How atheism relies on "special pleading".

Posted on May 2, 2013 By

“A wonder it must be that there should be any man found so stupid as to persuade himself that this most beautiful world could be produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms.”

John Ray, the English naturalist (1627-1705) considered by many to be the founder of modern biology.

————

A hilarious article titled “Top 5 Stupid Criminal Excuses” includes the actress Winona Ryder’s highly publicized shoplifting conviction in 2002, for which she was sentenced to three years probation and 480 hours of community service. Her excuse?: She claimed that she stole to prepare for an acting role…although she never revealed the movie for which she was supposedly preparing.

Ryder’s reasoning suggests that the law against shoplifting can be waived (under special circumstances) for famous actresses. Such flawed reasoning should not be surprising …considering that it came from Hollywood, and considering that it came from a person desperately trying to defend herself.

But the special exemptions which atheism demands are even more ridiculous when one considers that atheism demands special exemptions from basic reason in order to maintain a pretense of scientific respectability. Any argument which contains this sort of reasoning (known as special pleading) obviously cannot be deemed rationally sound.

 And therein lies the problem for many arguments made in support of atheism: Atheists often seem to think that their arguments and reasoning can be granted special considerations or special exemptions…without adequately explaining WHY.

Intelligence and the origin of life:

 A perfect example would be the question of how life emerged from non-living matter. In Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God, I mention that the physicist Paul Davies points out that the phenomenon of the genetic code mediating information between the two languages of life (proteins and nucleic acids) provides a mystery: How can mindless processes set up codes and languages?

In his book Evolution 2.0, Perry Marshall explains the scientific reasons why the genetic code is a language in the most literal sense. This is not some “loosey-goosey analogy,” as he puts it:

Rutgers University professor Sungchul Ji’s excellent paper “The Linguistics of DNA: Words, Sentences, Grammar, Phonetics, and Semantics” starts off, “Biologic systems and processes cannot be fully accounted for in terms of the principles and laws of physics and chemistry alone, but they require in addition the principles of semiotics— the science of symbols and signs, including linguistics.”

Ji identifies 13 characteristics of human language. DNA shares 10 of them. Cells edit DNA. They also communicate with each other and literally speak a language he called “cellese,” described as “a self-organizing system of molecules, some of which encode, act as signs for, or trigger, gene-directed cell processes.”

This comparison between cell language and human language is not a loosey-goosey analogy; it’s formal and literal. Human language and cell language both employ multilayered symbols. Dr. Ji explains this similarity in his paper: “Bacterial chemical conversations also include assignment of contextual meaning to words and sentences (semantic) and conduction of dialogue (pragmatic)— the fundamental aspects of linguistic communication.” This is true of genetic material. Signals between cells do this as well.

Atheism relies on mindless chemical and physical processes to explain life. But the insurmountable problem for atheism is that such mindless processes can never account for the fact that the genetic code is a language which utilizes the arrangement of symbols…just like a human language. Much as the chemistry of the ink and paper that constitute a newspaper cannot explain the arrangement of the letters in the words of a newspaper, the chemistry of a DNA molecule cannot explain the arrangement of letters in a segment of genetic code. Michael Polanyi, a former Chairman of Physical Chemistry at the University of Manchester (UK), who was famous for his important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, emphasizes this point:

“As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence in a DNA molecule extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. It is this physical indeterminacy of the sequence that produces the improbability of occurrence of any particular sequence and thereby enables it to have meaning–a meaning that has a mathematically determinate information content.”

It would be just as absurd to assert that mindless chemical or physical processes could write a newspaper article as it would be to assert that such processes could produce a DNA sequence.

It would be just as absurd to assert that mindless chemical or physical processes could write a newspaper article as it would be to assert that such processes could produce a DNA sequence.

Again, the arrangement of symbols (such as letters) according to a language is not something that can be accomplished, even in principle, by unintelligent chemical or physical processes. Werner Gitt is a former Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig) and former head of the Department of Information Technology. In his book Without Excuse, he discusses the substitutive function of what he terms “Universal Information “(UI):

“Universal Information is always an abstract representation of some other existing entity. Universal Information is never the item (object) or the fact (event, idea) itself but rather the coded symbols serve as a substitute for the entities that are being represented. Different languages often use different sets of symbols and usually different symbol sequences to represent the same material object or concept. Consider the following examples:”

“-the words in a newspaper, consisting of a sequence of letters, substitute for an event that happened at an earlier time and in some other place,”

“-the words in a novel, consisting of sequences of letters, substitute for characters and their actions,”

“-the notes of a musical score substitute for music that will be played later on musical instruments,”

“-the chemical formula for benzene substitutes for the toxic liquid that is kept in a flask in a chemistry laboratory,”

“-the genetic codons (three-letter words) of the DNA molecule substitute for specific amino acids that are bonded together in a specific sequence to form a protein.”

The substitutive function of the the symbols in a code or language is something that can only be set up by the activity of a conscious and intelligent mind.

The substitutive function of the the symbols in a code or language is something that can only be set up by the activity of a conscious and intelligent mind.

Gitt skillfully explains this crucial point:

“An abstract symbol set provides for an immense number of combinations of basic symbols to form words. These words may then be arranged in near-limitless ways to form phrases and sentences that, in turn, are used to form larger bodies of text/messages such as paragraphs. Thus, for example, the English letters ‘a, c, and t’ may be used to form the word ‘cat’ (a mammal that purrs and meows).”

“The very same letters may also be used to form the word ‘act’ (a word that, depending on the context, will have any one of a number of meanings; e.g., consider the phrases ‘caught in the act‘, ‘the second act of the play’, ‘an act of Congress’, ‘performed a heroic act‘ and others). The point to notice is that the letters ‘a,c, and t’ by themselves do not have a one-to-one relationship with the entity that they are combined to represent. These letters acquire function and meaning only after they are combined in agreed-upon sequences and assigned meanings.“(underlining mine)

Simply put, what a symbol serves to represent must be decided upon by a conscious and intelligent agent. Symbolic representation is by necessity a mental process. Biologists with less rigid ideological commitments to atheism (or at least more intellectual integrity) have been frank enough to admit the necessity of mind (a conscious and intelligent agent) in the origin of life. The Nobel Prize winning Harvard University biologist George Wald, although certainly not an ideological ally of theism, stated the following 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.”

The genetic code is a language (because it utilizes abstract, substitutive, symbolic representation) that is very similar to a computer language. Microsoft founder Bill Gates writes: “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any we’ve ever created.” Natural processes do not create anything even vaguely resembling a computer program.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates writes: “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any we’ve ever created.” Natural processes do not create anything even vaguely resembling a computer program.

Even the world’s most outspoken atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins, concedes that DNA is a language very similar to a computer language. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Dawkins writes:

“…The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

In an article for The Times (UK), Dawkins writes:

“What has happened is that genetics has become a branch of information technology. The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same sense as computer codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth.”

Atheism cannot explain how a code/language can be produced without intelligence:

In order to suppose that a code or language could be produced by an unintelligent natural process, atheists must receive a special exemption from the rule which states that abstract, substitutive, symbolic representation (language or code) can only result from intelligence. And atheists fail to explain WHY it is necessary to grant such a special exemption. Even though the reason Winona Ryder cited for being exempt from laws against shoplifting was hilariously lame, at least she provided SOME reason.

Atheists require an exemption from the rule that only INTELLIGENCE produces codes and languages because accepting that the DNA code was caused by an intelligence is DEVASTATING to atheism. But they cannot cite a plausible reason for such an exemption, and must therefore engage in special pleading.

What is the logical necessity for postulating an unintelligent cause for the language of DNA? The fact that atheists cannot accept the existence of an eternally existent consciousness—even though this is the view most consistent with modern astrophysics and cosmology (as demonstrated in Is There A God?…What is the chance that our world is the result of chance?) and with modern physics (as demonstrated in God is Real…Why modern physics has discredited atheism)—does not constitute a logical necessity. Rather, it constitutes, at best, an IDEOLOGICAL necessity.*

Prominent theoretical biologist (and atheist) Stuart Kaufmann tries to explain the emergence of life from non-living matter as the result of a hypothetical “fourth law of thermodynamics” (there are only three laws of thermodynamics). But, as we shall see, this is an especially special pleading. William Dembski responds to Kaufmann’s hypothesis in his book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence:

“…what should be immediately evident from Kaufmann’s statement of these [proposed] laws is that they are very different in form and function from the traditional three laws of thermodynamics. The traditional three laws of thermodynamics are each proscriptive generalizations, that is, they each make an assertion as to what cannot happen to a physical system. The first law states that in an isolated system total energy neither increases nor decreases. The second law states that the entropy [the measure of disorder] of an isolated system cannot decrease. The third law states that it is not possible to reduce the temperature of an isolated system to absolute zero in a finite number of operations. Kaufmann’s candidate laws are nothing like this.  Instead, they provide qualitative descriptions of the emergence of complexity in nature, yet without proposing a mechanism that is causally sufficient to account for the emergence of that complexity.”

Natural laws are like the rules of a game such as football. Rules determine what is allowable, but do not cause anything to happen.

Natural laws are like the rules of a game such as football. Rules determine what is allowable, but do not cause anything to happen.

Before one gets lost in any of the above high-brow scientific talk, it should be emphasized that what Dembski is driving at is very simple and easy to understand. Natural laws such as the three laws of thermodynamics DO NOT CAUSE ANYTHING TO HAPPEN. Rather, they determine what is possible…much as the rules of chess determine what chess moves are permissible. This point is made by the former Manhattan Project physicist, and leading information scientist, Hubert Yockey, 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:

 “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.”

Simply put, Kaufmann’s hypothetical “fourth law of thermodynamics” requires a special exemption from the rule that natural laws do not create, but only describe what is possible. Postulating a natural law that causes something to happen (much less something as sophisticated as the creation of a code or language) is an especially special pleading. Supposing that a hypothetical “fourth law of thermodynamics” (or any other law) could create life from non-living matter is every bit as absurd as the idea that the laws of mathematics could cause money to appear in one’s bank account. When compared with the special pleading of atheists such as Kaufmann, Winona Ryder’s shoplifting excuse appears almost reasonable.

————-

Dean Kenyon was one of the leading chemical evolutionary theorists in the world, and the author of a best-selling text on chemical evolutionary explanations for the origin of life. But, as the video below reveals, Kenyon was eventually obliged by the weight of the evidence to renounce his naturalistic views and endorse theism.

And perhaps most prominently, the Oxford University philosopher Antony Flew was for 50 years considered to be the intellectual “frontman” for atheism as a philosophical cause. His paper Theology and Falsification was the most reprinted philosophical tract in the world during this period. But as the video below reveals, Flew was forced by the facts of biology to endorse theism in 2004. To learn more, please read Flew’s book There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

* As I mentioned in Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God, even extremely prominent atheist biologists such as Francis Crick (famous as the co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix) and Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) VERY CLEARLY DO UNDERSTAND that life emerged from non-living matter as the result of intelligence. Click here to read an article discussing how Crick, in his book Life Itself, endorsed the hypothesis known as “directed panspermia,” which says that life was CREATED BY ALIENS AND THEN BROUGHT TO EARTH IN THEIR SPACESHIP.  And click here to watch Richard Dawkins endorsing the same hypothesis in an interview.

Not satisfied with the aliens-brought-life-to-earth-in-their-spaceship explanation for the origin of life? DO NOT FEAR! Atheism provides other explanations…such as a piggyback ride on crystals. Sound bizarre? Click here to watch the prominent atheist biologist Michael Ruse endorsing the hypothesis in an interview.


  1. John Cook says:

    I mean no disrespect, but in the article, all of your thinking is based on a preconceived notion that God actually exists. Wouldn’t you first have to prove that God truly exists? That could not be a Biblical based proof as that is a senseless circular argument. It would be like me writing a fictitious book and then claiming proof because it is in a book.

    Without the Bible, which is little more than an ancient middle east text written by the scribes of ancient and possibly illiterate desert dwellers?

    Additionally, as the arrival of the Christian God in Jesus was an earth shaking event, why was he only realized by a small band of desert tribesmen? No knowledge in the rest of the world and no recorded history (OK, one line, no mention of God)?

    I have been a good Christian for 20 years but things like this are starting to wear on me. All the illogical fallacies often point to something that cannot be explained–or in other terms, something that can only be a myth.

    Is there actually a way to prove the existence of Jesus or God and not use the overdone “look around you” statement. That is not proof of God, just a vision of this world.

    • John Cook:

      Your statement that “all of my thinking is based on a preconceived notion that God actually exists” is very strange. Did you really read the essay?

      The essay explains how codes and languages (such as the DNA code, which is the language of life) can only be the product of intelligence. Neither randomness nor law-like natural processes produce anything even remotely resembling a code or language.

      This is an ARGUMENT for God’s existence, not a preconceived assumption of God’s existence. I am bewildered as to how you could take the stance that I just assumed God’s existence.

      Of course, you could argue that the source of the DNA language was some intelligence OTHER THAN GOD. The logical basis for concluding that languages can only be caused by an intelligent source is so strong that it has forced many atheist scientists to argue just that: For exmaple, the atheist biologist Francis Crick (famous as the co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix) argued that life on earth can be explained by the fact that it was brought here by ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE. So did the atheist (British) chemist Leslie Orgel. And, sadly for atheists, so did the most famous atheist scientist of them all…the biologist Richard Dawkins.

      Click HERE to read a story about Francis Crick’s endorsement of the aliens-brought-life-to-earth-in-their-spaceship hypothesis (known as “Directed Panspermia”) in his book Life Itself. And you can go to YouTube and type “Richard Dawkins admits to intelligent design” in the search box to watch Richard Dawkins endorsing the hypothesis in an interview.

      But this just brings us to the question of where ALIEN intelligence came from.

      Regarding your comment about how knowledge of God was only known to “a small band of desert tribesman,” I must correct you. The Judeo/Christian concept of God is actually a thoroughly trans-cultural and trans-historical concept, as I demonstrate in Which God is Real?

      Scott

      • Judit says:

        I beg to differ. Your article is nothing but à la Bill O’Reilly “you can’t explain that!”. In other words, this is your ‘God of the gaps’, or argument from ignorance.

