Response to Darrel Falk’s Review of “Signature in the Cell”

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January 28, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Stephen C. Meyer. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Response to Darrel Falk’s Review of “Signature in the Cell”

On December 28, Darrel Falk reviewed Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell (2009). On January 7, we also posted Dr. Francisco Ayala’s response to Meyer’s work.

One of the things Falk said in his initial assessment of Meyer’s book was the following:

In Chapter 14, as Stephen Meyer brings his discussion about the feasibility of RNA’s role as the early storehouse for cellular information to a conclusion, he recalls a twenty year old conversation with a philosophy professor about origin-of-life-research: “The field is becoming increasingly populated by cranks. Everyone knows everybody else’s theory doesn’t work, but no one is willing to admit it about his own.” Following this statement, Meyer fast-forwards into the present, and writes of his own assessment of the field twenty years later: “I found no reason to amend these assessments.”

The work Meyer had been discussing that led up to the final statement on page 322 was that of Gerald Joyce and Jack Szostak.

Falk sent a copy of his overview of Signature in the Cell to Meyer, Joyce, and Szostak and asked for a response that would be posted on this site. On January 12, we posted a follow-up to Falk’s review containing responses from both Joyce and Szostak.

Today, we are happy to post Dr. Meyer’s unedited response.

In 1985, I attended a conference that brought a fascinating problem in origin-of-life biology to my attention—the problem of explaining how the information necessary to produce the first living cell arose. At the time, I was working as a geophysicist doing digital signal processing, a form of information analysis and technology. A year later, I enrolled in graduate school at the University of Cambridge, where I eventually completed a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science after doing interdisciplinary research on the scientific and methodological issues in origin-of-life biology. In the ensuing years, I continued to study the problem of the origin of life and have authored peer-reviewed and peer-edited scientific articles on the topic of biological origins, as well as co-authoring a peer-reviewed biology textbook. Last year, after having researched the subject for more than two decades, I published Signature in the Cell, which provides an extensive evaluation of the principal competing theories of the origin of biological information and the related question of the origin of life. Since its completion, the book has been endorsed by prominent scientists including Philip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences; Scott Turner, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York; and Professor Norman Nevin, one of Britain’s leading geneticists.

Nevertheless, in his recent review on the Biologos website, Prof. Darrel Falk characterizes me as merely a well-meaning, but ultimately unqualified, philosopher and religious believer who lacks the scientific expertise to evaluate origin-of-life research and who, in any case, has overlooked the promise of recent pre-biotic simulation experiments. On the basis of two such experiments, Falk suggests I have jumped prematurely to the conclusion that pre-biotic chemistry cannot account for the origin of life. Yet neither of the scientific experiments he cites provides evidence that refutes the argument of my book or solves the central mystery that it addresses. Indeed, both experiments actually reinforce—if inadvertently—the main argument of Signature in the Cell.

The central argument of my book is that intelligent design—the activity of a conscious and rational deliberative agent—best explains the origin of the information necessary to produce the first living cell. I argue this because of two things that we know from our uniform and repeated experience, which following Charles Darwin I take to be the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form). Second, no undirected chemical process has demonstrated this power. Hence, intelligent design provides the best—most causally adequate—explanation for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life from simpler non-living chemicals. In other words, intelligent design is the only explanation that cites a cause known to have the capacity to produce the key effect in question.

Nowhere in his review does Falk refute this claim or provide another explanation for the origin of biological information. In order to do so Falk would need to show that some undirected material cause has demonstrated the power to produce functional biological information apart from the guidance or activity a designing mind. Neither Falk, nor anyone working in origin-of-life biology, has succeeded in doing this. Thus, Falk opts instead to make a mainly personal and procedural argument against my book by dismissing me as unqualified and insisting that it is “premature” to draw any negative conclusions about the adequacy of undirected chemical processes.

To support his claim that I rushed to judgment, Falk first cites a scientific study published last spring after my book was in press. The paper, authored by University of Manchester chemist John Sutherland and two colleagues, does partially address one of the many outstanding difficulties associated the RNA world, the most popular current theory about the origin of the first life.

Starting with a 3-carbon sugar (D-gylceraldehyde), and another molecule called 2-aminooxazole, Sutherland successfully synthesized a 5-carbon sugar in association with a base and a phosphate group. In other words, he produced a ribonucleotide. The scientific press justifiably heralded this as a breakthrough in pre-biotic chemistry because previously chemists had thought (as I noted in my book) that the conditions under which ribose and bases could be synthesized were starkly incompatible with each other.

