Chemical Evolution As Proposed by Darwinists

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

DARWINISTS WANT US TO believe that all species of organisms arose and developed through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increased the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Notwithstanding the fact that Charles Darwin had no formal training or knowledge of genetics, he felt compelled to present an unproven theory of the origin of species. He believed new species are able to originate from prior organisms that have adapted to fit environmental stressors, thus surviving over weaker organisms. Scientists and teachers today have parlayed this into the dogmatic contention that life itself began from inorganic molecules that spontaneously appeared on our planet some time after space, time, and matter created itself out of nothing. In effect, they are attempting to reverse-engineer man by tracing his origin back to molecules present in a so-called organic soup at the dawn of time.

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Granted, Darwin never claimed to explain the origin of life; just the origin of species. The word species means “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.” Species is one of the major categories used in the classification of organisms. A hierarchical system is used for classifying organisms to the species level, which, by definition, is the most specific class of organisms. The categories established by this classification are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Family, Genus, and Species. Species is sometimes confused with kind or sort, as expressed by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.

From a biblical perspective, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s ark, about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variations have occurred due to genetic alterations. This is a scientifically sound theory. Genetic variations have occurred over time, resulting in mutations. Never has such a variation changed a dog into a cat or a butterfly into a bat.

THE BASICS

According to evolutionary biology, once life got started, Darwinian evolution took over and eventually produced the degree of diversity we see on the planet today. Under the standard view, a process of random mutation and natural selection built life’s vast complexity one small mutational step at a time. Of course, all of life’s complex features are encoded in the DNA of living organisms. Building new features thus requires generating new information in the genetic code of DNA. Can the necessary information be generated in a non-directed, step-by-step manner as espoused by Darwin? Darwinian evolution can explain each small step along an evolutionary pathway that might produce some survival advantage. However, when multiple mutations must be present simultaneously to gain a functional advantage, Darwin gets stuck. In fact, Darwin (1859) wrote, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

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Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He coined the term irreducible complexity to describe systems which require many parts—and thus many mutations—to be present all at once before providing any survival advantage to the organism. According to Behe, such systems cannot evolve in the step-by-step fashion required by Darwinian evolution. As a result, he maintains that random mutation and unguided natural selection cannot generate the genetic information required to produce irreducibly complex structures. Too many simultaneous mutations would be required—an event which is highly unlikely to occur. In other words, if a feature cannot be built by numerous, successive, slight modifications, and if intermediate steps do not confer a net benefit on the organism, then Darwinian evolution will absolutely break down.

THE THEORY OF CHEMICAL EVOLUTION

Darwinian evolution requires a mechanism for generation of diversity in a population, and selective differences between individuals that influence reproduction. In biology, diversity is generated by mutations. Selective differences arise because of the encoded functions of the sequences (e.g., ribozymes or proteins). Today, evolutionists lay claim to a process they call chemical evolution, in which diversity is generated by random chemical synthesis instead of (or in addition to) mutation. They state that selection acts on physio-chemical properties. The story of the unguided (un-designed) chemical evolution of first life has some variations depending on who’s version you read, but its main points can be summarized as follows:

  • At the time when the chemical constituents of the first life were developing, the Earth had virtually no free oxygen, important since the presence of free oxygen would prevent the formation of compounds essential for the origin of life.
  • Nature “invented” a way to produce the chemical letters of the DNA/RNA alphabet: cytosine, adenine, thymine, and guanine (C, A, T, and G).
  • Nature “invented” a way to make the sugars ribose and deoxyribose.
  • Nature “invented” a way to combine these sugars, phosphoric acid, and the DNA/RNA alphabet letters (the four nucleobases) into long chains.
  • Nature “invented” a method to make twenty distinct amino acids into sophisticated protein machines.
  • After inventing all this, nature changed the self-replicating molecule into a system in which DNA coded for amino acids and thus for proteins.
  • Finally, nature “invented” a membrane system that isolated the invented molecules from the environment and metabolism began.