        Just because a natural phenomenon is presently unexplained, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that a god did it. “I don’t know, therefore God” is simply a placeholder statement that doesn’t explain anything, predict anything, or help understand anything better. It’s not science. It’s as much science as is phlogiston. Just like phlogiston, you are using God to prove… God. (“This is unexplained, but God could have easily done it, therefore this is evidence that God really did it”).

        • Scott Youngren says:

          Judit:

          With all due respect, I seriously doubt that you have even read the essay. The argument presented in the essay is not an “argument from ignorance,” but rather an argument from knowledge. Simply put, it is based upon what we DO know about codes and languages, rather than upon what we do not know. A “God of the gaps” argument is an argument based upon what we DO NOT know rather than what we DO know.

          Here is what we DO know: Code or language, such as the words that you and I are typing to each other, cannot even in principle be explained by unintelligent natural processes. Since the information in DNA is codified, or presented in a language (three letter words known in biology as “codons”), DNA can also never be explained by unintelligent natural processes, even in principle. An crucial excerpt from the essay relevant to this point which cites the physicist an information scientist Werner Gitt from the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology:

          Information is never the item (object) or the fact (event, idea) itself but rather the coded symbols serve as a substitute for the entities that are being represented. Different languages often use different sets of symbols and usually different symbol sequences to represent the same material object or concept. Consider the following examples:

          -the words in a newspaper, consisting of a sequence of letters, substitute for an event that happened at an earlier time and in some other place,

          -the words in a novel, consisting of sequences of letters, substitute for characters and their actions,

          -the notes of a musical score substitute for music that will be played later on musical instruments,

          -the chemical formula for benzene substitutes for the toxic liquid that is kept in a flask in a chemistry laboratory,

          -the genetic codons (three-letter words) of the DNA molecule substitute for specific amino acids that are bonded together in a specific sequence to form a protein.”

          The substitutive function of the the symbols in a code or language is something that can only be set up by the activity of a conscious and intelligent mind. Gitt skillfully explains this crucial point:

          “An abstract symbol set provides for an immense number of combinations of basic symbols to form words. These words may then be arranged in near-limitless ways to form phrases and sentences that, in turn, are used to form larger bodies of text/messages such as paragraphs. Thus, for example, the English letters ‘a, c, and t’ may be used to form the word ‘cat’ (a mammal that purrs and meows).

          The very same letters may also be used to form the word ‘act’ (a word that, depending on the context, will have any one of a number of meanings; e.g., consider the phrases ‘caught in the act‘, ‘the second act of the play’, ‘an act of Congress’, ‘performed a heroic act‘ and others). The point to notice is that the letters ‘a,c, and t’ by themselves do not have a one-to-one relationship with the entity that they are combined to represent. These letters acquire function and meaning only after they are combined in agreed-upon sequences and assigned meanings.”
          (underlining mine)

          Simply put, what a symbol serves to represent must be decided upon by a conscious and intelligent agent. Symbolic representation is by necessity a mental process.

          Substitutive, symbolic representation (as discussed in the essay) is BY NECESSITY a mental process. Therefore, it requires a conscious and intelligent agent. As I mentioned in the essay, extremely prominent atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick very clearly DO understand this…and that is why they have resorted to the aliens-brought-life-to-earth-in-their-spaceship hypothesis (known as “directed panspermia,” as discussed in the essay) in order to keep their atheist worldview from collapsing.

          Those arguing that substitutive, symbolic representation (code or language) will eventually be explained by unintelligent natural processes are committing an “unintelligent natural processes-of-the-gaps” fallacy. The view that everything in our world will eventually be explained by unintelligent natural/material processes was derisively termed “promissory materialism” by the prominent philosopher of science Karl Popper.

          Scott

        • It’s an interesting comment. I’m always surprised at how people expect and demand that everything is known. Especially theists whom I would expect to have a much more broad and expansive view of god. To most people god is just a superman who we describe in a nice fat systematic theology.

          • Scott Youngren says:

            Dennis,

            No, I do not expect and demand everything to be known. This would be impossible because science constantly discovers new mysteries to explore.

            But I do expect reasonable people to construct arguments for their worldview (whether theism or atheism) based upon what we DO know rather than what we do not know.

            Please note that I am constructing my argument for God based upon what we DO know, whereas you are constructing your argument for atheism upon what we do not know. This is the logical fallacy of Argument From Ignorance, or materialism-of-the-gaps reasoning.

            God is the conscious and intelligent being which is the prime reality (roughly defined as “the something-from-which-everything-else-comes”). It is very clear how extremely sophisticated codes (far far more sophisticated than even our most sophisticated computer languages) could come to be if the prime reality is God.

            However, it is impossible to effectively explain how such codes could come into existence if mindless material particles bumping into one another is the prime reality (as atheism insists). Codes/languages are necessarily mental in nature, and this necessarily means that the source of a code/language is always a mind. This is why, for example, the Nobel Prize winning Harvard University biologist George Wald, although certainly not an ideological ally of theism, stated the following 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.”

            This is also why cream-of-the-crop atheist scientists such as the biologist Richard Dawkins have resorted to suggesting that aliens created life and brought it to Earth in their spaceship, as he does in this interview. Several other top notch atheist scientists have also endorsed the aliens-brought-life-to-Earth-in-their-spaceship explanation, including the co-discoverer of DNA Francis Crick, the British chemist Leslie Orgel, and the Oxford University physicist Fred Hoyle. Click here to read an article about how Crick endorsed the aliens in his book Life Itself.

            • Hey Scott – sorry but I wasn’t referring specifically to you demanding that people know. But you’ve been around the block enough to know that whether you’re on an atheist, apologetics, evolution, or creationist site almost every argument devolves into yelling to ‘prove it’. When you can’t – and lots of things aren’t provable and lots of things are unknown – you’re banished for being an idiot. I usually cut right to the chase and admit that I don’t know and move along.

              And I don’t label myself as an atheist. Mostly I am a shrugger of shoulders who believes that without an argument from ignorance neither atheists nor theists will have anything to say. But I see little or no necessity for god. Things seem to work just fine and people seem to get along better without a galactic rule giver.

              “God is the conscious and intelligent being which is the prime reality (roughly defined as “the something-from-which-everything-else-comes”). It is very clear how extremely sophisticated codes (far far more sophisticated than even our most sophisticated computer languages) could come to be if the prime reality is God.

              However, it is impossible to effectively explain how such codes could come into existence if mindless material particles bumping into one another is the prime reality (as atheism insists).”

              Isn’t this *exactly* a god of the gaps argument? You don’t see any way possible to explain the phenomenon so you insert god?

              • Scott Youngren says:

                Dennis,

                A God-of-the-gaps argument would be based upon what we do not know about science…gaps in current scientific understanding. However, my argument is based upon what we DO know about science. My conclusion is based upon the following facts that we DO know from science:

                1) DNA is a language in the most literal sense (this is not some loosey-goosey analogy).

                2) Information science tells us that language and information content are always the product of a conscious and intelligent mind.

                The two above facts lead to the reasonable conclusion that DNA was created by a conscious and intelligent mind. This dovetails neatly with what the observer effect of modern physics tells us about the need for a conscious observer to “collapse the wave function” in the production of physical reality (as I discuss in God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism and There’s Nothing Random About Evolution).

                I don’t want to misrepresent your stance, but you appear to be committing a materialism-of-the-gaps argument. You seem to be arguing that we don’t know how a mindless material process (material particles bumping into one another) could create a language, but that this will be explained when gaps in current scientific understanding are filled in. If you are in fact making such an argument—and I hope that you are not—then you are committing the logical fallacy of Argument From Ignorance, because your stance would be based upon what we do not know, rather than what we do know. The eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper contemptuously referred to such arguments as “promissory materialism,” since they promise to eventually explain everything in terms of mindless material processes.

                As I said before, both theism and atheism are based on the existence of a prime reality (or a something-from-which-everything-else-comes). Atheism argues that the prime reality is mindless matter, but this stance is impossible to rectify with what we DO know about science.

                • No, Scott. Your argument is an opinion. Maybe even a good and well reasoned one but it is not a fact. Be as assertive as you want but it is an opinion only. And how can information science (and gives the final word here?) tell us the anything always must happen in the same way? Opinions. Wrong opinions I think. These are the very reasons that I am agnostic and fall off the fence on one side or the other. People say there are miracles. I’ve never seen one. I know people who say it’s a miracle they got that job. Their cousin prayed for them! I say that they are qualified and have ten years in the field. They have nice teeth and their cousin knows the hiring manager. Miracle? But mine is only a strong opinion. I can’t say that in all times and all places that a miracle has occurred.

                  Regarding ‘materialism in the gaps’ do you ascribe that label to *every* research question? I mean science searches the unknown. I did research for a particular brain function mechanism regarding addiction. Would you laugh and say ‘ there’s those dolts again! Materialism in the gaps!’ Sounds sill to me.

                  • Scott Youngren says:

                    Dennis,

                    Regarding miracles and your lack of an experience of one, I cite Craig Keener from his book Miracles:

                    Some scholars develop a story, long bantered about as an illustration for competing epistemologies, about a king of Siam. Hearing from Dutch visitors about riding horses on top of rivers that became so cold that they became hard like stone, this ruler “knew that the men were liars.” The king’s inference was a logical one based on the reality with which he was familiar; it was his expectation of a rigid uniformity in the human experience of nature that proved inaccurate. Defenders of anomalous events thus offer the king as a warning to those who, like David Hume, would rule out extranormal phenomena based on their own limited experiences.

                    (David Hume was the 18th century Scottish philosopher who originated what are still the primary arguments against miracles).

                    My point is that you are wise to not dismiss miracles based upon your lack of having experienced one.

                    No, I do not ascribe “materialism of the gaps” to every research question. Remember the analogy I made about cars. Learning more and more about how a car is made does nothing to do away with the question of what is the ultimate cause of the car.

                    Saying, “Science does away with the need to cite God in explaining how life (or the universe, etc.) came to be” is akin to saying, “Studying the process by which cars are manufactured does away with the need to cite people in explaining how cars came to be.”

                    Materialism-of-the-gaps reasoning merely refers to the mistaken idea that material processes can provide ultimate explanations for things. Describing how a car was manufactured does nothing to explain the ultimate cause for that car. In a similar light, scientifically describing how life came to be does nothing to explain the ultimate cause for life.

                    Dennis, in conclusion, I want to make a point that might help diffuse objections you may have to belief in God. I was an agnostic for many years, and so I know the psychological motivations for lack of belief in God…quite intimately. Drawing from my own personal experience, I suspect that you probably object to God because you don’t want to have a higher power telling you what you can and cannot do. You want to pursue your desires without restraint.

                    But God really does not want to make your life boring by taking away your fun. Quite the opposite. As C.S. Lewis points out, it is not that you desire too much. Rather, it is that you desire too little:

                    “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

                    The things in this life that we think will satisfy us are not what will really satisfy us…and God knows this. Sex, money, power, etc. are actually quite empty and incapable of satisfying us. If you would like to learn more about this, please read Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope That Matters.

                    • “”Scott writes:
                      Dennis, in conclusion, I want to make a point that might help diffuse objections you may have to belief in God. I was an agnostic for many years, and so I know the psychological motivations for lack of belief in God…quite intimately. Drawing from my own personal experience, I suspect that you probably object to God because you don’t want to have a higher power telling you what you can and cannot do. You want to pursue your desires without restraint.””

                      I’m always suspicious when folks quit the conversation and move onto evangelism. Thanks for the counselling but I’ve already been there.

                      I won’t be holding out for any miracles. I’ve ‘seen’ many and have experienced all kinds of things that other folks call miracles. But they aren’t. It’s simply a way to frame experience from a particular view. It’s all part of god-talk. I simply recognize that I can’t logically say that it’s impossible. After all, we can all be brains in vats.

                      Cheers!

                    • Scott Youngren says:

                      Dennis,

                      You say that I “quit the conversation” to engage in evangelism. But this is not exactly what what happened.

                      I presented a logical argument for God, and you responded to my logical argument by characterizing it as an “opinion.” But of course it is my opinion….that is why I am logically defending it.

                      You merely dismissed my argument by characterizing it as an “opinion,” rather than logically engaging with it. Logically engaging with my argument may come in the form of furnishing a logical rebuttal to it, or in the form of presenting me with further questions about it.

                      Since you chose to dismiss my argument, instead of logically engaging with it, I assumed that your objections to God are other-than-logical objections. And since I have personal experience with rejecting God for other-than-logical (read: emotional) reasons, I thought I would share my experience with you. I was hoping that you may be able to relate to my experiences.

                      I was an agnostic for many years largely because I was angry at God for the fact that I was very unhappy with my life. My reasons for rejecting God were emotional, not rational. I suspect that you may now be at a similar place to where I was.

                      My suffering, I now realize, was part of God’s plan to bring about a greater good. In other words, I now realize that the intense suffering I went through was part of God’s plan to mold and shape my character. As Victor Frankl, the famed Swiss psychologist who survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, put it: “What is to give light must endure burning.”

                    • Scott says:

                      “You say that I “quit the conversation” to engage in evangelism. But this is not exactly what what happened.

                      I presented a logical argument for God, and you responded to my logical argument by characterizing it as an “opinion.” But of course it is my opinion….that is why I am logically defending it.”

                      Sorry! Let’s pick it up here:

                      From Scott:

                      “1) DNA is a language in the most literal sense (this is not some loosey-goosey analogy).

                      2) Information science tells us that language and information content are always the product of a conscious and intelligent mind.”

                      1. This is not true. Some people hold this position but it is not true in the literal sense. Literally language is always symbolic and representative. Thus Plato and his forms. What ever we say, write, code, or refer to is symbolic of something separate from us. Even machine code is symbolic of something other than itself. DNA is different. It functions intrinsically in and of itself. The word ‘apple’ or ‘pomme’ is language. That thing hanging on a tree isn’t. We speak of it symbolically because we are humans. It can be useful to imagine DNA as a language because our minds work symbolically but that doesn’t change the nature of DNA. (You might be interested in finding CS Lewis’ treatise on silent prayer – he felt the words – symbols – might get in the way of one’s true prayer and that silence could speak better.)

