The origin of information … so much for science burying God.

This blog appears to have not been published back in 2009 when it was written for some reason — it’s a continuation of the review of Lennox’s book “God’s Undertaker”

 

In the past, the design arguments have been critiqued as valid because they essentially set up analogies and the strength of the argument depended on the similarity of what was compared (e.g., Paley’s watch compared to nature). The design argument for DNA is stronger than earlier arguments because it possesses the identical feature (information content) to intelligently designed human texts and computer languages. It’s not just an argument from analogy but an “inference to the best explanation”. It’s interesting that so much effort is being exerted to seek for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Lennox asks, “How does one scientifically recognize a message emanating from an intelligent source …? …  If we are prepared to look for scientific evidence of intelligent activity beyond our planet, why are we so hesitant about applying exactly the same thinking to what is on our planet? … What… should we deduce from the overwhelming amount of information… contained in even the simplest living system? … Could it not be the real evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence?”

 

In this final chapter of his book, Lennox pounces on the relatively modern concept that “information and intelligence are fundamental to the existence of life… involved from the very beginning”. But this is not a new idea. “In the beginning was the Logos (Word) … all things were made by him” wrote the apostle John. The term ‘Word’ itself connotes “notions of command, meaning, code, communication – thus information; as well as creative power… The Word … is more fundamental than mass-energy. Mass-energy belongs to the category of the created. The Word does not.”

 

Lennox goes on to point out how striking it is that this concept at the heart of the biblical message has been “so cavalierly dismissed”, but we find in science nowadays showing it to be of paramount importance. How key this is to the Creator God of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says “God said, let there be…”, not just that God created. Hebrews 11:3 states “By faith we understand that the universe was formed by God’s word, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” The carriers of information may well be visible (e.g., paper, email, and DNA), but information itself is not visible. “How could purely material causes account satisfactorily for the immaterial?”

 

Is this just another “futile god of the gaps argument”? Lennox doesn’t think so. This is a ‘good’ gap. He calls it a gap of principle. For example, physics and chemistry can explain what is used to write or paint something. But they cannot fully explain what and why something is written. We postulate they must have an author. Chance and necessity cannot generate the complex information that occurs in biology. Lennox adds, “There is more than a whiff of suspicion that reluctance on the part of some scientists to make a design inference from the existence of information-rich biomolecules has less to do with science than it has to do with the implications of the design-inference as to the possible identity of the designer. It is, therefore, a worldview issue, and not simply a scientific one.”

 

What an amazing picture this is. The Logos, the Word Himself, made everything and gave life. Not only that, but He came and dwelt among us (even though we would not receive Him), only to give us life through His death. And we still want to reject Him?

 

There is one more point to be made from this book. Lennox addresses Dawkins complaint that the design inference is too complicated and “who made God”. But this will take one more blog.

 

Are you or were you Already Gone?

I just read the book: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, (Master Books, Green Forest, AK: 2009). In it, Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham and marketing researcher Britt Beemer seek to understand the plight  of American Christianity as we see more and more young people leaving the church, and in most cases, never returning. They do some exhaustive surveying of those who have left the church and discover some startling statistics. Of the 20-somethings raised in a Bible-based church interviewed who no longer attend church regularly, 95% attended through middle school, 55% attended through high school, and only 11% attended through college: i.e., 90% were Already Gone by the time of college. From their findings, much of this loss is due to doubts these students have about the Bible. In addition, about two-thirds of the youth leave the church by the time they are a young adult.  Their exhortation is for the church to wake up and be the church (body) it was intended to be, faithfully adhering to and teaching from the authoritative Scriptures in a way that is relevant (defensible) to culture and history.

There is much that I think is very true and that I agree with:

  • The dismal state of the church in America and how it is losing it’s youth
  • How the authority of the Word has disintegrated in the church today
  • The church really can’t change culture (105)
  • Music is a minor element to the church at best – truth is relevant and needs to be the emphasis (110). In fact, much of the emphasis and approach for music in the church has no Biblical basis at all (127).
  • Hypocrisy and the institutionalizing of church is a major reason why young people leave (110ff)
  • The need for more interactive ways of teaching the truths of Scripture and apologetics, e.g., small group settings (125ff), similar to the early church
  • Focus on youth and young adults (135) — in fact a major priority should be to equip and let them lead and reach out to their own generations (160-161)
  • The need for revolution (141)
  • The opportunity to win some of those back who have left the church

I applaud the authors for their uncompromising view of Scripture as authoritative and the need to quit being lame in the way it is presented or glossed over in favor of “worship”.  I also appreciate their candor and critique of the way we do church. Not only the worship service but also Sunday school — which is not getting the job done. The emphasis on Bible stories and entertainment as opposed to the Bible as real and historical undoubtedly plays into the doubts raised in the minds of teenagers and young adults who encounter the sophisticated arguments of the kosmos. In addition the reliance on Sunday school to be the source of Bible teaching as opposed to the home.