Nevertheless, Sutherland’s work does not refute the central argument of my book, nor does it support the claim that it is premature to conclude that only intelligent agents have demonstrated the power to produce functionally-specified information. If anything, it illustrates the reverse.

In Chapter 14 of my book I describe and critique the RNA world scenario. There I describe five major problems associated with the theory. Sutherland’s work only partially addresses the first and least severe of these difficulties: the problem of generating the constituent building blocks or monomers in plausible pre-biotic conditions. It does not address the more severe problem of explaining how the bases in nucleic acids (either DNA or RNA) acquired their specific information-rich arrangements. In other words, Sutherland’s experiment helps explain the origin of the “letters” in the genetic text, but not their specific arrangement into functional “words” or “sentences.”

Even so, Sutherland’s work lacks pre-biotic plausibility and does so in three ways that actually underscore my argument.

First, Sutherland chose to begin his reaction with only the right-handed isomer of the 3-carbon sugars he needed to initiate his reaction sequence. Why? Because he knew that otherwise the likely result would have had little biologically-significance. Had Sutherland chosen to use a far more plausible racemic mixture of both right and left-handed sugar isomers, his reaction would have generated undesirable mixtures of stereoisomers—mixtures that would seriously complicate any subsequent biologically-relevant polymerization. Thus, he himself solved the so-called chirality problem in origin-of-life chemistry by intelligently selecting a single enantiomer, i.e., only the right-handed sugars that life itself requires. Yet there is no demonstrated source for such non-racemic mixture of sugars in any plausible pre-biotic environment.

Second, the reaction that Sutherland used to produce ribonucleotides involved numerous separate chemical steps. At each intermediate stage in his multi-step reaction sequence, Sutherland himself intervened to purify the chemical by-products of the previous step by removing undesirable side products. In so doing, he prevented—by his own will, intellect and experimental technique—the occurrence of interfering cross-reactions, the scourge of the pre-biotic chemist.

Third, in order to produce the desired chemical product—ribonucleotides—Sutherland followed a very precise “recipe” or procedure in which he carefully selected the reagents and choreographed the order in which they were introduced into the reaction series, just as he also selected which side products to be removed and when. Such recipes, and the actions of chemists who follow them, represent what the late Hungarian physical chemist Michael Polanyi called “profoundly informative intervention[s].” Information is being added to the chemical system as the result of the deliberative actions—the intelligent design—of the chemist himself.

In sum, not only did Sutherland’s experiment not address the more fundamental problem of getting the nucleotide bases to arrange themselves into functionally-specified sequences, the extent to which it did succeed in producing more life-friendly chemical constituents actually illustrates the indispensable role of intelligence in generating such chemistry.

The second experiment that Falk cites to refute my book illustrates this problem even more acutely. This experiment is reported in a scientific paper by Tracey Lincoln and Gerald Joyce ostensibly establishing the capacity of RNA to self-replicate, thereby rendering plausible one of the key steps in the RNA world hypothesis. Falk incorrectly intimates that I did not discuss this experiment in my book. In fact, I do on page 537.

In any case, it is Falk who draws exactly the wrong conclusion from this paper. The central problem facing origin-of-life researchers is neither the synthesis of pre-biotic building blocks (which Sutherland’s work addresses) or even the synthesis of a self-replicating RNA molecule (the plausibility of which Joyce and Tracey’s work seeks to establish, albeit unsuccessfully: see below). Instead, the fundamental problem is getting the chemical building blocks to arrange themselves into the large information-bearing molecules (whether DNA or RNA). As I show in Signature in the Cell, even the extremely limited capacity for RNA self-replication that has been demonstrated depends critically on the specificity of the arrangement of nucleotide bases—that is, upon pre-existing sequence-specific information.

The Lincoln and Joyce experiment that Falk describes approvingly does not solve this problem, at least not apart from the intelligence of Lincoln and Joyce. In the first place, the “self-replicating” RNA molecules that they construct are not capable of copying a template of genetic information from free-standing chemical subunits as the polymerase machinery does in actual cells. Instead, in Lincoln and Joyce’s experiment, a pre-synthesized specifically sequenced RNA molecule merely catalyzes the formation of a single chemical bond, thus fusing two other pre-synthesized partial RNA chains. In other words, their version of ‘self-replication’ amounts to nothing more than joining two sequence specific pre-made halves together. More significantly, Lincoln and Joyce themselves intelligently arranged the matching base sequences in these RNA chains. They did the work of replication. They generated the functionally-specific information that made even this limited form of replication possible.

