February 4, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Design Advocates Are Decades Ahead of Darwinists

Materialists are just waking up to realities that ID advocates have been writing about for decades.

The late Robert Jastrow ended his book God and the Astronomers (1978) with a picturesque quote about scientific progress:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

A similar thing could be written about ID advocates giving secular biologists a bad dream. Although belief in design is as old as man, Intelligent Design (ID) theory in its current form really picked up steam in the 1980s, after the revolution in molecular biology showed DNA to be a coded information system. As we shall see, statements by a prominent scientist and philosopher could be almost summarized in these words, ‘Biologists have scaled the mountains of life’s meaning. As they pull themselves over the final rock, they are greeted by ID advocates who have been sitting there for decades.’

Paul Davies wakes up out of a bad dream…

Paul Davies, originally from Australia but currently a professor of physics at Arizona State University in Tempe, is author of 30 books, some of which dabble in thinking outside the box. Acutely aware of the astonishing complexity of life, he wrote a piece January 30, 2019 on the nature and meaning of life. His words sound familiar to ID advocates.

THERE is something special – almost magical – about life. Biophysicist Max Delbrück expressed it eloquently: “The closer one looks at these performances of matter in living organisms, the more impressive the show becomes. The meanest living cell becomes a magic puzzle box full of elaborate and changing molecules.”

What is the essence of this magic? It is easy to list life’s hallmarks: reproduction, harnessing energy, responding to stimuli and so on. But that tells us what life does, not what it is. It doesn’t explain how living matter can do things far beyond the reach of non-living matter, even though both are made of the same atoms.

The fact is, on our current understanding, life is an enigma. Most strikingly, its organised, self-sustaining complexity seems to fly in the face of the most sacred law of physics, the second law of thermodynamics, which describes a universal tendency towards decay and disorder. The question of what gives life the distinctive oomph that sets it apart has long stumped researchers, despite dazzling advances in biology in recent decades. Now, however, some remarkable discoveries are edging us towards an answer.

His article is titled, “Life’s secret ingredient: A radical theory of what makes things alive.” That New Scientist, a strongly atheist-leaning magazine, would publish this article supports our metaphor that biology is about to reach that final rock on the highest peak where the ID advocates are sitting. Look at how many things Davies admits that design scientists have been saying for decades:

Life as software: Life is made of atoms, true. That’s hardware, Davies explains. “Biologists, on the other hand, frame their descriptions in the language of information and computation, using concepts such as coded instructions, signalling and control: the language not of hardware, but of software.” That’s exactly how Stephen Meyer described DNA in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life in 2002.

DNA as a molecular code: “Life’s informational aspect runs much deeper, however. It is at its most obvious, and most baffling, when it comes to the genetic code.

Signal and response: Davies continues, “it must be read out, decoded and translated into a 20-letter amino-acid alphabet used to form proteins.” In the 1970s, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith repeatedly emphasized that the molecules in life use a language convention. The letters A, C, T, and G in DNA mean nothing by themselves unless both sender and receiver understand the convention.

Life as information: “A distinctive feature – perhaps the distinctive feature – of life is its ability to use these informational pathways for regulation and control,” Davies continues. ID advocates have long stressed the fundamental importance of information. William Dembski wrote a whole book about information being one of the fundamental aspects – perhaps the fundamental aspect – of nature. The title of the book is Being as Communion.

Life as goal-directed: Davies knows that Darwin’s view of life as aimless, purposeless and random flies in the face of what biologists have learned about life. Organisms have the ability “to manage signals between components to progress towards a goal.” ID advocates infer intelligence from goal-directed activity, which is fundamentally contrary to Darwin’s ideas of natural selection (the Stuff Happens Law (SHL), a mindless mechanism based on chance). Davies actually uses the term “intelligent design” here, quickly explaining that he does NOT mean God—but then referring to mind as a contrast to mindlessness:

For that reason, many scientists recognise the equation “life = matter + information”. Mostly, however, the information part is downplayed, seen simply as a convenient way to discuss the biology. Heroic efforts to cook up some of the building blocks of life in the lab concentrate on the chemistry. They require purified substances, intelligent designers (that is, ingenious chemists) and controlled conditions that bear little relation to the messiness and mindlessness of the real world.

Code transcends matter: It should be obvious that rocks don’t invent language. Davies seems to be awaking to that revelation. “The known laws of physics provide no clue as to how chemical hardware can invent its own software,” he puzzles. “How can molecules write code?

