13
Jan

Debating Atheists: Arrival of Biological Information (part 3/5)

Fact#2: The Arrival of Biological Information

Information embedded inside all of life demands an explanation. Virtually all agree that, at some point in earth’s early history, the first living being came about from non-living (dead) material. Setting aside for the moment the incredible principle of life arising from death, what we find inside of life gives us the greatest mystery of all. The information inside of life is exactly what we see in high tech computer engineering. It’s remarkably designed. Bestselling atheist writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins remarks on information in every cell this way:

“The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”5

So the argument goes like this…

  1. All life requires DNA/RNA.

Citing Richard Dawkins, “DNA code is universal among all living things” 6

  1. DNA/RNA is information

What’s information? “By information, I mean the specification of the amino acid sequence in protein…Information means here the precise determination of sequence, either of bases of the nucleus acid or in amino acid residue in the protein.” Christian skeptic and co-discoverer of the DNA structure, Francis Crick. “Genes are information…a code…in sequence…just like what a computer programmer would do!” 7

      3. Information requires a mind

In his debate with Christian apologist David Wood last year, leading atheist and editor of Skeptic Magazine Michael Shermer explains it this way,

Is there some advanced intelligence, a designer, call it whatever you want. Maybe. How do we know? Our methodology is actually pretty good for finding out…[Y]ou know the SETI program has algorithms. They grind through of signals coming from space to determine if it’s random noise or if it’s a signal. 8

Shermer concedes that information infers an intelligent cause and even offers a way to verify it. Ironically, his method is the very same one offered by the ID advocates he’s trying to refute.

  1. Therefore, life required a mind.

This is why religion critics like Francis Crick 9, Richard Dawkins 10 and others propose the rarely accepted view of panspermia, or the idea that intelligent alien life seeded the early earth at just the right time for life to take root. In fact, there’s little discussed about origin of life at all. Normally, the question skips the origin of life issue and goes right into the evolution mechanism. Like all facts which lead us to conclusions we don’t like, it’s much easier to simply ignore the problem.

But not all of them are. The arrival of biological information is an area evolutionary biologists around the world are dealing with. In Nov 2016, scientists from around the world met in London to discuss how the neo-darwinian mechanism fails to account for the complexity of life. Recordings of the lectures will be provided on the Royal Society website soon. What’s more, is that the issue of information already in the cell before the first organism ever existed is not even a matter of evolution at all.

The reason I presented this as evidence for God is the same reason atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and former atheist Antony Flew saw purpose and design in biological life. Every living cell requires something that is so particular that it cannot, in principle, be attributed to chance or natural causes. The DNA molecule contains not only complexity – for it has that. The complexity must also be arranged in such a way that it performs a specific function for the development of a living organism.

The specific complexity of this program is exactly like computer software. In fact, the four fundamental nucleotide base chemicals comprising the DNA molecule strands are not only similar to a computer program but they are the exact same thing. The pioneer of modern software, and no friend to Christianity, recognized this when he said, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” 11 The four chemicals abbreviated A-C-G-T are a four character code much like the binary two character code of human developed software consists of particularly placed zeros and ones. The only difference, is that whereas a slight computer code error typically results in a minor disfunction, any deviation from the DNA sequence most likely terminates the organism and any future decendants. This poses major problems for the. Neodarwinist theory of random mutation but that’s beyond our immediate scope.

Lest anyone be tempted to think time and chance under natural laws can produce such a function-based information code, atheist paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould shows that time is not available to us:

[W]e are left with very little time between the development of suitable conditions for life on the earth’s surface and the origin of life. Life is not a complex accident that required immense time to convert the vastly improbable into the nearly certain. Instead, life, for all its intricacy, probably arose rapidly about as soon as it could. 12

Richard Dawkins goes further by ruling out chance a priori:

However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead, or rather not alive. You may throw cells together at random, over and over again for a billion years, and not once will you get a conglomeration that flies or swims or burrows or runs, or does anything, even badly, that could remotely be construed as working to keep itself alive. 13

Not only was there no time for the DNA/RNA to develop naturally, there was also no known natural mechanism for it to do so.

Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel agrees, “The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account [neo-Darwinian evolution] becomes.” 14

“It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” 15

“I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct on the ground that anything else would not be science.” 16

“I believe the defenders of ID deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion.” Ibid 17

Whenever information is found, in uniform and repeated human experience, it’s been the product of an intelligent mind. I left it to Dr. Shapiro to provide at least one piece of evidence to the contrary. He didn’t. 

