Why natural laws cannot produce life

Posted on September 10, 2017 By

origin of life

Can’t the origin of life from non-living matter be the result of natural laws? Atheists would tend to provide a ‘yes’ answer to this question. But Nancy Pearcey skillfully explains why natural laws cannot give rise to the vast amount of information contained in DNA (the language of life), in her book Total Truth:

“…In principle, laws of nature do not give rise to information. Why not? Because laws describe events that are regular, repeatable, and predictable. If you drop a pencil, it will fall. If you put paper into a flame, it will burn. If you mix salt in water, it will dissolve. That’s why the scientific method insists that experiments must be repeatable: Whenever you reproduce the same conditions, you should get the same results, or something is wrong with your experiment. The goal of science is to reduce those regular patterns to mathematical formulas. By contrast, the sequence of letters in a message is irregular and non repeating, which means it cannot be the result of any law-like process.”

“To illustrate the point, let’s invoke an imaginary Scrabble game… but this time when you organize the letters, you decide to follow a certain formula or rule (an analogy to laws of nature). For example, the formula might require that every time you have a D, it is followed by an E. And every time you have an E, it’s followed by a S, then an I, then a G, and an N. The result would be that every time you started with D, you would get DESIGN, DESIGN, DESIGN, over and over again. Obviously, if the letters in a real alphabet followed rules like that, you would be limited to spelling only a few words—and you could not convey very much information. The reason a real alphabet works so well is precisely that the letters do not follow rules or formulas or laws. If you know that a word begins with a T, you cannot predict what the next letter will be. With some minor exceptions (in English, q is always fol-lowed by u ), the letters can be combined and recombined in a vast number of different arrangements to form words and sentences.”

Natural laws only produce regular and repeating sequences, with low information content, such as the symbolic sequence below:

ABC ABC ABC ABC ABC ABC ABC

But, in order to store the vast information content needed to provide a set of biological instructions, genetic code must necessarily use irregular and non-repeating sequences. Below is an example of an irregular, non-repeating symbolic sequence which has much higher information content than the above symbolic sequence:

“In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Information scientist Henry Quastler put it best: “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” Whenever we trace information back to its source, invariably, we come back to a conscious mind. The irregular and non-repeating nature of the specified complexity in DNA means that it cannot have been accomplished by a law-like process.

At SETI (The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, which was originally a NASA program) the recognition of intelligent agency is regarded as lying within the scope of science. A long sequence of prime numbers in a radio wave from space, for example, is regarded by SETI as being a clear indicator of intelligent agency. This is because such a sequence is not the regular and repeating sort of sequence which occurs naturally.

In the primary text on the application of algorithmic information theory to the origin of life, titled Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, physicist Hubert Yockey points out that it is mathematically impossible for natural laws to produce a DNA sequence because their information content is far too low:

“The laws of physics and chemistry are much like the rules of a game such as football. The referees see to it that these laws are obeyed but that does not predict the winner of the Super Bowl. There is not enough information in the rules of the game to make that prediction. That is why we play the game. [Mathematician Gregory] Chaitin (1985, 1987a) has examined the laws of physics by actually programming them. He finds the information content amazingly small.”

“The reason that there are principles of biology that cannot be derived from the laws of physics and chemistry lies simply in the fact that the genetic information content of the genome for constructing even the simplest organisms is much larger than the information content of these laws.”

In a 2002 article for The Guardian titled How We Could Create Life, physicist Paul Davies makes a similar point to Yockey:

“Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce [Microsoft] Windows 98.  It won’t work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level.”

Please also read my related posts titled Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God and How Atheism Relies on Special Pleading.


17 comments


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    Gerry De naro says:

    Hi Scott,
    I really think you are wasting your time with Mr Smith. Here is a guy whose motives confound me. He claims *atheism is merely a non belief that makes no claims” . And yet his endless obsession with this website knows no limits. For the benefit of other readers, who might want to revisit some of his nonintellectual and illogical assertions, let me revisit some of the oft’ quoted claims made by atheists on numerous websites. He has clearly done his homework accumulating these claims and regurgitates them here for somewhat dubious effect .
    I strongly suspect however, he like most atheists, has been very careful in avoiding responses that are counter to his worldview to claims like:

