THE MARVEL OF DNA (PART TWO)

[Note: this is a continuation of THE MARVEL OF DNA (PART ONE)]

Recently we saw a newscast in which the public was invited to participate in their search for extraterrestrial intelligence by spokespersons for the SETI program. It seems that, despite the massive investment the program has made in hardware, including its giant radiotelescope array and the vast computational equipment, nothing can beat the human eye and mind in differentiating a possibly intelligent signal from space from all the radio noise. The problem is that even though astronomers have identified the most likely stars out there for supporting life, there aren’t enough employees available to analyze the multitude of signals that the equipment is capable of collecting. Hence, the SETI people have placed data on the Internet that allows the public at large, hopefully amateur astronomers for the most part, to help out in the search.

Too bad that these SETI spokespersons simply don’t sit down for a chat with Stephen Meyer or William Dembski or Michael Behe, or, in fact, with any of a growing host of cutting-edge investigators into DNA and associated microbiological artifacts of life. They’d find that if they’d look in the opposite direction they’d have all the evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence that they could process, right up close and personal, for the notions that these investigators are coming up with to get their arms around what they see in their microscopes are precisely what the SETI investigators are searching for.

In speculating how we ourselves might employ this basic element of life, we have naturally extracted the essence of what DNA represents: pure information. Philosopher/Mathematician William Dembski came to that same conclusion several years ago, and successfully applied the principles of information science to life itself and from that synthesis developed the first principles of an exciting new mathematical discipline centered on the information-richness of life. In his book *Intelligent Design*, Dr. Dembski develops a theoretical model for naturalistic evolution in terms of the operation of chance on natural laws. He then develops a means of scrutinizing a living system to distinguish a naturalistic process from the input of design. He does so by means of a flowchart that he labels an explanatory filter. If, in this flowchart, a system is observed to be ‘contingent’, which means that it is capable of forming a variety of equally probable patterns, then its examination passes down to the next criterion; otherwise, the pattern is taken to be a predetermined necessity, like the formation of crystals, and the design hypothesis is rejected for this system. The next criterion is complexity. If the system is sufficiently complex, then its examination passes down to the third criterion; otherwise, its existence may be ascribed to chance and the design hypothesis is again rejected. The third criterion is specification. If the system exhibits the quality of specification, meaning that it serves to fulfill an identifiable and useful function, then it may be considered to have been brought into existence through design; otherwise the design hypothesis is again rejected. In all cases where the design hypothesis is rejected, the existence of the object is ascribed to a naturalistic process, either necessity or chance.

Dembski then continues to flesh out the practicality of this model by placing the complexity criterion on the firm footing of mathematical probability theory. In doing so, he transforms the expressions dealing with probabilities into information-theoretical terminology, in effect equating odds to bits of information. Having performed that translation, Dr. Dembski offers a quite generous cutoff point of 500 bits of information which, he assumes with considerable justification, would be acceptable to all reasonable people. A system so complex as to represent over 500 bits of information, he claims, can exist only by the aid of design. He inserts the value of 500 bits of information into his complexity criterion, thus reducing its evaluation to a straightforward and repeatable computation.

Dembski pursues the issue of complex specificity by noting that naturalistic evolution can be expressed as the operation of chance on natural laws, Dembski applies his contributions to information theory to the development of an information-theoretical proof of the inability of chance acting on laws of nature to create complex specified information. He formally states it as his Law of Conservation of Information as follows: “Natural laws are incapable of generating complex specified information”. He states three corollaries as immediate consequences of this law: “1) The complex specified information (CSI) in a closed system of natural causes remains constant or decreases. 2) CSI cannot be generated spontaneously, originate endogenously or organize itself . . .3) The CSI in a closed system of natural causes either has been in the system eternally or was at some point added exogenously. . .4) In particular any closed system of natural causes that is also of finite duration received whatever CSI it contains before it became a closed system.”

While Dembski’s Law of the Conservation of Information appears more akin to a version of the First Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of matter and energy) than the Second Law, its corollaries are actually closer to the Second Law. One controversial argument between design advocates (formerly labeled as creationists) and evolutionists was the use of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which stated in one version that all natural processes tended to disorder. The design advocates (including us) would periodically trot out this energy-based law as a proof that the order intrinsic to life represented a reversal (and violation) of the Second Law. The evolutionists would consistently respond to this charge by declaring that the Second Law applied only to closed systems. Open systems, they claimed, permitted the input of energy (such as radiation from the sun), which negated the effect of the Second Law. While we recognized this as somewhat of a red-herring argument, we didn’t come up with a clearly-stated refutation. The beauty of Dembski’s expression of the Law of Conservation of Information is that if the evolutionists try to evoke the possibility of an open system, the immediate implication of the external input of information is the presence of a Designer.

Dr. Dembski performs the evaluation as directed by his explanatory flowchart on actual living systems by observing whether it exhibits contingency, then mathematically evaluating the information complexity of the system and by observing whether the quality of specificity is present. If the system passes these hoops, then he concludes that a designer was involved in its existence. He has applied this procedure to several living systems, concluding that some of them exhibit unmistakable evidence of design.