Directed evolution is not Darwinian evolution: In this section, Davies refers to Maxwell’s thought experiment of a “demon” that could override the Second Law of Thermodynamics. ID advocates emphasize that artificial selection is not Darwinian selection. It takes a mind to program “Maxwell’s demon” to make selections for a purpose. Davies mentions kinesin as a goal-directed molecular machine able to use random molecular motions as a ratchet to make forward progress (but it also requires the expenditure of ATP). He says there are many other such molecular machines in the cell.

Cells as logic networks: Davies finds logic circuits in the cell (AND, OR etc.) in the form of transcription factors and other regulators that make DNA information processing work.

This analogy leads to a profound new vision of life that was outlined a decade ago in the journal Nature by Nobel-prizewinning biologist Paul Nurse. Here, information has primacy. “Focusing on information flow will help us to understand better how cells and organisms work… We need to describe the molecular interactions and biochemical transformations that take place in living organisms, and then translate these descriptions into the logic circuits that reveal how information is managed,” he wrote.

Semantic information: Though Davies worries about how to quantify it, he mentions “semantic information” as meaningful information. He says that is the only way to distinguish DNA from junk. ID advocates have taken information far beyond Davies; they lecture about Shannon information, Kolmogorov information, semantic information and other classes in great detail, comparing and contrasting the definitions. They were teaching that life uses semantic information long before Davies brought it up.

Transcendence: In his subsection on “Transcendent Life,” Davies recognizes that life transcends matter. “There must be a complexity threshold, somewhere between an amino acid and an amoeba, at which the physical and informational effects that characterise life emerge,” he says, not going far enough. What is that threshold? ID advocates show that all the things important to us—truth, goodness and beauty—transcend matter. They don’t emerge from matter. They are transcendent aspects that we all recognize intuitively, and infer are marks of intelligent design.

…Then Davies returns to his dogmatic slumber

The late 19th century philosopher Immanuel Kant said that David Hume’s rejection of causality awakened him out of his “dogmatic slumber” to rescue it from skepticism. Some later philosophers, reading his responses, joked that Kant promptly awakened all right, but then rolled over and went back to sleep. In a sense, that’s what Davies does next. Awakened out of Darwinian slumber by all these facts that ID advocates have been preaching for decades, he turns over and falls back asleep again. Raising the perhapsimaybecouldness index, he dreams that science may someday find a new theory of biology within materialism – perhaps through quantum physics.

Any new physics operating in biology would probably bleed into the physics of complex molecules more generally, so this would be a good place to look for clues.

This is just the sort of scale where quantum effects come into play. Perhaps the still-controversial field of quantum biology, which has uncovered hints of weird quantum goings-on in some biological processes, may provide pointers. My own hunch is that the answer will come from the intersection of quantum physics, chemistry, nanotechnology and information processing, a burgeoning field of research that still lacks a name.

Didn’t he just speak of transcendence, information, goal-directed behavior, semantics, codes, software, and logic? Such things do not just “emerge” from matter. Quantum physics provides no guidance for these things. What programmer would ever let the SHL do his work? Anyone who thinks materialistic processes can write their own software is dreaming in very deep dogmatic slumber.

Almost… but not quite! Davies is very close to the peak, but he cannot look over to see what’s on top. Maybe he is afraid to, because of his colleagues. More than many other scientists, he has become acutely aware of the “information enigma” in life. Some of you may remember his appearance in the Illustra Media film The Privileged Planet (2004), where he had expressed similar astonishment at the ability of the human mind to grasp reality, to understand and synthesize abstract concepts far outside our experience or needs for survival. The comprehensibility of the universe amazed him!

Another philosopher acutely aware of this “nature of life” question is philosopher Thomas Nagel. In God and Cosmos, Nagel expresses deep perplexity that traditional materialism is profoundly incapable of explaining the specified complexity of life. Even more than Davies, you expect him in the next chapter to embrace intelligent design as the only true solution. But like Davies, he backs off. He cannot take that last step. In another place he explained why. Creation.com quotes what he said in 1997:

“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.

With that, we return to Jastrow. In his 1979 book, he found it interesting that so many astronomers didn’t want to believe the universe had a beginning. They knew it would support the idea of a Creator. Jastrow, sadly, backed off from the highest peak, as shown in this clip by the John10:10 Project. So tragic!

Don’t be afraid to come to the top of the peak. The air is fresh up there. There, you will find rest for your soul. Dogmatic slumbers are replaced with wakeful joy. There’s love, truth and fellowship up on top. Your awe will no longer be raw, but rich with meaning. You know much of what you need to know by having read this article. Here’s the map to get over the final rock.

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  • tjguy says:

    Once in a while, atheists are refreshingly honest about their own biases. Just goes to show we all have biases. Davies admits that he doesn’t want there to be a God. Do you think that influences how he interprets the data? Is the Pope Catholic?

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