    “atheism is merely a non belief”. This is clearly false. Everyone has a worldview of what they think ultimate reality to be. A godless worldview must be grounded in naturalism or scientific materialism, which says nothing can be known except through science. This is absurd since science is totally defined by immaterial laws, abstract logic and mathematics.
    ‘There is no atheist’s bible, manofesto or creeds’
    we have listed several best selling books and their authors with these very same titles. And yet he still insists there are none. We have also told him that the most celebrated atheists of the past 100years have published numerous books on the telling implications of an atheistic worldview. He is apparently in denial of these too.
    “There is no scientific consensus for the Big bang (or proof of an ultimate beginning for all time space and matter)” I referred to Scott’s article “if you think science leads to atheism” and others. There anyone will find a litany of eminent scientists whose conclusions about design, fine-tuning and origins that will shatter his delusions.
    Moreover i have included a personal argument for the finitude of the past and thus creation ex nihilo with premises and conclusion. Yet no attempt to rebut it.

    “I have proof that Jesus didnt exist.” A rather stunning ipse dixit assertion from a cynic who expects us to accept it on face value. Well, who would you rather believe professor Graham Clarke ANU who said ‘I know of no ancient history professor who has the slightest doubt as to the historicity of Jesus” or a closeminded denier?
    A question I ask every atheist is “what evidence would you expect to find if God exists and what evidence might suggest He doesnt?”

    To deny creation ex nihilo, a silly answer might be “a law like gravity created the universe out of nothing.” Or a philosophical claim made by the same author that “science has replaced philosophy in the quest for knowledge.” So which is more plausible ‘nothing’ created an immaterial natural law which in turn created all of nature OR an powerful, infinitely intelligent, immaterial reality we call God created all metaphysical laws that created nature, including intelligent beings capable of even asking the question?


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      Matt Smith says:

      Gerry,

      Your endless strawman arguments are boring me. Your response is nothing but a tissue of lies. I personally make the claim that NO Gods exist, I said that earlier. One piece of evidence against any prayer answering deity is the following obvious fact:

      – Prayers are never answered in reality!

      However, to be an atheist the one and only requirement is to claim not to believe in any God or Gods. If there is a real atheist Bible, aside from the actual Bible which is often cited as the reason for coming into reality, name it, or stop making these silly claims. Required reading for every atheist, let’s hear it, or admit you are lying.

      I also agreed the Big Bang is the scientific consensus. I disagree it is the beginning of time. You can find Physicists on both sides of the discussion, both for and against. If I’m wrong, prove it! Anyone with access to Google can check. Your lies don’t deceive me, since I’ve studied the topic extensively. I have also never said a Universe can come from ‘nothing’, neither by itself nor with a God’s help. Explain how any entity can do anything with ‘nothing’, much less create a Universe from it! Your explanation is a pure fairy tale, no more.

      Where did I claim Jesus never existed? There have been thousands of people named Jesus throughout the ages. None of them was a God though, nor did and said all the things mentioned in the Bible, because those are fables written down by ignorant and primitive people. Evidence I’m wrong would be God answering prayers as described in the Bible. Prayers are not answered, therefore the Bible is false, just like your deceptive posts. If you really believed in the book one would think you’d at least try to lie a little less.


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

      Gerry,

      Matt clearly has his heels dug in, and he is also clearly not interested in the truth. But, the more I debate him, the more this becomes obvious to third-party observers. That is why I continue these debates with such dyed-in-the-wool atheists.

      God bless,

      Scott


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        Jeff Mwangi says:

        Mr. Scott Youngren and you too Mr. Gerry Denaro. I want to thank you for your help in helping me understand the truth and how science has been hijacked by scientism. I had a year studying this area and after a year of study, I’m changed my mind.


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          Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

          Jeff,

          I am so grateful to hear that Gerry and I have helped you to find the truth! It gives me such great satisfaction. Have you become a Christian, or not quite?

          Kind regards,

          Scott


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            Jeff Mwangi says:

            Mr. Youngren, I’ve decided to return back to Christianity. I’ve decided to follow where the evidence leads. I decided to see the full truth of atheism.

            If you thought Dr. Sagan and Dr. Crick referring human beings as bundles of matter was bad, wait until you read Dr. Peter Singers’ work.

