Functionally Specified Complex Information & Organization ID Foundations Irreducible Complexity The Design of Life

ID Foundations 23: Dr Stephen Meyer on The Design Inference on Complex [often, Functionally] Specified Information and the Origin of Cell-based Life (OoL)

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This lecture by Dr Stephen Meyer of Discovery Institute, with Q & A may be a good refresher and focus for thought on OoL, HT WK:

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WK — a useful blog to bookmark and monitor to see trends and issues — gives a helpful bullet point outline, in part:

  • intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
  • Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
  • Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
  • but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
  • even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
  • can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
  • there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion . . .
  • it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
  • although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
  • similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
  • the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
  • so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
  • however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
  • there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
  • but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
  • the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities . . . .
  • if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
  • the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
  • the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator

Where, of course, there is only one empirically observed, directly known causal factor capable of causing functionally specific complex organisation and associated information, especially digitally coded functionally specific complex information, design.

Clipping some key points:


{U/D, Jan 10:} It is also useful to follow a chain of Meyer’s argument to the inference to design:


So we see here an inductive inference to best explanation as a method of historical/origins sciences, leading to the conclusion that phenomena or objects manifesting functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information (FSCO/I) are best explained, not on blind chance and/or mechanical necessity, but on intelligent design.

Recall, too, the cell’s basic functionality includes the protein synthesis chain, which is patently a case where all core steps and components are required in proper order — irreducible complexity, in short — for the system to function:


. . . which also includes the digital information controlled, algorithmic assembly process in the Ribosome:


. . . as well as fulfilling Mignea’s irreducibly complex requisites for self replicating life:


( See Mignea, 2012, slide show; fair use. Presentation speech is here.)

. . . with of course the force of the design inference on high contingency joined to complexity and to specificity to function  — especially functionally specific complex organisation and associated information beyond 500 – 1,000 bits [FSCOI] also involved in our thinking:


(As in can you kindly provide a clear case of FSCO/I arising by blind chance and mechanical necessity in our actual observation? And just what is the routinely seen cause of such FSCO/I? So, then on the requirement of candidate explanations being actually observed causes, and like causes like, what best explains OOL? Why?)

So, where does inference to best, empirically grounded inductive explanation point? Why? END

PS: I strongly urge actually watching the Meyer video as a basis for discussion.

11 Replies to “ID Foundations 23: Dr Stephen Meyer on The Design Inference on Complex [often, Functionally] Specified Information and the Origin of Cell-based Life (OoL)

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Let us begin to ponder Origin of Cell-based Life, the root of the Darwinist tree of life.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Overnight I have added a composite graphic outlining a key chain of Meyer’s argument through several slides.

    A particularly interesting point he makes is that Darwin’s enduring scientific legacy is not so much his alleged refutation of the design inference in science, but instead, the formulation of ways to use inference to best explanation systematically in scientific reasoning about the past and other things that we cannot directly observe. In that context and by application of the vera causa principle — true causes seen to be operating effectively to create like effects today — the design inference on signs such as FSCO/I is scientific.

    Meyer also makes it plain that the issue is not so much whether the label science is to be attached, as that we have a process that we have good reason to trust has led us to what is credibly true or at least well warranted.


  3. 3
    CLAVDIVS says:

    Hi kairosfocus

    there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion . . .

    How are historical changes in information measured?

    Do the measurements show an unusual increase in the Cambrian compared to the origin of life?

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:


    I would suggest first a look at an argument SCM made in 2004 (which despite agit prop to the contrary passed proper peer review by “renowned scientists”), which needs to be addressed on merits rather than distracted from:

    The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world. For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993) . . . One way to estimate the amount of new CSI that appeared with the Cambrian animals is to count the number of new cell types that emerged with them (Valentine 1995:91-93) . . . the more complex animals that appeared in the Cambrian (e.g., arthropods) would have required fifty or more cell types . . . New cell types require many new and specialized proteins. New proteins, in turn, require new genetic information. Thus an increase in the number of cell types implies (at a minimum) a considerable increase in the amount of specified genetic information. Molecular biologists have recently estimated that a minimally complex single-celled organism would require between 318 and 562 kilobase pairs of DNA to produce the proteins necessary to maintain life (Koonin 2000). More complex single cells might require upward of a million base pairs. Yet to build the proteins necessary to sustain a complex arthropod such as a trilobite would require orders of magnitude more coding instructions. The genome size of a modern arthropod, the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, is approximately 180 million base pairs (Gerhart & Kirschner 1997:121, Adams et al. 2000). Transitions from a single cell to colonies of cells to complex animals represent significant (and, in principle, measurable) increases in CSI . . . .

    In order to explain the origin of the Cambrian animals, one must account not only for new proteins and cell types, but also for the origin of new body plans . . . Mutations in genes that are expressed late in the development of an organism will not affect the body plan. Mutations expressed early in development, however, could conceivably produce significant morphological change (Arthur 1997:21) . . . [but] processes of development are tightly integrated spatially and temporally such that changes early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream. For this reason, mutations will be much more likely to be deadly if they disrupt a functionally deeply-embedded structure such as a spinal column than if they affect more isolated anatomical features such as fingers (Kauffman 1995:200) . . . McDonald notes that genes that are observed to vary within natural populations do not lead to major adaptive changes, while genes that could cause major changes–the very stuff of macroevolution–apparently do not vary. In other words, mutations of the kind that macroevolution doesn’t need (namely, viable genetic mutations in DNA expressed late in development) do occur, but those that it does need (namely, beneficial body plan mutations expressed early in development) apparently don’t occur.