Stanley Miller’s “Chemical Evolution” Experiment

Geologists estimate that the Earth formed around billion years ago. They claim that for many millions of years, early Earth was pummeled by asteroids and other celestial objects. Temperatures would have been very high (with water taking the form of a gas, not a liquid). The first life might have emerged during a break in the asteroid bombardment when it was cool enough for water to condense into oceans. They then point to a second supposed bombardment happened about 3.9 billion years ago. They believe this is the point when Earth became capable of supporting sustained life.

In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did an experiment to determine if organic molecules could be spontaneously produced. under reducing conditions thought to resemble those of early Earth. The result was a tarry slime with 85% tar, 13% carboxylic acids, and 2% amino acids, which they thought resembled those of early Earth.

Similar experiments have produced the same kinds of results:

  • Living organisms have twenty different kinds of amino acids, a twenty-letter alphabet used to “write” protein and protein machines essential to life. But Miller-type experiments produce many amino acids that are not present in proteins. These amino acids aren’t part of the relevant alphabet for coding life.
  • The side chains of amino acids determine their chemical nature. They may be hydrophobic, neutral, acidic, or basic. None of the amino acids with basic side chains (lysine, arginine, and histidine) have been formed in Miller-type experiments, and yet these are crucial for life.
  • In any given experiment, only a few, and at most thirteen, of the twenty amino acids present on proteins have been formed. All twenty are needed for life.
  • The composition of compounds formed in Miller-type experiments differs from that found in living cells. Monofunctional compounds that inhibit polymer formation are oversupplied in Miller-type experiments. To form a chain from molecules, the molecules must have two “sticky ends; if they have only one, there is nothing for the next compound to attach to. Miller-type experiments produce far too few molecules with two “sticky ends.”

The random mixture of chemicals produced by these types of experiments is simply not close enough to that which is required for life. Anindya Das, Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology of KPC Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal University of Health Science, Kolkata, India, stated in a paper Published January 7, 2019, “…it can be assumed that the basic constituents of life like Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and other inorganic substances combined in a proportion to create first life on earth. Probably the origin of life started from the production of purine, pyrimidine rings, amino acids, sugar alcohols, nucleic acid chains and the first life on earth is prokaryotic microbes which probably evolved from the virus like particles” [Italics mine]. That’s a lot of speculation.

Das divided the origin of life into three steps: Step I—Formation of basic structural elements or building blocks of life like purine and pyrimidine rings, amino acids, glucose, phosphate energy bonds; Step II—Formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation of basic structural molecules; Step III—Systematic assembling of all these structural elements leading to a structural unit with functional autonomy where all the biochemical reactions can occur automatically, repeated in an organized way, making it an autonomic functional unit capable of recognition, sensing, sigaling, bio-chemical synthesis, degradation (metabolism), energy production, self-duplication (reproduction), homeostasis and information dissipation. Das said the most difficult part of this theory is how formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation and the systematic assembly of these parts occurred to achieve functional autonomy, forming the first living form.

Given all the talk about nucleic acids, proteins and such, it’s important to note that a living cell is much more than just nucleic acids and proteins. It has the sophistication of a factory or city. This is true of the very basic microorganism. A complex cell membrane is necessary to separate the content of the cell from the environment. It is always formed from the pre-existing membrane, and separates the intracellular reactions from the environment. A cover that separates the complex reaction pathways would provide isolation from the outside world. This is critical to cellular integrity and, consequently, cellular health. Without a proper membrane, the complex reaction pathways would stand no more chance of surviving and succeeding in the so-called primordial soup than a house of cards in a storm. The membrane, therefore, is likely an essential part of the formation of specific transport systems. Any failure in the cellular wall would cause infiltration of damaging molecules from viruses, toxins or other deadly chemical compounds.

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Researchers who have studied Ebola Zaire initially thought that the virus’s glycoprotein is the primary determinant of vascular-cell injury and that Ebola virus infection of endothelial cells induces structural damage, which could contribute to hemorrhagic diathesis—an unusual susceptibility to bleeding—but not enough evidence has been compiled as yet to make this determination. The hemorrhagic tendencies of Ebola Zaire,  however, are related to decreased synthesis of coagulation and other plasma proteins because of severe hepatocellular necrosis. This is a clear indication of the importance of a strong cellular membrane.

