We live in a science-minded society. This is not to say that everyone is scientifically literate. Far from it. People just like the comfort of believing their viewpoints are supported by scientific principles, even if they have very little understanding of those principles.
We also live in a society heavily influenced by postmodernism. Since this philosophy sees truth and reality as strictly personal interpretations, not universal constants, science and postmodernism often find themselves on opposing ground. Or at least they should. Ironically, though, many people (including many scientists) tend to take a postmodern position of science.
In this awkward marriage of science and postmodernism, people make many claims that sound scientific, are couched in technical jargon, and packaged to look highly intellectual. Such arguments are also very popular in academic echo chambers. Yet close examination reveals these claims are often just someone’s opinion (even someone’s emotionally charged assertion) being heralded as scientific “fact.”
Often the secular world embraces this approach in an effort to justify claims that our universe created itself. Or, more precisely, to justify claims that there is no divine Creator. As a consequence, specifics of how everything made itself are clouded in confusing verbiage, which is acceptable as long as it helps promote a self-creating world.
Secularists also attempt to silence creationists with ridicule that they are science deniers (even equating them to Holocaust deniers). However, creationists do not deny science. In fact, many highly trained and accomplished scientists are creationists. Rather, creationists and their critics approach the same data with differing perspectives, sometimes resulting in vastly different interpretations.
What is more, challenging a popular interpretation or paradigm is not denying science. To the contrary, thoughtful challenges, questions, and additional experimentation help drive scientific thinking forward. Otherwise, concepts can become stagnant and fail to grow with the increasing body of knowledge. If a theory is considered unassailable—even seeking legal protection to prevent counter ideas from being taught in schools—then it can become deadwood, actually impeding scientific advancement. In fact, only weak ideas fear close examination.
Science and Secularism
Science is not a heavenly oracle dispensing an absolute truth written in stone. Rather, science is simply a human tool to help fallible humans understand their physical universe. The scientific method provides raw data that we must interpret.1
Within this framework, scientists have established several basic laws and principles that represent the best current explanation of observed phenomena. In other words, they reflect our best understanding of physical reality. These laws have been repeatedly tested and verified. No contradictory observations have ever been found.
However, to defend their version of earth’s history, anti-creationists often find themselves at odds with many of their own basic scientific principles. To rationalize this conflict, they frequently insert assumptions and conjecture in place of empirical verification. Postmodernism’s influence makes them comfortable with reality being merely how they choose to define it. So in the origins “game,” it is permissible to set aside scientific principles if those principles potentially interfere with a strictly secular interpretation.
Biologist and avid anti-creationist Richard Lewontin admitted there are no “methods or institutions of science” that require us to reject creation or offer a strictly secular interpretation of the data. But even if secular interpretations are “counterintuitive” or “mystifying,” he admits they are necessary because “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”2 So if that means literally bending a scientific law or two, it is all for a good cause: keeping out that “Divine Foot.”
An examination of three fundamental principles of science reveals how some of this “bending” occurs.
1. The Law of Biogenesis
Where did life come from? Humans have pondered this question for millennia. Ultimately, there are only two plausible answers. Life arose either from some type of self-assembly or from the direct act of a Creator. In answering the question of life’s origin, we need to understand the very distinct gap that separates the living and nonliving world. For several centuries, though, scientists have tried to blur the lines between these two worlds. This was partly due to their ignorance of the vastness of the gap, but more recently from their intense desire to explain life without a Creator. Somehow, life jumped this gap and created itself.
A “Vital Force”
The concept of spontaneous generation was an early attempt at leaping the gap. This idea suggested that a ubiquitous “vital force” interacts with molecules and causes them to spontaneously reorganize into living systems. Such a fertile world appeared to be a wonderful matrix for the constant and steady formation of new life.
Throughout the 1800s and even the early 1900s, cellular and organismic systems were generally considered fairly simple “bags of enzymes.” How hard could it be for such simple systems to spontaneously form? Given enough time, why should the self-assembly of life be a problem?
Within the vacuum of knowledge of that era, life’s origin was not believed to be very mysterious or unlikely. Spontaneous biogenesis may even be inevitable. So perhaps we could almost excuse some of these earlier researchers for assuming that self-organization could account for life’s origin.
Yet the more we have learned about the complexity and intricacy of life, the more we have realized the vast difference between the worlds of the living and nonliving. Rather than finding natural transitions that bridge the gap, the distinction between the two worlds is immensely wide. Experiments showing the spontaneous formation of a few organic molecules3 are trivial. Producing these molecules is virtually insignificant, like boasting about climbing two steps up a ladder in an effort to reach Mars.