            To better summarize Dr. Singer’s work, a comment by Andy Williams read ““… unlike many thinkers who refuse to take atheism to its logical conclusions, Peter Singer shows integrity and consistency in his work — which drives him to such radical, wrong conclusions. It is frustrating to try to get atheists to follow their world view to many of its logical conclusions — they would prefer half truth, bashing theists (most notably Christians) and asserting why they can have the same values as theists without any need for God or religion. But, Singer does not hide or equivocate. He does not dance around unpopular issues or try to dress up the bad ideas springing from an atheistic world view. We should pray for him but also be grateful that he’s willing to be honest.” Source: Christianity Today, August 2010, page 44, and http://www.christianitytoday.com

            Atheists like Richard Dawkins accuse theists of believing in the supernatural but even they live life that doesn’t support their world view. Dr. Peter. S. Williams ends his article article on atheism and child abuse with the conclusion ” Christians should give some serious thought to how (and what) they teach about Hell, especially to children; but atheists should give some serious thought to the fact that without Heaven and Hell, their worldview offers neither justice nor hope, in a Godless universe that fails to provide any moral grounds for the condemnation of child-abuse”.

            I could go to science but I believe you get my point. I want to again thank you and Mr. Denaro for your help in this journey.


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              Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

              Jeff,

              Sorry again that I put your name at the beginning when I was responding to Matt’s comment. Would you say that this website was helpful for you in your return to Christianity?

              Yes, one thing that brought me back to Christianity after about a 13 year hiatus was the arguments for God and Christianity from people who did not start out as Christians. I have read Nagel’s book, and find it very honest and enlightening.

              Fred Hoyle is a physicist and mathematician from Cambridge University, and a self-described atheist. The evidence for a creator is so powerful, that, by Hoyle’s own admission, it severely challenged his atheism. He wrote:

              “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

              But, perhaps most importantly, the man who can best be described as the former “intellectual frontman” for atheism, the Oxford University professor of philosophy Antony Flew was forced by the evidence to accept theism in 2004. His book There IS a God, How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind is an amazing read. Flew’s paper titled Theology and Falsification was the most reprinted philosophical tract for over 50 years.

              Scott


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    Matt Smith says:

    Okay Scott,

    For the millionth time, books of opinions do not count. Especially not a quote of Goswami quoting himself! What in the name of all that is naturalistic are you thinking?! Show me the peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject of ‘downward causation’ in Biology please.

    Also, show me the peer-reviewed papers in Quantum Physics talking about ‘consciousness’ or ‘minds’ whilst you’re about it. I’d be especially interested in the peer-reviewed papers where Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University and Goswami actually show that, “downward causation by God is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from modern physics”. Have they actually got a model of God in the field of Physics nowadays?! Amazing!

    You really are scraping the bottom of the intellectual barrel here and endlessly repeating the same utter drivel again and again. It’s quite telling you haven’t cited a single actual paper yet. Anyone can write and publish a book if they have enough cash – mere bald assertions are not strong evidence for God, not even close.

    I’m going to ask one more time: are you claiming your God could not design a Universe in which life arose purely from the forces of nature, without supernatural intervention?


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

      Matt,

      The video which I linked to titled Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism embedded within my essay God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism cites numerous peer-reviewed papers. Who do you think that you are fooling?!

      You are committing a Red Herring Fallacy by emphasizing “peer-reviewed papers” in an attempt to divert attention away from your inability to furnish a rationally constructed rebuttal to my argument.

      A copy and paste from this link about the Red Herring Fallacy:

      http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/red-herring/

      The red herring is as much a debate tactic as it is a logical fallacy. It is a fallacy of distraction, and is committed when a listener attempts to divert an arguer from his argument by introducing another topic. This can be one of the most frustrating, and effective, fallacies to observe.

      The fallacy gets its name from fox hunting, specifically from the practice of using smoked herrings, which are red, to distract hounds from the scent of their quarry. Just as a hound may be prevented from catching a fox by distracting it with a red herring, so an arguer may be prevented from proving his point by distracting him with a tangential issue.

      You write: “I’m going to ask one more time: are you claiming your God could not design a Universe in which life arose purely from the forces of nature, without supernatural intervention?” Matt, I am claiming that natural laws cannot create life. Further, even if they could, we are left with the question of who or what governs natural laws. As I have demonstrated, atheism can NEVER provide a coherent answer to this question. Rather, it is stuck with a “they just do” answer with regards to the question of why material things so consistently follow natural laws.

      But “they just do” is not an explanation. Rather, it is a failure to explain.


