Mind over matter
Why the idea of ‘in the beginning there was no mind’ is mindless
The presence of coded information systems inside living things is a perplexing conundrum for materialists. Biblical creationists of course see it as yet another example of how science supports belief in the Creator God of the Bible. Evolutionary scenarios of how symbolic language could arise through a naturalistic process must attempt to explain their origin without a mind. But is this reasonable based on what we know scientifically (observationally/experimentally) about coded information?
DNA, the ‘language of life’, is the most sophisticated coded language system we have ever seen. It is the most efficient, compact, and versatile communication tool yet discovered, and ongoing scientific research continues to reveal deeper and deeper layers of information content within it all of the time. Creationists believe the most sophisticated code must have come from the most sophisticated mind we can imagine; God. Appeals to the possibility of a ‘simpler’ code having first evolved and then becoming more complicated over time fail on several levels (and no one has observed it so it’s a faith-based belief), but are a moot point anyway. Codes, no matter how simple, have always been observed to be the product of a mind.
In an atheistic evolutionist’s worldview there is no mind that created, just random genetic mutation guided by natural selection. The problem is that genetic mutation is the result of spelling mistakes within an already existing and replicating genetic code and natural selection can only ‘select’ preferential genetic information from within that pre-existing system. Neither of these processes can account for the origin of any symbolic coded language system themselves.
Here are three observations confirmed by science showing why coded genetic information cannot be the result of a ‘no mind’ process …
1. No matter what the matter, it doesn’t matter (Codes are arbitrary)
From all of our scientific observations, coded language systems are all arbitrary in the sense that the meaning of the information content is not dependent on the matter and/or energy it is conveyed upon. Smoke signals can carry a variety of messages, but the meaning of the messages are not dependent on the charred ash suspended in the air that are transmitting the content.
Twigs on trees have no information content, but if you arrange them on the ground into the shape of the word ‘H-E-L-P’ then they now contain information. So information is dependent upon the order which you arrange the matter and/or energy that is conveying the information, not the matter itself. The word ‘help’ can be conveyed in smoke signals, twigs, the sand or via soundwaves but none of those entities are themselves special or critical in any way as far the creation of the message goes. DNA is no different.
The Oxford University Press online Blog describes how DNA similarly stores information;
The biological information stored in a DNA molecule depends upon the order of its building blocks—that is, its sequence. If a DNA sequence changes, so too does the information it contains. On reflection, this concept—that the order in which a selection of items appears in a linear sequence affects the information stored in that sequence— may not be as alien to us as it might first seem. Indeed, it is the concept on which written communication is based: each sentence in this blog post is composed of a selection of items—the letters of the alphabet—appearing in different sequences. These different sequences of letters spell out different words, which convey different information to the reader.
But they are quick to point out that the physical properties that constitute DNA are nothing special;
There is nothing that special about the atoms found in a molecule of DNA: they are no different from the atoms found in the thousands of other molecules from which the human body is made.1
This proves the point: the information in the DNA of living organisms is not the product of the chemistry of the DNA, any more than the information of a book is the product of the ink molecules.
2. What does it all mean? (Codes are assigned a meaning from a mind)
In our experience, the meaning of any coded signal is always assigned a meaning by the creator of the code. For example, two hundred years ago the word ‘internet’ would not have had any meaning to anyone speaking English. Once the technology was developed, the word was created and assigned a meaning so that there was a way to describe it.
When taking a road test to get a driver’s licence, potential drivers need to study many road sign symbols, many of which are likely unfamiliar. The meaning of each symbol was assigned by the creator of the symbol and recorded, and now the trainee must learn from the mind that made it up originally. Without the guidebook or instructor they would be lost.
3. Lost in translation (Randomness does not create information)
Anyone could make up their own language if they desired. They could use hand gestures, clicks, electric pulses, etc. to carry the code. But the meaning of every symbol they used would have to be decided upon by the inventor of the code. The meaning could not assign itself (with no mind). However, if you were to create a language on your own and never taught the meaning of the symbols to someone else it would be useless unless deciphered (by a mind).
In the above mentioned Oxford University article it says; “If a DNA sequence changes, so too does the information it contains.” However this does not go far enough. Even if there were some mechanism that could spontaneously produce English alphabet letters for example, a random assemblage of letters like zkerfluberdp would mean nothing to the average English reader. We might be able to spot the word ‘flu’ or ‘be’ from the letters and argue they contain meaning and were randomly ‘created’, but those words already have a meaning assigned to them and are simply recognized for what they already are. Zkerfl doesn’t mean anything, and until someone assigns it a meaning it never will.
Similarly, mutations within DNA corrupt the original message resulting in degraded signals when assembling genetic material. This almost always results in a corrupted product (proteins) to some degree. This is why mutations (the supposed ‘engine’ of evolution) don’t ‘evolve’ anything.
It takes a mind to determine meaning. Computers can be programmed with the translation or recognition ability within them to determine ‘if X, then Y’ type responses, but all of the data was programmed into them by an intelligent mind.