Instead, the evidence is clear: life does not self-assemble. Life arises only from life. This is the empirically verified and scientific position. There are no known exceptions. Hence, it has become a scientific law: the law of biogenesis.
Obviously, many scientists do not like the implications of this law. It can lead to the unsavory conclusion that life must have been created. That “Divine Foot” keeps pushing at the door.
A Law to be Ignored?
Anti-creationists insist that the law of biogenesis only applies to current conditions on earth. They argue that conditions in the distant past were suitable for Nature to do her own biogenesis. With this “hand wave,” they continue to regard life’s spontaneous origin as a normal, natural consequence of how our world functions. In fact, many scientists assume that life has spontaneously formed multiple times across the universe. It is just a matter of the right mixture of ingredients.
Recently, New Scientist magazine offered a list of several different conditions that they suggest could have enabled the spontaneous assembly of life.4 These conditions vary from a unique spot in the atmosphere, to a clump of clay or a deep-sea vent. Readers could easily get the impression that there may have been multiple avenues available for life to form, akin to a mountain climber having numerous routes of ascent.
The fact is, none of these is a viable option. Not even close. Everything listed is simply unsupported speculation. There are not numerous routes of ascent. All routes end at impassable precipices.
Why offer such a list if none are viable? Because just that—none are viable. If even one had some viability, then that would have been the focus of the article. The magazine was apparently hoping that readers would be impressed with so many possibilities and simply assume that surely at least one would be suitable.
That none are suitable is why researchers cannot agree. The problems with each set of conditions are well known, and advocates of one set are very quick to point out all the fatal problems with the others. Actually, we have no idea how life could have spontaneously emerged. Noted synthetic chemist James Tour has challenged that “those who think scientists understand the issues of prebiotic chemistry are wholly misinformed. Nobody understands them.”5
No known natural process can account for life’s origin. Such natural processes exist only in the imagination.
Some will argue that we just need more time to better understand the biology and chemistry. Yet that very increase in knowledge is what has pushed any viable mechanism for spontaneous generation completely from view. Rather than offering greater insight into life’s self-assembly, modern discoveries have further detailed how daunting the task is. Why should we assume more research will reverse this trend? Instead, the “bag of enzymes” has proven to be extraordinarily sophisticated and well beyond the reach of any self-creating process.
As a consequence, scientists of today have no excuse. Contemporary knowledge of genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry leaves only one scientifically valid conclusion: no known natural process can account for life’s origin. Such a natural process exists only in the imagination of those who deny life was created. Ignoring the law of biogenesis is not very scientific, but it is necessary to keep out that annoying “Divine Foot.”
2. Biological Information
Assembling proteins and carbohydrates is not the only problem facing life’s spontaneous origin. As outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins acknowledges, “The difference between life and non-life is a matter not of substance but of information. Living things contain prodigious quantities of information.”6
Definitions of information vary widely. We have an intuitive understanding of some forms of information, but we still lack a precise understanding of its overall nature. In general terms, we can propose that information is a coded message that initiates a response on the part of the receiver. However, the nuances are far deeper and more complex than simply a code.
The scientific community has not fully dealt with defining and understanding information. There are many theories and concepts but few universally accepted laws. Yet clearly information is governed by some form of basic principles.7 Otherwise, any string of letters has as much an equal level of information as any other string of letters.
Who Wrote The Book of Life?
Sometimes referred to as The Book of Life, biological information is among the least understood and defined forms of information. As Dawkins noted, we now know that living systems must be understood in terms of their informational content. Yet we only have a very limited understanding of that content.
We do know that this information encompasses life’s ability to execute programs, respond to signals, and interpret codes (particularly the code contained by DNA and RNA). These actions are part of what separates living systems from just a series of chemical reactions. Biological information makes a cell more than just the sum of its chemistry and physics, meaning that the gap between the living and nonliving world is even more difficult to navigate by any self-organizing processes.
As with the origin of life, anti-creationists struggle with explaining the origin of biological information. Attempts are often made to describe The Book of Life within the basic principles of chemistry.8 If certain chemical reactions can occur, they will produce key biological molecules, such as DNA. Thus, biological information is born. Or so goes the scenario.
