Why randomness explains nothing.
Why cite God as an explanation when random evolutionary processes do the work of creating life from non-living matter just fine?
This is a core atheist argument which presents itself over and over again in atheist books and online forums. But, unfortunately for atheists, randomness is entirely useless as an explanation for the origin of life.
The sentence, “I flew to Chicago” becomes meaningless and useless once a single letter is changed: “I flem to Chicago.” The same is true with genetic code (DNA), which uses symbolic representation to provide a set of instructions for living things to grow and develop.
Even if random forces could produce a functional genetic code sequence (against incredibly long odds, as many atheists seem to admit), the same random forces would also wipe away this information much more quickly. This is due to the simple fact that the vast majority of symbolic sequences are gibberish.
David Berlinski comments on this fatal flaw of atheist reasoning in the context of responding to the famous Oxford University atheist biologist Richard Dawkins’ argument that randomness could produce a genetic code “target phrase.” Dawkins uses the illustration of monkeys typing randomly on a keyboard and eventually typing the target phrase, “Methinks it is like a weasel.” Berlinski responds to Dawkins:
“Dawkins—’Methinks it is like a weasel’— is a six-word sentence containing twenty-eight English letters (including the spaces). It occupies an isolated point in a space of 10,000 million, million, million, million, million, million possibilities. This is a very large number; combinatorial inflation is at work. And these are very long odds. And a six-word sentence consisting of twenty-eight English letters is a very short, very simple English sentence.”
“Such are the fatal facts. The problem confronting the monkeys is, of course, a double one: they must, to be sure, find the right letters, but they cannot lose the right letters once they have found them. A random search in a space of this size is an exercise in irrelevance.”
“The mechanism of deliberate design, purged by Darwinian theory on the level of the organism, has reappeared in the description of natural selection itself, a vivid example of what Freud meant by the return of the repressed.”
Dean Overman also comments on this fatal flaw of atheist reasoning, in the context of responding to Dawkins. A useful piece of genetic code must be preserved for it to be useful. But what preserves useful genetic code, thereby preventing it from being wiped away by the same random forces which generated it in the first place? Overman writes:
“…For the monkey to preserve the correct letters in the sequence requires an assumed intelligence apart from and greater than the intelligence of the monkey. This intelligence must have knowledge of the letters which construct a meaningful sentence. Without such an intelligence, no principle exists for deciding which letters should be preserved. Natural selection does not qualify as such an intelligence, because it is a process, not something like an intelligent mind which knows the alphabet and the structure of a meaningful sentence. Dawkins cannot have it both ways. He cannot logically assert that a process without the characteristics of a mind has the characteristics of a mind and the knowledge required to ‘know’ which letters to preserve. Such an assertion fails because it assumes a self-contradiction. Cadit quaestio.”
Perhaps an even more important point is that randomness and time, alone, cannot produce anything, ever. Period. As an illustration, consider the lottery: The odds that a particular individual will win the lottery are incredibly small, but many people have won the lottery in the past, and many will win the lottery in the future.
However, it would be absurd to suggest that anyone ever won the lottery purely as the result of chance or randomness. This is because randomness only works upon an underlying structure or order. In the lottery example, there must be the underlying structure of a lottery commission, and a distribution network for lottery tickets. And there must also be the underlying structure of a monetary system (Dollar, Euro, etc). Without this underlying structure, the odds of anyone winning the lottery are exactly zero.
Like a lottery win, the origin of life from non-living matter also requires an underlying structure. How did this structure originate? Why is reality structured so that evolution can occur? Regarding this question, Alister McGrath, who was awarded a doctorate from Oxford University for his research in molecular biophysics, writes in Surprised by Meaning:
“…This point is consistently overlooked in many accounts of evolution, which seem to treat physics and chemistry as essentially irrelevant background information to a discussion of evolution. Yet before life can begin, let alone evolve, this biological process requires the availability of a stable planet, irradiated by an energy source capable of chemical conversion and storage, and the existence of a diverse array of core chemical elements with certain fundamental properties. Biology has become so used to the existence and aggregation of highly organized attributes that they are seen primarily as core assumptions of evolutionary theory, rather than something that requires explanation in its own right. There is an implicit assumption that life would adapt to whatever hand of physical and chemical cards were dealt it. Yet this is untested and intrinsically questionable. The emergence of life cannot be studied in isolation from the environment that creates the conditions and provides the resources that make this possible.”