Language requires intelligence
Evolutionists often agree with the creationist position in different contexts. A recent online article title declared; “Super-intelligent aliens could be trying to contact Earth, but humans may not be able to pick up the signals yet, says Seti’s top scientist”2 referring to Dr Nathalie Cabrol. What is the conclusion? First of all, it would take a mind to be able to even recognize let alone decipher a code from outer space. Secondly a coded signal would surely mean it came from an intelligent mind ‘out there’. Why admit that a coded signal from space would confirm an intelligent mind and then say that the coded information in DNA developed with no intelligent input?
Also, evolutionists believe that hominids (our supposed ape-like ancestors) began without human like speech because they were simply not intelligent enough to communicate with sophisticated coded language. The conclusion is that we needed to have a very intelligent mind to create coded symbolic language. This confirms the creationist position. It takes intelligence to create a coded language system. In order to be an atheistic materialist, one must believe that languages can make themselves while a translation device for that specific code must have ‘evolved’ simultaneously, resulting in a living thing.
Give it up
One secular research group we have reported on in the past has appeared to have given up hope of discovering what they call “The Fundamental Questions for Life Origin Research.” This group was offering one million dollars to anyone who could answer where the genetic code came from. Their top three questions were;
How did molecular evolution generate metabolic recipe and instructions using a representational symbol system?
How did prebiotic nature set all of the many configurable switch-settings to integrate so many interdependent circuits?
How did inanimate nature sequence nucleotides to spell instructions to the ribosomes on how to sequence amino acids into correctly folding proteins?
Their website now declares;
On October 26, 2013 the Governing Board of the Origin of Life Science Foundation, Inc. voted to put on hold the Origin of Life Prize Program, and to temporarily suspend the Origin of Life Prize offer. Over the 13 years since The Origin of Life Prize was first announced in NATURE and SCIENCE, no submission has ever made it past the screening judges to higher-level judges. No submission has ever addressed, let alone answered, any of the questions below, for which the Prize offer was instituted. Most of these Prize-offer questions centered on: "How did inanimate, prebiotic nature prescribe or program the first genome?
So do materialists really have a leg to stand on when they insist ‘science’ supports the idea that naturalism is the best explanation of where life came from? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. As the Origin of Life website itself states;
“Life origin literature continues to circumvent and ignore this problem [where coded biological information came from], if not deliberately sweep it under the rug.”3
The inescapable scientific conclusion is that life was created by a Super-intelligence far beyond our scope of understanding. To deny the evidence is anti-science. But why do (sometimes brilliant) people all over the world do so? Romans 1:18–23 describes it clearly;
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Or as Professor D.M.S. Watson admitted years ago:
Evolution [is] a theory universally accepted not because it can be proven by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.4
Everyone believes in something incredible
Both creation and evolutionary positions on the origins of information and life are held by faith and are truly incredible in the sense that they go beyond human understanding fully. But one scenario proposes a super-intelligent mind creating a coded language system and one postulates mindless matter generating a symbolic language without intelligent input. Does it make more sense that an omnipotent mind could create lesser creatures with a mind or that no mind created an extremely brilliant mind with a consciousness that can think about it?
Evolutionary champion Richard Dawkins, when asked in an interview “The genome looks a lot like code, doesn’t it?” responded;
Very much so. That is a fascinating fact. I suspect that it had to be that way. I suspect that evolution by natural selection wouldn’t work unless genetics was digital, unless genetics was a kind of branch of computer science.
He then said;
I would love to understand the origin of life. I feel that we Darwinians understand pretty much how life evolved once an accurate genetic code has appeared. But that very first step, the production of the first self-replicating entity is still a mystery.5
However we have observed languages being created by intelligent minds. And no one believes computer programmes write themselves. As evolution believing professor Paul Davies once said;
How did stupid atoms spontaneously write their own software … ? Nobody knows …
… there is no known law of physics able to create information from nothing.6
Science is based on observation. What have we observed? Minds generate information. Matter does not.
Mind over matter. Once again we find the creation model being the superior scientific hypothesis.
References and notes
- Jonathan Crowe, SciWhys: What is DNA and what does it do?, OUPBlog (Oxford University Press), 28 February 2011, blog.oup.com/2011/02/dna. Return to text.
- Zolfagharifard, E., Super-intelligent aliens could be trying to contact Earth, but humans may not be able to pick up the signals yet, says Seti’s top scientist, Dailymail.com, dailymail.co.uk 17 September 2015. Return to text.
- lifeorigin.org. Return to text.
- Watson, D.M.S., Adaptation, Nature 124:233, 1929. Return to text.
- Schulson, M., Salon’s Richard Dawkins peace summit: “I am against all religion … I think I’d call myself a lover of truth. I’m intolerant of ***”, salon.com, 12 Oct 2015. Return to text.
- Davies, P., Life force, New Scientist 163(2204):27–30, 18 September 1999. Return to text.