Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Note for Those Who Struggle to Find Evidence of Design in This World

Recently my friend, who admitted that he could not see any evidence suggesting our world had a designer, asked me to produce such evidence. As I have seen other people struggling with it, I decided to summarise it below in the hope that somebody may find it useful.

Certain configurations of matter statistically significantly point to intelligent agency that was necessary to generate them. Although it is impossible to technically verify design on a grand scale such as the universe as a whole or terrestrial life, sometimes we still can reverse engineer the artefact and use the same basic principles. This is exactly what is done in bionics (see e.g. Bio-TRIZ). Inferring to intelligence agency in such cases has strong scientific justifications.

I acknowledge there are many distortions of Creationist thought. For this reason I’d rather not use the term 'Creationism' as it has been so heavily abused, or use it cautiously with this proviso. Here I mostly base my outline on [Abel 2011]. Following [Abel 2011], I use the words 'inanimate non-living nature' and 'physicality' as synonyms.

Intelligent Design detection, in contrast to some forms of Creationism, does not rely on any religious texts and is only about finding out statistically significant pointers to design. Note that design detection is uni-directional, i.e. some simple artefacts may not test positive for design, which results in a false negative. That is fine as long as no false positives are made. That no false positives have been reported to date whenever the design detection principles are applied correctly, gives credibility to ID.

Having said this, I lay out some basic points.
  1. Biological life is realised in the form of nano-scale protein synthesis machines. These machines are von Neumann self-replicators, i.e. functional cellular automata characterised by dynamic persistence and Turing equivalence. For this reason, biological machines are analogues of human made computer software. Inanimate nature does not compute anything or code for anything as it has no tendency for choice between various physico-dynamically indeterminate states. Physicality is inert to purpose, fitness or choice. It can only house law-like necessity and chance contingency.
  2. Protein life is neither chance contingent nor necessary. Life is substantially choice contingent. Coding, be it in computer software or in protein life, can only be a result of bona fide decision making. Coding is down to choice between physico-dynamically indeterminate states which all equally map onto equilibria of dynamic systems. Consequently, it cannot be reduced to just chemistry and physics even though it uses physical medium (such as biopolymers). Likewise, our speech cannot be reduced to sound waves or television sets cannot be reduced to electromagnetic fields. Think of the game of chess, where the rules for a knight's move are indeterminate to the laws of gravity and friction.
  3. Biological machines are semiotic state systems whereby actions in the context of massively parallel information processing are determined based on appropriately interpreted material symbols. The coding and interpretation are in tune and employ a digital base-4 nucleotide code, in line with Shannon's noisy channel coding theorem. The coding/interpretation mechanism includes symbolic redundancy to minimise information loss.
  4. Complex artefacts, such as information processing systems, employ rules in addition to laws of nature. It is the using of rules on top of the laws of nature that allows for true creativity. Nature has no rules. Such artefacts as microchips, circuits, and other hierarchical control systems are choice contingent and are heavily dependent on rules. We can see such circuitry in protein synthesis machines. Multi-level control and fail safe mechanisms that are realised in protein synthesis machines can only have a mind behind them.
  5. Life is a {Turing machine, data} complex which could only have arisen as a complex: data (DNA/RNA) or the time/space distributed processor empowered by error-checking (ribosomes, enzymes, translation/transcription factors, messenger RNAs, post-translational modifiers etc.) are meaningless one without the other. Abiogenesis models which do not acknowledge this are nonsensical. All known life is cybernetic, inanimate nature isn’t. So the cycle DNA-protein-DNA is irreducibly complex and cannot be reduced to simpler constituents. There must always be data + physical channel+ interpreter all together acting using a common protocol (or stack of protocols as in TCP/IP). Protein life is no exception. There cannot be a gradual path towards that complex.
  6. Statistically, certain complex configurations of matter under certain conditions reliably point to design. Such are digital locks, which when broken statistically reliably point to a cybernetic intrusion. I can’t see why the same detection principles cannot be abductively used for protein life.
  7. Design detection is just a variant of the Turing test. Some configurations are design positive (e.g. certain protein families; actually, according to K. Durston, these proteins are key to all known forms of terrestrial life). I can see no problem with that either.
  8. Design detection is in agreement with thermodynamics. All that physicality can produce naturally (i.e. without intelligent agency) is the following:
    1. chaos;
    2. low-informational redundant regularity (fractals, crystals, standing waves, sand dunes, convection patterns, interference Moir effects, auto-catalytic cycles, etc.);
    3. phase transitions between 1. and 2.
  9. The laws of thermodynamics (see the Second Law, the Klimontovich’s S-theorem) certainly do not preclude intelligent agency, and, on the other hand, they only deal with entropy and make no claims regarding functionality or cybernetic control. So to state that dynamically stable hierarchical control systems employing coding as part of information processing simply cannot arise without intelligence, does not contradict the laws of thermodynamics. Non-trivial complex functionality, which is a consequence of substantial quantities of functional information loaded into a system, cannot spontaneously arise from chaos and needs intelligence. The latter has the power of a scientific observation since there are no observations to counter that statement. This observation reveals the futility of contemporary abiogenesis hypotheses.
  10. The whole business of scientific inquiry rests upon some key properties of reality. Physical reality has at its core some basic abstract, formal properties which are known as the laws of nature. The power of formal logic is the link between science (a model) and physical reality (the modeled entity). Formal logic is the key to the successful development and verification of scientific models. The formalism of science allows the scientific exploration of the world to succeed. However, science is a product of the human mind. Can there also be a mind behind reality to allow our mind to succeed in the scientific endeavor?

  1. Abel, D. L. (2011): The first gene.
  2. Ashby, W. R. (1962)Principles of the self-organizing system. Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G. W. Zopf, Jr. (eds.), Pergamon Press: London, UK, pp. 255-278.
  3. Durston, K. K., Chiu, D. K., Abel, D. L. and Trevors, J. T. (2007): Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins, Theor Biol Med Model, 2007, 4: 47 Free on-line access at
  4. Durston, K. (2013)A Scientific Case for Intelligent Design.
  5. Durston, K. (2013)A Common Either-Or mistake both Darwinists and ID-theorists
  6. Poincare, H. (1913): The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method (available here).

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