Quantum leap of faith
World-famous physicist, author and evolutionist Paul Davies has for many years now been producing popular science books that probe beyond the bare facts of cosmology and seek an understanding of what lies behind the marvellous workings of the universe. In his recent book about the origin of life1 he found it necessary to use the word ‘miracle’ to explain it. His miracle however was not that of a sovereign personal Creator, but of a clever universe that somehow is able to do the impossible. In a recent article in New Scientist,2 Davies proposes a new solution to the problem of the origin of life—a quantum computer.
He acknowledges at the outset that, despite the continuing claims of Nobel Prize winning evolutionists, the known laws of physics, chemistry and biology do not explain the origin of life. The theory of chemical evolution that stemmed from Miller and Urey’s 1953 production of amino acids from an electric discharge in a mixture of oxygen-free gases ‘did not stand up to scrutiny’. While the Miller-Urey work has shown that ‘amino acids are written into the laws of nature, large and highly specialised molecules such as proteins are certainly not. … Throwing energy at amino acids will not create delicate chain molecules, just as putting dynamite under a pile of bricks won’t make a house’.
He goes on: ‘We now know that the secret of life lies not with the chemical ingredients as such, but with the logical structure and organisational arrangement of the molecules. … Like a supercomputer, life is an information processing system. … It is the software of the living cell that is the real mystery, not the hardware.’ But where did it come from? Davies framed the question this way: ‘How did stupid atoms spontaneously write their own software? … Nobody knows …’.
In a materialist world (one without any supernatural Creator), the only world that Davies recognises, there are only two possibilities — chance and determinism. Determinism is the idea that there is ‘an in-built bias — even a conspiracy — in nature to create life’. But Davies points out that there is no evidence of such bias in the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. He rules out chance, because the odds against the chance formation of the complex organisation of life ‘are breathtakingly huge’.
He therefore turns his attention to the nature of information. He acknowledges that ‘biological information is not encoded in the laws of physics and chemistry … (and it) cannot come into existence spontaneously. … There is no known law of physics able to create information from nothing.’ So he proposes that ‘there might be some sort of principle that could explain how information can be garnered from the environment and accumulated in macromolecules.’ He considers ‘molecular Darwinism’ as a possible mechanism, the idea that natural selection could occur at the molecular level, but he then dismisses it because natural selection only works on living self-reproducing systems. And he also acknowledges the important point that imperfect molecular machinery would scramble information.
His vote goes to the recently discovered and little understood realm of quantum computing. A quantum computer can theoretically produce all possible solutions to a problem simultaneously. In practice, it would be ‘exponentially faster than classical systems’ at processing information.
His argument is as follows. ‘The riddle of biogenesis is essentially computational in nature — discovering a very special type of molecular system from among a vast decision tree of chemical alternatives, most branches of which represent biological duds.’ That is, if there were a soup of molecular building blocks that could assemble themselves into macromolecules, a quantum computer could quickly calculate which ones would be biologically useful, and in what role and configuration. He does not say how this might happen, and ends the article at this point.
I wonder if indeed he will pursue the idea. Quantum computing, not even properly achieved yet in practice, would represent the pinnacle of current human technological achievement; to invoke this principle as the driving force behind the origin of life is an implicit admission that it requires intelligence to produce information. This is a conclusion that he is no doubt aware of, but to invoke intelligence to explain the origin of life means facing up to the fact that there is a Creator.
In summary, Davies has not contributed anything new to the origin-of-life debate. Refreshingly, he does acknowledge that chemical evolution provides no explanation at all, a position well established by creationists.3 And he does focus on the primary role of information, but on this subject creationists most decidedly hold the high ground.4 His latest attempt seems to be nothing more than grasping at a straw that might just hold the case together for evolution. It is therefore a tacit acknowledgment that otherwise, the evolutionary cupboard is bare.
- Davies, P., The Fifth Miracle, Penguin, Melbourne, Australia, 1998. Return to text.
- Davies, P., Life force, New Scientist 163(2204):27–30, September 1999. Return to text.
- Thaxton, C.B., Bradley, W.L., and Olsen, R.L., The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, Lewis & Stanley, Dallas, USA, 1984. Return to text.
- Gitt, W., In the Beginning was Information, Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung, Bielefeld, Germany, 1997. Return to text.