                      2. This has the smell of a tautology to me. And it’s clearly unsubstantiated opinion. First you need to show that you are not a brain in a vat and simply following molecular programming. But a question from my own experience: I used to use a protocol in a lab that gave x results. It had 37 steps. One time I did it and the results looked at first to be horrible. I ran step wise through my actions to figure out what I did wrong until I figured out that at step 35 I grabbed the wrong chemical (probably was flirting with someone). I figured what they hey and ran the tests anyway. The results were spectacular. Smaller amounts but shiningly clear. From then on we always used the revised protocol based on my copy-error.

                      So – I had a protocol (a language). While performing the protocol I – mindlessly – grabbed the wrong stuff. And substantially and markedly improved the protocol.

                      Would you consider this improvement to information based on ‘mind’?

                      Scott says:

                      “I was an agnostic for many years largely because I was angry at God for the fact that I was very unhappy with my life.”

                      I’m sorry that you wallowed in such false expectations. It’s easy to be angry when you don’t understand the nature of reality. But cheer up! I’m here for you.

                    • Scott Youngren says:

                      Dennis,

                      One of the things that led me to Christianity was my realization that atheism’s supposed scientific basis is actually bogus. It is really a pretension of scientific support which is only supported by popularized misrepresentations of science, not real science. For example:

                      You write: “Even machine code is symbolic of something other than itself. DNA is different. It functions intrinsically in and of itself.” But this is based upon a false popularized version of science which just doesn’t match the facts.

                      Even the world’s most outspoken atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins, admits to the linguistic nature of DNA. He writes, “What has happened is that genetics has become a branch of information technology. The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same sense as computer codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth.” And the linguistic nature of DNA is likely one reason that outspoken atheists such as Dawkins have resorted to theorizing that aliens created life and brought it to Earth in their spaceship, as he does in this interview (click on the preceding link). Perry Marshall elaborates on the linguistic nature of DNA in Evolution 2.0:

                      Rutgers University professor Sungchul Ji’s excellent paper The Linguistics of DNA: Words, Sentences, Grammar, Phonetics, and Semantics starts off, “Biologic systems and processes cannot be fully accounted for in terms of the principles and laws of physics and chemistry alone, but they require in addition the principles of semiotics— the science of symbols and signs, including linguistics.”

                      Ji identifies 13 characteristics of human language. DNA shares 10 of them. Cells edit DNA. They also communicate with each other and literally speak a language he called “cellese,” described as “a self-organizing system of molecules, some of which encode, act as signs for, or trigger, gene-directed cell processes.” This comparison between cell language and human language is not a loosey-goosey analogy; it’s formal and literal. Human language and cell language both employ multilayered symbols.

                      …Physicist and information theorist Hubert Yockey, writing in Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life [the primary text on the application of algorithmic information theory to the origin of life] in 2005, took great pains to demonstrate that terms like translation and code are literal, not metaphoric: “Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies”. He says this on page 6, because this fact is fundamental to everything in his book that follows.

                      Next, you write, “First you need to show that you are not a brain in a vat and simply following molecular programming.”

                      Dennis, If your worldview is true, then your view that our thoughts are nothing but the result of molecular programming is nothing but the result of molecular programming. How can natural phenomena in the brain such as this be either true or false? Regarding this point, Nancy Pearcey and Charles Colson write in their book How Now Shall We Live?

                      Christians ought to argue that scientific naturalism is incoherent and self-contradictory, for scientists must exempt themselves from the very framework they prescribe for everyone else. All human beings are reduced to mechanisms operating by natural causes-except scientists themselves. Why? Because to carry out their experiments, they must assume that they, at least, are capable of transcending the network of material causes, capable of rational thought, of free deliberation, of formulating theories, of recognizing objective truth. They themselves must form the single glaring exception to their own theory. This is the fatal self-contradiction of naturalism.

                      Lewis pointed out another contradiction that is equally devastating. The naturalist assumes that everything that exists can be explained in terms of natural forces. But that assumption itself cannot be the result of natural forces or it would not qualify as a genuine truth claim. For if an idea is simply the product of particles bumping around in our brains, then it is neither true nor false but merely a natural phenomenon. If, for example, a man tells us his room is on fire but we know that he just swallowed a hallucinogenic drug, then we probably will not call the fire department. If we think an idea is the result of physical, chemical causes in the brain, then we discount it and don’t even credit it as a rational thought.

                      Now, scientific naturalism necessitates the conclusion that all ideas are products of natural causes in the brain-including the idea of scientific naturalism itself. Thus, if it is true, then it is not a rational thought and ought to be discounted. “Every theory of the universe which makes the human mind a result of irrational causes is inadmissible,” Lewis wrote. For “in order to think, we must claim for our reasoning a validity which is not credible if our own thought is merely a function of our brain and our brain a byproduct of irrational physical process.”‘

                      You wanna talk about tautologies?! Darwinism is a tautology:

                      Who survives? The fittest. Who is the fittest? The one who survives. Physicist Amit Goswami explains the tautological nature of Darwinism:

                      The Darwinian theory of evolution is based on natural selection: Nature selects those organisms that are fittest to survive. In the materialist view, an organism is just a bundle of molecules that are completely specified by their physical and chemical properties. Nowhere among these properties will you find a property called survivability. No piece of inanimate matter has ever attempted to survive or in any way tried to maintain its integrity under any circumstances. But living bodies do exhibit a property called survivability. Now the paradox. A Darwinist would say that the survivability of the living form comes from evolutionary adaptation via natural selection. But natural selection itself depends on survival of the fittest.

                      See the circularity of the argument? Survival depends on evolution, but evolution depends on survival! A paradox is a sure-fire sign that the basic assumptions of the paradigm are incomplete or inconsistent; they need a reexamination. Aren’t biologists missing something by objectifying subjective phenomena? The philosopher Robert Efron (1968) thinks so:

                      The reductionist attacks the definition and usage of every word, which has historically referred to an action of a living entity: “memory,” “reflex,” “free will,” “cognition,” and so forth. He then redefines the same word so that it will be applicable to an action of an inanimate entity. By using this epistemological technique he deludes himself into thinking that inanimate entities have the same properties found in living organisms, that a common denominator has been found, and that the problem of reduction has been “solved.” The solution is primitive animism expressed in scientific jargon.

                      Dennis, you appear to have what C.S. Lewis referred to as a “self-imposed set of blinders,” which you use to rationalize your psychological need to be free from having to answer to a higher moral power for your actions.

                    • Hey Scott – lets back up even further.

                      There is an apple on the table. Can you write about this in terms of language and information theory?

                    • Scott Youngren says:

                      Dennis,

                      I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are asking. Can you rephrase?

    • chris says:

      Actually no, it follows the presupposition of the belief of atheists that deity does not exist.

      The other is an apple to this orange.

  2. Robert says:

    I spent the last hour writing a comment but the webpage managed to fail at sending it so I will have to summarize what I said.

    I was directed to this article by a colleague who gave his philosophy class this article to review to practice identifying logical fallacies. I am religious and thus had high hopes of defending it against him. I was very disappointed.

    The first half of your argument based on Lyell’s book seems to be a huge straw man. Just because one book written by him is about using current knowledge to explain the unknown does not mean that all science is conducted that way. Occam’s razor would indeed agree that it is preferable to use current knowlege but that does not mean that those are the only explanations. Are you seriously implying that when faced with uncertainty we should just give up and attribute it to what we know? With that attitude we would never have discovered the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity. You can’t just pick one book by one scientist and say that that is how all science is and should be conducted.

    Your part on Kaufmann’s paper is more of what would be called special-pleading but this a single fringe idea that has not been accepted by the scientific or atheist communities as a consensus and thus is irrelevant to the majority of atheists out there. That being said, it should be noted that special pleading does not mean that the “special case” is necessarily false but rather that it can’t be used as a logical argument. You clearly have very little idea how science works… Scientists propose hypotheses which are then tested. They do not have to be usable as an argument in order to be tested, but rather the other way round. They need to be tested in order to be used as an argument, and it seems that that is all that is happening with this. Almost every scientific theory was a case of special pleading when it started. Either way, it is irrelevant because it is only a fringe idea and while Kaufmann may have used it as an argument, the majority of atheists have never heard of the idea.

    I advocate that science, religion and critical thinking can work together but I find this article to be a disgrace. It is terrible when people misuse logical fallacies especially when it is for a cause I mostly agree with. I’m not sure if you are unaware of the logical holes you are falling in or whether you see them and just don’t care. Either way, you should not be writing articles to the general public, especially about such controversial topics like this one where people need to apply proper critical thinking to make up their mind, not your crude broken form.

    So please, the war between science/atheism and religion is completely unnecessary and writings like this are just fuel for the fire. Try to logically analyse your own arguments before publishing them or at least get a second non-biased opinion. I wanted to believe what you said I couldn’t even.. Imagine how easily the atheist skeptics would find the flaws in your arguments. Your argument is weak and you really give religion a bad name..

    PS Please don’t delete this comment like every other person, you should be able to argue your point against criticism, otherwise it is meaningless..

    • Robert:

      Talk about straw men! You write, “just because one book written by him is about using current knowledge to explain the unknown does not mean that all science is conducted this way.” But if you read the essay, I said, “by the method of investigation used by Lyell and Darwin, if you are trying to explain some event in the remote past, you don’t invoke some exotic hypothetical cause that no one has ever seen.”

      Nothing in the essay suggests that I am arguing that “all of science is conducted this way.” Rather, I am saying that by using the method of investigation used by Lyell and Darwin, you don’t invoke some exotic hypotheitcal cause. You are putting words in my mouth by claiming that I am suggesting that ALL OF SCIENCE is conducted this way. Thus, you have provided a textbook of example of a straw-man argument that you can present to your professor!

      You say that Kaufmann’s paper is a “small fringe idea.” Whether or not this is true is not of particular relevance. But what IS of relevance is that the origin of life from non-living matter cannot be coherently explained from within the framework of the atheist worldview.

      Codes and languages can only be produced by intelligence. If you or your professor can furnish an example of a language produced by a non-intelligent source, NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME! Ask your professor to do this. I AM VERY EXTREMELY CURIOUS TO HEAR ANY EXAMPLES THAT HE CAN PROVIDE!!

      Atheistic attempts to explain the origin of life from non-living matter only become increasingly incoherent from Kaufmann…not less. Indeed, I picked Kaufmann’s explanation because it is one of the LEAST incoherent and nonsensical among atheistic explanations. In my essay Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God (which I provide a link to in the above essay), I demonstrate that prominent atheist biologists such as Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix) and Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) very clearly understand that life was the result of intelligence. Crick tries to explain this away by saying that life emerged when it was created by ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE and brought to Earth in their spaceship (this hypothesis is known as “directed panspermia”). He endorses this hypothesis in his book Life Itself. I provide a link to an article which describes Crick’s support of this hypothesis in my essay titled Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God.

      Dawkins also endorses this hypothesis in a video to which I provide a link, also in the essay titled Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God. (Or you can go to YouTube and type “Richard Dawkins admits to intelligent design” in the search box). But, of course, this just introduces the question of how ALIEN life emerged.

      Also linked to in Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God is a video of the prominent atheist biologist Michael Ruse trying to explain the origin of life to be the result of a PIGGYBACK RIDE ON CRYSTALS.

      So no matter what method of reasoning one is using (Lyell’s and Darwin’s, or some other method), the origin of life from non-living matter simply cannot be coherently explained from within the framework of the atheist worldview.

      Tell your professor to use whatever method of reasoning he likes to provide an explanation for how a language could be produced by a non-intelligent source…especially a language far, far more complex than any of our computer languages (as Bill Gates describes). Again, I am VERY EXTREMELY CURIOUS to hear his reply.

      Finally, you suggest that I “have very little idea how science works.” Well here is something about science I know for absolute certain: Laws do not have creative properties. They describe what is possible, but they cannot create something such as life.

      Further, law-like processes are regular and repeating. If you drop a pencil, it falls. If you pour salt in water, it dissolves. Scientific laws describe regular and repeating processes….that is what scientific laws are.

      But the code in DNA is irregular and non-repeating…much like the words that you and I have typed to each other. An example of a regular and repeating sequence of letters would be something to the effect of:
      AKIAKIAKIAKIAKIAKIAKI.

      • Robert says:

        Thank you for the reply Scott, I find this topic very fascinating and am interested in what you have to say.

        While I agree that you never explicitly stated that all science is conducted in that way, I would then just change my categorization of this from Straw man to unstated major (and false) premise, the premise being that all science is conducted in that way. Just because “by using the method of investigation used by Lyell and Darwin, you don’t invoke some exotic hypothetical cause” doesn’t mean it is illogical to do so in all cases. The method of investigation used by Lyell and Darwin is not the only way to investigate something and invoking an unknown hypothetical cause can be alright. There is nothing wrong with not knowing how something works.

        The rest of your comment and essay I agree with, but as I said, it’s all based on the premise that we cannot invoke hypothetical causes for unknown mechanisms which is based purely on Lyell and Darwin’s methods which are not necessarily correct and I strongly disagree with. As I said in my original comment a lot of scientific ideas started as “exotic hypothetical causes that no one has ever seen.”

        • Robert:

          I will state it explicitly: All of science is not conducted using the method of reasoning that Lyell and Darwin employed. The method of reasoning that these two men employed is not of crucial importance to the most important point. I only mentioned their method of reasoning to demonstrate that ideologically driven atheists have to change approaches when a particular method of reasoning is inconvenient to their belief system. Darwinian theory is the darling of atheism, yet when the Darwinian method of reasoning does not support an atheistic conclusion, an atheist such as Kaufman must change approaches. This is ideologically guided reasoning in the most transparent sense (as opposed to following the evidence wherever it leads).

          And you may want to ask your professor what the logical necessity is for postulating a source for a language that is non-intelligent. It is clear that there is an IDEOLOGICAL necessity for this…to keep the atheist belief system from collapsing. But what is the logical necessity?

          Believing that there must be a non-intelligent explanation for a language merely because the atheist belief system demands such a non-intelligent cause is circular reasoning in its purest sense. You can break down the atheist circular reasoning related to the origin of life from non-living matter as follows:

          Premise 1) The prime reality (or “the thing from which everything else comes”) is mindless matter and/or energy interacting according to law-like natural processes and randomness (the worldview known as materialism or naturalism).