 

However, I do disagree with the Young Earth view advocated by the authors and a missing element to their view of reaching the younger generation.

First, their emphasis on a Young Earth apologetic overshadows much of the good things they have to say [1]. Undoubtedly they would probably counter that I am compromised and fail to uphold the historical truth of a six 24 hr day creation and have allowed “millions of years of evolution” to creep into my view of Scripture which results in the decline of Scriptural authority and relevance and eventual milk-toast Christianity.  However, I do not believe that Scripture mandates the Young Earth view at all. There are plenty of good arguments for the days of creation not referring to 24 hour periods [2].  It may be true that the advent of naturalism and evolution may have influenced some of the old-earth interpretations of Genesis 1. However, that does not mean that they are merely compromises. The fact is that Genesis 1 is a single chapter with few details compared to the enormity of what happened during creation (the few details in Genesis 1 about creation do compare relatively well with what little is known from science). The emphasis in Genesis is the creation and fall of humanity and how God did and will deal with it. I agree with the need for effective teaching and training in handling the truth accurately, knowing the arguments of the kosmos and the apologetics to counter those arguments which includes the historical reliability, inspiration and veracity of Scripture. My experience is that Genesis 1 is not the biggest stumbling block as the authors make out. Yes it is thrown out there but there are very reasonable answers and one typically finds other issues at the heart of people’s antagonism towards Scripture, God, and/or the church which are just as if not more important to defend as well. Some of this was addressed  in Chapter 6 of their book, but I think it needs a much bigger stage.  I’m curious if the age of the universe is something we could “agree to disagree” on. I could, but the Young-Earth apologetic appears to be so intricately tied to everything else in their view, I’m just not sure. 

Second, I feel the book is missing or underemphasizing a significant reason for the loss of young people to the kosmos which is that the church is not just here to teach and emphasize truth, but it is here for a purpose: the ministry of reconciliation to the world. We are God’s ambassadors we have purpose – when young people realize this things become much more relevant. The book lacks an outward focus to reach the lost. Speaking the truth in love is the combination that must be balanced and emphasized. The lost need to see and experience the love of God which lives in the church and which touches them as people share the gospel with them in a life-giving way and not just for the purpose of “winning converts”.  The authors touch on this at the end with the application that students can be equipped to reach out to their own generation, but it is really much more than that. They need to experience and be active parts of the living Body Of Christ in which Scripture is wielded (which is stifled by the institutionalizing, worship service-oriented practices of most modern churches). When those truthing-in-love relationships are seen by the world people are drawn to Christ and that age group can turn from  a declining population to one of vibrant growth.  It seems to me that is the hope for this generation. It’s also why I am so thankful to be part of  a fellowship where students are a vibrant part of the church and not only sticking around but leading their peers to Christ.

 

1. When trying to show how far things have gone astray, their examples overly emphasize the decay of a Young Earth view of the world with those who have left the church. For example, when listing the negative beliefs of those who attended Sunday school and now have left the church, six of the sixteen characteristics  (more than a third) dealt directly with a view contrary to the Young Earth position (39). 

2. The account of Genesis 2 where man is created followed bya the population of the garden with foliage, with animals, the naming of the animals, followed by the formation of woman out of man took longer than 24 hours of Day 6 in Genesis 1:24ff. Some claim that Eve was within Adam on the 6th Day (positionally or metaphorically) and was brought out later (on the Eighth day?), but this seems as much of a “reading into the text” as saying that the days of Genesis 1 could be very long periods of time. See Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction for different views of the interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1.

Has Science Buried God… because if monkeys could type…?