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        Jeff Mwangi says:

        Scott,
        Your debunking Matt Smith. He’s the one who mentioned “peer reviewed papers” in his comment. Why you accused me of commiting the red herring fallacy in your rebuttal to Mr. Smith? I have no idea.


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          Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

          Jeff,

          Ooops, I think I was half asleep when I responded. I put your name at the beginning of the comment instead of Matt’s name. Let me go back and fix that…lol.

          Scott


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    Jeff Mwangi says:

    Again you miss the point. You attack a straw man by saying God created everything by magic. The whole argument didn’t even mention the Christian God yet here you are mentioning the Christian God with statements with “your God”. I asked you this in the comment section of the article “atheist advertising”. Why is unintelligent processes the best option rather than an intelligent mind creating this universe?

    Also, bringing quotes from experts is part of the academic fieldwork. You mention DNA which you’ve probably never looked at or studied and its a scientists work your reading and got that information from so you attacking Mr. Youngren for using quotes results in a double edged sword. I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t cite experts when presenting their hypothesis.

    Also, your argument that you don’t explain why there’s a god in your second paragraph is not much of an argument. It’s simply asking “what caused the uncaused being”? I think the reader can see the absurdity of what created God is absurd. Perhaps you have the answer to why there’s a God. Nothing. After all, nothing can create anything.


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      Matt Smith says:

      Hi Jeff,

      I’m aware that Scott thinks the Christian God dun did it, hence the references to that specific God. He also claims that natural processes can’t explain life, so what does that leave? Supernatural processes, or in other words magic, correct?

      The only thing that Scott’s extensive use of quotes prove is that certain people have certain opinions, often impressive people and experienced scientists. Obviously though, regardless of experience and prestige, scientific work is done in the real world through academic papers using data, not books of opinion.

      I categorically did not ask for a cause of an uncaused being, as you can see if you actually read my comment. However, if atheists are somehow required to explain why there is a Universe rather than nothing, it seems like the theist whose explanation is ‘because God’, is required to explain why there’s a God rather than nothing. Otherwise their story is a non-answer. In addition, I have never claimed that anything can come from nothing, that is Scott’s position, that a God created everything from ‘nothing’, a logical impossibility.

      I hold that ‘nothing’ has never been the state of affairs and I don’t claim the Universe was created, so I don’t have to account for its creation at all. Certainly, intelligence cannot be the cause of existence, since existence is itself a precondition for intelligence.


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        Jeff Mwangi says:

        Mr. Smith, you asked ‘why there is a god”? Which is why I brought in the cosmological argument. You saying “I categorically did not ask for an uncaused being” makes me wonder whether you really read your comments well. I was responding to a comment where you said “why there’s a god”?

        Whether Mr. Youngren believes the Christian God did it is not necessary in this argument. He did not mention the Christian God. In fact you brought it up which sets up a straw man. Another straw man is God using magic. Nowhere in this article the word magic comes up or even hinting magic.

        Also, trying to say somebody’s thoughts as just opinions is a clever way to avoid answering the objections. Classic ad hominem fallacy.


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      Jeff Mwangi says:

      My apologies for placing the comment in the wrong section but I was replying to Matt Smith.


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    Matt Smith says:

    This is hilarious. Yet more irrelevant quotes which do not constitute an argument. DNA is a self-replicating molecule, that is an observable fact which I don’t think theists deny. It makes copies of itself without supernatural intervention, correct? Again, this is observable.

    Are you saying that your God created a molecule that replicates itself by natural biochemical processes, by MAGIC, rather than natural forces? Your argument is utterly absurd! You already claim that God created everything by magic from ‘nothing’, with no attempt to explain why there’s a God rather than nothing, nor how you can get everything from nothing, God or no God.

    Now you’re saying this magical Universe, which God himself created with perfect foreknowledge, could not have been designed so that the natural laws gave rise to life, without more magical interventions which would inevitably lead to gaps in human knowledge?! Why would God create a Universe in which supernatural forces are required at certain (specific) stages, rather than one in which life can arise spontaneously from the initial conditions he set, knowing with 100% certainty what would be the results?


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 44 ) says:

      Matt,

      God creating the universe would only be “magic” if we first assumed that your worldview is correct. In the history of science, there have been two primary worldviews: 1) The matter-first worldview, and 2) The mind-first worldview.

      You appear to be solidly in the first camp.

