October 5, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

New ‘Assembly Theory’ Is Repackaged Idolatry

New and improved — a mechanistic scientism!
But isn’t it like the old kind of worship of stones?


Yesterday (Oct 4), Nature published Lee Cronin’s latest masterwork, a unified field of physics and biology he calls “Assembly Theory.” It only makes sense if you picture Cronin and his colleagues bowing down before sticks and stones. The old prophet Isaiah chuckled at such attempts at nature worship.

He burns half of it in the fire;
With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm,
I have seen the fire.”
And the rest of it he makes into a god,
His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says,
“Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isaiah 44:16-17)

This new idol is like ancient idolatry, only spiffed up for modern taste. Its proponents still worship the work of their own hands, when the evidence for creation is so overpowering, they have no excuse (Romans 1:18-24).

Assembly Theory unifies physics and biology to explain evolution and complexity (University of Glasgow, 4 Oct 2023). The proponents of this new attempt at unification make great claims for themselves. “An international team of researchers has developed a new theoretical framework that bridges physics and biology to provide a unified approach for understanding how complexity and evolution emerge in nature.” Answer: they assemble themselves!

In prior work, the team assigned a complexity score to molecules called the molecular assembly index, based on the minimal number of bond-forming steps required to build a molecule. They showed how this index is experimentally measurable and how high values correlate with life-derived molecules.

The new study introduces mathematical formalism around a physical quantity called ‘Assembly’ that captures how much selection is required to produce a given set of complex objects, based on their abundance and assembly indices.

“Assembly Theory provides a completely new lens for looking at physics, chemistry and biology as different perspectives of the same underlying reality,” explained lead author Professor Sara Walker, a theoretical physicist and origin of life researcher from Arizona State University.

It’s so wonderful. Now they can explain the origin of life and biological evolution with a single theory: Stuff Happens! They will prove this in futureware.

With further work, this approach has the potential to transform fields from cosmology to computer science. It represents a new frontier at the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology and information theory.”

The researchers aim to further refine Assembly Theory and explore its applications for characterizing known and unknown life, and testing hypotheses about how life emerges from non-living matter.

What does this sound like? Physicalism plus animism, marketed by P.T. Barnum. But now, they claim, it is testable science!

“A key feature of the theory is that it is experimentally testable,” says Cronin. “This opens up the exciting possibility of using Assembly Theory to design new experiments that could solve the origin of life by creating living systems from scratch in the laboratory.”

The theory opens up many new questions and research directions at the boundary of the physical and life sciences. Overall, Assembly Theory promises to provide profound new insights into the physics underlying biological complexity and evolutionary innovation.

When your case is weak, act excited. Are they smarting from intelligent design theory’s constant complaint that Darwinism has no theory for getting life from non-life? Are they exasperated that ICR keeps pounding the fact that natural selection is a magical, mystical idea?

Well, now. Assembly Theory is here. Shut up, you creationists. We’re going to bow before sticks and stones, because life ’emerges’ from inanimate matter. And if we have to use our intelligent design to create living systems from scratch in the laboratory, we will prove it emerged all by itself without intelligence.

The proponents of this new ‘Assembly Theory’ (selection without a selector, assembly without an assembler, design without a Designer) brag that it is testable by experiment. They fail to realize that the Stuff Happens Law is also experimentally testable.

  • It is falsifiable: If nothing happens, the law is falsified.
  • It makes predictions: If something happens, you will find stuff around.
  • It is universal: Stuff always happens.
  • It is deterministic: Stuff must happen.
  • It is normative: Stuff always happens.

One could conceivably test all these things with elaborate experiments. If couched in sufficient Jargonwocky with equations and charts, the naive will be duly impressed.

Assembly theory explains and quantifies selection and evolution (Sharma, Cronin et al., Nature, 4 Oct 2023, open access). Here’s the Jargonwocky. Why do the proponents feel the need to replace the old modern Neo-Darwinism?

In evolutionary theory, natural selection describes why some things exist and others do not. Darwin’s theory of evolution and its modern synthesis point out how selection among variants in the past generates current functionality, as well as a forward-looking process. Neither addresses the space in which new phenotypic variants are generated. Physics can, in theory, take us from past initial conditions to current and future states. However, because physics has no functional view of the Universe, it cannot distinguish novel functional features from random fluctuations, which means that talking about true novelty is impossible in physical reductionism. Thus, the open-ended generation of novelty does not fit cleanly in the paradigmatic frameworks of either biology or physics, and so must resort ultimately to randomness.

The old Stuff Happens Law didn’t unite physics and biology. The New Stuff Happens Law can!

