Intelligent Design

Life is a sustained functional system

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In the year 2000, an international conference considered the question “What is life?” Every participant was asked to draft a definition, and every speaker was required to address the central question. According to David Abel, who was one of the speakers, no two definitions of life were the same. This finding replicated that obtained by Rizotti who, in 1996, published a book with the title Defining Life. Abel considers that definitions can be grouped into two subsets: one of which perceives life as an essentially physicochemical phenomenon, and the other has an emphasis on coded information superimposed on material systems (developing Hubert Yockey’s seminal ideas).

“Yockey was among the first to realize the linear digital nature of genetic control. Many others have appreciated that life was somehow different, but could not put their finger on exactly what this difference is. Ernst Mayr argued that physics and chemistry do not explain life. Monod and Bohr argued the same. Bohr pointed out, “Life is consistent with, but undecidable from physics and chemistry.” Kuppers agreed.” (p.107)


David Abel’s paper has been the subject of several blogs on UD, but the discussion of this important paper has been very limited. I have attempted to capture some of the key arguments – which I hope will be useful. The paper contains much more than the issues highlighted in my blog, so the open access paper is well worth reading. For more, go here.

2 Replies to “Life is a sustained functional system

  1. 1
    Upright BiPed says:

    Thanks for posting this David.

    The response of materialists (abusing science) against physical evidence has spawned a Inquisition-sized effort to paper over the issues that Abel repeatedly highlights. ‘Paper over’ in this context can be said to mean ignore while appearing motionless. Abel himself pleasantly refuses to enter the politics of the issue, which has drawn the ire of some ID proponents, but it’s also given his intellectual opponents the opportunity to easily ignore him, lest of course, they smear the make-up they’ve caked over the warts and open sores of their ideology. One can hardly blame him for sticking to the evidence; rather like showing them a mirror and keeping his mouth shut. It sounds like a good plan to me.

    Of course, every once and a while he just really pisses someone off. A few years ago when I first read Abel, I apparently quoted him enough to stick in the memory of one of the internet troopers in the cause. This particular soldier, upon reading of a recent exchange I had with Dr Moran (which doesn’t even mention Abel) became so overwhelmed that he forgot the evidence altogether. Instead he apparently has visited three or four different boards to get the word out: I am an “Abel lover”. lol

    Yet, I can’t find a single peer-reviewed paper that takes on the observed dynamic properties of semiosis in protein synthesis. Someone point me to a paper that takes on (in earnest) the physical dynamics (formal properties) involved in the system – even if to debunk the argument?

    And for those who refuse to ackowledge it’s semiotic state, then please answer the question: If in one instance we have something that is a representation, and in another instance we have something that just acts like a representation, then surely you can look at the physical evidence and point to the distinction between the two.

  2. 2
    David Tyler says:

    Yes, I have never seen any ad hominem comments from Abel, but have noted several directed at him (without interacting with his arguments). Abel is a good example to all scholars seeking to develop paradigm-shaking ideas.
    Regarding the “semiosis in protein synthesis” issue, I keep looking whether the Darwinian tinkering approach is relevant. I have never found it so – the observed patterns always point to exquisite design. Consequently, I conclude it is rational to say that this is real design and not a representation.

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