          Premise 2) The DNA code (the language of life) must therefore be the eventual result of mindless matter and/or energy interacting according to such law-like natural processes and randomness.

          Premise 3) Therefore, the origin of life from non-living matter should not be assumed to be the result of an intelligent cause.

          Premise #3 is only necessary if one first presumes the truth of premise #1.

          But the problem is that premise #1 is simply not compatible with such things as the DNA language…NO MATTER WHAT METHOD OF REASONING THAT ONE EMPLOYS (Lyell’s and Darwin’s method, or any other method). Natural processes are law-like, which means that they are regular and repeating. As I said before: If you drop a pencil, it falls. If you pour salt in water, it dissolves…regular and repeating.

          But languages are irregular, non-repeating, and highly specified. Therefore they cannot be produced by natural processes or random interactions. Again, there is no way that the words you and I are typing to one another could be the result of law-like natural processes or random processes…because they are irregular, non-repeating, and highly specified.

          It is for this reason that people who are ideologically committed to the materialist/naturalist worldview (such as atheists) are stuck making such hypotheses as Kaufmann’s 4th law of thermodynamics, directed panspermia (which says that aliens brought life to earth in their spaceship), and panspermia (which says that life came to earth from space without aliens…and a cause to be determined). These bizarre, unscientific, quasi-religious hypotheses have been made by cream-of-the-crop atheist scientists such as Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Leslie Orgel, and Chandra Wickramsinghe. Again, please read my essay Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God for a further exploration of this topic.

          Since you mentioned that you are a philosophy student, I should mention an important point: The science surrounding the origin of life from non-living matter is one of the main reasons that the most prominent atheist philosopher of the last half-century, the Oxford University Professor of Philosophy Antony Flew, announced in 2004 that he now accepts the existence of God. Flew’s Theology and Falsification was the most reprinted philosophical tract of the last 50 years.

          I strongly encourage you to read Flew’s book titled There IS a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

          I would be very very curious to hear how your apparently atheist philosophy professor tries to rebut Flew’s arguments. What “logical fallacies” would your professor attach to Flew’s arguments? (ha ha)

          Scott

    • John says:

      I know this comment is old but just for the record of future readers. I have 50 years at this and I find this kind of arrogance not only blatantly transparent but so sophomoric and childish that you mind as well have addressed it to yourself. There was a lot of work put into this very thoughtful article, there are no glaring mistakes, and unfortunately a boy with a plastic hammer thought he was a master carpenter all the sudden.

      I find the whole thing wolf in sheeps clothing. “You give religion a bad name”…….? Yeah right, you’re an honest passerby. Who ripped it apart…pretend Sam Harris on a pogo stick at a logical fallacy square dance?

      “Imagine how easily the atheist skeptics would find the flaws in your arguments. ” yeah , let me imagine how logically airtight atheists arguments are. Im gussing you haven’t read even one at the time of your demeaning pretend rant.

      Im guessing you are very young and have virtually Zero experience with atheistic argumentation and wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you’re just a liar. Honestly, the latter would be better because otherwise you would be “religious”(yeah right, that’s how we phrase it) and you falsely accused him. Next time you want to trash someone’s work you might want to have anything closely resembling a rebuttal

  3. nick says:

    Hi there Scott. How are you?

    I have a question. I was looking for an appropriate page to post it, but couldn’t quite find an exact match, so thought that this might be a reasonable place for it.

    How would you define the word atheist? This seems to be quite a hot topic in various places, so I was wondering about the definition you would use or have.

    Thanks very much.

    • Nick:

      I am well. As far as definitions of atheism, I think a simple dictionary definition works just fine for me.

      Scott

      • nick says:

        Well that’s fair enough. Although, dictionaries can sometimes vary, so I was wondering how you would define atheism (perhaps you’d have more than one definition, perhaps not). To ask a different question relating to the same issue: Are agnostics atheists?

        • Nick:

          I will use the Oxford Dictionary definition, since this is the dictionary on my computer: “Disbelief in the existence of God or gods.”

          Yes, there are many different varieties of atheism, just as there are different denominations of Christianity. I found a CNN post titled Behold, the six types of atheists which elaborates on this topic.

          Regarding agnostics, I have not researched this topic thoroughly, but I would say that there are at least two different types of agnostics: Theistic agnostics and atheistic agnostics. In other words, there are agnostics who believe in God, but declare themselves “agnostic” to “keep their mind open,” and atheistic agnostics, who do not believe in God, but declare themselves “agnostic” to “keep their minds open.” Perhaps many agnostics would not be willing admit that they lean toward one position or the other, but it is impossible to both believe and disbelieve in God at the same time. No matter what one believes, one must always keep one’s mind open and respect the other person’s viewpoint. However, there is a big difference between keeping one’s mind open, and actually believing and disbelieving in something, such as God, at the same time. Bo Jinn writes in Illogical Atheism:

          And finally we come to the great fabrication of agnosticism; the famed “I don’t know” sideshow, which has strangely become the most talked-about subject in the entire God-discussion. Agnosticism is a convenient deviation as ‘the only rational option’; until one realizes that what the word actually means is “ignorant”. I believe most atheists share my company in this sentiment. Agnosticism is a position that is not really viable, for the simple reason that ‘not knowing’ is compatible with any kind of belief. It is, in my view, mere liberal chatter designed to circumvent the discomfort in considering the actual question, or to escape having to dispense with the understandably irritating task of justifying one’s beliefs.

          I can sympathize with that. But it does not change the fact that agnosticism is not really a position at all. It is meaningless. When asked “Do you believe that God exists?” to reply with the words “I don’t know” is as useful as not answering at all. We either believe in the positive or in the negative, there is no absolute middle, just as there is no absolute ‘yes’ or an absolute ‘no’. The only mindset that can possibly justify agnosticism, as the word suggests, is one of absolute ignorance. Dogs are agnostic. Humans merely pretend to be. Agnosticism is a vacuum that becomes dissipated with a touch of self-awareness taking one instantly to the belief in either some form of theism or atheism.

          Although Jinn’s writing style utilizes some pretty strong rhetoric, one can appreciate what he is driving at: Agnosticism is really a lack of a position, as opposed to a position. In other words, OF COURSE agnostics don’t KNOW whether there is a God or not…neither do theists or atheists. We merely believe or disbelieve. There are very few things (if anything) that human beings can “know.” As I stated to another commenter, neither you nor I can KNOW that we really have bodies, and that we are not really just brains in a vat being stimulated by a mad scientist. Jinn cites Alexander Hamilton:

          “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

          • nick says:

            Ah. Thanks for a considered response. I’ve not heard of Bo Jinn before, but as he notes in the excerpt, this question about labels is quite a widely discussed and hot topic.

            The Oxford Dictionary would be one of my preferred dictionaries too. It seems to me by the reference you give here though, that either you have a concept of atheists as those who positively disbelieve in God, or perhaps that the dictionary you have is slightly out of date. The definition that I have from the Oxford Dictionary offers your definition with a slight, but noteworthy addition: “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”

            The addition of the word ‘lack’, expands the catchment for the word atheist, to anyone who defines themselves as being without a belief in God. This polarises the situation and the available positions making every non theist an atheist.

            However, as you (I believe rightly) note, there are many different types or definitions of atheist, for example Bertrand Russell defines atheism as a gnostic position on the non-existence of God, quite contrary to many modern definitions of atheism. This was the point of my question originally, since there seem to be many atheists who discuss these matters online, who will accept no other definition than the inclusive one that tries to capture every non-theist as an atheist. I was wondering what your opinion with regards to this issue was and this particular inclusive definition. I think I would agree with a lot of the things you say in your reply here.

            I would agree with you when you say that there are at least 2 different types of agnostic. I think we can find several more types of agnostic in addition, but the two types that you mention certainly exist.

            To cause this matter deeper complexity would be to ask for the definition of knowledge. For example, is knowledge something that we know with absolute certainty? Or is knowledge, “justified belief” as it is defined in various places, meaning it might not be absolutely certain? The matter as a whole seems complex and to have a certain multiplicity with regards to conclusions we can draw.

            The setup that I would prefer myself, is where we can have 3 broad positions; atheism – the belief that there are no Gods; agnosticism – the lack of belief in and knowledge of Gods, but not necessarily the positive assertion that there are no Gods; and theism – the belief in God. These are the broad definitions that I would prefer. I would not assert that other definitions are entirely invalid or non-existent and there are further subtleties and uses of terms that we can legitimately have.

            I’ve discussed this matter at length before and have found some interesting information with regards to it a well as some hostile attitudes. I think I would share some of the sentiments and responses in your post here, although perhaps without the slightly strident rhetoric of Jinn.

  4. nick says:

    So, given the thoughts that you have noted in your response several of which I think we would agree upon, would you have a preferential definition for atheist, or would you be a little loose about it? It seems that you would be flexible within reason, by your words, although I’m not entirely sure. I think we agree that atheist can be defined in more than one way.

    One of the questions I asked was, “Are agnostics atheists?” Would you have an opinion on this question?

    Confusion is added to this mix from various locations, but here are two quick reasons for the history of the confusion (imo). The classical philosophical definition for atheism is: “the assertion that God does not exist”. This is attested in various philosophical resources. The Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy is one. Here is a link to its main page on atheism and a link to a definition from a Christian philosopher.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TyI6Hxa4R4
    To show another side to the argument, here is a link to an article defining atheism in the inclusive or negative sense. This has been more common in non-philosophical circles and in general less common, except for in recent years on the internet and a little further back in some secular organisations.
    http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutagnosticism/a/Atheist-vs-Agnostic-Difference.htm

    I think that more definitions can be found, but I think that these are the two basic setups that tend to be discussed most often.

    I stated my preference in my last answer and would probably favour the position of William Lane Craig on this matter. I was just wondering what your position would be, although you have noted some interesting thoughts so far. Is every non-theist an atheist? Perhaps this is an issue of less concern to Christians, since you clearly have your beliefs and labels sorted out, but this issue seems to cause endless argument in various places.
    Thanks again.

    • Nick:

      I am very careful about trying to categorize people too neatly. It would definitely be painting with too broad of a brush to say that all non-theists are atheists. Many “non-theists” just haven’t taken the time to carefully articulate to themselves what they believe…even though they have beliefs that they may not be fully consciously aware of.

      Are agnostics atheists? No, I would say not. I think a better term for most people who describe themselves as “agnostic,” is “apatheist” (a combination of the words “apathy” and “theist”). In other words, they just don’t want to bother themselves too much with the question of whether there is a God or not. They are too busy watching the latest episode of “Breaking Bad” or “The Housewives of [fill in the blank]” to concern themselves with the “big questions” of life. The term “atheist” implies, I think, that a person has actually taken time to carefully consider what their beliefs are…and they have concluded there is no God. In our “rat-race” society, many people just don’t take time to consider such “big questions.” This is probably the case with most “non-theists,” who are probably also “non-atheists.”

      Also, I think “agnostic” is a term that many people use because they do not want to adopt a position that they would have to defend. They have beliefs regarding whether there is a God or not, but they do not want to carefully formulate and articulate those beliefs so as to expose them to scrutiny (either self-scrutiny or scrutiny from others).

      There are many people who are just difficult to categorize because they aren’t even aware of what they believe…much as there are many people who do not take a stance on certain political issues because they have not taken the time to carefully educate themselves about those issues and then carefully think about them.

      As I have pointed out elsewhere, disbelief in God can only come from the vantage point of belief in something else. Disbelief in God cannot come from the vantage point of no beliefs whatsoever. (There is a difference between lack of belief in God, and disbelief in God). When it comes to the vast majority (although certainly not all) atheists, disbelief in God comes from the vantage point of belief in the worldview known as materialism or naturalism.

      Give me a couple days and I will review the links that you have provided.

      Scott

  5. […] life can only be explained as the result of a conscious, intelligent creator. Please read my essay How Atheism Relies on Special Pleading, in which I cite Gitt’s skillful […]

  6. […] the origin of life has not been, and never can be, explained without reference to God, please read How Atheism Relies on Special Pleading and Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without […]

  7. […] Please also read my related posts titled Why evolution cannot be used to rationalize atheism and If the evidence for God is so strong, why are so many smart people unconvinced? and How atheism relies on ‘special pleading‘. […]

  8. Davik says:

    Having read through the comment section here and on some of your other articles I would like to commend you on your patient and well considered responses. The articles are a wonderfully useful resource and the comment section even more so in learning how to recognize and dispose of the atheistic subterfuge that counterfeits as legitimate argument.
    I wish you well and hope that you continue the good work!

  9. Scott – how do you think about DNA (or RNA) as an intrinsic element? The letters ‘apple’ are symbolic and have no meaning outside of our agreed to key. Fruit from the apple tree is the same whether I call it an apple or la pomme. The symbol ‘DNA’ is also a construct that we all agree to. But DNA – the molecule – is something in and of itself just like an apple. It’s not a code. It’s not a symbolic place keeper. You and I might need a chart to figure out what codon combinations mean but that points to our limited ability and not to the quality of the molecule. And of course ‘codes’ are made by minds – they are symbolic representations. made for minds.

    • Scott Youngren says:

      Dennis,

      You need to be very careful about confusing the medium (the material aspect of an organism) with the message (the informational aspect of the organism). For example, a compact disc (CD) is a material medium, but the songs or data on a CD are an informational message.

      Physicist Paul Davies makes clear the distinction between the medium (the physical aspect of the organism) and the message (the informational aspect of the organism), with regard to the origin of life, in The Fifth Miracle:

      “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics…Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [or life emerging through unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

      Elsewhere, Davies writes:

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

      Atheism is a worldview grounded in materialism which says that everything that exists is just mindless matter. It does not even recognize information as a category entirely separate from matter and energy.

      As Bernard-Olaf Kuppers, a member of the German Academy of Natural Sciences, states in Information and the Origin of Life, “The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.”

      So what is the source of information? It is ALWAYS a mind. Information scientist Henry Quastler puts it succinctly: “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”

  10. >Dennis Mitton says:
    >Hey Scott – lets back up even further.