    Secondly, there are estimates on genomes for requisites of a first living cell. They point to a genome of about 100,000 – 1 mn bases worth of info, where the basic info carrying capacity of a genomic base is 2 bits.

    Likewise, from back of envelope estimates and observations of diverse body plans alike we can see that dozens of times over, to get complex major body plans as the Cambrian revolution manifests, we are looking at increments of 10 – 100+ mn bits of info each.

    Maybe 30 or more times over, which is obviously a lot more than at the origin of cell based life.

    And where the issue on the table is OOL, the root of the Darwinist tree of life and the empirically warranted, vera causa principle compliant source of such. Where, ability to reproduce using a code based von Neumann kinematic self replicator [vNSR] is one of the facts to be explained also, starting from mixes of plausible chemicals in a warm little pond or the like.


  5. 5
    gpuccio says:


    How are historical changes in information measured?

    Do the measurements show an unusual increase in the Cambrian compared to the origin of life?

    I hope you excuse my intrusion 🙂

    1) OOL, if defined as everything that brought to the advent of LUCA (definitely a prokaryiote, before the bacteria-archaea division), implies the generation of a lot of complex information.

    Even the simplest prokaryote we know has hundreds of complex proteins, including those for DNA duplication, transcription and translation, plus all those implied by metabolic activities.

    Simple considerations about protein homologies suggest that about half protein superfamilies (about 1000 out of 2000) were already present in LUCA.

    No living being simpler than LUCA is at present known, either directly or indirectly. There are no credible and empirically supported hypotheses about simpler living beings.

    Therefore, OOL remains the single event with the greatest implications in terms of generation de novo of new complex functional information.

    2) The Cambrian explosion is another very good example of the rather sudden origination of huge amounts of complex functional information. Our understanding of the Cambrian explosion, however, is more derived from fossil evidence, while biomolecular information is scarce. One of the reasons for that is that the most striking feature of the Cambrian explosion is the appearance of fundamental body plans (the phyla), and the biomolecular basis of body plans is still scarcely understood. That’s why it is difficult to quantify the amount of dFSCI implied by the Cambrian events, although it is rather obvious that it must have been huge.

    3) We must remember, however, that each appearance, in natural history, of a new protein superfamily is a certain event implieng design (because of the generation of new, original dFSCI). At present, we know of about 1000 protein superfamilies that appeared after OOL, at different times, even if with a slowing rate. Each of them is a very good candidate to a design inference. In most cases, the appearance of a new species implies new proteins, and often new protein domains and superfamilies.

    4) Finally, there are other moments in natural history that are good examples of a “super appearance” of new functional information. The transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, the Ediacara explosion, the flowering plants explosion, and so on. Not to mention the transition to humans which, although not yet well defined at the biomolecular level, is certainly stunning in terms of brain organization and functions.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:


    Anything but an intrusion, a very important aspect of all of this.

    Proteins are the workhorses of the living cell, and key components used to build organisms.

    With a typical protein being 250 or 300 AA long, we are already looking at coding 750 – 900 bits worth of info to simply specify its sequence for a ribosome to assemble it. Multiply by hundreds to thousands required and we can see the awesome scope of the information challenge.

    The issue of superfamilies in the space of AA configs, and of the rising number of fold domains with one or a few isolated proteins, which seems to crop up between even allegedly closely related organisms, raises all sorts of issues.

    Blend in embryology and the need to move from a zygote or equivalent to a functioning body plan — or more than one in the case of complete metamorphosis as with many insects, and we begin to see the scope of the challenge.

    The notion that here is anice simple smoothly varying fitness landscape in which incremental changes can be consolidated in populations in niches and thus stabilised allt eh way from a bacteria-like universal ancestral organism to us and mango trees and T rex and whales and Mayflies and sponges and earthworms and yeasts, etc, needs a lot more empirical, observational support than it has.

    But, as the OP stresses, that begins right fromt eh root. Getting from basic chemicals in a pond or the like to a living cell is perhaps even more of an overall challenge than moving from there to the world of life.

    And the silence in this thread from those usually so eager to pounce on perceived weak points put forth by perceived crackpots, ignoramuses and deceivers — us, in their minds — speaks volumes on the magnitude of the plainly unmet challenges.

    The tree of life is going to be the epitaph of darwinism, starting from its root, OOL.


  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    Onlookers, notice the telling silence of those who wait so eagerly to pounce on perceived weaknesses in the case for intelligent design. The silence on the issue of the root of the tree of life — OOL — speaks volumes, especially in light of the year-long refusal to seriously engage it in answer to the pro-darwinism essay challenge. The tree of life, as I just noted to GP, is going to be the epitaph of evolutionary materialism. KF

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Notice the composite answer to the challenge I had to cobble together after a year of unresponsiveness, here. KF

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    CLAVDIVS: An answer was put nearly a day ago (two actually), to your question on metrics of the info increment at OOL and the Cambrian revolution. Any responsive thoughts? KF

  10. 10
    CLAVDIVS says:

    Apologies – caught up in unexpected travel difficulties.

    Hopefully back online soon.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    Good luck with travel.

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