The origin of life, and the man behind the curtain.
Much as Dorothy’s dog Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal a hidden man creating the illusion of the Wizard of Oz, one can pull back the curtain on the illusion of unintelligent natural mechanisms causing the origin of life. And when the curtain is pulled back on the most often cited evidence for these alleged mechanisms, there is actually a man hidden back there. Yes, the origin of life debate can be every bit as entertaining as the Wizard of Oz, so sit tight!
Abiogenesis is the term which refers to the evolution of living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances as a result of allegedly unintelligent natural mechanisms. And the Miller-Urey experiments from the early 1950’s are a crucial piece of evidence, almost universally cited by those who tout an unintelligent cause for life. As Wikipedia states:
The Miller–Urey experiment (or Miller experiment) was a chemical experiment that simulated the conditions thought at the time (1952) to be present on the early Earth and tested the chemical origin of life under those conditions. Considered to be the classic experiment investigating abiogenesis, it was conducted in 1952 by Stanley Miller, with assistance from Harold Urey, at the University of Chicago and later the University of California, San Diego, and published the following year.
Since the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated that simple chemicals can gradually evolve into more complex organic compounds— it is argued—there is no need to cite an intelligent agent as creating life from non-living matter. But when the curtain is pulled back on this argument, we find a man hiding behind the curtain! (identity to be revealed later)
The elephant in the room: What maintains the order produced by random natural processes?
The philosophical conclusion that unintelligent natural processes can create life from non-life can only be reached by ignoring the elephant in the room: What maintains this order once it is produced?
By taking a look at the world around, to observe how natural processes actually work, one can confidently conclude that natural processes cannot be the source of this preservation of order. Without directed external effort to counteract natural forces, sooner or later, your clean room will get dirty, your car will break down, your clothes will wear out, and complex organic molecules will break down to their more simple constituents. This tendency of natural processes to produce disorder from order (as we all observe on a daily basis) is an aspect of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
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 points out the fatal blind spots of the research of scientists who tout an unintelligent cause for life, such as Ilya Prigogine and Miller-Urey. Unintelligent natural processes can produce order, but only on a very limited and temporary basis. For example, energy flows from wind blowing sand on a beach could produce orderly ridges in the sand. But once the direction or speed of the wind changes, this order would be more quickly destroyed. DeJong writes:
Ilya Prigogine 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 another direction. Prigogine 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.
And the man behind the curtain is…(drumroll please)
As DeJong notes, it was actually an intelligent agent, STANLEY MILLER HIMSELF, who prevented the building blocks of DNA molecules (amino acids) from breaking down again by applying directed external effort to preserve the order temporarily produced by random processes in the Miller-Urey experiments. Simply put, Miller used his knowledge of what constitutes a chemical building block for life to transport these chemicals to distillation flasks, so as to preserve them from being destroyed, and allow them to achieve the necessary concentrations. But unintelligent natural mechanisms possess no such knowledge of which chemicals need to be preserved, nor knowledge of the concentrations of these chemicals necessary for life to emerge, nor any ability to preserve:
Secondly, order that emerges from undirected external forces not only has a temporary character, but does not expand, unless directed external effort is supplied. This law of nature is clearly illustrated by the famous Miller experiment. Random flashes of electricity can turn basic organic substances into the building blocks of DNA. But the next moment, new flashes may destroy these building blocks. The larger the building blocks, the faster they will be destroyed again. Therefore, Miller transported the building blocks formed towards a distillation flask, sheltering them from destruction by new flashes of lightning, resulting in the production of a more and more concentrated organic soup. Miller’s experiment confirms the second law, and shows that the order in a system can only be maintained and increased by directed external effort.
It is often supposed that organic molecules have a natural bias to order themselves into increasingly complex structures. It is thought that if an advantage fluctuation of chaos arises, the molecules will move to a nearby, higher and maintained level of order; after some time, a subsequent advantageous fluctuation of chaos will arise and another a step of increasing order will be set; et cetera. More accurate assessment of this line of thought, which is handed by Miller and Prigogine, shows, however, that (1) the emergence of order in chaotic systems is only temporary; (2) the maintenance and further expansion of the order that may emerge in chaotic systems demands directed external effort; and (3) the chaotic processes in living nature that sometimes are turned into order are strongly influenced by the DNA programs of the organisms involved.
