Tag Archives: Origin of Life

Yale computer science professor David Gelernter expresses doubts about Darwinism

How did life begin?
How did life begin?

I had to learn about David Gelernter when I was doing my Masters in computer science. We studied his book “Mirror Worlds”. A few weeks ago, I blogged about his impressions of the difficulty in forming a simple protein by chance – something that naturalistic mechanisms would have to do in order to avoid intelligent agency as a cause in nature. He found it very unlikely. But there’s more!

Recently, my friend Terrell sent me a video featuring Peter Robinson (who hosts the splendid Uncommon Knowledge show out of Stanford University), and three interesting people. First, there was Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, who is one of my two favorite thinkers. I’ve blogged on his work about the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion here many times. Then, there was Dr. David Berlinski, a secular Jewish professor of mathematics, who has studied origins issues. And then Dr. David Gelernter, who teaches computer science at Yale University, and is a legend in computer science research.

Here’s the video: (H/T Terrell)

Here is an article by Jennifer Kabbany in The College Fix about the video.

She writes about his recent Claremont Review of Books article, as well as the interview above:

In May, the Claremont Review of Books published a column by Gelernter headlined “Giving Up Darwin.” In it, he explained how his readings and discussions of Darwinian evolution and its competing theories, namely intelligent design, have convinced him Darwin had it wrong.

In particular, he cited Stephen Meyer’s 2013 book Darwin’s Doubt as well as The Deniable Darwin by David Berlinski. The professor expanded on his views in an interview with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution that was published last week.

Gelernter stops short of fully embracing intelligent design, both in his essay and during his interview. He said in his interview he sees intelligence in Earth’s design, and has no quarrel with ID proponents, but notes the world a mess, its suffering far outweighs its goodness.

“My argument is with people who dismiss intelligent design without considering, it seems to me — it’s widely dismissed in my world of academia as some sort of theological put up job — it’s an absolutely serious scientific argument,” Gelernter said during his interview. “In fact it’s the first and most obvious and intuitive one that comes to mind. It’s got to be dealt with intellectually.”

I found this part the most interesting, since we are seeing so much intolerance from the secular left, whenever anyone disagrees with their dogma:

Gelernter said he likes many of his colleagues at Yale, that they are his friends, but when he looks at “their intellectual behavior, what they have published — and much more importantly what they tell their students — Darwinism has indeed passed beyond a scientific argument as far as they are concerned. You take your life in your hands to challenge it intellectually. They will destroy you if you challenge it.”

“Now, I haven’t been destroyed, I am not a biologist, and I don’t claim to be an authority on this topic,” Gelernter added, “but what I have seen in their behavior intellectually and at colleges across the West is nothing approaching free speech on this topic. It’s a bitter, fundamental, angry, outraged rejection [of intelligent design], which comes nowhere near scientific or intellectual discussion. I’ve seen that happen again and again.”

Gelernter acknowledges “I am attacking their religion and I don’t blame them for being all head up, it is a big issue for them.”

Dr. Gelernter cited three arguments in his article: the origin of life, and the Cambrian explosion, and genetic entropy. In the first two problems, there is a problem of huge amounts of biological information coming into being . We know that software engineers can write code like that, but there is no Darwinian mechanism for writing that much code and that short of a time period. The third problem shows that Darwinian mechanisms not only don’t produce functional code – they actually break it down.

I’ve covered both of the arguments before on this blog, but if you really want the details, you should pick up the books that convinced Dr. Gelernter: Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. Each book tackles one of the arguments. For the third problem, a good book is Dr. Michael Behe’s “Darwin Devolves”. Even if you just read something about each book, then you’ll know about the arguments for intelligent causes being the best explanation for the history of life on this planet.

New study: 90% of species on Earth today originated 100,000 to 200,000 years ago

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Well, it’s Friday, so I thought we would all benefit from reading about a brand new peer-reviewed study that should be the final nail in the coffin of naturalistic evolution. At least for those with an open mind who are not wedded to the philosophical assumption of naturalism.

Phys.org (which is committed dogmatically to fully naturalistic evolution) reports:

Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who together published findings last week sure to jostle, if not overturn, more than one settled idea about how evolution unfolds.

It is textbook biology, for example, that species with large, far-flung populations—think ants, rats, humans—will become more genetically diverse over time.

But is that true?