The Lincoln and Joyce experiment actually confirms three related claims that I make in Signature in the Cell. First, it demonstrates that even the capacity for modest partial self-replication in RNA itself depends upon sequence specific (i.e., information-rich) base sequences in these molecules. Second, it shows that even the capacity for partial replication of genetic information in RNA molecules results from the activity of chemists, that is, from the intelligence of the “ribozyme engineers” who design and select the features of these (partial) RNA replicators. Third, pre-biotic simulation experiments themselves confirm what we know from ordinary experience, namely, that intelligent design is the only known means by which functionally specified information arises.

For nearly sixty years origin-of-life researchers have attempted to use pre-biotic simulation experiments to find a plausible pathway by which life might have arisen from simpler non-living chemicals, thereby providing support for chemical evolutionary theory. While these experiments have occasionally yielded interesting insights about the conditions under which certain reactions will or won’t produce the various small molecule constituents of larger bio-macromolecules, they have shed no light on how the information in these larger macromolecules (particularly in DNA and RNA) could have arisen. Nor should this be surprising in light of what we have long known about the chemical structure of DNA and RNA. As I show in Signature in the Cell, the chemical structures of DNA and RNA allow them to store information precisely because chemical affinities between their smaller molecular subunits do not determine the specific arrangements of the bases in the DNA and RNA molecules. Instead, the same type of chemical bond (an N-glycosidic bond) forms between the backbone and each one of the four bases, allowing any one of the bases to attach at any site along the backbone, in turn allowing an innumerable variety of different sequences. This chemical indeterminacy is precisely what permits DNA and RNA to function as information carriers. It also dooms attempts to account for the origin of the information—the precise sequencing of the bases—in these molecules as the result of deterministic chemical interactions.

Nevertheless, for Professor Falk, drawing any negative conclusions about the adequacy of purely undirected chemical processes—or worse—making an inference to intelligent design, is inherently premature. Indeed, for him such thinking constitutes giving up on science or making “an argument from ignorance.” But this betrays a misunderstanding of both science and the basis of the design argument that I am making. Scientific investigations not only tell us what nature does, they also frequently tell us what nature doesn’t do. The conservation laws in thermodynamics, for example, proscribe certain outcomes. The first law tells us that energy is never created or destroyed. The second tells us that the entropy of a closed system will never decrease over time. Moreover, because these laws are based upon our uniform and repeated experience, we have great confidence in them. That is why physicists don’t, for example, still consider research on perpetual motion machines to be worth investigating or funding.

In the same way, we now have a wealth of experience showing that what I call specified or functional information (especially if encoded in digital form) does not arise from purely physical or chemical antecedents. Indeed, the ribozyme engineering and pre-biotic simulation experiments that Professor Falk commends to my attention actually lend additional inductive support to this generalization. On the other hand, we do know of a cause—a type of cause—that has demonstrated the power to produce functionally-specified information. That cause is intelligence or conscious rational deliberation. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler once observed, “the creation of information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” And, of course, he was right. Whenever we find information—whether embedded in a radio signal, carved in a stone monument, written in a book or etched on a magnetic disc—and we trace it back to its source, invariably we come to mind, not merely a material process. Thus, the discovery of functionally specified, digitally encoded information along the spine of DNA, provides compelling positive evidence of the activity of a prior designing intelligence. This conclusion is not based upon what we don’t know. It is based upon what we do know from our uniform experience about the cause and effect structure of the world—specifically, what we know about what does, and does not, have the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

That Professor Falk rejects this knowledge as knowledge, and the case for design based on it, reflects his own commitment to finding a solution to the origin of life problem within a strictly materialistic framework. Indeed, he and his colleagues at BioLogos have made clear that they accept the principle of methodological naturalism, the idea that scientists, to be scientists, must limit themselves to positing only materialistic explanations for all phenomena. Of course, it is their right to accept this intellectual limitation on theorizing if they wish. But it needs to be noted that the principle of methodological naturalism is an arbitrary philosophical assumption, not a principle that can be established or justified by scientific observation itself. Others of us, having long ago seen the pattern in pre-biotic simulation experiments, to say nothing of the clear testimony of thousands of years of human experience, have decided to move on. We see in the information-rich structure of life a clear indicator of intelligent activity and have begun to investigate living systems accordingly. If, by Professor Falk’s definition, that makes us philosophers rather than scientists, then so be it. But I suspect that the shoe is now, instead, firmly on the other foot.

