Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does the origin of the first living organism require an intelligent designer?

I found a good debate on this question here on the Unbelievable radio show, which is broadcast in the UK. The argument is specifically about the first replicating organism.

The first replicating organism would have to have had a number of characteristics of living things, such as the ability to store its own genetic information and replicate that information. The first living organism cannot be built up by mutation and selection, because mutation and selection require that replication already be in place. So, where did the information in the first replicator come from?

If you imagine that the simplest organism is a functional computer program, you have to ask yourself – how much code is needed to provide that minimal functionality for a living system? Whatever that amount of code is, it would have to come together all at once, because having only a part of the program in place means that the program doesn’t compile and it doesn’t run!

Here is the link to the debate audio. The debate starts at 15 and half minutes into the show, and is 1 hour long. And here is the blurb introducing the topic and speakers:

Unbelievable? – 21 February 2009
Could the DNA that makes up the building blocks of life of every living thing on the earth be the clue to a cosmic designer?

That’s the view of Christian guest Perry Marshall. An electrical engineer by background, he is now a leading authority on information systems and the internet. He says that anybody who comes at the topic of how life originated from an engineering background will see that DNA is a code that needs a designer to create the information it transmits.

Peter Hearty is an atheist biologist. He says that science does not work when you dispense with the search for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of DNA. [Note from Wintery Knight: Peter Hearty has a Ph.D in computer science!]

This is a fun and easy-to-understand debate, especially for those of us coming from a computer science or engineering background. I think it’s fun to argue with my friends about what kind of professional God would be if he had to get a job. Naturally, I always argue that God is a computer scientist, because he designed the genetic code of the first replicator. If you have a different answer, leave a comment!

For more on science and faith, see my (snarky, mean, satirical) articles on the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe in order to permit the minimal requirements for complex living systems of any kind.

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2 Responses

  1. ToddF says:

    That’s a fascinating topic. Software is only part of computing — you need hardware. It seems to me we are over-focused on DNA when we talk about the origin of life.

    My sister-in-law is a cardiologist. She was telling me how the heart is formed. It basically starts as a tube, then has to fold, twist, and fold again. Then, you have a pre-programmed death of specific cells in order to form valves. Any glitch in this process results in death. The heartbeat pulse actually starts after the 4th divide — when you are 16 cells just days after conception. Health professionals can detect early pregnancy by looking for that pulse.

    Despite the ruling in the Dover trial, I still find the idea of evolving a closed circulatory system from an open system pretty far-fetched.

  2. Paradox says:

    Perry Marshall defines “information” as a digital communication between a sender, and an intended receiver; this communication has an expected reaction, and an intended purpose. A “code” is a system of rules for how to construct and interpret messages. These are ideas expounded by Dr. Werner Gitt of Germany in his book “In the Beginning was Information.”
    Perry Marshall argues from these two definitions that information is always designed. Statistical processes cannot create codes, because they have no intent to send messages, and therefore will not create a system for constructing messages, let alone interpreting them.

    I think God would be a philosopher, or a mathematician, or an architect. He obviously did math when He wrote the laws of physics, and He certainly built some awesome structures! The suggestion of a philosophy is just a polemic: it’s important, too!

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