“The answer is no,” said Stoeckle, lead author of the study, published in the journal Human Evolution.

For the planet’s 7.6 billion people, 500 million house sparrows, or 100,000 sandpipers, genetic diversity “is about the same,” he told AFP.

The study’s most startling result, perhaps, is that nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

“This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could,” Thaler told AFP.

That reaction is understandable: How does one explain the fact that 90 percent of animal life, genetically speaking, is roughly the same age?

Oh, oh. Pick me, pick me. I know the answer. The answer is that the biological information in living systems was put there by an intelligent agent. You know, the same way that information in books is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in computer code is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in blog posts is put there by intelligent agents. We know what introduces information from our own experience.

Well, what about mutation and selection? Couldn’t they create all this information in a couple hundred thousand years? Well, no. You see, mutation and selection have been tested in the lab to see how much information they can produce over generations and generations. And the conclusion is clear: it is impossible for blind forces to create the amount of information we see in living systems in the short time that is available. In fact, the whole history of the universe is not enough time for evolutionary mechanisms to create the information we have in front of us.

Before we leave the paper reported by Phys.org, here is something about whether we see the gradual emergence of complexity via lots of transitional forms in nature.

Not so much:

[…][A]nother unexpected finding from the study—species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there’s nothing much in between.

“If individuals are stars, then species are galaxies,” said Thaler. “They are compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space.”

The absence of “in-between” species is something that also perplexed Darwin, he said.

Indeed. So perplexing.

The evidence we gain from the progress of science is always perplexing to people who assume naturalism, and then try to shoehorn reality to match their religious assumptions. I have an idea. Why don’t we just make science the search for truth, no holds barred? Wouldn’t that be a much better way to do science? Let’s just do science honestly, and stop trying to make it prove things that are comfortable for us.

If the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the origin of the first living system, and the sudden origin of body plans in the Cambrian explosion are impossible to account for on naturalism, then maybe we need to jettison the philosophical assumption of naturalism, and just go where the evidence leads? What’s wrong with that?

Yale University computer science professor takes a look at protein formation probabilities

How did life begin?
How did life begin?

When I was in graduate school, we studied a book called “Mirror Worlds”, authored by famous computer science professor David Gelernter at Yale University. This week, I noticed that Dr. Gelernter had written an article in the prestigious Claremont Review of Books. In his article, he applies his knowledge of computer science to the problem of the origin of life.

Evolution, if it is going to work at all, has to explain the problem of how the basic building blocks of life – proteins – can emerge from non-living matter. It turns out that the problem of the origin of life is essentially a problem of information – of code. If the components of proteins are ordered properly, then the sequence folds up into a protein that has biological function. If the sequence is not good, then just like computer code, it won’t run.

Here’s Dr. Gelernter to explain:

How to make proteins is our first question. Proteins are chains: linear sequences of atom-groups, each bonded to the next. A protein molecule is based on a chain of amino acids; 150 elements is a “modest-sized” chain; the average is 250. Each link is chosen, ordinarily, from one of 20 amino acids. A chain of amino acids is a polypeptide—“peptide” being the type of chemical bond that joins one amino acid to the next. But this chain is only the starting point: chemical forces among the links make parts of the chain twist themselves into helices; others straighten out, and then, sometimes, jackknife repeatedly, like a carpenter’s rule, into flat sheets. Then the whole assemblage folds itself up like a complex sheet of origami paper. And the actual 3-D shape of the resulting molecule is (as I have said) important.

Imagine a 150-element protein as a chain of 150 beads, each bead chosen from 20 varieties. But: only certain chains will work. Only certain bead combinations will form themselves into stable, useful, well-shaped proteins.

So how hard is it to build a useful, well-shaped protein? Can you throw a bunch of amino acids together and assume that you will get something good? Or must you choose each element of the chain with painstaking care? It happens to be very hard to choose the right beads.

Gelernter decides to spot the Darwinist a random sequence of 150 elements. Now the task the Darwinist is to use random mutation to arrive at a sequence of 150 links that has biological function.

[W]hat are the chances that a random 150-link sequence will create such a protein? Nonsense sequences are essentially random. Mutations are random. Make random changes to a random sequence and you get another random sequence. So, close your eyes, make 150 random choices from your 20 bead boxes and string up your beads in the order in which you chose them. What are the odds that you will come up with a useful new protein?

