What follows is a preliminary investigation of the language of life by the Author of Life and how it pertains to the Holy Scriptures given us by that same Author. My contention is that the Lord, in speaking to the intelligence of man, was conveying a message that, unfolding over history, is the same as the language of life in its effect. Meaning that, in giving us the Old and New Testaments, God conveyed a message that also formed His community of believers, and more than that, in His Church, formed the Body of Christ. If St. Paul could speak, in his day, of the Head of the Body and allude to the parts as, by analogy, the ear and the eye (as in 1 Corinthians 12), then it should be fair to speak, in our day, of the genetics of that Body, *albeit* by analogy, just as St. Paul did.
Now that I’ve made the bold claim, let me apply some reasonable limitations. When Jesus gives the parable of the mustard seed, thus:
Another parable he proposed unto them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Which is the least indeed of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof. [Matthew 13:31-32]
It would be naught but foolishness for us to go on to imagine that He meant the Kingdom of Heaven is yellow, and if ground up and mixed into a pasty liquid would improve the taste of hot dogs. This blog post is not a parable, and I am neither Jesus nor St. Paul. What I am applying here is the logic of analogy, to better understand the work of the Holy Spirit. As the subject matter is sacred matter, I say it is not my intention to blaspheme. The spiritual is real, but it is not material. It is not composed of giant, invisible methylated histone tails. But it is very instructional to see patterns in history that bear resemblance to the language of life that we are now learning about.
I will add one more thought to this preface before digging into the subject, and this is for those who will say I am appropriating the hard work of scientists and misusing the findings of men and women who disagree with religion. I will just say that, indebted as we are to them, and in awe as we are of the education and diligence that have produced the knowledge we have of genetics, and especially computer animations that make it easy for laymen to understand, it remains the truth that their discoveries merely describe the actual subject matter, the language of life that formed those men and women themselves. It is mind-boggling, regardless of whether you believe God created it or it happened completely on its own as blind, random chance, that the universe has produced a language that gives life to inanimate matter and causes that matter to attain consciousness and develop civilization and tools to turn around and discover the language that gave it life.
So, the Bible is composed of the Old and the New Testaments. Since I am building on previous posts, rather than reformulate the thoughts therein I am going to just jump in with both feet and move forward. The Old Testament laid the groundwork for the faith, liturgy and community of ancient Judea leading up to, as the Last Gospel reading of the Extraordinary Form has it, in John 1:6-7:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him.
Jesus, the Word of God, the True Light, “which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world” (verse 9) came to Judea, to the children of Israel, because they had the Old Testament, the Tanakh. They had the mindset, the template, if you will, on which God acted. The Scriptures, which gave instruction for building the vessels that carried the chosen, the ark of Noah, the ark of the covenant, the wilderness tabernacle, and the Temple, prefigured His Coming in the fullness of time. As a moral law they brought us His holy mother, who was the Immaculate Conception, through whom Jesus was born as through the Law the Word was born, mother and Father.
The Law- which was the result of the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which I will reiterate was a tree planted by God the Father, it was *not* an evil tree, it was partaken of prematurely- was the DNA, the template. It was fitting that only Jesus could fulfill the Law, no one else could be born of God the Father except God the Son. If that is the Old Testament, then what is the New?
The New Testament, I contend, is the coding for the epigenetics of the Body of Christ, the Church, and her movement through human history. Let’s step back a moment and choose something simpler to get on the same page. A football team has a playbook, and all the players must know the playbook by heart. That’s the DNA. The quarterback calls the play in the huddle. That’s gene expression. Gene expression is the term for why, of all the code of the 46 chromosomes in a skin cell, when it produces another skin cell, only the code for a skin cell is transcribed. When the team lines up, the players take their positions in the formation called for by the play. The quarterback reads the defense, and then shouts out the audibles, changes to the play. That’s epigenetics. Sort of.
Epigenetics describes a lot of processes, but the most common and obvious is the modification of histone tails. This is going to be brief and will reflect the fact that I am not a genetic researcher. As you can tell from the above paragraph, I’m also not a football player. Briefly, DNA code coils around histones, which are 4 proteins that form a spool. The spool shapes, combined with the DNA coiling, enable further coiling that enables the packing of about 6 feet of DNA into the cells of your body. The histones have tails. The tails are susceptible to chemical changes such as acetylation and methylation, that can increase or reduce the electrostatic attraction between the histone and the DNA structure that is coiled around it, thus making the code in the DNA more accessible to the transcription agents, causing gene expression, or less accessible, causing gene repression.
This video, X Inactivation and Epigenetics, gives a dramatic representation of gene
expression and repression in the process of X inactivation. The 2 X chromosomes of cells in the very early stages of development, 1 each from the mother and the father, undergo what looks like, when visualized in this way, a battle that causes 1 chromosome to blossom and become expressed and copied, and the other chromosome to tighten down and become repressed and not copied. This is a good visualization of how epigenetics works. It causes some code to get copied and other code to stay uncopied, or silent.
One aspect I have to keep coming back to is the amazing way in which these processes regulate the expression of genes is coded in the DNA itself. DNA is not only the code but the coder. If we go by another analogy, computer programmers have been developing Artificial Intelligence, and the increasing speculation is that AI will become self-aware and possibly learn to code, itself. I’ve seen stories that this is happening but have no evidence to point to, but that is apparently what DNA is. But before we get carried away, keep in mind that AI was developed by computer programmers. I can envision a science fiction story where AI matures, Terminator-like, kills off its human creator, and then future generations of AI programs speculate on their genesis and split into those programs that believe they were written by the Programmer and other programs that believe they sprung up through random chance. A variant of that story would be where human beings do the same thing, Brave New World-like where we have genetically engineered children and computerized the whole process to the point that sexual reproduction is no longer required and is bioengineered out of the human genome. A controversy then arises among the programmers over where the original code came from, whether there was an original Programmer and who coded him?
