Darwinist detective work.
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Such are the words of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And a little detective work quickly eliminates the alternative to God which atheists cite as the cause for life: Natural laws.
Realizing specifically why natural laws are completely incapable of producing life is crucial to understanding why the theistic explanation must be the truth, no matter how improbable it may appear to an atheist:
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 to our “detective work” 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 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.”
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.”
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.
Whenever we trace information back to its source we INVARIABLY come back to a conscious mind, not an undirected material process, as Meyer notes. The irregular and non-repeating nature of genetic instructions means that they could not have been accomplished by a law-like process. Sir Issac Newton was really onto something when he wrote the following in what is regarded to be the most important scientific work of all time, The Principia:
“Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being, necessarily existing.”
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 In the Beginning Was Information, Gitt echoes Newton’s above comments by emphasizing that material processes are fundamentally incapable of producing information, because information is not a material or physical entity, but rather, a mental entity. The source of information is therefore by necessity a mind. Gitt writes:
…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 non-material 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.
Similarly, the 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.”
The most common atheist objection is to accuse theists of an Appeal to Ignorance fallacy: “We don’t yet know how life emerged from non-life, so God must have done it.” However, it is crucial to realize that this is NOT the theistic argument, but rather, a straw-man mischaracterization of the theistic argument. Constructing an argument for God based upon what we ALREADY KNOW is entirely different from arguing, “We don’t yet know how life emerged from non-life, so God must have done it.”
Because intelligent agency is the only cause already known to produce information, it is actually the atheist who must commit an Appeal to Ignorance fallacy: “We don’t yet know how life emerged form non-life, so unintelligent natural processes must have done it.”
Moreover, in addition to committing the above Appeal to Ignorance fallacy, the atheist must ignore what we already know about the source of information. Imagine if you were a member of a jury presiding over a criminal trial, and the defense lawyer’s concluding remarks consisted of the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, please ignore the evidence for my client’s guilt presented by the prosecution, and patiently wait for evidence which will arrive someday to support an alternative explanation which I will eventually think up.”
As ridiculous as such an argument seems, the atheist is left with nothing more in his explanatory toolbox. It is critical to realize that, in the absence of logically coherent reasons for adopting the atheist stance, we have no choice but to assume other-than-logical (read: ideological) motivations are at play. In 1997, Harvard University geneticist Richard C. Lewontin famously admitted his ideological (as opposed to logical) reasons for embracing the philosophical stance known as materialism (the most common atheist alternative to theism), which which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including consciousness, are results of undirected material processes:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Please also read my post titled Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God for more discussion on this topic.
Absolutely fascinating, the vast, coherent panoply of reasoned arguments supporting theism – quite apart from the imho manifest evidence of matter at the quantum level.
Perhaps I should have said, ‘our relationship to matter at the quantum level’, since the quantum level underlay what was indeed adverted to.
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“the theistic explanation must be the truth, no matter how improbable it may appear to an atheist”
Why tell us? If your argument is so ironclad, tell the scientists. Once the scientific consensus changes, I’ll accept it.
The history of science clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that scientific consensus is utterly useless as a signpost for truth. I wrote an essay about this titled The Mythology of Atheism. It is obvious, Bob, that you are appealing to scientific consensus as an excuse to avoid logically engaging with my arguments. The truth is established with logical arguments, not with scientific consensus. Famed astrophysicist (and atheist) Carl Sagan commented on arguments from authority:
“One of the great commandments of science is, ‘Mistrust arguments from authority.’ … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.”
Please provide a SPECIFIC, logically constructed, fact-based rebuttal to my point about how natural laws do not have the information bearing capacity to produce a set of instructions in the genetic code. You won’t, because you can’t, and so you must create an irrelevant diversionary discussion about scientific consensus. (Yes, I am throwing down the gauntlet and challenging you).
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.
Is there not a false consensus (of corporate inspiration) and a real one (theistic)?
I should have written, ‘and a real consensus among scientitsts, properly so-called.’
Hey Scott, I hope you’ve been well. We had agreed earlier we would have a discussion regarding the old testament.
David Robertson who wrote the Dawkins letters considers the problem of suffering and the old testament stories the Achilles heel of the Christian faith. These are stories that atheists love to cite when regarding the Bible’s view on the treatment of women, slavery, genocide, etc. I shall specifically focus on genocide stories.