 

This was the third in a series of five posts showing how atheists concede four primary facts that infer biblical Christianity. For a fuller picture of this argument, you may want to check out part one (introduction) or part two (arrival of the universe). 

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Footnotes (continued from part 1):

5) Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, New York:Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1995., p17

6) This fact is so widely assumed it was hard to find a direct quote. Richard Dawkins cited in a news article https://news.virginia.edu/content/richard-dawkins-universal-dna-code-knockdown-evidence-evolution. It’s worth noting after an exhaustive search, I found no published work directly denying this fact.

7) Richard Dawkins interview starting at 1:25 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oF1UzhPA5N8

8) Michael Shermer vs. David Wood debate on “Does God Exist” October 10, 2016, Kennesaw State University

9) Francis Crick, directed panspermia 1972, https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/scbccp.pdf

10) Richard Dawkins at the end of Expelled https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=Dee3DLgEDEw

11) Bill GatesThe Road Ahead p228

12) Stephen Jay Gould, “An Early Start,” Natural History, February, 1978.

13) The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design 1988, p9 The immediate relevance to this was pointed out to me by Douglas Axe.

14) Nagel, Thomas (2012). Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p5

15) ibid, p5

16) ibid, p7

17) ibid, p12

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6 Comments

  1. thom waters says:

    Excellent article. Lots to consider. This all might lead us to the immediate task at hand which is to determine if the God of the Bible is the Creator of all that we find before us including ourselves. Legitimately it might begin in the Garden of Eden and asking the question: If Adam and Eve were not going to die or know death prior to disobeying God, why were they eating in the first place? What would have been the purpose for food and nourishment in the first place? Just a thought.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Thom. The genesis account, like much of scripture, has a very precise focus and leaves a lot of tangential questions unanswered, and I think that’s a good thing. The important thing to do is focus on what the text does, in fact, tell us and work from there. If there are unanswered questions that impact the message then we should take the time to check that out, but I’m not sure whether they needed nourishment or not – as interesting as it is – is one of those. To find out, let’s give it he worst case possibility, that God made Adam and Eve in a way that required they eat for survival. What follows from that? Your concern points out that this implies they could die before death entered the world as a result of sin, the result of something that hadn’t happened yet. Maybe so. We could probably find other ways death could have arisen too, but there are at least two other things to bear in mind here: 1) starvation would still have been the consequence of an intensional human action. God provided our first human parents with both food and the capacity to eat so not using those gifts would have been Adam and/or Eve’s fault not God’s. So, I suppose, that would have been the first sin. The story details might have changed, but to the same disasterous effect. 2) We don’t have enough info to decide if nourishment was required before the fall. Is eating worse than not having to eat? How would we know that? In order to find fault with this, we would have to know all the consequences and effects of not having to eat to compare with all the pros and cons of eating (both known and unknown) which is surely an impossible task. You may have offered this more out of curiosity than a serious challenge but this is how skeptics sometimes spiral off the rails. They take some unknowable fact and assume it leads to something absurd or contradictory when in fact it doesn’t. All the while they skip over the plain reading of the text. When we have something as impressive as 4.5MB of data pre-existing the first cell of life (bacteria), I suggest we have little interest in distracting ourselves with such things. There’s far too much we DO know than to chase after the things we can’t.

      • thom waters says:

        Dan,

        Thanks for the response. I appreciate both the time and the thought. Not sure that it adequately answers the legitimate question, but I still am grateful for the spirit in which it is offered. Actually I believe that we should all be both curious and skeptical pertaining to events that seem to collide with what we know through experience guided by reason. Nothing wrong with that approach. Otherwise we might bypass legitimate concerns especially those that are born through writings/documents that some claim to be divinely inspired or directed. It’s like Genesis 4:1-7. Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a keeper of sheep. They both brought their portions before the Lord, but the Lord regarded Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. What was Cain expected to do? He brought what he had and God rejected it apparently. Seems a bit curio

  2. thom waters says:

    Seems a bit curious. What did God expect from Cain? Just another thought from a curious skeptic. thanks again.

  3. Ray Smith says:

    At the end of the article above, it states,
    “This was the third in a series of five posts showing how atheists concede four primary facts that infer biblical Christianity.”
    How does the fact of DNA point to the Christian God, and not just a god in general? What tells you it is the Christian God vs. Allah of Islam, for example?

    • Dan says:

      Great point, Ray. You are correct this post doesn’t show the God of Christianity alone. All four points together make a cumulative case. There are more that could have been used, but since time is limited in a debate format, these are the four I used.

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