Last night I was out giving a talk on the origin and development of the intelligent design controversy, when an engineer audience member asked me, “How long do you give Darwinism before it collapses?”
I found providing an answer difficult because I am not psychic, so I must rely on near term, high impact information when making predictions.
(For example, I figured that ID would become big news in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century because events recorded around 1991-2001 in the United States could have no other outcome – absent, of course,Ã‚Â a nuclear holocaust or some other “all-bets-are-off” scenario, but you can’t let unlikely events distract you when you are making predictions based on the flow of normal events.)
In response to him, I pointed out that the Catholic Church is now spreading the news on prayer cards in many languages around the world that “we are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution Each of us is the result of a thought of God”. That is certain to have impact, but I am uncertain how to evaluate its strength.
So finally, I told him, “Look, I don’t think we are going to get anywhere understanding the origin of life or of species until we understand what information is and how it relates to the other factors in the universe.”
Information in life forms clearly does not arise the way Darwin thought it did. Even species don’t seem to arise the way Darwin thought they did. The recent challenge to demonstrate it on this blog did not turn up much. And that was supposed to be Darwin’s big contribution … sigh …
But aw, it’s been worse. The Washington Post was reduced to flogging up the idea that the introduction of Ontario squirrels to the Washington area by an ill-advised naturalist in the early twentieth century was an instance ofÃ‚Â natural selectionÃ‚Â at work. Yeah. Read all about itÃ‚Â ….
NotÃ‚Â quite sure how to answer the guy’s question, I was remindedÃ‚Â of someone I had quoted in By Design or by Chance?:
The key to a scientific understanding of design is not theology, but information theory. If design is a part of nature, then the design is embedded in life as information. But many people are not used to thinking in terms of an immaterial quantity like information. As G.C. Williams writes:
“Information doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have bytes. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms.” (G.C. Williams, “A Package of Information” in J. Brockman, ed., The Third culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1995) , p. 43.)
Williams’ two separate domains unite in life forms. But how separate are these domains?
Have we misunderstood the history of life because we are blinded by the influence of materialist theories? Do we look for a materialist explanation for information (= Darwinism) when it doesn’t and can’t exist?
So I ended up telling the questioner that I can predict this far: Scientists will not find serious answers by trying to prop up Darwinism but by looking more closely at the nature of information and how it relates to matter.
When we understand the history of life better, Darwin’s natural selection will be shown to play at best a minor, conservative role in maintaining fitness. We have yet to discover the patterns that govern the history of life.
I now wish I had remembered to point out that, historically, scientists have spent a lot of time and energy defending failing theories, before they entertain better ones.