      Stephen C. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University. In this book, he reveals the following:

      “Since the time of the ancient Greeks, there have been two basic pictures of ultimate reality among Western intellectuals, what Germans call a Weltanschauung, or worldview. According to one worldview, mind is the primary or ultimate reality. On this view, material reality either issues from a preexisting mind, or it is shaped by a preexistent intelligence, or both…This view of reality is often called idealism to indicate that ideas come first and matter comes later. Theism is the version of idealism that holds that God is the source of the ideas that gave rise to and shaped the material world.”

      “The opposite view holds that the physical universe or nature is the ultimate reality. In this view, either matter or energy (or both) are the things from which everything else comes. They are self-existent and do not need to be created or shaped by mind….In this view matter comes first, and conscious mind arrives on the scene much later and only then as a by-product of material processes and undirected evolutionary change. This worldview is called naturalism or materialism.”

      Atheistic scientists argue in favor of upward causation (the matter-first view), in which elementary particles make atoms, which make molecules, which make living cells, which make the brain, which produces consciousness. According to the upward causation model, then, everything begins with elementary particles, and winds up with consciousness (in human brains), as the result of mindless and random processes working over millions of years. But, as physicist Amit Goswami points out, downward causation (in which a consciousness comes first) is the actual state of affairs:

      “The new evidence suggests that certain bacteria, when threatened with mass starvation, accelerate their own mutation rate to evolve to a new species that can survive on the available food (Cairns, Overbaugh, and Miller 1988). This behavior is called directed mutation. Critics of directed mutation point out that under starvation perhaps the mutation rate of all the genes is enhanced, not just the one needed for survival. But even so, the question remains: What enhances the mutation rates? The correct explanation is to see this phenomenon as direct evidence in favor of downward causation (Goswami and Todd 1997) and the causal efficacy of organisms, as also propounded by organismic biologists.”

      So what (or rather who) is responsible for this downward causation? Goswami responds that the only answer can be God, in part because an immaterial conscious mind is required to explain the famous “observer effect” in physics. The “observer effect” refers to the conclusion of modern physics that, prior to observation by a conscious observer, particles exist only in an immaterial form known as a possibility wave (or probability wave). It is only after an observation is made by a conscious observer that these possibilities “collapse into actuality,” thereby taking on material form. Readers who find this bizarre or difficult to understand are in good company. Even the world’s most elite physicists are amazed and puzzled by the observer effect. However, it has been repeatedly scientifically verified.

      [Please click here to watch a video explaining the observer effect.] Matt, please watch this video and respond to my point that modern physics has demonstrated that, as difficult as it is to grasp, modern physics has demonstrated that material things do not even exist in the absence of a conscious observer. Trying to dodge this will fool absolutely no intelligent third-party observers.

      Goswami writes:

      “If the idea of downward causation were an isolated idea invented to solve the special problems of fast-tempo evolution and purposiveness of life, if it were needed nowhere else in science, then it could not be called a scientific idea, end of story. But the intriguing situation is this: The idea of a God as an agent of downward causation has emerged in quantum physics (Goswami 1989, 1991, 1993, 2000, 2002; Stapp 1993; Blood 1993, 2001) as the only legitimate explanation of the famous observer effect. (Readers skeptical about this statement should see these original references, especially Goswami 2002.)”

      Downward causation (in which a conscious agent comes first) is no doubt a bizarre, even mind-bending concept for persons raised in a culture which has deeply entrenched assumptions supporting the upward causation model. But, far from being a fringe concept, downward causation is a virtually undeniable conclusion of modern physics, as Goswami notes.

      Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University agrees with Goswami that downward causation by God is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from modern physics:

      “Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.” [“Solipsism” is defined as “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.”]

      Indeed, the founder of quantum physics himself, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck, was referring to downward causation, in which a conscious mind (read: God) comes first, and produces matter, when he wrote:

      “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

      Planck also wrote:

      “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

      Similar to Planck, the Nobel Prize-winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald discusses how his science led him to embrace the downward causation model, in his address to the Quantum Biology Symposium titled Life and Mind in the Universe:

      “It has occurred to me lately—I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities—that both questions [the origin of mind and the origin of life from nonliving matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality—the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals.”

      Matt, in conclusion, I would like to note that I cite experts above, but my arguments do not rest on expert opinion. Rather, they rest on the scientific research which I cite. Trying to dismiss my arguments as “just quotes” will fool nobody.

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