Editor's Note: Darrel Falk will post his response to Dr. Meyer's entry tomorrow. For another discussion of Meyer's book, be sure to visit Jesus Creed. Today they are talking about the RNA world hypothesis.


Stephen C. Meyer is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a founder both of the intelligent design movement and of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, intelligent design’s primary intellectual and scientific headquarters. He is author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne 2009).

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Larry - #3492

January 28th 2010

How could one design an experiment to falsify your contention of intelligent design? Since any such experiment would require intelligence in its design you would simply argue that any such experiment actually verified ID. It seems that ID, as you formulate it here in your article, is an unfalsifiable hypotheses.


hmm - #3493

January 28th 2010

Larry, that is true. It is impossible to do any scientific experiment without design. And it is impossible to falsify the existence of Designer. If one tries, he has to presuppose that in the world is at least some object, that can exist without Designer (I believe that there is not any object in our world, that could exist without God). And then he has to argue that analogically design is not required in other cases… It is circular.

Taylor has written about this problem (from the other perspective):

“I look at the cosmos and assert that God the Creator made and sustains it. The materialist, when looking, retorts that the cosmos just exists; there is no evidence of God. I want to show evidence of God’s existence, but then realize that I can only demonstrate his presence in one place in the cosmos by contrasting it with his absence in another. However, I am comforted because I perceive that the materialist has the same difficulty. The conclusion: barring information from another source than the nature we observe, we are stuck with this ambiguity.”


Steve - #3496

January 28th 2010

When examining the material universe, use material tools of investigation. If there has been supernatural meddling, it will not be demonstrable from science. ID advocates may wish to look outside the natural world for information about it, but it’s downright silly to expect all scientists to accept your tact of looking for the invisible while much that is visible has not yet been seen.

To borrow Gordon Glover’s analogy, when a person loses his car keys and can’t find them anywhere obvious, he begins to wonder if some personal agent actually took them. Before he decides to pontificate about intelligent key-disappearance, alerting police and neighbors about a key snatcher (especially a supernatural key snatcher) and lecturing people who offer to help him look that continuing a search of the house is bound to be fruitless, shouldn’t he have searched the whole house?  Sure, there may have been a key snatcher involved, but methodological naturalism simply advises us to exhaust the obvious possibilities before appealing to miracles.


Glen Davidson - #3499

January 28th 2010

argue this because of two things that we know from our uniform and repeated experience, which following Charles Darwin I take to be the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form).

First, Charles Darwin does not decide what science is.

Secondly, Charles Darwin would not presume that intelligent causes exist at a time and place where there is no evidence that it existed.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #3500

January 28th 2010

Continuing from #3499:

Third, historical sciences do not differ substantially from other science, particularly since we now know much more than did Lyell and Darwin.  Specific causes which produce specific effects are what matter.  Vague concepts like “intelligent agents” producing “large amounts of functionally specified information” has no scientific meaning, to the specific question of what caused the information in life to arise.  Not only do we need evidence that intelligent agents existed four billion years or so ago to take Meyer’s thesis seriously, we would need evidence that this intelligence could make such informational structures, and that it would have some reason for doing so.

Fourth, Meyer does not explain why life as we know it has the sort of information that is predicted by evolutionary theory, notably, that it relies exclusively (or almost, for the sake of argument) upon Behe’s “physical precursors,” and no reliable evidence exists for the merely “conceptual precursors” that intelligent agents would be expected to utilize.

Meyer has given us no reasonable evidence to believe his thesis.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


David - #3502

January 28th 2010

From what I can find out about Scott Turner - http://www.esf.edu/EFB/turner/Turner.htm - he is a physiologist, not an evolutionary biologist, but I see nothing from him that indicates he is an intelligent design advocate. In fact in one of his pulications he refers to himself as an “evolutionist.” Norman Nevin, who is described on his website as “Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics,” is an irish YEC; a view he attempted to defend during a live debate with Richard Dawkins on the BBC a few years ago. He is not a leading scientific researcher in evolutionary science. He was recently involved in the publication of the book ‘Should Christians Embrace Evolution?’, in which the authors argue unambiguously that they should not. From the bits I have read it contains some appalling misinformation, particularly with regard to the fossil record and comparative genomics.