[…]The total count of possible 150-link chains, where each link is chosen separately from 20 amino acids, is 20150. In other words, many. 20150 roughly equals 10195, and there are only 1080 atoms in the universe.

What proportion of these many polypeptides are useful proteins? Douglas Axe did a series of experiments to estimate how many 150-long chains are capable of stable folds—of reaching the final step in the protein-creation process (the folding) and of holding their shapes long enough to be useful. (Axe is a distinguished biologist with five-star breeding: he was a graduate student at Caltech, then joined the Centre for Protein Engineering at Cambridge. The biologists whose work Meyer discusses are mainly first-rate Establishment scientists.) He estimated that, of all 150-link amino acid sequences, 1 in 1074 will be capable of folding into a stable protein. To say that your chances are 1 in 1074 is no different, in practice, from saying that they are zero. It’s not surprising that your chances of hitting a stable protein that performs some useful function, and might therefore play a part in evolution, are even smaller. Axe puts them at 1 in 1077.

In other words: immense is so big, and tiny is so small, that neo-Darwinian evolution is—so far—a dead loss. Try to mutate your way from 150 links of gibberish to a working, useful protein and you are guaranteed to fail. Try it with ten mutations, a thousand, a million—you fail. The odds bury you. It can’t be done.

Keep in mind that you need many, many proteins in order to have even a simple living cell. (And that’s not even considering the problem of organizing the proteins into a system).

So, if you’re a naturalist, then your only resources to explain the origin of life are chance and mutation. As Dr. Gelernter shows, naturalistic explanations won’t work to solve even part of the problem. Not even with a long period of time.  Not even if you use the entire universe as one big primordial soup, and keep trying sequences for the history of the universe. It just isn’t possible to arrive at sequences that have biological function in the time available, using the resources available. The only viable explanation is that there is a computer scientist who wrote the code without using trial and error. Something that ordinary software engineers like myself and Dr. Gelernter do all the time. We know what kind of cause is adequate to explain functioning code.

Nanotechnology expert Dr. James Tour assesses origin of life research

What is involved in creating life from non-life?
What is involved in creating life from non-life?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I watched lectures from a recent Science and Faith Conference that occurred at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I also sent the lectures to my STEM women advisors to get their opinions. It was unanimous that Tour’s talk on origin of life research was the best. So let’s see his bio, then we’ll take a look at his lecture.

Dr. James Tour:

James M. Tour, a synthetic organic chemist, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University.

After spending 11 years on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, he joined the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University in 1999 where he is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering.

Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular motors and nanocars.

[…]Tour has over 650 research publications and over 120 patents.

As he explains in the lecture, his research has frequently been used in the private sector to solve real world problems.

His lecture:

Evolution News had a short blurb of the lecture:

Rice University chemist James Tour almost defies description in a video now up of his amazing presentation at Discovery Institute’s 2019 Dallas Conference on Science and Faith.

At one point he asks for a show of hands of fellow synthetic chemists in the (large) audience. It turns out there are a couple and he demands that they stand up and call him a liar if anything he says isn’t true. His message is an alternatively scathing and hilarious indictment of claims from the origin-of-life studies community. Dr. Tour’s work in nanotechnology, an ulta-ultra-painstaking field, provides the backdrop for his demonstration that origins scientists don’t have the slightest idea how the first life was somehow naturally synthesized by blind, mindless forces.

The field hasn’t advanced an inch in 60-plus years. “Everyone’s clueless on this but no one wants to admit it.” Great scientists writing in the highest profile science journals are “lying to you” when they assert otherwise. “Show me the chemistry” of abiogenesis, he says. “It’s not there.”

Jim Tour is without parallel. Truly, I’d love to hear from our materialist critics how they would answer any of this.

At the conference, Tour’s lecture was accompanied by other great lectures on the origin of the universe and also the Cambrian explosion by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Jay Richards spoke on fine-tuning and habitability. You can find the links to those lectures on the Discovery Institute YouTube channel.

What we liked about the lecture by Dr. James Tour was that he did not dumb down the content for a church audience. I was sending screen captures of his slides and short video clips to my best friend Dina while I watched it. I was very excited to see someone so accomplished in his research and entrepreneurship being honest with the laypeople in the church. And I loved the church for letting him speak like a scientist. I didn’t understand everything he was saying about the science, but I always understood the point he was trying to make.