In chapter 10, Lennox critiques Dawkins view that unguided natural processes can account for the origin of biological information. The idea put forward by Dawkins (a variant allegedly dating back to T.H. Huxley) is that a bunch of monkeys typing on type writers, if given enough time, paper, and energy, would eventually come up with a poem or even a whole book of Shakespeare’s. Now the odds of this happening randomly are astounding which is admitted by Dawkins as well. The solution for Dawkins is then to break the problem down into small manageable parts. The origin of life was not from purely chance processes, it must have started from something simple enough to arise by chance, but then there was a “cumulative sieving or selection process in which the results of one sieving process are fed into the next.” In other words, it is a combination of chance and necessity. In Dawkins example, there is a target phrase the monkeys are shooting for (“Methinks it is like a weasel” – from Hamlet), 28 monkeys in a row typing away, and one letter that each monkey has to get in the right sequence. When the monkey gets the required letter he’s done. Now if this were completely random (monkeys not knowing what letter they were shooting for) the odds of this happening are about 1 in 10 to the 31 power (1 followed by 31 zeros), i.e., extremely small. But with the qualifications that the monkeys know their target and stop, it would take about 43 tries to get the right answer.

 

Now remember that Dawkins is trying to prove that natural selection (a blind, mindless, unguided process) has the power to produce biological information. But what Dawkins introduces is a target phrase, a precise goal, and profoundly un-Darwinian as Dawkins admits. How could blind evolution see the target and compare what is generated with it? How could mindless evolution require inputs which bear all the marks of an intelligent mind? And Lennox concludes, “And ironically, the very information that the mechanisms are supposed to produce is apparently already contained somewhere within the organism, whose genesis he claims to be simulating by his process. The argument is entirely circular.”

 

Lennox astutely points out what is going on with Dawkins argument. Dawkins (and others) intelligently program their scenario “to remove the real problem they set out to solve”. There is no new information generated. All the information used to set up the problem dictates the outcome in a very simple and expected way. To increase the probability of getting the right answer (Methinks it is a weasel), Dawkins had to reduce the complexity of the problem. But evolution is supposed to be able to create greater complexity out of something less complex? Lennox is right, “Dawkins’ whole proposal thus turns out to be nothing but a further example of assuming what you claim to be proving”. Actually, the whole scenario put forward by Dawkins, as well as the others highlighted by Lennox, if anything, increases the “plausibility for intelligent design”.

 

 

Has Science Buried God… because it figured out the origin of the genetic code?

 

DNA, how important is it?

 

It dictates what we and every living thing become – but it is not life.

 

It is key to the formation of life out of non-life – but how did it become?

 

It holds perhaps the most foundational concept yet of our universe that has been discovered – information (knowledge) itself.

 

Lennox now moves into the genetic code and its origin in Chapter 8. I will not get into what DNA is, but at the heart of DNA are four chemicals that essentially form a code or a language (A, G, C, and T for Adenin, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine, respectively). Pairs of these chemicals (letters if you will – 3.5 billion for the human genome) form the rungs of a ladder (the double-helix structure) in a specific sequence that holds the information needed to form a living organism. The mechanism for how the information in DNA is communicated within in a living cell is so complicated that Lennox quotes evolutionary biologists John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary:

 

“The existing translational machinery is at the same time so complex, so universal, and so essential that it is hard to see how it could have come into existence, or how life could have existed without it.”

 

And Lennox goes into some detail on what is known of the interworking of DNA. However, what I’m fascinated with is how did DNA ever come about in the first place? The indication from what is known is that DNA is dependent on life more so than the other way around which implies an “irreducible symbiosis” not capable of being explained by simplistic models of origins.  The code is viewed as ancient and has not appeared to change for over 2 billion years. All living things use the same 64 word code. In addition, there does not appear to be a chemical cause for the ordering of the code (if so the information that was able to be communicated would be severely restricted).

 

Lennox then goes on in Chapter 9 to discuss different kinds of information, the complexity of information, and methods (e.g., algorithms) of simplifying information. You’ll have to read this if interested, but the bottom line is that “a DNA sequence… exhibits the specified complexity necessary for it to code that protein and is consequently algorithmically incompressible, and thus random from the mathematical point of view”. The significance of this is that “No law of nature could achieve this” (Paul Davies). We just have no category for how the information encoded in DNA is produced. Lennox goes on to say, “if chance and necessity, either separately or together, are not capable of biogenesis, then we must consider the possibility that a third factor was involved. That third factor is the input of information.”

