Answering Questions about Darwinism


A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interacting with apologists from the RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) Connect online community in a forum called “Ask RZIM.” The questions I encountered there are similar to ones I often think about and am asked when I’m out and about. I thought I’d share some of the questions and my responses here on Theorems & Theology.

Ted posted the following thoughts and questions:

Darwinism seems to me to be a ridiculous theory right from the get-go. How is it that Christians who are obviously very smart with PhDs in biology are at all sympathetic? I’ve read Behe, Meyer, Axe, Dawkins, Dembski, and Francis Collins, so that’s kind of my background knowledge. I’ve tried for years to understand what is so compelling, but I just can’t. What do people in the academy see that I don’t? Why does unguided evolution have such a stranglehold?

A Preface of Sorts

Hi, Ted. Thanks for this question. Here’s a preface to my answer: Part of my response below comes from a place of deep passion and sorrow related to topics that touch on the debates that rage over Darwinism in all its forms and the Christian faith. These debates kept me from joining any apologetic conversations or pursuits for decades. They kept me from joining the dialogue until I saw the humble, winsome approach employed by RZIM apologists, mirrored by RTB scholars, to address the questioner behind the question.

On to My Response

First things first. I think John Bloom, a physics professor at Biola, may have the best concise answer I’ve ever heard to this question. Bloom quotes Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin in Bloom’s book entitled, The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide:

“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.”1

I think that’s spot on!

Lewontin is incredibly astute in pointing out the underlying philosophical commitment driving the paradigm. However, many who adopt and defend Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian evolution, and variations on naturalistic explanations (modern synthesis, extended evolutionary synthesis, neutral theory and common descent, etc.) for all of life’s diversity, complexity, and history may do so rather inconsistently and with very little philosophical self-awareness.

It is quite possible to hold one’s approach to science and one’s spirituality—or (rational) belief or (rational) faith or religion—independently. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould referred to this as non-overlapping magisteria of science and religion—a view where each holds authority over different aspects of life and the kinds of questions we ask about life and reality.

Questioning the Paradigm

I honestly think most people just accept that evolution is a fact, and they have no good reason to question it. Very few have any motivation to step back and ask, is this really true? And does it matter if it is or isn’t? Very few of us seek coherence and correspondence within our worldview. We are muddles of cognitive dissonance and unexamined lives (and beliefs). Much of the resistance faced by people of faith in science dialogue is due to poor, hurried, dogmatic communication, assumptions about others’ worldview, and a failure to take scientific findings and biblical revelation seriously—let alone search for harmony between the two.

If we really believe God is the Author of Scripture and the Author or Creator of nature and that both (according to Scripture) reveal enough truth about God to serve as the basis of judgment of our response/rejection of God’s clear and ubiquitous revelation, then why do we choose one side or other in the conflict? Why do so many choose to ridicule science or faith as misguided or irrational?

Our approach, especially as Christ-followers, should be to humbly admit that we are seeking coherence and integration of God’s revelation in nature (through scientific discoveries and inquiries) and Scripture. We must offer a path away from conflict and derision of others and their views to invite open inquiry. When we adopt a demeanor of humility, of confidence in God’s desire to be known and choice of revelation, and of respect for others who are all made in the image of God, I believe true dialogue can happen. Then we can begin to openly and respectfully question the scientific data for various kinds of evolution and uncover where interpretation of the data is driven by philosophical commitments, and then dialogue about philosophical differences.

I hope my tone isn’t coming across as harsh in any way; it is not meant to be, and is not directed toward you or the question you’ve asked. My comments are a reflection of how passionately and sorrowfully I grieve over our inability to invite others to join us in humble pursuit of truth. I am weary and sorrowful over people who just talk past each other without caring for one another or about what may really be true. We need to be committed to lovingly, humbly pursuing truth while resting in the confidence that God will reveal truth—his truth—to all who seek it in such a way. But humility is an absolute necessity as we realize we may need to come to differing levels of belief revision.

