This excerpt addresses some issues raised in a recent UD post and its comments.
Physicist Brian Miller writes:
Other scientists, such as Ilya Prigogine, have attempted to compare the order in cells to the order created by such self-organizing processes as the formation of a funnel cloud in a tornado. These attempts also fall short since such appeals can only explain the order of a repeating or chaotic pattern but not that of specified information.
Yockey pointed out that Prigogine and Nicolis invoked external self-organizational forces to explain the origin of order in living systems. But, as Yockey noted, what needs explaining in biological systems is not order (in the sense of a symmetrical or repeating pattern), but information, the kind of specified digital information found in software, written languages, and DNA. (Signature in the Cell, p. 255)
Others, such as complex-systems researcher Stuart Kauffman, have attempted to generate complex patterns out of self-organizing or autocatalytic systems and then relate them to life. However, all such attempts require that the initial conditions or arrangement of molecules is precisely specified. In other words, specified structures cannot be generated unless information is provided.
Thus, to explain the origin of specified biological complexity at the systems level, Kauffman has to presuppose a highly specific arrangement of those molecules at the molecular level as well as the existence of many highly specific and complex protein and RNA molecules. In short, Kauffman merely transfers the information problem from the molecules into the soup. (Signature in the Cell, p. 264)
All such attempts to explain life by natural processes make a fundamental error. They fail to distinguish between the order created by natural processes, such as water freezing to form a snowflake, and specified complexity. The former results from natural laws directing the arrangement of molecules. However, for a medium to contain information/specified complexity, it must have the freedom to take on numerous possible arrangements of parts. Correspondingly, law-like processes determine outcomes making arrangements that are highly probable, but the presence of information corresponds to patterns that are highly improbable.
Instead, information emerges from within an environment marked by indeterminacy, by the freedom to arrange parts in many different ways. As the MIT philosopher Robert Stalnaker puts it, information content “requires contingency”…the more improbable an event, the more information its occurrence conveys. In the case that a law-like physical or chemical process determines that one kind of event will necessarily and predictably follow another, then no uncertainty will be reduced by the occurrence of such a high-probability event. Thus, no information will be conveyed. (Signature in the Cell, p. 250-251)
This confusion has been pointed out by such experts in the field as Herbert Yockey, who was one of the founders in applying information theory to biology. In particular, he pointed out why order generated from natural processes could not explain the biological encoding of information. Meyer cites him on this:
Thus, as Yockey notes: “Attempts to relate the idea of order…with biological organization or specificity must be regarded as a play on words that cannot stand careful scrutiny. Informational macromolecules can code genetic messages and therefore can carry information because the sequence of bases or residues is affected very little, if at all, by [self-organizing] physicochemical factors.” (Signature in the Cell, p. 257)
The described technical details are important, but the basic challenge is easily understood by anyone via a simple analogy. Physical processes can produce various types of order, such as that seen in a hurricane. But no one has ever run to a lumber yard before a hurricane expectantly waiting for the oncoming winds to arrange the lumber into a new house. Instead, they wait in dread to see how a hurricane might demolish a home into a pile of debris. The same tendency holds true for life. Physical processes tend to break apart complex biological structures into simpler chemicals. None will organize a wide variety of molecules into fantastically improbably configurations that achieve such functional goals as processing energy, building molecular machines, and maintaining homeostasis. Only intelligence can build such complex structures for such purposeful ends.View entire article at Evolution News.