(Adapted from a discussion at Evolution and Design and from material in Trevors and Abel’s peer-reviewed paper, Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life, featured in Cell Biology International, 2004.)
The Explanatory Filter in ID literature outlines a textbook method for detecting design. If one finds a physical artifact, the artifact is inferred to be designed if the features in question are not explainable by naturalistic explanations, namely:
1. natural law, or
(I will explain later why I define “naturalistic explanations” this way.)
However, two objections often arise:
A. How can we be sure we won’t make some discovery in the future that will invalidate the design inference?
B. How can we be sure we’ve eliminated all possible naturalistic causes, particularly since we have so few details of what happened so long ago when no one was around?
Answer: We can be sure if we are dealing with the right kind of design, a perfect architecture to communicate design! The right kind of design will negate objections raised by questions A and B.
I must admit at first, A and B seemed impossible for finite humans like us to answer. I mean, after all, would we not have to be All-Knowing to answer such questions? However, there is mathematical tool known as Proof by Contradiction which allows finite humans to give accurate descriptions about issues that deal with an infinitely large number of objects.
It is rumored that the first recorded application of Proof by Contradiction was so heretical to the Greeks that they executed the mathematician who first applied it successfully (see The Square Root of 2). Let us then use this heretical tool to allow us to answer A and B without knowing everything.
What then is an example of a perfect architecture which resists natural law and chance explanations? Answer: self-replicating computer systems (Turing machines) and/or the first living organism. A peer-reviewed article on this very topic by Trevors and Abel in the journal, Cell International, is available here: Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life.
Rather than quote the entire article, let me give their explanation for why any natural law we are aware of, or any natural law we might possibly discover in the future, would not explain living organisms (the same is true of self-replicating computer systems, which living cells happen to be also):
Natural mechanisms are all highly self-ordering. Reams of data can be reduced to very simple compression algorithms called the laws of physics and chemistry. No natural mechanism of nature reducible to law can explain the high information content of genomes. This is a mathematical truism, not a matter subject to overturning by future empirical data. The cause-and-effect necessity described by natural law manifests a probability approaching 1.0. Shannon uncertainty is a probability function (Ã¢Ë†â€™log2 p). When the probability of natural law events approaches 1.0, the Shannon uncertainty content becomes miniscule (Ã¢Ë†â€™log2 p = Ã¢Ë†â€™log2 1.0 = 0 uncertainty). There is simply not enough Shannon uncertainty in cause-and-effect determinism and its reductionistic laws to retain instructions for life. Prescriptive information (instruction) can only be explained by algorithmic programming. Such DNA programming requires extraordinary bit measurements often extending into megabytes and even gigabytes. That kind of uncertainty reflects freedom from law-like constraints.
The above is an example of using Proof by Contradiction. It is in no way an “argument from ignorance” (too use a tired old phrase by the anti-IDsts).
The rest of the paper gives an explanation why chance cannot be factor as it relates to pre-biotic chemistry and information science.
It is not reasonable to expect hundreds to thousands of random sequence polymers to all cooperatively self-organize into an amazingly efficient holistic metabolic network. The spontaneous generation of long sequences of DNA out of sequence space (ÃŽÂ©) does have the potential to include the same sequences as genetic information. But there is no reason to suspect that any instructive biopolymer would isolate itself out of ÃŽÂ© and present itself at the right place and time.
Even if all the right primary structures (digital messages) mysteriously emerged at the same time from ÃŽÂ©, Ã¢â‚¬Å“a cell is not a bag of enzymesÃ¢â‚¬Â. And, as we have pointed out several times, there would be no operating system to read these messages.
Without selection of functional base sequencing at the covalent level, no biopolymer would be expected to meet the needs of an organizing metabolic network. There is no prescriptive information in random sequence nucleic acid. Even if there were, unless a system for interpreting and translating those messages existed, the digital sequence would be unintelligible at the receiver and destination. The letters of any alphabet used in words have no prescriptive function unless the destination reading those words first knows the language convention.
The question then arises, how about some combination of chance and necessity, a mechanism like natural selection. Well in addition to the fact one may not have a viable reproducing organism to even begin to have natural selection do it’s work, the Displacement Theorem shows why such a mechanism is even more remote than chance as an explanation. Thus, combinations of natural law and chance are also rejected as explanations.
We thus have, in the first life, something, that by definition resists naturalistic origins. It is not a matter of ignorance that this conclusion is arrived at, it is a matter of a mathematical Proof by Contradiction. If one assumes naturalistic origins for life, one eventually runs into a logical impossibility, which demonstrates the assumption of naturalistic origins was incorrect to begin with.
Lest I be accused of equivocation of the word Ã¢â‚¬Å“naturalisticÃ¢â‚¬Â, let me point out if that if by naturalistic one means no involvement by the supernatural, that results in a either a meaningless definition (beautifully described by Mark Perakh on the supernatural and science) or a metaphysical definition (i.e., naturalistic = “anything except ID or God”). In either case, such a definition of Ã¢â‚¬Å“naturalisticÃ¢â‚¬Â is scientifically meaningless.
In contrast, the definition for naturalistic that I gave above is consistent with the concept of naturalistic in ID literature, and further, such a definition is scientifically meaningful versus a metaphysical definition (naturalistic = “anything except ID or God”).
There is perhaps the hypothetical chance we have a non-natural, but also non-ID explanation for the first living organism. Such an explanation, given that it does not proceed from a natural law or chance would not be in principle testable, thus it too would fall outside materialist definitions of science. But this is an intolerable situation for materialist “science” because in that case, the explanation for life would still fall outside of their self-contradictory definition of science, and thus life, at least in their conception, would of necessity have an unscientific cause!
One might argue the possibility of a non-natural, non-ID cause negates the ID inference as well. But in such case I appeal to other factors:
1. We have examples of agents, namely humans, which can make comparable artifacts, thus the inference is at least consistent with an intelligence that is willing to behave in a human-like manner
2. If all else fails, we can point out the laws of physics strongly suggest the existence of an Ultimate Intelligence.
Thus really, a non-ID cause becomes less and less plausible.
I hope this essay has helped illustrate why life is a perfect architecture to communicate design!