I think the Darwinian paradigm lacks scientific rigor and is driven primarily by a philosophical commitment to naturalism. But I am willing to say that the scientific data may one day become more rigorous for various aspects of naturalistic explanations of life’s history, complexity, and diversity. Maybe one day, the data will convince me that evolutionary creationism is the place of deepest integration of scientific truth and biblical truth. Maybe. It won’t shatter my world. It won’t even upset me. And it will in no way diminish my utter awe of the power and majesty and brilliance and love of the Creator God revealed in Scripture.


I’ve written a few blogs that touch on some of these topics. Please explore further if you’re interested.

  1. John Bloom, The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 56.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Brain Synchronization Study Evinces the Image of God



As I sit down at my computer to compose this post, the new Justice League movie has just hit the theaters. Even though it has received mixed reviews, I can’t wait to see this latest superhero flick. With several superheroes fighting side-by-side, it begs the question: “Who is the most powerful superhero in the DC universe?”

I’m not sure how you would respond, but in my opinion, it’s not Superman or Wonder Woman. Instead, it’s a superhero that didn’t appear in the Justice League movie (but he is a longtime member of the Justice League in the comic books): the Martian Manhunter.

Originally from Mars, J’onn J’onzz possesses superhuman strength and endurance, just like Superman. He can fly and shoot energy beams out of his eyes. But, he also has shapeshifting abilities and is a powerful telepath. It would be fun to see Superman and the Martian Manhunter tangle. My money would be on J’onn J’onzz because of his powerful telepathic abilities. As a telepath, he can read minds, control people’s thoughts and memories, create realistic illusions, and link minds together.


Image credit: Fazale Rana

Even though it is fun (and somewhat silly) to daydream about superhuman strength and telepathic abilities, recent work by Spanish neuroscientists from the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language indicates that mere mortals do indeed have an unusual ability that seems a bit like telepathy. When we engage in conversations with one another—even with strangers—the electrical activities of our brains synchronize.1 In part, this newfound ability may provide the neurological basis for the theory of mind and our capacity to form complex, hierarchical social relationships, properties uniquely displayed by human beings. In other words, this discovery provides more reasons to think that human beings are exceptional in a way that aligns with the biblical concept of the image of God.

Brain Synchronization

Most brain activity studies focus on individual subjects and their responses to single stimuli. For example, single-person studies have shown that oscillations in electrical activity in the brain couple with speech rhythms when the test subject is either listening or speaking. The Spanish neuroscientists wanted to go one step further. They wanted to learn what happens to brain activities when two people engage one another in a conversation.

To find out, they assembled 15 dyads (14 men and 16 women) consisting of strangers who were 20–30 years in age. They asked the members of each dyad to exchange opinions on sports, movies, music, and travel. While the strangers conversed, the researchers monitored electrical activities in the brains using EEG technology. As expected, they detected coupling of brain electrical activities with the speech rhythms in both speakers and listeners. But, to their surprise, they also detected pure brain entrainment in the electrical activities of the test subject, independent of the physical properties of the sound waves associated with speaking and listening. To put it another way, the brain activities of the two people in the conversation became synchronized, establishing a deep connection between their minds.

Brain Synchronization and the Image of God

The notion that human beings differ in degree, not kind, from other creatures has been a mainstay concept in anthropology and primatology for over 150 years. And it has been the primary reason why so many people have abandoned the belief that human beings bear God’s image. Yet, this stalwart view in anthropology is losing its mooring, with the concept of human exceptionalism taking its place. A growing minority of anthropologists and primatologists now believe that human beings really are exceptional. They contend that human beings do, indeed, differ in kind, not merely degree, from other creatures, including Neanderthals. Ironically, the scientists who argue for this updated perspective have developed evidence for human exceptionalism in their attempts to understand how the human mind evolved. But, instead of buttressing human evolution, these new insights marshal support for the biblical conception of humanity.

