities, only minor changes have appeared. That is very strong evidence of the strict limits on what Darwinian processes can accomplish.

There’s another issue as well: species require new body plans, not just new proteins. But thankfully, gene regulatory networks tightly control the development of embryos. For instance, we often call mutations in this process birth defects — some of which are fatal. In Undeniable, Dr. Axe shares this metaphor, which I find helpful:

For an iPhone 5 to be converted into an iPhone 6 by upgrading its operating system is categorically impossible—with or without insight. Extending that principle to life would take us beyond our conclusion that modern life can’t be the product of accidental mutations—implying it can’t be the product of mutations at all.

Even if iPhones could self-replicate, it would be hard for them to add a new kind of antenna, or a GPS receiver, or an additional camera. That kind of new functionality is added through intelligent engineering - never by random happenstance.

I’m very interested to learn more about this subject and welcome all kinds of disagreement and challenges to these examples!


@Carson @alison
Interesting information, and lots to think about. And if I was to be truthful, most of it is way over my head even if I stand up on my tippy toes. :crazy_face: And if I was to guess, I think it is probably over the head of the person that raised the original question to begin with. :upside_down_face: So I am not trying to criticize or minimalize the intellectual approach and questions that has been given, but I am trying to think about how would I respond to the original questioner. :thinking:

I think in biology as with all of the sciences that deal with the natural world, Romans 1:20 still applies. I think we can miss the mark if we believe that these conversations are just intellectual in nature. As I have recently learned in the book “Person of Interest”; 65% of all Nobel Prize winners were Christians and another 20% were from the Jewish faith. That’s 85% of the brightest minds that the world has seen, amalgamating their belief in a transcendent God and the physical world we live in. I don’t believe the root of the problem is intellectual. The questioner even acknowledges that these types of discussions are more than an intellectual seeking out of information. :face_with_monocle:

I am reminded of a quote from Richard Lewontian an avowed Atheist.

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs
… in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just–‐so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter–‐intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

To that end I think we need to have enough information about the natural world to answer the questions of sceptics at a level that they can relate to. Overwhelming them with a large amount of technical information won’t overcome the root of the problem. I am also guessing that some of this gets to the root as to why Dr. Pollock also has problems with the act of creation. :upside_down_face:

This person seems to be at a place where he is questioning the common evolutionary narrative. I don’t believe this happens by random chance. :grinning: So I might ask; where do these questions of evolution or creation come from? On a spiritual level the sheep of Jesus will respond and seek out the good shepherd (John 10). :sheep: But on a naturalistic level, if he is just a collection of random molecules (no spiritual dimension to his personhood), then all of his thoughts/questions are not even legitimate questions. Because he is prewire by his hardware/molecules to think and act according to the randomness of his molecules. :grimacing:

With this in mind I would encourage the questioner to continue to seek answers to questions that keep bothering him. God has not purposely hidden Himself. He will reveal Himself fully to those that really want to know Him. The tendency for a number of people that I have run into is to entertain the questions, but not seek out answers until they are answered effectively. :+1:


Don, I appreciate this point and reminder. Well said.

What do you see as the root of the problem?

I find this line of argument to be compelling. There’s an anthology I helped develop called True Reason that explores the challenges of reason from an atheistic worldview.

At the same time, I do think it is a challenging argument to get across. First, because it needs to be developed into a proper argument, and second, because we have to underscore that we do believe that their thoughts and questions are legitimate. Otherwise we can misspeak or be misheard as saying, “there are no legitimate questions about Christianity.” :grimacing: (Not that you were saying that at all!)

I heard one person say that the mind is like a “scout.” It goes out testing different ideas and approaches. This is a multi-dimensional investigation. It involves reason, the imagination, and considering evidence. If the mind reports back and says, “hey, I think I found something here” then the heart begins to engage as well. I’m not sure this is how it always works, but it helps me validate someone’s intellectual questions even as we seek to engage at a heart level. (As I feel that you mentioned in your post).