Let this lecture encourage to raise your children to focus on science, math, engineering and technology, because you can clearly see the value that we have in Dr. James Tour. We need hundreds more scientists who go to the best schools and make a difference.

I really hope that some of the younger Christians will understand the importance of making scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer more widely known. Learn the areas of science where God’s existence can be detected, and put the time in learning how to make those arguments.

Video, audio and summary of intelligent design discussion, with Ben Shapiro and Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design
Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design

This is a must-see / must-hear conversation. Famous conservative Ben Shapiro discusses evolution and intelligent design with Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of “Signature in the Cell” (origin of life) and “Darwin’s Doubt” (fossil record). These are the two best books on intelligent design. Their conversation covers the most important issues in the origins debate.

So to start, here’s the full video:

And here is a link to the audio. You can download the MP3 there.

Someone actually put out an outline on Youtube, with a time-based index, so I’ll just steal that as a base, and add to it:

  • 1:34 What is your scientific background? Science undergraduate degree, professional geologist, later did a PhD in philosophy of science from Cambridge University.
  • 2:39 What is the difference between intelligent design and creationism? Creationism starts from the Bible and posits a shorter history of the universe. ID starts from the data of the natural world and is neutral about the age of the Earth / universe. Meyer accepts the old-Earth.
  • 3:36 How is Intelligent Design a scientific theory? The discovery of DNA reveals that code is central to living systems. Intelligent design uses the method of “inference to the best explanation” in order to argue that the best explanation for the code is an intelligent agent.
  • 6:10 What evidence would have to arise to make Intelligent Design Falsifiable? If a naturalistic mechanism was discovered that could produce biological information using the probabilistic resources of the universe, and the time available, then intelligent design would be falsified.
  • 7:26 Is religion separate from science or intertwined within it? There are three views: science is totally separate from religion, science is in total conflict with religion, science and religion agree on some issues, e.g. – the origin of the universe and Genesis 1:1. There are areas where science and religion overlap.
  • 9:55 Why are the most prominent Darwinians also militant atheists? Evolution is a theory that tries to explain nature using naturalistic mechanisms, so it is compatible with atheism.
  • 10:45 What does the theory of evolution say? The term evolution has multiple meanings, and should be defined before discussions. It can refer to change over time. It can refer to animals changing slightly to adapt to enviromental changes. It can refer to the idea that all animals evolved from simpler life forms, and that there is a tree of life showing how different types of organisms share common ancestors. And it can refer to the idea that purely undirected processes can explain the history of life using purely materialistic forces. It’s that final view that intelligent design challenges.
  • 13:15 Where is the discontinuity in naturalistic processes in the development of life? The first discontinuity is the origin of simple life from non-living components. The second discontinuity is the sudden appearance of different body plans in a very narrow window of time in the Cambrian era.
  • 15:42 Why does information theory suggest that code requires some sort of designer? DNA is a true information-bearing system identical to the software in computers, e.g. – operating system, applications.
  • 19:45 Can information be created by random mutation, and favorable mutations preserved by natural selection? Just as in software code, instructions must be added in order to develop new functionality. Random additions of characters will almost always degrade biological function. The number of possible sequences that do nothing useful is vastly higher than the number of sequences that perform biological functions. Doug Axe did research on this at Cambridge University, and he found that the number of functional sequences of amino acids is 1 in 10 to the 77th power. Given the probabilistic resources (replicating organisms)and the time available, it is extremely unlikely to find sequences that have functional information by chance.
  • 25:05 What about Stephen Jay Gould’s model of punctuated equilibrium – doesn’t it explain the sudden jumps in information? Gould’s mechanism is accurate according to the fossil record, which shows a lot of jumps. But he did not have a naturalistic explanation for sudden jumps in biological function. Darwinian mechanisms work slowly and would (in theory) produce different body plans gradually. But this is not what the fossil record shows.
  • 27:22 What is the mechanism for injecting information in the theory of intelligent design? The information comes in from an intelligence when new major body plans appear, and minor variations within types could be explained by evolution.
  • 29:25 Does the Miller-Urey experiment provide a naturalistic explanation for the building blocks necessary for the origin of life? The MU experiment only produced a few types of amino acids, it doesn’t say anything about how to sequence the amino acids in order to form protein folds that can perform biological functions. The MU experiment also pre-supposes conditions on the early Earth (reducing gases) that do not match what was there (oxidyzing or neutral gases).