Anthropologists identify at least four interrelated qualities that make us exceptional: (1) symbolism, (2) open-ended generative capacity, (3) theory of mind, and (4) our capacity to form complex social networks.

As human beings, we effortlessly represent the world with discrete symbols. We denote abstract concepts with symbols. And our ability to represent the world symbolically has interesting consequences when coupled with our abilities to combine and recombine those symbols in a countless number of ways to create alternate possibilities. Our capacity for symbolism manifests in the form of language, art, music, and even body ornamentation. And we desire to communicate the scenarios we construct in our minds with other human beings.

But there is more to our interactions with other human beings than a desire to communicate. We want to link our minds together. And we can do this because we possess a theory of mind. In other words, we recognize that other people have minds just like ours, allowing us to understand what others are thinking and feeling. We also have the brain capacity to organize people we meet and know into hierarchical categories, allowing us to form and engage in complex social networks.

In effect, these qualities could be viewed as scientific descriptors of the image of God.

It is noteworthy that all four of these qualities are on full display in the Spanish neuroscientists’ study. The capacity to offer opinions on a wide range of topics and to communicate our ideas with language reflects our symbolism and our open-ended generative capacity. I find it intriguing that the oscillations of our brain’s electrical activity couples with the rhythmic patterns created by speech—suggesting our brains are hard-wired to support our desire to communicate with one another symbolically. I also find it intriguing that our brains become coupled at an even deeper level when we converse, consistent with our theory of mind and our capacity to enter into complex social relationships.

Even though many people in the scientific community promote a view of humanity that denigrates the image of God, common-day experience continually supports the notion that we are unique and exceptional as human beings. But, for me, I find it even more gratifying to learn that scientific investigations into our cognitive and behavioral capacities continue to affirm human exceptionalism and, with it, the image of God. Indeed, we are the crown of creation.

Resources to Dig Deeper

  1. Alejandro Pérez et al., “Brain-to-Brain Entrainment: EEG Interbrain Synchronization While Speaking and Listening,” Scientific Reports 7 (June 23, 2017): 4190, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04464-4.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

Support Reasons to Believe

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.


U.S. Mailing Address
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  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
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The Son Of God Is The Standard Model Of All That Exist.

By Will Myers

The scriptures following reveal from Christianity that science and technology are inclusive of the Son of God, Jesus:

Colossians 1:16-17 (NIV)

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.

Colossians 1:20 (NIV)

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s law and humankind’s laws that are worthy. Jesus has overcome all shortcomings endured by the humanity. Through Him, we become aware of our spiritual state by relating us to God, our Creator. Christ Jesus brought God’s Holy Spirit to the earth.

God gives perfect righteousness giving the perfect order to all things (Uspace). When it comes to the natural laws God has given an equation, UspaceVspace=Q. All scientific equations are based on this form. Mathematics is the language of the sciences.

The “Self” in science seeks to find the design that gives the desired results as established by God and created through His Son, Jesus, but the “Self” is atheistic or agnostic; God has created and took leave or don’t exist, things just happen over eons of time. The secular humanist believes that humans can work themselves into a utopia. The problem is that all of the “Selves” egos shall always collide leading to a devastating war proliferating hell; perfection shall always evade humans without the Holy Spirit of God.

In Christ Jesus, Son of God, are all things. God created all things through His perfect righteousness giving the perfect order to all things (Uspace). We represent this with the God Equation: Uspace times Vspace equal Q. The Vspace being the nexuses of all things. The “Q” is the things that ARE, the results of some nexuses or all nexuses as created by Uspace (a given design or pattern). This is God’s equation: UspaceVspace=Q representing God’s perfect order. The Potentiality exists in all minds.

Romans 1:20 (NIV)

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

We are blessed by now being in the time that we can have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. Religions are now becoming liquified unto a better personal understanding of our relationship with our Creator. This doesn’t mean that we abandon the church because it is the bride of Christ and we are commanded to continue to meet in the name of Jesus.

