Thursday, June 25, 2009

Origin of Information

About eight or nine years ago my sister gave me some audio cassettes with Bible study lessons from Chuck Missler. The lessons had a fair amount of scientific content in them and were quite interesting and informative. But one lesson in particular really captivated me, and it was a lesson that Missler himself didn't teach. Instead, he had brought in a man named Stephen C. Meyer who was part of an organization in Seattle called The Discovery Institute, and Meyer made a presentation called "The Origin of Information." In this presentation, Meyer explained how the code in DNA specifies certain proteins, what amino acids are and how they form proteins, etc. There was much emphasis in his presentation on the information that was encoded in the DNA, and he pointed out that ultimately origin-of-life scientists needed to explain where this information came from in the first instance.

He then went on to explain that as science seeks explanations for phenomena, it generally explains those phenomena in one of three ways: Either something happened by chance, by necessity, or by design. For example, when you enter the town of Bend, Oregon on Hwy 97, you will see a large embankment with bushes growing on it which spell out "BEND". If you wanted to explain how this happened, your explanation might invoke chance, where the bushes just happened to grow that way. Or your explanation might invoke natural laws which made it "necessary" that the bushes would grow that way. Or, your explanation might invoke design, that some agent arranged the bushes in that fashion for a purpose. This is known as "the explanatory filter."

Meyer continued his presentation by running the information processing system of DNA through this explanatory filter. First up was the idea of chance. Meyer calculated the probability that a relatively SHORT protein, (a protein made from a relatively small number of amino acids) could be arrived at by chance. The answer was that, well, the chances of such a thing happening were "not very good." In fact, the probability is so small that it surpassed what probability theorists call the "universal probability bound" in other words, there are not enough probabilistic resources in the universe to allow such a thing to happen. And that's just a single, relatively short protein molecule. Meyer pointed out that because of this, origin-of-life scientists had abandoned chance as a likely candidate back in the 60s.

Next, he considered necessity. Could it be that some set of natural laws involving physics and chemistry made it somehow "necessary" for this complex system to come about? Can natural laws produce information of the kind we find in DNA? Meyer demonstrates that natural laws can produce order, but not of the sort found in DNA. As an information carrier, the based in DNA are sequenced in a specific way… in terms of how the bases are integrated into the structure of the DNA, it was clear that natural laws of physics and chemistry were responsible. But that couldn't explain the SEQUENCING of those bases. Meyer illustrated this with magnetic letters on the refrigerator which might spell out a message: Laws of physics could explain why the letters stuck to the refrigerator, but they couldn't explain how those letters were sequenced in that way. So, appeals to necessity don't seem to work any better than appeals to chance when it comes to explaining the origin of information.

So then Meyer invoked the last filter: Design. In our human experience, we know very well that when we see information, we infer design quite naturally. Like the topiary I mentioned earlier that spells out "BEND". We have absolutely no trouble inferring design from that arrangement and in fact if someone suggested that the topiary came about by chance or necessity, any reasonable person would scoff at the idea. That it was designed is simply OBVIOUS. So as an explanation for the origin of information, and not just information itself but also the information processing system in a living cell, design becomes an extremely attractive candidate.

Well, Meyer gave the presentation which I heard about ten years ago… in the presentation he references the movie "Contact" which came out in 1997. Meyer made a lot of what seemed like very powerful arguments in that presentation, but of course there are many in the scientific community who still resist these arguments. But the question is, in the ten or so years since Meyer gave this particular presentation, has anyone been able to adequately explain how chance and/or necessity produced information?

Well just yesterday I saw that Stephen Meyer had just given a presentation at the Heritage Foundation to publicize the launch of his new book "Signature in the Cell". So I decided to check it out. The presentation is about an hour long. You can watch the presentation here. What struck me about the presentation is that it was VERY similar to the "Origin of Information" presentation that I'd heard 8 or 9 years ago. The major points hadn't changed one little bit. What could we conclude from this? Well, I suppose we could conclude that Stephen Meyer is just very, very stubborn. In fact, I'm sure many folks conclude precisely that.

But if you understand his arguments and if you follow this debate at all, you realize that his presentation hasn't changed because the challenges it offers have not yet been addressed. His arguments still stand, in other words. This is reinforced by the admission by none other than Richard Dawkins in the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" that origin-of-life scientists really have no idea how life began. No idea, Dawkins says. Does this sound like someone who's equipped to answer Meyer's challenges? Not hardly.

It seems much more reasonable to conclude that Meyer's arguments for design are very well-founded and, in fact, rock-solid. Darwinists or Naturalists simply have no credible response to them and their attempts at refutation end up falling flat. If you watch the presentation at Heritage, you'll see a short Q & A session at the end where two very critical questions are raised against Meyer. But the challenges offered are anemic and Meyer dispenses with them quite easily.

The point of all this is that the pursuit of a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life has been incredibly unproductive. Naturalism has no explanation. But on the Intelligent Design side of things, an extremely GOOD and REASONABLE explanation DOES exist. It's just doesn't happen to be an explanation that a lot of people like.

No comments:

Post a Comment