 

Lennox admits this assertion raises many protests. It is an appeal to a ‘God of the gaps’-type solution. And admittedly this could be construed as lazy thinking … “we don’t know how it happened, therefore God did it”. However, as Lennox points out, “It is also very easy to say ‘evolution did it’ when one has not got the faintest idea how, or has simply cobbled up a speculative just-so story with no evidential basis… a materialist has to say that natural processes were solely responsible… As a result it is just as easy to end up with an ‘evolution of the gaps’ as with a ‘God of the gaps’… it is easier to end up with an ‘evolution of the gaps’… since the former solution is likely to attract far less criticism…”

 

 At the heart of this discussion is the question, “whether molecular machines (of whatever kind) can generate novel information”. Brillouin, an information theorist, says “A machine does not create any new information, but it performs a very valuable transformation of known information.” In other words, whatever produces the information has to be more complex than the information produced.

 

Has Science Buried God… because it can explain how life originated?

Lennox now moves from biological evolution to the origin of life itself, i.e., molecular evolution. The neo-Darwinists of course adhere to the idea that life evolved from ‘blind, mindless, unguided’ processes (Dawkins). Now, before I get into it, one thing that has puzzled me is how “Darwinian Evolution” is extended (backwards) to, involved in, or spoken of in the same breath as the origin of life? Darwin wrote the “Origin of the Species” right. He provided a mechanism for the formation of more complex life forms via mutation and natural selection – which absolutely necessitates life to begin with. As discussed in the first half of the book, though this mechanism is evident in microevolution, speciation (macroevolution) is really not substantiated with any verifiable scientific evidence. It is even more of a stretch to extend it backwards to how life “evolved”.

 

In Chapter 7, Lennox discusses the origin of life. He quotes Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod who states that ‘the simplest cells available to us for study have nothing “primitive” about them… no vestiges of truly primitive structures are discernible’. One example of this would be the concept of ‘irreducible complexity’ (Behe) – that there exist parts (a drive shaft) of a single system (like a motor) that are integral to its function and which cannot evolve in a progressive fashion. Darwin himself admitted that ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down’. Behe argues that there are many irreducibly complex machines in nature and that ‘molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority’ since there is not one publication in prestigious scientific journals or books that describes how molecular evolution of any real complex biochemical system either did occur or might have occurred. Behe’s taken quite a bit of heat for this, but it is true.

 

Lennox goes on to discuss the inadequacy (or perhaps futility) of the famous Stanley Miller experiment which was once heralded as a way that amino acids may have formed (the building blocks of the proteins that are the building blocks of DNA) to produce life. The biggest problem is the way in which proteins are built out of amino acids. The odds of this happening are staggering. The scientists answer is that there is some self-organizing principle at work to assemble the amino acids. What is hard to fathom is the complexity involved to assemble amino acids, not just in any order, but organizing them into a language-type of structure. As Paul Davies puts it, ‘Life is actually not an example of self-organization. Life is in fact specified, i.e. genetically directed, organization’. Something external has to act on it to get it to organize. What needs explaining according to Stephen Meyer is ‘the origin of information’.  

 

Perhaps Francis Crick said it best, ‘The origin of life seems almost to be a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going’.

 

Next time, we get into the genetic code itself.

 

Is Evolution God’s Undertaker?

That is the question that John Lennox addresses in his most recent book God’s Undertaker, Has Science Buried God? (Lion, Oxford: 2007). I’ve read about two-thirds of the book which is filled with so much excellent content I thought I better write some of it down before it goes in one end and out the other.

The beginning of the book discusses the question of whether naturalism (atheism – nature is all there is and explaining nature is all we can know) is demanded by science or was naturalism brought to science. Is naturalism itself a statement of faith? Or is naturalism something that will not hinder science compared to religion? Lennox does a good job of showing how modern science actually came into being because of practicing Christians (Whitehead’s thesis) such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell (p. 20). His point that theists do not hinder the scientific process at all.  However, the real conflict that exists is not between science and religion, it is between naturalism and theism; two diametrically opposed worldviews or philosophies (p. 27). He goes on to discuss the limits of science and really the faith that is inherent in the reductionistic thinking that science is all about ((The idea that we can understand things down at their smallest parts and then explain more complicated things (bottom up thinking) – for example one limitation is akin to the analogy that I may know all of the materials that are contained in my house, but with that knowledge alone, could I really predict how they would be put together to form my house? In fact, you really would have to start with the raw materials used to make the building materials, or the molecules used to make those raw materials, or the atoms… From just that knowledge could you predict how the building materials (the higher up process) would be fabricated? — It’s not that reducing things to their smallest parts is wrong. It is essential to science. But it does have it limitations in being able to explain higher level processes just from what is known of the smallest parts.)) as well as some arguments from design and the fine-tuning of the universe.

