WATSON, James The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, 1969.

a review by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)

This may be the greatest popular science book of all time. It has been translated into 19 languages. It tells the fascinating story of how fifty years ago Watson and Crick were able to announce (February 28, 1953) that they had discovered the structure of DNA.

Watson and Crick had not discovered any new facts, but they were able to create an explanatory model based on a double helix (a spiral staircase) that explained and interrelated hundreds of already well-known facts. The model they proposed opened up the science of Molecular Biology. It made clear that all the complex instructions for making every part of plant and animal life is written into their DNA.

Spider DNA tells every species of spider how to construct a web of a particular shape, and that has continued unchanged for thousands of years. In the DNA of the Manx Shearwater gull there are all the instructions needed for a baby gull to take off from South America and fly by the stars and the earth's magnetic field to land (without having been there) within a few feet of their parents in the Isle of Man off the west coast of England. And just recently scientists in Alberta have been able to set out the DNA of the SARS virus, which may make it possible to diagnose and eventually treat the virulent disease. The double helix of the DNA model can apparently picture the blueprint of anything that is alive. The human genome has been decoded but there are still many parts of it whose function has not yet been understood. And it is possible that only a small part of the complexity built into us has so far been used.

Our human DNA is encoded with all that men and women need to enjoy and create music, engage in moral discussion, and choose among alternative scientific and religious models. Where did this DNA come from? In the Book of Genesis we are told that God designed us to be in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). That could mean that God designed, and then created the DNA that would be needed for humans to know God and converse with him. It is becoming more and more difficult for scientists to explain how our DNA could have evolved by chance. What use could some parts of our design be without all the other components of the human mind and body?

 All this and much more would have been unthinkable when Watson and Crick proposed the Double Helix as the blueprint model for the design of life. It is now over fifty years since this model was proposed. In the current discussion of evolution by Intelligent Design, as opposed to mindless evolution, the DNA complexity of every species of every kind of plant and animal life is at the heart of the discussion.


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Robert Brow