Yet even this simplistic scenario is virtually impossible. In the biological world, only specific structures of protein, DNA, and RNA carry information. In fact, the probability of randomly piecing together a functional enzymatic protein is a mere 1 in 1077.9 If the enzyme is not functionally active, though, the protein has no biological role (thus, no biological information). Since a protein’s structure is directly connected to the cell’s DNA and RNA structure, then randomly stringing together a functional strand of DNA or RNA is as equally improbable.
What is more, biological information is beyond just building the right structure of a molecule. The cell also needs a separate system for reading and decoding the message. Without the proper decoding machinery, the information contained on biomolecules (such as DNA) remains meaningless. The Book of Life becomes an unread book written in an unknown language.
Biological information provides a message the cell must be able to understand and act upon. Yet the cell’s decoding system is an elaborate array of molecules whose construction requires the instructions provided by the information it is decoding. So which came first: DNA or the system to decode DNA? It is the chicken and the egg paradox magnified almost to infinity.
In addition to classical genetics, epigenetics is another level of control within our cells. This control may sometimes be altered by external conditions (such as diet, physical activity, and smoking) and may even be inheritable. How this works is still not totally understood, but it does point to the existence of higher levels of biological information than recognized just a few years ago. The more levels of information found within living systems, the more daunting the task of claiming any type of spontaneous self-creation.
Furthermore, information is “neither matter nor energy.”10 Instead, information is nonmaterial. Physical media, such as ink and paper, may serve as a material carrier for information, but they are not the actual information. The ink and paper of a book are not the story, just the visible carrier of the story. By the same token, DNA, RNA, and proteins may serve as a physical media for The Book of Life, but their biological information does not specifically reside within the chemistry of these molecules. Just as there is no inherent information within ink and paper, there is no inherent biological information within an amino acid or nucleotide.
The enormity of the gap between living and nonliving is absolutely bewildering (and becoming more bewildering with each new discovery).
Thus, writing The Book of Life is not solely a matter of having the right combination of ingredients or tabulating the right sequence of chemical reactions. Even if a strand of DNA just happened to spontaneously form, this does not mean that the DNA contains any biological information. So the first living organism would have to simultaneously develop not only a nonmaterial code but also specialized molecules to carry that code, along with a decoding apparatus. Hence, we now see that the enormity of the gap between living and nonliving is absolutely bewildering (and becoming more bewildering with each new discovery).
Dawkins’ Flawed Simulation
As part of his zealous attempts to deny a creator, Richard Dawkins sought to demonstrate that, indeed, information could spontaneously form. He developed a computer simulation that produces multiple strings of 28 characters. The simulation then randomly changes characters in successive cycles until it achieves the phrase “methinks it is like a weasel.”11 With each repeated cycle, the simulation would select the string closest to the target phrase, always arriving at the final solution in less than 100 cycles.
Of course, this simulation did not address the origin of a language that gives meaning to this, or to any other string of letters. Nor did the simulation provide any means of failure. In fact, achieving the desired phrase is already predetermined by the parameters of the program. How could it fail?
Yet with this rather pitiful example, Dawkins garnered popularity for demonstrating how biological information could naturally originate. Perhaps this speaks more to the gullibility of the secular world, desperate to replace their Creator, than it does to Dawkins’ lack of scientific rigor. The door must be slammed shut on that “Divine Foot.”
The problem Dawkins faces is that The Book of Life reflects an intelligence beyond just energy and matter. Thus, the origin of such information cannot be accounted for simply by the repeated stringing of letters. Even if Dawkins’ simulation was not fatally flawed, it would still fail to explain how living systems developed their own information code (including the ability to read and act upon this code). Remember, even Dawkins admitted life is information, not just chemistry.
3. The Laws of Thermodynamics
Probably the most studied and verified laws of science are those of thermodynamics. From a physics perspective, these laws are a description of how energy flows and transforms within our physical universe. Because living systems are intimately involved in transforming energy, these laws are also important in understanding the activities of life.
Simply stated, the first law of thermodynamics encompasses the law of conservation of energy: energy is neither created nor destroyed, it just changes forms (for instance, electrical energy can be transformed to mechanical energy). This has implications in all aspects of origins. If energy cannot naturally be created, where did it come from? Current cosmological theories do not attempt to explain the origin of energy. Energy is simply assumed to already exist.12
As for the second law, the physics is a bit complicated, but fundamentally this law states that all molecular arrangements tend to become less organized over time. More precisely, no energy conversion is 100% efficient. This is why there are no perpetual motion machines. Eventually, everything runs out of useable energy.