All of the activities of humans are to approach the realization of the saving power of the Son of God and accept Him to be the center and controller of your life. Christ Jesus was sent into the world at a time determined by God when humans had the ability to understand His Living Word. The natural laws are the foundation of creation. In the metaphysical equation Uspace times, Vspace = Q ( the thing that IS) is the basis for all equations of science and technology. God gave us in nature the perfect order; all endeavors of the sciences and technologies are in search of this perfect order as created by God.

Hebrew 1:1-2

God’s Final Word: His Son ] In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 

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jesus CHRIST  Inspiration

The Spirit is forever with love.

By Will Myers

The humankind was created by God and placed in the universal cocoon to not only subsist but to develop the understanding of what God desires for us. Science and technology have developed to the degree that the platform to launch into the deep space of the second heaven to discover what God has for us is ready. What God has for us has always been and IS. All of the humankind activity is to convince themselves of what the Word of God has said in the first place and that is to possess God’s Holy Spirit Who gives the Life that satisfies all of the human desires. This is once again being in the presence of God.
This is our ascension scripture:

Matthew 6:33; “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

When God breathed life into the body and created a living soul God placed His Spirit into the man. The soul is grounded and the spirit of man needs God since the separation caused by the original sin by Adam. The Self led Adam to sin; ever since man has been on a Self journey that is separate from the presence of God with mankind being unable to achieve perfection as required by God.
The soul of man is grounded in a state of perfect order as created by God. We have a metaphysical nature alone with a spiritual being which is who we really are. In Isaiah, we learn the message that God has established a solid law in nature which establishes His Kingdom.
Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion (In the essence) for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
In Hebrews, we are told that our intellect is inspired by the Word of God through faith. Our precepts manifest from the inspired Word of God.
Through faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
In Romans alone with Isaiah, we learn that the intellect can learn about our universal cocoon that God created and bring us closer to God with Christ Jesus being our model and the access to God’s Holy Spirit. in Isaiah, we find confirmation prior to the coming of the Christ.
Romans 1:20

20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
 In the New Testament as presented by John that the Son Of God was sent by God to destroy the works of the devil, the source of all sin, and give us a new start.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
We know that we are separated from God due to sin. At any time in our technological development, we can accept the saving power of the Son Of God, Jesus.
The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Modern science is learning that God’s book of nature (Physics) is perfect and does not conflict with the Word of God, and can help mankind to understand the Word of God. It’s my belief that the second heaven is the Jesus, Son Of God Heaven. Each person can begin their ascent into the heavens with the Son Of God, Jesus, as their spiritual guide. You don’t have to close the door to your scientific intellect when you open the door to the Word of God.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]

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Five Ways Historic Christianity Relates Faith to Reason


Many people view faith and reason as being at odds with one another. For example, some differentiate faith from reason by asserting that faith merely involves hoping something is true, whereas reason involves affirming something to be true based upon justifying evidence. According to this model, faith is equivalent to wishful thinking and is thus incompatible with reason. But historic Christianity’s view of faith and reason is very different from this popular stereotypical definition.

In defining the relationship between faith and reason, historic Christianity draws upon both Scripture and sustained logical analysis. Here are five ways that historic Christianity relates faith to reason:

1. Faith’s Definition Involves Reason

In a biblical context, having faith (Greek: the verb, pisteúō, “believe”; the noun, pístis, “faith”) means confident trust in a credible source (God, Christ, or the truth). So the root word for faith in the New Testament is “trust,” but that confidence must be placed in a credible (reasonable and/or reliable) source. Thus, faith’s very definition includes a necessary rational element.

2. Faith Involves Knowledge

In Scripture, faith often involves knowledge. For example, saving faith by necessity includes knowledge, for having faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior involves knowing certain historical facts about his life, death, and resurrection. So in historic Christianity, faith is connected to the rational knowing process.