Hi Carson,

Yes the root of the problem….I am sure that you are well aware of it yourself, our minds are cold towards God (kind of like the weather here, it’s -30C today). :cold_face: Or as Colossians 1:21 says; people without Jesus are alienated from God and are enemies in their minds, and were by nature objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
If I could put it in the context of our current conversation; as people we tend to think that each of us has the power to determine the standard to which God should reveal Himself and His truth to people. We want to be the judge of God. People by nature have turned away from seeking to know God, being subordinate to Him, and have become satisfied with themselves and their intellect and wisdom. :brain:
As I have heard it said before; God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him most reasonable, but He has left enough out to make faith unreasonable if achieved through intellect and reason alone.

Thinking back to God’s journey with the nation of Israel, an intellectual knowledge of God can be seen at times, but if people don’t trust Him more than they trust themselves they will easily slide away from God being God, and toward themselves trying to be God. :grimacing:

I would agree with you…do you have any suggestions in how to approach this particular apologetic?

Bringing the discussion from the intellectual to the heart level is where and when we get to understand what is going on within the person.


This is really good to remember, thanks for pointing this out. I catch myself doing this sometimes.

In the introduction to ‘Exploring Christian Doctrine’ by Tony Lane, Professor of Historical Theology at London School of Theology, he writes,

Paul states that here and now we only ‘see in a mirror dimly’ (1 Cor 13:12)… We can hardly expect to understand God fully if he is the eternal Creator and we are his creatures. Indeed, Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, points out that we cannot expect fully to understand even the created order: “Some aspects of reality - a unified theory of physics or a full understanding of consciousness - might elude us simply because they’re beyond human brains, just as surely as Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee.”

What I find profound is that on the one hand, some incredibly gifted humans are able to study the intricacies of proteins and biochemical processes, gaining a glimpse into the incredible micro scales of life, whilst on the other hand, we (humanity) is only capable of seeing dimly. Given the depth of knowledge we can see and understand, how much of it might actually just be the tip of the iceberg? How big might the iceberg be under the water? If it’s created by an eternal God, i would hazard a guess that the iceberg is infinite. This is humbling to consider.

So in response to the original question, and considering all that has been said, I think it is prudent to admit that within our human nature, if there are questions or gaps in biology that don’t satisfyingly and explicitly say “there is definitely a creator”, we should be humble enough to say that this doesn’t matter. We cannot possibly set the standard for God to reveal Himself because evidence for an infinite God will always be outside of our full understanding - we would need infinite minds to comprehend Him!

I think that bringing this concept of an infinite Creator into discussion is worth doing, and I suspect any person seriously thinking this through might be willing to consider this concept as they work through evidence for a Creator. It allows space for each participant of the conversation (Christian or Atheist) to admit they can never know it all. Brining this humility to such a conversation means that honesty is valued, and provides an opening to getting to the heart issues.


Hi @alison ,

To follow-up on your quotes from Tony Lane and Martin Rees, here’s another one! In Telling A Better Story, Josh Chatraw writes this:

Absolute proof isn’t our lot in life, at least not for the biggest questions we humans ask. We make our biggest decisions in life—who to marry, what job to pursue, who to trust our children with, and, yes, what to believe about God—without absolute proof. We make such decisions based on our experiences, history, and the testimony of others, while living with certain nagging questions unanswered. This is what it means to grow up. As Alister McGrath has written, “A willingness to live with unresolvable questions is a mark of intellectual maturity, not a matter of logical nonsense as some unwisely regard it.” Being able to make such decisions wisely is the mark that a person has finally come of age.

I love your metaphor and theology:

Given the depth of knowledge we can see and understand, how much of it might actually just be the tip of the iceberg? How big might the iceberg be under the water? If it’s created by an eternal God, i would hazard a guess that the iceberg is infinite. This is humbling to consider.

Especially as we are not full-time biologists, but curious onlookers, I think it is important for us to speak tentatively about our understanding. We may continue to learn more about the field as we study it further, or as new discoveries are made, that change our perspective. At the same time, to exclude ourselves from thinking about it would be a great loss. So I’m thankful for this multi-dimensional conversation as we seek to better understand the mysterious and amazing world that we inhabit.