Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 2

…continued from Answering Objections to ‘The Argument from Evolution’ Part 1

(4) illegitimate use of probability calculations in evolutionary models

“Creationists certainly love big numbers – especially when they inappropriately use them to prove evolution ‘improbable.’ Of course, to do this they must set up a straw man – their liem [sic] that evolutionary changes result from chance!”

Who now is distorting my words? A careful reading of the article would show that I did not state or imply that evolutionary changes were a result of chance alone. Indeed I was careful not to set up this kind of straw man. All these highly unlikely calculations apply to the chemical origin of life (or proteins, etc), that naturalism or atheistic-evolutionism is committed to.

Natural Selection cannot be a contributing factor in the origin of life scenario. Before natural selection can operate there needs to be an entity that is capable of self-replication. Natural Selection presupposes the existence of two or more distinct types of self-replicating, self-maintaining, complex, open systems which can then compete for the resources of their environment.5  “Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.”6 

The bigger question being raised here though is how are these big numbers arrived at? 

The second law of thermodynamics is not some vague idea that entropy increases with time in a closed system. It is a precise theorem expressed with mathematical formulae. As such, system energy can be quantified statistically and entropy measured with probability calculations. High entropy corresponds to high probability, and low entropy corresponds to low probability. A random arrangement is characterised by high entropy and so is more probable than a highly ordered arrangement which is energy-rich. Highly ordered macromolecules such as DNA and protein are vastly more improbable then their antecedents amino acids or heterocyclic bases, thus their arrangement can be calculated. 

But its even worse for the atheistic-evolutionist. Order is not enough. What is needed is specified complexity. This is the essential ingredient for a systems replication. A crystals information content can be compared to a book repeating the word “SALT, SALT, SALT…” over and over. A polypepties information content can be compared to a book full of random letters, “AGBDCBFE GBCAFED ACEDFBG.” The information content of a complex and specified arrangement can be compared to a sentence just like this one. The DNA of a human is often compared to several libraries worth of this type of detailed instruction.

In short, complexity is the long sequence that itself is highly improbable in its formation. Specificity is the result of the sequence conforming to an independently given pattern. The arrangement in a protein is not just random – it means something.

“It would be quite impossible to produce a correspondingly simple set of instructions that would enable a chemist to synthesize the DNA of an E. coli bacterium. In this case the sequence matters. Only by specifying the sequence letter-by-letter (about 4,000,000 instructions) could we tell a chemist what to make. Our instructions would occupy not a few short sentences, but a large book instead!”7

On thermodynamics the probability of the formation of this sort of information, where the sequence matters, can also be calculated. Hubert Yockey, Robert Sauer, Peter Rüst, Paul Erbrich, Siegfried Scherer and Douglas Axe are all people who are doing this (though that does not mean they are proponents of ID).

What has to be considered is not only the thermal and chemical entropy, but the additional component of configurational entropy (“coding” work) with the “sorting and selecting” work.

 

(5) The illegitimate use of the second law of thermodynamics;

Even if the second law of thermodynamics is used illegitimately, that in no way effects the four other points that speak against ‘The problem with soup’ section  on the chemical origin of life. 

“As a chemist I feel offended when creationists take a thermodynamic law which applies to a closed system and dishonestly apply it to part of an open system. . . The earth, where life evolved, is not a closed or isolated system.”

But is the use of the second law of thermodynamics used illegitimately?

Your objection is based around the idea that the earth is an open system. This wave-of-the-hand dismissal is a poor refutation.

“A mere appeal to open system thermodynamics does little good. What must be done is to advance a workable theoretical model of how the available energy can be coupled to do the required work.”8

An open system offers a possibility of ordering, but supplying raw energy and raw material alone is not enough to produce specified complexity. There still needs to be a mechanism that harness that energy, and another mechanism that makes pre-biopolymers non-trivial (specified). That is why I say, “Still raw energy alone cannot bring order or information out of random chaos. Some sort of blueprint or plan is needed and that requires an intelligence.”9 It can be likened to an combustion engine. The engine uses the energy provided by petroleum fuel and converts it into carbon-dioxide and water, to produce torque in the wheels. The engine acts as a coupling mechanism between the energy required for function and the raw energy supplied. 

A purely naturalistic evolutionary model uses the coupling mechanism called “chance” for the “coding” work. Energy flow through the system, it is assumed, is capable to account for the chemical and thermal entropy work. The configurational entropy work of both selecting and coding is the fortuitous product of chance.

Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen outline their equations for the work required to synthesis a protein containing 101 amino acids. They find the probability of producing one protein of 101 amino acids in five billion years is only 1/ 1045. 10 They conclude:

“It is apparent that “chance” should be abandoned as an acceptable model for coding of the macromolecules essential in living systems. In fact, it has been, except in introductory texts and popularizations.”11

(6) that improbability calculations should apply to creation models

“The irony is that while the small steps in natural selection have a high probability the huge creation step doesn’t. The numbers given by Thinking Matters really should be applied to the acts of special creation required by their ideas…”

This concept that you espouse is undeveloped, insofar as you have not stated why it must be so. (6i) It seems you are presupposing a methodological naturalism, in which case I agree it would be highly improbable. But limiting the pool of options to naturalistic ones only shows a ‘closed mind’ and the restriction of sciences faculties to explain concepts like specified complexity. (6ii) In any case, I think you are confusing probability with plausibility. While something can be improbable due to its rarity of occurrence, it may be entirely plausible due the six assessment criteria for scientific models stated in the article “The Argument from Evolution” in section 4) The problem with science. Positing a transcendent intelligence in a creation model is superior to the purely naturalistic alternative in that it has more explanatory power, explanatory scope, outstrips rival theories, etc.

To head off the criticism that science must only posit naturalistic phenomena in its explanations, and that putting “God-in-the-gaps” is a hindrance to science, I will say that with our current scientific knowledge it is at least more rational to assert an intelligent designer than adopt a provisional agnosticism-in-the-gaps. If the criticisms raised against naturalistic evolutionary models are increasing the scientist is advised to abandon pure naturalism in the face of the explanations overwhelming lack of comparative superiority. 

“One characteristic feature of the . . . critique needs to be emphasized. We have not simply picked out a number of details within chemical evolution theory that are weak, or without adequate explanation for the moment. For the most part this critique is based on crucial weaknesses intrinsic to the theory itself. Often it is contended that criticism focuses on present ignorance. “Give us more time to solve the problems,” is the plea. After all, the pursuit of abiogenesis [the origin of life from nonlife] is young as a scientific enterprise. It will be claimed that many of these problems are mere state-of-the-art gaps. And, surely, some of them are. Notice, however, that the sharp edge of this critique is not what we do not know, but what we do know. Many facts have come to light in the past three decades of experimental inquiry into life’s beginning. With each passing year the criticism has gotten stronger. The advance of science itself is what is challenging the notion that life arose on earth by spontaneous (in a thermodynamic sense) chemical reactions.”12

That about wraps up my criticisms of your objections.

 

Footnotes:

5. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 1967. Robots, Men and Minds. New York: George Braziller, p.82.

6. T. Dobzhansky, 1965. In The Origins of Prebiological Systems and of Their Molecular Matrices, p.310.

7. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt8.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

8. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

9. Stuart McEwing, ‘Argument from Evolution,’ (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/the-argument-from-evolution/; retrieved 25 October, 2008)

10. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

11. Ibid.

12. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), p. 125.

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