3. Faith Is Compatible with Reason

The scholarly consensus of historic Christianity (reflected in such influential thinkers as AugustineAnselm, and Aquinas) is that faith should seek understanding. Thus, Christians should be interested in the rational foundations of their faith. And in conjunction, the Christian apologetics enterprise works to show that there are good reasons (facts, evidence, arguments) to believe in the truth claims of Christianity.

4. Faith Can’t Be Fully Comprehended by Reason, but Faith Does No Damage to Reason

Christian believers, as finite creatures, cannot fully fathom (exhaustively understand) the divine mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, but those doctrines can be defined in ways that avoid being logical contradictions. For example, the Triune God’s oneness (essence) is in a different respect from his threeness (personhood), thus avoiding the violation of the law of noncontradiction (a thing, A, cannot equal both A and non-A).

5. God’s Rational Mind Grounds Human Reason

God’s rational mind, evident in the intelligent created order (Greek: nómos, “law”; lógos, “logic”), makes knowledge, reason, and truth possible. And humankind being created in the image of God guarantees that humans have the capacities to reason and discover truth.

So be ready to share these five points the next time a skeptic says faith and reason are incompatible.

ReflectionsYour Turn

Which of the five points made above is the most helpful to you in thinking through the relationship between faith and reason? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


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DNA Replication Winds Up the Case for Intelligent Design

Source: DNA Replication Winds Up the Case for Intelligent Design

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DNA Replication Winds Up the Case for Intelligent Design

One of my classmates and friends in high school was a kid we nicknamed “Radar.” He was a cool kid who had special needs. He was mentally challenged. He was also funny and as good-hearted as they come, never causing any real problems—other than playing hooky from school, for days on end. Radar hated going to school.

When he eventually showed up, he would be sent to the principal’s office to explain his unexcused absences to Mr. Reynolds. And each time, Radar would offer the same excuse: his grandmother died. But Mr. Reynolds didn’t buy it—for obvious reasons. It didn’t require much investigation on the principal’s part to know that Radar was lying.

Skeptics have something in common with my friend Radar. They use the same tired excuse when presented with compelling evidence for design from biochemistry. Inevitably, they dismiss the case for a Creator by pointing out all the “flawed” designs in biochemical systems. But this excuse never sticks. Upon further investigation, claimed instances of bad designs turn out to be elegant, in virtually every instance, as recent work by scientists from UC Davis illustrates.

These researchers accomplished an important scientific milestone by using single molecule techniques to observe the replication of a single molecule of DNA.1 Their unexpected insights have bearing on how we understand this key biochemical operation. The work also has important implications for the case for biochemical design.

For those familiar with DNA’s structure and replication process, you can skip the next two sections. But for those of you who are not, a little background information is necessary to appreciate the research team’s findings and their relevance to the creation-evolution debate.

DNA’s Structure

DNA consists of two molecular chains (called “polynucleotides”) aligned in an antiparallel fashion. (The two strands are arranged parallel to one another with the starting point of one strand of the polynucleotide duplex located next to the ending point of the other strand and vice versa.) The paired molecular chains twist around each other forming the well-known DNA double helix. The cell’s machinery generates the polynucleotide chains using four different nucleotides: adenosineguanosinecytidine, and thymidine, abbreviated as A, G, C, and T, respectively.

A special relationship exists between the nucleotide sequences of the two DNA strands. Biochemists say the DNA sequences of the two strands are complementary. When the DNA strands align, the adenine (A) side chains of one strand always pair with thymine (T) side chains from the other strand. Likewise, the guanine (G) side chains from one DNA strand always pair with cytosine (C) side chains from the other strand. Biochemists refer to these relationships as “base-pairing rules.” Consequently, if biochemists know the sequence of one DNA strand, they can readily determine the sequence of the other strand. Base-pairing plays a critical role in DNA replication.

Image 1: DNA’s Structure

DNA Replication

Biochemists refer to DNA replication as a “template-directed, semiconservative process.” By “template-directed,” biochemists mean that the nucleotide sequences of the “parent” DNA molecule function as a template, directing the assembly of the DNA strands of the two “daughter” molecules using the base-pairing rules. By “semiconservative,” biochemists mean that after replication, each daughter DNA molecule contains one newly formed DNA strand and one strand from the parent molecule.

