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, INVARIABLY, we 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, Principia Mathematica:
“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.”
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.
Additional citations which relate to the topic of the ultimate source of information appear below:
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 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.
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.”