    >There is an apple on the table. Can you write about this in terms of language and information >theory?

    >December 11, 2015 at 6:08 am
    >Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 17 ) says:
    >Dennis,

    >I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are asking. Can you rephrase?

    No trouble. We are talking about information, identity, the nature of reality, and science all rolled into one. I’m trying to see what you really think. Some would say that it’s completely imaginary. Others would agree with Plato and say it’s real but a poor approximation of a real apple. There are lots of way to describe it and I wonder how you do.

    • Scott Youngren says:

      Dennis,

      Can you please explain how your question is relevant to the question of God’s existence before I spend my time responding?

      • Depak Chopra’s says that an apple is entirely imaginary and that reality is completely mutable. I’m looking for why you believe one collection of molecules – an apple – is intrinsically and qualitatively different than another – DNA. You keep quoting people who say that DNA is different than other collections of molecules and that it’s very presence proves that there is such a thing as mind. (Though you have never defined mind. I assume you mean something opposed to the physical.)

        • Scott Youngren says:

          Dennis,

          The chemical/physical aspects of DNA should not be confused with the information content of DNA. A compact disk is not intrinsically or qualitatively different than another piece of plastic. However, a CD has information content that is neither matter nor energy. As with the information contained on a CD, the information contained in DNA originated with a mind…since the source of information is always a mind.

          This is not about the chemical/physical aspect of a DNA molecule.

          You need to be very careful about confusing the medium (the material aspect of an organism) with the message (the informational aspect of the organism). For example, a compact disc (CD) is a material medium, but the songs or data on a CD are an informational message.

          Physicist Paul Davies makes clear the distinction between the medium (the physical aspect of the organism) and the message (the informational aspect of the organism), with regard to the origin of life, in The Fifth Miracle:

          “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics…Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [or life emerging through unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

          Elsewhere, Davies writes:

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

          Atheism is a worldview grounded in materialism, which says that everything that exists is just mindless matter. It does not even recognize information as a category entirely separate from matter and energy.

          But information IS a category entirely separate from matter and energy. Information scientist Werner Gitt, a former Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology, makes this point clear in his book In the Beginning Was Information:

          “…According to a frequently quoted statement by the American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) information cannot be a physical entity: ‘Information is information, neither matter nor energy. Any materialism which disregards this will not survive one day.’”

          “Werner Strombach, a German information scientist of Dortmund, emphasizes the nonmaterial nature of information by defining it as an ‘enfolding of order at the level of contemplative cognition.’”

          “Hans-Joachim Flechtner, a German cyberneticist, referred to the fact that information is of a mental nature, both because of its contents and because of the encoding process. This aspect is, however, frequently underrated: ‘When a message is composed, it involves the coding of its mental content, but the message itself is not concerned about whether the contents are important or unimportant, valuable, useful, or meaningless. Only the recipient can evaluate the message after decoding it.’”

          “It should now be clear that information, being a fundamental entity, cannot be a property of matter, and its origin cannot be explained in terms of material processes. We therefore formulate the following theorem. Theorem 1: The fundamental quantity of information is a non-material (mental) entity. It is not a property of matter, so that purely material processes are fundamentally precluded as sources of information.”

          As Bernard-Olaf Kuppers, a member of the German Academy of Natural Sciences, states in Information and the Origin of Life, “The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.”

          So what is the source of information? It is ALWAYS a mind. Information scientist Henry Quastler puts it succinctly: “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”

  11. Caleb Neff says:

    My last comment mused a little about whether property dualism would succeed in avoiding the difficulties Scott raised to materialism.
    In this comment, I have another thing to ponder. Although the arrangement of DNA is not determined by the laws of physics, what if it turned out that the relation between codons and amino acids was determined by physics and chemistry (I’m being entirely hypothetical)? Given this hypothesis, DNA could be a naturally occurring code which has no obvious need for an intelligent explanation.
    Since protein structures are determined by the chemical properties of their polypeptides (in combination with proper environmental conditions), DNA only needs to encode for the proper sequences of amino acids (including stops and starts).
    Given my hypothetical, the atheist could have a serious need for luck, and perhaps multiple problems with early Earth conditions, but not a metaphysical problem with the origin of life. Of course, the burden of proof would have to fall on him to prove my hypothetical. Until then, we are justified in saying that there is a metaphysical obstacle in his way.

    What do you all think about this?

  12. […] cannot get around this by trying to sweep goal directed behavior under the rug. As I point out in How Atheism Relies on Special Pleading, biologists with less unwavering ideological loyalty to atheism (than the average biologist) have […]

  13. Matt Smith says:

    This whole essay is a giant argument from ignorance, as has been pointed out several times. Cells don’t actually use ‘language’ or ‘code’, those are convenient analogies which scientists give to help us visualise the chemical processes involved.

    Computer code uses ones and zeros, does DNA? Languages use letters and sounds, does DNA? I read the Sungchul Ji paper and it seems to be about the mathematical similarities between human languages and the way cells communicate. Interesting and perhaps a little over my head, but it states that cells communicate using, “a self-organising system of molecules,” thus partly contradicting the section referring to the, “loosey-goosey analogy”. It’s still an analogy – cells don’t have tongues and can’t write. The analogy breaks down if you want to place it on some ‘symbolic only’ plane since they are in fact using molecules (mindless matter!)

    An intelligent source has never been observed to create a genetic code, nor is there any inferential evidence that this occurs. All you have are some unproven assumptions and assertions, basically a variation of the tired old watchmaker argument. Brush up on your Hume and you’ll see why this piece was an exercise in futility. In addition, a little digging into your worldview will quickly get you down to the very special pleading you mistakenly attribute to the atheist, thus: who or what designed the designer of the DNA?

    • Scott Youngren says:

      Matt,

      You ask if DNA uses letters and sounds? Obviously it does not use sounds since it is not a spoken language, but it very definitely does use letters. Did you really read the essay? A copy and pasted excerpt regarding DNA’s use of letters:

      Again, the arrangement of symbols (such as letters) according to a language is not something that can be accomplished, even in principle, by unintelligent chemical or physical processes. Werner Gitt is a former Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig) and former head of the Department of Information Technology. In his book Without Excuse, he discusses the substitutive function of what he terms “Universal Information “(UI):

      “Universal Information is always an abstract representation of some other existing entity. Universal Information is never the item (object) or the fact (event, idea) itself but rather the coded symbols serve as a substitute for the entities that are being represented. Different languages often use different sets of symbols and usually different symbol sequences to represent the same material object or concept. Consider the following examples:”

      “-the words in a newspaper, consisting of a sequence of letters, substitute for an event that happened at an earlier time and in some other place,”

      “-the words in a novel, consisting of sequences of letters, substitute for characters and their actions,”

      “-the notes of a musical score substitute for music that will be played later on musical instruments,”

      “-the chemical formula for benzene substitutes for the toxic liquid that is kept in a flask in a chemistry laboratory,”

      “-the genetic codons (three-letter words) of the DNA molecule substitute for specific amino acids that are bonded together in a specific sequence to form a protein.”

      The substitutive function of the the symbols in a code or language is something that can only be set up by the activity of a conscious and intelligent mind.

      You write, “Cells don’t have tongues and can’t write,” but nobody ever argued that cells produced the language. This is a diversionary argument known as a red-herring fallacy.

      Next, you write,”The analogy breaks down if you want to place it on some ‘symbolic only’ plane since they are in fact using molecules (mindless matter!).”

      A compact disk is mindless matter, but the information stored on the compact disk is not mindless matter…it is codified information, which is always produced by a mind. The compact disk is the medium for storing information, and the information on the CD is the message. You are confusing the material aspect of the organism (the medium) with the information stored on the medium (the message). To this end, the renowned physicist Paul Davies comments in The Fifth Miracle:

      “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics…Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [or life emerging through unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

      Elsewhere, Davies writes:

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

      In short, Davies is calling attention to the fact that life can never be explained as the result of mindless physical and chemical processes because, for one, chemical arrangements do not have the information storing capacity needed for the immense information content of DNA.

      The same point is also made, and elaborated upon, by the former Manhattan Project physicist, and leading information scientist, Hubert Yockey, 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:

      “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.”

      Atheism relies on natural laws as a substitute for God, but natural laws do not cause anything to happen. Rather, they determine what is possible, as Yockey points out above. If you deny that DNA is very literally (not metaphorically) a language, then you are denying science…period. Even the world’s most outspoken atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins, concedes that DNA is a language very similar to a computer language, in the most literal (not metaphorical) sense. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Dawkins writes:

      “…The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

      Elsewhere, Dawkins writes:

      “What has happened is that genetics has become a branch of information technology. The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same sense as computer codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth.”

      You say that, “An intelligent source has never been observed to create a genetic code, nor is there any inferential evidence that this occurs.” However, we know that codes are always produced by minds. Werner Gitt, who is, again, a former Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig) and former head of the Department of Information Technology skillfully explains why only an intelligent mind can produce a language:

      “An abstract symbol set provides for an immense number of combinations of basic symbols to form words. These words may then be arranged in near-limitless ways to form phrases and sentences that, in turn, are used to form larger bodies of text/messages such as paragraphs. Thus, for example, the English letters ‘a, c, and t’ may be used to form the word ‘cat’ (a mammal that purrs and meows).”

      “The very same letters may also be used to form the word ‘act’ (a word that, depending on the context, will have any one of a number of meanings; e.g., consider the phrases ‘caught in the act‘, ‘the second act of the play’, ‘anact of Congress’, ‘performed a heroic act‘ and others). The point to notice is that the letters ‘a,c, and t’ by themselves do not have a one-to-one relationship with the entity that they are combined to represent. These letters acquire function and meaning only after they are combined in agreed-upon sequences and assigned meanings.“ (Italics are mine)

      Simply put, what a symbol serves to represent must be decided upon by a conscious and intelligent agent. Symbolic representation is by necessity a mental process. Biologists with less rigid ideological commitments to atheism (or at least more intellectual integrity) have been frank enough to admit the necessity of mind (a conscious and intelligent agent) in the origin of life. The Nobel Prize winning Harvard University biologist George Wald, although certainly not an ideological ally of theism, stated the following 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.”

      Even the world’s most famous atheist biologist, Richard Dawkins, clearly understands that DNA is a language produced by a mind, which is why he proposed in an interview that life on Earth originated when it was brought here by aliens in their spaceship. Please watch him proposing this idea in this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoncJBrrdQ8

      Many other famous atheist scientists have resorted to the aliens-brought-life-to-earth-in-their-spaceship explanation for the origin of life in order to clear up the cognitive dissonance caused by their knowledge that DNA is a language created by a mind. This would include the atheist biologist Francis Crick, famous as the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. Please see the following article about how he endorsed this hypothesis (known as “directed panspermia”) in his book Life Itself. http://www.spacedaily.com/news/life-04zzz.html

      You conclude your comment with, “Who or what designed the designer of the DNA?” This is a very common atheist argument that atheists should immediately stop making because, frankly, it is an embarrassment to atheism. The extreme weakness of the “Who made God?” argument is very easy to see. William Lane Craig comments:

      “…in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there.”

      “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the designer.”

      I would love to discuss Hume with you.

  14. Michael Hurwitz says:

    Your mailing list is inactive. I love your articles and would like to receive notifications of new content. Keep up the good work and God bless.

    P.S. For the purposes of intellectual honesty, I feel it is important to elucidate the difference between Theism and Deism/Pantheism. Numerous times you cite researchers as acquiring Theistic worldviews, yet in many cases, such as Anthony Flew, he maintained his rejection of Theism yet accepted Desitic design as the best possible explanation. Thanks again for the wonderful information and God bless

    • Scott Youngren says:

      Michael,

      I am so glad that you are benefitting from my website! Thanks so much for reaching out! I discontinued the mailing list because the time commitment proved to be too great, but I am constantly pondering how I can reach more people. Recently, I have considered doing YouTube videos to accompany the essays…since so few people read anymore.

      I am not aware of any instances where I referred to an individual as being theistic, when in fact he/she is actually deistic. I am quite certain that I did not reference Antony Flew as being theistic. Flew embraced deism when he abandoned atheism, and said that he was open to the truth of Christianity, but had not quite come around.

      Please point out to me any instances where I have misrepresented a person’s belief system, and I will gladly correct them.

      Scott

      • Michael Hurwitz says:

        Thank you for your reply. There are numerous instances where you refer to Deist/Pantheists as holding Theistic views in a number of your articles. I don’t have time to go back and site every example in all of your wonderful articles, but here is one:
        “And perhaps most prominently, the Oxford University philosopher Antony Flew was for 50 years considered to be the intellectual “frontman” for atheism as a philosophical cause. His paper Theology and Falsification was the most reprinted philosophical tract in the world during this period. But as the video below reveals, Flew was forced by the facts of biology to endorse theism in 2004. To learn more, please read Flew’s book There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.”

        I have aligned myself with Deism, having come far from my atheistic roots, but have very recently become open to the idea that Jesus was who he said he was. Thank you again for your great work. God bless you

      • Michael Hurwitz says:

        Also, I have been dedicating a lot of time refuting the prevailing sentiment that atheism is the logical default position, and trying to elucidate how science clearly points to a universe which was designed. A YouTube channel is a great idea, and if there’s any way I could be involved, it would be a great honor. I’ve been researching these issues of ultimate importance for quite some time, and have opened a lot of people to the idea that a designer being necessarily exists. I don’t say this in any type of proud manner, but only to say that there is tremendous evidence to support a “God hypothesis,” and that I feel a stron obligation to share all that I’ve learned with those who presuppose that there are no good reasons to believe in God. Why this myth has persisted is interesting and I have a lot to say on the matter, but…hence, a talk for another time. I’d love to speak with you personally if we can find a pragmatic means for doing so. God bless you and, again, keep up the Good Works

  15. Hi there Scott. How are you?

    I have a question. I was looking for an appropriate page to post it, but couldn’t quite find an exact match, so thought that this might be a reasonable place for it.

    How would you define the word atheist? This seems to be quite a hot topic in various places, so I was wondering about the definition you would use or have.

    Thanks very much.