Life is Built Upon Genetic Information

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An essential property of all life is information. This includes the information written using DNA’s four-letter alphabet—the information in proteins that are built by using instructions from DNA. The chemical structure of DNA does not explain its code—that is, the rules that the cells follow in translating the information in DNA into all functional proteins. Nor does it explain the “software” written by it. (See my post Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life). The chemical structure doesn’t explain it any better than the chemical composition of ink and paper explain the information contained in a printed book, or the language, syntax, and grammatical rules used to create the message.

Here’s the big question: Where did the genetic code come from? Forget for a moment that molecules are made of matter (which cannot create itself). How could genetic coding change itself and remain viable and functional at each evolutionary stage? Biological information (essentially data) remains a sticky point for those who cling to purely materialistic origins for life. There is no scientific evidence supporting the notion of a mindless origin for this essential feature of life. And there is good reason to believe that biological information, and the language it is written in, instead have their origin in the work of a creative intelligence.

Parting Remarks

Unfortunately, the “official” view in public education remains that life appeared “spontaneously,” not long after the conditions were right, with no need for intelligent design. But there is no credible evidence in support of this dogmatic view. Fred Hoyle wrote, “If there were some deep principle which drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given. Nothing happens when organic materials are subject to the usual prescription of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge.” He later stated, “The notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.”

I read in Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, that molecules are tiny machines that require multiple parts in order to function. His most famous example is the bacterial flagellum—a micro-molecular rotary-engine, functioning like an outboard motor on bacteria to propel it through liquid a medium to find food. In this regard, flagella have a basic design that is highly similar to some motors made by humans containing many parts that are familiar to engineers, including a rotor, a stator, a u-joint, a propeller, a brake, and a clutch. As one molecular biologist writes in the journal Cell, “[m]ore so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human.” However the energetic efficiency of these machines outperforms anything produced by humans: the same paper found that the efficiency of the bacterial flagellum “could be ~100%.”

Pierre-Paul Grasse, past president of the French Academy of Sciences, contended that “[m]utations have a very limited ‘constructive capacity” because “[n]o matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution.” Many other scientists feel this way. More than 800 PhD scientists have signed a statement agreeing they “are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” (See “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” at http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/). Indeed, Thornton and DeSalle (2000) wrote in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics: “[I]t remains a mystery how the undirected process of mutation, combined with natural selection, has resulted in the creation of thousands of new proteins with extraordinarily diverse and well optimized functions.”

Resources

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box. New York: Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. (Chapter 6). UK: John Murray Publications, 1859.

DeRosier, David. “The turn of the screw: The bacterial flagellar motor.” Cell, 93: 17-20, 1998.

Thornton, Joseph and DeSalle, Rob. “Gene Family Evolution and Homology: Genomics Meets Phylogenetics,” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 1:41-73, 2000.

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

The Self and the “New Atheists”

Paradoxically the most important oversight of the new atheists is the most human datum  of all: themselves. The ultimate supraphysical/physical reality that we know from experience is the experience itself, namely, ourselves. Once we acknowledge the fact that there is a first-person perspective, “I,” “me,” “mine,” and the like, we encounter the greatest and yet the most exhilarating mystery of all. I exist. To sort-of “reverse think” Descartes, it’s as if we’re saying, “I am, therefore I think, perceive, intend, mean, interact.” But who is “I?” “Where” is it? How did it come to be? Your self is obviously not just something physical (anatomical), just as it is not merely something supraphysical (or spiritual, if you prefer). It is an embodied self, an ensouled body; “you” are not located in a particular brain cell or in some part of your body. The cells in your body keep changing and yet “you” remain the same. If you study your neurons, you will find that none of them have the property of being an “I.” Of course your body is integral to who you are, but it is a “body” because it is constituted as such by the self. To be human is to be embodied and ensouled.

In a famous passage in his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume declares, “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself…I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception [itself].” Here Hume denies the existence of a self simply by arguing that he (meaning “I”) can’t find “myself.” But what is it that unifies his various experiences, that enables him to be aware of the external world, and that remains the same throughout? Who’s asking these questions? He assumes that “myself” is an observable state, much like his thoughts and feelings. But the self is not something that can be thus observed. It is a constant fact of experience and, in fact, the ground of all experience.