I was reading Dr. Randal Rauser’s critique of Dr. Paul Copan’s essays on the genocide stories of the old testament. In his short eBook on the problem of divinely commanded genocide, he critiques the positions that Dr. Paul Copan views on OT stories. Dr. Rauser forms the following dilemma
1. God is the most perfect being
2. Yahweh is God
3. Yahweh ordered people to commit genocide.
4. Genocide is always a moral atrocity
5. A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity
6. Therefore, a perfect being would not order people to commit genocide.
7. Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit genocide.
After premise 5, non-theists would have Christians conclude from this that there is no perfect being. This is how Dr. Rauser formulates his argument.
Dr. Paul Copan tells us that God gave groups such as the Canaanites has reached a level so hopelessly that they had to be destroyed. Dr. Rauser refutes this by saying this is an assertion. He argues that one should provide a clear criterion when this type of slaughter is required. He also points out the long-lasting effects of genocide. Dr. Rauser quotes John Prior “Who among us today would deny that ethnic cleansing is categorically indefensible under any circumstance. Are we to really believe that an act of baby bludgeoning is suddenly defensible if we replace ‘Hutu bludgeoner with ‘Israelite bludgeoner’, ‘Tutsi baby’ with the Canaanite baby’ and the year ‘1994’ with ‘1450BC’”?
I was surprised that Dr. Rauser even suggests that the killings were a sacrifice to God. He suggests the Hebrew word is herem is pivotal here as it refers to the consecration of something that God had consigned the Canaanite men, women, and children to herem so that the slaughter constituted a religious act of worship, a mass human sacrifice on a scale rivaling the ancient Aztecs.
After, critiquing Dr. Copan, Dr. Rauser argues that genocide is always a moral atrocity from which it follows that if Yahweh is God then Yahweh did not command the Canaanite genocide. He says that Christians need to save themselves from the sorry spectacle of attempting to convince ourselves and others of that which everybody cannot be true.
I think in the end. However much apologists try to explain these difficult passages, I can’t help but think that God in all his infinite wisdom could not think of another radical way to establish the uniqueness of the Israelites. Remember Dr. MLK did not use violence in fighting racism so why couldn’t the Israelites bring peace more lovingly.
Dr. Rauser’s argument fails at premises number 4 and 5. If God is the ground of all being, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of God, and not by some free-floating morality. Please recall that atheism is grounded in naturalism, which says that all that exists is the physical/natural world. But the natural world is completely valueless. There is no such thing as a good or bad rock, or a good or bad bird, etc.
If Dr. Rauser’s worldview is correct, then “genocide is always a moral atrocity” (premise 4) is merely a subjective stance, akin to “chocolate tastes better than vanilla.” Such is the case because, without a higher moral authority to be the final moral judge (God), human beings are the only agents available to make moral judgements. But if human beings are the only agents available to make moral judgements, we are left with the question of WHICH humans are the final judges of right and wrong. Why not the Nazis and Klu Klux Klan instead of Dr. Rauser? Because Dr. Rauser is morally superior to the Nazis and Klu Klux Klan? Says who? Dr. Rauser? Please recall that the Nazis did not feel that genocide is a moral atrocity.
Again, without a higher moral authority to be the final judge of right and wrong, Dr. Rauser is in no position to make a statement such as “genocide is always a moral atrocity.” In the absence of a final moral judge (God), moral judgements such as “genocide is wrong” and “genocide is right” are merely subjective stances akin to “chocolate tastes better than vanilla” or “vanilla tastes better than chocolate.”
In other words, there can be no right or wrong without God, and God determines what is right and wrong. Since God does not issue moral commands to Himself, he does not have any moral duties to fulfill. This is the divine command ethical theory, as William Lane Craig explains below, in the context of His command to destroy the Canaanites:
I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements. According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.
For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.
What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.
So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.
On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.
All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature? Well, let’s look at the case more closely. It is perhaps significant that the story of Yahweh’s destruction of Sodom–along with his solemn assurances to Abraham that were there as many as ten righteous persons in Sodom, the city would not have been destroyed–forms part of the background to the conquest of Canaan and Yahweh’s command to destroy the cities there. The implication is that the Canaanites are not righteous people but have come under God’s judgement.
In fact, prior to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God tells Abraham,
“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).
Think of it! God stays His judgement of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgement and calling His people forth from Egypt.
By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice. The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18). God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.
Extremely well researched and written article.
Stephen Jay Gould defined evolution as a process of constant branching and expansion.
In order for life to expand there must be an unbounded source of biological information since all life is information based.
What experiment has shown that a material process may create a code or generate unbounded biological information as required by evolution?
The answer is NONE. This is why evolution is a FAKE science.
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[…] (read: God)? Please read my posts titled The Case for God is Not a Case of the God of the Gaps and Darwinist Detective Work, and Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without […]