    • Terence,

      I am well. I haven’t thought about the definition of atheism, but many of the atheist commenters at this site define atheism as the lack of belief in God. I have to point out to them that every lack of belief, doubt, or skeptical stance is really an alternate belief. For example, one can only disbelieve that life is the result of an intelligent cause from the vantage point of BELIEF that life is the result of an unintelligent cause. There is simply no way around this.

      As a Christian, I am a deeply skeptical non-believer in atheist claims that life resulted from unintelligent natural processes. Why the skepticism? For one, physicists and mathematicians are able to mathematically quantify the information content which natural laws are capable of producing, and it falls FAR FAR FAR short of the information content in the genetic instructions of even the simplest organism.

      Scott

      Scott

      • Matt says:

        Hi Scott,

        As an atheist, I’d define (my) atheism as the positive belief that all god claims are invented by humans. Thus gods are all imaginary until we have a way to show that a god or gods may exist outside our imagination. They at least exist inside our heads, and evidenced by books, films, and works of art that feature gods, what we don’t yet have is any good reason to suspect they exist outside those realms.

        You said, “I am a deeply skeptical non-believer in atheist claims that life resulted from unintelligent natural processes”. On the view that an all-powerful, omniscient god or gods exist, life would easily arise from ‘natural laws’ it/they designed alone if that was the desired outcome, so the notion is not ‘atheist’ in the slightest. It might not involve the kind of god you in particular prefer, but that’s another issue entirely.

        You further claim, “physicists and mathematicians are able to mathematically quantify the information content which natural laws are capable of producing, and it falls FAR FAR FAR short of the information content in the genetic instructions of even the simplest organism.”

        So I take it we know: what dark matter is, what dark energy is, what preceded the Big Bang, how gravity works on a quantum level, etc., and all the corresponding natural laws now, right? I take it we also know the precise structure of the first replicators to arise on Earth, and how much ‘information’ they contained as well, right?

        I’m pretty skeptical of those things, and I worry that your argument is taking the form ‘we don’t know X yet, therefore my particular god – that could well be imaginary for all I know – did it’. You’re not falling into that common theist trap, are you?

        All the best,

        Matt.

        • Matt,

          It is impossible for life to have been formed by natural laws, since natural laws describe regular, repeating patterns.

          No, my argument is not taking the form “‘we don’t know X yet, therefore my particular god – that could well be imaginary for all I know – did it,'” as you put it.

          Imagine if, one morning, you opened an email from a friend which read,

          ABC ABC ABC ABC ABC

          It is entirely besides the point that what your friend wrote is meaningless. What is more important is WHY such a simple, regular, and repetitive pattern of letters is meaningless. According to information science (not to mention everyday common sense), in order for a set of symbols to contain meaningful information, it must be complex, irregular, and non-repeating, such as the symbolic sequence below:

          The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

          In the terminology of information science, a simple and repetitive pattern such as ABC ABC does not have the information bearing capacity necessary to contain a meaningful email message, or a set of instructions. The genetic code (the language of life) conveys instructions for an organism to develop, using a code consisting of four letters known as nucleotide bases. But if these symbolic sequences were created by natural laws, they would be very similar to the meaninglessly simple and repetitive message in your friend’s email. Nancy Pearcey eloquently elaborates on this point 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.”

          In the primary text on the application of information theory to the origin of life titled Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, physicist and information scientist Hubert Yockey explains how the simplicity and regularity of natural laws renders it mathematically impossible for such laws to produce life from non-life:

          “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 has examined the laws of physics by actually programming them. He finds the information content amazingly small.”

          Yockey continues, in Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life:

          “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.”

          Renowned physicist Paul Davies (winner of the Kelvin Medal issued by the Institute of Physics) reflects Yockey’s above comments, and makes clear the distinction between the medium (the material aspect of an organism) and the message (the informational aspect of an organism). As an illustration, a song is an immaterial informational entity which may be stored on various material storage media, such as an iPod, a compact disk, an old vinyl record, or a cassette tape. But the song itself could not have been produced by unintelligent material processes, since it is not a material thing. Similarly, in regards to life, the unintelligent action of natural laws are relevant to the material aspect of an organism, but not the informational aspect of the organism (the set of immaterial instructions codified in the genetic code). Indeed, it would be no more possible for natural laws to write a song than to produce instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Fifth Miracle, Davies makes this point:

          “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently, they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics. Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [life emerging from unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

          So if laws of nature do not give rise to information, what does? Interestingly enough, the “detective technique” used by Charles Darwin leads us to the unavoidable conclusion that an intelligent agent (read: God) is responsible for the information contained in the sets of immensely complex instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer explains how Darwin felt that scientists should look for causes already known to produce the effect in question:

          Darwin himself adopted this methodological principle. His term for a presently acting cause was a vera causa, that is, a true, known, or actual cause. Darwin thought that when explaining past events, scientists should seek to identify established causes—causes known to produce the effect in question. Darwin appealed to this principle to argue that presently observed microevolutionary processes of change could be used to explain the origin of new forms of life in the past. Since the observed process of natural selection can produce a small amount of change in a short time, Darwin argued that it was capable of producing a large amount of change over a long period of time. In that sense, natural selection was “causally adequate.”

          So what is the vera causa, in Darwin’s terminology, ALREADY KNOWN to produce information? In answer to this question, Meyer cites information scientist Henry Quastler:

          “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”

          Notably, it is you who are committing an Appeal to Ignorance fallacy. You suggest that I am arguing for God based upon what we do not know (appeal to ignorance), but it is you who are making an appeal to ignorance to support your belief in atheism. You appeal to ignorance in support of atheism when you write:

          “So I take it we know: what dark matter is, what dark energy is, what preceded the Big Bang, how gravity works on a quantum level, etc., and all the corresponding natural laws now, right? I take it we also know the precise structure of the first replicators to arise on Earth, and how much ‘information’ they contained as well, right?”

          Scott

          • Matt says:

            Any time anyone claims something is impossible, such as, “It is impossible for life to have been formed by natural laws, since natural laws describe regular, repeating patterns”, without deriving a true contradiction, what they are really saying is ‘I don’t know how X could be possible yet’. Such statements have not fared well from a historical perspective.

            I just told you we don’t actually know what all the natural laws are yet, and gave a few examples. None of the people you quoted know everything about the natural laws either, so it was a fruitless exercise offering up their unsupportable opinions. For instance, the notion that, “laws describe events that are regular, repeatable, and predictable” completely overlooks phenomena such as radioactive decay events which are totally unpredictable.

            Stochastic electrodynamics then may be involved in the origin of life but we don’t really know at this point. There’s nothing inherently atheistic about any of this stuff as I already explained, since if an all-powerful god designed nature and its laws to bring forth life with no further spells required, that’s exactly how it would have happened. You might not like a god that plays dice, but if one exists it certainly did create a Universe with dice in it, and all the various chance games too, right?!

            Another of your meaningless quotes claims, “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity”. But if DNA and its precursor contains information created with no conscious input required, then this observation is thoroughly faulty. It also fails to mention that said information would be associated with, “conscious activity undertaken by evolved material beings”, as an essential part of the process. I understand that might not suit the assumed conclusion that ‘chain of reasoning’ is aiming at though, hence why it was conveniently omitted.

            Intelligent design for life really is a non-starter at this point. If it was somehow possible to cobble together a coherent argument for it, you couldn’t honestly exclude intelligent aliens from having done it. That doesn’t explain where the aliens came from, but the mere fact that that would seem an unsatisfying to some is no reason it could not actually be the truth. Anyway, if it was aliens, at least we could hope to get some notion of how precisely it was done at some point in the future. If it was godmagik we’ll have no such luck.

            • Any time anyone claims something is impossible, such as, “It is impossible for life to have been formed by natural laws, since natural laws describe regular, repeating patterns”, without deriving a true contradiction, what they are really saying is ‘I don’t know how X could be possible yet’. Such statements have not fared well from a historical perspective.”

              No, it is not a matter of “I don’t know how X could be possible.” Mathematicians and physicists have actually run the numbers and determined it to be mathematically impossible for life to be the result of natural laws. In the primary text on the application of information theory to the origin of life titled Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, physicist and information scientist Hubert Yockey explains how the simplicity and regularity of natural laws renders it mathematically impossible for such laws to produce life from non-life:

              “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 has examined the laws of physics by actually programming them. He finds the information content amazingly small.”

              Yockey continues, in Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life:

              “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.”

              You write, “For instance, the notion that, “laws describe events that are regular, repeatable, and predictable” completely overlooks phenomena such as radioactive decay events which are totally unpredictable.”

              But this is false. Radioactive decay follows the predictable pattern described by the second law of thermodynamics, as this article discusses. A copy and paste:

              Half life is the time that it takes for half of the original value of some amount of a radioactive element to decay. Additionally, one half life is the time that it takes for the activity of a source to fall to half its original value.[2] The second law of thermodynamics, specifically the disorder statement can be used to help understand why radioactive decay occurs. This statement says that the entropy of a closed system can never decrease, meaning that things must fall further into disorder, not order. This process is known as “decay” and the second law helps to clarify why matter breaks down into a less and less organized state over time this . Part of this process includes certain types of atoms which break down into new, different types of atoms at some measurable rate known as radioactive decay.

              None of the people you quoted know everything about the natural laws either, so it was a fruitless exercise offering up their unsupportable opinions.

              This is a textbook Argument from Ignorance logical fallacy.

              Argument from Ignorance

              A copy and paste from the above:

              Appeal to ignorance: the claim that whatever has not been proven false must be true, and vice versa. (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs exist, and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.)

              Another of your meaningless quotes claims, “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity”. But if DNA and its precursor contains information created with no conscious input required, then this observation is thoroughly faulty.”

              Here, you confuse the medium (the material aspect of the organism) with the message (the informational aspect of the organism). Renowned physicist Paul Davies (winner of the Kelvin Medal issued by the Institute of Physics) reflects Yockey’s above comments, and makes clear the distinction between the medium (the material aspect of an organism) and the message (the informational aspect of an organism). As an illustration, a song is an immaterial informational entity which may be stored on various material storage media, such as an iPod, a compact disk, an old vinyl record, or a cassette tape. But the song itself could not have been produced by unintelligent material processes, since it is not a material thing. Similarly, in regards to life, the unintelligent action of natural laws could possibly explain the material aspect of an organism, but not the informational aspect of the organism (the set of immaterial instructions codified in the genetic code). Indeed, it would be no more possible for natural laws to write a song than to produce instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Fifth Miracle, Davies makes this point:

              “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently, they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics. Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [life emerging from unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

              • Matt says:

                Scott, have I ever given you good reason to try and take me for an idiot? Is this something you’re doing intentionally, or are you just not aware of it?

                I know, and you should know, that the claim, “Mathematicians and physicists have actually run the numbers and determined it to be mathematically impossible”, is actually, and rather obviously false. How should we both know that? Well, mainly because research into abiogenesis is STILL ongoing, whatever Hubert Yockey or whoever else you can needlessly quote claims.

                In fact, we are, as I speak, exploring the solar system in search of other life forms to gather even more data on the subject, despite what ‘magical creationists’ like to allege.

                Indeed, LMU physicists led by Professor Dieter Braun have this year demonstrated how minor modifications in the structures of modern tRNA molecules permit them to autonomously interact to form a kind of replication module, which is capable of exponentially replicating information. This finding implies that tRNAs — the key intermediaries between transcription and translation in modern cells — could also have been the crucial link between replication and translation in the earliest living systems. It could therefore provide a neat solution to the question of which came first — genetic information or proteins?

                Scientists certainly haven’t thrown up their hands in despair yet and declared, “aliens must have done it!”, or “it was a magical anthropomorphic being!”, as much as that might appeal to you.

                Perhaps I should have made it clearer when I said “radioactive decay events are totally unpredictable”, by adding the word ‘individual’ at the beginning.

                Now, I wouldn’t say they fall into a ‘pattern’ as you stated, quite the opposite is true, but I’m glad you acknowledge we do understand certain things about radioactive decay, such as the half life. I stand by my earlier assertion: nobody can predict (individual) decay events, even though the overall rate at which a material deteriorates ‘en masse’ is indeed predicable, and is one of the methods we can use to tell the Earth is very old indeed, billions, rather than thousands of years, thus falsifying Young Earth Creationism.

                • I know, and you should know, that the claim, “Mathematicians and physicists have actually run the numbers and determined it to be mathematically impossible”, is actually, and rather obviously false. How should we both know that? Well, mainly because research into abiogenesis is STILL ongoing, whatever Hubert Yockey or whoever else you can needlessly quote claims.”

                  All logical arguments either for or against theism must be constructed upon what we currently know. They cannot be constructed upon what we may know some bright and shining day in the future. Philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper contemptuously referred to the tendency of materialists such as yourself to make promises that evidence will some day arrive to support their beliefs as “promissory materialism.” See below article:

                  https://medium.com/top-down-or-bottom-up/promissory-materialism-and-the-origin-of-life-49f0c979e418

                  How would you respond if a theist said, “Just wait, evidence will arrive someday to support my beliefs.” I’ll bet you would reject his promises. So why should it be any different with your promissory notes for evidence to support your beliefs?

                  The simple fact is that natural laws describe simple, regular, and repeating patterns. This will not change with some discovery which will come some happy day in the future. 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 simple, regular, and repeating sort of sequence which occurs naturally.

                  Imagine if, one morning, you opened an email from a friend which read,

                  ABC ABC ABC ABC ABC

                  It is entirely besides the point that what your friend wrote is meaningless. What is more important is WHY such a simple, regular, and repetitive pattern of letters is meaningless. According to information science (not to mention everyday common sense), in order for a set of symbols to contain meaningful information, it must be complex, irregular, and non-repeating, such as the symbolic sequence below:

                  The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

                  In the terminology of information science, a simple and repetitive pattern such as ABC ABC does not have the information bearing capacity necessary to contain a meaningful email message, or a set of instructions. The genetic code (the language of life) conveys instructions for an organism to develop, using a code consisting of four letters known as nucleotide bases. But if these symbolic sequences were created by natural laws, they would be very similar to the meaninglessly simple and repetitive message in your friend’s email. Nancy Pearcey eloquently elaborates on this point 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.”