Here, we introduce AT, which addresses these challenges by describing how novelty generation and selection can operate in forward-evolving processes. The framework of AT allows us to predict features of new discoveries during selection, and to quantify how much selection was necessary to produce observed objects without having to prespecify individuals or units of selection. In AT, objects are not considered as point particles (as in most physics), but are defined by the histories of their formation as an intrinsic property, mapped as an assembly space. The assembly space is defined as the pathway by which a given object can be built from elementary building blocks, using only recursive operations. For the shortest path, the assembly space captures the minimal memory, in terms of the minimal number of operations necessary to construct an observed object based on objects that could have existed in its past.

Can anyone explain why this is not circular reasoning? They’re assuming nature selects complexity to prove nature selects complexity. Eyes, wings and brains emerge! They can test it by assuming that eyes, wings and brains emerge, because natural selection is a fact! If you limit yourself to possible histories defined by evolutionary expectations, then what will you end up with? The shortest path to a possible history defined by evolutionary expectations (i.e., a just-so story). Q.E.D. Just wait. We will prove it in the next edition of Darwin Futureware.

This will be another ho-hum flash in the pan to watch for awhile till it burns out. We predict it will be like Doolittle’s ITSNTS theory (“It’s the song, not the singer” 3 April 2018) that the proponents hyped with similar chutzpah that nobody talks about any more.

What was noteworthy about Doolittle’s flash in the pan was its contribution to the demolition of Darwinism as conventionally understood. They removed the old idol to build a new one, which turned out to be more mystical than the old one. Same here.

When you admit complexity and design, but deny the existence of God, you end up ascribing all the attributes of deity to matter. That is the essence of naturalism, the modern idolatry. It’s just the old animism in disguise. We might call it biolatry: the spirit of life is inherent in the molecules. And so, they preach, let everyone bow down and worship sticks and stones (complexity and atoms). They gave us the gift of fire. They gave us life.

Don’t swoon over claims of “new and improved” naturalism. This is old stuff. Here’s a similar story we reported 20 years ago, on Oct 3, 2003. Like Cronin and his cronies, they always lean on Darwin.

I Think, Therefore I Am Chemicals   10/03/2003
The Darwinian Revolution was part of a drive to naturalize biology; that is, to explain biology, including the origin of species, strictly in terms of natural law and chance, without divine intervention.1 Much rode on the coattails of that effort: evolutionary psychology, evolutionary sociology, evolutionary ecology, and evolutionary politics. Perhaps the crux of the debate is the human mind. Is there a naturalistic causal chain leading from hydrogen to the mind? Are all of our deepest emotions, dreams, aspirations, values, logical arguments, thought processes, preferences, assumptions, intuitions, hopes, plans, core values, and sincerely held beliefs traceable to the chemical reactions in our neurons, plus nothing?

Thomas Metzinger thinks so, and his book Being No One is given favorable press by Franz Mechsner (Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research) and Albert Newen (Philosophy Department, University of Bonn) in the Oct. 3 issue of Science.2  Their book review, entitled “Thoughts Without a Thinker,” states the issue beginning with Descartes’ foundational premise:

When the 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes made his famous statement “I think, therefore I am,” he was certain that this intuition could not possibly be doubted. If there are thoughts, there must be someone who thinks.  Descartes identified the thinker with “himself,” and himself with the immortal soul. Unsatisfied with the Cartesian framework, scientists try to explain human self-consciousness as a natural phenomenon.  This “naturalization project” is guided by the complex question: How may conscious selfhood (subjective experience and autonomous agency) emerge from causal chains of events in a physical world?  In Being No One, the German philosopher Thomas Metzinger addresses this challenge and proposes a framework of how self-consciousness might be naturalized. In a bold, thorough, and thought-provoking synthesis, he combines a huge body of neuroscientific and psychological research data with philosophical considerations and fine-grained phenomenological reflections on real-life experiences.

Metzinger, a professor at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, maintains that there are actually no autonomous selves in the material world. The perception that one is the source of thoughts and actions is an illusion, emerging from physical processes in neuronal networks where no self can be identified. To put it provocatively, there are experiences, but no one who experiences; there are thoughts, but no thinker; actions, but no actor. Based on this premise, naturalization of self-consciousness means explaining the detailed representational, functional, and computational structure of the selfhood illusion. One must consider its evolutionary advantage, how it emerges from neuronal processes, and how it is related to the puzzling philosophical riddles in connection with consciousness, such as the mind-body problem.