Glen Davidson - #3505

January 28th 2010

First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form).

DNA information is not digital.  I might call it “digital-like,” but one does not gain confidence in Meyer’s ability to discuss these issues when he keeps on making the same incorrect statements indicating that DNA information is in fact digital.

That is minor compared with his failure to produce evidence for design, rather than arguing against evolution and abiogenesis.  His very loose analogy that is supposed to support the inference to design is of the type familiar in religion, not either a decent scientific analogy, nor supported by sufficient evidence, as analogies in science are.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #3506

January 28th 2010

Continuing from #3505:

Nevertheless, the incorrect claim that DNA is digital improperly suggests to people that DNA is like human-made codes, when it is quite different in origin and details from truly digital codes (if “digital-like,” as may be necessary for life to exist).  The DNA code is not numerical, it is not based upon abstractions (not evidently so), and it was not obviously designed.  The claim that it is digital insinuates the conclusion at which Meyer wishes to arrive, namely, that it was set up to represent abstractions.

DNA also happens to be close to what Shroedinger predicted, based upon genetics and also upon evolutionary considerations.  DNA and its codes exist in a manner that can evolve, while our digital information and software cannot, except where it is deliberately caused to mimic evolutionary processes.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Gregory Arago - #3509

January 28th 2010

I applaud the BioLogos Foundation for publishing S. Meyer’s response on their blog. This is what fair-play and even-handed discussion is all about. Bravo! Building a bridge has to happen from two sides.

“First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form). Second, no undirected chemical process has demonstrated this power.” - S. Meyer

Has Dr. Falk refuted this? If so, does he include the concept of ‘BioLogos’ in his refutation?

“only intelligent agents have demonstrated the power to produce functionally-specified information.” - Meyer

Has this statement been directly addressed by BioLogos?


Gregory Arago - #3510

January 28th 2010

cont’d -

“Sutherland’s experiment helps explain the origin of the “letters” in the genetic text, but not their specific arrangement into functional “words” or “sentences”.” - Meyer

Where did the language come from? Did it ‘evolve’ into existence or was it created by intelligence? As someone who speaks more than three languages, I find it hard to imagine that language can ‘arise’ or ‘emerge’ without ‘intelligence’.

“Scientific investigations not only tell us what nature does, they also frequently tell us what nature doesn’t do.” - Meyer

Will Dr. Falk venture to say ‘what doesn’t evolve’? What *doesn’t* evolution do? Do *all* natural things evolve? If so, then are only non-natural things potentially ‘unevolvable’?


unapologetic catholic - #3513

January 28th 2010

“In the ensuing years, I continued to study the problem of the origin of life and have authored peer-reviewed and peer-edited scientific articles on the topic of biological origins, as well as co-authoring a peer-reviewed biology textbook.”

Can Dr Meyer provide the list of the peer reviewed reasurach articles?

““only intelligent agents have demonstrated the power to produce functionally-specified information.” - Meyer”

Other that human beings, can you fofer any examples of such “intelligent agents?”  if not, the statement is a meaningless ovrgeneralization, better experssed as “Humans are known to design thing.”

““First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form). Second, no undirected chemical process has demonstrated this power.” - S. Meyer”

Same issue.  Define “functionally specifed information, please.”  Units of measure?  Amount of functionally specifed informaiton in a cell?  Does it change from one cell to another?  Is ther more or less in a prion than in a cell?  is ther more or less in a virus than ina cell?


Unapologetic catholic - #3518

January 28th 2010

“Do *all* natural things evolve?”

UH…yes, rather conclusively.


Jonathan Gauntlett - #3523

January 28th 2010

Unquestionably we have a long way to go in our attempts to understand the origin of life.  But I fail to see why, simply because we don’t fully understand it yet, that it therefore requires supernatural intervention?  It seems to me that Dr Meyer’s approach will always require denying the advancement of our understanding in this regard.  Does God only create the bits we can’t yet figure out or does He create everything?  How come God managed to design a universe in which planets would form, life would evolve, but the crucial step of life itself needed His additional help?