                  In the primary text on the application of information theory to the origin of life titled Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, physicist and information scientist Hubert Yockey explains how the simplicity and regularity of natural laws renders it mathematically impossible for such laws to produce life from non-life:

                  “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 has examined the laws of physics by actually programming them. He finds the information content amazingly small.”

                  Yockey continues, in Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life:

                  “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.”

                  Indeed, LMU physicists led by Professor Dieter Braun have this year demonstrated how minor modifications in the structures of modern tRNA molecules permit them to autonomously interact to form a kind of replication module, which is capable of exponentially replicating information. This finding implies that tRNAs — the key intermediaries between transcription and translation in modern cells — could also have been the crucial link between replication and translation in the earliest living systems. It could therefore provide a neat solution to the question of which came first — genetic information or proteins?

                  Above, you confuse the medium (the physical aspect of the organism) with the message (the informational aspect of the organism). Renowned physicist Paul Davies (winner of the Kelvin Medal issued by the Institute of Physics) reflects Yockey’s above comments, and makes this distinction clear. As an illustration, a song is an immaterial informational entity which may be stored on various material storage media, such as an iPod, a compact disk, an old vinyl record, or a cassette tape. But the song itself could not have been produced by unintelligent material processes, since it is not a material thing. Similarly, in regards to life, the unintelligent action of natural laws are relevant to the material aspect of an organism, but not the informational aspect of the organism (the set of immaterial instructions codified in the genetic code). Indeed, it would be no more possible for natural laws to write a song than to produce instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Fifth Miracle, Davies makes this point:

                  “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently, they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics. Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [life emerging from unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

                  Scientists certainly haven’t thrown up their hands in despair yet and declared, “aliens must have done it!”, or “it was a magical anthropomorphic being!”, as much as that might appeal to you.”

                  Here, you commit an Argument from Incredulity fallacy.

                  Argument from Incredulity

                  A copy and paste from the above:

                  The Argument from Incredulity:

                  The popular fallacy of doubting or rejecting a novel claim or argument out of hand simply because it appears superficially “incredible,” “insane” or “crazy,” or because it goes against one’s own personal beliefs, prior experience or ideology. This cynical fallacy falsely elevates the saying popularized by Carl Sagan, that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” to an absolute law of logic. The common, popular-level form of this fallacy is dismissing surprising, extraordinary or unfamiliar arguments and evidence with a wave of the hand, a shake of the head, and a mutter of “that’s crazy!”

                  Cultural and other experiential factors place limitations on the usefulness of our perceptual frameworks. As an illustration for competing epistemologies, some scholars reference a story about a king of Siam.

                  Because the king lived in a tropical region, before the advent of mass communication and rapid transit, his perceptual framework did not allow for the possibility of frozen rivers. Hearing from Dutch visitors about riding horses on top of rivers that became so cold that they became hard like stone, this ruler “knew that the men were liars.” In other words, the Dutch visitors’ story of frozen rivers made him incredulous. The king’s inference was a logical one based on the reality with which he was familiar. But one must not confuse reality itself with the reality with which one is familiar. He allowed his own perceptual framework to be the determinant of truth, and therefore commit the Argument from Incredulity logical fallacy. You do the same when you label a mind which is the ground of all being to be “magical.”

                  Nobel Prize-winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald, although certainly not an ideological ally of theism, was forced by the weight of the evidence to admit the following 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 says:

                    You claimed, “All logical arguments either for or against theism must be constructed upon what we currently know.”

                    But I’m not making an argument for or against theism here, I’m talking about abiogenesis.

                    You also claimed, “Mathematicians and physicists have actually run the numbers and determined it to be mathematically impossible for life to be the result of natural laws.”

                    That is a lie. What do you claim your god does with lying liars who lie all the time? It’s a lie, and a blatant one, because nobody knows precisely how life got started yet. How do you expect to calculate the odds of an unknown process, with unknown steps? How can you claim ‘X’ is impossible, when you don’t know what ‘X’ actually consisted of?!

                    It is a lie because if it were the case that ‘they’ knew life arising from natural laws was impossible, that would be front page news on all the newspapers and magazines in the world. Aliens or reality simulators, or perhaps even deities, would be the only options left. We would all know about it.

                    It is a lie because we are even now searching for life in other parts of the solar system. It is a lie because abiogenesis is an uncontroversial idea in mainstream science. Indeed I already mentioned a breakthrough made this very year by physicists, whom you claim say abiogenesis is impossible. Clearly that claim is false.

                    Now, I’m not saying you personally are lying, but the ideas you are pushing are indeed lies – false information promulgated by people who know they don’t know what they are talking about. But now you are aware of the truth, you can’t in good conscience keep pushing the same nonsense, can you?

                    Then you claim via an irrelevant proxy, “In principle, laws of nature do not give rise to information. Why not? Because laws describe events that are regular, repeatable, and predictable.”

                    Two points here: 1) that relies on a faulty definition of information, and 2) that ignores the existence of Heisenberg uncertainty principle, a basic result in quantum mechanics, and stochastic thermodynamics, two give just two examples. There’s no law that can predict any single radioactive decay event. Prove me wrong or concede the point!

                    Now, if some all-powerful god exists, and that same being designed natural forces to bring forth life, then they would do. Impossible indeed! The smoking gun we have are meteorites from the early solar system filled with amino acids, the building blocks of Earth’s living systems. If you believe in a god who wanted life to exist, those are its fingerprints right there.

                    That is good news, and something I would expect ‘true creationists’ or those actually interested in how their alleged god did it, to study keenly. Of course, you can just stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and pretend it was all magic, meanwhile in the real world science continues collecting actual data and gaining more and more knowledge about how things work outside the dogmatic pages of man made books.

                    • It’s a lie, and a blatant one, because nobody knows precisely how life got started yet. How do you expect to calculate the odds of an unknown process, with unknown steps?

                      Knowing all the steps is unnecessary. Do you need to know all the steps involved in the manufacture of a specific car to know that the actions of people are the ultimate cause? We know that the genetic code uses symbolic representation in order to codify a set of instructions for an organism to grow and develop. And symbolic representation is by necessity the product of a conscious and intelligent mind.

                      Atheism is grounded in the philosophy known as materialism, which suggests that all that exists is various arrangements of matter and energy. But if it were true that nothing exists except matter and energy, living things would be completely specified by their physical and chemical properties. Nowhere among such properties will you find a property known as meaning. Put another way, material things such as rocks, thunderstorms, or the chair you are sitting in cannot be about anything. Meaning is not a property of mindless matter and energy, and can only be assigned by a conscious and intelligent agent, period.

                      Many of the principles of human language apply to DNA, the language of life. Indeed, in the primary text on the application of algorithmic information theory to the question of the origin of life, titled Information Theory, Evolution, and The Origin of Life, physicist and information scientist Hubert Yockey explains how many of the principles of human language are also applicable to the genetic code, the language of life:

                      Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory (Shannon, 1948) and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.”

                      Symbolic representation, such as the complex set of instructions symbolically communicated by the genetic code, requires a conscious and intelligent agent. Such is the case because the meaning which symbols convey is entirely arbitrary, and cannot be a property of the symbols themselves. For example, the letters C-A-T serve as a symbolic representation of a furry animal that purrs and meows only because the intelligent agents who created the English language arbitrarily assigned this meaning to this set of symbols. There is no physical or chemical relationship between these symbols and what they serve to represent, only a mental relationship.

                      This is further illustrated by the fact that a set of symbols can have entirely different meanings in different languages. Yockey (in Information Theory, Evolution, and The Origin of Life) eloquently explains this crucial point:

                      The messages conveyed by sequences of symbols sent through a communication system generally have meaning (otherwise, why are we sending them?). It often is overlooked that the meaning of a sequence of letters, if any, is arbitrary. It is determined by the natural language and is not a property of the letters or their arrangement. For example, the English word “hell” means “bright” in German, “fern” means “far,” “gift” means “poison,” “bald” means “soon,” “boot” means “boat,” and “singe” means “sing.” In French “pain” means “bread,” “ballot” means a “bundle,” “coin” means a “corner or a wedge,” “chair” means “flesh,” “cent” means “hundred,” “son” means “his,” “tire” means a “pull,” and “ton” means “your.”

                      In French, the English word “main” means “hand,” “sale” means “dirty.” French-speaking visitors to English-speaking countries will be astonished at department stores having a “sale” and especially if it is the “main sale.” This confusion of meaning goes as far as sentences. For example, “0 singe fort” has no meaning in English, although each is an English word, yet in German it means “0 sing on,” and in French it means “0 strong monkey.”

                      Perry Marshall points out in his book Evolution 2.0. Marshall elaborates on the scientific reasons why the genetic code is a language in the most literal (not metaphorical or figurative) sense:

                      Rutgers University professor Sungchul Ji’s excellent paper The Linguistics of DNA: Words, Sentences, Grammar, Phonetics, and Semantics starts off,

                      “Biologic systems and processes cannot be fully accounted for in terms of the principles and laws of physics and chemistry alone, but they require in addition the principles of semiotics— the science of symbols and signs, including linguistics.”

                      Ji identifies 13 characteristics of human language. DNA shares 10 of them. Cells edit DNA. They also communicate with each other and literally speak a language he called “cellese,” described as “a self-organizing system of molecules, some of which encode, act as signs for, or trigger, gene-directed cell processes.”

                      This comparison between cell language and human language is not a loosey-goosey analogy; it’s formal and literal. Human language and cell language both employ multilayered symbols. Dr. Ji explains this similarity in his paper: “Bacterial chemical conversations also include assignment of contextual meaning to words and sentences (semantic) and conduction of dialogue (pragmatic)— the fundamental aspects of linguistic communication.” This is true of genetic material. Signals between cells do this as well.

                      There’s no law that can predict any single radioactive decay event. Prove me wrong or concede the point!

                      The key word here is decay. Radioactive decay is governed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Of what relevance would it be that someone cannot predict the rate at which this decay occurs? As this article notes:

                      “The second law of thermodynamics, specifically the disorder statement can be used to help understand why radioactive decay occurs. This statement says that the entropy of a closed system can never decrease, meaning that things must fall further into disorder, not order. This process is known as “decay” and the second law helps to clarify why matter breaks down into a less and less organized state over time this . Part of this process includes certain types of atoms which break down into new, different types of atoms at some measurable rate known as radioactive decay.”

                      1) that relies on a faulty definition of information.”

                      But you don’t provide your new and improved definition of information. As I have demonstrated, the genetic code uses symbolic representation in the most literal (not metaphorical or figurative) sense. The arrangement of symbols (such as letters) according to a language is not something that can be accomplished, even in principle, by unintelligent physical or chemical processes. Werner Gitt is a former Director and Professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig) and former head of the Department of Information Technology. In his book Without Excuse, he discusses the substitutive function of what he terms “Universal Information “(UI), as it relates to the genetic code, the language of life:

                      Universal Information is always an abstract representation of some other existing entity. Universal Information is never the item (object) or the fact (event, idea) itself but rather the coded symbols serve as a substitute for the entities that are being represented. Different languages often use different sets of symbols and usually different symbol sequences to represent the same material object or concept. Consider the following examples:

                      -The words in a newspaper, consisting of a sequence of letters, substitute for an event that happened at an earlier time and in some other place,

                      -The words in a novel, consisting of sequences of letters, substitute for characters and their actions,

                      -The notes of a musical score substitute for music that will be played later on musical instruments,

                      -The chemical formula for benzene substitutes for the toxic liquid that is kept in a flask in a chemistry laboratory,

                      -The genetic codons (three-letter words) of the DNA molecule substitute for specific amino acids that are bonded together in a specific sequence to form a protein.

                      The substitutive function of the the symbols in a code or language is something that can only be set up by the activity of a conscious and intelligent mind because, again, what a set of symbols serve to substitute for is entirely arbitrary and cannot be a property of the symbols themselves. Symbolic representation is by necessity a mental process. As information scientist Henry Quastler put it, “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” Biologists with less rigid ideological commitments to atheism (or at least more intellectual integrity) have been frank enough to admit the necessity of mind (a conscious and intelligent agent) in the origin of life. The Nobel Prize-winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald, although certainly not an ideological ally of theism, admitted the following 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.”

                      Of course, you can just stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and pretend it was all magic, meanwhile in the real world science continues collecting actual data and gaining more and more knowledge about how things work outside the dogmatic pages of man made books.”

                      As is the case with most atheists I debate, you have an extremely romanticized and mythologized concept of science. Science has a great track record for producing results (medicines, space travel, computers, etc..) but it has a HORRIBLE track record for producing truth. Biologist Lynn Margulis, winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal for Science, put it best in her book What Is Life?:

                      “…Science is asymptotic. [“asymptote” is derived from a Greek word meaning “not falling together.”] It never arrives at but only approaches the tantalizing goal of final knowledge. Astrology gives way to astronomy; alchemy evolves into chemistry. The science of one age becomes the mythology of the next.”

                      Those with a short-sighted view of the history of science are prone to overlook the fact that alchemy (which believed that metals such as lead could be turned into gold) and astrology were once considered scientifically respectable. In fact, as Margulis alludes to above, the scientific consensus of one age usually becomes the myth or superstition of the next age.

                      If you were alive during the Victorian era, you would likely have had to undergo a phrenology test as part of a job interview, as this post discusses. Phrenology (which was the science of its day, but is regarded as superstition today) was a scientific paradigm which believed that the shape and features of a person’s skull revealed that person’s personality traits:

                      “Hmmm, Joe seemed like a great candidate for this job, but his skull features indicate a tendency towards dishonesty and theft. We’d better not hire him.”

                      Popular thought suggests that scientific knowledge is on an ever advancing march towards final truth. However, in his pivotal work on the history, philosophy, and sociology of science titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist Thomas Kuhn describes how the history of science makes it difficult to justify the characterization of science as “an ever growing stockpile [of] knowledge” or a “process of accretion.” In part, this is because most scientific theories (or models) which were accepted by the scientific communities of the past are now perceived as pseudo-science or myth.