Anyway, truth is stranger than fiction. What we have in sacred history is the reality that the New Testament is a finite-sized book. The Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul at Rome, and after that, from a strictly historical perspective we are told nothing else. The last book is Revelation, which reads as though it tells us the age of the Church in prophecy, which I believe it does. As a Catholic, I have come to realize how much of the Liturgy of the Mass is contained therein. Hal Lindsey never commented on that. Revelation has an interesting component that is useful to discuss, a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, albeit regarding something we avoid. The “number of the beast”, that 666, whatever it is, whether it is Hebrew gematria, something similar in Greek that refers to Nero Caesar, or whether as a number we recognize it as being the sum of all integers 1 through 36, which could be represented as a triangle, or bar codes or computer chips in the skin or whatever it turns out to be, it is something we avoid, like the number 13. How many presidential candidates or foreign rulers have been speculated as fulfilling the beast prophecy, e.g., Mikhail Gorbachev and the wine-stain on his head? The fact of its being in the Bible gives it an influence over our lives and actions, even if in a very obscure way. I could say, to go with my hypothesis, that it is an example of repression, a histone marker to not transcribe this code when we see it. We could say the same of all the sins we are to avoid.
The examples of expression, those good things we are to do so as to become like Christ, are the moral code we are to uphold. Let me be clear, the so-called “Bible codes” that we see published on occasion that purport to have prophecies like of the assassination of JFK if you look at every 53rd Hebrew letter in the Torah are cynical and lifeless. Even if they were accurate they would tell us nothing before the fact, they could only be useful in retrospect, as a “proof” of the Bible, something we don’t need. God already sent His Son to die on the cross, He isn’t putting acrostic puzzles in Scripture. No, the moral code we are to live by is not only good because God has said so in an authoritarian way, it is good by definition as that which flows from God is good.
The thing about this code, this language of life, is that it is the template on which many things, and perhaps everything, in this material sphere is built. Let's consider a few things, and I'll have to ask you to bear with me as I provide some examples.
Music builds on this concept, thus- a good piece of music, one that is pleasing to our minds as well as our ears, builds complexity on more basic patterns. While some composers have experimented with moving away from form, the truth is that the best music has recurring chords, recurring rhythmic patterns, that build on each other and while the instruments may go off in wild and disparate directions, the piece of music is truly satisfying when it returns to its basic pattern, reminding the mind of the listener where it began.
This is also true of art, architecture and literature. We appreciate repetition, albeit with variety built around the repetition, because we are creatures of habit. Our most basic biological impulses revolve around the cyclic nature of the days and the seasons. Lots of writing equates music with sexuality because of the rhythmic nature and the excitation of the passions, and of course this is associated with the beating of the heart, another repetitive pattern that we appreciate when it is excited but we desire that return to calm and steadiness because our bodies need rest. What I want to focus on here is this idea that a pattern, whether spatial or temporal, is a good template, a good gravitational center, a foundation, a rock, on which to build, and while the complexity of the music, or the building, or the story, or the faith may soar to the heights, if it doesn't return again to the foundation, then it doesn't satisfy. It is somehow false, it doesn't return to its roots.
I'm packing a lot into a few words to evoke ideas so we can move to the next part of this. To return to the original idea of this post, what is remarkable about epigenetics is that its components build on the basic foundation of DNA. It is acting on DNA, and what research shows is that environmental factors that affect one generation have an effect on subsequent generations. This is the equivalent of learning. It also goes directly against the idea of random mutation as the driver of natural selection, because random mutation is no longer required to explain changes. (I predict that one day even the atheists will say it was kind of a crazy idea to begin with.)
It is extremely interesting that the components of epigenetics are coded in the DNA itself. Not the changes that take place because of epigenetics, but the histones and their characteristics, etc. (I would include here, although it isn't strictly epigenetics so much as metadata within the DNA structure, things like "CpG islands" which are long stretches of cytosine-guanine pairs that prepend the start of genes and act as signals to the enzymes that do transcription that here is where the gene begins.) Somehow these meta-factors get coded into the hard-wiring. There's no reason to assume that DNA would code for factors either beneficial or deleterious to itself unless it represented some form of intelligence. I guess I'm showing my hand now so I'll just put it all out there.
Our brain is coded by our DNA. It's yet one more marvel that the human brain with all its neurology and chemistry is coded by 4 nucleotides in various patterns. What is more mind-boggling, so to speak, is that our thoughts are not produced directly by our brains. You cannot go into the grey matter of the brain and find a single letter of any word in any language, not a single thought is spelled out. You can know everything there is to know about a particular human brain but you will never be able to read its thoughts, there is no ticker tape with symbols on it. Even the electrical impulses and chemical signals moving between neurons doesn't give you thought. Thoughts ride the wave of "grey matter" but they aren't of the matter. This should give us more pause than it does. I honestly believe that scientists who popularize the subject are too quick to make this all much less than it is by their ham-fisted need to preempt any spiritual discussion whatsoever. DNA is too intelligent for us to approach it in the way that we are predisposed to approach random natural events.