Image 2: Semiconservative DNA Replication

Conceptually, template-directed, semiconservative DNA replication entails the separation of the parent DNA double helix into two single strands. By using the base-pairing rules, each strand serves as a template for the cell’s machinery to use when it forms a new DNA strand with a nucleotide sequence complementary to the parent strand. Because each strand of the parent DNA molecule directs the production of a new DNA strand, two daughter molecules result. Each one possesses an original strand from the parent molecule and a newly formed DNA strand produced by a template-directed synthetic process.

DNA replication begins at specific sites along the DNA double helix, called “replication origins.” Typically, prokaryotic cells have only a single origin of replication. More complex eukaryotic cells have multiple origins of replication.

The DNA double helix unwinds locally at the origin of replication to produce what biochemists call a “replication bubble.” During the course of replication, the bubble expands in both directions from the origin. Once the individual strands of the DNA double helix unwind and are exposed within the replication bubble, they are available to direct the production of the daughter strand. The site where the DNA double helix continuously unwinds is called the “replication fork.” Because DNA replication proceeds in both directions away from the origin, there are two replication forks within each bubble.

Image 3: DNA Replication Bubble

DNA replication can only proceed in a single direction, from the top of the DNA strand to the bottom. Because the strands that form the DNA double helix align in an antiparallel fashion with the top of one strand juxtaposed with the bottom of the other strand, only one strand at each replication fork has the proper orientation (bottom-to-top) to direct the assembly of a new strand, in the top-to-bottom direction. For this strand—referred to as the “leading strand”—DNA replication proceeds rapidly and continuously in the direction of the advancing replication fork.

DNA replication cannot proceed along the strand with the top-to-bottom orientation until the replication bubble has expanded enough to expose a sizable stretch of DNA. When this happens, DNA replication moves away from the advancing replication fork. DNA replication can only proceed a short distance for the top-to-bottom-oriented strand before the replication process has to stop and wait for more of the parent DNA strand to be exposed. When a sufficient length of the parent DNA template is exposed a second time, DNA replication can proceed again, but only briefly before it has to stop again and wait for more DNA to be exposed. The process of discontinuous DNA replication takes place repeatedly until the entire strand is replicated. Each time DNA replication starts and stops, a small fragment of DNA is produced.

Biochemists refer to these pieces of DNA (that will eventually compose the daughter strand) as “Okazaki fragments”—after the biochemist who discovered them. Biochemists call the strand produced discontinuously the “lagging strand” because DNA replication for this strand lags behind the more rapidly produced leading strand. One additional point: the leading strand at one replication fork is the lagging strand at the other replication fork since the replication forks at the two ends of the replication bubble advance in opposite directions.

An ensemble of proteins is needed to carry out DNA replication. Once the origin recognition complex (which consists of several different proteins) identifies the replication origin, a protein called “helicase” unwinds the DNA double helix to form the replication fork.

Image 4: DNA Replication Proteins

Once the replication fork is established and stabilized, DNA replication can begin. Before the newly formed daughter strands can be produced, a small RNA primer must be produced. The protein that synthesizes new DNA by reading the parent DNA template strand—DNA polymerase—can’t start production from scratch. It must be primed. A massive protein complex, called the “primosome,” which consists of over 15 different proteins, produces the RNA primer needed by DNA polymerase.

Once primed, DNA polymerase will continuously produce DNA along the leading strand. However, for the lagging strand, DNA polymerase can only generate DNA in spurts to produce Okazaki fragments. Each time DNA polymerase generates an Okazaki fragment, the primosome complex must produce a new RNA primer.