Indeed, of all the truths available to us, the self is at the same time the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism. To begin with, it must be said that denial of the self cannot even be claimed without contradiction. To the question, “How do I know I exist?” a professor famously replied, “And who’s asking?” The self is what we are and not what we have. It is the “I” from which arises our first-person perspective. We cannot analyze the self, because it is not a mental state that can be observed or described.

The most fundamental reality of which we are all aware, then, is the human self, and an understanding of the self inevitably sheds insights on all the origin questions and makes sense of reality as a whole. We realize that the self cannot be described, let alone explained, in terms of physics or chemistry: science does not discover the self; the self discovers science. We realize that no account of the history of the universe is coherent if it cannot account for the existence of the self. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and naturalists like Carl Sagan, want to explain our perceptions solely in terms of sensory perception and our neurochemical reactions to them. They claim it’s all binary, just like computer processing: zeros and ones.

Even if that were remotely so, how did life, consciousness, thought and the self come to be? The history of the world shows the sudden emergence of these phenomena – life appeared soon after the cooling of planet earth, consciousness mysteriously manifested itself in the Cambrian explosion, language emerged in the “symbolic species” without any evolutionary forerunner. The phenomena in question range from code and symbol-processing systems and goal-seeking, attention-manifesting agents at one end to subjective awareness, conceptual thought, socialization and the human self at the other. The only coherent way to describe these phenomena is to say that they are different dimensions of being that are supraphysical in one way or another. They are totally integrated with the physical and yet radically “new.” We are not talking here of ghosts in the machine, but of agents of different kinds, some that are conscious, others that are both conscious and thinking.

Carl Sagan always adhered strictly to a materialistic perspective when discussing the emergence of Mind, which he defined as “intelligence that is inseparable from the brain.” I read his book The Dragons of Eden during my first semester at Penn State University in 1980. Sagan discussed the search for a quantitative means of measuring intelligence. His chief tenet was that brain-to-body-mass-ratio is an extremely good indicator for intelligence, with humans holding the highest ratio, and dolphins the second-highest. Sagan attempted to explain the evolution of the human brain with the Triune brain model first developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. According to MacLean, the human brain is structured in three parts: the reptilian complex, the limbic system, and the neocortex. He reduced human experience to localization of basic brain function and electrochemical processes.

human-brain-in-parts

The reptilian complex (R complex) is the situs of species-specific (reptiles, birds) instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. The limbic system (which includes the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) is a set of interconnected brain structures responsible for feeding, reproductive behavior, and parenting. The Neocortex is exclusively found in higher-functioning mammals, specifically humans, and is responsible for development of language, abstract thinking, planning, and perception. This is precisely the concept relied on by proponents of evolution to explain how the human mind has developed over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s noteworthy that the standard-bearers of evolution cannot properly explain how the human mind is “aware” of itself.

Man has created computers capable of processing information and providing data measured in speeds so fast it is impossible to comprehend. The latest is a teraflop, which is a unit of computing speed equal to one million million  (10 to the twelfth power) floating-point operations per second. It is used to quantify the mathematical ability of a computer’s processing unit. Saying something has “6 TFLOPS” means it is capable of handling 6 trillion floating-point calculations every second. To put this into perspective, a traditional calculator may need only 10 FLOPS for all its calculations. So when we start talking about megaflops (a million floating-point calculations), gigaflops (a billion) and teraflops (a trillion), you can see what sort of power we’re talking about.

But no matter how fast a computer can “think,” it is completely incapable of knowing it’s a computer, or realizing that it is computing. Humans, on the other hand, are aware of awareness, are conscious of the fact that they are in the midst of figuring out a problem, and can even grasp the impact their decision will have on their circumstances, their immediate environment, the rights or circumstances of others around them and, ultimately, the long-range impact on human history. Whether it will ever be possible to teach a computer to be “aware” of such ramifications will likely remain a mystery for millenia to come.

References

Flew, Antony. (2007). There is a God. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Sagan, Carl. (1977). The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY: Random House