Evolution Confusion

What I found most useful so far was his chapter on “The nature and scope of evolution” (p. 98ff.). What actually is meant by evolution? Lennox gives five different variations:

  1. Change, Development, Variation – this just implies change without any implication as to mechanism or intelligent input. This is a very innocuous and uncontroversial use of the word. After all, things change.
  2. Microevolution – this is what Darwin observed himself on Galapagos which we see and measure everyday as bacteria become resistant to antibiotic drugs. One example used in many textbooks is that of the color of moths (light moths were more easily seen by predators, so darker moths were more fit survivors). This has been proven to be “wrong, innacurate, or at least incomplete”; however, it still is used in most modern textbooks. Microevolution though is a fact and can be demonstrated on many counts.
  3. Macroevolution – refers to large scale innovation (e.g., new organs, structures, body-plans, new genetic material) characterized by a marked increase in complexity. This is one of the areas where most of the controversy surrounding evolution exists. The gradualists (e.g., Dawkins and Dennet) would say that macroevolution is merely the extrapolation of microevolution.
  4. Artificial selection, for example, in plant and animal breeding – We of course see this in all our different doggies. There is considerable intelligent input here. Darwin would argue that what takes man a relatively short time would take nature a very long time. However, this provides no real evidence in and of itself for evolution by unguided processes.
  5. Molecular evolution – In reality, evolution presupposes the existence of self-replicating genetic material. Natural selection requires things to be living, prebiological natural selection is a contradiction. Molecular evolution is the term used to describe the living from the non-living. The fact that it uses the word evolution does obscure the fact that it is not Darwin’s evolution.

So the confusion comes in with what one actually means by evolution. If one says “I don’t believe in evolution”, then they would be taken as a fool, because 1, 2, and 4 clearly do occur and can be measured and verified. However, what typically happens is that people state that macroevolution occurs by natural selection, but the only real examples given are those of microevolution. What is interesting in all this is that for all of the examples of natural selection, nothing new was ever formed. What was selected was already there. There is nothing creative or innovative from what is known of natural selection. This flies in the face of the assertions made by Dawkins and other neo-Darwinists.

So really the question becomes,  how far can microevolution go? Lennox has many quotes from many scientists who admit that there is no evidence for large evolutionary innovations — none have been observed, we don’t know if any are in process now, there are no good fossil records of any, we can’t really effectively exrapolate from what is known (microevolution). One emenent scientist, Pierre Grasse from France, notes that “fruit flies remain fruit flies in spite of the thousands of generations that have been bred and all the mutations that have been induced in them”.  More recent work on E. coli bacteria has yielded no real innovative changes after 25,000 generations.

Clearly there are two clear reasons that negate the proposition by neo-Darwinists such as Dawkins, Lewontin, and Dennet that attribute macroevolution as fact similar to the fact that the earth orbits the sun:

  1. The earth is observed to orbit the sun – where birds or any other species actually came from has NEVER been observed
  2. The earth is observed REPEATEDLY to orbit the sun – as Lennox puts it, “to put an unobservable and unrepeatable phenomenon in the same category as an observable and  repeatable one would seem to be such an elementary blunder… one cannot help wondering if … materialistic prejudice is overriding common (scientific) sense” (p. 108)

The evidence of the fossil record is so against gradual evolution it isn’t even contested by paleontologists. All that is observed in the fossil records is stasis (no real change in a species during their existence on earth) and a sudden appearance — not by steady or gradual transformation from it’s ancestors, they appear “fully formed”. That is why Gould and Elderedge came up with the theory of “punctuated equilibrium” – the existence of sudden large macroevolutionary jumps (whatever that is).

The final discussion of this chapter was on “common descent”. This is actually a more powerful technique for determining common ancestry which is the structure of the DNA sequences in a collection of organisms. The similarities in the DNA sequences can be used as well an evidence for design. Stephen Meyer (quoted by Lennox) makes a good point, “postulating an unobserved designer is no more unscientific than postulating unobserved macroevolutionary steps.”

That is all for now. But knowing these different aspects of evolution and what is really known is essential in dialoguing with folks on this issue.