Once DNA replication is completed, the RNA primers are removed from the continuous DNA of the leading strand and from the Okazaki fragments that make up the lagging strand. A protein called a “3’-5’ exonuclease” removes the RNA primers. A different DNA polymerase fills in the gaps created by the removal of the RNA primers. Finally, a protein called a “ligase” connects all the Okazaki fragments together to form a continuous piece of DNA out of the lagging strand.

Are Leading and Lagging Strand Polymerases Coordinated?

Biochemists had long assumed that the activities of the leading and lagging strand DNA polymerase enzymes were coordinated. If not, then DNA replication of one strand would get too far ahead of the other, increasing the likelihood of mutations.

As it turns out, the research team from UC Davis discovered that the activities of the two polymerases are not coordinated. Instead, the leading and lagging strand DNA polymerase enzymes replicate DNA autonomously. To the researchers’ surprise, they learned that the leading strand DNA polymerase replicated DNA in bursts, suddenly stopping and starting. And when it did replicate DNA, the rate of production varied by a factor of ten. On the other hand, the researchers discovered that the rate of DNA replication on the lagging strand depended on the rate of RNA primer formation.

The researchers point out that if not for single molecule techniques—in which replication is characterized for individual DNA molecules—the autonomous behavior of leading and lagging strand DNA polymerases would not have been detected. Up to this point, biochemists have studied the replication process using a relatively large number of DNA molecules. These samples yield average replication rates for leading and lagging strand replication, giving the sense that replication of both strands is coordinated.

According to the researchers, this discovery is a “real paradigm shift, and undermines a great deal of what’s in the textbooks.”Because the DNA polymerase activity is not coordinated but autonomous, they conclude that the DNA replication process is a flawed design, driven by stochastic (random) events. Also, the lack of coordination between the leading and lagging strands means that leading strand replication can get ahead of the lagging strand, yielding long stretches of vulnerable single-stranded DNA.

Diminished Design or Displaced Design?

Even though this latest insight appears to undermine the elegance of the DNA replication process, other observations made by the UC Davis research team indicate that the evidence for design isn’t diminished, just displaced.

These investigators discovered that the activity of helicase—the enzyme that unwinds the double helix at the replication fork—somehow senses the activity of the DNA polymerase on the leading strand. When the DNA polymerase stalls, the activity of the helicase slows down by a factor of five until the DNA polymerase catches up. The researchers believe that another protein (called the “tau protein”) mediates the interaction between the helicase and DNA polymerase molecules. In other words, the interaction between DNA polymerase and the helicase compensates for the stochastic behavior of the leading strand polymerase, pointing to a well-designed process.

As already noted, the research team also learned that the rate of lagging strand replication depends on primer production. They determined that the rate of primer production exceeds the rate of DNA replication on the leading strand. This fortuitous coincidence ensures that as soon as enough of the bubble opens for lagging strand replication to continue, the primase can immediately lay down the RNA primer, restarting the process. It turns out that the rate of primer production is controlled by the primosome concentration in the cell, with primer production increasing as the number of primosome copies increase. The primosome concentration appears to be fine-tuned. If the concentration of this protein complex is too large, the replication process becomes “gummed up”; if too small, the disparity between leading and lagging strand replication becomes too great, exposing single-stranded DNA. Again, the fine-tuning of primosome concentration highlights the design of this cellular operation.

It is remarkable how two people can see things so differently. For scientists influenced by the evolutionary paradigm, the tendency is to dismiss evidence for design and, instead of seeing elegance, become conditioned to see flaws. Though DNA replication takes place in a haphazard manner, other features of the replication process appear to be engineered to compensate for the stochastic behavior of the DNA polymerases and, in the process, elevate the evidence for design.

And, that’s no lie.



  1. James E. Graham et al., “Independent and Stochastic Action of DNA Polymerases in the Replisome,” Cell 169 (June 2017): 1201–13, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.041.
  2. Bec Crew, “DNA Replication Has Been Filmed for the First Time, and It’s Not What We Expected,” ScienceAlert, June 19, 2017,

Subjects: Biochemistry, Design, Fine-Tuning, Intelligent Design, Proteins

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