  • 32:00 Is the RNA world hypothesis is a good explanation for the origin of life? Evolution requires that replication already be in place, because evolution assumes that mutations appear during the replication. The RNA world hypothesis suggests that sequences contain information, but also catalyze origin of life chemistry. The problem with RNA world is that it starts with self-replicating systems. And those replicating systems require the scientist to inject information into the system to get even the simplest replication started.
  • 34:56 How do scientists respond to the critiques of Darwinism proposed by intelligent design advocates? By and large, they accept them. They think that mutation and selection works once living systems are in place, but they realize it has no explanation for the origin of life or the sudden origin of body plans. (Tells about the  conference of the Royal Society, where problems with Darwinian mechanisms were discussed, and the 2003 MIT Press book by Muller and Newman).
  • 37:16 Why do people hold to Darwinian evolution in the face of these problems? Many scientists presuppose methodological naturalism, which requires that any explanation for the origin of life and the origin of major body plans involve materialist explanations only. No intelligent agents are allowed. The problems occur when assumption of naturalism causes scientists to propose incorrect explanations for what we observe in nature. It’s also not clear how naturalistic mechanisms could produce organisms who are capable of reason and free will.
  • 40:43 Does naturalistic evolution have an answer for conscious minds, reasoning, free will? No, consider the work of atheist scholar Thomas Nagel, who argues in his book “Mind and Cosmos” (Oxford University Press 2012) that the existence of mind is a disproof of the neo-Darwinian explanation for life. Darwinism stops us from accepting the reality of minds.
  • 42:06 So do naturalistic evolutionists have to explain away the mind as an illusion? First, we humans have immediate experience of consciousness, reason and free will. Second, our whole legal system is based on the idea free will, because you can’t hold someone guilty unless they chose to do something they knew was wrong. Third, we have an epidemic of suicide among young people. This is caused by a crisis of meaning. Intelligent design opens up the possibility of their being a mind behind the universe, who we could have a relationships with.
  • 44:53 Why aren’t schools allowed to be honest about the problems with neo-Darwinian evolution? The intellignt design view is to that teachers should be allowed to teach all the vidence for Darwinian evolution, and also discuss some of the problems with the theory. Students learning science should not be told that everything is solved. Students learn science better when they are presented with peer-reviewed evidence for and against a theory, rather than being indoctrinated.
  • 47:37 Is intelligent design theory connected to God? Intelligent design infers from the information content in nature that a mind with capabilities like ours injected information into living systems. Intelligent design is agnostic about the designer, because in principle, embodied or unembodied agents could inject information into living systems. Intelligent design is friendly to theism, because theists will immediately identify the mind as God. Furthermore, the fine-tuning in the initial conditions of the universe is another intelligent design argument. In that case, since the design occurs at the beginning of the universe, the intelligent agent acting prior to the creation of the universe would have to be supernatural, i.e. – God.
  • 50:53 Can naturalists say that the imposition of “function” on a sequence is arbitrary, in the same way that the English language is arbitrary? This won’t work, because biological function is not arbitrary in the same way as language. Biological function is not arbitrary, because sequences can be tested for function objectively by observing whether sequences can perform functions necessary for life, e.g. – replication.
  • 52:43 Doesn’t the multiverse explain away the improbabilities of the fine-tuning, the origin of life, and the development of life? No, because all models of the multiverse require fine-tuning in the mechanism that generates the different universes.
  • 55:42 What about cosmological models that eliminate the beginning of the universe? The standard Big Bang model and the inflationary model both posit a beginning of the universe. There is also the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theory which proves that any universe that is expanding requires a beginning. The only chance for naturalists is quantum cosmologies, but this doesn’t work because 1) it requires an abstract reality of mathematics to actualize the physical universe, but this presupposes a mind. 2)  The model requires an earlier input of information, which can only have come from a mind.

If you listen to this lecture, or watch the video, and you enjoyed it, then please share. If you have questions, I can try to answer them for you – just leave your question in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail, or message me from the blog’s Facebook page, or direct message me on Twitter. I’ve invested a lot of time in this, and have been studying intelligent design since the late 1990s.

By the way, I listen to the Ben Shapiro podcast, (and the Andrew Klavan podcast), every day. I never miss an episode, and I think if you give them a try, you’ll enjoy them, too.