Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evolution cannot explain the beginning of life

In Dinesh D'Souza's book What's so great about Christianity, D'Souza says in Chapter 13: Paley was right, Evolution and the Argument from Design:
"...Evolution cannot explain the beginning of life. Darwin didn't even try. He assumed the first living thing, and then he tried to show how one living thing could be transformed into another. In 1953 there was considerable excitement when Stanley Miller generated amino acids by sending an electrical discharge through a combination of water, hydrogen, methane, and ammonia. This excitement subsided when it was subsequently established that the atmosphere of the early earth was mostly made up of carbon dioxide and ammonia. So Miller's experiment was not relevant to showing how life could have arisen out of non-life through random chemical interactions. Moreover, life involves a lot more than the generation of amino acids. The biggest problem is taking simple chemicals like amino acids and generating proteins and other essential components of life. The origin of life, biologist Franklin Harold confesses, is one of the "unsolved mysteries in science."

The simplest living cell is one of the most complicated structures on earth, containing within it more information than multiple sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica. "The genetic code" writes Richard Dawkins, "is truly digital, in exactly the same sense as computer codes." As Dawkins shows, each DNA molecule is an algorithm in biochemical code with a built-in capacity for transcription and replication. Harold remarks that even a bacterial cell "displays levels of regularity and complexity that exceed by orders of magnitude" anything found in the nonliving world. Besides, "a cell constitutes a unitary whole, a unit of life, in another deeper sense: like the legs and leaves of higher organisms, its molecular constituents have functions.... Molecules are parts of an integrated system, and in that capacity can be said to serve the activities of the cell as a whole."

The cell, in other words, shows the marked signature of design. It is crucially important to recognize that this basic template of life, with all its intricate machinery of RNA and DNA, came fully formed with the first appearance of life. Evolution presupposes cells that have these built-in capacities. And scientists have found that the first traces of life go back between 3.5 and 4 billion years, only a short time after the earth itself was formed. Is it even reasonable to speculate that random combinations of chemicals could have produced so marvelously complex and functional a thing as a living cell? That's like positing that chance combinations of atoms could have assembled themselves to produce an airplane. "However improbable the origin of life might be, Dawkins writes, it must have happened this way "because we are here." It takes a lot of faith to believe things like this.

Nor can evolution explain consciousness, which illuminates the whole world for us. We know as human beings that we are conscious. Other creatures, such as dogs, also appear to be conscious, although perhaps not quite in the same way that we are. It does seem incredible that atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and soon can somehow produce our capacity to perceive and experience the world around us. So what is the evolutionary explanation for consciousness? What adaptive benefits did it confer? How did unconscious life transform itself into conscious life? Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker admits there is no explanation. In How the Mind Works, he writes, "Virtually nothing is known about the functioning microcircuitry of the brain.... The existence of subjective first-person experience is not explainable by science." So baffling is the problem that Daniel Dennett has "solved" it by declaring consciousness to be a cognitive illusion.

Finally, evolution cannot explain human rationality or morality. This was a point first made by Alfred Russel Wallace, who proposed simultaneously with Darwin a theory of evolution by natural selection. Here I don't want to be misunderstood. Evolution can account for how brain size got larger and conferred survival benefits on creatures with larger brains. But rationality is something more than this. Rationality is the power to perceive something as true. We can include in rationality the unique human capacity for language, which is the ability to formulate and articulate ideas that comprehend the world around us. People in the most primitive cultures developed language as a means of rationality, while cats cannot utter a single sentence. Evolution provides an explanation for how creatures develop traits that are useful to their survival. As Steven Pinker puts it, "Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth." So where did we humans get this other capacity to figure out not only what helps our genes to make it into the next generation, but also to understand what is going on in the world? To put it another way, what is the survival value of truth itself? Philosopher Michael Ruse, a noted Darwinist, confesses that "no one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this"...

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