It turns out that an intelligent agent named Stanley Miller was the source of the directed external effort which preserved the complex amino acids of the Miller-Urey experiment, and NOT unintelligent natural processes. But Miller’s role is hidden behind the curtain of atheist philosophy, much like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. When it comes to the origin of life from more simple non-living matter, atheist philosophy must insist that we, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
Dean Overman also comments on this fatal blind spot of atheist philosophy. He does so in the context of responding to atheist biologist Richard Dawkins’ assertion that, since monkeys typing on typewriters could eventually produce a meaningful sentence, similar random processes could eventually produce a useful set of genetic instructions. As Overman points out, Dawkins startlingly fails to notice that 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 natural forces which generated it in the first place? Only an intelligence with knowledge of what constitutes a useful sequence of genetic code has such a capability. 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. [Latin for: “Case closed.”]
Your intuition is correct: Knowledge of what needs to be preserved requires a KNOWER
In short, our human intuition is correct when we sense that an intelligent agent (or a knower) is necessary to know which complex chemical compounds need to be preserved in order for life to emerge. Even atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins cannot escape this powerful intuition. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes:
“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
Douglas Axe, Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola University, eloquently explains how our intuition regarding the necessity of a knower (an intelligent agent possessing knowledge) is CORRECT when it comes to the origin of life, in his book Undeniable:
In our experience, skill always requires discernment—the ability to distinguish the right things from the wrong things and the right way from the wrong way—and discernment in turn requires knowledge. The moment we recognize this—that a project that requires knowledge has been completed—we immediately infer that one or more knowers must have been behind the work. This follows naturally from our design intuition.
Axe continues by citing the example of a robot designed to clean the floor of a swimming pool:
When we watch a pool robot do its work, we see that all its little actions add up to a completed whole project: the cleaning of a pool. We know that tackling such projects requires knowledge, and our design intuition tells us there’s no substitute for knowledge. But we don’t for a moment think the busy whole that did the work—the pool robot—knows anything. Instead, we recognize that the robot is the successful outcome of a much more impressive whole project, namely the design and manufacture of a working pool robot. The scores of busy wholes who contributed to that project were human beings: inventors, engineers, designers, machinists, assembly-line workers, project managers, and so on.
It is just that intense ideology requires atheist scientists such as Dawkins to ignore their intuition. Regarding this point, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek comment in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist:
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA and another ardent Darwinist, agrees with Dawkins about the appearance of design. In fact, the appearance of design is so clear he warns that “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” Crick’s little memo to biologists led Phillip Johnson, author and a leader in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, to observe, “Darwinian biologists must keep repeating that reminder to themselves because otherwise they might become conscious of the reality that is staring them in the face and trying to get their attention.”
Seventeenth century British naturalist John Ray, considered to be the founder of modern biology, was really onto something when he wrote the following nearly 300 years ago:
“A wonder then it must be that there should be any man found so stupid and forsaken of reason as to persuade himself, that this most beautiful and adorned world was or could be produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms.”
Our culture declares the stance that life emerged from unintelligent mechanisms to be “scientific,” whereas the stance that life emerged as the result of an intelligent agent is “religious.” But neither stance is either scientific or religious. Rather, both stances are meta-scientific (“meta” is the Greek word for after or beyond) or ontological (ontology is the branch of philosophy which discusses the nature of being), as I discuss in my post about the straw-man fallacy. As an excerpt from my post titled The Cultural Smokescreen Which Obscures God notes:
Like fish who do not realize they are swimming in water, we can easily fail to perceive the extent to which culture shapes, and often distorts, our perception of the world. In our culture, male babies wear blue, and female babies wear pink. And typically, only women wear skirts. But is there something intrinsically feminine about skirts, or the color pink? No, there isn’t. In traditional Scottish culture, for example, men commonly wore skirts known as kilts. The idea that skirts and the color pink are feminine is something which our culture invented, but which has no intrinsic reason for being true. Conversely, giving birth is intrinsically feminine.
A cultural construct is something which is arbitrarily determined by culture, but which doesn’t have any intrinsic or logical reason for being true. And the common view that belief in God is “religious,” whereas atheism and agnosticism are “non-religious” and “scientific” is a groundless cultural construct…every bit as much as the stance that pink is a feminine color. Despite being not culturally inclined towards theism, the Nobel-Prize winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald endorsed the meta-scientific stance that life is the result of an intelligent mind (read: God) when he wrote 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.”
When it comes to the origin of life debate, we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.