Whenever energy is transformed, some of that energy is lost. This lost energy is not destroyed (which would violate the first law) but rather it just becomes unavailable. For example, when your car converts chemical energy to mechanical energy, some of the energy is lost as heat during the conversion. This heat eventually dissipates into space. While this dissipated heat is still a form of energy, it can no longer be readily recaptured and used as a functional source of energy.
Physical systems (such as the human body) need energy to maintain an organized arrangement of their molecules. When there is no input of energy (making it a “closed system”), chemical bonds may break, large molecules begin to disassemble, and material structures gradually deteriorate. Thus, as a system slowly loses energy, its molecules become more disorganized and randomly distributed. This is an effect of entropy.
Entropy Always Wins
Entropy is frequently discussed in creation literature, but some attempts to simplify the concept actually confuse the issue. Nonetheless, entropy can be thought of as a measure of unavailable energy. As more energy becomes unavailable for future use, the overall level of entropy rises. Consequently, as our body’s entropy rises, more of its biological molecules will break down.
Living systems can combat this entropy effect by receiving energy from an external source (in other words, life is an open system). This is one reason we have to constantly consume food. Our body can use this infusion of energy to help slow and even reverse the effects of entropy. But only temporarily; entropy never totally disappears.
However, just the infusion of energy is not necessarily adequate to counter entropy. A tornado in a junkyard certainly has sufficient raw energy to build a car (several cars) from the individual pieces of junk. Without some overall directing process, though, the tornado’s energy simply makes the existing junk into more junk. Thus, the effects of entropy are actually increased despite the added energy.
This concept holds true even more so in a living system. The input of energy must be controlled and directed; otherwise it simply becomes destructive. Placing a piece of skin tissue into a flame provides plenty of raw energy for the tissue to thrive, but the tissue can no more utilize this energy than a junkyard can utilize energy from a tornado. Burn victims can certainly attest to this.
For all practical purposes, the only biological means of counteracting the consequences of entropy is “specified use” of incoming energy. In other words, the pre-programmed information in The Book of Life directs the cell how to use this energy constructively. Such programming enables cells to use incoming energy to discard, repair, and rebuild, keeping their structures functioning effectively. Without such a biological program, incoming energy simply becomes destructive. The laws of thermodynamics give precious few alternatives.
Without life’s programmed control, the very energy needed to build the first biological structures would also tear those structures apart.
Thus, even in “open systems” the entropy level increases unchecked unless that system can control the incoming energy. So arguments that the second law only applies to a closed system (a system with no input of energy) are misleading. Furthermore, even when properly directed, incoming energy can never fully stop the rise of entropy. In fact, if you consume sufficient energy your entire life, your body will still eventually succumb to the ravages of entropy, and people will send your family flowers.
This is not a promising situation for the advocates of spontaneous biogenesis. Chemical reactions alone cannot defeat entropy. Without life’s programmed control, the very energy needed to build the first biological structures would also tear those structures apart.
Physicist Fred Hoyle recognized this impasse in spontaneous biogenesis. He concluded that those who ignore the problem are “modern mathematical miracle-workers, who are always to be found living in the twilight fringes of thermodynamics.”13
Law of Miracles
The conundrum is real, even if obscured behind a cloud of technobabble. Critics of creation face a multifaceted dilemma. This dilemma deeply undercuts the legitimacy of their claims (let alone any scientific superiority).
The self-assembly of life requires the formation of biological information—a necessity for any life form. In addition, without this information, incoming energy cannot be properly directed, and the destructive effects of entropy will quickly shatter any molecule’s aspiring dream of becoming a prince.
But where did The Book of Life originate? How would nonliving structures write life’s first program? How would nonliving systems make the machines necessary to decipher this new code? In fact, the sophistication of life’s information raises a question: Where would this information come from if not an even higher level of information?
Advocates of spontaneous biogenesis simply expect too much from the workings of Nature.
This is more than a mystery. Life’s self-assembly contradicts everything we currently understand about basic laws of chemistry, information, and thermodynamics. Natural systems cannot write life’s code or synthesize life’s decoding machines. Advocates of spontaneous biogenesis simply expect too much from the workings of Nature.
Yet everyone who wants to believe that life simply created itself has been repeatedly assured by “others” that such spontaneous biogenesis does not violate basic scientific laws. As Fred Hoyle succinctly surmises, “The ‘others’ are a group of persons who believe, quite openly . . . that tucked away in nature, outside of normal physics, there is a law which performs miracles.”14 After all, if we can appeal to such a wonderful law of miracles, perhaps we can finally be rid of that troublesome “Divine Foot.”