Ordered thoughts regarding important stuff like God, Science, and the Universe. The author will endeavor to answer all sincere questions in these matters, including help with math homework, genuine questions about God, etc.

Friday, March 31, 2006


For sometime now, evolutionists have charged that complex outcomes (including biological life) may be generated from simple instructions. This was asserted by Dawkins [1] long ago (1986) when he was amazed to find that simple instructions led to complex looking “biomorphs.” And what were biomorphs? They were sets of branching lines that superficially resembled insects. The instructions to create them were written on an Apple computer in a relatively simple BASIC computer program. Small “mutations” in the rules would lead to complex line drawings that delightfully surprised Dawkins. When he self-selected certain rules (thereby simulating a micro-evolutionary selective breeding pressure) he could produce relatively complicated looking “bugs” [my description]. Of course, if one looked carefully, one could see they were merely branching lines – ink on paper. Yet as a whole, the biomorphs did bear a gross resemblance to insect life due to rules coding for bilateral symmetry, the numbers and kinds of branching allowed, and rules for stopping the branching. Dawkins’ argument was that such rules were analogous to genes – the biological instructions that code for hereditary traits like hair and eye color, or more fundamentally, body plan. More recently (2002), Wolfram[2] published his magnum opus “A New Kind of Science,” which asserted the same. Woven throughout this interesting book was the tale of “cellular automata” – simple computer rules that generated fancy looking fractal pictures. The claim being reiterated was that simple rules can lead to the expression of complicated outcomes.

Now, on its face, the claim is irrefutable. That is, in general, simple rules or instructions do code for complex outcomes. Otherwise, why have the rules? That is, the blueprint is simple compared to the house, the electrical schematic is simple compared to the radio. But such an argument overlooks two things. First, there are the ancillary structures needed to express such rules, and second, intelligence underlies the rules themselves.

To take the last point first, in the examples of Dawkins and Wolfram, no one is claiming that anything but intelligence created the rules in the first place. The intelligence came from the programmer. The tacit assertion is that the rules are so simple, they could have developed by chance, but that is mere conjecture and without demonstrable example unless one begs the question. (It is also philosphically untenable – see “The Religion of Evolution” in this blog.)

Some have argued that ice crystals exhibit order without intelligence or information. (This ignores the possibility of a Grand Intelligence, which seems to be the point of the whole exercize to begin with, but more fundamentally) what separates information from snowflakes is specified complexity[3]. That is, information is complex, but in a particular way that makes sense to a sender and receiver. For example, the text on this page conforms to rules for syntax, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and the like. If one wanted to communicate using snowflakes, one would need to interrupt the regular monotony with specified complexity. Specified complexity is easy to distinguish from natural causes. This is the paradigm behind the SETI project (search for extraterrestrial intelligence): radio telescopes scan the sky for specicified complexity, though they have yet to find it. This is a hallmark of any message. If you found a page from a book in the dirt, you would not presume that it was some chance combination of wind and wood. Rather, you would presume someone of some intelligence penned it.

And so, on to my main objection against simple rules originating the most complex thing of all – life. Simple rules require complicated ancillary structures. Rules do not exist in a vacuum. Rules are first coded by a sender. They are transmitted and preserved in a medium. They are decoded by a receiver. And finally, they are expressed by a builder. Again, we shall use the analogy of instructions for building a house. An architect codes the design onto a paper – a blueprint. He does so using accepted rules and conventions and with symbols having shared meaning. These he expresses with general arrangement and detail drawings. A receiver, skilled in the art, interprets them. He dispatches and coordinates builders and suppliers to requisition the materials, pour the foundation, erect the frame, put in the plumbing, add the electrical, and finish the interior and exterior – all according to the rules, i.e., the blueprints.

Now in the case of cellular automata, a programmer encodes the rules. The rule is the product of intelligence, but even if it were to magically appear out of thin air, it is useless by itself. It needs a computer program to house and empower it. It needs some media such as CD-ROM or magnetic memory to store it for future retrieval. It requires magnificently designed computer hardware to empower software that decodes the program. It needs a supply of electricity. It needs a printer or screen to express the final result. The point is that the rule is the tip of the iceberg. No matter how simple it is, all the ancillary structures – media, builder, encoder, decoder, supply, and the like – are all remarkably complex, intelligently designed and interconnected, and absolutely essential to express the final goal of the design.

If simple rules generating complex life are to be taken seriously, we need to imagine not only the natural genesis for “simple” rules (already a conundrum); we need also to imagine a highly interconnected set of processes that decode, store and transmit, receive and build; and which arose from nothingness. In the final analysis, whether the rules are simple or complex is ultimately insufficient to a naturalistic explanation of complex biological life. For it is not the merely the rules that show themselves formidable and refractory to their random genesis. Indeed, these are dwarfed by the need for a whole set of ancillary structures that are infinitely more complex.


[1] Dawkins, Richard., The Blind Watchmaker :Why Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1986

2] Wolfram, Stephen, A New Kind of Science, Wolfram Media, Inc., Champagne, IL, 2002.

[3] Dembski, William, http://www.uncommondescent.com/


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