R Hampton - #3528

January 28th 2010

Dr. Meyer’s book presents ID as the best explanation for RNA/DNA when in fact he believes that ID should is more broad in scope:

[D]oes neo-Darwinism, or any other fully materialistic model, explain all appearances of design in biology, including the body plans and information that characterize living systems? Arguably, biological forms—such as the structure of a chambered nautilus, the organization of a trilobite, the functional integration of parts in an eye or molecular machine—attract our attention in part because the organized complexity of such systems seems reminiscent of our own designs. Yet, this review has argued that neo-Darwinism does not adequately account for the origin of all appearances of design, especially if one considers animal body plans, and the information necessary to construct them, as especially striking examples of the appearance of design in living systems.

Dr. Meyer’s latest formulation of ID has retracted to such a degree that it can no longer counter the Evolutionary theory in accounting for multi-cellular life and beyond, as none of the arguments in his book can be applied to speciation.


Aaron - #3536

January 29th 2010

I also want to say congratulation for publishing for allowing a contrary view to be published. The effort to treat those with whom we disagree with dignity is a demonstration that this site is a success. It is great to see and something I am encouraged by and I hope we can all follow this example!


Jesse - #3539

January 29th 2010

From 3510:
“Where did the language come from? Did it ‘evolve’ into existence or was it created by intelligence? As someone who speaks more than three languages, I find it hard to imagine that language can ‘arise’ or ‘emerge’ without ‘intelligence’.”

Response: That’s an interesting question. Do you think that human languages were “created,” or did they “evolve?”


Gregory Arago - #3551

January 29th 2010

Hi Jesse,

You’ll find hundreds of papers and books saying that language ‘evolved.’ But to me, that makes little sense. Who ‘made’ language? Human beings did and still do. New terms are added to grammar regularly. Are they a result of ‘random mutation’ and ‘natural selection’? I would argue, no, they aren’t. But then, those who write about ‘linguistic evolution’ use other so-called ‘mechanisms’ from the ‘evolutionary paradigm,’ such as adaptation, differentiation, modification, etc. So there is little need to speak of ‘random mutation’ and ‘natural selection’ when it comes to language.

It is obvious that language ‘changes’ (which is not necessarily ‘evolution’) as a result of ‘human selection’ or what Darwin called ‘artificial selection.’ This is *not* a purely naturalistic process. Yet what happens in the writings that say ‘language evolved/s’ is a kind of ‘dehumanization.’

The agency, the intellect, the choices of the human selectors is covered over with naturalistic terminology, to make it sound as if language ‘evolved’ without intelligence originally, and that language today changes without (intelligent) choices. Sound strange to you as well? That’s the way the situation stands today.


Gregory Arago - #3558

January 29th 2010

Let me answer your question directly:

Jesse wrote: Do you think that human languages were “created,” or did they “evolve?”

I don’t think human languages ‘evolved’ into existence and I don’t think they ‘evolve’ now, though of course they do ‘change.’ Language change is guided by purpose and planning; it is a teleological phenomenon.

Would I say languages were ‘created’? Sure. Why not? It’s a high word, used in some places, but it works wrt language. I would certainly say languages were ‘made’ or ‘constructed’ or ‘built’ or ‘formed’ or ‘came into being’ through ‘intelligence.’ I might even say they were ‘designed,’ though in the sense of ‘the origin of human languages,’ the term ‘design’ doesn’t imo sound that elegant. Quantifying the ‘intelligence’ (i.e. feeling an empirical need to quantify it) is another matter, though, which complicates the claim.

How about you?


Gregory Arago - #3559

January 29th 2010

Come to think more about it, perhaps the term ‘design’ is rather *too elegant* wrt ‘human languages,’ at least in terms of ‘change’ if not in terms of ‘origins.’

What that means is, when we speak of graphic design or costume design or architectural design or set design, or most other ways that the English word ‘design’ is used, it is usually a more elaborate intentional process than what goes on in ‘language change.’

So it seems to me anyway. Hope I’ve answered your question, Jesse!


Jonathan McLatchie - #3560

January 29th 2010

Larry -

You would refute the proposition that intelligent design represents the most causally adequate explanation for the origin of the information-bearing properties of the DNA molecule - the central thesis of Meyer’s book - if you could demonstrate a plausible materialistic pathway by which nucleotide bases (or amino acids in proteins) could be sequenced in a meaningful manner without the need for deliberative, conscious activity from the researcher.


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