University of Delaware physicist Stephen Barr discusses the topic of underlying order, or structure, in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith:
“The overlooked point is this: when examined carefully, scientific accounts of natural processes are never really about order emerging from mere chaos, or form emerging from mere formlessness. On the contrary, they are always about the unfolding of an order that was already implicit in the nature of things, although often in a secret or hidden way. When we see situations that appear haphazard, or things that appear amorphous, automatically or spontaneously ‘arranging themselves’ into orderly patterns, what we find in every case is that what appeared to be amorphous or haphazard actually already had a great deal of order built into it.”
“In fact, we shall learn something more: in every case where science explains order, it does so, in the final analysis, by appealing to a greater, more impressive, and more comprehensive underlying orderliness. And that is why, ultimately, scientific explanations do not allow us to escape from the Design Argument: for when the scientist has done his job there is not less order to explain but more.”
Perry Marshall comments on how modern science has shown that non-random, directed processes are responsible for evolution, in his book Evolution 2.0:
“Remember the fruit fly experiments? [Nobel Prize-winning biologist Barbara] McClintock’s experiments were similar. She too used organisms damaged by radiation. She discovered that radiation broke chromosomes and triggered editing systems in real time. Cells would reconstruct the damaged chromosome with another section of radiation-broken genetic material.”
“…Barbara McClintock had discovered that plants possess the ability to recognize that data has been corrupted. Then they repair it with newly activated genome elements, and in the process of repairing the data, the plants can develop new features!”
Randomness is not what drives evolution (as Darwinism insists). Rather, non-random, directed processes drive evolution. The directed process mentioned above is known as transposition, and amounts to a cut/copy/paste of genetic information within a cell. The discovery of transposition won Barbara McClintock the Nobel Prize in biology, and her face on a U.S. postage stamp.
And despite the fact that no legitimate biologist denies transposition, Marshall notes, it is noticeably absent from popular presentations of evolution, such as in books by atheistic evolution promoters Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne. Scientists with an atheistic agenda do not wish to call attention to directed evolutionary processes such as transposition.
Physicist Amit Goswami echoes Marshall’s point about the directed (as opposed to random and mindless) nature of evolution in his book Creative Evolution: A Physicist’s Resolution Between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Atheistic scientists argue in favor of upward causation, in which elementary particles make atoms, which make molecules, which make living cells, which make the brain, which produces consciousness. According to the upward causation model, then, everything begins with elementary particles, and winds up with consciousness (in human brains), as a result of mindless and random processes working over millions of years. But, as Goswami points out, downward causation (in which a consciousness comes first) is the actual state of affairs:
“The new evidence suggests that certain bacteria, when threatened with mass starvation, accelerate their own mutation rate to evolve to a new species that can survive on the available food (Cairns, Overbaugh, and Miller 1988). This behavior is called directed mutation. Critics of directed mutation point out that under starvation perhaps the mutation rate of all the genes is enhanced, not just the one needed for survival. But even so, the question remains: What enhances the mutation rates? The correct explanation is to see this phenomenon as direct evidence in favor of downward causation (Goswami and Todd 1997) and the causal efficacy of organisms, as also propounded by organismic biologists.”
“If the idea of downward causation were an isolated idea invented to solve the special problems of fast-tempo evolution and purposiveness of life, if it were needed nowhere else in science, then it could not be called a scientific idea, end of story. But the intriguing situation is this: The idea of a God as an agent of downward causation has emerged in quantum physics (Goswami 1989, 1991, 1993, 2000, 2002; Stapp 1993; Blood 1993, 2001) as the only legitimate explanation of the famous observer effect. (Readers skeptical about this statement should see these original references, especially Goswami 2002.)”
Downward causation (in which a conscious agent comes first) is no doubt a bizarre (even mind-bending) concept for persons raised in a culture which has deeply entrenched assumptions supporting the upward causation model. But, far from being a fringe concept, downward causation is a virtually undeniable conclusion of modern physics, as Goswami notes.
Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University agrees with Goswami that downward causation by God is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from modern physics:
“Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.” [“Solipsism” is defined as “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.”]
Indeed, the founder of quantum physics himself, the Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Planck, was referring to downward causation, in which a conscious mind (read: God) comes first, and produces matter, when he wrote:
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
Planck also wrote:
“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
It is noteworthy that, despite being ideologically inclined towards materialist explanations (the upward causation model), the Nobel Prize-winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald was compelled by the evidence to endorse the downward causation model (in which a conscious and intelligent agent comes first) 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.”