                      Kuhn cites the examples of Aristotelian dynamics (which was superseded by Newtonian physics), phlogistic chemistry (which said that a fire-like element called phlogiston is contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion), and caloric thermodynamics (which said that heat is really a self-repellent fluid called caloric that flows from hotter bodies to colder bodies). (Click here for several dozen more examples of the science of one age becoming the pseudo-science of the next age). If these theories were regarded as “science” in their day, but as “error” and “superstition” today, then why should we not assume that the scientific theories of today will become the error and superstition of tomorrow? Kuhn writes:

                      Historians confront growing difficulties in distinguishing the “scientific” component of past observation and belief from what their predecessors had readily labeled “error” and “superstition.” The more carefully they study, say, Aristotelian dynamics, phlogistic chemistry, or caloric thermodynamics, the more certain they feel that those once current views of nature were, as a whole, neither less scientific nor more the product of human idiosyncrasy than those current today. If these out-of-date beliefs are to be called myths, then myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge. If, on the other hand, they are to be called science, then science has included bodies of belief quite incompatible with the ones we hold today. Given these alternatives, the historian must choose the latter. Out-of-date theories are not in principle unscientific because they have been discarded. That choice, however, makes it difficult to see scientific development as a process of accretion.

                      The history of science clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that science, alone, doesn’t provide ultimate answers. Dominant scientific theories have a history of eventually being radically revised, and outright rejected. William Dembski notes in Uncommon Dissent:

                      Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, science is not a juggernaut that relentlessly pushes back the frontiers of knowledge. Rather, science is an interconnected web of theoretical and factual claims about the world that are constantly being revised. Changes in one portion of the web can induce radical changes in another. In particular, science regularly confronts the problem of having to retract claims that it once boldly asserted.

                      Consider the following example from geology: In the nineteenth century the geosynclinal theory was proposed to account for the origination of mountain ranges. This theory hypothesized that large trough-like depressions, known as geosynclines, filled with sediment, gradually became unstable, and then, when crushed and heated by the earth, elevated to form mountain ranges. To the question “How did mountain ranges originate?” geologists as late as 1960 confidently asserted that the geosynclinal theory provided the answer. In the 1960 edition of Clark and Stearn’s Geological Evolution of North America, the status of the geosynclinal theory was even favorably compared with Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

                      Whatever became of the geosynclinal theory? An alternative theory, that of plate tectonics, was developed. It explained mountain formation through continental drift and sea-floor spreading. Within a few years, it had decisively replaced the geosynclinal theory. The history of science is filled with such turnabouts in which confident claims to knowledge suddenly vanish from the scientific literature. The geosynclinal theory was completely wrong. Thus, when the theory of plate tectonics came along, the geosynclinal theory was overthrown.

  16. Dennis says:

    Guys and gals, FWIW I am enjoying this conversation. Lots of great stuff. And in the case that you wonder, I label myself as an agnostic Christian and am an ardent evolutionist.

  17. Hi Scott. Can you clarify here?

    “We know that the genetic code uses symbolic representation in order to codify a set of instructions for an organism to grow and develop. And symbolic representation is by necessity the product of a conscious and intelligent mind.”

    Organisms and genes and molecules don’t use a ‘symbolic representation…to codify a set of instructions…’ They use real chemicals, swimming in the mix of what they are. Humans use a symbolic representation to understand and relates what is happening.

    It seems that, because you and I are human and can only codify this symbolically, that you state that it’s a requirement and requires a maker. Unless you know something that no one else does, flowers or butterflies don’t give a hoot about symbolic representation but just go on their merry way, making more of themselves.

    I read this and think you are searching for a way to insert a maker into the argument when none is required…

    • Matt says:

      Hi Dennis,

      Reading this thread it seems to me like certain theists, rather than holding and owning a faith based position, would prefer to take the view that ‘science proves god exists’. Others on the other hand say the existence of god is not an empirically verifiable question.

      I say that science neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods (or rather, provides evidence for or against). Unless of course your deity is the ‘not Evolution’ god*. That one in particular can be shown not to exist.

      I’m an atheist, and can’t see anything wrong with the following: the Universe contains matter, energy, fields and laws of nature, that together produce self-organising systems such as those that lead to the development of humans. God, and his desire for sentient life, is the reason for this state of affairs.

      Do you find that problematic at all?

      * Clearly, Evolution happens. Just as clearly, despite false claims that it is impossible, abiogenesis appears likely to have occurred through purely naturalistic means. Neither of those facts suggest to me atheism must necessarily be the case.

      • But “self-organization” is not what we witness in nature. The second law of thermodynamics (SLOT) states that the measure of disorder in a system (entropy) tends to increase over time. SLOT is the reason your clean room gets dirty, your shoes wear out, iron rusts, and you and I age, etcetera.

        To reverse the disorder caused by SLOT, energy flow must be DIRECTED by external effort. For example, when your clean room gets dirty, you don’t just shine a heat lamp over it and expect it to get clean. Rather, you expend energy in a DIRECTED fashion by using a vacuum cleaner (electrical energy) on your rug, and by using your muscles (burning calories to expend chemical energy) to dust your dirty table tops, etc.. The energy flow must be DIRECTED by external effort.

        Dr. W.M. DeJong studied Mathematics and Thermodynamics at the University of Technology in Delft, The Netherlands, and is consultant and researcher of innovation and change at INI-Consult. He wrote two EXCELLENT papers which rebut England. See below:

        https://www.evoskepsis.nl/docs/Evolutionary%20theorie%20and%20empirical%20science.pdf

        https://www.evoskepsis.nl/docs/Does%20the%20Second%20Law%20of%20Thermodynamics%20only%20hold%20for%20closed%20systems.pdf

        As DeJong points out, any order produced by unintelligent natural processes must be MAINTAINED by directed external effort. For example, the unintelligent natural process of wind blowing sand on beach may cause orderly ripples in the sand. But the moment the direction or speed of the wind changes, the same natural processes which created the ripples more quickly destroys them. Only directed external effort can maintain the ripples. Please read both papers in their entirety, but here is an important excerpt from one of them. As DeJong notes, if “self-organizing” natural processes existed, the chemical industry would be out of business, because undirected energy flows would be able to produce complex molecules:

        Order out of chaos

        Ilya Perigone [1] has shown that ridges in the sand can emerge by random energy flows; but
        he overlooked that these ridges are not maintained by these random energy flows; the next
        day they disappear again and are replaced by other ridges in an other direction. Perigone
        has also shown that living nature is constantly transforming molecules, cells and organisms
        into more complex structures; but he overlooked that this ordering is driven by the DNA
        program present in any cell, and not by random energy flows.

        In the chemical industry simple molecules are transformed into complicated molecules by
        directed energy flows, not by random natural processes. If random, natural processes would
        be able to turn chaos into order, complicated molecules would become available for free; all
        energy problems on earth would be solved and the chemical industry would be out of
        business.

        ***The second law and the natural course of events***

        The Second Law of Thermodynamics captures a fundamental property of our physical reality:
        everything will ultimately decay, driven by natural processes. Only directed effort can
        maintain, expand, or transform a system, resulting in a decrease of its entropy. The
        assertion that the second law does not hold for open systems denies a fundamental property
        of our physical reality.

        Dean Overman reflects DeJong’s above comments in A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization:

        The probabilities of abiogenesis appear greater when considering an open system with an energy source maintaining the system far from equilibrium and from the disorder which inexorably occurs pursuant to the Second Law in equilibrium processes. Although the earth has an energy source from the sun, energy alone is not sufficient to support abiogenesis. Dynamite can be a source of energy, but unless the energy from its explosion is directed in an intelligent manner, its energy will be more destructive than constructive. For abiogenesis to occur, energy flow must be joined to a mechanism which will direct it to generate sufficient information content into inert matter. Information content is the minimum number of instructions needed to specify the structure. The information content of living systems contains an enormous amount of specified instructions.

        In reviewing the effects of energy flow one must distinguish between the maintenance of order in a living system and the origination of a living system from inert matter. Energy flow simply maintaining a system far from equilibrium and protecting it from the effects of the Second Law may sustain the order in a system, but energy flow alone is not sufficient to explain the complexity of life’s origin. For example, Toby, my family’s golden retriever, eats heated frozen, pre-packaged turkey dinners to provide himself with energy which builds and maintains his body. To maintain his life, he needs to have a stomach, liver, and intestines which provide a mechanism to join the energy available from the turkey dinner to the work required to sustain his body. This example of the maintenance of a golden retriever’s body is fairly simple to understand because the energy flow is joined to the required work by the dog’s mechanism of DNA, enzymes, and RNA. The origin of this mechanism, however, is a deep, unsolved mystery.

        The solution to the puzzle of life’s origin requires an explanation of the development of molecules with intense information content. By what means is the energy flow which keeps a system far from equilibrium capable of generating information content? How did the mechanism which stores, transfers, and directs information arise spontaneously? Natural selection is not a viable explanation for the origin of DNA and enzymes, because, as noted above in the critique of the mathematical probabilities of a monkey typing the Bible, natural selection only acts within systems which already have replicating capacity. Again, natural selection does not exist in prebiological molecules.

        These points are worth restating: Energy flow from a source, like the sun, can keep a system far from equilibrium. However, the energy flow which maintains a system far from equilibrium does not contribute towards the origin of life if the energy flow is not directed in some manner into generating generating information content into inorganic matter. The energy flow does remove the system from equilibrium and prevent the total disorder which flows from the Second Law, but that alone is not sufficient to begin life, because life requires energy flow to be directed to produce information content in inert matter. 99 The issue of the generation of information content is the fundamental problem in the origin of life theories, not the influence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

        As discussed many times in this book, scientists frequently confuse the concepts of order and complexity. To construct a plausible theory for the origin of life, scientists need to discover a theory which explains the generation of complexity, not the generation of order. The Second Law of Thermodynamics addresses the orderliness of energy. Order may arise spontaneously in inorganic systems far from equilibrium. In terms of the formation of the first living organism, however, the applicability of the Second Law in a system far from equilibrium is not so significant, because complexity rather than order is the issue. In this sense order is nihil ad rem.

    • I’m searching for a way to insert a maker? No, the information bearing capacity of chemical arrangements is very limited. Renowned physicist Paul Davies put it best in a 2002 article for The Guardian titled How We Could Create Life:

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

      For example, songs are mental, informational entities. Chemistry and physics are relevant to storage media such as iPods, compact disks, cassette tapes, old vinyl records, etc. But storage of a song on an iPod does not involve significant changes to the chemistry of the iPod. Just as one can only store very very limited information by soldering switches and wires, only very very limited information can be stored via chemical arrangements.

      Similarly, in regards to life, the unintelligent action of natural laws could possibly explain the material aspect of an organism (the storage medium), but not the message (the set of immaterial instructions codified in the genetic code). Indeed, it would be no more possible for natural laws to write a song than to produce instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Fifth Miracle, physicist Paul Davies makes this point:

      “The laws of physics, which determine what atoms react with what, and how, are algorithmically very simple; they themselves contain relatively little information. Consequently, they cannot on their own be responsible for creating informational macromolecules [such as even the most simple organism]. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, then, life cannot be ‘written into’ the laws of physics. Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis [life emerging from unintelligent processes] is clear. Since the heady success of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is the classic case of confusing the medium with the message.”

      Atheism relies on mindless material processes to explain life. But the insurmountable problem for atheism is that such mindless processes can never account for the fact that the genetic code is a language which utilizes arrangements of symbols with arbitrarily assigned meanings…just like a human language. Much as the chemistry of the ink and paper that constitute a newspaper cannot explain the arrangement of the letters in the words of a newspaper, the chemistry of a DNA molecule cannot explain the arrangement of letters in a segment of genetic code. Michael Polanyi, a former Chairman of Physical Chemistry at the University of Manchester (UK), who was famous for his important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, emphasizes this point:

      “As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence in a DNA molecule extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. It is this physical indeterminacy of the sequence that produces the improbability of occurrence of any particular sequence and thereby enables it to have meaning–a meaning that has a mathematically determinate information content.”

      Indeed, it would be just as absurd to assert that mindless physical or chemical processes could write a newspaper article as it would be to assert that such processes could produce a DNA sequence. Ultra-elite atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins, from Oxford University, (author of The God Delusion) and Francis Crick (famous as co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix) surely know this, which is why they hypothesize that life was brought to Earth by aliens in their spaceship. (Click here to watch a video of Richard Dawkins endorsing this hypothesis in an interview, and click here to read an article about how Crick endorsed this hypothesis in his book Life Itself). So, much like a game of whack-a-mole, mind re-emerges as the source for life even among the biologists most ideologically committed to denying that one mind in particular (God) created life. As David Berlinski sardonically points out, this is what Sigmund Freud was referring to when he spoke of “the return of the repressed.”

      So if laws of nature do not give rise to information, what does? Interestingly enough, the methodological principle used by Charles Darwin leads us to the unavoidable conclusion that an intelligent agent (read: God) is responsible for the information contained in the sets of immensely complex instructions codified in the genetic code. In The Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer explains how Darwin felt that scientists should look for causes already known to produce the effect in question:

      Darwin himself adopted this methodological principle. His term for a presently acting cause was a vera causa, that is, a true, known, or actual cause. Darwin thought that when explaining past events, scientists should seek to identify established causes—causes known to produce the effect in question. Darwin appealed to this principle to argue that presently observed microevolutionary processes of change could be used to explain the origin of new forms of life in the past. Since the observed process of natural selection can produce a small amount of change in a short time, Darwin argued that it was capable of producing a large amount of change over a long period of time. In that sense, natural selection was “causally adequate.”

      So what is the vera causa, in Darwin’s terminology, ALREADY KNOWN to produce information? In answer to this question, Meyer cites information scientist Henry Quastler:

      “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”

      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 simple, regular, and repeating sort of sequence which occurs naturally.

  18. Hi Matt and thanks for the response. I agree that science or even human logic has nothing to say about the divinely transcendent G. Science has two jobs: to give a way to explore (the scientific method) and to describe the natural world. So it can neither prove nor deny the existence of G in the illogical and unnatural world. Logic is just a set of man made dominoes: this then this then not this. I’m a Christian and believe that any G who can be described by man is, in the words of JB Philips, “too small.”

    I take no issue at all with your statement though I have had a recent accident that included a nasty brain injury. I’m am still in the materialist camp but dealing with my injury gives me questions about the firm reality of things and whether or not we make them…

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