The reviewers delve briefly into Metzinger’s framework, and discuss one of his most important observational supports: the mental patients with “Cotard’s syndrome, in which patients experience themselves as being nonexistent, obviously contradicting Descartes’s claim that the mere presence of thoughts leads to the conviction of existence.” They believe Metzinger has hit on a successful trail toward naturalism of the soul:

The theory of subjectivity Metzinger presents in Being No One seems very promising in that it offers a conceptual framework for explaining many empirical phenomena related to human self-consciousness. His basic strategy is to show that everything of interest regarding self-consciousness can be reduced to phenomenal representations. Under the presupposition that phenomenal representations emerge from neuronal processes, this means that naturalization of self-consciousness is indeed possible. Metzinger’s interdisciplinary approach opens a new path toward a scientific theory of consciousness and self-consciousness.

1For a recent discussion of the naturalization project, see Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s God (Brazos Press, 2002) and the sequel, Darwin’s Proof (Brazos Press, 2003).
2“Neuroscience: Thoughts Without a Thinker,” a review by F. Mechsner and A. Newen of Being No One by Thomas Metzinger, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2003), 713 pp. ISBN 0-262-13417-9, in Science Magazine, Volume 302, Number 5642, Issue of 3 Oct 2003, p. 61.

A conceptual framework is not a fact, and a strategy is not a truth. Neither of these three evolutionists has established anything close to the wide-sweeping conclusion they claim. On what empirical evidence do they make such bold philosophical judgments? Some mental patients claim they have no self. How do we know they are not good actors, and the psychologists are just suckers for what they are being told by the patients? Have they ruled out all other possibilities? And if minds don’t exist, how can they apply their minds to get into the mind of someone else and know anything? They just shot themselves in the foot with the self-referential fallacy: if thoughts are illusions emerging from chemicals, they have no ultimate validity; therefore the claim that thoughts are illusions from chemicals is invalid.

They also committed the either-or fallacy about the “mind-body problem.” To say there is either all mind or all body is a false dichotomy. Both are real. The mind can harm the body, and the body the mind. There are complex interrelationships between the two that we cannot fully understand. That does not mean that one or the other is an illusion, or that one has to explain everything about the other in its own terms.

Notice how, again, they trot out the favorite evolutionary miracle word “emergence” and flash it all over the place. Who needs scientific causality when uncanny entities like thoughts can just emerge from non-thoughts, when selves can emerge from non-selves, when acts can emerge without actors, when souls can emerge from neural synapses, when pneuma can emerge from sarx?

Notice their hunger and thirst for mammon.  The desire to naturalize all of reality is clearly shown to be a passion, not a science.  Early science was motivated by the desire to seek the mind of God; post-Darwin science is motivated by a desire to undermine all mind.  It is a reductionist mission, promoted with all the zeal of an evangelist, to expunge the I term, information, from all equations, and leave only T (time), E (energy), and M (matter). It is a project filled with presuppositions, assumptions, beliefs, axioms, philosophical puzzles, and doctrines. It is not science. It is religion.

They talk about illusion. Who is being deceived here? They are deluded into thinking they have arrived at a coherent, naturalistic system. For to believe that mind, self, and consciousness are ultimately definable in toto by matter in motion, they must endow T + M + E with all the attributes traditionally ascribed to deity: omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, and autonomous self-existence.  This is not naturalism: it is pantheism. Science Magazine offers no platform for a rational alternative or rebuttal; it has become the pulpit for the most radical of the philosophical materialists, and the pseudo-scientific mouthpiece of the Church of Pantheism. (Notice also that this is the only religion permitted in the science classroom, and is defended against all engagements by zealots of the NCSE, ACLU, PAW, and Big Science. This is to ensure that young impressionable minds, which are mere illusions, will not be disturbed as the Doctrine of Emergence is inculcated into them, with the thought, which is a mere illusion, that there might be alternatives.)

Theistic evolutionists should take note. This review makes abundantly clear that Metzinger-type evolutionists have no room for you.  They will not stand for any personal Deity, no matter how remote from the operations of nature. There is no soul in their theology. And if there is no soul, there is no relationship, there is no Logos, there is no communication, and there is no salvation. Ye are dead in your sins, and of all evolutionists most miserable. Understand your plight, and choose you this day whom you will serve.

Pastors should take note. Believers of all stripes should take note. Thinkers should take note. Human beings who have hearts thumping in their chests should take note. This book review should amplify the red alarm, in case you haven’t already heard it blaring since 1859. Darwinism, predicated on the religious belief it is possible to naturalize all of reality, seeks to usurp all other belief systems. It instigates the worst totalitarianism in history, for its core beliefs deny the existence of free will itself. Its laws lead to the end of reason, the destruction of the soul, and the dissolution of self-consciousness into a frothing sea of illusions.  It is none other than the abolition of man.

Their hope is dashed on nothing less
Than nature's blood and randomness.
They dare not trust Descartes' frame,
but wholly lean on Darwin's claim.
No solid rock in Darwinland,
All logic ground is sinking sand,
All reasoning is thinking bland.



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